Wednesday, December 30, 2009

POLITICS - 2009 Winners and Losers

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TERROR - Lesson Was NOT Learned

The following proves that we have yet to learn from our security mistakes of 9/11. America is not secure because Washington is still run by dunces and turf-protectors.

"U.S. Had Early Signals of a Terror Plot, Obama Says" by Peter Baker and Carl Hulse, New York Times


President Obama was told Tuesday about more missed signals and uncorrelated intelligence that should have prevented a would-be bomber from boarding a flight to the United States, leading the president to declare that there had been a “systemic failure” of the nation’s security apparatus.

Two officials said the government had intelligence from Yemen before Friday that leaders of a branch of Al Qaeda were talking about “a Nigerian” being prepared for a terrorist attack. While the attacker was not named, officials said it would have been evident had it been compared to information about Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 23-year-old Nigerian charged with trying to blow up an American passenger jet on Christmas Day.

The government also had more information about where Mr. Abdulmutallab had been and what some of his plans were before boarding the Northwest Airlines flight to Detroit. Some of the information was partial or incomplete at the time, and it was not obvious that it was connected, one senior administration official said, but in retrospect it now appears clear that had it all been examined together it would have pointed to the pending attack.

The official, who like others spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive review, said the government was “increasingly confident” that Al Qaeda had a role in the attack, as the group’s Yemeni branch has publicly claimed. Such a conclusion could lead the United States to provide more intelligence and equipment to the Yemeni government and even consider fresh targets in a continuing campaign against radicals in Yemen.

The fresh information about what the government knew before the flight on Friday was provided to White House officials Monday night and to the president on Tuesday while he was here vacationing in Hawaii.

Shortly after being briefed, Mr. Obama told reporters that a review had revealed a breakdown in the intelligence system that did not properly identify Mr. Abdulmutallab as a dangerous extremist who should have been prevented from flying to the United States.

“A systemic failure has occurred, and I consider that totally unacceptable,” Mr. Obama said.

"Unacceptable" is putting it mildly. All these years after 9/11 we should not be having this type of problem.

The so-called Homeland Security was created with the idea of not having this problem. Instead we have an elephant that cannot move with any speed, when what America needs is a security agency that moves at the speed of a gazelle.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

HEALTHCARE - Reform Update 12/24/2009

"Health Care Changes Wouldn’t Have Big Effect for Many" by Reed Abelson, New York Times


Now that the Senate has caught up with the House by passing a sweeping health care bill, lawmakers are on the verge of extending coverage to the tens of millions of Americans who have no health insurance.

But what about the roughly 160 million workers and their dependents who already have health insurance through an employer? For many people, the result of the long, angry health care debate in Washington may be little more than more of the same.

As President Obama once promised, “If you like your health plan, you can keep your health plan.”

That may be true even if you don’t like your health plan. And no one seems to agree on whether the legislation will do much to reduce workers’ continually rising out-of-pocket costs.

True, there is an important advantage for the working insured: more peace of mind for people who are worried about being laid off or would like to change jobs.

There are still many gaps to bridge between the House and Senate bills. But even before the House-Senate negotiations begin in January, both bills offer this assurance: If you lose your job or move to one that does not provide benefits, there should be better alternatives when shopping for your own coverage.

And both the House and Senate bills share the same basic goal of placing new rules on insurers so that even someone with a pre-existing medical condition, or a few years to go before qualifying for Medicare, should have a much easier time finding a relatively affordable policy.

The legislation should give most working people “the guarantee of security if their circumstances change,” said Karen Davis, the president of the Commonwealth Fund, an independent research group that has studied the House and Senate bills.

Of course, with more security will come more obligation. Congress seems likely to impose an individual mandate that will require people to be insured or face a financial penalty.

The other proposed changes for employer-provided coverage seem aimed mainly at workers whose benefits are either very generous or exceedingly skimpy.

The “impact of this change will be minimal on most employers, but would be quite meaningful for the small number of employees who meet the limits,” according to the study, conducted by policy analysts from the University of California, Berkeley, the benefits consultant Watson Wyatt Worldwide and the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.

Congress is also considering annual limits on out-of-pocket medical costs. The House seems to think $5,000 is as much as somebody should pay in medical bills, while the Senate has picked a figure closer to $6,000.

Under the Senate proposal, the new limits would not apply to self-insured employers — big companies that provide their own insurance and have enough employees to effectively spread the risk of paying any large claims.

The real unknown, of course, is whether any final legislation will accelerate the rise in premiums or slow it. At least one impartial analysis, by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, concluded that the legislation was not going to have much of an effect on the cost of premiums either way.

Monday, December 21, 2009

HEALTHCARE - The Gamble the GOP Lost

"The Republican Health Care Blunder" by Jonathan Chait, New Republic

The United States is on the doorstep of comprehensive health care reform. It's a staggering achievement, about which I'll have more to say later. but the under-appreciated thing that strikes me at the moment is that it never would have happened if the Republican Party had played its cards right.

At the outset of this debate, moderate Democrats were desperate for a bipartisan bill. They were willing to do almost anything to get it, including negotiate fruitlessly for months on end. We can't know for sure, but Democrats appeared willing to make enormous substantive concessions to win the assent of even a few Republicans. A few GOP defectors could have lured a chunk of Democrats to sign something far more limited than what President Obama is going to sign. And remember, it would have taken only one Democrat to agree to partial reform in order to kill comprehensive reform. I can easily imagine a scenario where Ben Nelson refused to vote for anything larger than, say, a $400 billion bill that Chuck Grassley and a couple other Republicans were offering.

But Republicans wouldn't make that deal. The GOP leadership put immense pressure on all its members to withhold consent from any health care bill. The strategy had some logic to it: If all 40 Republicans voted no, then Democrats would need 60 votes to succeed, a monumentally difficult task. And if they did succeed, the bill would be seen as partisan and therefore too liberal, too big government. The spasm of anti-government activism over the summer helped lock the GOP into this strategy -- no Republican could afford to risk the wrath of Tea Partiers convinced that any reform signed by Obama equaled socialism and death panels.

The role of Olympia Snowe is interesting here. Snowe negotiated seriously for months, and Democrats met what seemed to be her substantive concerns, but, like the Russian army retreating before Napoleon, she insisted that the bill be drawn out indefinitely. Snowe demanded that the process not be rushed, but she never defined what a reasonable time frame would be. In the summer, "taking your time" and "doing it right"meant waiting until after the August recess. In the fall, it meant until after Thanksgiving. Now it means until after Christmas. If it lasted until next year, eventually Republicans would demand that the process not be rushed before the midterm elections, and that the fair thing would be to let the people decide in the 2010 elections.

The GOP leadership has every incentive to stretch the process out as long as possible. It runs out the clock on the first two years of the Obama presidency, after which high unemployment and the natural effects of an off-year election would produce a Congress far less likely -- perhaps totally unwilling -- to cooperate with Obama. Snowe might have diverged from the party line on substance, but she seems to have agreed to hold the line on process. At some point, process becomes substance. Thus Snowe effectively removed herself from the negotiations.

And so Democrats found themselves all alone. It seems to be around August when the party realized that bipartisan dealmaking was not at hand, and it had to pass a bill or face the same calamity as it did in 1994. Politically speaking, there were no good options left, but passing a bill offered the least bad option. The unified partisan front of the Republican Party forced the Democrats to adopt their own unified partisan front, something that appeared impossible as recently as this last summer. This passage from the New York Times is telling:

Faced with Republican opposition that many Democrats saw as driven more by politics than policy disagreements, Senate Democrats in recent days gained new determination to bridge differences among themselves and prevail over the opposition.

Lawmakers who attended a private meeting between Mr. Obama and Senate Democrats at the White House on Tuesday pointed to remarks there by Senator Evan Bayh, Democrat of Indiana, as providing some new inspiration.

Mr. Bayh said that the health care measure was the kind of public policy he had come to Washington to work on, according to officials who attended the session, and that he did not want to see the satisfied looks on the faces of Republican leaders if they succeeded in blocking the measure.

Evan Bayh! When you've turned the somnolent, relentlessly centrist Indiana Senator into a raging partisan, you've really done something. The Republicans eschewed a halfway compromise and put all their chips on an all or nothing campaign to defeat health care and Obama's presidency. It was an audacious gamble. They lost. In the end, they'll walk away with nothing. The Republicans may gain some more seats in 2010 by their total obstruction, but the substantive policy defeat they've been dealt will last for decades.

Further prof that the GOP gamble with the well-being of the American people, and badly, for ideology.

HEALTHCARE - Reform Updates 12/19/2009

"Defense Bill Clears Senate Hurdle" by Carl Hulse, New York Times 12/18/2009


The Senate voted early Friday morning to force final action on a Pentagon spending measure as Democrats broke a Republican attempt to use the military money to stall action on the health care overhaul.

In an unusual dead-of-night session that opened just after midnight, senators voted 63 to 33 to shut off debate on the $626 billion plan, which is the last spending measure due to pass this year and was easily passed by the House earlier this week. A final vote is expected early Saturday.

Democrats had to struggle to line up all 60 of their members in support of a key procedural vote to overcome anticipated Republican opposition to a bill Republicans would normally rally behind and have criticized Democrats for politicizing in the past.

Senator Russ Feingold, the anti-war Wisconsin Democrat, was the key for Democrats after he agreed to vote for the measure, citing Republican tactics to hold the Pentagon money hostage in the fight over health care. His initial resistance left Democrats one vote short and his colleagues cheered him when he announced his reversal in a closed-door party meeting Thursday evening.

“I am against continued funding for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq,” said Mr. Feingold, who was personally encouraged by President Obama to vote with the party. “But it became apparent that this was really an effort to slow down a bill they were going to vote for anyway to destroy health care and that is not something I wanted to see happen.”

Once Democrats had the 60 votes in hand, three Republicans joined them in voting to end the filibuster rather than go on the record voting against the Pentagon money.

Does the "Call Roto-Rooter" commercial ring a bell? And the GOP says they "support the troops" so they holdup a Defense Bill because of Healthcare Reform.

"Democrats Clinch Deal for Deciding Vote on Health Bill" by David M. Hersxenhorn & Carl Hulse, New York Times 12/19/2009


Senate Democrats said Saturday that they had clinched an agreement on a far-reaching overhaul of the nation’s health care system and forged ahead with efforts to approve the legislation by Christmas over Republican opposition.

As the Senate convened in a blizzard, Democratic leaders hailed a breakthrough that came when Senator Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska, agreed to back the bill after 13 hours of negotiations on Friday, making him the pivotal 60th vote for a measure that President Obama has called his top domestic priority.

“Change is never easy, but change is what’s necessary in America,” Mr. Nelson said at a morning news conference. “And that’s why I intend to vote,” he said, “for health care reform.”

Mr. Obama, appearing on television from the White House, said: “Today is a major step forward for the American people. After nearly a century-long struggle, we are on the cusp of making health care reform a reality in the United States of America.”

Friday, December 18, 2009

POLITICS - Time to Find a New Ship

"Happy Hour over: Fundraising firm drops Bachmann" by Muriel Kane, Raw Story

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), who can't seem to hold onto a chief of staff for more than a year at a time, has now lost her fundraising firm as well.

According to a report which first appeared in Roll Call on Wednesday, "The Gula Graham Group, a Republican fundraising and consulting firm, ended their three-year relationship with Bachmann last week."

The Gula Graham Group arranges fundraising events for a select group of Republican members of Congress, like the "Happy Hour" they put on for Bachmann last spring at the Sonoma Restaurant and Wine Bar with an admission fee of $500 per attendee.

The firms's co-founder, Mike Gula, told Roll Call, "I can confirm that the Gula Graham Group no longer works for Congresswoman Bachmann. We chose to go in a different direction."

Bachmann also lost her chief of staff, Michelle Marston, just last month. “I’m just not talking about it, and frankly I don’t think there’s a story here,” Marston told Politico at the time. A conservative Republican member of the House, however, suggested the real problem was that “when your captain’s crazy, it’s time to find a new ship.”

Marston had joined Bachmann's staff only last February, replacing Rich Dunn, who hadn't held the position very long either. In April 2008, Think Progress noted of Bachmann, "The Hill reports that 'ten of the 14 people' she 'hired early last year have left' her office. 'The casualty list includes two chiefs of staff, a district director, a press secretary, two legislative assistants, a staff assistant, a caseworker, an outreach and grants coordinator and a district scheduler.' A third chief of staff 'rescinded his decision to take the position prior' to being officially placed on the payroll."

A comparison of the Gula Graham Group's current client listing with a version in the Google cache, shows that Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-PA) has recently been dropped from the list as well. Gerlach, however, was a client of Mike Gula's for many years, and his departure might merely reflect the fact that he is now running for governor of Pennsylvania and not seeking reelection to Congress. In Bachmann's case there is no such obvious explanation.

"It’s time to find a new ship" like one that's NOT sinking.

POLITICS - Anti-Healthcare Reform Liar of the Year

"Health Care Misinformer of the Year: Betsy McCaughey" Media Matters 12/16/2009


The debate over health care reform has dominated much of the media spotlight this year, and the conservative media have responded with a wide array of falsehoods and distortions aimed at twisting the debate and stopping progressive policies from being enacted. From Fox News host Sean Hannity's repeated cries that progressive plans are "socialized medicine" to The Wall Street Journal's falsehood-laden crusade against health reform, there has been no shortage of misinformation purveyors attempting to get in on the action.

But there has been one misinformer who outshines them all, relentlessly attacking health care reform by spreading falsehoods and distortions through opinion pieces and television appearances at nearly every stage of the debate. This individual is noteworthy not only for her prolificacy, but because of the broad extent to which her outlandish claims about health legislation have reverberated throughout the conservative media echo chamber.

As Media Matters for America senior fellow Jamison Foser pointed out, what is most problematic about this individual is not simply her false and misleading claims, but that despite her consistent pattern of promoting falsehoods, the media continue to provide her with a platform -- and a veneer of legitimacy. Most notably, Rupert Murdoch-owned papers The Wall Street Journal and the New York Post have repeatedly provided her space on their op-ed pages, and Murdoch's Fox News Channel has repeatedly hosted her and advanced her claims. As The Atlantic's James Fallows has noted, she is an example of someone for whom there "seems to be almost no extremity of being proven wrong which disqualifies" her from being given a platform in the media. Indeed, the media's willingness to treat her as if she were a legitimate policy expert has continued even after she has backtracked on many of her claims after they were debunked.

Moreover, media covering the 2009 health care reform debate should have been aware that she was not a reliable source, given that she spent the last major health care policy debate similarly advancing falsehoods aimed at obstructing reform. As Fallows noted, "[i]n the early 1990s [she] single-handedly did a phenomenal amount to distort discussion of health-care policy and derail the Clinton health bill ... through an entirely fictitious argument about what the bill would do." For these reasons, Media Matters' debunking of this serial health care misinformer's claims is equally an indictment of the media that enable her.

Without further ado, Media Matters presents its first-ever Health Care Misinformer of the Year award to Betsy McCaughey.

McCaughey Lies List (from full article):

  • McCaughey cooks up falsehood that recovery act puts government bureaucrats between you and your doctor

  • McCaughey ignites firestorm with false claim that House bill will promote euthanasia of seniors

  • McCaughey launches false attacks against "Health Rationer-in-Chief" Ezekiel Emanuel

  • False claims continue: McCaughey spreads misinformation about recent versions of House, Senate health bills

  • Credibility further undermined: McCaughey has health-care conflicts of interest dating back to '90s

The details for each item on the list are in the full article.

MEDIA - Comment on the Gossip Mongers

"Everything You Think About Tiger Woods is Wrong" by Michael Bader, AlterNet

[Disclaimer:I don’t know anything at all about Tiger or Elin Woods but am going to write about them anyway.]

Everything that's been written about Tiger Woods is wrong; that is, every inference and judgment about the meaning of his actions (the paltry slivers of it that we think we know) has nothing to do with him and everything to do with us.

Not a single author or commentator among the hundreds who have weighed in on Woods' life, marriage, morals, choices, or psychology has ever met or spent any time with him. Thus, everything that's been said has been a response to our projections onto images that Tiger Woods and we have jointly created.

For example, consider the following statements culled from recent press:

Tiger is a sex addict. He has to repair the damage he's done to his family. He has to grow up. He should “man up” and have a press conference to publicly apologize. He is a typical alpha male. He was a “bad boy” in order to undermine the burden of being the “good boy.” He is irresponsible and immature. He's got the same syndrome as Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, and Magic Johnson. He obviously doesn't care about his kids. He's a liar. He and Elin are in “deep discussions” about whether they can save their marriage. Elin's a fighter and is fighting like hell now to keep her family intact.

All nonsense. All fictional narratives about someone we know absolutely nothing about, except that he's the best golfer in the world. Some of these opinions might be right—but then so is a stopped clock, twice a day. All of these views are only projections of things inside us. In this one sense, the tidal wave of Tiger reporting is interesting, much like responses to an ink blot test can tell us a lot about the responder.

The problem is when people don't know that that's what they're doing. Or they know, but they don't admit it. It's not exactly a news flash—the awareness that we don't know anything about the motivations and interior lives of celebrities. But the pull to weigh in and make judgments is irresistible. I like to read celebrity gossip; it's titillating, funny, and often outrageous. I suppose that it's a comfort to know that celebrities and others we put on pedestals are screwed up just like us. Then, for just a moment, we don't have to feel badly about our own problems. But I try not to confuse this game with reality.

Most people, though, don't really know that they're just making shit up and applying it to Tiger for personal reasons of their own. They think it's true. They have conviction. They may know that we live in a sick celebrity-obsessed culture but don't realize that their opinions about Woods stem from this very pathology.

We think we own Woods, that he's a commodity about which we have every right to publicly judge. After all, he invited us to love and admire him in order to make money. Isn't he simply reaping what he sowed? O.K. Fair enough. But let's make that explicit. Let's insist that athletes who sign contracts with corporate sponsors include a stipulation that the corporation owns their image and that fans who buy products based on this image own the athlete's personal life. I'm buying Nike golf balls because of you, Tiger. I'm giving you and Nike my money. So, I deserve access to your personal life if it should in any way trigger negative feelings in me, e.g. betrayal, disgust, envy, or guilt. You're an extension of me, man, so what are you complaining about?

These celebrity male adulterers and their wives are a gigantic blank screen onto which we displace our own feelings about sex, loyalty, betrayal, abandonment, temptation. Poor Elizabeth Edwards. God, I never trusted John Edwards—too slick. Spitzer got what he deserved….what a hypocrite! Imagine Silda, standing there in shame while her husband confessed! But how can you blame Tiger!? I mean, tell me this, buddy-- if everywhere you went, beautiful women were offering themselves to you. What would you do? Be honest, now. But Elin is so beautiful—what was Tiger thinking? Typical man, led around by his…… Blonde women and a black man—I mean, we know what that's about, right?

Again, we don't know anything about anything. But the theorizing goes on and on, all the while reinforcing the fact that the various human strains and stresses and fears and hurts and conflicts that no doubt occupy the minds of celebrities don't really afflict us. We're the judges and no longer the defendants.

The fact is that we're the victims, the perpetrators, and the observers. We act selfishly, lust after people other than our partners, feel rejected and abandoned, have fetishes and weird fantasies, feel guilty, make amends, love and hate. We are afflicted and we sometimes afflict others. But we're desperate for relief from these internal states and are therefore relieved to find them in others. I suppose it can entertaining, but we should know that we're doing it.

That's why I began this essay with a disclaimer. I think that everyone who write about this situation ought to do the same.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

ON THE LITE SIDE - Costco Forever!

"Clueless in Costco" by Timothy Egan, New York Times

For a native Westerner, the slights from the other end of the country start early, and build through a lifetime: national broadcasters on election night who cannot pronounce Oregon (it’s like gun) or Nevada (it’s not Nev-odda), or a toll-free clerk who thinks New Mexico is part of old Mexico.

“You’ll have to go through your own embassy,” a resident of Santa Fe was told when trying to order Olympic tickets for games on American soil.

Geographic illiteracy from the Eastern Time Zone is a given, especially among the well-educated. A New York book publisher, and Harvard grad at that, once asked me if I ever take the ferry up to Alaska for the afternoon. No, I replied: do you ever go to Greenland on a day trip?

Norman Maclean, the great Montana writer, had a worse experience. He complained that an editor turned down his masterpiece, “A River Runs Through It,” because it had too many trees in it.

A media titan, The Washington Post, recently announced they were calling home their remaining national correspondents, explaining that the paper was perfectly capable of covering the rest of the country from inside the Beltway. By that reasoning, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner can discern what’s happening in the capital from their home base near the Arctic Circle.

Sports is a grievance category all its own. If you Google “East Coast Bias,” up comes a long litany of stories about how the West never gets any respect from those great deciders in the East.

So, naturally, Toby Gerhart of Stanford didn’t receive this year’s Heisman Trophy, awarded annually to the nation’s best college football player, despite leading elite colleges in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, total touchdowns and points scored. Many of the voters were asleep, or Saturday-night-blotto, when Gerhart was dazzling the football world this fall. The voting map was a geography of bias.

These are all minor annoyances, mind you, in a world with daily reminders that an embittered, small-hearted senator from Connecticut can hold up health care for millions, or some people would rather read a “book” by Hulk Hogan than a short story by Sherman Alexie.

But every now and then those of us who reside on the sunset side of the 100th meridian get a chance to rub one in the other way.

Consider the fuss over Costco landing on the island of Manhattan last month. Costco is the nation’s third largest retailer, with more than 400 warehouse stores in the United States alone. Liberals love Costco because they pay their workers about 40 percent more than their big box rivals.

Conservatives love them because they sell Sarah Palin’s book by the pallet, next to the camo wear.

Costco is a brilliant retail concept, but it’s not news. It’s been around for, oh . . . a quarter-century or so. Some of the gushing posts on New York-based Web sites after Costco opened on East 117th Street have all the breathless urgency of a tourist who has discovered bagels in Boulder.

“It’s amazing how many things you can get for a fairly decent price!” One shopper wrote on Yelp New York, the online review site. Um, that’s the idea. And other observers have seemed befuddled in the big box, overwhelmed by the lure of tube sox and toilet paper to last a lifetime.

Most Westerners may not know schmear from schmaltz, but they can tell a sophisticated urban shopper to stick with the to-die-for olive oil, cold-pressed just a few weeks ago in Tuscany, and the $1.50 quarter-pound hot dog when under the high fluorescent sky of a Costco warehouse.

Speaking of my newspaper — please, it’s the holidays, a time for indulgence in all things — they recently discovered a newsworthy item from the Mountain West: Jews in Montana. Imagine!

One more bit of news on this front: the nation’s first elected Jewish governor was a Western man. And a Democrat. In Idaho. Moses Alexander governed the land of famous potatoes from 1915 to 1919.

As a longtime Western representative of The New York Times, which is well read in these provinces, I feel the rub of faux-rube pandering both ways. Here, people are amazed I can find Twitty, Texas, on a map, and — more surprising, can vouch for the peach cobbler. There, the wonder is that I know which side of the plate to keep the salad fork. Sort of.

LAW - New Technologies and the First Amendment

"Supreme Court Takes Texting Case" by Adam Liptak, New York Times

The Supreme Court agreed on Monday to decide whether a police department violated the constitutional privacy rights of an employee when it inspected personal text messages sent and received on a government pager.

The case opens “a new frontier in Fourth Amendment jurisprudence,” according to a three-judge panel of an appeals court that ruled in favor of the employee, a police sergeant on the Ontario, Calif., SWAT team.

Orin S. Kerr, an authority on the Fourth Amendment at George Washington University’s law school, said the case was simultaneously significant and idiosyncratic. “This is the first case on Fourth Amendment protection in data networks,” Mr. Kerr said. But the case arose from unusual circumstances, making it fairly likely that the eventual Supreme Court ruling will be narrow.

The Supreme Court has given public employers wide latitude to search their employees’ offices and files. But it has also said that the Fourth Amendment, which forbids unreasonable government searches, has a role to play in any analysis of that latitude.

The Ontario Police Department had a formal policy reserving the right to monitor “network activity including e-mail and Internet use,” allowing “light personal communications” by employees but cautioning that they “should have no expectation of privacy.” It did not directly address text messages.

Members of the department’s SWAT team were given pagers and told they were responsible for charges in excess of 25,000 characters a month. Under an informal policy adopted by a police lieutenant, those who paid the excess charges themselves would not have their messages inspected.

The lieutenant eventually changed his mind and ordered transcripts of messages sent and received by Sgt. Jeff Quon. In one month in 2002, only 57 of more than 450 of those messages were related to official business. According to the trial judge, many of the messages “were, to say the least, sexually explicit in nature.”

Sergeant Quon and some of the people with whom he messaged sued, saying their Fourth Amendment rights had been violated. Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw, writing for a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, said the department’s formal policy had been overridden by the “operational reality” of the lieutenant’s informal policy.

Dissenting from the full Ninth Circuit’s decision not to rehear the case, Judge Sandra S. Ikuta said the panel had violated “the dictates of reason and common sense” and had hobbled “government employers from managing their work forces.”

The City of Ontario and its police department, in asking the Supreme Court to hear the case, said “a lower-level supervisor’s informal arrangement” should not be allowed to trump “the employer’s explicit no-privacy policy.”

“It is not objectively reasonable to expect privacy in a message sent to someone else’s workplace pager,” the brief said, “let alone to a police officer’s department-issued pager.”

The Supreme Court’s decision, the brief went on, will affect “a seemingly never-ending stream of new technologies.”

Though the legal issue in the case, City of Ontario v. Quon, No. 08-1332, concerns only text messaging in government workplaces, the Supreme Court’s decision may provide hints about its attitude toward privacy in the Internet era more generally.

The larger question, Judge Stephen G. Larson of the Federal District Court in Riverside, Calif., wrote in declining to dismiss Sergeant Quon’s case before trial, is this: “What are the legal boundaries of an employee’s privacy in this interconnected, electronic-communication age, one in which thoughts and ideas that would have been spoken personally and privately in ages past are now instantly text-messaged to friend and family via hand-held, computer-assisted electronic devices?”

The comment about "stream of new technologies" is very valid. I remember the day when Pagers ONLY showed you the phone number to call back.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


"Anyone for some Arctic roll? Mystery as spiral blue light display hovers above Norway"

Much more in full article.

POLITICS - SuperMax and Gitmo Detainees

"SuperMax Illinois Prison to Soon Hold Gitmo Detainees" ChattahBox

After months of listening to the Republican’s fear-mongering nonsense that bringing Gitmo detainees to American soil would lead to terrorist attacks, President Obama has finally caught a break. Obama will announce today that the federal government will acquire the Thomson Correctional Center in a small town in Illinois, to house terrorist detainees from Guantánamo Bay prison in Cuba. This move is a major step towards reaching Obama’s goal of closing the controversial Guantánamo Bay prison.

Gov. Patrick J. Quinn of Illinois and Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-IL), will be briefed about the administration’s plan at the White House on Tuesday afternoon. Both Illinois officials support the government’s move to purchase the prison to use it to house maximum security prisoners and terrorist detainees, as a job creating strategy. The supermax prison has been empty, since it was constructed in 2001 with a price tag to taxpayers of about $120 million.

Illinois Republicans, including Reps. Donald Manzullo and Mark Steven Kirk condemned the government’s plans, claiming housing terrorists in the state’s supermax prison would prompt terrorists to attack Illinois. But the majority of residents in Thompson support the transfer of terrorist detainees to their town, which has been hit with job losses.

And the Obama administration makes the case that the transfer of detainees would actually make the US more secure, because the abuses that occurred at Guantánamo during the Bush administration, were used as a recruiting tool for Al Qaeda.

Liz Cheney should be appearing on Fox News with her offensive fear-mongering soon, condemning the transfer of Gitmo prisoners to the Thompson facility and condoning the torture methods used at Guantánamo.

What else would you expect from the hide-under-the-bed GOP? (aka we-fear-everything GOP)

POLITICS - Of Climate Change, Poll 12/15/2009

"Poll: Climate Change Action will Boost, Not Hurt US Economy" by Alec Rivera, Lipman Times

The Associated Press reports that, according to a recent AP-Stanford University poll, 40% of Americans believe that climate change action will create jobs and 46% believe that action will boost the economy. The poll shows that, despite Republican attempts to label the Congressional climate change proposal as a “job killer”, Americans still trust President Obama’s economic argument more.

The same poll found that less than one third of Americans believed that the proposal would hurt the economy. Republicans hope to take the message of such proposals hurting gains in the job market to the final days of the Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change, where representatives from all over the world are scrambling to orchestrate a global plan to combat global climate change.

“They’re wrong,” Ron Classen of Seattle, who participated in the poll, said of the GOP stance. “People are going to be shifted from one job to another,” said Classen, a self-described fan of environmentalist and former Vice President Al Gore.

The survey’s results seem to boost Democratic efforts to curb global warming pollution and sign on to an international agreement to reduce heat-trapping gases, despite the concerns many Americans have about the recession and the high unemployment rate.

For some, the recession has manifested itself in a nothing-left-to-lose attitude when it comes to tackling climate and to sparking a revolution in where and how the nation produces its energy.

“I don’t know if anybody has looked around lately, but the economy is dead,” said Jake Berglund, a home-improvement contractor from Portland, Conn. “We are in a sinking ship, and Obama has bought us enough life rafts to keep on going. But we need to figure out how to build a new boat when we are still on the water.”

Americans do have a limit to how much they’re willing to pay, in terms of their energy bills, for a Democratic proposal on climate change with a cap-and-trade emissions system for big businesses. Over 75% wouldn’t support any measure that increased their energy costs by $25 per month, and 59% wouldn’t support a measure that increased energy costs by over $10 per month.

ECONOMY - Will They Learn?

"Disaster and Denial" by Paul Krugman, New York Times

When I first began writing for The Times, I was naïve about many things. But my biggest misconception was this: I actually believed that influential people could be moved by evidence, that they would change their views if events completely refuted their beliefs.

And to be fair, it does happen now and then. I’ve been highly critical of Alan Greenspan over the years (since long before it was fashionable), but give the former Fed chairman credit: he has admitted that he was wrong about the ability of financial markets to police themselves.

But he’s a rare case. Just how rare was demonstrated by what happened last Friday in the House of Representatives, when — with the meltdown caused by a runaway financial system still fresh in our minds, and the mass unemployment that meltdown caused still very much in evidence — every single Republican and 27 Democrats voted against a quite modest effort to rein in Wall Street excesses.

Let’s recall how we got into our current mess.

America emerged from the Great Depression with a tightly regulated banking system. The regulations worked: the nation was spared major financial crises for almost four decades after World War II. But as the memory of the Depression faded, bankers began to chafe at the restrictions they faced. And politicians, increasingly under the influence of free-market ideology, showed a growing willingness to give bankers what they wanted.

The first big wave of deregulation took place under Ronald Reagan — and quickly led to disaster, in the form of the savings-and-loan crisis of the 1980s. Taxpayers ended up paying more than 2 percent of G.D.P., the equivalent of around $300 billion today, to clean up the mess.

But the proponents of deregulation were undaunted, and in the decade leading up to the current crisis politicians in both parties bought into the notion that New Deal-era restrictions on bankers were nothing but pointless red tape. In a memorable 2003 incident, top bank regulators staged a photo-op in which they used garden shears and a chainsaw to cut up stacks of paper representing regulations.

And the bankers — liberated both by legislation that removed traditional restrictions and by the hands-off attitude of regulators who didn’t believe in regulation — responded by dramatically loosening lending standards. The result was a credit boom and a monstrous real estate bubble, followed by the worst economic slump since the Great Depression. Ironically, the effort to contain the crisis required government intervention on a much larger scale than would have been needed to prevent the crisis in the first place: government rescues of troubled institutions, large-scale lending by the Federal Reserve to the private sector, and so on.

Given this history, you might have expected the emergence of a national consensus in favor of restoring more-effective financial regulation, so as to avoid a repeat performance. But you would have been wrong.

Talk to conservatives about the financial crisis and you enter an alternative, bizarro universe in which government bureaucrats, not greedy bankers, caused the meltdown. It’s a universe in which government-sponsored lending agencies triggered the crisis, even though private lenders actually made the vast majority of subprime loans. It’s a universe in which regulators coerced bankers into making loans to unqualified borrowers, even though only one of the top 25 subprime lenders was subject to the regulations in question.

Oh, and conservatives simply ignore the catastrophe in commercial real estate: in their universe the only bad loans were those made to poor people and members of minority groups, because bad loans to developers of shopping malls and office towers don’t fit the narrative.

In part, the prevalence of this narrative reflects the principle enunciated by Upton Sinclair: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” As Democrats have pointed out, three days before the House vote on banking reform Republican leaders met with more than 100 financial-industry lobbyists to coordinate strategies. But it also reflects the extent to which the modern Republican Party is committed to a bankrupt ideology, one that won’t let it face up to the reality of what happened to the U.S. economy.

So it’s up to the Democrats — and more specifically, since the House has passed its bill, it’s up to “centrist” Democrats in the Senate. Are they willing to learn something from the disaster that has overtaken the U.S. economy, and get behind financial reform?

Let’s hope so. For one thing is clear: if politicians refuse to learn from the history of the recent financial crisis, they will condemn all of us to repeat it.

POLITICS - Bush Era Hide-and-Seek

"Bush E-mails Found: 22 Million Missing E-mails From George W. Bush White House Recovered" by Pete Yost, Huffington Post

Computer technicians have found 22 million missing White House e-mails from the administration of President George W. Bush and the Obama administration is searching for dozens more days' worth of potentially lost e-mail from the Bush years, according to two groups that filed suit over the failure by the Bush White House to install an electronic record keeping system.

The two private groups – Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and the National Security Archive – said Monday they were settling the lawsuits they filed against the Executive Office of the President in 2007.

It will be years before the public sees any of the recovered e-mails because they will now go through the National Archives' process for releasing presidential and agency records. Presidential records of the Bush administration won't be available until 2014 at the earliest.

Former Bush White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said the 22 million e-mails already had been recovered while Bush was still in office and that misleading statements about the former administration's work demonstrate "a continued anti-Bush agenda, nearly a year after a new president was sworn in."

"The liberal groups CREW and National Security Archive litigate for sport, distort the facts and have consistently tried to create a spooky conspiracy out of standard IT issues," Stanzel said in a statement.

The 22 million e-mails "would never have been found but for our lawsuits and pressure from Capitol Hill," said Anne Weismann, chief counsel for CREW. "It was only then that they did this reanalysis and found as a result that there were 22 million e-mails that they were unable to account for before."

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said the Bush administration had been dismissive of congressional requests that the administration recover the e-mails. Leahy said it was "another example of the Bush administration's reflexive resistance to congressional oversight and the public's right to know."

The tally of missing e-mails, the additional searches and the settlement are the latest development in a political controversy that stemmed from the Bush White House's failure to install a properly working electronic record keeping system. Two federal laws require the White House to preserve its records.

"I'm not a crook. I have nothing to hide!" Ya, right correct, NOT.

POLITICS - The Government Game Ratings, Australia

"Game over for adult players: ratings made for children, bemoan fans" by Amy Corderoy, Sydney Morning Herald

THE average age of video game players in Australia is 30.

But they say governments are treating them like children because state and federal authorities are failing to agree on a ratings system.

The shooting game Aliens vs Predator, based on the film of the same name (which was rated M), was refused classification by national censors last week.

It was the 74th video game to be banned in Australia since 1995.

Most of these games have been refused classification because they include detailed instruction or promotion of violence, or rewards for drug use or sexual violence.

Unlike the film rating system, which goes to R18+, the highest classification for games in Australia is MA15+, so games deemed inappropriate for older teenagers are banned outright for all players.

Elsewhere in the developed world, including the US, the European Union and New Zealand, ratings can restrict games for use by “mature” or “adult” players only.

Kane Theodore, 27, a Sydney IT worker and passionate gamer, said governments were stuck in the mindset that video games were played by children.

“They should understand that we're not kids and we are part of an industry that is growing,” he said.

Aliens vs Predator is a “first-person shooter” game, with players able to choose between killing space creatures or human soldiers.

Many gamers blame South Australian Attorney-General Michael Atkinson – a fierce opponent of adult classifications for games – for the delay in changing the laws.

But Mr Atkinson said “other attorneys-general who are opposed to introducing an R18+ classification are content to let me be the lightning rod for the gamers”.

A federal discussion paper on the issue was initially touted for release in the middle of this year after the state and territory attorneys-general failed to reach agreement on the issue. That paper was still “under consideration”, a spokesman for the federal Attorney-General's department said last week.

Shane Stockwell, merchandising director for retailer EB Games, said he was furious there was still no adult classification for games.

He said another shooting game, Left 4 Dead 2, had been re-edited to remove the most violent content before being released in Australia. It sold millions of copies overseas but “the numbers of games we sold you could probably count on one hand”.

“That game was an unmitigated disaster for us,” he said.

This is an example of where government should NOT be the ones to address this issue.

Also see: "Australia inviting public to make case for 18+ game ratings"

Monday, December 14, 2009

POLITICS - Waaaa ..... I Don't WANT to Play

"New Childish Republican Obstruction Tactic: Refusing To Use Their Assigned Cards In Order To Delay Votes" by Lee Fang, Think Progress

In September, the Orlando Sentinel reported that Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) had noticed Republicans House lawmakers intentionally forgetting or losing their voting cards in order to delay votes. Starting late in the summer, Grayson said he saw 60-70 GOP congressmen engaging in this tactic:

GRAYSON: They’d all walk to the front of the House and, laughingly and jokingly, put their arms around each other’s shoulder like it was some kind of clownish fun. And they did this over and over to make sure every vote took half an hour. That’s how low things have gotten. I could give you countless examples just like that. They’re simply obstructionists and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Yesterday at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) delivered an address on unprecedented minority obstruction of reform. ThinkProgress spoke to him afterwords, and the Majority Leader confirmed that even the House parliamentarian had criticized Republicans for this very tactic. Hoyer admonished what he called “such a transparent effort at solely delay”:

Hoyer on GOP's Childish Tactics

All year, Republicans have dedicated themselves to reflexively blocking progressive legislation rather than even attempting to participate in the legislative process. The examples are boundless:

  • In July, Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) forced the House clerk to read aloud a 55-page motion to recommit in order for House Republicans to attend a “2009 Boehner Beach Party” fundraiser.

  • Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) attempted to block the veterans’ benefits bill because of unrelated concerns with the Recovery Act.

  • Republicans have “filibustered” committee markups by offering dozens of frivolous amendments.

  • Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) went so far as authoring a memo on various parliamentary maneuvers Senate Republicans can use to delay and kill health reform in the Senate.

The voting card delaying may be the least mature of all obstruction measures, however.

Like we've been saying, GOP = Party of NO!

POLITICS - The "Swiftboaters"

"Fox host’s book title implies Swift Boat veterans were liars" by David Edwards & Muriel Kane, Raw Story

Conservatives have long railed against media turning 'swiftboat' into pejorative or 'hate term'

As former President George W. Bush attempts to salvage his tarnished legacy, Fox News Radio host John Gibson has eagerly joined in the effort to rehabilitate the previous administration's image.

Gibson, the author of Hating America and The War on Christmas, has a new book out titled How the Left Swiftboated America: The Liberal Media Conspiracy to Make You Think George W. Bush Was the Worst President in History.

In order to make his point, however, Gibson has to suggest that the Swift Boat Veterans, whose attacks on Democratic candidate John Kerry helped Bush win re-election in the midst of an unpopular war, were unconscionable liars.

"They were lying through their teeth and they got away with it," Gibson told the hosts of Fox & Friends on Wednesday morning -- referring not to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth but to Democrats and liberals who have portrayed Bush as incompetent and indifferent.

Lie, cheat, slander, anything to "win." What else would you expect from a GOP neo-Nazi group? NOT honest game-playing.

WORLD - President Accepts Peace Prize

Wartime President Accepts Peace Prize with an 'American Speech'"

Shields and Brooks on Obama's Nobel Speech, senate Health Bill"

These are excerpts I find most meaningful.


These extremists (today's) are not the first to kill in the name of God; the cruelties of the Crusades are amply recorded. But they remind us that no Holy War can ever be a just war.

Such a warped view of religion is not just incompatible with the concept of peace, but I believe it's incompatible with the very purpose of faith -- for the one rule that lies at the heart of every major religion is that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

For, if we lose that faith -- if we dismiss it as silly or naive; if we divorce it from the decisions that we make on issues of war and peace -- then we lose what's best about humanity. We lose our sense of possibility. We lose our moral compass.

Like generations have before us, we must reject that future. Let us reach for the world that ought to be -- that spark of the divine that still stirs within each of our souls.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

POLITICS - Purity for Dummies

"G.O.P. Considers ‘Purity’ Resolution for Candidates" by ADAM NAGOURNEY, New York Times

The battle among Republicans over what the party should stand for — and how much it should accommodate dissenting views on important issues — is probably going to move from the states to the Republican National Committee when it holds its winter meeting this January in Honolulu.

Republican leaders are circulating a resolution listing 10 positions Republican candidates should support to demonstrate that they “espouse conservative principles and public policies” that are in opposition to “Obama’s socialist agenda.” According to the resolution, any Republican candidate who broke with the party on three or more of these issues– in votes cast, public statements made or answering a questionnaire – would be penalized by being denied party funds or the party endorsement.

The proposed resolution was signed by 10 Republican national committee members and was distributed on Monday morning. They are asking for the resolution to be debated when Republicans gather for their winter meeting.

The resolution invokes Ronald Reagan, and noted that Mr. Reagan had said the Republican Party should be devoted to conservative principles but also be open to diverse views. President Reagan believed, the resolution notes, “that someone who agreed with him 8 out of 10 times was his friend, not his opponent.”

Hence the provision calling for cutting off Republicans who agree with the party on fewer than eight of 10 items. The resolution demands that Republicans support “smaller government, smaller national deficits and lower taxes,” denial of government funding for abortion, and “victory in Iraq and Afghanistan.” It calls on candidates to oppose amnesty for illegal immigrants and repealing of the Defense of Marriage Act.

The development is going to put pressure on Michael Steele, the party chairman, as he tries to maintain a balance between those in his party who have been saying the road to victory is to include divergent views, and those who say the party needs to embrace conservative principles that have been at its core.

Mr. Steele managed, at his party’s last meeting, to steer clear of potentially contentious resolutions, including one that equated Democrats with socialists.

Gail Gitcho, a spokeswoman for the committee, said it was not clear what Mr. Steele would do.

“The deadline for submitting resolutions for the R.N.C. Winter Meeting is more than 30 days away,” she said. “At this point, we do not what resolutions will be submitted nor what the final language of any resolution ultimately submitted may be.”

Here is the resolution’s list:

  1. We support smaller government, smaller national debt, lower deficits and lower taxes by opposing bills like Obama’s “stimulus” bill;

  2. We support market-based health care reform and oppose Obama-style government run health care;

  3. We support market-based energy reforms by opposing cap and trade legislation;

  4. We support workers’ right to secret ballot by opposing card check;

  5. We support legal immigration and assimilation into American society by opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants;

  6. We support victory in Iraq and Afghanistan by supporting military-recommended troop surges;

  7. We support containment of Iran and North Korea, particularly effective action to eliminate their nuclear weapons threat;

  8. We support retention of the Defense of Marriage Act;

  9. We support protecting the lives of vulnerable persons by opposing health care rationing and denial of health care and government funding of abortion; and

  10. We support the right to keep and bear arms by opposing government restrictions on gun ownership.

Hummm... Sorta puts the GOP in a Straight Jacket.

Hay! They ARE crazy!

Monday, December 07, 2009

POLITICS - Change Marches On, State Politics

"The Home Stretch for Martha Coakley in the MA Senate Primary" by Ani, No Quarter 12/7/2009

As the most qualified in the field, Martha Coakley has a chance to make history tomorrow, December 8th. I for one hope she does it. Massachusetts has never sent a woman to the Senate. Knowing her record, I suppose I am somewhat partial. The fact that she endorsed the right candidate for President last year and voted for Hillary on the convention floor speaks for her. As usual, it will come down to who has the best Get Out The Vote effort. The New Bedford Standard Times is one of a number of prominent publications giving AG Martha Coakley a strong endorsement for tomorrow’s MA Senate Primary:

…Attorney General Martha Coakley best exemplifies the qualities that make an effective U.S. senator.

A senator must be tough yet polished, a shrewd negotiator who is willing to compromise. Coakley strikes that balance, giving her the edge in a race against opponents who hold similar political views.

As attorney general, Martha Coakley sought to protect homeowners from abusive lending practices long before anyone coined the term “Great Recession.”

In June 2007, she announced an emergency 90-day regulation banning sham rescue schemes that took advantage of homeowners facing foreclosure. Judging the problem too dire to wait for the standard regulatory process, she boldly pressed forward to defend faltering homeowners.

Two months later, she proposed a series of new rules to fight predatory lending.

In 2008, Coakley responded to skyrocketing coastal homeowner’s insurance rates by calling on the state to fund public storm models crafted by academic scientists. SouthCoast homeowners — even those without so much as a water view — say their rates have doubled or tripled in the last few years.

This summer, Coakley filed suit against the federal government for equal marriage benefits, such as Social Security and income tax credits, for same-sex couples.

And in August, responding to growing political support for casinos, Coakley took forward-looking steps to update Massachusetts law with regard to money laundering and other crimes associated with gambling.

Coakley is a leader. She knows the law and is willing to take risks to do the right thing.

…Coakley was the first among the candidates to point out that the abortion amendment in the House health-care reform bill could actually roll back women’s access to abortion.

It does not merely block federal Medicaid funding for abortion for poor women — already the law — but in most cases prevents any government-run health plan or subsidized private insurance from covering abortion, regardless of whose money actually pays for the procedure. States could not use their own matching funds as some do now.

The result would be second-class treatment of poor women.


Though gender should not propel an unworthy candidate forward, the gender issue matters. In all of Massachusetts’ long history, it has never sent a woman to the Senate.

It’s time to change that, but not with just anyone. The candidate must be worthy of the Senate, and Coakley is.

She is sharp and at the top of her game, ready to grow into the kind of senator Massachusetts deserves.

Her chief opponent, Rep. Capuano, was recently endorsed by Speaker Pelosi. That in itself is enough to disqualify him in my view. Not to mention his voting for the disastrous Stupak amendment in the House health care bill.

Coakley has also been endorsed by these publications:

Berkshire Eagle, MetroWest Daily News, Waltham Daily News Tribune, Milford Daily News and Dedham Transcript, Patriot Ledger (Quincy), Brockton Enterprise, Providence Journal and Springfield Republican.

Here is a link to a complete list of her endorsements by organizations, elected officials, and business and community leaders follows:

Those wishing to assist in their GOTV effort can e-mail for an ID to make calls at your leisure.

Coakley has shown courage and knows how to step up to the plate. Here’s hoping the voters agree and step up to the plate for her on Tuesday.

EDUCATION - Campus Rape Issue

"Sexual Assault on Campus, Key Findings" Center for Public Integrity

Kathryn Russell said it happened in her on-campus apartment. For Megan Wright, the venue was a residence hall. According to a report funded by the Department of Justice, roughly one in five women who attend college will become the victim of a rape or an attempted rape by the time she graduates. But official data from the schools themselves doesn’t begin to reflect the scope of the problem. And student victims face a depressing litany of barriers that often either assure their silence or leave them feeling victimized a second time, according to a nine-month investigation by the Center for Public Integrity.

Many victims don’t report at all, because they blame themselves, or don’t identify what happened as sexual assault; one national study found that more than 95 percent of students who are sexually victimized do not report to police or campus officials. Local criminal justice authorities regularly shy away from such cases, because they are “he said, she said” disputes sometimes clouded by drugs or alcohol. That frequently leaves students to deal with campus judiciary processes so shrouded in secrecy that they can remain mysterious even to their participants.

Critics question whether faculty, staff, and students should even adjudicate what amounts to a felony crime. But these internal proceedings actually grow from two federal laws, known as Title IX and the Clery Act, which require schools to respond to allegations of sexual assault on campus and to offer key rights to victims.

Institutional barriers compound the problem of silence, and few victims in fact make it to a campus hearing. Those who do come forward can encounter secret disciplinary proceedings, closed-mouth school administrations, and off-the-record negotiations. At times, school policies and practices can lead students to drop complaints, or submit to gag orders—a practice deemed illegal. College administrators generally believe the existing processes provide a fair and effective way to deal with highly sensitive allegations, but the Center’s investigation has found that these processes have little transparency or accountability, and regularly result in little or no punishment for alleged assailants.

The Center interviewed 48 experts familiar with the college disciplinary process—student affairs administrators, conduct hearing officers, assault services directors, and victim advocates. The inquiry included a review of records in select cases, and examinations of 10 years worth of complaints filed against institutions with the federal Department of Education under Title IX and the Clery Act, as well as a survey of 152 crisis services programs and clinics on or near college campuses over the past year. The Center also interviewed 33 women who reported being raped by other students.

These are the Center’s first stories in an ongoing series that will examine the hurdles facing college students who seek accountability for allegations of rape on their campuses. Other pieces will appear in early 2010.

There are several other articles on their page as well as a Reporter's Toolkit link.

ON THE LITE SIDE - "Going Rouge" GOP Special Sale

On Sale at Amazon, "Going Rogue" Collectible $45.95

BUY NOW! Before the GOP Conservative rush.

Friday, December 04, 2009

POLITICS - GOP Gambling Addicts

"THE NO-SENSE JOBS PLAN" by Steve Benen, Washington Monthly

Arguably the single most farcical aspect of America's political discourse is listening to congressional Republicans talk about economic policy. We're talking about a group of people who've managed to be spectacularly wrong about practically every economic challenge in recent memory, but who are nevertheless convinced of their own self-righteous expertise. It's hard not to cringe.

But yet, they keep talking, blissfully unaware of their track record of uninterrupted failure. Yesterday, for example, House Minority Whip Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) visited the conservative Heritage Foundation to unveil what he called "a no-cost jobs plan." Andrew Leonard explained, "Without adding a single dime to the deficit, the Republican's plan will ameliorate the worst unemployment crisis in 30 years. One wonders how a political party capable of such innovative thinking ever lost its hold of power."

To recap: Cut regulations. Freeze spending. Cut taxes. No new taxes. That's the plan.

I would really, really love to have access to an alternative universe in which Cantor's plan could have been applied this past year, in parallel with our world, in which the economy was injected with a massive stimulus, so we could compare the efficacy of the two approaches in real time. What would have happened if instead of spending money, the government had sat on its hands?

I think about that all the time. Republicans controlled the levers of power, and the results were nearly catastrophic for the economy. Democrats were handed the reins, and while the economy is still struggling, we're working our way out of the ditch. If we'd listened to Cantor & Co., we'd still be digging.

As for the "no-cost jobs plan," it's hard not to laugh at the stupidity. We tried it Cantor's way. We're still suffering the consequences. NBC reported on Cantor's plan, and explained, "The challenge for Cantor and Republicans is that these solutions -- low taxes, free trade, and fewer regulations -- existed during the Bush years, which saw three different economic downturns (in 2001, 2003, and 2008), and which produced the weakest eight-year span for the U.S. economy in decades."

It's not just Cantor, of course. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) has scheduled an "economic roundtable" today, to compete with the White House's job summit. Roll Call reported, "A spokesman for Boehner said the purpose of the meeting is to give a platform for economists who have a different perspective on how Obama's agenda has affected the economy."

And who are these experts? Apparently, House Republicans have turned to "former Bush administration and McCain campaign staffers, who have advocated disastrous tax and budget policies."

So, to summarize, less than a year from the last administration, congressional Republicans believe it's time to re-embrace the Bush/Cheney agenda that didn't work, and listen to the architects of the Bush/Cheney agenda that didn't work.

Historically, after a major electoral defeat, the losing side adapts and shifts course. Congressional Republicans, for reasons that defy comprehension, are doubling down on an agenda that's already failed.

Doubling down, just like Gambling Addicts.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

FINANCE - Reforms, So "It" Doesn't Happen Again

"House committee OKs key financial rule changes" by Jim Puzzanghera, Los Angeles Times

The Obama administration's overhaul of financial regulations took a big step forward Wednesday as a key House committee approved legislation that would give federal officials broad new powers to downsize and dismantle large financial firms whose failure would seriously damage the economy.

The House Financial Services Committee voted 31-27 to pass the expanded ability to deal with teetering financial giants -- authority that was limited when investment banker Lehman Bros. and insurer American International Group Inc. neared bankruptcy last year.

As part of the legislation, government regulators would be able to step in when a huge firm is on the verge of collapse and take it apart in an orderly way to avoid market panic. Regulators can do that now with banks but not with more complex financial institutions.

In addition, financial firms would be required to pay into a fund to cover government costs of such takeovers.

The committee's bill goes beyond the powers requested by the Obama administration. It grants regulators additional authority to preemptively break up large financial institutions that pose a "grave threat to the financial stability or economy of the United States."

The legislation also would impose stricter congressional oversight on the Federal Reserve, authorizing the Government Accountability Office to conduct detailed audits on a variety of the central bank's activities.

The legislation is the final major piece of a package of reforms that the full House could vote on as early as next week. Other components of the overhaul include the creation of an agency to protect consumers in the financial marketplace and increased oversight of complex derivatives.

Banking and business groups strongly oppose creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Agency, which they said would limit the ability of financial institutions to offer credit to consumers.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has been leading the opposition to the agency, sent a letter Wednesday to every member of Congress urging them to vote against it.

"While we agree that the financial crisis exposed failures in consumer protection regulation that need to be addressed, we are concerned this bill would do far more harm than good -- for consumers, for the business community, and for the overall economy," the chamber wrote.

"Rather than address the failures within existing regulatory agencies, this bill would create a new and massive government bureaucracy that would reduce consumer choice, stifle innovation and restrict access to credit just as we are beginning to see signs of an economic recovery," the letter said.

The Senate is working on its own overhaul of financial regulations, but is unlikely to comply with President Obama's appeal for action this year. Still, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner said Wednesday's vote "moves us another important step toward comprehensive financial reform that will create a more stable financial system with better protection for consumers and investors."

Bold emphasis mine

As for the opposition? Hay, these financial institutions were not responsible for almost bringing our economy to its knees, right? We should just "trust" them to always do the right correct thing.

POLITICS - The Winds of Change

"Obama, the great disappointment? The Miracle President hasn't actually accomplished much? Wrong" by Mark Morford, San Francisco Chronicle


I am here to report some good news. Times have changed. Things are not what they once were. Evolution has occurred, is occurring, just now occurred while you were reading this very sentence.

Did you feel it? Are you noticing? The new has fully arrived to replace the old, and the old is going to have to take a long nap under a tree and watch what happens while the new delves in even deeper and does the best it can under the circumstances.

There is much talk, for example, of the man known as President Obama, of his effect and impact so far, his supposed lack of marked accomplishment lo these first dozen months of this most historic and revolutionary of presidencies -- a period, by the way, I am absolutely convinced we will all look back on in 10 or 20 years and go, oh my God, there. Remember that? That was a time, wasn't it? We will sigh and smile and point at the historic pictures and say, dear God, how incredible that was. It was a difficult time, there was much acrimony and resistance, but it was amazing. And it changed everything.

As Slate's Jacob Weisberg rightly points out, Obama has had a very first good year indeed, spectacular even, far better than most in major media acknowledge (but they will, they will). In fact, assuming health care passes, Obama will have accomplished more in his first year than any president in the history of the world, ever.

That might be an exaggeration. But I'm OK with that, because the basic idea is something that needs to be declared a bit more loudly. Nearly everything Bush tore down and decimated and humiliated to its very core, Obama has either restored, is in the process of restoring, or is set to restore. Even Afghanistan appears to have a coherent framework now (we shall see). And that's just the beginning.

Make no mistake, it is not all wine and roses and classy poetry slams in the East Room. Personally, I'm far from the nice swoon for Obama that I experienced when he swept to miraculous, world-altering victory, a swoon born in large part from the nearly unbearable sense of relief that Bush was finally gone. My appreciation is now tempered with harsh reality, as well it should be.

Then again, during the campaign, Obama admitted this exact fact himself, saying he was sure to make mistakes, that you would not agree with every decision, that there would be more bad news before we got back to the good. What a jerk. Oh wait.

Regardless, I had an ambitious idea, way back at the beginning of Obama's term, to keep a loose, running catalog of all his accomplishments, every announcement and policy shift, legislative act and executive order I could find that either reversed a toxic Bush agenda item or put into motion a progressive idea he'd mentioned during the campaign, everything from science to emissions, stem-cell research to women's rights. As the stories came across the wires, I'd grab the link and keep a master list. Just to see.

Ha. It didn't take long before I realized the utter futility of this plan. I simply could not keep up. There were too many, coming too quickly. What's more, many of the changes were not widely reported, were not shouted by the White House by a president seeking applause or a boost in poll numbers from a mal-educated, reactionary "base" who wouldn't be happy until every Planned Parenthood clinic was burned down and Jesus' face was on the dollar bill and the Indy 500 was declared a national holiday. For example.

The good news is, others took up this noble task, have tracked most of Obama's rather stunning, unsung achievements and policy nudges to date. And those changes are voluminous. Here's just one handy list, a quick rundown of about 90 of Obama's more noteworthy accomplishments, right off the top. Can you read it and not be impressed? Or do you get stuck on those handful that you disagree with, personal hot buttons that negate and blinder everything else? Shame.

Sure, there's still a long way to go. Yes, we're still invading Afghanistan. Wall Street is still packed with jackals and demons. DOMA still exists. All is far from perfect. But times have changed indeed. Things are most definitely not what they once were. I can think of no better news to report.

ON THE LITE SIDE (sorta) - Bush Base xoxoxo

"A Conservative Love Letter To George W. Bush" by Ken Kupchik, Air America

Dear George W. Bush,

It has been too long. We miss you and we want you back.

This new guy sucks. He just decided to send 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan, but we're still not convinced that he's taking it seriously. He actually had to think about it and analyze the situation, can you believe that crap? What happened to leading with your gut, shooting from the hip? If you were still in charge we'd be building a Disneyland in Tehran by now.

And the budget? This guy spends money like he had your father's credit card during homecoming at Phillips Academy, Andover. This runaway spending is bankrupting the country. We can't explain exactly why it is bankrupting the country, because we have had a higher national debt in relation to the size of our economy before, like after WWII, but it really freaks everyone out so we'll keep saying it. (Learned that one from you and your boys.) Man, are we pining for the days when you made us feel like spending was patriotic, and a dead marsupial could get a mortgage.

I don't think you could fully understand how angry we are! This president is a radical leftist! He is imposing his agenda everywhere we look. Granted, he has drawn an economic team from the same pool of Wall Street elites as nearly all past presidents, kept your Federal Reserve chairman in place, kept your Secretary of Defense, hasn't legalized gay marriage or marijuana, closed Guantanamo Bay, repealed Don't Ask Don't Tell, or even proposed a single-payer health care system, but he is a radical leftist! We know for a fact, because Limbaugh, Hannity and Beck would never say it if it weren't true.

We are sick of people blaming all of these problems on you. I mean it's been like almost a whole eleven months, more than enough time to solve the largest financial collapse since 1929. Please come back, or at least send Sarah Palin in your place. America's problems will never solve themselves unless we allow them to solve themselves by ignoring them for another twenty years. And we miss Dick Cheney. He says the president is projecting weakness, and we know that nothing projects strength and courage like five draft deferments! We want our country back!

Love always,

Your Base xoxoxo

Couldn't resist. Got a real chuckle out of this.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009


"Afghanistan's James Bond: suave killer who drives a Toyota Camry" by Dion Nissenbaum, McClatchy News

The television set crackles with breaking news: Terrorists have smuggled a nuclear bomb into Kabul and are preparing to take out the Afghan capital.

There is panic and pandemonium. Facing imminent immolation, the nation's leaders turn to the only man who can save Kabul: Afghanistan's first modern day James Bond.

Hollywood may have plans to set part of the next James Bond film in Afghanistan, but Kabul already has its own 007.

His favored drink is thick Turkish coffee, not a vodka martini. He speeds across the movie screen in a Toyota Camry, not an Aston Martin. And Afghanistan's 007 has no on-screen love interest.

But "Nijat" — the Dari world for "savior" — kills with the same suave efficiency as Sean Connery, Roger Moore and Daniel Craig.

Afghanistan's 007 is the newest incarnation in the nation's scrappy, low-budget film industry still struggling to recover from years of Taliban repression. If all goes as planned, "Nijat" will debut next year as part of the fifth annual Kabul International Documentary and Short Film Festival.

"Afghanistan's film industry is coming out of the ashes," said Sonia Nassery Cole, an Afghan-American filmmaker currently in Kabul, where she is directing "Black Tulip," a motion picture about modern life in this volatile nation.

Afghanistan's movie industry was crippled by years under Taliban rules that barred films and shuttered cinemas.

Even though U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban government in 2001, filmmakers in Afghanistan still face unenviable challenges.

The deadly blast from a suicide car bomber targeting the NATO headquarters in Kabul last month seriously damaged the nearby movie set for a biographic film about Rumi, the region's celebrated 13th century Sufi poet.

The ongoing Taliban insurgency makes it impossible to film in large parts of the country.

And the Afghanistan government, beset by corruption and nearly overwhelmed by Taliban fighters, offers little support for the country's underdeveloped film industry.

Last year, the Afghan government banned theaters from showing "The Kite Runner" because of concerns that the Hollywood movie's stark depiction of a Pashtun boy raping a Hazara boy would inflame ethnic tensions.

Filmmakers became so worried about the fallout that they delayed release of the film so they could spirit the four child stars out of Afghanistan.

"We are sandwiched between the Taliban and the government," said Latif Ahmadi, director of Afghanistan's state-run film commission, whose office windows were blown out by the October attack on the NATO headquarters across the road.

Ahmadi said he received about $50,000 from the Afghan government to make his film about Rumi. But he quickly ran out of cash and has shelved the film while he searches for more money.

Like the Rumi movie, Afghanistan's new James Bond film is decidedly low-budget.

The filmmakers used jury-rigged firecrackers and packets of red ink to simulate shootings.

Sympathetic diplomats have agreed to let the filmmakers transform their gated embassy into the headquarters of the fictional Afghanistan Secret Service.

And Afghanistan's 007 nearly crushed the movie screenwriter with his Camry when he confused the accelerator for the brake after a long day of filming.

But Nijat is something more than a short action film.

The film's star is Qaseem Elmi, a quiet, 26-year-old entrepreneur who runs a small media production company in Kabul.

As the son of a police officer who worked for the Moscow-installed government in the 1980s, Elmi fled to Pakistan with his family when the Soviet forces withdrew in 1989.

Elmi spent his first eight months as a refugee living in a tent and kissed the ground when he returned to Afghanistan in 2002 after U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban rulers.

Elmi started a Kabul computer business, worked for Afghan President Hamid Karzai's senior economic adviser and produced Andy Warhol-style campaign posters for one of the two female candidates in the recent presidential election.

The Bond-inspired film evolved as a side-project while Elmi and his partners were waiting for the delayed arrival of fiberglass "dome homes" that they hope NATO will buy to replace chilly military tents.

Elmi doesn't want moviegoers to simply see Nijat as an action hero. He sees the Afghanistan Bond as a role model for his fractured country.

"I hope any kid or any soldier who watches this will think: 'Can I be like that?'" Elmi said while smoking one of Nijat's signature cigarettes. "'If I get a job that big, can I save my country?'"

WAR ON TERROR - From the Inside, KOLK Afghanistan

"Trainers of Afghan police have work cut out for them" by Jay Price, McClatchy News

When the improvised bomb exploded in a mud-walled compound about 300 yards from a new traffic checkpoint, the six Afghan police officers at the post just looked at one another.

Another violent day on Afghanistan's Highway 1 had begun.

"Tell them to send three guys and go check it out to make sure no locals were hurt," U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Hans Beutel told a translator. "Tell them not to get too close, but go take a look."

Then Beutel, 23, and the rest of his team from the 4th Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division drove off to a half-finished nearby base to grab a quick lunch. When they returned to the police checkpoint in the early afternoon, they found it deserted.

It was another lost afternoon in the frustrating effort to train Afghanistan's ill-paid police, who have a well-deserved reputation for stealing and extorting bribes. Staff Sgt. Tony Locklear, a 44-year-old from Robeson County, N.C., who'd spent the morning coaching the officers on running a checkpoint, cursed when he saw they were gone.

Training the Afghan national and local police, who function as a paramilitary force, is essential to the Obama administration's efforts to find an exit from Afghanistan. If the Afghan government is ever to take control of the country, it will need a less corrupt and more professional police force that can stand on its own.

Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. commander, has called for boosting the police force to 160,000 from its strength of 84,000; McChrystal also wants the Afghan army to double in size, to 240,000.

Eight years after the U.S.-led invasion, the police appear to be years away from functioning independently. American trainers say they must tell the Afghans repeatedly to do the simplest things, such as separating passengers they've searched from ones they haven't when they stop a vehicle.

The police suffer from a range of problems besides corruption, their U.S. trainers say. Illiteracy is the norm — Beutel thinks that only about 10 percent of the police officers he works with can read — and drug abuse is common.

Fuel is often in short supply. The central police headquarters in Kandahar, in southern Afghanistan, provides the district police with whom Beutel works one tank of diesel fuel a month per truck. That often means that when Beutel wants to mount a mission, he has to carry American fuel in jerrycans for the Afghan vehicles, a double frustration since the whole idea is to develop a force that can work without U.S. help.

Still, the police, manning vulnerable traffic checkpoints, routinely suffer casualties at a rate two or three times that of any other force on the coalition side, and American trainers say that many are fearless under fire.

This area along Highway 1 about 25 miles west of Kandahar illustrates the challenge the police face. Down a dusty side road about 700 yards from the police checkpoint, two white flags flapped in the breeze one recent morning.

"A few days after we started showing up here, the Taliban put up those flags," said Beutel, of Huntersville, N.C. "Pretty much everything past that is theirs."

That means the Taliban control a series of small grape-farming villages on a strip of land a mile or two wide between the highway — the main east-west artery — and the Arghandab River, a key waterway in Kandahar province.

After nearly two dozen assaults into Taliban turf in the past three months, Beutel and the soldiers he commands describe a nightmarish place in which the Taliban control the villages even in daylight, and the roads and paths are larded with bombs and mines.

Explosive booby traps are set into walls, and the insurgents have dug elaborate fighting positions with "spider holes," bunkers, camouflaged trenches and even tunnels that are reminiscent of the Vietnam War.

Beutel said he'd like to clean it all out and set up checkpoints outside the villages to prevent the Taliban from slipping back. That, however, would take perhaps twice as many police and a savvier police district commander who could persuade the village elders to build a working relationship with the police.

For now, it's all the local police and Afghan National Army units can do to try to keep the highway safe along the 12-mile stretch that Beutel's police are supposed to patrol.

"The ANA should clear (the villages) and the police should hold them, but for now they're both kind of in survival mode," Beutel said. "They have a foothold on Highway 1 and that's about it."

Beutel's soldiers work with the officers on a range of skills, from how to patrol to how to operate a checkpoint and even how to act professionally.

He talks with the police battalion commander, Bismullah Jan, almost daily, the young American officer sitting with the grizzled policeman on a rug in the district police offices on the Canadian military base where Beutel's troops live. They sip tea and discuss what went well that day and what could improve, plan missions and discuss what supplies the police need.

Before the police disappeared from the checkpoint, Beutel had been feeling good about the last 25 days. His soldiers had worked with the police to beef up several permanent checkpoints along the district's stretch of highway. The plan had been to monitor who was entering and leaving villages and to keep the Taliban away from the highway.

The operation had been a success: The number of bombs planted on the road had fallen by 70 to 80 percent, Beutel said. The mission couldn't last indefinitely, however, because it required too many police officers, and its last day would underscore the security challenges.

The explosion at the nearby compound was only the first of a series of incidents. Beutel thought an insurgent might have set off a bomb accidentally or possibly tried to lure his soldiers into an ambush.

Next, a U.S. Army truck filled with soldiers from another unit hit a mine, which blew off one wheel.

Then the attack that many had been expecting came just after Beutel's paratroopers drove off for lunch at the partly constructed U.S. base.

This time, the insurgents struck an Afghan army convoy about 1,000 yards east with rocket-propelled grenades and small arms. Beutel's troops, hearing the attack just as they were beginning to eat, jumped in their armored trucks and raced out through the gate.

They tore past the Afghan convoy and took up a position where they had a good line of sight south. Beutel got on the radio with the pilots of two U.S. helicopters overhead. The pilots fired a couple of rockets at yet another taunting white flag south of the highway, near where Beutel told them the insurgents had been seen last, but they didn't flush any.

That didn't surprise Locklear, whose men have found networks of holes and trenches near the villages.

"We've even seen them shoot at helicopters, slide down awhile when the choppers fire rockets at them, then pop up and shoot again," he said.

Later, Beutel went to find the police battalion commander for their usual evening meeting, but an assistant said Jan was off on business. A police commander named Farouk, who like many Afghans goes by a single name, walked up. U.S. paratroopers had spoken admiringly about him.

Farouk said he'd just chased a dozen Taliban away from a broken-down truck on the highway. He thought he knew where they were hiding. "Let's go kill them!" he said.

"He comes out with ideas. He'll come to us with plans for operations," Beutel said. "He's a real go-getter."

Then Hamayun, the battalion's gaunt, bearded criminal investigations officer, approached. Beutel asked through a translator why the six policemen had abandoned the checkpoint.

"Did the Taliban shoot at them?" he asked.

Hamayun drew himself up.

"We wouldn't put on these uniforms if we were afraid of the Taliban," he said. "They left because the Americans never came back."

"It sounds like they just took off because they were lazy," Beutel said, walking back to the concrete bunker where he sleeps. "If we're not around, they think it's not really like an operation."

Beutel remained philosophical, however. Most of the police are brave, and some are, if anything, too eager, he said. Others aren't much good. Regardless, making the police into a force that can counter the Taliban is going to be a long haul, and a single afternoon doesn't mean much.

"Somehow we've got to empower the locals to trust" the police, Beutel said. "Right now, though, the guys with legitimacy in those villages are the ones who can bust through your door with an AK-47."