Friday, January 29, 2010

AMERICA - Novel Idea, A State Owned Bank

Live and learn. Didn't know about this until I read a Newsgroup article recommend this as a partial economic-fix for all states.

"Bank of North Dakota"

The Bank of North Dakota (BND) is a state-owned and -run financial institution based in Bismarck, North Dakota. Under state law the bank is the State of North Dakota doing business as the Bank of North Dakota.

All state and local government agencies are required to place their funds in the bank. Other entities may also open accounts at the Bank; however, BND offers fewer retail services than other institutions, and has only one office, limiting its competitiveness in consumer banking.

Instead, BND has taken a role more akin to a central bank, and has many functions, such as check clearing, that might be expected from a branch office of the Federal Reserve. The Bank does have an account with the Federal Reserve Bank, but deposits are not insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, instead being guaranteed by the State of North Dakota itself.

BND also guarantees student loans (through its Student Loans of North Dakota division), business development loans, and state and municipal bonds.

Though initially conceived by Non-Partisan League populists as a credit union-style institution to free the farmers of the state from predatory lenders, the Bank's functions were largely neutered by the time of its inception by the business-backed Independent Voters Association. The recall of NPL Governor Lynn Frazier effectively ended the initial plan, with BND taking a more conservative central banking role in state finance. The current president and CEO is Eric Hardmeyer.

The Bank of North Dakota is the only state-owned facility of its type in the nation, other than the Puerto Rico Government Development Bank.

Bank of North Dakota WEB page

POLITICS - Oregonians Give the GOP Another Kick-in-the-Pants

"Voters in Oregon OK tax hikes for some" by Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times

Corporations and wealthy families are targeted to help ease the state's budget crisis.

Facing a budget crunch that threatened to close schools early, lay off teachers and slash healthcare benefits, Oregon voters ended two decades of tax scrimping Tuesday by approving higher taxes on corporations and wealthy families.

The two ballot measures passed handily in a referendum watched closely around the country as a signal of whether voters are ready to approve targeted tax hikes to bail out cash-starved state treasuries.

Oregon voters since 1990 have limited property taxes, rejected sales taxes and vetoed across-the-board income taxes. But with 87% of the ballots counted, the measure to raise income taxes on households earning more than $250,000 a year, and individuals earning more than $125,000, was winning with 54.1%. A second measure to raise the state's corporate income tax was ahead with 53.6%.

Business leaders had fought the measures, arguing that they would drive away entrepreneurs and force struggling businesses to slash jobs.

The two measures would raise more than $700 million to help close a gap in the state budget that at one point reached $4 billion.

Kevin Looper, who ran the campaign to pass the measures, said the vote was a signal that predictions of a general conservative retrenchment following the Republican victory in this month's Senate race in Massachusetts were premature.

"I think this is firmly a progressive, populist moment. It just takes leaders to stand up and say what we're about, and make sure things are clear to voters," he said. "Because when the choice gets made clear like that, voters will almost always make the right decision."

Looper said the credit goes to Democratic leaders in the Legislature, who passed the tax increases against nearly unanimous Republican opposition.

"It was an amazingly courageous thing for the Legislature to say, 'We're going to both protect schools and make a case for tax fairness by keeping the burden off middle-class families,' " he said.

Opponents gathered signatures to force the referendum.

Supporters, backed by public employee unions, raised $6.8 million, compared with $4.6 million by opponents who relied on the banking industry and business groups. Final financial reports have yet to be filed.

"The biggest issue is we were substantially outspent by the public employee unions. They were able to double, and more than that, the money we were spending on the broadcast media, and were able to get that much more of their message out," said Pat McCormick, spokesman for Oregonians Against Job-Killing Taxes.

POLITICS - From the Tricky-Dicky Nixon Play Book

There has been much in Blogger-World about this since the following article, but the upshot is what the GOP has become since the Neo-Fascist takeover.

James O’Keefe and crew have taken a page right out of Nixon's play book.

"4 Arrested in Phone Tampering at Landrieu Office" by CAMPBELL ROBERTSON and LIZ ROBBINS, New York Times

Federal officials charged four men on Tuesday with plotting to tamper with the telephone system in the New Orleans office of Senator Mary Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana. One of the men was a conservative activist who gained fame last year by secretly recording members of the community group Acorn giving him advice on how to set up a brothel.

All four of the men arrested Monday in New Orleans, each in his mid-20s, were charged with entering federal property under false pretenses with the intent of committing a felony, according to the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana. They appeared in court on Tuesday, and a preliminary hearing was scheduled for Feb. 12.

If convicted, the four would face sentences ranging from a fine to 10 years in prison.

The political activist was James O’Keefe, 25, who has gained renown in conservative circles by poking fun at the left through pranks and undercover video. In the Acorn videos, Mr. O’Keefe and an associate, Hannah Giles, posing as a pimp and a prostitute, secretly filmed themselves seeking and receiving financial advice for a brothel from Acorn workers.

The film damaged Acorn’s reputation, and prompted a move by Congress to cut off some of its federal money. The group has sued Mr. O’Keefe and Ms. Giles, saying the secret recordings were illegal, and late Tuesday, Acorn’s chief executive, Bertha Lewis, said the arrest was further evidence of Mr. O’Keefe’s “disregard for the law in pursuit of his extremist agenda.”

The other men arrested were Joseph Basel, 24; Robert Flanagan, 24; and Stan Dai, 24, federal officials said. Mr. Flanagan is the son of William Flanagan, the interim United States attorney for the Western District of Louisiana.

It was not clear precisely what the men were trying to do in Ms. Landrieu’s office, or what kind of information they were trying to gather. But an affidavit signed by Steven Rayes, a special agent for the F.B.I., detailed parts of the operation, which began about 11 a.m. on Monday. Mr. Basel and Mr. Flanagan entered the building dressed in “blue denim pants, blue work shirts, light green fluorescent vests, tool belts, and construction-style hard hats.”

They said they were there to do repair work on the telephone system, and later claimed they had left their identification in their car.

Mr. O’Keefe was already inside the building and told a person at the office that he was waiting for someone to arrive, according to the complaint. It said he was “holding a cellular phone so as to record” video images of Mr. Basel and Mr. Flanagan.

Mr. Basel picked up the handset of the main telephone at the reception desk and both he and Mr. Flanagan tried — or pretended to try — to call it with their cellphones. Saying that they could not complete the calls, they asked to be directed to the telephone closet, so they could work on the building’s telephone system.

Shortly afterward, they were arrested by United States marshals.

The affidavit did not accuse the men of trying to tap the phones, or describe in detail what they did to the equipment.

“There is no wiretap allegation,” said J. Garrison Jordan, the lawyer who represented Mr. Flanagan at a bond hearing, where the men were all released on $10,000 bonds. He declined to give specifics, saying he had not had much time to talk with Mr. Flanagan.

“In general terms,” Mr. Jordan said, “I think it was a bad stunt that they pulled, and they exercised very poor judgment.”

Eddie Castaing, a lawyer representing the three others, also said he had had little time to talk with his clients and knew little more than what was in the complaint. Mr. Basel is from Minnesota, and Mr. Dai from Virginia.

“The truth shall set me free,” Mr. O’Keefe told reporters as he left jail.

Reached by telephone, his father, James O’Keefe Jr., of Westwood, N.J., said he did not know the facts of the case.

“He is an outstanding young man doing investigative journalism,” Mr. O’Keefe said of his son. “He studies a different form of journalism, and he pushes the limits a bit. What they were up to, I have no idea.”

Mr. O’Keefe had been in New Orleans last Thursday to give a speech for the Pelican Institute for Public Policy, a libertarian research organization. The topic of the speech was “Exposing Truth: Undercover Video, New Media and Creativity.”

Mr. Jordan said he understood that Mr. Flanagan worked for the Pelican Institute. He has written several articles critical of Ms. Landrieu for the online newsletter of the Pelican Institute. E-mail messages and phone calls to Pelican Institute staff members were not returned.

Ms. Landrieu issued a statement saying that the situation was “somewhat unsettling” for her and that she looked forward to learning the men’s motives.

Mr. O’Keefe’s Acorn videos won credit from several quarters for drawing attention to long-held conservative suspicions about the group, and conservatives praised him as catching many news organizations asleep on a major story. “I thought the set of capers regarding Acorn was a kind of ‘60 Minutes’ undercover-exposé — going where ‘60 Minutes’ fears to tread,” said Scott W. Johnson, a co-founder of the conservative Power Line blog, which frequently carried posts lauding Mr. O’Keefe and Ms. Giles.

Speaking of Mr. O’Keefe’s arrest, Mr. Johnson said, “It sounds like it was another kind of journalism project, maybe a misguided one — I’m open minded — but there’s so little information it’s impossible to say anything intelligent about it.”

In September, Richard W. Rahn, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, wrote a column in The Washington Times hailing Mr. O’Keefe and Ms. Giles as technologically savvy, “smart amateurs” who “with courage and good judgment are becoming effective investigative journalists.”

Mr. Rahn said Tuesday that he did not have enough information on Mr. O’Keefe’s arrest to offer a different assessment.

ECONOMY - On the Recovery 1/25/2010

"Economic survey: Slow recovery continues" by Mae Anderson, AP

Businesses expect to boost hiring and capital spending in the first half of the year as the U.S. recovery from the recession slowly continues, according to a new survey.

Since the fall of 2009 demand has edged higher in the goods-producing, finance and real estate industries, while other sectors such as transportation are seeing less drastic declines in growth. While costs have been increasing, prices also have moved higher, allowing businesses to post improved profits. Job losses, meanwhile, have been moderating with a slightly better outlook for hiring over the next six months.

The latest industry survey from the National Association for Business Economics, set for release Monday, shows that capital spending plans continue to brighten as credit markets loosen slightly. Thirty-five percent of those surveyed said credit conditions are hurting their business, down from 42 percent in the third quarter.

Many indicated "credit still remains tight but less so than in recent months," said William Strauss, a senior economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. Respondents say they plan to spend money on computers and communications but hold back on building costs.

Of the 75 NABE members from private sector and industry trade associations interviewed for the survey, all said they are making business decisions with an eye toward positive economic growth in 2010. Sixty-one percent of survey respondents believe real GDP will expand by more than 2 percent in 2010 - up from 45 percent of respondents in October.

For the second quarter in a row, price increases have been more common than price cuts. Only 8 percent of respondents said their companies cut prices in the last quarter.

Meanwhile, job losses are slowing down. While the unemployment rate remains at 10 percent and many economists expect it to increase in the coming months, the percentage of companies cutting payrolls fell to 28 percent from 31 percent in NABE's October 2009 survey. Also, 29 percent of those surveyed expect their companies to hire over the next six months, up from 24 percent last fall.

The vast majority - 69 percent - said the government's fiscal stimulus package enacted in February 2009 has had no impact on employment to date.

Inventories are falling at about 59 percent of firms. However, the share of firms reducing inventories in anticipation of weaker sales or as a way to cut costs and conserve cash did rise from October to January. That suggests some businesses are still somewhat concerned about the near-term economic outlook.

The overall economy grew in the third quarter of last year, and many economists believe it grew even faster in the final three months of 2009. However, they worry it will start to slow again unless people step up spending.

The NABE survey interviewed 75 panelists between Dec. 18 and Jan. 7.

Monday, January 25, 2010

POLITICS - The Usual GOP Propaganda, The Last 8yrs Was Not Our Fault

"GOP to the People: Forget We Were In Charge for 8 Years" Espuelas Spurs Debate (includes video)

In an ongoing propaganda campaign, the Republican leadership has decided to bet on a country-wide failure of memory to revive the party's fortunes.

Hearing the speeches in Congress, and as they fan out with their talking points across the cable news shows, GOP operatives are determined to convince people the the economic crisis is the result of Obama's supposedly failed policies.

While sane people will remember that the massive intervention into the country's financial system was authorized by President George W. Bush in order to stave off what his Secretary of Treasury and former CEO of Goldman Sachs, Hank Paulson, predicted would be a global financial meltdown - under their management (or more precisely, their lack of insight into the looming economic disaster).

The fact that the economy imploded under the GOP's watch is now being swept under the rug as if it never happened.

The doubling of the national debt under the Republicans is literally the elephant in the room - big, fat and representing the result of "Big Government Conservatism", whatever that is, which led to massive budget deficits even as the Republican Congress cut income taxes for the wealthy.

Remember the budget surplus Bill Clinton left the country? It was funneled to the wealthiest Americans as a massive tax cut which got us what, exactly?

And if Enron repulsed the nation, someone should look at the Republicans' management of the national budget. For the first time in the nation's history, a war (in this case 2 wars) was not included in the budget and payed for.

The national credit card was taken out and used over and over again even as the official national budget figures excluded these "extraordinary" expenses - showing a fictitious narrowing of the budget gap.

And let's not mention the unfunded Medicare prescription benefit which George W. Bush and Karl Rove used in an attempt to win favor with seniors - and the fiscal disaster for our country's finances it represents.

On the positive side, the GOP leadership's ability to create a completely fictitious history of events shows that not only Hollywood produces great actors.

POLITICS - As the Supreme Court Turns Fascist

Merrian-Webster Unabridged Dictionary

Fascism (in part)

Any program for setting up a centralized autocratic national regime with severely nationalistic policies, exercising regimentation of industry, commerce, and finance, rigid censorship, and forcible suppression of opposition.

"Supreme Court Rules Against America`s Middle Class !" by Don Jones, Underdog 1/13/2010

Yesterday morning, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations can spend freely in federal elections. It's a green light for a new stampede of special interest money in our politics, giving their lobbyists even more power in Washington.

Now, every candidate who fights for change could face limitless attacks from corporate special interests like health insurance companies and Wall Street banks.While the GOP is celebrating a victory for its special interest allies, President Obama is working with leaders in Congress to craft a forceful response that protects the voices of ordinary citizens. Please add your name right away to help show that the American people support strong, urgent action to prevent a corporate takeover of our democracy.

Congress: I support bold action to ensure fair elections. The Supreme Court decision overturned a 20-year precedent saying that corporations could not pay for campaign ads from their general treasuries. And it struck down a law saying corporations couldn't buy "issue ads" -- which only thinly veil support for or opposition to specific candidates -- in the closing days of campaigns.

The result? Corporations can unleash multi-million-dollar ad barrages against candidates who try to curb special interest power, or devote millions to propping up elected officials who back their schemes.

With no limits on their spending, big oil, Wall Street banks, and health insurance companies will try to drown out the voices of everyday Americans -- and Republicans seem ecstatic.

While opponents of change in Congress are praising this victory for special interests, President Obama has tasked his administration and Congress with identifying a fix to preserve our democracy -- and we need to show that the American people stand with him.

AND there's this article:
"American democracy, R.I.P. 1776-2010" by Paul Tullis, True/Slant

AT THE STATE LEVEL - Vermont's Backyard

"Highly radioactive water found at Vermont nuke plant" by Michael Winter, USA Today

A day after contaminated water was found in a test well at the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, company officials announced finding wastewater containing high levels of radioactivity, news outlets are reporting.

The water, reportedly about 100 gallons, was contaminated with radioactive tritium at a concentration of about 2 million picocuries per liter, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission told the Brattleboro Reformer. That's about 100 times the allowable federal level for drinking water and 70 times the standard for groundwater.

The Reformer describes the contamination as "free- standing water in a room in the radioactive waste building," while the the Argus Times quotes the head of the state senate as saying that the water was "discovered in a trench" at the plant and that plant officials "said the trench filled back up with suspected radioactive water after it was pumped out and processed."

No public comment yet from the owner, Entergy Nuclear.

The 38-year-old plant has suffered other malfunctions, and some New Englanders want it shut.

The news comes a day after company announced that tritium has contaminated a second groundwater monitoring well and that " tritium levels in the first contaminated well had risen again and were now above federal safe drinking water standards," the Rutland Herald reports.

The first well is about 30 feet from the Connecticut River and registers 22,300 picocuries per liter, while the second well is roughly 100 feet from the river and registers 9,600 picocuries. The tritium level "has risen steadily in the past 10 days, since Entergy first announced the contamination," the paper writes, noting that the wells are " relatively shallow, about 30 feet deep, the better to track groundwater."

The radiological health chief for the state Department of Health said it "was obvious that the tritium-tainted water was draining into the Connecticut River, but he said the river, with its huge volume of water, was diluting the radioactive contamination to an immeasurable level," the Herald writes.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

POLITICS - Tobacco, We Are SO Poor

"AP Exclusive: Tobacco's plea — no big US payments" by Pete Yost, AP 1/16/2010

Tobacco industry lawyers met secretly with Solicitor General Elena Kagan in an effort to avoid the government's last-ditch attempt to extract billions from companies that illegally concealed the dangers of cigarette smoking, The Associated Press has learned.

Four cigarette makers that control nearly 90 percent of U.S. retail cigarette sales have until Feb. 19 to persuade the government not to go to the Supreme Court and ask the justices to step into a landmark 10-year-old racketeering lawsuit.

In 2006, a judge ruled that the industry concealed the dangers of smoking for decades. Despite that finding, lower courts have said the government is not entitled to collect $280 billion in past profits or $14 billion for a national campaign to curb smoking.

As part of any effort to convince the government that it should skip a trip to the Supreme Court, the tobacco companies may have to drop plans to ask the justices to overturn the ruling that the industry engaged in racketeering.

On behalf of the industry, Washington lawyers Michael Carvin and Miguel Estrada made their pitch against seeking Supreme Court review in a mid-December meeting at the Justice Department with Kagan, according to two Washington attorneys outside the government who are familiar with the meeting in her office.

In the meeting, Carvin and Estrada left the impression the industry might be willing to end plans to seek a high court appeal of its own, if the Justice Department would do the same, said the Washington attorneys, who spoke on condition of anonymity so that they could discuss the private meeting with Kagan.

The discussion with Estrada and Carvin resulted in an internal department meeting a few days later. At this meeting, department lawyers discussed the possibility of seeking billions of dollars from the industry as part of a possible negotiated settlement of the suit, according to one of the private attorneys who learned about this second meeting from participants.

The department, the industry or both could request that the Supreme Court take the case, while at the same time asking that the case be delayed while the two sides try to work out a deal.

If the companies also agreed not to seek an appeal, they would be accepting the findings of U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler that they engaged in a scheme to defraud the public by falsely denying the adverse health effects of smoking, concealing evidence nicotine is addictive and lying about their manipulation of nicotine in cigarettes to create addiction. Last May, a federal appeals court upheld the findings. The companies then pledged to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Kessler ordered the companies to make corrective statements about the adverse health effects of smoking, the addictiveness of smoking and nicotine, the companies' manipulation of cigarette design and composition to ensure optimum nicotine delivery and the adverse health effects of exposure to secondhand smoke. These statements must appear on company Web sites, cigarette packages and newspaper and television ads.

If Kessler's findings stand, they will set a precedent that other plaintiffs can use for future suits against the tobacco companies.

"The trial court's findings are devastating to the tobacco industry," said Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, one of the public health groups allowed by Kessler to join the case in 2005 on the side of the Justice Department. "We have urged the department to go to the Supreme Court to significantly strengthen the remedies, particularly with regard to funding smoking cessation and public education."

Charles Miller, a Justice Department spokesman, declined comment, as did Carvin. Estrada didn't return telephone calls to his office.

Tobacco company defendants in the lawsuit are Philip Morris USA Inc. and its parent company, Altria Group Inc.; R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.; British American Tobacco Investments Ltd.; and Lorillard Tobacco Co. Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds and Lorillard account for nearly 90 percent of U.S. retail cigarette sales. A former U.S. subsidiary of British American Tobacco, Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., merged with Reynolds in 2004.

The way the federal suit has played out contrasts sharply with state action against the tobacco industry.

The companies have agreed to pay $246 billion over 25 years to settle suits states brought to recover their costs of treating smoking-related illnesses in the Medicaid program, which serves the poor and disabled.

Ya, right. They are almost in the Poor House and, and after all, company profits are much more important that any American citizen's health.

Just ask their GOP Support Group.

Friday, January 15, 2010

POLITICS - Attention, Now Hear This!

"Obama To Banks: 'We Want Our Money Back, And We're Gonna Get It'" by Ben Frumin, TPM 1/14/2010

President Barack Obama had some tough words for banks this morning as he unveiled a fee on the country's major financial institutions -- a fee that the president said will recover the estimated $117 billion that the TARP program is expected to cost American taxpayers.

"My commitment is to the taxpayer," the president said. "My commitment is to recover every single dime the American people are owed."

Obama said the fee will be imposed on major financial firms -- only those with more than $50 billion in assets -- and would be in effect for 10 years "or as long as it takes to cover that taxpayer loss."

--- Ben's comment:
If these companies are in good enough shape to afford massive bonuses, they surely are in good enough shape to afford paying back every penny to taxpayers.

Obama stressed that the majority of the $700 billion in TARP money that was originally dished out has been recovered, though the program is still expected to cost taxpayers roughly $117 billion.

"We've now recovered the majority of the funds provided to banks," Obama said. "As far as I'm concerned however, that's not good enough."

That's especially true, Obama said, because of reports of "massive profits and obscene bonuses at some of the very firms who owe their continued existence to the American people."

"We want our money back," Obama said. "And we're gonna get it."

Monday, January 11, 2010

MEDIA - FOX Eating Their Own

"The Fox-Murdoch Feud" by Lloyd Grove, The Daily Beast 1/9/2010


Wendi Murdoch encouraged Rupert’s son-in-law to fire a rocket at Fox News boss Roger Ailes—the first salvo in an escalating war between Murdoch’s heirs and the company brass for the future of one of media’s hottest enterprises.

The long-simmering feud between Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch’s adult children has finally erupted into full-scale war—a death struggle over the future of News Corporation, the financially beleaguered media and entertainment conglomerate that the 78-year-old Murdoch continues to control as chairman and chief executive.

The first shot—really a nuclear device—was fired today on The New York Times’ Web site by British public-relations executive Matthew Freud, Murdoch’s son-in-law. Freud’s on-the-record quote, for a front-page profile of the 69-year-old Ailes, who launched and runs News Corp.’s most profitable division, is stunning in its condemnation—a frontal attack on Ailes and an apparent attempt to force News Corp.’s founder to choose between blood and money, between his progeny and his most-prized executive.

“I am by no means alone within the family or the company in being ashamed and sickened by Roger Ailes’ horrendous and sustained disregard of the journalistic standards that News Corporation, its founder and every other global media business aspires to,” Freud told the Times. A News Corp. spokesperson fired back: “Matthew Freud's opinions are his own and in no way reflect the views of Rupert Murdoch, who is proud of Roger Ailes and Fox News.”

Love it! Just love watching FOX Noise being eaten by its own.

POLITICS - Opinion, The True Nature of the GOP

"Republicans: Party Before Country" by M.J. Rosenberg, TPM cafe 1/8/2010

It becomes more clear every day that the Republican opposition - in Congress and the media - is not interested in solving any of America's problems. Their only goal is to bring down the Democrats.

Some might respond that this is nothing new, and that the "out" party and its cutouts always want to destroy the other side.

But that isn't true. As recently as September 11, 2001 - and in the months following - the Democrats supported President George W. Bush and his policies. In fact, a good case can be made that the "loyal opposition" was too loyal, allowing Bush to implement terrible policies (and one terrible war) rather than appear partisan.

It is all different now that the Democrats are in power. The Republicans openly despise the President. This weekend's New York Times Magazine quotes one of the less vitriolic Republicans, Mike Huckabee, saying that he almost "lost his lunch" when he saw a photo of the Republican governor of Florida, Charlie Crist, allowing himself to be embraced by the President.

That's pretty ugly. What would Huckabee have had the governor do, push the President of the United States away? Of course not.

Huckabee isn't a natural hater, but to make it in GOP politics, he has to act like one. (I doubt he will succeed. Faking hate is as hard as faking love).

Most Republicans have no problem just being oppositionists. They dislike Obama, they want his policies to fail, and they don't have any problem saying it.

The other day, on Good Morning, America, host George Stephanopoulos asked Rep. Peter King, ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, why he thinks Obama's foreign policy is so bad. What would he do differently?

"I think one main thing would be to - just himself to use the word 'terrorism' more often," King said.

Now that's impressive - like saving Tinkerbell by clapping. If the only suggestion King can make is that Obama use the word "terrorism" more, King understands - although he can't admit it - that the President is doing everything he can.

Of course, there may be some proof that using the word "terrorism" does work. After all, following the colossal disasters of 2001, there were no other major attacks here at home for the duration of the Bush-Cheney administration. Maybe it is because Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld used the "T-word" almost incessantly, with Rudy Giuliani picking up any slack.

Former Vice President Cheney is still using the word whenever he can but not to deter anything. His transparent purpose is to ensure that if terrorists do strike, it will be the Democrats' fault. Naturally, 9/11 wasn't his fault even though both Bush and Cheney repeatedly received warnings of an impending attack.

Those warnings came from the White House anti-terrorism coordinator, Richard Clarke, who urgently requested a meeting with Bush and Cheney to come up with a plan to prevent the attack. But, as Condoleezza Rice said later, there was no reason to convene such a meeting because Clarke was not specific enough about the time and place of the attack. No date. No address. No meeting.

All I can say is "thank God" that Al Gore was not President on 9/11. Unlike the Democrats' refusal to point fingers at Bush, Republicans would have exuberantly blamed Gore for the attacks on New York and the Pentagon. (The Pentagon! Can you imagine how Cheney would have exploited a successful attack on our nation's military headquarters if he and his nominal boss were not the ones in charge?).

And he's already planning to exploit the next attack should it take place. Look at the way he sent e-mails to Politico early on the morning following the near disaster over Detroit blaming the security failure on Obama. Shameless and utterly unpatriotic.

Cheney is unique in our history. Former Presidents and Vice Presidents tend not to virulently criticize the succeeding President out of respect for the office, if not for the new President.

But not Cheney, who demonstrated little respect for the Presidency even when he was in power. (Has any previous Vice President ever shown such indifference to how his policies were affecting his own President? Has any worked so hard at pulling the wool over his President's eyes?)

And yet, somehow, Cheney and the Republicans act like they are the party of country when they are, in fact, only the party of....Party.

After all, in recent years, there has been little evidence that the Republicans put any loyalty above party loyalty (except for their loyalty to the idea of not spending an extra dime on anyone but the already wealthy). If they did, they would not revel in their unanimous votes against every major Obama proposal.

Are we really expected to believe that not a single Republican liked the President's stimulus package or Senate health care reform bill? Not a single one?

Or that not a single one supports the President on terrorism? After all, as Peter King demonstrates, they really don't have any significant differences with Obama over the terrorism issue other than semantics.

Here is what's happening. The Republican leadership put out the unambiguous word that the job of GOP legislators is to oppose everything Obama does or says with the goal of destroying his Presidency.

And they let their flock know that Republicans who stray (like Crist) will face the full wrath of Limbaugh, Beck, Kristol, Savage and the rest. So, even for Republicans of a more moderate stripe, the path of least resistance is just to say "no" to everything.

And that even means ridiculing the President's efforts to keep America safe from terrorism.

The President understands the game the Republicans are playing, which is why he said this in his speech on Thursday: "Now is not a time for partisanship, it's a time for citizenship -- a time to come together and work together with the seriousness of purpose that our national security demands."

But he knows that there is no chance of that happening. Citizenship? The concept only applies to the opposition when the Republicans are in power. Otherwise, it's all out war and, as Rush Limbaugh was honest enough to admit, hoping for the worst.

POLITICS - Campaign 2008, 60min 1/10/2010

Revelations from the Campaign


"Did a Court Just Deal a Fatal Blow to Tasers for Police?" by Raj Jayadev and Aram James, New America Media


In what is being heralded as a landmark decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently declared that police officers could be held liable for using a Taser without proper cause. And in making their determination, the court also set new legal parameters on how law enforcement is to use Tasers, stating, "The objective facts must indicate that the suspect poses an immediate threat to the officer or a member of the public." The federal finding substantially changes the landscape of Taser usage, and may signal the end of Tasers for law enforcement agencies who are now more vulnerable to civil and criminal action then ever before.

And while any regulation on Taser use is a move forward from the status quo, which repeatedly has left civilians tased for innocuous circumstances, and the decision acknowledges some of the inherent dangers of the weapon, it falls short in a most critical way. The instruction is based on a false premise that Tasers "fall into the category of non-lethal force" as stated in Judge Wardlaw's written opinion. By denying the lethality of Tasers, the court mistakenly treats Tasers as an intermediary weapon, like a baton, when it should be treated as a deadly weapon, like a firearm.

According to Amnesty International, there have been more than 350 deaths due to Tasers. In San Jose, which was the first city to arm every one of its officers with the weapon in 2004, there have been six Taser-involved deaths, more than a death a year since its inception.

I personally think the overall decision is sound, the opinion of the writers that the fundamental flaw is NOT treating the Taser as a lethal weapon I also agree with.

I consider that law enforcement have any trouble with this decision is an issue of laziness on their part. Not wanting to take the time to implement sound Taser policies and proper training.

I also suspect, if closely examined, that many of the agencies having problems using Tasers are also the ones who have a history of excessive-use-of-force in general.

WAR ON TERROR - Example of the Problem

"Military Is Awash in Data From Drones" by Christopher Drew, New York Times

Excerpt from 2-page article

As the military rushes to place more spy drones over Afghanistan, the remote-controlled planes are producing so much video intelligence that analysts are finding it more and more difficult to keep up.

Air Force drones collected nearly three times as much video over Afghanistan and Iraq last year as in 2007 — about 24 years’ worth if watched continuously. That volume is expected to multiply in the coming years as drones are added to the fleet and as some start using multiple cameras to shoot in many directions.

A group of young analysts already watches every second of the footage live as it is streamed to Langley Air Force Base here and to other intelligence centers, and they quickly pass warnings about insurgents and roadside bombs to troops in the field.

But military officials also see much potential in using the archives of video collected by the drones for later analysis, like searching for patterns of insurgent activity over time. To date, only a small fraction of the stored video has been retrieved for such intelligence purposes.

Government agencies are still having trouble making sense of the flood of data they collect for intelligence purposes, a point underscored by the 9/11 Commission and, more recently, by President Obama after the attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound passenger flight on Christmas Day.

Mindful of those lapses, the Air Force and other military units are trying to prevent an overload of video collected by the drones, and they are turning to the television industry to learn how to quickly share video clips and display a mix of data in ways that make analysis faster and easier.

Managing the flood of data is an issue with ALL Intelligence Agencies, especially the NSA which gathers more data than is held in the Library of Congress DAILY.

"Obama takes steps to bolster security" by Christi Parsons and Greg Miller, Los Angeles Times 1/8/2010

Thursday, January 07, 2010

ON THE LITE SIDE - Interview With the Devil

"A brief interview with the devil" by Mark Morford, San Francisco Chronicle

Given how he was a little busy, what with the world the way it is, and such....

The devil wore patent leather Bruno Magli wingtips, a Dolce camelhair jacket, houndstooth fedora.

We met at a small café on the outskirts of Amsterdam; he was dashing off to a climate meeting where he planned to heckle scientists in the form of a trembling flat-earther before cruising over to North Korea to whisper backwards Latinate phrases into the tormented ear of Kim Jong Il. Then on to Alberta to broker some new oilsands deals, and finally, off to Rome to further tempt Vatican clergy in the form of a beautiful, smooth-skinned altar boy named Rodrigo.

Not bad for an afternoon's work, he said, grinning.

(interviewer in bold)

Thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions. I understand you're very busy.

Hang on, just finishing up this text to Ballmer. "Congrats on Windows 7! We finally did it!" Now let me just Twitter about finding irrefutable proof that Obama is a Nazi sympathizer, then plant this item on Drudge about the new health care bill secretly taking H1N1 vaccines away from white Christian children and giving them to Mexican illegals. There.

OK, make it quick, I gotta pack for a petrochem summit in Davos. Keynote, as usual. Those boys f--king love me.

I appreciate your time. Now, many say the world is in a horrible state of turmoil...

Isn't that great, by the way? That's just f--king great. Dear God, I rule.

I'm sorry?

It's not, actually, just FYI. Here's a little secret I don't talk about much, but you'll forget it the instant I leave anyway: The world is actually teeming with beauty and life and rejuvenation, hope and awe and epiphany, every moment of every day. There is pure bliss, entire universes of knowing, pure God consciousness available in the smallest instant, the complete breath, the gentlest human touch. But you didn't hear it from me! (Laughs, concrete curdles).

Well, there have been some pretty difficult, even horrifying events in the past few years...

Let me just clear up one misconception right here. People thought I was swamped during the Bush years, running that whole glorious, bloody spectacle. And it's true, I was busy. But it was also wonderfully easy.

What do you mean?

Honey, I had armies of devoted minions in power back then. I basically sat back like a fat, narcotized Hamptons housewife while my staff brought me cupcakes made of war and fear and homophobia, Christian evangelicals and Muslim hysteria and economic failure. Glorious, glorious time.

But now? Now it's ... different. Bloom is off the black rose, you might say. I'm still busy, still plenty of ugly out there, but I'm not in control anymore. Now I'm just herding cats. Very, very dumb cats.

But we still have all these problems...

Sure you do. But now there's this sickening movement toward responsibility and progress that I find totally nauseating. I spend all my time planting these ridiculous stories, going lower and lower on the intellectual food chain just to get the dittoheads to scream about, what's that crap again? Birthers? Death squads? Teabagging? ACORN? This is what I'm reduced to. F--king hate it. But at least I'll always have oil. And guns. Talk radio. Monsanto.

But even the world's finest scientists say we're on the cusp of meltdown, what with global warming and ...

Global warming? Please. Total hoax. Evolution? Hoax. Electric cars? Hoax. All of existence? Hoax. The Bible? Actually not a hoax -- the true, literal, perfect English transcript of floaty magic-winged creatures living on sparkly clouds and judging what you eat and how you have sex, because everyone knows the Almighty loves war, college football, and large caliber handguns, hates gays, Muslims and the French, and wears a U.S. flag lapel pin that was actually made in China. Ha!

I don't see how that relates to...

You don't? You don't see how I can hurl BS into the culture on a spit and a whim before I even eat my morning sacrifices? Let me put it this way: Millions of you actually believe the Bible is literal fact, but you think climate change is a grand, devious ruse. Come on. Who but me could pull off such a masterstroke? I should have my own goddamn reality show. Oh wait, I have all the reality shows.

So you're saying humanity's really not on a collision course with destruction?

Oh hell, of course you are. It's all decay and annihilation and flow and flux. Human civilizations come and go like a divine menstrual cycle. I set my Panerai by it. Never forget, sweetheart: change is the only constant. But as any good mystic or pagan will tell you, destruction and creation are the same god with two intergalactic calling plans. Existence bounded up in a nutshell, the king of infinite space. This is all just a delightful illusion. I should know; I co-designed it.

But what about all the corruption and deception?

Look, I don't care how you measure. Trilateral commission, U.N. security counsel, NSA, CIA, Blackwater, communism, shadow governments, all of them. It's just a grand circus, you know? This is all just a ride. My day-to-day power lies in making millions forget what a cosmic joke it all is.

You take yourselves so damn seriously: your raging political parties, the "crucial" issues, Wall Street, gun control, organized religion, banks, credit card companies, big oil, even the endless wars, dictators, all this nefarious churn. You know what it is? It is the silliest charade. It is monkeys playing piano. It is a grand flea circus on the back of a celestial dog, and he's about to scratch himself.

But what of the pain and suffering? The agony of existence?

Oh my sweet Allah with steaming pork sandwich, what an egotistical species you are! Millennia of war and death and pain and fighting over tiny scraps of land, little dusty strips of nothing, thinking God bestowed it upon you! Let me tell you something: the divine has no agenda whatsoever except to know itself in myriad form. God is a life energy. I am a death energy. Creator/destroyer. Light/dark. Inhale/exhale. Shiva/Shakti. Spit/swallow. Both vital. Both omnipotent. Both essential. You have to choose to see it. You feel me?

I think I do.

How about now?

Please take your tail out of there.

Sure thing, lovebug.

All right, since we're already out of time, let's do a quick lightning round.

Love lightning. Drizzle it on my virgin sacrifices every morning.

I'll toss out some names and current events, and you tell me the first thing that comes to your mind. All right?

Bring it.

Barack Obama

Ha! Dude pisses me off. Can't seem to rile him. Thinks he understands things. Actually does. Know what I hate more than anything, and that includes laughter and singing in the shower and multiple orgasms? Wisdom. Calm, assured wisdom in the face of all the whining and screeching I can muster from my minions. Such gall. Makes my soul pimple.

Rush Limbaugh

I have hangnails more interesting.

Glenn Beck


Ann Coulter

Has a bizarre thing for dwarves dressed in Chewbacca costumes while she's in full body latex and covered in Crisco. Oh wait, Glenn Beck? Now I remember. All about yodeling, self-flagellation, sniffing the tailpipes of monster trucks, usually simultaneously. They make a cute pair, like a puppet show in an asylum.

The world's dictators. Mugabe, King Abdullah, Hu Jintao...

Ah, now we're getting somewhere! My boys! Some of my best work at the moment. Monsters in different skins, the shadow side incarnate. Love them. What a terrific mirror they are for that part of you so many of you refuse to see!

How about the "New Atheists?" Richard Dawkins, Chris Hitchens, et al?

Cute. Harmless. Completely missing the point. Look, it's way too easy to point out the childish folly, the cute mythology of every major faith in the world. Of course they're fiction. Of course they're totally absurd. Of course those in charge use them to keep millions weak and guilt-riddled and forcibly detached from the idea that they already are divine. A no-brainer, really.

So they're misinformed?

To say the least. They're also only half right. Atheists have merely cut off part of their soul to spite their fate.

After all, it's far more interesting, more challenging to peek behind the silly religious rulebooks and church politics and the obvious myth-making, and taste the source, the wider energy at play. Believing in floaty angels and immaculate conception is for children. Not very bright children, at that. The tantrikas had it absolutely right: the divine is available in an instant, in every moment -- no rules, no complicated hierarchies, no institutions. You are god. You are the devil. Everything else is just maya -- illusion.

But wait, what about...

Whoops, hang on, that's my phone. It's a text from Jesus. Wants to meet for a drink. And it's only noon! That kid is so crazy. If you people only knew. Bye now.

POLITICS - Obama Soft on Terror, NOT

Here is evidence that Obama has never though that we are not at war with terrorists. More prof that the GOP LIES!

"Yemen, Latest War Front?" CBS News Video 1/2/2010

It has been learned that Yemen is the latest U.S. front in the war on terror. As Kimberly Dozier reports, CBS News has been told the U.S. led government-backed assaults on Yemen's al Qaeda bases.

"U.S. Leading Assaults on al Qaeda in Yemen" (Article) by Kimberly Dozier, CBS Evening News 1/2/2009

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

HEALTHCARE REFORM - The Way to Handle the Party-of-NO

"Dems Intend to Bypass GOP on Health Compromise" by David Espo, AP 1/4/2010

Page 1 of 2

House and Senate Democrats intend to bypass traditional procedures when they negotiate a final compromise on health care legislation, officials said Monday, a move that will exclude Republican lawmakers and reduce their ability to delay or force politically troubling votes in both houses.

The unofficial timetable calls for final passage of the measure to remake the nation's health care system by the time President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address, probably in early February.

Democratic aides said the final compromise talks would essentially be a three-way negotiation involving top Democrats in the House and Senate and the White House, a structure that gives unusual latitude to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California.

These officials said there are no plans to appoint a formal House-Senate conference committee, the method Congress most often uses to reconcile differing bills. Under that customary format, a committee chairman is appointed to preside, and other senior lawmakers from both parties and houses participate in typically perfunctory public meetings while the meaningful negotiations occur behind closed doors.

In this case, the plan is to skip the formal meetings, reach an agreement, then have the two houses vote as quickly as possible. A 60-vote Senate majority would be required in advance of final passage.

"I look forward to working with members of the House, the Senate and President Obama to reconcile our bills and send the final legislation to the president's desk as soon as possible," Pelosi said late last year as the Senate approved its version of the legislation.

"We hope to get a bill done as soon as possible," said Jim Manley, a spokesman for Reid.

The issue is so partisan that only one Republican, Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao of Louisiana, has cast a vote in favor of the legislation.

GOP leaders have vowed to try and block a final bill from reaching Obama's desk. "This fight isn't over. My colleagues and I will work to stop this bill from becoming law," Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the Republican leader, said shortly before the Senate cleared its version of the bill last month.

POLITICS - More on the GOP Sinking Ship

Here are just 2 more articles on the GOP and their fast sinking ship.

"GOP retirements in House may affect party's gains in November" by Chris Cillizza, Washington Post

While the recent political chatter in Washington has focused on Democrats retiring from Congress, Republicans are leaving the House in greater numbers, a trend that could blunt the party's momentum heading into the November midterm elections.

Rep. Henry E. Brown Jr. (S.C.) on Monday became the 14th Republican to announce that he will not run for reelection this year. Ten Democrats have said the same, including an attention-grabbing four in the past two months from swing and Republican-leaning districts.

A broad look at those seats suggests more parity, in terms of the two parties' opportunities and vulnerabilities, than conventional wisdom would suggest.

Each side has three seats won by the other party's presidential candidate in 2008. For Democrats, they are Louisiana's 3rd District and Tennessee's 6th and 8th districts; for Republicans, they are Delaware's at-large seat, Illinois's 10th District and Pennsylvania's 6th District.

Both parties face the prospect of tough campaigns in most of those open-seat districts. Nine of the Republican seats are in districts that GOP presidential candidate John McCain either lost or won with less than 60 percent of the vote in 2008. Democrats are defending seven seats that Barack Obama either lost or won with less than 60 percent.

The relative evenness of those numbers belies the perception in Washington that Democrats are rapidly losing altitude -- the switch of Rep. Parker Griffith (Ala.) to the GOP being a touchstone in that argument -- and are headed for major losses in November.

Retirements are only one factor in the midterms. Republicans still have several advantages and are nearly certain to score double-digit gains in November.

The largest factor in their favor is the weight of history. The first midterm elections for a new president are traditionally marked by significant House losses for his party.

This month will be critical in determining what direction the open-seat landscape is headed. Will a series of Democratic lawmakers -- fresh from conversations with their families and nervous about the political environment -- decide to step aside? (Keep an eye on such congressmen as Leonard L. Boswell of Iowa and Vic Snyder of Arkansas for an early indication of which way the wind is blowing.) And would those departures prompt even more lawmakers to consider leaving on their own terms?

If that happens, an election cycle that looked like a traditional midterm round for Democrats, with losses in the 20-seat range, could become one in which control of the House is up for grabs.

Expect Republicans to push hard on wavering Democratic lawmakers over the next month, letting them know what they are in for if they decide to seek reelection. But if the GOP's retirements continue, that pressure could ease.

"Greer Announces Resignation As Florida GOP Chair -- And Slams Right-Wing Critics On His Way Out" by Eric Kleefeld, TPM

On a conference call with reporters just now, Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer officially announced his resignation, effective on February 20. He took the opportunity to tear into his right-wing critics for wanting a smaller party and accused them of pulling apart the GOP itself in order to take him out.

Greer is an ally of Gov. Charlie Crist, a relative GOP moderate who is being vigorously challenged in this year's Senate primary by the more conservative former state House Speaker Marco Rubio. Supporters of Rubio had been accusing Greer of mismanaging party funds and of being biased in Crist's favor, all of which Greer has strongly denied. In his resignation, Greer said he could no longer put the party through this divisive process -- but he clearly didn't mind taking some parting shots on the way out.

"As you know, there is a great debate in our party on the direction, moderates vs. conservatives, whether we should have a big tent or a small tent," said Greer. "And while I have made it my utmost concern to try and keep those arguments and discontents out of the Republican Party of Florida, over the last six months there has been a very vocal group within our party that has become very active in seeking an effort to oust me as chairman. They have distorted facts, they have talked about misspending of money, when the facts have been shown over and over and over that that's not true. They have talked about my support of Gov. Crist for the U.S. Senate race. They have, as they say, thrown everything up against the wall as they possibly can, to either embarrass me or embarrass the Republican Party of Florida."

"They simply have two goals in mind, and if the first one fails, fall back to the second one," Greer explained. "And the first one is remove me as chairman, and if that doesn't work, burn the house down and destroy the Republican Party of Florida."

Greer further explained: "Their efforts and their own statements privately and even sometimes not so privately, to not be concerned about the future of the party, has led me to recognize that I cannot be a participant in the shredding and tearing of the fabric of the Republican Party. Many of my supporters, including the Governor, have continued right up to this day to support me as chairman. I would note that the Governor has not asked me to step down. In fact the Governor has continued to support me right through this process, and would have continued, because he does know the facts and the accomplishments we have had, through Saturday and beyond."

Greer also said he will remain active in the party. "I intend to be very engaged in supporting candidates," he said. "I intend to play a role in making sure common sense Republicans get elected to office, and Republicans I will support that believe we should be an inclusive party, and be one that lowers the political rhetoric and focuses on leadership and results. I'm not a purist as you all know. I have never been a purist. I believe that our party stands for principles and values that should always allow anyone who has an interest in being part of our party to participate."

A reporter asked Greer whether Marco Rubio is a "small tent" candidate who would hurt the party. Greer didn't give a definitive answer either way. "No, I'm not commenting on any particular campaign," he said. "And at the end of the day, the voters will decide what the Republican Party should look like. My vision as chairman, is what I was talking about, I have strived as chairman to make this party very inclusive and reach out to segments of the voting block that were not provided as much effort as I thought they should have."

TERRORISM - Yemen & Al-Qaeda

"Yemen Crucial to Obama's Vow to Defeat Al-Qaeda" by Mark Sappenfield, Christian Science Monitor

Due to security threats, the US closed its embassy in Yemen Sunday. The decision points to the strength of al-Qaeda in Yeman - and why the US is stepping up efforts there.

The US embassy in Yemen has closed one day after President Obama confirmed that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the failed Christmas Day bomber of Northwest Flight 253, was trained and equipped in Yemen.

The move points to the threat posed by Al Qaeda in Yemen. Already, Al Qaeda has struck the US embassy in Yemen once.

In 2008, it laid siege to the embassy, attacking it with mortars rounds and two car bombs – one detonated outside the gates and the second rammed into the embassy’s ramparts. The embassy was not breached, though 13 Yemenis and six terrorists were killed.

For Mr. Obama, though, the question of Al Qaeda in Yemen goes much deeper than Sunday’s decision to shutter the embassy temporarily. More even than Afghanistan, perhaps, Yemen goes to the core of his anti-terrorism philosophy.

Defeating Al Qaeda

In Obama’s months-long reassessment of the war in Afghanistan, one constant remained: the goal he laid out shortly after taking office. “So I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al Qaeda,” he said in announcing his original Afghanistan strategy in March.

Of all the places most often linked with Al Qaeda, Yemen is, in many respects, the place where Obama’s efforts might bear the most fruit.

Unlike Afghanistan, Yemen has a robust Al Qaeda presence within its borders. Unlike Pakistan, Yemen appears to be an eager partner for the US. And unlike Somalia, Yemen still has at least the trappings of a functional government.

It’s one reason the Obama administration is now pumping $70 million in military aid into Yemen – a number that will double next year, according to Gen. David Petraeus, the US commander of forces in the region, who was visiting Yemen Saturday.

“A strong case can be made that Obama has narrowed the focus on Al Qaeda,” said political analyst Ronald Brownstein on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday.

Yemen: Where Al Qaeda Is

Obama’s decision to send 51,000 more troops to Afghanistan has put his stamp on that war. Yet Obama knows he cannot dismantle or defeat Al Qaeda from Afghanistan, because Al Qaeda is no longer there – it is across the border in Pakistan.

With Pakistan either unable or unwilling to dismantle the terrorist networks of Al Qaeda and its allies in its tribal areas, Obama can only hope to keep Al Qaeda from expanding into Afghanistan again and growing stronger.

In Yemen, however, he can strike at Al Qaeda directly and has a partner that is apparently willing to do so.

A Reliable Partner?

In fact, Al Qaeda in Yemen was virtually exterminated in 2003, a year after the US killed Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi, the top Al Qaeda operative in Yemen, in a missile strike. The new incarnation of Al Qaeda has arisen since 2006 amid distraction and neglect.

As was the case in Pakistan, Somalia, and Afghanistan, Al Qaeda gained strength in a country was preoccupied by other crises. Yemen remains troubled by a rebellion in the north, as secessionist movement in the south, and a 40 percent unemployment rate.

In short, the Yemeni government needs help if it is to take on Al Qaeda, which remains well down on its priority list.

Yet the Yemeni government appears willing to take on Al Qaeda if it is given this help. This represents something of a departure from the past. As recently as last year, the Yemeni government was alleged to have freed terrorists that it could could marshal against its domestic enemies. The leader of Al Qaeda in Yemen is a Guantánamo detainee sent back to Yemen, where he was freed in a prison break.

US Steps Up the Pressure

It appears as if Al Qaeda in Yemen has overplayed its hand, however. With US help, Yemen launched two airstrikes against Al Qaeda in the eight days before the failed airline bombing attempt on Flight 253 on Christmas Day.

But the attacks also give the US grounds for caution. Local media reports suggest that many women and children were killed in one of the strikes.

“Now you have something where there are all these pictures of dead infants and mangled children that are underlined with the caption 'Made in the USA' on all the jihadi forums,” Yemen expert Gregory Johnsen of Princeton University told AP. “Something like this does much more to extend Al Qaeda."

POLITICS - The Long View, War on Terrorism

"Inside Obama’s War on Terrorism" by Peter Baker, New York Times 1/4/2010


The evening before he was sworn into office, Barack Obama stepped out of Blair House, the government residence where he was staying across from the White House, and climbed into an armored limousine for the ride to a bipartisan dinner. Joining him in the back seat were John Brennan, his new counterterrorism adviser, and two foreign-policy advisers, Denis McDonough and Mark Lippert. The three men with the president-elect were out of breath, having rushed more than a mile from transition headquarters on foot after failing to find a taxi in Washington’s preinaugural madness. As the motorcade moved out, they updated Obama on gathering evidence of a major terrorist plot to attack his inauguration. After a weekend of round-the-clock analysis, the nation’s intelligence agencies were concerned that the threat was real, the men told him. A group of Somali extremists was reported to be coming across the border from Canada to detonate explosives as the new president took the oath of office. With more than a million onlookers viewing the ceremony from the National Mall and hundreds of millions more watching on television around the world, what could be a more devastating target?

“All the data points suggested there was a real threat evolving quickly that had an overseas component,” Juan Carlos Zarate, President George W. Bush’s deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism, told me in November. As the inauguration approached, signs of a plot “seemed to be growing in credibility and relevance.” Another senior Bush official involved in those tense events a year ago said last fall that protecting the new president was not enough. Even a failed attack would send a debilitating message to the world. “If something happens on the podium and there’s chaos,” this official told me, “that’s the first time you see the new president, and you really don’t want that.”

The threat seemed to weigh on Obama. He canceled a practice session to go over his inaugural address with aides at Blair House. David Axelrod, his senior adviser, later interpreted that as a sign that Obama was thinking about the suspected plot. “He seemed more subdued than he had been,” Axelrod told me not long ago. Obama had not yet taken office, and he was already being confronted with the threat that consumed his predecessor’s presidency. No matter how much he thought about terrorism as a senator or as a presidential candidate, it was another thing to face it as the person responsible for the nation’s security — and quite another thing again to know the threat was aimed directly at himself, his wife and their two daughters. “It’s not as if you don’t know what you’re getting into,” Axelrod said. “But when the reality comes and the baton is being passed and you’re now dealing with real terrorism threats, it’s a very sobering moment.”

There was little Obama could do but ask questions and rely on the people who had been fighting this fight for years. His advisers worked side by side with the outgoing administration. The two teams gathered in the Situation Room of the White House shortly before the inauguration to sift through what was known and to hash out what should be done about it. The final iteration of Bush’s team sat across the table from the brain trust of Obama’s administration — Condoleezza Rice, Stephen Hadley and their colleagues on one side, Hillary Rodham Clinton, James Jones and their colleagues on the other.

Clinton immediately put her finger on the problem. According to participants, she asked, what should Obama do if he is in the middle of his inaugural address and a bomb goes off somewhere on the mall? “Is the Secret Service going to whisk him off the podium so the American people see their incoming president disappear in the middle of the inaugural address?” she asked. “I don’t think so.”

Among those in the room was Robert Gates, who served two years as Bush’s defense secretary and would remain in that post under Obama. After the meeting, everyone eventually agreed that Gates should stay away from the inauguration in a secret location. With no other member of Obama’s cabinet confirmed by the Senate, Gates — an incumbent cabinet officer who also had the imprimatur of the newly elected commander in chief — was the most logical person in the line of succession to take over the presidency should the worst happen.

At the heart of the deliberations about what to do was John Brennan, a former C.I.A. officer. A Middle East specialist known for setting up the National Counterterrorism Center for Bush, Brennan was coming back after three years out of government as the top counterterrorism official in the Obama administration. He had wanted to be C.I.A. director but found his potential appointment sunk by liberal protests over his ties to the old order, so instead he was made assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism and deputy national security adviser, a position that did not require Senate confirmation.

This is from the 1st page of a 9-page article that gives readers an idea of the Obama Administration's view of this threat to America.

Monday, January 04, 2010

POLITICS - Security Debate, PBS News Hour

"Shields and Brooks Examine Security Debate, Politics in 2010" (includes video) PBS News Hour 1/1/2010

Transcript Excerpts

DAVID BROOKS: Well, not so well. But, I mean, to me, the whole reaction was overwrought.

We have all these geniuses who are, post hoc, that they could have figured out if only they were in place, sort of a hysteria calling for Janet Napolitano's head, calling for this person's head.

The fact is that we have this vast bureaucracy. The NSA, National Security Agency, alone captures four times as much data per day as exists in the Library of Congress. They do a pretty good job of reducing the risk of terrorist attack. Occasionally, somebody gets through. That is going to inevitably happen.

We should have some sort of steady, level-headed response. That is the sign of a resilient nation. We don't have it. We have had the last week of the whole country going -- or at least the punditocracy -- going into semi-hysteria over this. And it's just not the sign of a serious country. And I think nobody has covered themselves with glory in all this.

JEFFREY BROWN (News Hour): Hmm. Mark, not a serious country.

MARK SHIELDS: Boy, not a serious country, that is a serious charge.

I do -- I mean the point David makes about -- that -- and that NSA information, which is four times as much as the Library of Congress, is just from cell phones and wireless. I mean, so, it is a remarkable amount of information to be processed.

But I think there is cause for concern, and there's no doubt about it, not -- there has been partisan overreaching, excessive and indefensible. But, at the same time, there were signs. There were warnings here.

And we're supposed to have, eight years later, some sense of communication, and especially some sense of urgency. And I think that was missing. And I think the president recognizes that. The president says, there was a systemic failure. He is accepting accountability from his administration. And I think it is serious. And I think it is something that has to be addressed.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, then, what about the opposition finger-pointing...

MARK SHIELDS: Well, no, I will be happy to address the opposition.

I do think there is no question that Secretary Napolitano's answer was an attempt -- misguided, inept -- to assure people who were traveling over Christmas that it was going to be safe, and which was a legitimate intention, but not a sensible assessment of the situation.

And I do think that what we are seeing as a result of this is, we're still in silos, we're still in smokestacks, as far as intelligence is concerned. I mean, we did have 9/11 recommendations that did require the director of national intelligence to coordinate all this.

I mean, there were failures at each level, I mean, whether the State Department on the visa, all the way along the line, the CIA on information, whether as to whether in fact this fellow was going to be a real problem. We had specific information from his dad.

So, I think there is cause for concern. I think the president has shown restraint. I mean, I really do. I mean, he insisted that he wouldn't do anything until the facts are there. But he addressing it as a serious problem.

JEFFREY BROWN: You think he got it right?

MARK SHIELDS: I do think he did get it right. And David's point is, as always, thoughtful.


MARK SHIELDS: No, and, usually, about 85 percent incisive.

MARK SHIELDS: No. But, as far as the other side is concerned, I mean, Jim DeMint comes in, the senator from South Carolina, comes in for special treatment in this New Year's season. I mean, this is a man who has held up the appointment of the director of the Transportation Safety (sic) Administration, which is charged with airport safety and the travel -- or the safety of travel, and he said for one person -- reason.

And that is that he wants to get from this man, to extract from him, a guarantee that employees of the TSA will not be able to collectively bargain, Jeffrey. And, I mean, if this -- it's based on some know-nothingness that says, oh, they will -- union bosses will interfere with the safety of the country.

Now, this is a man who is a graduate of the University of Tennessee, has a master's in business from Clemson, was 50 years old on 9/11. When -- to go in to save, after the Twin Towers were leveled, the trapped and the terrified, 343 New York firefighters walked into the jaws of death and the fires of hell, and every one of them was a dues-paying union member.

And, I mean, the fact that, somehow, he associates that these people are not public servants, not interested in public safety is probably partisanship of the narrowest and the most unforgiving nature.

JEFFREY BROWN: Right. I was just going to bring him up, because he was...

DAVID BROOKS: Again, the idea, to me, this is endemic in the nature of this kind of warfare. We're going to have failures. And it's just because you can't predict the future.

The idea that it was, as Dick Cheney said, as the result of some ideological failure is also silly.

JEFFREY BROWN: He said the president was trying to pretend we are not war, was the way he put it.

MARK SHIELDS: This is a president who, much to the consternation of his base and his strongest supporters, will have tripled the number of American troops in Afghanistan, will have doubled the amount spent for the -- in support or aid of the democratic country of Pakistan, and hardly somebody who has been indifferent to it.

And, I mean, Dick Cheney would do well to heed the counsel of his alleged superior, the man who put him on the ticket, George W. Bush, who, when asked to criticize President Obama, said, "I owe him my silence."

And, compared to Dick Cheney, George Bush ought to be on Mount Rushmore. And it looks more like that every passing week.

JEFFREY BROWN: If we try to look forward now, how does -- how do these events and the new things you have just talked about, the counterterrorism, the intelligence problems that have now been re-raised, how does that complicate the president's agenda going forward?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, to me, the one lesson is, we will never get out of the paying attention to the Islamic extremism. This is just going to be an issue that will pop up in Afghanistan. It will pop up here at home...

Note, "And, I mean, Dick Cheney would do well to heed the counsel of his alleged superior, the man who put him on the ticket, George W. Bush, who, when asked to criticize President Obama, said, 'I owe him my silence.'" I totally agree, it is a lesson ALL Ultra-Conservative GOP ideologues need to heed.

Also see...
"Republicans Go Bonkers Over Obama and Flight 253" by David Corn, Politics Daily

Richard Reid ring a bell? Especially the Bush Administration response?

ALSO, and more important:
"Obama: Intelligence Failures Allowed Attempted Plane Attack" (includes video), PBS News Hour 1/5/2010

One Excerpt from Transcript

JIM LEHRER: We get three other perspectives now from Ken Button, director of the Center for Transportation at George Mason University -- he's also a professor of public policy there -- Steven Simon, former terrorism specialist at the National Security Council in the Clinton administration -- he's now with the Council on Foreign Relations -- and Clark Kent Ervin, former inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security in the Bush administration. He's now director of the Aspen Institute's Homeland Security Program.

Mr. Ervin, just a few moments ago, the White House issued a statement, or issued a statement that the president reportedly said to his folks that he met with, in other words, his team, his 12 folks that were there, and he -- he -- the president said this -- quote -- "This was a screw-up that could have been disastrous. We dodged a bullet, but just barely. It was averted by brave individuals, not because the system worked. And that is not acceptable. While there will be a tendency to finger-pointing, I will not tolerate it."

What do you make of that?

CLARK KENT ERVIN, former inspector general, Department of Homeland Security: I think that's absolutely spot on.

The president was exactly right to say that. He has said essentially in the public statement. You can't fix a problem until you acknowledge it. And the president has said this before. This was a systemic failure. It is the first impulse of government always to downplay crises. That was the first impulse here with the Department of Homeland Security.

And, so, the president is quite right. And the sense of urgency that he conveyed is also important.