Friday, February 26, 2010

CITIZEN ACTION - Man of His Word

"Frustrated Owner Bulldozes Home Ahead Of Foreclosure" WLWT 5, Cincinnati News


MOSCOW, Ohio -- Like many people, Terry Hoskins has had troubles with his bank. But his solution to foreclosure might be unique.

Hoskins said he's been in a struggle with RiverHills Bank over his Clermont County home for nearly a decade, a struggle that was coming to an end as the bank began foreclosure proceedings on his $350,000 home.

"When I see I owe $160,000 on a home valued at $350,000, and someone decides they want to take it – no, I wasn't going to stand for that, so I took it down," Hoskins said.

Hoskins said the Internal Revenue Service placed liens on his carpet store and commercial property on state Route 125 after his brother, a one-time business partner, sued him.

The bank claimed his home as collateral, Hoskins said, and went after both his residential and commercial properties.

"The average homeowner that can't afford an attorney or can fight as long as we have, they don't stand a chance," he said.

Hoskins said he'd gotten a $170,000 offer from someone to pay off the house, but the bank refused, saying they could get more from selling it in foreclosure.

Hoskins told News 5's Courtis Fuller that he issued the bank an ultimatum.

"I'll tear it down before I let you take it," Hoskins told them.

And that's exactly what Hoskins did.

I have to admire the guy. Ballsy.

POLITICS - Healthcare Summit

"Obama dominates the room at healthcare summit" by Caren Bohan, Reuters


It was a unique insight into President Barack Obama's management style.

Obama dominated the debate during Thursday's nearly seven hour cross-party summit on healthcare, always in command not only of the room but also of the most intricate policy details, as he personally rebutted every point he disagreed with.

His tone was at times professorial, occasionally combative and at one point even dismissive of his 2008 rival for the presidency, Republican Senator John McCain.

"Let me just make this point, John, because we're not campaigning anymore," he told McCain. "The election's over."

"Well, I'm reminded of that every day," McCain replied.

It remains to be seen if the American public was more convinced by Obama's detailed exposition of policy or the Republicans' more visceral argument against an expansion of Washington's powers.

What is certain is that there was little progress toward generating a greater bipartisan consensus around a reform of the mammoth U.S. healthcare industry.

"There are some fundamental differences between us that we cannot paper over," Jon Kyl, the No. 2 Senate Republican, told Obama. "We do not agree about the fundamental question of who should be in charge."

Perhaps it was no surprise that there was little progress on Thursday. Democrats said there had already been more than 100 bipartisan meetings on healthcare since Obama came to power a year ago, yet the two sides seem to have drifted further apart than ever.

Arguably the event was more about trying to win popular support for Obama's healthcare plan -- and shoring up his own Democratic base -- than it was about bridging the ever widening gulf between America's two main parties over healthcare.

Convening nearly 40 lawmakers around a cramped square table in the Blair House guest quarters across from the White House, Obama was at his most schoolmasterly as he warned participants against turning the event into "political theater" or an exercise in pointscoring.

He was almost scornful of Republican Congressman Eric Cantor for sitting behind a copy of the 2,700-page Democratic legislation the Republicans say is overly complex and beholden to special interests.

"We don't care for this bill," Cantor said.

Obama accused him of using the pile of papers as "a prop".

"The truth of the matter," he added, "is that healthcare is very complicated."

PBS Newshour Analysis
After Obama's Summit, Any Minds or Votes Changed?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

HEALTHCARE REFORM - What the People Say

"Americans Remain Split On Stalled Health Care Legislation" by Rakesh Singh & Chris Lee, Kaiser Family Foundation 2/23/2010


Americans Remain Split On Stalled Health Care Legislation, but Some Provisions Popular Among Majorities of Democrats, Independents and Republicans

Most See Delays As Driven By Politics Rather Than Policy

(click any chart for larger view)

POLITICS - The Hypocrisy of the GOP

"Republican lying, hypocrisy is unprecedented" by Ed Gurowitz, North Lake Tahoe Bonanza

One of the oldest debates in moral philosophy is based in the question “does the end justify the means?” Like most questions of morals, this one does not admit of an easy answer, though there are those who have attempted to answer it categorically. Machiavelli, in The Prince, was unequivocal — the end a ruler sets his sights on is all and any means used to obtain that end are justified. Given that the eponymous prince was Cesare Borgia and the time was Renaissance Italy, the ruling class naturally found this advice very agreeable.

Most philosophers come to a conclusion along the lines of “it depends.” If the end is moral, and the only way to achieve it is immoral, then the end may justify the means. For example, if I can save the life of a child (moral) by lying to a murderer about the child's whereabouts (immoral), then the end is sufficiently important to justify the means. On the other hand if I can convert an atheist to belief in God (moral) by lying to him about God (immoral), then no, the end doesn't justify the means because the means are contradictory to the end.

There are people who, like the Borgias, are firmly convinced that any means are justified to achieve their ends. These are people who are so firmly convinced that they are right that nothing can create even the slightest crack in their certainty. Fundamentalists and extremists of every stripe — on the political left and right, in virtually every religion fall into this category.

While no one in politics is immune from falling into this trap, we've recently seen what I think are some particularly egregious examples of it from members of the Republican Party. In the past couple of weeks it's been revealed that a large number of the leading Senate opponents of the economic stimulus — people who railed against it as everything from ineffective to socialist, have quietly been getting money for their states from that same stimulus and touting its effectiveness — even taking credit for it — people from the same party who excoriated John Kerry for being a flip-flopper — these same people are now reversing themselves on a wholesale basis on anything that the GOP has done or endorsed that President Barack Obama now supports.

In fact, that is the only logic to their actions — if Obama's for it, we're against it. Try KSM in civilian courts — horrors! But under a Republican administration, Richard Reed, the shoe bomber, and hundreds of others were tried (and convicted) in civilian courts . Act aggressively against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, even killing key leaders — horrors! But Obama is soft on terrorism.

I'm not saying that the left is immune to hypocrisy — but the scale of GOP lying (the shoe bomber was an American citizen, Obama hasn't used the word “war” to describe our opposition to terror) and hypocrisy (denouncing the stimulus while taking money and credit for it on the sly and praising its effectiveness, calling for Rahm Emanuel to resign for using the word “retarded” but excusing Rush Limbaugh for the exact same thing) seems to me to be unprecedented.

De Tocqueville said that in a democracy the people get the government we deserve. If we continue to tolerate the Right's “say anything, do anything, as long as it makes the President look bad and gets us elected” assault, then maybe we do deserve them if they are voted in in 2012.

Bold emphasis mine

WAR ON TERROR - Latest BIG News!

"Half of Afghanistan Taliban leadership arrested in Pakistan" by Anand Gopal, Christian Science Monitor

Excerpt (pg 1 of 2)

Pakistan has arrested nearly half of the Afghanistan Taliban’s leadership in recent days, Pakistani officials told the Monitor Wednesday, dealing what could be a crucial blow to the insurgent movement.

In total, seven of the insurgent group’s 15-member leadership council, thought to be based in Quetta, Pakistan, including the head of military operations, have been apprehended in the past week, according to Pakistani intelligence officials.

Western and Pakistani media had previously reported the arrest of three of the 15, but this is the first confirmation of the wider scale of the Pakistan crackdown on the Taliban leadership, something the US has sought.

“This really hurts the Taliban in the short run,” says Wahid Muzjda, a former Taliban official turned political analyst, based in Kabul. Whether it will have an effect in the long run will depend on what kind of new leaders take the reins, he says.

News of the sweep emerged over the past week, with reports that Pakistani authorities had netted Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the movement’s second in command, as well as Maulavi Abdul Kabir, a prominent commander in charge of insurgent operations in eastern Afghanistan, and Mullah Muhammad Younis.

Pakistan has also captured several other Afghan members of the leadership council, called the Quetta Shura, two officials with the Pakistani Intelligence Bureau, and a United Nations official in Kabul told the Monitor.

These include: Mullah Abdul Qayoum Zakir, who oversees the movement’s military affairs, Mullah Muhammad Hassan, Mullah Ahmed Jan Akhunzada, and Mullah Abdul Raouf.

At least two Taliban shadow provincial governors, who are part of the movement’s parallel government in Afghanistan, have also been captured.

A Taliban spokesman denied the arrests, saying that they were meant to hide the difficulties that United States and NATO forces were having in Afghanistan.

Why Pakistan’s sudden crackdown?

The crackdown may to be related to efforts by some Taliban leaders to explore talks with Western and Afghan authorities independently of Pakistan, the UN official said. Pakistan is widely suspected of backing the Afghan Taliban in a bid to maintain influence in Afghanistan, a charge Islamabad has long denied. But Pakistan may also be wary of Taliban attempts to initiate talks without its involvement or sanction.

“Pakistan wants a seat at the table,” says the UN official, who is familiar with Taliban efforts to initiate talks. “They don’t want the Taliban to act independently.”

“It’s possible that Mullah Baradar and those around him wanted to start thinking about an eventual settlement,” says Mr. Muzjda. Former and current Taliban figures emphasize, however, that such a settlement necessarily involves a timetable for withdrawal of foreign forces in the country.

Reports emerged last month that the outgoing head of the UN mission here, Kai Eide, had met commanders associated with the Taliban leadership to explore the possibility of talks. Mr. Eide has declined to comment.

POLITICS - GOP, For Whom the Bell Tolls

"Younger Americans Cite Liberalism as Defining Aspect (Update 1)" by Jonathan D. Salant, Bloomberg 2/24/2010


Younger adults, who turned out in unprecedented numbers to help elect Barack Obama to the presidency, say liberalism helps define their generation, a poll found.

The survey by the Pew Research Center found that those aged 18 to 29 cited technology use, music/pop culture and liberalism/tolerance as the three top characteristics that most make them unique from other age groups.

The young adults “are particularly liberal when it comes to issues of social policy, attitudes toward homosexuality and immigrants,” said Carroll Doherty, associate director of the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

The slant toward liberalism showed in their support of government -- 53 percent of them said government should do more to solve problems, compared with 45 percent of those aged 30-45, 43 percent of those aged 46-64, and 39 percent of those 65 and older.

The characteristic also showed in party affiliation. Among the younger age group, 41 percent identified as Democrats, while 32 percent classified themselves as independents and 22 percent as Republicans. That was the largest percentage of Democratic Party supporters among any of the age groups.

The largest percentage of Republicans, 31 percent, was among those 65 and older. Within this age group, 38 percent identified as Democrats and 25 percent said they were independents.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


"CBO estimates that stimulus package has employed up to 2.1 million workers" by Pat Garofalo, Think Progress

For months, conservatives have been claiming that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA, i.e. the stimulus) is a “boondoggle” that “failed” and did not create “one new job.” But last week, the New York Times’ David Leonhardt noted that economic research firms estimate that ARRA created or saved 1.6 to 1.8 million jobs. And today, the non-partisan Congressional Research Office placed the estimate even higher, saying that ARRA is responsible for up to 2.1 million jobs in the 4th quarter of last year:

CBO estimates that in the fourth quarter of calendar year 2009, ARRA added between 1.0 million and 2.1 million to the number of workers employed in the United States, and it increased the number of full-time-equivalent jobs by between 1.4 million and 3.0 million…CBO also estimates that real (inflation-adjusted) gross domestic product (GDP) was 1.5 percent to 3.5 percent higher in the fourth quarter than would have been the case in the absence of ARRA.

CBO calculated that without the stimulus package, the unemployment rate would be up to 1.1 percent higher. It also said that unemployment is higher than analysts predicted after passage of the ARRA due to “greater-than-projected weakness in the underlying economy rather than lower-than-expected effects of ARRA.”

Comment from referred page:

zxbe says:

But.. but… but… the right-wingers said it didn’t create a single job. How can it be that they are so wrong… about EVERYTHING.

Well zxbe, you see, in GOP/Bush World....... (beginning of horror Faerietail)

POLITICS - How To REALLY Support the Troops

"Hiring to expand veterans' services: Q&A with W. Scott Gould, deputy secretary of Veterans Affairs" by Ed O'Keefe, Washington Post

Excerpt (pg 1 of 2)

The Department of Veterans Affairs plans to hire roughly 105,000 employees in the next two years as part of the Obama administration's expansion of benefits and services for veterans. Deputy Secretary W. Scott Gould talked Monday about the hiring plans and other department operations.

Q Who exactly are you looking for? Just doctors and nurses or claims folks?

We're looking for medical professionals: Doctors, nurses top our lists. Also claims processors. We're putting a big emphasis on clearing through the backlog. Obviously, in addition to new technology and better processes, we need good people to make those judgments.

How's this going to work? Besides a $12.4 million television ad campaign, are there recruitment fairs at medical schools or some other outreach?

We're airing on the Olympics; we're on all the major award shows. We think it's a brand-new way of getting out in front of folks and letting them be aware of what the VA has to offer. In addition to that, we're looking to streamline our internal processes. So when someone calls, they express an interest, they're going to find a more customer-friendly VA.

Pretend I'm a med student who's plotting my post-school plans. What would be the sales pitch?

Number one, the mission. Taking care of our veterans, taking care of the people who have protected our freedom over time. I can't think of a better synergy and overlap between a physician who wants to do something for their community and heartfelt service to veterans. The second would be leadership that gets it. Leadership that's prepared to invest in them and develop their careers over time. And the third thing I'd say is that we're growing.

Let's talk salary and benefits: Is it comparable if one goes to the VA vs. a private hospital?

Surprisingly, yes. Under Title 38 [regarding veterans' benefits], we have the capacity to pay up to $400,000 a year for a physician. . . . We're not as high-paying as the highest-paying, but we think we have very respectable compensation.

In addition, you don't have to buy insurance, and you can practice medicine anywhere in the country, as long as you have one state where you passed your certification. So it's a flexible career; it's one where you can move without having to undergo the burden of repeated exams and licensure.

HEALTHCARE - Updates 2/23/2010

Obama unveils a $950B restart on health
USA Today

"What will the President's proposal mean for you?" The White House

"Obama invites Republicans to summit on health care" by Michael D. Shear, Washington Post 2/8/2010

POLITICS - Torture Refuted AGAIN

"David Petraeus Refutes Cheney on Torture" by Heather, Crooks and Liars


Looks like David Gregory didn't get the response he was hoping for here out of Gen. David Petraeus after basically asking him if he wished they could be torturing the recently captured Taliban figure Abdul Baradar. Apparently David Petraeus is not in the chickenhawk Cheney's corner. He also refutes the GOP on whether we should be closing Gitmo.

View the video on linked page.

GUNS AGAIN - History Repeats 2/23/2010

How does the phrase go, "Those who ignore history are forced to relive it."

"2 Injured in Colo. Middle School Shooting" AP, CBS News

A teacher tackled a man armed with a high-powered rifle just after two teenage students were shot Tuesday at a suburban Denver middle school that's just miles from Columbine High School, the site of one of the nation's deadliest school shootings, authorities said.

One male and one female were shot at about 3:30 p.m. outside Deer Creek Middle School in Littleton, Jefferson County Sheriff's office spokeswoman Jacki Kelley said. Both students were taken to a nearby hospital and were expected to survive.

Student Steven Seagraves said he was about 10 feet away when an adult approached students and asked them: "Do you guys go to this school?"

When the students said they did, he shot them, Seagraves said.

Seventh-grade math teacher David Benke, a 6-foot-5 inch former college basketball player who oversees the school's track team, tackled the suspect as he was trying to reload his weapon.

"He was trying to rack another round. He couldn't get another round in before I got to him so I grabbed him," Benke said, recalling that he didn't have time to fear for his life.

Benke's wife said her husband called her after the shooting.

"He said there was a shooting and that he had to tackle the gunman," Sandra Benke said. She said her husband was upset that he couldn't reach the shooter before two rounds were fired. "He said 'It was one of my students."'

Authorities haven't released the victims' names, but say they both had surgery Tuesday evening.

Bus driver Steve Potter said he was about to pull away from the school with a full bus when he heard a loud bang that sounded like an M-80 firecracker. Students screamed when they spotted the man with a rifle, Potter told KMGH-TV.

"He looked like he was just kind of looking around for someone to shoot," he said.

Potter said he saw Benke grab the suspect so he and another man jumped on the gunman and helped hold him until police arrived.

"He's the real hero," Potter said of Benke. "All the credit goes to him."

The suspect's name hasn't been released, but authorities say he's 32 and that he doesn't appear to have any connection to the school. He's expected to make his first court appearance Wednesday morning and may face at least two counts of attempted murder.

Kevin Zwolinski, another student, said he had just boarded a school bus when he heard two shots and saw one of the victims fall to the ground.

"I thought it could have been like a tire might have been popped, but as soon as I turned around and saw everyone running I knew it was a gun," he said.

Zwolinski said everyone on the bus was told to lie silently on the floor until authorities arrived.

The school is about three miles southwest of Columbine High School, where two teens - Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris - killed 12 students and a teacher and wounded 23 others before killing themselves in 1999.

The middle school was temporarily locked down with about 30 students in the building. They were eventually taken to a nearby elementary school, where they were to meet up with their parents.

Students' parents were alerted through text messages, phone calls and e-mails, Jefferson County Schools spokeswoman Melissa Reeves said.

Kelley said authorities don't yet have a motive for the shootings.

"Why this school, why this happened, why these students, we don't have any of those answers yet," she said.


"Fearing Obama Agenda, States Push to Loosen Gun Laws" by IAN URBINA, New York Times 2/23/2010


When President Obama took office, gun rights advocates sounded the alarm, warning that he intended to strip them of their arms and ammunition.

And yet the opposite is happening. Mr. Obama has been largely silent on the issue while states are engaged in a new and largely successful push for expanded gun rights, even passing measures that have been rejected in the past.

POLITICS - Again, the Not-in-Lock-Step Republican

"Colin Powell Rejects Dick Cheney's Claims, Says U.S. Is Not Less Safe Under Obama" Huffington Post (updated) 2/21/2010

Dick Cheney's charges that the country is less safe because of the way Barack Obama has handled national security matters don't hold water, former Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday. "To suggest that somehow we have become much less safer because of the actions of the administration, I don't think that's borne out by the facts," Powell said on CBS's "Face the Nation."

Powell pointed out that Obama has kept in place most of the programs enacted by the Bush administration. "The Transportation Security Administration created by George Bush is still in action working in our airports," Powell told host Bob Schieffer. "They take care of me every day that I go to an airport."

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence was also created under President Bush, "and it is still under President Obama, working hard," Powell continued. "Our counterterrorism authorities and forces are hard at work. Our law enforcement officials are hard at work. We have gone after the enemy in Afghanistan with 50,000 more troops, more predators are striking al-Qaida and Taliban leaders in Pakistan. We have continued the policies that President Bush put in place with respect to Iraq. And so I don't know where the claim comes that we are less safe."

Powell on CBS Face the Nation
(Discussion of national security begins around the 10:00 minute mark)

Watch CBS News Videos Online

PLEASE, view the entire video. Powell is the voice of sanity. The type of Republican I was before 2000 when I left the party. He represents what the GOP should be.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

POLITICS - Regulation, More Change in the Air

"Chemicals In Toys, Furniture May Face Tighter Standards" by DALIA FAHMY, ABC News

Excerpt (pg 1 of 3)

People used to laugh at Richard Wiles when he started lobbying Congress 10 years ago for tighter rules on the chemicals allowed in consumer products.

Although chemicals known to harm human health -- such as mercury and asbestos -- were making it into everything from computers to carpets, the government had no power to enforce bans. The chemical industry seemed untouchable.

This is all changing. Wiles and other consumer advocates are now helping to shape what is expected to be a massive overhaul of American chemical policy.

"There's been non-stop pressure from the scientific community and the media on the hazards of some of the industry's signature chemicals," says Wiles, co-founder of the Environmental Working Group, a Washington-based advocacy, arguing that consumers are increasingly reluctant to buy products they believe might leech poisons. "Consumer groups have driven up the heat so much that it has affected the companies' bottom line."

Products on American store shelves now contain a whopping 89,000 chemicals, with a core group of 3,000 making up about 95 percent of the chemicals in use. Some of these chemicals have been proven in studies to increase the risk of cancer, neurological disorders or reproductive defects. Mercury, for example, used to make button-sized batteries, can damage neurological development in fetuses and children. Asbestos, used in home insulation and brakes, among others, can cause cancer.

Yet the Environmental Protection Agency, which has primary responsibility in this area, is virtually powerless to regulate these chemicals.

But now, thanks in part to a change of heart by chemical companies such as DuPont and Dow Chemical, Congress may soon be considering a bill which would overhaul the EPA's regulatory powers.

Senator Frank Lautenberg, D–N.J., who has been pushing for reforms of America's outdated chemicals regulation for years, is expected to introduce a new Senate bill in coming weeks.

Consumer advocates say a bill has a better chance of passing than ever, largely because the chemical industry now supports reform.

"Our industry understands there are fundamental hazards and risks in chemicals," says Mike Walls, vice president of regulatory and technical affairs at the American Chemistry Council. "As part of our efforts as good stewards, we want to make sure these risks are minimized to the extent possible."

Well, it's about time.

Now watch how the GOP howl. Their historical actions on ANY regulation say that the profits of the Chemical Industry (aka GOP Paymasters) is more important than protection of citizens, like children.

POLITICS - "So Much for the Massachusetts Miracle"

"From the bluest of states, a red senator of a different color" by Dana Milbank, Washington Post 2/23/2010

So much for the Massachusetts Miracle.

The election of Republican Scott Brown to Ted Kennedy's Senate seat was supposed to bring a seismic change to national politics. It did just that Monday night, but not in the way Republicans had hoped.

It was almost time to vote on the Senate jobs bill, the first major vote since Brown's arrival. Republicans were counting on their new member to be their "41st vote," the number needed to sustain filibusters and shoot down any and all Democratic proposals.

Brown, his desk in the back corner, was the only Republican in the room as Senate Majority Harry Reid (D-Nev.) offered a final denunciation of the GOP before the vote. "My friends on the other side of the aisle are looking for ways not to vote for this," he said, accusing them of putting "partisanship ahead of people."

As Reid spoke, Brown was leafing through a Senate face book, learning to recognize his new colleagues. As soon as the vote was called, he strode quickly into the well and interrupted the clerk as he read the roll.

"Yes," Brown said quietly, and then, having become Reid's first vote, he rushed out of the room before Republican colleagues arrived. He stepped into the hallway, then waited for reporters to assemble around him.

"I'm not from around here," he said. "I'm from Massachusetts."

Back inside the Senate chamber, Maine's Susan Collins, a Republican moderate, followed Brown's lead and voted yes. The floodgates opened, and the GOP filibuster was broken with two votes to spare.

It was a good way to celebrate George Washington's birthday.

Three hours before the jobs-bill vote, the Senate chamber opened with its 117-year tradition of reading Washington's Farewell Address on his birthday. The current lawmakers evidently didn't think much of the tradition, for they assigned the reading to Roland Burris, the senator from Blagojevich. Total number of senators at their desks for the reading: zero.

That's too bad, for Washington's words were never more relevant. "The common & continual mischiefs of the spirit of Party are sufficient to make it the interest and the duty of a wise People to discourage and restrain it," Burris read, haltingly, on the floor Monday afternoon. "It serves always to distract the Public Councils and enfeeble the Public Administration. It agitates the Community with ill founded Jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another."

The Senate then moved to validate Washington's concern by taking up the jobs bill. The measure had been rolling toward swift and easy passage -- a tally of 80 votes had been anticipated -- because of a bipartisan deal negotiated between the top Democrat and Republican on the Finance Committee.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid upended the deal and replaced the bipartisan deal with a smaller bill favored by Senate liberals. Republicans, predictably, withdrew their support. And Democrats, predictably, went to the Senate TV studio to denounce the Republicans.

The ferociously partisan Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) explained why "it's sometimes more important to force a clear vote" rather than getting in the "swamp of negotiating" with Republicans. "I think continuing to force votes is the prerogative of the majority."

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) went to the Senate floor to inform Republicans that "there comes a time when you've got to put politics aside."

With Republican leaders vowing opposition to Reid's version of the bill, it appeared that Democratic leaders had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. And it was a pointless snarl. Democrats scuttled a bipartisan deal full of provisions they supported, just to pick a fight with Republicans. Republicans, furious that their good-faith negotiations had been ignored, opposed the pared-down version of the bill even though they favored its contents.

It was, in other words, just what Washington warned about 214 years ago when he cautioned against "the baneful effects of the Spirit of Party."

"The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissension, which in different ages & countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism," the first president wrote. "But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism."

One man who did seem to get that message from the ages was Brown, who it appears hasn't been in Washington long enough to be intoxicated by the Spirit of Party.

Moments before the vote, Brown's office sent out word that he planned to side with the Democrats, and some last-minute buttonholing by Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) evidently didn't change his mind.

"It's not a perfect bill, but it's certainly a bill that I felt comfortable enough to vote on, because it's the first step in creating jobs," Brown said. "And anytime you can make a small step, it's still a step."

Back on the Senate floor, the Democratic leader admired his unexpected gift for Washington's birthday. "Whether this new day was created by the new senator from Massachusetts or some other reason," said Reid, "I'm very, very happy."

POLITICS - Doubters, Eat Crow, Civilian Trials for Terrorist

Remember those in both houses of Congress that howled about Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, Christmas airline bomber, being tried in civilian court? Well.....

"Guilty Plea Made in Plot to Bomb New York Subway" by A. G. SULZBERGER and WILLIAM K. RASHBAUM, New York Times


The Afghan immigrant at the center of what the authorities described as one of the most serious threats to the United States since 9/11 pleaded guilty Monday to terrorism charges in what he said was a Qaeda plot to detonate a bomb in the New York subway.

The man, Najibullah Zazi, admitted that he came to New York last year near the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks to kill himself and others on the subway using a homemade bomb. He characterized the plot as a “martyrdom operation” that he was just days away from executing when he said he realized he was under government surveillance.

Mr. Zazi, 25, pleaded guilty in United States District Court in Brooklyn to charges that included conspiracies to use weapons of mass destruction and to commit murder in a foreign country, and to provide material support for a terrorist organization. He faces a possible life term when he is sentenced on June 25.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said at a news conference in Washington that the Zazi case represented one of the most serious threats to the United States since the 9/11 attacks.

“Were it not for the combined efforts of the law enforcement and intelligence communities it could have been devastating,” he said. “This attempted attack on our homeland was real, it was in motion, and it would have been deadly.”

Mr. Holder, who has faced criticism by some who favor prosecuting more terror suspects before military tribunals, also repeated his defense of the civilian court system as “an invaluable weapon for disrupting plots and incapacitating terrorists.” He said it “contains powerful incentives to induce pleas that yield long sentences and gain intelligence.”

Monday, February 22, 2010

POLITICS - PBS NewsHour Analysis 2/19/2010

Shields and Brooks on Dwindling Civility in Congress
PBS NewsHour

POLITICS - The California Maverick

I did not vote for Arny but he has surprised me and earned my respect.

"Schwarzenegger Calls Out GOP On Stimulus Hypocrisy, Praises Recovery Act For Creating Jobs In California" by Ben Armbruster, Think Progress (includes video) 2/21/2010

Today on ABC’s This Week, host Terry Moran noted the Republican Party’s staunch opposition to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that Congress passed last year and added that “it was summed up by Mitt Romney at the CPAC convention this week.” “[President Obama] scared employers,” Romney said. “So jobs were scarce. His nearly trillion dollar stimulus created not one net new job in the private sector.”

Responding to Romney, Republican California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger called out the GOP hypocrisy:

  • SCHWARZENEGGER: I find it interesting that you have a lot of the Republicans running around pushing back on the stimulus money and saying this doesn’t create any new jobs. Then they go out and they do the photo ops and they’re posing with the big check and they say, “Isn’t this great?”

Schwarzenegger then railed against his GOP colleagues for playing politics with the stimulus bill and attacked them for claiming it didn’t create jobs:

  • SCHWARZENEGGER: Anyone that says it hasn’t created a job, they should talk to the 150,000 people that have been getting jobs in California.

  • MORAN: In the private sector?

  • SCHWARZENEGGER: In the private sector and from the public sector. … So I’m happy that we got this money. I’m happy that we have put 150,000 people to work and there will be more people that are put to work because of it.

Throughout the past year, many GOP members of Congress who voted against the stimulus have been touting the money it delivered to their states or districts. And in a new research report released last week, ThinkProgress found that over half of the Republican caucus — 110 lawmakers from the House and Senate — are guilty of this stimulus hypocrisy.

POLITICS - Facebook Demonstrating Responsibility

"Facebook pulls plug on Tax-icide tribute to Joseph Stack, pilot who crashed plane into Austin office" by Christina Boyle, NY Daily News

A Facebook fan page praising the Austin man who flew his plane into an IRS office, killing a Vietnam vet who worked inside, has been shut down by the social networking site.

Conservative talk show host Jon Alvarez of WFBM-AM 1390 in Syracuse created the group just hours after Andrew Joseph Stack carried out his crazed suicide mission Thursday to express his anger at the IRS.

Facebook removed the site within a day of its creation and e-mailed Alvarez to tell him that it bans posts that are hateful or threatening.

"This guy was making a sacrifice to others who were having problems with the IRS," Alvarez told Syracuse's Post-Standard newspaper. "We at least owed it to him to make note of his thoughts."

The tribute page included Stack's ranting manifesto that spelled out his bitter hatred of the IRS, Wall Street bailouts, and the Catholic Church.

The 53-year-old set his own house on fire before his airborne suicide, but his wife and her 12-year-old daughter were not inside the North Austin home at the time.

Alvarez devoted his Friday broadcast to Stack's plane crash and defended the pilot's actions, even though there were nearly 200 people at work inside the seven-story Echelon Building at the time.

He thinks news organizations were simply out to "label [Stack] a loon."

"I'm surprised more people haven't done something like this," Alvarez said. "There's a lot of frustration out there. I think this is just the tip of the iceberg."

Bold emphasis mine

CONSTITUTION - Oklahoma Anti-Choice Blockheads

"Oklahoma declares anti-choice law posting details of women’s abortions online unconstitutional" by Amanda Terkel , Think Progress

Last year, the Oklahoma legislature passed a controversial abortion law that mandated collecting personal details about every single abortion performed in the state and posting them on a public website. Although women wouldn’t have to disclose their name, address, or other specific identifying information, many were concerned that patients could still be revealed. The law was supposed to go into effect on Nov. 1, 2009, but delayed because of a legal challenge by the Center for Reproductive Rights. Yesterday, an Oklahoma County district judge ruled the law unconstitutional:

  1. The court ruled that the bill passed by the legislature addressed too many disparate topics and therefore violated the Oklahoma Constitution’s “single-subject” rule which requires laws only address one topic at a time. [...]

  2. The law also would have banned abortions based on a woman’s gender preference for her child; created new responsibilities for state health agencies to gather and analyze abortion data and enforce abortion restrictions; and redefined a number of abortion-related terms used in Oklahoma law. [...]

  3. This is the second time in two years that the Oklahoma legislature has tried to restrict abortion in the state by bundling numerous provisions into one bill. In September, the Oklahoma District Court struck down another state law imposing various abortion restrictions, including the most extreme ultrasound requirement in the country, ruling that it violated the state’s single subject rule.

In October, ThinkProgress interviewed Oklahoma state Rep. Jeannie McDaniel (D), an outspoken opponent of HR 1595. She told us that the legislation — introduced by two men — demonstrated “a very strong feeling” in Oklahoma “that women aren’t capable of making reproductive decisions when it comes to terminating a pregnancy.”

This is the Dance of the Blockheads. They don't get it after being (figuratively) hit-over-the-head several times.

POLITICS - Truth About Social Security Fix

"Obama: Social Security fix would be simple" AP 2/19/2010

President Barack Obama says Social Security is slowly running out of money but that it can exist well into the future with a slight fix.

The system is funded with a tax on earnings, up to $109,000 a year. Obama says lifting that cap to tax a larger share of income would be one way to extend the system of monthly payments for retirees. It also would be unpopular with some.

Without an adjustment, Obama said Social Security will start to run out of money in about 20 years as more people begin collecting benefits.

Obama spoke Friday at a town-hall meeting in Henderson, Nev., the home state of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Republicans are targeting Reid for defeat in November's midterm elections.

Bold emphasis mine

Of course, GOP = "the party of protect the rich." After all people earning $109k/year, or more, just cannot afford to contribute more (in GOP Dream-World without Social Security).

POLITICS - The Conservative CPAC Owners

"CPAC fueled by oil industry cash" by Brad Johnson, Think Progress 2/19/2010

The extremist Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is being fueled by Big Oil. CPAC’s “Radio Row” — featuring “top conservative talk show hosts” — is officially sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute (API), the “only national trade association that represents all aspects of America’s oil and natural gas industry.”

Although API concedes that oil and gas pollution “may be helping to warm our planet by enhancing the natural greenhouse effect of the atmosphere,” the participants at CPAC believe global warming is a hoax. On the other hand, one would expect that the attendees — who decry groups with “allies like Iran” — would not want to take money from oil companies doing business in countries with ties to terrorism.

ThinkProgress is at the convention and took a picture of the prominent API sign:
(Click for larger view)

HOMELAND SECURITY - Just How Secure is the US?

"Report tracks lost firearms at DHS" by Joe Davidson, Washington Post

Almost 300 firearms -- handguns, M-4 rifles and shotguns -- were lost by various DHS agencies during fiscal 2006-08, according to the department's inspector general. In most cases, carelessness was the culprit. The inspector general's office says "179 (74 percent) were lost because officers did not properly secure them."

Not all the blame is on the officers. The department's management and oversight of "safeguards and controls over firearms were not effective," largely because specific policies and practices were not in place, said the report released this week by Inspector General Richard L. Skinner.

Unfortunately, DHS is not alone. Previous reports by the Government Accountability Office and the Justice Department found that losing weapons is a problem in various federal law enforcement agencies. In fact, DHS had fewer losses than some other agencies.

But that's little comfort. So is the fact that the 289 missing DHS guns are a tiny fraction of the nearly 190,000 it had in its inventory as of July. The problem is still significant.

The missing arms "pose serious risks to civilians and non-civilians alike," said the study, which was reported in USA Today. "Local law enforcement organizations recovered 15 DHS firearms from felons, gang members, criminals, drug users, and teenagers."

One recovered government gun even had a gang symbol etched into the barrel. Another was found with a drug dealer during a search, and someone with cocaine had a third DHS weapon.

Too much of this is because of sloppiness by those we expect to protect and serve us. Consider these examples from the report:

  • "A CBP [Customs and Border Protection] officer left a firearm unsecured in an idling vehicle in the parking lot of a convenience store. The vehicle and firearm were stolen while the officer was inside the store. A local law enforcement officer later recovered the firearm from a suspected gang member and drug smuggler.

  • A CBP officer left a firearm on a toolbox in the bed of a truck, and the firearm fell off when the officer drove home. Law enforcement officials later recovered the firearm from an individual who resisted arrest and assaulted the arresting officer.

  • An ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] officer left an M-4 rifle and a shotgun unsecured in a closet in his home; subsequently, both firearms were stolen during a burglary. State and federal law enforcement officers later recovered these firearms from a felon.

  • An ICE officer left a firearm on the bumper of a vehicle, which fell off as the officer left his place of employment. A civilian found the firearm and turned it over to the local police.

  • A TSA [Transportation Security Administration] officer left a firearm in a lunch box on the front seat of an unlocked vehicle; the officer realized the firearm was stolen when he returned to the vehicle two days later."

Jon Adler, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, was dismayed at the findings, which he called "unacceptable." He said that officers must secure their firearms properly and that better training and supervision may be needed.

"We can't have guys losing their firearms," he said. "That's the instrument we rely on to protect Americans and carry out our mission. We can't carry out our mission if we leave our firearms under our pillow."

ICE and CBP, two agencies within the department, have already taken specific actions to better secure their weapons, according to DHS. Among other moves, ICE attempts to promote firearms security by reinforcing with officers appropriate storage requirements and through quarterly qualifications training. CBP has developed an annual presentation on the proper methods for safeguarding and controlling firearms.

"DHS is strongly committed to ensuring that weapons utilized in support of its law enforcement mission are kept secure," said Amy Kudwa, a DHS spokeswoman. "We took immediate action to correct the deficiencies identified in this audit and to improve our overall management of firearms."

She said the department is implementing new policies "requiring weapons to be properly stored, annual firearms security awareness training for all personnel issued firearms, and accountability and requirements for investigation when individuals fail to follow procedures."

And not a minute too soon.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

WAR ON TERROR - Just a Reminder From 2009

"Mullah Baradar: In His Own Words" Newsweek 3/3/2009

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar has been in day-to-day command of the Afghan insurgency ever since the Taliban's founder and leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, disappeared from view roughly three years ago. NEWSWEEK hand-delivered a list of questions for Baradar to a senior Taliban source. Within days, the Taliban's chief spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, telephoned NEWSWEEK asking for an e-mail copy of the questions. A few weeks later Mujahid e-mailed to NEWSWEEK what he said were Baradar's answers in Pashto. Excerpts:

  • How would you describe the Taliban's current position on the ground in Afghanistan?

  • Our losses are very few. It has become transparent to all Afghans that foreigners have come to our country as invaders and not for the welfare of Afghans. In every nook and corner of the country, a spirit for jihad is raging.

  • What is your reaction to the large increase in U.S. forces this year?

  • Statements about the increase in troops do not affect the mujahedin at all. In fact, Americans are demoralized in Afghanistan, and they don't know what to do. [The Taliban] want to inflict maximum losses on the Americans, which is possible only when the Americans are present here in large numbers and come out of their fortified places.

  • How long are you prepared to fight?

  • The history of Afghanistan shows that Afghans never get tired of struggling until they have freed their country. We shall continue our jihad till the expulsion of our enemy from our land.

  • Who is leading the Taliban movement?

  • Respected Amir-ul-Momineen [leader of the faithful] Mullah Mohammed Omar. We are acting on his instructions.

  • Are you in direct contact with Mullah Omar?

  • Continuous contacts are not risk-free because of the situation. [But we] get his advice on important topics.

  • What about his health?

  • He is hale and healthy and is not only taking part in, but currently leading, the jihad.

  • The United States and Afghan president Hamid Karzai say you and your commanders are largely operating from Quetta in Pakistan. Is that true?

  • This is baseless propaganda. The Shura's area of operations is inside Afghanistan.

  • Are some Taliban involved in secret talks with the Karzai government?

  • Not a single member of the Taliban is involved in talks.

  • Would you support talks at some time?

  • What would be the topic of the talks and what would be the result? Our basic problem with the Americans is that they have attacked our country. They are offering talks, hoping that the mujahedin surrender before them. We see no benefit for the country and Islam in such kind of talks.

  • What would be your conditions for talks if they were to take place?

  • The basic condition is the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan.

  • If breaking ties with Al Qaeda were a condition of a peace accord, would you do that?

  • Our decisions are made on the basis of our national interests.

  • Is Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency giving you support or advice?

  • This is venomous propaganda that has no facts behind it.

  • What about reports that Pakistani intelligence is advising you not to enter into peace talks at this time?

  • The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is independent and sovereign in its decisions and agreements. It is not taking any dictation from any group or government.

  • Do you fear that Pakistan would stop you from using its soil?

  • They have not given us permission to use their land even now.

POLITICS - Bipartisan Condemnation SC Decision

"Poll: Large majority opposes Supreme Court's decision on campaign financing" by Dan Eggen, Washington Post 2/17/2010

Americans of both parties overwhelmingly oppose a Supreme Court ruling that allows corporations and unions to spend as much as they want on political campaigns, and most favor new limits on such spending, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Eight in 10 poll respondents say they oppose the high court's Jan. 21 decision to allow unfettered corporate political spending, with 65 percent "strongly" opposed. Nearly as many backed congressional action to curb the ruling, with 72 percent in favor of reinstating limits.

The poll reveals relatively little difference of opinion on the issue among Democrats (85 percent opposed to the ruling), Republicans (76 percent) and independents (81 percent).

The results suggest a strong reservoir of bipartisan support on the issue for President Obama and congressional Democrats, who are in the midst of crafting legislation aimed at limiting the impact of the high court's decision.

"If there's one thing that Americans from the left, right and center can all agree on, it's that they don't want more special interests in our politics," Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who is spearheading the legislative effort, said in a statement after the poll was released Wednesday.

"We hope we can get strong and quick bipartisan support for our legislation, which passes constitutional muster but will still effectively limit the influence of special interests."

Under legislation being drafted by Schumer and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), companies with foreign ownership or federal contracting ties would be limited in their ability to spend corporate money on elections.

The lawmakers also want to require companies to inform shareholders about political spending; to mandate special "political activities" accounts for corporations, unions and advocacy groups; and to require that corporate executives appear in political advertising funded by their companies.

Other likely proposals include banning participation in U.S. elections by bank bailout recipients.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and other Republican lawmakers have praised the high court ruling as a victory for free speech, however, and have signaled their intent to oppose any legislation intended to blunt the impact of the court's decision.

In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the high court ruled 5-4 that corporations have the same rights as individuals when it comes to political speech and can therefore use their profits to support or oppose individual candidates. The decision appears to open the door to unlimited spending by corporations, trade groups and unions in the weeks leading up to an election, which has been explicitly banned for decades.

Democrats have seized on the ruling as an example of judicial overreach and vowed to enact new limits on political spending by corporations, which have traditionally favored Republicans in their contribution patterns. Obama said in his State of the Union address that the ruling will "open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections."

Republicans and business groups have rallied around the ruling, arguing that the decision merely levels the playing field with free-spending unions and other liberal interest groups.

Jeff Patch, communications director for the Center for Competitive Politics, which supports the court's decision, said the ruling's potential impact has been distorted by Obama and other Democratic critics.

"Campaign finance is an incredibly complex legal framework, and most Americans have an incentive to remain rationally ignorant about the laws and regulations at issue," Patch wrote in a news release.

The poll, however, suggests there may be political risks for the GOP in opposing limits that appear to be favored by the party's base.

Nearly three-quarters of self-identified conservative Republicans say they oppose the Supreme Court ruling, with most of them strongly opposed. Some two-thirds of conservative Republicans favor congressional efforts to limit corporate and union spending, though with less enthusiasm than liberal Democrats.

Indeed, the poll shows remarkably strong agreement about the ruling across all demographic groups, and big majorities of those with household incomes above and below $50,000 alike oppose the decision. Age, race and education levels also appeared to have little relative bearing on the answers.

The questions on corporate political spending were included as part of a poll conducted Feb. 4 to 8 by conventional and cellular telephone. The margin of sampling error for the for the full poll of 1,004 randomly selected adults is plus or minus three percentage points.

Now we are seeing EXACTLY which of the GOP are bought-and-paid-for by Big Bu$ine$$.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

WAR ON TERROR - Taliban Commander Captured

Taliban Commander Captured as Coalition Forces Make New Gains
PBS NewsHour

Needless to say, it's all over the news.

"Secret Joint Raid Captures Taliban’s Top Commander" by MARK MAZZETTI and DEXTER FILKINS, New York Times 2/15/2010


The Taliban’s top military commander was captured several days ago in Karachi, Pakistan, in a secret joint operation by Pakistani and American intelligence forces, according to American government officials.

The commander, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, is an Afghan described by American officials as the most significant Taliban figure to be detained since the American-led war in Afghanistan started more than eight years ago. He ranks second in influence only to Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taliban’s founder and a close associate of Osama bin Laden before the Sept. 11 attacks.

Mullah Baradar has been in Pakistani custody for several days, with American and Pakistani intelligence officials both taking part in interrogations, according to the officials.

It was unclear whether he was talking, but the officials said his capture had provided a window into the Taliban and could lead to other senior officials. Most immediately, they hope he will provide the whereabouts of Mullah Omar, the one-eyed cleric who is the group’s spiritual leader.

Disclosure of Mullah Baradar’s capture came as American and Afghan forces were in the midst of a major offensive in southern Afghanistan.

His capture could cripple the Taliban’s military operations, at least in the short term, said Bruce O. Riedel, a former C.I.A. officer who last spring led the Obama administration’s Afghanistan and Pakistan policy review.

Details of the raid remain murky, but officials said that it had been carried out by Pakistan’s military spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, and that C.I.A. operatives had accompanied the Pakistanis.

The New York Times learned of the operation on Thursday, but delayed reporting it at the request of White House officials, who contended that making it public would end a hugely successful intelligence-gathering effort. The officials said that the group’s leaders had been unaware of Mullah Baradar’s capture and that if it became public they might cover their tracks and become more careful about communicating with each other.

Thank you New York Times for responsible reporting decision.

"Q+A: What Taliban commander Baradar's capture means" by Chris Allbritton, Reuters 2/16/2010


Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar is the most significant Taliban figure captured since the start of the Afghan war. The New York Times said he had been in Pakistani custody for several days and was being interrogated by Pakistani and U.S. intelligence.

Questions in the article:
  1. WHY NOW?




Read full article for answers.

"Pakistan: Detained Taliban Chief Talking" CBS News 2/17/2010


"In Pakistan Raid, Taliban Chief Was an Extra Prize" by SCOTT SHANE and ERIC SCHMITT, New York Times 2/18/2010


Only after a careful process of identification did Pakistani and American officials realize they had captured Mullah Baradar himself, the man who had long overseen the Taliban insurgency against American, NATO and Afghan troops in Afghanistan.

New details of the raid indicate that the arrest of the No. 2 Taliban leader was not necessarily the result of a new determination by Pakistan to go after the Taliban, or a bid to improve its strategic position in the region. Rather, it may be something more prosaic: “a lucky accident,” as one American official called it. “No one knew what they were getting,” he said.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

WAR ON TERROR - More Evidence, Obama DOES Understand the Threat

"Obama strategy widens assault on terrorists" by MATT APUZZO, TPM 2/12/2010


Iraq drawdown, rhetoric change toward Islam help Obama widen attacks on foreign terrorists

In the early months of his presidency, President Barack Obama's national security team singled out one man from its list of most-wanted terrorists, Baitullah Mehsud, the ruthless leader of the Pakistani Taliban. He was to be eliminated.

Mehsud was Pakistan's public enemy No. 1 and its most feared militant, responsible for a string of bombings and assassination attempts. But while Mehsud carried out strikes against U.S. forces overseas and had a $5 million bounty on his head, he had never been the top priority for U.S. airstrikes, something that at times rankled Pakistan.

"The decision was made to find him, to get him and to kill him," a senior U.S. intelligence official said, recalling weeks and months of "very tedious, painstaking focus" before an unmanned CIA aircraft killed Mehsud in August at his father-in-law's house near Pakistan's border with Afghanistan.

It was not the first airstrike on Obama's watch, but it marked the first major victory in his war on terrorism, a campaign the administration believes can be waged even more aggressively than its predecessor's. Long before he went on the defensive in Washington for his handling of the failed Christmas Day airline bombing, Obama had widened the list of U.S. targets abroad and stepped up the pace of airstrikes.

Advances in spy plane technology have made that easier, as has an ever-improving spy network that helped locate Mehsud and other terrorists. These would have been available to any new president. But Obama's counterterrorism campaign also relies on two sharp reversals from his predecessor, both of which were political gambles at home.

Obama's national security team believed that the president's campaign promise to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq would have a side benefit: freeing up manpower and resources to hunt terrorists in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Intelligence officials, lawmakers and analysts say that approach is showing signs of success.

Obama also has sought to reach out to Islamic allies and tone down U.S. rhetoric, a language shift that critics have argued revealed a weakness, in an effort to win more cooperation from countries like Yemen and Pakistan.

For example, though Pakistan officially objects to U.S. airstrikes within its border, following the Mehsud strike, the U.S. has seen an increase in information sharing from Pakistani officials, which has helped lead to other strikes, according to the senior law enforcement official. He and other current and former officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive security matters.

Pakistan's cooperation is key to U.S. counterterrorism efforts because much of the best intelligence still comes from Pakistan's intelligence agency. Ensuring that cooperation has been a struggle for years, in part because Pakistan wants greater control over the drone strikes and its own fleet of aircraft, two things the U.S. has not allowed.

"The efforts overseas are bearing fruit," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a strident critic of Obama's domestic counterterrorism policies who said Obama has at times shown himself even more aggressive than Bush in his use of force overseas. "I give them generally high marks for their efforts to capture and kill terrorists in Pakistan, and they're pushing the envelope in Yemen."

POLITICS - "Roto Rooter" to the Rescue

"Senate confirms 27 nominees after Obama threatens recess appointments" by Ed O'Keefe, Washington Post 2/16/2020


The Obama administration this week will dispatch 12 Cabinet secretaries, a handful of assistant and deputy secretaries and a few other agency administrators to more than 30 cities and towns in 18 states to mark the first anniversary of the economic stimulus plan.

Three states -- Colorado, Ohio and Texas -- will get at least three visits from administration officials. Arizona, Virginia and California will be visited twice. The tour includes stops in historically purple states and states where incumbent Democratic senators face tough reelection battles.

It begins with a visit by Vice President Biden to Michigan Tuesday. President Obama also will hold an event at the White House on Wednesday to mark the anniversary, before heading to Colorado, where he signed the Recovery Act into law on Feb. 17, 2009.

Reminder of article contains "Highlights of the week appear below"

"President Obama in nominee showdown" by MIKE ALLEN, Politico

POLITICS - Partisanship and Politics in Washington

PBS NewsHour Political Wrap 2/12/2010

"Shields and Brooks on Partisanship and Politics in Washington" (Transcript)


JIM LEHRER: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks.

JIM LEHRER: David, how do you read these new polls on people not going really strong for the government right now?

DAVID BROOKS: It is the -- it's like an emotion. It like a character, it is like an issue in the country, to me, the dominant issue, because, if you have these incredibly high levels of distrust, you can't do anything big. The country will not trust you to take a leap of faith.

I have said before in years past on this show that the single biggest poll number in American history is, do you trust government to do the right thing most of the time? Between 1932 and '64, you had high levels, 70, 80 percent. So, people would trust Washington, to take that leap of faith.

But, starting about Vietnam-Watergate era, it went down. And now we are about 17 percent, 19 percent, 23 percent, near or at historic lows. And that's just a gigantic, climactic force, which sort of paralyzing Washington. At the same time, people want change.


Mark, do you -- do you agree with those who say that the heart of this right now, at least, is the economy, 10 percent unemployment and all the rest?

MARK SHIELDS: Oh, I think the economy drives it, Jim. I think the biggest concern that voters express is, they want jobs. They want the government to do something about jobs. And they are concerned about unemployment and the economy in general. Those override everything else.

JIM LEHRER: But, to pick up on David's point -- he cited Watergate and Vietnam -- those were actions where -- where people did things wrong. There is no corruption attached to this downside in the polls, in terms -- it is a governing problem, right?

MARK SHIELDS: No, it really is, and David is right. I mean, we were talking, in the early to mid-'60s, right up until Vietnam started to go sour and go south, 65 percent, 70 percent, 75 percent of Americans having confidence, not only in their own future, but in the government, to do what is right, and Vietnam and the dissembling and lying and deceit, deception on that, followed by Watergate.

But this is -- this is sort of a new departure, and, really, an unnerving one, Jim, because, you point out, there isn't any scandal. There isn't any corruption. There isn't any great deception that the government has been guilty of or proven guilty of. And it's just -- it's just the failure of the economy.

We have been 27 years, and I think 28 years, if one thinks about it, since 1982, with really the bump in the early 90s, with George, the first George Bush, we have had low unemployment and low inflation. And this is -- this is, you know, a major, major departure.

Friday, February 12, 2010

POLITICS - Of the Laughable Kind, Sort'a

(click for larger view)

"Majority in unscientific poll pegs Tea Party movement ‘racist’" by Ron Brynaert, Raw Story


It's modern warfare online poll time again.

While most polls on the internet that are labeled as "unscientific" usually fade into obscurity even before all the votes are tallied, every now and then one becomes a meme.

Thursday morning, a Wonkette blog post titled "Fox News Poll: Yes, We Are Insanely Racist Crazy People" made it onto Digg's recommended list.

The poll asked, "What Do You Think Tea Party Movement Is About?"

How to define the Tea Party movement was nearly as big an issue last week at the National Tea Party Convention as the political issues discussed, from government fiscal responsibility to greater accountability of public officials. Some participants drew cheers for raising more controversial topics, such as President Obama's nationality, but others argued that those points were, at best, politically unproductive. Meghan McCain went further on Monday and called segments of the movement "racist."

One choice that stands out is "Fruitless mix of racism, conspiracy theories," which -- hopefully -- wasn't worded to imply that there could be a potentially fruitful mix of the two.

Wonkette's Jim Newell cracked, "What is this about 'fruitless' though? Racism and conspiracy theories have put the Republicans in great shape for 2010. If that’s 'fruitless,' then consider these teabaggers fruity."

When Wonkette wrote the poll up Wednesday late afternoon there were 92,876 votes tallied, with 65% opting for "Fruitless mix" and 23% saying "Small government and responsibility." Only 10% selected "Voicing outrage at out-of-touch politicians", while 2% picked "Exposing Democrat's socialist agenda." Oddly enough, the poll says 1% selected "Other", which puts the total at 101% for the sometimes-mathematically-challenged network.

At about an hour before noon on Thursday, 163,793 votes at the Fox poll put "Fruitless mix" even further on top with 76%.

POLITICS - GOP Display of Ignorance

"More GOP Ignorance About National Security" by Spencer Ackerman, Washington Independent 2/10/2010

Given that the entire GOP congressional leadership just loudly bleated that they know less about FBI procedure than the average moviegoer, maybe Newt Gingrich didn’t want to show how blitheringly ignorant he is. Josh Marshall:

Classic moment last night on The Daily Show when Newt Gingrich explained that it was okay to mirandize “shoe bomber” Richard Reid and not Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab because Reid, unlike Abdulmutallab, is a US citizen.

Only, of course, Reid is a British citizen.

No wonder President Obama’s terrorism poll numbers are rising and the public trusts him to handle terrorism more than the GOP.

This observation about the GOP (all shout, no substance) has been known since Emperor Bush held office. "Hide under your bed everybody!, now elect the GOP to protect the rich you."

Bold emphasis mine

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

POLITICS - More Opinion on the Party-of-NO

"Republicans: Let’s Get Rid of Social Security and Medicare" OneUtah

Republicans have been trying to get rid of this country’s social safety net ever since it was first enacted. Now, they have a new proposal to benefit the wealthy at the expense of the working/middle class.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the ranking member of the House Budget Committee, recently introduced the Roadmap for America’s Future Act of 2010. In a nutshell, this plan would:

  • Privatize Social Security and Medicare for everyone under age 55, and increase the retirement age to 70

  • Impose a freeze on non-security discretionary spending from 2010-2019

  • Cap the top income tax rate at 25 percent for everyone who makes $50,000 or more

  • Eliminate income and payroll tax exclusions for employment-based health insurance starting next year

“The Roadmap would put the federal budget on a sustainable path, generating an annual budget surplus of about 5 percent of GDP by 2080,” the CBO wrote in its analysis. Hey, that’s only 70 years from now!

Ironically, the spending freeze is similar to the one President Obama recently proposed, that Republicans and Democrats immediately denounced.

The House will vote down Rep. Ryan’s proposal, but really I think it deserves a series of town hall meetings. Let’s take this plan to the people and let them express their candid opinions in open forums across the nation!

Michelle Bachmann thinks the Republican Party ought to go all the way with this. Over the weekend she said, “[W]hoever our nominee is, is going to have to have a Glenn Beck chalkboard and explain to everybody this is the way it is.”

Bold emphysema mine

ON THE LITE SIDE - GOP's Misguided Beast

Humor Times

(click for larger view)

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

ISLAM IN AMERICA - Insider's View

"Complacency is not an option" by Parvez Ahmed, AltMuslim 2/3/2010


An army major at Fort Hood guns down fellow soldiers, five young men arrested after traveling to Pakistan to join radical elements, a coffee vendor charged in a New York terror plot and a terrorism suspect in North Carolina is arrested. Such headlines involving American Muslims ought to be a source of concern for the community. A recent scholarly report (PDF) by researchers at Duke University and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill asserts that the number of American Muslims vulnerable to radicalization is small but not negligible. Since 9-11, 139 American Muslims have committed terrorist acts or have been convicted or charged with terrorism. Less than one-third successfully executed their violent plots, with a majority of these violent acts being committed overseas.

The American Muslim community should not brush aside these facts by either taking a defensive posture or by being apologetic. Saying that only a handful of American Muslims are involved in terrorism while the vast majority of the community are productive citizens or asserting that America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are the source of such radicalization, while true does not solve the problem at hand. The better path for the community will be to conduct honest soul searching and enact proactive measures that can avoid such attention grabbing headlines in the first place.

In an ideal world, the misguided action of a few individuals will not invite scrutiny on the broader community. But we live in a world where the fear and misunderstandings about the Muslim community is pervasive. A recent survey by the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies found 53 percent of Americans view Islam unfavorably with 6 in 10 Americans reporting that they know little about Islam. While other religious extremists are portrayed as being outside the mainstream, terrorists who happen to be Muslims are characterized as representatives of their religion. Dalia Mogahed , executive director of the Gallup Center said to Bloomberg News, "Where a deranged person of a certain faith commits a crime in the name of their faith, we look at these incidents as someone misinterpreting faith. When a terrorist commits an act of violence in the name of Islam, it is often times framed as being devoted to the faith rather than being deviant."

This is an American Muslim's inside view and shows the concern of these Fellow-Americans. This is food for thought. Islam, like Christianity, is NOT monolithic. The majority of Muslims are NOT out to kill the "American Satan."

POLITICS - Two More Opinions on RePugs

"GOP should blame itself for deficit, not Democrats" by Steve Metz, Las Vegas Sun

An Associated Press story last week claimed that the deficit is now about $40,000 for every man, woman and child in America.

If we take a look at real facts instead of Obama-bashing innuendo, President George W. Bush was left with a surplus of $127 billion when he went into office. Bush spent us into huge deficits with two non-budgeted, unpaid-for wars and overpriced no-bid contracts to companies like Halliburton and Blackwater.

Then there was the unfunded prescription drug plan, an unfunded No Child Left Behind Act, an unfunded bank bailout bill of $700 billion, all under Bush, leaving President Barack Obama on his first day in office with a deficit of $1.3 trillion. And then there was a banking system about to collapse worldwide because of a lack of checks and balances on banks and Wall Street firms.

If we take a look at what percentage of that $40,000 can be laid at the hands of Republicans under Bush, I guarantee the vast majority, if not most, would be the Republicans’ bill left to all Americans. It seems Republicans would like to forget it was their own mishandling of our budget, and now they blame everyone except themselves.

And to now add insult to injury, Republicans are again becoming the darlings of the banks and Wall Street, through their industry lobbyists and political donations, by trying to stop Obama from implementing common-sense legislation that would protect all of us from these industries and from politicians doing it to us again. It’s time to put the blame where it belongs.

"GOP talking about cutting Social Security again, when the real budget problem is health care" by Steve Kyle, America Blog


Two Republicans, Alan Greenspan and Hank Paulson, sat on Meet the Press this morning and told us that there is no way out of our fiscal mess that doesn't involve cutting entitlements. And first on their list is Social Security.

First, why should anyone believe what these two guys have to say? They presided over the monetary policy and the fiscal policy that got us into our current economic mess.

Second, why on earth does the supposedly he-said/she-said addicted mainstream press have only discredited Republicans to talk about economics? Aren't there no Democrats available?

Third, and most important, can we PLEASE kill the zombie-like reawakening of the we-must-cut-Social-Security-benefits meme once and for all? We last killed this lie a few years ago when Bush Jr. had a run at it, but in fact it has been around since 1933. Republicans HATE Social Security for two reasons, one stupid and one understandable (but also stupid if you actually care about retirees):

  • The stupid reason: Social Security is "socialist." Well, sure it is and what of it? If people actually like it (and there is no question they do) are we really going to cut it just because it is something socialists happen to like also?

  • The understandable reason: If I were a Republican, I too would hate the program that is so popular, it got Democrats elected and reelected for half a century. (Incidentally, this is also why they hate single payer health care. If we ever actually put it in place it would be so popular that the party who got credit for it would be cemented in power for the rest of our lives which would be much markedly longer, incidentally). Only people who never travel to other countries (like most Republicans) could imagine that single payer wouldn't be popular. If you doubt what I say, just look at Medicare, our current seniors-only single payer government health care system. Even the tea-baggers like it.

Bold emphasis mine

POLITICS - Healthcare Reform Update

"Obama Plans Bipartisan Summit on Health Care" by JEFF ZELENY, New York Times 2/7/2010


President Obama said Sunday that he would convene a half-day bipartisan health care session at the White House to be televised live this month, a high-profile gambit that will allow Americans to watch as Democrats and Republicans try to break their political impasse.

Mr. Obama made the announcement in an interview on CBS during the Super Bowl pre-game show, capitalizing on a vast television audience. He set out a plan that would put Republicans on the spot to offer their own ideas on health care and show whether both sides are willing to work together.

“I want to come back and have a large meeting, Republicans and Democrats, to go through systematically all the best ideas that are out there and move it forward,” Mr. Obama said in the interview from the White House Library.

Lets sees the GOP duck this one.

Monday, February 08, 2010


"Kindle to iPad: Bring it on" NewsDesk.ORG (non-profit news)

In a one-on-one interview with my Kindle this past weekend, I hardly had spat out the word “iPad” when the little Amazon gizmo shrugged, closed its eyes in mock despair and ran off a battery (a-hem) of observations. It almost sounded rehearsed—as if Jeff Bezos himself were honking, face-to-face with a self-satisfied Steve Jobs.

This wasn’t a discussion about computing, although the little Kindle did mention, offhand, that it was surprised the iPad was not going to come with any USB or Firewire ports, that, like its iPhone brethren, it was not going to support Flash, that it was going to offer only the Safari browser (and continue to eschew the superior Firefox) and so on.

Rather, we concentrated on the book-reading and shopping experience exclusively

We went over E ink vs. backlit screens. Battery life. Weight. Size. Book availability. Price.

By the end of the conversation, I myself was exhausted, but the Kindle just shrugged again, went to sleep and offered to come back in five days.

“No need to re-charge me,” it said. “I’ll be around.”

If the Kindle seemed overly confident, it was understandable. First up was the subject of E-ink on a gray background. Anyone who has tried to use a backlit computer outside in sunlight, or in a bright room, is familiar with the drill: Find shade fast, close the drapes, adjust the eyes and you’re good to go. With E-ink, outdoors is fine. Bright rooms are fine. In dark rooms, switch on a light. Why, it’s almost just like a book, except that when you want to stop reading that particular book and pick up another one, you don’t have to rise from your chair.

The first iPads are to use an LED-backlit LCD screen. That means a backlight is always shining in your eyes. Ycchh. I find that tiring, particularly after sitting in front of a backlit screen all day.

E-readers mostly use electrophoretic screens, which have no light source. Like paper, they rely on light bouncing off the screen, which makes them easier on the eyes. They are great in a bright room or even with direct light on them, which is why I bring my Kindle to the rooftop garden where I frequently eat my box lunch on weekdays. They also have a far superior better battery life than an LCD screen.

Electrophoretic screens also are notably lighter. The Kindle 2 weighs about 10 ounces, and the smallest Sony reader is less than 8 ounces; the iPad is 1.5 pounds, and if you’re a BART straphanger, as I am, that’s a world of difference.

As for the bookstore itself, I don’t know. But here’s what I do know, and that’s that Apple’s movie store can’t match Netflix, no way no how. Given that, I’m not encouraged that Apple is going to match the Amazon Kindle store, no way no how.

So yeah, iWant an iPad, sure. I’m hopeless. But not to replace my ol’buddy, the Kindle.

Includes 2 videos

ENVIRONMENT - Owens Lake, California

"In California’s high desert, a solar gamble" NewsDesk.ORG (non-profit news) 2/2/2010

The California Owens Valley, the scene of decades of intense environmental hostilities and the subject of the famous Roman Polanski film “Chinatown,” once more finds itself at center stage.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which turned Owens Lake into a dry wasteland and created one of the most prodigious polluters in America, wants to turn its lake bed into one of the world’s largest sources of solar power.

According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, and many other news and blog sources, interim DWP Chief S. David Freeman says the valley on the dry side of the Sierra Nevada is blessed with the “best sun in the country.” He envisions a gigantic solar array that could cover 80 square miles of dry lake bed and nearby flatlands, a sea of photovoltaic cells roughly the size of Cleveland, that would generate up to 10 percent of all the power produced in California while simultaneously calming the region’s fierce dust storms.

But not so fast.

Landowners in the valley, along with an array of environmental organizations, including the Sierra Club, have their doubts, much of them based on a long history of disputes over land and water rights in the valley.

“Given our history with them, there’s skepticism,” said Mark Bagley of the Owens Valley Committee and Sierra Club, which took successful legal action to force the DWP to restore the Lower Owens River. “But it’s promising if it’s done right, the right way.”

First, the DWP must show that a solar array can eliminate the wind-blown dust storms born on Owens Lake.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, water was first diverted from the Owens River to the City of Los Angeles in 1913, and by 1926 Owens Lake was dry. The dry bed of Owens Lake has produced enormous amounts of windblown dust since the desiccation of the lake. The term “Keeler fog” (for the town on the east side of the lake) was coined locally decades ago for the pervasive, unusually fine-grained, alkaline dust that infiltrates the smallest cracks and contaminates residences.

“The lake bed is probably the largest single source of PM10 dust (aerosol particles smaller than 10 microns in aerodynamic diameter) in the United States,” the USGS reported.

To comply with federal clean air standards, the DWP already has spent $500 million on control measures, covering close to 40 square miles of the lake bed with shallow water or fields of vegetation. Still, the airborne pollution exceeds federal limits by 10 times.

The Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District has put Webcams into use so people can monitor the dust storms.

Ted Schade pollution control district told the Times that the DWP must prove that solar panels will slow the typically 60 miles-an-hour wind to 15 mph.

If it works, only a portion of the electricity generated by an Owens Valley array would be transmitted to Los Angeles, according to the Times. The rest would be sold to other utilities around the West, with an ample share of the profits heading to L.A., 180 miles away.

Need I say, this would mean environmental jobs.