Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Obama sets up Commission that may cut Social Security

This article is an eye opener. It reveals the business connections of those appointed by Obama to examine social security and make recommendations. All but one have many business connections and are hawks as far as changing Social Security is concerned. The process will no doubt be as an anonymous official says:
an anonymous official told the Times that spending cuts would start with earmarks in order to earn goodwill with the public, and then move on to more "popular entitlement programs."
This is from alternet.


Obama Stacks the Deck

The seasoned networks of money and influence behind the commission's(National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform) apparent immortality, including "Washington's leading think tanks, the prestige media, tax-exempt foundations, skillful propagandists posing as economic experts and a self-righteous billionaire spending his fortune to save the nation from the elderly," have been outlined by noted economic journalist William Greider, among others. What's received comparatively little attention so far, however, is the composition of Obama's picks for the commission, what interests they represent, and what that reveals about the White House’s own strategy.

While some optimists have predicted that the 14-vote requirement guarantees gridlock, Obama may have already given Republicans the votes needed to put Social Security under the knife.

Starting at the top, the commission's two co-chairs are both veteran Social Security hawks. The Democrat is Erskine Bowles. Described by Business Week in 1998 as "Corporate America’s Friend in the White House," Bowles is president of the University of North Carolina and a venture capitalist with close ties to Wall Street. He sits on the board of Morgan Stanley and General Motors, both of which have received multi-billion dollar government bailouts since the start of the financial crisis. The finance, insurance and real estate (FIRE) sector was by far the largest donor to Bowles in his unsuccessful Senate campaigns in 2002 and 2004, donating over $3 million. His wife, Crandall Bowles, is on the board of JPMorgan Chase, making the couple two of the biggest beneficiaries of the government's financial welfare over the past two years. Crandall Bowles also gave over $14,000 to Obama's 2008 presidential campaign. Both are members of the Business Council, a prestigious association of major CEOs.

Bowles' Republican co-chair, Alan Simpson, is a former Republican senator who pushed (unsuccessfully) for a back-door benefit cut to Social Security benefits in the '90s by tampering with its cost-of-living adjustment and attacked AARP for its defense of Medicare. Simpson's former Senate aide, Chuck Blahous, is a prolific crusader against Social Security and was executive director of Bush's commission in 2001. In a warning sign for Social Security advocates, Blahous and Robert Reischauer, another policy insider who penned a memo in 2009 with fellow Brookings Institution elites calling for Obama to take "action to stem the growth of Social Security and Medicare," were recently nominated by Obama to be Social Security Trustees. (The Blahous pick he apparently owed to Senator Mitch McConnell.)

Reischauer has close ties to economic wrecking ball Robert Rubin—the Goldman Sachs chairman who became Clinton Treasury Secretary and pushed through radical deregulatory banking laws, then went to Citigroup to score $120 million for driving his company into the ground. Rubin and Reischauer knew each other at both the Harvard Corporation and the Clinton White House, where Reischauer was director of CBO. Reischauer is on the advisory board of Rubin’s Hamilton Project, and the two most recent CBO directors have come straight from Hamilton.

One of Reischauer's co-signers of the Brookings memo, Alice Rivlin, is another fox Obama has put in charge of the Social Security henhouse. Former Vice Chair of the Federal Reserve under Greenspan at the peak of the tech bubble, and also a Hamilton Project board member, Rivlin will likely make another great Wall Street ally on the commission. In 2004 Rivlin co-authored (with Obama's current Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag, among others) a 138-page Brookings report titled "Restoring Fiscal Sanity" advocating $47 billion in entitlement cuts, including an "increase in the retirement age under Social Security" and "more accurate inflation adjustments to Social Security benefits."

Keep in mind that she supported this plan before most of Bush's military expenditures, before the Great Recession, and before the financial bailouts. If that's not enough, Rivlin, who gave roughly $10,000 to Obama's 2008 campaign, was also on the board of Public Agenda Foundation with Peter Peterson, the private equity kingpin who has devoted literally billions to destroying Social Security during his lifetime. Public Agenda has organized research and events to refine elite strategies for pushing deficit reduction, including entitlement reform. From a recent Public Agenda forum titled Trillions of Reasons to Get Serious About Our Fiscal Future:

"Panelists agreed that the key word when talking about reducing the deficit should be 'sacrifice' and not just for the wealthy, a message to which most Americans might respond negatively."

That's three out of three votes for "sacrifice," and we haven't even gotten to Obama's other Republican pick, David Cote, who is CEO of Honeywell, a major defense contractor with millions in profits at stake in maintaining our out-of-control military budget. Cote is also a former executive at GE, another big military contractor, and director of JPMorgan Chase. Obama has named Cote, who supported the stimulus bill, as one of his favorite CEOs. He is additionally a senior adviser to KKR, the infamous leveraged buyout firm, and a member of the Business Roundtable, a powerful association of CEOs that has spent millions fighting Social Security.

Obama's fifth pick is Ann Fudge, a major campaign bundler who already spends a bit of time around tables with the American banking elite. Fudge was chairman of the board of advertising firm Young & Rubicam Brands, which includes former Bear Stearns CEO Alan Schwartz, until 2006. She's now on the boards of Brookings and Rockefeller Foundation, both teeming with top Wall Street elites (including Prince, Parsons, Gupta, Hutchins, Johnson, Rubenstein and Wolstencroft, to name a few), as well as GE and Novartis Pharmaceuticals. With her extensive marketing experience, perhaps she'll be the one who figures out how to sell the commission's "sacrifices" to the public.

Bruce Reed, whom Bowles and Simpson recently named as the commission’s executive director, can help Fudge brainstorm slogans. Reed is CEO of the corporatist Democratic Leadership Council (previously chaired by Joe Lieberman for six years, and now by Hamilton Project advisory board member and Blue Dog Harold Ford, Jr), is very tight with Rahm Emmanuel (they wrote a book together), and coined the phrase “end welfare as we know it.” Any other social program Reed would like to end as we know it?

A foregone conclusion?

Andy Stern, president of SEIU, is Obama's only pick out of six who is sure to oppose Social Security cuts. Everyone else is likely open to slashing.

For the commission to reach an agreement, its Democrats will have to win the support of at least two Republicans, which will be nearly impossible unless spending cuts are among its proposals. That Obama’s picks are so amenable to, if not gunning for, some form of benefits cuts suggests the White House is indeed seeking such a "grand bargain" from the commission, not a stalemate. The odds are slim, especially given the commission’s history, that five of the 10 Democrats would defy the White House to kill such a bargain.

As the New York Times confirms, in establishing the group Obama has once again adopted a course favorable to his economic advisers and their Wall Street friends over the objections of his political team. How much of the usual looting this will involve remains to be seen. They seem to be proceeding carefully. Earlier, following Obama's recent spending freeze announcement, an anonymous official told the Times that spending cuts would start with earmarks in order to earn goodwill with the public, and then move on to more "popular entitlement programs."

"By helping to create a new atmosphere of fiscal discipline, it can actually also feed into debates over other components of the budget," the official said, briefing reporters on the condition of anonymity.

Which administration official might this be? Sadly, it could be just about anyone, as Obama’s economics team is dominated by Wall Street-friendly advisers, most of whom are close friends and proteges of Robert Rubin, and have been calling (pdf) for Social Security reductions for years. The March 23 Gray Lady front-pager mentions two of them, Orszag and Jason Furman, along with associate budget director Jeffrey Liebman, as likely masterminds. Both Orszag and Furman followed Rubin into Obama's inner circle from the Hamilton Project. Liebman too has a history of Social Security mischief – he was on the commission under Clinton.

If President Obama wants to get heavy handed about the deficit, he could start by putting an end to the disastrous and unpopular schemes that created it – the Bush tax cuts, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the trillions of dollars funneled to Wall Street. Unfortunately, it looks like Obama has taken the bankers' bait: the only people disciplined by his fiscal retreat will be millions of senior citizens with the gall to believe that society should guarantee them a decent standard of living.

Matthew Skomarovsky is a co-founder of LittleSis.org, an involuntary facebook for powerful Americans. He is also co-director of the Public Accountability Initiative.

Obama Team divided on limits of presidential power.

This is all a bit bizarre. It is important to pay attention to framing in reading material such as this. The frame parameters always remain uncriticized and virtually unnoticed. In this article part of the frame involves the concept of the War on Terror. This is taken to be a war like any other war so that one can start applying the rules of war--and usually spinning them to fit the strangeness of the enemy who lacks real armed forces, uniforms, etc. or association with any particular nation. If the war on terror were like the war on drugs or crime in general most of the discussion would be irrelevant. One would not be discussing drone attacks for example if this were a war on crime or who could be targeted for killing.


Obama Team Is Divided on Tactics Against Terrorism
By CHARLIE SAVAGE
WASHINGTON — Senior lawyers in the Obama administration are deeply divided over some of the counterterrorism powers they inherited from former President George W. Bush, according to interviews and a review of legal briefs.

The rift has been most pronounced between top lawyers in the State Department and the Pentagon, though it has also involved conflicts among career Justice Department lawyers and political appointees throughout the national security agencies.

The discussions, which shaped classified court briefs filed this month, have centered on how broadly to define the types of terrorism suspects who may be detained without trials as wartime prisoners. The outcome of the yearlong debate could reverberate through national security policies, ranging from the number of people the United States ultimately detains to decisions about who may be lawfully selected for killing using drones.

“Beyond the technical legal issues, this debate is about the fundamental question of whom we are at war with,” said Noah Feldman, a Harvard law professor who specializes in war-power issues. “The two problems most plaguing Obama in the war on terrorism are trials for terrorists and taking the fight beyond Afghanistan to places like Pakistan and Yemen. This issue of whom we are at war with defines both of them.”

In the years after the 9/11 attacks, Mr. Bush claimed virtually unlimited power as commander in chief to detain those he deemed a threat — a view so boundless that his Justice Department once told a court that it was within the president’s lawful discretion to imprison as an enemy combatant even a “little old lady in Switzerland” who had unwittingly donated to Al Qaeda.

But President Obama and his team, which criticized such claims as an overreach, have sought to demonstrate that the executive branch can wage war while also respecting limits imposed on presidential power by what they see as the rule of law.

In March 2009, the Obama legal team adopted a new position about who was detainable in the war on terrorism — one that showed greater deference to the international laws of war, including the Geneva Conventions, than Mr. Bush had. But what has not been known is that while the administration has stuck to that broad principle, it has been arguing over how to apply the body of law, which was developed for conventional armies, to a war against a terrorist organization.

An examination of that conflict offers rich insight into how the team of former law professors and campaign lawyers, nearly all veterans of the Clinton administration, is shaping important policies under Mr. Obama.

In February 2009, just weeks after the inauguration, John D. Bates, a federal judge overseeing several cases involving detainees in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, asked a provocative question: Did the new administration want to modify Mr. Bush’s position that the president could wield sweeping powers to imprison people without trial as wartime detainees?

Career Justice Department lawyers handling Guantánamo lawsuits feared that rolling back the Bush position might make it harder to win. And the new acting head of the department’s Office of Legal Counsel — David Barron, a Harvard law professor and co-author of a lengthy law review critique of Bush administration claims that the commander in chief can override statutes — worried that Judge Bates had given them too little time to devise the answer.

But the White House counsel, Greg Craig, a campaign adviser to Mr. Obama who had been a foreign policy official in the Clinton administration, saw this as an important opportunity to demonstrate a break with Mr. Bush. And at a White House meeting, Mr. Obama weighed in, declaring that he did not want to invoke unrestrained commander-in-chief powers in detention matters.

With the president’s directions in hand, Mr. Obama’s Justice Department came back on March 13, 2009, with a more modest position than Mr. Bush had advanced. It told Judge Bates that the president could detain without trial only people who were part of Al Qaeda or its affiliates, or their “substantial” supporters. The department rooted that power in the authorization granted by Congress to use military force against the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks. And it acknowledged that the scope and limits of that power were defined by the laws of war, as translated to a conflict against terrorists.

But behind closed doors, the debate flared again that summer, when the Obama administration confronted the case of Belkacem Bensayah, an Algerian man who had been arrested in Bosnia — far from the active combat zone — and was being held without trial by the United States at Guantánamo. Mr. Bensayah was accused of facilitating the travel of people who wanted to go to Afghanistan to join Al Qaeda. A judge found that such “direct support” was enough to hold him as a wartime prisoner, and the Justice Department asked an appeals court to uphold that ruling.

The arguments over the case forced onto the table discussion of lingering discontent at the State Department over one aspect of the Obama position on detention. There was broad agreement that the law of armed conflict allowed the United States to detain as wartime prisoners anyone who was actually a part of Al Qaeda, as well as nonmembers who took positions alongside the enemy force and helped it. But some criticized the notion that the United States could also consider mere supporters, arrested far away, to be just as detainable without trial as enemy fighters.

That view was amplified after Harold Koh, a former human-rights official and Yale Law School dean who had been a leading critic of the Bush administration’s detainee policies, became the State Department’s top lawyer in late June. Mr. Koh produced a lengthy, secret memo contending that there was no support in the laws of war for the United States’ position in the Bensayah case.

Mr. Koh found himself in immediate conflict with the Pentagon’s top lawyer, Jeh C. Johnson, a former Air Force general counsel and trial lawyer who had been an adviser to Mr. Obama during the presidential campaign. Mr. Johnson produced his own secret memorandum arguing for a more flexible interpretation of who could be detained under the laws of war — now or in the future.

In September 2009, national-security officials from across the government packed into the Office of Legal Counsel’s conference room on the fifth floor of the Justice Department, lining the walls, to watch Mr. Koh and Mr. Johnson debate around a long table. It was up to Mr. Barron, who sat at the head of the table, to decide who was right.

But he did not. Instead, days later, he circulated a preliminary draft memorandum stating that while the Office of Legal Counsel had found no precedents justifying the detention of mere supporters of Al Qaeda who were picked up far away from enemy forces, it was not prepared to state any definitive conclusion.

So with no consensus, the legal team decided on a tactical approach. For as long as possible they would try to avoid that hard question. They changed the subject by instead asking courts to agree that people like Mr. Bensayah, looked at from another angle, had performed functions that made them effectively part of the terrorist organization — and so were clearly detainable.

The appeals court has not yet ruled on Mr. Bensayah’s case. But the hours and effort that high-level officials expended on wrestling over adjustments to the reasoning in his case — only to reach the same outcome, that he was detainable without trial — dovetailed with a pattern identified by critics as varied as civil libertarians and former Bush lawyers.

“I think the change in tone has been important and has helped internationally,” said John B. Bellinger III, a top Bush era National Security Council and State Department lawyer. “But the change in law has been largely cosmetic. And of course there has been no change in outcome.”

But at a recent American Bar Association event, Mr. Koh argued that the administration’s changes — including requiring strict adherence to anti-torture rules and ensuring that all detainees are being held pursuant to recognizable legal authorities — have been meaningful. The United States, he said, can now defend its national-security policies as fully compliant with domestic and international law under “common and universal standards, not double standards.”

“We are not saying that we don’t have to fight battles,” he said. “We’re just saying that we should fight those battles within the framework of law.”

Last week, in another speech, Mr. Koh also for the first time outlined portions of the administration’s legal rationale for targeted killings using drone strikes, which some scholars have criticized. His remarks, however, focused on issues like whether it was lawful to single out specific enemy figures for killing — not defining the limits of who may be deemed an enemy.

But Mr. Feldman, the Harvard professor, said the detention debate also had “serious consequences” for the targeted killings policy because, “If we’re at war with you, then we can detain you — but we can also try to kill you.”

That said, he cautioned, additional factors complicate the analysis of selecting lawful targets. Among them, it is not clear whether Mr. Obama is more willing in classified settings to assert that, as commander in chief, he can use drone strikes to defend the country against perceived threats that cannot be linked to the Congressionally authorized war against Al Qaeda.

And even in detention matters, Bush-era theories have remained attractive to some. This January, two appeals court judges appointed by Mr. Bush — Janice Rogers Brown and Brett M. Kavanaugh, both of whom had been singled out by Democrats after their nominations as too ideological — reopened the debate by unexpectedly declaring, in another Guantánamo case, that the laws of armed conflict did not limit the president’s war powers.

In the Justice Department, career litigators who defend against Guantánamo lawsuits wanted to embrace that reasoning, arguing it would help them win. Judges have sided with detainees seeking release in some 34 of 46 cases to date — though the decisions largely turned on skepticism about specific evidence, not the general legal theory about who was detainable.

But political appointees — including Mr. Barron, Mr. Koh and even Mr. Johnson — criticized the reasoning of the appeals court ruling as vulnerable to reversal and argued that the administration should not abandon its respect for the laws of war.

In classified briefs filed in several detainee cases this month, officials said, the Justice Department adopted an ambivalent stance. It cited the ruling as a precedent while also reasserting its own contradictory argument that the laws of war matter. The debate would go on.

“We’ll see how the cases develop,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in an interview in February, in the midst of that latest round. But, he added, “I don’t think we are going to deviate from our argument.”

20 % of Canadian Households struggle with home costs.

Some Canadians are facing exactly the same problems as many U.S. homeowners although the situation is not as severe. However, Canadian home prices have not fallen to the degree that they did in the US either. As this report indicates as many as one in five Canadians are having difficulties keeping up with their home expenses. The situation is made worse by the fact that many Canadian builders concentrate upon building for high income earners so that there is less supply for other homes and this boosts the prices. Affordability of homes has become worse over the last fifteen years.


1 in 5 households struggles with home costs

CBC News
Twenty per cent of Canadian households have trouble finding the money to live in their homes because of a lack of affordable housing, the Conference Board of Canada says.

In a study released Tuesday, the think-tank estimates 75 per cent of Canadian families can comfortably afford their homes — meaning that housing costs consume no more than 30 per cent of their pre-tax incomes.Housing affordability has deteriorated in the last 15 years in Canada, the Conference Board notes.
Another five per cent live in subsidized rental housing. That leaves 20 per cent struggling with mortgage or rent payments that eat up more than 30 per cent of their incomes.


....



The report notes census data showing that housing affordability has worsened over the last 15 years.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Wikileaks wants U.S. to stop spying on its operations

Given that it is regarded as a threat by the U.S. government it is unlikely that this will happen. More likely the site will go broke first! The founder is trying to make Iceland a base for investigative journalism. That would be a great step forward. This is from rawstory.

Whistleblower site demands that US ’stop spying’ on its operations

By Muriel Kane


In an extraordinary editorial, the whistleblower site WikiLeaks has demanded that the United States "stop spying" on its operations.

"Over the last few years, WikiLeaks has been the subject of hostile acts by security organizations," founder Julian Assange writes. "We've become used to the level of security service interest in us and have established procedures to ignore that interest. But the increase in surveillance activities this last month, in a time when we are barely publishing due to fundraising, are excessive."

On Tuesday evening, followers of the WikiLeaks Twitter feed were startled to read, "WikiLeaks is currently under an aggressive US and Icelandic surveillance operation." This was followed a few minutes later by "If anything happens to us, you know why: it is our Apr 5 film. And you know who is responsible." A succeeding message warned, "We have airline records of the State Dep/CIA tails. Don't think you can get away with it. You cannot. This is WikiLeaks."

Friday's editorial finally fills in the background of those cryptic messages. Assange apparently believes that his group is under close surveillance by US intelligence because of its planned release of "a classified U.S. military video showing civilian kills by U.S. pilots" under the command of General David Petraeus.

Most of the incidents that he cites, however, have occurred in Iceland, where WikiLeaks representatives have been holding discussions with members of the Icelandic parliament about the possibility of turning that nation into a haven for investigative journalism.

Story continues below...


"We have discovered half a dozen attempts at covert surveillance in Reykjavik both by native English speakers and Icelanders," Assange writes. "On the occasions where these individuals were approached, they ran away. One had marked police equipment and the license plates for another suspicious vehicle track back to the Icelandic private VIP bodyguard firm Terr."

Assange also notes that when he flew from Iceland to Norway last week to speak at an investigative journalism conference, "two individuals, recorded as brandishing diplomatic credentials checked in for my flight at 12:03 and 12:06 under the name of 'US State Department'. The two are not recorded as having any luggage."

In addition, "a WikiLeaks volunteer, a minor, was detained by Icelandic police on a wholly insignificant matter. Police then took the opportunity to hold the youth over night, without charge--a highly unusual act in Iceland. The next day, during the course of interrogation, the volunteer was shown covert photos of me outside the Reykjavik restaurant 'Icelandic Fish & Chips', where a WikiLeaks production meeting took place on Wednesday March 17--the day before individuals operating under the name of the U.S. State Department boarded my flight to Copenhagen."

It is important to note that there has so far been no outside confirmation of Assange's charges, and the Icelandic government has already denied his suggestion that it might be aiding in the surveillance. According to IceNews, "An assistant to the Minister of Justice said the ministry and its staff would like to distance themselves from the Wikileaks editor’s allegations and said that any such action, if it took place, would have been a police matter." The Reykjavik chief of police, however, insists "that Icelandic police have not been working with the American secret services."

The Australian-born Assange launched WikiLeaks in January 2007, and it has been a thorn in the side of governments ever since. In late 2008, for example, Raw Story reported on an attempt by the German intelligence service to force WikiLeaks to remove files revealing its bungled false flag operation in Kosovo.

Two years ago, Wired.com reported, "When online troublemaker Julian Assange co-founded Wikileaks, the net's premiere document-leaking site last year, some were skeptical that the service would produce anything of interest. Now, after 18 months of publishing government, industry and military secrets that have sparked international scandals, led to takedown threats and briefly gotten the site banned in the United States, Assange says Wikileaks is just getting started changing the world."

Last week, Wikileaks released a March 2008 document (pdf) suggesting that the United States was concerned about "the possibility that current employees or moles within DoD or elsewhere in the U.S. government are providing sensitive or classified information to Wikileaks.org" and was considering an attempt to "damage or destroy" the site by exposing or taking legal action against its sources.

The introduction to the document comments dryly that "as two years have passed since the date of the report, with no WikiLeaks’ source exposed, it appears that this plan was ineffective." If Assange's current charges are justified, however, it would seem that the US government has continued to regard WikiLeaks as a genuine threat -- one which might be intensified if Assange's hopes to establish a "journalism haven" in Iceland are realized.

"In my role as WikiLeaks editor, I've been involved in fighting off more than 100 legal attacks over the past three years," Assange wrote last month. "To do that, and keep our sources safe, we have had to spread assets, encrypt everything, and move telecommunications and people around the world to activate protective laws in different national jurisdictions. We've become good at it, and never lost a case, or a source, but we can't expect everyone to make such extraordinary efforts."

"That's why I'm excited about what is happening in Iceland, which has started to see the world in a new way after its mini-revolution a year ago," he continued. "Not surprisingly, the foreign press has developed an interest in the proposal. All over the world, the freedom to write about powerful groups is being smothered. Iceland could be the antidote to secrecy havens, rather it may become an island where openness is protected -- a journalism haven.

Drone attacks are legitimate self-defense: State Dept. Lawyer

You would think that such a defense would be considered a parody of law but it will not be. In fact no doubt some legal bigwigs can become bigger Legal Beagles by advancing new spin on old legal doctrines. The key to all this is to frame the whole issue in terms of War even though the War on Terror is more like the War on Poverty than the First or Second World wars. The war is not against countries per se but against groups that use terror as a tactic but even then only those who use the tactics and are disliked by the US. States themselves can never be terrorists only state sponsors of terror and then again only if disliked by the U.S. The whole semantic subterfuge is a giant smokescreen behind which is erected the legal facade of self-defense and conformity to the laws of war. Even then the idea that self defense applies is so weak that Obama is in effect following in the bloated legal footsteps of Bush spin on the doctrine. This is from wired.com.

Drone Attacks Are Legit Self-Defense, Says State Dept. Lawyer
By Nathan Hodge


America’s undeclared drone war has been controversial, for any number of reasons: Pakistani politicians have cried foul over “counterproductive” strikes. Critics worry they may create more popular support for militants. And civil liberties groups have asked whether, in effect, it amounts to a program of targeted killing.

Now the State Department’s top legal adviser has offered a rationale for the ongoing campaign: Legitimate self-defense.

In a keynote address last night to the American Society of International Law, State Department legal adviser Harold Koh said it was “the considered view of this administration” that drone operations, including lethal attacks, “comply with all applicable law, including the laws of war.”

Al Qaeda and its allies, he continued, have not abandoned plans to attack the United States. “Thus, in this ongoing armed conflict, the United States has the authority under international law, and the responsibility to its citizens, to use force, including lethal force, to defend itself, including by targeting persons such as high-level al Qaeda leaders who are planning attacks,” he said.

It’s worth giving a closer look at the speech, excerpted here by ASIL. But this is not likely to appease critics of the drone war. Most recently, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Defense Department, the State Department and the Justice Department, demanding that the government provide more details about the legal basis of the drone war, including details about who authorizes drone strikes, how the targets are cleared and the rate of civilian casualties.

Koh addressed several of the concerns raised by rights groups:

Some have suggested that the very use of targeting a particular leader of an enemy force in an armed conflict must violate the laws of war. But individuals who are part of such an armed group are belligerent and, therefore, lawful targets under international law…. Some have challenged the very use of advanced weapons systems, such as unmanned aerial vehicles, for lethal operations. But the rules that govern targeting do not turn on the type of weapon system involved, and there is no prohibition under the laws of war on the use of technologically advanced weapons systems in armed conflict — such as pilotless aircraft or so-called smart bombs — so long as they are employed in conformity with applicable laws of war…. Some have argued that the use of lethal force against specific individuals fails to provide adequate process and thus constitutes unlawful extrajudicial killing. But a state that is engaged in armed conflict or in legitimate self-defense is not required to provide targets with legal process before the state may use lethal force.

Obviously, this doesn’t end the controversy, but the administration has made it quite clear it sees no legal reason to scale back the escalating drone war.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Buyout time as Mergers Increase in Healthcare area

As this short quote notes there is also diversification that can create new synergies within a portfolio! From this site.

The buyout shops are purchasing hospitals, no doubt in a charitable
effort to make health care more available. Cerberus Capital Management
went one step further striking a deal to acquire Caritas Christi Health
Care, a large Massachusetts hospital chain. To ensure that the hospital
chain will have an opportunity to treat more people, Cerberus also owns
Freedom Group Inc., one of the world’s largest makers of firearms and
ammunition.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Think Tank: Israel could use tactical nuikes in Iran attack.

If this happened Israel might have trouble denying it has nuclear weapons! Of course maybe they could say they borrowed them from the US. It is hard to predict what will happen if Israel attacks Iran with conventional weapons let alone nuclear ones. Probably Israel will choose not to use the nuclear option and reserve it for defense. No doubt Israel will be happy should the U.S. attack Iran and save Israel the trouble.


Israel could use tactical nukes on Iran: thinktank



By Dan Williams – Fri Mar 26, 7:13 am ET
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Deeply concerned as it is by the risk of a nuclear-armed Iran, Israel has never even hinted at using atomic weapons to forestall the perceived threat.
But now a respected Washington think tank has said that low-radioactive yield "tactical" nuclear warheads would be one way for the Israelis to destroy Iranian uranium enrichment plants in remote, dug-in fortifications.
Despite the 65-year-old taboo against carrying out -- or, for that matter, mooting -- nuclear strikes, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) says in a new report that "some believe that nuclear weapons are the only weapons that can destroy targets deep underground or in tunnels."
But other independent experts are on record warning that such a scenario is based on the "myth" of a clean atomic attack and would be too politically hazardous to justify.
In their study titled "Options in Dealing with Iran's Nuclear Program," CSIS analysts Abdullah Toukan and Anthony Cordesman envisage the possibility of Israel "using these warheads as a substitute for conventional weapons" given the difficulty its jets would face in reaching Iran for anything more than a one-off sortie.
Ballistic missiles or submarine-launched cruise missiles could serve for Israeli tactical nuclear strikes without interference from Iranian air defenses, the 208-page report says. "Earth-penetrator" warheads would produce most damage.
Israel is widely assumed to have the Middle East's sole atomic arsenal. Israeli leaders do not comment on this capability other than to underscore its deterrent role; President Shimon Peres has said repeatedly that "Israel will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons to the region."
A veteran Israeli defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said preemptive nuclear strikes were foreign to the national doctrine: "Such weapons exist so as not to be used."

Juan Cole: Netanyahu Humiliates Obama

Meanwhile many in the US chastise Obama for being unfriendly to Israel! It is simply amazing to behold how many just dutifully line up to spout the Israeli line. As Drone points out the Israeli's seem to deliberately try to offend the U.S. and when challenged have refused to back down on building in East Jerusalem. For the Israeli their annexation of territory is simply an accomplished fact and the remained of the world which denies its legality should simply wake up and smell the coffee! This is from countercurrents.


Netanyahu Humiliates Obama

By Juan Cole

24 March, 2010
Juancole.com

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu sets the tone for Israeli policy-- one that is earning him few friends in the West. Three embarrassments broke for him on Tuesday. First, yet another housing expansion in East Jerusalem was announced while he was meeting President Obama. Then, the cover story of Israeli troops accused of firing live ammunition at Palestinian protesters began to unravel. Then British Foreign Minister David Miliband unceremoniously tossed the Mossad London station chief out of the country for counterfeiting British passports, to be used in an Israeli assassination of a Palestinian in Dubai recently. Netanyahu personally ordered that hit, and is responsible for the forging of real peoples' passports and their use to commit a murder. Netanyahu is the one behind these acts of arrogance, and they are emblematic of his mean brand of politics.

The far rightwing government of Binyamin Netanyahu humiliates American officials every time it meets with them. Netanyahu met Obama in Washington on Tuesday, and like clockwork Israel embarrassed Obama by announcing that same day it was going ahead with a building project (funded by an American millionaire) in East Jerusalem that the Obama administration had strictly told the Israelis to halt. What I don't understand is why the Palestinians cannot sue over this issue in American courts. If the administration's stance is that East Jerusalem does not belong to Israel, and the US is signatory to the Fourth Geneva Convention, then why couldn't Palestinians with standing sue in the US when their property is usurped by an American millionaire?

Israel will investigate the shooting deaths of two Palestinian youth who were protesting (not rioting as AP puts it) against Israeli theft of water from the village well. Israeli troops claimed they were using rubber bullets, but Palestinians charge it was actually live ammunition.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Pakistan parliament to trim president's powers.

These powers were given to the president after a military coup installed Musharraf. Not only will these powers be taken away but also Zardari is in a fight with the Supreme Court as he has not implemented an order that removes his immunity from prosecution for earlier criminal charges against himself and others in his government. There could be another real crisis if these moves do not go ahead. This is from antiwar.com.


Pakistan Parliament to Curb Zardari’s Powers as Court Battle Looms
Posted By Jason Ditz

Pakistan’s parliament is expected to move on major changes to the constitution in the next few weeks, fulfilling a several year old campaign promise to curb the enormous power of the presidency.

The ruling Pakistani Peoples Party had vowed to make the position of president essentially a ceremonial one, but after taking power in 2008 President Zardari has repeatedly stalled this move, at times even using the expanded powers to his advantage.

The power of the presidency in Pakistan was greatly expanded after the coup which installed General Pervez Musharraf as President of the nation. Musharraf granted himself near dictatorial powers over the nation, though an ever growing protest movement eventually forced him from office and into exile.

In addition to losing the bulk of his power to this move, Zardari also faces an upcoming battle with the Pakistani Supreme Court over the fact that he has still refused to implement a December 2009 ruling stripping him and other top government officials of legal immunity for their assorted past crimes.

The immunity was a presidential edict of Musharraf’s, and has been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Zardari has sought to appeal and has simply ignored the ruling, which could lead to the immediate indictment of the Defense and Interior Ministers, among others.

Maliki Aide: We wont Recognize Iraq Election Results

The results are extremely close. The two main groups are neck and neck and Sadr's group is also doing well. It may be difficult to form a coalition government. Comments such as this by the Maliki aide are going to do nothing to stabilize the situation. Sectarian violence is always a possibility. This is from antiwar.com.


Maliki Aide: We Won’t Recognize Election Results
Posted By Jason Ditz
An aide to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki today insisted that his State of Law party will not recognize the final election results, expected later this week, because the election commission declined their request for a manual recount.

The aide, Ali al-Adib, declared that the party had “strong, clear evidence” of fraud against them, though the only evidence cited was the “surprising” gains by the opposition Iraqiya party of former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi.

Yet Iraqiya’s gains were largely as a result of a strong showing in Sunni dominated areas, areas where State of Law was all but invisible. Hundreds of claims of fraud have been registered, mostly against State of Law, but the election commission has insisted that so far none have been significant enough to replace the results.

It is unclear what practical effect the refusal to recognize the results would have, but given Iraq’s long history of messy transfers of power, the potential to destabilize the nation seems very real.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

One in Five DC residents live at or below poverty line.

It is rather ironic, or perhaps symbolic, that the area containing the nation's capital should have such a high poverty and homeless rate. With almost a half billion dollar deficit D.C. has not the funds to begin to alleviate the problem. Maybe D.C. needs a government bailout for its poorest residents! This is from the Washington Post.

Report finds rise in D.C. poverty to nearly 1 in 5 residents
By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writ

Nearly one out of five District residents lives at or below the poverty line, a statistic that helps expose a widening gap between the rich and the poor in the nation's capital, according to a study released Tuesday by social justice organizations gearing up for the 2010 elections.

The study, undertaken by the DC Fiscal Policy Institute on behalf of a coalition of more than 40 local organizations, concludes that last year the District experienced its biggest single-year increase in poverty since 1995.

Based on unemployment rates and other data, the coalition estimates that the city has 106,500 residents -- up 11,000 in a year -- living at or below the poverty rate, which in 2009 was $21,800 for a family of four.

"With D.C.'s unemployment rate of 12 percent, it's very likely poverty is also on the rise in 2010 and a decline could be a long way away," said Jenny Reed, a policy analyst at the institute.

.....

The institute, DC Appleseed, the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia and more than three dozen other organizations have teamed to form Defeat Poverty DC. The group hopes to force candidates and elected officials to make combating poverty a central focus of their campaigns.

"D.C. has struggled with this persistent poverty for years and years," said Michael Edwards, the campaign director for Defeat Poverty DC. "We are going to be looking for elected officials to identify how they would address these issues and bring us back down."

Despite the District's pockets of wealth, the report said, nearly one in three D.C. children lives in poverty, about double the national average.

The overall poverty rate in the District rose to 18.9 percent in 2009, up from 16.9 percent the previous year, according to the report. In contrast, the Census Bureau has reported a steady increase in median household income in the District, estimated at $58,000 in 2008. But there are big disparities between white and black families. Although white households had a median income of about $101,000 in 2008, the median income of black households was about $39,000.

"We have some of the worst numbers in the nation, by any measure, when it comes to poverty," said Walter Smith, executive director of DC Appleseed.

Smith and other leaders of Fight Poverty DC say they don't blame Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) for the city's rising poverty rate. They said it has been a problem for decades in the city, worsened recently by the national recession.

......

This month, The Washington Post reported that the District is being overwhelmed by a rise in homelessness, resulting in about 200 families jammed into a shelter meant for 35. A Post story in January reported that D.C. service centers that process welfare and other aid applications were so crowded that some applicants had to wait for days to try to get assistance.

With the District facing a $500 million budget gap in fiscal 2010, the city's social service network could be hit with more budget cuts this spring.

Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), chairman of the Committee on Finance and Revenue, said the city can't tap reserve funds to close the shortfall without risking its credit rating on Wall Street. Evans also noted that the council raised cigarette, sales and income taxes to help fill a budget gap last year.



Staff writer Carol Morello contributed to this report.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Humanities Depts. Actually Produce a Profit

As this article shows university presidents nowadays often tout their achievements as a business rather than in terms of scholarship or any academic laurels. Part of this framing of the situation also involves picturing the humanities as a heavily subsidized unprofitable but regretfully necessary drag on the booming university business. However, the most cursory investigation of the actual economic facts show that the humanities pay for themselves for the most part and even generate a surplus.
The whole exercise is in itself alarming however in that it presupposes that the value of the university education can be measured in business terms. Neither primary nor secondary educational institutions are measured that way nor should they be. This does not mean that universities can simply ignore efficiencies where they can be achieved without damaging their basic roles. This is from this site but ultimately from the Chronicle of Higher Education.



Chronicle of Higher Education - March 21, 2010

The Humanities Really Do Produce a Profit
By Robert N. Watson

The humanities—philosophy, art history, English literature, Slavic languages, musicology, and the rest—are quaint, elderly relatives that the real, serious, modern university (consisting of technological researchers and the professional schools) subsidizes out of charitable tradition but has trouble pampering during difficult times. The president of my university, the University of California, made that clear on national television not long ago: "Many of our, if I can put it this way, businesses are in good shape. We're doing very well there. Our hospitals are full, our medical business, our medical research, the patient care. So, we have this core problem: Who is going to pay the salary of the English department? We have to have it. Who's going to pay it in sociology, in the humanities? And that's where we're running into trouble."

President Mark G. Yudof probably meant no disrespect when he identified us as the "core problem" of the university's budget crisis, and maybe I'm mistaken to hear more resignation than enthusiasm in the assertion that an English department is "trouble" that you nonetheless "have to have." But he is mistaken about the economics—and you probably are, too. As Jane Wellman, executive director of the Delta Project on Postsecondary Education Costs, Productivity, and Accountability, said in a New York Times article last fall, English students usually generate a profit. "They're paying for the chemistry major and the music major. ... The little ugly facts about cross-subsidies are inflammatory, so they get papered over."

If you count what patients pay for treatment as income earned by a medical center, but do not count what students pay for literature courses as income earned by the humanities department, the hospital will surely look like a much smarter business.


But, according to spreadsheet calculations done at my request by Reem Hanna-Harwell, assistant dean of the humanities at the University of California at Los Angeles, based on the latest annual student-credit hours, fee levels, and total general-fund expenditures, the humanities there generate over $59-million in student fees, while spending only $53.5-million (unlike the physical sciences, which came up several million dollars short in that category). The entire teaching staff of Writing Programs, which is absolutely essential to UCLA's educational mission, has been sent firing notices, even though the spreadsheet shows that program generating $4.3-million dollars in fee revenue, at a cost of only $2.4-million.

So, the answer to "Who's going to pay the salary of the English department?" is that the English department at UCLA earns its own salary and more, through the fees paid by its students—profits that will only grow with the increase in student fees.

That isn't an eccentric calculation. Of the 21 units at the University of Washington, the humanities and, to a lesser degree, the social sciences are the only ones that generate more tuition income than 100 percent of their total expenditure. Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors, recently cited a University of Illinois report showing that a large humanities department like English produces a substantial net profit, whereas units such as engineering and agriculture run at a loss. The widely respected Delaware Study of Instructional Costs and Productivity shows the same pattern.

Because that evidence runs up against the widespread myth that other units and departments subsidize the humanities, and up against such well-entrenched forces within the university, it is regularly ignored or even suppressed. In the 1990s, UCLA invested huge amounts of money setting up Responsibility Centered Management, an accounting system eventually used at many universities to evaluate all the real costs of different units and the revenue they actually produce. The goal was to make budgeting fair and transparent. However, according to administrators then prominently involved in the process, when the initial run of those intricate spreadsheets showed that the College of Letters and Science was the most efficient user and producer of money, and the health sciences were far less efficient, RCM was abandoned. I have no illusions that the businesspeople and University of California medical executives who evidently have President Yudof's ear will be more receptive to that inconvenient truth today than they were then.

University budgets, fraught with indirect costs and shared infrastructure, are far too complicated for an amateur to master, and people in other fields would surely emphasize other numbers. We're all in this leaking, listing ship together, and the humanities will have to bear some of the pain of bailing it out. But, as Wellman of the Delta Project observed in a follow-up e-mail message to me, "cutting humanities is penny-wise and pound-foolish. ... Even though scientists bring in research money, research grants never pay for their full costs, so they actually erode resources from the general instructional program. And cutting budgets further in the courses that are already the lowest cost is nutty."

We produce a profit despite the irreducibly labor-intensive aspects of much work in the humanities, where there are seldom any single right answers toward which students may be directed, and where instruction must therefore engage actively and progressively with the particular subjective attributes of each developing voice and mind in a classroom discussion or in drafts of an essay. Class size therefore cannot swell in many of our departments without destroying our essential pedagogical function, any more than the sciences could function without laboratories.

Yet because the discretionary budget in humanities goes almost entirely for teaching staff, across-the-board cuts hit our instruction especially hard. The dean of humanities' office at UCLA warned a few months ago that the proposed budget would require programs in this division—already the leanest in staff per faculty—to fire most of their lecturers and teaching assistants, making our curriculum unsustainable.

If you're wondering who would ever deem that an acceptable outcome, consider that the 30-member commission that the chairman of the University of California Board of Regents, Russell S. Gould, and President Yudof appointed last year to plan the university's future includes a dozen people from business and economics, a half-dozen from medicine, some lawyers, educational theorists, and social-science undergraduates—but only one humanist, a late addition reportedly after faculty protests. Even in the commission's satellite working groups, humanities faculty members are outnumbered by a ratio of about 14 to 1, according to my calculations. That scientific researchers always subsidize the humanities was blithely repeated at the commission's public forum at UCLA without challenge—and without a single humanist on the podium. The official budget-crisis Web site of the University of California warns that "a federal grant for laser-beam research can't be used to fund a deficit in the English Department." Top administrative positions are now dominated by people from technology and medicine, who, without any conscious bias or ill will, are naturally susceptible to that complacent belief, that well-known fact that isn't true.

For students and faculty members in the humanities, the result is essentially taxation without representation. For the University of California system, the result may be a drastic loss of educational quality that will soon turn into a net loss of money as well—especially if it damages the traditional teaching of writing skills, languages, and cultural literacy that both taxpayers and employers value so highly.

No sane citizenry measures its public elementary schools by whether they pay for themselves immediately and in dollars. We shouldn't have to make a balance-sheet argument for the humanities, either, at least not until the balance-sheet includes the value, to the student and to the state, of expanded powers of personal empathy and cross-cultural respect, improved communication through language and other symbolic systems, and increased ability to tolerate and interpret complexity, contemplate morality, appreciate the many forms of artistic beauty, and generate creative, independent thought.

That grandiose description surely reveals my own tribal loyalties, and I don't mean to pick fights with my brilliant and dedicated colleagues in the sciences when it's really the shared project of a broad and meaningful undergraduate education that's at risk. And the gravest wounds to this magnificent public university have come from the state legislature itself, which imagines it can continue cutting what it pays for educating Californians without hurting California.

But when a university's own leaders begin talking about higher education as if it were just another business rather than a great collective legacy, by making English professors the scapegoat for hundreds of millions of dollars in operating deficit, they need to hear some other voices. The assumption that the humanities are a vestigial parasite within an otherwise self-sufficient institutional body is dangerously wrong.

US and Pakistan seek to mend relations

Pakistan also hold Taliban leaders and will not turn them over to the US or Afghanistan. No doubt this will be discussed as well. Pakistan is no doubt concerned that the US is helping India with nuclear technology but not Pakistan. I wonder if there is really any concern about the US drone strikes in Pakistan. I expect that they are condoned or at the very least tolerated. The few bleats made upon occasion about violation of sovereignty are just a bone thrown to public opinion to keep the masses at bay. This is from the BBC.


US and Pakistan seek better ties
The US and Pakistan are beginning a new chapter in relations, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said.

She was speaking in Washington at the start of talks with her Pakistani counterpart, Shah Mehmood Qureshi.

Mistrust between the US and Pakistan, a key ally in the war against militants, has reached new lows in recent months.

Mrs Clinton acknowledged there had been disagreements. Mr Qureshi said it was time to look forward. Security, energy and economic ties will be discussed.

"It is the start of something new," said Mrs Clinton as two days of meetings got under way in the US capital.

"Our countries have had our misunderstandings and disagreements in the past and there are sure to be more disagreements in the future."

Mr Qureshi said an improved relationship between the two countries "is good for Pakistan, good for America and good for international peace, security and prosperity".

He also sought a "constructive" US role on disputed Kashmir and "non-discriminatory" access to energy.

The BBC's Syed Shoaib Hasan says recent mistrust between the two sides has been fuelled by a surge in US drone strikes near the Afghan border. Pakistan also complains that promised US aid has not been delivered.

For its part the US wants Pakistan to do more to combat militants and says hundreds of visas for US officials have been withheld.

Nuclear issue

The two sides are holding a week-long "strategic dialogue". Pakistan's army chief Gen Ashfaq Kayani and the head of the ISI intelligence agency Lt-Gen Shuja Pasha are also taking part, as are top US defence officials.

Our correspondent says one of the main issues for discussion will be possible nuclear co-operation between the two sides.

Pakistan has long wanted the US to provide it with a civilian nuclear deal, similar to the one given to India.

Pakistani leaders say such co-operation would go a long way in helping the country deal with its current power shortage.

While some sort of understanding between on two sides is possible, any concrete accord is unlikely, our correspondent says.

Continued fears over Pakistan's proliferation record remain a major stumbling block. In particular, US officials want to question Dr AQ Khan, the disgraced former head of Pakistan's nuclear programme.

Dr Khan admitted to being involved in the transfer of nuclear technology to countries such as Iran and North Korea, which oppose the US.

Earlier this week Pakistan's government sought court permission to question Dr Khan over what it says is new information which has come to light about his role in proliferation.

The application is being heard in Lahore high court while talks continue between Mrs Clinton and Mr Qureshi.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

David Frum: Health Care Bill Passage is Waterloo for Republicans and Conservatives.

David Frum is a right wing commentator who invented the famous Axis of Evil phrase used by Bush. This post chastises Republicans and Conservatives for failing to attempt to take a bipartisan stand and attempt to modify the Obama Health Care Reform Bill. He believes that the passage of the bill was a historic defeat for Conservatives and Republicans. Republicans will be unable to rescind the bill.
Interestingly Frum thinks that the Obama Bill was close to that of the right wing Heritage Foundation Bill and could form the basis for a bipartisan bill that would have been much more to to the right than what actually was passed. No doubt Conservatives will be frothing at the mouth about Frum's remarks about right wing talk show hosts!


Waterloo
Conservatives and Republicans today suffered their most crushing legislative defeat since the 1960s.

It’s hard to exaggerate the magnitude of the disaster. Conservatives may cheer themselves that they’ll compensate for today’s expected vote with a big win in the November 2010 elections. But:

(1) It’s a good bet that conservatives are over-optimistic about November – by then the economy will have improved and the immediate goodies in the healthcare bill will be reaching key voting blocs.

(2) So what? Legislative majorities come and go. This healthcare bill is forever. A win in November is very poor compensation for this debacle now.

So far, I think a lot of conservatives will agree with me. Now comes the hard lesson:

A huge part of the blame for today’s disaster attaches to conservatives and Republicans ourselves.

At the beginning of this process we made a strategic decision: unlike, say, Democrats in 2001 when President Bush proposed his first tax cut, we would make no deal with the administration. No negotiations, no compromise, nothing. We were going for all the marbles. This would be Obama’s Waterloo – just as healthcare was Clinton’s in 1994.

Only, the hardliners overlooked a few key facts: Obama was elected with 53% of the vote, not Clinton’s 42%. The liberal block within the Democratic congressional caucus is bigger and stronger than it was in 1993-94. And of course the Democrats also remember their history, and also remember the consequences of their 1994 failure.

This time, when we went for all the marbles, we ended with none.

Could a deal have been reached? Who knows? But we do know that the gap between this plan and traditional Republican ideas is not very big. The Obama plan has a broad family resemblance to Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts plan. It builds on ideas developed at the Heritage Foundation in the early 1990s that formed the basis for Republican counter-proposals to Clintoncare in 1993-1994.

Barack Obama badly wanted Republican votes for his plan. Could we have leveraged his desire to align the plan more closely with conservative views? To finance it without redistributive taxes on productive enterprise – without weighing so heavily on small business – without expanding Medicaid? Too late now. They are all the law.

No illusions please: This bill will not be repealed. Even if Republicans scored a 1994 style landslide in November, how many votes could we muster to re-open the “doughnut hole” and charge seniors more for prescription drugs? How many votes to re-allow insurers to rescind policies when they discover a pre-existing condition? How many votes to banish 25 year olds from their parents’ insurance coverage? And even if the votes were there – would President Obama sign such a repeal?

We followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and they led us to abject and irreversible defeat.

There were leaders who knew better, who would have liked to deal. But they were trapped. Conservative talkers on Fox and talk radio had whipped the Republican voting base into such a frenzy that deal-making was rendered impossible. How do you negotiate with somebody who wants to murder your grandmother? Or – more exactly – with somebody whom your voters have been persuaded to believe wants to murder their grandmother?

I’ve been on a soapbox for months now about the harm that our overheated talk is doing to us. Yes it mobilizes supporters – but by mobilizing them with hysterical accusations and pseudo-information, overheated talk has made it impossible for representatives to represent and elected leaders to lead. The real leaders are on TV and radio, and they have very different imperatives from people in government. Talk radio thrives on confrontation and recrimination. When Rush Limbaugh said that he wanted President Obama to fail, he was intelligently explaining his own interests. What he omitted to say – but what is equally true – is that he also wants Republicans to fail. If Republicans succeed – if they govern successfully in office and negotiate attractive compromises out of office – Rush’s listeners get less angry. And if they are less angry, they listen to the radio less, and hear fewer ads for Sleepnumber beds.

So today’s defeat for free-market economics and Republican values is a huge win for the conservative entertainment industry. Their listeners and viewers will now be even more enraged, even more frustrated, even more disappointed in everybody except the responsibility-free talkers on television and radio. For them, it’s mission accomplished. For the cause they purport to represent, it’s Waterloo all right: ours.

Follow David Frum on Twitter: @davidfrum

Afghan Taliban name new deputy leaders after Baradar arrest.

This move would seem to indicate that for now the Taliban are not interested in peace talks but continuation of armed struggle against NATO forces in Afghanistan. Baradar was arrested in Pakistan after US intelligence tipped Pakistani's off about his whereabouts. Pakistan's hand was more or less forced but Pakistan has not allowed Baradar out of their custody or even to be interviewed by the Americans yet. This is from the BBC.


Afghan Taliban name new deputy leaders after arrest


The Taliban say the new leaders are committed to the armed struggle
The Afghan Taliban say Mullah Omar has named two new deputies after the arrest of his military chief in Pakistan.
Abdul Qayuum Zakir and Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor succeed Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who Pakistan is holding.
The aim was to send "a message that one arrest will not affect our movement", a senior Taliban leader said.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Pakistan Human Rights Organisation files first information report against Obama re drone attacks.

From what I have heard Blackwater (Xe) is no longer involved in the drone operations at all. Formerly they used to load the weapons onto the drones. It will be interesting to see what the response will be to this petition. The ACLU is also suing for information on the drone attacks. This is from sify.com.

FIR against Obama over drone attacks sought by Pak human rights group


A petition has been moved in the Lahore High Court (LHC) seeking the registration of a first information report (FIR) against US President Barack Obama and other top American officials holding them responsible for the death of hundreds of innocent civilians during drone strikes in the country.

The petition filed by Khalid Khawaja, spokesperson of the Defence of Human Rights, a Pakistani Human Rights group, urged the court to direct the federal government to submit a report on number of drone attacks conducted in the tribal areas and the number of people killed in these missile hits.

The petition also asked the court to ask the government to furnish details of the agreement, if any, between the US government and the controversial private security firm Blackwater regarding the drone strikes, The Daily Times reports.

Khawaja, in his petition, requested the LHC to ask the government officials to stop holding meetings with US diplomats, which, the petition said were aimed at 'dictating policies' to Islamabad and were against the country's 'sovereignty' and 'integrity.'

The petition also beseeched the court to direct the government to file a complaint in the International Court of Justice against the US to take action in accordance with international laws. (ANI)

Chris Hedges: Health Care Hindenburg Has Landed

It remains to be seen how many liberals will leave the Democrats. There seems little real change in US politics. The Afghan war goes on just as with Bush but with even more troops. Now the vaunted health care reform has done little but to boost health care industry stocks today. The sooner the left in the US gives up on the Democrats the better. The Democrats do not need to pay attention to the left because they have nowhere to go. However, the Wall Street money sees a rosy future and is turning their money spouts to the Republicans in the belief that the Democrats will become increasingly unpopular and have outlived their usefulness for the present. Would that the left had as much wisdom! This is from this site.



The Health Care Hindenburg Has Landed

By Chris Hedges

Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s decision to vote “yes” in Sunday’s House
action on the health care bill, although he had sworn to oppose
the legislation unless there was a public option, is a perfect
example of why I would never be a politician. I respect Kucinich.
As politicians go, he is about as good as they get, but he is
still a politician. He has to run for office. He has to raise
money. He has to placate the Democratic machine or risk
retaliation and defeat. And so he signed on to a bill that will do
nothing to ameliorate the suffering of many Americans, will force
tens of millions of people to fork over a lot of money for a
defective product and, in the end, will add to the ranks of our
uninsured.

The claims made by the proponents of the bill are the usual
deceptive corporate advertising. The bill will not expand coverage
to 30 million uninsured, especially since government subsidies
will not take effect until 2014. Families who cannot pay the high
premiums, deductibles and co-payments, estimated to be between 15
and 18 percent of most family incomes, will have to default,
increasing the number of uninsured. Insurance companies can
unilaterally raise prices without ceilings or caps and monopolize
local markets to shut out competitors. The $1.055 trillion spent
over the next decade will add new layers of bureaucratic red tape
to what is an unmanageable and ultimately unsustainable system.

The mendacity of the Democratic leadership in the face of this
reality is staggering. Howard Dean, who is a doctor, said
recently: “This is a vote about one thing: Are you for the
insurance companies or are you for the American people?” Here is a
man who once championed the public option and now has sold his
soul. What is the point in supporting him or any of the other
Democrats? How much more craven can they get?

Take a look at the health care debacle in Massachusetts, a model
for what we will get nationwide. One in six people there who have
the mandated insurance say they cannot afford care, and tens of
thousands of people have been evicted from the state program
because of budget cuts. The 45,000 Americans who die each year
because they cannot afford coverage will not be saved under the
federal legislation. Half of all personal bankruptcies will still
be caused by an inability to pay astronomical medical bills. The
only good news is that health care stocks and bonuses for the
heads of these corporations are shooting upward. Chalk this up as
yet another victory for our feudal overlords and a defeat for the
serfs.

The U.S. spends twice as much as other industrialized nations on
health care—$7,129 per capita—although 45.7 million Americans
remain without health coverage and millions more are inadequately
covered, meaning that if they get seriously ill they are not
covered. Fourteen thousand Americans a day are now losing their
health coverage. A report in the journal Health Affairs estimates
that, if the system is left unchanged, one of every five dollars
spent by Americans in 2017 will go to health coverage. Private
insurance bureaucracy and paperwork consume 31 cents of every
health care dollar. Streamlining payment through a single
nonprofit payer would save more than $400 billion per year,
enough, Physicians for a National Health Plan points out, to
provide comprehensive, high-quality coverage for all Americans.
Check out www.healthcare-now.org. It has some of the best analysis.

This bill is not about fiscal responsibility or the common good.
The bill is about increasing corporate profit at taxpayer expense.
It is the health care industry’s version of the Wall Street
bailout. It lavishes hundreds of billions in government subsidies
on insurance and drug companies. The some 3,000 health care
lobbyists in Washington, whose dirty little hands are all over the
bill, have once more betrayed the American people for money. The
bill is another example of why change will never come from within
the Democratic Party. The party is owned and managed by
corporations. The five largest private health insurers and their
trade group, America’s Health Insurance Plans, spent more than $6
million on lobbying in the first quarter of 2009. Pfizer, the
world’s biggest drug maker, spent more than $9 million during the
last quarter of 2008 and the first three months of 2009. The
Washington Post reported that up to 30 members of Congress from
both parties who hold key committee memberships have major
investments in health care companies totaling between $11 million
and $27 million. President Barack Obama’s director of health care
policy, who will not discuss single payer as an option, has served
on the boards of several health care corporations. And as salaries
for most Americans have stagnated or declined during the past
decade, health insurance profits have risen by 480 percent.

Obama and the congressional leadership have consciously shut out
advocates of single payer from the debate. The press, including
papers such as The New York Times, treats single payer as a fringe
movement. The television networks rarely mention it. And yet
between 45 and 60 percent of doctors favor single payer. Between
40 and 62 percent of the American people, including 80 percent of
registered Democrats, want universal, single-payer not-for-profit
health care for all Americans. The ability of the corporations to
discredit and silence voices that represent at least half of the
population is another sad testament to the power of our corporate
state to frame all discussions.

Change will come only by building movements that stand in fierce
and uncompromising opposition to the Democrats and the
Republicans. If they can herd Kucinich and John Conyers, the
sponsors of House Resolution 676, a bill that would create a
publicly funded National Health Program by eliminating private
health insurers, onto the House floor to vote for this corporate
theft, what is the point in pretending there is any room left for
us in the party? And why should we waste our time with gutless
liberal groups such as Moveon.org, which felt the need to collect
more than $1 million to pressure House Democrats who had voted
“no” on the original bill to recant? What was this purportedly
anti-war group doing anyway serving as an obsequious recruiting
arm of the Obama election campaign? The longer we tie ourselves to
the Democrats and these bankrupt liberal organizations the more
ridiculous and impotent we appear.

“I’m ready to listen to the White House, if the White House is
ready to listen to the concerns about putting a public option in
this bill,” the old Kucinich said on the “Democracy Now!” radio
and television program before he flipped. “I mean, they can do
that. You know, they’re still cutting last-minute deals. Put the
public option back in. Make it a robust public option. Give the
people a chance to really negotiate rates with the insurance
companies … from the standpoint of having a public option. But
don’t just tell the people that you’re going to call this health
care reform, when you’re giving insurance companies an even more
powerful monopoly status in our economy.”

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Even as US Frees Detainees Afghans Still Angry

As the stories show at the end of the article many have good reasons to be angry. Family breadwinners were imprisoned and families left to fend for themselves. In many cases the intelligence provided that led to imprisonment was suspect and often advanced only to obtain money. These people were imprisoned indefinitely without charges and basic violation of any robust notion of what is just. It seems as the saying goes: In war the law is silent.


U.S. Frees Detainees, but Afghans’ Anger Persists

Moises Saman for The New York Times


KABUL, Afghanistan —
Moises Saman for The New York Times
Detainees who were deemed not a threat were released to Afghan tribal elders at a ceremony in Kabul. The detainees and the elders must sign a pledge.
As an Afghan general read the document aloud, Cmdr. Dawood Zazai, a towering Pashtun tribal leader from Paktia Province who fought the Soviets, thumped his crutch for attention. Along with other elders, he did not like a clause in the document that said the detainees had been reasonably held based on intelligence.

“I cannot sign this,” Commander Zazai said, thumping his crutch again. “I don’t know what that intelligence said; we did not see that intelligence. It is right that we are illiterate, but we are not blind.

“Who proved that these men were guilty?”

No one answered because Commander Zazai had just touched on the crux of the legal debate that has raged for nearly a decade in the United States...
This is the latest chapter in America’s tortuous effort to repair the damage done over the last nine years by a troubled, overcrowded detention system that often produced more insurgents rather than reforming them. The problems were similar in the huge sweeps of suspected insurgents in Iraq.



Under the program, recently overhauled by Vice Adm. Robert S. Harward and Brig. Gen. Mark S. Martins, a Harvard-trained lawyer with the army’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps, there is now an automatic administrative review devised to speed the release process, and for the first time it allows detainees to make a case for their release.
...
There are now about 800 detainees at the American-run Detention Facility in Parwan, the new detention center that opened at the end of 2009 to replace the notorious holding facility at Bagram Air Base, which is associated with abuses that resulted in the deaths of at least two detainees. The vast majority of detainees are Afghans, but about 32 are foreigners, according to a senior American officer.

The American plan is to hand control of the detention center to the Afghan Ministry of Defense by January 2011, but Americans will still be deeply involved in the detention operations.

But as the recent ceremony showed, beyond the cake and fruit and formal speeches lies a reservoir of resentment about how the United States has handled detentions since 2001.

In interviews, former detainees and their families said the Americans were routinely misled by informants who either had personal grudges against them or were paid by others to give information to the Americans that would put the person in jail.

In addition, many Afghans have experienced the detentions as humiliating, and found almost unbearable the depths of poverty borne by their families during their internment.

“The information you had about these men was wrong in the first place,” said Hajji Azizullah, 54, a leader of the Andar tribe in Ghazni, who had come to sign for two detainees. “We are confident they were not involved with insurgents. If they were, we wouldn’t be here to sign for them.”

One detainee, Pacha Khan, 29, an illiterate bread baker from Kunar Province, said he was still puzzled about why he had been detained in the first place, let alone held for three years. “I was innocent,” he insisted. “Spies took money and sold me to the Americans. The Americans treated us very well, but as you know, jail is a big thing — to be away from your family, your relatives.”

His brother, Gul Ahmed Dindar, was less forgiving. He had to support his brother’s family of eight children and a wife on the meager salary of a local police officer. “They were about to sell their children,” he said. “They had very little to live on. They sold their one goat, their one sheep and their cow. Then they sold the furniture — it was not much. They have had a very tough life.”

Admiral Harward insisted that the American intelligence was good and that these were insurgents, but on hearing the elders’ protests about signing a document that made it sound as if the tribal leaders agreed with the American view, he offered to change the language to say that in the eyes of American forces these detainees were insurgents. The elders nodded their assent. The new language will be used on future sponsor forms. “We learn something every time we do this,” Admiral Harward said.

The Afghan military made its own effort to solve the problem when it heard the elders’ protests, by simply writing in the word “no” in front of the phrase saying the detainee had a “link to the insurgency.” The version the elders signed said the detainee had “no link.”

In the shifting shadows of this often invisible war, where no one is sure who is lying and who is telling the truth, it seemed a reasonable way to resolve the day’s discord.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

18 Myths about the Health Care Bill.

This is a critique of 18 claims about the health care bill and a critique of each of those claims. While some of the criticisms might be made by conservatives many more would appeal more to leftists and liberals. This is from firedoglake.

Fact Sheet: The Truth About the Health Care Bill
By: Jane Hamsher Friday March 19, 2010 8:58 am

I’ll be on the new CNN show with Jon King that premieres at noon ET, available for live stream here — jh

The Firedoglake health care team has been covering the debate in congress since it began last year.
We’ve also taken a detailed look at the bill, and have come up with 18 often stated myths about this health care reform bill.


Myth

Truth

1. This is a universal health care bill.


The bill is neither universal health care nor universal health insurance.

Per the CBO:

Total uninsured in 2019 with no bill: 54 million
Total uninsured in 2019 with Senate bill: 24 million (44%)

2. Insurance companies hate this bill


This bill is almost identical to the plan written by AHIP, the insurance company trade association, in 2009.
The original Senate Finance Committee bill was authored by a former Wellpoint VP. Since Congress released the first of its health care bills on October 30, 2009, health care stocks have risen 28.35%.

3. The bill will significantly bring down insurance premiums for most Americans.


The bill will not bring down premiums significantly, and certainly not the $2,500/year that the President promised.

Annual premiums in 2016, status quo / with bill:

Small group market, single: $7,800 / $7,800

Small group market, family: $19,300 / $19,200

Large Group market, single: $7,400 / $7,300

Large group market, family: $21,100 / $21,300

Individual market, single: $5,500 / $5,800*

Individual market, family: $13,100 / $15,200*

4. The bill will make health care affordable for middle class Americans.
The bill will impose a financial hardship on middle class Americans who will be forced to buy a product that they can’t afford to use.
A family of four making $66,370 will be forced to pay $5,243 per year for insurance. After basic necessities, this leaves them with $8,307 in discretionary income — out of which they would have to cover clothing, credit card and other debt, child care and education costs, in addition to $5,882 in annual out-of-pocket medical expenses for which families will be responsible.

5. This plan is similar to the Massachusetts plan, which makes health care affordable. Many Massachusetts residents forgo health care because they can’t afford it.
A 2009 study by the state of Massachusetts found that:

21% of residents forgo medical treatment because they can’t afford it, including 12% of children
18% have health insurance but can’t afford to use it

6. This bill provide health care to 31 million people who are currently uninsured.


This bill will mandate that millions of people who are currently uninsured must purchase insurance from private companies, or the IRS will collect up to 2% of their annual income in penalties. Some will be assisted with government subsidies.

7. You can keep the insurance you have if you like it.
The excise tax will result in employers switching to plans with higher co-pays and fewer covered services.
Older, less healthy employees with employer-based health care will be forced to pay much more in out-of-pocket expenses than they do now.

8. The “excise tax” will encourage employers to reduce the scope of health care benefits, and they will pass the savings on to employees in the form of higher wages.

There is insufficient evidence that employers pass savings from reduced benefits on to employees.


9. This bill employs nearly every cost control idea available to bring down costs.


This bill does not bring down costs and leaves out nearly every key cost control measure, including:
Public Option ($25-$110 billion)
Medicare buy-in
Drug reimportation ($19 billion)
Medicare drug price negotiation ($300 billion)
Shorter pathway to generic biologics ($71 billion)

10. The bill will require big companies like WalMart to provide insurance for their employees

The bill was written so that most WalMart employees will qualify for subsidies, and taxpayers will pick up a large portion of the cost of their coverage.

11. The bill “bends the cost curve” on health care.


The bill ignored proven ways to cut health care costs and still leaves 24 million people uninsured, all while slightly raising total annual costs by $234 million in 2019.
“Bends the cost curve” is a misleading and trivial claim, as the US would still spend far more for care than other advanced countries.

In 2009, health care costs were 17.3% of GDP.

Annual cost of health care in 2019, status quo: $4,670.6 billion (20.8% of GDP)

Annual cost of health care in 2019, Senate bill: $4,693.5 billion (20.9% of GDP)

12. The bill will provide immediate access to insurance for Americans who are uninsured because of a pre-existing condition. Access to the “high risk pool” is limited and the pool is underfunded. It will cover few people, and will run out of money in 2011 or 2012
Only those who have been uninsured for more than six months will qualify for the high risk pool. Only 0.7% of those without insurance now will get coverage, and the CMS report estimates it will run out of funding by 2011 or 2012.

13. The bill prohibits dropping people in individual plans from coverage when they get sick. The bill does not empower a regulatory body to keep people from being dropped when they’re sick.
There are already many states that have laws on the books prohibiting people from being dropped when they’re sick, but without an enforcement mechanism, there is little to hold the insurance companies in check.

14. The bill ensures consumers have access to an effective internal and external appeals process to challenge new insurance plan decisions. The “internal appeals process” is in the hands of the insurance companies themselves, and the “external” one is up to each state.
Ensuring that consumers have access to “internal appeals” simply means the insurance companies have to review their own decisions. And it is the responsibility of each state to provide an “external appeals process,” as there is neither funding nor a regulatory mechanism for enforcement at the federal level.
15. This bill will stop insurance companies from hiking rates 30%-40% per year.


This bill does not limit insurance company rate hikes. Private insurers continue to be exempt from anti-trust laws, and are free to raise rates without fear of competition in many areas of the country.

16. When the bill passes, people will begin receiving benefits under this bill immediately


Most provisions in this bill, such as an end to the ban on pre-existing conditions for adults, do not take effect until 2014.
Six months from the date of passage, children could not be excluded from coverage due to pre-existing conditions, though insurance companies could charge more to cover them. Children would also be allowed to stay on their parents’ plans until age 26. There will be an elimination of lifetime coverage limits, a high risk pool for those who have been uninsured for more than 6 months, and community health centers will start receiving money.

17. The bill creates a pathway for single payer.


Bernie Sanders’ provision in the Senate bill does not start until 2017, and does not cover the Department of Labor, so no, it doesn’t create a pathway for single payer.

Obama told Dennis Kucinich that the Ohio Representative’s amendment is similar to Bernie Sanders’ provision in the Senate bill, and creates a pathway to single payer. Since the waiver does not start until 2017, and does not cover the Department of Labor, it is nearly impossible to see how it gets around the ERISA laws that stand in the way of any practical state single payer system.

18 The bill will end medical bankruptcy and provide all Americans with peace of mind.


Most people with medical bankruptcies already have insurance, and out-of-pocket expenses will continue to be a burden on the middle class.
In 2009, 1.5 million Americans declared bankruptcy
Of those, 62% were medically related
Three-quarters of those had health insurance
The Obama bill leaves 24 million without insurance
The maximum yearly out-of-pocket limit for a family will be $11,900 (PDF) on top of premiums
A family with serious medical problems that last for a few years could easily be financially crushed by medical costs
*Cost of premiums goes up somewhat due to subsidies and mandates of better coverage. CBO assumes that cost of individual policies goes down 7-10%, and that people will buy more generous policies.

Documentation:

March 11, Letter from Doug Elmendorf to Harry Reid (PDF)
The AHIP Plan in Context, Igor Volsky; The Max Baucus WellPoint/Liz Fowler Plan, Marcy Wheeler
CBO Score, 11-30-2009
“Affordable” Health Care, Marcy Wheeler
Gruber Doesn’t Reveal That 21% of Massachusetts Residents Can’t Afford Health Care, Marcy Wheeler; Massachusetts Survey (PDF)
Health Care on the Road to Neo-Feudalism, Marcy Wheeler
CMS: Excise Tax on Insurance Will Make Your Insurane Coverage Worse and Cause Almost No Reduction in NHE, Jon Walker
Employer Health Costs Do Not Drive Wage Trends, Lawrence Mishel
CBO Estimates Show Public Plan With Higher Savings Rate, Congress Daily; Drug Importation Amendment Likely This Week, Politico; Medicare Part D IAF; A Monopoloy on Biologics Will Drain Health Care Resources, Lancet Student
MaxTax Is a Plan to Use Our Taxes to Reward Wal-Mart for Keeping Its Workers in Poverty, Marcy Wheeler
Estimated Financial Effects of the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2009,” as Proposed by the Senate Majority Leader on November 18, 2009, CMS (PDF)
ibid
ibid
ibid
Health insurance companies hang onto their antitrust exemption, Protect Consumer Justice.org
What passage of health care reform would mean for the average American, DC Examiner
How to get a State Single Payer Opt-Out as Part of Reconciliation, Jon Walker
Medical bills prompt more than 60 percent of U.S. bankruptcies, CNN.com; The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Section‐by‐Section Analysis (PDF)
386 Comments Spotlight

State Department to Provide Legal Justification for Drone Attacks.

No doubt the administration is reluctant to provide the justifications in a timely fashion because it will be immediately criticized and the administration will be held accountable. Even to find out what facts may be available the ACLU had to file a lawsuit. Even if legal basis does stand up to criticism the problem of civilian casualties still stands. The estimate given in this article is very low actually. It seems to be the preferred estimate now. This is from the Huffington Post.

Daphne Eviatar
State Department To Produce Legal Justification for Drone Attacks
State Department Legal Adviser Harold Koh has promised to produce the Obama administration's legal justification for its increased use of drone strikes to kill suspected terrorists, reports Shane Harris of the National Journal.

"I have studied this question," Koh told the audience at an American Bar Association breakfast yesterday. "I think that the legal objections that are being put on the table are ones that we are taking into account. I am comfortable with the legal position of the administration, and at an appropriate moment we will set forth that in some detail."

Let's hope that "appropriate moment" comes pretty soon, because controversy over the drone attacks is heating up. The ACLU in January filed a FOIA request asking the government to turn over that legal justification, as well as the facts underlying it. Then this week, after receiving a response from the CIA that it can neither confirm nor deny the existence of any relevant documents, the ACLU filed a lawsuit.

Meanwhile, as Adam Serwer points out at The American Prospect, a New America Foundation study raises concerns that about a third of the victims of drone attacks have been civilians, and international lawyers have been debating for months now whether the targeted killings violate international law. (Jane Mayer's story on drone attacks in the New Yorker last October does an excellent job of laying out the controversy.)