July 2, 2008 archive

BREAKING: Ingrid Betancourt Rescued! (Updated x 2)

BBC is now reporting:

The Colombian authorities say they have rescued Ingrid Betancourt and three Americans held by rebels in Colombia.

Ms Betancourt, a French-Colombian politician, has been held for more than six years by the rebel Farc group and is said to be in very poor health.

She is the group’s highest-profile hostage and the French government has made securing her release a priority.

The Farc group has been fighting to overthrow the Colombian government for more than 40 years.

The Colombian military said some 15 hostages had been rescued in total on Wednesday, among them 11 Colombian soldiers.

Please join me in Colombia.

Four at Four

  1. The NY Times reports that a Deepening cycle of job loss is seen lasting into 2009. “Joblessness has accelerated, and employers have slashed working hours even for those on their payrolls, shrinking the size of paychecks just as workers need them the most.”

    “It’s a slow-motion recession,” said Ethan Harris, chief United States economist for Lehman Brothers. “In a normal recession, things kind of collapse and get so weak that you have nowhere to go but up. But we’re not getting the classic two or three negative quarters. Instead, we’re expecting two years of sub-par growth. Growth that’s not enough to generate jobs. It’s kind of a chronic rather than an acute pain.”

    Nationally, unemployment, not including the jobless, those bumped down to part-time, and those who have given up looking for work, was 5.5 percent in May. “Add in those people and the so-called underemployment rate rises to 9.7 percent”.

  2. The Washington Post reports Whistle-Blower suits languish at the Justice Department.

    More than 900 cases alleging that government contractors and drugmakers have defrauded taxpayers out of billions of dollars are languishing in a backlog that has built up over the past decade because the Justice Department cannot keep pace with the surge in charges brought by whistle-blowers, according to lawyers involved in the disputes.

    The issue is drawing renewed interest among lawmakers and nonprofit groups because many of the cases involve the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, rising health-care payouts, and privatization of government functions — all of which offer rich new opportunities to swindle taxpayers

    At issue in most of the cases is whether companies knowingly sold defective products or overcharged federal agencies for items sold at home or offered to U.S. troops overseas. Under the Civil War-era False Claims Act, workers who file lawsuits alleging such schemes cannot discuss them or even disclose their existence until Justice decides whether to step in.

    So the lawsuits are sealed until the Bush Justice Dept. decides to look at them… effectively giving them reason to drag their feet.

  3. According to the LA Times, the U.S. spies on Iraqi army. “The stepped-up surveillance reflects breakdowns in trust and coordination between the two forces. Officials said it was part of an expanded intelligence effort launched after American commanders were surprised by the timing of the Iraqi army’s violent push into Basra three months ago.”

    “It suggests that we don’t have complete confidence in their chain of command, or in their willingness to tell us what they’re going to do because they may fear that we may try to get them not to do it,” said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a website about intelligence and military issues…

    “The bad news is we’re spying on Iraqis,” said the former military official. “The good news is that we have to.”

    See? Anyway you slice it, it’s all Good News from Iraq™.

  4. The Star Tribune notes that Clotheslines: Public opinion on clotheslines is becoming more favorable. “Clotheslines save money, conserve electricity and burn calories.” But, “They have also been banned in several suburbs and neighborhoods” because HOAs believe hanging laundry is “low-class” and disgusting. HOA members believe clotheslines lower property values. “Homeowners associations all over the U.S. and Canada restrict clotheslines to the back yard, or ban them outright.”

    “Lately, though, there have been signs that public opinion is starting to swing the other way. Towns and associations are starting to reverse those laws — primarily on the East Coast and in Canada. In April, for instance, the premier of Ontario grandly lifted the ban for the entire province. Southampton, N.Y., on Long Island, repealed its six-year-old ban in late May.”

    A positive sign. Terra Pass blog has a spreadsheet you can use to estimate how much money and C02 you could save by line drying your clothes.

Hitchens: “Waterboarding IS Torture”

Color me astonished!  I’ve never been a Hitchens’ fan.  In fact, if anything, I’ve loathed the man.  But even “broken clocks are right twice a day” and in this case, Hitchens gets it right.  Bush apologist, right-winger Hitchens decided to undergo waterboarding to see whether he would be convinced that it was torture.  He wrote about his experience in Vanity Fair:

“…Here is the most chilling way I can find of stating the matter. Until recently, “waterboarding” was something that Americans did to other Americans. It was inflicted, and endured, by those members of the Special Forces who underwent the advanced form of training known as SERE… But it was something that Americans were being trained to resist, not to inflict….”

More below the Fold:

The Battle of Ideas

Is what politics is under the surface.

‘The Left’ is ostensibly for Liberty, Equality and Justice at all costs, but implemented responsibly.

‘The Right’ is for…well I am not really sure what The Right is for anymore.  When I was growing up politically, they were for strong defense, fiscal responsibility, and mainly, it seemed to me, the necessity of deferring to the authority of the Government and the Church above individual liberty. Conformity. Citizens setting aside some (most?) individual liberties for the good of the state. Somewhere in there was some stuff about the government staying out of your lives, at least when it came to guns…but not when it came to the bedroom or your uterus.

The Center was where these differing ideals are supposed to meet. A responsibly moderate place where the concerns of the good of the State were balanced with the good of the People.

That may be all wrong, but those were/are my impressions. I think that has all changed, or is about to.

I am NOT wrong about the Battle of Ideas. It is the very purpose of politics.

I just don’t know what the Ideas are anymore. Wait, maybe I do. I think maybe in this election the Battle of Ideas is much simpler than we think. There was a coup in this country. A deception at the very least. America got conned. They bought the okeydoke of a Far Right closet dictator “Uniter not Divider.” A wolf in sheep’s clothing. A man who pretended to be something he wasn’t. The worst (in concert with Cheney) example of the Right’s innate tendency towards totalitarianism and fascism.

In Their Boots

I just received, as I’m sure many others have, an E-Mail about a Live Online Broadcast premiering tonight 7-02-08

From ‘Brave New Films’

That I’m going to share with those who may not receive their News Letters.

Follow Me:

Good Stuff from Counterpunch…

Counterpunch is one of my regular stop off points!

NFTT: Seminar Guests, Volunteers and More!

Netroots For The TroopsAs you may know, Netroots For The Troops, a collaborative effort by members of the Daily Kos, IGTNT and Mojo Friday communities,  will be holding a Special Event/Seminar at Netroots Nation on Saturday, July 19th from 2 PM to 4 PM.

We are pleased to announce some special guests with an important and unique perspective on the topic of Troop Care Packages who will be joining us to talk about both the past and the future.

Join us on the flip for more information, plus some new ways that you can help our efforts!

Crossposted at The Big Orange and ePluribus Media

Bush worried about Security Pact with Iraq? Looks like it.

On June 14th, President Bush while discussing a “status of forces” agreement said that he is confident the United States can reach a long term security agreement with Iraq, one that will not establish permanent U.S. bases there.

That is the first step in understanding that Bushie and his neo-con minions are sweating the Security Pact agreement with Iraq that they SO want completed in the very near future.  Prior to June 14, there was no real substantive information from the administration regarding NOT having permanent U.S. Military bases in Iraq via this agreement.  

In Bush’s exact words: “Whatever we agree to, it will not commit future presidents to troop levels, nor will it establish permanent bases.”

The second reason to believe Bush and Company are getting nervous is on that same date, an aide for Iraqi P.M. Al-Malaki said that Iraqi officials are frustrated by the lack of progress in negotiations, so they are contemplating developing legislation to dictate the shape of the American military presence in Iraq.  Al-Malaki himself stated that the first drafts of the agreement that were proposed had reached a deadlock in negotiations.

Again, ol’ never-give-in-never-say-you-were-wrong-never-take-NO-for-an-answer Bushie is giving up something that originally was very important to him (permanent bases) because the Iraqi’s aren’t rolling over and playing dead for him (unlike a certain group of Congressional Democrats who will remain nameless….)


Peace activists stop the virtual killing at music festival; UPDATE: Festival under fire, needs help

UPDATE: A rabid radio talker devoted two hours of his morning show today railing on Summerfest for asking the Army to shut down a virtual killing game, urging listeners to call those wimpy Summerfest folks and complain.

Actually, Summerfest needs to be thanked and congratulated for doing the right thing. It is never easy to publicly take a stand and reverse an earlier decision — not to mention facing down the military.

Please take a minute to call Summerfest at 414-273–2680. They need some support.

In Milwaukee, one small step for humankind:

At the request of Summerfest officials, the U.S. Army on Tuesday removed a virtual urban warfare game that allowed fest-goers as young as 13 to hop into a Humvee simulator and fire machine guns at life-size people on a computer screen.

Peace Action-Wisconsin launched a campaign Tuesday to shut down the “game,” and Veterans for Peace, Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice also joined in asking their members to call Summerfest to complain.

Summerfest officials reported “a handful” of complaints, but it took less than 12 hours to get action, suggesting there was more than a handful of callers, which forced Summerfest to take it seriously.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports:

“We’re determining it’s probably not something that we want to have shown at Summerfest,” John Boler, vice president of sales and marketing, said before the decision was made to request removal of the game, called Virtual Army Experience… Summerfest officials received a handful of complaints and first requested the Army raise the minimum age of the players to 18 and to stop giving out a DVD of a similar virtual experience. But officials later reconsidered the whole game.

The Army’s defense?  This isn’t about killing, just what it’s like to be a soldier:

An Army spokeswoman said the game isn’t meant to teach people how to shoot, but rather educate them on the life of a soldier.

“It gives them a glimpse into what it’s like to really be a soldier,” said Pat Grobschmidt, a public affairs officer.

Grobschmidt said the game is one component of a larger game that is extremely popular with more than 8 million registered users. More than 500 Summerfest goers played the game on opening day, she said.

It was displayed at a concert in Madison and an air show in Janesville last year and did not get any complaints, she said.

Yesterday’s diary on the subject.


Defend the Constitution or Be Sensible?

The dualistic mind is enjoying the on-going debate between “purity trolls” and “sell-outs.”  And most people on both sides of the issue appear to be quite certain of their stance.  Feeling somewhat queasy from the shaky ground under me, I’ve been looking in vain for the solid ground others seem to have found.  All I see is a Sophie’s Choice:  which one do you choose to kill–the Constitution of the United States or any chance of participation in the process?  I don’t know.  But I’m here to urge people to accept that we have a tough decision which cries out for meaningful, respectful debate.  And during this debate, may we keep in mind the most important political question we face–what action gives us the best chance of rescuing the constitution from imminent demise.

The politics of posturing

The recent flurry of controversy over the questioning of McCain’s qualifications for the Presidency reveals a strange transformation in American politics. We no longer argue about the substance of candidates and issues, but about their poses and postures. The defenders of John McCain are not outraged that critics question how John McCain would go about being president. They are outraged because critics question how John McCain goes about being John McCain. It is the coolness, the righteousness, the mojo of the McCain BRAND that was being questioned.

What John McCain’s propaganda machine is trying to sell to the electorate is a posture, a way of acting, an attitude toward the world, not a set of principles or policies. To attack the goodness of his behavioral facade is to strike at the core of a modern political candidate. The electorate has been conditioned to buy the package, not the contents of the package. The taboo that General Clark violated was to attack the attractiveness of McCain’s personality package.

The persona of the “military man” is a powerful brand in American politics. We saw it defended vigorously when General Petraeus was criticized for backing an escalation of the Iraq war. Opponents of the surge were NOT attacked for questioning the surge tactic; they were attacked for questioning the goodness of an American Army officer. Their crime was trying to damage the US military “brand.”

Similarly, McCain’s defenders are defending the “gutsy Navy pilot” brand, not the leadership qualifications of John McCain, who hasn’t flown a jet in decades. The inability to focus on the actual qualifications of political candidates is a sign of a dysfunctional political process. A similar focus on Obama’s magical, mystical persona as an agent of change afflicts the campaign of the Democratic candidate.

Unfortunately, when the voters go to the polls to elect a President in November, they will be choosing between two package designs, not two sets of alternative policies. It is time to pay attention to the package contents, because the challenges facing America in the next decade will not be solved by posturing and packaging.

Fuel for Doubt on Attack on Iran

(Crossposted at DKOS)

In today’s WaPo David Ignatius wrote an important column. Ignatius is probably the best-connected commentator on the subject of the Middle East and reflects official thinking in Washington. When the Neocons were in their glory he wrote admiringly of them; recently he has distanced himself considerably.

First he indicates that the intelligence operations are not run well.

But according to knowledgeable sources, this effort shares the defect of broader U.S. policy toward Iran — it is tentative and ill-coordinated, and it undermines diplomacy without bringing serious pressure on the regime.


Argues a former intelligence official, “It’s a PowerPoint covert-action program. It looks aggressive, but it’s not a tied-together, long-term strategy that would make Iran change its policy.”

The money quote comes at the end of the column:

But so far, that argument for a rollback of Iranian power hasn’t prevailed inside a divided administration.

Finally, he indicates that any change in U.S. policy will wait the next administration:

The Iran question will confront the next administration from Day One, and the basic options probably won’t look very different from the current set: Talk or fight, or do something in between?

This column may be a slender thread but it is realistic to assume, having followed and corresponded (when he wasn’t getting so many Emails) with Ignatius for many years, that he reflects more or less where the dominant forces in the power-elite are. Furthermore, there has been almost no call for attack (outside of the radical right) for an attack on Iran in the MSM. The idea has gotten no traction and is ulikely to because, frankly, there’s too much money to be lost by the power-elite particularly the Financial/Banking community who still rule the roost, they trump AIPAC and the Likud/Neocon alliance.

It is possible that this column is just a ploy to downplay speculation but Ignatius isn’t like that–in the den of thieves that is official Washington he is honest in my view.

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