Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Blaming Bush Recession On Bill

Blaming Bush Recession On Bill
By Kelley Kramer
Jul 25, 2002

I am so sick of these lying Republicans trying to blame the Bush Recession on Bill Clinton. The last year should convince anyone that Republicans are the most pathetic 'blamers' of all-time.

Doesn't it figure that the same people who always screw up our economy always blame other people for their actions? The word 'accountability' is NOT in any Republican dictionary! Here's something we can do:

Remind Republicans this is not America's first Bush recession. Going by the current Republicans spin, was the first Bush recession Ronald Reagan's fault? Ask them who they blame for the Reagan recession of '82-'83? What about the Ford recession? Or the Nixon recession? Were those Bill Clinton's fault too?

The stock market has gone down more under Bush than anyone, including Herbert Hoover. Is that Clinton's fault? Do they blame Bill for Hoover's lousy record? Was the Reagan stock market crash of 1987 Bill Clinton's fault?

What about Reagan's and George Bush's exploding deficits and bankrupt government? Was that Clinton's fault or Reagan's and George Bush's? Clinton closed the borrow and spend gap and gave us huge surpluses, which Bush II wasted.

Its obvious, Republicans and GW Bush do not believe in PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY! Remind those pathetic blamers who can't balance a budget or build an economic plan that Bill Clinton led us to the longest and strongest economic expansion in the entire history of the Unites States of America!

You know what else? That finger Republicans are pointing around to blame Clinton for Bush's screw-ups? When Clinton was president we held that finger straight up in the air, because back when Bill was prez we were number ONE!!

Here's Mike's Easy Economics Lesson:

Back in the Clinton / Gore years, unemployment was going DOWN. Before then, with Bush I it was going UP. Today, with Bush II it's going UP AGAIN. During the Clinton / Gore years the stock market and the economy were going UP. Before then they were going DOWN, and today they're going DOWN AGAIN! During the Clinton / Gore years, our debt was going DOWN. Before then it was going UP, and now it's going UP AGAIN!

So, to recap: During the Clinton / Gore years, all the things we needed to go up went up, and all the things we needed to go down went down. It was good. But during the Bush years -- Bush the Wimp and Bush the Chimp -- things we wanted to go up went down, and things we wanted to go down went up. That's bad.

Record profits for oil giants

Record profits for oil giants
$14 billion first 3 months of this year on the back of rocketing oil prices.

Pump prices lift Shell and BP to record £7.2bn

Shell North Sea oil rigs

BP and Royal Dutch Shell have reported massive increases in profits for the first three months of this year on the back of rocketing petrol prices, which are expected to hit £5 a gallon today.

BP's pre-tax profits rose 48 per cent in the first quarter to $6.6 billion (£3.3 billion) while Shell increased its profits 12 per cent to a record $7.8 billion (£3.9 billion).

The increase has been driven by the rising oil prices, which the companies have passed on to consumers in the form of higher petrol and diesel costs.

The price of oil came close to $120 yesterday but was trading slightly lower at $118 in early trading today. Meanwhile, the price of petrol continues to rise because of supply concerns in Scotland - where the Grangemouth refinery was shut down for two days because of industrial action.

Workers have now returned to Grangemouth but it will take about three weeks to get the refinery, which produces 10 per cent of the UK's petrol, up to full capacity again.

The Automobile Association said that petrol prices had hit a national average of £1.098, equivalent to £4.99 a gallon. Petrol is expected to pass the £5 mark, possibly as early as today.

Shell's earnings of $7.776 billion were ahead of market estimates of $6.772 billion as production rose from 3.509 million to 3.522 million barrels of oil equivalent per day. The company raised its quarterly dividend by 11 percent to $0.40 a share.

Jason Kenney, oil analyst at ING, said: “They look like blow-away numbers."

Shell's total cash flow was 50 per cent up on the same period last year at $16.9 billion but this was offset by higher capital investment in new production.

Jeroen van der Veer, Shell chief executive, said: "Good operating performance, combined with increased oil and gas prices, offset the impact of downstream conditions in the first quarter."

BP's first quarter result of $6.6 billion also beat analyst expectations of $5.31 billion but production was flat at 3.913 million barrels of oil a day.

The company has started a restructuring programme to simplify management and cut costs to close the profitability gap on its rivals.

BP's operations in the North Sea reported a large increase in profitability in the first quarter because of the high price of oil, rising 27 per cent to $923 million.

The company's Russian operations also performed well, increasing revenue fourfold. TNK-BP, Russia's third largest producer, contributed income of $744 million to the British company, up from $162 million in the same period last year.

BP will pay a dividend 31 per cent higher at 13.5 cents per share in the first quarter.

Monday, April 28, 2008

31 of 53 teen girls at FLDS ranch are pregnant or had baby

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31 of 53 teen girls at FLDS ranch are pregnant or had baby

stumbleupon :31 of 53 teen girls at FLDS ranch are pregnant or had baby digg: 31 of 53 teen girls at FLDS ranch are pregnant or had baby
2008 09:14 PM EST |

A bus with women and children of the Yearning for Zion Ranch, home for members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, pulls into the Methodist Children's Home, Friday, April 25, 2008, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Waco Tribune Herald, Jerry Larson)

SAN ANTONIO — More than half the teenage girls taken from a polygamist compound in west Texas have children or are pregnant, state officials said Monday.

A total of 53 girls between the ages of 14 and 17 are in state custody after a raid 3 1/2 weeks ago at the Yearning For Zion Ranch in Eldorado. Of those girls, 31 either have children or are pregnant, said Child Protective Services spokesman Darrell Azar. He didn't specify how many are pregnant.

"It shows you a pretty distinct pattern, that it was pretty pervasive," he said.

State officials took custody of all 463 children at the ranch controlled by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, saying a pattern of teen girls forced into underage "spiritual" marriages and sex with much older men created an unsafe environment for the sect's children.

Under Texas law, children under the age of 17 generally cannot consent to sex with an adult. A girl can get married with parental permission at 16, but none of these girls is believed to have a legal marriage under state law.

State officials said earlier that they had found girls who were pregnant or had children of their own at the ranch, but they had not provided more than rough estimates until Monday.

Church officials have denied that any children were abused at the ranch and say the state's actions are a form of religious persecution.

FLDS spokesman Rod Parker said he does not believe the CPS count is accurate. He said that from talking to ranch residents, he believes at least 17 of the girls may actually be adults but have been labeled by CPS as minors.

Agency officials have called into question claims of adulthood among the girls since the raid and have in some cases disputed documentation provided, saying the girls look younger than 18. Because many FLDS members share similar names and have complicated family relationships, identifying all of the children taken into custody has been a challenge.

"I do have serious questions about how they are determining age in there," said Parker, who is trying to get a better count from FLDS families.

He noted though that since law enforcement confiscated every document that might show family relationships as part of its weeklong raid, the sect is at a disadvantage in proving names and ages.

The latest information from CPS comes with "absolutely nothing to back it up other than it's coming from them, and they think we should trust them," Parker said.

All the children are supposed to get individual hearings before June 5 to help determine whether they'll stay in state custody or that parents may be able to take steps to regain custody of their children.

Civil-liberties groups and lawyers for the children have criticized the state for sweeping all the children, from nursing infants to teen boys, into foster care when only teen girls are alleged to have been sexually abused.

No one has been charged since the raid, which was prompted by a series of calls to a domestic abuse hotline, purportedly from a 16-year-old forced into a marriage recognized only by the sect with a man three times her age. That girl has not been found and authorities are investigating whether the call was a hoax.

On Monday, CPS also revised its total count of children in state custody to 463, up one from Friday. Azar said the change resulted from finally getting the children out of the San Angelo Coliseum and into foster facilities around the state, where they were able to get a more accurate count.

Of those 463 children, 250 are girls and 213 are boys. Children 13 and younger are about evenly split _ 197 girls and 196 boys _ but there are only 17 boys aged 14 to 17 compared with the 53 girls in that age range.

Azar said the numbers could still change slightly because authorities have not seen documentation on all the children and have struggled to positively identify everyone.

On Monday, all were assigned caseworkers, who will work only on FLDS cases.

The sect, which broke from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints more than a century ago, believes polygamy brings glorification in heaven. Its leader, Warren Jeffs, is revered as a prophet. Jeffs was convicted last year in Utah of forcing a 14-year-old girl into marriage with an older cousin.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The New York Times exposes manipulative DoD propaganda racket

The New York Times exposes manipulative DoD propaganda racket

Through newly obtained internal documents, The New York Times has uncovered an elaborate PR campaign run by the Pentagon that coached former military officials — or as they’re known on television, Serious Independent Military Experts — on how best to shill for Donald Rumsfeld during the fallout from the “General’s Revolt,” when numerous high-ranking retired Generals broke long standing tradition and began speaking out harshly against the former Secretary and his prosecution of the War in Iraq.

video_wmv Download | Play video_mov Download | Play YouTube (h/t Bill W)

The full article is lengthy at 11 pages, but it’s a stellar exposé of how politicized, coordinated and deceitful the media campaign is under Bush. With the assistance of Peter Pace, Rumsfeld would literally convene meetings with former military brass — who, according to the article, consisted of “more than 150 military contractors either as lobbyists, senior executives, board members or consultants” — and conspire on how best to manage the press. Worse still, these compromised soldiers would then manipulatively go on television as Serious Independent Experts to parrot administration talking points and secure lucrative defense contracts. The Military-Industrial Complex is not alive and well, but thriving under the auspices of the Bush administration.

Kenneth Allard, a former NBC military analyst who has taught information warfare at the National Defense University, said the campaign amounted to a sophisticated information operation. “This was a coherent, active policy,” he said. […] It was, he said, “psyops on steroids”

And it wasn’t limited to the mainstream media alone. Bloggers were also hired and paid to shape opinions at home. But don’t be surprised Sunday when this story is neglected in favor of endless discussions about bowling scores and various other “distractions.”

Digg It!

After all, the media would much rather focus on what makes a candidate an elitist than note that the Bush administration, — with their complicity — enthusiastically engaged in a psyops campaign against the American people.

And this excerpt about Bill O’Reilly that really caught my eye:

It’s official. Bill O’Reilly is a tool.

House Republicans reverse course, object to fair elections

House Republicans reverse course, object to fair elections

Despite unanimously supporting a bill in committee two weeks ago that would provide federal funds to local governments to pay for recounts and paper trails, House Republicans have reversed course and blocked the bill from receiving an up-or-down vote. This move ensures two things, and two things only: a) the accusations of fraud that marred the 2000 and 2004 elections will continue, and b) the GOP shows once and for all that they have nothing but contempt for our democracy and free and fair elections.


Voting rights activists who hoped the federal government would help local governments pay for paper trails and audits for electronic voting machines have gone from elation to frustration as they watched Republicans who supported such a proposal in committee vote against bringing it to the House floor.

When New Jersey Democratic Rep. Rush Holt’s Emergency Assistance for Secure Elections Act came up for a vote in the House Administration Committee on April 2, the Republicans on the committee gave it their unanimous support. But two weeks later, those same Republican members voted against moving the bill to the House floor. It would have taken a two-thirds vote to push the bill to the floor; with most House Republicans opposed, the bill didn’t make it that far.

Tin foil hats aside, what possible reason could the GOP have for opposing such a measure? 2000 and 2004 have left such a bitter taste in the electorate’s mouth that this seems like a no-brainer.

C&L’s Late Nite Music Club with Psychedelic Furs

C L’s Late Nite Music Club with Psychedelic Furs

The Psychedelic Furs debut album came out in 1980 and was a smash in Europe but it wasn’t until their third album, Forever Now (1982) that they made a breakthrough in the U.S. “Love My Way” was the single but I always played “President Gas” on my radio show. When Richard Butler write it, he couldn’t possibly have known about what was going to happen… could he?

Friday, April 25, 2008

Judge orders White House to clarify whether or not missing e-mails are recoverable

Judge orders White House to clarify whether or not missing e-mails are recoverable
Nick Langewis

Today, Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola of the U.S. District Court ordered the White House to once and for all provide "precise information" about its e-mail system.

The order stems from a lawsuit by the National Security Archive, filed on September 5, 2007 against the Executive Office of the President and the National Archives and Records Administration, claiming that a possible 5-to-10 million e-mails were either improperly preserved as Presidential records, as required by law, or lost entirely.

House Judiciary Committee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), in a 2007 address, called such a breach of record-keeping requirements reminiscent of the "18-minute gap" in the infamous Nixon White House tapes, subpoenaed during the Watergate scandal.

The "missing" e-mails cover a 473-day period, which includes the date of CIA agent Valerie Plame's outing and a string of U.S. Attorney firings widely believed to have been politically motivated. The White House was ordered to preserve all known e-mail records in November of 2007.

"This ruling is a major victory for accountability at the White House," said Tom Blanton, National Security Archive director. "We have seen delay after delay, and constantly changing stories, none of which come up to the standards that are required by law."

Between late 2001 and early 2002, the Automated Records Management System (ARMS), put in place by the Clinton Administration to store e-mail records, was dismantled, with the Bush Administration proposing a switch to ECRMS, or the Electronic Communications Records Management System. In the meantime, a temporary procedure of manually archiving each staffer's records was put in place.

E-mails began to disappear on January 3, 2003, and ECRMS was ultimately never put in place. Backup tapes were re-used until October of 2003.

Says the Archive's General Counsel Meredith Fuchs: "The Court is reacting to the inconsistencies in the White House statements: e-mail are lost one day, the next they are not; e-mails are recoverable, then they are not; backup media is saved, then it is not.

"What worries us is that time is passing – there are only 8 ½ more months until this administration leaves office and if nothing is done soon not only could the e-mails disappear for good, but the federal records that are commingled with the presidential records could get swept away and become inaccessible for the next 12 years."

Thursday, April 24, 2008


Lewis Will Try To Add FISA Update To War Supplemental

By Patrick O'Connor

(The Politico) Congressional Republicans have made a lot of noise about what they won't accept on upcoming legislation to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But there's at least one thing they would embrace with open arms: An updated foreign surveillance law that would protect telecommunications companies that shared information with the government in the aftermath of Sept. 11.

California Rep. Jerry Lewis, the ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee, announced Thursday that he would offer Senate-passed legislation to expand the current surveillance law to an upcoming spending bill for those two wars when his panel considers that measure in the next few weeks.

"As a result of the inaction by the Democrat leadership, this vital weapon in our arsenal against terror has been lost," Lewis said in a release. "Since the Democrat leadership has refused to schedule a vote on this critical legislation - which the White House and the Senate both overwhelmingly endorse - I will offer it as part of our war supplemental in committee."

Lewis would need support from committee Democrats to successfully attach the FISA update to the spending bill, making it almost impossible for him to add it. But, at the very least, he would put members of the majority on the record rejecting the Senate bill, something Republicans have done repeatedly since Democratic leaders in the House allowed a stopgap measure Congress approved over the summer to lapse.

It has been 60 days since that stopgap measure expired, forcing intelligence officials to revert to an earlier version of the warrantless wiretapping law. Republicans on both sides of the Capitol marked the occasion by hammering Democratic leaders in the House for their decision not to schedule a vote on the Senate bill, which that chamber approved, 68-29, in February. Administration officials argue that the earlier incarnation makes it more difficult for them to monitor e-mails and select cell phone calls to and from suspected terrorists.

Lawmakers continue to haggle over legal protections for the telecommunications companies that shared customer information with U.S. intelligence officials. Republicans would like the legislation to shield these companies from a series of pending lawsuits. But many Democrats continue to oppose those protections. Aides met this week, but those talks failed to yield a breakthrough.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Torture and the Law

Torture and the Law

Experts Weigh in on Top Officials Talking Torture With Bush's Approval

From Top Left: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Vice President Dick Cheney, George Tenet,  Donald H. Rumsfeld, John Ashcroft and Colin L. Powell
From Top Left: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Vice President Dick Cheney, George Tenet, Donald H. Rumsfeld, John Ashcroft and Colin L. Powell

With nine months remaining in President George W. Bush's term, virtually no legal analyst expects that anyone in his administration will face indictment and prosecution in connection with the torture of terrorism detainees. However, a new admission from Bush last week has some legal analysts contending that the case for such prosecution has gotten significantly stronger. ABC News reported on Apr. 9 that then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice chaired an informal panel of top administration officials that approved specific brutal interrogation tactics for use on three suspected Al Qaeda detainees. The panel consisted of Vice President Dick Cheney, and former administration officials -- Donald H. Rumsfeld, then defense secretary, Colin L. Powell, the former secretary of state, George Tenet, the former director of the Central
Intelligence Agency, and John Ashcroft, then attorney general. This group debated for use on detainees -- and eventually approved -- methods of abuse like being "slapped, pushed, deprived of sleep or subjected to simulated drowning, called waterboarding," ABC reported. (Matt Mahurin) On Apr. 11, Bush told ABC that he was personally aware of the panel's discussions. "Well, we started to connect the dots in order to protect the American people." Bush said. "And yes, I'm aware our national security team met on this issue. And I approved." This disclosure presents a nested series of legal implications. "I predict that there will be calls for top
administration officials to be prosecuted in an international court for war crimes," said Erwin Chemerinsky, a civil liberties expert who teaches at Duke University Law School. "This meeting supports the involvement of top officials -- including the president -- in approving torture." "If you, as an individual, order such conduct, you're culpable under the aiding-and-abetting provision of federal law," said Aziz Huq, director of the Liberty and National Security Project at New York University's Brennan Center for Justice. "There is at least a colorable theory, a credible case, for federal criminal liability here." That theory, however, depends on whether the administration's 2002 meetings -- and Bush's approval -- rose to the level of an operational order. The treatment of the three detainees, which Huq says was a "violation of the Federal Torture Statute," included the employment of several of the techniques reportedly
considered by Rice's panel, including waterboarding. Currently, the Justice Department has an investigation open into Jose Rodriguez, a former CIA official who destroyed videotapes of those interrogations. "In my view this is all patently illegal on many different grounds -- particularly as a violation of Common Article 3" of the Geneva conventions, said Martin S. Lederman, a former lawyer in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel who now teaches law at Georgetown University. "But as a practical matter, there's little likelihood of any legal exposure -- and virtually none of domestic federal prosecution, because the president and DOJ concluded it was legal." The chain of events leading from Rice's panel to the CIA's use of the techniques that the panel apparently discussed is not publicly known, and no official
inquiry into it exists. To make a case against Bush himself -- regardless of the likelihood that he will never face charges -- knowing that is essential. "He has his fingerprints on torture," said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the Washington legislative office of the American Civil Liberties Union, "but did he grip the whole thing? The real question is, what level of decision-making was the president involved in?" Not every legal scholar is impressed by Bush's disclosure. Douglas Kmiec, a conservative law professor at Pepperdine University, contends that the statutes in question are too vague, and the facts of the matter too obscure, to congeal into an actual case against the president. "The whole difficulty in this area is the level of generality that exists in the international agreements that the U.S. has participated in and the manner in which those were ratified by the United States -- obviously, particularly with the
Convention Against Torture," Kmiec said. "But where the slippage is, in terms of legal analysis, comes with what those words mean in terms of domestic law. If I've understood matters correctly, we've tried to understand [the convention] in terms of our own Bill of Rights and the 'shock-the-conscience' standard -- which is a standard that's far from self-evident." (Illustration by: Matt Mahurin) As a matter of providing factual clarity, Fredrickson said a coalition of civil-liberties organizations, led by the ACLU, is drafting a letter to the congressional leadership urging the creation of a bicameral commission into both the facts of the torture and the legal implications. An implication of Rice's meetings is that the Bush administration appears to have effectively decided
it would not bring charges against itself for criminal behavior. "No one in the executive branch is free of the taint of involvement with the 2002 interrogations," said Huq, of the Brennan Center. "The whole idea of the executive branch immunizing itself becomes much more worrying than in other cases. It's really the right hand absolving the left hand of what's been done." Fredrickson wants the commission modeled after the Church and Pike inquiries of the 1970s that revealed massive and systemic illegality within the intelligence services. "It's a great model because it was really the mechanism for bringing lot of illegality -- not just by the Nixon administration but prior administrations -- to light," she said. "That might be more appropriate, to use a wider lens, because panorama of illegality is quite broad." Kmiec said he could conditionally support such a commission, provided it didn't degenerate
into a partisan witch-hunt. "If the commission would advance the understanding of the U.S. as to its obligations, and demonstrate to the world our seriousness of purpose, then it's a good idea," Kmiec said. "If the purpose of the commission is just a surrogate way of establishing a special-counsel investigation into the actions of the sitting president and vice president, then I think it is likely to degenerate into partisan bickering and not accomplish very much. Much would depend on the objective of the commission and its composition." But the likelihood of retributive measures against the Bush administration for torture remains remote. Huq observed that the "political appetite for that is nil," since "an excessive of zeal for prosecuting national-security activities, historically, hasn't happened." His preference is to legislate the videotaping of all terrorism interrogations. A measure to do that, introduced and supported by Rep. Rush Holt
(D-N.J.), has been introduced, but it has no schedule for a mark-up, according to Holt's office. Kmiec said that the ultimate arbitration of the torture debate will occur at the polls. "The way our constitutional system envisions accountability on questions such as this is accountability through electoral choice," he said. The president made his choice. The people will now make theirs."

The Real HUD Scandal

The Real HUD Scandal

It's Hard to Keep Summoning Outrage at HUD Leadership

By Mary Kane 04/18/2008

Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson's foray into making himself and his friends rich with money intended to help house the poor gets a closer look in today's New York Times.

The details of Jackson's tenure at HUD are, of course, scandalous, right down to spending $100,000 to commission oil portraits of himself and other HUD secretaries. But the story in many ways seems less shocking than it should be, only because of the agency's long, sad history of scandals. When another one comes along, it's hard to summon up the outrage yet again.

In the 1970s, HUD subsidies intended for low-income housing turned into a candy store for private developers, leaving blocks and blocks of city neighborhoods across the country scarred by vacant homes. It took decades to recover. In the 1980s, HUD Secretary Samuel Pierce resigned over allegations of favoritism, mismanagement and theft. He was never charged with a crime, but 16 people under him were. In the meantime, President Ronald Reagan, in one way he actually did make government smaller, slashed spending on low-income housing in half.

Over the decades, probably hundreds of millions of dollars intended to help desperate people living in terrible circumstances has been stolen, misused or misdirected toward the wealthy and connected. Ripping off HUD is ingrained in the popular culture; the Sopranos even dedicated a story line to it.

With a few exceptions, HUD has become a dumping ground for figureheads to lead an agency no one really seems to care about, one that some conservatives wish would go away entirely. Reagan once famously failed to recognize Pierce at a Cabinet meeting.
After the headlines from the latest scandal fade, everyone will no doubt go back to ignoring HUD again -- except for poor people trying to find decent housing and the low-income housing advocates who work on their behalf. They're not exactly among Washington's power elite.
But this is what I try to remember, every time I read about HUD corruption, because it rarely seems to merit attention. When those at the top steal HUD's money, the people at the bottom pay for it. In 1990, as developer A. Bruce Rozet enriched himself with HUD's funds, his tenants "lived like rats," by one account.

I once visited a woman who lived in one of Chicago's infamous, and now-demolished, housing projects. She had found a job, and was trying to save to get out of there. In the meantime, she heard about a program that offered vouchers to public housing tenants to move to the suburbs. To get a voucher, you had to call a hotline on a specified day and hope you got through. She took off work to do so, and spent the day calling, and calling, and calling.

There's a humane way to run a housing program. Anyway, she never got through, and never got her voucher. What I recall most from that visit is she told me she was so terrified of living in that project that she rarely, if ever, left her house. She stayed inside with the doors locked, like a prisoner. When I stood up to leave, this soft-spoken woman ordered me, sternly, to sit back down, told me to get out of there as fast as I could, and urged me to call her if I managed to get to someplace safe.

People like her still live that way, every single day, in crime-ridden neighborhoods in any city in America. They don't make headlines. When it comes to HUD, attention only gets paid when there's yet another round of corruption, fraud and deceit at the top.

The End of Cheap Food?

The End of Cheap Food?

High Cost of Commodities Will Continue to Hit Developing World Hardest

By Mary Kane 04/23/2008 | 4 Comments

A sharp spike in prices for wheat, corn, rice and other staples has sparked riots in Mexico and Egypt, marches by hungry children in Yemen and the spectre of starving people in Haiti turning to mud pies for sustenance. This growing unrest is forcing the global community to focus on the causes of higher food costs and what can be done. But it's also raising the troubling possibility that cheap prices for food may be gone for good, an economic relic of the the past.

That scenario would be disastrous for the progress of fighting poverty in poor countries - and it would threaten to halt a long period of rising living standards in the United States tied directly to the inexpensive cost of food.

"Don't look now, but the good times may have just stopped rolling," the economist Paul Krugman wrote in his New York Times column. The Economist was more strident: "The era of cheap food is over," it declared. World Bank President Robert Zoellick, reaching back to policies created during the Great Depression for inspiration to address food inflation, is pushing a "New Deal" for global food policy, aimed at aiding impoverished countries with income support and help in producing crops.
The gloom-and-doom outlooks are prompted by rising prices for commodities, which started increasing steadily in 2001 before suddenly soaring recently. Wheat prices have gone up by 181 percent over the past three years, according to the World Bank; food prices around the globe have risen by 83 percent during the same period. In March, rice prices hit a 19-year high. Corn prices recently rose from $2.50 a bushel three years ago to $6, for the first time. Zoellick has predicted a sustained period of higher food costs, saying he expects prices to remain elevated through next year and stay above 2004 levels for at least the next seven years.
The causes are many. India and China have growing populations and are becoming more prosperous; more people can now afford to eat more meat, and the demand for animal feed has grown. In the U.S. and Europe, a boom in biofuel as alternative energy is diverting considerable amounts of corn from the market. A severe drought in Australia has contributed to a 25-year low in supplies. Some also blame speculation in the commodity markets for sharp swings in prices and availability.
While plenty of people are worried about the end of cheap food, it's not clear yet whether that will happen, said David Orden, senior research fellow with the International Food Policy Research Institute. Things like the weak dollar becoming stronger, crop shortfalls easing, energy prices stabilizing and strong growth in the world economy are all factors that could affect the availability of food, he said, and no one's sure how they will play out. "We just don't know yet," Orden said. "Before this bump in food prices started, people were not predicting it."
What has become clear is that in a short time, soaring food costs have shaken some long-held assumptions about food and fuel, especially in the U.S.
Food has been cheap in America for nearly 60 years, and Americans set aside less of their incomes for food than any other country in the world, devoting just 11 percent of disposable income to it, compared to double that percentage in Europe. Keeping food costs low has been one of the great economic achievements of the last century. The low food costs, combined with rising incomes, "have been two of the primary sources of prosperity for American consumers," said John Urbanchuck, an agriculture industry analyst for LECG, a global consulting firm.
Until now, Americans had the luxury of worrying about food due to its abundance. Concerns have centered on childhood obesity and an epidemic of diabetes. But new problems with food are already surfacing, as rising prices begin showing up at the grocery store. More expensive corn means people pay more for eggs and poultry, and still higher meat and milk prices are on the horizon. Record high oil prices are adding to price pressures, since transporting food costs more.
If prices stay high for a long time, the poor will be hit the hardest, since they spend the largest percentage of their incomes on food. Efforts to reduce hunger, like food stamps and free and reduced lunch programs, will become more costly, said Otto Doering, a professor of agricultural economics at Purdue University in Indiana. Asking taxpayers to pay more for them won't exactly be politically popular, since food prices could also take a greater bite out of middle-class budgets. And paying more for food will mean having less to spend on things like big-screen television sets and iPods, putting a dent in the kind of consumer spending that has kept the economy growing for the past two decades.
Consumers won't be the only ones feeling the squeeze. Hog producers in the Midwest expect to lose hundreds of millions of dollars in just the next six months due to corn price hikes, Doering said.

It could get far worse. Another "hidden issue" is the scarcity of land still available for farming, he said. In the past, the United States had plenty of farmland to provide more crops as food demands grew. But land is finite, and after all these years, we're beginning to run short, Doering said. "For the first time in our history, we're pushing up against the edge in terms of quality land," Doering said. "We're in a somewhat fixed box."
Because of all this, Doering said it's not clear whether the U.S. can keep food prices low. "It's a whole new ballgame," he stated.
The United States has endured temporary price bumps before. A spike in commodities in the early 1970s was due mainly to bad weather around the world, and to huge and secretive Russian grain purchases. In 1995-96, food inflation stemmed from a Midwestern drought, global demand for U.S. feed grains and speculation. In both cases, prices settled back down again.
This time around, the biofuel boom is also complicating the question of whether prices will revert. Some one-third of the U.S. corn crop now is devoted to ethanol production, its growth due to a combination of high oil prices and generous government subsidies. When corn prices were lower a few years ago, ethanol was seen as a popular energy alternative. Now it's a target.
Zoellick, the World Bank president, made headlines for blaming biofuels for recent price hikes, saying earlier this month that biofuels are a major factor in the world's added demand for food. Biofuel mania, or speculating in commodities by hedge fund and traders betting on corn prices, was also responsible for shortages and price increases, he said.
His remarks added to an already simmering debate. Last summer Foreign Affairs magazine published "How Biofuels Starve the Poor," which reiterated that sentiment, noting that filling the 25-gallon tank of a sports utility vehicle with pure ethanol required 450 pounds of corn, or enough calories for one person for a year.
At some point, American policy-makers are going to have to decide whether they want to live with an "expensive food policy" that requires continuing to produce large percentages of corn crops for biofuel and enduring higher prices for other foods, said Bruce Babcock, an Iowa State University economist.
The food debate will eventually break down into two camps: Those who believe supply and demand are the problem, and that the world can't produce enough to meet the needs of growing economies; and those who blame ethanol production. In the end, Babcock predicts, Washington will continue to support ethanol production in the near term, before imposing caps on its production.
But the future for food prices will still remain uncertain, because the global market is so complex. "I don't think we've ever been where we are right now," Babcock said.
Should prices stay high, the effect will be felt most keenly in developing countries, as the recent food riots have shown. Impoverished families now pay 50 percent to 80 percent of their incomes for food. Continuing high prices for oil and corn threaten to undo any gains in reducing poverty made over the past decade, Zoellick said.
Josette Sheeran, head of the U.N.'s World Food Program, told The Economist that the effects of higher food prices in poor countries will be devastating:
“For the middle classes, it means cutting out medical care. For those on $2 a day, it means cutting out meat and taking the children out of school. For those on $1 a day, it means cutting out meat and vegetables and eating only cereals. And for those on 50 cents a day, it means total disaster.”

It wasn't supposed to be this way. The promise of globalization was that it could lift living standards for everyone. But if the world's hungry still can't be fed because food is no longer cheap, it's an empty promise.

The Same Old Story: Discrediting Hillary

The Same Old Story: Discrediting Hillary

Here we go again. Stomp on Hillary for winning.

Last night Hillary Clinton picked up the sixth big state out of the seven the Democrats need to win the fall presidential contest. Obama has only won one big state, Illinois -- and that is it. She has won California, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Ohio, Texas and now Pennsylvania (and, yes, Florida and Michigan). Yet in today's newspapers and partisan websites, the critics are downplaying Clinton's victory (even her erstwhile supporter the New York Times criticizes her in its lead editorial for running a dirty campaign), dismissing any triumph as meaningless because of Obama's lead in elected delegates, and suggest once again that she drop out so she does not further hurt the inevitable nominee, Barack Obama.

How many times have we heard these sorts of admonishments, starting back with the New Hampshire primary? But despite her stumbling start in the caucus states, Clinton has come on strong and has now created a solid coalition that Obama cannot, for all of his money and his eloquence, break into.

Let this drama play out now and let the Super Delegates make up their own minds in due course without interference from on-line critics or hot-headed columnists or TV prognosticators or panicky Democratic Party strategists. Let the delegates in Denver play their proper role in deciding the outcome of this contest. This is after all a democracy.


U.S. prison population dwarfs that of other nations

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The United States has less than 5 percent of the world's population. But it has almost a quarter of the world's prisoners.

Indeed, the United States leads the world in producing prisoners, a reflection of a relatively recent and now entirely distinctive American approach to crime and punishment. Americans are locked up for crimes — from writing bad checks to using drugs — that would rarely produce prison sentences in other countries. And in particular they are kept incarcerated far longer than prisoners in other nations.

Criminologists and legal scholars in other industrialized nations say they are mystified and appalled by the number and length of American prison sentences.

The United States has, for instance, 2.3 million criminals behind bars, more than any other nation, according to data maintained by the International Center for Prison Studies at King's College London.

China, which is four times more populous than the United States, is a distant second, with 1.6 million people in prison. (That number excludes hundreds of thousands of people held in administrative detention, most of them in China's extrajudicial system of re-education through labor, which often singles out political activists who have not committed crimes.)

San Marino, with a population of about 30,000, is at the end of the long list of 218 countries compiled by the center. It has a single prisoner.

The United States comes in first, too, on a more meaningful list from the prison studies center, the one ranked in order of the incarceration rates. It has 751 people in prison or jail for every 100,000 in population. (If you count only adults, one in 100 Americans is locked up.)

The only other major industrialized nation that even comes close is Russia, with 627 prisoners for every 100,000 people. The others have much lower rates. England's rate is 151; Germany's is 88; and Japan's is 63.

The median among all nations is about 125, roughly a sixth of the American rate.

There is little question that the high incarceration rate here has helped drive down crime, though there is debate about how much.

Criminologists and legal experts here and abroad point to a tangle of factors to explain America's extraordinary incarceration rate: higher levels of violent crime, harsher sentencing laws, a legacy of racial turmoil, a special fervor in combating illegal drugs, the American temperament, and the lack of a social safety net. Even democracy plays a role, as judges — many of whom are elected, another American anomaly — yield to populist demands for tough justice.

Whatever the reason, the gap between American justice and that of the rest of the world is enormous and growing.

It used to be that Europeans came to the United States to study its prison systems. They came away impressed.

"In no country is criminal justice administered with more mildness than in the United States," Alexis de Tocqueville, who toured American penitentiaries in 1831, wrote in "Democracy in America."

No more.

"Far from serving as a model for the world, contemporary America is viewed with horror," James Whitman, a specialist in comparative law at Yale, wrote last year in Social Research. "Certainly there are no European governments sending delegations to learn from us about how to manage prisons."

Prison sentences here have become "vastly harsher than in any other country to which the United States would ordinarily be compared," Michael Tonry, a leading authority on crime policy, wrote in "The Handbook of Crime and Punishment."

Indeed, said Vivien Stern, a research fellow at the prison studies center in London, the American incarceration rate has made the United States "a rogue state, a country that has made a decision not to follow what is a normal Western approach."

The spike in American incarceration rates is quite recent. From 1925 to 1975, the rate remained stable, around 110 people in prison per 100,000 people. It shot up with the movement to get tough on crime in the late 1970s. (These numbers exclude people held in jails, as comprehensive information on prisoners held in state and local jails was not collected until relatively recently.)

The nation's relatively high violent crime rate, partly driven by the much easier availability of guns here, helps explain the number of people in American prisons.

"The assault rate in New York and London is not that much different," said Marc Mauer, the executive director of the Sentencing Project, a research and advocacy group. "But if you look at the murder rate, particularly with firearms, it's much higher."

Despite the recent decline in the murder rate in the United States, it is still about four times that of many nations in Western Europe.

But that is only a partial explanation. The United States, in fact, has relatively low rates of nonviolent crime. It has lower burglary and robbery rates than Australia, Canada and England.

People who commit nonviolent crimes in the rest of the world are less likely to receive prison time and certainly less likely to receive long sentences. The United States is, for instance, the only advanced country that incarcerates people for minor property crimes like passing bad checks, Whitman wrote.

Efforts to combat illegal drugs play a major role in explaining long prison sentences in the United States as well. In 1980, there were about 40,000 people in American jails and prisons for drug crimes. These days, there are almost 500,000.

Those figures have drawn contempt from European critics. "The U.S. pursues the war on drugs with an ignorant fanaticism," said Stern of King's College.

Many American prosecutors, on the other hand, say that locking up people involved in the drug trade is imperative, as it helps thwart demand for illegal drugs and drives down other kinds of crime. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, for instance, has fought hard to prevent the early release of people in federal prison on crack cocaine offenses, saying that many of them "are among the most serious and violent offenders."

Still, it is the length of sentences that truly distinguishes American prison policy. Indeed, the mere number of sentences imposed here would not place the United States at the top of the incarceration lists. If lists were compiled based on annual admissions to prison per capita, several European countries would outpace the United States. But American prison stays are much longer, so the total incarceration rate is higher.

Burglars in the United States serve an average of 16 months in prison, according to Mauer, compared with 5 months in Canada and 7 months in England.

Many specialists dismissed race as an important distinguishing factor in the American prison rate. It is true that blacks are much more likely to be imprisoned than other groups in the United States, but that is not a particularly distinctive phenomenon. Minorities in Canada, Britain and Australia are also disproportionately represented in those nation's prisons, and the ratios are similar to or larger than those in the United States.

Some scholars have found that English-speaking nations have higher prison rates.

"Although it is not at all clear what it is about Anglo-Saxon culture that makes predominantly English-speaking countries especially punitive, they are," Tonry wrote last year in "Crime, Punishment and Politics in Comparative Perspective."

"It could be related to economies that are more capitalistic and political cultures that are less social democratic than those of most European countries," Tonry wrote. "Or it could have something to do with the Protestant religions with strong Calvinist overtones that were long influential."

The American character — self-reliant, independent, judgmental — also plays a role.

"America is a comparatively tough place, which puts a strong emphasis on individual responsibility," Whitman of Yale wrote. "That attitude has shown up in the American criminal justice of the last 30 years."

French-speaking countries, by contrast, have "comparatively mild penal policies," Tonry wrote.

Of course, sentencing policies within the United States are not monolithic, and national comparisons can be misleading.

"Minnesota looks more like Sweden than like Texas," said Mauer of the Sentencing Project. (Sweden imprisons about 80 people per 100,000 of population; Minnesota, about 300; and Texas, almost 1,000. Maine has the lowest incarceration rate in the United States, at 273; and Louisiana the highest, at 1,138.)

Whatever the reasons, there is little dispute that America's exceptional incarceration rate has had an impact on crime.

"As one might expect, a good case can be made that fewer Americans are now being victimized" thanks to the tougher crime policies, Paul Cassell, an authority on sentencing and a former federal judge, wrote in The Stanford Law Review.

From 1981 to 1996, according to Justice Department statistics, the risk of punishment rose in the United States and fell in England. The crime rates predictably moved in the opposite directions, falling in the United States and rising in England.

"These figures," Cassell wrote, "should give one pause before too quickly concluding that European sentences are appropriate."

Other commentators were more definitive. "The simple truth is that imprisonment works," wrote Kent Scheidegger and Michael Rushford of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation in The Stanford Law and Policy Review. "Locking up criminals for longer periods reduces the level of crime. The benefits of doing so far offset the costs."

There is a counterexample, however, to the north. "Rises and falls in Canada's crime rate have closely paralleled America's for 40 years," Tonry wrote last year. "But its imprisonment rate has remained stable."

Several specialists here and abroad pointed to a surprising explanation for the high incarceration rate in the United States: democracy.

Most state court judges and prosecutors in the United States are elected and are therefore sensitive to a public that is, according to opinion polls, generally in favor of tough crime policies. In the rest of the world, criminal justice professionals tend to be civil servants who are insulated from popular demands for tough sentencing.

Whitman, who has studied Tocqueville's work on American penitentiaries, was asked what accounted for America's booming prison population.

"Unfortunately, a lot of the answer is democracy — just what Tocqueville was talking about," he said. "We have a highly politicized criminal justice system."

Thursday, April 17, 2008

300,000 vets have mental problem, 320,000 had brain injuries

300,000 vets have mental problem, 320,000 had brain injuries

Study: 300,000 US troops from Iraq, Afghanistan have mental problems, 320,000 brain injuries

AP News

Apr 17, 2008 09:47 EST

Some 300,000 U.S. troops are suffering from major depression or post traumatic stress from serving in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and 320,000 received brain injuries, a new study estimates.

Only about half have sought treatment, said the study released Thursday by the RAND Corporation.

"There is a major health crisis facing those men and women who have served our nation in Iraq and Afghanistan," said Terri Tanielian, the project's co-leader and a researcher at the nonprofit RAND.

"Unless they receive appropriate and effective care for these mental health conditions, there will be long-term consequences for them and for the nation," she said in an interview with The Associated Press.

The 500-page study is the first large-scale, private assessment of its kind — including a survey of 1,965 service members across the country, from all branches of the armed forces and including those still in the military as well veterans who have left the services.

Its results appear consistent with a number of mental health reports from within the government, though the Defense Department has not released the number of people it has diagnosed or who are being treated for mental problems. The Department of Veterans Affairs said this month that its records show about 120,000 who served in the two wars and are no longer in the military have been diagnosed with mental health problems. Of the 120,000, approximately 60,000 are suffering from PTSD, the VA said.

Veterans Affairs is responsible for care of service members after they have left the service, while the Defense Department covers active duty and reservist needs. The lack of information from the Pentagon was one motivation for the RAND study, Tanielian said.

The most prominent and detailed military study on mental health that is released is the Army's survey of soldiers at the warfront. Officials said last month that it's most recent one, done last fall, found 18.2 percent of soldiers suffered a mental health problem such as depression, anxiety or acute stress in 2007 compared with 20.5 percent the previous year.

The Rand study, completed in January, put the percentage of PTSD and depression at 18.5 percent, calculating that approximately 300,000 current and former service members were suffering from those problems at the time of its survey, which was completed in January.

The figure is based on Pentagon data showing over 1.6 million military personnel have deployed to the conflicts since the war in Afghanistan began in late 2001.

RAND researchers also found:

_About 19 percent — or some 320,000 services members — reported that they experienced a possible traumatic brain injury while deployed. In wars where blasts from roadside bombs are prevalent, the injuries can range from mild concussions to severe head wounds.

_About 7 percent reported both a probable brain injury and current PTSD or major depression.

_Only 43 percent reported ever being evaluated by a physician for their head injuries.

_Only 53 percent of service members with PTSD or depression sought help over the past year.

_They gave various reasons for not getting help, including that they worried about the side effects of medication; believe family and friends could help them with the problem, or that they feared seeking care might damage their careers.

_Rates of PTSD and major depression were highest among women and reservists.

The report is titled "Invisible Wounds of War: Psychological and Cognitive Injuries, Their Consequences, and Services to Assist Recovery." It was sponsored by a grant from the California Community Foundation and done by 25 researchers from RAND Health and the RAND National Security Research Division, which also has done does work under contracts with the Pentagon and other defense agencies as well as allied foreign governments and foundations.


On the Net:

RAND Corporation: http://www.rand.org

Army studies: http://www.armymedicine.army.mil

Source: AP News

An open letter to Charlie Gibson and George Stephanapoulos

Thursday, April 17, 2008
An open letter to Charlie Gibson and George Stephanapoulos

Dear Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos,

It's hard to know where to begin with this, less than an hour after you signed off from your Democratic presidential debate here in my hometown of Philadelphia, a televised train wreck that my friend and colleague Greg Mitchell has already called, quite accurately, "a shameful night for the U.S. media." It's hard because -- like many other Americans -- I am still angry at what I just witnesses, so angry that it's hard to even type accurately because my hands are shaking. Look, I know that "media criticism" -- especially when it's one journalist speaking to another -- tends to be a genteel, colleagial thing, but there's no genteel way to say this.

With your performance tonight -- your focus on issues that were at best trivial wastes of valuable airtime and at worst restatements of right-wing falsehoods, punctuated by inane "issue" questions that in no way resembled the real world concerns of American voters -- you disgraced my profession of journalism, and, by association, me and a lot of hard-working colleagues who do still try to ferret out the truth, rather than worry about who can give us the best deal on our capital gains taxes. But it's even worse than that. By so badly botching arguably the most critical debate of such an important election, in a time of both war and economic misery, you disgraced the American voters, and in fact even disgraced democracy itself. Indeed, if I were a citizen of one of those nations where America is seeking to "export democracy," and I had watched the debate, I probably would have said, "no thank you." Because that was no way to promote democracy.

You implied throughout the broadcast that you wanted to reflect the concerns of voters in Pennsylvania. Well, I'm a Pennsylvanian voter, and so are my neighbors and most of my friends and co-workers. You asked virtually nothing that reflected our everyday issues -- trying to fill our gas tanks and save for college at the same time, our crumbling bridges and inadequate mass transit, or the root causes of crime here in Philadelphia. In fact, there almost isn't enough space -- and this is cyberspace, where room is unlimited -- to list all the things you could have asked about but did not, from health care to climate change to alternative energy to our policy toward China to the deterioration of Afghanistan to veterans' benefits to improving education. You ignored virtually everything that just happened in what most historians agree is one of the worst presidencies in American history, including the condoning of torture and the trashing of the Constitution, although to be fair you also ignored the policy concerns of people on the right, like immigration issues.

You asked about gun control -- phrased to try for a "gotcha" in a state where that's such a divisive issue -- but not about what we really care about, which is how to reduce crime. You pressed and pressed on those capital gains taxes, but Senators Clinton and Obama were forced to bring up the housing crisis on their own initiative.

Instead, you wasted more than half of the debate -- a full hour -- on tabloid trivia that for the most part wasn't even that interesting, because most of it was infertile ground that has already been covered again and again and again. I'm not saying that Rev. Wright and Bosnia sniper fire and "bitter" were never newsworthy -- I myself wrote about all of these for the Philadelphia Daily News or my Attytood blog, back when they were more relevant -- but the questions were stale yet clearly intended to gin up controversy (they didn't, by the way, other than the controversy over you.) The final questions of that section, asking Obama whether he thought Rev. Wright "loved America" and then suggesting that Obama himself is somehow a hater of the American flag, or worse, were flat-out repulsive.

Are you even thinking when simply echo some of the vilest talking points from far-right talk radio? What are actually getting at -- do you honestly believe that someone with a solid track record as a lawmaker in a Heartland state which elected him to the U.S. Senate, who is now seeking to make some positive American history as our first black president, is somehow un-American, or unpatriotic? Does that even make any sense? Question his policies, or question his leadership. because that is your job as a journalist. But don't insult our intelligence by questioning his patriotism.

Here's a question for you, George. Is it true that yesterday you appeared on the radio with conservative talk radio host Sean Hannity, and that you said you were "taking notes" when he urged you to ask a question about Obama's supposed ties to a former member of the Weather Underground -- which in fact you did. With all the fabulous resources of ABC News at your disposal, is that an appropriate way for a supposed journalist to come up with debate questions, by pandering to divisive radio shows?

And Charlie...could you be any more out of touch with your viewers? Most people aren't millionaires like you, and if Pennsylvanians are losing sleep over economic matters, it is not over whether the capital gains tax will go back up again. I was a little shocked when you pressed and pressed on that back-burner issue and left almost no time for high gas prices, but then I learned tonight that you did the same thing in the last debate, that you fretted over that middle-class family that made $200,000 a year. Charlie, the nicest way that I can put this is that you need to get out more.

But I'm not ready to make nice. What I just watched was an outrage. As a journalist, you appeared to confirm all of the worst qualities that cause people to hold our profession in such low esteem, especially your obsession with cornering the candidates with lame "trick" questions and your complete lack of interest or concern about substance -- or about the American people, or the state of our nation. You embarassed some good people who work at ABC News -- for example, the journalists who worked hard to break this story just last week -- and you embarassed yourselves. The millions of people who watched the debate were embarassed, too -- at the state of our political discourse, and what it has finally become, at long last.

Quickly, a word to any and all of my fellow journalists who happen to read this open letter. This. Must . Stop. Tonight, if possible. I thought that we had hit rock bottom in March 2003, when we failed to ask the tough questions in the run-up to the Iraq war. But this feels even lower. We need to pick ourselves up, right now, and start doing our job -- to take a deep breath and remind ourselves of what voters really need to know, and how we get there, that's it's not all horserace and "gotcha." Although, to be blunt, I would also urge the major candidates in 2012 to agree only to debates that are organized by the League of Women Voters, with citizen moderators and questioners. Because we have proven without a doubt in 2008 that working journalists don't deserve to be the debate "deciders."

Charlie, I'm going to sign off this letter the way that you always sign off the news, that "I hope you had a great day."

Because America just had a horrible night.

Posted by Will Bunch