Saturday, May 31, 2008

Hillary For President Video

Aimed at Children, Nationally Distributed Christian Comic Book Called a "Training Manual" For "The Next Pogrom Against Jews"

Aimed at Children, Nationally Distributed Christian Comic Book Called a "Training Manual" For "The Next Pogrom Against Jews"

For several years now, I have been tracking and studying the covert aspects of Christian Zionism but today an anonymous source -- a devoted and concerned student of the spread of anti-Semitic ideas within American pop-culture and religious culture -- sent to me a product, currently sold at Barnes and Noble bookstores, that suggests the historically covert anti-Semitism within American Christian Zionist culture is mutating, changing and entering a new phase: the anti-Semitism is becoming overt. The Christian Zionism of Tim Lahaye and of Senator John McCain's recently renounced political endorser Pastor John Hagee, which has traditionally perpetrated coded attacks on Jews while also declaring them to be blessed by God, especially if they move to Israel, may be entering a new and very dark phase.


According to Chip Berlet, senior analyst at Political Research Associates, based near Boston, the portrayal of Jews found in a Manga comic now sold in Barnes and Noble depicts "A colorful comic training manual for motivating young leaders of the next pogrom against Jews. Not just offensive -- ghastly and horrific in content with a clear enemy scapegoat identified for venting apocalyptic religious bigotry."

Tyndale House, one of the largest Christian and Christian Zionist publishers in the United States, was built largely on the breakthrough publishing success of Tim LaHaye's and Jerry Jenkin's "Left Behind" books, movies and other paraphernalia attached to the now enormous "Left Behind" brand name and Tyndale publishes books by James Dobson, head of the enormous Colorado Springs Christian conservative nonprofit organization "Focus On The Family".

My source who originally discovered what Berlet identifies as a "comic training manual" for "the next pogrom against Jews" states that she:

bought this copy of Manga Messiah at a local Barnes and Nobles, day before yesterday. Tyndale, the Christian publishing house, was also the publisher of the wildly successful Left Behind series, which popularized dispensational Christian Zionism and provided sales of over 60 million books. The growing acceptability in our society of this stereotype of Jews is not happening in spite of the apocalyptic Christian Zionist movement. It is happening because of it! This movement has been the incubator of media objectifying Jews as non human as well as the source of media that is mainstreaming anti-Jewish conspiracy theory. It is dressed up as biblical interpretation or futuristic prophecy but the images are being projected to millions of people all over the world. Even worse, the images are being validated in the minds of these millions as an acceptable way to view Jews because of the visible participation of Jewish leaders with the movement."


In the aftermath of the recent controversy over a video which I made and which subsequently was shown widely on national television, CNN's Wolf Blitzer credited the website I co-founded with journalist Frederick Clarkson with as having forced Arizona Senator John McCain to drop Texas megachurch Pastor John Hagee's February 28, 2008 endorsement of McCain's current presidential bid -- because my video showcased an audio excerpt from a sermon Hagee had given which, I believed at the time, had been given "in the late 1990s", in which Hagee stated that "God sent Hitler" and that Jews were not "spiritually alive".

Many news reports have minimize the audio excerpt, passing it off as a one-time event and as "historic". But, Pastor Hagee has not denied his remarks that God sent Hitler, and John Hagee Ministries up to the moment I am writing this, May 29, 2008, 3:49 PM EST, still sells the 3-sermon "Countdown To Crisis" DVD set from which I extracted the audio clip (the "Battle For Jerusalem" sermon). And, Pastor Hagee has over the years, in his sermons, books and films, promoted a wide range of anti-Jewish themes: most of the classic anti-Semitic tropes and slurs that have simmered in the background of Christianity and sometimes come to the foreground -- with tragic results.

But how can Pastor Hagee, who has raised substantial amounts of money to help Jews make Aliyah to Israel, who have publicly shed tears over the Holocaust, possibly be anti-Semitic ? The answer is complex and far beyond the scope of this short article, but one particular historical anecdote shines a telling light on the question.

As described in the book Henry Ford and The Jews, by Neil Baldwin, from the period of 1913 to 1920, Henry Ford made a regular, and generous, gift of new Ford automobiles to a one-time neighbor of Ford's: Rabbi Leo Franklin. By 1920, Franklin was on his 7th gifted Ford auto but in the years Franklin had enjoyed Ford's largesse, the Rabbi had risen in local Jewish leadership circles and by 1920 had come to a realization which led the Rabbi to return Ford's 7th gifted auto, a customized Model T; Rabbi Franklin had come to the moral realization he could no longer accept gifts from a man, Henry Ford, whose publication the Dearborn Independent was launching vicious anti-Jewish fusillades and which had begun to echo the evolving German Dolchstosslegende, the German "stab in the back" myth that formed a substantial part of the anti-Jewish animus growing in Germany in the early 1920s and which attributed the German loss in World War One to a Jewish plot.

As my anonymous source for the striking Manga comic book material featured in this post explains:

Henry Ford believed that his friend, Rabbi Franklin, should not be concerned about Ford's spread of the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," because as his spokesperson explained, he was only targeting "a certain type of Jew to open up the way for those Jews' self-correction." There could not be a better description of the current dispensationalist activities. They happily embrace the "good Jews" who will play their role in bringing about the violent apocalyptic drama that will end the "Jewish Question" forever and bring Jews to correct belief. However, while wrapped in the protection of a big Israeli flag, they are free to brutally attack "a certain type of Jew" which is the source of the moral degeneration in America and the obstacle to the Christian millennial reign."

In the 1920s, automaker Henry Ford paid for a mass printing of his "The International Jew" pamphlet, a close derivation of the "Protocols", and through such nakedly anti-Semitic literature Ford helped shape the ideological climate in Germany that fed the rise of Third Reich and The Holocaust. But, Ford did not believe he hated Jews as a people: only the "wrong" Jews.

As conservative Baptist scholar David P.Gushee described, in an address given at the Andover-Newton Theological Seminary, in Andover Massachusetts, during the summer of 2006, there are many troubling similarities between the narrative of cultural despair and cultural complaint that prevailed in Germany of the 1930's and corresponding narratives of cultural despair and complaint that have been on the rise in America in recent decades:

It was this cultural despair--a toxic brew of reaction against secularism, anger related to the loss of World War I, distress over cultural disorientation and confusion, fears about the future of Germany, hatred of the victorious powers and of those who supposedly stabbed Germany in the back, and of course the search for scapegoats (mainly the Jews)--that motivated many Germans to adopt a reactionary, authoritarian, and nationalistic ethic that fueled their support for Hitler's rise to power. A broadly appealing narrative of national decline (or conspiratorial betrayal) was met by Hitler's narrative of national revenge leading to utopian unity in the Fuhrer-State.

Conservative American evangelicals in recent decades have been deeply attracted to a parallel narrative of cultural despair. Normally the story begins with the rise of secularism in the 1960s, the abandonment of prayer in schools, and the Roe decision, all leading to an apocalyptic decline of American culture that must be arrested soon, before it is too late and "God withdraws his blessing" from America. While very few conservative evangelicals come into the vicinity of Hitler in hatefulness, elements similar to that kind of conservative-reactionary-nationalist narrative can be found in some Christian right-rhetoric: anger at those who are causing American moral decline, fear about the future, hatred of the "secularists" now preeminent in American life, and the search for scapegoats. The solution on offer -- a return to a strong Christian America through determined political action -- also has its parallels with the era under consideration."

In Germany of the 1920s the key purported villains behind an alleged national, cultural and moral decline were the same as today in America of the early 3rd millennium: liberal Jews, socialists, liberals, gays, artists and those in society who follow non-conventional lifestyles and cleave to non-conventional, leftist politics. Germany in the 1920s was culturally one of the most liberal, permissive societies on Earth, but that changed radically -- and in a breathtakingly short period of time -- with the rise of Nazism.

Pastor John Hagee professes, with great apparent sincerity, even to tears, to love Jews. But Hagee also promotes, in his sermons and literature, conspiracy theories that trace back, in their lineage, to "The Protocols of The Elders of Zion" and Henry Ford's "The International Jew". How, then, can these clashing views of John Hagee be reconciled ? One answer comes, in the form of a question, from the account of Henry Ford and Rabbi Frankel -- what is the nature of friendship and what is the nature of love ? Another answer comes from the field of criminology, which recognizes: love, hate and murder are, all too often, tragically, not far apart.

As Political Research Associates Senior Analyst Chip Berlet further characterized the Manga comic book "Manga Messiah" currently sold at Barnes and Noble bookstores, the comic:

Portrays a version of reading Biblical text about the crucifixion of Christ rejected by most Christians for decades--especially since the Nazi genocide of Jews.

Many readers of the Bible's New Testament will recognize the jibes from the jeering crowd as coming from Jewish chief priests, elders, scribes, and Pharisees. If readers don't know the references, the Bible verses cited below the images can be consulted to make clear the Jewish identity of the bloodthirsty crowd taunting Jesus.

These images of Jews as the Christ killers make Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" hideous snuff movie seem tame in comparison."

Donald Trump: Everything is a Lie

Friday, May 30, 2008

McCain Reacts To McClellan: ‘Every Intelligence Agency In The World And Every Assessment’ Said Iraq Had WMD

McCain Reacts To McClellan: ‘Every Intelligence Agency In The World And Every Assessment’ Said Iraq Had WMD

In his new book, former White House press secretary Scott McClellan charges that the Bush administration manipulated information in a “propaganda” campaign before the Iraq war, making the faulty claim that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Asked about the book today, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) defended the administration’s actions in the run-up to the war, suggesting there was no manipulation involved. McCain claimed “every intelligence agency in the world” thought Hussein had WMD:

I have not seen the book or the comments. But I know why I supported it [the war] because I believed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction as did every intelligence agency in the world and every assessment.

Watch it:

McCain’s blanket statement is wildly off the mark. The Bush administration did set up its own intelligence shops to disseminate faulty intelligence about Iraq’s alleged WMD. But “every” agency in the “world” did not buy the spin — several U.S. agencies were highly skeptical:

State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR): Concluded that the “activities we have detected do not add up to a compelling case that Iraq is currently pursuing what [the INR] would consider to be an integrated and comprehensive approach to acquire nuclear weapons.”

Department of Energy: Concluded aluminum tubes said to be used for nuclear centrifuges were “likely intended for small artillery rockets.”

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA): On March 7, 2003, IAEA chief Mohamed El-Baradei reported there was “no evidence that Saddam Hussein had any nuclear weapons or was in the process of acquiring them.”

Hans Blix, chief U.N. weapon’s inspector: In Jan. 2003, Blix told the U.N. Security Council that his inspection teams had not found any “smoking guns” after visiting some 125 Iraqi sites.

When under pressure, McCain has a habit of making sweeping blanket statements. Criticized for his stance on the 21st Century GI Bill last week, McCain falsely claimed he “received the highest award from literally every veteran’s organization in America.” In December, McCain made the blatantly false assertion that the he is “the only one the special interests don’t give any money to.”

Perino Says White House Can Block McClellan From Testifying To Congress, But Won’t Say Whether It Will

Perino Says White House Can Block McClellan From Testifying To Congress, But Won’t Say Whether It Will

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) today announced that he and his staff were going to begin discussions with former press secretary Scott McClellan about testifying before Congress regarding revelations in his new memoir. In particular, Conyers pointed to attempts by the White House to cover-up Scooter Libby’s involvement in the Valerie Plame leak:

I believe this issue may require closer examination, so I have instructed my counsels to begin discussions with Mr. McClellan to determine whether a hearing is necessary and to secure his possible cooperation.

In today’s White House press briefing, spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters that the White House, hypothetically, could stop McClellan from testifying:

QUESTION: Could the White House block him from testifying, if he wanted to testify? Or how does that work?

PERINO: Conceivably?


PERINO: Hypothetically, which I’m not supposed to answer a hypothetical, yes, I think so. The law would allow for that. But by saying that, I’m not suggesting that that’s what would happen or not happen.

Watch it:

It’s not clear on what grounds the White House would be able to block McClellan. He has already blanketed the media talking about his time in the administration. Additionally, in a Washington Post chat today, McClellan confirmed that White House officials reviewed his “final manuscript for classification and privilege issues,” and they found “no issues relating to classified information.” They did, however, “bring up some issues” relating to executive privilege.

McClellan: Plame leak the 'turning point' in his disillusionmentDavid Edwards and Muriel Kane

McClellan: Plame leak the 'turning point' in his disillusionmentDavid Edwards and Muriel Kane

(Update at bottom: Ex-spokesman reveals Bush authorized leaks, Plame blogger reports)

Former White House press secretary Scott McClellan has been blasted by the people he formerly worked with since the release of excerpts from his memoir of his years with the Bush administration.

Current press secretary Dana Perino released a statement saying, "Scott, we now know, is disgruntled about his experience. ... It is sad -- this is not the Scott we knew." Karl Rove similarly told Fox News, "This doesn't sound like Scott ... not the Scott McClellan I've known. ... It sounds like a left wing blogger."

In his first interview since the firestorm broke, McClellan spoke on Thursday with NBC's Meredith Viera about his reasons for writing the book. "It's important to look back and reflect," he stated. "The White House would prefer that I not talk openly about my experiences, but I think there's a larger purpose."

McClellan indicated his doubts started early, when "we got to Washington, and I think we got caught up in playing the Washington game the way it's played today." However, it was his unwitting role in the cover-up of the Valerie Plame leak that caused his final disillusionment and eventual resignation and provided "the launching-off point for the book."

"By the last ten months or so of my time at the White House, I grew increasingly disillusioned by things," McClellan told Viera. "When the first revelation came out that what I'd been told by Karl Rove and Scooter Libby -- that they were in no way involved in the leak of Valerie Plame's identity, which we now know was not true, despite the fact that I went to the podium and said these people assured me they were not involved -- I started to become a little more disillusioned about things."

"I have a higher loyalty than my loyalty necessarily to my past work," McClellan explained. "That's a loyalty to the truth and it's a loyalty to the values I was raised on. I talk about my upbringing in a political family that talked about the nobility of public service and the importance of speaking up and talking about making a positive difference. I hope that this book will help do that."

Vanity Fair points out one other striking passage from McClellan's book, in which he states, "It’s ... clear to me that Scooter Libby was guilty of the perjury and obstruction crimes for which he was convicted. When the president commuted Libby’s prison sentence and thereby protected him from serving even one day behind bars, I was disappointed. This kind of special treatment undermines our system of justice."

In contrast, Senator John McCain said of Libby last summer, before the commutation, "I think that you can make a case that he was singled out unfairly. I think that the appeals process goes forward. I happen to be one who admires Scooter Libby. I think he was a dedicated servant."

Ex-spokesman reveals Bush authorized leaks, Plame blogger reports

Marcy Wheeler, who received prominent media attention during the Scooter Libby trial and who blogs under the pseudonym Emptywheel at the popular site firedoglake believes that McClellan "doesn't know it yet" but he let a big cat out of the bag on the Today show.

Wheeler calls attention to this exchange:

McClellan: But the other defining moment was in early April 2006, when I learned that the President had secretly declassified the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq for the Vice President and Scooter Libby to anonymously disclose to reporters. And we had been out there talking about how seriously the President took the selective leaking of classified information. And here we were, learning that the President had authorized the very same thing we had criticized.

Viera: Did you talk to the President and say why are you doing this?

McClellan: Actually, I did. I talked about the conversation we had. I walked onto Air Force One, it was right after an event we had, it was down in the south, I believe it was North Carolina. And I walk onto Air Force One and a reporter had yelled a question to the President trying to ask him a question about this revelation that had come out during the legal proceedings. The revelation was that it was the President who had authorized, or, enable Scooter Libby to go out there and talk about this information. And I told the President that that's what the reporter was asking. He was saying that you, yourself, was the one that authorized the leaking of this information. And he said "yeah, I did." And I was kinda taken aback.

"Now, for the most part, this is not new," emptywheel writes. "We have known (since I first reported it here) that Scooter Libby testified that, after Libby told Dick Cheney he couldn't leak the information Cheney had ordered him to leak to Judy Miller because it was classified, Cheney told Libby he had gotten the President to authorize the declassification of that information."

She continues, "Thus far, though, we only had Dick Cheney's word that he had actually asked Bush to declassify this information. We didn't have Bush's confirmation that he had actually declassified the information. In fact, we've had Dick Cheney's claims that he--Dick--had insta-declassified via his super secret pixie dust declassification powers.

"But now we've got George Bush, confirming that he, the President of the United States, authorized the leaks of 'this information,'" Wheeler argues.

Excerpts from McClellan's book are available here.

This video is from NBC's Today Show, broadcast May 29, 2008.

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Gingrich quips Bush should have allowed some 'reminder' attacks

Gingrich quips Bush should have allowed some 'reminder' attacks

David Edwards and Muriel Kane
Published: Thursday May 29, 2008


During an appearance at a Long Island bookstore last month, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich was asked by a member of the audience why the United States has not been hit again since 9/11.

"I honestly don't know," Gingrich replied. "I would have expected another attack. I was very, very worried ... when we had the sniper attacks, because the sniper attacks were psychologically so frightening. ... I was amazed that the bad guys didn't figure out how to send ten or twelve sniper teams."

"This is ... one of the great tragedies of the Bush administration," Gingrich continued. "The more successful they've been at intercepting and stopping bad guys, the less proof there is that we're in danger. And therefore, the better they've done at making sure there isn't an attack, the easier it is to say, 'Well, there never was going to be an attack anyway.' And it's almost like they should every once in a while have allowed an attack to get through just to remind us."

Gingrich then recommended splitting the FBI into a domestic crime unit, which would respect civil liberties, and a "small but very aggressive anti-terrorism agency" with "extraordinary ability to eavesdrop."

"I think that your liberties in a domestic setting are paramount," Gingrich explained. "I would rather risk crime than risk losing my civil liberties. But I would not rather risk a nuclear weapon. ... I think the greatest danger to our liberty is to actually have the country end up in the kind of attack that would lead us to favor a dictatorship for security."

This video is from C-SPAN 2, broadcast April 29, 2008. The full video can be viewed here.

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FCC proposes free Internet... as long as it's censored

FCC proposes free Internet... as long as it's censored

By Peter Kaplan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. communications regulators are considering auctioning a piece of the airwaves to buyers willing to provide free broadband Internet service without pornography.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin is proposing to auction an unused piece of 25 megahertz wireless spectrum, with the condition that the winning bidder offer free Internet access and filter out obscene content on part of those airwaves, a spokesman for the FCC said on Thursday.

"We're hoping there will be increased interest in the proposal; and because this will provide wireless broadband services to more Americans, it is certainly something we want to see," said FCC spokesman Rob Kenny.

Under Martin's proposal, the winner would be allowed to use the rest of the airwaves for commercial services.

The plan would address criticism from some consumer advocates, who say the government has not done enough to get broadband service into more households. It also could win praise from anti-obscenity watchdog groups.

"I think there are a number of features of the plan that would be attractive to various constituencies," said Stifel Nicolaus analyst Blair Levin.

But the plan got a lukewarm response from existing wireless carriers. The industry's chief trade group, called CTIA, said auction provisions such as the free-service requirement were too rigid.

"CTIA supports flexible auction rules that allow any and all entities to participate," the group said in a statement.

The winning bidder also would have to build out the system to serve 50 percent of the U.S. population within four years and 95 percent within 10 years.

Further details of the plan have yet to be worked out, but Martin's plan is expected to come up at the FCC's next meeting on June 12.

Martin's proposal is similar to a plan put forth previously by a start-up company called M2Z. Under that plan, which was not approved by the FCC, M2Z would have been given the spectrum at no up-front cost. It would have provided free service, generating revenue partly through advertising.

The 25 MHz spectrum at issue is not viewed as highly attractive to wireless carriers, unlike the 700 MHz spectrum auctioned by the FCC earlier this year. There has been little previous interest in it, aside from the M2Z proposal.

(Editing by Tim Dobbyn and Gerald E. McCormick)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

California: Gay Marriages To Begin June 17th

California: Gay Marriages To Begin June 17th
Stuart Gaffney, left, and John Lewis, right, embrace hands with their wedding bands on in San Francisco on Friday, June 30, 2006. More California voters now support allowing same-sex marriage than oppose it, according to a new poll released Wednesday, May 28, 2008. (AP Photo/Benjamin Sklar)

California Supreme Court ruling, same-sex couples will be able to wed in the state beginning June 17, according to a state directive issued Wednesday.

The state said it chose June 17 because the state Supreme Court has until the day before to decide whether to grant a stay of its May 15 ruling legalizing gay marriage.

Gay-rights advocates and some clerks initially thought couples would be able to wed as early as Saturday, June 14. The court's decisions typically take effect 30 days after they are made.

The guidelines from Janet McKee, chief of California's office of vital records, to the state's 58 county clerks also contained copies of new marriage forms that include lines for "Party A" and "Party B" instead of bride and groom. The gender-neutral nomenclature was developed in consultation with county clerks, according to the letter.

"Effective June 17, 2008, only the enclosed new forms may be issued for the issuance of marriage licenses in California," the directive reads.

A group opposed to gay marriage has asked the court to stay its decision until after the November election, when voters are likely to face a ballot initiative that would once again define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Passage of the initiative would overrule the Supreme Court.

Under the Supreme Court's regular rules of procedure, justices have until the end of the day June 16 to rule on the stay request, according to the memo sent by e-mail to county clerks. Lawyers involved in the marriage case have said previously the court could grant itself an extra 60 days to consider the stay.

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera submitted a brief Wednesday urging the court to refuse the stay request.

"To deny this fundamental constitutional right to same-sex couples based on speculation about what might happen in November would not merely be inappropriate, it would be inhumane," Herrera's filing said.

A poll released Wednesday found that for the first time, about half of California voters support same-sex marriage.

The Field Poll found that 51 percent of respondents backed legalizing same-sex marriage and 42 percent opposed it. A 2006 poll found that 44 percent supported same-sex marriage and 50 percent objected; in 1977, the first year Field posted the question to California voters, only 28 percent were in favor.

"I would say this is a historic turning point or milestone," poll director Mark DiCamillo said. "We have speculated in the past there would be some time in the future when a majority would support same-sex marriage. Well, the lines have crossed."

The survey of 1,052 registered voters was conducted over the phone from May 17 to May 26 and had a sampling error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.

The poll's findings conflict with a Los Angeles Times/KTLA poll of 705 voters released last week that found 54 percent backed the proposed gay marriage ban and 35 percent opposed it.

Andrew Pugno, legal adviser for the coalition of religious and social conservative groups sponsoring the measure, said the Times poll is more consistent with his group's internal polling.

"We could acknowledge there has been increasing acceptance of the idea of gay relationships over the last 10 or 20 years, but we think when it comes to marriage there is still a solid majority who want to see it reserved for a man and a woman, and that is all this initiative is about," Pugno said.

Foreclosures in Military Towns Surge at Four Times U.S. Rate

Foreclosures in Military Towns Surge at Four Times U.S. Rate

By Kathleen M. Howley

May 27 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. Air Force Technical Sergeant Jeffrey VerSteegh, who repairs F-16 jets for the 132nd Fighter Wing, departed Des Moines, Iowa, in April for his third tour in Iraq. The father of four may lose his home when he returns.

The four-bedroom farmhouse he and his wife, Kathleen, own near the Iowa State Fairgrounds went into default in December after their monthly mortgage costs doubled to $1,100. Kathleen missed work because of breast cancer and they struggled to keep up the house payment, falling behind on other bills. Their bankruptcy was approved by the court a week after VerSteegh left for Iraq.

In the midst of the worst surge in mortgage defaults in seven decades, foreclosures in U.S. towns where soldiers live are increasing at a pace almost four times the national average, according to data compiled by research firm RealtyTrac Inc. in Irvine, California. As military families like the VerSteeghs signed up for the initial lower rates and easier terms of subprime mortgages, the number of people taking out Veterans Administration loans fell to the lowest in at least 12 years.

``We've never faced a situation like this, not in the Vietnam War, World War II, or the Korean War, where so many military are in danger of losing their homes,'' said Paul Sullivan, executive director of Veterans for Common Sense, a Washington-based advocacy group started in 2002 by Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans. ``No one asked them for their credit score when we asked them to fight for us.''

Military Foreclosures

Foreclosure filings in 10 towns and cities within 10 miles of military facilities, including Norfolk, Virginia, home of the Navy's largest base, rose by an average 217 percent from January through April from a year earlier. Nationally, the rate was 59 percent in the same period, according to RealtyTrac, which tallies bank seizures, auctions and default notices.

The biggest surge was in Columbia, South Carolina, home to Fort Jackson, where the Army trains recruits for combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. Properties in some stage of foreclosure rose 492 percent from a year earlier, RealtyTrac said. The second-biggest increase was 414 percent in Woodbridge, Virginia, next to the Marine Corps Base Quantico.

Foreclosure filings tripled in the cities surrounding Norfolk Naval Base and the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base near Oceanside, California, RealtyTrac said. Havelock, North Carolina, site of Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, saw foreclosures more than double.

Weak Credit

Military families were targeted as customers during the boom in subprime lending because their frequent moves, overseas stints, and low pay meant they were more likely to have weak credit ratings, said Rudi Williams of the National Veterans Foundation in Los Angeles. In 2006, at the peak of U.S. subprime lending, the number of VA loans fell to barely a third the level of two years earlier, according to VA data.

VA loans totaled 135,000 last year, its fourth consecutive annual decline.

An Army or Marine Corps sergeant with four years of experience makes $27,000 a year, plus combat pay of $225 a month, according to the 2008 Military Authorization Act, which increased basic pay rates 3.5 percent from a year ago.

Soldiers authorized to live off-base also receive a housing allowance that this year starts at about $500 a month, 7.3 percent higher than in 2007, paid even when they are deployed. Counting the stipends, they still fall short of the 2007 median U.S. household income of $59,224 as measured by the National Association of Realtors in Chicago.

Legislative Effort

``Think about how much stress comes with a foreclosure, and then imagine you're walking the same tightrope while being employed in Baghdad,'' said Paul Rieckhoff, 33, the head of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and a former 1st lieutenant with the Army's 3rd Infantry Division.

The Servicemembers' Civil Relief Act protects soldiers and sailors from losing homes for nonpayment of mortgages only while on active duty and for 90 days after they return home. Members of Congress, including Senator Johnny Isakson, a Georgia Republican, and Representative Bob Filner, a Democrat from California, are trying to extend that to a year, saying three months isn't enough.

Another flaw in the current law is it puts the burden on the soldiers, sailors or the families they left behind to come up with the paperwork and notify the bank, said Sullivan of the Washington Veterans' group. Unlike in other wars, members of the military often are able to telephone home or receive e-mails, creating a ``morale problem'' as they try to deal with foreclosure notices, he said.

VA Mortgages

``It's heartbreaking to see people struggling with a foreclosure while they or someone they love is in a war zone, or when they're trying to adjust after coming back from one,'' said Sullivan, a Cavalry Scout with the Army's 1st Armored Division during the 1991 Gulf War.

Lenders aren't required to keep records on the status of non-government loans to military members or veterans, said Mike Frueh, the VA's assistant director for loan management in Washington. Judging solely by data on VA mortgages, active military and veterans in the current housing slump are getting into trouble with their home loans at a pace only slightly above the civilian rate, he said.

The share of VA mortgages in foreclosure was 1.12 percent in the fourth quarter, compared with 0.96 percent for so-called prime borrowers with the highest credit scores, the Washington- based Mortgage Bankers Association said in a March 6 report.

`Stench of Death'

``My data comes from those that have VA loans, and we haven't seen, as I understand it, a big jump'' in foreclosures, said James Peake, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs in Washington, in a May 20 interview.

The increase may yet be coming: the share of VA loans with payments 30 days or more overdue was 6.49 percent in the fourth quarter, double the rate of 3.24 percent for prime borrowers. The share of VA mortgages more than 90 days overdue was 1.54 percent, also double the prime rate, according to the bankers' report.

Monique Kelly, a disabled Iraq War veteran, said she is on the verge of adding to those VA delinquency numbers. The former Army staff sergeant in the First Armored Division paid her May mortgage bill halfway through the month and said she won't be able to make June's payment for her house in Owings Mills, Maryland.

Kelly, designated disabled by the VA because of post- traumatic stress disorder, said she bought the property in January for $305,000 and had to spend $10,000 fixing structural problems that were not disclosed to her.

``We fought for our country, and now we have to fight to save our homes,'' said Kelly. ``After living with the stench of death in Iraq, it seems like we shouldn't have to face problems like this when we come back.''

Help for Veterans

The VA has nine regional loan centers in the U.S. that last year provided counseling for 85,000 veterans who had problems with government-backed mortgages, Frueh said. He said he contacted Kelly to see if he can help her.

Counselors also try to help veterans who fall behind on non- VA loans, he said, though they don't track the number of those cases.

``We will always try to intercede on a veteran's behalf,'' said Frueh. ``If they have a VA-guaranteed loan, we can do more for them.''

Military families or veterans refinancing a mortgage have limited resources for VA-backed loans, Frueh said. The government can only guarantee refinanced veteran loans up to $144,000, Frueh said. The median price of a U.S. home was $219,000 last year, according to the Chicago-based National Association of Realtors.

`No Hope'

The law gives military personnel the right to have interest rates temporarily lowered to 6 percent on loans incurred prior to entering active service. To apply for protection, they have to send copies of their military orders to their mortgage servicing companies, even if they are on the front lines. The VerSteeghs in Iowa didn't know about that option, said Kathleen.

Before leaving for Iraq, the 43-year-old VerSteegh called the Bush Administration's Hope Now program created to help people facing foreclosure, his wife said.

``We got no hope from Hope,'' and no information about the potential interest-rate deduction, according to Kathleen VerSteegh.

San Francisco-based Wells Fargo & Co., the servicer of the VerSteegh mortgage, removed the VerSteegh property from foreclosure in April after receiving a copy of the husband's active duty orders, said Debora Blume, a spokeswoman for the bank's mortgage unit, in an e-mailed statement. Kathleen VerSteegh, 42, said they weren't notified of the change. The mortgage had gone into foreclosure on Dec. 31, Wells Fargo said.

Refinancing Plans

Wells Fargo ``is working with Mrs. VerSteegh to reduce her monthly payment during this time of financial hardship,'' Blume said.

Like many U.S. borrowers who got adjustable mortgages, the VerSteeghs planned to refinance into a better loan before their initial rate of 6.45 percent, fixed for two years, reset in December 2006. U.S. home values began to decline about six months before their first adjustment.

The so-called margin, a fixed charge added to the loan's index to determine interest rate resets, is 5.25 percent, about double the typical margin for an adjustable mortgage. Their loan is indexed to Libor, the London Interbank Offer Rate.

``We refinanced so we could get new windows and do some work on the house,'' she said. ``We assumed we'd have no problem getting another loan, but then it blew up in our faces.''

Now they can't apply to refinance into a VA mortgage because they owe more on the house than it's worth and ``our credit is shot,'' said VerSteegh.

Bonus Army

The last time veterans lost homes to this extent was during the Great Depression, said Sullivan of Veterans for Common Sense. The so-called Bonus Army of almost 20,000 World War I ex-soldiers marched on Washington in June 1932 to demand early payment of certificates granted for service.

U.S. infantry and cavalry regiments under the command of General Douglas MacArthur attacked their encampment with bayonets and sabers to disburse them.

VerSteegh, who gets to speak to her husband by telephone for 15 minutes once a week, said she tries to reassure him that everything on the home front is going well, even as she struggles with the threat of foreclosure and her health problems. She's eight weeks into a course of chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer and had a double mastectomy on March 14.

VerSteegh said she doesn't know exactly where her husband is, just that he's somewhere near Baghdad.

``I don't tell him the whole story, because he has to focus on his job,'' she said. ``The guys in his unit are depending on him.''

     Foreclosure Filings Near Military Bases from January to
April, Compared With a Year Earlier:
Columbia, South Carolina: 492%
Woodbridge, Virginia: 414%
Triangle, Virginia: 363%
Oceanside, California: 182%
Norfolk, Virginia: 155%
Havelock, North Carolina: 133%
Carlsbad, California: 131%
Barstow, California: 120%
Columbus, Georgia: 102%
Twentynine Palms, California: 73%
U.S. Total: 59%

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Protesters interrupt McCain nuclear proliferation speech

Protesters interrupt McCain nuclear proliferation speech

John McCain was interrupted several times while giving a policy speech on nuclear proliferation in Denver.

As he talked, anti-war protesters interrupted him four times. They stood up and yelled "Stop this war" and "Endless War" or "End This War" before the crowd tried to drown them out and they were escorted out.

McCain faulted Democrats and Republicans on their handling of nuclear weapons proliferation.

The likely Republican presidential nominee favors an approach that doesn't rely too heavily on either direct talks or military force to reduce the spread of nuclear weapons.

McCain spoke on the issue Tuesday at the University of Denver.

He said: "If you look back over the past two decades, I don't think any of us, Republican or Democrat, can take much satisfaction in what we've accomplished to control nuclear proliferation."

This video is from Fox's America's Election Headquarters, broadcast May 27, 2008.

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Monday, May 26, 2008

Ground Zero Developer Offers To Redesign Building For Merrill Lynch:

Ground Zero Developer Offers To Redesign Building For Merrill Lynch: Why It Might And Might Not Happen

The AP's Amy Westfeldt reports on the attempts to lure Merrill Lynch to the World Trade Center:

Dangling millions of dollars — sometimes billions — in incentives to big companies to become part of the latest megaproject is often the cost of doing business in the city's development market.

But the lure of big business reached a new level when a developer last week offered to redesign a building in the hope that Merrill Lynch & Co. would agree to move to ground zero. The government extended deadlines for two towers at the World Trade Center site to allow developer Larry Silverstein to build wider trading floors Merrill has sought.

The offer didn't seal a deal with Merrill Lynch, but it showed industry watchers how far governments and developers will go in an economic downturn to commit skittish tenants to big, sometimes uncertain projects.

"It's realistic," said Kathryn Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City business group. "Things are slow because the economy is uncertain. Major prospective tenants are waiting to see how things roll out."...

Merrill Lynch negotiated with Silverstein last fall to move into a ground zero tower designed by British architect Richard Rogers, and also weighed a move to midtown before dropping out of talks for each site. It renewed negotiations with Silverstein this spring, once again seeking changes to the tower's design to accommodate trading.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the trade center, agreed to extend the deadlines for two of Silverstein's towers to "allow us to find out: Can we secure a huge financial institution downtown?" said executive Chris Ward.

"We needed to make sure that Merrill had a window of negotiation," he added. "The economics will be the economics. We just wanted to open up the six-month window and leave it that."

Merrill Lynch declined comment on its plans. Critics questioned whether such an incentive _ even a redesigned building, instead of a tax break _ is a sound one for Merrill Lynch, which currently has office space in a building just west of ground zero.

"Should this all go through, they'll decide to move across the street," said Bettina Damiani, project director at Good Jobs New York, a government watchdog group.

She said many companies prioritize transportation options and the location of their labor force over incentives like those the city and state offers.

"To give away the fiscal store to companies for the short-term, press-release hit ... shouldn't be at the expense of the city's fiscal future," she said.

The New York Post's Steve Cuozzo, meanwhile, speculates that Merrill's entertaining of the offer could represent some dark maneuvering:

Having redesign flexibility is necessary for Merrill to even consider moving to Tower 3 - but it does not guarantee the firm will decide to do that.

In asking the PA to extend construction deadlines, Silverstein presumably found Merrill's interest to be sincere - not a ploy to gain leverage with its current landlord, Brookfield Properties, in talks over renewing Merrill's World Financial Center lease, which is up in 2013.

Merrill, represented by Jones Lang LaSalle's sure-handed Peter "Big Rig" Riguardi - who's also an adviser to the PA - could lead Silverstein on a merry chase. The firm is already deep into talks with Brookfield to extend its WFC lease until 2018.

Besides the cost to Merrill of moving to Ground Zero, there are a lot of other "ifs" to factor in.

There's no telling how Merrill's inevitable request for subsidies beyond those already available to it if it moves to the WTC site will play at City Hall and in Albany.

Nor is it easy to believe that even slightly altering Tower 3's current design won't mess up plans for Tower 4, the new PATH terminal and the memorial - all of them linked in a Gordian knot of subterranean infrastructure.

With so many imponderables, it would not seem out of the question for Silverstein and the PA to one day declare yet another postponement beyond mid-2013. If that happens, who can guess when anything might be finished?

None of this means a Merrill Lynch deal for Tower 3 is not worth pursuing. But Silverstein and PA chiefs Anthony Coscia and Christopher Ward are going to need a lot of luck.

NASA's Phoenix Spacecraft Reports Good Health After Mars Landing05.25.08 This is a false-color image taken by the Phoenix spacecraft on Mars.

NASA's Phoenix Spacecraft Reports Good Health After Mars Landing
News Briefing Image This is a false-color image taken by the Phoenix spacecraft on Mars. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Calech/University of Arizona
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PASADENA, Calif. -- A NASA spacecraft today sent pictures showing itself in good condition after making the first successful landing in a polar region of Mars.

The images from NASA's Mars Phoenix Lander also provided a glimpse of the flat valley floor expected to have water-rich permafrost within reach of the lander's robotic arm. The landing ends a 422-million-mile journey from Earth and begins a three-month mission that will use instruments to taste and sniff the northern polar site's soil and ice.

"We see the lack of rocks that we expected, we see the polygons that we saw from space, we don't see ice on the surface, but we think we will see it beneath the surface. It looks great to me," said Peter Smith of the University of Arizona, Tucson, principal investigator for the Phoenix mission.

Radio signals received at 4:53:44 p.m. Pacific Time (7:53:44 p.m. Eastern Time) confirmed that the Phoenix Mars Lander had survived its difficult final descent and touchdown 15 minutes earlier. In the intervening time, those signals crossed the distance from Mars to Earth at the speed of light. The confirmation ignited cheers by mission team members at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.; Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver; and the University of Arizona.

As planned, Phoenix stopped transmitting one minute after landing and focused its limited battery power on opening its solar arrays, and other critical activities. About two hours after touchdown, it sent more good news. The first pictures confirmed that the solar arrays needed for the mission's energy supply had unfolded properly, and masts for the stereo camera and weather station had swung into vertical position.

Phoenix Project Manager Barry Goldstein and Principal Investigator Peter Smith await data in JPL's mission control during the Phoenix landing on Mars Phoenix Project Manager Barry Goldstein and Principal Investigator Peter Smith await data in JPL's mission control during the Phoenix landing on Mars. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Calech
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"Seeing these images after a successful landing reaffirmed the thorough work over the past five years by a great team," said Phoenix Project Manager Barry Goldstein of JPL. A key milestone still ahead is the first use of the lander's 7.7-foot-long robotic arm, not planned before Tuesday.

"Only five of our planet's 11 previous attempts to land on the Red Planet have succeeded. In exploring the universe, we accept some risk in exchange for the potential of great scientific rewards," said Ed Weiler, NASA associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

Phoenix carries science instruments to assess whether ice just below the surface ever thaws and whether some chemical ingredients of life are preserved in the icy soil. These are key questions in evaluating whether the environment has ever been favorable for microbial life. Phoenix will also study other aspects of the soil and atmosphere with instrument capabilities never before used on Mars. Canada supplied the lander's weather station.

Transmissions from Phoenix have reported results after a check of several components and systems on the spacecraft. "Phoenix is an amazing machine, and it was built and flown by an amazing team. Through the entire entry, descent and landing phase, it performed flawlessly," said Ed Sedivy, Phoenix program manager at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company. "The spacecraft stayed in contact with Earth during that critical period, and we received a lot of data about its health and performance. I'm happy to report it's in great shape."

Phoenix uses hardware from a spacecraft built for a 2001 launch that was canceled in response to the loss of a similar Mars spacecraft during a 1999 landing attempt. Researchers who proposed the Phoenix mission in 2002 saw the unused spacecraft as a resource for pursuing a new science opportunity. A few months earlier, NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter discovered that plentiful water ice lies just beneath the surface throughout much of high-latitude Mars. NASA chose the Phoenix proposal over 24 other proposals to become the first endeavor in the Mars Scout program of competitively selected missions.

The signal confirming that Phoenix had survived touchdown and the transmission of the first pictures were relayed via Mars Odyssey and received on Earth at the Goldstone, Calif., antenna station of NASA's Deep Space Network.

The Phoenix mission is led by Smith at the University of Arizona with project management at JPL and development partnership at Lockheed Martin. International contributions come from the Canadian Space Agency; the University of Neuchatel, Switzerland; the universities of Copenhagen and Aarhus, Denmark; Max Planck Institute, Germany; and the Finnish Meteorological Institute. For more about Phoenix, visit

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Dolly Parton Tribute to Drag Queens

Dolly parton sings Jolene (DVD: Live and Well) and pays tribute to all the dragqueens out there. Thank God for Dolly!

US ambassador: Al-Qaida close to defeat in Iraq

US ambassador: Al-Qaida close to defeat in Iraq

The U.S. ambassador to Iraq said Saturday that al-Qaida's network in the country has never been closer to defeat, and he praised Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for his moves to rein in Shiite and Sunni militant groups.

Ryan Crocker's comments came as Iraqi forces have been conducting crackdowns on al-Qaida militants in the northern city of Mosul and on Shiite militiamen in the southern city of Basra. Thousands of Iraqi forces also moved into the Shiite militia stronghold of Sadr City in Baghdad last week imposing control for the first time in years.

But truces with the powerful Mahdi Army militia that have calmed violence in Basra and paved the way for the Sadr City deployment have been strained in the past two days.

Supporters of anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who heads the Mahdi Army, accused al-Maliki on Saturday of seeking to eliminate their movement and warned that "dark clouds" hang over the truce.

Al-Qaida fighters or other Sunni insurgents struck back in Mosul on Saturday. A roadside bomb in the city's Sumer neighborhood hit an Iraqi army patrol, destroying a vehicle and killing four soldiers, a police officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

Near Baqouba — where a U.S. offensive last year targeted al-Qaida in Iraq — gunmen assassinated a member of the local Awakening Council, a U.S.-backed group of Sunni tribesmen who are fighting al-Qaida. The attack occurred in the village of Had, north of Baghdad, police said.

U.S Ambassador Crocker spoke as he visited reconstruction projects in the southern city of Najaf.

"There is important progress for the Iraqi forces in confronting the Sunni and Shiite militias," he said, speaking Arabic to reporters. "The government, the prime minister are showing a clear determination to take on extremist armed elements that challenge the government's authority ... no matter who these elements are."

"You are not going to hear me say that al-Qaida is defeated, but they've never been closer to defeat than they are now," Crocker said.

The U.S. military says attacks have dropped dramatically — down to an average of 41 a day across the country, the lowest rate since 2004 — amid the crackdowns and truces. The U.S. military, backed by Sunni Arab tribal fighters, have scored successes in battling al-Qaida in Iraq and other Sunni insurgents in western parts of the country.

The Mosul sweep aims to dislodge the terror network from its most prominent remaining urban stronghold. The operation has met little opposition, suggesting that many al-Qaida militants fled, intending to regroup elsewhere as they have in past crackdowns.

In Baghdad, three men attending a conference at the offices of the National Dialogue Front, a leading Sunni Arab political party, were killed when a bomb exploded under their car as they left the gathering, police said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the press.

Meanwhile, new tensions over the truces in Sadr City and Basra were sparked when Iraqi troops in Basra fired over the heads of al-Sadr followers congregating in a northern square for Friday prayers. Iraqi police recently banned al-Sadr gatherings there after a large cache of weapons was found nearby.

Iraqi troops were deployed and when those gathering refused to disperse, the police fired rounds over their heads, witnesses said.

Iraqi police in Basra said one person was wounded, but al-Sadr officials contended that one person was killed.

Also Friday, Iraqi and U.S. troops carried out a sweep in two Mahdi Army strongholds of western Baghdad, the Amil and Bayaa districts, arresting around 100 people, police officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the press.

Iraqi forces in the operation cordoned off a cultural center in Amil where Sadrists were gathering to hold prayers and arrested some worshippers, the officials said.

Sadrist lawmakers denounced the moves saying there was a "nationwide conspiracy against Friday prayers" and a government move to "eliminate" their movement.

Sadrist lawmaker, Aqeel Abdul-Rahman, said the group was still committed to Sadr City truce. "But we see black clouds on the horizon, being brought by the government to rain on the sons of the Sadr Movement," he said.

The Sadrists' angry rhetoric may in part be aimed at warning al-Maliki not to take more aggressive steps against the Mahdi Army in Sadr City, such as confiscating heavy weapons or arresting key figures. The government has said it plans to do so, but has not begun any raids in the district, wary of sparking retaliation.