Monday, December 8, 2008

President Obama ends torture in America

Obama unveils 21st Century New Deal Logo - Click to return to home page     
Barack Obama.
On Saturday, Barack Obama pledged the largest new investment in roads and bridges since President Dwight D. Eisenhower built the Interstate system in the 1950's.
Photo: AP

President-elect Barack Obama added sweep and meat to his economic agenda on Saturday, pledging the largest new investment in roads and bridges since President Dwight D. Eisenhower built the Interstate system in the late 1950s, and tying his key initiatives – education, energy, health care –back to jobs in a package that has the makings of a smaller and modern version of FDR's New Deal marriage of job creation with infrastructure upgrades. 

The president-elect also said for the first time that he will "launch the most sweeping effort to modernize and upgrade school buildings that this country has ever seen."

"We will repair broken schools, make them energy-efficient, and put new computers in our classrooms," he said in the address.

The president-elect is bringing new elements of his domestic agenda into his economic recovery plan, committing to a path toward giving every American access to an electronic medical record as part of an "economic recovery plan ... that won't just save jobs, it will save lives."

Obama had talked in the campaign about lowering health care costs by investing in electronic information technology systems, but not in the context of the economy.

Now, his key initiatives – education, energy, health care – are all being tied back to jobs.

"When Congress reconvenes in January, I look forward to working with them to pass a plan immediately," Obama says in the address. "We need to act with the urgency this moment demands to save or create at least two and a half million jobs so that the nearly two million Americans who've lost them know that they have a future. And that's exactly what I intend to do as president of the United States."


In The Know: How Can We Make The Iraq War More Handicap Accessible?

Berlusconi plans to use G8 presidency to 'regulate the internet'

Forza Italia?

Speaking to Italian postal workers, Reuters reports Berlusconi said: "The G8 has as its task the regulation of financial markets... I think the next G8 can bring to the table a proposal for a regulation of the internet."

Italy's G8 presidency begins on January 1. The role is taken by each of the group's members in rotation. The holder country is responsible for organising and hosting the G8's meetings and setting the agenda. Italy's last G8 presidency in 2001, also under Berlusconi, was marred by riots at the annual meeting in Genoa.

Berlusconi didn't explain what he meant by "regulate the internet", but the mere mention of it has prompted dismay among Italian commentators. Berlusconi owns swathes of the Italian mass media.

The left-wing newspaper L'Unita wrote: "You can not say that it is not a disturbing proclamation, given that the only countries in the world where there are filters or restrictions against internet are countries ruled by dictatorial regimes: those between China, Iran, Cuba, Saudi Arabia."

Fire Hank Paulson

In September, Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson was so determined to secure a $750 billion bailout for his friends on Wall Street that reports said he almost passed out at one point. Such was the urgency when the bonuses of bankers were at stake.

But this month, as Washington debates whether to provide a ridiculously small bailout to the nation's auto industry, Paulson is nowhere to be found. Instead of working Capitol Hill to pass a plan to save the roughly 3 million jobs that could be lost if the Big Three automakers tank, the Treasury secretary is touring China.

Senate Banking Committee Chair Chris Dodd says Paulson should return immediately and focus his attention on the crisis in the country's auto industry.

"It's time to come home," says Dodd.

Military contractor in Iraq holds foreign workers in warehouses

By Adam Ashton | McClatchy Newspapers

BAGHDAD — About 1,000 Asian men who were hired by a Kuwaiti subcontractor to the U.S. military have been confined for as long as three months in windowless warehouses near the Baghdad airport without money or a place to work.

Najlaa International Catering Services, a subcontractor to KBR, an engineering, construction and services company, hired the men, who're from India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. On Tuesday, they staged a march outside their compound to protest their living conditions.

"It's really dirty," a Sri Lankan man told McClatchy, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he still wants to work for Najlaa. "For all of us, there are about 12 toilets and about 10 bathrooms. The food — it's three half-liter (one pint) bottles of water a day. Bread, cheese and jam for breakfast. Lunch is a small piece of meat, potato and rice. Dinner is rice and dal, but it's not dal," he said, referring to the Indian lentil dish.

Predictable Disaster of George W. Bush

By Robert Parry

In his trademark goofy way, George W. Bush explained why he supported a bailout of the U.S. financial markets, saying he was "a free-market person, until you're told that if you don't take decisive measures then it's conceivable that our country could go into a depression greater than the Great Depression."
So, with a smirk on his face, President Bush explained the predicament that the United States and the world face after eight years of his incompetence and mismanagement – teetering on the edge of a catastrophe "greater than the Great Depression."

Yet what is remarkable about American news coverage of this extraordinary moment – and Bush's strangely light-hearted comment at the end of the Nov. 15 global economic summit – is how little blame is being laid specifically at Bush's door.

In a pattern typical of the preceding eight years, major U.S. journalists are focusing on almost everything else – from Sarah Palin's political future to what President-elect Barack Obama should do after he's inaugurated in two months – not the lessons that should be learned from Bush's disastrous presidency.

An example was Tom Brokaw's "Meet the Press" on Sunday, which addressed the financial and energy crises with nary a negative word spoken about Bush.

It was as if everyone else was responsible for the nation's troubles, from unions and auto executives to Congress and Obama (for not providing immediate answers). Just not the person who is still in charge and who was chiefly responsible for taking the United States from an era of peace, prosperity and budget surpluses to the precipice of endless war, economic devastation and national bankruptcy.

Harper’s Coup; Power Grab in Ottawa

by Mike Whitney

Somalia"We are in the worst crisis since 1929 and we have no government. How can this be good?" Stephen Jarislowsky, chairman of Montreal money manager Jarislowsky Fraser Ltd.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper suspended Canada's parliament to avoid a challenge from opposition parties that were planning to oust him from power. The 3-party coalition–the Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois—decided to remove Harper because of his strong opposition to a stimulus package that was designed to minimize the effects of the financial crisis. They also opposed his "proposed elimination of subsidies for political parties, a three-year ban on the right of civil servants to strike, and limits on the ability of women to sue for pay equity." Governor General Michaelle Jean helped Harper to hang on by using her constitutional authority to close the legislature for seven weeks. Now the country is in a furor.

Harper is a far right conservative ideologue who served as president of the National Citizens Coalition (NCC), a conservative think-tank and advocacy group. The organization opposes national healthcare but supports privitization and tax cuts. It has 40,000 members but the names are kept confidential. It's motto is "more freedom with less government."

The Prime Minister has been a staunch supporter of George Bush and the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Many of his critics accuse him of being a neoconservative allied to the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and the Bilderburger Group. He is alleged to be a proponent of plans for a North American Union, which is an elitist scheme to end US sovereignty by merging the three countries– Canada, the US, and Mexico–into one superstate. The plan coincides with Harper's unwavering support for free trade.

Harper's connection to extremist organizations may sound far fetched, until one one sees a video of him giving a speech that was also given by Australian PM John Howard prior to the war in Iraq. The speeches are identical–word for word–indicating that they must have been written by a third party somewhere in the bowels of the Pentagon or a nearby think tank. The video dispels any illusion that Karzai, Abbas, and Siniora are the only sock-puppets working for Washington.

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We Have Comparative Effectiveness Research—Now It’s Time to Use It


by Maggie Mahar and Niko Karvounis

Last week the New York Times published a story about one of the biggest medical trials ever organized by the federal government,  a study that showed that the newest, most expensive drugs used to treat high blood pressure (a.k.a. hypertension) work no better than inexpensive diuretics—water pills that flush excess fluid and salt from the body. Moreover, the research revealed that the pricier drugs increase the risk of heart failure and stroke. 

The trial was completed in 2002. Why is the story running now? Because six years later, the findings still have had little impact on what doctors prescribe for patients suffering from hypertension.

Allhat –which stands for the Antihypertensive and Lipid-Lowering Treatment to Prevent Heart Attack Trial—demonstrated that when, it comes to preventing heart attacks, the diuretics—which have been used since the 1950s and cost only pennies a day—is just as effective as newer calcium channel blockers and ACE inhibitors that cost up to 20 times as  much.

And the diuretic is safer. Patients receiving Pfizer's calcium channel blocker (Norvasc) had a 38 percent greater chance of heart failure than those on the diuretic. And those receiving AstraZeneca's ACE inhibitor were exposed to a 15 percent higher risk of strokes and a 19 percent higher risk of heart failure.
Meanwhile, NYT reporter Andrew Pollack noted, the diuretics cost only about $25 a year, compared with $250 for an ACE inhibitor and $500 for a calcium channel blocker.

In a rational world, the results "should have more than doubled" use of the less expensive drugs, says Dr. Curt D. Furberg, a public health sciences professor at Wake Forest University and the former head of the Allhat steering committee.

Former Guantanamo prosecutor speaks out: Gitmo has ‘sullied’ U.S. military and the Constitution.»

Former Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, a former U.S. prosecutor at Guantanamo, told BBC yesterday in his first interview since resigning earlier this year that Guantanamo detainees were treated in a "wrong, unethical and finally, immoral" manner. Vandeveld was so "appalled" by the conditions at Guantanamo that he consulted his Jesuit priest, who told him to resign. "I never suffered such anguish in my life about anything," he said. Watch BBC's segment:

A Pentagon spokesman responded: "We dispute Darrel Vandeveld's assertions and maintain the military commission process provides full and fair trials to accused unlawful enemy combatants who are charged with a variety of war crimes."

The Threat of Realism

by Marc Ash

Gates shakes hands with reporter.Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates (center) shakes hands with a reporter outside Saddam Hussein's Al Faw palace during an Iraqi visit in September of 2008. (Photo: Jerry Morrison / AP)

    Still some 50 days out from inauguration, it's far too early to jump to conclusions about how the new administration will handle war on two fronts, but if you think war on two fronts is a bad idea, there's some writing on the wall that doesn't bode well.

    Change has indeed come. America has elected its first president of partly African heritage. That alone stands as a quantum leap forward that no force on earth will ever change. It is nothing short of a collective national triumph. And the man is a bona fide intellectual no less. Intellectuals, of course, being as rare as good decisions at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

    While there is ample grist for optimism, only a fatal optimist or a militarist could fail to be concerned about the rough sketch emerging for Iraq and Afghanistan.

    At central issue in both campaigns is what President-elect Obama referred to in his remarks in Chicago on December 1 introducing the new national security team as "our global leadership." The concept of American global leadership is not new. It really dates back to a pre-American Civil War notion that US technology, specifically military technology, had become so advanced that we could spread our influence far and wide, and come home with the booty. The world had its notice on July 8, 1853, when Commodore Perry navigated an American war armada into Edo Bay harbor in Tokyo, Japan, on a "diplomatic" mission. There were no diplomats on board. At the point of 66 naval guns, Perry opened Japanese ports to US trade.

    For US public relations purposes, American global domination is most often wrapped in positive tones. Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin reminded us continually on the campaign trail that "America should be a force for good in the world." John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps. But Kennedy, among other things, also quietly fomented counterrevolution in Cuba.

When Will We Liberate the Iraqis?

I know, I know, Bush liberated the Iraqis. But when will we liberate them from Bush's liberation? Well, ideally, the American people will rise up tomorrow and force Congress to cease funding the occupation and to vote an immediate and complete withdrawal with a veto-overriding supermajority, not to mention impeaching Bush and Cheney. I raise that possibility not so much because I've been drinking as because long-term movements for systemic reform require awareness of what we're missing. If we ever replace a Congress dominated by money, media, and parties with one loyal to us the people, it will be because we tragically realize what so very easily could have been.

In fact, Congress has an ideal excuse at the moment to end the war we've been electing it to end for years now. The U.N. authorization of the occupation expires on December 31st. Bush has negotiated a treaty with Iraq to authorize three more years of war. In Iraq, the parliament failed to approve the treaty with the two-thirds majority required by the Iraqi Constitution, but did pass it with a slim and corrupt majority against the overwhelming will of the Iraqi people. The result may be a rise in violence. And the approval was temporary and conditional. The Iraqi people will be allowed to reject the treaty in a public referendum in June. If they do, and if all parties take the language of the treaty seriously, the treaty will remain valid for 12 months from that date. The other possibility is that the treaty will be immediately canceled and we'll bring everyone home for the Fourth of July.

In Washington, D.C., in contrast, the Senate has chosen to ignore its Constitutional right and responsibility to approve or reject treaties, not to mention the responsibility of Congress to declare war, which renders unconstitutional any treaty authorizing three years of war. Congress could reject the treaty or at the very least approve it, but Congress is now a rubberstamp for a different president. So, rather than formally approving the treaty and asserting its continued existence, Congress will silently approve it and stick another dagger into its institutional reason for being.

Obama Reps, Retired Generals Talk Torture

Obama Reps, Retired Generals Talk Torture

"President-elect Obama has said that Americans do not engage in torture, that we must send a message to the world that America is a nation of laws, and that we as a nation should stand against torture. He believes that banning torture will actually save American lives and help restore America's moral stature in the world," said an official close to the transition who asked not to be named to discuss internal matters. "This meeting is timely and very helpful to advancing this work."

Among those who met with Eric Holder, Obama's pick to be attorney general, and Greg Craig, tapped to be White House counsel, were Gen. Charles Krulak, a former Marine Corps commandant, and retired Marine Gen. Joseph Hoar, former chief of the Central Command.

Hoar called the meeting "productive."

"It's important that the dialogue is going," Hoar said. "Part of the challenge here is big and philosophical. Part is nuts and bolts. How do you translate the rhetoric of the campaign and the transition period into action?"

The generals would like to see authority rescinded for the CIA to use harsh interrogation methods that go beyond those approved for use by the military, an end to the secret transfer of prisoners to other governments that have a history of torture, and the closing of the U.S. jail at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.

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