Thursday, January 1, 2009

Iraq War Ends

Saturday, July 4th, 2009

Troops to Return Immediately

U.S. Army helicopters begin moving troops and equipment from Saddam Hussein's former Baghdad palace.

"This is the best face we can put on the most unfortunate adventure in modern American history," Defense spokesman Kevin Sites said at a special joint session of Congress. "Today, we can finally enjoy peace — not the peace of the brave, perhaps, but at least peace."

As U.S. and coalition troops withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan, the United Nations will move in to perform peacekeeping duties and aid in rebuilding. The U.N. will be responsible for keeping the two countries stable; coordinating the rebuilding of hospitals, schools, highways, and other infrastructure; and overseeing upcoming elections.

The Department of the Treasury confirmed that all U.N. dues owed by the U.S. were paid as of this morning, and that moneys previously earmarked for the war would be sent directly to the U.N.'s Iraq Oversight Body.

Streets Come Alive as Relief and Exuberance Greet End of Conflicts

Thousands take to the streets to celebrate the announced end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ex-Secretary Apologizes for W.M.D. Scare

300,000 Troops Never Faced Risk of Instant Obliteration

Ex-Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice reassured soldiers that the Bush Administration had known well before the invasion that Saddam Hussein lacked weapons of mass destruction.

Court Indicts Bush on High Treason Charge

George W. Bush, the 43rd President of the United States, was indicted Monday on charges of high treason.

Top 10 things Americans want from their government but still don't have; according to national polls

10. Marijuana Decriminalization. A 2007 poll conducted by Zogby International indicates that a slight majority of Americans favor the abolishment of criminal penalties for minor marijuana offenses: "Forty-nine percent of respondents, including 57 percent of men, said they would support 'a law in Congress that would eliminate federal penalties for the personal use of marijuana by adults and allow states to adopt their own policies on marijuana." Forty-eight percent of those polled said they oppose such a law; three percent were undecided. The poll has a margin of error of ±3 percentage points." (1) Growing numbers are also in favor of outright legalization with 41% agreeing that "the government should treat marijuana more or less the same way it treats alcohol: it should regulate it, control it, tax it and only make it illegal for children." (2)

9. Universal Health Care. Various polls (1) (2) find that Americans want significant changes to the current medical system, including guaranteed government coverage even if it means paying more: "Americans across party lines are willing to make some sacrifice to insure that every American has access to health insurance. Sixty percent, including 62 percent of independents and 46 percent of Republicans, said they would be willing to pay more in taxes. Half said they would be willing to pay as much as $500 a year more."

8. Stricter Campaign Finance Laws. A large majority (66%) of Americans support an increasing of regulations on how politicians obtain and spend money. (1) Regarding the 2000 election: "Nearly three-fourths of the voters participating in the survey said Texas Gov. George W. Bush's $70 million fund-raising tally is 'excessive and a sign of what's wrong with politics today." Similarly, 40 percent said Bush was the presumptive nominee because of "the amount of money he raised.'" (2)

7. Equal Aid to Palestinians and Israelis. Increasingly dissatisfied with the mid-east peace process, Americans want more results for their high levels of aid money to Israel. "in polling conducted 2002-2003, majorities supported the US withholding or reducing its aid to Israel and the Palestinians, as a means of pressure to influence their behavior". (1) Americans also favor increasing the levels of aid to the Palestinians contingent on acceptance of a negotiated peace proposal: "Asked in a May 2003 PIPA poll "if the Palestinians come to terms with Israel in a peace agreement, do you think the US should equalize the amount of aid it gives to Israel and to the Palestinians," 67% indicated they would support an equalizing aid to Palestine." and "In the same 2003 PIPA poll with a different sample, respondents were told how much aid is currently given to Palestine, and were then asked to provide their own assessment of how much aid should be given if Palestine were to make peace with Israel. The median response was to increase aid to $1 billion, more than 14 times the $70 million provided at the time. The average response indicated a willingness to increase aid to $2.37 billion (somewhat lower than the amount indicated for Israel)." The terms of peace are overwhelmingly accepted by the Palestinian population: "A total of 72.1% of Palestinians support the Taba or Oslo B Agreement between Israel and the Palestinians." (2)

6. Reducing Military Spending. When Americans were asked in a 2005 poll how they would structure the federal budget, the answers could hardly have been more clear: "Defense spending received the deepest cut, being cut on average 31 percent — equivalent to $133.8 billion — with 65 percent of respondents cutting." This does not indicate an unwillingness to support the troops however: "respondents particularly preserved spending for troops, including for salaries (82%), the overall number of military personnel (61%), and development of new equipment for infantry and Marines (64%). Spending relevant to fighting terrorism was also preserved, such as for intelligence (62%), troops for special operations (58%), and advanced communications systems (69%). Also preserved was spending on capabilities for conducting peacekeeping (58%), fighting insurgents or guerrillas (56%), and work on new types of high-technology missiles and bombs (55%)." (1)

5. Increased Social Spending. The same poll showing American's interest in cutting defense spending also pointed to areas where spending would increase if people had control over the economy: "The largest increases were for social spending. Spending on human capital was especially popular including education which was increased $26.8 billion (39%) and job training and employment which was up $19 billion or a remarkable 263%. Medical research was upped on average $15.5 billion (53%). Veterans benefits were raised 40 percent or $12.5 billion and housing went up 31 percent or $9.3 billion. In most cases clear majorities favored increases (education 57%, job training 67%, medical research 57%, veteran's benefits 63%), though only 43 percent of respondents favored increases for housing." (1)

4. Acceptance of the Kyoto Protocol. By a wide majority Americans agree that the United States should participate in the Kyoto protocol: "In June 2005, PIPA simply asked "based on what you know, do you think the U.S. should or should not participate in the Kyoto agreement to reduce global warming." A strong majority of 73% favored participation. This was up a bit from September 2004, when only 65% favored it. Only 16% in June 2005 and September 2004 opposed participation." (1) (2)

3. A Diplomatic Solution with Iran. Only 20% (1) - 40% (2) of Americans support a military strike against Iran to destroy its nuclear facilities. Diplomatic action backed by sanctions is supported by about 60% of Americans: "This ABC News/Washington Post poll finds sanctions the preferred option across the political spectrum".

2. Pulling Troops out of Iraq. Both the American citizenry and armed forces support a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq: "Most Americans support the U.S. House provision setting a timetable that calls for most U.S. troops to be out of Iraq by September 2008." According to the CBS News poll, 59 percent of those surveyed favored the provision while 37 percent opposed it." (1) Perhaps even more telling is the strong opposition to the war from within the army itself: "An overwhelming majority of 72% of American troops serving in Iraq think the U.S. should exit the country within the next year, and more than one in four say the troops should leave immediately, a new Le Moyne College/Zogby International survey shows." (2)

1. The Impeachment of George W. Bush. Majorities of Americans think that George Bush should be impeached for one of two possible crimes: unauthorized wire-tapping of the public and/or misleading the people in to a war with Iraq. On the matter of wire-tapping: "The poll found that 52% agreed with the statement: "If President Bush wiretapped American citizens without the approval of a judge, do you agree or disagree that Congress should consider holding him accountable through impeachment." 43% disagreed, and 6% said they didn't know or declined to answer. The poll has a +/- 2.9% margin of error." (1) On the issue of Iraq: "The poll found that 50% agreed with the statement: "If President Bush did not tell the truth about his reasons for going to war with Iraq, Congress should consider holding him accountable by impeaching him." 44% disagreed, and 6% said they didn't know or declined to answer. The poll has a +/- 3.1% margin of error." (2)

Zeitgeist - The Movie: Federal Reserve (Part 1 of 5)

"There is something behind the throne greater than the king himself."
- Sir William Pitt, House of Lords, 1770 -

Welcome to America's hall of shame

From Sarah Palin to AIG's pamper-hungry sales reps, the following characters have made us less than proud

Michael TomaskyIn at least one obvious way, 2008 was a pretty good year in my country. We made history in electing an African-American president. I and 67 million of my fellow citizens brought the era of conservative dominance to a thundering close. For those of us who've been told for eight years that we weren't real Americans - liberals, urbanites, non-believers, cabernet-sippers, same-sex lovers, anti-war-mongerers, Volvo drivers - well, the tables have turned. We're the real Americans now.

But ill winds still blew, and blow, across the republic. It being the duty of journalism to take the measure of these winds, I hereby dedicate my year-end column to ranking some of the worst Americans of the year. It started as a bottom 10 list, but consultations with various associates persuaded me that 10 was not enough, and further research suggested that a non-round and totally capricious number better suited the exercise. Herewith, the Tomasky List of the 19 Worst Americans of 2008.

19 ED Hill. Ms Hill is the Fox News anchor who referred to Barack and Michelle Obama's on-stage fist bump in early June as a "terrorist fist jab". I guess she's well familiar with the various and sundry ways in which couples express intimacy - she's been married three times herself. Fox announced in November that it wasn't renewing her contract.

18 Don Blankenship. Who? He's the head of a huge coal-mining company that is an industry leader, if one must put it that way, in so-called mountain-top removal mining. It's a hideous practice that destroys mountains and communities, and Blankenship is its poster child. Our supreme court has agreed to hear a case in which Blankenship financed the election of a state judge who, in a $50m lawsuit, ruled for Blankenship's company. Google Caperton v Massey, read more about Massey, and tell me if this fellow shouldn't perhaps be even higher.

17 Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher. The man better known as Joe the Plumber wasn't a licensed plumber. He owed back taxes. He shocked even a Fox News anchor with his cavalier relationship to the facts. Let's hope he's 14 minutes into his allotted 15 minutes of fame.

16 John Edwards. How could a person run for president knowing that he'd cheated on his cancer-stricken wife with a woman who subsequently bore a child? (He denies paternity.) What if he'd actually won the nomination, and then this news came out? He gives bad judgment a bad name.

15 Heath and Deborah Campbell. You know, the parents who named their son Adolf Hitler Campbell. Nuff said.

14 Geraldine Ferraro. One of the worst vice-presidential candidates in recent history distinguished herself in 2008 as one of the worst political surrogates (for Hillary Clinton) in recent history. In between, she found a way to lose two Senate races that she once led by 20 points. What a career.

13 Stephen L Johnson. The Bush administration's chief environmental enforcement officer is ... about what you'd expect out of the Bush administration's chief environmental officer. He's loosened rules, ignored subpoenas and been rebuked by his own staff.

12 Sam Zell. Yes, market forces and technology are putting the American newspaper on life support, but that doesn't mean that the man who bought the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times should stroll into the intensive-care unit and pull the plug. Zell's belief that productivity should be measured purely by word output is a death knell for intensive, investigative work that uncovers corruption.

11 David Addington. Dick Cheney's top aide told Congress in June that he didn't even know what the unitary executive theory of presidential power was. This would be rather like Lavrenti Beria insisting that Lubyanka prison was actually a hotel.

10 The boys from AIG. Less than a week after the insurance giant received an $85bn federal bail-out, some AIG execs and sales reps spent $440,000 on a retreat at an exclusive resort, including $23,000 in spa charges. Well, they were under tremendous stress, you know.

Zeitgeist - The Movie: Federal Reserve (Part 2 of 5)

"Under the Federal Reserve act, panics are scientifically created. The present panic is the first scientifically created one, worked out as we figure a mathematical equation."
- Charles Lindburgh -

Gonzales Defends Role in Antiterror Policies

[Alberto Gonzales]WASHINGTON -- Alberto Gonzales, who has kept a low profile since resigning as attorney general nearly 16 months ago, said he is writing a book to set the record straight about his controversial tenure as a senior official in the Bush administration.

Mr. Gonzales has been portrayed by critics both as unqualified for his position and instrumental in laying the groundwork for the administration's "war on terror." He was pilloried by Congress in a manner not usually directed toward cabinet officials.

"What is it that I did that is so fundamentally wrong, that deserves this kind of response to my service?" he said during an interview Tuesday, offering his most extensive comments since leaving government.

During a lunch meeting two blocks from the White House, where he served under his longtime friend, President George W. Bush, Mr. Gonzales said that "for some reason, I am portrayed as the one who is evil in formulating policies that people disagree with. I consider myself a casualty, one of the many casualties of the war on terror."

Making the Best of the Economic Mess

"Love the one you're with"
-Stephen Stills

2008 hasn't been a fun year. A recession was coming, but greedy and self-interested leaders brought us to the brink of a depression.

I'm angry about the shape we are in. I want to make sure it never happens again.

It wouldn't bother me to see a bunch of Wall Street CEOs lose their jobs, and take some of the Wall Street-enabling Congressmen with them.

On the other hand, I need to get past the anger. My family has to eat. Your family has to eat. It is time to focus on feeding them.

I have my eye on the clowns on Wall Street, but my feet are on Main Street, trying to make a buck.

We need to learn from the mistakes. Somewhere along the way, everyone lost touch with reality.

People bought houses, cars and clothes with the primary goal of impressing their neighbors. They took trips they couldn't afford and ran up credit card balances larger than their annual incomes.

Will Rogers once said that "America is the first nation to go to the poorhouse in an automobile."

Will didn't know about credit cards, designer clothes and subprime mortgages. Somewhere along the way, things got completely crazy.

Zeitgeist - The Movie: Federal Reserve (Part 3 of 5)

"An evil exists that threatens every man, woman, and child of this great nation. We must take steps to ensure our domestic stability and protect our homeland."
- Adolf Hitler -

Are Older People Happier?

Health & Wellness

By Lee Drutman,

It's not easy getting old. The body starts to break down, and the mind begins to fade. These things, it is often thought, will leave us depressed and unhappy. As researchers are finding out, however, they actually don't.

These ravages of time, as it turns out, have very little to do with one's happiness. Actually, older people report being just as happy, if not happier, than their younger compatriots. Researchers who study aging and happiness have dubbed this the "paradox of well-being."

But why? What's going on?

Last summer, four researchers in the University of Virginia psychology department -- professors Shigehiro Oishi and Timothy A. Salthouse, along with Ph.D. candidates Karen L. Siedlecki (the lead investigator on the project and now a postdoc at Columbia) and Elliot M. Tucker-Drob -- decided to try to understand a little more about what is behind this apparent paradox.

They started from the premise that there is a lot of literature out there already on the different things that might make people feel better or worse about their lives, including their health and their mental functioning. But are these determinants of "subjective well-being" (the term favored by the researchers) the same across all ages? Do certain things matter more as people get older? Do certain things matter less?

The researchers surveyed 818 people aged 18 to 94. They asked a battery of questions trying to get at the underlying correlates of life satisfaction: How healthy were these people? Were they depressed, anxious or neurotic generally? How good were they at various cognitive processing tasks? And what about their general knowledge and experiences?

By including all these factors and surveying people from all ages, the researchers thought they could produce the most comprehensive study to date. Their findings are reported in The Journal of Positive Psychology.

Zeitgeist - The Movie: Federal Reserve (Part 4 of 5)

"We shall have World Government whether or not we like it. The only question is whether world government will be achieved by conquest or consent."
- Paul Walburg, Council on Foreign Relations, and architect of the Federal Reserve System -

Did our cosmos exist before the big bang?

ABHAY ASHTEKAR remembers his reaction the first time he saw the universe bounce. "I was taken aback," he says. He was watching a simulation of the universe rewind towards the big bang. Mostly the universe behaved as expected, becoming smaller and denser as the galaxies converged. But then, instead of reaching the big bang "singularity", the universe bounced and started expanding again. What on earth was happening?

Ashtekar wanted to be sure of what he was seeing, so he asked his colleagues to sit on the result for six months before publishing it in 2006. And no wonder. The theory that the recycled universe was based on, called loop quantum cosmology (LQC), had managed to illuminate the very birth of the universe - something even Einstein's general theory of relativity fails to do.

Einstein's relativity fails to explain the very birth of the universe

LQC has been tantalising physicists since 2003 with the idea that our universe could conceivably have emerged from the collapse of a previous universe. Now the theory is poised to make predictions we can actually test. If they are verified, the big bang will give way to a big bounce and we will finally know the quantum structure of space-time. Instead of a universe that emerged from a point of infinite density, we will have one that recycles, possibly through an eternal series of expansions and contractions, with no beginning and no end.

LQC is in fact the first tangible application of another theory called loop quantum gravity, which cunningly combines Einstein's theory of gravity with quantum mechanics. We need theories like this to work out what happens when microscopic volumes experience an extreme gravitational force, as happened near the big bang, for example. In the mid 1980s, Ashtekar rewrote the equations of general relativity in a quantum-mechanical framework. Together with theoretical physicists Lee Smolin and Carlo Rovelli, Ashtekar later used this framework to show that the fabric of space-time is woven from loops of gravitational field lines. Zoom out far enough and space appears smooth and unbroken, but a closer look reveals that space comes in indivisible chunks, or quanta, 10-35 square metres in size.

In 2000, Martin Bojowald, then a postdoc with Ashtekar at the Pennsylvania State University in University Park, used loop quantum gravity to create a simple model of the universe. LQC was born.

Bojowald's major realisation was that unlike general relativity, the physics of LQC did not break down at the big bang. Cosmologists dread the singularity because at this point gravity becomes infinite, along with the temperature and density of the universe. As its equations cannot cope with such infinities, general relativity fails to describe what happens at the big bang. Bojowald's work showed how to avoid the hated singularity, albeit mathematically. "I was very impressed by it," says Ashtekar, "and still am."

Zeitgeist - The Movie: Federal Reserve (Part 5 of 5)

"When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace."
- Jimi Hendrix -

Webb Sets His Sights On Prison Reform

Sen. James Webb plans to introduce legislation to create a national panel to study the justice system.Somewhere along the meandering career path that led James Webb to the U.S. Senate, he found himself in the frigid interior of a Japanese prison.

A journalist at the time, he was working on an article about Ed Arnett, an American who had spent two years in Fuchu Prison for possession of marijuana. In a January 1984 Parade magazine piece, Webb described the harsh conditions imposed on Arnett, who had frostbite and sometimes labored in solitary confinement making paper bags.

"But, surprisingly, Arnett, home in Omaha, Neb., says he prefers Japan's legal system to ours," Webb wrote. "Why? 'Because it's fair,' he said."

This spring, Webb (D-Va.) plans to introduce legislation on a long-standing passion of his: reforming the U.S. prison system. Jails teem with young black men who later struggle to rejoin society, he says. Drug addicts and the mentally ill take up cells that would be better used for violent criminals. And politicians have failed to address this costly problem for fear of being labeled "soft on crime."

It is a gamble for Webb, a fiery and cerebral Democrat from a staunchly law-and-order state. Virginia abolished parole in 1995, and it trails only Texas in the number of people it has executed.

Tennessee sludge spill estimate grows to 1 billion gallons

TVA officials originally said the cleanup would take four to six weeks. Now they say they aren't sure.Estimates for the amount of thick sludge that gushed from a Tennessee coal plant last week have tripled to more than a billion gallons, as cleanup crews try to remove the goop from homes and railroads and halt its oozing into an adjacent river.

TVA officials originally said the cleanup would take four to six weeks. Now they say they aren't sure.

The sludge, a byproduct of the ash from coal combustion, was contained at a retention site at the Tennessee Valley Authority's power plant in Kingston, about 40 miles east of Knoxville. The retention wall breached early Monday, sending the sludge downhill and damaging 15 homes. All the residents were evacuated, and three homes were deemed uninhabitable, according to the TVA.

TVA's initial estimate for the spill was 1.8 million cubic yards or more than 360 million gallons of sludge. By Friday, the estimate reached 5.4 million cubic yards or more than 1 billion gallons -- enough to fill 1,660 Olympic-size swimming pools.

Environmental advocates say the ash contains concentrated levels of mercury and arsenic.

The plant sits on a tributary of the Tennessee River called the Clinch River. At least 300 acres of land has been coated by the sludge, a bigger area than the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.

A spokesman for TVA, a federal corporation and the nation's largest public power company, said the agency has never experienced a spill of this magnitude.

"There's a lot of ash there," spokesman John Moulton said Friday. "We are taking this very seriously. It is a big cleanup project, and we're focused on it 24 hours a day."