Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Republican spite

Orwell in Babylon: Obama's War-Continuing "Withdrawal" Plan

It would be superfluous in us to point out that a plan to "end" a war which includes the continued garrisoning of up to 50,000 troops in a hostile land is, in reality, a continuation of that war, not its cessation. To produce such a plan and claim that it "ends" a war is the precise equivalent of, say, relieving one's bladder on the back of one's neighbor and telling him that the liquid is actually life-giving rain.

But this is exactly what we are going to get from the Obama Administation in Iraq. Word has now come from on high – that is, from "senior administration officials" using "respectable newspapers" as wholly uncritical conduits for government spin – that President Obama has reached a grand compromise with his generals (or rather, the generals and Pentagon poobahs he has inherited -- and eagerly retained -- from George W. Bush) on a plan to withdraw some American troops from the country that the United States destroyed in an unprovoked war of aggression. Obama had wanted a 16-month timetable for the partial withdrawal; his potential campaign rival in 2012, General David Petraeus, wanted 23 months; so, with Solomonic wisdom, they have now split the difference, and will withdraw a portion of the American troops in 19 months instead.

But the plan clearly envisions a substantial and essentially permanent American military presence in Iraq, dominating the politics and policy of this key oil nation – which was of course one of the chief war aims of the military aggressors in the Bush Administration all along. By implementing his war continuation plan, Obama will complete the work of Bush and his militarist clique. From the New York Times:

Even with the withdrawal order, Mr. Obama plans to leave behind a "residual force" of tens of thousands of troops to continue training Iraqi security forces, hunt down foreign terrorist cells and guard American institutions...

And a "senior military officer" dispatched to pipe the spin to the Los Angeles Times added another potential role for the remaining American troops: fighting Iraq's war for it. He was also refreshingly frank on the plan's ultimate intentions:

The senior officer said the troops also could help protect Iraq from outside attack, something the Iraqis cannot yet do.

"When President Obama said we were going to get out within 16 months, some people heard, 'get out,' and everyone's gone. But that is not going to happen," the officer said.

No indeed, that is "not going to happen." One of the most remarkable aspects of Obama's "war lite" plan is its brazen and absolute disregard for the agreement signed between the United States and the supposedly sovereign Iraqi government guaranteeing the complete withdrawal of all American troops by the end of 2011. Of course, this "agreement" was always considered a farce by everyone – except for the American corporate media, which kept reporting on the "tough negotiations," as if the pact would have any actual meaning in the real world. The agreement was vitiated by escape clauses allowing the Iraqi government to "request" a continued American military presence after the 2011 deadline; and considering that any Iraqi government in place in 2011 will be helplessly dependent on American guns and money to maintain its power, such a "request" has always been a dead certainty. So I suppose we must at least admire the Obama Administration's candor in dropping all pretense that U.S. forces are going to leave Iraq at any time in the foreseeable future.

But the hypocrisy – the literally murderous hypocrisy – of claiming that this plan "leaves Iraq to its people and responsibly ends this war," as Obama asserted in his State of the Union speech, is sickening. It does no such thing, and he knows it.

McDonald's Denies Heroic Employee Worker's Comp

I hope that, as is usual with these types of cases, once publicity gets out, McDonald's will back down. McDonald's has denied workers compensation benefits to an employee who was shot when he ejected a customer who had been beating a woman inside the restaurant. Why, you might ask? Well ...

A surveillance video of the incident, which had been posted to YouTube, was taken down after McDonald's charged copyright infringement (AKA, they wanted it pulled because of bad PR). However, TV station KARK has posted video that is not subject to copyright infringement. It's obvious from the video that Nigel Haskett, then aged 21, was a hero.

Nigel Haskett was working at a McDonald's in Little Rock, Arkansas last summer when he saw a patron, later identified as Perry Kennon, hitting a woman in the face. Haskett tackled Kennon, threw him out, and then after returning to the store, collapsed. Police say he was shot multiple times.

As a result of that act of heroism, Haskett has had multiple operations, and faces a $300,000 medical bill.

Sgt. Cassandra Davis of the Little Rock PD said:

He was an employee of the McDonald's; he was at work. He wasn't involved in the physical or verbal altercation initially. He did come to the aid of the female that was involved in the disturbance.

Sounds like a Good Samaritan Act, which according to this post, and the examples herein, if they provide Good Will Benefit toward the employer, and are thus "free advertising," are covered, even if the person is on a lunch break.

Of course, McDonald's actions now are probably not earning it good will with most people.

Misty Thompson, a rep of the administrator for McDonald's workers compensation plan said:

"... we have denied this claim in its entirety as it is our opinion that Mr. Haskett's injuries did not arise out of or within the course and scope of his employment."

'Secret' was deadly for Montana town saturated in asbestos, prosecutors say

Trial begins in the case of W.R. Grace company, accused of knowingly exposing Libby, Mont., residents to asbestos. About 1,200 have sickened or died. The defense says there was no conspiracy.

By Kim Murphy
A Town's Hidden ThreatReporting from Missoula, Mont. -- For 27 years, W.R. Grace & Co. operated a vermiculite mine in Libby, Mont., producing bags of puffy white granules that were marketed all over the U.S., perfect for insulating attics and aerating gardens and potting soil.

The trouble was, the vermiculite contained small quantities of asbestos, a cancer-causing fiber that could, even in tiny quantities, fatally lodge itself in the lungs.
Asbestos exposure and cancerThe material posed a risk not only to mine workers, but also to those who touched the workers' clothing or used the high school running track and community ice-skating rink, both built with asbestos-laden mine tailings donated by the company.

That was the Maryland-based chemical company's "secret," federal prosecutors alleged Monday as W.R. Grace and five of its former executives went on trial here in a case that environmental law experts describe as the most significant criminal prosecution the U.S. has ever filed against an alleged corporate polluter.

"There's never been a prosecution in the United States where so many people have been sickened or killed as a result of environmental crime," said David Uhlmann, formerly the Justice Department's top environmental-crimes prosecutor and now a professor at the University of Michigan Law School.,0,5879847.story

Report: 4 million Americans lost health insurance since recession began

by Mary Beth Lehman

An estimated 4 million Americans have lost their health insurance since the recession began, and as many as 14,000 people could be losing their health coverage every day, according to a report by liberal think tank Center for American Progress' Action Fund.

The report also claims at least half of the 4 million who lost their insurance coverage still are uninsured. Before the recession started there were an estimated 46 million Americans without health insurance.

The recent rocky economic climate, however, has likely increased the number of uninsured at the rate of 14,000 a day, according to the center.

The report uses estimates from Urban Institute researchers that a one percentage point rise in the national unemployment rate causes 2.4 million people to lose employer-sponsored health coverage. Of those people, 1 million rely on Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program and 1.1 million end up uninsured.

Since data was last collected in the spring 2007, the unemployment rate has grown from 4.4 percent to 7.6 percent, and as a result, an estimated 3.5 million people have lost their health insurance and are now uninsured.

Evolution Charts

And all without Circe's help


7 Days: Franken on Franken, Air America, "Senator Maddow" & More

Sen.-elect Al Franken hasn't spoken to the national media since November, until now.
Mark Green

by Mark Green: President of Air America Media

Here he talks about his suspended animation as an almost-senator, about a career arc uniquely going from satire to senate, and about how 42% plurality -- almost exactly what Lincoln, Wilson, Nixon & Clinton got -- means that he'll pursue a kind of Obamian bi-partisan tone.

GREEN: Ok, can you now finally admit that you miss your 12-3 pm Air America timeslot and regret leaving for a senate bid?

FRANKEN: Well, no I don't. I'm really looking forward to getting into the Senate, and it looks like it's going to happen, and I hope it happens soon. So no, I don't. If I had lost, I might regret it, but I don't think I did that.

GREEN: We talked before air about an election night a few years back when I spent two hours in an emotional deep freeze not knowing whether I had won or lost a close and big race. So how have you handled a three month -- and counting -- emotional deep freeze?

FRANKEN: Well, Frannie and I Iook at each other at night, usually right before we go to bed, and go like: "How long is this gonna go on?" But, it really looks now that it's going to get resolved in my favor, and soon, and so I'm actually excited to get there. So that sort of overcomes the frustration of: "How long can this go on?"

GREEN: What's the hold-up? Haven't you been certified the winner by the secretary of state of Minnesota?

FRANKEN: Well, I've been certified as the winner of the recount. So I just want to be fair to everybody. When I was certified by the state canvassing board as the winner of the recount, Coleman, as is his right, filed a legal contest contesting the outcome of the recount. And that was January 6th, the day that I could've been seated as the winner of the recount. Then we went to trial January 26th, and this is the fourth week. At the end of this past week, the judges issued a ruling, which we think is a great ruling, which narrowed the standards and scope of the absentee ballots that have been previously rejected...then the Coleman people kind of did a 180. They had not wanted these ballots included at all, but now that they're behind, they wanted them all included. The narrowing of the universe of these absentee ballots that could be counted is such that we really believe we're going to win, and we're going to win soon.

GREEN: I can't think of precedents for you -- an over three month counting delay in seating a senator...and also a comedian moving on to the Senate. Are there any?

FRANKEN: Comedy to the Senate? Well, there certainly hasn't been a satirist or a political satirist who's done that. So, that really was uncharted territory during the campaign. But I think it's a good thing. Some people thought that it was an odd career arc, but to me it made absolute sense. I had always been obviously interested in politics; DFL politics in Minnesota was when I was a teenager. And the reason I wrote political satire was because I thought it -- politics -- was important... that public policy was important. Then I transitioned into books, then into radio. So it all, actually, made total sense to me, as puzzled as many people were and continue to be.

British Medical Journal Attacks HonestReporting


The BMJ falsely accuses HonestReporting of attempting to stifle debate and freedom of speech.

One of the most prominent weapons deployed by Israel's detractors is to accuse pro-Israel organizations and their supporters of being part of a shadowy and highly effective "Israel lobby". The charge of shutting down all criticism of Israel and destroying freedom of speech is usually deployed, however, precisely to delegitimize organizations such as HonestReporting and curtail their own right to respond to anti-Israel bias.

Needless to say, if an "Israel lobby" was so influential over the media, there would be no need for HonestReporting to exist. Yet as the Jerusalem Post reports:

The editors of the 'BMJ' (British Medical Journal)'s widely read print and Internet editions have declared that they will "ignore" all "orchestrated e-mail campaigns" related to politics, and have just published an article strongly criticizing the "pro-Israel lobby" for using this weapon in the form of "pornographic," "abusive" and "obscene" attacks - many by people "who have never read the original articles" they comment on.

In its latest edition, the BMJ devotes some five articles (1, 23, 4, 5) reviewing the "perils of criticizing Israel" and a substantial amount of print is concentrated on attacking HonestReporting itself.

Chief amongst these is Karl Sabbagh's analysis of hundreds of e-mails sent to the BMJ in response to an article published way back in 2004. According to Sabbagh, "It seems likely that most of the hostile emails resulted from a request from HonestReporting, a website operated from the United States and Israel." Citing HonestReporting and holding it responsible for a number of abusive e-mails, he states:

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with organising an effective lobby group, but lobbying for Israel seems to be in a different category from, say, lobbies against fluoridation and MMR vaccine. The ultimate goal of some of the groups that lobby for Israel or against Palestine is apparently the suppression of views they disagree with.

We certainly concede that abusive e-mails are absolutely unacceptable from both a moral standpoint and because such responses to the media are entirely counterproductive. We would remind our subscribers to always write courteously and from an informed perspective. (Click here to see letter writing tips.)

HonestReporting is not trying to block people from expressing themselves. It only holds people accountable for their statements. This is how democratic discourse is advanced. In addition, HonestReporting is promoting, not stifling, debate by getting the public involved in the issue. Those who accuse the organization of stifling debate are actually the ones seeking to suppress the voices of our readers – the people who express themselves through emails to editors.

Indeed, the writer summarily dismisses the legitimacy or relevance of the hundreds of e-mails received by the BMJ from HonestReporting subscribers. It is easier to dismiss such people as deranged or part of an organized conspiracy than to actually deal with the content of their complaints, which the BMJ fails to do. HonestReporting stands by its original critique of Derek Summerfield's 2004 article that compared the IDF's acts to those of the 9/11 terrorists.

Business can regulate itself

Pull the plug on U.S. automakers


President Obama, this is your moment. This is your time to beat Buicks into bullet trains, Suburbans into subways, and Hummers into hybrid buses. To borrow from your speeches, there is a moment in the life of every generation, if you are to make your mark on history, when you must tell an iconic industry that its incompetence is inoperable.

It is time, Mr. President, to take General Motors and Chrysler off taxpayer life support.

Politically, this is even more difficult than ending the Iraq war. In your very first press conference as president-elect, with Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm standing behind you with your transition economic team, you declared, "The auto industry is the backbone of American manufacturing ... a critical part of our attempt to reduce our dependence on foreign oil." .

That was nice to give them the benefit of the doubt, Mr. President, but all GM and Chrysler have done since then is connive for more time on the federal respirator, despite the flat line on the boardroom monitor. They have been on notice for months to come up with a revolutionary restructuring plan in exchange for the $17.4 billion in bailout aid it has already received. Last week, GM said it may need another $16.6 billion from the United States and another $6 billion from the governments of Canada, Germany, Britain, Sweden, and Thailand. Chrysler says it needs another $5 billion from you and me. For that, it came up with a projected loss of another 50,000 jobs, with plans so vague that the Wall Street Journal wrote that it contained "only a relatively few major new restructuring steps."

That is not even the final straw for pulling the plug. Within the restructuring plan submitted this week to the Treasury Department, GM wants an additional $8.4 billion from the Department of Energy to produce "alternative fuel and advanced propulsion" vehicles, with yet another request coming by March 31. This is a stunningly unjustifiable level of welfare for a company that arrogantly peered out of its SUVs and pickups, sneering down on the smaller Japanese cars.

‘I was victim of medieval torture,’ says freed Guantanamo detainee

Return of British resident after seven years fuels demands for Government to clarify role of MI5 agents

By Robert Verkaik, Law Editor

Binyam Mohamed, 30, a British resident who has been held at Guantanamo Bay formore than four years, steps from a plane at RAF Northolt, west London
Binyam Mohamed, 30, a British resident who has been held at Guantanamo Bay formore than four years, steps from a plane at RAF Northolt, west London

The seven-year ordeal of a British resident who claims he was brutally tortured before being sent to Guantanamo Bay was brought to an end last night during an emotional reunion with his family.

Binyam Mohamed's sister, Zuhra Mohamed, said she was "overcome with joy" as she watched her brother shuffle down the steps of the RAF transport plane which had carried him from the notorious US detention camp in Cuba to Northolt airfield, west London.

She said: "When I saw him he looked like he is OK, but he will plainly not be the man I remember all those years ago." Almost as soon as Mr Mohamed had taken his first steps on British soil, the former computer and engineering student made it clear that he had unfinished business with both the US and UK governments. In a carefully worded statement he said he intended to hold to account those he blamed for his alleged rendition, torture and unlawful imprisonment: "I am not asking for vengeance; only that the truth should be made known so that nobody in the future should have to endure what I have endured."

Mind the crevasse: The amazing 3D pavement art that has pedestrians on edge

By Tom Kelly

After a sudden shift in the Earth's crust, the ground has cracked open.

What was terra firma is now a gaping crevasse.

And into it - his arms raised in terror - plunges a hapless pedestrian on a shard of rock.

street art

The Crevasse: The giant fissure, in Dun Laoghaire, Ireland, spans over 250 square metres and appears to show an Ice Age fault. The image only makes sense from one point of perspective

In another apocalyptic scenario, a family desperately struggle to cross what remains of a street. They hold hands while balancing on islands of tarmac.

Below them a rushing urban river laps against rocks that glow with volcanic intensity.

But, of course, neither of these scenes is what they appear. They are giant optical illusions conceived by German artist Edgar Mueller.

Edgar Mueller street art

This giant fissure was created in the German town of Geldern to celebrate the 30th anniversary of a street art competition. It took a team of artists working 12 hours a day, five days to complete

He spent five days, working 12 hours a day, to create the 250 square metre image of the crevasse, which, viewed from the correct angle, appears to be 3D. He then persuaded passers-by to complete the illusion by pretending the gaping hole was real.

'I wanted to play with positives and negatives to encourage people to think twice about everything they see,' he said.

'It was a very scary scene, but when people saw it they had great fun playing on it and pretending to fall into the earth.

'I like to think that later, when they returned home, they might reflect more on what a frightening scenario it was and say, "Wow, that was actually pretty scary".'

Hard work: Together with up to five assistants, Mueller painted all day long from sunrise to sunset

Hard work: Together with up to five assistants, Mueller painted all day long from sunrise to sunset. The picture appeared on the East Pier in Dun Laoghaire, Ireland, as part of the town's Festival of World Cultures

Mueller, 40, used acrylic wall paint to create the scene. He trained a camera lens on his work surface to help him fully visualise the idea before painting in the incredible detail to give an impression of depth on the flat surface.

He added: 'The conditions were difficult because if it started raining before a section had dried it could all wash it all away.

'I was very lucky that I managed to get each part done before the heavens opened.'

Scroll down to watch a video of the making of the The  Crevasse...

The picture appeared on the East Pier in Dun Laoghaire, Ireland, as part of the town's Festival of World Cultures.

The artist used the same technique to create the street-turned-river scene in the western German city of Geldern.


Mueller, who has previously painted a giant waterfall in Canada, said he was inspired by the British 'Pavement Picasso' Julian Beever, whose dramatic but more gentle 3D street images have featured in the Daily Mail

Unnatural Obsession With The Fairness Doctrine, Part 467

MediaMan, this Fairness Doctrine talk (such as it is) must really be scaring the crap out of the Corporate Media. Rasmussen actually saw fit to conduct a poll about it, and - quelle surprise! - they find that 'support' is 'dropping.' No, really. Michael Calderone over at Politico seems a bit confused, though.

In a new Rasmussen poll, 38 percent of respondents said "the government should require all radio stations to offer equal amounts of conservative and liberal political commentary," a nine percent drop from August. Forty-seven percent oppose such government requirements, and 15 percent are unsure.
Catch that? Calderone seems to have the Fairness Doctrine (which never dictated rules on the amount of ideological content on the airwaves, just issues of public interest) with the Equal Time Rule (which also never dictated content, but guaranteed that one political candidate would not have an unfair advantage in air time over another, but also had provisions that allowed broadcast outlets a pretty wide latitude in awarding air time).

First off, it's funny that anyone has been tracking public support for the Fairness Doctrine since last August, but I guess there are paranoid conservatives out there who must have started worrying about it once it became clear the Republicans Obstructionists were going to get their clocks cleaned in last November's elections.

But what bothers me more is that a poll conducted by a right-leaning polling outfit dealing with an issue that's being ginned up as a First Amendment issue by the likes of the Repulsive Pigboy and mental midget Sean Hannity doesn't even merit a clear understanding by 'pundits' like Michael Calderone - or even Rasmussen, which seems to have conflated the two rules in their poll.

No wonder people are misinformed about issues large and small in this country. The people who spoon out what they're supposed to think can't even be bothered to give them the straight dope.

Dinner footwear may be optional


I really hope he shows up in the flight suit.

He can also, in good conscience, bring along that banner he once courageously blamed on sailors because this time, his mission really is accomplished.

It's hard being a stranger to those accomplishments -- international law and a nation's image disemboweled, untold billions cast to the winds, cronies rewarded and the rest be damned.

Civilians incinerated by liberty bombs while it's others who are the terrorists.

Like 9/11 with its many warnings, failure a successful ingredient for the ensuing narrative. Where does it end? It's like capping carp in a tub.

But his biggest accomplishment may unfold next month and Calgary's his chosen stage.

While legal peril swirls around George W. Bush's White House lawyers for their role in empowering torturers, Bush will cross an international border -- possibly for the first time -- as a free and private citizen.

It's only a couple of months since a Senate committee fingered Bush and Dick Cheney for torture, meaning U.S. law enforcement is obligated to indict them.

Almost the day word came of his Calgary date, unredacted U.S. government documents detailed how their interrogators in Iraq and Afghanistan battered their victims to death.

You mean they weren't just lingerie parties?

Up in the land of leaky tailing ponds, far from a cynical D.C. Beltway, there's an unwitting acknowledgement of the power reality. "He's a free man -- he can travel to any country he wants," said Ed Stelmach.

Pity that -- and two-tiered justice, even under new management in Washington.

What if you got older every time you committed a war crime?