Thursday, July 23, 2009
This screen grab from a video shows Private Bowe R. Bergdahl, who is being held captive by Taliban militants.
The coward wretch whose hand and heart
Can bear to torture aught below,
Is ever first to quail and start
From the slightest pain or equal foe.
- Bertrand Russell
The torture debate in America got real three weeks ago.
Oh, the debate has been around for years now, of course, ever since the photos of what happened in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq came to light. Men covered in feces, bent double and lashed to bedframes, their faith humiliated by the menstrual blood smeared on their faces, their bodies savaged by dogs, and worse, reports of the rape of women and children.
Yes, the torture debate has been around for a while now, recently revisited by President Obama, who condemned and discontinued the practice, and by enablers of torture like Dick Cheney and John Yoo, who have labored mightily to defend it. It's been quite the hot topic among the chattering classes of American political discourse, a dialogue in three parts: one group condemning the practice, another group championing it, and a third group - the media professionals - taking no position and trying not to offend anyone, so they can get the big names back on the set for the Sunday shows.
Three weeks ago, however, the whole nature of the torture debate changed irrevocably when an American soldier from Idaho named Bowe Bergdahl somehow fell into the hands of the Taliban in Afghanistan. They have him now, and God help him, because it was the United States government under the administration of George W. Bush that set the terms for how anyone captured can and should be treated.
If the Taliban decide Bergdahl has information they want, they can waterboard him until he talks. They can compress his body and cover him with insects, they can rob him of sleep and deny him food, they can beat him and slather his body with his own waste, they can shove sticks into his rectum, they can rape him, and they can murder him. They can hand him over to representatives of another government and have him whisked away to some far-flung dungeon where "enhanced interrogation" has an even darker and more savage definition. For sure, they can deny him due process of any kind and never, ever, ever, ever let him go home again.
They could do this whether or not the United States had engaged in similar practices, but because we did these things, they can do these things and still claim the moral high ground. Why not? It was the United States government under the administration of George W. Bush who plowed that high ground into the gutter. Everyone stands the same height when they're face-down in the sewer.
Blogs offer an excellent way for communities to come together over a common interest despite physical location. Educators can take advantage of this shared pool of knowledge to find inspiration, enhance their teaching, and help students learn more. The following blog posts come from a variety of bloggers sharing their passion and insight.
These posts take a look at what makes a good teacher and will inspire you to appreciate what you do or maybe even improve your style as an educator.
- What Makes a Good Teacher. This post from The Reading Workshop includes six important elements of effective teachers.
- Top 5 Character Traits of Great Teachers. This list is actually a compilation from a reader survey and includes many great traits of quality teachers.
- "Steal". This teacher considers use of the word "steal" when discussing teaching ideas and urges teachers to embrace collaboration as a means to better teaching.
- Reminders to teachers: Don't get sick. This post highlights what can happen with a poor-quality substitute teacher and offers suggestions for the next time you must be absent.
- Are you trained or educated?. This thought-provoking post asks you to consider whether you are trained or educated as an educator.
- Short Story: On Mercy Killing in the First Grade (or, how I stopped worrying and learned to appreciate punch lines). Read how this educator learned an important life lesson in the first grade.
- Training. This post compares how teachers-in-training are taught to the education of students and wonders at the differing standards held for each.
- Do Leaders Wear Jeans? Does What You Wear Show Who You Are?. This article offers a great approach to fitting in fashion-wise–even in jeans.
- On being a passionate beginner. Learn why it is important to welcome failure and embrace the newness of situations to become a better teacher.
- 5 Altruistic Values of Teaching. This post offers a great reminder of why many educators entered into the field of teaching.
Helmand Bombings Part of 'Hearts and Minds' Campaign, State Dept. Insists
Today's air strikes were the latest, and likely most heavy-handed exercise of US military power in the war on drugs in Afghanistan, as the poppy seeds which have become a significant portion of Afghanistan's largely agrarian economy often get exported for use in opium derivatives.
The attacks seem related to the US military's massive offensive in the Helmand River Valley. Top NATO Commander General John Craddock has long sought to divert the military mission into a broader war on drugs, lashing out at allies who opposed his policies and ordering troops to kill anyone involved in the opium industry.
Some people have the dignity and good grace to bow out of the spotlight once their fifteen minutes of fame are up. Like, say, Bob Dole. Remember Bob Dole? He ran for President once, on the "DOLE '96: KIDS GET THE HELL OFF OF MY LAWN" ticket. So, he did that, he lost, and then he was a spokesman for Viagra for a month or something. And then he vanished. Poof! Whisk! Gone! Where the hell is Bob Dole today? Is he alive? Is he dead? Is he selling smack in Hanoi? I don't know and I don't care and neither do you.
…And then there's guys like Joe the Plumber. You remember Joe the Plumber, right? He's that guy who asked Obama that question about taxes or something. He's still around and so is Sarah Palin and so is Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly and Mark Sanford and everyone else. And the sad fact is, these people will never ever leave us. We turned on our TVs, let them into our houses, and now it's weeks and months later, and they're still fucking here, drinking all the beers from the refrigerator and using all our hand-towels, and droning on and on about "Barack Obama Socialism Socialism something something."
Thus, it is my sad duty to inform you that Joe the Plumber — America's favorite Republican plumber named Joe who isn't named Joe, isn't a plumber, and isn't a Republican — yes, that Joe the Plumber, has written… a book. And by "written" I of course mean "hired someone named Thomas N. Tabback to write it for him," because this is America, man, and we don't have time to be doing sissified East-Coast-Liberal-Ivory-Tower things like writin' no books. I mean, Joe the Plumber isn't going to sit down and write a whole book thing, you know? Especially since he can't even manage to utter a single coherent sentence when he's talking, so let's not even think about what his writing would be like.
So now the Joe the Plumber book is upon us. Here's a shot of the cover—
Oh, excellent. So many things to like about the cover of "Joe the Plumber — Fighting for the American Dream." First of all, the American flag says, "Yes I live in America and not in SOVIET RUSSIA or FRANCE." And the awkward half-smile says, "Heck, I'm jus' plain folks like you and yours." And the rest of the cover says, "Hey, we really didn't spend too much money on making this cover." And then you get down to the author names, and you're all like, "Samuel J. Whoseaburger?" But then you remember… oh, yeah, Joe the Plumber's real name is Sam.
And here's the description of the book from the publisher—
Joe exemplifies how one person speaking up can really make a difference. He is truly a great American. Sean Hannity, Fox News Hannity s America , Syndicated Talk Radio Joe's story is the iconic American tale. He's a patriot who became instantly famous for simply asking a question that millions of us wanted asked. As my friend Sean Hannity would say, Joe is a great American! Mike Gallagher, Syndicated Talk Radio "Joe The Plumber — Fighting for the American Dream" is the Inspiration Guide for the New Conservatism. Get ready to get Angry, Laugh out loud, Cry, Shout, and Get Involved in the Future of the United Sates of America!
Man, Nothing gets me More Excited for reading a New book than randomly Capitalized words! With Exclamation Points! And s pace s between letter s! And run-on sentences that Don't make Any sense!
Afghan detainees allege that Americans witnessed a mass killing -- a charge the New York Times chose not to report
Editor's note: Read an interview here with a detainee who claims he saw a "big, tall" American near the site of the massacre.
By Mark Benjamin
It has long been known that soon after the American invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, hundreds or thousands of Taliban prisoners who had surrendered in the city of Kunduz were herded into metal containers and suffocated or shot, allegedly under orders from an Afghan warlord. As Newsweek reported in August 2002, the bodies were then piled into mass graves in Dasht-e-Leili, Afghanistan, near Shibarghan.
Earlier this month, Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter James Risen advanced the story, revealing that the United States had resisted any war crimes investigation into the massacre, despite learning from Dell Spry, the lead FBI agent at Guantánamo Bay following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, that many Afghan detainees were telling similar stories of a mass killing. Spry directed interviews of detainees by FBI agents at Guantánamo Bay, and compiled allegations made by the detainees.
But what the Times did not report was that many of those same detainees also alleged to Spry's interviewers that U.S. personnel were present during the massacre, a potentially explosive allegation that, if true, might further explain American resistance to a war crimes probe of the deaths. In an exclusive interview, Spry told Salon that he informed Risen about the additional allegation that U.S. forces were present. Risen confirmed to Salon that Spry told him of the allegations, but said he did not publish them, in part, because he didn't believe them.
Is the Obama Health Care Plan Really Better Than Nothing?
Editor's Note: Most visible "liberal media assets" such as MoveOn.org, The Rachel Maddow Show, The Huffington Post, The Nation, etc., have circled the wagons around Obama as the hypocritical attacks by the right continue to convince people that his healthcare plan is really a populist assault on ingrained corporate power. In doing so, these liberals are adding further credence to the ludicrous notion that this is indeed a serious if not revolutionary plan, one being secured at great cost by a heroic and embattled president, standing tall for the interests of the "little guy". Alas, if only part of this manufactured belief were true. As it is, all that's being obtained by such loyalty to Obama is to add confusion to an already sufficiently murky debate, rendered intentionally obscure by the Obama team itself, which is advancing a veritable Rube Goldberg concoction capable of satisfying no one, but sure to meet the demands of his real political owners, the rich financial elites who chose him, promoted him through their media, and eventually made his election possible. A lot of suckers are born every minute in America, but the birth rate for this kind of infant sure shot up since Obama rode into town.
By Black Agenda Report managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
Candidate Barack Obama told us to judge his first term by whether he delivers quality affordable health care for all Americans, including nearly fifty million uninsured. So why does his proposal not cover the uninsured till 2013, after the next presidential election when Medicare took only 11 months to cover its first 40million seniors? Why are corporate media pretending that no opinions exist to Obama's left? And why has the public option part of the Obama health care plan shrunk from covering 130 million to only 10 million, with 16 million left uninsured altogether?
The health care debate inside and outside the matrix
Like just about everything else, your take on the national health care debate depends on whether you're inside or outside the matrix.
Within the bubble of fake reality blown by corporate media and bipartisan political establishment, the health care news is that the Obama Plan  is at last making its way through Congress. It's being fought by greedy private insurance companies, by chambers of commerce, by Republican and some Democratic lawmakers.
Under the Obama plan, we're told, employers will have to insure their employees or pay into a fund that does it for them. Individuals will be required under penalty of law to buy private insurance policies and for those that can't afford it or prefer not to use a private insurer there will be something called a "public option." This "public option, the story goes, is bitterly fought by the bad guys because it will make private insurers accountable by competing with them, forcing them to lower their costs. Both the president's backers and opponents agree that the whole thing will be fantastically expensive, and the president proposes to fund it with cuts in existing programs like Medicaid which pay for the care of the poorest Americans and a tax on those making more than $300,000, later raised to $1 million a year.
The "public option" has that magic word "public" in it, and that's reassuring to progressives and to most of the American people. Taxing the rich is a popular idea too. So if you rely on corporate media, the administration, or some of the so-called progressive blogs to identify the players and keep the score, it seems a pretty clear case of President Obama on the side of the angels, battling the greedy insurance companies, Republicans and blue dog Democrats to bring us universal, affordable health care.
That whole picture has about as much reality as the ones the same corporate media and most of the same politicians drew for us about Iraq, 9-11, weapons of mass destruction and some people over there who wanted us to free them. Iraq and the White House were and remain actual places, and there really is a problem called health care. But the places, problems and solutions are very different from the bubble of fake reality blown around them.
What sustains this fake reality is the diligent suppression from public space of any viewpoints, observations or proposals to Obama's left. As long as the illusion that nobody has a better idea, that the only choice we have is Obama's way or the Republicans' way can be maintained, the crooked game can go on.
What do you do with a number of rusty old seventy year old sea forts that still tower above the waves once they have done their job? The possibilities are huge if not quite endless.
The Maunsell Sea Forts occupied positions in the Thames and the Mersey estuaries during World War Two. The rivers were vital in terms of transporting food and the vital equipment needed to sustain the beleaguered island and were designed to protect the two most important ports in the United Kingdom - those of London and Liverpool. The ones designed for anti-aircraft defence, such as those pictured in Redsands, Kent, remain by far the most striking. Although people are strongly advised not to enter on safety grounds, you can still see the ladders at the base of the far one - an invitation to the foolhardy seafarer.
Britain wasn't going down with a fight and designer Guy Maunsell was up to the challenge. As France fell to the Nazis the Germans were beginning, with frightening regularity, to target the Allied ships in the Channel. Moreover, enemy planes were finding that their route to London Docks was unhampered by much resistance. The Admiralty sought out Maunsell and demanded that he create five new sea forts. The foundations were sunk in to the seabed in a way that allowed the movement of shingle and sand around them.
Seven steel platforms, interconnected, carried five guns in a semi-circle. At the middle of the diameter of this semi-circle there was the control tower. The seventh structure was for a searchlight. In their heyday they must have been something to behold. The design of the towers above water was based very much on the gun batteries found on shore. It was a proven design and would enable the towers to be defended with a greater degree of success. If you are worried about how the men would get between the forts then don't. There was a system of sturdy, tubular steel walkways between the towers that ensured no unfortunate plunges in to the sea.
AMY GOODMAN: As the healthcare debate reaches a fever pitch, President Obama is holding a primetime news conference tonight in a bid to win wider support for healthcare reform. His remarks are expected to respond to skepticism fueled by the Congressional Budget Office's scathing assessment of the expenses involved in the House legislation, concerns from conservative Blue Dog Democrats, and broad opposition from Republicans.
But will the President address concerns of single-payer advocates, who think his public plan will not go far enough?
I'm joined now from Chicago by Dr. David Scheiner. He was President Obama's doctor from 1987 until he entered the White House. He treated Obama for twenty-two years but has publicly opposed Obama's health plan, calling for single payer. Dr. Scheiner was disinvited from ABC's recent healthcare forum, where he was planning to ask about single-payer healthcare.
Dr. Scheiner, welcome to Democracy Now! It's good to have you with us.
DR. DAVID SCHEINER: Good morning. Thank you very much.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean you were disinvited by ABC? What happened?
DR. DAVID SCHEINER: Well, on the Friday before the Wednesday, I was notified by ABC that they thought it would be a great idea to have me come to the White House for that forum, that town hall, as a surprise visitor, that President Obama would not be informed, and I would ask a question from the audience. That Sunday, I received an email outlining the trip, and I canceled two days of the office to prepare for this. And then, Monday, another producer called me and said that they had too many people showing up and that they didn't need me, and my trip was canceled.
AMY GOODMAN: What would you have asked?
DR. DAVID SCHEINER: I would have asked about single payer, insofar as we already have one that works, and why we just couldn't have universal Medicare and eliminate the insurance companies, which are causing incredible costs and havoc on the system.
By TOM DAVIS
Today Congress is slated to vote on a bill that would effectively nationalize permits for those who wish to carry concealed guns. However, those of us who support conceal and carry laws must be concerned that Congress would force states to take the least restrictive and weakest current state laws as the standard. As conservatives, we usually oppose nationalizing what is best left to the states.
Congress is considering gutting state laws from the back end. Under the amendment proposed by Sen. John Thune, all states would be required to recognize concealed carry permits from all other states, including states that grant permits without regard to criminal records. In Virginia, this would allow convicted criminals to carry weapons onto parks and playgrounds.
The Thune amendment flies in the face of federalist principles by usurping state laws. For instance, in my home state of Virginia, we require individuals to complete firearm safety training and demonstrate proficiency with a handgun. We also prohibit those who have been convicted of certain serious misdemeanors (such as assault or stalking) from obtaining a permit, and we disqualify those who have been convicted of public drunkenness within the past three years or anyone convicted of drunk driving or who is a "habitual drunkard." These are reasonable prohibitions.
Most states have adopted similar restrictions, but under the Thune amendment, potentially violent individuals could obtain permits in the several states that have virtually no standards for issuing concealed carry permits. As a result, they could come to Virginia and walk the streets —– and frequent public places — with concealed guns.
Both philosophically and practically speaking, this is bad public policy. It is a federal power grab that would gut state laws and put innocent lives at risk, including the lives of police officers.
by Ian Welsh
Lying about healthcare, indeed fear-mongering about healthcare, has ramped up as insurance companies attempt to keep their profits. Those profits are created by a system where the US spends 5% more of its economy on healthcare in exchange for the worst results of anywestern nation. To insurance company executives, their profits, their executive salaries, and their bonuses, are not just worth lying for, but also worth killing for—or at least letting people die.
The Shona Holmes Healthcare Hitjob
Case in point: Shona Holmes is the current poster girl for the liars slandering Canadian health care in an attempt to discredit reform. Ms. Holmes alleges she was horribly endangered by Canada's healthcare system:
Both CNN and McConnell made a big deal out of Shona Holmes, an Ontario woman who claims she was forced by Ontario's health system to go to the United States for life-saving surgery for a brain tumour. She claims that in 2005 delays in access to treatment at home made it necessary to go to the Mayo Clinic in Arizona and pay $97,000 for her care.
Her story sounds bad, doesn't it? Except, of course, it's a lie:
On the Mayo Clinic's website, Shona Holmes is a success story. But it's somewhat different story than all the headlines might have implied. Holmes' "brain tumour" was actually a Rathke's Cleft Cyst on her pituitary gland. To quote an American source, the John Wayne Cancer Center, "Rathke's Cleft Cysts are not true tumors or neoplasms; instead they are benign cysts."
There's no doubt Holmes had a problem that needed treatment, and she was given appointments with the appropriate specialists in Ontario. She chose not to wait the few months to see them. But it's a far cry from the life-or-death picture portrayed by Holmes on the TV ads or by McConnell in his attacks.
In other words, her condition was not immediately life threatening, and it was prioritized accordingly. But Holmes didn't want to wait behind people who needed care more than she did, so she went the US where she could pay out of pocket to jump to the head of the line.
Healthcare Triage: US vs Canada
Here's the deal: both the US and Canada prioritize patients, and both engage in health care rationing. In Canada health care is prioritized by how urgently a patient requires treatment. In America, to a much greater extent, access to medical care is prioritized by how much money the patient has. Someone in the US who was sicker than Ms. Holmes was forced to wait longer for treatment because Holmes was rich enough to pay $97,000.
Update: White House does not know how TARP funds were used
House Domestic Policy Subcommittee plans probe of TARP funds
Ohio Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich wants to know: "If [the Troubled Asset Relief Program] isn't about keeping people in their homes or providing credit to businesses, what is it for?"
Expressing his frustration before the Government and Oversight Committee, the two-time presidential candidate suggested that the Federal Reserve may be paying banks to hoard money and avoid making loans.
Before the committee — which assembled Tuesday to hear the testimony of Neil Barofsky the Special Inspector General for TARP, along with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke — Kucinich wondered aloud if "banks are parking a historic amount of taxpayers' money in the Federal Reserve while the businesses and consumers across America are starved for credit," and whether the Federal Reserve is paying banks to avoid making loans.
"Is the Fed paying banks NOT to loan money?" a Kucinich media advisory pondered.
To support his line of questioning, he cited a Bloomberg report which noted that "banks' excess reserves at the Fed rose to a record $877.1 billion daily average in the two weeks ended May 20, from $2 billion a year earlier.
"Excess reserves — money available for lending that banks choose to leave with the Fed instead — averaged $743.9 billion in the first two weeks of this month," the report continued.
"First, Congress was told that TARP was for the purchase of toxic assets, to help keep people in their homes," the Congressman said. "Then the Bush Administration switched the program. Next, Congress was told that the TARP funds were instead needed to bail out the banks, in the form of a direct capital infusion, to keep credit markets alive."
He continued: "If TARP isn't about keeping people in their homes or providing credit to businesses, what is it for? I think the vast majority of Americans would be outraged to learn their tax dollars were facilitating hoarding at the Fed and increased profit making for banks."