Friday, October 2, 2009

The new 10 commandments

U.S. troops call Afghan region 'Vietnam without napalm'

By Hal Bernton

JELAWUR, Afghanistan — The men of Bravo Company have a bitter description for the irrigated swath of land along the Arghandab River where 10 members of their battalion have been killed and 30 have been wounded since the beginning of August.

"Like Vietnam without the napalm," said Spc. Nicholas Gojekian, 21, of Katy, Texas.

A prime agricultural area of vineyards and pomegranate orchards, the 18-miles of valley that the 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment patrols includes Taliban insurgents, booby traps and buried explosives. The troops call the area the "green zone," but unlike Iraq, where it's a fortified area in the heart of Baghdad, this green zone can be a hellish place.

The soldiers have one of the toughest tasks in Afghanistan: improving security and winning the support of villagers in an area where the Taliban have been gaining power.

The battalion arrived in southern Afghanistan this summer as part of a brigade of more than 3,800 soldiers from Fort Lewis, Wash. The unit took its heaviest losses in August, when it had the highest casualties in what was the deadliest month so far in America's eight-year war here.

So far, the Army mission here has been an uneasy mix of trying to woo elders with offers of generators, roads and other improvements while fighting a nasty war with an often-unseen enemy.

Bravo Company arrived in Afghanistan with 24 Strykers, the first of the eight-wheeled combat vehicles outfitted with high-tech communications and surveillance gear to arrive in Afghanistan. A third of the vehicles are now out of service due to bomb attacks or maintenance.

The bomb threats are so pervasive that Stryker drivers have abandoned some stretches of road in favor of driving through the deserts on different routes. The road to one smaller outpost has so many homemade bombs that the soldiers usually arrive on foot, a treacherous hike due to buried land mines.

Business Reply Mail pamphlet encourages office workers to revolt

This small, sixteen-page pamphlet is produced to put inside the postage-paid, business-reply envelopes that come with junk mail offers. Every envelope collected is stuffed with the pamphlet and mailed back to its original company.

Stereotypes Loom Larger As Our Brains Age

Two new studies suggest older people have difficulty suppressing stereotypes, which means many may become prejudiced against their will.

feature photoThere are a lot of clich├ęs thrown around about the elderly, but one that seems to be true — or at least is backed up by research — is the belief they tend to be more prejudiced than younger people. This phenomenon — noted in The New York Times as early as 1941 — is widely assumed to be the result of socialization. After all, today's senior citizens grew up in an era when racism was widespread and gays stayed in the closet. Of course they aren't as open-minded as their children and grandchildren.

A decade ago, a research team led by William von Hippel of the University of Queensland challenged that assumption. The psychologists proposed that older people may exhibit greater prejudice because they have difficulty inhibiting the stereotypes that regularly get activated in all of our brains. They suggested an aging brain is not as effective in suppressing unwanted information — including stereotypes.

In two recently published papers, von Hippel and Gabriel Radvansky of the University of Notre Dame provide compelling support for this concept. In the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, they describe a series of experiments designed to assess whether older adults were relatively more likely to draw and remember stereotypic inferences.

Forty-eight older adults (age 60 to 88) and 71 younger adults (age 18 to 25), read four stories, each of which "allowed for stereotypic inferences." Two of the tales featured African Americans, one dealt with people from Appalachia, and one involved Jews. After finishing the stories, the participants were shown a series of statements relevant to the tale, and asked to rate them as true or false. Some of these statements were strictly factual, while others contained inferences of stereotypes.

The results revealed "significantly greater memory strength among older adults for stereotype-consistent situation models," the researchers write. "This finding supports our suggestion that older adults are more likely to make stereotypic inferences during comprehension, and that this stereotyping carries over into their later memory for that information."

The Powell Memo and the Teaching Machines of Right-Wing Extremists


photo    Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, echoing the feelings of many progressives, recently wrote in The New York Times about how dismayed he was over the success right-wing ideologues have had not only in undercutting Obama's health care bill, but also in mobilizing enormous public support against almost any reform aimed at rolling back the economic, political, and social conditions that have created the economic recession and the legacy of enormous suffering and hardship for millions of Americans over the last 30 years.[1] Krugman is somewhat astonished that after almost three decades the political scene is still under the sway of what he calls the "zombie doctrine of Reaganism," - the notion that any action by government is bad, except when it benefits corporations and the rich. Clearly, for Krugman, zombie Reaganism appears once again to be shaping policies under the Obama regime. And yet, not only did Reaganism with its hatred of the social state, celebration of unbridled self-interest, its endless quest to privatize everything, and support for deregulation of the economic system eventually bring the country to near economic collapse, it also produced enormous suffering for those who never benefited from the excesses of the second Gilded Age, especially workers, the poor, disadvantaged minorities and eventually large segments of the middle class. And yet, zombie market politics is back rejecting the public option in Obama's health plan, fighting efforts to strengthen bank regulations, resisting caps on CEO bonuses, preventing climate-control legislation, and refusing to limit military spending. Unlike other pundits, Krugman does not merely puzzle over how zombie politics can keep turning up on the political scene - a return not unlike the endless corpses who keep coming back to life in George Romero's 1968 classic film, "Night of the Living Dead" (think of Bill Kristol who seems to be wrong about everything but just keeps coming back). For Krugman, a wacky and discredited right-wing politics is far from dead and, in fact, one of the great challenges of the current moment is to try to understand the conditions that allow it to once again shape American politics and culture, given the enormous problems it has produced at all levels of American society, including the current recession.

    Part of the answer to the enduring quality of such a destructive politics can be found in the lethal combination of money, power and education that the right wing has had a stranglehold on since the early 1970's and how it has used its influence to develop an institutional infrastructure and ideological apparatus to produce its own intellectuals, disseminate ideas, and eventually control most of the commanding heights and institutions in which knowledge is produced, circulated and legitimated. This is not simply a story about the rise of mean-spirited buffoons such as Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly and Michael Savage. Nor is it simply a story about the loss of language, a growing anti-intellectualism in the larger culture, or the spread of what some have called a new illiteracy endlessly being produced in popular culture. As important as these tendencies are, there is something more at stake here which points to a combination of power, money and education in the service of creating an almost lethal restriction of what can be heard, said, learned and debated in the public sphere. And one starting point for understanding this problem is what has been called the Powell Memo, released on August 23, 1971, and written by Lewis F. Powell, who would later be appointed as a member of the Supreme Court of the United States. Powell sent the memo to the US Chamber of Commerce with the title "Attack on the American Free Enterprise System."

Barack Obama's amazingly consistent smile

Ladies and gentlemen, your President is a robot. Or a wax sculpture. Maybe a cardboard cutout. All I know is no human being has a photo smile this amazingly consistent.

Barack Obama's amazingly consistent smile from Eric Spiegelman on Vimeo.

New Fossil Discovery is the Closest We've Come to the Missing Link

Humanity has a new older sister. A fossilized skeleton of Ardipithecus ramidus or "Ardi" predates Lucy by over a million years. The discovery has led to new insights about human evolution, suggesting previously unknown relationships to our chimpanzee brethren.

Charles Darwin, recognizing the similarities between humans and chimpanzees, postulated that we might someday find fossils of a "missing link," a creature that represented the evolutionary break between humans and chimps. The discovery of Ardi, however, suggests that when we do find that evolutionary break, the fossils we find will not be a blend of human and chimpanzee.

Researchers discovered Ar. ramidus near Aramis, Ethiopia, and have dated it as 4.4 million years old, considerably older than Lucy, who at 3.2 million years old was considered humanity's oldest relation. It's not clear whether humans are directly descended from this particular hominid, but it makes it clear that bipedal hominids are considerably older than previously thought.

Rhetorical Tax Evasion

The IRS says it will fine or jail you for not paying Obama's mandate levy.

President Obama's effort to deny that his mandate to buy insurance is a tax has taken another thumping, this time from fellow Democrats in the Senate Finance Committee.

Chairman Max Baucus's bill includes the so-called individual mandate, along with what he calls a $1,900 "excise tax" if you don't buy health insurance. (It had been as much as $3,800 but Democrats reduced the amount last week to minimize the political sticker shock.) And, lo, it turns out that if you don't pay that tax, the IRS could punish you with a $25,000 fine or up to a year in jail, or both.

Under questioning last week, Tom Barthold, the chief of staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation, admitted that the individual mandate would become a part of the Internal Revenue Code and that failing to comply "could be criminal, yes, if it were considered an attempt to defraud." Mr. Barthold noted in a follow-up letter that the willful failure to file would be a simple misdemeanor, punishable by the $25,000 fine or jail time under Section 7203.

So failure to pay the mandate would be enforced like tax evasion, but Mr. Obama still claims it isn't a tax. "You can't just make up that language and decide that that's called a tax increase," Mr. Obama insisted last week to ABC interviewer George Stephanopoulos. Accusing critics of dishonesty is becoming this President's default argument, but is Mr. Barthold also part of the plot?

ACCOUNTABILITY: Max Baucus & Olympia Snowe

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Deceased Miami student remembered for her passion

Kimberly Young, 22, of Oxford, worked at the Kofenya coffee shop for 4 years. An employee there said the shop was planning to hold a special event in her honor.

By Richard Wilson

Kimberly OXFORD — Friends say the Miami University graduate who died this week after reportedly suffering from swine flu delayed getting medical treatment because she did not have health insurance.

News of Kimberly Young's death Wednesday, Sept. 23, came as a shock to those who knew the vibrant 22-year-old who was working at least two jobs in Oxford after graduating with a double major in December 2008.

Young became ill about two weeks ago, but didn't seek care initially because she didn't have health insurance and was worried about the cost, according to Brent Mowery, her friend and former roommate.

Mowery said Young eventually went to an urgent care facility in Hamilton where she was given pain medication and then sent home.

On Tuesday, Sept. 22, Young's condition suddenly worsened and her roommate drove her to McCullough Hyde Memorial Hospital in Oxford, where she was flown in critical condition to University Hospital in Cincinnati.

"That's the most tragic part about it. If she had insurance, she would have gone to the doctor," Mowery said.

Netanyahu nixes call for Israeli inquiry into Gaza war

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has nixed the idea of setting up an inquiry committee into alleged Israeli war crimes in the Gaza Strip as a means of dealing with the Goldstone Commission's report.

Click here for more on the Goldstone commission report on the Gaza conflict

That report, submitted to the UN Human Rights Council on Tuesday, accuses both Israel and Hamas of war crimes during their three-week conflict in Gaza in January and recommends that both be referred to the International Criminal Court for prosecution unless they carry out in-house investigations that the UN deems adequate within six months. The council is slated to vote on the matter tomorrow.

Various prominent Israelis have therefore argued that the only way to quash the report is to set up an inquiry commission headed by an internationally respected jurist like former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak.

But Netanyahu, who held two meetings on the subject on Wednesday, believes a more effective way of blocking the report would be to make it clear to the international community that referral to the ICC would sound the death knell of the peace process.

And while Yedioth Ahronoth reported on Wednesday that Defense Minister Ehud Barak favors the inquiry commission route, Barak himself denied the report yesterday. His office confirmed that he has asked Aharon Barak to contribute to the legal battle against the report, but said he opposes an inquiry commission.

Senator Sanders and Michael Moore

Italian lawyers seek jail for CIA agents

Public prosecutors in Italy have urged a court in Milan to jail 26 Americans for the kidnapping of a terrorism suspect in a 2003 CIA operation.

The Italian lawyers are seeking sentences of between 10 and 13 years for the US agents. They also want 13 years for the former head of Italy's secret service, Nicolo Pollari.

The trial is the most high profile case in Europe to challenge the extra-judicial transfers also known as 'renditions.

It centres on the abduction of the Muslim Cleric Abu Omar, who was snatched off the streets of Milan in 2003 and secretly flown to Egypt for interrogation.

He says he was tortured and held until 2007 without charge.

The US has refused to extradite any of the Americans. None of them are at the trial.

The last Bush administration admitted using Rendition as part of its so called 'War on Terror.'

Lawmakers ban transfer of Gitmo detainees to US

The US House of Representatives have voted to ban the transfer of detainees from Guantanamo Bay to the US, and the release of abuse photos in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The measure, sponsored by Republican Representative Harold Rogers as part of the 2010 Homeland Security Department budget, passed by a vote of 258 to 163, attracting support from nearly all the chamber's Republicans, as well as 88 Democrats.

The measure, which has not been adopted by the Senate and would have to be approved by the higher chamber to become law, also seeks to prevent ex-detainees from being granted any immigration benefits.

In addition to banning the transfer of detainees to the United States, the measure also bans the release of photos showing detainee abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Though US President Barack Obama initially supported the release of the images, some of which are previously unseen photos from the abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, he changed his mind earlier this year, deciding that their release could endanger US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Health reform debate