Sunday, November 28, 2010

Headlines - Sunday November 27

As Taliban leadership admonish their fighters to avoid civilian deaths, locals in the Sangin District of Afghanistan's Helmand Province are increasingly angry, complaining that the US Marines who recently took over the district have been regularly killing the civilians and refusing to investigate.
National Guard soldiers who are not on active duty killed themselves this year at nearly twice the rate of 2009, marring a year when suicides among Army soldiers on active duty appear to be leveling off, new Army statistics show.
There Won't Be a Bailout for the Earth.
Wingnut Bait

The Democrats are attempting to bait Republicans into voting against repealing aspects of healthcare reform. Rep. Ackerman has a particularly funny one:

Speaking of difficult votes, Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) has announced his intention to introduce six different bills repealing various consumer protections in the law. The package is called the Health Insurance Protects America -- Can't Repeal IT Act, which gets shortened to, yes, "HIPA-CRIT." Are Republicans really comfortable voting against the prohibition on discriminating against preexisting conditions, or the coverage for dependents up to age 26? As John Boehner has promised to allow open amendments in the House, and Democrats still control the Senate, you may see a lot of these targeted repeal bills emerging in the coming months, as Democrats realize that their Republican colleagues are split between a base that wants repeal no matter the cost and a public that doesn't.

Of course, the calculus is that the Republicans will vote against these repeals because they were introduced by a Democrat -- and so they're on record as voting against something they promised to do during the campaign. Yes, it's just that easy.


"Despicable" isn't nearly a strong enough word for this. "During World War II, the Mermelsteins were living in Czechoslovakia when the Nazis hauled them off to the infamous death camps. David Mermelstein, then a teenager, lost his entire family: parents, grandparents, four brothers and a sister. ... But he couldn't collect on a life insurance policy held by an Italian company because he couldn't meet its demand for proof of his father's death. ... Decades later, the Miami-Dade Holocaust survivor and hundreds of others in his same predicament are struggling to recover payouts from Assicurazioni Generali of Italy and other large European insurers. ... They can't sue them, however, because a formidable foe is now standing in the way: the U.S. government. ... "They took away our rights to go to an American court," said Mermelstein, 81, of Kendall, who came to this country in 1947 after he was held at Auschwitz and other concentration camps during the war. ... "Can you tell me why the Justice Department would fight us instead of an Italian insurance company?" he said. "It's unbelievable.""


It's a convenient lie for a Western elite - that Iraq is now on the way to being a stable nation once again thanks to Petraeus' magical surge ponies. But refugees from Iraq would tell another story. Out of 2 million who left, only about 25% ever returned - and of that, only 100,000 since 2008 (*) - - now even those returnees are leaving again.

A second exodus has begun here, of Iraqis who returned after fleeing the carnage of the height of the war, but now find that violence and the nation's severe lack of jobs are pulling them away from home once again.

Since the American invasion in 2003, refugees have been a measure of the country's precarious condition, flooding outward during periods of violence and trickling back as Iraq seemed to stabilize. This new migration shows how far the nation remains from being stable and secure.

...In a recent survey by the United Nations refugee office, 61 percent of those who returned to Baghdad said they regretted coming back, most saying they did not feel safe. The majority, 87 percent, said they could not make enough money here to support their families. Applications for asylum in Syria have risen more than 50 percent since May.

As Iraq struggles toward a return to stability, these returnees risk becoming people without a country, displaced both at home and abroad. And though departures have ebbed since 2008, a wave of recent attacks on Christians has prompted a new exodus.

Mr. Obeidi, who used his tribe's name instead of his father's name as a surname, left for Syria in 2006 after an improvised bomb exploded near his nephew, terrifying the boy, and insurgents threatened to kill Mr. Obeidi. On a recent evening in Baghdad, he had trouble controlling his breathing as he talked about the daily blasts in his neighborhood.

"There's no security here," he said, ticking off his close encounters with guns and bombs. "I was near a female suicide bomber a couple months ago. Then I was in my brother's truck when insurgents opened fire on a bridge. My friend was killed in front of me with a knife. I've been destroyed. My mother needs an operation for her eyes, and I don't have money. We need someone to help us."

"Feel my stomach," he said. "It's like a rock. It's going to blow out."

If the Surge did anything more than paper over the cracks, these people haven't noticed. Their lives would be just as terrible if the Surge had never happened and the US had withdrawn all its troops in 2007 or if the US now stayed in Iraq forever. The only difference would be that billions of dollars and hundreds of other lives would not have been wasted providing a figleaf of cover to politicians and careerist generals, so that they never had to use the word "defeat".

Now, we're being told - not asked - to accept the same thing in Afghanistan. We shouldn't.


Funny thing about facts...they are stubborn as hell The next time a wingnut relative sends you an email or taunts you in person with the republican lie that "the stimulus failed" show them this link. The non-partisan CBO (that group of wonks they love when the findings support their ideology and hate when they don't) says that they are wrong.


The climate zombie caucus of the 112th Congress. 



It seems the upcoming Republican investigative regime may focus more on welfare queens driving Cadillacs and less on Whitewater/Lewinsky type things. The Times (via PoliticalWire):

Mr. Issa has already drawn up a list of big targets: $40 billion a year in fraud or waste in Medicare; tens of billions of dollars in subsidies to the government-controlled mortgage giants, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; $8.5 billion in losses by the Postal Service in the last fiscal year; tens of millions of dollars spent on redundant programs within federal agencies or squandered through corrupt contracting procedures.

Attacks on postal workers, special ed teachers, Medicare recipients, and mid-level (black) federal workers can easily be packaged for Fox/Drudge/Andy Alexander, and there is probably some political benefit for Republicans in generating an endless parade of these stories. But I still think they need to destroy Obama personally to maximize their chances in 2012. Maybe it's wrong to see this as either/or, though.


In a NY Times piece on a bankster who got a brain tumor and then used his last few months alive to write a book telling people how to defend themselves and their money from people like him, this quote stood out:

Mr. Murray grew up in Baltimore, about the farthest thing from a crusader that you could imagine. "I was the kid you didn't want your daughter to date," he said. "I stole baseball cards and cheated on Spanish tests and made fun of the fat kid in the corner with glasses."

He got a lot of second chances thanks to an affluent background and basketball prowess. He eventually landed at Goldman Sachs, long before many people looked askance at anyone who worked there.

"Our word was our bond, and good ethics was good business," he said of his Wall Street career. "That got replaced by liar loans and 'I hope I'm gone by the time this thing blows up.' "

It is still crazy to me that this is such an open secret, yet no one does anything about it. They make deals they know are going to blow up, but don't care because they get paid now, and someone else will have to deal with it later on. That is the financial crisis in a nutshell. Yet try to deal with Wall Street and financial compensation, and the wingnuts and teahadists have a fit about the free market and socialism, all unaware that they are being fisted by the invisible hand.

In a somewhat related vein, am I the only one who gets infuriated every time I try to buy an appliance or electronic device, and they offer to sell me a two year warranty? This just makes me livid every damned time it happens. My response is always the same- "No warranty, but how about we do this? I'll put this product back on the shelf, and you point me to one that you think will actually last a couple years without breaking, since you and your store obviously have no confidence in this POS."


Sources say that a merger between Fox News and The Onion is imminent.  Inasmuch as they both have been very successful in making shit up and have become harder and harder to tell apart, it just makes economic sense to join forces in the increasingly competitive, yet very profitable, market in Imaginary Worlds, Alternate Realities, and Parallel Universes.


If you find yourself in Alaska, resist the urge for casual sex "An outbreak of gonorrhea across Alaska that began in 2009 is continuing this year, and health officials say they are trying new ways to curb it. ... Between 2008 and 2009, the number of gonorrhea cases in Alaska rose an alarming 69 percent, according to a new U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. ... State health officials began calling attention to a spike in gonorrhea cases in Southwest Alaska more than a year ago and highlighted the statewide rise in March. ... The new report shows that Alaska ranks ninth in the nation for its rate of gonorrhea, compared with its ranking in recent years in the mid-20s. Alaska also is second in the nation for its high rate of chlamydia, another sexually transmitted disease that often is transmitted along with gonorrhea. ... "Hopefully, the high numbers now are more of a success story in that people are coming in and getting tested. Though I am surprised the numbers haven't declined," said Susan Jones, the state's HIV/STD program manager. "It's this continuing rise in numbers that we haven't been able to get under control.""
Gulf seafood petroleum residue double what FDA deems acceptable.

The State Department is demanding that Wikileaks halt the imminent release of its next batch of classified U.S. government documents. The latest batch reportedly will include thousands of State Department cables. Some are believed to be highly sensitive, others merely embarrassing -- to the U.S. and to foreign governments.

In an emailed letter yesterday to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and his lawyer, State Department Legal Adviser Harold Koh calls for Wikileaks to return the classified documents:

If you are genuinely interested in seeking to stop the damage from your actions, you should: 1) ensure WikiLeaks ceases publishing any and all such materials; 2) ensure WikiLeaks returns any and all classified U.S. Government material in its possession; and 3) remove and destroy all records of this material from Wikileaks' database.

The AP paraphrases the letter as stating "that publication of the documents would be illegal and demanding that they stop it." There's little doubt that whoever within the U.S. government had access to the documents and leaked them did so in violation of the law -- but whether Wikileaks bears any criminal liability in the U.S. for their publication is an entirely different issue.

Reading the letter closely, I think Koh stops short of stating that publication of the documents would be illegal, as the AP suggests. That would get Koh into "prior restraint" territory. The closest Koh comes to saying Wikileaks has broken the law is when he accuses Wikileaks of "furthering the illegal dissemination of classified documents." He also claims that the documents were "illegally obtained" and that so long as Wikileaks retains the documents then "the violation of the law is ongoing." Parsing Koh carefully, his ire is directed at Wikileaks but the punch of his legal argument is aimed at the original leaker(s).

The Koh letter also reveals that Wikileaks has given the latest batch of materials in advance to the New York Times, the Guardian and Der Spiegel. That's consistent with Wikileaks' prior practice of leaking the leak, as it were, in advance under embargo to major news outlets.

Wikileaks is expected to post the documents online today.


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