Later On

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Archive for June 24th, 2009

Greek Nachos

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Mark Bittman has a recipe that sounds good (and see at the link for variations).

Greek-Style Nachos

  • 4 pita pockets, white or whole wheat, cut into wedges
  • About 1/2 cup olive oil
  • Salt
  • 4 ounces feta cheese
  • 1/2 cup yogurt, preferably whole-milk
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
  • 1 lemon
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1/2 pound ground lamb
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 2 or 3 medium ripe tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 medium cucumber, peeled and seeded if necessary, and chopped
  • 1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted and halved (optional).

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees Arrange pita wedges in one layer on baking sheets and brush or drizzle with a tablespoon or two of olive oil. Bake until they begin to color, turning once or twice, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with salt, turn off oven and put chips back in to keep warm.

2. In a blender or food processor, combine feta, yogurt, 1/4 cup olive oil, mint and zest and juice of lemon; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Blend or process until smooth. (You can also mash mixture by hand, with a fork.)

3. Put two tablespoons of oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and cook onions until soft, about 5 minutes. Add lamb and cumin and sprinkle with salt and pepper; continue cooking until meat is cooked through, about 5 to 10 minutes more. Put chips on a serving plate and top with lamb, sauce, tomatoes, cucumbers and olives if you’re using them.

Yield: 4 servings.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 June 2009 at 6:27 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

Marion Nestle answers questions about organic food

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Very interesting column in the San Francisco Chronicle:

In the year since I have been writing this column, readers have sent in many questions about organic foods. With the White House and the U.S. Department of Agriculture planting organic gardens, these questions have become more urgent.

Q: What is the difference between "100% organic" and "organic"?

A: Organic has a precise meaning under the USDA’s organic program. Certified 100% Organic means that all the ingredients in a product have been grown or raised according to the USDA’s organic standards, which are the rules for producing foods labeled organic. Certified Organic requires that 95 to 99 percent of the ingredients follow the rules.

What, exactly, are those rules? Summarizing what’s in hundreds of pages in the Federal Register:

— Plants cannot be grown with synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, genetic modification, irradiation or sewage sludge.

— Animals must be raised exclusively on organic feed, have access to the outdoors, and cannot be given antimicrobial drugs or hormones.

— Producers will be inspected to make sure these practices are being followed to the letter.

Q: How do we know "organic" truly reflects our beliefs?

A: I am guessing this question refers to the spirit of organics. In the 1920s, the British botanist Albert Howard learned from observing farmers in India that human health depends on growing foods sustainably. Indian farmers taught him the importance of protecting soil nutrients through composted manure, crop rotation and appropriate cultivation, and using biological pest controls. Later, these methods were called "organic."

But USDA organic rules do not say a word about sustainability. This gap occurred as a result of the history of the organic standards (as I recount in "What to Eat"), but also as a result of the USDA’s inherent conflicts of interest. The USDA’s main job is to promote industrial agriculture. Organics, the USDA says, are just different, not better. Alas, the USDA has not always been a loving home for the organic program.

Q: Do food companies use the word "organic" in the same way they use "health"?

A: USDA organic rules are about the letter of the law, not its spirit. Food marketers, however, take advantage of public perceptions that "organic" implies spirit – sustainability and better nutrition. Companies that follow the rules can legitimately market highly processed foods as organic, taking advantage of their health aura to command higher prices.

No wonder so many big food companies have bought organic product lines (see, organic junk food is free of synthetic pesticides, but the foods still have calories. As I like to put it, an organic junk food is still a junk food.

Q: Which is worse: eating nonorganic produce full of pesticides or not eating produce at all?

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 June 2009 at 4:36 pm

Rx for recalled foods: Put in new packages and re-distribute

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This could make me sick. Marion Nestle at Food Politics:

Even I cannot keep up with what the packers of Salmonella-contaminated foods are willing to do to sell their products.  Remember the recalled pistachios?  Turns out the recalled nuts were simply repacked and redistributed.   If you are a packer and don’t like your test results, find a lab that will give you the results you want.  If you don’t know what to do with recalled nuts, put them in new packages and ship them out.

What is it going to take to get the food safety system we need?  How much worse does it have to get?

Written by LeisureGuy

24 June 2009 at 4:20 pm

More on the F-22

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Last week, the House Armed Services Committee reinstated funding for the F-22, over the objections of the Pentagon and the White House, by eliminating funding for nuclear waste cleanup. (Rep. Barney Frank [D-MA] has introduced an amendment eliminating the money for the F-22.) Today, the Office of Management and Budget issued a Statement of Administrative Policy recommending a veto if the bill contains the F-22 funding:

F-22 Advance Procurement: The Administration strongly objects to the provisions in the bill authorizing $369 million in advanced procurement funds for F-22s in FY 2011. The collective judgment of the Service Chiefs and Secretaries of the military departments suggests that a final program of record of 187 F-22s is sufficient to meet operational requirements. If the final bill presented to the President contains this provision, the President’s senior advisors would recommend a veto.

This afternoon on MSNBC, VoteVets Chairman Jon Soltz debated Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA), who proclaimed, “We absolutely need 381 of these planes, and not 187.” Soltz called the claim “ridiculous,” and argued that military funds should be spent on troops on the ground:

It’s about how we spend our money. The Congressman cares about the Lockheed Martin stock price, and I care about the men and women who fight on the ground. And this weapon system does nothing for us.

Watch it:

Written by LeisureGuy

24 June 2009 at 4:16 pm

Waxman-Markey Crisis

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Source: Mother Jones, June 22, 2009

As the Waxman-Markey Climate Bill nears a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives, environmental groups are "teetering at the edge of existential crisis," writes Josh Harkinson. "Almost all environmental groups agree that Waxman-Markey is far from ideal," but some are supporting it, while others "believe the bill is so deeply flawed it might actually make matters worse." Critics say the bill "lines the pockets of polluters with little to show for it. The most it would cut carbon emissions by 2020 is 17 percent below 1990 levels, nowhere near the 25 to 40 percent reduction sought by scientists and international climate negotiators." Other concerns are that the bill may decrease clean energy production, as it would overrule higher renewable mandates in states like California; it would strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its ability to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from coal plants; and it would auction just 15 percent of emissions permits, giving a whopping 50 percent "to the fossil fuel industry for free." Some environmentalists blame the United States Climate Action Partnership, "a coalition of industry and moderate environmental groups," for sticking with a "quietly hammered out" agreement developed during the Bush administration. Others criticize President Obama, "who spoke out in favor of auctioning off pollution permits during his campaign … but is now thought likely to sign whatever bill crosses his desk." Meanwhile, the industry front group Cooler Heads Coalition is planning efforts to oppose the bill, with "scientific skeptics and legislative critics," reports Greenwire.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 June 2009 at 4:06 pm

Wendell Potter on the health-insurance industry

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This is the guy testifying to the Senate today. He writes:

I’m the former insurance industry insider now speaking out about how big for-profit insurers have hijacked our health care system and turned it into a giant ATM for Wall Street investors, and how the industry is using its massive wealth and influence to determine what is (and is not) included in the health care reform legislation members of Congress are now writing.

Although by most measures I had a great career in the insurance industry (four years at Humana and nearly 15 at CIGNA), in recent years I had grown increasingly uncomfortable serving as one of the industry’s top PR executives. In addition to my responsibilities at CIGNA, which included serving as the company’s chief spokesman to the media on all corporate and financial matters, I also served on a lot of trade association committees and industry-financed coalitions, many of which were essentially front groups for insurers. So I was in a unique position to see not only how Wall Street analysts and investors influence decisions insurance company executives make but also how the industry has carried out behind-the-scenes PR and lobbying campaigns to kill or weaken any health care reform efforts that threatened insurers’ profitability.

I also have seen how the industry’s practices — especially those of the for-profit insurers that are under constant pressure from Wall Street to meet their profit expectations — have contributed to the tragedy of nearly 50 million people being uninsured as well as to the growing number of Americans who, because insurers now require them to pay thousands of dollars out of their own pockets before their coverage kicks in — are underinsured. An estimated 25 million of us now fall into that category.

What I saw happening over the past few years was a steady movement away from the concept of insurance and toward "individual responsibility," a term used a lot by insurers and their ideological allies. This is playing out as a continuous shifting of the financial burden of health care costs away from insurers and employers and onto the backs of individuals. As a result, more and more sick people are not going to the doctor or picking up their prescriptions because of costs. If they are unfortunate enough to become seriously ill or injured, many people enrolled in these plans find themselves on the hook for such high medical bills that they are losing their homes to foreclosure or being forced into bankruptcy.

As an industry spokesman, I was expected to put a positive spin on this trend that the industry created and euphemistically refers to as "consumerism" and to promote so-called "consumer-driven" health plans. I ultimately reached the point of feeling like a huckster.

I thought I could live with being a well-paid huckster and hang in there a few more years until I could retire. I probably would have if I hadn’t made a completely spur-of-the-moment decision a couple of years ago that changed the direction of my life. While visiting my folks in northeast Tennessee where I grew up, I read in the local paper about a health "expedition" being held that weekend a few miles up U.S. 23 in Wise, Va. Doctors, nurses and other medical professionals were volunteering their time to provide free medical care to people who lived in the area. What intrigued me most was that Remote Area Medical, a non-profit group whose original mission was to provide free care to people in remote villages in South America, was organizing the expedition. I decided to check it out.

That 50-mile stretch of U.S. 23, which twists through the mountains where thousands of men have made their living working in the coalmines, turned out to be my "road to Damascus."

Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw when I reached the Wise County Fairgrounds, where the expedition was being held…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 June 2009 at 2:26 pm

US Army opposes a free press, prefers propaganda

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This is pretty disgusting:

Source: Stars and Stripes, June 24, 2009

U.S. Army officials have barred a reporter with the military newspaper Stars and Stripes "from embedding with a unit of the 1st Cavalry Division that is attempting to secure the violent city of Mosul" in Iraq. In the refusal letter to Stars and Stripes reporter Heath Druzin, an Army public affairs officer wrote that "Mr. Druzin refused to highlight" good news about "Iraqi Army leaders, soldiers, national police and Iraqi police display[ing] commitment to partnership." The newspaper has "spent more than three weeks appealing Druzin’s banishment to senior commanders in Iraq as well as public affairs officers at the Pentagon, but had been repeatedly rebuffed." In his appeal of the decision, Stars and Stripes editorial director Terry Leonard wrote, "To deny Mr. Druzin an embed under the reasons stated … is a direct challenge to the editorial independence of this newspaper … an attempt at censorship and it is also an illegal prior restraint under federal law. … The military cannot tell us what stories to write or not write." The Army would only allow a different Stars and Stripes reporter to embed with a different military unit in a different Iraqi city, Kirkuk. The president of Military Reporters and Editors blasted the decision, writing to Army and Pentagon officials that barring Druzin "violates both the spirit and the letter of the embed guidelines that Military Reporters & Editors and many other journalists have worked so diligently to implement."

Written by LeisureGuy

24 June 2009 at 2:25 pm

GOP doesn’t see its race problem

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This is particularly pertinent as Jeff Sessions, an unreconstructed racist, attacks the Sotomayor nomination. Leonard Pitts, Jr., writes for McClatchy:

The modern GOP was created in 1965 with a stroke of Lyndon Johnson’s pen.

If that is an exaggeration, it is not much of one. When Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, he made a prediction: In committing the unpardonable sin of guaranteeing the ballot to all citizens regardless of race, he said, he would cause his party to lose the South "for a generation."

And indeed Southern Democrats, who for a century had bombed schools, lynched innocents, perverted justice and terrorized millions in the name of intolerance, responded by leaving their ancestral party in droves. They formed the base of a new GOP, a reality acknowledged by Ronald Reagan when he opened his 1980 campaign at a segregationist fair in a town where three civil-rights workers were infamously martyred, by declaring, "I believe in states’ rights."

In embracing its new southern base, the Republican Party became the Repugnant Party on matters of race, a distinction it has done little to shed.

So some of us were disappointed but not surprised last week when Sherri Goforth, an aide to Tennessee state Sen. Diane Black, came under fire for an e-mail she sent out. It depicted the 44 U.S. presidents, showing the first 43 in dignified, statesmanlike poses. By contrast, the 44th, the first African American, is seen as a pair of cartoon spook eyes against a black backdrop. Goforth’s explanation: the e-mail, which went to GOP staffers, was sent "to the wrong list of people."

You may wish to let that one marinate for a moment.

And please, don’t bother reminding me of Democrat Robert Byrd’s onetime membership in the Ku Klux Klan; I make no argument that the Democrats are untainted by bigotry. Rather, my argument is that the GOP is consumed by it, riddled with it, that it has shown, sown, shaped and been shaped by it, to an abhorrent degree.

You think that’s unfair? Well, after Goforth’s e-mail, after "Barack the Magic Negro," and John McCain’s campaign worker blaming a fictional black man for a fictional mugging, and a party official in Texas renaming the executive mansion "the black house," and an official in Virginia claiming Obama’s presidency would see free drugs and "mandatory black liberation theology," and a Republican activist in South Carolina calling an escaped ape one of Michelle Obama’s "ancestors," it seems wholly fair to me. Indeed, overdue.

And keep in mind: All that is just from the last year or so. I could draw up a much longer list but space is limited, and there is a final point to make.

Which is that …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 June 2009 at 2:21 pm

Posted in Daily life, GOP

Center for AIDS Prevention: scam?

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Christopher Weaver in ProPublica:

In late March, we published an investigation [1] of the Center for AIDS Prevention [2], a Beverly Hills, Calif., charity that wages high-profile fundraising campaigns, spreads inaccurate health information and dodges questions about how it spends donations. Three months later, the group is still at it — despite the fact that authorities are aware of its activities. The case is a window into the fractured and often ineffective oversight of nonprofits.

The center’s 18-month advertising campaign has made it to the Web pages of the New York Times [3], Chicago Tribune [4] (PDF), Los Angeles Times [5] (PDF) and USA Today [6], and the print edition of the Wall Street Journal [7] (PDF), urging viewers to "Donate Now." The most recent series of ads appeared on the Web site of the LA Times [5] (PDF) between May 28 and June 9.

While the center invested heavily in soliciting the public’s money, its services appear to include little more than a Web site that long featured inaccurate information, such as the suggestion that birth control pills prevent the spread of HIV [8] (PDF), a claim that has since been revised. Until March, it promoted ineffective herbal remedies [9] (PDF) marketed by a now-defunct for-profit company with ties to the center’s director, Steve Neely.

The charity’s sparse financial [10] records [11] (PDF) show no expenses or revenues from donations, even though the center was fundraising with advertisements in a national newspaper during one financial reporting period. The group has not registered with state officials, a minimum requirement for fundraising, despite the high visibility of its campaigns.

The center, and Neely’s other activities, have sparked suspicions at city offices in Los Angeles, where the charity does business now, with the attorney general of Illinois, where it is incorporated, and with the federal Food and Drug Administration. The center and Neely have repeatedly dodged inquiries by these authorities and members of the public, who have complained to attorneys general in both states. But officials have often not followed up on their concerns, allowing the charity to continue raising money and revealing fault lines in the oversight of nonprofits…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 June 2009 at 2:12 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

Obama: Bush lite?

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Here’s another example:

The Obama administration has denied a request made under the Freedom of Information Act for the names of all visitors to the White House visitors between January 20 and May. investigative journalist Bill Dedman reports that the Obama administration, just like the Bush administration, "is arguing that the White House visitor logs are presidential records — not Secret Service agency records, which would be subject to the Freedom of Information Act." A spokesman for Obama, Ben LaBolt, said that the administration should be able to hold secret meetings "such as an elected official interviewing for an administration position or an ambassador coming for a discussion on issues that would affect international negotiations." However, Dedman notes that "these same arguments, made by the Bush administration, were rejected twice by a federal judge."

Written by LeisureGuy

24 June 2009 at 1:54 pm

California looks at cool auto glass

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Very interesting idea. Click graphic to enlarge.

Cool auto glass

The story:

The state Air Resources Board wants your car to stay a little cooler in the summer sun.

Thursday, the air board is scheduled to vote on its “cool” car rules, which call for newfangled windows to be installed on new passenger vehicles starting with 2012 models. Compared with today’s standard windows, the technology would cut the inside temperature of a car parked in the sun by about 12 degrees, federal studies suggest.

Set to roll out in stages, the plan would be another small advance in the state’s war on global warming. By keeping vehicle interiors cooler, drivers should save fuel by running their air conditioners less. In addition, automakers may opt to install smaller air-conditioning units in new vehicles.

About 5.5 percent of the fuel burned in the nation’s passenger vehicles – 7 billion gallons a year – goes to staying cool.

The new windows would eventually deliver a roughly 1 percent cut in vehicle fuel consumption, air board staff estimate. The board is looking for every reduction it can get as it tries to cut climate-warming emissions back to 1990 levels by 2020, as required under a 2006 state law…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 June 2009 at 1:41 pm

Emerging trends in Iran

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Via Spencer Ackerman. Akbar Ganji is an Iranian journalist and dissident who was imprisoned in Tehran from 2000 to 2006 and whose writings are currently banned in Iran. He wrote the following article for Foreign Affairs:

The clerical regime’s tampering with the election was nothing less than an attempt to completely take over all aspects of the Iranian state.

Iran is a paradoxical nation. On the one hand, its political structure is a fundamentalist sultanism run by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and personified at least in the eyes of the outside world, by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. On the other hand, Iran is farther along the path to democracy than most countries in the Middle East. It has a sophisticated political culture: its intellectuals, women, and young people are highly literate, cosmopolitan, and committed to the ideals of democracy, human rights, and nonviolent social transformation. The majority of Iran’s population stands against the country’s fundamentalist regime.

As I explained in my essay "The Latter-Day Sultan" (November/December 2008), oppression has been the Iranian regime’s principal means of sustaining sultanism. The aftermath of the recent presidential election clearly demonstrates this point. The preponderant majority of Iranians voted against Khamenei by voting against Ahmadinejad, Khamenei’s factotum and mouthpiece. (See the preliminary analysis of the election published by Chatham House on June 21, 2009, here.) But Khamenei has refused to abide by their choice. In a colossal fraud, his loyalists have counted the people’s vote in favor of Ahmadinejad and then dubbed his victory a "divine miracle."

Rejecting the lies and the chicanery, hundreds of thousands of Iranians have turned to the streets in search of justice. Khamenei has responded with repression. His henchmen have stormed universities, attacking students and destroying public property. They have opened fire on innocent protesters and imprisoned reformists they suspect of having roused the people into action. Last Friday, Khamenei delivered a much-anticipated sermon in Tehran. Acknowledging "differences of opinion" among the presidential candidates, he said that "when it comes to serving the nation . . . the viewpoints of the president [Ahmadinejad] are closer to mine." He said allegations that the election had been rigged in Ahmadinejad’s favor — with 11 million votes artificially created — were lies manufactured by Iran’s enemies, the United States and Israel. Khamenei threatened his critics, claimed he was ready for martyrdom, and called on protesters to clear the streets, warning that if they did not, they would "be responsible for any violence that [might] ensue."

This is nothing less than an electoral coup, and its aim goes far beyond bringing victory to Ahmadinejad; …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 June 2009 at 1:35 pm

Posted in Daily life, Iran

The Sanford affair

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Another GOP adulterer:

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford acknowledged Wednesday that he was carrying on an affair with a woman in Argentina when he disappeared from his office last week, only to resurface this morning.

Sanford said he would resign as chairman of the Republican Governors Association and asked for forgiveness from his wife and four sons.

He did not respond when asked if he would resign as governor.

He also did not identify the woman, but asked for privacy. He said that his wife had known about the affair for five months and that he had known the woman for eight years.

He described the affair has having begun innocently enough, via e-mail.

A McClatchy special correspondent visited the 14-story apartment building in Buenos Aires where the woman reportedly lives. The woman at first agreed to speak to a visitor, but declined after the visitor identified herself as a reporter.

The doorman at the building, shown a photograph of Sanford, said he did not recognize him. According to the doorman, the woman has two sons, one a teenager of driving age and the other younger.

At several points in his news conference, Sanford appeared to be on the verge of tears. He cited his religious beliefs several times and begged forgiveness from friends and associates.

He left it unclear whether he and his wife would separate. “I don’t know how you want to define that. I’m here and she’s there,” he said, referring to his vacation home on Sullivan’s Island. “I guess in a formal sense we are not.” …

Continue reading. And, from ThinkProgress, we see that the GOP maintains its hypocrisy on social issues:

While serving as a U.S. congressman, Sanford was incredibly critical of his colleagues’ marital misdeeds, including the affairs of former congressman Bob Livingston and President Bill Clinton:

“The bottom line, though, is I am sure there will be a lot of legalistic explanations pointing out that the president lied under oath. His situation was not under oath. The bottom line, though, is he still lied. He lied under a different oath, and that is the oath to his wife. So it’s got to be taken very, very seriously.” [Sanford on Livingston, CNN, 12/18/98]

We ought to ask questions…rather than circle the wagons for one of our tribe.” [Sanford on how the GOP reacts to affairs, New York Post, 12/20/98]

“I think it would be much better for the country and for him personally (to resign). I come from the business side. If you had a chairman or president in the business world facing these allegations, he’d be gone.” [Sanford on Clinton, The Post and Courier, 9/12/98]

The issue of lying is probably the biggest harm, if you will, to the system of Democratic government, representatives government, because it undermines trust. And if you undermine trust in our system, you undermine everything.” [Sanford on Clinton, CNN, 2/16/99]

Sanford has also been an opponent of same-sex marriage, saying in 2004, “As Jenny and I are the parents of four little boys, we’ve always taught our kids that marriage was something between a man and a woman.” [The Post and Courier, 2/11/04]

GOP: Party of No, Party of Hypocrites

Written by LeisureGuy

24 June 2009 at 1:17 pm

Posted in Daily life

The struggle to discontinue unneeded weapon systems

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Last week, over the objections of Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Obama administration, the House Armed Services Committee restored funding for the basically useless F-22 fighter jet, in the process stripping funding for nuclear waste cleanup efforts. Last night, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) filed an amendment to restore the waste cleanup funds and eliminate the money for the F-22. The move came after months of Republicans issuing dire warnings about the consequences of suspending the F-22 program: Frank Gaffney, for example, declared it would lead to “diminished military capability, emboldening enemies, and alienating our friends.”

On a press call hosted by the Center for American Progress Action Fund this afternoon, Frank pointed out Republicans’ hypocrisy in railing against the deficit while simultaneously funding a $2 billion air force jet that has never once flown a mission in Afghanistan or Iraq. Frank said so-called deficit hawks act as though the Pentagon is funded with “Monopoly money”:

I am of course struck that so many of my colleagues who are so worried about the deficit apparently think the Pentagon is funded with Monopoly money that somehow doesn’t count.

Frank also dismissed concerns that eliminating the F-22 will cost jobs:

These arguments will come from the very people who denied that the economic recovery plan created any jobs. We have a very odd economic philosophy in Washington: It’s called weaponized Keynesianism. It is the view that the government does not create jobs when it funds the building of bridges or important research or retrains workers, but when it builds airplanes that are never going to be used in combat, that is of course economic salvation.

Listen to it:

Indeed, conservatives declare that canceling the F-22 would result in thousands of lost jobs. However, as Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Lawrence Korb pointed out on the call, the administration has also ramped up production of the F-35, which is produced at many of the same facilities — and by the same workers — as the F-22.

Frank called the F-22 fight an important “test” for the Obama administration’s efforts to cut wasteful military spending. “If we cannot hold the line on this, then it’s very bad news for trying to hold down any kind of excesses in military spending,” he said.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 June 2009 at 11:31 am

Obama avoids awkward questions

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Glenn Greenwald:

The single most significant event in shaping worldwide revulsion towards the violence of the Iranian government has been the video of the young Iranian woman bleeding to death, the so-called "Neda video."  Like so many iconic visual images before it — from My Lai, fire hoses and dogs unleashed at civil rights protesters, Abu Ghraib — that single image has done more than the tens of thousands of words to dramatize the violence and underscore the brutality of the state response. 

For the last question at his press conference yesterday, Obama was asked by CNN’s Suzanne Malveaux about his reaction to that video and to reports that Iranians are refraining from protesting due to fear of such violence.  As Obama was answering — attesting to how "heartbreaking" he found the video; how "anybody who sees it knows that there’s something fundamentally unjust" about the violence; and paying homage to "certain international norms of freedom of speech, freedom of expression" — Helen Thomas, who hadn’t been called on, interrupted to ask Obama to reconcile those statements about the Iranian images with his efforts at home to suppress America’s own torture photos ("Then why won’t you allow the photos –").

The President quickly cut her off with these remarks:

THE PRESIDENT: Hold on a second, Helen. That’s a different question. (Laughter.)

The White House Press corps loves to laugh condescendingly at Helen Thomas because, tenaciously insisting that our sermons to others be applied to our own Government, she acts like a real reporter (exactly as — according to Politico‘s Josh Gerstein — White House reporters "could be seen rolling their eyes and shifting in their seats" when Obama called on The Huffington Post‘s Nico Pitney, who has done some of the most tireless work on Iran, gave voice to actual Iranians, and posed one of the toughest questions at the Press Conference).  The premise of Thomas’ question was compelling and (contrary to Obama’s dismissal) directly relevant to Obama’s answers:  how is it possible for Obama to pay dramatic tribute to the "heartbreaking" impact of that Neda video in bringing to light the injustices of the Iranian Government’s conduct while simultaneously suppressing images that do the same with regard to our own Government’s conduct?

The reason Thomas’ point matters so much is potently highlighted by a new poll from The Washington Post/ABC News released today — not only the responses, but even more so, the question itself (click to enlarge image): …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 June 2009 at 11:06 am

A public plan: It depends on how you ask

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Karen Tumulty of TIME:

As we have noted here before, two recent polls have shown three-quarters of the public support the idea of giving people the choice of a government-run health care plan similar to Medicare. But a new Washington Post survey throws some caveats on that proposition, and gets a very different result:

Survey questions that equate the public option approach with the popular, patient-friendly Medicare system tend to get high approval, as do ones that emphasize the prospect of more choices. But when framed with an explicit counterargument, the idea receives a more tepid response. In the new Post-ABC poll, 62 percent support the general concept, but when respondents were told that meant some insurers would go out of business, support dropped sharply, to 37 percent.

Here’s that data (and you can read the entire poll here):

Public plan

This is important, because it tells us how the two sides are going to frame the debate going forward. Supporters of a public plan will emphasize choice and remind people how popular and successful Medicare has been. Opponents will raise the prospect of losing what you have. (And depending on how that public plan is designed, both arguments could be true.) Which meme takes root will very likely determine the outcome.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 June 2009 at 11:00 am

Bagram detainees tortured

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The problem with torturing people you only suspect of crimes is that you will inevitably torture innocent people. Think Progress:

The BBC recently interviewed 27 former detainees who were held at the Bagram Airbase detention facility between 2002 and 2008. All but two of the detainees said they had been ill-treated. According to the investigation, the detainees were “beaten, deprived of sleep, hung from the ceiling and threatened with dogs. Four claimed officials had put a gun to their head and threatened to kill them.” One inmate said:

‘They did things that you would not do against animals let alone to humans.

‘They poured cold water on you in winter and hot water in summer. They used dogs against us. They put a pistol or a gun to your head and threatened you with death.

‘They put some kind of medicine in the juice or water to make you sleepless and then they would interrogate you.’

All the detainees were ultimately released without charge.

Update: Lieutenant Colonel Mark Wright, a Defense Department spokesman, claimed that conditions at Bagram “meet international standards for care and custody.”

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Written by LeisureGuy

24 June 2009 at 10:53 am

Task force on interrogation: use FBI and CIA in teams

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Maybe the CIA can actually learn how to do interrogations instead of just torture. Spencer Ackerman:

The task force charged with fleshing out President Obama’s ban on torture in interrogations is likely to recommend the creation of small, mixed-agency teams for interviewing the most important terrorist targets. Representing an implicit demotion of the CIA, which currently has responsibility for interrogating high-level terrorists, the teams would report jointly to the attorney general and the director of national intelligence, according to officials familiar with the proposal.

The teams are the brainchild of three members of the Intelligence Science Board, a panel that reports to the director of national intelligence: forensic psychologist Robert Fein, former Deputy Attorney General Philip Heymann and former CIA official John MacGaffin. About five years ago, the three security experts began researching the available social science literature concerning interrogations in a variety of nations, including the United States, France, the United Kingdom and Japan, in order to inform a humane and effective interrogation regimen. A two-volume report the panel produced — the first phase was released in December 2006; the second, completed last month, is still classified — both repudiated torture and attributed interrogation-related abuses in part to a “shortfall in advanced, research-based interrogation methods at a time of intense pressure from operational commanders to produce actionable intelligence from high-value targets,” Fein wrote in the first volume, ‘Educing Information,’ which The Washington Independent reported on last year.

Last month, J. Douglas Wilson, the Justice Department official who leads the Obama administration’s Special Task Force on Interrogation and Transfer Policies — a panel created by President Obama’s January 22 executive order banning torture — invited the Intelligence Science Board members to Washington to brief the task force on their recommendations. In an oral presentation and a five-page summary of hundreds of pages of work, Heymann said, he and his colleagues recommended the creation of “an organizational structure that could draw” on the experience of a small corps of the best interrogators currently working for the government who “could produce what would very likely be the best non-coercive interrogation or interviewing capacity in the world.” That corps would serve as the first wave of interrogators under the new structure while preparing a syllabus on proper interrogation guidelines for new recruits to the teams.

“The group would be mobile, and go where it needed to go,” said Heymann, now a Harvard law professor, envisioning teams of three to five interrogators at a time who would “only deal with major interviews and major occasions to get information from a terror suspect” of the order of Abu Zubaydah or Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, two of the most senior al-Qaeda captives held by the CIA and later the Defense Department. While emphasizing that the task force might not adopt every detail of his proposal and that modifications were likely, Heymann said that the teams would “report both to the Justice Department and to the intelligence world,” a move intended to ensure that interrogations do not compromise prosecutions of detainees, a significant departure from the Bush administration.

The task force — officially chaired by Attorney General Eric Holder and co-vice-chaired by Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates — has embraced the proposal, according to an official familiar with its work. “It’s highly thought out and sophisticated,” the official said. “This is going to be part of the draft recommendations. It may or may not make the final cut, but I’d be very surprised if it did not.” The task force is scheduled to deliver its recommendations to the White House by July 21. Spokespeople for Holder and Blair declined to comment on the task force’s recommendations while its work was ongoing.

Heymann said that interrogators from across the military, CIA, and FBI, would be charged with creating a “syllabus” of best interrogation practices that fall within the boundaries of the U.S. Army Field Manual on Interrogations, which complies with the Geneva Conventions. Heymann said that the social science research supporting the Intelligence Science Board’s work ruled out all forms of physical and psychological torture as methods for soliciting information. “What I mean by ‘non-coercive’ is in line with what our major allies do — Britain, France, other European nations — and not out of line with what’s accepted by western nations,” Heymann said. “We would not do anything to other people that we would complain about if done to Americans abroad in other circumstances, we wouldn’t do something we wouldn’t do to an American in the U.S., and we would be pretty well in line with the views of our major allies,” a perspective adopted in order to ensure robust intelligence cooperation with U.S. allies concerned about torture can continue.

Additionally, the Intelligence Science Board recommended that …

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Written by LeisureGuy

24 June 2009 at 10:42 am

Kill the journalists!

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Source: AlterNet, May 25, 2009

Retired U.S. Col. Ralph Peters has written an essay calling for military attacks on journalists. Writing for the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), Peters calls the media "a hostile third party in the fight … killers without guns," and writes, "future wars may require censorship, news blackouts and, ultimately, military attacks on the partisan media. … The point of all this is simple: Win. In warfare, nothing else matters. If you cannot win clean, win dirty. But win. Our victories are ultimately in humanity’s interests, while our failures nourish monsters."

This is the most over example of the ends justifying the means I’ve read: do anything at all so long as you win. Murder civilians—fine, if you win. Lie to the public—fine, if you win. Torture prisoners and anyone else who strikes your fancy—fine, if you win.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 June 2009 at 10:26 am

Civil Rights under Obama: Wiretapping the public without controls

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Daphne Eviatar in the Washington Independent:

Following up on my earlier post [see below – LG] about how Attorney General Eric Holder dodged Sen. Russ Feingold’s (D-Wis.) questions at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing today on warrantless wiretapping, Feingold just put out this statement:

I was disappointed by Attorney General Holder’s unwillingness to repeat what both he and President Obama had stated in the past – that President Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program was illegal.  For an administration that has repeatedly stated its intention to restore the rule of law, this episode was a step backward. While the Attorney General restated his belief that the program was inconsistent with the FISA statute, his testimony today, and the administration’s delay in withdrawing the Bush Administration’s legal justifications for the program, are troubling.

Here’s a video of their exchange earlier today.

Here’s the earlier post. Holder doesn’t come off any better than Alberto Gonzales:

Pressed by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) on his view of whether the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program was illegal, Attorney General Eric Holder said the program was “inconsistent” with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, but repeatedly refused to say it was “illegal,” or that President Bush broke the law — despite previous statements he’s made suggesting just that.

Here’s an excerpt:

Feingold: Is there any doubt in your mind that the warrantless wiretapping program was illegal?

Holder: As it was put together at the t time it was certainly unwise … It now exists with congressional approval, so the concerns I addressed in that speech [referring to a speech at the American Constitution Society before he became Attorney General] no longer exist.

Feingold: I asked if it was illegal, not unwise.

Holder: I thought actions the administration had taken were inconsistent with the dictates of FISA.  And as a result I thought the policy was an unwise one.  The concerns I addressed then have been remedied by Congress.

Feingold: Was it illegal?

Holder: I said it was inconsistent with the dictates of FISA.

Feingold: That sounds awfully mild compared to a very clear statement and very clear principle here … Many people like me believe that if the statute is that explicit then it is unconstitutional for the president and illegal for the president to override the express will of the Congress.

Holder: I think what I’m saying now is consistent with what I’m saying in the speech.

While it seems clear that Holder still thinks the previous administration violated the law (I assume that’s what “inconsistent with the dictates of FISA” means), Holder is obviously reluctant to use the word “illegal,” likely because it suggests that he, as attorney general, might have to prosecute someone for it.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 June 2009 at 10:23 am

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