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The Noose Tightens

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Rumsfeld, Ashcroft and other top Bush officials could soon face legal jeopardy.

By Jonathan Tepperman

The United States, like many countries, has a bad habit of committing wartime excesses and an even worse record of accounting for them afterward. But a remarkable string of recent events suggests that may finally be changing—and that top Bush administration officials could soon face legal jeopardy for prisoner abuse committed under their watch in the war on terror.

In early December, in a highly unusual move, a federal court in New York agreed to rehear a lawsuit against former Attorney General John Ashcroft brought by a Canadian citizen, Maher Arar. (Arar was a victim of the administration's extraordinary rendition program: he was seized by U.S. officials in 2002 while in transit through Kennedy Airport and deported to Syria, where he was tortured.) Then, on Dec. 15, the Supreme Court revived a lawsuit against Donald Rumsfeld by four Guantánamo detainees alleging abuse there—a reminder that the court, unlike the White House, will extend Constitutional protections to foreigners at Gitmo. Finally, in the same week the Senate Armed Service Committee, led by Carl Levin and John McCain, released a blistering report specifically blaming key administration figures for prisoner mistreatment and interrogation techniques that broke the law. The bipartisan report reads like a brief for the prosecution—calling, for example, Rumsfeld's behavior a "direct cause" of abuse. Analysts say it gives a green light to prosecutors, and supplies them with political cover and factual ammunition. Administration officials, with a few exceptions, deny wrongdoing. Vice President Dick Cheney says there was nothing improper with U.S. interrogation techniques—"we don't do torture," he repeated in an ABC interview on Dec. 15. The government blamed the worst abuses, such as those at Abu Ghraib, on a few bad apples.

High-level charges, if they come, would be a first in U.S. history. "Traditionally we've caught some poor bastard down low and not gone up the chain," says Burt Neuborne, a constitutional expert and Supreme Court lawyer at NYU. Prosecutions may well be forestalled if Bush issues a blanket pardon in his final days, as Neuborne and many other experts now expect. (Some see Cheney's recent defiant-sounding admission of his own role in approving waterboarding as an attempt to force Bush's hand.)...(Click for remainder).


Three Questions About Rick Warren's Role in the Inauguration

If we must have an officiating priest, surely we can do better than this vulgar huckster.

By Christopher Hitchens

It is theoretically possible to make an apparently bigoted remark that is also factually true and morally sound. Thus, when the Rev. Bailey Smith, one of the deputies of the late Jerry Falwell, claimed that "God almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew," I was in complete agreement with him. This is because I do not believe that there is any supernatural supervisor who lends an ear to any prayer.

In the same way, if someone publicly charges that "Mormonism is a cult," it is impossible to say that the claim by itself is mistaken or untrue. However, if the speaker says that heaven is a real place but that you will not get there if you are Jewish, or that Mormonism is a cult and a false religion but that other churches and faiths are the genuine article, then you know that the bigot has spoken. That's all in a day's work for the wonderful world of the American evangelical community, and one wishes them all the best of luck in their energetic fundraising and their happy-clappy Sunday "Churchianity" mega-feel-good fiestas. However, do we want these weirdos and creeps officiating in any capacity at the inauguration of the next president of the United States?

It is a fact that Rick Warren, pastor of the Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif., was present at a meeting of the Aspen Institute not long ago and was asked by Lynda Resnick—she of the pomegranate-juice dynasty—if a Jew like herself could expect to be admitted to paradise. Warren publicly told her no. What choice did he have? His own theology says that only those who accept Jesus can hope to be saved. I have just missed the chance to debate on CBS with one of Warren's leading allies and defenders, the Dallas preacherman who calls himself Dr. Robert Jeffress. In the opinion of this learned fellow, even though Mitt Romney "talks about Jesus as his lord and savior, he is not a Christian. Mormonism is not Christianity."...(Click for remainder).


What the Justice Department is Hiding

By Scott Horton
The Daily Beast

When a former Alabama governor was convicted for selling public offices, it set off an investigation into improper conduct at the Justice Department that leads directly to the White House.

The most dramatic political prosecution in the 21st century—involving a former governor in Alabama, the U.S. Attorney’s office, and the Bush White House and Justice Department—has been rocked by incriminating new disclosures by a knowledgeable career Justice Department staff member who has provided information charging serious misconduct by the prosecutors.

Among other disclosures shattering the credibility of the case, U.S. Attorney Leura Canary’s “recusal” for conflict of interest is revealed as a sham. Moreover, The Daily Beast has learned, the matter has touched off concerns within the Justice Department over efforts to sweep accusations of unethical conduct under the carpet.

With the Obama transition in full swing, the Justice Department is rushing to conclude a number of internal probes dealing with serious questions about the conduct of political appointees. One of the most troubling of these comes out of Montgomery, Alabama, where a U.S. Attorney with close ties to Karl Rove and her husband, then advising a Republican candidate for the Alabama statehouse, undertook one of the most audacious political prosecutions in recent history: knocking off the Democratic opponent, former Alabama Governor Don E. Siegelman.

Before his prosecution and conviction on federal charges, Siegelman was the most successful Democrat on Alabama’s political stage in the era after George C. Wallace. He was convicted more than two years ago on political corruption charges after a jury deliberated nine days and was initially deadlocked. Siegelman is now set to argue his appeal in Atlanta on December 9.

But even before the appeal is argued, the prosecution’s key evidence has been broadly attacked as unreliable and false and the prosecution itself has become the target of a Congressional probe and is the subject of demands for disciplinary action. Remarkably, however, the Bush Justice Department has reacted by covering-up the prosecutorial misconduct, which has connections that lead straight to the Bush White House....(Click for remainder).


Karl Rove Destroyed My Life

By Paul Alexander
The Daily Beast

Former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman blames Republican dirty tricks for the nine months he spent in prison. He talks to the Daily Beast’s Paul Alexander about clearing his name, anger at Rove—and mopping prison floors. Plus, read Scott Horton’s piece on What the Justice Department is Hiding.

Last week, Al Gore sent an email message urging supporters to give money to Don Siegelman’s legal defense fund. Gore is the latest in a string of high profile supporters to suggest Siegelman, the former Governor of Alabama, was the victim of a Republican plot when he was found guilty of bribery, conspiracy and fraud in 2006, and sentenced to seven years in prison.

Now, in the waning days of the Bush administration, Siegelman is trying to win back his freedom—not to mention his good name—in a courtroom in Atlanta. Earlier this year, an appeals court granted his release after he had served nine months, saying the Governor’s appeal had raised “substantial questions” about the case against him. Siegelman’s cause was helped by a bipartisan group of 54 former state attorneys general from across the country who filed a federal appeals brief supporting his bid to overturn the conviction. Republican insiders have also come forward to say Siegelman was unfairly targeted by Rove and his circle.

Siegelman’s appeal was heard earlier this month and the verdict will determine whether he returns to prison to finish out his sentence, or goes free.
How did a former governor—and a rising star in the Democratic Party—end up in a situation like this?

On June 29, 2006, Siegelman and Richard Scrushy, the CEO of HealthSouth, a chain of medical rehabilitation services with facilities both in the United States and abroad, were found guilty by a jury in Montgomery, Alabama, of federal bribery charges. A year later, Judge Mark Fuller, who had clear conflicts of interest in the case—a company in which he holds a major stake received a $175 million government contract at one point during the legal proceedings—sentenced Scrushy to almost seven years in prison. Siegelman got 88 months....(Click for remainder).


Making A Fool Out Of Rick Warren--It's A Moral Imperative!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

By Paul Rosenberg
Open Left

In my earlier diary, "Christophobia??? Wait A Second, Fellah! YOU'RE The Christophobe!", a commentator got upset with me for advancing the point that Jesus never said anything about homosexuality. I actually think that's a very good argument to make, simply because it puts the other side on the defensive, and disrupts their synapses. That's the underlying reason I brought it up. 

But interlude wrote:
can we try a stronger argument please?

no, Jesus said nothing about homosexuality. I remember a biblical scholar saying that in a congregation in Chicago back in the 70s and a woman responding with "I knew he was too damn liberal!" 

unfortunately it is not the best argument to make in fighting homophobia. Jesus didn't say anything about torture, nuclear weapons, or internet spam, either.
I have to admit, this "argument" didn't make much sense to me. To begin with, it's implicit premise seemed to be that I was proposing a master argument-to-end-all-argtuments, and that it was terrbly flawed. But I wasn't doing anything of the sort.

My sense of political argumentation has very little to do with disembodied master arguments. Master narratives, now, that's a different story. And this argument I presented was all about disrupting the master narrative of jokers like Warren being these great authoritative figures who can speak on behalf of Jesus, intimidate all the rest of us, and command the respect of the nation.

Quite the contrary. I think the name of the game right now is to humiliate, embarass and totally discredit Rick Warren, turn him into a public laughingstock, and make people downright embarrased to be identified with his bigoted views. Whatever Obama may have intended with his invitation, as far as I'm concerned, war is on and derisive humor is the weapon of choice. It almost always is when self-inflated bigots are the main antagonists....(Click for remainder).


Christophobia??? Wait A Second, Fellah! YOU'RE The Christophobe!

By Paul Rosenberg
Open Left

Raw Story has a pretty succinct take on the deteriorating state of Rick Warren's mental health:
MSNBC's Rachel Maddow believes that the uproar over Barack Obama's selection of Pastor Rick Warren to deliver his inaugural invocation might have been subsiding by now, except that Warren himself -- very much like Reverend Jeremiah Wright last spring -- has stirred things up again with a video address in which he accuses his critics of being "Christophobes."

"Not only it is getting worse," commented Maddow, "it's getting weirder."

In the 22 minute message to his congregation placed on his website last Sunday, Warren first denied ever "equating gay partnership with incest and pedophilia" -- which Maddow quickly disproved with a clip of him doing just that -- and then went on to attack his critics for their "false accusations, attacks, outright lies, and hateful slander, and really a lot of hate speech."

"It's what I would call 'Christophobia.'" Warren concluded. "People who are afraid of any Christian."

"Might those people possibly just be Pastor Rick-o-phobes?" Maddow asked.
But there's a deeper story than Rick's mental ticks.

You see, here's what Christ said about homosexuals:

That's right. Let me repeat that:

And that's just got to scare Pastor Rick, don'tcha think?

You betcha! In fact, it already has....(Click for remainder).


Win, Win, Win, Win, Win ...

By Thomas L. Friedman

How many times do we have to see this play before we admit that it always ends the same way?

Which play? The one where gasoline prices go up, pressure rises for more fuel-efficient cars, then gasoline prices fall and the pressure for low-mileage vehicles vanishes, consumers stop buying those cars, the oil producers celebrate, we remain addicted to oil and prices gradually go up again, petro-dictators get rich, we lose. I’ve already seen this play three times in my life. Trust me: It always ends the same way — badly.

So I could only cringe when reading this article from on Dec. 22: “After nearly a year of flagging sales, low gas prices and fat incentives are reigniting America’s taste for big vehicles. Trucks and S.U.V.’s will outsell cars in December ... something that hasn’t happened since February. Meanwhile, the forecast finds that sales of hybrid vehicles are expected to be way down.”

Have a nice day. It’s morning again — in Saudi Arabia.

Of course, it’s a blessing that people who have been hammered by the economy are getting a break at the pump. But for our long-term health, getting re-addicted to oil and gas guzzlers is one of the dumbest things we could do....(Click for remainder).


Stop Being Stupid

By Bob Herbert

I’ve got a new year’s resolution and a new slogan for the country.

The resolution may be difficult, but it’s essential. Americans must resolve to be smarter going forward than we have been for the past several years.

Look around you. We have behaved in ways that were incredibly, astonishingly and embarrassingly stupid for much too long. We’ve wrecked the economy and mortgaged the future of generations yet unborn. We don’t even know if we’ll have an automobile industry in the coming years. It’s time to stop the self-destruction.

The slogan? “Invest in the U.S.” By that I mean we should stop squandering the nation’s wealth on unnecessary warfare overseas and mindless consumption here at home and start making sensible investments in the well-being of the American people and the long-term health of the economy.

The mind-boggling stupidity that we’ve indulged in was hammered home by a comment almost casually delivered by, of all people, Bernie Madoff, the mild-mannered creator of what appears to have been a nuclear-powered Ponzi scheme. Madoff summed up his activities with devastating simplicity. He is said to have told the F.B.I. that he “paid investors with money that wasn’t there.”

Somehow, over the past few decades, that has become the American way: to pay for things — from wars to Wall Street bonuses to flat-screen TVs to video games — with money that wasn’t there....(Click for remainder).


A Reversal of Fortune

By Charles Lemos

Over the past 30 years, there has been a significant redirection of global capital flows. One of these capital flows has been the flow out of the wealthy but mostly energy resource poor OECD countries towards the energy producing states largely in the Middle East but also in Latin America and more recently Africa. The other major new capital flow is from the OECD in general but significantly more from the United States towards China. The Chinese, it turns out, have also been on a shopping spree. They have been buying, well, us. This year China surpassed Japan as our largest lender. China now holds over 10% of the US dollar denominated debt, a little more than a trillion dollars.

From the New York Times comes a must read article on China's rise and our fall:
In March 2005, a low-key Princeton economist who had become a Federal Reserve governor coined a novel theory to explain the growing tendency of Americans to borrow from foreigners, particularly the Chinese, to finance their heavy spending.
The problem, he said, was not that Americans spend too much, but that foreigners save too much. The Chinese have piled up so much excess savings that they lend money to the United States at low rates, underwriting American consumption.

This colossal credit cycle could not last forever, he said. But in a global economy, the transfer of Chinese money to America was a market phenomenon that would take years, even a decade, to work itself out. For now, he said, "we probably have little choice except to be patient."

Today, the dependence of the United States on Chinese money looks less benign. And the economist who proposed the theory, Ben S. Bernanke, is dealing with the consequences, having been promoted to chairman of the Fed in 2006, as these cross-border money flows were reaching stratospheric levels.

In the past decade, China has invested upward of $1 trillion, mostly earnings from manufacturing exports, into American government bonds and government-backed mortgage debt. That has lowered interest rates and helped fuel a historic consumption binge and housing bubble in the United States.

China, some economists say, lulled American consumers, and their leaders, into complacency about their spendthrift ways.


Where Do We Go from Here?

By Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
The Huffington Post

The next few months will be a pivotal period in the history of the United States and for much of the world. The Bush administration, perhaps the most reactionary and incompetent that our country has ever seen, is leaving office after eight disastrous years. President Barack Obama and an increased Democratic majority take power amidst the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

The decisions that are made early on will send an important signal as to whether Obama's campaign of "hope" and "change" will be seriously pursued and realized, or whether the power of the Big Money interests will persist - regardless of which president is in office or which party has the majority. Will a new president and a new and more Democratic Congress finally respond to the needs of the middle class and working families of our country, or will Wall Street, insurance and drug companies, the military-industrial-complex, the oil and coal companies, big media and the other powerful special interests continue to hold sway?

Here are just a few of the issues that President Obama, the Congress and all Americans must confront:

The middle class is continuing its steep decline with unemployment soaring, and millions of people in danger of losing their homes, savings and health insurance. The dream of a college education is fading away for many working families as college costs go up while incomes go down. This year, as a result of the economic downturn, the bailout of Wall Street, ongoing tax breaks for the very rich and the war in Iraq, our nation will have a record-breaking deficit and a huge $10.4 trillion dollar national debt. The United States continues to have the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country, and the most unequal distribution of wealth and income....(Click for remainder).


Critics Accuse Pope of Stirring Anti-Gay Sentiment

Gay rights groups, politicians and a prominent German theologian have criticized remarks made earlier this week by Pope Benedict XVI. They accuse him of attacking same-sex marriages and sex change operations.

Pope Benedict XVI has drawn sharp criticism in Europe for comments made in his end of the year address critical of people who choose to have sex changes or enter into same-sex marriages.

The pope claimed that "what is often expressed and signified with the word 'gender' leads to the human auto-emancipation from creation and the Creator. The human being wants to make himself on his own and to decide always and exclusively by himself about what concerns him."

Italian transgender and former communist lawmaker Vladimir Luxuria mimics a hanging outside St. Peter's Square at the Vatican: Gay and transgender rights activists are outraged by the pope's statements.

"But in doing so, the human being lives against the truth and against the Spirit creator. Rainforests deserve, yes, our protection, but the human being -- as a creature which contains a message that is not in contradiction with his freedom but is the condition of his freedom -- does not deserve less."

"This is not out-of-date metaphysics," he said. "It comes from the faith in the Creator and from listening to the language of creation, despising which would mean self-destruction for humans and therefore a destruction of the work itself of God."

A number of gay rights groups, politicians and a famous German theologian are interpreting the pope's words as a harsh attack against homosexuals and transsexuals.

In Germany, Volker Beck, an out gay man with the Green Party, described the pope's statements as "agitating words." And Uta Ranke-Heinemann, a prominent German critic of the pope, described Benedict's words as "a threatening message to homosexuals." She said his views could not be left unchallenged, adding that the history of homosexuals in Christianity has been a "bitter one."...(Click for remainder).


You’re Likable Enough, Gay People

By Frank Rich

IN his first press conference after his re-election in 2004, President Bush memorably declared, “I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it.” We all know how that turned out.

Barack Obama has little in common with George W. Bush, thank God, his obsessive workouts and message control notwithstanding. At a time when very few Americans feel very good about very much, Obama is generating huge hopes even before he takes office. So much so that his name and face, affixed to any product, may be the last commodity left in the marketplace that can still move Americans to shop.

I share these high hopes. But for the first time a faint tinge of Bush crept into my Obama reveries this month.

As we saw during primary season, our president-elect is not free of his own brand of hubris and arrogance, and sometimes it comes before a fall: “You’re likable enough, Hillary” was the prelude to his defeat in New Hampshire. He has hit this same note again by assigning the invocation at his inauguration to the Rev. Rick Warren, the Orange County, Calif., megachurch preacher who has likened committed gay relationships to incest, polygamy and “an older guy marrying a child.” Bestowing this honor on Warren was a conscious — and glib — decision by Obama to spend political capital. It was made with the certitude that a leader with a mandate can do no wrong.

In this case, the capital spent is small change. Most Americans who have an opinion about Warren like him and his best-selling self-help tome, “The Purpose Driven Life.” His good deeds are plentiful on issues like human suffering in Africa, poverty and climate change. He is opposed to same-sex marriage, but so is almost every top-tier national politician, including Obama. Unlike such family-values ayatollahs as James Dobson and Tony Perkins, Warren is not obsessed with homosexuality and abortion. He was vociferously attacked by the Phyllis Schlafly gang when he invited Obama to speak about AIDS at his Saddleback Church two years ago....(Click for remainder).


Minnesota Supremes Shoot Down Crucial Coleman Lawsuit, Making A Franken Win Nearly Certain

By Eric Kleefeld
TPM Election Central

Norm Coleman just got a Christmas present from the Minnesota Supreme Court: A giant lump of coal.

In a unanimous decision handed down just now, the state Supremes denied Coleman any relief in a lawsuit he was waging to deal with allegations of double-counted absentee ballots, which his campaign says have given an illegitimate edge to Al Franken. The Coleman campaign was seeking to switch 25 selected precincts back to their Election Night totals, which would undo all of Franken's recount gains in those areas and put Coleman back in the lead.

The court, however, sided with the Franken camp's lawyers in saying that a question like this should be reserved for a post-recount election contest proceeding, as the proper forum to discover evidence -- and which also has a burden of proof that heavily favors the certified winner.

Simply put, Coleman is in very big trouble right now. With Al Franken leading by 47 votes, this lawsuit was Coleman's best shot at coming from behind. And it just failed, making a Franken win nearly a foregone conclusion when this recount finishes up in early January.

Late Update: The Coleman campaign's lead lawyer Fritz Knaak says the court's decision today "virtually guarantees that this will be decided in an election contest." So say hello to some messy litigation. But at the point where we go into an election contest, the chances of a Coleman victory are really slim to none.


News flash: Republicans are racist wankers

So classy.

By Michael D. Shear
The Washington Post

Chip Saltsman, a candidate for chairman of the Republican National Committee, sent committee members this month a holiday music CD that included "Barack the Magic Negro," a parody song first aired in 2007 by talk show host Rush Limbaugh.

Created by conservative satirist Paul Shanklin, the song puts new lyrics to the tune of "Puff the Magic Dragon," and it is performed as if black activist Al Sharpton were singing it. Limbaugh played it after the Los Angeles Times ran an opinion piece with the same title.

"A guy from the LA paper said it made guilty whites feel good, they'll vote for him and not for me cuz he's not from the hood," the song goes. "Oh, Barack the magic negro lives in DC, the LA Times they called him that because he's black but not authentically."

The CD accompanied holiday greetings from Saltsman, a Tennessee resident who managed former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee's campaign for president. Saltsman announced his bid to lead the Republican Party this month.

He did not return a call seeking comment last night. Saltsman had earlier told the Hill newspaper, which first reported the incident, that the song is meant as a joke. "Paul Shanklin is a longtime friend, and I think that RNC members have the good humor and good sense to recognize that his songs for 'The Rush Limbaugh Show' are light-hearted political parodies," he told the newspaper....(Click for remainder).


FBI Believes Cheney Lied About Outing Valerie Plame

Saturday, December 27, 2008

By Bob Fertik

Murray Waas has the scoop on an FBI report that suggests the FBI believes Cheney lied to them:
Vice President Dick Cheney, according to a still-highly confidential FBI report, admitted to federal investigators that he rewrote talking points for the press in July 2003 that made it much more likely that the role of then-covert CIA-officer Valerie Plame in sending her husband on a CIA-sponsored mission to Africa would come to light.

Cheney conceded during his interview with federal investigators that in drawing attention to Plame’s role in arranging her husband’s Africa trip reporters might also unmask her role as CIA officer.

Cheney denied to the investigators, however, that he had done anything on purpose that would lead to the outing of Plame as a covert CIA operative. But the investigators came away from their interview with Cheney believing that he had not given them a plausible explanation as to how he could focus attention on Plame’s role in arranging her husband’s trip without her CIA status also possibly publicly exposed. At the time, Plame was a covert CIA officer involved in preventing Iran from obtaining weapons of mass destruction, and Cheney’s office played a central role in exposing her and nullifying much of her work.
As always, Marcy Wheeler brilliantly analyzes the significance of Waas' scoop.
Cheney's new talking points raised a question the answer to which was--Cheney believed--"Valerie Plame, Joe Wilson's CIA spook wife." Which, as Cheney apparently admitted to the FBI, might raise the chances that Plame would be outed--as happened like a charm with Matt Cooper and John Dickerson. Dickerson, recall, was instructed to look into who sent Wilson, and Cooper answered that question for Dickerson with help from Rove: Wilson's wife.

Now, Murray points out that Cheney's admission--certainly from the perspective of June 2004, when Cheney was interviewed--would make it more likely that Cheney had a role in outing Plame. Frankly, when you put Judy's testimony together with Libby's notes and Addington's testimony, that case has already been proved, and for much earlier in the week than Murray's discussing (since it proves that, on Cheney's order, Libby was asking Addington about both Plame and Wilson in the preparation to talk to Judy). But, people are thick, so hopefully Murray's reporting--apparently direct from Cheney's FBI interview--will convince some people to actually look at the available evidence.
Marcy promises more tomorrow - a Fitzmas present for all Plamophiles!


Holiday Address from President-Elect Obama

Remarks of President-Elect Barack Obama
Holiday Radio Address
December 27, 2008

Good morning. This week, Americans are gathering with family and friends across the country to celebrate the blessings of Christmas and the holiday season.

As we celebrate this joyous time of year, our thoughts turn to the brave men and women who serve our country far from home. Their extraordinary and selfless sacrifice is an inspiration to us all, and part of the unbroken line of heroism that has made our freedom and prosperity possible for over two centuries.

Many troops are serving their second, third, or fourth tour of duty. And we are reminded that they are more than dedicated Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guard – they are devoted fathers and mothers; husbands and wives; sons and daughters; and sisters and brothers.

This holiday season, their families celebrate with a joy that is muted knowing that a loved one is absent, and sometimes in danger. In towns and cities across America, there is an empty seat at the dinner table; in distant bases and on ships at sea, our servicemen and women can only wonder at the look on their child’s face as they open a gift back home.

Our troops and military families have won the respect and gratitude of their broader American family. Michelle and I have them in our prayers this Christmas, and we must all continue to offer them our full support in the weeks and months to come. .

These are also tough times for many Americans struggling in our sluggish economy. As we count the higher blessings of faith and family, we know that millions of Americans don’t have a job. Many more are struggling to pay the bills or stay in their homes. From students to seniors, the future seems uncertain.

That is why this season of giving should also be a time to renew a sense of common purpose and shared citizenship. Now, more than ever, we must rededicate ourselves to the notion that we share a common destiny as Americans – that I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper. Now, we must all do our part to serve one another; to seek new ideas and new innovation; and to start a new chapter for our great country.

That is the spirit that will guide my Administration in the New Year. If the American people come together and put their shoulder to the wheel of history, then I know that we can put our people back to work and point our country in a new direction. That is how we will see ourselves through this time of crisis, and reach the promise of a brighter day.

After all, that is what Americans have always done.

232 years ago, when America was newly born as a nation, George Washington and his Army faced impossible odds as they struggled to free themselves from the grip of an empire.

It was Christmas Day—December 25th, 1776 – that they fought through ice and cold to make an improbable crossing of the Delaware River. They caught the enemy off guard, won victories in Trenton and Princeton, and gave new momentum to a beleaguered Army and new hope to the cause of Independence.

Many ages have passed since that first American Christmas. We have crossed many rivers as a people. But the lessons that have carried us through are the same lessons that we celebrate every Christmas season—the same lessons that guide us to this very day: that hope endures, and that a new birth of peace is always possible.


Europe's rail system moving full steam ahead

By Ed Perkins

High-speed rail is moving ahead at high speed in Europe. Railroads there keep adding new high-speed lines and increasing service, while here in the United States, we keep fretting about the need for better transportation but do little about it. If you're heading for Europe next year, you can try out several new lines, and additional lines will open by summer.

Europe's latest opening is in Italy: a new dedicated high-speed line from Milan to Bologna. According to the Italian Railways' press release, nonstop trains can now make the Milan-Rome trip in 3 1/2 hours, although current schedules show only trains that stop in Bologna and Florence, taking three hours, 55 minutes. Still, that's pretty good time, and I assume some nonstops will run by summer. The new segment leaves only a small gap between Bologna and Florence that, once filled, will provide high-speed tracks from Milan to Naples, about 530 miles. That final gap will close either next year or in 2010.

Italy isn't the only European country to have opened new lines recently. The new line from Madrid to Segovia and Valladolid opened in Spain, including a new 17-mile tunnel that allows the Spanish trains to cut travel time to Segovia by more than half. Also recently completed: the full line between Madrid and Barcelona.

Farther north, the high-speed line from Brussels to Amsterdam is still under construction, although portions are in use. It may be fully open in time for a summer trip. The French, who opened the new Paris-Strasbourg line a year ago, have nothing else opening next year, but new lines connecting to Spain at Perpignan will probably open up sometime next year....(Click for remainder).


Bill Kristol's Year Up at 'NYT': Will He Get Axed?

By Greg Mitchell
Editor & Publisher

NEW YORK Exactly one year ago this weekend the Huffington Post broke the news that, as Jim Morrison might have put it, the Kristol Ship was about to sail at The New York Times. Much uproar ensued across the blogosphere. Some pointed out Kristol's call for the paper to be prosecuted, on Fox News in 2006, after its big banking records scoop: "I think it is an open question whether the Times itself should be prosecuted for this totally gratuitous revealing of an ongoing secret classified program that is part of the war on terror."

A day after the Huffington Post reported it, the Times announced that it had indeed hired the conservative pundit as a new weekly op-ed columnist, on a one-year contract. 

Liberal bloggers really reacted now and Kristol said, in an interview with, it gave him some pleasure to see their "heads explode." Kristol, of course, was perhaps the most influential pundit of all in promoting the U.S. invasion of Iraq and has strongly defended the move ever since. 

Times' editorial page editor Andy Rosenthal defended the move. Rosenthal told shortly after the official announcement Saturday that he failed to understand "this weird fear of opposing views....We have views on our op-ed page that are as hawkish or more so than Bill.... 

"The idea that The New York Times is giving voice to a guy who is a serious, respected conservative intellectual -- and somehow that's a bad thing," Rosenthal added. "How intolerant is that?" 

The paper, however, noted in its own announcement: "In a 2003 column on the turmoil within The Times that led to the downfall of the top two editors, he wrote that it was not 'a first-rate newspaper of record,' adding, 'The Times is irredeemable.'"

Fun soon followed when, on January 7, eight paragraphs into his new stint as op-ed columnist, Kristol already made an embarrassing error.(Click for remainder).


GOP Group In Panic Over Possible Franken Win

By Sam Stein
The Huffington Post

The possible, perhaps, impending victory of Al Franken to the Senate has sent GOP officials into a paranoid tizzy.

In an "urgent message" to supporters, the Republican National Lawyer Association accuses Franken and his "liberal allies" of "working feverishingly [sic] to steal the Minnesota Senate election."

"As you may know, the precinct recount phase of the Minnesota Senate race was won by Sen. Norm Coleman on Election Day," reads the petition, signed by the group's executive director, Michael Thielen. "But Al Franken still won't concede. Instead, Franken raised millions of dollars from liberals in New York and Hollywood to fight a "legal" battle to undo the will of the voters. He even got the Minnesota Supreme Court to order canvassing boards to consider about 1600 previously rejected and questionable ballots. Now, Republican Norm Coleman has until December 31st to fight against Franken's liberal legal team to keep his Senate seat. RNLA and Norm Coleman are fighting for every vote -- literally!"

From there, the RNLA asks readers to donate money so that it can uphold the sanctity of the Minnesota election and prevent Franken from "stealing" the Senate seat.

For those following the recount closely, the letter is filled with a variety of obvious misinterpretations and inaccuracies. For instance, the RNLA gives the impression that during the canvassing process, officials "found errors favoring Franken so incredibly statistically improbable that statisticians are questioning the officials in these counties." It's not clear which statisticians the RNLA is referring to. But a study done by a Dartmouth professor actually predicted the very gains made by Franken....(Click for remainder).


A New New Deal?

By Robert L. Borosage & Eric Lotke
The Nation

When Richard Nixon announced that we are all Keynesians now, stagflation was confounding liberal economists, and conservatives were about to take over the commanding heights. Similarly, when Bill Clinton announced that "the era of big government is over," economic conservatism was about to take us off the cliff. Now "the era of big government is over" is over.

Garry Wills says Americans think of government only as a "necessary evil," a last resort. Well, folks, all the other resorts are boarded up. In November, America shed more than 500,000 jobs, the worst single-month record in thirty-four years. We lost more than 2 million over the course of 2008--and the crash is accelerating across the globe.

At the same time, America is falling apart, literally. We've witnessed the ghastly spectaculars: failure of the levees in New Orleans, collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis, bursting of the steam pipe that shut down ten square blocks of Manhattan. But these tragic catastrophes are a small part of the growing costs of a conservative-era failure to invest in our future.

Conservative scorn for government has produced a crippling public-investment deficit. America's core infrastructure--roads, bridges, sewers, airports, trains, mass transit--is overcrowded, outdated and crumbling. The evidence, assembled by Eric Lotke in The Investment Deficit in America, issued by the Campaign for America's Future, is stark. Poor road conditions cost Americans billions in repairs and countless hours in delay. Though China opens a new subway system every year, and Europeans travel from Paris to Frankfurt on high-speed rail, American railroads don't have the funds needed even to maintain their outmoded infrastructure. Cities are suffering an epidemic of broken pipes and sinkholes, with the Environmental Protection Agency estimating more than 40,000 discharges of raw sewage into our drinking water, streams and homes each year from collapsing and overwhelmed sewage systems. The Education Department found that one-third of instruction."...(Click for remainder).


Good God, Bad God

By Richard Kim
The Nation

Barack Obama's choice of evangelical pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at the inauguration has provoked outrage from progressives, who have condemned it as a slap at his base and at gay and lesbian supporters in particular. Wasn't Obama's election a repudiation of the religious right? Couldn't he have picked a more progressive figure--like civil rights leader Joseph Lowery, who supports same-sex marriage and is giving the closing benediction? Why won't Democrats behave like Republicans, who reward their religious base with state spoils both symbolic and monetary?

I understand the left's sense of betrayal, but this reaction to Obama's choice is off the mark. It's a sign of how much we have conceded to the religious right that almost nobody asked why there should be an invocation at all. Sure, it's an argument they're unlikely to win, in part because Obama is a synergistically religious politician who enthusiastically speaks the language of faith and government (though for many years there was no invocation at the inauguration, and the famously devout John Quincy Adams refused to be sworn in on the Bible because he thought it should be reserved for worship). But it's just as unlikely that Obama will be shamed into rescinding Warren's invitation. So as long as the left is on the side of losing arguments, why not make the case for secularism, the separation of church and state and the purity of the constitutional oath? Why accept the Rovian premise that elections are referendums on religion and then squabble over which God ("a more inclusive God," say gay critics) was most recently legitimated by the vote?

In this culture war calculus, Obama's decision to split the difference--Warren at the top, Lowery at the close--makes perfect sense. After all, Warren and Obama are not as unlike as progressives would like to believe. They disagree about abortion, but both want to expand faith-based initiatives for social services. Indeed, Warren has earned accolades from many Democrats (including Obama) as a new breed of evangelical interested in poverty reduction and climate change. They cheered as he and his wife, Kay, became major players in the AIDS world even though Warren's programs, some funded by Bush's global AIDS plan, advocated abstinence-only education and Christian conversion. Obama and the Democrats may now limit cases of evangelizing on the federal dime and inject science into the mix, but the door to proselytizing and privatization remains wide open....(Click for remainder).


You have Rick Warren officially spooked

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

By John Aravosis
America Blog

I thought it was all a tad too convenient that Rick Warren was talking the press about the controversy over his doing the invocation at Obama's inaugural, and that Warren was doing videos and emailings to supporters trying to present "his side" of the argument (his side is that we're hateful, evil, Christ-ophobes), and then scrubbing his church Web site to remove language that talked about banning gays from membership (though the church's apparent PR firm (what church has a PR firm?) just emailed me to say they have no rescinded their language on homosexuality, but rather they've "repurposed" it (repurposed?) in a series of videos. Whatever. The fact that Rick Warren's PR flak is now emailing me speaks volumes to what we have already accomplished.

Now we find out that Rick "Deny me three times" Warren is visiting an HIV/AIDS related thrift store in West Hollywood (the gay mecca of the west coast) and taking photos with known homos. Don't think for a minute that Warren isn't visiting the thrift store to prove that he loves American "victims" of AIDS just lke he likes those Africans (we "coincidentally" wrote about this distinction yesterday).

Folks - you, we, have Rick Warren running in circles in order to clear his "good" name. (And I have a hard time believing that he's doing this without a little coaching from some folks who might just have invited him to speak somewhere on January 20th.) But the problem is that Warren can only run so far from his anti-gay rhetoric because it's what he believes. It's what his followers believe. These people hate us. They consider us sub-human. As Rick Warren himself said, our relationships are no better than pedophilia, than incest. There are only so many amends Rick Warren can make before he, once again, reveals his true self, as he did this morning when he called us hateful, evil, Christ-ophobes....(Click for remainder).


Warren On? Party Off.

By Richard Cohen
The Washington Post

Not that he was planning to attend, but Barack Obama should know that my sister's inauguration night party -- the one for which she was preparing Obama Punch -- has been canceled. The notice went out over the weekend, by e-mail and word of mouth, that Obama's choice of Rick Warren to give the inaugural invocation had simply ruined the party. Warren is anti-gay, and my sister, not to put too fine a point on it, is not. She's gay.

She is -- or was -- a committed Obama supporter. On the weekend before the presidential election, my sister and my mother drove from the Boston area, where they both live, to Obama's New Hampshire headquarters in Manchester. There my mother made 76 phone calls for Obama, which is not bad for someone who is 96, and gives you an idea of the level of commitment to Obama in certain precincts of my family.

I should say right off that my mother feels less strongly about Warren than my sister does. But I should add immediately that my sister feels very strongly, indeed. She's been in a relationship with another woman, the quite wonderful Nancy, for 19 years, and she resents the fact that Warren has likened same-sex marriage to incest, pederasty and polygamy.

"I'm opposed to redefinition of a 5,000-year definition of marriage," Warren told's Steve Waldman. "I'm opposed to having a brother and sister being together and calling that marriage. I'm opposed to an older guy marrying a child and calling that marriage. I'm opposed to one guy having multiple wives and calling that marriage."...(Click for remainder).


Pope likens "saving" gays to saving the rainforest

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

By Phil Stewart

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict said on Monday that saving humanity from homosexual or transsexual behavior was just as important as saving the rainforest from destruction.

"(The Church) should also protect man from the destruction of himself. A sort of ecology of man is needed," the pontiff said in a holiday address to the Curia, the Vatican's central administration.

"The tropical forests do deserve our protection. But man, as a creature, does not deserve any less."

The Catholic Church teaches that while homosexuality is not sinful, homosexual acts are. It opposes gay marriage and, in October, a leading Vatican official called homosexuality "a deviation, an irregularity, a wound."...(Click for remainder).


Raising the World’s I.Q.

This is fairly interesting, and quite frankly, shocking. What's the Western world waiting for? Oh, yes that's right, we can't have the brown people getting too 'uppity' now can we? How pathetic that we're not doing anything about this.

By Nicholas D. Kristof

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan - Travelers to Africa and Asia all have their favorite forms of foreign aid to “make a difference.” One of mine is a miracle substance that is cheap and actually makes people smarter.

Unfortunately, it has one appalling side effect. No, it doesn’t make you sterile, but it is just about the least sexy substance in the world. Indeed, because it’s so numbingly boring, few people pay attention to it or invest in it. (Or dare write about it!)

It’s iodized salt.

Almost one-third of the world’s people don’t get enough iodine from food and water. The result in extreme cases is large goiters that swell their necks, or other obvious impairments such as dwarfism or cretinism. But far more common is mental slowness.

When a pregnant woman doesn’t have enough iodine in her body, her child may suffer irreversible brain damage and could have an I.Q. that is 10 to 15 points lower than it would otherwise be. An educated guess is that iodine deficiency results in a needless loss of more than 1 billion I.Q. points around the world.

Development geeks rave about the benefits of adding iodine and other micronutrients (such as vitamin A, iron, zinc and folic acid) to diets. The Copenhagen Consensus, which brings together a panel of top global economists to find the most cost-effective solutions to the world’s problems, puts micronutrients at the top of the list of foreign aid spending priorities....(Click for remainder).



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