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Crackdown Reflects US Anxiety on Mexico

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

By Daniel Dombey and Adam Thomson
The Financial Times


The administration of Barack Obama on Tuesday stepped up efforts to crack down on guns and money flowing to Mexican drugs cartels in the latest sign that the relationship with Mexico is rocketing up the US political agenda.

As two separate crises – drugs-related violence that has claimed more than 7,000 lives in Mexico since the start of 2008 and a $2.4bn trade dispute – threaten to spiral out of control, the administration said it would send more personnel and equipment to the border.

Janet Napolitano, homeland security secretary, announced deployments to the south-west border totalling more than 360 agents and involving the doubling of specialised security forces from 95 to 190, together with 100 customs officers to inspect goods leaving the US.

Separately, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is sending 100 more agents to the border in the next 45 days.

In a further sign of the increased US emphasis, Hillary Clinton, secretary of state, on Wednesday begins a two-day trip to the country, one of several visits by senior members of Mr Obama’s cabinet ahead of the president himself travelling to Mexico next month....(Click for remainder).

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Welcome to Pipelineistan (Mother Jones)

Introduction by Tom Engelhardt

At one point last week, the price of a barrel of crude oil—which had risen as high as $147 last July and, with the global economic meltdown, hit a low of $32 in 2009—rebounded above $51. Prices at the local gas pump are expected to rise as well in the coming weeks. However, given a worldwide falloff in oil use, these price jumps may not hold for long. Still, cheap or not, oil and natural gas (as well as coal) are what drives global civilization, and that's clearly not going to change any time soon.

That, in turn, means the major powers are going to be no less eager to secure key energy reserves and control the flow of energy in bust times as they were in boom times, which is where Pepe Escobar comes in. In a long, typically vigorous essay just published in book form, "Obama Does Globalistan," he refers to his earlier book Globalistan as a "warped geopolitical travel book." That makes him a wonderfully "warped geopolitical traveler." In fact, he regularly circumnavigates the globe from Central Asia and the Middle East to Latin America, even sometimes landing in Washington, writing pyrotechnically for an online publication on which I have long been completely hooked, Asia Times.

Knowing his proclivity for following energy flows the way normal tourists might follow the sun, I asked him if he might offer TomDispatch readers periodic "postcards" from the energy heartlands of the planet and what he calls the Tower of Babel of "nations, mercenary peoples, terrorists, dictatorships, tribes, nomad mafias, and religious outfits" that are in conflict upon them. This is the first of his postcards. More will follow. Tom

Liquid War

Postcard from Pipelineistan

By Pepe Escobar
Mother Jones

What happens on the immense battlefield for the control of Eurasia will provide the ultimate plot line in the tumultuous rush towards a new, polycentric world order, also known as the New Great Game.

Our good ol' friend the nonsensical "Global War on Terror," which the Pentagon has slyly rebranded "the Long War," sports a far more important, if half-hidden, twin—a global energy war. I like to think of it as the Liquid War, because its bloodstream is the pipelines that crisscross the potential imperial battlefields of the planet. Put another way, if its crucial embattled frontier these days is the Caspian Basin, the whole of Eurasia is its chessboard. Think of it, geographically, as Pipelineistan.

All geopolitical junkies need a fix. Since the second half of the 1990s, I've been hooked on pipelines. I've crossed the Caspian in an Azeri cargo ship just to follow the $4 billion Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan pipeline, better known in this chess game by its acronym, BTC, through the Caucasus. (Oh, by the way, the map of Pipelineistan is chicken-scratched with acronyms, so get used to them!)

I've also trekked various of the overlapping modern Silk Roads, or perhaps Silk Pipelines, of possible future energy flows from Shanghai to Istanbul, annotating my own DIY routes for LNG (liquefied natural gas). I used to avidly follow the adventures of that once-but-not-future Sun-King of Central Asia, the now deceased Turkmenbashi or "leader of the Turkmen," Saparmurat Niyazov, head of the immensely gas-rich Republic of Turkmenistan, as if he were a Conradian hero....(Click for remainder).

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Hey NESTLE-hands off our water!

By Wade Norris
Square State


Recently in my statewide travels around Colorado, I have heard a lot about the lack of rainfall and the drought which is plaguing our state. My bud WeatherDem also has been doing an excellent job of covering the measurable effects of Climate Change and the recent mass tree die off.

He also has told us about the water grab by Shell energy.

If that was not enough, there is a Pine Beetle epidemic in our mountains, leaving numerous acres and homes vulnerable to a massive wildfire.

You can imagine my shock today when I read that Nestle co. wants to bottle up 65 million gallons from the Arkansas river.

From Jason Blevins of the Denver Post:

Nestle - with 12 U.S. brands of bottled water and almost $4.3 billion in North American sales in 2007 - came calling for Arkansas Valley spring water about two years ago. The company wants to draw 65 million gallons a year from an aquifer feeding two freshwater springs near Nathrop, pipe it 5 miles to a truck stop and ship it 100 miles to a Denver bottling facility. It would be sold under the company's Arrowhead brand.Nestle has promised to replace all the water it takes from the valley and spend $1 million to restore riverside habitat where a dilapidated fishery sits. It has installed 10 monitoring wells to gauge the health of the underground aquifer that supplies the springs and will monitor wetlands near them.
Nestle hydrogeologist Bruce Lauerman calls the plan a "sustainable, surgical extraction" of water and describes preserving the pristine water supply by taking only a fraction of its flows.

"We are one of the best things that could happen to these springs," he said. "Our involvement affords a level of protection that other owners and users of this property could never offer."

Maybe so, say many locals. But no thanks.

"We have to take everything they are promising on faith," said Michele Riggio, who last week helped found the anti-Nestle group Chaffee County Citizens for Sustainability. "The risks are too great, and there are not enough proven benefits, so why try?"
The point here Nestle guys, is that you have already got 12 brands of bottled water, which alone probably creates its own huge carbon footprint in plastics, gasoline use and clogged transportation, and you are making 4.3 BILLION dollars from those brands....(Click for remainder).

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EPA Halts Mountaintop Mining

By Mike Lillis
The Washington Independent


Yes, elections do matter.

Putting a quick halt to an Orwellian Bush administration rule allowing mining companies to kill mountain streams, the Environmental Protection Agency this afternoon announced that it will delay hundreds of mining permits while it takes a closer look at how the operations will affect local waterways.

“EPA will use the best science and follow the letter of the law in ensuring we are protecting our environment,” EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in a statement.

Of all the methods used to extract coal, none is so destructive to ecosystems as mountaintop mining — a process in which the tops of mountains are literally blasted away to access the coal seams beneath.

A 25-year-old Interior Department regulation prohibits mining companies from dumping debris into valley streams, but in December the Bush administration eased the rule to allow such dumping if the companies can make a case that it’s unavoidable. Complicating the picture, a Virginia-based federal appeals court last month ruled that the Army Corps of Engineers has the authority to grant mining permits. With the EPA’s announcement today, the agency has indicated that the Army Corps won’t have the final say.
In a statement issued moments ago, Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope cheered the EPA’s decision:
With the bulldozers and dynamite standing by, the Obama administration has taken decisive action to protect the streams, mountains and communities of Appalachia.

Already close to 2,000 miles of streams have been contaminated or destroyed by mountaintop removal coal mining, and communities throughout the Appalachian region suffer daily from contaminated drinking water, increased flooding, and a decimated landscape … Reviewing the permits will stop the bleeding, and now EPA should begin to fix the Bush-era regulatory loopholes that made mountaintop removal possible.
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17 Year-Old Gay Vermont Youth Speaks Out On Marriage Equality

This kid is my new hero!


James Neiley (17)

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Border Agents to Poison Foliage Along Border

This is just not right.  They can't be serious about this?!


By Jeralyn
TalkLeft.com


Does anyone remember Agent Orange? If this is what Janet Napolitano has in mind for Homeland Security, fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a wild and bumpy ride.
The U.S. Border Patrol plans to poison the plant life along a 1.1-mile stretch of the Rio Grande riverbank as soon as Wednesday to get rid of the hiding places used by smugglers, robbers and illegal immigrants.

If successful, the $2.1 million pilot project could later be duplicated along as many as 130 miles of river in the patrol’s Laredo Sector, as well as other parts of the U.S.-Mexico border.
Are they going to force Sheriff Joe Arpaio's inmates to do the planting?...(Click for remainder).

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Commentary: Legalize drugs to stop violence

By Jeffrey A. Miron
CNN


CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (CNN) -- Over the past two years, drug violence in Mexico has become a fixture of the daily news. Some of this violence pits drug cartels against one another; some involves confrontations between law enforcement and traffickers.

Recent estimates suggest thousands have lost their lives in this "war on drugs."

The U.S. and Mexican responses to this violence have been predictable: more troops and police, greater border controls and expanded enforcement of every kind. Escalation is the wrong response, however; drug prohibition is the cause of the violence.

Prohibition creates violence because it drives the drug market underground. This means buyers and sellers cannot resolve their disputes with lawsuits, arbitration or advertising, so they resort to violence instead.

Violence was common in the alcohol industry when it was banned during Prohibition, but not before or after.

Violence is the norm in illicit gambling markets but not in legal ones. Violence is routine when prostitution is banned but not when it's permitted. Violence results from policies that create black markets, not from the characteristics of the good or activity in question....(Click for remainder).

Jeffrey Miron is a senior lecturer in economics at Harvard University.

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Senator Sanders Blocking Key Obama Nomination

Way to go Bernie!

By Ken Silverstein
Harper's Magazine


I reported back in February on the case of Gary Gensler, the former Goldman Sachs employee and derivatives cheerleader who President Obama nominated to head the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). Gensler’s nomination sailed through the Senate Agricultural Committee but Senator Bernie Sanders has placed a hold on the nomination (as has a second senator who is as yet unnamed). A statement from Sanders’s office said:
While Mr. Gensler is clearly an intelligent and knowledgeable person, I cannot support his nomination. Mr. Gensler worked with Sen. Phil Gramm and Alan Greenspan to exempt credit default swaps from regulation, which led to the collapse of A.I.G. and has resulted in the largest taxpayer bailout in U.S. history. He supported Gramm-Leach-Bliley, which allowed banks like Citigroup to become “too big to fail.” He worked to deregulate electronic energy trading, which led to the downfall of Enron and the spike in energy prices. At this moment in our history, we need an independent leader who will help create a new culture in the financial marketplace and move us away from the greed, recklessness and illegal behavior which has caused so much harm to our economy.
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The Evolution of Texas

By Mary Mapes
The Huffington Post


I almost feel sorry for people trying to keep up with politics in the rest of the country these days. They must be overwhelmed - having to analyze the complex maneuverings of the stock market, forced to pore over the arcane elements of Wall Street bonuses and buyouts, mesmerized into memorizing the details of derivatives.

Life in Texas is so much easier.

Down here, we're still fightin' over the stupid stuff.

Like evolution.

Now, I must confess that living in Texas for the past 20 years has led me, on occasion, to doubt Darwin. To wonder if I had moved to some sort of land-locked political Galapagos, a dry island where species no longer found in the rest of the world still roam free.

After all, there has to be some explanation for why Texas is welcoming back with open arms a moral and political pariah like you-know-"W"ho.

We're even building him a lie-berry.

But the notion that evolution ensured that the whole human race would end up at more or less the same cognitive level hits a real speed bump when you factor into the primordial pool some of the Lone Star State's leaders.

Darwin clearly isn't finished with some of them yet....(Click for remainder).

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Vermont Senate votes to legalize same-sex marriage

I think it's really only a matter of time before DoMA is repealed and a majority of States have legalized all marriages.  This ought to make the fundies heads spin.

By Alan Silverleib
CNN


The Vermont Senate voted overwhelmingly Monday to legalize same-sex marriage, potentially setting the stage for a high-profile legislative showdown and breaking a new political barrier in the state that made history in 2000 by becoming the first to approve civil unions for gay and lesbian couples.

If the bill becomes law, Vermont will become the first state to legalize same-sex marriage without being forced to do so by the courts.

The bill, which passed the 30-member chamber by a 26-4 margin, moves to the Vermont House, where it is also expected to be approved. Republican Gov. Jim Douglas, however, has said he doesn't support the bill.

"Gov. Douglas agrees with President Obama that marriage is between a man and a woman. He supports Vermont's current civil union law, which provides equal rights, benefits and responsibilities to Vermonters in civil unions," Douglas spokeswoman Dennise Casey said.

He also "believes this bill is a distraction from the important work the Legislature needs to do to pass a responsible budget and get our economy going again," Casey added.

It is unclear whether both chambers of the Vermont Legislature would vote to override a potential gubernatorial veto....(Click for remainder).

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Lesbian named chief judge of U.S. Claims Court

Hewitt is married Episcopal priest

By Lou Chibbaro, Jr.
Washington Blade


The White House announced Monday that President Obama has appointed a prominent lesbian attorney and ordained Episcopal priest as Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

Emily C. Hewitt, 64, has been serving as one of 16 judges on the U.S. Court of Federal Claims since President Clinton appointed her to the post in 1998.

Hewitt’s elevation to Chief Judge on the court does not require Senate confirmation. The Senate confirmed her 1998 appointment to the court.

A biography of Hewitt on the court’s web site says she is married to Eleanor Dean Acheson, a nationally recognized gay rights attorney who served as an assistant attorney general in the Clinton administration. Acheson, who was out as a lesbian in the Clinton administration, later worked as director of public policy and government affairs for the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force.

A White House statement announcing Hewitt’s appointment as chief judge says she has “handled cases in all areas of the court’s jurisdiction, chaired the court’s Rules and Building and Space Committees, and served on its Management Committee.”

In 2006, U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts appointed her to serve on the Financial Disclosure Committee of the United States Judicial Conference, the statement says. Prior to becoming a judge on the Court of Federal Claims, Hewitt served as general counsel to the U.S. General Services Administration during the Clinton administration. Before entering government service, Hewitt practiced law from 1978 to 1993 with the Boston law firm Hill & Barlow and was elected partner in the firm in 1985. She served as chair of the firm’s real estate department from 1987 to 1993....(Click for remainder).

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Turley: Cheney war crimes probe would be 'shortest in history'

By David Edwards and Stephen C. Webster
Raw Story


President Barack Obama said all the right things on 60 Minutes, according to Jonathan Turley. But no mere verbal rebuff to the former vice president will see the law upheld.

If Obama would step out of the way and allow prosecutors to look at evidence of alleged Bush administration war crimes, "it would be the shortest investigation in history," Turley said on a Monday episode of MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show.

President Obama, appearing Sunday on the CBS news program, said the former vice president's policies on the treatment of prisoners captured in President Bush's terror war are "unsustainable" and had caused "incredible damage to our image and position in the world."

"The reason Obama seems very irritated by it is that he is responsible for the conversation," said Turley, a constitutional scholar and George Washington University professor. "Because he's the one that is blocking a criminal investigation of Vice President Cheney and President Bush and other Bush officials. It is like a bank robber calling up and asking him to debate bank robbery."...(Click for remainder).

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Scalia the Homophobe and Barney Frank the Hero

By Emma Ruby-Sachs
The Huffington Post


Barney Frank has called one of the most senior justices of the Supreme Court a homophobe. Justice Scalia is the core of the right wing of the court, a staunch supporter of limited constitutional protections and traditional interpretations of constitutional language and, as Frank contends, a homophobe.

Well, we can't say for sure that Scalia wouldn't sit down for dinner with a homosexual, or have a pleasant conversation about the various sock colors that match his robe.

But we can be sure that he does not support protecting gay rights and certainly feels that gay sex is a pretty immoral thing to do.

He also, by the way, doesn't feel that abortion is protected by the Constitution, nor does he feel that killing kids who commit crimes is "cruel and unusual punishment."

The sad part of this story is that Scalia is not going anywhere anytime soon.

During the election many indicated that court appointments may be the single most important issue of the next four years. Ginsburg is suffering from an aggressive cancer and Stevens is 88 years old and likely to choose to retire under a Democratic President.

But replacing those two Justices will merely keep the balance of the court as it is now: four "left," four right and one sitting in the middle (keeping in mind that left wing for a Supreme Court Justice is not the same as popular progressive politics)....(Click for remainder).

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Geithner Plan Will Rob US Taxpayers: Stiglitz

By Reuters
Via CNBC.com


The U.S. government plan to rid banks of toxic assets will rob American taxpayers by exposing them to too much risk and is unlikely to work as long as the economy remains weak, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz said on Tuesday.

"The Geithner plan is very badly flawed," Stiglitz told Reuters in an interview during a Credit Suisse Asian Investment Conference in Hong Kong.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's plan to wipe up to US$1 trillion in bad debt off banks' balance sheets, unveiled on Monday, offered "perverse incentives", Stiglitz said.

The U.S. government is basically using the taxpayer to guarantee against downside risk on the value of these assets, while giving the upside, or potential profits, to private investors, he said.

"Quite frankly, this amounts to robbery of the American people. I don't think it's going to work because I think there'll be a lot of anger about putting the losses so much on the shoulder of the American taxpayer."...(Click for remainder).

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Obama Starts Filling In Treasury Department Holes

WASHINGTON (AP)— President Barack Obama on Monday moved to fill three top jobs at the Treasury Department to help Secretary Tim Geithner manage the federal bureaucracy charged with helping the nation's struggling economy.

In nominating Neal Wolin to be deputy treasury secretary, Obama now has named or nominated four of the five top jobs at the department, where critics said the new administration has been slow to fill major positions.

Wolin, who will require Senate confirmation, is a Clinton-era official who previously was the department's general counsel. The other two announced Monday were Lael Brainard, a Clinton-era official, to be the Treasury Department's top official for international affairs, and Stuart Levey, who will stay on as the top counterterrorism official at the department.

"I am grateful for the service of these dedicated and talented individuals and have the highest confidence that, under the leadership of Secretary Geithner, they will serve the American people well as we tackle the challenges ahead of us," Obama said in a statement released Monday evening announcing his intention to nominate them.

Part of the reason these top jobs haven't been filled is some people who were on track to be nominated withdrew their names, including Lee Sachs, who now is counselor to Geithner, a position that does not require Senate confirmation. Others under consideration withdrew under scrutiny or pressure _ something Obama himself bemoaned in an interview that aired Sunday.

"You know, this whole confirmation process, as I mentioned earlier, has gotten pretty tough. ... It's gotten tougher in the age of 24/7 news cycles," Obama said on CBS News' "60 Minutes."

"And a lot of people who we think are about to serve in the administration and treasury suddenly say, 'Well, you know what? I don't want to go through some of the scrutiny, embarrassment, in addition to taking huge cuts in pay."...(Click for remainder).

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The President Strikes Back

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The New McCarthyism?


Government Faces Challenge to Practice of Denying Foreign Scholars Entry Based on Political Beliefs

By Daphne Eviatar
The Washington Independent


In January 2004, Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss professor of Muslim studies and visiting fellow at St. Antony’s College at the University of Oxford, was offered a tenured position as a professor of religion, conflict and peacebuilding at the University of Notre Dame. He applied for and received a visa to come to the United States that May. But just nine days before the 44-year-old academic and his family were to move to Indiana, Ramadan was informed by the United States Embassy in Switzerland that his visa had been revoked.

At a press conference on August 25, a spokesman for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement division of the Department of Homeland Security said that Ramadan’s visa had been revoked based on a part of the USA Patriot Act that allows the government to exclude those who have “endorsed or espoused” terrorism.

Ramadan and his supporters insist in a lawsuit that the scholar and writer “does not endorse, espouse, or persuade others to support terrorism.” On the contrary, they say, Ramadan, who has published 20 books and more than 700 articles on such topics as Muslim identity, democracy, human rights and Islam, “has been a consistent and vocal critic both of terrorism and those who use it.” What’s more, the ACLU, The Pen American Center, American Academy of Religion and others that filed suit on Ramadan’s behalf claim that the “endorse or espouse” provision of the Patriot Act is unconstitutional because it is vague and easily manipulated, effectively excluding foreigners from visiting the United States based purely on their politics. They cite a State Department Foreign Affairs manual says the provision is aimed at those who have voiced “irresponsible expressions of opinion.”

After the groups filed their lawsuit, the government changed its explanation of why it was denying Ramadan entry. Beginning in September 2006, the official explanation was that Ramadan, a devout Muslim, was excluded because between 1998 and 2002 he had made donations totalling just over $1,300 to a Swiss charity that provides aid to Palestinians. Although considered a legitimate charity in Europe, since Ramadan made his donations the group has been deemed “a designated terrorist organization” by the United States because it supposedly gave money to Hamas. Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, modified in 2005 by the REAL ID Act, the U.S. government may exclude anyone who has given money to a terrorist organization....(Click for remainder).

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President Obama Global OpEd: "A Time For Global Action"

By Barack Obama

WASHINGTON: We are living through a time of global economic challenges that cannot be met by half measures or the isolated efforts of any nation. Now, the leaders of the Group of 20 have a responsibility to take bold, comprehensive and coordinated action that not only jump-starts recovery, but also launches a new era of economic engagement to prevent a crisis like this from ever happening again.

No one can deny the urgency of action. A crisis in credit and confidence has swept across borders, with consequences for every corner of the world. For the first time in a generation, the global economy is contracting and trade is shrinking.

Trillions of dollars have been lost, banks have stopped lending, and tens of millions will lose their jobs across the globe. The prosperity of every nation has been endangered, along with the stability of governments and the survival of people in the most vulnerable parts of the world.

Once and for all, we have learned that the success of the American economy is inextricably linked to the global economy. There is no line between action that restores growth within our borders and action that supports it beyond.

If people in other countries cannot spend, markets dry up -- already we've seen the biggest drop in American exports in nearly four decades, which has led directly to American job losses. And if we continue to let financial institutions around the world act recklessly and irresponsibly, we will remain trapped in a cycle of bubble and bust. That is why the upcoming London Summit is directly relevant to our recovery at home.

My message is clear: The United States is ready to lead, and we call upon our partners to join us with a sense of urgency and common purpose. Much good work has been done, but much more remains.

Our leadership is grounded in a simple premise: We will act boldly to lift the American economy out of crisis and reform our regulatory structure, and these actions will be strengthened by complementary action abroad. Through our example, the United States can promote a global recovery and build confidence around the world; and if the London Summit helps galvanize collective action, we can forge a secure recovery, and future crises can be averted.

Our efforts must begin with swift action to stimulate growth. Already, the United States has passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act -- the most dramatic effort to jump-start job creation and lay a foundation for growth in a generation.

Other members of the G-20 have pursued fiscal stimulus as well, and these efforts should be robust and sustained until demand is restored. As we go forward, we should embrace a collective commitment to encourage open trade and investment, while resisting the protectionism that would deepen this crisis.

Second, we must restore the credit that businesses and consumers depend upon. At home, we are working aggressively to stabilize our financial system. This includes an honest assessment of the balance sheets of our major banks, and will lead directly to lending that can help Americans purchase goods, stay in their homes and grow their businesses.

This must continue to be amplified by the actions of our G-20 partners. Together, we can embrace a common framework that insists upon transparency, accountability and a focus on restoring the flow of credit that is the lifeblood of a growing global economy. And the G-20, together with multilateral institutions, can provide trade finance to help lift up exports and create jobs.

Third, we have an economic, security and moral obligation to extend a hand to countries and people who face the greatest risk. If we turn our backs on them, the suffering caused by this crisis will be enlarged, and our own recovery will be delayed because markets for our goods will shrink further and more American jobs will be lost.

The G-20 should quickly deploy resources to stabilize emerging markets, substantially boost the emergency capacity of the International Monetary Fund and help regional development banks accelerate lending. Meanwhile, America will support new and meaningful investments in food security that can help the poorest weather the difficult days that will come.

While these actions can help get us out of crisis, we cannot settle for a return to the status quo. We must put an end to the reckless speculation and spending beyond our means; to the bad credit, over-leveraged banks and absence of oversight that condemns us to bubbles that inevitably bust.

Only coordinated international action can prevent the irresponsible risk-taking that caused this crisis. That is why I am committed to seizing this opportunity to advance comprehensive reforms of our regulatory and supervisory framework.

All of our financial institutions -- on Wall Street and around the globe -- need strong oversight and common sense rules of the road. All markets should have standards for stability and a mechanism for disclosure. A strong framework of capital requirements should protect against future crises. We must crack down on offshore tax havens and money laundering.

Rigorous transparency and accountability must check abuse, and the days of out-of-control compensation must end. Instead of patchwork efforts that enable a race to the bottom, we must provide the clear incentives for good behavior that foster a race to the top.

I know that America bears our share of responsibility for the mess that we all face. But I also know that we need not choose between a chaotic and unforgiving capitalism and an oppressive government-run economy. That is a false choice that will not serve our people or any people.

This G-20 meeting provides a forum for a new kind of global economic cooperation. Now is the time to work together to restore the sustained growth that can only come from open and stable markets that harness innovation, support entrepreneurship and advance opportunity.

The nations of the world have a stake in one another. The United States is ready to join a global effort on behalf of new jobs and sustainable growth. Together, we can learn the lessons of this crisis, and forge a prosperity that is enduring and secure for the 21st century.

Barack Obama is president of the United States. A Global Viewpoint article distributed by Tribune Media Services.

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Seriously, Give Us Our Bonuses, Or We Will Destroy the Economy

If ever there was a need for an Executive Branch hit squad, this would be it.


By Chris Bowers
Open Left


The Wall Street Journal has an article up about the Obama administration's outreach efforts to Wall Street. Among the cute stories about hashing out the housing plan over pizza with banking executives, come the underlying story of how the bonus tax threatened the Wall Street bailout itself. Far from being a side issue or a petty amount of money, the message of the banking industry to the Obama administration was clear: give us our bonuses, or we will blow up the economy. From the story:
Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and his colleagues worked the phones to try to line up support on Wall Street for the plan announced Monday. They told executives they don't favor using the tax code to retroactively penalize specific individuals who had received bonuses, according to people familiar with the calls. They asked officials to sign on "in pencil, not ink," and to "validate" or "express support" for the plan, these people say.

Some bankers say they turned the conversations into complaints about the antibonus crusade consuming Capitol Hill. Some have begun "slow-walking" the information previously sought by Treasury for stress-testing financial institutions, three bankers say, and considered seeking capital from hedge funds and private-equity funds so they could return federal bailout money, thereby escaping federal restrictions.(...)

Bankers were shell-shocked, especially when Congress moved to heavily tax bonuses. When administration officials began calling them to talk about the next phase of the bailout, the bankers turned the tables. They used the calls to lobby against the antibonus legislation, Wall Street executives say. Several big firms called Treasury and White House officials to urge a more reasonable approach, both sides say. The banks' message: If you want our help to get credit flowing again to consumers and businesses, stop the rush to penalize our bonuses.
There are a couple of extremely noteworthy items here. At the top of the list is the way that the financial services industry is directly threatening to blow up the entire private-public bailout plan unless they get their bonuses. They don't want any new regulations, any limit to their compensation, and even any angry rhetoric. They just want the government's money, no strings attached. And if their demands aren't met, they will destroy the entire country. It is pure economic terrorism....(Click for remainder).

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People React to O'Reilly's Audiobook

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Beavis & Butt-Head vs. The Volcano: Alaska volcano conspires against Palin and Jindal

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Sunday Loon Watch, 3/22/09: Fox attacks Obama, defends AIG bonuses, and slams condoms

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Is Barack Obama our Franklin Roosevelt? (Part 1)

By Dana Houle
Daily Kos


People regularly search the past for parallels to the present. Well before the first primary votes were cast, I began a series of essays looking at the parallels between the elections of 1932 and 2008 (here, here, here and here.) Now, two months in to an administration facing challenges greater than any since Roosevelt's, people are again looking for parallels, now between Roosevelt's first 100 days and the start of this administration, or their respective first terms, or the New Deal and whatever mix of policy initiatives and innovations Obama will employ to address our current problems and prepare our nation and the world to deal with climate change and a transformation in our sources and uses of energy.

Yesterday Daily Kos executive editor SusanG reviewed historian Anthony J. Badger's FDR: The First 100 Days. The obvious difference, she makes clear, is that in 1933 there were no FDR-like models for FDR to follow. But what else is different from the challenges FDR faced and those Obama is now confronting? What's similar and what's different between the worlds political environments of 1933 and 2009? 

The Crises of 1933 and 2009

In 1933 one quarter of Americans workers were unemployed. The banking system had collapsed, and in this era before the FDIC, when a bank collapsed, the depositors lost everything. There was no safety net. Most of the developed world had succumbed to fascism or was governed by feckless appeasers, but in the aftermath of WWI and Wilson's failure to secure US participation of the League of Nations, the US had retreated from international affairs and was deep in the period of isolationism. Much of the country—especially the South and West—had no electricity, physical infrastructure or industry. Vast numbers of Americans were struggling to feed themselves and keep their families under a roof. And the crises had grown worse for years, as Herbert Hoover had no effective response to the Wall St crash of 1929.

Today we face a horrific economy, and unlike in 1933, we're still probably in economic freefall, rather than amidst a prolonged depression. But the successes of the New Deal and the advances of technology, economic development and the (truncated) American welfare state keep most Americans from hunger, homelessness and abject poverty. Our banking system is severely damaged—we still don't know the breadth of the destruction caused by the casinoization of the American financial industry—but the destruction isn't as complete as it was in 1933. Older Americans have lost much or even all of their savings, and many will probably still find an entire lifetime of wealth wiped away. But all but a few still have income, even if only in the form of Social Security....(Click for remainder).

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Wall Street Journal article omitted Bush Treasury Department's role from AIG bonus timeline

By Media Matters for America

A March 23 Wall Street Journal article about Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and his aides' involvement in decisions about AIG's bonus payments did not report that it was the Bush Treasury Department that signed a stock purchase agreement with AIG, whereby AIG received $40 billion in aid, without having to terminate those payments. The Journal reported, "As New York Fed president [at the time], Mr. Geithner was central to AIG's initial $85 billion bailout in September, which was carried out in a tumultuous four-day period." The Journal further reported, "One of Mr. Geithner's top bank supervisors at the New York Fed, Sarah Dahlgren, became the government's lead overseer of AIG. She sat in on AIG board meetings, joined at times by other top Fed staffers, and also participated in compensation-committee meetings. It isn't clear whether the issue rose to the board level until this month. AIG received an expanded government rescue in October and another in November, bringing the total to about $150 billion, including $40 billion in Treasury funds." But the Journal article did not make clear that it was President Bush's administration that negotiated a November 25, 2008, stock purchase agreement with AIG through which the Bush Treasury Department injected the $40 billion into the company without requiring that the bonus contracts, which AIG had signed with employees, be nullified.

As Media Matters for America previously documented, on March 20, FoxBusiness.com reported that in a November 1, 2008, email, a Treasury Department official wrote, "Have your benefits team made any progress on the 'soft' issues, or heard anything from the fed [sic] on the bonus situation?" The article further reported, "Despite their deliberations at the time, the Treasury and Fed officials, which were part of the Bush Administration, eventually decided to restrict compensation on just the top 75 company executives -- and some of them may still have received hefty bonuses." But in reporting on "how Mr. Geithner and his aides were apprised of the AIG bonuses," The Wall Street Journal did not report that, after deliberating over the bonus contracts, the Bush administration signed the November stock purchase without requiring AIG to nullify those contracts. Indeed, Neil Barofsky, a Bush-appointed special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), noted in March 19 testimony that the executive compensation section of the Treasury's TARP agreement with AIG limits compensation for "Senior Partners," including "all retention payments paid or payable to such Senior Partner under any retention arrangement between the Senior Partner and the Company for any period ending on or prior to March 31, 2010." But the agreement does not affect retention payments for other AIG employees....(Click for remainder).

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NY Times falsely claimed that Obama "campaigned as an antiwar candidate"

By Media Matters for America

In a March 22 New York Times article, reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg wrote that President Obama "never served in the military and campaigned as an antiwar candidate." In fact, Obama did not campaign as "an antiwar candidate"; as Media Matters for America has noted, Obama has repeatedly said that he doesn't "oppose all wars" but is opposed to "a dumb war" or "a rash war."

In an October 17, 2001, Chicago Defender article -- a year before his speech declaring his opposition to the Iraq war -- Obama was quoted as saying that a "military response and a criminal investigation" were necessary to "dismantle" terrorist organizations following the September 11, 2001, attacks. Further, in his October 2, 2002, speech, Obama specifically stated: "I don't oppose all wars. And I know that in this crowd today, there is no shortage of patriots, or of patriotism. What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war." In an August 1, 2007, speech, he elaborated on the 2002 speech: "I did not oppose all wars, I said. I was a strong supporter of the war in Afghanistan. But I said I could not support 'a dumb war, a rash war' in Iraq. I worried about a 'U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences' in the heart of the Muslim world." Similarly, in a September 12, 2007, speech, Obama stated that "George Bush was wrong. The people who attacked us on 9/11 were in Afghanistan, not Iraq. Al Qaeda in Iraq didn't exist before our invasion." He later added, "Congress gave the President the authority to go to war. Our only opportunity to stop the war was lost. I made a different judgment. I thought our priority had to be finishing the fight in Afghanistan. I spoke out against what I called 'a rash war' in Iraq. I worried about, 'an occupation of undetermined length, with undetermined costs, and undetermined consequences.' "

In a March 19, 2008, speech, moments after Obama stated that "[t]he central front in the war against terror is not Iraq, and it never was," he stated: "[M]y presidency will shift our focus. Rather than fight a war that does not need to be fought, we need to start fighting the battles that need to be won on the central front of the war against al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan."...(Click for remainder).

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Palin - Who Whacked Obama's Special Olympics Crack - Turned Down Nearly $40 Million For Kids With Disabilities

By Greg Sargent
The Plum Line


On Friday,  Sarah Palin hammered  President Obama for his careless remarks about the Special Olympics, professing herself “shocked” at Obama’s “degrading remark” about “precious and unique people.”

But less than 24 hours before hitting Obama this way, Palin turned down nearly $40 million in Federal funding for programs catering to special education kids.

The funding for special needs kids, it turns out, is buried in all that stimulus money for Alaska that Palin drew national criticism for turning down last week (though there are now doubts about whether she’s made a final decision on them).

The breakdown of the stimulus package money for Alaska lists three categories of Individuals with Disabilities Education Act money. Add them up and you get a grand total of around $36 million.

A spokesperson for the Office of Management and Budget tells me this money would fund programs for the same sort of population served by the Special Olympics.

“This is Federal funding for students with disabilities,” the spokesperson says. “All of these children would have handicaps, whether they’re physical or mental.” Asked if the population was comparable to the Special Olympics one, the spokesperson said: “It would be an apples to apples comparison.”...(Click for remainder).

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The American Dream is a Fairy Tale!

By Deena Stryker
OpEd News


Today I have to put a long-term project aside to write a blog.  It's been simmering for a while, but when I saw a retired physician offering a year's worth of medical care free, while potential retirees try to prolong their time in the shrinking job market, that did it.

What's my gripe?  CNN (for better or worse, my bell weather cable news channel), continues to play the human interest angle while offering zero substantive analysis.  This is not to belittle Ali Velshi and his financial colleagues, who do an excellent job within the confines of the all-American principle of objectivity.  The problem is, so-called objectivity (for there really is no such animal) edges out ideological - or even scientific - analysis every time.

Yesterday when I turned the tv back on at five o'clock my dial was still tuned to Drexel University's local channel on which I'd listened to Democracy Now over lunch.  They were broadcasting a labor union meeting that took place a while back in the state of Washington.  In contrast to the blow by blow account of the ways business harasses employees who try to set up a union, one speaker showed a recent Paris street scene, filled as far as the eye could see with protesters carrying huge banners and signs.  The audience immediately erupted in cheers.

In five minutes, that program showed what people in other countries do routinely to defend their rights, and why we can't do the same thing in the United States.

When pictures of workers demonstrating in other countries appear on the corporate news channels, the dismissive tone of the anchor reinforces the message: we don't do that here:  we use the ballot box to achieve the American Dream....(Click for remainder).

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Texas Board of Education to Vote on Evolution

The unquestioning followers of the Christo-fascist zombie brigade are at it again.  How about we just give these people a State like Alabama?  We'll just round up all the conservatives, Republicants, Christian fundamentalists, and we'll let them live in Alabama.  Of course we'll build a wall around the entire state so they can't escape.  This way we'd finally be free of their complete and utter stupidity.

By Charles Lemos
MyDD

Later this week, the Texas Board of Education will consider a new science curriculum designed to challenge the teaching of evolution in Texas high schools but the decision could influence what is taught in biology classes across the nation because Texas is the nation's second largest textbook market.

The Chairman of the Texas Board of Education is Dr. Don McLeroy, a dentist by profession. He's also a creationist. The story in the Wall Street Journal:
Dr. McLeroy believes that God created the earth less than 10,000 years ago. If the new curriculum passes, he says he will insist that high-school biology textbooks point out specific aspects of the fossil record that, in his view, undermine the theory that all life on Earth is descended from primitive scraps of genetic material that first emerged in the primordial muck about 3.9 billion years ago.

He also wants the texts to make the case that individual cells are far too complex to have evolved by chance mutation and natural selection, an argument popular with those who believe an intelligent designer created the universe.

The textbooks will "have to say that there's a problem with evolution -- because there is," said Dr. McLeroy, a dentist. "We need to be honest with the kids."
Funny that because his views on sex education are what's the word, well, the exact opposite. Texas law requires school districts to emphasize abstinence in sex education classes. Asked in 2007 about the possibility that Texas' emphasis on abstinence in sex education might be a factor in the state's relatively high teen pregnancy rate (the fifth highest in the nation) Dr. McLeroy had this to say:
The idea that just giving them a lot of information is going to solve it, I think, is kind of naive. Certainly, it's more of a societal problem than it is a school problem."
So much for honesty....(Click for remainder).

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Americans Not Blaming Obama For AIG: Poll

By The Huffington Post

Americans are angry about AIG, and they want the government to stop the bailed-out firm's executives from getting bonuses. But according to a new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll, they don't blame President Obama (or Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner) for the upsetting rewards.
Nearly half of those surveyed (46%) say AIG management is "most to blame for the fact that these bonuses were paid." Almost one in five (19%) finger Congress, while 8% blame Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and 7% say President Obama bears responsibility.
News articles in recent days have highlighted Geithner's role in the payouts. Most recently, the Wall Street Journal reported that aides to the Treasury Secretary worked with AIG on the issue for months. And members of Congress have argued that the White House is at least partially to blame. Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) told the press that the Treasury was to blame for allowing "excessive executive compensation." Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), asked about a loophole that allowed banks receiving bailout money to give bonuses, "This was a Senate -- I'm going to cut you off -- this was Senate/White House -- this is Senate-White House language."

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Details the 'Tea Parties' Overlook

By Steve Benen
Washington Monthly


I'd kind of forgotten about it, but apparently, far-right activists continue to organize "Tea Party" rallies and talk about "Going Galt." It's a little right-wing fad that hasn't quite gone away, as evidenced by this Orlando get together over the weekend. A local radio host, who helped make the event happen, called it a historic gathering of 4,000 "God-fearing patriots."

Reading over some of the quotes from attendees, one starts to get a sense of what's bothering these folks. For example, they don't like government spending. Or deficits. Or stimulus efforts. Some wanted to argue that Bush isn't to blame for the economic crisis. Others wanted to see the Federal Reserve eliminated altogether.

Perhaps the most striking quote came from a local man who'd recently lost his job at an electrical-equipment company. He wants to see the federal government spend less on economic recovery and focus more on "my grandchildren's money."

Oh my.

Outside the Beltway's Alex Knapp, a libertarian, took a look at some of these events and came up with some important observations. Knapp noted, for example, the fact that most "Tea Party" participants will get a tax cut from Obama, so it's kind of difficult to believe them when they say they feel put upon. For that matter, "Tea Party" cheerleaders didn't mind excessive government spending when it was going to an unnecessary war in Iraq. He concluded:
Let's call the "tea party" and "going Galt" nonsense what it is: unprincipled partisan hackery. If these were truly principled protests, they'd have been around all through the Bush and Republican-controlled Congress years, too.
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Jindal Versus The Volcano

By Sam Stein
The Huffington Post


With Monday's massive volcano eruption in Alaska likely to leave Anchorage and Gov. Sarah Palin's hometown covered in ash, a Democratic strategist sends over the reminder that just a month and a half ago, another up-and-coming Republican star, Gov. Bobby Jindal, mocked the very notion of volcano monitoring.

Speaking in the non-State of the Union rebuttal, the Louisiana Republican said that instead of spending $140 million "for something called 'volcano monitoring,'" Congress "should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington, D.C."

It was a comment not well received among geological experts and one that now seems to pit Jindal against Palin on a minor but important spending provision.

Then and now, the U.S. Geological Survey, which will receive the stimulus money for volcano monitoring, had been keeping track of several active volcanoes across the Pacific Northwest, Hawaii and, of course, Alaska.

And the agency's efforts seemed to pay off. As early as February 6, indeed, residents of cities near Mt. Redoubt were preparing for a volcano eruption because of information gleaned from early monitoring systems. As reported by USA Today, taxicab drivers were replacing air filters more frequently and local citizens began purchasing dust masks and preparing to be stuck inside their homes for lengthy periods of time....(Click for remainder).

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Peace Activists Close NATO Headquarters

By David Swanson
After Downing Street


From all over Belgium, by bus, bike, taxi, public transport and even by walking, hundreds of activists came to NATO's headquarters in Evere, Brussels. They tried non-violently to enter the NATO terrain and seal gates, windows and doors. At the same time, the NATO has been symbolically buried during a farewell ceremony. Today, this burial is still a symbolic act, but the will to turn this symbol into reality is very high.

Despite the massive presence of police forces equipped with water canons, helicopters, horses, kilometres of barb wire, ... several activists managed to enter the military base to seal gates, windows and doors. 450 peace activists have been arrested and showed clearly that Vredesactie and the Bombspotters do not let the NATO keep going with its business as usual.

"I left Liège this morning and we joined the group from Brussels. We have left the bus on the east side of NATO headquarters and we have spread in smaller groups. There was a lot of police there. I have been arrested very quickly while I was walking towards the fence, but I have seen at least one person who managed to climb over the fences with the support of other participants. Anyway, we have been able to send our message very clearly : NATO must be shut down and the NATO nuclear weapons must disappear !", said Fabien, one of the many participants.

NATO GAME OVER is an action of civil disobedience. We commit an offence trying to prevent severe crimes. We are justified by international law. All over Europe, people campaign against NATO. Today, not only Belgium, but also the Netherlands and Germany have seen actions. In the Netherlands, activists occupy the military terrain of Nieuw Milligen, where DARS is deployed, NATO's mobile air surveillance and command system. In Germany, people protest at Büchel nuclear weapons base and NATO's headquarters in Heidelberg.

NATO: which future?

NATO is on the threshold of a fundamental reconfiguration. The Strasbourg NATO summit will not only be NATO's 60th anniversary celebration, it will also be the official start of the discussion on a new Strategic Concept. This document will define the direction of NATO for the years to come. This will be a crucial period for the alliance, and hence for Belgium's foreign and defence policy as well.

Due to NATO membership, Belgium fights a war in Afghanistan. Eight years after the start of the war we don't see any progress. In Afghanistan, NATO is stuck in a dead end. Nevertheless, our government does not hesitate to send extra troops and jet fighters. NATO agreements make Belgium and other European countries a logistic hub for the US army. The American war machine is transported on our roads, harbours and airports to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Meanwhile, NATO deploys 150 to 240 US nuclear weapons in Germany, Italy, Belgium, The Netherlands and Turkey. According to international law, these weapons are just as illegal as elsewhere. The removal of the US nuclear weapons out of Europe would mean an important boost to the multilateral non-proliferation process and a significant step towards nuclear disarmament worldwide....(Click for remainder).

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Mr. Cheney, What About This 'Executive Assassination Squad'?

By John Nichols
The Nation


Dick Cheney is not going to fade away.

George Bush may have retreated to Texas to clear brush and ponder how things went so horribly wrong. But Cheney, who failed out of the university from which Bush graduated, has never been so reflective as the former president.

Bush may actually be embarrassed, or scared, about the mess that was made of international affairs, the economy and our system of constitutional governance during his eight years in the White House.

Cheney isn't.

There will be no apologies from the former vice president.

And there will be no withdrawal from the political frontlines by the man who spun out of the Nixon White House to become Gerald Ford's chief of staff, parlayed that role into a seat in Congress where he served as Ronald Reagan's House floor leader, exploited personal and political ties to position himself as George H.W. Bush's secretary of defense and then effectively nominated himself to be George W. Bush's vice president.

Cheney, whose ambition has always exceeded his knowledge and skill, is determined to defend the political misdeeds, policy machinations and power grabs that -- thanks to George W. Bush's ignorance about the most basic workings of the White House -- briefly made him the most powerful man in the world.

That was evident last week, when Scooter Libby's unindicted co-conspirator appeared on CNN.

Asked by John King if he thought President Obama "has made Americans less safe," Cheney responded with the solemn concern of a man who dodged the draft five times: "I do."...(Click for remainder).

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'Written By CEOs, For CEOs': Dems Pan Biz-Friendly Compromise on Employee Free Choice

By Elana Schor
Talking Points Memo


While official Washington remains publicly preoccupied with executive compensation and the bailout, labor and business interests continue jockeying for position on the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) ahead of its likely congressional consideration in the summer.

The latest round came this weekend, when the CEOs of Costco, Whole Foods, and Starbucks offered an EFCA compromise that would deny workers the right to arbitration with employers who resist union organizing efforts.

Backers of the EFCA "alternative" have enlisted Lanny Davis, the former Clinton White House adviser turned supporter of Joe Lieberman's 2006 re-election bid, to plead their case on the Hill. And it's not going well so far, to say the least -- senior Democrats are pushing back hard at the compromise offer with a series of talking points that blast the EFCA "alternative" as "written by CEOs, for CEOs."

TPMDC has obtained a copy of the complete memo on the business-friendly deal, which is available after the jump. The takeaway is clear: Senior Democrats aren't buying what Davis is helping Costco, Whole Foods, and Starbucks try to sell.
Some key problems with the proposal include:
  • The proposal eliminates workers' ability to choose majority sign-up, the one method for organizing proven to reduce coercion and pressure from all sides on workers. Instead, the proposal would force all workers through the broken, corporate-dominated NLRB system.

  • The proposal rejects first contract arbitration -- a tried and proven method for ensuring good faith bargaining and one of the core elements of the Employee Free Choice Act. Under this proposal, employers would continue to have the union-busting power to drag out bargaining indefinitely and keep employees from gaining the kind of enforceable contracts that CEOs always give themselves. First contract arbitration provides the necessary incentive for the parties to reach agreement on their own terms.
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Financial Policy Despair

By Paul Krugman
The New York Times


Over the weekend The Times and other newspapers reported leaked details about the Obama administration’s bank rescue plan, which is to be officially released this week. If the reports are correct, Tim Geithner, the Treasury secretary, has persuaded President Obama to recycle Bush administration policy — specifically, the “cash for trash” plan proposed, then abandoned, six months ago by then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.

This is more than disappointing. In fact, it fills me with a sense of despair.

After all, we’ve just been through the firestorm over the A.I.G. bonuses, during which administration officials claimed that they knew nothing, couldn’t do anything, and anyway it was someone else’s fault. Meanwhile, the administration has failed to quell the public’s doubts about what banks are doing with taxpayer money.

And now Mr. Obama has apparently settled on a financial plan that, in essence, assumes that banks are fundamentally sound and that bankers know what they’re doing.

It’s as if the president were determined to confirm the growing perception that he and his economic team are out of touch, that their economic vision is clouded by excessively close ties to Wall Street. And by the time Mr. Obama realizes that he needs to change course, his political capital may be gone.

Let’s talk for a moment about the economics of the situation.

Right now, our economy is being dragged down by our dysfunctional financial system, which has been crippled by huge losses on mortgage-backed securities and other assets....(Click for remainder).

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Unemployment hits harder among Latinos, blacks

By Jesse Washington
Associated Press via Yahoo! News


The ax fell without sound or shadow: Tatiana Gallego was suddenly called into human resources and laid off from her job as an admissions counselor for a fashion college.

"The way people tried to explain it to me was, I was the last one hired so I was the first one out," said Gallego, 25, who had worked there for 17 months.

Last hired, first fired: This generations-old cliche rings bitterly true for millions of Latinos and blacks who are losing jobs at a faster rate than the general population during this punishing recession.

Much of the disparity is due to a concentration of Latinos and blacks in construction, blue-collar or service-industry jobs that have been decimated by the economic meltdown. And black unemployment has been about double the rate for whites since the government began tracking those categories in the early 1970s.

But this recession is cutting a swath through the professional classes as well, which can be devastating to people who recently arrived there.

Since the recession began in December 2007, Latino unemployment has risen 4.7 percentage points, to 10.9 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Black unemployment has risen 4.5 points, to 13.4 percent. White unemployment has risen 2.9 points, to 7.3 percent.

Gallego, whose parents were born in Colombia, graduated from the University of Rhode Island. Her mother is self-employed, and her stepfather works in construction.

She was stunned when she was told to pack up and leave by the end of the day because enrollment was down at her New York City school. She said she had recently received a positive performance review, and her bosses were planning to send her to a conference....(Click for remainder).

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Go back into hiding, GOP begs Dick Cheney

By Molly K. Hooper
The Hill


Congressional Republicans are telling Dick Cheney to go back to his undisclosed location and leave them alone to rebuild the Republican Party without his input.

Displeased with the former vice-president's recent media appearances, Republican lawmakers say he's hurting  GOP efforts to reinvent itself after back-to-back electoral drubbings.

The veep, who showed a penchant for secrecy during eight years in the White House,has popped up in media interviews to defend the Bush-Cheney record while suggesting that the country is not as safe under President Obama.

Rep. John Duncan Jr. (R-Tenn.) said, “He became so unpopular while he was in the White House that it would probably be better for us politically if he wouldn’t be so public...But he has the right to speak out since he’s a private citizen.”

Another House Republican lawmaker who requested anonymity said he wasn’t surprised that Cheney has strongly criticized Obama early in his term, but argued that it’s not helping the GOP cause.

The legislator said Cheney, whose approval ratings were lower than President Bush’s during the last Congress, didn’t think through the political implications of going after Obama.

Cheney did “House Republicans no favors,” the lawmaker said, adding, “I could never understand him anyway.”...(Click for remainder).

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Obama fills key Treasury posts

By Corbett B. Daly and David Alexander
Reuters


WASHINGTON (Reuters) President Barack Obama on Monday moved to fill the leadership vacuum at the Treasury Department, tapping former Treasury official Neal S. Wolin as Secretary Timothy Geithner's number two and former White House aide Lael Brainard for the top international job.

Obama also announced that Stuart Levey would stay on as Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, a position he has held since 2004.

Wolin and Brainard must be confirmed by the Senate. Levey does not require reconfirmation to stay. If the Senate approves of Wolin and Brainard, the only remaining vacant Undersecretary position would be for Domestic Finance, the administration's ambassador to Wall Street.

"These candidates all bring energy, experience, and global leadership to the table. I'm confident their contributions will be valuable to restoring the nation's economy," said Senator Max Baucus, the Montana Democrat who heads the Senate panel that oversees these confirmations.

Wolin served as general counsel at the Treasury from 1999 to 2001 and as deputy general counsel from 1995 to 1999. He briefly served in the Obama White House as deputy counsel to the president for economic policy and deputy assistant to the president before being asked to rejoin Treasury.

Brainard is vice president and founding director of the Global Economy and Development Program at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank....(Click for remainder).

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The Recuperative Power of a Veto Threat

By Marie Cocco
Truth Dig

There is little that boosts the level of a president’s leadership hormone like a politically tough but principled veto.

This is one good reason for President Obama to stop straddling and threaten to veto whatever cockamamie tax scheme eventually emerges from Congress as retribution for the repulsive bonuses handed out at American International Group.

Since the firestorm over the bonuses began burning up the airwaves, Obama has managed to take all sides of the issue. He did it again on CBS’ “60 Minutes” Sunday, saying: “As a general proposition, I think you certainly don’t want to use the tax code to punish people.” On the other hand, in the case of AIG, Obama wants to “see if there are ways of doing this that are both legal, that are constitutional—that uphold our basic principles of fairness, but don’t hamper us from getting the banking system back on track.”

Got that? I didn’t think so.

So many of Obama’s economic advisers sent such mixed signals about the tax-back of bonuses on the Sunday news shows that it’s a wonder screens across America didn’t turn fuzzy. This, as the administration is rolling out (for the second time) its bank rescue plan—which happens to count on the kindness of the same sort of high-roller rascals who like big bonuses—to help remove bad assets from bank balance sheets.

The administration itself midwifed the ugly AIG bonus baby when it demanded a watered-down version of executive pay limits that had started out tougher in the Senate version of the president’s giant stimulus bill. This is the loophole through which the AIG bonuses slithered with ease....(Click for remainder).

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Obama to explain economic moves in news conference

By David Alexander
Reuters


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Facing anger over corporate bonuses and skepticism about his massive budget, President Barack Obama holds a news conference on Tuesday to explain his economic strategy to a recession-weary public.

The news conference comes a day after Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner announced details of a public-private plan to help rid banks of $1 trillion in assets whose uncertain value plunged the global economy into crisis.

Markets jumped 7 percent on the news, but some experts questioned whether the plan would work. Obama, who called the move "one more critical element in our recovery," was likely to address the plan and other economic issues at the evening news conference on Tuesday.

"The president ... believes that a continued dialogue with the American people about where we are and where we're going is necessary, certainly in times like this," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

"They may or may not like all the decisions that he makes, but I think he believes it's important that they understand why he's making the decisions that he is," he told a briefing.

The news conference, his first since February 9 and second since taking office, follows a difficult week for the president, who was hit with public outrage over the payment of $165 million in executive bonuses by insurance giant AIG after it received billions in taxpayer bailout money....(Click for remainder).

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Birth control bill passes Colorado House, moves on to governor’s desk

By Wendy Norris
The Colorado Independent

Efforts to block a contraception bill shriveled today in the Colorado House after a series of weird and contentious legislative hearings and an unsuccessful attempt during a House floor debate Friday to add a poison pill amendment to insert the religious definition of pregnancy as at the moment of conception.

The Birth Control Protection Act passed on a largely party-line roll call vote of 39 to 25, with House Minority Leader Paul Weissman excused. Western Slope moderate Reps. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, and Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, voted with the Democrats.

State Rep. Anne McGihon and state Sen. Betty Boyd, both Denver Democrats, crafted SB 225 to thwart future legal or constitutional challenges similar to Amendment 48 (pdf) — the failed 2008 ballot measure that sought to grant constitutional rights to fertilized eggs. The bill codifies "contraception or a contraceptive device as a medically acceptable drug, device, or procedure used to prevent pregnancy." The lawmakers reasoned that having a clear-cut definition that complements current state law defining pregnancy will eliminate a debate over whether contraception induces abortions.

Prior to the floor vote, Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Colorado Springs, inexplicably related her personal experience with in-vitro fertilization and opposition to Amendment 48. Stephens urged House members to defeat the bill using the same logic of the failed poison pill amendment that provisions defining conception and contraception should be "married together." The decades-old state legal definition of pregnancy is implantation of a fertilized egg, the commonly accepted scientific and medical description.

Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, reassured her colleagues that she "isn't going to talk about myself, so guys you can quit squirming over there." Gerou also rehashed her Friday talking points by opposing the bill over what she perceives as a freedom of choice limitation — though she never explained how defining contraception creates a chilling effect.

The bill passed the Senate March 5 and now moves to Gov. Bill Ritter's office....(Click for remainder).

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Stimulus? U.S. to buy Chinese condoms, ending Alabama jobs

By Mike McGraw
Kansas City Star

Call it a condom conundrum.

At a time when the federal government is spending billions of stimulus dollars to stem the tide of U.S. layoffs, should that same government put even more Americans out of work by buying cheaper foreign products?

In this case, Chinese condoms.

That's the dilemma for the folks at the U.S. Agency for International Development, which has distributed an estimated 10 billion U.S.-made AIDS-preventing condoms in poor countries around the world.

But not anymore.

In a move expected to cost 300 American jobs, the government is switching to cheaper off-shore condoms, including some made in China.

The switch comes despite implied assurances over the years that the agency would continue to buy American whenever possible.

"Of course, we considered how many U.S. jobs would be affected by this move,” said a USAID official who spoke on the condition that he would not be named. But he said the reasons for the change included lower prices (2 cents versus more than 5 cents for U.S.-made condoms) and the fact that Congress dropped “buy American language” in a recent appropriations bill....(Click for remainder).


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Exxon Valdez - Stick Your Damn Hand In It

Stick Your Hand in it

STICK YOUR DAMN HAND IN IT

20th Birthday of the Exxon Valdez Lie
by Greg Palast
March 23, 2009

"Gail, Please! Stick your hand in it!"
 
The petite Eskimo-Chugach woman gave me that you-dumb-ass-white-boy look.
 
"Gail, Gail. STICK YOUR DAMN HAND IN IT!"
 
She stuck it in, under the gravel of the beach at Sleepy Bay, her village's fishing ground. Gail's hand came up dripping with black, sickening goo. It could make Native dancers, Nanwalek, Prince William Sound, Alaska, center of spill damage.you vomit. Oil from the Exxon Valdez. 
 
It was already two years after the spill and Exxon had crowed that Mother Nature had happily cleaned up their stinking oil mess for them. It was a lie. But the media wouldn't question the bald-faced bullshit. And who the hell was going to investigate Exxon's claim way out in some godforsaken Native village in the Prince William Sound?
 
So I convinced the Natives to fly the lazy-ass reporters out to Sleepy Bay on rented float planes to see the oil that Exxon said wasn't there.
 
The reporters looked, but didn't see it, because it was three inches under their feet, under the shingle rock of the icy beach. Gail pulled out her hand and now the whole place smelled like a gas station. The network crews wanted to puke.
 
And now, with their eyes open, they saw the oil, the vile feces-colored smear across the glaciated ridge faces, the poisonous "bathtub ring" that ran for miles and miles at the high tide level. And it's still there. Less for sure. But twenty years later, IT'S STILL THERE, GODDAMNIT. And I want YOU, dear reader, to stick your hand in it. I want YOU, President Obama, to stick your hand in it before you blithely fulfill your Palin-esque campaign promise for a little more offshore drilling.
 
***
Tuesday marks the 20th Anniversary of the Exxon Valdez grounding and the smearing of 1,200 miles of Alaska's coastline with its oil.
 
It also marks the 20th Anniversary of a lie. Lots of lies: catalogued in a four-volume investigation of the disaster; four volumes you'll never see. I wrote that report, with my team of investigators working with the Natives preparing fraud and racketeering charges against Exxon. You'll never see the report because Exxon lawyers threatened the Natives, "Mention the f-word [fraud] and you'll never get a dime" of compensation to clean up the villages. The Natives agreed to drop the fraud charge -- and Exxon stiffed them on the money. You're surprised, right?
 
***
Doubtless, for the 20th Anniversary of the Great Spill, the media will schlep out that old story that the tanker ran aground because its captain was drunk at the wheel. Bullshit. Yes, the captain was "three sheets to the wind" -- but sleeping it off below-decks. The ship was in the hands of the third mate who was driving blind. That is, the Exxon Valdez' Raycas radar system was turned off; turned off because it was busted and had been busted since its maiden voyage. Exxon didn't want to spend the cash to fix it. So the Oil still being cleaned up seven years after the spill.man at the helm, electronically blindfolded, drove it up onto the reef.
 
So why the story of the drunken skipper? Because it lets Exxon off the hook: Calling it a case of "drunk driving" turns the disaster into a case of human error, not corporate penny-pinching 
 
Indeed, the "human error" tale was the hook used by the Bush-stacked Supreme Court to slash the punitive damages awarded against Exxon by 90%, from $5 billion, to half a billion for 30,000 Natives and fishermen. Chief Justice John Roberts erased almost all of the payment due with the la-dee-dah comment, "What more can a corporation do?"
 
Well, here's what they could have done: Besides fix the radar, Exxon could have set out equipment to contain the spill. Containing a spill is actually quite simple. Stick a rubber skirt around the oil slick and suck it back up. The law requires it and Exxon promised it.
 
So, when the tanker hit, where was the rubber skirt and where was the sucker? Answer: The rubber skirt, called "boom" -- was a fiction. Exxon promised to have it sitting right there near the Native village at Bligh Reef. The oil company fulfilled that promised the cheap way: they lied.
 
And the lie was engineered at the very top. After the spill, we got our hands on a series of memos describing a secret meeting of chief executives of Exxon and its oil company partners, including ARCO, a unit of British Petroleum. In a meeting of these oil chieftains held in April 1988, ten months before the spill, Exxon rejected a plea from T.L. Polasek, the Vice-President of its Alaska shipping operations, to provide the oil spill containment equipment required by law. Polasek warned the CEOs it was "not possible" to contain a spill in the mid-Sound without the emergency set-up.
 
Exxon angrily vetoed ARCO's suggestion that the oil companies supply the rubber skirts and other materiel that would have prevented the spill from spreading, virtually eliminating the spill's damage.
 
Investigator Palast flies over Exxon Valdez spill site.Regulations state that no tanker may leave the Alaska port of Valdez without the "sucker" equipment, called a "containment barge," at the ready. Exxon signed off on the barge's readiness. But, that night twenty years ago, the barge was in dry-dock with its pumps locked up under arctic ice. By the time it arrived at the tanker, half a day after the spill, the oil was well along its thousand-mile killing path.
 
Natives watched as the now-unstoppable oil overwhelmed their islands. Eyak Native elder Henry Makarka saw an otter rip out its own eyes burning from oil residue. Henry, pointing down a waterside dead-zone, told me, in a mix of Alutiiq and English, "If I had a machine gun, I'd shoot every one of those white sons-of-bitches."
 
***
 
Exxon promised -- promised -- to pay the Natives and other fisherman for all their losses. The Chief of the Natives at Nanwalek lost his boat to bankruptcy. His village, like other villages, Native and non-Native, decayed into alcoholism. The Mayor of fishing port Cordova killed himself, citing Exxon in his suicide note.
 
On the island village of Chenega, Gail Evanoff's uncle Paul Kompkoff was hungry. Until the spill, he had lived on seal meat, razor clams and salmon Chenegans would catch, and on deer they hunted. The clams and salmon were declared deadly and the deer, not able to read the government warning signs, ate the poisoned vegetation and died.
 
The President of Exxon, Lee Raymond, helicoptered into Chenega for a photo op. He promised to compensate the Natives and all fishermen for their losses, and web-maskoftearsExxon would thoroughly clean the beaches.
 
Uncle Paul told the Exxon chief of his hunger. The oil company, sensing PR disaster, shipped in seal meat to the isolated village. The cans were marked, "NOT FIT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION." Uncle Paul said, "Zoo food."
 
Paul didn't want a seal in a can. He wanted a boat to go fishing, to bring the village back to life.
 
Two years after the spill, Otto Harrison, General Manager of Exxon USA, told Evanoff and me to forget about a fishing boat for Uncle Paul. Exxon was immortal and Natives were not. The company would litigate for 20 years.
 
They did. Only now, two decades on, Exxon has finally begun its payout of the court award -- but only ten cents on the dollar. And Uncle Paul's boat? No matter. Paul's dead. So are a third of the fishermen owed the money. 
 
***

Lee Raymond, President of Exxon at the time of the spill -- and its President when the company made the secret decision to do without oil spill equipment, retired in April 2006. The company awarded him a $400 million retirement bonus, more than double the bonuses received by all AIG executives combined.
 
***
 
Gail's oily hand never made it to national television. The networks were distracted with another oil story.
 
After sailing back to Chenega from Sleepy Bay, I sat with Uncle Paul, watching the smart bombs explode over Baghdad. Gulf War I had begun.
 
Uncle Paul was silent a long time. The generals on CNN pointed to the burning oil fields near Basra. Paul said, "I guess were all some kind of Native now."


************
Greg Palast investigated fraud and racketeering claims for the Chugach Natives of Alaska. Now a journalist whose work appears on BBC Television Newsnight, Palast is the author of the New York Times bestselling books The Best Democracy Money Can Buy and Armed Madhouse. Visit GregPalast.com for more.
 
Check out the YouTube clip of Greg Palast on Air America's 'Ring of Fire' with Mike Papantonio on the Exxon Valdez and on the death of investigative reporting in America.  Listen in this weekend on your Air America station.

And get ready:  This Friday - the launch of GREG PALAST INVESTIGATES - On the Trail with investigative reporter Palast - with three of his latest ass-kicking BBC Television reports.
 
Palast is looking for co-producers for the film's DVD release.  Support the team behind the work that the Chicago Tribune calls, "Stories so relevant, they threaten to alter history." Pre-order the DVD today.

Palast is a Nation Institute/Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow for investigative reporting.

Alaska photos by James Macalpine for the Palast Investigative Fund, a 501c3 not-for-profit educational foundation.

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