Saturday, January 13, 2007

Flip Flop Time!

Bush is going to knuckle under, surprisingly enough:
George Bush is preparing to make a historic shift in his position on global warming when he makes his State of the Union speech later this month, say senior Downing Street officials.

Tony Blair hopes that the new stance by the United States will lead to a breakthrough in international talks on climate change and that the outlines of a successor treaty to the Kyoto agreement, the deal to curb emissions of greenhouse gases which expires in 2012, could now be thrashed out at the G8 summit in June.


Bush and Blair held private talks on climate change before Christmas, and there is a feeling that the US President will now agree a cap on emissions in the US, meaning that, for the first time, American industry and consumers would be expected to start conserving energy and curbing pollution.


That Bow-Tie Is Wound a Little Tight

What a pathetic, small-minded freak:

It all started with a simple video rental. Who knows where it will end?

Potomac Video store clerk Charles Williamson, 28, posted a message on his blog, Freelance Genius, Dec. 23 that described how he set up a movie rental account for MSNBC host Tucker Carlson at the MacArthur Boulevard store the day before.

"I could tell you what he and his ridiculously wasped-out female companion (wife?) rented if you really want to know," he wrote. "I won't tell you where he lives, though. That would be wrong and stupid." Williamson also joked that he wouldn't send 10,000 copies of Jon Stewart's best-selling political satire, "America (The Book)," to Carlson's home; Stewart ridiculed Carlson on "Crossfire" before the 2004 election.

A week later, Williamson had forgotten all about it, he told us yesterday. That is, until Carlson, 37, reappeared at the video store and, said Williamson, "got pretty aggressive." According to Williamson, Carlson confronted him about the blog and said he viewed the post as a threat to him and his wife. "He said, 'If you keep this [expletive] up, I will [expletive] destroy you,' " Williamson recalled.

Williamson said he agreed to remove the blog post and did so later that night: "All I remember thinking was I was worried about what this guy was going to do." He consulted a lawyer friend and was told he had probably not broken any laws. "What I said was pretty juvenile, I'll admit," he said.

In a phone interview Thursday, Carlson acknowledged that he approached Williamson in the store and said he was "very aggressive" because he wanted the post removed: "I don't like to call the police or call his boss. . . . I'm a libertarian. I'm not into that."

On Monday, Williamson said, his Potomac Video manager called and fired him. Williamson said he was told the company was threatened with legal action "and the owner doesn't like that." He re-posted the original Carlson item later that day. Williamson said he later learned that a man who identified himself as a lawyer for Carlson had been in the store and asked Potomac Video employees questions about him.


Bush Keep Us Safe from Scary Nomads

Feel secure yet?

The herdsmen had gathered with their animals around large fires at night to ward off mosquitoes. But lit up by the flames, they became latest victims of America's war on terror.

It was their tragedy to be misidentified in a secret operation by special forces attempting to kill three top al-Qa'ida leaders in south-ern Somalia.

Oxfam yesterday confirmed at least 70 nomads in the Afmadow district near the border with Kenya had been killed. The nomads were bombed at night and during the day while searching for water sources. Meanwhile, the US ambassador to Kenya has acknowledged that the onslaught on Islamist fighters failed to kill any of the three prime targets wanted for their alleged role in the 1998 US embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.



But let me just say: I am a huge fan of spocko and love everything he's been doing about this KSFO business.


Go Dems!

Follow through, please:
House Democratic leaders yesterday outlined plans to try to force the Bush administration to close the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba, taking aim at two sites that have sparked an international furor over the Bush administration's war policy.

Representative John P. Murtha, the chairman of the powerful Defense Appropriations subcommittee and a close ally of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said he wants to close both prisons by cutting their funding, "to restore our credibility worldwide." If he succeeds, it would force the administration to find a new location for high-value terrorism suspects.

"We have the role, as elected officials, to exert our influence through the power of the purse -- that's what it's all about," said Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat whose committee will hold hearings on Iraq next week. "We try not to micromanage the Defense Department, but I tell you, they need micromanagement. They're out of control."


I Will Crush Them!

"We're going to get an opportunity to see whether or not this is working, whether or not the Iraqis are living up to their obligations," Rice said Friday.


Don't Cry for Her

Peron detained briefly:

Spanish police have briefly detained Argentine ex-President Isabel Peron, who allegedly approved the shadowy right-wing death squads that ushered her nation into a bloody dictatorship.

She was released three hours later after appearing at a court today.

Spanish police detained her in Madrid at the request of an Argentine investigative judge and she was taken to the National Court in Madrid.

The Argentine judge's request suggests that the South American nation is finally ready to examine the origins of the state-sponsored terrorism responsible for thousands of deaths in the 1970s and 1980s.


Many human rights activists say Argentina's "dirty war" really began with Peron and her once-powerful inner circle, whose October 1975 decrees called on the armed forces to "annihilate" people deemed to be "subversive elements."


A truly bizarre tale
Swedish file-sharing website The Pirate Bay is planning to buy its own nation in an attempt to circumvent international copyright laws.

The group has set up a campaign to raise money to buy Sealand, a former British naval platform in the North Sea that has been designated a 'micronation', and claims to be outside the jurisdiction of the UK or any other country.
According to a website set up to secure the purchase of Sealand, The Pirate Bay plans to give citizenship of the micronation to anyone willing to put money towards the purchase.

"It should be a great place for everybody, with high-speed Internet access, no copyright laws and VIP accounts to The Pirate Bay," the organisation claims on its website

The "island" of Sealand, seven miles off the coast of southern England, was settled in 1967 by an English major, Paddy Roy Bates. Bates proclaimed Sealand a state, issuing passports and gold and silver Sealand dollars and declaring himself Prince Roy.

When the British Royal Navy tried to evict Prince Roy in 1968, a judge ruled that the platform was outside British territorial waters and therefore beyond government control.

The British government subsequently extended its territorial waters from three to twelve nautical miles from the coast, which would include Sealand, but Prince Roy simultaneously extended Sealand's waters, claimed that this guaranteed Sealand's sovereignty.


Friday, January 12, 2007

Bolivian Solidarity

Fighting for unity and against oligarchy:
At least 20,000 coca farmers allied with Bolivian President Evo Morales vowed on Friday to keep up protests against a provincial governor, a day after two people were killed in street battles.

Manfred Reyes Villa, the conservative governor of Cochabamba, is pushing for more autonomy for his province, as have other regional leaders opposed to the leftist president.

Morales called for calm while proposing a law that would allow him to call for a public vote to remove Reyes Villa.

"Be it a mayor, be it a governor, be it the president of the republic, if he violates human rights or is corrupt or he does not honor campaign promises ... it should be possible to revoke any authority's mandate by a referendum," Morales said.

Morales is very popular in Cochabamba, where he rose to prominence leading protests by growers of coca leaves, the raw material for cocaine. The leaves are also revered by Bolivian Indians for medicinal and nutritional properties.

Wielding guns, sticks and machetes, demonstrators opposed to Reyes Villa's autonomy drive fought with the governor's supporters on Thursday. More than 100 people were wounded.

Morales, blaming Reyes Villa for the bloodshed because he supports "separatism in Bolivia," sent police and soldiers to pacify Cochabamba, a central city 275 miles (440 km) east of the capital, La Paz.

Reyes Villa, among six governors from opposition parties seeking more autonomy and a larger share of government revenues, said he would not resign.


Dems to the Rescue

I blogged on Bush's heinous decision to slash funding to the EPA, which forced the agency to start shutting down its network of libraries--with catastrophic effects for those doing environmental research--back in February of last year.

Yet another reason why the Dem triumph in these elections was such a good thing:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has no plans to shut down more of its libraries and has ceased destroying duplicative research materials until it answers questions from Congress, a spokesperson said Friday.

Jessica Emond, the deputy press secretary at the EPA, said the agency has rescheduled “the recycling” of EPA materials that are duplicates or obsolete.

Leading Democratic lawmakers formally requested that the agency stop closing libraries and destroying documents until a congressional review could take place.

The EPA came under fire from open government advocates after it began shutting down libraries last fall. In total, the agency shut down five regional libraries and limited access at four others in its 26-library network.

The agency has defended its decision to close libraries, saying it will save the agency money. It has promised to digitize its collection, but has not released a plan as to how it would do that or how it would pay for that costly service.


Bush Is Getting His Wish

He wants the Apocalypse, and by God, he'll do whatever it takes to get it:
The keepers of the "Doomsday Clock" plan to move its hands forward next Wednesday to reflect what they call worsening nuclear and climate threats to the world.

The symbolic clock, maintained by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, currently is set at seven minutes to midnight, with midnight marking global catastrophe.

The group did not say in which direction the hands would move. But in a news release previewing an event next Wednesday, they said the change was based on "worsening nuclear, climate threats" to the world.

"The major new step reflects growing concerns about a 'Second Nuclear Age' marked by grave threats, including: nuclear ambitions in Iran and North Korea, unsecured nuclear materials in Russia and elsewhere, the continuing 'launch-ready' status of 2,000 of the 25,000 nuclear weapons held by the U.S. and Russia, escalating terrorism, and new pressure from climate change for expanded civilian nuclear power that could increase proliferation risks," the release reads.

The clock was last pushed forward by two minutes to seven minutes to midnight in 2002 amid concerns about the proliferation of nuclear, biological and other weapons and the threat of terrorism.


Steve Bell Nails It: Crocodile Tears

Tears run from the eyes of U.S. President George W. Bush during a ceremony in honor of Medal of Honor winner Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham in the East room of the White House in Washington, January 11, 2007. Cpl. Dunham was killed when he jumped on a grenade to save fellow members of his Marine patrol while serving in Iraq.


Newsflash: The DLC Still Sucks

Nothing like an anti-gay bigot to run the organization!

Gay Democrats voiced "deep concern" Friday over the naming of former Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. as Chair of the Democratic Leadership Council.

The DLC is not an official party organization, but a non-profit organization that represents a coalition of centrist Democrats in Congress and at the state and local level.


"Congressman Harold Ford has demonstrated a lack of leadership and judgment on family issues that causes our members great concern," said Joanne Wyrick, National Stonewall Democrats Executive Director.

"His willingness to lightly amend the U.S. Constitution and to exploit gay families for political gain should alarm Democrats across the country. The Democratic Leadership Council is in need of leadership that supports and affirms all American families."

In 2004 Ford reversed his past opposition to an amendment to the United States Constitution that would permanently bar civil unions and civil marriage to same-sex couples.

In 2006 he again joined a small minority of Democrats who voted for the amendment.


Bush to Troops: Shut Up and Die

The pictures were just what the White House wanted: A teary-eyed President Bush presenting the Medal of Honor posthumously to a slain war hero in the East Room, then flying here to join the chow line with camouflage-clad soldiers as some of them prepare to return to Iraq.

There are few places the president could go for an unreservedly enthusiastic reception the day after unveiling his decision to order 21,500 more troops to Iraq. A military base has usually been a reliable backdrop for the White House, and so Bush aides chose this venerable Army installation in western Georgia to promote his revised strategy to the nation while his Cabinet secretaries tried to sell it on Capitol Hill.

To ensure that there would be no discordant notes here, Maj. Gen. Walter Wojdakowski, the base commander, prohibited the 300 soldiers who had lunch with the president from talking with reporters. If any of them harbored doubts about heading back to Iraq, many for the third time, they were kept silent.

"It's going to require sacrifice, and I appreciate the sacrifices our troops are willing to make," Bush told the troops. "Some units are going to have to deploy earlier than scheduled as a result of the decision I made. Some will remain deployed longer than originally anticipated."


Killing Paper Towels Is Exhausting Work


Work Ethic

Kingston arguing against being required to work five days a week as a congressman:
“Keeping us up here eats away at families,” said Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), who typically flies home on Thursdays and returns to Washington on Tuesdays. “Marriages suffer. The Democrats could care less about families — that’s what this says.”
Kingston arguing against raising the minimum wage:
KINGSTON: If the Democrat Party truly wanted to take on poverty, they would have to say what is the relationship between marriage and the poverty level and between hours worked and the poverty level, because the truth of the matter is, if people end poverty, many of them would marry and work 40 hours a week, they would be out of poverty. … It’s not something I have the knowledge of or the information of, but it’s an economic fact that I hope we could have committee hearings on and discuss this. If we want to attack poverty, that’s where we need to go. With that, I yield back the balance of my time.


We Got Nothin'

Another effective strike by the Bush administration:

A top U.S. official in the region said Thursday that none of the al-Qaida suspects believed to be hiding in Somalia died in a U.S. airstrike this week, but Somalis with close ties to the terrorist group were killed.

A day earlier, a Somali official said a U.S. intelligence report had referred to the death of Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, one of the three senior al-Qaida members blamed for the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

But the U.S. official in Kenya, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said that Ethiopian troops and U.S. special forces were still pursuing the three suspects in southern Somalia.


Thursday, January 11, 2007

Shy Little Shrubby

Why does Frank Booth from Blue Velvet spring immediately to mind?

"Don't you fucking look at me!"

The White House broke with tradition Wednesday night and refused to let photojournalists shoot still pictures of the president at the podium after his prime-time address on the Iraq war.

As a result, newspapers and wire services had little choice but to run low-quality frame grabs from the video of the speech. An official handout photo from the White House, which most news outlets rejected, was the only other option. Caught in a bind on deadline, some newspapers ran the official White House photo with no disclosure that it was provided by the government.

The Associated Press and Reuters, who refused to accept the handout photo, sent their members notices explaining that frame grabs from the White House video pool would be their only photo coverage of the speech.

"Reuters News Pictures regrets that due to restrictions imposed by the White House, Reuters will not be able to provide still photographs from President Bush's White House address on Iraq," the Reuters bulletin said.


Paper Towels Are The Devil

Zora, lulling the paper towels into a false sense of security...

Carnage ensues...

"What? Why are you looking at me? It was totally like this when I got here!"


Sick? Screw You.

Bush is set to veto any efforts to make drugs cheaper:
Bush vowed Thursday to veto Democratic-drafted legislation requiring the government to negotiate with drug companies for lower prices under Medicare.

"Government interference impedes competition, limits access to lifesaving drugs, reduces convenience for beneficiaries and ultimately increases costs to taxpayers, beneficiaries and all American citizens alike," the administration said in a written statement.

It said that competition already "is reducing prices to seniors, providing a wide range of choices and leading to a more productive environment for the development of new drugs."

Democrats shot back quickly.

"Evidently, the president is more concerned with protecting pharmaceutical company profits than American seniors," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel (news, bio, voting record), D-Ill., a member of the House Democratic leadership.


The President Is Profoundly Weird

And by that, I mean "really fucked up":
Informed correspondents of the Washington Post and New York Times related in conversation that Bush furiously called the [Iraq Study Group] report “a flaming turd,” but his colorful remark was not published.
“He loves to cuss, gets a jolly when a mountain biker wipes out trying to keep up with him, and now we’re learning that the first frat boy loves flatulence jokes. A top insider let that slip when explaining why President Bush is paranoid around women, always worried about his behavior. But he’s still a funny, earthy guy who, for example, can’t get enough of fart jokes. He’s also known to cut a few for laughs, especially when greeting new young aides, but forget about getting people to gas about that.”


All Kinds of Weird

Weird guy + weird law = weird case:
A high school teacher was charged under Texas' peeping-tom law with videotaping girls' wrestling matches for his sexual enjoyment.

Ware shot about two hours of videotape at an all-day tournament Saturday but drew suspicion from a coach, Grand Prairie Sgt. John Brimmer said. A police officer reviewed Ware's tape.

"This was more than accidental footage of the genital areas," Brimmer said. "It appeared to be a purposeful act of zooming in."

Ware was charged under a 2001 law meant to protect people from ultra-small cameras that can be used to peek into dressing rooms or up women's skirts. Under the law, filming a person without consent for sexual arousal is a felony.


His attorney, Scott Palmer, said Ware was simply interested in wrestling. And the lawyer complained that the law is so broad that could be used to jail Dallas Cowboys fans for taking pictures of the team's sultry cheerleaders from the stands.

"How do you draw the line?" Palmer said. "If you go to a Cowboys game and take a close-up shot of their cleavage, are you committing the same offense because you think that has sex appeal?"



The insurance companies have behaved in an egregious fashion toward Katrina victims. Let this be a lesson. Hopefully, one of many:

A jury awarded $2.5 million in punitive damages against State Farm Fire and Casualty Co. for a Mississippi couple for denying their Hurricane Katrina claim. The decision could benefit hundreds of other homeowners challenging insurers for refusing to cover billions of dollars in storm damage.
UPDATE: Rep. Gene Taylor's got the right idea:

U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor has called for a congressional investigation into the post-Hurricane Katrina practices of private insurance companies.

Taylor, D-Miss., made the announcement Monday at a public forum in Ocean Springs.

"This is going to be a fight,'' Taylor said. "These guys have dumped a lot of money in campaigns. They dumped $27 million in the presidential race, most of it going to the winner just a couple of years ago. But they're wrong on this one.''

In a Jan. 5 letter to Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., chairman of the House Committee on Financial Services, Taylor asked for hearings on "the denial of thousands of Katrina wind claims wherever insurers could blame flooding'' and "excessive premium increases, market withdrawals, and other actions to force states to make concessions or to assume more coastal risks.''

"I have long suspected that State Farm, Allstate, Nationwide and a few other insurers agreed to aggressively deny Katrina wind claims as they had never done before,'' Taylor wrote. "One company would not have been able to get away with blanket denials if the others had been paying claims.''


Reservists Serve Forever

Welcome to the Surge:
The Pentagon has abandoned its limit on the time a citizen-soldier can be required to serve on active duty, officials said Thursday, a major change that reflects an Army stretched thin by longer-than-expected combat in Iraq.
Until now, the Pentagon's policy on the Guard or Reserve was that members' cumulative time on active duty for the Iraq or Afghan wars could not exceed 24 months. That cumulative limit is now lifted; the remaining limit is on the length of any single mobilization, which may not exceed 24 consecutive months, Pace said.


Trying to Move Washington State Forward

Good for the LGBT caucus:
Lawmakers in the state of Washington will consider two bills this year affecting same-sex couples - one would allow gay and lesbian couples to marry, the other would support domestic partnership benefits.

The two bills were unveiled Thursday morning by the five member LGBT caucus at the legislature.


Post-Industrial Revolution

The EU once again shows itself to be smarter than us:

The European Commission has urged its members to sign up to an unprecedented common energy policy, unveiling a plan to diversify the bloc's energy sources.

Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso said it was time for a "post-industrial revolution" which would see Europe slash greenhouse gases by 20% by 2020.


Condi Loves Her Poodles

No surprise there:
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice let slip her media preferences on Thursday, saying "I love every single one" of Fox News network's correspondents and also favors CBS anchor Harry Smith.

In comments overheard on an open microphone between morning television interviews, including one with Fox, the top U.S. diplomat said: "My Fox guys, I love every single one of them."


Crazy Loonies


In a U.S. government warning high on the creepiness scale, the Defense Department cautioned its American contractors over what it described as a new espionage threat: Canadian coins with tiny radio frequency transmitters hidden inside.

The government said the mysterious coins were found planted on U.S. contractors with classified security clearances on at least three separate occasions between October 2005 and January 2006 as the contractors traveled through Canada.

Intelligence and technology experts said such transmitters, if they exist, could be used to surreptitiously track the movements of people carrying the spy coins.


Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Bush's Library Built Along the Same Lines as His Presidency

Bullying and intimidation.
Bush is a class act:

Eviction, mystery and accusations are the latest events in the advance of the proposed Bush presidential library at SMU.

Today federal agents marched in this morning with eviction notices in hand.

The last two residents of the University Gardens condominiums got orders to leave this morning.

But not before a mysterious break-in last night.

Three days ago Gary Getton showed us some of his legal papers in his ongoing fight with SMU over eviction from the condo he rents.

Last night, he says his property was burglarized.

All that was stolen, he says, were his documents.

He's suspicious.

"We own a percentage of the condos and that's why we're staying and fighting pretty much," he said.

Today, Getton got a notice to evict the premises.

So did Gary Vodicka, who lives a few doors away and owns four of the condos at University Gardens.

Vodicka is suing SMU over the way it obtained the property.


Chavez Never Fails to Entertain

Oh, Hugo, you showman:
Mr Chavez had a date with history. In front of a packed national assembly he accepted the presidential sash, raised his right hand and declared: "Fatherland. Socialism - or death! I swear it." After a pause, he added: "I swear by Christ - the greatest socialist in history."

Since being re-elected in a landslide last month the former paratrooper has tightened his grip on power and promised to nationalise key sectors of the economy to shunt the world's fifth biggest oil exporter away from capitalist inequality and privilege.

The past eight years of his rule, which started with Blairite rhetoric about a third way, laid the groundwork for what will henceforth be accelerating radicalisation on the principles of Trotsky's permanent revolution, said Mr Chavez. "We have hardly begun. It will be permanent."

Turning to look into the camera he saluted and said "Hello, Fidel", probably correctly assuming that his mentor, the ailing Cuban leader, was watching.

Citing the Bible to show Jesus was a communist, the president attacked Venezuela's Roman Catholic church and the head of the Organisation of American States for criticising his decision not to renew the licence of an opposition-aligned TV station.


The UnSurge

Well-timed, Brits:
Britain will cut troop levels in Iraq by almost 3,000 at the end of May, the Daily Telegraph reported on Thursday, citing a timetable for withdrawal the newspaper said it had seen.

Within the next two weeks, Prime Minister Tony Blair would announce the reduction to Britain's 7,200-strong force based in the south of the war-ravaged country, it said.

The news came as U.S. President George W. Bush prepared to outline plans to send another 21,500 U.S. troops to Iraq.


DU Killing Soldiers Who Were in Bosnia, Kosovo

Given the comparative scale of that conflict, how much illness and death will be the legacy of Bush's vile adventure?
Italian soldiers are still dying following exposure to depleted uranium in the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo, their relatives say.

Troops who served during the wars in the 1990s believe they have contracted cancer and other serious illnesses from extended exposure to the munitions.

The US says it fired around 40,000 depleted uranium rounds during the Bosnian and Kosovo conflicts.

A pressure group says 50 veterans have died and another 200 are seriously ill.

Depleted uranium is used on the tips of bullets and shells. Because of its density it can pierce the armour plating on tanks.

But when it explodes it often leaves a footprint of chemically poisonous and radioactive dust.


In 2002 the Italian defence ministry published a report compiled by independent scientists which found a higher than average number of servicemen were suffering from cancer.

It said there was an excessive number of Hodgkin's disease victims among Italian Balkan peacekeepers.

A number of children fathered by the soldiers have been born with disabilities.

There are similar reports from soldiers' associations in Belgium, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands.


Good First Step

Federal minimum wage hike. Don't stop there, Dems:

As their second bill since taking control of Congress, the Democratic-written legislation would raise the federal wage floor from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour in three steps over 26 months. The federal wage hasn't budged for 10 years.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (news, bio, voting record), D-Md., said passing the boost "is simply a matter of doing what's right, what's just, and what's fair."

"If the minimum wage had been adjusted with the cost of living on an annual basis since 1968, a minimum wage worker would not be making $5.15, not be making $7.25, would be making $9.05," he said.


Go Kennedy!

It's so good to see universal health care back on the table after so many, many years. Of course, it must be noted that requiring it of people, like car insurance, is a thoroughly ass-backwards way of going about it:
The federal government should join the state of Massachusetts in enacting universal health coverage, said Sen. Edward Kennedy (news, bio, voting record), the new chairman of the Senate committee with jurisdiction over numerous health issues.

Kennedy's home state is the first to require everyone to have health insurance, just as drivers must have automobile coverage.

Kennedy has his own version of what universal health coverage would look like. He wants to extend Medicare to all. In his first hearing Wednesday as chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, the Massachusetts Democrat called on 10 witnesses from all over the country to talk about how to make health care more affordable.

"Insurance coverage is down. Costs are up. And America is heading to the bottom of the league of major nations in important measures of the quality of care," Kennedy said.


The Richest Nation in the World

Our enduring shame:
Nearly three-quarters of a million people were homeless in the United States in January 2005, according to the first comprehensive assessment of homelessness in the country in a decade.

The estimate of 744,313 homeless people, being released today by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, totals 0.3 percent of the U.S. population. It is intended to set a baseline against which to measure success in reducing homelessness.


Arnold Wants to Secede

By God, he'll be president one way or another! (Oh, and by the way, ancient city states are apparently "the future.")
Calling California a modern-day Athens and Sparta, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said on Tuesday his state should led the nation and the world by curbing greenhouse gases, requiring health insurance for all and offering other policy innovations.

In his fourth annual state-of-the-state address, Republican Schwarzenegger called for $43.3 billion in new bond spending for schools, prisons and other infrastructure -- on top of a record $42.7 billion approved by voters two months ago.

"We are the modern equivalent of the ancient city-states of Athens and Sparta. California has the ideas of Athens and the power of Sparta," Schwarzenegger, who played Hercules in his first film role, told legislators at the capitol. "Not only can we lead California into the future ... we can show the nation and the world how to get there."

"We can do this because we have the economic strength, the population, the technological force of a nation-state," he said in the address that sets out his annual agenda.

As an Austrian-born American, the former bodybuilder and actor cannot run for U.S. president, but the speech highlighted his desire to influence national and even international public policy.


Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Let's Just Keep on Raping Alaska

Good job, Bush:

President George W Bush has lifted a ban on oil and gas drilling in Alaska's Bristol Bay, an area known for its endangered whales and the world's largest run of sockeye salmon.

The move was announced on the day The Trans Alaska Pipeline System was shut down after an oil spill was detected in northern Alaska.

Bush's decision clears the way for the Interior Department to open 2.24 million hectares of the fish-rich waters northwest of the Alaska Peninsula as part of its next five-year leasing plan.


Special Forces on the Ground in Somalia

Not just the airstrikes anymore. Not for a while, in fact:
U.S. special forces are working with Ethiopian troops on the ground in operations inside Somalia today, senior U.S. and French military sources tell ABC News.

The sources declined to describe details of today's mission but said U.S. special forces, including a significant CIA presence, have been involved in numerous such missions, operating from a large American base camp known as "Camp Le Monier," established in the French protectorate of Djibouti following 9/11.


Next: Kurdish Militias in Baghdad?

Um, how exactly can this possibly be a good idea?
Successive waves of ethnic cleansing that have washed over Baghdad in recent weeks are spreading to neighborhoods that had until now been spared.

"Today two of the Shiite families on our street received threats," said a woman living in Baghdad's Sadia district, a majority-Sunni area where until now the presence of the Jaish al-Mahdi, a Shiite militia, had apparently pre-empted cleansing.

As the Bush Administration seeks to send as many as 20,000 more US troops to Iraq, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki announced Saturday that three more Iraqi army units will also be deployed in the capital. The units will come from the Shiite south and the Kurdish north, where the military is little more than militia units loyal to various political leaderships.

Salam al-Midi is a Kurd and a former US military translator living in Iraqi Kurdistan, where the two major Kurdish political parties use pesh merga units to maintain a police state. In Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, three hours north of Baghdad, Midi helped the military train these units, which essentially make up the police force in the largely Arab city. Midi said the presence of pesh merga in Mosul only exacerbates decades-old tensions between Kurds and Arabs over political dominance in the city.

"They don't know the language, the Arabic language, it's hard. It's one of the major difficulties they will face," Midi said. "Second, they are Kurds. Comparing Kurds and Arabs is like comparing apples and oranges. They cannot work together. For sure, terrorist organizations are going to react, and their reactions are going to be bad. And at the same time the Kurdish side will want to take revenge on the Arabs, the Iraqi people."


Home Free

The U.N. is trying to step in to help all those Iraqis we have helped so very thoroughly:

As up to 50,000 Iraqis flee their homes every month, the U.N.'s refugee agency said Monday that it will seek $60 million this year to help the roughly 3.7 million people displaced by violence in the war-ravaged nation.

The problem is larger than mere displacement, a U.N. news release states, as women are increasingly forced to resort to prostitution and reports of child labor problems are on the rise.


A Sign of Worse Times to Come?

Michael Klare of The Nation takes a look at the recent decision to replace Gen. Abizaid as head of CentCom with Adm. Fallon from PaCom.

His analysis of what it means is gloomy and makes perfect sense:

The choice of Fallon to replace Abizaid was highly unusual in several respects. First, this is a lateral move for the admiral, not a promotion: As head of Pacom, Fallon commanded a larger force than he will oversee at Centcom, and one over which he will exercise less direct control since all combat operations in Iraq will be under the supervision of Gen. Dave Petraeus, the recently announced replacement for Gen. George Casey as commander of all US and allied forces. Second, and more surprising, Fallon is a Navy man, with experience in carrier operations, while most of Centcom's day-to-day work is on the ground, in the struggle against insurgents and warlords in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Part of the explanation for this move, of course, is a desire by the White House to sweep away bitter ground-force commanders like Abizaid and Casey who had opposed an increase in US troops in Iraq and argued for shifting greater responsibility for the fighting to Iraq forces, thereby permitting a gradual American withdrawal. "The Baghdad situation requires more Iraqi troops," not more Americans, Abizaid said in a recent interview with the New York Times. For this alone, Abizaid had to go.

But there's more to it. Abizaid, who is of Lebanese descent and served a tour of duty with UN forces in Lebanon, has come to see the need for a regional solution to the crisis in Iraq--one that inevitably requires some sort of engagement with Iran and Syria, as recommended by the Iraq Study Group. "You have to internationalize the problem, you have to attack it diplomatically, geo-strategically," he told the Times. "You just can't apply a microscope on a particular problem in downtown Baghdad...and say that somehow or another, if you throw enough military forces at it, you are going to solve the broader issues in the region of extremism."

If engagement with Iran and Syria was even remotely on the agenda, Abizaid is exactly the man you'd want on the job at Centcom overseeing US forces and strategy in the region. But if that's not on the agenda, if you're thinking instead of using force against Iran and/or Syria, then Admiral Fallon is exactly the man you'd want at Centcom.

Why? Because combined air and naval operations are his forté. Fallon began his combat career as a Navy combat flyer in Vietnam, and he served with carrier-based forces for twenty-four years after that. He commanded a carrier battle wing during the first Gulf War in 1991 and led the naval group supporting NATO operations during the Bosnia conflict four years later. More recently, Fallon served as vice chief of naval operations before becoming the head of Pacom in 2005. All this means that he is primed to oversee an air, missile and naval attack on Iran, should the President give the green light for such an assault--and the fact that Fallon has been moved from Pacom to Centcom means that such a move is very much on Bush's mind.


Spew Hate, Get a Job with ABC

Glenn Beck's career just got a boost:
CNN Headline News and radio talk-show host Glenn Beck will join ABC's "Good Morning America" as a regular commentator, ABC News said Tuesday.

Beck's radio show can be heard on 232 radio stations and XM satellite radio, and his television offshoot has boosted the ratings for CNN Headline News, where it airs twice each evening.

"Glenn is a leading cultural commentator with a distinct voice," said Jim Murphy, senior executive producer of "Good Morning America." "At times, he is the perfect guest for many of the talk topics we cover on morning news programs."

Let's just look back in time and get a little taste of Beck's "distinct voice," shall we?
Nationally syndicated Clear Channel radio host Glenn Beck referred to survivors of Hurricane Katrina who remained in New Orleans as "scumbags." Also, after acknowledging that nobody "in their right mind is going to say this out loud," Beck attacked victims of the disaster in general and the families of victims of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, saying: "I didn't think I could hate victims faster than the 9-11 victims."


An Honest Republican

They exist:
Today, Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR) said Sen. Ted Kennedy’s (D-MA) new legislation requiring the president to gain congressional authority before escalating the Iraq war is “a good idea.” “The more the Congress can be involved in the decision making, the better,” Smith told CNN. (Read more about the Kennedy bill here.)

Smith has called Bush’s Iraq policy “criminal,” a “dereliction,” and “deeply immoral.”


What Is This "National Sovereignty" of Which You Speak?

Bush celebrates the new year by attacking Somalia, killing innocents:
Attack helicopters strafed suspected al-Qaida fighters in southern Somalia on Tuesday, witnesses said, following two days of airstrikes by U.S. forces — the first U.S. offensives in the African country since 18 American soldiers were killed here in 1993.

In Washington, a U.S. intelligence official said American forces killed five to 10 people in an attack on one target in southern Somalia believed to be associated with al-Qaida. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the operation's sensitivity, said a small number of others present, perhaps four or five, were wounded.

A Somali lawmaker said 31 civilians, including a newlywed couple, died in Tuesday's assault by two helicopters near Afmadow, a town in a forested area close to the Kenyan border. The report could not be independently verified.


January 18 Is Truthiness Day

Oh my. This should prove interesting:

It may feel like looking into the mirror for Bill O'Reilly and Stephen Colbert next week.

The Fox News Channel host and Colbert, who has essentially based his comic character every evening on Comedy Central on him, will trade appearances on each other's programs Jan. 18.

"I'm really looking forward to speaking to a man who owes his entire career to me," O'Reilly said.

On "The Colbert Report," Colbert portrays a self-involved talk-show host who has tried to bring "truthiness" to the world. His character owes an obvious debt to O'Reilly, who holds court in the "no-spin zone" each evening.

On "The O'Reilly Factor," O'Reilly portrays a ... um, he hosts the top-rated program in cable news.

"I look forward to the evening," Colbert said. "It is an honor to speak face-to-face with a broadcasting legend, and I feel the same way about Mr. O'Reilly."


Billions for Empire, None for Real Security

For murderous spendthrift Bush to oppose security measure that might actually work, based the expense, would be laughable were it not so nauseating:

House Democrats intend to fulfill a campaign promise this week by passing broad new antiterrorism legislation, but some Senate Democrats and the Bush administration object to security mandates in the plan, citing concerns about their cost and practicality.

The House measure, the Sept. 11 Commission Bill, is intended to write into law recommendations by the group that investigated the 2001 terror attacks. They include initiatives intended to disrupt global black markets for nuclear weapons technology and to enhance cargo inspection.


Massive Injustice

Simply disgusting. I had no idea that people under threat of deportation are NOT provided free legal counsel!


In immigration courts, there are judges and prosecutors, evidence and witnesses. The consequences can be great: banishment, separation from family, perhaps persecution at home. But unlike in criminal courts, the government does not provide free lawyers for the poor. And in what court officials deem a great concern, a growing number of people in immigration court have no legal counsel: Of more than 314,000 people whose cases ran their course in fiscal 2005, two-thirds went through on their own, or pro se.

That leaves respondents to navigate byzantine immigration law, the judges to walk them through it and, critics say, the courts to operate sluggishly and deport thousands unfairly.


European Wingnuts Getting Organized

This caucus
is just what the EU needs. Sigh:
In France, the group's prospective leader has been barred from teaching at his university and is awaiting a court verdict for questioning the Nazis' mass murder of Europe's Jews.

His Bulgarian colleague brags that his country has the "prettiest Gypsies" and says he knows where to buy 12-year-old Gypsy brides for "up to €5,000" (£2,250).

Then there is the Polish professor who uses public office to pay tribute to General Franco, the late Spanish dictator. Or the intellectual strategist of an Austrian party whose ideology, according to a Vienna court, is similar to that of Hitler's "national socialism".

Such are the leading lights of "Europe of the Fatherlands", the world of politically organised European far-right extremism who are expected to form their first transnational organisation next week by establishing a formal caucus in the European parliament.


By establishing a formal caucus, the extreme right will benefit from greater EU funding.


Monday, January 08, 2007

Arrogant Senate Dem!

How dare he?
Doesn't he know Bush is The Decider, not The Explainer?
Dear Mr. President:
Please answer the following question: has your administration authorized any government agency to read Americans’ first-class mail without obtaining a search warrant, complying with the applicable court order requirements of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or satisfying Postal Service regulations?

I look forward to your expeditious reply.


Russell D. Feingold

United States Senator


Calling a Fascist a Fascist

Salon has an interview with Chris Hedges, longtime war correspondent and former New York Times bureau chief in the Middle East and the Balkans, and now author of American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. It's worth reading in its entirety (you'll need to watch a brief ad to get access).
..."fascism" or "fascist" is a terribly loaded word, and it evokes a historical period, primarily that of the Nazis, and to a lesser extent Mussolini. But fascism as an ideology has generic qualities....I think there are enough generic qualities that the group within the religious right, known as Christian Reconstructionists or dominionists, warrants the word. Does this mean that this is Nazi Germany? No. Does this mean that this is Mussolini's Italy? No. Does this mean that this is a deeply anti-democratic movement that would like to impose a totalitarian system? Yes.

...If there's a historical period that's analogous to the situation we have now, it would come close to being the 1930s in the United States. Obviously we're not in a depression, but the situation for the working class is very bleak, and the middle class is under assault. There has been a kind of Weimarization of the American working class, and there's a terrible instability in the middle class. And if we enter a period of political and social instability, this gives this movement the opportunity it's been waiting for. But it needs a crisis. All of these movements need a crisis to come to power, and we're not in a period of crisis.

How likely do you think a crisis is?

Very likely.... The difference between the 1930s and now is that we had powerful progressive forces through the labor unions, through an independent and vigorous press. I forget the figure but something like 80 percent of the media is controlled by seven corporations, something horrible like that. Television is just bankrupt. I worry that we don't have the organized forces within American society to protect our democracy in the way that we did in the 1930s.


Sunday, January 07, 2007

Oh, Why the Hell Not?

It's only nuclear weaponry, so no worries about just screwing around with it, right?

The Bush administration is expected to announce next week a major step forward in the building of the country’s first new nuclear warhead in nearly two decades. It will propose combining elements of competing designs from two weapons laboratories in an approach that some experts argue is untested and risky.


The Spoils of War

Blood for crude; it's official:
Iraq's massive oil reserves, the third-largest in the world, are about to be thrown open for large-scale exploitation by Western oil companies under a controversial law which is expected to come before the Iraqi parliament within days.

The US government has been involved in drawing up the law, a draft of which has been seen by The Independent on Sunday. It would give big oil companies such as BP, Shell and Exxon 30-year contracts to extract Iraqi crude and allow the first large-scale operation of foreign oil interests in the country since the industry was nationalised in 1972.

The huge potential prizes for Western firms will give ammunition to critics who say the Iraq war was fought for oil. They point to statements such as one from Vice-President Dick Cheney, who said in 1999, while he was still chief executive of the oil services company Halliburton, that the world would need an additional 50 million barrels of oil a day by 2010. "So where is the oil going to come from?... The Middle East, with two-thirds of the world's oil and the lowest cost, is still where the prize ultimately lies," he said.


Holding the Purse Strings

Pelosi is wasting no time, thankfully:

"If the president chooses to escalate the war, in his budget request, we want to see a distinction between what is there to support the troops who are there now," she said in an interview broadcast Sunday.

"The American people and the Congress support those troops. We will not abandon them. But if the president wants to add to this mission, he is going to have to justify it and this is new for him because up until now the Republican Congress has given him a blank check with no oversight, no standards, no conditions," said Pelosi, D-Calif.


Welcome to the Tropics

We'd all better start getting used to this:
Sandwiched between temperate Europe and African heat, Italy is on the front line of climate change and is witnessing a rise in tropical diseases such as malaria and tick-borne encephalitis, a new report says.

Italy was declared free of malaria in 1970, but it is making a comeback, said the Italian environmental organisation Legambiente. Tick-borne encephalitis, a virus which attacks the nerve system, is also on the way back. While only 18 cases had been reported before 1993, 100 have been since, mostly around Venice.


Let There Be Light

Italy calls for a global end to the barbarity called the "death penalty":

Rome has lit up the Colosseum as part of an Italian campaign for a worldwide moratorium on the death penalty, launched after the execution of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

For the past seven years the Roman arena, once the site of bloody gladiatorial battles, has been lit whenever a death sentence was commuted anywhere in the world.

Italy said last week it would take its campaign to end all executions to the United Nations General Assembly.

A member of Italy's Radical Party, Michele Lembo, says the case of Saddam had focused many people's minds on the issue of capital punishment.