Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Obama, Clinton and the War

by Robert Scheer
January 29, 2008

It should mean a great deal to progressives that in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination Sen. Ted Kennedy favors Sen. Barack Obama over two other colleagues he has worked with in the Senate. No one in the history of that institution has been a more consistent and effective fighter than Kennedy for an enlightened agenda, be it civil rights and liberty, gender equality, labor and immigrant justice, environmental protection, educational opportunity or opposing military adventures.

Kennedy was a rare sane voice among the Democrats in strongly opposing the Iraq war, and it is no small tribute when he states: “We know the record of Barack Obama. There is the courage he showed when so many others were silent or simply went along. From the beginning, he opposed the war in Iraq. And let no one deny that truth.”

But that is precisely the truth that Sen. Hillary Clinton has shamelessly sought to obscure. Her supporters have accepted Clinton’s refusal to repudiate her vote to authorize the war, an ignominious moment she shares with other Democrats, including presidential candidate John Edwards, who at least has made a point of regretting it. It was a vote that has led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, 3,940 U.S. service members—five more on Monday—and a debt in the trillions of dollars that will prevent the funding of needed domestic programs that Clinton claims to support. And it doesn’t end with Iraq. Clinton has been equally hawkish toward Iran and, in a Margaret Thatcher-like moment, even attacked Obama for ruling out the use of nuclear weapons against Osama bin Laden.

Clinton’s apologists include Gloria Steinem and too many other feminists, who should know better than to betray the women’s movement’s commitment to peace in favor of simplistic gender politics. It is disturbing, not because they conclude that Clinton is the best candidate, but because they refuse to challenge their candidate to be better. Does it not matter that Clinton’s key foreign policy advisers are drawn heavily from the ranks of the neoliberals, who cheered as loudly for President Bush’s war as did the neoconservatives? Are they not concerned that Richard Holbrooke, who exploited his experience and access to secret information during the Clinton presidency to back Bush’s Iraq invasion, is a likely contender for secretary of state should she win?

Sandy Berger, a key Clinton adviser, played a major role in convincing Kennedy’s congressman son, Patrick, to vote for the war authorization against what the younger Kennedy said was the advice of his father and his own better instincts. According to a Knight Ridder report at the time, “Patrick Kennedy said the most persuasive arguments for attacking Iraq came from members of the Clinton White House,” including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who is often described as the foreign policy expert closest to Hillary. Patrick J. Kennedy refuses to be burned twice and now supports Obama.

Yes, if Hillary Clinton is the candidate, she probably will be better than the Republican alternative and, as Ted Kennedy made clear, deserving of our support. But isn’t it troubling that she can’t hold a candle to Sen. John McCain when it comes to fighting Pentagon waste or pushing for campaign-finance reform to curtail the power of lobbyists? Isn’t it disturbing that Sen. Clinton has received more money than any other candidate of either party from the big defense contractors, according to a report on the Huffington Post? Why have the war profiteers given her twice the campaign contributions that they sent to McCain, if not for the expectation that she is on their side of the taxpayer rip-off that has seen the military budget rise to an all-time high? It’s for the same reason that the bankers, Wall Street traders and other swindlers who produced our economic meltdown fund Clinton.

Hillary Clinton has made “experience” key to her claim to the presidency and tells us she will do the right thing from “day one.” The reality is that her extra four years in the U.S. Senate hardly provides better experience than Obama’s eight years in the Illinois state Senate battling for progress with the nation’s most hard-boiled politicians. And if she lays claim to her husband’s presidency, then she must also take responsibility for caving in to big media with the Telecommunications Act, selling out to the banks with the Financial Services Modernization Act, and killing the federal welfare program—a political gambit that deeply wounded millions of women and children. Her political career began with the Senate and she hit the ground running, but, as her craven support for Bush after 9/11 shows, it was in the wrong direction.

Copyright © 2007 Truthdig, L.L.C.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Kennedy Mystique

by David Brooks
The New York Times
January 29, 2008

Something fundamental has shifted in the Democratic Party.

Last week there was the widespread revulsion at the Clintons’ toxic attempts to ghettoize Barack Obama. In private and occasionally in public, leading Democrats lost patience with the hyperpartisan style of politics — the distortion of facts, the demonizing of foes, the secret admiration for brass-knuckle brawling and the ever-present assumption that it’s necessary to pollute the public sphere to win. All the suppressed suspicions of Clintonian narcissism came back to the fore. Are these people really serving the larger cause of the Democratic Party, or are they using the party as a vehicle for themselves?

And then Monday, something equally astonishing happened. A throng of Kennedys came to the Bender Arena at American University in Washington to endorse Obama. Caroline Kennedy evoked her father. Senator Edward Kennedy’s slightly hunched form carried with it the recent history of the Democratic Party.

The Kennedy endorsements will help among working-class Democrats, Catholics and the millions of Americans who have followed Caroline’s path to maturity. Furthermore, here was Senator Kennedy, the consummate legislative craftsman, vouching for the fact that Obama is ready to be president on Day One.

But the event was striking for another reason, having to do with the confluence of themes and generations. The Kennedys and Obama hit the same contrasts again and again in their speeches: the high road versus the low road; inspiration versus calculation; future versus the past; and most of all, service versus selfishness.

“With Barack Obama, we will turn the page on the old politics of misrepresentation and distortion,” Senator Kennedy declared. “With Barack Obama, there is a new national leader who has given America a different kind of campaign — a campaign not just about himself, but about all of us,” he said.

The Clintons started this fight, and in his grand and graceful way, Kennedy returned the volley with added speed.

Kennedy went on to talk about the 1960s. But he didn’t talk much about the late-60s, when Bill and Hillary came to political activism. He talked about the early-60s, and the idealism of the generation that had seen World War II, the idealism of the generation that marched in jacket and ties, the idealism of a generation whose activism was relatively unmarked by drug use and self-indulgence.

Then, in the speech’s most striking passage, he set Bill Clinton afloat on the receding tide of memory. “There was another time,” Kennedy said, “when another young candidate was running for president and challenging America to cross a New Frontier.” But, he continued, another former Democratic president, Harry Truman, said he should have patience. He said he lacked experience. John Kennedy replied: “The world is changing. The old ways will not do!”

The audience at American University roared. It was mostly young people, and to them, the Clintons are as old as the Trumans were in 1960. And in the students’ rapture for Kennedy’s message, you began to see the folding over of generations, the service generation of John and Robert Kennedy united with the service generation of the One Campaign. The grandparents and children united against the parents.

How could the septuagenarian Kennedy cast the younger Clintons into the past? He could do it because he evoked the New Frontier, which again seems fresh. He could do it because he himself has come to live a life of service.

After his callow youth, Kennedy came to realize that life would not give him the chance to be president. But life did ask him to be a senator, and he has embraced that role and served that institution with more distinction than anyone else now living — as any of his colleagues, Republican or Democrat, will tell you. And he could do it because culture really does have rhythms. The respect for institutions that was prevalent during the early ’60s is prevalent with the young again today. The earnest industriousness that was common then is back today. The awareness that we are not self-made individualists, free to be you and me, but emerge as parts of networks, webs and communities; that awareness is back again today.

Sept. 11th really did leave a residue — an unconsummated desire for sacrifice and service. The old Clintonian style of politics clashes with that desire. When Sidney Blumenthal expresses the Clinton creed by telling George Packer of The New Yorker, “It’s not a question of transcending partisanship. It’s a question of fulfilling it,” that clashes with the desire as well.

It’s not clear how far this altered public mood will carry Obama in this election. But there was something important and memorable about the way the 75-year-old Kennedy communed and bonded with a rapturous crowd half a century his junior.

The old guy stole the show.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Still-in-Danger Gray Wolf

by The New York Times
January 28, 2008

One of the great wildlife management stories of our time is the reintroduction of the gray wolf to the Rocky Mountains. From a few dozen animals released in Yellowstone in 1995, the wolf population has grown to about 1,500 in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. This remarkable comeback means that later this year the gray wolf will be removed from the list of endangered species, at which point its fate will be entrusted to federally approved state management plans that conservationists warn are unacceptably weak.

Yet the wolves could find themselves in trouble even before they are removed from the endangered list. At the same time it was negotiating the state management plans, the Bush administration was quietly revising an important rule in the Endangered Species Act. The purpose of the rule is to give states flexibility in managing reintroduced species. As revised by the administration, it would require only that each state protect 20 breeding pairs and 200 total wolves. That could allow as many as 900 recently protected wolves to be slaughtered.

The revised rule is aimed not at protecting cattle or sheep but at protecting elk and deer for hunters. In our view, hunters would be wise to oppose this. The question for them is whether they want to hunt in what passes for nature, complete with a predator like the wolf, or in what passes for a game farm.

Since the gray wolf was reintroduced, studies have shown its importance to the balance of nature. What matters isn’t just the presence of wolves in the landscape, though that is profound in itself, as anyone who has seen a wolf pack crossing Yellowstone can attest. What matters is the effect they have on their ecosystem: suppressing coyotes, changing the behavior of elk and benefiting grizzly bears, which routinely take over the kills wolves make. The wolf has had to wait eons for humans to become wise enough to coexist with it. That can’t happen until this cynical loophole in the Endangered Species Act is closed.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Another Family Broken by the Feds

by Brian Ettkin
Albany Times Union
January 27, 2008

April Park wants her life back. She wishes for her husband to be allowed to return to this country. She longs for the time and energy to expend time and energy on her children again.
These are not unreasonable wishes.

It's been nearly six months since Jung Park was deported to his native country, South Korea, because he didn't have legal status. She hates when the word "deported" is affixed to her husband's name. "It just makes him sound like a bad person. It was not his fault what happened," she said. "I don't want anyone to have a bad picture of him." Bad picture of Master Park? You kidding me? The guy's the best thing for kids since milk.

He didn't just teach a sport at Chong Hyo Century Tae Kwon Do, the Ballston Lake school he and April own. His lessons were on self-discipline and respecting parents and elders. "It's like having an extra parent in the house," said Rich Smith, a parent of two of Park's students. Because Smith doesn't have to threaten his kids with punishment if they do something wrong. He just has to inform them he'll tell Master Park if they do.

Park, 34, doesn't ask for respect. It's gladly given because kids crave discipline and Master Park's approval. So it's not a surprise when another parent whose son was having behavioral problems at school tells how her son's behavior improved dramatically after enrolling in tae kwon do classes because of Master Park's influence. Kids never want to disappoint him.

Park's students don't understand why their teacher was taken. Try telling a 6-year-old this happened, as the Parks say, because an attorney they hired failed to file an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Buffalo before the deadline, so Master Park, who doesn't have a green card or U.S. visa, was deported to Uijeongbu, South Korea. Good luck explaining to an 8-year-old how April has hired a lawyer in Buffalo, Robert Kolken, to file a grievance with the New York State Bar Association against the lawyer the Parks contend provided ineffective assistance and to file a motion so the case might be reopened. How do you tell an 11-year-old that April has also retained another immigration lawyer, Eric Copeland of Latham, to try to gain U.S. citizenship for her husband because of the extreme hardship she'd suffer if he weren't allowed to return?

This can take months. Or years. Nobody knows how long. That doesn't make sense to anyone. Not the kids and not April. The waiting gnaws on April's mind because no one can tell her when her husband will be permitted to return home. "It'd be much easier for me if they said, 'OK, it's going to be six months, it's going to be a year,' to have a light at the end of the tunnel," said April, who married Jung on Sept. 23, 2006.

The students don't know about the broken promises Jung says were made by the owner of another martial arts academy who recruited Jung to teach at his school -- with the assurance Jung would have a U.S. visa within a year after he arrived in Clifton Park in 1999. The students just know that they adore him. And they miss him...

Copyright 2008 Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation

A President Like My Father

by Caroline Kennedy
The New York Times
January 27, 2008

Over the years, I’ve been deeply moved by the people who’ve told me they wished they could feel inspired and hopeful about America the way people did when my father was president. This sense is even more profound today. That is why I am supporting a presidential candidate in the Democratic primaries, Barack Obama.

My reasons are patriotic, political and personal, and the three are intertwined. All my life, people have told me that my father changed their lives, that they got involved in public service or politics because he asked them to. And the generation he inspired has passed that spirit on to its children. I meet young people who were born long after John F. Kennedy was president, yet who ask me how to live out his ideals.

Sometimes it takes a while to recognize that someone has a special ability to get us to believe in ourselves, to tie that belief to our highest ideals and imagine that together we can do great things. In those rare moments, when such a person comes along, we need to put aside our plans and reach for what we know is possible.

We have that kind of opportunity with Senator Obama. It isn’t that the other candidates are not experienced or knowledgeable. But this year, that may not be enough. We need a change in the leadership of this country — just as we did in 1960.

Most of us would prefer to base our voting decision on policy differences. However, the candidates’ goals are similar. They have all laid out detailed plans on everything from strengthening our middle class to investing in early childhood education. So qualities of leadership, character and judgment play a larger role than usual.

Senator Obama has demonstrated these qualities throughout his more than two decades of public service, not just in the United States Senate but in Illinois, where he helped turn around struggling communities, taught constitutional law and was an elected state official for eight years. And Senator Obama is showing the same qualities today. He has built a movement that is changing the face of politics in this country, and he has demonstrated a special gift for inspiring young people — known for a willingness to volunteer, but an aversion to politics — to become engaged in the political process.

I have spent the past five years working in the New York City public schools and have three teenage children of my own. There is a generation coming of age that is hopeful, hard-working, innovative and imaginative. But too many of them are also hopeless, defeated and disengaged. As parents, we have a responsibility to help our children to believe in themselves and in their power to shape their future. Senator Obama is inspiring my children, my parents’ grandchildren, with that sense of possibility.

Senator Obama is running a dignified and honest campaign. He has spoken eloquently about the role of faith in his life, and opened a window into his character in two compelling books. And when it comes to judgment, Barack Obama made the right call on the most important issue of our time by opposing the war in Iraq from the beginning.

I want a president who understands that his responsibility is to articulate a vision and encourage others to achieve it; who holds himself, and those around him, to the highest ethical standards; who appeals to the hopes of those who still believe in the American Dream, and those around the world who still believe in the American ideal; and who can lift our spirits, and make us believe again that our country needs every one of us to get involved.

I have never had a president who inspired me the way people tell me that my father inspired them. But for the first time, I believe I have found the man who could be that president — not just for me, but for a new generation of Americans.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Obama vs. Clinton: October 2002

by Stephen Zunes
Common Dreams News Center
January 22, 2008

In determining which of the two leading Democratic candidates would make the most competent and credible commander-in-chief, it is revealing to compare the public statements of U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and then-Illinois State Senator Barack Obama during October 2002, when Congress voted to authorize the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Former President Bill Clinton, at a recent rally on behalf of his wife, insisted that Senator Clinton and Senator Obama had had virtually identical records on the Iraq war and that Obama’s claim that he “had the judgment to oppose this war from the beginning” was “the biggest fairy tale I’ve ever seen.”

The record from that fateful month, however, shows that there were indeed major differences between the two presidential contenders, with Senator Clinton supporting the Bush administration’s push for war and its exaggerated claims about Iraq’s alleged military prowess while Obama was opposing a U.S. invasion of that oil-rich country and openly challenging the administration’s exaggerated claims of an Iraqi threat.

Though under no obligation as a state senator to make any public statements on foreign policy, Obama took the initiative to speak out against the prospects of war at an anti-war rally in Chicago.

Obama believed that Iraq may have been able to develop chemical and biological weapons and he certainly carried no pretense about the nature of Saddam Hussein’s regime, referring to the late Iraqi dictator as “brutal” and “ruthless” and acknowledging that “The world, and the Iraqi people, would be better off without him.” At the same time, he recognized that “Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors.” Furthermore, Obama noted how he recognized “that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained.”

That same month in Washington, however, Senator Clinton was insisting incorrectly that Iraq was “trying to develop nuclear weapons” and that Iraq’s possession of biological and chemical weapons was “not in doubt” and was “undisputed.”

Senator Clinton then went on record insisting that the risk that Saddam Hussein would “employ those weapons to launch a surprise attack against the United States” was enough to “justify action by the United States to defend itself,” specifically by authorizing President Bush to launch an invasion of Iraq at the time and circumstances of his choosing.

Even though Obama was right in emphasizing that war was unnecessary and Clinton was wrong, this hasn’t stopped the New York senator from accusing him to this day of being soft of Saddam Hussein. Despite Obama having called at that time for continued containment by the international community and the return of UN inspectors, Clinton charged in a nationally-televised interview on Meet the Press this January 14 that “His judgment was that, at the time in 2002, we didn’t need to make any efforts” to deal with that threat.

In other words, Clinton was trying to make the case that the ongoing international strategy at containment supported by Obama during this period - enforcing sanctions, maintaining an international force as a military deterrent, and returning UN inspectors to Iraq - was the same as “not making any efforts,” essentially using the Bush administration argument that refusing to support an invasion of Iraq equaled doing nothing.

Whether Iraq constituted a threat to U.S. national security was not the only thing that separated Clinton and Obama back in October 2002. In the months leading up to the Senate vote, former State Department and intelligence officials, European and Middle Eastern allies, scholars specializing in the region, and others argued that a U.S. invasion would likely result in a bloody insurgency, a rise in Islamist extremism and terrorism, increased sectarian and ethnic conflict, and related problems.

Despite this, Senator Clinton insisted that her voting to authorize the invasion was “in the best interests of our nation.”

Meanwhile, back in Chicago, Obama was observing how “even a successful war against Iraq will require a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences.” He also recognized that “an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of Al Qaeda.”

In summary, on the most critical political question of the decade, a freshman state senator from Illinois was able to figure out what an experienced member of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee could not - that Saddam Hussein was no longer a threat and that an invasion of Iraq would harm America’s national security interests. Over the next few weeks, Democratic voters will have the opportunity to decide whether which of these two leading candidates has the best judgment to lead this country during this next critical period.

© Copyrighted 2008

Saturday, January 19, 2008

When the Big Boys Get in Trouble, the Little Taxpayer Pays the Bill

by Ralph Nader
Common Dreams News Center
January 19, 2008

It was at a large wedding reception in New York City that I saw Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, sitting down to dinner one spring evening in 2000. Having heard on the grapevine that the Federal Reserve was finally going to do something about predatory lending-an area of enforcement under their jurisdiction-I went over to his table and asked him this question:”Mr. Chairman, I hear that you are going to crack down on predatory lending practices.” He nodded and said quite firmly, “Yes, Enough is Enough.”

Since it was, after all, a social occasion, those words were enough for me and I returned to my table with the good news. For years, my associates, Jon Brown and Jake Lewis, had been working to document the prevalence of predatory lending and communicate our concern to the federal banking agencies and members of Congress.

Jon Brown developed detailed computerized maps of bank redlining in low-income areas, city by city, which were geographic guides to places where there were plenty of predatory lending practices.

As it turned out, Chairman Greenspan’s Federal Reserve did nothing about either traditional predatory lending or the rise of the latest version of that abusive pattern-the now notorious sub-prime mortgage scandals and mega-losses that are shaking the financial industry to its foundations

Actually, Mr. Greenspan often lauded leveraged, collateralized sub-prime lending as helping lower-income people to get home mortgages. He did not give much weight to the deception and imprudence and gouging of the lenders lurking in the fine print and flowing from the silver tongues of the salespeople.

The Federal Reserve touts itself as the agency where lots of smart people work - economists, statisticians, forecasters-and, of course, the often-described very smart Chairman. Yet as the speculative greed that developed, sold and resold ever more abstract and risky financial instruments comprised of bundled home mortgages went toward its final orbit of collapse, these “best and the brightest,” failed to act. They failed to regulate.

The business assault on regulation and its drumbeat demands for de-regulation over the past quarter century have now caused a burgeoning sub-prime mortgage collapse that is producing hundreds of thousands of home foreclosures. The housing market is plummeting. Giant banks are desperate for infusions of capital from abroad to save them from insolvency. Huge mortgage lenders are teetering on bankruptcy, looking desperately to be taken over by other financial companies.

Foreign banks and municipalities around the world that assumed these risks are marking down big losses.

All this has been caused by a combination of speculative greed, taking on huge risks for higher returns and the refusal to apply financial law and order-i.e. regulation-by the Bush regime. All this was preventable by institutional prudence and a vigilant Federal Reserve.

So what are all these giant financial corporations on their knees begging for these grim days? They are begging the Federal Reserve to use every bit of its authority to save them through lower interest rates and by using a variety of other more abstruse tools the Fed has to rescue the very banks that help fund its budget and dominate the regional Boards of the Federal Reserve.

It is true that corporate heads have rolled-most notably the CEOs of Citigroup and Merrill Lynch. By and large, however, the remaining top culprits who got their banks and mortgage lending firms into such deep losses for investor-share holders are staying put with their enormous compensation packages.

When the big boys get into trouble, they expect Uncle Sam to bail them out. Who pays the ultimate bill? You guessed it. The small taxpayer and the consumer.

So next time your hear the words–deregulation or over-regulation-by the thoughtless think tanks, heavily funded by business money, remind yourself that you believe in tough law and order for big business and your demand that politicians weigh in with a strong enforcement crackdown on corporate crime and fraud.

© Copyrighted 2008

Thursday, January 17, 2008

How the Pentagon Planted a False Hormuz Story

by Gareth Porter
Inter Press Service
January 15, 2008

Senior Pentagon officials, evidently reflecting a broader administration policy decision, used an off-the-record Pentagon briefing to turn the Jan. 6 U.S.-Iranian incident in the Strait of Hormuz into a sensational story demonstrating Iran's military aggressiveness, a reconstruction of the events following the incident shows.

The initial press stories on the incident, all of which can be traced to a briefing by deputy assistant secretary of defence for public affairs in charge of media operations Bryan Whitman, contained similar information that has since been repudiated by the Navy itself.

Then the Navy disseminated a short video into which was spliced the audio of a phone call warning that U.S. warships would "explode" in "a few seconds". Although it was ostensibly a Navy production, IPS has learned that the ultimate decision on its content was made by top officials of the Defence Department.

The encounter between five small and apparently unarmed speedboats, each carrying a crew of two to four men, and the three U.S. warships occurred very early on Saturday Jan. 6, Washington time. But no information was released to the public about the incident for more than 24 hours, indicating that it was not viewed initially as being very urgent.

The reason for that absence of public information on the incident for more than a full day is that it was not that different from many others in the Gulf over more than a decade. A Pentagon consultant who asked not to be identified told IPS that he had spoken with officers who had experienced similar encounters with small Iranian boats throughout the 1990s, and that such incidents are "just not a major threat to the U.S. Navy by any stretch of the imagination".

Just two weeks earlier, on Dec. 19, the USS Whidbey Island, an amphibious warship, had fired warning shots after a small Iranian boat allegedly approached it at high speed. But that incident had gone without public notice.

With the reports from 5th Fleet commander Vice-Adm. Kevin Cosgriff in hand early that morning, top Pentagon officials had all day Sunday, Jan. 6, to discuss what to do about the encounter in the Strait of Hormuz. The result was a decision to play it up as a major incident.

The decision came just as President George W. Bush was about to leave on a Middle East trip aimed in part at rallying Arab states to join the United States in an anti-Iran coalition.

That decision in Washington was followed by a news release by the commander of the 5th Fleet on the incident at about 4:00 a.m. Washington time Jan. 7. It was the first time the 5th Fleet had ever issued a news release on an incident with small Iranian boats.

The release reported that the Iranian "small boats" had "maneuvered aggressively in close proximity of [sic] the Hopper [the lead ship of the three-ship convoy]." But it did not suggest that the Iranian boats had threatened the boats or that it had nearly resulted in firing on the Iranian boats.

On the contrary, the release made the U.S. warships handling of the incident sound almost routine. "Following standard procedures," the release said, "Hopper issued warnings, attempted to establish communications with the small boats and conducted evasive maneuvering."

The release did not refer to a U.S. ship being close to firing on the Iranian boats, or to a call threatening that U.S. ships would "explode in a few minutes", as later stories would report, or to the dropping of objects into the path of a U.S. ship as a potential danger.

That press release was ignored by the news media, however, because later that Monday morning, the Pentagon provided correspondents with a very different account of the episode.

At 9 a.m., Barbara Starr of CNN reported that "military officials" had told her that the Iranian boats had not only carried out "threatening maneuvers", but had transmitted a message by radio that "I am coming at you" and "you will explode". She reported the dramatic news that the commander of one boat was "in the process of giving the order to shoot when they moved away".

CBS News broadcast a similar story, adding the detail that the Iranian boats "dropped boxes that could have been filled with explosives into the water". Other news outlets carried almost identical accounts of the incident.

The source of this spate of stories can now be identified as Bryan Whitman, the top Pentagon official in charge of media relations, who gave a press briefing for Pentagon correspondents that morning. Although Whitman did offer a few remarks on the record, most of the Whitman briefing was off the record, meaning that he could not be cited as the source.

In an apparent slip-up, however, an Associated Press story that morning cited Whitman as the source for the statement that U.S. ships were about to fire when the Iranian boats turned and moved away -- a part of the story that other correspondents had attributed to an unnamed Pentagon official.

On Jan. 9, the U.S. Navy released excerpts of a video of the incident in which a strange voice -- one that was clearly very different from the voice of the Iranian officer who calls the U.S. ship in the Iranian video -- appears to threaten the U.S. warships.

A separate audio recording of that voice, which came across the VHS channel open to anyone with access to it, was spliced into a video on which the voice apparently could not be heard. That was a political decision, and Lt. Col. Mark Ballesteros of the Pentagon's Public Affairs Office told IPS the decision on what to include in the video was "a collaborative effort of leadership here, the Central Command and Navy leadership in the field."

"Leadership here", of course, refers to the secretary of defence and other top policymakers at the department. An official in the U.S. Navy Office of Information in Washington, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue, said that decision was made in the office of the secretary of defence.

That decision involved a high risk of getting caught in an obvious attempt to mislead. As an official at 5th Fleet headquarters in Bahrain told IPS, it is common knowledge among officers there that hecklers -- often referred to as "Filipino Monkey" -- frequently intervene on the VHF ship-to-ship channel to make threats or rude comments.

One of the popular threats made by such hecklers, according to British journalist Lewis Page, who had transited the Strait with the Royal Navy is, "Look out, I am going to hit [collide with] you."

By Jan. 11, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell was already disavowing the story that Whitman had been instrumental in creating only four days earlier. "No one in the military has said that the transmission emanated from those boats," said Morrell.

Copyright © 2008 IPS-Inter Press Service

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Dental Mercury Use Banned in Scandinavia

by the Mercury Policy Project
PR Newswire
January 3, 2008

Norway recently announced a ban on the use of mercury, including dental amalgam, that took effect on January 1, 2008. Sweden announced a similar ban and dentists in Denmark will no longer be allowed to use mercury in fillings after April 1, 2008.

"These bans clearly indicate that amalgam is no longer needed. There are viable non-mercury filling substitutes that are used everyday in the US," said Michael Bender, director of the Mercury Policy Project. "By eliminating amalgam use, which is 50% mercury, we can reduce mercury pollution much more efficiently than end-of-the-pipeline solutions."

In a prepared statement, Norwegian Minister of the Environment Erik Solheim said that the reason for the ban is the risk that mercury from products may constitute in the environment. "Mercury is among the most dangerous environmental toxins. Satisfactory alternatives to mercury in products are available, and it is therefore fitting to introduce a ban," said Solheim.

The Swedish amalgam ban is for both environmental and health issues, according to authorities. Danish officials indicate that the reason for banning amalgam is also because composites have become better, and may now be used in many more situations than a few years ago.

Teeth will have to be mended with e.g. plastic or ceramics. Exceptions to use amalgam may be granted for a certain period after the ban, if dentists apply for it.

"Composite fillings have now become so strong that the Danish National Board of Health says that we can expand the ban to also include amalgam fillings," said the (Danish) Minister of Health Jakob Axel Nielsen to "TV Avisen".

Authorities note that when the ban takes effect in Denmark in four months time, the present subsidy for amalgam will be changed so that it will instead cover dental fillings of composite material.

Since the health insurance stopped paying for amalgam restorations in Sweden in 1999, the use has decreased markedly and is now estimated to be 2-5% of all fillings.

Copyright © 2008 PR Newswire Association LLC

A Preventable Epidemic of Rabies

by Olivia Judson
The New York Times
January 15, 2008

Blogger's note: Rabies prevention is just one of countless ways that the US could be spending its trillions to benefit the world instead of on war. Help support a US Department of Peace.

On June 26, 2007, a dog walked into Lupiro, a small village in southern Tanzania. It bit eight people and 11 other dogs before anyone managed to kill it. It had rabies or, as the French call it, la rage.

Neither of the nearby hospitals had any vaccine. The closest place with a supply was a private clinic in Dar es Salaam — a 9-hour drive away. The clinic had enough for a full course — five doses — of vaccine for two people, or a single dose for each person. It would be $40 per dose. In Tanzania, the average income per person is just $340 a year, and Lupiro is in one of the poorest regions.

Exposure to rabies requires immediate treatment: the first dose of vaccine should be taken the day you are bitten; every hour counts. Full treatment requires the four remaining doses to be taken, on a schedule, over the course of the month. In addition, if it’s available, rabies immunoglobulin — antibodies that can attack the virus at once — should be injected at the wound. For although not all bites from a rabid animal lead to infection, you won’t know if you’ve been infected or not. If you have been, and you do not get treatment, you will die: rabies is fatal. And it is a horrible death...

[read more details of the trauma of rabies here]

...Each year, the disease kills about 55,000 people — that’s 150 a day — almost all of them in the poorest parts of Africa and Asia, and more than 7 million people receive post-exposure treatment after being bitten by a rabid animal. Treatment is not just expensive, but time-consuming: a full course of vaccination requires five visits to a hospital or health clinic during one month. Which, if you live in rural Africa, can mean many hours of travel and time not working. Indeed, the global economic cost of rabies is estimated to be more than $583 million. And that doesn’t count the trauma that deaths from rabies inflict on families and communities. For though rabies kills many fewer people than malaria, it causes far, far more fear.

And here’s the most shocking thing about rabies: all the deaths could be prevented. Rabies could be eliminated in as little as five years. We have the knowledge and the tools. All that lacks is the will.

The virus can infect a variety of mammals, including bats, raccoons, skunks, foxes and mongooses. But by far the most important source of human rabies is the domestic dog. (This is why children are so often the victims: being small, they are more likely to be bitten on the head or the neck, and such bites carry the biggest risk of infection.) To eliminate the disease from humans, therefore, it needs to be eliminated from dogs. And the way to do that is through dog vaccination. (At first, it may seem perverse to vaccinate dogs rather than humans, given that it’s humans we want to protect. But because rabies is spread by dogs, not people, we can’t break the chain of transmission unless we vaccinate the animals that spread it.)

The crucial factor in predicting the spread of an infectious disease is a quantity known as the basic reproductive number, or R0. Technically defined as the average number of infections one sick individual will cause if everyone else is susceptible, it’s a measure of how easily a disease spreads. If R0 is smaller than one, the disease can’t get going. The bigger R0, the more difficult the disease is to control.

For rabies in dogs, current estimates put R0 at less than two. This is good news. With such a small R0, the proportion of dogs you need to vaccinate is only 70 percent. We know dog vaccination on this scale is feasible: programs in Kenya, Tanzania and Chad have shown that high levels of cover can reliably be reached. Moreover, it works. After two big vaccination campaigns in the northwest of Tanzania, for instance, dog rabies fell by 97 percent, and 90 percent fewer people were being bitten.

And vaccinating dogs is cheap. The vaccine costs about $1.50 per animal, and that includes the cost of delivering it. A country like Tanzania has around 5 million domestic dogs. To vaccinate 70 percent of them for one year would cost less than $6 million. That is a lot for governments in poor countries, but very little for us in the west. Better yet, since rabies carries such a large economic cost, a dog vaccination program would soon begin to pay for itself: as exposure to rabies falls, so does the demand for treatment, and thus the expense of handing it out. On the other hand, doing nothing will actually make the current problem worse. In countries such as Tanzania, the dog population is growing fast. If the dogs are left unvaccinated, more dogs means more people will be exposed to rabies.

Is it possible to send rabies the way of smallpox, and drive it from the face of the Earth? Probably not. Rabies can lurk in too many different species. However, it is eminently feasible to eradicate it from dogs, and thus drive the number of human cases close to zero.

In principle — if we were super-organized — we could do this with one huge and coordinated dog vaccination campaign. More realistically, however, a concerted effort would take four or five years to do the job. Would vaccination programs need to be maintained indefinitely? Not necessarily. That depends on whether the disease is likely to be reintroduced to dogs from another species. And in most parts of Africa, for example, it isn’t: the disease spreads from dogs to other kinds of wildlife, not the other way around.

So many of the problems we face are huge and hard to solve — climate change, malaria, war in the Middle East, destruction of the rain forests. Rabies is not on that list. To deal with it is just a matter of logistics and money. We should act. Now.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

Monday, January 14, 2008

Global Warming and Industrial Wind Energy Development

by Nina Pierpont
April 24, 2007

As an ecologist, I’ve known about global warming since the 1970’s, especially in the work of certain marine scientists who began studying and modeling global carbon cycling forty years ago.

The earth’s fossil record makes it clear that the earth has cycled back and forth between warmer epochs and colder throughout its history. At certain times the earth has been tropical to the poles.

There is no doubt that we are in a significant warming stage and that the human role in this is critical, by releasing to the atmosphere enormous amounts of carbon locked up by trees and plants eons ago into oil and coal. Not only the burning of fossil fuels, but the destruction of forests also disturbs the carbon balance, on the other side. Forests are carbon “sinks,” reabsorbing carbon from the atmosphere and locking it up again into wood and leaves, cellulose and lignin. The energy in wood is the sunlight of past summers, but the substance is carbon from the air.

Global warming means not only more marked heat waves and melting glaciers and ice caps, but also increased variation in the weather. There is more energy in the atmosphere and hydrosphere not only for high temperatures, but also for more air movement, more wind, more storms, and greater swings between warm and cold, as air masses replace each other quickly and vigorously.

But wind generation is not the solution, even in a gustier world.

The reason? Wind energy can only provide a tiny and insignificant fraction of the electric capacity or load demanded by our dense and energy-hungry population. Wind energy is a random dusting of sugar on the cake of the real energy producers, which are hydro, nuclear, and, currently, coal.

Why? Air has little mass, so it has little power, little energy in it, even when it is moving fast. Contrast wind to the power of moving water. Water has lots of mass – it’s heavy. You need mass to get momentum to get power and energy. Basic physics.

Why else? You can’t store air, pile it up behind a dam and let it flow through a turbine when energy is needed – unlike water. Wind power is the only form of generation that comes on-line when it wants to (when it blows), not when it is needed. Unlike small-scale wind generators, there’s no battery storage for big wind turbines, for power produced at times when power is not needed. Supply and demand have to be matched at all times.

Wind is a power grid operator’s nightmare, because of the way the wind comes up and dies down on a minute-to-minute basis. The power grids of North America, Europe, and elsewhere need steady, predictable power that can be geared up and down according to the known and predicted energy needs of homes, businesses, and industry.

We need to do a lot about global warming, but things that will help.

The federal and state governments in the US are pouring huge amounts of money into tax subsidies for wind energy development. Let us use taxpayer money for projects that will help global warming, rather than just helping Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, General Electric, Florida Power and Light, and others to improve their bottom line.

First, conservation: of electricity, heating oil and gas, and fuel for transportation. I live in rural, cold, poor northern NY State. In whatever way people heat their houses here – fuel oil, biofuel, natural gas, wood, wood pellets, or electricity – carbon is released (except for the electricity that comes from a power dam – but try separating those electrons from the fossil-fuel-generated ones). How sensible it would be to insulate all the fine, old 19th-century houses here, which people live in. There’s no money for it, though; it’s all going to wind developers and their financiers.

With regard to transportation: How about a subsidy to allow people to replace their gas-guzzling pick-ups and SUV’s with fuel-efficient cars? How about a hefty tax on those who don’t avail themselves of the subsidy? How about a good national and regional rail system, to get all those diesel belching tractor-trailers off the highways? And what would be saved carbon-wise for road construction, if all that freight ran on steel rails?

With regard to electricity, a similar subsidy-and-tax arrangement could encourage the use of efficient appliances, such as air conditioners and lights. And perhaps, one of these years, we’ll turn off the orange glow over our cities and towns.

With regard to carbon-free electric power generation, we are going to have to build new nuclear plants in the next several decades whether or not we first waste money and land on the wind energy fiasco. People don’t like the idea of nuclear – it seems to give them the willies. But nuclear plants have an excellent safety record in North America and Europe (not, however, the former Soviet Union, which we now know built reactors without containment). And they produce lots of electricity, steadily and on demand. People tend not to notice when they live right near them.

The cost of large scale wind energy development is the destruction and fragmentation of untold amounts of animal and human habitat – woods, wetlands, forests, fields, and air. The air of the bird flying, the bat hunting, the quiet air of rural homes. And after all that – still no impact on emissions. But a great tax shelter, and a great way for power companies to get “carbon credits” to start their coalburning stinkers back up again.

If you thought a coalition of government, industry, Wall Street, environmentalists, and the rural poor was too good to be true — you were right. It’s the perfect storm, conjured up by Enron.

Nina Pierpont is a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and a practicing physician in Malone, New York. She received her M.D. from The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 1991 and a Ph.D. in Behavioral Ecology from Princeton University in 1985.

© Copyright 2006 Nina Pierpont

Friday, January 11, 2008

More Deception from US Aimed Against Iran

by Gareth Porter
Inter Press Service
January 10, 2008

Despite the official and media portrayal of the incident in the Strait of Hormuz early Monday morning as a serious threat to U.S. ships from Iranian speedboats that nearly resulted in a "battle at sea", new information over the past three days suggests that the incident did not involve such a threat and that no U.S. commander was on the verge of firing at the Iranian boats.

The new information that appears to contradict the original version of the incident includes the revelation that U.S. officials spliced the audio recording of an alleged Iranian threat onto to a videotape of the incident. That suggests that the threatening message may not have come in immediately after the initial warning to Iranian boats from a U.S. warship, as appears to do on the video.

Also unraveling the story is testimony from a former U.S. naval officer that non-official chatter is common on the channel used to communicate with the Iranian boats and testimony from the commander of the U.S. 5th fleet that the commanding officers of the U.S. warships involved in the incident never felt the need to warn the Iranians of a possible use of force against them.

Further undermining the U.S. version of the incident is a video released by Iran Thursday showing an Iranian naval officer on a small boat hailing one of three ships.

The Iranian commander is heard to say, "Coalition warship 73, this is Iranian navy patrol boat." He then requests the "side numbers" of the U.S. warships. A voice with a U.S. accent replies, "This is coalition warship 73. I am operating in international waters."

The dramatic version of the incident reported by U.S. news media throughout Tuesday and Wednesday suggested that Iranian speedboats, apparently belonging to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard navy, had made moves to attack three U.S. warships entering the Strait and that the U.S. commander had been on the verge of firing at them when they broke off.

Typical of the network coverage was a story by ABC's Jonathan Karl quoting a Pentagon official as saying the Iranian boats "were a heartbeat from being blown up".

Bush administration officials seized on the incident to advance the portrayal of Iran as a threat and to strike a more threatening stance toward Iran. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley declared Wednesday that the incident "almost involved an exchange of fire between our forces and Iranian forces". President George W. Bush declared during his Mideast trip Wednesday that there would be "serious consequences" if Iran attacked U.S. ships and repeated his assertion that Iran is "a threat to world peace".

Central to the depiction of the incident as involving a threat to U.S. warships is a mysterious pair of messages that the sailor who heard them onboard immediately interpreted as saying, "I am coming at you...", and "You will explode after a few minutes." But the voice in the audio clearly said "I am coming to you," and the second message was much less clear.

Furthermore, as the New York Times noted Thursday, the recording carries no ambient noise, such as the sounds of a motor, the sea or wind, which should have been audible if the broadcast had been made from one of the five small Iranian boats.

A veteran U.S. naval officer who had served as a surface warfare officer aboard a U.S. Navy destroyer in the Gulf sent a message to the New York Times on-line column "The Lede" Wednesday pointing out that in the Persian Gulf, the "bridge-to-bridge" radio channel used to communicate between ships "is like a bad CB radio" with many people using it for "hurling racial slurs" and "threats". The former officer wrote that his "first thought" was that the message "might not have even come from one of the Iranian craft".

Pentagon officials admitted to the Times that they could not rule out that the broadcast might have come from another source

The five Iran boats involved were hardly in a position to harm the three U.S. warships. Although Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman described the Iranian boats as "highly maneuverable patrol craft" that were "visibly armed," he failed to note that these are tiny boats carrying only a two- or three-man crew and that they are normally armed only with machine guns that could do only surface damage to a U.S. ship.

The only boat that was close enough to be visible to the U.S. ships was unarmed, as an enlarged photo of the boat from the navy video clearly shows.

The U.S. warships were not concerned about the possibility that the Iranian boats were armed with heavier weapons capable of doing serious damage. Asked by a reporter whether any of the vessels had anti-ship missiles or torpedoes, Vice Adm. Kevin Cosgriff, Commander of the 5th Fleet, answered that none of them had either of those two weapons.

"I didn't get the sense from the reports I was receiving that there was a sense of being afraid of these five boats," said Cosgriff.

The edited Navy video shows a crewman issuing an initial warning to approaching boats, but the footage of the boats maneuvering provides no visual evidence of Iranian boats "making a run on U.S. ships" as claimed by CBS news Wednesday in its report based on the new video.

Vice Adm. Cosgriff also failed to claim any run toward the U.S. ships following the initial warning. Cosgriff suggested that the Iranian boat's manoeuvres were "unduly provocative" only because of the "aggregate of their manoeuvres, the radio call and the dropping of objects in the water".

He described the objects dropped by the Iranian boat as being "white, box-like objects that floated". That description indicates that the objects were clearly not mines, which would have been dark and would have sunk immediately. Cosgriff indicated that the ships merely "passed by them safely" without bothering to investigate whether they were explosives of some kind.

The apparent absence of concern on the part of the U.S. ships' commanding officers about the floating objects suggests that they recognised that the Iranians were engaging in a symbolic gesture having to do with laying mines.

Cosgriff's answers to reporters' questions indicated that the story promoted earlier by Pentagon officials that one of the U.S . ships came very close to firing at the Iranian boats seriously distorted what actually happened. When Cosgriff was asked whether the crew ever gave warning to the Iranian boats that they "could come under fire", he said the commanding officers "did not believe they needed to fire warning shots".

As for the report circulated by at least one Pentagon official to the media that one of the commanders was "close to firing", Cosgriff explained that "close to" meant that the commander was "working through a series of procedures". He added, "[I]n his mind, he might have been closing in on that point."

Despite Cosgriff's account, which contradicted earlier Pentagon portrayals of the incident as a confrontation, not a single news outlet modified its earlier characterisation of the incident. After the Cosgriff briefing, Associated Press carried a story that said, " U.S. forces were taking steps toward firing on the Iranians to defend themselves, said the U.S. naval commander in the region. But the boats -- believed to be from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's navy -- turned and moved away, officials said."

That was quite different from what Cosgriff actually said.

In its story covering the Cosgriff briefing, Reuters cited "other Pentagon officials, speaking on condition of anonymity" as saying that "a U.S. captain was in the process of ordering sailors to open fire when the Iranian boats moved away" -- a story that Cosgriff had specifically denied.

Copyright © 2007 IPS-Inter Press Service

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Declassified Reports Confirm US Lies Leading to Vietnam War

by AFP
January 8, 2008

North Vietnamese made hoax calls to get the US military to bomb its own units during the Vietnam War, according to declassified information that also confirmed US officials faked an incident to escalate the war.

The report was released by the National Security Agency, responsible for much of the United States' codebreaking and eavesdropping work, in response to a "mandatory declassification" request, the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) said Monday.

From the first intercepted cable -- a 1945 message from Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh to his Russian counterpart Joseph Stalin -- to the final evacuation of US spies from Saigon, the 500-page report retold Vietnam War history from the perspective of "signals intelligence," the group said in a statement.

During the war, North Vietnamese intelligence units sometimes succeeded in penetrating US communications systems, and they could monitor American message traffic from within, according to the report "Spartans in Darkness."

On several occasions "the communists were able, by communicating on Allied radio nets, to call in Allied artillery or air strikes on American units," it said.

"That's something I have never heard before," Steven Aftergood, director of the FAS project on government secrecy, told AFP.

But he said that probably the "most historically significant feature" of the declassified report was the retelling of the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident.

That was a reported North Vietnamese attack on American destroyers that helped lead to president Lyndon Johnson's sharp escalation of American forces in Vietnam.

The author of the report "demonstrates that not only is it not true, as (then US) secretary of defense Robert McNamara told Congress, that the evidence of an attack was 'unimpeachable,' but that to the contrary, a review of the classified signals intelligence proves that 'no attack happened that night,'" FAS said in a statement.

"What this study demonstrated is that the available intelligence shows that there was no attack. It's a dramatic reversal of the historical record," Aftergood said.

"There were previous indications of this but this is the first time we have seen the complete study," he said.

Copyright © 2008 AFP

Deadly Torture Devices For Sale to American Public With MP3 Players

by Richard Wray
The Guardian
January 9, 2008

Deborah Kerr in The King and I recommended whistling a happy tune when afraid, but now fearful Americans can sing along to their favourite tracks while shooting anyone who causes them consternation with a 50,000-volt electric charge.

The annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, which is expected to receive more than 140,000 visitors this week, is no stranger to bizarre gadgets but the iTaser - as it has been dubbed - must rank as one of the oddest. It combines a Taser stun gun, used by 12,000 law enforcement and security forces, including the Metropolitan police, with an MP3 player and earphones.

As to which tracks anyone toting such a device might download on to the 1GB player that is integrated into the gun's holster, anything by Sparks or Frank Zappa must be fairly high on the list.

Arizona-based Taser International sells the handheld stun guns under the rather hyperbolic banner of "Changing the World and Protecting Lives". It maintains that the iTaser "allows for both personal protection and personal music for people on the go".

According to Rick Smith, founder of the company, "personal protection can be both fashionable and functionable".

The company says the new device is particularly aimed at women - with red, pink and even leopard print designs intended to make carrying a stun gun fashionable. A spokesman in Las Vegas said the inclusion of a music player would encourage purchases by women who want a form of self defence while out jogging, but would otherwise choose to take an iPod or other MP3 player with them instead of a weapon.

"A lot of women aren't going to go into a gun store and feel comfortable enough buying a Taser, so now we have some outdoor companies and dealers - some cellphone places are starting to carry them and hang them next to phones," he said.

Half a million Tasers are already in use globally despite warnings from Amnesty International that they have been linked to more than 70 deaths in the US. According to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation a further 18 people have died after being stunned by a Taser in Canada.

Taser International, however, maintains that the devices merely stun people and, with proper training, are otherwise harmless. The guns shoot two small probes, at speeds of more than 48 metres a second, which are connected to the device by insulated wire. Those probes deliver an electric charge that causes instant neuro-muscular incapacitation, causing the victim to crumple to the floor. They also lose the ability to move for a few seconds.

The gun generates a staggering 50,000 volts but the actual ampage - which is potentially very dangerous to life - is a mere 0.0021 amps, while a household plug carries 13 amps. The ampage is so low that the Taser's two lithium camera batteries can stun 100,000 people, but used in a digital camera they would provide just 100 photo flashes.

Being hit by a stun gun is, however, a deeply unpleasant experience. Last month a 45-year-old company director, who later proved to be unarmed and innocent, claimed he had been "Tasered" in north London. The first shock caused him to drop to his knees, while a second left him flat on his face with a broken tooth and a further six shocks made him wet himself. The Independent Police Complaints Commission has started an investigation into the incident.

Daniel Sylvester, the owner of an east London security firm employing 65 staff to guard council offices, pubs and nightclubs, described the sensation as "like being tortured".

Ten police forces in England and Wales are using Tasers. Forces from Devon and Cornwall to north Wales and Northumbria have issued the stun guns to previously unarmed officers.

The Met, for instance, started handing out the devices in early December to members of its territorial support group after training at a specialist centre in Gravesend, Kent. It has pledged that only six officers will be carrying them at any one time in the capital.

Asked whether they will be allowed to listen to their favourite tunes while on the beat, or perhaps download the latest police training manuals into their holsters and plug in, a Met spokesman was derisory: "I can honestly say no, we won't be using it. Do you think that would be a good use of public money?"

The British public are banned from using Tasers but they are legal in 43 US states where Taser International has already sold 160,000 to private citizens. The American government does not consider Tasers to be firearms.

The system does include some safeguards to try to prevent unlawful use, including owner registration and a trace of tiny, uniquely identifiable computer chips left at the scene of a shooting.

© Guardian News and Media Limited 2008

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Border in the Court

by Grist Magazine
January 8, 2008

The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal from a Canadian mining company in a cross-border pollution case, in effect sustaining an earlier appeals court ruling holding the company liable for pollution under U.S. law. Just 10 miles north of the U.S. border in British Columbia, the mining company Teck Cominco has been operating a smelter that from 1892 until 1994 dumped toxic mining waste into the Columbia River that drains into the United States. Members of the Colville Confederated Tribes and later the state of Washington sued under the U.S. Superfund law seeking study and cleanup. Teck argued that as a Canadian company operating in Canada, it wasn't liable for polluting the United States. But last year an appeals court ruled that the company was indeed responsible for some cleanup costs; the company then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to block the ruling. Now that the Supremes have refused to hear the appeal, Teck and other cross-border polluters can be held responsible. The National Mining Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sided with Teck, fearing Canadian retaliation that could hold U.S. businesses liable for polluting Canada. And we wouldn't want that.

sources: The Canadian Press, Reuters, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Bloomberg

©2008 Grist Magazine, Inc.

China Launches Surprise Crackdown on Plastic Bags

by Guo Shipeng and Emma Graham-Harrison
January 8, 2008

China launched a surprise crackdown on plastic bags on Tuesday, banning production of ultra-thin bags and forbidding its supermarkets and shops from handing out free carriers from June 1.

China uses too many of the bags and fails to dispose of them properly, wasting valuable oil and littering the country, China's cabinet, the State Council, said in a notice posted on the central government Web site (

"Our country consumes huge amounts of plastic bags every year. While providing convenience to consumers, they have also caused serious pollution, and waste of energy and resources, because of excessive use and inadequate recycling," it said.

Worries about pollution are growing among ordinary citizens, as years of breakneck growth take their toll on the country's air and water, but the new ban may not be universally welcomed.

Late last year the southern boom town of Shenzhen sparked a public controversy by unveiling draft regulations to ban free plastic bags in its shops.

Shopkeepers fretted that customers might be turned away and some people accused the government of making residents shoulder the costs of environmental protection.

Part of the new rules seem similar to the Shenzhen plan, stating that from June shops, supermarkets and sales outlets would be forbidden to offer free plastic bags and all carriers must be clearly marked with their prices.

"We should encourage people to return to carrying cloth bags, using baskets for their vegetables," the notice said.

In addition the manufacture, sale and use of bags under 0.025 mm thick is banned from the same date, with fines and confiscation of goods and profits for firms that flout the rules.

The cabinet also said finance authorities should consider adjusting taxes to discourage the production and sale of plastic bags and encourage the recycling industry.

Rubbish collectors were urged to separate plastic for reprocessing and cut the amount burnt or buried.

The move brings China in line with a growing international trend to cut back use of plastic bags. From Ireland to Uganda and South Africa governments have experimented with heavy taxes, outright bans or eliminating the thinnest bags.

In some countries where the central government has not acted communities ranging from San Francisco to a small British town have taken unilateral action to outlaw the carriers.

Chinese people use up to 3 billion plastic bags a day and the country has to refine 5 million tons (37 million barrels) of crude oil every year to make plastics used for packaging, according to a report on the Web site of China Trade News (

© Reuters 2008

US Ranks Last in Preventable Deaths Among Industrialized Nations

by Will Dunham
January 8, 2008

France, Japan and Australia rated best and the United States worst in new rankings focusing on preventable deaths due to treatable conditions in 19 leading industrialized nations, researchers said on Tuesday.

If the U.S. health care system performed as well as those of those top three countries, there would be 101,000 fewer deaths in the United States per year, according to researchers writing in the journal Health Affairs.

Researchers Ellen Nolte and Martin McKee of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine tracked deaths that they deemed could have been prevented by access to timely and effective health care, and ranked nations on how they did.

They called such deaths an important way to gauge the performance of a country's health care system.

Nolte said the large number of Americans who lack any type of health insurance -- about 47 million people in a country of about 300 million, according to U.S. government estimates -- probably was a key factor in the poor showing of the United States compared to other industrialized nations in the study.

"I wouldn't say it (the last-place ranking) is a condemnation, because I think health care in the U.S. is pretty good if you have access. But if you don't, I think that's the main problem, isn't it?" Nolte said in a telephone interview.

In establishing their rankings, the researchers considered deaths before age 75 from numerous causes, including heart disease, stroke, certain cancers, diabetes, certain bacterial infections and complications of common surgical procedures.

Such deaths accounted for 23 percent of overall deaths in men and 32 percent of deaths in women, the researchers said.

France did best -- with 64.8 deaths deemed preventable by timely and effective health care per 100,000 people, in the study period of 2002 and 2003. Japan had 71.2 and Australia had 71.3 such deaths per 100,000 people. The United States had 109.7 such deaths per 100,000 people, the researchers said.

After the top three, Spain was fourth best, followed in order by Italy, Canada, Norway, the Netherlands, Sweden, Greece, Austria, Germany, Finland, New Zealand, Denmark, Britain, Ireland and Portugal, with the United States last.

The researchers compared these rankings with rankings for the same 19 countries covering the period of 1997 and 1998. France and Japan also were first and second in those rankings, while the United States was 15th, meaning it fell four places in the latest rankings.

All the countries made progress in reducing preventable deaths from these earlier rankings, the researchers said. These types of deaths dropped by an average of 16 percent for the nations in the study, but the U.S. decline was only 4 percent.

The research was backed by the Commonwealth Fund, a private New York-based health policy foundation.

"It is startling to see the U.S. falling even farther behind on this crucial indicator of health system performance," Commonwealth Fund Senior Vice President Cathy Schoen said.

"The fact that other countries are reducing these preventable deaths more rapidly, yet spending far less, indicates that policy, goals and efforts to improve health systems make a difference," Schoen added in a statement.

(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

© Reuters 2008

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Edwards Reconsidered

by Norman Solomon
Common Dreams News Center
January 3, 2008

There have been good reasons not to support John Edwards for president. For years, his foreign-policy outlook has been a hodgepodge of insights and dangerous conventional wisdom; his health-care prescriptions have not taken the leap to single payer; and all told, from a progressive standpoint, his positions have been inferior to those of Dennis Kucinich.

But Edwards was the most improved presidential candidate of 2007. He sharpened his attacks on corporate power and honed his calls for economic justice. He laid down a clear position against nuclear power. He explicitly challenged the power of the insurance industry and the pharmaceutical giants.

And he improved his position on Iraq to the point that, in an interview with the New York Times a couple of days ago, he said: “The continued occupation of Iraq undermines everything America has to do to reestablish ourselves as a country that should be followed, that should be a leader.” Later in the interview, Edwards added: “I would plan to have all combat troops out of Iraq at the end of nine to ten months, certainly within the first year.”

Now, apparently, Edwards is one of three people with a chance to become the Democratic presidential nominee this year. If so, he would be the most progressive Democrat to top the national ticket in more than half a century.

The main causes of John Edwards’ biggest problems with the media establishment have been tied in with his firm stands for economic justice instead of corporate power.

Weeks ago, when the Gannett-chain-owned Des Moines Register opted to endorse Hillary Clinton this time around, the newspaper’s editorial threw down the corporate gauntlet: “Edwards was our pick for the 2004 nomination. But this is a different race, with different candidates. We too seldom saw the positive, optimistic campaign we found appealing in 2004. His harsh anti-corporate rhetoric would make it difficult to work with the business community to forge change.”

Many in big media have soured on Edwards and his “harsh anti-corporate rhetoric.” As a result, we’re now in the midst of a classic conflict between corporate media sensibilities and grassroots left-leaning populism.

On Wednesday, Edwards launched a TV ad in New Hampshire with him saying at a rally: “Corporate greed has infiltrated everything that’s happening in this democracy. It’s time for us to say, ‘We’re not going to let our children’s future be stolen by these people.’ I have never taken a dime from a Washington lobbyist or a special interest PAC and I’m proud of that.”

But, when it comes to policy positions, he’s still no Dennis Kucinich. And that’s why, as 2007 neared its end, I planned to vote for Kucinich when punching my primary ballot.

Reasons for a Kucinich vote remain. The caucuses and primaries are a time to make a clear statement about what we believe in — and to signal a choice for the best available candidate. Ironically, history may show that the person who did the most to undermine such reasoning for a Dennis Kucinich vote at the start of 2008 was… Dennis Kucinich.

In a written statement released on Jan. 1, he said: “I hope Iowans will caucus for me as their first choice this Thursday, because of my singular positions on the war, on health care, and trade. This is an opportunity for people to stand up for themselves. But in those caucuses locations where my support doesn’t reach the necessary [15 percent] threshold, I strongly encourage all of my supporters to make Barack Obama their second choice. Sen. Obama and I have one thing in common: Change.”

This statement doesn’t seem to respect the intelligence of those of us who have planned to vote for Dennis Kucinich.

It’s hard to think of a single major issue — including “the war,” “health care” and “trade” — for which Obama has a more progressive position than Edwards. But there are many issues, including those three, for which Edwards has a decidedly more progressive position than Obama.

But the most disturbing part of Dennis’ statement was this: “Sen. Obama and I have one thing in common: Change.” This doesn’t seem like a reasoned argument for Obama. It seems like an exercise in smoke-blowing.

I write these words unhappily. I was a strong advocate for Kucinich during the race for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination. Two weeks ago, I spoke at an event for his campaign in Northern California. I believe there is no one in Congress today with a more brilliant analysis of key problems facing humankind or a more solid progressive political program for how to overcome them.

As of the first of this year, Dennis has urged Iowa caucusers to do exactly what he spent the last year telling us not to do — skip over a candidate with more progressive politics in order to support a candidate with less progressive politics.

The best argument for voting for Dennis Kucinich in caucuses and primaries has been what he aptly describes as his “singular positions on the war, on health care, and trade.” But his support for Obama over Edwards indicates that he’s willing to allow some opaque and illogical priorities to trump maximizing the momentum of our common progressive agendas.

Presidential candidates have to be considered in the context of the current historical crossroads. No matter how much we admire or revere an individual, there’s too much at stake to pursue faith-based politics at the expense of reality-based politics. There’s no reason to support Obama over Edwards on Kucinich’s say-so. And now, I can’t think of reasons good enough to support Kucinich rather than Edwards in the weeks ahead.

© Copyrighted 2008

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Impeach Cheney Now

by Robert Wexler, Luis Gutierrez, and Tammy Baldwin
The Philadelphia Inquirer
December 27, 2007

Last month, the House of Representatives voted to send a resolution of impeachment of Vice President Cheney to the Judiciary Committee. As members of the House Judiciary Committee, we strongly believe these important hearings should begin.

The issues at hand are too serious to ignore, including credible allegations of abuse of power that, if proven, may well constitute high crimes and misdemeanors under the Constitution. The allegations against Cheney relate to his deceptive actions leading up to the Iraq war, the revelation of the identity of a covert agent for political retaliation, and the illegal wiretapping of American citizens.

Now that former White House press secretary Scott McClellan has indicated that the vice president and his staff purposely gave him false information about the outing of Valerie Plame Wilson as a covert agent to report to the American people, it is even more important for Congress to investigate what may have been an intentional obstruction of justice. Congress should call McClellan to testify about what he described as being asked to "unknowingly [pass] along false information." In addition, recent revelations have shown that the administration, including the vice president, may have again manipulated and exaggerated evidence about weapons of mass destruction - this time about Iran's nuclear capabilities.

Some of us were in Congress during the impeachment hearings of President Bill Clinton. We spent a year and a half listening to testimony about Clinton's personal relations. This must not be the model for impeachment inquiries. A Democratic Congress can show that it takes its constitutional authority seriously and hold a sober investigation, which will stand in stark contrast to the kangaroo court convened by Republicans for Clinton. In fact, the worst legacy of the Clinton impeachment - where the GOP pursued trumped-up and insignificant allegations - would be if it discourages future Congresses from examining credible and significant allegations of a constitutional nature when they arise.

The charges against Cheney are not personal. They go to the core of the actions of this administration, and deserve consideration in a way the Clinton scandal never did. The American people understand this, and a majority supports hearings, according to a Nov. 13 poll by the American Research Group. In fact, 70 percent of voters say the vice president has abused his powers, and 43 percent say he should be removed from office right now. The American people understand the magnitude of what has been done and what is at stake if we fail to act. It is time for Congress to catch up.

Some people argue that the Judiciary Committee cannot proceed with impeachment hearings because it would distract Congress from passing important legislative initiatives. We disagree. First, hearings need not tie up Congress for a year and shut down the nation. Second, hearings will not prevent Congress from completing its other business. These hearings involve the possible impeachment of the vice president - not of our commander in chief - and the resulting impact on the nation's business and attention would be significantly less than the Clinton presidential impeachment hearings. Also, even though President Bush has thwarted moderate Democratic policies that are supported by a vast majority of Americans - including children's health care, stem-cell research, and bringing our troops home from Iraq - the Democratic Congress has already managed to deliver a minimum-wage increase, an energy bill to address the climate crisis and bring us closer to energy independence, assistance for college tuition, and other legislative successes. We can continue to deliver on more of our agenda in the coming year while simultaneously fulfilling our constitutional duty by investigating and publicly revealing whether Cheney has committed high crimes and misdemeanors.

Holding hearings would put the evidence on the table, and the evidence - not politics - should determine the outcome. Even if the hearings do not lead to removal from office, putting these grievous abuses on the record is important for the sake of history. For an administration that has consistently skirted the Constitution and asserted that it is above the law, it is imperative for Congress to make clear that we do not accept this dangerous precedent. Our Founding Fathers provided Congress the power of impeachment for just this reason, and we must now at least consider using it.

© Copyright 2008 Philly Online, LLC.

Edwards Breaks From Clinton and Obama

by Tom Hayden
Common Dreams News Center
January 2, 2008

One day before the Iowa caucuses, John Edwards has become the first major presidential candidate to favor withdrawing all American troops, including advisers, from Iraq, doing so in response to queries from a leading military correspondent, the New York Times’ Michael Gordon.

The positions taken by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, while favoring de-escalation, would leave tens of thousands of American advisers, special forces and substantial back-up troops in Iraq for five years, at least until 2013. The mainstream media also has promoted the view that there is “no way out” of Iraq, according to a comprehensive survey by Peter Hart in Extra! [Nov.-Dec. 2007]. If these views prevail, the US government will be funding, arming, training and defending a repressive sectarian state in Baghdad for years. Already, for example, there are over 50,000 Iraqi prisoners held in detention by the US and Baghdad authorities, the vast majority of them on no charges. Evidence of torture and ethnic cleansing by the Baghdad regime has been accumulated in numerous official reports as well.

In the front-page Times’ interview, the traditionally-hawkish Gordon questioned Edwards’ whether his proposal would “pull the rug out” from the Iraqi security forces, and pointed out several times that Edwards’ position is at odds with “senior American military commanders.” However, Gordon failed to note that one such military leader, Gen. James Jones, while supporting more training of the Iraqi security forces, has reported that those forces are sectarian and dysfunctional and even called for “scrapping” the national police force now conducting counterinsurgency under Gen. Davis Petraeus’ command.

Edwards’ thinking seems to flow from his populist orientation: “I honestly believe this in my soul, we are propping up their bad behavior”, he told Gordon, “I mean really, how many American lives and how much American taxpayer money are we going to continue to expend waiting for these [Iraqi] political leaders to do something?”

The political impact of Edwards’ statement is unpredictable. It may sway some Bill Richardson or Dennis Kucinich voters to caucus instead for Edwards Thursday night. It may cause a few defections from Clinton or Obama. It may play out in New Hampshire and later primaries, if Edwards is deemed “viable” by the media after Iowa. And to the extent that Edwards’ campaign continues to be a force in the national election, his Iraq position could become a rallying point in the Democratic platform debate.

© Copyrighted 2008

Nader Endorses Edwards

by David Paul Kuhn
December 31, 2007

Ralph Nader unleashed on Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton Monday — criticizing her for being soft on defense spending and a chum of big business — and expressed his strong support for John Edwards.

In an eleventh hour effort to encourage liberal Iowans to "recognize" the former North Carolina senator by "giving him a victory," the activist and former presidential contender said in an interview that Clinton will "pander to corporate interest groups" if elected.

Nader specifically accused Clinton of failing to challenge military spending because "she is a woman who doesn't want to be labeled as soft on defense, and she doesn't want to be shown as taking on big business."

As Clinton campaigned through a snowstorm in southeast Iowa, pledging to "bring about the changes we need," Nader accused the Democratic senator from New York of using empty rhetoric.

"[Clinton] has not led the way against the avalanche of military contracting, corporate crime, fraud and abuse," he said. "We want to inform the people of Iowa about Hillary Clinton because all the focus is on, do they have the experience and do they have the personal charisma, and can they cross the aisle" Nader said.

"The issue is corporate power and who controls our political system and it's not who has experience for six years or two years," he said, alluding to an ongoing debate over experience between Clinton and freshman Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois.

"She has experience in the Senate, and what that experience has meant is going soft on cracking down on corporate crime, fraud, and abuse, soft on cutting tens of millions in corporate subsidies," he continued.

The Clinton campaign declined to comment on Nader's criticism.

Nader, a four-time presidential candidate, called Edwards a Democratic "glimmer of hope." He has long criticized Democrats as indistinguishable from Republicans, chiding both parties as slaves to corporate financing and interests.

It was Nader who famously — or infamously to many Democrats — siphoned off enough liberal votes from Al Gore in 2000 to hand New Hampshire and Florida, and as a result, the presidency, to George W. Bush. Since 2004, however, Nader has been increasingly controversial within the political left. He was booed at a national conference of progressives earlier this year.

But he remains a popular figure among some liberals. Activists are particularly influential in the Iowa caucuses, if only because participation asks hours of voters' time. Only a small portion of Iowa Democrats caucused in 2004.

Clinton is currently locked in a heated three-way race with Obama and Edwards in Iowa, the first contest of the presidential primaries.

On Monday, Nader also issued a public statement criticizing Clinton as a "corporate Democrat," echoing the exact words Edwards uses to challenge Clinton. Nader said he has watched Edwards from afar and sees his more pugilistic brand of populism as an encouraging sign.

"It's the only time I've heard a Democrat talk that way in a long time," Nader said, acknowledging what was, for him, a rare moment of praise for a Democratic leader.

"Iowa should decide which candidate stands for us," he added. "Edwards is at least highlighting day after day that the issue is who controls our country: big business or the people?"

© 2007 Capitol News Company, LLC

Debatable Democracy

by Matt Bai
The New York Times
January 2, 2008

On my flight back to Des Moines today, I read an interesting piece by my colleagues Michael Falcone and Sarah Wheaton about the upcoming debates in New Hampshire. It seems that both Fox and ABC have taken it upon themselves to winnow the field of candidates by excluding those who don’t seem viable at this point. Fox, for instance, is shutting out Ron Paul, despite his having reached fourth place in some recent New Hampshire polls and his having spent a truckload of money on ads in the state. (I swear, you can’t drive three miles in New Hampshire without hearing Ron Paul on the radio; he’s more overplayed than Fergie, albeit easier to listen to.) ABC has decided that if you don’t finish in the top four in Iowa, and you don’t reach five percent in New Hampshire or national polls, then you’re just cluttering up the stage and should watch at home like everyone else.

I understand the impulse here. Every four years, the campaigns, the media and even the voters complain that there are too many trivial candidates sucking up time in the debates. Last time around, there were calls to disinvite Al Sharpton and Dennis Kucinich; now it’s Duncan Hunter and Mike Gravel, who’s already been dinged from recent debates. The presence of these candidates does, in fact, devalue the debates, and we’d all be less annoyed if there were fewer candidates on both sides. The problem is, there aren’t, and that’s why I think the networks are wrong.

Almost 10 years ago now, I covered the election of Jesse Ventura to the governorship of Minnesota, which might just be my favorite of all the political stories I’ve chronicled. Mr. Ventura, an independent, started out that race as a typical gadfly, barely registering in the polls. But he participated in at least half a dozen televised debates, and every time he did, answering questions bluntly and candidly, his poll numbers rose. The lesson for me was that voters are pretty great at listening to candidates and deciding for themselves. The notion that a candidate is hopelessly peripheral and shouldn’t be allowed to state his case in a debate because not enough people have heard about him yet, or because 100,000 voters in Iowa didn’t like him, or because he hasn’t raised enough money, is not only presumptuous but also antithetical to democratic principles, which have nothing to do with polls or bank accounts.

My own view is that if you’re on enough actual primary ballots to conceivably get the nomination (or, in a general election, to conceivably win the share of the electoral college necessary to win), then you ought to be able to debate. Sure, it makes for some frustrating and unwieldy debates, and a lot of people will have to deploy the fast-forward buttons on their Tivo remotes, but it also leaves the power of decision in the hands of the voters, where it belongs.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company