Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I just lost a huge post that I personally wrote about my struggles with depression and anxiety, I'll try and re-write that soon. In the meantime, here's the new email from Think Progress which I'm a huge fan of. More to come later. I'm going to try and make more personal entries in the blog, but I just can't face typing another damm version of what I just typed.


Now Comes The Hard Part

Yesterday, under bright skies and before an estimated crowd of more than a million people gathered on the National Mall, Barack Hussein Obama took the oath of office to become the 44th President of the United States. President Obama marked the historic occasion with a somber but stirring inaugural address, telling America that the "challenges we face" -- real, many, and serious -- "will be met."After eight years of conservative misrule in a complex and changing world, the United States faces war, recession, the climate crisis, and systems of health care and education that continue to fail too many Americans. Obama declared these ills not just a "consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some" but also "our collective failure to make hard choices." He repeated a common theme of his candidacy -- that good government alone is not sufficient to restore America's promise. Instead, "the faith and determination of the American people" set the course of the nation. "Starting today," Obama said, "we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America."

'THE WORK OF REMAKING AMERICA': The Bush administration was marked by a near-ideological adherence to irresponsibility. The dismissal of facts, the failure to plan, and the elevation of politics over competence, led to a host of problems that now consume this nation. Repeatedly, Obama obliquely rebuked the legacy of the previous office-holder. Obama pledged to change the course of government, saying that "our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions -- that time has surely passed." He pledged to "restore science to its rightful place" -- after eight years of "concerted assault" on the environment and inaction on global warming. Obama rejected "as false the choice between our safety and our ideals" -- in contrast to Bush, who personally authorized torture. And he signaled a new course in foreign policy, telling the Muslim world that "we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect."

'THE PRICE AND THE PROMISE OF CITIZENSHIP': In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Bush rallied the nation to continue shopping. In 2006, with recession looming, Bush asked the American people to "go shopping more." In a stark contrast, Obama defined his ideal of the "price and the promise of citizenship." He called for "a new era of responsibility," in which every American recognizes "that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and our world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than giving our all to a difficult task." In a service event on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, "when a grateful nation emulates Dr. King's sacrifice and service to others," Obama explained his vision of shared responsibility. "If we're just waiting around for somebody else to do it for us, if we're waiting around for somebody else to clean up the vacant lot or waiting for somebody else to get involved in tutoring a child, if we're waiting for somebody else to do something, it never gets done," he said. "We're going to have to take responsibility -- all of us."

'THE SPIRIT OF SERVICE': Obama honored the men and women of the armed services "not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service: a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves," he said. Obama then argued that this spirit "must inhabit us all." this call to service is not new. In the early days of his presidential campaign, Obama "advocated a major expansion of the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps and other national service programs," and established a goal of "50 hours of community service per year for middle and high school students." For MLK Day, Obama asked "all Americans to make an ongoing commitment to better the lives of others." The Obama team established, a website meant to be a clearinghouse for service opportunities. Over 11,000 service projects across the country -- "from working in homeless shelters and mentoring young people to assembling more than 80,000 care packages for our troops at a service event here in Washington, D.C." -- were organized on the site. As one volunteer in Albuquerque, NM, told reporters, "More people need to be aware that this isn't just six people building a fence, but instead a community coming together to say, 'All right we're getting involved, we're going to make a difference.'"

ADMINISTRATION -- OBAMA ORDERS HALT TO LAST-MINUTE BUSH REGULATIONS: Hours after being sworn in as America's 44th president, Barack Obama ordered "a freeze on new or proposed regulations at all government agencies and departments" made in the final months and weeks of Bush administration. A memo from White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said that every regulation would have to be reviewed by the department or agency head appointed by Obama. In some cases, however, Obama is too late. For example, "just six weeks ago, the Bush administration issued revised endangered species regulations to reduce the input of federal scientists and to block the law from being used to fight global warming." The rule went into effect before Obama took office, therefore requiring him "to restart the lengthy rulemaking process." For rules that have already taken effect, "the Democratic-controlled Congress might be able to help the Obama administration by using the Congressional Review Act, a legislative tool to bring new federal regulations under scrutiny," notes the AP. Obama will also act to overturn older Bush regulations; one of his first moves in office will be to reverse the "global gag rule" that "prevents federal money from going to international family planning groups that" provide abortion counseling or services.

IRAQ-- IRAQ IS WILLING TO HAVE U.S. WITHDRAW AT A FASTER PACE: In November, the Bush administration and the Iraqi government signed an agreement that would remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. With the inauguration of President Obama, who has pledged to withdraw on a 16-month time frame, Iraqi government spokesperson Ali al-Dabbagh said yesterday that government officials support the U.S. leaving "even before the end of 2011." "The government-owned newspaper Al-Sabah reported Wednesday that Iraqi authorities have drafted contingency plans in case Obama orders a 'sudden' withdrawal of all forces and not just combat troops," the AP notes. "We are capable of controlling the situation in the country and we believe we have passed the worst," remarked the chairman of the Iraqi parliament's defense committee, Abbas al-Bayati. Today, Obama will meet with senior commanders to discuss the withdrawal from Iraq. Obama reaffirmed in his inaugural address Tuesday that he would "begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people."

JUSTICE -- FEDERAL JUDGE RULES CHENEY DID NOT INTEND TO ILLEGALLY DISCARD RECORDS: U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly has lifted an injunction mandating the preservation of outgoing Vice President Cheney's records. A group of historians and nonprofit organizations -- including the American Historical Association, the Society of American Archivists, and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington -- filed a joint lawsuit in September asking that Cheney's papers be made public. In her decision, which came on the eve of President Obama's inauguration, Kollar-Kotelly rejected the plaintiffs' claim that Cheney "intended to illegally discard some of his official records." While the Justice Department offered what Kollar-Kotelly called "constantly shifting arguments," that was not enough to undermine the testimony of Claire M. O'Donnell, a Cheney aide, who pledged that "key Cheney documents and other materials will be transferred as required to the National Archives." Stanley I. Kutler of the University of Wisconsin Law School and one of the plaintiffs in the case does not expect Cheney to comply with the law. "When the Archives goes to open Cheney's papers, they are going to find empty boxes," he said. "Why did he fight this order so much if he did not have the intent to leave with these papers?" The DOJ had previously argued, unsuccessfully, that the lawsuit was unconstitutional.

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 4 percent of its value yesterday, falling below 8,000, while Nasdaq and the S&P 500-stock index both plunged more than 5 percent." The drop came "as fresh evidence mounted that the industry's problems are larger than previously understood, larger than the response so far mustered by the government and perhaps larger than the resources remaining in its rescue program."
The housing crisis "is likely to deepen further this year, with no broad recovery until at least 2010, according to a consensus of building-industry economists." Single-family-housing starts have dropped nearly 75 percent from their peak in 2005.

Yesterday, just hours after Obama was sworn in, the Senate approved seven of his nominees, including Steven Chu as Energy Secretary and Janet Napolitano as Homeland Security Secretary. The nomination of Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State -- which is being held up by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) -- will be voted on today.

As one of his first acts in office, President Obama ordered a freeze on new or proposed regulations by the Bush administration at all government agencies and departments. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel issued a memo declaring that "no proposed or final regulation should be sent to the Office of Federal Register for publication unless and until" it is approved by the new administration.

Israeli troops completed their withdrawal from Gaza early this morning, redeploying to "the perimeter of the war-battered enclave, where more than 1,300 Palestinians died in the Israeli campaign against Hamas." Thirteen Israelis, including three civilians, also died during the 22-day offensive.

Doctors reported that Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) was "feeling well" after suffering a seizure yesterday and being taken to the hospital. "Medical experts said a seizure in a brain cancer patient was not unusual and ordinarily had no serious consequences," and a hospital spokeswoman said Kennedy was "awake and answering questions." He is set to be released this morning.

President Obama is "strongly considering” appointing former Sen. George Mitchell (D-ME) as U.S. envoy to the Middle East. In a 2001 report on the Israel-Palestine conflict, Mitchell called for "Israelis to freeze construction of new settlements and stop shooting at unarmed demonstrators, and Palestinians to prevent attacks and punish those who perpetrated them."

Professor Neal Katyal of Georgetown University, who successfully argued the landmark detainee rights case Hamdan v. Rumsfeld before the Supreme Court, will serve as Obama's deputy solicitor general.

And finally: Yesterday while their parents were out dancing at the inaugural balls, daughters Malia and Sasha had some of their friends over to watch Disney movies and participate in a scavenger hunt, in which they "ran around their new home, learning about this history of the White House." ABC News reports that at the end of the game, "they opened a door to discover their favorite musical performers: Kevin, Joe, and Nick Jonas -- the pop boy band sensation who first exploded on the Disney Channel and also appeared earlier this week at the Kids’ Inaugural Concert."

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

From Times Online
January 14, 2009
One in five Guantanamo Bay detainees is on hunger strike
Guantanamo Bay

(Roberto Schmidt/EPA)

33 detainees are being force-fed
Tim Reid in Guantanamo Bay

Nearly a fifth of the detainees held at Guantanamo Bay are on hunger strike with the aim of attracting the attention of Barack Obama, military officials have told the Times, with most of them being force fed.

Of the 248 inmates inside the controversial US detention facility, 44 are refusing food, and 33 of those are receiving nutrition with tubes that are forced up their noses and into their stomachs.

On election night, according to one official, news of Mr Obama’s win somehow spread across the prison facility, even though no inmates had access to television that evening, and chants of “Obama! Obama! Obama!” erupted throughout the complex.

It is the biggest hunger strike since the Spring of 2006, with the percentage of inmates now refusing food believed to be the second highest in the prison’s seven year history. Two inmates have been force fed without break since August 2005.

Human rights groups claim the total number of hunger strikers is higher. Gitanjali Gutierrez, a lawyer for the New York-based Centre for Constitutional Rights, says that more than 70 men held at the US Navy base in Cuba were refusing to eat. She cited reports from visiting lawyers for her estimate.

According to the official, most Guantanamo inmates are now well informed about what is happening in the outside world, through a combination of watching Arabic news programmes and through meetings with civilian lawyers and the International Red Cross, who are allowed to visit the facility.

Most are well aware of Mr Obama’s pledge to close the prison down, which received the first inmates seven years ago this week.

Asked why so many were on hunger strike, and why the number was increasing, the official said: “This is the seventh anniversary of the arrival of the first detainees and a week today is the inauguration of a new president. Hunger striking is an acknowledged form of protest.”

Under military rules at Guantanamo, a detainee is defined to be on hunger strike if they refuse nine consecutive meals. Those that do eat receive between 4,500 and 5,000 calories a day.

Once a detainee has not eaten for 21 days, or missed 63 consecutive meals - or if they drop below 85 per cent their healthy weight - and a prison doctor approves force feeding, it is imposed.

Officials at Guantanamo say the procedure is done according to standard and humane civilian techniques. The tip of a flexible tube about the width of spaghetti is dabbed with a lubricant, inserted into a nostril and pushed down into the stomach. A nutritional supplement is then administered. The inmates have no choice in the matter.

“It is our responsibility to make sure that the detainees are kept in good health,” the official said.

Aides to Mr Obama say that on his first day in office next Wednesday, he will issue an executive order to close Guantanamo down, although he conceded on Sunday that it will take time and is almost certain not to occur within the first 100 days of his Administration.

Aides have also indicated that he is likely to suspend the Bush administration’s controversial military commission system until the jail is closed.

One of the last hearings before his Inauguration on Tuesday took place today. In seven years, just 18 detainees have been charged with crimes. More than 520 have been released without charge.

At Camp Justice today, the site in Guantanamo Bay where detainees are charged and tried, Noor Ulthman Muhammed, a Sudanese man accused of being an al-Qaeda weapons trainer, appeared inside the military commission courtroom - the first time he has been seen in public in nearly seven years.

Muhammed, who according to his military defence lawyer was born in the “late 1960s” and who asked the presiding judge through an interpreter to address him simply as Noor, was arrested during a Pakistani raid of a safehouse in Faisalabad in March 2002. Detained with him was Abu Zubaidah, accused by the US of being a close associate of Osama bin Laden and one of three detainees that the Bush administration admits has been been waterboarded by the CIA.

With a greying beard, Muhammed was slouched in a leather swivel chair and wearing his white prison uniform. The colour of inmates’ uniforms vary according to their behaviour, or “compliance”, and white signals a detainee who is “highly compliant”. The worst behaved wear orange.

Muhammed’s lawyers were urged that he wear civilian clothes at his next appearance, so that his commission would not be prejudiced by his prison clothes. He requested, and was told that he could have, a Sudanese lawyer who could join his defence team as a consultant. The charges, that he was a weapons trainer in Afghan terror camps in the years before the September 11 attacks, were read to him, and, without formally entering a plea, he declared that he was innocent.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Bush Legacy Propaganda

I love the Progress Report

The Bush Legacy Propaganda
President Bush repeatedly argues that neither he nor his contemporaries are yet able to fully assess his legacy. Rather, he and his advisers say -- again and again and again -- that "history will judge" whether he was an effective president. Despite this oft-repeated claim, the President seems disinclined to leave any of his legacy to chance. In recent weeks, he and his advisers have offered assessments of the Bush era that are increasingly at odds with reality. Condoleezza Rice, for example, argued that Bush engaged the United Nations more than any other president. And just yesterday, Bush told a crowd that Donald Rumsfeld did an "outstanding job" as Secretary of Defense. In a similar vein, the White House recently released a report entitled, "Highlights of Accomplishments and Results of the Administration of George W. Bush" that featured a list of "100 Things Americans May Not Know About the Bush Administration Record." As Frank Rich wrote for the New York Times, "This document is the literary correlative to 'Mission Accomplished.'" As Rich notes, much of the legacy report's claims about the Bush administration's economic, social, and international accomplishments are only true under very narrow conditions, suggesting that the President hopes that Americans would blind themselves to the broader failures of his presidency.

TOLL ON ECONOMY: The Bush legacy document declares that Bush "instituted pro-growth policies" that produced "six years of uninterrupted economic growth and an unprecedented 52 consecutive months of job creation" and asks, "Did you know the President's tax relief helped fuel growth that led to the largest three year increase in revenues in 26 years?" In reality, the President's "pro-growth policies" served to weaken the economy by nearly doubling the federal debt, championing deregulation on Wall Street, and increasing the income gap. While Bush claims that his tax cuts provided needed economic stimulus and pulled the economy out of recession in 2001, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman explained simply, "None of this is true." A recent Los Angeles Times poll found that 75 percent of Americans feel that Bush economic policies were responsible for the current weakened state of the U.S. economy. Further, Americans see the error of Bush's reckless economic deregulation, with 62 percent calling for more aggressive regulation on Wall Street. Bush, however, has not learned his lesson. Yesterday, he told the conservative publication Human Events, "I will continue to argue for low taxes, less regulation."

TOLL ON SOCIETY: In his legacy document, Bush claims credit for promoting a "culture of life" by banning the use of federal funds for embryonic stem cell research and instituting regulations allowing health care professionals to refuse to participate in medical procedures that violate their personal beliefs. His ban on federal funding for stem cell research "set research back five to six to seven years in this country," delaying potential treatments for a number of degenerative and life threatening diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Similarly, the President's regulatory change allowing health care providers to abstain from procedures they deem unethical allows virtually anyone in the health care sector -- including janitors, receptionists, and volunteers -- to refuse to assist patients with obtaining birth control, abortion, fertility treatments, sterilization, or even referrals to those who would provide such services. As family health insurance premiums nearly doubled, employers became less likely to offer coverage, and the total number of Americans without health insurance grew by 7 million individuals, Bush failed to meaningfully address the nation's health care crisis. In fact, he vetoed expanding the State Children's Health Insurance Program, denying 10 million low-income childrenaccess to health care. Thankfully, in failing to pass his unpopular Social Security privatization plan, the Bush presidency was not as damaging as it could have been. Had he been successful in the drive, retirees would have suffered massive losses as a result of the current financial crisis that he had a hand in creating.

TOLL ON INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS: The legacy document also tells a story of how Bush "kept America safe and promoted liberty abroad." But this ignores the obvious fact that the attacks of 9/11 happened on his watch, not to mention the roughly 4,000 troops who have died in his wars. Further, while the President claims credit for expanding and strengthening the nation's counterterrorism tools, the U.S. military is weaker now than it was five years ago, the State Department is suffering from staffing shortages and low morale, and Bush's approval of illegal interrogation techniques harmed the CIA's intelligence-gathering initiatives and threatened troops abroad. The President's cowboy diplomacy and his disastrous invasion of Iraq led to unprecedented levels of U.S. unpopularity around the world. But Bush remains untroubled, saying recently, "I think I'll be remembered as a guy who was dealt some pretty tough issues and I dealt with them head-on and I didn't try to shy away."

ADMINISTRATION -- BUSH REWARDS IRAQ WAR LOYALISTS WITH PRESIDENTIAL MEDAL OF FREEDOM: On Monday, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino announced that "President Bush will award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, and former Prime Ministers Tony Blair of the United Kingdom and John Howard of Australia." Perino noted that the three leaders have been loyal to Bush foreign policy, stating, "All three leaders have been staunch allies of the United States, particularly in combating terrorism." Support for the Iraq war has become a good predictor of whether one will receive the president’s highest honor. Past recipients include Norm Podhoretz (2003), L. Paul Bremer (2004), Gen. Tommy Franks (2004), Gen. Richard Myers (2005), George Tenet (2004), and Gen. Peter Pace (2008). Given this standard, there are no better recipients than Howard and Blair. Howard joined Bush’s Coalition of the Willing and kept a large number of Australian troops in Iraq until his defeat last year. Similarly, Blair, derided in Britain as "Bush's poodle," had been Bush’s strongest Western ally and helped push the invasion of Iraq. Uribe also joined Bush in contributing forces to the Coalition of the Willing.

ENVIRONMENT -- EPA INACTION CONTRIBUTED TO TENNESSEE COAL ASH DISASTER: On Dec. 22, a billion gallons of toxic coal sludge burst through a retention wall in eastern Tennessee and spread across 300 acres, causing massive property and environmental damage. The New York Times reports today that the Tennessee dump and more than 1,300 other similar dumps across the United States are "unregulated and unmonitored," as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has refused to act after facing push-back from the Big Coal. "The lack of uniform regulation stems from the E.P.A.'s inaction on the issue, which it has been studying for 28 years," the Times reports. "In 2000, the agency came close to designating coal ash a hazardous waste, but backpedaled in the face of an industry campaign that argued that tighter controls would cost it $5 billion a year." Regulation is essential, however, as "environmentalists, scientists and other experts say that regulations could have prevented the Tennessee spill." In fact, in 2000 the EPA "came close to prohibiting ash ponds" like the one in eastern Tennessee, but never acted. "We're still working on coming up with those standards," said Matthew Hale, director of the office of solid waste at the EPA. "We don't have a schedule at this point." Yesterday, a coalition of environmental groups announced it would sue the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) on behalf of 40 families, "arguing TVA broke federal law by not fully disclosing the extent of spill contamination."

ECONOMY -- PENCE CHALLENGES AMERICANS TO 'CHECK' HIS FACTS: GUESS WHAT? HE'S GOT THEM WRONG: Appearing on C-SPAN's Washington Journal yesterday, Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) repeatedly claimed that the solution to the economic crisis was to "do what Ronald Reagan did" and implement "across-the-board permanent marginal tax reductions." Towards the end of his interview, however, a caller challenged Pence's idea, saying that deficits exploded under Reagan, forcing the first President Bush to raise taxes. Pence replied that the caller was right that Reagan "saw deficits and the national debt grow," but he claimed it was the fault of spending in Congress because Reagan's tax cuts "resulted in more than a doubling of the revenues." Pence then asked viewers to "check me on this" because "people can check things easily on the Internet these days." As Media Matters noted, revenues did not get close to doubling under Reagan. "According to the White House's Office of Management and Budget (OMB), when adjusted for inflation to constant fiscal year 2000 dollars, receipts (revenues) increased from $1.077 trillion to $1.236 trillion during Reagan's term in office." Additionally, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) has found that income tax "receipts grew noticeably more slowly than usual in the 1980s, after the large cuts in individual and corporate income tax rates in 1981." In contrast, "income tax collections grew much more rapidly in the 1990s," when "marginal income tax rates at the top of the income spectrum were raised," according to CBPP.

A government spokesman said today that Israel "welcomes" a proposal from France and Egypt to end the fighting in Gaza that has gone on for 12 days. The precise details of the proposal are currently unknown. Earlier this morning, Israel "briefly suspended its fighting" and "agreed to do so for three hours each day to permit humanitarian relief goods to reach the beleaguered population."

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) lashed out at Eric Holder, President-elect Obama's nominee for Attorney General, yesterday, calling into question "the issue of [Holder's] character." "Sometimes it is more important for the attorney general to have the stature and the courage to say no instead of to say yes," Specter said, adding, "Further inquiry is warranted on the issue of Mr. Holder's independence to follow the facts without respect to political bias."

President-elect Obama has asked CNN's health care analyst Dr. Sanjay Gupta to be the next U.S. surgeon general. "Gupta would come to the post with an unparalleled public profile and background as a communicator." But Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman expresses concern about Gupta’s allegations that filmmaker Michael Moore "fudged the facts" in his movie SiCKO. (Watch the Gupta/Moore segment.)
Speaking of Leon Panetta’s qualifications to head the CIA, former White House counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke remarked: "He was in the small handful of people who knew there was a terrorism problem long before anybody else had heard of al-Qaeda."

Today, President-elect Obama will join President Bush for a private meeting at the White House. They will then attend a luncheon with the three other living presidents -- Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Jimmy Carter. It will be "the first time all the living presidents have gathered at the White House since 1981."
National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley told reporters yesterday that the situation in Pakistan represents the biggest foreign policy challenge for the incoming Obama administration and despite the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Gaza, Iran will pose the biggest challenge for the United States in the Middle East.
Yesterday President-elect Obama warned of "trillion dollar deficits for years to come" unless policymakers "make a change in the way that Washington does business." But Obama also said that the new economic stimulus bill should contain no pork-barrel spending. "What I'm saying is, we're not having earmarks in the recovery package, period," Obama said.

"President Bush made another round of last-minute appointments Tuesday, giving 45 aides, supporters and others a parting gift as he leaves office: presidential appointments to boards and councils, with terms lasting three to six years after he leaves office." The appointments included Elliott Abrams, Michael Chertoff, and Michael Mukasey to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council.

And finally: Comedian Will Ferrell will be reprising his hugely popular portrayal of President Bush. Ferrell will be starring in "You're Welcome America: A Final Night With George W. Bush" at New York’s Cort Theater from Feb. 5-March 15, and will air on HBO at a later date. The show "will take a chronological look at Bush’s life, and Ferrell said that viewers should "expect the unexpected" from the performance.