Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Obama's Biggest Blunder


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Copenhagen climate change conference: 'Fourteen days to seal history's judgment on this generation'

Copenhagen climate conference

This editorial calling for action from world leaders on climate change is published today by 56 newspapers around the world in 20 languages

Copenhagen climate change summit - opening day liveblog

Editorial logo

Today 56 newspapers in 45 countries take the unprecedented step of speaking with one voice through a common editorial. We do so because humanity faces a profound emergency.

Unless we combine to take decisive action, climate change will ravage our planet, and with it our prosperity and security. The dangers have been becoming apparent for a generation. Now the facts have started to speak: 11 of the past 14 years have been the warmest on record, the Arctic ice-cap is melting and last year's inflamed oil and food prices provide a foretaste of future havoc. In scientific journals the question is no longer whether humans are to blame, but how little time we have got left to limit the damage. Yet so far the world's response has been feeble and half-hearted.


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Why Copenhagen May Be a Disaster

Let me be blunt about what amazes me when it comes to global warming.  In the U.S., it's largely an issue for Democrats, "progressives," liberals, the left, and I simply don't get that.  Never have.  If the word "conservative" means anything, the key to it must be that word at its heart, "conserve"; that is, the keeping or not squandering of what already is, especially what's most valuable. 

And for us humans, what's better than our planet?  It's the only home we've got and -- though I was one of those 1950s boys who read H.G. Wells and Isaac Asimov, as well as plenty of pulp sci-fi, and spent too much time dreaming about other planets and the stars -- probably the only one we'll ever have.  For us, there is nowhere else.  Wreck it and you wreck us. 

Don't think for a minute that global warming will destroy planet Earth.  It's already made it through worse moments than ours, and worse climate conditions than industrial civilization has to offer.  Planet Earth has no sense of time.  Give it 10 million, 20 million, 100 million years, and it will reconstitute itself in some fashion and spin on, life included, until our sun gives out.  But the way things are going, we may not do so well. 

The Soviet Union, that "evil empire," fell after only 70 years, to everyone's amazement.  Barely the span of human life.  If we -- or at least our various civilizations -- were to disappear in the coming century or so, after only a few thousand years on this planet, it would be no less short, no less amazing, no less unexpected.  But it's possible.  That anyone doubts the existence of global warming as a threat to our existence seems no less amazing to me.  That, at this crucial moment, on the eve of a gathering of the world's nations in Copenhagen to try to pound out some kind of agreement for the abatement of greenhouse gases, opinion polls show Americans actually losing interest in global warming, or even in the belief that it's happening at all, is depressing indeed.  (Only 35% of Americans, according to a recent Pew poll, for example, think global warming is a "very serious problem," a drop of nine points in six months.)  To find "conservatives" obsessed over the fact that climate-change scientists turn out to be frustrated, careerist, even mean-spirited, and willing to simplify or fiddle with their complex figures to deal with opponents they consider dangerous idiots ("Climate-gate") is simply to meet human nature, not a conspiracy of monumental proportions. 

The most recent information is clear enough.  The world is changing, and not for the better.  According to Elizabeth Kolbert, possibly the best journalist now reporting on climate change (writing at Yale University's splendid Environment 360 website), a new report by leading climate scientists, released on the eve of the Copenhagen meeting, reflects surprise at how much more quickly the planet is proceeding toward various "tipping points" than previously expected.  The report, she writes, "points to dramatic declines in Arctic sea ice, recent measurements that show a large net loss of ice from both Greenland and Antarctica, and the relatively rapid rise in global sea levels -- 3.4 millimeters per year -- as particular reasons for concern. Sea-level rise this century, it states, 'is likely to be at least twice as large' as predicted by the most recent IPCC report, issued in 2007, with an upper limit of roughly two meters."  This, believe me, is not good news. 

Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org and TomDispatch regular, explains just why conservatives and everyone else around should board the global-warming express, and pull hard on the brake cord before it's too late.  You can, by the way, catch a TomDispatch audio interview with McKibben on President Obama and climate-change politics in the U.S. by clicking here. Tom

The Physics of Copenhagen
Why Politics-As-Usual May Mean the End of Civilization
By Bill McKibben

Most political arguments don't really have a right and a wrong, no matter how passionately they're argued. They're about human preferences -- for more health care or lower taxes, for a war to secure some particular end or a peace that leaves some danger intact.  On occasion, there are clear-cut moral issues: the rights of minorities or women to a full share in public life, say; but usually even those of us most passionate about human affairs recognize that we're on one side of a debate, that there are legitimate arguments to the contrary (endless deficits, coat-hanger abortions, a resurgent al-Qaeda). We need people taking strong positions to move issues forward, which is why I'm always ready to carry a placard or sign a petition, but most of us also realize that, sooner or later, we have to come to some sort of compromise.

That's why standard political operating procedure is to move slowly, taking matters in small bites instead of big gulps. That's why, from the very beginning, we seemed unlikely to take what I thought was the correct course for our health-care system:  a single-payer model like the rest of the world. It was too much change for the country to digest.  That's undoubtedly part of the reason why almost nobody who ran for president supported it, and those who did went nowhere.


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The World's smallest violin

Five AIG execs say may quit over pay: report
Wall Street Journal says they're upset that pay czar cut their compensation

Five senior executives at American International Group told the bailed-out insurer last week they may quit if their compensation was cut significantly by the U.S. pay czar, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The five senior AIG executives indicated on December 1, in written notices, that they were prepared to leave by year-end, the paper reported, citing unnamed sources.


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Sarah the Huntress

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Blue Cross pushing plan to declare health reform unconstitutional

By Sahil Kapur

healthcaremoney Blue Cross pushing plan to declare health reform unconstitutionalAs the battle for health care reform rages on in the Senate, the powerful insurance consortium Blue Cross Blue Shield appears to have embraced some rather unorthodox methods for achieving its goals.

After months of fierce insurance industry opposition to the bill, Blue Cross is working secretively with conservative front group American Legislative Exchange Council to use the issue of states' rights as a pretext to declaring health reform unconstitutional.

ALEC has for months worked to spread the notion that all the proposals put forth by President Obama and Democrats -- including industry regulations and a public option -- violate states' rights. The group wrote a resolution declaring as much this summer.

A senior executive at the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBS' lobbying group) has admitted to Think Progress she played a vital role in crafting ALEC's resolution, and insurance lobbyists have since worked in tandem with the group to promote it.

According to the ALEC website, the resolution was developed by a three member task force of industry representatives. One of the of the members is Joan Gardner, who is executive director of state services with the BCBS Association's Office of Policy and Representation. In an interview with ThinkProgress, Christie Herrera, the director of ALEC's health task force, confirmed that Gardner played a pivotal role in crafting this anti-health reform states' rights initiative. Herrera told us that Gardner's unique position at the BCBS Association brought "great knowledge" to the issue, and that Gardner voted to press forward with the campaign.

Numerous Republican lawmakers, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry, have co-opted the resolution, and amendments in its spirit have been reportedly introduced in at least half a dozen states.

The insurance industry has spoken with a largely singular voice of opposition to the current reform effort. It has released various studies and reports promising that insurance premiums will rise and that the legislation will hurt consumers. Their claims have been widely challenged or debunked, and the industry has been accused of pushing their financial agendas at the expense of regular people.

The Huffington Post reported on Friday that Aetna, a large and influential insurance firm, is preparing to rescind coverage for 650,000 customers by raising prices, in an effort to achieve higher profit margins.


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The Psychological Implosion of Our Soldiers

by: Dahr Jamail, t r u t h o u t | Report

photo(Image: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: The U.S. Army)

US Army Specialist Lateef Al-Saraji, a decorated combat veteran, came back from the occupation of Iraq with severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Saraji joined the military because he wanted to serve his country. He served well as a linguist and translator working under secret clearance with military intelligence, according to a letter of recommendation written by his commander following his tour in Iraq, "This letter is to inform you of my endorsement of SPC Alsaraji's superlative performance and vital contributions to the command during our recent 15-month extended combat tour in Iraq." Saraji is also a three-year trustee with  American Legion Post 42 in Gatesville, Texas.

PTSD is often routed in one event, but more often, with the two ongoing occupations, it is rooted in multiple traumatizing events. While in Iraq, Saraji was horrified by discovering headless bodies of suspected spies caught by the Iraqi resistance, which were thrown in a canal near the building where he was based "so we would see them. I still have nightmares over the bodies in the water, all blue and foul-smelling," he wrote of his experience.

When he got back to the US, it took him several months to get an appointment with a counselor on his base, who then referred him to an off-base psychiatrist, who diagnosed him with severe PTSD.

In an email to Chuck Luther, the founder and director of the Soldier's Advocacy Group of Disposable Warriors," Saraji wrote that he "felt that the Army did not care about me and my superiors did not seem to care. On July 1 [2009] the psychologist, Dr. Leach, wrote a letter recommending I have 2 weeks off."

Rather than his commander, Sgt. First Class Duncan, follow the recommendation of Dr. Leach, Saraji was accused of going absent without leave and told he would not be given the two weeks off, along with being written up.

"I got too depressed," Saraji wrote of his experience. "I thought everyone would be better with me dead. I was going to kill myself. I drank ¾ gallon of Bacardi 151, took some pills and was going to shoot myself. I was depressed and tired of the racism and prejudice that I was receiving. I was talking on the phone with the Chaplain and he heard me cock my gun."

Luckily, very shortly thereafter three officers appeared at his door and took him to nearby Fort Hood, where he was admitted to a psychiatric unit for a week. From there he was transferred to a facility in Wichita Falls, Texas, for three weeks, where he was jumped by five soldiers who harassed him and called him a "towel head" and "sand nigger." He was moved to a different floor of that hospital, but wrote, "I was afraid for my safety so I tried to run away from the hospital."

Saraji returned to Fort Hood, only to find Sergeant Duncan writing him up yet again. According to Saraji, when Sergeant Duncan learned Saraji had nearly attempted suicide, he coolly told Saraji that he should go kill himself.


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Everything You Might Not Know or Want to Know About the Current Health Care Reform Tragedy, But I Am Going to Tell You Anyway

By: libbyliberal

The Real Situation

Right now some of our senators are meeting and trying to hammer out a health care reform bill the President has promised will be completed by Christmas.

The probable bill will not seriously expand the health care benefits of American citizens as much as it will significantly enhance the profit-making of the corporations, mega-corporations, that have been contributing millions of dollars to our representatives in both the House and the Senate, and also to the President.

The President, Senate and House are struggling to come up with a bill which SEEMS to accommodate the needs of a desperate citizenry in these hard economic times, made harder thanks to the President, Senate and House forking over billions of dollars of taxpayer money to rescue the very banks that caused the economic collapse, which banks, by the way, are now issuing tremendous bonuses to their executives as unemployment and home foreclosures and bankruptcies paralyze more and more of the rest of us.

Indeed, the President, House and Senate have shown their priority is to take care of the needs of corporations, the banks and now the insurance and drug companies, their lobbying financial mentors. They do this by minimizing and sacrificing the needs of the citizenry. They can't serve both masters. They have had to choose between their legitimate constituents, us, the taxpayers, and their illegitimate ones, the corporations.

Their choice was made clear with the bank, Wall Street over Main Street, bailouts. I believe they are counting on a naïve citizenry and a cooperative corporate media to treat the upcoming toxic legislation for the citizenry as historic reform on behalf of citizens. This is a lie. They will try to make the legislation look and sound responsive to our needs. But the finagling they are doing now will be cutting benefits or shifting funding, as the old adage goes, "Stealing from Peter to pay Paul." (Don't think that uproar about breast cancer screenings being advanced to an older age has nothing to do with this earnest health care economizing). At the same time, the profit-making of the insurance and drug corporations, the senators and representatives will not just leave undisturbed, but grossly enhanced by their faux-reform (from the mandatory purchase rule and other careful corporate protections within the new bill).

Now, there does exist a fiscally sane and humane health care plan, the only one that would really seriously enhance the lives of all Americans. That would be Single Payer Medicare for All. It would be a secure and sustainable, universal — that is, everybody in, nobody out -– program (by the way, we are the ONLY industrial nation in the world that does not have coverage for EVERY citizen), but President Obama and our Congress, save for a few noble individuals such as Rep. Kucinich and Senator Sanders, refuse to consider it because this system is based on the structure of the very successful Medicare program which does not use investment-insurance company vendors.


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Associated Press YouTube Fail

by Iron Knee

It is well known that traditional media sources are in trouble, largely due to the rise of the internet and what that is doing to their business model. You might think that the media would at least try to understand their biggest competitor. But you would be wrong, as evidenced by this recent epic fail on the part of the Associated Press, the news agency that is cooperatively owned by its contributing US newspapers, radio, and television stations (you know, kinda like how the RIAA supposedly works for recording artists).

It seems that the A.P. recently ordered radio station KTNQ-FM to stop posting A.P. videos on its website, accusing the station of "stealing their licensed content". But there are a few things that are a bit curious about this. First, all of the videos in question were from the A.P.'s official YouTube channel (yes, the A.P. has its own YouTube channel, at http://www.youtube.com/user/AssociatedPress). Even worse, at the time, this channel had the YouTube "embed code" turned on, so that anyone could embed the A.P. videos in their website.

But the real giggle comes from the fact that KTNQ-FM is an A.P. affiliate. The whole purpose of the A.P. is to create content for its affiliates, who after all are the owners of the A.P. Here's a quote from the station employee who talked to the A.P.'s vice president:

We're an A.P. affiliate for crying out loud! I stumped him on that one. … What is really shocking is that they were shocked that they've got a YouTube channel that people are embedding on their Websites. He seemed shocked by that. "Oh, I am going to have to look into that" is what he told me.

When you're this clueless about the "innerTubes", is it any wonder it is eating your lunch?


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Redaction FAIL

by Iron Knee

Back in the days when I was frequently negotiating legal contracts, I had a trick I sometimes used to gain an unfair advantage. Most legal documents would be sent back in forth in electronic form, typically using Microsoft Word. But what most lawyers didn't realize was that when you deleted something from a document, Word didn't actually delete it from the document source, it just didn't display it.

So it was relatively easy to open the document source in a programming editor and see what sections the opposing side had deleted. Companies often write new contracts by simply copying some other similar contract they had previously negotiated and making changes to it, so we could easily see what terms they had given in other similar deals, which needless to say gave us a negotiating advantage.

Microsoft has long since removed that feature, but I was reminded of it today when I read about a monumental screwup by the Transportation Security Administration, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security. It seems that the TSA posted their Screening Management Standard Operating Procedure document to the web last March. This is the document that defines who and what gets screened at airports, so is obviously something that we shouldn't let terrorists read.

So what did TSA do? On every page, they have a warning notice (in capital letters, even):


This clearly says that no part can be disclosed, so shouldn't they not be posting it to the web? But that's ok, because they carefully redacted it.

But here is the ironic part. They did the redaction by drawing black boxes in the document over text they didn't want people to read. So the redacted text is still there. In fact, reading it is simple: all you have to do is select the text containing the redaction using your computer's standard cut and paste commands, and then paste it into a different document. Voila, the black boxes are gone, and you can read the secret message.

Sadly, the government agency that is responsible for our nation's security doesn't seem to know the first thing about electronic security.


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29 years later, Lennon's words still hit their mark

by Chris Greenwood
It was outside this entrance to his apartment where John Lennon was shot and killed 29 years ago.
It was outside this entrance to his apartment where John Lennon was shot and killed 29 years ago.
Photo by David Shankbone.

As the United States said good by to the '60's and entered the '70's, the country as a whole was in the process of turning the page.  The Vietnam War was beginning to work to a close, President Nixon hadn't faced Watergate yet, and the hippies and flower children were putting away the tie-dye shirts and shaving their beards.  It was during this time John Lennon penned one of the most timeless songs in history, Imagine.

29 years ago today, a psychotic gunman robbed a generation of their voice, but when you look at the lyrics to Imagine, they are just as relevant today as they were 38 years ago.

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

With war going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, the ever growing involvement of Pakistan, the nuclear tensions with Iran and North Korea, we seem to find more and more reasons to be divided. 

The seemingly coordinated bombings in that region today show how increasingly hard it is to imagine living life in peace.

During the last presidential election, much was made of Barack Obama's religious affiliation, strange in a country founded on freedom of religion.  It was as if our country would come to a grinding halt if someone professing another faith were to become president. 

I guess when it comes to electing our leaders, we are a long way from a point where we imagine no religion.

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

Wall Street, can you hear this?  It seems we have taken the right of personal property to about as far an extreme as we can.  When you talk of the good of the country as a whole, or, to quote Leonard Nimoy in Star Trek II, "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one", you are immediately labeled a socialist or jealous of the wealthy.  But what is wealth truly worth if it comes at the expense of society?


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John Lennon's Death Still Resonates 29 Years Later

As was mentioned this morning, today is the anniversary of the murder of rock legend John Lennon, who was killed outside his apartment building just before 11 p.m. via five gun shots. The killer, Mark David Chapman, had been stalking Lennon for months and even had contact with him earlier in the day (Lennon signed a copy of Double Fantasy for the guy who would take his life only hours later)...

It's been a big year for Lennon's songs, as they were featured on the extremely well-received video game "The Beatles: Rock Band" and the complete catalog was remastered in both stereo and mono versions of a deluxe box set. Lennon's solo career is constantly being re-evaluated as well, with albums like Imagine and Mind Games getting deluxe re-issues and critical praise. But his best work remains his first. Check out the video for "Love," from Lennon's solo debut John Lennon/Pastic Ono Band.

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Baucus Caucus


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