Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Cunningham: Iran's Natural Gas Riches, KPFK: real democracy is brilliantly untidy,0,6331754.story


KPFK prospers as it reflects the chaos of American society

The progressive radio station is committed to democracy and inclusiveness,
both in its programming and management.

By Alan Minsky
LA Times Op-Ed, March 31, 2010

I was grateful to see Jim Rainey acknowledge the tremendous potential of
KPFK Radio in his March 27 column, "Schism at KPFK leaves factions warring
over programming, fundraising and leadership." KPFK/Pacifica Radio is
certainly unique: Committed to real free speech and social justice, the
station is absolutely free from any corporate, business or big-money
influence, an exemplary model of democratic discourse. In this regard, it is
unrivaled among significant media outlets in America.

And as the Founding Fathers themselves understood, real democracy is
brilliantly untidy.

Indeed, almost all polls suggest that U.S. citizens are profoundly
dissatisfied with both the political system and the mainstream media. I
posit that these frustrations stem from feeling disempowered -- that the
institutions of our democratic society don't work for them, that they don't
have a voice. KPFK/Pacifica exists to give people a voice. It may seem messy
for those that value protocol above insight; but this practice, combined
with fact-based journalism, works wonders for us.

Taking an example from history, the litmus test for journalistic and civic
integrity is not whether a media outlet covered Martin Luther King Jr. in
1963 (everyone covered him by then), but whether someone saying similar
things a decade or so earlier was given coverage. KPFK/Pacifica passes that
test time and again, while National Public Radio and, yes, The Times
consistently fail it. More recently, look at the buildup to the Iraq war, or
the bubble that preceded the financial crisis, or the gaming of the system
that produced the California energy crisis, the entire two terms of
President George W. Bush, or President Obama's not-so-progressive first year
in office -- we got all of those correct, while most mainstream outlets did
not. It's not because we're uniquely prescient; it is because we allow the
full breadth of social discourse to be heard. Social progress invariably
occurs by allowing voices outside the mainstream into the dialogue.

Rainey focused on several challenges facing Southern California's original
public broadcasting outlet, particularly the acrimony that all too often
defines the station's democratic governance structure. It is important to
note, however, that the chaos of KPFK's Local Station Board meetings does
not appear on our airwaves.

These days, KPFK's programming reflects the station's commitment to
re-establishing itself as Southern California's premier progressive media
outlet, firmly grounded in the highest journalistic standards. KPFK remains
equally committed to giving a voice to communities largely absent from other
media; to airing the full range of contemporary social critics; and to
providing a forum for cutting-edge artists, comics and musicians. This
combination of inclusiveness with a renewed commitment to journalistic rigor
has led to the substantial increase in audience that Rainey noted.

As for the gruesome length of our recent fund drives, there's only one
antidote: continue to improve regular programming so that more people
recognize KPFK as essential to their lives. In my current position, I strive
to manage the challenges of a diverse body of content; maintain our
dedicated listeners who tune in for spirited, but accepting, discussions;
and expand our audience by developing new, incisive programming.

In a society as complex as ours, it should be no surprise that there are
many competing visions for how best to improve the world. In the coming
years, expect KPFK to provide the essential information, as well as the best
forum, for people seeking to build a just society in Southern California.

Alan Minsky is interim program director of KPFK.
Copyright © 2010, The Los Angeles Times


From: "Suzanne de Kuyper" <>

Iran's Natural Gas Riches: US Knife to the Heart of World Future Energy

By Finian Cunningham
Global Research, March 18, 2010

The scheduled start of drilling this month by China National Petroleum
Company (CNPC) in Iran's South Pars gas field could be both a harbinger and
explanation of much wider geopolitical developments.

First of all, the $5 billion project – signed last year after years of foot
dragging by western energy giants Total and Shell under the shadow of US-led
sanctions – reveals the main arterial system for future world energy supply
and demand.

Critics have long suspected that the real reason for US and other western
military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan is to control the Central Asian
energy corridor. So far, the focus seems to be mainly on oil. For example,
there have been claims that a planned oil pipeline from the Caspian Sea via
Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Arabian Sea is the main prize behind the
US's seemingly futile military campaign in those countries.

But what the CNPC-Iranian partnership shows is that natural gas is the
bigger prize that will be pivotal to the world economy, and specifically the
dual flow of this fuel westwards and eastwards from Central Asia to Europe
and China.

Michael Economides, editor of the Huston-based Energy Tribune, is one of a
growing number of industry observers who is convinced that natural gas will
supplant oil as the primary energy source, not only in the coming decades
but over the next several centuries.

He points to the recent forecast by the International Energy Agency (IEA),
based in Paris, which has dramatically revised its estimates of recoverable
global natural gas reserves by 100 per cent. Economides ascribes this huge
upgrade to rapid technological improvements in tapping hitherto inaccessible
gas fields. He says that the IEA estimates of natural gas amount to 300
years of supply at current world demand. "If one only just fantasises any
future contributions from the orders-of-magnitude larger resource in the
form of natural gas hydrates, it is easy to see how natural gas is almost
certainly to evolve into the premier fuel of the world economy," he adds.

The rising importance of natural gas as an energy source has been steady and
inexorable over many years. Between 1973 and 2007, oil's contribution to
world energy supply dropped from 46.1 per cent to 34.0 per cent, with the
increasing use of natural gas accounting for that decline, according to the
IEA. Other sources, such as the US-based Energy Information Administration
(EIA), predict that global natural gas consumption will treble between 1980
and 2030, by which date it will mostly likely become the primary energy
source of choice for industrial and public needs.

There are sound scientific reasons why natural gas (methane) is becoming the
kingpin of fossil fuels. Firstly, it has a much greater calorific value than
either oil or coal. That is, more heat is produced per unit of fuel.
Secondly, it is a cleaner fuel, emitting 30 per cent less carbon dioxide
when burned compared with oil and 45 per cent less compared with coal.
Thirdly, gas is more efficient for transport, both as a raw material in
compressed form along land-based pipelines, and as a fuel to drive

All energy industry agencies recognize that far and above the premier
sources of future natural gas are the Middle East and Eurasia, including
Russia. The US-based EIA puts the natural gas reserves in these regions as
nine and seven times those of North America's total – the latter itself
being one of the world's top sources for that fuel.

Within the Middle East, Iran is the undisputed top holder of gas reserves.
Its South Pars gas field is the world's largest. If converted to
barrel-of-oil equivalents, Iran's South Pars would dwarf the reserves of
Saudi Arabia's giant Ghawar oilfield. The latter is the world's largest
oilfield and since it came into operation in 1948, Ghawar has effectively
been the world's beating heart for raw energy supply. In the soon-to-come
era of natural gas dominance over oil, Iran will oust Saudi Arabia as the
world's beating heart for energy.

Both Europe and China stand to be arterial routes for Iranian and Central
Asian gas generally. Already, the infrastructure is shaping up to reflect
this. The Nabucco pipeline is planned to supply gas from Iran (and
Azerbaijan) via Turkey and Bulgaria all the way to Western Europe (signaling
an end to Russian dominance). Iran also exports gas via pipelines separately
to Turkey and Armenia and it is also following up export deals with other
Gulf countries, including the United Arab Emirates and Oman. Another major
arterial route is the so-called peace pipeline from Iran to Pakistan and on
to India, through which Iran will export this fuel to two of the region's
most populous countries. But perhaps the most tantalizing prospect for Iran
is the 1,865-kilometre pipeline that supplies natural gas from Turkmenistan
through Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan into China and is due to operate at full
capacity in 2012. Turkmenistan shares a 300-kilometre border with Iran to
its south and already has a gas export deal with Tehran. If the
Iranian-Chinese South Pars gas field development can be incorporated into
the above transnational pipelines that would confirm Iran as the beating
heart of a world economy in which gas is the primary energy source. This is
amplified further by rapidly growing demand for gas by China which the EIA
predicts could be dependent on imports for over a third of its natural gas
consumption by 2030.

In this context of a major realignment in the world's energy economy – one
where there will be a continuing diminished role for the US – Washington's
blustering rhetoric about democracy and peace and war on terror or alleged
Iranian nuclear weapons can be seen as a desperate attempt to conceal its
fear that it stands to be a big loser. Encircling Iran with wars and
threatening gas supplies to possibly the world's top future gas customer –
China – is the real deal. US actions are more accurately seen as putting a
knife to the energy arteries of a world economy that it will no longer be
able to dominate.

A further twist in this tale is the position of Russia. With its own vast
reserves of natural gas, it can be seen as a competitor to Iran. Arguably
less well positioned than Iran to supply both Europe and China, Russia is
nevertheless a major player and has been assiduously courting China with an
export deal since 2006. However, as Economides observes, "negotiations
between the two countries have been on and off and, especially, the pipeline
construction has been painfully slow".

But Russia's ambitions to expand its natural gas exports may explain why it
has shown itself to be such a mercurial ally to Iran. Moscow's ambivalent
position towards US-led sanctions against Iran, suggests that Russia has its
own agenda for hampering the Islamic republic as a regional energy rival.

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Ellen Brown: Student Loans

In the Calendar section of today's LA Times a front page story features
tonight's Tavis Smiley special on MLK, Jr. The page 8 continuation is
titled "King at his most fearless," and says it all. It examins King's last
year of life and expanded views, is revealing, stunning and not to be
missed. It's on KCET here in LA and likely on PBS throught the country.

Student Loans: The Government Is Now Officially in the Banking Business
by: Ellen Brown,

t r u t h o u t: March 20, 2010

"We say in our platform that we believe that the right to coin money and
issue money is a function of government.... Those who are opposed to this
proposition tell us that the issue of paper money is a function of the bank
and that the government ought to go out of the banking business. I stand
with Jefferson ... and tell them, as he did, that the issue of money is a
function of the government and that the banks should go out of the governing

-William Jennings Bryan, Democratic Convention, 1896

William Jennings Bryan would have been pleased. The government is now
officially in the banking business. On March 30, 2010, President Obama
signed the reconciliation "fix" to the health care reform bill passed by
Congress last week, which includes student loan legislation called by the
President "one of the most significant investments in higher education since
the G.I. Bill." Under the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA),
the federal government will lend directly to students, ending billions of
dollars in wasteful subsidies to firms providing student loans. The bill
will save an estimated $68 billion over 11 years.

Money for the program will come from the US Treasury, which will lend it to
the Education Department at 2.8 percent interest. The money will then be
lent to students at 6.8 percent interest. Eliminating the middlemen allows
the Education Department to keep its 4 percent spread as profit, money that
will be used to help impoverished students. If the Department were to
actually set up its own bank, on the model of the Green Bank being proposed
in the Energy Bill, it could generate even more money for higher education.

A Failed Experiment in Corporate Socialism

The student loan bill may look like a sudden, radical plunge into
nationalization, but the government was actually funding over 80 percent of
student loans already. Complete government takeover of the program was just
the logical and predictable end of a failed 45-year experiment in government
subsidies for private banking, involving unnecessary giveaways to Sallie Mae
(SLM Corp., the nation's largest student loan provider), Citibank, and other
commercial banks exposed in blatantly exploiting the system.

Under the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP), the US government
has been providing subsidies to private companies making student loans ever
since 1965. Every independent agency that has calculated the cost of the
FFELP, from the Congressional Budget Office to Clinton's Office of
Management and Budget to George W. Bush's Office of Management and Budget,
has found that direct lending could save the government billions of dollars
annually. But the mills of Congress grind slowly, and it has taken until now
for this reform to work its way through the system.

In the sixties, when competing with the Soviets was considered a matter of
national survival, providing the opportunity for higher education was
accepted as a necessary public good. But unlike Russia and many other
countries, the US was not prepared to provide that education for free. Loans
to students were necessary, but students were notoriously bad credit risks.
They were too young to have reliable credit histories, and they did not own
houses that could be posted as collateral. They had nothing but a very
uncertain hope of future gainful employment, and banks were not willing to
take them on as credit risks without government guarantees.

The result was the FFELP, which privatized the banks' profits while
socializing losses by imposing them on the taxpayers. The loans continued to
be "originated" by the banks, which meant the banks advanced credit created
as accounting entries on their books the way all banks do. Contrary to
popular belief, banks do not lend their own money or their depositors'
money. Commercial bank loans are new money, created in the act of lending
it. The alleged justification for allowing banks to charge interest although
they are not really lending their own money is that the interest is
compensation for taking risk. The banks have to balance their books, and if
the loans don't get paid back, the asset side of their balance sheets can
shrink, exposing them to bankruptcy. When the risk is underwritten by the
taxpayers, however, allowing the banks to keep the interest is simply a
giveaway to the banks, an unwarranted form of welfare to a privileged
financier class at the expense of struggling students.

Worse, underwriting these private middlemen with government guarantees has
allowed them to game the system. Under the FFELP, banks actually profit more
when students default than when they pay back their loans. Delinquent loans
are turned over to a guaranty agency in charge of keeping students in
repayment. Pre-default, guaranty agencies earn just 1 percent of the loan's
outstanding balance. But if the loan defaults and the agency rehabilitates
it, the guarantor earns as much as 38.5 percent of the loan's balance.
Collection efforts are also much more profitable than efforts to avert
default, giving guaranty agencies a major incentive to encourage
delinquencies. In 2008, 60.5 percent of federal payments to the FFELP came
from defaults. An Education Department report issued last year found that
only 4.8 percent of students who borrowed directly from the government had
defaulted on their loans in 2007, compared to 7.2 percent for the FFELP; and
the gap widened when longer periods were taken into account.

In 1993, students and schools were given the option of choosing between the
FFELP and the Direct Loan program, which allowed the government to offer
better terms to students. The Direct Loan program was the clear winner,
growing from just 7 percent of overall loan volume in 1994-1995 to over 80
percent today.

The demise of the FFELP was hastened in early 2007, when New York Attorney
General Andrew Cuomo began exposing the corrupt relations between firms
lending to students and the colleges they attended. Lenders that had been
buying off college loan officials were forced to refund millions of dollars
to borrowers.

Congress responded by cutting the private lenders' subsidies. But after the
2008 economic crash, the lenders claimed they could no longer afford to lend
to low-income (high-risk) borrowers without these subsidies. Congress
therefore acquiesced with a May 2008 law requiring the federal government to
give banks two-thirds of the funds lent to students. The bill also required
the Education and Treasury Departments to buy loans from lenders made
between May 2008 and July 2009 for the full value of the loans plus
interest. To comply with this bill, the Department of Education projects
that it will eventually have to buy $112 billion in FFELP loans.

Despite all this government help, lenders have continued to turn their backs
on riskier borrowers, driving students to the government's direct lending
program. With the banks enjoying heavy subsidies while failing in their
mission, Obama campaigned in 2008 on a promise of eliminating the middleman
lenders; and with the new SAFRA, he appears to have fulfilled that goal.

Thus, ends a 45-year experiment in subsidized student lending. In the
laboratory of the market, direct lending from the government has proven to
be a superior alternative for both taxpayers and borrowers.

The US is not the only country exploring government-sponsored student loan
programs. New Zealand now offers zero percent interest loans to New Zealand
students, with repayment to be made from their income after they graduate.
And for the past 20 years, the Australian government has successfully funded
students by giving out what are in effect interest-free loans. They are
"contingent loans," which are repaid if and when the borrower's income
reaches a certain level.

Where Will the Money Come From? The Green Bank Model

Eliminating the middlemen can reduce the costs of federal lending, but there
is still the problem of finding the money for the loans. Won't funding the
entire federal student loan business take a serious bite out of the federal

The answer is no - not if the program is set up properly. In fact, it could
be a significant source of income for the government.

The SAFRA doesn't mention setting up a government-owned bank, but the Energy
Bill that is now pending before the Senate does. Funding for the energy
program is to be through a Green Bank, which can multiply its funds by
leveraging its capital base into loans, as all banks are permitted to do.
According to an article in American Progress:

Funding for the Green Bank should be on the order of an initial $10
billion, with additional capital provided of up to $50 billion over five
years. This capital could be leveraged at a conservative 10-to-1 ratio to
provide loans, guarantees, and credit enhancement to support up to $500
billion in private-sector investment in clean-energy and energy-efficiency
projects. [Emphasis added.]

Banks can create all the credit they can find creditworthy borrowers for,
limited only by the capital requirement. But when the loan money leaves the
bank as cash or checks, banking rules require the bank's reserves to be
replenished either with deposits coming in or with interbank loans. The
proposed Green Bank, however, is apparently not going to be a deposit-taking
institution. Presumably then, it will be relying on interbank loans to
provide the reserves to clear its checks.

The federal funds rate - the rate at which banks borrow from each other -
has been maintained by the Federal Reserve at between zero and .25 percent
ever since December 2008, when the credit crisis threatened to collapse the
economy. An Education Bank qualified to borrow at the interbank lending rate
should thus be able to borrow at zero to .25 percent as well, generating
more than 6.5 percent gross profit annually on student loans.

The Treasury, by contrast, paid an average interest rate for marketable
securities in February 2010 of 2.55 percent, which explains the 2.8 percent
interest at which the Education Department must now borrow from the
Treasury. The interbank rate is obviously a better deal, but it could go up.
The cheapest and most reliable alternative would be for the Treasury itself
to become the "lender of last resort," as William Jennings Bryan urged in

The Treasury Department and the Education Department are arms of the same
federal government. If the government were to set up a government-owned bank
that simply lent "national credit" directly, without borrowing the money
first, it could afford to lend to students at much lower rates than 6.8
percent. In fact, it could afford to fund a program of free higher education
for all. That such a program could be not only self-sustaining, but a
significant source of profit for the government, was demonstrated by the
G.I. Bill, which was considered one of the government's most successful
programs. Under the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, the government
sent seven million Americans to school for free after World War II. A 1988

Congressional committee found that for every dollar invested in the program,
$6.90 came back to the US economy. Better-educated young people got
better-paying jobs, resulting in substantially higher tax payments year
after year for the next 40-plus years.

Taking Back the Credit Power

Winston Churchill once wryly remarked, "America will always do the right
thing, but only after exhausting all other options." More than a century has
passed since William Jennings Bryan insisted that issuing and lending the
credit of the nation should be the business of the government rather than of
private bankers, but it has taken that long to exhaust all the other
options. With student loans, at least, government officials have finally
come around to agreeing that underwriting private lenders with public funds
doesn't work.

We are increasingly seeing that underwriting banks considered "too big to
fail" doesn't work either. Banks are borrowing at near-zero interest rates
and speculating with the money, knowing they can't lose because the
government will pick up the losses on any bad bets. This is called "moral
hazard," and it is destroying the economy.

Issuing the national credit directly, through a federally-owned central
bank, may be the only real solution to this dilemma. Today, the government
borrows the national currency from the privately-owned Federal Reserve,
which issues Federal Reserve Notes and lends them to the government and to
other banks. These notes, however, are backed by nothing but "the full faith
and credit of the United States." Lending the credit of the United States
should be the business of the United States, as William Jennings Bryan
maintained. The dollar is credit (or debt), in the same way that a bond is.
Both a dollar bond and a dollar bill represent a claim on a dollar's worth
of goods and services. As Thomas Edison said in the 1920s:

If the Nation can issue a dollar bond it can issue a dollar bill. The
element that makes the bond good makes the bill good also. The difference
between the bond and the bill is that the bond lets the money broker collect
twice the amount of the bond and an additional 20 percent. Whereas the
currency, the honest sort provided by the Constitution pays nobody but those
who contribute in some useful way. It is absurd to say our Country can issue
bonds and cannot issue currency. Both are promises to pay, but one fattens
the usurer and the other helps the People.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Fisk: As things worsen in Pakistan, the optimism continues to soar

The Independent: 20 March 2010

As things get worse in Pakistan, the optimism continues to soar

Civilians have paid the price in revenge attacks that usually target the

By Robert Fisk
The Independent: 20 March 2010

A few days ago, I was driving around Lahore, its population still shattered
by the suicide bombers who blew themselves up next to two army trucks,
killing 18 Pakistani soldiers and 48 civilians. The civilians, of course,
were the usual "collateral damage" – the bad guys have even adopted our own
obscene expression for unintended casualties – and they paid the price for
Pakistan's continuing war against the Taliban in Swat and South Waziristan
on behalf of America's "war on terror". Indeed, the conflict here is
primarily between the army and the Taliban. I couldn't help noticing that
the street where the bombs exploded is in the RA Barracks area of Lahore –
and it took a time before I discovered that RA stands for Royal Artillery.
Yes, our imperial ghosts continue to stalk this place while America's more
recent empire ensures that its people suffer as they did under the Raj. Will
freedom at midnight never come?

Yet far more outrageous was Richard Holbrooke's cocky, overconfident
performance on CNN just three days later. Things are getting better on the
"Af-Pak" scene, he told the world – how I hate these infantile expressions
("Af-Pak", "strategic depth", "spikes" and "surges") and al-Qa'ida is "under
great pressure after losing key members of its leadership". Ten to 12
al-Qa'ida leaders had been "eliminated" over the past year – mostly in
pilotless drone attacks on Pakistani territory, it should be added, which
cost 667 lives in 2009 alone. Pakistan's civilians have paid the price in
revenge attacks that usually target the Pakistani army: 322 Pakistanis
killed and more than 500 wounded in 15 suicide bombings in the first 70 days
of this year. The Pakistani army now has two divisions in Swat and several
more in south Waziristan and Mr Holbrooke would like to see them move into
north Waziristan as well, although – he generously agrees – that will be up
to the commander of the Pakistani army.

So that's it, folks. Just like Bushy and Blair of Kut-al-Amara on Iraq, it's
the same old story. The worse things get, the greater the optimism. If it's
bad, it's getting better. By last year, Pakistan's dead since 2001 – from
suicide bombers, Pakistani army operations, inter-tribal battles and Nato
drone attacks – reached a total of 12,632 (with 12,815 wounded). Not bad,
huh? And the overall political situation in Pakistan – where the Punjab
chief minister Shahbaz Sharif has just appealed to the Taliban to stop
bombing Lahore on the grounds that residents hate the Americans (and
ex-dictator Pervez Musharraf) just as much as they do – is "much better
now", according to Dickie Holbrooke. After all, the Pakistani military is no
longer in Pakistan's "complicated" politics. We shall see.

I can recall sitting on the lawn one evening this week with Imran Khan –
among the most honest of Pakistan's politicians (there aren't many, I
promise you) – as dusk fell over the Margalla mountains. And Imran was
raging. "My God, these people in Waziristan, they are wonderful, beautiful
people and what are we doing to them? The army fire their artillery 20km
from their target, and they're told they are shooting at 11 Taliban people
and then they fire and the army announce that 11 Taliban have been killed.
We are killing our own people. This has to stop." But there's not much point
in thinking that Obama and his dotty secretary of state care a damn. They
are lost.

Why, only a few months ago, la Clinton was bitching about Israeli prime
minister Benjamin Netanyahu's refusal to stop building settlements following
Obama's "reach-out" – another of those bloody phrases – to Muslims. She
meant all settlements, she said. Illegal settlements, "legal" settlements,
outposts, whatever the Israelis liked to call it. And when Netanyahu offered
his ridiculous "freeze" on just West Bank Jewish colonies for a mere six
months – not in Jerusalem, mark you – off la Clinton trotted to the Arab
League to publicise this extraordinary and "unprecedented" offer by the
land-grabbers of the Netanyahu government.

Now she is huffing and puffing again. Joe Biden turns up in the land to
which the United States has donated almost £200bn over the past decade in
the hope of getting the Israelis and Palestinians to talk to each other
again – and Netanyahu's government announces another 1,600 Jewish homes in
East Jerusalem. Biden, of course, should have jumped back on his plane and
flown back to America. Hasn't the US, after all, registered 39 vetoes to
protect its little Middle Eastern Prussia in the UN? No way. The timing of
the statement – the timing, mark you – was "unhelpful". Netanyahu said he
didn't know about the announcement in advance – which, if true, suggests we
should all believe in Father Christmas and fairies at the bottom of the

But what does la Clinton do? Not appreciating that Biden and she and Obama
have been treated by the Israelis with the contempt they deserve, she rants
on the phone to Netanyahu about the "affront" and the "insult" of the timing
of the announcement. But this is preposterous.

The affront and the insult were not caused to la Clinton or Obama. So
self-regarding is this wretched woman that she could not grasp that the real
affront and insult were being endured by the Palestinians – who are again
being driven from their homes and dispossessed so that Netanyahu's Israeli
colonists can move further into east Jerusalem. La Clinton should have asked
Netanyahu how he could inflict such punishment on innocent Palestinians –
but she thought that she and Obama were the victims.

My guess is that it's only a matter of time before Obama's pitiful envoy
George Mitchell will be replaced by a tougher man – and who better than
Dickie Holbrooke, the tough guy who knows how to handle "Af-Pak" and will
know how to handle Netanyahu? Why, it's not so long ago that he produced
"peace" in Bosnia at Dayton, Ohio – one S Milosevic being an honoured guest
– while telling a pleading delegation of Kosovo Muslims to get lost. Nothing
should get in the way of peace in Bosnia. So the Kosovars departed to endure
their own ethnic cleansing when Nato went to war with Serbia. You may
remember that we were fighting this war to get the Kosovo Albanians back
into their homes – even though most of them were in their homes when our
USAF and RAF warriors started their bombing campaign against Serbia.

But who cares? Things are getting better in Pakistan. It's only the
Americans who are upset about Netanyahu. One thing at a time. That's what
Holbrooke told the Kosovo Muslims. Al-Qa'ida are on the run. And they expect
us to believe all this guff.

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Dean Baker on Obama's Foreclosure Prevention Program, Unemployment Benefits, COBRA

Obama's Forclosure Prevention Program

DN interviews Dean Baker
March 30, 2010

"...give people the right to stay in their home as renters paying the market
rent for five to ten years, some substantial period of time. That will also
give banks an incentive to renegotiate mortgages, if they can't just throw
people on the street. But the key thing there is that that would give people
stability in their housing that this plan doesn't give them."

AMY GOODMAN: The Obama administration has announced changes to its signature
foreclosure prevention program, Making Home Affordable. The initial
foreclosure relief program unveiled a year ago was supposed to help up to
four million struggling homeowners. So far fewer than 200,000 borrowers have
been granted permanent loan modifications. Meanwhile, a record 2.8 million
properties with mortgages received foreclosure notices last year, this
according to RealtyTrac.

The steps announced Friday would broaden the program to include people
lost jobs, encourage lenders to reduce the principal balances on problem
mortgages, and help refinance borrowers who are "underwater," or owe more
than their homes are worth. But will these changes help stem the tide of

In a statement this weekend, economist Dean Baker said the plan was
well-intentioned, but the winners are likely once again to be the banks.
Baker is the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and
the author of a number of books, his latest called False Profits: Recovering
from the Bubble Economy.

He joins us now from Washington, DC, and then we'll go to Tavis Smiley in
Burbank, California, to talk about President Obama's trip to Afghanistan.

AMY GOODMAN: Dean Baker, one in five American homeowners are now
underwater? What does that mean? And talk about what the Obama
administration plans to do about it.

DEAN BAKER: Well, the basic story is, we had a housing bubble, prices have
fallen, they're continuing to fall, and we had a situation where people were
borrowing very heavily both to buy their homes and also, in many cases, they
were taking equity out of their homes. That was a reasonable thing to do if
the bubble was real, in other words, if prices were going to continue to
rise, as people like Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke were telling them. So
now that prices have reversed, we have this situation where all these people
owe more than the value of their house.

And the important thing, and this is just amazing to me, that no one seems
to want to talk about the bubble, even after it's wrecked the economy, put
us in this situation. And they design a housing plan that acts as though
there was no bubble, there is no bubble, there's no problem with house
prices falling. Now, house prices are virtually certain to continue to fall,
not everywhere, but in very many of these markets. So, if we have a
homeowner who's underwater, their house price is going to fall further, we
get the federal government to give some money to the banks to allow them to
stay in their home another year or two years. Well, odds are that we aren't
really helping that person. They're paying more on their mortgage than they
would to rent the same house. And on top of that, at the end of the day,
they're going to end up with no equity in their home anyhow. So I don't
quite understand what's wrong with people in this town, that you had an $8
trillion bubble, it wrecked the economy, the worst downturn since the Great
Depression, and people still can't talk about the bubble. It's bizarre.

AMY GOODMAN: So talk about exactly what the plan is, who it will help and
who it won't help.

DEAN BAKER: Well, it's a-first off, I mean, the important thing to
understand is everything here is voluntary on the part of lenders, so it
sets up a formula where, if lenders reduce principal, in some cases, that
the government will issue a new mortgage, or I should say guarantee a new
mortgage, at a lower principal. So say someone currently owes $300,000 on a
home that we'll say is worth $250,000. If the bank is willing to issue a new
mortgage at, let's say, $250,000-it'd be a little less, say $240,000-then
the Federal Housing Authority will guarantee that new mortgage. So that
would mean the person will be paying less than their mortgage each month. In
principle, they could come out ahead. But again, in many of these markets,
prices are still falling. So let's say the home's worth $250,000 today. A
year from now it might be worth $225,000. And at that point, the person is
again underwater, and the taxpayers are on the hook for the difference.
Haven't helped the person, you've helped the bank.

AMY GOODMAN: Who is weighing in? Who has the President's ear on this?

DEAN BAKER: I can't really say. I mean, the fact is there are easy things
you could do if you wanted to help homeowners. The policy I've been
advocating for over two years, almost three years now, is simply give people
the right to stay in their home as renters paying the market rent for five
to ten years, some substantial period of time. That will also give banks an
incentive to renegotiate mortgages, if they can't just throw people on the
street. But the key thing there is that that would give people stability in
their housing that this plan doesn't give them.

So, why President Obama's team is not looking in that direction, obviously,
the banks don't like that, because, again, everything-it's important to
understand-everything been proposed to date, entirely optional on the part
of the banks. If you said that people had the right to stay in their homes,
they couldn't just be thrown out following the foreclosure, well, you've
given a big bargaining chip to homeowners. And for whatever reason,
President Obama's not looking in that direction.

AMY GOODMAN: The Republicans, at least until this point, have stopped the
extension of unemployment benefits and COBRA, healthcare for those who are
unemployed. About a million people are affected as the congressmen and
senators are on break. Can you talk about the significance of this, Dean

DEAN BAKER: Well, since we've had the recession, I mean, part of the
stimulus package was that we've had extended benefits now up to-I think it's
ninety-six weeks in some states. Ordinarily it would just be twenty-six
weeks, but recognizing the severity of the recession, we've extended
benefits. We've also provided-for the first time, the unemployment system
will pay 65 percent of people's healthcare costs if they stay on their plan.
The COBRA allows people to stay on their employer's plan after they've lost
their job. Typically, people can't afford that. But now with the government
picking up 65 percent of that cost, people are able to afford that.

Now, it has to be renewed periodically. They did it just as a temporary
measure. And now the Republicans are trying to obstruct this. So, for some
period of time, people are going to lose their benefits. Presumably they
will work this out, people will get benefits. But it's a rather cynical
game, because obviously people who are unemployed need this money, and the
Republicans-I'm not even sure what specific point they're hoping to score on
this one. They were saying they want it paid for-it's kind of silly, you
know, want to have cuts in the middle of a recession. But I'm not really
sure. I think basically they're just being obstructionists for the sake of

AMY GOODMAN: And it means a tremendous amount in this time of recession to
the people who could lose their benefits and healthcare.

DEAN BAKER: Yeah, you're talking about millions of people are-exactly. And,
you know, again, everyone's assuming, you know, they will get it fixed, and
in a week or two weeks, I don't know exactly a time frame, I guess after
Congress gets back into session, they'll presumably pass this. But you're
playing with people's lives. You know, they don't know-people don't know the
Congress-and who knows? Maybe they won't. I mean, there's no guarantee. Get
them back here, and maybe the Republicans will find new ways to obstruct,
and, you know, it could be weeks. So, you know, for people who are
unemployed, the millions of people who are facing loss of benefits, loss of
healthcare, it's a really big deal.

AMY GOODMAN: Dean Baker, I want to thank you for being with us, economist
and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. His book,
False Profits: Recovering from the Bubble Economy.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Avnery: On the road to Canossa

From: Rick Chertoff,

A history lesson from Uri Avnery.

On The Road To Canossa

IN JANUARY 1077, King Henry IV walked to Canossa. He crossed the
snow-covered Alps barefoot, wearing a penitent monk's hair shirt, and
reached the North-Italian fortress in which the Vicar of God had found

Pope Gregory VII had excommunicated him after a conflict over the right to
invest bishops throughout the German Reich. The excommunication endangered
the position of the king, and he decided to do everything possible to get it

The king waited for three days outside the gates of Canossa, fasting and
wearing the hair shirt, until the pope agreed to open the gate. After the
king knelt before the pope, the ban was lifted and the conflict came to an
end - at least for the time being.

THIS WEEK, the Netanyahu went to Canossa in the United States, in order to
prevent Pope Obama I from putting a ban on him.

Contrary to the German king, Bibi I did not walk barefoot in the snow, did
not exchange his expensive suit for a hair shirt and did not forgo his
sumptuous meals. But he, too, was compelled to wait for several days at the
gates of the White House, before the pope deigned to receive him.

The German king knew that he had to pay the full price for the pardon. He
knelt. The Israeli king thought that he could get off cheap. As is his wont,
he tried all kinds of subterfuges. He did not kneel, but barely bowed. The
pope was not satisfied.

This time, the walk to Canossa did not succeed. On the contrary, it made the
situation worse. The deadly sword of American excommunication continues to
hang above Netanyahu's head.
IN ISRAEL, Binyamin Netanyahu is considered the expert No. 1 on the USA. He
was brought there as a child, attended high school and university there and
speaks fluent - even if rather shallow - American.

But this time he was mistaken, and in a big way.

Netanyahu's heart is with the American right. His closest friends there are
neoconservatives, right-wing Republicans and evangelist preachers. It seems
that these had assured him that Obama would lose the big battle for health
care and would soon be a lame duck until inevitably losing the next
presidential elections.
It was a gamble, and Netanyahu lost.

At the beginning of the crisis over construction in East Jerusalem,
Netanyahu was still sure of himself. Obama's people rebuked him, but not too
severely. I seemed that the conflict would end like all the previous ones:
Jerusalem would pay lip service, Washington would pretend that the spit was

A less arrogant person would have told himself: let's not rush things. Let's
wait at home until it becomes clear who will win the health insurance
battle. Then we shall think again and make a decision.
But Netanyahu knew that he was assured an enthusiastic welcome at the AIPAC
conference, and AIPAC, after all, rules Washington. Without thinking much he
flew there, made a speech and harvested thunderous applause. Drunk with
success he waited for the meeting in the White House, where Obama was
supposed to embrace him before the cameras.

But in the meantime, something absolutely awful had happened: the health law
was adopted by Congress. Obama won a victory that has been called
Netanyahu was not facing a beaten and beleaguered pope, but a Prince of the
Church in all his splendor.

ACCORDING TO an Israeli joke, the shortest unit in time is the moment
between the light turning green and the driver behind you starting to honk.
My late friend, General Matti Peled, insisted that there was a shorter
moment: the time it takes for a newly promoted officer to get used to his
new rank. But it appears that there is an even shorter period of time.

George Mitchell, the hopping mediator, handed Netanyahu Obama's invitation
to the White House. The cameras showed everything: Smiling from ear to ear,
Mitchell extended his hand for the handshake, he even stretched out his
other hand to hold Netanyahu's arm. And then, the moment he thought that the
cameras had stopped recording, the smile disappeared from his face at a
dizzying speed, as if a mask had fallen, and a sour and angry expression

If Netanyahu had perceived that moment, he would have been cautious from
there on. But caution is not one of his most outstanding qualities.
Completely ignoring Obama, he told the thousands of cheering AIPAC-sters
that he would go on building in East Jerusalem, that there is no difference
between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and that all successive Israeli governments
have built there.

That is quite true. The most energetic settler in East Jerusalem was Teddy
Kollek, the Labor Party's mayor of West Jerusalem at the time of the
annexation. But Teddy was a genius. He succeeded in fooling the whole world,
appearing as a shining peace activist, gathering all possible peace prizes
(except the Nobel Price), and between prizes established a huge area of
Israeli settlement all over East Jerusalem. (Once I talked in Jerusalem with
Lord Caradon, the father of UN Security Council resolution 242, a sober
British statesman who was very critical of Israel. After our conversation,
he met with Teddy, who devoted the whole day to him and toured Jerusalem in
his company. By the evening, the noble lord had become Teddy's devoted
admirer.) Teddy's slogan was: Build and don't talk! Build and don't make

But Netanyahu can't keep quiet. It is said of Sabras, the native-born
Israelis, that they "finish quickly" because they have to run and tell the
boys. Netanyahu is a Sabra.

Perhaps Obama would have been ready to apply to Jerusalem the rule used by
the US armed forces about gays: Don't ask, Don't tell. But for Netanyahu,
the telling is the most important part of it, the more so since all the
preceding governments had indeed built there.

NETANYAHU'S OTHER argument is also interesting. He said that there is a
consensus about the new Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. Bill
peace plan provided that "what is Jewish in Jerusalem will go to Israel,
what is Arab will go to Palestine". Since everybody agrees that in the final
agreement the Jewish neighborhoods would be joined to Israel anyhow, why not
build there now?

This sheds light on a tried and tested Zionist method. When an unofficial
consensus about the division of the land between Israel and Palestine is
reached, the Israeli government says: OK, now that there is agreement about
the land we are getting, let's talk about the rest of the land. Mine is
mine, now let's negotiate about what is yours. The existing Jewish
neighborhoods are ours already. There we are free to build without
limitation. It remains only to decide upon the Arab neighborhoods, where we
also intend to build.

Actually, Netanyahu should be thanked. For decades, everybody made a
distinction between the "settlements" in the West Bank and Gaza and the
"Jewish neighborhoods" in East Jerusalem. Now this distinction has been
eradicated, and everybody speaks about the settlements in East Jerusalem.

SO NETANYAHU went to Canossa. He entered the gate of the White House. Obama
listened to his proposals and told him that they were not sufficient.
Netanyahu huddled with his advisors in a side room in the building and went
back to Obama. Again Obama told him that his proposals were insufficient.
That's how it ended: no agreement, no joint statement, no photos.

That is not just a "crisis" anymore. It is something really momentous: a
basic change in the policy of the US. The American ship in the Middle East
is making a large turn, and this is taking a long time. There have been many
disappointments for peace-lovers on the way. But now it is happening at

The President of the United States wants to end the conflict, which is
threatening the vital national interests of the US. He wants a peace
agreement. Not at the end of time, not in the next generation, but now,
within two years.

The change finds its expression in East Jerusalem, because there can be no
peace without East Jerusalem becoming the capital of Palestine. The Israeli
building activity there is designed to prevent just this. Therefore, it is
the test.

Up to now, Netanyahu has played a double game. At one moment he leans
towards the US, the next he leans towards the settlers. Aluf Ben, the senior
political editor of Haaretz, this week asked him to choose "between Benny
Begin and Uri Avnery" - meaning, between Greater Israel and the two-state

I feel flattered by the formula, but the political choice is now between
Lieberman-Yishai and Tzipi Livni.
Netanyahu has no chance of escaping Obama's excommunication as long as he is
a hostage of the present government coalition. It is said that a clever
person knows how to get out of a trap into which a wise person would not
have fallen in the first place. If Netanyahu had been wise, he would not
have set up this coalition.

Now we shall see if he is clever.

Kadima is far from being a peace party. Its countenance is blurred. During
the whole year in opposition it has not proven itself in any way and has not
taken part in any principled struggle. But the public considers it a
moderate party, unlike Netanyahu's overtly extremist partners. According to
the latest polls, Kadima has recently extended its slight advantage over

In order to enter into serious negotiations with the Palestinians, as
demanded by Obama, Netanyahu will have to dismantle the existing coalition
and invite Livni in. Until that happens, he will be left standing at the
gate of Canossa.

The struggle between the king and the pope did not end with the humiliating
scene at Canossa. It went on for a long time. The battle between Netanyahu
and Obama will be decided much more quickly.

NY Times Editors: Mr. Obama and Israel, an argument about Passover

From: John Jones

an argument about Passover
by Philip Weiss on March 28, 2010 · 22 comments

As I often mention, many of my friends are in intermarried couples. This
just seems to be the way in my privileged scene; and there is sometimes
among us the sense that we are a tribe, that we share certain values and
cues that inmarried couples with their unadulterated cultures do not have.

The other night my wife and I went to visit such a couple. I was at the
stove with the non-Jewish wife when she and I talked about some mishegos,
which is Yiddish for craziness, in her husband's family, and she said flatly
that Jewish families have a lot of nuttiness in them. I nodded and said, I
think this is one of the reasons I married out, I needed to temper that
nuttiness with another reality.

Later we were sitting in front of the fire when we talked about Passover.
They are going to two seders, I'm just going to one, at my family's. We
spoke about our apprehension about the festival. Mine is all to do with the
Palestinians. It is very hard for me to take any part at all in the
celebration of ancient Jewish liberation when the Jewish church is today
firmly aligned with the Israeli government, which desecrates a Muslim
cemetery and builds separate roadways for Jews in the West Bank. The wife in
the other couple asked whether I would say anything. I said, No, I did so
many years ago and it just upsets people. I will be a good member of the
story-telling, and whisper thanks to Richard Goldstone under my breath, and
maybe go outside to cry out for the people of Gaza who are shot while they
pick through rubble as my ancestors were persecuted in the Warsaw ghetto. So
you might say that the seder lives for me in Palestinian terms.

I said, "It is a great liberation story and that's what I like about the
seder. It belongs to all people."
The friend's wife is sophisticated religiously, she has read widely. She
said firmly, No it is confined to the Jewish people. There is the sense
throughout the festival that this is What God did for us. There is a sense
of chosenness throughout the seder.

I got upset. I said flatly, she was "wrong." But she persisted, and I was
quiet. I just listened. She quoted some of the liturgical stuff in the
seder, also the violence directed at Egypt, the ten plagues down to the
slaying of the first born. I bet she knows the seder better than I do.

The next day she sent me an email saying that she took my point, that there
is an interpretive aspect to the seder, and that it can be made to be a
universal teaching. I wrote her back thanking her and also saying that I
agree with her about the selfishness of Jewish life.

This seems to me the issue that I am wrestling with on this site more than
any other, the hard hard selfishness of my people in the generations since
the Holocaust. Norman Mailer said this was Hitler's bitterest achievement,
causing Jews to ask always, Is it good for the Jews? And yes I am sure that
hard selfishness taps on ancient currents inside the small Jewish caravan
that made its way thru history; Michael Walzer said that Jews had a great
political achievement, they had governed themselves through 2000 years
without territory or sovereignty but that we have not done a very good job
of governing others.

And speaking of selfishness, I don't think we know what Enough means. We've
been badly hurt, dispossessed. It explains Madoff and it explains the
failure to be satisfied with 80 percent of a piece of land that the world in
a fit of guiltridden generosity said you could have half of.

This is really the only question for me as a tribal person: what can I do to
help my original community enter the modern global era of respect for
others? Rebecca Vilkomerson of Jewish Voice for Peace has said that the
liberation of the Palestinian people is necessary for the liberation of the
Jews, that Jews cannot be free so long as they are oppressing the
Palestinians. That's a good silent prayer for my seder tomorrow.

We're alive, we have power: to change history, to change our rituals, to
change ourselves. We don't have to throw out all the old songs.


Mr. Obama and Israel

Published: March 26, 2010

After taking office last year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel
privately told many Americans and Europeans that he was committed to and
capable of peacemaking, despite the hard-line positions that he had used to
get elected for a second time. Trust me, he told them. We were skeptical
when we first heard that, and we're even more skeptical now.

All this week, the Obama administration had hoped Mr. Netanyahu would give
it something to work with, a way to resolve the poisonous contretemps over
Jerusalem and to finally restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. It would
have been a relief if they had succeeded. Serious negotiations on a
two-state solution are in all their interests. And the challenges the United
States and Israel face - especially Iran's nuclear program - are too great
for the leaders not to have a close working relationship.

But after a cabinet meeting on Friday, Mr. Netanyahu and his right-wing
government still insisted that they would not change their policy of
building homes in the city, including East Jerusalem, which Palestinians
hope to make the capital of an independent state.

President Obama made pursuing a peace deal a priority and has been
understandably furious at Israel's response. He correctly sees the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a factor in wider regional instability.

Mr. Netanyahu's government provoked the controversy two weeks ago when it
disclosed plans for 1,600 new housing units in an ultra-orthodox
neighborhood in East Jerusalem just as Vice President Joseph Biden Jr. was
on a fence-mending visit and Israeli-Palestinian "proximity talks" were to

Last year, Mr. Netanyahu rejected Mr. Obama's call for a freeze on all
settlement building. On Tuesday - just before Mr. Obama hosted Mr. Netanyahu
at the White House - Israeli officials revealed plans to build 20 units in
the Shepherd Hotel compound of East Jerusalem.

Palestinians are justifiably worried that these projects nibble away at the
land available for their future state. The disputes with Israel have made
Mr. Obama look weak and have given Palestinians and Arab leaders an excuse
to walk away from the proximity talks (in which Mr. Obama's Middle East
envoy, George Mitchell, would shuttle between Jerusalem and Ramallah) that
Washington nurtured.

Mr. Obama was right to demand that Mr. Netanyahu repair the damage. Details
of their deliberately low-key White House meeting (no photos, no press, not
even a joint statement afterward) have not been revealed. We hope Israel is
being pressed to at least temporarily halt building in East Jerusalem as a
sign of good faith. Jerusalem's future must be decided in negotiations.

The administration should also insist that proximity talks, once begun,
grapple immediately with core issues like borders and security, not
incidentals. And it must ensure that the talks evolve quickly to direct
negotiations - the only realistic format for an enduring agreement.

Many Israelis find Mr. Obama's willingness to challenge Israel unsettling.
We find it refreshing that he has forced public debate on issues that must
be debated publicly for a peace deal to happen. He must also press
Palestinians and Arab leaders just as forcefully.

Questions from Israeli hard-liners and others about his commitment to
security are misplaced. The question is whether Mr. Netanyahu is able or
willing to lead his country to a peace deal. He grudgingly endorsed the
two-state solution. Does he intend to get there?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Cohen: We Won a Robust Public Option, Krugman: Going to Extreme

Bravo, Jeff Cohen, for this illumination. It's a trifecta of rationality,
broad appeal and good government. It should make sense to many
students and parents now bedazzled by Beck, et al, and provides a
critical pillar for organizing in healthcare and other appropriate areas.

We Won a Robust Public Option . . . on College Loans

by: Jeff Cohen,
t r u t h o u t: March 26, 2010

We won!

When President Barack Obama signs the health care reconciliation bill on
Tuesday, we can crow about a robust public option - en route perhaps to a
more inclusive, cost-effective single-payer system. Soon, private profiteers
(and subsidies to them) will be sidelined, and the government will save
taxpayers billions by providing service directly to Americans in need.

I'm not hallucinating. We should savor this victory.

Unfortunately, it's not a health care victory.

Attached to the health care reconciliation bill is an unrelated college loan
measure that goes in the opposite direction of health care reform. The loan
measure sidelines private profiteers - the banks - and saves taxpayers money
by making the government something of a "single-payer" which will soon be
directly issuing most college loans in our country.

Direct lending by the government will cut out the middleman and save
taxpayers, according to the Congressional Budget Office, $61 BILLION OVER 10
YEARS - with $40 billion in savings being redirected to higher education in
the form of more Pell grants, more aid to minority-serving colleges and more
aid to lower-income graduates for paying off their student debt.

What a concept!

Instead of moving to subsidize a bulky private industry and its waste,
profits and exorbitant executive pay (as the new health bill does by
mandating that millions become new customers of corporate insurers), the
college loan reform reduces bureaucracy, profit and streamlines the system.

Yes, the right-wing in Congress yelled "government takeover."

And, yes, corporate lobbyists put up A FIERCE FIGHT to stop this common
sense approach that ends years of wasteful subsidies to private banks.

But Democrats in Congress stood up to them - passing a measure in the public
interest that can easily be explained and justified to the public.

It's a far cry from the backroom deal-making Obama and top Democrats engaged
in with lobbyists as health care reform got watered down, as even a weak
public option got jettisoned and as private insurers and big pharma deepened
their control over the system.

I want to be happy at a time like this. I keep hearing everyone from
liberals to mainstream media to right-wingers hailing this health care bill
as a world-historical event. Sort of like the first man walking on the Moon.

To the skeptic in me, it's more like "one small step for humankind, one
giant leap for private insurance firms."

But, today, it's great to be able to crow about some good news - college
loans - where Congress put the needs of the public and students and families
above the needs of private interests.


Going to Extreme

NY Times Op-Ed: March 25, 2010

I admit it: I had fun watching right-wingers go wild as health reform
finally became law. But a few days later, it doesn't seem quite as
entertaining - and not just because of the wave of vandalism and threats
aimed at Democratic lawmakers. For if you care about America's future, you
can't be happy as extremists take full control of one of our two great
political parties.

To be sure, it was enjoyable watching Representative Devin Nunes, a
Republican of California, warn that by passing health reform, Democrats
"will finally lay the cornerstone of their socialist utopia on the backs of
the American people." Gosh, that sounds uncomfortable. And it's been a hoot
watching Mitt Romney squirm as he tries to distance himself from a plan
that, as he knows full well, is nearly identical to the reform he himself
pushed through as governor of Massachusetts. His best shot was declaring
that enacting reform was an "unconscionable abuse of power," a "historic
usurpation of the legislative process" - presumably because the legislative
process isn't supposed to include things like "votes" in which the majority

A side observation: one Republican talking point has been that Democrats had
no right to pass a bill facing overwhelming public disapproval. As it
happens, the Constitution says nothing about opinion polls trumping the
right and duty of elected officials to make decisions based on what they
perceive as the merits. But in any case, the message from the polls is much
more ambiguous than opponents of reform claim: While many Americans
disapprove of Obamacare, a significant number do so because they feel that
it doesn't go far enough. And a Gallup poll taken after health reform's
enactment showed the public, by a modest but significant margin, seeming
pleased that it passed.

But back to the main theme. What has been really striking has been the
eliminationist rhetoric of the G.O.P., coming not from some radical fringe
but from the party's leaders. John Boehner, the House minority leader,
declared that the passage of health reform was "Armageddon." The Republican
National Committee put out a fund-raising appeal that included a picture of
Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, surrounded by flames, while the
committee's chairman declared that it was time to put Ms. Pelosi on "the
firing line." And Sarah Palin put out a map literally putting Democratic
lawmakers in the cross hairs of a rifle sight.

All of this goes far beyond politics as usual. Democrats had a lot of harsh
things to say about former President George W. Bush - but you'll search in
vain for anything comparably menacing, anything that even hinted at an
appeal to violence, from members of Congress, let alone senior party

No, to find anything like what we're seeing now you have to go back to the
last time a Democrat was president. Like President Obama, Bill Clinton faced
a G.O.P. that denied his legitimacy - Dick Armey, the second-ranking House
Republican (and now a Tea Party leader) referred to him as "your president."
Threats were common: President Clinton, declared Senator Jesse Helms of
North Carolina, "better watch out if he comes down here. He'd better have a
bodyguard." (Helms later expressed regrets over the remark - but only after
a media firestorm.) And once they controlled Congress, Republicans tried to
govern as if they held the White House, too, eventually shutting down the
federal government in an attempt to bully Mr. Clinton into submission.

Mr. Obama seems to have sincerely believed that he would face a different
reception. And he made a real try at bipartisanship, nearly losing his
chance at health reform by frittering away months in a vain attempt to get a
few Republicans on board. At this point, however, it's clear that any
Democratic president will face total opposition from a Republican Party that
is completely dominated by right-wing extremists.

For today's G.O.P. is, fully and finally, the party of Ronald Reagan - not
Reagan the pragmatic politician, who could and did strike deals with
Democrats, but Reagan the antigovernment fanatic, who warned that Medicare
would destroy American freedom. It's a party that sees modest efforts to
improve Americans' economic and health security not merely as unwise, but as
monstrous. It's a party in which paranoid fantasies about the other side -
Obama is a socialist, Democrats have totalitarian ambitions - are
mainstream. And, as a result, it's a party that fundamentally doesn't accept
anyone else's right to govern.

In the short run, Republican extremism may be good for Democrats, to the
extent that it prompts a voter backlash. But in the long run, it's a very
bad thing for America. We need to have two reasonable, rational parties in
this country. And right now we don't.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Amanpour can't be "objective", LACE: Gaza eyewitness, Film, Exhibit


Glenn Greenwald

Tuesday, Mar 23, 2010 10:24 EDT

WashPost: Christiane Amanpour can't be "objective"

By Glenn Greenwald
CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour moderates discussion at the Women's Conference 2008 in Long Beach, California.

(updated below - Update II)

To its credit, ABC News recently announced that Christiane Amanpour would replace George Stephanopoulos as host of its Sunday morning This Week program.  Today in The Washington Post, TV critic Tom Shales condemns this decision on several grounds, including the fact that she is viewed by Far Right media groups as suffering from a "liberal bias."  But as Eric Boehlert notes, the Right thinks that everyone who is not Rush Limbaugh is a biased shill for "the Liberal Media," and if that's the standard, then only Sean Hannity or Glenn Beck would be an acceptable choice for Shales.

But I want to focus on a far more pernicious and truly slimy aspect of Shales' attack on Amanpour.  In arguing why she's a "bad choice," Shales writes that "[s]upporters of Israel have more than once charged Amanpour with bias against that country and its policies," and adds:  "A Web site devoted to criticism of Amanpour is titled, with less than a modicum of subtlety, 'Christiane Amanpour's Outright Bias Against Israel Must Stop,' available via Facebook."  Are these "charges" valid?  Is this "Web site" credible?  Does she, in fact, exhibit anti-Israel bias?  Who knows?  Shales doesn't bother to say.  In fact, he doesn't even bother to cite a single specific accusation against her; apparently, the mere existence of these complaints, valid or not, should count against her.  

Worse still is that, immediately after noting these charges of"anti-Israel" bias, Shales writes this:

Amanpour grew up in Great Britain and Iran. Her family fled Tehran in 1979 at the start of the Islamic revolution, when she was college age. She has steadfastly rejected claims about her objectivity, telling Leslie Stahl last year relative to her coverage of Iran: "I am not part of the current crop of opinion journalists or commentary journalists or feelings journalists. I strongly believe that I have to remain in the realm of fact."

Without having the courage to do so explicitly, Shales links (and even bolsters) charges of her "anti-Israel" bias to the fact that her father is Iranian and she grew up in Iran.  He sandwiches that biographical information about Iran in between describing accusations against her of bias against Israel and her defensive insistence that she's capable of objectivity when reporting on the region.  

So here we finally have a prominent journalist with a half-Persian background -- in an extremely homogenized media culture which steadfastly excludes from Middle Eastern coverage voices from that region -- and her national origin is immediately cited as a means of questioning her journalistic objectivity and even opposing her as a choice to host This Week (can someone from Iran with an Iranian father possibly be objective???).  Could the double standard here be any more obvious or unpleasant?

Wolf Blitzer is Jewish, a former AIPAC official, and -- to use Shales' smear-campaign formulation -- has frequently "been accused" of pro-Israel bias; should CNN bar him from covering those issues?  David Gregory is Jewish, "studies Jewish texts with a top Jewish educator in Washington," and has conducted extremely sycophantic interviews with Israel officials. Should his background be cited as evidence of his pro-Israel bias?  The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg is routinely cited as one of America's most authoritative sources on the Middle East, notwithstanding numerous accusations of pro-Israel bias and, even more so, his choice to go enlist in the IDF and work in an Israeli prison where Palestinians are encaged; do those actions (far beyond his mere ethnicity) call into question his objectivity as a journalist such that The Atlantic should bar him from writing about that region?  Jake Tapper -- who Shales suggests as an alternative to Amanpour and who I also previously praised as a choice -- is Jewish; does that raise questions about his objectivity where Israel is concerned?

Nobody in The Washington Post would ever dare suggest that journalists with that background lack objectivity and should be barred from a prominent role in journalism as a result.  In fact, I'd bet one would be hard-pressed to find anyone in the Post ever accusing an American journalist of excess "pro-Israel bias."  That phrase -- "pro-Israel bias" -- is a virtual oxymoron in such circles, because the "pro-Israel" position is the default position that is deemed "objective."  By contrast, the mere accusation against Amanpour of "anti-Israel bias" from some obscure right-wing venues -- flavored with the apparently incriminating fact that she has an Iranian father and grew up in Iran -- leads Shales to condemn ABC for making "a bad choice" in hiring her.  And one can bet that, as night follows day, this ugly attack on her from The Washington Post will now be cited by those who want to keep our network television hosts as homogenized, and our political debates as stifled, as they have long been.


UPDATE:  During his Washington Post chat today about his column, Shales called Amanpour "one of the most over-rated and hyped personalities of our day" and then added:  "neither you nor I has stooped to mentioning that hair of hers -- yipe. What's the deal with that, as David Letterman might say."  He also wondered whether ABC will "try to turn Amanpour into Little ms Politics."  There are so many obvious things wrong with those remarks that I'm not going to spend the energy commenting.  Paul Krugman has more on how media figures are upset that Amanpour is "someone who's knowledgeable about the world rather than the DC party circuit" -- as though that's a bad thing that makes her unsuitable for this job.


UPDATE II:  In 2008, Shales did something quite similar to Helen Thomas when criticizing a documentary about her career:  "What's disappointing about Thomas, and troubling about the film, is her stridency in criticizing Israel and defending its enemies," Shales wrote.  As "evidence," he cited then-Press Secretary Tony Snow's response to a question asked by Thomas challenging Bush administration policy -- "Well, thank you for the Hezbollah view" -- and Shales then wrote:  "Not for nothing was Thomas recently hailed as 'the epitome of journalistic integrity for over 57 years' -- by the Arab American News."  Apparently, being praised by an Arab-American newspaper is evidence of anti-Israel bias.  Is being praised by a Jewish newspaper or group evidence of anti-Arab bias?  Then, just as he did with Amanpour, Shales bizarrely linked Thomas' national origin to these biases:  "Other than a passing reference to Thomas's parents as having been Syrian immigrants, the film never hints at Thomas's anti-Israeli rhetoric."  Thomas is a life-long American citizen born in Kentucky; how is her having parents who are Syrian immigrants a "reference" to her supposedly "anti-Israel rhetoric"?

All of this does demonstrate that someone has a very severe, "troubling" bias when it comes to Israel, the Middle East and people of particular backgrounds.  And it's not Amanpour or Thomas who have the problem.



Sunday March 28 2010, 1PM  Gaza & Egypt 2009 & Arlington West

LACE (Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions)
6522 Hollywood, Blvd. - W. of Wilcox (Betw. Cahuenga. & Highland)
Los Angeles, CA 90028

Los Angeles delegates from the Gaza Freedom March 2009, Dara Wells-Hajjar
and Shae Popovich will relay experiences of their recent trip to Gaza and
Cairo. They will share stories, photos and art from this extremely dangerous
but powerful trip. They will also discuss how we can continue the work to
change global public opinion around Gaza and the occupied territories.

The afternoon will also include a screening of Arlington West and a
presentation by the film makers, Sally Marr and Peter Dudar.

I hope, for the sake of peace, that young people all over the country will
see ARLINGTON WEST and come face to face with the consequences of war.--
Howard Zinn

Sunday April 11 2010, 1PM Film screenings:

Panama Deception: Exposing the Cover Up!
Cover Up: Behind the Iran Contra Affair
Destination Nicaragua

Thursday April 15 2010, 7pm Artists for a New South Africa, screening and

LACE (Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions)
6522 Hollywood, Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90028

Art Against Empire uses the power of posters to document 60 years of
opposition to U.S. interventions into the domestic affairs of sovereign
nations. Political, economic and military interventions, many of them
covert, have repeatedly resulted in unacceptable deaths and misery for
millions. These posters show hopes and dreams, and the pain of dreams

Art Against Empire will showcase over 100 political posters in the LACE
galleries, spanning two dozen sovereign nations including Korea, Vietnam,
the Philippines, Guatemala, Haiti, Cuba, Iran, and South Africa. It attempts
to inform, challenge and inspire by confronting the viewer with images of
past struggles that remain powerfully relevant today. It both raises
questions about past interventions and fosters debate about present ones.
The exhibition will also provide insight into why the amount of devastation
caused by the recent earthquake in Haiti can be linked to its long history
of French colonialism and U.S. imperialism.

The United States is the focus of this exhibition. As citizens, we are
ultimately responsible for the actions that are taken by our government in
our name. Censorship and repression, so prevalent in wartime, invariably
attempt to eliminate dissent, thereby violating the principles on which this
democracy was founded. These posters document the efforts of people who
refuse to remain silent and who use the power of art to inspire action.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Fabulous MSM story about Ray Hill and KPFT Prison Show

----- Original Message -----
Sent: Friday, March 26, 2010 5:47 AM
Subject: [alliance] Fabulous MSM story about Ray Hill and KPFT Prison Show

Building hope from outside in

After serving time himself, Ray Hill reaches out to area inmates through the airwaves


March 25, 2010, 10:19PM

Karen Warren Chronicle

Ray Hill, who runs the Friday night Prison Show from KPFT, stands in as a proxy for an inmate and holds the hand of the bride, "Mrs. Massey," during a ceremony in the small KPFT studio in Houston. 



• Radio station: 90.1 FM

• Time the program airs: 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays

• Number of listeners: 8,800

• On the air since: March 1980

Ray Hill was the stand-in groom, and for the wedding he draped a sport coat over his radio station T-shirt. The real husband-to-be couldn't make the ceremony. He was in Huntsville, serving 10 years for dealing drugs. Compounding the bride's wedding-night jitters was the worry that her ex-husband wouldn't approve and might make trouble.

As Prison Show volunteers gathered around a tiny wedding cake in the staff room of KPFT (90.1 FM), Justice of the Peace Dale Gorczynski, seated in an adjoining studio, intoned the familiar wedding words.

Nearly 10,000 people, many of them inmates, listened as Hill, a long-time Houston gay and prison provocateur, gave a proxy promise to love and honor, then sealed it with a peck on the bride's cheek. It was his 12th radio marriage in a broadcast career spanning decades.

Hill, 69, will celebrate a milestone of his own today when his weekly show marks its 30th anniversary. The two-hour call-in show, the longest-running such radio program in the nation, is credited with bringing prisoners a mix of criminal justice news, words of cheer from friends and family and Hill's own avuncular analysis and advice.

"I have had a very rich political life," Hill said recently, "but The Prison Show is the most political thing I've ever done."

'Do something useful'

The program, staffed by volunteers who, like Hill, have spent time in prison, never fails to tug at the heartstrings.

"I'm just trying to bring them some level of hope," Hill said of his inmate listeners. "I try to get them to do something useful — education, recovery. A significant percentage are there because of drugs and alcohol. That's something they can work on while they're in prison."

While the wedding show was a bit atypical, it included all the components that make the broadcast one of the nonprofit Pacifica station's top draws. Featured were an interview with former inmate Esteban Garcia, author of a series of self-help legal manuals for prisoners; a Hill soliloquy on self-worth; and about an hour of calls from inmates' friends and families.

Those one-way conversations dealt with the stuff of daily life: college plans, cancer treatments, financial difficulties and outings to the rodeo. The calls, some of which came from as far away as England, were interspersed with comments from relatives who had come to the studio.

Capping them was a teen's performance of a stanza from the songYou Are My Sunshine, dedicated to her jailed father. It is a Prison Show staple, performed countless times over more than a dozen years.

Even more poignant, Hill said, are the calls from former inmates desperate to talk to their prison buddies.

"Some are almost tearful talking to those they left behind," Hill said. "They have fewer friends out here. No one accepts and understands them like another inmate. When you listen to those voices who have been there and gotten out, then you'll have a pretty good idea what institutions will do to people."

Pacifica Foundation's chief, Arlene Englehardt, said Hill's mix of commentary and comments has broad appeal.

"You can't help but be pulled in by it," she said.

For Helga Dill, president of the prison reform group Texas Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants, Hill's program offers inmates a valuable audio letter from the free world.

"He is able to get information out there," she said, "be it laws that were passed or news about prisons, good or bad."

'I never got out'

Although families can visit prisoners and, in some instances, talk with them by telephone, Hill's one-way communication from the outside helps keep inmate families together.

"What I hope I'm doing," said Hill, "is helping them deal with the guilt and the shame that makes them worse, helping them to become better people. … Convicts think they are monsters just like everyone else does. If they're listening to me, they're going to hear me telling them they have good and bad points and that I hope they will exploit the good points to become a useful members of society."

Hill, who served four years in prison for burglary in the 1970s, said he has an inmate's rapport with other inmates.

"I think I'm a pretty good role model," he said. "I'm not afraid of 'The Man.' I get in The Man's face. I'm not afraid to get arrested."

In addition to hosting his radio program, Hill said he frequently visits Texas prisons to speak to inmates.

"I never got out of prison," Hill said. "I've been out for over 35 years, but I'm still there."

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