August 2009 Archives

A Friday WTF

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Wearing only a condom you say?

Shirtless man hijacks, crashes Atlanta school bus


AP-- Corey Turner was mowing the lawn of a southeast Atlanta church Thursday when he did a double-take: A public school bus that was hijacked by a shirtless man was careening down a nearby road at around 25 mph, and screaming kids were jumping out the back of the vehicle.

"Everything went berserk," he said.

Authorities say 23-year-old Arris Pitmon leaped through the window of the Atlanta bus, overpowered the driver to take the wheel and then left the bus driverless as it thundered down a steep hill.

A dozen or so screaming students were on the bus as it plunged, many bounding out of the emergency exit in the back, said Atlanta Public Schools spokesman Keith Bromery. Two students and the bus driver suffered minor injuries, police said.

By the time Pitmon was arrested after the crash, he was naked, police said. Turner, who had rushed to the scene, said the man lost his pants while trying to escape from bystanders.

"This was a weirdo," said Turner, who is 38. "Something was wrong with this guy. We turned him over and he just had a condom on. Maybe he was stripping or something -- I had no earthly idea."

Pitmon jumped into the stopped bus as a student from Forest Hills Academy, which is grades seven through 12, was being dropped off in a southeast Atlanta neighborhood, said Atlanta Police Officer James Polite. He took control of the steering wheel, then left the seat to chase the driver, who had run to the rear, the officer said.

A student tried to take the wheel, but Polite said Pitmon fought him to regain control of the bus. The bus continued forward, left the roadway and crashed through a fence, finally stopping at a wall about 175 feet off the pavement.

Spotlight On Health Care Profiteers

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Something needs to hit the fan and maybe Waxman can pull it off.

Waxman Gears Up for Health Care Showdown

By Bill Boyarsky


By the time Congress returns from its recess and takes another whack at the health insurance mess, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., will have started revealing the deceit that protects health business profiteers.

Waxman has already begun by demanding that major insurance companies reveal how much they pay top executives and board members and, most important, the size of their profits from selling policies.

He is getting to the heart of the health insurance debate. It's all about the health business--insurance, hospitals, pharmaceutical and biotech companies, medical equipment makers and others.

Their economic goal is bigger profits. Their political goal is to protect their interests by making sure the 2010 election puts enough Republicans and sympathetic Democrats in Congress. Even if the Democrats retain control of the House and Senate, health care lobbyists will pour celebratory drinks as long they have enough power to shape legislation. That's how it works. Don't be deluded by party labels.

Last week, I talked to Waxman about what's happening in health care. I found him at UCLA, at a forum on another of his interests, preventing climate change.

If you're a reporter looking for a hot quote, Waxman's the wrong man to see. Anyone watching his "Daily Show" appearance with Jon Stewart could tell you that. Waxman is all policy, determined to explain everything in detail. But he's smart, tough and knows how to get results. He showed that last year when he went against the House seniority system and took over the Energy and Commerce Committee by unseating John Dingell, its longtime chairman.

I asked Waxman whether he expected the insurance companies to reply to his letters. "Oh yes," he said. "When we write letters, we expect to get answers." And what was his purpose in seeking the information? At first, he was reluctant to discuss the investigation. Finally, he gave a guarded reply: that many folks perhaps take too benign a view of private insurance companies.

Perhaps his findings will open their eyes...

Lights on the Astroturfing

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tip of the hat to Ouroboros:

Oh, sweet. More info on the teabagging and the astroturfing rent-a-mobs...

Watch 'em scurry like little roaches when the light goes on.

EXCLUSIVE: Health Insurance Lobby's Stealth Astroturf Campaign Revealed

Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal reported that AHIP -- the multimillion dollar lobbying juggernaut for the health insurance industry -- has mobilized 50,000 employees to lobby Congress to defeat the public option. ThinkProgress has learned that AHIP's grassroots lobbying is being managed by the corporate consulting firm Democracy Data & Communications. DDC has made a name for itself as one of the most effective stealth lobbying firms. Earlier this summer, DDC was caught by reporters using a front group called "Citizens for a Safe Alexandria" to attack the Obama administration for seeking to prosecute Guantanamo Bay prisoners in Alexandria, VA.

According to the server-information hub Domaintools.com, the AHIP grassroots outreach website AHIPAdvocacy.org is hosted on a server owned by DDC. Though DDC conceals the hosting of its other websites using a service called DomainsByProxy, ThinkProgress has obtained a list of the domains hosted on DDC servers. A review of this data shows that DDC maintains the grassroots outreach websites for large health insurance companies, but also for big tobacco and Koch Industries:

- phillipmorrisusaactioncenter.org (Altria)
- tobaccoissues.com (Altria)
- kochpac.com (Koch Industries)
- aetnavotes.com (Aetna)
- healthactionnetwork.org (WellPoint)
- humanapartners.com (Humana)
- ahipadvocacy.org (AHIP)

DDC is a firm that promises "high impact" outreach programs to not only influence the grassroots, but "change attitudes for the long term." As the Washington Post explains, DDC pays over 500 contract workers to "spend much of their day telephoning people around the country and asking them to sign letters to Congress that press for legislation." The firm helped orchestrate "grassroots" support for President Bush's push to privatize Social Security, and helped manage online efforts for the right-wing attack group Freedom's Watch. DDC is headed by B.R. McConnon, a former associate of Jack Abramoff's lobbying partners, and a former employee of the Koch-funded astroturf organization known as Citizens for a Sound Economy.

Citizens for a Sound Economy -- which has also received funds from private health insurers in the past and played a critical astroturf role killing reform under Clinton -- eventually split, with one wing forming Americans for Prosperity in 2003, and another forming FreedomWorks in 2004. Both organizations, which are still funded by the Koch Industries empire, were instrumental in organizing the anti-Obama tea party protests, and have been spreading misinformation and anger at the current health reform effort. Americans for Prosperity's anti-health reform front group, Patients United, has hosted speakers comparing the House health reform bill to the Holocaust.

Curiously, DDC servers also host anti-health reform letters from the Chamber of Commerce and Rep. Charles Boustany (R-LA), as well as continual news updates about the reform debate. All three documents are under a subsection titled WellPoint.

Given the stealthy nature of astroturf lobbying firms, it is difficult to discern the extent to which DDC is managing AHIP's efforts. UnitedHealth, another large insurer, was caught recently using a call center to direct people to a radical tea party anti-health reform protest outside of the offices of Rep. Zach Space (D-OH).

Already, the health insurance industry has flexed its muscle to water down reform. After spending millions on lobbying, advertising, and direct contributions to lawmakers, the Senate Finance Committee made a major concession allowing insurers to reimburse only 65% of medical bills (down from the 76% proposed requirement). And indeed, although AHIP has made grandiose promises of self regulation, many insurers have recently broke promises made by AHIP President Karen Ignagni. On June 16, despite Ignagni's pledges of commitment, insurance executives from UnitedHealth Group, Assurant, and WellPoint specifically refused to "commit" to ending the controversial practice of rescinding coverage after an applicant files a medical claim.

With DDC's stealth lobbying assistance, AHIP may well kill the public option too.

Ending the War On Drugs

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Finally some movement in a sane direction.

Argentina court ruling would allow personal use of pot

(CNN) -- Argentina's Supreme Court ruled Tuesday it is unconstitutional to punish an adult for private use of marijuana as long as it doesn't harm anyone else. The unanimous ruling makes Argentina the second Latin American country in the past four days to allow personal use of a formerly illegal drug.

The case in question involved five young men who were arrested for having a few marijuana cigarettes in their pockets.

Supreme Court Justice Carlos Fayt, who at one time supported laws that make personal use of marijuana illegal, told the state-run Telam news agency that "reality" changed his mind.

Argentina's action came amid growing momentum in Latin America toward decriminalization of possessing small amounts of certain drugs. Mexico enacted a law Friday that decriminalizes possessing low quantities of most drugs, including marijuana, heroin, cocaine and LSD. Earlier this year, a Brazilian appeals court ruled that possession of drugs for personal use is not illegal. Analysts see the shift in attitude as recognition that current methods in the war on drugs are not working.

"It seems quite clear that drug policy based primarily on interdiction and enforcement has failed," said Robert Pastor, a Latin America national security adviser for President Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s. "Therefore, it's natural for people to stand back and ask, 'Is there a better way?' "

Pastor noted that some recent research has shown that handling drug use as a health challenge and focusing on treatment may be more efficient.

District 9

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So far best film of the year. A must see. Not at all what you expect.

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Review

From a thread on torture

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Writ else where:


Asked:

You can't ensure that attacks like 9/11 won't ever happen again using either approach. Can you? Just asking.

I responded:

In a free and open society there is no defense against random acts of violence. That is part of the cost of freedom. Each ounce of security bought is paid for by an equal ounce of freedom sacrificed. There is a basic truth to the line "home of the brave, land of the free"...to be free one must be brave. To stoop to acts of torture to gain security is the act of cowards. World wide awareness that America tortured people did not elevate their opinion of us as a brave people. It made us look erratic, hypocritical and desperately fearful. Our greatest strength is in our ideals and the tenacious courage to stand by them even in times of greatest duress.

Evolution Of The Death Panel Meme

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From TPM comes:

Tracing The Death Panel Meme

deathpanel.jpgMore than a month after its unholy conception, the "death panel" meme -- the whacked-out idea that health care reform efforts will give government bureaucrats the right to snuff out America's elderly -- is still going strong. And although many have tried to debunk its claims, discredit its propagators, or return the health care conversation to a more meaningful topic, the "death panel" beast continues to rage on. TPM tracks its bizarre evolution to date.

British PSA: Texting while driving

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Can't be gruesome enough.

Jackson's death ruled a homicide

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Figures.

Article

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More on the Troy Davis Case

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From a local editorial page.

Death-Penalty Appeal: Supreme Court Seeks Truth


An unusual alliance of conservatives and liberals - joined by capital punishment proponents and opponents - persuaded the U.S. Supreme Court to issue a rare order.

The court's order, which only Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas opposed on the record, allowed fundamental constitutional principles to prevail over deference to state law and a flawed federal act.

The order, issued last week, requires a federal district court in Georgia to "receive testimony and make findings of fact as to whether evidence that could not have been obtained at the time of trial clearly establishes petitioner's innocence."

The justices in the majority also posed a question that hasn't been directly answered by the nation's highest court: Is it unconstitutional for a state to execute an inmate unless a court has reviewed "claims of actual innocence" that surface after the trial?

This question is not only important in Georgia, but in Florida and other states that provide for capital punishment.

Troy Anthony Davis was convicted in Georgia of the 1989 fatal shooting of a police officer in Savannah. He was sentenced to death in a trial court. Both his conviction and sentence were upheld by higher state courts in Georgia.

FORMER CONGRESSMAN HELPS

Since Davis' conviction, seven of the witnesses who testified against him recanted and several people have pointed to the prosecution's main witness as the killer.

Recanted testimony is often unreliable, but there is evidence that the police and prosecution focused solely on one suspect - Davis. And the witnesses' post-trial statements were strong enough to persuade 27 former prosecutors and judges to file a brief pleading for a court hearing to assess the reliability of the testimony in Davis' favor.

In response to separate motions filed by Bob Barr - a former Republican congressman and one-time federal prosecutor - and organizations such as the NAACP, the Supreme Court ordered a lower court to hear the testimony that emerged after Davis was convicted.

Barr's motion is notable because when he was a member of the U.S. House he helped write the federal law governing death-penalty appeals. The federal appeal court for the 11th Circuit cited the law - the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 - in denying Davis a hearing on the recanted testimony.

Barr has stated that the appeal court "misread" the act. Even though the act was intended "to stop the unfounded-and-abusive delays in capital cases," Barr said, "nothing in the statute should have left the courts with the impression that they were barred from hearing claims of actual innocence like Troy Davis'."

The passage of time will make it difficult for the federal district court to assess the validity of the new evidence in Davis' favor.

'THICKET OF PROCEDURAL BRAMBLES'

In the meantime, Congress should revisit the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act to:

Untangle what one federal judge called its "thicket of procedural brambles."

Provide explicit authority for judges to order the examination of relevant evidence before a state sanctions an execution.

Unfortunately, because the act is ambiguous and the Supreme Court justices don't have precedents to guide their decisions, there is wide room for interpretation.

"This court has never held," Justice Scalia wrote in his dissent on the Davis decision, "that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is 'actually' innocent."

Contrast that crass assessment with the approach taken in an opinion written by Justice John Paul Stevens, and joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer: "The substantial risk of putting an innocent man to death clearly provides an adequate justification for holding an evidentiary hearing."

The order for a hearing doesn't overturn the conviction or sentence, and whether Davis can prove his innocence remains to be seen. But at least a court will look at the additional evidence and, we hope, Congress and the Supreme Court will eventually make clear that justice and the Constitution don't allow for an "actually innocent" person to be executed.

Jon Fights Back

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After which she resigned. Gotta love a comic with a sword.

A jury of your peers

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21st century saint

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So much for the liberal bias of the MSM

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This story of autopsies of Iraqi detainees obtained by the ACLU, subsequently released to the AP and published by only 12 papers nationwide offers proof that the MSM is not particularly liberally biased.


Autopsy reports reveal homicides of detainees in U.S. custody

Link to autopsy reports

Paleoignitus

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The bastards!

Global warming sparked by ancient farming methods

Ancient man may have started global warming through massive deforestation and burning that could have permanently altered the Earth's climate, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Virginia and the University of Maryland-Baltimore County.

The study, published in the scientific journal Quaternary Science Reviews and reported on the University of Virginia's Web site, says over thousands of years, farmers burned down so many forests on such a large scale that huge amounts of carbon dioxide were pumped into the atmosphere. That possibly caused the Earth to warm up and forever changed the climate.

Lead study author William Ruddiman is a professor emeritus of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia and a climate scientist.

"It seems like a common-sense idea that there weren't enough people around 5, 6, 7,000 years ago to have any significant impact on climate. But if you allow for the fact that those people, person by person, had something like 10 times as much of an effect or cleared 10 times as much land as people do today on average, that bumps up the effect of those earlier farmers considerably, and it does make them a factor in contributing to the rise of greenhouse gasses," Ruddiman said.

Ruddiman said that starting thousands of years ago, people would burn down a forest, poke a hole in the soil between the stumps, drop seeds in the holes and grow a crop on that land until the nutrients were tapped out of the soil. Then they would move on.

"And they'd burn down another patch of forest and another and another. They might do that five times in a 20-year period," he said.

A Disasterous President?

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I can't believe how much I agree with this slam article on Obama.

Guess What? He's a Terrible President

By DAVID MICHAEL GREEN

Both President Obama's health care plan and his presidency are going down the toilet.

This is well, and right, and just as it should be.

Obama is turning out to be a disastrous president, wholly unsuited for the times and our national and global challenges, and his job approval ratings reflect this.

In Obama, we get all the corporate toadying of the last Democratic president, along with an even greater unwillingness than Clinton - and who would've thought that was possible - to name names, call out enemies, and throw a freakin' punch every other year or so. (We're also getting a continuation of the civil rights and civil liberties policies of Dick Cheney, as an extra added bonus, but that's another story.) What makes it even more astonishing this time around, however, is that we've seen this movie before, and we know how it ends. There is apparently absolutely no bottom - as the events of recent weeks have reconfirmed - to the pit of vicious lies, brutal tactics, and democracy-demolishing antics of which regressives will avail themselves in their practice of contemporary American politics. In addition to not being prepared for that, Barack Obama is still seemingly unable to raise his voice a decibel or two against the very people who are helping him to destroy his own presidency. Indeed, he is negotiating 'bipartisan' (read: total capitulation) deals with them, even as they relentlessly trash him before a national audience.

Is this president so deluded that he believes there are limitations on what the right will do not only to the republic, for which Obama seems to have only passing regard, but also to his presidency, for which we might imagine he would have at least some concern? Does the Kumbaya Kid think that regressives won't seek to annihilate him every bit as much as they did Bill Clinton, even as they are obsessing at this very moment over harebrained conspiracy stories challenging his very legal right to be president, his very citizenship? Does this guy who seems to want, more than anything, for everyone just to be happy and sing along in the same key, still really believe in bipartisanship, at the very moment when the very people with whom he is negotiating are reinforcing the most absurd and inflammatory lies asserting the elder-cide intentions of his health-care bill?

Sorry. Did I say "his health-care bill"? Problem number one here is that there's no such thing. As in just about everything else of consequence this administration has been involved in, he seems quite content to simply defer to Congress and allow the sausage-making process on the Hill to generate precisely the policy abomination one might expect, with all the political liabilities we've come to know and love from such a dispiriting collection of 535 (minus two or three) moral midgets.

Sorry. Did I say "defer to Congress"? Looks like I goofed again. What this really means - and this is problem number two - is deferring to a select group of members of Congress. In particular, conservative Democrats and supposedly moderate Republicans (you know, like fuel-efficient Hummers). Right now, for example, probably the two most important actors in America on the healthcare question are Max Baucus and Chuck Grassley. Both have received massive campaign contributions from the industries which have most at stake in this legislation. No doubt, however, that's entirely a coincidence. What they are doing right now, and what Obama is allowing them to do, is nothing less than neutering any serious aspects of healthcare reform. In the end, having succeeded at doing that, and being the tail that wags the entire dog of this 300 million person country, Grassley won't even vote for the bill, nor will any Republican. As in the stimulus bill, Obama continues to allow legislation to be murdered by a thousand cuts. All in the name of some bipartisanship god he has taken to worshiping, even though none of the knife-wielders will be around to go anywhere near the stinking corpse they've created when it's eventually tossed up on the congressional slab for a vote. Seems pretty nutty to me, but I guess when you stop and think about it, Obama's definition of bipartisan participation in the legislative process really does make sense after all: Republicans murder the bill, then Democrats vote for it. Everybody gets to play a part. Everybody contributes.

From what can be gathered so far, the legislation will accomplish very little in terms of real reform, will diminish existing health-care programs, will nevertheless still exacerbate the explosion of national debt, and will not even begin to kick in until 2013. Hey, for all the good this will do Americans, why not just complete the job and have all the benefits go to people living in Kuala Lumpur?

Will healthcare be universal in America, bringing this country into line with the standards of what every other industrialized democracy has practiced for the better part of a century? No. Will we massively increase the amount of actual health care we provide while eliminating the incredible bloat in costs of our predatory, special-interest oriented system by adopting the obvious no-brainer choice of the single-payer model? Fat chance. Will a real public option even be created, which might instantly show up the incredible profiteering and waste in the insurance industry, while simultaneously giving lie to the endless rhetoric about private sector efficiency and government bungling? No, there won't (but President Obama wants you to know he appreciates your asking). The Capitulation Administration signaled this week that it is giving up on that as well. Because of Republican opposition, of course. You remember those guys don't you? The folks who have such small minorities in Congress that they can't even muster forty percent of Senate votes to block consideration of legislation by filibuster?

That's who Obama is caving to. That's who's in charge. It seems that we regular folks are in the process of getting a fresh education about the way American politics really works. Evidently, there's a new algorithm I wasn't aware of. It goes like this: When Republicans control Congress and the White House, they rule. When Democrats control Congress and the White House... Republicans still rule. Okay. Well at least we know how it works. And it's not necessarily all bad news, either. No point in fussing with those messy elections anymore!

Meanwhile, one needn't dig deep into the bowels of the thousands of pages of legalese contained within the five separate health-care proposals now making their way through Congress in order to figure out whether they contain good news or not. You can tell a lot about somebody or something just by the company they keep. Suffice it to say that both the insurance and pharmaceutical industries are now spending hundreds of millions of dollars running ads on television in favor of healthcare "reform". I can hardly think of a handier or more pure litmus test for determining whether this is good legislation or not. If those guys are for it, and especially if they're spending millions to make it happen, it's a very safe bet that I'm against it. And if those industries are for it, it's a very safe bet that the deal is they get rich and we get nothing. Except maybe poor. And sick.

The Constitution and Innocence

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Remember Troy Davis? I wrote about him back in February of this year when it was essential that people wrote in to try to stop his imminent execution by the state of Georgia. Now his case is before the Supreme Court in an unusual way.

Troy Davis and the Meaning of 'Actual Innocence'

By Amy Goodman


troydavis150.jpgSitting on death row in Georgia, Troy Davis has won a key victory against his own execution. On Aug. 17, the U.S. Supreme Court instructed a federal court in Georgia to consider, for the first time in a formal court proceeding, significant evidence of Davis' innocence that surfaced after his conviction. This is the first such order from the U.S. Supreme Court in almost 50 years. Remarkably, the Supreme Court has never ruled on whether it is unconstitutional to execute an innocent person.

The order read, in part, "The District Court should receive testimony and make findings of fact as to whether evidence that could not have been obtained at the time of trial clearly establishes petitioner's innocence." Behind the order lay a stunning array of recantations from those who originally testified as eyewitnesses to the murder of off-duty Savannah police officer Mark Allen MacPhail on Aug. 19, 1989. Seven of the nine non-police witnesses who originally identified Davis as the murderer of MacPhail have since recanted, some alleging police coercion and intimidation in obtaining their testimony. Of the remaining two witnesses, one, Sylvester "Redd" Coles, is accused by others as the shooter and identified Davis as the perpetrator probably to save himself from arrest.

On the night of the murder, MacPhail was off duty, working as a security guard at a Burger King. A homeless man was being beaten in the parking lot. The altercation drew Davis and others to the scene, along with MacPhail. MacPhail intervened, and was shot fatally with a .38-caliber gun. Later, Coles arrived at the police station, accompanied by a lawyer, and identified Davis as the shooter. The police engaged in a high-profile manhunt, with Davis' picture splayed across the newspapers and television stations. Davis turned himself in. With no physical evidence linking him to the crime, Davis was convicted and sentenced to death.

Jeffrey Sapp is typical of those in the case who recanted their eyewitness testimony. He said in an affidavit:

"The police ... put a lot of pressure on me to say 'Troy said this' or 'Troy said that.' They wanted me to tell them that Troy confessed to me about killing that officer ... they made it clear that the only way they would leave me alone is if I told them what they wanted to hear."

Despite the seven recantations, Georgia's parole commission has refused to commute Davis' sentence. Courts have refused to hear the evidence, mostly on procedural grounds. Conservatives like former Georgia Congressman and prosecutor Bob Barr and former FBI Director William Sessions have called for justice in his case, along with Pope Benedict XVI, President Jimmy Carter, the NAACP and Amnesty International.

Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the majority, "The substantial risk of putting an innocent man to death clearly provides an adequate justification for holding an evidentiary hearing." Yet conservative Justice Antonin Scalia dissented (with Justice Clarence Thomas), writing that Davis' case "is a sure loser," and "[t]his Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is 'actually' innocent."

Davis has had three execution dates, and in one instance was within two hours of lethal injection. Now he will finally have his day in court. With the courageous support of his sister, Martina Correia (who has been fighting for his life as well as her own--she has stage 4 breast cancer), and his nephew, Antone De'Jaun Correia, who at 15 is a budding human rights activist, Davis may yet defy death. That could lead to a long-overdue precedent in U.S. law: It is unconstitutional to execute an innocent person.

New Generation Telescopes

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Tres cool.

Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better" -- Albert Einstein


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Telescopes to show universe soon after Big Bang

It may not be possible to travel back in time, but seeing stars and galaxies as they looked millions or even billions of years ago is no problem thanks to telescopes, the closest thing we have to time machines.

Now, astronomers are holding their breath to see what they'll observe and discover with a new generation of huge telescopes set to be built around the world.

Peering ever deeper into space and further back in time, the powerful devices will be able to show what the universe was like when it was just a few hundred million years old and emerging from a period of total darkness after the Big Bang.

"[We'll be] looking at the first generation of stars forming in the universe, which is kind of a cool idea: The time when the lights went on in the universe. There was no light before that time," said Daniel Fabricant, associate director of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

His institution is one of several research organizations and universities developing the Giant Magellan Telescope, to be built in Las Campanas, Chile, by 2018.

Bigger is better in the world of reflecting telescopes, which rely on primary mirrors to collect light. The bigger the primary mirror, the more light it can gather and the fainter the objects astronomers can see.

The world's largest optical and infrared telescopes have primary mirrors that measure about 10 meters (32 feet) across. But the Giant Magellan Telescope will more than double that diameter, with a monster primary mirror spanning almost 25 meters (80 feet).

If the Magellan is the first new-generation star gazer to be built, it may not remain the record holder for long. Another consortium of organizations and universities is preparing to construct the aptly named Thirty Meter Telescope on the Mauna Kea summit in Hawaii, also scheduled for completion in 2018.

Trumping them all may be the European Extremely Large Telescope, dubbed "the world's biggest eye on the sky," which is to have a primary mirror 42 meters (137 feet) in diameter and is also scheduled to start operation in 2018. No site has been chosen, though Argentina, Chile, Morocco and Spain are being considered.

Astronomers hope these giants will fill in gaps in knowledge about key moments in the early days of the universe. See some of the amazing photos taken by the Hubble Space Telescope

"Right now, we can see to almost 13 billion years [back], but our best models tell us the age of the universe is almost 14 billion years, so it's this whole epoch when galaxies are actually first starting to form that we can't really see very well," said Elizabeth Barton, an assistant professor of astronomy at the University of California, Irvine, and a member of the Science Advisory Committee for the Thirty Meter Telescope.

he pictures will likely be spectacular. Despite being ground-based, all of the next-generation telescopes promise images several times sharper than those produced by the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope thanks to adaptive optics, technology that corrects for the "wiggling" of the Earth's atmosphere. Twinkling stars may be romantic to look at, but they're a big headache for astronomers trying to get a sharp picture.

One way to combat the distortion is to shoot laser beams into the sky to create fake stars and then measure how their appearance is changed by the atmosphere and take the appropriate counter-measures -- all at hundreds of times a second.

"You know what a perfect image looks like, you know what you observe, and then you know what you need to do to correct the image," Fabricant said.

"The idea is ... to have the mirror wiggle exactly opposite to take out the twinkling," Geha added.

Until the ground-based giants are built, Hubble's successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, will be helping to answer key questions about the universe. Webb is scheduled to be launched in 2014, about the time Hubble's mission will end.

Operating much farther from Earth and equipped with a primary mirror more than twice the diameter of Hubble's, Webb is designed to look deeper into space to see the earliest stars and galaxies, according to NASA.

Researchers on the competing projects say there's a certain rivalry about making the big discoveries but emphasize that the most important thing is that somebody makes them.

Swiss-style system of universal coverage

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The Swiss Menace

Paul Krugman

It was the blooper heard round the world. In an editorial denouncing Democratic health reform plans, Investor's Business Daily tried to frighten its readers by declaring that in Britain, where the government runs health care, the handicapped physicist Stephen Hawking "wouldn't have a chance," because the National Health Service would consider his life "essentially worthless."

Professor Hawking, who was born in Britain, has lived there all his life, and has been well cared for by the National Health Service, was not amused.

Besides being vile and stupid, however, the editorial was beside the point. Investor's Business Daily would like you to believe that Obamacare would turn America into Britain -- or, rather, a dystopian fantasy version of Britain. The screamers on talk radio and Fox News would have you believe that the plan is to turn America into the Soviet Union. But the truth is that the plans on the table would, roughly speaking, turn America into Switzerland -- which may be occupied by lederhosen-wearing holey-cheese eaters, but wasn't a socialist hellhole the last time I looked.

Let's talk about health care around the advanced world.

Every wealthy country other than the United States guarantees essential care to all its citizens. There are, however, wide variations in the specifics, with three main approaches taken.

In Britain, the government itself runs the hospitals and employs the doctors. We've all heard scare stories about how that works in practice; these stories are false. Like every system, the National Health Service has problems, but over all it appears to provide quite good care while spending only about 40 percent as much per person as we do. By the way, our own Veterans Health Administration, which is run somewhat like the British health service, also manages to combine quality care with low costs.

The second route to universal coverage leaves the actual delivery of health care in private hands, but the government pays most of the bills. That's how Canada and, in a more complex fashion, France do it. It's also a system familiar to most Americans, since even those of us not yet on Medicare have parents and relatives who are.

Again, you hear a lot of horror stories about such systems, most of them false. French health care is excellent. Canadians with chronic conditions are more satisfied with their system than their U.S. counterparts. And Medicare is highly popular, as evidenced by the tendency of town-hall protesters to demand that the government keep its hands off the program.

Finally, the third route to universal coverage relies on private insurance companies, using a combination of regulation and subsidies to ensure that everyone is covered. Switzerland offers the clearest example: everyone is required to buy insurance, insurers can't discriminate based on medical history or pre-existing conditions, and lower-income citizens get government help in paying for their policies.

In this country, the Massachusetts health reform more or less follows the Swiss model; costs are running higher than expected, but the reform has greatly reduced the number of uninsured. And the most common form of health insurance in America, employment-based coverage, actually has some "Swiss" aspects: to avoid making benefits taxable, employers have to follow rules that effectively rule out discrimination based on medical history and subsidize care for lower-wage workers.

So where does Obamacare fit into all this? Basically, it's a plan to Swissify America, using regulation and subsidies to ensure universal coverage.

If we were starting from scratch we probably wouldn't have chosen this route. True "socialized medicine" would undoubtedly cost less, and a straightforward extension of Medicare-type coverage to all Americans would probably be cheaper than a Swiss-style system. That's why I and others believe that a true public option competing with private insurers is extremely important: otherwise, rising costs could all too easily undermine the whole effort.

But a would be a vast improvement on what we have now. And we already know that such systems work.

So we can do this. At this point, all that stands in the way of universal health care in America are the greed of the medical-industrial complex, the lies of the right-wing propaganda machine, and the gullibility of voters who believe those lies.

Go harrison.com

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Whaddaya think?

A View from the North

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hat tip to Somerville for this Canadian perspective culled from the Toronto Star on the health care debate debacle in the US.

U.S. turmoil a warning for Canada

James Travers

God bless America and its ferocious health-care debate. Once again, Canada's roiling neighbour is holding up a mirror for our urgent introspection.

Watching the battle over who will benefit most from the $2.2 trillion the U.S. spends annually on health care is useful for this country. It's a timely reminder that the fight here is far from over between those who believe medical care is a human right to be equitably shared and those who consider it just another commodity to be profitably sold.

But that's not the primary coalmine canary flying north from the health-care furor. America is tugging at Canada's sleeve with a warning about what goes wrong when demagogues take the debate hostage.

Sarah Palin, a once and future aspirant to executive power, is setting the excessive tone for the medicare shouting match. Inflaming fear with fiction, last year's Republican vice-presidential candidate is blogging that Barack Obama's reforms would leave the fates of Trig, her Down syndrome son, and her aging parents, to "death panels."

Bizarre and unhitched from reality, Palin's wild hyperbole is fodder for a lunatic minority now mixing the old and new technologies of mob rule and web connectivity to escape the fringes. Across the U.S. they are silencing serious consideration of fixes to a broken system that maroons 46 million people without insurance and is a leading cause of personal bankruptcy.

Smug superiority is not the appropriate Canadian response. Only months ago, ruling Conservatives derailed a technically correct, if politically suspect, coalition attempt by calling it a "coup." Cabinet tough guy John Baird went further, suggesting Stephen Harper could go over the Governor General's head if Michaƫlle Jean refused his request to suspend Parliament.

Hardly unique, those politically convenient fantasies are data points on a trend line that predates Conservatives. Trace its downward arc back more than 20 years and find the Liberal "Rat Pack" that shocked a more staid Commons with frontal assaults on Brian Mulroney's Tories. Fresher in memory is the 2006 Paul Martin web ad raising the inflated spectre of Harper Tories deploying armed soldiers on city street corners.

Partisans will lay blame in accordance with their affiliations. More important is early recognition that viral nastiness now infects this capital. Facts have fled, leaving the vacuum to be filled by public histrionics that sway public opinion with name-calling, finger pointing and character assassination.

That's corrosive even in a country as moderate to an extreme as this one. Comfort taken from the more modest presence of guns in our culture and the merciful absence of violence from governance shouldn't disguise that Canada shares with the U.S. an urgent need to again infuse policy deliberation with logic and politics with civility.

Elbows will always be high in a rolling power struggle that rewards the winner with so much and leaves the losers so little. But desperate politicians who reinforce weak positions with gross distortions poorly serve the greater national good.

Fortunately the forces, passions and present dangers stalking the U.S. confrontation between health-care reform and entrenched interests remain mostly in check on this side of the 49th Parallel. Still, as Canadians have witnessed so often before, the border is a porous barrier to social phenomenon and political tactics.

To ignore here the early warnings now clanging in the U.S. would be as reckless as the health-care fear mongering is ridiculous there.

Get Real about Health Care Reform

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It ain't gonna happen....for all the usual reasons.

Health Plans and Death Plans

By Alexander Cockburn

The first illusion to chase off the stage is that the great debate here has much to do with health. So far, as public health is concerned, many of the biggest battles were fought and won a hundred years ago, at the end of the nineteenth century, with better nutrition, birth control, the change from wool to cotton clothing, the introduction of modern sanitation in the urban environment and - most important - clean water.

Between 1900 and 1973, American life expectancy went from 47 to 71, but most of this rise had taken place by 1949, when the average life span reached 68. Much of the upward curve could be attributed to improved survival rates for infants and young people. Prohibition helped, since people drank less alcohol, ate more, and hence TB rates dropped sharply, well before the introduction of sulfa drugs.

Health in America is class-based, naturally. The poor die sooner, starting with black men who tend to drop dead in their middle 60s, usually from stress and diseases consequent on diet. The better-off folk drink less than they did in the 1950s, take a bit more exercise, and sometimes live longer. The poor get fatter and fatter. A real health plan would start with public executions of the top thousand CEOs and owners of the major food companies and fast food franchises. It would continue with serious penalties for health workers not washing their hands or merely holding them under the tap without using soap.

The plagues of America today are beyond the reach of the modern medical system, and that system is itself a peculiarly outrageous example of antisocial imperatives: high technology health care which serves fewer and fewer people. Part and parcel of this system are the drug companies, working in concert with the hospitals and insurance industry. Doctors have long since been shoved to the side as major players.

Mostly shunned in all this are the major causes of modern disease, which are environmental. Between 70 and 90 per cent of all cancer is environmental in origin. Heart disease and stroke - the largest killers today - are largely caused by hypertension and stress, which are derived from social conditions.

America is very efficient in promulgating Death Plans -- tobacco, sugar additives, excessive salt, nitrous oxides out of power plant chimneys, nuclear testing in the 1950s, industrial accidents, speed-up at work and lengthening of the working day, rush-hour traffic - launched in the hope of making a buck and protected fiercely until, very occasionally, the mountain of corpses gets too high to be occluded by even the most refined techniques of the PR industry and the most lavish contributions to politicians. Thus it was with tobacco.

Health reform in the 1930s, in the Roosevelt era, came mostly in the guise of the Wagner Act - a better deal for unions and workers - and Social Security. Old people got something to live on in their later years. Health reform in the 1950s and 1960s came with better wages, a shorter working week, more leisure, plus Medicare - the federal health plan for older people - driven through Congress by the most consummately cunning and accomplished politician of the postwar era and maybe of the twentieth century (unless you make the case for FDR), Lyndon Johnson, who really did care about poverty, having seen a lot of it up close in Texas.

Since then, we've gone nowhere. Nixon declared war on cancer and founded the Environmental Protection Agency - but corporate pollution continued virtually unabated, courtesy of the energy industry and modern, chemical-based agriculture. In 1977, the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition, chaired by George McGovern, issued a splendid special report on recommended dietary goals for the United States. It swiftly provoked the virulent hostility of the medical establishment and the food industry. The former contested the idea that diet might have any particular bearing on health and hotly denounced this particular application of the notion of preventive medicine. The latter, for obvious reasons, saw no reason to welcome the Committee's recommendation that Americans eat less meat. The injunction was axed from the Report a year later.

The neoliberal attack on regulations has been a health catastrophe. Take accidents -- injuries and deaths - at the work place. As JoAnn Wypijewski wrote in this site earlier this year, "Because of under-reporting, the number of injured workers every year is likely closer to 12 million than the official 4 million. The 50,000 to 60,000 who die from occupational diseases each year cannot be a hard estimate; cancer, for instance, doesn't usually come with a pedigree. Even the precision of deaths on the job (40,019 workers between 2001 and 2007, the latest year for which there are figures and not counting the 9/11 dead) has to be qualified; the number does not account for the fates of 8.8 million public sector workers not covered by OSHA. It does not include deaths in the underground economy. Not the street dealers killed by rivals or police, and not the hookers and massage artists murdered in the line of duty by the likes of the Craigslist killer."

Typically, Democratic presidents like Clinton and now Obama commit during their campaigns for some kind of "reform," usually meaning some pledge that the "disgrace" of 45 million or so uninsured Americans will end. In 1993 the Clintons tried "health reform"- a monstrosity that I described at the time as looking like a collaboration between Mondrian and Jackson Pollock - and the insurance industry and lobbyists ate it for breakfast. The radical reformers argue for a national insurance scheme, like Canada's or the NHS, where the state can use its purchasing weight to drive down drug prices, set rates, clean up the system. This plan go back to the Health Service Act introduced by Ron Dellums in Congress on May 4, 1977, providing for comprehensive , community-based health services with progressive national financing. The Dellums bill had been under discussion since the early 1970s when the Medical Committee for Human Rights proposed a set of principles for a national health plan.

Its not going to happen...

Gone with the print

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Well revolutions come and revolutions go...

Chris Hedges on Alex S. Jones' 'Losing the News'


I have spent most of my life locked in the embrace of two of the most sanctimonious institutions in America--the church and the press. They each bow down before their self-created holy creeds, never tire of trumpeting their supposed virtues, which they hold up as the highest good, and are blind to their glaring inadequacies and mounting irrelevance. They are also, in a time of seismic cultural change, dying.

losingthenews.JPGAlex S. Jones, in his new book "Losing the News: The Future of the News That Feeds Democracy," is a believer. Jones, a former reporter for The New York Times and the author, along with Susan E. Tifft, of "The Trust: The Powerful and Private Family Behind The New York Times," defends the traditional press and castigates those who fail to acknowledge its contribution to our open society, its high ethical standards and the work and skill that go into producing the news. Jones believes that newspapers are the best guardians of what he calls the "news of verification" as opposed to what he calls the "news of assertion." The "news of assertion," he writes, "is mostly on display these days in prime time on cable news channels and in blogs."

The technology of the Internet, like the earlier technologies of radio and television, is a phantom. It is a convenient and simplistic way to explain a cultural shift. To limit a discussion of news to technology, as Jones often does, means we simply have to find a way to plug the old bolt of newsprint and traditional reporting into the new machine of the Internet. But what is happening is far more revolutionary. We are entering an age in which the electronic image, endowed with the ability to manufacture its own reality, has thrust us into a state of collective self-delusion. We are embarking on a frightening, post-literate world where we confuse how we are made to feel with knowledge. The death of newsprint is intimately tied to this shifting landscape, including the parallel decline of the publishing industry. And the solution is not to cling to the outdated ethic of newspaper reporting but to adjust this ethic to confront a new cultural landscape.

"Traditional journalists have long believed that this form of fact-based accountability news is the essential food supply of democracy and that without enough of the healthy nourishment, democracy will weaken, sicken, or even fail," he writes. Jones concedes that "newspapers that sought to retain readers by investing in their newsrooms have not been able to show that this strategy pays off with a surge in circulation. The argument that quality will keep readers is not one that can easily be demonstrated." He excoriates the corporate overlords of most newspaper chains for placing profit over content and pleads for a return to the ethic of news as a public trust.

To see long excerpts from "Losing the News," click here


The newspaper elites, like all dying elites, have built ideological and physical monuments to themselves--look at the new $600 million New York Times headquarters--in the same way the pharaohs decided to construct massive pyramids to their own immortality at the very moment Egyptian civilization fell into irrevocable decline. These elites celebrate a past greatness and era of moral probity that never really existed. Those running newspapers remain blind to their own systemic flaws, which saw them serve as propagandists for the invasion of Iraq and consistent apologists for the criminal class on Wall Street. They have proved unable to adjust to a changing landscape and have become objects of ridicule, as "The Daily Show" illustrated when it visited the offices of The New York Times.

Objectivity, the sacred creed that Jones and the old elite hold up as the highest good, has as often been used to blunt truth as disseminate it. The creed of objectivity, as Jones points out, "sprang mostly from the commercial interests of newspaper moguls in the 19th century, who wanted to sell papers to as many people as possible." Objectivity worked as long as there were two clear, discernible sides, but this bifurcation of reality is in fact quite rare. Reality never quite lends itself to this simplicity. The creed of objectivity, which treats human reality the way the scales of justice treat a court case, has often stymied reporting, especially about the oppressed. It elevates the oppressors and the oppressed to the same moral level and obscures the truth. This pleases the power elite and mollifies the corporate advertisers but frequently does little for journalism.

The New York Times' commitment to "objective" journalism, for example, clouded the reality of the lynching of blacks in the South. Read these stories now and you shudder at their mendacity and heartlessness. More than 4,000 African-American men and women were hanged, shot, mutilated, burned alive or killed in other horrible ways by white mobs between 1880 and 1947. And the articles, while they report the lynching, also report what historians have now found to be lies: that these black men raped white women. The Times in an editorial in 1894 decried those who take the law into their own hands. However, the paper wrote, "the crime for which Negroes have frequently been lynched [rape], and occasionally been put to death with frightful tortures, is a crime to which Negroes are particularly prone." The paper proposed that the states do the hanging legally. Balance becomes, in moments like these, repugnant.

Obama Needs to Kick Some Ass

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Republican Death Trip

by Paul Krugman

"I am in this race because I don't want to see us spend the next year re-fighting the Washington battles of the 1990s. I don't want to pit Blue America against Red America; I want to lead a United States of America." So declared Barack Obama in November 2007, making the case that Democrats should nominate him, rather than one of his rivals, because he could free the nation from the bitter partisanship of the past.

Some of us were skeptical. A couple of months after Mr. Obama gave that speech, I warned that his vision of a "different kind of politics" was a vain hope, that any Democrat who made it to the White House would face "an unending procession of wild charges and fake scandals, dutifully given credence by major media organizations that somehow can't bring themselves to declare the accusations unequivocally false."

So, how's it going?

Sure enough, President Obama is now facing the same kind of opposition that President Bill Clinton had to deal with: an enraged right that denies the legitimacy of his presidency, that eagerly seizes on every wild rumor manufactured by the right-wing media complex.

This opposition cannot be appeased. Some pundits claim that Mr. Obama has polarized the country by following too liberal an agenda. But the truth is that the attacks on the president have no relationship to anything he is actually doing or proposing.

Right now, the charge that's gaining the most traction is the claim that health care reform will create "death panels" (in Sarah Palin's words) that will shuffle the elderly and others off to an early grave. It's a complete fabrication, of course. The provision requiring that Medicare pay for voluntary end-of-life counseling was introduced by Senator Johnny Isakson, Republican -- yes, Republican -- of Georgia, who says that it's "nuts" to claim that it has anything to do with euthanasia.

And not long ago, some of the most enthusiastic peddlers of the euthanasia smear, including Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, and Mrs. Palin herself, were all for "advance directives" for medical care in the event that you are incapacitated or comatose. That's exactly what was being proposed -- and has now, in the face of all the hysteria, been dropped from the bill.

Yet the smear continues to spread. And as the example of Mr. Gingrich shows, it's not a fringe phenomenon: Senior G.O.P. figures, including so-called moderates, have endorsed the lie.

Senator Chuck Grassley, Republican of Iowa, is one of these supposed moderates. I'm not sure where his centrist reputation comes from -- he did, after all, compare critics of the Bush tax cuts to Hitler. But in any case, his role in the health care debate has been flat-out despicable.

Last week, Mr. Grassley claimed that his colleague Ted Kennedy's brain tumor wouldn't have been treated properly in other countries because they prefer to "spend money on people who can contribute more to the economy." This week, he told an audience that "you have every right to fear," that we "should not have a government-run plan to decide when to pull the plug on grandma."

Again, that's what a supposedly centrist Republican, a member of the Gang of Six trying to devise a bipartisan health plan, sounds like.

So much, then, for Mr. Obama's dream of moving beyond divisive politics. The truth is that the factors that made politics so ugly in the Clinton years -- the paranoia of a significant minority of Americans and the cynical willingness of leading Republicans to cater to that paranoia -- are as strong as ever. In fact, the situation may be even worse than it was in the 1990s because the collapse of the Bush administration has left the G.O.P. with no real leaders other than Rush Limbaugh.

The question now is how Mr. Obama will deal with the death of his postpartisan dream.

So far, at least, the Obama administration's response to the outpouring of hate on the right has had a deer-in-the-headlights quality. It's as if officials still can't wrap their minds around the fact that things like this can happen to people who aren't named Clinton, as if they keep expecting the nonsense to just go away.

What, then, should Mr. Obama do? It would certainly help if he gave clearer and more concise explanations of his health care plan. To be fair, he's gotten much better at that over the past couple of weeks.

What's still missing, however, is a sense of passion and outrage -- passion for the goal of ensuring that every American gets the health care he or she needs, outrage at the lies and fear-mongering that are being used to block that goal.

So can Mr. Obama, who can be so eloquent when delivering a message of uplift, rise to the challenge of unreasoning, unappeasable opposition? Only time will tell.

Reality Check

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Here's your one stop infor from the government about all the health care myths going around.

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Really Close to the Truth

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Fight Back on Health care

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from Campaign for America's Future


Don't Let Special Interests Use Town Halls To Block Change

The battle for health care reform has moved to town halls during the August congressional recess. But the wild mobs disrupting events, intimidating lawmakers, and shouting down reform are not just expressing their views, they are doing the dirty work for corporate interests that want to cut the heart out of the Obama health plan.

We absolutely cannot let the far right fringe do the bidding of the insurance and drug lobbies and hijack the debate. We need to show up, big.

Take back the town hall! Make our voices heard for real health care reform.

How you can take back the debate:

red-one.pngCall your representative and senators to find out when and where August town halls will be in your area, using the main congressional switchboard number: (202).... You can also check this calendar.

Go to the Congress.org congressional directory to get the direct phone lines of your representatives' offices.

red-one.pngFind out when and where citizen groups will be meeting and organizing throughout August, and find out what's happening in your area at Health Care for America Now.

red-one.pngWhen you're at a town hall, communicate a simple message for your representatives to understand what their constituents want:

  • I support health care reform with a strong public plan option--and most people I know do, too.
  • We sent you to Washington to get health care for all--and we will support you if you work to get that done.
  • Please ignore the right-wing extremists who are attacking health reform--and do what a majority of your constituents want: Vote for health care for all.

If we were smart

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We would start taking out the fascists now before they can start their intended pomgrom for real.

An excellent and succinct description of where we are at along the path to full fledged fascism.

Is the U.S. on the Brink of Fascism?


By Sara Robinson, Campaign for America's Future

There are dangerous currents running through America's politics
and the way we confront them is crucial.

All through the dark years of the Bush Administration, progressives watched in horror as Constitutional protections vanished, nativist rhetoric ratcheted up, hate speech turned into intimidation and violence, and the president of the United States seized for himself powers only demanded by history's worst dictators. With each new outrage, the small handful of us who'd made ourselves experts on right-wing culture and politics would hear once again from worried readers: Is this it? Have we finally become a fascist state? Are we there yet?

And every time this question got asked, people like Chip Berlet and Dave Neiwert and Fred Clarkson and yours truly would look up from our maps like a parent on a long drive, and smile a wan smile of reassurance. "Wellll...we're on a bad road, and if we don't change course, we could end up there soon enough. But there's also still plenty of time and opportunity to turn back. Watch, but don't worry. As bad as this looks: no -- we are not there yet."

In tracking the mileage on this trip to perdition, many of us relied on the work of historian Robert Paxton, who is probably the world's pre-eminent scholar on the subject of how countries turn fascist. In a 1998 paper published in The Journal of Modern History, Paxton argued that the best way to recognize emerging fascist movements isn't by their rhetoric, their politics, or their aesthetics. Rather, he said, mature democracies turn fascist by a recognizable process, a set of five stages that may be the most important family resemblance that links all the whole motley collection of 20th Century fascisms together. According to our reading of Paxton's stages, we weren't there yet. There were certain signs -- one in particular -- we were keeping an eye out for, and we just weren't seeing it.

And now we are. In fact, if you know what you're looking for, it's suddenly everywhere. It's odd that I haven't been asked for quite a while; but if you asked me today, I'd tell you that if we're not there right now, we've certainly taken that last turn into the parking lot and are now looking for a space. Either way, our fascist American future now looms very large in the front windshield -- and those of us who value American democracy need to understand how we got here, what's changing now, and what's at stake in the very near future if these people are allowed to win -- or even hold their ground.

What is fascism?

The word has been bandied about by so many people so wrongly for so long that, as Paxton points out, "Everybody is somebody else's fascist." Given that, I always like to start these conversations by revisiting Paxton's essential definition of the term:


"Fascism is a system of political authority and social order intended to reinforce the unity, energy, and purity of communities in which liberal democracy stands accused of producing division and decline."

Elsewhere, he refines this further as

"a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion."

Jonah Goldberg aside, that's a basic definition most legitimate scholars in the field can agree on, and the one I'll be referring to here.>

Progressive Concession

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Ala Daily KOS


Alright Republicans, We Give Up.

Dear Republicans,

Over the past week, we have seen your passionate protests and heard your concerns about Democratic proposals for health care reform. We have considered your insightful and well reasoned arguments, and on behalf of progressives everywhere, I am here to say: OK! We give up! We are willing to compromise on the proposals that concern you. You've won! Yay!

In accordance with your cogent and potent criticisms, these are the terms of our concession:

  1. We will not euthanize your grandmother. This is the big one, and I really hope you guys appreciate how much of a concession this is on behalf of the progressive movement. Since the days of the Bull Moose Party, progressives have wanted nothing more than to slaughter old people by the millions. That much is obvious. After all, if we wanted senior citizens to have long and healthy lives, why would we have created Social Security and Medicare? Think about it. Death to grannies has long been the core of progressive policy, so it's not without some consternation that we give it up. So there: no euthanizing old people. You've got it.
  1. Rahm Emanuel's brother will not kill Sarah Palin's baby. While this will require us to gut HR 3200 "America's Health Choices and Murder Sarah Palin's Baby Act of 2009," we're currently working with Henry Waxman to remove the extensive Sarah Palin's baby-killing provisions from the final bill. While this will probably cost us Andrew Sullivan's support, we recognize that this is a necessary sacrifice for securing broad bipartisan support of health care reform.
  1. The government will not nationalize hospitals and other health service providers. This is another big one. Though the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has correctly pointed out that current Democratic proposals involve adopting the British health care system, we now recognize that this is not politically viable. The final bill, accordingly, will not involve the nationalization of hospitals and other health service providers. This will be a major setback to Obama's well known communist agenda, but again, we progressives agree with the Blue Dogs that we need to reach a broad national consensus by responding to Republican concerns.
  1. We will make the health care reform bill available for all Americans to read as soon as possible. I know that conservatives and pundits have been eagerly anticipating an opportunity to read the final health care reform bill, and after extensive discussion, we have decided to comply with your request. While we would like to have unseen drafts languishing in committee forever, we have asked Senate Democrats like Max Baucus and Kent Conrad to deliver a bill as soon as possible in order to allow the public to read it. As you know, progressives wanted nothing more than to keep these drafts hidden for as long as possible, but in the interests of transparency and bipartisan consensus, we recognize that it's vital to move the legislative process forward. In fact, it is our hope that Baucus and Conrad will return from the August recess early in order to ensure that the public has as much time as possible to inspect their work.
  1. We will not subsidize abortions with your hard-earned tax dollars. Despite the fact that both FactCheck.org and Politifact insist that we already made this concession months ago, we're going to make extra-special-super sure that we did. Just give me a second...
...

...

...

... yep, we did.

  1. We will not allow the government to have direct access to your bank account. I know several conservatives I've spoken to are deeply concerned about this measure, and while we progressives are always looking for new ways for the government to unlawfully violate your privacy and steal your money, we have decided to remove this provision from the final bill. While we may include a way for individuals to voluntarily set up an electronic funds transfer with their insurance provider, we will no longer push for government access to all individual bank accounts. You've won this one.
  1. We will not provide illegal immigrants with unlimited free health care. Though progressives want nothing more than to provide unlimited social services to illegal immigrants while denying them to everyone else, we now recognize that this plan was, perhaps, a bit inequitable. However, while they will not be receiving unlimited free health care, each illegal immigrant will still receive a pretty pony. I'm sorry, but we have to draw the line somewhere.
  1. Private health insurance will not be eliminated. Though, as Drudge recently pointed out with a damning YouTube video, the long-stated Republican goal of moving away from employer-based coverage somehow means "eliminating private insurance" when Obama talks about the same thing, we've decided to preserve private insurance plans for those who want them. However, we have yet to convince ultra-socialist Charles Krauthammer to drop his communist crusade against employer-based (i.e., according to Drudge, "all private") coverage.
  1. You will not be issued a "National Health Insurance ID." While we thought this was a fun idea, the final version of the health care reform bill will not require you to have any kind of ID when you're pulled over for drunk driving or found loitering outside of a military base. In fact, you are hereby encouraged not to carry any proof of insurance whatsoever. Trust me, it's a terrible idea!
  1. There will be no super-secret-awesome health care program for ACORN employees. Though we love our election-stealing squirrels, we have decided that they'll have to settle for the same options as everyone else.

With these concessions having been made, I trust that we can now move forward on health care reform with a broad, bipartisan consensus. Blue Dogs and Republicans, you can now rest easy knowing that the concerns of the town hall protesters have been met. While the progressive dream of a nation in which old people are slaughtered to pay for the abortions of ACORN-employed illegal immigrants will again have to be deferred, we are willing to settle for a bill without these measures in the name of bipartisanship.

Congratulations, Republicans. You've won this round.

The actual conversation

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Buying the angry white voter

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I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half. - Jay Gould


The Town Hall Mob


by Paul Krugman

There's a famous Norman Rockwell painting titled "Freedom of Speech," depicting an idealized American town meeting. The painting, part of a series illustrating F.D.R.'s "Four Freedoms," shows an ordinary citizen expressing an unpopular opinion. His neighbors obviously don't like what he's saying, but they're letting him speak his mind.

That's a far cry from what has been happening at recent town halls, where angry protesters -- some of them, with no apparent sense of irony, shouting "This is America!" -- have been drowning out, and in some cases threatening, members of Congress trying to talk about health reform.

Some commentators have tried to play down the mob aspect of these scenes, likening the campaign against health reform to the campaign against Social Security privatization back in 2005. But there's no comparison. I've gone through many news reports from 2005, and while anti-privatization activists were sometimes raucous and rude, I can't find any examples of congressmen shouted down, congressmen hanged in effigy, congressmen surrounded and followed by taunting crowds.

And I can't find any counterpart to the death threats at least one congressman has received.

So this is something new and ugly. What's behind it?

Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, has compared the scenes at health care town halls to the "Brooks Brothers riot" in 2000 -- the demonstration that disrupted the vote count in Miami and arguably helped send George W. Bush to the White House. Portrayed at the time as local protesters, many of the rioters were actually G.O.P. staffers flown in from Washington.

But Mr. Gibbs is probably only half right. Yes, well-heeled interest groups are helping to organize the town hall mobs. Key organizers include two Astroturf (fake grass-roots) organizations: FreedomWorks, run by the former House majority leader Dick Armey, and a new organization called Conservatives for Patients' Rights.

The latter group, by the way, is run by Rick Scott, the former head of Columbia/HCA, a for-profit hospital chain. Mr. Scott was forced out of that job amid a fraud investigation; the company eventually pleaded guilty to charges of overbilling state and federal health plans, paying $1.7 billion -- yes, that's "billion" -- in fines. You can't make this stuff up.

But while the organizers are as crass as they come, I haven't seen any evidence that the people disrupting those town halls are Florida-style rent-a-mobs. For the most part, the protesters appear to be genuinely angry. The question is, what are they angry about?

There was a telling incident at a town hall held by Representative Gene Green, D-Tex. An activist turned to his fellow attendees and asked if they "oppose any form of socialized or government-run health care." Nearly all did. Then Representative Green asked how many of those present were on Medicare. Almost half raised their hands.

Now, people who don't know that Medicare is a government program probably aren't reacting to what President Obama is actually proposing. They may believe some of the disinformation opponents of health care reform are spreading, like the claim that the Obama plan will lead to euthanasia for the elderly. (That particular claim is coming straight from House Republican leaders.) But they're probably reacting less to what Mr. Obama is doing, or even to what they've heard about what he's doing, than to who he is.

That is, the driving force behind the town hall mobs is probably the same cultural and racial anxiety that's behind the "birther" movement, which denies Mr. Obama's citizenship. Senator Dick Durbin has suggested that the birthers and the health care protesters are one and the same; we don't know how many of the protesters are birthers, but it wouldn't be surprising if it's a substantial fraction.

And cynical political operators are exploiting that anxiety to further the economic interests of their backers.

Does this sound familiar? It should: it's a strategy that has played a central role in American politics ever since Richard Nixon realized that he could advance Republican fortunes by appealing to the racial fears of working-class whites.

Many people hoped that last year's election would mark the end of the "angry white voter" era in America. Indeed, voters who can be swayed by appeals to cultural and racial fear are a declining share of the electorate.

But right now Mr. Obama's backers seem to lack all conviction, perhaps because the prosaic reality of his administration isn't living up to their dreams of transformation. Meanwhile, the angry right is filled with a passionate intensity.

And if Mr. Obama can't recapture some of the passion of 2008, can't inspire his supporters to stand up and be heard, health care reform may well fail.

Science at its best

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hat tip to singledad


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Gay to Straight Programs a Bust

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Finally, a definitive study to back up what has been known for years by those in and familiar with the gay community.

Programs to change gays to straights don't work

The American Psychological Association concluded Wednesday that there is little evidence that efforts to change a person's sexual orientation from gay or lesbian to heterosexual are effective.

In addition, the 138-page report -- covering 87 peer-reviewed studies -- said that such efforts may cause harm.

"Contrary to claims of sexual orientation change advocates and practitioners, there is insufficient evidence to support the use of psychological interventions to change sexual orientation," said Judith M. Glassgold, chairwoman of the task force that presented the report at the group's annual meeting in Toronto, Canada. The Washington-based association represents more than 150,000 members.

"At most, certain studies suggested that some individuals learned how to ignore or not act on their homosexual attractions. Yet, these studies did not indicate for whom this was possible, how long it lasted or its long-term mental health effects. Also, this result was much less likely to be true for people who started out only attracted to people of the same sex."

In response, the group's governing Council of Representatives passed a resolution Wednesday urging mental health professionals not to recommend to their clients that they can change their sexual orientation through therapy or any other methods.

The group's Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation reached its conclusion after its review of 87 studies conducted between 1960 and 2007 and finding "serious methodological problems" in the vast majority of them.

Those few studies that did have "high-quality" evidence "show that enduring change to an individual's sexual orientation is uncommon," it said.

Rachel Rips Off the masks

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Oooh... look who's behind all the protesting and intimidation tactics

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Keith Clobbers the Robbers

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Southern Discomfort

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ONE OF THESE THINGS IS NOT LIKE THE OTHER.... A new Research 2000 poll conducted for Daily Kos asked respondents a rather straightforward question: "Do you believe that Barack Obama was born in the United States of America or not?" Since the president was born in the U.S., ideally, the results would be around 100%.

They weren't. There was, not surprisingly, a significant partisan gap. Only 4% of Democrats are confused about the president's place of birth. The number is slightly higher among independents, 8% of whom got it wrong. Among Republicans, though, 28% -- more than one in four -- believe President Obama was not born in the United States.

For a crazy, demonstrably false, racist idea, these are discouraging numbers.

But I was especially surprised by the regional breakdowns. In the Northeast, West, and Midwest, the overwhelming majorities realize the president is a native-born American. But notice the South -- only 47% got it right and 30% are unsure.

Outside the South, this madness is gaining very little traction, and remains a fringe conspiracy theory. Within the South, it's practically mainstream.


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Question of Identity

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Such a lovely term, no?


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