Monday, December 31, 2007

Justice Dept still after Gonzales....


Jason Leopold
Attorney-Gate Probe Continues at Justice

Jason Leopold, reporting for Truthout, writes: "The Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) is attempting to build a case of misconduct against Alberto Gonzales by showing that the former attorney general may have played a hands-on role in ousting former New Mexico US Attorney David Iglesias based on pressure he received from former White House political adviser Karl Rove, according to several individuals familiar with the agency's probe."

[Use link above to continue reading]


Russia allows first Ford....

From The Moscow Times via :
Boris Kagarlitsky
A Draw for Ford, but a Victory for All

In The Moscow Times, Boris Kagarlitsky says, "The conflict at the Ford factory took on significance far beyond the organization itself and even beyond the auto manufacturing industry in Russia. The media from all over the country covered the story extensively. This was the country's first open-ended strike since the new Labor Code came into force several years ago. It was also the first strike that the authorities did not squash and in which its participants obtained a guarantee that they would not be subjected to reprisals."

[Use link above to continue reading]


Sunday, December 30, 2007

CIA...So who killed him?

From The New York Times via :

Tapes by CIA Lived and Died to Save Image

Scott Shane and Mark Mazzetti, reporting for The New York Times, write: "If Abu Zubaydah, a senior operative of Al Qaeda, died in American hands, Central Intelligence Agency officers pursuing the terrorist group knew that much of the world would believe they had killed him."

[Use link above to continue reading]


Saturday, December 29, 2007

Science: Edwards interview covers it all...


Exclusive: Interview with Senator John Edwards on Science-Related Topics
Posted on: July 9, 2007 8:59 AM, by Coturnix
I had a great pleasure recently to be able to interview Senator - and now
Democratic Presidential candidate - John Edwards for my blog. The interview
was conducted by e-mail last week.

As I am at work and unable to moderate comments, the comment section is
closed on this post, but will be open on the previous post (here) where I
hope you will remain civil and stay on topic. You are also welcome to
comment on this interview at several other places (e.g,. DailyKos, MyDD,
TPMCafe, Science And Politics, Liberal Coalition, the Edwards campaign blog
as well as, hopefully, your own blogs).

I cannot answer any additional questions for Senator Edwards, of course, but
there are likely to be other opportunities in the future where your
questions can be answered so feel free to post them in the comments thread
on the other post and I'll make sure he gets them. The interview is under
the fold:


Welcome to my blog, Senator. It is great privilege for me to be able to ask
you a few questions on topics of interest to the scientific community in
particular and the 'reality-based' community in general.

1. Let's start with the fun part of the interview - your personal thoughts
on science: past, present and future. Were you a science geek as a kid,
where do you get your science information today and how do you see the world
transformed by science in the future?

First, let me say I was not a science geek growing up. Nothing against
science geeks. But that wasn't me.

However, I do believe that science is the key to innovation in the American
economy, the key to improving our standard of living. We see the impact of
science everyday--from biotechnology to smart bombs, from satellite Global
Positioning Systems to the Internet.

The Office of Science and Technology Policy will play a central role when
I'm president. We need to encourage science, and do it honestly and openly.
It's unfortunate the Bush administration hasn't shared that view. The
censorship and suppression of science on climate change, on air pollution,
on stem cell research--all to advance a political agenda--is wrong. Policy
should be science driven; science shouldn't be politics driven.

For example, I support reductions of carbon emissions by 20 percent by the
year 2020, and reduce it by at least 80 percent by the year 2050--because
that's what the science tells us we need to do. If we don't listen to the
science--if we continue to ignore it, as this administration has done--the
results will be catastrophic.

2. How do you propose to tackle the complex issue of climate change and, if
elected in 2008, what can you do to persuade the Congress, the private
sector and the American people, as well as all the other nations in the
World, to accept your plan although it will require substantial changes in
the way we think: choosing quality of life over raw wealth! Is America ready
for this?

I believe America has to lead the way in dealing with the crisis of climate
change and global warming. We are four percent of the world's population,
but we emit as much as 25 percent of the world's greenhouse gases. We have
no credibility with the rest of the world on this issue right now. We're the
worst polluter on the planet. America needs to lead by example.

We need to make certain that America understands this crisis--that if we
have a 4 to 8 degree rise in our temperature then there will be migration of
hundreds of millions of people. There won't be enough food or enough water
and millions of people will be flooded out of their homes. America must
understand it and the president of the United States must understand it.

Here's what's really important to understand: we can actually turn the
crisis of global warming into an opportunity. We can create a new, clean
energy economy that creates 1 million new jobs, ends our dependence on
foreign oil, and brings rural communities back to life. And ultimately, we
can become a leader for the rest of the world.

[Use link above to continue reading this fascinating interview]


Frustrated with

One of the main instructions to writers: NEVER ASSUME KNOWLEDGE ON THE PART OF THE READER. So what has Blogger done? Assumed knowledge. They need a terminology dictionary for those like me who have never worked in the tech field.

From the moment Blogger put into use the "new" blogger, some things have gone to hell on my blog:

If, in a post, I put a URL for readers to click on to go to that site, readers did just that...The URL was underlined in blue, and readers simply clicked and went. No more. No underline. No blue. Just type as you see right now. I've looked everywhere in so-called "Help" with zip success.

Furthermore, the font changed to what you see now. It used to look like the font up top where it says: Title: Not now.

So okay...I can live with the change in font. One good thing. In posting an article, I used to have to insert paragraph breaks myself. No longer. This new version takes care of that by itself. This I like.

But dammit, I want my hotlinks back!!! And what in the hell is an "enclosure link" as seen above? Tried it. No success.

Does ANYBODY have an idea how I can retrieve them? In plain language, please.


$671 million and we got...what?

From The Washington Post via

DOD Contractor: Millions in Earmarks, Little of Use

Robert O'Harrow Jr. reports for The Washington Post: "The National Defense Center for Environmental Excellence opened its doors in 1991 with a $5 million earmark from a powerful lawmaker. Operating in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, the privately run center has received at least $671 million worth of federal contracts and earmarks since then to research and develop pollution-abatement technology and other systems for the Defense Department."

[Use link above to continue reading]


Friday, December 28, 2007

Newspapers outsourcing too...

From Associated Press via International Herald Tribune:

The Miami Herald to outsource copyediting, ad work to India
The Associated Press
Published: December 28, 2007

MIAMI: The Miami Herald is outsourcing copyediting of a weekly community news section and some advertising production work to India, a newspaper editor said Friday.

Starting in January, copyediting and design in a weekly section of Broward County community news and other special advertising sections will be outsourced to Mindworks, based in New Delhi.

The project is still in the testing phase, so it was not clear if or how employment in South Florida will be affected, Executive Editor Anders Gyllenhaal said.

Mindworks will also monitor reader comments posted to online stories, he said.

Earlier this month, The Sacramento Bee, also owned by the McClatchy Co., announced it would outsource some of its advertising production work to India.

In May, news Web site,, was widely criticized after editors hired two reporters in India to cover the Los Angeles suburb.


City Council locks New Orleanans out of meet....


Bill Quigley
New Orleans: Locked Outside the Gates

Bill Quigley writes for Truthout: "In a remarkable symbol of the injustices of post-Katrina reconstruction, hundreds of people were locked out of a public New Orleans City Council meeting addressing demolition of 4,500 public housing apartments. Some were tasered, many pepper sprayed and a dozen arrested."

[Use link above to continue reading]


Interrogators learn torture from TV....

From New York Times:

I read some “Reflections on 24 and the Real World” by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, assertions that “The Threats Portrayed on 24 Are Quite Realistic” by former CIA Director James Woolsey, an interview with former FBI Director William S. Sessions (“I Sleep Well at Night”) and a surreal account of how the dean of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point plus three experienced military interrogators traveled to Hollywood to meet with the “24” creative team to try to beg them to tone down the show’s use of torture for the good of the American viewing public – and for our troops.

I learned how some of the young American military interrogators in Iraq, in places like Mosul, Fallujah and, of course, Abu Ghraib, used “24”’s screenplays as a guidebook when trying to figure out the right way to extract information from detainees. Lacking leadership from the likes of Donald Rumsfeld and George W. Bush, they turned instead to Jack Bauer for insight and inspiration.

“All the people who were actually conducting interrogations were privates or specialists who had no idea what they were doing,” Tony Lagouranis, a former U.S. Army interrogator at Abu Ghraib, said in an interview. “[The Bush Administration] said the Geneva Conventions don’t apply, so we had no idea what the rules were. They took away our rules and our training, so we really had nothing to fall back on, and the only role models we had were from TV and movies.”

There is much that can be said, pro and con, about “24.” But contemplating the inner lives of troops who, devoid of guidance, education, and consistent training, turned to a sadistic action adventure series for direction, leaves me speechless.

What kind of country produces this kind of person and ships him – or her – overseas? What kind of military leadership would leave such people unattended to run sensitive operations in the nightmare hours when “24” goes dark?

I’ve always considered “24” to be pure fluff and fun. But it is time, I think, to widen out the gaze to the periphery, and let it dwell there for an uncomfortably long time.

Mental Health Week is nothing. This is one sick era.

[Use link above to read Warner's complete column]


Thursday, December 27, 2007

May have to work for McDonald's yet....after 65...

From The New York Times via :

US Ruling Backs Benefit Cut at 65 in Retiree Plans

Robert Pear reports for The New York Times, "The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said Wednesday that employers could reduce or eliminate health benefits for retirees when they turn 65 and become eligible for Medicare."

[Use link above to continue reading]


Edwards speaking truth to power....

From The Nation via

John Nichols
Behind the Edwards Surge: Right Message at the Right Time

John Nichols writes for The Nation, "What could turn out to be the most critical comment of the campaign came from John Edwards in the last debate between the Democratic contenders -- and the former senator from North Carolina may well claim the caucus-night victory that is the reward for delivering the right message at the right time."

[Use link above to continue reading]
NOTE: It's well worth reading and right on...


Bit of this, bit of that in this selection of books....

From Publishers Lunch Weekly:


AP editor Tim Molloy's HOW TO BREAK BAD NEWS, a humorous debut pitched
as in the vein of Nick Hornby and Christopher Buckley, about an
undercover reporter who goes to work in a fast food restaurant only to
find that he prefers it to his job in TV news, to Ken Siman at Virgin,
by Devin McIntyre at Mary Evans (world English).


Catherine O'Connell's WELL READ AND DEAD, the sequel to WELL BRED AND
DEAD, in which neither a psychic's warning nor arson in her penthouse
can deter a Chicago society sleuth from investigating the disappearance
of a close friend, to Sarah Durand at Harper, by Helen Breitwieser at
Cornerstone Literary (world English).


Sheila Curran's LUCY VARGAS IS COMING AROUND, in which four women band
together to protect their late friend's widower and children from the
ravages of grief, rapacious relatives, and wicked stepmothers, to Emily
Bestler at Atria, by Laura Gross at Laura Gross Literary Agency (world).

THE BELLS IN THEIR SILENCE author and Smith College English professor
Michael Gorra's PORTRAIT OF A NOVEL, about how a young novelist named
Henry James asserted his greatness by writing "Portrait of a Lady," his
first masterpiece, to Robert Weil of Norton, for publication in 2010, by
Steve Wasserman at Kneerim & Williams (world English).


Writer for Comedy Central's Indecision2008 and winner of the Bill Hicks
Spirit Award for his stand-up comedy Jeff Kreisler's GET RICH CHEATING,
a guide to lying, cheating and stealing your way to the top of the heap,
using examples from the masters of cheating from the worlds of politics,
business, sports and celebrities, to Matt Harper at Harper Perennial, by
Jason Yarn at Paradigm (World).


Former WWF champion Bret "The Hitman" Hart's Canadian bestseller HITMAN:
My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling, describing his life and
a series of tragedies: a concussion and a stroke, the collapse of his
marriage, and the death in the ring of his brother Owen, who perished in
a dangerous and ill-advised stunt, to Ben Greenberg at Grand Central, in
a good deal, for publication in Fall 2008, by Bruce Westwood of Westwood
Creative Artists (US).

Journalist Lisa Davis's THE REDEMPTION OF BROTHER CURTIS, about Seattle
attorney Ted Kosnoff and the successful civil lawsuit to which he
dedicated four years of his life, to take on the Mormon church and its
defense of religious practices that place children in the path of
predators, to Colin Harrison at Scribner, by Judith Riven (world).


Photo historian and professor Gail Buckland's WHO SHOT ROCK?:
Photographers of Rock and Roll, a history of rock and roll photography
from the 1950s to the present day, from photographers who were on the
frontlines and behind the scenes during each successive musical
revolution, to accompany a traveling exhibition curated by Buckland
starting at the Brooklyn Museum, to Victoria Wilson at Knopf, by Luke
Janklow at Janklow & Nesbit.


NBC golf broadcaster Jimmy Roberts's BREAKING THE SLUMP: How Great
Players Survived their Darkest Moments in Golf -- and What You Can Learn
from Them, interviews with successful golfers (including Arnold Palmer,
Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman, Johnny Miller, John Daly, and Dottie Pepper,
plus such celebrity players as Michael Jordan and Bill Murray) on how
they overcame the worst slump in their careers, in hopes of ultimately
overcoming his own interminable funk and possibly learning a life lesson
or two in the process, to Doug Grad at Collins, at auction, by Scott Waxman at Waxman Literary Agency.


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Doing it Bush's way...

So...Bush signed the 555 billion dollar budget bill today...on the plane, on the way to the Crawford ranch.

Bush also added a signing statement to go along with it.


You're not sick but they're trying to make you so....

From In These Times:

December 20, 2007
Warning: Drug Ads Can Make You Sick
A $4.2 billion annual drug industry incessantly reinforces the medicalization of complaints through direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising
By Terry J. Allen

Jane’s family is suffering from plagues of biblical-lite proportions. Her teenage son is unruly and easily distracted. Her daughter has menstrual cramps, is 12 pounds overweight and shy. Her husband sleeps fitfully and has occasional heartburn and irregularity—not to mention that his libido is falling and his cholesterol rising. As for Jane, her menopause generates more heat than a blowtorch. Her knees twinge, her breasts are less perky and her jaw line more blurred. Her personality is flat and her legs restless. All of them are less happy than they think they should be.

Although there is a diagnosis, pill or surgical treatment for each of their ills, the family members could simply be suffering from exposure to advertising that sells a fantasy of flawless health, perfect skin, clockwork bowels, extended youth and perpetual cheerfulness in the face of disappointment, aging, money woes and the reign of George Bush. They may, in fact, be healthy people snookered by the pharmaceutical industry, the media and their doctors into believing that ordinary frailties are diseases; that the human condition can be cured.

A $4.2 billion annual industry incessantly reinforces this medicalization of complaints through direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising.

In 1998, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decided to allow pharmaceutical companies to hawk prescription drugs to the public, with limited oversight and minimal explanation of safety and side effects. A 2006 Government Accountability Office investigation found some of these marketing efforts “false and misleading” and faulted the FDA—which is responsible for oversight—for failing to maintain standards of accuracy and to protect the public. The United States and New Zealand are the only countries that allow DTC marketing.

Big Pharma says that the goal of DTC ads is to educate the public about what treatments are available. But there is no denying that the images of people caressed by soporific green moths, charmed by Latino bees and enticed by sexually fulfilled couples can create expectations and perceived needs that lead to unnecessary and expensive drug consumption. Some of the products are only minimally effective. Many can cause liver or kidney damage, high blood pressure or other adverse effects that would have to be countered with still more drugs—each with its own side effects and risky interactions.

One undeniable side effect of DTCs is increased sales and profits for drug manufacturers. “Every $1 the pharmaceutical industry spent on DTC advertising in 2000 yielded an additional $4.20 in drug sales,” the Kaiser Family Foundation recently reported. Indeed, direct-to-consumer advertising “was responsible for 12 percent of the increase in prescription drugs sales, or an additional $2.6 billion.”

Many doctors act as enablers. A majority of them reported that DTC ads caused patients to “confuse relative risks and benefits” or to believe the drugs “worked better than they do,” according to the FDA. Almost three out of four docs said patients were spurred by the ads to ask for unnecessary prescriptions and to expect a prescription for every condition. Nonetheless, despite feeling pressured and sometimes ambivalent about efficacy, safety and appropriateness, doctors turned down requests for a brand-name prescription only 2 percent of the time, the FDA found.

Americans are swallowing a lot of pills. Spending on prescription drugs is America’s most rapidly increasing healthcare cost and, in 2004, outpatient prescription medications—3 billion scripts worth $200 billion a year—constituted nearly 20 percent of healthcare spending, according to a government survey. Almost half of us take at least one prescription medicine, and one in six downs three or more medications, according to a 2004 Department of Health and Human Services report.

There is something in the American character that loves a quick technological fix, and DTC advertising convinces us that drugs can cure our physical and psychological aches and pains—even our existential crises and obnoxious personality traits. While many people with debilitating depression do find better living through chemistry, there may be something wrong with a definition of normality that classifies one in 10 women, 18 years of age and older, as so clinically depressed that she requires powerful antidepressants. Or a definition of normality that diagnoses 15 percent of 16-year-old boys with attention deficit hyper-activity disorder (ADHD). ADHD drugs make up three of the top five drugs for children age 17 and younger (sales totaling $1.3 billion in 2004). And of the 4.4 million 4- to 17-year-olds with an ADHD diagnosis, more than half were medicated despite what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called “substantial health risks.”

The old joke used to be this: A doctor who finds a patient healthy hasn’t looked hard enough. DTC advertising cuts out the middleman and allows the consumer to over-diagnose. It directly exploits the public’s fears and hopes by planting the illusion—and then preying on it—that health, youth and happiness are commodities, and anything less is a disease


Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Lakota Sioux are fed up....and getting out...

From Information Clearing House:

Lakota Sioux - The Bravest Americans

By Kathryn A. Graham

On Wednesday of this week, Russell Means led a delegation of the Lakota Sioux people to the U.S. State Department and the embassies of Bolivia, Chile, South Africa and Venezuela, declaring their secession from the United States of America.

[Use link above to continue reading]


Congress on floor and pandering...Sick, Sick, Sick!!!!

From The Washington Post via

Go to Original

Congress's Bullying Pulpit
By Sally Quinn
The Washington Post

Sunday 23 December 2007

As a child, I went to a small school in rural Alabama near an Army post where my father was stationed. It was a very Christian town, and our teacher was "born again."

This was decades ago, but I remember clearly how she used to tell us that we must accept Jesus Christ as our personal savior. Then she would ask for hands to see who had. By age 11 I had become a nonbeliever. My father was in the Army and had fought in World War II and Korea; I concluded quickly that no loving God could have allowed those atrocities to be committed.

But we had all seen our teacher, when crossed, call an unlucky member of our class up to the front of the room, make the student lie down on her desk and be paddled. The humiliation was worse than the pain. So, when she called on us to admit that we had accepted Jesus as our savior, I dutifully raised my hand.

Thank goodness, those days are over, you might be thinking. Nothing like that could happen in this country today.

Well, think again. It happened this month, right here in Washington.

On Dec. 11, H.R. 847 was passed in the House of Representatives. Just listen to what our lawmakers have resolved:

"Whereas Christmas, a holiday of great significance to Americans," it begins, "is celebrated annually by Christians throughout the United States...." It goes on to state, among other things, that "Christianity [is] the religion of over three-fourths of the American population," that "American Christians observe Christmas, the holiday celebrating the birth of their savior, Jesus Christ," and that "Christmas is celebrated as a recognition of God's redemption, mercy, and Grace."

"Now, therefore be it Resolved, that the House of Representatives ... expresses continued support for Christians in the United States ... acknowledges and supports the role played by Christians and Christianity in the founding of the United States ... rejects bigotry and persecution directed against Christians, both in the United States and worldwide; and expresses its deepest respect to American Christians."

For brevity, I have omitted the resolution's references to Christianity around the world.

This resolution passed with 195 Democratic yea votes, 177 Republican yeas and nine Democratic nays. No Republicans voted against it. Ten House members voted "present." Forty were not there, including the bill's sponsor, Rep. Steve King of Iowa.

Among those voting for the resolution was a Jewish member of Congress who has asked me not to print his name. He was outraged and appalled by the bill, he told me. But he was also afraid. He thought it would hurt him with his mostly Christian constituency if he voted against it. He told some of his colleagues about his anguish. They advised him not to be stupid. It would be better for him politically if he voted for it.

It's possible that the 10 who voted "present" also had problems with the bill but decided it was safer not to vote against it. One could also assume that some of those who were absent were not there so as not to have to deal with the problem.

Earlier this year the House also passed resolutions honoring Islamic and Indian holidays but nothing that so equated a single faith with America and Americans.

How could this happen, in what will soon be 2008, in a pluralistic, multicultural, multireligious society, a society based on the concepts of religious freedom and separation of church and state? What were they thinking?

This resolution was as anti-American as anything Congress has ever passed. It disenfranchised and marginalized millions and millions of men and women, reducing them to second-class citizens.

How about this next time around: "Whereas all holidays have great significance to some Americans, be it resolved that the House of Representatives expresses its deepest respect to Americans of all faiths and non-faith alike."

The writer is a co-moderator, with Jon Meacham, of On Faith, an online conversation on religion at


Monday, December 24, 2007

Ecuador vs US oil companies....

From Greg Palast:

Good and Evil at the Center of the Earth:
A Quechua Christmas Carol
by Greg Palast

December 24th, 2007

[Quito] I don't know what the hell seized me. In the middle of an hour-long interview with the President of Ecuador, I asked him about his father.

I'm not Barbara Walters. It's not the kind of question I ask.

He hesitated. Then said, "My father was unemployed.”

He paused. Then added, "He took a little drugs to the States... This is called in Spanish a mula [mule]. He passed four years in the states- in a jail.”

He continued. "I'd never talked about my father before."

Apparently he hadn't. His staff stood stone silent, eyes widened.

Correa's dad took that frightening chance in the 1960s, a time when his family, like almost all families in Ecuador, was destitute. Ecuador was the original "banana republic" - and the price of bananas had hit the floor. A million desperate Ecuadorans, probably a tenth of the entire adult population, fled to the USA anyway they could.

"My mother told us he was working in the States."

His father, released from prison, was deported back to Ecuador. Humiliated, poor, broken, his father, I learned later, committed suicide.

At the end of our formal interview, through a doorway surrounded by paintings of the pale plutocrats who once ruled this difficult land, he took me into his own Oval Office. I asked him about an odd-looking framed note he had on the wall. It was, he said, from his daughter and her grade school class at Christmas time. He translated for me.

"We are writing to remind you that in Ecuador there are a lot of very poor children in the streets and we ask you please to help these children who are cold almost every night.”

It was kind of corny. And kind of sweet. A smart display for a politician.

Or maybe there was something else to it.

Correa is one of the first dark-skinned men to win election to this Quechua and mixed-race nation. Certainly, one of the first from the streets. He'd won a surprise victory over the richest man in Ecuador, the owner of the biggest banana plantation.

Doctor Correa, I should say, with a Ph.D in economics earned in Europe. Professor Correa as he is officially called - who, until not long ago, taught at the University of Illinois.

And Professor Doctor Correa is one tough character. He told George Bush to take the US military base and stick it where the equatorial sun don't shine. He told the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which held Ecuador's finances by the throat, to go to hell. He ripped up the "agreements" which his predecessors had signed at financial gun point. He told the Miami bond vultures that were charging Ecuador usurious interest, to eat their bonds. He said ‘We are not going to pay off this debt with the hunger of our people. ” Food first, interest later. Much later. And he meant it.

It was a stunning performance. I'd met two years ago with his predecessor, President Alfredo Palacio, a man of good heart, who told me, looking at the secret IMF agreements I showed him, "We cannot pay this level of debt. If we do, we are DEAD. And if we are dead, how can we pay?" Palacio told me that he would explain this to George Bush and Condoleezza Rice and the World Bank, then headed by Paul Wolfowitz. He was sure they would understand. They didn't. They cut off Ecuador at the knees.

But Ecuador didn't fall to the floor. Correa, then Economics Minister, secretly went to Hugo Chavez Venezuela's president and obtained emergency financing. Ecuador survived.

And thrived. But Correa was not done.

Elected President, one of his first acts was to establish a fund for the Ecuadoran refugees in America - to give them loans to return to Ecuador with a little cash and lot of dignity. And there were other dragons to slay. He and Palacio kicked US oil giant Occidental Petroleum out of the country.

Correa STILL wasn't done.

I'd returned from a very wet visit to the rainforest - by canoe to a Cofan Indian village in the Amazon where there was an epidemic of childhood cancers. The indigenous folk related this to the hundreds of open pits of oil sludge left to them by Texaco Oil, now part of Chevron, and its partners. I met the Cofan's chief. His three year old son swam in what appeared to be contaminated water then came out vomiting blood and died.

Correa had gone there too, to the rainforest, though probably in something sturdier than a canoe. And President Correa announced that the company that left these filthy pits would pay to clean them up.

But it's not just any company he was challenging. Chevron's largest oil tanker was named after a long-serving member of its Board of Directors, the Condoleezza. Our Secretary of State.

The Cofan have sued Condi's corporation, demanding the oil company clean up the crap it left in the jungle. The cost would be roughly $12 billion. Correa won't comment on the suit itself, a private legal action. But if there's a verdict in favor of Ecuador's citizens, Correa told me, he will make sure Chevron pays up.

Is he kidding? No one has ever made an oil company pay for their slop. Even in the USA, the Exxon Valdez case drags on to its 18th year. Correa is not deterred.

He told me he would create an international tribunal to collect, if necessary. In retaliation, he could hold up payments to US companies who sue Ecuador in US courts.

This is hard core. No one - NO ONE - has made such a threat to Bush and Big Oil and lived to carry it out.

And, in an office tower looking down on Quito, the lawyers for Chevron were not amused. I met with them.

"And it’s the only case of cancer in the world? How many cases of children with cancer do you have in the States?" Rodrigo Perez, Texaco's top lawyer in Ecuador was chuckling over the legal difficulties the Indians would have in proving their case that Chevron-Texaco caused their kids' deaths. "If there is somebody with cancer there, [the Cofan parents] must prove [the deaths were] caused by crude or by petroleum industry. And, second, they have to prove that it is OUR crude – which is absolutely impossible.” He laughed again. You have to see this on film to believe it.

The oil company lawyer added, "No one has ever proved scientifically the connection between cancer and crude oil." Really? You could swim in the stuff and you'd be just fine.

The Cofan had heard this before. When Chevron's Texaco unit came to their land the the oil men said they could rub the crude oil on their arms and it would cure their ailments. Now Condi's men had told me that crude oil doesn’t cause cancer. But maybe they are right. I'm no expert. So I called one. Robert F Kennedy Jr., professor of Environmental Law at Pace University, told me that elements of crude oil production - benzene, toluene, and xylene, "are well-known carcinogens." Kennedy told me he's seen Chevron-Texaco's ugly open pits in the Amazon and said that this toxic dumping would mean jail time in the USA.

But it wasn't as much what the Chevron-Texaco lawyers said that shook me. It was the way they said it. Childhood cancer answered with a chuckle. The Chevron lawyer, a wealthy guy, Jaime Varela, with a blond bouffant hairdo, in the kind of yellow chinos you'd see on country club links, was beside himself with delight at the impossibility of the legal hurdles the Cofan would face. Especially this one: Chevron had pulled all its assets out of Ecuador. The Indians could win, but they wouldn't get a dime. "What about the chairs in this office?" I asked. Couldn't the Cofan at least get those? "No," they laughed, the chairs were held in the name of the law firm.

Well, now they might not be laughing. Correa's threat to use the power of his Presidency to protect the Indians, should they win, is a shocker. No one could have expected that. And Correa, no fool, knows that confronting Chevron means confronting the full power of the Bush Administration. But to this President, it's all about justice, fairness. "You [Americans] wouldn't do this to your own people," he told me. Oh yes we would, I was thinking to myself, remembering Alaska's Natives.

Correa's not unique. He's the latest of a new breed in Latin America. Lula, President of Brazil, Evo Morales, the first Indian ever elected President of Bolivia, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. All "Leftists," as the press tells us. But all have something else in common: they are dark-skinned working-class or poor kids who found themselves leaders of nations of dark-skinned people who had forever been ruled by an elite of bouffant blonds.

When I was in Venezuela, the leaders of the old order liked to refer to Chavez as, "the monkey." Chavez told me proudly, "I am negro e indio" - Black and Indian, like most Venezuelans. Chavez, as a kid rising in the ranks of the blond-controlled armed forces, undoubtedly had to endure many jeers of "monkey." Now, all over Latin America, the "monkeys" are in charge.

And they are unlocking the economic cages.

Maybe the mood will drift north. Far above the equator, a nation is ruled by a blond oil company executive. He never made much in oil - but every time he lost his money or his investors' money, his daddy, another oil man, would give him another oil well. And when, as a rich young man out of Philips Andover Academy, the wayward youth tooted a little blow off the bar, daddy took care of that too. Maybe young George got his powder from some guy up from Ecuador.

I know this is an incredibly simple story. Indians in white hats with their dead kids and oil millionaires in black hats laughing at kiddy cancer and playing musical chairs with oil assets.

But maybe it's just that simple. Maybe in this world there really is Good and Evil.

Maybe Santa will sort it out for us, tell us who's been good and who's been bad. Maybe Lawyer Yellow Pants will wake up on Christmas Eve staring at the ghost of Christmas Future and promise to get the oil sludge out of the Cofan's drinking water.

Or maybe we'll have to figure it out ourselves. When I met Chief Emergildo, I was reminded of an evening years back, when I was way the hell in the middle of nowhere in the Prince William Sound, Alaska, in the Chugach Native village of Chenega. I was investigating the damage done by Exxon's oil. There was oil sludge all over Chenega's beaches. It was March 1991, and I was in the home of village elder Paul Kompkoff on the island's shore, watching CNN. We stared in silence as "smart" bombs exploded in Baghdad and Basra.

Then Paul said to me, in that slow, quiet way he had, "Well, I guess we're all Natives now."

Well, maybe we are. But we don't have to be, do we?

Maybe we can take some guidance from this tiny nation at the center of the earth. I listened back through my talk with President Correa. And I can assure his daughter that she didn't have to worry that her dad would forget about "the poor children who are cold" on the streets of Quito.

Because the Professor Doctor is still one of them.


Watch the Palast investigation, Rumble in the Jungle: Big Oil and Little Indians, on BBC Television Newsnight, now on-line via - and Thursday's US broadcast of Democracy Now.

For a copy of Palast's prior reports from Venezuela for BBC and Democracy Now, get "The Assassination of Hugo Chavez," on DVD, filmed by award-winning videographer Richard Rowley


Sunday, December 23, 2007

FISA court...keeping BushCo's secrets...

From The International Herald Tribune:

The court that is not heard
Published: December 21, 2007

The U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the special court that reviews government requests for warrants to spy on suspected foreign agents in the United States, seems to have forgotten that its job is to ensure that the government is held accountable to the law - not to help the Bush administration keep its secrets.

Last week, the court denied a request by the American Civil Liberties Union to release portions of past rulings that would explain how it has interpreted the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). There are legitimate national security concerns at stake, but the court should share its legal reasoning with the public.

After the 9/11 attacks, the National Security Agency engaged in domestic spying that violated both FISA and the Constitution. Earlier this year, after a court ruled that the program was illegal, the Bush administration said that in the future it would conduct surveillance with the approval of the intelligence court. At the same time, the administration said that a judge of the court had issued orders setting out how the program could proceed.

The administration has repeatedly referred to these orders, but has refused to make them public. Much of the information the intelligence court handles must be kept secret, of course. What the American people should have is access to the court's legal interpretation of the act it enforces.

The idea of courts developing law in secret and handing down legal principles that the public cannot know about should not be part of the American legal system.

That is especially true when the subject matter is as important as the government spying on its citizens.


Americans being tossed to the wolves....

From Seattle Post-Intelligencer :

Privacy Rights: Spying on us
The thought that telecommunications companies might be granted retroactive immunity from lawsuits for cooperating with the government's warrantless wiretapping programs ought to keep lawmakers up at night.

On Monday, the telecom companies won an early round (which was later postponed) to make them accountable for violating the privacy of their customers without so much as alerting them to what was being done. That's when, for reasons that defy sense and conscience, lawmakers voted to advance the bill, which is meant to renew the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The act would protect telecoms from having to answer to their wronged customers in court.

Only 10 voted to halt the bill -- among them Sen. Maria Cantwell -- which leads us to believe that only few senators are able to see what is plainly put before them. According to The New York Times, some of those who voted to advance the bill said they did so in order to shoot it down later. Talk about convoluted strategey.

"For the last six years, our largest telecommunications companies have been spying on their own American customers," said Sen. Christopher Dodd, who led the effort to kill the bill. "Secretly and without a warrant, they delivered to the federal government the private, domestic communications records of millions of Americans -- records this administration has compiled into a data base of enormous scale and scope." He also added that he's never seen a president with "a contempt for the rule of law equal to this."

Supporters of the dodgy electronic surveillance program say it's necessary for national security. Oh sure. We couldn't possibly have security in the Fatherland/Homeland without giving up your rights. Consider that, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the software used by the FBI to spy on phone calls intercepted 27,728,675 calls (or "sessions") in 2006. And how many FISA court orders did the FBI get in the same year? Just 2,176, which means that one court order can cover a lot of ground. Just think of what they're doing without the court orders.

As it turned out, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid yanked the bill later on Monday, but the fight is far from over. It's merely delayed. With telecoms looking to get off the hook, a government anxious to spy with impunity and a public and a president who has vowed to veto any bill that doesn't protect the telecom companies from lawsuits, lawmakers have a moral obligation to fight to protect the rights of American citizens. Doing any less amounts to tossing us to the wolves.


Saturday, December 22, 2007

Corporate paper doesn't like Edwards....

From :

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR)

Action Alert

USA Today Squeezes Edwards Out of Race


In a good example of corporate media striving to narrow down the Democratic primary field (FAIR Media Advisory, 5/8/07), USA Today (12/18/07) had a story on candidates' electability that wrote all but two of them out of existence. The story opened with the statement that "Illinois Sen. Barack Obama fares better than New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton against prospective Republican rivals," and went on to report:

In hypothetical matchups for the general presidential election, Clinton and Obama each led Giuliani, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and [Mitt] Romney, although at times narrowly. Obama was somewhat stronger, besting Giuliani by 6 points, Huckabee by 11 and Romney by 18. Clinton had an edge of 1 point over Giuliani, 9 points over Huckabee and 6 points over Romney.

Missing from USA Today's polling about electability was John Edwards--even though aside from Clinton and Obama, Edwards is the only Democratic candidate who consistently polls in double digits. And when other polls have included Edwards in questions about electability, Edwards generally does better than the other two, sometimes by wide margins.

[Use link above to continue reading]


Zionism in Israel not doing well....

From Information Clearing House:

The End Of Israel?

By Hannah Mermelstein

12/22/07 "Electronic Intifada" -- - - I am feeling optimistic about Palestine.

I know it sounds crazy. How can I use "optimistic" and "Palestine" in the same sentence when conditions on the ground only seem to get worse? Israeli settlements continue to expand on a daily basis, the checkpoints and segregated road system are becoming more and more institutionalized, more than 10,000 Palestinian political prisoners are being held in Israeli jails, Gaza is under heavy attack and the borders are entirely controlled by Israel, preventing people from getting their most basic human needs met.

We can never forget these things and the daily suffering of the people, and yet I dare to say that I am optimistic. Why? Ehud Olmert. Let me clarify. Better yet, let's let him clarify:

"The day will come when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights. As soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished."

That's right, the Prime Minister of Israel is currently trying to negotiate a "two-state solution" specifically because he realizes that if he doesn't, Palestinians might begin to demand, en masse, equal rights to Israelis. Furthermore, he worries, the world might begin to see Israel as an apartheid state. In actuality, most of the world already sees Israel this way, but Olmert is worried that even Israel's most ardent supporters will begin to catch up with the rest of the world.

"The Jewish organizations, which were our power base in America, will be the first to come out against us," he told Haaretz, "because they will say they cannot support a state that does not support democracy and equal voting rights for all its residents."

Perhaps Olmert is giving American Jews too much credit here, but he does expose a basic contradiction in the minds of most American people, Jewish and not: most of us -- at least in theory -- support equal rights for all residents of a country. Most of us do not support rights given on the basis of ethnicity and religion, especially when the ethnicity/religion being prioritized is one that excludes the vast majority of the country's indigenous population. We cannot, of course, forget the history of ethnic cleansing of indigenous people on the American continent. But we must not use the existence of past atrocities to justify present ones.

I am optimistic not because I think the process of ethnic cleansing and apartheid in Israel/Palestine is going to end tomorrow, but because I can feel the ideology behind these policies beginning to collapse. For years the true meaning of political Zionism has been as ignored as its effects on Palestinian daily life. And suddenly it is beginning to break open

[Use link above to continue reading]


Friday, December 21, 2007

This needs to be stopped, and fast!!!

From :

Military Evangelism Deeper, Wider Than First Thought

Truthout's Jason Leopold reports, "For US Army soldiers entering basic training at Fort Jackson Army base in Columbia, South Carolina, accepting Jesus Christ as their personal savior appears to be as much a part of the nine-week regimen as the vigorous physical and mental exercises the troops must endure."

[Use link above to continue reading]


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Ethanol bad for California....

From :

Juliette Anthony
Corn Ethanol and Its Consequences

Juliette Anthony writes for Truthout about the growth of the corn ethanol industry: "The Federal Energy Bill, with its fivefold mandate to increase ethanol production, is headed for the president's desk without threat of veto, now that all requirements to support tax credits for solar and wind systems have been removed. The impact of the ethanol mandate promises to be particularly severe on California."

[Use link above to continue reading]


Conyers: No impeachment....

From Information Clearing House:

John Conyers is a sell out:

To Impeach or Not to Impeach? : Audio :

{Also text]

A Discussion with House Judiciary Chair John Conyers and CIA Veteran Ray McGovern

[Use link above to continue reading]


Dems limp out of DC...Facebook said Brit didn't exist...

From American Progress:

Think Fast...

"The first Democratic-led Congress in a dozen years limped out of Washington last night with a lengthy list of accomplishments," but failed "to address the central issues that swept them to power."

The CIA agreed yesterday "to make documents related to the destruction of interrogation videotapes available to the House Intelligence Committee and to allow the agency's top lawyer, John Rizzo, to testify about the matter." It is unclear whether Jose Rodriguez, who ordered the destruction, will testify.

The Senate yesterday confirmed Julie Myers as head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, two years after President Bush first appointed her. Myers most recently came under fire for awarding "Most Original Costume" to an employee who dressed in a racially offensive Halloween costume.

Forty-one percent of the al Qaeda fighters in Iraq were Saudi nationals, according to a West Point study. Libyan nationals accounted for the second largest group with about 19 percent of the total, "followed by Syrians and Yemenis each at 8 percent, Algerians with 7 percent and Moroccans at 6 percent."

A McClatchy analysis found that "veterans coming home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with debilitating mental ailments are discovering that their disability payments from the government vary widely depending on where they live." Many veterans "could lose tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in benefits over their lifetimes."

"A House task force yesterday recommended creating an independent Office of Congressional Ethics that would have the power to initiate reviews of lawmakers' behavior. The new office, whose creation requires the approval of the full House," would "be the first in either chamber to allow an outside body of nonmembers to examine alleged ethical misdeeds."

"Teenagers who have had formal sex education are far more likely to put off having sex, contradicting earlier studies on the effectiveness of such programs," a new report in the Journal of Adolescent Health said yesterday. "Sex education seems to be working," said Trisha Mueller, an epidemiologist with the CDC who led the study.

And finally: When Steve Webb, a member of Britain's Parliament, tried to log on to his Facebook account on Monday, he "received a message saying his account had been disabled following complaints he didn't really exist." Webb, "one of the keenest promoters of online networking," has around 2,500 Facebook friends. He said that he sent Facebook "an email asking what the problem was and got a response a day later saying they had concluded that my profile was a fake." His account was reactivated within 36 hours.



From :

'God's Basic Training' Coming Under Fire
By Bryant Jordan
December 19, 2007

Elsewhere, a poster bears a quotation calling for the killing of enemy leaders and forcing the defeated people to convert.

If you think the images come from Islamic fundamentalist training camps in remote regions of the Middle East you'd be wrong.

The photo depicts Army trainees at Fort Jackson, S.C., where in addition to basic combat training recruits may also attend "God's Basic Training," while the poster -- boasting a quotation from conservative author Ann Coulter -- adorns the door of a Military Police office at Fort Riley, Kansas.

"These are startling and disgusting revelations of further unconstitutional behavior by technologically the most lethal organization ever created by humankind -- the U.S. military," said Mikey Weinstein, whose group, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, discovered the evangelical-oriented program at Fort Jackson and the Coulter poster at Fort Riley.

The group also has found at the Fort Riley exchange the Muslim-critical "Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam" on display right next to The Holy Bible. And at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., a new "Enabled By Christ" Christian men's store operates at the base exchange, Weinstein said.

Officials with the bases in question and the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, however, deny there is any deliberate intent to impose a religious belief on troops, and a Fort Riley spokesman told command would look into Weinstein's allegations there.

"Command at Fort Riley takes the Army value of respect very seriously," said Maj. Nathan Bond."The things you have mentioned to me, if they are true, do not seem in line with the Army values of respect, and we will look into it."

Maj. Scott Bullock, chaplain for the 2nd Battalion, 39th Basic Combat Training Bn., at Fort Jackson, said in an interview the weekly Bible study program is strictly voluntary. "I make a simple announcement for new soldiers: If you choose to come to this Â… you are welcome to come, especially those from an evangelical protestant background."

Bullock said the recruits posing with their rifles in the photos do so because they've been directed to train as if they were in theater, taking their weapons with them everywhere they go. He said that recruits attending any religious service at the base chapel also would be carrying their weapons.

The "God's Basic Training" program is part of the military ministry backed by Campus Crusade for Christ.

Judd Anstey, a spokesman for AAFES in Dallas, described the "Enabled By Christ" store as a short-term concession, one of about 15 AAFES-wide -- of 50,000 -- that has a religious affiliation. He also said that 75 percent of the vendor's products are for hunting.

"Beyond what is in his stock," Anstey said, "if someone from another religion comes in, let's say, wanting a Torah or a Koran, he would order that special."

Weinstein said the officials can "tell it to the judge," since he plans to include the allegations into a lawsuit he and Army Specialist Jeremy Hall filed in September against the Defense Department over an officer's disrupting a meeting of non-Christian believers and allegedly threatening Hall with punishment for organizing the event, held in August at Camp Speicher, Iraq.

Hall is now stationed at Fort Riley. The case, filed in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, names as defendants Defense Secretary Robert Gates, representing the DoD, and Maj. Freddy Welborn, the officer who allegedly broke up the meeting and threatened to keep Hall from reenlisting.

Weinstein said they are seeking an injunction to prevent Welborn from conduct "that has the effect of establishing compulsory religious practices," and also asking Gates to ensure Welborn does not interfere with Hall's free speech rights.

Gates is named in the suit, Weinstein said, because he allegedly has let the military engage in a pattern of unconstitutional behavior regarding promotion of religious belief.

Earlier this year Weinstein's organization revealed that senior Pentagon officials participated in a Christian Embassy video, endorsing the work of the group and of Christianity, while in uniform and against the backdrop of the Pentagon.

The DoD Inspector General ultimately determined that seven officers, including four generals, engaged in misconduct by appearing in the videos. Weinstein said the Pentagon has never said what actions were taken against the officers.


BushCo's contractors rape...No problem....

From ABC via Buzzflash:

DOJ Shuns Hearing on Halliburton/KBR Rape Cases
Dec. 19, 2007

The Department of Justice refused to send a representative to answer questions from Congress today on the investigations into allegations of rape and sexual assault on female American contractors.

Halliburton/KBR Employees: Company Covered Up Sex Assault and Harassment"I'm embarrassed that the Department of Justice can't even come forward," said the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee John Conyers, D-Mich.

"This is an absolute disgrace," said Conyers. "The least we could do is have people from the Department of Justice and the Defense over here talking about how we're going to straighten out the system right away."

Jones, now 23, says that after she'd been raped by multiple assailants in her room at a KBR camp in the Green Zone, she was warned by company officials that if she left Iraq for medical treatment, she'd be out of a job.

To date there has been no prosecution of the men who Jones says gang-raped her.

Jones' congressman, Ted Poe, R-Texas, also testified at the hearing and told the committee how he has not been given any answers as to the status of the investigation by DOJ or the State Department.

"The Department of Justice has not informed Jamie or me of the status of a criminal investigation against her rapist if any investigation exists," Poe said today. "It is interesting to note that the Department of Justice has thousands of lawyers but not one from the barrage of lawyers is here to tell us what if anything they are doing. Their absence and silence speaks volumes about the hidden crimes in Iraq. Their attitude seems to be one of blissful indifference to American workers in Iraq," said Poe.

Jones told Congress that it wasn't until after she was interviewed by "20/20," that an assistant U.S. attorney in Florida questioned her about her case.

"I asked the AUSA, 'Where should I refer victims to contact me?' and she responded, 'Don't refer them to my office, but you may want to refer them to the office of victims of crime,'" Jones recounted for Congress today.

But the Department of Justice Crime Victims office, in a letter to Jamie's lawyer, had already said it had closed out her complaint claiming it did not have jurisdiction.

The Department of Justice, following the hearing, said today that the department is "investigating this matter" but would not elaborate.

Jones has now filed a lawsuit against Halliburton and KBR.

KBR says that in the case of Jones they were quick to offer her support and assistance.

Halliburton says it is improperly named the lawsuit.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

To smoke or not to smoke....In PARIS!!!

From International Herald Tribune:

Will the smoking ban in France mean the end of café society?
By Jon Frosch
December 18, 2007

PARIS: Every day after work for the past 15 years, Luz Sarfati has made her way to a café down the block for a glass of white wine and a cigarette. It is, for her, one of life's most pleasurable routines.

But as of Jan. 1, Sarfati will have to find a new way to unwind. Less than one year after France imposed a nationwide ban on smoking in most public places (including hospitals, schools and offices), it will extend the ban to bars, restaurants, hotels, nightclubs - and the most cherished of all spaces: the café.

Though smoking in outdoor seating areas will still be allowed, the option doesn't appeal to everyone. "I don't know what I'll do," said Sarfati, who is 65. "Probably drink quickly and then go home to smoke."

While many smokers find the ban in cafés unthinkable, polls show that 66 percent of the usually feisty French support the law and those who don't have mustered little resistance. Coming on the heels of Starbucks and Sarkozy, smoke-free Parisian cafés are perhaps the latest indication of a country slowly shedding its traditional skin - albeit not without anguish.

"All my customers smoke, all my employees smoke. What are we going to do?" wondered Olivier Colombe, 43, owner of Parisian cafés Le Panier and Le Faitout.

For Colombe, the new ban poses practical problems, too. Without cigarettes to occupy them, he explained, smokers won't be so willing to wait a long while for their food and drinks; cooks and waiters will have to work faster, resulting in the sort of rapid customer turnover that is typically very un-French. "Long dinners with several bottles of wine and lots of discussion are going to be difficult," he said. "The ambience will be totally different."

For more years than anyone can count, Paris's ubiquitous cafés have brimmed with people lingering for hours on end with cigarettes over coffee or drinks; over platters of cheese or bowls of onion soup; over newspapers, novels or textbooks; over gossip, break-ups or political debate. Sartre and de Beauvoir, philosophizing at the Café de Flore with spirals of cigarette smoke floating above their heads, helped create a smoking persona that to some extent still exists.

"Smokers are more passionate," said Véronique Moran, 51, who has smoked for 40 years, and is a regular at Le Cyrano, a café in Paris's bustling Place de Clichy. "We're more sensitive, we think about things and talk about things deeply, we get carried away, we rebel against things."

But today these rebels find themselves more marginalized than romanticized. "The ban on smoking in cafés is the end of a type of person," Moran said. "Now, people think about working more to make more money, being competitive, staying in shape, being good-looking."

It might be far-fetched to imagine smoking becoming obsolete in a country whose iconic figures include the Gitane-smoking singer-poet Serge Gainsbourg. But the ban on café smoking does seem to signal a cultural shift toward a more wholesome, modern and adaptable image.

Ireland and Italy show that countries with longstanding smoking traditions may introduce bans fairly smoothly, as they did in 2004 and 2005. In Germany, where regulations vary locally, Berlin will join France on Jan. 1 in forbidding smoking in its beloved coffee houses, as well as all other enclosed public spaces.

But there are detractors, and in France detractors of the new law say it all but destroys the café's ultimate function in France: to serve as the socioeconomic glue of society.

"In France, the café is the one place where classes mix," Moran said. "Everyone is there, from students to grandmas. Now there won't be all different kinds of people - only thirty-somethings with money."

The sentiment that the smoking ban will limit the diversity and interaction of the café clientele is shared by many. "People say that a café is the thermometer of a country," said Cécile Perez, 54, owner of La Fronde, a bar-tobacco store in the historic Marais district. "In a café, while we smoke, we meet new people, we exchange ideas, we learn, we listen, we talk about everything. If we stop that, what do we have left?"

La Fronde is in many ways a typical Parisian neighborhood café: In the morning, street cleaners in bright green uniforms sip coffee next to slick businessmen on their way to the office; at lunch hour, working-class types rub shoulders with impeccably tousled hipsters at the bar, while couples of all ages rub noses over salads; during the after-work rush, there is a steady soundtrack of clinking glasses intermingled with arpeggios of conversation; the constant, no matter what time of day, is the smoke that drifts through the air in curls and clouds, seemingly unnoticed.

Olivier Seconda, 43, is a regular at the café, and though he doesn't smoke, he finds the imminent ban excessive.

"Our motto in France is: liberty, equality, fraternity," he said. "The café is the place that represents that. You're free to smoke, everyone pays the same price for a beer and different kinds of people converse with one another. This new law is a hindrance to that."

Seconda expects the ban to be felt even more acutely in small villages far from Paris, where the café is often the only means of social interaction. There is already nostalgia for a space that allows people of all walks of life to share something - even if it is sometimes no more than a few words and the smoke wafting between them.

But many people welcome an impending future of cleaner café air. Martin Gaillard, 25, has smoked since high school but said that he and many younger smokers accepted the new law.

"I think my generation is the first to travel abroad extensively, so we've seen places where the ban already exists, and it's not so bad," he said. "We're not all so typically French in this mentality of protesting everything and protecting every right."

Gaillard is not particularly fond of smokeless Starbucks or France's new fitness-friendly president, and he believes that smoking in cafés is a unique part of France's cultural and social heritage. Yet he recognizes that it is above all an insistent public health issue.

The time has come, he thinks, to turn the page. "France has this reputation of never evolving," he said. "Now things are starting to change."


Banks & Credit Cards...Keep your eye on them....

From In These

Views > December 18, 2007
Beware the Credit-Industrial Complex

Barely regulated banks are getting away with one usurious practice after the next: not only the subprime fiasco, but the extortionate service fees on your bank accounts and the escalating interest fees, late fees and truncated payment cycles on your credit cards
By Susan J. Douglas

Designed to protect creditors, the bankruptcy 'reform' act makes it harder and more expensive to actually declare bankruptcy. Share Digg Reddit Newsvine My daughter is a freshman in college and is learning a lot, including how to manage her money. Recently, she got a powerful initiation into the predatory practices of banks—a lesson more and more of us are learning each month. She made a miscalculation and thought she had more in her account than she did. When she went to make a withdrawal from an ATM machine, the bank let her, even though she was in deficit. Comerica bank continued to let her make such withdrawals, and charged her $32 a pop for doing so. A $4 charge at a coffee shop became a $36 charge with the fee. A $6 sandwich became $38. She had never authorized the bank to permit deficit spending. And she, like most people, had no idea that the bank would still let her use her card if she was broke. The bank doesn’t tell you it will do this. Why? Because it’s a huge source of profit for them.

BusinessWeek reported on a student whose bank, Pittsburgh’s PNC, allowed him to charge $230 on his debit card even though his account was in the hole. PNC charged him $217 in fees for the privilege. A PNC spokesperson says such a policy “helps our customers avoid embarrassment.” The student said he would rather have been embarrassed than gouged.

In 2004, banks pocketed $32 billion in service fees, up from $21 billion in 1999. According to BusinessWeek, such fees accounted for 76 percent of profits at the Midwestern bank, TCF. Wells Fargo in San Francisco reportedly charges $2 every time someone with a low balance calls a service representative, and a whopping $30 an hour when a rep helps someone reconcile an account. Not surprisingly, the majority of these fees falls upon the poorest customers.

One out of five customers switches banks because he or she is so outraged by these charges. One estimate by Gartner Research shows that it costs banks less than 50 cents to return a payment request, while turning around and charging us anywhere from $25 to $40 for this “service.”

The barely regulated banks are getting away with one usurious practice after the next: In addition to the subprime fiasco now threatening the entire economy, there are the extortionate service fees on your bank accounts and the escalating interest fees, late fees and truncated payment cycles on your credit cards. Millions of us now get credit card bills that give us 10 days—and those aren’t 10 business days—to pay up or get hit with a late fee. No wonder the credit card industry has been one of the most profitable in the country, earning on the order of $30 billion annually. The rates credit card companies charge retailers have gone up 85 percent since 2001, and those are passed onto us.

In 2005, Congress passed the infamous bankruptcy “reform” act after major lobbying by the financial-industrial complex, adding to the enormous pressure many people are feeling from the mortgage-housing-credit crisis. Designed to protect creditors, the law makes it harder and more expensive to declare bankruptcy.

It used to be that people in financial trouble could file under Chapter 7, which typically allowed them to keep their homes while other property was sold off to help cover credit card and medical debts. What pissed off the banks was that, after flooding everyone with offers to acquire even more credit cards, some of this debt would get massively reduced or written off under the old law.

The new law forces people to file under Chapter 13, which requires them to accept a 3- to 5-year repayment plan on all debt. This may lead to even more foreclosures. And for those who still can use Chapter 7, it now costs twice as much to file as it used to. While many conservatives blame individuals for charging and borrowing irresponsibly, one of the major causes of going into such debt are the huge medical bills racked up by those without health insurance.

You also can’t renegotiate mortgages in bankruptcy court. Reps. Brad Miller (D-N.C.), Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and others have introduced a bill that would allow bankruptcy courts to do this, but lobbyists for the banking industry are already working to scotch this. As Chris Hayes advocated recently online at The Nation, “the long-term challenge” is to regulate this industry. Hayes also reported that “Blue Dog” Democrats—the coalition of moderate-to-conservative Dems who vote with Bush Republicans—urged House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) to delay the Miller-Frank bill. This despite the fact that foreclosure rates continue to zoom, in some places two to four times what they were this time last year.

What the Democrats ought to do during their next trips back to their districts is just ask constituents what they think of their credit card companies, their banks and their mortgage companies. What they might hear is that these are some of the leeches people want pulled off of the body politic immediately.

Susan J. Douglas is a professor of communications at the University of Michigan and author of The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How it Has Undermined Women


WH lawyers & CIA videos...bin Laden's birthday....

From American Progress:

Think Fast...

At least four top White House lawyers -- Alberto Gonzales, Harriet Miers, John Bellinger, and David Addington -- "took part in discussions with the" CIA "between 2003 and 2005 about whether to destroy videotapes showing the secret interrogations." "Some top White House officials" reportedly voiced "vigorous sentiment" in favor of the destruction.

"Iraqis of all sectarian and ethnic groups believe that the U.S. military invasion is the primary root of the violent differences among them, and see the departure of 'occupying forces' as the key to national reconciliation, according to focus groups conducted for the U.S. military last month."

Despite "significant security gains in much of Iraq, nothing has changed within Iraq's political leadership to guarantee sustainable peace," according to a new Pentagon report. "The Iraqi government has made little headway in improving the delivery of electricity, health care and other essential services."

Ousted U.S. attorney Bud Cummins has called on Justice Department communications director Brian Roehrkasse to step down, contending that he "did more than perhaps any other DOJ official to disseminate the avalanche of untruths" in the U.S. attorney scandal.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been named Time magazine's "Person of the Year" for 2007 for "taking a country that was in chaos and bringing it stability." Runners-up include Al Gore, J.K. Rowling, and Gen. David Petraeus.

"Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) is threatening to withhold support for legislation making technical corrections to the 2005 highway bill if it does not require a 'full and open' investigation into the now-notorious Coconut Road earmark" of Rep. Don Young (R-AK).

Yesterday, Congress "struck back at the Bush administration's trend toward secrecy since the 2001 terrorist attacks, passing legislation to toughen the Freedom of Information Act and increasing penalties on agencies that don't comply."

"A recent decline in U.S. news coverage from Iraq coincides with improved public opinion about the war, according to a new Pew Research study released yesterday." A three percent drop in coverage between June and October of 2007 accompanied a 14 percent increase in optimism about the war.

"U.S. military commanders in Iraq didn't know Turkey was sending warplanes to bomb in northern Iraq until the planes had already crossed the border." However, the Air Force Times reports that Air Force-bolstered intelligence likely fueled the Turkish jet strikes.

And finally: Looking for a last-minute Christmas gift? There's the National Counterterrorism Center's 2008 weekly planner, which contains fun facts such as Osama bin Laden's birthday (July 30) and that Dec. 19 is the date "Libyan-trained Abu Sayyaf Group leader Abdurajak Abubakar Janjalani died in a gunfight with Philippine authorities on Basilan island." Available "only to folks inside the anti-terrorism community."


Florida has SLAVES...

From The Independent UK via

Slave Labor That Shames America

Leonard Doyle, reporting for The Independent UK, writes: "Three Florida fruit-pickers, held captive and brutalised by their employer for more than a year, finally broke free of their bonds by punching their way through the ventilator hatch of the van in which they were imprisoned. Once outside, they dashed for freedom. When they found sanctuary one recent Sunday morning, all bore the marks of heavy beatings to the head and body. One of the pickers had a nasty, untreated knife wound on his arm. Police would learn later that another man had his hands chained behind his back every night to prevent him escaping, leaving his wrists swollen."

[Use link above to continue reading]


Blue Dog Dems have gotta go...

From The Hill via :

Blue Dogs to Join GOP to Derail Debate on Tax Relief

Alexander Bolton, reporting for The Hill, writes, "Members of the conservative Democratic 'Blue Dog' coalition are poised to defeat a Democratic rule for debate on Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) relief and potentially hand their leadership a major embarrassment."

[Use link above to continue reading]


Something for everyone in this great mix of books...

From Publishers Lunch Weekly:

Jane Berentson's ANOMALIES OF WAR, an irreverent and buoyant chronicle of Annie Harper's life on the home front while her boyfriend is deployed to Iraq, to Kendra Harpster at Viking, in a very nice deal, by Sally Wofford-Girand at Brick House (NA).

Elle Newmark's debut THE BOOK OF UNHOLY MISCHIEF, in which a penniless orphan living in Venice at the dawn of the Renaissance is taken in as apprentice to the chef at the doge's palace and while learning the alchemy of cooking, finds himself entangled in the search for an ancient tome rumored to contain secrets of immeasurable power, to Emily Bestler at Atria, at auction, in a two-book deal, by Dorian Karchmar of the William Morris Agency.


Two books in NYT bestselling author Walter Mosley's new mystery series featuring Leonid McGill, an African-American private investigator in New York (introduced in his short story "Karma"), and a literary novel, to Sean McDonald at Riverhead, by Gloria Loomis at Watkins Loomis (world).


Gayle Lynds' THE BOOK OF SPIES and a sequel, the first books in an espionage series based on the Library of Gold, the little-known vanished royal library of Ivan the Terrible, to Keith Kahla at St. Martin's, for publication in summer 2009, by Aaron Priest and Lisa Vance at Aaron Priest Literary Agency (NA).


Winner of the Barnes and Noble Discover Award for HEAVEN LAKE, John Dalton's THE INVERTED FOREST, in which a transgressive crime and retribution takes place in a special needs summer camp for adults, to Colin Harrison at Scribner, by Lisa Bankoff at ICM (NA).

An original graphic novel set in the world of Diana Gabaldon's bestselling Outlander series, written by Gabaldon and illustrated in color by Hoang Nguyen, to Betsy Mitchell at Del Rey, by Russell Galen at Scovil Chichak Galen Literary Agency.


Tom Clavin and Danny Peary's OUTSIDE MAN, a biography of Yankees great Roger Maris that goes beyond the thrilling season of 1961 to explore Maris' complicated relationship with his teammates and the New York media, to Zachary Schisgal at Touchstone Fireside, in a pre-empt, by Jennifer Unter at RLR Associates (NA).


Jim Lahey's MY BREAD: The Secrets, The Philosophy, and The Recipes From The Sullivan Street Bakery, written with Richard Flaste, including his revolutionary no-knead method of bread baking, to Maria Guarnaschelli at Norton, in a pre-empt, by Janis Donnaud at Janis A. Donnaud & Associates (world English).


Geriatrician and director of Cornell's Center for Aging Research and Clinical Care Mark Lachs M.D.'s IF I ONLY KNEW I WOULD LIVE THIS LONG: An Insider's Guide For Boomers and Their Parents to Get the Most From An Ageist Health Care System, to Wendy Wolf at Viking, at auction, by Janis Donnaud at Janis A. Donnaud & Associates (NA).

Salon blogger and NYT bestselling author of A TRAGIC LEGACY Glenn Greenwald's GREAT AMERICAN HYPOCRITES, a book anticipating the 2008 Presidential elections that examines the Republican marketing/myth-making machinery that consistently (and heretofore successfully) positions its candidates as paragons of virtues that few if any of the candidates actually possess, to Sean Desmond at Crown, for publication in April 2008, by Dan Conaway at Writers House (World).

American Heritage editor-in-chief Richard Snow's DE: America's War in the Atlantic, about America's role in the Battle of the Atlantic during the Second World War, to Colin Harrison at Scribner, at auction, by Emma Sweeney (NA).


Cartoon books from The New Yorker, beginning with a book based on the caption contest running in the magazine for publication in fall 2008, and five additional books over the next five years, to Kirsty Melville at Andrews McMeel, by Bob Mankoff at The Cartoon Book.


Myles J. Connor, Jr., and novelist Jenny Siler's HONOR AMONG THIEVES, pitched as a Catch Me If You Can-style memoir by the Boston criminal mastermind long assumed to be responsible for the biggest art theft in American history, the 1990 Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist, to Bruce Nichols at Collins, for publication in 2009, by Dan Conaway at Writers House (NA).

Meehan Crist's EVERYTHING AFTER, a memoir with reporting that uses the story of Crist's mother's brain injury, and her subsequent struggle to remain in her public and familial roles, as the center of an exploration into the history of neuroscience and studies of consciousness and the brain, to George Hodgman at Houghton Mifflin, for publication in 2010, by Kris Dahl at ICM.

Magazine editor Jennifer Steil's memoir of the life-changing year she spent running a newspaper in Yemen, chronicling the intense power struggles, hilarious culture clashes, and surprising friendships she encountered there, and drawing a portrait of daily life in a remote Arab country struggling toward democracy, to Kris Puopolo at Broadway, in a pre-empt, by Brettne Bloom at Kneerim & Williams (world).


Screenwriter David Jaher's THE WITCH OF LIME STREET, depicting the real-life confrontation between world-famous magician Houdini and a beautiful Boston- brahmin psychic medium, casting a light on a moment in American history when science seemed on the verge of embracing the paranormal, to Rick Horgan at Crown, in a pre-empt, for publication in early 2010, by Tina Bennett of the Janklow & Nesbit (NA).


Robert Gordon's RESPECT YOURSELF: Stax Records and the Independent Spirit, an engaging history of the renowned soul music label that gave birth to Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Booker T and MGs, and many others, to Kathy Belden at Bloomsbury, in a very nice deal, for publication in Fall 2010, by David Dunton at Harvey Klinger (World).


Kucinich flew to Cleveland...bad news...

From AP via NY Times:

Kucinich’s Brother Found Dead
Sign In to E-Mail or Save This

Published: December 19, 2007
Filed at 3:48 p.m. ET

CLEVELAND (AP) -- The youngest brother of Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich was found dead at his home Wednesday.

Perry Kucinich, 52, was found face down by another brother, Larry, at about 9 a.m., said Powell Caesar, a spokesman for the Cuyahoga County Coroner's office.

There were no signs of foul play, Caesar said. An autopsy was being performed Wednesday to determine the cause of death.

Larry Kucinich had taken his brother shopping Tuesday and then took him home but couldn't get an answer when he tried calling him Wednesday, Caesar said.

Dennis Kucinich took a flight from Washington to Cleveland after learning of the death and was not immediately available for comment, said his office press secretary, Natalie Laber.

''He was very close to Perry and he's taking this very hard,'' Laber said.

Kucinich, 61, is a six-term congressman from Ohio who is making his second bid for his party's nomination; he sought the nod in 2004. He registers in low single digits in polls and has raised little money for what is considered another long-shot run. Kucinich, who is known for his liberal views, has attracted a devoted following.

A Democratic rival, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, offered his condolences to Kucinich and his family. ''Barbara and I will keep your family in our thoughts and prayers,'' Richardson said in a statement.


PS: So much talk about Kucinich being short and therefore will never be elected...He is, I believe 5'7" tall...the average and preferred height for a US Navy SEAL. Think they're too short too?


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

CIA admits torture didn't work...Frist on Segway for Coca Cola...

From American Progress:

Think Fast...
Some FBI agents are challenging the CIA's description of al Qaeda captive Abu Zubaida "as an important insider whose disclosures under intense pressure saved lives." They say his "credibility dropped as the CIA subjected him to" waterboarding and other "enhanced interrogation" measures.

A USA Today/Gallup Poll found that Americans gave the President, congressional Democrats, and congressional Republicans unfavorable ratings "by more than 2-to-1 margins." "While Bush's ratings have been poor for most of the past two years, the two parties in Congress hit new lows in the poll."

The House passed a massive year-end omnibus spending bill last night after the White House said it was "encouraged" by what the Democrats had produced. The Washington Post reports that the omnibus bill "has cut all funding for continuing development next year of a new nuclear warhead."

The Politico reports that some Senate Democrats are exploring ways to replace Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) as chairman of the Appropriations Committee, "believing he's no longer physically up to the job." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is "not in favor of such a move."

"Americans could save $1.5 trillion in healthcare costs over the next decade while covering the uninsured and improving overall quality," according to the Commonwealth Fund. "But it would take widespread reforms to root out inefficiency, not to mention higher tobacco taxes and other levies."

The FCC "is pushing ahead to pass a rule today that would allow more consolidation of local media ownership in the nation's largest cities, despite the fresh threat of a legislative rebuke and continued protests from advocacy groups." Watchdog groups say FCC Commissioner Kevin Martin is "is rushing" the rule "through without adequate public comment."

A consortium of 14 of the world's largest coal producers will announce today the location of a new coal-fired electric plant that will capture and store its carbon emissions. However, the Energy Department, which is supposed to pay for much of the work, "called the announcement on a location 'inadvisable' and seemed to distance itself from the plans."

Iraqi leaders criticized Turkey for bombing Kurdish militants in northern Iraq with airstrikes that they said had left at least one woman dead. The Turkish army sent soldiers about 1.5 miles into northern Iraq in an overnight operation on Tuesday.

And finally: Former Senate majority leader Bill Frist "was seen out in front of the White House Monday on a Segway." Frist is said to be filming a new commercial for Coca-Cola, which puts him at odds with former Senate majority leader Bob Dole, who promoted Pepsi.


Intel agencies hiding in dark closets...or trying to....

From Secrecy News:


Several defense intelligence agencies will withhold unclassified
information about their contracts from a new public database of
government spending.

The new database at is intended to provide increased
transparency regarding most government contracts (Secrecy News,

But when it comes to intelligence spending, there will actually be a
net loss of public information because categories of intelligence
contracting data that were previously disclosed will now be withheld.

The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the National
Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), and the Counterintelligence Field
Activity (CIFA) argued that online disclosure of their unclassified
contracts could present an operational security vulnerability.

"I appreciate your concerns that reporting these actions to the
publicly accessible website could provide unacceptable risk of insight
to your individual missions and budgets," wrote Shay D. Assad of the
Under Secretary of Defense in a December 7 memorandum.

"As such, I concur with your waiver requests to not report your
unclassified actions to FPDS-NG [Federal Procurement Data System - Next
Generation] at this time," he wrote.

The new waiver, which was first reported by Daniel G. Dupont in, applies to unclassified contract data for FY 2007
and 2008, and must be renewed each year thereafter.

But it does not apply retroactively, so it is possible to examine
detailed contracting information for thousands of intelligence
contracts with DIA and NGA from FY2005-2006, ranging in amounts from
tens of dollars to hundreds of millions of dollars. (Prior contract
information for CIFA is not currently available.)

Those intelligence agencies' past contracts can be examined using the
drop-down menu for contracting agency on this page:

The sharp growth in intelligence agency contracting has prompted new
concern in Congress and elsewhere. The latest intelligence
authorization act (section 307) requires a "comprehensive report on
intelligence community contractors."

But while intelligence contracting is going up, public accountability
is going down.


The U.S. intelligence community is reverting to old patterns of cold
war secrecy, warned the former Chairman of the National Intelligence
Council (NIC), to the detriment of U.S. intelligence.

"The reality that I see is an Intelligence Community that is retreating
into greater secrecy and old cultural habits, even in the short time
since I left the NIC in early 2005," said Amb. Robert L. Hutchings in
recent testimony.

"Try to get a CIA analyst to go on the record at an academic
conference, or participate in an interactive website or blog with
experts from outside government or other countries, and you will see
how deeply ingrained are the old Cold War cultural habits and
mind-sets," he said.

"What this means, additionally, is that the Intelligence Community is
not attracting the 'best and brightest' into their ranks. They go

See his prepared testimony from a December 6 hearing of the House
Intelligence Committee here:

One of the aspects of the trend towards increasing secrecy is what
appears to be a newly restrictive approach to pre-publication review of
writings by current or former intelligence employees.

Earlier this year, the Central Intelligence Agency refused to permit
former intelligence officer and author Valerie Plame Wilson to publish
certain information about her career that had already been disclosed in
the Congressional Record.

The publishers of Ms. Wilson's memoir devised a novel and effective
solution: They hired journalist Laura Rozen to write an afterword,
based entirely on information gathered in the public domain, filling in
many of the missing details of Ms. Wilson's account. Laura Rozen, who
writes for Mother Jones and for the War and Piece blog, tells the story

[Use links above to continue reading]


Edwards? Clinton? Obama? Take your choice....

From :

America's next top Democrat
With the Iowa vote nearing, Clinton, Obama and Edwards reveal sharp tonal differences, betting the farm not on policy but on political panache.

By Walter Shapiro
Dec. 18, 2007

COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa -- In the headlong rush to the Jan. 3 caucuses, the Democratic presidential race has become -- bizarrely enough -- a virtually issue-free zone. Vanished from view are the public battles over Iraq and the skirmishing over whose healthcare plans provide universal coverage. Instead, in unprecedented fashion, the three leading Democrats are roaring into the final 17 days of the campaign debating from afar what style of presidential leadership, what strategy for change, is demanded in the bitter aftermath of the George W. Bush era.

Their stump speeches -- often glossed over by reporters as the elevator music of politics -- highlight the sharp tonal differences separating Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards. Between now and the caucuses, each of these tightly bunched candidates will probably speak to more than 30,000 Iowa Democrats in high school gyms (the favored venue this year) and other public settings around the state. Over the weekend, I sampled the campaign-rally rhetoric of the front-running Democratic troika as they crisscrossed each other's paths, with Edwards and Obama even speaking at the same time in Mason City (different locales) on Saturday night.

These speeches offer Iowans their best glimpse into the minds of the candidates, since they allow for a sustained argument (unlike campaign ads) and rise above the ephemera of the daily press flaps. So in traditional "Brazil: Land of Contrasts" school-report fashion, here are impressionistic accounts of what the three leading Democrats were emphasizing over the weekend.

Hillary Clinton

At a noontime rally Sunday in Council Bluffs, kicking off a five-day helicopter tour of the state, Clinton unveiled a new section of her stump speech arguing that only she has the been-there-done-that pragmatism to prevail in Washington. The former first lady began by repeating a refrain that had been crafted for last Thursday's final Iowa debate: "Some people believe that you make change by demanding it. [John Edwards, please pick up the red courtesy telephone.] Some people believe that you make change by hoping for it. [Barack Obama, this Bud's for you.] I believe that you make change by working hard for it."

But then she went further, explaining the virtues of experience in terms eerily reminiscent of Kenny Rogers singing "You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em." In the new Clinton version, the lyrics are: "Hard work demands that you know when to stand your ground and when to find common ground. If you're too unyielding you won't get anything done ... You have to work with other people. But if you don't stand up and refuse to compromise about what's important, you could lose out the opportunity to make change. You have to know how to balance it."

The campaign slogan "Hillary: The Candidate With Balance" may not appeal to her team of image makers, but it comes close to capturing the essence of her argument. Edwards is too hot, Obama is too cool, and the New York senator is just right. Clinton -- who seemingly aced every exam at Wellesley and Yale Law School -- also increasingly stresses her sadder-but-wiser outlook after the implosion of healthcare reform in 1994. As she put it in another passage grafted onto the stump speech, "I think you can learn more about a person when you see what they do after they don't succeed."

Not until 30 minutes into her Sunday speech in Council Bluffs did even Clinton mention Iraq -- and then it was just two short sentences: "Finally, we will make a new beginning to restoring America's leadership in the world. It will start with ending the war in Iraq and bringing our troops home quickly."

In fact, Clinton dealt with most issues (including Iraq) as part of a two-minute drill at the end of her speech. During those applause-line-crammed 120 seconds (an official tape-recorder count), she veered from calling for "a universal pre-kindergarten program" to "more job training, more apprenticeship programs" to ending "the no-bid contracts for Halliburton" to "lifting the ban on stem-cell research" to "appointing qualified people to government again." She also crammed in ending "No Child Left Behind" and reversing the Bush's administration's "war on science."

Eight years ago, at this point in the campaign, Al Gore and Bill Bradley were wrangling over the nuances of their healthcare plans. Four years ago, Howard Dean was still riding high as the I-was-right-from-the-start antiwar candidate in the race. Now issues are rattled off with the speed of an antique-furniture auctioneer trying to get rid of the bric-a-brac at the end of a long sale.

Barack Obama

When Obama spoke Saturday afternoon to about 300 Democrats at the Hoover Middle School in Waterloo, there was nary a reference to Herbert Hoover, who had been demonized by Democratic orators for three-score-and-ten years for bringing on the Depression. Another small indication of change was that Saturday, for the first time in memory, I noticed a few empty seats at an Obama rally. But when it comes to his stump speech, Obama remains the candidate most comfortable with an audience listening to him intently rather than wildly cheering at each choreographed clap-now moment.

Alone among the Democrats, the freshman Illinois senator addresses a larger malaise in our political culture that goes beyond the iniquities of the Bush administration and the Republicans. Americans of all parties, Obama declared in Waterloo, "have lost their trust in their government and want to believe that we can do great things again. That is why this is a moment both of great challenge but also great opportunity. I think our politics is up for grabs right now. I think we have the chance -- for maybe the first time in a generation -- to bring the country together, to form a working majority and finally tackle problems that George Bush may have made far worse, but were festering long before George Bush ever took office."
Obama no longer includes in every speech a mocking reference to himself as a "hope monger," but he is -- without question -- the only Democrat who continually offers the vision of "bringing the country together." This idea (which may be arrogant, naive or inspirational, depending on one's perspective) of getting beyond the polarization of a red-state, blue-state America is the central theme of his candidacy. It is also a reminder that in early 1992, as Hillary Clinton was caught up in the campaign furors over Gennifer Flowers and her husband's Vietnam draft records, Obama was a freshly minted graduate of Harvard Law School. If the former first lady's calling card is that she faced down the "vast right-wing conspiracy," Obama is the Democrat who hails from a political generation too young to be mobilized in the debilitating wars of the early 1990s.

Equally integral to Obama's stump speech is the argument that he is the candidate of conviction while Clinton offers Democrats timidity and what was once called "triangulation." Obama's vision of himself transcends policy positions, which is convenient, since it glosses over the awkward reality that both Clinton and Edwards have offered bolder and more comprehensive plans for healthcare, which remains the key domestic issue for Democrats.

As Obama said in Waterloo -- and these are words that he has long used at rallies -- "At the beginning of this campaign, when I was gathering together my staff and my supporters, I said that the conventional, textbook Washington campaign just won't do. Avoiding answering tough questions because the answers won't be popular just won't do. Telling the American people what they want to hear, rather than what they need to hear, just won't do. Poll testing every position because we're worried about what Mitt or Rudy or whoever the Republican nominee is going to [say] ... won't do. If we're serious about winning this election, then we can't be afraid of losing it. Not this time. Not now."

Even though Obama is the only leading Democrat who can claim an I-was-right-from-the-start record of rectitude on Iraq, he too now only gives a brief cameo to the issue. As he put it in Waterloo, "The only mission [George W. Bush] accomplished was to use fear and falsehood to take this country into a war that never should have been authorized and never should have been waged."

So much for the political handicappers -- once again looking in the rearview mirror for inspiration -- who confidently predicted that the 2008 race would pivot around the mess in Mesopotamia, with Clinton presumably on the rack over Iraq.

John Edwards

Based on crowd estimates from reporters who were at the rival Obama rally, Edwards won the battle of Mason City on Saturday night. More than 500 Iowans crammed themselves into the indoor atrium of Music Man Square, a museum dedicated to Broadway composer Meredith Willson, who fictionalized his hometown as River City in the 1950s musical. Although Edwards never alluded to "The Music Man" in his stump speech, the former trial lawyer is the Democrats' best huckster, and his pitch is a 2008 variant on "We've got trouble in River City."

There was nothing subtle about Edwards' passionate argument. In the first minute of his speech, he cut to the chase with this rhetorical question: "What kind of man, what kind of woman, what kind of human being, do you want as president of the United States? I have a very clear view about what's at stake -- I think we desperately need a president who's tough, who has backbone, who's willing to fight, willing to stand up for you, willing to fight those entrenched interests, corporate power and those monied interests in America that stand between you and the America that you deserve." As Edwards railed against the "monied interests," he was speaking opposite the false-front façade of the "River City Bank," a mythical financial institution unlikely to rival Citicorp.

Like Obama -- and, to a lesser extent, Clinton -- Edwards contends that the best way to pick a presidential candidate is not to weigh the nuances of their white papers on tax policy or global warming. "We have great candidates running for the Democratic nomination," the former North Carolina senator said, preparing to damn them with exuberant praise. "I like them. I respect them. They have great ideas. They're good people."

"But," Edwards went on, "we have some fundamental differences about what it's going to take to really change this [system] ... Some candidates say ... that you know the system's bad, but you have to be able to maneuver your way through it. You have to accept it. [Sounds as though Edwards got an advance peek at Clinton's revamped stump speech.] Other candidates would say, you got to sit at the table with these people -- drug companies, insurance companies, oil companies, power companies, big banks. You sit at the table with them and you negotiate, and somehow they'll voluntarily give their power away." This line was clearly aimed at Obama, though the volley seemed a bit off target. Still, Edwards got a hardy laugh from the audience with the notion that companies like Pfizer, Exxon Mobil and Halliburton would unilaterally disarm when faced with a smiling, earnest Democratic president.

For Edwards, who is the only top-tier Democrat without an Ivy League pedigree, it all comes down to a simple political equation: "You know how they'll give their power away?" he asked, speaking of the corporations. "They'll give their power away when we take their power away. We have an epic fight in front of us, and anybody who thinks that's not true is living in a fantasy world." That can be a potentially winning political argument in Iowa, although no one in the crowd appeared to notice that Edwards was decrying fantasy-world politics in the middle of a replica of a stage set from "The Music Man."

During a brief press conference after the Saturday night speech, I asked Edwards (who finished a close second to John Kerry in the 2004 caucuses) what he meant by his frequent claim that he knows how "to close" in Iowa. "It means exactly what you saw in this room tonight," he replied. "It means somebody who has energy, passion and speaks from their gut about what they believe. Because what caucus-goers are looking for now is honesty and strength and fight and sincerity."

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Three leading candidates, three stump speeches and three divergent approaches to wielding power -- that is the choice facing Iowa Democrats. Edwards and Clinton are both playing traditional roles in the never-ending political drama of the outsider versus the insider. Obama is the wild card, as the 21st-century candidate trying to rewrite the equations that govern political math. Voters may claim that they crave issues, but in the closing weeks in Iowa -- with the Oval Office quite possibly at stake -- style and substance have become entwined like no campaign in memory.