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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Neda wins 'person of the year'

The British newspaper Times named an Iranian woman killed in post-election riots in Iran as its "person of the year."
The Times explained that 26-year-old Neda Agha-Soltan became a "symbol of opposition to tyranny" when a 40-second clip documenting her tragic death at the hand of Iranian authorities was seen by millions around the world.
The riots erupted immediately following the announcement of a landslide victory for incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran's presidential election in June. Opposition supporters demonstrated en mass over allegations of election fraud.
"Ms. Soltan, 26, joined the protest because she was outraged at the way that the regime stole the presidential election," the newspaper said on its front page. "
Even if a bullet goes through my heart it's not important," Times quotes Soltan as having told her fiance. "What we're fighting for is more important. When it comes to taking our stolen rights back we should not hesitate. Everyone is responsible. Each person leaves a footprint in this world."
The choice risks angering Iranian hardliners who claim that Soltan's death was staged for the purposes of propaganda.
On June 20, 2009, Soltan was sitting in her car inTehran, accompanied by her music teacher and close friend, Hamid Panahi, and two others. The four were on their way to take part in the weeklong post election protests. The car's air conditioner was not working, so she stopped her car some distance from the main protests and got out on foot to escape the heat. She was observing the protests when she was shot in the chest.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Explosives On Board

A man who says he is linked to Al-Qaeda has tried to blow up a US-bound flight but his device failed in the attempted terror attack / AP
Passengers tackle terror suspect More

Gingrich: Bachmann Will Become Committee Chair After 2010 Elections

Newt Gingrich said at a conservative fundraiser that Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) will become a committee chair if the GOP takes back the House in 2010.
The often-controversial Republican representative and Tea Party spokeswoman has repeatedly taken the media spotlight for her outrageous anti-Obama claims and conspiracy theories too extreme even for Glenn Beck.
If Bachmann gets reelected in 2010, which it looks like she will, it would be the congresswoman's third term, making a potential chair position a huge step up from her current lone appointment as a sitting member on the Financial Services Committee. The most junior chairs are currently seventh term representatives Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas), Chair of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and Bob Brady (D-Pa.), Chair of the Committee on House Administration.
Think Progress notes that though appointing junior congressional members to powerful committee seats is not standard House practice, it would be nothing new for Gingrich:
"When Gingrich steered Republicans to victory in the 1994 midterms, he similarly bypassed seniority and appointed his most trusted lieutenants to powerful committee chairs."
The former House leader gave no word on which committee he thinks Bachmann will be qualified to chair.
Michele Bachmann: Welfare Queen
By Yasha Levine
Michele Bachmann has become well known for her anti-government tea-bagger antics, protesting health care reform and every other government “handout” as socialism. What her followers probably don’t know is that Rep. Bachmann is, to use that anti-government slur, something of a welfare queen. That’s right, the anti-government insurrectionist has taken more than a quarter-million dollars in government handouts thanks to corrupt farming subsidies she has been collecting for at least a decade.
And she’s not the only one who has been padding her bank account with taxpayer money.
Bachmann, of Minnesota, has spent much of this year agitating against health care reform, whipping up the so-called tea-baggers with stories of death panels and rationed health care. She has called for a revolution against what she sees as Barack Obama’s attempted socialist takeover of America, saying presidential policy is “reaching down the throat and ripping the guts out of freedom.”
But data compiled from federal records by Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit watchdog that tracks the recipients of agricultural subsidies in the United States, shows that Bachmann has an inner Marxist that is perfectly at ease with profiting from taxpayer largesse. According to the organization’s records, Bachmann’s family farm received $251,973 in federal subsidies between 1995 and 2006. The farm had been managed by Bachmann’s recently deceased father-in-law and took in roughly $20,000 in 2006 and $28,000 in 2005, with the bulk of the subsidies going to dairy and corn. Both dairy and corn are heavily subsidized—or “socialized”—businesses in America (in 2005 alone, Washington spent $4.8 billion propping up corn prices) and are subject to strict government price controls. These subsidies are at the heart of America’s bizarre planned agricultural economy and as far away from Michele Bachmann’s free-market dream world as Cuba’s free medical system. If American farms such as hers were forced to compete in the global free market, they would collapse.

Gun Owner Nabbed Near Obama Was Bush Employee

— By Nick Baumann
Wed Dec. 23, 2009 3:25 AM PST
The man who was arrested with two guns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition near the Capitol during President Barack Obama's health care speech in September had been an employee of the George W. Bush White House. The arrest of the man, Joshua Bowman, was widely reported at the time, but the news stories made no mention of his previous employment: For several years he worked in the Executive Office of the President, dealing with tech issues, including White House emails, his lawyer, George Braun, tells Mother Jones.
On the night of September 9, Bowman was on his way to meet Braun, a Bush administration political appointee, at the National Republican Club on First Street, SE when he was stopped by Capitol Police around 7:45 p.m.—minutes before Obama was scheduled to deliver a major address to Congress pushing his health care initiative. Bowman had driven up to a security checkpoint and told officers he wanted to park, but his lack of a permit for the area aroused their suspicions, and they asked to search his car.
Bowman had a bumper sticker like this one on his car, according to court records. (Patriot Depot).The previous weekend, Bowman and Braun had gone duck-hunting, according to Braun. But Bowman forgot that he still had the guns in his car when he consented to a search of his vehicle, a Honda Civic with a bumper sticker proclaiming, "I'll keep my guns, freedom, and money.... you keep the change." The officers found a Beretta 12 gauge semi-automatic* shotgun, a .22 caliber long rifle, and over 400 rounds of ammunition in Bowman's trunk. The guns were unloaded and in their cases, according to court records. Braun says they were disassembled. The Capitol Police took Bowman into custody and charged him with two counts of possession of an unregistered firearm and one count of unlawful possession of ammunition. He faced up to $3,000 in fines and as much as three years in jail. (The case is still pending.)

Merry Christmas and Best Wishes, all from Down Under

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

I'd hardly call it courageous. I call it cowardly.

Parker Griffith's Cynical Shift to the GOP

So, this is hardly a surprise. In this economy, everybody's trying to keep their jobs. Even guys like Parker Griffith.

POLITICO has learned that Rep. Parker Griffith, a freshman Democrat from Alabama, will announce today that he's switching parties to become a Republican.
Guys like Griffith have one of three choices:

* Appeal to their voters that they are a moderating voice within the Democratic party with no proof they were able to do that.
* Retire, and be irrelevant.
* Switch parties, and suddenly become the prettiest girl at the prom.

In the end, the part that gets me isn't the loss of a "Democrat." Griffith isn't a Democrat anymore than Schwartzennegger is a Republican.

It doesn't even bother me that he can see the 2010 writing on the wall, and is doing everything he can to keep his job. It's a tad bit transparent, but I get it.

What I find sad, and cynical, is that this guy is essentially saying things will not be better by 2012. He's peering into the future and saying that Obama - as the "leader" of the Democratic party - will have zero coattails to ride on based on performance.

He's betting his job on the idea the economy will still be in the tank, and unemployment will still be double-digit. That things will be no better. That is the spirit of Griffith's shift.

It's a lack of faith that there's anything that can be done in the next three years to turn this country around. And that's where I get miffed.

Guys like Griffith shouldn't switching parties, they should be getting the hell out of the way for either a new Republican or a new Democrat. Someone with ideas.

Because Griffith isn't going to spend the next three years trying to make things better, he's going to spend the next three years covering his ass. He's going to be one more piece of intellectual dead weight, cashing his check and hoping this President and this country fails so he can stay in power.

Now that he's there, he doesn't want to leave. I won't say becoming a Republican in Alabama isn't a well-considered bet, but I'd hardly call it courageous.

I call it cowardly.

GOP Senator Appears To Wish Robert Byrd Dead To Spoil Health Care Vote

On Sunday afternoon, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) appeared to propose a prayer for Robert Byrd's death so that health care reform would not pass. Dana Milbank reports at the Washington Post:

At 4 p.m. Sunday afternoon -- nine hours before the 1 a.m. vote that would effectively clinch the legislation's passage -- Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) went to the Senate floor to propose a prayer. "What the American people ought to pray is that somebody can't make the vote tonight," he said. "That's what they ought to pray."

It was difficult to escape the conclusion that Coburn was referring to the 92-year-old, wheelchair-bound Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.V.) who has been in and out of hospitals and lay at home ailing. It would not be easy for Byrd to get out of bed in the wee hours with deep snow on the ground and ice on the roads -- but without his vote, Democrats wouldn't have the 60 they needed.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) took the floor and expressed shock. "This statement goes too far," he said. "We are becoming more coarse and divided here ... When it reaches a point where we're praying, asking people to pray, that senators wouldn't be able to answer the roll call, I think it has crossed the line." He explained that the Democrats were unable to schedule a more reasonably-timed vote because of Republican refusal to negotiate, and he called on Coburn to explain the seemingly malevolent call to prayer.

Republicans forced the 92-year-old Byrd to come to the Senate for a 1 A.M. vote on the Pentagon budget Friday morning. At least three Republicans had signaled their intention to vote for cloture, rendering Byrd's presence unnecessary. But GOP leaders pressured them to withhold support as a way to gain leverage over the health care legislation.

Monday, December 21, 2009

How Nebraska's Insurance Companies Stand To Profit From Nelson's Compromises

LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska – never seen as a key player with special needs in the health care debate – stands to reap millions of dollars worth of financial goodies should the Senate version of the health care bill get final approval.

Not only did Sen. Ben Nelson help cut a deal that covers the state's Medicare expansion cost of $100 million over 10 years – all other states will have to help bear their own costs – insurance companies in Nebraska will get tax and fee breaks.

Insurance giant Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Nebraska, for instance, would pay between $15 million and $20 million less in fees under the Senate bill than it would have without a change the Nebraska Democrat helped broker, according to Nelson's office. Another insurer, Mutual of Omaha, won't have to pay taxes on so-called Medigap insurance that buttresses Medicare insurance used by the elderly.

Unlike the Blue Cross/Blue Shield deal, that tax break will be extended to other companies. Mutual of Omaha spokesman Jim Nolan said he didn't "have a figure to share" about how much the company may save.

A Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Nebraska spokesman estimated that the cost-savings figure released by Nelson's office was probably close to accurate and added that the company didn't ask for the break.

The savings will go directly to consumers, said Pat Bourne, the company's vice president of commercial business and government affairs.

Republicans blasted the perks for Nebraska, saying they were a sign the health care bill couldn't stand on its own merits.

"There should be no special deals, no carve-outs for anyone in this health care bill; not for states, not for insurance companies, not for individual senators," U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., said.

Nebraska Democrats, meanwhile, defended Nelson, saying he did his job by protecting the state's interests.

"Ben Nelson has done his job and if anyone has a problem with him, maybe they should take a lesson from him on how to protect ... your state," state Sen. Danielle Conrad said during a rally Monday to support her fellow Democrat.

Should the Senate version get final approval, public perception of the plan over the next few could determine the political fate of Nelson, who constantly walks a political tightrope in his conservative, Republican-leaning home state. Nelson is up for re-election in 2012.

Dems pressing hard for Health Reform Passage

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Climate Conference unimpressed with Inholf

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‘Droopy’ Lieberman Kills Health Care Reform

America you're SCREWED, I say
Even Droopy has his day, unfortunately. In this clip from Wednesday’s “Daily Show,” Jon Stewart channels some of the primal rage induced by Sen. Joe Lieberman’s not-so-subtle stymieing behaviors during this week’s health care reform showdown in the Senate. —KA

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
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Whatever Happened to Shame?

Isn’t this what they call a crying shame?
By Ellen Goodman

Things being what they are, I’m delighted when any newspaper is hiring. And when someone lands a job in journalism, I’m ready to pop the cork. But I find it hard to swallow champagne when the New York Post signs on Ashley Dupre.

Ms. Dupre, you may recall, was the prostitute in the scandal that brought down New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer and threw another stand-by-her-man wife onto the pyre. At that time, the Post ran a one-word headline: “Hooked.” Now they have hired the hooker to be an advice columnist. This is like hiring Bernie Madoff as a personal finance columnist.
When 12 bankers were invited to the White House woodshed Monday, three didn’t make it. Bad weather delayed their flights. Well, I have one word for those bankers: Amtrak.

Yes, adultery is easier to grasp than credit-default swaps. Tiger Woods, Eliot Spitzer and John Edwards are better known than Lloyd Blankfein, John Mack and Richard Parsons (Google them!). But here’s another word for the bailout babies: shameless.

Shame, we are told, is a self-conscious emotion. But money ranks up there with fame as a self-deceptive shield. I’m no Miss Manners, but if there is any cultural norm left, it’s that you don’t do well by doing others harm.

Progressives: Don’t Scream, Organize (update)

The now bizarre habits of the Senate, we are no longer a normal democracy
Power has passed from the majority to tiny minorities, sometimes minorities of one.
In other words your "SCREWED"

Posted on Dec 20, 2009
By E.J. Dionne

Editor’s note: The following column has been revised in several places after the day’s news. The original version can be found on page 2.

For progressives, the question on the health care battle going forward is not whether they have a right to be angry but whether they can direct their fury toward constructive ends. The alternative is to pursue a temporarily satisfying and ultimately self-defeating politics of protest.

Of course what has happened on the health care bill is enraging. It’s quite clear that substantial majorities in both houses of Congress favored either a public option or a Medicare buy-in.

In a normal democracy, such majorities would work their will, a law would pass, and champagne corks would pop. But everyone must get it through their heads that thanks to the now bizarre habits of the Senate, we are no longer a normal democracy.

Because of a front of Republican obstruction and the ludicrous idea that all legislation requires a supermajority of 60 votes, power has passed from the majority to tiny minorities, sometimes minorities of one.

Worse, more influence in this system flows to those willing to kill a bill than to those who most devoutly want to pass one. The paradox in this case is that senators who care most passionately about extending health coverage to 31 million Americans have the least power.

That’s why Joe Lieberman held the whip hand in killing the idea of letting Americans 55 and older buy into Medicare. Unlike liberal senators such as Jay Rockefeller or Sherrod Brown, Lieberman was perfectly happy to see the health care proposal die if that was the price of getting himself into the spotlight.

What transpired was thus not the product of some magic show in which more conservative senators are endowed with mysteriously ingenious negotiating abilities while liberals are a bunch of bunglers. The whole system is biased to the right because the Senate itself—a body in which Wyoming and Utah have as much representation as New York and California—is tilted in a conservative direction. The 60-vote requirement empowers conservatives even more.

In light of this, the notion that letting the current health care bill perish would produce a more progressive bill later is preposterous. Anyone who wants to change or even abolish the Senate has my full support. But that is not an option now.

In the meantime, progressives such as Brown and Rockefeller are right to be fighting with all their might to push through this less than perfect but still remarkably decent proposal.

To vote against it, Rockefeller said when I caught up with him recently, “you have to be for not covering 30 million people ... you have to be for denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions ... you have to be against helping small businesses buy health insurance.” His list went on and on, pointing to the rather astonishing progress this bill makes.

Brown agrees, and suggests that progressives now need to direct their energies toward improving on the Senate’s work. Senate passage of this bill, expected later this week, will not be the final step. There will still be negotiations with the House whose plan is, in some important respects, the superior product, especially when it comes to making insurance more affordable for low- and middle-income Americans.

Robert Kuttner: Learning from Lieberman

If the health care bill goes down, the far right will add another notch to their belt, the media will paint Obama as a loser, and Obama will be even more cautious and pro-corporate going forward. If he wins, maybe he'll be a little bolder and maybe progressives can call in some IOUs. But that doesn't mean progressives in the House should just roll over and back the Senate bill. House progressives need to play the same kind of legislative hardball as turncoats like Joe Lieberman. LinkHere

Lieberman Threat: Krugman Clarifies Column After 'Management' Request

Paul Krugman has, at the apparent request of New York Times 'management,' clarified a column to make clear that he did not wish any physical harm to Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.).

Krugman wrote on December 18th that progressives should be angry about the way the Senate health care bill was compromised, but they should not try to kill the legislation.

A message to progressives: By all means, hang Senator Joe Lieberman in effigy. Declare that you're disappointed in and/or disgusted with President Obama. Demand a change in Senate rules that, combined with the Republican strategy of total obstructionism, are in the process of making America ungovernable.

But meanwhile, pass the health care bill. LinkHere

‘The American People Want To Hear Us Say No’

Pity you didn't learn to say No to the Bush Administration crimes for the last 8 years, if the word No, is so wonderful Wanker.
Coburn Admits Republicans Are Just Trying To Kill The Bill:
‘The American People Want To Hear Us Say No’
As the health care debate enters its final stages, Republicans are doing everything they can to slow the process down in order to “defeat” the Senate bill. In recent days, GOP senators have claimed they are working “in good faith” and simply want to take the time to “see a little bit of what’s in the bill.”

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), who most recently killed an attempt by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to have a debate about his single-payer health care amendment by forcing the 767-page document to be read aloud on the floor, today let truth slip out. On Washington Journal, Coburn explained that he sees the GOP’s role is to defeat the health care bill, saying “The American people want to hear us say no.” He added, “No is a wonderful word“:

COBURN: Look, there’s nothing wrong with the word no. No is a word Washington needs to hear. The American people want to hear us say no. No when we’re stealing 43 cents out of every dollar that we spend this year from our grandkids. No when we’re ignoring the Constitution. No when we’re gonna pass a bill that says you have to buy something even when it goes totally against the Constitution and the enumerated powers of our Constitution. No to socialism at every turn. … There’s nothing wrong with that word, it’s a healthy word. … No is a wonderful word.

Later this afternoon, Coburn admitted to reporters during a conference call hosted by the Republican National Committee that the goal of his party is to “kill the bill.”

Obama signs Franken’s anti-rape amendment into law.

The White House Press Office sent out a statement today announcing that President Obama signed the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2010 into law on Saturday:

H.R. 3326, the “Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2010,” which provides FY 2010 appropriations for Department of Defense (DOD) military programs including funding for Overseas Contingency Operations, and extends various expiring authorities and other non-defense FY 2010 appropriations.

Top U.S. Commander: Women Who Become Pregnant While On Active Duty Face Jailtime

Major General Anthony Cucolo, who is responsible for operations in northern Iraq, has issued a controversial new policy — which went into effect on Nov. 4 — that allows throwing women servicemembers on active duty in jail if they become pregnant:

Under the new policy, troops expecting a baby face court martial and a possible prison term – and so do the men who made them pregnant.
And the rule applies to married couples at war together, who are expected to make sure their love lives do not interfere with duty.

Usual US Army policy is to send pregnant soldiers home from combat zones within 14 days.

But Major General Anthony Cucolo, who runs US operations in northern Iraq, issued the new orders because he said he was losing too many women with critical skills. He needed the threat of court martial and jail time as an extra deterrent, he said.

All troops under his command are covered by the extension to the military’s legal code — the first time the US Army has made pregnancy a punishable offence.

Military staff judge advocates for the Army have reviewed and approved the policy. The policy is legal under military law, but it raises “a mare’s nest of legal, ethical and policy issues.” For example, while the policy does say that a man who impregnates a woman will receive equal punishment, it may be difficult to identify him unless the woman reveals who he is.

Israel admits to harvesting Palestinians' organs

Source: AP

21 December 2009, 09:44am IST

JERUSALEM: Israel has admitted that in the 1990s, its forensic pathologists harvested organs from dead bodies, including Palestinians, without permission of their families.

The issue emerged with publication of an interview with the then-head of Israel's Abu Kabir forensic institute, Dr. Jehuda Hiss. The interview was conducted in 2000 by an American academic, who released it because of a huge controversy last summer over an allegation by a Swedish newspaper that Israel was killing Palestinians in order to harvest their organs. Israel hotly denied the charge.

Parts of the interview were broadcast on Israel's Channel 2 TV over the weekend. In it, Hiss said, "We started to harvest corneas ... Whatever was done was highly informal. No permission was asked from the family."

The Channel 2 report said that in the 1990s, forensic specialists at Abu Kabir harvested skin, corneas, heart valves and bones from the bodies of Israeli soldiers, Israeli citizens, Palestinians and foreign workers, often without permission from relatives.

In a response to the TV report, the Israeli military confirmed that the practice took place. "This activity ended a decade ago and does not happen any longer," the military said in a statement quoted by Channel 2.
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