Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Economy in Crisis: GM Posts $3.3B Losses In 1st Quarter

This will mean more job losses which will make the recession worse:

General Motors Corp. struggled to a $3.3 billion first-quarter loss, due in part to a weak U.S. market, a strike at a major supplier and plummeting sales of sport utility vehicles and pickups.

The loss reported Wednesday for the January-March period, which amounted to $5.74 per share, also reflected one-time charges. It was much larger than the company's loss of $42 million, or 7 cents per share, in the same quarter a year ago.

GM said a two-month strike at American Axle and Manufacturing Holdings Inc. has cost it $800 million and 100,000 vehicles. The strike has affected 30 GM plants.

GM's loss included a $1.45 billion charge to reflect a change in the value of GM's interest in GMAC Financial Services and $731 million to increase GM's liability in Delphi Corp.'s ongoing bankruptcy.

Excluding the one-time items, GM lost $350 million, or 62 cents per share, beating Wall Street's expectations. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial had expected a loss of $1.60 per share.

GM's total revenue for the quarter was $42.7 billion, down from $43.4 billion a year ago. GM said revenues were up 20 percent outside North America thanks to strong growth in China, Russia, Brazil and India, but were impacted by the slowdown in North America and losses at GMAC.

Did I mention that bad economic news affects consumer confidence:
Soaring gas prices and weaker job prospects made Americans gloomier about the economy in April, sending a widely watched measure of consumer sentiment to a five-year low, a private research group said Tuesday.

The New York-based Conference Board said that its Consumer Confidence Index, which had plummeted in March, fell again to 62.3 in April, down from the revised 65.9 last month and 76.4 in February. While the reading was a little better than the 61.0 expected by analysts, the index remains at its weakest point since March 2003, when it registered 61.4, ahead of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

"This continued weakening suggests that not only has the feeble level of growth in the first quarter spilled over into the second quarter, but the economic conditions may have slowed even further," Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board Consumer Research Center, said in a statement. "And not only are lackluster business and job conditions eroding confidence, but rising gasoline prices are undoubtedly heightening concerns."

The Present Situation Index, which measures shoppers' current assessment of economic conditions, dropped to 80.7 in April from 90.6 in March. The Expectations Index, which measures the outlook over the next six months, was little changed at a depressed 50.1, compared to 49.4 in March.

Eroding consumer confidence foreshadows weakening consumer spending, which could further hurt the already deteriorating economy since consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of the nation's economic activity.

Investors were unfazed, however, by the fourth straight month of declines in the consumer sentiment reading. In midmorning trading, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 0.32, or less then 0.01 percent, to 12,871.43. Broader markets were narrowly lower.

The downbeat news on confidence came as the widely watched Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller index showed that housing prices dropped in February at the fastest rate ever, showing that the housing slump is gaining momentum.

Girl Thrown on Fire for Being 'Low Class'

Sadly we could be going backwards in terms of women's rights worldwide:

A man, incensed that a six-year-old girl chose to walk through a path reserved for upper caste villagers, pushed her into burning embers, police in north India said Wednesday. She was seriously burned.

The girl is a Dalit, or an "untouchable," according to India's traditional caste system.

India's constitution outlaws caste-based discrimination, and barriers have broken down in large cities. Prejudice, however, persists in some rural areas of the country.

The girl was walking with her mother down a path in the city of Mathura when she was accosted by a man in his late teens, said police superintendent R.K. Chaturvedi.

"He scolded them both and pushed her," Chaturvedi said. The girl fell about three to four feet into pile of burning embers by the side of the road.

The girl remained in critical condition Wednesday.

The man confessed to the crime and was charged with attempted murder, Chaturvedi said.

The assault took place in India's Uttar Pradesh state, about 150 km (93 miles) south of Delhi. The state is governed by Mayawati, a woman who goes by one name and is India's most powerful Dalit politician.

Her Bahujan Samaj Party seeks to get more political representation for Dalits, who are considered so low in the social order that they don't even rank among the four classes that make up the caste system.

Were have no reason to be so proud as to how we treat women in the U.S.:
One of the hundreds of young polygamist-sect members taken into state custody gave birth Tuesday to a healthy boy while child welfare officials, state troopers and fellow sect members stood watch outside the maternity ward.

"The boy is healthy and the mother is doing well," Patrick Crimmins, spokesman for the state Child Protective Services, said of the noontime birth at Central Texas Medical Center.

The mother is "younger than 18," Crimmins said, and will remain with her new son in a nearby foster-care facility until a formal custody hearing will determine the pair's fate sometime before June 5. Crimmins declined to give any other details about the girl or where she and the baby would stay.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Transcript: Obama Press Conference on Jeremiah Wright

Read the full transcript:

OBAMA: Yesterday we saw a very different vision of America. I am outraged by the comments that were made and saddened over the spectacle that we saw yesterday. I have been a member of Trinity United Church of Christ since 1992. I’ve known Reverend Wright for almost 20 years. The person that I saw yesterday was not the person that I met 20 years ago. His comments were not only divisive and destructive, but I believe that they end up giving comfort to those who prey on hate, and I believe that they do not portray accurately the perspective of the black church.

They certainly don’t portray accurately my values and beliefs. And if Reverend Wright thinks that that’s political posturing, as he put it, then he doesn’t know me very well. And based on his remarks yesterday, well, I may not know him as well as I thought either.

Now, I’ve already denounced the comments that had appeared in these previous sermons. As I said, I had not heard them before. And I gave him the benefit of the doubt in my speech in Philadelphia, explaining that he has done enormous good in the church. He has built a wonderful congregation. The people of Trinity are wonderful people, and what attracted me has always been their ministries reach beyond the church walls.

But when he states and then amplifies such ridiculous propositions as the U.S. government somehow being involved in AIDS, when he suggests that Minister Farrakhan somehow represents one of the greatest voices of the 20th and 21st centuries, when he equates the United States wartime efforts with terrorism, then there are no excuses.

They offend me. The rightly offend all Americans. And they should be denounced. And that’s what I’m doing very clearly and unequivocally here today.

Let me just close by saying this. We started this campaign with the idea that the problems that we face as a country are too great to continue to be divided, that in fact all across America people are hungry to get out of the old, divisive politics of the past.

I have spoken and written about the need for us to all recognize each other as Americans, regardless of race or religion or region of the country, that the only way we can deal with critical issues like energy and health care and education and the war on terrorism is if we are joined together.

And the reason our campaign has been so successful is because we have moved beyond these old arguments.

What we saw yesterday out of Reverend Wright was a resurfacing and, I believe, an exploitation of those old divisions. Whatever his intentions, that was the result. It is antithetical to our campaign. It is antithetical to what I am about. It is not what I think America stands for.

And I want to be very clear that, moving forward, Reverend Wright does not speak for me. He does not speak for our campaign. I cannot prevent him from continuing to make these outrageous remarks, but what I do want him to be very clear about, as well as all of you and the American people, is that when I say that I find these comments appalling, I mean it.

It contradicts everything that I am about and who I am. And anybody who has worked with me, who knows my life, who has read my books, who has seen what this campaign is about, I think, will understand that it is completely opposed to what I stand for and where I want to take this country.

Last point. I’m particularly distressed that this has caused such a distraction from what this campaign should be about, which is the American people. Their situation is getting worse. And this campaign has never been about me. It’s never been about Senator Clinton or John McCain. It’s not about Reverend Wright.

People want some help in stabilizing their lives and securing a better future for themselves and their children. And that’s what we should be talking about.

And the fact that Reverend Wright would think that somehow it was appropriate to command the stage for three or four consecutive days in the midst of this major debate is something that not only makes me angry, but also saddens me.

So with that, let me take some questions.

QUESTION: Why the change of tone from yesterday? When you spoke to us on the tarmac yesterday, you didn’t have this sense of anger and outrage.

OBAMA: Yes, I’ll be honest with you — because I hadn’t seen it yet.

QUESTION: And that was the difference you…


QUESTION: You heard the reports about the AIDS comments.

OBAMA: I had not. I had not seen the transcript. What I had heard was he had given a performance, and I thought at the time that it would be sufficient simply to reiterate what I had said in Philadelphia.

Upon watching it, what became clear to me was that it was more than just him defending himself. What became clear to me was that he was presenting a worldview that contradicts who I am and what I stand for.

And what I think particularly angered me was his suggestion somehow that my previous denunciation of his remarks were somehow political posturing. Anybody who knows me and knows what I am about knows that I am about trying to bridge gaps and that I see the commonality in all people.

And so when I start hearing comments about conspiracy theories and AIDS and suggestions that somehow Minister Farrakhan has been a great voice in the 20th century, then that goes directly at who I am and what I believe this country needs.

Obama Takes Lead in Senate Endorsements

Wasn't Hillary supposed to be very popular among her Senate colleagues:

Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) is now a more popular choice among his Democratic Senate colleagues than rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.).

Obama, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, received the backing of New Mexico Sen. Jeff Bingaman on Monday, and now leads Clinton with 14 endorsements to 13. In addition, Bingaman is the latest in a string of committee chairmen to support the Illinois senator.

While only two of Clinton’s 13 backers chair Senate committees, eight of Obama’s supporters head a panel.

“To make progress, we must rise above the partisanship and the issues that divide us to find common ground. We must move the country in a dramatically new direction,” Bingaman stated. “I strongly believe Barack Obama is best positioned to lead the nation in that new direction.”

Obama is pledging a positive campaign despite the constant attacks from the Clinton mob:
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, attempting to regain his momentum after losing the Pennsylvania primary, promised to shun negative campaigning as his race drags on against Hillary Clinton.

Obama, 46, an Illinois senator, began his drive for the nomination with a message of unity and the pledge that he wouldn't run a typical political campaign. Today, Obama said he realized his campaign had strayed in recent weeks.

``I told this to my team, you know, we are starting to sound like other folks, we are starting to run the same negative stuff,'' Obama told a crowd of about 5,000 in Wilmington, North Carolina. ``It shows that none of us are immune from this kind of politics. But the problem is that it doesn't help you.''

Obama and Clinton are campaigning in North Carolina today ahead of the state's May 6 primary. Indiana voters also go to the polls that day, and Obama said he expects to win both contests. While he continues to lead Clinton in delegates needed for the nomination, the next round of voting has taken on renewed importance since his April 22 loss to Clinton in Pennsylvania.

During the 1 1/2 hour town hall, Obama adopted a relaxed pose, shirt sleeves rolled up and a hand in one pocket for much of the time. He addressed concerns by some Democrats that the prolonged race would hurt the party in November, saying he had no doubt that the party would be united.

We need less negative campaigning more on the issues:
Differences With McCain

Both Obama and Clinton today emphasized their differences with presumed Republican nominee John McCain. Obama said he considers McCain, a former prisoner of war, a ``hero'' yet said, ``I differ with him profoundly when it comes to identifying what the country needs right now.''

Clinton criticized McCain and Obama as she proposed a windfall profits tax on oil companies to pay for a suspension of the federal tax on gasoline.

Clinton said the money from taxing oil-company profits ``would help to pay for what we need to do to continue to repair and modernize and rebuild our roads,'' while a moratorium on fuel-tax collections ``would give people during the peak driving months of the summer some temporary relief.''

She noted that Obama opposes suspending the 18.4 cents a gallon federal levy on gasoline and McCain, who proposed shelving the tax during the summer driving season, would use general revenue to replace money lost from the highway fund.

``That's a mistake,'' she said.

The economy, with the loss of a quarter-million jobs so far this year, has moved to the forefront of the presidential campaign as rising fuel costs add to pressure on consumers. The national average price of a gallon of gasoline is $3.60, up 66 cents since last year, and diesel prices average $4.24 a gallon, up from $2.92 a year ago, according to a survey by AAA.

Suspending fuel taxes would require congressional action before lawmakers take their summer recess, and previous attempts to pass a tax moratorium have failed.

McCain, 71, an Arizona senator, proposed in an April 15 economic speech a ``gas-tax holiday,'' from the May 26 Memorial Day holiday to Labor Day, which falls on Sept. 1. He also would lift the 24.4 cents a gallon tax on diesel fuel.

Obama says a fuel-tax moratorium would take money away from highway and bridge construction that the U.S. needs to spend while saving most people about $25 over the summer.

Economy in Crisis: Rice Shortages in the U.S.

While the press is talking about Rev.Wright America is experiencing unprecedented food shortages:

Reports of India and Thailand cutting exports of high-priced and fragrant gourmet rice have sent Asian families and restaurant owners in North Texas scurrying to buy what they can.

"When people see the prices, they say, 'Something is wrong,'" said Surinder Singh, owner of southwest Fort Worth's India Bazar, which specializes in South Asian and East European groceries. "Then they shop all around, even go to Arlington. When they come back, they're angry but they'll buy three 20-pound bags instead of their usual one."

Singh still has supplies, but they're getting tighter.

Costco and Sam's Club now allow a maximum of two to four institutional-size bags per customer, depending on supply.

On Saturday, Costco's Fort Worth store was sold out of both Indian basmati and Thai jasmine. And a Sam's nearby on Bryant Irvin Road has been out of basmati rice "for months," an employee said. Its Westworth store still had 20-pound bags at $15.42.

Richard Galanti, Costco's chief financial officer, said panic buying at his chain began about eight days ago in the San Francisco Bay area when a store manager limited sales to a single bag in response to a run on supplies. A local reporter who happened to be shopping wrote a story that got picked up around the region, then nationwide, spreading panic buying, he said.

For the week ending Sunday, Costco sold four times its typical volume of rice in that region, which includes Washington, Oregon, Montana, Alaska and Hawaii, Galanti told the Star-Telegram.

If that weren't bad enough, there's still the mortgage crisis:
The number of U.S. homes heading toward foreclosure more than doubled in the first quarter from a year earlier, as weakening property values and tighter lending left many homeowners powerless to prevent homes from being auctioned to the highest bidder, a research firm said Monday.

Among the hardest hit states were Nevada, Florida and, in particular, California, where Stockton led the nation with a foreclosure rate that was 6.6 times the national average, Irvine, Calif.-based RealtyTrac Inc. said.

Nationwide, 649,917 homes received at least one foreclosure-related filing in the first three months of the year, up 112 percent from 306,722 during the same period last year, RealtyTrac said.

The latest tally also represents an increase of 23 percent from the fourth quarter of last year.

RealtyTrac monitors default notices, auction sale notices and bank repossessions.

All told, one in every 194 households received a foreclosure filing during the quarter. Foreclosure filings increased in all but four states.

The most recent quarter marked the seventh consecutive quarter of rising foreclosure activity, RealtyTrac noted.
[...]The surge in foreclosure filings also suggests that much-touted campaigns by lawmakers and the mortgage lending industry aimed at helping at-risk homeowners aren't paying off.

Hope Now, a Bush administration-organized mortgage industry group, said nearly 503,000 homeowners had received mortgage aid in the first quarter. Most of the aid was temporary, however.

Pennsylvania was a notable standout in the latest foreclosure data. The number of homes in the state to receive a foreclosure-related filing plunged 24.4 percent from a year earlier.

Sharga credited the decline to the state's foreclosure relief measures, noting that cities such as Philadelphia put in place a moratorium on all foreclosure auctions for April and implemented other measures aimed at helping slow foreclosures.

Wheat prices have doubled in only a few months:
Breaking the dollar barrier "scares me," said the Bronx-born owner of Bethesda Bagels. But with 100-pound bags of North Dakota flour now above $50 -- more than double what they were a few months ago -- he sees no alternative to a hefty increase in the price of his signature product, a bagel made by hand in the back of the store.

"I've never seen anything like this in 20 years," he said. "It's a nightmare."

What's a big part of the problem:
But underlying this food inflation are changes that are transforming U.S. agriculture and making a return to the long era of cheap wheat products doubtful at best.

Half a continent away, in the North Dakota country that grows the high-quality wheats used in Fleishman's bagels, many farmers are cutting back on growing wheat in favor of more profitable, less disease-prone corn and soybeans for ethanol refineries and Asian consumers.

"Wheat was king once," said David Braaten, whose Norwegian immigrant grandparents built their Kindred, N.D., farm around wheat a century ago. "Now I just don't want to grow it. It's not a consistent crop."

Shoved aside by other crops
In the 1980s, more than half the farm's acres were wheat. This year only one in 10 will be, and 40 percent will go to soybeans. Braaten and other farmers are considering investing in a $180 million plant to turn the beans into animal feed and cooking oil, both now in strong demand in China. And to stress his hopes for ethanol, his business card shows a sketch of a fuel pump.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Columnist: "No Debate about it: Clinton's a Bully"

This from columnist, Michael Goodwin:

Debates about debates are common in campaigns, but that is no ordinary invitation Hillary Clinton is extending to Barack Obama. It's a gang-girl taunt when she tells a big rally she will go anywhere, anytime for a throwdown.

She offers to do it without a moderator, just the two of them asking and answering questions. Stripped of her gauzy spin that it could be like Lincoln-Douglas, she's really challenging him to a bareknuckle punchout. On TV.

It's what a schoolyard tough would do: Knock on a rival's door and dare him to come out and fight on the street. Right here, right now. No rules, just a slugfest, you and me.

She does it because she needs to bloody Obama to win. And because she knows she can kick his butt in a debate.

Obama says no to her because he thinks he can win the nomination without facing her. He also knows she can kick his butt one on one.

This much they agree on: She's tougher than he is. So she wins the debate on debates by demanding one that he ducks.

Welcome to yet another defining moment in the Long March toward the Democratic nomination. He's soft and wounded and she's nasty and desperate.

She's even talking about "obliterating" Iran to prove how tough she is. And she calls Dick Cheney Darth Vader!

[...]Although her fierce attacks on Obama are pushing her negative ratings into the danger zone even among Democrats, she has little choice. The delegate math is against her and time is running out. A loss in Indiana, where she should win, could finish her next week. A blowout by him in North Carolina, where he is favored, could also end it.

In fact, she could lose the nomination even if she keeps winning primaries and pulls out a narrow win in the total popular vote. That's because Obama is quietly closing in on a majority of delegates.

According to Real Clear Politics, Obama now has 1,727 total delegates to Clinton's 1,592. There are about 400 pledged delegates available in the remaining contests, with 187 up for grabs May 6.

Assume Clinton and Obama split the 400, adding 200 each to their totals. He would then have 1,927 - just 98 short of the 2,025 needed for the nomination. She would have 1,792, or 233 from a majority.

With about 300 uncommitted superdelegates left to pick the winner, Clinton would need almost 80% of them to get a majority, while Obama would need only 33%.

Bill Kristol: Hillary Clinton not Getting Respect from Press

William Kristol is one of the leaders of the neocons. He would like us to believe that his kind words for Hillary are sincere. What he won't tell you is that he and his boy, McCain, want to drag out the democratic primaries indefinitely. They would love to see her win but know that won't happen:

I normally don’t claim to speak for other members of the vast right-wing conspiracy. After all, we’re each nefarious in our own, individual way. Indeed, we often disagree with one another.

But I do think I can speak for most of my fellow right-wingers when I say this: We once looked forward with unambivalent glee to the fall of the house of Clinton. Many of us still do. But we also see the liberal media failing to give Hillary Clinton the respect she deserves [just like the kind of respect she would get during any potential general election]. So, since we conservatives believe in giving credit where credit is due [unless your running against a Republican], it falls to us to praise Hillary.

The fact is Hillary Clinton has turned out to be an impressive candidate. She has consistently defeated Barack Obama when her back was to the wall — first in New Hampshire, then in several big primaries on Super Tuesday, on March 4 in Ohio and Texas, and then last week in Pennsylvania, where she was outspent by almost 3 to 1, yet won handily.

She is, of course, still behind in the race, and Obama will most likely be the nominee. His team has run the better campaign. In particular, it realized how important the caucus states could be: Obama’s delegate lead depends on his caucus victories.

But Hillary may well be the better candidate. After all, for all the talk of Obama’s extraordinary ability to draw voters to the polls, Clinton has defeated him in the big states, including California, Texas, New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Obama won his home state of Illinois, but she won Florida, where both were on the ballot but didn’t campaign.

Furthermore, if you add up the votes in all the primaries and caucuses — excluding Michigan (where only Hillary was on the ballot), and imputing the likely actual totals in the four caucus states, where only percentages were reported — Clinton now trails in overall votes by only about 300,000, or about 1 percent of the total. By the end of the nominating contest, she may well be ahead on this benchmark — one not entirely to be scorned in a democracy.

Hillary has achieved this despite much disparagement of her candidacy by liberal commentators, and in the face of the media’s crush on Obama. Even those who started out being well disposed to Clinton have moved toward Obama, if only out of concern that the prolonged race is damaging Democratic prospects in the fall.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Bush Letter to Congress: I Can Torture If I Want to

Spoken like a true Fascist:

CIA interrogation techniques otherwise prohibited by international law might be legal in the face of an impending terrorist attack, the Justice Department says in newly disclosed letters to Capitol Hill.

The letters show that the Bush administration is taking the position that it has latitude in dealing with restrictions from the Supreme Court and Congress designed to limit how far interrogators in the U.S. intelligence community can go.

Among the issues is a Geneva Conventions ban on outrages upon personal dignity, a provision the Supreme Court ruled in 2006 applies to prisoners in American captivity.

"The fact that an act is undertaken to prevent a threatened terrorist attack, rather than for the purpose of humiliation and abuse, would be relevant to a reasonable observer in measuring the outrageousness of the act," said a Justice Department letter dated March 6.

The Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 prohibits cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

The detainee act requires an exact analysis of the circumstances in determining whether it has been violated, the department said in a separate letter.

Actions which may in one setting constitute a denial of fundamental fairness may in other circumstances fall short of a denial, said one of the Justice Department letters that relied on a decade-old Supreme Court decision.

Did I mention Bush is a lousy commander-in-chief:
Millions of dollars of lucrative Iraq reconstruction contracts were never finished because of excessive delays, poor performance or other factors, including failed projects that are being falsely described by the U.S. government as complete, federal investigators say.

The audit released Sunday by Stuart Bowen Jr., the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, provides the latest snapshot of an uneven reconstruction effort that has cost U.S. taxpayers more than $100 billion. It also comes as several lawmakers have said they want the Iraqis to pick up more of the cost of reconstruction.

The special IG's review of 47,321 reconstruction projects worth billions of dollars found that at least 855 contracts were terminated by U.S. officials before their completion, primarily because of unforeseen factors such as violence and excessive costs. About 112 of those agreements were ended specifically because of the contractors' actual or anticipated poor performance.

In addition, the audit said many reconstruction projects were being described as complete or otherwise successful when they were not. In one case, the U.S. Agency for International Development contracted with Bechtel Corp. in 2004 to construct a $50 million children's hospital in Basra, only to "essentially terminate" the project in 2006 because of monthslong delays.

Transcript: DNC Chairman Dean on Meet The Press 4-27-08

Here are some excerpts or read the complete transcript:

MR. RUSSERT: Let's look at the latest number. These are elected delegates. Barack Obama has 1491, Hillary Clinton has 1334. You need 2,025. Upcoming Democratic contests: Guam, Indiana, North Carolina, West Virginia, Kentucky, Oregon, Puerto Rico; ending on June 3rd, Montana and South Dakota. Four hundred eight delegates available with all those contests. Lastly, the so-called superdelegates, Clinton has 263, Obama has 240, and 292 remain uncommitted.

When you look at all that, how and when is this nomination fight going to end?

DR. DEAN: Well, I'm hoping it'll be over by the end of the month of June. We've made great progress in the last few weeks that I think about 50 or 60 unpledged delegates have said who they're going to be for. And, you know, it'd be a lot of fun for you if we had a divided convention with 104 ballots; it'd break the record. But the truth is we need to figure this out before the convention. We need time to heal. And actually, I'm not the most important person in terms of bringing the party together. The most important person is the, is the person who doesn't win the nomination. Because I can remember when, I can remember when I lost to John Kerry, I had to go out and convince my supporters--it took me about three months--that they needed to support Senator Kerry. I endorsed him, I campaigned for him, I went all--to all the college campuses. And that's what the person who doesn't win this, with 49 percent of the delegates, is going to have to do in order to keep the party together.

Dean puts cold water on the Clinton argument:
GOV. ED RENDELL (D-PA): The popular vote is, to me, a much fairer indicia than the pledged delegates because the pledged delegates are elected in a very undemocratic way.

(End audiotape)

MR. RUSSERT: Do you agree with that?

DR. DEAN: Well, no, I don't. First of all, I don't agree with it. And secondly, look, we have a set of rules. My job here is not to side with one candidate or the other and talk about pledged delegates or superdelegates or any of that stuff. My job is to take the rules that everybody started with and enforce the rules without fear or favor of any candidate. The--somebody's going to lose this with 49 percent of the delegates in Denver, and that person has to believe that they were treated fairly if--otherwise, we can't win. Look, John McCain is a weak candidate. He's wrong on Iraq, as far as the American people are concerned. We don't want to stay there for a hundred years. He's wrong on the economy; it wasn't the mortgage holders that, that, whose fault this was. He's wrong on healthcare. We should have health insurance for all our kids. He is not a strong candidate.

The only thing that's going to beat us is if we're not unified. And my, in order to be unified, both the losing candidate and the winning candidate have to feel like the system was fair. So Senator Rendell may say--I mean, Governor Rendell may not like the rules, but the rules are what we started with. Most of them have been in place for the last 25 years. That's what we've got to go by, whether you like the rules or you don't like the rules.

Transcript: Obama on FOXNews 4-27-08

Obama refused to appear on FOX until today. Here are excerpts or Read the entire transcript:

WALLACE: We checked - anyway. Your defeat in Pennsylvania raises new questions about your candidacy and especially about some of the pillars of the Democratic base. Let’s take a look at the numbers. Among white union households, Clinton beats you 72 percent to 28 percent. Among white Catholics, again, same margin, 72 percent to 28 percent.

Senator, why are you having such trouble convincing white, working class voters that you’re their guy?

OBAMA: Keep in mind that Senator Clinton was well-regarded in the state of Pennsylvania. Just as she was well-regarded in the state of Ohio. The fact that they voted for her shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. We started off 20 points down in that race. Just like we started 20 points down in Ohio. And we actually made significant progress there.

And when you look at the polling that’s now being done, post Pennsylvania, about how we match up in a general election, I think Senator Clinton does a couple points better than I do. But it’s not substantial. Most of those voters will vote for me.

But they are more familiar with her. They shared a - she is from a bordering state. On the other hand, in Wisconsin I won those same voters over Senator Clinton. In Virginia I won those voters over Senator Clinton. In Iowa I won those voters over Senator Clinton.

So I think - I am confident that when you come to a general election and we are having a debate about the future of this country, how are we going to lower gas prices? How are we going to deal with job losses? How are we going to focus on energy independence? Those are voters that I will be able to appeal to.

The name "Wright" appears 5 times in the interview, "Iraq" only 7 times. "housing" and "mortage" were not mentioned once:
WALLACE: Senator, you say a lot of good stuff. Reverend Wright (INAUDIBLE) are distractions from the real issues. But especially for someone like you, who’s a newcomer to the national scene, people don’t know a lot about, don’t voters have a legitimate interest in who you are and what your values are?

OBAMA: Absolutely and so the question becomes, how do voters draw conclusions about my values? Do they talk about, do they look at the 20 years in which I’ve devoted my life to community service? Do they about the work I did as a community organizer working with Catholic parishes and churches to bring people together to set up job training programs for the unemployed and the poor. That’s a reflection of my values.

Do they look at how I’ve raised my children and how I speak about my family? That’s a reflection of my values. I don’t think that the issue of Reverend Wright is illegitimate. I just think that the way it was reported was not I think a reflection of both that church that I attend and who I am.

I don’t think - let me just use another example. On flag pins, I have worn flag pins in the past. I will wear flag pins in the future. The fact that I said that some politicians use the flag pin and then aren’t acting in a particularly patriotic way, for that to someone be translated into me being anti-patriotic or anti-flag, I think that is a distraction.

I think that that is not reflective of me or the love that I have for this country. Keep in mind, I think (INAUDIBLE) the scene nationally at the Democratic convention, giving what I would say was about as patriotic a speech about what America means to me and what this country’s about as any speech that we’ve heard in a long time.

We are in a Unprecedented Worldwide Food Crisis

This from the Washington Post:

The globe's worst food crisis in a generation emerged as a blip on the big boards and computer screens of America's great grain exchanges. At first, it seemed like little more than a bout of bad weather.

In Chicago, Minneapolis and Kansas City, traders watched from the pits early last summer as wheat prices spiked amid mediocre harvests in the United States and Europe and signs of prolonged drought in Australia. But within a few weeks, the traders discerned an ominous snowball effect -- one that would eventually bring down a prime minister in Haiti, make more children in Mauritania go to bed hungry, even cause American executives at Sam's Club to restrict sales of large bags of rice.

As prices rose, major grain producers including Argentina and Ukraine, battling inflation caused in part by soaring oil bills, were moving to bar exports on a range of crops to control costs at home. It meant less supply on world markets even as global demand entered a fundamentally new phase. Already, corn prices had been climbing for months on the back of booming government-subsidized ethanol programs. Soybeans were facing pressure from surging demand in China. But as supplies in the pipelines of global trade shrank, prices for corn, soybeans, wheat, oats, rice and other grains began shooting through the roof.

At the same time, food was becoming the new gold. Investors fleeing Wall Street's mortgage-related strife plowed hundreds of millions of dollars into grain futures, driving prices up even more. By Christmas, a global panic was building. With fewer places to turn, and tempted by the weaker dollar, nations staged a run on the American wheat harvest.

Foreign buyers, who typically seek to purchase one or two months' supply of wheat at a time, suddenly began to stockpile. They put in orders on U.S. grain exchanges two to three times larger than normal as food riots began to erupt worldwide. This led major domestic U.S. mills to jump into the fray with their own massive orders, fearing that there would soon be no wheat left at any price.

"Japan, the Philippines, [South] Korea, Taiwan -- they all came in with huge orders, and no matter how high prices go, they keep on buying," said Jeff Voge, chairman of the Kansas City Board of Trade and also an independent trader. Grains have surged so high, he said, that some traders are walking off the floor for weeks at a time, unable to handle the stress.

"We have never seen anything like this before," Voge said. "Prices are going up more in one day than they have during entire years in the past. But no matter the price, there always seems to be a buyer. . . . This isn't just any commodity. It is food, and people need to eat."

Obama has Electoral Vote Advantage Come November

I plotted the general election electoral for November at the Washington Post website (you can do your own). My estimate shows Obama barely winning; but winning. The issue being Barack has to win either Ohio or Pennsylvania.

<p><strong>><a href=''>Electoral College Prediction Map</a></strong> - Predict the winner of the general election. Use the map to experiment with winning combinations of states. Save your prediction and send it to friends.</p>

Our Troops Endangered by Faulty Rifles?

If it weren't bad enough that our troops in Iraq are dying at the hands of insurgents. Now they face having to fight with guns that don't shoot:

No weapon is more important to tens of thousands of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan than the carbine rifle. And for well over a decade, the military has relied on one company, Colt Defense of Hartford, to make the M4s they trust with their lives.

Now, as Congress considers spending millions more on the guns, this exclusive arrangement is being criticized as a bad deal for American forces as well as taxpayers, according to interviews and research conducted by the Associated Press.

"What we have is a fat contractor in Colt who's gotten very rich off our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan," said Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.).

The M4, which can shoot hundreds of bullets a minute, is a shorter and lighter version of the company's M16 rifle, first used 40 years ago during the Vietnam War. At about $1,500 apiece, the M4 is overpriced, according to Coburn. It jams too often in sandy environments such as Iraq, he adds, and requires far more maintenance than more durable carbines.

"And if you tend to have the problem at the wrong time, you're putting your life on the line," said Coburn, who began examining the M4's performance last year after receiving complaints from soldiers. "The fact is, the American GI today doesn't have the best weapon. And they ought to."

[...]In 2006, a nonprofit research group surveyed 2,600 soldiers who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan and found 89 percent were satisfied with the M4. Colt and the Army have trumpeted that finding, but detractors point out that the survey also revealed that 19 percent of these soldiers had their weapon jam during a firefight.

Chicago Killings Raise Parents' Fears

What the hell is going on here? Are we seeing the disintegration our society? Then you have a worthless dynasty politician blaming the victims--the mothers:

All day, Chicago was a city on edge, with police gearing up to combat the waves of violence that have hit the city hard over the past few weeks.

Police SWAT teams are saturating the city's South Side, the area where most of the 331 shootings in the city this year have occurred. The teams are out in street patrols, backed up by helicopter surveillance.

It's their response to last weekend's shooting spree, which alone counted for an estimated 36 of those shootings, seven of them deadly.

Jitters Weatherspoon, a South Side native, said the violence in his neighborhood is forcing him and other parents to hold their children hostage in their own homes, for fear of seeing them get shot.

"That's a parent's worst dream is to have to bury their own kid and yes, it's happening. People are burying their kids," he said.

[...]A fired up Mayor Richard Daley held an emergency community meeting on Friday in which he blamed parents for letting the problem spiral out of control.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Kim Jong-il builds ‘Thunderbirds’ Runway for war in N. Korea

From The Sunday Times (UK):

North Korean military engineers are completing an underground runway beneath a mountain that can protect fighter aircraft from attack until they take off at high speed through the mouth of a tunnel.

The 6,000ft runway is a few minutes’ flying time from the tense front line where the Korean People’s Army faces soldiers from the United States and South Korea.

The project was identified by an air force defector from North Korea and captured on a satellite image by Google Earth, according to reports in the South Korean press last week.

It is one of three underground fighter bases among an elaborate subterranean military infrastructure built to withstand a “shock and awe” assault in the first moments of a war, the defector said.

The runway, reminiscent of the Thunderbirds television series, highlights the strange and secretive nature of the regime that provided the expertise for a partially built nuclear reactor in Syria, film of which was released by the CIA last week.

The reactor was destroyed by Israeli aircraft last September in an operation that may have killed or injured North Koreans at the site in the remote deserts of eastern Syria.

The airstrike appears to have convinced North Korea to harden its own defences and to spend more on its military, even as it struggles to cope with a new food shortage that could see millions of its citizens go hungry. In recent days North Korea has ordered its people to be vigilant against “warmongers”.

“The prevailing situation requires the whole party and army and all the people to get fully prepared to go into action,” North Korea’s state media said on Friday.

Although the media unleashed a volley of abuse against the United States and Lee Myungbak, South Korea’s conservative new president, it also said “sincere and constructive” negotiations on nuclear disarmament were in progress, an apparent effort to play off hawks against doves in Washington.

Olympic Torch Relay Protests In Japan

The Olympic torch can be extinguished but not the desire for human freedom:

Huge security along the route of the Olympic torch relay in Japan failed to prevent scuffles breaking out and demonstrators from attacking the flame.

More than 3,000 police were deployed in Nagano, the site of the 1998 Winter Olympics, following major disruption during the relay legs in London and Paris.

Demonstrators are keen to use the publicity surrounding the Beijing Games to highlight human rights issues in China and the occupation of Tibet.

Police guards in track suits surrounded the first runner, the manager of Japan's national baseball team, and another 100 uniformed riot police trotted alongside six patrol cars and two police lead motorcycles.

Two men tried to charge at the torch in separate incidents during the first half of the relay, but were arrested.

Another was held after throwing eggs at the flame.

Demonstrators also threw rubbish and flares towards the torch at different points, briefly holding up the relay.

Pro-Chinese supporters and protesters kicked and punched one another, leaving at least four Chinese injured, officials said.

[...]The 1,400-year-old temple, which was the showcase of the 1998 Olympics, last week declined to host the start of the relay, citing security concerns and sympathy among monks and worshippers for their religious brethren in Tibet.

After Nagano, the Olympic torch heads to South Korea, North Korea, Vietnam and Hong Kong.

If the grievances of the Tibetan people are not addressed violence could worsen and harm innocent people, including athletes attending the Olympics in China:
Interpol has warned of a "real possibility" that the Beijing Olympics will be targeted by terrorists - or that anti-China groups could attack athletes.

The warning came in the wake of the Olympic torch relay being dogged by pro-Tibet protests.

Ronald Noble, secretary general of the International Criminal Police Organisation, said: "An attempted act of terrorism is a real possibility and a real concern that all Olympic host countries have shared in recent years.

"In light of recent events, all countries whose athletes will participate and whose citizens will attend the Beijing Olympics must be prepared for the possibility that the groups and individuals responsible for the violence during the global torch relay could carry out their protests at the actual games."

He said the actions could range from disruptive behaviour, like blocking major transport routes or interfering with competitions, to more violent acts like assaulting officials or athletes or destroying property.

"Worse yet, we must be prepared for the possibility that al Qaeda or some other terrorist group will attempt to launch a deadly terrorist attack at these Olympics," he said.

The warning comes as air passengers in China will be restricted from taking more than one piece of carry-on baggage on flights from May 1.

Earlier this month, China added matches and lighters to a list of banned items on board domestic flights after what it said was plot to bring down a flight from the western region of Xinjiang.

The government has now restricted luggage allowances and also banned passengers carrying liquids on board domestic flights.

Is Bush Preparing for War with Iran?

The Bush presidency has been a total disaster. He needs something to distract the American people's attention from his failure. What is the solution? Wag the dog: start a war. Bill Clinton bombed Iraq during his Monica Lewinsky troubles. In addition, it was the neocon plan all along to overthrow the regime in Iran. They've been thwarted up to this point by the press, especially the blogs, from carrying out that dream. We'll need to stop them again:

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff accused Iran yesterday of "ratcheting up" its arms and training support to insurgents in Iraq, and warned that the United States has the combat power to strike Tehran if needed.

Adm. Mike Mullen told a Pentagon news conference the military has evidence - such as date stamps on newly found weapons caches - that shows that recently made Iranian weapons are flowing into Iraq at a steadily increasing rate.

Some of that firepower was used to support insurgents during the recent fighting in Basra in southern Iraq.

Mullen said he has seen evidence "that some of the weapons are recently not just found, but recently manufactured."

Both Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have made it clear that while all military options are on the table, they prefer to use other pressures on Iran.

"The solution right now still lies in using other levers of national power, including diplomatic, financial and international pressure," Mullen said.

Mullen also said that launching a third conflict in that region would be extremely stressing for US forces,

But "it would be a mistake to think that we are out of combat capability."

"Unusual public accusations":
U.S. military leaders have issued a series of unusual public accusations and warnings about Iran, saying they have new evidence of Iranian-backed attacks on U.S. troops as part of a broader effort to destabilize Iraq.

On Friday, the top uniformed officer in the U.S., Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen, accused Iran in a televised news briefing of increasing its shipments of weapons to militants in Iraq, in violation of its promises to stem the flow of arms.

The comments by Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, came days after angry complaints by Army Gen. David H. Petraeus and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

In addition, military officers in Iraq are planning to publicize evidence of what Mullen called Iran's "malign influence" there.

Military officials said there was no concerted U.S. campaign to intensify pressure on Iran. But taken together, the remarks represent a shift in the military's thinking. Hopes expressed last year that Iran might be tempering its involvement in Iraq seem to have evaporated, and military officials have renewed warnings about the potential for military action.

[...]Underscoring the latest tensions, a cargo vessel under contract to the Defense Department fired on a group of small boats in the Persian Gulf on Friday, briefly touching off alarm in the world energy markets. U.S. military officials said they believed the boats involved in the confrontation were Iranian, but military officials in Tehran denied the incident took place.

President Bush and officials in his administration have been accused by political opponents of using criticism of Iran to shift public attention away from the protracted war in Iraq.

U.S. intelligence experts reversed earlier assessments in December and concluded that Iran was not actively pursuing a nuclear weapons program. But in releasing classified information this week on an alleged nuclear reactor being built in Syria with the help of North Korea, the White House also warned Iran against pursuing such technology.

Here's another view from another blog:
As previously noted, Admiral Mike Mullen told a gathering at the Atlantic Council that he fears the United States and its allies “will have to deal with Iran in the very near future.” That statement left a lot of room for strategic ambiguity. He removed a bit in a press briefing yesterday, Ann Scott Tyson reports.
The nation’s top military officer said today that the Pentagon is planning for “potential military courses of action” against Iran, criticizing what he called the Tehran government’s “increasingly lethal and malign influence” in Iraq. Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said a conflict with Iran would be “extremely stressing” but not impossible for U.S. forces, pointing specifically to reserve capabilities in the Navy and Air Force. “It would be a mistake to think that we are out of combat capability,” he said at a Pentagon news conference.

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Friday, April 25, 2008

The Coming Civil War Among Democrats

Her victory in Pennsylvania guarantees Hillary Clinton will continue her destructive campaign until the convention. This assures a battle royal that could rival the chaos of the 1968 Democratic convention. Such a bloodbath would hand the election to John McCain. This might explain why some in the Democratic party are blasting the Clinton distraction:

If Democratic leaders strip Barack Obama of the nomination when he holds the lead in pledged delegates, they might as well call it "Driving Miss Hillary" - and watch as the party is torn asunder, long past the November election.

For decades, black voters have been the very core of the Democratic Party.

Without their near-total allegiance, Bill Clinton would not have served a single term, nor would Jimmy Carter have occupied the Oval Office.

Early on in this race, black voters viewed Obama as almost too good to be true, and they supported Hillary Rodham Clinton, as well.

They suspected Obama must be like all the other "black candidates" - a vent for them, but hopeless at the polls.

In the wake of Clinton's win in Pennsylvania, a new round of speculation has begun about whether to cut throats and whose to cut.

Clinton's blue-collar supporters are far more likely than Obama's black supporters to back John McCain if their candidate doesn't get the nomination, the theory goes.

Therefore, according to speculation, Democratic Party elders should dismiss Obama's advantage among "pledged" delegates - those won at the ballot box and the only true currency in this campaign - and give the nomination to Clinton.

But to be tricked now and sent once again to the back of the bus by the party they have loyally supported for decades would be a cruel, twisted insult for black Democrats.

Dem bigwigs are terrified of a convention fight and want a conclusion before then:
Democratic Party bigwigs are preparing to push superdelegates to get off the fence once state primary elections end in June, officials said yesterday.

The leaders, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, might pen a joint letter to the party insiders.

The letter would send a clear message to about 300 insiders who have stayed on the sidelines while Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama have mounted increasingly harsh attacks on each other.

"The three of us, we may write a joint letter," Reid said yesterday. "We might do individual letters."

"We need to solve this before the convention," said Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly. "The way to do that is to have the superdelegates make their choices known."

And if you think the solution is a Obama-Clinton, Clinton-Obama ticket, Speaker Pelosi poured cold water on that idea:
KING: If you had your power, would you want them to run together?



PELOSI: I don't think it's a good idea.

KING: Not a good idea?

PELOSI: No, I don't think so.

KING: Because?

PELOSI: I think that, first of all, the candidates -- whoever he or she may be -- should choose his or her own vice presidential candidate. I think that's appropriate. That's where you would see the comfort level on not only how to run, but how to govern the country. And there's plenty of talent to go around to draw upon for a good strong ticket. I'm not one of those who thinks that that's a good ticket.

KING: Really?

PELOSI: Really. KING: There's too much animosity?

PELOSI: No, I just think that -- well, let's put it this way, if they think that it's a good ticket, maybe it is. But I don't think that we should thrust the vice presidential choice onto the presidential nominee. That's her or his decision to make.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Black Congressman Denounces Bill Clinton’s Remarks

This from the NY Times blog:

The third-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives and one of the country’s most influential African-America leaders sharply criticized former President Bill Clinton this afternoon for what he called the former president’s “bizarre” conduct during the Democratic primary campaign.

Representative James E. Clyburn, an undeclared superdelegate from South Carolina who is the Democratic whip in the House, said that “black people are incensed over all of this,” referring to a series of statements that Mr. Clinton has made in the course of the heated race between his wife, Senator Hillary Clinton, and Senator Barack Obama.

Mr. Clinton was widely criticized by black leaders after he equated the eventual victory of Mr. Obama in South Carolina in January to that of the Rev. Jesse Jackson in 1988 – a parallel that many took as an attempt to diminish Mr. Obama’s success in the campaign. In a radio interview in Philadelphia Monday, Mr. Clinton defended his remarks and said the Obama campaign had “played the race card on me” by making an issue of those comments.

In an interview with The Times late Thursday, Mr. Clyburn said that Mr. Clinton’s conduct in this campaign has caused what might be an irreparable breach between Mr. Clinton and an African-American constituency that once revered him. “When he was going through his impeachment problems, it was the black community that bellied up to the bar,” Mr. Clyburn said. “I think black folks feel strongly that that this is a strange way for President Clinton to show his appreciation.”

Mr. Clyburn added that there appears to be an almost “unanimous” view among African-Americans that Mr. and Mrs. Clinton “are committed to doing everything they possibly can to damage Obama to a point that he could never win.”

The Clintons have more problems:
Hillary Clinton's campaign debt at the end of March was bigger than it appeared because she didn't list the $5 million she loaned herself, a campaign finance watchdog group reported this afternoon.

Clinton, in her filing with the Federal Election Commission, reported that her campaign had $9 million in cash on hand as of March 30, and $10 million in debts.

"The Clinton campaign itemizes its debts to vendors, totaling $10.3 million by the end of last month, but since January, when Clinton infused her campaign with $5 million, the campaign hasn't been adding in that loan when reporting its overall debt to the Federal Election Commission," the Center for Responsive Politics said.

The press is piling on Barack Obama right now. It makes for more drama. But if they were fair we would hear more about Hillary's duplicity. Obama misspeaks. Hillary lies:
Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., hit Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., for having served on the board of a Chicago nonprofit with Bill Ayers, a former member of the 1960s-era left-wing radical group the Weather Underground. "What they did was set bombs, and in some cases people died. I know Sen Obama is a good man and I respect him greatly but this is certainly something the Republicans will be raising."

Obama hit back, pointing out -- as I did in February -- that Clinton had her own ties to the group.

"President Clinton pardoned two members of the Weather Underground," Obama said, "which is a bigger deal than serving on a board with someone."

As I reported in February when the Clinton camp first raised the issue, in 2001 then-president Bill Clinton pardoned Susan Rosenberg, a Weather Underground member arrested in 1984 while unloading 740 pounds of dynamite from the back of her car.

But Clinton indeed pardoned a second -- Linda Evans, who had been convicted of several charges stemming from a series of bombings in the 1980s.

Hillary Clinton on Larry King Show 4-21-08: Transcript

An arrogant Hillary at her very best:

KING: How do you respond, Senator, to the complaints that the campaign -- both campaigns, in a sense -- have gotten so negative?

Robert Reich, the former Labor secretary in your husband's administration, a longtime friend of yours, is one of the people who says that he's now backing Obama.

Here's what he told CNN. I'd be interested in your comment.


ROBERT REICH, FORMER SECRETARY OF LABOR: But this crescendo of negative mudslinging from the Clinton camp, diverting attention from the big issues this country faces.

I just thought, I can't be silent any longer. I've got to take a stand and I've got to follow my conscience.


KING: Did that hurt you?

CLINTON: Well, I don't think that he's followed the campaign very closely, because, clearly, there has been a relentless series of attacks coming from the other side.

I've spent the vast majority of this campaign giving very specific speeches about the solutions that I offer on all of the important issues facing our country. And, in fact, the press that covers me on a regular basis, I think, is kind of bored, because I just talk about solutions and what we're going to do to get more jobs and get health care for everyone and make sure we have a clean, renewable energy future and all of the other concerns that voters talk to me about.

But in the last, you know, couple of weeks, Senator Obama's campaign has become increasingly negative. He says one thing on the stump and his campaign does something else.

I'd like nothing better than to stay focused on the differences between our health care plans. I have a plan that will get to universal health care and cover everyone and he doesn't.

I have a plan to end the home foreclosure crisis and I don't think his measures up.

So I would be really pleased to talk about a lot of the hard questions that are going to face the next president. But, you know, in a campaign, it does get sometimes back-and-forth. Actually, I think this has been, on balance, a pretty civil and positive campaign, compared to many that we've seen in the last years. And it is fair to compare and contrast the differences between us. And voters get to make up their own minds about, you know, who they can count on to make the very difficult decisions and bring about the positive results we need.

Hillary doesn't care what the people think. She is going to do whatever it takes to win, regardless of what the people think:
We have an e-mail from Collins in Riverview, Florida, who says: "I've noticed you started with the negative ads once you fell behind in the nomination race. So my question is, do you think you'd be in contention at this point if you had not gone negative?"

Now, you don't think you've gone negative.

Would you agree that a lot of the public thinks you have?

CLINTON: Well, I don't know what the public thinks. But I certainly believe that any fair reading of this campaign, the kinds of things that my opponent's campaign has said, the kind of ads that they and their allies have run, the sort of phone calls and mailings -- remember in Ohio, I had to call them out on the misleading, negative mailings that they were sending out about my health care plan and about my position to change and fix NAFTA.

And I think the people of Ohio took a hard look at who was being misleading and who wasn't, and that's why I won such an overwhelming vote in Ohio.

So I can imagine the people who only, you know, follow it from, you know, some of the snippets on TV might, you know, not be sure exactly who's saying what and what the campaigns are doing.

But the people in the states where we're competing who follow it very, very closely, I think, are well aware of, you know, who is running what kind of ads and the fact that Senator Obama is outspending me three or four to one and, you know, literally just running ads around the clock. You know, that's all part of the campaign. And at the end of the day, voters get to decide who they think would be best suited to do the tough job that the next president will face.

Economy in Crisis: Food Shortage in America?

We need to start being concerned about food shortages/hunger inside America eventhough the press and the presidential candidates are not showing concern. The Costco story is another sign of things to come:

THE panic over global food shortages and rising prices gripping developing nations has spread to the world's wealthiest countries, with giant US-based retailer Wal-Mart rationing rice sales.

Wal-Mart's warehouse chain Sam's Club became the second retailer in the US to limit bulk purchases of rice this week, citing "recent supply and demand trends". Earlier in the week, Seattle-based Costco Wholesale Corporation imposed limits in some stores on bulk rice purchases.

The extraordinary move constitutes the first time food rationing has been introduced in the US. While Americans suffered some rationing during World War II for items such as petrol, light bulbs and stockings, they have never had to limit consumption of a key food item.

World rice prices have more than doubled in the past year as demand has outstripped supply, with the drought-ravaged Australian crop blamed for contributing to the problem.

Australia's rice production has collapsed, with many farmers given a zero water allocation from the Murray River. This year's crop will be the smallest since 1960, with exports barely a 10th of recent years.

Until 2002-03, Australia exported on average 620,000 tonnes of rice a year - or 80 per cent of what it produced. But figures compiled by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics show the 2007-08 export crop will be 70,000 tonnes, with no improvement the following year.

Around the world, countries are restricting exports of rice and other grains as food prices rocket and nations move to ensure their own food security. The international price of rice has risen 118per cent in the past year despite world rice exports rising from 22.7 million tonnes in 2000 to a forecast 29.6 million tonnes this year.

Gary Helou, chief executive of Australian rice exporter Sunrice, said the accusation that the drought in Australia was causing food rationing in the US was "terribly ill-informed", saying Australia was a small player in the global rice market.

Ricegrowers' Association president Les Gordon agreed, saying prices were high due to "a straight-up case of supply and demand". "Supply has been slowly dwindling all around the world for the last 10 years, and it became apparent to our grain marketers 12 months, two years ago that it really was heading for a very low level," he said.

He is bemused by US supermarkets blaming Australia for shortages. "I can understand them having a run on rice in the supermarkets, but how they could tag that to drought in Australia is ... nonsense. None of our rice goes to America."

In Britain, rice is being rationed by shopkeepers in Asian districts to prevent hoarding.

More signs of an economy headed towards crisis:
Sales of new homes plunged in March to the lowest level in 16½ years as housing slumped further at the start of the spring sales season. The median price of a new home in March compared to a year ago fell by the largest amount in nearly four decades.

The Commerce Department reported Thursday that sales of new homes dropped by 8.5 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 526,000 units, the slowest sales pace since October 1991.

The median price of a home sold in March dropped by 13.3 percent compared to March 2007, the biggest year-over-year price decline since a 14.6 percent plunge in July 1970.

The dismal news on new home sales followed earlier reports showing that sales of existing homes fell by 2 percent in March. Housing, which boomed for five years, has been in a prolonged slump for the past two years with sales and home prices falling at especially sharp rates in formerly boom areas of the country.

For March, sales were down in all regions of the country, dropping the most in the Northeast, a decline of 19.4 percent. Sales fell by 12.9 percent in the Midwest, 12.5 percent in the Midwest and 4.6 percent in the South.

In other economic news, orders to factories for big-ticket manufactured goods fell for a third straight month in March, the longest string of declines since the 2001 recession, while applications for unemployment benefits fell by 33,000 to 342,000.

The Commerce Department said that demand for durable goods dropped by 0.3 percent last month, a worse-than-expected performance that underscored the problems manufacturers are facing from a severe economic slowdown. The last time orders fell for three consecutive months was from February to April of 2001, when the country was sliding into the last recession.

The weakness in manufacturing orders was led by a 4.6 percent drop in orders for autos, a sector that has been hard hit by soaring gasoline prices and the weakening economy, which have cut sharply into car sales. Orders in the category that includes home appliances fell by 6.6 percent. This industry has been hurt by the two-year slump in home sales.

President Bush on Tuesday said the economy was not in a recession but a period of slower growth. However, economists who believe the country has fallen into a recession pointed to the string of declines in manufacturing orders to support their view.

Israelis Claim Secret Agreement With U.S.

This story proves that Bush is an obsequious tool of the neocons and the Israeli lobby. It also proves that this President has no interest in supporting negotiations for peace between the Palestianians and the Israelis. The White House got caught and are now lying about it:

A letter that President Bush personally delivered to then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon four years ago has emerged as a significant obstacle to the president's efforts to forge a peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians during his last year in office.

Ehud Olmert, the current Israeli prime minister, said this week that Bush's letter gave the Jewish state permission to expand the West Bank settlements that it hopes to retain in a final peace deal, even though Bush's peace plan officially calls for a freeze of Israeli settlements across Palestinian territories on the West Bank. In an interview this week, Sharon's chief of staff, Dov Weissglas, said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reaffirmed this understanding in a secret agreement reached between Israel and the United States in the spring of 2005, just before Israel withdrew from Gaza.

U.S. officials say no such agreement exists, and in recent months Rice has publicly criticized even settlement expansion on the outskirts of Jerusalem, which Israel does not officially count as settlements. But as peace negotiations have stepped up in recent months, so has the pace of settlement construction, infuriating Palestinian officials, and Washington has taken no punitive action against Israel for its settlement efforts.

Israeli officials say they have clear guidance from Bush administration officials to continue building settlements, as long as it meets carefully negotiated criteria, even though those understandings appear to contradict U.S. policy.

Many experts say new settlement construction undermines the political standing of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas -- who is to meet with Bush today at the White House -- and adds to Palestinian cynicism about the peace process. Palestinians view the settlements as an Israeli effort to claim Palestinian lands, and in a meeting yesterday with Rice, Abbas said settlement construction was "one of the greatest obstacles" to a peace deal.

U.S. and Israeli officials privately argue that Israel has greatly restricted settlement growth outside the settlements it hopes to retain in a peace deal with the Palestinians, and Olmert has said Israel has stopped building new settlements and confiscating Palestinian lands.

Housing starts -- not counting the Jerusalem settlements -- have declined 33 percent since 2003, according to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics. But officials say it is politically damaging for Olmert to admit that, so instead he publicly emphasizes that he is adding to the settlements, which now house about 450,000 Israelis.

"It was clear from day one to Abbas, Rice and Bush that construction would continue in population concentrations -- the areas mentioned in Bush's 2004 letter," Olmert declared in an interview with the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, published Sunday. "I say this again today: Beitar Illit will be built, Gush Etzion will be built; there will be construction in Pisgat Ze'ev and in the Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem," referring to new settlement expansion plans. "It's clear that these areas will remain under Israeli control in any future settlement."

In a key sentence in Bush's 2004 letter, the president stated, "In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949."

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Is Israel a Friend to the U.S.?

It is rarely debated in America, the relationship between the U.S. and Israel. Anyone, especially politicians, are immediately denounced the moment they breathe a word of criticism of the Jewish state. This spying case will be no different. It will get little press coverage, and even less public debate over our support for a "friendly" country that spies on us:

Israel was tightlipped on Wednesday over the arrest in the United States of an 84-year-old American suspected of providing it with U.S. military secrets in the 1980s, a new case that has opened old wounds.

"We received an official update from the Americans. We are following the developments," Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Arye Mekel said, a day after suspect Ben-Ami Kadish made an initial appearance in a federal court in New York.

The case, linked to the Jonathan Pollard spy scandal that has been an irritant in the U.S.-Israel alliance, raised fears in Israel it would cast a pall over President George W. Bush's visit next month to celebrate the Jewish state's 60th birthday.

But Environment Minister Gideon Ezra, a former senior security official, predicted that Israel's relations with the United States would not suffer.

"Our strategic relationship with the United States is stronger than this," Ezra told Israel Radio.

Officials with inside knowledge in Israel of the country's intelligence services were not denying it may have had a second spy operating in the United States in parallel with Pollard -- but they were insisting such espionage ceased long ago.

"The Americans know ... that since Pollard was exposed in 1985, Israel doesn't recruit agents or receive classified material (in) the United States," said Yuval Steinitz, a former chairman of the Israeli parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee.

But Danny Yatom, a legislator and a former head of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency, said the current affair had touched a nerve with Washington.

"I think what primarily bothers the Americans is the feeling that Israel didn't tell them the whole truth two decades ago, in 1985, when the Pollard affair exploded," Yatom told Israeli Army Radio.

"The Americans asked if there are additional people that Israel ran or are running in the United States. The answer, to the best of my knowledge, was always no," Yatom said.

Kadish, who was released on $300,000 bail, is a Connecticut-born U.S. citizen who worked as a mechanical engineer at the Army's Picatinny Arsenal in Dover, New Jersey.

He was accused of giving Israel secrets, from 1979 to 1985, about nuclear weapons, fighter jets and missiles.

According to a federal complaint, Kadish reported to the same Israeli handler who was a main contact for Pollard, a U.S. naval intelligence analyst arrested in 1985 and sentenced in 1987 to life imprisonment for spying for Israel.

Israel has said Pollard was recruited in a rogue operation by the since-disbanded Bureau of Scientific Relations, then headed by Rafi Eitan, now pensioners minister.

U.S. authorities did not disclose what led to their discovery of Kadish's suspected espionage.

But they said he had remained in contact with his alleged handler, who left the United States when Pollard was detained and has not returned.

Clinton "Victory Enough to Keep Destructive Campaign Going"

This columnist gets what most in the press keep missing, Hillary is still in this race regardless of what's good for the Democrats. And more importantly, Ms.Clinton wants to make sure that if she doesn't win that Obama loses so she can run in 4 years:

Here's the simple reality of this corrosive slugfest: Hillary Clinton can't win, but she's convinced Barack Obama just might lose.

So unless her cash-starved campaign can't raise or borrow enough to compete, her Pennsylvania victory keeps her in, and she will ratchet up her slash-and-burn tactics that have driven her negatives up but thrown Obama off his game.

[...]Her Keystone State margin was sufficient to keep her alive, but not nearly enough to change the trajectory of the campaign.

Barring an utter collapse by Obama, or a double-barreled win by him in Indiana and North Carolina in two weeks, this war of attrition will end June 3 with the Illinois senator ahead in contests won, popular vote and pledged convention delegates.

Against that headwind, even some of her closest confidants recognize her prospects of pulling off the upset remain minuscule.

[...]Obama's dominant position is all the more significant because he's just stumbled through the worst two months of his campaign.

[...]Meanwhile, John McCain and his handlers smile beatifically from the sideline, savoring the spectacle of Clinton writing their November attack ads for them.

"She's going to lose the nomination, and he's going to lose the election," a dispirited Hillary loyalist despaired.

Here's another column that has it right:
Hillary Clinton's final ad in Pennsylvania was the opening round of a desperate end game that won't be pretty to watch.

The ad - perhaps the source of her respectable if not overwhelming victory - was an attempt to scare voters into supporting her, complete with an image of Osama Bin Laden and an ominous question about who could be trusted to handle another terrorist attack.

The point of Clinton's ad, and her oft-stated position - that she alone is tough enough to handle the Bin Ladens of the world - would mean a lot more if she could handle the skinny kid from Illinois, who remains on track to win the nomination.

But the extraordinary ad signaled that Clinton's most plausible path to the nomination is a knockout blow that has nothing to do with winning over actual voters. She's relying on some scandal, gaffe or act of self-destruction to disqualify Barack Obama as a candidate.

And with the Bin Laden ad, Clinton made clear that she'll throw as much mud as possible to score that knockout.

"A win is a win," is what Hillary Clinton said early Tuesday, hours before the polls closed. True enough.

But as always when dealing with the Clintons, even a simple statement requires an asterisk, a footnote and careful parsing.

Despite Clinton's victory, the fact remains that Obama has won twice as many states as Clinton and racked up an all-but-insurmountable lead in delegates and popular votes. If Clinton wins every remaining state by the same margin as Pennsylvania, she loses.

[...]You would also have to ignore the fact that Obama has nearly matched her in the count of uncommitted superdelegates and currently holds more than four times as much campaign cash.

This unconvincing "my wins good, your wins bad" argument is what Team Clinton has been reduced to, barely 90 days after Hillary predicted she would lock up the nomination by early March.

The 200 or so remaining superdelegates who haven't pledged to either candidate probably won't buy it.

According to exit polls, two-thirds of Pennsylvania voters believe Clinton waged unfair attacks during the primary campaign, far more than said Obama had taken the low road.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Our Failure: U.S. 5% World Population, 25% of Prisoners

We have failed as a society when so many of our citizens are locked-up in prisons. Something is very wrong. We are throwaway society that puts commercial gain above social and spiritual advancement:

The United States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population. But it has almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners.

Indeed, the United States leads the world in producing prisoners, a reflection of a relatively recent and now entirely distinctive American approach to crime and punishment. Americans are locked up for crimes — from writing bad checks to using drugs — that would rarely produce prison sentences in other countries. And in particular they are kept incarcerated far longer than prisoners in other nations.

Criminologists and legal scholars in other industrialized nations say they are mystified and appalled by the number and length of American prison sentences.

The United States has, for instance, 2.3 million criminals behind bars, more than any other nation, according to data maintained by the International Center for Prison Studies at King’s College London.

China, which is four times more populous than the United States, is a distant second, with 1.6 million people in prison. (That number excludes hundreds of thousands of people held in administrative detention, most of them in China’s extrajudicial system of re-education through labor, which often singles out political activists who have not committed crimes.)

San Marino, with a population of about 30,000, is at the end of the long list of 218 countries compiled by the center. It has a single prisoner.

The United States comes in first, too, on a more meaningful list from the prison studies center, the one ranked in order of the incarceration rates. It has 751 people in prison or jail for every 100,000 in population. (If you count only adults, one in 100 Americans is locked up.)

The only other major industrialized nation that even comes close is Russia, with 627 prisoners for every 100,000 people. The others have much lower rates. England’s rate is 151; Germany’s is 88; and Japan’s is 63.

The median among all nations is about 125, roughly a sixth of the American rate.

There is little question that the high incarceration rate here has helped drive down crime, though there is debate about how much.

[...]The spike in American incarceration rates is quite recent. From 1925 to 1975, the rate remained stable, around 110 people in prison per 100,000 people. It shot up with the movement to get tough on crime in the late 1970s. (These numbers exclude people held in jails, as comprehensive information on prisoners held in state and local jails was not collected until relatively recently.)

The nation’s relatively high violent crime rate, partly driven by the much easier availability of guns here, helps explain the number of people in American prisons.

“The assault rate in New York and London is not that much different,” said Marc Mauer, the executive director of the Sentencing Project, a research and advocacy group. “But if you look at the murder rate, particularly with firearms, it’s much higher.”

Despite the recent decline in the murder rate in the United States, it is still about four times that of many nations in Western Europe.

But that is only a partial explanation. The United States, in fact, has relatively low rates of nonviolent crime. It has lower burglary and robbery rates than Australia, Canada and England.

People who commit nonviolent crimes in the rest of the world are less likely to receive prison time and certainly less likely to receive long sentences. The United States is, for instance, the only advanced country that incarcerates people for minor property crimes like passing bad checks, Mr. Whitman wrote.

Efforts to combat illegal drugs play a major role in explaining long prison sentences in the United States as well. In 1980, there were about 40,000 people in American jails and prisons for drug crimes. These days, there are almost 500,000.

Transcript: Clinton Interview with Keith Olbermann 4-21-08

Hillary Clinton had the nerve to appear on Countdown and get interviewed by Keith Olbermann, who has eviscerated her over the last few weeks. Here's the complete transcript:

OLBERMANN: Let’s start with something that got remarkably short shrift in last week’s debate.

Is the election in the fall, in your estimation, going to be decided on the price of a gallon of gas and is it not true that a president can’t really do anything about the price of a gallon of gas?

CLINTON: Well, I think it’s going to be very much influenced by the economy. I don’t know what else might happen between now and then but it appears to me that the economy is not going to recover and in fact the price of gas is going to be a big issue. I think oil hit $117 a barrel today which is just unbelievable. When George Bush became president it was $20 a barrel.

I do think there are things that we can do in the short run. I would, if I were president, launch an investigation to make sure that there’s not market manipulation going on. I am still haunted by what we learned during the Enron scandal about those electricity traders manipulating the market and causing the people in California, Oregon and Washington to pay such high prices that were not at all related to supply and demand.

Hillary threatens Iran:
OLBERMANN: You mentioned the oil suppliers and that obviously leads us into something else that really flew by during the debate that seemed awfully important. In that debate you were asked about a hypothetical Iranian attack on Israel and your hypothetical response as commander in chief and you said, let me read the quote exactly, “I think that we should be looking to create an umbrella of deterrence that goes much further than Israel. Of course I would make it clear to the Iranians that an attack on Israel would include massive retaliation from the United States but I would do the same with other countries in the region.”

Can you clarify since there was no follow-up to that which hypothetical Middle East conflicts would incur massive retaliation by this country and what constitutes massive retaliation?

CLINTON: Well, what we were talking about was the potential for a nuclear attack by Iran. If Iran does achieve what appears to be its continuing goal of obtaining nuclear weapons — and I think deterrence has not been effectively used in recent times. We used it very well during the Cold War when we had a bipolar world — and what I think the president should do and what our policy should be is to make it very clear to the Iranians that they would be risking massive retaliation were they to launch a nuclear attack on Israel.

What about the Swiftboat tactics you are employing against Obama, Hillary:
OLBERMANN: Not to equate nuclear conflict or its use as a deterrent to the Pennsylvania primary but that is the other headline, I suppose, of the day. Let me ask you about the campaign and something you said in Pittsburgh today and again, let me read the quote about being president: “It’s the toughest job in the world and you have to be ready for anything. Two wars, skyrocketing oil prices, an economy in crisis. Well, if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.”

That is almost word for word the narration of this new ad that your campaign put out today, and that ad flashes a very brief image of Osama bin Laden. For nearly six years now since Sen. Max Cleland was cut down by a commercial that featured a picture of bin Laden, that tactic has been kind of a bloody shirt for many Democrats. Is it not just, in your opinion, as much of a scare tactic for a Democrat to use it against another Democrat, as it is for a Republican to use it in a race against the Democrat?

CLINTON: Well, first of all, that ad is about leadership, and I obviously believe I do have the leadership experience and qualities to become the president and the commander in chief. And as you said in the beginning, lots of times important issues get short shrift in the back-and-forth in a campaign.

Pentagon Increasing Recruitment of Ex-Cons as Soldiers

In order to fight his wars George Bush's needs more bodies. You have to get from somewhere since so many have been slaughtered in Iraq. Doesn't matter to King George who they are and whether those same felons will turn around and shoot up their neighborhoods as gang members:

The Army and Marines last year doubled the number of convicted felons they enlisted, raising new concerns about the strain on the military from fighting two wars.

About 861 enlistees convicted of felony assault, burglary, possession of hard drugs and even rape and other sex crimes went into uniform for the first time last year, a House panel reported Monday.

The Army and Marines recruited 115,000 men and women in 2007, two years after reports first surfaced about enlistment standards being watered down to meet quotas.

"Concerns have been raised that the significant increase in the recruitment of persons with criminal records is a result of the strain put on the military by the Iraq war and may be undermining military readiness," said House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).

In 2006, the regular Army granted 249 waivers to felons so they could join up. But the number jumped to 511 last year, Waxman said, citing statistics provided by the Pentagon's top personnel official, David Chu.

The Marines went from 208 waivers to 350 during the same period, Waxman said.

Those numbers are even higher if active-duty and Army Reserve waivers for those charged with felonies who were never convicted are factored in.

Army Recruiting Command spokesman Douglas Smith said the Army uses a 16-step review process to "look at the whole person" seeking to enlist - and the waivers are signed by generals.

As to why waivers have increased, Smith said, "There are more and more young people getting caught up in the criminal justice system than in the past."

"I won't say the military is desperate" to meet Pentagon recruiting goals, said defense analyst John Pike of, "but they're eager to explore any available avenue."

Some in the Army say the consequence of recruiting more felons is lack of trust and cohesion in the ranks. Other officers argue that soldiers with criminal records often succeed in combat because they're risktakers.

And if Bush starts a war with Iran he will need those extra soldiers:
DEFENCE Secretary Robert Gates said he believes Iran is 'hell-bent' on acquiring nuclear weapons, but he warned in strong terms of the consequences of going to war over that.

'Another war in the Middle East is the last thing we need and, in fact, I believe it would be disastrous on a number of levels,' he said in a speech he was delivering on Monday evening at the US Military Academy at West Point, New York.

[...] He said he favours keeping the military option against Iran on the table, 'given the destabilising policies of the regime and the risks inherent in a future Iranian nuclear threat, either directly or through proliferation.'

Mr Gates also said that if the war in Iraq is not finished on favorable terms, the consequences could be dire.

'It is a hard sell to say we must sustain the fight in Iraq right now, and continue to absorb the high financial and human costs of this struggle, in order to avoid an even uglier fight or even greater danger to our country in the future,' he said.

He added, however, that the US experience with Afghanistan - helping the Afghans oust Russian invaders in the 1980s only to abandon the country and see it become a haven for Osama bin Laden's terrorist network - makes it clear to him that a similar approach in Iraq would have similar results.

Mr Gates said the US military was not organised or equipped for the kind of wars it finds itself in today.

'The current campaign has gone on longer, and has been more difficult, than anyone expected or prepared for at the start,' he said. 'And so we've had to scramble to position ourselves for success over the long haul, which I believe we are doing.'