Thursday, December 31, 2009


Thursday, December 31, 2009 
It's pathetic to break a New Year's resolution before we even get to New Year's Day, but here I go. I had promised myself that I would do a better job of ignoring Dick Cheney's corrosive and nonsensical outbursts -- that I would treat them, more or less, like the pearls of wisdom one hears from homeless people sitting in bus shelters.

But he is a former vice president, which gives him a big stage for his histrionic Rottweiler-in-Winter act. It is never a good idea to let widely disseminated lies and distortions go unchallenged. And the shrill screed that Cheney unloosed Wednesday is so full of outright mendacity that, well, my resolution will have to wait.

In a statement to Politico, Cheney seemed to be trying to provide talking points for opponents of the Obama administration who -- incredibly -- would exploit the Christmas Day terrorist attack for political gain. Cheney's broadside opens with a big lie, which he then repeats throughout. It is as if he believes that saying something over and over again, in a loud enough voice, magically makes it so.

"As I've watched the events of the last few days it is clear once again that President Obama is trying to pretend we are not at war," Cheney begins.

Flat-out untrue.

The fact is that Obama has said many times that we are at war against terrorists. He said it as a candidate. He said it in his inaugural address: "Our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred." He has said it since.

As Cheney well knows, unless he has lost even the most tenuous grip on reality, Obama's commitment to warfare as an instrument in the fight against terrorism has won the president nothing but grief from the liberal wing of his party, with more certainly to come. Hasn't anyone told Cheney that Obama is sharply boosting troop levels in Afghanistan in an attempt to avoid losing a war that the Bush administration started but then practically abandoned?

Cheney knows this. But he goes on to use the big lie -- that Obama is "trying to pretend we are not at war" -- to bludgeon the administration on a host of specific issues. Here is the one that jumps out at me: The president, Cheney claims, "seems to think that if he closes Guantanamo and releases the hard-core al Qaeda-trained terrorists still there, we won't be at war."

Interesting that Cheney should bring that up, because it now seems clear that the man accused of trying to blow up Northwest Flight 253, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was given training -- and probably the bomb itself, which involved plastic explosives sewn into his underwear -- by al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen. It happens that at least two men who were released from Guantanamo appear to have gone on to play major roles as al-Qaeda lieutenants in Yemen. Who let these dangerous people out of our custody? They were set free by the administration of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

The former vice president expresses his anger that the Obama administration is bringing Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the architect of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, to trial in New York. Cheney is also angry that Obama does not use the phrase "war on terror" all the time, the way the Bush administration used to. But Obama just specifies that we're at war against a network of terrorists, on the sensible theory that it's impossible to wage war against a tactic.

Toward the end of his two-paragraph statement, Cheney goes completely off the rails and starts fulminating about how Obama is seeking "social transformation -- the restructuring of American society." Somehow, this is supposed to be related to the president's alleged disavowal of war -- which, of course, isn't real anyway. It makes you wonder whether Cheney is just feeding the fantasies of the paranoid right or has actually joined the tea-party fringe.

I can find reasons to criticize the administration's response to the Christmas Day attack. Obama and his team were slow off the mark. Their initial statements were weak. Obama shouldn't have waited three days to speak publicly, and when he did he should have shown some emotion.

But using a terrorist attack to seek political gain? I have a New Year's resolution to suggest for Cheney: Ahead of your quest for personal vindication, put country first.

Sunday, December 27, 2009


2009: The Year Wall Street Bounced Back and Main Street Got Shafted

by Robert Reich

In September 2008, as the worst of the financial crisis engulfed Wall Street, George W. Bush issued a warning: "This sucker could go down." Around the same time, as Congress hashed out a bailout bill, New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg, the leading Republican negotiator of the bill, warned that "if we do not do this, the trauma, the chaos and the disruption to everyday Americans' lives will be overwhelming, and that's a price we can't afford to risk paying."

In less than a year, Wall Street was back. The five largest remaining banks are today larger, their executives and traders richer, their strategies of placing large bets with other people's money no less bold than before the meltdown. The possibility of new regulations emanating from Congress has barely inhibited the Street's exuberance.

But if Wall Street is back on top, the everyday lives of large numbers of Americans continue to be subject to overwhelming trauma, chaos and disruption.

It is commonplace among policymakers to fervently and sincerely believe that Wall Street's financial health is not only a precondition for a prosperous real economy but that when the former thrives, the latter will necessarily follow. Few fictions of modern economic life are more assiduously defended than the central importance of the Street to the well-being of the rest of us, as has been proved in 2009.

Inhabitants of the real economy are dependent on the financial economy to borrow money. But their overwhelming reliance on Wall Street is a relatively recent phenomenon. Back when middle-class Americans earned enough to be able to save more of their incomes, they borrowed from one another, largely through local and regional banks. Small businesses also did.

It's easy to understand economic policymakers being seduced by the great flows of wealth created among Wall Streeters, from whom they invariably seek advice. One of the basic assumptions of capitalism is that anyone paid huge sums of money must be very smart.

But if 2009 has proved anything, it's that the bailout of Wall Street didn't trickle down to Main Street. Mortgage delinquencies continue to rise. Small businesses can't get credit. And people everywhere, it seems, are worried about losing their jobs. Wall Street is the only place where money is flowing and pay is escalating. Top executives and traders on the Street will soon be splitting about $25 billion in bonuses (despite Goldman Sachs' decision, made with an eye toward public relations, to defer bonuses for its 30 top players).

The real locus of the problem was never the financial economy to begin with, and the bailout of Wall Street was a sideshow. The real problem was on Main Street, in the real economy. Before the crash, much of America had fallen deeply into unsustainable debt because it had no other way to maintain its standard of living. That's because for so many years almost all the gains of economic growth had been going to a relatively small number of people at the top.

President Obama and his economic team have been telling Americans we'll have to save more in future years, spend less and borrow less from the rest of the world, especially from China. This is necessary and inevitable, they say, in order to "rebalance" global financial flows. China has saved too much and consumed too little, while we have done the reverse.

In truth, most Americans did not spend too much in recent years, relative to the increasing size of the overall American economy. They spent too much only in relation to their declining portion of its gains. Had their portion kept up -- had the people at the top of corporate America, Wall Street banks and hedge funds not taken a disproportionate share -- most Americans would not have felt the necessity to borrow so much.

The year 2009 will be remembered as the year when Main Street got hit hard. Don't expect 2010 to be much better -- that is, if you live in the real economy. The administration is telling Americans that jobs will return next year, and we'll be in a recovery. I hope they're right. But I doubt it. Too many Americans have lost their jobs, incomes, homes and savings. That means most of us won't have the purchasing power to buy nearly all the goods and services the economy is capable of producing. And without enough demand, the economy can't get out of the doldrums.

As long as income and wealth keep concentrating at the top, and the great divide between America's have-mores and have-lesses continues to widen, the Great Recession won't end -- at least not in the real economy.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

From Truthout

We Won Round One on Health Care



There are widespread opinions out there on the Senate version of health care reform. I understand people's frustration with how "Traitor Joe" Lieberman and "Ben Arnold" Nelson held the Senate bill hostage. A robust public option would have been a great start to the real reforms needed to fix our broken health care system. Traitor Joe and Ben Arnold succeeded; there will not be a robust public option.

Many progressive groups have not given up on getting a public option this time around. Putting energy into pressuring Congress to come out of conference with the public option restored is a waste of valuable resources. One group goes as far as calling for the Democrats to call Lieberman's bluff and force him to filibuster the old-fashioned way by holding the floor for days. The problem with that is the need for 60 votes in the Senate has not gone away with the Christmas Eve passage of the Senate bill.

When the House and the Senate complete their next task and merge the two bills, the final version will go back to the Senate and the House for a final vote. While it is true that there can be no amendments and the final bill is not subject to debate, it is subject to one more cloture motion in the Senate. If the Senate doesn't reach 60 votes on that motion, they can't vote on final passage.

With the need for 60 votes in the Senate, the reality is the final bill coming out of conference will look a lot like the bill that passed the Senate. If the House version of the public option comes out of conference, I believe Traitor Joe and his 40 GOP Republican colleagues would kill the bill.

I know many groups are telling people that after conference there is only a need for 51 votes. They are wrong; I thought the same thing in August only to have many Congressional sources tell me I was wrong. Over the last few days, I confirmed the continued need for 60 votes with Senator Reid's office as well as Senators Levin and Feingold.

Many are saying it's better to just let the bill die and start over. I disagree, and here is why.

Access to the Same Options as Members of Congress

Does everyone remember cheering when many Democratic Party candidates for president called for allowing the American people to buy into the same insurance plans as members of Congress? Bill Bradley was the first; I seem to remember Howard Dean, John Edwards and John Kerry proposing the same thing. I know that it was in most of President Obama's stump speeches last year. It's in the Senate bill - well, not exactly.

Remember the confusion when most were reporting the public option was dead and Harry Reid unsuccessfully tried to deny that, saying there was still a public option in the bill? He wasn't referring to the Medicare expansion; he was referring to the compromise on the public option. It wouldn't be a total public option; private insurers, at least one of which would be a nonprofit, would offer national plans that would be administered by the same government agency that administers the federal employee health plan. That is what members of Congress have, so it is what President Obama and many past Democratic Party candidates campaigned on for the last decade.

It is not as good as the public option in the House bill, but it is better than what we have today.

Needed Reforms
  • It will be illegal to deny people based on pre-existing conditions; that, in itself, is a major reform.
  • There will a cap on out-of-pocket expenses.
  • Small businesses will be able to buy from a national exchange, giving them increased buying power.
  • A new benefit will allow workers to buy into a plan that will provide them a cash benefit if they become disabled and need in-home care.
  • Access to Medicaid will be increased to people making 130 percent to 150 percent of the poverty level; the percentage will be worked out in conference.
  • There will be limits on insurance company profits, requiring that 85 percent of revenues be spent on delivering health care.
  • If insurance companies exceed those limits and more than 15 percent go to advertising, profit etc., they would have to pay rebates to those they insure.
  • The Senate bill requires all insurers to fully cover federally recommended preventive health services, such as immunizations, colonoscopies and HIV testing.
  • Insurers would not be allowed to rescind a policy for someone who gets sick.
  • State and federal regulators would be required to review rate increases and determine if they are justified.
Let's face it, if this bill was the first offer and we were not teased by the "robust public option," we would all be ecstatic.

Reform Doesn't End With the President's Signature

FDR has a legacy as a great reformer, but let's not forget that Social Security was weakened to get it through Congress, and then reformed over the years to make it a better program.

Advocates for universal health care need to continue to fight until every American has full health care coverage. There are short-term fights that can be waged right away: How about eliminating the three-year exemption on pre-existing conditions? Let's make it an election-year issue to make the law outlawing denial of coverage based on pre-existing conditions go into effect immediately instead of in 2014. Expanding access to Medicare to younger Americans would be a powerful election-year tool; let's make Republicans come out on the record against that without the ability to hide behind other parts of a larger bill.

I understand everyone's frustration, but let's get strategic and accept this as a first-round win, and continue to fight until the American people get what we deserve: universal health care delivering as good an outcome at as good a cost as other industrialized countries. Until someone proves me wrong, I believe that means single payer.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Anniversary of TVA Coal Ash Spill as Forgotten as the Disaster Itself

by: Glynn Wilson, t r u t h o u t | Report
On the third day before Christmas in 2008, the people living along the Emory River in East Tennessee were listening to songs about a "white Christmas" like everybody else in the country, trying to look forward and not back. A new president had been elected--that's what people were thinking about--after eight long years of war and unprecedented corruption, as well as the increasing economic hardship that was squeezing the middle class like a juggernaut.

Instead of a white Christmas, though, people like Steve Scarborough of the Dagger Kayak and Canoe Company woke up to a black-gray mess of epic proportions, a river full of toxic coal ash from the Tennessee Valley Authority's coal-fired power plant at Kingston, Tennessee.

"There are no excuses for this," Scarborough said. "One of the dumbest thing humans do is dig coal out of the ground and burn it."

The largely affluent population of the area demanded action and an immediate cleanup of the largest environmental disaster in American history in the lower 48 states, second only to the Exxon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska, in the spring of 1989. So within four months, by March 20, TVA began dredging the mountain of coal ash out of the river and shipping it by train to a landfill in the poor Black Belt of Alabama.

One year later, on the first anniversary of the second worst environmental disaster in American history, while the people in Tennessee are hiring lawyers and suing TVA and reading story after story in the local newspapers about their plight while the cleanup continues, the poor people of Perry County, Alabama, where TVA found a place to dump the toxic ash, are not singing Christmas carols. They are locked in their homes with their air conditioners running even in winter, trying to stay out of the gaseous fumes from the landfill where the coal ash is piling up on top of household garbage by the freight train load.

There's not a newspaper or a TV station anywhere around telling their story, and most of them are so poor and living in such a remote, rural area that they can't even turn to the Internet, either to voice their concerns and get organized or find out what's going on to help them, if there is anything. They are not hearing much out of their local government officials or the congressman elected to represent them either, so they are living in the dark with a nagging fear for the future.

North of the landfill, other residents with nowhere to go to escape the gaseous smell from the liquid waste being dumped from the landfill into a nearby lagoon, are hooked up to oxygen tanks and wondering where in the world the birds have gone.

There's not even an organized environmental group to help them within a hundred miles, so their cause has fallen to John Wathen, the Hurricane Creekkeeper in Tuscaloosa to the north, who has been making the trip down periodically to monitor the water and document what is clearly an environmental justice situation with major ecological and sociological implications.

"TVA officials want you to believe the 1.1-billion-gallon coal ash spill at their Kingston plant was due to an 'act of God,'" Wathen says. ‚"And now Perry County Commissioner Albert Turner Jr. calls receiving the toxic ash a 'godsend.'"

County commissioners and even the congressman from the district who wants to be Alabama's first black governor, Artur Davis, have done nothing to represent the poor people who are living with the coal ash in their air and water. In fact, they have said the money being pumped into the county coffers from landfill tipping fees is providing much-needed revenue to one of the poorest counties in the country.

According to Wathen, however, "The truth is that this toxic disaster is neither an act of God or a godsend." It is a nightmare before Christmas.

"While his constituents are complaining of malodorous gases and respiratory problems, Turner is issuing a clarion call to bring more toxic waste to Perry County - and with it $3.5 million for the county government," Wathen says. "The truth is that nothing says clean coal like dirty money."
The disaster that ruined the Emory River was 100 percent manmade, the result of a lax regulatory structure where the waste from coal-fired power plants was not managed at all. TVA, Southern Company and other power companies have been piling the ash up for years alongside rivers and streams, even getting rid of some of it by encouraging farmers to dump it on their land.

That practice has all but stopped now, however. When the makeshift retaining wall failed in Kingston, sending out a mountain of ash to fill up a six-mile stretch of one of the most pristine rivers in the Southeastern US like a giant volcanic lava flow, it was a wakeup call to federal regulators. Although to date, the federal Environmental Protection Agency has taken no steps to classify coal ash in any regulated category.

According to environmental lawyer David Ludder, who has filed documents indicating an intent to sue the Arrowhead Landfill in Perry County if something is not done to contain the air and water pollution from impacting the health of nearby residents, there is a problem with regulating coal ash as hazardous waste.

If the EPA were to declare tomorrow that the waste should be disposed of in a hazardous waste landfill, that could stop the shipments from the Tennessee and potentially halt the massive cleanup itself. So Ludder believes the EPA will at some point classify the ash as solid waste, "due to the widespread impact of the cost."

Even if that is the result, landfills that accept the waste must still manage the liquid waste in a responsible manner, which is obviously not being done in Marion, Alabama.

Contractors hired by TVA to dredge the Emory River are loading as much as 30 percent water in the plastic-lined train cars. Some experts say transporting the ash wet is better than moving it dry, which would just cause the toxic substances in the waste to get airborne and affect even more people.

What to do with the liquid is seriously problematic. Since a stink was raised about the liquid waste a few weeks ago, shipments of the co-called "leachate" have stopped going to a nearby lagoon sewer system that is already overrun with waste from a local cheese factory. Landfill company managers and county officials are trying to negotiate deals for other sewer systems in nearby communities such as Demopolis to take the liquid, but there are concerns about lawsuits, so neighboring communities are reluctant to get involved.

Since the lagoon controversy was uncovered and reported on by The Locust Fork News-Journal, an alternative, independent news web site, Wathen has taken photographs at night showing landfill workers pumping liquid runoff from the landfill into contiguous ditches and even onto the road in front of peoples' houses. It is at night and when trucks dump their loads that people say the odor is the worst.

Ruby Holmes, 80, has lived here all her life. She said when she tries to sleep with her window cracked, "This odor wakes me up at night." When asked to describe the odor, she says, "It smells like some kind of gas. It gets all through my house and smells like rotten eggs. I'm very concerned about my health. I'm breathing this stuff. It's going into my lungs."
Ms. Holmes used to grow a garden on the rich land of the Black Belt, but recently she has given up the practice.

She has seen buzzards coming from the landfill "pooping" in her garden, so she is reluctant to eat the vegetables. She didn't even plant a garden this year. She has also noticed a bad smell in her well water - "an old smell like it has been sitting there for a long time," she said.
She has lived in the same place her entire life and used to enjoy a cup of coffee on the front porch in the morning. Now, she says, it is "not much of a life at all. Nobody listens."

Jackie Fike, who lives near the treatment plant and lagoon where some of the wastewater from the landfill is being dumped and whose wife is now forced to stay inside on oxygen most of the time, said he used to see a lot of birds around.

"We hardly have a bird now,‚" he said. "This stuff is about to kill a lot of fish, a lot of people."

According to Ludder and Wathen, who has test results from water samples to back it up, the coal ash contains numerous toxic, radioactive and carcinogenic compounds such as arsenic, chromium, lead, mercury, thorium and uranium. The cancer risk to elderly folks and children who drink water contaminated with arsenic from coal combustion waste is 900 times higher than EPA's recommended level of risk.

"The unfortunate thing all around is that the government that was supposed to protect the people, once again, is not doing it,‚" Ludder said. "And the people have to face the consequences."

Since the disaster one year ago, the Kingston "disaster ash," as it is known here, "has spread like a cancer across the Southeast," Wathen says. "It has now come into contact with eight river systems."

That includes the Emory, Clinch and Tennessee Rivers, which run into the Mississippi. The waste is shipped to Perry County, where the Arrowhead Landfill drains to the Alabama River, then to the Tombigbee River. Leachate created by the wet ash is trucked to Marion, Alabama, where it was discharged into Rice Creek and other streams that flow into the Cahaba River. Now, since some of the liquid is being trucked to Demopolis, it too ends up being discharged into the Tombigbee River, which ends up flowing into the Mobile River.

"Just like the cancer it carries with it," Wathen says, "this ash has impacted people in places who have never heard of Kingston, Tennessee, destroying their quality of life and peace of mind."

Watch a ten minute video about the situation here:

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Senate Passes Historic Health Insurance Reformed Bill 60 to 39


Senate Democrats passed a historic health insurance reform bill this morning that may one day define President Barack Obama's Presidency.

The 60-39 vote on Christmas Eve morning closed months of arduous negotiations and floor debates. It also follows a succession of failures by past congresses to get to this point.

Vice President Joe Biden presided as 58 Democrats and two independents voted "yes." And, 39 Republicans voted "no."

The Senate bill must now be merged with the House bill before President Obama can sign a final bill. There are significant differences between the two bills.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

From the News Hour

In an excerpt of President Obama's PBS NewsHour interview with Jim Lehrer Wednesday, the president says of the Senate's health care reform bill that while he is "never completely satisfied" he is "very satisfied," with the measure at hand.

From New York Times

Op-Ed Columnist

Is There a Real McCain? 

By MAUREEN DOWD 

Published: December 22, 2009


The Maverick’s buck stops here.

John McCain is no longer the media’s delight and his party’s burr, bucking convention with infectious relish.

The man used to be such a constructive independent that some of his Republican Senate colleagues called him a traitor. Now he’s such a predictable obstructionist that he’s in the just-say-no vanguard with the same conservatives who used to despise him.

On Tuesday afternoon on the floor, Senator Mitch McConnell, who contemptuously fought McCain’s campaign finance reform bill all the way to the Supreme Court, oozed admiration toward his Arizona colleague, as McCain did yet another grandstanding fandango on the health care bill.

Watching him, one can only wonder: Is McCain betraying his best self? Who is the real McCain?

Even some of McCain’s former aides are disturbed by the 73-year-old’s hostile, vindictive, sarcastic persona — a far cry from The Honorable Man portrait so lovingly pumped up in books by his former aide and co-writer Mark Salter.

After he lost to W. in a nasty primary battle in 2000, McCain delighted in poking at the new Republican president. But he was a trenchant critic of W.’s budget-busting tax cuts and other policies because his objections were consistent and honestly felt. (Or so we thought.)

Now he delights in attacking another man he ran against and lost to: a new Democratic president who had once hoped, based on McCain’s past positions, that his former Republican rival might be of help in such areas as the economy, national security, immigration and climate change.

With President Obama, McCain’s objections seem motivated more by vendetta than principle.

He angrily turned on his former base, the news media, during his campaign when his lame performance on the economy and his irresponsible choice of Sarah Palin got panned.

In 2000, McCain would devilishly point out Tom Brokaw or a Times journalist to town hall audiences as “one of the last Trotskyites, left-wing, Communist, pinkos of the American media.”

In 2008, he snarled to political aides about journalists whom he had once admired, like Brokaw and Charlie Gibson, and he cut off The Times completely. He talks about the media betrayal with the same outsize scorn that he once reserved for his Viet Cong captors.
The famous twinkle is gone, replaced by an infamous bitterness.

After his 2008 race against Obama — a campaign that too often took the low road in toadying to the right and painting Obama as a socialist and terrorist fellow-traveler — the capital eagerly waited to see which McCain would return to the Capitol.

Would McCain be the new lion of the Senate, putting “Country First” for a historic final chapter to his long career? Or would he morph into the sort of knee-jerk Congressional partisan he had once loathed?

Sadly, despite the scary trellis of problems America faces, the unorthodox, brave and cheeky McCain failed to show up.

Part of his sharp turn to the right may be motivated by his primary challenge for a fifth term from J.D. Hayworth, a conservative, anti-immigration talk-show host and former Republican House member (who has also been anti-Times at times).

But he has said himself that it’s more about philosophical differences with President Obama.
Unlike his pal Lindsey Graham, who voted to confirm Sonia Sotomayor, McCain seemed motivated by revenge when he voted against Obama’s first Supreme Court nominee.

“An excellent résumé and an inspiring life story are not enough to qualify one for a lifetime of service on the Supreme Court,” McCain sniffed.

McCain, who once led the fight in the Senate with his pal Joe Lieberman on enacting a global warming bill, shocked many when he flipped on the issue, attacking climate legislation supported by Lieberman, Graham and John Kerry.

McCain has also descended into demagoguery on Medicare. Although he has been in favor of Medicare reductions to cut the deficit over years, he’s now adopted a rigid hands-off Medicare stance.

He rejected the idea of being a point man on immigration in the Senate, apparently preferring to stew.

A couple of times, during floor speeches on health care this month, the Arizona senator noted “that a fight not joined is a fight not enjoyed.”

It seemed to be an inadvertent recognition that he was fighting for the sake of it, not to help the country get past some of the hideous problems left by the man McCain failed to stop in 2000.

Maybe an excellent résumé and an inspiring life story are not enough to qualify one as a real statesman.
President Obama Promised

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee today unveiled a new add accusing the President of abandoning the principles of his health insurance reform. The add shows Obama  rejecting the efficacy of an individual mandate and insisting that a public option for insurance be part of the final legislative package.


News from Tribe of Heart
Producers of PEACEABLE KINGDOM: THE JOURNEY HOME and THE WITNESS
Tribe of Heart's new online Screening Room makes it easier than ever to give the Gift of Compassion!

TOH Screening Room
The Witness now available for FREE online viewing in English and Spanish
Dear friends,
Think about what it means each time just one person has that “aha” moment, when she or he comes to understand that using others, however “normal” it may seem, is simply wrong, and that we can choose a better path. Think about how many lives are touched in turn by just one such changed person...
For nearly a decade, The Witness has been bringing that “aha” moment to people of all ages and backgrounds, its timeless message of justice and compassion losing none of its impact over the years.

One of the most common responses we receive from people who have just seen The Witness is, "I wish everyone could see this film."
Today, that wish is closer to a reality with the launch of Tribe of Heart's new online Screening Room, which currently offers The Witness for free online viewing in both English ( closed captions available) and Spanish (both subtitled and dubbed). Ten additional languages will be released in the coming months.
If you haven’t seen The Witness before, or if it has been a while since you last viewed it, please visit Tribe of Heart's new Screening Room, watch the film and be inspired by this story of one man’s remarkable change of heart. Then explore the What You Can Do section of the web site, where viewers of the film can learn more and take immediate action with easy-to-use, state-of-the-art tools for inviting others to view the film and for spreading the word about the availability of this powerful new resource.

The Screening Room is designed to remove barriers of language, cost, convenience and access, all of which slow down the changes our planet so desperately needs. It was also designed to present this life-changing film in a context that multiplies the educational impact and helps launch visitors on a journey of exploration and service.

Every movement toward justice, whether individual or global in scale, starts with a single step, a decision to act on behalf of those who are more vulnerable than ourselves. Eddie made that decision in The Witness, and so can all of us.
We filmed The Witness during the holiday season in Manhattan, so it feels fitting to have the first phase of this international project completed in time to offer it as our holiday gift to all of you. We welcome your feedback -- it has always informed our work and inspired us to create the best possible tools for transformative change.
Thank you for all you do. Have a happy, healthy holiday!
Warm wishes,
James LaVeck and Jenny Stein
Co-Founders, Tribe of Heart
Jenny Stein & James LaVeck


PK on DVD Spring '10
Coming soon: In the next couple weeks, we will be sending you an update about Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home, including film festival highlights and details of the DVD release, which we are planning for Spring, 2010.
Thanks to all of you for your patience in waiting for the DVD. We know it's been hard for some of you! Gathering written and verbal feedback from festival audiences around the country has greatly enhanced our understanding of how people are perceiving the film, and what refinements to make in order to be sure the viewing experience is as positive and effective as it can be for the widest range of viewers. We can say with certainty that this process has improved the project, and we now look forward to bringing all the remaining details together for the DVD to be launched in the Spring.
Very special thanks...
Eric HuangFrequent visitors to Tribe of Heart’s web sites over the last two years will have noticed a dramatic transformation. Site by site, page by page, Tribe of Heart team member Eric Huang, who is also an associate producer of Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home, has used his artistry and professional design skills to create a world class online presence for our projects. The online Screening Room is Eric’s latest design masterpiece, offering an elegant, understated look that is a perfect match for The Witness.
Italia MillanAs the online Screening Room launches, Spanish-speaking visitors will be benefiting from the talent and hard work of Italia Millan, Tribe of Heart's new International Coordinator, who personally translated the Screening Room interface into Spanish as well as the HumaneMyth slide shows that accompany El Testigo (The Witness) on the online Screening Room. Italia has also been coordinating the efforts of our team of dedicated volunteer translators to bring the Screening Room experience into ten additional languages to be released in the coming months.
We would also like to thank our team of evaluators and testers, who helped correct errors and suggested many improvements during the final preparations for the launch of the Screening Room initiative: Kevin Smith (associate producer of Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home), Pam Page, Jeff Boghosian, and Louie Gedo.
Finally, we would like to thank Eddie Lama for entrusting us with his amazing story and for all the many ways he has helped Tribe of Heart and inspired our efforts over the years.


Start changing hearts and minds right now!
Making a life-changing difference is within the power of each of us, but only if we take that first step. We encourage you to watch The Witness, share it with your friends, family and colleagues, and tell as many people as you can about the Screening Room and the transformative experience it offers. Once you get started, you may find that you are amazed at what you can accomplish!
1. Send an invitation for a free online viewing to the people in your life
Screening Room evite Sharing The Witness person-to-person is a direct and often very gratifying way to inspire positive change. If enough of us share this film's message, together we can create a wave of change that will travel around the world! Our invitation system makes it really easy to get started. Try it! English or Spanish
2. Use your social networking tools to inform people about this new online resource and urge them to watch The Witness
Social Networking Whether you have a blog, Facebook page, MySpace page, Twitter account, or any other kind of online social networking capability, you can make a difference by telling people about The Witness and directing them to the Screening Room web site. You can access these and many other options by clicking here: Bookmark and Share
3. Help publicize The Witness with a TribeWidget

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From New York Times

Plan to Move Guantánamo Detainees Faces New Delay



Published: December 22, 2009

WASHINGTON — Rebuffed this month by skeptical lawmakers when it sought finances to buy a prison in rural Illinois, the Obama administration is struggling to come up with the money to replace the Guantánamo Bay prison.

As a result, officials now believe that they are unlikely to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and transfer its population of terrorism suspects until 2011 at the earliest — a far slower timeline for achieving one of President Obama’s signature national security policies than they had previously hinted.

While Mr. Obama has acknowledged that he would miss the Jan. 22 deadline for closing the prison that he set shortly after taking office, the administration appeared to take a major step forward last week when he directed subordinates to move “as expeditiously as possible” to acquire the Thomson Correctional Center, a nearly vacant maximum-security Illinois prison, and to retrofit it to receive Guantánamo detainees.

But in interviews this week, officials estimated that it could take 8 to 10 months to install new fencing, towers, cameras and other security upgrades before any transfers take place. Such construction cannot begin until the federal government buys the prison from the State of Illinois.

The federal Bureau of Prisons does not have enough money to pay Illinois for the center, which would cost about $150 million. Several weeks ago, the White House approached the House Appropriations Committee and floated the idea of adding about $200 million for the project to the military spending bill for the 2010 fiscal year, according to administration and Congressional officials.

But Democratic leaders refused to include the politically charged measure in the legislation. When lawmakers approved the bill on Dec. 19, it contained no financing for Thomson.

The administration will probably not have another opportunity until Congress takes up a supplemental appropriations bill for the Afghanistan war. Lawmakers are not likely to finish that bill until late March or April.

Moreover, the administration now says that the current focus for Thomson financing is the appropriations legislation for the 2011 fiscal year. Congress will not take that measure up until late 2010.

Frustrated by the difficulties in obtaining financing from Congress, administration officials had discussed invoking a little-known statute that would allow the president to declare a national emergency and then use military funds allocated for other construction projects to buy and retrofit the Illinois prison.

That statute, however, has never been used for a project quite like this one. Fearing that lawmakers would be angered by such a move and could respond by erasing the statute, the administration decided not to invoke it.

Matthew Waxman, who was assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs in the Bush administration, said the Obama administration would need lawmakers’ support for its long-term post-Guantánamo plans. Invoking emergency powers to unilaterally buy Thomson, he said, would be “poking Congress in the eye in a way that would be very counterproductive.”

Still, it is not clear that Congress will be willing to approve money enabling the transfer of Guantánamo detainees to domestic soil — especially as the 2010 midterm election campaign heats up, with the likelihood that Republicans will pick up seats.

This year, Congress restricted the ability of the executive branch to transfer detainees into domestic prisons, a ban reiterated in the 2010 military appropriations bill.

The Thomson proposal enjoys strong support from Illinois Democrats, including Gov. Patrick J. Quinn and Senator Richard J. Durbin, who have hailed the idea as a means of creating jobs. More than 300 people turned out Tuesday in Sterling, Ill., for a hearing on the proposal, The Associated Press reported, and emotions ran high among people on each side of the proposal.

The White House has argued that closing Guantánamo would enhance national security by removing a symbol used by terrorist recruiters. It also said the closing would save taxpayers money because the Defense Department pays $150 million a year to operate the Guantánamo prison on the naval base there, while running the Illinois prison would cost $75 million.

Ben LaBolt, a White House spokesman, said Mr. Obama remained committed to closing the Guantánamo prison, adding, “We will continue to work with Congress to ensure that we secure the necessary funds to purchase and upgrade the Thomson prison, which will operate at a substantially lower cost to taxpayers, next year.”

But many Republicans oppose closing Guantánamo, arguing that housing the detainees on United States soil would create unnecessary security risks. Some crucial moderate Democrats are also skeptical.

Representative Ike Skelton of Missouri, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, is said to have privately expressed doubts to administration officials about the plan. Another member of that committee, Representative Loretta Sanchez, Democrat of California, also raised security and legal questions about the proposal.

“Particularly making something on U.S. soil an attraction for Al Qaeda and terrorists to go after — inciting them to attack something on U.S. soil — that’s a problem, and we need to think it through,” Ms. Sanchez said in an interview Tuesday.

In the Senate, Jim Webb, Democrat of Virginia, has argued that the problem with Guantánamo has been its lack of due process rights, not its physical location. He said recently that terrorism suspects “do not belong in our country, they do not belong in our courts, and they do not belong in our prisons.”

Mr. LaBolt pointed out that the detainee population was now smaller than it had been at any time since 2002, and that on other fronts in the effort to close Guantánamo, “substantial progress has been made in recent weeks.”

For example, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. recently announced the first sets of civilian and military prosecutions for 10 detainees, and more such announcements are expected soon.

Last week, the United States transferred six detainees to Yemen in a trial program of repatriation to that country. About 91 of the roughly 200 detainees at Guantánamo are Yemeni; many are not considered “high value” suspects, but officials have been reluctant to repatriate them because of security conditions in Yemen.

Still, Congressional resistance to approving money for Thomson represents a steep hurdle toward dealing with the detainees who the administration has decided can neither be prosecuted nor safely transferred to the custody of other countries.

Indeed, Mr. Waxman said, the debate is certain to set off discussions on an issue that could drive away many civil-liberties-minded Democrats who have voiced initial support for Mr. Obama’s Thomson plan: the administration’s intention to imprison some detainees on United States soil without trials. “Some members of Congress may want to support rapid closure of Guantánamo but not to signal support for broad military detention powers,” Mr. Waxman said.
Senator Burris's Night Before Christmas

Despite his previous threats to oppose any bill that lacked a strong public health insurance option, Senator Roland Burris (D-Ill.) chose an unusual way to demonstrate his support for the health insurance reform bill.

"As this debate draws to a close and my colleagues and I prepare to vote on a health care reform bill," Burris said, "I recognize the long hours and tense negotiation have left some nerves and tempers frayed, that's why I come to the floor today."

"Although our work keeps us away from our family and friends for much of this holiday season, I see no reason why we can't share good cheers with one another right here in Washington. So in the spirit of the season, Mr. President, I would like to share my own version of a classic holiday story with my good friends on both sides of the aisle. And it goes something like this":

Mr. President: T'was the night before Christmas . . .




T'was the night before Christmas, and all through the Senate
The right held up our health care bill, no matter what was in it
The people had voted a mandated reform
But Republicans blew off the gathering storm
We'll clog up the Senate, they cried with a grin
And in the midterm elections, we'll get voted in
They knew regular folks needed help right this second
But fundraisers, lobbyists and politics beckoned
So try as they might, Democrats could not win
Because the majority was simply too thin
Then across every state there rose such a clatter
The whole senate rushed out to see what was the matter
All sprang up from their desk and ran from the floor
Straight through the cloakroom and right out the door
And what in the world would be quite so raucous?
But a mandate for change from the Democratic caucus
The president, the Speaker, of course Leader Reid
Had answered the call in our hour of need
More rapid than eagles, the provisions they came
And they whistled and shouted and called them by name
Better coverage, cost savings, a strong public plan [sic]
Accountable options. We said, 'Yes, we can.'
No exclusions or changes for preexisting conditions
Let's pass a bill that restores competition
The Democrats all came together to fight
For the American people that Christmas Eve night
And then in a twinkle, I heard under the dome
The roll call was closed, and it was time to go home
Despite the obstructionist tactics of some
The filibuster had broken, the people had won
And a good bill was ready for President Obama
Ready to sign and end health care drama
Democrats explained as they drove out of sight
Better coverage for all, even our friends on the right.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Tearful Teabagger Fears His Prayers Have Caused Inhofe's Death

A tearful teabagger called into C-SPAN, fearing that Republican Senator James Inhofe, who skipped today's health care cloture vote, had died because he and other teabaggers had taken Republican Senator Tom Coburn's advice and prayed to God that some Democratic Senator would not show up for the health care vote:



The tearful teabagger's fear that he had prayed Inhofe to death would be funny, if it were not so delusional. Senator Barasso's response, however, that it doesn't really matter whether or not his fellow Republicans like Inhofe showed up to vote, was hilarious.

George Carlin: The Ten Commandments

From Wikipedia

The Real Rain Man Dies


Kim Peek, the inspiration for the character of Raymond Babbitt, played by Dustin Hoffman,  in the movie Rain Man, died today of a heart attack. He was born November 11, 1951 and was an American prodigious savant known as a megasavant.  He had a photographic or eidetic memory, but also social developmental disabilities, possibly resulting from congenital brain abnormalities. He was not autistic and likely had FG syndrome.

Kim Peek was born with macrocephaly, damage to the cerebellum, and, perhaps most important, agenesis of the corpus callosum, a condition in which the bundle of nerves that connects the two hemispheres of the brain is missing; in Peek's case, secondary connectors such as the anterior commissure were also missing. There is speculation that his neurons made other connections in the absence of a corpus callosum, which results in an increased memory capacity.

According to Peek's father, Fran, Peek was able to memorize things from the age of 16-20 months. He read books, memorized them, and then placed them upside down on the shelf to show that he had finished reading them, a practice he maintained. He read a book in about an hour, and remembered almost everything he had read, memorizing vast amounts of information in subjects ranging from history and literature, geography, and numbers to sports, music, and dates. His reading technique consisted of reading the left page with his left eye and the right page with his right eye and in this way he could read two pages at time with a rate of about 8-10 seconds per page. He could recall the content of some 12,000 books from memory.

Peek resided in Salt Lake City, Utah and was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Unlike many savants, Peek had shown increasing social skills, perhaps due to the attention that had come with being perceived as the "real Rain Man". His father says that his sense of humor had been emerging since 2004 or so. Also, he had developed well beyond the stage of being a mere repository of vast amounts of information; his skills at associating information he remembers were at least one of the signs of creativity. He displayed difficulty with abstractions such as interpreting the meanings of proverbs or metaphorical terms of speech.

Although never a musical prodigy, Peek's musical abilities as an adult were receiving more notice when he started to study the piano. He apparently remembered music he heard decades ago and could play it on the piano, to the extent permitted by his limited physical dexterity. He was able to give running spoken commentary on the music as he played, for example, comparing a piece of music to other music he had heard. In listening to recordings he could distinguish which instruments play which part and was adept at guessing the composers of new music by comparing the music to the many thousands of music samples in his memory.
Conyers Committed to Improving Health Care Bill in Conference Committee 


The following statement was issued today by Representative John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) responding to the Senate’s historic vote to end debate and pave the way for a vote on final passage of comprehensive health insurance reform legislation:

"Last night’s vote in the Senate should be applauded for what it was, an affirmative statement that comprehensive health care reform legislation should not be held captive any longer by a select few. As this legislation moves towards its constitutionally mandated reconciliation with the House of Representatives, I want to make it clear that this legislation does not adequately address the problems that plague our current system.  It needs more improvement."

"I can only support legislation that provides quality health care that will remain affordable for working class Americans and does not exclude those who need it most. I believe it is immoral to continue to allow the private health insurance industry to remove or deny citizens coverage when they are battling a long term illness.  It is important that the repeal of the industry’s antitrust exemption is a component of the Senate Bill to prevent the continued development of monopolies throughout the country."

"For years, many workers chose to forgo wage increases in exchange for helping their employers offer comprehensive health care plans. The Senate’s efforts to tax these plans will hurt working families and directly contradict the President’s pledge that individuals who like the health coverage they have will be able to keep it."

"I am committed to ensuring that the purpose of the health care conference is not to adopt and confirm the Senate legislation in its present form but to combine and retain the better parts of both Bills."

click on photo

Email from the President

Dee --

Early this morning, the Senate made history and health reform cleared its most important hurdle yet -- garnering the 60 votes needed to move toward a final vote in that chamber later this week.

This marks the first time in our nation's history that comprehensive health reform has come to this point. And it appears that the American people will soon realize the genuine reform that offers security to those who have health insurance and affordable options to those who do not.

I'm grateful to Senator Harry Reid and every senator who's been working around the clock to make this happen. And I'm grateful to you, and every member of the Organizing for America community, for all the work you have done to make this progress possible.

After a nearly century-long struggle, we are now on the cusp of making health insurance reform a reality in the United States of America.

As with any legislation, compromise is part of the process. But I'm pleased that recently added provisions have made this landmark bill even stronger. Between the time when the bill passes and the time when the insurance exchanges get up and running, insurance companies that try to jack up their rates do so at their own peril. Those who hike their prices may be barred from selling plans on the exchanges.

And while insurance companies will be prevented from denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing conditions once the exchanges are open, in the meantime there will be a high-risk pool where people with pre-existing conditions can purchase affordable coverage.

A recent amendment has made these protections even stronger. Insurance companies will now be prohibited from denying coverage to children immediately after this bill passes. There's also explicit language in this bill that will protect a patient's choice of doctor. And small businesses will get additional assistance as well.

These protections are in addition to the ones we've been talking about for some time. No longer will insurance companies be able to drop your coverage if you become sick and no longer will you have to pay unlimited amounts out of your own pocket for treatments that you need.

Under this bill families will save on their premiums; businesses that would see their costs rise if we don't act will save money now and in the future. This bill will strengthen Medicare and extend the life of the program. Because it's paid for and gets rid of waste and inefficiency in our health care system, this will be the largest deficit reduction plan in over a decade.

Finally, this reform will extend coverage to more than 30 million Americans who don't have it.

These are not small changes. These are big changes. They're fundamental reforms. They will save money. They will save lives.

And your passion, your work, your organizing helped make all of this possible. Now it's time to finish the job.

Thank you,

President Barack Obama

Monday, December 21, 2009

Stock Prices for the Health Insurance Industry Have Shot Through the Roof
by Dee Newman

The Senate's version of health insurance reform is obviously being seen by investors as a massive public subsidy for the insurance industry and individual companies. Every since Senator Lieberman announced on October 27 that he would filibuster any Senate health insurance reform bill that included a public option, stock prices for the industry have shot through the roof.

The following is a brief breakdown of major health insurance company stock performance from Oct. 27 to Friday's market close:
* Coventry Health Care, Inc. is up 31.6 percent;

* CIGNA Corp. is up 29.1 percent;

* Aetna Inc. is up 27.1 percent;

* WellPoint, Inc. is up 26.6 percent;

* UnitedHealth Group Inc. is up 20.5 percent;

* And Humana Inc. is up 13.6 percent.


Source: Google Finance

The Health Insurance Industry has already begun to claim victory. The pay off for Republicans and conservative Democrats, Lieberman and Nelson,  from the industry will be enormous.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

From Truthout

Stunning Statistics About the War Every American Should Know


A hearing in Sen. Claire McCaskill’s Contract Oversight subcommittee on contracting in Afghanistan has highlighted some important statistics that provide a window into the extent to which the Obama administration has picked up the Bush-era war privatization baton and sprinted with it. Overall, contractors now comprise a whopping 69% of the Department of Defense’s total workforce, “the highest ratio of contractors to military personnel in US history.” That’s not in one war zone—that’s the Pentagon in its entirety.

In Afghanistan, the Obama administration blows the Bush administration out of the privatized water. According to a memo [PDF] released by McCaskill’s staff, “From June 2009 to September 2009, there was a 40% increase in Defense Department contractors in Afghanistan.  During the same period, the number of armed private security contractors working for the Defense Department in Afghanistan doubled, increasing from approximately 5,000 to more than 10,000.”

At present, there are 104,000 Department of Defense contractors in Afghanistan. According to a report this week from the Congressional Research Service, as a result of the coming surge of 30,000 troops in Afghanistan, there may be up to 56,000 additional contractors deployed. But here is another group of contractors that often goes unmentioned: 3,600 State Department contractors and 14,000 USAID contractors. That means that the current total US force in Afghanistan is approximately 189,000 personnel (68,000 US troops and 121,000 contractors). And remember, that’s right now. And that, according to McCaskill, is a conservative estimate. A year from now, we will likely see more than 220,000 US-funded personnel on the ground in Afghanistan.

The US has spent more than $23 billion on contracts in Afghanistan since 2002. By next year, the number of contractors will have doubled since 2008 when taxpayers funded over $8 billion in Afghanistan-related contracts.

Despite the massive number of contracts and contractors in Afghanistan, oversight is utterly lacking. “The increase in Afghanistan contracts has not seen a corresponding increase in contract management and oversight,” according to McCaskill’s briefing paper. “In May 2009, DCMA [Defense Contract Management Agency] Director Charlie Williams told the Commission on Wartime Contracting that as many as 362 positions for Contracting Officer’s Representatives (CORs) in Afghanistan were currently vacant.”

A former USAID official, Michael Walsh, the former director of USAID’s Office of Acquisition and Assistance and Chief Acquisition Officer, told the Commission that many USAID staff are “administering huge awards with limited knowledge of or experience with the rules and regulations.” According to one USAID official, the agency is “sending too much money, too fast with too few people looking over how it is spent.” As a result, the agency does not “know … where the money is going.”

The Obama administration is continuing the Bush-era policy of hiring contractors to oversee contractors. According to the McCaskill memo:
In Afghanistan, USAID is relying on contractors to provide oversight of its large reconstruction and development projects.  According to information provided to the Subcommittee, International Relief and Development (IRD) was awarded a five-year contract in 2006 to oversee the $1.4 billion infrastructure contract awarded to a joint venture of the Louis Berger Group and Black and Veatch Special Projects.  USAID has also awarded a contract Checci and Company to provide support for contracts in Afghanistan.
The private security industry and the US government have pointed to the Synchronized Predeployment and Operational Tracker(SPOT) as evidence of greater government oversight of contractor activities. But McCaskill’s subcommittee found that system utterly lacking, stating: “The Subcommittee obtained current SPOT data showing that there are currently 1,123 State Department contractors and no USAID contractors working in Afghanistan.” Remember, there are officially 14,000 USAID contractors and the official monitoring and tracking system found none of these people and less than half of the State Department contractors.

As for waste and abuse, the subcommittee says that the Defense Contract Audit Agency identified more than $950 million in questioned and unsupported costs submitted by Defense Department contracts for work in Afghanistan. That’s 16% of the total contract dollars reviewed.

Friday, December 18, 2009