Wednesday, September 29, 2010

From NY Daily News

Americans don't know much about religion, especially their own ones, new study finds

Tuesday, September 28th 2010, 12:46 PM
A study shows that less than half of Americans know the Dalai Lama 
is Buddhist.

A study shows that less than half of Americans know the Dalai Lama is Buddhist.

Holy cow, Americans are ignorant about their own religions.

In a new survey released Tuesday, more than 50% of Protestants asked did not know that Martin Luther sparked the Reformation, according to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Additionally, 45% of Roman Catholics did not know that the bread and wine used in Communion is meant to become the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

Just four in 10 Jewish people know that the great rabbi Maimonides, was Jewish himself.

Overall, atheists and agnostics posted the highest scores, with an average of 21 correct answers in the 32-question test.

Jews and Mormons each averaged 20 correct answers. Protestants and Catholics finished in the bottom with 16 and 15 correct answers, respectively.

Also revealed in the study is that less than half of Americans know the Dalai Lama is Buddhist. Even less know that Vishnu and Shiva are Hindu gods.

Click here to take the test.

By-the-way, I scored 100% and I'm an atheist.

From You Tube (Emmy Rossum)

Emmy Rossum Sings Slow Me Down

Monday, September 27, 2010

From YouTube

 Martha Argerich Chopin Piano Concerto 1 -1/4

Maryland's Race for the Cure and the Geese Group

On Thursday I will, once again, be traveling to Baltimore to help Phil Fratesi and the Geese Group coordinate and direct Maryland’s Race for the Cure for the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

Years ago Phil described to me the phenomenon of how a flock of geese, flying in a “V” formation, added lift and greater flying range than if each bird flew alone – how a shared direction and a sense of community can accomplish a task quicker and easier.  He told me he wanted to create a working group based on this simple principle of sharing leadership while accomplishing difficult tasks – that people like geese are, in fact, interdependent on each other’s skills, abilities, talents, and resources.

He described how when a goose falls out of formation, it instantly experiences the resistance of flying alone, loosing the advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front of it.

He described how when the lead goose becomes tired, it rotates back into the formation and another goose flies to the point position

He described how geese when flying in formation honk to encourage those up front to maintain their momentum, how when a goose is incapacitated in any way, two other geese drop out of the formation and follow it down to assist and protect it, staying with it until it dies or is able to fly again. He maintained, people like geese need and deserve encouragement and support and when it is provided, the quality of production is always superior.

Another Morning Walk (Photos)

From Robert Reich's Blog

Republican Economics as Social Darwinism

Sunday, September 26, 2010

John Boehner, the Republican House leader who will become Speaker if Democrats lose control of the House in the upcoming midterms, recently offered his solution to the current economic crisis: “Liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate the farmer, liquidate real estate. It will purge the rottenness out of the system. People will work harder, lead a more moral life.”

Actually, those weren’t Boehner’s words. They were uttered by Herbert Hoover’s treasury secretary, millionaire industrialist Andrew Mellon, after the Great Crash of 1929.

But they might as well have been Boehner’s because Hoover’s and Mellon’s means of purging the rottenness was by doing exactly what Boehner and his colleagues are now calling for: shrink government, cut the federal deficit, reduce the national debt, and balance the budget.

And we all know what happened after 1929, at least until FDR reversed course.

Boehner and other Republicans would even like to roll back the New Deal and get rid of Barack Obama’s smaller deal health-care law.

The issue isn’t just economic. We’re back to tough love. The basic idea is force people to live with the consequences of whatever happens to them.

In the late 19th century it was called Social Darwinism. Only the fittest should survive, and any effort to save the less fit will undermine the moral fiber of society.

Republicans have wanted to destroy Social Security since it was invented in 1935 by my predecessor as labor secretary, the great Frances Perkins. Remember George W. Bush’s proposal to privatize it? Had America agreed with him, millions of retirees would have been impoverished in 2008 when the stock market imploded.

Of course Republicans don’t talk openly about destroying Social Security, because it’s so popular. The new Republican “pledge” promises only to put it on a “fiscally responsible footing.” Translated: we’ll privatize it.

Look, I used to be a trustee of the Social Security trust fund. Believe me when I tell you Social Security is basically okay. It may need a little fine tuning but I guarantee you’ll receive your Social Security check by the time you retire even if that’s forty years from now.

Medicare, on the other hand, is a huge problem and its projected deficits are truly scary. But that’s partly because George W. Bush created a new drug benefit that’s hugely profitable for Big Pharma (something the Republican pledge conspicuously fails to address). The underlying problem, though, is health-care costs are soaring.

Repealing the new health-care legislation would cause health-care costs to rise even faster. In extending coverage, it allows 30 million Americans to get preventive care. Take it away and they’ll end up in far more expensive emergency rooms.

The new law could help control rising health costs. It calls for medical “exchange” that will give people valuable information about health costs and benefits. The public should know certain expensive procedures only pad the paychecks of specialists while driving up the costs of insurance policies that offer them.

Republicans also hate unemployment insurance. They’ve voted against every extension because, they say, it coddles the unemployed and keeps them from taking available jobs.

That’s absurd. There are still 5 job seekers for every job opening, and unemployment insurance in most states pays only a small fraction of the full-time wage.

Social insurance is fundamental to a civil society. It’s also good economics because it puts money in peoples’ pockets who then turn around and buy the things that others produce, thereby keeping those others in jobs.

We’ve fallen into the bad habit of calling these programs “entitlements,” which sounds morally suspect – as if a more responsible public wouldn’t depend on them. If the Great Recession has taught us anything, it should be that.anyone can take a fall through no fault of their own.

Finally, like Hoover and Mellon, Republicans want to cut the deficit and balance the budget at a time when a large portion of the workforce is idle.

This defies economic logic. When consumers aren’t spending, businesses aren’t investing and exports can’t possibly fill the gap, and when state governments are slashing their budgets, the federal government has to spend more. Otherwise, the Great Recession will turn into exactly what Hoover and Mellon ushered in – a seemingly endless Great Depression.

It’s also cruel. Cutting the deficit and balancing the budget any time soon will subject tens of millions of American families to unnecessary hardship and throw even more into poverty.

Herbert Hoover and Andrew Mellon thought their economic policies would purge the rottenness out of the system and lead to a more moral life. Instead, it purged morality out of the system and lead to a more rotten life for millions of Americans.

And that’s exactly what Republicans are offering yet again.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Morning Walk to the Narrows (Photos)

From The New York Times

Downhill With the G.O.P.

Published: September 23, 2010

Once upon a time, a Latin American political party promised to help motorists save money on gasoline. How? By building highways that ran only downhill.

I’ve always liked that story, but the truth is that the party received hardly any votes. And that means that the joke is really on us. For these days one of America’s two great political parties routinely makes equally nonsensical promises. Never mind the war on terror, the party’s main concern seems to be the war on arithmetic. And this party has a better than even chance of retaking at least one house of Congress this November.

Banana republic, here we come.

On Thursday, House Republicans released their “Pledge to America,” supposedly outlining their policy agenda. In essence, what they say is, “Deficits are a terrible thing. Let’s make them much bigger.” The document repeatedly condemns federal debt — 16 times, by my count. But the main substantive policy proposal is to make the Bush tax cuts permanent, which independent estimates say would add about $3.7 trillion to the debt over the next decade — about $700 billion more than the Obama administration’s tax proposals.

True, the document talks about the need to cut spending. But as far as I can see, there’s only one specific cut proposed — canceling the rest of the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which Republicans claim (implausibly) would save $16 billion. That’s less than half of 1 percent of the budget cost of those tax cuts. As for the rest, everything must be cut, in ways not specified — “except for common-sense exceptions for seniors, veterans, and our troops.” In other words, Social Security, Medicare and the defense budget are off-limits.

So what’s left? Howard Gleckman of the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center has done the math. As he points out, the only way to balance the budget by 2020, while simultaneously (a) making the Bush tax cuts permanent and (b) protecting all the programs Republicans say they won’t cut, is to completely abolish the rest of the federal government: “No more national parks, no more Small Business Administration loans, no more export subsidies, no more N.I.H. No more Medicaid (one-third of its budget pays for long-term care for our parents and others with disabilities). No more child health or child nutrition programs. No more highway construction. No more homeland security. Oh, and no more Congress.”

The “pledge,” then, is nonsense. But isn’t that true of all political platforms? The answer is, not to anything like the same extent. Many independent analysts believe that the Obama administration’s long-run budget projections are somewhat too optimistic — but, if so, it’s a matter of technical details. Neither President Obama nor any other leading Democrat, as far as I can recall, has ever claimed that up is down, that you can sharply reduce revenue, protect all the programs voters like, and still balance the budget.

And the G.O.P. itself used to make more sense than it does now. Ronald Reagan’s claim that cutting taxes would actually increase revenue was wishful thinking, but at least he had some kind of theory behind his proposals. When former President George W. Bush campaigned for big tax cuts in 2000, he claimed that these cuts were affordable given (unrealistic) projections of future budget surpluses. Now, however, Republicans aren’t even pretending that their numbers add up.

So how did we get to the point where one of our two major political parties isn’t even trying to make sense?

The answer isn’t a secret. The late Irving Kristol, one of the intellectual godfathers of modern conservatism, once wrote frankly about why he threw his support behind tax cuts that would worsen the budget deficit: his task, as he saw it, was to create a Republican majority, “so political effectiveness was the priority, not the accounting deficiencies of government.” In short, say whatever it takes to gain power. That’s a philosophy that now, more than ever, holds sway in the movement Kristol helped shape.

And what happens once the movement achieves the power it seeks? The answer, presumably, is that it turns to its real, not-so-secret agenda, which mainly involves privatizing and dismantling Medicare and Social Security.

Realistically, though, Republicans aren’t going to have the power to enact their true agenda any time soon — if ever. Remember, the Bush administration’s attack on Social Security was a fiasco, despite its large majority in Congress — and it actually increased Medicare spending.

So the clear and present danger isn’t that the G.O.P. will be able to achieve its long-run goals. It is, rather, that Republicans will gain just enough power to make the country ungovernable, unable to address its fiscal problems or anything else in a serious way. As I said, banana republic, here we come.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Photos from my Trip

From The President

The White House, Washington

Good morning Dee,

Six months ago, Gail O'Brien didn’t know whether or not she would be able to treat her cancer.  Betsy Burton wasn't sure if she could afford to keep paying the skyrocketing premiums for her employees' health insurance. Paul Horne was struggling to make ends meet after his prescription drug coverage hit the "donut hole."

The thing about these stories is that they could happen to anybody.  Millions of Americans -- maybe even you or someone you know -- have been struggling for years with our broken health care system.  These stories are what inspired me to fight for the Affordable Care Act and made me so proud to sign this landmark legislation into law six months ago.

Every day, I hear from Americans like Gail, Betsy and Paul, and a few of these folks have stepped forward to bravely share their stories with the entire country. Take a minute to hear what they have to say:
50 States/50 Stories. Listen Now
The Affordable Care Act is already making a difference in the lives of millions of Americans.  And starting tomorrow, the Patient's Bill of Rights goes into effect, ending some of the worst abuses of the insurance industry and putting you, not your insurance company, in control of your health care.

Here's what the Patient's Bill of Rights means for you:
  •  No more discrimination against kids with pre-existing conditions.  Insurance companies can no longer bar families from purchasing coverage because of a child's pre-existing condition. 
  • No more lifetime coverage limits. Insurance companies can no longer put a lifetime limit on the amount of coverage you can receive. 
  • Young adults can now stay on their parent's plan.  Young adults can stay on their parent's health insurance plan up to age 26 if their job doesn't provide health care benefits -- a huge relief for many parents and recent college graduates.
  • Free preventive care.  If you join or purchase a new plan, the insurance company will be required to provide preventive care like mammograms, colonoscopies, immunizations, pre-natal and baby care without charging you any out of pocket costs.
  • Freedom to choose your own doctor. If you purchase or join a new plan, you have the right to choose your own doctor in your insurer network.
  • No more restrictions on emergency room care. Insurance companies will not be allowed to charge you more for out of network emergency services if you purchase or join a new a plan.
This is a long-overdue victory for American consumers and patients.  For years, millions of Americans have been at the mercy of their insurance companies as they jacked up rates, denied coverage or dropped patients all together.  

Now, some opponents of this reform have pledged to "repeal and replace" all of the progress we've made over the past six months.  But I refuse to go back to the days when insurance companies could deny a child health care due to a pre-existing condition or impose a lifetime limit on care for a cancer patient.  Those days are over.
The Affordable Care Act provides basic rules of the road that make our health care system work for consumers.  It cuts costs and will help us begin to get our fiscal house in order.  And most importantly, it provides Americans with the peace of mind that their insurance will be there for them when they need it.
To learn more about the Patient’s Bill of Rights and the Affordable Care Act, visit:
President Barack Obama

P.S. Last week, I surprised Gail O'Brien by calling her at home.  You can see what happened here:

From Truthout

Fayiz Al-Kandari, a Kuwaiti Aid Worker in Guantanamo, Loses His Habeas Petition

Tuesday 21 September 2010

by: Andy Worthington, t r u t h o u t | Report

(Illustration: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t)

For Fayiz al-Kandari, one of the last two Kuwaitis in Guantánamo, American justice has always been an oxymoron. Although he has maintained - for nearly nine years - that he is an innocent man, and although the U.S. government has no evidence against him, he was put forward for a trial by Military Commission under President Bush, and, last Friday, lost his habeas corpus petition in the District Court in Washington D.C., consigning him, on an apparently legal basis, to indefinite detention in Guantánamo.

Nevertheless, throughout his long detention, al-Kandari has refused to let his disappointment with the U.S. justice system drag him down, and has found the strength to joke about it whenever he is visited by his lawyers. As his military defense attorney, Lt. Col. Barry Wingard, explained in an op-ed in the Washington Post in June 2009:

Each time I travel to Guantánamo Bay to visit Fayiz, his first question is, "Have you found justice for me today?" This leads to an awkward hesitation.

"Unfortunately, Fayiz," I tell him, "I have no justice today."

Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly's unclassified opinion has not yet been published, so the details of her reasoning are as yet unknown, but enough of al-Kandari's story has been reported to understand the weakness of the government's case, and it beggars belief that a sound reason for denying his petition could have been conjured up at the last minute.

Al-Kandari, who is from a wealthy family in Kuwait, and has a history of providing humanitarian aid in countries where Muslims were suffering (in Bosnia in 1994, and in Afghanistan in 1997), has persistently stated that he arrived in Afghanistan at the end of August 2001 on a humanitarian aid mission that involved building two wells and repairing a mosque for a small rural community. He has also repeatedly stated that, sometime after the U.S.-led invasion in October 2001, he set off for Pakistan, after being shown a leaflet that had a picture of an Afghan holding a bag with a dollar sign on it, accompanied by some text, which, in essence, said, "Turn in Arabs and this will be you," but was then seized by Northern Alliance soldiers who subsequently sold him to U.S. forces.

The U.S. authorities do not dispute the date of his arrival, but they claim that, in the three to four months before his capture in December 2001, he visited the al-Farouq training camp (the main training camp for Arabs in the years before 9/11) and "provided instruction to al-Qaeda members and trainees," served as an adviser to Osama bin Laden, and "produced recruitment audio and video tapes which encouraged membership in al-Qaeda and participation in jihad."
However, as I explained in a major profile of al-Kandari for Truthout in October 2009:

[T]he government has never attempted to explain how he "provided instruction to al-Qaeda members and trainees" at al-Farouq, when the camp closed less than a month after his arrival in Afghanistan, and, more importantly, how he was supposed to have undertaken all this training, provided all this instruction and advice, and produced videos and audiotapes during the small amount of time that he actually spent in Afghanistan.

At a military review board in Guantánamo in 2005, al-Kandari attempted to expose the implausibility of these allegations, when he asked:

At the end of this exciting story and after all these various accusations, when I spent most of my time alongside bin Laden as his advisor and his religious leader ... All this happened in a period of three months, which is the period of time I stayed in Afghanistan? I ask, are these accusations against Fayiz or against Superman?

Despite this, the authorities have refused to accept al-Kandari's account of his activities, even though a cursory glance at the allegations against him demonstrates that, of the 20 allegations against him, 16 are attributed to an unidentified "individual," and only one - a claim that he "suggested that he and another individual travel to Afghanistan to participate in jihad and ... provided them with aliases" - came from al-Kandari himself (and has been refuted by him).

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The paucity of evidence is so extreme that, after his Combatant Status Review Tribunal in 2004 (a deliberately one-sided process designed to rubber-stamp the men's prior designation as "enemy combatants"), the tribunals' legal advisor made a point of dissenting from the tribunal's conclusion that he was an "enemy combatant," stating:

Indeed, the evidence considered persuasive by the Tribunal is made up almost entirely of hearsay evidence recorded by unidentified individuals with no first hand knowledge of the events they describe.

As researchers at the Seton Hall Law School noted, in a major analysis of the CSRT documentation, entitled, "No-Hearing Hearings" (p. 34), "Outside of the CSRT process, this type of evidence is more commonly referred to as 'rumor.'"

Although these "rumors" were sufficient for the Pentagon to regard him as a prisoner of such significance that he was put forward for a trial by Military Commission in October 2008 (which has not been revived under President Obama), it is difficult to escape the conclusion that, inside the prison, he is regarded as a threat not because of what he is supposed to have done prior to his capture, but because of his attitude in detention.

The fact that the majority of the allegations against him were made by other prisoners is largely a testament to his own resistance, As one of Guantánamo's least compliant prisoners, he has not fought back physically, but has refused to make false confessions implicating himself or others, as so many others have done under duress (and as the judges in the District Court have been exposing in other habeas petitions).

This is in spite of the fact that, in 2003 and 2004, when Donald Rumsfeld imported a version of the CIA's torture program to Guantánamo, he was subjected to a vast array of "enhanced interrogation techniques," which, as Lt. Col. Wingard described them, "have included but are not limited to sleep deprivation, physical and verbal assaults, attempts at sexual humiliation through the use of female interrogators, the 'frequent flier program,' the prolonged use of stress positions, the use of dogs, the use of loud music and strobe lights, and the use of extreme heat and cold."

Even now, he is regarded as one of a handful of prisoners whose perceived influence over his fellow prisoners is such that he, and others who could not be "broken," are separated from the general population of the prison.

As I stated at the start of this article, Judge Kollar-Kotelly's unclassified opinion has not yet been published, so it is unclear where, in the barrage of "hearsay evidence recorded by unidentified individuals with no first hand knowledge of the events they describe," she concluded that there was sufficient evidence to deny his petition.

Certainly, the habeas legislation is not without fault, although it has delivered victories for the prisoners in 38 out of 55 cases to date. A particularly startling example of these shortcomings was revealed last August when, in the case of a Yemeni, Adham Ali Awad, who was handed over to Afghan forces by al-Qaeda fighters in a hospital where he was a patient, Judge James Robertson denied his petition, even though he conceded that, "The case against Awad is gossamer thin," and added, "The evidence is of a kind fit only for these unique proceedings and has very little weight."

Tom Wilner, an attorney in Washington D.C., who represented al-Kandari and the other Kuwaiti prisoners in the early days of Guantánamo, and was counsel of record in the Supreme Court cases granting the prisoners habeas corpus rights (in Rasul v. Bush in June 2004, and Boumediene v. Bush in June 2008), explained to me on Friday how it was possible for prisoners to lose their habeas petitions on the basis of "gossamer thin" evidence.

"It is important to bear in mind that the standard for habeas is quite low; it only determines whether there is probable cause for detaining someone, not that the person has done anything wrong," Wilner told me. He also added further criticism of the Bush administration's detention policy, as maintained by President Obama.

Despite Friday's result, he explained, al-Kandari "has not been convicted of any wrongdoing, yet he has been imprisoned for more than eight years. The low standard for habeas might be an appropriate standard for detaining someone initially, but it is hardly an appropriate standard for holding people for years without end."

None of this helps Fayiz al-Kandari, whose lawyers must now either appeal or attempt to arrange a repatriation program between the U.S. and Kuwaiti governments. The first looks like a doomed enterprise, given the right-wing bent of the D.C. Circuit Court, which has recently been attempting to extend the government's detention powers, rather than placing limits on them, and the second is hardly a better option.

In April, when discussions were proposed regarding the repatriation of al-Kandari and of the other Kuwaiti prisoner, Fawzi al-Odah, who lost his habeas petition last August, the Obama administration attempted to impose ludicrous security demands on the Kuwaiti government before talks could begin. These included demands that two men released last year after winning their habeas petitions - Khalid al-Mutairi and Fouad al-Rabiah (who, notoriously, was tortured into making false confessions that he was taught to repeat) - "have their passports taken away, be required to check in with local authorities regularly and be under surveillance by the Kuwaiti government for a period of time."

So is Fayiz al-Kandari some sort of threat to the United States? Nothing I have ever seen or heard about him suggests that he is. When I interviewed Tom Wilner for the documentary film, "Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo" (which I co-directed with Polly Nash), Tom spoke about a Kuwaiti prisoner who, from childhood, had allocated half his allowance to those more needy than himself, and described him as "a wonderful guy." I had always suspected that the prisoner he was referring to was Fayiz al-Kandari, and on Friday, I asked him if this was the case.

Tom confirmed that it was indeed Fayiz he was referring to, and also told me, "He is extremely bright, with a wonderful smile and sense of humor and an almost poetic ability to express himself. He was absolutely dedicated to helping others and fighting any injustice inflicted upon them. At the same time, he was much stronger than I could ever be in withstanding personal abuse and injustice inflicted upon himself."

Tom also told me that Fayiz "repeatedly expressed the view that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda were seriously misguided, that their views were a perversion of Islam and that harming innocent civilians is a sin."

Given Fayiz al-Kandari's resilience, it is almost certain that he greeted Judge Kollar-Kotelly's ruling with the strength of character identified by Tom Wilner, and with the playful dismissal of American justice with which he regularly greets his attorneys on visits to Guantánamo. His strength, however, should not blind us to the fact that, nearly nine years after his capture, there is nothing worth celebrating in the judge's ruling - or in his continued detention.