Welcome to UNKNOWN NEWS "News that's not known, or not known enough."
Helen & Harry Highwater's cranky weblog of news and opinion.
 
Jailing whistleblowers, getting used to Geithner,
and letting corporations buy elections


      ♦  Sure seems curious that Bradley Birkenfeld, the whistleblower in the UBS banking scandal, is the only person involved who's being sent to prison. Especially since he blew the whistle before anyone knew diddly about the crimes, and he specifically blew the whistle on his client, California billionaire Igor Olenicoff, yet he's somehow been convicted of protecting Olenicoff.

      ♦  While heading the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, US Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner tried to cover up billions and billions in payouts to Goldman Sachs and Société Générale. Basically, AIG was a giant slush fund that made crooked banksters whole when they should've lost their shirts.

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      If Democrats were interested in honest government or "change" or if Republicans were seriously interested in raising hell they'd be standing together to go after Geithner's obvious corruption and/or incompetence. But he's protecting big-money interests, so both parties are standing together on Geithner's side.
      And it goes without saying that even if a fury of righteous indignation suddenly arose and Geithner was plunked out on his arse, there's nobody Obama would nominate or the Senate would confirm who'd be noticeably less corrupt.

      ♦  The experts' expectation seems to be basically unanimous — the US Supreme Court will effectively strike down limitations on corporate funding of campaigns, allowing McDonald's or ExxonMobil to spend as much as they wish on bribing candidates and elected officials with campaign contributions. (Login as unknownnews with password unknown.)

      ♦  Here's an utterly ordinary slice of politics as usual, the insider gladhandling that keeps insiders inside and keeps outsides like you and me farther and farther outside. In California, a genuine progressive, Marcy Winograd (donate), is mounting a serious primary challenge to an entrenched, corporate-friendly, "Blue Dog" Democrat, Jane Harman (D-California). But the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus is backing the godawful Harman, and working for her re-election. Congresswomen Lynn Woolsey (D-California) is by most accounts a real, rock-solid Democrat, while Harman usually stands in the way on those rare occasions when Democrats might accomplish something, but they're probably friends — they're both Democrats, both from California, both women, and maybe Woolsey needs Harman's power, wealth, and connections to get re-elected herself.
      Not knowing the back-room facts here, it's hard for me to turn a 360° and suddenly hate Woolsey, who probably has good reasons for stabbing the progressive movement in the back. The problem ain't Woolsey, ain't even
from recent readers' comments

From recent readers' comments
Harman. The problem is that the American election system is owned and operated by Big Money concerns, so candidates such as Winograd — who's neither a millionaire nor under the millionaires' control — are always, always, always at a huge disadvantage. You can count on one hand the times when genuine good guys win against Big Money's candidates. And until we have publicly-funded campaigns, it will always be this way.

      ♦  A proposal to restore portions of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act, the repeal of which played a key role in the economic collapse, is said to be "gaining traction in Congress".
      I have my doubts, and the claim that it's "gaining traction in Congress" seems to be largely wishful thinking. I'm going to quote the succinct words of a reader who goes by the handle Deep South, who wrote,  It's the same with any issue, any controversy. Don't bother sizing up the relative merits of the positions, just look at the bottom line. See which side the big money is on, and know without doubt that's the way the cookie is gonna crumble. 
      When the cookie crumbles the big banks will get their way, so short of massive protests the likes of which America hasn't seen since the 2003 attack on Iraq, Glass-Steagall is dead and gone and ain't coming back.

      ♦  About 40 Yemenis long held prisoner at Guantanamo despite being cleared for release will be held even longer, now that the Obama administration has succumbed to political pressure and scuttled the release of any more prisoners to Yemen.

      ♦  The D.C. Circuit Court has ruled that the President's power to declare "enemy combattants" and order people imprisoned on such claims is " not limited in any way by international law, including the law of war, but is limited only by domestic law, a limit which frequently seem to me rather weak and nebulous or non-existent.

      ♦  Abby Johnson has become a red-hot celebrity among conservatives since quitting her post at Planned Parenthood and suddenly becoming an anti-abortion activist. Curiously, though, there are aspects of her "crisis of conscience" that seem to be lies, like, for example, her crisis of conscience — her resignation letter makes no mention of having political or philosophical doubts about abortion. She's also lying to her new allies about having received no threats of violence while she was with Planned Parenthood — or she was lying about the threats while she worked for Planned Parenthood, threats taken so seriously that security cameras were installed around her house.

      ♦  Defense attorneys for the alleged murderer of Dr George Tiller have subpoenaed the former Attorney General of Kansas, Phil Kline. Kline's entire career has been based on an enthusiastic opposition to abortion, and when he was A.G. he used his authority to legally harangue Tiller for performing abortions.

'The Thinker' statueIt made me stop and thinkStop and think

      "Although the TSA has manufactured over 1 million “terrorists” for our state-of fear watch-lists, air travel remains a safer mode of transportation then most long highway journeys. It’s too bad that while we’re being hyped and barked at by talking heads all along the terrorism watchtower, about these extremely rare violent air-incidences, that we aren’t able to divert some of these massive funds for some simple down-to-earth homeland security measures, such as upgrading some of Idaho’s terribly dangerous high speed rural roads into safer divided highways."



      "Time was, Americans would do anything to pay their mortgage — forgo a new car or a vacation, even put a younger family member to work. But the housing collapse left 10.7 million families owing more than their homes are worth. So some of them are making a calculated decision to hang onto their money and let their homes go. Is this irresponsible?
      "Businesses — in particular Wall Street banks — make such calculations routinely. Morgan Stanley recently decided to stop making payments on five San Francisco office buildings. A Morgan Stanley fund purchased the buildings at the height of the boom, and their value has plunged. Nobody has said Morgan Stanley is immoral — perhaps because no one assumed it was moral to begin with.



      "Deliberatists are right-wingers who believe not only that Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats are destroying the country (all right-wingers believe that) but that Obama and theDems doing it on purpose. ... The best-known exponent of this theory is Rush Limbaugh,who told Greta Van Susteren last summer, "President Obama and the Democrats are destroying the U.S. economy. They are purposely doing it, I believe" and said a couple of months earlier on his radio show, "The objective is unemployment. The objective is more food stamp benefits. The objective is more unemployment benefits. The objective is an expanding welfare state."Deliberatists believe that Democrats' ultimate purpose is to create permanent dependence on government."



      "Leadership means heading into the eye of the storm and bringing the vessel of state home safely, not going as far inland as you can because it'suncomfortable on the high seas. This president has a particular aversion to battling back gusting winds from his starboard side (the right, for the nautically challenged) and tends to give in to them. He just can't tolerate conflict, and the result is that he refuses to lead.
      "We have seen the same pattern of pretty speeches followed by empty exhortations on issue after issue. The president has, on more than one occasion, gone to Wall Street or called in its titans (who have often just ignored him and failed to show up) to exhort them to be nice to the people they're foreclosing at record rates, yet he has done virtually nothing for those people ...
      "The time for exhortation is over. FDR didn't exhort robber barons to stem the redistribution of wealth from working Americans to the upper 1 percent, and neither did his fifth cousin Teddy. Both men told the most powerful men in the United States that they weren't going to rip off the American people any more, and they backed up their words with actions."


      ♦  In Washington DC, San Francisco, New York, and probably other American cities you can be arrested and charged with prostitution if you're carrying more than two condoms in your purse, wallet, or backpack. As the article points out, this is more than mere prudery and stupidity, it's a blatant call for sex workers to stop practicing safe sex, and in that sense the law is an accessory to murder.

      ♦  A Massachusetts woman claims she was given a tubal ligation, a basically permanent form of sterilization, when she had only authorized installation of a reversible intrauterine device. And it looks like she's telling the truth, as the hospital has been unable to locate her required authorization paperwork.
      She's poor, on public assistance, and has nine children, so she's of course received a flood of hate mail, but just as "of course", none of the above justifies what was apparently done to her without her consent.

      ♦  Marc Hall, a member of the US Army (we're not told his rank), recorded a hip-hop song to voice his anger at the Army's (in my opinion) illegal "stop loss" program that's keeping him in the military and re-deploying him to Iraq against his will. But wait, there's more. He mailed a copy of the song to the Pentagon, and as they say about the sit-coms, hilarity ensued. He's being charged with violating Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, with the rather obviously bogus assertion that his song is "of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces."
      On days when I'm sleepy or just weary of the bullsh*t I have to laugh at news like this. Mr Hall, of course, is absolutely within his rights to sing a song and send it to the Pentagon, but he can't be surprised at the response. Quite the contrary, I suspect and hope that this is exactly the response he expected, and it seems like a brilliant strategy — it might keep him from being returned to the front lines.

      ♦  The American Law Institute, a bunch of lawyers who've staunchly supported the death penalty for decades and whose "Moral Penal Code" formed the basis of the Supreme Court's standard for capital punishment enacted in 1976, has ended its ongoing endorsement of execution. This is apparently a landmark shift, as ALI's work has provided "the only intellectually respectable support for the death penalty system in the United States", or so says U-Cal Berkeley professor FrankZimring . Sounds like good news to me, but as Sentencing Law and Policy points out, it probably means little so long as the sitting president is big fan of the death penalty, and the present President is.

      ♦  Petty and prudish officials at the California State Parks Dept have found a new way to discourage visits to a stretch of beach favored by nudists, by burying a dead sea lion under the sand.

      ♦  Manwhoring is finally legal in Nevada. Seems fair and proper and past due, as womanwhoring has long been legal there.

      ♦  A county judge in Tennessee, Durwood Moore, is being sued for ordering a court spectator arrested and drug-tested because, says the judge, he had a hunch the guy was a user. The test came back clean, but of course, more to the point, judges aren't gods and courtroom spectators who aren't making a ruckus should have no fear of arbitrary arrest out of nowhere.

      ♦  The Montana Supreme Court is OK with assisted suicide for the terminally ill, a moral and proper stand.

      ♦  Travelers from 14 countries deemed "state sponsors of terrorism" will face extra levels of scrutiny and humiliation at airports, under the Obama administration's Homeland Security and Transportation Safety bureaucracies. (Login as unknownnews with password unknown.) The targets will include everyone who isn't wealthy and hails from Afghanistan, Algeria, Cuba, Iran, Lebanon, Libya, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.
      This is wrong and counterproductive, of course, and also stupid. Cuba isn't a country that funds international terrorism, and its presence shows that the list is about politics at least as much as it's about security. And isn't it a bit bizarre that this change in policy is going into effect now, in 2010, instead of nine years ago or perhaps earlier? Afghans and Iranians coming to America haven't already been given the Third Degree as a routine tactic?

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      ♦  Unless he's overruled by a higher court, U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker (appointed by Bush41 in 1989) will permit cameras in the courtroom during the lawsuit over California's anti-gay Proposition 8, followed by quick, relatively unedited showing of the trial on YouTube. It's a good move if you believe in openness, as we do, and what the anti-gay lawyers are arguing will sound like the hatred that it is, which might not play well with ordinary Americans.

      ♦  Rhode Island lawmakers overrode several of Governor Donald Carcieri's vetoes last week, including his staggeringly homophobic veto of legislation that allows the surviving member of a gay couple to plan a passed partner's funeral. And yes, Gov Carcieri is a Republican, but you knew that.

      ♦  The anti-civil rights group American Center for Law and Justice has filed a brief representing 39 Republican members of Congress, opposing gay marriage legislation in DC.

      ♦  The New Jersey Senate has considered giving gays and lesbians full civil and human rights, and decided against it.

      ♦  Oklahoma's famously anti-gay state legislator, Sally Kern (R-Of Course), has proposed state legislation that would narrow the grounds for (straight) divorce.

No special rights for heterosexuals


      ♦  Here's a depressing visual comparison of the American states that allow gay marriage, versus the number of American states that allow first cousins to marry.

      ♦  Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge William Sterling has ordered the cops to return 60 pounds of pot seized from a member of a medical marijuana collective as he was transporting it.

      ♦  Truly, the incompetence of the Bush-Cheney administrtion was almost beyond comprehension. This is something we mentioned some months back, but Steve Benen does a dang fine job "connecting the dots", so to speak, to remind readers that the Bush-Cheney administration didn't even have files on many or most of the prisoners at Guantanamo.

fascism  :  a political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition
      ♦  A lot of the banks bailed out by the Bush-Cheney and Obama administration's raid on the Treasury have subsequently made billions of dollars in profits by trading securities that were also rescued by the government.
      Sure seems to me that the scam industry is about the only thing left that's driving the hollowed-out US economy.

      ♦  During tough economic times, the need for public transit doesn't decrease, it increases. But of course, the funding for public transit heads in the opposite direction, another symptom of seriously stupid governmental priorities.

      ♦  About one out of every fifty Americans now subsists on nothing but food stamps. So the budget for that will no doubt be cut, too. (Login as unknownnews with password unknown.)

      ♦  Democratic Senators Chris Dodd (D-Connecticut) and Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota) won't be running for re-election. Conventional wisdom has the donkeys losing Dorgan's seat but probably installing a new Democrat in Dodd's parking spot. Dorgan might be missed and Dodd's taking one for the team — he could've fought and probably lost, but instead he's put the country above himself and walking away classy.

Isn't there something in the Bible about NOT screwing over the poor?


      ♦  We're supposed to believe that the special election for the late Ted Kennedy's Senate seat in Massachusetts is a toss-up. The little-known Democratic candidate, Martha Coakley, has run a weak campaign, and the Republican, state Rep Scott Brown, is polling well and the cro magnon crowd is supposedly motivated as heck, so they're saying Brown might win. I'm just not buying it — Massachusetts is still Massachusetts, and the Democrat is going to win comfortably. But still, wake up and vote, Massachusetts Dems.

      ♦  Word from the arch-conservative Washington Times is that some big-money Republican donors are shutting their checkbooks in response to the continued Bush-level incompetence of Party Chair Michael Steele. The guy's provided an endless series of gaffes and unintended punchlines since getting the chairman's gig a year ago, but if the money starts drying up then he'll be gone pretty quick.

      ♦  The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is still fighting CBS to collect a $550,000 fine for the Super Bowl airing of Janet Jackson's areola. Further proof, as if any more evidence is needed, that American society and government are insane.

      ♦  Amanda Simpson, a lady lawyer who used to be a man, has been named a senior technical advisor for the Commerce Department, making her (as far as anyone can tell) the highest-ranking transgender appointment in US government history. Republicans, of course, have blown a brain gasket.

The blood is on the hands of those who lied, those who spread the lies, and those who voted for the liars.


      ♦  President Obama's Nobel Prize-winning dream of some small-scale nuclear disarmament is facing serious push-back from the ordinary suspects in the military-industrial-Congressional complex.

      ♦  Virtually the entire staff of Congressman Parker Griffith has quit, after the right-wing Democrat who re branded himself a Republican a few weeks ago.

      ♦  Remarkably, the staff of Congressman Pete Hoekstra (R-Michigan) is so bumblingly inept or simply unplugged from the present day that they didn't register the web address www.petehoekstra.com/.

      ♦  The general incompetence of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is breathtaking, ain't it?

      ♦  Can anyone really be surprised that a key leader of the "Tea Party" crowd is a racist, or that he's stupid enough to be photographed with a racist placard?

      ♦  Here's a fairly funny glance at the baby-faced and probably closeted-gay Republican operative who's publishing "Democrats are gay" innuendo for the National Republican Campaign Committee. With photos!

Hooray!
♦  We give President Obama a lot of complaints because, let's face it, he deserves a lot of complaints. He's a go-along-to-get-along guy when America desperately needs a complete about-face on any number of fronts — war and peace, civil rights, the environment, the economy, open government, on and on. But in the interest of fairness, we'll also give him a pat on the back when Obama gets something right.
      Last week the Obama administration ended a hysteria-based Reagan-era rule that prohibited anyone who's HIV+ or has AIDS from entering the country.
      And language inserted at the federal government's website for job-hunters seems to announce a new policy of non-discrimination against the transgendered. (Login as unknownnews with password unknown.)
      And the Obama White House will renominate Dawn Johnsen, his choice to head the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), along with other nominees whose confirmations were obstructed by Republicans last year.
      And eleven months after taking office, the Obama administration has transferred a Bush crony who's been running the Justice Department's Voting Rights section since 2007, when blatant racist John Tanner was forced out. Christopher Coates, who seems to be a serious scumbag, has been "quietly reassigned" to an office in South Carolina, and anti-voting-rights activist Hans von Spakovsky is outraged — which is enough to convince me that unzipping Coates was the right thing to do.
      And with the sound of one hand clapping, we'll note that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has nudged the rules toward slightly lower smog limits. It's something that'll cost some real money and it's something more than we ever saw during the Bush-Cheney years, but it's more a step toward protecting the

President Obama, where's that 'change' you promised?
environment than actually protecting the environment. And it's probably outweighed by the EPA's endorsement of mountaintop removal coal mining, a horrendously destructive and largely irreparable method of extracting a dirty, polluting substance, to cheaply help the liars who babble about "clean coal".
      And fourteen months after the 2008 election, keeping kooky and craven Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) from becoming President continues to be Barack Obama's greatest accomplishment.

      ♦  A lawsuit against Florida Power & Light has led to revelations that its Turkey Point nuclear power plant is held together with ancient equipment and severely overworked staff, a little like the place where Homer Simpson works only with amphetamine addicts sitting in Homer's chair.

      ♦  Facebook has shuttered a "Kill Obama" group that had more than 100 members. With a mission statement that started "We are going to kill Obama", the group had been up and running since November.

      ♦  Apple's new style of doing business is a complete break from the way the web has worked in the past, and it's worrisome. Customers who buy an iPhone only own the hardware, and the software is full of restrictions, with Apple sealing off development and allowing only "approved" add-ons. Is this the wave of an ugly, rather starkly controlled future?

Iraq. Out. Now.


      ♦  Wal-Mart has destroyed unsold clothing, just to make sure that poor people don't scrounge the duds out of the trash. This also happened at a chain called H&M (which I'd never heard of but Wikipedia tells me has 2,000 stores in 35 different countries). Wal-Mart's public relations people say it's a mistake, and gosh they have no idea why the unsold clothes were run through a machine that punched gaping holes in the fabric. Common sense says it's much more likely a corporate policy of some kind, as employees probably wouldn't destroy and trash clothes on their own initiative.

      ♦  I've lived all my life under capitalism, with many of those years spent as an ardent libertarian, but there's no theory of capitalism under which I can explain the urgent, unanimous quest of banks to pay outrageous bonuses no matter what, and to be bastards about it whenever possible.

      ♦  The estate of sci-fi great Phillip K. Dick is suing Google over the "don't be evil" giant's appropriation of the brand name "Nexus One". You might recall, that was a model of android that went rogue in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which became the movie Blade Runner.
      Sounds to me like the Dicks are morally right, 'cuz it's doubtful that Google picked the name without knowing why it rings a bell in the public mind. But the Google gang will probably win, since Nexus One was never trademarked.
Want to support our troops? Stop sending them on stupid wars.


      ♦  When Arrow Trucking went out of business last month, they did so in a typically mean manner, just canceling the gas cards for its hundreds of drivers on the road.

      ♦  Another reason I'm glad we've stopped eating at McDonald's and Burger King, etc: no more ammonia-burgers for us.

      ♦  Whole Foods CEO John P. Mackey has taken a break from his work against health care reform to add erroneously that “no scientific consensus exists” regarding the causes of climate change, and that it would be a pity to respond to “hysteria about global warming”. The good guys at Mother Jones explain further that for all its green hippie imagery, Whole Foods is an abysmal corporation on green issues. If you're shopping for corporate ethics you'd do just as well shopping at Wal-Mart or 7-Eleven.

Afghanistan
♦  On December 31, 2009, it was widely reported that eight CIA officers had been killed the day before in a suicide bombing at an American military base in occupied Afghanistan (though of course the American media never uses the accurate word "occupied"). It took a week for the original, incorrect information (8 CIA dead) to be replaced with what's presumably the fact: The death toll has risen to nine, as a person injured in the blast has since died, but the number of CIA officers killed has been reduced to five. Of the four non-CIA employees killed, one was an Jordanian intelligence official, and the other three were contractors, in media-speak, or mercenaries, in more ordinary vocabulary. Two of those three were employees of Blackwater (which now calls itself Xe), the mercenary firm infamous for its random murders and frequent indictments.
      It's no surprise that the American occupation of Iraq is carried largely on the shoulders of the CIA, and that the CIA's work relies heavily on support from Blackwater's staff. Considering Blackwater's ugly but well-earned worldwide reputation as a collection of hired killers and thugs, I am reminded of something my mama told me many, many times — that your character can and will be judged by the people you associate with. It's an adage that's applicable here, don't you think?

Who would Jesus bomb?


      ♦  Once again, those ungrateful Afghans have failed to say thank you after Americans bombed and killed nine civilians. Or nine militants, the US maintains. Winning hearts and minds.

      ♦  Two former mercenaries for Blackwater (which now calls itself Xe) have been charged with murders in Afghanistan.

      ♦  The occupied government of Afghanistan and the United Nations have both concluded that U.S.-led troops recently dragged eight sleeping children out of their beds, handcuffed some of them, and shot them all dead. While this apparently constitutes an everyday act of kindness, far less intriguing than the vicious singeing of his pubic hairs by Captain Underpants, it is at least a variation on the ordinary American technique of murdering men, women, and children by the dozens with unmanned drones.

Iraq
♦  Blackwater go home, says the Iraqi government, giving the company's mercenaries and former employees what sounds like an order to get out of town by sunset.

Yemen
♦  If the long-planned war against Iran continues to be delayed, Senator Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut) and his buddies on both sides of the aisle would be happy with a war against Yemen while they're waiting.

Cuba
♦  The Cuban government says that an American contractor who's been held there since early December is a spy. He was arrested "at Havana airport after distributing satellite equipment and making internet connections", and the article doesn't say "allegedly", but it's the Guardian out of London, and the European press traditionally isn't as persnickety as the American media about that word.
      There are two other factors pretty much convince me that Cuba is telling the truth, and the man they're holding is indeed an American spy. First, it's been a month since this man's arrest and it's made nary a ripple in the American press, and second, the arrested man "has not been publicly named by Washington or Havana". If this guy was either innocent or plausibly innocent, the American side of this dispute would be shouting and stomping its feet, trying to make him look like a victim, and the very first step in that process would be identifying him and telling us about how he isn't a spy. Instead... crickets. Because he's a spy.
      But Cuba is a civilized nation and a signatory to the Geneva conventions, so I don't think we need to worry that he'll be tortured. For that you have to go to the part of Cuba that's under American control, Guantanamo.

Honduras
♦  The coup that deposed Honduran President Mel Zelaya last June ignited a firestorm of non-violent but determined resistance, but the business-military junta — under the leadership ofde facto president Roberto Micheletti — reacted to the peaceful marches and demonstrations by cracking down hard on protesters. More than 3,000 people have been detained, and hundreds more have been beaten, with many requiring hospitalization for their wounds. At least 28 members of the resistance have been killed by soldiers, police, or political assassins during the last five months.

Portugal
♦  Portugal's parliament has approved gay marriage, though the country's conservative president will probably veto the legislation.

Uganda
♦  A little late but with admirable flourish and detail, the New York Times details how American evangelicals like Caleb Lee Brundidge, Scott Lively, Don Schmierer, and President Obama's invocationist Rick Warren helped set the stage for vicious anti-gay violence in Uganda. (Login as unknownnews with password unknown.)
      These charlatan preachers simply gave the Ugandans the same schtick they offer here in America, with lies about how gays routinely recruit and molest children, and lies about gays being "healed" and made straight, all the ordinary background noise that can't be avoided in America. The thing is, in America their lies and hate are at least to some extent counteracted by things like science, civil rights, and the general understanding that Brundidge, Lively, Schmierer, and Warren and their ilk are turdy slimeballs. In Uganda, though, there's no such innoculation — there's little widespread understanding of science, civil rights, or the turdy slimeballhood of these finely dressed necktie-wearing visitors from the USA. Hence the fake claptrap of America's fake Christian leaders is actually listened to with respect — and acted upon.

Vietnam
♦  Four decades after being drenched in American chemical weapons, Vietnam continues to suffer the consequences, and wants America to pay the bill, which seems reasonable.

France
♦  Yeah, information wants to be free on the internet, or so we're told, but corporations own almost everything that's called "art" and own virtually every nation's lawmakers, and those corporations frown mightily on "pirated" works. In that real world we live in, France's new law against "piracy" strikes about the best balance that's feasible, with warnings before the full weight of the government sides with the corporations.

Iceland
♦  Iceland seems utterly uninterested in repaying its debt to the international banking system. I'll admit that my understanding of all this is slippery, but by my math the proposed $5-billion deal works out to about $15,600 for every man woman and child in Iceland, and at that price tag I'd say "no" too.

global climate change
♦  The "names and physical properties" of about one-fifth of the industrial chemicals used in America are kept secret "from consumers and virtually all public officials".

      ♦  Some species of insects that have always bred once each year are now breeding twice, perhaps more, each year ... thanks to climate change, which "is jolting the insects’ overwintering form into action early and also speeding up insect development".

      ♦  Here's a good interview with Michael Mann, not the moviemaker but the climate scientist, who's now in the crosshairs of a right-wing-generated smear campaign and ethics investigation. Scientists are "not trained to deal with these kinds of attacks", he says, and adds that he suspects that the hacking of the emails that started all the controversy was "orchestrated at a high level".
      And of course he's right about that. I'm wondering (but not optimistic) whether someone in American journalism still has the journalistic cajones to do the digging and pull back the curtain on that orchestration.

      ♦  Brit Hume, the former journalist who's found far more fame and fortune as an anchor at Fox News, says all would be forgiven if only Tiger Woods came to Jesus.

      ♦  MSNBC has paid big bucks to buy the Twitter feed @breakingnews and the web domain breakingnews.com. The president of msnbc.com says, "Hard and fast breaking news is currently an underserved market. With www.breakingnews.com we can now provide the optimal solution".
      I'm old and very, very not the target demographic for anything any more, but may I simply add, sweet jeebers. First off, "breaking news" is almost always crap — the first round of "facts" are usually erroneous, and the audience would almost always be better served by leaving "breaking news" unbroken, and filing the story ten minutes later when the facts are actual facts. But the real vulgarity here is the concept of news, let alone "breaking news", being delivered in 140 characters tweets. Have a generic Kleenex and weep for the corpse of journalism...
      And hey, have you checked out our Twitter feed?

      ♦  We haven't paid much attention to the endless media/governmental handwringing over how underwear bomber Umar Abdulmutallab managed to board a US-bound jet with explosives bound to his body, mostly because the question how did he do it? seems largely irrelevant. American intelligence operatives can ratchet up their checks, tighten their lists, double all their procedures, batten down the hatches, add another layer of barbed wire to the fences, and whatever other clichés might make you feel safe and warm, but the fact remains — given sufficient motivation, no amount of security will prevent such an attack, and America has given ample motivation for such attacks as a matter of ongoing foreign policy for decades now. And there's been no indication from the Obama administration that the ample motivation will be seriously reduced.
      In mainstream American media there's a grand total of one working journalist who's willing and able to present that obvious fact, and her name is Helen Thomas. At a White House press conference last week, she asked the obvious question, "Why do [the terrorists] want to do us harm? And what is the motivation? We never hear what you find out on why.” Of course, the question was sidestepped instead of answered, then sidestepped twice more as she rephrased it. Helen Thomas is 89 years old, and when she's gone the number of mainstream American journalists willing and able to ask such obvious but tough questions will be zero.

      ♦  The lawsuit between the feisty independent weekly San Francisco Bay Guardian and its chain-run competition S.F. Weekly was decided almost two years ago. The jury agreed with the Guardian, that the Weekly (owned by the same conglomerate that owns the Village Voice and numerous other formerly-alternative weeklies across the country) had used its chain-bolstered economic strength to unfairly and illegally corner the market in advertising that keeps such free papers alive. As you can guess from what I've written in this paragraph, my assumption is that the jury got it right. I've seen nothing to suggest otherwise.
      But the Weekly's parent company hasn't paid the $6.2-million verdict, which has since been increased by judicial penalty to $16-million. Instead the chain has appealed the verdict, but they haven't posted a bond as security to cover the judgment while the appeal is underway. It's unclear to me whether posting that bond is merely traditional or whether it's required by law, but that's what usually happens and it hasn't happened here, so the Guardian has obtained a court order authorizing a lien against New Times Media and the Village Voice newspaper chain, which owns S.F. Weekly.

      ♦  The Los Angeles Times is closing its printing plant in suburban Orange County and it's rejiggering press times at its main printing facility, basically bumping its own newspaper to print the California edition of the Wall Street Journal instead. Under the new schedule the Times' daily deadline will be 6:00 the night before, for squeezing news into its front section or local section. This means that the news will be at least twelve hours old before subscribers to the print edition actually see the paper. In a time when newspapers' print editions are slipping in competition with on-line news, this seems really quite stupid to me.

      ♦  Here's David Broder's latest think piece, which contains minimal thinking:
       Was Christmas Day 2009 the same kind of wake-up call for Barack Obama that Sept. 11, 2001, had been for George W. Bush? 
      The near-miss by a passenger plotting to blow up an American airliner as it flew into Detroit seems to have shocked this president as much as the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon did the last. 
      Both presidents had had plenty of warnings in the form of threats and even incidents. But both were caught off guard: Bush reading to a classroom of youngsters; Obama on a family vacation in Hawaii... 

      Near as I can comprehend, Broder is comparing Bush's willful disregard of detailed advance warnings about an attack to Obama's ... what, exactly? There's no evidence that Obama had any inkling or specific actionable warning of the Nigerian lunatic's plans. Is Broder really comparing 3,000 dead people on 9/11/2001 to a Nigerian's scorched genitals? I could go on, but I lack the interest to write it and if you have any good sense you'd lack the interest to read it. I'll just say that I have tried, not just in reading Broder's latest column but in glancing at his work many, many times over many years, to understand why Broder is considered a leading thoughtful pundit, and I have never found anything approaching an answer.

      ♦  Teabaggers want cartoonist Mark Fiore dead, which reminds him of how Muslims extremists want that Danish cartoonist dead.

      ♦  For about a decade of my life, I lived in a cheap faded flophouse hotel on San Francisco's Mission Street, with a sink in my room and a shared toilet and shower down the hall. The rent was reasonable, which was rare in that expensive city, but it was not the stuff of postcards. Of perhaps 100 people living in the rickety old building I seemed to be the only one who went to work five mornings a week.
      All the other residents were crackheads, drunkards, hookers, or nonfunctionals on mental meds, parole, welfare, or in other ways under some form of state funding or supervision. My neighbors tended to stagger and vomit and smelled funky, and conversations in the hallway were always incoherent or simply weird. There were needles and rubbers lying around, screams in the middle of the night, and there were frequently cops or paramedics on the premises taking someone away after a fight, shooting, or stabbing. One guy who lived down the hall for several years was never seen without a poorly-wrapped and visibly blood-stained rag wrapped around his head to absorb the leakage from a barely-covered, perpetually seeping wound. In this crowd I had countless conversations and several friends, and while I'm glad to be out of that world it's a memory that makes me smile and colors my understanding of a lot of issues.
      Why do I mention all this? To explain that while I have no formal training and wouldn't attempt a diagnosis, I recognize mental illness when I see it. And I see it when I see Glenn Beck. He'd never set foot in that building, but if he wasn't famous and wasn't rich he'd feel at home among his peers there, at least the white ones. He'd be just another lost soul sitting on the stairs, drinking or smoking something and maybe drooling, talking to himself and saying pretty much the same things he says on teevee.

      ♦  And here he is, saying that during the Bush years, the press did "not allow" the president "to get away with blatant lies" — good Christ, where was Beck interred from 2001-2009?

      ♦  Retired General and Fox News military analyst Thomas McInerney yearns to rip the clothes off young men en masse. Closeted much? In McInerney's case he wants the strip searches to target 18-28-year-old Muslims, as a security measure he says, though I'm sure he wants to watch. McInerney doesn't explain how we're supposed to know which travelers are Muslims, or what's to prevent 17-year-olds and 29-year-olds from strapping explosives to the junk.

      ♦  Pastor Rick Warren was able to pump the faithful for $2.4-million just by askin'. Dunno why that pisses me off but it does. Guess I still have fond feelings for Christianity as it was taught to me as a child, and I just don't like watching sheep get fleeced.

      ♦  Alleged Christian leader Pat Robertson says God has told him that the US is under a cloud of divine wrath. Robertson also recommends that his teevee viewers get their money out of the US as quick as they can, advice that (a) seems weird for a preacher to give and (b) would be deemed irresponsible and unpatriotic if a Democrat said it and (c) is one of the more sensible things Robertson has ever said.

      ♦  Stephen Baldwin, the wacky Christian among the show biz Baldwin brothers, imagines the splendor of having his daughter die for Jesus. I wonder how come he doesn't imagine the splendor of dying for Jesus himself?

      ♦  The kookiest and scariest of Texas Republicans are having the nation's school textbooks rewritten, so don't be surprised if the civil rights movement is a blip in your kid's history book, or Adam and Eve get equal billing with Darwin in the science text.

      ♦  I wasn't aware of the connection, but apparently every abortion in Israel delays the Messiah's arrival by a bit, though the actual time of the delay isn't provided.

      ♦  Congressman Nathan Deal (R-Georgia) has bolstered his credentials among the Republican wingnut and racist base (he's running for Governor of Georgia) by demanding to see President Obama's birth certificate.

      ♦  The white supremacist lunatic who shot up the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum last summer, killing security guard Stephen Johns, has died of not-yet-determined causes at a hospital near the federal prison where he was housed, in North Carolina.

      ♦  A judge in a neighboring county has temporarily quashed the bizarre criminal charges brought by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and County Attorney Andrew Thomas in Arizona, against Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Gary Donahoe. The certifiably nuts Arpaio and his presumably crazy cohort had charged Donahoe with obstruction of justice and taking bribes because he had ruled against them in some unrelated cases, but the charges will now wait until the state Supreme Court weighs in.
      With a little luck, this could be the case that finally brings Arpaio down and restores rule of law to the Phoenix metroplex... but I've had that hope before.

      ♦  There was a brief bit of media chuckling last week when the perpetually folksy uber-insider James Carville said that as a frequent traveler, he'd submit to having his penis scanned if it would reduce his wait at airport security points. I can't begin to guess whether Carville was serious or merely, as is his habit, being "colorful", but newsmakers of his stature should, I think, be taken seriously when they're speaking publicly, as Carville was. If his comments are to be taken seriously, then, he's seriously a fool and his comments are reprehensible. Free men don't submit to routine penis inspections at security checkpoints.

      ♦  Senator Harry Reid (D-Nevada) has apologized for having described then-candidate Barack Obama in 2008 as a "light-skinned" African-American who didn't have a "Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one". The quote appears in Game Change, a trashy new book about the 2008 election by Time's Mark Halperin and New York magazine's John Heilemann. Ironically, Reid's quote was part of a clumsy statement offering his support of Obama's candidacy.
      "Negro", of course, is a loaded term, but other than that the quote is accurate and I don't see what Reid has to apologize for, beyond, of course, being Harry Reid, and that ought to be plenty embarrassing. If anything, I give Reid a little credit for 'fessing' up that he said it.

      ♦  "Hundreds of millions" of Muslims are terrorists, says former People's Court judge Ed Koch, who was also once Mayor of New York.

      ♦  Famed musician and very rich guy Paul David Hewson, aka Bono, has called for a corporate crackdown on the pirates of the internet, because of all the money he thinks they've cost him.

health care sucks in America
      ♦  Insiders say that President Obama will play a "prominent role" in the final round of compromise on health care reform, as Senate and House legislation is merged. How I wish that could be heard as good news.

      ♦  With an obvious abundance of knowledge about the matters at hand, Maggie Mahar explains why taxing "Cadillac health plans" is a stupid idea. Violet Socks reaches a similar conclusion.

      ♦  Ginandtacos.com offers a quick, mildly comical but poignant take on the way health care in America works, if you call this working, and if you can afford health care in America.

      ♦  In its typically visually stunning manner, National Geographic presents the data, nation-by-nation, on health care spending and life expectancy. The costs are almost literally off the chart for America, where life expectancy remains just a bit below the world's average.

      ♦  A study suggests that the hormone leptin helps correct diabetes, and that "leptin's antidiabetic effects are independent of the hormone's well-known ability to reduce body weight." Of course, years of testing stand between this finding and a dream come true for millions who have diabetes, and leptin isn't absorbed through the digestive tract so a miracle pill seems unlikely.
      Other studies have shown that fakey fructose reduces circulating insulin and leptin, another reason to avoid high fructose corn syrup, but smart people already do.

      ♦  My exposure to whatever passes for popular culture is unavoidable but at arm's length, but I guess I'm a little startled that it's not newsworthy when the lovely Beyonce Knowles sings lovely love songs for Hannibal, the son of "Libyan strongman" Muammar Qaddafi.

      ♦  Gallagher, the watermelon-smashing comedian, is "just bored to death and unimpressed with Hollywood and our country". And dang me, I can understand that. Also, the footage of Gallagher teaching his opening act how to do comedy is just jawdropping in its terrificness.

      ♦  If you've never failed, you've never lived.

      ♦  I was a little torn about seeing Avatar. On the "no" side, spending hundreds of millions of dollars to make one movie is just catastrophic to the art in motion pictures. On the "yes" side, the preview looks OK and I've generally liked most of the Cameron flicks I've seen. On the "no" side I saw Cameron on a TV walk show a few weeks ago, and since we don't have a wide-screen TV his ego wouldn't fit on the broadcast. On the "yes" side conservatives hate it and a few people I like have told me it's good. On the "no" side I've read that it's deeply shallow with cartoonish characters.
      For now our decision is "no", not because of any of the above but because a friend of mine saw this ad for the National Guard before Avatar. Nope. Absolutely nope. The last time I spent movie admission prices to be subjected to a military recruiting ad was the last time, and never again. When Avatar comes to the discount cinema in our town, where they don't show ads before the movies, we might see it. Might.

      ♦  Astronomers have identified a ticking time-bomb in space that lies perilously close to the Earth, they revealed today. The star, called T Pyxidis, looks set to explode as a supernova with the force of 20 billion billion billion megatons of TNT.
      At long last the whimper meets the bang, and we all briefly savor sweet relief as the curtains close.

      ♦  Unknown News is updated once weekly, usually on Mondays. It's our attempt to spotlight news that was underplayed, ignored, or simply lost in the non-stop news cycle. Have a seat and some cheese puffs but please, no smoking.
      A tip o' the hat to Daniel D., the letter Z, AK for CSS help, No More Mister Nice Blog, Right Wing Watch, Culture Kitchen, Photography is Not a Crime, Lotus, Jonathan Turley, JR Mooneyham, Jim B., Sherri B., Cassandra, Joseph D., Joe G., Lon Garm, J.S. (not the Watergate felon) Magruder at Eat the Blog, Alexander Shaumyan, SirJ, Bill T., wlgriffi, our first web-home at pitas.com (1999-2003, and still a great place for publishing your blog), and the love of my life (who prefers to remain anonymous).

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