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There's another floater. Four years on, there's another victim face down in the waters of Hurricane Katrina, Dr. Ivor van Heerden.
I don't get to use the word "heroic" very often. Van Heerden is heroic. The Deputy Director of the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center, it was van Heerden who told me, on camera, something so horrible, so frightening, that, if it weren't for his international stature, it would have been hard to believe:
"By midnight on Monday the White House knew. Monday night I was at the state Emergency Operations Center and nobody was aware that the levees had breeched. Nobody."
On the night of August 29, 2005, van Heerden was shut in at the state emergency center in Baton Rouge, providing technical advice to the rescue effort. As Hurricane Katrina came ashore, van Heerden and the State Police there were high-fiving it: Katrina missed the city of New Orleans, turning east.
What they did not know was that the levees had cracked. For crucial hours, the White House knew, but withheld the information that the levees of New Orleans had broken and that the city was about to drown. Bush's boys did not notify the State of the flood to come which would have allowed police to launch an emergency hunt for the thousands that remained stranded.
"Fifteen hundred people drowned. That's the bottom line," said von Heerden. He shouldn't have told me that. The professor was already in trouble for saying, publicly, that the levees around New Orleans were no good, too short, by 18". They couldn't stand up to a storm like Katrina. He said it months before Katrina hit - in a call to the White House, and later in the press.
So, even before Katrina, even before our interview, the professor was in hot water. Van Heerden was told by University officials that his complaints jeopardized funding from the Bush Administration. They tried to gag him. He didn't care: he ripped off the gag and spoke out. Read more.
Growing Poverty and Despair in America
By Stephen Lendman
In 1962, Michael Harrington's "The Other America" exposed the nation's dark underside enough for John Kennedy to ask his Council of Economic Advisor chairman, Walter Heller, to look into the problem and for Lyndon Johnson to say (on January 8, 1964) that his administration "today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America."
In fact, it was little more than a skirmish that fell way short of addressing the real problem in the world's richest nation. Today it's even greater and increasing exponentially under a president who, unlike Johnson, declared war on the poor and disadvantaged to favor privilege over growing needs and essential social change.
In his book, Harrington wrote:
"In morality and in justice every citizen should be committed to abolishing the other America, for it is intolerable that the richest nation in human history should allow such needless suffering. But more than that, if we solve the problem of the other America we will have learned how to solve the problems of all of America." Sadly, we didn't then nor have we now.
Over the past century, our nation has triumphed over two sets of aspiring global tyrants: the axis powers in WWII, and the Soviet Union in the Cold War. Our victories over these foes were, in each case, world-historical in scale and importance. Yet within less than a century, we now flirt with losing the principles those successes established.
First, our recent record on torture, and more recent failure to prosecute all officials involved in enabling it, undermines the legacy of international human rights we established after the Second World War. Second, after vindicating freedom, liberty, and individual privacy in the Cold War, we now dutifully submit to a surveillance state more intrusive than any that has ever existed in human history.
Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) today made the following statement in response to news reports that the Obama Administration plans to add increased oversight to the rendition program:
“Extraordinary Rendition is an illegal practice hailing from the misguided policies and practices of the previous administration,” Kucinich said. “As such, I am deeply concerned by the Obama administration’s decision to continue the practice of extraordinary rendition. As a democracy it is imperative that we end the use of the inhumane and immoral practice of extrajudicial detainee transfers to places where the potential use of torture as a part of detention and interrogation exists.
Crawling through a hole in a fence and walking through an open doorway, Shamus Rohn and Mike Miller lead the way into an abandoned Midcity hospital. They are outreach workers for the New Orleans organization UNITY for the Homeless, and they do this all day long; searching empty houses and buildings for homeless people, so they can offer services and support. “We joke about having turned criminal trespass into a fulltime job,” says Rohn.
Up a darkened stairway and through the detritus of a building that looks like its been scavenged for anything of value to sell, Rohn and Miller enter a sundrenched room. Inside is Michael Palmer, a 57-year-old white former construction worker and merchant seaman who has made a home here. Palmer – his friends call him Mickey – is in some ways lucky. He found a room with a door that locks. He salvaged some furniture from other parts of the hospital, so he has a bed, a couch, and a rug. Best of all, he has a fourth-floor room with a balcony. “Of all the homeless,” he says, “I probably have the best view.”
Mickey has lived here for six months. He’s been homeless since shortly after Katrina, and this is by far the best place he’s stayed in that time. “I’ve lived on the street,” he says. “I’ve slept in a cardboard box.” He is a proud man, thin and muscled with a fresh shave, clean clothes and a trim mustache. He credits a nearby church, which lets him shave and shower. Read more.
Although many right-wingers will tell you that the current health care system works fine, the majority of Americans are happy with the plan they already have, and only a small number of uninsured people would benefit from reform....we know that's just not true.
With health spending projected to double if we don't enact real reform, middle and lower income families are at high risk of losing their health coverage--or facing an impending future of stagnant incomes.
Premiums are eating up middle-class incomes: Over the past decade, insurance premiums have been rising in cost at a much greater rate than income in the U.S...and not by a small amount. A recent report by the non-profit, non-partisan Commonwealth Fund found that premiums have been ballooned so much that employer-sponsored health coverage for families has increased by 119 percent between 1999 and 2008.
What's even scarier: The report determined that rates could jump by 94 percent in the coming decade if cost growth continues on its current course--to $23,842 per family. Read more.
With a growing-yet-ambiguous mission and no clear exit strategy, the war in Afghanistan is fast becoming a key political liability for President Barack Obama.
Last week, the White House gamely tried to characterize Thursday's Afghan elections as a milestone for democracy. But the administration's tepid relationship with presumptively re-elected President Hamid Karzai is one symptom of a larger struggle for Obama.
"Our goal is clear: To disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda and their extremist allies," Obama said of Afghanistan. "This is not a challenge that we asked for; it came to our shores when al Qaeda launched the 9/11 attacks from Afghanistan."
Obama has tried to bring stability to Afghanistan by sending more troops and shaking up the military command. He broadened the regional strategy to include Pakistan and rooting out terrorist safe havens.
But even so, a Washington Post/ABC News poll last week found 51 percent of Americans said the war in Afghanistan is not worth fighting. Among Democrats, 70 percent are against the war. Read more.
The Smearing of Mary Robinson
by William Hughes
“The IDF...acted in violation of basic human values.” - Report of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel. (1)
One must praise the ability of Israel Worshippers to change the subject! As I write, the 1.5 million people of Gaza are barely existing under the heel of a brutal Israeli occupation and its most recent terror-driven siege. From Dec. 27, 2008 to Jan. 18, 2009, in a 22 day rampage, about 1,400 innocent Gazan civilians, many of them children--Christian and Muslim alike--were slaughtered by the IDF. (2) Prior to that blood bath, the population was subjected to and continues to be victimized by an Israeli blockade of vital goods necessary to sustain life. (3) George Galloway, MP, a champion of a “Free Palestine,” put it this way: Gaza is “locked-up!” (4)
Rendition of Terror Suspects to Continue Under Obama
By Scott Shane and David Johnston | NYTimes
The Obama administration will continue the Bush administration’s practice of sending terror suspects to third countries for detention and interrogation, but will monitor their treatment to ensure they are not tortured, administration officials said on Monday.
The administration officials, who announced the changes on condition that they not be identified, said that unlike the Bush administration, they would give the State Department a larger role in assuring that transferred detainees would not be abused.
“The emphasis will be on insuring that individuals will not face torture if they are sent over overseas,” said one administration official, adding that no detainees will be sent to countries that are known to conduct abusive interrogations.
But human rights advocates condemned the decision, saying it would permit the transfer of prisoners to countries with a history of torture and that promises of humane treatment, called “diplomatic assurances,” were no protection against abuse. Read more.
CIA interrogators threatened to kill the children of one detainee at the height of the Bush administration's war on terror and implied that another's mother would be sexually assaulted, newly declassified documents revealed Monday as the government launched a criminal investigation into the spy agency's "unauthorized, improvised, inhumane" practices.
At the same time, the Obama administration announced a new policy for future interrogations — under White House supervision.
With the release of the five-year-old CIA documents, the Justice Department began a probe into the spy agency's tactics, under the direction of a veteran prosecutor who has been looking into other aspects of the interrogations.
The documents released by the CIA's inspector general under a court order said interrogators went too far — even beyond what was authorized under Justice Department legal memos that have since been withdrawn and discredited. President Barack Obama has said questioners would not face charges if they followed the legal guidelines, but the newly released documents suggest some knew they were not.
"Ten years from now we're going to be sorry we're doing this (but) it has to be done," one unidentified CIA officer said in the report, predicting that interrogators would someday have to appear in court to answer for such tactics. Read more.
By Dave Lindorff
You see, here's the thing. When you hear about the sick, twisted things that America's torturers have been doing, courtesy of President George W. Bush and Vice President Darth Cheney, you have to remember that the US military and the CIA were not really all that reliable when it came to picking up the real terrorists. In fact, their batting average was pretty lousy.
Percentage change since 2002 in average premiums paid to large US health-insurance companies: +87%
Percentage change in the profits of the top ten insurance companies: +428%
Chances that an American bankrupted by medical bills has health insurance: 7 in 10
—Harper’s Index, September 2009
Capitalists, as my friend Father Michael Doyle says, should never be allowed near a health care system. They hold sick children hostage as they force parents to bankrupt themselves in the desperate scramble to pay for medical care. The sick do not have a choice. Medical care is not a consumable good. We can choose to buy a used car or a new car, shop at a boutique or a thrift store, but there is no choice between illness and health. And any debate about health care must acknowledge that the for-profit health care industry is the problem and must be destroyed. This is an industry that hires doctors and analysts to deny care to patients in order to increase profits. It is an industry that causes half of all bankruptcies. And the 20,000 Americans who died last year because they did not receive adequate care condemn these corporations as complicit in murder.
The current health care debate in Congress has nothing to do with death panels or public options or socialized medicine. The real debate, the only one that counts, is how much money our blood-sucking insurance, pharmaceutical and for-profit health services are going to be able to siphon off from new health care legislation. The proposed plans rattling around Congress all ensure that the profits for these corporations will increase and the misery for ordinary Americans will be compounded. The corporate state, enabled by both Democrats and Republicans, is yet again cannibalizing the Treasury. It is yet again pushing Americans, especially the poor and the working class, into levels of despair and rage that will continue to fuel the violent, proto-fascist movements leaping up around the edges of American society. And the traditional watchdogs—those in public office, the press and citizens groups—are as useless as the perfumed fops of another era who busied their days with court intrigue at Versailles. Canada never looked so good. Read more.
Codex Alimentarius (CA) Threatens Human Health
By Stephen Lendman
At stake isn't consumer safety. It's protecting drug company profits by eliminating competition. It's about removing safe alternatives, natural therapies, and information about them. It's to empower drug giants and approve only their products for sale. It's to establish standards they alone write; to pave the way for mass-marketing of genetically modified foods and drugs. It's a stepping stone toward mandated harmful global Codex rules.
On its web site, CA (Latin for food code) says:
"The Codex Alimentarius Commission was created in 1963 by the FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN) and WHO (World Health Organization) to develop food standards, guidelines and related texts such as codes of practice under the Joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme. The main purposes of this Programme are protecting health of the consumers and ensuring fair trade practices in the food trade, and promoting coordination of all food standards work undertaken by international governmental and non-governmental organizations."
Whatever its founding purpose, CA is much different today because corporate interests control it - global pharmaceutical, food, and banking giants in league with complicit UN and government agencies to promote GMOs over healthy foods, and drugs over natural remedies by restricting or banning vitamin and dietary supplements, except ones they control. Organic food as well by irradiation and hidden synthetic additives or ingredients.
If CA's standards and guidelines are adopted, they'll establish binding global rules, effectively overriding sovereign national laws. GMO foods and drugs will proliferate. Labeling will be banned. Food and drug giants will decide what will and won't be sold. Governments will be prohibited from countermanding them. Everyone's health and well-being will be jeopardized.
By Linda Milazzo
The photo below was taken on Friday, August 21, 2009 in El Segundo, California, outside the office of Congresswoman Jane Harman (36th CD). It shows three adorable children wearing stickers with the word fascism below a supposed image of the President of the United States, fashioned as Batman's malevolent Joker:
All photos by Mike Chickey
William Hazlitt, the great 19th Century English essayist and defender of human freedom, said:
Abstract reason, unassisted by passion, is no match for power and prejudice, armed with force and cunning. The love of liberty is the love of others; the love of power is the love of ourselves.
The first sentence points with precision to the health care message failures of President Obama and Congressional Democrats. The second sentence is one of the most eloquent statements of progressive morality ever written. It's worth repeating: "The love of liberty is the love of others; the love of power is the love of ourselves." The moral force of the former fuels the health care movement; the anti-reform effort is the latest refuge of the latter.
The ongoing struggle for democracy is the tale of the centuries-long conflict between these two antagonists. There are times when the hostilities appear to reach a mortal climax: Caesar crossing the Rubicon into Rome; the American Revolution; the bloody war over slavery. But I think the Love of Others and the Love of Power are immortals, at least in a human universe. The fight will never end.
The relative motivations of the health care combatants ought to offer evidence enough of the justness of reform. Those who seek universal care stand to gain better health for their neighbors and themselves. Opponents of reform seek to protect and grow the power of their vast economic empires. Who are you going to believe?
On the progressive side is the belief that we bear a deep responsibility for one another. We cannot call ourselves a civilized democracy if we secure our own health through the wholly unnecessary death of another. On the other side is Power, the entrenched insurance industry that's bribed its way to unmatched authority, that profits from death and misery, that has made a catastrophe of our physical and political well being. Read more.
Last night, the so-called "gang of six" -- three Republican and three Democratic senators on the Senate Finance Committee -- met by conference call and, according to Senator Max Baucus, the committee's chair, reaffirmed their commitment "toward a bipartisan health-care reform bill" (read: less coverage and no public insurance option). The Washington Post reports that the senators shared tales from their home states, where some have been besieged by protesters angry about a potential government takeover of the nation's health care system.
It's come down to these six senators. The House has reported a bill as has another Senate committee, but all eyes are fixed on Senate Finance -- and on these three Dems and three Republicans, in particular. But who, exactly, anointed these six to decide the fate of the nation's health care? Read more.
Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) acknowledged on Sunday that the claims he made two weeks ago -- that Democratic health care legislation would allow the government to "pull the plug on grandma" -- did not reflect the language of the bills.
In an appearance on CBS' "Face the Nation," the Iowa Republican admitted that the current legislation being considered by Congress didn't include the infamous death panel provision that would allow the government to determine who should live or die.
"I know the Pelosi bill doesn't intend to do that," said Grassley. "It won't do that," he added later.
Grassley's admission concludes several weeks of speculation as to why the senator, one of three key Republicans negotiating a bipartisan health care bill, would latch on to the infamous myth. The White House insisted that it still wanted to work with Grassley even after he made his remarks. But on Capitol Hill and outside of government, Democrats were furious that the key GOP point person for a bipartisan bill was deploying such toxic rhetoric. Read more.
Report Reveals CIA Conducted Mock Executions
A long-awaited report on post-9/11 interrogation tactics will reveal harrowing new details about treatment of suspected terrorists.
By Mark Hosenball and Michael Isikoff | Newsweek Web Exclusive
A long-suppressed report by the Central Intelligence Agency's inspector general to be released next week reveals that CIA interrogators staged mock executions as part of the agency's post-9/11 program to detain and question terror suspects, NEWSWEEK has learned.
According to two sources—one who has read a draft of the paper and one who was briefed on it—the report describes how one detainee, suspected USS Cole bomber Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, was threatened with a gun and a power drill during the course of CIA interrogation. According to the sources, who like others quoted in this article asked not to be named while discussing sensitive information, Nashiri's interrogators brandished the gun in an effort to convince him that he was going to be shot. Interrogators also turned on a power drill and held it near him. "The purpose was to scare him into giving [information] up," said one of the sources. A federal law banning the use of torture expressly forbids threatening a detainee with "imminent death."
The report also says, according to the sources, that a mock execution was staged in a room next to a detainee, during which a gunshot was fired in an effort to make the suspect believe that another prisoner had been killed. The inspector general's report alludes to more than one mock execution.
Before leaving office, Bush administration officials confirmed that Nashiri was one of three CIA detainees subjected to waterboarding. They also acknowledged that Nashiri was one of two Al Qaeda detainees whose detentions and interrogations were documented at length in CIA videotapes. But senior officials of the agency's undercover operations branch, the National Clandestine Service, ordered that the tapes be destroyed, an action that has been under investigation for more than a year by a federal prosecutor. Read more.
On Friday nearly 100 Latin America scholars and experts sent an open letter to Human Rights Watch urging HRW to speak up about human rights violations in Honduras under the coup regime and to conduct its own investigation of these abuses. The letters' signers include Honduras experts Dana Frank and Adrienne Pine, Latin America experts Eric Hershberg, John Womack, and Greg Grandin, and noted authors Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein.
By Dave Lindorff
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and Federal District Court Judge Fernando Gaitan of the Missouri Western District Court have at least two things in common: they are both appointees of President Ronald Reagan, and they both think it’s just fine for the US to execute innocent people. The same can be said for Judge C. Arlen Beam of the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.
In a recent dissent in a 5-4 Supreme Court ruling ordering a habeas hearing in federal court for South Carolina death row inmate Troy Anthony Davis, a man slated to die after being convicted for the murder of an off-duty Savannah police officer, Scalia wrote, “This court has never held that the constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is `actually’ innocent.”
Administration Makes Progress on Resettling Detainees
By Peter Finn | Washington Post
The Obama administration has secured commitments from nearly a dozen countries willing to accept detainees from Guantanamo Bay and is increasingly confident about its ability to transfer a large majority of the prisoners who have been cleared for release, according to U.S. and foreign officials.
Six European Union countries -- Britain, France, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain -- have accepted or publicly agreed to take detainees. Four E.U. countries have privately told the administration that they are committed to resettling detainees, and five other E.U. nations are considering taking some, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the negotiations.
Two E.U. countries will soon send delegations to the U.S. military prison in Cuba to assess detainees held there.
The administration's progress in resettling the approximately 80 detainees cleared for release so far could ease the politics and logistics of moving terrorism suspects to American soil. Some lawmakers fiercely oppose bringing any detainees to the United States, but a substantially reduced detainee population could bolster the administration's effort to secure a prison location in this country. Read more.
Some 500 tons of donations of medical equipment which flooded the Strip after Israel’s military offensive ended on 18 January sits idle in warehouses. Few donors consulted the health ministry or aid agencies working in Gaza to find out what provisions were needed. According to the health ministry, 20 percent of the donated medications had expired. WHO said much of the equipment sent was old and unusable due to a lack of spare parts.
Arafat Hamdona, 20, has been confined to the cancer unit of As-Shifa, Gaza’s primary hospital, since he was diagnosed with maxillary skin tumours in June 2008. Red lesions protrude from his face, his features are distorted and his eyes swollen shut.
In April, Arafat was permitted to travel to Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem where he received three series of chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment. He was scheduled to return for further treatment, but has not been granted permission by the Israeli authorities to leave Gaza.
“He is only given pain killers,” said Arafat’s father, Faraj Hamdona, explaining that that is all As-Shifa has to offer.
According to a July 2009 report published by the World Health Organization (WHO) in Jerusalem, Gaza doctors and nurses do not have the medical equipment to respond to the health needs of the 1.5 million people living in the Gaza Strip.
Q&A: "Punishment Has to Be Top Priority in U.S. Military"
Catherine Makino interviews Ann Wright, retired U.S. army colonel | IPSNews
Ann Wright is a former U.S. diplomat who served in the military for 29 years.
She was a deputy ambassador in Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Mongolia and Micronesia. She is one of three U.S. diplomats who publicly resigned in 2003 in opposition to the Iraq war.
She is currently in Japan speaking around the country about eradicating military violence against civilians, including sexual assault and rape by the military. Before she arrived in Japan she went to the Pacific island of Guam with a delegation.
Wright spoke to IPS on U.S. plans to build a military base in Guam, sexual assault by U.S. soldiers on Japanese women and girls and how groups in Japan work with their counterparts in the U.S. to stop this violence.
IPS: A U.S. military base in Guam could result in the redeployment of more than 35,000 people there. What did you say in Guam?
ANN WRIGHT: That our delegation is here in solidarity with the people of Guam in terms of the movement of 8,000 U.S. marines from Okinawa to Guam.
That the people of Japan, particularly the people on Okinawa, have been working very hard to remove some of the extensive military forces. Now, the U.S. military seem to be coming to this lovely island.
The Okinawans certainly understand that whenever the U.S. military lands somewhere, it leaves a very large footprint. They all know it very well, because much of their land is already occupied by the U.S. military.
In Guam they have been seeing their own lands being taken from them. Read more.
What is a Voting Bloc?
A voting bloc is a group of people who vote together in support of a specific issue or common concern.
Gain national single payer health care for all citizens. Demand that your elected officials support H.R. 676 & S.703 the national single payer health care reform bills. Read more.