sábado, 28 de fevereiro de 2009

Obama tells powerful lobbies: 'Bring it on'

Charles Babington, The Associated Press: "President Barack Obama challenged the nation's vested interests to a legislative duel Saturday, saying he will fight to change health care, energy and education in dramatic ways that will upset the status quo. 'The system we have now might work for the powerful and well-connected interests that have run Washington for far too long,' Obama said in his weekly radio and video address. 'But I don't. I work for the American people.'"

Doomed to Repeat History in Afghanistan?

Joe Galloway, McClatchy Newspapers: "If the new American team has some new ideas about how to succeed in Afghanistan, now would be the time to lay them out. Nothing that Alexander the Great, Queen Victoria or Leonid Brezhnev tried in their attempts to subdue the quarrelsome Afghan tribes worked, and nothing we've tried in the last eight years has, either. While we're waiting for a new strategy, perhaps we should break out some old Kipling: 'When wounded and left on Afghanistan's plain.' 'And the women come out to cut up your remains ....' Etc., etc."

See also: Lessons from Soviet Withdrawal (hat-tip Marc Herold)

sexta-feira, 27 de fevereiro de 2009

Chef to Obamas: Way to Go!

By Marian Burros

In November Alice Waters sent a letter to the President-Elect and Mrs. Obama, offering her services and those of Ruth Reichl, editor-in-chief of Gourmet and Danny Meyer, owner of several highly regarded restaurants in New York, to become their kitchen cabinet and help them select a new White House chef who would embrace “environmentalism, health and conservation.”

Some people in the food community thought it was brilliant; others thought it was cheeky.

Fast forward to February.

Michelle Obama is way ahead of the would-be advisers. Without hiring a new executive chef or taking up Ms. Waters on her offer, the Obamas have made the local/sustainable food community so happy that the Chefs Collaborative is letting them know how much they approve of their early efforts to help Americans change the way they eat.

So far 300 members of the 3,000 member organization, a group committed to sourcing and cooking with local and sustainable ingredients, have signed a congratulatory letter to the President and First Lady.

Since the letter is not going to be delivered until Earth Day, April 22, the organization will have plenty of time to gather more signatories, who already include the usual suspects: Dan Barber (Blue Hill), Peter Hoffman (Savoy), Suzanne Goin (Lucques) and Rick Bayless (Tompolobampo, a favorite of the Obamas).

“The purpose of our letter is to applaud what the Obamas have begun to do, encourage them to keep going, and offer our help, expertise and full support,” said Bruce Sherman, chef-owner of North Pond Restaurant in Chicago and chair of the collaborative.

When the letter was first drafted in December, 2008, the chefs could only hope the Obamas were on the same wave length.

Now that Michelle Obama has spoken out on a couple of occasions, including a press conference in the White House kitchen before the Administration’s first official dinner they know she is on their side.

She put in a pitch for the superior flavor of local and sustainable food and for healthy eating, a recurring theme for her during the campaign and since she has come to Washington.

Sam Kass, the chef who cooked local, sustainable and healthy food for the family in Chicago is now an assistant chef in the White House kitchen. And both the executive chef Cristeta Comerford and the pastry chef Bill Yosses, well known to many New Yorkers who enjoyed his work at Bouley, made it clear they, too, cared about sourcing ingredients locally and regionally.

Mrs. Obama had high praise for the chef’s healthy creations, remaking on the creamless “creamed” spinach on the menu that evening and she spoke glowingly of several “creamed” soups Chef Comerford had made that were also without cream.

“We’re thrilled with the chefs the Obamas have working with them in the White House,”said Melissa Kogut, executive director of the collaborative. “We just want to say ‘yea’ and ‘keep up the good work.’”

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Obama in the running for Nobel Peace Prize?

The US president Barack Obama and his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy are believed to be among the record 205 nominations received for the 2009 Nobel peace prize.

The awards committee, based on Oslo, Norway, refuses to say who is nominated. It just says that 172 individuals and 33 organisations were on the final count released today.

The previous record was 199 in 2005.

Thousand of people have nomination rights for the coveted prize and sometimes announce their selections.

This year those names include Mr Obama, Mr Sarkozy, American musician Pete Seeger, Macedonian humanitarian Zivko Popovski-Cvetin, Austrian children's charity SOS-Kinderdorf International, Vietnamese religious leader Thich Quang Do, and American Greg Mortenson for his Asian school-building charity.

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The Obamaist Manifesto

By Charles Krauthammer
Friday, February 27, 2009; A17

Not a great speech, but extremely consequential. If Barack Obama succeeds, his joint address to Congress will be seen as historic -- indeed as the foundational document of Obamaism. As it stands, it constitutes the boldest social democratic manifesto ever issued by a U.S. president.

The first part of the speech, justifying his economic stabilization efforts, was mere housekeeping. The economic crisis is to Obama a technocratic puzzle that needs to be solved because otherwise he loses all popular support.

Unlike most presidents, however, he doesn't covet popular support for its own sake. Some men become president to be someone, others to do something. This is what separates, say, a Bill Clinton from a Ronald Reagan. Obama, who once noted that Reagan altered the trajectory of America as Clinton had not, sees himself a Reagan.

Reagan came to office to do something: shrink government, lower taxes, rebuild American defenses. Obama made clear Tuesday night that he intends to be equally transformative. His three goals: universal health care, universal education, and a new green energy economy highly funded and regulated by government.

(1) Obama wants to be to universal health care what Lyndon Johnson was to Medicare. Obama has publicly abandoned his once-stated preference for a single-payer system as in Canada and Britain. But that is for practical reasons. In America, you can't get there from here directly.

Instead, Obama will create the middle step that will lead ultimately and inevitably to single-payer. The way to do it is to establish a reformed system that retains a private health-insurance sector but offers a new government-run plan (based on benefits open to members of Congress) so relatively attractive that people voluntarily move out of the private sector, thereby starving it. The ultimate result is a system of fully socialized medicine. This will probably not happen until long after Obama leaves office. But he will be rightly recognized as its father.

(2) Beyond cradle-to-grave health care, Obama wants cradle-to-cubicle education. He wants far more government grants, tax credits and other financial guarantees for college education -- another way station to another universal federal entitlement. He lauded the country for establishing free high school education during the Industrial Revolution; he wants to put us on the road to doing the same for college during the Information Age.

(3) Obama wants to be to green energy what John Kennedy was to the moon shot, its visionary and creator. It starts with the establishment of a government-guided, government-funded green energy sector into which the administration will pour billions of dollars from the stimulus package and billions more from budgets to come.

But just picking winners and losers is hardly sufficient for a president who sees himself as world-historical. Hence the carbon cap-and-trade system he proposed Tuesday night that will massively restructure American industry and create a highly regulated energy sector.

These revolutions in health care, education and energy are not just abstract hopes. They have already taken life in Obama's $787 billion stimulus package, a huge expansion of social spending constituting a down payment on Obama's plan for remaking the American social contract.

Obama sees the current economic crisis as an opportunity. He has said so openly. And now we know what opportunity he wants to seize. Just as the Depression created the political and psychological conditions for Franklin Roosevelt's transformation of America from laissez-faireism to the beginnings of the welfare state, the current crisis gives Obama the political space to move the still (relatively) modest American welfare state toward European-style social democracy.

In the European Union, government spending has declined slightly, from 48 percent to 47 percent of GDP during the past 10 years. In the United States, it has shot up from 34 percent to 40 percent. Part of this explosive growth in U.S. government spending reflects the emergency private-sector interventions of a Republican administration. But the clear intent was to make the massive intrusion into the private sector temporary and to retreat as quickly as possible. Obama has radically different ambitions.

The spread between Europe and America in government-controlled GDP has already shrunk from 14 percent to 7 percent. Two terms of Obamaism and the difference will be zero.

Conservatives take a dim view of the regulation-bound, economically sclerotic, socially stagnant, nanny state that is the European Union. Nonetheless, Obama is ascendant and has the personal mandate to take the country where he wishes. He has laid out boldly the Brussels-bound path he wants to take.

Let the debate begin.


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A Bold Plan Sweeps Away Reagan Ideas

By David Leonhardt

The budget that President Obama proposed on Thursday is nothing less than an attempt to end a three-decade era of economic policy dominated by the ideas of Ronald Reagan and his supporters.

The Obama budget — a bold, even radical departure from recent history, wrapped in bureaucratic formality and statistical tables — would sharply raise taxes on the rich, beyond where Bill Clinton had raised them. It would reduce taxes for everyone else, to a lower point than they were under either Mr. Clinton or George W. Bush. And it would lay the groundwork for sweeping changes in health care and education, among other areas.

More than anything else, the proposals seek to reverse the rapid increase in economic inequality over the last 30 years. They do so first by rewriting the tax code and, over the longer term, by trying to solve some big causes of the middle-class income slowdown, like high medical costs and slowing educational gains.

After Mr. Obama spent much of his first five weeks in office responding to the financial crisis, his budget effectively tried to reclaim momentum for the priorities on which he campaigned.

His efforts would add to a budget deficit already swollen by Mr. Bush’s policies and the recession, creating the largest deficit, relative to the size of the economy, since World War II. Erasing that deficit will require some tough choices — about further spending cuts and tax increases — that Mr. Obama avoided this week.

But he nonetheless made choices.

He sought to eliminate some corporate subsidies, for health insurers, banks and agricultural companies, that economists have long criticized. He proposed putting a price on carbon, to slow global warming, and then refunding most of the revenue from that program through broad-based tax cuts. He called for roughly $100 billion a year in tax increases on the wealthy — mostly delayed until 2011, when the recession will presumably have ended — and $50 billion a year in net tax cuts for the nonwealthy.

The history of the United States economy over the last 70 years can be roughly divided into two periods: the decades immediately after World War II, when inequality plummeted, and the past three decades, when global economic forces and government policies caused it to soar. Mr. Obama is setting out to begin a third period that looks more like the first than the second.

That agenda starts with taxes. Over the last three decades, the pretax incomes of the wealthiest households have risen far more than they have for other households, while the tax rates for top earners have fallen more than they have for others, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

As a result, the average post-tax income of the top 1 percent of households has jumped by roughly $1 million since 1979, adjusted for inflation, to $1.4 million. Pay for most families has risen only slightly faster than inflation.

Before becoming Mr. Obama’s top economic adviser, Lawrence H. Summers liked to tell a hypothetical story to distill the trend. The increase in inequality, Mr. Summers would say, meant that each family in the bottom 80 percent of the income distribution was effectively sending a $10,000 check, every year, to the top 1 percent of earners.

Mr. Obama’s budget reflects that sensibility. Budget experts were still sorting through the details on Thursday, but it appeared that various tax cuts and credits aimed at the middle class and the poor would increase the take-home pay of the median household by roughly $800.

The tax increases on the top 1 percent, meanwhile, will most likely cost them $100,000 a year.

“The tax code will become more progressive, with relatively higher rates on the rich and relatively lower rates on the middle class and poor,” said Roberton Williams, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center in Washington. “This is reversing the effects of the Bush policies,” he added, and then going even further.

And just as Franklin D. Roosevelt’s tax increases on the wealthy followed a stock market crash, which had already depressed their incomes, Mr. Obama’s proposals — if they become law — would too. The combination has the potential to reverse a significant portion of the inequality trends of the last few decades.

But for the country to repeat the post-World War II pattern, the incomes of most families would also have to begin rising at a faster rate than they have since the 1970s. That outcome remains deeply uncertain. Economists who study economic growth say the American economy is unlikely to grow nearly as fast in coming years as in the 1950s and ’60s.

Mr. Obama would try to lift the incomes of the middle class and poor through two main channels, administration officials said. The first is an overhaul of health care, meant to reduce the insurance premiums now taking a large bite out of many families’ paychecks.

The details remain vague, but the budget begins paying for investments that would eventually allow Medicare officials to refuse to pay for medical treatment that does not show evidence of improving health. If successful, that change would vastly reduce the government’s long-term budget deficit. It is also likely to bring down private health costs, since insurers typically follow Medicare’s lead.

The other channel is education. Over the last three decades, the pay of college graduates has risen significantly faster than the pay of less-educated workers. Mr. Obama aims to move workers into the first category by increasing federal financial aid and simplifying the myriad of aid programs. In recent years, the United States has lost its standing as the country in which the largest share of young adults graduates from college.

“Low- and middle-income kids often don’t aspire to college,” Peter Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said Thursday. “They hear ‘$40,000 tuition’ and think that’s impossible.”

There are still many outstanding questions about Mr. Obama’s efforts, starting with whether Congress will pass a budget that looks anything like his.

His proposals on health care are likely to meet stiff opposition from some doctors and insurers. Spending more money on financial aid — absent other changes to the education system — may not lift the graduation rate very much. And if the economy remains weak into next year, as many forecasters expect, Congressional Republicans will try to pin the blame on the looming tax increases on the affluent.

Whatever happens, though, it has been a long time since any president has tried to use his budget to shape the government and the economy quite as much as Mr. Obama did on Thursday. On that score, he and President Reagan have something in common.

E-mail: leonhardt@nytimes.com

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Nobel-prize winning economist gives Obama budget thumbs up

Published: February 27, 2009

President Obama’s budget represents a huge break from policy trends. If he can get it through Congress, he will set America on a fundamentally new course.
Elections have consequences. President Obama’s new budget represents a huge break, not just with the policies of the past eight years, but with policy trends over the past 30 years. If he can get anything like the plan he announced on Thursday through Congress, he will set America on a fundamentally new course.

The budget will, among other things, come as a huge relief to Democrats who were starting to feel a bit of postpartisan depression. The stimulus bill that Congress passed may have been too weak and too focused on tax cuts. The administration’s refusal to get tough on the banks may be deeply disappointing. But fears that Mr. Obama would sacrifice progressive priorities in his budget plans, and satisfy himself with fiddling around the edges of the tax system, have now been banished.

For this budget allocates $634 billion over the next decade for health reform. That’s not enough to pay for universal coverage, but it’s an impressive start. And Mr. Obama plans to pay for health reform, not just with higher taxes on the affluent, but by putting a halt to the creeping privatization of Medicare, eliminating overpayments to insurance companies.

On another front, it’s also heartening to see that the budget projects $645 billion in revenues from the sale of emission allowances. After years of denial and delay by its predecessor, the Obama administration is signaling that it’s ready to take on climate change.

And these new priorities are laid out in a document whose clarity and plausibility seem almost incredible to those of us who grew accustomed to reading Bush-era budgets, which insulted our intelligence on every page. This is budgeting we can believe in.

Many will ask whether Mr. Obama can actually pull off the deficit reduction he promises. Can he actually reduce the red ink from $1.75 trillion this year to less than a third as much in 2013? Yes, he can.

Right now the deficit is huge thanks to temporary factors (at least we hope they’re temporary): a severe economic slump is depressing revenues and large sums have to be allocated both to fiscal stimulus and to financial rescues.

But if and when the crisis passes, the budget picture should improve dramatically. Bear in mind that from 2005 to 2007, that is, in the three years before the crisis, the federal deficit averaged only $243 billion a year. Now, during those years, revenues were inflated, to some degree, by the housing bubble. But it’s also true that we were spending more than $100 billion a year in Iraq.

So if Mr. Obama gets us out of Iraq (without bogging us down in an equally expensive Afghan quagmire) and manages to engineer a solid economic recovery — two big ifs, to be sure — getting the deficit down to around $500 billion by 2013 shouldn’t be at all difficult.

But won’t the deficit be swollen by interest on the debt run-up over the next few years? Not as much as you might think. Interest rates on long-term government debt are less than 4 percent, so even a trillion dollars of additional debt adds less than $40 billion a year to future deficits. And those interest costs are fully reflected in the budget documents.

So we have good priorities and plausible projections. What’s not to like about this budget? Basically, the long run outlook remains worrying.

According to the Obama administration’s budget projections, the ratio of federal debt to G.D.P., a widely used measure of the government’s financial position, will soar over the next few years, then more or less stabilize. But this stability will be achieved at a debt-to-G.D.P. ratio of around 60 percent. That wouldn’t be an extremely high debt level by international standards, but it would be the deepest in debt America has been since the years immediately following World War II. And it would leave us with considerably reduced room for maneuver if another crisis comes along.

Furthermore, the Obama budget only tells us about the next 10 years. That’s an improvement on Bush-era budgets, which looked only 5 years ahead. But America’s really big fiscal problems lurk over that budget horizon: sooner or later we’re going to have to come to grips with the forces driving up long-run spending — above all, the ever-rising cost of health care.

And even if fundamental health care reform brings costs under control, I at least find it hard to see how the federal government can meet its long-term obligations without some tax increases on the middle class. Whatever politicians may say now, there’s probably a value-added tax in our future.

But I don’t blame Mr. Obama for leaving some big questions unanswered in this budget. There’s only so much long-run thinking the political system can handle in the midst of a severe crisis; he has probably taken on all he can, for now. And this budget looks very, very good.

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Slate: Obama Puts $3.6 Trillion Where His Mouth Is

today's papers
By Daniel Politi
Posted Friday, Feb. 27, 2009, at 6:47 AM ET

President Obama presented his budget and left no doubt that he was being serious when he promised change. The $3.55 trillion spending plan included broad goals and few details, but outlined how Obama plans to finance more spending in health care, energy, and education while increasing the taxes on the top 5 percent of taxpayers, the oil and gas industry, and hedge fund managers, among others. In short: Bye, bye Reaganomics. The 134-page budget "is unprecedented in size, breathtaking in scope and sure to have a major impact on millions of Americans," declares USA Today. The Wall Street Journal notes that the spending plan "marks a significant change in nearly 30 years of governing philosophy."

The Washington Post declares that "Obama's agenda seeks to foster a redistribution of wealth, with the government working to narrow the growing gap between rich and poor." In order to achieve this though, Obama "laid down controversial markers on almost every major issue facing the country," notes the Los Angeles Times. The WSJ predicts that the spending plan "is likely to herald one of the fiercest political fights Washington has seen in years." Republicans were quick to raise their objections yesterday and in what was clearly a "worrisome sign for the president," as the New York Times puts it, Sen. Olympia Snow of Maine, one of the few Republicans who voted for the stimulus package, declared that while the president's goals are "worthy" she lamented that the budget "falls woefully short" on fiscal restraint and reducing the deficit.

To continue reading, click here.

quinta-feira, 26 de fevereiro de 2009

Your voice and the New York Post

Rupert Murdoch, the man behind The New York Post and Fox News Channel, hates to acknowledge public pressure. He never apologizes personally, no matter what his divisive news outlets do.1 But he just did.2

It took almost a week after The Post published its sickening "chimp" cartoon, but after nearly 110,000 ColorOfChange.org members demanded a real public apology and the firing of the editor who approved the cartoon, Murdoch actually apologized. It's unprecedented. And it would not have happened without your voice. According to Murdoch's biographer, Murdoch will very likely fire Col Allan, The Post's editor in chief, once things have quieted down -- as he should.3

Let's be real about what we're up against. Murdoch has done nothing to address the root of this problem. There's a longstanding pattern of vicious attacks on Black America by Murdoch's media outlets4,5. There's a lot more work to be done to stop the poison that constantly comes from Murdoch's media empire.

But this is an important victory. Forcing Murdoch into the public conversation around this cartoon has helped expose the connection between race-baiting at The Post and Fox News, and Murdoch's News Corp., which owns them both. The clearer it is who is ultimately behind this, the easier it is to put pressure where it counts -- on News Corp's profits. It sets the stage for stepped up activism and systemic change.

While we've got several strategies and tactics lined up, including creating overwhelming pressure on advertisers, we believe the timing isn't right. Murdoch's apology makes it much too easy for advertisers to justify supporting the paper -- at this point.

Still, every time we take collective action to confront Murdoch's media empire, we're building an army of people who are prepared to put real, long-term pressure on News Corp and its advertisers.

We will continue to let you know when we see moments where we can effectively challenge race-baiting at outlets like The Post and Fox News, diminish their influence, and create a healthier conversation about race in our media.

Thank you again for joining us in this fight, and stay tuned.

-- James, Gabriel, Clarissa, William, Dani and the rest of the ColorOfChange.org team
February 26th, 2009

Help support our work. ColorOfChange.org is powered by YOU--your energy and dollars. We take no money from lobbyists or corporations and our tiny staff ensures your contributions go a long way. You can contribute here:



1. "Murdoch apologizes for cartoon," Michael Wolff on Hardball with Chris Matthews, 2-24-2009

2. "Rupert Murdoch apologizes for cartoon: 'The buck stops with me,'" Huffington Post, 2-24-2009

3. "Chimp writes NY Post editor's obit," Off the Grid, 2-23-2009

4. "Fox Attacks: Black America" (video), Brave New Films, 3-13-2007

5. "Fox News and its problem with African-Americans," ColorOfChange.org, 3-14-2007

quarta-feira, 25 de fevereiro de 2009

Getting Warmer

Robert Scheer, Truthdig: "We are lucky to have Barack Obama as president. I write that even though I believe the content of his Tuesday evening speech deserved no more than a B+ / A-, for its failure to seriously address the origins of the banking crisis and for only hinting at the severe military budget cuts required to get close to his goal of reducing the federal deficit by the end of his first term."

Message from POTUS: My address to Congress

Last night, I addressed a joint session of Congress for the first time.

To confront the serious economic challenges our nation faces, I called for a new era of responsibility and cooperation. We need to look beyond short term political calculations and make vital investments in health care, energy, and education that will make America stronger and more prosperous well into the future.

Watch a few highlights from my address and share it with your friends now:

A little more than a month into my administration, we've already taken bold steps to address our urgent economic problems.

Through the Recovery Act, the Stability Plan, and the Housing Plan, we're taking the immediate necessary measures to halt our economic downturn and provide much-needed assistance to working people and their families.

But to set our country on a new course of stability and prosperity, we must reject the old ways of doing business in Washington. We can no longer tolerate fiscal deficits and runaway spending while deferring the consequences to future generations.

That's why I pledged last night to cut our deficit in half by the end of my term. Achieving that goal will require making sacrifices and hard decisions, as well as an honest budgeting process that is straight with taxpayers about where their dollars are going.

Watch some key moments from my address now:


Central to this plan will be a renewed commitment to honesty and transparency in government. Restoring our country's economic health will only happen when ordinary citizens are given the opportunity to hold their representatives fully accountable for the decisions they make.

I look forward to continuing to work with you as we bring about the change you made possible.

Thank you,

President Barack Obama

White House Watermelon Email From California Mayor Dean Grose Inspires Outrage

The mayor of Los Alamitos is coming under fire for an e-mail he sent out that depicts the White House lawn planted with watermelons, under the title "No Easter egg hunt this year."

Local businesswoman and city volunteer Keyanus Price, who is black, said Tuesday she received the e-mail from Mayor Dean Grose's personal account on Sunday and wants a public apology.
"I have had plenty of my share of chicken and watermelon and all those kinds of jokes," Price told The Associated Press. "I honestly don't even understand where he was coming from, sending this to me. As a black person receiving something like this from the city-freakin'-mayor - come on."

The Orange County Register first reported the e-mail on its Web site Tuesday night. Grose confirmed to the AP that he sent the e-mail to Price and said he didn't mean to offend her. He said he was unaware of the racial stereotype that black people like watermelons.

Hesaid he and Price are friends and serve together on a community youth board. "Bottom line is, we laugh at things and I didn't see this in the same light that she did," Grose told the AP. "I'm sorry. It wasn't sent to offend her personally - or anyone - from the standpoint of the African-American race."

Grose, who became mayor in December, said he sent an apology e-mail to Price and her boss and also left her a voicemail apology.

Regardless, Price said it will be difficult for the two to work together.

"Now I am like - wow, is this really how he feels?" Price said.

Los Alamitos is a 2¼-square-mile Orange County city of around 12,000 people. The mayor is elected by fellow members of the five-seat City Council.


What should government do? A Jindal meditation

By Paul Krugman

What is the appropriate role of government?

Traditionally, the division between conservatives and liberals has been over the role and size of the welfare state: liberals think that the government should play a large role in sanding off the market economy’s rough edges, conservatives believe that time and chance happen to us all, and that’s that.

But both sides, I thought, agreed that the government should provide public goods — goods that are nonrival (they benefit everyone) and nonexcludable (there’s no way to restrict the benefits to people who pay.) The classic examples are things like lighthouses and national defense, but there are many others. For example, knowing when a volcano is likely to erupt can save many lives; but there’s no private incentive to spend money on monitoring, since even people who didn’t contribute to maintaining the monitoring system can still benefit from the warning. So that’s the sort of activity that should be undertaken by government.

So what did Bobby Jindal choose to ridicule in this response to Obama last night? Volcano monitoring, of course.

And leaving aside the chutzpah of casting the failure of his own party’s governance as proof that government can’t work, does he really think that the response to natural disasters like Katrina is best undertaken by uncoordinated private action? Hey, why bother having an army? Let’s just rely on self-defense by armed citizens.

The intellectual incoherence is stunning. Basically, the political philosophy of the GOP right now seems to consist of snickering at stuff that they think sounds funny. The party of ideas has become the party of Beavis and Butthead.

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Senate Confirms Solis as Labor Secretary

Sam Hananel, The Associated Press: "California Rep. Hilda Solis won confirmation Tuesday as President Barack Obama's labor secretary, giving the agency a decidedly pro-worker tilt after years of business-friendly leadership under the Bush administration. The 80-17 vote ended more than a month of delays prompted by GOP concerns over Solis' work for a pro-union organization, and later, revelations about her husband's unpaid taxes. But Democrats said Solis had put to rest any questions and called her a powerful advocate for working families."

President Barack Obama | Address to Joint Session of Congress

President Barack Obama: "I know that for many Americans watching right now, the state of our economy is a concern that rises above all others. And rightly so. If you haven't been personally affected by this recession, you probably know someone who has - a friend; a neighbor; a member of your family. You don't need to hear another list of statistics to know that our economy is in crisis, because you live it every day. It's the worry you wake up with and the source of sleepless nights. It's the job you thought you'd retire from but now have lost; the business you built your dreams upon that's now hanging by a thread; the college acceptance letter your child had to put back in the envelope. The impact of this recession is real, and it is everywhere. But while our economy may be weakened and our confidence shaken; though we are living through difficult and uncertain times, tonight I want every American to know this: We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before."

terça-feira, 24 de fevereiro de 2009

The Obama Code

George Lakoff, Truthout: "The pundits will stress the nuts-and-bolts policy issues: the banking system, education, energy, health care. But beyond policy, there will be a vision of America - a moral vision and a view of unity that the pundits often miss. What they miss is the Obama Code."

The Big Test

Published: February 23, 2009

“We cannot successfully address any of our problems without addressing all of them.”

Barack Obama, Feb. 21, 2009

When I was a freshman in college, I was assigned “Reflections on the Revolution in France” by Edmund Burke. I loathed the book. Burke argued that each individual’s private stock of reason is small and that political decisions should be guided by the accumulated wisdom of the ages. Change is necessary, Burke continued, but it should be gradual, not disruptive. For a young democratic socialist, hoping to help begin the world anew, this seemed like a reactionary retreat into passivity.

Over the years, I have come to see that Burke had a point. The political history of the 20th century is the history of social-engineering projects executed by well-intentioned people that began well and ended badly. There were big errors like communism, but also lesser ones, like a Vietnam War designed by the best and the brightest, urban renewal efforts that decimated neighborhoods, welfare policies that had the unintended effect of weakening families and development programs that left a string of white elephant projects across the world.

These experiences drove me toward the crooked timber school of public philosophy: Michael Oakeshott, Isaiah Berlin, Edward Banfield, Reinhold Niebuhr, Friedrich Hayek, Clinton Rossiter and George Orwell. These writers — some left, some right — had a sense of epistemological modesty. They knew how little we can know. They understood that we are strangers to ourselves and society is an immeasurably complex organism. They tended to be skeptical of technocratic, rationalist planning and suspicious of schemes to reorganize society from the top down.

Before long, I was no longer a liberal. Liberals are more optimistic about the capacity of individual reason and the government’s ability to execute transformational change. They have more faith in the power of social science, macroeconomic models and 10-point programs.

Readers of this column know that I am a great admirer of Barack Obama and those around him. And yet the gap between my epistemological modesty and their liberal worldviews has been evident over the past few weeks. The people in the administration are surrounded by a galaxy of unknowns, and yet they see this economic crisis as an opportunity to expand their reach, to take bigger risks and, as Obama said on Saturday, to tackle every major problem at once.

President Obama has concentrated enormous power on a few aides in the West Wing of the White House. These aides are unrolling a rapid string of plans: to create three million jobs, to redesign the health care system, to save the auto industry, to revive the housing industry, to reinvent the energy sector, to revitalize the banks, to reform the schools — and to do it all while cutting the deficit in half.

If ever this kind of domestic revolution were possible, this is the time and these are the people to do it. The crisis demands a large response. The people around Obama are smart and sober. Their plansare bold but seem supple and chastened by a realistic sensibility.

Yet they set off my Burkean alarm bells. I fear that in trying to do everything at once, they will do nothing well. I fear that we have a group of people who haven’t even learned to use their new phone system trying to redesign half the U.S. economy. I fear they are going to try to undertake the biggest administrative challenge in American history while refusing to hire the people who can help the most: agency veterans who are registered lobbyists.

I worry that we’re operating far beyond our economic knowledge. Every time the administration releases an initiative, I read 20 different economists with 20 different opinions. I worry that we lack the political structures to regain fiscal control. Deficits are exploding, and the president clearly wants to restrain them. But there’s no evidence that Democrats and Republicans in Congress have the courage or the mutual trust required to share the blame when taxes have to rise and benefits have to be cut.

All in all, I can see why the markets are nervous and dropping. And it’s also clear that we’re on the cusp of the biggest political experiment of our lifetimes. If Obama is mostly successful, then the epistemological skepticism natural to conservatives will have been discredited. We will know that highly trained government experts are capable of quickly designing and executing top-down transformational change. If they mostly fail, then liberalism will suffer a grievous blow, and conservatives will be called upon to restore order and sanity.

It’ll be interesting to see who’s right. But I can’t even root for my own vindication. The costs are too high. I have to go to the keyboard each morning hoping Barack Obama is going to prove me wrong.

View source article (NY Times)

sábado, 21 de fevereiro de 2009

Truthout: Still no rights for detainees in Afghanistan

View source article»

by: Nedra Pickler and Matt Apuzzo, The Associated Press

US soldiers stand guard at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. (Photo: army.mil)

Washington - The Obama administration, siding with the Bush White House, contended Friday that detainees in Afghanistan have no constitutional rights.

In a two-sentence court filing, the Justice Department said it agreed that detainees at Bagram Airfield cannot use U.S. courts to challenge their detention. The filing shocked human rights attorneys.

"The hope we all had in President Obama to lead us on a different path has not turned out as we'd hoped," said Tina Monshipour Foster, a human rights attorney representing a detainee at the Bagram Airfield. "We all expected better."

The Supreme Court last summer gave al-Qaida and Taliban suspects held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the right to challenge their detention. With about 600 detainees at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and thousands more held in Iraq, courts are grappling with whether they, too, can sue to be released.

Three months after the Supreme Court's ruling on Guantanamo Bay, four Afghan citizens being detained at Bagram tried to challenge their detentions in U.S. District Court in Washington. Court filings alleged that the U.S. military had held them without charges, repeatedly interrogating them without any means to contact an attorney. Their petition was filed by relatives on their behalf since they had no way of getting access to the legal system.

The military has determined that all the detainees at Bagram are "enemy combatants." The Bush administration said in a response to the petition last year that the enemy combatant status of the Bagram detainees is reviewed every six months, taking into consideration classified intelligence and testimony from those involved in their capture and interrogation.

After President Obama took office, a federal judge in Washington gave the new administration a month to decide whether it wanted to stand by Bush's legal argument. Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd says the filing speaks for itself.

"They've now embraced the Bush policy that you can create prisons outside the law," said Jonathan Hafetz, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union who has represented several detainees.

The Justice Department argues that Bagram is different from Guantanamo Bay because it is in an overseas war zone and the prisoners there are being held as part of a military action. The government argues that releasing enemy combatants into the Afghan war zone, or even diverting U.S. personnel there to consider their legal cases, could threaten security.

The government also said if the Bagram detainees got access to the courts, it would allow all foreigners captured by the U.S. in conflicts worldwide to do the same.

It's not the first time that the Obama administration has used a Bush administration legal argument after promising to review it. Last week, Attorney General Eric Holder announced a review of every court case in which the Bush administration invoked the state secrets privilege, a separate legal tool it used to have lawsuits thrown out rather than reveal secrets.

The same day, however, Justice Department attorney Douglas Letter cited that privilege in asking an appeals court to uphold dismissal of a suit accusing a Boeing Co. subsidiary of illegally helping the CIA fly suspected terrorists to allied foreign nations that tortured them.

Letter said that Obama officials approved his argument.

View source article»



sexta-feira, 20 de fevereiro de 2009

Obama Tulip

Canadian Tulip Festival Presents Tulip to American Embassy

On the joy of not cringing at POTUS

A funny thing happened as I was watching President Obama's press conference with Prime Minister Harper in Ottawa: I did not cringe with embarrassment.

It may seem like an odd admission at first. After all, everybody knows by now that Obama is comfortable on the public stage--at ease with teleprompter and off-the-cuff alike--and expert at framing key concepts to shape and lead a pragmatic debate.

And yet, after 8 years of pulling my hair out in large clumps each time George W. Bush stood at a press conference with another world leader, I feel a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders by the mere fact that Obama was not embarrassing. Policy positions aside: what a relief to not feel utterly humiliated as a citizen after watching our Commander in Chief take the foreign stage.

I know others felt the same way.

For example, I noticed at the Ottawa press conference that nobody in the room stood up, shouted something threatening, and then threw their shoes at our president. Based on my anthropological expertise of cross-cultural behavior, I can verify with relative certainty that not throwing shoes at a world leader is a universal sign of not being overcome with frustration and annoyance. I also noticed that Obama did not butcher any words in the English language, resulting in many people not laughing at him and not telling jokes depicting him as a fool.

Not cringing at the president when he is abroad may seem like an insignificant thing relative to the details of the Recovery Act or troop levels in Afghanistan or benchmarks on lowering carbon emissions. Still, imagine the impact of these non-cringe-worthy presidential press conferences abroad. Each time President Obama stands on the global stage, waves of non-embarrassment and non-frustration will wash over millions and millions of people like a warm and relaxing mist. "My goodness," the world will whisper to itself. "This new American president does not make us uncontrollably anxious."

Now, here at home there are some in the broadcast media who are trying very hard to repackage each of President Obama's appearances as threatening or disconcerting. These pundits are trying to convince the public to be nervous and concerned when Obama speaks at home or abroad. It is not working.

The fact is, a new reality is emerging each time our President speaks, and with that reality a new feeling. Like Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy, when President Obama speaks to the public, either at home or abroad, members of the public feel distinctly different than they felt over the past 8 years. They feel--positive.

This positive feeling is a combination of two things all rolled into one. We are relieved that the recent era of American presidential ignorance and jingoism is over and we are amazed that the voice of an American president can once again light up a room, no matter what the lingua franca of the room may be.

Combined with Secretary of State Clinton's diplomatic emphasis on 'smart' foreign policy, President Obama's ability to not make people cringe when he speaks is a powerful tool, and will be the key to advancing a vast array of important policy changes. It is hard to imagine how it could not be.

No matter how unsavory political debate may seem here at home, particularly as the next stage of Obama's recovery bill gets chewed up like an old slipper by Congressional Republicans and the right-wing media--remember the feeling that flowed from Obama's press conference in Ottawa, today.

A little non-cringing at our President abroad may just go a long way towards changing the world.

(cross-posted from Frameshop)

quinta-feira, 19 de fevereiro de 2009

Please help spread the word

Dear Friend,

Yesterday, the day after President Obama signed his stimulus bill into law, the NY Post ran a cartoon depicting the bill's "author" as a dead monkey, covered in blood after being shot by police. You can see the image by clicking on the link below.

In the face of intense criticism, the Post's editor is standing by the cartoon, claiming that it's not about Obama, has no racial undertones, and that it was simply referencing a recent incident when police shot a pet chimpanzee. But it's impossible to believe that any newspaper editor could be ignorant enough to not understand how this cartoon evokes a history of racist symbolism, or how frightening this image feels at a time when death threats against President Obama have been on the rise.

Please join me and other ColorOfChange.org members in demanding that the Post apologize publicly and fire the editor who allowed this cartoon to go to print:


The Post would have us believe that the cartoon is not about Obama. But on the page just before the cartoon appears, there's a big picture of Obama signing the stimulus bill. A reader paging through the Post would see Obama putting pen to paper, then turn the page to see this violent cartoon. The imagery is chilling.

There is a clear history in our country of racist symbolism that depicts Black people as apes or monkeys, and it came up multiple times during the presidential campaign.

We're also in a time of increased race-based violence. In the months following President Obama's election there has been a nationwide surge in hate crimes ranging from vandalism to assaults to arson on Black churches. There has been an unprecedented number of threats against President Obama since he was elected, with hate-based groups fantasizing about the killing of the president. Just a week ago, a man drove from Louisiana to the Capitol with a rifle, telling the police who stopped him that he had a "delivery" for the president.

There is no excuse for the Post to have allowed this cartoon to be printed, and even less for Editor Col Allan's outright dismissal of legitimate concerns.

But let's be clear who's behind the Post: Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch, the Post's owner, is the man behind FOX News Channel. FOX has continually attacked and denigrated Black people, politicians, institutions at every opportunity, and ColorOfChange has run several campaigns to make clear how FOX poisons public debate.

I don't expect much from Murdoch. However, with enough public pressure, we can set the stage for advertisers and subscribers to think long and hard before patronizing outlets like the Post that refuse to be held accountable.

You can help, by making clear that the Post's behavior is unacceptable, and by asking your friends and family to do the same. Please join me:



quarta-feira, 18 de fevereiro de 2009

Jodi Jacobson | The Obama Mandate: End Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs

Jodi Jacobson, RH Reality Check: "Republicans these days are very, very deeply concerned about 'wasteful government spending.' House Minority Leader John Boehner complained about wasteful spending in the stimulus. Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana stated: 'More big government spending ... won't cure what ails the American economy.' House Republican Whip Eric Kantor made the rounds of the Sunday talk shows talking 'waste, waste, waste.' And now, according to The New York Times, the National Republican Congressional Committee is launching ads blasting House Democrats on the stimulus bill, which it ridicules as 'chockfull of wasteful Washington spending.'"


Chimp-Stimulus Cartoon Raises Racism Concerns

By Sewell Chan AND Jeremy W. Peters

Updated, 5:01 p.m. | Gov. David A. Paterson, Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand, the Rev. Al Sharpton and others expressed concern on Wednesday morning over an editorial cartoon in The New York Post that showed a police officer telling his colleague who just shot a chimpanzee, “They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill.”

Critics said the cartoon, drawn by Sean Delonas, implicitly compared President Obama with the primate and evoked a history of racist imagery of blacks. The chimpanzee was an apparent reference to the 200-pound pet chimpanzee that was shot dead by a police officer in Stamford, Conn., on Monday evening, after it mauled a friend of his owner.

Speaking at a conference of the New York Academy of Medicine on Wednesday morning, Mr. Paterson said that while he had not seen the cartoon, he believed that The Post should explain it. Given the possibility that some people could conclude the cartoon had a racial subtext, Mr. Paterson said the newspaper needed to clarify its meaning.

“It would be very important for The New York Post to explain what the cartoon was intended to portray,” Mr. Paterson said in response to a question about whether the cartoon’s depiction of a monkey was racist, as Mr. Sharpton has suggested. “Obviously those types of associations have been made. They do feed a kind of negative and stereotypical way that people think. But I think if it’s enough that people are raising this issue, I hope they would clarify.”

Senator Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, said in a statement: “I found the Post cartoon offensive and purposefully hurtful. This type of cartoon serves no productive role in the public discourse.”

City Councilman Leroy G. Comrie Jr., a Queens Democrat, called for a boycott of the newspaper. “To run such a violent, racist cartoon is an insult to all New Yorkers,” he said in a statement. “This was an unfortunate incident in which a human being was seriously injured- not an opportunity to sling dangerous rhetoric. It is my belief that The New York Post owes an immediate apology to this city for demonstrating such terrible judgment and insensitivity.”

Mr. Comrie urged New Yorkers to “demonstrate their displeasure with the New York Post by writing letters to their advertisers and simply stop purchasing a publication that clearly has no respect or sensitivity for people of color.”

A newsroom employee at The Post, who spoke on condition of anonymity because employees were not permitted to comment on the matter, said its newsroom received many calls of complaints on Wednesday morning after the publication of the cartoon. “Every line was lit up for several hours,” the employee said. “The phones on the city desk have never rung like that before.” Many Post staff members were dismayed by the cartoon, the employee added.

The cartoon was on Page 12 of Wednesday’s edition, next to the paper’s Page Six gossip column. On Page 11, the reverse side, was a photograph of President Obama signing the stimulus bill into law in Denver.

Mr. Sharpton, who has been an unflattering subject in cartoons drawn by Mr. Delonas in The Post, said in a statement on his Web site:

The cartoon in today’s New York Post is troubling at best, given the racist attacks throughout history that have made African-Americans synonymous with monkeys. One has to question whether the cartoonist is making a less than casual inference to this form of racism when, in the cartoon, the police say after shooting a chimpanzee, “now they will have to find someone else to write the stimulus bill.”

Being that the stimulus bill has been the first legislative victory of President Barack Obama (the first African American president) and has become synonymous with him it is not a reach to wonder whether the Post cartoonist was inferring that a monkey wrote it?

In a statement, Col Allan, editor in chief of The Post, denied Mr. Sharpton’s assertion that the cartoon was “racially charged.” Mr. Allan said:

The cartoon is a clear parody of a current news event, to wit the shooting of a violent chimpanzee in Connecticut. It broadly mocks Washington’s efforts to revive the economy. Again, Al Sharpton reveals himself as nothing more than a publicity opportunist.

A 2001 cartoon by Mr. Delonas depicted Fernando Ferrer, the Bronx borough president who was seeking the Democratic nomination for mayor that year, kissing the buttocks of Mr. Sharpton — a depiction that was widely criticized as demeaning, and even racist.

In a phone interview, Mr. Sharpton said he planned to hold a protest outside The Post’s Midtown offices at noon on Thursday.

“What does shooting a chimpanzee have to do with a stimulus bill?” Mr. Sharpton said. “This raises all the racial stereotypes we are trying to get away from this in this country.”

He added: “I’m not speaking on behalf of the president or the chimpanzee. I‘m speaking on behalf of the offended African-American community.”

Mr. Delonas has drawn ire from a number of groups for past cartoons in The Post. In 2006, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation denounced a cartoon of his that showed a man carrying a sheep wearing a bridal veil to a “New Jersey Marriage Licenses” window, a reference to the State Supreme Court’s ruling that year requiring the state to grant same-sex couples the same legal rights and benefits as heterosexual couples through civil unions.

Andrew Rojecki, associate professor of communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago and co-author of “The Black Image in the White Mind” (University of Chicago Press, 2000), a study of racial attitudes and their relationship to mass media content, said he found the cartoon deeply troubling.

“Of course I would say it’s racist,” Professor Rojecki said in an interview. “There’s no question about it.”

He added, “The cartoonist, whether he did this consciously or not, was drawing upon a very historically deep source of images about African-Americans that African-Americans do not have a lot of control over.”

Such images are harmful on a number of levels, he said. “Even people who do not harbor deep-seated prejudices, because they have stereotypes deeply embedded in their consciousness, may react unconsciously when those associations are triggered,” he said.

Professor Rojecki rejected Mr. Allan’s assertion that the cartoon was devoid of racial content. “It strains credulity to imagine that there is any association between a chimpanzee that was shot because it had attacked someone and a bill that has successfully passed through Congress,” he said. “It makes no sense. What possible explanation could there be?”

Jan Nederveen Pieterse, a professor of global studies and sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and author of “White on Black: Images of Africa and Blacks in Western Popular Culture” (Yale University Press, 1995), said, “I agree the cartoon is racist, without a doubt.”

Professor Pieterse, who is Dutch, said that portrayal of non-Westerners as primates became well-established in both the United States and Europe in the late 19th century, and has affected not only blacks, but also the Irish and Chinese, for example.

“It’s absolutely outrageous,” he said of the cartoon, “and I think people are concerned because it sets a nasty, mean, very aggressive tone. You can’t get any lower.”

View source article

Cynthia Boaz | Obama's Justice: Reconciliation, Not Retribution

Cynthia Boaz, Truthout: "In the wake of Sen. Patrick Leahy's (somewhat) surprising and determined call for a Truth Commission to investigate the abuses of the Bush-Cheney administration, the Obama administration has been - to many progressives and those on the left of center - disturbingly silent. It's safe to say that the president's less-than-forceful position on the issue has been a source of intense criticism and skepticism from the left about the president's sincerity regarding his claims to promote a new era of transparency and accountability in American politics. These concerns reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of the president's perspective as well as his role."

terça-feira, 17 de fevereiro de 2009

Message from POTUS: A big first step

Today, I signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act into law.

This is a historic step -- the first of many as we work together to climb out of this crisis -- and I want to thank you for your resolve and your support.

You organized thousands of house meetings. You shared your ideas and personal stories. And you informed your friends and neighbors about the need for immediate action. You continue to be a powerful voice for change throughout the country.

The recovery plan will create or save 3.5 million jobs, provide tax cuts for working and middle-class families, and invest in health care and clean energy.

It's a bold plan to address a huge problem, and it will require my vigilance and yours to make sure it's done right.

I've assigned a team of managers to oversee the implementation of the recovery act. We are committed to making sure no dollar is wasted. But accountability begins with you.

That's why my administration has created Recovery.gov, a new website where citizens can track every dollar spent and every job created. We'll invite you and your neighbors to weigh in with comments and questions.

Our progress will also be measured by the tens of thousands of personal stories submitted by people who are struggling to make ends meet. If you haven't already, you can read stories from families all across the country:


Your stories are the heart of this recovery plan, and that's what I'll focus on every day as President.

With your continued support, we'll emerge a stronger and more prosperous nation.

Thank you,

President Barack Obama

Locked Out and Locked Up: Youth Missing in Action From Obama's Stimulus Plan

Tuesday 17 February 2009

by: Henry A. Giroux, t r u t h o u t | Perspective

A young American girl.
Henry A. Giroux argues that young people in America "face a fragile quality of life." (Photo: ABC News)

Already imperiled before the recent economic meltdown, the quality of life for many young people appears even more fragile in the United States in this time of political, economic and social crisis. A great deal has been written critically about both the conditions that enabled the free market to operate without accountability in the interests of the rich and how it has produced a theater of cruelty that has created enormous suffering for millions of hard-working, decent human beings. Yet, at the same time, there is a thunderous silence on the part of many critics and academics regarding the ongoing insecurity and injustice experienced by young people in this country, which is now being intensified as a result of the state's increasing resort to repression and punitive social policies. The current concerns about the effects of poverty, homelessness, economic injustice and galloping unemployment rates and Obama's plans to rectify them almost completely ignore the effects of these problems on young people in the United States, especially poor whites and youth of color.

Increasingly, children seem to have no standing in the public sphere as citizens and as such are denied any sense of entitlement and agency. Children have fewer rights than almost any other group, and fewer institutions protecting these rights. Consequently, their voices and needs are almost completely absent from the debates, policies and legislative practices that are constructed in terms of their needs. This is not to suggest that adults do not care about youth, but most of those concerns are framed within the realm of the private sphere of the family and can be seen most clearly in the moral panics mobilized around drugs, truancy and kids killing each other. The response to such events, tellingly, is more "get tough on crime policy," never an analysis of the systemic failure to provide safety and security for children through improved social provisions. In public life, however, children seem absent from any discourse about the future and the responsibilities this implies for adult society. Rather, children appear as objects, defined through the debasing language of advertising and consumerism. If not being represented as a symbol of fashion or hailed as a hot niche, youth are often portrayed as a problem, a danger to adult society or, even worse, irrelevant to the future.

This merging of the neoliberal state in which kids appear as commodities or a source of profits and the punishing state, which harkens back to the old days of racial apartheid in its ongoing race to incarcerate, was made quite visible in a recent shocking account of two judges in Pennsylvania who took bribes as part of a scheme to fill up privately run juvenile detention centers with as many youths as possible, regardless of how minor the infraction they committed. One victim, Hillary Transue, appeared before one of the "kickback" judges for "building a spoof MySpace page mocking the assistant principal at her high school."[1] A top student who had never been in trouble, she anticipated a stern lecture from the judge for her impropriety. Instead, he sentenced her "to three months at a juvenile detention center on a charge of harassment." It has been estimated that the two judges, Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. and Michael T. Conahan, "made more than $2.6 million in kickbacks to send teenagers to two privately run youth detention centers" and that over 5,000 juveniles have gone to jail since the "scheme started in 2003. Many of them were first-time offenders and some remain in detention." While this incident received some mainstream news coverage, most of the response focused less on the suffering endured by the young victims than on the breach of professional ethics by the two judges. None of the coverage treated the incident as either symptomatic of the war being waged against youth marginalized by class and race or as an issue that the Obama administration should give priority to in reversing. In fact, just as there was almost no public outcry over a market-driven scheme to incarcerate youth to fill the pockets of corrupt judges, there was very little public anger over the millions slashed from the stimulus bill that would have directly benefited kids by investing in schools, Head Start and other youth-oriented programs. It seems that the real failure of post-partisan politics is its willingness to sacrifice young people in the interests of winning political votes.

Rendering poor minority youth as dangerous and a threat to society no longer requires allusions to biological inferiority; the invocation of cultural difference is enough to both racialize and demonize "difference without explicitly marking it,"[2] in the post-racial Obama era. This disparaging view of young people has promulgated the rise of a punishing and (in)security industry whose discourses, technologies and practices have become visible across a wide range of spaces and institutions, extending from schools to shopping malls to the juvenile criminal justice system.[3] As the protocols of governance become indistinguishable from military operations and crime-control missions, youth are more and more losing the protections, rights, security or compassion they deserve in a viable democracy. The model of policing that now governs all kinds of social behaviors constructs a narrow range of meaning through which young people define themselves. Moreover, the rhetoric and practice of policing, surveillance and punishment have little to do with the project of social investment and a great deal to do with increasing powerful modes of regulation, pacification and control - together comprising a "youth control complex" whose prominence in American society points to a state of affairs in which democracy has lost its claim and the claiming of democracy goes unheard. Rather than dreaming of a future bright with visions of possibility, young people, especially youth marginalized by race and color, face a coming-of-age crisis marked by mass incarceration and criminalization, one that is likely to be intensified in the midst of the global financial, housing and credit crisis spawned by neoliberal capitalism.

As Alex Koroknay-Palicz argues, "Powerful national forces such as the media, politicians and the medical community perpetuate the idea of youth as an inferior class of people responsible for society's ills and deserving of harsh penalties."[4] While such negative and demeaning views have had disastrous consequences for young people, under the reign of a punishing society and the deep structural racism of the criminal justice system, the situation for a growing number of young people and youth of color is getting much worse. The suffering and deprivation experienced by millions of children in the United States in 2008 - and bound to become worse in the midst of the current economic meltdown - not only testifies to a state of emergency and a burgeoning crisis regarding the health and welfare of many children, but also bears witness to - and indeed indicts - a model of market sovereignty and a mode of punitive governance that have failed both children and the promise of a substantive democracy. The Children's Defense Fund in its 2007 annual report offers a range of statistics that provide a despairing glimpse of the current crisis facing too many children in America. What is one to make of a society marked by the following conditions:

  • Almost 13 million children in America live in poverty - 5.5 million in extreme poverty.

  • 4.2 million children under the age of five live in poverty.

  • 35.3 percent of black children, 28.0 percent of Latino children and 10.8 percent of white, non-Latino children live in poverty.

  • There are 9.4 million uninsured children in America.

  • Latino children are three times as likely, and black children are 70 percent more likely, to be uninsured than white children.

  • Only 11 percent of black, 15 percent of Latino and 41 percent of white eighth graders perform at grade level in math.

  • Each year 800,000 children spend time in foster care.

  • On any given night, 200,000 children are homeless - one out every four of the homeless population.

  • Every 36 seconds a child is abused or neglected - almost 900,000 children each year.

  • Black males ages 15-19 are about eight times as likely as white males to be gun homicide victims.

  • Although they represent 39 percent of the US juvenile population, minority youth represent 60 percent of committed juveniles.

  • A black boy born in 2001 has a 1 in 3 chance of going to prison in his lifetime; a Latino boy has a 1 in 6 chance.

  • Black juveniles are about four times as likely as their white peers to be incarcerated. Black youths are almost five times as likely and Latino youths about twice as likely to be incarcerated as white youths of drug offenses.[5]
  • As these figures suggest, the notion that children should be treated as a crucial social resource and represent for any healthy society important ethical and political considerations about the quality of public life, the allocation of social provisions and the role of the state as a guardian of public interests appears to be lost. Under the reign of the market-driven punishing state, a racialized criminal justice system, and a "financial Katrina" that is crippling the nation, the economic, political and educational situation for a growing number of poor young people and youth of color has gone from bad to worse. As families are being forced out of their homes because of record-high mortgage foreclosures and many businesses declare bankruptcy, tax revenues are declining and effecting cutbacks in state budgets, further weakening public schools and social services. The results in human suffering are tragic and can be measured in the growing ranks of poor and homeless students, the gutting of state social services, and the sharp drop in employment opportunities for teens and young people in their twenties.[6] Within these grave economic conditions, children disappear, often into bad schools, prisons, foster care and even into their graves. Under the rule of an unchecked market-driven society, the punishing state has no vocabulary or stake in the future of poor minority youth, and increasingly in youth in general. Instead of being viewed as impoverished, minority youth are seen as lazy and shiftless; instead of recognizing that many poor minority youth are badly served by failing schools, they are labeled as uneducable and pushed out of schools; instead of providing minority youth with decent work skills and jobs, they are either sent to prison or conscripted to fight in wars abroad; instead of being given decent health care and a place to live, they are placed in foster care or pushed into the swelling ranks of the homeless. Instead of addressing the very real dangers that young people face, the punishing society treats them as suspects and disposable populations, subjecting them to disciplinary practices that close down any hope they might have for a decent future.

    All of the talk about a post-racial society in light of Obama's election is meaningless as long as young people of color are disproportionally criminalized at younger and younger ages, allowed to disappear into the growing ranks of the criminal justice system and increasingly viewed as a racial threat to society rather than as a crucial social, political and economic investment. Obama's message of hope and responsibility seems empty unless he addresses the plight of poor white youth and youth of color and the growing youth-control complex. The race to incarcerate - especially youth of color - is a holdover and reminder that the legacy of apartheid is still with us and can be found in a society that now puts almost as many police in its schools as it does teachers, views the juvenile justice system as a crucial element in shaping the future of young people, and supports a crime complex that models schools for poor kids after prisons.


    [1] Ian Urbina and Sean D. Hamill, "Judges Plead Guilty in Scheme to Jail Youths for Profit," New York Times (February 13, 2009), p. A1, A20.

    [2] Jean Comaroff and John Comaroff, "Reflections of Youth, From the Past to the Postcolony," Frontiers of Capital: Ethnographic Reflections on The New Economy," ed. Melissa S. Fisher and Greg Downey (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006), p. 267.

    [3] Garland, "The Culture of Control;" and Jonathan Simon, "Governing Through Crime: How the War on Crime Transformed American Democracy and Created a Culture of Fear" (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007). See also Phil Scranton, "Power, Conflict and Criminalisation" (New York: Routledge, 2007).

    [4] Alex Koroknay-Palicz, "Scapegoating of Youth," National Youth Rights Association (December 2001). Online: www.youthrights.org/scapegoat.php.

    [5] Children's Defense Fund, 2007 Annual Report (Washington, DC: Children's Defense Fund, 2008). Online: www.childrensdefense.org/site/DocServer/CDF_annual_report_07.pdf?docID=8421.

    [6] See Bob Herbert, "Head for the High Road," New York Times, (September 2, 2008), p. A25; Sam Dillon, "Hard Times Hitting Students and Schools," New York Times (September 1, 2008), p. A1, A9; and Erik Eckholm, "Working Poor and Young Hit Hard in Downturn," New York Times (November 9, 2008), p. A23.

    View source article»

    Henry A. Giroux holds the Global TV Network chair in English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University in Canada. His most recent books include: "Take Back Higher Education" (co-authored with Susan Searls Giroux, 2006), "The University in Chains: Confronting the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex" (2007) and "Against the Terror of Neoliberalism: Politics Beyond the Age of Greed" (2008). His newest book, "Youth in a Suspect Society: Beyond the Politics of Disposability," will be published by Palgrave Mcmillan in 2009.

    Obama Riding the Wave

    Published: February 16, 2009

    "[B]eyond his specific policies (and whether one supports them or not), Mr. Obama is emerging as the very model of the type of person one would want in high public office. He is intelligent, mature, thoughtful, calm in the face of crises and, if the nation is lucky, maybe even wise."
    Listening to President Obama, I was struck by how well he understands that most voters are not driven by ideology and are not searching for politically orthodox leadership. Most want leaders who speak to their needs — especially in this time of economic crisis — and a government that works.

    Republicans in Congress — all but completely united in their effort to build a wall of obstruction in the path of President Obama’s economic revitalization effort — seem to be missing this essential point.

    In a conversation with a small group of columnists aboard Air Force One on Friday, the president discussed the fight over his stimulus package, which was in the process of gaining final passage as he flew from Washington to Chicago for a brief rest with his family.

    He said that the fact that he’d been rebuffed so far in his quest for bipartisanship would not stop him from reaching out for Republican support.

    “Going forward,” he said, “each and every time we’ve got an initiative, I’m going to go to both Democrats and Republicans and I’m going to say, ‘Here’s my best argument for why we need to do this. I want to listen to your counterarguments. If you’ve got better ideas, present them. We will incorporate them into any plans that we make, and we are willing to compromise on certain issues that are important to one side or the other in order to get stuff done.’ ”

    When I asked him if there was any reason to believe that the G.O.P. had made a good-faith effort at bipartisanship, given the fact that only three Republicans voted for the stimulus plan in the Senate and none in the House, he said he did not want to question the motives or sincerity of those who opposed the plan.

    But he made a point of adding, “Now, I have to say that given that they were running the show for a pretty long time prior to me getting there, and that their theory was tested pretty thoroughly and it’s landed us in the situation where we’ve got over a trillion-dollars’ worth of debt and the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression, I think I have a better argument in terms of economic thinking.”

    He also made it clear that he won’t let his desire for bipartisanship undermine important initiatives. “I’m an eternal optimist,” he said. “That doesn’t mean I’m a sap.”

    Mr. Obama’s tone and demeanor during the nearly hourlong interview was a duplicate of his nationally televised press conference last week.

    He was relaxed and had complete command of a range of complex issues, including the troubled banking sector, health care reform and the need to do more in terms of innovative education initiatives.

    But beyond his specific policies (and whether one supports them or not), Mr. Obama is emerging as the very model of the type of person one would want in high public office. He is intelligent, mature, thoughtful, calm in the face of crises and, if the nation is lucky, maybe even wise.

    When asked about the sharp drop in the stock markets after Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner announced an expanded bank bailout plan last week, Mr. Obama replied:

    “I am not planning based on a one-day market reaction. In fact, you can argue that a lot of the problems we’re in have to do with everybody planning based on one-day market reactions, or three-month market reactions, and as a consequence nobody was taking the long view.

    “My job is to help the country take the long view — to make sure that not only are we getting out of this immediate fix, but we’re not repeating the same cycle of bubble and bust over and over again; that we’re not having the same energy conversation 30 years from now that we had 30 years ago; that we’re not talking about the state of our schools in the exact same ways we were talking about them in the 1980s; and that at some point we say, ‘You know what? If we’re spending more money per-capita on health care than any nation on earth, then you’d think everybody would have coverage and we would see lower costs for average consumers, and we’d have better outcomes.’ ”

    Near the end of the interview, the president said that there are certain moments in history when significant change is possible.

    “It’s not a certainty,” he said, “but it’s possible.”

    He said he believed that it’s very difficult for any single individual to actually set that kind of “momentum” for change in motion. But when that historical wave is there, he said, “I think you can help guide it.”

    When asked if we are in one of those moments now, he said, “Yes. I firmly believe that.”

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    domingo, 15 de fevereiro de 2009

    Scientists Celebrate Dawn of Barack Obama's Age of Reason

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    by: Mark Henderson, The Times UK

    Members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting in Chicago look to President Obama's promise to return science as the basis for new projects in energy, medical research and in shaping environmental policy. (Photo: AFP / Getty)

    Opening on the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth, the 175th conference of the world's largest science society was always likely to have a celebratory feel to it.

    There was indeed a palpable buzz yesterday in the subterranean conference rooms of the two downtown Chicago hotels where the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is holding its annual meeting. The real excitement, however, has had much less to do with Darwin than with the most famous former resident of America's second city - Barack Obbama.

    This AAAS meeting has been a coming-out party for American scientists after eight years in which they have felt marginalised and ignored. Few sections of American society found George W. Bush's presidency quite as dispiriting as its scientists. From climate change to stem-cell research, the White House was at odds with researchers over virtually all the issues they most cared about.

    President Obama has changed all that. With an extra $65 billion (£45 billion) promised for energy and research in his stimulus package, with new policies on global warming and stem cells, and above all with a list of appointments that includes some of the most glittering names in American science, he has transformed the mood of the nation's laboratories â€" and the mood of this conference.

    Debates and lectures that would until recently have been ignored by the White House now stand a real chance of influencing policy. Al Gore, for example, was due to give the keynote address last night. The climate change campaigner and former Vice-President is an insider again now, and many scientists attending the AAAS conference are starting to consider themselves insiders too.

    In his inaugural address, President Obama promised to "restore science to its rightful place". When announcing his science team, he said that "promoting science isn't just about providing resources - it's about protecting free and open inquiry. It's about ensuring that facts and evidence are never twisted or obscured by politics or ideology." US scientists feel that they finally have in Mr Obama a president who not only supports and values what they do, but who also understands them.

    "This Administration is looking at science very differently," said James McCarthy, the AAAS president. "He [President Obama] sees the value of science not just as a way of keeping those strange members of our society employed who want to go off and do quirky things. It plays a really important role in decisions this Administration has to make. He is really valuing the product."

    Sean Carroll, a geneticist and evolutionary biologist at the University of Wisconsin, who gave last night's plenary lecture at the conference, said that the mood had changed overnight. "We haven't ever seen a president talk about the role of science in our culture quite in this way before," he said. "It's a sea change, and an inspiration.

    "The past eight years have been a dark period. Very well-established science, like that of climate change, was denied. There was pressure to alter the work of government scientists. The promotion of areas such as stem-cell research was thwarted. In the realm of science education, intelligent design got a lot of attention,

    and even encouragement, from the President. That is ridiculous and also demoralising. These were horrible errors, and sent a terrible message to young, aspiring scientists."

    That message is already starting to change. Just three days after President Obama's inauguration, the US Food and Drug Administration approved the first human trial of an embryonic stem-cell therapy, which had been held up for months.

    He has allowed states to impose strict fuel economy regulations, which Mr Bush had blocked. The US is now expected to lead, rather than to obstruct, efforts to negotiate a new world climate accord in Copenhagen at the end of the year.

    There is also great excitement at the President's choices to fill key scientific roles in his Administration. As the AAAS conference opened on Thursday, the Senate began confirmation hearings for John Holdren, the nominee for chief scientific adviser to the White House, and Jane Lubchenco, the nominee for head of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

    Both are eminent environmental scientists with impeccable academic credentials. Professor Holdren is a former president of the AAAS, and Professor Lubchenco is a marine biologist. Her predecessor, appointed by President Bush, is an admiral.

    As Energy Secretary, the President chose Steven Chu, a Nobel prizewinning physicist who is among the world's most creative thinkers about renewable energy.

    "The appointment of talent is spectacular," Professor Carroll said. "He's not just got good people; he's got some of the best people who walk the planet to join his team."

    Professor McCarthy, an oceanographer at Harvard University, said that he was particularly impressed with the speed with which this team had been assembled, and that so many stellar scientists agreed to serve. Both were signs of the seriousness with which Mr Obama takes science. "Obama picked and announced it during his transition period. That is, to my knowledge, unprecedented."

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