Monday, August 31, 2009

Calling For Help - from

Saturday, Aug. 29, marked the four-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a disaster that claimed the lives of 1,836 people while displacing 1 million more. Americans watched tens of thousands of Gulf Coast residents pack into the Superdome without enough food, water, or space as President Bush went aboutcelebrating friends' birthdays and relaxing on vacation. While Americans initiallyrushed to provide donations and volunteer assistance, Gulf Coast residents are now worried that the country has forgotten about them. Last week, the New Orleans Times-Picayune wrote an editorial titled, "We're counting on you, Mr. President," imploring President Obama to follow through on his promises to rebuild the region. "There's no substitute for you, as president, seeing our recovery and its halting progress with your own eyes, for taking time to walk in our shoes," wrote the editors. "So we ask you to bring your considerable intellect, your problem-solving ability, your influence to bear. When a president pays attention, so does the nation." Obama devoted this week's radio address to the Katrina anniversary, pointing out that 11 members of his Cabinet have already visited the Gulf Coast, and he plans to visit by the end of the year. "No more turf wars -- all of us need to move forward together, because there is much more work to be done," said Obama.

PROGRESS ON HOUSING: Providing housing for the thousands of Gulf Coast residents who remain displaced is one of the toughest challenges facing the region. There has been some progress. The "number of households receiving mail is now more than three-fourths of the pre-Katrina figures," and long-stalled projects are finally "getting back on track." But approximately 9,000 families are still receiving temporary help with rent, 2,100 are living in trailers or mobile homes, and 11,000 people are homeless. "As much as people nationwide are tired of hearing about Katrina, you see people who are still hurting," notes Charmel Gaulden, executive director of the Gulf Coast Fair Housing Center in Mississippi. Congress has "appropriated $19.7 billion in Community Development Block Grants to help with recovery efforts, mostly for housing." But disputes between federal and state agencies have delayed the payments, underscoring Obama's observation that "turf wars" have been standing in the way of progress. When Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan visited the region in March, he said he was "disturbed" at how little progress had been made. HUD also "plans to give Gulf Coast states $80 million for rental assistance vouchers," and the federal government "extended the deadline for the Disaster Housing Assistance Program, which provides temporary rental assistance to hurricane victims." Housing advocates have criticized Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) and Sen. Roger Wicker (R) for using millions in the block grants on projects other than housing, such as the move to expand the Port of Gulfport.

LOOKING TOWARD THE 2010 CENSUS: The recession has hit the Gulf Coastparticularly hard, with unemployment soaring over 11 percent in some areas of southern Mississippi. Funds from the Recovery Act have been particularly important to the region. In a recent interview, Vice President Joseph Biden said that he hasn't "met a single governor, including the governor of Louisiana, who hasn't been appreciative in talking to me about the stimulus act, that they would not have been able to make it, etc." But Barbour and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) were two of the most outspoken voices against the stimulus. Even now, Jindal continues to slam the "wasteful" spending of the legislation while at the same time going around the state and spending the federal government's money -- and taking credit for the progress. Barbour wanted to reject stimulus dollars for Mississippi -- including $50 million in unemployment benefits for part-time workers -- but the state legislature passed a bill circumventing Barbour. Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao (R-LA), who represents New Orleans, also voted against the recovery package, arguing that it was slated to create fewer jobs in his district than any other in the country. But "so far, in stimulus money sent directly to parishes, Orleans has received $372 per capita, putting it fourth in the state." The initial inaccurate estimate was based on the region's storm-depleted population, underscoring the importance of the 2010 census for the region. Civil rights groups are urging census officials "not to overlook displaced hurricane victims when they conduct their 2010 count," which could deprive the Gulf Coast of much-needed federal funding and block grants. Republican officials in the region are also against counting undocumented immigrants, even though Marty Wiseman, director of the Stennis Institute in Mississippi, says they "may be the very thing that saves the Coast."

THE DANGERS OF GLOBAL BOILING: Projects to protect the region from future Katrinas continue to lag. A recent investigation by the federal Office of Special Counsel found that "flood-control pumps installed in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina don't protect the city adequately and the Army Corps of Engineers could have saved $430 million in replacement costs by purchasing proven equipment." Unfortunately, many leaders still seem stuck to the idea that the disaster was just a fluke and refuse to support efforts to mitigate global warming. But Massachusetts Institute of Technology climatologist Kerry Emanuel has stated that he would be "surprised" if global warming hadn't been "a big factor" in intensifying Katrina's destructive power. Using his model of tropical storm potential intensity, Emanuel found that Katrina would have beensignificantly weaker 25 years earlier. Brice Lalonde, France's chief climate negotiator, has even cited Katrina as a reason why policymakers and the American public need to pay attention to climate change. Unfortunately, before becoming governor of Mississippi, Barbour was one of Washington's most well-connected and powerful lobbyists, notorious for influence peddling for tobacco and big energy companies, and he continues to oppose clean energy policieswhile in office.


TORTURE -- CHENEY ENDORSES CIA INTERROGATORS GOING 'BEYOND THE SPECIFIC LEGAL AUTHORIZATION': The recently released 2004 CIA Inspector General's report on the Bush administration's interrogation policies revealed a program that was poorly supervised and resulted in "unauthorized, improvised, inhumane and undocumented" tactics. This unauthorized coercion included menacing "a detainee with a handgun and a power drill," staging a mock execution, threatening to kill a detainee's children and aggressive waterboarding. Yesterday on Fox News Sunday, Vice President Cheney said that he had no problem with these interrogation tactics -- even though they went "beyond the specific legal authorization." In fact, Cheney said these tactics were crucial in keeping the United States safe. "[M]y sort of overwhelming view is that the enhanced interrogation techniques were absolutely essential in saving thousands of American lives, in preventing further attacks against the United States," he said. But there have been no documents supporting Cheney's claim that torture was essential to saving American lives. Even CIA memos from 2004 and 2005, which Cheney claimed would back him up, have been released and have no evidence linking torture to valuable intelligence. In fact, these memos show that "non-abusive techniques actually helped elicit some of the most important information." Cheney also called the investigation a "political act" and added that his cooperation would "depend on the circumstances."


Labor Department records show that "more than $3.1 billion in stimulus money for state unemployment insurance programs is sitting in a federal trust fund because 23 states haven't expanded their jobless benefits." Eleven states have declined to change their systems to qualify "for about $1.7 billion in stimulus funding." Roughly 350,000 Americans won't receive benefits because of inaction.

On CNN yesterday, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) said that she "would tend not to" support a health care reform bill with a public insurance option. She also said "it would be very difficult" for her to support a bill that allowed taxpayer-funded abortions, though she acknowledged that "general insurance policies now -- subsidized through the government by the tax code -- allow women to make those choices right now."

In an interview with ABC, former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge asserted that, though he was worried politics may have been influencing the raising of terror alert levels, he did not believe it was the determining factor. He added that he agrees with Vice President Cheney that there should be no investigation into possible criminal conduct by the CIA, saying that it would be "criminal" to do so.

Vice President Cheney said he pushed for a military strike against Iran in the waning days of the Bush administration. "I was probably a bigger advocate of military action than any of my colleagues," Cheney told Fox News Sunday.

Wall Street banks are fighting to protect one of their "richest fiefdoms, the $592 trillion over-the-counter derivatives market." The five biggest banks stand to make more than $35 billion this year trading unregulated derivatives contracts. "At stake is how much of that business they and other dealers will be able to keep."

A New York Times analysis has found that nearly a year after the bailout of the nation's biggest banks, "taxpayers have begun seeing profits from the hundreds of billions of dollars in aid that many critics thought might never be seen again." However, the government still faces huge losses from bailing out AIG, General Motors, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac.

Few federal officials have reported their contacts with lobbyists trying to influence how the government spends funds from the $787 billion Recovery Act, as President Obama had ordered. Since February, federal agencies have disclosed 197 contacts, but only eight have been reported in August. The Pentagon has reported one contact, while the Department of Homeland Security has reported none.

A new Congressional Budget Office report says that Medicare beneficiaries "would save money" on prescription drugs "as a result of health legislation moving through the House." Though beneficiaries "would often have to pay higher premiums for prescription drug coverage," their "spending on prescription drugs apart from those premiums would fall, on average, as would their overall prescription drug spending."

The Obama administration has put together a "list of about 50 measurements to gauge progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan." The results will be presented to Congress by Sept. 24 after "lawmakers set that deadline in the spring as a condition for approving additional war funding."

And finally: Former Bush adviser Karl Rove went back to Utah for his 40th high school reunion this weekend. "The girls look awfully good," he told the local Fox affiliate TV station. When asked to describe "the teenage Karl Rove," he replied, "Nerd. ... Completely. Pocket protector, briefcase, hush puppies when they weren't cool, about 5'10," high squeaky voice. Weird."

Friday, August 28, 2009

Whirlpool to cut 1,100 jobs, shut plant in Indiana from Chicago Sun-Times Business


INDIANAPOLIS -- Whirlpool Corp. said Friday it will cut 1,100 jobs and close a refrigerator factory in Evansville, Ind., to trim excess production capacity by next year.

Senate Hearing On Brain Cancer Risks From Cell Phone Use Nears As New Study Is Released

Senator Ted Kennedy's brain cancer could have been prevented if he had not used his cell phone so much. At least that is the argument being raised by health advocates who released a new study that concludes that too much cell phone use could lead to brain cancer.

The study, "Cellphones and Brain Tumors: 15 Reasons for Concern, Science, Spin and the Truth Behind Interphone" was released by the International EMF Collaborative this week to counter another study funded by cell phone industry giants (The Interphone study), which minimizes the risk of cell phone use.

The International EMF Collaborative claims that the Interphone study, which begun in 1999, was "intended to determine the risks of brain tumors, but its full publication has been held up for years. Components of this study published to date reveal what the authors call a 'systemic-skew', greatly underestimating brain tumor risk."

The EMF Collaborative's study is not the first to show that cell phones can increase the risk of brain cancer. The Dutch Health Council in Swedenreleased a similar report in 2006. But the EMF's study has been the only one so far that has been received dozens of endorsements from doctors, scientists, and experts from the US and Europe. According to Public News Service, one of the authors of the study, Lloyd Morgan, a retired electronics engineer from Berkeley who developed a brain tumor in 1995, says that his doctor told him that his tumor was probably caused by his work around electromagnetic fields.

"Bottom line is, cell phones are causing brain tumors. If you look at the independent research, it's absolutely clear. If you look at the telecom industry-funded research, it's spun such that it would appear that there are no risks," Morgan told PNS.

Advocates like Morgan have found that the cell phone industry-funded study has many flaws:

The design flaws include categorizing subjects who used portable phones (which emit the same microwave radiation as cellphones,) as 'unexposed'; exclusion of many types of brain tumors; exclusion of people who had died, or were too ill to be interviewed, as a consequence of their brain tumor; and exclusion of children and young adults, who are more vulnerable.

The International EMF Collaborative, which is made up of Powerwatch and the EM Radiation Research Trust in the UK, and the EMR Policy Institute, and The Peoples Initiative Foundation in the US, found that:

  • There is a risk of brain tumors from cellphone use;
  • Telecom funded studies underestimate the risk of brain tumors, and;
  • Children have larger risks than adults for brain tumors.

  • The study also points out that cell phone manufacturers already warn consumers to keep their cell phones away from their bodies even when they are turned off. But advocates are concerned that consumers are not following the warnings. And, don't think that using a Bluetooth headset is going to prevent the risk of brain tumors — according to the study even those devices use electromagnetic signals.

    There has already been testimony to Congress from people who have lost loved ones to brain cancer on the dangers of cell phone use. Senator Arlen Specter who was diagnosed with brain cancer back in 1993 is pushing for Senate hearings on the matter in September. Several experts are expected to testify at the hearing.

    Advocates argue that there are ways consumers can protect themselves from the electromagnetic fields produced by cell phones, but that the government needs to step in and take action.

    To download the report, click here.

    For a CNET article on the EMF report, click here.

    FCC Launches Large Scale Investigation Of Cellular Industry [Government Oversight] from Consumerist


    FCC Launches Large Scale Investigation Of Cellular IndustryUh-oh, the FCC is getting serious about doing its job, which probably means more memos like the one Apple posted last week from companies like AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile. Yesterday the FCC announced three "Notices of Inquiry"—all unanimously voted for by a full, bi-partisan commission—that will look at different aspects of the cellular industry.

    Ars Technica took a good look at the three notices and summarized what impact they might have on both the FCC's regulatory scope and the cellular industry.

    Regarding the "truth-in-billing" notice, Ars Technica says it's about "far more than billing."

    It will ask whether there are "additional opportunities to protect and empower American consumers by ensuring sufficient access to relevant information about communications services." What that means in plain English is that the agency wants to know whether it should protect consumers not just after they've bought a wireless service contract, but even before.


    Translation: the agency effectively wants to get into the realm of truth-in-advertising as well as billing.

    The second notice has to do with expanding the FCC's annual review of the competitive landscape to now include "upstream" and "downstream" market segments. Translation: mobile phone apps.

    "We are transitioning from a voice-centric world to a world of ubiquitous, mobile Internet access," he said. "This transition promises to increase the pace of innovation and investment, but only if we have an open and competitive marketplace that gives every great idea a chance to make its way to consumers so that the best products or services win."

    And once again, while the FCC's Republican minority supported the item, they did so with warnings. "We must be mindful that we may be seeking information about services that the Commission may not have the authority to regulate," Meredith Attwell Baker advised.

    The third inquiry will be into whether the government should support more research and development, or leave it to the industry to foster. This third subject seems more to do with establishing how much of a role the FCC plays in telephony R&D, with the Democrat and Republican commission members falling on either side of the debate as you'd expect.

    "FCC launches far-reaching investigation of cellular industry" [Ars Technica]

    WellPoint Calls Attention To Its Own Immoral Practices In Effort To Smear Health Reform from Think Progress

    For-profit health insurance giant WellPoint fired off an email blast to its customers (using its Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield subsidiary) yesterday attacking the public option and Democratic plans for reforming health care, according to Politico's Ben Smith. The email directs customers to its "grassroots Web site" for instructions on contacting legislators, a website ThinkProgress revealed to be run by the secretive corporate lobbying firm Democracy Data and Communications (DDC). DDC, which is operated by a former veteran of the astroturf organization now known as FreedomWorks, has helped various corporate and Republican interests shape legislation by helping to generate seemingly organic phone calls and letters to Congress.

    In the letter to its customers, WellPoint makes a variety of false charges against health reform. Ironically, the attacks WellPoint makes against the public option are more appropriate criticisms of the way the private insurer does business:

    1. THE LETTER STATES: Health reform will "increase the premiums of those with private coverage."

    – WELLPOINT POLICIES: In a recent giddy report about WellPoint's expected profitability to investors, Barrons reported that WellPoint will be "hiking" premiums to at least "6% to 8% annually." In 2006, WellPoint's profits increased 34% as premiums and fees surged.

    2. THE LETTER STATES: Health reform will cause "millions of Americans to lose their private coverage" and end up in the public option.

    – WELLPOINT POLICIES: In March 2007, the state's Department of Managed Health Care fined Blue Cross of California and its parent company, WellPoint, $1 million after an investigation revealed that the insurer routinely canceled individual health policies of pregnant women and chronically ill patients. Earlier this summer, despite promises by their lobbyists to the public, WellPoint refused to end the controversial practice of rescinding coverage after an applicant files a medical claim.

    While WellPoint has been busy shedding customers and increasing premiums, AMNews reported that WellPoint has cut its medical loss ratio this year — meaning a greater percentage of every premium dollar is going to profits and overhead, rather than being spent on actual medical care. Not only that, while WellPoint has tried to put a "human face" on its company by encouraging their employees to show up at town halls with corporate talking points, WellPoint has cut over 1,500 jobs since the beginning of this year. As former CIGNA executive Wendell Potter has explained, private health insurance companies like WellPoint are an ATM machine for Wall Street.

    In a recent interview, NPR's Steve Inskeep forced WellPoint CEO Angela Braly to concede her company fears that "changes in the insurance market and regulations" could cut into her profits the most. That is because, as Igor Volsky has observed, WellPoint's business model is "antithetical to regulation," since the company aggressively pursues healthy customers who are less likely to use benefits to pay for medical care. As the company adds healthy customers, WellPoint has made a science of finding ways to deny coverage to the sick. California regulators uncovered more than 1,200 violations of the law by the company in regard to unfair rescission and claims processing practices.

    Braly, who earns nearly $10 million a year, wants "sustainable reform," yet opposes what her company calls "Obamacare," refuses to stop rescinding coverage to the sick, and is even suspicious of an individual mandate. Although health insurance lobbyists continue to press their case that they truly want reform "this time," WellPoint and its stealth lobbying efforts severely undermine that claim.

    from think -

    Stimulating Hypocrisy

    Earlier this year, Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 without a single Republican vote in the House of Representatives and with the support of only three Republicans in the Senate. This stimulus bill, which included $552 billion in spending and $275 billion in tax cuts, has provided much-needed support to state and local economies across the country. Cognizant to this fact, conservatives have jumped on the chance to personally deliver stimulus money to their cash-strapped states and districts, while conveniently brushing past their original opposition. A two-faced approach to the stimulus debate has become routine for many Republicans, with many GOP lawmakers who are standing against the stimulus in Washington, D.C., but touting it when they travel home to their constituents.

    CONGRESSIONAL HYPOCRITES: Several House Republicans who opposed the Recovery Act quickly returned to their districts to tout projects that it funded. Stimulus opponent Rep. Joseph Cao (R-LA) met with New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin (D) and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood recently to solicit stimulus money for streetcar expansions and road repairs. Cao proudly boasted that he is looking "at federal monies that the state has and channeling more of that money to the district." Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) earlier this month asked for stimulus funds to be diverted into paying down the deficit rather than paying it out to states. But the same day he took credit for the construction site at Blue Grass Army Depot in Madison County, Kentucky -- a project that was funded in large part by the Recovery Act. One of the most brazen acts of hypocrisy came from House Minority Whip Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), who has repeatedly claimed that the stimulus is "failing" to create jobs. Earlier this month, Cantor appeared at a job fair in Midlothian, VA, to demonstrate how he is working on "long-term solutions that will put...Virginia workers back on the path to financial stability." But scores of jobs advertised at the jobs fair were created by the stimulus, and Chesterfield County, where the fair was being held, will receive more than $38 million in stimulus funding over the next two years. 

    HYPOCRITICAL GOVERNORS: Republican governors lined up to attack the Recovery Act and oppose its passage as well. Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA), said if he was still a member of Congress he would've voted against the stimulus and wrote an op-ed in Politico lambasting the Recovery Act's effect, calling it the "stimulus that has not stimulated." Yet the very next day, he appeared with constituents in Louisiana to present a jumbo-sized check of federal grant money authorized under the Recovery Act to residents of Vernon Parish. He later toured the state in a "Louisiana Working" tour, handing out millions of dollars of stimulus money while simultaneously attacking "Washington Spending." Similarly, Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC) wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last year titled "Don't Bail Out My State," proudly boasting about being the only governor to travel to Washington to lobby against the stimulus package. Yet after the legislation was passed, Sanford changed his mind and told reporters that being against the Recovery Act "doesn't preclude taking the money." In April, Sanford became the last governor to seek economic recovery funds.

    THE STIMULUS IS WORKING: The Council of Economic Advisers, in a report released earlier this month, called the Recovery Act the "boldest countercyclical fiscal stimulus in American history" and concluded that the stimulus added nearly 500,000 jobs to the economy in the second quarter of 2009 that would not have been there without it. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), one of the few Republicans who voted in favor of the stimulus, noted last March that even "those who were opposed to the stimulus spending will see some of the projects that are underway in their communities as they've initiated." Snowe said she believes that the effect of the spending has been to create an "amazing" number of projects in her home state. Many conservatives who opposed the stimulus or the idea of Keynesian spending in general have started to line up to defend the Recovery Act. On Aug. 7, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who served as Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) chief economic adviser during his 2008 campaign, told reporters that "no one would argue that the stimulus has done nothing." Three days later, Niall Ferguson of the conservative Hoover Institution said the Recovery Act "has clearly made a significant contribution to stabilizing the US economy."


    ENERGY -- THE REAL FACES OF COAL: A new "grassroots" fossil fuel front group, FACES of Coal, is employing a shadowy Republican-staffed company to spread its message. The Federation for American Coal, Energy, and Security --- a pro-mountaintop removal campaign that refuses to reveal its "grassroots" members -- held its initial press conference in Charleston, WV. There, a representative from the West Virginia Coal Association -- one of the few groups to publicly admit being part of FACES -- complained about "outsiders" who don't "appreciate America's reliance on coal." But as theDeSmog Project reported, FACES is willing to rely on "outsiders" to do its actual work. The FACES website, which includes no contact information anduses pictures from iStockPhotos to portray grassroots supporters, isregistered to the Adfero Group, a K Street public relations firm. Adfero's online communications arm was spun off as Fireside21. Adfero and Fireside21 serve predominantly Republican and corporate clients. Ken Ward,Fireside21 CEO, was a staffer for former Republican congressman Richard Pombo; Jeff Mascott, Fireside21 president and Adfero managing director, built the website. Additionally, Adfero is behind numerous big oil astroturf campaigns, including "Fuel For America," which whitewashed price-gouging by its clients following Hurricane Katrina; the "ChamberGrassroots," "Vote For Business" and "Coalition for a Democratic Workplace" campaigns that fight labor reforms including card-check; and the campaign "Californians Against Higher Taxes," which killed a clean energy reform ballot measure in 2006. Adfero clients include the American Tort Reform Association, the National Pork Producers Council, and the Independent Petroleum Association of America.


    A new Washington Post/ABC News poll has found that 55 percent of Americans approve of the way President Obama is handling energy issues and nearly 60 percent support changes in U.S energy policy being proposed by Congress and the administration. Fifty-two percent support a cap-and-trade system.

    Business lobbying groups are launching a multimillion-dollar ad campaign to defeat climate change legislation. The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) are targeting the Waxman-Markey bill "as a threat to the economy" by claiming it would raise energy costs.

    The astroturf lobbying firm Bonner & Associates, which sent fake letters to members of Congress on behalf of coal companies, is blaming the embarrassing incidents on a temporary employee. The firm claims it was "the victim of a fraud" perpetrated by a temp who joined the firm "with the pre-determined intent of engaging in fraudulent activity."

    The latest Gallup daily tracking poll shows that President Obama's overall approval rating has fallen to 50 percent, down 19 points since his inauguration in January. Obama's sliding numbers coincide with "growing unrest about his healthcare plans."

    Special envoy to Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke had an "explosive" meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai last week about the country's elections. The BBC reports that Holbrooke "raised concerns about ballot-stuffing and fraud" and "twice raised the idea of holding a second round run-off because of concerns about the voting process."

    A new essay by Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Adm. Michael Mullen offers a "searing critique of government efforts at 'strategic communication' with the Muslim world." "Each time we fail to live up to our values or don't follow up on a promise," writes Mullen, "we look more and more like the arrogant Americans the enemy claims we are."

    Speaking to the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said that passing the Employee Free Choice Act has "fallen off the Senate's radar for now." "We have too many other things on our plate," said Reid. He also said he'd give bipartisan health care talks two weeks after the Senate reconvenes before deciding about whether to use reconciliation or not.

    Yesterday, Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) wrote in a letter to President Obama that he is "deeply disappointed" the administration has not repealed the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Arguing the military cannot afford to lose soldiers when more troops are being requested in Afghanistan, Hastings encouraged Obama "to come up with a new policy that doesn't discriminate based on sexual orientation."

    Pentagon officials are reviewing The Rendon Group's work that rates reporters seeking to embed with U.S. troops abroad. "I haven't seen anything that violates any policies, but again, I'm learning about aspects of this as I question our folks in Afghanistan," said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman. "If I find something that is inconsistent with Defense Department values and policies, you can be sure I will address it."

    And finally: Slate's Christopher Beam takes a look at what "happens in congressional offices when the boss is gone." He spotted two congress staffers "in a back hallway locked in a passionate embrace, the gentlemangripping the lady's pearl necklace between his fingers and -- NSFW -- licking it aggressively. On being caught, the pair disbanded." In August, people also start "picking up hobbies" -- like watching re-runs of the show "Melrose Place," although some offices are still busy working on health care reform.

    Obama's job approval rating falls to new low,0,7306834.story

    The president slips to 50% in the Gallup Poll, reaching that point more quickly than most of his predecessors did.

    By Mark Silva

    August 28, 2009

    Reporting from Washington

    President Obama, who won the White House with an electoral college landslide and enjoyed soaring public approval in the weeks after his inauguration, has fallen to a 50% job approval rating in the newest daily tracking of the Gallup Poll released Thursday.

    The new low for Obama compares with his peak public job approval rating of 69% after his inauguration in January.

    The president's sliding approval ratings in the Gallup and other national polls this summer have paralleled growing unrest about his healthcare plans.

    Polls also show that Obama has lost support for his handling of the economy, although his approval ratings for handling foreign affairs remain higher.

    The loss of support for the president on domestic issues has made it more difficult for the White House to rally support in Congress for his healthcare initiative, with lawmakers looking at midterm elections a little over a year away.

    Should the slide continue, Obama would by no means be the first president to drop below 50% in the Gallup Poll, which has been tracking public approval of presidents since Harry S. Truman.

    But Obama has reached his new low more quickly than most of his predecessors did, Gallup said. The percentage of people voicing disapproval for Obama's job performance stands at a near-high of 43%.

    Aides to the president said he was not fixated on polling data. Obama entered office with high ratings, White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton said Thursday, but never thought they were "something he should put up on a shelf and admire."

    "It's real easy to stay popular in Washington if you don't do anything at all," said Burton, adding that the president doesn't believe in working that way.

    Slipping below 50% before November of the first year in office would represent the third-fastest drop since World War II, Gallup reports.

    President Ford slipped below 50% in his third month; President Clinton hit the mark in his fourth month. Ford's rating was partly spurred by his unpopular decision to pardon former President Nixon in 1974.

    It took President Eisenhower five years to fall below 50%, Gallup said. It took Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush each about three years. It took Presidents Johnson and Nixon more than two years.

    It's not an irreversible trend, Gallup said. Clinton and President Reagan, who dropped below majority approval "faster than most other presidents," easily won reelection.

    The latest findings of the Gallup Poll come from surveys of about 1,500 adults conducted Tuesday through Thursday, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

    Christi Parsons of the Washington bureau contributed to this report from Martha's Vineyard, Mass.

    The GOP's Final Insult

    THE FIFTH COLUMNIST by P.M. Carpenter

    I was eager to overlook this latest contemptibility from the right: there's so much of it, it's impossible to keep up, and besides, one's passable mental health requires frequent vacations from pseudoconservatism's mounting, not to mention virtually interchangeable, offensiveness.

    But then, yesterday, I went and did a foolish thing: I peeked at a Politico piece all too suggestively, seductively titled, "Not all Kennedy critics hold fire," the despicable contents of which only refueled my disgust at the previous day's briefest of "research."

    To wit, it had been but a few hours since Ted Kennedy's death. I had just finished writing a remembrance when it occurred to me that even the far right, surely, would take this sad opportunity to display some modicum of humanity and decorum. Surely. So, unable to think of a better source in which to test my naive hope, I headed to Michelle Malkin's site, where at first I was vindicated: the customarily frothing blogger was urging a momentary cease-fire from all the usual hate and vitriol, out of respect for the recently dead, although she couldn't resist a jab at the "nauseating excess" of media praise for the long-serving senator.

    I was impressed. This, for Ms. Malkin, was admirable restraint. But the far right includes, well, the far right's foot soldiers of course, not merely its commentators and politicos. And that's when I went and did the first foolish thing; I peeked at Michelle's comment section.

    At the time there were already three full pages of it, and at random my eye initially landed on some reader's wish that the universally admired senator from Massachusetts was "burning in hell." I recall experiencing a kind of instantaneous mental recoil at that; indeed, I believe my head even somatically snapped back a little. This must be some aberration, I thought, merely some psychopathic deviation which is going unmonitored, and thus unexpunged.

    So I scanned the accompanying comments, only to find that the commenting psychopath was no deviation. He, or she, was hatefully mainstream, swimming in an acidic sewer of like-minded malevolence. Interestingly, not one of these animals even began to catalogue any underlying reasons for all the hate; it was just a stampeding herd-mentality of regurgitated bile.

    Meanwhile, the right-wing vomit was flowing down and throughout, as well as up. Noted the Politico, next day: "Andrew Breitbart, a Washington Times columnist who oversees and, tapped into the anti-Kennedy vein in the hours after the senator's death was announced, posting a series of Twitter messages in which he called Kennedy a 'villain,' a 'duplicitous bastard' and a 'prick.' "

    "I'm more than willing to go off decorum to ensure THIS MAN is not beatified," continued Breitbart with a touch of the obvious. To which I'll add a bit more obviousness: One can understand some obscure blogospheric moron scribbling such crap for the lowest common denominators of blogospheric consumption -- the blogosphere is, after all, the world's foremost bistro for anti-intellectual wretchedness -- but this clown is a paid columnist for a D.C. daily which at least purports respectability. True colors, I guess, and all that; but maybe the Times' editors are only waiting for Andrew to secure a primetime slot at Fox.

    Remarked the Politico: "Few -- if any -- others on the right were willing to attack Kennedy so directly so soon," further observing that, for instance, "House GOP Whip Eric Cantor took a break from his usual partisan 'whip up' email Wednesday morning 'in consideration of the news.' "

    But what the Politico meant by "others on the right" were high-profile rightists -- not, as just a few abominable minutes spent with Ms. Malkin's readership revealed, those many, many others among the viscerally diseased right-wing base.

    Still, there's no actual political strategy that inheres in the base's thrashing about in inhuman hate. In a way -- and one of course hopes they remain this way -- they're harmless, just pathetic little imbeciles who thrive on seething, mindless hostility.

    What really perturbs and revolts, instead, is, in the wake of Sen. Kennedy's death, their leadership's putrid amiability. Suddenly, they're all warm smiles, lamenting in interview after interview that if only Teddy had lived, they would this very minute be negotiating a fabulous health-care deal. Oh, 'tis a pity, they whimper; Ted Kennedy is no more, and now they have no outlet for their transcendent bipartisan yearnings to fulfill the virtuous "cause of his life."

    My God. Republican insincerity has reached yet another new low -- the final insult to Edward M. Kennedy's memory, playing the cheapest of politics to block or impede America's betterment. Anything for the right's pathologically antisocial base.


    Please respond to P.M.'s commentary by leaving comments below and sharing them with the BuzzFlash community. For personal questions or comments you can contact him at

    THE FIFTH COLUMNIST by P.M. Carpenter

    More Town Hall Violence: Will No One Condemn It?


    By Adele Stan
    Posted on August 27, 2009, Printed on August 28, 2009

    In Virgina, a filled-to-capacity town hall meeting on health care, as widely reported, was marred by disruptions by the anti-abortion zealot Randall Terry and his small band of followers. Tuesday's meeting was convened by Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., and featured Howard Dean as a speaker.

    Less well reported was the fisticuffs that took place outside the high school auditorium where the meeting took place. From the Washington Examiner:

    Outside, a spillover crowd of protestors and counter-protesters shouted slogans at each other. A man in a Cato Institute T-shirt scuffled with a man wearing an Obama T-shirt, punched him in the face, and was shortly after kicked off the property by police officers.

    Enough already. If congressional opponents of health-care reform are against the use of violence in their cause, then let them repudiate it, publicly. And note that disruptions like Terry's are just a subtler form a violence, a kind of bullying.

    How 'bout a press conference, fellas, where you all stand shoulder to shoulder -- Grassley, Coburn, Ross and the rest -- where you condemn the violence, and all threats thereof, and issue a call to civility?

    Never gonna happen, of course. This mess, this unleashed, misdirected rage, is working all too well for health-care reform opponents. So it falls to health-care reform advocates in Congress to call upon the opposition to take a stand.

    That's right. Those in Congress who support health-care reform should come together and make a collective call to stem the violence and hatred that is permeating these town-hall meetings. Even more importantly, they need to call upon their anti-reform colleagues to condemn the violence and hatred themselves.

    It's truth or dare time.

    Adele M. Stan is AlterNet's Washington bureau chief.

    © 2009 All rights reserved.
    View this story online at:

    Republican Congresswoman: GOP Needs a "Great White Hope"


    By Liliana Segura, AlterNet
    Posted on August 27, 2009, Printed on August 28, 2009

    Good morning, kids. It's time for another episode of Racist GOP "Gaffes."

    From TalkingPointsMemo:

    The Topeka Capitol-Journal reports that freshman Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) told a town hall meeting a week ago that the GOP still had to find a "great white hope."
    "Republicans are struggling right now to find the great white hope," said Jenkins. "I suggest to any of you who are concerned about that, who are Republican, there are some great young Republican minds in Washington." As examples, Jenkins mentioned Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI).

    Wow. There's no spinning that one, right?

    Of course, they have to try.

    Jenkins' spokeswoman Mary Geiger told the paper that Jenkins' remark was not meant to refer to "race, creed or any background."

    Right. Kind of like that Boston cop who called Henry Louis Gates a "banana-eating jungle monkey" made a "poor choice of words." (Four times in one e-mail.)

    In perhaps another poor choice of words, Jenkins's rep added,  "There's no doubt the Republican Party has gone through some dark and challenging times ..."

    They just can't help themselves.

    Read the rest here.

    Liliana Segura is a staff writer and editor of AlterNet's Rights and Liberties and World Special Coverage.

    © 2009 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
    View this story online at:

    HuffPo Gives Platform to ... 18 White Guys


    By Tana Ganeva, AlterNet
    Posted on August 27, 2009, Printed on August 28, 2009

    Conservatives concerned about the unrelenting oppression of white men by power-crazed minorities and women should take comfort in the main page of the Huffington Post this morning, where 18 of the 18 featured bloggers appear to be white guys. Don't worry, women are well represented in the Living and Style sections. Oh, also there are two women up now. They are Arianna Huffington and Katrina vanden Heuvel. Here's the screenshot from earlier:


    © 2009 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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    RNC Reaches New, Horrifying Low

    By Steve Benen, Washington Monthly
    Posted on August 27, 2009, Printed on August 28, 2009

    'IT HAS BEEN SUGGESTED' BY WHOM?.... The Republican National Committee has sent out a "2009 Future of American Health Survey." Question #4 reads:

    "It has been suggested that the government could use voter registration to determine a person's political affiliation, prompting fears that GOP voters might be discriminated against for medical treatment in a Democrat-imposed health care rationing system. Does this possibility concern you?"

    Two quick thoughts. First, this is hopelessly insane.

    Second, I was foolish enough to believe the RNC was incapable of surprising me. Live and learn

    Steve Benen is "blogger in chief" of the popular Washington Monthly online blog,Political Animal. His background includes publishing The Carpetbagger Report, and writing for a variety of publications, including Talking Points Memo, The American Prospect, the Huffington Post, and The Guardian. He has also appeared on NPR's "Talk of the Nation," MSNBC's "Rachel Maddow Show," Air America Radio's "Sam Seder Show," and XM Radio's "POTUS '08."

    © 2009 Washington Monthly All rights reserved.
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