Sunday, March 30, 2008

What Made Obama's Speech Great

By George Lakoff, Open Left. Posted March 26, 2008.

The true power of the speech is that it does what it says. It not only talks about empathy, it creates it.
    We are on the cusp of a new politics in America. It should be dated from March 18, 2008, the date of Barack Obama's landmark speech "A More Perfect Union." The usual pundits have looked mainly at the speech's surface theme: race. They weren't wrong. It was indeed the most important statement about race in recent history.

    But it was much more. It was a general call to a new politics and an outline for what it needs to be. Just as Lincoln's Gettysburg Address was about much more than the war dead on that battlefield, so Obama's speech -- widely hailed as in the same ballpark as Lincoln's -- went beyond race to the nature of America, its ideals and its future.

    To get an appreciation for the greatness of Obama's speech, we have to start with its context: What were the problems Obama faced in writing it, and what were the constraints on him?

    He was under severe political attack, both from Republican conservatives and from the Clinton wing of his own party. Here's what he was facing:

    • Racial divisions and identity politics had been injected into the campaign by his opponents and the media. The effect was to position him, as an African-American, as being opposed to the interests of whites and Hispanics.
    • An attack on his and his wife's patriotism.
    • A claim that he was really a Muslim.
    • A repeatedly shown film clip of his long-time pastor, Jeremiah Wright, who had married him and his wife and baptized his daughters, making embarrassing remarks taken as anti-American and anti-Semitic.
    • One of the hallmarks of his campaign has been good judgment on foreign policy; his opponents claimed that his connection to Wright had shown bad judgment.
    • Another hallmark of his campaign has been authenticity, telling the truth. Two of his advisors had made remarks -- one on NAFTA and one on Iraq -- that opponents had twisted to make it seem that he was lying. He had to establish himself as truthful.
    • Another hallmark of his campaign has been values. His opponents had claimed that his values were unknown and that the public didn't know who he was.
    • His opponents had claimed that he could not stand up to strong opposition.
    • He was in the center of an intensely divisive campaign while pressing unity as a major theme.
    • His opponents had claimed that his eloquence was all talk and no action.

    In addition, Sen. Obama faced certain constraints on what he could say:

  • He understands that people vote primarily on the basis of character and how he would govern: on values, authenticity, trust and identity, and only secondarily on fine policy details (See Thinking Points). He could not ignore the problems and hope they would go away. They wouldn't. Since he was being attacked on all of these character and governance issues, he had to confront them all.
  • He had been putting forth a vision of bipartisanship opposite that of Sen. Clinton. In her bipartisanship, she moved to the right, giving up on fundamental values. In his bipartisanship, he understands that "conservatives" and "independents" often share fundamental American values with him. Instead of giving up on his values, he finds those outside his party who share them. His speech had to have such an appeal.
  • The honesty and openness of his declared new politics required him to be consistent with his previous statements.
  • He could not explicitly go negative and still continue to campaign on civility and unity. He could only go positive and evoke implicit negatives.
  • He could neither accept his opponents framing of him, nor argue explicitly against that framing. If he did either, he would just strengthen their frames. He had to impose his own framing, while being true to his values and his campaign themes.
  • He could not go on the defensive; that would just encourage his detractors. He had to show leadership.
  • Though he might have felt frustrated or even angry, leadership demanded that he be his usual calm self, embracing, not attacking, even those who opposed him. He had to be what he was talking about.

Try to imagine being in this position and having to write a speech overnight. And yet he wrote not a speech, but the speech -- one of the greatest ever.

As a linguist, I am tempted to describe the surface features: the intonation, the meter, the grammatical parallelisms, the choice of words. These contribute to eloquence. I'm sure the linguistics community will jump in and do that analysis. Instead, I want to talk about the structure of ideas.

Any framing study begins with communicative framing, the context. Contextual frames carry ideas. Sen. Obama is patriotic, and he had to communicate not only the fact of his patriotism, but also the content of it. And he had to do it in a way that fit unquestionable and shared American values. Where did he give his speech kicking off his Pennsylvania campaign? Not in Scranton or Pittsburgh or Hershey, but in Philadelphia, home of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and at once home of one of America's largest African-American communities. What building was it in? Constitution Hall. How did he appear onstage? Surrounded by flags. He is tall and thin, as were the flagstaffs, which were about the same height. He was visually one with the flag, one with America. No picture of him could be taken without a flag shaped like him, without an identification of man and country.


See more stories tagged with: barack obama, speech, race, framing, linguistics

George Lakoff is Goldman Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science Linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley; senior fellow at the Rockridge Institute; and author of the forthcoming The Political Mind: Why You Can't Understand 21st Century Politics with an 18th Century Brain (Viking/Penguin), available June 2, 2008.

Feds Are Sued Over Endangered Species

By Susan Montoya Bryan
The Associated Press

Monday 24 March 2008

Albuquerque, New Mexico - Environmentalists are suing the federal government, claiming promises to whittle down a backlog of plants and animals being considered for endangered species protection amount to "smoke and mirrors."

WildEarth Guardians alleges that Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, who oversees the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has failed to act on petitions seeking protection for 681 species across a dozen Western and Midwestern states.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in federal court in Washington, D.C., contends that many of the species - ranging from butterflies and snails to grasshoppers and cactuses - could face extinction if action isn't taken.

"In a world that's bombarded by climate change, pollution, habitat destruction and human over-population, clearly few of our rare species are going to be secure in the long term," Nicole Rosmarino, director of WildEarth Guardians' wildlife program, said Monday. "That's the basis for the petition."

WildEarth Guardians is asking a judge to order Kempthorne to review species outlined in the petition and issue preliminary findings on whether they warrant becoming candidates for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

It's been nearly two years since a domestic species has been listed under the Endangered Species Act, but Fish and Wildlife Service director Dale Hall said his agency has made progress on a backlog that stems from years of litigation and will begin moving quickly on decisions.

The Interior Department referred questions about the lawsuit to the Fish and Wildlife Service. Valerie Fellows, a Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman in Washington, said Monday she had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment.

Each year, the agency reviews species recommended for protection under the act. It can decide whether a species remains on the candidate list, is removed or warrants endangered species protection.

Hall testified before a House committee last month that his agency would make decisions on 71 species this year and 21 species next year.

Rosmarino said many of the 282 species on the candidate list have languished there for years without any real protection. She said that out of the decisions to be made this year, only one - the polar bear - will involve a final determination and that it has been more than three years since conservation groups first petitioned for that animal's listing.

"We think it is smoke and mirrors. It's basically sound and fury signifying nothing from this administration," Rosmarino said.

WildEarth Guardians contends more than half the creatures on the list are in the most urgent category but fewer than a third of them will be addressed in Hall's plan.

Conservation groups have alleged the Bush administration has been dragging its feet on listing actions to appease big money interests. Interior Department spokesman Hugh Vickery denied the accusations.

The Bush administration, Vickery said, should get credit for making it possible to do listings again by carving out money specifically for determining whether a species warrants protection.

"In my view, we are a lot closer now to having the program actually run the way the law suggests it should be run than we were 10 years ago," he said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has the power to emergency list species, and Rosmarino said that's what it should do - especially in the case of such animals as the sand dune lizard, found only in a few small pockets of southeastern New Mexico and West Texas.

Fish and Wildlife biologists have received funding to begin work on a listing package for the lizard and expect to have it done within a year. But Rosmarino noted the lizard has been on the candidate list since 2001 and said it's being pushed closer to extinction every year.

On the Web:

WildEarth Guardians:

US Fish and Wildlife Service:

US Interior Department:


Save the Climate by Saving the Forests

By Fred Pearce
The New Scientist

22 March 2008 Issue

Kevin Conrad was brought up in Papua New Guinea, the son of American missionaries. He spent his childhood "shooting birds, cutting down trees and burning things". His name might not be familiar, but at the Bali climate conference last December he drew applause and worldwide TV coverage for taking on the US. If it wasn't willing to lead the world in combating climate change, said Conrad, head of the Papua New Guinea delegation, the US should "get out of the way".

There is more to Conrad than those 15 seconds of fame. He is an academic and an investment banker. He is also the founder and director of an organisation called the Coalition for Rainforest Nations, which has almost single-handedly persuaded the world that one of the best ways to tackle climate change is to offer developing countries huge cash incentives to stop destroying their rainforests.

Conrad runs the coalition out of a small office at Columbia University in New York. But it began, he says, in 2005 on a beach in Papua New Guinea. "I went for a walk by the ocean with the prime minister, Michael Somare, who comes from the same home town as me. He talked about how he wanted to save our rainforests, but how we depended on them for our income. We agreed there had to be a way of paying to save the forests. So we set up a group of nations with the same ideas - Deforesters Anonymous, we called them at the start - and got those ideas on the agenda of the climate negotiations."

Two years on in Bali, delegates from more than 100 countries agreed to establish a system of compensation for reducing deforestation. The aim is to have a deal ready for signing at a climate conference in Copenhagen in 2009. If it works, it will cut a source of greenhouse gas emissions that is second only to the burning of fossil fuels.

"Bali achieved more than we ever expected," says Conrad. There is widespread support for the plan, dubbed Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD). It extends from green non-governmental organisations and forest scientists to aid experts and a new breed of carbon capitalists keen to make money out of cutting carbon emissions.

No doubt it helps that reducing deforestation is the cheapest way of cutting global emissions. At about $10 per tonne of CO2 it works out at around half the cost of replacing coal with renewable energy.

This is, however, a radical plan. The "good guys" will get nothing. The money will go not to those trying to conserve forests or harvest them sustainably, but rather to bribe the "bad guys" who are destroying them. The most prolific deforesters are already lining up.

Some will find this idea hard to stomach, but with CO2 levels rising fast, the important question is whether REDD will work. Can forest scientists measure how much carbon is locked up in the jungle accurately enough to police deals that hand out dollars in return for keeping it there? Or will REDD be a recipe for corruption that ends up accelerating climate change rather than slowing it?

The world's forests hold 50 per cent more carbon than the atmosphere. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the net loss of forests releases around 1.1 billion tonnes of this carbon to the atmosphere each year, or more than a seventh of total annual man-made emissions.

At least, that's what the official numbers say. Alan Grainger of the University of Leeds, UK, recently concluded that the UN figures are so poor it is unclear whether tree cover is declining at all. "I'm not saying it isn't declining, just that the data don't prove it," he says. The national forest ministries who compile the data are simply not up to the job and methodologies keep changing, making comparisons difficult.

Luckily, however, the virtual monopoly of governments on forest data is being broken by breakthroughs in remote sensing. Until recently, satellite monitoring relied on the visible spectrum. That meant satellites could only capture occasional glimpses of rainforests through the clouds. Even when the skies are clear these images are poor at revealing the more insidious processes of forest degradation - and resulting carbon loss - as humans invade.

Now satellites such as the Advanced Land Observation Satellite (ALOS), launched in 2006, can use radar to peer through the clouds and assess changes in biomass. "This marks a new era. We can get complete cloud-free observations three times a year from ALOS," says Josef Kellndorfer of the Woods Hole Research Center at Falmouth, Massachusetts.

Such technologies could be used to create an independent World Forest Observatory, says Grainger: "If a global forest monitoring system is to be scientifically credible, it must be non-governmental." Will governments accept its conclusions? That remains to be seen, but the potential returns are so great that they might. Indonesia, one of the countries keenest on REDD, reckons it could earn $3.75 billion a year from the scheme.

The bigger question is whether the scheme really can turn things around. Many other attempts to save the forest have foundered. In 1990, for instance, industrialised nations agreed with Brazil a $1.5 billion rescue package for the Amazon rainforest. Between 1990 and 2004 deforestation rates doubled.

There is one exception: Costa Rica (see Maps). This small country has achieved a dramatic turnaround with a mix of conventional measures - such as creating national parks, banning deforestation and planting trees - and cash incentives akin to those envisaged by REDD. Its expanding forests are now absorbing so much carbon that Costa Rica expects to be carbon-neutral by 2021 - the first country to achieve this.

Can REDD repeat the Costa Rican success on a global scale? Pilot projects are already being launched to test the ideas, but there is no shortage of problems. One of the most obvious is "leakage".

Consider: country X announces a large REDD project in a forest being wrecked by loggers or cattle ranchers. It collects the compensation, gives the cash to the loggers and ranchers, and the forest is saved. But the loggers and ranchers don't sit around doing nothing: they move into a neighbouring area of forest, and plunder that instead. Overall there will be just as much deforestation.

To avoid leakage, says Conrad, countries should only get payments if they can show that the destruction did not relocate. That means working out a national rate of expected forest loss. Only countries that reduce deforestation below this baseline figure will get compensation. "National accounting is essential," he says.

Forest scientists, however, throw up their hands in despair at the idea of working out baselines. The rate of forest loss can change greatly from year to year, depending on the state of the forests, the price of forest products and land, corruption and law enforcement.

In the Philippines deforestation rates are falling fast - because there are not many trees left to cut down. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, however, rates look set to rise as civil war subsides. And what about Brazil, where the deforestation rate doubled from 1990 to 2004, then fell by two-thirds till the middle of 2007, and is now climbing sharply again as food prices rise?

Here science is likely to take a back seat to politics, especially as countries' involvement in REDD will be voluntary. Rainforest nations could end up determining their own baselines. If the system ends up rewarding countries with rising rates of deforestation, however, it will rapidly fall into disrepute.

Many hope that REDD will at least help the poor inhabitants of rainforests who take the trouble to protect their own forests, as happens in Costa Rica. But the carbon market is unlikely to be that benevolent. Indigenous tribes in the Amazon or central Africa, who have lived in harmony with their forests for generations, will almost certainly receive nothing. They have not been deforesting, so what could they be compensated for?

What about small farmers? There is a great deal of uncertainty about how much real damage to forests is caused by shifting cultivators, who clear forest, farm the land for a couple of years and then move on as soils lose their fertility. Conventional forest surveys blame them for destroying large areas, but much of the cleared land swiftly regenerates.

"Poor people are usually too poor to do much damage," says Frances Seymour, director of the Center for International Forestry Research, a World Bank-backed research agency based in Indonesia. She fears that such farmers will be thrown off their land by entrepreneurs intent on claiming compensation for "protecting" the forest.

Meanwhile, some huge forest destroyers are drawing up plans to get compensation. On the Indonesian island of Sumatra, for instance, giant pulp mills are responsible for vast amounts of carbon being released into the air as they log rainforests and drain peat bogs to plant new trees. One of them, Asia Pacific Resources International (APRIL), wants to set up a REDD pilot project under which it will block the canals that now drain the Kampar swamp. APRIL could receive tens of millions of dollars a year in compensation for protecting the forest and not releasing the peat carbon. The project is genuine and is based on sound science, but the reductions are only possible because the company has been so destructive in the past.

At the national level, too, it is the prolific deforesters who have most to gain. Costa Rica will go penniless, while Indonesia could cash in. And countries that reduce deforestation now, before the baselines are set, could lose out. "Each country will have a direct financial incentive to set deforestation baselines as high as possible, in order to qualify for larger REDD transfers," Seymour says.

Some say we cannot be too squeamish. That there are bound to be failed projects and scams, but any reduction in deforestation is a good thing. If the compensation is paid in cash, then this will be true: REDD should make a difference even if some money goes into the wrong pockets. One way to raise cash, favoured by the European Commission, is through government-to-government aid, perhaps funded by a levy on the growing trade in carbon credits among rich-world polluters.

State aid, however, could be limited. Instead, the rainforest nations want compensation in the form of carbon credits, which they can sell to rich countries or companies that need the credits to meet emissions targets. Economists say this system should be the most cost-effective, with competition delivering the cheapest ways of keeping carbon out of the atmosphere.

However, this could let the developed world off the hook. Preventing deforestation could become a substitute for cutting industrial emissions.

It is also risky. Suppose a power station in the US or Europe offsets its emissions by buying carbon credits from a deforestation project in the tropics. If that project is a failure, then more carbon will have been released than would have happened without REDD.

Another danger in linking REDD to a global carbon market is that the value of carbon credits will depend on supply. As more and more rainforest is earmarked for saving, the market could be flooded with carbon credits, causing a price crash. Cheap credits would provide little incentive to cut emissions or protect more forests.

There are solutions. One is to ring-fence REDD from the carbon market. Another is to dramatically toughen emissions targets in the industrial world, so that the demand for credits rises in line with supply. But there were no signs in Bali that governments have factored this into their calculations of emissions targets.

What's more, many analysts say that REDD is unlikely to save the rainforests unless it is combined with a crackdown on the economic drivers of deforestation. "We have to address the drivers, or it won't work," says Conrad, despite his fervour for market solutions. "That's the big task now."

Seymour agrees. "REDD finance to Indonesia, for instance, must prompt decisions to mothball pulp mills in Sumatra, or to reject proposals to convert forests into oil palm plantations." Yet many developing countries still hope that funds from REDD can be secured without them having to make sacrifices elsewhere in their economies.

And what of Papua New Guinea, birthplace of the plan? While the country is still largely forested, much of it is licensed to loggers. The World Bank estimates that around 70 per cent of current logging in the country is illegal. The government's own audits reveal that politicians are complicit in the illegality and profiting from it. "REDD [will] pour money in one end, and corruption will just siphon the whole lot off," says John Burton at the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies of the Australian National University, Canberra.

Papua New Guinea's government has already entered into an agreement with a bank called Pacific Capital Limited to lay the groundwork for carbon trading. There have been allegations in the country's parliament that Conrad has received payments in connection with this, an accusation he denies. "I don't benefit personally from any of this. One of the foreign logging companies here doesn't like my ideas, and they have hired people to make allegations about me."

It would not be seemly for an international climate diplomat to have a large personal financial stake in what he is pushing for. But we all have a stake in a stable climate. And, most likely in the modern world, this will only be achieved if there is money to be made along the way.


Chevron Reportedly in Talks to Tap Iraq's Oil

By David R. Baker
The San Francisco Chronicle

Tuesday 25 March 2008

Chevron Corp. and other international oil companies are negotiating with the Iraq Ministry of Oil to begin tapping into some of the country's largest oil fields, according to published reports.

Specifically, the companies are negotiating for two-year contracts that would help Iraq boost production at existing oil fields.

For years, the companies have had their eyes on long-term contracts to find and develop new oil fields in Iraq, which is believed to hold the world's third-largest oil reserves. The contracts under discussion are far more limited than that, but they represent an important step in opening Iraq's oil industry to foreign involvement after years of state control.

San Ramon's Chevron already has held discussions with the Iraqi Oil Ministry about one of the short-term contracts, according to reports in the Associated Press, Dow Jones, Reuters and United Press International news services. BP, Exxon Mobil, Shell and Total also are pursuing the contracts.

Chevron won't confirm or deny those reports, a company spokesman said Monday. But Chevron has repeatedly expressed an interest in Iraq. The company has provided free technical training to Iraqi oil engineers in the five years since the U.S.-led invasion ousted Saddam Hussein.

"Generally, Chevron is interested in helping Iraq develop its industry, and we'd very much like to partner with them to help fulfill the government's production objectives," said spokesman Kurt Glaubitz.

The country's state-run oil industry has struggled with aging machinery and insurgent attacks on oil facilities since the invasion. Production averaged 2.4 million barrels per day in February, according to the Platts energy information service. Before the invasion, production averaged 2.5 million barrels per day.

But efforts to increase production and develop new fields have been stymied by Iraqi politics, as well as the widespread belief among Iraqis that the United States toppled Hussein to gain control of the country's oil.

Most of Iraq's known oil fields lie in the Kurdish north or the Shiite south. As a result, Sunnis who live in central Iraq worry that they could be cut out of any future oil boom. For several years, legislators from the three groups have argued over a proposed law that would divide oil revenue among the country's regions and set ground rules for foreign oil companies that want to work in Iraq.

The short-term contracts, called technical support agreements, may be an attempt by the Oil Ministry to make an end-run around legislators. The Iraqi Cabinet reportedly approved the move.

"It was a way to get things going without calling it a production agreement," said Frank Verrastro, director of the energy program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "They've been sitting in abeyance for two years while oil prices have gone up. I think there's a growing realization (in the Iraqi government) that, 'Had we done this sooner, we'd be a lot better off today.'"

Under the technical support agreements, the oil companies would be providing studies, analysis, equipment and expertise at existing fields - not hunting for new ones. Exploring and developing new oil fields would require passage of the long-stalled oil law.

Chevron reportedly is negotiating for an agreement to help expand production at the West al-Qurna oil field, near Basra in southern Iraq. The ministry also wants to sign technical support agreements for the Rumaila and Zubair fields nearby, as well as the Kirkuk oil field in the north. And in what could be an effort to appease Sunnis, the ministry also said last weekend that it wants to develop the Akkas natural gas field in a Sunni-dominated corner of western Iraq.

The proposed oil law has often come under criticism from anti-war activists, who fear that the Iraqi government will be pressured into handing over too much control of its oil. The short-term agreements may not assuage those fears.

"My concern with these agreements is that they appear to be more than anything else a foot in the door, an opening for the oil companies while debate rages on over the long-term contracts," said Antonia Juhasz, author of "The Bush Agenda: Invading the World One Economy at a Time."

"It's for the Iraqis to decide the appropriate role of U.S. oil corporations in Iraq," she said. "The only time to be able to have this kind of negotiation is when there's no longer an occupation."


Fox to FCC: your analysts’ sexual fantasies not our problem

Fox to FCC: your analysts’ sexual fantasies not our problem

Fox Television has informed the Federal Communications Commission that it will not pay the agency’s proposed $91,000 fine for a pixelated strip show on Married in America, broadcast in 2003. “FOX believes that the FCC’s decision in this case was arbitrary and capricious, inconsistent with precedent, and patently unconstitutional,” the network declared in a press release.

But the media company’s detailed, 49-page Petition for Reconsideration, submitted to the agency at the same time, goes far beyond the terse press release. It all but wonders if the FCC’s indecency analysts are projecting their own sexual fantasies into the programming that they evaluate. And the Petition sets the stage for yet another legal confrontation as the Supreme Court prepares to hear the FCC’s appeal on its “fleeting expletive” rulings, struck down by a lower court in New York City.

The FCC first proposed a fine against the now defunct Married in 2004 after it received complaints about a 2003 scene in which several engaged couples party at a strip club. According to the FCC’s analysis, couples kiss, and lick whip cream off on-stage performers, whose naughty bits are pixelated. But pixelation was not enough for the FCC. “The fact that isolated body parts were ‘pixelated’ did not obscure the overall graphic character of the depiction,” the agency concluded in denying Fox’s appeal last month. “The mere pixelation of sexual organs is not necessarily determinative under our analysis because the material must be assessed in its full context. Here, despite the obscured nature of the nudity, it is unmistakable that the party goers are participating in sexual activities and that sexual organs are being exposed.”

FCC spends too much time imagining what’s under the pixelation

In its petition, Fox challenges the FCC’s description of the program, insisting that many of the agency’s key complaints are inaccurate. At one point the FCC’s analysis of the show claims that one performer places himself close to a woman in a miniskirt, “apparently to lick off the whipped cream” from her body. But nobody actually licked whip cream off anyone’s body in the program, Fox protests. The agency’s summary charges that at another moment two performers wear tops “but their buttocks are pixilated, presumably to obscure portions of their buttocks as well as the g-strings that cover their genitals.” But, as Fox attorneys note, the episode “never showed the women without clothes or without pixelation, so there is no way for the Commission to know what undergarments they were wearing.”

Actually, this is not the first time the g-string question has come up. About a month earlier, the FCC fined a slew of ABC affiliates for an episode of NYPD Blue that displays a woman’s derriere, which the agency defined as “sexual” body part. “Here, the scene in question shows a female actor naked from behind, with her buttocks fully visible at close range,” the FCC complained. “She is not wearing a g-string or other clothing, nor are the shots of her buttocks pixelated or obscured.”

As Fox notes in its response to the Married decision, the word “apparently” constantly appears in the agency’s analysis, one participant “apparently about to kiss” a stripper; two strippers “apparently kissing one another…” But none of these actions actually take place. “The Commission repeatedly relies upon these assumptions about what it presumes is occurring off-camera to justify its description of the program as ’sexually oriented’,” Fox argues. “In no event does [indecency] regulation extend to an imaginative viewer’s or regulator’s assumptions about what may be occurring between characters off-screen.”

And finally, Fox asks, how can it be “unmistakable that the party goers are participating in sexual activities and that sexual organs are being exposed” if all the performers’ “sexual” body parts are obscured by pixelation? Between this case and the NYPD Blue decision, in which ABC cited medical textbooks to challenge the agency’s sexual classifications, the country is coming dangerously close to a trial in which Federal judges will be asked not just for a general definition of indecency, but to decide what constitutes a sexual activity, a sexual organ, or sex.

Fox has filed its appeal to defend 13 stations that broadcast the show, including stations owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group and Mountain Licenses, L.P. All three companies have refused to pay the FCC’s fine.

– Matthew Lasar

McCain Falsely Claims 'No One' Believes Iraq 'Diverted Attention' from Osama Chase

Posted by Jordan Michael Smith, Think Progress at 5:34 AM on March 25, 2008.

According to Bob Woodward, when Gen Tommy Franks received the top-secret message asking for an Iraq war plan within a week, he was incredulous.

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John McCain continues to deny that the Bush administration’s turn to Iraq in late 2001 had any effect on the battle at Tora Bora, according to the LA Times yesterday:

“I know of no one who believes attention to Iraq at that point diverted our attention from Tora Bora,” McCain said. …
“We should have put more boots on the ground there to apprehend [Bin Laden]. Everyone agrees. But I have no reason to believe that because we urged attention to Iraq, it had any tactical effect on the battleground.”

But according to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, even before the Tora Bora battle, Bush began meeting with Army Gen. Tommy Franks and his war cabinet to plan the U.S. attack on Iraq:

On Nov. 21, 2001, 72 days after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Bush directed Rumsfeld to begin planning for war with Iraq. “Let’s get started on this,” Bush recalled saying. “And get Tommy Franks looking at what it would take to protect America by removing Saddam Hussein if we have to.” …
Bush’s order to Rumsfeld began an intensive process in which Franks worked in secret with a small staff, talked almost daily with the defense secretary and met about once a month with Bush.

Similarly, Michael Gordon, co-author of Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq, has reported that Franks, in charge of the battle, was upset about Bush’s turn to Iraq:

I was at Tora Bora at that point, in December ‘01. The desire to have a war plan for Iraq has already been telegraphed to [General] Tommy Franks at Centcom. Franks is actually struggling with Tora Bora, with his unhappiness with the results in Afghanistan, just as he is on the eve of returning for a very important meeting at Crawford with the President. I think they made a very quick decision that in principle Iraq was next on the agenda.

Reporter Christina Lamb, using Woodward’s book as her source, has said that “there was another reason for Washington’s reluctance to commit troops on the ground” at Tora Bora. According to Woodward, when Gen Tommy Franks received the top-secret message asking for an Iraq war plan within a week, he was incredulous. “They were in the midst of one war in Afghanistan, and now they wanted detailed planning for another? Goddamn,” Franks said, “What the f*** are they talking about?”

Wellness Gap

March 25, 2008
by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, Matt Corley, Ali Frick, and Benjamin Armbruster

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Wellness Gap

According to a recent economic outlook by the Center for American Progress (CAP), "[r]eal hourly and weekly wages in January 2008 were lower than at any point in the previous 15 months," and for the last seven years, real weekly wages have remained flat -- "only 0.8% higher in January 2008 than in March 2001." Additionally, the share of Americans with employer-provided health insurance dropped from 64.2 percent to 59.7 percent from 2000 to 2006, and people are paying more for transportation, utilities, food, and medical care. Indeed, working-class Americans -- "who were down on the economy long before the word recession was uttered" -- are seeing skyrocketing health care costs "whacking away at their wages." Employers are also feeling the pinch, paying more for health care, which leaves less for their employees' wages. But the economic situation in the U.S. is having another adverse affect on Americans' health. New research from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) shows "large and growing" disparities in life expectancy for richer and poorer Americans which has paralleled the growing gap of income inequality over the last 20 years.

RISING HEALTH CARE COSTS, LOW WAGES: A September 2007 report by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that family health care premiums increased 78 percent since 2001, while wages increased only 20 percent. The Washington Post recently reported that "[e]ven though workers are producing more, inflation-adjusted median family income has dipped 2.6 percent -- or nearly $1,000 annually since 2000" as a result of rising health care costs. Service Employees International Union vice president Katherine Taylor said that because of souring health care costs, "[t]here are people out here making decisions about whether to keep their lights on or buy a prescription." Additionally, employers are paying more for health care. The Labor Department reported this month that a higher percentage of employee compensation costs is going to benefits rather than wages. A recent study on employer-based health care found that "job-based insurance premiums have risen by 98 percent between 2000 and 2007." While one CAP study found that "ever-escalating health care costs are placing a huge strain on employment-based health insurance," a National Association of Manufacturers survey last year similarly said that 90 percent of respondents "named the cost of health insurance as one of their top-three worries -- ranking it higher than government regulation, competition from imports or finding qualified employees."

THE LIFE EXPECTANCY GAP: With health care costs eating away at working Americans' wages, the the life expectancy gap is widening between rich and poor. HHS research shows that 20 years ago, "people in the most affluent group could expect to live 2.8 years longer than people in the most deprived group." But by 2000, "the difference in life expectancy had increased to 4.5 years...and it continues to grow." HHS researcher Dr. Gopal K. Singh added that the "life expectancy was higher for the most affluent in 1980 than for the most deprived group in 2000." What explains the widening gap? Researchers noted that "lower-income people are less likely to have health insurance, so they are less likely to receive checkups, screenings, diagnostic tests, prescription drugs and other types of care." Moreover, affluent and higher educated Americans are more likely to utilize advances in medical science and technology.

CONSERVATIVE FUEL TO THE FIRE: Both Sens. Barack Obama (D-IL) and Hillary Clinton (D-NY) are addressing the root cause of the disparity in life expectancy by making expanding health care coverage and reducing costs central to their presidential campaigns. However, in following a flawed conservative approach to health care, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) plans to free insurance companies from state regulations, a move that would ultimately "reduce costs for insurers at the expense of people." His plan relies on high-deductible insurance policies tied to tax-preferred savings accounts or Health Savings Accounts (HSAs). Families or individuals will draw from the HSAs to pay the high deductibles. McCain's theory? Let Americans use their own money to choose "quality" health care. But in reality, there is little information available on health care cost and quality, while about two-thirds of firms do not make a contribution to HSAs for single coverage and about half do not contribute to HSAs for family coverage. The result is that McCain's plan would raise families' costs for less care. At the same time, McCain would raise taxes on all Americans with employer-sponsored plans. Indeed, HSAs make insurance companies a lot of money. McCain's health care plan "isn't about improving quality. It's about supporting the insurance industry." CAP has put together a progressive prescription for guaranteeing every American's right to affordable, quality health coverage.

A Lie Called 911: Why A Federal Grand Jury Must Indict Bush and Cheney

March 29, 2008 at 11:27:40

A Lie Called 911: Why A Federal Grand Jury Must Indict Bush and Cheney

by Len Hart Page 1 of 3 page(s)

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It's time to drive a stake through the heart of an evil beast --Bush's official conspiracy theory of 911. We are expected to believe that 19 Arab hijackers brought down the twin towers and damaged the Pentagon by flying hijacked airliners into them. Proof that the story is a lie is, at the same time, probable cause to indict Dick Cheney, George W. Bush and others in this criminal administration for the crimes of mass murder and treason.

Moreover, there is now evidence that 'flight manifests' were 'revised' --after the fact --to shore up the holes in Bush's official conspiracy theory. The original 'official flight manifests' were released in response to an FOIA request. What is found on pro-government websites may be called "official' but they are not! They are, however, easily proven to be lies.

FBI Director Robert Mueller admitted that the FBI had no evidence to link the 19 'Muslim men' who have apparently disappeared --neither on the autopsy list or the original 'official flight manifests'. In speech to the Common Wealth Club in San Francisco on April 19, 2003, Mueller stated that the purported hijackers 'left no paper trial'. "In our investigation", he said: "we have not uncovered a single piece of paper - either here in the United States or in the treasure trove of information that has turned up in Afghanistan and elsewhere - that mentioned any aspect of the Sept. 11 plot."

In fact, as many as nine 'hijackers' survived 911. Nevertheless, a pro-'official conspiracy' web site has posted what it calls "official manifest images" in which all alledged hijackers are listed in place on the flights in question. The very name of the page is misleading: 'official manifest images". The list provided in fancy graphics is represented as 'official' but it is most certainly not official. The names represented on the graphic do not and have never represented the 'official flight manifests' that were released to Dr. Ted Olmsted as a result of his FOIA request.
Astute observers noticed right away that there were no Arabic sounding names on any of the flight manifests of the planes that "crashed" Sept 11. A list of names on a piece of paper is not evidence, but an autopsy by a pathologist is. I undertook by FOIA request, to obtain that autopsy list of the people on Flight 77, which hit the Pentagon. You are invited to view it below. Guess what? Still no Arabs on the list. In my opinion, the monsters who planned this crime made a mistake by not including Arabic names on the original list to make the ruse seem more believable. When airline disasters occur, airlines will routinely provide a manifest list for anxious families. You may have noticed that even before Sep 11th, airlines were pretty meticulous about getting an accurate head count before takeoff. It seems very unlikely to me that FIVE Arabs sneaked onto a flight with weapons.

No Arabs On Flight 77, Thomas R. Olmsted, MD, 6-23-3

Olmsted requested and received what was called an 'official flight manifest'. It differs from what pro-government sites are now calling "official manifest images" in that there were not then nor now Arab names on the list. Rather, the list Olmsted received from the government in response to his FOIA request, matches precisely what had been originally reported and is still reported by CNN. Therefore: the original and official flight manifests did not and do not include the name of a single Arab hijacker. That bears repeating: the original and official flight manifests did not and do not include the name of a single Arab hijacker. Here is the 'official list' of Hijacking suspects from the FBI website:
Flight 175: Marwan Al-Shehhi, Fayez Ahmed, Mohald Alshehri, Hamza Alghamdi and Ahmed Alghamdi

Flight 11: Waleed M Alshehri, Wail Alshehri, Mohamed Atta, Abdulaziz Alomari and Satam Al Suqami

Flight 77: Khalid Al-Midhar, Majed Moqed, Nawaq Alhamzi, Salem Alhamzi and Hani Hanjour

Flight 93: Ahmed Alhaznawi, Ahmed Alnami, Ziad Jarrahi and Saeed Alghamdi Now he is protesting his innocence from Casablanca, Morocco.

Flight 77: Khalid Al-Midhar, Majed Moqed, Nawaq Alhamzi, Salem Alhamzi and Hani Hanjour

Flight 93: Ahmed Alhaznawi, Ahmed Alnami, Ziad Jarrahi and Saeed Alghamdi

[Now he is protesting his innocence from Casablanca, Morocco.] Alleged hijackers on Flight 77 - Nawaf Al-Hazmi , Khalid Al-Midhar
As an aside, I think it interesting that a hijacking 'suspect' should 'protest his innocence'. If he were guilty, he would be dead, incapable of protest! Being alive, however, is compelling evidence that he is not only innocent, but that Bush's official conspiracy theory is a pack of lies just as were his allegations of WMD in Iraq.

Several mainstream media have reported 'living hijackers'. Pro-government conspiracy theorists cannot explain the fact that numerous 'hijackers', found on the FBI's list of suspects, are still alive and giving interviews. [See: BBC: Hijack 'suspects' alive and well] The BBC story includes quotes from 'dead' hijackers. That would be impossible if you subscribe to the propaganda and mis-information that has been put forward by a marginal, pro-government site called: 911 Myths...reading between the lies. This is the site responsible for a 'fancy graphic' listing 'Arab Suspects' that never showed up on 'official flight manifests' released in response to a formal FOIA request, delivered to Dr. Olmsted [previously cited]. The list, an 'official flight manifest' provided Dr. Olmsted, conforms to the list that was posted and represented as official by CNN. There is not a single Arab name on the list. CNN has likewise posted a list of suspects based upon an 'official list' of 'hijackers' provided by the FBI. The name Hani Hanjour shows up on the FBI list of suspects, but, inconsistently, he is missing from the real 'official flight manifests' that were released to Dr. Olmsted. Now official conspiracy theorists have faith that Hani Hanjour piloted Flight 77 into the Pentagon where the lives of all on board were lost! Significantly, Hani Hanjour is not listed on the 'official passenger manifest' of Flight 77. The Washington Post reported that he didn't make the flight because he may not have had a ticket. [ See: Washington Post, 9/16/01] Not only is Hanjour, critical to the government's official conspiracy theory, not on the list of passengers on Flight 77, he is not on the 'official autopsy' list. If he did not get 'autopsied' there is an excellent chance that he still lives.
"A list of names on a piece of paper is not evidence, but an autopsy by a pathologist, is. I undertook by FOIA request, to obtain that autopsy list and you are invited to view it below. Guess what? Still no Arabs on the list. In my opinion the monsters who planned this crime made a mistake by not including Arabic names on the original list to make the ruse seem more believable." --Thomas R. Olmsted, M.D, Autopsy: No Arabs on Flight 77
The best explanation: Hani Hanjour is still alive. If Hanjour is alive, he could not have piloted Flight 77 into the Pentagon, unless government theorists would like to posit that he bailed out seconds before 'his' 757 crashed into the Pentagon. That's ludicrous, of course, but in every instance the Bush theories are ludicrous, transparent lies.

It is not only Hanjour who throws a monkey wrench into the government's theory. It is every other 'Arab' who is said to have helped the hijack plot but whose names do not show up on the official list of passengers. [False identities mislead FBI]; CNN: Original Flight Manifest, Flight 77; [BBC: Hijack 'suspects' alive and well]

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Len Hart is a Houston based film/video producer specializing in shorts and full-length documentaries. He is a former major market and network correspondent; credits include CBS, ABC-TV and UPI. He maintains the progressive blog: The Existentialist Cowboy

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