news aggregator

March 1, 2011

The protests have been small the last few weeks but the government in Beijing is not taking any chances. Protests in the distant countryside are one thing, but when they come to Shanghai or Beijing, it's a major problem for the government.China appears to be rolling back some press freedoms it introduced ahead of the 2008 Olympics, barring foreign journalists from working near a popular Shanghai park and along a major Beijing shopping street after calls for weekly protests in those spots appeared online.

Foreign journalists who tried to take photos or shoot video on Beijing's Wangfujing shopping street on Sunday were told they needed special permission to work there. An Associated Press photographer was told Tuesday that the area near People's Square in Shanghai was also off-limits.

The restrictions put the popular leisure spots on par with Tibet as out-of-bounds areas where foreign reporters need special permission to work, and come after journalists were attacked and harassed while working in the areas over the weekend.

Source: AMERICAblog
Categories: Politics
Besides the no-fly zone - which is a good idea - the UK is also discussing the possibility of sending weapons to the anti-Gaddafi forces. Organizing and sending in a peace keeping force sounds like a much better option than throwing more weapons into such an environment. The Guardian:Britain is working on plans for a military no-fly zone over Libya and is considering whether to arm the opposition forces in the east of the country.

David Cameron, the prime minister, said the UK is "taking the lead" on steps to isolate the "illegitimate" Gaddafi regime.

In a statement to the Commons, Cameron said north Africa and the wider Middle East was at the "epicentre of momentous events" sweeping through the region and that "hopes and aspirations which have been smothered for decades are stirring".

Source: AMERICAblog
Categories: Politics

February 28, 2011

A public union employee, a tea party activist and a CEO are sitting at a table with a plate of a dozen cookies in the middle of it. The CEO takes 11 of the cookies, turns to the tea partier and says, "Watch out for that union guy he wants a piece of your cookie."Just spotted this on a friend's FaceBook page. Googled it and found it is out there on the InterTubes -- 457 results -- and since it pithily sums up a central dynamic of this political moment in America, I thought I'd post it here.

Pass it on.

Source: AMERICAblog
Categories: Politics
Actually, you'd better believe this isn't just to tweak Nancy Pelosi's efforts to make the House greener.  What this is, I'll bet you, is a payback to a political contributor in the styrofoam (or a related) industry.  Willing to bet money on it.  To hell with the environment, to hell with chemicals leaching into people's coffee, John Boehner has an important donor to pay back.  And of course, it's a donor who does evil things.

Source: AMERICAblog
Categories: Politics
Key points in the poll:
· 60 percent oppose eliminating some collective bargaining rights for public employee unions. Only 33 percent support eliminating them.

· 56 percent oppose cutting the pay or benefits of public employees to reduce state budget deficits. Only 37 percent favor doing so.

· 40 percent would raise taxes to lower their state’s budget deficit. Fewer -- 22 percent -- chose decreasing public employee benefits.

· Americans have a net positive view of labor unions. Thirty-three percent have a favorable view, compared to 25 percent who hold an unfavorable view.

· The percentage of Americans who say labor unions have too much power has declined from 60 percent to 37 percent today.Keep in mind that Republicans don't generally care about polls. They bully ahead until you call them on it, publicly and repeatedly.

Source: AMERICAblog
Categories: Politics
That would be THE Richard Mellon Scaife, the GOP billionaire who spent much of the 1990s funding scurrilous attacks on the Clintons.  He's just penned a piece criticizing the GOP house for defunding Planned Parenthood.  It's hard to understate what a big deal this is.
The Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives -- urged on by conservatives opposed to abortion -- has voted to defund Planned Parenthood. On this issue, Republicans and conservatives are dead wrong.Now the Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives -- urged on by conservatives opposed to abortion -- has voted to defund Planned Parenthood.

On this issue, Republicans and conservatives are dead wrong.

Abortions are a minor aspect of Planned Parenthood's mission to provide reproductive health care, education and other services to Americans, regardless of income.

More than 90 percent of its work focuses on preventing unintended pregnancies that almost inevitably lead to unwanted, neglected and abused children.

Source: AMERICAblog
Categories: Politics
I've seen this elsewhere, and haven't been able to follow up on the research. But George Monbiot has. So here you go.

One of the threads in the corporate (HBGary) / governmental (DOJ) effort to bring down Anonymous and Friends (click for context) is the attempt to de-legitimize online discussions by using astroturf sock-puppets — in essence, an online Troll Brigade paid to pop into discussions (on any subject really; there are pro-salt trolls) and confuse the issue by making it appear that there really is a debate where there is none.

This has been around for awhile; it's called "astroturfing" — creating fake-grass-roots pseudo-movements — and there are both real-world equivalents and online equivalents.

So what's new? Computer software that automates the creation and management of brigades of fake identities, controls their interaction to hide their lack of real-world history and existence, and allows them to be deployed in hordes by small numbers of real-world Troll Masters.

And guess who's funding this research? The Pentagon, of course (the bulk of your tax dollars at work). Monbiot on his blog at The Guardian:
The need to protect the internet from 'astroturfing' grows ever more urgent
The tobacco industry does it, the US Air Force clearly wants to ... astroturfing – the use of sophisticated software to drown out real people on web forums – is on the rise. How do we stop it?

Every month more evidence piles up, suggesting that online comment threads and forums are being hijacked by people who aren't what they seem. ... After I wrote about online astroturfing in December, I was contacted by a whistleblower. He was part of a commercial team employed to infest internet forums and comment threads on behalf of corporate clients, promoting their causes and arguing with anyone who opposed them.

Like the other members of the team, he posed as a disinterested member of the public. Or, to be more accurate, as a crowd of disinterested members of the public: he used 70 personas, both to avoid detection and to create the impression there was widespread support for his pro-corporate arguments.Do click through; Monbiot lists some of the capabilities that the Anonymous-hacked HBGary emails reveal, such as "persona management software," automated reposting and linking to content generated elsewhere, and spoofing with social media to make the virtual troll appear to be, for example, commenting on conferences actually attended. (Dkos diarist Happy Rockefeller is a valuable resource for this research, by the way.)

Then Monbiot adds:
Perhaps the most disturbing revelation is this. The US Air Force has been tendering for companies to supply it with persona management software, which will perform the following tasks [task list added here].His conclusion, an excellent question (which guarantees my emphasis):
The internet is a wonderful gift, but it's also a bonanza for corporate lobbyists, viral marketers and government spin doctors, who can operate in cyberspace without regulation, accountability or fear of detection. So let me repeat the question I've put in previous articles, and which has yet to be satisfactorily answered: what should we do to fight these tactics?This leads inevitably to the notion of an emerging grass-roots war against some international sci-fi government-plutocrat-media complex (still looking for a better phrase) — and with Anonymous of all "people" as an important ally.

So I'll answer Monbiot's question with another — Is Anonymous showing us the way?


Source: AMERICAblog
Categories: Politics
It's not quite walking on the picket line, but it's a start.
In a concession over his divisive health care overhaul, President Barack Obama offered Monday to let unhappy states design alternative plans as long as they fulfill the goals of his landmark law.

Addressing the nation's governors, Obama also challenged state chiefs who have sought to balance their budgets through weakening unions and curbing employees' benefits, telling them that they should not demonize workers.

"I don't think it does anybody any good when public employees are denigrated or vilified or their rights are infringed upon. We need to attract the best and the brightest to public service," the president said.

Source: AMERICAblog
Categories: Politics
The conditions are quite specific, but this could be significant. BBC News:
The researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center surgically removed what is known as the left ventricular apex of the heart (about 15% of the heart muscle) from mice just a day after birth.

The heart was then quickly seen to regenerate and was fully restored after 21 days. After two months, the organ still appeared to be functioning normally.

But when the same procedure was tested on mice aged one week, the heart failed to regenerate, suggesting this power of self-repair is extremely short-lived in mice.

Source: AMERICAblog
Categories: Politics
Peaceful protests also spread to other cities, with hundreds of people demonstrating outside a government ministerial complex in Muscat and at another site in the capital.

The unrest in Sohar, Oman's main industrial center, was a rare outbreak of discontent in the normally sleepy sultanate ruled by Sultan Qaboos bin Said for four decades, and follows a wave of pro-democracy protests across the Arab world.

The sultan, trying to calm tensions, promised on Sunday to create more jobs, give unemployment benefits and study widening the authority of a quasi-parliamentary advisory council.

Source: AMERICAblog
Categories: Politics
We wrote earlier about the Goldman-Sachs report that the GOP spending plan will be a "drag on GDP growth" to the tune of –1.5% to –2%:
“Under the House passed spending bill [which cut spending by $61 billion],” says the report, which was obtained by ABC News, “the drag on GDP growth from federal fiscal policy would increase by 1.5pp to 2pp in Q2 and Q3 compared with current law.”Now from Greg Sargent at the Wash Post's PlumLine blog we learn a second independent analysis is singing the same tune. He quotes a report by Lori Montgomery of the Post (my emphasis throughout): A Republican plan to sharply cut federal spending this year would destroy 700,000 jobs through 2012, according to an independent economic analysis set for release Monday.

The report, by Moody's Analytics chief economist Mark Zandi, offers fresh ammunition to Democrats seeking block the Republican plan, which would terminate dozens of programs and slash federal appropriations by $61 billion over the next seven months. And then Sargent comments himself:
Even if you disagree with these analyses [the earlier Goldman analysis and Zandi's], you'd think the fact that there are now two of them reaching similar conclusions would [be] newsworthy enough to break through the din of Beltway deficit-reduction fetishizing. The argument about bud[g]et cuts is too often framed solely as an argument between so-called deficit "hawks" and "doves," as a dispute between those who say steep cuts are necessary and those who say they're cruel and extreme. The fact that outside analysts think that budget cuts could actively hamper the recovery deserves to be part of the discussion.That would be true. Unless the crisis is the plan for the GOP; and unless the media were egging them on. Except in those two cases, yes, that would be true.

Sargent goes on to quote the report's conclusion:While long-term government spending restraint is vital, and laying out a credible path toward that restraint very desirable, too much cutting too soon would be counterproductive. The economy is much improved and should continue to gain traction, but the coast is not clear; it won't be until businesses begin hiring aggressively enough to meaningfully lower the still-high unemployment rate. The economy is adding between 100,000 and 150,000 per month -- but it must add closer to 200,000 jobs per month before we can say the economy is truly expanding again. Imposing additional government spending cuts before this has happened, as House Republicans want, would be taking an unnecessary chance with the recovery. [emphasis added] GP

NOTE FROM JOHN: The danger for the economy is that it's not entirely clear that the Obama administration is willing to explain to people that budgets shouldn't get cut in weak economies. I fear the President has already fallen for the GOP trap, endorsed spending cuts as the only priority, and thus will agree to a "compromise" that ultimately weakens the economy leading up to the 2012 elections, inadvertently (for Obama, advertently for the GOP) helping the GOP nominee.

Source: AMERICAblog
Categories: Politics
So as you watch revolution sweeping through the Arab world (and potentially beyond), remember these three things about non-American revolutions:

* They take years to unfold. It may have seemed like glad confident morning in 1789, 1917, and 1949. Four years later it was darkness at noon.

• They begin by challenging an existing political order, but the more violence is needed to achieve that end, the more the initiative passes to men of violence—Robespierre, Stalin, and the supremely callous Mao himself.

• Because neighboring countries feel challenged by the revolution, internal violence is soon followed by external violence, either because the revolution is genuinely threatened by foreigners (as in the French and Russian cases) or because it suits the revolutionaries to blame an external threat for domestic problems (as when China intervened in the Korean War).

To which an American might reply: Yes, but was all this not true of our revolution too? The American Revolution was protracted: Five years elapsed between the Declaration of Independence and Yorktown. It was violent. And it was, of course, resisted from abroad. Yet the scale of the violence in the American Revolution was, by the standards of the other great revolutions of history, modest. Twenty times as many Frenchmen were killed in battle between 1792 and 1815 as Americans between 1775 and 1783. And, as Maya Jasanoff points out in her brilliant new book, Liberty’s Exiles, the losers in the American Revolution were not guillotined, or purged, or starved to death. Most of them simply left the 13 rebel colonies for more stable parts of the British Empire and got on with their lives.

There were other important differences, too. The people who made the American Revolution were, by 18th-century standards, exceptionally well-off and well-educated. People in Libya today are closer to the sans-culottes of the Paris back streets, the lumpenproletariat of the Petrograd slums, or the illiterate peasants who flocked to Mao’s standard. And that is why the likelihood of large-scale and protracted violence is so much greater in the Arab world today than it ever was in North America in the 1770s. Poor, ill-educated young men. Around 40 million of them.Of course, the author suggests that we should have done in the Middle East what we did in central and eastern Europe during the Soviet days - actively support pro-democracy movements trying to overthrow the established communist dictatorships.

Really? Because King Abdullah in Jordan is really as bad as East Germany's Erich Honecker? Really? And Egypt is as un-free as Ceauşescu's Romania?

I don't buy it. The writer is suggesting that we openly break with the Middle East's current leadership and support those trying to overthrow them. This totally ignores the relevance and importance of the region's oil (I know, not PC to admit, but if you lived through 1973, you know it's naive to simply ignore it) and the security of Israel (again, regardless of your opinion, Israel matters to US foreign policy decision makers). It also ignores the basic fact that a lot of these regimes are our friends, while the gang in the Soviet bloc were our mortal enemies. (It also ignores that we didn't sell weapons to Eastern Europe, we do the Middle East - and like it or not, the money and influence that goes along with those sales matter). Shouldn't any of that come into play, at all, when considering the cost-benefits of overthrowing their governments? We had little to lose, in terms of the strategic and economic benefits of a good relationship, when taking on the Soviet satellites. You simply can't say the same about the Middle East.

I'm not suggesting that we per se subjugate hundreds of millions of people because their despotic leaders kind of sort of like us, and supporting the bad guy is lucrative. I am saying that foreign policy decision making needs to be based on more than just what feels good. While the writer starts the essay by making that point, I think he fails his own test by the end of the piece. Other than the "it's not nice to support oppressive governments" argument, he doesn't offer a very compelling rationale for helping to overthrow the Middle East and possibly failing.

I'll say it again: Overthrowing Saddam and the Taliban, nice idea. How's that working out for you now?

Source: AMERICAblog
Categories: Politics
This is sure to get a rise out of the right. From the Telegraph:
The draft guidance from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is for all doctors, nurses and counsellors advising women contemplating terminations.

Its first recommendation on "what women need to know" instructs health professionals: "Women should be advised that abortion is generally safer than continuing a pregnancy to term."

The guidance also says that women who are deciding whether to have an abortion must be told that most do not suffer any psychological harm. Until now, their advice has been that while rates of psychiatric illness and self-harm in women are higher among those who had an abortion, there was no evidence that termination itself was likely to trigger psychological problems.

Source: AMERICAblog
Categories: Politics
Walker continues to talk tough, but there are cracks in his plan. For starters, it never helps to set a hard deadline (such as the eviction from the state house) and then have it ignored. Now that one of the state senate Republicans is reportedly talking about dropping his support, Walker may be in trouble. Detroit Free Press:Opposition to Gov. Scott Walker's plans to eliminate most public employees' collective-bargaining powers got a big boost Sunday night as protesters were allowed to stay another night at the Capitol and received word that a Republican lawmaker may not support the legislation.

Protesters exploded with cheers when it was announced that Sen. Dale Schultz, a Republican who represents southwest Wisconsin and had tried to come up with a compromise budget-repair bill, would not vote for Walker's plans. Calls to Schultz's office Sunday night were not immediately returned.

Efforts to close the Capitol on Sunday ended a few hours after they started, and protesters were again allowed to stay the night. About 200 had left, but hundreds more remained.

Source: AMERICAblog
Categories: Politics
Al Jazeera is reporting that one of the eastern military air bases near Benghazi has fallen to the protesters and now the battle is only thirty miles from Tripoli in Zawiyah. As the military bases and personnel change sides, the end appears closer for Gaddafi.Forces loyal to the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi have surrounded the city of Zawiyah, where anti-government protesters are bracing for an attack.

Men opposed to Gaddafi were patrolling the streets of the city 50km from the capital on Sunday, saying they had seized weapons and even tanks which they would use to defend themselves.

Ezeldina, a Zawiyah resident, told Al Jazeera that people in the city had raided some military camps.

"We are expecting an attack at any moment," he said. "We are forming rotating watch groups, guarding the neighbourhood."

Protesters said about 2,000 troops loyal to Gaddafi had surrounded the city.

Source: AMERICAblog
Categories: Politics
Getting rid of the old guard is difficult and moving to the next government is even more difficult, as Tunisia is discovering. It won't be a surprise to see similar issues elsewhere as the new governments emerge. The Guardian:Tunisia was thrown into turmoil once more after Mohamed Ghannouchi resigned as prime minister of the post-revolution government amid further clashes between police and protestors. The interim president, Fouad Mebazaa, named the former government minister Beji Caid-Essebsi as Ghannouchi's replacement.

Ghannouchi said he felt forced to stand down "because I am not willing to be a person that takes decisions that would end up causing casualties". He made the announcement after three people died on Saturday and nine others were injured during outbreaks of violence on the streets of the capital, Tunis.

Tunisia's interim coalition has struggled to assert its authority since a wave of protests that started in December sparked what was called the "jasmine revolution", leading to the overthrow in January of president Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, who had ruled for 23 years.

Source: AMERICAblog
Categories: Politics

February 27, 2011