Tuesday, January 18, 2011

LPP Top News...

Congress tones down the rhetoric after shootings

Steve King AP – Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. …
WASHINGTON – Born of bloodshed, a self-proclaimed Age of Civility dawned in Congress on Tuesday. Republicans and Democrats of the House spoke without angry shouts and debated legislation to repeal the nation's year-old health care law without rancor.
By unspoken agreement, manners mattered, although there were few overt references to the reason — the shooting rampage in Arizona 10 days ago that left six dead, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords wounded and lawmakers of both parties stunned.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said no directives had gone out to rank-and-file lawmakers cautioning them about their behavior as the House convened to debate a highly controversial bill.
"We expect the debate to ensue along policy lines," he said, suggesting one that did not stray from the merits of the legislation itself.
Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the second-ranking Democrat, agreed.
"My expectation is that members will heed their own advice, and will address the issues in a way that will deal with them on the merits," he said. In the past, he added, too much of the public debate was "about incitement rather than informing . about making people angry, disrespecting the ... point of view of the other side."
The change in tone was evident from the opening moments of the debate about a bill Republicans promised in last fall's campaign to make an early 2011 priority.
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., referred to the "job-destroying health care bill" that President Barack Obama won from a Democratic-controlled Congress last year. It was a small but notable change from "job-killing" — the term Republicans had invariably preferred before the shootings in Arizona.
A few moments later, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., took a moment to congratulate Republican Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas on his ascension to chairmanship of the House Judiciary Committee. It was a post Conyers was forced to surrender when the GOP won a majority in last fall's elections.
A vote on the legislation is set for Wednesday. Its passage is not in doubt in a House now controlled by Republicans who voted against the health care bill a year ago, plus newcomers who campaigned on its repeal. Democrats are expected to vote overwhelmingly if not unanimously against the GOP measure.
The White House has said Obama will veto the bill if it reaches his desk, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. has vowed not to let it get that far.
At a news conference, Cantor challenged Reid to reconsider his earlier statements that he would not call for a vote on the measure. "He should bring it up for a vote if he's so confident he's got the votes," the House majority leader said.
Barring Senate approval of the repeal measure, Cantor said House Republicans "will do everything we can to delay and defund the health care bill." That, too, would require approval by the Senate and a presidential signature, unlikely events that suggest a protracted struggle over the bill that Democrats passed a year ago.
Republicans postponed the debate and vote on the repeal legislation from a week ago, when lawmakers were still reeling from the shootings in Arizona. In the interim, lawmakers in both houses and both parties have spoken publicly of a need for greater civility in Congress, an institution that many also have noted is designed to permit deep differences to be argued out.
In a symbolic move, some members of Congress have announced plans to sit next to lawmakers of the opposing party next week when Obama delivers his annual State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress.
Still, Democrats, Republicans and outside political groups began maneuvering for political advantage within hours of the shootings, and it will be months before the long-term effects of the episode in Arizona on Congress are clear.
And for sure, there were exceptions Tuesday to the rule of restraint that seemed to be in effect.
Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., his voice rising as he addressed Republicans, said, "What in the world are you guys doing" before he caught himself in mid-sentence. "What in the world are our colleagues doing" he said in more tempered tone of voice before going on to challenge their effort to repeal the bill.
Across the aisle, Reps. Jeff Landry, R-La, and Joe Walsh, R-Ill., both referred to the existing law as "job killing," the reference Ryan and other more senior members of their party had sheathed.
While lawmakers toned down the debate, the Obama administration released a study saying repeal of the existing law could threaten between 50 million and 129 million non-elderly men, women and children with denial of affordable health insurance because they have pre-existing medical conditions.
The administration built its estimate on changes in the law that already have taken effect or might take effect by 2014. Republicans have promised to replace the existing law with legislation that protects patients and makes affordable coverage more widely available.
A companion measure to the repeal legislation directs several committees to produce a replacement measure but does not include any timetable.

The Economics of Obama's New Cuba Policy

Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Here are the simple economics of the Obama Administration's new policy of easing sanctions towards Cuba:

Last year, the Castro regime announced it would fire 10-20% of the Cuban workforce (due to a severe liquidity crisis) and issue limited self-employment licenses (for the politically obedient) -- thus creating a supply of labor.
On Friday, the Obama Administration responded by allowing more travel -- thus creating a demand for goods and services -- and more cash transfers -- thus providing capital to totalitarian Cuba.
Furthermore, the Obama Administration will now allow any American to send remittances to the island -- thus creating a whole new class of investors. After all, it's a hard act to distinguish a transfer from an investment.

The Castro regime has only faced a liquidity crisis of this current magnitude twice in its history.
First, during the 1990's (upon the collapse of the U.S.S.R.), when the Clinton Administration (in response) chose the path of greater travel and remittances, and thus helped the regime stabilize its economy.

And today, when the Obama Administration has chosen to mimic the same unfortunate path.

That's called a b-a-i-l-o-u-t.

Do Sanctions Help Castro?

Advocates of unconditionally easing sanctions towards Cuba often make the counter-intuitive argument that the Castro regime really doesn't want the U.S. to lift sanctions, for it would deprive it of an "excuse" for its failings.

Obviously, that's not the case.

Here's an excerpt from the Castro regime's official [and welcoming] statement to last Friday's further, unconditional, easing of sanctions by the Obama Administration:

"Although the measures are positive, they remain well below those just demands, have a very limited scope and do not modify the policy against Cuba.
The White House announcement is limited, essentially, to restoring some of the provisions that were in force in the 1990s under the Clinton administration, and were eliminated by George W. Bush beginning in 2003 [...]
If there were a real interest in expanding and facilitating the contacts between our peoples, the United States should lift the blockade and eliminate the prohibition that makes Cuba the only country to which Americans cannot travel."

So much for counter-intuition.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Chairwoman of The House Foreign Affairs Committee, Is Not Pleased

The "Palestinian" flag flies in Washington D.C. with the blessing of the Obama State Department ...
The chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee blasted the Palestine Liberation Organization's diplomatic mission Tuesday for raising its would-be national flag over its Washington offices, but the State Department sought to downplay any significance in the action.
The Palestinians made the symbolic gesture as they continue a push for international recognition that is complicating the Obama administration's efforts to restart stalled Mideast peace talks.
"Raising this flag in D.C. is part of the Palestinian leadership's scheme to manipulate international acceptance and diplomatic recognition of a yet-to-be-created Palestinian state while refusing to directly negotiate with Israel or accept the existence of Israel as a democratic, Jewish state," said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.
"I remain deeply disappointed that the Palestinian leadership continues to reject the opportunity to negotiate directly and in good faith with the Israeli government to resolve all outstanding issues and achieve security and peace," she said in a statement. "Instead, Palestinian leaders reject negotiations, they make excuses and they seek shortcuts to statehood."
At a brief ceremony, the Palestinian's chief envoy to the United States, Maen Areikat, hoisted the red, green, white and black banner outside the PLO General Delegation office. He expressed hope it would help in the Palestinian quest to win support for independence with or without a peace deal with Israel.
The envoy acknowledged the flag-raising has no practical effect for U.S. policy, but said it was an "important, significant step" toward seeking recognition from the United States and others. He said he hoped the Obama administration would move to recognize an independent Palestine, something the U.S. has said it will not do until there is a negotiated peace deal with Israel.
The PLO office has had permission from the State Department to fly the flag since last August, when the mission was upgraded from a representative office to a general delegation, but had been awaiting permission from the building's owner before displaying it, he said.
Ros-Lehtinen criticized the U.S. for providing unconditional support to the Palestinians.
"The U.S. has reinforced Ramallah's rejectionism through economic and political support, including support for the PLO office in Washington, instead of requiring that they meet all conditions in U.S. law," she said. "Governments worldwide will interpret such actions as tacit U.S. recognition of a Palestinian state. These actions send precisely the wrong message to foreign governments." [...]
S: http://babalublog.com
International Relations scholar John Mearsheimer from the University of Chicago has written a new book about lying between nations.
Mearsheimer (one of the foremost thinkers of the realist school in IR) terms strategic cover-up as the type of lie a government may tell so it can pursue a wise but unpopular policy.
For example:
After the Cuban Missile Crisis, President John F. Kennedy denied that he had agreed to withdraw U.S. nuclear missiles from Turkey in exchange for the Soviets’ pulling their missiles from Cuba. Kennedy had in fact made that very trade, but he kept it secret because he knew it would be unpopular with U.S. voters and NATO allies.
Slate magazine reviews the book. Google Books offers a preview.

LPP Archive...

Inside America's packed gulags

By Peter Huck
5:00 AM Monday Jul 2, 2007

If there was any upside to the whole Paris Hilton brouhaha, it is that her brief incarceration in the Los Angeles County jail system has exposed a real scandal: the dramatic growth of the US prison population and the chronic overcrowding in a penal archipelago bursting at the seams.
In December, the US Justice System announced that 7 million adults - 3 per cent of the US population - were either doing time, on probation, or on parole at the end of 2005. Of that total, 2.2 million were in federal, state or local jails, 4.1 million were on probation, and 784,000 were on parole. Over the past decade, said the Justice Department, the US prison population grew by 35 per cent, with blacks (40 per cent]), whites (35 per cent) and Latinos (20 per cent) making up most inmates.
A recent study by the Pew Charitable Trusts, a US non-profit organisation, sent an even starker message. Unless these grim statistics are improved then, at present growth rates, America's convicts will outnumber the combined populations of Atlanta, Baltimore and Denver within five years.
"Our incarceration rates show that America's crime and punishment policy is completely out of control," says Tracy Huling, a national consultant on prison issues. A tough-on-crime political culture and harsh mandatory sentences for minor crimes, especially drug offences, had criminalised huge numbers. "We send people to prison today for long sentences that 25 years ago would have drawn probation."
This grotesquely swollen prison population evokes the Soviet gulags, or even the 18th-century British penal system.
In 2005 America's most populous state had 170,676 convicts - 70,000 over capacity. Some 16,000 sleep in gyms and corridors. Many minor offenders are routinely released early in Los Angeles to ease overcrowding.
The situation is so dire that last month federal judges began hearings on whether the state should cap its prison population.
Last October, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger offered a startling solution: let convicts serve their time outside the state, a unique upgrade of Britain's 18th-century transportation system. Technically, this would be illegal - inmates were sentenced to California time, not incarceration in Mississippi or Tennessee, two potential destinations - and would also separate prisoners, perhaps by thousands of miles, from their lawyers and families.
"It would impose great hardships on low-income families," says Kara Gotsch, advocacy director of the Sentencing Project, which presses for alternatives to prison. She says people from poor backgrounds - many convicts have led hardscrabble lives - are unable to afford the cost of visiting relatives "warehoused" in institutions far away.
Nonetheless, California's scheme has legs. In April, lawmakers, concerned the ailing prison system would be taken over by the federal government, approved the largest prison expansion in state history, earmarking US$8.3 billion to add 53,000 beds and send 8000 inmates out of state.
Not everyone is happy. "This is not a plan," complained the Senate majority leader, Democrat Gloria Romero. "All we have done is dig ourselves in a deeper hole." While the bill will likely incite a host of legal and fiscal challenges, it reflects a deeply ingrained official culture.
Prisons are big business in the US. California's system has been called the "Golden Gulag" (Ruth Wilson Gilmore's The Golden Gulag says that since 1980 the US prison population has increased 450 per cent, despite falling crime rates), showering money on the powerful prison guards union, on remote communities that house prisons, and on corporations.
The human cost of this trend - and the prospect that at current growth rates 50 per cent of American youth will be enmeshed in the criminal justice system by 2050 - is examined by Prison Town, USA, a new documentary. It focuses on what happens to Susanville, a high-desert Californian town with an economy dominated by two state and one federal prison.
It is a prison colony with more inmates than free people. And although convicts are not allowed to vote, their inclusion as individuals, and often as members of black or Latino minorities, into local population statistics funnels census dollars into the community.
Susanville is part of a growing US penal archipelago. It absorbs tax dollars, either directly for publicly run prisons, or via government contracts for privately run institutions, that add up to a huge windfall for beneficiaries such as the Corrections Corporation of America.
"A lot of special interests are feeding off what is a self-perpetuating system," says Ms Huling. "So any attempt to reduce the size of the system is met with very stiff opposition."
This is expensive for taxpayers. The soaring cost of keeping people behind bars is increasing as inmates age. California spent $1.8 billion on medical care alone last year. At the same time recidivism rates across the board - from federal, state, and local jails - average 40-70 per cent.
Once people are ensnared by the criminal justice system many find it very hard to escape. In recent years there have been tentative steps to confront this issue, most obviously with helping drug addicts. Yet, says Ms Gotsch, there is still "limited access to drug rehabilitation".
Ms Huling says convicts are often sent back to prison for technical violations of their parole, rather than for new crimes. Nonetheless, despite "re-entry" schemes that stress aggressive counselling, job training and monitoring of released convicts, going straight is a daunting prospect.
If life on the street is grim, the rosy view from the prison lobby's boardrooms has stunted political debate on penal philosophy. "The problem is, you can't just change the culture of the prison system," argues Ms Huling. "The system doesn't exist in isolation from the larger culture."
That culture still embraces the penitentiary system, which believes convicts need to become penitent in solitude. The problem is not the system, it says, but the individuals who find themselves locked up. "Sending someone away to sit in a cell is still our primary strategy for addressing crime."
But, given overcrowding - which makes solitary confinement impossible for many convicts - and soaring costs that eat into the public purse, is this philosophy sustainable?
"There's this growing realisation that getting tough on criminals is getting tough on taxpayers," says Adam Gelb, project director for the Pew Charitable Trust's Public Safety Performance Project, which looks at the bottom line.
Certainly, money is probably the major engine for driving US policy makers. Most usually, this results in trade-offs. Thus a scheme to, say, increase funds for rehabilitating convicts via re-entry schemes will likely be countered by handouts for prison construction.
"The interests that are feeding off prisons have the money to influence the legislative process," says Ms Huling. Still, the bottom line is where change might just emerge. In October Steve Aos, an analyst with the Washington State Institute for Public Policy, examined how prison costs might be reduced whilst contributing to lower crime rates.
In essence, Mr Aos concludes that, from both a safety and an economic perspective, the public return on their tax dollars diminishes with greater reliance on incarceration. Instead, more emphasis should be placed on prevention.
Which is hardly balm to the prison lobby. But for those who take their chances sleeping in hallways in overcrowded and volatile prisons, confronting the questions raised by Mr Aos's report can't come fast enough.
By Peter Huck 

Man who notified world of Pearl Harbor attack dies

** CORRECTS CIRCUMSTANCES OF SINKING ** FILE - This Dec. 7, 1941 file photo provided by the Department of Defense shows the USS California, right, aft AP – ** CORRECTS CIRCUMSTANCES OF SINKING ** FILE - This Dec. 7, 1941 file photo provided by the Department …
BILLINGS, Mont. – Ed Chlapowski, the man who notified the world that Pearl Harbor was being bombed by the Japanese, has died at 88.
The former Navy radio man's family said he died Sunday at his home in Billings a few weeks after being diagnosed with cancer.
In 2009, Chlapowski recounted the Dec. 7, 1941 attack that propelled the United States into World War II.
He said he had worked an early watch at the submarine base, had breakfast and had just sat down on his bunk when he looked out the window and saw a hangar roof blown away. Then he saw the Japanese planes.
Chlapowski says he ran to the radio room. A supervisor handed him a message, and in Morse code, he sent out word that Pearl Harbor was under attack.

Haiti moves toward corruption trial for Duvalier

Jean-Claude Duvalier AP – Police take Haiti's ex-dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, center, out of his hotel in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, …
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – A judge will decide whether former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier will be tried on charges that include corruption and embezzlement for allegedly pilfering the treasury before his 1986 ouster, a lawyer for the ex-strongman said Tuesday.
A judge questioned the former dictator known as "Baby Doc" in an hourslong, closed-door court session, defense attorney Gervais Charles said. The decision to move toward a trial makes clear that whatever Duvalier's reasons were for returning to Haiti on Sunday, the government is poised to take the opportunity to seek justice for his long-vanished regime, widely regarded as brutal and corrupt.
Charles said the case is now in the hands of a judge of instruction who will decide whether there is enough evidence to go to trial, a process that can take up to three months.
Several hundred Duvalier supporters gathered outside the court, burning tires, chanting slogans and calling for the arrest of President Rene Preval, then cheering as Duvalier left the courthouse and headed to his hotel under police escort. Earlier, some supporters had tried to block streets with overturned trash bins and rocks to keep police from taking Duvalier from his hotel to the courthouse.
There are no signs of widespread support for Duvalier, however. Demonstrations on his behalf have been relatively small by Haiti standards. More than half the nation's people are too young to have lived through his government.
Haiti's system allows for pretrial detention, but Duvalier was allowed to remain free, though he cannot leave the country. His longtime companion Veronica Roy had said Monday that Duvalier expected his trip from France, where he has lived in exile, would last three days.
"If he has to leave (the country), he will ask and he will leave," Charles said. "As of now, he doesn't even have a passport."
Duvalier has been accused in the past in Haiti of stealing hundreds of millions of dollars in public money and overseeing the torture and killing of political enemies. He was not in handcuffs as he arrived at the courthouse Tuesday with Roy, nor was he handcuffed when he left.
His arrival Sunday was a surprise for a long-impoverished country, and comes as Haiti struggles to work through a dire political crisis following the problematic Nov. 28 first-round presidential election, as well as a cholera epidemic and a troubled recovery from the devastating earthquake of a year ago.
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others have urged the Haitian government to arrest Duvalier for widespread abuses. Amnesty International issued a statement praising what it called "the arrest" of Duvalier but said it was just a start.
"If true justice is to be done in Haiti, the Haitian authorities need to open a criminal investigation into Duvalier's responsibility for the multitude of human rights abuses that were committed under his rule including torture, arbitrary detentions, rape, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions," the group said.
Bobby Duval, a former soccer star who was starved and tortured during the 17 months he was held without charge by Duvalier in the notorious Fort Dimanche, was outraged that Haitian authorities didn't immediately arrest the former dictator. He recalls seeing people beaten, tortured and executed by being clubbed in the back of the neck.
"He is a murderer and a thief," said Duval, who now runs an athletic training school for children. "A country that has no memory will repeat its same mistakes. I thought we were past that but I guess not since he hasn't been arrested yet."
Fifty-six-year-old Chal Christen, waved a flag of Duvalier's political party — one he said he'd had stored away since the one-time "president for life" was deposed in a popular uprising and forced into exile nearly 25 years ago.
"We don't have food, our houses collapsed, our children can't go to school. It's Preval that is the dictator," Christen said. "We want Duvalier for president. Under him we ate well, we were safe."
Fenel Alexi, a 31-year-old mechanic, watched the scene and denounced both Duvalier and Preval, a former anti-Duvalier activist.
"The citizens of this country have endured so much crime," Alexi said. "We haven't had a president who hasn't committed crimes."
Duvalier was removed from the hotel Tuesday after meeting in private with senior Haitian judicial officials inside his hotel room amid calls by human rights groups and others for his arrest.
The country's top prosecutor and a judge were among those who met with the former leader in the high-end hotel where he had been ensconced returning to Haiti.
Dozens of Haitian National Police officers were posted inside and around the hotel, some of them in riot gear or guarding the stairwells. A police vehicle for transporting prisoners was parked in front of the hotel's main door and all non-police traffic was halted at the driveway.
Henry Robert Sterlin, a former ambassador under Duvalier who has said in recent days that he was speaking as a spokesman for the former dictator, told reporters at the scene he was shocked by the developments. "Let's see if they put him in prison," he said.
Duvalier assumed power in 1971 at age 19 following the death of his father, Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier. The father and son presided over one of the most brutal chapters in Haitian history, a period when a secret police force known as the Tonton Macoute tortured and killed opponents. The private militia of sunglasses-wearing thugs enforced the Duvalier dynasty's absolute power and lived off extortion.
At Fort Dimanche, a fortress prison, Haitians were executed or died of malnutrition during the 1957-1986 Duvalier dictatorships. Ripples of pain and violence stemming from the Duvalier family's dictatorship over 29 years still deeply scar many Haitians, including those who were forced into exile abroad.
Duvalier has also been accused of pilfering millions of dollars from public funds and spiriting them out of the country to Swiss banks, though he denies stealing from Haiti.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights spokesman Rupert Colville said Tuesday that Duvalier's return increases the chance that he could be charged with atrocities committed during his 15-year rule because it will be easier to bring charges in the country where the crimes occurred.
He cautioned, though, that Haiti's fragile judicial system may be in no position to mount a case.
Duvalier and his family spent years living in luxury on the French Riviera, driving fancy sports cars and staying in exclusive villas. Following financial difficulties, Duvalier moved to the Paris region in 1993. He allegedly lost a large part of his fortune when he was separated from his free-spending wife. The Duvalier clan has waged a long-running battle to retrieve at least $4.6 million frozen in a Swiss bank.
For most of his exile, the ex-despot was quiet. But in September 2007, Duvalier took to Haitian radio from abroad to apologize for "wrongs" committed under his rule and urged supporters to rally around his fringe political party.
A handful of loyalists campaigned to bring Duvalier home from exile, launching a foundation to improve the dictatorship's image and reviving his political party in the hope that he could one day return to power democratically.
Associated Press writers Jacob Kushner in Port-au-Prince and Frank Jordans in Geneva contributed to this report.