16 September 2010

Senate Republicans unveil a plan to make Bush tax cuts permanent 15SEP10

Even as they hammer Democrats for running up record budget deficits, Senate Republicans are rolling out a plan to permanently extend an array of expiring tax breaks that would deprive the Treasury of more than $4 trillion over the next decade, nearly doubling projected deficits over that period unless dramatic spending cuts are made.
The measure, introduced by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) this week, would permanently extend the George W. Bush-era income tax cuts that benefit virtually every U.S. taxpayer, rein in the alternative minimum tax and limit the estate tax to estates worth more than $5 million for individuals or $10 million for couples.
Aides to McConnell said they have yet to receive a cost estimate for the measure. But the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office recently forecast that a similar, slightly more expensive package that includes a full repeal of the estate tax would force the nation to borrow an additional $3.9 trillion over the next decade and increase interest payments on the national debt by $950 billion. That's more than four times the projected deficit impact of President Obama's health-care overhaul and stimulus package combined.
"We have a spending problem. We spend too much. We don't have a taxing problem. We don't tax too little," McConnell told reporters Tuesday. "And if we want to begin to get ourselves out of this economic trough that we're in, the only way to do that is to grow the private sector."
McConnell spoke as senators returned to the Capitol after a six-week hiatus for a final pre-election session that will be defined by a battle over the Bush tax cuts. Unless Congress acts, the cuts will expire at the end of the year, raising taxes across the board.
While Republicans want to preserve all the cuts, Obama has called on lawmakers to extend them only for household incomes under $250,000 a year. That strategy, he argues, would knock hundreds of billions of dollars off the cost of extending the cuts, money that could be used to reduce the nation's debt.
Senate Democrats, while generally supportive of Obama's position, have yet to determine the precise shape of the package they hope to put to a vote in the next four weeks.
(READ RELATED ARTICLE: Putting the $3.9 trillion extension of the Bush tax cuts in context)
The issue dominated a luncheon meeting Tuesday, but Senate Democrats reached no consensus on how to proceed. Some lawmakers want to hold a vote on the Obama plan - which would presumably not achieve the 60 votes needed to overcome a GOP filibuster - and then adjourn until after the election. Others prefer to try to resolve the issue before the current session ends to provide voters with certainty on the matter. But that would require at least a handful of Republicans to agree to a compromise, probably involving a temporary extension of all the tax cuts.
Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) signaled her openness to such a deal Tuesday. "Where we start is to extend all the tax cuts. I think that's important," she told reporters. But she also suggested that she might accept a solution that falls short of a permanent extension of all the Bush cuts - the only approach her more conservative Republican colleagues say they are willing to consider.
A handful of Democrats say they, too, would like to see all the tax cuts extended, at least temporarily, to avoid raising taxes amid an economic downturn - and to blunt GOP charges, in the final weeks before critical elections, that Democrats are raising taxes.
Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said it's an open question whether any tax vote will occur in the Senate before the election. "It's more likely than not, but no final decision" has been made, he said.
(Photos: Key Players shaping economic policy)
Beyond the debate over the Bush tax cuts, dozens of other tax issues also remain to be settled.
For example, without congressional action, millions of taxpayers will owe thousands of dollars in additional taxes this year under the alternative minimum tax. The temporary patch that protected middle-class families from the AMT has expired.
Instead of adopting a measure that would permanently limit the number if taxpayers subject to the AMT, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said Tuesday that he could foresee a bill that would limit the number for two years. The latter approach would be less expensive for the government.
Baucus insisted to reporters, however, that Bush tax cuts that benefit middle- and lower-income families should be made permanent, arguing that a temporary extension "is basically just kicking the can down the road to avoid making difficult decisions and creates more problems than it solves by creating more uncertainty."
Depending on how the AMT is addressed, codifying those cuts would add about $1.4 trillion to deficits over the next decade. But, Baucus acknowledged, "there's little talk about how all this is to be paid for."
Asked how McConnell would cover the cost of his proposal, the Tax Hike Prevention Act, aides noted that he has backed a bipartisan plan to freeze spending that would save an estimated $300 billion over the next decade - a drop in the bucket compared with his $4 trillion-plus plan.
For the rest of the cash, McConnell has said he will turn to the same place as Obama: a presidentially appointed, bipartisan deficit commission that is due to issue its report in December.
"This is not going to be your typical commission that's going to issue a report, sit on the shelf and gather dust," McConnell said last month on NBC's "Meet the Press." "We'll wait for their report. And I intend, if it's a responsible report that I can support, to encourage my members to support it."

AP Source: Consumer Advocate Tapped For New Post 15SEP10

WHAT he really needs to do is appoint her to head the bureau and accept nothing but her approval from the Senate! 
President Obama will appoint Wall Street critic Elizabeth Warren as a special adviser to oversee the creation of a new consumer protection bureau, a Democratic official said Wednesday.
Warren would report to both the Treasury Department and the White House in a role that would not require Senate confirmation. The 61-year-old Harvard University professor had been considered the leading candidate to head the bureau itself, but her lack of support in the financial community could have set the stage for contentious Senate hearings that may have ultimately derailed her confirmation.
The official spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to speak ahead of the formal announcement.
The independent consumer bureau was created under the financial regulatory bill Obama signed into law earlier this year. It will have vast powers to enforce regulations covering mortgages, credit cards and other financial products, and be financed by the Federal Reserve.
Warren has served as head of the Congressional Oversight Panel, charged with monitoring Treasury's handling of the $700 billion bank rescue fund known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program. She has at times clashed with Treasury over her committee's findings and conclusions about the use of TARP money.
As of Sept. 10, however, Warren has removed herself from the panel's work, a signal that the new Treasury post was a possibility.
He pending appointment was first reported by ABC News.
The financial regulation law gives Treasury the authority to run the consumer protection bureau while the nomination of its director is pending.
It was unclear whether Obama also intends to nominate a permanent director for the job this week.
Others mentioned as contenders to lead the agency are Michael Barr, an assistant treasury secretary who was a key architect of the administration's financial regulatory plans, and Eugene Kimmelman, a deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department's antitrust division.

14 September 2010

Prize Platform Invites Citizens to Solve Nation’s Challenges 7SEP10

FOR all you smart, creative people out there, you just might have a plan, an idea that would be good for you and the check it out!
In search of novel solutions to the tricky problem of how to keep astronauts fit during prolonged periods of weightlessness, NASA found an unlikely ally in Alex Altshuler.  Altshuler works for a mechanical engineering firm in Foxboro, MA. He had never before responded to a formal government Request for Proposal (RFP), let alone worked with NASA.  Yet, the exercise device he designed in response to a NASA challenge constituted a major breakthrough in mitigating the loss of bone and muscle density in astronauts.  NASA dubbed the results “outstanding.”
Citizen solvers like Altshuler are at the heart of the Obama Administration’s commitment (pdf) to increase the use of prizes and challenges to solve tough problems.  Prizes allow the government to articulate bold goals – such as building a super-fuel-efficient car, developing a low-cost launch technology for small satellites, or solving the risks to human health that come with space flight – without having to predict which team or approach is most likely to succeed.  With a strict focus on results, prizes empower new, untapped talent – like Altshuler – to deliver novel solutions that accelerate innovation.
As of today, it is easier than ever for Federal agencies to mobilize American ingenuity to solve our Nation’s most pressing problems.  In a joint keynote presentation at the Gov 2.0 Summit in Washington, U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra and U.S. Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra unveiled (pdf), a one-stop-shop where entrepreneurs, innovators, and citizen solvers can compete for prestige and prizes by providing novel solutions to tough problems, large and small. features (pdf) over 35 challenges posed by more than 15 government agencies.  They range from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Game Day Challenge for the university that best reduces and recycles waste at college football games to a $15 million Department of Energy prize for the lighting manufacturer that meets stringent requirements for the next generation of high-quality, high-efficiency light bulbs.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack used the platform today to announce a new challenge: USDA’s Recipes for Healthy Kids Challenge—part of the First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Initiative—which invites school nutrition professionals, chefs, students, and parents to develop nutritious, kid-approved foods for school menus. “The Recipes for Healthy Kids Challenge is an important contribution to our overall efforts to combat childhood obesity,” the First Lady said in a statement.  “It’s vital that we provide our children with healthy and nutritious food in school and help them learn healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime.”
These challenges are just a handful of those featured on and just a taste of what’s to come.  By making it simple and free to post challenges, will accelerate agency adoption of prizes as a means of spurring innovation.
To share your novel solutions, compete for prizes and prestige, and advance our national priorities, visit

13 September 2010

Senate GOP Vows To Block Tax Increase 13SEP10

IT is inconceivable to me how this has become a winning position for the republican party. Think about it people, the wealthy are going to continue getting their tax cut while the government has to cut funding for education, fire, police, highway and mass transit construction, unemployment, health care, social welfare (safety net)programs too many are already dependent on due to this recession caused by  the failed policies of the bush administration coupled with the cost of two horribly mis-managed wars. In the almost two years of this recession, while the wealthy have been receiving their tax cuts how many jobs have they created with this money? republicans criticize the Stimulus program as a waste, but at least economist of all political stripes agree the Stimulus created a few million jobs.......where are the jobs the republicans claim will be created by the tax cuts for the wealthy? I'll tell you where they are...they are overseas, in corporate America's investment in low wage countries (so go ahead and keep shopping at wal-mart, you'll shop your job away sooner or later). The few jobs the wealthy are creating here are probably going to undocumented immigrants, as their gardeners, maids, nannies, field hands, construction workers (hey, don't blame immigrants, blame the law enforcement agencies and the politicians for not going after the employers). Wake up people, especially you Democrats in Congress, find some backbone and stand up to the republicans greed and force them to proclaim their lies and deception to the American people by forcing a vote to keep the tax cuts for the middle and working classes and the poor and do away with the tax cuts for the wealthy!
President Obama's plan to raise taxes on wealthier people while preserving cuts for everyone else appears increasingly likely to founder before Election Day.
Senate Republicans declared on Monday they have the votes to block legislation that would extend only middle-class tax relief — which Obama has repeatedly promised to deliver — if Democrats follow through on plans to let tax rates rise for the wealthiest Americans. The GOP senators forcefully made their case one day after House Republican leader John Boehner suggested he might vote for Obama's plan if that ends up the only option.
Both Republicans and Democrats are using the looming expiration of Bush-era tax cuts as a defining battle in elections to determine control of Congress.
Democratic defectors could lead to passage of the Republicans' version — extending all the Bush tax cuts — or the issue could be left for a postelection congressional session if the current standoff can't be broken. Obama last week declined to say whether he would veto a bill that preserved the tax breaks for the wealthy.
On Sunday, House GOP leader Boehner said he would support renewing tax cuts for the middle class but not the wealthy if that was his only choice. Though Boehner was clear that he supports extending the full range of tax cuts, the White House jumped on his remarks as a possible change of heart.
But Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, the GOP whip, said Monday his party won't give ground.
"Just before the recess we had a meeting and we discussed this, and every Republican was absolutely supportive of the idea that there shouldn't be any increases in taxes," Kyl said.
Congressional analysts say renewing the tax cuts for everyone would cost the government $4 trillion over the next decade. With polls showing broad public anger over spiraling federal deficits, Obama wants to exclude individuals earning over $200,000 and couples making over $250,000 — who account for $700 billion of that $4 trillion total. They represent about 3 percent of taxpayers, according to the Tax Policy Center, a Washington think tank.
"Only in Washington could someone propose a tax hike as an antidote to a recession," GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said.
McConnell has said a bill extending the tax cuts for only low- and middle-income earners cannot pass the Senate, but he declined to reiterate that threat on Monday. Republicans control 41 seats, the minimum needed for a successful bill-killing filibuster, though McConnell spokesman Don Stewart declined to say whether all 41 Republicans would support a filibuster.
Some Democrats, like Sens. Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Evan Bayh of Indiana and Ben Nelson of Nebraska, are siding with Republicans against raising taxes on anyone during a fragile economic recovery.
"I don't think it makes sense to raise any federal taxes during the uncertain economy we are struggling through," Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent who aligns with Democrats, said Monday. "The more money we leave in private hands, the quicker our economic recovery will be. And that means I will do everything I can to make sure Congress extends the so-called Bush tax cuts for another year."
But Lieberman said he would not vote to hold up extension of the middle class cuts to win leverage to extend those for wealthier people as well.
At issue is a year-end deadline to renew a variety of tax cuts enacted in 2001 — when the federal government was running a surplus. They include lower rates, a $1,000 per-child tax credit, relief for married couples, and lower taxes on investments and large estates.
Democrats are worried that November elections could hand the GOP control of the House and perhaps the Senate. The White House and its Democratic allies hope to use the tax-cut fight to cast themselves as defenders of the middle class and Republicans as a party eager to revive the days of a still-unpopular former president, George W. Bush.
"We're going to take the next 50-some days to convince the public that's exactly what the Republicans would do — back to the Bush policies," said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said on NBC's Today show.
"We could get (tax cuts) done this week, but we're still in this wrestling match with John Boehner and Mitch McConnell about the last 2 to 3 percent" of upper-income taxpayers, Obama said Monday during a backyard town hall in a Northern Virginia suburb.
Gibbs said the middle class should not be used as a political football by Republicans maneuvering to give tax cuts to wealthy taxpayers, who he said don't need the reductions. Republicans say paring taxes for the wealthy would encourage them and the businesses they operate to create jobs.
Republicans, for their part, say that it's not just the rich who would be hit by Obama's tax hike on upper-income people. Many small businesses — that earn about half of all small business income — would also face the tax increase.
"No American should face a tax increase in January ... not one," said Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, the No. 3 House Republican. "We will not compromise our economy to accommodate the class warfare rhetoric of this administration."


FROM the lady preacher who calls her blog 'Sarcastic Lutheran', she often post great sermons and life lessons. Click  the header to go to her'll have to go there to see what other have e mailed her in response to her request......

Sermon on the Woman With the Bent Back

Luke 13:10-17

10Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 12When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” 15But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 16And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” 17When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

We know very little about the woman who was healed in our text today.  The text is silent on the question of why was she healed and others weren’t. We don’t know why she bore the pain and humiliation of a bent back.  Perhaps  modern physiologists might be able to give a diagnoses, you know, now that we know SO much about human beings.  Perhaps the source of her crippled physique was chiropractic in nature, perhaps a lack of calcium.  Medically there’s only conjecture on our side of the 2,000 years that separate us from her. 
None of us may have ever experienced the spinal reality of such a thing but The infirmity of the woman who was healed in our text for today seems spiritually familiar doesn’t it? Because her collapsed posture is the physical representation of being se encurvatus en se…, the self curved in on the self which, incidentally,  is Luther’s definition of sin. Myopically unconcerned for anything but the self and having no thought for God or the neighbor.    In other words, bent in a manner in which we see nothing but our own feet. We can come by it naturally – embodying the messages we receive from society and our families and our selves – that we are not thin enough, smart enough, rich enough, like our sister enough, or enough enough.  This can just bend us in.  Then add to it our cultural obsession with the self and the notion that we are our own Gods and the result is a deformity of identity.  One particularly insidious example being our inability to forgive ourselves for not being God.  For not being God!  For making mistakes and getting things wrong and not hitting the mark. Hard to say which is worse – trying to be God for myself, or punishing myself for not managing to do something that isn’t actually possible in the first place.. What bends us over so that we see only self are the voices from inside or outside that try to overpower the sound of God naming us as God’s own. 
It’s hard to say what it was like for her that day when everything changed.  We think of this text in Luke as a healing narrative but really it was nothing less than an exorcism.  Well, that and another opportunity for Jesus to pick a fight with the nice religious folks since all of this happened on the Sabbath.  In all fairness the leaders of the synagogue were just doing their job when they said to the crowds that it was the Sabbath day of rest and not a time for healings.  But see, Jesus does not violate the Sabbath by healing her.  He fulfills it.  By healing her he actually does Sabbath TO her.  He physically embodies in her what Sabbath is, namely a time for putting aside our handiwork so that we might witness the handiwork of God.  She is passive, in the midst of the faithful where she is restored to an upright position, no longer turned in on herself and is named as a Child of God’s promises.  That sounds pretty sabbathy to me.
After she is seen, touched, and healed by Christ, she is named by him as a daughter of Abraham and restored to the dignity and wholeness of being a child of the promise.  You know, this is the only place in the Bible where the term daughter of Abraham appears.  Here Jesus places her in the history of God’s promises.  And the promise to which she has claim...the promise to Abraham was not that his children and children’s children would be super rich and important and fabulous…the promise to Abraham was that his descendants would be a blessing to all nations.  The good news for Abraham had little do with himself and had a lot to do with God’s love for the whole world.
So this daughter of Abraham is blessed to be a blessing.  She encounters the Christ and For the first time in 18 years stands upright and praises God not because she got what she wanted but because praise is simply the consequence of wholeness. 
 Here’s where we finally learn what the purpose of her healing was.  The purpose of her healing is not fulfilled when she stands up straight and it’s not fulfilled when she is named and it’s not fulfilled  when she praises God.  The healing is completed when the community witnesses new life in their midst and rejoices.  In other words, her healing from God had less to do with her and more to do with God’s love for the whole world.
Having seen God’s mercy in the upright body of this daughter of Abraham, the community rejoices for having God in their midst.  Right there in the mess of their broken lives and fractured hopes and crippled bodies.  Right there in the midst of the hypocrites and religious legalists. There is where God shows up.
It’s the same for you actually.  Your encounter with God’s grace has a purpose.  Your being freed from the tyranny of self has a purpose.  Your being acted upon by God…being made whole has a purpose:  and it’s not so that you can collect higher self-esteem and a sense of well-being in order to Spiritually feather your nest.  God does all of this for the good of your neighbor.  It’s always been like that with God.  You know why God gave us the 10 commandments? Because God demands obedience?  So that you will be happy?  nope.  Because God loves your neighbor and would prefer you not steal from them or sleep with their husbands. 
         Having been restored by God, having been healed of being bent in on herself, this daughter of Abraham then bore Christ into her community.  So if you too have been freed from bondage,  if you have been shown selfless love,  raised from the dead, restored to wholeness it is for the benefit of the community.  Don’t keep it to yourself.  Because like the bent woman, you really are blessed to be a blessing.
         This week I asked you to email me examples of where God is healing you where you feel free and where you still feel bound.  So, as an experience of doing Sabbath to each other hear now where God is at work.

11 September 2010

Scientists Find Thick Layer Of Oil On Seafloor 10SEP10

ANOTHER story proving this disaster is far from over and the oil is not gone from the waters of the Gulf of Mexico in spite of what the propagandist from BP and the oil and gas industry would like us to believe.
A core sample from the seafloor of the Gulf of Mexico showing a thick layer of oil.
Courtesy of Samantha Joye A core sample from the seafloor of the Gulf of Mexico shows a 2-inch layer of oily material. Researchers are finding oil on the seafloor miles away from the blown-out BP well.  Though researchers have yet to chemically link the oil deposits to the BP well, "the sheer coverage here is leading us all to come to the conclusion that it has to be sedimented oil from the oil spill because it's all over the place," says one scientist.
A control core sample, which shows no oil deposit.
Courtesy of Samantha Joye This control core, by comparison, shows no oil sediment.
Scientists on a research vessel in the Gulf of Mexico are finding a substantial layer of oily sediment stretching for dozens of miles in all directions. Their discovery suggests that a lot of oil from the Deepwater Horizon didn't simply evaporate or dissipate into the water — it has settled to the seafloor.
The Research Vessel Oceanus sailed on Aug. 21 on a mission to figure out what happened to the more than 4 million barrels of oil that gushed into the water. Onboard, Samantha Joye, a professor in the Department of Marine Sciences at the University of Georgia, says she suddenly has a pretty good idea about where a lot of it ended up. It's showing up in samples of the seafloor, between the well site and the coast.
"I've collected literally hundreds of sediment cores from the Gulf of Mexico, including around this area. And I've never seen anything like this," she said in an interview via satellite phone from the boat.
Joye describes seeing layers of oily material — in some places more than 2 inches thick — covering the bottom of the seafloor.
"It's very fluffy and porous. And there are little tar balls in there you can see that look like microscopic cauliflower heads," she says.
It's very clearly a fresh layer. Right below it she finds much more typical seafloor mud. And in that layer, she finds recently dead shrimp, worms and other invertebrates.
'A Slime Highway'
How did the oily sediment get there? Joye says it's possible that chemical dispersants might have sunk some oil, but it's also likely that natural systems are playing an important role.
"The organisms that break down oil excrete mucus — copious amounts of mucus," Joye says. "So it's kind of like a slime highway from the surface to the bottom. Because eventually the slime gets heavy and it sinks."
That sticky material can pick up oil particles as it sinks. Joye can't yet say with certainty that the oily layer is from BP's blown-out well.
The organisms that break down oil excrete mucus — copious amounts of mucus. So it's kind of like a slime highway from the surface to the bottom. Because eventually the slime gets heavy and it sinks.
"We have to [chemically] fingerprint it and link it to the Deepwater Horizon," she says. "But the sheer coverage here is leading us all to come to the conclusion that it has to be sedimented oil from the oil spill, because it's all over the place."
So far, the research vessel has traveled in a large "X" across the Gulf within a few dozen miles of the well. Scientists have taken eight sets of samples, and Joye says they all contain this layer. It's thin in some places, inches thick in others. Eventually, scientists hope to collect enough samples to figure out how much oil is now settling to the seafloor.
"It's starting to sound like a tremendous amount of oil. And we haven't even sampled close to the wellhead yet," she says.
A Blizzard Of Oil
Last month, another research group also reported finding oil on the seafloor. Researchers at the University of South Florida say they saw oil particles sprinkled on top of the mud. These new findings strongly suggest that it didn't just drizzle oil — in some places it was a blizzard.
David Hollander, from the University of South Florida, says the government's original attempt to figure out what happened to the oil toted up how much washed ashore, how much evaporated and how much might have stayed under the waves. But it didn't consider that oil could also end up on the seafloor.
"And so now the bottom really is turning out to be an important sink for the oil," Hollander says.
But the ecological impacts of oil on the seafloor depend on the depth of the ocean where it lies. Joye's findings so far have found oil in depths ranging from 300 to 4,000 feet. Shallower waters, in particular, are potentially important not just for life on the bottom but for the entire marine ecosystem.
"A lot of fish go down to the bottom and eat and then come back up," Hollander says. "And if all their food sources are derived from the bottom, then indeed you could have this impact."
Figuring all that out though, will probably take many years.


Hearts & Minds by Jim Wallis
What Have We Learned Since 9/11?

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This Saturday, we commemorate the ninth anniversary of 9/11. It is with pain and sadness that we remember the day the towers fell, the Pentagon was attacked, and another plane full of passengers crashed into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after brave citizens stopped the terrorists from hitting their target. For nine years the anguish of lost loved ones and the feeling of vulnerability we all felt as terrible acts of violence were perpetrated on our soil have stuck with us all.
At this time, it is also appropriate to ask, What have we learned? How have we grown as a country? How have we healed, or how have we, in our hurt, turned around and hurt others? These are not either/or questions. We have, in fact, done both: healed and wounded, learned and regressed, grown and shrunk back from the challenges before us. The challenges before us today lie in our ability to move forward in healing and building the cause of peace while remembering the lessons and lives lost in the past.
But rather than showing that we have grown in understanding, this anniversary has been marred by two events that show how the extremes can still control the discourse, both in America and around the world.
First, there has been near-universal condemnation of the Quran burning planned for this Saturday by Terry Jones and his Florida church. Opposition has come from Muslims, Christians, Jews; Republicans and Democrats; civilians, politicians (including the president), and generals.
What Jones doesn't seem to understand is that the message he is really sending is a sacrilegious slap in the face of Jesus Christ. If Jones and his followers go through with their plans to burn the Quran, they might as well burn some Bibles too, because they are already destroying the teachings of Jesus. Jesus called his followers to be peacemakers, and to love not only their neighbors, but also their enemies; instead Jones and his church have decided to become agents of conflict and division. Jones needs someone to tell him that Americans should not judge all Muslims by the actions of a small group of terrorists -- and I hope somebody tells Muslims around the world not to judge Christians, or all of America, by the actions of a radical fringe like the members of Dove World Outreach Center.
But just as the proclaimed faith of the terrorists bears no resemblance to the faith of most Muslims, the actions of Jones and his followers bear no resemblance to the faith of most Christians. Jones knows that his actions are legally protected, but if he follows through he should know that he makes a mockery of the teachings of Jesus and even puts our country and U.S. troops in danger.
If you are a pastor, especially an evangelical or charismatic pastor who might have a way to connect with Terry Jones, please contact him and tell him you are praying that he won't do this. If you are a Christian (and especially those who are members of a church in the Gainesville, Florida, area), please look into some of the other events that are being planned that day. Use this as an opportunity to be a prayerful presence for peace, love, and reconciliation -- for Jesus' sake. And send a message to the world about what our faith is truly about.
Second, an issue that many people are much more mixed about: Will building an Islamic community center within two blocks of Ground Zero help bring healing? Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who had the vision for the center, is a good friend I have known for many years. I've had the pleasure working beside him in building bridges between Muslims, Christians, and Jews. His heart and commitment to the work of reconciliation between people of different faiths and backgrounds has always shone through in everything that Feisal and his wife, Daisy Khan, do. They are genuine peacemakers, and I know this controversy about their dream of a community center pains them deeply. I do not doubt for a second that every action they have taken toward building this Islamic community center has been with peace and reconciliation in mind.
When the story first broke in The New York Times this past December, it was met with little interest. The fact that a moderate Muslim leader, who had lived and worked in the community of lower Manhattan for 25 years, was planning to build a community center was not considered controversial. Unfortunately, there were those who saw this as a political opportunity to create conflict and division and stir up ideological passions by distorting Imam Feisal's mission and purpose. He told the nation last night that if he had ever imagined that his plans would cause this much hurt and distress, he never would have proposed building the center at that location.
I do not believe the center of the debate is merely the community center's proximity to Ground Zero. Across the country, the building (and even existence) of mosques is being protested, others mosques are being vandalized, alarming attacks on individual Muslims are occurring, and now, an obscure and marginal group in Florida is planning to burn the Quran in the name of their extreme brand of Christianity -- getting the pastor's face on the front page of USA Today.
This conflict is really about the role that faith will play in America. It is about whether or not we will accept Muslim Americans as true Americans or second-class citizens. It is about whether we will blame millions of American Muslims and 1 billion Muslims worldwide for the actions of a small number of Muslims who try to use their brand of faith to murder innocent people. It is about whether or not the country will embrace a Muslim who seeks peace and wants to help rebuild lower Manhattan or reject him because of his religious beliefs.
This is a test of our character; and we dare not fail it.


Taiji Campaign Report

Taiji Campaign ReportReport by Michael Dalton, Taiji Campaign Leader

Taiji town, in Wakayama prefecture, is a sleepy little fishing village on the eastern coast of Japan about four driving hours from Osaka (Kansai) international airport.  Taiji is considered the birthplace of traditional whale hunting in Japan, with a history that dates back to the 1600’s.
Travelling down and around the coast from Osaka to Taiji, you will see that the entire coastline is dotted with similar small towns – all with the same style of harbours and small fishing boats.
Taiji Campaign ReportWhat sets Taiji apart from other towns is the refusal to accept that there are alternatives to this long held custom of slaughtering small cetaceans.  Most of the world was not aware that this was happening until Ric O’Barry brought it to the world’s attention through the making and screening of his award-winning documentary “The Cove”.
“The Cove” was not the first time that the practices had attracted attention here; in 2003 Sea Shepherd activists Alex Cornelissen and Allison Lance were arrested for cutting the nets in the notorious cove and were detained for four weeks before being evicted from Japan.
Taiji Campaign ReportArriving in Taiji on 31 August 2010, with a small but select group of Sea Shepherd volunteer activists – all from Brisbane, Australia – we discovered the town was not what we expected.  The fleet of fishing boats used in the Dolphin drives, known to us from information readily available on the internet, were sitting lazily in the main harbour.  An initial drive past The Cove on our first day in Taiji, the last guaranteed day of safety until April 2011 for the dolphins, yielded no confrontations with pro-hunting militants and no other opposition.  In fact, the town was all but deserted.
After checking into our accommodation, one other scuba diver, two scouts, and I headed back to the town to ascertain what preparations were underway for the start of a possible six-month slaughter.  We were able to casually walk down to the beach at The Cove, which is visible from the road into town.  There was no scrutiny or surveillance from the adjacent car park as we had expected.  We donned our snorkelling gear and swam around to the secluded killing cove – this was an unsettling experience – swimming in waters where up to 2,000 Bottlenose and Risso dolphins, False Killer and Pilot whales have been butchered on an annual basis just did not feel right.
Our swim into and out of the killing cove was uneventful, save for the attention it received from a couple that began filming and conducted a short interview with us. This action swiftly brought us to the attention of the local Police. With snorkelling gear in hand, we attempted to walk from The Cove but did not get very far before being questioned by two local [Shingu] Police officers. After some playful banter, and surprisingly no questions as to why we were snorkelling in the cove, we shook hands and left to return to our traditional-style guesthouse in a nearby town.
That night, two of us again headed for the town under cover of darkness, armed with equipment to document any activity either into or out of the harbour and around The Cove, including the secluded killing cove. We nestled into position undetected for the duration of our surveillance activities, and at 3:00am lights started appearing around the town as fishermen woke for their daily routines. At 3:45am, the fishermen started leaving the harbour under the light of the half moon and a star-lit sky.  It was not until 5:30am that a procession of the boats involved in the dolphin drives left the sanctity of the main harbour and headed due east under the rising sun.
Shortly before 8:00am the boats returned back from the same easterly direction. This time not in single file but in a long arc of eight evenly spaced boats, slowly driving forward, herding a pod of terrified dolphins or small whales toward their doom. The only noise was the droning of the engines from the distance. Two of the larger boats in the fleet charged ahead to set up positions near the entrance to The Cove, ready to ensure that their quarry did not escape.  The dolphins must have gone deep and shifted direction, because within a few minutes all boats broke formation and headed back out to sea. This was a great day for the dolphins with none being caught. A press release was quickly penned to inform the world that the hunts had again resumed with the first one being unsuccessful.
It was not only the world that listened to this first report, but also the fishermen and those holding higher office in the Institute for Cetacean Research, the organisation that ultimately profits from the sales of dolphins for captivity and the annual illegal Antarctic whaling operation.  They now knew that representatives of their nemesis, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, were in town – watching and waiting!
A pod of bottlenose dolphins were captured the following morning and witnessed in The Cove. The town’s fisheries agency confirmed that twenty had been captured and a number of them had been kept for sale with the remainder released.
Taiji Campaign ReportOur photographic evidence confirmed this statement. The captured dolphins were manually moved using small boats and hand-held stretchers to the holding pens in the main harbour on Friday, 3 September where they wait for slave owners from aquariums and other captive dolphin enterprises to collect them; they are destined for a life of misery and will be forced to endure an unnatural diet of dead fish laced with antibiotics and anti-depressants in order to survive.
The knowledge that their activities were being closely monitored prompted an immediate heightening of security over the holding pens and around the town by a team of eleven police and two Japanese Coastguard employees.  They were growing anxious over the possibility of a rescue attempt on the dolphins.  Sea Shepherd did it in 2003, and could do it in 2010!
Throughout our time in Taiji, we were stopped several times by the police, never admitting our true intentions or affiliations. We also encountered the Japanese Coastguard personnel who knew I was leading this charge into their territory and wanted to warn me that if I attempted a second Sea Shepherd action on the nets then I would be charged – the others in my group were warned not to associate with me!
The Coastguard let us leave, but ensured that we were constantly followed by both Police and Coastguard vehicles until we lost them in a series of manoeuvres in the back streets of Kushimoto. They have not found us since, despite attempts to pose as media for bogus interviews and always calling us within minutes of us escaping their surveillance attempts.
Taiji Campaign ReportTo the fishermen of Taiji, the dolphins and small whales are merely big fish to be captured, sold and forced into an unnatural life in dolphin shows and aquariums for the amusement of humans -- or slaughtered inhumanely for their significantly lesser value as meat. These animals are laden with toxic chemicals including PCB’s and methyl-mercury that have permeated the oceanic food chain since the start of the industrial revolution.
Despite scientific evidence highlighting levels of contaminants in the meat that exceed the recommended levels safe for human consumption, it is still sold in supermarkets and served in school lunches. Local Taiji townspeople, and those of neighbouring areas, are being exposed to chemicals that were linked to catastrophic neurological problems (known as Minamata disease) endured by people in Minamata as mercury from industrial waste contaminated their drinking water with poison.
The mayor of Taiji has commented publicly that as long as he holds office the killing of dolphins and other cetaceans will continue. He argues that tradition and custom warrant the continuation of the dolphin drives and refuses to acknowledge that profiteering from these mammals in the name of human entertainment is only a recent phenomenon.
The world must know what is happening in Taiji. We direct no malice towards anyone in Taiji or wider Japan except those involved in these cruel and barbaric slaughters, those capturing dolphins for exploitation, and those that profit from both practices.
We have met and shared laughter with many wonderful locals during our short time in this beautiful, culturally rich area. We have been offered help whenever we have needed it, above and beyond that ever experienced in any other country I have visited or lived. It is unfortunate that a small handful of people continue to bloody these waters and do not seek to find an alternative as many other towns both in Japan and around the world have already chosen to do.
Taiji is not a town prospering from the sale and slaughter of dolphins; instead it too is slowly dying. The lifeblood ebbing slowly out of it by the refusal of younger fishermen to participate in the killings and the profits going to those in higher authority who know only greed without compassion.
Tangalooma Resort, on Brisbane’s Moreton Island, was once the home of one of Australia’s most notorious whaling stations, responsible for decimating the population of humpback whales over such a short period of time that, had they not ceased whaling operations when they did, the humpbacks may have never recovered.
Instead of hiding its 400 years of whaling, Taiji, like Tangalooma Resort, or even Futo in Japan, could be prospering from eco-tourism. After all – who wants to go to a town responsible for the ritualistic murder of cetaceans?
And finally, to those organisations like the Whale Museum in Taiji, the dolphinariums and the Sea World’s of this ocean planet – shame on you!  Your greed is the driving force behind the exploitation of these magnificent creatures and the reason that the dolphin hunts continue in places like Taiji. This greed and total disregard for these mammals denies them the freedom of the oceans and forces them into shallow artificial waters where they must perform in order to eat – and where they are denied the opportunity to exhibit natural swimming, hunting, mating and social behaviour.
It is time for people to realise that visiting dolphins and small whales in captivity is directly correlated to the deaths of more than 20,000 cetaceans in Japan every year!

Read more Taiji postings . . .

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11SEP01 9/11

I was at my parent's in Scandia, PA on 11 SEP 01 then the terrorist attacked. It was a beautiful morning and I was already outside doing yard work when Jennie, my younger sister living with her family in Sterling, VA called to tell Mom and Dad to turn on the TV, something was going on in NYC, a plane hit one of the towers of the World Trade Center. Mom and Dad called me in and we were watching NBC when the second plane hit the other tower of the WTC, and then all hell broke loose. Nobody knew what was happening. There were reports of many other planes missing, these was speculation on TV about hijackings and then the hysteria set in. I remember reports on TV about bombings in DC and NYC and other cities. I remeber Mom and Dad finally getting through to my sister Sheila in Bennett, CO and finding out they were safe and her husband Dick (a mechanic for UA) was not flying anywhere that day. I remember the frustration of trying to get through to my friend Pam in Annandale, VA to make sure our friend Alison (who worked for a Middle East think tank in D.C.) was OK because of the reported bombings in D.C., and the relief finding out she was OK, as were all our other friends. I remember the multiple calls between Mom's and Dad's and Jennie's, she was home alone with Alex, who was 7 years old at the time, and Katie, who was 3. Ted, her husband (a mechanic for AA at IAD / Dulles) was at work at the airport and Jennie was not able to get him on the phone. And then the World Trade Center towers came down. I remember standing with Mom and Dad in their living room, watching the death of thousands at the WTC, and then the reports of a plane crashing into the Pentagon. And I will never forget the next phone call from Jennie, I answered the phone and she was screaming and crying and finally I got out of her that their friend Mary Jane Booth, a lady who worked with Ted at AA IAD, was on the AA flight that crashed into the Pentagon, killing everyone on board. I was terrified she was going to tell us Ted was on the flight as at times he was sent to other airports to work on AA planes. I thank God this was not one of those times. I told Jennie I was packing my car and was leaving to come back to VA...but then Mom took the phone and talked to Jennie and got her calmed down and got her to call John and Ginger, Jen's and Ted's friends from down the street, to come be with her and the kids. Mom and Dad also told me I was not going back to VA that day because there was still confusion of the situation in the metro D.C. area, and we would not find out until later in the day about the UA flight crashing in PA, and that there were no bombings in D.C., and the metro region and no other attacks in NYC or anywhere else in the U.S. The day became a blur, multiple phone calls into the evening between Mom and Dad and Jen, and the relief when he was finally able to get home late that evening (all IAD employees were held at the airport until cleared by security), and calls to my younger brother Kirk in Abilene, TX, Sheila and Dick in CO, family and friends in the area. I remember going outside at some point to try to work in the yard because I couldn't stand watching the footage of the WTC coming down and the scene from the Pentagon and Shanksville, PA. I remember the beautiful blue sky and the peace of Scandia, and I remember sitting in  corner of the yard and crying. And I remember fixing supper for Mom and Dad, early that morning I reminded Mom I would fix supper, fried green tomatoes with sausage, something the three of us love and a perfect late Summer meal. But we just went through the motions of eating, we, like the nation, were still numb from what had happened that horrible day and mourning the loss of Jen's and Ted's friend and the thousands of others, and I remember when we finally went to bed, exhausted, we were afraid of what the next day would bring, and trusting God to protect us while we slept......

Fla. pastor will 'not today, not ever' burn Quran 11SEP10

The Associated Press

NEW YORK -- A Florida pastor says his church will "not today, not ever" burn a Quran, even if a mosque is built near ground zero.
Pastor Terry Jones had threatened to burn the Muslim holy book on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks over plans to build an Islamic center near where terrorists brought down the World Trade Center nine years ago.
He flew to New York and appeared on NBC's "Today" show. He says that his Gainesville, Fla., church's goal was "to expose that there is an element of Islam that is very dangerous and very radical."
He tells NBC that "we have definitely accomplished that mission." He says no meeting is planned with the imam leading the center but he hopes one will take place.
A "Burn a Koran Day" banner outside his church has been taken down.

NRDC ACTION FUND:Rachel Maddow shines a spotlight on the Koch Brother’s efforts against clean energy reforms 10SEP10

THE Koch brothers (3rd after the Gates and Warren Buffett in wealth in America) are primary funders of the tea baggers, taking advantage of the pathetic gullibility and voluntary ignorance and prejudice of these people with the ultimate goal of screwing them for their own financial and political gain. This is from the NRDC Action Fund showing the involvement of Koch Industries, Marathon Petroleum, Ariel Corp (a gas company) and others attacking the "over reaction" to the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the drilling moratorium, climate change, renewable energy, government regulation, taxes and Democrats. David and Charles Koch are greedy, evil corporate pigs intent on buying a government that will let them rape and pillage the environment at the expense of their employees, the tea-bagger movement and the common good of the nation.
The Koch Brothers have been working hard to stop comprehensive clean energy and climate reform. Last night, Rachel Maddow did a great introduction to some of their underhanded tactics. Watch it here:

You can read the ThinkProgress report that she cites here.

Koch-Funded Oil Rally Calls Global Warming A ‘Hoax,’ Dismisses Oil Spill, And Attacks Democrats 

Beginning last week, the oil industry launched a national astroturfing effort called “Rally for Jobs.” The events, which are being held across the nation, are backed by right-wing billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch. They launched a nearly identical campaign last summer that was widely mocked for its obvious astroturfing after it was revealed that 15 of the 21 Energy Citizens events were actually planned by oil industry lobbyists.
ThinkProgress attended one of the rallies yesterday in Canton, Ohio. What was billed as an organic grassroots jobs rally quickly descended into attacks on three things the Kochs most oppose: global warming science, oil safety regulations, and Democrats. One of the speakers, Sgt. Dennis Bartow, called global warming a “hoax.” He was joined by Karen Wright, CEO of the gas company Ariel Corporation, who ridiculed climate change as “questionable science” and referred to pollutants as “so-called carbon dioxide emissions.” Wright went on to rail against “so-called green jobs” that were “dubious” and “phony.”
Other speakers later dismissed attacks on the oil industry’s safety record, particularly in the wake of the Gulf oil spill. Radio host Matt Patrick called the deepwater drilling moratorium “ridiculous” and compared it to a ban on building houses because one caught on fire. Wright “did a quick Google search” on the oil industry’s safety record and openly wondered why Congress doesn’t ban cars because the number of auto accident deaths far exceeds the number of oil industry deaths. Wright also gleefully proclaimed that the oil spill is “all gone,” a claim that is easily dispelled with a quick Google search.
Many of the speakers also rallied the crowd against Ohio’s Democrats in Congress. For example, after telling audience members that he wasn’t going to call out particular politicians nor indict a single political party, Patrick — literally ten seconds later — called out only Democrats by name:
I’m not going to sit here and tell you it’s all one political party or that it’s this politician or that politician. You’ve got some people right now in the state of Ohio that want nothing more than to tax small businesses right out of business. You know who they are. And John Boccieri and Zack Space and Tim Ryan and Betty Sutton and Charlie Wilson, this message is for you. We’re coming after you. Good luck in November!
Of the approximately 400 who showed up for the rally, “most arrived in four buses” that were paid for and organized by oil and gas companies. ThinkProgress caught up with one of the attendees, who confirmed that Marathon Petroleum arranged a bus to bring over 50 of its employees to the rally.
Watch the highlights here:

End the demolition of Bedouin homes in southern Israel from AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL 10SEP10

ISRAEL is guilty of using the same brutal tactics against the Bedouin (Israeli citizens mind you) that were used against Jews in the pogroms of Europe and then the Nazis in occupied Europe leading up to the "final solution". They are making a mockery of the slogan "never again". Please participate in this action from Amnesty International by clicking the header of this post or the take action link at the bottom of this post. 

This year has seen a marked increase in the demolition of Bedouin homes in the Negev (or Naqab) area of southern Israel. On 27 July 2010, the entire al-'Araqib village comprising around 250 people, including many children, was destroyed by officials of the Israel Lands Administration accompanied by over 1,000 police. Olive trees that had been planted by the population were uprooted. According to the Israeli non-governmental organization Adalah, the police also confiscated personal possessions belonging to the residents including electricity generators, refrigerators, ovens, bedroom furniture and bags of flour.

Attempts by residents and their supporters to rebuild homes in the village were met by further destruction to their property by the Israeli authorities.

Dozens of Bedouin villages in southern Israel are not formally recognized by the state authorities, even though their tens of thousands of residents are Israeli citizens. They lack basic services and live under constant threat of destruction of their homes and eviction from the land.

The Israel Lands Administration classifies al-'Araqib and other "unrecognized" villages as state land claiming the Bedouin citizens of Israel "invaded" these areas. Yet, the Bedouin have a well-established historical claim to live there and international human rights law supports the view that they should be free from threats of home demolition or forced evictions.

Amnesty International urges the Israeli authorities immediately to end its home demolitions and forced evictions policy in al-'Araqib and other "unrecognized" villages in Israel.

Take Action

Appeal for Action

Take Action

Click the 'Send' button below to call on the Director-General of the Israel Lands Administration, Bibi Yaron, to end the demolition of Bedouin villages in southern Israel.

Demolition of Bedouin villages in Israel

Dear Director General,

I am writing to express my deep concern about the Israeli authorities' demolition of around 40 homes in al-‘Araqib, one of the so-called unrecognized villages in the Negev area of southern Israel, and the forcible eviction of around 250 residents, including young children.

These house demolitions and forced evictions are incompatible with Israel's international human rights obligations.

In July, the UN Human Rights Committee (HRC) expressed its concern about "allegations of forced evictions of the Bedouin population based on the Public Land Law (Expulsion of Invaders) of 1981 as amended in 2005".

The HRC said it was concerned about the Israeli authorities "inadequate consideration" of the agricultural and other traditional needs of the Bedouin population of the Negev and the difficulties that the Bedouin face in accessing "health structures, education, water and electricity" due to the policies pursued by Israel.

The HRC called on the Israeli authorities to "respect the Bedouin population's right to their ancestral land and their traditional livelihood based on agriculture".

This cycle of demolitions and forcible evictions must end. I urge you to put a stop to these abusive practices and, together with other state bodies, to afford official recognition to these villages and allow their residents security of tenure and the possibility of developing their villages without the constant threat that their homes and livelihoods will be destroyed and their life chances blighted through lack of educational, health and other key resources.

Yours sincerely

10 September 2010

President Obama on the Economy in Cleveland: "The America I Believe In" 8SEP10

Read the Transcript  |  Download Video: mp4 (431MB) | mp3 (41MB)
This afternoon the President was in Cleveland, Ohio, the city where House Republican Leader Boehner recently put forth his party’s priorities for the economy.  In his remarks,  the President laid out a stark contrast between policies that help the economy work for the middle class, and the policies that allowed special interests to run amok -- and to run our economy into a ditch.  He spoke about the need to strengthen our recovery in both the short and long terms by investing in America’s roads, bridges and runways, by helping small businesses grow and hire, and by giving certainty to businesses through a permanent incentive to innovate and create good jobs in America in the Research and Experimentation Tax Credit.
But before all that he talked about the foundation of the values that guide his decisions:
Yes, our families believed in the American values of self-reliance and individual responsibility, and they instilled those values in their children.  But they also believed in a country that rewards responsibility.  A country that rewards hard work.  A country built upon the promise of opportunity and upward mobility. 
They believed in an America that gave my grandfather the chance to go to college because of the GI Bill.  An America that gave my grandparents the chance to buy a home because of the Federal Housing Authority.  An America that gave their children and grandchildren the chance to fulfill our dreams thanks to college loans and college scholarships.
It was an America where you didn’t buy things you couldn’t afford; where we didn’t just think about today – we thought about tomorrow.  An America that took pride in the goods it made, not just in the things it consumed.  An America where a rising tide really did lift all boats, from the company CEO to the guy on the assembly line.
That’s the America I believe in.  That’s what led me to work in the shadow of a shuttered steel plant on the South Side of Chicago when I was a community organizer.  It’s what led me to fight for factory workers at manufacturing plants that were closing across Illinois when I was a Senator.  It’s what led me to run for President – because I don’t believe we can have a strong and growing economy without a strong and growing middle-class.
The Crowd in Parma, Ohio Listens to President Obama Speak About the Economy The audience listens as President Barack Obama delivers remarks on the economy at Cuyahoga Community College in Parma, Ohio September 8, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
Looking back on his first 18 months in office, the President spoke about how he had “hoped for a chance to get beyond some of the old political divides – between Democrats and Republicans, Red states and Blue states – that had prevented us from making progress.  Because although we are proud to be Democrats, we are prouder to be Americans – and we believed then and we believe now that no single party has a monopoly on wisdom. “   But he also explained that he ran because we needed change, and while ideas on how to do that were welcome from anywhere, simply continuing on with the broken status quo was not a contribution to moving us forward:
A few weeks ago, the Republican leader of the House came here to Cleveland and offered his party’s answer to our economic challenges.  Now, it would be one thing if he had admitted his party’s mistakes during the eight years that they were in power, if they had gone off for a while and meditated, and come back and offered a credible new approach to solving our country’s problems.
But that’s not what happened.  There were no new policies from Mr. Boehner.  There were no new ideas.  There was just the same philosophy that we had already tried during the decade that they were in power -- the same philosophy that led to this mess in the first place:  Cut more taxes for millionaires and cut more rules for corporations.
Instead of coming together like past generations did to build a better country for our children and grandchildren, their argument is that we should let insurance companies go back to denying care for folks who are sick, or let credit card companies go back to raising rates without any reason.  Instead of setting our sights higher, they’re asking us to settle for a status quo of stagnant growth and eroding competitiveness and a shrinking middle class.
Cleveland, that is not the America I know.  That is not the America we believe in.  (Applause.)
A lot has changed since I came here in those final days of the last election, but what hasn’t is the choice facing this country.  It’s still fear versus hope; the past versus the future.  It’s still a choice between sliding backward and moving forward.
The President’s speech was sweeping, and it is well worth reading in full, where he speaks to the misguided Republican proposal to grant permanent, budget-busting tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans as we touched on this afternoon, and elaborates on his own proposals as we touched on this morning.  In closing, he took a step back:
I know that folks are worried about the future.  I know there’s still a lot of hurt out here.  And when times are tough, I know it can be tempting to give in to cynicism and fear and doubt and division -– and just settle our sights a little bit lower, settle for something a little bit less.  But that’s not who we are, Ohio.  Those are not the values that built this country.
We are here today because in the worst of times, the people who came before us brought out the best in America.  Because our parents and our grandparents and our great-grandparents were willing to work and sacrifice for us.  They were willing to take great risks, and face great hardship, and reach for a future that would give us the chance at a better life.  They knew that this country is greater than the sum of its parts -– that America is not about the ambitions of any one individual, but the aspirations of an entire people, an entire nation.  (Applause.)
That’s who we are.  That is our legacy.  And I’m convinced that if we’re willing to summon those values today, and if we’re willing to choose hope over fear, and choose the future over the past, and come together once more around the great project of national renewal, then we will restore our economy and rebuild our middle class and reclaim the American Dream for the next generation.  (Applause.) 
The President Waves to the Crowd in Parma, Ohio President Barack Obama waves after delivering remarks on the economy at Cuyahoga Community College in Parma, Ohio September 8, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)


UPDATES and actions on privacy for international travelers and the 1st & 4th amendments, abortion, torture, the death penalty, extraordinary rendition, targeted killings of American citizens, National Security Letters, immigration and the American Justice system. I am proud to be a member of the ACLU, click the header to go to their website to join support their work.

ACLU Online

In This Issue

Laptop Searches and Seizures at the Border Challenged

We Won! Appeals Court Finds Anti-Immigrant Law Unconstitutional

Extraordinary Rendition Victims Denied Their Day in Court

It's Time for a Top-to-Bottom Review of the Criminal Justice System

Targeted Killings Violate the Constitution and International Law

ACLU Attorney Named One of Best LGBT Lawyers Under 40

Exhibit Commemorates 90 Years of Protecting Liberty

A Step Towards Justice in Ohio

National Security Letters: A "Civil Liberties Minute" Podcast

Nebraska Attorney General Agrees To Settlement In Intrusive Abortion Law

ACLU Attorney Named One of Best LGBT Lawyers Under 40

Christine Sun, senior counsel for the ACLU LGBT & AIDS Project since 2005, was recently named one of the Best LGBT Lawyers under 40 by the National LGBT Bar Association.

Sun has many gay rights accomplishments under her belt in her career. She was lead attorney in a Southern California case that led to the federal court ruling that a high school student cannot be "outed" to her parents without her consent. Most recently, Christine represented Constance McMillen in her successful litigation against the rural Mississippi school district that refused to let her bring her girlfriend to the prom and then cancelled the prom when told they had to.

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Exhibit Commemorates 90 Years of Protecting Liberty

Join the ACLU in celebrating our 90th anniversary. A traveling exhibit will be on public view throughout the country highlighting ACLU accomplishments and the tremendous impact the ACLU has had on the lives of individuals and on society as a whole. Dates and times of the traveling exhibit can be found here.

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A Step Towards Justice in Ohio

Last month, we told you about the case of Kevin Keith, a 46-year-old man on death row in Ohio. Keith was scheduled to be put to death on September 15, despite overwhelming evidence that he is an innocent man. Many groups, leading eyewitnesses and memory experts were petitioning the Ohio Parole Board and Ohio Governor Ted Strickland to grant clemency to Keith. The Parole Board rejected his claim and recommended that the governor deny his clemency request. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals denied one of Keith's final appeals.

As his September 15 execution date was fast approaching, activists around the country continued to press for commutation, asking Gov. Strickland to grant clemency to Keith. The response was overwhelming, and on September 2, our work paid off—Gov. Strickland commuted Kevin Keith's sentence.

Thank you to all of you who signed the petition and sent letters asking Gov. Strickland to commute Kevin Keith's death sentence. The struggle for Kevin Keith's innocence continues, but now, he will have the time he needs to continue his fight for exoneration.

>> Please take a few minutes to thank Gov. Strickland for doing the right thing by commuting Kevin Keith's death sentence.

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National Security Letters: A "Civil Liberties Minute" Podcast

Can it be a crime to tell your fiancé or family what the FBI has done to you?

>> Listen to the podcast.

Nebraska Attorney General Agrees To Settlement In Intrusive Abortion Law

Late last month, the Nebraska Attorney General announced that he has agreed to a settlement with Planned Parenthood of the Heartland acknowledging that the recently enacted Women's Health Protection Act is unconstitutional and will be permanently enjoined. The ACLU was co-counsel in the case, which acknowledges that the Women's Health Protection Act is unconstitutional based on the merits presented in Planned Parenthood of the Heartland v. Heineman.

The Act, which passed the Nebraska legislature in April 2010, would have required physicians who may perform an abortion to discuss the entire body of research literature about possible health risks related to abortion with their patients who are seeking abortions, even though much of this information may be outdated, false or misleading.

For instance, it would have required a physician to discuss flawed studies that purport to find a link between abortion and breast cancer, even though the leading medical organizations—such as the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists—have all flatly rejected any association between abortion and breast cancer.

District Judge Laurie Smith Camp stated that complying with the law's requirements "would be impossible or nearly impossible," and would place "physicians who perform abortions in immediate jeopardy of crippling civil litigation, thereby placing women in immediate jeopardy of losing access to physicians who are willing to perform abortions."

"We are very pleased with this outcome. This statute was about political interference in a woman's private health care decisions," said Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, staff attorney at the ACLU and co-counsel in the case. "The government should stay out of these difficult, private decisions and let physicians decide what information is best for a patient's individual situation."

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September 10, 2010

Laptop Searches and Seizures at the Border Challenged

ACLU client Pascal Abidor was traveling from Montreal to New York on Amtrak when his laptop was searched and confiscated at the Canadian border.

>> Watch the video!

>> Take action: Tell Congress to rein in suspicionless laptop searches at the border.

Earlier this week, the ACLU and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) filed a lawsuit challenging the government's claimed authority to search, detain, and copy electronic devices—including laptops, cell phones, cameras, etc.—at the country's international borders without any suspicion of wrongdoing.

We carry a lot of private information on these devices—pictures, personal emails, work-related documents, and much more. Normally, the Fourth Amendment requires the government to obtain a warrant before sifting through this information, and the First Amendment protects this information from unwarranted government scrutiny. The Fourth and First Amendments should also bar the government from rummaging through all that information and detaining the devices indefinitely without any suspicion, just because a person is crossing the border.

The plaintiffs in this case are Pascal Abidor, a 26 year-old U.S.-French dual citizen and a Ph.D. student at McGill University in Montreal who was taken off an Amtrak train in upstate New York and whose laptop was detained and searched for 11 days; NACDL, an organization of approximately 10,000 attorneys with members who often travel overseas for work with documents protected by the attorney-client privilege; and the National Press Photographers' Association (NPPA), an organization of about 7,000 photojournalists.

Like NACDL, NPPA has members who travel frequently for their jobs with sensitive material—in their case, raw footage and imagery that are essential for newsgathering. In 2007, one of NPPA's members, Duane Kerzic, was stopped at the U.S.-Canada border where a border agent perused the contents of his laptop for about 15 minutes without any reason at all.

The government has claimed the authority to undertake these suspicionless searches and seizures of electronic devices under a policy issued in August 2009 by the Department of Homeland Security. Documents obtained by the ACLU in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit for records related to the DHS policy reveal that more than 6,600 travelers—nearly half of whom are American citizens—were subjected to electronic device searches at the border between October 1, 2008 and June 2, 2010.

Border agents should have some suspicion that the search will turn up evidence of wrongdoing before looking through all the private information that people have stored in their devices.

>> Take action: Tell Congress to Rein in Suspicionless Laptop Searches at the Border.

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We Won! Appeals Court Finds Anti-Immigrant Law Unconstitutional

In August 2006, the city of Hazleton, PA passed a law that would punish landlords and employers accused of renting to or hiring anyone the city deems an "illegal alien." The ACLU challenged that law in district court—and won—in 2007, and the city of Hazleton appealed that ruling to the 3rd Circuit of Appeals. And earlier this week, the 3rd Circuit found the city of Hazleton's anti-immigrant laws unconstitutional.

Hazleton's law spawned several copycat measures in other places, including Arizona, attracting very close interest from supporters of such discriminatory laws, as well as from their opponents. In the unanimous opinion, the court stated that it was "required to intervene when states and localities directly undermine the federal objectives embodied in statutes enacted by Congress." The Hazleton law, the court said, "attempted to usurp authority that the Constitution has placed beyond the vicissitudes of local governments" and "could not possibly be in greater conflict with Congress's intent" as reflected in federal law.

"Divisive laws like these destroy communities and distract from the very real problems that local governments are facing across the country," said Vic Walczak, Legal Director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania and a lead attorney in the case. "Immigration reform needs to come from the federal level. Local ordinances like these have a toxic effect on the community, injecting suspicion and discriminatory attitudes where they didn't previously exist."

This decision comes on the heels of a recent legal victory against S.B. 1070, the racial profiling law passed in Arizona this summer, and several cities' decisions to suspend or abandon housing laws modeled after Hazleton's.

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Extraordinary Rendition Victims Denied Their Day in Court

Earlier this week, a federal appeals court dismissed a case against Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen DataPlan, Inc. for its role in the Bush administration's extraordinary rendition program. The ACLU filed the lawsuit in May 2007 on behalf of five men who were kidnapped by the CIA, forcibly disappeared to U.S.-run prisons overseas and tortured. The Bush administration intervened in the case, improperly asserting the "state secrets" privilege in an attempt to have the lawsuit thrown out.

This week's ruling all but shuts the door on accountability for the illegal program, but we intend to seek Supreme Court review of the decision.

"This is a sad day not only for the torture victims whose attempt to seek justice has been extinguished, but for all Americans who care about the rule of law and our nation's reputation in the world," said Ben Wizner, staff attorney with the ACLU, who argued the case. "To date, not a single victim of the Bush administration's torture program has had his day in court. If today's decision is allowed to stand, the United States will have closed its courtroom doors to torture victims while providing complete immunity to their torturers."

>> Learn more about the ACLU's work on accountability for torture.

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It's Time for a Top-to-Bottom Review of the Criminal Justice System

The United States' criminal justice system is broken and dysfunctional. The U.S. incarcerates roughly 2.3 million of its people—a higher percentage of its population than any other country in the world today—at staggeringly high costs. That's why it is so important that you urge your senators to support the National Criminal Justice Act, which is currently pending in Congress.

This legislation would create a blue ribbon commission to provide a comprehensive, top-to-bottom review of the criminal justice system. The National Criminal Justice Commission Act would be the first since 1967 to provide such a review, as well as propose recommendations for reform. The need for such a top-to-bottom review could not be clearer.

>> Take action: Urge your senators to support the National Criminal Justice Commission Act and begin the process of addressing America's incarceration crisis.

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Targeted Killings Violate the Constitution and International Law

The ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a lawsuit challenging the government's asserted authority to carry out "targeted killings" of U.S. citizens located far from any armed conflict zone.

>> Watch the video to learn more.
The ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) have filed a lawsuit challenging the government's asserted authority to carry out "targeted killings" of U.S. citizens located far from any armed conflict zone.

The authority contemplated by the Obama administration is far broader than what the Constitution and international law allow, the groups charge. Outside of armed conflict, both the Constitution and international law prohibit targeted killing except as a last resort to protect against concrete, specific and imminent threats of death or serious physical injury. An extrajudicial killing policy under which names are added to CIA and military "kill lists" through a secret executive process and stay there for months at a time is plainly not limited to imminent threats.

The groups charge that targeting individuals for execution who are suspected of terrorism but have not been convicted or even charged—without oversight, judicial process or disclosed standards for placement on kill lists—also poses the risk that the government will erroneously target the wrong people. In recent years, the U.S. government has detained many men as terrorists, only for courts or the government itself to discover later that the evidence was wrong or unreliable.

"A program that authorizes killing U.S. citizens, without judicial oversight, due process or disclosed standards is unconstitutional, unlawful and un-American," said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU. "We don't sentence people to prison on the basis of secret criteria, and we certainly shouldn't sentence them to death that way. It is not enough for the executive branch to say 'trust us'—we have seen that backfire in the past and we should learn from those mistakes."

The complaint asks a court to rule that using lethal force far from any battlefield and without judicial process is illegal in all but the narrowest circumstances and to prohibit the government from carrying out targeted killings except in compliance with these standards. It also asks the court to order the government to disclose the standards it uses to place U.S. citizens on government kill lists.

>> Act Now: Urge President Obama to reject the policy of targeted killings outside of zones of actual armed conflict.

>> Read more on the case.

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Geraldine Engel and Lisa Sock,

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