29 July 2011


Bubba is driving down a back road in Florida ...
A sign in frontof a restaurant reads:
Lobster Tail and Beer
"Lord a'mighty," he says to himself,"Thems my three favorites!"

President Obama Calls on the American People to Make their Voices Heard 29JUL11

LEADERSHIP from Pres Obama. Though I don't always agree with him I do appreciate his leadership on this issue. john boehner ad eric cantor, pay attention....
This morning, President Obama spoke on the status of the debt ceiling negotiations from the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House. The President urged Republicans and Democrats in Congress to find a bipartisan solution to avoid default that he can sign by Tuesday. Though we are almost out of time, the President made it clear that there are multiple ways to resolve this problem:
Now, keep in mind, this is not a situation where the two parties are miles apart.  We’re in rough agreement about how much spending can be cut responsibly as a first step toward reducing our deficit.  We agree on a process where the next step is a debate in the coming months on tax reform and entitlement reform –- and I’m ready and willing to have that debate.  And if we need to put in place some kind of enforcement mechanism to hold us all accountable for making these reforms, I’ll support that too if it’s done in a smart and balanced way.
So there are plenty of ways out of this mess.  But we are almost out of time.  We need to reach a compromise by Tuesday so that our country will have the ability to pay its bills on time, as we always have -- bills that include monthly Social Security checks, veterans’ benefits and the government contracts we’ve signed with thousands of businesses.  Keep in mind, if we don’t do that, if we don’t come to an agreement, we could lose our country’s AAA credit rating, not because we didn’t have the capacity to pay our bills -- we do -- but because we didn’t have a AAA political system to match our AAA credit rating.
And make no mistake -– for those who say they oppose tax increases on anyone, a lower credit rating would result potentially in a tax increase on everyone in the form of higher interest rates on their mortgages, their car loans, their credit cards.  And that’s inexcusable.
President Obama reiterated that the power to reach a balanced solution is in our hands:
There are a lot of crises in the world that we can’t always predict or avoid -– hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, terrorist attacks.  This isn’t one of those crises.  The power to solve this is in our hands.  And on a day when we’ve been reminded how fragile the economy already is, this is one burden we can lift ourselves.   We can end it with a simple vote –- a vote that Democrats and Republicans have been taking for decades, a vote that the leaders in Congress have taken for decades.
It’s not a vote that allows Congress to spend more money.  Raising the debt ceiling simply gives our country the ability to pay the bills that Congress has already racked up.  I want to emphasize that.  The debt ceiling does not determine how much more money we can spend, it simply authorizes us to pay the bills we already have racked up.  It gives the United States of America the ability to keep its word.
Finally, the President called on the American people to continue to make their voices heard in this debate:
Now, on Monday night, I asked the American people to make their voice heard in this debate, and the response was overwhelming.  So please, to all the American people, keep it up.  If you want to see a bipartisan compromise -– a bill that can pass both houses of Congress and that I can sign -- let your members of Congress know.  Make a phone call.  Send an email.  Tweet.  Keep the pressure on Washington, and we can get past this.
And for my part, our administration will be continuing to work with Democrats and Republicans all weekend long until we find a solution.  The time for putting party first is over.  The time for compromise on behalf of the American people is now.  And I am confident that we can solve this problem.  I’m confident that we will solve this problem.  For all the intrigue and all the drama that’s taking place on Capitol Hill right now, I’m confident that common sense and cooler heads will prevail.
But as I said earlier, we are now running out of time.  It’s important for everybody to step up and show the leadership that the American people expect.
President Barack Obama Delivers a Statement on the Ongoing Budget Negotiations President Barack Obama delivers a statement to the press regarding the ongoing budget negotiations in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, July 29, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton)

House Passes, Senate Rejects GOP Debt-Ceiling Plan & House passes GOP debt bill over objections of Obama, Democrats; Senate votes to table 29JUL11

john boehner's plan to transform the American government to a plutocracy took a step forward in the repiglican / tea-bagger controlled House and got slapped down in the Senate with the help of six sane Senate Republicans and two Independents. Sen Harry Reid's plan in the Senate is far from perfect because it makes cuts in government spending while not requiring revenue increases by closing tax loopholes for the wealthy and corporate America. Best of all options, if we had a Congress of mature, responsible Representatives and Senators, would be to pass a clean bill allowing the debt ceiling to be raised, period. From NPR and the Washington Post...

House Speaker John Boehner gives a thumbs up after the chamber passed his plan Friday to raise the debt ceiling and cut spending. The Senate voted to kill the measure a short time later.
Enlarge Alex Wong/Getty Images House Speaker John Boehner gives a thumbs up after the chamber passed his plan Friday to raise the debt ceiling and cut spending. The Senate voted to kill the measure a short time later.
In an unforgiving display of partisanship, the Republican-controlled House approved emergency legislation Friday night to avoid an unprecedented government default and Senate Democrats scuttled it less than two hours later in hopes of a better deal.
"We are almost out of time" for a compromise, warned President Obama as U.S. financial markets trembled at the prospect of economic chaos next week. The Dow Jones average fell for a sixth straight session.
Lawmakers in both parties said they were determined to avoid a default, yet there was little evidence of progress — or even significant negotiations — on a compromise during a long day of intense political maneuvering.
The House vote was 218-210, almost entirely along party lines, on a Republican-drafted bill to provide a quick $900 billion increase in U.S. borrowing authority — essential to allow the government to continue paying all its bills along with $917 billion in cuts from federal spending.
It had been rewritten hastily overnight to say that before any additional increase in the debt limit could take place, Congress must approve a balanced budget-amendment to the Constitution and send it to the states for ratification. That marked a concession to tea party-backed conservatives and others in the rank and file who had thwarted House Speaker John Boehner's attempt to pass the bill Thursday night.
"Today we have a chance to end this debt limit crisis," Boehner declared, his endgame strategy upended by rebels within his own party.
But the changes he made to the House GOP bill further alienated Democrats. And they complicated prospects of a compromise that could clear both houses and win Obama's signature by next Tuesday's deadline.
At the other end of the Capitol, Senate Democrats rejected the measure without so much as a debate. The vote was 59-41, with all Democrats, two independents and six Republicans joining in opposition.
'Our Last Chance'
Moments later, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., unveiled an alternative that would cut spending by $2.4 trillion and raise the debt limit by the same amount, enough to meet Obama's terms that it tide the Treasury over until 2013.
Reid invited Republicans to suggest changes, saying, "This is likely our last chance to save this nation from default."
The Senate GOP leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, accused Democrats of "rounding up `no' votes to keep this crisis alive," and noted the House had passed two bills to raise the debt limit and the Senate none.
The House, eager to return the Senate's favor rejecting the Boehner bill, set a vote to reject Reid's proposal on Saturday. The Senate set a test vote for shortly after midnight on Sunday, a middle-of-the-night roll call that underscored the limited time available to lawmakers
At the same time Reid appealed for bipartisanship, he and other party leaders accused Boehner of caving in to extremists in the GOP ranks — "the last holdouts of the tea party," Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois called them.
Republicans conceded that the overnight delay had weakened Boehner's hand in the endgame with Obama and Senate Democrats.
But the Ohio Republican drew applause from his rank and file when he said the House, alone, had advanced legislation to cut deficits, and that he had "stuck his neck out" in recent weeks in hopes of concluding a sweeping deficit reduction deal with Obama.
Balanced-Budget Amendment
Boehner's measure would provide a quick $900 billion increase in borrowing authority essential for the U.S. to keep paying all its bills after next Tuesday and $917 billion in spending cuts. After the bill's latest alteration, any future increases in the debt limit would be contingent on Congress approving the constitutional amendment and sending it to the states for ratification.
"With conservatives insisting on the addition of a balanced-budget amendment requirement, Speaker Boehner's bill will now cut, cap and balance" federal spending, said Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona as Friday's scheduled vote approached.
The White House called the bill a non-starter. Press secretary Jay Carney issued a statement that called it a "political exercise" and said congressional leaders should turn their efforts to a compromise that Obama can sign by Tuesday.
The developments occurred one day after Boehner was forced to postpone a vote in the House for fear the earlier version of his measure would suffer a defeat. But by forcing a delay the conservative rebels upended the leadership's strategy of making their bill the only one that could clear Congress before a default and win Obama's reluctant signature.
"Everybody acknowledges that because of the dust-up yesterday we've lost some leverage," said Rep. Steven LaTourette, R-Ohio, an ally of the speaker.
The rebels said they were more worried about stemming the nation's steady rise of red ink.
Rep. Jeff Landry, R-La., a, a first-term lawmaker, issued a statement saying his pressure had paid off.
"The American people have strongly renewed their November calls of bringing fiscal sanity to Washington. I am blessed to be a vehicle driving their wishes to fruition," he said. "This plan is not a Washington deal but a real solution to fundamentally change the way Washington operates."
Administration officials say that without legislation in place by Tuesday, the Treasury will no longer be able to pay all its bills. The result could inflict significant damage on the economy, they add, causing interest rates to rise and financial markets to sink.
Executives from the country's biggest banks met with U.S. Treasury officials to discuss how debt auctions will be handled if Congress fails to raise the borrowing limit before Tuesday's deadline.
But Carney said the administration did not plan to provide the public with details Friday on how the government will prioritize payments.
The day's economic news wasn't very upbeat to begin with an economy that grew at an annual rate of only 1.3 percent in the second quarter of the year.
The Dow Jones industrial average suffered through a sixth straight day of losses, and bond yields fell as investors sought safer investments in the event of a default.
At the White House, Obama cited the potential toll on the economy as he urged lawmakers to find a way out of gridlock.
He said that for all the partisanship, the two sides were not that far apart. Both agree on initial spending cuts to take effect in exchange for an increase in the debt limit, he said, as well as on a way to consider additional reductions in government benefit programs in the coming months.
"And if we need to put in place some kind of enforcement mechanism to hold us all accountable for making these reforms, I'll support that, too, if it's done in a smart and balanced way," he said.

Related NPR Stories

 House passes GOP debt bill over objections of Obama, Democrats; Senate votes to table  from WASHINGTON POST
By and  

House GOP leaders won narrow approval of a plan to raise the federal debt limit Friday after revising the measure to appeal to rebellious conservatives, but it was quickly rejected by the Senate, where lawmakers were pursuing a separate, bipartisan agreement to avert a national default.
Heading into the final weekend before the Treasury expects to begin running short of cash to pay the nation’s bills, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) was poised to forge ahead with his own proposal to grant the Treasury additional borrowing authority. This would set up a crucial vote in the Senate shortly after midnight Saturday.
Democrats conceded that they still lack the votes to repel a filibuster threat from GOP senators. But Reid beseeched his Republican counterpart, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), to join him in reworking the Democratic measure so the Senate could pass it and send it back to the House before slumping financial markets open Monday morning.
“The last train is leaving the station, and this is a last chance to avert a default,” Reid said in a speech on the Senate floor, arguing that the House bill would force Washington to endure another economy-rattling fistfight over the debt limit within a few short months.
“I say no, not again will we fight another battle like the one in which we are now engaged,” Reid added. “But default is not an option, either. And we cannot wait for the House any longer. I ask my Republican friends, break away from this thing going on in the House of Representatives.”
Though several Republican senators said a bipartisan compromise presents the only logical way to break the weeks-long stalemate, McConnell’s immediate response was not encouraging. In a written statement, he praised the House for passing “its second bill in two weeks that would prevent a default and significantly cut Washington spending,” and he criticized the Senate for “ginning up opposition.”
Still, Senate Democrats said they had received “positive signals” from Republican leaders. And though there were no formal talks with McConnell, Democratic leadership aides said they were hopeful that Reid would soon unveil a measure that would win Republican support.
Before the House vote, President Obama made a televised plea for compromise, arguing that the two parties are not “miles apart” and that he was prepared to work “all weekend long until we find a solution.”
Both the House and Senate bills call for cutting deeply into agency budgets over the next decade and creating a new 12-member committee tasked with identifying trillions of dollars in additional cuts by the end of this year. Reid’s bill would extend the $14.3 trillion debt limit into 2013, however, while the bill from House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) would give the Treasury a reprieve only until February or March. If the committee failed to come up with $1.8 trillion in savings, Boehner’s bill would force another battle over whether to grant the Treasury additional borrowing power.
In brief White House remarks, Obama noted that the two sides are “in rough agreement” about the size of the first round of spending cuts and that “the next step” to rein in borrowing should be a debate over “tax reform and entitlement reform.”
“If we need to put in place some kind of enforcement mechanism to hold us all accountable for making these reforms, I’ll support that, too, if it’s done in a smart and balanced way,” Obama said.
Future cuts
Talks have been underway for weeks about how to structure a plan so that both parties are encouraged to engage seriously in negotiations over future debt reductions. One approach would be to require tax hikes and across-the-board spending cuts — which would be unattractive to many lawmakers — if the committee refuses to come up with recommendations for added savings.
On Friday, Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate, said the design of that mechanism “is what all the negotiations are about.” He added, “That’s going to part of the endgame.”
Without such an agreement, Obama warned that the United States stands to lose its sterling AAA credit rating — “not because we didn’t have the capacity to pay our bills. We do. But because we didn’t have a triple-A political system to match our triple-A credit rating.”
Obama again urged Americans to contact their representatives, clogging Capitol Hill switchboards for a second time this week. The White House also tweeted a number of Twitter handles for Republican lawmakers so voters could press them to “get past this.”
The president’s lobbying campaign appeared to have little effect in the House, where attempts by Boehner to move toward the center were forcefully rebuffed. Earlier this week, Boehner unveiled a measure drafted largely by aides to Reid and McConnell, but he was forced to yank it from the floor late Thursday, when his right wing refused to fall in line.
For the next 23 hours, neither Boehner nor any other Republican leader issued a formal statement or paused in the Capitol hallways to explain to reporters what had happened.
Then on Friday, Boehner rewrote the bill to prevent an increase in the $14.3 trillion debt limit unless both chambers of Congress approve an amendment to the Constitution to mandate a balanced budget. The change swayed a handful of holdouts, and the measure passed 218 to 210, with every Democrat and more than 20 Republicans voting no.
But the episode was a humiliation for the new speaker and his leadership team, demonstrating they lacked clout inside their own conference. Even their allies in the Senate were stunned.
GOP divisions
Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) staked their personal reputations on the ability to deliver an all-Republican majority for the legislation.
They explained to their rank and file that despite broad Republican support in the House for a balanced-budget amendment, an earlier bill including the proposal could not pass the Senate. And the leaders pleaded with GOP lawmakers to support Boehner’s legislation, arguing that a majority for the bill would give McConnell leverage to push it through the Senate — or at least to force concessions from Reid.
Aides described the vote on the bill as nothing short of a vote of confidence in the leadership. All three leaders predicted victory.
But Thursday night, they were still short by as many as a dozen votes. So they pulled the bill and rewrote it to meet the demands of the conservative rebels. The balanced-budget amendment was put back into the bill.
On Friday, Boehner won tepid applause as he spoke in favor of the measure and defended his earlier effort to cut a far-reaching debt-reduction deal with Obama.
“I stuck my neck out a mile to try to get an agreement with the president of the United States. I stuck my neck out a mile. . . . But a lot of people in this town can never say yes,” Boehner said. “Yes, people can be critical of what we’ve done, but where are the other ideas?”
Democrats openly mocked Boehner for his inability to lead his caucus.
“He didn’t have a plan. By Tuesday, they announced they couldn’t call a vote. Well, maybe Wednesday. No, on Wednesday, they couldn’t call a vote. And then on Thursday, again, they failed to have the majority to call a vote. And so we waited,” Reid told reporters.
Even some Senate Republicans were perplexed by the disarray in the House.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) repeated his criticism of the balanced-budget amendment as “bizarro.” And Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who served under Boehner in House leadership until his election to the Senate last year, said the rewritten House bill “may be more of a repeat” of the failed “cut, cap, balance” approach championed by conservatives “instead of a movement to being part of the solution.”
Boehner was “upbeat” during a luncheon with Senate Republicans, participants said, but senators exiting the meeting readily conceded that the House bill would not survive in the Senate. Blunt said they should be finding a compromise that can pass the Democratic Senate and win support from a majority of Boehner’s Republicans.
“Not all of his members, but a majority,” Blunt said.
Boehner is likely to suffer defections if he brings up a Senate-passed compromise, and he would need House Democrats to fill in the gaps — a difficult position for him politically. But GOP senators said they believe Boehner stands ready to do what it takes to avoid a default.
“I think things are moving better than they appear to be moving,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.). “There’s agreement on cuts. And there’s almost unanimous knowledge that default is not in the cards. That’s the heart of the issue. The rest of it’s details.”

28 July 2011

Action Alert for Bradley Manning from IVAW 27JUL11

PLEASE take the time to participate in this action for Bradley Manning and make a couple of calls to pressure the US Army to allow the UN representative to visit him in prison. I called, and I hope you will too. From the IVAW.....
Iraq Veterans Against the WarSupport Our Work: Donate Now

As you know, alleged whistleblower Bradley Manning was transferred to Leavenworth in April, after being singled out to receive terrible treatment at Quantico, VA in violation of his rights.  His lawyer confirms that he is now being treated like other prisoners at Leavenworth. This dramatic improvement in his conditions wouldn't have happened without people like you taking action.

Now we need a public accounting for Bradley's allegedly torturous and illegal confinement conditions for ten months at Quantico. The United Nations is investigating the matter, but US officials are still denying the UN's reasonable request to meet with Bradley.

Will you take a few minutes to make two important phone calls for Bradley today?

We want to put pressure on the Obama Administration and the Secretary of the Army to comply with the United Nations' demand to meet with Bradley. Juan Mendez, the UN's top official on torture, has requested un-monitored meetings with Bradley. Mr. Mendez wants to insure that the US follows international protocol for prisoner treatment and justice. (Read the UN’s recent statement here.)

Here's how you can help:

1) Call President Obama at the White House switchboard: 202-456-1414.  Urge him to respect the United Nations Convention Against Torture and allow Juan Mendez, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, to conduct an official visit with Bradley Manning.

2) Call Secretary of the Army Public Affairs Officer Lt. Anne Edgecomb: 703-697-3491.  Tell her you are calling to urge the Secretary of the Army, John McHugh, to respect the United Nations Convention Against Torture and to allow Juan Mendez, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, to conduct an official visit with Bradley Manning.

Then please spread the word! Ask your friends and family to call by sharing this action on Facebook and Twitter and by forwarding this email.

Thank you for supporting Bradley.

Iraq Veterans Against the War in solidarity with the Bradley Manning Support Network.

Rick Santorum says church attendance in the single digits in Europe because of government support from POLITIFACT 27JUL11

rick santorum is an idiot, and a hypocrite, because if he is so committed to the values of his faith (I will not challenge his claim to Christianity, I will leave that to God) he would be apologizing for his votes while a U.S. Senator against raising the minimum wage, the children's health insurance program, and other social safety net policies. He needs to read Matthew 25 and think about the lack of morality in the current budget negotiations in the U.S. before running his mouth about religion and government in Europe. From Politifact...


In Europe, "church attendance rates (are) in the single digits" because churches are supported by taxes.

Rick Santorum on Monday, July 18th, 2011 in a house party in Henniker, N.H.

Rick Santorum says church attendance in the single digits in Europe because of government support

Rick Santorum often says on the campaign trail that liberty -- economic and spiritual -- has made America great. But Europe isn't so fortunate.

"Look at every other country from which we came and almost every one, if not every one, are dead from a faith perspective," the former U.S. senator, R-Penn., said at a Henniker, N.H., house party on July 18, 2011. "You go to Europe, church attendance rates in the single digits -- secular society. Why? Because the government co-opted faith, because faith and the government are intertwined. (People in Europe) pay taxes -- you don’t tithe to your church -- you pay taxes to support your church, and they’ve been co-opted to the point where the two are unrecognizable as far as of difference, and so people have lost faith."

There's a lot to unpack here. But let’s start with his claim about church attendance rates:  Do Europeans attend church, on a percentage basis, in the single digits?

When we asked Santorum’s campaign for its source on this, we were pointed to news articles dating back to 2005 and a European Social Survey conducted in 2008 and 2009. All detail declining church attendance, but none indicate single-digit rates continent-wide.

In fact, Santorum’s back-up material largely reaffirms the view of the experts on European worship patterns we consulted, who say Santorum is exaggerating.

"Europe as a whole, compared to the United States is much less religious, but there are great differences between European countries," says Peter Berger, Director of the Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs at Boston University.

Ronald Inglehart, a political scientist at the University of Michigan and chairman of the Stockholm-based World Values Survey, which collects public input in religious practices in more than 100 countries, said Santorum is correct to a point. England, France, and the Scandinavian countries, do indeed have attendance rates in the single digits.

"But Italy has about 39 percent church attendance; Ireland has about 65 percent; Portugal 30; Spain 20; Germany 15. So, single digits are actually fairly rare."

And what about about Santorum’s other main contention: that European countries that collect a so-called "church tax" or earmark public money for churches, are less religious?

Let’s recall the candidate’s exact words:

People in Europe "pay taxes to support your church, and they’ve been co-opted to the point where the two are unrecognizable in terms of difference and so people have lost faith."

As sources, the Santorum campaign cited an unusual pair: French historian Alexis deTocqueville, who died in 1859, and Santorum’s 2012 GOP-rival Mitt Romney. Both men have argued  -- 178 years apart -- that America is better off for not having a state religion.

But neither prove Santorum’s claim that directing tax dollars to churches drives down attendance levels in 2011.

"I think he’s not terribly well-informed," said Inglehart of the World Values Survey, "He is stretching."

Indeed, some churches get tax support and still have high attendance rates, according to World Values Survey:

Italy directs tax dollars to churches and attendance levels there stand at 39 percent, roughly on par with the U.S.

Germany and Austria levy "church taxes" and have rates of church attendance around 15 percent.

Finland and Iceland also collect taxes for religious use, and their churchgoing rates stand at around 4 percent.

Berger examined this question in his book Religious America, Secular Europe?  He says that in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, Europe saw instances when political tensions led to dissatisfaction with a state church. But Berger says Santorum misses the mark when he suggests that government-church relations are driving contemporary worship trends.

"He is distorting things. To talk about Europe today as if it were Europe 200 years ago is not very accurate."

Our Ruling:

While Santorum is right that some European countries have church attendance rates that are below 10 percent, we found others that have rates of worship well above the single digits.

Santorum’s other claim, that European governments collect taxes and send the money to churches, is also a mixed bag. Santorum is correct when he says some countries assess so-called church taxes. But more importantly to his main point, scholars say they don't see a connection between the taxes and church attendance. Indeed, the rate in Italy is about 39 percent. So we rate this statement Mostly False.
About this statement:
Published: Wednesday, July 27th, 2011 at 6:14 p.m.
Subjects: New Hampshire 2012, Religion
Interview with Peter R. Berger, July 22, 2011
Interview with Ronald Ingelhart, July 19, 2011

EU Working Paper on Taxation,Tax Co-Ordination In The European Union, Church Attendance, retrieved July 20, 2011
World Values Survey
The Economist, Europe's Irreligious, August 9, 2010
USA Today, Religion Takes A Back Seat In Western Europe, August 11, 2005
Boston Globe, Catholic Church Withers In Europe,  May 2, 2005
Written by: Josh Rogers
Researched by: Josh Rogers
Edited by: Bill Adair

Update from Somalia from DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS / MSF

WHAT would the the world do without Doctors Without Borders? Things would be a lot worse than they already are. Please consider making a donation today, I did, because I am blessed and have more than I need....And by the by, DWB/MSF has a 4 star rating (highest) from Charity Navigator!

MSF logo Donate Now
"As a Somali myself, I can say that if MSF was not here, we would be like a boat that has run out of fuel in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Without MSF's help, thousands would have died."
– Dr. Hussein Sheikh Qassim, MSF Medical Coordinator, Marere, Somalia
Dear Friend,
I wanted you to see the following first-hand account of our lifesaving work in one hospital in Marere, Somalia, where Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is the only source of emergency medical care for hundreds of children suffering from severe malnutrition.
Our response to the drought in Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia is made possible by people like you. Please consider making a donation today to support our work in those and 60 other countries around the world.
On behalf of our field staff and our patients around the world, thank you.

Sophie Delaunay, Executive Director

Sophie Delaunay
Executive Director

Dr. Hussein Sheikh Qassim is the Medical Coordinator at the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Marere, Somalia. On July 15, he was reached on the phone and gave the following report about the situation in the area:
"In Marere, the situation is extremely dire. This is the only hospital in this part of Somalia. There are not any other clinics, not even mobile clinics, anywhere near here. People are coming here from all over the country. Word spreads.
Recently, the numbers have gone through the roof. Even on our quiet days, we are seeing twice as many people as we did on busy days before the drought. The hospital is absolutely full of patients. Some are sick, others just need something to eat. The malnutrition ward is beyond full of young children, most of them too weak even to eat, so we have to feed them through tubes.
There is an ongoing civil war in many parts of the country, with some towns and villages changing hands on a daily basis. These are dangerous areas and it is not safe to travel. But still the people come.
Those who are lucky and are still on their feet are admitted as outpatients – 300 yesterday, 400 last Friday. But lots of children have to go straight to the inpatient feeding center. It's only lunchtime, and we've already admitted 151 children today.
Recently, a mother and her husband brought us a two-year-old boy named Yusuf. He was nothing more than bones and skin. He was too weak even to breathe. The family were pastoralists and all their animals had died. They told me the child had diarrhea and couldn't eat. He was in such a bad way you had to listen to his heartbeat through a stethoscope to tell he was still alive. His parents had given up on him. They believed he had no chance of survival. The father went to look after the other children while we convinced the mother not to give up.
We put the child in our intensive care unit where we resuscitated him for two hours, until finally he opened his eyes. Then we fed him specialized milk and food through a tube. After 24 hours he started moving his limbs. It was at that moment that his mother's face suddenly lit up. You could see that she had hope again.
After one week, Yusuf didn't need to be fed through a tube any longer. He could drink milk on his own, and he could say, 'Mum,' and smile back if you called his name. Within 10 days, his weight had more than tripled.
After three weeks in our hospital, Yusuf was playing around with the other children. His father came to collect him and was beyond happiness. He didn't stop thanking MSF until he'd left the hospital.
As a Somali myself, I can say that if MSF was not here, we would be like a boat that has run out of fuel in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Without MSF's help, thousands would have died. Somalia needs your help now more than at any other time. MSF saves countless lives and, with your help, will continue to save many more. Thank you."

Caught in the Act & What's Behind Newport TV's Covert Consolidation? 28 &14JUL11

MORE on the campaign to stop media consolidation and the reaction from some of the TV networks caught in the act by FreePress. Check this out and the story about Newport, FL...

Since its launch last month has been making serious waves.
One broadcaster tried — and failed — to shut down our videos. And activists like you have uncovered more than 20 new cases of covert consolidation in cities across the country!
More emails have been pouring in from others wanting to investigate broadcasters who may be illegally cutting corners on local news in their communities.
The next few months will be crucial as the Federal Communications Commission reviews its media ownership rules. That’s why we need you to continue to shine a light on covert consolidation.
We need to show the FCC exactly how newsroom consolidation undermines independent journalism and harms communities.
Already your efforts have exposed this practice in cities like Burlington, Vt., Knoxville, Tenn. and Montgomery, Ala. (For details check out our growing database at
To make our case we rely on your help. Email me at if you’re interested in reporting on abuses, collecting video evidence and telling your own story. Free Press has compiled a Change the Channels Toolkit to help you document covert consolidation, mobilize friends and neighbors and educate lawmakers. You can download the toolkit here:
Please join me in exposing covert consolidation and demanding FCC action.
Thanks for all you do.
Libby Reinish
Program Coordinator
Free Press

What's Behind Newport TV's Covert Consolidation?

When Free Press’s Change The Channels initiative shined an uncomfortable spotlight on Newport TV’s business practices, the company responded with threats and demanded that YouTube take down our video exposing it. In the week since, buzz has been building around how Newport used a baseless copyright threat to try to silence a critic.
The Change The Channels campaign highlights covert consolidation going on in over 80 communities involving 200 stations. It is worth looking into why Newport reacted so strongly to being identified as a covert consolidator. 
Take a look at the Change The Channels covert consolidation map and you’ll see a pattern. Newport has six Shared Services Agreements in place with stations owned by a company called High Plains Broadcasting. Coincidence?  Unlikely.
Here’s how Newport used covert consolidation tactics to maintain control of TV stations it acquired from mega conglomerate Clear Channel Communications. In 2006, Clear Channel announced plans to sell all of its 42 TV stations. Providence Equity Partners, a $22 billion "global private equity firm," created a new company to acquire and manage the Clear Channel stations. That is how Newport Television was born
The acquisitions placed Newport in violation of the FCC’s media ownership limits in six media communities. But Newport found a way to maintain control over the stations, notwithstanding the FCC’s rules.
Newport sold the six stations to a newly minted company called High Plains Broadcasting (which, not coincidentally, has a permanent board seat for a representative of Newport’s parent, Providence Equity Partners).  In a simultaneous move, Newport and High Plains entered into Shared Services Agreements for all six stations. This “sell to rent” tactic rendered High Plains essentially a just name on the license, while Newport continues to run the stations by controlling programming and operations.
What’s the result of this scheme? Let’s look at Jacksonville's WAWS and WTEV - the two stations who we featured in our video that so upset Newport.
WAWS (the local Fox affiliate) and WTEV (CBS) share content, a single newsroom and reporting staff. Their main website is a joint operation - – where you can see their shared news staff and both logos listed at the top. And while WAWS also has it’s own site, the two websites are nearly identical. The only major difference between them is the color schemes.
So what kind of local news do WAWS and WTEV provide? Looking at the joint ActionNewsJax website for Monday, July 11, their "top stories" were; a 16 pound baby born in Texas, an elderly woman killed, a couple fight over the outcome of the Casey Anthony trial, a house fire, and a story about a man who called 911 after seeing a toddler take a sip of beer. Other featured stories on their site included stories like "World's ugliest dog," "trial begins for girl strangled by python," and a "barking cat video".
The Newport/High Plains deal reduces local media competition and diminishes the quality and quantity of independent and diverse TV news sources in places like Jacksonville. What’s more, Newport and its shell company High Plains Broadcasting have made a killing by consolidating newsrooms and undercutting their service to local communities. That’s why they don’t want us shining a spotlight on what they are up to. 
This summer the FCC has an opportunity to close the covert consolidation loophole that lets companies get away with these types of shady deals. Help us keep up the pressure to end covert consolidation.  

25 July 2011

Some Republicans in Congress Once Argued Against Short-Term Solutions - They Were Right 25JUL11

EXPOSING the continuing hypocrisy of the gop / tea-baggers who are holding the nation's economy hostage....
Despite warnings that a short-term extension could lead to a credit downgrade and higher interest rates resulting in a tax increase on every American, Republicans in Congress continue to push for a “my way or the highway” solution that could put our credit rating at risk and leave the cloud of uncertainty over the American people.
In June, House Majority Leader Cantor “Was Explicit That He Wants A Single Debt Ceiling Vote For This Congress - Not A Series Of Short-Term Extensions.” Now House Republicans are arguing that we should adopt multiple short term solutions that would leave that cloud of uncertainty hanging over our economy continually for the next two years, if not longer.
Indeed, before they were for a short term solution, it turns out they were against it for the very same reasons President Obama believes it is the wrong approach. As recently as earlier this month, Republicans in Congress expressed concern about the impact of a short term solution.
Here are a few examples:
Rep. Cantor, 6/22/11: Cantor "Pushed Back Hard" On Notion of Short Term Debt Limit Increase. "House Majority Leader Eric Cantor pushed back hard Tuesday against Senate Republican suggestions of a scaled-back, short-term debt deal, saying it's 'crunch time' in White House budget talks and 'if we can't make the tough decisions now, why... would [we] be making those tough decisions later. I don't see how multiple votes on a debt ceiling increase can help get us to where we want to go,' the Virginia Republican told reporters. 'It is my preference that we do this thing one time.... Putting off tough decisions is not what people want in this town.'" [Politico, 6/22/11]
Rep. Cantor, 6/13/11: “Was Explicit That He Wants A Single Debt Ceiling Vote For This Congress - Not A Series Of Short-Term Extensions, As Some Have Suggested…’We Are Looking To Try And Achieve Real Reforms, Real Reduction In Spending, So That We Can Accomplish This And Hopefully Get To A Better Economic Outlook,’ Cantor Said.”  “Tuesday’s budget meeting is just one of three planned this week by Vice President Joe Biden. And returning from a weeklong recess, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor spoke bluntly of seeing a ‘very sick economy’ at home in Virginia and the need to address the debt issue before the financial markets ‘make this decision for us.’ ‘We feel very strongly that one of the reasons why we continue to see an ailing economy is that people have very little confidence, have very little certainty in terms of where we are headed,’ Cantor told reporters. He was explicit that he wants a single debt ceiling vote for this Congress - not a series of short-term extensions, as some have suggested. But much depends, too, he said, on the final deal between Obama and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). ‘We are looking to try and achieve real reforms, real reduction in spending, so that we can accomplish this and hopefully get to a better economic outlook,’ Cantor said. ‘Because if you don’t, if you just check the box and raise the debt ceiling, I believe the markets take care of it for you. Interest rates will skyrocket, and there will be no way for us to see any return to growth anytime soon. We will have to raise taxes and the rest. No one wants that.’”  [, 6/13/11]
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, 6/24/11:  "Shied Away From The Idea Of A Short-Term Solution." "McCarthy shied away from the idea of a short-term solution or a temporary debt ceiling increase in order to buy time on reaching an agreement on entitlement reforms." [The Hill, 6/24/11]
Rep. Camp, 6/21/11: "House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) also shot down a short-term increase. 'It doesn’t give you certainty,' Camp said. 'Ideally you’d like to get that settled and not have it continually a hanging-over issue.'" [The Hill, 6/22/11]
Sen. McConnell, 6/22/11:  “[Sen.] McConnell Declined To Call For A Short-Term Increase In The Debt Ceiling When Reporters Asked Him About It Tuesday. ‘We Are Still Hoping For A Very Large Package That Will Impress The Ratings Agencies, Impress Foreign Countries And Astonish The American People…” “McConnell declined to call for a short-term increase in the debt ceiling when reporters asked him about it Tuesday. ‘We are still hoping for a very large package that will impress the ratings agencies, impress foreign countries and astonish the American people that we’re actually going to come together here and take advantage of this terrific opportunity that’s provided by the president’s request of us to raise the debt ceiling,’ McConnell said. ‘Beyond that I’m not prepared to go, because there are all kind of moving parts underneath those general principles.’  A GOP aide said McConnell’s statement over the weekend was meant to show that Republicans would not accept a bad deal in exchange for raising the debt ceiling. The aide acknowledged that it could be difficult to even pass a short-term increase in the House and emphasized that McConnell wants big cuts and a long-term deal.”  [The Hill, 6/22/11]

Harry Reid's Debt Proposal Will Leave Entitlement Benefits Untouched & Debt Ceiling Debate Comes Down To Iraq, Afghanistan Drawdown 25JUL11

IF true, this may be the best alternative to what Congress should have done all along and just voted to raise the federal debt ceiling, a "clean" vote, with no amendments, riders, no tricks or gimmicks. Te devil will be in the details, and we have to watch for cuts in the social safety net and to the EPA and education. It would be best if this plan added real budget cuts to the Defense Dept budget in addition to the ONE TRILLION we will save by getting us out of Iraq and Afghanistan (the drawdown).
WASHINGTON -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) $2.7 trillion debt ceiling proposal will not include reforms to the benefit structure of entitlement programs, several Democratic sources confirmed on Monday.
The plan, which is being crafted as a last-minute attempt to break through the political impasse on a deficit reduction package, would instead lean heavily on cuts to discretionary spending. The package will also reportedly include roughly $1 trillion in savings that will come from the drawdown of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (which the Congressional Budget Office does score). Reid's office was notably hesitant to confirm that detail, cautioning reporters to wait until the final package is unveiled. That said, if entitlement programs remain more or less untouched in the plan, there would be few other areas from which to draw ten-year savings.
Word that Reid is taking entitlements off the table will come as welcome news to Democrats who are still smarting from the idea that the party has gone from demanding a "clean" debt ceiling bill to willingly backing $2.7 trillion in cuts without measures to increase revenue. The Obama administration had offered to support an increase in Medicare's eligibility age, the means-testing of certain Medicare programs, cuts to Medicaid benefits and a restructuring of the payments of Social Security benefits as part of a grand bargain with Republicans. GOP leadership ultimately rejected that proposal over complaints that the president was insistent that additional tax revenues be added to the mix to round out the plan.
A top Democratic aide confirmed on Monday that none of those specific entitlement reforms will be included in the party's most current debt-ceiling proposal. As for cuts to Medicaid or Medicare providers -- namely hospitals and pharmaceutical companies -- that remains less clear. According to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's (R-Va.) office, both parties agreed to $334 to $353 billion in health savings during talks organized by Vice President Joseph Biden. Those talks, which never resulted in a formal agreement, do serve as one pillar of the $2.7 trillion proposal that Reid has put forward. But one Democratic source, who has been plugged into negotiations, says that Medicaid, at the very least, will not be touched under the Reid plan.
In addition to the policy specifics, there remain questions about the politics of the proposal: namely, can Reid's package of cuts pass through Congress? As the Nevada Democrat constructs his plan, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is charting a decidedly different path, one that would require two votes and the creation of a powerful deficit reduction committee to suggest future entitlement reform. While Democrats have insisted that they will oppose any measure that did not get the debt ceiling raised through the 2012 elections, Republicans have responded by saying that Reid is giving Obama a "blank check" to raise the debt ceiling.
He's not, of course. The cuts that the Majority Leader is proposing as a condition for raising the debt ceiling are real and they will, strategically, be drawn from Republican suggestions -- specifically the budget proposed by House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).
"The package will include only cuts that Republicans have previously agreed to," said the aide. "It is a similar tact to the short term [continuing resolution], when they jammed us with cuts that we similarly agreed to which made it hard for us to oppose.... All the cuts are cuts they supported in the past, that they either offered in the Biden negotiations or that were picked from Paul Ryan's budget."
One feature of Ryan's budget, for what it's worth, was the $1 trillion in savings that would come from the drawdown of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Debt Ceiling Debate Comes Down To Iraq, Afghanistan Drawdown

WASHINGTON -- In the end, the debt ceiling debate could come down to a simple accounting question. Should the money saved from drawing down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan count as part of a deficit reduction package?
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has put together a proposal, designed to break through the congressional impasse, that counts $1 trillion in savings from the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund -- the veritable piggy bank for wars abroad. His logic is straightforward.
"It's legitimate savings," said Adam Jentleson, a spokesperson for Reid. It's true that the United States will be spending significantly less money on the wars in ten years than it is today. The Congressional Budget Office, which judges future expenditures against their current levels, will "score" the savings regardless, as an Obama administration official noted several weeks ago when the OCO issue first surfaced. Why not count them as part of the current plan?
More importantly, as Jentleson notes, when Republicans were putting together their latest plan for deficit reduction, they counted the OCO savings as well. Indeed, in his budget plan that passed the House earlier this year, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) tallied an estimated $1.04 trillion in savings from the OCO based on Congressional Budget Office estimates. When his Republican colleagues, including Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) repeatedly touted the $5.8 trillion in savings that the Ryan plan achieved, they did not offer rhetorical footnotes about how a good chunk didn't count because it came from pre-existing policy.
When The Huffington Post raised the issue several weeks ago, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's (R-Va.) office drew a distinction, saying that while everyone agrees that the drawdown of troops will provide savings over time, lawmakers would be hard-pressed to call it a "cut."
"We have never counted OCO as a reduction, especially since it is happening anyway and has nothing to do with this debt deal," Cantor spokesman Brad Dayspring said at the time.
Independent budget analysts concur with this point.

11 (now 8) days until disaster, three options to prevent from WASHINGTON POST 22JUL11it

(Andrew Harrer - BLOOMBERG)
It always feels different in the room. In the room, everyone wants a deal. They want their name on legislation, in history books. They want to do the big things and make the hard choices. Then they leave the room and they learn their supporters don’t want the choices made if they’re going to be hard. They learn their colleagues know their names won’t be in the history books, and so they’re more concerned with making sure their names are on their desks in the next congress.
But you can’t get a deal unless you can get the votes. And what’s been clear for some time is Speaker John Boehner cannot get the votes. If you need more evidence, look at the letter Boehner sent his caucus, which is more about pretending that he supports Cut, Cap and Balance -- an absurd and unpassable policy that includes a constitutional amendment making tax increases nearly impossible and capping spending at levels not seen since 1957 -- than it is about informing them as to what’s happened in the negotiations. It’s as if the president walked away from the table and sent out a letter saying that Boehner wouldn’t agree to single-payer health care, and so the negotiations are over.
But that’s what made the latest round of interest in the $4 trillion deal so peculiar. The policy was essentially unchanged from the $4 trillion deal that Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor walked away from two weeks ago -- a deal that included about half as much in tax increases as Simpson-Bowles or the Gang of Six . When they walked away, it was because they couldn’t find the votes for a compromise, even one tilted towards conservative interests. Despite all the excitement about them returning to the table this week, no one had ever answered the first question that needed to be asked: Had they found the votes? And if so, how?
We now know the answer.
It’s easy to get caught up in the political machinations. It’s easy to begin speculating about the hopes, constraints, and hidden agendas of the players. It’s easy to sound like an insider and say that the House GOP cannot accept a deal until the very last minute, or unleash some long analysis of how the president’s evident frustration will play with the voters, or say that the real story here is the relationship between Boehner and Cantor. But here’s the bottom line: We have 11 calendar days to raise the debt ceiling. Already, there’s some evidence that our dithering is hurting the economy. If we truly fail to raise the debt ceiling, however, we will unleash a market panic that will, at the least, return us to recession, and if it’s not quickly quelled, metastasize into a financial crisis that we will not soon recover from.
Earlier today, I spoke with David Beers, director of Standard Poor’s sovereign debt department. He explained that it wasn’t economic factors that had put America’s credit rating at risk, nor world events. It was credit-rating agency’s increasing fears that our political system was no longer up to the challenges that face it. “What we’re saying now,” said Beers, “is we question whether despite all the discussions and intense negotiations, if they can’t reach this agreement, will they be able to reach it after the election?”
If we convince Standard Poor’s that our political system has failed, they will downgrade our credit within three months. If they do that, interest rates on our debt will spike, perhaps by 50 basis points, perhaps by more. An easy rule of thumb is that if interest rates rise by 50 basis points, we will lose 600,000 jobs in this country.
At this point, there are three serious options on the table. A $4 trillion deal that includes some revenues, a $1 trillion-$2 trillion deal that’s all spending cuts but leaves much of the job until after the election, and a deal in which Republicans don’t come to a negotiated agreement with President Obama but they grant him the authority -- and let him take the blame -- for raising the debt ceiling. Those are our three options, and Congress needs to pick one. Time is running short.
Related: Everything you need to know about the debt ceiling in one post.
Obama-Boehner talks collapse with blame on both sides
READ: Boehner’s letter to House Republicans
The Fix: A lose-lose proposition
PHOTOS: The clock ticks down
By  |  07:18 PM ET, 07/22/2011


THE truth from Sen Bernie Sanders I VT on the federal budget cap and the budget negotiations....

The debate over raising the debt ceiling and deficit reduction is coming down to the wire and I wanted to take a moment to update you on what is going on in Washington.

Despite the fact that Democrats control the White House and the Senate, it is right-wing Republicans who are calling the shots and setting the agenda.  Unless we fight back vigorously, Congress and President Obama will give the American people exactly what they don’t want.

Poll after poll shows that the American people want Congress to focus on job creation and that they want deficit reduction to be done in a way which is fair and which requires shared sacrifice.  They do not want the budget to be balanced on the backs of those people who are already hurting through massive cuts in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, education, child care, nutrition, affordable housing, fuel assistance and environmental protection.  They want millionaires and billionaires to start paying their fair share in taxes, and they want the removal of massive loopholes which enable many large corporations to avoid taxes.  They also want a significant reduction in military spending.

Republican leaders talk about three or four trillion dollars in spending cuts over the next ten years, with no new taxes on the wealthy and large corporations and unless we turn the tide NOW, they will get pretty much what they want.

Please understand what they mean.  While no specific proposals have been adopted as of this date, here are some of the ideas which have been discussed.

SOCIAL SECURITY:  Revising the formula which determines cost of living increases (COLAs) so that in ten years, a 75-year-old will receive $560 a year less in benefits and in 20 years an 85-year-old will receive $1,000 a year less.  Further, another provision which would require that Social Security always be solvent for 75 years would likely mean even larger cuts in benefits.  All of this would take place despite the fact that Social Security has not contributed one penny to the deficit and has a $2.6 trillion surplus today.  This new formula would also cut back on the pensions of veterans.

MEDICARE:  Raising the eligibility age from 65 to 67 and/or cutting benefits by $250 billion over ten years.  Now you tell me, how are 66 year old Americans with modest means going to afford health insurance with a private company – especially if they have medical problems?  It’s not going to happen.  They are going to suffer.  Some will unnecessarily die.

MEDICAID:  At a time when 50 million Americans already have no health insurance, Republicans and some Democrats are proposing to cut hundreds of billions from Medicaid which means that many men, women and children will lose the health insurance they have.  According to a Harvard University study, some 45,000 Americans die each year because they don’t get to a doctor when they should.  How many more will die if Medicaid is slashed?  How many children will be thrown off of the Children’s Health Insurance Program?

EDUCATION:  Today, childcare and college education are already unaffordable for millions of working families and Head Start has long waiting lists.  If Republicans and some Democrats get their way, Pell grants and other educational programs will be deeply slashed.  Affordable childcare and a college education will no longer be possible for many families in our country.

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AND INFRASTRUCTURE:  Forget about the government having the ability to protect the people from corporations who want to evade regulations within the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.  With massive cuts in the EPA, the resources will not be there.  Forget about this country having the investment capability to transform our energy system to energy efficiency and sustainable energy.  Forget about creating millions of jobs rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure and improving our public transportation system.

At a time of growing hunger in America there will be massive cuts to nutrition programs.  We have a crisis in homelessness, and there will be cuts to affordable housing.  While we need more funds for research and development in disease prevention and other areas, fewer funds will be available.  And on and on it goes.

Yes, the time is late, but we can still make a huge difference.  

As, perhaps, the most progressive member of the Senate, I will continue to stand for a deficit reduction plan which is fair, which requires the wealthy and large corporations to begin paying their fair share of taxes and contribute at least 50 percent toward any plan which is adopted.  I will also demand that Congress take a hard look at excessive military spending.

This nightmare can be avoided, if, as progressives, we continue to stand together for social justice and common decency.  Thank you for all that you do.


Senator Bernie Sanders

Obama urges GOP to break ‘stalemate’ over debt talks 25JUL11

PRESIDENT OBAMA'S speech on the budget and federal budget cap and the stalemate in Congress. We can only hope the President really does stand up to the gop / tea-baggers and not allow them to destroy the nation. Compromise doesn't mean kow-towing to the gop / tea-bagger demands. The deal must include cuts to the corporate welfare system and to the bloated, wasteful and corrupt Pentagon budget. Social Security must not be touched because it has not contributed one penny to the national deficit. President Obama has to take the moral high ground, not a difficult move after rep john boehner's performance on TV tonight, and stand firm for the American people; the poor, the retired, the disabled, the working class, the middle class, all of us who have already paid more than our share since the george w bush presidency. If necessary President Obama MUST invoke the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. From the Washington Post...
President Obama on Monday used a nationally televised address to urge House Republicans to stop standing in the way of a deal to tame the nation’s debt and raise the federal limit on borrowing, making his most direct appeal to the American people in the confrontation over the debt.
Obama said failure to raise the debt ceiling within the next week “would risk sparking a deep economic crisis.” He said he would not be able to pay all of the government’s bills, including Social Security checks and veterans’ benefits.
The president endorsed a Senate Democratic plan unveiled Monday that would save $2.7 trillion in spending over 10 years in exchange for raising the federal debt ceiling through 2012. He rejected a competing House Republican plan that could save up to $3 trillion while raising the debt ceiling in two stages — the first lasting six months.
Obama reserved his harshest words for House Republicans as he called on them to join him in breaking a “stalemate” and forging a compromise that balances cuts in government spending with new tax revenues from the wealthy and corporations.
“The only reason this balanced approach isn’t on its way to becoming law right now is because a significant number of Republicans in Congress are insisting on a cuts-only approach – an approach that doesn’t ask the wealthiest Americans or biggest corporations to contribute anything at all,” Obama said in the East Room of the White House.
In a response following the president’s statement, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Republicans had fought to rein in the national debt, but that Obama had refused to compromise.
“I want you to know I made a sincere effort to work with the president to identify a path forward,” Boehner said. “Unfortunately, the president would not take yes for an answer. Even when we thought we might be close on an agreement, the president’s demands changed.”
“The president has often said we need a ‘balanced’ approach -- which in Washington means: we spend more. . .you pay more,” the speaker said. “Having run a small business, I know those tax increases will destroy jobs.”
At the same time, Boehner acknowledged that the debt ceiling must be raised and said he would press on with the Republican plan that Obama rejected. “The United States cannot default on its debt obligations,” Boehner said.
“The solution to this crisis is not complicated: If you’re spending more money than you’re taking in, you need to spend less of it,” he said. “I’ve always believed, the bigger [the] government, the smaller the people.”
In his remarks, Obama acknowledged that most people outside Washington might not be familiar with the particulars of the debt debate, and he told Americans what might happen if the debt ceiling is not raised.
“For the first time in history, our country’s Triple A credit rating would be downgraded, leaving investors around the world to wonder whether the United States is still a good bet,” Obama said. “Interest rates would skyrocket on credit cards, mortgages, and car loans, which amounts to a huge tax hike on the American people. We would risk sparking a deep economic crisis – one caused almost entirely by Washington.”
“I’m asking you all to make your voice heard,” Obama said. “If you want a balanced approach to reducing the deficit, let your Member of Congress know.”
Obama’s speech came with just about a week before the Treasury Department has said the government will need to borrow more money to pay for all its obligations. The administration has warned of catastrophic default on government obligations if the debt ceiling is not raised by Aug. 2.

U.S. trucking funds reach Taliban, military-led investigation concludes 24JUL11

This is what we are fighting for??? Sacrificing American blood for??? Wasting hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars for??? This is another example of the corruption of the Afghan nation that demands we end this war and get out of Afghanistan now! From the Washington Post....


A year-long military-led investigation has concluded that U.S. taxpayer money has been indirectly funneled to the Taliban under a $2.16 billion transportation contract that the United States has funded in part to promote Afghan businesses.
The unreleased investigation provides seemingly definitive evidence that corruption puts U.S. transportation money into enemy hands, a finding consistent with previous inquiries carried out by Congress, other federal agencies and the military. Yet U.S. and Afghan efforts to address the problem have been slow and ineffective, and all eight of the trucking firms involved in the work remain on U.S. payroll. In March, the Pentagon extended the contract for six months.
According to a summary of the investigation results, compiled in May and reviewed by The Washington Post, the military found “documented, credible evidence . . . of involvement in a criminal enterprise or support for the enemy” by four of the eight prime contractors. Investigators also cited cases of profiteering, money laundering and kickbacks to Afghan power brokers, government officials and police officers. Six of the companies were found to have been associated with “fraudulent paperwork and behavior.”
“This goes beyond our comprehension,” said Rep. John F. Tierney (D-Mass.), who last summer was chairman of a House oversight subcommittee that charged that the military was, in effect, supporting a vast protection racket that paid insurgents and corrupt middlemen to ensure safe passage of the truck convoys that move U.S. military supplies across Afghanistan.
The military summary included several case studies in which money was traced from the U.S. Treasury through a labyrinth of subcontractors and power brokers. In one, investigators followed a $7.4 million payment to one of the eight companies, which in turn paid a subcontractor, who hired other subcontractors to supply trucks.
The trucking subcontractors then made deposits into an Afghan National Police commander’s account, already swollen with payments from other subcontractors, in exchange for guarantees of safe passage for the convoys. Intelligence officials traced $3.3 million, withdrawn in 27 transactions from the commander’s account, that was transferred to insurgents in the form of weapons, explosives and cash.
A senior U.S. defense official said that a radically revised transport system, replacing the Host Nation Trucking contract when it expires in September, will be announced in a few weeks. Based on the findings of the investigation, the new contract will expand the number of companies from eight to at least 30 and change the security system for the truck convoys. It will require detailed information on all subcontractors and supervision by military units in the field rather than headquarters-based contracting officers.
In the meantime, interim steps have been taken to improve oversight and accountability within the murky web of companies and individuals involved in the shipment of more than 70 percent of all U.S. military food, fuel, weapons and construction material within Afghanistan, said the official, who was authorized to discuss the issue only on the condition of anonymity.
“It’s still ugly,” the official said. “But it’s getting better.”

Problems with local vendors
Unlike in Iraq, where the U.S. military favored using American contractors who made millions providing security, reconstruction and training, local hires have performed the bulk of those tasks in Afghanistan. During the first quarter of this fiscal year, the U.S. military’s Central Command reported that 53 percent of more than 87,000 contract personnel it employed in Afghanistan were locals.
The U.S. Agency for International Development and the State Department together signed nearly 1,000 contracts with non-U.S. vendors in Afghanistan last year.
The employment, under a government-wide policy called Afghan First, is an integral part of the Obama administration’s counterinsurgency strategy and calls for promoting Afghan capabilities, businesses and infrastructure.
The extensive military use of contractors for tasks such as transport, security and construction is also designed to free U.S. troops for warfighting and, in most cases, is deemed far less expensive than using American resources.
But “awards to local vendors in Afghanistan pose particular challenges,” according to a General Accountability Office report issued last month, because of the large size of the U.S. effort, the great distances that must be traveled on often-dangerous roads and “the potential for fraud, corruption, or the siphoning of funds to organizations hostile to U.S. forces.”
The GAO report concluded that the number of contracts was so huge that it was impossible to vet them all, and it recommended assessing only the most risky. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the State Department, the GAO said, have no vetting system in Afghanistan, and the Defense Department’s practice is to vet contractors only after contracts have been issued.
The GAO noted that one Defense Department vetting system averages 15 vendors per week and would take until March 2012 to vet the 1,042 Afghan vendors awarded new military contracts in fiscal 2010. The estimate did not include a backlog of contracts from previous years or any contract valued at less than $100,000.
Weak contractor oversight
Massive amounts of food, fuel and warfighting material are needed to support U.S. troops in Afghanistan; their number has more than tripled to about 100,000 since President Obama took office. Most supplies are brought by ship to neighboring Pakistan and transported by truck to central military depots in Afghanistan.
From there, the goods are trucked to hundreds of military installations across the country, usually along desolate stretches of road controlled by or vulnerable to attack from warlord militias and Taliban insurgents. Moving the supplies requires 3,000 to 4,000 trucks per week.
Six of the eight companies chosen as prime contractors under the Host Nation Trucking contract are owned by Afghans or are joint Afghan-international ventures. Two are considered U.S.-owned, including the Washington-based Sandi Group and NCL Holdings, whose founder and president, Hamed Wardak, is the son of Afghanistan’s defense minister. The new investigation, conducted by a military-led task force that included officials from the FBI, Treasury and U.S. intelligence, did not identify which of the companies are implicated in payments to insurgents, nor does it quantify how much money has been misspent or transferred to insurgents.
Wardak, in an interview last year, denied that his company was involved in any kickbacks or indirect payments to insurgents. The Sandi Group did not respond to requests last week for comment.
For the life of the contract — one year, with options for a second year and the recently exercised six-month extension — each company was guaranteed a minimum of $250,000 and a maximum of $360 million. U.S. expenditure was capped at $2.16 billion, although less than $600 million had been paid out through March.
Prime contractors were responsible for furnishing up to 600 trucks and protecting them. But five of the eight prime contractors had no trucks of their own, two had fewer than 200, and all hired subcontractors to provide security, according to the investigation. From the start, the companies have served largely as brokers atop scores of subcontractors.
As early as the summer of 2009, amid frequent reports that subcontractors and middlemen were paying contract money to warlords and the Taliban to guarantee safe passage for the convoys, U.S. Army investigators prepared a briefing for senior commanders that bore the blunt title “Host Nation Trucking Payments to Insurgents.” Investigators estimated that the going rate for protection was $1,500 to $2,500 per truck, paid by contractors and their subs to private Afghan security companies allied with warlords or insurgents — or, in some cases, directly to militias or Taliban commanders.
The military maintained that federal contracting rules did not require, and by some interpretations prohibited, a close look below the level of prime contractors. Investigating the relationships behind the kickbacks and protection rackets would have been expensive, time-consuming and difficult. Many military officials in charge of overseeing the contracts were reluctant to disturb the status quo, believing it was far more important that food, fuel and bullets for U.S. forces were delivered intact and on time.
“These people should be fired and sent home,” the senior defense official said of the military overseers. “The attitude is crazy — it’s okay to pay the enemy because then we have better snacks” if the convoys travel unimpeded. “I think everybody gets that now.”

Concern in Washington
In the fall of 2009, problems with the trucking contract were discussed during a closed-door review by the administration of its war strategy. That December, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates voiced public concern that the United States was funding the very people it was fighting against in Afghanistan.
Since then, Afghan and U.S. officials have made changes on the margins as they tried to unravel the complicated web of actors and track the money. In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai pledged to disband all private security contractors and form a new government security force to guard supply convoys, but implementation has been slow.
In Washington, impatient lawmakers began their own investigations. In early 2010, Tierney charged the military with foot-dragging in its response to the subcommittee’s request for “all documents related to HNT security.” In May, after the military refused to turn over the 2009 briefing prepared by Army investigators, Tierney wrote a letter of complaint to Gates.
The document was supplied in June, along with a redacted copy, in which most or all of every page was blacked out, that the Defense Department deemed suitable for public disclosure. A department lawyer wrote Tierney to warn of “serious consequences” for what were still “open criminal investigations” and “for our relationship with the government and people of Afghanistan” if the unredacted document was publicly revealed.
Last summer, after the release of the House subcommittee report, the then-U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David H. Petraeus, appointed task forces to investigate contracting and corruption, including Task Force 2010, which carried out the investigation of the trucking contract. In September, he released new guidelines making commanders accountable for monitoring contracts within their areas of responsibility.
The next month, a separate Senate Armed Services Committee investigation into contracting confirmed the House report, concluding that the military had only minimal knowledge of — and exercised virtually no control over — the thousands of Afghans contracted to guard its installations and supply convoys.
Both reports identified the security wing of the Watan group, a business conglomerate run by relatives of Karzai, as involved in bribing officials for control over convoy routes and making payments to Taliban commanders. In the most substantive action by the military, Watan was barred in December from receiving new U.S. contracts. But it has contested the action in court, denying the allegations, and has been allowed to continue its security work so the company could “fully exercise due process,” the senior defense official said.
The House and Senate have adopted measures this year, attached to fiscal 2012 defense spending legislation, giving military commanders additional powers to investigate and cancel contracts in which insurgent ties have been found.
Tierney, now the top minority member of the national security subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, voiced sharp criticism of the length of time it took the military-led task force to reach the same conclusions that lawmakers made public a year ago.
“I would hate like hell to think my kid was over there” and the Taliban was “coming after them with something bought with our taxpayers’ money,” Tierney said.