Sunday, February 17, 2008



Springsteen "Youngstown" Montage


Status of Nuclear Powers and Their Nuclear Capabilities
data as of 01 January 2005 -- FYI


SF Solidarity Rally For "Freightliner Five"
Saturday, Feb 23, 2008 3:00 PM
At: ILWU Local 34
801-2nd St., at Embarcadero next to the ballpark
San Francisco

Five fired union leaders of the UAW Cleveland, North Carolina Freightliner truck
plant are fighting to get their jobs back. This integrated union leadership was standing up for decent health and safety conditions and benefits.
This meeting is also inviting other workers in struggle to participate and speak
about their struggle.

"Freightliner Five" Solidarity Tour
Solidarity Rally For UAW 3520 "Freightliner Five" Fired Workers

In April 2007, UAW 3520 workers at the Cleveland, North Carolina Freightliner truck plant went on strike over health and safety and other conditions and benefits. In retaliation, the Daimler Benz owned company fired 5 strike leaders. They are known as the Freightliner Five and have been fighting for their jobs back for nearly a year. This struggle is not just about the Freightliner workers but union organizing throughout the South.

If Freightliner can get away with this illegal firing, other workers will think twice about joining a union. Allen Bradley and Franklin Torrence, two of the Freightliner fired workers will be speaking about their struggle at this meeting and will also be meeting with other workers in Northern California.

Saturday, Feb 23, 2008 3:00 PM
At: ILWU Local 34
801-2nd St., at Embarcadero next to the ballpark, San Francisco

Initial Speakers For Meeting:
Jack Heyman, Executive Board ILWU Local 10*
Jack Rasmus, President UAW 1982 BA Chapter*
Gloria La Riva, Pres. NC MWU-CWA 39521*
Alan Bradley, Fired UAW Vice Chair Bargaining Committee & Skilled Trades Chair
Franklin Torrence, Fired UAW 3520 Civil Rights Chair and Executive Committee
* for identification only

Please come to this support meeting and learn directly about their struggle
This effort has been recently endorsed by Ken Riley, president of ILA 1422 in Charleston, South Carolina, Donna Dewitt, president of the South Carolina AFL-CIO, Labor Video Project, Transport Workers Solidarity Committee, Labor Action Coalition, Facts For Working People, Cynthia McKinney, former congress woman, ISO, Joseph Prisco, president of AMFA Local 9*, San Francisco Peace and Freedom Party (* for identification only)

To support these fired workers, you can also send checks payable to:
Justice 4 Five Solidarity Fund, P.O. Box 5144, Statesville, N.C. 28687.

N. California Freightliner Five Support Committee
For information and if you would like your union or organization to endorse call: (415)282-1908
South Carolina AFL-CIO President Urges Labor Movement Support For Freightliner 5 - 01/30/08

By Doug Cunningham

Five UAW Local 3520 bargaining committee members fired by Freightliner in April of 2007, after a one-day strike are getting some support now from the labor movement. The UAW International isn’t supporting the workers' efforts to get their jobs back because the one-day strike was authorized only by the local and not by the International UAW. South Carolina AFL-CIO President, Donna Dewitt supports these five UAW bargaining committee members fired by Freightliner and she says they deserve some solidarity from the entire labor movement.

[Dewitt]: "They weren’t happy with the contract offer, and they were standing up for their rights. And I don’t know exactly what happened with UAW, but all I know is that there are five UAW members and officers of a local that have been out of work now going on ten months. So I would appeal to everyone to reach out to help raise funds for these folks and their efforts to be rehired. They need their jobs back."

The fired UAW Freightliner workers are visiting several cities, including Detroit, Chicago, and San Francisco,to tell their story and get support. To support these workers, you can go to to donate money to the Justice 4 Five Solidarity Fund.
Posted 01/29/2008 -


2017 Mission St (@ 16th), San Francisco
For more information on how you can become involved contact:
Bonnie Weinstein, (415) 824-8730
Nancy Macias, (415) 255-7296 ext. 229

Send a letter to the Board of Education

Please expand upon or send the letter below to the members of the
San Francisco Board of Education declaring:

We/I demand that the San Francisco school board phase
out JROTC at the end of the current 2007-2008 school
year, as you voted to do in 2006.

The reasons for phasing out JROTC are laid out very
clearly in the 2006 resolution.
(see below)

"The SFUSD has restricted the activities of military
recruiters on our campuses...

"JROTC is a program wholly created and administrated
by the United States Department of Defense, whose
documents and memoranda clearly identify JROTC as an
important recruiting arm; and...

"JROTC manifests the military's discrimination against
LGBT people..."

Given the dangerous role that the U.S. military is
playing in the world today, and given the military's
ongoing discrimination against LGBT people, it would
be legally and morally repugnant for the school
district to continue to facilitate the military's
access to our students.

Send letters to: (please send copies to Bonnie Weinstein at giobon@comcast and Riva Enteen at

Mr. Norman Yee

Hydra Mendoza

Eric Mar, Esq.

Kim-Shree Maufas

Jane Kim

Mark Sanchez

Jill Wynn

Norman Yee

Substitute Motion , As Amended
Adopted by the Board of Education at its Regular Meeting of November 14, 2006.

Subject: Resolution No. 65-23A1


- Mark Sanchez and Dan Kelly

WHEREAS: The San Francisco Unified School District has banned educational partnerships with outside organizations that discriminate against any group based upon sexual orientation; and

WHEREAS: Civilian control of the military, and restriction of military involvement in civilian affairs is a fundamental characteristic of a healthy democracy; and

WHEREAS: The San Francisco Unified School District has restricted the activities of military recruiters on our campuses; and

WHEREAS: The San Francisco Unified School District has adopted violence prevention and conflict resolution strategies that promote non-violent behavior; and

WHEREAS: The San Francisco Unified School District requires that teachers of all academic courses be fully credentialed; and

WHEREAS: JROTC is a program wholly created and administrated by the United States Department of Defense, whose documents and memoranda clearly identify JROTC as an important recruiting arm; and

WHEREAS: No other potential employer or recruiter is given such a high profile, nor such extensive contact with students; and

WHEREAS: JROTC instructors are not certificated teachers, and may not even possess a college degree of any kind; and

WHEREAS: The San Francisco Unified School District share of JROTC salaries is provided from central budget, while regular PE teachers are charged against each school’s site-based budget; and

WHEREAS: JROTC manifests the military’s discrimination against LGBT people by offering non-LGBT students preferential enlistment options; and

WHEREAS: JROTC is one of the largest after school activities at some High Schools; and

WHEREAS: The Board of Education has received extensive testimony that JROTC promotes self-esteem, community service, and academic and leadership skills; and

WHEREAS: Many other student extra-curricular activities also develop self-esteem, academic and leadership skills, and a commitment to service; and

WHEREAS: The California Education Code permits, and some SFUSD schools allow, students to receive PE credit for sports participation, independent study, or other classes deemed equivalent.

Therefore Be It Resolved: The Board of Education finds that credentialing requirements for academic instructors and courses are not met by the JROTC, except where specifically allowable as a substitute for Physical Education; and

Be it Further Resolved: The Board of Education finds that JROTC programs on campus constitute a form of military recruitment and are in violation of our policy governing fair access for recruiters on campuses; and

Be it Further Resolved: The Board of Education finds that the JROTC program violates our anti discrimination policies with regard to LGBT students and adults; and

Be it Further Resolved: The Board of Education finds that the funding mechanism of the JROTC creates inequities between High Schools in SFUSD; and

Be it Further Resolved: The Board of Education finds that the JROTC is an inappropriate extension of the nation’s military into the civilian sphere; and

Be it Further Resolved: The Board of Education hereby begins a two-year phase out of all JROTC programs in the SFUSD resulting in no JROTC classes in the 2008-2009 school year and beyond; and

Be it Further Resolved: No new JROTC units or programs may be initiated at any SFUSD schools, effective immediately; and

Be it Further Resolved: That SFUSD staff shall not direct or require that students enroll in JROTC as an alternative to PE, or for any other reason; and

Be it Further Resolved: The Board of Education will grant PE credits for sports participation, independent study, and other courses deemed appropriate, and requests staff to provide guidelines for Board approval by the first meeting in January 2007; and

Be It Further Resolved: That the Board of Education calls for the creation of a special task force to develop alternative, creative, career driven programs with the elements of the existing JROTC program that students have indicated important to them, which then will provide students with a greater sense of purpose and respect for self and humankind; and

Be It Further Resolved: That any new programs being implemented beginning academic year 2007-08 are evaluated before the end of the school year to test student satisfaction.


Please Note:

Taken up by the Curriculum and Program Committee on August 23, 2006. Substitute motion accepted by general consent of the Committee. Substitute Motion forwarded to the Board with a positive recommendation from Committee, and to be taken up for action at the September 12, 2006 Regular Board Meeting by a vote of 2 ayes (Mar and Kelly), and 1 nay (Lipson).

Taken up by the Budget and Business Services Committee on 10/18/06. Substitute motion, as amended, forwarded to the Board with a positive recommendation (2 ayes, l nay (Wynns) ). The Budget and Business Services Committee recommends to the Board that the intention of the original motion to develop an alternative program be addressed.

Substitute motion amended and adopted on 11/14/06.


5th Anniversary of the U.S. Invasion of Iraq
End the War NOW!
Wednesday, March 19, 2008, March & Rally
5 p.m. S.F. Civic Center (Polk & Grove Sts.)

Click here to Endorse:

Bring All the Troops Home Now
End Colonial Occupation--Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine
Money for Jobs, Housing, Healthcare & Schools, Not War
Stop the threats against Iran, Venezuela, Cuba . . .
No to racism & immigrant bashing

A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition
Act Now to Stop War & End Racism
2489 Mission St. Rm. 24
San Francisco: 415-821-6545


March 19, 2008, will mark the 5th anniversary of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Hundreds of thousands of people marched in defiance of the U.S. government’s drive for war. Since March of 2003, many millions more people have turned against the war in Iraq. The will of the people of the United States has been represented in many anti-war demonstrations and actions throughout the last 5 years.

Yet, the warmakers in the White House and Congress—acting in direct contradiction to the interests of the people of the United States and the world—have continued to fund and expand the brutal occupation of the Iraqi people.

Just a week ago, Washington unleashed the largest bombing campaign of the war—terrorizing Iraqi people in a Baghdad suburb. More than a million Iraqis have been killed. The U.S. occupation has created a situation of extreme violence in the country. The Iraqi people are denied access to regular electricity, education, health care and many necessary services. Unemployment is rampant.

Four thousand U.S. soldiers have been killed and more than 60,000 wounded, injured or evacuated due to serious illness. The cost of the war is $450,000,000 per day, $5,000 every second. The war has been a success for military-industrial businesses like Halliburton, Bechtel, Blackwater and McDonnell-Douglas, who are making huge profits from the death and destruction. At the same time, we are told that there is no money for basic human needs housing, food, healthcare, schools and jobs.

March 19, 2008, will see many actions against the war in San Francisco and across the country, including walkouts, teach-ins and civil disobedience on a day of “No Business As Usual.” The ANSWER Coalition along with many other individuals and organizations will join those actions. The ANSWER Coalition is calling for an evening march and rally, starting at the San Francisco Civic Center at 5 p.m.

Help build the March 19th day of action!
There are many ways you can help.

1. Volunteer now to get the word out! Plug into Tues. evening and Sat. afternoon outreach teams to make sure people know about the March 19 march and rally.
This Tues. Jan. 29, 6-9pm meet at 2489 Mission St. at 21st St., (Rm. 28) SF
We will be flyering at BART stations and the Mission campus of City College, postering in different locations in SF, and banner making and alert phone calls in the office. No experience necessary.

Every Saturday, 12noon 3pm from Feb. 2 through March 19
Help with postering and outreach tabling in San Francisco and the East Bay.

SF outreach - meet 2489 Mission St. at 21st. St. (Rm. 24)
East Bay Outreach meet 636 - 9th Street at MLK, Oakland, 510-435-0844

You can also pick up flyers and posters in San Francisco at 2489 Mission St. Rm. 24. Call us at 415-821-6545. In the East Bay, call 510-435-0844

2. Organize on your campus or workplace.
The ANSWER Coalition can send you materials to poster and leaflet at your campus or workplace. Call 415-821-6545 or email to get more information about organizing on your campus or workplace.

3. Schedule a speaker for your class or organization.
Anti-war and anti-racist activists with the ANSWER coalition are available to speak about the war at home and abroad and the organizing for the Mar.19 day of action. We also have videos available on a number of different issues relating to the wars at home and abroad. Contact us to learn more about scheduling a speaker.

4. Donate to build the Mar.19 demonstration. Click here to donate now:



March 19, 2008:

* 5th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq,
* beginning of the 6th year of war and occupation,
* beginning of the 6th year of senseless death and massive destruction.

The presidential candidates, the Congress, the White House and the media all seem to be working hard to push Iraq off the agenda until after the elections this fall -- we can't let that happen! They may be willing to let hundreds more U.S. soldiers and thousands more Iraqis die between now and when the next president and Congress are sworn in, but we are not!

United for Peace and Justice is calling for and supporting a set of activities on and around the 5th anniversary that will manifest the intensifying opposition to the war and help strengthen and expand our movement. We urge you to join with us to ensure the success of these actions:

March 13-16, Winter Soldier: UFPJ member group Iraq Veterans Against the War is organizing historic hearings March 13-16 in Washington, DC. Veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as Iraqis and Afghans, will tell the nation the real story of this war. UFPJ is helping local groups and individuals plan events that directly link to and amplify the Winter Soldier hearings, from which we hope to have a live video feed available so that communities around the country can gather to watch and listen. Visit for more info.

March 19, Mass Nonviolent Direct Action in Washington, DC: UFPJ is organizing for what we hope will be the largest day of nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience yet against the war in Iraq. We've marched, we've vigiled, we've lobbied -- it's time to put our bodies on the line in large numbers. We encourage anyone who can to join us in Washington, DC, on Wednesday, March 19th, to be part of the civil disobedience, or to assist in support work. We are working to have delegations from all 50 states take part in this massive day of action. Visit for more info and to register to join us in DC.

March 19, Local Actions Throughout the Country: While we are working hard to have a large turnout in DC on March 19, it is also necessary to be visible and vocal in our local communities on that day. Congress will not be in session and so our representatives and senators will be in their home districts/states. We encourage those who are not able to make it to Washington on March 19 to organize and participate in local actions. These events may vary in location or character, but they will all be tied to the actions in Washington and sending the same message to the policy makers: It is time to end this war and occupation! To find an event in your area (more are being posted daily, so keep checking back!) or to sign up to organize a local activity, visit

For further details and info on how to get involved, please visit

Help us make the 5th anniversary the last anniversary of this war! Making the 5 Years Too Many Actions as visible and powerful as they need to be will take substantial resources. Please make the most generous donation you can today to support this critical mobilization.

Join our efforts to build the strongest actions possible in March -- actions that will not only mark the anniversary but will also help propel our movement into the critically important work that must be done throughout the year and beyond. Together, we will end this war and turn our country toward more peaceful and just priorities!

Yours, for peace and justice,

Leslie Cagan
National Coordinator, UFPJ

Help us continue to do this critical work: Make a donation to UFPJ today.

To subscribe, visit


Call for an Open U.S. National Antiwar Conference
Stop the War in Iraq! Bring the Troops Home Now!
Join us in Cleveland on June 28-29 for the conference.
Crown Plaza Hotel
Sponsored by the National Assembly to End the Iraq War and Occupation
P.O. Box 21008; Cleveland, OH 44121; Voice Mail: 216-736-4704; Email:

List of Endorsers (below call):

Endorse the conference:


2008 has ushered in the fifth year of the war against Iraq and an occupation “without end” of that beleaguered country. Unfortunately, the tremendous opposition in the U.S. to the war and occupation has not yet been fully reflected in united mass action.

The anniversary of the invasion has been marked in the U.S. by Iraq Veterans Against the War's (IVAW's) Winter Soldier hearings March 13-16, in Washington, DC, providing a forum for those who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan to expose the horrors perpetrated by the U.S. wars. A nonviolent civil disobedience action against the war in Iraq was also called for March 19 in Washington and local actions around the country were slated during that month as well.

These actions help to give voice and visibility to the deeply held antiwar sentiment of this country's majority. Yet what is also urgently needed is a massive national mobilization sponsored by a united antiwar movement capable of bringing hundreds of thousands into the streets to demand “Out Now!”

Such a mobilization, in our opinion, commemorating the fifth anniversary of the war -- and held on a day agreeable to the IVAW -- could have greatly enhanced all the other activities which were part of that commemoration in the U.S. Indeed, a call was issued in London by the World Against War Conference on December 1, 2007 where 1,200 delegates from 43 nations, including Iraq, voted unanimously to call on antiwar movements in every country to mobilize mass protests against the war during the week of March 15-22 to demand that foreign troops be withdrawn immediately.

The absence of a massive united mobilization during this period in the United States -- the nation whose weapons of terrifying mass destruction have rained death and devastation on the Iraqi people -- when the whole world will mobilize in the most massive protests possible to mark this fifth year of war, should be a cause of great concern to us all.

For Mass Action to Stop the War: The independent and united mobilization of the antiwar majority in massive peaceful demonstrations in the streets against the war in Iraq is a critical element in forcing the U.S. government to immediately withdraw all U.S. military forces from that country, close all military bases, and recognize the right of the Iraqi people to determine their own destiny.

Mass actions aimed at visibly and powerfully demonstrating the will of the majority to stop the war now would dramatically show the world that despite the staunch opposition to this demand by the U.S. government, the struggle by the American people to end the slaughter goes on. And that struggle will continue until the last of the troops are withdrawn. Such actions also help bring the people of the United States onto the stage of history as active players and as makers of history itself.

Indeed, the history of every successful U.S. social movement, whether it be the elementary fight to organize trade unions to defend workers' interests, or to bring down the Jim Crow system of racial segregation, or to end the war in Vietnam, is in great part the history of independent and united mass actions aimed at engaging the vast majority to collectively fight in its own interests and therefore in the interests of all humanity.

For an Open Democratic Antiwar Conference: The most effective way to initiate and prepare united antiwar mobilizations is through convening democratic and open conferences that function transparently, with all who attend the conferences having the right to vote. It is not reasonable to expect that closed or narrow meetings of a select few, or gatherings representing only one portion of the movement, can substitute for the full participation of the extremely broad array of forces which today stand opposed to the war.

We therefore invite everyone, every organization, every coalition, everywhere in the U.S. - all who oppose the war and the occupation -- to attend an open democratic U.S. national antiwar conference and join with us in advancing and promoting the coming together of an antiwar movement in this country with the power to make a mighty contribution toward ending the war and occupation of Iraq now.

Everyone is welcome. The objective is to place on the agenda of the entire U.S. antiwar movement a proposal for the largest possible united mass mobilization(s) in the future to stop the war and end the occupation.

Join us in Cleveland on June 28-29 for the conference.

List of Endorsers

Join us in Cleveland on June 28-29 for the conference.
Sponsored by the National Assembly to End the Iraq War and Occupation
P.O. Box 21008; Cleveland, OH 44121; Voice Mail: 216-736-4704; Email:



- Spare the life of journalist Parviz Kambakhsh!
- Free him immediately!

We hold the governments of the NATO occupying troops responsible for his life.

Parviz Kambakhsh, a 23-year-old Afghani student has just been sentenced to death after three months of detention under terrible conditions in the state security's detention centre in Marzar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan.

Now in his third year of a journalism course at Balkh University in Mazar-e-Sharif, Parviz Kambakhsh also works as a journalist for the newspaper Jahan-e Naw.
The young journalist was thrown into prison after being characterised as an atheist and an opponent of the regime by the NDS, the Karzai regime's security service. He is also accused of having printed atheist articles off the internet and distributed them among his classmates.

Kambakhsh was tortured continuously during his detention, both physically and mentally, and even threatened with death if he did not admit to the charges leveled against him.

He has not had access to a lawyer. He has not been allowed to see members of his family or friends.

The death sentence was delivered in his absence and in secret by Balkh Province Attorney General Hafizullah Khaliqyar and by the court in Marzar-e-Sharif.
In 2001, when the war started with the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan under the aegis of NATO, the occupying troops from the United States, France, Italy and Germany talked about re-establishing democracy and democratic rights and freedoms.

The Karzai regime that was put in place by the occupying forces has reintroduced Sharia law as the basic law of the land, with the support of all the states participating in the occupation and the war.
It is precisely in the name of the Sharia law that the young journalist Parviz Kambakhsh has been sentenced to death for circulating documents downloaded from the internet.

We, the undersigned journalists and defenders of human rights and fundamental freedoms, call on the Karzai government, NATO and the occupying forces from the United States, France, Italy and Germany, to say:

- Spare the life of journalist Parviz Kambakhsh!
- Free him immediately!
- We hold the governments of the NATO occupying troops responsible for his life.

* * *

Appeal initiated by:

Tristan MALLE General Secretary, on behalf of the General Union of Journalists, Force Ouvrière (France), and Jean Pierre BARROIS Senior Lecturer, University of Paris 12

- Spare the life of journalist Parviz Kambakhsh!
- Free him immediately!

* * * * * * * * * *


[ ] I endorse this appeal to spare the life of Parviz Kambakhsh!


ORG/UNION/TITLE (list if for id. only):




Please fill out and return to
e-mail : with a copy to
Postal Address: Syndicat Général Des journalistes Force Ouvrière, 131 rue Damrémont, 75018 Paris France


Statement in Defense of Free Speech
Rights on the National Mall
Partnership for Civil Justice

Sign the Statement:

We the undersigned are supporting the emergency mobilization of the people demanding that there be no new restrictions on free speech or protest related activities on the National Mall in Washington D.C. This is the real objective of the Bush Administration’s plans for the National Mall.

Unless we take action, the Bush Administration, as one of its final acts, will leave office having dramatically altered access of the people to public lands that have been the site of the most significant mass assembly protests in U.S. history.

The National Mall has been the historic site for the people of the United States to come together to seek equality, justice, and peace. These activities are the lifeblood of a democracy. The National Mall is not an ornamental lawn. The National Mall performs its most sacrosanct and valued function when it serves as the place of assembly for political protest, dissent and free speech.

We oppose any efforts to further restrict protest on the Mall, to relegate protest to a government-designated protest pit or zone, to stage-manage or channel free speech activity to suit the government, or to stifle or abridge our rights to expression upon the public forum that is the National Mall. We call for a moratorium on further actions by the National Park Service that would in any way channel, restrict or inhibit the people's use of the National Mall in furtherance of our First Amendment rights.

Initial signers:

Howard Zinn, professor, author of People's History of the United States
Ramsey Clark, former US Attorney General
Cindy Sheehan
Dennis Banks, Co-Founder, American Indian Movement
Malik Rahim, Co-Founder, Common Ground Collective, New Orleans
John Passacantando, Executive Director, Greenpeace USA
Mahdi Bray, Exec. Director, Muslim American Society, Freedom Foundation
Kathy Kelly, co-coordinator, Voices for Creative Nonviolence
Elias Rashmawi, National Coordinator, National Council of Arab Americans
Heidi Boghosian, Exec. Director of National Lawyers Guild
Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Co-Founder, Partnership for Civil Justice
Carl Messineo, Co-Founder, Partnership for Civil Justice
Jim Lafferty, Exec. Director of the National Lawyers Guild, Los Angeles
Tina Richards, CEO, Grassroots America
Brian Becker, National Coordinator, ANSWER Coalition
Michael Berg, father of Nicholas Berg, killed in Iraq
Dr. Harriet Adams, Esq.
Elliot Adams, President, Veterans for Peace
Jennifer Harbury, Human Rights Attorney
Ron Kovic, Vietnam Veteran, author, Born on the Fourth of July
Juan Jose Gutierrez, Latino Movement USA
Blase and Theresa Bonpane, Office of the Americas
Fernando Suarez Del Solar, Guerrero Azteca, father of Jesus Del Solar, soldier killed in Iraq
Chuck Kaufman, Alliance for Global Justice
Frank Dorrel, Publisher, Addicted to War
William Blum, Author
Ed Asner, Actor
Annalisa Enrile, Mariposa Alliance
Sue Udry, Director, Defending Dissent Foundation

For more info or to volunteer with the ANSWER Coalition, call 415-821-6545.

Help with a mass mailing to help spread the word about the march and rally on March 19 the 5th anniversary of the illegal invasion of Iraq. The mailing will continue after the ANSWER Meeting.

A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition
Act Now to Stop War & End Racism
2489 Mission St. Rm. 24
San Francisco: 415-821-6545


What's wrong with mine safety czar Richard Stickler?
More than 4,000 mine safety failures in six years.
Send Stickler a note now!

Many of us watched in horror last summer as miners lost their lives in the Crandall Canyon mine collapse in Utah, and before that, the disasters at Sago, Darby and Aracoma mines.

After multiple debacles, you’d think the government would make mine safety a top priority. Think again. Recent reports uncovered a huge failure at the federal agency in charge of mine safety.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) failed to fine more than 4,000 safety & health violations over the last six years for mines that broke regulations.
This is an affront to workers who put their lives at risk every day. Tell the mine safety agency to get its act together:

Richard Stickler, the man responsible for mine safety in this country, used to be a coal mining executive. The mines he managed had injury rates that were double the national average. Senators didn’t find him to be very qualified for the job, and twice rejected his nomination. President Bush twice bypassed the Senate to appoint Stickler, despite loud protests from anyone familiar with his egregiously anti-safety record.
We put together some ideas for how Mr. Stickler can actually do his job. Can you please send him a note for us?

Here are some ideas for how Mr. Stickler can improve mine safety:
--Enforce new mine safety rules as required by Congress

--Fine companies that break the law – all 4,000 incidents and counting – and prosecute those who don't pay

--Push for more and better safety and health regulations and enforcement

--Give miners a say in workplace safety by making it easier for them to form unions

--Think like a miner, not a mine executive

--Listen to miners, not the companies, when it comes to developing better safety regulations

Those are pretty reasonable demands of a man who has not done his job for almost two years. You can send your letter – and write your own demands – right here:

Thank you for standing up for workers everywhere.
Liz Cattaneo
American Rights at Work

P.S. To learn more about mine safety, visit the website of the United Mine Workers of America, and find more ways to take action.

Visit the web address below to tell your friends about American Rights at Work.





A ruling by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals on Mumia's case, based on the hearing in Philadelphia on May 17th 2007, is expected momentarily. Freeing Mumia immediately is what is needed, but that is not an option before this court. The Labor Action Committee To Free Mumia Abu-Jamal calls on everyone who supports Mumia‚s case for freedom, to rally the day after a decision comes down. Here are Bay Area day-after details:


14th and Broadway, near the Federal Building
4:30 to 6:30 PM the day after a ruling is announced,
or on Monday if the ruling comes down on a Friday.

Oakland demonstration called by the Partisan Defense Committee and Labor Black Leagues, to be held if the Court upholds the death sentence, or denies Mumia's appeals for a new trial or a new hearing. info at (510) 839-0852 or


Federal Courthouse, 7th & Mission
5 PM the day after a ruling is announced,
or Monday if the decision comes down on a Friday

San Francisco demo called by the Mobilization To Free Mumia,
info at (415) 255-1085 or

Day-after demonstrations are also planned in:

Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Toronto, Vancouver
and other cities internationally.

A National Demonstration is to be held in Philadelphia, 3rd Saturday after the decision

For more information, contact: International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal,;
Partisan Defense Committee,;
Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition (NYC),;


World-renowned journalist, death-row inmate and political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal is completely innocent of the crime for which he was convicted. Mountains of evidence--unheard or ignored by the courts--shows this. He is a victim, like thousands of others, of the racist, corrupt criminal justice system in the US; only in his case, there is an added measure of political persecution. Jamal is a former member of the Black Panther Party, and is still an outspoken and active critic of the on-going racism and imperialism of the US. They want to silence him more than they want to kill him.

Anyone who has ever been victimized by, protested or been concerned about the racist travesties of justice meted out to blacks in the US, as well as attacks on immigrants, workers and revolutionary critics of the system, needs to take a close look at the frame-up of Mumia. He is innocent, and he needs to be free.




In 1995, mass mobilizations helped save Mumia from death.

In 1999, longshore workers shut West Coast ports to free Mumia, and teachers in Oakland and Rio de Janeiro held teach-ins and stop-works.

Mumia needs powerful support again now. Come out to free Mumia!

- The Labor Action Committee To Free Mumia Abu-Jamal
PO Box 16222, Oakland CA 94610




1) Limbo for U.S. Women Reporting Iraq Assaults
February 13, 2008

2) U.S. Program to Verify Worker Status Is Growing
February 13, 2008

3) In Price and Supply, Wheat Is the Unstable Staple
February 13, 2008

5) Fed Chief Leaves Room for Another Rate Cut
February 14, 2008

6) Refinery Fire's Toll Rises to at Least 8
Filed at 12:25 p.m. ET
February 14, 2008

7) A Crisis of Faith
Op-Ed Columnist
February 15, 2008

8) Union Expects 15,000 to 20,000 G.M. Workers to Take Buyouts
February 15, 2008

9) Bleak New Batch of Data on Economy
February 15, 2008

10) Cruel and Gratuitous
Op-Ed Columnist
February 16, 2008

11) For Israel, Gaza Offers a Range of Risky Choices
News Analysis
February 17, 2008

12) Israeli Attacks Kill 4 in Gaza Strip
February 17, 2008
Filed at 7:02 a.m. ET

13) Blast at House in Gaza Kills Militant and 5 Others
February 16, 2008

14) As Nuclear Waste Languishes, Expense to U.S. Rises
February 17, 2008

16) Fundamentally
When Will Earnings Recover?
February 17, 2008

17) Taking Play Seriously
February 17, 2008


1) Limbo for U.S. Women Reporting Iraq Assaults
February 13, 2008

WASHINGTON — Mary Beth Kineston, an Ohio resident who went to Iraq to drive trucks, thought she had endured the worst when her supply convoy was ambushed in April 2004. After car bombs exploded and insurgents began firing on the road between Baghdad and Balad, she and other military contractors were saved only when Army Black Hawk helicopters arrived.

But not long after the ambush, Ms. Kineston said, she was sexually assaulted by another driver, who remained on the job, at least temporarily, even after she reported the episode to KBR, the military contractor that employed the drivers. Later, she said she was groped by a second KBR worker. After complaining to the company about the threats and harassments endured by female employees in Iraq, she was fired.

“I felt safer on the convoys with the Army than I ever did working for KBR,” said Ms. Kineston, who won a modest arbitration award against KBR. “At least if you got in trouble on a convoy, you could radio the Army and they would come and help you out. But when I complained to KBR, they didn’t do anything. I still have nightmares. They changed my life forever, and they got away with it.”

Ms. Kineston is among a number of American women who have reported that they were sexually assaulted by co-workers while working as contractors in Iraq but now find themselves in legal limbo, unable to seek justice or even significant compensation.

Many of the same legal and logistical obstacles that have impeded other types of investigations involving contractors in Iraq, like shootings involving security guards for Blackwater Worldwide, have made it difficult for the United States government to pursue charges related to sexual offenses. The military justice system does not apply to them, and the reach of other American laws on contractors working in foreign war zones remains unclear five years after the United States invasion of Iraq.

KBR and other companies, meanwhile, have required Iraq-bound employees to agree to take personnel disputes to private arbitration rather than sue the companies in American courts. The companies have repeatedly challenged arbitration claims of sexual assault or harassment brought by women who served in Iraq, raising fears among some women about going public with their claims.

The issue gained national attention when Jamie Leigh Jones, a 23-year-old former employee of KBR, testified at a Congressional hearing in December that she had been gang-raped by co-workers in Iraq in 2005. She appeared again on Tuesday and talked in detail about the episode, urging lawmakers to make it easier for crime victims to sue employers.

“Victims of crime perpetrated by employees of taxpayer-funded government contracts in Iraq deserve the same standard of treatment and protection governed by the same laws whether they are working in the U.S. or abroad,” she said.

Since she spoke out publicly in December, other women have begun to step forward.

Ms. Jones and her lawyers said 38 women who worked as contractors in Iraq, Kuwait and other countries had contacted her since she testified to discuss their own experiences. Now, Congressional leaders are seeking answers from the Pentagon, the State Department and other agencies to try to determine the scope of the threats facing women who are contractors.

Paul Brand, a Chicago psychologist who counsels contractors who have served in Iraq, said the harassment of female workers by male colleagues was common. “The extent of the harassment varies greatly from contractor to contractor, depending on how diligently they screen job candidates and management’s willingness to encourage women to report problems,” he said. “In many instances, very little or nothing is done.”

Comprehensive statistics on sexual assaults in Iraq are unavailable because no one in the government or the contracting industry is tracking them. Court documents, interviews with those who were victims, their lawyers and other professionals, along with the limited data made available by the Bush administration, suggest a troubling trend.

The Criminal Investigation Command of the Army has reported that it investigated 124 cases of sexual assault in Iraq over the last three years. Those figures, provided to Senator Bill Nelson, the Florida Democrat who has taken the lead in the Senate on the issue, include cases involving both contractors and military personnel, but do not include cases involving contractors or soldiers investigated by other branches of the military.

The Bureau of Diplomatic Security of the State Department has separately reported that it has investigated four cases of rape or sexual assault involving female contractors, including Ms. Jones’s case. But the Pentagon has so far failed to respond to a request from Mr. Nelson for more comprehensive data, including the number of rape examinations done by military doctors in Iraq on behalf of female contractors. What is more, the Bush administration has not offered to develop a coordinated response to the problem, aides to Senator Nelson and experts have said.

Heather Browne, a spokeswoman for KBR, said the company would protect women working in Iraq. “KBR’s commitment to the safety and security of all employees is unwavering,” she said in a statement. “One instance of sexual harassment or assault is too many and unacceptable.” The company declined to say how many female employees had reported that they were victims of sex crimes in Iraq.

The administration’s decision to rely so heavily on outside contractors — about 180,000 contractors work in Iraq, significantly outnumbering United States military personnel in the country — probably made it inevitable that contractor crime would emerge as a problem as the war dragged on. KBR, by far the largest military contractor in Iraq, says that it now has 2,383 women there, of a total work force of 54,170.

A shooting in Baghdad last September involving Blackwater guards that left 17 Iraqis dead highlighted the lack of clarity in the laws governing contractors. In cases involving sexual assault, for example, soldiers and other military personnel can be prosecuted under the military justice system, but that system does not apply to contractors.

Instead, a little-used law, the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, seems to be the closest statute that could apply to contractors charged with rape, but its legal reach has been under wide debate since the Blackwater shootings.

Women who worked as contractors in Iraq say that while on the job they encountered sexual discrimination and harassment, which sometimes veered dangerously to sexual assaults and even rapes.

Linda Lindsey, of Houston, who worked for KBR in Iraq from 2004 until early 2007, said that she often saw evidence of sexual harassment or discrimination, and that male supervisors often tried to force female employees to grant sexual favors in exchange for promotions or other benefits.

She added that the company’s management seemed unwilling to take action to improve working conditions for women in Iraq. “We filed complaints against one supervisor, and the complaints disappeared,” Ms. Lindsey said in an interview. “The impression you got was that they really didn’t want to hear it, because the money was coming in. Most of it was bad management on-site.”

Pamela Jones, of Texas, a KBR logistics coordinator in Kuwait in 2003 and 2004, was sexually assaulted by a supervisor. “It was known that if you started complaining that you could lose your job,” said Ms. Jones, who added that she reported it to management. “They give you an 800 number to report. But then they shoved it under the rug, and they told me I was a pest.”

She later won an arbitration award from KBR, according to her Houston lawyer, Peter Costea.

Lawyers for women who have reported that they were raped or assaulted while working in Iraq say that one of the biggest obstacles they face is the arbitration requirement.

That means that women who say they were victimized have had great difficulty taking KBR to court for failing to better protect its female employees in Iraq.

KBR defended the arbitration process, saying it is fair. The fact that Ms. Kineston and Pamela Jones won awards is an indication that the system works, said Ms. Browne, the KBR spokeswoman.

Jamie Leigh Jones said she had been fighting to get her case out of the arbitration process and into a federal court, and she testified before a House committee on Tuesday in support of the need to change the laws governing private arbitration. KBR says it “disputes Ms. Jones’s version of the incident she alleges.”

After her Congressional testimony in December, she also testified before a federal grand jury in Florida, which has begun a criminal inquiry into her case more than two years after she first reported the rape.

Her lawyer, Todd Kelly, says he believes that the government has finally been prodded into action only because of the public attention brought by her case. “Her case came out on television before they said anything about a grand jury,” he said.


2) U.S. Program to Verify Worker Status Is Growing
February 13, 2008

LOS ANGELES — The number of businesses taking part in a voluntary program that allows them to verify electronically their newly hired employees’ legal authorization to work in the United States is soaring, the federal government said Tuesday.

About 52,000 employers are now using a Web-based system, known as E-Verify, compared with 14,265 a year ago. The system has been growing in the past year by 1,000 employers a week, said the United States Citizenship and Immigrations Services, which runs the program with the Social Security Administration.

Although the tally is a small fraction of the 5.7 million employers nationwide, program officials said it proved the system was catching on.

“This program is proving to be a key component in promoting the integrity of the employment verification process of our workforce,” Emilio Gonzalez, the director of citizenship and immigration services, said in a statement.

The system, which is free, verifies documentation like Social Security cards and immigration papers that people need to work in the United States.

About a third of the employers, 18,000, are in Arizona, where a new state law requires businesses to use the program to verify the right to work for new employees.

Business and immigrant rights groups in Arizona have sued to block the law, saying in part that E-Verify prompts employers to dismiss workers who may be authorized to work but do not have their paperwork in order. A federal judge upheld the law, but the groups have appealed.

In a separate case, a federal judge in December issued a stay in a lawsuit filed by the federal government against Illinois, which had passed a law prohibiting employers from using the system over questions about its accuracy.

About 93 percent of the employees checked in the program receive authorization in a manner of seconds.


3) In Price and Supply, Wheat Is the Unstable Staple
February 13, 2008

CHICAGO — For decades, wheat was a commodity no American needed to think much about, except the farmers who grew it. The grain was usually plentiful and prices were low.

All of a sudden, those assumptions have been turned upside down. With demand soaring abroad and droughts crimping supply, the world’s wheat stockpiles have fallen to their lowest level in 30 years, and stocks in the United States have dropped to levels unseen since 1948.

Prices have been gyrating in recent days as traders tried to figure out what to make of the situation. On Tuesday, prices for a sought-after variety, spring wheat, jumped to $16.73 a bushel on the Minneapolis Grain Exchange, the latest of several records.

Prices for common wheat are up nearly 50 percent since August, and they are up even more for the most sought-after varieties, leaving buyers, growers and longtime commodity traders shaking their heads.

“Anyone who tells you they’ve seen something like this is a liar,” said Vince Boddicker of the Farmers Trading Company in Mitchell, S.D.

Though this week’s prices were nominal records, the inflation-adjusted record for wheat was set in the mid-1970s, when it exceeded $20 a bushel in today’s dollars after huge sales to the Soviet Union.

Foreign buying is driving this market, too, but these buyers include South Korea, Taiwan, Mexico, Nigeria and Venezuela. Economic growth abroad has given people the means to improve their diets, and they are developing a taste for products made from wheat.

“We haven’t hit a price that has slowed the international interest,” said Joe Victor of the commodity research firm Allendale. “That is something that definitely has the market excited.”

Among the consequences are stretched wallets at home and abroad as food processors pass along higher costs.

“When the price of your raw material quadruples, you can’t afford not to raise your prices,” said Timothy Dodd, president and chief executive of the Dakota Growers Pasta Company in Carrington, N.D. “Otherwise you’re out of business.”

In a Jan. 30 conference call, the chief executive of Kellogg, A. D. David Mackay, said, “Everyone is feeling these inflationary pressures.” General Mills cited rising ingredient costs when it increased cereal prices last June.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that world wheat production will rise this year to nearly 664 million tons, from about 655 million tons — not enough to replenish stocks and push down prices. In December, the organization noted that high international grain prices were causing food shortages, hoarding and even riots in some places.

To damp volatility, three United States exchanges that trade wheat futures contracts have raised the daily limit on price movements from 30 cents to 60 cents during the past week.

For the moment, the mania appeared to be halted in Chicago and Kansas City. March prices for soft red winter wheat, a low-protein wheat that is less favored than spring wheat, fell 41 cents Tuesday, to $10.07, in Chicago.

Egypt put out an offer for a large wheat purchase on Monday, but chose not to buy any. That prompted speculation that it was waiting for prices to fall. But Japan was reported to be bidding for 85,000 tons of American spring wheat.

“When the last person who has to buy in a market does so, you have a top,” Mr. Boddicker said. “We’re quickly approaching that point, if we haven’t hit it already.”

Few farmers have enough wheat on hand to take advantage of the recent increases, the trader said. Most sold last fall for prices that seemed good at the time.

The United States Department of Agriculture’s 10-year forecast, released Tuesday, sees the wheat shortage as temporary. Stockpiles were predicted to fall this year to 312 million bushels, from 456 million bushels, before rebounding to about 700 million bushels by the end of the decade.

Higher prices “will encourage additional acreage and production,” the report said. Wheat plantings will rise to 65 million acres in the 2008-9 season, from 60.4 million this year, the Agriculture Department said, though it predicted the number would then fall because of competition from other crops.


4) U.S. Officials Say Broken Satellite Will Be Shot Down
February 14, 2008

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon plans to shoot down a disabled 5,000-pound spy satellite before it enters the atmosphere in early March, a senior Pentagon official said Thursday.

The official said the operation was expected to be carried out from a Navy cruiser that would fire a missile specially fitted for the mission. Other details on the timing and location of the operation were not available, pending a Thursday afternoon briefing at the Defense Department. Navy ships routinely carry missiles to shoot down aircraft.

It was not immediately known if the operation was prompted by fears that the satellite’s debris would pose a danger if the satellite were allowed to tumble back into the atmosphere on its own; by reasons of secrecy, or by some combination of factors.

Many satellites have fallen harmlessly out of orbit during the space age, in part because they often break apart and the pieces generally burn upon re-entry. And when pieces do survive re-entry, they have usually landed in remote areas or in an ocean, simply because the Earth’s surface has more remote regions and seas than it does heavily populated areas.

The operation, which was first reported on Thursday by The Associated Press, involves the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department and other agencies in addition to the Defense Department. It has ramifications that are diplomatic as well as military and scientific, in part because the United States criticized China last year when Beijing used a defunct weather satellite as a target in a test of an antisatellite system. (The Chinese said afterward that they had no intention of getting involved in a “space race.”)

The United States shot down a satellite in September 1985, as a test of an antisatellite system under development. In that experiment, an F-15 Eagle fighter aircraft fired a missile armed with a “kill” vehicle that collided with the U.S. Solwind satellite.

The impending demise of the American spy satellite has been of some concern to rocket experts, who have speculated that the object may contain hydrazine fuel, which is typically used in thrusters for rocket maneuvers in space and would be hazardous to anyone who came into contact with it on the ground, should any of the substance not be consumed by the fierce heat of re-entry.

“Appropriate government agencies are monitoring the situation,” Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said in a statement in late January, when the problem satellite was moving in a circular orbit about 170 miles above the Earth. In the previous month, its orbit had declined as much as 12 miles.

Specialists who follow spy satellite operations have speculated that the problem satellite is an experimental imagery device built by Lockheed Martin and launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California aboard a Delta II rocket. Shortly after it reached orbit, ground controllers lost the ability to control it and were unable to regain communication.

“Not necessarily dead, but deaf,” as Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian center for Astrophysics, put it in late January.

John E. Pike, the director of in Alexandria, Va., said in January that assuming the satellite in question was indeed a spy satellite, it would probably not contain any nuclear fuel, but that it could contain toxins, including beryllium, often used as a rigid frame for optical components. Moreover, it is possible that any surviving debris could be scattered over several hundred square miles.

As for the possibility that debris could strike a population center, Mr. McDowell said in January that “one could say we’ve been lucky so far.” In 1979, parts of the 78-ton abandoned space station known as Skylab landed in remote regions of Australia.


5) Fed Chief Leaves Room for Another Rate Cut
February 14, 2008

WASHINGTON — Ben S. Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, said on Thursday that the economic outlook had worsened, and he left room for the central bank to reduce interest rates yet again.

Testifying before the Senate Banking Committee, Mr. Bernanke said he was still expecting the economy to grow at a “sluggish” pace in the next few months and pick up speed later in the year.

While continuing to avoid predictions of a recession, the Fed chairman told lawmakers that Fed officials had lowered their forecasts and would be “carefully evaluating incoming information on the economic outlook and will act in a timely manger as needed to support growth.”

“The outlook for the economy has worsened in recent months, and the downside risks to growth have increased,” Mr. Bernanke said, noting that the spiraling losses in home mortgages have dragged down the broader credit markets and shaken the broader economy.

Mr. Bernanke’s testimony put a damper on Wall Street on Thursday, with the Dow Jones industrial average down about 140 points, or more than 1 percent, shortly before 2 p.m.

In his own testimony, Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. sounded more optimistic.

“I believe we are going to continue to grow, albeit at a slower rate,” Mr. Paulson told the banking committee, insisting that the plunge in housing and credit markets was a “correction” rather than a “crisis.”

On Wall Street, most economic forecasters now estimate that the risks of a recession are at least 50-50, and a growing number of analysts contend that an economic contraction has already begun.

Fed policymakers will release their newest forecasts next Wednesday, and Mr. Bernanke said the forecasts would be lower than those in November and more in line with those of private-sector economists.

The Federal Reserve has already reduced its benchmark overnight federal funds rate five times since September, including twice in the span of eight days last month. As a result, the rate has fallen to 3 percent from 5.25 percent.

The Fed’s rate cuts have led to a more modest decline in mortgage rates for borrowers with good credit, but they have done little to stop the meltdown in credit markets that stemmed from soaring defaults and home foreclosures tied to risky mortgages. What began as a panic about “subprime” mortgages last summer has since spread to huge losses at major banks and heightened fear by investors toward many forms of business borrowing.

Mr. Bernanke acknowledged that banks and other lenders have been pulling back, both because of increased risk-aversion and because they have been forced to book huge losses from soured loans and to repurchase troubled mortgages and loans they had sold to investors.

The unexpected losses and growing pressures, he continued, have prompted banks to become more restrictive in their lending and more “protective of their liquidity.”

Mr. Bernanke again rejected predictions of a recession, saying that the economy would grow slowly but pick up speed later in response to both the Fed’s lower interest rates and to the $168 billion economic stimulus package that President Bush signed on Wednesday.

“At present, my baseline outlook involves a period of sluggish growth, followed by somewhat stronger pace of growth starting later this year,” he told lawmakers. But in cautioning that his outlook could turn out to be wrong, the Fed chairman left the door open to additional rate reductions.

Mr. Bernanke acknowledged that a wide variety of economic indicators has declined in recent months, as the continuing meltdown in the housing and mortgage markets has rippled through the broader economy.

The Fed chairman said the job market had worsened, noting that payroll employment dropped 17,000 jobs in January, according to the Labor Department. That was down from an average increase of 95,000 jobs per month in the final three months of 2007. Unemployment, though still comparatively low at 4.9 percent, has edged up from 4.7 percent several months ago.

Nationwide, housing prices have declined and show no signs of having hit bottom, while the stock markets have fallen sharply from their highs late last year.

“The current economic situation is more than merely a “slowdown” or a “downturn,” said Senator Christopher J. Dodd, the Connecticut Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Banking Committee. “It is a crisis of confidence among consumers and investors.”

Mr. Bernanke noted that banks have been forced to book huge losses from mortgages on their balance sheets, reducing their ability to extend new credit, and that they had become “protective of their liquidity” and “less willing to provide funding to other market participants.”

Mr. Bernanke cautioned that inflation has been pushed up, in part because of steep increases in the prices of oil and food, and that the dollar has weakened against most major currencies. The Fed’s favorite measure of inflation, which excludes the volatile prices for food and energy, climbed 2.1 percent in 2007 — slightly faster than the Fed’s unofficial comfort zone for inflation.

Mr. Bernanke did not suggest that the Fed would raise interest rates in order to fight inflation, but he sounded less than confident that consumers and business still expect future inflation to remain low.

Saying that the Fed would be “closely monitoring” price trends, he cautiously said that inflation expectations “appear to have remained reasonably well-anchored.”

Christopher Cox, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, told lawmakers at the same hearing that his agency was investigating a broad range of issues related to the securitization of mortgages on Wall Street.

Mr. Cox put particular emphasis on the need to revise rules governing credit ratings agencies, like Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s, which have been widely criticized for putting triple-A ratings on securities backed by subprime loans.


6) Refinery Fire's Toll Rises to at Least 8
Filed at 12:25 p.m. ET
February 14, 2008

PORT WENTWORTH, Ga. (AP) -- A week after a deadly sugar refinery explosion, the death toll rose to at least eight Thursday and dozens of firefighters continued to battle the obstinate blaze.

Michael Kelly Fields, 40, died early Thursday at the Joseph M. Still Burn Center at Doctors Hospital in Augusta, spokeswoman Beth Frits said. Sixteen other workers remained hospitalized there, 14 of them in critical condition, she said.

Seven other people have been found dead in the rubble at the at the Imperial Sugar Co. plant in Port Wentworth, and one worker remained missing.

Sugar dust is thought to be the cause of the Feb. 7 blast. Emergency crews were able to snuff out the fire at the plant's main building Wednesday, but the blaze persisted at the refinery's 80-foot silos.

Local crews had to call in a specialized team with powerful equipment to assault the silo fires, where thick masses of molten sugar were still smoldering even after a helicopter dumped thousands of gallons of water.

''They're still working on the fire, still trying to put it out,'' said Chatham Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Courtney Cunningham.

Emergency workers were able to pull a seventh body out of the second-floor break room Wednesday. Authorities believe the last missing person is in a section of the same room, which is still littered with wreckage.

Fields had been living in Savannah for about a year and was a supervisor at the Imperial plant, the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Times Free Press reported.

Local authorities and the company have withheld the names of other victims. But The Savannah Morning News said funeral homes have released the names of four: Earl Quarterman Sr., 55, and Eric Barnes, 56, both of Savannah; Earl Johnson, 56, of Garden City; and Byron Singleton, 26, of Ellabell.

The refinery is on a 160-acre site on the Savannah River upstream from Savannah. The plant is 872,000 square feet and about 12 percent of it was destroyed, company spokesman Steve Behm said.


Associated Press writer Bernard McGhee in Atlanta contributed to this report.


7) A Crisis of Faith
Op-Ed Columnist
February 15, 2008

A decade ago, during the last global financial crisis, the word on everyone’s lips was “contagion.” Troubles that began in a far-away country of which most people knew nothing (Thailand) eventually spread to much bigger countries with no obvious connection to Southeast Asia, like Russia and Brazil.

Today, we’re witnessing another kind of contagion, not so much across countries as across markets. Troubles that began a little over a year ago in an obscure corner of the financial system, BBB-minus subprime-mortgage-backed securities, have spread to corporate bonds, auto loans, credit cards and now — the latest casualty — student loans.

Indeed, this week the state of Michigan suspended a major student-loan program because of the sudden collapse of another $300 billion market you’ve never heard of, the market for auction-rate securities.

Why has a crisis that began with loans to a limited group of home buyers ended up disrupting so much of the financial system? Because, ultimately, it’s more than a subprime crisis; indeed, it’s more than a housing crisis. It’s a crisis of faith.

I know that sounds dramatic. But, let me talk about what just happened to auction-rate securities.

Like many of the financial innovations that are now being called into question, auction-rate securities are complicated deals that seemed to offer something for nothing.

They seemed to offer the borrowers — typically local governments or quasi-governmental agencies, like the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the Michigan Higher Education Student Loan Authority — a way to borrow long term without paying the relatively high interest rates investors usually demand on long-term loans.

At the same time, they seemed to offer investors an asset that was as good as cash — readily available whenever needed — but paid higher interest rates than bank deposits.

The operative word in all of this, of course, is “seemed.”

Auction-rate securities seemed as good as cash because they involve regular, well, auctions, held as often as once a week, in which investors wanting out sell their positions to investors wanting in. In principle, it was always possible for auctions to fail for lack of enough willing buyers — but that wasn’t ever supposed to happen.

Meanwhile, these securities seemed like a good deal for borrowers despite the fact that they contain a penalty clause: if an auction fails, the interest rate the borrower pays jumps up. (The Port Authority, which had a failed auction last week, just saw the interest rate it pays leap from 4.3 percent to 20 percent.) You see, there weren’t ever supposed to be failed auctions, so the penalties weren’t supposed to be relevant.

Now, what wasn’t ever supposed to happen has. In the last few weeks, a series of auctions have failed, leaving investors who thought they had ready access to their cash stuck, even as borrowers find themselves paying penalty rates.

The collapse of the auction-rate security market doesn’t reflect newly discovered problems with the borrowers: the Port Authority is as financially sound today as it was a month ago. Instead, it’s contagion from the broader credit crisis.

One channel of contagion involves monoline bond insurers, the specialized insurance companies that are supposed to guarantee debt. These companies insured buyers of local government debt against losses — but they also guaranteed a lot of subprime-related investments, which makes everyone wonder whether they’ll actually have the money to compensate losers in other markets.

More important, however, is the way the ever-widening financial crisis has shaken investors’ faith in the whole system. People no longer trust assurances that fancy financial instruments will function the way they’re supposed to — after all, they know what happened to people who thought their subprime-backed securities were safe, AAA-rated investments. Why, then, should they believe that auction-rate securities are as good as cash?

And loss of trust can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Now that new investors won’t buy auction-rate securities because they no longer believe that they’re as good as cash, those securities become a much worse investment.

Needless to say, all of this is bad for the economy. I like to think of what’s happening as a sort of minor-key reprise of the banking crisis that swept America in 1930 and 1931. Frustrated investors who can’t get their money out of auction-rate securities aren’t as photogenic as angry mobs milling outside closed banks, but the principle is the same. And so are the effects: would-be borrowers can’t get credit, and the economy suffers.

One simple measure of the seriousness of the credit problem is this: although the Federal Reserve has sharply cut the interest rate it controls over the past few weeks, the borrowing costs facing many companies and households have actually gone up.

And the financial contagion is still spreading. What market is next?


8) Union Expects 15,000 to 20,000 G.M. Workers to Take Buyouts
February 15, 2008

DEARBORN, Mich. — The head of the United Automobile Workers union said on Thursday that he expected 15,000 to 20,000 workers to leave General Motors during a new round of buyouts, and that G.M. would replace nearly all of them with lower-paid employees.

The U.A.W. president, Ron Gettelfinger, said the number of workers who take buyouts would certainly be lower than in 2006, when 34,410 people, about one-third of G.M.’s unionized work force, accepted deals. If 15,000 left in this buyout round, that would be about 20 percent of the 74,000 U.A.W.-represented workers who remain at G.M.

About 21,500 G.M. workers have been with the company for at least 30 years. Those workers can elect to take a lump-sum payment of $45,000 or $62,500, depending on their job description, and retire with full benefits. Early-retirement packages also are available, as are cash buyouts of as much as $140,000, for anyone are willing to forgo health care and other benefits.

“I’m sure there will be a lot of interest” in the offers, Mr. Gettelfinger said. But he noted that a weakened economy and falling home prices could make workers more hesitant to give up their paychecks than during G.M.’s original buyout program, even though some of the payment offers are larger this time.

“Some people have planned on retiring and leaving the state,” he said. “Would you do that right now, knowing what the housing market is? You’ve got all these factors that weren’t there a year and half ago.”

Mr. Gettelfinger also said some current workers could be dissuaded by former colleagues who have come to regret their decision to leave. “The people that leave, sometimes they look back on it and think ‘It’s tougher out here than I thought it would be,’ ” he told reporters after accepting an award as the 2007 newsmaker of the year from the Detroit-based Crain’s family of business publications.

While the 2006 buyout program was aimed purely at shrinking G.M.’s work force, this round of offers is primarily focused on opening up jobs so that the company can begin hiring workers at a lower pay scale, which it is allowed to do under the four-year contract signed with the U.A.W. last fall.

G.M., which said this week that it lost $38.7 billion last year, can hire a maximum of about 16,000 workers into so-called noncore jobs, at wages of $14 to $16 an hour, compared with the $28 an hour that assemblers make now.

Including benefits and retiree health care costs, each worker who leaves under the buyout program and is replaced by someone on the lower pay scale would save G.M. about $48 an hour, or nearly $100,000 a year.

Shelly Lombard, an analyst with Gimme Credit, estimates that the two-tier wage system will save G.M. at least $1 billion a year. If the company does not replace some workers and is able to reduce the number of workers that it must continue to pay, under the contract, after eliminating their jobs, the savings could be even higher, she said.

“Its recently negotiated union contract sets the stage for General Motors to do very well once the savings kick in and auto sales recover,” Ms. Lombard wrote in a note to clients Thursday. “But with the U.S. auto market swooning and the savings still in the future, the next several quarters are going to be painful.”

A G.M. spokesman, Dan Flores, declined to comment on how many workers are expected to accept a buyout package or how many of those it would replace. Most workers who take one of the offers will leave by July 1, he said.

“We have committed to jointly working with the U.A.W. to implement all elements of the national contract,” Mr. Flores said. “We will work in conjunction with the U.A.W. to determine the backfilling requirements as a result of the attrition plan.”

Meanwhile, workers at the Ford Motor Company have until Tuesday to decide whether they want to take a buyout offer from that automaker. The acceptance rate at Ford is likely to be higher than at G.M., because Ford is offering workers more money (a lump sum of $70,000 for those already eligible to retire) and because the company’s finances, which are weaker than G.M.’s, have left many Ford workers less confident about job security.

Chrysler also is offering more buyouts to its workers, but is doing so by region and individual plants rather than companywide.


9) Bleak New Batch of Data on Economy
February 15, 2008

A fresh batch of data on Friday presented a bleak picture of the economy, with rising prices of imported goods, struggling manufacturing and an erosion in consumer confidence.

With the price of oil near record levels, import costs grew in January at the highest annual rate in a quarter century, the Labor Department said. In New York, manufacturing activity fell to its lowest level in five years. And consumers, responding to a national survey, said they felt worse about the economy than any time since the recession era of the early 1990s.

“This is just horrible,” wrote Ian Shepherdson, the chief United States economist for High Frequency Economics, a research firm. “The sustained volatility in the markets, the rise in energy and food prices and, of course, the catastrophe in the housing market, is making consumers extraordinarily miserable.”

The price of imports rose 1.7 percent in January and was up 13.7 year over year, the highest annual rate since the Labor Department records began in 1983. Fuel costs led the rise, ballooning by 5.5 percent last month. Imported food and beverages also cost more in January, and the price of Chinese goods ticked up by 0.8 percent. Export prices rose 1.2 percent, and American companies are also charging more for food, industrial supplies, and agricultural products.

Sales of imports are lagging even as export sales surge. The trade deficit narrowed in 2007 for the first time in five years, the Commerce Department said on Thursday.

Manufacturers’ woes were reflected in the Empire State Manufacturing survey, a measure of business conditions in New York State. The index fell in February to -11.7, its lowest reading since April 2003 and the first negative reading in three years. A sharp drop in orders and payrolls led the decline, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Meanwhile, a closely watched measure of consumer confidence, the Reuters/University of Michigan survey, fell to 69.6 in February, the lowest reading since February 1992. It had stood at 78.4 in January.

Consumers are likely cowed by a softening labor market — the Labor Department said employers cut 17,000 jobs last month — and rising inflation, which is forcing Americans to cut back on spending.

There was a sliver of good news for the economy. The Federal Reserve reported that industrial production grew 0.1 percent last month, keeping pace with December. Cold weather pushed up activity at electric and natural gas utilities, which offset a decline in output at auto manufacturers.

Capacity utilization, which measures the proportion of plants in use, held steady in January at 81.5 percent.

Manufacturers have benefited from a sharp rise in export sales, as foreign customers take advantage of the cheap American dollar. But analysts see headwinds ahead.

“An increasingly constrained consumer, deepening woes for the housing sector, and no desire to build inventories will all weigh on manufacturing output, which we expect to remain weak for some time,” wrote Joshua Shapiro, chief United States economist at MFR, a research firm.


10) Cruel and Gratuitous
Op-Ed Columnist
February 16, 2008

It happened last spring.

The police commissioner’s office and a New York City police captain tried to convince the public that a marauding band of kids had gotten out of control and terrified residents, motorists and pedestrians on a street in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn.

The cops were wrong. And they must have known that they were wrong, that the picture they were creating of youngsters climbing on top of cars and blocking vehicular and pedestrian traffic was completely false.

The Brooklyn district attorney, Charles Hynes, carried the canard further. That had to have been deliberate, too. He went on the Brian Lehrer radio program on WNYC and said that his office had investigated the matter — had conducted what he described as an “independent inquiry.”

“We had many, many interviews with local store owners and people who live in the neighborhood who are, frankly, scared to death of these kids,” he said. “And they were not just walking on one car; they were trampling on all sorts of cars. It was almost as if they were inviting their arrest.”

Thirty-two people were arrested on that Bushwick street last May 21, including young women and children. They had been walking along a quiet, tree-lined block of Putnam Avenue on their way to a subway station where they had hoped to catch a train to attend a wake for a friend who had been murdered. The police, who have said that the friend was a gang leader, surrounded the group and closed in.

The youngest person arrested was 13. All of the kids were handcuffed, cursed at and humiliated, and several spent 30 hours or more in jail.

To date, there has been no evidence produced — no witnesses, no photographs or videotapes, no dented vehicles or broken mirrors, nothing whatsoever — to indicate that any of the youngsters had done anything at all that was wrong.

How is it that you can have a rampage in broad daylight on a street in New York City and not be able to show in any way that the rampage occurred?

At least 22 of the 32 people arrested have had their charges dismissed or were never formally charged at all. No one has been convicted of anything.

The case against 18-year-old Zezza Anderson was dropped last month after his lawyer, Ron Kuby, filed a motion demanding that Mr. Hynes’s office produce documentary evidence of the youngsters misbehaving. No evidence was produced. Instead, an assistant district attorney moved to have the charges against Mr. Anderson dismissed, acknowledging that the case against the defendant could not be proved.

I’d like to know why, after the better part of a year, the authorities are still tormenting some of these kids. Why are charges still hanging over 10 of them? Why should it take more than nine months to resolve charges of unlawful assembly and disorderly conduct?

A number of the kids have missed days at school to show up for court dates at which nothing of consequence happens. Asher Callender, a senior at Bushwick Community High School, had to go to court on Friday, only to have his case postponed again until March 3.

These are not gangsters. These are not drug dealers. These are kids who were trying to go to a wake for a friend. It was not the kids who were out of control, it was the criminal justice system, which can’t seem to tell the difference between right and wrong, between the truth and deliberate lies, or between justice on the one hand and gratuitously cruel behavior by public officials on the other.

All the charges in this case should be dropped and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who apparently wants to be mayor of this city, and District Attorney Hynes should offer the kids a public apology.

The authorities have become accustomed to treating disadvantaged young people in New York City like dirt and getting away with it. In this case, local school officials, community residents and the civic group Make the Road New York rallied to the youngsters’ cause.

Neither the police nor the district attorney expected to be confronted in any kind of sustained way over their treatment of these kids. Mr. Hynes said on the radio program: “None of these kids are going to be prosecuted. They’re not going to go to jail ... We are going to offer every one of them community service.”

What he meant was that he expected the kids to go quietly, to plead guilty and passively accept the blot on their records and what he thought of as mild punishment.

But the kids had a surprise for him. They refused to plead guilty to something they hadn’t done. Ten of them are still paying the price for standing up for themselves.


11) For Israel, Gaza Offers a Range of Risky Choices
News Analysis
February 17, 2008

JERUSALEM — Israel hoped that by pulling its settlers and troops from Gaza in 2005, it would also leave behind responsibility for the Gazans. With help from the West and some Arab nations, Israelis thought, the Palestinian Authority could begin to create a prosperous state, as if the continuing Israeli occupation of the West Bank were somehow irrelevant.

It was a case of wishful thinking. As rockets continue to fall on Israeli towns and Israeli politicians call for harsh retaliation, the country faces an acute quandary in Gaza. Israel is trying to contain a new form of polity: a nonsovereign, semioccupied semistate controlled by Hamas, which is considered a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union and is officially committed to the destruction of the country obligated to provide it with fuel, electricity, water and food.

Israeli politicians are demanding the assassination of Hamas leaders and a major military incursion to stop the rockets. Yet Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have been preaching patience.

But now, with the Winograd report into the failures of Mr. Olmert’s war against Hezbollah safely behind him, a government information campaign is trying to justify a major military operation in Gaza. Israeli officials argue that Hamas is becoming Hezbollah, a sophisticated military organization threatening regional stability.

Since June, when Hamas forces routed Fatah in Gaza, the territory has become “Hamastan,” said Haim Ramon, a vice prime minister and a close ally of Mr. Olmert.

“This is not a terrorist group hiding in a state,” Mr. Ramon said. “They are the state, and they are a terrorist organization that refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist.”

Gaza, however, is not a state, but part of an occupied Palestinian entity, which is Israel’s problem.

Mr. Ramon supports peace talks with the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and a simultaneous “war against Hamastan,” as he put it. “No society in the world provides fuel and electricity to a country rocketing it,” he said, although Israeli cuts in supplies to Gaza have already brought fierce criticism from the United Nations and human rights groups about “collective punishment” of civilians and even cautions from Washington.

The foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, took diplomats to the Gaza border on Wednesday and warned them that “the situation in the region is unbearable, and the threat of terror from Gaza is growing larger from year to year.” The problem is not simply the rockets, she said, “but also the strengthening of the terror organizations.” She added, “Israel must act to reduce these threats.”

Fine, but how, exactly? Shlomo Brom, a retired general at the Institute for National Security Studies, says that none of the military options are especially attractive. To stop rockets, as the army learned in Lebanon, Israel must occupy the launching zones.

But the range of the rockets is improving. “That means seizing most of Gaza,” Mr. Brom said, “and no one in Israel other than the fringe right has the appetite to reoccupy the Gaza Strip.” The Israeli Army would win easily, Mr. Brom said, “but it takes a long time, and for what? To regain rule over 1.5 million Palestinians? What’s the exit strategy?”

Such an operation could make it impossible for Mr. Abbas, of Fatah, to continue peace talks with Israel, no matter how much he would like to see Hamas weakened or removed from power in Gaza.

Other military options include intensifying current operations against Hamas, but that would not stop the rockets. Ground operations with limited goals — making sure Ashkelon is out of range, for example — could mean retaking northern Gaza and a wide swath next to the Gaza-Egypt border to diminish weapons smuggling.

Killing Hamas leaders could also deter attacks, but might have unexpected consequences, like a new campaign of suicide bombings.

Amos Oz, Israel’s most famous writer, warned, “Israel must not fall into the trap that Hamas is laying for us and march into Gaza.” He added: “The occupying force will not have a single quiet day. Nor will Sderot,” an Israeli town that is often the target of Palestinian rockets.

There is another option, he noted, which would be to negotiate the cease-fire with Hamas that its leaders have been proposing. Diplomats say that Egypt, stung by the border crisis, is working on an ambitious package — an exchange of prisoners, including Cpl. Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured in Gaza in June 2006, and possibly the jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti; a long-term cease-fire in Gaza; and reopening the Gaza-Egypt border.

Israel is likely to be cautious. Completing a deal with Hamas would further undermine Mr. Abbas, when Israeli and Western policy is to strengthen him and weaken Hamas.

A long-term cease-fire might bring quiet to Sderot, but it would also allow Hamas to regroup, rearm, continue to improve its military capacities and strengthen its political and security hold over Gaza.

Still, as Bernard Avishai, author of “The Hebrew Republic,” points out, Israel has a cease-fire with Hezbollah, just as rejectionist as Hamas, coupled with a disengagement of forces. “You have to stop the cycle of violence,” he said. “Israel can’t win a war in Gaza, but it can’t lose a Gazan peace.”

A former national security adviser, Giora Eiland, wants to use the threat of harsh military and economic sanctions not to defeat Hamas, but to persuade it to stop the rocket fire — or else. Mr. Eiland proposes a deal: cease-fire, prisoner exchange, normal fuel and electricity supplies, and a reopened, monitored Egyptian border.

If Hamas refuses, he proposes a very hard stick: the bombing of Gaza’s ministries, police stations and infrastructure; a halt in the supply of goods, fuel and electricity; and the economic separation of Gaza from the West Bank.

It is an unlikely solution, given the international outcry that would follow. A better answer might be a rapid peace treaty creating a Palestinian state, supported by the Arab League and isolating Hamas, with international troops helping to patrol the borders.

But because Israel and Hamas have little interest in a final settlement now, that seems like more wishful thinking.


12) Israeli Attacks Kill 4 in Gaza Strip
February 17, 2008
Filed at 7:02 a.m. ET

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) -- Israeli troops backed by aircraft and tanks clashed with Palestinian militants firing mortars and machine guns near Gaza's former international airport Sunday, killing three gunmen and a civilian, health officials said.

More than 20 people were wounded, including several gunmen and a 45-year-old civilian who lives near the airport and was shot in the head, said Health Ministry official Moaiya Hassanain.

The fighting erupted when Israeli undercover troops took over several homes near the airport in southern Gaza. Israeli tanks and bulldozers moved in to back the troops, and Israeli aircraft struck twice, Hamas said.

In one airstrike, three gunmen were killed, including two from Hamas and one from a smaller militant faction, the Popular Resistance Committees, said Hassanain. A civilian was also killed in the clashes, he said.

The fighting erupted near Gaza's international airport, which was inaugurated in the late 1990s and was largely destroyed by Israel after the outbreak of the second Palestinian uprising in 2000. The airport is close to the border with Israel.

The Israeli military said the operation was aimed at militants who regularly fire rockets and mortars at southern Israel. It said one of the airstrikes was aimed at militants approaching soldiers.

As part of the army raid, bulldozers razed farmlands in an effort to deny rocket squads cover, and the army was carrying out arrest sweeps of men under 45, Hamas security and residents said. According to Hamas, at least 25 men were arrested.

Separately, a Hamas militant died of wounds sustained in an Israeli airstrike last week.

Later Sunday, a Palestinian rocket struck a house in the southern Israeli town of Sderot, shortly after the U.N.'s humanitarian chief condemned the rocket fire and urged Gaza's Hamas rulers to end the attacks. Police said there were no injuries from the rocket strike.

''We condemn absolutely the firing of these rockets. There's no justification for it. They are indiscriminate, there's no military target,'' John Holmes, the U.N. undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, told The Associated Press after a tour of Sderot.

Also Sunday, a Palestinian negotiator said that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert would meet Tuesday, as part of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. The meeting will be held at Olmert's Jerusalem residence, said negotiator Saeb Erekat.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said the date was not firm, but that Abbas and Olmert were trying to arrange a meeting in coming days.

The two sides relaunched talks in November at a peace conference hosted by President Bush, and set a December 2008 target for reaching a final accord. But negotiations have faltered over Israeli settlement activity and daily violence, including attacks on Israelis, rocket fire from the Gaza Strip and retaliatory Israeli military strikes.

Erekat did not confirm an Israeli media report that the two sides have moved closer on deciding the fate of Jerusalem. The Palestinians want to establish their future capital in the eastern sector of the city, which Israel annexed after capturing it in 1967.

''There are talks going on but I wouldn't use the word progress,'' Erekat said.

Also Sunday, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner met with Israeli President Shimon Peres, following talks the day before with Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

Kouchner told Peres that the Palestinians appear increasingly hopeless about establishing a state, according to a statement by Peres' office.

Kouchner noted that no progress has been made in negotiations since the November peace conference. ''It is a dangerous thing,'' he said, according to the statement.


13) Blast at House in Gaza Kills Militant and 5 Others
February 16, 2008

JERUSALEM — A senior military commander of the radical Islamic Jihad movement was killed Friday night along with at least five others as a powerful explosion destroyed his house in Gaza, but the Israeli military denied having anything to do with the blast.

The three-story house of Ayman Atallah Fayed was destroyed and six nearby homes damaged in the crowded Bureij refugee camp, Palestinian witnesses said. As many as 40 people were wounded, 9 of them critically, according to a Gazan Health Ministry official, Dr. Moawiya Hassanain, and more casualties were being evacuated. Some reports put the number of dead at eight.

Islamic Jihad’s spokesman, Abu Ahmed, accused Israel of carrying out an airstrike that caused a “Zionist massacre,” but a spokeswoman for the Israeli Defense Forces flatly denied that Israel was responsible for the explosion. “There was no attack in the Gaza Strip,” the spokeswoman said. “The I.D.F. did not attack tonight in the Gaza Strip,” she said.

Local Hamas police officers told The Associated Press that the cause of the blast was not clear. Islamic Jihad is among the groups that launch crudely made rockets at Israel from Gaza, and Palestinians speculated that an arms cache might have exploded.

Separately, just before dawn on Friday, masked gunmen attacked the Gaza City premises of the Y.M.C.A. and blew up its 8,000-volume library, according to Eissa Saba, the center’s director. A second bomb was defused. A dozen gunmen overpowered two security guards and brought them to northern Gaza, where they were later released.

It was the latest attack on institutions associated with Christianity, attacks condemned by Hamas, Fatah and local nongovernmental organizations like the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. Some 3,500 Christians, mostly Greek Orthodox, live in the Gaza Strip.


14) As Nuclear Waste Languishes, Expense to U.S. Rises
February 17, 2008

WASHINGTON — Forgotten but not gone, the waste from more than 100 nuclear reactors that the federal government was supposed to start accepting for burial 10 years ago is still at the reactor sites, at least 20 years behind schedule. But it is making itself felt in the federal budget.

With court orders and settlements, the federal government has already paid the utilities $342 million, but is virtually certain to pay a total of at least $7 billion in the next few years and probably over $11 billion, government officials said. The industry said the total could reach $35 billion.

The payments come from an obscure and poorly understood government account that requires no new Congressional appropriations, and will balloon in size, experts said.

The payments are due because the reactor owners were all required to sign contracts with the Energy Department in the early 1980s, with the government promising to dispose of the waste for a fee of a 10th of a cent per kilowatt-hour. It was supposed to begin taking away the fuel in the then far-off year of 1998.

Since then, the utilities have filed 60 lawsuits. The main argument — employing legions of lawyers on both sides — is when the government would have picked up the fuel if it had adhered to the original commitment, and thus how much of the storage expense would have fallen on the utilities anyway.

But the damage number is rising. If the repository that the government is trying to develop at Yucca Mountain, near Las Vegas, could start accepting waste at the date now officially projected, in 2017, the damages would run about $7 billion, according to Edward F. Sproat III, director of the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management.

But that date is actually “clearly out the window,” Mr. Sproat said in a conference call with reporters, because Congress underfinanced the effort to build the repository, among other problems, he said. Mr. Sproat said the goal of applying by this June for a license to build Yucca could no longer be met.

If the repository opens in 2020, the damages would come to about $11 billion, he said, and for each year beyond that, about $500 million more. The industry says the total could reach $35 billion.

“The rate-payer has paid for it,” said Michael Bauser, the associate general counsel of the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry’s trade group. “The Department of Energy hasn’t done it, and now the taxpayer is paying for it a second time.”

Initially, the Energy Department tried to pay the damages out of the Nuclear Waste Fund, the money collected from the nuclear utilities, plus interest, which comes to about $30 billion. But other utilities sued, saying that if the government did that, there might not be enough money left for the intended purpose, building a repository. So the government now pays the damages out of general revenues.

The damages are large relative to the annual budget of the Energy Department, which is about $25 billion. But the money comes out of the Treasury, not the Energy Department. Under a law passed in the Carter administration, such payments are recognized as obligations of the federal government and no further action by Congress is required to make them.

The money comes out of a federal account called the Judgment Fund, which is used to pay settlements and court-ordered payments. For the last five years, the fund has made payments in the range of $700 million to $1 billion, with the average payment being $80,000 to $150,000. In contrast, payments to utilities have been in the tens of millions.

The government is also running up extra expenses on its own wastes. Some of the waste that is supposed to go to Yucca, left over from nuclear weapons production, is sitting in storage that is expensive to maintain.

Some extra expense was assured, because Yucca has been beset with legal and managerial problems, and it is not clear whether the geology is suitable for the goal, storing the waste for a million years with only very small radiation doses for people beyond the site boundary. The interim solution is storing wastes in steel casks, pumped full of inert gas to prevent corrosion, an arrangement that will keep the wastes isolated for decades at least.

At some point, the escalating costs slow down, because some of the expenses for dry storage are incurred only once, like the engineering work, or installation of a crane to get the cask in and out of the spent fuel pool, officials said. But costs rise again at the point where the reactor that generated the fuel becomes too old to run, and is torn down; at that point, the entire expense of the guard force and the maintenance workers are attributable to the waste.

That has already happened in California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts and Michigan. Jay Silberg, a lawyer who represents some of the utilities, said some companies that had sold reactors were suing the government and maintaining that they could have gotten a higher price if their plants had not come with the waste attached.

Each reactor typically creates about 20 tons of waste a year, which is approximately two new casks, at roughly $1 million each. If a repository or interim site opened, clearing the backlog would take decades, experts say. At present, waste is in temporary storage at 122 sites in 39 states.

The Energy Department has launched an initiative to gather the waste and run it through a factory to recover re-usable components, which would allow centralized storage, but that program’s prospects are highly uncertain.

The government has spent $11 billion on Yucca Mountain, Mr. Sproat said. The project has dragged on so long that some of the research data is stored on obsolete computers that must be replaced, program officials said.


15) The Army Recruiter Is Not In
By Sewell Chan
February 15, 2008, 6:30 pm

About 20 antiwar activists gathered outside an Army recruiting office in East Harlem this afternoon to protest what they described as the military focus on persuading young blacks and Latinos to fight in Iraq. But if their aim was to disrupt recruiting, they did not. The office had already been closed for the day, with a metal gate drawn down over the plate glass windows.

Capt. Charles V. Jaquillard, the Army Recruiting Command’s company commander for New York City, said the East Harlem office was not closed because of the protest. “We were conducting a training,” he said. “We had everybody out at Fort Hamilton today.”

After a 1 p.m. news conference at City Hall, the demonstrators gathered at 3 p.m. outside the new Army Career Center, which opened two years ago, at 126 East 103rd Street. They marched and chanted outside the closed office, as two New York City police officers looked on.

“The question of military recruitment is important because you can’t carry out this war without fresh troops,” said Debra Sweet, the director of an organization called World Can’t Wait! Drive Out the Bush Regime. “These troops are being trained to carry out war crimes. We’re sending a message that military recruiters are not welcome to prey on youth. The war will be stopped by the action of the people. That is the only way it will be stopped.”

Ms. Sweet said that Latinos have been disproportionately represented among service members who have fought and died in Iraq. (The Times reported last year that the Army has focused much of its local recruitment efforts on public events popular among Hispanic New Yorkers.)

Stephanie Rugoff, a volunteer with the antiwar group, said that “military recruiters go to neighborhoods with high unemployment” and make inflated promises of education and work training.

“What are they recruiting for?” the protesters chanted, replying, “Murder, rape, torture, war!”

They held aloft signs with the messages “Say No to the Military Recruitment Center” and “Shut Down The Military Recruiters! No Iraq War! Drive Out Bush Regime!”

One protester, Elaine Bower, whose 26-year-old son recently returned from Iraq, asked, “Instead of putting a recruiting center, why don’t they put a place where kids could work?”

Captain Jaquillard disputed the protesters’ assertions that the Army disproportionately targets minorities. “The Army provides opportunity for everybody,” he said. “We’re looking for qualified applicants. Some may live on the Upper West Side, some may live in the financial district, some may live in Harlem. We put in individuals who have chosen to serve their country, of various backgrounds. There’s something that the Army offers for everybody. I don’t believe we target one demographic over another.”

The Army’s New York City recruiting battalion is based at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn.

“An Army is a reflection of its people,” said Emily Gockley, the chief of advertising and public affairs for the battalion. “America’s Army is a reflection of who and what Americans are. We have the largest recruitment mission, because we need the most people.” She said that the Army’s demographic makeup largely reflects that of the population.

Ms. Gockley acknowledged that the Army uses marketing and advertising agencies to specifically reach out to potential black and Hispanic recruits. “Just like McDonald’s markets to the African-American community differently than it does to the Hispanic or Caucasian community, we do the same thing. We apply the same marketing strategies, market segmentation. We look at various groups — white, blacks — with the propensity to enlist. It’s very complex. When they put a recruiting station in a particular area, it’s not because it’s a minority area. In fact, we had a grand opening today for a new recruiting station in Massapequa, Long Island.”

Even though there were no military officers to greet them, the protesters today were undeterred. Around 4 p.m. they left the shuttered East Harlem recruiting office and made their way toward a joint armed forces recruiting station at 76 West 125th Street, in Harlem, where they planned another demonstration.

Dmitry Kiper contributed reporting.


16) Fundamentally
When Will Earnings Recover?
February 17, 2008

FOR months, Wall Street economists and market strategists have argued that the economy is either in recession or is dangerously close to slipping into one later this year. Now, another constituency is coming around to this view.

Last week, in releasing results of a survey of institutional, retail, and hedge fund managers, Merrill Lynch reported that a big majority — 65 percent, to be exact — now sees a good chance that the domestic economy will contract sometime in the next 12 months. But one group on Wall Street — the stock analysts — still aren’t convinced. Amid all the talk of an economic slowdown, these analysts are forecasting a stellar year for corporate profit growth.

To be sure, earnings estimates for the fourth quarter of 2007 and the first half of 2008 have come down in recent weeks. The consensus forecast for the fourth quarter now calls for a decline of 21.1 percent, worse than the drop of 9.4 percent predicted at the start of the year for the same period, according to Thomson Financial. Thomson tallies the earnings forecasts of around 7,000 analysts at big brokerage firms, boutique firms and independent shops, and combines them into an aggregate forecast for the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index. On balance, these analysts are bracing for relatively flat profit performance in the first and second quarters this year.

Still, the same analysts are banking on a huge profit recovery in the second half, to the point that they expect earnings for the full calendar year to jump 15.3 percent. This means that profits for the S.& P. 500 companies are expected to grow faster this year than they did in 2005, when the economy was expanding at an annual clip of more than 3 percent. (At the end of last year, growth slowed to less than 1 percent, annualized.)

So far, most money managers aren’t buying that outlook. In fact, four out of five fund managers surveyed by Merrill Lynch say they think that analysts’ consensus earnings forecasts for the coming year are too high.

Who’s correct?

It’s hard to say. But one thing is clear: Analysts, as a group, go through wild swings between underestimating and overestimating profits.

After being burned by too much earnings optimism during the bear market years of 2000 to 2002, Wall Street analysts became overly conservative in their forecasts from 2003 to 2006. But starting with the second half of 2007, they were tripped up badly by the subprime mortgage crisis, failing to factor in its earnings impact. In the fourth quarter of 2007, for example, more than half the financial companies in the S.& P. 500 reported earnings that fell shy of Wall Street forecasts — meaning that analysts had failed to grasp the impact of the subprime mess.

In a typical quarter, only around 20 percent of all companies usually fall short of estimates, according to Thomson Financial.

Gauging the financial sector isn’t the only problem for Wall Street analysts. Around a month and a half ago, the analysts thought that overall S.& P. 500 earnings would grow nearly 6 percent in the first quarter this year. Today, they think that earnings will fall 0.1 percent in the quarter.

Does this matter? Yes, in at least one respect. Investors are using the analysts’ upbeat estimate for the calendar year to gauge whether stocks are cheap or expensive. Based on 2008 earnings estimates, for example, the S.& P. 500 is trading at a price-to-earnings ratio of nearly 14, well below the average P/E of 16 for stocks since 1945.

Christopher N. Orndorff, head of equity strategy for the asset management firm Payden & Rygel, says he thinks it’s more likely that earnings will be flat or fall around 3 percent this year. If earnings contract 3 percent, the P/E ratio of the S.& P., based on current prices, would be closer to 17, or higher than the historical norm.

Many Wall Street strategists and portfolio managers say it is simply wishful thinking to expect double-digit earnings growth when the economy is slowing appreciably.

“The 15 percent growth target is wildly optimistic,” said Jack A. Ablin, chief investment officer at Harris Private Bank in Chicago. He adds that earnings could even decline if the economy contracts.

That’s because history shows that it takes a while for earnings growth to snap back after a recession. Ned Davis Research, an investment consulting and research firm in Venice, Fla., recently studied the performance of corporate earnings and stock market returns in recessions going back to 1948. It found that even though stock prices tend to recover several months before the end of a recession, “earnings bottoms usually occur after bottoms in the market and the economy,” said Tim Hayes, chief investment strategist at Ned Davis.

In fact, over the last 60 years, corporate earnings have typically started to recover three months after the official end of a recession.

And it often takes much longer than that before profits accelerate sharply. The most recent recession, for example, ended in the fourth quarter of 2001. Yet it wasn’t until the fourth quarter of the next year that S.& P. 500 profits started growing by double digits, according to S.& P.

It took even longer for profits to recover after the recession in the early 1990s. That contraction began in the summer of 1990 and ended in March 1991, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. But it wasn’t until the fourth quarter of 1992 that earnings rebounded by double digits.

Of course, it’s possible that the market analysts are right and the economists, market strategists and money managers are wrong about the economy. James W. Paulsen, chief investment strategist at Wells Capital Management in Minneapolis, is one of those who is optimistic about earnings. “What if there just isn’t a recession out there?” he asks.

Paul J. Lim is a senior editor at Money magazine. E-mail:


17) Taking Play Seriously
February 17, 2008

On a drizzly Tuesday night in late January, 200 people came out to hear a psychiatrist talk rhapsodically about play — not just the intense, joyous play of children, but play for all people, at all ages, at all times. (All species too; the lecture featured touching photos of a polar bear and a husky engaging playfully at a snowy outpost in northern Canada.) Stuart Brown, president of the National Institute for Play, was speaking at the New York Public Library’s main branch on 42nd Street. He created the institute in 1996, after more than 20 years of psychiatric practice and research persuaded him of the dangerous long-term consequences of play deprivation. In a sold-out talk at the library, he and Krista Tippett, host of the public-radio program ‘‘Speaking of Faith,’’ discussed the biological and spiritual underpinnings of play. Brown called play part of the ‘‘developmental sequencing of becoming a human primate. If you look at what produces learning and memory and well-being, play is as fundamental as any other aspect of life, including sleep and dreams.’’

The message seemed to resonate with audience members, who asked anxious questions about what seemed to be the loss of play in their children’s lives. Their concern came, no doubt, from the recent deluge of eulogies to play. Educators fret that school officials are hacking away at recess to make room for an increasingly crammed curriculum. Psychologists complain that overscheduled kids have no time left for the real business of childhood: idle, creative, unstructured free play. Public health officials link insufficient playtime to a rise in childhood obesity. Parents bemoan the fact that kids don’t play the way they themselves did — or think they did. And everyone seems to worry that without the chance to play stickball or hopscotch out on the street, to play with dolls on the kitchen floor or climb trees in the woods, today’s children are missing out on something essential.

The success of ‘‘The Dangerous Book for Boys’’ — which has been on the best-seller list for the last nine months — and its step-by-step instructions for activities like folding paper airplanes is testament to the generalized longing for play’s good old days. So were the questions after Stuart Brown’s library talk; one woman asked how her children will learn trust, empathy and social skills when their most frequent playing is done online. Brown told her that while video games do have some play value, a true sense of ‘‘interpersonal nuance’’ can be achieved only by a child who is engaging all five senses by playing in the three-dimensional world.

This is part of a larger conversation Americans are having about play. Parents bobble between a nostalgia-infused yearning for their children to play and fear that time spent playing is time lost to more practical pursuits. Alarming headlines about U.S. students falling behind other countries in science and math, combined with the ever-more-intense competition to get kids into college, make parents rush to sign up their children for piano lessons and test-prep courses instead of just leaving them to improvise on their own; playtime versus résumé building.

Discussions about play force us to reckon with our underlying ideas about childhood, sex differences, creativity and success. Do boys play differently than girls? Are children being damaged by staring at computer screens and video games? Are they missing something when fantasy play is populated with characters from Hollywood’s imagination and not their own? Most of these issues are too vast to be addressed by a single field of study (let alone a magazine article). But the growing science of play does have much to add to the conversation. Armed with research grounded in evolutionary biology and experimental neuroscience, some scientists have shown themselves eager — at times perhaps a little too eager — to promote a scientific argument for play. They have spent the past few decades learning how and why play evolved in animals, generating insights that can inform our understanding of its evolution in humans too. They are studying, from an evolutionary perspective, to what extent play is a luxury that can be dispensed with when there are too many other competing claims on the growing brain, and to what extent it is central to how that brain grows in the first place.

Scientists who study play, in animals and humans alike, are developing a consensus view that play is something more than a way for restless kids to work off steam; more than a way for chubby kids to burn off calories; more than a frivolous luxury. Play, in their view, is a central part of neurological growth and development — one important way that children build complex, skilled, responsive, socially adept and cognitively flexible brains.

Their work still leaves some questions unanswered, including questions about play’s darker, more ambiguous side: is there really an evolutionary or developmental need for dangerous games, say, or for the meanness and hurt feelings that seem to attend so much child’s play? Answering these and other questions could help us understand what might be lost if children play less.

‘‘See how that little boy reaches for a pail?’’ Stuart Brown asked one morning last fall, standing with me on the fringes of a small playground just north of the Central Park Zoo. ‘‘See how he curves his whole body around it?’’ Brown had flown to New York from his home in California to pitch a book about play to publishers. (He sold the idea to an editor at Penguin.) He agreed to meet me at the zoo while he was in town, to help me observe playfulness in the young members of many animal species, including our own.

Social play has its own vocabulary. Dogs have a particular body posture called the ‘‘play bow’’ — forelegs extended, rump in the air — that they use as both invitation and punctuation. A dog will perform a play bow at the beginning of a bout, and he will crouch back into it if he accidentally nips too hard and wants to assure the other dog: ‘‘Don’t worry! Still playing!’’

Other species have play signals, too. Chimps put on a ‘‘play face,’’ an open-mouthed expression that is almost like a face of aggression except that the muscles are relaxed into something like a smile. Baboons bend over and peer between their legs as an invitation to play, beavers roll around, goats gambol in a characteristic ‘‘play gait.’’ In fact, most species have from 10 to 100 distinct play signals that they use to solicit play or to reassure one another during play-fighting that it’s still all just in fun. In humans, the analogue to the chimp’s play face is a child’s smile, an open expression that indicates there is no real anger involved even in gestures that can look like a fight.

The day Brown met me in the park was a cold one, and the kids were bundled up like Michelin Men, adding more than the usual heft and waddle to their frolicking. Even beneath the padding, though, Brown could detect some typical gestures that these 2- and 3-year-olds were using instinctively to let one another know they were playing. ‘‘Play movement is curvilinear,’’ he said. ‘‘If that boy was reaching for something in a nonplay situation, his body would be all straight lines. But using the body language of play, he curves and embraces.’’

In their play — climbing up a slide, running around, passing buckets back and forth — the kids we watched were engaging in a pattern of behavior that many scientists believe is hard-wired. Their mothers and nannies were watching, too, no doubt having dragged the kids out of comfortable Upper East Side apartments because they thought daily play was important somehow, perhaps the first step in the long march toward Yale. To me all that little-kid motion looked just a bit silly — because play is, in many ways, a silly thing. Indeed, an essential component of play is its frivolity; biologists generally use phrases like ‘‘apparently purposeless activity’’ in their definitions of play. The definition proposed by Gordon Burghardt, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Tennessee, refines that phrase a little. In his 2005 book, ‘‘The Genesis of Animal Play,’’ he wrote that play is an activity of ‘‘limited immediate function.’’

Burghardt included several other factors in his definition too. Play is an activity that is different from the nonplay version of that activity (in terms of form, sequence or the stage of life in which it occurs), is something the animal engages in voluntarily and repeatedly and occurs in a setting in which the animal is ‘‘adequately fed, healthy and free from stress.’’ That last part of the definition — that play requires that an animal be stress-free and secure — suggests that play is the biological equivalent of a luxury item, the first thing to go when an animal or child is hungry or sick.

This makes evolutionary scientists prick up their ears. How can a behavior be crucial and expendable at the same time? And play is indeed expendable. Studies of vervet monkeys found that playtime decreased to almost zero during periods of drought in East Africa. Squirrel monkeys won’t play when their favorite food sources are unavailable. In humans under stress, what happens with play is more complicated. Even under devastating circumstances, the drive to play is unquenchable. As George Eisen wrote in ‘‘Children and Play in the Holocaust’’: ‘‘Children’s yearning for play naturally burst forth even amidst the horror. . . . An instinctual, an almost atavistic impulse embedded in the human consciousness.’’

Yet play does diminish when children suffer long-term, chronic deprivation, either one at a time in abusive or neglectful homes, or on a massive scale in times of famine, war or forced relocation. And children can still survive, albeit imperfectly, without it.

For humans and animals alike, truly vigorous, wholehearted, spontaneous play is something of a biological frill. This suggests one possible evolutionary function: that in its playfulness, an animal displays its own abundant health and suitability for breeding. But a skeptic might see it differently: if a behavior is this easy to dispense with when times are hard, it might suggest that the behavior is less essential than some advocates claim.

If play is an extravagance, why has it persisted? It must have some adaptive function, or at least a benefit that outweighs its cost, or it would have been winnowed out by the forces of natural selection. One answer can be found through ethology, the study of animal behavior, which takes as one of its goals the explication of how and why a behavior evolved. Nonhuman animals can be more easily studied than humans can: the conditions under which they are raised can be manipulated, their brains altered and probed. And if there is an evolutionary explanation for a human behavior, it could reveal itself in the study of the analogous behavior in animals. Because of nature’s basic parsimony, many aspects of the brain and behavior have been conserved through evolution, meaning that many of the observations that ethologists make in rats, mice and monkeys could apply to humans too.

When it comes to animal play, scientists basically agree that it’s mostly mammals that do it, and they basically agree that it’s a mystery why they do it, since there are so many good reasons not to. It all seems incredibly wasteful, and nature does not usually tolerate waste.

Play can be costly in terms of energy expenditure. Juveniles spend an estimated 2 to 15 percent of their daily calorie budget on play, using up calories the young animal could more profitably use for growing. Frisky playing can also be dangerous, making animals conspicuous and inattentive, more vulnerable to predators and more likely to hurt themselves as they romp and cavort. Biologists have observed many play-related calamities, like bighorn lambs being injured on cactus plants as they frolicked. One of the starkest measures of the risk of play was made by Robert Harcourt, a zoologist now at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, who spent nine months in 1988 observing seal pups off the coast of Peru. Harcourt witnessed 102 seal pups attacked by southern sea lions; 26 of them were killed. ‘‘Of these observed kills,’’ Harcourt reported in the British journal Animal Behaviour, ‘‘22 of the pups were playing in the shallow tidal pools immediately before the attack and appeared to be oblivious to the other animals fleeing nearby.’’ In other words, nearly 85 percent of the pups that were killed had been playing.

So play can be risky. And, under stress, it tends to disappear. What then would justify, in evolutionary terms, the prevalence of play?

One popular view is the play-as-preparation hypothesis. In this perspective, play evolved because it is good preparation for adulthood. It is a chance for young animals to learn and rehearse the skills they will need for the rest of their lives, and to do so in a secure environment, where mistakes will have few consequences. Proponents of this hypothesis say play is a way — and, not incidentally, a pleasurable way — of getting into muscle memory the generalized movements of survival: chasing, running, probing, tussling. Through play, these movements can be learned when the stakes are low and then retrieved in adulthood, when the setting is less safe and the need more urgent.

The play-as-preparation hypothesis seems logical, and each new observation seems to confirm it. Watch wolf pups at play, and it is easy to see how the biting and wrangling could be baby versions of the actions the pups will need later to assert their dominance or to help the pack kill its prey. Watch 2-year-olds playing at a toy workbench with little wooden mallets and blocks, and you can picture them as adults employing those same muscles to wield a full-size hammer.

But one trouble with the hypothesis is that the gestures of play, while similar, are not literally the same as the gestures of real life. In fact, the way an animal plays is often the exact opposite of the way it lives. In play-fighting, if one player starts to edge toward victory, he will suddenly reverse roles and move from the dominant to the submissive posture. Or he will stop fighting as hard, something the ethologists call self-handicapping. This is rarely done in real fighting, when the whole point is winning. The targets of play are different, too. In rats, real fighters try to bite one another on the back and the lower flanks; in play fights, they go for the nape of the neck. The gestures players use to nuzzle the neck are not the same ones they need to rehearse if they are to win a serious fight.

Nor is there much experimental evidence to support a connection between youthful playing and adult expertise. One Scottish study of kittens, for instance, tested the hypothesis that ample object play early in life would lead to better hunting later on. The investigator, a psychologist named T. M. Caro then at the University of St. Andrews, found no difference in hunting skills between one group of 11 cats that had been exposed to toys in their youth and a control group of 8 cats that had not.

Now an alternative view is taking hold, based on a belief that there must be something else going on — play not as a literal rehearsal, but as something less direct and ultimately more important. It focuses on the way that play might contribute to the growth and development of the brain.

John Byers started thinking about the brain and play almost by accident. A zoologist at the University of Idaho, Byers had spent years studying the playful antics of deer, pronghorn antelopes and the wild mountain goats called ibex. He knew that play was risky — he had observed ibex kids falling off steep cliffs as they romped — and at first he thought maybe the animals were taking such risks because the motor training helped them get in physical shape for adulthood. But something about this idea troubled him. Play can be exercise, he reasoned, but it was of too short duration to lead to long-term fitness or build muscle tone.

Byers preferred an alternate theory. In almost every species studied, a graph of playfulness looked like an inverted U, increasing during the juvenile period and then falling off around puberty, after which time most animals don’t play much anymore. One winter afternoon in 1993, Byers was roaming the stacks at the University of Idaho library, flipping through books the way you do when you’re not quite sure what you’re looking for. One book contained a graph of the growth curve of one important region of the brain, the cerebellum, over the juvenile period in the mouse. The growth curve of the mouse cerebellum was nearly identical to the curve of mouse playfulness.

‘‘It was like a light went on in my head,’’ Byers told me from Washington, D.C., where he is temporarily working at the National Science Foundation. ‘‘I wasn’t thinking specifically about play, but I sort of had a long-term interest in behavioral development.’’ And there it was: a chart that made it look as if rates of play in mice synchronized almost perfectly with growth rates in one critical region of the brain, the area that coordinates movements originating in other parts of the brain.

Intrigued, Byers enlisted the help of a graduate student, Curt Walker, who looked through the scientific literature on cerebellum development in rats and cats. ‘‘Then we compared those rates to what was known about the rates of play in those species,’’ Byers said. ‘‘And rats and cats showed the same relationship as mice: a match between when they were playing and when the cerebellum was growing.’’

The synchrony suggested a few things to Byers: that play might be related to growth of the cerebellum, since they both peak at about the same time; that there is a sensitive period in brain growth, during which time it’s important for an animal to get the brain-growth stimulation of play; and that the cerebellum needs the whole-body movements of play to achieve its ultimate configuration.

This opened up new lines of research, as neuroscientists tried to pinpoint just where in the brain play had its most prominent effects — which gets to the heart of the question of what might be lost when children do not get enough play. Most of this work has been done in rats. Sergio Pellis, a neuroscientist at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, is one of these investigators. He studies how brain damage in rats affects play behavior, and whether the relationship works in reverse: that is, not only whether brain-damaged rats play abnormally but also whether play-deprived rats develop abnormalities in their brains. Pellis’s research indicates that the relationship might indeed work in both directions.

In a set of experiments conducted last year, Pellis and his colleagues raised 12 female rats from the time they were weaned until puberty under one of two conditions. In the control group, each rat was caged with three other female juveniles. In the experimental group, each rat was caged with three female adults. Pellis knew from previous studies that the rats caged with adults would not play, since adult rats rarely play with juveniles, even their own offspring. They would get all the other normal social experiences the control rats had — grooming, nuzzling, touching, sniffing — but they would not get play. His hypothesis was that the brains in the experimental rats would reflect their play-deprived youth, especially in the region known as the prefrontal cortex.

At puberty the rats were euthanized so the scientists could look at their brains. What Pellis and his collaborators found was the first direct evidence of a neurological effect of play deprivation. In the experimental group — the rats raised in a play-deprived environment — they found a more immature pattern of neuronal connections in the medial prefrontal cortex. (This is distant from the cerebellum; it is part of the cerebrum, which constitutes the bulk of the mammalian brain.) Rats, like other mammals, are born with an overabundance of cortical brain cells; as the animal matures, feedback from the environment leads to the pruning and selective elimination of these excess cells, branchings and connections. Play is thought to be one of the environmental influences that help in the pruning — and, this research showed, play deprivation interferes with it.

Figuring out what these findings mean in terms of function involves a certain amount of conjecture. Pellis interprets his observation of a more tangled, immature medial prefrontal cortex in play-deprived rats to mean that the rat will be less able to make subtle adjustments to the social world. But maybe the necessary pruning can happen later in life, through other feedback mechanisms having little to do with play. Maybe there were already compensatory changes happening elsewhere in the brains of these young rats where no one had thought to look. Current research in Pellis’s lab, in which the brain is damaged first and the rat’s playing ability is measured afterward, seems to confirm that the medial prefrontal cortex has an important role in play. But the exact nature of its action is still not clear.

Many of the other important studies on play and the brain have come from the lab of Jaak Panksepp, a behavioral neuroscientist who trained most of the neurological investigators in the field during the three decades he was at Bowling Green State University in Ohio (though Pellis, who studied at Australia’s Monash University, was not among them). In the 1980s, Panksepp and a graduate student, Stephen Siviy, located the play drive in the thalamus, a primitive region of the brain that receives sensory information and relays it to the cortex. More recently, Panksepp has been exploring the connections among the play drive and certain human conditions, in particular attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (A.D.H.D.).

Panksepp has been studying A.D.H.D. in rats since the 1990s. In one experiment, to create a rat model of A.D.H.D., he and his colleagues took 32 newborn rats and destroyed in each the right frontal cortex, the region of the brain responsible for paying attention, planning ahead and being sensitive to social cues. (Human studies have shown that in children with A.D.H.D., frontal-lobe development is often delayed.) As a control, they performed sham surgery on 32 other rats, making the incisions but leaving the brain intact to be sure that any observed change would be due to the cortical destruction rather than the surgery itself. When the scientists compared the play behavior of the two groups, they found that the rats with the damaged right frontal cortex had higher levels of overall activity, as well as increased rates of roughand- tumble play, as compared with the controls. The rats with damaged frontal cortices behaved much like children described as hyperactive.

Panksepp and his colleagues then exposed these superplayers to extra opportunities for play. One extra hour a day of play, which generally took the form of play-fighting during a critical early stage, sufficed to reduce hyperactivity. The scientists thought similar play therapy might work for children with A.D.H.D., particularly if it was undertaken in early childhood — between ages 3 and 7 — when the urges are ‘‘especially insistent.’’

Panksepp’s current view of human A.D.H.D., he told me from his office at Washington State University, where he moved two years ago, is that it is in part ‘‘overactivity of play urges in the nervous system.’’ His ideas have made some impression on the human A.D.H.D. community, but not much. Benedetto Vitiello, the head of child and adolescent treatment and research at the National Institute of Mental Health, remembers hearing Panksepp give a talk at the institute around the time his article appeared in 2003. But he said he has not heard of any clinical studies since then that investigate whether extra play in early childhood helps ease the symptoms of A.D.H.D. Besides, Vitiello adds, there are many differences between a rat with a brain injury and a child with an intact but slowly developing brain. So even though he considers Panksepp’s research ‘‘interesting,’’ he says that it has not quite led to a complete animal model of A.D.H.D.

Animal-play experiments have focused largely on the most vivid form of play — social play, in particular the kind of social play known as play-fighting. But it’s clear to anyone who thinks about it that play-fighting is a very narrow definition of play. Wrestling is not the same as chasing. For that matter, playing tag is not the same as playing dress up; playing in a soccer league is not the same as shooting hoops in a neighborhood park; and none of these are the same as playing Scrabble or Uno or video games. For all its variety, however, there is something common to play in all its protean forms: variety itself. The essence of play is that the sequence of actions is fluid and scattered. In the words of Marc Bekoff, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Colorado, play is at its core ‘‘a behavioral kaleidoscope.’’

In fact, it’s this kaleidoscopic quality that led Bekoff and others to think of play as the best way for a young animal to gain a more diverse and responsive behavioral repertory. Thus, the currently fashionable flexibility hypothesis, a revival of an idea Bekoff first proposed in the 1970s. If a single function can be ascribed to every form of play, in every playful species, according to this way of thinking, it is that play contributes to the growth of more supple, more flexible brains.

‘‘I think of play as training for the unexpected,’’ Bekoff says. ‘‘Behavioral flexibility and variability is adaptive; in animals it’s really important to be able to change your behavior in a changing environment.’’ Play, he says, leads to mental suppleness and a broader behavioral vocabulary, which in turn helps the animal achieve success in the ways that matter: group dominance, mate selection, avoiding capture and finding food.

The flexibility hypothesis is something of a bridge between the play-aspreparation hypothesis and more recent findings about play and neurological growth. It works best when explaining play-fighting. With its variable tempo, self-handicapping and role reversals, play-fighting is like the improvisation of a jazz quartet, forcing an animal to respond rapidly to change.

Players riff off one another. One thrusts, the other parries; suddenly the one that was on top is pinned on the bottom and then just as suddenly is on top again. As in jazz, the smoothness of the improvisation matters as much as the gestures themselves. ‘‘Ability to use and switch among alternative sequences,’’ Maxeen Biben, an ethologist formerly at the National Institutes of Health, wrote in an essay in ‘‘Animal Play,’’ ‘‘may be as valuable as getting a lot of practice at the most effective sequences.’’

The physical movements of playfighting provide the environmental input needed to prune the developing cortex, as Sergio Pellis’s research suggested. This pruning is one way an animal achieves the ability to predict and respond to another animal’s shifting movements. Some play scholars say that such skills will come in handy in adulthood, not only in fighting but in other real-life situations as well, like evading capture and finding food. A more skeptical view would be that play-fighting might not really teach much at all about an animal’s subsequent skills — there was that Scottish study about object play in kittens, remember, that showed no connection to hunting ability in adulthood — but it does one thing for sure: it makes the animal that play-fights a better play-fighter. And there might be something to be said for that. The more a young animal plays, the richer the animal’s life, the more fun, the more stimulated, the more social. There might possibly be an immediate benefit just from that simple fact.

Which reveals an important rift in the study of the purpose of play: a debate among play scholars about how to tell the story of play’s possible short-term and long-term benefits. The flexibility hypothesis imposes one such story, but it might not be the best story. Just because it’s possible to see how playing might contribute to a suppler brain and a more varied behavioral repertory, it does not follow that playing is the only way to achieve such flexibility. This relates to the concept of equifinality, an idea from systems theory that says there are usually more ways than one to arrive at a particular end. The fact that play offers one way of getting to an end need not mean it is the only way — nor need it mean that getting to that end is the ultimate purpose of play.

The problem of equifinality troubled Anthony Pellegrini, a psychologist at the University of Minnesota, when he tried to interpret his findings about rough-and-tumble play in fifth-grade boys. He and his colleagues studied the recess behavior of 37 boys and scored a play episode as rough-and-tumble when a boy engaged in one from a list of behaviors — ‘‘tease, hit and kick at, chase, poke, pounce, sneak up, carry child, pile on, play-fight, hold and push’’ — while displaying a wide smile or ‘‘play face.’’ Knowing that earlier studies found a connection between roughand- tumble play and a child’s peer affiliation and social problem-solving flexibility, the scientists hypothesized that the most vigorous players would also be the most socially competent. But Pellegrini found no clear benefits in the boys who played the most. Maybe, he wrote in an essay about this research in ‘‘The Future of Play Theory,’’ it’s because other things that happen at recess — ‘‘cooperative social games, comfort contact and conversation’’ — might be just as good as pouncing or chasing at achieving a sense of connection.

‘‘Developmental systems tend to be highly redundant,’’ wrote Patrick Bateson, a noted biologist at Cambridge University, in a book of essays called ‘‘The Nature of Play.’’ This means, Bateson wrote, ‘‘that if an endpoint is not achieved by one route, it is achieved by another. Playing when young is not the only way to acquire knowledge and skills; the animal can delay acquisition until it is an adult.’’

Nonetheless, even Bateson, a prominent play scholar who recognizes the quandary posed by equifinality, suggested that play is the best way to reach certain goals. Through play, an individual avoids what he called the lure of ‘‘false endpoints,’’ a problem-solving style more typical of harried adults than of playful youngsters. False endpoints are avoided through play, Bateson wrote, because players are having so much fun that they keep noodling away at a problem and might well arrive at something better than the first, good-enough solution.

But maybe the flexibility hypothesis is itself a false endpoint. Maybe the idea that play is the best route to a whole host of good results — creativity, social agility, overall mental suppleness — is just the first idea scientists landed on, and they were inclined to accept it because it fit so well with their innate ideas about the nature of childhood. This is the view of a small group of play scholars we’ll call the play skeptics. What worries the play skeptics is that most people in the industrialized West — scientists in the field, play advocates and all the rest of us, parents, teachers, doctors, scholars, all the children and all the aging children — have been ensnared by what skeptics call the ‘‘play ethos.’’ By this they mean the reflexive, unexamined belief that play is an unmitigated good with a crucial, though vaguely defined, evolutionary function.

‘‘Play ethos’’ comes from Peter Smith, a psychology professor at the University of London and a leading authority on play’s effect on children’s emotional development. He uses it as a cautionary term, a reminder that most conclusions about play’s adaptive function have so far been based not on scientific evidence but on wishful thinking.

For Smith to suggest that scientists have fallen under the spell of the play ethos is a kind of apostasy, because some of the earliest bits of evidence used to establish the play ethos in the first place came out of Smith’s own laboratory at the University of London in the late 1970s. But it was in the execution of those experiments, and the follow- up studies that revealed their fatal flaw, that Smith came to understand, more than most, the importance of caution.

In one of his early experiments, Smith and his colleagues put 3- and 4-year-olds in two different play settings. In one group the children were allowed to play, in whatever way they felt like, with several wooden sticks. In the other group they were shown by an adult ‘‘play tutor’’ how to fit two sticks together to make a longer one. Then the children were given two tasks. First they had to retrieve a marble by connecting two sticks. Both groups performed this task, which Smith called ‘‘direct’’ problem solving, about equally well. Then they had to retrieve a marble that had been pushed farther away, so they could reach it only by connecting three sticks, not just two — what Smith called ‘‘innovative’’ problemsolving. The children who had played with the sticks performed this task significantly better than the ones who had been shown how to join together only two sticks.

‘‘At this point I was happy,’’ Smith recalled years later, writing in ‘‘The Future of Play Theory.’’ His findings were taken as evidence that spontaneous free play led to more creative thinking. But then he started to wonder whether he himself had fallen victim to the play ethos.

A single investigator had conducted the entire experiment, serving as both play tutor and evaluator on the problem-solving task. Might the experimenter subconsciously have favored the free-play children, Smith asked himself, maybe by giving subtle nonverbal cues or scoring more leniently? He ran the experiment again, bringing in a second investigator who could test the children without knowing whether they were in the free-play or the tutored group.

This time Smith found no difference in innovative problem solving between the two groups. At first he didn’t believe his new results, thinking that maybe the sample size was too small or that the groups were somehow poorly matched. But further studies bore out this nonfinding, and Smith realized, on reflection, that he and his colleagues had probably been giving inadvertent hints to the free-play group the first time around. He ascribed it to his own subconscious idealization of play.

Idealization is a trap. And it seems most seductive when it comes to play, especially one particular kind: pretend play. This is the kind ethologists tend to ignore, since it is difficult to argue — though a few scientists have tried — that animals are capable of pretending. Yet for humans, pretend play is one of the most crucial forms of play, occupying at its peak at about age 4 some 20 percent of a child’s day. It includes some of the most wondrous moments of childhood: dramatic play, wordplay, ritual play, symbolic play, games, jokes and imaginary friends. And it is the kind of play that positively screams out for hyperbole when outsiders try to describe it. This is where even coolheaded scientists get florid in their prose — and where play advocates like Stuart Brown and play skeptics like Peter Smith engage in their most vivid disagreements about the ultimate purpose of play.

Brown talked about pretend play at the New York Public Library last month, saying that a playful imagination ‘‘can infuse the moment with a sense of magic.’’ But skeptics find such comments annoying. ‘‘Despite the heartwarming rhetoric we dish out in our teacher-training classes, children do not have unlimited imagination,’’ wrote David Lancy, an anthropologist at Utah State University. ‘‘Their make-believe and, by extension, other play forms, is constrained by the roles, scripts and props of the culture they live in.’’ Lancy pointed to field studies of a Mayan community in which children teach their younger siblings how to pretend in the most pedestrian of ways, ‘‘focusing their attention on washing, caring for babies and cooking’’ — no magic there.

The skeptical Smith does see some value to fantasy play: when children dress up, make and use props and devise story lines to playact, he says, they learn to use sophisticated language, negotiate roles and exchange information. But he adds that many of these benefits could be gained just as well through other forms of play, work activities and plain old-fashioned instruction. Smith does not deny that playing is great fun — his own children were playing noisily in the background when I phoned him at his home in London, and he never once asked them to hush — but he wants everyone to keep it all in perspective.

Keeping play in perspective means looking at it not just clearly but fully. Not everything about childhood play is sweetness and light, no matter how much we romanticize it. Play can be dangerous or scary. It can be disturbing, destabilizing, aggressive. It can lead to misunderstandings and hurt feelings, leaving children out of the charmed circle of the schoolyard. The other side of playing is teasing, bullying, scapegoating, excluding, hurting.

I well remember this darker side of play from my own girlhood. Like many other klutzy kids, I hated recess, since it stripped me of the classroom competence that was such good cover for my shyness. Out in the schoolyard, there was no raising your hand with the right answer. I had to wait to be asked to play jump-rope and had to face embarrassment if I missed a skip or — worse, much worse — if nobody ended up asking me. Even pretend play could take an ugly turn if my playmates made their dolls say nasty things.

Recognizing play’s dark side is not difficult, if we are really willing to search our memories. To play scholars, thinking about play’s negatives can be clarifying and might even generate new ideas, not only about play but also about the double-edged nature of pleasure itself. Why is it that something so joyous, something children yearn for so forcefully, can be so troubling too? If you’re accustomed to looking for evolutionary explanations for perplexing behavior, here is something meaty to chew on: what could be the adaptive advantage of using play to wrestle your demons?

Demons do indeed emerge at playtime, in part because children carve out play spaces that have no room for the civilizing influence of adults. This is what happened in the recess ‘‘fort culture’’ that arose spontaneously in 1990 at the Lexington Montessori School in Massachusetts, when the elementary-age children shunned the organized play their teachers had arranged and instead started building forts on their own in the surrounding woods. An intricate and rule-bound subculture developed, one that is still going on.

Mark Powell, then a graduate student at Lesley University in Cambridge nearby, observed the recess fort culture for several years in the 1990s and described it in 2007 in the journal Children, Youth and Environments. For the first few years, he wrote, petty conflicts, stick stealing and ejections for minor infractions were a constant background hum in a play culture that was otherwise high-spirited and fun. But it finally erupted into a miniwar one autumn, sparked by the hostile actions of a fort of 6- year-olds headed by a tyrannical little boy who called himself the General. Within a month of the General’s appearance, Powell wrote, the fantasy war play ‘‘had become a reality with daily raids and counterattacks, yelling, the occasional physical scrape and lots of hurt feelings.’’ It took the intervention of some other children, teachers and the General’s parents finally to persuade the child to call a truce.

Brian Sutton-Smith, one of the nation’s most eminent play scholars, has seen eruptions like the General’s many times before, but they don’t worry him. In fact, he embraces them. In such an elaborate play culture, he wrote, where so many harsh human truths come to the fore, ‘‘children learn all those necessary arts of trickery, deception, harassment, divination and foul play that their teachers won’t teach them but are most important in successful human relationships in marriage, business and war.’’

Sutton-Smith’s 1997 classic, ‘‘The Ambiguity of Play,’’ reflects in its title his belief that play’s ultimate purpose can be found in its paradoxes. During his years at Columbia’s Teachers College and the University of Pennsylvania, Sutton- Smith, a psychologist and folklorist, took careful note of how play could be destabilizing, destructive or disturbing. He collected renditions of the stories children told in their imaginative or dramatic play, stories of ‘‘being lost, being stolen, being bitten, dying, being stepped on, being angry, calling the police, running away or falling down.’’ Are these really the thoughts percolating inside our children? And is expressing these thoughts through play somehow good for them? Sutton-Smith called this underbelly of imaginative play part of the ‘‘phantasmagoria,’’ where children’s thoughts run wild and all the chaotic bits of the real world get tumbled together and pulled haphazardly apart in new, sometimes even scarier confabulations.

Why would such an enriching activity as play also be a source of so much anarchy and fear? Sutton- Smith found one possible answer by reading Stephen Jay Gould, the author and evolutionary biologist. The most highly adaptive organisms, Gould wrote, are those that embody both the positive and the negative, organisms that ‘‘possess an opposite set of attributes usually devalued in our culture: sloppiness, broad potential, quirkiness, unpredictability and, above all, massive redundancy.’’ Finely tuned specific adaptations can lead to blind alleys and extinction, he wrote; ‘‘the key is flexibility.’’

What Gould called quirkiness, Sutton-Smith called play. ‘‘Animal play has been described by many investigators as fragmentary, disorderly, unpredictable and exaggerated,’’ Sutton-Smith wrote, and ‘‘child play has been said to be improvised, vertiginous and nonsensical.’’ The adaptive advantage to a behavior that is multifaceted, then, is that pursuing it, enjoying it, needing it to get through the day, allows for a wider range in a play-loving person’s behavioral repertory, which is always handy, just in case.

Playing might serve a different evolutionary function too, he suggests: it helps us face our existential dread. The individual most likely to prevail is the one who believes in possibilities — an optimist, a creative thinker, a person who has a sense of power and control. Imaginative play, even when it involves mucking around in the phantasmagoria, creates such a person. ‘‘The adaptive advantage has often gone to those who ventured upon their possibility with cries of exultant commitment,’’ Sutton-Smith wrote. ‘‘What is adaptive about play, therefore, may be not only the skills that are a part of it but also the willful belief in acting out one’s own capacity for the future.’’

It’s a pretty idea, the notion that play gives you hope for a better tomorrow, but science demands something a little less squishy. Science demands that if there are important long-term benefits to play, they must be demonstrated. That is why studies of play-deprived rats are so fascinating; they offer objective evidence that in at least some animals, insufficient play can have serious consequences.

Even when science suggests certain answers, however, it cannot easily make the leap from young rats to young humans, nor tell us much of anything about how those young children should behave. What if all the things we hope children derive from free play — cognitive flexibility, social competence, creative problem-solving, mastery of their own bodies and their own environments — can be learned just as well by teaching these skills directly? What if the only clear advantage to the vanishing 20-minute recess is that it makes kids less restless in class, something that can be just as easily accomplished by a jog around the all-purpose room?

Which brings us back to wondering what would be lost if the Cassandras are right, whether children would suffer if free play really does turn out to be a thing of the past. It seems almost ludicrous to ask such a question. Of course play is good for something; it is the essence of good. Watch children at play, and the benefits are so obvious: just look at those ecstatic faces, just listen to those joyful squeals. Stuart Brown alluded to it in his library talk last month. ‘‘Look at life without play, and it’s not much of a life,’’ he told the audience. ‘‘If you think of all the things we do that are playrelated and erase those, it’s pretty hard to keep going.’’ Without play, he said, ‘‘there’s a sense of dullness, lassitude and pessimism, which doesn’t work well in the world we live in.’’

In the end, it comes down to a matter of trade-offs. There are only six hours in a school day, only another six or so till bedtime, and adults are forever trying to cram those hours with activities that are productive, educational and (almost as an afterthought) fun. Animal findings about how play influences brain growth suggest that playing, though it might look silly and purposeless, warrants a place in every child’s day. Not too overblown a place, not too sanctimonious a place, but a place that embraces all styles of play and that recognizes play as every bit as essential to healthful neurological development as test-taking drills, Spanish lessons or Suzuki violin.




Tactic Called Torture
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) — Waterboarding, an interrogation technique that has been used by the United States, qualifies as torture, the United Nations human rights chief said Friday.
February 9, 2008

Halliburton Profit Rises
HOUSTON (AP) — Halliburton, the oil field services company, said Monday that its emphasis on Middle Eastern markets had contributed to a nearly 5 percent increase in fourth-quarter profit.
The company has been adding people and equipment to the Middle East and elsewhere — even moving its top executive overseas — which it says helped Eastern Hemisphere sales grow 27 percent in the fourth quarter versus a year ago.
Halliburton said results were squeezed by higher costs and lower pricing in North America, a trend that also hindered a rival, Schlumberger, and could persist.
Net income in the fourth quarter rose to $690 million, or 75 cents a share, compared with $658 million, or 64 cents a share, in the period a year ago.
January 29, 2008

Colombia: Guerrilla Leader Is Sentenced
Ricardo Palmera, a top leader of the Marxist-inspired Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, was sentenced by a federal court in Washington to 60 years in prison for taking part in the kidnapping of three American military contractors in 2003. Mr. Palmera, 57, the most senior Colombian guerrilla leader extradited to the United States, had justified the abductions as a tactic of war by the FARC, Latin America’s largest rebel group. At the courtroom where he was sentenced, Mr. Palmera, known by the nom de guerre Simón Trinidad, accused the United States of improperly intervening in Colombia’s affairs and shouted, “Long live the FARC!”
January 29, 2008
World Briefing | The Americas

Mining Agency Finds Penalties Lapse
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The federal agency that regulates the nation’s mining industry says that it has failed to issue penalties for hundreds of citations issued since 2000 and that the problem could extend back beyond 1995.
Matthew Faraci, a spokesman for the agency, the Mine Safety and Health Administration, said Sunday, “We would guess it goes back far beyond 1995, but because of a lack of electronic records before that year, I can’t verify that.”
Preliminary data showed that penalties had not been assessed against companies that received about 4,000 citations issued by the agency from January 2000 to July 2006, The Sunday Gazette-Mail of Charleston reported.
The agency’s director, Richard E. Stickler, told the newspaper that a review also showed that penalties had never been assessed for a few hundred citations issued in 1996.
The agency recently discovered the problem after it checked into whether a Kentucky coal operator had been assessed a penalty after a an accident in 2005 in which a miner bled to death after not receiving proper first aid.
January 28, 2008

National Briefing | ROCKIES
Montana: Bad News for Gray Wolves
A new federal rule would allow state game agencies to kill endangered gray wolves that prey on wildlife in the Northern Rockies. An estimated 1,545 wolves in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming are scheduled to come off the endangered species list in coming weeks, but the rule is a separate action that would give the three states more latitude to kill wolves even if their removal from the list was delayed. The rule would empower state wildlife agents to kill packs of wolves if they could prove that the animals were having a “major impact” on big-game herds.
January 25, 2008

Wolfowitz to Lead State Dept. Panel
WASHINGTON (AP) — Paul D. Wolfowitz, former president of the World Bank, will lead a high-level advisory panel on arms control and disarmament, the State Department said Thursday.
Mr. Wolfowitz, who has close ties to the White House, will become chairman of the International Security Advisory Board, which reports to the secretary of state. The panel is charged with giving independent advice on disarmament, nonproliferation and related subjects.
The portfolio includes commentary on several high-profile issues, including pending nuclear deals with India and North Korea and an offer to negotiate with Iran over its disputed nuclear program.
Mr. Wolfowitz was replaced as World Bank chief last June after a stormy two-year tenure. He is now a defense and foreign policy studies expert at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington research organization.
January 25, 2008

World Briefing | The Americas
Cuba: No Surprises, No Losers
Officials said that more than 95 percent of registered voters turned out at the polls on Sunday to endorse a slate of parliamentary candidates, including Fidel Castro and his brother Raúl. Of the 8.2 million voters, 3.7 percent submitted blank ballots and 1 percent voided their ballots in some way. Election officials called the results a success; critics called it a farce. As in past elections in the one-party state, nobody lost. There were 614 candidates and the same number of seats being chosen in the National Assembly.
January 22, 2008

World Briefing | Asia
India: Bird Flu Spread ‘Alarming’
India’s third outbreak of avian flu among poultry is the worst it has faced, the World Health Organization said. The chief minister of West Bengal State, which is trying to cull 400,000 birds, called the virus’s spread “alarming.” Uncooperative villagers, angry at being offered only 75 cents a chicken by the government, have been selling off their flocks and throwing dead birds into waterways, increasing the risk. New outbreaks were also reported this week in Iran and Ukraine.
January 19, 2008

National Briefing | West
California: Thermostat Plan
After an outcry of objections, the California Energy Commission withdrew its proposal to require new buildings in the state to have radio-controlled thermostats that, in a power emergency, could be used to override customers’ temperature settings. Instead of making the proposal part of new state building requirements, the commissioners will discuss the use of the “programmable communicating thermostats” when considering how to manage electrical loads — with the understanding that customers would have the right to refuse to allow the state to override their wishes.
January 16, 2008

PDC Fact Sheet
Murdered by Mumia: Big Lies in the Service of Legal Lynching
Mumia is Innocent! Free Him Now!




Russell Means Speaking at the Transform Columbus Day Rally
"If voting could do anything it would be illegal!"


Stop the Termination or the Cherokee Nation


We Didn't Start the Fire

I Can't Take it No More

The Art of Mental Warfare

http://video. videoplay? docid=-905047436 2583451279




Port of Olympia Anti-Militarization Action Nov. 2007


"They have a new gimmick every year. They're going to take one of their boys, black boys, and put him in the cabinet so he can walk around Washington with a cigar. Fire on one end and fool on the other end. And because his immediate personal problem will have been solved he will be the one to tell our people: 'Look how much progress we're making. I'm in Washington, D.C., I can have tea in the White House. I'm your spokesman, I'm your leader.' While our people are still living in Harlem in the slums. Still receiving the worst form of education.

"But how many sitting here right now feel that they could [laughs] truly identify with a struggle that was designed to eliminate the basic causes that create the conditions that exist? Not very many. They can jive, but when it comes to identifying yourself with a struggle that is not endorsed by the power structure, that is not acceptable, that the ground rules are not laid down by the society in which you live, in which you are struggling against, you can't identify with that, you step back.

"It's easy to become a satellite today without even realizing it. This country can seduce God. Yes, it has that seductive power of economic dollarism. You can cut out colonialism, imperialism and all other kind of ism, but it's hard for you to cut that dollarism. When they drop those dollars on you, you'll fold though."

—MALCOLM X, 1965


A little gem:
Michael Moore Faces Off With Stephen Colbert [VIDEO]


LAPD vs. Immigrants (Video)


Dr. Julia Hare at the SOBA 2007


"We are far from that stage today in our era of the absolute
lie; the complete and totalitarian lie, spread by the
monopolies of press and radio to imprison social
consciousness." December 1936, "In 'Socialist' Norway,"
by Leon Trotsky: “Leon Trotsky in Norway” was transcribed
for the Internet by Per I. Matheson [References from
original translation removed]


Wealth Inequality Charts


MALCOLM X: Oxford University Debate


"There comes a times when silence is betrayal."
--Martin Luther King


YouTube clip of Che before the UN in 1964


The Wealthiest Americans Ever
NYT Interactive chart
JULY 15, 2007


New Orleans After the Flood -- A Photo Gallery
This email was sent to you as a service, by Roland Sheppard.
Visit my website at:


[For some levity...Hans Groiner plays Monk]


Which country should we invade next?


My Favorite Mutiny, The Coup


Michael Moore- The Awful Truth


Morse v. Frederick Supreme Court arguments


Free Speech 4 Students Rally - Media Montage


'My son lived a worthwhile life'
In April 2003, 21-year old Tom Hurndall was shot in the head
in Gaza by an Israeli soldier as he tried to save the lives of three
small children. Nine months later, he died, having never
recovered consciousness. Emine Saner talks to his mother
Jocelyn about her grief, her fight to make the Israeli army
accountable for his death and the book she has written
in his memory.
Monday March 26, 2007
The Guardian,,2042968,00.html


Introducing...................the Apple iRack


"A War Budget Leaves Every Child Behind."
[A T-shirt worn by some teachers at Roosevelt High School
in L.A. as part of their campaign to rid the school of military
recruiters and JROTC--see Article in Full item number 4,]


"200 million children in the world sleep in the streets today.
Not one of them is Cuban."
(A sign in Havana)
View sign at bottom of page at:
[Thanks to Norma Harrison for sending]


FIGHTBACK! A Collection of Socialist Essays
By Sylvia Weinstein


[The Scab
"After God had finished the rattlesnake, the toad,
and the vampire, he had some awful substance left with
which he made a scab."
"A scab is a two-legged animal with a corkscrew soul,
a water brain, a combination backbone of jelly and glue.
Where others have hearts, he carries a tumor of rotten
principles." "When a scab comes down the street,
men turn their backs and angels weep in heaven, and
the devil shuts the gates of hell to keep him out."
"No man (or woman) has a right to scab so long as there
is a pool of water to drown his carcass in,
or a rope long enough to hang his body with.
Judas was a gentleman compared with a scab.
For betraying his master, he had character enough
to hang himself." A scab has not.
"Esau sold his birthright for a mess of pottage.
Judas sold his Savior for thirty pieces of silver.
Benedict Arnold sold his country for a promise of
a commision in the british army."
The scab sells his birthright, country, his wife,
his children and his fellowmen for an unfulfilled
promise from his employer.
Esau was a traitor to himself; Judas was a traitor
to his God; Benedict Arnold was a traitor to his country;
a scab is a traitor to his God, his country,
his family and his class."
Author --- Jack London (1876-1916)...Roland Sheppard]


Sand Creek Massacre
(scroll down when you get there])

On November 29, 1864, 700 Colorado troops savagely slaughtered
over 450 Cheyenne children, disabled, elders, and women in the
southeastern Colorado Territory under its protection. This act
became known as the Sand Creek Massacre. This film project
("The Sand Creek Massacre" documentary film project) is an
examination of an open wound in the souls of the Cheyenne
people as told from their perspective. This project chronicles
that horrific 19th century event and its affect on the 21st century
struggle for respectful coexistence between white and native
plains cultures in the United States of America.

Listed below are links on which you can click to get the latest news,
products, and view, free, "THE SAND CREEK MASSACRE" award-
winning documentary short. In order to create more native
awareness, particularly to save the roots of America's history,
please read the following:

Some people in America are trying to save the world. Bless
them. In the meantime, the roots of America are dying.
What happens to a plant when the roots die? The plant dies
according to my biology teacher in high school. American's
roots are its native people. Many of America's native people
are dying from drug and alcohol abuse, poverty, hunger,
and disease, which was introduced to them by the Caucasian
male. Tribal elders are dying. When they die, their oral
histories go with them. Our native's oral histories are the
essence of the roots of America, what took place before
our ancestors came over to America, what is taking place,
and what will be taking place. It is time we replenish
America's roots with native awareness, else America
continues its decaying, and ultimately, its death.

READY FOR PURCHASE! (pass the word about this powerful
educational tool to friends, family, schools, parents, teachers,
and other related people and organizations to contact
me (, 303-903-2103) for information
about how they can purchase the DVD and have me come
to their children's school to show the film and to interact
in a questions and answers discussion about the Sand
Creek Massacre.

Happy Holidays!

Donald L. Vasicek
Olympus Films+, LLC,+Don

(scroll down when you get there])

SHOP: Articles at">


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