Saturday, May 02, 2009



Bay Area United Against War Newsletter
Table of Contents:

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Bail Out Working People -- NOT the Banks!

Join us on May 9 in San Francisco for a

Without joining together for our common interests, we don't have the strength to change our government's priorities. We must begin to build a massive movement that will have the power to impact government policy and give people genuine hope for a better future.

Help organize a mass mobilization and ongoing action campaign around the following demands:

- No layoffs. Massive job-creation program.
- Tax the rich -- don't bail out the banks.
- Pass the Employee Free Choice Act.
- Single-payer healthcare for all.
- Affordable housing for all. Tenants' rights. Moratorium on foreclosures & evictions.
- Funding for jobs and for social services & infrastructure, not for war.
- Stop the ICE raids and deportations. Legalization for all!


- Art Pulaski, Secretary-Treasurer, California Federation of Labor;
- N'tanya Lee, Executive Director, Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth;
- Mark Dudzic, National Organizer, Labor for Single Payer Healthcare Campaign (Washington, D.C.);
- Rosie Martinez, SEIU Local 721 (Los Angeles);
- Steve Williams, Executive Director, POWER (People Organized to Win Employment Rights);
- Conny Ford, Vice President, San Francisco Labor Council;
- Clarence Thomas, ILWU Local 10;
- Jack Rasmus, Professor of economics St. Mary's College and Santa Clara Univ.;
- Alan Benjamin, Executive Committee, San Francisco Labor Council and Workers Emergency Recovery Campaign;
- Student representative, City College of San Francisco, Mission Campus.


Extended remarks from Bay Area labor and community leaders -- and ample time for dialogue among teach-in participants.


Spoken Word performance by YOUNG PLAYAZ

SATURDAY, MAY 9, 2009 - 1 to 5 p.m.
(registration begins at 12:30 p.m.)
Plumbers Hall,
1621 Market St. @ Franklin St.
San Francisco

Initiated by the San Francisco Labor Council, South Bay Labor Council, and Workers Emergency Recovery Campaign

(list of dozens of teach-in endorsers in formation)

Donations will be requested at door to defray cost of renting the hall, printing leaflets and posters, and copying teach-in packets for all participants. No one will be turned away for lack of funds.


Call for May 9 Teach-In:
Bail Out Working People, NOT the Banks!

The severity of the economic crisis we are currently facing is predicted to rival the magnitude of the Great Depression. Some say it could be even worse. Over 6 million jobs have already been eliminated since the current recession began. Millions of working people have lost their homes to foreclosures and evictions, and many more homes are in or near default, while housing remains unaffordable to millions of people. The ranks of those without health insurance continue to grow. But even these statistics fail to reflect the growing insecurity and stress of working people across the country as we wonder when we, too, might be next.

Meanwhile, the federal government has showered billions upon billions of taxpayer dollars on financial institutions in the form of bailouts. In other words, working people, who are bearing the brunt of the crisis, are being required to shoulder an additional burden. Our tax dollars are being funneled to the very financial institutions and wealthy investors whose reckless gambling in pursuit of unbridled profit was responsible for driving the economy over the cliff. They have refused to say what they've done with trillions. Worse still, to emphasize their contempt for public opinion, these priests of high finance have spent some of the bailout money on huge bonuses, office decorations and the purchase of more CEO jets.

In response to this unprecedented crisis, many organizations have emerged that are addressing specific issues. Some are fighting foreclosures. Others are fighting for a single-payer healthcare system that would guarantee health coverage for everyone. Still others are pressing for the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, which, if passed, will greatly facilitate the ability to form unions.

Although our problems take many forms, most of them stem from a single source. During the past three decades, the inequality in wealth has surged to historic proportions not seen since the 1920s. The hourly wage of working people has actually declined, forcing many additional family members into the workforce just to make ends meet. Aggressive campaigns by employers have created additional barriers to unionizing, resulting in a sharp decline in the percentage of unionized workers. Without unions, workers have not had the means to struggle successfully for higher wages, healthcare coverage, pensions and other benefits.

Given these conditions, can there be any wonder that we have a housing crisis and a healthcare crisis? And during this same period, the taxes on corporations and on the rich in general have dramatically declined, thereby accelerating the accumulation of unprecedented wealth, on the one hand, and the decline of tax dollars for public infrastructure and services, on the other.

In order to have any chance of altering these trends, given the magnitude of the crisis we confront and the forces we're up against, we need to come together, unite all our separate organizations and mount a collective struggle around our common concerns. Without joining together for our common interests, we don't have the strength to change our government's priorities. Only in this way can we begin to build a massive movement that will have the power to impact government policy and give people genuine hope for a better future.

We working people constitute the vast majority of the population. We need to ensure that our society operates in the interests of the majority. But we can only succeed if we stand together in solidarity with each other's demands and struggles.

The goal of the May 9 teach-in is to inspire other teach-ins. It is aimed at organizing massive Solidarity DAYS OF ACTION in support of our common demands. By bringing huge numbers of people together in common actions, people will realize through their own experience that they do not stand alone, and they will gain the confidence that by uniting we can begin to exercise real power.

- Join us and help build a movement.
- Together we can prevail.
- An Injury to One Is an Injury to All!


Protest Bank Robbery!
Fed-up? Make Your Voice Heard-Speak Out!

Wed. May 12, 5-6:30pm
Bank of America & Sen. Feinstein's Office
Market and Montgomery Sts., S.F.

Volunteers Needed! Call 415-821-6545 to get involved. Outreach Session - Mon. May 4, 5-8pm, meet at 2489 Mission St. #24, SF. Help flyer, poster and make alert phone calls about the May 6 action.

The government has handed over hundreds of billions of dollars of our money to the biggest banks in the country-Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Citibank, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs and others-with NO STRINGS ATTACHED!

The big banks and investors set off the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s by their wild betting spree on sub-prime mortgages, hedge funds and other risky investments. Millions of people have lost their jobs, homes, health care, pensions and more because of the crisis caused by Wall Street. But it is the super-rich who are being rescued with ten trillion dollars-$10,000,000,000,000-while working people are left to fend for ourselves.

Congress and the White House didn't even require the banks to reveal what they used the money for. When asked, bankers have simply replied, "We choose not to disclose that information." AMAZING! Anyone else who gets the smallest grant from the government is required to report what they did with the money, otherwise they have to give it back. But not the giant banks who have just been given the biggest gift in history.

Neither Congress, nor the White House have put any conditions on the giveaway that would protect the people! So, no sooner did the banks get the bailout money-our money-than they doubled and tripled interest rates on credit cards, cut credit limits and closed many accounts. It didn't matter if you were making payments or not.

Now the bailed-out banks are stepping up foreclosures and evictions that have already put millions of people out of their homes. In March 2009, the foreclosure rate on homes went up 24%, the biggest increase on record.

What's going on is a double rip-off. The banks are receiving trillions of dollars of our money on the one hand, while increasing their profits by extracting every dollar they can from people who are suffering as a result of the crisis the banks themselves have caused.

We demand government action at the federal, state and local level to:
- Stop all foreclosures and evictions. There are now 18.9 million vacant housing units in the U.S.-everyone should have the right to a home.
- Rollback and cap credit card rates at no more than 5% interest.
- Bailout the people, not the banks-fund people's needs, not war and the super-rich. The money is there!

For more info: 415-821-6144,

Justice First is a newly formed national organization that is dedicated to fighting for the people's economic, social and political rights. Justice First believes that everyone has the right to a job or living income, food, housing, health care, education and more. As the bailout has proved, the money is there. Join us in building a movement to put the people's needs first!


End the Siege of Gaza! Rally in San Francisco on June 6
Solidarity Day on the 42nd Anniversary of Israel's seizure of Gaza
Support the Palestinian Right of Return! Stop U.S. Aid to Israel!

Saturday, June 6
12:00 noon
UN Plaza (7th and Market Sts.)

Saturday, June 6 marks the 42nd anniversary of the Israeli seizure of Gaza. Organizations and individuals in solidarity with the people of Palestine will be taking to the streets once again to demand: End the Siege of Gaza!

The world looked on in horror this past winter as Israel mercilessly starved and bombed the people of Gaza, killing around 1,200 Palestinians (at least a third of whom were children). The Arab world now refers to the dark days from the end of December to mid-January "The Gaza Massacre." Although the mainstream media no longer focuses on Gaza, the suffering continues there nonetheless. Using the pretext of combating terrorism, Israel has refused to allow in even one truckload of cement into Gaza. In other words, the city that was reduced to rubble still lies in rubble today. All these months later, people are still living in tents and are scarcely able to secure the necessities of life.

People of conscience around the world continue to raise their voices in outrage at this crime against humanity, and in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Gaza. We will also stand for all Palestinian people's inalienable right to return to their homes from which they were evicted. Let your voice be heard -- join us Saturday, June 6, at 12 noon at UN Plaza in San Francisco (7th and Market Sts.). There will be a joint action in Washington DC on June 6.

Sponsoring organizations include ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War & End Racism), Muslim American Society (MAS) Freedom, National Council of Arab Americans (NCA), Free Palestine Alliance (FPA), Al-Awda - Palestine Right of Return Coalition, American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) and more!

Contact us at 415-821-6545 or to endorse or volunteer!

The June 6 demonstration is a major undertaking and we can't do it without the support of the large number of people who are standing with Palestine. Please click this link right now to make a generous donation:



In the aftermath of the March 21 and April 3-4 demonstrations, a number of critical questions must be addressed by the antiwar movement: What next for the movement? Where do we go from here? How can we broaden the movement and win new forces to our cause? How can we help ensure that our next demonstrations are larger than the ones organized in March and April and that the ones organized after those will be even larger?

We who are supporters of the National Assembly to End the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars and Occupations believe these questions can best be answered by convening a national antiwar conference open to all peace activists who will have the opportunity to share their ideas and proposals, be part of a broad ranging discussion and debate, and help make decisions based on one person, one vote.

Such a conference will be held at La Roche College in Pittsburgh on July 10-12, 2009.

The National Assembly was established nearly a year ago at a national conference attended by over 400 people, including top leaders of the antiwar movement as well as activists from many states. One of the main decisions that conference made was to do everything possible to unite the movement in urgently needed visible street actions.

Now we look to the July conference, which will provide a forum for dealing with crucial issues as Washington escalates its wars, occupations, bombing attacks, sanctions, threats and illegal interventions in the Middle East and elsewhere. We need your ideas, your input and your presence to help make this conference a success. Please join us in Pittsburgh on July 10-12. Bring all the troops home now!




Alert: This could be it for Troy Davis
Global Day of Action for Troy Davis
Tuesday, May 19, 2009

While news channels across the country are consumed with counting up to President Obama's first 100 days in office, Troy Davis has been counting down his last 30 days before a new execution date could be set. Help make these extra days count.
On May 19th help save Troy Davis by putting together any activity, event or creative action that calls attention to his case.

The 30-day stay issued by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals expires on May 15th.

So now is the time for us to organize to save the life of Troy Anthony Davis. We're asking everybody to come out strong on May 19th - a day marked in human rights calendars across the world as the Global Day of Action for Troy Davis.

Whether you're holding a "Text TROY to 90999" sign on a busy street or organizing your local Amnesty chapter to hold a public demonstration or vigil, we need everybody to contribute their time on May 19th to make sure that the state of Georgia does not kill a man who may well be innocent. Register your Global Day of Action for Troy Davis activity or event now.

We know that time is short for organizing public events, but an execution date could be set as early as late May, so it is essential that action be taken soon. It's also really important that we get an accurate count of how many events and activities are taking place on May 19th, so we can share this information with officials in Georgia. Our emails and phone calls have gone a long way in buying Troy some much-needed time, but now we've got to take our action to the streets.

We appreciate the tens of thousands of you who have stood in Troy's corner while heart-stopping scenes have unfolded. On three separate occasions, Troy has been scheduled for execution. And on three separate occasions, his life was saved within a short period of time, even minutes, of his scheduled execution date.

Each time, those last minute stays came after people like you turned out by the thousands to rally in his defense. It was no coincidence. Troy's sister and long-time Amnesty activist, Martina Correia, has acknowledged Amnesty's powerful role in saving her brother's life each of those times.

Now here we are again with the clock winding down. While we can see little opportunity for legal recourse or second chances, we know that your advocacy has a strong record of making amazing things happen.

When we first introduced you to Troy Davis in early 2007, few people outside of Georgia knew about the injustice taking place. In the past two years, countless people have come to see Troy's case as a prime example of why the death penalty must be abolished - the risk of executing someone for a crime they did not commit is just too high.

We are serious when we say that we need everyone to support Troy Davis on May 19th by organizing their own event or awareness-raising activity.

After all, if you had 30 days left to fight for your life, wouldn't you want to know that you had thousands standing in your corner?

In Solidarity,

Sue Gunawardena-Vaughn
Director, Death Penalty Abolition Campaign
Amnesty International USA


Snoutbreak '09 - The Last 100 Days


Free Ehren Watada!
For more backfround on Lt. Ehren Watada, go to:




1) Group Sounds Alarm on European Bee Industry
April 28, 2009

2) On Voting Rights, Test of History v. Progress
April 28, 2009

3) Obama Is Nudging Views on Race, a Survey Finds
April 28, 2009

4) People With Service Jobs Feel Economic Pain Early
April 28, 2009

5) Group Advises Stopping Flow of Gifts to Doctors
April 29, 2009

6) Local Health Agencies, Hurt by Cuts, Brace for Flu Risk
April 30, 2009

7) Poppies a Target in Fight Against Taliban
April 29, 2009

8) Britain to Add 700 Troops to Afghan War
April 30, 2009

9) Costs Soar as Iraq Falls Behind on Training Plan, Audit Says
April 29, 2009

10) California: Report Cites Police Abuse
National Briefing | West
April 29, 2009

11) M.T.A. Warns of New Cuts 'Beyond Doomsday'
By William Neuman
April 29, 2009, 2:23 pm

12) As More Apply for Welfare, Concern for Those Denied
April 29, 2009

13) 3 Brothers Sentenced to Life for Holy War Plot at Ft. Dix
April 29, 2009

14) Smoke 'Em Out, Freedom Of Speech Be Damned
By Lenore Daniels, NewsOne
April 28, 2009

15) Swine Flu Outbreak-Nature Biting Back?
By David Kirby
The Huffington Post
April 26, 2009

16) Court rules against Peltier in documents case
The Associated Press
Wednesday, April 29, 2009

17) As Detroit Is Remade, the U.A.W. Stands to Gain
"In the last 20 years, the U.A.W. has donated more than $25.4 million to federal candidates, 99 percent of it to Democrats, according to, a site that tracks campaign contributions."
April 30, 2009

18) An Affordable Salvation
Op-Ed Columnist
May 1, 2009

19) Pipe Leak at Nuclear Plant Raises Concerns
May 2, 2009

20) Anger and Fear Fuel May Day Europe Protests
May 2, 2009

21) Number of Students Leaving School Early Continues to Increase, Study Says
April 30, 2009

22) Churchgoers more likely to back torture, survey finds
Posted: 01:55 PM ET
April 30th, 2009

23) Social Security Is Not Expected to Rise
May 3, 2009

24) The Rent Is All Paid Up, but Eviction Still Looms
May 2, 2009

25) As Bats Die, Closing Caves to Control a Fungus
May 3, 2009


1) Group Sounds Alarm on European Bee Industry
April 28, 2009

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Europe's beekeeping industry could be wiped out in less than a decade as bees fall victim to disease, insecticides and intensive farming, the international beekeeping body Apimondia said on Monday.

"With this level of mortality, European beekeepers can only survive another 8 to 10 years," Gilles Ratia, the president of Apimondia, told Reuters.

"We have had big problems in southwest France for many years," he said, but the problem had extended to Italy and Germany.

Last year, about 30 percent of Europe's 13.6 million hives died, according to Apimondia figures. Losses reached 50 percent in Slovenia and as high as 80 percent in southwest Germany.

About 35 percent of European food crops rely on bees to pollinate them, Mr. Ratia said, and the deaths pose a big threat for farmers.

"It is a complete crisis," said Francesco Panella, who tends about 1,000 hives in the Piedmont region of Italy. "Last year, I lost about half my production. I can't survive more than two or three more years like this."

Mystery has surrounded the recent decline in the bee population. Most keepers blame modern farming methods and the pesticides used on crops like sunflower and rapeseed.

French honey output has suffered in intensive sunflower-farming areas, said Henri Clement, president of the French beekeeping union, but has remained steady in mountains and chestnut forests.

Apimondia's scientific coordinator, Gerard Arnold, cites two main factors responsible for weakening bee colonies: insecticides and the parasitic mite Varroa. Once weakened, Mr. Arnold said, the hives were then wiped out by other diseases.

The European Union voted this year to phase out the most toxic pesticides after years of wrangling, but beekeepers still say that they are ignored by politicians. "If cattle were producing 30 percent less milk each year, it would not be acceptable," said Josef Stich, who keeps 200 hives near Vienna.


2) On Voting Rights, Test of History v. Progress
April 28, 2009

WASHINGTON - Ellen D. Katz is a liberal law professor and a big fan of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which she calls the most effective civil rights legislation in American history. "It's sacred," she said. "It's holy."

But Professor Katz is torn about what the Supreme Court should do in a case asking it to strike down a central part of the law. She cannot shake the feeling that the election of the nation's first black president has changed everything.

"This election was momentous," said Professor Katz, who teaches voting rights and legal history at the University of Michigan, "and it arguably presents the moment when Congress should close out this regime."

That Barack Obama is now president is not directly relevant to any issue in the case, Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Holder, No. 08-322, which will be argued on Wednesday and is widely considered the most important of the term.

Yet as they consider whether to cut off one of the great legal legacies of the civil rights era, the justices may be asking themselves the inevitable question: Is a law rooted in the age of Jim Crow still needed in the Obama era?

The central question before the court, though, is this: Did Congress overstep its constitutional power in 2006 by reauthorizing Section 5 of the act, which requires states and localities with a history of discrimination to obtain federal permission before making changes to their voting procedures?

"Obama inexorably shapes how we understand Section 5 today," Professor Katz said, adding that the court should take the unusual step of finding a way to force Congress to take a fresh look at the law, which expires in 2031.

Theodore M. Shaw, a law professor at Columbia and a former president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., said the court should not place too much weight on a single election. "We've had a profound moment, and we're in a different place," Professor Shaw said. "But race still plays powerfully in electoral politics in this country. If it weren't for the Voting Rights Act, there would be no President Obama."

The act was a triumph of the civil rights movement. It took on, as the Supreme Court said in upholding it in 1966, the "insidious and pervasive evil" of state officials defiantly committed to denying blacks the right to vote.

At the act's heart is Section 5, which requires state officials to get permission from the Justice Department or a federal court before they make even minor changes to voting procedures. Such federal intrusion into state affairs through "preclearance" rather than subsequent litigation was needed, the Supreme Court said in 1966, to address "unremitting and ingenious defiance of the Constitution" by state officials.

The court has repeatedly upheld the act. Just last month, even as it limited another part of the law, three relatively conservative justices in the majority acknowledged that more work was needed to ensure equal access at the polls.

Some state officials, mostly in the South, bristle at what they say is the stigma, burden and federal intrusion that come with being covered by Section 5.

Gov. Bob Riley of Alabama, a Republican, conceded in a friend-of-the-court brief that his state's racist policies had earned it a place on Section 5's original coverage list. "Through acts of violence and willful defiance of federal law," Mr. Riley told the court, "Alabama maintained an all-white legislature and 19 percent black voter registration in 1965."

Today, though, he said, black and white voter registration rates are virtually identical - 72.9 percent for blacks and 73.8 percent for whites. And a quarter of the state legislators are black, almost exactly reflecting the state's population.

In extending the Voting Rights Act in 2006, Mr. Riley said, "Congress wrongly equated Alabama's modern government, and its people, with their Jim Crow ancestors."

Besides Alabama, Section 5 applies to Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas; most of Virginia; counties and townships in California, Florida, Michigan, New Hampshire, North Carolina and South Dakota; and three New York City boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx. The act requires federal permission before making changes in voting procedures like how registration is conducted, where polling places are put, how elections are publicized and where the boundaries of voting precincts are drawn.

Most changes are minor, but redistricting or wholesale revisions of election laws can require complicated, expensive and time-consuming submissions.

A supporting brief urging the court to uphold the law filed by six states at least partly subject to the preclearance requirement said the minor burdens were offset by benefits including expert guidance in avoiding discrimination, less litigation and better race relations. The law also allows jurisdictions with clean records to ask a court to let them "bail out" of the preclearance requirements.

The jurisdictions subject to Section 5 were selected based on whether they had used devices to discourage voting, like literacy tests, and data from the 1964, 1968 and 1972 elections. Congress did not tinker with those decades-old criteria when it renewed in 2006.

The question before the Supreme Court is not whether the criteria were optimal but whether Congress acted beyond its constitutional authority in using them.

There are arguments on both sides. On the one hand, Congressional power is at its peak in the areas of race and voting. On the other hand, the federal intrusion under Section 5 is unique in American legal history.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld the Voting Rights Act and its earlier extensions. But a 1997 decision in a religion case, City of Boerne v. Flores, may require the court to subject the latest extension to more exacting scrutiny than it has in the past, one that asks not only whether legislation was a rational response to constitutional violations but also whether it was "congruent and proportional" to them.

The case before the court was brought by a Texas utility district that was established on undeveloped land in the late 1980s. The district said it had never been accused of voting discrimination. Lawyers for the district told the court that the current Voting Rights Act "treats racism as an inheritance that runs with the land rather than a manifestation of attitudes and actions of living individuals."

The crucial vote on the court will probably be that of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy. In another voting rights case decided last month, Bartlett v. Strickland, Justice Kennedy indicated that he might oppose eliminating Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

"Racial discrimination and racially polarized voting are not ancient history," he wrote. "Much remains to be done to ensure that citizens of all races have equal opportunity to share and participate in our democratic processes and traditions."


3) Obama Is Nudging Views on Race, a Survey Finds
April 28, 2009

Barack Obama's presidency seems to be altering the public perception of race relations in the United States. Two-thirds of Americans now say race relations are generally good, and the percentage of blacks who say so has doubled since last July, according to the latest New York Times/ CBS News poll.

Despite that, half of blacks still say whites have a better chance of getting ahead in American society, the poll found. Black Americans remain among the president's staunchest supporters; 70 percent of black respondents now say the country is headed in the right direction, compared with 34 percent of whites.

The poll found broad support for Mr. Obama's approach on a variety of issues, including one of the most contentious: whether Congress should investigate the harsh interrogation tactics authorized by George W. Bush. Sixty-two percent of Americans share Mr. Obama's view that hearings are unnecessary.

Americans seem to have high hopes for the president; 72 percent said they were optimistic about the next four years. By and large, Americans expect him to make significant progress in health care, energy and immigration policy, issues central to his ambitious domestic agenda.

But the optimism is tempered by a feeling of resignation about two of the most difficult challenges he faces: reviving the economy and ending United States military involvement in Iraq. Most Americans say Mr. Obama has begun to make progress on both fronts, but many do not expect either the recession or the war to be over by the end of his term.

It is not unusual for new presidents to enjoy substantial public support at this point in their tenure. But Mr. Obama's 68 percent job approval rating is higher than that of any recent president at the 100-day mark. Mr. Bush had the approval of 56 percent of the public at this juncture.

But while Americans clearly have faith in Mr. Obama, the poll revealed something of a disconnect between what the public thinks the president has already accomplished and what it expects him to achieve.

Fewer than half of those surveyed, 48 percent, said Mr. Obama had begun to make progress on one of his major campaign promises, changing the way business is conducted in Washington. And just 39 percent said he had begun to make progress on another major promise, cutting taxes for middle-class Americans, even though the stimulus bill he signed into law does include a middle class tax cut.

Mr. Obama will mark his 100th day in office on Wednesday with a trip to St. Louis and a prime time news conference, where aides say he will make the case that he has made "a down payment" on fixing the nation's biggest problems. The poll found that Americans seem to share that view, suggesting the White House has been effective at casting Mr. Obama as an agent of change, while persuading the public that change will take time.

"With all Obama wants to do and all he's got going, it's going to take more than four years," said Larry Gibbons, 58, a retired restaurant manager and a Republican in Phoenix who voted for Mr. Obama's opponent, John McCain. Speaking in a follow-up interview to the poll, he said, "Obama is attacking everything at once and I do approve of that."

Throughout Mr. Obama's candidacy and his young presidency, race has been a subtle thread woven through his message of change. Yet the president shies away from talking about it. In response to a question at his last news conference, Mr. Obama conceded that his election had created ''justifiable pride on the part of the country," then quickly shifted gears, adding, "That lasted about a day."

But Americans do feel differently about race and race relations with Mr. Obama in the White House, according to poll respondents who spoke in follow-up interviews. Some, like Jacqueline Luster, 60, a retired bank employee in Macedonia, Ohio, say that the times are changing, and that Mr. Obama seems to be speeding that change.

"With him as president, people seem to be working together toward the same goals, and that has helped race relations," said Ms. Luster, who is black and a Democrat. "Before there was more of a separation, blacks working for black goals and whites for white goals. Obama has helped change the perception of blacks in a positive way, but it's also the times."

Another Democrat, Lisa Fleming, 49, who is white, said that even in the small Illinois town, Potomac, where she lived, she noticed "people of different races being kinder to each other" since Mr. Obama's election. In Kansas City, a white Republican homemaker, Mary Robertson, 78, said Mr. Obama's ''openness and acceptance have helped others be more open and accepting."

The nationwide telephone survey was conducted Wednesday through Sunday with 973 adults. For purposes of analysis, blacks were oversampled in this poll, for a total of 212, and then weighted back to their proper proportion in the poll, based on the census. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points for all people, and plus or minus seven points for blacks.

After nearly 100 days of watching Mr. Obama conduct the affairs of state, more than two-thirds of Americans say he is not a typical politician, though most say he is set apart more by his style and his personal qualities than his policies.

For instance, the poll found that the public appears divided over whether the Obama administration has broken with the Bush administration in its overall foreign policy. Forty-three percent of respondents said there had been some change in foreign policy since Mr. Obama took office, the poll found, while 44 percent said there had been no change. Thirteen percent did not have an opinion.

Yet the public does give Mr. Obama credit for improving the image of the United States with the rest of the world. And it found support for Mr. Obama's overtures to Iran and Cuba; a majority, 53 percent, said they favored establishing diplomatic relations with Iran, while two-thirds favored Mr. Obama's plans to thaw relations with Cuba.

Megan Thee-Brenan, Marina Stefan and Dalia Sussman contributed reporting.


4) People With Service Jobs Feel Economic Pain Early
April 28, 2009

Hotel jobs have long offered a first step on the economic ladder to immigrants and people without a college education or work experience. But the steep drop in travel that started last fall has hit hotels hard and, in turn, buffeted already vulnerable workers.

Many housekeepers, bus boys, dishwashers, doormen, valets and customer service agents have either lost their jobs or are working significantly fewer hours.

In some cases, hotels have laid off workers and hired them back as independent contractors, without health insurance and other benefits. The fortunate have picked up other odd jobs at their current hotels, while some have scrambled to cobble together equally low-paying second and third positions elsewhere.

Carrie Tucker, a hotel housekeeper in Detroit, said she earned $9.17 an hour. Pushing a 150-pound stocked cart, she cleans 16 to 22 rooms a day when the hotel has guests and she is not called off from work. She said that her hours were whittled to fewer than 36 a week from 40 late last year and that she was behind on her rent and her gas and electricity bills.

"I'm stressed out every day I go to work," Ms. Tucker said.

Daniel Tjhin Chin said he was demoted in November to hotel telephone operator, from night manager at the Sacramento Marriott Rancho Cordova, and his weekly hours were cut to 32 from 40. Four weeks later, he was laid off.

"I understand the recession, the crisis and the impact on the industry," he said "I feel bad for whoever owns that hotel, but I hope I get a job as soon as possible because I'm running out of money."

The hotel layoffs, said Lalia Rach, dean of the Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management at New York University, have had an inordinate impact on workers who were already living paycheck to paycheck - large percentages of women, minorities, immigrants, single parents and welfare-to-work participants.

"They are the vulnerable, but they are also what we built our country on," Ms. Rach said. "As paychecks decline or go away, there is going to be a ripple effect on families who are living on the edge. It's going to cascade into taking away the American dream in its entirety."

Hotel workers generally have less education than the American work force as a whole - 19.1 percent have no high school diploma, versus 8.8 percent of the total work force. Their wages last year were lower as well - their median hourly rate was $9.78, while the national rate for all workers in all industries was $15.10, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

And while 8.8 percent of workers in the United States were unemployed in the first quarter of this year, the jobless rate for hotel employees was 11.7 percent, according to the bureau. The figures do not count those still employed but working fewer hours.

Nor has there been much hiring. From July 2007 through February 2009, hotel industry job listings were down 28 percent, according to Simply Hired, a national online job search engine. Demand for valets was down 33 percent, housekeepers almost 50 percent and waiters 86 percent.

Hospitality employment may not bounce back until the beginning to middle of 2010, according to Adam Weissenberg, who leads the tourism, hospitality and leisure practice in the United States at Deloitte, the accounting firm. Other experts are even more pessimistic, predicting no rebound until the middle to end of next year, at the earliest.

Catherene Parker, who has a customer service job at the Marriott in San Jose, Calif., was able to cover her expenses with her pay of $15 an hour and consistent overtime. But she could save nothing. Late last year, when her overtime dried up, she said she found a job as a customer service representative at a shopping mall. Now, she works 40 hours a week at the hotel and 20 at the mall.

Van Valiant has managed to hold onto his job by participating in retraining programs and making himself as indispensable as possible. He started waiting tables at the Wyndham Garden Hotel in Austin, Tex., in May 2008. By fall, his hours were cut to 32 a week. He asked to be trained in other areas. Now the hotel's food and beverage supervisor, he can tend bar, cook, work at the hotel's front desk and do night auditing. He is back up to 40 hours a week, with frequent overtime.

"It's very easy to find another server," Mr. Valiant said. "It makes sense to make yourself more valuable so that they don't want to get rid of you."

At the South Point Hotel, Casino and Spa in Las Vegas, Amy DeVincentis, a parking attendant, says colleagues take turns leaving early when it is slow so that pooled tips go further.

"We understand that there are certain people that can't leave early because they need the extra money, because they do have a mortgage," Ms. DeVincentis said. "No one gets upset if they really need to work their hours. We're all in this together."


5) Group Advises Stopping Flow of Gifts to Doctors
April 29, 2009

WASHINGTON - In a scolding report, the nation's most influential medical advisory group said that doctors should stop taking much of the money, gifts and free drug samples that they routinely accept from drug and device companies.

The report by the Institute of Medicine, part of the National Academy of Sciences, is a stinging indictment of many of the most common means by which drug and device makers endear themselves to doctors, medical schools and hospitals.

"It is time for medical schools to end a number of long-accepted relationships and practices that create conflicts of interest, threaten the integrity of their missions and their reputations, and put public trust in jeopardy," the report concluded.

The institute's report is even more damning than a similar one released last year by the Association of American Medical Colleges, which proposed tough new rules governing interactions between companies and medical schools.

In the wake of the association's report, many schools and medical societies toughened their policies. The institute's imprimatur is certain to accelerate this process.

"With the I.O.M.'s endorsement, issues that were once controversial now are indisputable," said Dr. David Rothman, president of the Institute on Medicine as a Profession at Columbia University. "Conflicts of interest in medicine are no longer acceptable."

The report calls on Congress to pass legislation that would require drug and device makers to publicly disclose all payments made to doctors. Senator Charles E. Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, and Senator Herb Kohl, a Democrat from Wisconsin, have co-sponsored legislation that would do just that.

Both senators said they welcomed the institute's endorsement.

"It's a shot in the arm to the reform movement to have the prestige and policy heft of the Institute of Medicine on the side of transparency," Mr. Grassley said. "The more disclosure, the better, for holding the system accountable and building public confidence in medical research and practice."

Drug companies spend billions of dollars wooing doctors - more than they spend on research or consumer advertising. Much of this money is spent on giving doctors free drug samples, free food, free medical refresher courses and payments for marketing lectures. The institute's report recommends that nearly all of these efforts end.

The largest drug makers agreed last year to stop giving doctors pens, pads and other gifts of small value, but company executives have defended other marketing tactics as valuable to both doctors and patients. Medical device and biotechnology companies have yet to swear off even pens and free trips.

A 2007 survey found that more than three-quarters of doctors accept free drug samples and free food, more than a third get financial help for medical refresher courses and more than a quarter get paid for giving marketing lectures and enrolling patients in clinical trials

Among the most controversial of the institute's recommendations is a plan to end industry influence over medical refresher courses. Presently, drug and device makers provide about half of the funding for such courses so that doctors can often take them for free. Even as they have acknowledged the need for other limits, many medical societies and schools have defended subsidies for education as necessary.

"As science progresses, it's going to get harder and harder to get doctors to keep pace," said Dr. Jack Lewin, chief executive of the American College of Cardiology. "I think industry has some responsibility toward education."

By contrast, the American Psychiatric Association recently announced that it would phase out industry funding for medical refresher courses at its conventions.

The institute acknowledged that many doctors depend on industry funding for refresher medical courses but said that "the current system of funding is unacceptable and should not continue." The report recommended that a different funding system be created within two years.

Senator Kohl said that he has been investigating refresher medical courses, and he said the industry's funding has biased some courses.

Dr. Bernard Lo, the director of the Program in Medical Ethics at University of California San Francisco who served on the institute's committee that wrote the report, said in an interview that doctors "need to do a better job in addressing conflicts of interest that would lead to bias or threaten public trust."

Dr. P. Roy Vagelos, a former Merck chief executive, said that he has worried for years that drug and device companies wielded too much influence over doctors.

"I think medical centers and companies will start to listen to these recommendations and to take them very seriously," Dr. Vagelos said.

The institute recommended that doctors stop giving free drug samples to patients unless the patient is poor and the doctor can continue to provide the medicine to the patient for little or no cost. By contrast, many free drug samples go to patients with insurance coverage or to doctors and their families, the report stated.


6) Local Health Agencies, Hurt by Cuts, Brace for Flu Risk
April 30, 2009

The recession has drained hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of workers from the state and local health departments that are now the front line in the country's defense against a possible swine flu pandemic.

Health officials in affected states said they had thus far been able to manage the testing and treatment of infected residents and mount vigorous public education campaigns. But many said they had been able to do so only by shifting workers from other public health priorities, and some questioned how their depleted departments might handle a full-fledged pandemic.

"I'm very concerned," said Robert M. Pestronk, executive director of the National Association of County and City Health Officials. "Local health departments are barely staffed to do the work they do on a day-to-day basis. A large increase in workload will mean that much of the other work that is being done now won't be done. And depending on the scale of an epidemic, capacity may be exceeded."

At a news conference on Monday, Dr. Richard E. Besser, the acting director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the public health system was in "a tough situation."

"We hear about tens of thousands of state public health workers who are going to be losing their jobs because of state budgets," he said. "It is very important that we look at that resource because this outbreak was identified because of a lot of work going on around preparedness."

Mr. Pestronk's group estimates that local health departments lost about $300 million in financing and 7,000 workers in 2008, a year when more than half of all agencies shed employees. There were about 160,000 health department workers in 2005, according to the group. Mr. Pestronk said he expected to lose at least another 7,000 jobs this year.

State public health agencies lost an additional 1,500 workers through layoffs and attrition from July 2008 to January 2009, according to the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. The group anticipates 2,600 job losses in the coming fiscal year.

South Carolina's Department of Health and Environmental Control, which also staffs local health departments, has lost $30 million in state money and a third of its 6,000 employees over the last decade, said Thom W. Berry, a spokesman. The department is currently investigating several "probable" cases of swine flu.

In New York City, which has the highest concentration of confirmed flu cases, federal grants for emergency preparedness have fallen to $23 million, from $28 million a year ago, said Andrew S. Rein, the city health department's executive deputy commissioner.

In California, which has 14 confirmed cases, the Department of Public Health recently absorbed a 10 percent budget cut ordered by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to help close a massive budget gap. It did so without laying off workers, instead slashing grants to local health departments, said Dr. Bonnie Sorensen, the chief deputy director of policy and programs. During the flu scare, about 100 state health workers have been diverted from other duties, she said.

On Tuesday, Mr. Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency that calls for all California agencies to assist the health department. It gave the department special powers to enter into contracts, suspend competitive bidding and waive certification requirements for laboratories. The federal disease control agency has shipped equipment and chemicals used to test for swine flu to California so the state can hasten its laboratory work without sending samples elsewhere.

"The bottom line is, we are prepared," Mr. Schwarzenegger said this week.

The White House asked Congress on Tuesday to provide $1.5 billion in emergency financing to battle the swine flu outbreak, but it is not clear how that money might flow downstream.

Public health officials said Congress had missed an opportunity by excising nearly $900 million in proposed financing for pandemic flu preparation from this year's stimulus bill. It was to be the final installment of President George W. Bush's request for $7 billion in federal spending on vaccines, medical equipment and planning. Congress last allocated money for pandemic planning by state and local governments in 2006 - about $600 million over two years, said Dr. Paul E. Jarris, executive director of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.

"The entire system is lining up to decrease resources at the time we need them most," Dr. Jarris said. "We have to realize that we're at the starting line. The stress will come if this escalates."

Jeffrey Levi, executive director of the Trust for America's Health, said the financial strain made "it more important that we luck out" with a mild outbreak.

Dr. Alvin D. Jackson, the state health director in Ohio, which has one confirmed case of swine flu, said his agency's state appropriation had declined by about $10 million over the last two years. He said his budget to prepare communities and hospitals for an influenza pandemic had dropped to $34 million, from $55 million in 2004.

"Right now we're O.K.," he said. "We feel that we can do an excellent job protecting our citizens. But looking forward, we do understand that some additional resources would be appreciated."

But in Cleveland, Dr. Terry Allan, the Cuyahoga County health commissioner, said the decline in state and federal money had prompted a 25 percent cut in spending on pandemic preparedness over the last two years. That had cost the department at least 10 workers, he said, and further cuts are anticipated.

"Those are people we would have had available to expand and build on our plans for social distancing, for mobilizing antivirals," he said. "Our plan is not adequate. It's barely started."


7) Poppies a Target in Fight Against Taliban
April 29, 2009

ZANGABAD, Afghanistan - American commanders are planning to cut off the Taliban's main source of money, the country's multimillion-dollar opium crop, by pouring thousands of troops into the three provinces that bankroll much of the group's operations.

The plan to send 20,000 Marines and soldiers into Helmand, Kandahar and Zabul Provinces this summer promises weeks and perhaps months of heavy fighting, since American officers expect the Taliban to vigorously defend what makes up the economic engine for the insurgency. The additional troops, the centerpiece of President Obama's effort to reverse the course of the seven-year war, will roughly double the number already in southern Afghanistan. The troops already fighting there are universally seen as overwhelmed. In many cases, the Americans will be pushing into areas where few or no troops have been before.

Through extortion and taxation, the Taliban are believed to reap as much as $300 million a year from Afghanistan's opium trade, which now makes up 90 percent of the world's total. That is enough, the Americans say, to sustain all of the Taliban's military operations in southern Afghanistan for an entire year.

"Opium is their financial engine," said Brig. Gen. John Nicholson, the deputy commander of NATO forces in southern Afghanistan. "That is why we think he will fight for these areas."

The Americans say that their main goal this summer will be to provide security for the Afghan population, and thereby isolate the insurgents.

But because the opium is tilled in heavily populated areas, and because the Taliban are spread among the people, the Americans say they will have to break the group's hold on poppy cultivation to be successful.

No one here thinks that is going to be easy.

Only 10 minutes inside the tiny village of Zangabad, 20 miles southwest of Kandahar, a platoon of American soldiers stepped into a poppy field in full bloom on Monday. Taliban fighters opened fire from three sides.

"From the north!" one of the soldiers yelled, spinning and firing.

"West!" another screamed, turning and firing, too.

An hour passed and a thousand bullets whipped through the air. Ammunition was running low. The Taliban were circling.

Then the gunships arrived, swooping in, their bullet casings showering the ground beneath them, their rockets streaking and destroying. Behind a barrage of artillery, the soldiers shot their way out of Zangabad and moved into the cover of the vineyards.

"When are you going to drop the bomb?" Capt. Chris Brawley said into his radio over the clatter of machine-gun fire. "I'm in a grape field."

The bomb came, and after a time the shooting stopped.

The firefight offered a preview of the Americans' summer in southern Afghanistan. By all accounts, it is going to be bloody.

Like the guerrillas they are, Taliban fighters often fade away when confronted by a conventional army. But in Afghanistan, as they did in Zangabad, the Taliban will probably stand and fight.

Among the ways the Taliban are believed to make money from the opium trade is by charging farmers for protection; if the Americans and British attack, the Taliban will be expected to make good on their side of that bargain.

Indeed, Taliban fighters have begun to fight any efforts by the Americans or the British to move into areas where poppy grows and opium is produced. Last month, a force of British marines moved into a district called Nad Ali in Helmand Province, the center of the country's poppy cultivation. The Taliban were waiting. In a five-day battle, the British killed 120 Taliban fighters and wounded 150. Only one British soldier was wounded.

Many of the new American soldiers will fan out along southern Afghanistan's largely unguarded 550-mile-long border with Pakistan. Among them will be soldiers deployed in the Stryker, a relatively quick, nimble armored vehicle that can roam across the vast areas that span the frontier.

All of the new troops are supposed to be in place by Aug. 20, in order to provide security for Afghanistan's presidential election.

The presence of poppy and opium here has injected a huge measure of uncertainly into the war. Under NATO rules of engagement, American or other forces are prohibited from attacking targets or people related only to narcotics production. Those people are not considered combatants.

But American and other forces are allowed to attack drug smugglers or facilities that are assisting the Taliban. In an interview, General Nicholson said that opium production and the Taliban are so often intertwined that the rules do not usually inhibit American operations.

"We often come across a compound that has opium and I.E.D. materials side by side, and opium and explosive materials and weapons," General Nicholson said, referring to improvised explosive devices. "It's very common - more common than not."

But the prospect of heavy fighting in populated areas could further alienate the Afghan population. In the firefight in Zangabad, the Americans covered their exit with a barrage of 20 155 millimeter high-explosive artillery shells - necessary to shield them from the Taliban, but also enough to inflict serious damage on people and property. A local Afghan interviewed by telephone after the firefight said that four homes had been damaged by the artillery strikes.

Then there is the problem of weaning poppy farmers from poppy farming - a task that has proved intractable in many countries, like Colombia, where the American government has tried to curtail poppy production. It is by far the most lucrative crop an Afghan can farm. The opium trade now makes up nearly 60 percent of Afghanistan's gross domestic product, American officials say. The country's opium traffickers typically offer incentives that no Afghan government official can: they can guarantee a farmer a minimum price for the crop as well as taking it to market, despite the horrendous condition of most of Afghanistan's roads.

"The people don't like to cultivate poppy, but they are desperate," Mohammed Ashraf Naseri, the governor of Zabul Province, told a group of visitors this month.

To offer an alternative to poppy farming, the American military is setting aside $250 million for agriculture projects like irrigation improvements and wheat cultivation. General Nicholson said that a $200 million plan for infrastructure improvements, much of it for roads to help get crops to market, was also being prepared. The vision, General Nicholson said, is to try to restore the agricultural economy that flourished in Afghanistan in the 1970s. That, more than military force, will defeat the Taliban, he said.

"There is a significant portion of the enemy that we believe we can peel off with incentives," the general said. "We can hire away many of these young men."

Even if the Americans are able to cut production, shortages could drive up prices and not make a significant dent in the Taliban's profits.

The foray into Zangabad suggested the difficulties that lie ahead. The terrain is a guerrilla's dream. In addition to acres of shoulder-high poppy plants, rows and rows of hard-packed mud walls, used to stand up grape vines, offer ideal places for ambushes and defense.

But the trickiest thing will be winning over the Afghans themselves. The Taliban are entrenched in the villages and river valleys of southern Afghanistan. The locals, caught between the foes, seem, at best, to be waiting to see who prevails.

On their way to Zangabad, the soldiers stopped in a wheat field to talk to a local farmer. His name was Ahmetullah. The Americans spoke through a Pashto interpreter.

"I'm very happy to see you," the farmer told the Americans.

"Really?" one of the soldiers asked.

"Yes," the farmer said.

The interpreter sighed, and spoke in English.

"He's a liar."


8) Britain to Add 700 Troops to Afghan War
April 30, 2009

LONDON - Calling the border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan "the crucible for global terrorism," Prime Minister Gordon Brown confirmed Wednesday that Britain would send an additional 700 troops to Afghanistan to fight alongside American and NATO forces battling the Taliban.

But he made clear that the deployment - which had been expected and will raise Britain's commitment to 9,000 from 8,300 - would be intended primarily to build security around the coming elections in Afghanistan and that the extra forces would be withdrawn by early 2010.

"For Afghanistan, our strategy is to ensure the country is strong enough as a democracy to withstand and overcome the terrorist threat," he said, unveiling what British officials called a new strategy that resembled the Obama administration's approach, particularly in treating security issues in Afghanistan and Pakistan as intertwined.

"The greatest international priority is the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan," Mr. Brown told Parliament. "They are the crucible of global terrorism. They are the breeding ground for international terrorists. They are the source of a chain of terror which links the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan to the streets of Britain."

The British leader visited both countries in recent days.

Britain has close historical and other ties with the region, from military debacles in the 19th century "Great Game" for influence in Afghanistan to the links British counterterrorism officials have traced between militants in Britain and Pakistan.

Mr. Brown said two-thirds of the terrorism plots uncovered in recent years involved clandestine ties to Pakistan.

"Tackling terrorism in and from the borders of Afghanistan and Pakistan drives forward our new set of proposals today," he said. "Our aim is to divide, isolate and then remove the insurgents, offering to those prepared to renounce violence and accept the Afghan Constitution the prospect of work and security."

He said Britain wanted to help train the Afghan Army to fight the Taliban and to support development projects in Pakistan to prevent young people from "falling under the sway of violent and extremist ideologies."

Last month, President Obama announced plans to send extra combat forces and military trainers to Afghanistan as part of a plan that would bring the overall American deployment there to about 60,000. Compared to those numbers, the British deployment is modest, particularly since Britain is set to complete a pullback from southern Iraq within months.

Still, Britain is the second largest contributor to the 42-nation, 58,000-member international force in Afghanistan, according to its Web site While Washington has been pressing for greater contributions from European countries, Britain argues that its forces are already playing a significant role in the dangerous Helmand Province of southern Afghanistan. According to Britain's Ministry of Defense more than 150 military personnel have died in Afghanistan since the American-led invasion that toppled the Taliban in 2001.

Mr. Brown's newest proposals, coupling military action and training with a boost in development spending, drew some criticism in Parliament.

Comparing the British plan to President Obama's resolve to defeat Al Qaeda and the Taliban, David Cameron, the leader of the Conservative opposition, told Parliament on Wednesday: "Isn't it essential that our strategy is as tightly defined, as hard-headed and as realistic as that?

"We are not in the business of trying to create a new Switzerland in the Hindu Kush - we want to help provide security and deny Al Qaeda those training bases."


9) Costs Soar as Iraq Falls Behind on Training Plan, Audit Says
April 29, 2009

BAGHDAD (AP) - Iraq is falling far behind schedule to create a system to maintain its own military equipment, costing American taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars to fill in the gaps, according to a new United States audit.

The United States military sees Iraq's ability to take on such duties as essential for the country to maintain a self-sufficient force after American forces leave at the end of 2011.

But the audit, by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction and released Sunday, found a pattern of negligence and shortcomings by the Iraqi military in planning for its basic needs: repairing and maintaining equipment, and supplying troops. The problems include not allocating enough money for logistics operations and failing to provide enough soldiers for training, the audit said.

In one case, Iraqi soldiers abandoned a 90-day maintenance training class in March 2008 because they had not been paid in weeks by their units. The report said the Iraqi Army had not yet assigned other soldiers to take a class.

The study also faulted the United States military for setting unrealistic training timetables.

Initially, the contract costs were put around $208 million to train Iraqis in routine but critical roles. The audit said the contract had ballooned to more than $628 million in part because there was no clear blueprint for the programs, which led to frequent extensions and cost overruns.

"The U.S. objective is to achieve greater capacity within the Iraqi security forces as quickly as possible," said David Warren, assistant inspector general for Iraq reconstruction in Washington. "The fact that these things have occurred on this contract have delayed that. We would have liked to see a greater return on the investment."

Col. Mike Sage, the assistant chief of staff for logistics for Multi-National Security Transition Command, said developers of a Humvee maintenance training program thought that Iraqi commanders would jump at the chance to have their soldiers learn how to care for the vehicles.

As part of the contracts, the United States gave Iraq more than 8,000 armored Humvees.

"We did not read the commanders as well as we thought," he said. "They would not commit soldiers to train" because they did not want to give up the troops for the lengthy classes.

The report recommended the United States military negotiate a firm agreement with the Iraqi government on a timetable to take over maintenance responsibilities.


10) California: Report Cites Police Abuse
National Briefing | West
April 29, 2009

A small police force that patrols two gritty cities near Los Angeles routinely beat up suspects and arrested innocent people, the state attorney general said in a scathing report. The report calls the 45-officer Maywood Police Department sexist, racist and discourteous and cites what it says are abuses. Several officers have been placed on administrative leave, Attorney General Jerry Brown said, and one officer was charged with 17 felony counts stemming from the sexual assaults of three women. Maywood is a city of about 30,000 residents approximately seven miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles. Its police department also provides law enforcement for nearby Cudahy.


11) M.T.A. Warns of New Cuts 'Beyond Doomsday'
By William Neuman
April 29, 2009, 2:23 pm

The executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said on Wednesday that a possible second round of service cuts and fare hikes would go "beyond doomsday" and he said that even extreme measures, like stopping nighttime subway service, could not be ruled out.

The director, Elliot G. Sander, said that the slumping economy had squeezed the authority's revenues so tightly that it would have to rip up its budget for this year and start over with a new, leaner spending plan.

The authority revealed on Monday that it faced an additional $621 million budget shortfall this year, even after deep service cuts and steep fare increases of as much as 30 percent go into effect. The new deficit is caused by the slumping economy, which has choked revenues from taxes and fare and toll collections.

A deficit of more than $1 billion is forecast for next year.

The authority has been hoping for a rescue plan to come out of the State Legislature in Albany, but political leaders have been unable to agree on the contents of a plan.

The subway and bus fare is scheduled to go up on May 31. Service cuts, including the elimination of 35 bus routes and the W and Z subway lines, will be phased in over the rest of the year.

Officials have described those measures as being part of a "doomsday" budget and on Wednesday, Mr. Sander was asked how he would characterize a new round of cuts and fare increases.

"I'm not sure the English language captures what goes beyond doomsday but to me, as a transit professional, as a citizen and a user of the system, they are just unbelievably difficult and I think some would view them as horrific," Mr. Sander said.

Asked if he would consider shutting down the subway at night to save money, he said, "One can't say that anything is off the table."

But he said that he had not discussed an overnight shutdown with the New York City Transit president, Howard H. Roberts Jr., and that there were strong arguments for maintaining all-night service.


12) As More Apply for Welfare, Concern for Those Denied
April 29, 2009

Even as the welfare rolls in New York State dropped steadily over the last decade, the number of applications in the state increased by 35 percent from 1999 to 2007, according to a report released on Tuesday by the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies.

That trend left advocates wondering if more people were withdrawing their applications or were being turned down for welfare benefits because of overly stringent or confusing requirements - a fear that will only deepen as a growing number of unemployed and low-income people turn to cash assistance.

"Our social safety net system in the state and in the city has been weakened since the welfare restructuring," said Bich Ha Pham, the director of policy, advocacy and research for the federation and an author of the report. "A lot of the unemployed New Yorkers who have lost their jobs in this recession are going to encounter barriers to social services that are meant for them."

In the state, cash-assistance applications rose to 554,307 in 2007 from 410,518 in 1999. In New York City, applications rose to 341,635 in 2007 from 221,895 in 1999, a 54 percent increase, the report said.

Last month, the number of welfare recipients in New York City inched up slightly for the second month in a row, after a long decline. There were 343,384 recipients of cash assistance in New York City in March, up 0.4 percent from February, according to data from the Human Resources Administration, which administers welfare in New York City.

In February, the city's unemployment rate jumped to 8.1 percent from 6.9 percent in January, the largest jump in a single month on record.

The national welfare reforms of 1996 ushered in a new program with work rules, time limits and greater latitude for states to discourage people from receiving welfare.

The report released Tuesday blamed those reforms for "roadblocks" to receiving welfare: a cumbersome application process, excessive documentation requirements and a strict sanctions process, which contributed to an increase in application denials. (The tally includes applications that were voluntarily withdrawn.) The findings echoed a survey released in November by Betsy Gotbaum, the city's public advocate, which said welfare help centers imposed unnecessary barriers for people seeking cash assistance, including long waits and confusing instructions from employees.

Michael Hayes, a spokesman for the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, said he had "some concern" with the report's analysis. David A. Hansell, commissioner of temporary and disability assistance, said that in response to the economy, state officials had financed new job training programs and increased the basic welfare grant for the first time in 19 years.

"Today's difficult economic climate has forced us to redouble our efforts to help welfare recipients move into the work force and stay employed," Mr. Hansell said in an e-mail message. "That has been, and remains, the core focus of welfare reform, and the basis of its success."

Robert Doar, the city's commissioner of human resources, said the report "badly mischaracterizes welfare reform in New York City."

"Most notably, it fails to acknowledge that welfare policies that require work have significantly increased employment for welfare recipients, reduced child poverty and lowered welfare caseloads to their lowest level in 40 years," he said.

Some advocates praised the expansion of safety nets beyond welfare - like food stamps, unemployment benefits and Medicaid, entitlement programs that low-income New Yorkers have turned to in greater numbers - but said cash assistance should be made just as accessible.

"The welfare program could be helping a lot of the same population," said Don Friedman, a managing lawyer for the Empire Justice Center, a legal advocacy group. "Yet it continues to be run in a way that makes it difficult for people to receive benefits. If you miss any appointment, or if you do something that they consider a failure to comply, it begins the sanction process, where there is a reduction or termination of benefits. This is a punishment-driven system."

Wendy A. Bach, a clinical professor in the Economic Justice Project at the CUNY School of Law, said the economic crisis called for a renewed focus on welfare.

"We're very focused on getting certain benefits to households," she said of food stamps and Medicaid. "But with welfare, the system is designed to be extraordinarily cumbersome and difficult. Welfare policy is, in very large part, designed to divert people from receiving welfare."


13) 3 Brothers Sentenced to Life for Holy War Plot at Ft. Dix
April 29, 2009

CAMDEN, N.J. (Reuters) - Three Muslim brothers from Albania were sentenced to life in prison on Tuesday for a plot to kill American soldiers at the Fort Dix military base, which prosecutors said was inspired by the idea of holy war against the United States.

The men, Dritan Duka, 30, Shain Duka, 28, and Eljvir Duka, 25, all illegal immigrants, were each sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

The three, who operated a roofing business in Cherry Hill, N.J., were among five foreign-born Muslims convicted in December of planning an attack at the base, about 40 miles east of Philadelphia. The attack was never carried out.

The other two men who were convicted, Mohamad Shnewer, a Jordanian-born taxi driver from Philadelphia, and Serdar Tatar, a convenience-store clerk from Turkey, are to be sentenced on Wednesday.

Judge Robert B. Kugler of Federal District Court here said in sentencing Dritan Duka, "The evidence was overwhelming as to the guilt of this defendant." He was sentenced to life plus 30 years in prison.

"He showed not even the slightest bit of remorse for what he has done nor what he has put his beautiful children through," the judge said. "There is no question in my mind that were he free, he would continue on this route."

Dritan Duka read a statement saying he was innocent and a victim of a conspiracy by the United States government.

He said he and his brothers had been manipulated by one of their co-defendants, Mr. Shnewer, and by Mahmoud Omar, an F.B.I. informant who had infiltrated the group.

Defense lawyers argued during the eight-week trial that their clients were entrapped into making statements about holy war by Mr. Omar and another F.B.I. informant who obtained hundreds of hours of audio and video recordings.

During the trial, prosecutors called the men "radical Islamists" and said they discussed killing as many soldiers as possible in their planned attack.


14) Smoke 'Em Out, Freedom Of Speech Be Damned
By Lenore Daniels, NewsOne
April 28, 2009

"This is not justice. The only reason they put five kids in jail is because they are Muslim."-Faten Shnewer, mother of Mohammed Shnewer

"Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech." -Rev. Martin L. King, Jr.

"...When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me." -Pastor Martin Niemoller

I saw a beautiful young boy in three studio photos. In another photo, I saw four brothers, typical young men, smiling at the camera. They could have been photos of my past students.

Then I am told that the brother with the little daughter can not see her. The brother with five children can't see his children.


Well, the U.S. government has declared them "terrorists."

The young men are suspicious looking here in America: They are Muslim!

The young men were caught on a video saying "Allah, akbar!" rather than "God is greatest" in English!

Suspicious looks and very suspect language!

The corporate media has labeled this the case of the "Fort Dix 5-Terrorists."

And, let's face it, in America, that label announced to the American public, makes them guilty!

I recently had the opportunity to meet the Lata Duka, the mother of three of the charged young men and the sister of Mohammed Shnewer, Inas Shnewer.

One day, the young men entered a Circuit City store with a video. They wanted a DVD copy of the video. The tape shows a family on vacation, swimming, playing paint ball, and pillow fighting. The clerk, however, views a fragment of the tape where the young men were shouting at a firing range at Pocono Mountains, a vacation and recreation site in Pennsylvania. He hears those "strange" words: "Allah, akbar!" He sees young Muslim men standing before him. It's America! COINTELPRO America! Patriot Act America! Homeland Security and Violent Radicalization laws America! "We'll smoke 'em out" America!!

So the clerk contacts the FBI.

At Poconos the young men asked for semi-automatics (not automatic weapons as the informants and corporate media have repeated) to use on the firing range. And because they are Muslims, they said "Allah, Akbar" and not "God is greatest" in English as while they had fun at the firing range.

But, you see, this is America.

White children, as soon as they come into the world, have a fishing rod placed in one little hand and a rifle placed in the other. They are taught to fish and hunt-to kill.

I remember college classrooms of white students from rural areas "teaching" me about video games in which they were able to kill and rape-virtually, of course. We remember Charleston Heston's words, "over my dead body," when he thought the government would take away his guns.

We live in a country obsessed with violence and the right to own their guns but they remain silent, as the First Amendment is-one citizen at a time-slowly disappearing.

Since the "alert" clerk at Circuit City contacted the FBI in 2005, the young men were under surveillance for 14 months. And more-

Mohmoud Omar and Besnik Bakali went to high school with the young men.

They ate lunch and dinner at the young men's home and came by the store owned by the family. But what they were not members of the community.

Omar, Egyptian, was on probation for entering the U.S. illegally, according to Joseph Piette, "The Fort Dix 5 Convictions: Provocation and Frameup?" in Workers World. Bakali is wanted for "a shooting in Albania." The FBI approached them and they were grateful!

The informants worked hard over the 14 months to encourage the young men to say the word "jihad." Finally, one of the young men says "jihad." Jihad means struggle both personal and political just as we speak of the Black struggle and our daily struggle in America.

Wired to record the Duka brothers, Shnewer, and Serdar Tatar, the informants insisted that it would be a good idea to own a weapon-an automatic-for the next visit to Poconos, said the informants. No, said the young men who were not interested. They work. They have families. Yes, you can bring your own weapons to the firing range, but they work. The Duka brothers are roofers. Mohammed Shnewer is a taxi driver. They have the responsibility of providing for their families. Dritan Duka, 30, has five children. Elijvir Duka, 26, has a daughter. Shain Duka, 26, has a younger brother who needs his guidance. No, said the young men-a semi-automatic!

But isn't that how it works? It's the "friend" brings law enforcement to you and kisses your cheeks. It's the one who arranges a meeting to settle disagreements on your "turf."

What were these young men planning to do, according to the informants? They were set to attack a U.S. base at Fort Dix. Sounds like a movie, doesn't it? The prosecutor's star witnesses, Omar and Bakali were well paid too. Omar received $240,000 while Bakali took home $150,000 ("The Fort Dix 5 Convictions). Nice "work," uh?

And this starts with a video of swimming and of pillow fights! But, these are images of distraction to cover up the secret training of "terrorists" at Poconos! These activities concealed plotting young Muslim men planning to destroy the lifestyle of "hard working" Americans! Be fearful of your neighbors with racial and religious differences while, for Islamic Muslims living in America, daily activities are subject to misinterpretation.

What happened to this evidence of terrorism, this incriminating evidence, this videotape?



I looked at the two women, the mother of the Duka brothers and the sister of Mohammad as they gesture...


Yes, the videotape is damaged-as in-end of the incriminating evidence!


Am I surprised?

According to one corporate media report, the five young men were found guilty on December 28, 2008, of "conspiring to massacre U.S. soldiers at Fort Dix [New Jersey]."1 The "investigation" stopped "terrorists" at "the planning stage." Oh, yes, "an attack was imminent" and the case "underscored the dangers of terrorist plots hatched on U.S. soil."

Americans are safer because five young Muslim men shouting "Allah, akbar" at a public firing range, are now facing life in prison!

They went to Poconos to have fun and they ran into terror!

"My sons didn't do anything," their mother, Lata Duka, told me. "Now, everyone is crying all the time."


The children who can't see their fathers and wives, uncles, sisters, and mothers, shouldn't be alone in crying.

As we have witnessed in the persecution of Rev. Edward Pinkney in Benton Harbor, Michigan and his fight to end the takeover of the Black community with Whirlpool, Inc.'s development scheme, this case represents the government's violation of the First Amendment-Freedom of Speech and Expression. Rev. Pinkney was given a 3-10 years sentence for "threatening" a judge with a passage from the Bible! ( Now, apparently, if you say "God is greatest" in Arabic and not in English-that's a threat to U.S. national security!

Your outrage is needed! Your right to justice is at stake! It is YOUR First Amendment right that is being violated if these five men are sentenced to life in prison! And the Dukas, Shnewer, and Tartar families are your family members too!

They need you! Court officials have used fear to silence the Duka's friends and neighbors. Let the government know that its effort to control by fear is on trial! "If I lived in China or even Russia, or any totalitarian country, maybe I could understand the denial of certain basic First Amendment privileges, because they hadn't committed themselves to that over there. But somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech."

Dr. Daniels is a cultural theorist and activist based in Philadelphia, and a Board Member on Black Commentator. After teaching a year in Ethiopia, she was inspired to name her blog after her colleague, Netsanet, which means Freedom in Amrahic., NewsOne, April 28, 2009


15) Swine Flu Outbreak-Nature Biting Back?
By David Kirby
The Huffington Post
April 26, 2009

Officials from the CDC and USDA will likely arrive in Mexico soon to help investigate the deadly new influenza virus that managed to jump from pigs to people in a previously unseen mutated form that can readily spread among humans.

One of the first things they will want to look at are the hundreds of industrial-scale hog facilities that have sprung up around Mexico in recent years, and the thousands of people employed inside the crowded, pathogen-filled confinement buildings and processing plants.

Industry calls these massive compounds "confined animal feeding operations," or CAFOs (KAY-fohs), though most people know them simply as "factory farms." You have seen them before while flying: Long white buildings lined up in tightly packed rows of three, four or more. Within each confinement, thousands of pigs are restricted to indoor pens and grain-fed for market, while breeding sows are kept in small metal crates where they spend most of their lives pregnant or nursing piglets.

In the last several years, U.S. hog conglomerates have opened giant swine CAFOs south of the border, including dozens around Mexico City in the neighboring states of Mexico and Puebla. Smithfield Foods also reportedly operates a huge swine facility in the State of Veracruz. Many of these CAFOs raise tens of thousands of pigs at a time. Cheaper labor costs and a desire to enter the Latin American market are drawing more industrialized agriculture to Mexico all the time, wiping out smaller, traditional farms, which now account for only a small portion of swine production in Mexico.

"Classic" swine flu virus (not the novel, mutated form in the news) is considered endemic in southern Mexico, while the region around the capital is classified as an "eradication area"-meaning the disease is present, and efforts are underway to control it. For some reason, vaccination of pigs against swine flu is prohibited in this area, and growers rely instead on depopulation and restriction of animal movement when outbreaks occur.

U.S. and Mexican epidemiologists and veterinarians will surely want to take swine samples from Mexican CAFOs and examine them for the newly discovered influenza strain (No one knows exactly how long it has been in circulation). And though it is too early to know if this new virus mutated and incubated on Mexican hog CAFOs, the industrialized facilities unquestionably belong on the list of suspects.

Pigs are nature's notorious "mixing bowls" for inter-species infections, and many swine flu viruses have long contained human influenza genetic components. Then, in the late 1990's-when industrialized swine production really took off in North America-scientists were alarmed to find that avian influenza genetic material was also mixed into the continent's viral soup (see below). Fortunately, it was not the dreaded and lethal H5N1 strain, which most people know of as "bird flu."

So where did this new, virulent and highly infectious influenza emerge from? According to Mexico's Health Minister, Jose Angel Cordova, the virus "mutated from pigs, and then at some point was transmitted to humans." It sure sounds like something happened on some farm, somewhere.

For years, leading scientists around the world have worried that large-scale, indoor swine "factories" would become breeding grounds for new pathogens that could more easily infect humans and then spread out rapidly in the general population-threatening to become a global pandemic.

We know that hog workers in Europe and North America are far more likely than others to be infected with potentially lethal pathogens such as MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), drug-resistant E. coli and Salmonella, and of course, swine influenza. Many scientists also believe that people who work inside CAFOs are more at risk of contracting and spreading these and other "zoonotic" diseases than those working in smaller-scale operations, with outdoor pens or pasture and far lower animal density.

But until now, hog workers with swine flu have rarely gone on to infect other people save for close family members. And that is why this new strain of swine influenza virus is so vexing-and alarming. It seems to spread quite easily through casual human contact.

This new strain making headlines and killing people contains genetic components of human flu virus, avian flu virus and-for the first time ever-two types of swine flu virus: American and Eurasian. "Such a combination of components (genes) was not found so far, neither among humans nor among pigs (as far as we know)," CDC spokesman Tom Skinner said in an email.

Nobody yet knows whether the mysterious mixing of two continents' swine flu genes is what made this outbreak so deadly, and so infectious among people, but you can bet that the world's best labs are already on the case. Another possibility is that a new and more aggressive strain of avian influenza got into the new mix as well.

How could this happen? There are several plausible explanations.

A new avian component?

Avian influenza viral components can easily mix with swine flu virus to create new bugs-and this can happen on both traditional hog farms and inside CAFOs, scientists say.

Last year, the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production issued a lengthy report on factory farming that included research on emerging forms of avian-swine-human influenza viruses. The molecular forensics of rapidly mutating animal pathogens makes epidemiological investigations all the more challenging, it said. "Populations exposed to infectious agents arising in CAFOs are even more difficult to define as some agents-such as a novel avian influenza virus-may be highly transmissible in or well beyond a community setting," the Pew report stated.

The transmission of avian or swine influenza viruses to humans, the report said, (almost wistfully, in retrospect), "seems a rather infrequent event today."

But the commission also issued this grave and perhaps all-too prescient warning:

The continual cycling of swine influenza viruses and other animal pathogens in large herds or flocks provides increased opportunity for the generation of novel viruses through mutation or recombinant events that could result in more efficient human-to-human transmission of these viruses. In addition, agricultural workers serve as a bridging population between their communities and the animals in large confinement facilities. This bridging increases the risk of novel virus generation in that human viruses may enter the herds or flocks and adapt to the animals.

Reassortant influenza viruses with human components have ravaged the modern swine industry. Such novel viruses not only put the workers and animals at risk of infections, but also potentially increase zoonotic disease transmission risk to the communities where the workers live. For instance, 64 percent of 63 persons exposed to humans infected with H7N7 avian influenza virus had serological evidence of H7N7 infection following the 2003 Netherlands avian influenza outbreak in poultry. Similarly, the spouses of swine workers who had no direct contact with pigs had increased odds of antibodies against swine influenza virus. Recent modeling work has shown that among communities where a large number of CAFO workers live, there is great potential for these workers to accelerate pandemic influenza virus transmission.

"We met with a team of researchers from the University of Iowa who are studying avian flu, and their real concern was the very scenario that may have happened in Mexico-that avian flu may get into a swine CAFO and rapidly mutate and then get passed to workers, and then on to other people very quickly," Bob Martin, who was executive director of the now-disbanded commission and currently a Senior Officer at the Pew Environmental Group, told me.

"Their concern was that new strains of avian flu combining with swine flu could make the swine flu more deadly," he said. "And because viruses pass so easily between pigs and people, the new avian component could make swine flu more virulent."

Researchers such as Gregory Gray, MD, a University of Iowa professor of international epidemiology and expert in zoonotic infections, warned that CAFO workers could serve as a "bridging population" to rural communities sharing viruses with the pigs, and vice-versa. Other scientists suggested that CAFO workers could theoretically spread disease quickly to great distances. An outbreak of infectious avian flu on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, for example, could reach the Rocky Mountains within 36 hours.

The Iowa team was also worried that CAFO production could lead to another 1918-style global pandemic. One theory behind that calamity is that waterfowl cross-infected U.S. pigs with a new type of avian-swine super-virus that was quickly transmitted to farm workers, possibly in Iowa, who went off to military training camps for WWI, and then spread the pathogen worldwide

"One very big concern was that swine flu mixed with wild bird flu, or bird flu in a chicken CAFO, tended to be ripe for incubating new types of viral infections, especially since the animals are so densely packed together," Bob Martin said.

Hog CAFOs are supposed to be completely closed environments, in order to protect the pigs from outside diseases. Visitors are usually required to shower and don special protective clothing (again, for the animals' benefit) before going inside a confinement.

But these are not hermetically sealed environments, and pathogens can enter and exit a CAFO in a number of ways other than via swine workers (or flies, another proven vector of CAFO diseases).

To begin with, some swine CAFO's recover water from their waste lagoons and recycle it back into the animal housing, in order to wash out the barns while also cutting down on dwindling groundwater supplies (a particular concern in parts of Mexico, to be sure). But wildfowl routinely land in CAFO lagoons, where they can easily shed influenza virus into the water. This can also happen at facilities that use water from nearby ponds or rivers.

Here in the U.S., the National Pork Board had already urged all producers to take a number of steps to reduce the risk of avian-to-swine influenza transmission (A new advisory has also been posted today).

"It is in the best interest of both human public health and animal health that transmission of influenza viruses from pigs to people, from people to pigs, from birds to pigs and from pigs to birds be minimized," says the group's website,

"The global reservoir of influenza viruses in waterfowl, the examples of infection of pigs with waterfowl-origin influenza viruses, the risks for reassortment of avian viruses with swine and/or human influenza viruses in pigs, and the risk for transmission of influenza viruses from pigs to domestic turkeys all indicate that contact between pigs and both wild and domestic fowl should be minimized," the Pork Board says. It then offers some "potentially useful" factors to "reduce transmission of influenza viruses between birds and pigs":

• Bird-proofing-All doorways, windows and air-flow vents in swine housing units should be adequately sealed or screened to prevent entrance of birds.

• Water treatment-Do not use untreated surface water as either drinking water or water for cleaning in swine facilities. Likewise, it may be prudent to attempt to minimize waterfowl use of farm lagoons.

• Separation of pig and bird production-Do not raise pigs and domestic fowl on the same premises.

• Feed security-Keep pig feed in closed containers to prevent contamination with feces from over-flying waterfowl.

• Worker biosecurity-Provide boots for workers that are worn only within the pig housing units.

Dr. Liz Wagstrom, the board's director of veterinary science, said she did not know if Mexican producers followed the same precautions, though she did note that none of the Mexican herds under U.S. contract have reported any unusual health problems.

As for the use of surface water sources on U.S. pig farms, Wagstrom said it does happen, but her group is moving to avoid that practice industry-wide. She added that the new virus has not been detected in any U.S. pigs, and there is no importation of live swine from Mexico.

When pig viruses collide

The CDC, USDA and Mexican authorities will surely focus on this previously unheard of viral "reassortment" that combines swine influenza components from both American and Eurasian strains.

Pigs don't fly, so how could this happen? One explanation, again, is the birds. Every year, more than two million wild fowl fly up to 1,500 miles or more eastward across the Arctic Ocean from Asia to North America. There, the migrating Asian birds intersect with North American species along the great north-south "flyways" of the Americas. There is sharing of viruses between bird species from both continents, University of Iowa's Dr. Gray told me.

Last October, a team from the U.S. Geological Survey published a study in Molecular Ecology that found genetic evidence of (non-H5N1) flu viruses in northern pintail ducks in Alaska whose genes were more closely related to Asian bird flu strains than those in the Americas. "Although some previous research has led to speculation that intercontinental transfer of avian influenza viruses from Asia to North America via wild birds is rare, this study challenges that," Chris Franson, a USGS wildlife biologist, told reporters.

The question, then, is could the Asian avian virus contain swine flu components from Eurasian pigs?

"Absolutely," said Ellen Silbergeld, professor of environmental health sciences at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and a leading researcher of pathogen evolution in CAFOs. "A pig infected by avian virus can then come into contact with swine virus, which then combines and gets picked up by a bird again. It's a viral patchwork. Wild birds can carry virus with swine components in it-a lot of avian viruses contain elements from pigs."

Silbergeld is by no means convinced that birds brought the Eurasian genetic material to Mexico.

"Pig's don't fly, but pork does," she said. "There is an active international transfer of all kinds of animal products, including food, food components, animal waste, offal, feed made of rendered animals and so on. Some of it is imported from Asia or Europe."

And of course, people fly, too. Dr. Silbergeld thinks that human travel is the most likely way that Eurasian swine viral components made their way to Mexico. "A tourist from China could have gone to Mexico City, and that Asian strain was picked up by somebody else, who then went to a swine barn," she suggested. "It's a likely explanation. Sometimes we overestimate what wild birds can do."

But no matter how the Eurasian strain got to Mexico, Dr. Silbergeld thinks the genetic swimming pool that is found in modern swine-or poultry-production is probably the place from whence this killer bug evolved.

"CAFOs are not biosecure," she told me. "They have high rates of ventilation and enormous number of animals that would die of heat stress unless the building was ventilated. We, and others, have measured bacteria and viruses in the environment around poultry and swine houses. They are carried by flies, too. These places are not bio-secure going in-or going out."

"These mixing bowls of intensive operations of chickens and pigs are contributing to speeding up viral evolution," Dr. Silbergeld added. "I think CAFOs are contributing."

But, what about traditional outdoor farms? Aren't those animals even more susceptible to wild type viruses than animals kept indoors, as industry claims? "Well, let's say that animals in confinement are ten-times less likely to be infected by wild animals," she said, "But there are 100 times as many of them. You do the math."

The Pork Board's Dr. Wagstrom said her industry has been working closely with the U.S. Government for nearly a year to set up a new monitoring and rapid animal-identification system for emerging swine flu strains in the U.S. herd. Wagstrom added that the new virus "could have" emerged from a Mexican swine CAFO, though she doesn't think birds were involved.

"Where it happened is not as important right now as locating the virus, and stopping its spread," she said. "There will be lots of epidemiology done in the future to find out where this came from."

One hopes the hard detective work will get underway as soon as humanly possible.

The author is currently completing a new book on industrial animal production for St. Martins Press.

-The Huffington Post, April 26, 2009


16) Court rules against Peltier in documents case
The Associated Press
Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Imprisoned American Indian activist Leonard Peltier has lost another round in court in his effort to compel the FBI to disclose about 10,500 pages of documents about his case.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis ruled on the case Wednesday, rejecting Peltier's claim that the district court should have reviewed all the documents, not just a sample of about 500 pages.

The appeals court said Peltier didn't make that argument during the trial so the district court in Minnesota didn't abuse its discretion by not doing it.

Further, the appeals court said the lower court was correct in ruling that the Freedom of Information Act's exemptions cover the bulk of the disputed documents, shielding them from disclosure.

Peltier is serving two life sentences for the deaths of two FBI agents during a 1975 standoff near Oglala, S.D., on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. He has appealed his conviction several times, without success.

In 2001, he requested all the FBI's records about himself and received more than 70,400 pages of records.

However, the FBI withheld thousands more pages because it claimed they were excempt from the FOIA because they could disclose the identity of confidential sources, among other reasons.


17) As Detroit Is Remade, the U.A.W. Stands to Gain
"In the last 20 years, the U.A.W. has donated more than $25.4 million to federal candidates, 99 percent of it to Democrats, according to, a site that tracks campaign contributions."
April 30, 2009

DETROIT - In the devastating slump that has forced one of Detroit's automakers into bankruptcy and another to the edge of it, the United Automobile Workers union stands to become one of the industry's few winners.

According to restructuring plans proposed this week, the union will have more than half the stock in Chrysler and a third of General Motors, meaning it will have tremendous influence, with the government, in determining the future of the companies.

The United Automobile Workers union said Wednesday that its members ratified a cost-cutting deal with Chrysler by a 4-to-1 margin.

"Our members have responded by accepting an agreement that is painful for our active and retired workers, but which helps preserve U.S. manufacturing jobs and gives Chrysler a chance to survive," Ron Gettelfinger, the union's president, said in a statement.

The prospect of a big ownership stake for the U.A.W. in G.M. has angered holders of billions of dollars in bonds, who stand to get only a fraction of the restructured company. As for Chrysler, the banks, hedge funds and others that lent it money have been promised only cash, not stock.

"We believe the offer to be a blatant disregard of fairness for the bondholders who have funded this company and amounts to using taxpayer money to show political favoritism of one creditor over another," a group of G.M. bondholders said in a statement this week.

The U.A.W. members at both automakers stand to lose some of their pay and benefits, but the cuts are not as deep as those faced by airline and steel workers when their companies went bankrupt. Under proposed deals devised by the Treasury Department, U.A.W. pensions and retiree health care benefits would largely be protected.

The U.A.W. has derived its leverage in part from the support of a Democratic president and Congress. But it also results from a long-term strategy to build support in Washington that stretches back more than 60 years.

"We have to fight both in the economic and political fields, because what you win on the picket lines, they take away in Washington if you don't fight on that front," Walter P. Reuther, the union's best known president, said in 1947.

Mr. Reuther and every succeeding U.A.W. president invested significant amounts of time and money to pursue that goal.

In the last 20 years, the U.A.W. has donated more than $25.4 million to federal candidates, 99 percent of it to Democrats, according to, a site that tracks campaign contributions.

The union ranks No. 16 on the group's list of top 100 political donors, known as "heavy hitters." The U.A.W. was well ahead of G.M., which gave $10 million in that period, ranking it 73rd. Chrysler and Ford Motor did not make the list.

Mr. Gettelfinger, the current president, has also been an effective, steel-nerved leader, and has managed to maintain the union's importance in recent negotiations, even though the U.A.W. has lost nearly 200,000 members since he took office in 2003.

Mr. Gettelfinger's influence stems in part from the fact that the U.A.W. represents nearly all the auto workers at the Detroit companies. (Workers at a few plants are represented by the I.U.E.) By contrast, airline workers are represented by multiple unions.

"The U.A.W. is so overwhelmingly dominant," said Duane Woerth, former president of the Air Line Pilots Association. "You're only talking to one union and that gives them more power."

Mr. Woerth, whose union was involved in 22 bankruptcy cases involving big and small airlines during his tenure as its president, said the pressure that bondholders and other investors might put on the U.A.W. has been mitigated by Democrats' support.

For example, the union has yet to complete a deal with G.M., which laid out an offer to its bondholders this week that would pay them about 41 cents on the dollar. In order for the deal to succeed, 90 percent must accept it, which analysts say is unlikely given bondholders' criticism of the offer.

Only this week did the U.A.W. come to terms at Chrysler, facing a Thursday deadline set by the administration.

The tactics have won admiration from others in the labor movement, even those forced to grant concessions to bankrupt companies.

Robert Roach Jr., a general vice president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, said a successful outcome for the U.A.W. and the auto companies would benefit the economy, and in the process help his 650,000 members at major airlines, aircraft makers and other companies.

"We're all in this," Mr. Roach said. "The corporations, the federal government, the taxpayer, the cities and the states. If we are able to save these auto companies, that will be good for everybody."

But many of the U.A.W. members who voted Wednesday on the Chrysler proposal were struggling to see the benefits of the cuts they were agreeing to.

The deal suspends cost-of-living pay increases, limits overtime pay and reduces paid time off. It also eliminates dental and vision benefits for retirees.

It also provides for Fiat to begin building cars in at least one Chrysler plant.

"Either you vote for it or it's bankruptcy," said Bruce Clary, 58, who was an electrician at a Detroit engine plant until being laid off in January. "And it may be bankruptcy anyway."

At Chrysler's Jefferson North assembly plant nearby, the oldest auto plant still operating in Detroit, workers said the consequences of rejecting the deal would be far worse than the concessions that it would force.

"This was the best deal we could get," said John Davis, who has worked at Chrysler for 33 years. "We did our part, and now the banks need to do their part."


18) An Affordable Salvation
Op-Ed Columnist
May 1, 2009

The 2008 election ended the reign of junk science in our nation's capital, and the chances of meaningful action on climate change, probably through a cap-and-trade system on emissions, have risen sharply.

But the opponents of action claim that limiting emissions would have devastating effects on the U.S. economy. So it's important to understand that just as denials that climate change is happening are junk science, predictions of economic disaster if we try to do anything about climate change are junk economics.

Yes, limiting emissions would have its costs. As a card-carrying economist, I cringe when "green economy" enthusiasts insist that protecting the environment would be all gain, no pain.

But the best available estimates suggest that the costs of an emissions-limitation program would be modest, as long as it's implemented gradually. And committing ourselves now might actually help the economy recover from its current slump.

Let's talk first about those costs.

A cap-and-trade system would raise the price of anything that, directly or indirectly, leads to the burning of fossil fuels. Electricity, in particular, would become more expensive, since so much generation takes place in coal-fired plants.

Electric utilities could reduce their need to purchase permits by limiting their emissions of carbon dioxide - and the whole point of cap-and-trade is, of course, to give them an incentive to do just that. But the steps they would take to limit emissions, such as shifting to other energy sources or capturing and sequestering much of the carbon dioxide they emit, would without question raise their costs.

If emission permits were auctioned off - as they should be - the revenue thus raised could be used to give consumers rebates or reduce other taxes, partially offsetting the higher prices. But the offset wouldn't be complete. Consumers would end up poorer than they would have been without a climate-change policy.

But how much poorer? Not much, say careful researchers, like those at the Environmental Protection Agency or the Emissions Prediction and Policy Analysis Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Even with stringent limits, says the M.I.T. group, Americans would consume only 2 percent less in 2050 than they would have in the absence of emission limits. That would still leave room for a large rise in the standard of living, shaving only one-twentieth of a percentage point off the average annual growth rate.

To be sure, there are many who insist that the costs would be much higher. Strange to say, however, such assertions nearly always come from people who claim to believe that free-market economies are wonderfully flexible and innovative, that they can easily transcend any constraints imposed by the world's limited resources of crude oil, arable land or fresh water.

So why don't they think the economy can cope with limits on greenhouse gas emissions? Under cap-and-trade, emission rights would just be another scarce resource, no different in economic terms from the supply of arable land.

Needless to say, people like Newt Gingrich, who says that cap-and-trade would "punish the American people," aren't thinking that way. They're just thinking "capitalism good, government bad." But if you really believe in the magic of the marketplace, you should also believe that the economy can handle emission limits just fine.

So we can afford a strong climate change policy. And committing ourselves to such a policy might actually help us in our current economic predicament.

Right now, the biggest problem facing our economy is plunging business investment. Businesses see no reason to invest, since they're awash in excess capacity, thanks to the housing bust and weak consumer demand.

But suppose that Congress were to mandate gradually tightening emission limits, starting two or three years from now. This would have no immediate effect on prices. It would, however, create major incentives for new investment - investment in low-emission power plants, in energy-efficient factories and more.

To put it another way, a commitment to greenhouse gas reduction would, in the short-to-medium run, have the same economic effects as a major technological innovation: It would give businesses a reason to invest in new equipment and facilities even in the face of excess capacity. And given the current state of the economy, that's just what the doctor ordered.

This short-run economic boost isn't the main reason to move on climate-change policy. The important thing is that the planet is in danger, and the longer we wait the worse it gets. But it is an extra reason to move quickly.

So can we afford to save the planet? Yes, we can. And now would be a very good time to get started.


19) Pipe Leak at Nuclear Plant Raises Concerns
May 2, 2009

WASHINGTON - The discovery of water flowing across the floor of a building at the Indian Point 2 nuclear plant in Buchanan, N.Y., traced to a leak in a buried pipe, is stirring concern about the plant's underground pipes and those of other aging reactors across the country.

A one-and-a-half-inch hole caused by corrosion allowed about 100,000 gallons of water to escape from the main system that keeps the reactor cool immediately after any shutdown, according to nuclear experts. The leak was discovered on Feb. 16, according to the plant's owner, Entergy Nuclear Northeast, a subsidiary of the Entergy Corporation.

Entergy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission emphasized that the Indian Point reactor could still have been shut down safely with either of two other backup systems, although operators generally avoid using both.

They also stressed that the supply pipe was quickly repaired after the leak was found and that the water itself, which is cleaner than tap water, posed no environmental threat. Yet the leak's discovery has prompted Entergy and the regulatory commission to begin studying how the chief system for cooling during shutdowns, so important that the Indian Point 2 has three pumps in place to do the same job, could be endangered by the failure of a single part.

More broadly, it has raised concerns about the monitoring of decades-old buried pipes at the nation's nuclear plants, many of which are applying for renewal of their operating licenses. Indian Point 2, whose 40-year operating license expires in 2013, already faces harsh criticism from New York State and county officials who want it shut down.

This week Representative Edward J. Markey, the Massachusetts Democrat who heads a House subcommittee on energy and the environment, said the leak raised serious questions about Entergy's and the regulatory commission's oversight.

"This leak may demonstrate a systemic failure of the licensee and the commission to inspect critical buried pipes in a manner sufficient to guarantee the public health and safety," he wrote to the commission's chairman, Dale Klein in a letter on Thursday. The letter was also signed by Representative John J. Hall, whose district includes the plant. The congressmen said they were "shocked" that a leak that big could develop without detection and called the system for detecting such problems "profoundly inadequate."

One argument raised by New York State in opposing extension of the license of Indian Point 2 or the adjacent Indian Point 3 reactor is that crucial components are aging in ways that the operators may not anticipate or understand.

The supply pipe at issue, measuring eight inches in diameter, is used to fill a 600,000-gallon tank that is used whenever the plant "trips," or shuts down because of an equipment malfunction. Such shutdowns are not unusual; one occurred on April 3, roughly a month after the pipe was fixed.

James F. Steets, a spokesman for Indian Point, said it was unclear when the leak began. The company initially said the pipe was losing 18 gallons a minute but later amended that to 12; either number is small relative to the 600,000-gallon tank, he said.

Mr. Steets said that the water level in the tank offered no clue that the supply pipe was leaking. The tank has an alarm to indicate its water level is falling, he said, but it did not sound because an automatic system was topping off the tank with purified water.

At a nuclear plant, a central water system takes heat from the reactor in the form of steam and turns it into electricity. During a shutdown at Indian Point 2, that system often turns off and a pipe measuring 12 inches in diameter carries water from the tank into the cooling system to carry off excess heat.

The buried portion of neither the 8-inch supply pipe nor the 12-inch pipe connecting the tank to the reactor cooling system has been visually inspected since the reactor began operating in August, 1973, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Nor does the commission require such inspections.

Paul Blanch, an electrical engineer and nuclear safety expert who worked at Indian Point in 2001 and 2002, said that because neither pipe has been inspected, except for a short section that was replaced when the hole was located in February, "they shouldn't be operating right now."

He said the plant could be operating with a backup system that is ready to fail.

Mel Gray, a branch chief at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission who oversees inspections at Indian Point, confirmed in a telephone interview that inspectors "have not dug up and laid eyes visually" on the pipes. But he said that experts routinely conduct "surveillance tests," measuring the tank level and the flow through the pumps that direct water from the tank to the reactor.

"If you had a gross leak, you'd detect its going somewhere else," he said, referring, for example, to a leak large enough to drain the tank quickly.

Mr. Gray acknowledged that the 12-inch line that delivers water from the 600,000 gallon tank during a shutdown might be rusted in places, too, but he said it was unlikely to fail suddenly when called upon. But Mr. Blanch warned that if gravel or dirt leaked into the 12-inch supply pipe when the pumps started up, that could make them shut down.

Mr. Steets of Entergy said that if the tank were disabled, a tank filled from Buchanan's municipal water system could be used to deliver water during a shutdown.

But Mr. Blanch and the letter from the two congressmen faulted the system that relies on city water.

Plant operators dislike using such water because city tap water is not as clean as reactor water. And critics point out that the system is not safety-rated, meaning it is not certified to work in adverse conditions like blackouts and earthquakes and is not maintained as carefully.

Another potential solution proposed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission involves using the reactor's emergency core cooling system during a shutdown. But cooling water can only be inserted after reducing the pressure in the reactor, which causes the water to boil. Letting the water boil can lead to core damage.

Buried pipes are emerging as an endemic problem as reactors age, although so far most of the attention has been to the substance that is leaked - not a pipe's role in ensuring the reactor's safe operation over all.

Reactor water includes tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen that can occur naturally but is also made in reactors. Leaks of water with tritium have been discovered in underground piping at the Byron, Braidwood and Dresden twin-reactor plants in Illinois, and at a three-unit plant in Arizona, Palo Verde. Indian Point also leaked water with tritium from its spent fuel pool in 2005.

While experts at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said in interviews that additional pipe leaks like the one found in February would not pose a big challenge to reactor operators, they acknowledged that it was something new.

"We were not aware of a problem before with underground pipe," Mr. Gray said. "Now that we have one, it's got our focused attention."

"We're not done," he said.


20) Anger and Fear Fuel May Day Europe Protests
May 2, 2009

PARIS - Rising unemployment, stagnant wages and fury at the way governments are handling the financial crisis were expected to bring unusually large crowds onto the streets of Europe on Friday for May Day, the traditional workers' holiday.

Frustration among those who have lost their jobs, savings or pensions has been fueled by a steady stream of reports that bankers and executives at ailing companies were continuing to reap large financial rewards.

"For some, the mood is hardening," said John Monks, the general secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation, which represents 82 union organizations in 36 European countries. "It's switching from worry to frustration and anger. This is the most important May the 1st in a long time."

Rising unemployment is hitting factory workers as plants close amid slumping demand.

According to the European Union statistics agency Eurostat, the jobless rate in the euro zone was 8.5 percent in February, up from 7.2 percent a year earlier.

The demonstrations will be closely watched by politicians, coming just over a month before elections for the European Parliament. That campaign is likely to be dominated by the financial crisis, fears about protectionism and a growing sense that institutions are failing the populace.

Workers, who are "paying to rescue the financial sector," now want "something back," from the state via higher unemployment benefits and plans to help vulnerable employees, Mr. Monks said in an interview.

In Paris, a high turnout was expected on the streets by unions. The General Confederation of Labor, or C.G.T., one of the largest unions here, said that it expected more than 283 events across the country, double the number of last year.

Bernard Thibault, secretary general of the C.G.T., described the day as "historic" because the eight main unions will march together for the first time in the French capital.

France in particular has been the scene of mounting anger and workers have on several occasions held their bosses hostage - although such actions are not unheard of here.

The main unions are also concerned about the government's recent reopening of a debate on working Sundays and its refusal to discuss increasing the minimum wage.

On Jan. 29, after more than a million people marched across the country, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France offered 2.6 billion euros, or $3.4 billion, in tax cuts and assistance to low-paid and unemployed workers, in addition to an existing $35 billion stimulus package.

But since then - and despite another nationwide strike in March that drew at least 1.2 million people onto the streets - Mr. Sarkozy has not announced broad measures, apart from support for the auto industry and banks.

Others strikes have hit French factories, ports, universities and hospitals, and the government remains worried about an outbreak of violence similar to that seen recently in Guadeloupe, a French territory, and in Greece.

Elsewhere in Europe, unions pledged to demonstrate two weeks from now in cities like Madrid, Brussels, Berlin and Prague to protest the handling of the crisis.

In some European cities, the protests are expected to have an added edge.

In London, relations between the police and activist groups remain tense following tough police tactics at the Group of 20 summit meeting of world leaders in the capital last month.

Large rallies are also anticipated in Germany, where union leaders have warned managers against mass layoffs.

Since November, the recession has pushed more than 3,000 Germans a day onto the jobless rolls.

"Looking ahead, the worst recession since World War II is increasingly feeding through to the labor market," said Carsten Brzeski, an analyst at the bank ING.

As crowds were gathering to protest in Western Europe, violent clashes were reported in Turkey.

Taksim Square in the center of Istanbul was opened by the authorities to unions and certain other groups for the first time in more than three decades, and an estimated 5,000 protesters gathered there, with thousands of police officers in riot gear and gas masks lining the streets. The protesters chanted slogans, sang songs and waved flags.

On side streets leading to the main protest area, small posses of young people wearing bandanas on their faces threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at the police, who responded with tear gas and water cannon.

The police also clashed with protesters in a number of other neighborhoods of Istanbul, which was virtually shut down. Most of the city's main roads were blocked, and the subway and tram services shut.

Eight people were injured in clashes, according to NTV, a private Turkish television network. Shop windows throughout the city were broken.

Sabrina Tavernise contributed reporting from Istanbul.


21) Number of Students Leaving School Early Continues to Increase, Study Says
April 30, 2009

Almost six years after a lawsuit forced the city to pledge to keep better track of students who leave public schools without graduating, the number leaving high schools has continued to climb, according to a report to be released Thursday by the public advocate's office.

The report raises questions about why more than 20 percent of students from the class of 2007 were discharged - the term for students who leave the school system without graduating - but 17.5 percent from the class of 2000 were. Much of the increase has come from students who are discharged in the ninth grade, which has gone up to 7.5 percent for the class of 2007, but was 3.8 percent in 2000.

Though students can be classified as discharged for a number of benign reasons, including a transfer to a private school or a move out of the city, the Education Department has been sued several times for pushing out students who are struggling and are unlikely to graduate, a practice that can help raise the school's test-score averages and graduation rates.

In 2003, Chancellor Joel I. Klein called the effect of the practice a "tragedy," and when the lawsuit was settled in the fall of that year, the department began requiring all schools to interview students before they can transfer to other programs.

The report was written by Jennifer L. Jennings, a doctoral student at Columbia University, and Leonie Haimson, a frequent critic of Chancellor Klein and the executive director of Class Size Matters, an advocacy group that urges more checks on mayoral control of the schools. The report is being released at a time when the State Legislature is to consider extending the 2002 mayoral control law.

Betsy Gotbaum, the public advocate, said the findings supported her call, issued in the fall of last year, for an independent research board to monitor the Education Department.

"I don't think anything has gotten any better," Ms. Gotbaum said Wednesday. "The numbers explaining where these students go is certainly at best questionable and at least a bit wrong. We really don't understand what all these numbers mean."

Ms. Gotbaum said she asked on Wednesday that the state comptroller's office audit the city's graduation and discharge numbers.

David Cantor, a spokesman for the City Education Department, said that while the increases were noteworthy, they reflected the fact that the student population often moves in and out of the city.

He said the city's graduation rate, which is affected by the number of students who drop out but not those discharged, has improved steadily over the last six years. For the class of 2008, the projected discharge rate is 19.2 percent, Mr. Cantor said.

Mr. Cantor said the city's graduation rates and discharges were audited annually by Ernst & Young.

One of the most alarming trends, according to the report, is the number of ninth-grade students who are discharged.

"This finding is of serious concern, as the goal of the public school system is to provide all students with the support needed to persist and successfully graduate from high school," the report states, adding, "Schools may be responding to accountability incentives to discharge students earlier in their high school careers."

Jennifer Bell-Ellwanger, a senior adviser to the chancellor who oversees research, said department officials had noticed the increase in ninth-grade discharges and were trying to determine its cause.

According to data provided by the Education Department, roughly 74 percent of the more than 18,000 students discharged from the class of 2007 went to a school outside New York City. But according to the report, there is no evidence in census data to suggest that so many teenagers have left New York in recent years.

The department has also reported that the number of high school students transferring to parochial schools has increased over time; there were 2,084 such transfers for the class of 2007, but 821 for the class of 2004, for example. But the report also uses data from the state's Education Department showing that the enrollment in parochial schools appears largely flat.

The report also finds that far more black and Hispanic students are discharged than white and Asian students, and far more boys than girls.


22) Churchgoers more likely to back torture, survey finds
Posted: 01:55 PM ET
April 30th, 2009

WASHINGTON (CNN) - The more often Americans go to church, the more
likely they are to support the torture of suspected terrorists,
according to a new analysis.

More than half of people who attend services at least once a week - 54
percent - said the use of torture against suspected terrorists is
"often" or "sometimes" justified. Only 42 percent of people who "seldom
or never" go to services agreed, according the analysis released
Wednesday by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

White evangelical Protestants were the religious group most likely to
say torture is often or sometimes justified - more than 6 in 10
supported it. People unaffiliated with any religious organization were
least likely to back it. Only 4 in 10 of them did.

The analysis is based on a Pew Research Center survey of 742 American
adults conducted April 14-21. It did not include analysis of groups
other than white evangelicals, white non-Hispanic Catholics, white
mainline Protestants, and the religiously unaffiliated, because the
sample size was too small.


23) Social Security Is Not Expected to Rise
May 3, 2009

WASHINGTON - For the first time in more than three decades, Social Security recipients will not get any increase in their benefits next year, federal forecasts show.

The absence of a cost-of-living adjustment, calculated under a formula set by law, will be a shock to older Americans already hit by plummeting home values, investment losses and rising health costs. More than 50 million people receive Social Security.

"Most seniors have never been through a year in which there was no Social Security COLA," said David M. Certner, legislative counsel at AARP, the lobby for older Americans. Beneficiaries have received automatic cost-of-living adjustments every year since 1975. The increase this year was 5.8 percent.

In theory, low inflation is good for people on fixed incomes. But it is creating political and policy problems for Congress, which is just learning of the implications for Social Security and Medicare.

The forecasts, by the Obama administration and the Congressional Budget Office, indicate that Social Security beneficiaries will not receive any cost-of-living increase in 2010 or in 2011. The COLA is intended to preserve the purchasing power of Social Security, by increasing benefits to keep pace with consumer prices. In the last year, overall inflation has been low, largely because of the economic downturn and a decline in energy prices.

A freeze in Social Security benefits would have major implications for Medicare because the COLA, in effect, puts a cap on premiums for Part B of Medicare, which covers doctors' services.

If there is no cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security, about three-fourths of beneficiaries will not see any change in their basic Part B premiums, federal officials said. But some beneficiaries do not have this protection and could face substantial increases in their Part B premiums.

In addition, millions of beneficiaries could see higher premiums for drug coverage, provided under Part D of Medicare.

Social Security and Medicare trustees will describe the outlook for benefits and premiums in their annual reports this month.

Officials have already said the condition of Medicare's hospital insurance trust fund is deteriorating because of the recession, which has reduced payroll tax revenues, the main source of money for the fund. Spending on Social Security and Medicare totaled more than $1 trillion last year, accounting for more than one-third of the federal budget.

Most people on Medicare have Part B premiums deducted from their monthly Social Security checks. These premiums have historically increased much faster than Social Security benefits.

Under federal law, most Medicare beneficiaries have some protection. Their basic Part B premiums cannot rise more than the dollar amount of the cost-of-living increase in their Social Security checks. So if there is no COLA, their basic Part B premiums will not increase.

But one-fourth of Medicare beneficiaries are not protected by the law, and their premiums could increase.

Most Medicare beneficiaries pay a monthly Part B premium of $96.40. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the basic premium will rise to $119 next year and $123 in 2011 for those who are not protected under federal law.

Douglas W. Elmendorf, director of the Congressional Budget Office, predicted that inflation would remain low for several years, so Social Security might not pay a cost-of-living increase until January 2013. President Obama's budget assumes no increase in 2010 or 2011, then a 1.4 percent COLA in 2012.

Mr. Certner, from AARP, described the outlook for consumers: "If, as expected, there is no COLA in Social Security next year but premiums for drug coverage increase, as expected, millions of beneficiaries will see their Social Security checks reduced for the first time."


24) The Rent Is All Paid Up, but Eviction Still Looms
May 2, 2009

Chauntay Barnes and Edgar Letriz, who live near each other in Connecticut, have many things in common. Both rent homes whose owners defaulted on their mortgages. Both say they never missed a rent payment. And both received eviction notices after the lenders foreclosed. But there is a major difference.

The mortgage on Ms. Barnes's house in Hamden is controlled by Fannie Mae, which in January stopped evicting renters from foreclosed properties. The mortgage on Mr. Letriz's three-family house in New Haven is controlled by HSBC, a London-based bank.

Ms. Barnes is now awaiting a month-to-month lease, valid until Fannie Mae sells her home; Mr. Letriz, on the other hand, is facing eviction.

Renters like Mr. Letriz and Ms. Barnes have long been unsuspecting casualties in the foreclosure crisis, facing eviction through no fault of their own, often with little warning. When the government-controlled mortgage companies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, started offering leases to renters of foreclosed properties, lawmakers and housing advocates hoped that other lenders would follow suit.

But so far, action has been minimal.

"This has been a silent issue that is now gaining steam and attention," said Marietta Rodriguez, director of national homeownership programs at NeighborWorks America, a nonprofit network of community housing groups. "A lot of states and municipalities are trying to see what they can do" to require banks to extend leases.

So far this year, 30 percent of homes that received foreclosure notices were occupied by someone other than their owner, according to RealtyTrac, which collects foreclosure data. The federal government's recently announced $75 billion housing rescue plan leaves renters unprotected because it applies only to a homeowner's primary residence, not rental properties.

After renters are evicted, properties often remain vacant and become neglected or vandalized, hurting neighborhood property values and creating eyesores - a loss for lenders as well as residents, housing advocates say.

"Is it explicable?" Ms. Rodriguez said. "Not really. It affects the displaced tenant, the value of the building, the neighborhood. Nobody wins."

Banks say that they are not in the business of being landlords and that properties with no occupants are often easier to sell.

Renters caught up in foreclosure face a tangle of often unreachable banks and fears of losing their security deposits along with their homes.

For Ms. Barnes and Mr. Letriz, foreclosure was terrifying, beginning with the eviction notice.

"I thought, 'Oh, my God, I'm going to be out on the street with my kids,' " said Ms. Barnes, 30, a mother of two who is studying to be a nurse.

Then in December, Fannie Mae notified her that it would temporarily halt evictions, and planned to extend leases to renters until it sold the foreclosed buildings. Freddie Mac adopted a similar policy in March.

Though Ms. Barnes still does not have a lease, the company's promises have eased the stress on her family. She has not paid the rent since receiving the eviction notice in September, but said she was ready to resume payments as soon as she got a lease. She laughed mildly over some of the house's maintenance problems, including a rotting front step.

"I told my kids it's a go," she said. "No more being sick from worry. Plans can be made now - no more what ifs."

Mr. Letriz, 39, has had no such reprieve. With a degenerative disc disorder that requires him to use a walker, Mr. Letriz is on disability leave from his job as an assistant dean at Yale College. He shares a neat second-floor apartment with his sister Mariam and her two children. Ms. Letriz is expecting her third child this month.

"I've had sleepless nights and psychiatric counseling because of the pain, and now this causes more stress," Mr. Letriz said. "I'm not capable of moving. I can't pick up even a gallon of milk."

On Feb. 23, a marshal delivered a notice instructing him to respond or move out by March 16.

The first notice was just the start of the process, said Amy Marx, a lawyer at New Haven Legal Assistance who is representing the Letrizes. "But most people, when they get the notice to quit, pack up their bags and go."

New Haven Legal Assistance has urged banks to adopt policies similar to Fannie Mae's, extending month-to-month leases until a foreclosed property is sold. But so far, Ms. Marx said, "none of the banks have been willing to let tenants stay."

"They either offer cash for keys," Ms. Marx said, referring to the practice of offering renters money to move before eviction, "or a little extra time, usually two or three months."

Though banks are required to return renters' security deposits, that does not happen often, Ms. Marx said.

Properties like the Letrizes' house, where the mortgage has been bundled into a securitized trust, often fall between two banks with different interests: a trustee for a pool of securitized mortgages and a servicer hired to manage the individual loans.

The trustee in the Letrizes' case, HSBC, is named on the suit to evict them. The bank stands to lose money on the property if it is vandalized.

But HSBC said in a statement that the servicer, Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, handled all questions on whether to evict tenants. Wells Fargo said in a statement that it did not have a summary eviction policy, but it could not name any instances in which it had extended a lease when not required to by state law, even though some trustees, including Deutsche Bank and U.S. Bank, have recently advised servicers to consider allowing renters to stay if it benefits the trust.

Wells Fargo also said that it had offered Mr. Letriz money to move, which he rejected (the normal cash-for-keys offer is $1,000 to $3,000).

Ms. Letriz, who is in her second year of training to be a nurse, said the whole process seemed arbitrary. "Your life is not being considered," she said. "You make a plan to go to nursing school, to help your brother, to send your children to school in New Haven. Now you have to get up and go. It breaks apart a family."

A spokeswoman for Fannie Mae, Amy Bonitatibus, said it expected to break even on rentals, hiring real estate agents to manage the properties. But so far, the program's impact has been limited. The company controls about 1,800 foreclosed properties.

Several states, including Connecticut, have introduced legislation to require banks to continue renters' leases after foreclosure. A similar bill has been introduced in Congress, where previous versions have failed.

In the meantime, banks in Connecticut have been unwilling to extend leases, said Cynthia Teixeira, manager of dispute resolution for the state's housing courts.

That leaves Mr. Letriz, who is awaiting surgery on his back, in limbo.

"So many things are up in the air." he said. "It's a lot of uncertainty."


25) As Bats Die, Closing Caves to Control a Fungus
May 3, 2009

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - The federal Forest Service is preparing to close thousands of caves and former mines in national forests in 33 states in an effort to control a fungus that has already killed an estimated 500,000 bats.

A Forest Service biologist, Becky Ewing, said an emergency order was issued last week for caves in 20 states from Minnesota to Maine. A second order covering the Forest Service's 13-state Southern region should be issued this month.

The sites will be closed for up to a year, Ms. Ewing said.

The orders follow the request in March by the Fish and Wildlife Service for people to voluntarily stay out of caves in 17 states.

Bats have been dying at alarming rates from what scientists call "white-nose syndrome," so named because it appears as a white powder on the face and wings of hibernating bats. The problem was first spotted in New York and in two years has spread to caves in Virginia and West Virginia.

Researchers believe the fungus is spread from bat to bat, but they have not ruled out a human connection, said Dennis Krusac, a biologist with the service's Southern region.

"We don't have the answers at this point," Mr. Krusac said.

Biologists are concerned that the fungus could wipe out endangered species like the gray, Indiana and Virginia and Ozark big-eared bats. The fungus affects bats' hibernation habits and causes them to starve.

Bats play a important role in keeping insects like mosquitoes under control. Bats eat from April to October, usually consuming their body weight in bugs each night. Ms. Ewing said the loss of 500,000 bats meant 2.4 million pounds of bugs not eaten in a year.

Peter Haberland, a caver from New York, said organized caving groups should not object to the closings. "For a period of a year, most people can deal with that," said Mr. Haberland, who serves on the Northeastern Cave Conservancy's board.

Peter Youngbaer, white-nose syndrome liaison for the National Speleological Society, a caving group, said it made sense for the Forest Service to issue umbrella orders to communicate a clear message. "There is a huge concern," Mr. Youngbaer said. "The recreation aspect is probably the least of our concerns."

Yet many people who explore caves are not part of organized groups, he said, so education will be important.

The Forest Service order says people found in a cave or mine face up to six months in jail and fines of up to $10,000. Ms. Ewing said Forest Service officials would enforce the bans.

Mr. Youngbaer said he was not convinced that humans helped to transmit the fungus.

A study based on soil samples taken from 200 sites in 30 states should help resolve that question. Results should be available in September.

Mr. Youngbaer said better financing from the federal government was needed to research the problem. Right now, he said, thousands of research dollars come from donations by caving and other groups.

Judy Rodd with the Friends of Blackwater, a group dedicated to protecting the West Virginia highlands, the Blackwater River watershed and the Blackwater Canyon, said that a "biological meltdown" was occurring and that caves in West Virginia needed special protection because they housed the largest populations of Virginia big-eared bats.

Many of the caves are in the Monongahela National Forest, which has announced it will extend a ban it imposed last year on access to caves in the 919,000-acre forest.

The ban last year affected only caves considered to be at high risk for the fungus.