Saturday, January 02, 2010



Video: Gaza Lives On





Bay Area United Against War Newsletter
Table of Contents:




SATURDAY, JANUARY 9, 2010, 2:00 P.M.
Between 16th and 15th Streets, SF)

The first meeting was held Wednesday, December 9 at 7:00 P.M. It was a broad, democratically run meeting with over 40 people in attendance from many different groups and organizations as well as individuals.

There was an atmosphere of renewed energy and resolve to build as large a demonstration as possible to mark the seventh year of "Shock and Awe" against the people of Iraq. It was especially poignant on the eve of Obama's Orwellian "war is for peace" Nobel speech.

We are encouraging all groups, organizations and individuals to join with us to demand an immediate end of these wars and to demand that the trillions spent on war be used for jobs, housing, healthcare, education for all!

Obama, in his Nobel remarks, points out his intentions to escalate his "wars for peace" wherever the U.S. empire desires to go.

As many pointed out at the first coalition meeting on Wednesday night, the financial, physical and emotional burden for these wars falls on working people across the globe in the broadest war plan ever devised by any empire!

The honeymoon is over! These are Obama's wars and we must organize massively against them.

Please plan on attending the next March 20, 2010 coalition meeting so we can organize broad outreach in our communities and make March 20, 2010 a powerful statement of opposition to the wars and for a world of equality, peace and justice for all.

For more information call: 415-821-6545

In solidarity,

Bonnie Weinstein,


National Call for March 4 Strike and Day of Action To Defend Public Education
By Elly

California has recently seen a massive movement erupt in defense of public education -- but layoffs, fee hikes, cuts, and the re-segregation of public education are attacks taking place throughout the country. A nationwide resistance movement is needed.

We call on all students, workers, teachers, parents, and their organizations and communities across the country to massively mobilize for a Strike and Day of Action in Defense of Public Education on March 4, 2010. Education cuts are attacks against all of us, particularly in working-class communities and communities of color.

The politicians and administrators say there is no money for education and social services. They say that "there is no alternative" to the cuts. But if there's money for wars, bank bailouts, and prisons, why is there no money for public education?

We can beat back the cuts if we unite students, workers, and teachers across all sectors of public education - Pre K-12, adult education, community colleges, and state-funded universities. We appeal to the leaders of the trade union movement to support and organize strikes and/or mass actions on March 4. The weight of workers and students united in strikes and mobilizations would shift the balance of forces entirely against the current agenda of cuts and make victory possible.

Building a powerful movement to defend public education will, in turn, advance the struggle in defense of all public-sector workers and services and will be an inspiration to all those fighting against the wars, for immigrants rights, in defense of jobs, for single-payer health care, and other progressive causes.

Why March 4? On October 24, 2009 more than 800 students, workers, and teachers converged at UC Berkeley at the Mobilizing Conference to Save Public Education. This massive meeting brought together representatives from over 100 different schools, unions, and organizations from all across California and from all sectors of public education. After hours of open collective discussion, the participants voted democratically, as their main decision, to call for a Strike and Day of Action on March 4, 2010. All schools, unions and organizations are free to choose their specific demands and tactics -- such as strikes, rallies, walkouts, occupations, sit-ins, teach-ins, etc. -- as well as the duration of such actions.

Let's make March 4 an historic turning point in the struggle against the cuts, layoffs, fee hikes, and the re-segregation of public education.

- The California Coordinating Committee

To endorse this call and to receive more information contact:

and check out:

Andy Griggs



San Francisco March and Rally
on Saturday, March 20, 2010
11am, Civic Center Plaza

National March on Washington
on Saturday, March 20, 2010
Fri., March 19 Day of Action & Outreach in D.C.

People from all over the country are organizing to converge on Washington, D.C., to demand the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan and Iraq.

On Saturday, March 20, 2010, there will be a massive National March & Rally in D.C. A day of action and outreach in Washington, D.C., will take place on Friday, March 19, preceding the Saturday march.

There will be coinciding mass marches on March 20 in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The national actions are initiated by a large number of organizations and prominent individuals. see below)

Click here to become an endorser:

Click here to make a donation:

We will march together to say "No Colonial-type Wars and Occupations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine!" We will march together to say "No War Against Iran!" We will march together to say "No War for Empire Anywhere!"

Instead of war, we will demand funds so that every person can have a job, free and universal health care, decent schools, and affordable housing.

March 20 is the seventh anniversary of the criminal war of aggression launched by Bush and Cheney against Iraq. One million or more Iraqis have died. Tens of thousands of U.S. troops have lost their lives or been maimed, and continue to suffer a whole host of enduring problems from this terrible war.

This is the time for united action. The slogans on banners may differ, but all those who carry them should be marching shoulder to shoulder.

Killing and dying to avoid the perception of defeat

Bush is gone, but the war and occupation in Iraq still go on. The Pentagon is demanding a widening of the war in Afghanistan. They project an endless war with shifting battlefields. And a "single-payer" war budget that only grows larger and larger each year. We must act.

Both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were predicated on the imperial fantasy that the U.S. could create stable, proxy colonial-type governments in both countries. They were to serve as an extension of "American" power in these strategic and resource-rich regions.

That fantasy has been destroyed. Now U.S. troops are being sent to kill or be killed so that the politicians in uniform "the generals and admirals") and those in three-piece suits "our elected officials") can avoid taking responsibility for a military setback in wars that should have never been started. Their military ambitions are now reduced to avoiding the appearance of defeat.

That is exactly what happened in Vietnam! Avoiding defeat, or the perception of defeat, was the goal Nixon and Kissinger set for themselves when they took office in 1969. For this noble cause, another 30,000 young GIs perished before the inevitable troop pullout from Vietnam in 1973. The number of Vietnamese killed between 1969 and 1973 was greater by many hundreds of thousands.

All of us can make the difference - progress and change comes from the streets and from the grassroots.

The people went to the polls in 2008, and the enthusiasm and desire for change after eight years of the Bush regime was the dominant cause that led to election of a big Democratic Party majority in both Houses of Congress and the election of Barack Obama to the White House.

But it should now be obvious to all that waiting for politicians to bring real change - on any front - is simply a prescription for passivity by progressives and an invitation to the array of corporate interests from military contractors to the banks, to big oil, to the health insurance giants that dominate the political life of the country. These corporate interests work around the clock to frustrate efforts for real change, and they are the guiding hand behind the recent street mobilizations of the ultra-right.

It is up to us to act. If people had waited for politicians to do the right thing, there would have never been a Civil Rights Act, or unions, women's rights, an end to the Vietnam war or any of the profound social achievements and basic rights that people cherish.

It is time to be back in the streets. Organizing centers are being set up in cities and towns throughout the country.

We must raise $50,000 immediately just to get started. Please make your contribution today. We need to reserve buses, which are expensive $1,800 from NYC, $5,000 from Chicago, etc.). We have to print 100,000 leaflets, posters and stickers. There will be other substantial expenses as March 20 draws closer.

Please become an endorser and active supporter of the March 20 National March on Washington.

Please make an urgently needed tax-deductible donation today. We can't do this without your active support.

The initiators of the March 20 National March on Washington preceded by the March 19 Day of Action and Outreach in D.C.) include: the ANSWER Coalition; Muslim American Society Freedom; National Council of Arab Americans; Cynthia McKinney; Malik Rahim, co-founder of Common Ground Collective; Ramsey Clark; Cindy Sheehan; Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CODEPINK; Deborah Sweet, Director, World Can't Wait; Mike Ferner, President, Veterans for Peace; Al-Awda, the Palestine Right to Return Coalition; Heidi Boghosian, Executive Director, National Lawyers Guild; Ron Kovic, author of "Born on the 4th of July"; Juan Jose Gutierrez, Director, Latino Movement USA; Col. Ann Wright ret.); March Forward!; Partnership for Civil Justice; Palestinian American Women Association; Alliance for a Just and Lasting Peace in the Philippines; Alliance for Global Justice; Claudia de la Cruz, Pastor, Iglesia San Romero de Las Americas-UCC; Phil Portluck, Social Justice Ministry, Covenant Baptist Church, D.C.; Blase & Theresa Bonpane, Office of the Americas; Coalition for Peace and Democracy in Honduras; Comite Pro-Democracia en Mexico; Frente Unido de los Pueblos Americanos; Comites de Base FMLN, Los Angeles; Free Palestine Alliance; GABRIELA Network; Justice for Filipino American Veterans; KmB Pro-People Youth; Students Fight Back; Jim Lafferty, Executive Director, National Lawyers Guild - LA Chapter; LEF Foundation; National Coalition to Free the Angola 3; Community Futures Collective; Advocates for Indigenous California Language Survival; Companeros del Barrio; Barrio Unido for Full and Unconditional Amnesty, Bay Area United Against War.

A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition
National Office in Washington DC: 202-265-1948
New York City: 212-694-8720
Los Angeles: 213-251-1025
San Francisco: 415-821-6545
Chicago: 773-463-0311


The US Social Forum II
" June 22-26, 2010 "
Detroit, Michigan, USA
Another World Is Possible! Another US is Necessary!




Christmas in the Holy Land - 2009

The Unemployment Game Show: Are You *Really* Unemployed? - From


Marc Hall jailed for angry 'Stop-Loss' Hip Hop song
By Courage to Resist. Updated December 16, 2009

Stop-lossed Army Specialist Marc Hall aka Hip Hop artist Marc Watercus) was placed in the Liberty County Jail Friday, December 11 for speaking out against the continuing policy that has barred him from exiting the military, including recording an angry and explicit song. He was shipped off to jail after talking to to his Ft Stewart, Georgia commander Captain Cross about not wanting to redeploy. Call the jail at 912-876-6411 to demand an end to this illegal confinement. Also send letters of protest to: CPT Cross, Commander, B 2-7 INF BN, Fort Stewart GA 31314. Marc is being represented by civilian Washington DC lawyer Jim Klimaski. As of 5:00 pm EST) Monday, December 14, Marc was still in the county jail.

Marc Hall is the self-professed "first Hip Hop President of the World", with the issue of ending the Army's "Stop Loss" program being at the top of his agenda. On a music website, he explains, "I am a political artist. I rap about real issues in life in hopes to recover a solution. Life is based on decisions we make. So we should make decisions that will make us better in the future and fully aware in the present."

Recently Marc recorded an angry song entitled "Stop Loss" in order to artistically express some of his frustrations about his situation.

"Stop Loss" by Marc Hall aka Marc Watercus)


Dear all,

Dear all,
go the link below to endorse the BT petition against the death penalty in Iraq.


Maliki's election platform: 900 Iraqi prisoners face summary execution

In the run-up to elections, Maliki proposes executions to bolster his chances

Democracy in the new Iraq equals death and repression

Maliki serves the US occupation: it is the occupation that kills Iraqis

The machine of repression and death in Iraq continues unabated. The Presidential Council of Iraq has reportedly ratified the death sentences of some 900 detainees who languish on death row. Some 17 of them are confirmed to be women.

None of the condemned had a fair trial. The Iraqi judicial system has been deemed corrupt, fundamentally dysfunctional and plagued with sectarianism by responsible international agencies and all major human rights organisations. Hundreds of lawyers have been assassinated since 2003. The Association of Iraqi Lawyers has publicly declared that it cannot reach the detainees.

In a bid to eliminate its political opponents, further terrorise the Iraqi people, ostensibly into submission, and to be casted the "tough leader" the US pretends it is currently seeking for Iraq, Nouri Al-Maliki has pledged to carry out these executions ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled in March of 2010.

Iraq already has one of the highest rates of executions in the world. On a single day in June, 19 people were hanged in Baghdad. Without global action, 900 people will be hanged imminently.

A culture of terror and detention
Terror through mass detention, torture and abuse is one of the trademarks of the US occupation and Maliki. In addition to mass killing, mass forced displacement, the contamination of Iraqi soil, the destruction of all public infrastructure and means of survival, tens of thousands of Iraqis are arbitrarily detained in both official and ghost facilities all over Iraq.

Exact figures of the number, age and gender of detainees are withheld by authorities. Those who want investigations on abuse are either threatened or killed. In June 2009, Harith Al-Obaidi, an MP and critic of human rights abuses, announced in parliament his plan to investigate allegations of corruption, torture and abuse in Iraqi prisons. He was assassinated the following day.

Depending on the source, the number of detainees varies from 44,014 to some 400,000. Tens of thousands of families don't know the fate of a loved one arbitrarily arrested. Even the number of detention facilities is unknown. The ICRC, responsible for monitoring prisoners in time of conflict, has repeatedly complained of being denied access to all "field operation detention facilities" and secret prisons. Amnesty International, the International Federation of Human Rights and even the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq, mandated by the Security Council to provide human rights reporting, are denied access to official detention centres by US Command.

The Red Cross has reported that intelligence officers of the US occupation themselves estimate that 70-90 per cent of Iraqi detainees are arrested "by mistake". The majority is taken in sweeping and arbitrary mass arrest campaigns. They are held incommunicado, without charges, without visits from families or access to lawyers, for indefinite periods. The few who are formally accused are charged on the basis of confessions made under torture or the testimonies of dubious informants of the occupation. No tangible evidence is ever provided.

Since 2003, an estimated 2,400 children have been detained by the US, some as young as 10 years old. After denying it for years, the occupation has now acknowledged that a large but unspecified number of women are being held. Many were kidnapped to blackmail their husbands, accused of "terrorism," into surrendering. They often have their infants and children in prison with them. Several women inmates interviewed by UN researchers reported being raped and sexually abused while held in custody. The US bears primary and final responsibility for these conditions.

Maliki's new Iraq: repression
Everyday news outlets report more arrests and new killings by persons wearing official uniforms. The Maliki government praises itself for the recent waves of detention. Since its appointment, all it has succeeded in achieving is more repression of his opponents while the crimes against innocent people had never been investigated and punished.

Under occupation, Iraq has become the second most corrupted country in the world, the trade of prisoners one of the government militias' most lucrative businesses. The police kidnap, hold prisoners in ghost prisons, sell them and blackmail their families for ransom with impunity.

Year after year, alarming reports have been published by leading human rights organisations, inside and outside Iraq, pointing to random arrests, unlawful detentions, summary executions, abuses, rape and torture of prisoners in Iraq, both at the hands of occupation forces and their local armed gangs.

Under false accusations and deceitful propaganda, the absence of law or a functioning judicial system, and with the support of the US for its puppet government, humanity and the rights of the human being are insulted every day in Iraq. Millions of Iraqis are suffering.

An occupation that tries to impose its plans and interests by force and destruction on a people whose rights, interests and identity is to resist it can only result in the perpetuation of genocide - the intended destruction of Iraq and the Iraqi people as a state and nation.

Call for global action
We call on all to work to stop these executions, demand the release of all political prisoners, and impose a moratorium on the death penalty in Iraq.

Every Iraqi deserves protection and justice.

We call on the UN Human Rights Council to appoint a Special Rapporteur for the human rights situation in Iraq.

We call on all organisations that defend the first human right - the right to life - to take up with urgency the cause of the 900 prisoners on death row in Iraq.

We call on all lawyers associations to protest the absence of law and due process in Iraq, and to declare the imminent execution of these 900 prisoners unlawful.

900 prisoners killed in Iraq would be 900 insults to the common conscience of humanity.

We call on all to do everything within their means to bring the cases of these 900 prisoners facing death to the public eye, and to demand action by relevant authorities.

The US occupation of Iraq must end. It is that occupation that is the ultimate rope around the neck of Iraq, and the ultimate prison for the Iraqi people.

Hana Al Bayaty, Executive Committee of the BRussells Tribunal
Abdul Ilah Albayaty, Executive Committee of the BRussells Tribunal
Ian Douglas, Executive Committee of the BRussells Tribunal
Dirk Adriaensens, Executive Committee of the BRussells Tribunal

Please endorse, distribute and take action

For more information contact:


Zaineb Alani
"Yesterday I lost a country. / I was in a hurry, / and didn't notice when it fell from me / like a broken branch from a forgetful tree. / Please, if anyone passes by / and stumbles across it, / perhaps in a suitcase / open to the sky, / or engraved on a rock / like a gaping wound, / ... / If anyone stumbles across it, / return it to me please. / Please return it, sir. / Please return it, madam. / It is my country . . . / I was in a hurry / when I lost it yesterday." -Dunya Mikhail, Iraqi poet


----- Forwarded Message ----
From: MOOS-Bay
To: Counter Recruitment Events
Subject: [events] Youth Mini Grants, Online Petition, Discount CR Brochures

CR Brochures Available for Cut Rates!
Full Picture recently purchased a large quantity of the brochure, "What Every Girl Should Know About the U.S. Military," which was produced jointly by the War Resisters League and the Women of Color Resource Center. A copy of the brochure can be seen online at

Our network of counter-recruiting organizations and activists will probably not be able to distribute all of them in the near future. We'd like to see them get out to the youth who need them, and -- if necessary -- are willing to sell them at "a loss" to other counter-recruiters who'll be able to reach youth that we cannot. We paid 11.6 cents each, including shipping, which is significantly less than what you'd pay when buying small quantities. If you can make use of some, let us know how many and how much, if anything, you're able to pay. Please remember that we'll have to incur additional costs to ship them to you unless you're able to pick them up at the AFSC office in San Francisco, where we have them stored.
Kevin Casey, Full Picture Core Group, 510) 289-2621

Support Oakland Youth: Online Petition--Pass the Word!
The BAY-Peace Youth Manifesto is on it's home stretch to win stronger policies to protect Oakland high school students against aggressive military recruiting. Please help us reach our goal of 2000 signatures to deliver to the Oakland School Board. Sign the Youth Manifesto today and forward this link to your contacts to sign our online petition:

Mini-Grants for High School Counter Recruitment Projects
If you are part of a high school student group that would like to do a counter recruitment project, you can apply for a grant of up to $500 to help you get your message out about non-military alternatives for youth, aggressive military recruiting in our schools and resisting war.

Bay Area high school students are encouraged to apply. The deadline is the last day of each month, and the funds will be distributed quickly to qualified applicants, so don't wait to apply! For info contact:


Letter from Lynne from behind bars:

Dear Sisters and Brothers, Friends and Supporters:

Well the moment we all hoped would never come is upon us. Good bye to a good cup of coffee in the morning, a soft chair, the hugs of grandchildren and the smaller pleasures in life. I must say I am being treated well and that is due to my lawyer team and your overwhelming support.

While I have received "celebrity" treatment here in MCC - high visibility - conditions for the other women are deplorable. Medical care, food, education, recreation are all at minimal levels. If it weren't for the unqualified bonds of sisterhood and the commissary it would be even more dismal.

My fellow prisoners have supplied me with books and crosswords, a warm it is cold in here most of the time) sweat shirt and pants, treats from the commissary, and of course, jailhouse humor. Most important many of them know of my work and have a deep reservoir of can I say it? Respect.

I continue to both answer the questions put to me by them, I also can't resist commenting on the T.V. news or what is happening on the floor - a little LS politics always! Smile) to open hearts and minds!

Liz Fink, my lawyer leader, believes I will be here at MCC-NY for a while - perhaps a year before being moved to prison. Being is jail is like suddenly inhabiting a parallel universe but at least I have the luxury of time to read! Tomorrow I will get my commissary order which may include an AM/FM Radio and be restored to WBAI and music classical and jazz).

We are campaigning to get the bladder operation scheduled before I came in to MCC) to happen here in New York City. Please be alert to the website I case I need some outside support.

I want to say that the show of support outside the Courthouse on Thursday as I was "transported" is so cherished by me. The broad organizational representation was breathtaking and the love and politics expressed the anger too) will keep me nourished through this.

Organize - Agitate, Agitate, Agitate! And write to me and others locked down by the Evil Empire.

Love Struggle, Lynne Stewart


Lynne Stewart in Jail!

For further information contact: Jeff Mackler, Coordinator, West Coast Lynne Stewart Defense Committee 510-268-9429
Mail tax free contributions payable to National Lawyers Guild Foundation. Write in memo box: "Lynne Stewart Defense." Mail to: Lynne Stewart Defense, P.O. Box 10328, Oakland, CA 94610.



U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001
Department of Justice Main Switchboard - 202-514-2000
Office of the Attorney General Public Comment Line - 202-353-1555

To send Lynne a letter, write:
Lynne Stewart
150 Park Row
New York, NY NY 10007

Lynne Stewart speaks in support of Mumia Abu-Jamal


The trial of Johannes Mehserle, killer of unarmed Oscar Grant, has been moved to Los Angeles.

In the case of an innocent verdict, folks are encouraged to head to Oakland City Hall ASAP to express our outrage in a massive and peaceful way! Our power is in our numbers! Oscar Grant's family and friends need our support!

For more information:
Contact BAMN at 510-502-9072


With a New Smile, 'Rage' Fades Away [SINGLE PAYER NOW!!!]

FTA [F**k The Army] Trailer

Jon Stewart: Obama Is Channeling Bush VIDEO)

US anti-war activists protest

Buffy Sainte Marie - No No Keshagesh
[Keshagesh is the Cree word to describe a greedy puppy that wants to keep eating everything, a metaphor for corporate greed]
Buffy Sainte-Marie - No No Keshagesh lyrics:


The Tar Sands Blow
Hi -
I just signed the Tar Sands Blow petition -- and I hope you'll do the same.
The Canadian tar sands produce the dirtiest oil on earth -- including five times the greenhouse gases of conventional oil. World leaders meet next month in Copenhagen to deal with climate change. Sign the petition -- so that we all don't get a raw deal.

The Story of Mouseland: As told by Tommy Douglas in 1944

The Communist Manifesto illustrated by Cartoons


VIDEO INTERVIEW: Dan Berger on Political Prisoners in the United States
By Angola 3 News
Angola 3 News
37 years ago in Louisiana, 3 young black men were silenced for trying to expose continued segregation, systematic corruption, and horrific abuse in the biggest prison in the US, an 18,000-acre former slave plantation called Angola. In 1972 and 1973 prison officials charged Herman Wallace, Albert Woodfox, and Robert King with murders they did not commit and threw them into 6x9 ft. cells in solitary confinement, for over 36 years. Robert was freed in 2001, but Herman and Albert remain behind bars.

Taking Aim Radio Program with
Ralph Schoenman and Mya Shone
The Chimera of Capitalist Recovery, Parts 1 and 2



The San Francisco Board of Education has re-installed the Junior Reserve Officer's Training Corps in San Francisco schools -- including allowing it to count for Physical Education credits.

This is a complete reversal of the 2006 decision to end JROTC altogether in San Francisco public schools. Our children need a good physical education program, not a death education program!

With the economy in crisis; jobs and higher education for youth more unattainable; the lure, lies and false promises of military recruiters is driving more and more of our children into the military trap.

This is an economic draft and the San Francisco Board of Education is helping to snare our children to provide cannon fodder for the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and for over 700 U.S. military bases around the world!

We can't depend upon "friendly politicians" who, while they are campaigning for office claim they are against the wars but when they get elected vote in favor of military recruitment--the economic draft--in our schools. We can't depend upon them. That has been proven beyond doubt!

It is up to all of us to come together to stop this NOW!


Write, call, pester and ORGANIZE against the re-institution of JROTC in our San Francisco public schools NOW!

In solidarity,

Bonnie Weinstein
Bay Area United Against War Newsletter

San Francisco Board of Education
555 Franklin Street, 1st Floor
San Francisco, CA 94102
415/241-6427, 415) 241-6493



For a donation of only $18.95, we can put a copy of the book "10 Excellent Reasons Not to Join the Military" into a public or high school library of your choice. [Reason number 1: You may be killed]

A letter and bookplate will let readers know that your donation helped make this possible.

Putting a book in either a public or school library ensures that students, parents, and members of the community will have this valuable information when they need it.

Don't have a library you would like us to put it in? We'll find one for you!


This is a must-see video about the life of Oscar Grant, a young man who loved his family and was loved by his family. It's important to watch to understand the tremendous loss felt by his whole family as a result of his cold-blooded murder by BART police officers--Johannes Mehserle being the shooter while the others held Oscar down and handcuffed him to aid Mehserle in the murder of Oscar Grant January 1, 2009.

The family wants to share this video here with you who support justice for Oscar Grant.



Troy Anthony Davis is an African American man who has spent the last 18 years on death row for a murder he did not commit. There is no physical evidence tying him to the crime and seven out of nine witnesses have recanted. New evidence and new testimony have been presented to the Georgia courts, but the justice system refuses to consider this evidence, which would prove Troy Davis' innocence once and for all.

Sign the petition and join the NAACP, Amnesty International USA, and other partners in demanding justice for Troy Davis!

For Now, High Court Punts on Troy Davis, on Death Row for 18 Years
By Ashby Jones
Wall Street Journal Law Blog
June 30, 2009

Take action now:


Committee To Save Mumia Abu-Jamal
P.O. Box 2012
New York, NY 10159-2012

New videos from April 24 Oakland Mumia event

Donations for Mumia's Legal Defense in the U.S. Our legal effort is the front line of the battle for Mumia's freedom and life. His legal defense needs help. The costs are substantial for our litigation in the U.S. Supreme Court and at the state level. To help, please make your checks payable to the National Lawyers Guild Foundation indicate "Mumia" on the bottom left). All donations are tax deductible under the Internal Revenue Code, section 501c)3), and should be mailed to:

It is outrageous and a violation of human rights that Mumia remains in prison and on death row. His life hangs in the balance. My career has been marked by successfully representing people facing death in murder cases. I will not rest until we win Mumia's case. Justice requires no less.

With best wishes,

Robert R. Bryan
Lead counsel for Mumia Abu-Jamal


Short Video About Al-Awda's Work
The following link is to a short video which provides an overview of Al-Awda's work since the founding of our organization in 2000. This video was first shown on Saturday May 23, 2009 at the fundraising banquet of the 7th Annual Int'l Al-Awda Convention in Anaheim California. It was produced from footage collected over the past nine years.
Support Al-Awda, a Great Organization and Cause!

Al-Awda, The Palestine Right to Return Coalition, depends on your financial support to carry out its work.

To submit your tax-deductible donation to support our work, go to and follow the simple instructions.

Thank you for your generosity!


FLASHPOINTS Interview with Innocent San Quentin Death Row Inmate
Kevin Cooper -- Aired Monday, May 18,2009
To learn more about Kevin Cooper go to:
San Francisco Chronicle article on the recent ruling:
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling and dissent:


Support the troops who refuse to fight!




1) Billions to Fight Foreclosure, but Few New Loans
December 30, 2009

2) Company's Record on Beef Treatment Questioned
December 31, 2009

3) In Cuba, Hopeful Tenor Toward Obama Is Ebbing
December 31, 2009

4) The Truth of What Happened at the Summit
By Fidel Castro Ruz
December 19, 2009

5) Afghans Say Inquiry Shows Boys Were Killed in Allied Action
December 31, 2009

6) Judge cites gov't missteps, tosses Blackwater case
January 1, 2010

7) CIA Agents assassinated in Afghanistan worked for "contractor" active in Venezuela, Cuba
By Eva Golinger
December 31, 2009

8) Welcome to Orwell's World 2010
By John Pilger
December 30, 2009

9) Iraqis Angered as Blackwater Charges Are Dropped
January 2, 2010

10) C.I.A. Takes On Bigger and Riskier Role on Front Lines
January 1, 2010

11) The Breaking Point
For Sick Illegal Immigrants, No Relief Back Home
January 1, 2010

12) Terror Attempt May Hinder Plans to Close Guantánamo
January 1, 2010

13) U.S. Loan Effort Is Seen as Adding to Housing Woes
January 2, 2010

14) Happy New Year, for Blackwater
January 1, 2010, 5:03 pm

15) In the Shadows, Day Laborers Left Homeless as Work Vanishes
January 2, 2010

16) Adult Learning | Neuroscience
How to Train the Aging Brain
January 3, 2010


1) Billions to Fight Foreclosure, but Few New Loans
December 30, 2009

They milled about the hallways of the cavernous State Supreme Court building in Jamaica, Queens - 42 homeowners whispering, studying old bills, waiting for a court officer to call their names and wave them, one by one, through a door.

There, in a dusty, high-ceilinged room with a steam radiator that never stopped wheezing, they took a seat across a table from a lawyer for a mortgage company. Then their work began: trying to persuade a stranger not to foreclose on their home.

The Obama administration's plan to rescue Americans from foreclosure plays out day after day in rooms like this. On this day, as on most, nothing happened. One lawyer, visibly bored, put in a brief, token appearance. A few others seemed barely familiar with their cases. Another asked for more records, hinting that maybe next month the lender might talk about a settlement.

Ismail Ali, a silver-haired immigrant from Guyana, hoped to save his home in Ozone Park. "If it takes you another three months to evaluate me, and I keep paying, will I get a new mortgage?" he asked, almost pleading.

The lawyer shrugged, not unsympathetically. "I can't answer that for you," he said.

Ten months ago President Obama announced a $75 billion program to keep as many as four million Americans in their homes by persuading banks to renegotiate their mortgages. Lenders have accepted more than one million applications and cut three-month trial deals with 759,000 homeowners. But they have converted just 31,000 of those to the permanent new mortgages that are the plan's goal.

In New York City, where 20,000 homeowners faced foreclosure this year, a recent study by the Center for NYC Neighborhoods found that lenders have offered new or trial mortgages to just 3 percent of the homeowners who have sought help.

Big mortgage companies - servicers, in the parlance of the industry - stand at the heart of this program. Many of the servicers that have agreed to participate are subsidiaries of the nation's largest banks - Wells Fargo, Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase.

They say their performance is improving. "We ourselves stated that we fell short of our customer service goals," said Mary Coffin, executive vice president for loan servicing at Wells Fargo. "Now we are doing three modifications for every foreclosure."

But a drove of critics, including homeowners, nonprofit loan counselors, legal services lawyers and court officials, say these companies are also at the heart of the problem. Servicers, they say, pile delay upon delay, and too often steer homeowners into new mortgages with onerous terms. Some companies have insisted that homeowners waive their right to sue before getting a new mortgage, even though the Obama plan prohibits such demands.

Administration officials have vowed to shame servicers into action. And New York State lawmakers, like their counterparts in a few other states and cities, have tried to slow the headlong hurtle toward foreclosure by requiring lenders to negotiate with troubled borrowers in court.

Leonard N. Florio, a court-appointed referee, oversees such sessions in that dusty room in Queens. He is a chatty man and punctilious about not taking sides. But as he watched Mr. Ali, the Ozone Park homeowner, load his piles of bills and receipts back into his shopping bags, he could not help noting a pattern.

"I have yet to see an attorney for a servicer cut a deal," he said. "Update this, update that. I mean, what's the holdup?"

Loan servicers argue that homeowners are as often to blame: Many cannot show proof of income, and fail to make payments even on modified mortgages. And millions are in bigger trouble than the public realizes, burdened with monthly payments so exorbitant that even a reduced mortgage payment will not save their home.

The servicing companies make money either way. The Obama program pays them $1,000 for each loan modified, and another $1,000 per year for three more years if the borrower avoids foreclosure. On the other hand, the companies make large sums charging late and legal fees on overdue mortgage payments, and sometimes it is cheaper to foreclose than to cut the mortgage payment.

These same companies turned billions of dollars in profits during the fat years of the bubble. Four years ago, lenders strung banners from storefronts in Jamaica and Cypress Hills and Bedford-Stuyvesant, promising "You will not be turned down!" A no-documents-needed mortgage was easily obtained, often accompanied by the flimsiest of appraisals.

Now the lenders toss up daunting hurdles. Homeowners say they send and resend thick piles of documentation, only to be told that their papers have been misplaced, or that their pay stubs are out of date. Housing counselors dial a dozen times just to get a servicer on the phone.

"It's a constant Catch-22: They never give you their name," said Gerald Carter, a counselor with the Parodneck Foundation in New York City, which receives city and state money to advise homeowners. "You call back and say, 'No, I was talking to Bob last time,' but Bob wouldn't give his last name - not even an employee ID number. So you start over."

Last month, the Legal Aid Society of New York sued the federal government and a mortgage servicer, Aurora Loan Services, on behalf of four Queens homeowners. Aurora, which has a $116 billion loan portfolio, was a subsidiary of Lehman Brothers before that firm went bankrupt; it offered loans with interest rates just a bit lower than subprime rates, which are typically a few percentage points higher than rates on conventional mortgages.

The lawsuit charges that Aurora, and by implication many other servicers, systematically denied homeowners access to the federal rescue program. And, the lawsuit asserts, the Obama plan provides far too few safeguards for homeowners.

"The servicers ignore their obligations, and are throwing unaffordable agreements at people and setting them up for another default," said Oda Friedheim, a staff lawyer with the Legal Aid Society.

Asked to respond, an Aurora spokeswoman e-mailed a statement saying the company tries to prevent foreclosure for its customers.

Tom Vellucci, 54, is one of the four plaintiffs in the lawsuit, and a soldier in this army of the potentially dispossessed. Once a maintenance man for an insurance company, with a modest home in Floral Park, Queens, he lost his health and then his job. When a tenant stopped paying rent, he fell behind on his mortgage. A so-called rescue firm offered to negotiate better terms and wheedled Mr. Vellucci and his wife, Maria, out of $8,000 in fees.

When the inevitable foreclosure notice arrived in March, the Velluccis called Aurora Loan Services and asked for a break. The company, he said, responded by piling on legal fees and giving them a four-month trial agreement that did not reduce their monthly payment.

The Velluccis say they drained their savings making payments. Then the couple asked Aurora if they could revise their mortgage terms under the Obama rescue plan. They say the company refused, saying their mortgage was not eligible because it was owned by investors.

Aurora makes a similar statement about investor-owned mortgages on its Web site. These claims are not true. The Obama program requires companies to make an effort to modify such mortgages.

Sitting on a bench in the Queens courthouse, where he has become a regular, Mr. Vellucci ran his fingers through thick black hair and shook his head. "We kept trying to pay on faith, all faith, so we could prove we were honest people," he said. "Now all we look like is stupid."

Phyllis Caldwell, chief of the Treasury Department's Home Ownership Preservation Office, is not inclined toward tough talk about servicers, perhaps because the Obama plan, which she oversees, lacks enforcement teeth. Asked about Aurora's refusal to consider modifying investor-owned mortgages, she suggested a reporter call the program's compliance unit.

"If it is reported in The New York Times and someone chooses to audit it, that's important," she said.

She sees a brighter day coming. "We are holding the servicers accountable to report to us," she said. "They are being much more transparent."

For now, however, the Velluccis and thousands like them dangle perilously close to calamity.

Born in Italy, Mr. Vellucci and his wife migrated here as teenagers. They raised children, bought a house, lived their dream in Technicolor. Then his kidney gave out and their economic slide began. After court on this day, he would go for dialysis. The couple hope the lawsuit might give them one more shot at the Obama plan.

"I don't sleep at night, I don't sleep at all," he said, rising slowly. "I tell Maria, 'If we lose the house, I want to stop my dialysis.' I want to die, honestly."


2) Company's Record on Beef Treatment Questioned
December 31, 2009

Eight years ago, federal officials were struggling to remove potentially deadly E. coli from hamburgers when an entrepreneurial company from South Dakota came up with a novel idea: injecting beef with ammonia.

The company, Beef Products Inc., had been looking to expand into the hamburger business with a product made from beef that included fatty trimmings the industry once relegated to pet food and cooking oil. The trimmings were particularly susceptible to contamination, but a study commissioned by the company showed that the ammonia process would kill E. coli as well as salmonella.

Officials at the United States Department of Agriculture endorsed the company's ammonia treatment, and have said it destroys E. coli "to an undetectable level." They decided it was so effective that in 2007, when the department began routine testing of meat used in hamburger sold to the general public, they exempted Beef Products.

With the U.S.D.A.'s stamp of approval, the company's processed beef has become a mainstay in America's hamburgers. McDonald's, Burger King and other fast-food giants use it as a component in ground beef, as do grocery chains. The federal school lunch program used an estimated 5.5 million pounds of the processed beef last year alone.

But government and industry records obtained by The New York Times show that in testing for the school lunch program, E. coli and salmonella pathogens have been found dozens of times in Beef Products meat, challenging claims by the company and the U.S.D.A. about the effectiveness of the treatment. Since 2005, E. coli has been found 3 times and salmonella 48 times, including back-to-back incidents in August in which two 27,000-pound batches were found to be contaminated. The meat was caught before reaching lunch-rooms trays.

In July, school lunch officials temporarily banned their hamburger makers from using meat from a Beef Products facility in Kansas because of salmonella - the third suspension in three years, records show. Yet the facility remained approved by the U.S.D.A. for other customers.

Presented by The Times with the school lunch test results, top department officials said they were not aware of what their colleagues in the lunch program had been finding for years.

In response, the agriculture department said it was revoking Beef Products' exemption from routine testing and conducting a review of the company's operations and research. The department said it was also reversing its policy for handling Beef Products during pathogen outbreaks. Since it was seen as pathogen-free, the processed beef was excluded from recalls, even when it was an ingredient in hamburgers found to be contaminated.

The Beef Products case reveals a schism between the main Department of Agriculture and its division that oversees the school lunch program, a divide that underscores the government's faltering effort to make hamburger safe. The U.S.D.A. banned the sale of meat found to be contaminated with the O157:H7 strain of E. coli 15 years ago, after a deadly outbreak was traced to Jack in the Box restaurants. Meat tainted with salmonella is also a hazard. But while the school lunch program will not buy meat contaminated with salmonella, the agriculture department does not ban its sale to the general public.

Even so, E. coli outbreaks nationwide have increased in recent years. And this summer, two outbreaks of particularly virulent strains of salmonella in hamburger prompted large recalls of ground beef across several states.

Although no outbreak has been tied to Beef Products, officials said they would thoroughly scrutinize any future industry innovations for fighting contamination "to ensure that they are scientifically sound and protect public health," and that they were examining the government's overall meat safety policies.

The founder and owner of Beef Products, Eldon N. Roth, declined requests for interviews or access to the company's production facilities. Responding to written questions, Beef Products said it had a deep commitment to hamburger safety and was continually refining its operation to provide the safest product possible. "B.P.I.'s track record demonstrates the progress B.P.I. has made compared to the industry norm," the company said. "Like any responsible member of the meat industry, we are not perfect."

Beef Products maintains that its ammonia process remains effective. It said it tests samples of each batch it ships to customers and has found E. coli in only 0.06 percent of the samples this year.

The company says its processed beef, a mashlike substance frozen into blocks or chips, is used in a majority of the hamburger sold nationwide. But it has remained little known outside industry and government circles. Federal officials agreed to the company's request that the ammonia be classified as a "processing agent" and not an ingredient that would be listed on labels.

Within the U.S.D.A., the treated beef has been a source of friction for years. The department accepted the company's own study as evidence that the treatment was effective. School lunch officials, who had some doubts about its effectiveness, required that Beef Products meat be tested, as they do all beef used by the program.

School lunch officials said that in some years Beef Products testing results were worse than many of the program's two dozen other suppliers, which use traditional meat processing methods. From 2005 to 2009, Beef Products had a rate of 36 positive results for salmonella per 1,000 tests, compared to a rate of nine positive results per 1,000 tests for the other suppliers, according to statistics from the program. Beef Products said its testing regime was more likely to detect contamination.

Despite some misgivings, school lunch officials say they use Beef Products because its price is substantially lower than ordinary meat trimmings, saving about $1 million a year.

Another snapshot of processed beef's performance emerges from confidential records of tests in 2007 by the food giant Cargill. In the preceding year and a half, Cargill, which used more than 50 vendors, suspended three facilities for excessive salmonella; two were Beef Products plants, records show.

Since introducing the treated meat, Beef Products has faced the challenge of balancing safety with taste, records and interviews show.

Pathogens died when enough ammonia was used to raise the alkalinity of the beef to a high level, company research found. But early on, school lunch officials and other customers complained about the taste and smell of the beef. Samples of the processed beef obtained by The Times revealed lower levels of alkalinity, suggesting less ammonia was used.

Beef Products acknowledged lowering the alkalinity, and the U.S.D.A. said it had determined that "at least some of B.P.I.'s product was no longer receiving the full lethality treatment."

Beef Products said it had submitted new research to the agriculture department showing that its treatment remained effective with lower alkalinity. Agriculture officials said Beef Products' latest study is under review.

A Safety Solution

Headstrong and self-assured, Eldon N. Roth had the good fortune of being in the right place at the right time.

Mr. Roth spent the 1990s looking to give Beef Products a competitive edge by turning fatty slaughterhouse trimmings into usable lean beef.

Mr. Roth and others in the industry had discovered that liquefying the fat and extracting the protein from the trimmings in a centrifuge resulted in a lean product that was desirable to hamburger-makers.

The greater challenge was eliminating E. coli and salmonella, which are more prevalent in fatty trimmings than in higher grades of beef. According to a 2003 study financed by Beef Products, the trimmings "typically includes most of the material from the outer surfaces of the carcass" and contains "larger microbiological populations." Beef Products said it also used trimmings from inside cuts of meat.

Mr. Roth was well suited to tackle the problem, friends say. Though lacking a science background, he had a knack for machinery and obtained patents for over two dozen pieces of equipment and methods used in processing beef.

"He looked and looked at stuff and always wondered, why can't it be done this way?" said Dr. David M. Theno, a food safety consultant and friend of Mr. Roth. "He is like a lot of inventors. Not everyone sees Eldon's vision."

One of Mr. Roth's early trials involved running electricity through the trimmings to kill bacteria, Dr. Theno and others said. Mr. Roth eventually settled on ammonia, which had been shown to suppress spoilage. Meat is sent through pipes where it is exposed to ammonia gas, and then flash frozen and compressed - all steps that help kill pathogens, company research found.

The treated beef landed in Washington in 2001, when federal officials were searching for ways to eliminate E. coli. Beef Products already had one study showing its treatment would do that; another company-sponsored study by an Iowa State University professor that was published in a professional journal seconded that finding.

Mr. Roth asserted that his product would kill pathogens in untreated meat when it was used as an ingredient in ground beef - raising the prospect of a risk-free burger. "Given the technology, we firmly believe that the two pathogens of major concern in raw ground beef - E. coli O157:H7 and salmonella - are on the verge of elimination," Mr. Roth wrote to the department.

The Food and Drug Administration signed off on the use of ammonia, concluding it was safe when used as a processing agent in foods. This year, a top official with the U.S.D.A.'s Food Safety and Inspection Service said, "It eliminates E. coli to the same degree as if you cooked the product."

Carl S. Custer, a former U.S.D.A. microbiologist, said he and other scientists were concerned that the department had approved the treated beef for sale without obtaining independent validation of the potential safety risk. Another department microbiologist, Gerald Zirnstein, called the processed beef "pink slime" in a 2002 e-mail message to colleagues and said, "I do not consider the stuff to be ground beef, and I consider allowing it in ground beef to be a form of fraudulent labeling."

One of the toughest hurdles for Beef Products was the Agricultural Marketing Service, the U.S.D.A. division that buys food for school lunches. Officials cited complaints about the odor, and wrote in a 2002 memorandum that they had "to determine if the addition of ammonia to the product is in the best interest to A.M.S. from a quality standpoint."

"It is our contention," the memo added, "that product should be labeled accordingly."

Represented by Dennis R. Johnson, a top lawyer and lobbyist for the meat industry, Beef Products prevailed on the question of whether ammonia should be listed as an ingredient, arguing that the government had just decided against requiring another company to list a chemical used in treating poultry.

School lunch officials said they ultimately agreed to use the treated meat because it shaved about 3 cents off the cost of making a pound of ground beef."Several packers have unofficially raised concern regarding the use of the product since the perception of quality is inferior," the 2002 memo said. "But will use product to obtain lower bid."

In 2004, lunch officials increased the amount of Beef Products meat allowed in its hamburgers to 15 percent, from 10 percent, to increase savings. In a taste test at the time, some school children favored burgers with higher amounts of processed beef.

Beef Products does not disclose its earnings, but its reported production of seven million pounds a week would generate about $440 million in annual revenue, according to industry records.

Dr. Theno, the food safety consultant, applauds Mr. Roth for figuring out how to convert high-fat trimmings "with no functional value."

"There were some issues with that," Dr. Theno said. "But he, and God bless him, amassed a tidy fortune for it."

As sales took off, Mr. Roth started offering a buy-back guarantee: If any of the most virulent E. coli was found in ground beef containing Beef Products meat, the company would buy the tainted meat.

This was based on Mr. Roth's initial prediction that his treated beef could kill E. coli in any meat it was mixed with. The company acknowledges that its subsequent study found no evidence to back that up, although it says it is now trying with an enhanced treatment. The guarantee remains on the company Web site: "Contact a B.P.I. sales representative today to take the challenge!"

Odor and Alkalinity

As suppliers of national restaurant chains and government-financed programs were buying Beef Product meat to use in ground beef, complaints about its pungent odor began to emerge.

In early 2003, officials in Georgia returned nearly 7,000 pounds to Beef Products after cooks who were making meatloaf for state prisoners detected a "very strong odor of ammonia" in 60-pound blocks of the trimmings, state records show.

"It was frozen, but you could still smell ammonia," said Dr. Charles Tant, a Georgia agriculture department official. "I've never seen anything like it."

Unaware that the meat was treated with ammonia - since it was not on the label - Georgia officials assumed it was accidentally contaminated and alerted the agriculture department. In their complaint, the officials noted that the level of ammonia in the beef was similar to levels found in contamination incidents involving chicken and milk that had sickened schoolchildren.

Beef Products said the ammonia did not pose a danger and would be diluted when its beef was mixed with other meat. The U.S.D.A. accepted Beef Product's conclusion, but other customers had also complained about the smell.

Untreated beef naturally contains ammonia and is typically about 6 on the pH scale, near that of rain water and milk. The Beef Products' study that won U.S.D.A. approval used an ammonia treatment that raised the pH of the meat to as high as 10, an alkalinity well beyond the range of most foods. The company's 2003 study cited the "potential issues surrounding the palatability of a pH-9.5 product."

Soon after getting initial approval from the agriculture department, the company devised a plan to make a less alkaline version of the beef, internal company documents show. Beef Products acknowledged in an e-mail exchange that it was making a lower pH version, but did not specify the level or when it began selling it.

In 2008, after the school lunch program temporarily suspended a Beef Products plant for salmonella contamination, the company wrote in a letter that its effort to combat ammonia "aroma" might have reduced the alkalinity below the initial target levels. It said it was taking steps to ensure that the alkalinity remained elevated.

Samples of the treated beef obtained by The Times this month showed a pH as low as 7.75, according to an analysis by two laboratories. Dr. Michael P. Doyle, a food industry consultant and director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia, said one point on the exponential pH scale was a considerable difference, and "could have a significant effect on the antimicrobial effectiveness of the ammonia."

This month, Beef Products provided The Times with new research that the company said showed that E. coli and salmonella were undetectable at a pH level of 8.5. The agriculture department said it did not learn that Beef Products was using lower levels until October, after inquiries by The Times, and that it was studying the company's research.

McDonald's, whose hamburgers have contained Beef Products meat since 2004, declined to say if it monitored it for pH. But Danya Proud, a chain spokeswoman, said, "We expect the pH level to meet the specifications that are approved by the U.S.D.A."

Contagion and Notification

At 6:36 a.m. on Aug. 10, the Beef Products plant in South Sioux City, Neb., started up its production line for the school lunch program. In 60 minutes, the plant produced a batch of 26,880 pounds of processed beef that tested positive for E. coli.

Six days later at the same plant, another 26,880-pound lot was found to have salmonella, government records and interviews show.

Within hours of confirming the contamination, the school lunch division of the Agriculture Department in Washington began investigating.

Just down the hall at department headquarters, the division that oversees meat for the general public did not conduct its own inquiry for another month and half, after receiving questions from The Times.

The problems in South Sioux City came shortly after school lunch officials had suspended a Beef Products plant in Holcomb, Kan., for excessive salmonella. The main U.S.D.A. was not notified of the suspension by school lunch officials, and the plant continued to supply other customers.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has since directed school lunch officials to share information about their suspensions with the department's meat safety division.

In addressing the latest contamination cases in Nebraska, Beef Products said it suspected a glitch in its treatment operations, referring to ammonia gas by its chemical name, NH3, according to an e-mail message to school lunch officials.

"The system was stopped for two minutes in order to install a new valve," the company said. "When the system was restarted, there was product flow for approximately one minute without NH3 flow."

After the school lunch officials replied that the glitch might explain only one of the two episodes, Beef Products shifted focus to its suppliers, saying it would more closely scrutinize them for contamination.

Under the U.S.D.A.'s new policy for Beef Products, the company itself is also likely to get more scrutiny.

Cargill, one of the nation's largest hamburger makers, is a big buyer of Beef Products' ammoniated trimmings for its patties. Company records show that Beef Products, like other suppliers, has periodically exceeded Cargill's limits on acceptable bacteria levels. That led Cargill to stop buying meat from two Beef Products plants for several months in 2006 after company tests showed excessive levels of salmonella.

But the following year, when Cargill faced an E. coli outbreak, it ruled out Beef Products as a possible culprit, citing the U.S.D.A.'s view that the ammonia treatment provided a "lethality step" for the pathogen. In addition, Cargill officials said recently, they suspect that another supplier, not Beef Products, was the problem. As a result, Beef Products did not face as wide a recall as other Cargill suppliers.

Recently, another E. coli outbreak was traced to a hamburger maker in upstate New York that also used multiple suppliers, including Beef Products. This time, the agriculture department said Beef Products was being recalled with other suppliers, although a source of the contamination had not been identified.

"This will continue to be our approach going forward," the department said.

Griff Palmer contributed reporting.


3) In Cuba, Hopeful Tenor Toward Obama Is Ebbing
December 31, 2009

HAVANA - The Obama honeymoon here is over.

When President Obama came to office, the unflattering billboards of George W. Bush, including one outside the United States Interests Section of him scowling alongside Hitler, came down and the anti-American vitriol softened. Raúl Castro, who took over from his ailing brother Fidel in 2006, even raised the possibility of a face-to-face meeting with Mr. Obama, which would have been the first time one of the Castros met with a sitting American president.

But the tenor here has changed considerably, and Mr. Obama, whose election was broadly celebrated by Cuba's racially diverse population, is now being portrayed by this nation's leaders as an imperialistic, warmongering Cuba hater.

"As things appear now, there will be no big change in the relationship in the near future," said Ricardo Alarcón, the president of Cuba's National Assembly. He dismissed the Obama administration's recent steps, like loosening restrictions on Cuban Americans' traveling or sending money to the island and allowing American telecommunications companies to do business there, as "minor changes."

The two countries have postponed the talks they restarted at the beginning of the Obama administration to discuss migration, postal delivery and other issues, blaming each other for the delays. In the absence of talks, Mr. Obama's carrot-and-stick approach of relaxing some Bush-era policies while continuing to denounce the Castro government on human rights has failed to engage - and perhaps has enraged - the Cuban leadership.

While Raúl Castro repeated the offer to meet with Mr. Obama in a fiery speech recently, he also blasted the Obama administration for "undercover subversion" against Cuba and warned that his nation was ready for any American invasion. In one of his recent written commentaries in the state press, Fidel Castro, who has not appeared in public in nearly three years, wrote that Mr. Obama's "friendly smile and African-American face" masked his sinister intentions to control Latin America.

Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla also recently accused Mr. Obama of behaving like an "imperial chief" at the climate change talks in Copenhagen, displaying "arrogant" behavior aimed at quashing developing countries.

"It's unfortunate," Wayne S. Smith, a former American diplomat in Havana, said of the rising tensions. "There was and still is potential for the Obama administration to change relations with Cuba. These comments coming out of Havana don't help."

Mr. Obama is the 11th president from what the Cubans call "El Imperio," or "The Empire," that the Castros have jousted with since the revolution a half century ago. And given that the Cubans have used Washington as a foil for so long, some of the high-voltage criticism of Mr. Obama is chalked up by some Cuba analysts as merely Havana's normal stance when it comes to the United States. It is only a matter of time before the first anti-Obama billboard goes up, some experts speculate.

Mr. Alarcón, the National Assembly president, did give Mr. Obama credit for using language that is "more peaceful, and civilized and open" than his predecessor. But he said that it was clear to him that the White House was too distracted with other issues to make Cuba a priority.

Others in the Cuban government take matters further, maintaining that Mr. Obama, despite some initial steps toward rapprochement, has continued to follow the Bush administration's goal of toppling the Communist leadership. "In the last few weeks we have witnessed the stepping up of the new administration's efforts in this area," Raúl Castro told Cuba's National Assembly during its annual session on Dec. 19. "They are giving new breath to open and undercover subversion against Cuba."

He was referring to the detention this month of an American contractor distributing cellphones, laptops and satellite equipment in Cuba on behalf of the Obama administration. The Cubans have accused the contractor, whose identity has not been made public, of giving the equipment to civil society groups in Cuba without permission. For its part, the Obama administration complains that Raúl Castro is running the island exactly like his brother did, without fundamental freedoms and with continued abuses against political opponents. But Cuban officials say Washington's insistence on more democracy in Cuba continues an old pattern of meddling in their country's sovereign affairs.

"If the American government really wants to advance relations with Cuba, I recommend they leave behind the conditions of internal governance that they are trying to impose on us and that only Cubans can decide," Raúl Castro said in his assembly speech.

Cuba continues to press its own issues with the United States, arguing, for instance, that Mr. Obama ought to immediately pardon five Cuban agents, known on the island as the Cuban Five, who are serving long prison terms in the United States for gathering information about Cuban exile groups in south Florida.

Mr. Alarcón reiterated a proposal that Raúl Castro has made on more than one occasion: the exchange of political prisoners in Cuba for the five Cubans held in the United States

The Cubans also insist that the Obama administration extradite to Venezuela Luis Posada Carriles, an anti-Castro militant accused of helping to blow up a Cuban airliner in 1976, killing 73 people. Mr. Posada, who is living in Miami on bail, faces charges in federal court in Texas for making what the government says were false statements to immigration officials. An immigration judge has ruled that he cannot be sent to Venezuela, a close ally of Cuba, because he faces a high likelihood of torture there.

"With the previous administration, it didn't make sense to talk about anything," said Mr. Alarcón. "This administration came to office pledging to change and to improve relations. Obama has nothing to do with the past but he's finished his first year and so far nothing has happened with these issues."

Mr. Smith, now a Cuba analyst at the Center for International Policy who advocates a lifting of the American trade and travel bans on Cuba, was supposed to accompany Barry McCaffrey, a retired American Army general, on a trip to Havana from Jan. 3 to 6 to discuss how the two countries could cooperate on fighting drug trafficking. But General McCaffrey pulled out, incensed by recent criticisms of Mr. Obama by Cuban officials.

"This type of shallow and vitriolic 1960s public diplomacy also makes Cuban leadership appear to be nonserious, polemical amateurs," he said in a letter to Mr. Smith. "President Obama is the most thoughtful and nonideological U.S. chief executive that the Cubans have seen in 50 years."

At the same time, still hopeful that the two countries can put their grudges aside, Mr. Smith said the United States should continue efforts to improve relations by removing Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, for instance, and by closing Radio Martí and TV Martí, the anti-Castro broadcasts financed by the United States government and sent from American soil to Cuba.

Some Cuban exiles, however, argue that Mr. Obama has gone far enough and that it is Cuba's turn to make a meaningful gesture.


4) The Truth of What Happened at the Summit
By Fidel Castro Ruz
December 19, 2009

The youth is more interested than anyone else in the future.

Until very recently, the discussion revolved around the kind of society we would have. Today, the discussion centers on whether human society will survive.

These are not dramatic phrases. We must get used to the true facts. Hope is the last thing human beings can relinquish. With truthful arguments, men and women of all ages, especially young people, have waged an exemplary battle at the Summit and taught the world a great lesson.

It is important now that Cuba and the world come to know as much as possible of what happened in Copenhagen. The truth can be stronger than the influenced and often misinformed minds of those holding in their hands the destiny of the world.

If anything significant was achieved in the Danish capital, it was that the media coverage allowed the world public to watch the political chaos created there and the humiliating treatment accorded to Heads of States or Governments, ministers and thousands of representatives of social movements and institutions that, in hope and expectation, traveled to the Summit's venue in Copenhagen. The brutal repression of peaceful protesters by the police was a reminder of the behavior of the Nazi assault troops that occupied neighboring Denmark on April 1940.

But no one could have thought that on December 18, 2009, the last day of the Summit, this would be suspended by the Danish government-a NATO ally associated with the carnage in Afghanistan-to offer the conference's plenary hall to President Obama for a meeting where only he and a selected group of guests, 16 in all, would have the exclusive right to speak.

Obama's deceitful, demagogic and ambiguous remarks failed to involve a binding commitment and ignored the Kyoto Framework Convention. He then left the room shortly after listening to a few other speakers. Among those invited to take the floor were the highest industrialized nations, several emerging economies and some of the poorest countries in the world. The leaders and representatives of over 170 countries were only allowed to listen.

At the end of the speeches of the 16 chosen, Evo Morales, with the authority of his indigenous Aymara origin and his recent reelection with 65 percent of the vote as well as the support of two-thirds of the Bolivian House and Senate, requested the floor. The Danish president had no choice but to yield to the insistence of the other delegations. When Evo had concluded his wise and deep observations, the Danish had to give the floor to Hugo Chavez. Both speeches will be registered by history as examples of short and timely remarks. Then, with their mission duly accomplished they both left for their respective countries. But when Obama disappeared, he had yet to fulfill his task in the host country.

From the evening of the 17th and the early morning hours of the 18th, the Prime Minister of Denmark and senior representatives of the United States had been meeting with the Chairman of the European Commission and the leaders of 27 nations to introduce to them-on behalf of Obama-a draft agreement in whose elaboration none of the other leaders of the rest of the world had taken part. It was an antidemocratic and practically clandestine initiative that disregarded the thousands of representatives of social movements, scientific and religious institutions and other participants in the Summit.

Through the night of the 18th and until 3:00 A.M. of the 19th, when many Heads of States had already departed, the representatives of the countries waited for the resumption of the sessions and the conclusion of the event. Throughout the 18th, Obama held meetings and press conferences, and the same did the European leaders. Then, they left.

Something unexpected happened then: at three in the morning of the 19th, the Prime Minister of Denmark convened a meeting to conclude the Summit. By then, the countries were represented by ministers, officials, ambassadors and technical staff.

However, an amazing battle was waged that morning by a group of representatives of Third World countries challenging the attempt by Obama and the wealthiest on the planet to introduce a document imposed by the United States as one agreed by consensus in the Summit.

The representative of Venezuela, Claudia Salerno, showed with impressive energy her right hand bleeding from strongly slamming on the table to claim her right to take the floor. Her tone of voice and the dignity of her arguments will never be forgotten.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cuba made a vigorous speech of approximately one thousand words from which I have chosen a few paragraphs to include in this Reflection:

"The document that you, Mister Chairman, repeatedly claimed that did not exist shows up now. [...] we have seen drafts circulating surreptitiously and being discussed in secret meetings...

"...I deeply resent the way you have led this conference.

"...Cuba considers the text of this apocryphal draft extremely inadequate and inadmissible. The goal of two degrees centigrade is unacceptable and it would have incalculable catastrophic consequences...

"The document that you are unfortunately introducing is not binding in any way with respect to the reduction of the greenhouse-gas emissions.

"I am aware of the previous drafts, which also through questionable and clandestine procedures, were negotiated by small groups of people...

"The document you are introducing now fails to include the already meager and lacking key phrases contained in that draft...

" far as Cuba is concerned, it is incompatible with the universally recognized scientific view sustaining that it is urgent and inescapable to ensure the reduction of at least 45 percent of the emissions by the year 2020, and of no less than 80 percent or 90 percent by 2050.

"Any argument on the continuation of the negotiations to reach agreement in the future to cut down emissions must inevitably include the concept of the validity of the Kyoto Protocol [...] Your paper, Mister Chairman, is a death certificate of the Kyoto Protocol and my delegation cannot accept it.

"The Cuban delegation would like to emphasize the preeminence of the principle of 'common by differentiated responsibilities,' as the core of the future process of negotiations. Your paper does not include a word on that.

"This draft declaration fails to mention concrete financial commitments and the transfers of technologies to developing countries, which are part of the obligations contracted by the developed countries under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change [...] Mister Chairman, by imposing their interests through your document, the developed nations are avoiding any concrete commitment.

"...What you, Mister Chairman, define as 'a group of representative leaders' is to me a gross violation of the principle of sovereign equality consecrated in the United Nations Charter...

"Mr. Chairman, I formally request that this statement be included in the final report of the works of this regrettable and shameful 15th session of the Conference of the Parties."

The representatives of the countries had been given only one hour to present their views. This led to complicated, shameful and embarrassing situations.

Then, a lengthy debate ensued where the delegations from the developed countries put heavy pressure on the rest to make the conference adopt the abovementioned document as the final result of their deliberations.

A small number of countries firmly insisted on the grave omissions and ambiguities of the document promoted by the United States, particularly the absence of a commitment by the developed countries on the reduction of carbon emissions and on the financing that would allow the South countries to adopt alleviating and adjustment measures.

After a long and extremely tense discussion, the position of the ALBA countries and Sudan, as President of the G-77, prevailed that the document was unacceptable to the conference thus it could not be adopted.

In view of the absence of consensus, the Conference could only "take note" of the existence of that document representing the position of a group of about 25 countries.

After that decision was made-at 10:30 in the morning Denmark's time-Bruno, together with other ALBA representatives, had a friendly discussion with the UN Secretary to whom they expressed their willingness to continue struggling alongside the United Nations to prevent the terrible consequences of climate change. Their mission completed, our Foreign Minister and Cuban Vice-President Esteban Lazo departed to come back home and attend the National Assembly session. A few members of the delegation and the ambassador stayed in Copenhagen to take part in the final procedures.

This afternoon they reported the following:

"...both, those who were involved in the elaboration of the document, and those like the President of the United States who anticipated its adoption by the they could not disregard the decision to simply 'take note' of the alleged 'Copenhagen Agreement,' they tried to introduce a procedure allowing the other COP countries that had not been a part of the shady deal to adhere to it, and make it public, the intention being to pretend such an agreement was legal, something that could precondition the results of the negotiations that should carry on.

"Such belated attempt was again firmly opposed by Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia. These countries warned that a document which had not been adopted by the Convention could not be considered legal and that there was not a COP document; therefore, no regulations could be established for its alleged adoption...

"This is how the meeting in Copenhagen is coming to an end, without the adoption of the document surreptitiously worked out in the past few days under the clear ideological guidance of the U.S. Administration..."

Tomorrow our attention will be focused on the National Assembly.

Lazo, Bruno and the other members of the delegation will be arriving at midnight today. On Monday, the Minister of Foreign Affairs will be able to explain in details and with the necessary accuracy the truth of what happened at the Summit.

-, December 19, 2009


5) Afghans Say Inquiry Shows Boys Were Killed in Allied Action
December 31, 2009

KABUL, Afghanistan - Deepening a rift between allies, Afghan investigators on Wednesday sharply contradicted accounts by NATO officials about the deaths of 10 civilians in eastern Afghanistan, saying a visit to the remote site showed that nearly all those killed were school-age boys and one was an elderly man. They blamed international forces for the deaths.

NATO officials said earlier this week that all those killed last weekend in a joint operation by Afghan and international forces in a remote district of eastern Kunar Province were armed insurgents who smuggled bombs.

They backed away somewhat from those assertions on Wednesday, but said they had no information to substantiate the claims by an Afghan delegation that looked into the deaths. The NATO officials said they would undertake a joint investigation with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai.

"We've not been briefed by the delegation; we have no way to corroborate those claims," said Rear Adm. Gregory J. Smith, the director of communication for NATO and United States forces in Afghanistan.

"However, we've already talked to President Karzai and he's agreed to a joint investigation" by an impartial panel, Admiral Smith said.

There remain a number of discrepancies in the accounts, from both Afghan and American officials, raising the possibility that the competing versions of events are far from complete and candid.

Nonetheless, on Wednesday, in a statement e-mailed to reporters, Mr. Karzai's office left little doubt that the president believed that international forces had committed a serious crime against civilians, portraying an episode that, if substantiated, would make the deaths some of the most egregious of the war.

"The delegation concluded that a unit of international forces descended from a plane Sunday night into Ghazi Khan village, in Narang District of the eastern province of Kunar, and took 10 people from 3 homes, 8 of them school students in grades 6, 9 and 10, one of them a guest, the rest from the same family, and shot them dead," said the statement from the president's office.

Mr. Karzai, the statement said, "was deeply grieved at the loss of civilians and assured the mourning families of his every effort for a serious and thorough investigation and said perpetrators would be legally dealt with."

Despite Mr. Karzai's tone of certainty, international military officials insisted that it was not clear that all those killed were students. Some who have seen photographs of the dead said that several of them appeared to have beards, suggesting they were not young adolescents.

NATO officials also said on Wednesday that the operation was carried out by a joint Afghan and international force, which they said came under fire. The Afghan government has not acknowledged that any Afghan forces were involved.

The issue of civilian casualties has become one of the most divisive between the Afghan government and its international backers. The civilian toll has outraged Afghans and undercut the credibility of both the Afghan government and international forces, making it look as if the country's allies have little regard for the lives of average Afghans.

Since he took command last summer, the leader of international forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, has directed foreign troops to avoid harming civilians even if it means retreating in some instances.

While Afghan government officials said there had been a significant drop in civilian casualties caused by foreign troops since then, events like the one in Kunar fuel fears about the risk to civilians as the United States prepares to add 30,000 troops to the 68,000 American troops already in the country.

The Afghan delegation's leaders, who visited the site in Kunar Province, offered an account similar to the president's statement. Though it could not be independently confirmed, it, too, painted a devastating picture for the Americans.

They said they had found that three of the eight students killed were in sixth grade and four in eighth grade.

"They gathered eight school students from two compounds and put them in one room and shot them with small arms," said the delegation's leader, Asadullah Wafa, a senior adviser to Mr. Karzai and a former governor of Kunar.

The delegation visited the school that the boys attended and spoke to the principal, who told them: " 'All of them are students in my school and they were here until late afternoon and were present in their classes,' " Mr. Wafa said.

"In total 10 were killed; eight were school students and one was an elderly man," he said.

The 10th casualty was a local farmer, according to a Parliament member, Shujaul Mookh, who accompanied the delegation. He noted that the principal was also the grandfather of several of the boys who were killed, which could raise questions about the impartiality of his account.

News of the casualties reverberated through the Afghan media. A demonstration in Kabul drew about 200 people, mostly young men, chanting and waving signs in Pashto and English that said: "Stop Killing Us" and "Stop Afghanicide." The protesters said they were considering holding a similar demonstration in the eastern city of Jalalabad later in the week.

Allocating blame for civilian casualties has proved difficult in the past. In some cases, international military forces have been at fault, as they were in a bombing in Farah Province in May, when dozens of civilians were killed.

In others, the Taliban have been extremely adept at fanning public outcry over the deaths of local insurgents by presenting them as innocent civilians, as in a recent raid in Laghman Province that killed at least four people.

In still other cases, a mix of Taliban and civilians have been victims, as they were in the NATO bombing of two hijacked fuel trucks in Kunduz Province in September.

Although the civilian casualties caused by foreign troops receive the biggest headlines, the overwhelming majority of civilian casualties are caused by the insurgents, according to a United Nations report released this week.

The report found that civilian casualties rose by 10.8 percent in the first 10 months of 2009 compared with the same period in 2008. But it found that more than half of the deaths this year were caused by insurgents, said Aleem Siddique, the spokesman for the United Nations special representative for Afghanistan, Kai Eide.


6) Judge cites gov't missteps, tosses Blackwater case
January 1, 2010

WASHINGTON - A federal judge cited repeated government missteps in dismissing all charges against five Blackwater Worldwide security guards accused of killing unarmed Iraqi civilians in a case that inflamed anti-American sentiment abroad.

U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina dismissed the case against the guards accused of the shooting in a crowded Baghdad intersection in 2007.

The shooting in busy Nisoor Square left 17 Iraqis dead. The Iraqi government wanted the guards to face trial in Iraq and officials there said they would closely watch how the U.S. judicial system handled the case.

Urbina said the prosecutors ignored the advice of senior Justice Department officials and built their case on sworn statements that had been given under a promise of immunity. Urbina said that violated the guards' constitutional rights. He dismissed the government's explanations as "contradictory, unbelievable and lacking in credibility."

"We're obviously disappointed by the decision," Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said. "We're still in the process of reviewing the opinion and considering our options."

Prosecutors can appeal the ruling.

Ali al-Dabbagh, the Iraqi government spokesman, said in a statement Friday that the government was dismayed by the court's dismissal of the case.

"The Iraqi government regrets the decision," he said. "Investigations conducted by specialized Iraqi authorities confirmed unequivocally that the guards of Blackwater committed the crime of murder and broke the rules by using arms without the existence of any threat obliging them to use force."

"The Iraqi government will follow up its procedures strictly and firmly to pursue the criminals of the above named company and to preserve the rights of the Iraqi citizens who were victims or the families who suffered losses from this crime."

Dr. Haitham Ahmed, whose wife and son were killed in the shooting, said the decision casts doubt on the integrity of the entire U.S. justice system.

"If a judge ... dismissed the trial, that is ridiculous and the whole thing has been but a farce," Ahmed said. "The rights of our victims and the rights of the innocent people should not be wasted."

Dozens of Iraqis, including the estates of some of the victims allegedly killed by Blackwater employees, filed a separate lawsuit last year alleging that Blackwater employees engaged in indiscriminate killings and beatings. The civil case is still before a Virginia court.

Blackwater contractors had been hired to guard U.S. diplomats in Iraq. The guards said insurgents ambushed them in a traffic circle. Prosecutors said the men unleashed an unprovoked attack on civilians using machine guns and grenades.

The shooting led to the unraveling of the North Carolina-based company, which since has replaced its management and changed its name to Xe Services.

The five guards are Donald Ball, a former Marine from West Valley City, Utah; Dustin Heard, a former Marine from Knoxville, Tenn.; Evan Liberty, a former Marine from Rochester, N.H.; Nick Slatten, a former Army sergeant from Sparta, Tenn., and Paul Slough, an Army veteran from Keller, Texas.

Defense attorneys said the guards were thrilled by the ruling after more than two years of scrutiny.

"It's tremendously gratifying to see the court allow us to celebrate the new year the way it has," said attorney Bill Coffield, who represents Liberty. "It really invigorates your belief in our court system."

"It's indescribable," said Ball's attorney, Steven McCool. "It feels like the weight of the world has been lifted off his shoulders. Here's a guy that's a decorated war hero who we maintain should never have been charged in the first place."

The five guards had been charged with manslaughter and weapons violations. The charges carried mandatory 30-year prison terms.

Urbina's ruling does not resolve whether the shooting was proper. Rather, the 90-page opinion underscores some of the conflicting evidence in the case. Some Blackwater guards told prosecutors they were concerned about the shooting and offered to cooperate. Others said the convoy had been attacked. By the time the FBI began investigating, Nisoor Square had been picked clean of bullets that might have proven whether there had been a firefight or a massacre.

The Iraqi government has refused to grant Blackwater a license to continue operating in the country, prompting the State Department to refuse to renew its contracts with the company.

In a statement released by its president, Joseph Yorio, the company said it was happy to have the shooting behind it.

"Like the people they were protecting, our Xe professionals were working for a free, safe and democratic Iraq for the Iraqi people," Yorio said. "With this decision, we feel we can move forward and continue to assist the United States in its mission to help the people of Iraq and Afghanistan find a peaceful, democratic future."

The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. Raymond Odierno, declined to comment on the specifics of the case, but said, "I do worry about it, because clearly there were innocent people killed in that attack ... it is heart-wrenching."

The case against the five men fell apart because, after the shooting, the State Department ordered the guards to explain what happened. In exchange for those statements, the State Department promised the statements would not be used in a criminal case. Such limited immunity deals are common in police departments so officers involved in shootings cannot hold up internal investigations by refusing to cooperate.

The five guards told investigators they fired their weapons, an admission that was crucial because forensic evidence could not determine who had fired.

Because of the immunity deal, prosecutors had to build their case without those statements, a high legal hurdle that Urbina said the Justice Department failed to clear. Prosecutors read those statements, reviewed them in the investigation and used them to question witnesses and get search warrants, Urbina said. Key witnesses also reviewed the statements and the grand jury heard evidence that had been tainted by those statements, the judge said.

The Justice Department set up a process to avoid those problems, but Urbina said lead prosecutor Ken Kohl and others "purposefully flouted the advice" of senior Justice Department officials telling them not to use the statements.

It was unclear what the ruling means for a sixth Blackwater guard, Jeremy Ridgeway, who turned on his former colleagues and pleaded guilty to killing one Iraqi and wounding another. Had he gone to trial, the case against him would likely have fallen apart, but it's unclear whether Urbina will let him out of his plea deal.

Associated Press writers Bushra Juhi and Rebecca Santana in Baghdad contributed to this report.


7) CIA Agents assassinated in Afghanistan worked for "contractor" active in Venezuela, Cuba
By Eva Golinger
December 31, 2009

At least eight U.S. citizens were killed on a CIA operations base in Afghanistan this past Wednesday, December 30. A suicide bomber infiltrated Forward Operating Base Chapman located in the eastern province of Khost, which was a CIA center of operations and surveillance. Official sources in Washington have confirmed that the eight dead were all civilian employees and CIA contractors.

Fifteen days ago, five U.S. citizens working for a U.S. government contractor, Development Alternatives, Inc. (DAI), were also killed in an explosion at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) office in Gardez. That same day, another bomb exploded outside the DAI offices in Kabul, although no serious injuries resulted.

The December 15 incident received little attention, although it occurred just days after the detention of a DAI employee in Cuba, accused of subversion and distribution of illegal materials to counterrevolutionary groups. President and CEO of DAI, Jim Boomgard, issued a declaration on December 14 regarding the detention of a subcontractor from his company in Cuba, confirming that, "the detained individual was an employee of a program subcontractor, which was implementing a competitively issued subcontract to assist Cuban civil society organizations." The statement also emphasized the "new program" DAI is managing for the U.S. government in Cuba, the "Cuba Democracy and Contingency Planning Program". DAI was awarded a $40 million USD contract in 2008 to help the U.S. government "support the peaceful activities of a broad range of nonviolent organizations through competitively awarded grants and subcontracts" in Cuba.

On December 15, DAI published a press release mourning "project personnel killed in Afghanistan". "DAI is deeply saddened to report the deaths of five staff associated with our projects in Afghanistan...On December 15, five employees of DAI's security subcontractor were killed by an explosion in the Gardez office of the Local Governance and Community Development (LGCD) Program, a USAID project implemented by DAI."

DAI also runs a program in Khost where the December 30 suicide bombing occurred, although it has yet to be confirmed if the eight U.S. citizens killed were working for the major U.S. government contractor. From the operations base in Khost, the CIA remotely controls its selective assassination program against alleged Al Qaeda members in Pakistan and Afghanistan using drone (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) Predator planes.
A high-level USAID official confirmed two weeks ago that the CIA uses USAID's name to issue contracts and funding to third parties in order to provide cover for clandestine operations. The official, a veteran of the U.S. government agency, stated that the CIA issues such contracts without USAID's full knowledge.

Since June 2002, USAID has maintained an Office for Transition Initiatives (OTI) in Venezuela, through which it has channeled more than $50 million USD to groups and individuals opposed to President Hugo Chávez. The same contractor active in Afghanistan and connected with the CIA, Development Alternatives Inc. (DAI), was awarded a multi-million dollar budget from USAID in Venezuela to "assist civil society and the transition to democracy". More than two thousand documents partially declassified from USAID regarding the agency's activities in Venezuela reveal the relationship between DAI and sectors of the Venezuelan opposition that have actively been involved in coup d'etats, violent demonstrations and other destabilization attempts against President Chávez.

In Bolivia, USAID was expelled this year from two municipalities, Chapare and El Alto, after being accused of interventionism. In September 2009, President Evo Morales announced the termination of an official agreement with USAID allowing its operations in Bolivia, based on substantial evidence documenting the agency's funding of violent separtist groups seeking to destabilize the country.

In 2005, USAID was also expelled from Eritrea and accused of being a "neo-colonialist" agency. Ethiopia, Russia and Belarus have ordered the expulsion of USAID and its contractors during the last five years.

Development Alternatives, Inc. is one of the largest U.S. government contractors in the world. The company, with headquarters in Bethesda, MD, presently has a $50 million contract with USAID for operations in Afghanistan. In Latin America, DAI has operations and field offices in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, Dominican Republic and Venezuela.

This year, USAID/DAI's budget in Venezuela nears $15 million USD and its programs are oriented towards strengthening opposition parties, candidates and campaigns for the 2010 legislative elections. Just two weeks ago, President Chávez also denounced the illegal presence of U.S. drone planes in Venezuelan airspace.


8) Welcome to Orwell's World 2010
By John Pilger
December 30, 2009

In Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell described a superstate called Oceania, whose language of war inverted lies that "passed into history and became truth. 'Who controls the past', ran the Party slogan, 'controls the future: who controls the present controls the past'."

Barack Obama is the leader of a contemporary Oceania. In two speeches at the close of the decade, the Nobel Peace Prize winner affirmed that peace was no longer peace, but rather a permanent war that "extends well beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan" to "disorderly regions and diffuse enemies". He called this "global security" and invited our gratitude. To the people of Afghanistan, which America has invaded and occupied, he said wittily: "We have no interest in occupying your country."

In Oceania, truth and lies are indivisible. According to Obama, the American attack on Afghanistan in 2001 was authorised by the United Nations Security Council. There was no UN authority. He said the "the world" supported the invasion in the wake of 9/11 when, in truth, all but three of 37 countries surveyed by Gallup expressed overwhelming opposition. He said that America invaded Afghanistan "only after the Taliban refused to turn over [Osama] bin Laden". In 2001, the Taliban tried three times to hand over bin Laden for trial, reported Pakistan's military regime, and were ignored. Even Obama's mystification of 9/11 as justification for his war is false. More than two months before the Twin Towers were attacked, the Pakistani foreign minister, Niaz Naik, was told by the Bush administration that an American military assault would take place by mid-October. The Taliban regime in Kabul, which the Clinton administration had secretly supported, was no longer regarded as "stable" enough to ensure America's control over oil and gas pipelines to the Caspian Sea. It had to go.

Obama's most audacious lie is that Afghanistan today is a "safe haven" for al-Qaeda's attacks on the West. His own national security adviser, General James Jones, said in October that there were "fewer than 100" al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. According to US intelligence, 90 per cent of the Taliban are hardly Taliban at all, but "a tribal localised insurgency [who] see themselves as opposing the US because it is an occupying power". The war is a fraud. Only the terminally gormless remain true to the Obama brand of "world peace".

Beneath the surface, however, there is serious purpose. Under the disturbing General Stanley McCrystal, who gained distinction for his assassination squads in Iraq, the occupation of one of the most impoverished countries is a model for those "disorderly regions" of the world still beyond Oceania's reach. This is a known as COIN, or counter-insurgency network, which draws together the military, aid organisations, psychologists, anthropologists, the media and public relations hirelings. Covered in jargon about winning hearts and minds, its aim is to pit one ethnic group against another and incite civil war: Tajiks and Uzbecks against Pashtuns.

The Americans did this in Iraq and destroyed a multi-ethnic society. They bribed and built walls between communities who had once inter-married, ethnically cleansing the Sunni and driving millions out of the country. The embedded media reported this as "peace", and American academics bought by Washington and "security experts" briefed by the Pentagon appeared on the BBC to spread the good news. As in Nineteen Eighty-Four, the opposite was true.

Something similar is planned for Afghanistan. People are to be forced into "target areas" controlled by warlords bankrolled by the Americans and the opium trade. That these warlords are infamous for their barbarism is irrelevant. "We can live with that," a Clinton-era diplomat said of the persecution of women in a "stable" Taliban-run Afghanistan. Favoured western relief agencies, engineers and agricultural specialists will attend to the "humanitarian crisis" and so "secure" the subjugated tribal lands.

That is the theory. It worked after a fashion in Yugoslavia where the ethnic-sectarian partition wiped out a once peaceful society, but it failed in Vietnam where the CIA's "strategic hamlet program" was designed to corral and divide the southern population and so defeat the Viet Cong-the Americans' catch-all term for the resistance, similar to "Taliban".

Behind much of this are the Israelis, who have long advised the Americans in both the Iraq and Afghanistan adventures. Ethnic-cleansing, wall-building, checkpoints, collective punishment and constant surveillance - these are claimed as Israeli innovations that have succeeded in stealing most of Palestine from its native people. And yet for all their suffering, the Palestinians have not been divided irrevocably and they endure as a nation against all odds.

The most telling forerunners of the Obama Plan, which the Nobel Peace Prize winner and his strange general and his PR men prefer we forget, are those that failed in Afghanistan itself. The British in the 19th century and the Soviets in the 20th century attempted to conquer that wild country by ethnic cleansing and were seen off, though after terrible bloodshed. Imperial cemeteries are their memorials. People power, sometimes baffling, often heroic, remains the seed beneath the snow, and invaders fear it.

"It was curious," wrote Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four, "to think that the sky was the same for everybody, in Eurasia or Eastasia as well as here. And the people under the sky were also very much the same, everywhere, all over the world ... people ignorant of one another's existence, held apart by walls of hatred and lies, and yet almost exactly the same people who ... were storing up in their hearts and bellies and muscles the power that would one day overturn the world."


9) Iraqis Angered as Blackwater Charges Are Dropped
January 2, 2010

BAGHDAD - Iraqis on Friday reacted with disbelief, anger and bitter resignation to news that criminal charges in the United States had been dismissed against Blackwater Worldwide security guards who opened fire on unarmed Iraqi civilians in 2007.

Though the shooting, which took place on Sept. 16, 2007, in a crowded central Baghdad traffic circle, is regarded here as a signal event of the war, many victims had not been aware of the decision of a Federal District Court judge in Washington because the ruling was made public in Baghdad a few hours after the start of the new year.

The attack, at Nisour Square, left 17 Iraqis dead and 27 wounded. Many of the victims were riding inside cars or buses at a busy traffic circle when a Blackwater convoy escorting American diplomats rolled through and began firing machine guns, grenade launchers and a sniper rifle.

The Blackwater guards said they believed they had come under small-arms fire from insurgents. But investigators concluded that the guards had indiscriminately fired on unarmed civilians in an unprovoked and unjustified assault.

The incident calcified anti-American sentiment in Iraq and elsewhere, raised Iraqi concerns about the extent of its sovereignty because Blackwater guards had immunity from local prosecutors and reopened a debate about American dependence on private security contractors in the Iraq war.

Many Iraqis also viewed the prosecution of the guards as a test case of American democratic principles, which have not been wholeheartedly embraced, and in particular of the fairness of the American judicial system.

On Thursday, Judge Ricardo M. Urbina threw out manslaughter and weapons charges against five Blackwater guards because he said prosecutors had violated the men's rights by building the case based on sworn statements that had been given by the guards under the promise of immunity.

Prosecutors have not said whether they will appeal the decision.

In Baghdad on Friday, some victims and their families expressed grave disappointment at the ruling and said they did not understand how charges could have been dropped despite what they regarded as overwhelming evidence. Some said they were shot as they tried to flee.

"What are we - not human?" asked Abdul Wahab Adul Khader, 34, a bank employee who was shot in the hand while driving his car through the traffic circle. "Why do they have the right to kill people? Is our blood so cheap? For America, the land of justice and law, what does it mean to let criminals go? They were chasing me and shooting at me. They were determined to kill me."

Sami Hawas, 45, a taxi driver, was shot in the back during the episode and is paralyzed.

"I can't even think of words to say," Mr. Hawas said after being told about the court ruling. "We have been waiting for so long. I still have bullets in my back. I cannot even sit like an ordinary human being."

Ali Khalaf, a traffic police officer who was on duty in Nisour Square at the time and aided some of the victims, was furious.

"There has been a cover-up since the very start," he said. "What can we say? They killed people. They probably gave a bribe to get released. This is their own American court system."

Some of the victims had been burned so badly, he said, that he and others had to use shovels to scoop their remains out of their vehicles.

"I ask you, if this had happened to Americans, what would be the result? But these were Iraqis," he said.

Sahib Nassir's 26-year-old son, Mehdi, a taxi driver, was shot in the back and killed. He said he was stunned to hear that the charges had been dismissed because he had been preparing to testify at a trial that was scheduled to start in February.

"How could they release them?" he asked. "There is evidence. There are witnesses."

Ali al-Dabbagh, a spokesman for Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, said in a statement that the government "regrets" the federal court decision.

"Investigations conducted by specialized Iraqi officials confirmed without a doubt that Blackwater guards committed murder and violated laws by using weapons without the presence of any threat," Mr. Dabbagh said.

At a news conference Friday, Gen. Ray Odierno, the American commander in Iraq, called the ruling "a lesson in the rule of law."

"Of course people are not going to like it because they believe these individuals conducted some violence and should be punished for it," he said. "But the bottom line is, using the rule of law, the evidence obviously was not there, or was collected illegally or whatever the reason is, and so it can't be used. That's always a problem. But it's a lesson in the rule of law. We're a country of the rule of law - Iraq's a country that's abiding by the rule of law."

He added: "I worry about it because clearly there were innocent people killed during this attack. And that's concerning everyone that innocent people were killed. And so it's heart-wrenching when these people are killed."

Blackwater, now called Xe Services, has not faced criminal charges related to the shootings, but victims and their families have filed a civil lawsuit against the company and Erik Prince, its founder.

In addition to the five Blackwater employees who had faced trial, a sixth, Jeremy P. Ridgeway, pleaded guilty to killing one Iraqi and wounding another.

The company continued to provide security for the United States Embassy in Baghdad until last spring. But in March, the Iraqi government said it would not grant Blackwater an operating license. Afterward, the embassy contract was awarded to a rival security firm.

Also Friday, the United States military in Iraq said the month of December had been the first month since the United States-led invasion in which an American service member had not been killed in combat. Three United States troops died during the month in noncombat-related incidents, the military said.

Reporting was contributed by Duraid Adnan, Sa'ad al-Izzi, Mohammed al-Obaidi, John Leland and Riyadh Mohammed.


10) C.I.A. Takes On Bigger and Riskier Role on Front Lines
January 1, 2010

WASHINGTON - The deaths of seven Central Intelligence Agency operatives at a remote base in the mountains of Afghanistan are a pointed example of the civilian spy agency's transformation in recent years into a paramilitary organization at the vanguard of America's far-flung wars.

Even as the C.I.A. expands its role in Afghanistan, it is also playing a greater role in quasi-military operations elsewhere, using drone aircraft to launch a steady barrage of missile strikes in Pakistan and sending more operatives to Yemen to assist local officials in their attempts to roll back Al Qaeda's momentum in that country.

The C.I.A. operatives stationed at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost Province, where Wednesday's suicide bombing occurred, were responsible for collecting information about militant networks in Afghanistan and Pakistan and plotting missions to kill the networks' top leaders. In recent months, American officials said, C.I.A. officers at the base had begun an aggressive campaign against a radical group run by Sirajuddin Haqqani, which has claimed responsibility for the deaths of dozens of American troops.

Over the past year, the C.I.A. has built up an archipelago of firebases in southern and eastern Afghanistan, moving agency operatives out of the embassy in Kabul and closer to their targets.

But the push to the front lines carries great risk.

In 1983 in Beirut, it took a car bomb loaded with 2,000 pounds of explosives to kill eight C.I.A. officers stationed at the heavily fortified American Embassy in the city. In Khost on Wednesday, all it took was one man bent on martyrdom to slip into a remote base and inflict a similar toll on the spy agency's relatively small work force.

Among those killed, officials said, was the chief of the Khost base, who was a mother of three and a veteran of the agency's clandestine branch. Besides the seven C.I.A. operatives who died, the blast also wounded six agency employees, according to a C.I.A. statement.

Current and former intelligence officials said Thursday that early evidence indicated that the bomber, in Afghan military fatigues, might have been taken onto the base as a possible informant and might not have been subjected to rigorous screening. But details about the episode remained murky, and a NATO official said the bomber had managed to elude security and reach an area near the base's gym.

C.I.A. personnel regularly take foreign agents onto the base before sending them on intelligence collection missions in eastern Afghanistan and across the border into Pakistan, said one Pentagon consultant who works closely with the C.I.A. in Afghanistan.

"You must to some degree make yourself known to people you don't trust," said one American intelligence official who, like others interviewed for this article, spoke anonymously to discuss classified information.

The bomber appears to have worn an explosives-laden suicide vest under an Afghan National Army uniform, two NATO officials said Thursday. The attack happened close to dusk, when some people at the base were relaxing before dinner.

In a statement to the C.I.A.'s work force, President Obama said that the spy agency had been "tested as never before," and that C.I.A. operatives had "served on the front lines in directly confronting the dangers of the 21st century."

Forward Operating Base Chapman sits in an isolated spot several miles from the town of Khost, but not far from Camp Salerno, a larger base used by Special Operations troops.

American officials said that the C.I.A. base had been a focal point for counterterrorism operations against the Haqqani network, a particularly lethal militant group that operates on both sides of the Afghan border.

"Those guys have recently been on a big Haqqani binge," said the Pentagon consultant. "I would be really shocked if the bombing on Wednesday wasn't some kind of retaliation."

There was an air of defiance among intelligence officials on the day after the attack, and some spoke of their fallen comrades using military language.

"There is no pullout," the American intelligence official said. "There is no withdrawal or anything like that planned."

The C.I.A. has always had a paramilitary branch known as the Special Activities Division, which secretly engaged in the kinds of operations more routinely carried out by Special Operations troops. But the branch was a small - and seldom used - part of its operations.

That changed after Sept. 11, 2001, when President George W. Bush gave the agency expanded authority to capture or kill Qaeda operatives around the world. Since then, Washington has relied much more on the Special Activities Division because battling suspected terrorists does not involve fighting other armies. Rather, it involves secretly moving in and out of countries like Pakistan and Somalia where the American military is not legally allowed to operate.

The fact that the agency is in effect running a war in Pakistan is the culmination of one of the most significant shifts in the C.I.A.'s history. But the agency has at times struggled with this new role. It established a network of secret overseas jails where terrorist suspects were subjected to brutal interrogation techniques, and it set up an assassination program that at one point was outsourced to employees of a private security company, then known as Blackwater USA.

Some longtime agency officers bristled at what they saw as the militarization of the C.I.A., worrying that it was straying too far from its historical missions of espionage and intelligence analysis.

When he took office in January, President Obama scaled back the C.I.A.'s counterterrorism mission, but only to a point. He ordered that C.I.A. prisons be shut and that C.I.A officers no longer play a role in interrogating suspects accused of terrorist acts.

At the same time, the administration has accelerated the C.I.A.'s drone campaign, using Predator and Reaper aircraft to launch missiles and rockets against militants in Pakistan.

In early 2009, the White House approved a C.I.A. plan to expand the drone operations in Pakistan into Baluchistan, where top leaders of Afghanistan's Taliban militia are thought to be hiding. The agency has also recently begun sending more operatives into Pakistan to, among other things, gather target intelligence for the drone program.

Alissa J. Rubin contributed reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan.


11) The Breaking Point
For Sick Illegal Immigrants, No Relief Back Home
January 1, 2010

EJIDO MODELO, Mexico - On the two-hour bus rides from her village on Lake Chapala to a dialysis clinic in Guadalajara, Monica Chavarria's thoughts would inevitably turn to the husband and son she left behind in Georgia.

A decade after crossing illegally into the United States, Ms. Chavarria returned home in September after learning that Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta was closing the clinic that had provided her with dialysis, at taxpayer expense, for more than a year.

Grady, a struggling charity hospital, had been absorbing multimillion-dollar losses for years because the dialysis clinic primarily served illegal immigrants who were not eligible for government insurance programs.

Hospital officials decided the losses were threatening Grady's broader mission of serving the region's indigent population. But before closing the clinic on Oct. 4, they offered to pay to relocate patients to their home countries or other states, and to provide dialysis for three transitional months.

Ms. Chavarria, 34, left quickly with her 8-year-old son, Jose Andres, an American citizen who had never been to Mexico. But she has not found a solution there. Her free treatments have run out, and she can now afford dialysis only by poaching the savings her family has set aside for a transplant.

Her husband, Roberto Barajas, 37, and their 14-year-old son, Eduardo, remained in Georgia so Mr. Barajas could keep working and wire money home for her care.

In separate interviews, one in the farming village of Ejido Modelo, the other in the Atlanta suburb of East Point, Ms. Chavarria and Mr. Barajas each wept while describing their separation after 15 years of marriage.

"I think about them all the time," said Ms. Chavarria, whose raven hair falls past her waist. "It was the hardest thing to leave without them."

Mr. Barajas, a stocky road paver, shielded his eyes with his hand. "You don't know if you'll be able to see each other again," he said. "We had always been together, the four of us, and then suddenly they had to go."

Like other patients repatriated by Grady this fall, Ms. Chavarria gambled that her chances would be better at home. The costs of dialysis and a possible kidney transplant would be considerably lower in Mexico, and she had three siblings there willing to donate an organ.

But it has not worked out that way.

On Dec. 22, she exhausted the 30 free dialysis sessions that Grady had provided at a gleaming private clinic in Guadalajara. On her doctor's advice, she had been stretching out the treatments, which filter toxins from the blood, by going two times a week instead of the recommended three. Going without dialysis can prove fatal in as little as two weeks, and the twice-a-week regimen has at times left her weak.

Now Ms. Chavarria is dipping into money that Mr. Barajas and other relatives have raised in East Point, which has long been a destination for migrants from Ejido Modelo. They have held raffles and charity soccer tournaments, and placed gold-wrapped donation boxes at taquerias and stores.

The fund-raising proceeds - about $11,000, according to Mr. Barajas - had been earmarked to defray the $20,000 cost of a transplant. So it is a setback each time Ms. Chavarria has to withdraw $100 for a dialysis treatment.

Everywhere, it seems, there are roadblocks to affordable care. The dialysis unit at Guadalajara's public hospital, which offers heavily discounted prices to the uninsured, has a waiting list that extends for months. Ms. Chavarria is not eligible for the insurance plan known here as Social Security, which is limited to salaried workers. The country's five-year-old health program for the uninsured, Seguro Popular, does not cover end-stage renal disease.

On top of the cost, the preparations for a kidney transplant can take months. Ms. Chavarria's brother, Roberto, her first volunteer, recently learned that his own kidneys might not be functioning properly, possibly ruling him out.

When Grady officials decided last summer to close the dialysis clinic for budgetary reasons, the board chairman, A. D. Correll, declared that "people are not going to die on the street because of these actions." But that pledge may ignore the conditions that await patients who return to Latin America.

Two Grady dialysis patients have died in Mexico since the clinic's closing, along with one exceedingly ill patient in Atlanta, according to the hospital. A Grady spokesman said the deaths resulted from severe kidney disease and not from insufficient dialysis.

But one of the Grady patients who died in Mexico, Adriana Ríos Fernández, was receiving dialysis only twice a week because her family could not afford a third treatment that might have helped clear her lungs of fluid, her father said. And recent research has found that dialysis patients in Ms. Chavarria's state of Jalisco, where half of the residents are uninsured, are three times more likely to die than Hispanic dialysis patients in the United States.

"To have end-stage renal disease in Mexico is a tragedy," said Dr. Guillermo Garcia-Garcia, the lead author of the study. "If you don't have Social Security, if you don't have private insurance, you are condemned to die."

The health care dichotomy in Mexico is stark. At Guadalajara's Hospital Civil, the teeming public hospital where Dr. Garcia is chief of nephrology, the dialysis unit runs eight stations around the clock, and meets barely half the demand. Doctors there said they see uninsured patients die every week for lack of dialysis. By contrast, the private clinic for the insured where Ms. Chavarria received her Grady-sponsored treatments is operating at one-fourth of its capacity.

During her journeys for dialysis, and her three-and-a-half hours in the chair, Ms. Chavarria daydreams that her family might some day reunite. "I hope it's soon, while things are all right," she said, as the bus rolled past fields of cactus and maize.

But it is difficult to block out the grim realities. She knows that she may never be strong enough to cross the border again and that her continued treatment may depend on her husband's ability to earn $11 an hour in Georgia, rather than $12 a day here as a farmhand.

There are an estimated seven million illegal immigrants in the United States who have no medical coverage. New research shows there may be 5,500 with end-stage renal disease alone. The health care bills in Congress do not address the problem, leaving public hospitals like Grady to treat the immigrants with an ever-fraying safety net.

Most of the 66 immigrants who were dislodged by the Grady clinic's closing have stayed in Atlanta to take advantage of the hospital's offer of three months of treatment. They have signed documents stating that they understand that Grady's financial assistance will end on Sunday, although the hospital's contract with a commercial dialysis provider lasts until September.

Ten to 13 of the patients appear to have returned to Mexico, with varying success. Pastor Chavez, 37, said his aunt had managed to buy insurance for him. Patricia Pichardo, 36, a mother of three, said she was borrowing from friends to afford her twice-weekly dialysis.

Antonio Camron, 20, said he did not know what he would do after his Grady-sponsored treatments ended in late December. "I have very little time left," he said.

The repatriation of most of the patients was carried out by MexCare, a California company hired by Grady. As an additional inducement, MexCare offered many patients a year of health insurance to follow their three months of paid dialysis.

But six patients interviewed in Mexico this month said they knew of no steps being taken to obtain meaningful health insurance. One of MexCare's principals, George Ochoa, said in a brief interview that the company's offer was to pay for a year of Seguro Popular. That program does not cover dialysis or kidney transplants, according to its national commissioner, Salomón Chertorivski Woldenberg.

Matt Gove, a senior vice president at Grady, said the hospital had not been aware that MexCare was promising patients insurance coverage.

Residents of this farming village on the south shore of Mexico's largest lake began seeking work in the suburbs near Atlanta's airport in the mid-1970s. Relatives then summoned relatives until the apartment complexes filled with immigrants. On their days off from construction and landscaping, they reconstituted their social circles and soccer teams as if they had never left home.

During the holidays, when the population of Ejido Modelo swells with homecoming immigrants, the rutted, unpaved streets are dotted with cars bearing Fulton County, Ga., license plates.

Mr. Barajas's family came in waves. He said he made the first of his three illegal crossings at age 17 in 1989, shortly after meeting Ms. Chavarria at the soccer field in Ejido Modelo. They courted by telephone and mail, and he returned to marry her in the whitewashed village church. After Eduardo was born, she followed him back to East Point.

Their American dream was to save enough to build a three-bedroom house in Ejido Modelo, and then return home. But in February 2008, while working at an auto parts plant near Atlanta, Ms. Chavarria began having trouble breathing. Doctors at Grady diagnosed her kidney failure and placed her on dialysis. She and her husband were astonished there was no charge.

When it came time to leave, the family made the heartbreaking decision that Eduardo would remain in Georgia because he wanted to stay in American schools. Jose Andres, they decided, was too young to leave his mother (and unlike his brother had the advantage of American citizenship). He is struggling in school in Mexico, according to his parents, because he had never learned to write in Spanish.

Mr. Barajas and Ms. Chavarria said their tearful farewells at a McDonald's restaurant at Grady, where her MexCare escort had suggested they meet. Mr. Barajas's sister has moved in to their apartment to help care for Eduardo, but the emptiness remains.

"It's hard to get home from work or some other place and not see her here," Mr. Barajas said.

Ms. Chavarria is living with her 64-year-old mother, who welcomes each morning by baking tortillas over a wood fire. Other family members live in a compound of small brick houses surrounding a communal courtyard that is planted with citrus and poinsettias. Ms. Chavarria said she was happy to be with her extended family, but was "missing my own."

She seems fatalistic about the chances for a reunion, in the house they have all but finished.

"I would want good things to happen," Ms. Chavarria said, "but destiny is not in our hands."

David Agren in Mexico and Catrin Einhorn in New York contributed reporting.


12) Terror Attempt May Hinder Plans to Close Guantánamo
January 1, 2010

KANEOHE, Hawaii - The attempted bombing of an American passenger plane on Christmas Day could greatly complicate President Obama's efforts to close the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, as lawmakers in both parties call on the administration to rethink its approach.

The task of determining what to do with the detainees held at Guantánamo has already proved so daunting that Mr. Obama is poised to miss his self-imposed one-year deadline for shuttering the prison by Jan. 22. But evidence that Al Qaeda's branch in Yemen was behind last week's failed plane attack will make closing the center even harder since nearly half the remaining detainees are from Yemen.

"The current threats emanating from Yemen dramatically increase the political costs of closing Guantánamo," said Matthew Waxman, a former top Pentagon official who handled detainee issues and supports trying to close the detention center. "To close it anytime soon, the Obama administration either has to send many detainees back to Yemen - widely viewed as a major terrorist haven - or it brings many of them into the U.S. for continued detention without trial."

The possible impact on Guantánamo represents just one ramification of the Christmas Day plot. The administration is already reviewing changes in intelligence analysis and aviation screening to address what the president on Tuesday called "human and systemic failures" that allowed a 23-year-old Nigerian with known radical views to board a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit with explosives in his underwear.

Mr. Obama, who is spending the holidays with his family in his home state, Hawaii, was briefed Thursday on the preliminary results of twin reviews into the breakdown leading up to the failed attack, and he ordered his senior advisers and agency heads to meet with him in Washington next week.

Mr. Obama spoke by telephone separately with John O. Brennan, his counterterrorism adviser, and with Janet Napolitano, his secretary of homeland security, but he offered no fresh assessment on Thursday as he waited for more reports later in the day. The president said in a written statement that he would meet with agency directors on Tuesday "to discuss our ongoing reviews as well as security enhancements and intelligence-sharing improvements in our homeland security and counterterrorism operations."

The reviews were expected to tell the president that the government had intercepted conversations about a possible attack by the Yemen group, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, but did not correlate it with information about Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian man arrested in the airline plot, that might have pointed to his plans.

They also were looking at how explosives were taken onto the plane despite security procedures and what changes might be required to detect such materials in the future.

Ms. Napolitano announced that she was sending top deputies to meet with leaders from major international airports in Africa, Europe, the Middle East and South America to review security procedures and technology used to screen passengers bound for the United States.

"We are looking not only at our own processes, but also beyond our borders to ensure effective aviation security measures are in place," Ms. Napolitano said in a statement.

The Guantánamo issue is not part of this review, but leading members of Congress are pressing Mr. Obama to either abandon plans to close the prison or to suspend any transfers of prisoners to Yemen.

Mr. Obama inherited 242 detainees at Guantánamo when he came into office, and his team has released or transferred 44. Of the 198 remaining, about 92 are from Yemen, and of those, about 40 have been cleared for release.

But a senior administration official said Thursday that Mr. Obama's interagency team had already decided quietly several weeks ago that the security situation in Yemen was too volatile to transfer any more detainees beyond six who were sent home in December. The government concluded it had to release those six because it was about to lose habeas corpus hearings in court that would order them freed.

As for the rest, "we all agreed we couldn't send people back because of the security situation," said the official, who like others requested anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

The administration has been trying to help develop a rehabilitation program for Yemen like one in neighboring Saudi Arabia that has been judged largely successful in transitioning former detainees back into society. But the senior official said that such a program appeared unlikely to be set up, and that without it, sending dozens of Yemenis back home would not be feasible.

The administration will re-examine the question in late 2010, when an Illinois prison is ready to take remaining Guantánamo detainees, the official said.

Ben LaBolt, a White House spokesman, said Mr. Obama remained "as committed to closing the detention facility at Guantánamo" as he was a year ago, in part because it is a magnet for anti-American propaganda.

"That facility has been used as a rallying cry and recruiting tool by Al Qaeda and its affiliates, including Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula," Mr. LaBolt said.

But criticism has grown with reports that one former Guantánamo detainee released to the Saudi program under President George W. Bush in 2007 is now involved in Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has claimed responsibility for the Christmas attack.

Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, both Republicans, and Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, sent a letter to Mr. Obama asking him to stop the transfer of the six detainees sent to Yemen in December, even though that transfer had already been completed. Other Republicans joined the call to reverse Mr. Obama's Guantánamo policy.

"Turning these terrorists over to other countries is not working, and we shouldn't import them into the United States," Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House Republican leader, said in a statement. "It's time for the president to halt terrorist transfers to other countries, including Yemen, and to re-evaluate his decision to close the prison at Guantánamo."

Some Democrats have expressed concern, too, including Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, and Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Ms. Feinstein still supports closing Guantánamo but said that "Guantánamo detainees should not be released to Yemen at this time" because "it is too instable."

But David Remes, a lawyer representing Yemeni prisoners who are challenging their detention without trial, said the administration was transferring only detainees deemed not to be a threat.

"I don't see what the chaos in Yemen has to do with whether to return Yemenis to their home because these men have been determined not to be dangerous to the U.S.," he said. "It's a non sequitur."

Peter Baker reported from Kaneohe, and Charlie Savage from Washington. Eric Lipton contributed reporting from Washington.


13) Felony Charge for Cutting in Line While Black in Missouri
By Michael I. Niman
September 1, 2009

In a perfect world, Heather Ellis would seem like a source of pride for her hometown of Kennett, Mo. As a high school honor student she earned a position on the National Honor Roll and was recognized as a National Achievement Scholar while rounding out her American heartland persona as a cheerleader, a member of the Volleyball and Track teams, the Drama Club, the Spanish Club and her high school band. After graduating high school, she left Kennett, continuing her education at Maryville College and Xavier University, where she was recognized for her leadership abilities.

The problem is that this isn't a perfect world - and some folks in Kennett, Mo., apparently didn't appreciate the return from college of a dignified young black woman with a sense of social justice and an expectation to be treated with dignity and respect. While on leave from college in January 2007, Heather Ellis went shopping with her cousin at the local Kennett Wal-Mart. She left in handcuffs, allegedly bleeding, after, according to prosecutors, cutting to the front of the checkout line and disturbing the peace of two white Wal-Mart employees. Now, more than two years later, she's facing trial on multiple felony counts stemming from that fateful January evening - and the Ku Klux Klan has come to town.

Understanding the Boot Heel

To put this odd prosecution into context, we need to look at Kennett, located in rural Dunklin County, four miles from the Arkansas border in Missouri's "Boot Heel Region." Kennett's official government website boasts a six paragraph "city history," devoting one of those paragraphs to the county's 1862 defection to the Confederacy. Dunklin County is adamantly conservative, with Republicans handing Mike Huckabee an almost three-to-one victory over John McCain.

Today Dunklin County is 89% white and 9% black. Sticking with Missouri's history of never repealing its laws banning marriages between white folks and Asians or blacks, 88% of Dunklin County's voters recently voted for new marriage restrictions, this time aimed at gays.

This is the Dunklin County Heather Ellis returned to from Xavier University for winter break. It was near closing time when Ellis and her cousin David got on line to check out at the Kennett Wal Mart. There were two checkout lanes open. Ellis got on one line, David on the other. When David's line moved quicker, Ellis claims she moved over and joined him. The Kennett Police Department's arrest report states that Ellis "broke in line" and "walked to the front of the line, to the cash register attendant, apparently because she did not want to wait in line."

Demanding to be Rung Out With Dignity

At least two white customers reportedly objected to Ellis joining David on line. One, according to Ellis, pushed and verbally accosted her. An off-duty Kennett Police officer working as a Wal Mart security guard came over to the line. Ellis claims she told the cashier to go ahead and ring the upset customer out ahead of her. By Ellis's account however, the cashier, after ringing the upset customer out, refused to ring Ellis out, instead proceeding to ring other customers out. The Wal Mart shift manager walked over and told Ellis to leave the store. By all accounts she refused to leave and demanded to be rung out like the other customers, hence she was charged with trespassing. Ellis subsequently wrote, "I felt like I was part of the civil rights movement - I thought I had traveled in a time capsule and was living in Mississippi in the 1960s." The guard radioed his fellow police officers. David telephoned his mother. Police and relatives were now en-route to the stand-off.

The police arrived and Ellis was allowed to pay for her goods. According to Ellis, however, the cashier refused to give her the change she was due. The arresting officer claims that the Wal Mart shift manager demanded Ellis be removed from the store, but that Ellis told him, "I'm not going nowhere until I get my f***ing change back." Ellis denies the language the arrest report attributes to her, but both she and the police are in agreement that Wal-Mart was withholding her change, with the arresting officer adding, "So I stood by while the cashier attendant handed the belligerent female her change." "Belligerent" being the core of the "peace disturbance" charge.

In her statement, Ellis wrote that she was hopeful the officers would give her "a little support" with her demand for her change. She added that "they didn't provide any," which is corroborated by the arresting officer's statement that he "stood by" while Ellis was apparently being provoked by the Wal-Mart cashier, with her manager at her side.

Talking Back to the Law

Once outside of the store, according to Ellis's subsequent complaint, five Kennett police officers proceeded to torment her with racist and misogynist slurs as she and David walked to their car. Ellis claims that while still walking to her car, she suggested to the police that they instead harass "drug dealers and crack heads," rather than "taxpaying citizens." The police report claims she refused repeated requests to "calm down" and was "not receptive to these simple requests." As her aunt arrived by car, the officers arrested Ellis - quite violently, by her account, lifting her off the ground and tossing her into a police car as her aunt helplessly stood by and watched while herself allegedly being threatened with arrest. Heather's mother arrived at the police station in time to witness what she describes as her daughter being pulled out of the car by her hair and slammed against a wall. Ellis was charged with resisting arrest and two felony counts of assaulting subsequently uninjured law enforcement officers. That was in January 2007.

The Dunklin County prosecutor dismissed charges against Ellis in early December of 2007. At this point the family thought their legal nightmare was over. One month later, shortly after New Year's Day of 2008, however, the prosecutor re-filed charges and issued an arrest warrant and extradition order to take Ellis in as a wanted felon. At press time, Ellis is still facing a zealous prosecution and up to 15 years in a Missouri prison. Friends and relatives, such as her 83-year-old grandmother, claim that they've received harassing visits from representatives of the Dunklin County Prosecutor's Office fishing for dirt on Ellis. The white Wal-Mart customer Ellis accuses of pushing her was never charged. Other white customers and Wal-Mart employees are listed in police reports as the victims of Ellis's "peace disturbance."

Ellis and her supporting witnesses claim that she was racially targeted by Kennett Police officers who repeatedly called her a "nigger" and a "bitch" both before and during her arrest. Her narrative also indicates that three Wal-Mart employees apparently mistreated and baited her based on the fact that she was black. Ellis and her cousin David were the only black folks present, with all the Wal-Mart workers and customers, as well as the five Kennett police officers, being white. Ellis's supporters argue that the zealous two-and-a-half-year prosecution of the case, accusing her of two felony assaults despite the lack of a single injured victim, is also racially motivated. They support their claim with a litany of what they argue are similar racially motivated prosecutions conducted by the Dunklin County prosecutor's office over the last two decades, which they contrast with weak prosecution and light sentencing of violent white criminals during the same time period.

The Klan Wears Blue?

In June 2009, the local NAACP chapter organized a rally to protest what they argue is racist police violence directed against Heather Ellis. According to Jesse Bonner, president of the NAACP chapter, "Kennett is still set in the old ways and racism is still strong down here." According to Bonner, the situation "is mind boggling," with the black community in Kennett feeling as if they were "back in the 1960s in the middle of the civil rights struggle."

The depth of the struggle ahead of Kennett's black residents was driven home, according to Bonner, during the rally when a Kennett police officer handed a rally organizer a Ku Klux Klan business card, then echoed the text of the card by telling her she just received a "social visit" from the KKK and warning her that the next visit would not be social. According to the local newspaper, The Dunklin Democrat, Kennett police were just making organizers aware that such cards had been scattered around downtown and that they were actively removing them from the streets. In essence, the official line has the police investigating Klan activity by turning over their evidence to organizers of a protest against alleged racist police misconduct. Interestingly, there are no current allegations of any Klan activity in the area that doesn't involve the Kennett Police Department.

Bonner summed up the situation in Kennett, calling it "intolerable" and describing an alarming "tension in the air." Like Ellis, Bonner had spent considerable time away from what he describes as a racist climate in Kennett, having served nine years in the military. And like Ellis, he became accustomed to being treated with a dignity that he claims black folks in Kennett often don't experience. His response was to become active with the NAACP and the civil rights movement, which he argues, is still in the midst of a struggle - at least in Kennett. Ellis's response appears to be the simple demand to receive her change at Wal-Mart.

After the rally, Bonner and the NAACP ignored the supposed KKK warning and joined Ellis's family and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in calling for an FBI investigation into the Kennett Police Department and the Dunklin County Prosecutor's office. The American Civil Liberties Union has also become involved, at this point observing the situation, lending support to the Ellis family and contacting the US Justice Department Civil Rights Division and the US Attorney's Office formally requesting investigations.

Wal-Mart officials have so far refused to comment on the case or clarify their role in the prosecution of Heather Ellis. They won't answer questions about the actions of their employees in the events leading up to Ellis's arrest or whether or not they have conducted an investigation into allegations of possible racial bias at their Kennett store. At press time, the Dunklin County Prosecutor is still pursuing felony charges against Ellis. With the charges pending, a school district that offered Ellis a position as a teacher and track coach, withdrew its offer.

Dr. Michael I. Niman is a professor of journalism at Buffalo State College in New York. He writes for ArtVoice (Buffalo's weekly), Coldtype (Canada) and The Humanist. See


13) U.S. Loan Effort Is Seen as Adding to Housing Woes
January 2, 2010

The Obama administration's $75 billion program to protect homeowners from foreclosure has been widely pronounced a disappointment, and some economists and real estate experts now contend it has done more harm than good.

Since President Obama announced the program in February, it has lowered mortgage payments on a trial basis for hundreds of thousands of people but has largely failed to provide permanent relief. Critics increasingly argue that the program, Making Home Affordable, has raised false hopes among people who simply cannot afford their homes.

As a result, desperate homeowners have sent payments to banks in often-futile efforts to keep their homes, which some see as wasting dollars they could have saved in preparation for moving to cheaper rental residences. Some borrowers have seen their credit tarnished while falsely assuming that loan modifications involved no negative reports to credit agencies.

Some experts argue the program has impeded economic recovery by delaying a wrenching yet cleansing process through which borrowers give up unaffordable homes and banks fully reckon with their disastrous bets on real estate, enabling money to flow more freely through the financial system.

"The choice we appear to be making is trying to modify our way out of this, which has the effect of lengthening the crisis," said Kevin Katari, managing member of Watershed Asset Management, a San Francisco-based hedge fund. "We have simply slowed the foreclosure pipeline, with people staying in houses they are ultimately not going to be able to afford anyway."

Mr. Katari contends that banks have been using temporary loan modifications under the Obama plan as justification to avoid an honest accounting of the mortgage losses still on their books. Only after banks are forced to acknowledge losses and the real estate market absorbs a now pent-up surge of foreclosed properties will housing prices drop to levels at which enough Americans can afford to buy, he argues.

"Then the carpenters can go back to work," Mr. Katari said. "The roofers can go back to work, and we start building housing again. If this drips out over the next few years, that whole sector of the economy isn't going to recover."

The Treasury Department publicly maintains that its program is on track. "The program is meeting its intended goal of providing immediate relief to homeowners across the country," a department spokeswoman, Meg Reilly, wrote in an e-mail message.

But behind the scenes, Treasury officials appear to have concluded that growing numbers of delinquent borrowers simply lack enough income to afford their homes and must be eased out.

In late November, with scant public disclosure, the Treasury Department started the Foreclosure Alternatives Program, through which it will encourage arrangements that result in distressed borrowers surrendering their homes. The program will pay incentives to mortgage companies that allow homeowners to sell properties for less than they owe on their mortgages - short sales, in real estate parlance. The government will also pay incentives to mortgage companies that allow delinquent borrowers to hand over their deeds in lieu of foreclosing.

Ms. Reilly, the Treasury spokeswoman, said the foreclosure alternatives program did not represent a new policy. "We have said from the start that modifications will not be the solution for all homeowners and will not solve the housing crisis alone," Ms. Reilly said by e-mail. "This has always been a multi-pronged effort."

Whatever the merits of its plans, the administration has clearly failed to reverse the foreclosure crisis.

In 2008, more than 1.7 million homes were "lost" through foreclosures, short sales or deeds in lieu of foreclosure, according to Moody's Last year, more than two million homes were lost, and expects that this year's number will swell to 2.4 million.

"I don't think there's any way for Treasury to tweak their plan, or to cajole, pressure or entice servicers to do more to address the crisis," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's "For some folks, it is doing more harm than good, because ultimately, at the end of the day, they are going back into the foreclosure morass."

Mr. Zandi argues that the administration needs a new initiative that attacks a primary source of foreclosures: the roughly 15 million American homeowners who are underwater, meaning they owe the bank more than their home is worth.

Increasingly, such borrowers are inclined to walk away and accept foreclosure, rather than continuing to make payments on properties in which they own no equity. A paper by researchers at the Amherst Securities Group suggests that being underwater "is a far more important predictor of defaults than unemployment."

From its inception, the Obama plan has drawn criticism for failing to compel banks to write down the size of outstanding mortgage balances, which would restore equity for underwater borrowers, giving them greater incentive to make payments. A vast majority of modifications merely decrease monthly payments by lowering the interest rate.

Mr. Zandi proposes that the Treasury Department push banks to write down some loan balances by reimbursing the companies for their losses. He pointedly rejects the notion that government ought to get out of the way and let foreclosures work their way through the market, saying that course risks a surge of foreclosures and declining house prices that could pull the economy back into recession.

"We want to overwhelm this problem," he said. "If we do go back into recession, it will be very difficult to get out."

Under the current program, the government provides cash incentives to mortgage companies that lower monthly payments for borrowers facing hardships. The Treasury Department set a goal of three to four million permanent loan modifications by 2012.

"That's overly optimistic at this stage," said Richard H. Neiman, the superintendent of banks for New York State and an appointee to the Congressional Oversight Panel, a body created to keep tabs on taxpayer bailout funds. "There's a great deal of frustration and disappointment."

As of mid-December, some 759,000 homeowners had received loan modifications on a trial basis typically lasting three to five months. But only about 31,000 had received permanent modifications - a step that requires borrowers to make timely trial payments and submit paperwork verifying their financial situation.

The government has pressured mortgage companies to move faster. Still, it argues that trial modifications are themselves a considerable help.

"Almost three-quarters of a million Americans now are benefiting from modification programs that reduce their monthly payments dramatically, on average $550 a month," Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner said last month at a hearing before the Congressional Oversight Panel. "That is a meaningful amount of support."

But mortgage experts and lawyers who represent borrowers facing foreclosure argue that recipients of trial loan modifications often wind up worse off.

In Lakeland, Fla., Jaimie S. Smith, 29, called her mortgage company, then Washington Mutual, in October 2008, when she realized she would get a smaller bonus from her employer, a furniture company, threatening her ability to continue the $1,250 monthly mortgage payments on her three-bedroom house.

In April, Chase, which had taken over Washington Mutual, lowered her payment to $1,033.62 in a trial that was supposed to last three months.

Ms. Smith made all three payments on time and submitted required documents, Chase confirms. She called the bank almost weekly to inquire about a permanent loan modification. Each time, she says, Chase told her to continue making trial payments and await word on a permanent modification.

Then, in October, a startling legal notice arrived in the mail: Chase had foreclosed on her house and sold it at auction for $100. (The purchaser? Chase.)

"I cried," she said. "I was hysterical. I bawled my eyes out."

Later that week came another letter from Chase: "Congratulations on qualifying for a Making Home Affordable loan modification!"

When Ms. Smith frantically called the bank to try to overturn the sale, she was told that the house was no longer hers. Chase would not tell her how long she could remain there, she says. She feared the sheriff would show up at her door with eviction papers, or that she would return home to find her belongings piled on the curb. So Ms. Smith anxiously set about looking for a new place to live.

She had been planning to continue an online graduate school program in supply chain management, and she had about $4,000 in borrowed funds to pay tuition. She scrapped her studies and used the money to pay the security deposit and first month's rent on an apartment.

Later, she hired a lawyer, who is seeking compensation from Chase. A judge later vacated the sale. Chase is still offering to make her loan modification permanent, but Ms. Smith has already moved out and is conflicted about what to do.

"I could have just walked away," said Ms. Smith. "If they had said, 'We can't work with you,' I'd have said: 'What are my options? Short sale?' None of this would have happened. God knows, I never would have wanted to go through this. I'd still be in grad school. I would not have paid all that money to them. I could have saved that money."

A Chase spokeswoman, Christine Holevas, confirmed that the bank mistakenly foreclosed on Ms. Smith's house and sold it at the same time it was extending the loan modification offer.

"There was a systems glitch," Ms. Holevas said. "We are sorry that an error happened. We're trying very hard to do what we can to keep folks in their homes. We are dealing with many, many individuals."

Many borrowers complain they were told by mortgage companies their credit would not be damaged by accepting a loan modification, only to discover otherwise.

In a telephone conference with reporters, Jack Schakett, Bank of America's credit loss mitigation executive, confirmed that even borrowers who were current before agreeing to loan modifications and who then made timely payments were reported to credit rating agencies as making only partial payments.

The biggest source of concern remains the growing numbers of underwater borrowers - now about one-third of all American homeowners with mortgages, according to The Obama administration clearly grasped the threat as it created its program, yet opted not to focus on writing down loan balances.

"This is a conscious choice we made, not to start with principal reduction," Mr. Geithner told the Congressional Oversight Panel. "We thought it would be dramatically more expensive for the American taxpayer, harder to justify, create much greater risk of unfairness."

Mr. Geithner's explanation did not satisfy the panel's chairwoman, Elizabeth Warren.

"Are we creating a program in which we're talking about potentially spending $75 billion to try to modify people into mortgages that will reduce the number of foreclosures in the short term, but just kick the can down the road?" she asked, raising the prospect "that we'll be looking at an economy with elevated mortgage foreclosures not just for a year or two, but for many years. How do you deal with that problem, Mr. Secretary?"

A good question, Mr. Geithner conceded.

"What to do about it," he said. "That's a hard thing."


14) Happy New Year, for Blackwater
January 1, 2010, 5:03 pm

BAGHDAD-It is definitely not a good start to the day and the year when the first item on the news headlines is about Blackwater. As I left home this morning I turned ito the radio to hear what the first headlines of 2010 would be. The first bulletin was that charges had been dismissed against five Blackwater guards for killing 17 Iraqis in the Nisour Square shooting of 2007.

The memories of reporting that day are still fresh. I first went to Yarmouk Hospital, the nearest to the shooting. One of the wounded was Sami, a chubby man in his mid-40s, lying on his belly because he had been shot in the back. His 12-year-old son was sitting at the end of his bed. Sami was in his car when the shooting started, and covered his son from incoming bullets.

Later, as I walked toward Nisour Square I noticed that each and every tree and electricity pole, and even the pavement, was riddled with bullets. At the square the first thing I saw was a charred white Kia that had been carrying Dr. Mahasin Muhsin Kadhum, 46, and her 20-year-old son, Ahmed Haythem Al-Rubaei, a medical student. He was giving her a ride home from the hospital where she worked. Smoke was still coming from the car, which had been hit by at least 30 shots. According to police officers at the site, the Blackwater guards opened fire on that car, then hit it with a grenade from a grenade launcher, which set it on fire while the two were inside it.

The description we got from eyewitnesses indicated that the guards opened fire on every thing that moved. Even the traffic police booth on the square was not spared. A red double decker bus and lots of cars and people were shot, some even far distant from the square. People had run in every direction to take cover behind concrete barriers or bus stops, but it did not provide them shelter from the guns in helicopters accompanying the Blackwater trucks.

In more normal circumstances, Blackwater had a special way of operating. When a Blackwater convoy moved through town, the first thing you would see would be bottles of water flying in the air. The gunner at the top of each Blackwater truck would be surrounded by boxes of bottled water to throw at cars. Startled drivers would open a way through the traffic. It happened to me once.

They seemed untouchable.

Sa'ad al-Izzi is an Iraqi journalist who works for The New York Times in Baghdad. In 2007 at the time of the Nisour Square shooting he was working for The Washington Post.


15) In the Shadows, Day Laborers Left Homeless as Work Vanishes
January 2, 2010

Carlos Ruano was down to his last $50 when his landlord kicked him out in September because he could no longer pay rent. He sent the money to his wife and children in Guatemala and spent the night riding the E train, which has a nickname among his fellow day laborers in Woodside, Queens: "hotel ambulante," Spanish for roving hotel.

Mr. Ruano, 38, who had drawn his living from 69th Street and Broadway for six years, has been on the streets since. He and other hard-luck day laborers have slept wherever they can: in the emergency room at Elmhurst Hospital Center, in unfinished buildings abandoned by bankrupt developers and under bridges along the freight railroad tracks that slice through western Queens, where dirty mattresses and work boots lay on the rocky ground one recent morning.

"The only reason we don't go hungry is because there are people who offer us food," Mr. Ruano said on a snowy Saturday as he clutched a cup of soup from a group of Pentecostals feeding day laborers at a park on Woodside Avenue.

With their isolation and day-to-day existence, the laborers are perhaps the most invisible and hardest-to-reach victims of the recession, advocates and city officials say.

No one knows for sure how many have become homeless since the downturn brought construction projects to a virtual standstill and sapped them of jobs that once paid as much as $200 a day. Most of them are illegal immigrants who may be on the streets one day and off the next, depending on their work.

The rules of the shelter system do not suit them, they said. They might be placed too far from the job pickup site or miss curfew if a job runs too late or is too far from the shelter.

Afraid that their immigration status might be exposed - outreach workers might ask for identification, though the shelters are open to everyone - they say they would rather sleep outside.

"We're still learning about this population, about their needs," said Robert V. Hess, the city's commissioner of homeless services.

To the day laborers clustered on and around 69th Street from Broadway to Queens Boulevard, the downturn came on suddenly: There was work one week, and then there was not.

And for what little work there is, they have more competition - from men who used to be steady hands on roofing, painting and other construction crews and men who lost their full-time jobs in restaurants, at landscaping companies and in garages.

With more people at the corners, day laborers said, contractors will hire whoever agrees to work for the lowest pay.

"We've all learned the meaning of the law of supply and demand the hard way," said Roberto Meneses, 48, a day laborer from Mexico who has been trying to organize his peers under a fledgling group called United Day Laborers of Woodside.

They have had to adapt just as fast as they had learned to install drywall and unclog pipes. One man said he spent 20 days picking apples at a farm near Buffalo in November to earn some cash. Others started to make do with one meal a day. Many are no longer able to send money home.

Ignacio Sanchez, 50, who has a wife and three children in Mexico, said a week before Christmas that he had worked once since the beginning of the month. Rodrigo Saldaña, 41, who has a wife and five children in Ecuador, said he had not worked at all last month. Both said they had spent nights sleeping on the train or by the railroad tracks.

"Do you want to know what the worst part is?" Mr. Saldaña said. "My wife says I'm lying when I tell her there's no more work in New York."

Early last month, homeless-outreach workers from the city met with organizations that serve immigrant communities to hear about their work and to ask questions: Where could they go for free immigration advice? Can an illegal immigrant who has no ID get a new one at a consulate?

"There are a lot of practical issues that are very unique to the undocumented, to day laborers," said Valeria Treves, executive director of New Immigrant Community Empowerment in Jackson Heights, Queens, one of the groups that attended the meeting. "But these guys also have incredible emotional needs."

Sipping coffee at a Colombian bakery on Roosevelt Avenue, Mr. Saldaña, Mr. Sanchez and Carlos Orellana, an Ecuadorean who has worked for 14 years as a day laborer, told of the sadness of being far from their children, whom they have watched grow in pictures that come with the occasional letter from home.

At least there was a sense of empowerment while they were able to provide for them, they said. "We were the men of the family," said Mr. Orellana, 40. But now that they have no money, all they are left with is disappointment and shame, he said.

By the railroad tracks, the ground was sprinkled with the instruments of coping: empty beer bottles, a tattered Bible, a crumpled picture of a young boy. A toy skull hovered over a mattress, dangling from a string tied to the tip of a rod, in a sight at once funny and macabre.

During the day, the place was empty. The only noise came from the hum of passing cars on the streets above and the rumble of the 7 train, visible in the distance.

"That's how we live," Mr. Orellana said.

His eyes cast on the tracks beneath his feet, Mr. Sanchez interjected, "This is no life."


16) Adult Learning | Neuroscience
How to Train the Aging Brain
January 3, 2010

I LOVE reading history, and the shelves in my living room are lined with fat, fact-filled books. There's "The Hemingses of Monticello," about the family of Thomas Jefferson's slave mistress; there's "House of Cards," about the fall of Bear Stearns; there's "Titan," about John D. Rockefeller Sr.

The problem is, as much as I've enjoyed these books, I don't really remember reading any of them. Certainly I know the main points. But didn't I, after underlining all those interesting parts, retain anything else? It's maddening and, sorry to say, not all that unusual for a brain at middle age: I don't just forget whole books, but movies I just saw, breakfasts I just ate, and the names, oh, the names are awful. Who are you?

Brains in middle age, which, with increased life spans, now stretches from the 40s to late 60s, also get more easily distracted. Start boiling water for pasta, go answer the doorbell and - whoosh - all thoughts of boiling water disappear. Indeed, aging brains, even in the middle years, fall into what's called the default mode, during which the mind wanders off and begin daydreaming.

Given all this, the question arises, can an old brain learn, and then remember what it learns? Put another way, is this a brain that should be in school?

As it happens, yes. While it's tempting to focus on the flaws in older brains, that inducement overlooks how capable they've become. Over the past several years, scientists have looked deeper into how brains age and confirmed that they continue to develop through and beyond middle age.

Many longheld views, including the one that 40 percent of brain cells are lost, have been overturned. What is stuffed into your head may not have vanished but has simply been squirreled away in the folds of your neurons.

One explanation for how this occurs comes from Deborah M. Burke, a professor of psychology at Pomona College in California. Dr. Burke has done research on "tots," those tip-of-the-tongue times when you know something but can't quite call it to mind. Dr. Burke's research shows that such incidents increase in part because neural connections, which receive, process and transmit information, can weaken with disuse or age.

But she also finds that if you are primed with sounds that are close to those you're trying to remember - say someone talks about cherry pits as you try to recall Brad Pitt's name - suddenly the lost name will pop into mind. The similarity in sounds can jump-start a limp brain connection. (It also sometimes works to silently run through the alphabet until landing on the first letter of the wayward word.)

This association often happens automatically, and goes unnoticed. Not long ago I started reading "The Prize," a history of the oil business. When I got to the part about Rockefeller's early days as an oil refinery owner, I realized, hey, I already know this from having read "Titan." The material was still in my head; it just needed a little prodding to emerge.

Recently, researchers have found even more positive news. The brain, as it traverses middle age, gets better at recognizing the central idea, the big picture. If kept in good shape, the brain can continue to build pathways that help its owner recognize patterns and, as a consequence, see significance and even solutions much faster than a young person can.

The trick is finding ways to keep brain connections in good condition and to grow more of them.

"The brain is plastic and continues to change, not in getting bigger but allowing for greater complexity and deeper understanding," says Kathleen Taylor, a professor at St. Mary's College of California, who has studied ways to teach adults effectively. "As adults we may not always learn quite as fast, but we are set up for this next developmental step."

Educators say that, for adults, one way to nudge neurons in the right direction is to challenge the very assumptions they have worked so hard to accumulate while young. With a brain already full of well-connected pathways, adult learners should "jiggle their synapses a bit" by confronting thoughts that are contrary to their own, says Dr. Taylor, who is 66.

Teaching new facts should not be the focus of adult education, she says. Instead, continued brain development and a richer form of learning may require that you "bump up against people and ideas" that are different. In a history class, that might mean reading multiple viewpoints, and then prying open brain networks by reflecting on how what was learned has changed your view of the world.

"There's a place for information," Dr. Taylor says. "We need to know stuff. But we need to move beyond that and challenge our perception of the world. If you always hang around with those you agree with and read things that agree with what you already know, you're not going to wrestle with your established brain connections."

Such stretching is exactly what scientists say best keeps a brain in tune: get out of the comfort zone to push and nourish your brain. Do anything from learning a foreign language to taking a different route to work.

"As adults we have these well-trodden paths in our synapses," Dr. Taylor says. "We have to crack the cognitive egg and scramble it up. And if you learn something this way, when you think of it again you'll have an overlay of complexity you didn't have before - and help your brain keep developing as well."

Jack Mezirow, a professor emeritus at Columbia Teachers College, has proposed that adults learn best if presented with what he calls a "disorienting dilemma," or something that "helps you critically reflect on the assumptions you've acquired."

Dr. Mezirow developed this concept 30 years ago after he studied women who had gone back to school. The women took this bold step only after having many conversations that helped them "challenge their own ingrained perceptions of that time when women could not do what men could do."

Such new discovery, Dr. Mezirow says, is the "essential thing in adult learning."

"As adults we have all those brain pathways built up, and we need to look at our insights critically," he says. "This is the best way for adults to learn. And if we do it, we can remain sharp."

And so I wonder, was my cognitive egg scrambled by reading that book on Thomas Jefferson? Did I, by exploring the flaws in a man I admire, create a suitably disorienting dilemma? Have I, as a result, shaken up and fed a brain cell or two?

And perhaps it doesn't matter that I can't, at times, recall the given name of the slave with whom Jefferson had all those children. After all, I can Google a simple name.


Barbara Strauch is The Times's health editor; her book "The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain" will be published in April.