Articles of Interest, July 30, 2008

Mud cakes in Haiti

Haiti: Mud cakes become staple diet as cost of food soars beyond a family’s reach

In Cité Soleil, one of Port-au-Prince’s worst slums, making the clay-based food is a major income earner. Mud cakes are the only inflation-proof food available to Haiti’s poor. Photograph: David Levene

At first sight the business resembles a thriving pottery. In a dusty courtyard women mould clay and water into hundreds of little platters and lay them out to harden under the Caribbean sun.

The craftsmanship is rough and the finished products are uneven. But customers do not object. This is Cité Soleil, Haiti’s most notorious slum, and these platters are not to hold food. They are food.

Brittle and gritty – and as revolting as they sound – these are “mud cakes”. For years they have been consumed by impoverished pregnant women seeking calcium, a risky and medically unproven supplement, but now the cakes have become a staple for entire families.

It is not for the taste and nutrition – smidgins of salt and margarine do not disguise what is essentially dirt, and the Guardian can testify that the aftertaste lingers – but because they are the cheapest and increasingly only way to fill bellies.

“It stops the hunger,” said Marie-Carmelle Baptiste, 35, a producer, eyeing up her stock laid out in rows. She did not embroider their appeal. “You eat them when you have to.”

These days many people have to. The global food and fuel crisis has hit Haiti harder than perhaps any other country, pushing a population mired in extreme poverty towards starvation and revolt. Hunger burns are called “swallowing Clorox”, a brand of bleach.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation predicts Haiti’s food import bill will leap 80% this year, the fastest in the world. Food riots toppled the prime minister and left five dead in April. Emergency subsidies curbed prices and bought calm but the cash-strapped government is gradually lifting them. Fresh unrest is expected.

According to the UN, two-thirds of Haitians live on less than 50p a day and half are undernourished. “Food is available but people cannot afford to buy it. If the situation gets worse we could have starvation in the next six to 12 months,” said Prospery Raymond, country director of the UK-based aid agency Christian Aid.

Bleak stats for black youth

Ohio’s African-American teens die at twice the rate of white teens

Sometimes at night, when the sirens sound close, Gail Brown jumps out of bed and follows the wail.

“It might be one of our kids,” she says.

By day, Brown can keep them safe. But when the doors close each evening at the Milo-Grogan Boys & Girls Club, members spill into a neighborhood where it is difficult, and occasionally lethal, to be a child.

“We have lost some,” said Brown, the club director and a lifelong area resident.

Tears trickle down Brown’s cheek as she says this but she doesn’t stop moving: Ping-pong balls are being batted who knows where, a girl needs help holding a cue stick, teens are showing off their hoops skills and everyone wants lunch.

Most of Brown’s charges are black, a fact that makes them much more likely than whites to die young. According to a report released this week by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, black teens in Ohio die at nearly twice the rate of white teens.

Columbus Public Health officials say the disparity in Franklin County is even worse. Here, the death rate for black teens is more than three times higher.

Child-health advocates say the gap is troubling.

“We are higher than the national average,” said Barbara Turpin of the Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio. “Whether it’s violence or a health-care issue, this raises questions. Where do we look to try to bring that number down?”

Black infants also fared poorly, the report says, dying more than twice as often as non-Latino white babies and three times more frequently than Latino infants.

For years, the Casey Foundation has compiled an annual report on child well-being. This is the first time the data, from 2005, also has been broken down by race.

“It gives a better picture,” Turpin said. “You can start looking at what needs to be done.”

Jennifer Connery, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Columbus, said money for more programs is only part of the answer. “I think we need awareness just as much,” she said.

Milo-Grogan recently reopened after an extensive renovation. It had been closed from September until July 1, and the neighborhood couldn’t wait to have it back.

“One hundred kids showed up the first day,” Connery said. “We had so many we had to turn some away.”

Trenton’s legendary kids program is broke and on its deathbed

TRENTON – An institution that has been steering city kids away from trouble for 61 years is about to close because it hasn’t been able to raise money like it has in the past.

The Trenton Police Athletic League is facing a financial shortfall likely to sink the organization as early as next week, ending a program that produced star athletes such as Al Downing and Greg Grant, and civic leaders Doug Palmer and Joe Bocchini.

Executive Director Dan Howell in a press release warned that PAL, “short of a miracle … will be forced to close its doors at the end of the month due to lack of funding.”

Professional fund-raising alone is down $11,000 over the past 2.5 years from an average of about $30,000 to $35,000 annually, Howell said.

“The recent public appeal has produced several long-range offers, but little immediate help to alleviate the financial burden,” Howell added, “while promises of assistance from city and county entities have failed to produce needed funding, bringing to a close its proud and productive 61-year history.”

The closure comes at a time when street gangs like the Bloods and Crips are recruiting young people into their criminal enterprises – something reflected in the city’s juvenile crime rate and a murder count that would be miniscule were it not for young gangsters killing each other.

“PAL filled a gap in the lives of many young people,” said Joe Bocchini, the Mercer County prosecutor. “It’s a shame about what has happened. But money is tight, and the city has adopted many of the programs that PAL used to offer. I think it’s just a sign of the times, especially the money not being available.”

Obesity rates spike for state’s African Americans

Don’t go telling Marilyn Ruffin that she is not healthy. She grew up seeing plenty of relatives and friends fighting diabetes and obesity and she wasn’t going to let that happen to her or her family.

She walks around her east side Madison neighborhood every morning listening to Michael Jackson on her iPod. She cooks none of the sweet potato pies and fried chicken her mama used to make for her — instead she grills chicken and fish for her husband and two sons. And none of this supersizing stuff either from McDonald’s, she said. Her cholesterol is good, her blood tests are good, and if the doctor and the charts say she is heavy, well, that’s the way she was built.

Like many African American women, Ruffin is tired of being measured and judged by standards she thinks were fashioned for white women. “I have big hips and I have big thighs. That’s the way I’m made,” she said. “I don’t worry about what the charts and the stats and the magazines say about African Americans. I worry about how I feel. And I feel pretty good.”

Last week the federal Centers for Disease Control released its annual survey of weight measures across the country. While the latest figures show a slight improvement in the battle of the bulge for Wisconsin overall, a closer look at the numbers shows that obesity in the state’s African-American population shot up to 42.7 percent, compared to 24.7 percent of the white population.

The disparity is most pronounced among women — almost twice as many African-American women are obese compared to white women in the state. And that disparity is what makes black women believe they are being held to a white standard of beauty and body type. Which is nothing new, said Beverly Burns of Madison, who was recently treating her visiting granddaughters to ice cream at the East Towne Mall food court. Burns recalls that as a young girl her mother was forced to stand with her back against the wall in the school gymnasium, and told that the space between her body and the wall meant that she was too fat. Burns is still indignant.

Latino-vs.-black violence drives hate crimes in L.A. County to 5-year high

Hate crimes in Los Angeles County rose to their highest level in five years last year, led by attacks between Latinos and blacks, officials said Thursday.

The annual report by the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission showed hate crimes rose by 28%, to 763, with vandalism and assault leading the way.

In what commission Executive Director Robin Toma called an alarming trend, hate crimes based on race, religion and sexual orientation all rose, increasing against nearly all groups — including blacks, gays, Jews, Mexicans, whites and Asians — even as crime in general declined.

The largest number of racial hate crimes involved Latino suspects against black victims, followed by black suspects against Latino victims. Latinos also made up the largest number of suspects in hate crimes based on sexual orientation. Whites were the leading suspects in religion-based incidents. Overall, blacks made up nearly half the hate crime victims, totaling 310.

“What we’re seeing is the democratization of hate crimes,” said Brian Levin, who directs the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino. “We’re not only seeing a diversification of victims but also increased diversification of offenders.”

Police agencies report hate crimes to the county, but because departments vary on when they pursue hate-crime charges, variations in hate-crime numbers can stem from an actual increase in crimes or from changes in reporting. In this case, experts said they believed that hate crimes themselves, not just the reporting of them, are rising.

Levin said other areas of the country have reported similar increases, including a 30% increase in New York last year; a 10-year study published last fall found that hate crimes in New York began to increase two years ago after declining over several years.

Levin said several factors may be driving the rise, including deepening economic distress, growing ethnic diversity and population density in neighborhoods and what he called “increasingly inflammatory rhetoric” over illegal immigration.

Amanda F. Susskind, Pacific Southwest regional director of the Anti-Defamation League in Los Angeles, said hate rhetoric is rising online and is particularly targeting youth, perpetuated in part by as many as 110 white supremacist organizations nationwide.

The rhetoric appears to be influencing other groups, Toma said. He cited law enforcement reports that some Latino gang members who targeted blacks in the Harbor Gateway area of Los Angeles were found with neo-Nazi material and some Latino gangs were forming alliances with white supremacists in prisons to prey on blacks.

House formally apologizes for slavery and Jim Crow

WASHINGTON (AP) – The House on Tuesday issued an unprecedented apology to black Americans for the wrongs committed against them and their ancestors who suffered under slavery and Jim Crow segregation laws.

“Today represents a milestone in our nation’s efforts to remedy the ills of our past,” said Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, D-Mich., chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

The resolution, passed by voice vote, was the work of Tennessee Democrat Steve Cohen, the only white lawmaker to represent a majority black district. Cohen faces a formidable black challenger in a primary face-off next week.

Congress has issued apologies before – to Japanese-Americans for their internment during World War II and to native Hawaiians for the overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom in 1893. In 2005, the Senate apologized for failing to pass anti-lynching laws.

Five states have issued apologies for slavery, but past proposals in Congress have stalled, partly over concerns that an apology would lead to demands for reparations – payment for damages.

The Cohen resolution does not mention reparations. It does commit the House to rectifying “the lingering consequences of the misdeeds committed against African-Americans under slavery and Jim Crow.”

It says that Africans forced into slavery “were brutalized, humiliated, dehumanized and subjected to the indignity of being stripped of their names and heritage” and that black Americans today continue to suffer from the consequences of slavery and Jim Crow laws that fostered discrimination and segregation.

The House “apologizes to African-Americans on behalf of the people of the United States, for the wrongs committed against them and their ancestors who suffered under slavery and Jim Crow.”

“Slavery and Jim Crow are stains upon what is the greatest nation on the face of the earth,” Cohen said. Part of forming a more perfect union, he said, “is such a resolution as we have before us today where we face up to our mistakes and apologize as anyone should apologize for things that were done in the past that were wrong.”

Cohen became the first white to represent the 60 percent black district in Memphis in more than three decades when he captured a 2006 primary where a dozen black candidates split the vote. He has sought to reach out to his black constituents, and early in his term showed interest in joining the Congressional Black Caucus until learning that was against caucus rules.

Another of his first acts as a freshman congressman in early 2007 was to introduce the slavery apology resolution. His office said that the House resolution was brought to the floor only after learning that the Senate would be unable to join in a joint resolution.

More than a dozen of the 42 Congressional Black Caucus members in the House were original co-sponsors of the measure. The caucus has not endorsed either Cohen or his chief rival, attorney Nikki Tinker, in the Memphis primary, although Cohen is backed by several senior members, including Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel, D-N.Y. Tinker is the former campaign manager of Harold Ford, Jr., who held Cohen’s seat until he stepped down in an unsuccessful run for the Senate in 2006.

The bill is H. Res. 194

On the Net:

Congress: http://thomas.loc.gov

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Michelle Obama credited with helping recast image of U.S. black women

There’s a new joy and excitement among many of the patrons of the Spiral Collective, a collection of businesses owned by black women in Detroit.

Their happiness centers on Michelle Obama, a woman they say puts a refreshing face on America’s image of African-American women.

“People who come in here are absolutely in love with Michelle Obama,” says Janet Webster Jones, who owns the Source Booksellers, one of the four businesses in one building at the corner of Cass and Willis in Midtown. The others are an art gallery, a natural hair care salon and an eclectic boutique.

“The ladies who come in here say they love how they love each other,” Jones, 71, says, referring to the affection between Michelle Obama and her husband, Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic candidate for president of the United States.

That excitement was evident in the crowd of women who lined up to see Michelle Obama in downtown Pontiac earlier this month, some of whom arrived three hours before the doors of the Crofoot ballroom opened to them.

Jones and others say that Michelle Obama knocks down old stereotypes of black women: Sapphire, the angry black woman; Mammy, the caretaker and nurturer of her own children and everybody else’s, and Jezebel, the loose woman.

Jones’ daughter, Alyson Jones, 34, says the modern-day jezebels are booty-shaking hoochie mamas popularized in hip-hop videos.

“So Michelle comes along and she completely dispels all that,” Janet Jones says. “She represents someone who came from humble beginnings to achieve a high level of education. She has a strong self-identity as a female.

“You know she likes to wear dresses and high heels and she’s almost 6 feet tall. And she’s a loving wife and a great mother.”

“She normalizes black women,” says Alyson Jones, an elementary teacher at Nataki Talibah Schoolhouse, a charter school in Detroit. “She’s not the bitter black woman pundits have tried to make her out be.”

Negative images still hurt

The current New Yorker magazine cover shows a caricature of that angry, militant, black woman, featuring Michelle Obama with a huge afro, wearing military fatigues and brandishing an assault rifle. Barack Obama is dressed in traditional Muslim attire.

Magazine editors say the cover is satire typical of the magazine, meant solely to dramatize the politics of fear.

But Gail E. Wyatt, a UCLA professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences, says it fuels fears. “The image is reminiscent of the look and posture of Angela Davis and the Black Panther era,” says Wyatt, who authored the book, “Stolen Women” (Wiley, John & Sons, $14.95).

“This is to incite images of the black woman as a militant, comrade and at war,” Wyatt says. The goal is to frighten people and to make this couple different and alien from mainstream America.”

“This whole thing about Michelle Obama being a mad black woman is utterly ridiculous,” says Mandisa Smith, 54, a jewelry designer and fine arts appraiser.

“But as far as I’m concerned, black women have a right to be mad,” Smith says. Black women, she says, are often paid less than any other demographic group, regardless of credentials. Black women typically have the worst health statistics.

Research bears out those concerns.

African-American women earn 15% less than white women and 10% less than African-American men, according to Faye Wattleton, president of the Center for the Advancement of Women. In a recent column on the organization’s Web site she noted that AIDS is the leading cause of death among black women between the ages of 25 and 44, yet one in five African-American women doesn’t have medical insurance.

Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control provide other examples of disparities. Black women on average die five years sooner than white women; black women have higher rates of diabetes and high blood pressure than white women, and while less likely than white women to get breast and cervical cancer, they are more likely to die from them.

Karen Fort Hood, Michigan Court of Appeals judge, calls Michelle Obama a role model for all women, not just African-American women.

“She’s brilliant, she’s beautiful, she’s classy and she’s a warm caring individual,” Fort Hood, 54, says. “Not only is it great for black women to see a sister who could be the First Lady, it’s good for all women because she has the qualities we can all admire.”

Shirley Thomas, assistant professor of social work at Wayne State University, agrees that Michelle Obama’s popularity will have a positive impact on America’s image of black women.

“We are a diverse population,” says Thomas, who has studied stress among African-American women. The achieving black woman is almost invisible in American society, she says. “Then you have a woman who is a mother, a very supportive wife, a very well-respected lawyer, who went to Princeton and Harvard Law.”

Thomas says the very fact that Barack Obama married a clearly African-American woman sends a message that you can marry a black woman and still be successful.

McCain, Obama get the comic book treatment

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – It’s a year of superheroes in Hollywood, with the big-budget epics of Batman, Iron Man and the Hulk, but a big-budget production out of Washington, D.C., is carving a niche in the animation trend.

Presumptive nominees John McCain and Barack Obama will star this fall in their own comic books put out by IDW Publishing, a San Diego-based publisher better known for telling the stories of robots (“The Transformers”) and vampires (“30 Days of Night”).

Don’t expect Captain America-versus-Superman hijinks or super-villains threatening the electoral process. Trading sound bites for word balloons, the books purport to tell McCain and Obama’s life stories, independently researched and illustrated by a veteran team of writers and artists.

“We’re not doing anything that is sensational here,” said IDW special projects editor Scott Dunbier, adding that neither campaign was involved in the development of the books. “We’re sticking to the facts.”

On Oct. 8, the books will be released in comic book shops and go on sale online and for reading on cell phones.

Comic book biographies have been written before – Marvel Comics had a best-seller in 1982 with a biography of Pope John Paul II. But Dunbier said the company is breaking new ground getting out fully researched comics on two candidates before Election Day.

Obama to House Dems: If Sanctions Fail, Israel Will Likely Strike Iran

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, met with House Democrats yesterday, talking about his trip abroad and his observations.

Obama told the caucus, according to an attendee, “Nobody said this to me directly but I get the feeling from my talks that if the sanctions don’t work Israel is going to strike Iran.”

The notion that Israel is preparing for such an action against Iran’s myriad nuclear facilities is not new, with conjecture heating up in May after an Israeli military exercise featuring 150 aircraft flying almost a thousand miles over the Mediterranean Sea in what was seen as a dress rehearsal for an air strike. Now that the Bush administration is engaged in diplomatic efforts with Iran, many Israeli officials are worried the US is getting soft on Iran, prompting Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak to travel to the US this week to meet with  Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. Barak’s office released a statement saying “a policy that consists of keeping all options on the table must be maintained.”

President Obama Continues Hectic Victory Tour

Barack Obama has long been his party’s presumptive nominee. Now he’s becoming its presumptuous nominee.

Fresh from his presidential-style world tour, during which foreign leaders and American generals lined up to show him affection, Obama settled down to some presidential-style business in Washington yesterday. He ordered up a teleconference with the (current president’s) Treasury secretary, granted an audience to the Pakistani prime minister and had his staff arrange for the chairman of the Federal Reserve to give him a briefing. Then, he went up to Capitol Hill to be adored by House Democrats in a presidential-style pep rally.

Along the way, he traveled in a bubble more insulating than the actual president’s. Traffic was shut down for him as he zoomed about town in a long, presidential-style motorcade, while the public and most of the press were kept in the dark about his activities, which included a fundraiser at the Mayflower where donors paid $10,000 or more to have photos taken with him. His schedule for the day, announced Monday night, would have made Dick Cheney envious:

11:00 a.m.: En route TBA.

12:05 p.m.: En route TBA.

1:45 p.m.: En route TBA.

2:55 p.m.: En route TBA.

5:20 p.m.: En route TBA.

The 5:20 TBA turned out to be his adoration session with lawmakers in the Cannon Caucus Room, where even committee chairmen arrived early, as if for the State of the Union. Capitol Police cleared the halls — just as they do for the actual president. The Secret Service hustled him in through a side door — just as they do for the actual president.

Inside, according to a witness, he told the House members, “This is the moment . . . that the world is waiting for,” adding: “I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions.”

As he marches toward Inauguration Day (Election Day is but a milestone on that path), Obama’s biggest challenger may not be Republican John McCain but rather his own hubris.

Some say the supremely confident Obama — nearly 100 days from the election, he pronounces that “the odds of us winning are very good” — has become a president-in-waiting. But in truth, he doesn’t need to wait: He has already amassed the trappings of the office, without those pesky decisions.

The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder reported last week that Obama has directed his staff to begin planning for his transition to the White House, causing Republicans to howl about premature drape measuring. Obama was even feeling confident enough to give British Prime Minister Gordon Brown some management advice over the weekend. “If what you’re trying to do is micromanage and solve everything, then you end up being a dilettante,” he advised the prime minister, portraying his relative inexperience much as President Bush did in 2000.

On his presidential-style visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem last week, Obama left a written prayer, intercepted by an Israeli newspaper, asking God to “help me guard against pride and despair.” He seems to have the despair part under control, but the pride could be a problem.

One source of the confidence is the polling, which shows him with a big lead over McCain. But polls are fickle allies: A USA TodayGallup poll released Monday found McCain leading Obama by four percentage points among likely voters. Another reason for Obama’s confidence — the press — is also an unfaithful partner. The Project for Excellence in Journalism reported yesterday that Obama dominated the news media’s attention for a seventh straight week. But there are signs that the Obama campaign’s arrogance has begun to anger reporters.

Kaine: Obama’s List ‘Seems to Be Getting Shorter’

ABC News’ Teddy Davis, Tahman Bradley, and Ayana Harry Report: Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine (D) said Tuesday that Sen. Barack Obama’s, D-Ill., list of possible vice presidential running mates “seems to be getting shorter”.

“There has been a long list. It seems to be getting shorter. And I’m still being mentioned,” said Kaine. “A lot can change day-to-day. But we’ll see.”

After Kaine commented on the media’s VP list to a Virginia resident who was also visiting the carnival grounds on Chincoteague Island, Kaine friend Donna Mason, chimed in, saying of the governor, “I think he is at the top of the short list” to which Kaine chuckled without saying anything.

Kaine’s discussion of the media’s VP list “getting shorter” comes on the same day that The Washington Post reported that the Virginia governor has told close associates that he has had “very serious” conversations with Obama about joining the Democratic presidential ticket.

The Washington Post reported that Kaine has provided documents to Obama’s campaign so that the governor’s background can be thoroughly examined.

The newspaper reported that Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., and Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., are also being “seriously vetted” by Obama’s campaign staff, according to sources with knowledge of the process.

Kaine, who took a leave-of-absence from Harvard Law School to work as a Catholic missionary in Honduras, made his comments about the media-created Obama VP list while visiting the carnival grounds on Chincoteague Island.

McCain extends olive branch to Pelosi, Gore

Republican Sen. John McCain, engaged in increasingly sharp attacks on rival Barack Obama, pledged that if elected president, he would work closely with Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, praising her as an effective leader and an “inspiration to millions of Americans.”

“I respect Speaker Pelosi. I think she’s one of the great American success stories,” McCain said during an interview with The Chronicle prior to a fundraiser at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco.

“We talk about (New York Sen.) Hillary Clinton and her inspiration to millions of Americans. Speaker Pelosi has been an inspiration as well” in a role that is “in many ways … more powerful than the president.”

And McCain also had high praise for the 2000 Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore and his advocacy on the issue of climate change. McCain recently raised eyebrows in GOP circles by calling “doable” Gore’s suggestion that the country could become entirely energy independent through use of renewable resources within 10 years.

“I agree with his goal,” the Arizona senator said Monday of Gore’s idea. “I may disagree with all the ways of getting there. But I again want to emphasize my respect for the former vice president’s leadership on this issue and his continuous leadership. And I am in no way trying to get into a fight with him.”

Agreement on goals

McCain said that while he differs with Gore on the importance of nuclear power, “I do believe that his goals and his priorities and the visibility that he’s given the issue has been good for America and the world.”

His praise for two Democrats who are regularly in the bull’s-eye of the conservative talk radio and the right-wing blogosphere is likely to draw fire from Republican loyalists, who consider Pelosi and Gore to be the evil twins of liberalism.

“It drives the talk radio crowd nuts when McCain does not wage war on Pelosi and Gore,” said Hoover Institution media fellow Bill Whalen. McCain, he said, likely was trying to reach out to moderate and independent voters during his San Francisco visit.

Whalen said McCain’s reluctance to criticize Gore is understandable because the former vice president is not running for office. But many Republicans believe that Pelosi, who met Tuesday with Obama and Democratic Party leadership in Washington, should be squarely in McCain’s sights.

Advice to get tough

“At some point, the McCain campaign has to make Congress and the Democratic majority an issue in this campaign … it’s something McCain has to wrestle with,” Whalen said. There are three key issues at stake, he said: “The bad performance of the Congress – the reason why the approval rating is 9 to 14 percent. The second is what they want to do when Obama comes into office.” The third is the issue of divided government – whether Democrats should indeed control both houses of Congress and the White House, he said.

“He has to get rougher – and his problem in the election is the GOP brand,” especially with stories like the indictment on Tuesday of Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, the most senior GOP senator, he said.

“You have to fight fire with fire. (He should say) if the Republican brand ain’t so hot, then what about the Democratic brand?”

But McCain’s “first instinct is not to go negative or go to the punch. He tends to pull the punch,” said Whalen. That may have to end soon, he said, because “he’s got two challenges ahead of him: Obama is hovering close to 40 to 50 percent in the polls, and has to be dragged down, and McCain is in the low 40s and has to be pumped up.”

With the campaign – one of the most exhaustive and lengthy presidential competitions in history – heading into a critical period, McCain in recent weeks has taken a sharper tone as he has been sorely challenged by both a tidal wave of attention and skillful positioning from Obama.

The Illinois senator galvanized international attention last week with a trip that included a historic address to 200,000 Germans in Berlin and meetings with leaders in Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, France, Germany and Great Britain.

McCain has accused Obama of being willing to lose the war in Iraq in order to win his presidential campaign – a remark that has drawn criticism from critics who called it unseemly.

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Obama notes ‘tragic’ US past

American history’s “sad” aspects require action, the senator tells cheering journalists

CHICAGO » Sen. Barack Obama, speaking to a gathering of minority journalists yesterday, stopped short of endorsing an official U.S. apology to American Indians but said the country should acknowledge its history of poor treatment of certain ethnic groups.

“There’s no doubt that when it comes to our treatment of Native Americans as well as other persons of color in this country, we’ve got some very sad and difficult things to account for,” Obama told hundreds of attendees of UNITY ’08, a convention of four minority journalism associations.

The Hawaii-born senator, who has told local reporters that he supports the federal recognition bill for native Hawaiians drafted by U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, noted other ethnic groups but did not mention native Hawaiians when answering a question about his thoughts on a formal U.S. apology to American Indians.

“I personally would want to see our tragic history, or the tragic elements of our history, acknowledged,” the Democratic presidential hopeful said.

“I consistently believe that when it comes to whether it’s Native Americans or African-American issues or reparations, the most important thing for the U.S. government to do is not just offer words, but offer deeds.”

Obama, who appeared tired in his first major appearance since returning Saturday from a 10-day trip abroad, met with a receptive audience at the Chicago convention. Some journalists had waited three hours for the 40-minute appearance.

The group had expected Obama and Sen. John McCain to speak on Thursday night, but because of scheduling conflicts, only Obama could attend yesterday morning’s talk.

When Obama walked on stage at the McCormick Center, many journalists in the audience leapt to their feet and applauded enthusiastically after being told not to do so. During a two-minute break halfway through the event, which was broadcast live on CNN, journalists ran to the stage to snap photos of Obama.

The Illinois senator talked about his trip overseas, reiterating his opinion that violence is down in Iraq but worsening in Afghanistan. And he expressed his approval of the Senate’s passage of a major housing bill to help homeowners avert foreclosure.

Obama, who acknowledged that he needed a nap, stood up to say farewell to the audience of journalists, many of whom gave him another standing ovation.

Obama met with House Democratic leaders Tuesday.

Republicans seize on Obama comments to House Democrats

(CNN) — Republicans are attacking the “audacity” of recent comments Barack Obama reportedly made to Democratic congressional leaders Tuesday night in a closed-door meeting.

In comments first reported by the Washington Post and confirmed to CNN by a senior Democratic aide, while discussing his recent trip to Europe, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee said, “This is the moment, as Nancy [Pelosi] noted, that the world has been waiting for.”

The Illinois senator, on Capitol Hill to give House Democrats a pep talk ahead of the November elections, also said he had “become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions.”

The Democratic aide told CNN that comment was made in the context of “Americans struggling and demanding change.” A Democratic source also told CNN’s sister publication Time Magazine Obama’s point was the campaign is “NOT about him.”

The Republican National Committee circulated the comments to reporters under the banner, “Barack Obama audacity watch.” John McCain’s presidential campaign also forwarded the comments with the subject line, “wow.”

Bush signs housing bill in private

With none of the fanfare that usually attends a landmark bill becoming law, President Bush signed the huge housing rescue bill just after 7 a.m. Wednesday, shortly after he arrived in the Oval Office.

Only a few aides and administration officials were present, including Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Steve Preston and James B. Lockhart III, the Director of the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (OFHEO).

The White House announced the signing by e-mail moments later.

The bill, the biggest overhaul of housing law in decades, provides a lifeline for an estimated 400,000 homeowners facing foreclosure, and provides assurances to the mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, whose books are loaded with bad mortgages.

Usually such a bill signing is accompanied by a self-congratulatory ceremony, with souvenir pens for congressional leaders and for members, senators and chairmen who spearheaded the legislation.

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Alaska Sen. Stevens charged with hiding gifts

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Veteran Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens was charged on Tuesday with concealing more than $250,000 worth of gifts, including home renovations, that he received from an Alaska oil services company, the Justice Department said.

The Alaska politician, who has served 40 years in the Senate, was charged in a federal grand jury indictment with seven counts of making false statements on his Senate financial disclosure forms from 2001 to 2006, the department said.

Stevens denied the charges but said he stepped down as required by party rules as top Republican on the Democratic-led Commerce Committee, Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense and Homeland Security subcommittee on Disaster Recovery. He gave no indication he planned to resign from the Senate.

“I am innocent of these charges and intend to prove that,” Stevens said in a statement. “I have never knowingly submitted a false disclosure form required by law as a U.S. senator.”

Alzheimer’s sufferers given hope by new generation of drugs

Millions of Alzheimer’s sufferers have been given fresh hope after a new generation of drugs were shown to reverse the symptoms of the disease.

The treatment can bring the “worst affected parts of the brain back to life” and scientists say it is twice as effective as any medication currently available.

They even suggested the drug works so well it might be given to patients in the future to prevent the onset of the illness.

The results of the human trials were hailed a “major new development” in the fight against the disease, which threatens to overwhelm the NHS within decades.

Alzheimer’s currently affects more than 400,000 people in Britain and the number of sufferers is expected to rise rapidly as the population ages.

The cost of treating the condition will double from £17billion to £35billion by 2026.

The researchers say that if further tests of the drug, called rember, are successful it could be available within four to five years.

“We appear to be bringing the worst affected parts of the brain functionally back to life,” said Prof Claude Wischik of Aberdeen University, who carried out the trials on 321 people with the illness.

He added: “It’s an aspiration for us to develop a drug that we could give preventatively from a certain stage.”

Investors give new Sirius-XM combo rude greeting

As the purchase of XM Satellite Radio by larger rival Sirius Satellite Radio closed today, questions remained over whether the combined company can handle its $3.4 billion in debt — including $1.1 billion due next year.

Also murky was how quickly the two companies can mesh their technologies without angering consumers.

Most radios that play programming from Sirius and the former XM Satellite Radio Holdings are sold for cars, in before- or aftermarket installations, and automakers are notoriously slow to integrate new audio technology.

The nation’s only two satellite radio companies have combined to become Sirius XM Radio, based in New York, and trades under the ticker symbol SIRI, which used to belong to Sirius. Mel Karmazin, the chief executive of Sirius, will take the same position at the new company.

Investors sold off Sirius shares today at their lowest price in nearly five years.

“The new company is going to face a lot of hurdles, both operating as well as financing,” said Tuna Amobi, a Standard & Poor’s analyst in New York.

He was disappointed by Sirius’ accumulation of 280,000 net new subscribers for the second quarter, not as robust a figure as he had hoped for. Amobi is also concerned about higher interest payments.

Sirius’ $1.3 billion of debt hasn’t changed, but XM has taken on more debt and replaced some existing debt with other borrowing that carries much higher interest rates. XM has $2.1 billion in total debt, up from $1.7 billion at the end of March, according to company filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Analysts had been counting on savings from the combination to offset higher debt costs, especially since neither company has ever made an operating profit.

While Sirius expects to save $400 million and post adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization of more than $300 million next year, its comments about free cash flow troubled analysts.

Sirius expects to post positive free cash flow in 2009 but only after excluding satellite capital expenses. That implies its free cash flow will be negative if satellite expenses are included, said Shilpa Parandekar, senior bond analyst at Moody’s Investors Service in New York.

She also noted that about $1.1 billion of debt is due in May 2009. Both companies’ credit ratings are under view for a possible downgrade.

“We felt the momentum was downward,” Parandekar said.

As they waited one and a half years for regulatory approval, the companies also have remained silent on many of the details of how they would combine their programming.

One known consumer benefit is the new ability to pay for only the channels one chooses, known as a la carte programming.

New immigration strategy — Deport yourself

Rather than risk getting caught, turn yourselves in.

That’s the latest government strategy in its ongoing effort to dramatically reduce the nation’s ballooning population of illegal immigrants.

Scheduled to be unveiled next week, it was announced Sunday by Julie Myers, director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in an interview with a Spanish-language television network.

Myers told the network that “Operation Scheduled Departure” will allow illegal immigrants without criminal records a chance to literally “self-deport” by turning themselves in to her agents.

She said the idea derived from a common complaint voiced by immigrant detainees: If given the opportunity, they’d rather just go home than be holed up in immigration prisons.

Under the new program, those still walking free will have the chance to walk into ICE offices, be processed and get a few weeks to arrange their affairs, pack their belongings and ship out of the country without being detained.

“The program basically gives an opportunity to those seeking an organized way to self-deport,” Myers told Univisión anchor Jorge Ramos.

School To Put Students In ‘Prison’ Jumpsuits As Punishment

A school in Texas will force students who don’t follow the rules to wear prison-like jumpsuits in a controversial move this coming school year.

Gonzales High School has new navy blue jumpsuits that students will wear if they break the dress code.Violators will be forced to wear the jumpsuit for the day, the report said.

Some parents said the jumpsuits will make students feel like prisoners but the district said it’s just a way to keep the children dressed appropriately for school.

A school board official said it’s “worth a try” because it’s a way to keep the district’s conservative values intact.Some students said the plan may backfire on the school.”I talked to some of my friends about it and they said they are not going to obey the dress code just so they can wear the jumpsuit,” high school student Jordan Meredith.Before the jumpsuits students who didn’t follow the code had to sit in the office and wait for their parents to bring them clothes or face in-school suspension.

Spc. Megan Lynn Touma, 23, was found dead in a hotel near her Army base.

Man charged in slaying of pregnant soldier

(CNN) — A North Carolina man has been charged with murdering a pregnant Fort Bragg soldier, police said Tuesday.

Fayetteville detectives arrested Edgar Patino, a fellow soldier, at his home in Hope Mills, North Carolina, about 15 miles south of Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

He is accused of killing Spc. Megan Lynn Touma, 23, found dead on June 21 in a hotel near Fort Bragg.

She was seven-months pregnant at the time of her death, authorities said.

Touma, a five-year veteran of the Army, had served with the U.S. Army Dental Activity Clinic in Bamberg, Germany, and in Fort Drum, New York, before her stint at Fort Bragg.

Two of Touma’s friends told CNN that Touma and Patino had been stationed together in Germany and dated in the past.

Touma’s friends said Patino proposed to her in Germany before Touma learned, on her return to North Carolina, that Patino was still married.

The two friends, female soldiers who said they were stationed with Touma in Germany, asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the case.

Touma is is the second female soldier from Fort Bragg to die under suspicious circumstances since June.

Army 2nd Lt. Holley Wimunc was killed in early July. Her Fayetteville, North Carolina, apartment was torched July 10 and her charred body was found nearby a few days later.

Her husband, Marine Cpl. John Wimunc was charged with arson and first degree murder in connection with the death. Another Marine, Lance Cpl. Kyle Alden, was charged with arson and felony accessory after the fact to first-degree murder.

Israeli troops kill West Bank boy

Israeli troops have shot dead a Palestinian boy during a protest near the separation wall in the occupied West Bank, according to Palestinian medics and witnesses.

Hammad Hossam Mussa was hit by a bullet fired by Israeli soldiers in the village of Ni’lin on Tuesday, Salah Al Khawaja, a member of Ni’lin’s Committee Against the Wall, said.

He died of his wounds while being transported to hospital in an ambulance, medical sources said.

Al Jazeera’s Jacky Rowland in Jerusalem said that the Israeli military had not yet given a definitive account of the incident.

“They have merely told us that they are carrying out ‘a careful and thorough investigation’ into how this child died, and only once they have done that investigation will we get their comment on how this boy happened to die,” she said.

Live rounds

According to Khawaja, soldiers fired live rounds towards a group of protesters who had run into the village after the army dispersed protesters outside using rubber-coated bullets.

“Protesters arrived at the wall’s construction site outside the village and the soldiers started to open fire with rubber bullets and tear gas. This pushed the protesters back into the village where the boy was hit by a live bullet in his chest,” he told AFP.

However, other witnesses said that the boy was hit in the head as strone-throwers confronted Israeli troops.

Fifteen people were also lightly injured by rubber-coated bullets during the demonstration in Ni’lin, which has in recent months become the site of regular demonstrations against the barrier.

“This barrier, made of coiled razor wire, deep trenches and a fence equipped with electronic sensors, is cutting through the land of the village,” Rowland reported.

Earlier this month, demonstrators in Ni’lin and other locations marked four years since the International Court of Justice issued a non-binding resolution calling for parts of the barrier inside the West Bank to be torn down and for a halt to construction there.

Israel has largely ignored the ruling.

Forget the Surge — Violence Is Down in Iraq Because Ethnic Cleansing Was Brutally Effective

Editor’s note: John McCain’s latest stumble in discussing Iraq — in which he muddled the timeline of the so-called “surge” — was treated by most of the press as an unfortunate gaffe, rather than further proof that the aspiring commander in chief does not know what he’s talking about when it comes to the war and occupation. (One CNN report actually ran the headline: “McCain Broadens Definition of the Surge.”) Meanwhile, the Republican nominee’s recent attacks on Barack Obama for failing to admit the success of the “surge” was widely reported by the same members of the media, whose dominant and uncritical narrative has long been that, as McCain and Bush contend, the “surge” has been an unqualified success. “Why can’t Obama bring himself to acknowledge the surge worked better than he and other skeptics thought that it would?” a USA Today editorial asked last week.

In the article below, Juan Cole takes a closer look at the “surge,” weighing the troop increase alongside the numerous other contributing factors to the decline in violence. At the same time, he reminds us that, regardless of the relative decrease in bloodshed — and what may be behind it — the country is still a frightfully unstable place for Iraqis. “Most American commentators are so focused on the relative fall in casualties that they do not stop to consider how high the rates of violence remain,” he writes. Few people would consider Afghanistan, where last year an average of 550 people were killed per month, a safe place. Yet, “that is about the rate recently (in Iraq), according to official statistics.” — AlterNet War on Iraq editor Liliana Segura

***

I want to weigh in as a social historian of Iraq on the controversy over whether the “surge” “worked.” The New York Times reports:

Mr. McCain bristled in an interview with the CBS Evening News on (July 22) when asked about Mr. Obama’s contention that while the added troops had helped reduce violence in Iraq, other factors had helped, including the Sunni Awakening movement, in which thousands of Sunnis were enlisted to patrol neighborhoods and fight the insurgency, and the Iraqi government’s crackdown on Shiite militias.

“I don’t know how you respond to something that is such a false depiction of what actually happened,” Mr. McCain told Katie Couric, noting that the Awakening movement began in Anbar Province when a Sunni sheik teamed up with Sean MacFarland, a colonel who commanded an Army brigade there.

“Because of the surge we were able to go out and protect that sheik and others,” Mr. McCain said. “And it began the Anbar Awakening. I mean, that’s just a matter of history.”

The Obama campaign was quick to note that the Anbar Awakening began in the fall of 2006, several months before President Bush even announced the troop escalation strategy, which became known as the surge.

And Democrats noted that the sheik who helped form the Awakening, Abdul Sattar Buzaigh al-Rishawi, was assassinated in September 2007, after the troop escalation began.

But several foreign policy analysts said that if Mr. McCain got the chronology wrong, his broader point — that the troop escalation was crucial for the Awakening movement to succeed and spread — was right. “I would say McCain is three-quarters right in this debate,” said Michael E. O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

The problem with this debate is that it has few Iraqis in it.

It is also open to charges of logical fallacy. The only evidence presented for the thesis that the “surge” “worked” is that Iraqi deaths from political violence have declined in recent months from all-time highs in the second half of 2006 and the first half of 2007. (That apocalyptic violence was set off by the bombing of the Askariya shrine in Samarra in February 2006, which helped provoke a Sunni-Shiite civil war.) What few political achievements are attributed to the troop escalation are too laughable to command real respect.

Proponents are awfully hard to pin down on what the “surge” consisted of or when it began. It seems to me to refer to the troop escalation that began in February 2007. But now the technique of bribing Sunni Arab former insurgents to fight radical Sunni vigilantes is being rolled into the “surge” by politicians such as McCain. But attempts to pay off the Sunnis to quiet down began months before the troop escalation and had a dramatic effect in al-Anbar Province long before any extra U.S. troops were sent to al-Anbar (nor were very many extra troops ever sent there). I will disallow it. The “surge” is the troop escalation that began in the winter of 2007. The bribing of insurgents to come into the cold could have been pursued without a significant troop escalation, and was.

Aside from defining what proponents mean by the “surge,” all kinds of things are claimed for it that are not in evidence. The assertion depends on a possible logical fallacy: post hoc ergo propter hoc. If event X comes after event Y, it is natural to suspect that Y caused X. But it would often be a false assumption. Thus, actress Sharon Stone alleged that the recent earthquake in China was caused by China’s crackdown on Tibetan protesters. That is just superstition, and callous superstition at that. It is a good illustration, however, of the very logical fallacy to which I am referring.

Police seek ‘sex favours’ (South Africa)

Llewellyn Prince, Die Burger

Cape Town – More than a quarter of the Mother City’s 250 street sex workers (28%) who have been arrested, were offered their freedom in exchange for sex with police officers, while 12% were raped by a police officer.

Furthermore, 63% were verbally abused by a police officer and 47% were threatened with physical violence by an officer of the law.

These shocking findings are revealed in a book, Selling Sex in Cape Town. The publication was distributed this month by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) and the Sexworkers Education & Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat).

Sweat is a non-governmental organisation fighting for the rights of sex workers. The research was done between 2006 and 2008.

According to the book, there are at least 250 sex workers on Cape Town’s streets and about 960 in 103 brothels or private homes.

Only sex workers between 18 and 54 were questioned, and it was found that police were more tolerant towards sex workers in brothels.

Prostitution illegal

Meanwhile, Western Cape police said they could not comment on the research, but added that prostitution was illegal and guilty parties would be prosecuted.

Nicolé Fick, a Sweat researcher who worked on the book, said sex workers only wanted to be treated with decency when they were arrested. They usually pay fines from between R50 and R500.

“The moment they speak out about police treatment, they are victimised. That is why they no longer want to lay complaints against the police, but bring them to our offices. The police are their biggest fear.”

Fick said this was the reason Sweat had brought an application in the Cape Town High Court in which it asked that police officers be prohibited from harassing sex workers. The application will be heard early next year.

According to her, Sweat had helped sex workers to lay more than 48 charges with the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD) since 2004. “With the exception of one, not one of the complaints has been investigated.”

‘What is happening can’t be ignored’

Senior researcher at the ISS and author of the book, Chandré Gould, said the relationship between police and sex workers was not the main focus of the book. “We did not want to smear the police, but what is happening can’t be ignored.

“The aim of the book was to establish how big human trafficking is in South Africa. There is little proof of this but a lot of evidence exists about the exploitation and abuse of sex workers.”

Western Cape police spokesperson Senior Superintendent Billy Jones said anyone, regardless of their status or position, should lay a charge with police if crimes are committed against them.

“It will be investigated. Police officers are aware of the fact that there will be appropriate action taken against them if they commit crimes.”

ICD spokesperson Dikeledi Phiri said it was highly unlikely that sex workers’ complaints were not investigated by the body. “I will have to do some research, but there must be a reason for the delay.”

Chairperson of the Cape Town City Council’s Portfolio Committee on Safety and Security, JP Smith, said as long as prostitution was illegal, the city would continue enforcing the law.

Print on the cheap with ultra-compact HP LaserJet P1005, $50

Need a tiny laser printer for your tiny den, dorm room, or office? The HP LaserJet P1005 is about as compact as they come, measuring just 14 by 9 by 8 inches. HP sells them for $129.99, but Newegg is letting ’em go for just $49.99 (plus $9.99 for shipping).

This is a 600-dpi laser that churns out 15 pages per minute. It has a 150-sheet input tray and a USB interface (cable not included). And it’s compatible with Windows and Mac systems. HP supplies a starter toner cartridge that should yield about 750 pages; replacement cartridges will give you double that number.

And, yes, I know the toner is expensive: printer consumables always are. You can’t change that, but you can try to get the best possible deal on the printer itself. Fifty bucks for a laser? That’s tough to beat.

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