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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Not since the late Richard Jewell has American justice down so poorly. The Justice Department's $4.6 million settlement with Steven Hatfill, a former Army biodefense researcher who had been labeled a "person of interest" in the probe of the 2001 anthrax attacks, is pretty damned disgraceful for the DOJ. The department, which somehow didn't admit to any wrongdoing, had good reason to bury the news on a Friday, as the papers rehash the bungled investigation that never solved anything. The NYT ends its article on a comical note, retelling the story of how FBI agents ran over Hatfill's foot as he approached their surveillance car. The researcher was later given a $5 ticket for "walking to create a hazard."

The African Shit of the Century, so far, is Robert Mugabe.  Gangs of thugs loyal to President Robert Mugabe, the only candidate, drove frightened voters to the polls, collecting their personal information and threatening violence if they resisted. There are no words for this abject piece of sado-masochistic horror and spite.

The nature of Zimbabwe's election is perhaps best captured in an open letter from opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai to his supporters. Addressing those who might be compelled to vote for Mugabe, he wrote: "If you need to do this to save your life, be not afraid. Do it." The LAT says some did, if only to have their fingers stained with the indelible voting ink that would save them a beating from ruling party thugs. But many others stayed away and the NYT reports that turnout was "very low, especially in the opposition's urban strongholds." Unsurprisingly, the government disagrees.

There is a day coming, Lord, when Mugabe and his thugs will pay big time.  If we hadn't been screwed up in pointless wars, perhaps we could have helped.  Although, the GOP is not tolerant of Africa.

The LAT says results are expected late Saturday. It will be interesting to see if the government tries to make the tally look realistic. The ruling party "will have to rejigger the results from the frightened masses, taking votes from themselves," a civic group leader tells the NYT, predicting that Tsvangirai will get "at least 30 percent." But Western and African nations have already condemned the government's actions and some are threatening new sanctions. Still, Mugabe seems unfazed. "Some African countries have done worse things," a state-run newspaper quoted him as saying. True.  And some European.  So what?  Where the hell is Mgibe? Where are the prancing military tunics now?  And where is my country?

The LAT leads with a report on Barack Obama's move to the center on many issues, while the WP fronts his appearance with Hillary Clinton in Unity, N.H. The LAT cites Obama's "tougher stance on Iran, mild reaction to expanded gun rights and malleable view of free trade" as proof that the candidate is moving toward the center to broaden his appeal. This is a typical move for a general-election candidate, but tougher for Obama, who carries the risk of diminishing his self-styled image as a new type of politician, based almost solely on the naivite of his supporters.

McCain, of course, is doing the same thing, but he's moving right in an attempt to court conservatives, says the Times. All this posturing makes TP sympathetic to Libertarians, some of whom complain to the NYT that the party is "fundamentally more committed to principle than electoral action."

The Obama campaign is encouraged by Hillary Clinton's willingness to stitch the Democratic Party back together. Obama's advisers hope to use both Hillary and Bill Clinton to speak to voters about the economy. The Post notes that Obama will have a distinct advantage over John McCain if he is able to consolidate the Democratic vote—many more Americans identify with the Democrats than with the Republicans. But he's not there yet. "We want Hillary!" chanted some in the New Hampshire crowd yesterday. "It's over!" a man yelled back.

Obama may also benefit from Bob Barr's candidacy on the Libertarian ticket. Earlier in the week Obama's campaign manager said a strong showing by Barr could deliver Georgia and Alaska to the Democrat. Alaska to Obama?  That's a cry for a chaser in the GOP bar. The actual Barr, meanwhile, tells the NYT that a group of Republicans have told him not to run. But should they really be so scared? Barr has raised just over $300,000 so far, and "he has yet to lease a campaign headquarters, have a fund-raiser, tape a television advertisement or hold a campaign event," says the Times.

A potential deal between the United States and Europe would allow American law enforcement and security agencies to access information about European citizens. Credit card transactions, travel histories, and Internet browsing habits might be shared, but there are still about half a dozen outstanding issues to be dealt with. Like, the reverse.

Naturally, there is bad news out of Afghanistan, where Taliban militants have regrouped and the security situation has deteriorated. The insurgency has now spread into areas previously thought to be stable. The WSJ cites a new Pentagon report (also mentioned in the Post), which is part of a "top-to-bottom review of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan." NYT readers might counsel the department to look into "the Taliban's deepening penetration of Pakistan" as well.

North Korea razed the cooling tower at its Yongbyon nuclear facility on Friday. While video of the event was broadcast widely in the West, the NYT reports that North Korea's state news agency didn't mention the demolition.

The media is way scared of economic news.  We're long past "bear-market territory," and heading towards a Depression.  The LAT envisions "a world of $200-a-barrel oil."

In history, this day in 1635, the French colony of Guadeloupe was established in the Caribbean. Been there, and the whole Windward Island chain is gorgeous. The Brits thought those islands worth North America, by the by.

In 1778, Mary "Molly Pitcher" Hays McCauley, wife of an American artilleryman, carried water to the soldiers during the Battle of Monmouth and, supposedly, took her husband's place at his gun after he was overcome with heat.

In 1894, the U.S. Congress made Labor Day a U.S. national holiday.

Feeling the power, in 1902 our Congress passed the Spooner bill, it authorized a canal to be built across the isthmus of Panama.

It was this day in 1914 that the Archduke Francis Ferdinand and the morganic wife were assassinated by Serb nationalists in (what is now known as) Sarajevo, Bosnia. He was killed because he was so much more liberal and sharper than his uncle the Emperor that it was feared he could keep the empire together and maybe make it stronger.  It was really Servia, and the b was subbed for the v in English when war broke out and the media decided it made their put upon ally sound submissive.  Such is our world.

Five years to the day later, the Treaty of Versailles was signed ending World War I, and establishing the League of Nations.

In 1938, Congress created the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) to insure construction loans.

This day in 1945, MacArthur announced the end of Japanese resistance in the Philippines. He was, as usual, wrong.

In 1951, with an all black and excellent cast, "Amos ’n’ Andy" moved to CBS-TV from radio. It was one of my favorite shows growing up, and I suspect because of it was always puzzled by race. Just saying, the guy who played Andy, the big dumb but kind hearted galoot, was an early symbol.  And Kingfish was hysterical even if I didn't have clue one what was going on.  

This day in 1965, the first commercial satellite began communications service. It was Early Bird (Intelsat II), and all of a sudden the benefits and future of space and technology affected everyone..

In 1967, Israel formally declared Jerusalem reunified under its sovereignty following its capture of the Arab sector in the June 1967 war. Would it were so.

Eleven years ago today, Mike Tyson was disqualified for biting Evander Holyfield's ear after three rounds of their WBA heavyweight title fight in Las Vegas.

Eight years ago, six-year-old Elián González returned to Cuba from the U.S. with his father. The child had been the center of an international custody dispute.

In 2004, in an embarrassing ceremony, the U.S. turned over official sovereignty to Iraq's interim leadership. The event took place two days earlier than previously announced to thwart insurgents' attempts at undermining the transfer. That same day, we resumed diplomatic ties with Libya after a 24-year break.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Supreme Court has ruled for the first time in history that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to own a gun. That would be correct, because when written, a militia kept arms at home.The justices—split along traditional ideological grounds and by a 5-4 vote—struck down the District of Columbia ban on handguns, the strictest gun-control law in the country.

The Washington Post said that it "wiped away years of lower court decisions that had held that the intent of the amendment ... was to tie the right of gun possession to militia service." The NYT says Justice Antonin Scalia's majority opinion was "his most important in his 22 years on the court." The WSJ points out that "[f]or the third time this month, a major constitutional issue was decided by a single vote—that of Justice Anthony Kennedy, the maverick conservative" who had sided with the court's liberal wing in the Guantanamo and child-rapists cases but yesterday lined up with the conservatives. I think this vote correct, and a quick review of Ruby Ridge and Waco ought to bring folks around.

The whole episode is bound up in 18th century and 19th century grammar practices, but our supposed conservative braintrust Antonin Scalia made it worse.  In his majority opinion, Scalia took pains to emphasize that the "decision, while historic, was narrow and its practical effects limited," says the Los Angeles Times. The individual right to gun ownership is not unlimited, and Scalia said the court would uphold restrictions on concealed, as well as "dangerous and unusual," weapons (um, what weapon is not dangerous? they guy is way over-rated) and laws that prohibit firearms from government buildings and schools. "Beyond that, the court did not address what types of regulations would survive legal challenges," notes USA Today's lead that says the decision "immediately cast doubt on gun restrictions nationwide." The LAT points out that yesterday's decision "brought immediate court challenges to similar laws in Chicago and San Francisco."

Advocates for gun rights praised the ruling and said the decision provides them with a clear opening to issue a variety of legal challenges to existing restrictions on the ownership of firearms. But gun-control advocates also said they were at least heartened by the fact that the court didn't dismiss all restrictions on firearms as unconstitutional. In a scathing dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens warned that yesterday's decision would likely lead to a new era of judicial involvement in an issue that is best left to elected lawmakers. In reality, though, the ruling "will have little practical impact in most of the country," says the NYT in a Page One analysis. It is likely to be felt mostly in a few urban areas that have the most restrictive gun-control laws.

In their opinions, Scalia and Stevens "went head to head in debating how the 27 words in the Second Amendment should be interpreted," notes the NYT. Stevens emphasized that the right to own a weapon exists only "in conjunction with service in a well-regulated militia," while Scalia said that the militia part of the amendment isn't meant as a limit on the pre-existing right to bear arms, on which I agree. The two also sharply disagreed on the 1939 decision that was the last time the issue was analyzed by the court and has been widely interpreted as a rejection of the individual-rights argument for possessing firearms.

The presidential candidates both quickly praised the decision, although John McCain was a bit more effusive than Sen. Barack Obama. McCain called it "a landmark victory" that brings to an end "the specious argument" that there's no individual right to gun ownership. For his part, Obama said the decision protects the rights of gun owners but also emphasized that this protection "is not absolute." Read it guys: dangerous weapons, i.e. any weapon, can be banned.

The decision involved the court's conservative wing displaying its most activist instincts. In the LAT, Erwin Chemerinsky writes that the ambiguity of the Second Amendment should have led the justices to follow precedent and allow lawmakers to decide the issue. Instead, the majority took matters into their own hands in "a powerful reminder that the conservative justices are activists when it serves their political agenda," writes Chemerinsky. In the Post, E.J. Dionne Jr. agrees and says the conservative justices once again demonstrated "their willingness to abandon precedent in order to do whatever is necessary to further the agenda of the contemporary political right." The decision serves as a good reminder "that judicial activism is now a habit of the right."

It's Election Day in Zimbabwe, and those who don't vote risk being beaten or killed, notes the NYT inside. President Robert Mugabe has refused to bow to international pressure and insisted the vote will go on as schedule even though his opponent dropped out of the race and violence has engulfed the country. Zimbabweans will likely be rounded up and taken to the polls, where many believe that if they don't vote for Mugabe they will face retribution. "If you don't show your finger that you've voted, you'll be beaten," explained opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who tells the WP that he's boycotting the elections and will "do nothing" today.

So who's going to do the beating and killing? Young men whose "life has come down to a painfully simple equation: If you don't beat your victim hard enough, you may be the next victim," reports the LAT. Mugabe's thugs have often been portrayed as ruthless villains, but the LAT talks to three who sound more like scared children than vicious killers as they describe how they want to escape but fear the militia would capture them or kill their families. They also tell the LAT that young women and girls as young as 15 are being kidnapped to serve as sex slaves for the militias. It's another must-read story from the LAT, whose reporter has been writing some of the best, most detailed accounts of the situation on the ground in Zimbabwe that manage to illustrate how regular citizens are caught in the middle of the horror.

The NYT fronts and the WSJ goes inside with interesting looks at why exactly South Africa's president, Thabo Mbeki, has refused to criticize Mugabe and continues to insist on mediation. The world is puzzled by Mbeki's approach, which the NYT characterizes as "walking softly, carrying no stick," but it's the result of his close personal relationship with Mugabe as well as his political convictions and a reluctance to allow the Western world to meddle in Africa's affairs. Tsvangirai has called for Mbeki to step down from his role as the region's appointed mediator.

Meanwhile, Bush's hypocrisy caves again.  He has announced that North Korea will be removed from the list of countries that sponsor terrorism - from the Axis of Evil - after Pyongyang provided long-awaited details about its nuclear efforts. Although the move is largely portrayed as symbolic, the NYT highlights that it demonstrates how Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice managed to win "a major battle" against Vice President Cheney and his allies who are none too happy about the move. THIS is a big NOTHING. Rice is simply incompetent.

The country that Bush once designated as part of the "axis of evil" provided details about its main nuclear effort, but everyone says there was lots missing from the report, particularly any information about assembled nuclear weapons. Pyongyang also provided no details about a suspected uranium-enrichment program, which has led some to speculate that perhaps North Korea will continue a secret efforts to build a nuclear weapon. Well, duh. Early-morning wire stories report that, as had been announced, North Korea destroyed a 60-foot-tall cooling tower at its Yongbyon nuclear plant.

Everyone notes the bad day at the stock market. Oil prices continued to increase, and the Dow Jones industrial average fell to its lowest level in almost two years. Although it seems like just yesterday that many were saying the economy would rebound in the second half of the year, there are doubts about whether that will actually happen. Financial firms continue to lose money, and consumers are highly pessimistic about the state of the economy.

The WP's Steven Pearlstein writes that no one should expect the economy to rebound in the near future. "This thing's going down, fast and hard," he writes, while noting that this downturn will be different from most because it's "a recession with an overlay of inflation." The word we're searching for is Depression. The inconvenient combination is particularly difficult for the Federal Reserve to deal with, because trying to fix one problem makes the other worse. "Don't let anyone fool you: It will be a while before things return to normal."

Starting next week, smokers won't be allowed to light up in cafes, bars, restaurants, and clubs in the Netherlands, which is pretty amazing. Is France next? Oh, wait, Euro studpidity, not always immedeately apparent, raises its head. USAT reports that while smoking a joint at a coffee shop will still be perfectly legal, smoking cigarettes will be forbidden. Naturally, people are confused, particularly since many Europeans are used to mixing a little tobacco with their marijuana. "I will have to ask, 'What's in that joint?' " one coffee shop owner said. "It's going to make it pretty difficult to enforce."

On this day in 363, the death of Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate brought an end to the Pagan Revival.

In 1693, "The Ladies' Mercury" was published by John Dunton in London on this day for the first time. It was the first women's magazine and contained a "question and answer" column that became known as a "problem page."  

In 1787, Edward Gibbon completed "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire." It was published the following May, and history and Christianity have never recovered.

Here in the Land of the Free, in 1844 Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were killed by mob in Carthage, Illinois.  They were in jail at the time. According to church legend, after Smith is shot a man raises a knife to decapitate him, but is thwarted by a thunderbolt from heaven. Heaven allowed the murder, though.  A clue.

In 1847, this day, New York and Boston were linked by telegraph wires.

In 1893, the New York stock market crashed. By the end of the year 600 banks and 74 railroads had gone out of business.

In 1929, scientists at Bell Laboratories in New York revealed a system for transmitting television pictures.

This day in 1942, the FBI announced the capture of eight Nazi saboteurs who had been put ashore from a submarine on New York's Long Island. Actually, their leader tried to surrender right off, wasn't believed, and when the fiasco looked like it would make the FBI look stupid, the leader was the only one killed.

In 1950, two days after North Korea invaded South Korea, U.S. President Truman ordered the Air Force and Navy into the Korean conflict. The United Nations Security Council had asked for member nations to help South Korea repel an invasion from the North.

This day in 1973, former White House counsel John W. Dean told the Senate Watergate Committee about an "enemies list" that was kept by the Nixon White House.

In 1998, during a live joint news conference in China U.S. President Clinton and President Jiang Zemin offered an uncensored airing of differences on human rights, freedom, trade and Tibet.

In 2002, the Securities and Exchange Commission required companies with annual sales of more than $1.2 billion to submit sworn statements backing up the accuracy of their financial reports.

Two years ago today, in Alaska's Denali National Park, a roughly 70-million year old dinosaur track was discovered. The track was form a three-toed Cretaceous period dinosaur.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Supreme Court has ruled that owning guns is okay and that it's unconstitutional to execute someone for raping a child. The 5-4 decision restricted the death penalty to punish murderers and those who commit crimes against the state. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said that cases of child rape "may be devastating in their harm," but "they cannot be compared to murder in their severity and irrevocability."

No one has been executed for raping a child since 1964, but yesterday's 5-4 decision voids the laws in six states that allowed the death penalty to be imposed for such a crime. Two men in Louisiana are the only ones in the country currently on death row for child rape, and their sentences will now be changed to life without parole. As the NYT points out, this was the third time in six years that the Supreme Court has put a limit on the death penalty, saying that it was following the evolving standards of decency under the Eight Amendment. Both presidential candidates criticized the decision. Sen. John McCain called it "an assault on ... efforts to punish these heinous felons" while Sen. Barack Obama said he disagreed with the court's "blanket prohibition." And what is a child?  Beneath the age of consent? Like the Catholic priests who molested children, are they now up for death, should they ever be charged? Oh, not, they're not, somehow.  Alito and Scalia should explain how they'd vote in such a case.

The other big Supreme Court decision, which reduced a punitive damages award against Exxon Mobil from $2.5 billion to around $500 million, is being lost outside Greenpeace circles. The ruling brought an end to a legal battle that has been going on for almost 20 years after the Exxon Valdez spilled almost 11 million gallons of crude oil in Alaska in 1989. A majority of justices said that Exxon Mobil shouldn't have to pay more in punitive damages than what it had to pay for the actual damages. Writing for the majority, Justice David Souter said that a 1-to-1 ratio between compensatory damages and punitive damages would be appropriate.

The big question now is whether this will become a defining guideline for all punitive damages or whether it simply applies to cases involving maritime law. Exxon and business groups praised the decision, saying that it might go a long way to bring an end to the unpredictable nature of punitive damages. The LAT points out that the fact that Exxon made $40.6 billion in profits last year means that "it could pay the punitive damages with about four days' worth of profits."

The chairman of the House appropriations defense subcommittee saying that the Pentagon will have to spend more than $100 billion to replace and repair equipment. Rep. John Murtha said the failure to properly plan for a long war in Iraq means the Pentagon has neglected its equipment and now will likely have to give up hopes to increase the size of the military. Pentagon leaders are coming to the realization that they will have to make a choice between a larger military and improved equipment.

The latest from Zimbabwe is predictably depressing as African leaders continued to criticize President Robert Mugabe and called for Friday's runoff election to be postponed. Queen Elizabeth II stripped Mugabe of his honorary knighthood, long overdue, and Nelson Mandela, who barely talks about politics in public, said there's been a "tragic failure of leadership in Zimbabwe." Archbishop Desmond Tutu went even further and said Mugabe "mutated into something quite unbelievable." Approximately 300 people, many of whom were injured, gathered outside the South African Embassy to ask for asylum while the opposition leader called on the African Union and the United Nations to deploy peacekeeping troops in Zimbabwe.

Of course, Mugabe has shown no signs of caring about what the international community thinks and insists that "only God" can remove him from power. "It's time to give God a helping hand," writes Timothy Garton Ash in the LAT's op-ed page, a statement that should not be made when we live in a world of violent thugs who actually believe they are doing just that. It's a mistake to think that the only way the international community could intervene would be to invade Zimbabwe. "The choice is not either invade or do nothing," he writes. "There are hundreds of ways in which states and peoples intervene in the affairs of other states and peoples without resorting to the use of military force."

The ongoing discussions between Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton on a variety of issues, including how to help the former first lady repay some of the debt left over from her campaign. Clinton will formally introduce some of her biggest donors to Obama tonight, and the two will appear together on Friday. Famous Washington lawyer Robert Barnett is helping the two camps work out the issues, but it isn't all love among the Democrats. Many Clinton supporters continue to harbor feelings of ill will toward Obama and his campaign. Primarily, some of her biggest supporters say Obama hasn't done enough to help Clinton with her debt and point out that the presumptive nominee hasn't even taken the trouble of writing a $2,300 check to her campaign in what many believe would be a strong symbolic gesture.

On the Republican side, the WP peers at Richard Davis, McCain's top campaign adviser, who has been working without pay for almost a year in what he says is a demonstration of his dedication to the presumptive nominee. But it really might just be his way of saying thanks. Davis has taken a leave from his lobbying firm, but his relationship with McCain has paid off handsomely throughout the years. Ever since he first managed a McCain campaign eight years ago, he's made quite a bit of money from companies that wanted the senator's attention and even earned a bit of cash from what the Post calls "a panoply of McCain-related entities." Davis is hardly the only McCain aide who has made money from a relationship with the senator, but his case is a great reminder of how terms like free advice and unpaid are all relative in Washington.

Many had once hoped that a campaign between Obama and McCain would bring about a new level of political discourse. But the Post's Dan Balz is clearly disappointed when he notes that the first few weeks of the general election have seen the two candidates fall into the same old habits of aggressive attacks and counterattacks that can't possibly interest anybody besides obsessive political junkies. It's still early and things might change, but it could be telling that the candidates fell back into old habits so quickly. "The question is whether the opening weeks are a true reflection of their characters and the kind of campaigns they intended to run or a temporary departure."

Only a little while ago, Republicans thought they could win over voters in congressional elections by tying Democratic lawmakers in conservative districts to Obama. But the strategy didn't work, and now a Republican senator (from Oregon, but still) has gone the other way and is touting his supposed close relationship with Obama in a campaign ad, notes the Post. Not surprisingly, Obama has been inundated with requests from Democratic congressional candidates who want the presumptive nominee to help get them elected.

Lately, McCain's campaign has taken to calling Obama the "Dr. No" of energy policy. The LAT thinks the lable might befit McCain more, particularly since he has vowed to build new nuclear plants. He does have a catchy name, but the truth is that James Bond's antagonist in the 1962 film "was something of a pioneer in nuclear energy."

In history, this day in 1483, the curious Richard III usurped himself to the English throne.

In 1541, Francisco Pizarro, the Spanish Conqueror of Peru, was murdered by his former followers.

In 1804, the Lewis and Clark expedition reached the mouth of the Kansas River after completing a westward trek of nearly 400 river miles.

In 1900, the United States announced that it would send troops to fight against the Boxers in China, but really to protect and insert interests of our own.

Finally.  This day in 1917, General John "Black Jack" Pershing arrived in France with the American Expeditionary Force. Well.  Part of it's headquarters.

In 1945, the U.N. Charter was signed by 50 nations in San Francisco.

This day in 1948, the Berlin Airlift began as the U.S., Britain and France started ferrying supplies to the isolated western sector of Berlin.

In 1959, Eisenhower joined Elizabeth II in ceremonies officially opening the St. Lawrence Seaway.

In 1963, Kennedy announced "Ich bin ein Berliner" (I am a Berliner or, as some say, I am a pastry.) at the Berlin Wall.

In 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Communications Decency Act of 1996 that made it illegal to distribute indecent material on the Internet.

A year later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that employers are always potentially liable for supervisor's sexual misconduct toward an employee.

In 2000, the Human Genome Project and Celera Genomics Corp. jointly announced that they had created a working draft of the human genome.

And, in 2002, WorldCom Inc. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Somehow, it was granted.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

New Pentagon data shows insurgent activity is on the rise in Afghanistan, a development that has led military leaders to order a review of current strategy in the country. In the first five months of the year, insurgent attacks have gotten more sophisticated and increased almost 40 percent in the eastern provinces, a region of Afghanistan that was once relatively calm and several senior Pentagon officials had frequently touted as an example of success.

While the rate of U.S. military deaths in Iraq keeps on decreasing, the opposite is true in Afghanistan, where 50 Americans have been killed in combat this year, compared with 28 who were killed in the first six months of 2007. Pentagon leaders want to increase the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan but can't do much about that desire until there's a significant withdrawal of forces from Iraq. Although many in the Pentagon once advocated that troop reductions in Iraq should be used as an opportunity to give servicemembers more time to rest and train stateside, military planners now agree that any drawdown from Iraq will lead to an increase of forces in Afghanistan.

Problem is that no one knows when there will be further withdrawals from Iraq. In the meantime, to streamline the operations in Afghanistan, the Pentagon will propose "in the coming weeks" that all U.S. and NATO forces report to the new four-star commander in Afghanistan.

The mounting international pressure against Zimbabwe's government and its plans to go on with the presidential election on Friday have annoyed and focused the world. The president of Senegal and the leader of South Africa's ruling party both said the election should be canceled and urged both sides to sit down and work out an agreement. Southern African leaders will meet in Swaziland today to discuss the growing crisis in Zimbabwe, but there's little reason to think that President Robert Mugabe will listen to their concerns.

Mugabe continued campaigning yesterday and mocked his former rival for dropping out and seeking refuge in the Dutch Embassy. "He is frightened, frightened of the people," Mugabe said. "These are voters. They won't do you any harm." The NYT highlights that even though South Africa's ruling party called for the vote to be postponed, it also insisted that foreign diplomats should resist the urge to intervene because it "will merely deepen the crisis." Meanwhile, there were hints that even as Mugabe dismissed international pressure, he was opening the door to talks with the opposition, but only after he wins the election and can negotiate from a position of strength.

There's little doubt that Mugabe will win Friday's election, but, just in case, the violence and intimidation continue. In a must-read Page One dispatch from Harare, the LAT reports that ruling party officials are telling voters at meetings that the ballot serial numbers will allow them to know who voted for the opposition and warned that those who don't vote for Mugabe will be killed. "They said, 'Even if you run away, we'll chop the heads off whoever you leave behind at your house. We don't care if it's your children or your grandchildren,' " recalled a 60-year-old woman who was forced to go to a meeting. One man who has been attending meetings every day for two weeks said the talk of serial numbers on ballots was being repeated daily. "They will launch another operation, called Operation Elimination, where people will be disappearing," he said. "They repeat the same message over and over."

An internal Justice Department report has found officials broke the law by favoring those who didn't have ties to the Democratic Party or liberal organizations for the department's highly coveted intern and honors jobs, which are meant to be awarded on merit. The report says that senior officials attempted to figure out political affiliations of applicants through Internet searches as well as a close analysis of their essays and résumés to look for any hint of liberal bias. Although ideology can be used as a factor for political appointees, federal law prohibits it from being considered for civil-service jobs. This is the first in what many think will be a series of reports that will show how the Justice Department was politicized under former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. The current attorney general, Michael Mukasey, emphasized yesterday that it's "impermissible and unacceptable" to consider political affiliation when hiring career lawyers.

Congress is on the verge of approving legislation that could help thousands of homeowners avoid foreclosures. Lawmakers are eager to act as new data were released showing that home prices have plunged more than 15 percent over the past year. The "centerpiece" of the Senate's housing legislation would allow borrowers to refinance into a more affordable, fixed-rate loan that would come with a federal guarantee. The bill would also increase assistance for first-time buyers, and regulation on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would be strengthened. The WP reveals the "centerpiece" was initially suggested by lobbyists for major banks. Although the banks would get less money for the loan, it also would allow them to get rid of properties, and the taxpayer would have to foot the bill if there are defaults. Around Capitol Hill, the proposal was known as the "Credit Suisse plan" before it was incorporated into the legislation.

The state of Florida has reached a tentative agreement with U.S. Sugar to buy all of the company's assets for $1.75 billion in an attempt to restore the Everglades. Under the deal, U.S. Sugar would have six years to close up shop before Florida takes over its 187,000 acres of land that it wants to return to its natural state and protect from development.

Barack Obama has a 12-point lead over rival Sen. John McCain. In a two-way race, Obama received 49 percent while McCain got 37 percent. Interestingly enough, when the independent (Ralph Nader) and Libertarian (Bob Barr) candidates are added to the list, the margin increases to 48-33 because most of their support comes from independents who would have otherwise voted Republican. The LAT notes McCain suffers from "a passion gap" since many Republicans still aren't very excited about voting for him. Most of those who supported Sen. Hillary Clinton are now supporting Obama, though 11 percent have moved over to McCain's side.

The NYT reveals that when the Environmental Protection Agency reached the conclusion that greenhouse gases are pollutants and must be controlled, the White House refused to open the e-mail message. Instead, the White House began a furious lobbying campaign to get the document changed. The watered-down report to be released this week makes no conclusions and simply goes over the legal and financial implications of declaring greenhouse gases a pollutant.

Chrysler will announce tomorrow that everyone who buys a 2009 model will have the option of adding wireless Internet to their vehicle. In an ironic twist of fate, the announcement will come just a few days before drivers in California and Washington will be required to use a headset when talking on a cellular phone. But, in California at least, it's unclear whether the law prohibits surfing the Web while driving.

The NYT reports that a group in San Francisco will ask voters whether the name of a water treatment plant should be changed to George W. Bush Sewage Plant. Those who came up with the plan while in a bar want to put a vote on the November ballot to provide "an appropriate honor for a truly unique president."
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This day in 1658, Aurangzeb proclaimed himself emperor of the Moghuls in India.

The Decline of America begins in 1868 when the pantywaist U.S. Congress enacted legislation granting an eight-hour day to workers employed by the Federal government.

On this day in 1876, the 7th Cavalry was walloped at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.  Half the battle was the famous Custer's Last Stand, while the majority of the regiment survived under fire four miles away.A year to the day later, in Philadelphia, Alexander Graham Bell demonstated the telephone for Sir William Thomson (Baron Kelvin) and Emperor Pedro II of Brazil at the Centennial Exhibition.

Ragtime.  In 1906, Pittsburgh millionaire Harry Kendall Thaw, the son of coal and railroad baron William Thaw, shot and killed Stanford White. White, a prominent architect, had a tryst with the lovely Florence Evelyn Nesbit before she married Thaw. The shooting took place at the premeire of Mamzelle Champagne in New York.

In 1910, the Mann Act, sometimes known as the White Slave Traffic Act of 1910, made it a federal crime to convey or assist in transporting women across state lines for prostitution, debauchery, or "any other immoral purpose." Mencken immediately noticed this was revenge of the rural poor over those who could so afford it, and no mention was made of men raping women on the farm. Men convicted of this heinous (if vague) statute face up to five years and a $5,000 fine for each count. Penalties are doubled if the female is underage, but men and boys are apparently not covered. Fortunately, we now know, for the clergy.

It was this day in 1917 that the first American fighting troops landed in France. "Lafayette, we are here." Unfortunately, most of our soldiers underwent basic training in France and had to used French and British artillery and weapons.  And it was not until 1918 we made a difference.  We only really fought for six months. Our Navy made even less of a mark.

It was this day in 1950 that North Korea invaded South Korea to start the the Korean War.

In 1962, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the use of unofficial non-denominational prayer in public schools was unconstitutional.

And not enforced.  In 1970, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission handed down a ruling (35 FR 7732), making it illegal for radio stations to put telephone calls on the air without the permission of the person being called.

In 1973, Erskine Childers Jr. became president of Ireland after the retirement of Eamon De Valera. His father, who wrote The Riddle in the Sands, was both an Irish and British Patriot.  Sorta.  Very interesting man.  Google him.  That same day, White House Counsel John Dean admitted that U.S. President Nixon took part in the Watergate cover-up.

In 1981, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that male-only draft registration was constitutional.

The U.S. Congress approved $100 million in aid to the Contras fighting in Nicaragua, this day, in 1986.

A year later, Austrian President Kurt Waldheim visited Pope John Paul II at the Vatican. The meeting was controversial due to allegations that Waldheim had hidden his Nazi past.

On this day in 1996, outside the Khobar Towers near Dhahran, Saudi Arabia a truck bomb exploded. The bomb killed 19 Americans and injured over 500 Saudis and Americans.

In 1997, U.S. air pollution standards were significantly tightened by U.S. President Clinton.

I object.  In 1998, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that those infected with HIV are protected by the Americans With Disabilities Act. That same day, "Windows 98" was released to the public.

Finally, in 1999 Germany's parliament approved a national Holocaust memorial to be built in Berlin.

This day in 2000, U.S. and British researchers announced that they had completed a rough draft of a map of the genetic makeup of human beings. The project was 10 years old at the time of the announcement.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

This is the neo-con and Bushie revealing himself.  Karl Rove on Obama:"Even if you never met him, you know this guy. He's the guy at the country club with the beautiful date, holding a martini and a cigarette that stands against the wall and makes snide comments about everyone who passes by." That's all it's been, back to the Whitewater investigations: simple sexual jealousy and revenge of the pudgy nerds.  

Here in Boulder the Damned, the Daily Camera and its ramora, the Colorado Daily (same owner) crash down on the candidate for State Senate who's most likely to feel no debt to them: Cindy Carlisle. Her opponent, indistinguishable from a Republican in past or policy positions - that being the real reason he was obliterated in his bid for the Governor's office to an actual Republican - is attempting to out endorse her with the murmered detritus of the Boulder's ancient regime of crypto-Repubs. This includes some of the Regents, who otherwise sense retribution from the all male and football lovin' world if after all the well deserved hell CU has undergone in the last few years they cannot get satisfaction in seeing Carlisle defeated for the first time. Its the Obama year, and she's the one for it.

The United Nations Security Council is finally condemning the "campaign of violence" that has targeted supporters of Zimbabwe's opposition and said it would be "impossible for a free and fair election to take place" as scheduled. The move came after opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai sought refuge at the Dutch Embassy in Harare and police officers raided the opposition party headquarters and arrested 60 people. Robert Mugabe needs to be shot.

The United Nations had largely remained on the sidelines, but yesterday the Security Council took its first formal action on Zimbabwe's crisis and called on the government to allow opposition rallies and liberate political prisoners. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon went even further and called on Mugabe's government to postpone the runoff election, saying that it "would lack all legitimacy" if it goes on as scheduled. Of course, Mugabe has shown he doesn't really care about international opinion, so it's unlikely that this alone will change anything.

Tsvangirai dropped out of Friday's runoff election on Sunday, but the violence and intimidation campaign by loyalists of President Robert Mugabe continued unabated yesterday. The NYT talks to opposition officials who say they knew a raid was coming, so most of the 1,500 people who had sought refuge in their Harare headquarters quickly fled, which meant that by the time the police arrived "only a few dozen of the most helpless people, many of them wounded, were left." The WSJ has a telling anecdote from a young woman who was stopped by a group of thugs on her way to work and forced to attend a 10-hour pro-government rally instead, illustrating how the intimidation campaign doesn't only affect those involved in politics. While Mugabe is increasingly facing criticism from other leaders in the region, the president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, has remained largely silent while trying to get members of the opposition and ruling parties to sit down and negotiate. Mbeki is kind of a sleaze himself, given his HIV bag of misinformation he's still trying to sell.

On the NYT's opinion page, Peter Godwin writes that the "international community has no choice but to delegitimize Mr. Mugabe's regime." This wouldn't be necessary if Mbeki decided to actually do something about the deepening crisis. But if he won't, the international community has a golden opportunity to apply pressure with the World Cup that will be held in South Africa in 2010. "Perhaps it's time to share the Zimbabweans' pain, to help persuade Mr. Mbeki to bear down on its source by threatening to grab the world's soccer ball and take our games elsewhere."

In a piece headlined "The Bush Doctrine Is Relevant Again," the WSJ's Bret Stephens predicts Tsvangirai will win the Nobel Peace Prize and notes that "Zimbabwe is now another spot on the map of the civilized world's troubled conscience," joining the likes of Burma and Darfur. And, just as in those other troubled spots, nothing in Zimbabwe will change unless Mugabe is removed by force. Except the Bush Doctrine in theory has proven different in fact, where all it means is that troops are sent, people are killed, and nothing much new occurs except the United States picks up the bill.

The WSJ has a newly released Pentagon report that calls Iran the "greatest long-term threat to Iraqi security." The report was largely positive, noting that violence is at its lowest levels in four years and praising the Iraqi prime minister for cracking down on Shiite militias. Contrasting the Pentagon's largely positive report on Iraq, the Government Accountability Office released its own report that has a decidedly less rosy look at the situation on the ground. The WP says that "the two reports seemed to assess wholly different realities" and notes that the GAO didn't mention Iran once in its report. The GAO said the way the Bush administration chooses to measure progress in Iraq doesn't tell the full story, many of the president's goals haven't been reached, and there is no clear strategy for how U.S. troops will proceed after the "surge" ends. Although the GAO acknowledged there has been a decrease in violence in Iraq, it also noted that the administration often uses misleading and exaggerated figures to show progress. The government auditors say a mere 10 percent of Iraq's security forces can operate without assistance from the United States.

Yesterday, the WP looked into the failure of the U.S.-funded TV network in the Middle East, and today it examines how al-Qaida has been highly successful in its propaganda efforts during the digital age. It's truly a study in contrasts as al-Qaida's top leadership has been able to get their message to a massive audience through as-Sahab, the terrorist network's propaganda studio. U.S. officials say they might have been able to disrupt the propaganda operations in the past, but now security is so airtight that it's practically impossible to cause anything more than temporary damage. Because the propaganda is distributed through a network of decentralized Web sites, arresting individual members of the network wouldn't stop the transmission of the information.

Rising food and gas prices are hurting people's abilities to keep up with basic bills as utilities are reporting that they're disconnecting many more customers than last year. "We're seeing a record number of shutoffs," the head of the National Energy Assistance Directors' Association said. THAT ain't good news, and bodes poorly.

The Washington Post takes a look at how consumers are facing gas surcharges in a variety of industries. There's no regulation to limit how high a surcharge can go, so they're often all over the map. "It's almost impossible to tell if they're fair," the executive director of the Consumer Federation of America said. "It makes it very difficult for consumers to comparison-shop and understand the full price of the products that they're buying."

Broadcom co-founder Henry Samueli pled guilty to lying to the Securities and Exchange Commission as the regulator investigated stock-option backdating at the chip-making firm.

Congressional investigators have discovered that the American ambassador to Albania knew evidence of the Chinese origins of ammunition was removed before it was shipped by a U.S. contractor to Afghanistan. The ambassador apparently supported a plan by the Albanian defense minister to hide boxes of the Chinese ammunition from a NYT reporter, even though U.S. law prohibits trading in Chinese arms. According to the whistleblower, "the ambassador agreed that this would alleviate the suspicion of wrongdoing." On Friday, the 22-year-old president of the contractor, AEY Inc., and three others were charged with selling Chinese ammunition that they said was Albanian.

No coverage that a federal appeals court ruled that a prisoner who has been held in Guantanamo for six years should be released, transferred, or given a new military hearing. The court ruled that Huzaifa Parhat, one of 17 ethnic Chinese Uighurs who are being held in Guantanamo, was inappropriately labeled as an enemy combatant. It marks the first time a Guantanamo detainee has successfully challenged his designation as an enemy combatant.

A poll of religious attitudes in the United States found 92 percent of Americans believe in God or a universal spirit and 58 percent say they pray at least once a day. But, we're to believe, most aren't convinced their religion is the only one that can lead to salvation, and the overwhelming majority believe there is more than one way to interpret a religion's teachings. But the one common factor is the belief in God or a higher power, which is shared even by 21 percent of those who said they are atheists. "Americans believe in everything," a sociologist said. "It's a spiritual salad bar." We also lie a lot.

In 1314, this day, Scottish forces led by Robert the Bruce won over Edward II of England at the Battle of Bannockburn in Scotland. "You bled with Wallace.  Will ye bleed with me?"

In 1374, a sudden outbreak of Dancing Mania (aka "St. John's Dance") sent people into the streets of Aix-la-Chapelle, Prussia, where they experience terrible hallucinations and begin to jump and twitch uncontrollably until they collapse from exhaustion. Many of the sufferers are afflicted with frothing at the mouth, diabolical screaming, and sexual frenzy. The phenomenon lasts well into the month of July. Nowadays, ergot madness is suspected as being the ultimate cause of the disorder. That, and live in 14th century Prussia bit the big one.

In 1497, Italian explorer John Cabot, sailing in the service of Henry VII of England, landed in North America on what is now Newfoundland and claimed it.  He was given change for handing North America to the crown. Twelve years later, the more grateful Henry VIII was crowned King of England, but nothing more for Cabot's family.

In 1675, King Philip's War began when Indians massacre colonists at Swansee, a Plymouth colony. This war nearly saw all Brits killed in New England, a scenario that would have inspired much more anti-European violence except for the fact Indians hated each other more.

In 1910, this day, the Japanese army invaded Korea. Hell ensued, and Koreans hate Japan more than China, which is saying something.

In 1948, the Soviet Union began the Berlin Blockade.

This day in 1964, the Federal Trade Commission announced that starting in 1965, cigarette manufactures would be required to include warnings on their packaging about the harmful effects of smoking.

In 1970, the U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly to repeal the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. But they still allow wars without Congressional Declaration, as law requires.

In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that juries, not judges, must make the decision to give a convicted killer the death penalty. That day, a painting from Monet's Waterlilies series sold for $20.2 million. I'm pretty sure this is the one above, done in 1908, but there are so many.  The one on the cover is stunning.  Hell, they all are. Rich enough, I'd have no issue with spending that amount for a Monet.

2003 - In Paris, France, manuscripts by novelist Georges Simenon brought in $325,579. The original manuscript of "La Mort de Belle" raised $81,705.

Monday, June 23, 2008

"I've unfortunately been to too many disasters as president." Something you share with all of us, Mr. President, since your election. People stupidly elected you and deserved it all. So when GOP members looking for an easy scapegoat say "Republicans say [Karl] Rove is the architect....He's the architect of our demise" they're being sleazy.  Bush sold the Reagan image of the third rates as our heroes, and they are not. I hope that lesson needs no repeating.

Comedian George Carlin died of heart failure yesterday. Throughout his career, Carlin tried to push boundaries and was probably best-known for his routine called "The Seven Words You Can Never Say on TV," which exemplified how he came to be known as "the dean of counterculture comedians." The "Seven Words" routine got him arrested in 1972 and even led to a 1978 Supreme Court ruling that said the government has the power to police offensive language if children might be listening. Carlin wasn't as outside the mainstream as he's credited.  His genius was in creating that illusion and making folks believe it, and a lot of Americans really like to play the rebel, but shudder from paying the penalty.  Carlin knew us clear through.

"I think it is the duty of the comedian to find out where the line is drawn and cross it deliberately," Carlin once said. He was 71 and had a history of heart trouble.  He was one of the greats, and he is missed every time art chickens out.  

Africa gets the big story space, but it's bad news as ever. First, though, I want to point out that my once friend and roommate Jan Mitchell is running a pretty nifty charity for kids in Africa, and she took the photo on the cover.   The little boy was defective at birth and therefore evil and left to die but was saved.  He's learning to walk, and that tongue and determination will make the difference.  Kindness, International, people.

Now to the horror.

Zimbabwe's opposition leader announced that he would pull out of the presidential runoff election scheduled for Friday due to the rising levels of violence. Morgan Tsvangirai said he could no longer ask his supporters to risk their lives "for the sake of power." Violence has been escalating as President Robert Mugabe's supporters have been stepping up their efforts to kill and intimidate opposition activists under the ruling party's new slogan: "WW—Win or War." The opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, says that at least 86 of its supporters have been killed and thousands more have been injured. "We will not be part of that war," Tsvangirai said.

The LAT talked to an official from Zimbabwe's ruling party who made it clear that just because Tsvangirai plans to drop out of the election (he has to put it in writing to make it official) doesn't mean the violence will automatically end and warned that the crackdown would intensify if opposition supporters decide to protest. The NYT notes that Tsvangirai's decision "seems intended to force Zimbabwe's neighbors to take a stand." There is a growing sense of frustration inside Zimabawe's opposition about the reluctance of South Africa, along with other African nations, to condemn Mugabe's tactics.

The WSJ says that although it's evident that there's "growing international impatience with the Mugabe regime," it's unclear whether it "would translate into any concrete steps." The United States and Britain want the United Nations Security Council to discuss the issue, a move South Africa has long opposed. The WSJ points out the opposition wants foreign leaders to support a transitional government that would take over Zimbabwe until fair elections can be held. But, of course, it's quite unlikely that Mugabe would agree to such a plan, seeing as though he has made it clear that he would not hand power to the opposition, no matter the results of the election.

The WP fronts a look at al-Hurra, the Arab-language television network that was founded by the Bush administration to improve the image of the United States in the Middle East and promote democracy. Around $350 million in taxpayer money has been plunged into a project that has been, for all intents and purposes, a flop. Al-Hurra has been plagued with problems from the start, partly due to the fact that many of its top executives had no experience in the TV business and couldn't speak Arabic. Think about that.

But ultimately, critics say the whole idea that a network could play the same role as Radio Free Europe did during the Cold War was ill-conceived. As opposed to those who lived behind the Iron Curtain, residents of the Arab world have plenty of choices due to the high proliferation of satellite dishes, and al-Hurra's programming, which is widely described as mediocre, has never found an audience. Coincidentally (or not?), ProPublica and 60 Minutes released the extensive results of a joint investigation into al-Hurra and its partner radio station last night and say that the network's "four years of operation have been marked by a string of broadcast disasters that government officials believe are as negative as anything aired by Al Jazeera." Another Bush triumph.

USA Today says there's been an almost 90 percent decrease in deaths caused by roadside bomb attacks in Iraq. Military leaders say this is due to a variety of factors, including new armored vehicles, more assistance from Iraqi security forces, and enhanced methods of surveillance.

Unsurprisingly, Barack Obama wants to get a record number of black voters to go to the polls in November as part of his strategy to win five key battleground states. Aides have identified "a gold mine" of new voters and will target them with the help of Obama's deep pockets and sophisticated techniques that were critical to Bush's victories in several crucial swing states. But strategists insist he has to play a delicate balancing act in order to avoid the appearance that he's "exploiting race or running solely as a black candidate," which could hurt his chances with white, working-class voters who didn't support him in the primaries.

The NYT looks at Obama's close ties to domestic ethanol producers. The presumptive nominee represents the country's second largest corn-producing state, so it's hardly a secret that he's a big supporter of ethanol as an alternative fuel. Today, the NYT notes that several of his advisers and biggest supporters have close ties to the ethanol industry. Obama's campaign insists the presumptive nominee's views have nothing to do with where he's from or any pressure from special interests. But the NYT points out that the presumptive nominee is against removing the tariffs on Brazilian ethanol that is made from sugar cane even though it is much more efficient. Instead, Obama favors awarding subsidies to farmers and imposing the tax on imports so the United States can build "energy independence."

In history, this day in 1757, the remarkable Robert Clive defeated the Indians at Plassey and won control of Bengal. With a few hundred men.  Learning how to play people against each other was a British tool, and it worked well.

In 1934, Italy gained the right to colonize Albania after defeating the country.

In 1964, Henry Cabot Lodge resigned as the U.S. envoy to Vietnam and was succeeded by Maxwell Taylor. He later was Goldwater's VP candidate.

This day in 1964, a burned car of three civil rights workers was found, prompting the FBI to begin a search. The young men had been missing since June 21, and their bodies were found on August 4.

Treason.  In 1972, this day, President Nixon and White House chief of staff H.R. Haldeman discussed a plan to use the CIA to obstruct the FBI's Watergate investigation. That's why, kids.

The remarkable Betty Shabazz, the widow of Malcolm X, died in New York of burns suffered in a fire set by her 12-year old grandson. She was 61 at her passing in 1997.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

More great CU football news as two former students and players are arrested for armed robberies here in Boulder.  They hark back to the former coach, of course, but it still looks bad. The New York Times has the most detailed look inside the CIA's interrogation program ever released. They tell the story of Deuce Martinez, an unlikely CIA interrogator who helped break al-Qaida masterminds Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. It details the role of secret Polish prisons, "enhanced interrogation techniques," and counter-narcotics technology in the post-9/11 scramble to prevent new attacks. The piece is agnostic on the utility of water-boarding and says the CIA determined the location for overseas prisons "based largely on which foreign intelligence officials were most accommodating."

The Washington Post says three in 10 Americans are admittedly racist—but a higher percentage is ageist. A WP/ABC poll says 30 percent of white Americans and 34 percent of black Americans admit they're racist, which I believe proves more whites lie. The paper says that this presents a challenge for Barack Obama, but it notes that about twice as many people have qualms about John McCain's age.

The Los Angeles Times leads with a Friedmanesque look at how the falling dollar has affected people across the globe. The dollar is rearranging the global economy as it falls. Companies that rely on exports to the U.S., like Chinese T-shirt makers and Indian outsourcers, are feeling the pinch. The LAT has a wide-ranging look at the misery—plus a cool interactive feature.

There's a new threat to the financial system. As the economy weakens, consumers are failing to repay their business and car loans in record numbers—posing risks to smaller, regional banks that stayed out of subprime lending.

The NYT says the Midwest flooding wouldn't be so bad if we'd acted on a 1994 Clinton administration report. After a devastating 1993 flood, it recommended replacing the administrative patchwork that governs Mississippi River levees with oversight by the Army Corps of Engineers. That never happened, and we're paying the price. The LAT fronts a look at the flooding's economic impact. Some analysts think it will be as bad as 1993 and contribute to the global food crisis. But others think flooded farms will rebound quickly if the next few months remain dry.

Of course, we won't starve in our 'crisis.' The NYT reports on an agriculture crisis in India. The country could be the world's second-largest food exporter, but poor policy choices and systematic underinvestment have turned it into something of a bread-basketcase.

Barack Obama's plan to mount a massive national campaign, something John Kerry couldn't do in 2004 because he didn't have enough money, is making the GOP very, very nervous. By the end of June, Obama will have paid staff members in all 50 states—and his ad campaign will grow "well beyond" his current 18-state buy.

Ah, hah! The LAT asks questions about Cindy McCain's beer empire. She's the chairwoman and majority private stockholder of a major beer wholesaler that often lobbies the government, and she hasn't explained how she'd solve the conflict of interest as First Lady.

More Third World horror. Robert Mugabe's election crackdown before the runoff in Zimbabwe gets needed coverage to dubious effect.. His party insists it's a war, not an election, in which "all state resources at our disposal" will be employed in "the final battle for total control." They've launched a killing spree against opposition activists and they're herding voters into "re-education" meetings. The LAT goes inside with rough casualty numbers.

Good. Britain has set up a special office to stop Pakistani parents in the U.K. from forcing their children into arranged marriages. It's common for traditional parents to send their kids to Pakistan, where they're married off, often literally at gunpoint. But Her Majesty's Government thinks the practice is a human-rights offense, and it's interceding on behalf of the kids.

In history, this day in 1611, English explorer Henry Hudson, his son and several other people were set adrift in present-day Hudson Bay by mutineers. Never seen again, although Indians accepted children easy enough.

This day in 1772, slavery was outlawed in England.

In 1870, the U.S. Congress created the Department of Justice. Finally.

This day in 1933, Germany became a one political party country when Hitler banned parties other than the Nazis.

This day in 1942, a Japanese submarine shelled Fort Stevens at the mouth of the Columbia River.

Remembering the Bonus Army, in 1944 Roosevelt signed the "GI Bill of Rights" to provide broad benefits for veterans of the war. A year to the day later, the battle for Okinawa officially ended after 81 days.

In 1964, apparently after someone read it, the U.S. Supreme Court voted that Henry Miller’s book, "Tropic of Cancer", could not be banned.

In 1970, Nixon signed the 26th amendment, lowering the voting age to 18.

In 1977, John N. Mitchell became the first former U.S. Attorney General to go to prison as he began serving a sentence for his role in the Watergate cover-up. He served 19 months.

In 1978, James W. Christy and Robert S. Harrington discovered the only known moon of Pluto. The moon is named Charon, but Pluto is inexplicably no longer a planet, despite a moon, rotation, being round.

This day in 1999, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that persons with remediable handicaps cannot claim discrimination in employment under the Americans with Disability Act.

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