Monday, April 30

The Bank: With Paul Wolfowitz

The Office meets Paul Wolfowitz

Boomers Busy Going Bust


Pity the Poor Baby Boomer. Americans over the age of 55 are filing for bankruptcy at a faster rate than the general population as growing mortgage debt and higher health care costs make them more vulnerable, a new study shows.

The trend of rising bankruptcies among older Americans is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, according to the study’s authors, John Golmant and Tom Ulrich, researchers at the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.

They found that the aging of the population alone does not account for the rise in older filers and that “bankruptcy courts can anticipate an influx of new bankruptcy petitions as the baby boom generation continues to age.”

Senior researcher Jose Garcia, who examines consumer finance trends at New York-based Demos, said rising costs for housing and health care, especially prescription drugs, have made older Americans more dependent on credit. This, in turn, makes them more vulnerable to financial rough spots.
“We see general trends that will definitely impact coming generations,” Garcia said.

The steepest increase in Chapter 7 filings occurred among people older than 55.

Golmant and Ulrich also found that the median age of those filing for bankruptcy rose to 41.4 in 2002, up from 37.7 in 1994.

The youngest Americans, meanwhile, had a drop in filings, with 4 percent of Americans under the age of 25 filing for protection from creditors in 2002. That fell from 11 percent in 1994.

The Rule of Law: Every Thing About It Is Appealing

Court Rules Against Iowa Cities Over Franchise Fees

A Scott County, Iowa, judge ruled that the cities of Davenport and Bettendorf are illegally handling the franchise fees they collect.Those cities have been placing the fees they collect from cable customers, via their cable operator, in city general funds. The judge ruled that if there is money collected beyond the cost to inspect, license, supervise or otherwise regulate cable, then the overage represents a tax levy, a category forbidden by state law.

The ruling by Judge Patrick Madden follows the rationale by the state Supreme Court, which last May reversed a partial judgment by a trial court and sent a consumer challenge over excessive gas and electric utility franchise fees back to the lower court for trial. The tax interpretations in that trial also apply to the cable assessments, according to Madden.

Citizens in seven Iowa towns sued last September over the amount of franchise fees.

Just a guess, but I would think Davenport and Bettendorf city attorney offices are planning an appeal.

It's a New Dawn: Pettengill Crosses Over

From the Gazette

State Rep. Dawn Pettengill, D-Mount Auburn, today announced she is switching political parties to join the Iowa House Republican minority caucus."I think it'll be a better fit here," Pettengill told a Statehouse news conference where she was joined by House GOP Leader Christopher Rants of Sioux City. "I'm very happy about it."

Pettengill, a second-term representative from Benton County, had been at odds with Democrats through much of the just-concluded 2007 session. Most notably, she was a ``no'' vote on Democratic priorities including union-backed fair share legislation, raising cigarette taxes and extending civil rights protections to gays and lesbians.

"There's a lot of issues that didn't match the conservative bent of Benton County," she said in officially crossing to the Republican side of the side. "They didn't send me here to be a rubber stamp for anyone."

Pettengill becomes the second member of the House GOP caucus to have switched party affiliations. Rep. Doug Struyk, R-Council Bluffs, switched from being a Democrat to becoming a Republican in March 2004.

Also see What Iowa Progress has to say. And Essential Estrogen

It makes one pause to wonder why Rep. Pettengill didn't declare herself an Independent?

At the Center of the Tenet-tive Truth

I will not buy George Tenet's book, nor do I suggest anyone else buy it either. Rather, as was portrayed in the biopic "The Hoax" about author Clifford Irving, his book should be burned--preferably in front of the White House.

George Tenet is the worst kind of public servant. He knew the truth about Iraq and he chose to keep his job instead. Watching him on "60 Minutes" last night, I realized that he is the most twisted kind of government lackey--he refuses to be accountable for his actions.

If any other person had been complicit of treasonous acts in the way Tenet has been, we would wish that person to be imprisoned for life without the means to profit from his/her crimes.

What treasonous acts you say? Forget the "slam-dunk" thing--that is the least of our worries. He sat behind Secretary of State Colin Powell at the UN while Sec. Powell told the world community we had overwhelming evidence that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and biological and chemical weapons. He was responsible for allowing the President to say in the State of the Union Address that "The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa" because he didn't personaaly vet the address. He stated that on September 12 he was surprised to hear that Iraq was being implicated for the events of 9/11.

Hey, George Tenet, it's your nation calling, we want your Presidential Medal of Freedom back.

Political Analogies Rove is to Bush as Penn is to Clinton?

Does Hillary Clinton have a political strategist that Karl Rove would approve of? The Washington Post offers up this interesting food for thought about Mark Penn.

"His client list includes prominent backers of the Iraq war, particularly Lieberman, whose presidential campaign Penn helped run in 2004, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose campaign he advised when Blair won a historic third term in 2005.

Penn sounds a defensive note about his work for Lieberman, insisting that the senator, who all but broke with his party last year over the war in Iraq, bears no relation to his current client. "The war went south, and Lieberman went very north on the war," Penn said in a recent interview in his office. He quickly added: "There's zero comparison between where Senator Lieberman is on the war and Senator Clinton.""

"Wolf" At or Out the Door?

From BBC: Wolfowitz to face Bank directors

Oxfam is the latest body to call for Mr Wolfowitz's resignation Embattled World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz is to fight for his job in front of a panel of bank directors.

Mr Wolfowitz will defend himself against accusations that he pushed through a huge pay package for his girlfriend without the Bank's consent. The committee will then report to the Bank's 24 representatives, who will decide on the president's fate.

Mr Wolfowitz has apologised for his actions, vowing to stay on to complete what he called "important work". But a growing army of voices, including his own colleagues and the European Parliament, are calling for Mr Wolfowitz' resignation amid escalating concern the scandal embroiling the former Pentagon number two is damaging the credibility of the global lender.

Reuters adds

World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz said on Monday he would not resign in the "face of a plainly bogus charge of conflict of interest" against him over a promotion he directed for his girlfriend at the bank.

In a statement to a special bank panel looking into whether the former deputy U.S. defense secretary abused ethical and other rules by approving the promotion, Wolfowitz said he was a victim of a "smear campaign" to oust him.

"I do not believe that doing so would serve the interests of the world's poor who are suppose to be the first concern of us all," Wolfowitz said.

Rod Sullivan's Take on the Legislative Session

From progressive Johnson County Supervisor Rod Sullivan who wrote in "Sullivan Salvos"--which are his views and do not represent the JC BOS:

"The Legislative session has come to an end. One can argue that it wasthe best session of my lifetime! Of course, this is the first time in my lifetime the Democratic Party has controlled all three branches of State government. The list of accomplishments from 2007 is really tremendous!
1. Passing Civil Rights protections for gays and lesbians.
2. Reforming election laws to allow Election Day Registration.
3. Raising the state's minimum wage.
4. Lifting restrictions on stem-cell research.
5. Expanding access to affordable health care for all Iowans.
6. Increasing teacher pay to at least 25th in the nation.
7. Boosting basic school funding, expanding the early childhood efforts, and making higher education more affordable.
8. Passing the Safe Schools initiative.
9. Cracking down on car-title loans and other predatory lenders.
10. Raising the tobacco tax and discouraging smoking.

These are great accomplishments, and Democrats deserve praise for this outstanding work! Democrats finally set the agenda, and get full credit forthe list above.

Yes, there are a few black eyes, and they are significant: the flag desecration legislation is an embarrassment, and labor issues were a major disappointment. I had hoped that the ill-conceived 2000-foot rule would be repealed. Mental Health parity is still very limited. Failing to takeCongrats and thanks to Johnson County House members Mary Mascher, Vicki Lensing, Dave Jacoby, and up Voter Owned Iowa Clean Elections (VOICE) was a missed opportunity. More should have been done on the environment. The session was very good, but it SHOULD be very good. We (the voters) gave the Legislature the makeup they wanted and needed. Luckily, we got several major issues out of the way in 2007. Hopefully we can make progress on the things left undone in 2008. It is very doubtful, though ­ we are now in an election year. And little happens in election years. Still, we had the best session Iowa has seen since 1965. The session will have long lasting positive effects. Ever since I first got involved in politics, people have spoken of Harold Hughes and 1965. I think 2007 may endup being viewed in the same light. So 2007 is historic! Ro Foege, and Senators Bob Dvorsky, Joe Bolkcom, and Becky Schmitz!"

Thanks Rod--and thank you for helping to get a county human rights ordinance passed under your watch!

Tales of the Reconstruction

According to the BBC Iraq reconstruction 'not working'

Baghdad airport
Even flagship projects like Baghdad airport are not functioning properly
Six out of eight Iraqi reconstruction projects hailed as successes by the US government are in fact failures, a US federal investigation has found.

The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (Sigir) examined works including a hospital, a barracks and Baghdad international airport.

Blaming ongoing unrest and spiralling corruption they said most were falling apart within as little as six months.

Faulty plumbing and wiring and looting have reportedly worsened the situation.

Corruption amongst Iraqi officials is cited as one of the main causes for the chaos.

According to the report $5bn is lost annually to the fraud and abuse which "afflicts virtually every Iraqi ministry", particularly the oil, interior and defence ministries.

Rise in violence

It also said that the continuing violence gripping Iraq was severely jeopardising the building and maintaining of facilities.

The US defence department says there are on average 1.4 attacks on critical electricity, water, oil and gas facilities each week.

And in addition "repair teams sent in after attacks continue to face threats, including kidnapping and murder," the Sigir report says.

- In a separate development, an annual state department report on global terrorism said that 45% of terror attacks around the world in 2006 took place in Iraq.

- The report said that worldwide there were 14,338 attacks, not including attacks on US troops in Iraq, a rise of 29% on the previous year.

- Five US soldiers were killed in Iraq at the weekend, the military says, making April one of the deadliest months since 2003 with over 100 US military deaths.

North Liberty - Curious and Curiouser

The Press-Citizen opines

The issue

• The North Liberty City Council appointed Tom Salm to fill the absence left after Mayor Dave Franker recently resigned; city voters go to the polls on June 12 to decide whether to change the form of city government to a ward system.
We suggest
• With no pressing, practical need to change their form of government, residents of this small but growing city should vote against the proposed changes.

I have a fundamental question: Who benefits from the change in NL's government? Not taxpayers of North Liberty because they will be paying the extra salary.

May 1st - Walk Out on War

There is only one way to end this war. Walk out on it.

Sunday, April 29

Legislative Session Ends - How Did It Go?

For the record, state legislators don't get rich by being public servants. On the other hand, it's a certainly above the living wage.

For calendar years 2007 and 2008, unless modified, legislators are paid an annual salary as follows:
Members $25,000
President of the Senate $37,500
President Pro Tempore $27,000
Speaker $37,500
Speaker Pro Tempore $27,000
Senate Majority Leader $37,500
Senate Minority Leader $37,500
House Majority Leader $37,500
House Minority Leader $37,500

State Legislators receive a $118 a day stipend while the legislature is in session. After 110 days, the stipend ends. Saturday, the stipend ended and with it the budget work of the legislators. This is exclusive of travel expenses which ballpark between $11,000 to 13, 500 a year. Then there is $300 a month for for legislative district constituency postage, travel, telephone costs, and other expenses. Legislators may enroll in the state health and disability insurance programs at the same rate as a full-time state employee.

So here is my report card on these fine women and men who earn between $50,180 and $65,180 a year to serve us.

+++ Anti-gouging legislation around payday and car title loans. As more middle class people are experiencing the effects of mortgage lending practices that are less than exemplary, this legislation addresses unfair business practices aimed at the poor. 280% interest on a loan is unconscionable, it needed to be addressed and with the Dems in control, it was. Grade: A +

+++ The anti-discrimination bill and anti-bullying bill are great legislation and the legislature should be commended for putting aside partisanship to address inequities in our state. Iowa will become the 19th U.S. state to ban workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and the 10th to ban discrimination on the basis of gender identity. It still comes down to the local level to enforce the law, but it is important that these tools are there. Grade: A

++ Same Day Voter Registration and verified voting bills- Anything that makes it possible for a person to vote is aces in my book. Evidence in other states that use it show that it does not increase voter fraud and actually gets more people to the polls. Good job legislators. In the final hours, the house also passed a verified voting bill that will help to make sure every vote is counted. Grade A

+ Increasing the state minimum wage is half a victory because future increases are not tied to cost of living factors--translated this could mean another 10 years before the minimum wage increases. A living wage should always be the goal because the end result is less dependence on our state tax base to take care of the basic needs of its citizens. Employers feel picked on when it pushed on them, but in the end everybody wins when people have more disposable income to spend. Grade: B

+ Raising teacher salaries was victory, but whether it will be enough to encourage more Iowans to become teachers to address the baby-boomer retirements that are just down the road remains to be seen. Teachers definitely deserve the increase and, again, these increases should be attached to cost of living factors. Grade: B

+ Keg Registration is a good tool to bring in accountability on those who purchase beer or underage persons. In Iowa City we have more than our share of house parties and given the incidence of rape and other assaults that occur, this may help. Grade: B

= + The cigarette tax increase may be a good tool, but I'm skeptical as to how the taxes will be used over time. South Dakota reports that at $1.53 per pack, cigarette sales are declining but revenue is increasing. It is logical to believe that the same will be true fro Iowa in the short-run. So-called "sin taxes" are low hanging fruit, but unless they address the "sins"--it is ill gotten gain to the state coffers. Grade: C +

= - Some in the progressive community may disagree with me on this point, but the $100 million fund to "grow our bio-economy, create new jobs and help make Iowa the renewable energy capital of the world" may be a boondoogle, particularly if it ends up mainly supporting the likes of ADM, Mid-American and Alliant Energy. The make up of the 18 member board (7 voting members appointed by the governor and 4 by the Iowa Utilities Board, with a separate seven-member board will monitor applications for funding projects under the plan, with Republican and Democratic lawmakers serving as non-voting members to provide oversight.) and will steer this ship and it will be very interesting to see who is named to the board--think Board of Regents and you can see how this could be a mess.

Had this legislation specifically promoted research and business start-ups in Iowa, it would be a very exciting prospect. Our state universities could benefit from this project, as could the state economy. According to Chet Culver's campaign promise "Iowa Power Fund will require that that the jobs created provide good wages and good benefits and that any company that misuses Iowa Power Funds or doesn’t provide the jobs promised will have to pay taxpayers back with penalties and interest." We'll see. Grade: C

- - Economic Development around removing the requirement that casinos be located on water. Casinos are BAD for any state's economy for two important reasons: 1) Regardless of the income the state derives from the casinos, localities ALWAYS suffer in the long run a) because the temptation to open more and more casinos reduces local impact b) the cost of human services to people with gambling and other addictions is VERY expensive. 2) Local development is hampered by citizens who use their disposable income to gamble as opposed to invest in their community, hence putting more control in the hands of the state for economic development dollars, hence politicizing who gets what and how. Grade: F

Legislation that didn't happen but should have:

* As expected VOICE was not passed in this session. This legislation should be a top priority for the next session, particularly as we move toward the 2008 elections. In short, Voter Owned Iowa Clean Elections will lessen the impact of special interest dollars and more importantly level the playing field so that more Iowans can be involved in state-level politics.

Many Democrats who now run all three legislative branches of the state government have supported this when they were the minority party, but a trifecta tends to lead to short term memory.

* Fair Share legislation. Probably one of the most divisive pieces of legislature, but needed, given the desire to quash union-representation. On the other hand, unions have got to earn their keep. In a "Right to Work" states, without Fair Share all workers to accrue the same benefits as their union counterparts without taking on the risk, which is part of what paying dues supports. No doubt this will come up again.

* Rental Deposit legislation. For low-income renters, the ability to recoup their deposits in a timely fashion can be the difference between having a place to live and being homeless, this legislation should come up in the next session.

* Funding housing trust funds through a portion real estate transaction fees. To establish a steady funding stream for local housing trust funds to finance low-income affordable rental and owner-occupied housing, this bill needs to be enacted soon. It makes sense to have affordable housing options that allow families to be stable (which translates to stabilityin the workforce, higher achievement for children in schools, and safer neighborhoods) and this a tool to accomplish the goal.

* Universal Health Care. This is a a piece of legislation that matters both to employers and the uninsured. It is also a big ticket item. Employers looking for places to locate look favorably on states with state-run programs, particularly those who are unionized. It is also true that as Iowa already has one of the oldest populations, it is important to bring and/or keep young Iowans in the state and great health care is important to that goal.

* Clean Water. the Iowa River is the 3rd most endangered waterway in North America. But polluted waterways hinder Iowa's agricultural future. No clean water, no agriculture.

The advocacy group, American River, released the report, which cited toxins, nitrates and untreated sewage as the reasons for the pollution which put the Iowa River on the list. It's the first time an Iowa river was included on the list.

Susan Heathcote, water program director for the Iowa Environmental Council, said about 98 miles of the Iowa River is impaired. "It's our namesake river," she said. "We're not necessarily saying it's the most polluted river in the state, but it's emblematic of so many of Iowa's rivers."

Friday, April 27

This is What Democracy Looks Like

A story not too many people in the Johnson County area have heard about, including me, is that of Judith Pedersen-Benn. She is an example of what the power of conviction can mean--literally and figuratively. My thanks to Mona at The School for Moral Courage.

Cedar Rapids Peace Activist Judith Pedersen-Benn appeared in the Linn Co. Court House in Cedar Rapids IA Thursday April 26 and plead guilty to the charge of trespass. Pedersen-Benn was arrested in Democratic Congressman Loebsack's CedarRapids Office March 16 while petitioning him to live up to his campaign promise to end the war in Iraq and not vote to continue tofund the war.

Magistrate Judge Jill Ableidinger, the same Judge who earlier preside over the trial of the CR11 accepted Judith's guilty plea and sentencedher to the lowest fine possible under the statute.

About her trial, Judith wrote, "My court appearance today went well. I wore a shirt with Howard Zinn's quote about embodying democracy on it. Interestingly the Judge I had was the same one you all had. She was most sympathetic. I pleaded guilty and she fined me the minimum amount (and said she could not dismiss the fine due to a law prohibiting that). The DA came over to me afterwards and thanked me for my action and told me she admired me for protesting and then pleading guilty. So, all in all it was a GOOD DAY! I'll have to pay $200 in court costs and the fees but I'm feeling like its my contribution toSociety."

Below is a copy of Judith's statement before the Judge at sentencing:

"If I do not act to hold my Representative accountable then I have no claim to Democracy. Democracy exists only when We the People stand up; speak out; and take action. I am proud to have done my part to build and sustain our Democracy by trying to hold Representative Loebsack accountable for his campaign promise to end the war in Iraq. And I encourage others to follow in my footsteps. This IS what Democracy looks like."

Gravel-tis and other Dem Vignettes from South Carolina

This is what is great about being a "lower tier" candidate.

Obama and Kucinich Square Off

Biden His Time

First 9 minutes of Debate - 4 minutes of promoting South Carolina, MSNBC promotion, Iraq

Last Six Minutes (Moral Leadership, Nuke Proliferation, Wal-Mart, Happy Talk)

The whole thing is at MSNBC

Friday - War Protest in Iowa City

Taking a page out of Emma Goldman's philosophy, I will be again joining the ever increasing throng on the corner of Washington and Clinton Streets this evening between 5:15 and 5:45 and, weather permitting, will strap on the guitar for some rousing protest songs--which can be construed as disturbing the peace by those who have heard me sing (my version of "If I can't dance, I don't want to join your revolution.") --so if you feel like raising your voice and you happen to be in Iowa City tonight and every Friday until our better nature wills out--come out--all it will cost you is your dignity.

Peace In

P.S. May 1st

Thursday, April 26

Karin Franklin to Retire

The Gazette Reports

Karin Franklin, Iowa City's planning and community development director, will retire in late June, City Manager Steve Atkins said today. Franklin, who is in her early 60s, has worked for the city since 1981 and is paid $108,264 a year. She was out of the office this morning and unavailable for comment.

Atkins said Franklin's retirement leaves a ``big hole'' to fill. The city will begin the recruitment process soon, he said.

Comment: Perhaps she is angling for North Liberty's city manager position?

Focusing on North Liberty: Strange Days Indeed

From Wednesday's Press-Citizen

"With a mayor now in place, North Liberty's government still faces an unpredictable future. A special election June 12, propelled by a petition signed by 327 residents, will decide if the city keeps its current form of government or adopts a council-manager-ward system.

The council currently has five at-large members and one non-voting mayor. If favored by a majority of voters, the city will be divided into four wards with a council made of one voting mayor and six council members. One council member would be elected from each ward, two would be voted at-large and one at-large mayor brings the total number of seats to seven."

But there is more to this story

If passed with a "yes" vote in June, it would mean that the 4 year terms of James Wozniak and Gerry Kuhl, set to end December 2009, would end this November, 2 years earlier than what the voters intended when they elected them in the 2005 election. Given current events, the only question is this punishment or reward?

It would also mean that James Moody and Matt Bahl, whose terms will end this December, may run for re-election and hope to be elected in their own wards rather than face the entire electorate, a prospect they may not relish given their support of the mayoral lawsuit and their no votes on transit and the Clear Creek-Amana school.

In the mean time, Tom Salm will have a couple months to try out being mayor and be in the unenviable role of trying to keep the canvass on this circus.

Who says there is no partisanship to non-partisan politics.

Panda Cub To Stay As Guest Worker

Yahoo news reports

Chinese officials on Tuesday granted Tai Shan, the National Zoo's popular giant panda cub, an extra two years at the Smithsonian Institution park with his parents.

Under a panda loan agreement with China, any cub born at the National Zoo would be returned for breeding sometime after its second birthday. Tai Shan turns 2 on July 9 but will remain with his mother Mei Xiang and father Tian Tian at least until 2009.

Chinese Ambassador Zhou Wenzhong presented the zoo with a giant green laminated passport to extend Tai Shan's stay.

The zoo's agreement is to give the Chinese government $10 million to keep the adult pandas over 10 years since their arrival in 2000. John Gibbons, a National Zoo spokesman, said that the zoo agreed to pay an additional $600,000 for any cubs born to the pair. The money goes to panda conservation efforts in China. The zoo was not charged any more to extend Tai Shan's stay.

An estimated 2.25 million visitors have gone to the zoo to see the cub since his public debut in December 2005.

Tongue-in-cheek Comment: Perhaps we need legislation to allow the US to pay foreign governments for workers like Tai Shan that possess special skills like entertainment, processing livestock, harvesting crops, and child care.

(Less Than) Fifteen Minutes of Fame

While most American voters are not tuned in, for some Democrats running for President, tonight's debate in the palmetto state, South Carolina, may be their first and only chance to make a good impression on the red meat-seeking press.

The media plays a powerful role before the first vote is cast to shed light on the candidates who can only shine if the get coverage. As the 2004 campaign reflected, that glaring light comes with a price. Ask Howard Dean.

But for candidates like Mike Gravel, Dennis Kucinich, and Chris Dodd, this is one of the few opportunities they get to be on an equal footing with John Edwards, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton. If they do well, Bill Richardson and Joe Biden may become the odd men out, as they are seen neither as cellar dwellers or top-tier candidates.

Each candidate will have 11 minutes to make their points---660 seconds to score with a sound-bite or to tumble into also-ran obscurity. Even Andy Warhol would have given them 15 minutes of fame.

House Shows Spine

By a vote of 218 to 208, Rep. Dave Loebsack, his fellow Democrats, and two Republicans passed the supplemental bill which returns to the senate for a vote before going to the White House where it is expected that President Bush will veto it.

From AP

The House last night brushed aside weeks of angry White House rhetoric and veto threats to narrowly approve a $124 billion war spending bill that requires troop withdrawal from Iraq to begin by Oct. 1, with a goal of ending U.S. combat operations there by next March.

"How many more suicide bombs must kill American soldiers before this president offers a timeline for our troops to come home?" asked Rep. Patrick J. Murphy (D-Pa.), a freshman Iraq war veteran who lost nine fellow paratroopers this week in one of the deadliest attacks of the war. "How many more military leaders must declare the war will not be won militarily before this president demands that the Iraqis stand up and fight for their country? How many more terrorists will President Bush's foreign policy breed before he focuses a new strategy, a real strategy? This bill says enough is enough."

Iraq: Buying or Bidding Time

From the Washington Post

U.S. military commanders say a key goal of the ongoing security offensive is to buy time for Iraq's leaders to reach political benchmarks that can unite its fractured coalition government and persuade insurgents to stop fighting.

But in pressuring the Iraqis to speed up, U.S. officials are encountering a variety of hurdles: The parliament is riven by personality and sect, and some politicians are abandoning Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government. There is deep mistrust of U.S. intentions, especially among Shiites who see American efforts to bring Sunnis into the political process as an attempt to weaken the Shiites' grip on power.

Many Iraqi politicians view the U.S. pressure as bullying that reminds them they are under occupation. And the security offensive, bolstered by additional U.S. forces, has failed to stop the violence that is widening the sectarian divide.

"The Americans should take into consideration the Iraqi situation and its complications, not just their own internal politics," said Mahmoud Othman, an independent Kurdish legislator.

Ten weeks into the security plan, even as U.S. lawmakers propose timelines for a U.S. troop withdrawal, there has been little or no progress in achieving three key political benchmarks set by the Bush administration: new laws governing the sharing of Iraq's oil resources and allowing many former members of the banned Baath Party to return to their jobs, and amendments to Iraq's constitution. As divisions widen, a bitter, prolonged legislative struggle is hindering prospects for political reconciliation.

Cedar Rapids 11 Verdict On Hold

From the Daily Iowan

The 11 protesters who were arrested outside the Cedar Rapids office of Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, argued Wednesday that they had a constitutional right to remain there until receiving an appropriate response from the senator by either telephone or in person.

Prosecutors contend that the protesters stayed on the premises illegally after-hours and that police gave several warnings for the group to leave during their Feb. 26 sit-in.

Sitting in creaking wooden chairs atop burgundy carpeting, the 11 protesters went on trial on misdemeanor trespassing charges on Wednesday. Instead of individual trials, the group members decided to lump their cases together and plead not guilty.

The prosecution's first witness, U.S. Marshal Timothy Junker, said he saw the protest shortly after it began and stayed until Cedar Rapids police arrested the group nearly three hours later.

"Each took his or her turn calmly going [into Grassley's office] and airing grievances," he said. "But because the senator was in D.C. and there was no way for him to get there by a reasonable time, their request obviously couldn't be met."

Cedar Rapids police Sgt. Timothy Camp pointed out that when he arrived on the scene, roughly 20 people were "peacefully" picketing outside the Federal Building in Cedar Rapids, where Grassley's office is housed. Camp testified that during the arrests, "everybody complied and were very cooperative."

Coming from a domestic-abuse stabbing, Camp said that city police needed to respond to several vehicle accidents that resulted in injuries.

"It was exceedingly busy, and I didn't want this situation to tie us up all day," he said.

Meanwhile, the defense asked to dismiss the criminal charges on the grounds that the prosecution didn't adequately support its case. Also, protesters argued that Grassley did not sufficiently address the group's concerns.

From the Gazette

The atmosphere inside the Linn County Courthouse is almost festive today
where 11 war protesters on trial for misdemeanor trespass charges and a couple of dozen supporters have gathered.

The 11 were arrested Feb. 26 in the federal courthouse, 101 First Ave. SE, just outside of Sen. Grassley's office. They sat in the hallway there waiting to speak about the war to Grassley, who was in Washington, D.C. that day.

U.S. Marshal Timothy Junker testified about the peacefulness of the protestors that afternoon. Protestors were asked to leave the courthouse when it closed to the public at 5 p.m., and while some left, the 11 stayed until Cedar Rapids police arrested them. Two Cedar Rapids police officers testified that the 11 did not resist arrest.

The trial continues at 12:30 p.m. with testimony expected from a few protestors who will speak on behalf of the entire group.

Due to the size of the group, the trial had to be moved to a larger fourth-floor courtroom.

Magistrate Judge Jill Ableidinger may not rule on the cases today, but instead issue a written ruling at a later date.

Updated: Also see The School for Moral Courage Coverage

Saber Rattling?

From the BBC

Russia in defence warning to US

Russian President Vladimir Putin
The speech is Mr Putin's last before he steps down next year
Russia may stop implementing a key defence treaty because of concerns over US plans for a missile shield in Europe, President Vladimir Putin said.

Mr Putin made the threat during his annual address to parliament - which he said would be his last as president.

He also hit out at an influx of foreign money which he said was being used to meddle in Russia's internal affairs.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice dismissed Russian concerns over the missile shield as "ludicrous".

But BBC diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus says Mr Putin's speech marks a significant upping of diplomatic stakes.

The Russian president accused Nato countries of failing to respect the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE), which limits military deployments across the continent.

The treaty was adapted in 1999 after the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, but Nato states have not yet ratified the new version, linking it to the withdrawal of Russian forces from Georgia and Moldova.

Mr Putin accused Nato states of exploiting the situation to increase their military presence near Russia.

He said that the Russian moratorium would continue "until all countries of the world have ratified and started to strictly implement it".

If there was no progress at upcoming talks between Nato and Russia, Russia would "look at the possibility of ceasing our commitments under the CFE treaty", he said.

Wednesday, April 25

An Important Victory for Iowa Civil Rights

I received this just a short time ago from State Representative Vicki Lensing.

Garry –

I hope you have heard that the Civil Rights bill passed the House tonight, 59-37. We have worked toward the passage of this bill for a long time and I am very proud to have been a part of it.

~ Vicki Lensing

Congratulations to the House leadership for taking action! SF 427 extends civil rights protections to gay, lesbian and transgender people in the state to ban discrimination in the workplace and in housing. Also, congratulations in Johnson County to Janelle Rettig and many others in the GLBT community who have worked so hard for so long to accomplish this milestone.

Goodling Gets "Snitch Pass"

From Truthout

A House committee voted Wednesday to grant immunity to Monica Goodling, a key aide to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales during the firings of eight U.S. attorneys. She had refused to testify, invoking her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.

The 32-6 vote by the House Judiciary Committee surpassed the two-thirds majority required to grant a witness immunity from prosecution. A separate vote to authorize a subpoena for Goodling passed by voice vote.

The House panel's action was one of several scheduled committee votes pertaining to subpoenas for Bush administration officials, among them Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, whom lawmakers want to question about the administration's now-discredited claim that Iraq was seeking uranium from Africa - used in part to justify the war against Iraq.

But House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., postponed a vote on issuing a subpoena to former White House chief of staff Andrew Card on the same issue, saying White House Counsel Fred Fielding had made a compromise proposal worth pursuing.

A Kernal of Truth

The state of Iowa is putting a lot of effort into pushing ethanol/E85 with the exuberance of a tweaking meth dealer. According to the Des Moines Register, "a major step in a $100 million plan aimed at boosting Iowa's world standing in renewable fuel production was approved Tuesday by the Iowa House.The idea - one of Gov. Chet Culver's top priorities - would allocate $25 million during each of the next four years to launch more aggressive research and development related to renewable fuel production."

However, according to Motley Fool "even if all of the corn and soybean production in America were dedicated to their [ethanol and biodiesel] production, the country would replace only 12% of gasoline consumption and meet a mere 6% of diesel demand."

"According to a study published last summer in the peer-reviewed Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the environmental benefits of biodiesel are substantially greater than those of ethanol. According to the report, biodiesel provides 93% more net energy per gallon than is required for its production, while ethanol generates only 25% more net energy. The study further suggested that biodiesel, when compared with gasoline, reduced greenhouse emissions by 41%, while ethanol yielded only a 12% reduction. From these viewpoints, it would appear that biodiesel is the clear winner.

If only it were that easy. From a land-use and agricultural-efficiency perspective, ethanol appears to be the better choice. That's because an estimated 420 gallons of ethanol can be produced per acre of corn versus only 60 gallons of biodiesel per acre of soybeans. In more practical terms, this means that if the production of biodiesel were ever to increase greatly, the cost of soybean oil would rise significantly."

What this says is we need other options:

- Other Fuel Options

Again according to Motley Fool we could promote and develop

An alcohol that can be manufactured from sugar beets. But unlike other biofuels, butanol possesses some unique characteristics. For instance, it can be blended with gasoline at higher concentrations and it has the extra added benefit of being able to be distributed via the gasoline industry's existing infrastructure, whereas ethanol can be shipped only by truck or train.

Cellulosic ethanol
The U.S government has recently committed almost $400 million into the research and development of this type of ethanol, which is produced from a variety of biomass, including switchgrass, wood, and even waste. What's so exciting about cellulosic ethanol is that it has the potential to offer a very high net-energy impact. It can also be produced from feedstocks that use little to no fertilizer. These sources are abundant and aren't major sources of food -- and thus won't drive up food prices as we've seen as of late with corn prices. As an added benefit, it's believed that as the technology improves, the amount of ethanol produced per acre can increase significantly. Some experts have estimated that the figure could reach as high as 2,700 gallons per acre by 2030.

In short, cellulosic ethanol may very well have the environmental benefits of biodiesel and the agricultural efficiency of corn ethanol, but it can also potentially bring additional benefits to the table.

- Improved CAFE Standards

Currently the CAFE standard for cars is 27.5 m.p.g.s and . To reduce our demand on imported oil, Sen. Barack Obama recently said that all vehicles would need to approach 43 m.p.g.s.

- Improved Transportation Systems

An investment of highway dollars into retrofitting highway systems to accomodate high speed light rail, tax credits for shuttle vans would pay dividends in encouraging people to give up their cars. Clearly people in dense city centers already know the upside of public transportation, but rapidly growing suburban and exurban areas need to climb on board too.

- Improved Mind Sets

In the US, we subsidize transportation like no other country in the world in terms of tax dollars for building road systems. Transportation accounts for 19 percent of spending by the average household in America - as much as for food and health care combined - and is second only to spending on housing. We have an expectation that transportation should be personal and convenient.*

Our interests in fueling our cars put us in untenable positions to create stability around the oil supply by using military force and tax dollars to prop up governments that are favorable to our position. We reak havoc on the environment in terms of global climate change and create economic models that are unsustainable on a global stage to produce transportation.

By reconsidering how our habits have affected the world, we can use our enormous talents to meet the needs that we all have to get around and do it in a way that is practical. According to the Cato Institute Since 1990, buses and trains total ridership has increased by less than 10 percent. By comparison, urban driving has increased by 42 percent.

* A recent report of consumer spending trends shows "The share of transportation spending devoted to new trucks (a category that includes sport utility vehicles and minivans) climbed from 9 to 14 percent between 2000 and 2003 as the average household boosted its spending on this item by an enormous 51 percent, after adjusting for inflation. In 2003, the average household spent more on new trucks than on new cars, used cars, or used trucks–a reversal of the pattern in 2000. Reasons for the reversal include falling prices for used vehicles because of a market glut and growing consumer preferences for trucks over cars."

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

Source: AP


- The Iraqi government withheld recent casualty figures from the United Nations, fearing they would be used to present a grim picture of Iraq that would undermine the coalition's security efforts, U.N. officials said Wednesday.

Working with its own figures, the U.N. released a new human rights report Wednesday saying that sectarian violence continued to claim the lives of a large number of Iraqi civilians in Sunni Arab and Shiite neighborhoods of Iraq's capital, despite the coalition's new Baghdad security plan. Begun Feb. 14, it has increased U.S. and Iraqi troops levels in the capital.

The Iraqi government quickly responded by calling the U.N. report "inaccurate" and "unbalanced."The U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq report said civilian casualties in the daily violence between Jan. 1 and March 31 remained high, concentrated in and around Baghdad.

Read more:

Cedar Rapids 11 - Update

From the Daily Iowan

Facing trial for a sit-in at the Cedar Rapids office of U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, 11 peace activists vowed at a press conference on Tuesday to step up their efforts to end the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

"I was against this war six months before it started … Iraq was not a threat to us, not a threat at all," UI student-protester David Goodner said. "You hear all of this pride and patriotism and hoo-hah after 9/11, and then you realize it's all a ruse."The protesters include a former Catholic priest, two UI students who served in Iraq, Goodner, five additional UI students, a UI employee, and an Iowa City resident. They were arrested Feb. 26 following a planned event at the Republican senator's Federal Building office in Cedar Rapids; the group pledged not to leave until Grassley, who in days prior had voted to cut off Senate debate on a potential troop pullout, communicated with them by phone.

Grassley, who was traveling most of that day, never called. The activists, charged with simple-misdemeanor criminal trespass, will be tried simultaneously today starting at 9 a.m. in the Linn County Courthouse. The defendants will enter joint not-guilty pleas.

Cities Could Be Affected by Iowa City Charter Challenge

From the CR Gazette

The Iowa Supreme Court will decide in two to three months an Iowa City case the city’s attorney said presents significant home rule issues for cities statewide. The state’s highest court heard arguments in the city’s appeal Tuesday in the case, brought by 21 Iowa City residents who want an election on three proposed amendments to the city’s home rule charter . The court will decide whether the amendments, part of a successful petition drive in 2001, should go to a vote by city residents.

Also, the city has asked the court to rule on the legality of the amendments before any possible election. The court offered little indication of how it might rule. Justice Brent Appel asked all but one of the questions from the seven-justice panel during the 25-minute hearing. He questioned whether state law gave the city power to not forward to voters a petition with the required number of signatures. In 2001, the city did that after a city committee upheld objections to the legality of the amendments. ‘‘When I look at those (state) statutes, I don’t see anything that suggests review for legal sufficiency,’’ Appel said.

City Attorney Eleanor Dilkes argued that a petition’s validity depends, in part, on its legal sufficiency. Appel later asked the plaintiff’s attorney, Bruce Nestor of Minneapolis, why a court shouldn’t rule on the proposals’ legality before an election if citizens may not be aware of its full impact. Nestor said citizens are, in effect, saying they believe the proposal is valid if they pass an amendment. ‘‘That’s worth considering, what citizens themselves believe . . . should be part of their home rule charter ,’’ he said.

One of the amendments in question would require periodic retention votes for the city manager and police chief. Another would make permanent the city’s Police Citizens Review Board. The third would direct Iowa City police to issue citations for non-violent misdemeanors, like public intoxication, instead of making arrests. Appel and Chief Justice Marsha Ternus asked Nestor how the proposal on police practices is a valid charter amendment. Nestor said it was a broad statement of what the community aspires to, not a demand on what police must do day to day.

Charter amendments, by law, must deal with the form of government, not daily operations, Dilkes told the court. The second and third proposed amendments do not do that, she said. If they are permitted, she argued, direct legislation could be made on any topic, even the frequency of trash collection or rental unit inspections. ‘‘Essentially, the election becomes . . . a forum for discussion on any issue,’’ she said. Dilkes said the most important issue before the court is the prior review. Without it, she said, voters would have no confidence their ballots have meaning because whatever they are voting on could be ruled illegal later. The same thing could happen in any city governed by a home rule charter, Dilkes said.

Salm Enchanted Evening

Tom Salm appointed by peers as new mayor of North Liberty

The Press-Citizen reports

The North Liberty City Council has selected one of its own to fill the mayoral seat left by former Mayor Dave Franker.

Councilor Tom Salm unanimously was approved to be the city's new mayor until the term ends in November. Salm, who will be sworn in today, will leave vacant a city council post. Salm abstained from the vote.

"I have the desire to do it, and I know I can do it," Salm said Tuesday at the City Council meeting. "I hope we can get excited and move forward."

Earlier at the meeting councilors voted 4-1, with Matt Bahl opposing, to appoint a mayor rather than handing the decision to voters in a special election.

You Heard It Here First

The Press-Citizen reported today what was reported here on April 14th.

From the P-C: Terry Smith is throwing his hat into the ring for an at-large Iowa City Council post.

Smith, a member of the city's planning and zoning commission and the director of compliance and delivery support for MidAmerican Energy, plans to run in November for the council seat currently being held by Bob Elliott.

Elliott announced in February that he will not seek re-election. The terms for Iowa City Mayor Ross Wilburn and City Council members Regenia Bailey and Dee Vanderhoef also will be up for reelection in November.

"It's the natural step for me to take," said Smith, 45. "I'm excited about the opportunity to take this next step and the support I have seen from others."

Daily Show "Surge" Extravaganza

Bush v. Bush

McCain Interview #1: "The War Was Mismanaged"

McCain Interview #2: "We Are Where We Are"

Tuesday, April 24

Grieving Mother Asks "What is Freedom"?

From the Daily Iowan

Angry residents have submitted a document to the Iowa City City Council demanding that a motor home owned by Maliphone and Patty Sourivong be removed from the couple's 759 Sandusky Drive front yard.

The petition - signed by 19 homeowners - contended that the vehicle is in violation of a city zoning code and called it an "eyesore."

City Manager Steve Atkins said the document was composed by a group of neighbors that believes the ordinance needs to be enforced.

"The petition has no legal standing," he said. "It is just the residents expressing their opinions."

The 24-foot RV previously belonged to the Sourivong's son, Kampha - a specialist in the 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry who was killed in Iraq on Sept. 30, 2006, and posthumously promoted to a sergeant.

"I will fight the city, because my son died for freedom, and if my neighbors would be that heartless and feel that way, then maybe they should move out of the neighborhood," Patty Sourivong said. "What is freedom if I can't park my RV there?"

In February, the motor home parked outside the residence in Iowa City sparked controversy in the neighborhood.

As of Monday, the vehicle remained in the same spot, and residents of Sandusky Drive, such as John Bovey, remained irked about the vehicle's presence.

"I object to its being there, because it is a violation of the city ordinance, and ordinances have to do with the safety and welfare of everybody," he said. "Besides, it is ugly, and it is unsafe for neighbors who are pulling out."

Bovey said he would simply like to see the ordinance enforced as it is all over town.

Atkins said the Sourivongs' lawyer plans to propose possible alternatives for the camper, but he doesn't think the residents will be "in the mood for special accommodations."

Patty Sourivong said when the family asked the city for a code variance, they were told it wouldn't apply to them. As of April 19, she said, she and her lawyer had not seen the neighborhood petition, though others had told her it exists.

While there have been many complaints from neighbors, Patty Sourivong said, she has found some who sympathize with her situation.

"Two ladies brought me flowers and told me they supported me 100 percent," she said.

Support the Cedar Rapids Eleven

From the School for Moral Courage

Press Conference by Eleven Arrested in CR 2/26 at 4:20
Lecture by Kathy Kelly: Militant Pacifism: Lectures on Tactical Activism

Tuesday, April 24, 4:30 p.m.
Peace Center, Iowa City
Old Brick, first floor
26 E. Market St.

The eleven people who were arrested for trespassing, while protesting the Iraq War in Sen. Charles Grassley's office on February 26, will hold a press conference on April 24, at 4:20 p.m. at the Iowa City Peace Center. The group faces trial on April 25 in Linn County.

Those arrested were:

Frank Cordaro, Des Moines
Joshua Casteel, Iowa City
John Paul Hornbeck, Iowa City
David Goodner, Iowa City
Timothy Gauger, Iowa City
Megan Felt, Iowa City
Conor Murphy, Iowa City
Ryan Merz, Iowa City
Justin Riley, Iowa City
Rosemary Persaud, Iowa City
Andrew Alemao, Iowa City

Immediately following the press conference a lecture will be presented by well-known activist Kathy Kelly. Kelly is a founder of Voices for Creative Nonviolence in Chicago the principle organizer of the Occupation Project

Kelly has been twice-nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and in 1990 was fined in federal court more than $200,000 for sending medical supplies to Iraq in violation of U.S. sanctions during the 1990s.

For More Info Contact:
Megan Felt

Attorney Mary Wolfe

Keeping Affordable Multifamily Housing

In Iowa City affordable housing is typically discussed in terms of public safety officers and teachers, but the most at risk group of people are those hovering on the edges of poverty. Before homeownership is an option, they need affordable rental housing/transitional housing. But since the late 1980's, there has been a "war on poverty" of a different feather:

u- Nationally, housing prices increased over 20% over past 7 years; wages increased 2% in real terms.

u- More than ½ of our nation’s carpenters, kindergarten teachers, groundskeepers, retail clerks, and other service workers pay more than half of their income for rent, the HUD standard for housing is 30% of your income.

u- The number of apartments affordable to those who earn less than $16,000/yr. fell by 13% or 1.2 million between 1993 and 2003.

u- We lose hundreds of thousands of affordable apartments per year. 300,000 apartments (15% of the total) has been lost nationwide to the affordable housing inventory dedicated to serving poor people since 1995

- According to the National Housing trust, more than 2,500 affordable apartments have been lost from Iowa’s affordable housing inventory between 1995-2003.

At the Iowa City Public Library on 4/24 from 7 to 8:30 pm, Michael Bodaken, president of the National Housing Trust and an expert in the area of affordable multifamily housing will be discussing "Affordable Multifamily Housing: Exploring Solutions". There will be a Question and Answer period after the presentation.

The event is sponsored by FAIR and the Housing Trust Fund of Johnson County. It is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served.

Monday, April 23

FEMA Extreme Trailer Makeover

As reported on Yahoo News

FEMA exposed taxpayers to significant waste — and possibly violated federal law — by awarding $3.6 billion worth of Hurricane Katrina contracts to companies with poor credit histories and bad paperwork, investigators say.

In the immediate aftermath of Katrina, FEMA handed out lucrative no-bid contracts for cleanup work to large, politically connected firms such as Shaw Group Inc., Bechtel Group Inc., CH2M Hill Companies Ltd., and Fluor Corp.

Following heavy criticism, FEMA director David Paulison pledged to rebid those large contracts. He ultimately reopened only a portion, awarding 36 contracts which the agency said would be prioritized for small and local businesses.

Among the winners was joint venture PRI-DJI, which received $400 million worth of contracts. That prompted complaints from small and locally operated firms who said they were unfairly shut out. DJI stands for Del-Jen Inc., a subsidiary of Fluor, one of the original, no-bid winners which has donated more than $930,000 to mostly GOP candidates since 2000.

"It's not what you know, what your expertise is. I don't even believe it's got much to do with price. It's who you know," contended Ken Edmonds, owner of River Parish RV Inc. in Louisiana, a company of 9 people whose application was rejected.

In the audit, investigators said PRI-DJI was eligible to compete because DJI had partnered with PRI, a minority-owned firm based in San Diego, under a federal mentoring program offered by the Small Business Administration.

However, investigators found that PRI-DJI was given special preference even though it was not registered as a small business and "when neither company had its headquarters in Louisiana or Mississippi nor, in any other way, demonstrated that it had a history of working primarily in the impacted states."

Still, the audit noted the bid by PRI-DJI would likely have been selected anyway — without the special preference — because the price was so low.

Prices also varied greatly. Some were so high that investigators deemed them unreasonably excessive and wasteful; others were so unreasonably low that taxpayers faced "an unacceptable risk of poor performance."

For example, FEMA:
_Accepted bids as low as $74 and as high as $4,720 to completely refurbish used travel trailers. FEMA estimated this service should cost $1,380 per trailer.

Obama and FAIR!s Mike Carberry in Iowa City on Earth Day

Environmental issues and the stump speech from IC. Mike Carberry is the current chair of FAIR! Johnson County's Progressive organization and a member of the Sierra Club.

Irony Meet Tragedy

From the AP
An Army sergeant complained in a rare opinion article that the U.S. flag flew at half-staff last week at the largest U.S. base in Afghanistan for those killed at Virginia Tech but the same honor is not given to fallen U.S. troops here and in Iraq.
In the article issued Monday by the public affairs office at Bagram military base north of Kabul, Sgt. Jim Wilt lamented that his comrades' deaths have become a mere blip on the TV screen, lacking the "shock factor" to be honored by the Stars and Stripes as the deaths at Virginia Tech were.

"I find it ironic that the flags were flown at half-staff for the young men and women who were killed at VT, yet it is never lowered for the death of a U.S. service member," Wilt wrote.

He noted that Bagram obeyed President Bush's order last week that all U.S. flags at federal locations be flown at half-staff through April 22 to honor 32 people killed at Virginia Tech by a 23-year-old student gunman who then killed himself.

"I think it is sad that we do not raise the bases' flag to half-staff when a member of our own task force dies," Wilt said. More

Endangered Wolf(owitz) and Rudderless Hulks

The BBC Reports

A group of senior former World Bank employees has urged beleaguered head Paul Wolfowitz to resign, saying he can no longer be an effective leader.

Mr Wolfowitz is battling to remain in his job after admitting helping his partner win a promotion and pay rise.

More than 40 World Bank officials, including 18 former vice-presidents, published their call in an open letter to the Financial Times newspaper.

They said Mr Wolfowitz had "lost the trust and respect of bank staff".

"There is only one way for Wolfowitz to further the mission of the bank: he should resign."

"He has [...] damaged his own credibility on good governance - his flagship issue," the letter reads.

The letter was signed by, among others, the former number two in the organisation during the first year of Mr Wolfowitz's time at the Bank, Shengman Zhang.

The former senior officials warn that if Mr Wolfowitz remains in office, he will "preside over a rudderless hulk".


Speaking of "rudderless hulks", President Bush's surge strategy was dealt another blow over the weekend:

Violence has continued with three suicide bombers killing at least 27 people and wounding nearly 60 in various parts of Iraq, including one close to where [new US ambassador to Iraq] Mr.[Ryan] Crocker was speaking. "The road is going to be a tough one," Crocker said. "I don't begin my tour here with any illusions. It is going to be very, very difficult, but I certainly believe that success is possible. Otherwise, I wouldn't be standing here." Crocker said the months ahead will be "critical."

Speaking of "critical",
Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov on Monday criticized a U.S. plan to deploy a missile defense system in central Europe, the Itar-Tass news agency reported.

"We consider that the U.S. strategic missile defense system is a destabilizing factor that may considerably affect regional and global security," Serdyukov said after talks with his U.S. counterpart Robert Gates, who arrived here earlier on Monday for a visit.

The United States plans to deploy a missile defense radar in the Czech Republic and 10 interceptor missiles in Poland. The 3.5-billion-U.S. dollar project is set to start operating by 2011.

Russia has rejected the plan, alleging its real target will not be Iran as Washington has claimed, but Moscow.

The United States is offering Russia a new package of incentives to drop its strong opposition to American missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic, including an invitation to begin linking some American and Russian antimissile systems, the New York Times reported on Saturday.

Sunday, April 22

Obama Nation Out in Force in Iowa City

Greetings from the Midsection.

Barack Obama was looking fit, rested and may have the vote of one member of this household based on a handshake on the meet and greet line on his way to the stage. His staff threw the crowd t-shirts and a little girl put one on and looked adorable (of course, she took it off quickly because it was too hot--that or she is an uncommitted voter--at least for the next 13 years).

"He has a good handshake," said my equal half. As far as more "savvy" voters, it is hard to say, other than if you make up your mind based on turning out a crowd, Obama scored in Iowa City with what looked like about 4,000 to 5,000 people (local press reports 10,000 showed--I think they got those numbers from the Obama folks). I was impressed by the machine that he has geared up already--product placement, volunteer sign-up, cattle herding, gesticulators, and security are TIGHT.

As for me, I was looking for the meat of where he stands, particularly about the environment. His record as a Senator has not been sterling on this front*, although he, John McCain, and Joe Lieberman revived a bill that was defeated in the senate two years ago that would reduce global warming by 2% a year by 2020 and he and Hillary Clinton introduced the Healthy Communities Act of 2005, which was also defeated. The Chicago Tribune adds this recap.

On the whole, I heard what I expected from a stump speech, good ideas, not too many specifics. I contend that the Obama campaign needs to get the specifics on the table--as John Edwards' has already done.

Good energy, lots of photogs snapping away, standard fair crowd rallying music.

One big "boo" to Mayor (for now) Ross Wilburn, the Johnson County Obama chair, who introduced Obama. He recently signed on to the national mayor's agreement for global warming--an important symbolic gesture, but didn't sign on to another important symbolic gesture--a resolution to stop the war in 2002. People in the progressive community don't forget that he said it was because it was not a local issue.

* Important Update: Thanks to a comment to this entry, I gratefully and respectfully amend this post - The League of Conservation Voters (The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) is the independent political voice for the environment.), gave its Obama highest ratings for his environmental stands in 2006 100% and 95% in 2005

Hillary Clinton in 2002-2006 (71%, 95%, 92%, 88%)

John Edwards in 2001-2004: 32% (he missed 5 votes), 68% (missed 9 votes), 88%, and 88%

Joe Biden in 2001-2006: 100%, 90%, 92%, 96%, and 88%

Chris Dodd in 2001-2006 : 100%, 90%, 88%, 80%, and 88%

Dennis Kucinich 2002-2006: 100%, 100%, 90%, 95%, and 90%

Do they Know It's Earth Day in Baghdad?

This story is worth the thousand words it took to write it.

From the BBC's
Andrew North 5/20/07

Trying to get into the centre of Baghdad earlier this week offered one view of how far away the Americans and Iraqi authorities are from gaining control here.

We were at the airport. Just before we were due to leave, the entrance car park was hit by a car bomb.

US troops and private security forces who guard the perimeter locked the whole area down for the next four hours. No traffic was allowed in or out.

While we waited with scores of other vehicles, mortars were fired at the airport. Fortunately for us they landed on the other side of the runway, plumes of smoke shooting into the air.

You won't have heard about any of this because at the same time a series of other far more serious attacks was taking place.

One was at the Sadriya market in the city centre, where a massive car bomb killed more than 140 people.

One was at the Sadriya market in the city centre, where a massive car bomb killed more than 140 people.

It was placed at the entrance to a set of barriers put up around another part of the market where a previous single bomb, in February, claimed more than 130 lives.

The market blast "did not penetrate the emplaced barriers" a later US military press release helpfully pointed out, ignoring the fact that the bombers had yet again adapted their tactics with vicious perfection - setting off their device at the point where crowds congregated outside and at the very moment when they were busiest.

Bombers 'organised'

As we drove into the city, we counted six blast holes left by recent roadside bombs along just one 100-metre stretch or road.

A large patch of damaged, blackened Tarmac on a bridge spoke of another attempt to destroy a key crossing.

Bombers have killed hundreds of people in recent weeks

The Sunni extremists held to be responsible for these attacks seem to be making a mockery of the US and Iraqi security plan, which is now into its third month.

So far, their surge seems to be having more effect than the American one.

Last month alone there were more than 100 car bombings, and the number of attacks has continued at a similar rate so far this month. This indicates a high level of organisation.

This despite the fact that there are many extra US and Iraqi troops in the city now. There are more raids and patrols.

On our drive into the city, we encountered several Iraqi army checkpoints. But almost every vehicle - including ours - was being waved through.

Many new checkpoints have been set up across Baghdad.

But what is their purpose, many Iraqis ask, when they seem to stop so few people?

It is not always encouraging when they do - a couple of times we have been pulled over by Iraqi soldiers who ask us if we have any bullets to give them.

Optimism fading

Just a month ago there was a cautious - very cautious, but still real - sense of optimism among many Baghdadis that the plan was starting to work.

The daily count of bodies found around the city - mostly Sunni victims of targeted sectarian killings - had dropped off significantly.

The Shia militia of Moqtada Sadr, which was blamed for most of these murders, was largely obeying orders to put away its weapons and co-operate with the security plan.

A woman pleads with US troops after the arrest of a relative
Troops often come face to face with terrified and exasperated Iraqis
But there is a deadly and familiar equation here.

With official security forces apparently unable to protect Shia communities, pressure is growing on the militias to do so again.

And there are signs their death squads have returned to work. The body count is creeping up again. Twenty were found yesterday.

Dealing with the car bomb is "our top priority", says US military spokesman Lt Col Chris Garver.

But as ever it is a game of cat and mouse, played with insurgents who are "very adaptive", and very well-funded.

A man arrested by US soldiers after placing a truck bomb which failed to go off told interrogators he had been paid $30,000 (£15,000) for the task.

Lt Col Garver says the US believes it is up against several "car bombing networks".

"If there was just one, we might be able to pull the string and unravel it," he says.

People still have to be patient, he warns, adding a note of optimism.

"We are still not fully staffed," he says - there are another two months to go until all the extra US troops are in Baghdad.


But there is frustration too among the Americans at the Iraqi government's lack of progress on reconciliation - ultimately the only solution to the conflict, most believe.

Key issues include the need to implement a new law on sharing oil revenues, an amnesty programme and limiting the scope of the de-Baathification process. All of these are crucial to winning over Sunnis.

The idea was that the security drive in Baghdad would create "space" for such efforts to get going. But although new laws have been drafted they are a long way from being approved.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates stepped up the pressure over these issues on his visit to Baghdad. In the meantime, the young men and women sent out here to implement President Bush's plan are paying a heavy price.

An average of 80-90 Americans die each month. And US personnel have just had their tours extended by another three months.

But, as it has always been since the 2003 invasion, it is the Iraqis who suffer most.

No-one knows the exact figures, but at the end of another week of unspeakable, random carnage, hundreds more Iraqi families are grieving.

Exhaustion and despair hang over the country.

And there are no signs of change.

Edwards Event - Reducing Your Carbon Footprint

Posted by: IowanForEdwards2008, on Johnson County Events

Date & Time

Sunday, April 22nd, 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.


Ped Mall, Washington and Dubuque,
Iowa City Iowa


Join Johnson County One Corps as we distribute information sheets that help citizens calculate their carbon footprint and actions they can take to reduce it. We will have information to pass out as we let people know about the EDWARDS plan to reduce carbon emissions.

Sunday, April 22

4:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.

Obama in Iowa City for Earth Day 4/22

I like John Edwards. My wife likes Barack Obama. We are going to hear Barack Obama today speak at an Earth Day event on the Pentacrest on the U of I campus. I'd be very happy for an Obama/Edwards, Edwards/Obama ticket--otherwise the next year is going to be tough at home...

My wife is going with me to the next John Edwards event--family unity is very important to the Edwards' and to myself and my equal half.

Saturday, April 21

State of the Earth: What Can We Learn From Bees

Building a sustainable society is the critical challenge of this century. Everything depends on it.

-- Sen. Gaylord Nelson, Founder, Earth Day

What if all government leaders were required to give a State of the Earth Address like Australia did in 2006?-- I wonder what they would say?

Living on a biosphere, we can not assume that our actions have no consequences and we must assume, often, there are unintended ones. A recent story about the disappearance of bees is a great example of how our actions may endanger our food supply.

According to the February 27, 2007 New York Times, "in 4 states throughout the country, US bees had been disappearing inexplicably at an alarming rate, threatening not only farmers' livelihoods but also the production of numerous crops, including California almonds, one of the nation's most profitable exports."... "Honeybees are flying off and disappearing in mystery that has flummoxed researchers and threatens production of numerous crops that rely on bee pollination; researchers call syndrome colony collapse disorder and say bees are presumably dying in fields from exhaustion or becoming disoriented and dying from cold; one study says that honeybees annually pollinate more than $14 billion worth of seeds and crops in US, mostly fruits, vegetables and nuts; investigators are exploring range of theories about disappearing bees, including viruses, fungus, poor bee nutrition, pesticides, bee stress; beekeepers earn much more renting their bees out to pollinate crops than in producing honey, and researchers are concerned that trucking colonies around country to pollinate crops could add to bees' stress and help spread viruses and mites of crops that rely on pollination." The article went on to mention a limited study which forwarded the idea that cellphones may be disorienting the bees.

4/27 Update: Another study suggests a "fungus killed bee colonies across Europe and Asia [and] may be to blame for the current collapse of bee colonies in the U.S. and Canada, researchers said. The sudden deaths of the buzzing insects, a condition called Colony Collapse Disorder, has disturbed beekeepers, scientists and farmers who depend on bees for pollination." The same report suggested that pesticides ans inadequate food resources may also contribute. More than a quarter of the country's 2.4 million bee colonies have been lost, according to an estimate from the Apiary Inspectors of America, a national group that tracks beekeeping.

The "highly preliminary" results announced Wednesday showed evidence of the single-celled parasite called Nosema ceranae on a few hives taken from Merced County for testing, said Joe DeRisi, a biochemist at the University of California, San Francisco, who found the SARS virus in 2003.
DeRisi used a technique known as "shotgun sequencing," that allows rapid reading of a genetic code and then matches it to computerized libraries of known genes from thousands of germs.phenomenon is occurring.

Fact Monster reports, Bees are of inestimable value as agents of cross-pollination (see pollination), and many plants are entirely dependent on particular kinds of bees for their reproduction (such as red clover, which is pollinated by the bumblebee, and many orchids). In many cases the use of insecticides for agricultural pest control has had the unwelcome side effect of killing the bees necessary for maintaining the crop. Such environmental stresses plus several species of parasitic mites devastated honeybee populations in the United States beginning in the 1980s, making it necessary for farmers to rent bees from keepers in order to get their crops pollinated and greatly affecting the pollination of plants in the wild. Bee venom has been found to have medicinal properties.

On this Earth Day weekend, it is important to remember the need to balance our economic needs with the needs of a delicate planet. As Gaylord Nelson and others proposed, we need to forge a "sustainable society". As Nelson said, "Understanding that sustainability is the ultimate issue will bring America face to face with the political challenge of forging a sustainable society during the next few decades. It is a challenge America can meet if we have the leadership and political will to do so." He proposed the following:

Forging a Sustainable Society
Forging a sustainable society is our first and most important order of business. We have not yet begun a national discussion on what sustainability means and why it is important. That is a failure of past congresses and presidents. Here's what must happen to set our country on the path of sustainability:

- The President must begin a national dialogue on the issue of sustainability by beginning a tradition of a biennial "State of the Environment" address. This biennial message would be in addition to the traditional State of the Union address.

- The Congress must undertake a comprehensive series of educational hearings on the concept and significance of sustainability.

- The public must encourage serious Presidential and congressional attention to the issue of sustainability.

- The youth of America are also involved, making it clear to the President and Congress that sustainability is essential to the security of our nation.