Archive for July 15th, 2009

Harry Moroz: Putting Carter To Rest

July 15th, 2009 admin No comments

In a speech to a group of urban thinkers and city leaders on Monday, President Obama emphasized the need to reinvent federal urban policy. But in calling for this reinvention, the President, perhaps inadvertently, conjured up images of times past when policymakers considered cities to be decaying and urban policy merely a means of preventing riots.

The President told a brief story about the Great Chicago Fire and the subsequent resurgence of the city and suggested that American cities will reemerge from the tough times many are currently experiencing in “newer, greener, more livable ways.”

This metaphor would be useful if images of burning cities wracked by rioters had not been the primary impetus for urban policymaking at the federal level for the last fifty years. While some presidents simply ignored cities (After all, they’re not in the Constitution, a Reagan adviser once quipped…), Presidents Johnson, Carter, and Bush I all crafted urban policies that were more stopgap measures to prevent urban “conflagration” than appropriate investments in the nation’s future. Even former HUD Secretary and urban champion Henry Cisneros urged President Clinton to develop an urban policy because of the “anger of the cities.”

President Obama does, however, seem committed to shifting federal urban policymaking from a reactive, “Marshall Plan”-type strategy to a proactive, cooperative approach. His speech did mention the need for cities to “weather the current economic storm” and “rebuild”- a favorite word for peddlers of urban decline rhetoric – but then shifted to an emphasis on coordinating urban and suburban policies into a metro strategy, on eliminating policies that hinder urban areas, and on partnerships between federal agencies that too often consider, for example, housing and transportation policy to be unrelated.

Yet, Obama faces a significant challenge in making this shift. President Carter, who conservatives would love to begin comparing to Obama – some rabblerousing media outlets have already begun drawing parallels – called for a review of urban policy quite similar to Obama’s in March of his first year in office. In a memo to his cabinet, Carter wrote:

I would like you to form a working policy group on urban and regional development. The purpose of the group will be to conduct a comprehensive review of all federal programs which impact on urban and regional areas; to seek perspectives of state and local officials concerning the role of the federal government in urban and regional development; and to submit appropriate administrative and legislative recommendations.

Carter’s memo sounds much like Obama’s call for “the first interagency review in 30 years of how the federal government approaches and funds urban and metropolitan areas…” But Carter’s urban policy devolved from an originally ambitious project to “compensatory intervention” in areas particularly afflicted by postindustrial transformation, the effects of which were, according to one prominent member of the team charged with drafting the urban agenda, “fleeting and ephemeral.”

But President Obama’s approach to cities has at least two advantages over President Carter’s. First, Obama has created a new White House Office of Urban Affairs that is situated above normal administration bureaucracy where it can facilitate synergies between agencies likely to butt heads and recommend – along with the input of the influential Office of Management and Budget – programs for improvement and programs for elimination. The very mission of the cities office – to develop a strategy for urban and metro areas – is at odds with the type of ad hoc approach to cities that Carter developed.

Second, President Obama’s speech emphasized his belief that “cities have already gone ahead and become their own laboratories for change and innovation…” He then highlighted the achievements of Denver in linking public transit and development, of Philadelphia in urban agriculture, and of Kansas City in sustainable, affordable housing. This confidence in the innovation of urban areas explicitly recognizes that cities are places to support and undermines the notion that urban policy is a policy of handouts or, as Fred Siegel of the conservative Manhattan Institute will surely put it when Obama’s urban agenda is formalized, a means of “providing goods and services to [big-city African-American] communities…”

This week’s Economist gushed that “it is America’s genius to have 50 public-policy laboratories competing to find out what works best…” This sentiment is equally, if not more, applicable to the nation’s cities. What , as my colleague John Petro asks in a new report, can New York learn from Austin, Berkeley, Minneapolis, and San Francisco?

Federal urban policy is not only about ensuring that we invest proportionately in the places that generate the most jobs and GDP, but about ensuring that federal policy does not hinder, and in fact facilitates and learns from, the innovative policymaking occurring in cities across the country. Emphasizing this latter point will help President Obama and his urban agenda avoid the dismal fate of President Carter.

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Sen. Jeff Merkley: A Historic Victory for Health Care Reform

July 15th, 2009 admin No comments

Greetings! I wanted to take a minute and give you an update on the current status of health care reform in the Senate. But, before I begin, I want to commend you all for keeping the pressure on your Representatives and Senators to support a public health insurance option. It’s important that your voice is heard during this critical debate about how to reform our broken health care system.

Today we took a monumental step in the fight for real health care reform. The Affordable Health Choices Act passed through the Senate Health Committee. I can’t tell you how proud I am to be able to work with my colleagues on legislation that will literally affect the lives of millions of American families.

This bill will help rein in the runaway health care costs that are bankrupting families and businesses. It will give Americans the peace of mind of knowing that they are no longer one pink slip away from losing coverage. It will make it illegal for insurance companies to charge people more or turn them away just because they’re sick or older. Combined with the work that is being done by the Senate Finance Committee, 97 percent of Americans will have coverage. People who like their current coverage will be able to keep it, and everyone will have more choices and access to affordable coverage, no matter their lot in life. And importantly, it includes a robust public option. This bill represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fix our broken health care system.

Two weeks ago, while traveling in Oregon, I held a town hall meeting with constituents in Hermiston, in the conservative eastern part of the state. Folks were concerned about a number of issues, ranging from climate legislation to immigration reform, but no issue was more prominent than health care. At that town hall, I decided to take an informal poll to see what people believed was the best way to fix our broken health care system. Overwhelmingly, those in attendance supported a health care plan that included both public and private options.

Providing a public health insurance option will reduce costs, create much needed competition and give Americans more health care choices. I know that the public health insurance option is at the center of the debate, but I also wanted to take a minute and talk about other important issues that we tackled in the HELP committee.

We can have the best health insurance options in the world and people still won’t get needed care if we don’t increase our supply of primary care physicians and nurses. The HELP bill strengthens our provider networks by establishing a loan repayment program for allied health professionals, nurses, pediatric subspecialists, and providers of mental and behavioral health services for children. We worked to increase funding for the National Health Service Corps which provides scholarships to medical students who choose to work in areas facing doctor and nursing shortages.

The HELP plan also contains a major investment in increasing the number of nurse faculty nationwide. This is critically important because we face a looming nursing shortage. Besides providing loan repayment opportunities for nurses, we increased the amount of grants and loans nursing schools currently receive so they have the needed funds to compensate more nursing faculty members.

There are thousands of capable Americans who would pursue a degree in nursing if we had room in our schools for them. More instructors will mean more nurses, and as someone who’s married to a nurse, I know firsthand how important nurses are to the quality of patient care. That’s why I’m also working on an amendment to create a grant program to enhance nurse training programs.

I am also working to lower the cost of insurance for business owners. It’s time to level the playing field for small business owners and give them the same health care choices that large corporations have. Because they don’t have as many employees, they have little ability to negotiate lower rates. Since insurance premiums have skyrocketed in recent years, many small business owners are unable to afford the high cost of health insurance.

I introduced an amendment to the HELP bill which was passed by the committee. The legislation will enable small businesses to gain access to more affordable health care coverage for their employees by guaranteeing that businesses with 50 employees can participate in the newly created health insurance “gateway” or exchange. Employees will benefit by being able to choose from a variety of plans, and have peace of mind knowing they can keep their plan if they lose or change jobs. Allowing small business owners to buy into a larger risk pool which will help to improve quality and reduce overall costs.

Too many Americans who are uninsured or under-insured do not receive regular checkups because they can’t afford coverage or their insurance doesn’t cover enough of the costs. The lack of preventive care results in countless emergency room visits and health care disasters for families. The HELP bill includes a sustained national investment in prevention and public health programs and provides coverage of preventive services and the elimination of co-pays and deductibles for many vital health screenings. By elevating prevention efforts, we save billions of dollars while dramatically improving the health of the American people.

Over sixty years ago, President Harry Truman addressed Congress and said, “Millions of our citizens do not have a full measure of opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health care. Millions do not now have protection or security against the economic effects of sickness. The time has arrived for action to help them attain that opportunity and that protection.”

As I look back at Truman’s historic call for action, I’m reminded that we’re facing our own pivotal moment in history. Twenty years from now we’ll look back at this seminal opportunity and ask ourselves whether we rose to the challenge. We’ll ask whether we stuck with the status quo: a health care system that drains wealth from our country and leave millions of Americans behind. Or, did we answer the overwhelming call of the American people to reform our health care system by improving care, lowering costs and making health care work for all Americans? History is watching – we need to make the right choice.

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Jennifer Grayson: Antibiotic-Free Meat: Is the FDA Finally Catching Up to the American Consumer?

July 15th, 2009 admin No comments

Is antibiotic-free meat coming soon to every supermarket in America? Not quite yet, but a statement made yesterday by a high-ranking Food and Drug Administration official supporting the discontinuation of antibiotics to promote livestock growth offers a glimmer of hope that the days of heavy antibiotic use in livestock may be coming to an end. In the statement, prepared for a House hearing regarding Rep. Louise Slaughter’s (D-NY) bill to limit the unnecessary use of antibiotics in the nation’s food supply (Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) has introduced a companion bill in the Senate), Principal Deputy FDA Commissioner Joshua Sharfstein said that “purposes other than for the advancement of animal or human health should not be considered judicious use,” and should be prohibited.

While Sharfstein’s statement is encouraging, it only demonstrates that the FDA, as usual, is light-years behind the American consumer. Its controversial ruling last year that suspected endocrine disruptor bisphenol A (BPA) is, in fact, safe, stands in stark contrast to consumer outcries for elimination of the chemical. Walmart and Toys ‘R’ Us no longer sell baby bottles made with BPA; legislation banning BPA has already been passed in Minnesota, Connecticut, and the city of Chicago; and even a recent joint study by researchers at Harvard University and our government’s very own Centers for Disease Control and Prevention implicated baby bottles as a source of BPA exposure for infants. Yet the FDA website states, “At this time, FDA is not recommending that anyone discontinue using products that contain BPA while we continue our risk assessment process.”

Broad, sweeping change (especially at the federal level) usually only occurs as a result of transformation at the grassroots level. I remember when organic beef was first offered at my local supermarket in the mid ’90s: It was extremely expensive and not always available, and the average shopper wasn’t even familiar with the term organic. Fast-forward 15 years, and organic products now line the shelves of Walmart, and natural foods behemoth Whole Foods has become the 10th largest food and drug store in the US.

This sea change didn’t occur as a result of federal legislation; it happened because of the choices made by individual shoppers. The beauty of our system is that when government lags behind, we as American consumers still have the power to direct the marketplace by the products we buy — or don’t buy.

Yet, even if changing attitudes prompt Burger King to offer free-range Whoppers with organic artisan cheddar, there’s no way to dramatically reduce the growing public health threat of antibiotic-resistant bacteria if we don’t pass federal legislation that will prevent agribusiness from plumping up livestock with antibiotics. (The Union of Concerned Scientists’ Margaret Mellon also testified in the House hearing yesterday, explaining that antibiotic resistance is directly connected to the practice of feeding antibiotics to livestock and poultry that are not sick.)

Short of contacting your senators and representatives to urge support for the antibiotic ban (and I suggest you do so), the best solution is to do what Americans always do best: Vote with your wallet.

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Claudia Ricci: NPR Doing PR for the Health Insurance Industry?

July 15th, 2009 admin No comments

Maybe you were still asleep this morning. Maybe you didn’t hear NPR’s Steve Innskeep bring an exec with the health insurance industry on Morning Edition and let him froth on and on about why the nation shouldn’t have a public insurance option as part of health care reform.

Steve Innskeep, are you serious? Did you just forget to include an opposing point of view?

Since when is this balanced journalism? Since when does NPR do PR for business? Since when is it right to let an apologist for a huge corporate interest moan and groan about how horrible Medicare is because reimbursement rates aren’t as high as they are under private insurance?

Your listening audience deserves far better.

At a moment when the nation is poised to try to revamp a health care system that is in total shambles, we need our public radio station to do justice to the debate. We need you to do far better journalism than this poor excuse for a story.

How ironic that it would be the public radio network making this extraordinary gaffe.

How would it be, NPR, if we let an opponent of public radio come on the air — unopposed — and let him whine about why all federal funding for public radio should be eliminated?

The health care debate is as hot right now here in DC as the sidewalks running through the nation’s capitol. The papers and airwaves are full of stories about whether the legislation will come out of the Senate and House by the end of July, before the recess (as the President is urging.)

And in the middle of all this, NPR does a segment like this?

Do it over. This time, bring in somebody from the opposing point of view. Bring in somebody who knows about the benefits of the public option and let her/him have at it with your PR type.

The President has said it is essential we have a public option to keep the private health insurance industry honest. It’s essential to give consumers an alternative to private insurance, which has our backs up against the wall, always denying claims, or delaying payment, or dropping people from their rolls when they get too sick.

Curious that the person Innskeep brought on is the doctor whose job it is at WellPoint — the nation’s biggest insurance company — to set up the rules for the company about denying coverage. Ah, so the docs now become the industry bureaucrats. How reassuring is that?

Maybe, Steve, that’s the real story you should have done early this morning. And you know what? It isn’t too late to do it, right, this afternoon or tomorrow!

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Obama, Maliki To Meet In DC Next Week

July 15th, 2009 admin No comments

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will meet at the White House next week with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

A statement announcing next Wednesday’s visit says the countries are “close partners” in building a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq.

Iraqi forces recently assumed responsibility for security in major cities after U.S. combat troops withdrew from towns and cities on June 30. The withdrawal was negotiated under a security pact between the two countries that took effect Jan. 1.

Some 130,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq, but they now have a lower profile.

All American forces are to leave the country by Dec. 31, 2011.

The White House says Obama looks forward to the consultations with al-Maliki.

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Shelly Palmer: What To Do When Getting Robbed? Tweet!: MediaBytes with Shelly Palmer July 15, 2009

July 15th, 2009 admin No comments


What do you do if you’re in a bank when it’s being robed? Tweet about it, of course. And that’s just what Annemarie Dooling did yesterday in NY. “My bank was just held up – with me in it. HSBC 34 and 8″ But the devil is in the details. She was not the first to notice the heist because she was heads-down on a crackberry, she was chastised by the twitterati for not doing something more pro-active, but she did pick up over 200 new followers

Apple’s iPhone App Store moved over 1.5 billion applications in its first year. The App Store currently boasts 65,000 applications ranging in price. With over 100,000 registered developers, it’s safe to say the mobile application business is still flourishing.

Microsoft executive Peter Bale told reporters in London that it plans to launch a music service similar to Spotify. The venture will reportedly offer a variety of listening options, including free ad supported streaming, subscription streaming and paid downloads. Sources say Microsoft may have the service up by the end of summer.

Intel reported sales exceeding $8 billion for the second quarter. The quarterly report beat analyst’s predication by more than $700 million. CEO Paul Otellini said the “second-quarter results were clearly better than we expected,” and that Intel expects to gross as much as $8.9 billion in the next quarter.

Microsoft announced that Azure, its cloud offering, will launch during the Professional Developers Conference the weekend of November 17th 2009. The cloud operating system, which offers users storage and computing, will operate on a pay what you use basis. Microsoft will charge users $0.10 down and $0.15 up / GB for bandwidth.

Shelly Palmer is a consultant and the host of MediaBytes with Shelly Palmer a daily show featuring news you can use about technology, media & entertainment. He is Managing Director of Advanced Media Ventures Group LLC and the author of Television Disrupted: The Transition from Network to Networked TV. Shelly is also President of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. You can join the MediaBytes mailing list here. Shelly can be reached at For information about Get Digital Classes, visit

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Shirin Sadeghi: The Rape of Taraneh: Prison Abuse of Iran’s Protesters

July 15th, 2009 admin No comments

First there was Neda. Then there was Sohrab. Now there is Taraneh.


The names and stories of the Iranians who have been brutalized or killed in the aftermath of the post-election protests are gradually seeping into a memorial vault of the faces of suffering and endurance in the name of sociopolitical reform.

One by one, the faces of protest are providing an essential yearbook of the individuals who comprise the protest masses, and a catalogue of the Iranian government’s treatment of political activists.

On Friday July 19, a large group of mourners gathered at the Ghoba mosque in Tehran to await a speech about the martyrs of the post-election protests by presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi. According to one Iranian blog, 28-year-old Taraneh Mousavi was one of a group of people that was arrested by plainclothesed security forces for attending the gathering.

Taraneh, whose first name is Persian for “song”, disappeared into arrest.

Weeks later, according to the blog, her mother received an anonymous call from a government agent saying that her daughter has been hospitalized in Imam Khomeini Hospital in the city of Karaj, just north of Tehran — hospitalized for “rupturing of her womb and anus in… an unfortunate accident”.

When Taraneh’s family went to the hospital to find her, they were told she was not there.

According to another Iranian blog which claims to have original information about Taraneh from her family, Iranian security forces contacted Taraneh’s family after the hospital visit warning them not to publicize Taraneh’s story and not to associate her disappearance with arrests made at post-election protests, claiming instead that she had tried to harm herself because of feeling guilty for having pre-marital sex.

Witnesses have come forward to the various Internet sites who are covering Taraneh’s story, stating that she was mentally and physically abused in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison and also that a person who matches her physical description and injuries had been treated at the Imam Khomeini Hospital, was unconscious when witnessed and was later transferred out of the hospital while still unconscious.

Taraneh’s is not the first allegation of brutal raping of a post-election protester — according to the UK Guardian, an 18 year old boy in Shiraz was repeatedly gang raped by prison officials while in detention after being arrested for participating in the protests on June 15. That boy’s father won’t let him back in the family home.

Despite its agitations for reform, Iranian society remains traditional, according to Iranian-British blogger Potkin Azarmehr, and it’s the stigma of rape that is being used as a weapon against the protesters. “By killing protesters, the government makes martyrs of them, but by raping them and allowing them to live, it makes them shunned in society,” Azarmehr said.

Not that the stigma of rape is exclusive to Iran and other more traditional societies. A friend of Azarmehr’s who is presently in Iran told him that he’s “sick of hearing that people like Taraneh are better off dead” from friends abroad, just because they “can’t handle the fact that she’s been raped.”

The psychology of threatening protesters and political activists is not a new science. The strategies and ultimate goals are the same for any kind of torture: to humiliate, disembody (through denying the victim authority over his/her own physical self), extract confessions (whether true or false) and ultimately permanently terrorize the victims to prevent further ‘disturbances’. The last part often fails spectacularly, as victims tend to feel even more antagonism toward the perpetrators, and even more of a ‘do or die’ mentality about agitating for change at any cost.

Prison abuse and torture is also about marking these victims as defiled human beings — it’s like a scarlet letter of social isolation against them, to deny them the community support and strength which they need to move past those memories and not be defined by them. This is where others can step in and change the very attitudes toward abuse which so many institutions count on when they commit these crimes.

The story of Taraneh’s condition is still unfolding and there are no certain confirmations of its details beyond the reports of bloggers who are obliged to remain anonymous for safety reasons — but the idea that political prisoners are being mistreated in this way is not new to Iran and is a significant element of a program of terror which has sustained the current system in Iran.

Taraneh’s story must be told and it must be heard. Perhaps her life can still be saved.

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Sotomayor gets rave reviews at hearing

July 15th, 2009 admin No comments

Sonia Sotomayor faced tough questioning today on political issues and controversial statements from her past, with both Democrats and Republicans saying she responded well and appeared certain to win confirmation as the nation’s first Hispanic Supreme

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T.I. to Fans, Haters: Remember Me!

July 15th, 2009 admin No comments

Remember Me is a new movie starring Robert Pattinson and Emilie de Ravin . It’s also the name of T.I.’s newest song, about how he doesn’t want people to forget him while he’s in prison. And how could we possibly, given his full-scale marketing assault from prison? Featuring a video shot in … prison? Always thinking ahead (except when purchasing illegal firearms from undercover cops), T.I. had the foresight to record a jam and film a music video with Mary J. Blige before turning himself in

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Anne Hathaway Grabs Lunch After Pizza

July 15th, 2009 admin No comments

Anne Hathaway joined a friend for lunch yesterday afternoon at Gemma in NYC. She recently finished up her stint starring in the Twelfth Night in Central Park, which she and her costars celebrated in a fun way. The cast met at 3 a.m. on Sunday to pass out pizza to those waiting in line for tickets to their last show that evening. Anne has taken her final bow for Shakespeare in the Park, but now it’s time for her to switch gears and prep for her upcoming role on stage and screen as Judy Garla

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