Archive for March, 2011

In Japan, a grisly consequence of radiation

Boy, hadn’t thought about this aspect of the tragedy in Japan … from the Japan Times:

Radiation is preventing the retrieval of hundreds of bodies from inside the 20-km evacuation zone around the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, police sources said Thursday.

Based on initial reports after the March 11 catastrophe, the number of bodies is estimated at between a few hundred and 1,000, one of the sources said, adding that high radiation is now hampering full-scale searches.

That view was supported by the Sunday find of high radiation levels on a body found in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, 5 km from the plant.

The rescuers are now in a bind. Even if they retrieve the bodies, anyone who comes into contact with them risks being irradiated, too, whether they’re in the evacuation zone or not.

And if the bodies are cremated, the smoke could spread radioactive materials as well, the sources said. Even burial poses a problem. When the bodies decompose, they might contaminate the soil …

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U.S. military balks at promised Afghan drawdown

From The Washington Post:

Military leaders and President Obama’s civilian advisers are girding for battle over the size and pace of the planned pullout of U.S. troops from Afghanistan this summer, with the military seeking to limit a reduction in combat forces and the White House pressing for a withdrawal substantial enough to placate a war-weary electorate.

Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top allied commander in Afghanistan, has not presented a recommendation on the withdrawal to his superiors at the Pentagon, but some senior officers and military planning documents have described the July pullout as small to insignificant, prompting deep concern within the White House.

At a meeting of his war cabinet this month, Obama expressed displeasure with such characterizations of the withdrawal, according to three senior officials with direct knowledge of the session. “The president made it clear that he wants a meaningful drawdown to start in July,” said one of the officials, who, like …

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Georgia’s long-term unemployed about to be abandoned

Unless the state Legislature reverses course quickly, 22,000 Georgia households are going to be stripped of badly needed long-term unemployment benefits by the end of June.

The money may not seem like much — an average of $244 a week per household. But for Georgia families that already have had to survive months without a regular paycheck in the worst economic environment in 80 years, it’s at least something. It helps put food on the table.

But with only four days left in the 2011 session, state leaders are oddly reluctant to take action that would save those benefits.

It ought to be a no-brainer. The money at stake — Georgia’s share would come to an estimated $175 million — has already been appropriated by Congress. Other states with high unemployment rates have already taken steps to accept their share. Georgia leaders have to demonstrate their own willingness to accept it by passing a small, technical change in state law, but so far, they’ve balked.

The question is …

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Watchdog says Black Panther case handled correctly

From The Washington Post:

The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) has concluded an investigation finding that politics played no role in the handling of the New Black Panther Party case, which sparked a racially charged political fight.

After reviewing thousands of pages of internal e-mails and notes and conducting 44 interviews with department staff members, the OPR reported that “department attorneys did not commit professional misconduct or exercise poor judgment” and that the voter-intimidation case against the Panthers was dismissed on “a good faith assessment of the law” and “not influenced by the race of the defendants.”

The OPR investigation was launched at the request of U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, Republican of Texas and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Here’s the guts of its findings, as related in a letter to Smith from OPR Counsel Robin Ashton:

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In a sane world, that would be that. Unfortunately, we do not live in a sane world. We …

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Mitch Daniels the last, best hope for GOP sanity

Joe Klein speaks for many, I suspect:

This is my 10th presidential campaign, Lord help me. I have never before seen such a bunch of vile, desperate-to-please, shameless, embarrassing losers coagulated under a single party’s banner. They are the most compelling argument I’ve seen against American exceptionalism. Even Tim Pawlenty, a decent governor, can’t let a day go by without some bilious nonsense escaping his lizard brain. And, as Greg Sargent makes clear, Mitt Romney has wandered a long way from courage. There are those who say, cynically, if this is the dim-witted freak show the Republicans want to present in 2012, so be it. I disagree. One of them could get elected. You never know. Mick Huckabee, the front-runner if you can believe it, might have to negotiate a trade agreement, or a defense treaty, with the Indonesian president some day. Newt might have to discuss very delicate matters of national security with the president of Pakistan. And so I plead, as an unflinching …

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Obama administration under fire on transparency

From the Associated Press:

WASHINGTON — The Homeland Security Department official in charge of submitting sensitive government files to political advisers for secretive reviews before they could be released to citizens, journalists and watchdog groups complained in emails that the unusual scrutiny was “crazy” and hoped someone outside the Obama administration would discover the practice, The Associated Press has learned.

Chief Privacy Officer Mary Ellen Callahan, who was appointed by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, complained in late 2009 that the vetting process was burdensome and said she wanted to change it, according to uncensored emails newly obtained by the AP. In the emails, she warned that the Homeland Security Department might be sued over delays the political reviews were causing, and she hinted that a reporter might find out about the vetting. The reviews are the subject of a congressional hearing later this week and an ongoing inquiry by the …

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Federal inaction on immigration lets issue fester

Georgia legislators sponsoring anti-immigrant bills say they have been forced to act by frustration with the federal government, which they believe has been unwilling to address illegal immigration issues.

Unfortunately, those legislators have a point, at least about the federal government’s failure to act. In fact, they have every right to be frustrated, even if the solutions they propose to fill the void left by federal inaction are unworkable.

Thanks to a combination of cowardice and political opportunism, Congress has indeed abdicated its duty to deal with tough immigration issues. The few steps it has taken in recent years — such as efforts to tighten border security — have been little more than useless if expensive window dressing.

Certainly, our border with Mexico needs to be tightened as much as possible. In practical terms, however, a boundary more than 2,000 miles long through mainly undeveloped areas can never be made secure against people sufficiently motivated to …

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Obama explains limits, goals of Libya policy

Thanks to Western intervention and imposition of a no-fly zone, Libyan rebels who a week ago seemed doomed to indiscriminate massacre by Col. Moammar Gadhafi are now pressing their assault on the town of Sirte, the dictator’s hometown.

In a few minutes, President Obama is scheduled to brief the nation about our goals in implementing the no-fly zone over Libya, and the limits of our commitment there.

There are two ways to discuss the topic, as a matter of foreign policy and as a matter of domestic politics. Let’s deal first with the politics. As a newpoll by the Pew Research Center reports public attitude:

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“Nearly half of Americans (47%) say the United States made the right decision in conducting air strikes in Libya while 36% say it was the wrong decision. Fully one-in-six (17%) express no opinion.

On balance, however, the public does not think that the U.S. and its allies have a clear goal in taking military action in Libya. Just 39% say the U.S. and its allies have a clear …

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Herman Cain: Muslims have no place in US government

So we’ve got two probable candidates for the GOP presidential nominees who claim Georgia as their base. One is Newt Gingrich.

This is the other one.

For those who can’t view the video, Herman Cain is asked whether he would be willing to appoint a Muslim as a Cabinet officer or judge.

“No. I will not,” he said. “And here’s why: There’s this creeping attempt — there’s this attempt to gradually ease Sharia law and the Muslim faith into our government.” According to Cain, many American Muslims “are trying to force their Sharia law onto the rest of us.”

That’s just stupid. As in not very bright. By comparison, the Sharia conspiracy crowd makes the birthers look downright sane and reasonable. It will be interesting to see who, if anyone, among the GOP mainstream steps up to repudiate such nonsense. After all, the Constitution explicitly rules out such nonsense, stating point blank that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust …

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Cheating fears cast doubt on Rhee’s legacy in DC public schools

Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of public schools in Washington, D.C., became a conservative star of sorts for her willingness to take on the teachers’ union and the education establishment, among other things by firing teachers whose students did not improve on standardized testing. As chancellor, Rhee also instituted a lucrative bonus program for teachers and principals at schools that did show significant improvement.

The policy change had an effect; standardized scores rose significantly during Rhee’s three-year tenure. Eventually, however, her brash, combative style contributed to the re-election defeat of her most important champion, Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty, and last year Rhee was forced to resign as DC chancellor.

However, that career setback conferred martyr status on Rhee, who launched a nationwide speaking tour to spread her message of reform. Earlier this year, she was welcomed at the Georgia Capitol with a hearing in her honor in the Legislature and a …

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