‘Well, It’s Their Fault For Bringing Kids To A Battle’

McChrystal: ‘We’ve shot an amazing number of people … none has proven to have been a real threat to the force’

Wikileaks released this video today. Via Raw Story:

US military personnel apparently mistook the cameras slung over the backs of two Reuters journalists for weapons when they opened fire on them and a group of people in a Baghdad suburb in 2007, recently released video footage purportedly shows.

The whistleblower Web site Wikileaks on Monday released a 17-minute video of footage from an Apache helicopter that was reportedly one of two helicopters involved in a fight against insurgents in the neighborhood of New Baghdad on July 12, 2007.

The video purportedly shows the deaths of Reuters journalists Namir Noor-Eldeen, 22 and Saeed Chmagh, 40, along with six other people on a street corner. It also shows US forces firing on a minivan in which two injured children were found.

“The military did not reveal how the Reuters staff were killed, and stated that they did not know how the children were injured,” Wikileaks states.

Running Government Like A Business

This is where we’re headed in the rest of the country. Arne Duncan, Obama’s education secretary (you know, the business guy with no experience in actual education who thinks we should run government like a business?), plans to widen the use of charter schools everywhere. Well, we’ve all seen just how accountable the private sector is:

One Philadelphia charter-school operator runs a private parking lot on the side. Another rents out apartments and collects the rent at his school. Yet another rents property to herself, signing her lease as both tenant and landlord.

These are some of the findings in a draft of a city controller’s report on 13 Philadelphia charter schools obtained by The Inquirer that cites excessive salaries, compliant boards whose members are handpicked by school chiefs, inflated rents, and rampant conflicts of interest.

It “is abundantly clear that taxpayer money is at risk,” according to the draft report, which is expected to be released within two weeks.

City Controller Alan Butkovitz declined on Friday to comment on specifics because the completed report has not been made public, but he confirmed that the document The Inquirer obtained was his final draft.

“Charter schools are an experiment in using private business models in the educational field, but this is not private money,” Butkovitz said. “Charter schools are spending tax dollars as if it’s nobody’s business – as if they were private fiefdoms.”

The Controller’s Office opened its special fraud investigation of city charter schools several months after The Inquirer reported allegations of financial mismanagement and conflicts of interest at Philadelphia Academy Charter School in April 2008. Butkovitz’s office has since been sharing information with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which is conducting its own criminal investigation of at least nine area charter schools, according to sources with knowledge of the investigation.

Although charter-school operators and others have claimed previous allegations of financial abuse disclosed by The Inquirer were not the norm, the Butkovitz report says “ethical concerns may, in fact, be more widespread than many acknowledge.”

Imagine that.

Asking The Obvious Questions

Economist Dean Baker at the American Prospect:

When people talk about plans to “help” homeowners they must (yes, I said “must”) ask two simple questions:

1) Are the homeowners being “helped” paying less in mortgage and other housing costs than they would to rent a comparable unit: and
2) Are the homeowners likely to end up with equity in their homes?

Neither of these questions get asked in this discussion of the merits of the Obama administration’s plans to “help” homeowners.
This means that the NYT wasted readers time and killed trees for no good reason.

The point should be really straightforward. We help homeowners when we actually put money in their pocket. If homeowners are paying more in housing costs than they would to rent the same unit, then we have not put money in their pocket, we have put money in the banks’ pockets. This is a policy to help banks, not homeowners.

That can be offset if there is reason to believe that the homeowner will eventually end up with equity in their home. Do we have any reason to believe that this will be the case? Well, that would depend on things like current ratios of sale price to rents and vacancy rates. These issues are not discussed anywhere in this piece or indeed in the overwhelming majority of pieces that discuss mechanisms to help homeowners.

In markets where prices are still bubble-inflated, giving people money to stay in their homes as owners is giving money to banks. In other markets, the owners could actually benefit. However, it is impossible to discuss the issue seriously without being able to distinguish between these situations.

I like being a renter. For one thing, it keeps me strongly tied to real costs, as opposed to inflated ones. For the other, it gives me the ability to more easily adjust to changing personal conditions (like when I lived in a one-room studio until I got another job).

Owning inflated, leveraged real estate in such hard economic times is not for the faint of heart.

Life On The Edge

So the good news is, I got the extension. The bad news is, I don’t know when I’ll get it – me, and two million other Americans:

(CNN) — Extended unemployment benefits will temporarily expire for thousands of Americans on Monday because the Senate went on its spring recess without approving a one-month deadline extension.

The extension, which had bipartisan support, would have cost about $10 billion, but a lone Republican, Sen. Tom Coburn, said no until the costs are offset.

The Oklahoma senator objected to a commonly used unanimous-consent agreement to pass the bill under emergency conditions, even if it increases the federal deficit. Coburn wants to eliminate additional government spending to pay for the bill.

“The legitimate debate is whether we borrow and steal from our kids or we get out of town and send the bill to our kids for something that we’re going to consume today,” Coburn said on the Senate floor.

It’s the second time a Republican has blocked a so-called “emergency extension” of jobless benefits.

The last time this happened was in 2002, when the economy was in the crapper after 9/11. No one could quite believe that the Republicans refused to extend unemployment benefits, but they did. As a result, I ended up leaving my apartment right before I was going to be evicted.

This isn’t a game, although Republicans would like to have you believe we’re all just sitting around on vacation, sipping pina coladas. Shame on them.

Good For What Ails You

I’m not a big chocolate freak, but I do find that a piece of dark chocolate takes the edge off my sweet tooth:

LONDON (AP) — The Easter Bunny might lower your chances of having a heart problem. According to a new study, small doses of chocolate every day could decrease your risk of having a heart attack or stroke by nearly 40 percent.

German researchers followed nearly 20,000 people over eight years, sending them several questionnaires about their diet and exercise habits.

They found people who had an average of six grams of chocolate per day — or about one square of a chocolate bar — had a 39 percent lower risk of either a heart attack or stroke. The study is scheduled to be published Wednesday in the European Heart Journal.

Previous studies have suggested dark chocolate in small amounts could be good for you, but this is the first study to track its effects over such a long period of time. Experts think the flavonols contained in chocolate are responsible. Flavonols, also found in vegetables and red wine, help the muscles in blood vessels widen, which leads to a drop in blood pressure.

“It’s a bit too early to come up with recommendations that people should eat more chocolate, but if people replace sugar or high-fat snacks with a little piece of dark chocolate, that might help,” said Brian Buijsse, a nutritional epidemiologist at the German Institute of Human Nutrition in Nuthetal, Germany, the study’s lead author.

Big Change In Philly Pot Policy

Good news, not just for stoners, but for Philadelphia taxpayers. And we’re already seeing real change with our new DA:

The city’s new district attorney and the state Supreme Court are moving to all but decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use in an effort to unclog Philadelphia’s crowded court dockets.

Under a policy to take effect later this month, prosecutors will charge such cases as summary offenses rather than as misdemeanors. People arrested with up to 30 grams of the drug – slightly more than an ounce – may have to pay a fine but face no risk of a criminal record.

“We have to be smart on crime,” said District Attorney Seth Williams, who took office in January. “We can’t declare a war on drugs by going after the kid who’s smoking a joint on 55th Street. We have to go after the large traffickers.”

The shift is a major move in a reform agenda being hammered out in an unusual partnership between Williams and two members of the state Supreme Court, Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille and Justice Seamus P. McCaffery, each of whom has a long background in criminal justice.

The goal is to sweep about 3,000 small-time marijuana cases annually out of the main court system, freeing prosecutors and judges to devote time to more serious crimes. The diverted cases amount to about 5 percent of the caseload in criminal court.

Police have been briefed on the policy shift, but appear less than enthusiastic about it.

“We’re not going stop locking people up,” Lt. Frank Vanore, a police spokesman, said Friday. He said marijuana possession remained illegal.

Free Health Care for the Poor

It’s so simple when you want it to be, you know?

Peru has announced a new health-care plan to ensure free medical facilities for the poor in the country.

President Alan Garcia issued a decree to enact a new health-care law which seeks to ensure that free high-quality medical treatment is available to the poorest of society.

Under the new regulation announced Friday, the entire population will be able to get health benefits on the basis of three categories – contributory, semi-contributory and subsidised.

Government employees, retired people and professionals will fall under ‘contributory’ category, while people living in extreme poverty will be under ‘subsidised’ group and thereby be entitled to avail all the health-care benefits.

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