Paul J. Magnarella writes for Truthout: "Although World War I ranks as one of the most horrific in history, causing about 40 million casualties and up to 20 million military and civilian deaths, it also included a famous and spontaneous peaceful interlude inscribed in chronicles as the unofficial Christmas truce of 1914."
In Romania, Ceausescu's Death Haunts Christmas
Sinziana Demian reports for GlobalPost: "Twenty years ago, as Romanians were celebrating their first free holiday in decades, they rejoiced at the news that dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena had been shot dead on Christmas day. It was the ultimate proof that the communist regime had crumbled irrevocably and that the late-December revolution had indeed succeeded."
A Holiday Season of War
Tom Engelhardt writes for TomDispatch.com: "Excuse the gloom in the holiday season, but I feel like we're all locked inside a malign version of the movie Groundhog Day. You remember, the one in which the characters are forced to relive the same 24 hours endlessly. Put more personally, TomDispatch started in November 2001 as an email to friends in response to the first moments of our latest Afghan War. More than eight years later ... well, you know the story."
Stunning Statistics about the War Every American Should Know
Jeremy Scahill writes for Rebel Reports: "A hearing in Sen. Claire McCaskill’s Contract Oversight subcommittee on contracting in Afghanistan has highlighted some important statistics that provide a window into the extent to which the Obama administration has picked up the Bush-era war privatization baton and sprinted with it. Overall, contractors now comprise a whopping 69% of the Department of Defense’s total workforce, 'the highest ratio of contractors to military personnel in US history.' That’s not in one war zone—that’s the Pentagon in its entirety. In Afghanistan, the Obama administration blows the Bush administration out of the privatized water. According to a memo [PDF] released by McCaskill’s staff, 'From June 2009 to September 2009, there was a 40% increase in Defense Department contractors in Afghanistan. During the same period, the number of armed private security contractors working for the Defense Department in Afghanistan doubled, increasing from approximately 5,000 to more than 10,000.'"
Foreign Interpreters Hurt in Battle Find US Insurance Benefits Wanting
T. Christian Miller reports for ProPublica and The Los Angeles Times: "After the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the U.S. military discovered that rebuilding the country and confronting an insurgency required a weapon not in its arsenal: Thousands of translators. To fill the gap, the Pentagon turned to Titan Corp., a San Diego defense contractor, which eventually hired more than 8,000 interpreters, most of them Iraqis. For $12,000 a year, these civilians served as the voice of America’s military, braving sniper fire and roadside bombs. Insurgents branded them collaborators and targeted them for torture and assassination. Many received military honors for their heroism."
Top 10 Ethical Scandals for 2009
Evan Jones reprots for Mother Jones: "Christmas came early today when Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington revealed their "Top Ten Ethics Scandals" of 2009. It’s their third annual list, and is jam-packed with titillating/depressing breaches of ethics in both the legislative and executive branches. A must-read for all observers of crooked ambition and unchecked hubris in the political sphere."
To download the complete report (PDF file), click here.
Reclaiming Public Values in the Age of Casino Capitalism
Henry A. Giroux writes for Truthout: "This is a difficult time in American history. The American people have every right to demand to live in peace, enjoy the comforts of economic security, have access to decent health care, be able to send their children to quality schools and live with a measure of security. And yet, at a time when public values are subordinated to the rationality of profits, exchange values and unbridled self interest, politics and the institutions and culture that support it become corrupt, devoid of agents and reduced to empty rituals largely orchestrated by those who control the wealth, income, media and commanding institutions of American society."
Wall Street's Fingerprints Evident on Financial Reform Bill
Gail Russell Chaddock reports for The Christian Science Monitor: "Since the near meltdown of Wall Street in late 2008, Congress has pledged to tighten regulations on the finance industry. That exercise is now half over, with the House approving a reform package Dec. 11."
10 Greedest People of 2009
Sam Pizzigati author of Too Much: A Commentary on Excess and Inequality writes for AlterNet: "Has picking a year’s greediest "top ten" ever been easier? We don't think so. We could, this year, fill an entire top ten just with bankers from Goldman Sachs -- or JPMorgan Chase or any of a number of other Wall Street giants. All sport executive suites packed with power suits who fanned the flames that melted down the global economy, then helped themselves, after gobbling down billions in bailouts, to paydays worth mega millions -- at a time when, in over half our states, over a quarter of America’s kids are living off food stamps. Now that’s greed. But that’s also not the whole picture. The Great Recession’s greedy don’t just sit on Wall Street. They occupy perches of power throughout the reeling U.S. economy. So we’ve tried, in this our latest annual ranking of avarice, to survey that bigger picture."
Modern-Day Slavery in Mexico and the United States
Megan McAdams reports for Council on Hemispheric Affairs: "On December 3, Mexico City police freed 107 human trafficking victims who were forced to manufacture shopping bags and clothespins under 'slave-like' circumstances. Officials reported that the victims exhibited signs of physical and sexual abuse, and were also malnourished, as they had been given only chicken feet and rotten vegetables. Twenty-three individuals were arrested and charged with human trafficking after one of the workers escaped and informed the authorities about the dire situation."
America's Secret ICE Castles
Jacqueline Stevens reports for The Nation: "'If you don't have enough evidence to charge someone criminally but you think he's illegal, we can make him disappear.' Those chilling words were spoken by James Pendergraph, then executive director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Office of State and Local Coordination, at a conference of police and sheriffs in August 2008. Also present was Amnesty International's Sarnata Reynolds, who wrote about the incident in the 2009 report Jailed Without Justice (PDF download) and said in an interview, 'It was almost surreal being there, particularly being someone from an organization that has worked on disappearances for decades in other countries. I couldn't believe he would say it so boldly, as though it weren't anything wrong.'"
Climate Discord: From Hopenhagen to Nopenhagen
Amy Goodman writes for Truthdig.com: "Barack Obama said, minutes before racing out of the U.N. climate summit, 'We will not be legally bound by anything that took place here today.' These were among his remarks made to his own small White House press corps, excluding the 3,500 credentialed journalists covering the talks. It was late on Dec. 18, the last day of the summit, and reports were that the negotiations had failed. Copenhagen, which had been co-branded for the talks on billboards with Coke and Siemens as 'Hopenhagen,' was looking more like 'Nopenhagen.'”\
For Obama, No Opportunity Too Big to Blow
Naomi Klein writes for The Nation: "Contrary to countless reports, the debacle in Copenhagen was not everyone's fault. It did not happen because human beings are incapable of agreeing, or are inherently self-destructive. Nor was it all was China's fault, or the fault of the hapless UN. There's plenty of blame to go around, but there was one country that possessed unique power to change the game. It didn't use it. If Barack Obama had come to Copenhagen with a transformative and inspiring commitment to getting the U.S. economy off fossil fuels, all the other major emitters would have stepped up. The EU, Japan, China and India had all indicated that they were willing to increase their levels of commitment, but only if the U.S. took the lead. Instead of leading, Obama arrived with embarrassingly low targets and the heavy emitters of the world took their cue from him."
Kate Sheppard writes for Mother Jones: "Late on Friday at the climate summit in Denmark, President Barack Obama announced the Copenhagen Accord, an eleventh-hour deal with the United States, China, India, Brazil and South Africa that broke a seemingly intractable impasse in the negotiations. But after the president boarded Air Force One—hoping to reach Washington before an approaching snowstorm—negotiators for 193 countries fought bitterly about the agreement through the night. In the small hours, a handful of nations—including Venezuela, Bolivia, Sudan, and Nicaragua—refused to sign the pact. Exhausted negotiators, some looking ready to keel over at any minute, railed and pleaded to no avail; a Venezuelan delegate even cut her hand to emphasize her opposition to the deal. In the end, the holdouts could not be won over, and so the summit’s final statement does not adopt the Copenhagen Accord, but merely "takes note" of it. What does this nebulous pact actually mean—and what happens next?"
End to the Abstinence-Only Fantasy
The New York Times editoralizes: "The omnibus government spending bill signed into law last week contains an important victory for public health. Gone is all spending for highly restrictive abstinence-only sex education programs that deny young people accurate information about contraceptives, sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. The measure redirects sex-education resources to medically sound programs aimed at reducing teenage pregnancy."
Judge Denies Request for 'Necessity Defense' in Trial of Accused Tiller Shooter
The National Partnership for Women and Families reports: "Sedgwick County, Kan., District Judge Warren Wilbert ruled Tuesday that Scott Roeder, the man accused of fatally shooting Kansas abortion provider George Tiller, cannot use a "necessity defense" to argue that he believed the murder was justified to save the lives of fetuses, McClatchy /Los Angeles Times reports. Wilbert did say, however, that he would "leave the door open" for Roeder to present other evidence and arguments that he killed Tiller because he believed he was saving fetuses. According to McClatchy/Times, that might make it possible for Roeder's attorneys to argue that he committed the lesser crime of voluntary manslaughter, which is defined under Kansas law as an 'unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified deadly force.' Roeder is charged with first-degree murder (McClatchy /Los Angeles Times, 12/23)."
Ellen Goodman writes for Truthdig: "It is one of those moments when I feel like a time-traveler. I look out the airplane window and watch a young woman on the tarmac directing our jet to its gate. As she waves the signals, I fall into a silent, familiar reverie: “I remember when.” What I remember, of course, is a time when no woman would have been hired for this “man’s job.” What I remember is when my generation opened the door for hers. If I talked to her about the old days, I wonder, would she listen as politely as if I were talking about walking four miles in the snow to school?
Moyers, Moore and Maddow are the Most Influential Progressives
Don Hazen writes for AlterNet: "The three M's -- Bill Moyers, Michael Moore and Rachel Maddow -- scored highest in a recent AlterNet survey* asking more than 5,000 readers to rate the most influential progressive media figures. Moyers, who scored 67.5, and Moore, with a 66.2 score, were very close. Maddow was a tad behind at 63.5. It's no surprise that Moyers, the moral sage, and Moore, the rabble-rouser, are ranked at the top. They have been popular with AlterNet readers for years. Moyers' current show, "Bill Moyers' Journal," gets at the heart of our many social ills with long-form exploration and probing interviews. Recently, Moyers spent an episode on the Lyndon Johnson Vietnam tapes, drawing a connection to Obama's escalation of the war in Afghanistan. The show was a television masterpiece."
Top 10 Internet Moments of 2009
Tim Karr reprots for the Huffington Post: "More than a decade ago, President Clinton pledged that every person in America would soon be able to go online 'to order up every movie ever produced or every symphony ever created in a minute's time.' Well, we're already well into the next millennium and less than one out of every 10 Americans has a connection capable of those speeds. And it's not just the speed of our connection that's fallen behind. When we can get online in the United States, a free and open Internet is no longer guaranteed."
Google Post Manifesto on Open Internet
Cecilia Kang reports for the Wahington Post: "Google has come to symbolize a crusade by some in the high-tech sector for open Internet policies. But even within the Silicon Valley search giant, the concept of open Internet practices isn’t always clear. Yesterday, Google’s senior vice president for product management, Jonathan Rosenberg, cleared the air. In a letter to employees posted on the company’s official blog, Rosenberg wrote what read like a manifesto of the company’s philosophy on what open Internet means to Google."
Comcast Settle Case Action Suit on Traffic Blocking
Michelle Meyers reports for CNET News: "As we close the book on 2009 and ready for 2010, a legal settlement takes us back to 2007 and 2008, when Comcast got into trouble with customers and the feds for throttling peer-to-peer traffic on its network. Comcast has agreed to pay $16 million to end to a class action lawsuit alleging the broadband provider promised and advertised certain download and upload speeds, but blocked peer-to-peer traffic on its high-speed Internet network. 'Comcast denies these claims, but has revised its management of P2P and is settling to avoid the burden and cost of further litigation,' according to the proposed settlement, pointed out to us by Ars Technica."
So Many Bogus Stories, so Little Time
Joan Walsh comments for Salon.com: "There was plenty of news in 2009: economic near-collapse. An eight-month debate over how to remake the country's flawed healthcare system. Big elections in Iran and Afghanistan. Yet the media spent a lot of time chasing non-stories, from Balloon Boy to Sarah Palin's death panels -- so much so that Salon felt compelled to call out the top Bogus Stories of 2009. You can find them here."
Think-Tanks and the Reporters who Heart Them
Nathan Hodge writes for Wired magazine: "The relationship between reporters and think tanks used to be, well, pretty simple. You called up defense expert X for a quote on, say, cost overruns on a stealth fighter jet, and if you were lucky, you’d get something lively. (Free tip to aspiring defense wonks: Try more pop-culture references.) You could attend one of their conferences, listen to one of their panels and perhaps pick up half a sandwich."