Sunday, November 28, 2010


Thieves in Minneapolis take money from stroke patient at fundraiser

Minneapolis police are investigating the reported theft of about $1,300 from a fundraising event over the weekend.

The money was taken outside of Jimmy's Bar in Minneapolis Saturday night. The victim was a 45-year-old Andover woman for whom the fundraiser was held, police said Sunday. The event was held to help her pay for medical bills from a recent stroke and surgery. The robbers apparently grabbed the woman's purse when she briefly went outside the bar.

Police Sgt. Jesse Garcia said it is not unusual for thieves to stake out such fundraisers in hopes of making off with some of the cash.

"People do scout out these types of things," Garcia said Sunday night. "They'll be in the crowd, and they will wait and follow someone outside."

Tom Toles WashPost comments I like "Say ahhh...

How come so little of the debate is about why our health care costs, like, TWICE what it does in other industrialized countries, without better outcomes?

Huh? Why is that?

Lotsa talk about the big debt looming, not so much about how health-care costs are the driver.
MUCH grumbling about COVERING PEOPLE who don't deserve to be covered and deserve to get sick and die or drive up costs even further by not getting pre-crisis care and ending up in emergency rooms where they cost even MORE before they die as they so thoroughly deserve, but that's about the level of focus on this particular public policy issue.

Much head-shaking and consternation about how your run-of-the-mill GOVERNMENT employee is so outrageously overpaid, to say nothing about if s/he happens to be a teacher.
No END of teeth-gnashing about that. But health providers here spending DOUBLE what they do everywhere else with no better outcomes to show for it?

Well, the crickets are busy discussing it, anyway.

Billionaires: Raise our taxes (can't be a Republican!)

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett said taxes should probably be cut further for most Americans, but raised for the super-wealthy, such as himself.

"I think that people at the high end, people like myself, should be paying a lot more in taxes," Buffett said. "We have it better than we've ever had it."

Microsoft founder Bill Gates said he voted for a failed ballot measure in Washington State to raise taxes on the wealthy. "I voted yes and I was hoping that it would pass," Gates said. "But that's done now."

Buffett dismissed the notion that cutting taxes for the wealthy will trickle down through the economy to benefit everyone.

"The rich are always going to say that, you know, just give us more money and we'll go out and spend more and then it will all trickle down to the rest of you," Buffett said. "But that has not worked the last 10 years, and I hope the American public is catching on."


Despite Alaska Senate race results, Joe Miller presses on in principle

Much of America may have moved on, but Joe Miller has not. More than a week after the last vote was counted in Alaska's closely watched U.S. Senate race, the Republican nominee continues to press his case in court in hopes of grabbing back a victory that once seemed inevitable.

Never mind that the incumbent, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R), has already declared that she made history by mounting the first successful write-in campaign for Senate in more than 50 years. Or that the Alaska Republican Party has called on Miller to "end his campaign in a dignified manner." Or that there is but a sliver of a chance he could win even if all his court challenges prove successful.

Miller, a tea party favorite who beat Murkoswki in the GOP primary, has alleged bias on the part of state officials as well as voter fraud, arguing that some of the ballots have suspiciously similar handwriting. He has attacked the state Division of Elections for accepting minor misspellings of Murkowski's name. He has complained that the hand-count of the write-in ballots started too early to give him enough time to train his volunteers to monitor the outcome.

And he has asked for a hand recount of all the ballots, saying the machine-counted votes that went largely for him should receive the same scrutiny - and potentially benefit of the doubt - as the write-in ones cast for Murkowski.

"Lisa Murkowski's were counted by hand, allowing those not automatically tallied by the voting machines to be reviewed and counted. If Miller's ballots were given the same review, he will likely gain numerous votes," Randy DeSoto, a Miller campaign spokesman, said in an e-mail.

According to the state's unofficial results, Murkowski won a solid victory with about 40 percent of the vote. Miller received about 35 percent, and 23 percent went to Democrat Scott McAdams, who has conceded defeat.

Miller's campaign has flagged about 8,000 votes as problematic because of misspellings and other problems. But even if a judge sided with Miller and ordered all those votes thrown out, he would fall short.

"I'm just going to be very straightforward here. I think that race is over," said former congressman Norm Coleman, a Republican who was defeated in the 2008 U.S. Senate race in Minnesota. That contest dragged on for eight months after Election Day as the candidates battled in court before Democrat Al Franken was declared the winner.

"The counting's been done. I'm not sure that anything is going to change," Coleman said in a C-SPAN interview set to air Sunday. "Without criticizing Joe Miller, I would offer him advice . . . that I think it's time to move on, that there's not much you can gain by extending the process."

More at stake

After losing the Republican primary to Miller, Murkowski decided to stay in the race as a write-in candidate. She blanketed the state to teach voters to spell her name, an effort that paid off dramatically Nov. 2.

To Miller's ardent backers - still reeling from the events that led to this point - his continuing fight is neither frivolous nor quixotic. It is a principled stand by a man whose challenge of an establishment candidate they view as too moderate inspired a conservative groundswell.

Indeed, just three months ago, Miller seemed a shoo-in. He was so confident that in September he tweeted, "Think I'll do some house-hunting while I'm in D.C." That dispatch was followed a few moments later by, "Guess I should pick out some office furniture, as well, while in D.C."

A short time later, Miller, a former government attorney, acknowledged that in 2008 he had used work computers for campaigning purposes and lied about it. His image also took a hit when his personal security guards handcuffed a reporter who wanted to ask Miller about the controversy.

Miller's most ardent supporters say they are concerned by the allegations of fraud and negligence - and that more is at stake than the outcome of one race.

"I don't think it's a win or lose for him at this point," said Greg Pugh, a campaign volunteer from Wasilla. "What he's trying to say is, there were certain anomalies that have happened and the law has not been upheld. He wants to see that the election process has integrity for future elections."

Unanswered question

State officials have vigorously defended their process, which they say has been guided by a desire to allow the maximum number of votes to be counted. On Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Craig Campbell (R) called Miller's allegations baseless and harmful to the public trust. Miller's campaign responded by calling Campbell biased and saying he took actions that favored Murkowski.

Last week, Murkowski's campaign jumped into the legal battle, asking to intervene in a dispute that has largely taken place between Miller and the state. Murkowski argues that if the race is not certified quickly, she could lose the seniority she was allowed to keep despite having run against the Republican nominee.

For some of Miller's backers, there is but one question left: Should misspellings of a candidate's name count? Regardless of the outcome of the race, leaving that question unanswered would be a disservice to the public, said Eddie Burke, a tea party activist and radio talk show host from Anchorage. But Burke acknowledges that Miller's political future could be at risk if he presses the case too long and fails.

"He has two things to worry about. He has his future political reputation, but he also has right and wrong on the line. If wrong was done, then it needs to be corrected," Burke said last week. "I think by next week, either Joe has to have some pretty compelling evidence to show the public, or he needs to just fold up his luggage and just call it a day."

Sandhya Somashekhar Washington Post

Iraq’s Troubles Drive Out Refugees Who Came Back JOHN LELAND

BAGHDAD — A second exodus has begun here, of Iraqis who returned after fleeing the carnage of the height of the war, but now find that violence and the nation’s severe lack of jobs are pulling them away from home once again.

Since the American invasion in 2003, refugees have been a measure of the country’s precarious condition, flooding outward during periods of violence and trickling back as Iraq seemed to stabilize. This new migration shows how far the nation remains from being stable and secure.

Abu Maream left Iraq after a mortar round killed his brother-in-law in 2005. Amar al-Obeidi left when insurgents threatened to kill him and raided his shops. Hazim Hadi Mohammed al-Tameemi left because the doctors who treated his wife’s ovarian cancer had fled the country.

All three joined the flow of refugees who returned as violence here ebbed. But now they want to leave again.

“The only thing that’s stopping me is I don’t have the money,” said Mr. Maream, who gave only a partial name — literally, father of Maream — because he feared reprisal from extremists in his neighborhood. “We are Iraqis in name only.”

Nearly 100,000 refugees have returned since 2008, out of more than two million who left since the invasion, according to the Iraqi government and the United Nations high commissioner for refugees.

But as they return, pulled by improved security in Iraq or pushed by a lack of work abroad, many are finding that their homeland is still not ready — their houses are gone or occupied, their neighborhoods unsafe, their opportunities minimal.

In a recent survey by the United Nations refugee office, 61 percent of those who returned to Baghdad said they regretted coming back, most saying they did not feel safe. The majority, 87 percent, said they could not make enough money here to support their families. Applications for asylum in Syria have risen more than 50 percent since May.

As Iraq struggles toward a return to stability, these returnees risk becoming people without a country, displaced both at home and abroad. And though departures have ebbed since 2008, a wave of recent attacks on Christians has prompted a new exodus.

Mr. Obeidi, who used his tribe’s name instead of his father’s name as a surname, left for Syria in 2006 after an improvised bomb exploded near his nephew, terrifying the boy, and insurgents threatened to kill Mr. Obeidi. On a recent evening in Baghdad, he had trouble controlling his breathing as he talked about the daily blasts in his neighborhood.

“There’s no security here,” he said, ticking off his close encounters with guns and bombs. “I was near a female suicide bomber a couple months ago. Then I was in my brother’s truck when insurgents opened fire on a bridge. My friend was killed in front of me with a knife. I’ve been destroyed. My mother needs an operation for her eyes, and I don’t have money. We need someone to help us.”

“Feel my stomach,” he said. “It’s like a rock. It’s going to blow out.”

Before insurgents robbed his tool shops in 2006, he said, he earned about $1,000 a month and was planning to marry. But during several trips abroad he was unable to find work. Since returning to Baghdad he has struggled to find day labor, earning about $6 a day. The woman he had intended to marry is now with another man.

He has twice paid smugglers, to take him to Austria on one occasion and to Italy on another, but each time the men took his money without helping him.

“Life was better in Syria, but I can’t work there,” said Mr. Obeidi, who is a Sunni. “Jordan was the same. Turkey was the same. And it was expensive to live there. That’s why I had to come back. But our country is not our country. It’s Iran’s country. We need someone to help us.”

The United Nations provides some transportation costs and a small stipend for families that come back, but fewer than 4 percent of returnees take advantage of the program. Most either do not know about it or think they may still want to return to their asylum country and will want the agency to help them as refugees, not as returnees.

For Abu Maream and his family, who left for Syria in 2005 and came back last year, life has come down to a choice between bad options. Syria seemed safe, he said, but he felt “humiliated” as an unemployed foreigner seeking work, selling off his possessions to keep the family afloat. Back here, he has been unable to find work, and neighbors who used to respect the family now “look down on us,” he said.

On a recent afternoon he sat in a two-room apartment with only a mattress on the floor and a few possessions in boxes. He had no refrigerator and received only a few hours of electricity a day.

“Before, we had Shiite neighbors, and there were no problems at all,” said Mr. Maream, who is Sunni. “The government created the sectarian thing,” he said, meaning that the political parties formed along ethnic or religious lines, formalizing the division. Now his neighborhood has become a stronghold for Sunni extremists.

He sat on the edge of the mattress, his mother sitting behind him. In the coming months, he said, he will send his sisters and mother back to Syria for their safety, and he and his wife and three children will move in with an uncle in Iraq, splitting up the family. When the family would be reunited in Syria he could not say.

“It’s over; that’s it,” he said. “I’m not coming back. How can I come back? I don’t believe Iraq will have a chance again.”

Mr. Tameemi, who fought in the bloody eight-year war with Iran, said he hated leaving Iraq in 2006. “I love my country,” he said. But after years of sanctions and the American-led invasion, doctors and medicines were scarce in the country — one of the many toxic effects of displacement in Iraq.

In Jordan he found doctors to treat his wife’s cancer, but he could not find work. “They don’t treat us well,” he said.

Now, after two months back in Iraq, Mr. Tameemi is ready to leave again. Despite improvements in security, medical care here — once a model for the region — is still inadequate, and doctors have not returned. “Even if I have to sleep in the road, I want to take care of my wife,” he said.

His next plan is to apply for asylum in the United States, but he knows that the odds are against him. In the meantime, his experience has soured him on the country he can no longer call home.

“I regret coming back, but financial problems pushed me to do it,” he said. “The Iraqis don’t help the Iraqis.”

Dear First Lady Michelle

EVER since Barack Obama’s inauguration, the staff members and tutors at our nonprofit writing programs have marveled at how this presidency has percolated through student essays, stories and poems.

And it’s not just the president who has captured their attention — his wife, Michelle, has, too. From our students’ perspective, Mrs. Obama is glamorous but accessible, maternal but cool. They trust her.

So, earlier this fall, 826 National hosted a series of workshops inviting students to write to the first lady. The results were collected in the book “I Live Real Close to Where You Used to Live: Kids’ Letters to Michelle Obama (and to Sasha, Malia and Bo).”

Here is a sampling of what they came up with; some letters have been edited for space. — LAUREN HALL, grants director for 826 National

Dear Mrs. Obama,

If I was to get invited to eat dinner with you, I’d have so much fun. What if I was your daughter? I’d love you a whole lot and I would always play with you. Malia and Sasha are beautiful children and are so sweet to other people that they see. I would like to become friends with your two daughters. Can I? You should take Sasha and Malia to the Brooklyn Park out on Sixth Street. It has a swing that pushes by itself and if you say high it will go high, if you say low it will go low.

The Brooklyn Park closes at midnight and I stay until 10. It’s fun. I have too much fun. When I run I burn off energy. I know that you want kids to exercise every day for an hour, but I exercise two hours and 30 minutes every day.

— Ne’SHAWN BELT, age 8, Washington

Dear First Lady Michelle Obama,

My parents are divorced. I am having trouble moving on. Do you have any tips? I am confused and sad.

— MAI ROBINSON, age 9, Los Angeles

Dear Michelle,

Can I borrow some money so we can move into an apartment and buy a new Mustang convertible? I don’t mean to waste money. I will use some of the money to buy a drum set and have a cool pool. Can I have $10,000 to buy my passport to go to Las Vegas? Send me a picture of the White House and the statue of Abraham Lincoln.

— LUIS MOLINA, age 10, Los Angeles

Dear Obama family,

I am going to be in the second grade. Do you get a lot of threats? I have nine rooms in my house. I would like to be the first woman to become president. Our dads know each other.

— MIKAELA EWING, age 7, Chicago

Dear First Lady,

I am very vexed and sad about animal rights. Some cruel people abuse them or throw them away, and lots of animals are close to being extinct. When I think of how they feel, I cry for their suffering. Instead of complaining I decided to write ideas.

For starters, let’s not hunt endangered animals. If we hunt these animals, they’ll be extinct before we know all the information about them. I know that saying that we should all be vegetarians is too much, so how about we could just eat basic meats like cows, pigs, chicken and turkeys? That would help.

— JINHEE JUNG, age 11, Seattle

Dear Michelle Obama,

One of the solutions to greenhouse gas is hydrogen fusion. It’s when you fuse four H’s and you make an He and that releases a tremendous amount of heat. And after boiling the water and making electricity, it turns out that it makes, I think, 10 times the amount of electricity it takes to create the heat. The only problem with this is that it makes enough electricity to charge all the houses on a street for a couple weeks, but while traveling through the power lines two-thirds of the electricity is lost by the time it reaches the house. So it will be good to invest money in the power lines problem. Also, one of the best forms of renewable energy is solar panels. Even though they’re expensive now, I suggest investing money in commercials for them. The more they sell the cheaper they get.

— OMID TAVAKOLI, age 12, Flint, Mich.

Dear Michelle Obama,

Please bring me scary stories like the ones my second-grade teacher has. For example, a book full of scary stories that are very, very scary. Bring me a thing to put my books in because I have a lot of books and they are too heavy in my backpack. Please bring me a cute fish too, like the ones in “Finding Nemo.”

I want to be a teacher when I grow up because I want to teach other kids things they like learning, like how to take a test. Next year I will be going to the third grade. In the third grade I am going to learn very fast because I will practice the tests very fast, but sometimes I get some answers wrong. I know I can do better than that.

— JUAN BENITEZ, age 7, San Francisco

Dear Michelle,

You are eating 100 percent healthy. Can you put my dad in a job? I’m eating healthy. I’m eating watermelon, melon, mango and persimmons. I just want to have $200.

— SANTOS LOPEZ, age 8, Los Angeles

Dear Michelle,

My name is Sebastian and I did a report on you. I learned that you were raised on the South Side of Chicago and also that you visit school kids to help them study. I am tall and I like to sleep a lot, but some days I wake up early.

— SEBASTIAN MARTINEZ, age 13, Brooklyn

Dear Michelle Obama,

I think your husband should legalize immigration. Please put a statue of me in Echo Park. Thank you. J.K. No, really. I want a tuxedo on the statue.

— ANDRES ORTEGA, age 11, Los Angeles

Dear First Lady,

Could you tell Obama to stop the war because people are dying and give paper to the people that do not have paper? Also my dad works for the city. Can you give him more money? His name is Manuel and he is in the airport. And how many rooms are there in the White House? I live in 4142. The manager does not let us have a dog and people that live there have a dog. Could you tell the manager we got to have our dog back? Thank you.

— OSCAR CASTRO, age 9, Los Angeles

Dear Michelle Obama,

I am Isayas, and I wanted to tell you that English is a good language because it’s easier to learn. And I want to ask you why do people make up weird names like hot dog or runny nose, or even smelly feet? Because a hot dog should be a dog that’s hot and a runny nose should be a nose running, and a smelly foot should be a foot that has a nose on it. Do you get these? And do you have a nose on your foot?

Here is a joke: What is a hissing cockroach’s favorite subject in school? Hissssssstory. What should you do to a blue elephant? Cheer it up! Why do brooms and vacuum cleaners think people are mean? Because they keep on pushing them. So, were they funny? Great!

— ISAYAS BIKILA, age 9, Seattle

Dear Michelle Obama,

Hi, we are 10 and 9 years old. We live in Boston. We hope you send letters back to us.

I think that you should shut down cigarette and liquor companies and try to keep drugs off the streets. Robots may be able to help you. We all appreciate your hard work to make America better.


— AIDAN SHEILL-LOOMIS, age 9, and NICOLAS ALLEN, age 10, Boston

Dear Mrs. Obama,

You’re the greatest person I ever met. I know that you married Obama because he cares about people and also you think he is a special person. How big is your garden? I hope you have great vegetables and fruits so your two children can be strong and grow too. You’re a better dancer than your husband.

I live in Los Angeles. I live in a white and gray apartment. My favorite things are soccer, movies and also princesses. Do you think princesses are for little kids?

— TATIANA MORALES, age 10, Los Angeles