Thursday, March 26, 2009

Watch Frontline Documentry:Ten Trillion and Counting

All of the federal government's efforts to stem the tide of the financial meltdown have added hundreds of billions of dollars to an already staggering national debt, a sum that is expected to double over the next 10 years to more than $23 trillion. In Ten Trillion and Counting, FRONTLINE traces the politics behind this mounting debt and investigates what some say is a looming crisis that makes the current financial situation pale in comparison.

The journey begins as FRONTLINE correspondent Forrest Sawyer takes viewers to a secret location: the Treasury's debt auction room, where the U.S. government sells securities backed by the "full faith and credit of the United States." On this day, the government is auctioning $67 billion of Treasury securities. The money borrowed will be used to fund services and programs that the government cannot pay for through tax revenues alone.

Observers warn that the United States' reliance on borrowing to fund essential programs is a dangerous gamble. For the first time, investors are beginning to question the ability of federal government to meet its growing financial obligations, and fading confidence can have dire consequences. "You might have a situation where there is one day when the government says we need to sell several billion dollars of bonds, and nobody shows," Economist reporter Greg Ip tells FRONTLINE. "No money to pay the Social Security checks, no money to give to the states for their Medicaid programs. Cut, cut, cut, cut, cut."

Yet more borrowing is exactly what the Obama administration plans to do: hundreds of billions to bail out the banks and other financial institutions; tens of billions more for the auto industry; $275 billion for homeowners and mortgage lenders; and a giant $787 billion stimulus package to jump-start an economy spiraling downward. Just like the Bush administration before it, Obama and his team are going to borrow big.

"That's the paradox of the situation that we're in now," observes Matt Miller, author of The Tyranny of Dead Ideas. "Government has got to run big deficits to stimulate the economy, deficits that would have been unthinkable ... because government's the only entity with the wherewithal to prop up a demand in the economy when businesses and consumers are all pulling back."

North Korea Missile Launch: How Serious a Threat?

As North Korea preps a long-range missile for launch, we're seeing a lot of screaming headlines. Our friends at the Drudge Report are giving this one the bold, 36-point type treatment: OMG OMG North Korea has a missile that can reach the western United States! But is that, y'know, true? And how well prepared are we to respond to a missile launch, anyway?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has warned that a missile firing by North Korea would be a "provocative act"; Pyongyang has said it would consider an attempt to shoot down the missile an "act of war." And a launch test would probably mean the end of the six-party talks on nuclear disarmament as well: North Korea has vowed to restart plutonium production if the United Nations punishes it for a rocket launch.

But that assumes they can get it off the ground. The missile -- described by North Korea as a satellite launch vehicle -- is believed to be a Taepodong-2 derivative. North Korea has been developing the Taepodong-2 since the 1990s, but has yet to successfully launch the thing. Back in July 2006, North Korea fired off a Taepodong-2; the missile failed less than a minute after launch.

The response of the Pentagon at the time was instructive. In late 2006, Lt. Gen. Joseph Inge, then-deputy commander of U.S. Northern Command, confirmed that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld put the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system on full alert; interceptor crews at Fort Greely, Alaska, were in place to react to a possible launch; and Rumsfeld personally took part in training exercises meant to test the rules of engagement. When the launch was detected, conference calls with command authorities quickly got underway. But the "threat track" for the missile, however, disappeared before any decision to engage.

Back in 2006, the U.S. military had a very a good picture of what was going on at the launch site; the North Koreans started building up the site almost two months in advance. This time around, we should have plenty of advance warning about a possible Taepodong-2 launch. The missile's first stage uses a liquid propellant; the North Koreans would need several days to fuel up the rocket on the pad. A U.S. official told ABC News yesterday there was "no indication" they had begun the fueling process.

So if the North Koreans moved toward a launch, the U.S. military should have time to weigh the options. The U.S. Navy has at least two ships in the region that may be prepared to track and intercept a missile, including the USS John S. McCain, configured for ballistic missile defense; Japan also has two Aegis destroyers equipped with the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3). A reconfigured SM-3, incidentally, was used in the shoot-down of a disabled spy satellite by a Navy cruiser last year. So the bottom line seems to be: If we have a fair amount of warning, the odds may be pretty decent that we can shoot something down.

Clinton: U.S. Partly To Blame For Mexico’s Drug War Problem Which Poses Potential U.S.Threat

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has the worsening government-drug cartel nearly-full-scale war in Mexico under her microscope — noting that the United States shares the blame due to its providing market demand here and warning that there is a risk of terrorists working with Mexican drug cartels to pose a potential risk to this side of the border:

The United States is at least as responsible as Mexico for the violent drug wars that are roiling its southern neighbor because of an insatiable US market for narcotics, the failure to stop weapons smuggling southward and a three-decade “war” on drugs that “has not worked,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday.

“Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade. Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police officers, soldiers and civilians,” Mrs. Clinton said.

“How could anyone conclude any differently? . . . I feel very strongly we have co-responsibility,” she said.

Clinton’s blunt remarks as she flew to Mexico Wednesday were the clearest by any senior US official in recent memory that American habits and government policies have stoked the drug trade and a spreading epidemic of criminal violence in northern Mexico.

They are likely to be well received by top officials in the government of Mexican President Felipe Calderón, which is battling rising lawlessness and has called on the Obama administration to do more to stop the flow of guns and cash from the United States into Mexico.

Meanwhile, she outlined the potential threat of drug cartel members and terrorists possibly joining forces in an interview with CBS News:

Clinton is on the dime about U.S. demand. Various attempts at drug education (including former Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign years ago”) have been said to achieve mixed results, and some have been called ineffective.

Senator John Kerry’s panel is in Texas today to conduct hearing on the drug problem. How bad is it? The drug war has claimed 2,000 lives in Juárez alone.

The war among Mexican drug cartels that began in January 2008 has killed more than 6,000 people. The U.S. Congress voted last year to spend $1.4 billion to help Mexico in its fight against the drug lords.

This money is being used to change Mexico’s legal system, while at the same time providing the government with new technology and crime-fighting equipment.

U.S. involvement and spending on the war have put a tighter focus on border violence. President Barack Obama has met with Calderón once and will meet with him again next month.

Kerry had this to say:

“The drug-related violence at the border has sent shock waves through both countries, and we need to increase cooperation between the United States and Mexico to combat it before it reaches a tipping point,” he said in a statement. “President Calderón has bravely taken on these lawless cartels at great cost to his government and the Mexican people. We have a responsibility on our side of the border to work more closely with our Mexican counterparts to stem the flow of weapons from the United States and deal with a drug problem festering for decades.”

Meanwhile, after arriving in Mexico Clinton visited a Monterrey police station to to show support for authorities involved in the bloody battle with the drug cartels — who’ve shown a willingness to dismember and behead and mow down innocent bystanders (of any age). She said the “criminals and kingpins” trying to undermine the U.S.-Mexican relationship “will fail” and vowed to stand beside Mexico’s President.

Pioneering historian John Hope Franklin dies at 94

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — John Hope Franklin, a towering scholar and pioneer of African-American studies who wrote the seminal text on the black experience in the U.S. and worked on the landmark Supreme Court case that outlawed public school segregation, died Wednesday. He was 94.

David Jarmul, a spokesman at Duke University, where Franklin taught for a decade and was professor emeritus of history, said he died of congestive heart failure at the school's hospital in Durham.

Born and raised in an all-black community in Oklahoma where he was often subjected to humiliating racism, Franklin was later instrumental in bringing down the legal and historical validations of such a world.

As an author, his book "From Slavery to Freedom" was a landmark integration of black history into American history that remains relevant more than 60 years after being published. As a scholar, his research helped Thurgood Marshall and his team at the NAACP win Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 case that barred the doctrine of "separate but equal" in the nation's public schools.

"It was evident how much the lawyers appreciated what the historians could offer," Franklin later wrote. "For me, and I suspect the same was true for the others, it was exhilarating."

Franklin himself broke numerous color barriers. He was the first black department chair at a predominantly white institution, Brooklyn College; the first black professor to hold an endowed chair at Duke; and the first black president of the American Historical Association.

He often regarded his country like an exasperated relative, frustrated by racism's stubborn power, yet refusing to give up. "I want to be out there on the firing line, helping, directing or doing something to try to make this a better world, a better place to live," Franklin told The Associated Press in 2005.

In November, after Barack Obama broke the ultimate racial barrier in American politics, Franklin called his ascension to the White House "one of the most historic moments, if not the most historic moment, in the history of this country."

"Because of the life John Hope Franklin lived, the public service he rendered, and the scholarship that was the mark of his distinguished career, we all have a richer understanding of who we are as Americans and our journey as a people," Obama said in a statement. "Dr. Franklin will be deeply missed, but his legacy is one that will surely endure."

Obama's achievement fit with Franklin's mission as a historian, to document how blacks lived and served alongside whites from the nation's birth. Black patriots fought at Lexington and Concord, Franklin pointed out in "From Slavery to Freedom," published in 1947. They crossed the Delaware with Washington and explored with Lewis and Clark.

The book sold more than 3.5 million copies and remains required reading in college classrooms. It was based on research Franklin conducted in libraries and archives that didn't allow him to eat lunch or use the bathroom because he was black.

"He was working in a profession that more or less banned him at the outset and ended up its leading practitioner," said Tim Tyson, a history professor at Duke. "And yet, he always managed to keep his grace and his sense of humor."

Late in life, Franklin received more than 130 honorary degrees and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's Spingarn Award. In 1993, President Bill Clinton honored Franklin with the Charles Frankel Prize, recognizing scholarly contributions that give "eloquence and meaning ... to our ideas, hopes and dreams as American citizens."

Clinton awarded Franklin the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian prize, two years later, and gave him the role for which he was perhaps best known outside academia, as chairman of Clinton's Initiative on Race. It was a job of which Franklin said, "I am not sure this is an honor. It may be a burden."

"John Hope Franklin was one of the most important American historians of the 20th century and one of the people I most admired," Clinton said in a statement. "He graced our country with his life, his scholarship, and his citizenship."

As he aged, Franklin spent more time in the greenhouse behind his home, where he nursed orchids, than in libraries. He fell in love with the flowers because "they're full of challenges, mystery" — the same reasons he fell in love with history.

In June, Franklin had a small role in the movie based on the book "Blood Done Signed My Name," about the public slaying of black man in Oxford in 1970. Tyson, the book's author, said at the time he wanted Franklin in the movie "because of his dignity and his shining intelligence."

Franklin attended historically black Fisk University, where he met Aurelia Whittington, who would be his wife, editor, helpmate and rock for 58 years, until her death in 1999. He planned to follow his father into law, but the lively lectures of a white professor, Ted Currier, convinced him history was his field. Currier borrowed $500 to send Franklin to Harvard University for graduate studies.

Franklin's doctoral thesis was on free blacks in antebellum North Carolina. His wife spent part of their honeymoon in Washington, D.C., at the Census Bureau, helping him finish. The resulting work, "The Free Negro in North Carolina, 1790-1860," earned Franklin his doctorate and, in 1943, became his first published book. Four years later, he took a job at Howard University. It was the same year "From Slavery to Freedom" was published.

Some of his greatest moments of triumph were marred by bigotry.

His joy at being offered the chair of the Brooklyn College history department in 1956 was tempered by his difficulty getting a loan to buy a house in a "white" neighborhood.

When he was to receive the freedom medal, Franklin hosted a party for some friends at Washington's Cosmos Club, of which he had long been a member. A white woman walked up to him, handed him a slip of paper and demanded that he get her coat. He politely told the woman that any of the uniformed attendants, "and they were all in uniform," would be happy to assist her.

Franklin was born Jan. 2, 1915, in the all-black town of Rentiesville, Okla., where his parents moved in the mistaken belief that separation from whites would mean a better life for their young family. But his father's law office was burned in the race riots in Tulsa, Okla., in 1921, along with the rest of the black section of town.

His mother, Mollie, a teacher, began taking him to school with her when he was 3. He could read and write by 5; by 6, he first became aware of the "racial divide separating me from white America."

Franklin, his mother and sister Anne were ejected from a train when his mother refused the conductor's orders to move to the overcrowded "Negro" coach. As they trudged through the woods back to Rentiesville, young John Hope began to cry.

His mother pulled him aside and told him, "There was not a white person on that train or anywhere else who was any better than I was. She admonished me not to waste my energy by fretting but to save it in order to prove that I was as good as any of them."

North Korea positions rocket for April liftoff

North Korea has mounted a rocket on a launchpad on its northeast coast, American officials said, putting Pyongyang well on track for a launch the U.S. and South Korea warned Thursday would be a major provocation with serious consequences.

Pyongyang says the rocket will carry a satellite, but regional powers suspect the North will use the launch to test the delivery technology for a long-range missile capable of striking Alaska. They have said the launch — banned by the U.N. Security Council in 2006 — would trigger sanctions.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned such a "provocative act" could jeopardize the stalled talks on supplying North Korea with aid and other concessions in exchange for dismantling its nuclear program.

"We have made it very clear that the North Koreans pursue this pathway at a cost and with consequences to the six-party talks, which we would like to see revived," Clinton said Wednesday in Mexico City.

"We intend to raise this violation of the Security Council resolution, if it goes forward, in the U.N.," she said. "This provocative action in violation of the U.N. mandate will not go unnoticed, and there will be consequences."

North Korea responded Thursday, by threatening "strong steps" if the Security Council criticizes the launch. Any challenge to its bid to send the satellite into space would mean an immediate end to the six-party disarmament talks, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

The statement did not specify what action the North would take.

North Korea declared last month that it was making "brisk headway" in preparations to send its Kwangmyongsong-2 communications satellite into space, and notified aviation and maritime authorities of a time frame for the launch: April 4-8, between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Commercial satellite imagery from DigitalGlobe has revealed steady progress toward a launch, with a flurry of activity at the Musudan-ni site in late February and an open hatch and crane hovering above the launchpad two weeks ago, Jane's Intelligence Review editor Christian Le Miere said. After mounting the rocket, scientists would need a number of days to conduct tests and to fuel the projectile.

U.S. spy satellites spotted the rocket two days ago, South Korean reports said — the first indication that the countdown toward a launch has begun. Counterterrorism and intelligence officials in Washington confirmed reports that a rocket was in position.

North Korea is now "technically" capable of launching it in three to four days, South Korea's Chosun Ilbo newspaper said, citing an unnamed diplomatic official.

However, South Korean and U.S. intelligence authorities have not yet determined whether the rocket is intended to carry a satellite or a missile because the top is concealed, the Yonhap news agency said, citing an unnamed South Korean government official.

North Korea calls the rocket the Unha-2, which experts say utilizes the same delivery system as the Taepodong-2 long-range ballistic missile. The Chosun Ilbo described the rocket as the Taepodong-2 based on its size.

The government said Thursday it could not confirm reports the rocket was in place. But Seoul urged the North to cancel the launch, warning that the move would threaten regional stability and draw international sanctions.

"If North Korea pushes ahead with the launch by ignoring repeated warning by our government and the international community, that would be a serious challenge and provocation on security on the Korean peninsula and regional stability in Northeast Asia," ministry spokesman Won Tae-jae told reporters.

South Korea will take the North to the U.N. Security Council whether it launches a satellite or a missile, Foreign Ministry spokesman Moon Tae-young said.