Friday, July 31, 2009

Farmer saves $200,000 with poo power

By Ayesha Tejpar

ROCKWOOD, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- Four generations of Saylors have worked the family's dairy farm for nearly a century, but for the past three years, the cows have been doing something besides providing milk: They've been helping power the place.

Growing up on the sprawling spread 90 minutes from Pittsburgh, 36-year-old farmer Shawn Saylor developed into a self-described science buff.

Paul Krugman: Health Care Realities

At a recent town hall meeting, a man stood up and told Representative Bob Inglis to “keep your government hands off my Medicare.” The congressman, a Republican from South Carolina, tried to explain that Medicare is already a government program — but the voter, Mr. Inglis said, “wasn’t having any of it.”

It’s a funny story — but it illustrates the extent to which health reform must climb a wall of misinformation. It’s not just that many Americans don’t understand what President Obama is proposing; many people don’t understand the way American health care works right now. They don’t understand, in particular, that getting the government involved in health care wouldn’t be a radical step: the government is already deeply involved, even in private insurance.

And that government involvement is the only reason our system works at all.

Fox, WSJ personalities shocked by arts grants, but Bush funded same groups

Several media figures on Fox News and Fox Business -- including Glenn Beck -- have blasted the National Endowment for the Arts for awarding Recovery Act grants to San Francisco arts organizations, claiming the grants will pay for "porn." However, those personalities ignored significant facts: Direct grants were only made to organizations that were screened to receive funding in the past, and every group they criticized previously received tens of thousands of dollars from the Bush administration.

Here's the truth: 'Birther' claims are just plain nuts

WASHINGTON — The false allegation that President Barack Obama was born in another country is more than a fact-free hit job.

Marked by accusations and backstabbing, it's the story of how a small but intense movement called "birthers" rose from a handful of people prone to seeing conspiracies, aided by the Internet, magnified without evidence by eager radio and cable TV hosts, and eventually ratified by a small group of Republican politicians working to keep the story alive on the floors of Congress and the campaign trails of the Midwest.

Global curbs on overfishing are beginning to work

Scientists have joined forces in a groundbreaking assessment of the status of marine fisheries and ecosystems.
31 July 2009

Australian Beth Fulton, a fishery ecosystem scientist from the CSIRO Wealth from Oceans Flagship, was among an international team of 19 co-authors of a report on a two-year study, led by US scientists Dr Boris Worm of Dalhousie University and Dr Ray Hilborn of the University of Washington.

The study shows that steps taken to curb overfishing are beginning to succeed in five of the 10 large marine ecosystems they examined. The paper, which appears in the 31 July issue of the journal Science, provides new hope for rebuilding troubled fisheries.

Book Excerpt: ‘Empire of Illusion’

Read this brilliant and humorous chapter from Chris Hedges’ new book and marvel as the Pulitzer Prize-winning war correspondent makes sense of reality television.

Adapted from “Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle,” available from Nation Books, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2009.

Celebrity worship banishes reality. And this adulation is pervasive. It is dressed up in the language of the Christian Right, which builds around its leaders, people like Pat Robertson or Joel Olsteen, the aura of stardom, fame and celebrity power. These Christian celebrities travel in private jets and limousines. They are surrounded by retinues of bodyguards, have television programs where they cultivate the same false intimacy with the audience, and, like all successful celebrities, amass personal fortunes. The frenzy around political messiahs, or the devotion of millions of women to Oprah Winfrey, is all part of the yearning to see ourselves in those we worship. We seek to be like them. We seek to make them like us. If Jesus and The Purpose Driven Life won’t make us a celebrity, then Tony Robbins or positive psychologists or reality television will. We are waiting for our cue to walk onstage and be admired and envied, to become known and celebrated.

“What does the contemporary self want?” asked critic William Deresiewicz:

The camera has created a culture of celebrity; the computer is creating a culture of connectivity. As the two technologies converge —broadband tipping the Web from text to image; social-networking sites spreading the mesh of interconnection ever wider—the two cultures betray a common impulse. Celebrity and connectivity are both ways of becoming known. This is what the contemporary self wants. It wants to be recognized, wants to be connected: It wants to be visible. If not to the millions, on Survivor or Oprah, then to the hundreds, on Twitter or Facebook. This is the quality that validates us, this is how we become real to ourselves—by being seen by others. The great contemporary terror is anonymity. If Lionel Trilling was right, if the property that grounded the self in Romanticism was sincerity, and in modernism was authenticity, then in postmodernism it is visibility.

Three Good Reasons To Liquidate Our Empire and 10 Ways to Do It

By Chalmers Johnson,
Posted on July 31, 2009, Printed on July 31, 2009

However ambitious President Barack Obama's domestic plans, one unacknowledged issue has the potential to destroy any reform efforts he might launch. Think of it as the 800-pound gorilla in the American living room: our longstanding reliance on imperialism and militarism in our relations with other countries and the vast, potentially ruinous global empire of bases that goes with it. The failure to begin to deal with our bloated military establishment and the profligate use of it in missions for which it is hopelessly inappropriate will, sooner rather than later, condemn the United States to a devastating trio of consequences: imperial overstretch, perpetual war, and insolvency, leading to a likely collapse similar to that of the former Soviet Union.

Recovery act-funded research projects aid communities across the country

Money at work funding jobs, construction, education and research

In the five months since passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), thousands of research-related awards have been made, supporting important scientific efforts across the country. ARRA delivered the largest increase in basic research funding in American history - $21.5 billion. The bulk of the money is for scientific research and education projects, while $3.5 billion is allocated for research facilities and capital equipment. Universities are helping researchers apply for ARRA funding and the federal science agencies tasked with distributing that money are reviewing tens of thousands of grant applications – all in a compressed timeframe and under new reporting requirements. As a result, in every state and the District of Columbia, ARRA-funded research grants are creating jobs, allowing the purchase of equipment, and supporting science-related construction projects.

Exclusive: Earmark critic steered cash to blimp research

John Bresnahan
Thu Jul 30, 5:19 am ET

Rep. Pete Sessions — the chief of the Republicans’ campaign arm in the House — says on his website that earmarks have become “a symbol of a broken Washington to the American people.”

Yet in 2008, Sessions himself steered a $1.6 million earmark for dirigible research to an Illinois company whose president acknowledges having no experience in government contracting, let alone in building blimps.

What the company did have: the help of Adrian Plesha, a former Sessions aide with a criminal record who has made more than $446,000 lobbying on its behalf.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Health Care Bill Dies?

The AP reports that “after weeks of secretive talks, a bipartisan group in the Senate edged closer Monday to a health care compromise that omits two key Democratic priorities but incorporates provisions to slow the explosive rise in medical costs.” The deal was likely to “exclude a requirement many congressional Democrats seek for large businesses to offer coverage to their workers” and a “provision for a government insurance option.” The Wall Street Journal says that “individuals familiar with the negotiations suggested” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus “would like to unveil a deal later this week. But unclear Monday was whether” ranking Republican Sen. Charles Grassley “would sign onto the deal and pave the way for committee action next week.”

via Political Bulletin: Tuesday, July 28, 2009.

Well, as the French would say… Quelle surprise!

It’s funny, earlier this summer I was watching the Federer-Roddick Wimbledon Final. Great match in a way, final set was 30 games long, one of the all-time epic battles. And yet, as I watched it, I thought to myself, “This has to be the least suspenseful epic sporting event of all time.” Because there was never any doubt in my mind that Federer was going to win the match. I simply could not envision a scenario where anything else than a Federer victory could happen. I think I even turned it off at 7-7 in the final set, figuring I could catch Federer’s award ceremony later on.

Capitalism, Sarah Palin-Style

by Naomi Klein

The following was adapted from a speech on May 2, 2009 at The Progressive [1]’s 100th anniversary conference and originally printed in The Progressive magazine, August 2009 issue:

We are in a progressive moment, a moment when the ground is shifting beneath our feet, and anything is possible. What we considered unimaginable about what could be said and hoped for a year ago is now possible. At a time like this, it is absolutely critical that we be as clear as we possibly can be about what it is that we want because we might just get it.

So the stakes are high.

How Firms Wooed a U.S. Agency With Billions to Invest

WASHINGTON — As a New York money manager and investment banker at four Wall Street firms, Charles E. F. Millard never reached superstar status. But he was treated like one when he arrived in Washington in May 2007, to run the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, the federal agency that oversees $50 billion in retirement funds.

BlackRock, one of the world’s largest money-management firms, assigned a high school classmate of Mr. Millard’s to stay in close contact with him, and it made sure to place him next to its legendary founder, Laurence D. Fink, at a charity dinner at Chelsea Piers. A top executive at Goldman Sachs frequently called and sent e-mail messages, inviting Mr. Millard out to the Mandarin Oriental and the Ritz-Carlton in Washington, even helping him hunt for his next Wall Street job.

Both firms were hoping to win contracts to manage a chunk of that $50 billion. The extensive wooing paid off when a selection committee of three, including Mr. Millard, picked BlackRock and Goldman from among 16 bidders to manage nearly $1.6 billion and to advise the agency, which Mr. Millard ran until January.

Bill Kristol admits govt.-run health care can be better than private

By David Edwards and Daniel Tencer

Published: July 28, 2009
Updated 1 day ago

Weekly Standard editor and Fox News pundit Bill Kristol got booed heavily on The Daily Show Monday night when he said that ordinary Americans don’t “deserve” the same standard of health care that soldiers receive.

But the show’s truly revealing moment came when host Jon Stewart caught Kristol — long an opponent of public health care — admitting that government-run health care for soldiers is superior to private health plans.

Humans "damaging the oceans"

Mounting evidence that human activity is changing the world’s oceans in profound and damaging ways is outlined in a new scientific discussion paper released today.

Man-made carbon emissions “are affecting marine biological processes from genes to ecosystems over scales from rock pools to ocean basins, impacting ecosystem services and threatening human food security,” the study by Professor Mike Kingsford of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook University and colleague Dr Andrew Brierley of St Andrews University, Scotland, warns.

Their review, published in the latest issue of the journal Current Biology, says that rates of physical change in the oceans are unprecedented in some cases, and change in ocean life is likely to be equally quick.

Why Did NYT Do a Puff Piece on Finance Members Holding Up Health Reform?

By: Scarecrow
Monday July 27, 2009 10:31 pm

The New York Times has done some excellent reporting lately, particulary by David Leonhardt, on the health care reform debates. Sunday's half-page editorial summary of the bills and issues was also excellent.

So unless this article is meant to mock Baucus' nightmare team, it is bewildering that the Times would allow itself to be used by the Senate Finance Committee to cover for the continuing failure of the "coalition of the unwilling" to produce a proposal that isn't an insult to the millions of Americans waiting for real reforms.

Thomas Frank: The Gates of Political Distraction

Obama’s mistake was falling for a culture war diversion.


The essential point about Gates-gate, or the tempest over last week’s arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., is this: Most liberal commentary on the subject has taken race as its theme. Conservative commentators, by contrast, have furiously hit the class button.

Liberals, by and large, immediately plugged the event into their unfair-racial-profiling template, and proceeded to call for blacks and whites to “listen to each other’s narratives” and other such anodyne niceties even after it started to seem that police racism was probably not what caused the incident.

Conservatives, meanwhile, were following their own “narrative,” the one in which racism is often exaggerated and the real victim is the unassuming common man scorned by the deference-demanding “liberal elite.” Commentators on the right zeroed in on the fact that Mr. Gates is an “Ivy League big shot,” a “limousine liberal,” and a star professor at Harvard, an institution they regard with special loathing.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

In Sickness and in Wealth

How America's rising income inequality figures in to the debate over health care.

By Eliot Spitzer

The debate about bank bailouts and health care is missing a critical piece of context: The American economy hasn't been working for the working- and middle class for decades. It is impossible to determine who should pay for what or whether it is "fair" to ask the wealthy to contribute more to the health care of those who are uninsured, without better understanding the winners and losers in the U.S. economy over the past several decades.

One of the great accomplishments of the American economy, or at least the mythology so claims, is the creation of an enormous middle class after World War II. Americans all shared in the wealth generated by the most dynamic economy the world had ever seen. At one end of the economic spectrum, we reduced the number of people living in poverty, while at the other end, we applauded those whose work benefited the entire economy.

Obama-Haters Becoming Increasingly...Racial In Their Rhetoric

An interesting pattern has emerged in the last few weeks, as President Obama's ratings have started to come down to Earth: You can really see a type of Obama-hatred out there that really does cross over into a purely racial territory.

This has gotten especially worse in the aftermath of Obama's comments and subsequent mea culpa on the Henry Louis Gates arrest, but the pattern has been there all the same. You can look back to the 2008 campaign, with the Jeremiah Wright controversies, the phony rumors of a tape of Michelle Obama defaming whites, and the slow but steady emergence of the Birthers. And these days, the Birthers seem to be getting more and more bellicose.

How to Solve the Housing Crisis

Rather than throwing families out of foreclosed homes, US laws should be changed to allow them to stay and rent

Winston Churchill supposedly said: "You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, after they have tried everything else." This may prove to be an accurate description of the response to the foreclosure crisis that has followed the collapse of the housing bubble.

The folks in Washington have developed a series of complex mortgage modification schemes designed to keep people in their homes. George Bush put forward the first plan in the summer of 2007. It was entirely voluntary for lenders and came with no government money.

Last summer, Congress developed a package that committed up to $300bn in loan guarantees [1] to support modification efforts. Eight months after the plan went into effect, there were fewer than 1,000 applications and only 52 completed modifications.

New Survey Report Reveals Truth Behind Excessive Credit Card Debt in the United States

Findings Show Skyrocketing Costs, Dwindling Savings, Stagnant Wages and Medical Debt Major Factors

WASHINGTON - July 28 - As the recession continues to squeeze financially vulnerable American households, they are turning to credit cards to make ends meet, according to "The Plastic Safety Net: How Households are Coping in a Fragile Economy," a new report published today by Demos, a national research and policy center.

This is Demos' second national survey examining credit card debt among low- and middle-income households--those whose incomes fell between 50 percent and 120 percent of local median income. It provides new information about why households are in credit card debt, how long they have carried their debt, and the impact this debt has had on their economic security.

Health Care For The Blue Dogs

The fate of health-care reform hangs on what President Obama and leading Democrats do in the next few weeks. In particular, it hinges on an effective response to moderate Democrats in the House -- known as "Blue Dogs" -- who are threatening [1] to jump ship.

The main worry expressed by the Blue Dogs is that the Congressional Budget Office has predicted [2] that leading bills on Capitol Hill won't bring down medical inflation. The irony is that the Blue Dogs' argument -- that a new public insurance plan designed to compete with private insurers should be smaller and less powerful, and that Medicare and this new plan should pay more generous rates to rural providers -- would make reform more expensive, not less. The further irony is that the federal premium assistance that the Blue Dogs worry is too costly is the reform that would make health-care affordable for a large share of their constituents.

The Blue Dogs are right to hold Obama [3] and Democratic leaders to their commitment to real cost control. But they are wrong to see this goal as conflicting with a new national public health insurance plan for Americans younger than 65. In fact, such a plan, empowered to work with Medicare, is Congress's single most powerful lever for reforming the way care is paid for and delivered. With appropriate authority, it can encourage private plans to develop innovations in payment and care coordination that could spread through the private sector, as have past public-sector innovations.

Study finds significant number of kids experience family homelessness

Those from homeless families more likely to suffer mental health problems

Amy Albin | 7/27/2009 9:40:00 AM

A new multisite study by UCLA and RAND Corp. researchers and colleagues has found that 7 percent of fifth-graders and their families have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives and that the occurrence is even higher — 11 percent — for African American children and those from the poorest households.

The study also found that children who had experienced homelessness at some point during their lives were significantly more likely to have an emotional, behavioral or developmental problem; were more likely to have witnessed serious violence with a knife or a gun; and were more likely to have received mental health care.

Actions taken over the next decade to demonstrate and deploy key technologies will determine US energy future

WASHINGTON -- With a sustained national commitment, the United States could obtain substantial energy-efficiency improvements, new sources of energy, and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions through the accelerated deployment of existing and emerging energy technologies, according to AMERICA'S ENERGY FUTURE: TECHNOLOGY AND TRANSFORMATION, the capstone report of the America's Energy Future project of the National Research Council, the operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Engineering. Initiating deployment of these technologies is urgent; actions taken -- or not taken -- between now and 2020 to develop and demonstrate several key technologies will largely determine the nation's energy options for many decades to come.

Deploying existing energy-efficiency technologies is a near-term and low-cost way to reduce U.S. energy demand, the report says. Fully deploying these technologies in buildings alone could save enough power to eliminate the need for new electricity generating plants to meet growing U.S. demand. However, some new plants would likely still be needed to address regional supply imbalances, replace obsolete technology, or present more environmentally friendly sources of electricity. Deployment of efficiency technologies in the building, industrial, and transportation sectors could reduce projected U.S. energy use by 15 percent in 2020 and by 30 percent in 2030. Even greater energy savings would be possible with more aggressive policies and incentives.

Guantánamo Bay: the inside story

There’s a McDonald’s on the high street, suburban houses, rats the size of dogs, and 229 of the world’s most high-profile prisoners. Six months after President Obama declared that he would close it down, Naomi Wolf heads to Guantánamo Bay to see whether anything has changed

Six months ago this week President Obama, on his second day in office, promised to close the Guantánamo detention camp within a year, and to undo the secretive and coercive detention and interrogation policies of George W. Bush. But has Obama been as good as his word?

I went to Guantánamo last month to see for myself what difference, if any, Obama’s election had made. My trip was surreal from start to end. I was in line for the rotating junket to the island, and had been given a date by a nervous-sounding and very young Lieutenant Cody Starken. I signed papers that committed me to not reporting classified information — on pain of prosecution. Then I got on a tiny aircraft — unmarked on any announcement board — out of Fort Lauderdale airport.

Middle-class suicide

By Julian Delasantellis

It's pretty much par for the course for science fiction to tell tales of a bleak and nightmarish future, but even so, Ridley Scott's 1982 movie Blade Runner, from the Philip K Dick novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? really piled it on with the dystopian delights.

Set in the year 2019, in a Los Angeles with a population of 100 million (10 times its current population), the movie shows what happens when a society allows its middle class to wither and die. Here, Los Angeles has been rent into two socioeconomic classes with almost no regular contact - a small, far-off wealthy class growing ever fatter and happier on the backs of its slave labor android workforce mining the natural resources of the outer planets, and a vast, polyglot lower class, speaking a bastardized English composed of parts of all the languages of the immigrant communities competing with each other for what few of society's crumbs are available to them. All this is happening amidst a grossly polluted urban landscape where toxic rain regularly falls on the unfortunates.

CSI: Watergate

Has an amateur historian found the key to the lost 18 ½ minutes?

ON JUNE 20, 1972
, President Richard Nixon and his chief of staff, H.R. "Bob" Haldeman, met in Nixon's hideaway office at the Old Executive Office Building. Three days earlier, White House-connected dirty tricksters had been nabbed breaking into the Democratic National Committee's Watergate offices, and the 79-minute-long conversation—with Nixon's secret taping system running and Haldeman taking his typically meticulous notes on a tablet of yellow lined paper with a ballpoint pen—at one point turned toward the break-in and how to craft a counterattack. What exactly the two men said to one another would become one of the great political mysteries of the 20th century: Sometime during the Watergate scandal, 18 ½ minutes were suspiciously erased from the tape recording of this meeting.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Paul Krugman: An Incoherent Truth

Right now the fate of health care reform seems to rest in the hands of relatively conservative Democrats — mainly members of the Blue Dog Coalition, created in 1995. And you might be tempted to say that President Obama needs to give those Democrats what they want.

But he can’t — because the Blue Dogs aren’t making sense.

To grasp the problem, you need to understand the outline of the proposed reform (all of the Democratic plans on the table agree on the essentials.)

Reform, if it happens, will rest on four main pillars: regulation, mandates, subsidies and competition.

New predictions for sea level rise

Fossil coral data and temperature records derived from ice-core measurements have been used to place better constraints on future sea level rise, and to test sea level projections.

The results are published today in Nature Geoscience and predict that the amount of sea level rise by the end of this century will be between 7- 82 cm – depending on the amount of warming that occurs – a figure similar to that projected by the IPCC report of 2007.

Placing limits on the amount of sea level rise over the next century is one of the most pressing challenges for climate scientists. The uncertainties around different methods to achieve accurate predictions are highly contentious because the response of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets to warming is not well understood.

University has grand designs to build a house of straw

Could straw houses be the buildings of the future?

That’s what researchers at the University of Bath will be testing this summer by constructing a “BaleHaus” made of prefabricated straw bale and hemp cladding panels on campus.

And people around the world will be able to watch its progress online via “Strawcam” from Monday 20 July. The BaleHaus website also features blogs, videos, photos and lots of other information about the project.

Straw is the ultimate environmentally-friendly building material since it is renewable and is a by-product of farming.

Bush Era Horrors Will Haunt Us Until We Truly Face Them

By Tom Engelhardt,
Posted on July 27, 2009, Printed on July 27, 2009

We've just passed through the CIA assassination flap, already fading from the news after less than two weeks of media attention. Broken in several major newspapers, here's how the story goes: the Agency, evidently under Vice President Dick Cheney's orders, didn't inform Congress that, to assassinate al-Qaeda leaders, it was trying to develop and deploy global death squads. (Of course, just about no one is going to call them that, but the description fits.) Congress is now in high dudgeon. The CIA didn't keep that body's "Gang of Eight" informed. A House investigation is now underway.

We're told that the CIA -- being the president's private army and part of the executive branch of our government -- has committed a heinous dereliction of duty. In fact, not keeping key congressional figures up to date on the developing program could even "be illegal," according to Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin. (Not that Congress, when informed of Bush administration extreme acts, ever did much of anything anyway.)

Bill Moyers: Dangerous Alliance of Health Industry and Right-Wingers Will Stop at Nothing to Derail Progressive Reforms

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship, AlterNet
Posted on July 27, 2009, Printed on July 27, 2009

Push finally came to shove in Washington this past week as the battle for health care escalated from scattered sniper fire into all-out combat. If it all seems to be getting more and more confusing, join the club. It's hard to see what's happening through all the gun smoke.

The Republicans have more than health care reform in their bombsights -- they want a loss for Obama so crushing it will bring the administration to its knees and restore GOP control of Congress after next year's elections.

In the words of Republican Senator Jim DeMint, "If we're able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him."

The Recession Is Over

Now what we need is a new kind of recovery.

By Daniel Gross

In Westport, Mass., about 60 miles southwest of Boston, traffic crawls along Route 6 as drivers make their way to the nearby Atlantic beaches like Horseneck or Baker's. A 10-worker crew pouring and raking asphalt onto the road slows their progress. It's the kind of small annoyance drivers nationwide face each summer. It's also one small manifestation of President Barack Obama's ambitious strategy for jump-starting the economy.

In April, the P.J. Keating Co., a construction firm based in Lunenburg, Mass., bid on about a dozen stimulus projects funded through the U.S. Transportation Department. It won two contracts, including this $4.06 million job, rescuing what would have been a dismal year for P.J. Keating, says David Baker, 36, a manager of construction operations. As business dwindled over the past two years, the firm laid off about a dozen people. "We definitely would have been faced with another half-dozen layoffs had we not gotten these stimulus projects," Baker says. Instead, the company kept all its remaining 300 employees and hired five new ones. Ordinarily, a few government-funded jobs, like traffic on Route 6, wouldn't be noteworthy. But the tableau neatly encapsulates the promise—and pitfalls—of an economy at an inflection point.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The War Being Waged on the TARP Watchdog's Independence

by Glenn Greenwald

Neil Barofsky, the chief watchdog over the $700 billion TARP bank bailout program, is one of those rare creatures in Washington: he takes very seriously his responsibilities of independent oversight and accountability. A career prosecutor, Barofsky is a life-long Democrat who donated money to Obama's presidential campaign. But ever since he was appointed to head the oversight office created by Congress when it enacted TARP -- an office designed to ensure transparency and accountability at the Treasury Department and in the banking industry -- he has repeatedly clashed with Obama's Treasury officials over their lack of transparency in how the trillions of dollars in TARP-related funds are being sent to and used by the banking industry. So seriously does Barofsky take his oversight duties that, as a Washington Post profile noted in March, "he refuses to eat with senior administration officials in the [Tre

Soldiers in Colorado slayings tell of Iraq horrors

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Soldiers from an Army unit that had 10 infantrymen accused of murder, attempted murder or manslaughter after returning to civilian life described a breakdown in discipline during their Iraq deployment in which troops murdered civilians, a newspaper reported Sunday.

Some Fort Carson, Colo.-based soldiers have had trouble adjusting to life back in the United States, saying they refused to seek help, or were belittled or punished for seeking help. Others say they were ignored by their commanders, or coped through drug and alcohol abuse before they allegedly committed crimes, The Gazette of Colorado Springs said.

Congressman Eric Cantor, R-Unethical

posted by John Nichols on 07/24/2009 @ 07:40am

Virginia Congressman Eric Cantor has taken a lead in Republican attacks on expanding role of the federal government.

But there are some expansions of government that do not bother the conservative stalwart.

For instance, Cantor does not appear to have any problem with the government funding his political projects.

What You Might Not Know About the Recovery


SIX months ago, when President Obama and I took office, we were confronted with an economic crisis unparalleled in our lifetime. The nation was hemorrhaging more than 700,000 jobs a month, the housing market was in free fall, and the fate of the financial system hung in the balance. Credible economists were handicapping the probability of a depression. The actions we took — passing the Recovery Act, stabilizing the banking system, pressing to get credit flowing again and helping responsible homeowners — brought us back from the precipice. Monthly job losses are down, financial markets are improved, and economic contraction has slowed. We still have a long way to go, but clearly we are closer to recovery today than we were in January. The Recovery Act has been critical to that progress.

Notwithstanding this progress, the nature of the Recovery Act remains misunderstood by many, and misconstrued by others: critics have suggested that the entire $787 billion is being spent on pet programs. As the person leading the administration’s efforts to put the Recovery Act into effect, I want to set the record straight.

The single largest part of the Recovery Act — more than one-third of it — is tax cuts: 95 percent of working Americans have seen their taxes go down as a result of the act. The second-largest part — just under a third — is direct relief to state governments and individuals. The money is allowing state governments to avoid laying off teachers (14,000 in New York City alone), firefighters and police officers and preventing states’ budget gaps from growing wider.

The Wall Street Rally: Watch Your Wallets

Been Down So Long It Seems Like Up To Me, the precocious 1966 novel by the late Richard Farina, defined the late 1960s counterculture. The stock market rally that's pushed the Dow Jones Industrial Average back above 9000 for the first time since early January could be given the same title, and it might well come to define the much-wished-for financial recovery.

What's pushing the stock market upward? Mainly, unexpectedly positive second-quarter corporate profits. But those profits aren't being powered by consumers who have suddenly found themselves with a lot more money in their pockets. The profits are coming from dramatic cost-cutting -- including, most notably, payroll cuts. If a firm cuts its costs enough, it can show a profit even if its sales are still in the basement.

High frequency traders – a phoney explanation when nobody seems to know the real explanation

Goldman Sachs made 5.7 billion dollars of trading revenue in the last quarter. That run rate (over 22 billion per annum) is almost as much as the pre-crisis peak.

$22 billion per annum is roughly $200 per year per household in the United States.

If it is someone’s trading revenue it presumably comes out of someone else’s pocket so measuring it per household is appropriate.

Spitzer: Federal Reserve is ‘a Ponzi scheme, an inside job’

Posted By Daniel Tencer On July 25, 2009 @ 10:15 pm In

The Federal Reserve — the quasi-autonomous body that controls the US’s money supply — is a “Ponzi scheme” that created “bubble after bubble” in the US economy and needs to be held accountable for its actions, says Eliot Spitzer, the former governor and attorney-general of New York.

In a wide-ranging discussion of the bank bailouts on MSNBC’s Morning Meeting, host Dylan Ratigan described the process by which the Federal Reserve exchanged $13.9 trillion of bad bank debt for cash that it gave to the struggling banks.

Spitzer — who built a reputation as “the Sheriff of Wall Street” for his zealous prosecutions of corporate crime as New York’s attorney-general and then resigned as the state’s governor over revelations he had paid for prostitutes — seemed to agree with Ratigan that the bank bailout amounts to “America’s greatest theft and cover-up ever.”

Lies, damn lies

Murdoch’s papers have relentlessly assaulted common truth and decency, but their most successful war has been on journalism itself

Dow's back at 9,000: Does that mean the recession's over?

Economists say the stock-market milestone crystalizes a new phase in the retreat that's wiped out trillions of dollars in wealth, sent unemployment soaring and vaporized home equity. However, the economy remains in a shambles, they say, and forecasts call for a slow and weak recovery that will leave millions jobless across the country for years.

Blue Dogs Fill Their Bowls with Cash

Moderate Democratic Coalition’s Leverage Draws Interest Across Spectrum

By Josh Israel, Aaron Mehta | July 22, 2009

Whether the subject is health care reform, climate change, or pay-as-you-go budgeting rules, almost everyone, it seems, suddenly wants to talk with the Blue Dogs. President Obama’s White House meeting with members of the fiscally conservative Democratic coalition earlier this week is but the latest indication that the Blue Dogs — 52 members strong — have deftly turned themselves into a key voting bloc at the nexus of power. With them, the Democrats do not need a single Republican to back their legislation; without them, the Democratic agenda would be in serious peril. And as their clout has expanded, fundraising has grown accordingly, not just from traditionally Democratic contributors, but from unexpected quarters as well.

New Rule: Not Everything in America Has to Make a Profit

How about this for a New Rule: Not everything in America has to make a profit. It used to be that there were some services and institutions so vital to our nation that they were exempt from market pressures. Some things we just didn't do for money. The United States always defined capitalism, but it didn't used to define us. But now it's becoming all that we are.

Did you know, for example, that there was a time when being called a "war profiteer" was a bad thing? But now our war zones are dominated by private contractors and mercenaries who work for corporations. There are more private contractors in Iraq than American troops, and we pay them generous salaries to do jobs the troops used to do for themselves ­-- like laundry. War is not supposed to turn a profit, but our wars have become boondoggles for weapons manufacturers and connected civilian contractors.

Frank Rich: And That’s Not the Way It Is

WHO exactly was the competition in the race to be the most trusted man in America? Lyndon Johnson? Richard Nixon?

Not to take anything away from Walter Cronkite, but he beat out Henry Kissinger by only four percentage points when a 1974 Roper poll asked Americans whom they most respected. The successive blows of Vietnam and Watergate during the Cronkite ’60s and ’70s shattered the nation’s faith in most of its institutions, public and private, and toppled many of the men who led them. Such was the dearth of trustworthy figures who survived that an unindicted official in a disgraced White House could make the cut.

In death, “the most trusted man in America” has been embalmed in that most comforting of American sweeteners — nostalgia — to the point where his finest, and most discomforting, achievements are being sanitized or forgotten. We’ve heard much sentimental rumination on the bygone heyday of the “mainstream media,” on the cultural fractionalization inflicted by the Internet, and on the lack of any man who could replicate the undisputed moral authority of Uncle Walter. (Women still need not apply, apparently.) But the reason to celebrate Cronkite has little to do with any of this and least of all to do with his avuncular television persona.

Revealed: the secret evidence of global warming Bush tried to hide

Graphic images that reveal the devastating impact of global warming in the Arctic have been released by the US military. The photographs, taken by spy satellites over the past decade, confirm that in recent years vast areas in high latitudes have lost their ice cover in summer months.

The pictures, kept secret by Washington during the presidency of George W Bush, were declassified by the White House last week. President Barack Obama is currently trying to galvanise Congress and the American public to take action to halt catastrophic climate change caused by rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

New Great Game Revisited, Part 2

Iran, China and the New Silk Road

China's block on Iran's full membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization last year might signal that a Beijing-Tehran axis doesn't exist, yet a strategic alliance between the pair is essential to counter Western influence in their domain. For China, Iran is all about Pipelineistan, the Asian Energy Security Grid and the New Silk Road. - Pepe Escobar (Jul 24, '09)

This article concludes a two-part report.

Part 1: Iran and Russia, scorpions in a bottle

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Paul Krugman: Is the threat of speculation a reason to shun cap and trade?

There are many obstacles to taking action on climate change. Most of those obstacles have deep roots: there are powerful interest groups that don’t want market prices to reflect true costs, and there are ideologues — financially supported by these interest groups — who don’t want to admit that sometimes the government has to intervene.

But there’s also, it seems, growing opposition to cap-and-trade from people who should be on the side of progress — but whose reaction is basically “Eek! Markets!Wall Street! Speculation! Bad!”

Paul Krugman: Why markets can’t cure healthcare

Judging both from comments on this blog and from some of my mail, a significant number of Americans believe that the answer to our health care problems — indeed, the only answer — is to rely on the free market. Quite a few seem to believe that this view reflects the lessons of economic theory.

Not so. One of the most influential economic papers of the postwar era was Kenneth Arrow’s Uncertainty and the welfare economics of health care, which demonstrated — decisively, I and many others believe — that health care can’t be marketed like bread or TVs. Let me offer my own version of Arrow’s argument.

The Cheney Plan to Deploy the US Military on US Soil

by Glenn Greenwald

This new report [1] today from The New York Times' Mark Mazzetti and David Johnston reveals an entirely unsurprising though still important event: in 2002, Dick Cheney and David Addington urged that U.S. military troops be used to arrest and detain American citizens, inside the U.S., who were suspected of involvement with Al Qaeda. That was done pursuant to a previously released DOJ memo [2] (.pdf) authored by John Yoo and Robert Delahunty, addressed to Alberto Gonzales, dated October 23, 2001, and chillingly entitled "Authority for Use of Military Force to Combat Terrorist Activities Within the U.S." That Memo had concluded that the President had authority to deploy the U.S. military against American citizens on U.S. soil. Far worse, it asserted that in exercising that power, the President could not bound either by Congressional statutes prohibiting such use (such as the Posse Comitatus Act) or even by the Constitution's Fourth Amendment, which -- the Memo concluded -- was "inapplicable" to what it called "domestic military operations."

The Health Care Debate: Another Country Heard From

One of the big differences between the 1993 Hillarycare debate and our current conversation is that we're hearing a lot more fact and lot less fiction about how other countries' systems actually work.

Thank the Internet. Back in 1993, the "Harry and Louise" ads succeeded because most Americans didn't have access to any other sources of information. Now, the whole world is at our fingertips. Anybody who really wants to know how health care is managed in Canada, or the UK, or Japan, or Australia can readily find someone with real experience in those systems who can tell their stories.

But progressive Americans living overseas aren't waiting around any more for y'all to ask. Some of us are getting proactive about sending our stories home. All around the world, there are millions of American citizens who have first-hand experience with other countries' health care systems. And Democrats Abroad, the world's largest political gathering of expatriate Americans, is getting us organized to tell our stories.

Who Is Keeping The CBO's Public Plan Estimates Secret?

The House's bill contains a public option that would pay a Medicare rates plus 5%. According to the CBO [1] this will make the House's public plan roughly 10% cheaper than private insurance. Since the size of subsidies are based on the average of the three cheapest plans it should dramatically reduce the cost of the bill.

Over a week ago Jonathan Cohn [2] at New Republic was leaked a report that the House's public plan would reduce the cost of the bill by roughly $150 billion. The official bill has been out for days and the CBO must have evaluated the potential savings from the public plan. Yet no estimates have been released. Someone is purposely hiding the cost savings from the public plan.

Stock Traders Find Speed Pays, in Milliseconds

It is the hot new thing on Wall Street, a way for a handful of traders to master the stock market, peek at investors’ orders and, critics say, even subtly manipulate share prices.

It is called high-frequency trading — and it is suddenly one of the most talked-about and mysterious forces in the markets.

Powerful computers, some housed right next to the machines that drive marketplaces like the New York Stock Exchange, enable high-frequency traders to transmit millions of orders at lightning speed and, their detractors contend, reap billions at everyone else’s expense.

House permits needle exchange programs

WASHINGTON — The House voted Friday to lift a ban on using taxpayer dollars for needle exchange programs for intravenous drug users intended to prevent the spread of HIV and other diseases.

The vote to lift a longstanding ban on federal aid for such programs — in place since 1988 — came after a brief but passionate debate on an amendment by Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., to keep the ban in place. His amendment failed by a 211-218 vote.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Attack of the 1-Percenters

By David Sirota

Here’s a truism: The wealthiest 1 percent have never had it so good.

According to government figures, 1-percenters’ share of America’s total income is the highest it’s been since 1929, and their tax rates are the lowest they’ve faced in two decades. Through bonuses, many 1-percenters will profit from the $23 trillion in bailout largesse the Treasury Department now says could be headed to financial firms. And, most of them benefit from IRS decisions to reduce millionaire audits and collect zero taxes from the majority of major corporations.

But what really makes the ultrawealthy so fortunate, what truly separates this moment from a run-of-the-mill Gilded Age, is the unprecedented protection the 1-percenters have bought for themselves on the most pressing issues.

Who Is Killing America's Millionaires?

It isn't the tax man.

By Daniel Gross

It hasn't been a good recession for the rich. The late boom was extraordinarily top-heavy, with the overwhelming majority of economic gains seemingly defying gravity and flowing to the top rung of the economic ladder. Now those with the most assets and income have the most to lose. Add together the declining markets, an imploding finance sector, a real estate rot that has eaten its way up from the ground floor to the penthouse, and the predations of Bernie Madoff and Sir Allen Stanford, millionaires who ripped off other millionaires, and, as my Newsweek colleague Robert Samuelson notes, these are tough times for the wealthy.

As if market forces and malevolent actors weren't enough, the rich are now finding themselves targeted by politicians. Strapped for cash, states, cities, and the federal government are seeking to soak the rich—or at least to make them pay taxes at the same marginal rates as they did in the Reagan years, which many on the right regard as an act equivalent to executing landed gentry. Some politicians have even suggested that we fund health care by slapping a surtax on people with annual incomes of more than $1 million.

Paul Krugman: Costs and Compassion

The talking heads on cable TV panned President Obama’s Wednesday press conference. You see, he didn’t offer a lot of folksy anecdotes.

Shame on them. The health care system is in crisis. The fate of America’s middle class hangs in the balance. And there on our TVs was a president with an impressive command of the issues, who truly understands the stakes.

Mr. Obama was especially good when he talked about controlling medical costs. And there’s a crucial lesson there — namely, that when it comes to reforming health care, compassion and cost-effectiveness go hand in hand.

To see what I mean, compare what Mr. Obama has said and done about health care with the statements and actions of his predecessor.

Why is the nation's foremost media critic silent on Lou Dobbs' birther conspiracy theories?

July 23, 2009 10:44 am ET by Jamison Foser

Could it be because they are both employed by CNN?

Lou Dobbs' leap onto the Birther bandwagon has been big news this week. CNN reporters have debunked the conspiracy theory; MSNBC has covered it; Jon Stewart has mocked it; Chris Matthews has suggested the faux controversy is "not about documentation, but pigmentation." CNN officials have even felt compelled to comment.

Everybody, it seems, has weighed in, denouncing Dobbs' walk on the wild side.

Permafrost Could Be Climate's Ticking Time Bomb

By Amanda Morris , Northwestern University

posted: 24 July 2009 08:28 am ET

This Behind the Scenes article was provided to LiveScience in partnership with the National Science Foundation.

The terrain of the North Slope of Alaska is not steep, but Andrew Jacobson still has difficulty as he hikes along the spongy tundra, which is riddled with rocks and masks multitudes of mosquitoes.

Jacobson, a professor of earth and planetary sciences at Northwestern University, extracts soil and water samples in search of clues to one of global warming's biggest ticking time bombs: the melting of permafrost.

Permafrost, or frozen ground, covers approximately 20 to 25 percent of the land-surface area in the northern hemisphere, and is estimated to contain up to 1,600 gigatons of carbon, primarily in the form of organic matter. (One gigaton is equivalent to one billion tons.)

Fuel Cells, Energy Conversion, and Mathematics

Concerns about dwindling fossil fuel resources, current levels of petroleum consumption, and growing pressure to shift to more sustainable energy sources are among the many factors prompting the transition from our current energy infrastructure to one that uses less carbon and requires the efficient conversion of energy. This necessitates collecting energy from ambient sources including wind, solar, and geothermal power, and converting it into appropriate forms for distributing electricity. While it is possible for this electric power to be distributed efficiently, conversion is necessary for use in automobiles and large-scale storage is problematic.

Even healthy lungs labor at acceptable ozone levels

Ozone exposure, even at levels deemed safe by current clean air standards, can have a significant and negative effect on lung function, according to researchers at the University of California Davis.

"The National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for ozone was recently revised to set lower limits for ozone concentrations. Our research indicates that the threshold for decrements in ozone-induced lung function in healthy young subjects is below this standard," said Edward Schelegle, Ph.D., of the University of California Davis. "Specifically, we found that 6.6 hours exposure to mean ozone concentrations as low as 70 parts per billion have a significant negative effect on lung function, even though the current NAAQS standards allow ozone concentrations to be up to 75 parts per billion (ppb) over an eight-hour period."

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Blue Dogs: The Special Interest Pets

By Joe Conason

“Fiscal conservative” is one of those terms used by politicians of all sorts to describe themselves, without any real justification. Parroted mindlessly from one news cycle to the next by major media outlets, that phrase is often used to mislead the public about the priorities and policies favored by those who claim to embody budgetary prudence.

Consider the Democrats in the Blue Dog caucus, who constantly trumpet their fiscal conservatism and enjoy hearing that claim echoed in the media, especially now, when they are threatening to block health care reform. The Blue Dogs don’t like the public option for national health insurance; they bemoan the estimated trillion-dollar cost of covering everyone; and they zealously defend the prerogatives of the private insurance industry and the pharmaceutical manufacturers (who coincidentally give them millions of dollars in contributions). When it comes to spending money on the health of uninsured or underinsured constituents, the Blue Dogs worry about every penny.

Study: Abortion doctors, clinics 'routinely targeted'

WASHINGTON — An abortion-rights group said Wednesday that doctors and clinics that perform abortions in six states "are routinely targeted" for legal and physical harassment, including death threats, and called on the Justice Department to do more to protect clinic workers.

In a report, the Center for Reproductive Rights said that women seeking to terminate pregnancies in those states face a dwindling supply of providers as threats and intimidation take their toll.

Kentucky Chemical Weapons Leak Detectors Dysfunctional for Years

WASHINGTON, DC, July 20, 2009 (ENS) - The U.S. Army has acknowleged that the nerve gas leak monitors at a Kentucky chemical weapons storage depot were not working for nearly two years, 2003-2005. The admission is contained in a U.S. Army Inspector General report dated February 2006 but released today.

Managers of chemical weapons storage at the Blue Grass Army Depot, located outside of Richmond, 30 miles south of Lexington, had rendered the detectors inoperative and the problem was remedied only after a whistleblower was forced to file a complaint, according to the Inspector General investigation posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, PEER.

Want To Menace US Leaders ? Join The Theocratic Far Right

By Bruce Wilson
Wed Jul 22, 2009 at 11:04:19 AM EST

The year was 1963. The month: March. Minutemen founder Robert DePugh, writing in his publication On Target, which had a masthead that featured a telescope gunsight's crosshairs superimposed over the magazine's name, branded twenty Congress members who had voted to de-fund the House Un-American Activities Committee: "Judases". DePugh's March On Target issue contained the following:


See the old man at the corner where you buy your paper? He may have a silencer equipped pistol under his coat. That extra fountain pen in the pocket of the insurance salesman that calls on you might be a cyanide-gas gun. What about your milkman? Arsenic works slow but sure. Your auto mechanic may stay up nights studying booby traps.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The NSA Is Still Listening to You

Bush went away, but domestic surveillance overreach didn't. It's now the law, and the ACLU is fighting back

by James Bamford

This summer, on a remote stretch of desert in central Utah, the National Security Agency will begin work on a massive, 1 million-square-foot data warehouse. Costing more than $1.5 billion, the highly secret facility is designed to house upward of trillions of intercepted phone calls, e-mail messages, Internet searches and other communications intercepted by the agency as part of its expansive eavesdropping operations. The NSA is also completing work on another data warehouse, this one in San Antonio, Texas, which will be nearly the size of the Alamodome.

The need for such extraordinary data storage capacity stems in part from the Bush administration's decision to open the NSA's surveillance floodgates following the 9/11 attacks. According to a recently released Inspectors General report, some of the NSA's operations -- such as spying on American citizens without warrants -- were so questionable, if not illegal, that they nearly caused the resignations of the most senior officials of both the FBI and the Justice Department.

Thomas Frank: A Conservative Sellout? Quelle Surprise.

‘David Keene is no conservative.”

That is what I predict Mr. Keene’s brethren on the right will soon be saying about the longtime chairman of the American Conservative Union (ACU).

Last week, Mr. Keene’s ACU became embroiled in another of Washington’s pay-to-play scandals, seeming to offer its services to an outside company for a cash consideration. And virtually the only way conservatives have of dealing with such an embarrassment is to declare the miscreant an “impostor,” to find that the city changed him rather than the other way around, and to excommunicate him from the movement.

Solid Reformer Picked to Investigate How We Got into the Financial Mess

y William Greider,
Posted on July 21, 2009, Printed on July 22, 2009

Angelides, the former state treasurer of California, is a tough-minded liberal with hands-on knowledge of high finance and the social contradictions in modern capitalism. So it is remarkable that Angelides has been chosen to chair the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission newly created by Congress. The commission has enormous potential to generate deeper reforms than anything President Obama has yet proposed, simply by digging out the hard facts of what caused the financial collapse.

An honest investigation--like the Pecora hearings that famously revealed the truth of what caused the Great Depression--could splash embarrassment on both political parties and turn up shocking evidence of the political collusion between Washington and Wall Street. But can we really expect such a truth-telling creature to emerge from Congress? Maybe we can. The appointment of Angelides is a very promising start because of his record as an aggressive reformer on issues like corporate governance, social equity and environmental reform. The danger is that the Angelides commission will be paralyzed by the usual hard-nosed tactics of Washington partisans.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Poll: Canadians like their health care despite grumbles

Critics opposed to revamping the American health-care system say it'll turn the country into Canada, with a nationalized system where people die as they wait for needed services. But a new poll shows that 65 percent of Canadians say they get the health care they need at costs they can afford; just 49 percent of Americans said the same thing.

Tires made from trees -- better, cheaper, more fuel efficient

Automobile owners around the world may some day soon be driving on tires that are partly made out of trees -- which could cost less, perform better and save on fuel and energy.

Teen Pregnancy and Disease Rates Rose Sharply During Bush Years, Agency Finds

by Chris McGreal in Washington

Teenage pregnancies and syphilis have risen sharply among a generation of American school girls who were urged to avoid sex before marriage under George Bush's evangelically-driven education policy, according to a new report by the US's major public health body.

In a report that will surprise few of Bush's critics on the issue, the Centres for Disease Control says years of falling rates of teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted disease infections under previous administrations were reversed or stalled in the Bush years. According to the CDC, birth rates among teenagers aged 15 or older had been in decline since 1991 but are up sharply in more than half of American states since 2005. The study also revealed that the number of teenage females with syphilis has risen by nearly half after a significant decrease while a two-decade fall in the gonorrhea infection rate is being reversed. The number of Aids cases in adolescent boys has nearly doubled.

Seance on Wall Street

There is a long history of mediums who claim to communicate with the dead. They sell their services to people anxious to talk to relatives or great figures of the past. Such exercises can be dismissed as harmless entertainment - people spend a few dollars to be treated to tall tales.

There is a Wall Street equivalent to these seances. People who claim to be knowledgeable about financial markets tell policy makers and reporters what the financial markets are thinking about current policy. These Wall Street seers claim to interpret events in financial markets for those of us who are less familiar with the mysteries of market movements.

The Great Tax Con Job

Republicans are using the T-word - taxes - to attack the Obama healthcare program. It's a strategy based in a lie.

A very small niche of America's uber-wealthy have pulled off what may well be the biggest con job in the history of our republic, and they did it in a startlingly brief 30 or so years. True, they spent over three billion dollars to make it happen, but the reward to them was in the hundreds of billions - and will continue to be.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Obama Blogger Call On Health Care

by dday

I had a chance to participate in a conference call with President Barack Obama and some bloggers today about the health care debate. Clearly the very fact of this conference call's existence shows that the White House is leaving no stone unturned in searching for allies to help sell reform, and that the President is ready to step forward in this debate. That's a good thing. He still has enough political capital to manage the process where he wants it to go, and if he wants certain elements of the policy included in the final bill, provided that there is a final bill, I wouldn't bet against them getting in there. And the result of the conference call was interesting.

News Junkie Smackdown

Who's Better Informed, Newspaper Readers or Web Surfers?

By Michael Kinsley
Posted Monday, July 20, 2009, at 5:19 PM ET

What if there were no newspapers anymore? Some people, mainly newspaper reporters and publishers, are warning that this is where we're heading. And they declare, as with a single loud voice, "You'll be sorry!" To save ourselves 50 cents or a buck, they say, we will be denying ourselves crucial knowledge that we need to be well-informed citizens of a democracy.

Even in the good old days when newspapers were hugely profitable, readers weren't paying for what they read in newspapers. That 50 cents or a buck barely paid for the paper and ink, let alone the delivery—and never mind the cost of the content. More customers than ever are eager to read newspapers, and they demonstrate that every day by going to newspaper Web sites. By foregoing paper and ink, the readers are saving newspaper publishers more money than it would cost to produce and deliver the paper the old-fashioned way. Newspapers' financial troubles cannot be blamed on the readers. Nevertheless, publishers—almost as disenchanted with advertisers as the advertisers are disenchanted with newspapers—look to readers for their salvation.

Major Cities' Plummeting Crime Rates Mystifying

Killings in the District, Pr. George's Have Fallen

by Allison Klein

Violent crime has plummeted in the Washington area and in major cities across the country, a trend criminologists describe as baffling and unexpected.

The District, New York and Los Angeles are on track for fewer killings this year than in any other year in at least four decades. Boston, San Francisco, Minneapolis and other cities are also seeing notable reductions in homicides.

"Experts did not see this coming at all," said Andrew Karmen, a criminologist and professor of sociology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

In the District and Prince George's County, homicides are down about 17 percent this year.

Subprime Brokers Back as Dubious Loan Fixers

LOS ANGELES — From the ninth floor of a downtown office building on Wilshire Boulevard, Jack Soussana delivered staggering numbers of mortgages to homeowners during the real estate boom, amassing a fortune.

By Mr. Soussana’s own account, his customers fared less happily. He specialized in the exotic mortgages that have proved most prone to sliding into foreclosure, leaving many now scrambling to save their homes.

Yet the dangers assailing Mr. Soussana’s clients have yielded fresh business for him: Late last year, he and his team — ensconced in the same office where they used to broker mortgages — began working for a loan modification company. For fees reaching $3,495, with most of the money collected upfront, they promised to negotiate with lenders to lower payments on the now-delinquent mortgages they and their counterparts had sprinkled liberally across Southern California.

Not With A Bang, But A Whimper

by: Robert Cruickshank

Sun Jul 19, 2009 at 15:27:25 PM PDT

And so the budget drama hurtles toward its inevitable conclusion, perhaps as soon as tomorrow. Democrats have caved and given Arnold Schwarzenegger what he wanted - a cuts-only budget that does massive and lasting damage to the state of California, to the people who live here, and to our collective future. It's taken 31 years, but Howard Jarvis is finally going to get the wholesale destruction of public services he always wanted.
After resolving their major education dispute Friday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders hope to finalize a budget deal today that closes California's $26 billion deficit with spending cuts, accounting shifts and revenues from local governments.

State leaders have agreed on a general budget framework and gave attorneys and budget aides time Saturday to draft a bill, sources close to negotiations said....

Children's IQ can be affected by mother's exposure to urban air pollutants

July 20, 2009 -- Prenatal exposure to environmental pollutants known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) can adversely affect a child's intelligence quotient or IQ, according to new research by the the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health (CCCEH) at the Mailman School of Public Health. PAHs are chemicals released into the air from the burning of coal, diesel, oil and gas, or other organic substances such as tobacco. In urban areas motor vehicles are a major source of PAHs. The study findings are published in the August 2009 issue of Pediatrics.

The study, funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), a component of the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and several private foundations, found that children exposed to high levels of PAHs in New York City had full scale and verbal IQ scores that were 4.31 and 4.67 points lower, respectively than those of less exposed children. High PAH levels were defined as above the median of 2.26 nanograms per cubic meter (ng/m3).

Interrogation Task Force Broadens Scope Beyond Techniques

Report Expected This Week Likely to Look Beyond What Harsh Techniques Should be Employed

By Spencer Ackerman 7/20/09 6:00 AM

The task force advising the Obama administration on interrogating terrorism-related detainees is wrapping up its work this week, and although some of its final recommendations remain unfinished, officials familiar with its work indicate that it will focus less on specific interrogation techniques than on recommending interrogators develop their non-abusive strategies around known information about the specific detainees being questioned.

As first reported in June by The Washington Independent, the task force, chaired by J. Douglas Wilson of the Justice Department, is likely to recommend removing the CIA as the lead federal agency in charge of terrorism interrogations in favor of a mixed team of interrogation specialists from the FBI, the CIA and the military. A consensus has formed within the task force that creating such teams is the optimal path for eliciting vital information from the highest-value terrorism suspects without jeopardizing potential prosecutions of those detainees.

Chemicals That Eased One Woe Worsen Another

By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 20, 2009

This is not the funny kind of irony: Scientists say the chemicals that helped solve the last global environmental crisis -- the hole in the ozone layer -- are making the current one worse.

The chemicals, called hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), were introduced widely in the 1990s to replace ozone-depleting gases used in air conditioners, refrigerators and insulating foam.

They worked: The earth's protective shield seems to be recovering.

But researchers say what's good for ozone is bad for climate change. In the atmosphere, these replacement chemicals act like "super" greenhouse gases, with a heat-trapping power that can be 4,470 times that of carbon dioxide.

Revealed: the hidden benefits of a private-school education

Private schools offering lavish extracurricular activities give their pupils an unfair advantage and should be forced to share their facilities with state pupils, says a report commissioned by the prime minister.

Former cabinet minister Alan Milburn was asked to look at how class barriers could be broken down in Britain and found that middle-class children whose parents do not move in the "right" circles, as well as those from poorer families, now risk being shut out of professions that have become more socially exclusive.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Thin Line Between Charm and Smarm

David Seaton points out that people like me (rational, debonair, immoderately well-informed, and utterly cosmopolitan when it comes to cheese selection) are irrelevant when it comes to the voodoo spell Sarah Palin exerts on her undead believers.

Many commentators, while admitting that Sarah Palin is attractive and charismatic, quickly discount her because little that she says will stand up to even the most cursory examination of its sense or nonsense. They fail to realize that this mixture of charisma and incoherence is precisely her most powerful political tool.

Elmendorf: More Cost Control; Orszag: We're Already On It.

Doug Elmendorf, director of the Congresional Budget Office, sent tremors through Washington when he gave congressional tesitmony on Thursday. Appearing first before the Senate Finance Committee and then the House Ways and Means Committee, Elmendorf declared that his office had not yet seen evidence that health reform legislation would substantially reduce the cost of medical care over the long run. Within minutes of the first appearance, blackberries all over town were buzzing, as e-mails carried headlines like this one from the Washington Post: "CBO Chief: Health Reform Measures Weaken Economy."

Assassinations Anyone? CIA Claims of Cancelled Campaign are Hogwash

by Eric Margolis

CIA director Leon Panetta just told Congress he cancelled a secret operation to assassinate al-Qaida leaders. The CIA campaign, authorized in 2001, had not yet become operational, claimed Panetta.

I respect Panetta, but his claim is humbug. The U.S. has been trying to kill al-Qaida personnel (real and imagined) since the Clinton administration. These efforts continue under President Barack Obama. Claims by Congress it was never informed are hogwash.

The CIA and Pentagon have been in the assassination business since the early 1950s, using American hit teams or third parties. For example, a CIA-organized attempt to assassinate Lebanon's leading Shia cleric, Muhammad Fadlallah, using a truck bomb, failed, but killed 83 civilians and wounded 240.

The Most Misunderstood Man in America

Joseph Stiglitz predicted the global financial meltdown. So why can't he get any respect here at home?

By Michael Hirsh | NEWSWEEK

Frank Rich: They Got Some ’Splainin’ to Do

AS political theater, the Sonia Sotomayor hearings tanked faster than the 2008 Fred Thompson presidential campaign. They boasted no drama to rival the Clarence-Anita slapdown, the Bork hissy fits or the tearful exodus of Samuel Alito’s wife. There was rarely a moment to match even the high point of the Senate’s previous grilling of Sotomayor — in 1997, when she was elevated to the Second Circuit. It was then that Senator John Ashcroft of Missouri previewed the brand of white male legal wisdom that would soon become his hallmark at the Bush Justice Department. “Do you believe there’s a constitutional right to homosexual conduct by prisoners?” he asked. (She aced it: “No, sir.”)

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Steele’s Fuzzy Math: Obama Administration Created $10 Trillion National Deficit

Earlier today on Fox News, RNC Chairman Michael Steele was asked whether Republicans would borrow from President Clinton’s famous catch-phrase during the 1992 campaign, “it’s the economy stupid,” in the run-up to the 2010 election. Steele proceeded to launch into a rambling answer that used fuzzy math to assert that, in only six months, President Obama has added “10 trillion dollars” to the national deficit, while President Bush is to blame for only “a trillion”:

STEELE: They love going back to George Bush and his deficit that was inherited. Great. I’ll take George Bush’s deficit right now of a trillion dollars over the 10 trillion dollars that this administration has created in just six months.

Beyond the Palin

Why the GOP is falling out of love with gun-toting, churchgoing, working-class whites.

By Rick Perlstein | NEWSWEEK

Digby: Friday Night News Dump

Not that it matters, since the showboating Senators had to have a dramatic hearing with the CBO chief before the committees were finished and the resultant headlines have been disseminated as if they came down from Mt Sinai, but this was released last night by the From the House Energy, Ways and Means and Education and Labor committees

For Immediate Release:

July 17, 2009

CBO Scores Confirms Deficit Neutrality of Health Reform Bill

Washington, D.C. -- The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released estimates this evening confirming for the first time that H.R. 3200, America’s Affordable Health Choices Act, is deficit neutral over the 10-year budget window – and even produces a $6 billion surplus. CBO estimated more than $550 billion in gross Medicare and Medicaid savings. More importantly, the bill includes a comprehensive array of delivery reforms to set the stage for lowering the future growth in health care costs.