Tuesday, August 31, 2010

New Job Means Lower Wages for Many


After being out of work for more than a year, Donna Ings, 47, finally landed a job in February as a home health aide with a company in Lexington, Mass., earning about $10 an hour.

Chelsea Nelson, 21, started two weeks ago as a waitress at a truck stop in Mountainburg, Ark., making around $7 or $8 an hour, depending on tips, ending a lengthy job search that took her young family to California and back.

Both are ostensibly economic success stories, people who were able to find work in a difficult labor market. Ms. Ings’s employer, Home Instead Senior Care, a company with franchises across the country, has been expanding assertively. Ms. Nelson’s restaurant, Silver Bridge Truck Stop, recently reopened and hired about 20 people last month in an area thirsty for jobs.

Both women, however, took large pay cuts from their old jobs — Ms. Ings worked for a wholesale tuxedo distributor, Ms. Nelson was a secretary. And both remain worried about how they will make ends meet in the long run.

Meet The 18 People Who Could Determine The Fate Of Social Security

Last week former Republican Senator Alan Simpson, who co-chairs the White House's fiscal commission, drew a storm of criticism for comparing Social Security to a "cow with 310 million tits." But Titgate isn't really about language. It's about both Simpson himself -- who has long viewed Social Security as a bloated program for spoiled old people -- and about the commission as a whole. Comprised of nine tax-averse Republicans and nine Democrats, many of whom have expressed support for Social Security changes in the past, the commission will almost certainly be biased toward benefit cuts, and away from raising taxes, when it presents its report on December 1. Below, the cast of characters who will be making the calls.

OK Go on net neutrality: A lesson from the music industry

By Damian Kulash
Sunday, August 29, 2010

On the Internet, when I send my ones and zeros somewhere, they shouldn't have to wait in line behind the ones and zeros of wealthier people or corporations. That's the way the Net was designed, and it's central to a concept called "net neutrality," which ensures that Internet service providers can't pick favorites.

Recently, though, big telecommunications companies have argued that their investment in the Net's infrastructure should allow them more control over how it's used. The concerned nerds of the world are up in arms, and there's been a long, loud public debate, during which the Federal Communications Commission appeared to develop a plan to preserve net neutrality.

Bankers Told Recovery May Be Slow


JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. — The American economy could experience painfully slow growth and stubbornly high unemployment for a decade or longer as a result of the 2007 collapse of the housing market and the economic turmoil that followed, according to an authority on the history of financial crises.

That finding, contained in a new paper by Carmen M. Reinhart, an economist at the University of Maryland, generated considerable debate during an annual policy symposium here, organized by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, which concluded on Saturday.

The gathering, at a historic lodge in Grand Teton National Park, brought together about 110 central bankers and economists, including most of the Federal Reserve’s top officials. In 2008, the symposium occurred weeks before the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy nearly shut down the financial markets. At the symposium last year, officials congratulated themselves on weathering the worst of the crisis.

The August Day Plutocracy Would Love Us to Forget

Today marks the 100th anniversary of what may be the most ‘radical speech’ an American ex-President has ever delivered. The words of that former President, Theodore Roosevelt, still ring incredibly true today.

By Sam Pizzigati and Chuck Collins

Ex-Presidents almost always follow a small number of well-worn scripts. Some rush to cash in on their celebrity. Some do charitable good deeds. Some just lay low.

Exactly one century ago, on August 31, 1910, we had an ex-President who took a brash and bold leap that took him far beyond these narrowly circumscribed roles. On that day, in the middle of Middle America, a former President — Theodore Roosevelt — essentially called on his fellow citizens to smash the nation’s rich down to democratic size.

Home truths for complacent economists

Tax credits disguised the fundamental weakness of the US housing market. The reality reveals bleak prospects for growth

Dean Baker
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 31 August 2010 13.00 BST

The howls of surprised economists were everywhere last week as the government reported on Tuesday that July had sharpest single-month plunge in existing home sales on record. The next day the commerce department reported that new home sales hit a post-war low in July.

All the economists who had told us that the housing market had stabilised and that prices would soon rebound looked really foolish, yet again. To understand how lost these professional error-makers really are, it is only necessary to know that the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) puts out data on mortgage applications every week. The MBA index plummeted beginning in May, immediately after the last day (30 April) for signing a house sale contract that qualified for the homebuyers' tax credit.

Why Americans believe Obama is a Muslim

EAST LANSING, Mich. — There’s something beyond plain old ignorance that motivates Americans to believe President Obama is a Muslim, according to a first-of-its-kind study of smear campaigns led by a Michigan State University psychologist.

The research by Spee Kosloff and colleagues suggests people are most likely to accept such falsehoods, both consciously and unconsciously, when subtle clues remind them of ways in which Obama is different from them, whether because of race, social class or other ideological differences.

These judgments, Kosloff argues, are irrational. He also suggests they are fueled by an “irresponsible” media culture that allows political pundits and “talking heads” to perpetuate the lies.

Spengler for Dummies

by Linh Dinh

Nearly a hundred thousand people flocked to Glenn Beck's Restoring Honor rally. Entire families drove in from distant states. They wore red, white and blue, carried American and Don't Tread On Me flags. Some brandished a Christian standard, white, with a red cross on blue canton. A man peddled a self-designed, quite attractive Tea Party flag. "Haven't sold as much as I would like," he complained to me, adding, "I'm unemployed." One woman wore a T-Shirt, "HARD GLOCK CAFÉ." Another, "NOT RACIST, NOT VIOLENT, JUST NO LONGER SILENT." They heard Sarah Palin proudly declare that she spoke "not as a politician. No, as something more -- something much more. I've been asked to speak as the mother of a soldier." This, from a woman who is nothing but a politician these days, having relieved herself of all official duties. Aiming for 2012, she's already a very long nose or two ahead of all other stumpers. "Say what you want to say about me, but I raised a combat vet, and you can't take that away from me," Palin reiterated. The sunbaked faithful then heard Glenn Beck urge them to "pray on your knees, but with your door open for your children to see."

Why Do Deficit Hawks Hate Social Security?

by: Zach Carter | The Media Consortium | News Analysis

Last week, Social Security advocates learned something they had long suspected. Arguments for cutting Social Security aren't really about economics or the deficit. They're all about waging war on social services.

In short, some very prominent policymakers are out to dismantle Social Security on ideological grounds. The most recent example of this view comes from Alan Simpson, a former Republican Senator from Wyoming who now serves as co-Chair of President Barack Obama's Federal Debt Commission. Earlier this summer, Simpson was caught on video spreading absurd lies about Social Security, but his latest outburst explains why he's been so willing to distort the facts. Simpson simply hates Social Security.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Coup d'Etat: Standard & Poor's Is Now Giving Orders to Congress ... and the American People

Must Read:
An Economy for All

There's been a lot of talk recently about the enormous power that's been given to the Deficit Commission, which is co-chaired by Alan "Social Security recipients are milking it [1]" Simpson and dominated by people who have advocated cuts to Social Security and Medicare. But here's an aspect of the story that's gone unremarked: Standard & Poor's, the credit agency whose reputation should rightfully have been shattered by the economic crisis, is now dictating policy to the United States government. S&P just put our elected officials on notice: Submit to the proclamations of the Deficit Commission or we'll downgrade our rating of government debt.

That's blackmail, plain and simple. This threat comes from a privately-owned company whose rating process is riddled with conflicts, and which has gotten virtually every critical assessment of recent years spectacularly wrong. Enron? Lehman? Subprime mortgages? They were zero for three. Yet rather than reining back their penchant for reckless proclamations, the chairman of S&P's "sovereign rating committee" [2] said that our elected officials' response to the Deficit Commission would be crucial to its analysis of US debt. John Chambers said last week: "It is very important for the credit standing of the United States that the Congress considers very carefully what the fiscal commission proposes." Just in case his intent wasn't clear enough, he added: "It is very important for Congress to take the required steps."

"Sovereign" is right. That's a kingly proclamation.

Obama’s Old Deal

Why the 44th president is no FDR—and the economy is still in the doldrums.

Michael Hirsh
August 29, 2010

Barack Obama was “incredulous” at what he was hearing, said one of his top economic advisers. The president had spent his first year in office overseeing the biggest government bailout of the financial industry in American history. Together with Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, he had kept Wall Street afloat on a trillion-dollar tide of taxpayer money. But the banks were barely lending, and the economy was still mired in high unemployment. And now, in December 2009, the holiday news had started to filter out of the canyons of lower Manhattan: Wall Street’s year-end bonuses would actually be larger in 2009 than they had been in 2007, the year prior to the catastrophe. “Wait, let me get this straight,” Obama said at a White House meeting that December. “These guys are reserving record bonuses because they’re profitable, and they’re profitable only because we rescued them.” It was as if nothing had changed. Even after a Depression-size crash, the banks were not altering their behavior. The president was being perceived, more and more, as a man on the wrong side of an incendiary issue.

And so, prodded forward by Vice President Joe Biden—the product of a working-class upbringing in Scranton, Pa.—the president began to consider getting tougher on Wall Street. “We kept revisiting it,” said the economic adviser (who recounted details of the meetings only on condition of anonymity). One big proposal the White House hadn’t adopted was Paul Volcker’s idea of barring commercial banks from indulging in heavy risk taking and “proprietary” trading. In Volcker’s view, America’s major banks, which enjoy federal guarantees on their deposits, had to stop putting taxpayer money at risk by acting like hedge funds. This had become a grand passion for Volcker, a living legend renowned for crushing inflation 30 years before as Fed chairman. He had long been skeptical of financial deregulation. Beyond the ATM, Volcker asked, what new banking products had really added to economic growth? Exhibit one for this argument was derivatives, trillions of dollars in “side bets” placed by Wall Street traders. “I wish somebody would give me some shred of neutral evidence about the relationship between financial innovation recently and the growth of the economy,” he barked at one conference.

A world too full of people

Mary Fitzgerald
Published 30 August 2010

Leucadia Quispe, a 60-year-old mother-of-eight, was born and raised in Botijlaca, a settlement that sits in the foothills of the Chacaltaya and Huayna Potosí mountains in Bolivia. High above, the Chacaltaya glacier is retreating at an unexpected pace: three times as fast as predicted ten years ago. It will be gone in a generation.

Seven out of her eight children have already migrated to other parts of the country, Leucadia says, "because there is no way to make a living here". Because of the dwindling water supply, she must spend hours hauling water in five-litre containers, one in each hand. The scarcity of this precious resource makes it hard to find fodder for her llamas and sheep, and some of her llamas have starved to death.

Liberal economists say Democrats also eyeing cuts to Social Security

By Sahil Kapur
Monday, August 30th, 2010 -- 8:21 am

Prominent progressive economists are warning liberals and senior citizens not to take Social Security for granted simply because Republicans are out of power, arguing that structural incentives are propelling Democratic leaders to support scaling back the cherished program.

"Social Security faced its greatest danger when Bill Clinton was in the White House," said Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in an e-mail. "The reason is that the Wall Street Democrats can be counted on to oppose cuts coming from Republicans for partisan purposes. When they are in power, they have no reason to oppose these cuts."

Paul Krugman: It’s Witch-Hunt Season

The last time a Democrat sat in the White House, he faced a nonstop witch hunt by his political opponents. Prominent figures on the right accused Bill and Hillary Clinton of everything from drug smuggling to murder. And once Republicans took control of Congress, they subjected the Clinton administration to unrelenting harassment — at one point taking 140 hours of sworn testimony over accusations that the White House had misused its Christmas card list.

Now it’s happening again — except that this time it’s even worse. Let’s turn the floor over to Rush Limbaugh: “Imam Hussein Obama,” he recently declared, is “probably the best anti-American president we’ve ever had.”

To get a sense of how much it matters when people like Mr. Limbaugh talk like this, bear in mind that he’s an utterly mainstream figure within the Republican Party; bear in mind, too, that unless something changes the political dynamics, Republicans will soon control at least one house of Congress. This is going to be very, very ugly.

So where is this rage coming from? Why is it flourishing? What will it do to America?

Border Sweeps in North Reach Miles Into U.S.


ROCHESTER — The Lake Shore Limited runs between Chicago and New York City without crossing the Canadian border. But when it stops at Amtrak stations in western New York State, armed Border Patrol agents routinely board the train, question passengers about their citizenship and take away noncitizens who cannot produce satisfactory immigration papers.

“Are you a U.S. citizen?” agents asked one recent morning, moving through a Rochester-bound train full of dozing passengers at a station outside Buffalo. “What country were you born in?”

When the answer came back, “the U.S.,” they moved on. But Ruth Fernandez, 60, a naturalized citizen born in Ecuador, was asked for identification. And though she was only traveling home to New York City from her sister’s in Ohio, she had made sure to carry her American passport. On earlier trips, she said, agents had photographed her, and taken away a nervous Hispanic man.

New report details loss of Bush-era e-mails

Top aides to President George W. Bush seemed unconcerned amid multiple warnings as early as 2002 that the White House risked losing millions of e-mails that federal law required them to preserve, according to an extensive report obtained by The Federal Eye and set for release on Monday.

The report, by the nonprofit watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, follows a settlement reached last December between the Obama administration, CREW and the National Security Archive, a George Washington University research institute. The groups sued the Bush White House in 2007 alleging it violated federal law by not preserving millions of e-mails sent between 2003 and 2005.

The Consequences of Republicans’ Small Business Obstructionism

A month ago yesterday, there was reason for optimism on the small-business bill pending in the Senate. The aid package included tax breaks, new incentives, and an attempt to expand credit through a lending program that utilizes local banks, and with 59 supporters, the Democratic majority only needed one GOP vote to overcome yet another Republican filibuster.

They didn’t get that vote. Shortly before the Senate broke for its recess, Republicans threw a bit of a tantrum over the number of amendments they were allowed to consider, and unanimously blocked the chamber from voting on the bill.

The consequences of GOP game-playing are as discouraging as they are obvious.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Congress may sneak through Internet ‘kill switch’ in defense bill

By Daniel Tencer
Saturday, August 28th, 2010 -- 9:00 pm

A federal cybersecurity bill that critics say creates a presidential "kill switch" for the Internet could be added on to a defense spending bill and passed without much debate, technology news sources report.

Sen. Thomas Carper (D-DE), one of the sponsors of the Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act, told GovInfoSecurity.com that the Senate is considering attaching the bill as a rider to a defense authorization bill likely to pass through Congress before the mid-term elections.

Soak The Very, Very Rich

James Surowiecki
August 16, 2010

The fight on Capitol Hill over whether to extend the Bush tax cuts is about many things: deficit reduction, economic stimulus, supply-side ideology. But at its core is a simple question: who counts as rich? The Obama Administration’s answer is that you’re rich if you make more than two hundred thousand dollars a year as an individual or two hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year as a household, and therefore you should have your taxes raised. Conservatives suggest that this threshold is far too low, and argue that Obama would be taxing mostly small-business owners, or the people a Fox News host has referred to as “the so-called rich,” rather than fat plutocrats. You might think this isn’t really much of a debate. An annual income of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars puts you in the top three per cent of American households, and is more than four times the national median. You’re rich, and a small tax increase isn’t going to rock your world.

Good luck convincing people of this, though. Judging from surveys of how Americans describe themselves, most of the privileged don’t feel all that privileged. Why is that? One reason is the American mythology of middle-classness. Another is geography: in a place like Manhattan, where the average apartment sells for nine hundred thousand dollars, your money doesn’t go as far. And then there’s a larger truth about how wealth is getting concentrated in this country. As the economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez have documented, people who earn a few hundred thousand dollars a year have done much worse than people at the very top of the ladder.

When Politics Means the End of the World (as we know it)

Frederick Clarkson
Fri Aug 27, 2010 at 08:45:14 PM EST

The Christian Right has often sought to stay the hand of God, angry with our failings as a nation, by `standing in the gap' at large prayer rallies and pleading for mercy. They have made a special point of doing so in the run up to national elections since 1980, praying for godly government and righteous candidates, and this year is no exception. The beneficiaries are almost always Republicans and this year is probably no exception in that regard as well. But there is also an ominous element that mostly transcends parties and is on vivid display as we enter the fall campaign season.

On Labor Day weekend, Lou Engle, head of the fiery neo-Pentecostal group, The Call, is leading a worship service in a sports arena in Sacramento, California and a "solemn assembly" at the state Capitol the next day. These events were initially billed as a tenth anniversary of The Call's first youth rally on the national capital mall which drew a claimed 400,000 people. Since then, the Sacramento event has been repositioned as the kick-off of a major Christian Right fall political campaign initiative. Engle says it will be the "hinge of history" opening the door to "the greatest awakening" and "returning our nation to its righteous roots."

Frank Rich: The Billionaires Bankrolling the Tea Party

ANOTHER weekend, another grass-roots demonstration starring Real Americans who are mad as hell and want to take back their country from you-know-who. Last Sunday the site was Lower Manhattan, where they jeered the “ground zero mosque.” This weekend, the scene shifted to Washington, where the avatars of oppressed white Tea Party America, Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, were slated to “reclaim the civil rights movement” (Beck’s words) on the same spot where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. had his dream exactly 47 years earlier.

Vive la révolution!

There’s just one element missing from these snapshots of America’s ostensibly spontaneous and leaderless populist uprising: the sugar daddies who are bankrolling it, and have been doing so since well before the “death panel” warm-up acts of last summer. Three heavy hitters rule. You’ve heard of one of them, Rupert Murdoch. The other two, the brothers David and Charles Koch, are even richer, with a combined wealth exceeded only by that of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett among Americans. But even those carrying the Kochs’ banner may not know who these brothers are.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Paul Krugman: This Is Not A Recovery

What will Ben Bernanke, the Fed chairman, say in his big speech Friday in Jackson Hole, Wyo.? Will he hint at new steps to boost the economy? Stay tuned.

But we can safely predict what he and other officials will say about where we are right now: that the economy is continuing to recover, albeit more slowly than they would like. Unfortunately, that’s not true: this isn’t a recovery, in any sense that matters. And policy makers should be doing everything they can to change that fact.

The small sliver of truth in claims of continuing recovery is the fact that G.D.P. is still rising: we’re not in a classic recession, in which everything goes down. But so what?

Fertilizer chemicals linked to animal developmental woes

Fertilizer chemicals may pose a bigger hazard to the environment -- specifically to creatures that live in water -- than originally foreseen, according to new research from North Carolina State University toxicologists. In a study published in the Aug. 27 edition of PLoS One, the NC State researchers show that water fleas take up nitrates and nitrites -- common chemicals used primarily in agriculture as fertilizers -- and convert those chemicals into nitric oxide. Nitric oxide can be toxic to many organisms.

Snapshot of economy about to get a lot bleaker

By The Associated Press
Friday, August 27th, 2010 -- 3:52 am

Government likely to confirm what many already know: the economy is on life support.

The government is about to confirm what many people have felt for some time: The economy barely has a pulse.

The Commerce Department on Friday will revise its estimate for economic growth in the April-to-June period and Wall Street economists forecast it will be cut almost in half, to a 1.4 percent annual rate from 2.4 percent.

Commentary: The great mosque debate shows our stupidity

Nearly nine years ago, with the ashes of the World Trade Center barely settled, then-President George Bush proclaimed Islam a religion of peace. And no one complained. No one second-guessed him. Reporters didn't scurry at Bush a week later asking if he "regretted" showing support for the Islamic faith.

In the aftermath of September 11, with the death toll still unknown, the American public accepted that al-Qaida, not Islam, had attacked the U.S.

Former FEMA head: Gov’t didn’t tell all on Katrina

By The Associated Press
Friday, August 27th, 2010 -- 10:12 am

Former FEMA chief Brown concedes Washington didn't tell full story of Katrina's devastation

Five years after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, the federal official at the heart of a firestorm over Washington's slow response is acknowledging the government's shortcomings.

How to double your pension payout

Social security, celebrating its 75th anniversary, is a popular scheme – but payments are meagre. Here's the solution

Steven Hill
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 25 August 2010 19.00

In the aftermath of the great recession, a debate over the American national pension system, known as social security, is heating up. This debate raises fundamental questions about what kind of society America wishes to be. The debate so far has been between those deficit busters who say social security must be trimmed back to reduce government indebtedness, and others who want to maintain it as is.

But the New America Foundation just released a study (which I authored) that proposes a different approach: doubling the current social security payout, and making it a true national retirement system. Creating a more robust system of "social security plus" would be good not onlyfor America's retirees, but also for the macro-economy at large.

Paul Krugman: Near Ground Zero, a Shameful Intolerance

The biggest problem dogging American politics and media isn’t a deficiency of expertise or a lack of good intentions. It’s a lack of courage. But there is courage out there — and it should be honored.

Kudos should go to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York, who amid fierce criticism publicly defended Muslims who were looking to build a community center in lower Manhattan. Also to Fareed Zakaria, the Newsweek columnist and CNN host, for making a case for tolerance by returning an award given to him five years ago by the Anti-Defamation League. He did so after the Jewish organization released a statement on July 30 maintaining that the planned Islamic center, which includes a mosque, should be relocated because it is too close to the site of the World Trade Center.

Roubini Says Fed Is `Running Out of Policy Bullets'

Nouriel Roubini, the New York University professor who forecast the U.S. recession more than a year before it began, said the Federal Reserve is running out of effective ways to stimulate the economy.

“We cannot prevent slow economic growth for a number of years,” Roubini said an interview on Bloomberg Radio. “We are running out of policy bullets.”

Van-mounted body scanners coming to a street near you?

By Daniel Tencer
Wednesday, August 25th, 2010 -- 9:45 pm

US law enforcement agencies are among the customers of a Massachusetts-based company that is selling full-body scanners to be mounted inside vans and used on streets, says a report from Forbes.

American Science & Engineering, based in Billerica, Mass., told Forbes blogger Andy Greenberg that it has sold more than 500 "Z Backscatter Vans," mobile x-ray scanning units that can be used to detect bombs, contraband and smuggled people inside nearby cars.

Recession may have pushed US birth rate to new low

Forget the Dow and the GDP. Here's the latest economic indicator: The U.S. birth rate has fallen to its lowest level in at least a century as many people apparently decided they couldn't afford more mouths to feed.

The birth rate dropped for the second year in a row since the recession began in 2007. Births fell 2.6 percent last year even as the population grew, numbers released Friday by the National Center for Health Statistics show.

"It's a good-sized decline for one year. Every month is showing a decline from the year before," said Stephanie Ventura, the demographer who oversaw the report.

‘Why Has He Fallen Short?’

Frank Rich

The Promise: President Obama, Year One
by Jonathan Alter
Simon and Schuster, 458 pp., $28.00

Of course Barack Obama was too hot not to cool down. He was the one so many were waiting for—not only the first African-American president but also the nation’s long-awaited liberator after eight years of Bush-Cheney, the golden-tongued evangelist who could at long last revive and sell the old liberal faith, the first American president in memory to speak to voters as if they might be thinking adults, the first national politician in years to electrify the young. He was even, of all implausible oddities, a contemporary politician- author who actually wrote his own books.

The Obama of Hope and Change was too tough an act for Obama, a mere chief executive, to follow. Only Hollywood might have the power to create a superhero who could fulfill the messianic dreams kindled by his presence and rhetoric, maintain the riveting drama of his unlikely ascent, and sustain the national mood of deliverance that greeted his victory. As soon as Inauguration Day turned to night, the real Obama was destined to depreciate like the shiny new luxury car that starts to lose its book value the moment it’s driven off the lot.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Tea Party Rocks Primaries

Some shocking electoral results this week are providing new proof that the loony Tea Party movement has surged to levels of influence far beyond anything most of us could ever have imagined possible, with the key results coming in Arizona and Alaska.
In Sarah Palin’s home state, it’s looking quite a lot like incumbent Lisa Murkowski is going to be ousted by a little-known Tea Party candidate named Joe Miller.
If Murkowski loses, she would be the seventh incumbent and the fourth Republican to lose key primary challenges this year, with Tea Party activism being a driving force in many of those races.

The many sins of deregulation

By Harold Meyerson
Thursday, August 26, 2010; A13

Who's afraid of a little egg? Of late, anyone who eats them, at least since the announcement of massive recalls of the salmonella-tainted spheroids.

The deregulated chickens have come home to roost. The Food and Drug Administration, the New York Times reported Wednesday, considered mandating the vaccination of chickens with anti-bacterial shots -- and decided against it. Instead, the vaccinations are merely recommended. In Britain, where such vaccinations have been required for egg vendors who wish to put an industry-standard label on their eggs, the incidence of salmonella in eggs has dropped 96 percent.

A diagram of our egg-safety bureaucracies could be presented as an illustration of the old question of whether the chicken or the egg comes first. The Agriculture Department oversees chickens and grades eggs for their quality. The FDA is responsible for the safety of eggs in their shells. The FDA inspects egg farms after an outbreak of egg-borne disease has been detected -- not before.

Chase Bank and Obama's "Make Home Affordable" Scam

by Ted Rall

SOMEWHERE IN AFGHANISTAN--It isn't surprising, what with the world falling apart and all, that the world scarcely noticed that I lost my job as an editor in April 2009. Why should it? I was one of millions of Americans who lost their job that month.

But it mattered to me.

It wasn't all bad. No more early morning commutes. And no more Lisa. Lisa was my boss. My mean boss. My mean and crazy boss. In the long run, I stand to save thousands of dollars on therapy.

In the meantime, however, one visit with HR cost more than half my annual income. (My ex-employer, the Scripps media conglomerate, offered just four weeks severance pay--if I agreed not to work as a journalist for the rest of my life. Needless to say, I refused.) Just like that, I was broke.

The bills, of course, kept coming. Including my home mortgage. Unlike many people, I was conservative. When I bought, in 2004, I put down more than 50 percent of the purchase price. Refusing an adjustable-rate mortgage, I took out a vanilla 30-year fixed-rate mortgage from Chase Home Finance LLC.

Why Your Faucet May Have Dangerously High Levels of Lead

By Wilma Chan, AlterNet
Posted on August 25, 2010, Printed on August 26, 2010

One of the most critical functions of government is to protect our health from hidden dangers in our homes, schools, and workplaces. In particular, we rely upon our government to protect us from dangers that we, as individuals, are powerless to address. Major milestones in the field of public health improvements in the last century include vanquishing threats like botulism, smallpox, and polio, as well as protecting people and the environment by tackling chemical contamination left over from decades of unregulated dumping of hazardous wastes. Today, we face another urgent call for our government to step in and protect future generations from a serious health threat that lurks in schools and homes.

Hundreds of recent health studies prove exceedingly low levels of lead exposure are dangerous – even at levels that were previously believed “safe.” Small amounts of lead leaching from our plumbing can cause kidney disease, hypertension, reduced brain function, hearing loss, nervous system disorders, bone marrow damage, and evendeath. Lead in the bloodstream robs us of our future because it is even more toxic to children. There is simply no reason that lead should still be allowed in our drinking water plumbing.

Seeing a Time (Soon) When We’ll All Be Dieting

Fifty years ago, a billion people were undernourished or starving; the number is about the same today. That’s actually progress, since a billion represented a third of the human race then, and “only” a sixth now.

Today we have another worry: roughly the same number of people eat too much. But, says Julian Cribb, a veteran science journalist from Australia, “The era of cheap, abundant food is over.”

Like many other experts, he argues that we have passed the peak of oil production, and it’s all downhill from now on. He then presents evidence that we have passed the peaks for water, fertilizer and land, and that we will all soon be made painfully aware that we have passed it for food, as wealthy nations experience shortages and rising prices, and poorer ones starve.

Much of “The Coming Famine” builds an argument that we’ve jumped off a cliff and that global chaos — a tidal wave of people fleeing their own countries for wherever they can find food — is all but guaranteed. The rest of the book concentrates on catching an outcropping of rock with a finger and scrambling back up. The writing is neither personality-filled nor especially fluid, but the sheer number of terrifying facts makes the book gripping.

How Your Toothpaste, Soap and Make-Up Can Harm Your Health

By Jill Richardson, AlterNet
Posted on August 20, 2010, Printed on August 26, 2010

Over the past several months, your bathroom has become the site of a major controversy. In fact, the controversy has been heating up for a while (Environmental Working Group's Cosmetic Safety Database dates back to 2004), but recently, stories of dangerous ingredients in common personal care products like soap, toothpaste and lipstick have become even more common in the media. They're even the subject of a bill in Congress, The Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010. The inadequate regulation and dubious safety of cosmetics spurred Annie Leonard, famous for making The Story of Stuff, to come out with a new video last month, The Story of Cosmetics.

Numerous chemicals that are legally used in personal care products are untested, inadequately tested, or even proven harmful, but few are as widely used and as unnecessary as the endocrine disrupting chemicals triclosan (an ingredient in 75 percent of liquid hand soaps) and triclocarban (most commonly found in deodorant bar soaps). Scientists have recently found a number of new reasons why these chemicals should not be used in consumer products. In late July, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) brought a lawsuit against the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), calling on the FDA to ban triclosan and triclocarban from soaps and body washes.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Afghanistan War Is Mainly About Pakistan and India

Actually, it's about the whole region.

By Fred Kaplan

Dexter Filkins' article from Pakistan in the Aug. 23 New York Times raises anew the question that has long haunted even many supporters of the U.S. war in Afghanistan: Have we gotten ourselves into something that's way over our heads?

Filkins reports that a much-celebrated triumph of U.S.-Pakistani cooperation in combating jihadist terrorism—the joint arrest, earlier this year, of a top Taliban leader in Karachi—was, in fact, a ruse.

It turns out that the arrested Taliban leader, Abdul Ghani Baradar, had been engaged in secret peace talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The Pakistani security agents used the CIA to help them track down Baradar precisely because they wanted to shut down any peace initiative that didn't involve Pakistan.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Digby: Hate From All Directions

Abe Foxman must very be proud to have associated the ADL with the likes of the Teabaggers. You surely recall Mark Williams, the former Move America Forward and Tea Party Express spokesman who resigned recently after writing a racist screed in ebonics to the NAACP. He's still at it:
Today he's up with a new post calling New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer "Judenrats" for publicly supporting the proposed Cordoba House project in Lower Manhattan.

"Politically correct Judenrats like New York Mayor Michael Boomberg and Scott Stringer (Manhattan Borough President) and domestic enemies who are supporting the mosque - with open ties to Islamic Terrorist organizations and supporting states are doing nothing more than erecting a giant middle finger to be trust at the victims of 911... which includes all of civilized Mankind," Williams writes.

False Charges Ricochet in the War on WikiLeaks

By Scott Horton

This weekend, the controversies surrounding WikiLeaks took another strange turn. Late on Friday, the Swedish newspaper Expressen disclosed that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was the subject of an arrest warrant arising out of charges by two female witnesses that he had raped them within a three-day period. The late-hours special duty prosecutor, Maria Häljebo Kjellstrand, issued an arrest warrant for Assange, who quickly protested his innocence and charged that the claims against him were a “dirty trick.” Within twenty-four hours, Swedish prosecutors did a near complete about-face. After finishing a preliminary examination of the claims, chief prosecutor Eva Finné, to whom the case was handed off, concluded that the evidence did not justify an arrest warrant, and canceled the one issued by Ms. Kjellstrand. “I do not believe there is any reason to suspect that he has committed rape,” Ms. Finné told London’s Daily Telegraph. She noted that the file would remain open under a downgraded charge of sexuellt ofredande, or unwanted sexual contact, a far less serious offense. One of the women behind the charges gave an interview to the Swedish paper Aftonbladet on Sunday, backpedaling furiously. She stated that she was surprised to learn that the accusations were treated as a rape charge and denied that there had been any encounter with Assange involving violence or force. She suggested that the controversy had to do with Assange’s failure to use a condom during intercourse. In the meantime, Sweden’s Justice Ombudsman was demanding a formal investigation into how the accusations came to be sensationalized by the press on the basis of an improperly issued arrest warrant.

"310 Million Tits" - If Simpson Doesn't Resign, The President Must Fire Him

Alan Simpson is the co-chair of President Obama's Deficit Commission, which is charged with creating a bipartisan consensus for balancing the budget. Lately Simpson's foulmouthed tirades have drawn at least as much attention as the Commission's actual work. His latest rant - which includes denigrating an activist for women's issues with remarks about "a milk cow with 310 million tits [1]" - crosses the line once and for all. It demonstrates conclusively that he possesses neither the judgment, the ability, nor the emotional stability to carry out his mission. He's become an embarrassment to the President and an impediment to his Commission's objectives. He must resign immediately. If he's unwilling to do so, the President must fire him.

Simpson's notoriously thin-skinned, and he's in the habit of pelting his critics with abusive monologues or emails. That argumentative streak, which has only gotten worse in recent months, leaves him spectacularly ill-suited to the mission the President laid out for him when he announced the formation of his Commission [2]. The President said "I'm confident that the Commission I'm establishing today will build a bipartisan consensus to put America on the path toward fiscal reform and responsibility."

Wanted: Tough Trade Negotiator

The United States logged a $26.2 billion trade deficit with China in June. Still refusing to let its currency rise in value against the dollar, China announced a trade surplus of $28.7 billion a month later. This widening of trade imbalances between nations is indeed alarming, and many in the United States believe we should lecture the Chinese about manipulating the international export market but not actually threaten sanctions, lest we start a trade war.

The truth is, lecturing China gets us nowhere. Right now, China’s poli- cies effectively impose high tariffs and provide large export subsidies — that’s how an undervalued cur- rency impacts a nation and its trad- ing partners. This should be a violation of trade rules; it might in fact be a violation, but the law’s language is vague on the subject.

Wonder why climate bills stall in the Senate? Follow the money

by Randy Rieland

Atrazine causes prostate inflammation in male rats and delays puberty

A new study shows that male rats prenatally exposed to low doses of atrazine, a widely used herbicide, are more likely to develop prostate inflammation and to go through puberty later than non-exposed animals. The research adds to a growing body of literature on atrazine, an herbicide predominantly used to control weeds and grasses in crops such as corn and sugar cane. Atrazine and its byproducts are known to be relatively persistent in the environment, potentially finding their way into water supplies.

The research, which is available online and will be featured on the cover of Reproductive Toxicology (Volume 30, Issue 4), found that the incidence of prostate inflammation went from 48 percent in the control group to 81 percent in the male offspring who were exposed to a mixture of atrazine and its breakdown products prenatally. The severity of the inflammation increased with the strength of the doses. Puberty was also delayed in the animals who received atrazine.

Covert Operations

The billionaire brothers who are waging a war against Obama.

by Jane Mayer
August 30, 2010

On May 17th, a black-tie audience at the Metropolitan Opera House applauded as a tall, jovial-looking billionaire took the stage. It was the seventieth annual spring gala of American Ballet Theatre, and David H. Koch was being celebrated for his generosity as a member of the board of trustees; he had recently donated $2.5 million toward the company’s upcoming season, and had given many millions before that. Koch received an award while flanked by two of the gala’s co-chairs, Blaine Trump, in a peach-colored gown, and Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, in emerald green. Kennedy’s mother, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, had been a patron of the ballet and, coincidentally, the previous owner of a Fifth Avenue apartment that Koch had bought, in 1995, and then sold, eleven years later, for thirty-two million dollars, having found it too small.

The gala marked the social ascent of Koch, who, at the age of seventy, has become one of the city’s most prominent philanthropists. In 2008, he donated a hundred million dollars to modernize Lincoln Center’s New York State Theatre building, which now bears his name. He has given twenty million to the American Museum of Natural History, whose dinosaur wing is named for him. This spring, after noticing the decrepit state of the fountains outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Koch pledged at least ten million dollars for their renovation. He is a trustee of the museum, perhaps the most coveted social prize in the city, and serves on the board of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, where, after he donated more than forty million dollars, an endowed chair and a research center were named for him.

Home sales at 15-year lows

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Sales of previously owned U.S. homes took a record plunge in July to their slowest pace in 15 years, underlining the housing market's struggle to find its footing without government aid.

Tuesday's report from the National Association of Realtors, which was much worse than market expectations, was the latest data that indicated economic activity continued to slacken into the third quarter.

The NAR said overall sales were at their lowest since it started the existing-home sales data series in 1999, with single-family home sales that account for most business at their lowest since 1995. Association chief economist Lawrence Yun characterized overall sales as the softest since 1995.

Monday, August 23, 2010

When Wall Street Rules, We Get Wall Street Rules

The middle class is getting whacked by the Great Recession. Fifteen million people are out of work, another 9 million workers can only find part-time jobs, and millions more have given up looking for work altogether. Those lucky enough to be employed are unlikely to see any substantial wage gains for years to come.

Millions of homeowners are facing the loss of their home and more than ten million are underwater in their mortgage. Most of the huge baby boom cohort is approaching retirement with little other than Social Security to support them, now that the collapse of the housing bubble has destroyed their home equity and much of the rest of their savings.

This pain is infuriating for two reasons. First, this was an entirely preventable disaster. The housing bubble was easy to see. Competent economists had long warned of its dangers.

Mutual Irritation Society

Alan Grayson tries to show Democrats how to take on the Tea Party.

ORLANDO, Fla.—The people manning the phones at the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades union hall in Orlando keep their heads down, stenciling slogans on poster board and making calls to Democratic primary voters. It takes a minute for them to realize that Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., has just walked in to thank them for their work, un-missable in a black denim blazer, cowboy boots, and an American flag tie. As he walks from desk to desk, he is followed by a two-man documentary crew that has been with him since July 4. One volunteer puts down his phone, picks up a copy of Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, and flips open to the title page. He wants Grayson to sign it.

A Permanent Housing Collapse?

by: Shamus Cooke, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed

The recent chaos that erupted when 30,000 people waited hours in the Atlanta, Georgia, heat to receive applications for subsidized housing is a mere symptom of a worsening national problem.

The housing market appears to be on a never-ending downward spiral, with the much-discussed "recovery" always around the next corner.

The reasons that such a recovery is impossible at the moment should be obvious: millions of people do not have jobs; millions of others work only part time; millions more work full-time but make very little money; and additional millions fear losing their jobs.

Islamo-Gangsterism: In a Deteriorating Afghanistan, a New Breed of Terror

by Ted Rall

KABUL -- "In squads of roaring dirt bikes and armed to the teeth," Joshua Partlow reports in The Washington Post, "Taliban fighters are spreading like a brush fire into remote and defenseless villages across northern Afghanistan."

Two other cartoonists and I were a day away from heading to Faryab--a remote, rural, Uzbek-dominated province in the northwest known for its brutally entertaining matches of buzkashi--when Partlow's piece appeared. He described a phenomenon that deploys novel tactics out of a bizarre 1970s action flick.

It was years after the 2001 U.S. invasion before the Afghan national police began to take control of the country's major highways. Now there are government-run gun nests every few kilometers.

Paul Krugman: Now That’s Rich

We need to pinch pennies these days. Don’t you know we have a budget deficit? For months that has been the word from Republicans and conservative Democrats, who have rejected every suggestion that we do more to avoid deep cuts in public services and help the ailing economy.

But these same politicians are eager to cut checks averaging $3 million each to the richest 120,000 people in the country.

What — you haven’t heard about this proposal? Actually, you have: I’m talking about demands that we make all of the Bush tax cuts, not just those for the middle class, permanent.

Some background: Back in 2001, when the first set of Bush tax cuts was rammed through Congress, the legislation was written with a peculiar provision — namely, that the whole thing would expire, with tax rates reverting to 2000 levels, on the last day of 2010.

Why the cutoff date? In part, it was used to disguise the fiscal irresponsibility of the tax cuts: lopping off that last year reduced the headline cost of the cuts, because such costs are normally calculated over a 10-year period. It also allowed the Bush administration to pass the tax cuts using reconciliation — yes, the same procedure that Republicans denounced when it was used to enact health reform — while sidestepping rules designed to prevent the use of that procedure to increase long-run budget deficits.

Verizon & Google Want to Kill the Open Internet -- Media Mogul Confirms Their Bad Intentions

By Rep. Alan Grayson, AlterNet
Posted on August 20, 2010, Printed on August 23, 2010

"[Barry] Diller asserted that the Google-Verizon proposal "doesn't preserve 'net neutrality,' full stop, or anything like it." Asked if other media executives were staying quiet because they stand to gain from a less open Internet, he said simply, "Yes."" New York Times, August 12, 2010

The Verizon-Google Net Neutrality Proposal begins by stating that "Google and Verizon have been working together to find ways to preserve the open Internet." Well, that's nice. Imagine what they would have come up with if they had been trying to kill off the open Internet.

Actually, you don't have to imagine it. Because that's what this is. An effort to kill off the open Internet.

Much of the coverage of the Verizon-Google Proposal has focused on only one of the proposal's many problems: the fact that the proposal allows wireless broadband carriers -- like, say, Verizon, for instance -- to discriminate in handling Internet traffic in any manner they choose. They can charge content providers, they can block content providers, and they can slow down content providers, just as they please. That sure doesn't sound "neutral."

Activist: Gulf fishermen being held responsible for toxic seafood

By Daniel Tencer
Saturday, August 21st, 2010 -- 9:12 pm

Federal government admits not testing for arsenic, mercury or other toxic heavy metals in seafood

The US government, and even President Obama himself, have said that Gulf seafood is safe to eat in the wake of the massive BP oil spill.

But an admission from the federal government that it hasn't been testing Gulf seafood for toxic heavy metals, and news that fishermen are being forced to sign waivers making them liable for toxins in their catch, suggest not everyone is convinced of the safety of Gulf seafood.

"Ground Zero Mosque" Foes Bankrolled By Feds

Mon Aug. 23, 2010 3:00 AM PDT

President Barack Obama has declared that a group of moderate Muslims have the right to build a community center in lower Manhattan, two blocks from the site once occupied by the World Trade Center towers. Yet representatives of a wholly US government-funded outfit have joined the vociferous opposition to the Park51 or Cordoba House project that critics have dubbed the "Ground Zero Mosque." A leader of this group—which receives $4.3 million a year from the government—has even proclaimed that the community center could be a front for Islamic terrorism. That's not all: the same agency, the US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCRIF), has been the subject of an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint for allegedly discriminating against Muslim employees.

The Economy Is Getting Worse and Worse -- And No One's Doing a Thing About It

By Danny Schechter, AlterNet
Posted on August 22, 2010, Printed on August 23, 2010

We know we live in hard times that are on the verge of getting harder, with 500,000 new claims for unemployment last week, a recent record.

The stock market may be over for now as fear and panic drives small investors out. Big corporations hoard stashes of cash rather then hire workers. The D word (depression) is back in play.

Foreclosures are up, and the administration’s programs to stop them are down, well below their stated goals, only helping a sixth of those promised assistance.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Gov't Admits There's A Lot More Oil Left In The Gulf Than They Initially Said

Earlier this month, as BP pumped cement into the ruined blowout preventer on the bottom of the Gulf, the government released a four-page, scant-on-details report that claimed that only a quarter of the 4.9 millions of barrels of oil was left in the Gulf. The rest, they said, had been cleaned up, evaporated or dispersed into nonexistence.

And so the government essentially declared 'Mission Accomplished!' in the Gulf.

But skepticism quickly seeped into media reports, followed by scientific findings that there's still oil -- a lot of oil -- floating around in the Gulf of Mexico.

They Still Don't Get It

Some people on Wall Street, and at the Wall Street Journal, speak as if the financial crisis never happened.

By Eliot Spitzer

The art of the "big lie" is to repeat something often enough, and with a powerful enough megaphone, such that your distortions are not challenged. So it is with the Wall Street Journal's obsession with attacking and misrepresenting the multiple cases that I brought against both AIG and its former chairman and CEO, Hank Greenberg.

At stake is much more than the particular cases at issue. By trying to rewrite the narrative of the economic cataclysm we have lived through, the deniers are attempting to challenge the common-sense conclusions that flow from an accurate understanding of history. They are desperately trying to protect a particularly rabid, and ultimately damaging, anti-regulatory philosophy that has dominated the past 30 years. They are trying to protect a broken and misguided understanding of how markets really function, a view now openly rejected even by such staunch free-market advocates as Judge Richard Posner and former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan. Acknowledging the propriety of any government prosecutions of corporate wrongdoing would make impossible their current effort to push back against even the government's minimal responses to the financial crisis.

America Won the Cold War But Now Is Turning Into the USSR, Gerald Celente Says

Posted Aug 20, 2010 11:05am EDT by Aaron Task

There's a lot of talk these days about America being an empire in decline. Gerald Celente, director of the Trends Research Institute, goes a step further, arguing America is following a similar path as the former Soviet Union.

"While the many glaring differences between the two political systems have been exhaustively publicized - especially in the U.S. - the glaring similarities [go] unnoticed," Celente writes in The Trends Journal, which he publishes.

Grayson slams mosque ‘distraction’: Talk about admin that ‘let’ 9/11 happen instead

By Stephen C. Webster
Saturday, August 21st, 2010 -- 4:01 pm

The debate over a planned Islamic community center several blocks from New York City's World Trade Center site is a "distraction," according to Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL).

Instead, the debate should shift in focus to an examination of the administration which "let it happen."

'It,' of course, being the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

An Officer's Experience in Our Christian Military

Posted on: August 20, 2009 9:09 AM, by Ed Brayton

Mikey Weinstein asked me to pass along this statement from an Army officer and West Point graduate about the constant problems he has faced in the military from aggressive Christian superiors who have badgered him relentlessly about his own religious views. The whole thing is worth reading.

I am a United States Army Captain. On a spring day at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York several years ago, I took a solemn oath to support and defend the United States Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic as an officer in the United States Army. I took a legally altered oath which omitted the words "So Help Me G-d." When I submitted my first signed copy, with those words neatly crossed out and initialed, I was informed that it was not valid. When threatened with the prospect of not graduating and being refused a Commission, I stood by my refusal to sign the Oath as it read. I could not in good conscience do so because I was deeply disturbed by fusion of religion and military service. I could not reconcile the suspicion that the Oath itself was establishing religion in a way which contradicted the spirit of the Constitution with the intensity of my commitment to defend same. I believed, and still believe, that my personal metaphysical experience of the universe must be separate from my role as a military professional. In the passing years, I have come to the unsettling conclusion that the sentiment in the Oath which so disturbed me is a practical reality in my United States Army.

The poison behind the Ground Zero mosque furore

Who would have thought that the most successful joke in the history of Comment is free could become a template for far right hate groups in the US? Yet Ariane Sherine's atheist bus ads now have a grim imitator in New York, where a group calling itself Stop Islamisation of America (SIOA) has put up bus ads with a picture of a plane flying into the twin towers on one side, and on the other, an image of the proposed Cordoba centre.

The two people behind SIOA are Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller, who, between them, run two flourishing and hate-filled sites, Jihad Watch and Atlas Shrugs, which link into an undergrowth of far-right websites in Europe, including the skinheads of the English Defence League, but also to respectable rightwingers such as Douglas Murray of the Centre for Social Cohesion, and even the Catholic Herald.

Pac-Man Hacked Onto a Touch-Screen Voting Machine Without Breaking 'Tamper-Evident' Seals

Same systems to be used by millions of voters this November...

Posted By Brad Friedman On 21st August 2010 @ 12:48

Sequoia's voting machines, used in some 20% of U.S. elections, employ Intellectual Property (IP) still owned by a Venezuelan firm tied to Hugo Chavez. Sequoia itself is now owned by a Canadian firm called Dominion. (Though Dominion, like Sequoia itself before it, lied about the continuing Venezuelan/Chavez ties in its recent announcement of the acquisition, as detailed exclusively by The BRAD BLOG [1], to little notice, in June.)

The Pac-Man hack onto the Sequoia/Dominion voting machine was revealed this week. It was accomplished without breaking any of the "tamper-evident" seals that voting machine companies and election officials claim are used to ensure nobody can physically hack into them without being discovered.

"We received the machine with the original tamper-evident seals intact," the hackers from Princeton and University of Michigan report [2]. "The software can be replaced without breaking any of these seals, simply by removing screws and opening the case."

In Striking Shift, Small Investors Flee Stock Market


Renewed economic uncertainty is testing Americans’ generation-long love affair with the stock market.

Investors withdrew a staggering $33.12 billion from domestic stock market mutual funds in the first seven months of this year, according to the Investment Company Institute, the mutual fund industry trade group. Now many are choosing investments they deem safer, like bonds.

If that pace continues, more money will be pulled out of these mutual funds in 2010 than in any year since the 1980s, with the exception of 2008, when the global financial crisis peaked.

Frank Rich: How Fox Betrayed Petraeus

THE “ground zero mosque,” as you may well know by now, is not at ground zero. It’s not a mosque but an Islamic cultural center containing a prayer room. It’s not going to determine President Obama’s political future or the elections of 2010 or 2012. Still, the battle that has broken out over this project in Lower Manhattan — on the “hallowed ground” of a shuttered Burlington Coat Factory store one block from the New York Dolls Gentlemen’s Club — will prove eventful all the same. And the consequences will be far more profound than any midterm election results or any of the grand debates now raging 24/7 over the parameters of tolerance, religious freedom, and the real estate gospel of location, location, location.

Here’s what’s been lost in all the screaming. The prime movers in the campaign against the “ground zero mosque” just happen to be among the last cheerleaders for America’s nine-year war in Afghanistan. The wrecking ball they’re wielding is not merely pounding Park51, as the project is known, but is demolishing America’s already frail support for that war, which is dedicated to nation-building in a nation whose most conspicuous asset besides opium is actual mosques.

So virulent is the Islamophobic hysteria of the neocon and Fox News right — abetted by the useful idiocy of the Anti-Defamation League, Harry Reid and other cowed Democrats — that it has also rendered Gen. David Petraeus’s last-ditch counterinsurgency strategy for fighting the war inoperative. How do you win Muslim hearts and minds in Kandahar when you are calling Muslims every filthy name in the book in New York?

Could a Legal Technicality Prevent Banks from Having the Right to Foreclose on 62 Million Homes?

By Ellen Brown, YES! Magazine
Posted on August 20, 2010, Printed on August 22, 2010

Over 62 million mortgages are now held in the name of MERS, an electronic recording system devised by and for the convenience of the mortgage industry. A California bankruptcy court, following landmark cases in other jurisdictions, recently held that this electronic shortcut makes it impossible for banks to establish their ownership of property titles--and therefore to foreclose on mortgaged properties. The logical result could be 62 million homes that are foreclosure-proof.

Mortgages bundled into securities were a favorite investment of speculators at the height of the financial bubble leading up to the crash of 2008. The securities changed hands frequently, and the companies profiting from mortgage payments were often not the same parties that negotiated the loans. At the heart of this disconnect was the Mortgage Electronic Registration System, or MERS, a company that serves as the mortgagee of record for lenders, allowing properties to change hands without the necessity of recording each transfer.

MERS was convenient for the mortgage industry, but courts are now questioning the impact of all of this financial juggling when it comes to mortgage ownership. To foreclose on real property, the plaintiff must be able to establish the chain of title entitling it to relief. But MERS has acknowledged, and recent cases have held, that MERS is a mere "nominee"--an entity appointed by the true owner simply for the purpose of holding property in order to facilitate transactions. Recent court opinions stress that this defect is not just a procedural but is a substantive failure, one that is fatal to the plaintiff's legal ability to foreclose.

Jailed Hikers: the Untold Story

The three Americans Iran has charged with espionage are not who you think they are.

By Kari Lydersen

In July of last year, Shon Meckfessel was debating whether or not to join his three friends on a hike in the mountains of Kurdistan in northern Iraq. In the hopes of fighting off a cold, Meckfessel ultimately decided to stay in a hotel, with plans to join them the next day.

That seemingly inconsequential decision saved Meckfessel from ending up in an Iranian prison, where his friends have spent the last year.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Paul Krugman: History Does Not Lie - Unless It Is Being Invented by Republicans

When you consistently irritate the hard right in the United States as I do, you quickly get used to the steady stream of accusations that you’re lying, simply because you didn’t present the facts in a way that suits the commenter. If I write, “The economy added 236,000 jobs a month under Bill Clinton,” the responses from conservatives will range from “That’s a lie! Krugman doesn’t mention the dot-com bubble!” to “That’s cherry-picking! What about Jimmy Carter?”

Obama's Health Care Achievements

by: Theda Skocpol | The Nation | Op-Ed

Eric Alterman is thoughtful and eloquent as he describes progressive disappointments with Obama's first eighteen months in the presidency and probes the huge obstacles to progressive change built into our divided and institutionally cumbersome system of governance. I don't disagree with many specific points he makes. But the bottom line he draws could not be more wrongheaded. Against huge counterwinds, President Obama and his unwieldy party have managed to enact major reforms: they took higher education loans away from bankers and enhanced funding for lower- and middle-income students; they created a regulatory framework that will start to rein in Wall Street financial shenanigans; they have used regulations where legislation was impossible to further workers' rights and prod environmental improvements; and they achieved comprehensive healthcare reforms that are the most far-reaching and economically redistributive social accomplishments since the New Deal.

Paul Krugman: Appeasing the Bond Gods

As I look at what passes for responsible economic policy these days, there’s an analogy that keeps passing through my mind. I know it’s over the top, but here it is anyway: the policy elite — central bankers, finance ministers, politicians who pose as defenders of fiscal virtue — are acting like the priests of some ancient cult, demanding that we engage in human sacrifices to appease the anger of invisible gods.

Hey, I told you it was over the top. But bear with me for a minute.

Late last year the conventional wisdom on economic policy took a hard right turn. Even though the world’s major economies had barely begun to recover, even though unemployment remained disastrously high across much of America and Europe, creating jobs was no longer on the agenda. Instead, we were told, governments had to turn all their attention to reducing budget deficits.

Pension Cuts Won't Cover a $3 Trillion Bill in U.S., Study Says

Taxpayers must cover at least a third of a $3 trillion bill for public employee pensions even if lawmakers eliminate cost-of-living increases and raise the retirement age, according to an academic study.

“Even if states uniformly eliminated generous early retirement deals and raised the retirement age to 74, the unfunded liability for promises already made would still be more than $1 trillion,” Joshua D. Rauh, associate professor of finance at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management in Evanston, Illinois, said in a statement.

10 Shameless Right-Wing Tributes to Ayn Rand That Should Make Any Sane Person Blush

As the evangelical Right's influence has declined, conservatives are adhering to another religion -- one based on the scribblings of a sociopath.

August 20, 2010 | Up until a few years ago, right-wingers who needed to believe in something larger than themselves chose Jesus. But with the evangelicals fading from the Republican coalition, and Obama's social programs making the whole "compassionate conservative" thing suspect, it look like Jesus is out and Ayn Rand is in.

Yes, Ayn Rand, author of big books about noble capitalists who triumph over the masses, and tomes of "philosophy" like The Virtue of Selfishness, in which she beat Gordon Gekko to Greed is Good by decades. Rand always seemed like a good fit for conservatives, but until recently their fandom was a love that dared not speak its name -- either out of fear that the born-agains would be alienated by Rand's atheism, or that literate people would giggle at them.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

It's not about the mosque -- it's America's war on "the Other"

A few months ago, I spent a Sunday morning in the parking lot of the Wal-Mart on Thomas Road in East Phoenix, just on the cusp of the immigration flare-up over racial profiling and Arizona's repressive law called SB 1070. It was quieter then -- a weathered 39-year-old Mexican in a wool cap with a New York Mets logo named Roberto Valdez who told me of his trek across the desert to seek work in Phoenix as a day laborer. Weeks earlier, Mexican day laborers like Valdez had been harassed on the weekends by angry white nativists, but in March of 2010 the nativists had moved on. Many had joined the Tea Party, and some were campaigning for GOP anti-immigration zealot J.D. Hayworth for U.S. Senate. Why waste time on "the Other" Roberto Valdez, when America now had "the Other" daring to occupy the Oval Office in the person of Barack Obama.

Five months later, the American political debate -- in a time of crushing 9.5-percent unemployment, record foreclosures and bankruptcies, and climate change linked to catastrophes from Moscow to Pakistan to Iowa -- has been hijacked over the arcane question of whether to allow an Islamic cultural center in lower Manhattan. The controversy is stunning -- but it should not be. The national brouhaha over the $100 million Muslim Park51/Cordoba House proposal is not an anomaly but rather the culmimation of an alarming downturn in America's mood, its discourse, and even our former ambitions as a beacon of religious and political tolerance. In 2010, a large swath of the American public -- led by ratings-mad media mavens and immoral politicians like Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin -- had declared out all-out war on "the Other" in America in all its alleged forms, from immigrants to Muslims to non-white aides working in the West Wing of the White House and of course the president himself.

Katha Pollitt: Ground Zero for Free Speech

Park51, a k a Cordoba House, won't be a mosque; it will be a $100 million, thirteen-story cultural center with a pool, gym, auditorium and prayer room. It won't be at Ground Zero; it will be two blocks away. (By the way, two mosques have existed in the neighborhood for years.) It won't be a shadowy storefront where radical clerics recruit young suicide bombers; it will be a showplace of moderate Islam, an Islam for the pluralist West—the very thing wise heads in the United States and Europe agree is essential to integrate Muslim immigrants and prevent them from becoming fundamentalists and even terrorists. "It's a shame we even have to talk about this," says Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a longtime supporter of the project.

Apparently we do, because the same right-wingers who talk about the Constitution as if Sarah Palin had tweeted it herself apparently skipped over the First Amendment, where freedom of speech and worship are guaranteed to all. "America is experiencing an Islamist cultural-political offensive designed to undermine and destroy our civilization," claims Newt Gingrich, who argues that the United States can't let Muslims build a "mosque" "at Ground Zero" because Saudi Arabia doesn't permit the building of churches and synagogues. For a man who warns that Sharia law is coming soon to a courthouse near you, Gingrich seems strangely eager to accept Saudi standards of religious tolerance. Isn't the whole point that ours is an open society and theirs is closed? "This is a desecration," says former Mayor Rudy Giuliani. "Nobody would allow something like that at Pearl Harbor. Let's have some respect for who died there and why they died there. Let's not put this off on some kind of politically correct theory." I'm not aware of any Japanese-Americans trying to build a Shinto shrine at Pearl Harbor, but what if they had? Why would that be so terrible? (Oh, and "politically correct theory"? Would that be the First Amendment? Giuliani never did have much fondness for pesky old free speech.)

The Corpo-Obama-Geithner-Petraeus State

So a black man finally wins the presidency, only to discover that it's about as useful as a 32 cent stamp. According to [1] Eric Alterman, the federal government, avatar of liberal hope for at least a century, has become hopelessly undemocratic, poisoned by corruption and structurally snarled by partisan divisions. Poor Barack Obama, who steps up to the plate and gets handed a foam bat!

The government, as Alterman convincingly describes it, is not only expensive, "bloated" and all the rest. It has become a handmaid to corporate power—a hiring hall from which compliant officials are selected for vastly more lucrative private-sector jobs, as well as an emergency cash reserve for companies that fall on hard times. No wonder so many Americans unthinkingly conflate "big government" and "big corporations." This is not the kind of government that hires unemployed people to paint murals on post office walls. And, as everyone knows, when the bank decides to repossess your home, it's a public employee who will kick in the door.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Spiking Mercury Levels in Coal Ash Pose New Risks

Pollution Controls Multiply Toxic Potency of Coal Combustion Wastes

Washington, DC - U.S. Environmental Protection Agency policies are creating a profound toxic legacy from coal combustion wastes with no containment strategy, according to regulatory comments filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). By allowing virtually unlimited reuse of coal ash and other highly toxic combustion wastes, EPA is allowing the most potent pollutants - the same ones that cost billions of dollars to keep from billowing out of power plant smokestacks - to reach the environment in the manufacture, use, and disposal of second generation coal ash products.

Coal combustion produces the nation's second biggest waste stream, second only to coal mining. Under EPA sponsorship, 60 million tons (nearly half the total) of coal ash and other wastes are used in mine fill, cement, wallboard, snow and ice control, agriculture and even cosmetics. Following a disastrous 2008 coal ash impoundment spill in Tennessee, this summer EPA finally put forward a proposal that would, at most, classify coal ash as hazardous only when it is in sludge (or "wet storage.")

Paul Krugman: The United States Is No Germany

Wednesday 18 August 2010

EDITOR'S NOTE: Truthout is proud to begin bringing you a twice-weekly Paul Krugman column, thanks to Paul's service, Krugman & Co. This is new material, not available from The New York Times. Happy reading! ms/TO

The debate regarding fiscal stimulus over the past year and a half has, frankly, made me despair at the state of the economics profession.

If others believe stimulus spending is a bad idea, fine.

But surely we should expect opponents of stimulus to engage in real debate, which means that they'd have to actually listen, just briefly, to what proponents of the argument are saying - in particular, that the case for stimulus has always been highly dependent on conditions on the ground.

They're coming for your Social Security — DCCC Chair Van Hollen joins the catfood crowd

This is an excellent segment by Cenk Uygur, subbing for Ed Schultz on The Ed Show.

First, Cenk bottom-lines the phony Social Security "crisis":

  • There's a $2.5 trillion trust fund.
  • They gave it to the rich and the military.
So clear, so obvious.

GOP Candidate Allen West: People With ‘Coexist’ Bumper Stickers Want To ‘Give Away Our Country’

Republican Allen West is the Tea Party candidate for House in Florida’s 22nd district, a seat currently held by Rep. Ron Klein (D). West is an extremely successful fundraiser — he raked in the most money of any GOP challenger in the second fundraising quarter of 2010 — and has become a favorite among conservatives, earning the endorsement of Sarah Palin and receiving over two million hits on YouTube for a speech he delivered to a Florida Tea Party gathering.

Last week, video surfaced of West making a series of inflammatory statements about Islam during a March 8 pubic forum. He began by criticizing the ubiquitous “Coexist” bumper stickers, which display the symbols of Christianity, Judaism, Islam and other religions.

Is Sharron Angle a Christian Reconstructionist?

A unified theory of the Nevada's Senate candidate's stranger musings.

By Amanda Marcotte

Sharron Angle, the Republican challenger to Majority Leader Harry Reid's Nevada Senate seat, has also emerged this election season to challenge Sarah Palin's throne as the conservative leader most likely to say baffling things in public.

Angle grabbed headlines in June when a radio interview surfaced, during which she suggested that if conservative Republicans can't take back Congress, they may resort to "Second Amendment remedies" to fix the problem. When pressed on what exactly a Second Amendment remedy was, she dodged the issue and said her quote was taken out of context. In the past, Angle has gone beyond the usual vague talk about limiting federal government, suggesting we eliminate the Department of Education, Social Security, and Medicare.

Should Fannie and Freddie Be Killed or Kept Alive?

— By Andy Kroll | Wed Aug. 18, 2010 3:00 AM PDT

On Tuesday, the Treasury Department played host to a who's-who of the housing industry: bank executives, bureaucrats, think tankers, academics, and investors, who gathered in the ornate Cash Room to offer their two cents on how to fix the broken housing finance system, and in particular, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The two housing corporations, which backstop the vast majority of America's mortgages, have had their balance sheets and reputations badly wounded in the past couple of years. Since the federal government essentially nationalized them in September 2008, taxpayers have propped up Fannie and Freddie to the tune of $148 billion. With $5 trillion in debt on their books, and no plan in place for their future, the troubled twins have become a political lightning rod and punching bags for the GOP.

The Internet Belongs to Us -- Tell the FCC to Stop the Dangerous Google/Verizon Deal

By Amalia Deloney and Joshua Breitbart, Center for Media Justice
Posted on August 18, 2010, Printed on August 18, 2010

On August 19, the Federal Communications Commission will be in Minneapolis for a public hearing on the future of the Internet. The big question now looming over this hearing is whether the fate of the Internet has already been decided behind closed doors before the FCC has even heard what the public has to say.

This hearing should be an opportunity for the FCC Commissioners to learn from those outside of Washington, DC, as they deliberate over whether the Internet will be an open platform for public discussion and innovation or a private pathway for delivering commercial content. The two Commissioners who have agreed to attend, Michael Copps and Mignon Clyburn, have been stalwart defenders of the public Interest.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Survey shows many are still clueless on how to save energy

People turn off lights in vain, ignoring real efficiencies

Many Americans believe they can save energy with small behavior changes that actually achieve very little, and severely underestimate the major effects of switching to efficient, currently available technologies, says a new survey of Americans in 34 states. The study, which quizzed people on what they perceived as the most effective way to save energy, appears in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The largest group, nearly 20 percent, cited turning off lights as the best approach—an action that affects energy budgets relatively little. Very few cited buying decisions that experts say would cut U.S. energy consumption dramatically, such as more efficient cars (cited by only 2.8 percent), more efficient appliances (cited by 3.2 percent) or weatherizing homes (cited by 2.1 percent). Previous researchers have concluded that households could reduce their energy consumption some 30 percent by making such choices—all without waiting for new technologies, making big economic sacrifices or losing their sense of well-being.