Sunday, July 31, 2011

Conservative Media Myths About Fuel Economy Standards

July 29, 2011 5:28 pm ET — 51 Comments

Conservative media are promulgating the myths that higher fuel economy standards are unattainable with current technology, will cost consumers and will increase traffic deaths. In fact, automakers have said they will be able to meet the standards, consumers will net thousands in fuel savings, and safe cars in a variety of sizes will continue to be produced.

Legislation to Phase Out Private Military Contractors is Filed in Senate and House


Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) today introduced legislation that would phase out private security contractors in war zones.

The legislation recognizes that the United States increasingly has relied on private contractors to wage our wars, wasting taxpayer money, damaging military morale and hurting our reputation around the world.

"The American people have always prided themselves on the strength, conduct, and honor of our United States military. I therefore find it very disturbing that now, in the midst of two wars and a global struggle against terrorism, we are relying more and more on private security contractors - rather than our own military - to provide for our national defense," Sanders said.

Debunking the Big Lie Right-Wingers Use to Justify Black Poverty and Unemployment

By Joshua Holland, AlterNet
Posted on July 29, 2011, Printed on July 31, 2011

In April, the Oklahoma legislature passed a constitutional amendment that would do away with affirmative action policies in the Sooner State. Sally Kern, a state rep vying for the coveted title of Most Extreme Lawmaker in America, explained her rationale for supporting the amendment, saying (among a slew of nutty things) that “it's character that ought to count, not whether you're white or black... it should be your willingness to say, 'I'm going to become everything I can become.'"

Kern suggested that blacks simply don't work as hard as whites. “I’ve taught school,” she said, “and I saw a lot of people of color who didn’t study hard because they said the government would take care of them.”

Star Polar Bear Scientist in the Dog House

The government mysteriously puts a lead Arctic biologist on administrative leave. Is it caving to oil interests?

Fri Jul. 29, 2011 12:00 PM PDT

Everything you've been told about polar bears and global warming is a lie. Or at least that's what climate skeptics have rushed to claim in response to the news that the government is investigating a scientist who wrote a significant paper five years ago about drowned bears in the warming Arctic. Charles Monnett, a wildlife biologist with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (BOEMRE) in Alaska, has been placed on administrative leave as the agency's inspector general undertakes an investigation into unnamed "integrity issues." But an environmental watchdog group believes that the real reason for the investigation is pressure from oil and gas interests who see polar bears as pests that stand between them and the vast mineral reserves deep beneath the Arctic.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Third Way Document Proves Democratic Party Supports Institutionalized Looting by Banks

It is one thing to suspect that something is rotten in Denmark, quite another to have proof. Ever since Obama appointed his Rubinite economics team, it was blindingly obvious that he was aligning himself with Wall Street. The strength of the connection became even more evident in March 2009, when Team Obama embarked on its “stress test” charade and bank stock cheerleading. Rather than bring vested banking interests to heel, the administration instead chose to reconstitute, as much as possible, the very same industry whose reckless pursuit of profit had thrown the world economy off the cliff.

But now we see evidence in a new paper by the think tank Third Way of an even deeper commitment to pro-financier policies. The Democratic party has made clear that it supports institutionalized looting by banks, via the innocuous-seemeing device of rejecting the idea of writedowns on bonds they hold.

Starve The Beast II: The Boehner Plan For Perpetual Debt Crisis

By Bill Scher, July 28, 2011 - 1:43pm ET

There's not a whole lot of difference between the proposals from Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The amount of new cuts is about the same, though the Senate proposal looks bigger because it (properly) includes savings from the war drawdowns in its total savings.

But there is one other key difference which speaks to the overall Republican strategy to shackle our government so it no longer can build our infrastructure, invest in advanced research, generate green energy, alleviate poverty and educate the next generation.

Paul Krugman: The Centrist Cop-Out

The facts of the crisis over the debt ceiling aren’t complicated. Republicans have, in effect, taken America hostage, threatening to undermine the economy and disrupt the essential business of government unless they get policy concessions they would never have been able to enact through legislation. And Democrats — who would have been justified in rejecting this extortion altogether — have, in fact, gone a long way toward meeting those Republican demands.

As I said, it’s not complicated. Yet many people in the news media apparently can’t bring themselves to acknowledge this simple reality. News reports portray the parties as equally intransigent; pundits fantasize about some kind of “centrist” uprising, as if the problem was too much partisanship on both sides.

Some of us have long complained about the cult of “balance,” the insistence on portraying both parties as equally wrong and equally at fault on any issue, never mind the facts. I joked long ago that if one party declared that the earth was flat, the headlines would read “Views Differ on Shape of Planet.” But would that cult still rule in a situation as stark as the one we now face, in which one party is clearly engaged in blackmail and the other is dickering over the size of the ransom?

“Is Standard and Poor’s Manipulating US Debt Rating to Escape Liability for the Mortgage Crisis?”

By Scarecrow and Jane Hamsher. Cross posted from FireDogLake

The Politico headline says it all: U.S. credit downgrade worries Obama, Congress more than default

It’s not the default that strikes the most fear in the White House and Congress these days. It’s the downgrade

As Robert Reich notes, Standard and Poors is the “biggest driver in the deficit battle.” Why would anyone care what the corrupt and disgraced organizations who quite nearly brought down the world economy think about anything at this point?

An Interview with Chris Hedges

By David Barsamian, August 2011 issue

Q: You gave the commencement address at a college in Illinois two months after Bush launched the Iraq War. That rubbed your editors at The New York Times the wrong way. Why?

Hedges: Because I was booed off the stage. The Progressive actually ran a transcript of the whole talk with what people shouted in brackets. The Times editors were pressured to respond, and they responded by calling me into the office and giving me a formal written reprimand for impugning the impartiality of The New York Times. We were members of the Newspaper Guild, and the process is that you give the employee a written warning and then, under Guild rules, the next time the employee violates that warning, you can fire them. So once I was handed that written warning, it was terminal, because I wasn’t about to stop speaking out against the Iraq War. I approached Hamilton Fish at the Nation Institute about becoming a senior fellow there and leaving the Times. I did leave the Times; I wasn’t fired. But if I had stayed long enough, I would have been fired. That was inevitable.

GDP numbers make double dip threat real

Cross-posted from Credit Writedowns

I have stopped reporting the quarterly GDP numbers but this last reading bears mentioning. The US Bureau of Economic Analysis reported the following at 830AM ET:

Real gross domestic product — the output of goods and services produced by labor and property located in the United States — increased at an annual rate of 1.3 percent in the second quarter of 2011, (that is, from the first quarter to the second quarter), according to the "advance" estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the first quarter, real GDP increased 0.4 percent.

The immediate reaction was a drop in the dollar to record lows against the Japanese yen and Swiss franc, a drop in Ten-year yields to 2.88%, a drop in the Dow Futures to –137 and a rise in the Gold price by $10 to $1626.

Lakoff: How to Rescue the American Dream from the GOP's Nightmare

By George Lakoff and Glenn W. Smith, AlterNet
Posted on July 28, 2011, Printed on July 30, 2011

Democracy, in the American tradition, has been defined by a simple morality: We Americans care about our fellow citizens, we act on that care and build trust, and we do our best not just for ourselves, our families, our friends and our neighbors, but for our country, for each other, for people we have never met and never will meet.

American democracy has, over our history, called upon citizens to share an equal responsibility to work together to secure a safe and prosperous future for their families and nation. This is the central work of our democracy and it is a public enterprise. This, the American Dream, is the dream of a functioning democracy.

How Shadowy Right-Wing Front Groups Engineered Our National Embrace Of Debt Reduction Over Job Creation

By Lee Fang on Jul 28, 2011 at 7:50 pm

For the entire year, as a sluggish economy sputters by and states continue to struggle with falling revenue, the conversation in Congress has centered solely on spending reduction. Earlier this year, we witnessed looming government-showdown duels between competing spending reduction plans. Now with the debt ceiling debate, the only two options are a choice between a package of painful cuts and a package of deeply draconian cuts. There has been no lively discussion of new policy ideas for job creation, foreclosure mitigation, or how to spur demand, the key driver of economic recovery.

The 6 Biggest Lies About the U.S. Debt

By Arun Gupta, AlterNet
Posted on July 28, 2011, Printed on July 30, 2011

Editor's Note: This article has been corrected to reflect more accurate calculations.

There is one simple truth about the discussion of the looming U.S. debt crisis: it is largely a compendium of half-truths, distortions, myths and outright lies.

For example, is it true that the U.S. debt is unsustainable, which is spurring the budget-cutting fever? Far from it. While U.S. debt is at one of its highest levels ever in terms of gross domestic product, the estimated interest payments for all of 2011 on the $14.3 trillion public debt will be a mere $430 billion. This is only 18 percent more than the $364 billion paid way back in 1998, while the U.S. economy has grown nearly 30 percent since then. Rock-bottom interest rates on U.S. government debt account for the low payments today, but the practical effect is that servicing the debt as a percentage of GDP is near the lowest it’s been in decades.

Or what about hysterical headlines like “U.S. Debt Default Looms” (courtesy of NPR) unless Democrats and Republicans agree to raise the debt ceiling? They are completely untrue. Richard Wolff, professor of economics emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, says, if there is no agreement by Aug. 2 to allow the U.S. Treasury to borrow more funds, then “the government instead would choose among cutbacks on various expenditures such as state and local aid, medical aid, for war, for infrastructure. It would extraordinarily unusual for a government in such a situation to attack its creditors.”

Revisions show deeper 2007-2009 recession

, On Friday July 29, 2011, 9:33 am EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The 2007-2009 recession, already in the record books as the worst in the 66 years since the end of World War II, was even worse than previously thought.

From the start of the recession at the end of 2007 to the end in June of 2009, the U.S. economy shrank 5.1 percent. That is 1 percentage point worse than the previous estimate that the recession reduced total output during that period by 4.1 percent.

Extremists flocking to Facebook for recruits

By PAISLEY DODDS - Associated Press | AP – Fri, Jul 29, 2011

LONDON (AP) — When the English Defense League sprang to life two years ago, it had fewer than 50 members — a rough-and-tumble bunch of mostly white guys shouting from a street corner about what they viewed as uncontrolled Muslim immigration.

Now, the far-right group mentioned by confessed Norway gunman Anders Behring Breivik as an inspiration says its ranks have swollen to more than 10,000 people, a spectacular rise its leaders attribute to the immense global power of Facebook and other social networking sites.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Evil Corporate Tax Holiday Gains Bipartisan Support

The madness that is the proposed tax repatriation holiday is continuing and gathering steam. More and more members of congress are coming out of the woodwork, scratching their chins in contemplative consideration as it were, pretending that they’ve just realized what a great day a corporate tax holiday would be – not that they’ve taken gazillions of dollars from the firms lobbying for it or anything.

A Short Comment on Keynes

Since we're talking about Keynes today and the new Era of Austerity, which I fear is quite real, I thought I'd put in my two cents. There seems little doubt that Keynes has taken a mighty hit. But my read of the situation is that the hit is almost entirely in the realm of politics rather than economics.

Of course, there's Keynesianism and Keynesianism. But I'm talking about the broad proposition of that in the face of a dramatic shortfall in demand following an economic crisis, the government plays a critical role as the provider of demand of last resort in getting an economy back on its feet.

Greek debt crisis a Goldman Sachs economic coup?

Posted on 07.28.11
By Stephen C. Webster

Journalist, entrepreneur and Russia Today opinion host Max Keiser traveled to Greece recently for a film project that looks at how the country came to be on the verge of default.

Once Unthinkable, Breakup of Big Banks Now Seems Feasible

by Jesse Eisinger
ProPublica, July 27, 2011, 3:50 p.m.

What was made can be unmade.

JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo may have venerable names, but they and the pseudo-venerable Citigroup and Bank of America are all products of countless mergers and agglomerations.

Solar toilet turns sewage into power

Melissae Fellet, reporter

Combine sunlight and sewage and what do you get? Sanitation, of course.

Michael Hoffmann at the California Institute of Technology has been experimenting with solar-powered water treatment on a small scale. Now he plans to incorporate this technology into a portable toilet.

Sunlight powers an electrochemical reaction with human waste in water that generates microbe-killing oxidants and releases hydrogen gas. The researchers plan to collect the hydrogen in a fuel cell to power a light or possibly even a self-cleaning mechanism.

Getting 50-year-old Americans as healthy as Europeans could save Medicare and Medicaid $632 billion by 2050

Middle-age health differences responsible for life-expectancy gap

Forty years ago, Americans could expect to live slightly longer than Europeans. This has since reversed: in spite of similar levels of economic development, Americans now live about a year-and-a-half less, on average, than their Western European counterparts, and also less than people in most other developed nations. How did Americans fall behind?

A study in the July 2011 issue of Social Science & Medicine is the first to calculate the fiscal consequences of the growing life expectancy gap over the next few decades. The study also pinpoints the crucial age at which U.S. life expectancy starts to deteriorate.

At the DHS, One Analyst For Many Right-Wing Extremists

With Norway still in mourning, the Southern Poverty Law Center has published an interview showing the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has just one analyst studying the threat from domestic terror. There used to be six, but the department effectively dismantled the unit in the face of a conservative firestorm to a leaked 2009 report on right-wing extremism. Daryl Johnson, the GOP analyst who headed the unit, urged DHS in vain to pay more attention to the threat from the right. A list of the almost 100 instances of right-wing violence in the last 15 years here.

Raising Medicare age won't work

By Theodore R. Marmor and Jerry L. Mashaw

Just when there seemed to be no more dopey ideas for reducing America's deficit, another one appeared.

Raising the age of Medicare eligibility from 65 to 67, according to Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I., Conn.) and Tom Coburn (R., Okla.), would save Medicare billions over the next decade and more. This was part of a package of proposals to reduce Medicare spending, including combining hospital and doctor coverage, changing deductibles, charging wealthier seniors more, increasing premiums, and cutting hospital debt payments. But the change in the eligibility age deserves the sharpest criticism, especially given that President Obama appears willing to consider it.

Economic Armageddon: Gretchen Morgensen on How Wall Street Broke the Economy

By Terrence McNally, AlterNet
Posted on July 26, 2011, Printed on July 29, 2011

Gretchen Morgensen was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for her "trenchant and incisive" coverage of Wall Street and has been on that beat ever since. Her new book, Reckless Endangerment: How Outsized Ambition, Greed, and Corruption Led to Economic Armageddon (written with Joshua Rosner), lays out the toxic interplay between Washington, Wall Street and corrupt mortgage lenders that led to the meltdown. It examines how the watchdogs who were supposed to protect us from financial harm were actually complicit in creating the crisis.

Gretchen Morgenson is a business reporter and columnist at the New York Times, where she also serves as assistant business and financial editor. Prior to joining the Times in 1998, she worked as a broker at Dean Witter in the 1980s, and as a reporter at Forbes, Worth, and Money magazines.

Terrence McNally: What do you consider your path to the work you do today?

Gretchen Morgensen: I worked on Wall Street for three years, not a long time, but I did get a really good sense of how that place operates. People on Wall Street are extremely smart, aggressive and creative. They are also the intermediary for a lot of companies trying to raise capital, and can be a real facilitator for good. But in this crisis, that got started with a vengeance in the early ‘90s and built up to where we were in 2008 when many of these firms had to be taken over, Wall Street has had more of a pernicious impact. Some of their creativity has been used not to benefit investors, not to benefit Main Street, but simply to benefit themselves.

Two Can Play

By James Kwak

Quick, what was the greatest conservative accomplishment of the George W. Bush presidency? It wasn’t Medicare Part D: that was a clever way to steal a Democratic issue and pass it in a form that was friendly to the pharmaceutical industry. It wasn’t Roberts and Alito: yes, they are young and conservative, but the majority is still only 5-4. It wasn’t Social Security privatization: that didn’t happen. Iraq? Getting political support to invade Iraq was a major coup, but everything went downhill from there.

The answer is obvious: the tax cuts of 2001 and 2003. Together, they were a wish list of conservative tax policy: a reduction in the top marginal income tax rate from 39.1 percent to 35 percent; a reduction in the top rates for capital gains and dividends to 15 percent; much higher contribution limits for tax-preferred retirement accounts (meaning that if you have enough money to save, you can shield more of it from taxes); and eventual elimination of the estate tax. In total, when fully phased in, the Bush-era tax cuts sliced almost 3 percent of GDP out of federal government revenues.*

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

GOP Congressman: If We Take The Senate And White House In 2012, The EPA Will Be ‘Discontinued’

By Lee Fang on Jul 27, 2011 at 4:00 pm

As ThinkProgress has extensively reported, the new Republican Congress, elected with tens of millions in polluter-funded attack ads, campaign contributions, and shadowy front groups, has made weakening environmental safeguards, particularly from the EPA, a top priority. Now, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) is making it even more explicit: if Americans elect more Republicans to office in the 2012 elections, the GOP will get rid of the EPA.

Debt Madness Was Always About Killing Social Security

Posted on Jul 27, 2011
By Robert Scheer

This phony debt crisis has now passed through the looking glass into the realm where madness reigns. What should have been an uneventful moment in which lawmakers make good on the nation’s contractual obligations has instead been seized upon by Republican hypocrites as a moment to settle ideological scores that have nothing to do with the debt.

Hypocrites, because their radical free market ideology, and the resulting total deregulation of the financial markets, is what caused the debt to spiral out of control this last decade. That and the wars George W. Bush launched but didn’t have the integrity to responsibly finance. The consequence was a banking bubble and crash leading to a 50 percent run-up of the debt that has nothing to do with the “entitlements” that those same Republicans have always wanted to destroy.

Even Barack Obama has put cuts in those programs into play, warning ominously that a failure to lift the debt ceiling could cause the government to stop sending out Social Security checks. Why, when the Social Security trust fund is fully funded for the next quarter-century and is owed money by the U.S. Treasury rather than the other way around? Why would we pay foreign creditors before American seniors? The answer, offered as conventional wisdom by leaders of both parties, is that we cannot endanger our credit by failing to back our bonds, even though the Republicans have aroused the alarm of the main U.S. credit rating agencies by their brinkmanship on the debt.

Economists say U.S. debt may not be as high as you think

WASHINGTON — Economists dismayed by the debt-ceiling pyrotechnics on Capitol Hill and at the White House say that political leaders' failure to deal with the short-term crisis bodes poorly for their ability to confront another looming fiscal disaster.

And the problem is compounded, many economists say, by how the United States calculates its debt.

In trying to understand the debt ceiling — a subject many people had never considered before this summer — it helps to know a few things about the layers that make up the United States' $14.34 trillion mountain of debt.

Paul Krugman: The Cult That Is Destroying America

Watching our system deal with the debt ceiling crisis — a wholly self-inflicted crisis, which may nonetheless have disastrous consequences — it’s increasingly obvious that what we’re looking at is the destructive influence of a cult that has really poisoned our political system.

And no, I don’t mean the fanaticism of the right. Well, OK, that too. But my feeling about those people is that they are what they are; you might as well denounce wolves for being carnivores. Crazy is what they do and what they are.

So This Is Despair

Tuesday 26 July 2011
by: William Rivers Pitt, Truthout | Op-Ed

At its best our age is an age of searchers and discoverers, and at its worst, an age that has domesticated despair and learned to live with it happily.- Flannery O'Connor

It is difficult to describe this emotion. I’m used to disappointment, fairly comfortable with heartbreak, and am well acquainted with rage. Over the course of my lifetime, my presidents have been Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, and now Obama…and each, in his own way, has been worse than the last.

How can I say that? Easy. The problems of Nixon are still with us, and have grown worse by orders of magnitude through each successive administration. Certain presidents have exacerbated the situation beyond their expected purview, but generally speaking, each one has adopted the worst ideas of his predecessor, and in nearly every instance, has made those problems worse.

But this…this is too much.

Study: Union decline accounts for much of the rise in wage inequality

WASHINGTON, DC, July 21, 2011 — Union membership in America has declined significantly since the early 1970s, and that plunge explains approximately a fifth of the increase in hourly wage inequality among women and about a third among men, according to a new study in the August issue of the American Sociological Review.

"Our study underscores the role of unions as an equalizing force in the labor market," said study author Bruce Western, a professor of sociology at Harvard University. "Most researchers studying wage inequality have focused on the effects of educational stratification—pay differences based on level of education—and have generally under-emphasized the impact of unions."

Cutting social security by stealth

Shaving the consumer price index that is supposed to keep benefits in line with inflation is an old scam of economists

Dean Baker, Monday 25 July 2011 19.01 BST

There is a full-fledged drive to cut social security benefits by lowering the annual cost of living adjustment for people already receiving benefits. The plan involves changing the index for calculating the cost of living. The new index, which is known as the "chained consumer price index" (CCPI), typically shows a rate of inflation 0.3 percentage points less than the CPI currently used to adjust benefits.

A reduction of 0.3 percentage points in benefits may seem small, but this will accumulate through time. After being retired ten years, benefits will be almost 3% lower with the CCPI. After 20 years, the loss will be near 6%, and after 30 years, the reduction in benefits will be close to 9%. This is a serious loss of income for seniors, the vast majority of whom rely on social security for most of their income.

‘We Get The Sacrifice, They Get The Wealth’: A Fired-Up Pelosi Tears Into GOP Deficit Plan

Evan McMorris-Santoro | July 26, 2011, 1:18PM

Speaking to a crowd of union workers on Capitol Hill today, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi unloaded on Republican plans to lower the deficit through deep cuts to government services in exchange for raising the debt ceiling. Frustrations are running high in Congress with the default deadline rapidly approaching, and Pelosi spoke with a fire that suggested the endless debate over the debt ceiling is taking its toll on her patience.

Marshall Auerback: Worse Than Hoover

By Marshall Auerback, a portfolio strategist and hedge fund manager. Cross posted from New Economic Perspectives.

It’s actually a bit over the top and unfair to compare Barack Obama with Herbert Hoover – unfair that is, to the memory of Herbert Hoover. The received image of the latter is the dour, technocrat who looked on with indifference while the country went to pieces. This is actually an exaggeration. As Kevin Baker convincingly argued in his Harper’s Magazine piece, “Barack Hoover Obama”, President Hoover did try to organize national, voluntary efforts to hire the unemployed, provide charity, and sought to create a private banking pool. When these efforts collapsed or fell short, he started a dozen Home Loan Discount Banks to help individuals refinance their mortgages and save their homes. Indeed, the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, which became famous for its exploits under FDR and Jesse Jones, was actually created by Hoover. Often tarred with the liquidationist philosophy of his Treasury Secretary, the establishment of the RFC was, as Baker suggested, “a direct rebuttal to Andrew Mellon’s prescription of creative destruction. Rather than liquidating banks, railroads, and agricultural cooperatives, the RFC would lend them money to stay afloat.”

The Right Wing Playbook on Anti-Muslim Extremism


Under the guise of defending freedom and American values, right-wing anti-Muslim activists are campaigning to prevent Muslim-Americans from freely worshiping and practicing their religion, curtail their political rights, and even compel their deportation. A growing faction in the American Right claims that Muslim-Americans, who comprise just 1% of the population, are subverting the Constitution and taking over the country. These accusations have helped to foster anti-Muslim hostility, reflected in the rise of anti-Muslim prejudice and increased attacks on Muslim-Americans and houses of worship. Tied in with hatred of President Obama, fear of religious diversity and hostility toward immigrants and gays, anti-Muslim rhetoric and paranoia has become a mainstream if not ubiquitous part of the conservative movement and the Republican Party.

A Reading List for Following the Debt Ceiling Drama

by Braden Goyette
ProPublica, July 27, 2011, 12:15 p.m.

We’re updating this reading list continuously as new stories and resources on the debt ceiling debate come out. The most recent updates are starred (*).

Congress has until a week from today to raise the debt ceiling, the cap on the amount of money the Treasury can borrow to pay the government's bills. As the clock keeps ticking, you may still have unanswered questions. How dire could the consequences of not raising the debt ceiling be? What are the possible solutions? Here's a reading list to help you keep up.

The Chart That Should Accompany All Discussions of the Debt Ceiling

Jul 25 2011, 10:58 AM ET

It's this one, from yesterday's New York Times. Click for a more detailed view, though it's pretty clear as is.


It's based on data from the Congressional Budget Office and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Its significance is not partisan (who's "to blame" for the deficit) but intellectual. It demonstrates the utter incoherence of being very concerned about a structural federal deficit but ruling out of consideration the policy that was largest single contributor to that deficit, namely the Bush-era tax cuts.

Why Do Conservatives Hate High-Speed Rail? 5 Reasons Right-Wingers Are Sabotaging Public Transportation Projects

By Sarah Jaffe, AlterNet
Posted on July 22, 2011, Printed on July 27, 2011

High-speed rail is one of the rare areas where business, labor, and environmental activists are often in agreement. Republican transportation secretary Ray LaHood is a fan, as are, of course, President Obama and Vice-President Biden.

But Tea Party-supported governors like Scott Walker in Wisconsin, John Kasich in Ohio and Rick Scott in Florida have made headlines by refusing billions in federal stimulus dollars aimed at creating new high-speed train lines between major cities.

Minority Rules: Scientists Discover Tipping Point for the Spread of Ideas

Scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have found that when just 10 percent of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society. The scientists, who are members of the Social Cognitive Networks Academic Research Center (SCNARC) at Rensselaer, used computational and analytical methods to discover the tipping point where a minority belief becomes the majority opinion. The finding has implications for the study and influence of societal interactions ranging from the spread of innovations to the movement of political ideals.

Spare the rod and develop the child

Study suggests non-corporal discipline aids children's executive-functioning ability

TORONTO, ON – Children in a school that uses corporal punishment performed significantly worse in tasks involving "executive functioning" – psychological processes such as planning, abstract thinking, and delaying gratification – than those in a school relying on milder disciplinary measures such as time-outs, according to a new study involving two private schools in a West African country.

The findings, published by the journal Social Development, suggest that a harshly punitive environment may have long-term detrimental effects on children's verbal intelligence and their executive-functioning ability. As a result, children exposed to a harshly punitive environment may be at risk for behavioral problems related to deficits in executive-functioning, the study indicates.

New Court Filing Reveals How the 2004 Ohio Presidential Election Was Hacked

Monday 25 July 2011
by: Bob Fritakis, The Free Press [3] | Report

A new filing in the King Lincoln Bronzeville v. Blackwell case includes a copy of the Ohio Secretary of State election production system configuration that was in use in Ohio's 2004 presidential election when there was a sudden and unexpected shift in votes for George W. Bush.

The filing also includes the revealing deposition of the late Michael Connell. Connell served as the IT guru for the Bush family and Karl Rove. Connell ran the private IT firm GovTech that created the controversial system that transferred Ohio's vote count late on election night 2004 to a partisan Republican server site in Chattanooga, Tennessee owned by SmarTech. That is when the vote shift happened, not predicted by the exit polls, that led to Bush's unexpected victory. Connell died a month and a half after giving this deposition in a suspicious small plane crash.

Mike Lee: I Want America’s ‘House To Come Down’ Unless Congress Votes To Rewrite Constitution

By Ian Millhiser on Jul 25, 2011 at 7:23 pm

In an interview on MSNBC’s Hardball Monday evening, tenther Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) admitted that he is using the threat of a catastrophic default to extort the nation into rewriting the Constitution to force a permanent era of conservative governance:

CHRIS MATTHEWS: How many days do you think we have, on the outside, to get this debt ceiling through before we have a problem? How many days?

LEE: I don’t know, maybe ten days.

Now it's the lawyers' turn to be sucked into the phone-hacking scandal

Leading lawyers feel client information may have been intercepted after their names were found in Glenn Mulcaire's file

Now it's the turn of lawyers and the legal process to be sucked into the phone-hacking vortex. The Law Society has even suggested justice itself is under threat, implying messages could have been intercepted with the intention of influencing court cases.

Several prominent solicitors fear their mobile phones have been hacked. Some have been formally informed of the risk by police after detectives discovered their numbers among a private investigator's notes.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Michael Hudson: Mr. Obama’s Scare Tactics to Get Democrats to Vote for His Republican Wall Street Plan

By Michael Hudson, a research professor of Economics at University of Missouri, Kansas City and a research associate at the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College

You know that the debt kerfuffle is as staged as melodramatically as a World Wrestling Federation exhibition when Mr. Obama makes the blatantly empty threat that if Congress does not “tackle the tough challenges of entitlement and tax reform,” there won’t be money to pay Social Security checks next month. In his debt speech last night (July 25), he threatened that if “we default, we would not have enough money to pay all of our bills – bills that include monthly Social Security checks, veterans’ benefits, and the government contracts we’ve signed with thousands of businesses.”

This is not remotely true. But it has become the scare theme for over a week now, ever since the President used almost the same words in his interview with CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley.

The Republican Wreckage

House Republicans have lost sight of the country’s welfare. It’s hard to conclude anything else from their latest actions, including the House speaker’s dismissal of President Obama’s plea for compromise Monday night. They have largely succeeded in their campaign to ransom America’s economy for the biggest spending cuts in a generation. They have warped an exercise in paying off current debt into an argument about future spending. Yet, when they win another concession, they walk away.

This increasingly reckless game has pushed the nation to the brink of ruinous default. The Republicans have dimmed the futures of millions of jobless Americans, whose hopes for work grow more out of reach as government job programs are cut and interest rates begin to rise. They have made the federal government a laughingstock around the globe.

Arkansas High School Decides to Appoint White Co-Valedictorian Because Actual Valedictorian Is Black

OK, see if you can wrap your head around the (racist) logic here. Kymberly Wimberly was the top student at McGehee Secondary School in Little Rock, Arkansas. So, the school named her valedictorian. And then shortly after that they decided to name a co-valedictorian. Why? Because the other student had equally as high a GPA? Nope. The reason it seems has to do with the fact that Wimberly is a black student.

Monday, July 25, 2011

California man, who saved Japanese farms during WWII, turns 100

By Stephen Magagnini
Published: Monday, Jul. 25, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 1B Last Modified: Monday, Jul. 25, 2011 - 8:03 am

More than 150 relatives, friends and neighbors filled Florin Community Center on Sunday to celebrate a true American war hero.Bob Fletcher – who officially turns 100 on Tuesday – didn't see combat in World War II. But he was shot at for being a Japanese sympathizer when he quit his job to save three local Japanese American farms whose owners were sent to internment camps.

House Republicans consider high-skills immigration bill

Bill would eliminate the per-country caps on green cards, which could reduce wait times for Indian and Chinese workers

By Patrick Thibodeau | Computerworld

The negotiations to strike a deal on the debt ceiling may be getting all the attention in Congress, but there are also new efforts by lawmakers to address high-skill immigration issues. First, Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee have circulated a discussion draft of a bill that would eliminate the per-country caps on green cards, according to a copy of the document seen by Computerworld. This proposal may well amount to the GOP alternative to a Democratic plan offered in June by Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), whose district includes Silicon Valley.

Walker cuts DMV in Dem districts now that voter ID is passed

Brazen power grab. That's the only way to describe Koch whore Gov. Scott Walker's latest attack on working families in Wisconsin.

Progressivetoo reports,
The Wisconsin legislature is finalizing a bill to close ten Department of Motor Vehicle centers located in Democratic districts within the state. The money saved will be used to extend operating hours at DMV centers in Republican districts. These cuts come on the heels of new voter ID laws that require voters to present a state-issued photo identification card at the poll booths.

Paul Krugman: Messing With Medicare

At the time of writing, President Obama’s hoped-for “Grand Bargain” with Republicans is apparently dead. And I say good riddance. I’m no more eager than other rational people (a category that fails to include many Congressional Republicans) to see what happens if the debt limit isn’t raised. But what the president was offering to the G.O.P., especially on Medicare, was a very bad deal for America.

Specifically, according to many reports, the president offered both means-testing of Medicare benefits and a rise in the age of Medicare eligibility. The first would be bad policy; the second would be terrible policy. And it would almost surely be terrible politics, too.

The crucial thing to remember, when we talk about Medicare, is that our goal isn’t, or at least shouldn’t be, defined in terms of some arbitrary number. Our goal should be, instead, to give Americans the health care they need at a price the country can afford. And throwing Americans in their mid-60s off Medicare moves us away from that goal, not toward it.

Why Prosecutors Don't Go After Wall Street

July 13, 2011

When the energy giant Enron collapsed 10 years ago, top executives of the company faced criminal prosecution, and many served lengthy prison terms. In the savings and loan scandal of the 1980s, hundreds of bankers went to jail.

But the financial meltdown of 2008 hasn't generated a single prosecution of high-level Wall Street players — even though the Securities and Exchange Commission has brought civil cases against some companies and reached financial settlements.

How the Murdoch press keeps Australia's dirty secret

12 May 2011

The illegal eavesdropping on famous people by the News of the World is said to be Rupert Murdoch’s Watergate. But is it the crime by which Murdoch ought to be known? In his native land, Australia, Murdoch controls 70 per cent of the capital city press. Australia is the world’s first murdochracy, in which smear by media is power.

The most enduring and insidious Murdoch campaign has been against the Aboriginal people, who were dispossessed by the arrival of the British in the late 18th century and have never been allowed to recover. “Nigger hunts” continued into the 1960s and beyond. The officially-inspired theft of children from Aboriginal families, justified by the racist theories of the eugenics movement, produced those known as the Stolen Generation and in 1997 was identified as genocide. Today, the first Australians have the shortest life expectancy of any of the world’s 90 indigenous peoples. Australia imprisons Aborigines at five times the rate South Africa during the apartheid years. In the state of Western Australia, the figure is eight times the apartheid rate.

Social Security Isn't an Entitlement, It's a Promise

By Steven D, BooMan Tribune
Posted on July 25, 2011, Printed on July 25, 2011

Last night in Youngstown, Ohio, 200 or so people, seniors and activists and politicians, met at a town-hall event at United Baptist Church. Senator Sherrod Brown appeared and spoke at the event that was sponsored by the Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the Ohio Organizing Collaborative. The message from the people of Youngstown who attended was clear. Here\'s the takeaway quote from Carolyn Williams of Youngstown:

“Social Security is not an entitlement; it is a promise to the American people who have paid into the system,” Williams told [the audience]. [...]

“Proposed cuts will force recipients to pay higher insurance premiums and co-pays, and deny us money for essentials like prescription drugs and groceries.”

Williams has reason to be angry with all the talk in Washington about cutting Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security.

10 of America's Most Dangerous Hatemongers

By Robert Steinback, SPLC Intelligence Report
Posted on July 21, 2011, Printed on July 25, 2011

The apparent recent surge in popular anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States has been driven by a surprisingly small and, for the most part, closely knit cadre of activists. Their influence extends far beyond their limited numbers, in part because of an amenable legion of right-wing media personalities — and lately, politicians like U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), who held controversial hearings into the radicalization of American Muslims this March —who are eager to promote them as impartial experts or grassroots leaders. Yet a close look at their rhetoric reveals how doggedly this group works to provoke and guide populist anger over what is seen as the threat posed by the 0.6% of Americans who are Muslim — an agenda that goes beyond reasonable concern about terrorism into the realm of demonization.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Why Medicare Is the Solution — Not the Problem

by Robert Reich

Not only is Social Security on the chopping block in order to respond to Republican extortion. So is Medicare.

But Medicare isn’t the nation’s budgetary problems. It’s the solution. The real problem is the soaring costs of health care that lie beneath Medicare. They’re costs all of us are bearing in the form of soaring premiums, co-payments, and deductibles.

Medicare offers a means of reducing these costs — if Washington would let it.

Corporate Tax Holiday in Debt Ceiling Deal: Where's the Uproar?

by Matt Taibbi

Have been meaning to write about this, but I’m increasingly amazed at the overall lack of an uproar about the possibility of the government approving another corporate tax repatriation holiday.

I’ve been in and out of DC a few times in recent weeks and one thing I keep hearing is that there is a growing, and real, possibility that a second “one-time tax holiday” will be approved for corporations as part of whatever sordid deal emerges from the debt-ceiling negotiations.

Thoughts on Dodd-Frank Birthday: Everything is Broken

Thursday, 07/21/2011 - 8:39 am by Robert Johnson

The weakness of Dodd-Frank illustrates a crisis in governance that is sapping the vitality of the country.

Legislation is incremental. It is a reflection of compromise. Yet rarely in the history of the United States post WWII has legislation been so revealing. Revealing because, in relation to the velocity of circumstances that revealed the inadequacy of our regulatory framework, and in relation to the damage that was done to lives and living standards across America and around the world, this legislation did very little to rebalance the relationship between finance and larger society.

In essence, it was revealed that in this era of money politics people are basically defenseless against the concentrated power (even more concentrated after 2008!!) of the financial sector.

Wall Street Takes Aim At New Transparency Rule For Executive Pay

Wall Street has deployed an army of lobbyists to try to whittle away as much of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill as possible, spending $242.2 million on 712 hired guns to press their message on Capitol Hill since the beginning of 2010, according to a new report by Public Citizen.

The 30 most politically active business and financial industry organizations also ponied up $15.6 million in federal political contributions during the same time period. The entities with the deepest pockets include: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Bankers Association, the Financial Services Roundtable, MetLife, Goldman Sachs, to name just a few.

Phone hacking crisis shows News Corp is no ordinary news company

Rupert Murdoch's news organisations are not in the news business. What they crave is influence

Jay Rosen, Tuesday 19 July 2011 23.25 BST

Watching the phone hacking crisis crack wide open over the last few weeks has left me puzzled about its ultimate causes: what is it about News Corp that has produced these events?

I don't think we understand very much about this. We can say things like, "Ultimate responsibility goes to the man at the top," meaning Rupert Murdoch, chairman and CEO. And that sounds right, but it still doesn't explain how any of it happened. "The key people are criminals, liars, or willfully blind..." We could say that, but then we would have to explain how so many of them ended up at one company.

Puzzles like these have led many people to the conclusion that there's a culture inside News Corp that is in some way responsible, and I basically agree with that. Mark Lewis, lawyer for the family of Milly Dowler, said after Rebekah Brooks resigned: "This is not just about one individual but about the culture of an organization."

Koch And Exxon Pay To Write State Legislation Repealing Climate Change Laws

By Stephen Lacey on Jul 21, 2011 at 12:50 pm

According to tax records and other materials acquired by Bloomberg News, Koch Industries, Exxon Mobil, and numerous other corporations paid tens of thousands of dollars to write legislation for lawmakers that would repeal carbon pollution reduction programs in various states around the U.S. These companies working to dismantle environmental programs are members of the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, which allows private-sector parties to “pay-to-play” – charging thousands of dollars to sit at the table with legislators and craft bills.

Happy Birthday, Dodd-Frank

In the absence of smarter bankers, regulation will have to do.

By Bethany McLean
Posted Friday, July 22, 2011, at 11:21 AM ET

Poor Dodd-Frank. How would you like to celebrate your first birthday like this? A year after the financial reform legislation was signed into law, Republicans are inveighing against it, introducing bills to abolish or weaken it, and trying to starve the regulators that are supposed to implement it. Wall Street is pouring money into lobbying against it. Liberals worry that Dodd-Frank is already dead, and while that might be overstating the facts, the argument that too much regulation might stifle the weak recovery is gaining ground.

Right now, the only thing you can be sure of about Dodd-Frank is that it will have unintended consequences. But the status quo was not an option. The subprime crisis laid bare some ugly truths about the banks and showed that some of our fundamental assumptions about the way the world worked were wrong.

Facing Bribery Inquiry, News Corp. Lawyers Up With Former Federal Prosecutors

by Marian Wang
ProPublica, July 21, 2011, 12:41 p.m.

The embattled media conglomerate News Corporation and its independent directors have not only hired top criminal defense lawyers, they’ve also hired former Justice Department prosecutors well-versed in U.S. bribery law.

The new hires are a sign that the company is taking the Justice Department’s preliminary investigation—and the potential that the inquiry may turn specifically to bribery—rather seriously. (Read our story on why News Corp. may have good reason to worry.)

At least 1,400 arrests for antiwar dissent, but who’s counting? Not the press.

COMMENTARY | July 22, 2011

The national news media almost totally ignore homefront protests of the Afghanistan war, killer drones, torture, and more, regardless of their newsworthiness. By its lack of coverage, isn’t the press thus helping perpetuate an endless war?

Part of a Nieman Watchdog series, 'Reporting the Endgame'

By John Hanrahan

Antiwar activists repeatedly stage dramatic acts of civil disobedience in the United States but are almost entirely ignored by mainstream print and broadcast news organizations. During the Vietnam era, press coverage of the fighting and opposition to it at home helped turn public opinion against the war. This time around lack of homefront coverage may be helping keep military involvement continue on and on.

In the past two years, protests of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, killer drones, torture, nuclear weapons and other war-related issues have been carried out at nuclear weapons silos and production facilities, military bases, unmanned drone facilities, major defense contractors’ headquarters and offices, the Nevada Nuclear Test site, nuclear weapons design laboratories, military recruiting centers, the U.S. Capitol, the White House, federal buildings in various states, the U.S. Strategic Air Command, and numerous other war-oriented sites across the country.

Greener pastures: How cows could help in the fight against climate change

Conservation: What goes on in the stomachs and under the hooves of cows might be the key to turning deserts back into grasslands

By Judith D Schwartz for Conservation, part of the Guardian Environment Network,

In reports of rising CO2 levels, it's easy to get the impression that the carbon-and-oxygen molecule is a kind of toxin, some alien vapor coughed up by a century-plus of heedless industrialism now coming back to haunt us. But on closer inspection, it seems that the problem isn't the carbon itself—it's that there's too much in the air and not enough in the ground.

When we consider our CO2 predicament, we tend to fault our love affair with the car and the fruits of industry. But the greater culprit has been agriculture: since about 1850, twice as much atmospheric CO2 has derived from farming practices as from the burning of fossil fuels (the roles crossed around 1970). Over the past 150 years, between 50 and 80 percent of organic carbon in the topsoil has vanished into the air, and seven tons of carbon-banking topsoil have been lost for every ton of grain produced.

Paul Krugman: The Lesser Depression

These are interesting times — and I mean that in the worst way. Right now we’re looking at not one but two looming crises, either of which could produce a global disaster. In the United States, right-wing fanatics in Congress may block a necessary rise in the debt ceiling, potentially wreaking havoc in world financial markets. Meanwhile, if the plan just agreed to by European heads of state fails to calm markets, we could see falling dominoes all across southern Europe — which would also wreak havoc in world financial markets.

We can only hope that the politicians huddled in Washington and Brussels succeed in averting these threats. But here’s the thing: Even if we manage to avoid immediate catastrophe, the deals being struck on both sides of the Atlantic are almost guaranteed to make the broader economic slump worse.

In fact, policy makers seem determined to perpetuate what I’ve taken to calling the Lesser Depression, the prolonged era of high unemployment that began with the Great Recession of 2007-2009 and continues to this day, more than two years after the recession supposedly ended.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Chance favors the concentration of wealth, U of M study shows

New model isolates the effects of chance in an investment-based economy

Most of our society's wealth is invested in businesses or other ventures that may or may not pan out. Thus, chance plays a role in where the wealth of a society will end up.

But does chance favor the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, or does it tend to level the playing field? Three University of Minnesota researchers have built a simplified model that isolates the effects of chance and found that it consistently pushes wealth into the hands of a few, ever-richer people.

The study, "Entrepreneurs, chance, and the deterministic concentration of wealth," is published in the July 20 issue of the journal PLoS ONE.

News Corp and the Hacked Climategate Emails: Time for an Independent Investigation

By Joe Romm on Jul 19, 2011 at 12:55 pm

There have been countless independent investigations into the scientists whose e-mails were hacked in November 2009. And the scientists have been (quietly) vindicated every time (see “The first rule of vindicating climate science is you do not talk about vindicating climate science“).

But we still don’t know who hacked the emails! And now we know that one of the key investigative bodies tasked with tracking down the hackers — Scotland Yard – were compromised at the time.

N.Y. Times Columnist's Fantasy: There Are Jobs For Those Who Want Them

By Dean Baker
July 21, 2011 - 10:52am ET

The New York Times on Wednesday featured another Casey Mulligan episode of "There Is No Unemployment." Mulligan's argument is that if we look at employment rates for the older population we see that they have actually risen in the downturn even as employment for people ages 25-55 plummeted. Mulligan interprets this as evidence that highly motivated older workers are able to find jobs, and if younger workers were equally motivated they would find jobs too.

This is an interesting story. The rise in employment rates of older workers is a striking story in this downturn and one that I and others have often noted. However, there are other possible interpretations.

Stronger social safety net leads to decrease in stress, childhood obesity

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Social safety net programs that reduce psychosocial stressors for low-income families also ultimately lead to a reduction in childhood obesity, according to research by a University of Illinois economist who studies the efficacy of food assistance programs on public health.

Craig Gundersen, a professor of agricultural and consumer economics at Illinois, says food and exercise alone are not to blame for the extent of obesity among children in the United States. Psychosocial factors, such as stressors brought about by uncertainty about the economy, income inequality, and a fraying social safety net also must be considered, he says.

How to Save $2 Trillion

Posted: 7/20/11 05:46 PM ET

There are 23 million Americans who can't find full-time work, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

There are 50 million Americans who can't see a doctor when they are sick, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

There are more than 15 million American families who owe more on their mortgage than their homes are worth, according to Zillow. That's almost a third of all the families who own homes.

Audit: Fed gave $16 trillion in emergency loans

By Stephen C. Webster
Thursday, July 21st, 2011 -- 11:34 am

The U.S. Federal Reserve gave out $16.1 trillion in emergency loans to U.S. and foreign financial institutions between Dec. 1, 2007 and July 21, 2010, according to figures produced by the government's first-ever audit of the central bank.

Last year, the gross domestic product of the entire U.S. economy was $14.5 trillion.

GOP Strategy Wrecks Economy and Obama in One Fell Swoop

Ross Douthat, the conservative columnist who elevates bland to middle-brow art for The New York Times, thinks Republicans have overreached in their showdown with Obama over the debt ceiling. “[The Republicans'] inability to make even symbolic concessions has turned a winning hand into losing one,” he says.

Advantage, according to Douthat, representing the mainstream media: Obama.

Of course, Obama had already agreed to begin dismantling Social Security and Medicare, surrenders Republicans have craved for decades. If he pulls off this “victory” Obama will have done more damage to the Democratic Party and its core values than any president in our lifetimes. How will he promote what Douthat fears will be a “victory”? I wonder.

Gang of Six Plan Cuts Social Security Now, Devastates It Later

By Nancy Altman
July 20, 2011 - 11:35pm ET

The Gang of Six’s “Bipartisan Plan to Reduce Our Nation’s Deficits" proposes immediate and significant cuts to Social Security benefits, and a process for addressing the program’s funding shortfall projected to appear 25 years from now. The process would virtually guarantee devastating cuts. This plan breaks faith with the American people, who overwhelmingly oppose benefit cuts.

The Gang of Six framework contains very few specifics but one is glaring – the immediate cuts that would affect all 55 million Social Security beneficiaries by changing the way the annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) is calculated. Their plan would substitute the less accurate and less-generous chained consumer price index (CPI) for the current CPI in calculating the COLA. This breaks a promise made by many politicians to not cut the benefits of anyone over age 55.

James O'Keefe's Silly New Stunt Goes After Medicaid

By Jamilah King, Colorlines
Posted on July 21, 2011, Printed on July 21, 2011

Conservative activist James O’Keefe is back to his dirty tricks again. This time the 27-year-old, whose claims to fame include attacks against ACORN, NPR, and Planned Parenthood, took aim at Medicaid, the nation’s low income health program. As Republicans on Capitol Hill threaten to tank the country’s economy if Democrats don’t give in to severe cuts to programs like Medicaid, O’Keefe’s Project Veritas sends a man dressed in a Irish kilt to a South Carolina public assistance office claiming he’s a member of the controversial Irish Republican Army and then releases video of a government employee acting as an alleged “terrorist sympathizer.”

The so-called “sting” had the man in a kilt walk into a Charleston, South Carolina office and ask for help for 25 fellow hospitalized Irishmen who need Medicaid.

Jobless Claims Rise Above Expectations

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Factory activity in the Mid-Atlantic region rebounded in July, but stubbornly high new filings for jobless benefits suggested an expected pick-up in economic growth in the second half of 2011 would be modest.

The Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank said its business activity index, which gauges factory activity in the region, rose to 3.2 from a near two-year low of minus 7.7 in June. Orders, hiring and shipments all improved.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Justice Department Filing Casts Doubt on Guilt of Bruce Ivins, Accused in Anthrax Case

by Mike Wiser, PBS Frontline, Greg Gordon, McClatchy Newspapers, and Stephen Engelberg, ProPublica July 18, 2011, 8:03 p.m.

Update (7/19): On Tuesday, Justice Department lawyers retracted statements that question the FBI's finding that a former Army microbiologist mailed the anthrax-filled letters that killed five people in 2001.

This story was co-published with PBS FRONTLINE and McClatchy.

WASHINGTON -- The Justice Department has called into question a key pillar of the FBI's case against Bruce Ivins, the Army scientist accused of mailing the anthrax-laced letters that killed five people and terrorized Congress a decade ago.

Shortly after Ivins committed suicide in 2008, federal investigators announced that they had identified him as the mass murderer who sent the letters to members of Congress and the media. The case was circumstantial, with federal officials arguing that the scientist had the means, motive and opportunity to make the deadly powder at a U.S. Army research facility at Fort Detrick, in Frederick, Md.

How I misread News Corp's taxes: David Cay Johnston

Wed, Jul 13 2011

The author is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

By David Cay Johnston

July 13 (Reuters) - Readers, I apologize. The premise of my debut column for Reuters, on News Corp's taxes, was wrong, 100 percent dead wrong.

Rupert Murdoch's News Corp did not get a $4.8 billion tax refund for the past four years, as I reported. Instead, it paid that much in cash for corporate income taxes for the years 2007 through 2010 while earning pre-tax profits of $10.4 billion.

For the first time in my 45-year-old career I am writing a skinback. That is what journalists call a retraction of the premise of a piece, as in peeling back your skin and feeling the pain. I will do all I can to make sure everyone who has read or heard secondary reports based on my column also learns the facts and would appreciate the help of readers in that cause.

No excuses. But I will explain how I made such a bonehead error.

The other facts I reported remain:

* Among the 100 largest companies in the United States, News Corp has the third largest number of subsidiaries in tax havens, a Government Accountability Office study found in 2009.

* On an accounting basis, which measures taxes incurred but often not actually paid for years, News Corp had a tax rate of under 20 percent, little more than half the 35 percent statutory rate, its disclosures show.

* Murdoch has bought companies with tax losses and fought to be able to use them, which reduces his company's costs.

* News Corp lawyers and accountants are experts at making use of tax deferrals, though the company's net tax assets have shrunken from $5.7 billion in 2007 to $3.3 billion last year as the benefits were either used or expired.

Environmental Pollutants Lurk Long After They "Disappear"

Ridding the environment of pharmaceutical waste not as easy as it seems, warns TAU researcher

The health implications of polluting the environment weigh increasingly on our public consciousness, and pharmaceutical wastes continue to be a main culprit. Now a Tel Aviv University researcher says that current testing for these dangerous contaminants isn't going far enough.

Dr. Dror Avisar, head of the Hydro-Chemistry Laboratory at TAU's Department of Geography and the Human Environment, says that, when our environment doesn't test positive for the presence of a specific drug, we assume it's not there. But through biological or chemical processes such as sun exposure or oxidization, drugs break down, or degrade, into different forms — and could still be lurking in our water or soil.

President Obama's Big Deal: Cuts for Social Security, but No Taxes for Wall Street

by: Dean Baker, Truthout | News Analysis

The ability of Washington to turn everything on its head has no limits. We are in the midst of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Even though the recession officially ended two years ago, there are still more than 25 million people who are unemployed, can only find part-time work or who have given up looking for work altogether. This is an outrage and a tragedy. These people's lives are being ruined due to the mismanagement of the economy.

And we know the cause of this mismanagement. The folks who get paid to manage and regulate the economy were unable to see an $8 trillion housing bubble. They weren't bothered by the doubling of house prices in many areas, nor the dodgy mortgages that were sold to finance these purchases. Somehow, people like former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan and his sidekick and successor Ben Bernanke thought everything was fine as the Wall Street financers made billions selling junk mortgage and derivative instruments around the world.

Report offers new framework to guide K-12 science education, calls for shift in the way science is taught in US

WASHINGTON – A report released today by the National Research Council presents a new framework for K-12 science education that identifies the key scientific ideas and practices all students should learn by the end of high school. The framework will serve as the foundation for new K-12 science education standards, to replace those issued more than a decade ago. The National Research Council is the operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Engineering; all three are independent, nongovernmental organizations.

The committee that wrote the report sees the need for significant improvements in how science is taught in the U.S. The new framework is designed to help students gradually deepen their knowledge of core ideas in four disciplinary areas over multiple years of school, rather than acquire shallow knowledge of many topics. And it strongly emphasizes the practices of science – helping students learn to plan and carry out investigations, for example, and to engage in argumentation from evidence.

Special Report - Inside Rebekah Brooks' News of the World

By Georgina Prodhan and Kate Holton

LONDON | Sat Jul 16, 2011 1:32pm BST

(Reuters) - "It was the kind of place you get out of and you never want to go back again." That's how one former reporter describes the News of the World newsroom under editor Rebekah Brooks, the ferociously ambitious titian-haired executive who ran the top-selling Sunday tabloid from 2000 to 2003.

Journalists who worked there in that period describe an industrialised operation of dubious information-gathering, reporters under intense pressure attempting to land exclusive stories by whatever means necessary, and a culture of fear, cynicism, gallows humour and fierce internal competition.

"We used to talk to career criminals all the time. They were our sources," says another former reporter from the paper who also worked for Murdoch's daily tabloid, the Sun. "It was a macho thing: 'My contact is scummier than your contact.' It was a case of: 'Mine's a murderer!' On the plus side, we always had a resident pet nutter around in case anything went wrong."

Marriage confers 'little benefit' to children's development

Institute for Fiscal studies research suggests parents' educational qualifications more influential on child development than marriage

, social affairs editor,

Marriage confers "little if any benefit" in terms of a child's development, according to new research, challenging the rationale behind the prime minister's desire to offer tax breaks to couples who tie the knot.

New research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has found "little or no evidence" that marriage itself has any effect on children's "social or cognitive" development. Before the election the Tories had made the breakdown of the traditional nuclear family a key plank of their "broken Britain" analysis.

How to Liberate America from Wall Street Rule

How is it that our nation is awash in money, but too broke to provide jobs and services?

The dominant story of the current political debate is that the government is broke. We can’t afford to pay for public services, put people to work, or service the public debt. Yet as a nation, we are awash in money. A defective system of money, banking, and finance just puts it in the wrong places.

Raising taxes on the rich and implementing financial reforms are essential elements of the solution to our seemingly intractable fiscal and economic crisis. Yet proposals currently on the table fall far short of the need.

Bachmann criticizes black farmer settlement

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann pointed to one program in particular Monday when talking about wasteful government spending: a multibillion dollar settlement paid to black farmers, who claim the federal government discriminated against them for decades in awarding loans and other aid.

The issue came up after Bachmann and Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa toured flooded areas along the Missouri River. During a news conference, they fielded a question about whether farmers affected by the flooding also should be worried by proposed U.S. Department of Agriculture cuts.

Koch brothers declare war on offshore wind

The opening salvo came in early July, when everyone’s favorite climate-hating, fossil-fuel-loving industrialist villains, the Koch brothers, released a so-called “cost-benefit analysis” of New Jersey offshore wind development plans through their front group Americans for Prosperity.

Phone hacking: Murdoch paid US anti-bribery law lobbyists

$1m donation to US Chamber of Commerce in spotlight amid calls for prosecution of News Corp in America, where it is based

in New York,

Rupert Murdoch donated $1m to a pro-business lobby in the US months before the group launched a high-profile campaign to alter the anti-bribery law – the same law that could potentially be brought to bear against News Corporation over the phone-hacking scandal.

News Corporation contributed $1m to the US Chamber of Commerce last summer. In October the chamber put forward a six-point programme for amending the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, or FCPA, a law that punishes US-based companies for engaging in the bribery of foreign officials.

News of the World phone-hacking whistleblower found dead

Death of Sean Hoare – who was first named journalist to allege Andy Coulson knew of hacking – not being treated as suspicious

, and,

Sean Hoare, the former News of the World showbusiness reporter who was the first named journalist to allege that Andy Coulson was aware of phone hacking by his staff, has been found dead .

Hoare, who worked on the Sun and the News of the World with Coulson before being dismissed for drink and drugs problems, was said to have been found at his Watford home.

Little-known firms tracking data used in credit scores

By Ylan Q. Mui, Published: July 16

Atlanta entrepreneur Mike Mondelli has access to more than a billion records detailing consumers’ personal finances — and there is little they can do about it.

The information collected by his company, L2C, comes from thousands of everyday transactions that many people do not realize are being tracked: auto warranties, cellphone bills and magazine subscriptions. It includes purchases of prepaid cards and visits to payday lenders and rent-to-own furniture stores. It knows whether your checks have cleared and scours public records for mentions of your name.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Wash Post: "Top lawmakers target ‘grand bargain’ for debt plan"

Just out in the Washington Post, looks like the Dems are having their way with the Republicans. Boehner et al have agreed to work on the Grand Bargain, complete with massive cuts, after all. "Democrat" Kent Conrad plays a key supporting role (natch).

The Post headline says it all, but of course there's more (h/t Jim Roberts; my emphasis):

Top lawmakers target ‘grand bargain’ for debt plan

Even as President Obama and congressional leaders focus on a fallback plan to lift the nation’s debt ceiling, top Democrats and Republicans have begun to map a new way to craft the same sort of ambitious deficit-cutting plan they abandoned last week.

Mistakes Repeated Through Superstition and Prejudice

I recently picked up a copy of Lionel Robbins’s 1934 book “The Great Depression” in a used book shop in Norwich, England. It’s quite revealing: judicious in tone, full of tables and facts, clearly meant to be seen as the work of a wise observer — indeed, a Very Serious Person.

And utterly, utterly wrongheaded.

EXCLUSIVE: As Ralph Reed Steers ‘GOP Israel Primary,’ Documents Reveal Right-Wing Israeli Group Is Paying Him

By Lee Fang on Jul 15, 2011 at 10:10 am

Hawkish pro-Israel positions have become a litmus test for Republican candidates, particularly in the 2012 presidential campaign. And one of the political operatives driving this phenomenon is none other than Ralph Reed, the disgraced lobbyist who left the Christian Coalition to form Century Strategies. Reed’s newest group, the Faith and Freedom Coalition, has actively encouraged Tea Party activists and GOP politicians to champion far right Israeli priorities. Deputy Speaker of the Knesset Danny Danon helped headline Reed’s last Faith and Freedom conference, where nearly every GOP presidential candidate spoke.

Mitch McConnell: We Must Rewrite The Constitution Because ‘Elections’ Haven’t ‘Worked’

By Ian Millhiser on Jul 13, 2011 at 11:49 am

Speaking on the Senate floor this morning, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) offered what may be the most concise summary of conservative constitutionalism ever spoken — America must rewrite the Constitution to force conservative outcomes because we the people consistently elect lawmakers who disagree with McConnell:

The time has come for a balanced budget amendment that forces Washington to balance its books. If these debt negotiations have convinced us of anything, it’s that we can’t leave it to politicians in Washington to make the difficult decisions that they need to get our fiscal house in order. The balanced budget amendment will do that for them. Now is the moment. No more games. No more gimmicks. The Constitution must be amended to keep the government in check. We’ve tried persuasion. We’ve tried negotiations. We’re tried elections. Nothing has worked.

The Rise of the Wrecking-Ball Right

Recently I debated a conservative Republican who insisted the best way to revive the American economy was to shrink the size of government. When I asked him to explain his logic he said, simply, “government is the source of all our problems.” When I noted government spending had brought the economy out of the previous eight economic downturns, including the Great Depression, he disagreed. “The Depression ended because of World War Two,” he pronounced, as if government had played no part in it.

A few days later I was confronted by another conservative Republican who blamed the nation’s high unemployment rate on the availability of unemployment benefits. “If you pay someone not to work, they won’t,” he said. When I pointed out unemployment benefits couldn’t possibly be the cause of joblessness because there are now about five job seekers for every job opening, he scoffed. “Government always makes things worse.”

Rachel Maddow, There Is Much, Much More To The Story of Rick Perry’s Apostles

On Tuesday, Rachel Maddow did the world a favor by airing a series of short video clips of the endorsers of Rick Perry’s upcoming prayer event. The clips were posted by Right Wing Watch, with some originating from These video clips should receive much more national exposure, but they need to be viewed in context of the movement they represent. Rachel Maddow, keep at it! Perry’s endorsers are not just a random group of radical evangelists making outrageous statements.

These are the apostles and prophets of the New Apostolic Reformation, the biggest international religious movement you never heard of.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Report: Warren to be passed over as nominee to head Consumer Bureau

By Muriel Kane
Friday, July 15th, 2011 -- 9:29 pm

Bloomberg News is reporting as of Friday evening that President Obama has chosen somebody other than Elizabeth Warren to be nominated as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

According to the report, which is based on an anonymous source, an unidentified individual who already works at the agency will be nominated instead.

A Discreet Nonprofit Brings Together Politicians and Corporations to Write ‘Model Bills’

by Lois Beckett
ProPublica, July 15, 2011, 3:39 p.m.

This week, both the Los Angeles Times and The Nation put the spotlight on a little-known but influential conservative nonprofit that creates "model" state legislation that often make its way into law. The organization has helped craft some of the most controversial—and industry-friendly—legislation of recent years.

The American Legislative Exchange Council, ALEC, crafted a model resolution for states calling the EPA's attempts to regulate greenhouse gasses a "trainwreck" and asking Congress to slow or stop the regulations, the Times reported. A press release on ALEC's site says that at least 13 other states have passed resolutions based on their model language.

Paul Krugman: Getting to Crazy

There aren’t many positive aspects to the looming possibility of a U.S. debt default. But there has been, I have to admit, an element of comic relief — of the black-humor variety — in the spectacle of so many people who have been in denial suddenly waking up and smelling the crazy.

A number of commentators seem shocked at how unreasonable Republicans are being. “Has the G.O.P. gone insane?” they ask.

Why, yes, it has. But this isn’t something that just happened, it’s the culmination of a process that has been going on for decades. Anyone surprised by the extremism and irresponsibility now on display either hasn’t been paying attention, or has been deliberately turning a blind eye.

‘Entitlement’ Is a Republican Word

Posted on Jul 14, 2011

By Bill Boyarsky

At his news conference this week, President Barack Obama seized on a misleading Washington word—“entitlements”—to describe the badly needed aid programs that are likely to be cut because of his compromises with the Republicans.

“Entitlement” is a misleading word because it masks the ugly reality of reducing medical aid for the poor, the disabled and anyone over 65 as well as cutting Social Security. Calling such programs entitlements is much more comfortable than describing them as what they are—Medicare, Social Security and money for good schools, unemployment insurance, medical research and public works construction that would put many thousands to work.

It’s also a Republican word. It implies that those receiving government aid have a sense of entitlement, that they’re getting something for nothing. And now it’s an Obama word as he moves toward the center and away from the progressives who powered his 2008 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination over centrist Hillary Clinton.

Historical Context Missing From Debt Ceiling Reporting

Chris Weigant
Political Writer and Blogger at
Posted: 7/14/11 11:55 AM ET

I've always been astounded at the near-complete lack of historical memory regularly exhibited by both Washington politicians and the "journalists" who purport to cover them. Nothing I've seen in the past few weeks has caused me to change this opinion, either, as the fight over raising the federal debt ceiling has played itself out.

While it's certainly understandable that subjects such as the Smoot-Hawley Tariff or the Greenback Party would be considered so obscure and so removed from living memory as to be ignored, there is simply no excuse for ignoring a direct parallel to today's political news, which happened only two presidents ago. Because we've been here before with the debt ceiling. Well, not precisely where we find ourselves at in 2011, but close enough to the government shutdown in 1995-96 that multiple parallels can easily be drawn.

The Tea Party Wants What It Wants When It Wants It ... Or Else

By Terrance Heath
Created 07/15/2011 - 3:53pm

"I want what I want when I want it."

Those are Eric Cantor's words. No, they're not words he said recently, but words he chose years ago, for his high school yearbook quote [1]. And while it may seem unfair to bring them up now (After all, how many of us said or did things in high school that make us cringe now?), they're actually a perfect distillation of not just Eric Cantor's approach to the debt ceiling negotiations, but that of the tea party contingent he represents: They want what they want when they want it. Or else.

It doesn't matter that most of the rest of us don't want what they want. It doesn't matter that what they want would be disastrous for the economy, and millions of American families. It's what they want, and they want it now.

The Shady Ways People Are Losing Their Homes--Even If They Don't Have Mortgages

By Joshua Holland, AlterNet
Posted on July 14, 2011, Printed on July 16, 2011

Millions of American homeowners owe more to their bankers than their properties are worth. With incomes stagnating and unemployment pushing higher, foreclosures are projected to hit a record high this year.

But some are learning the hard way that you don't have to stop paying your mortgage to lose your home. In fact, in some cases you don't need to have a mortgage in the first place – people are losing properties they own free and clear to the foreclosure process.

Some Americans are losing their homes to screw-ups on the part of banks and loan servicers. In March, an exhaustive investigation by the Federal Reserve was, incredibly, unable to come up with a single example of a "wrongful foreclosure." According to the Huffington Post, consumer advocates “criticized the central bank's examiners for narrowly defining what constitutes a 'wrongful foreclosure,'” and warned that “the public would not take the Fed's findings of improper practices seriously.”