Tuesday, June 30, 2009

SCIENCE - Betelgeuse is Shrinking!

"Betelgeuse about to blow?" by Katharine Sanderson, Nature.COM 6/10/2009

Betelgeuse is shrinking! Could it be about to go supernova? Reports from the American Astronomical Society meeting in Pasadena, California this week suggest that over the past 15 years the bright red star has shrunk by 15%.


These long-term observations were made by nearly-94-year old Nobel laureate Charles Townes and his colleagues, at UC Berkeley's Space Sciences Laboratory.

The star is no dimmer than it has been over the time they’ve been looking at it, and the reasons for the shrinkage have so far eluded the team. "We do not know why the star is shrinking," says team member Edward Wishnow. "Considering all that we know about galaxies and the distant universe, there are still lots of things we don't know about stars, including what happens as red giants near the ends of their lives."

So far, so confusing. Few reports offer much explanation. The Register says the shrinking, seen by some including Townes as possible first signs of the star collapsing into a supernova, will be of most concern to fans of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: the red star was home to Zaphod Beeblebrox. “Fans will be hoping that the recent shrinkage of Zaphod's sun doesn't mean that, in fact, his homeworld was destroyed hundreds of years before Earth's abrupt demolition to allow construction of a hyperspace bypass,” says the Register’s Lewis Page.

Over at New Scientist, we can find more in way of clarification. Townes tells them: “Maybe there's some instability in the star and it's going to collapse or at least go way down in size or blow off some material, but who knows.” Other astronomers polled for their opinions offer pulsations as a cause of the diminishment, or perhaps that the wonky star was just being looked at from a funny angle. "Often if you look at the simulations, the star is not spherical. It looks like a bad potato," Graham Harper from the University of Colorado in Boulder told New Scientist.


Friday, June 26, 2009

HEALTHCARE - Michelle Obama on Reform

Corn on "Hardball": Michelle Obama Helping Health Care Reform?

Visit MSNBC.com for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

MILITARY - Shock and Audit

"Shock and Audit: Mission Impossible" by Rachel Morris, MotherJones (aka MoJo)


Is defense reform a lost cause? To answer that question, MoJo talked to defense experts, mined years of GAO reports and congressional testimony, and found that the same themes crop up again and again. Here are the main problems that defense reforms almost always fail to truly address:

The Pentagon doesn't know where its money goes. In fact, its accounting systems are so spectacularly busted that it's impossible to even conduct an audit of the agency, which has been on the Government Accountability Office's high-risk list since 1995. Its computer programs are prehistoric and don't connect the money that comes in with the money that goes out. There is no reliable way to detect when contractors are overbilling. DOD's various agencies and services maintain 2,480 different systems to manage procurement, finances, and logistics, many of which aren't interlinked. Often, reams of vital data must be entered by hand. All of this creates myriad possibilities for fraud and abuse. Over the past few decades, the government has spent billions to modernize the DOD's bookkeeping, but to no avail. Consequently, no one really knows for sure how much the Pentagon has spent, is spending, or should spend on weapons. Instead, the government essentially relies on information from private contractors to make budget decisions.

A report by the Defense Science Board Task Force on Developmental Test and Evaluation found that between 1997 and 2006, 67 percent of Army systems flunked testing requirements, yet many were put into development anyway. The notion that the Pentagon should "try before it buys" has been on the books since at least the 1970s, but DOD officials and Congress have never properly enforced it. For all Robert Gates' encouraging talk about reform, he is set to make the same mistake by fast-tracking production of the F-35.

Military brass often order up futuristic equipment that is fantastically complicated—"exquisite," in Pentagon parlance—but scientifically unproven.

The Pentagon routinely enters into contracts based on hopelessly unrealistic cost and schedule estimates. This isn't just the contractor's fault. Military officials have a powerful incentive to sign off on lowball estimates, because if they revealed the true cost at the outset, they'd never get their dream toys. Every once in a while Congress or the White House will demand a new office to produce independent cost estimates, but it's extremely difficult to make such initiatives genuinely independent because of the cozy relationship between Pentagon officials and the defense industry. And in recent years, this relationship got a lot cozier as the department has relaxed conflict of interest rules for Pentagon officials who move on to the private sector. In 2006, 2,435 former DOD officials, generals, and contract staff were employed by defense contractors, and at least 400 of those may have worked on contracts directly related to their former agencies.

There are no consequences for screwing up. When contractors run years behind schedule and billions over budget, they still get paid. By law, Congress must be notified about programs that run 30 percent over budget, and programs costing more than 50 percent must be recertified or terminated, but lawmakers grant exceptions as a matter of routine.

This is Part V of their Shock and Audit, which starts here: Part I: Shock and Audit

HEALTH SCIENCE - Heart Failure Breakthrough

"Combination device reduces heart failure deaths" by Thomas H. Maugh II, Los Angeles Times


A combination defibrillator and cardiac resynchronization device reduced deaths by nearly one-third in patients with mild heart failure in a study that was terminated early on Monday because of its success, the device's manufacturer said Tuesday.

The combination device, called a CRT-D, had previously been shown effective in patients with severe heart failure, but this is the first study to investigate its use in those with milder forms of disease, who account for about 70% of the 5.5 million U.S. heart failure patients.

"This is a breakthrough finding," said Dr. Albert Waldo, a cardiologist at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland who was not involved in the study. "It shows for the first time that in a group of patients that have [mild] heart failure . . . you can decrease the death rate by 29%. . . . The data from the trial are very clear."

Heart failure occurs when the muscles of the heart weaken and the ventricles fail to coordinate properly, or synchronize, reducing the ability of the organ to move blood through the body. In the most severe cases, patients can become so weak that they are bedridden, or suffer a variety of symptoms, such as shortness of breath, buildup of fluids in the lungs and other organs, confusion and fatigue. Patients with mild heart failure typically have few or no symptoms, but both groups have an equally high risk of atrial fibrillation (erratic heartbeats) or death.

Cardiac resynchronization therapy uses a cellphone-size device implanted in the chest to deliver a regular, small electric signal to the heart to trigger beating, increasing the ejection fraction. The device has leads going to both ventricles to make sure they are synchronized. (A conventional pacemaker has only one lead going to the right ventricle.)

The CRT-D device also contains a defibrillator to shock the heart back into normal rhythm if it begins to beat erratically.

ECONOMY - Fed Says No More Emergency Loans

"Fed says economic gains reduce need for some loan programs" by Jim Puzzanghera, Los Angeles Times


The Federal Reserve, signaling increased optimism that the economy is improving, is scaling back some of the emergency loan programs it created over the last 18 months to deal with the nation's financial crisis.

But the Fed is still concerned about the fragile state of financial markets and said it would extend several of the same programs until early next year in case they might be needed.

"Things have stabilized," said former Fed economist Timothy Yeager, an associate finance professor at the University of Arkansas. "There don't seem to be any more large firms on the brink of failure, and they feel confident that they can start to pull these things back. Yet they don't want to completely remove [the programs] in case they're needed down the line."


"Supreme Court declares strip-search of student unconstitutional" By David G. Savage, Los Angeles Times


Reporting from Washington -- After two decades of giving school officials wide leeway to search students for drugs or weapons, the Supreme Court set a legal limit on Thursday, ruling out of bounds the strip-search of a 13-year-old girl who was suspected of hiding pain relief pills.

In an 8-1 decision, the court called this search degrading, unreasonable and unconstitutional.

Justice David H. Souter, in what could be his final opinion before his retirement, said a strip-search is "categorically distinct" from other efforts to find drugs or weapons on campus because it is embarrassing and humiliating to the children who are targeted.

In the past, the court has said school officials can search purses, backpacks or lockers if they have reason to believe a student has drugs. And twice, justices have upheld mandatory drug testing of high schoolers, including athletes, even when there was no reason to think any of them was using drugs.

But requiring a student to remove her clothes goes too far, Souter said. He suggested such a search would be justified only if a school official had strong reason to believe a student was hiding a dangerous drug or a weapon in his or her underwear.

POLITICS - Blue Dog Democrats & Health Care Reform

"Dems must bring Blue Dogs to heel" by JESSE JACKSON, Chicago Sun-Times 6/23/2009

We are down to the last rounds of the health care debate. The ideas are on the table. The estimated costs are published. The insurance industry lobby is up in arms. The White House and congressional leaders are starting to push. Now it is a question of will.

Will conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats sabotage the best chance for health care reform in a generation? Democrats are the issue because they don't really need the votes of Republicans who have chosen simply to be the party of "no." With few exceptions, Republicans rail about "government takeover" of health care, mutter about "socialized medicine," warn darkly about "government rationing" destroying the "best health care system in the world." Blind to reality, they have absented themselves from adult conversation.

The realities are starkly clear. We spend far more on health care than any other industrial nation -- 50 percent more per capita, according to Peter Orszag, head of the Office of Management and Budget. And we get worse results -- in life expectancy, childhood mortality and much more. We tax all Americans for the most inefficient system of care -- expensive emergency rooms for the uninsured, more focus on the terminal illnesses of those in the last weeks of life than on providing preventive care to keep people healthy early in life.

And everyone knows we can no longer afford to go down the path we are on. As Barack Obama says, our long-term federal deficit challenge is entirely composed of the projected soaring price of health care. Get health care costs under control and we have no problem. Fail to get them under control and the federal government, state governments, businesses and families will all go broke. Already, health care disasters are the leading cause of family bankruptcy in America, and central to the bankruptcy of GM and Chrysler.

The course forward is clear. Provide health care for all. Regulate insurance companies so that they don't waste billions trying to avoid insuring anyone who might get sick. Provide a public option -- like Medicare -- to hold down prices. This will cost a lot of money in the first years -- $1 trillion to $2 trillion over 10 years -- with massive returns in the out years, as costs get under control.

But of course, the insurance and drug company lobby wants to cripple reform. They offer vague promises to lower the rate of cost increases. They warn that a public option might be too attractive to compete with.

The public isn't buying this. The public option has overwhelming support-- even among Republican voters. Polls show Americans understand major changes are needed, and are even willing to pay more in taxes if necessary to cover everyone.

Democrats have the votes to get this done without having to worry about Republican obstruction. But that requires the conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats to support the president and the program. Thus far they've done everything they can to sabotage reform. Led by Evan Bayh, a bunch tried to deny the president a majority vote on his program, empowering the opposition. Led by Kent Conrad and Max Baucus, they've tried to gut the public option -- suggesting local cooperatives or state plans, both of which wouldn't do much to hold down costs.

Why? Their voters support reform. Supposedly concerned about deficits, they know the public option will help hold down costs. They can't really be against government-provided choice. After all that's the insurance they all enjoy. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that they are listening to their donors, to the well-financed industry lobbies.

That's not surprising. Senators have to raise millions for their campaigns, and deep-pocket lobbies speak loudly. But this isn't a normal time or a normal issue. We can't afford not to make major reforms. The president of their own party has risen to the challenge. The majority of their party and the public support him. It is a matter of will. Will a handful of willful senators stand in the way of a reform vital to this country's future? Or will Americans in their states let them know that it is crunch time and time to step up? We will find out over the next few weeks.

MUSIC - Michael Jackson

To be up-front, I am a mild Michael Jackson fan, at least for 2 of his albums. Off the Wall and Thriller. And now he's gone.

"Michael Jackson was real American thriller" commentary, Chicago sun-Times

Say what you will about Michael Jackson — and everything will be said in the next few days — he was an American thriller, one of the most brilliant talents of our times.

It is easy to forget this now. It is even easier, if one is young, to never have known. It is easy to see Michael Jackson only in the disturbing images of his last two decades — the freakish plastic surgery, the children he covered with paper bags, the alarming stories that leaked from his secretive California ranch, the unsettling Neverland.

But there was a moment — Michael’s moment. And a sound — Michael’s sound. And a way of moving — Michael’s way.

And nobody could do it better.

We watched Michael Jackson grow older, if not really grow up. He was the stunning child singer who fronted the Jackson 5 — the family singing group from Gary, Ind.

The group played “The Ed Sullivan Show” for the first time one Sunday night in 1969, and afterward Ed offered his crooked smile to this 11-year-old kid with the big Afro who had just twirled and sung like he’d been working the stage for 20 years.

Ed could see what we all could see — a natural-born star. Could the kid handle it?

In his art, Michael Jackson swallowed whole everything good in America. His music was funk and rock, black and white, power chords and ballads. And utterly infectious.

But in his personal life, he was America gone too far. He was the train wreck of a celebrity culture gone off the rails. He was America’s belief in reinvention taken to a grotesque extreme.

No matter. Not today.

Michael Jackson is dead, and all we really want to remember is how we danced to “ABC,” how we thrilled to “Thriller,” how we scraped across the floor trying to copy that moonwalk.

We couldn’t do it. Nobody could.

There was only one Michael Jackson.

"'79 album 'Off the Wall' best of phenomenal career" by JIM DeROGATIS, Chicago sun-Times


As the music world begins to assess the complicated legacy of the man who crowned himself the King of Pop, there is no denying that Michael Jackson's climb from humble beginnings amid the belching smokestacks of Gary to the top of the charts and worldwide superstardom will rank beside those of Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and the Beatles as one of the most extraordinary rags-to-riches stories ever.

Nor is it an exaggeration to say that Jackson, who died Thursday a little more than two months shy of his 51st birthday, made a more profound impact in the arenas of soul, R&B and dance-pop than any other singer or songwriter in history.

Sadly, these accomplishments also will forever be intertwined with one of the most tawdry and tragic public meltdowns that pop culture has ever witnessed. Long shadows were cast by charges of child abuse, behavior that ranged from mildly eccentric to disturbingly bizarre and the star's inability to create worthwhile new music divorced from his personal turmoil throughout the last 18 years of his career.

In many ways, Jackson's biggest musical success turned out to be his biggest handicap, since its beyond-all-measures accomplishments were something he could never top.

Released on Nov. 30, 1982, the singer's sixth solo studio album, "Thriller," is widely considered the best-selling disc of all time, with sales estimated anywhere between 40 million and 100 million copies worldwide. But despite the much-vaunted impact of its genre-blurring sounds on radio and the pop charts -- it spawned six Top 10 singles, including the back-to-back No. 1 hits "Billie Jean" and "Beat It" -- and the fact that its big-budget videos broke the unofficial color barrier at MTV, real fans never thought it his finest work.

That honor belongs to "Off the Wall," the 1979 album that actually pioneered the mix of funk, disco, pop, soul, jazz and rock that he polished for mainstream consumption on "Thriller." With songs such as "Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough" and "Rock with You," and collaborations with superstars such as Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney, who clearly viewed the then-20-year-old star as a peer, "Off the Wall" is the album hardcore fans reach for, including celebrated acolytes such as Justin Timberlake and Usher.

For that matter, more moving than anything on "Thriller" is the 1972 ballad "Ben," another No. 1 hit and a song that Jackson, right at the start of his solo career, invested with so much emotion that it instantly transcended its origins as a love song to a killer rat from a B-grade horror film.


The Values Party
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Thursday, June 25, 2009

AMERICA - Service in the City

"The Self-Service City" by Timothy Egan, New York Times

First, they took away the cops parked at key intersections and replaced them with with mounted, overhead cameras. This idea didn’t start in my city, Seattle, but when it turned out to be a revenue-generator, even if it reduced safety, City Hall took to it with a vengeance.

Who needs a human being when you can write ten times as many tickets without overtime pay?

Then, they made us do detailed sorting of our garbage – not just paper and plastic, but all the melon rinds and apple cores favored by compost worms. Fine.

They asked us to put rain barrels under our gutters to collect runoff. Done.

Next up was a plan to force people to haul out their trash from certain city parks. These may be public spaces – the city’s shared living rooms – but the message was clear: you’re on your own.

I get it. And so do my neighbors. This spring, while planting tomatoes and squash in the terraced garden behind my house, I noticed the hillside was full of fellow urban horticulturists ripping up ornamentals to push the edges of their farmlets.

One neighbor who had never looked twice at a blackberry bush put in raised beds stuffed with enough vegetable starts to run a produce stand.

Another said he was going to raise chickens. “You can get about a dozen eggs a week,” he said, detailing his plans to build a predator-resistant coop for a preening, pecking, egg-laying flock of flightless birds.

We discussed the merits of owning a pygmy goat. Seattle is one of a handful of cities where a homeowner can now keep this hoofed mastication machine. The pygmies produce milk and make great pets, not to mention what they can do to a hillside of twigs, bramble and invasive vines.

We are an overwhelmingly urban nation, especially the West – the most urbanized region of the country, according to the Census Bureau definition.

But the will to till has never left us. At the same time, this recession is forcing local governments to abandon traditional services. Cities are becoming robotized and retro at the same time.

The last century saw the flowering of the City Beautiful movement – grand boulevards and parks, Parisian in intent, if not actual design.

This century, hit with the worst economic slap since the Great Depression, has brought the self-service city – shrunken, less personal and meaner on one level, more neighborly on another.

In the hardest-hit cities, where big clusters of foreclosed houses sit empty, entire blocks are being returned to nature – land banks, they call them.

About 4 million homes are now abandoned, 3 percent of the nation’s housing stock. In Buffalo, nearly 10,000 houses sit empty. In parts of Flint, Mich., and Columbus, Ohio, every third home is without an inhabitant.

“Demolition means progress,” proclaim signs in Flint.

But it’s not just the old Rust Belt. Half-drained swimming pools of ghost houses in the far exurbs of Southern California bake in the summer sun.

Las Vegas, where the helium of unfettered growth produced a housing boom unmatched in this country, is followed closely by Detroit as the city that has been quickest to empty out, Forbes magazine found.

There is opportunity in this crisis, as more than one mayor has proclaimed, paraphrasing Rahm Emanuel. City dwellers: this land is your land!

So, we have cities doing by default what urban planners could never do. Greener cities, yes. More open spaces in what were once ruined neighborhoods. Healthier, perhaps, even with the pall of economic desperation. Part of an ecosystem, housing units no longer defined exclusively by city lots and housing walls.

But at the same time, cities are turning impersonal – with eye-on-the-people enforcement. In this respect, the self-service city has no heart, no room for mercy. It’s like umpiring a baseball game by remote camera. We might as well install self-ticketing devices in our cars.

Numerous studies have found that robo-cams make intersections less safe. People panic knowing the camera is on them, trying to beat the recording click of their license plate. In Alexandria, Va., one study found that accidents increased 43 percent at intersections where cameras were used to enforce red lights.

But the self-service city can’t resist the temptation of all that increased revenue.

There is something cynical, and certainly calculating in a bottom-line way, about city governments that ask all of us to be more involved with one another, our garbage, our plot of dirt, our newly demolished, formerly blighted communities, and then turn a cold eye to us.

My city has just joined others in unleashing software-and-camera laden vehicles that will prowl the streets, taking pictures of license plates and tire position to catch those who dare try to get another 15 minutes out of a parking meter. This is City Hall without a face. Lovely Rita, Meter Maid – I miss you.

In 10 years’ time, maybe less, it will be hard to recognize the self-service city. It happened, we will say, largely without design or unified intent. No master plan was put forth. It evolved as we slept.

Monday, June 22, 2009

POLITICS - More on Health Care Reform

"Shields, Brooks Mull Health Reform, Palin's Role in GOP" PBS News Hour Political Warp 6/12/2009

Excerpts from transcript on Health Care Reform

Shaping health care ref

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, where do you come down on all this?

MARK SHIELDS: Come down on the plan itself?

JUDY WOODRUFF: On -- on -- yes.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think that -- I think that David's identified what the problem is.

I think that there's one complication. And that is, the Republicans this week indicated that they aren't -- that they are not going to come up with an alternative, and they are basically going to play no ball. They're going to -- and -- and I think, when we got the announcement that the Chamber of Congress has come up with $100 million that they are going to preserve the private sector with, starting with health insurance and opposing the public plan, but the -- I think the public plan is necessary, a necessary ingredient to the Obama plan, because, Judy, what we have in health care right now is the failure of -- of the private -- of private enterprise at work.

I mean it does not -- we cannot cover 48 million people. I mean, it does not. It is -- it's too much. The cost is too prohibitive. So, there has to be some means of covering people who cannot afford a private plan.

David identifies a very key problem. And that is, if it's open-ended, and the government is just going to write a check, and it doesn't have to meet a balance sheet each year, the public plan, then that -- that is a threat to the private insurance plans. And I think they will fight it tooth and toenail.


DAVID BROOKS: But, essentially, I -- I think we need to adjust that, because it is the most generous tax giveaway in the tax code.

It is skewed incredibly toward the rich. And, most importantly, it cuts off any relationship between what we -- we get and what we pay for. And, therefore, it drives health care inflation. So, there was a panel a couple months ago in which the experts, almost all of them, were for it.

The politicians, almost all of them, are against it, because it is raising taxes.

MARK SHIELDS: Right now -- and the argument is, politically, on the part of the some Democrats, oh, my gosh, we would be retreating, because John McCain did advocate this.

What they would not do is a tax exclusion. They -- they would put in a limit, for example, starting at $10,400, as some have suggested, which is the average contribution made by companies. Where -- where it began, interestingly enough, was, during World War II, there was a wage freeze. And, so, in order to increase the benefits to workers, as -- as the economy perked along, they gave out health care.

And it was -- it was, in fact, tax-exempt. And it was -- and it is indefensible, in the long run, to be tax-exempt.

(There is a video on the page)

HEALTHCARE - New Poll 6/20/2009

"In Poll, Wide Support for Government-Run Health" by KEVIN SACK and MARJORIE CONNELLY, New York Times

Americans overwhelmingly support substantial changes to the health care system and are strongly behind one of the most contentious proposals Congress is considering, a government-run insurance plan to compete with private insurers, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

The poll found that most Americans would be willing to pay higher taxes so everyone could have health insurance and that they said the government could do a better job of holding down health-care costs than the private sector.

Yet the survey also revealed considerable unease about the impact of heightened government involvement, on both the economy and the quality of the respondents’ own medical care. While 85 percent of respondents said the health care system needed to be fundamentally changed or completely rebuilt, 77 percent said they were very or somewhat satisfied with the quality of their own care.

That paradox was skillfully exploited by opponents of the last failed attempt at overhauling the health system, during former President Bill Clinton’s first term. Sixteen years later, it underscores the tricky task facing lawmakers and President Obama as they try to address the health system’s substantial problems without igniting fears that people could lose what they like.

Across a number of questions, the poll detected substantial support for a greater government role in health care, a position generally identified with the Democratic Party. When asked which party was more likely to improve health care, only 18 percent of respondents said the Republicans, compared with 57 percent who picked the Democrats. Even one of four Republicans said the Democrats would do better.

The national telephone survey, which was conducted from June 12 to 16, found that 72 percent of those questioned supported a government-administered insurance plan — something like Medicare for those under 65 — that would compete for customers with private insurers. Twenty percent said they were opposed.

Republicans in Congress have fiercely criticized the proposal as an unneeded expansion of government that might evolve into a system of nationalized health coverage and lead to the rationing of care.

But in the poll, the proposal received broad bipartisan backing, with half of those who call themselves Republicans saying they would support a public plan, along with nearly three-fourths of independents and almost nine in 10 Democrats.

The poll, of 895 adults, has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.

Mr. Obama and many Democrats have argued that a public plan would be essential, in the president’s words, to “keep insurance companies honest.” But Mr. Obama has also signaled a willingness to compromise for Republican support, perhaps by establishing member-owned insurance cooperatives instead.

It is not clear how fully the public understands the complexities of the government plan proposal, and the poll results indicate that those who said they were following the debate were somewhat less supportive.

But they clearly indicate growing confidence in the government’s ability to manage health care. Half of those questioned said they thought government would be better at providing medical coverage than private insurers, up from 30 percent in polls conducted in 2007. Nearly 60 percent said Washington would have more success in holding down costs, up from 47 percent.

Sixty-four percent said they thought the federal government should guarantee coverage, a figure that has stayed steady all decade. Nearly 6 in 10 said they would be willing to pay higher taxes to make sure that all were insured, with 4 in 10 willing to pay as much as $500 more a year.

And a plurality, 48 percent, said they supported a requirement that all Americans have health insurance so long as public subsidies were offered to those who could not afford it. Thirty-eight percent said they were opposed.

In a follow-up interview, Matt Flurkey, 56, a public plan supporter from Plymouth, Minn., said he could accept that the quality of his care might diminish if coverage was universal. “Even though it might not be quite as good as what we get now,” he said, “I think the government should run health care. Far too many people are being denied now, and costs would be lower.”

While the survey results depict a nation desperate for change, it also reveals a deep wariness of the possible consequences. Half to two-thirds of respondents said they worried that if the government guaranteed health coverage, they would see declines in the quality of their own care and in their ability to choose doctors and get needed treatment.

“It is the responsibility of the government to guarantee insurance for all,” said Juanita Lomaz, a 65-year-old office worker from Bakersfield, Calif. “But my care will get worse because they’ll have to limit care in order to cover everyone.”

When asked their opinion of specific changes being considered in Washington, three-fourths of those surveyed said they favored requiring health insurers to cover anyone, regardless of pre-existing medical conditions. Only a fifth supported taxing employer-provided health benefits to help pay the cost of coverage for the uninsured. And there was deep uncertainty about whether employers should be required to either help insure their workers or pay into a fund for covering the uninsured.

Three of four people questioned said unnecessary medical tests and treatments had become a serious problem, suggesting that they would support calls by health researchers for a payment system that would better reward appropriate care. But an even higher number, 87 percent, said the inability of people to have the needed tests and treatments was a serious problem. One in four said that in the last 12 months they or someone in their household had cut back on medications because of the expense, and one in five said someone had skipped a recommended test or treatment.

The poll found that Americans were far less satisfied with the cost of health care than with the quality of it. Mr. Obama, who has emphasized the need to reduce costs, has found an audience for his argument that health care legislation is vital to economic recovery. Eighty-six percent of those polled said rising costs posed a serious economic threat.

Yet only a fifth of those with insurance said the cost of their own medical care posed a hardship. And only a fourth said that keeping health costs down was a more urgent need than providing coverage for the country’s nearly 50 million uninsured. That was a notable change from a Times/CBS poll taken in early April, when 40 percent said that controlling costs was more pressing.

ON THE LITE SIDE? - Laughs All Around

"At fundraiser, Obama laughs at critics" by Sam Youngman, The Hill

As he looks to expand Democratic majorities in Congress, President Obama on Thursday night also used a fundraiser for his congressional allies to target his critics.

The president, speaking at a joint fundraiser for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), blasted Republicans who have criticized his administration's efforts on healthcare reform, stimulus spending and financial regulatory reform.

The event was expected to raise about $3 million for the campaign committees.

After listing the legislation Congress has passed and he has signed, Obama took on GOPers who have come after his administration for three of his next big and costly initiatives.

In doing so, the president appeared to be warning Democratic fundraisers that Republicans were sharpening their attack lines for the midterm elections, a subtle prod to "dig deep" lest they lose control of Congress.

Obama noted that many of the actions he has taken are "not necessarily popular," and he warned that the criticisms of his administration will only get worse as he takes on more issues.

"But that's the nature of things," Obama said. "This is when the criticism gets louder. This is when the pundits get impatient. This is when the cynicism mounts."

The president dismissed those who say he is not changing the way Washington works, laughing at critics who question whether or not change is possible.

"Can't do it. System overload. Circuits breaking down," Obama said, mimicking a robot. "It's so predictable.

"So this is exactly the moment when we need to fight the hardest. This is the moment when we need to band together."

To critics of his healthcare agenda, Obama issued a challenge for alternative ideas but brushed off Republican proposals for tax cuts for the uninsured as more of the same, asking, "What's your plan?

"Don't tell me that all you're offering is meager tax cuts to uninsured Americans," Obama said. "Don't present that as a new idea. That's the same idea that's been proposed for the last eight years."

Republicans have seized on what they say is the hypocrisy of the fundraiser, noting that Obama has pledged not to accept donations from lobbyists — and saying that while at this one he didn't take money from lobbyists, on Friday morning he will.

"This is the height of hypocrisy and just one more example of President Obama's rhetoric not squaring with reality," said Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC). "Candidate Obama said lobbyists and special interests will not fund the Democratic Party, but now the Democrats are cashing their checks as fast as they come in, 364 days a year."

Even as Obama acknowledged there will be "setbacks," he urged the donors to give so that he has a Democratic Congress to "finish the business of the American people."

"I can't bring about the change that I promised by myself in the Oval Office — or just me and Rahm," Obama joked, referring to his chief of staff and former congressman. "I mean Rahm's great, but you know, I need a little more help than that."

We just KNOW that Limbaugh and his ilk are just foaming at the mouth about this. The only laughing these "people" do, behind closed doors, is when they can stick-it-to the common American (as opposed to their super-rich paymasters).

Friday, June 19, 2009

POLITICS - Financial Regulation to Protect Americans

"Obama launches overhaul of US financial regulation" by Andrew Clark, Guardian UK

The biggest overhaul of US financial regulation since the Great Depression was outlined by the White House today in a politically delicate effort to stop reckless risk-taking, predatory lending and dangerous debt.

In a wide-ranging package intended to prevent a future financial crisis, President Barack Obama set out a list of measures including tougher powers for the Federal Reserve to oversee "too big to fail" banks, registration of hitherto unchecked hedge funds and the creation of a consumer agency to protect the public from incomprehensible small print on loans or mortgages.

Obama cited weak and confused oversight as one of the factors behind the credit crunch: "A regulatory regime basically crafted in the wake of a 20th century economic crisis – the Great Depression – was overwhelmed by the speed, scope and sophistication of a 21st century global economy."

He said the changes were intended to promote innovation and unleash creativity while discouraging recklessness or abuse, adding: "We did not choose how this crisis began but we do have a choice in the legacy this crisis leaves behind."

New authority for the Federal Reserve forms the centerpiece of the plan. The Fed's chairman, Ben Bernanke, has been widely praised for his handling of the financial crisis and the central bank will get responsibility for watching over "systemically significant" institutions where failure would jeopardize the broader financial system.

Other reforms include the introduction of regulation for exotic derivatives such as credit default swaps, blamed for the near-collapse of America's biggest insurer, AIG. New rules will force mortgage companies to hang on to at least 5% of their loans rather than passing on all risk by bundling up products and scrutinizing them on the secondary credit markets.

Yet the shake-up stopped short of a more radical clear-out of the cluttered regulatory universe once envisaged by the White House. There had been calls for the creation of a single financial body akin to Britain's Financial Services Authority to replace Washington's "alphabet soup" of regulators. But the only organization to disappear in the plan will be the Office of Thrift Supervision, which oversaw troubled firms including AIG, Washington Mutual and Countrywide Financial.

Business leaders called for a simpler regime. David Hirschmann, president of the US Chamber of Commerce's centre for capital markets, said: "We're concerned that overall, the proposal simply adds to the layering of the system without addressing the underlying and fundamental problems."

Vigorous lobbying by financial institutions influenced the Obama administration's plans, as did a desire to avoid an all-out war with Republicans in Congress, who are instinctively suspicious of any extension of government power.

John Boehner, the Republican leader in the House of Representatives, expressed skepticism about the prospect of a new consumer regulator, saying he disapproved of the government "deciding what interest ought to be charged on credit cards". He continued: "I think it's just going to be too big of a foot on an industry that already is having financial problems."

The White House indicated that it favored closer international co-operation on financial oversight, a topic which has been energetically promoted by Gordon Brown.

Obama said "gaps between nations" were equally unacceptable as the gaps between regulators within the US. Hedge funds, which have avoided US control by basing themselves in offshore regimes, will have to start reporting to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Some questioned whether a reshuffling of responsibilities would prevent a repetition of the financial crisis. Peter Morici, business professor at the University of Maryland, said the credit crunch should not be blamed on a lack of regulators but instead on a lack of effective foresight within regulatory agencies.

"The morass being proposed is an example of blind faith in government regulation, much as those who want few strings have blind faith in market discipline," said Morici. "The trick is to get regulation right, not mound it like whipped cream on a banana split."

Others asked why so many regulatory chiefs were still in their jobs. Dean Baker, co-director of the Centre for Economic and Policy Research, said: "The regulators failed and I would say that if we want to prevent the next bubble, we have to hold people accountable for this one. Fire them."

"Battle Brewing On Capitol Hill Over Obama's Proposed Consumer Protection Agency" by Julie Satow, Huffington Post

Consumer groups welcomed President Barack Obama's proposal to create a Consumer Financial Protection Agency as part of his sweeping overhaul of financial regulations on Wednesday. But they worried that the victory could be short lived as the powerful Wall Street lobbies prepare to go to battle to protect their own.

"The financial industry is sharpening its knives, and the question is, will Congress be able to withstand a sustained assault?" asked Travis Plunkett, the legislative director of the Consumer Federation of America.

In anticipation of the confrontation, a coalition of 200 consumer groups announced a day earlier the creation of Americans for Financial Reform, which will fortify their allies in Congress and will work to protect the president's proposal for the new consumer agency.

"The new coalition is what the broad public interest community needs to work together and win," said Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director of US Public Interest Research Groups.

Consumer groups are applauding the proposed agency, which has been dubbed the CFPA, for strengthening consumer protections. "It is a game changer," said Mierzwinski, "It's the biggest thing since deposit insurance."

Supporters pointed out three key elements in the proposal that will protect consumers -- the stronger role of states in enforcing consumer protection laws, which banks have tended to disregard; the new oversight authority across all types of Wall Street financial products; and the elimination of the long-standing conflict between the needs of financial firms and consumers.

"This proposal provides strong federal oversight, but it also restores the ability of states to enforce strong consumer protection laws," said Kathleen Day, a spokeswoman for the Center for Responsible Lending. States have long been sidelined in the fight for consumer protections because many banks that sell financial products to consumers are federally chartered, and so are only subject to federal oversight.

"What happens currently is that regulators passed rules that said they were the only ones with regulatory oversight over certain banks, and so state laws were preempted," said Ira Rheingold, the executive director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates. "But now, the way we read this, the new consumer agency can declare a floor of basic consumer protection, but the states to take that even further if they choose."

The funding mechanism for the new consumer protection agency is being widely applauded also. Most regulatory bodies are funded from fees paid by the financial institutions they oversee, creating the possibility of a conflict of interest. This can mean that regulatory agencies hungry for funds may offer less oversight in an effort to convince companies to join their charters. Under Obama's plan, this race to the bottom could be eliminated because firms across Wall Street will have to pay fees to the CFPA.

"Companies would often change their charter to be regulated by a more lenient agency, but under Obama's plan, from what we gather, everyone has to pay across the board, eliminating companies from going regulator shopping," Day said.

Supporters of the CFPA also say it will eliminate conflicts of interest among regulators who now wear two hats: regulating for consumer protection, while also overseeing the safety and soundness of the financial firms.

While consumer groups rejoice at what Plunkett calls "an extremely strong proposal," the financial industry has, not surprisingly, been vocal in its opposition.

The American Bankers Association issued a statement that it was "strongly opposed" to the new agency, noting that "banks would be subject to conflicting regulation between safety and soundness and consumer regulation in many instances." It added that the new agency represents "an unprecedented grant of power to mandate business practices" because it can require that certain financial products be made available to consumers while others be barred from consumer consumption.

The US Chamber of Commerce held a press conference earlier this week, denouncing the CFPA in advance of Obama's speech. The Chamber's statement charged that the new consumer agency "cannibalizes regulatory expertise and adds yet another regulatory layer."

Despite this apparent opposition, sources at some banking groups say there are so many aspects of the Obama plan to tackle, they aren't convinced that all of their guns will target the CFPA. Opposing a consumer protection agency, said one official wryly, "sounds really terrible, no matter how you try to spin it."

That said, consumer groups aren't taking any chances at losing the CFPA.

"We have quite a battle on our hands," said Rheingold. "What the consumer agency will end up looking like, and how we isolate the proposal from political influences, will be key."

Barbarians at the gate! Call out the militia! Defend the ordinary citizen!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

ON THE LITE SIDE - Late Show Top-10 6/16/2009

Top Ten Things Overheard At The "Fire David Letterman" Rally

10."Thanks for coming, Regis"

9. "He should apologize for that hairpiece"

8. "When does Cheney get here with the waterboarding gear?"

7. "Can we also get CBS to bring back 'Gunsmoke'?"

6. "March around the potholes, people"

5. "Isn't there always a crowd demanding Letterman be fired?"

4. "What idiot turned Broadway into a pedestrian mall?"

3. "We should have done this years ago"

2. "Well, it was nice of CBS to provide the catering"

1. "David who?"

NATION'S SECURITY - The Blind-Eye of the '80s

One has to wonder just where "top US officials" heads were in the '80s. Up their collective asses?

"US officials linked to AQ Khan’s N-network" by S Rajagopalan, Express Buzz

Top US officials allowed Pakistan in the 1980s to manufacture and possess nuclear weapons and were aware that the A Q Khan nuclear network was violating American laws, a US based watchdog has told the US Congress , citing a former CIA whistleblower.

Danielle Brian, executive director of Project on Government Oversight, told a Senate panel that CIA officer Richard Barlow, who then worked for the Pentagon, was fired for suggesting that the Congress should be made aware of the situation relating to Pakistan’s nuclear Programme.

Brian related the Barlow episode to the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee as one of the instances where whistleblowers have come to grief.

“The brave, honest public servants deserve better than this second-class system.” Bringing up Barlow’s findings, Brian said that working as a CIA counter-proliferation intelligence officer in the 1980s, he learned that “top US officials were allowing Pakistan to manufacture and possess nuclear weapons, and that the A Q Khan nuclear network was violating US laws”.

Barlow also discovered that top officials were “hiding these activities from Congress, since telling the truth would have legally obligated the US government to cut off its overt military aid to Pakistan at a time when covert military aid was being funneled through Pakistan to Afghan jihadists in the war against the Soviets”.

Brian said that after engineering the arrests of Khan’s nuclear agents in the US, he left to work for the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

“Top officials at the DoD (Department of Defense) continued to lie about Pakistan’s nuclear Programme. Barlow objected and suggested to his supervisors that Congress should be made aware of the situation. Because Barlow merely suggested that Congress should know the truth, Barlow was fired,” she said.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

SECURITY - Our Nations Computer Network

"Classified data on president's helicopter leaked via P2P, found on Iranian computer" by Jaikumar Vijayan, ComputerWorld

Classified information about the communications, navigation and management electronics on Marine One, the helicopter now used by President Barack Obama, were reportedly discovered in a publicly available shared folder on a computer in Tehran, Iran, after apparently being accidentally leaked over a peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing network last summer.

The classified file appears to have been leaked from a computer belonging to a Bethesda, Md., military contractor and was discovered Thursday by Tiversa Inc., a Cranberry Township, Pa.-based P2P monitoring services provider. P2P networks are widely used to share music, video and data files over the Internet.

The Iranian IP address at which the file was found belongs to an "information concentrator" -- someone who searches P2P networks for sensitive information, said Chris Gormley, chief operating officer at Tiversa. The location where the file was found included several other documents with classified and sensitive military information that were also leaked over file-sharing networks, Gormley said. He did not disclose what the other documents were.

According to Gormley, Tiversa first found information about Marine One's avionics floating around on file-sharing networks last summer and notified the contractor and the authorities about the discovery. Last week's search shows that copies of the document are still available on P2P networks to anyone who knows how to look for it, he said.

This is not the first time that highly classified and sensitive information has been discovered on P2P networks. In July 2007, members of a congressional subcommittee heard from a panel of security experts, including executives at Tiversa, about how they had found millions of classified documents on file-sharing networks. Among the examples cited were a diagram of the Pentagon's secret backbone network infrastructure, complete with IP addresses and password-change scripts; contractor data on radio frequency manipulation used to defeat improvised explosive devices in Iraq; physical terrorism threat assessments for three major U.S cities; and information on five Department of Defense information security systems audits.

Barely a month ago, a professor of operations management at Dartmouth College's Tuck School of Business released a report showing how large amounts of sensitive patient health care data was available on P2P networks after being accidentally leaked by health care providers, physicians and business associates. The data discovered as part of the Dartmouth study included a 1,718-page document containing Social Security numbers, dates of birth, insurance information, treatment codes and other health care data belonging to about 9,000 patients at a medical testing laboratory. Also unearthed were more than 350MB of sensitive patient data for a group of anesthesiologists, and a spreadsheet with 82 fields of information on more than 20,000 patients belonging to a health system.

According to Gormley, Tiversa has also been able to find 120,000 tax records belonging to individuals in New York.

Corporations are not immune, either. In June 2007, personal data on about 17,000 Pfizer Inc. workers was exposed by an employee who installed unauthorized file-sharing software on a company laptop containing that data. And just last year, an Alexandria, Va.-based investment firm, Wagner Resource Corp., had to notify about 2,000 clients -- including U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer -- about the exposure of their names, Social Security numbers and birth dates on a P2P network after an employee downloaded file-sharing software on a company laptop.

Such disclosures point to the continuing risk companies face from P2P file-sharing, according to security experts. Normally, popular P2P clients -- such as Kazaa, LimeWire, BearShare, Morpheus and FastTrack -- let users download files and share items from a particular folder. But if proper care isn't taken to control the access these clients have on a system, it is easy to expose data unintentionally.

Companies need to take measures to protect against such risks, said Avivah Litan, an analyst at Gartner Inc. Among the measures she recommends are the use of file encryption technologies to protect sensitive files, data loss prevention tools to block leakage of data over corporate networks, and the use of intrusion-detection and network behavioral analysis products to detect P2P file-sharing. Companies also need to block the installation of P2P software on client systems and block P2P traffic at the gateway, she said.

A lot of what Tiversa has found on P2P networks has been "pretty outrageous" and underscores the need for better controls, Litan said, The Marine One avionics information "is just an example" she said. "It basically drives home the point that companies cannot forget about P2P."

This is a reminder WHY Obama has recently high-lighted our nation's computer/network security.

CONSTITUTION - Defense of Religious Freedom

"ACLU Cases Defending Religious Freedom" ACLU


The ACLU vigorously defends the right of Americans to practice religion. But because the ACLU is often better known for its work preventing the government from promoting and funding selected religious activities, it is often wrongly assumed that the ACLU does not zealously defend the rights of religious believers, including Christians, to practice their religion. The cases below - including several where the ACLU even defended the rights of religious believers to condemn homosexuality or abortion - reveal just how mistaken such assumptions are.

Although the cases described below emphasize "the free exercise of religion," the guarantees of the Establishment Clause also protect the rights of religious believers (and non-believers) from government promotion of some religious beliefs over others.

The following selected recent cases (mostly since 1995) show that the ACLU defends the rights of those who identify themselves as Christians (Part I) as well as those who have other beliefs (Part II).

What follows in the full article are cases that go as far back as 1980 (Idaho), where the ACLU defended the right of people to practice their religion.

Read, and judge for yourself, if the ACLU is a anti-religion (Godless) organization that conservative fascist tell you.

Note the PDF download on the page.

Monday, June 15, 2009


"Arcadia High students add own touch to museum" by Evelyn Barge, Pasadena Star-News

Honors history students in Arcadia became guest curators for a new exhibit at the Ruth and Charles Gilb Arcadia Historical Museum.

For the fifth year in a row, nearly 100 Arcadia High School students - led by history teacher Oliver Beckwith - completed historical research on "Arcadia Through the Ages" and used their findings to create displays for a museum exhibition.

The students interviewed local subjects from all walks of life - including a horse-racing jockey, a nurse, restaurant owners, veterans and immigrants - and turned their life stories into colorful poster-board displays.

Beckwith said he asked his students to address a November 2008 issue of BusinessWeek magazine, which named Arcadia as the best California city in which to raise children.

"What is it about Arcadia that's so special?" was the question Beckwith said he posed to his pupils.

"It's better here," was the response given by Patrick La, a local hairdresser who immigrated to the region from Vietnam. "That's why we come here; For better, not for worse."

Students chose their own subjects, which represent a cross-section of life in Arcadia, Beckwith said.

The project was a practical lesson in oral history, he added, as students stepped into the shoes of an interviewer, recording and transcribing history through the eyes of their subjects.

The only hindrance to the process, Beckwith joked, was the teens' reluctance to commit a breach of etiquette.

"Talking to ladies of a certain age, they just couldn't bring themselves to ask `How old are you?"' he said with a laugh.

On Friday, June 5, near a display dedicated to George Varelas, owner of the Jim's Famous Quarterpound Burger chain, walked Varelas himself, who had come out for the opening reception.

From the display, visitors learned that Varelas has lived in Arcadia twice - the first time as a young boy growing up in a town of the same name in Greece. There, he made a living working on the family potato farm.

Now, Varelas makes what some would argue are the tastiest French fries around, Beckwith said.

"You know your potatoes," Beckwith said.

"Yes," affirmed Varelas, smiling.

"It's like `Night at the Museum' here," Beckwith said, referring to the movies in which exhibits on display at the Museum of Natural History come to life. "Our subjects are coming right out of the posters."

Bold emphasis mine

CALIFORNIA - Budget Meltdown

"Democrats are going to need prodding to reach budget accord" by George Skelton, Los Angeles Times


State Controller John Chiang is predicting July 28 (2009) as the state's 'meltdown' day

Animal analogies come to mind when somebody asks, "What is going on in Sacramento with the budget deficit?"

In one sense, the scene's like a horse race with some of the beasts balking at the starting gate. They'll get there eventually, but it'll take prodding and pushing.

In another sense, some Democrats -- mainly newer legislators in the Assembly -- are scrambling around like chickens with their heads chopped off.

And it's understandable. The electorate last month chopped off nearly $6 billion in anticipated state revenue, plus $16 billion in future tax hikes.

That raised the projected budget deficit for the fiscal year starting July 1 to roughly $21 billion, up from $15 billion. Since then, it has jumped another $3 billion to $24 billion.

And last week, practically unnoticed, the red ink grew by almost an additional billion when state Controller John Chiang routinely released his wonky cash balance report for May. During that month, revenue dropped $827 million below projections.

"Without immediate solutions from the governor and Legislature," Chiang warned, "we are less than 50 days from a meltdown of state government."

Realty check from a Californian:

The state of our California budget is not FULLY attributable to any party (Democrat nor Republican), it mainly stems from our California Referendum laws. It is referendums passed by voters, especially California Constitutional Amendments, that mandate what tax money is spent where AND how much.

The problem is, the voter not realizing that these mandates leave no flexibility for our legislators on taxes AND spending. The voters want lower taxes but mandate spending on "their" priorities.

You cannot have both, if you want to spend on a specific program you have to tax enough to pay for the program. Also, you must raise enough additional taxes to pay for the general state government. The shortfall is in that additional taxes needed to run our state government.


"The question: To tax or not to tax?" by Steven Harmon, Mercury News Silicon Valley


Are Californians overtaxed?

On the face of it, the question should not even have to be posed. Californians pay the highest sales tax in the nation. Their top-bracket earners have the second-highest income tax rate in the country. The middle class to upper class — those making $48,000 to $1 million — are right up there among the most highly taxed, too. California's gas tax, at 35.3 cents per gallon, is third-highest in the nation. Corporations face the highest tax rates in the West.

So, case closed, right? If you mix in the contention that California has the nation's third-worst business climate, any argument for new taxes would appear to stand on wobbly legs. Why would you raise taxes, even if it is just on the wealthy and corporations, when the state is facing the deepest recession since the Great Depression, when jobs are scarce and companies are being driven out of the state by its burdensome tax and regulatory system?

That's what Republicans and conservative taxpayer rights groups are stressing as the debate heats up over how to overcome the $24.3 billion budget deficit facing the state. They argue that any added taxes would be ruinous to the already-teetering economy. Californians already are facing $12 billion in new taxes over the next two years.

"Do we overtax the wealthy? Absolutely," said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. "Do we overtax the working class? Absolutely.

The car tax is the highest in the country. I can't imagine any additional transference from the private sector to the government sector that would do the state any good."

Some Democrats and liberal tax fairness groups, however, insist that any number of targeted tax increases — including loophole closures — are needed to keep the state from collapsing into fiscal chaos. They also make the case that the tax burden is not as bad as Republicans say it is — particularly for the wealthy.

"California has relatively high tax rates, but it's because we have a loophole-ridden tax system," said Jean Ross, director of the California Budget Project. "If we had fewer loopholes for the rich, we could have lower tax rates. (Resisting tax increases) is really a smoke screen for saying we believe government ought to do less for education, children and health care."


There are other ways, however, to determine the tax burden on businesses and the wealthy.

A study by giant auditing firm Ernst & Young showed that, as of 2007, businesses in 34 states paid a higher share of overall tax collections than in California.

California ranked 17th in tax collections as a percent of income in 2006, the most recent year data is available from the U.S. Census Bureau. That is hardly the worst and is a more accurate reflection of effective tax burden, said Justin Garosi, an economist with the Legislative Analyst's Office.

In addition, a 2007 study by the Public Policy Institute of California showed that only a small number of businesses leave the state — and for many reasons other than taxes.

HEALTHCARE - Obama Makes Healthcare Pitch to AMA

"Obama calls high cost of healthcare a threat to the U.S. economy" by John McCormick and Bruce Japsen, Los Angeles Times

President Obama today called the cost of healthcare a "ticking time bomb" that threatens to slow the nation's economic recovery as he pushed a massive reform plan during an appearance in Chicago before the nation's largest doctors group.

"We are spending over $2 trillion a year on healthcare -- almost 50% more per person than the next most costly nation," he said during a nearly hour-long speech before the American Medical Assn. "For all this spending, more of our citizens are uninsured, the quality of our care is often lower, and we aren't any healthier."

Awaiting the president at the Hyatt Regency Chicago and elsewhere were protesters who don't think his approach goes far enough, as well as at least some doctors who are concerned he might go too far. Still, Obama was warmly received by the AMA convention, which gave him numerous standing ovations and booed him just once, when he said he does not support caps on malpractice awards.

The appearance marked Obama's latest effort to pitch a massive healthcare proposal -- the top legislative priority of his young presidency -- that is expected to dominate the congressional calendar in the coming weeks ahead of his goal of October passage.

"The cost of our healthcare is a threat to our economy," he said. "It is an escalating burden on our families and businesses. It's a ticking time bomb for the federal budget. And it is unsustainable for the United States of America."

Obama also pointed to the costs incurred by companies to provide healthcare.

"A big part of what led General Motors and Chrysler into trouble in recent decades were the huge costs they racked up providing healthcare for their workers," he said. "If we do not fix our healthcare system, America may go the way of GM: paying more, getting less, and going broke."

The president said the status quo cannot be sustained. "Reform is not a luxury, it is a necessity," he said.

Obama sought to preempt attacks against his plan.

"I understand that fear. I understand the cynicism. There are scars left over from past efforts at reform," he said, pointing to proposals since President Teddy Roosevelt.

"While significant individual reforms have been made -- such as Medicare, Medicaid and the children's health insurance program -- efforts at comprehensive reform that covers everyone and brings down costs have largely failed," he said.

Speaking before roughly 2,200 people, Obama stressed that his proposal will not add to the federal deficit, even though there will be significant upfront costs. His proposals call for $950 billion in revenue and savings to pay for reform.

THE LITE SIDE - Public Healthcare, Humor Times

Click pic to go to homepage

"Republicans Not Interested in 'Popularity Contest'" Faux News

POLITICS - GOP Has a Real Problem

"For Republicans, the Forces Aren't With Them" by Dan Balz, Washington Post 6/14/2009


There has been much chatter about who now speaks for the Republican Party, and whether the GOP has a message or an agenda to combat President Obama's popularity. Those questions are important to the party's future, but the most serious problem remains the deeper demographic and political forces at work in the country.

For the past few months, political analysts and demographers have been poring over the results of the 2008 election and comparing them with presidential results from the past two decades. From whatever angle of their approach -- age, race, economic status, geography -- they have come to a remarkably similar conclusion. Almost all indicators are pressing the Republicans into minority status.

Republicans are still capable of winning individual elections, but until they find a way to reverse, or at least minimize, these broader changes in the country, their chances of returning to majority status will be severely reduced.

The American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution convened a stellar cast on Friday to review what has been learned since November. The panel included Robert Lang of Virginia Tech; Ruy Teixeira of the Center for American Progress; William Frey of the Brookings Institution; Bill Bishop, a Texas writer and author of "The Big Sort"; Scott Keeter of the Pew Research Center; and Ronald Brownstein of Atlantic Media. They presented a wealth of data about what happened in 2008 and offered conclusions that would alarm any Republican hopeful of a quick turnaround in the party's fortunes.

Democrats have won the popular vote in four of the past five elections, though in one case (2000) they did not end up in the White House. In years in which they have also won the electoral vote, Democrats have racked up sizable margins. Obama bested John McCain by 365 to 173, and Bill Clinton's two victories were in the same range. George W. Bush's two electoral-college victories were narrow; he won 271 votes in the disputed election of 2000 and 286 in his 2004 reelection.

What has brought this about? It's not just one thing -- it's everything. Start with the Democrats' success in the suburbs. Lang's formula is that demography and density have combined to help Democrats: They dominate not just the cities but also the urbanized suburbs that contain the largest share of the suburban population in America.


Demographically, the forces at work have chipped away at what was once a GOP-leaning majority in the country. The most important is minorities' rising share of the vote. Whites accounted for 76 percent of the overall electorate last November, down from 85 percent in 1988.

In the last election, there were more than 2 million additional African American voters, about 2 million more Hispanic voters and about a million more Asian American voters. All are groups in which Obama increased the Democratic share of the vote over 2004. Frey estimated that minority voters in nine states made the difference in Obama's victory margin.

Republicans can't reverse the demographic trends; their only solution is to increase their share of the minority vote. Opposing Judge Sonia Sotomayor, Obama's Supreme Court nominee, because of her pride in being a Latina won't help solve that problem.

There was much attention paid to Obama's trouble winning the votes of white working-class voters. The bad news for Republicans is that these voters represent a declining share of the electorate.

Since 1988, that group's proportion of the national electorate has dropped by 15 percentage points. In Pennsylvania, Teixeira reported, it has declined by 25 percentage points. Teixeira reported that Obama actually won the votes of working-class whites ages 25 to 29; at this point, they appear more culturally liberal than their elders.

As the working-class vote shrinks, the college-educated vote increases, and Democrats are gaining a greater share of these voters. Democrats lost white college graduates by 20 percentage points in 1988 but by four points last November. That is another big reason they have gained strength in the suburbs.


GOP strategist Mike Murphy described this in Time magazine as a coming Republican ice age. Republicans will need a major shift to begin to reverse these trends. That could start if there is a backlash against Obama's governance -- and the president's agenda certainly will test the country's tolerance for a big dose of government. But Republicans will need to retool in other ways to make themselves more appealing to a changing population. That debate has barely begun.

More to the point, the GOP cannot reach this goal as long as they let Rush Limbaugh and his ilk define the party, or "leaders" like Newt Gingrich lead them into isolation.

Of course this is why these people actually want Obama to fail, it's their only hope to keep the GOP in its old mold.

ENVIRONMENT - More Evidence, Climate Change

"CLIMATE CHANGE: 'We Have Run Out of Time'" by Julio Godoy, IPS 6/14/2009

"We have run out of time," Ashok Khosla, president of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the world's largest environmental association, told IPS. "Climate change is happening at a swifter speed than we thought so far."

Khosla, an Indian national, holds degrees in physics and natural sciences, and has taught and worked on environmental and social economics since the 1970s. He leads several non-governmental organizations committed to human development.

Katherine Richardson, a leading marine biologist researching the effect of climate change effect on the oceans, told IPS, "Sea levels are rising 50 percent faster than expected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

"If humankind does not stop climate change in the immediate future, at the observed present rate sea levels shall rise by at least one meter by the year 2010." This would aggravate the catastrophic consequences already forecast for human settlements along coasts, especially in the developing world, she said.

The acidity of oceans' water is also increasing rapidly, Richardson said. "If nothing changes to stop global warming, by 2065 no region will have corals."

This degradation of the oceans has been provoked by a fast rise in greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions. "The emissions in the last three or four years were all above the estimated range of projections," Richardson said. "Since 1990, emissions have risen by 17 percent."

This growth in GHG emissions since 1990 has important relative and absolute value because that year's emissions are used to measure reductions foreseen in the Kyoto protocol. Under Kyoto, industrialized countries agreed to reduce their collective GHG emissions by 5.2 percent compared to 1990 levels.

The growth is dramatic, because "societies and ecosystems are highly vulnerable to even modest levels of climate change. Temperature rises above two degrees Celsius will be very difficult for contemporary societies to cope with," Richardson said.

Khosla said that conventional wisdom on climate change is that average rise in temperatures should not go beyond two degrees Celsius in order to keep rising concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere below 400 parts per million (ppm).

"But we are already at 387 ppm," Khosla said. "We have practically no time to stop this growth of greenhouse gases emissions."

Despite intense international dialogue over the last 40 years on the environmental consequences of economic growth, and almost 20 years of debates on how to tackle climate change and solve the environmental crisis associated with global warming, "practically nothing has been reached so far," Ian Dunlop, an Australian economist and expert on energy told IPS.

"Since 1972, when the Club of Rome published its study on the 'Limits of Growth', and outlined the problem of unsustainable economic growth, humankind has proved incapable of accepting, so far, that the most important factor for our own survival is the preservation of a biosphere fit for human habitation," Dunlop said. The Club of Rome is a global think-tank that carried out pioneering work on climate change.

Richardson, Khosla, and Dunlop were in Rome Jun. 12-13 to participate in the international forum on climate change organized by GLOBE. The forum brought together more than 100 environmental legislators from 13 countries, and several scientists and experts.

Dunlop pointed out that because of the global economic depression, industrialized nations are trying to encourage more consumption. "Governments are applying economic measures conceived some 80 years ago to stimulate old industries and save banks, and by so doing are skyrocketing their deficits and debts, thus crowding out investments in environmental policies," he said.

The solutions for tackling climate change are clear, Dunlop said. "The problem is that vested interests, representing the old economy, which caused climate change, keep a tight hold of politics."

Khosla said the world is ravaged by a demographic crisis and by an unjust concentration of income, closely linked to a dramatic degradation of the environment.

"The richest fifth of the world's population takes some 85 percent of the world's income," Khosla said. "Meanwhile 2.5 billion people, well over one- third of the world's population, must survive with less than two dollars per day."

At the same time, the poorest people are the main victims of the environmental degradation associated with climate change and the depletion of nature by the present economic model. "Some three to four billion people are surviving on a landscape of poverty, vulnerability, and environmental degradation," Khosla said.

New global policies must, he said, aim to increase human development in the poorest countries to solve "the climate change paradox: by 2050, the world will have several billion extra tonnes of carbon emissions, unless the poorest populations have access to higher levels of energy services." This is only possible with "human, sustainable development, now, and for all inhabitants of the world."

Colin Bradford, economist at the Brookings Institute in the U.S., called on governments to "recover economics from neo-liberal ideologies." Since the 1970s, he said, following the rise to power of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher and former U.S. president Ronald Reagan, "economics stopped to be a social science and became a prisoner of ideologues."
These ideologues' belief that free markets would correct themselves, and set the prices right, "has proven utterly wrong," Bradford told IPS. "For instance, the oil market price is wrong, the carbon market price is wrong, both are too low."

The prices of both have a strong impact on climate change. A low price makes both fossil fuels more competitive compared with low-carbon energy sources. Scientists agree that the combustion of fossil fuels, which produces high amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, is the main cause of global warming and climate change. (END/2009)

Note the scientific stipulations in the article. This is how science works, admission of NOT having firm prof, but a trend or indication of a problem.

Add this to evidence from other studies, and the predictions become more coherent and meaningful.

POLITICS - It's About Time, Tobacco Regulation

"Congress Passes Measure on Tobacco Regulation" by DUFF WILSON, New York Times

The House moved quickly Friday to pass the Senate’s tobacco bill and send it to the White House, where President Obama promised to sign it.

Mr. Obama, who himself has struggled to quit smoking, said the measure would “protect our kids and improve our public health.” Appearing in the Rose Garden just moments after the House vote, he said the tobacco legislation was “a bill that truly defines changes in Washington” and one that “changes the way Washington works and who it works for.”

The law would for the first time give the Food and Drug Administration the authority to regulate tobacco products, which kill more than 400,000 people in this country each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The House vote on Friday was 307 to 97, and followed Senate passage of the measure 79 to 17 on Thursday. A key to Senate passage was a vote earlier in the week to overcome a filibuster, by a two-vote margin.

Under the law, the F.D.A. will be able to set product standards and ban some chemicals in tobacco products, but not totally ban addictive nicotine. The F.D.A. will set up a new tobacco regulatory office financed by industry fees, which are expected to be $85 million in the first year and as much as $700 million annually within 10 years.

The F.D.A. would have the power not only to consider changing existing products, but also to ban new products unless the agency found they contributed to overall public health.

The F.D.A. is charged with imposing a ban within 15 months on tobacco advertising within 1,000 feet of schools and playgrounds, a measure that is likely to draw court challenges from the tobacco industry, saying it violates the First Amendment.

Also, within one year, the industry will be banned from claiming products are “light,” “mild” or “low tar,” terms that have been found to mislead smokers into thinking the products are safer when they are not.

The law provides that by 2012, new, graphic warning labels must be designed and approved by the F.D.A. and occupy 50 percent of the space on each package of cigarettes. According to David Adelman, a tobacco industry analyst for Morgan Stanley, the larger warning is a key part of the new legislation, exposing the industry to increased financial risk through lower sales.

“The newer warning label requirement in the Senate bill could compromise the graphics appearance of all U.S. cigarette brands,” Mr. Adelman wrote in a note to investors on Friday.

The Senate required a larger warning than the one provided for in a bill the House had previously passed and required that it contain “color graphics depicting the negative health consequences of smoking.” That is likely to include photographs of cancerous and diseased tissue, similar to those that run on cigarette packs in Canada.

Seeking to combat youth smoking — Mr. Obama noted that an additional 1,000 or so Americans under the age of 18 become regular smokers each day — the legislation will quickly ban most flavoring in tobacco and raise penalties for sales of tobacco to under-age buyers.

But in a political compromise, it exempted one flavoring, menthol, which masks the harshness of tobacco and accounts for about one-quarter of the market.

Some antismoking groups, particularly those representing African-Americans, had wanted the law’s ban on tobacco flavorings to include menthol. Mentholated brands are preferred by three-quarters of black smokers, who also have a disproportionate share of lung cancer.

Menthol is to be studied by the F.D.A. by 2011, though, and the agency will have the power to ban it, if the evidence warrants.

The tobacco legislation was supported by the Altria Group — the parent of Philip Morris, which produces the dominant Marlboro brand — and was opposed by other major cigarette makers, which argued it would protect Philip Morris and stifle innovation.

Last year, the House passed similar legislation, but the Senate did not act in the closing weeks of Congress in the fall. At the time, President George W. Bush threatened a veto.

Antismoking advocacy groups like the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network were praising Congress on Friday.

“This bill is proof positive that the tobacco industry is no longer running the show on Capitol Hill and that the health of Americans is a top priority for our elected officials,” the group’s chief executive, John R. Seffrin, said in a statement.


Last year, the House passed similar legislation, but the Senate did not act in the closing weeks of Congress last fall.

At the time, President Bush was threatening to veto it.

At least this is one vote that Big Tobacco could NOT "influence" (aka buy).

POLITICS - GOP Confronts Greenhouse Gases, Prohibiting Regulation

"GOP American Energy Act: Impact Of Global Warming ‘Shall Not Be Considered For Any Purpose’" by Brad Johnson, Think Progress

A Republican energy plan launched with great fanfare attempts to deny the threat of global warming out of existence. Today, Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN), the leader of the Republican “American Energy Solutions Group” and a prominent denier of climate change science, unveiled the latest repackaging of Bush-era dirty energy policies. The “American Energy Act” confronts the problem of greenhouse gases head on — by prohibiting their regulation (PDF download):

Click for larger image

The Republican response to our dependence on fossil fuels and their pollution is to give billions of dollars in new tax breaks and subsidies to the oil, coal, and nuclear industries, while rolling back environmental protections, despite the claims of their Orwellian talking points.

Further following George Orwell’s principles of Newspeak, the GOP website that trumpets this dirty legislation as an “all-of-the-above solution” attempts to erase the climate threat from existence by leaving out mention of global warming in the bill’s talking points document and summary. Unfortunately for Pence and his climate denier colleagues, they haven’t figured out how to rewrite the laws of physics as well.

Typical GOP. A so-called "regulation" with no teeth.

As if the American people will not recognize this as protecting big-money contributers (aka big business) to the GOP and BLIND adherence to No Regulation conservative commandment.

IRAN - Rigged Election?

"Unrest Deepens as Critics Are Detained" by ROBERT F. WORTH and NAZILA FATHI , New York Times 6/14/2009


Violence and acrimony over Iran’s disputed election intensified on Sunday, with word spreading that more than 100 prominent opposition members had been detained, riots erupting in Tehran and other cities, and the triumphant incumbent hinting that his top challenger risks punishment for questioning the result.

Two of the three opposition candidates and a clerical group issued fresh statements requesting an annulment of the election on Friday, which gave a lopsided victory to the incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a conservative who has become a polarizing figure at home and abroad. They did so despite a decree from Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that the outcome was fair.

It was unclear how far Mr. Ahmadinejad’s adversaries were willing or able to go in challenging the result. But supporters of the opposition candidates skirmished with baton-wielding riot police officers on the edges of a government-organized victory rally in Tehran. There were also reports of riots in other Iranian cities, and the protests were echoed by Iranians demonstrating against the election results in Washington and in several European capitals.

Mr. Ahmadinejad dismissed the opposition’s allegations of fraud, saying that the victory had given him a bigger mandate than ever. He criticized Mir Hussein Moussavi, the main opposition candidate — who remained at home on Sunday with security forces closely monitoring his movements — in a veiled statement that many here saw as a threat.

“He ran a red light, and he got a traffic ticket,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said of his rival during a news conference at the presidential palace.

Those resisting the election results gained a potentially important new ally on Sunday when a moderate clerical body, the Association of Combatant Clergy, issued a statement posted on reformist Web sites saying that the vote was rigged and calling for it to be annulled. The statement warned that “if this process becomes the norm, the republican aspect of the regime will be damaged and people will lose confidence in the system.”

Needless to say, this is makes the issue of Iran's nuclear ambitions even more troublesome.


"Iranian protesters contest Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's reelection" by Borzou Daragahi and Ramin Mostaghim, Los Angeles Times


Massive rivers of people defied authorities and poured into Tehran's Freedom Square today chanting "Death to the dictator!" and "We want our vote back!" in an unprecedented display of civil disobedience and a rebuke to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, reelected president over the weekend amid allegations of rampant voter fraud.

The protesters defied Interior Ministry warnings broadcast on state television and radio that anyone showing up would be beaten or worse. They managed to find out about the event and turned out in droves despite a media clampdown that included the shuttering of numerous opposition websites -- including those linking to challenger Mir-Hossein Mousavi -- the jamming of satellite news channels and the shutdown of text-messaging systems.

As night fell, the Associated Press reported gunfire from a pro-government militia base next to the demonstration that killed one and injured others.

Generally, the event appeared peaceful. In the crowd, women in flowing black chadors mingled with factory owners. College students wearing the headbands and ribbons of green, the color of the Mousavi campaign, walked side by side with government employees with salt-and-pepper hair. Bazaar laborers in black T-shirts and motorcycle deliverymen waved their hands in the air alongside elegantly coiffed women in designer sunglasses.