Tuesday, November 30, 2010

AMERICA - Civil War and Secession

"Celebrating Secession Without the Slaves" by KATHARINE Q. SEELYE, New York Times 11/29/2010


The Civil War, the most wrenching and bloody episode in American history, may not seem like much of a cause for celebration, especially in the South.

And yet, as the 150th anniversary of the four-year conflict gets under way, some groups in the old Confederacy are planning at least a certain amount of hoopla, chiefly around the glory days of secession, when 11 states declared their sovereignty under a banner of states’ rights and broke from the union.

This issue highlights a very long problem in the area of States Rights. Essentially the belief that the Constitution of the United States of America (aka Federal Constitution) does NOT override State Constitutions nor law.

Our Federal Constitution is the supreme law of our land, therefore DOES override State laws.

Also note Article IV, Section 3:

New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new State shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by Junction of two or more States, or Parts of States, without Consent of the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of Congress.

The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.

In essence, a State cannot leave our union without consent of Congress.

The latest example that has its origin in State Rights, is the Tea Party movement to repeal of the 14th Amendment, particularly Section 1:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.

Which is an attempt to allow States to decide who is a citizen.

These people do not realize that the protection of THEIR rights, and human rights, is dependent on Federal Constitutional protections.

To prevent States from violating OUR rights, you NEED a supreme law of the land.

IRAN - World Security Being Served

"Bombings Hit Atomic Experts in Iran Streets" by WILLIAM YONG and ROBERT F. WORTH, New York Times 11/29/2010


Unidentified assailants riding motorcycles carried out separate bomb attacks here on Monday against two of the country’s top nuclear scientists, killing one and prompting accusations that the United States and Israel were again trying to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program.

The slain scientist, Majid Shahriari, managed a “major project” for the country’s Atomic Energy Organization, Iran’s nuclear chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, told the semiofficial IRNA news agency. His wounded colleague, Fereydoon Abbasi, is believed to be even more important; he is on the United Nations Security Council’s sanctions list for ties to the Iranian nuclear effort.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that “undoubtedly the hand of the Zionist regime and Western governments is involved” in the attacks. He also publicly acknowledged, apparently for the first time, that the country’s nuclear program had been disrupted recently by malicious computer software that attacked its centrifuges.

The two scientists are among the most prominent in the Iranian nuclear world, and the brazen daylight attacks on them seemed certain to worsen tensions over the country’s controversial uranium enrichment efforts.

Israel and the United States have often signaled that they will not tolerate a nuclear Iran. Neither has acknowledged pursuing sabotage or assassinations there, but both are widely believed to be pursuing ways to undermine the country’s nuclear program short of bombing reactor sites, including damaging the centrifuges to slow down the production of enriched uranium.

“They’re bad people, and the work they do is exactly what you need to design a bomb,” said a federal official who assesses scientific intelligence and spoke on condition of anonymity. “They’re both top scientists.”

Philip J. Crowley, the State Department spokesman, did not address the Iranian accusations in detail. “All I can say is we decry acts of terrorism wherever they occur and beyond that, we do not have any information on what happened,” he said.

Regardless of who did this, score one for WORLD security.


"In Colorado, Ice Age 'Fossils Were Pouring Out of the Ground'"
PBS Newshour 11/29/2010

SECURITY - Oregon Plotter Grooming

"Oregon Bomb Plot Suspect's Defense Challenges FBI Over 'Grooming'"
PBS Newshour 11/29/2010

WORLD - WikiLeaks & Diplomacy

"How Will New WikiLeaks Revelations Affect Diplomatic Candor?"
PBS Newshour 11/29/2010


ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI, former adviser, U.S. National Security: Well, you know, the best assessment I can give is to cite a phrase which used to be used very often in Vienna when it was the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

And when some crisis would take place, it would be said, it's catastrophic, but not serious. And this is the way I look at. I think Steve has put his finger on it by saying that some things will pass. Of course, some things will endure.

But I think the most serious issues are not those which are getting the headlines right now. Who cares if Berlusconi is described as a clown. Most Italians agree with that. Who cares if Putin is described as an alpha dog? He probably is flattered by it.

The real issue is, who is feeding Wikipedia on this issue -- Wiki -- Wiki -- WikiLeaks on this issue? They're getting a lot of information which seems trivial, inconsequential, but some of it seems surprisingly pointed.

JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour): Well, what are you referring to?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Well, for example, there are references to a report by our officials that some Chinese leaders favor a reunified Korea under South Korea.

This is clearly designed to embarrass the Chinese and our relationship with them. The very pointed references to Arab leaders could have as their objective undermining their political credibility at home, because this kind of public identification of their hostility towards Iran could actually play against them at home.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And I want to ask you about that, because the impression is -- and I want to turn to Steve Hadley on this as well -- Saudi Arabia has not been public about its view, as -- and we heard the quote from King Abdullah, that the U.S. should go after or Israel should go after Iran and its nuclear weapons program.

So, what -- what effect could this have now that that's out there that it's confirmed?

STEPHEN HADLEY, former adviser, U.S. National Security: Well, actually, I don't think that's new.

And a lot of people have been saying, without going into details and without going into these sort of sensational quotes, that the Arab states are very concerned about Iran, very concerned about the impact of a nuclear Iran. People have been saying that's one of the odd things about how Israel and the Arab states actually have common cause about their concern about Iran.

So, I think the fact that there is concern is not new. But, unfortunately, the way it is expressed, with these, you know, very headline-grabbing phrases, that's what's unfortunate and that's what's embarrassing. And that's what may make people a little bit less candid in their communications in the future.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And what is it -- what are you worried about with regard to the knowledge that...

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: It's not a question of worry. It's, rather, a question of whether WikiLeaks are being manipulated by interested parties that want to either complicate our relationship with other governments or want to undermine some governments, because some of these items that are being emphasized and have surfaced are very pointed.

And I wonder whether, in fact, there aren't some operations internationally, intelligence services, that are feeding stuff to WikiLeaks, because it is a unique opportunity to embarrass us, to embarrass our position, but also to undermine our relations with particular governments.

For example, leaving aside the personal gossip about Sarkozy or Berlusconi or Putin, the business about the Turks is clearly calculated in terms of its potential impact on disrupting the American-Turkish relationship.

Monday, November 29, 2010

POLITICS - Republican Sabotage in the Works

"Will GOP sabotage the economy? Again?" by the Editorial Board, St. Louis Today 11/26/2010

As the long Thanksgiving weekend began, commentators on the left were issuing dire warnings that Republicans in Congress would attempt to sabotage the economy.

What, again?

No, this time (the theory goes) it would be deliberate, based on the assumption that to the extent that the national economic picture improves, it helps President Barack Obama’s chances of re-election in 2012.

As Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky put it right before the midterm elections, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

Two days after the election, Mr. McConnell doubled down. “Over the past week, some have said it was indelicate of me to suggest that our top political priority over the next two years should be to deny President Obama a second term in office,” he said in a speech at the Heritage Foundation.

“But the fact is, if our primary legislative goals are to repeal and replace the health spending bill; to end the bailouts; cut spending; and shrink the size and scope of government, the only way to do all these things it is to put someone in the White House who won’t veto any of these things.”

The best way to do that: Make sure the economy still is in the tank two years from now.

Of course, the Republicans will block economic recovery efforts, but “sabotage” is a little harsh. Their strategy falls squarely in the middle of today’s mainstream Republican philosophy: Smaller government (except for defense spending and breaks for banks and businesses) and intransigence on any issue larger than pardoning the official Thanksgiving turkeys.

A party that is dragging feet on a nuclear arms treaty and is blocking confirmation of 23 badly needed federal judges and two dozen executive branch nominees and that may be willing to imperil the nation next spring over raising the debt ceiling would have no trouble playing games with economic recovery.

The GOP’s idea of an economic recovery plan is Trickle-Down-o-Rama: extending tax cuts for the richest 2 percent of Americans at a cost of $700 billion over 10 years with minimal effect on the economy.

The economy needs another large-scale round of stimulus, but that’s a non-starter. The same GOP and conservative Democrats who support taking $700 billion off the books by extending tax cuts for the rich also utterly oppose running up any more deficits. Go figure.

There is little doubt that their intransigence will mean more pain for the middle class and working poor — higher unemployment (without any extension of unemployment benefits this time), slow growth and reduced consumer spending. More Americans will lose their homes to foreclosure.

The economy may not need the Republicans’ help to stay mired in a funk. The end of the housing bubble that ushered in the 2007-2009 recession exposed structural problems in the economy that had been building a long time. America had been living on E-Z credit at the same time the middle class was being chewed to pieces.

Corporate profits are at an all-time high. The middle class has not recovered and certainly won’t by 2012. America has entered an era of diminished opportunity.

This will yield continuing volatility in the electorate. Mr. Obama rode that volatility to victory in 2008; the Republicans did so this year. The next two years will be about affixing blame.

I'm not the only one who sees the GOP handwriting on the wall. Win at ALL costs even if that means bringing 98% of Americans closer to total ruin.

POLITICS - GOP, Party of NO Start

"On New START, GOP leaders put politics before patriotism" by Cynthia Tucker, Atlanta Journal-Constitution 11/24/2010

Condoleezza Rice believes the U.S. Senate should ratify a new arms control treaty with Russia. So does her successor, Hillary Clinton. Henry Kissinger wants it, as does Madeleine Albright.

Sen. Dick Lugar, top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is a high-profile supporter of the treaty. So is former Sen. Sam Nunn, a Georgia Democrat who once worked with Lugar to create a program to dismantle nuclear weapons.

That all-star backing for the New START treaty would seem to suggest that its ratification will be a simple matter. You’d think conservative Republicans, after learning that current and former military leaders also back New START, would find the treaty an easy call to bi-partisanship.

Well, you’d be wrong. A contingent of GOP Senators has decided that the opportunity to weaken President Obama abroad and embarrass him at home is more important than patriotic duty. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Arizona), Senate Republicans’ point man on the treaty, announced last week that he will block a vote on the pact.

This isn’t what you’d expect from a “loyal” opposition. But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was not exactly subtle in declaring the most important goal for Senate Republicans — stopping Obama from gaining a second term.

“It seems some of our friends on the conservative side need to ask themselves the question, ‘Are we really putting U.S. security first?’ ” said Nunn, who now heads a Washington-based, non-partisan outfit called the Nuclear Threat Initiative. “Those who are trying to shoot Obama, the bullet is going to go right through Obama and shoot U.S. credibility in the world.”

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, has called the treaty “essential to our future security.” The old Soviet Union is dead, but Russia remains a critical player on the world stage. We need its help to keep secure supply routes into Afghanistan and, most important, the U.S. needs Russia to help rein in Iran. If the U.S. ratifies the treaty, our relationship with Russia will be strengthened.

But for those ultra-conservatives who tend toward unilateralism — who believe the United States can conduct her affairs without allies — there is still another critical reason to ratify the treaty: Without it, the U.S. has no ability to send inspectors to check on the Russian nuclear arsenal. The old START treaty, which gave Russia and the United States each the right to inspect the other’s nuclear weapons, expired last December.

The end of that agreement has persuaded Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) to support New START. “We’ve gone 19 years with our own agents being able, at no notice, to verify Russia’s weapons,” he told me.

“We learned a lesson on 9/11 about what happens when we don’t have human intelligence. At a time when we’re trying to get transparency of some type on Iran, to turn our backs on the transparency we’ve had for 19 years doesn’t make sense.”

But the weaken-Obama-at-all-costs crowd continues to hold out, claiming, among other things, that the treaty would interfere with our ability to modernize our nuclear weapons. It wouldn’t. Obama has pledged $84 billion over ten years to modernize, considerably more than his predecessor spent and, probably, considerably more than is needed.

Some critics also contend that the treaty would limit the ability of the United States to defend itself. That’s just not so. Both Russia and the U.S. would retain enough nukes to “basically destroy each other and destroy a large part of the Earth, God’s creation,” Nunn pointed out.

Perhaps the oddest thing about Republican opposition is this: It is an approach to Russia’s nuclear arsenal endorsed by Ronald Reagan, the patron saint of the modern conservative movement. The very first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty — or START — was proposed by Reagan, who also popularized the phrase “trust but verify.”

According to ultra-conservative stalwart Pat Buchanan, Reagan would have supported this new pact. In a recent column, Buchanan wrote, “. . .Simply because this treaty is ‘Obama’s treaty’ does not mean it is not in America’s interest.”

But for many in the current GOP leadership, signing on to “Obama’s treaty” would not be in their short-term political interest. And, unfortunately, that’s more important to them than their duty to their country.

More evidence that the GOP has become the party of NO compromise where "moderate" is a dirty word.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

WORLD - The NATO Squeeze

"Petraeus: NATO to squeeze the life out of Taliban" from AP, Washington Post 11/23/2010

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan says the military alliance there has an "anaconda strategy" aimed "to squeeze the life" out of the Taliban and their allies.

Gen. David Petraeus said Tuesday the coalition's goal in Afghanistan is not to turn the war-torn country into a democratic republic like Switzerland, but raise its security and governance to a level when Afghans can take the lead.

He made the remarks after a NATO summit where the alliance embraced Afghan President Hamid Karzai's goal to have Afghan forces take control of security by the end of 2014.

HEALTHCARE - The Need to Concentrate on Giving Health Care

"New Rules Tell Insurers: Spend More on Care" by ROBERT PEAR, New York Times 11/22/2010


The Obama administration issued new federal rules on Monday that will require many health insurance companies to spend more on medical care and allocate less to profits, executive compensation, marketing and overhead expenses.

The rules, intended to benefit consumers, vastly expand federal authority to direct the use of premiums collected by companies like Aetna, Humana, UnitedHealth and WellPoint. While some states have had such requirements, Monday’s announcement is the first such mandate by the federal government and grows out of the new national health care law.

“Millions of Americans will get better value for their health insurance premium dollar,” Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, said in issuing the rules.

Ms. Sebelius said the rules would protect nearly 75 million people: 10.6 million with individual policies, 24.2 million with small-group coverage and 40 million covered by large employers.

Starting next year, she said, insurers in the individual and small-group markets must spend at least 80 percent of their premium revenues on medical care and activities to improve the quality of care. Insurers in the large-group market must spend at least 85 percent of premium dollars for those purposes.

You can already hear the GOP shouting protests. After all, these companies are having such huge "looses" (NOT) and their executives are already having a hard time paying for their limos, yachts, and villas.

The man-on-the-street should not expect more to be spent on actually providing health care.

Monday, November 22, 2010

HEALTHCARE - "Greed, greed never changes"

"Consumer Risks Feared as Health Law Spurs Mergers" by ROBERT PEAR, New York Times 11/20/2010


When Congress passed the health care law, it envisioned doctors and hospitals joining forces, coordinating care and holding down costs, with the prospect of earning government bonuses for controlling costs.

Now, eight months into the new law there is a growing frenzy of mergers involving hospitals, clinics and doctor groups eager to share costs and savings, and cash in on the incentives. They, in turn, have deployed a small army of lawyers and lobbyists trying to persuade the Obama administration to relax or waive a body of older laws intended to thwart health care monopolies, and to protect against shoddy care and fraudulent billing of patients or Medicare.

Consumer advocates fear that the health care law could worsen some of the very problems it was meant to solve — by reducing competition, driving up costs and creating incentives for doctors and hospitals to stint on care, in order to retain their cost-saving bonuses.

“The new law is already encouraging a wave of mergers, joint ventures and alliances in the health care industry,” said Prof. Thomas L. Greaney, an expert on health and antitrust law at St. Louis University. “The risk that dominant providers and dominant insurers may exercise their market power, individually or jointly, has never been greater.”

Lobbyists and industry groups are bearing down on the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department, which enforce the antitrust laws, and the inspector general’s office at the Department of Health and Human Services, which ferrets out Medicare fraud.

Those agencies are writing regulations to govern the new entities, known as accountable care organizations. They face a delicate task: balancing the potential benefits of clinical cooperation with the need to enforce fraud, abuse and antitrust laws.

“If accountable care organizations end up stifling rather than unleashing competition,” said Jon Leibowitz, the chairman of the trade commission, “we will have let one of the great opportunities for health care reform slip away.”

Congress’s purpose was to foster cooperation in a health care system that is notoriously fragmented. The hope was that the new law would push doctors, hospitals and other health care providers to come together and jointly take responsibility for the cost and quality of care of patients, especially Medicare beneficiaries.

Experts say patients can benefit from a network of care and greater coordination between doctors and hospitals.

(My post title is a paraphrase from one of my favorite PC game series, Fallout)

The "Army of Greed" (corporate lawyers, lobbyist, etc) are out in force to get more money by weakening (or killing) regulations that protect consumers/people. Profit before people.

Also note that what I call 'true HMOs' or 'HMO Health Care Providers,' like Kaiser Permanente (which I belong to) already do what "accountable care organizations" are intended to do. They run and own hospitals/clinics, pharmacies, and medical labs. The doctors and nurses are employees. Which is why, from what I see, they ARE more cost efficient AND provide better coordinated care. I have a very long view because my entire family has been with Kaiser since the 1960's and they have provided excellent care, including a wide choice of Primary Care Physicians.

This is in contrast to Health Insurance Providers, which the idea of "accountable care organizations" is intended to address.

Friday, November 19, 2010

ECONOMY - A Tail of Two GMs

"The Ghosts of ‘Old G.M.’" by PAUL CLEMENS, New York Times 11/17/2010


IT is fitting that the Motors Liquidation Company — that portion of General Motors that was sliced off during its bankruptcy and so is not a part of the “New G.M.” that is having its initial public offering this week — has been shortened in common parlance to “Old G.M.” “Old” is the euphemism we use when talking about a closed auto factory, and Old G.M has plenty of old plants.

Some of these plants will find buyers and be put to new uses. But many — perhaps most — will not. They’re old and unwanted, and as I’m from Detroit, where one can’t help but develop a fondness for the forgotten, I find myself thinking of Old G.M. and its old plants even as press attention turns to the new company and the initial public offering that’s supposed to help it pay off the $40 billion it still owes the government.

I understand why Old G.M. has faded to the background, but my problem with the current news foreground is this: I can’t consistently remember what I.P.O. even stands for. And, while I know that they exist, I wonder, do I.P.O.’s actually exist? How would I recognize an I.P.O. if I bumped into one?

I.P.O. = Initial Public Offering (of stock)
I do know what closed auto plants look like, though, and I bump into plenty of them on my daily drives through Detroit. Depending on the day, I’ll pass by the old Continental plant, the old Budd plant, the old Packard plant and the old Fisher Body plant, among others.

For the better part of a year in 2007 and ’08, I paid visits to the old Budd Company stamping plant on Detroit’s East Side. Recently closed auto plants are sad places, enough to drive the sunniest disposition to dark thoughts. I was beginning research on a book, and while at that time a few big auto suppliers like Delphi were already in bankruptcy, we had no idea that the Chrysler and G.M. bankruptcies, and the Great Recession itself, were around the corner. “Carmageddon,” as it’s been called, was unthinkable.

The Budd factory had for more than 80 years produced brake drums, wheels and auto-body stampings for the major car companies. I spent most of my time there watching the plant’s press lines be taken apart to be shipped abroad — to Mexico, to Brazil. The cast of characters in the dismantling was equally international: Spanish, Portuguese and German were among the languages spoken, as well as English of various dialects.

HEALTHCARE - More Family Physicians, California Style

"In California, Facing Down a Family Physician Shortage"
PBS Newshour Healthcare Report Series 11/18/2010

Excerpt from transcript

BETTY ANN BOWSER (Newshour): One of the things driving the shortage is money. The average medical student graduates owing more than $200,000 in educational loans. So, having to pay all that back is usually a factor when med students pick a career.

A new study just released here at U.C. Davis in Northern California of 6,000 doctors nationwide found that the specialists, the oncologists, the radiologists, the orthopedic surgeons, made up to 52 percent more money than the primary care physicians, even though the family doctors saw more patients.

PAUL LEIGH, health economist, University of California Davis: The disparity in wages between specialists and primary care physicians over a lifetime can be $2 million. So, that's a considerable incentive there for students to choose a specialty over primary care.

Can we fix the Primary Physician shortage by fixing the money (loan payback) problem?

Some thoughts:
  • Have federal and state government loan grantees with the REQUIREMENT for much longer loan periods with lower payments (something like 30yr, and longer, FIXED RATE mortgages)

  • Government subsidies for doctor education IF they pledge to go into Primary Care

  • Pass state and federal laws that MANDATE that Primary Care Physicians get ADDITIONAL pay per patient they see, with safeguards against overburdening doctors

ECONOMY - Financial Meltdown Blame-Game

"Ratings Agencies Among Top 'Devils' of Meltdown, Authors Contend"
PBS Newshour 11/18/2010

Excerpts from transcript

JOE NOCERA, co-author, "All the Devils Are Here": I certainly would put the rating agencies right at the top of my list of bad guys, or my list of devils.

A place like Moody's took a culture that had a reputation for some integrity, and completely corrupted it in a drive for market share and profits.

PAUL SOLMAN (Newshour): So, biggest culprit, ratings agencies; you agree?

BETHANY MCLEAN, co-author, "All the Devils Are Here": I do agree. If they hadn't taken subprime mortgages and rated enormous quantities of them AAA, meaning they gave those bonds the same credit rating as the U.S. government debt has, this -- this whole thing couldn't have happened, because debt that is rated AAA is precisely the debt that is snapped up by the largest quantity of buyers all around the world, buyers who are not capable of doing the detailed work to analyze these bonds by themselves.

And yet there is still this myth that these buyers are supposed to be sophisticated buyers, and they're supposed to understand what they're getting into. And the cornerstone of this myth, the thing that makes it all work, is the rating agencies, because the investment banks say, well, we sold AAA securities.

PAUL SOLMAN: But don't you cut ratings agencies any slack? I mean, the incentives are all there for the ratings agencies to do what they did, no?

JOE NOCERA: I don't cut them any slack at all. They are supposed to be protecting investors. That's what their job is. They're not supposed to be in cahoots with the Wall Street firms that are ginning up these securities.

And yet that's what they did. They used to rate normal, old- fashioned corporate bonds. And then -- then this new form of finance arose called structured finance. And that's all these, you know, mortgage-backed securities bundled into CDOs, so on and so forth, all this complicated stuff.

It became a growth area, a profit area that far outstripped the old fuddy-duddy business of rating government bonds. So, the rating agencies raced, jumped on it. And it just flew. And then the top executives really started to drive the place around the profitability of structured finance. And that's really what happened, more than any other single thing.
PAUL SOLMAN: OK, Republicans or Democrats, who is more responsible?



JOE NOCERA: Both. Republicans want to blame Fannie and Freddie and the government, because they have a hard time accepting the notion that the market failed. Democrats want to blame it on the marketplace, on Wall Street and subprime companies, because they have a hard time accepting that the government didn't do its job. The fact is, neither party did their job.

BETHANY MCLEAN: And, after the crisis, it has become very popular for Republicans to say, well, the Democrats caused this with their focus on homeownership, on putting people in homes who couldn't afford those homes.

But one of the really interesting things, if you go back to the 1990s to the birth of subprime lending, it was never about homeownership.

PAUL SOLMAN: What do you mean it wasn't about homeownership?

BETHANY MCLEAN: It was never about homeownership, because subprime lending grew out of cash-out refinancings, meaning the ability of somebody to go to a bank, refinance their mortgage, and take cash out of their house in order to live on that cash.

And that enabled consumer spending through the 1990s and through the early part of -- of this decade. Most of the business of the major subprime lenders, from Countrywide, to Ameriquest, to New Century, was cash-out refinancing. It wasn't the first-time purchase of homes by homebuyers. And this was celebrated by Republicans, as well as Democrats.
PAUL SOLMAN: Some people have argued that this wasn't not quite a plot or a conspiracy, but a means by which Americans who had companies with stuff to sell could get money into the hands of people whose incomes were stagnant, so they could buy this stuff, that is, lend them the money.

BETHANY MCLEAN: I do not think that was ever an explicit plot. In other words, I don't think any group of people ever sat in a dark room and said, here's what we are going to do, and it's eventually going to bring the financial system down, but we are going to keep this party going while we can.

But I absolutely think that was an implicit plot. In other words, in order to keep the U.S. economy going, you had to keep consumer spending strong. In order to keep consumer spending strong, you had to have consumers whose income otherwise wasn't keeping up have a ready source of cash.

Bold-blue emphasis mine

What this is, a perfect example of greed run amok.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

LAW - Robert's Supreme Court, Long-Winded Fuzzy Rulings

"Justices Are Long on Words but Short on Guidance" by ADAM LIPTAK, New York Times 11/17/2010


In June, the Supreme Court issued a decision on the privacy rights of a police officer whose sexually explicit text messages had been reviewed by his employer. Ever since, lower court judges have struggled to figure out what the decision means.

The case “touches issues of far-reaching significance,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote. Then he explained why the court would decide none of them. A definitive ruling should be avoided, he said, because “it might have implications for future cases that cannot be predicted.”

Justice Antonin Scalia went along with the decision, but he blasted his colleagues for “issuing opaque opinions.”

A month later, Judge Frank M. Hull of the federal appeals court in Atlanta complained that the privacy decision featured “a marked lack of clarity,” and was almost aggressively unhelpful to judges and lawyers.

The Supreme Court under the leadership of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. is often criticized for issuing sweeping and politically polarized decisions. But there is an emerging parallel critique as well, this one concerned with the quality of the court’s judicial craftsmanship.

In decisions on questions great and small, the court often provides only limited or ambiguous guidance to lower courts.

And it increasingly does so at enormous length.

Brown v. Board of Education, the towering 1954 decision that held segregated public schools unconstitutional, managed to do its work in fewer than 4,000 words. When the Roberts court returned to just an aspect of the issue in 2007 in Parents Involved v. Seattle, it published some 47,000 words, enough to rival a short novel. In more routine cases, too, the court has been setting records. The median length of majority opinions reached an all-time high in the last term.

Critics of the court’s work are not primarily focused on the quality of the justices’ writing, though it is often flabby and flat. Instead, they point to reasoning that fails to provide clear guidance to lower courts, sometimes seemingly driven by a desire for unanimity that can lead to fuzzy, unwieldy rulings.

ECONOMY - GM Starts Taxpayer Payback

"U.S. Taxpayers Recover Billions in Sale of G.M. Stock" by MICHAEL J. de la MERCED and BILL VLASIC, New York Times 11/17/2010


American taxpayers’ ownership of General Motors was halved on Wednesday, and billions of dollars in bailout money was returned to the federal government, as a result of the nation’s largest initial stock offering ever.

The offering, which raised $23.1 billion, is bigger and more ambitious than had once seemed possible. But the recently bankrupt automaker will have to build on its revival for the government to recoup its entire $50 billion investment and validate the Obama administration’s decision to keep G.M. from collapsing.

The new shares start trading on Thursday at $33 each. To break even, the Treasury Department will need to sell its remaining 500 million shares at an average price of $53 each in the months and years to come. And while the administration may retain great influence over the company, it may not be able to keep stoking the enthusiasm investors have shown for G.M. stock in recent days.

Still, now that General Motors has shown that it can be profitable, a complete exit by the government could happen even within the next two years. With the offering, G.M. is shedding its ties to the government faster than expected, cutting the Treasury Department’s ownership stake to 26 percent, from nearly 61 percent.

"GM Turns Corner With IPO, but Can It Maintain Momentum?"
PBS Newshour 11/18/2010

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

ECONOMY - Deficits, Looking Back

"One Way to Trim Deficit: Cultivate Growth" by DAVID LEONHARDT, New York Times 11/16/2010


We look back on the late 1990s as a rare time when the federal government ran budget surpluses. We tend to forget that those surpluses came as a surprise to almost everybody.

As late as 1998, the Congressional Budget Office was predicting a deficit for 1999. In fact, Washington ran its biggest surplus in five decades.

What happened? Above all, economic growth. And that may be a big part of the answer to our current problems.

Yes, the government became more fiscally conservative in the 1990s. Both President George H. W. Bush (who doesn’t get enough credit) and President Bill Clinton, working with Congress, raised taxes to attack the 1980s deficits.

But those tax increases were the second most important reason for the surpluses that followed. The most important was the fact that the economy grew more rapidly than expected. The faster growth pushed up incomes and caused more tax revenue to flow into the Treasury.

Today’s looming deficits are almost surely too large to be closed exclusively with growth. The baby boom generation is too big, and the rise in Medicare costs continues to be too steep. Yet growth could still make an enormous difference.

If the economy grew one half of a percentage point faster than forecast each year over the next two decades — no easy feat, to be fair — the country would have to do roughly 40 to 50 percent less deficit-cutting than it now appears, based on my reading of budget data from the economists Alan Auerbach and William Gale.

Need I say? The Party-of-NO, especially in today's atmosphere, will not buy into this. Then again, the GOP has a very long history of ignoring history's lessons.

US NAVY - Memories

These bring back memories of my Navy carrier.

Note that the squadrons I was stationed with did not deploy on the Nimitz, we deployed on the USS Hancock CVA-19, a Midway Class carrier.

Also, the USS Midway is now permanently docked in San Diego, CA as a museum. Its configuration is almost exactly like the USS Hancock.

USS Nimitz Navy Aircraft Carrier Operations



In the Recovery video pay attention to the comments from inside Flight Deck Control, they are very informative.

Also note that the people you see, whose job requires them to stand adjacent to the Arresting Gear will most likely die if the cable snaps after an aircraft catches it, because of the whiplash.

SECURITY - Our Security vs Privacy

"TSA Chief: Disagreement Over Security, Privacy Balance Understandable" Report PBS Newshour, 11/16/2010


MARGARET WARNER (Newshour): The issue was brought to the fore with last month's discovery of timed bombs headed for the U.S. On October 29, British authorities intercepted a shipment from Yemen on a UPS cargo plane bound for Chicago. They found a printer with a toner cartridge that had been rigged with a detonator and a powdered explosive.

A similar device was found aboard a Qatar Airways cargo plane in Dubai that also came from Yemen. At the same time, a furor has erupted over airport security screening for passengers. Two new security measures are at issue, first, the use of full-body scanners, which reveal images of the naked body. They're now in 60 U.S. airports, with more to come.

Some people have balked at submitting to the scan, for reasons ranging from invasion of privacy to fears of radiation. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano insists the scanners are safe and the images are viewed in private, without identifying the passengers.

Those who refuse the scans are subject to new intensive full-body pat-downs. And those, too, have raised hackles.
MARGARET WARNER: Did you here at TSA underestimate the estimate of blowback, of anger from passengers over these more intrusive screening procedures?

JOHN PISTOLE, administrator, Transportation Security Administration: We are a risk-based, intelligence-driven organization. And knowing that, any time we make changes in the protocols that we use to screen passengers, in dealing with the latest intelligence, that we have to do a good job of informing the public as to what we're doing, without providing a road map to the terrorists.

So, that's the tension that we deal with. How much do we inform ahead of time, here's what we're going to be doing, as a counterbalance to the security that we need to ensure that everybody who gets on every flight has been properly screened?

I think there -- reasonable people can disagree as to the balance between the privacy that some people have raised as issues. And I'm sympathetic to those concerns. But the job is really security in terms of, how can we provide the best security?

MARGARET WARNER: Now, Secretary Napolitano said yesterday, well, if people don't want to fly, they have other means of travel.

But that isn't really practical, is it, for a businessperson?

JOHN PISTOLE: You know, if you have two flights, and you have the option of going on the two, and you know, the one, people have been thoroughly screened, and, the other plane, people have opted out and not had a thorough screening, and so you don't have that confidence, I think virtually everybody is going to go with the flight that has thorough screening.

MARGARET WARNER: A lot of passengers are wondering whether these procedures are proportionate to the threat. And I'm just wondering, would, for instance, these more extensive pat-downs and the full-body scans, would they have caught the Christmas Day bomber with the explosives in his underwear?

JOHN PISTOLE: So, I know the threats are real. And I believe that the techniques and the technology we're using today are the best possible that we have. And it gives us the best opportunity for detecting a Christmas Day-type bomber.
MARGARET WARNER: What about the level of radiation? The pilots and flight attendants are objecting, saying it's going to expose them to a higher level than is safe. Have you done any kind of testing? Do you know how much radiation an individual is exposed to and how that measures up to what is allowable, what's safe?

JOHN PISTOLE: There have been a number of studies done, Margaret, that deal with this, whether by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, NIST, or the FDA, or Johns Hopkins, which have independently assessed this, because, obviously, that's something we're concerned about. What is that exposure?

They have all come back to say that they're -- the exposure is very, very minimal. It's equivalent to -- I have heard several analogies -- a couple minutes of flight, like, at 30,000 feet, the same amount of exposure you would get there. So, it's well, well within all the safety standards that have been set.

This is the world we live in today, thanks to fanatics around the world (including USA).

This issue no longer applies to me, since I don't travel long distances any more. During my Navy carrier I flew many times (including landing on Aircraft Carriers), so flying is not the problem. My problem IS having to restrict what I can carry with me on an airplane.

AMERICA - Honor and Humility

"Giunta on Medal of Honor: 'I Can't Wear This for Myself'"
PBS Newshour 11/16/2010

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

ECONOMY - New York Times Budget Puzzle

My solution

"You solved the deficit!" New York Times

Have a look.

SCIENCE - Good to be Young Black Hole

(click for better view)

"Just 30 Years Old, Youngest Nearby Black Hole Discovered" by Jenny Marder, Newshour 11/15/2010

A team of Harvard astrophysicists has discovered what they believe is an infant black hole, the youngest ever found in our cosmic backyard. The data indicate that it is just 30 years old (for some historical context, that's toward the end of the Jimmy Carter administration, but before the Miracle on Ice). It is believed to be a remnant of Supernova 1979C, which exploded in the galaxy M100, some 50 million light years away.

A black hole is caused when a star collapses into itself, crushing its own weight to a minuscule point, causing a gravitational pull so powerful that not even light can escape.

The astronomers' theory is based on a bright, steady emission of X-rays, which scientists observed from 1995 to 2007 using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory. While the evidence points to a black hole, another theory is that a spinning neutron star may have caused the X-ray stream.

The findings will be published in the journal, New Astronomy.

HISTORY - The Real Cleopatra

"Cleopatra Continues to Capture Imaginations, 2,000 Years Later"
PBS Newshour 11/15/2010

HEALTHCARE - How Massachusetts Does It

This is about a state that enacted Heathcare Reform before the federal reform.

"Four Years After Health Reform, an Update on Care in Massachusetts"
PBS Newshour Healthcare Report Series 11/15/2010

Comments on issues stated, with excerpts from transcript

BETTY ANN BOWSER (Newshour): The Massachusetts law has also not solved another major problem, the shortage of primary care physicians, which got worse when more people had insurance and could afford to go to a doctor.

Every year since passage in 2006, the Massachusetts Medical Society has found the shortage to be either critical or severe. And that's affected traffic to the emergency room.

This should be expected (a DUH moment).

Theoretical example:
8,000 MD
250,000 patients covered
appx 31-MD/patient

8,000 MD
850,000 patients covered
appx 106-MD/patient

Bad ratio, yes. Unexpected, no.

Good or bad? Good if you think about people getting their health needs.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Now Nichols and her husband buy insurance for $160 a month through the state's so-called Connector, an exchange where residents can sign up for one of seven state-approved plans run by private insurance companies.

The new federal law calls for each state to set up similar programs. Since 2006, premiums in the individual insurance market have gone down 40 percent on average. But Massachusetts continues to have among the highest premiums in the nation, although state officials say employer-provided insurance seems to be stabilizing.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist Jon Gruber was a key adviser to the Obama White House when the new federal health care reform law was being crafted. He was also one of the chief architects of the Massachusetts reforms.

JON GRUBER, economist, Massachusetts Institute of Technology: It's worked very well. I think the facts are very clear. We have lowered the number of uninsured by 60 percent, from about 10 percent of the population to about 4 percent of the population. We have done so on budget. We essentially are exactly where we thought we would be when we started the program in 2006.

And we have done so in a way which is very popular with the public. It's got about a 74 percent public approval rating.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Unlike some other parts of the country, health care reform here in Massachusetts is popular. And one of the reasons is because just about everybody who lives here has health insurance. So, while the law that passed a few years ago has been successful in getting more people into the tent, it also has created some new issues.

Perhaps the biggest one is, the law has done nothing to rein in the price tag for taking care of people. Economist Gruber says cost containment was never a goal of the Massachusetts legislation. Its focus was to get more people insured.

A question for people in general. How much is YOUR health worth to you?

Monday, November 15, 2010

POLITICS - Rep. Scott Garrett, Cheerleader for Consumer NON-Protection

"No honeymoon for Elizabeth Warren" by Andrew Leonard, Salon

The GOP waited decades to start undoing the New Deal. But they're not waiting a second to gut consumer protection

More fun from the Republicans readying themselves for power in the House next year. Last week, American Banker reported that an assault on the not-yet-functional Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is already underway.

Rep. Scott Garrett, who hopes to chair the capital markets subcommittee, took a hard-line stance Wednesday, calling on the administration to dismantle the new consumer bureau before it is even started.

"We don't need a CFPB," he said. "That would be a great first step for this administration if they want to start showing how they are willing to work with us, to say that, 'We recognize the failure that this doesn't do anything to address the problems so let's start unwinding that.'"

Spencer Bachus, in line to take over the House Financial Services committee, has already signaled his intentions to tinker with the CFPB's funding. Under Dodd-Frank, the CFPB receives its funding from the Federal Reserve, thus insulating it from congressional pressure. Bachus wants to make CFPB's funding part of the regular congressional appropriations process -- so he can exert pressure on it.

So what has de facto CFPB director Elizabeth Warren been doing in the meantime? She's been touting the importance of community banks and reiterating her plans to crack down on credit card company abuses.

And pretending to be shocked by the pushback. On Monday, she appeared on "The Rachel Maddow Show":

"I'm really surprised by this move," said Warren. "Following the Great Depression, it took 50 years before anyone started chipping seriously away at the new reforms that had been put in place to protect us ... It's just a matter of months until people are talking about how to undercut this new Consumer Financial Protection Agency. This new agency has not yet drawn breath."

Elizabeth Warren is famed for her plain-spoken folksiness, but in this case, she's just spouting some classic politician blarney. In the 1934 midterms, halfway through FDR's first term, Democrats gained nine seats in the Senate and nine seats in the House. The Republicans ended up with less than 25 percent of the House! Voters delivered a major, irrefutable endorsement of the New Deal. Two years later, FDR rolled to landslide victory.

This time around, the numbers add up a little differently. There is absolutely nothing surprising about Republican enthusiasm for rolling back one of the Obama administration's signal achievements. A 60-seat gain in the House is a real picker-upper.

Yap, typical GOP. NO protection for consumers but MAXIMUM PROTECTION for industry. Their "buyer beware" policy, consumers should have NO expectation of ethical behavior from industry.

As if the mortgage crises was not cause by Wallstreet's and banking's shifty practices. (Sub-Prime Loans were a good idea, and bundling them into packages was even better.... NOT)

ECONOMY - Try to Solve the Budget Problem Yourself

OK, here's a nice "tool" YOU can use to test your budgeting skills.

Go there and just follow instructions.

"Budget Puzzle: You Fix the Budget" New York Times 11/13/2010

Today, you’re in charge of the nation’s finances. Some of your options have more short-term savings and some have more long-term savings. When you have closed the budget gaps for both 2015 and 2030, you are done. Make your own plan, then share it online.

AMERICA - More Light on a Sad Truth

This report shines more light on a known issue. A sad chapter in our American history and shows the ethical cost of the Cold War.

"Nazis Were Given ‘Safe Haven’ in U.S., Report Says" by ERIC LICHTBLAU, New York Times 11/13/2010


A secret history of the United States government’s Nazi-hunting operation concludes that American intelligence officials created a “safe haven” in the United States for Nazis and their collaborators after World War II, and it details decades of clashes, often hidden, with other nations over war criminals here and abroad.

The 600-page report, which the Justice Department has tried to keep secret for four years, provides new evidence about more than two dozen of the most notorious Nazi cases of the last three decades.

It describes the government’s posthumous pursuit of Dr. Josef Mengele, the so-called Angel of Death at Auschwitz, part of whose scalp was kept in a Justice Department official’s drawer; the vigilante killing of a former Waffen SS soldier in New Jersey; and the government’s mistaken identification of the Treblinka concentration camp guard known as Ivan the Terrible.

The report catalogs both the successes and failures of the band of lawyers, historians and investigators at the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations, which was created in 1979 to deport Nazis.

Perhaps the report’s most damning disclosures come in assessing the Central Intelligence Agency’s involvement with Nazi émigrés. Scholars and previous government reports had acknowledged the C.I.A.’s use of Nazis for postwar intelligence purposes. But this report goes further in documenting the level of American complicity and deception in such operations.

The Justice Department report, describing what it calls “the government’s collaboration with persecutors,” says that O.S.I investigators learned that some of the Nazis “were indeed knowingly granted entry” to the United States, even though government officials were aware of their pasts. “America, which prided itself on being a safe haven for the persecuted, became — in some small measure — a safe haven for persecutors as well,” it said.

WORLD - An American Industry With NO Conscience

"Cigarette Giants in Global Fight on Tighter Rules" by DUFF WILSON, New York Times 11/13/2010


As sales to developing nations become ever more important to giant tobacco companies, they are stepping up efforts around the world to fight tough restrictions on the marketing of cigarettes.

Companies like Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco are contesting limits on ads in Britain, bigger health warnings in South America and higher cigarette taxes in the Philippines and Mexico. They are also spending billions on lobbying and marketing campaigns in Africa and Asia, and in one case provided undisclosed financing for TV commercials in Australia.

The industry has ramped up its efforts in advance of a gathering in Uruguay this week of public health officials from 171 nations, who plan to shape guidelines to enforce a global anti-smoking treaty.

This year, Philip Morris International sued the government of Uruguay, saying its tobacco regulations were excessive. World Health Organization officials say the suit represents an effort by the industry to intimidate the country, as well as other nations attending the conference, that are considering strict marketing requirements for tobacco.

Ah yes. A fine example of an industry with NO conscience. They are loosing the battle at home (USA), so lets kill more foreign people with cancer so we can make a profit.

ECONOMY - Analysis on Deficit Commission Proposals

I am posting this ONLY on the section on the "deficit commission" proposals.

"Shields and Brooks on Tax Cuts, Debt, Lame-Duck Congress, Bush Book" Analysis Transcript, PBS Newshour 11/12/2010


JIM LEHRER (Newshour): Sure. All right, what do -- speaking of tension, what do you make of the debate -- the deficit commission chairman's proposal for how to solve the deficit problem in the United States of America at the federal level?

DAVID BROOKS (New York Times columnist): First, I thought it was an excellent start to a discussion. It had a wide range of options, many of which are extremely painful. Those of us who own homes don't want to give up our mortgage interest deduction. I'm sure people in their 60s don't want to postpone the retirement age.

But the fact is, we're facing a national disaster, and we're going to have to do some really terrible things. In fact, they probably underestimated how many terrible things, because they have some rosy scenarios in there.

But they took the serious things that have to be done, and they threw them on the table. And so I think they did a great service to the country. I think the second thing they have done is, they have smoked out who is willing to have this conversation and who isn't.

You saw people on the right, like Grover Norquist, and people on the left, like some of the public sector unions, say: Hell, no. We are not talking about this. This is dead on arrival.

But then you had a lot of people, both Democrats and Republicans, saying: We hate this stuff, but we have got a real problem. We have got to talk about it.

And so I thought they have smoked out who is really serious about this thing. And then the final quick thing I will say, all these things are very painful. The idea that, politically, with this country where it is right now, could pass any of this stuff, it's fantasyland. The country has to change first.

JIM LEHRER: Fantasyland? Change the country first?

MARK SHIELDS (syndicated columnist): I hope it isn't fantasyland.

I mean, this is not an eat your spinach plan. This is an eat your spinach, eat your broccoli, and finish your brussel sprouts plan. And if the test for political courage is the ability to simultaneously alienate both the political left and the political right, then Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles have passed that test with flying colors. The...

JIM LEHRER: Well, we had it on our program last night. I mean, they were...

MARK SHIELDS: Exactly. No, they -- they -- and they had to do it, because the commission is not going to agree on anything. And they have forced the debate. David is absolutely right. By doing this, they have preempted the debate and forced others to address this.

There are two things about it I think that are crucial, Jim. First of all, people have been hiding about, saying we're going to settle -- balance this budget by hitting them, the, I don't know, rich people, taxes, or whatever, closing loopholes. Or we're going to hit by them taking away the benefits from these freeloaders.

He has basically said, it's us, OK? And they have...

JIM LEHRER: This isn't them. It's us.

MARK SHIELDS: That's right. And they have laid out the plan. And if you want to argue with parts of it, OK, fine. But you better come up with where you are going to come -- get the money. And I think that's crucial. The other thing they have done is, they have asked for shared sacrifice.

And, since Ronald Reagan beat Jimmy Carter -- Jimmy Carter lost in 1980 running -- accused of running on a platform of cold showers and root canal work. Reagan came along and said, I'm going to double the defense budget, cut your taxes by a third, and balance the budget.

Boy, that sounded great. That was a real formula for success. Of course he didn't do it. But, ever since then, every President, with the minor exceptions of George Herbert Walker Bush in his term and Bill Clinton in his first term, have basically gone on ouchless, painless prosperity.

There has been no shared sacrifice this century at all. And what they are saying is, are you up to it? Are you in the American tradition? Are you willing to do it?

DAVID BROOKS: I think that's the test.

JIM LEHRER: That's it, huh?

DAVID BROOKS: I mean, you got Marines and soldiers in Afghanistan sacrificing for their country. And you're not willing to give up your mortgage interest deduction or see a little raise in your capital gains tax?

I mean, that is the country -- that's the question the country really has to ask. And I would say it's up -- it's not -- the change isn't going to happen in Washington. There has to be a change in the country of voters saying, yes, I hate this, but I'm willing to do it, or else the politicians will go nowhere near it.

And so there has to be some surge in the country first of people saying, yes, we're serious about this.

JIM LEHRER: But how can there be a surge without an election? It is not going to happen then before 2012.

DAVID BROOKS: No. Well, social movements arise. We had the Obama movement arose. The Tea Party movement arose. People got organized. Institutions formed.

JIM LEHRER: So, it could happen?

DAVID BROOKS: And they changed the political dynamic. We would have to have a significant change in the political dynamic before politicians of either party will touch this.

I too expect these proposals to go nowhere, at least for the next 2 years. I also agree, that little will change until the American electorate changes.

AND the Tea Party movement is NOT it. They are only the "we don't want to pay for it" movement.

I DO expect the Republicans to manipulate EVERYTHING to make Obama look bad so the Republicans can win the Whitehouse in 2012. They will put the political interests of the GOP ahead of the interest of our country. Of course they see it as GOP interests ALWAYS = American's interests.

Side comment: I have edited the phrase "every President" above by capitalizing "President." This is because I was taught in school that when using a single word as a substitute for an official title, like President of the United States, you still capitalize it. IMHO there is a general deterioration of English even in the professions that should be practicing it, and this is just an example.

Friday, November 12, 2010

POLITICS - Example of Our Great Democracy

"To Congress With the Mantra, ‘Why Not Me?’" by JENNIFER STEINHAUER, New York Times 11/11/2010


Bobby Schilling has spent the last decade perfecting his pizza crust. (The secret? A hint of whole wheat flour in the dough.) But this year, like dozens of other previously apolitical Americans, the cheerful father of 10 looked at the Congressional candidate arena and got to thinking, “Hey, why not me?”

Running as a Republican with little money in a district controlled by Democrats for decades, Mr. Schilling was initially received about as warmly as a stink bug. “The party folks in Washington were kind of like, ‘What the hell are you doing here?’ ” he said.

But his perseverance intersected with incumbent disenchantment and now Mr. Schilling, who owns a pizza restaurant, is among roughly 35 incoming members of the House — and four new senators — who have never been elected to anything. “I’m a story that never should have happened,” said Mr. Schilling, 46, soon to represent a giant squiggle of west Illinois.

The new class of lawmakers will contain the highest number of members with no experience of elective office in decades, likely since 1948, when there were 44 such House members elected, according to Gary C. Jacobson, a professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, and probably above 1952, when there were 34 such members. In 1994, the last big citizen revolution led by Republicans, there were 30 political-novice House members elected. (The numbers will fluctuate slightly as unresolved races settle.)

What's great? Almost anyone can run for elected office.

What MAY be wrong? Will the inexperienced be able to make any BETTER decisions.

Think, in most professions (like computer related I'm in) experience is a MAJOR factor on how WELL you do your job.

ECONOMY - A Political Whammy

"Deficit Reduction Plan Draws Scorn From Left and Right" by JACKIE CALMES, New York Times 11/11/2010


By putting deep spending cuts and substantial tax increases on the table, President Obama’s bipartisan debt-reduction commission has exposed fissures in both parties, underscoring the volatile nature and long odds of any attempt to address the nation’s long-term budget problems.

Among Democrats, liberals are in near revolt against the White House over the issue, even as substantive and political forces push Mr. Obama to attack chronic deficits in a serious way. At the same time, Republicans face intense pressure from their conservative base and the Tea Party movement to reject any deal that includes tax increases, leaving their leaders with little room to maneuver in any negotiation and at risk of being blamed by voters for not doing their part.

Mr. Obama, on a diplomatic tour of Asia in which the fiscal condition of the United States has been a recurring backdrop, maintained his silence on Thursday about the particulars of the draft deficit-reduction plan the commission chairmen had released the day before.

DUH... would anyone expect anything different when ANY big change is purposed?

POLITICS - Are Journalists Citizens With Constitutional Rights?

"Should Journalists Be Allowed to Make Campaign Contributions?"
PBS Newshour 11/10/2010

From transcript

KEITH OLBERMANN: I think we saw where the political contribution system is working for transparency in democracy and where it is failing transparency in democracy.

I made legal political contributions, as a U.S. citizen, near midnight Eastern on Thursday night, October 28. By 10:00 p.m. Eastern on Thursday night, November 4, those contributions were public knowledge. And that's the point. I gave, and you found out, and you judged me, for good or for ill, as you felt appropriate.

This is incomplete. The reset of the paragraph, which is MORE to the point...

"If I had given the money through U.S. Chamber of Commerce you would have never, ever, known."

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

ECONOMY - More on Bush/Republican Tax Cut Failure

"The Bush Tax Cuts and the Republican Cult of Economic Failure" by David Fiderer, Huffington Post 11/10/2010


There's no such thing as a free lunch, and there's no such thing as an honest case for extending the Bush tax cuts. Ten years of hard data prove they were a complete failure. They did not work while Bush was in office and they did not work during the first two years of the Obama administration. No wonder the Congressional Budget Office says that the GOP's proposed extension of tax cuts to the rich will reduce future economic growth.

To recap:

In terms of promoting economic growth, the Bush tax cuts were a complete failure.

Under George W. Bush, U.S. GDP growth averaged about 2.1 percent a year. Since the end of World War II, the country has never experienced such low economic growth during an eight-year period. And if you exclude the war demobilization of 1946, when U.S. government spending fell by two-thirds and the GDP fell by 10.9 percent, Bush had the worst economic record since Herbert Hoover. During FDR's first two terms, when the country remained mired in a Depression, GDP growth averaged about 6.3 percent a year.

There is no way to make Bush's performance look good. Even if you cherry-pick the data, by excluding fiscal year 2008, when GDP growth was zero, economic expansion was anemic. During Bush's first seven years, it averaged about 2.4 percent, the worst rate in half a century. And what was the source of most of that economic growth? Homeowner equity extraction. Bush could point to one sector where growth outpaced that of all prior administrations: Residential mortgage debt. It almost doubled, from $5.1 trillion to $9.8 trillion, between 2001 and 2006.
Of course, these numbers understate the magnitude of Bush's failure, since the full effects of the 2008 financial meltdown were not felt until 2009 and later. Though Bush has left the White House, his tax cuts have remained in place. What's completely missing is any evidence that his tax cuts did anything to boost the economy.

After Clinton raised taxes on the rich, GDP growth spiked. His eight-year average was about 3.9 percent, close to twice what it was under Bush.

In terms of promoting job growth, the Bush tax cuts were a complete failure.

By the end of eight years of George W. Bush's economic stewardship, 1.1 million jobs had been added to the economy. Measured against any of his predecessors, Bush was a complete failure. Clinton added 22 times as many jobs. Reagan added 16 times as many jobs. Eisenhower added three times as many jobs, when the U.S. economy was a fraction of its current size.

POLITICS - Graphic Worth 1000 Words, Tax Plans

"Infographic: Who Benefits From the Republican Tax Plan?"

(click for better view)

POLITICS - Keith Olbermann Back On-Air!

with Keith Olbermann

Back on-air after 300k+ signature petition. Way to GO Keith!

WORLD - Jerusalem/Palestine/ Israel Tangle

"In Curt Exchange, U.S. Faults Israel on Housing" by MARK LANDLER and ETHAN BRONNER, New York Times 11/9/2010


President Obama’s criticism of new Israeli housing plans for East Jerusalem, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s even sharper retort, have thrown the Middle East peace talks into jeopardy, with the dispute over Jewish settlements looming as a seemingly insuperable hurdle.

The Obama administration is struggling to restart direct negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians, which stalled last month after the expiration of a partial freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton plans to meet Mr. Netanyahu in New York on Thursday, while Egypt sent two top officials to Washington to discuss ways to salvage the process.

But the brusque exchange between Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu reflected again the gulf between Israel and the United States over settlements — an issue Mr. Obama initially made the centerpiece of his Middle East diplomacy. Palestinian officials said Israel’s latest announcement threatened the talks and could prompt a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state.

When asked in about Israel’s plans for 1,000 housing units for a contested part of East Jerusalem, Mr. Obama said, “This kind of activity is never helpful when it comes to peace negotiations.”

“I’m concerned that we’re not seeing each side make the extra effort involved to get a breakthrough,” the president added during his visit to Indonesia. “Each of these incremental steps can end up breaking trust.”

A few hours later, Mr. Netanyahu’s office responded with a statement, saying that “Jerusalem is not a settlement; Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Israel.”

Mr. Netanyahu’s last statement above is a stance the will make the Palestinian/Israeli conflict unsolvable.

I have always had a workable solution, but it would require BOTH Palestine and Israel go give up Jerusalem.

Call it the Vatican City Solution. (see link for details)

That is, make Jerusalem a "landlocked sovereign city-state," with its own governing body. NOT part of Palestine nor Israel. A holy city, but not of one religion.

I am very pessimistic that this could ever happen. It can only be done if the PEOPLE of Palestine AND Israel make their governments do so.

PRIVACY - Consumer Privacy vs Commercial Interests

"Stage Set for Showdown on Online Privacy" by EDWARD WYATT and TANZINA VEGA, New York Times 11/9/2010


After “do not call” lists became popular, more than 90 percent of people who signed up reported fewer annoying telemarketing calls. Now, privacy advocates are pushing for a similar “do not track” feature that would let Internet users tell Web sites to stop surreptitiously tracking their online habits and collecting clues about age, salary, health, location and leisure activities.

That proposal and other ideas to protect online privacy are setting up a confrontation among Internet companies, federal regulators, the Obama administration and Congress over how strict any new rules should be.

In the next few weeks, both the Federal Trade Commission and the Commerce Department are planning to release independent, and possibly conflicting, reports about online privacy.

Top Commerce officials have indicated that the department favors letting the industry regulate itself, building on the common practice of user agreements where companies post their privacy policies online or consumers check a box agreeing to abide by them.

Top trade commission officials, however, have indicated they are exploring a stricter standard, one that requires a “do not track” option on a Web site or browser similar to the “do not call” lists.

The two agencies have even tangled over which will release its report first, a decision that could set the tone for the clash to follow. People close to the talks say that, at least for now, the Commerce Department has been given the nod, provided it can complete its report soon.

Consumer advocates worry that the competing agendas of economic policy makers in the Obama administration, who want uniform international standards, and federal regulators, who are trying to balance consumer protection and commercial rights, will neglect the interests of people most affected by the privacy policies. “I hope they realize that what is good for consumers is ultimately good for business,” said Susan Grant, director of consumer protection at the Consumer Federation of America.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

ON THE LITE SIDE - Throw the Bums OUT!

Humor Times

POLITICS - Post 2010 Vote Opinion

"Boehner will fail, and Democrats will pounce in 2012" by Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, Christian Science Monitor 11/8/2010


Republicans didn't sweep these elections for grand ideological reasons, but because not enough of the Democratic base showed up to vote. Exit polls also show that angry voters who flocked to Republicans will end up disappointed in their actual policies. And in 2012, Democrats will be ready.

The 2010 elections have come and gone, and Democrats found out what happens when they neglect their base and fail to deliver jobs for the American people.

First things first, the exit polls tell us what this election was not. It was not an embrace of the Republican Party. As counterintuitive as it sounds, the voter opinion of the Republican Party (42 percent favorable) was less favorable than that of the Democratic Party (43 percent favorable). Yet 23 percent of those who viewed the GOP unfavorably still voted for them anyway.

Full of contradictions

While 35 percent of voters believed that Wall Street was to blame for the terrible economy, that cohort still voted for Republicans by a 56 to 42 margin. It’s a GOP con of masterful proportions – embrace Wall Street and its money, yet still win the votes of the financial industry’s biggest critics.

Of the 47 percent of voters who want the health care law as is or even expanded, 44 percent of them voted Republican. The GOP, of course, has made repeal of the law a central tenet of its agenda.

And of the 37 percent of voters who felt the next Congress’s highest priority should be more government spending to create jobs, 30 percent voted for Republicans. Boy, will that bunch be disappointed!

Voters had to punish someone

Bottom line, Democrats didn't lose because Republicans are suddenly popular, or people embrace their agenda. Democrats lost because people are angry and desperate and flailing and had to punish someone for the nation's economic woes. Of course, it didn’t help that core Democratic voters didn’t turn out in the necessary numbers.

The 2008 electorate was 74 percent white, 13 percent black, and 9 percent Latino. This week, it was 78, 10, and 8 percent, respectively. That’s a four-point swing in favor of white voters. That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s an extra net 3.6 million white votes. And given whites voted Republican by a 60 to 37 margin, that was 2.2 million votes banked by Republicans in a contest that featured myriad tight races. Flip just 150,000 votes in Pennsylvania and Illinois, and the Democrats hold both those Senate seats.

ECONOMY - Vacant Homes and 1869 Florida Statute

"At Legal Fringe, Empty Houses Go to the Needy" by CATHARINE SKIPP and DAMIEN CAVE, New York Times 11/8/2010


Save Florida Homes Inc. and its owner, Mark Guerette, have found foreclosed homes for several needy families here in Broward County, and his tenants could not be more pleased. Fabian Ferguson, his wife and two children now live a two-bedroom home they have transformed from damaged and abandoned to full and cozy.

There is just one problem: Mr. Guerette is not the owner. Yet.

In a sign of the odd ingenuity that has grown from the real estate collapse, he is banking on an 1869 Florida statute that says the bundle of properties he has seized will be his if the owners do not claim them within seven years.

A version of the same law was used in the 1850s to claim possession of runaway slaves, though Mr. Guerette, 47, a clean-cut mortgage broker, sees his efforts as heroic. “There are all these properties out there that could be used for good,” he said.

The North Lauderdale authorities, though, see him as a crook. He is scheduled to go on trial in December on fraud charges in a case that, along with a handful of others in Florida and in other states, could determine whether maintaining a property and paying taxes on it is enough to lead to ownership.

Legal scholars say the concept is old — rooted in Renaissance England, when agricultural land would sometimes go fallow, left untended by long-lost heirs. But it is also common. All 50 states allow for so-called adverse possession, with the time to forge a kind of common-law marriage with property varying from a few years (in most states) to several decades (in New Jersey).

The statute generally requires that properties be maintained openly and continuously, which usually means paying property taxes and utility bills.

It is not clear how many people are testing the idea, but lawyers say that do-it-yourself possession cases have been popping up all over the country — and, they note, these self-proclaimed owners play an odd role in a real-estate mess that never seems to end. Though they may cringe at the analogy, as squatters with bank accounts, these adverse possessors are like leeches, and it can be difficult to tell at times whether they are cleaning a wound already there, or making it worse.

One comment on the above quote, I though about leaving out the very last sentence above due to the use of the term "leeches."

This is a trigger-word that gives UNDUE bad context, a tactic used in typical political attack-ads, like the term "death panels" used in anti-healthcare reform ads.

WORLD - On India, UN Security Council Seat

"Countering China, Obama Backs India for U.N. Council" by SHERYL GAY STOLBERG and JIM YARDLEY, New York Times 11/8/2010


By endorsing India for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, President Obama on Monday signaled the United States’ intention to create a deeper partnership of the world’s two largest democracies that would expand commercial ties and check the influence of an increasingly assertive China.

Mr. Obama’s announcement, made during a nationally televised address to the Indian Parliament, came at the end of a three-day visit to India that won high marks from an Indian political establishment once uncertain of the president’s commitment to the relationship. Even as stark differences remained between the countries on a range of tough issues, including Pakistan, trade policy, climate change and, to some degree, Iran, Mr. Obama spoke of India as an “indispensable” partner for the coming century.

“In Asia and around the world, India is not simply emerging,” he said during his speech in Parliament. “India has emerged.”


"Change Will Not Come Easily to the Security Council" by NEIL MacFARQUHAR, New York Times 11/8/2010


The idea of overhauling the Security Council, even by the slow standards of the United Nations, has been under negotiation for about 18 years with no end in sight. Vague talks initiated under the auspices of the Open-Ended Working Group, mocked as the “never ending” committee, gave way in 2009 to what was supposed to be real negotiations.

But those who attend basically read their position papers and then leave, according to diplomats involved; no bartering occurs. Even with real talks, the potential for reaching a consensus are formidable.

The main issues include how to expand the current council beyond 15 seats; whether the seats should be permanent or elected; and whether new permanent members would get a veto. A welter of proposals exist: five new permanent members without veto power plus five more elected for a total of 25, for example, or establishing a middle tier of seats for countries heavily involved in United Nations, who could serve for three or four years.

There is basic agreement that the council, outdated because it reflects the world in 1945 when the United Nations was founded, needs to be expanded to include emerging powers. The council was expanded to 15 members from 11 in 1965, and China took over the permanent seat of the nationalist Chinese in 1971.

But beyond the idea of expansion, any consensus falls apart, with fierce regional rivalries over who might gain new permanent seats making any change problematic, if not impossible. President Obama’s announcement on Monday was novel in that he actually named India as a candidate for a permanent seat.