Tuesday, May 31, 2011

EDUCATION - College Worth the Debt?

"Is a College Diploma Worth the Soaring Student Debt?"
PBS Newshour 5/27/2011

Excerpts from transcript

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): All right, and, Peter Thiel, you have raised a warning over what you call an education bubble, which is on the analogy, I guess, of the housing bubble or the tech bubble. Explain what you mean and what you're worried about.

PETER THIEL, The Thiel Foundation: Yes.

Well, we have a bubble in education. The costs have escalated by 300 percent, adjusted for inflation, since 1980. The quality has not gone up. So, we're paying more and more for the same product. And it is something that is a bubble because it's intensely believed.

It's taboo to question education and to ask whether people are really getting their money's worth. And it's very analogous to the housing bubble. People are told that you have to have an education, it's indispensable, it's always valuable. We have subprime education, like we had subprime housing. But it probably is a system that's gotten to be quite rotten all the way up.

I do not agree that -- I do not say that everyone should drop out of college or stop out, but I do not think that it is the right thing for everybody. I think there are people who are inventors. There are people who are entrepreneurs. And for them, it makes sense to start contributing to society whenever they come up with the great ideas that will change the world.


PETER THIEL: And so I think we should respect the diversity that exists in our society and say that -- and realize that some people should go to college, even when it's overpriced, and others should choose a different path earlier.

There are some truths when it comes to college education:
  • Not all professions require a college education, only technical training/education

  • College education MAY get you higher pay, IF there is a job out there for you

  • If jobs are scarce, putting off paying for a college education could be the way to go

  • There is always the option to go the local 2yr college route AND get a part-time job for the pay and experience, then do graduate work later when it can be more affordable

  • Finally, there is NO SUBSTITUTE for experience when it comes to a job, college education is NOT assurance of professional competency

POLITICS - Patriot Act and Medicare Issues

"Shields, Brooks on Patriot Act, N.Y. Race Upset, Medicare Politics, Palin Tour" PBS Newshour Transcript 5/27/2011 (includes video)


JUDY WOODRUFF (Newshour): Now it's time for our weekly analysis from Shields and Brooks. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Welcome, gentlemen.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we're going to begin tonight with a debate in Congress yesterday over the extension of the Patriot Act.

The law was first passed in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and it granted law enforcement significant new surveillance tools in fighting terrorism. Opponents charge the law infringes on civil liberties.

Here's just a bit of last night's debate.

REP. LAMAR SMITH, R-Texas: S-990, PATRIOT Sunsets Extension Act of 2011, is a bipartisan, bicameral compromise to reauthorize the existing Patriot Act provisions for another four years. By doing so, Congress is ensuring that critical intelligence will be collected and terrorist plots will be disrupted.

REP. JERROLD NADLER, D-N.Y.: When we last considered these expiring provisions, it was to extend them temporarily, so that the House could review them and consider whether to improve them or allow them to expire.

These three provisions dealing with roving wiretap authority, expansion of the definition of an agent of a foreign power to include so-called loan wolves, and Section 215, which allows governments to obtain business and library records using an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, instead of the normal methods, have aroused a great deal of controversy and concern, and rightly so.

REP. JAMES SENSENBRENNER, R-Wis.: These three provisions have stopped countless attacks and play a critical role in helping ensure law enforcement officials have the tools they need to keep our country safe.

The death of Osama bin Laden proves that American intelligence-gathering is vital to our national security. The fight against terrorism, however, didn't die with bin Laden, and neither did the need for the Patriot Act.

SEN. RAND PAUL, R-Ky.: You don't have to give up your liberty to catch criminals. You can catch criminals and terrorists and protect your liberty at the same time. There is a balancing act. But what we did in our hysteria after 9/11 was, we didn't do any kind of balancing act. We just said, come and get it. Here's our freedom. Come and get it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The reauthorization of the act cleared both houses of Congress with bipartisan majorities, and President Obama signed it into law last night.

And now to Mark and David.

So, David, it passed, but it was at the last minute. There was this -- a little bit of an uproar over it. What do you make of that?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. If you cover politics on the campaign trail, the Patriot Act is extremely unpopular, and can -- people running for office rail against it.

Once they get in office, especially those in charge of the national -- nation's security, they tend to support it. So, I assume, once they get in office and they understand what it's doing behind the scenes, they tend to think it's probably a good idea.

And this is what's happened to President Obama. It's what's happened to most people who are privy to how it actually works.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark, a lot of Democrats don't like it, and some Republicans don't like it.

MARK SHIELDS: You're right, Judy. The Democrats' argument is that, oh, we're confident that President Obama will be more solicitous and careful about civil liberties than his predecessors. That may be comforting, but it's also a rationalization from what the Democrats' position has been, as Jerry Nadler, the congressman from New York, expressed in the piece.

And I think the indispensable part that intelligence played in the capture and -- of Osama bin Laden probably strengthened the case for the Patriot Act's -- Patriot Act's reinstatement. And I would say intelligence remains the cornerstone of the exit strategy from Afghanistan and to Iraq to a considerable degree. And I think that neutralized some of the opposition.
---- on Medicare
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, as David said, more Republicans.

All right, let's bring it home and talk about politics in this country. There was a congressional -- a special election in a congressional district, New York State's 26th District, where we saw the Democrat win, in part, David, by going after the Republican for embracing the Paul Ryan Medicare proposal.

What -- are there lessons from this? Is it a one-time deal or what?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. I don't think it's a one-time deal. If you ask Americans, do you think Medicare should be cut to help trim the deficit or trim the debt, 78 percent say, no, don't touch Medicare. So, Medicare is pretty popular.

When Barack Obama cut it by $400 billion or $500 billion as part of health care, Democrats -- Republicans went after him for death panels and all the rest. Paul Ryan and the Republicans went after it. And the Democrats have gone after them for ending Medicare. Both those charges are more or less untrue.

Nonetheless, they struck a chord because people want to keep their Medicare. And so, to me, the depressing thing is not a partisan thing, is just the lesson for both parties is never touch Medicare, never touch Social Security, don't touch it.

And that would be fine if we could afford it. The problem is we can't afford that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we heard -- in fact, Bill Clinton, former President Clinton, told Gwen Ifill (Newshour) this week in an interview that the Democrats have to be careful about assuming from the results of this election that they can get away with doing nothing about Medicare.
DAVID BROOKS: I do think that is the lesson. The Republicans are telling themselves, this year, it's different. This year the people are so disgusted by the debt they want us to be serious.

And so what they effectively did was, they saw a line of battlements and a field of 400 yards with no cover, and they ran straight at it. And they get mowed down. And so I think a lesson for the Republicans has to be, do something more crafty. Don't just run straight at it.

On Medicare, what the voting public is REALLY saying is PAY FOR IT. This also applies to Social Security. The public is coming to the realization that if they want Medicare and Social Security as is, it MUST be paid for = higher taxes. There is "no free lunch."

My suggestion, EVERYONE who has taxable income should pay into Medicare and Social Security without exceptions. These are social contracts to all Americans.

PUBLIC DEBT - The Truth in a Graph

"Thank George W, Again" by Abby Zimet, Common Dreams 5/25/2011

(click for better view)

POLITICS - Republican Intellectual Bankruptcy

"When a party declares intellectual bankruptcy" by Steve Benen, Washington Monthly 5/27/2011

The good news is, House Republicans unveiled a plan yesterday that’s intended to create jobs. The bad news is, the plan can charitably be described as a bad joke.

As we discussed yesterday, the jobs agenda, such as it is, is practically a conservative cliche: the GOP wants massive tax cuts for the wealthy, deregulation, more coastal oil drilling, and huge cuts to public investment. Republicans are confident this will work wonders, just as they were equally confident about the identical agenda in the last decade, and the decade before that, and the decade before that.

Indeed, the most glaring problem with the GOP jobs agenda is that it won’t work, but nearly as painful is the realization that it’s already been tried, over and over again, to no avail. They either don’t care or can’t understand the famous axiom: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

The agenda is the agenda: tax cuts for the wealthy, deregulation, cut public investments. Good times and bad, deficit or surplus, war or peace, it just doesn’t matter.

It’s as if someone bought an iPod, uploaded one song, and hit “shuffle.”

I especially liked Paul Krugman’s take on this.

[T]he new “jobs plan” illustrates, once again, the foolishness of believing that we can reach any real bipartisan agreement on economic policy. The GOP stopped thinking a long time ago; all it knows how to do is parrot Reaganite rhetoric over and over. And there’s so little there there that the document — look at it! — has to rely on extra-large type and lots of pointless pictures to bulk it out even to 10 pages.

That last part isn’t a joke, by the way. Here’s the PDF version (opens in new page) of the new Republican “plan.” Notice that the font size is enormous, as are the pictures that dominate every page.

Ezra Klein explained yesterday, “Academic books pack about 600 words to a page. Normal books clock in around 400. Large-print books — you know, the ones for kids or the visually impaired — fit about 250. The House GOP’s jobs plan, however, gets about 200 words to a page. The typeface is fit for giants, and the document’s 10 pages are mostly taken up by pictures. It looks like the staffer in charge forgot the assignment was due on Thursday rather than Friday, and so cranked the font up to 24 and began dumping clip art to pad out the plan.”

Just for fun, I went and did a word count of the entire “plan.” The total: 2,053 words. If that sounds like a lot, it isn’t. This blog post that you’re reading now, for example, put together over the course of about 15 minutes, is about 550 words. The House Republican leadership put together a 10-page document ostensibly explaining how the GOP intends to address the unemployment crisis, and they could barely put together 2,000 words.

And why is that? Because the Republican Party is intellectually bankrupt. It has no new ideas, no constructive solutions, no creativity, no depth of thought, no recollection of how and why this same foolish agenda didn’t work before. The GOP just has warmed-over nonsense, to be brought out year after year, with the hopes that the public has short enough memories that we won’t notice or mind.

Yes, “Insanity IS doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

POLITICS - From the Anti Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Republicans

"Efforts to undermine new consumer agency amateurish, dangerous" by Bob Sullivan, MSNBC.com


Just how many cities will burn to the ground before we decide it's OK to enforce some building codes?

In case anyone hasn't noticed, the U.S. is stuck in the worst economic downturn in 80 years. Why this happened is important: It wasn't caused by a debilitating depletion of raw materials, a devastating natural disaster or even a slow, steady decline in competitiveness. No, the recession’s cause is entirely artificial -- runaway bank greed, irresponsible decisions by plenty of people who should have known better and, most important, by the deflation of a financial bubble and its massive fallout.

It seems incredible to argue that, after all this, nothing should change. And yet, that's the feeling you get from opponents of Elizabeth Warren, who have made it their cause celebre to dismantle the most tangible effort since 2008 to stop the financial madness. A handful of bills have been proposed that would defang the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or turn it into a commission so temporary director Warren can't be in charge. We'll get to these in a moment, but suffice to say the legislative efforts are very thinly veiled attempts to close the agency before it opens.

Ah, yes. The "don't regulate our Paymasters" Republicans. Consumers don't need protection.

MEDICARE - Truth About Overhead

"Barbara Boxer says Medicare overhead is far lower than private insurers' overhead" PolitiFact.com 5/24/2011

Amid a fierce debate over the future of Medicare, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., recently compared the administrative costs for the government-run program with the costs for private insurers.

"There's a 1.5 percent to 2 percent overhead in Medicare," Boxer said during an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews on May 24, 2011. "The insurance companies have a 20 percent to 30 percent overhead."

The issue is timely because Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has proposed reducing the government role in Medicare for people now younger than 55. They would receive financial support to buy coverage on the private market. Supporters say such a plan is needed to keep the program fiscally solvent, while detractors say it would gut longstanding protections and promises to seniors.

Boxer’s comment cuts to the core of whether a government-run program like Medicare has advantages over one in which private insurers take a primary role.

First, we should define "overhead." People may think of it as things such as rent and electricity. But in health care, the term typically refers more broadly to administrative costs, including expenses that are not strictly medical, such as marketing, customer service, billing, claims review, quality assurance, information technology and profits.

To measure the administrative costs for Medicare, we first turned to the 2011 Annual Report of the Boards of Trustees of the Federal Hospital Insurance and Federal Supplementary Medical Insurance Trust Funds -- the document prepared by Medicare’s fiscal overseers.

The trustees’ summary listed total Medicare expenditures of $522.8 billion for 2010, of which $7 billion was characterized as "administrative expenses." That works out to 1.3 percent -- not far off from what Boxer stated.

For the private insurance market, we turned to a 2008 study by the Congressional Budget Office, the nonpartisan number-crunching arm of Congress. CBO cited data, compiled by the McKinsey Global Institute, that estimated administrative costs for private insurers at 12 percent. That’s quite a bit lower than the 20 percent to 30 percent Boxer cited.

A different measurement by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services pegged the amount for private insurers at 11.1 percent for 2009 -- in the same ballpark.

However, the administrative burden for private plans get more complicated the deeper you dig. There are large variations between different types of insurance plans. The data cited by CBO found that administrative costs were about 7 percent for employers with at least 1,000 employees, but 26 percent for firms with 25 or fewer employees. Meanwhile, in the individual insurance market -- that is, plans secured by individuals on their own, rather than through an employer -- the rate was nearly 30 percent, CBO said.

A big reason for this variation, CBO and others have concluded, is that bigger plans can spread costs over a larger number of people.

When we asked Boxer’s office for their source for the 20 percent-to-30 percent statistic, spokesman Andy Stone told us that prior to passage of the Democratic health care bill in 2010, health plans in California were only required to spend 70 percent of premiums on medical care, with insurers able to spend up to 30 percent on profits and administrative costs. He also cited some opinion and news articles that cited figures in the 20 percent to 30 percent range, and even higher.

We don’t doubt that there are cases in which overhead reaches or exceeds 30 percent, but those cases are both anecdotal and at the high end of the range. The averages cited by CBO and CMS are significantly lower -- 11 percent to 12 percent -- and many of the bigger plans undercut even that level.

There are a few other factors to consider:

Is Medicare’s administrative cost really that low?

A lively academic debate has broken out over whether Medicare’s administrative costs are really as low as 1 percent or 2 percent.

The difference stems from whether Medicare essentially freeloads off other parts of the federal government for services that private insurers have to pay for on their own. Adjusted estimates for Medicare’s administrative costs cited by the Urban Institute, a think tank that does research on issues such as poverty and economics, range from 3.6 percent to 5 percent, rather than the 1.3 percent using the data in the trustees’ report.

But Edwin Park, a health policy specialist at the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said that the differences are overblown, since Medicare’s administrative cost total already includes payments to other agencies for such services.

We won’t settle this question, but we will point out evidence that even when you control for the differences, Medicare is still considerably more cost-efficient. In one study, CBO found that privately run Medicare plans had 11 percent overhead, compared to 2 percent for traditional Medicare.

Are "overhead" costs a useful way to measure the efficiency of a health plan?

Not necessarily. As the insurance industry often says -- and independent experts generally agree -- the right kind of administrative expenses may actually lead to cost savings and improved outcomes. These include disease management, wellness programs and quality improvement programs. CBO notes that a heavily managed insurance plan may spend more on overhead but may end up with lower premiums and better outcomes, whereas a lightly managed program may spend less on overhead but end up charging its policyholders more, with less positive results. By this logic, a higher-overhead plan might actually be preferable.

In addition, Henry Aaron, a health care specialist at the centrist-to-liberal Brookings Institution, suggested that over the long run, Medicare could benefit financially from having higher administrative costs in at least one area -- anti-fraud enforcement.

In other words, measuring overhead is worthwhile, but it has its limitations.

Our ruling

There is some disagreement over how much Medicare pays in overhead. It could be a few percentage points higher than the 1 to 2 percent that Boxer cites. But Boxer’s numbers are defensible since they come straight from the Medicare trustees’ report.

Meanwhile, Boxer’s 20 percent-to-30 percent figure for the private sector is more squishy. Some plans have overhead rates that high, but only a fraction do, and the industry-wide average is quite a bit lower -- 11 to 12 percent.

We’re convinced that Boxer’s underlying point -- that private plans have higher overhead than government plans -- is correct, if for no other reason than that profits matter only for private insurers. But for most plans and patients, the difference between Medicare overhead and private-sector overhead is not as great as she suggests. So we rate her statement Half True.

MEDICARE - Hospital Performance Tracking

"Medicare Plan for Payments Irks Hospitals" by ROBERT PEAR, New York Times 5/30/2011


For the first time in its history, Medicare will soon track spending on millions of individual beneficiaries, reward hospitals that hold down costs and penalize those whose patients prove most expensive.

The administration plans to establish “Medicare spending per beneficiary” as a new measure of hospital performance, just like the mortality rate for heart attack patients and the infection rate for surgery patients.

Hospitals could be held accountable not only for the cost of the care they provide, but also for the cost of services performed by doctors and other health care providers in the 90 days after a Medicare patient leaves the hospital.

This plan has drawn fire from hospitals, which say they have little control over services provided after a patient’s discharge — and, in many cases, do not even know about them. More generally, they are apprehensive about Medicare’s plans to reward and penalize hospitals based on untested measures of efficiency that include spending per beneficiary.

A major goal of the new health care law, often overlooked, is to improve “the quality and efficiency of health care” by linking payments to the performance of health care providers. The new Medicare initiative, known as value-based purchasing, will redistribute money among more than 3,100 hospitals.

Medicare will begin computing performance scores in July, for monetary rewards and penalties that start in October 2012.

The desire to reward hospitals for high-quality care is not new or controversial. The idea can be traced back to a bipartisan bill introduced in Congress in 2005, when Democrats and Republicans were still working together on health care. However, adding in “efficiency” is entirely new and controversial, as no consensus exists on how to define or measure the efficiency of health care providers.

Isn't this part of a cost-containment strategy?

Friday, May 27, 2011

SERBIA - Mladic Arristed!

"War Crimes Suspect Mladic 'Personified the Brutality' of Bosnian Conflict" PBS Newshour Transcript 5/26/2011 (includes video)


MARGARET WARNER (Newshour): And for more on today's arrest of Mr. Mladic and the significance of it, we turn to U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues Stephen Rapp. He previously served as a lead prosecutor in U.N.-sponsored war crimes trials for the African nations of Rwanda and Sierra Leone. And Emma Daly, who covered the wars in the former Yugoslavia for the British newspaper, the independent, she's now communications director at Human Rights Watch.

Welcome to you both.

Ambassador Rapp, you have been to Serbia five times in the last 15 months. What new can you add to the circumstances of his capture?

STEPHEN RAPP, U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues: Well, that it is -- that it's a Serbian operation.

They were maintaining surveillance over the extended family. We have been in touch with them. We have been providing them with advice and assistance with the FBI. They have been meeting with us regularly to inform us on their progress, which is important, because our -- our assistance to Serbia depends upon that full cooperation.

But this was a -- was a situation of maintaining surveillance and finally getting the signal that this is where he was, and being able to move in on him.

MARGARET WARNER: And are you saying the FBI was actively assisting the investigation?

STEPHEN RAPP: The FBI made two visits to Serbia and -- to provide advice, our Federal Bureau of Investigations actively involved in chasing down fugitives both on federal and state warrants, and could provide some technical assistance and advice about how to do that.

That wasn't operational, however. That is just an example of what we have done to try to make this happen.

MARGARET WARNER: All right, and I want to get back to that, but let me bring in Emma Daly here.

Ms. Daly, remind us about Mladic. And how critical a figure was he in this top triumvirate, the Serb president, Milosevic, the Bosnian Serb president, Karadzic, and himself?

EMMA DALY, Human Rights Watch: Well, I think he really personified the brutality of the war.

He was a brilliant strategist in many ways, the architect of the siege of Sarajevo, of mass ethnic cleansing of villages across the country, and most famously -- or infamously -- of the massacre at Srebrenica.

He was really -- to some in Serbian nationalist circles, he was really a folk hero. And he -- he just espoused this very strong sense of -- he was trying to take revenge in a way for what he saw as abuses against the Serb people in the past.

MARGARET WARNER: And so how significant would you say today's arrest is in maybe finally beginning to close the chapter on this whole horrible event?

EMMA DALY: Oh, I think it's extremely important. I mean, his arrest is absolutely crucial.

I think it's extremely important, not just for his victims in Bosnia, of whom there are many. I think that they will probably feel a great sense of relief that the relatives of those who died in the war will finally get a day in court.

I think it also has a wider significance, in that it sends a message to those people who are engaged in potential atrocities right now in other countries around the world.

MARGARET WARNER: Ambassador Rapp, going back to the circumstances leading up to this, how did he evade capture for 16 years? I mean, we saw those videos, him at a wedding, that famous one of him out skiing or walking in the snow. Was the Serb government protecting him?

STEPHEN RAPP: Well, all I can say is that, since I have been in this post and working closely with the government of President Tadic, they have been digging in and seeking -- seeking his arrest, and I think turning over every stone to make it happen.

I think, prior to that time, there were situations where there wasn't a diligent effort to find him, even a time when he was drawing a military pension. But -- but, in the course of the last two years or more, there has been this effort.

And I think it's a reflection of the fact that -- that this government and the people have decided to turn this page and to move forward in Europe. It's also because of the conditions that countries have placed on the admission of Serbia to the family of nations, particularly by the E.U.

While the current government of Serbia may not have been protecting Mladic I believe that the people of Serbia were protecting him. The crimes commuted in Serbia could not have happened without the support or ambivalence of the people. This mirrors Nazi Germany.

The Bosnian Conflict was an Ethnic/Nationalistic based war, and the people that conducted this war WERE seen by many as heroes.

SUPREME COURT - Arizona's Illegal Worker Law

"Supreme Court Upholds Arizona Law Punishing Employers of Illegal Workers" PBS Newshour Transcript 5/26/2011 (includes video)


JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): The U.S. Supreme Court today ruled federal law doesn't preempt an Arizona measure that punishes employers who hire illegal immigrants. The split decision was a blow to immigrant advocates, business and civil liberties groups, and the Obama administration.

Under the Arizona law, companies caught hiring illegal workers can be stripped of their business licenses. And employers are required to use the otherwise-optional federal verification program known as E-Verify.

Today's case is separate from another controversial Arizona immigration law now making its way through the court system.

As always, Marcia Coyle of The National Law Journal walks us through it.

Welcome back.

MARCIA COYLE, The National Law Journal: Thanks, Jeff.

JEFFREY BROWN: First, remind us of the background on this case and the Arizona law.


There is a federal immigration law that preempts or blocks state and local laws that impose civil or criminal sanctions on employers who hire unauthorized aliens, other than through their licensing or similar laws. And keep that phrase in mind, the exception, other than licensing laws.


MARCIA COYLE: Arizona is one of about eight states that has enacted that type of a licensing law.

Arizona's law says, essentially, employer, if you hire an unauthorized alien, you may have your license to do business in our state suspended or even revoked.

A second part of this is the federal government has created a program that helps employers determine the status of a worker, E-Verify, an online program. It's a voluntary program. The difference with Arizona, however, is, Arizona mandates that its employers use E-Verify.

In 2007, the Chamber of Commerce and a number of civil liberties groups challenged the Arizona law. It said that the Arizona provisions conflict with federal immigration law; federal immigration law preempts the state law. Lower federal courts didn't agree. They upheld the state law. The Supreme Court today upheld it as well.

Although I personally believe that Arizona has become a Nazi state (their immigration law aka show-me-your-papers and other race-based attitudes) this particular law is NOT offensive, but its enforcement needs to be watched closely to ensure that racial prejudices do not become the norm. That is, failure to hire or firing ONLY because you look like a Mexican.

LIBIA - Another Close Look......

"Journalist Foley Details 6 Weeks of Captivity in Libya: 'I Could Make it'"
PBS Newshour 5/25/2011

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

EGYPT - Evolution of Revolution

"Egypt Is Moving to Try Mubarak in Fatal Protests" by DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK, New York Times 5/24/2011


Former President Hosni Mubarak will be put on trial for conspiring to kill unarmed protesters, Egypt’s top prosecutor announced Tuesday, yielding to public demands for accountability and setting an example that could rattle autocrats around the region.

The charge could incur the death penalty. Mr. Mubarak was also accused of obtaining his seaside mansion in Sharm el Sheik as a kickback from a friend for a corrupt land deal, and prosecutors accused his two sons, Gamal and Alaa, of receiving a total of four other villas there as part of the same kickback. And in a third charge, prosecutors said the former president allowed the same friend to siphon $714 million in public money out of a deal to sell natural gas to Israel.

The charges — brought by prosecutors Mr. Mubarak had appointed — included hints that former subordinates might testify against him, as onetime allies and government insiders turn on one another.

A Cairo criminal court is expected to set a trial date within days, and the Egyptian people could soon see the leader whose iron fist ruled them for nearly three decades seated in the steel cage that serves as a docket in Egyptian courtrooms.

Alarmed by the calls for Mr. Mubarak’s prosecution, the Saudi royal family has for weeks urged Egypt’s current military rulers to avoid harsh treatment, fearing that it could intensify unrest in the region, according to Saudi officials and a Western diplomat. Some argue that watching Mr. Mubarak endure the humiliation of a criminal trial and potential conviction could harden the resolve of embattled leaders like Bashar al-Assad of Syria and Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen to hang on to power at any cost.

OPINION - On the Road to Hell

"The River Styx" by Lotta Tjernström

"Privatization: The Road to Hell" by Jim Hightower, Common Dreams 5/25/2011

Billionaires are different from you and me, for obvious reasons, including the fact that they buy much pricier baubles than we do.

A sleek car costing $100,000? Why, for them, that's just an easy impulse purchase. A few million bucks for a Matisse original? Go ahead — it'll liven up the hallway. How about throwing a fat wad of cash at a university to get an academic chair named for you? Sure, it's all part of the fun of living in BillionaireLand.

Then there is the top crust of the upper-crust — such megalomaniacal megabillionaires as the Koch brothers. Using money from their industrial conglomerate, their foundation and their personal fortunes, these two far-out, laissez-faire extremists are literally buying public policy. Their purchases of everything from politicians to the tea party help them push the privatization of all things public and the elimination of pesky regulations and taxes that crimp their style.

To advance their plutocratic privatization cause, brother Charles has even gone on a shopping spree for an invaluable bauble that most of us didn't even know was for sale: academic freedom. And it's surprisingly cheap!

For only $1.5 million, Koch bought a big chunk of the economics department of Florida State University a couple of years ago. His donation gives him control of a new "academic" program at this public institution to indoctrinate students in his self-serving political theories.

The billionaire gets to screen all applicants, veto any he deems insufficiently ideological, and sign off on all new hires. Also, the department head must submit yearly reports to Koch about the faculty's speeches, publications and classes, and he evaluates the faculty based on "objectives" that he sets.

Charles has made similar purchases of academic freedom at two other state universities, Clemson and West Virginia. Also, in a May 20 piece at Alternet.org, investigative researcher Lee Fang reveals that Koch has paid $419,000 to buy into Brown University's "political theory project," $3.6 million to establish Troy University's "center for political economy" and $700,000 for a piece of Utah State's Huntsman School of Business, which now has the "Charles G. Koch Professor of Political Economy."

Imagine the screams of outrage we'd hear from the Kochs if a labor union were doing this.

A recent article in The Onion, the satirical newsweekly, printed a downsize-big-government spoof that Charles and David would love to turn into reality. The parody disclosed that President Obama had come up with a surefire plan to balance the federal budget: Rob Fort Knox! "I've got the blueprints," Obama is quoted as saying, "and I think I found a way out through a drainage pipe."

Unfortunately, with today's political climate dominated by howling winds from the far-right fringe, there's no longer any room in American culture for satire. Sure enough, some laissez-faire extremists at such Koch-funded corporate fronts as Cato Institute and Heritage Foundation are presently howling for the government to sell all of America's gold stored in Fort Knox. Noting that we have billions worth of bullion in the vaults, a fellow from Heritage made this keen observation: "It's just sort of sitting there."

Uh, yeah, professor. Like Mount Rushmore, the Grand Canyon, the Lincoln Memorial and other national assets — being there is the point.

Yet these ivory tower ideologues are using the current brouhaha over the budget deficit as an opening to push their loopiest fantasies of selling off all of America's public properties, facilities, systems and treasures to create a no-government, plutocratic paradise. Just spread our public goods out on tables, like a flea market from hell, and invite the global rich to buy it all.

For example, a fellow from another Koch-funded front, the American Enterprise Institute, observes that the government could raise billions of dollars to retire that pesky deficit simply by selling our interstate highway system. Americans would then have to pay tolls forever to the corporate owners, but hey, he exclaims, remember that tolls "work for the River Styx, why not the Beltway?"

What a perfect metaphor for privatization! In ancient mythology, dead souls must pay a toll to be ferried across the River Styx and enter the depths of hell.

Yes parents, send your child to Florida State University's Koch Indoctrination Center today. Heil Koch!

POLITICS - Yet Another Shot at Republicans

"The Republican freak show" by Roger Simon, Politico 5/24/2011

Question: If Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney were on a sinking ship, who would be saved?

Answer: America.

Cruel. Very cruel. But it may set the tone for the 2012 race. The last time a Democratic president ran for reelection was Bill Clinton in 1996. And the press was careful to portray Bob Dole as a credible opponent.

He was not. Though an often nice guy and a highly skilled legislator, he was a disaster on the stump, and Clinton crushed him in a three-way race.

The media will be a little more savvy about campaign skills this time around. Tim Pawlenty, who announced for the Republican presidential nomination on Monday, has already said, “I’m not running for entertainer in chief.”

It is not a new line. But it is an ominous one. Presidential candidates who don’t think they have to get and hold the attention of voters in a positive way — call it entertainment if you want — are probably doomed.

No matter how much Pawlenty tailors his message to attract conservative and tea party Republicans, he may lack the dynamism to beat a fired-up-and-ready-to-go Barack Obama in the general election. It is said that Pawlenty once gave a fireside chat and the fire went out.

While Pawlenty was announcing from Des Moines on Monday, CNN was running videotape of Obama drinking a Guinness in Ireland, MSNBC was running a piece on tattoo artists and even Fox cut away from Pawlenty after a short while. A few minutes later, all three cable networks gave live coverage to every minute of Obama’s rip-roaring speech from Dublin.

That’s what being an incumbent president can do for you.

Take a look at these two fields. The first is Republicans who are not running in 2012: Jeb Bush, Haley Barbour, Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels, Mike Huckabee, Mike Pence, Paul Ryan, John Thune and Donald Trump.

Now take a look at the Republicans who are running or getting ready to run: Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman, Gary Johnson, Ron Paul, Tim Pawlenty, Buddy Roemer, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.

Which is the stronger field? I have not identified any of these guys by the offices they hold or have held, because if you have to ask yourself “Who is that guy?” then it shows you why the Republicans are at a disadvantage. Nobody has to ask who Obama is, and that is why he doesn’t have to spend a penny of his campaign funds on TV commercials introducing himself to the American people.

Two other Republicans might still declare for the nomination: Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann. If they ran as a ticket, they would be the most dynamic — and unpredictable — duo either party could offer. Forgive me if I would consider it a reporter’s dream ticket, but I would be the first in line for that campaign plane.

The Republicans who have decided not to run in 2012 have done so for a variety of reasons: personal, strategic, financial. But some have done so for one reason: They doubt any Republican can beat Obama in 2012, and they would rather wait for an open seat in 2016.

They may be wrong. At one point, George H.W. Bush looked unbeatable for reelection in 1992, but a dynamic, almost mesmerizing, campaigner, Clinton, beat him.

Who is the dynamic, almost mesmerizing, campaigner among the Republicans this time?

Well, that’s the problem. The Republicans often do not look for campaign skills when they choose a nominee. They are a party of hierarchy. “We typically look for the next person in line,” Tom Rath, a top Republican operative from New Hampshire, once told me. “We want to know: Whose turn is it?”

And if you look at the list of recent Republican nominees, you realize he is right: John McCain in 2008, George W. Bush in 2000 and Bob Dole in 1996 were all the next guys in line. They had “earned” their place in the party hierarchy. (Or, in the case of George W. Bush, his father had earned it for him.) Even Ronald Reagan lost the nomination to Gerald Ford in 1976, because Reagan was not the next guy in line. By 1980, Reagan was.

The reason the Republican race for the nomination appears chaotic is that there is no logical next guy (or woman) in line. Romney might come closest, but many question his conservative Republican bona fides.

So it is a scramble. Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post described a recent Republican debate as being like the bar scene in “Star Wars.” To me, it resembled a freak show: There was the two-headed man over there and next to him was the guy who bites the heads off chickens.

Is there a real nominee in this field? Someone who can win over the party in the primaries and the nation in the general?

I know some believe that Obama is doomed because the economy is bad. And they believe the presidency, therefore, will be dumped in the Republicans’ lap in 2012.

They are kidding themselves. The Republicans are up against a real campaigner, and if they want his job, they are going to have to step their game way up and take it from him.

POLITICS - Fox CEO Roger Ailes’s Disregard of Journalistic Standards

"Understatement Of The Year: Sarah Palin Is An Idiot" by Mark, News Corpse 5/23/2011

In an article published in New York Magazine, Roger Ailes, CEO of Fox News is reported to have told colleagues that he thinks Sarah Palin is an idiot and unhelpful to the conservative movement.

Really? Gosh, we never knew. But to be fair, there was a lot more of interest in that article than the sensational headline that is getting all the attention. I’ll have an article at Alternet soon (and here at News Corpse in a day or two) about how Fox News has sabotaged the Republican Party, but in the meantime, here is a brief summary of some of the more salient facts in the NYMag article:
  • Ailes thinks Sarah Palin is an idiot (a given).

  • Ailes threatened to fire Glenn Beck as talks over his departure broke down.
    …as with everything concerning Glenn Beck, the situation was a mess, simultaneously a negotiation and a therapy session.

  • Ailes was upset that he could not elect a president.
    the Fox candidates’ poll numbers remain dismally low.

  • Ailes tried to recruit Chris Christie to run for president.
    …he fell hard for Christie, who nevertheless politely turned down Ailes’s calls to run.

  • Ailes is the GOP kingmaker.
    You can’t run for the Republican nomination without talking to Roger.

  • Ailes threatened to quit in 2008.
    Ailes confronted Murdoch after he learned Murdoch was thinking of endorsing Obama in the New York Post.

  • Ailes is a true believer in the lunatic theories his network broadcasts.
    Ailes told Axelrod that he was concerned that Obama wanted to create a national police force.

Perhaps the most profoundly disturbing item in this list is that Ailes is recruiting candidates for the GOP. How can the head of an alleged news network have that sort of political role? What if he succeeds in persuading Christie, or someone else, to enter the race? How could his network cover the campaign with any impartiality? Not that they would anyway, considering that half of the Republican field is on the Fox payroll, but this would blow any pretense of being “fair and balanced” out of the water. No wonder Rupert Murdoch’s own son-in-law said of Ailes…

“I am by no means alone within the family or the company in being ashamed and sickened by Roger Ailes’s horrendous and sustained disregard of the journalistic standards that News Corporation, its founder and every other global media business aspires to.”


POLITICS - Who Increased the National Debt?

(click for better view)

"DU: Hoyer Reads GOP The Riot Act For Enormous U.S. Debt" by Brian Beutler, Rightardia 5/24/2011

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) offered an unusually blunt assessment of the sources of U.S. debt in a Monday speech before an audience of Republican and Democratic elder-statesmen .

Hoyer called Republicans on the carpet for creating systemic deficits, then holding U.S. creditworthiness as hostage to a highly contentious right-wing ideological agenda.

In a Monday speech at the Bipartisan Policy Center, Hoyer said both parties are responsible for addressing the country's unsustainable fiscal trajectory. But he insisted on reminding Republicans that they did far more than Democrats to create the debt.

Source: talkingpointsmem

graphic: Bartcop.com

WIKILEAKS - Frontline on Bradass87

"Frontline's 'WikiSecrets' Explores Mysteries of Bradley Manning" PBS Newshour Transcript 5/24/2011


JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): Finally tonight, shedding new light on WikiLeaks.

This evening on "Frontline," correspondent Martin Smith unravels the mystery of Bradley Manning, the Army private who allegedly stole thousands of classified government documents.

One part of the tale has been largely unknown, the story of the hacker who blew the whistle on Manning.

Here's how it unfolds from tonight's program titled "Wiki Secrets." (link to full 54min program, opens in new page)

LIBYA - One Close Look.....

"NPR Reporter: 'Ragtag' Libyan Rebels Seek New Weapons, Money"
PBS Newshour 5/24/2011

ECONOMY - Chrysler Pays Back Taxpayers

"Chrysler Pays Back Billions in Bailout Loans: Is the Comeback Complete?" PBS Newshour Transcript 5/24/2011


JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): And we turn to an update on one of the big three automakers, as Chrysler pays back billions.

Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne made the announcement as he stood before a banner reading "Paid" at a plant just outside Detroit.

SERGIO MARCHIONNE, Chrysler: We have received confirmation this morning at 10:13 a.m. from Citigroup that Chrysler Group repaid, with interest, by wire transfer to the United States Treasury and by bank transfer to the Canadian government, every penny that had been loaned less than two years ago.


JEFFREY BROWN: The bill came to $7.6 billion -- $5.9 billion repaid to the U.S. government and $1.7 billion to Canada.

The company financed the repayment with a mixture of bonds, bank loans, and an increased stake from its Italian part-owner, Fiat. Less than two years ago, Chrysler had emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy with a government bailout package that also left it under Fiat management.

Ron Bloom was part of President Obama's auto task force.

RON BLOOM, assistant to President Obama for manufacturing policy: This repayment means that U.S. taxpayers have now recouped more than 100 percent of the money that President Obama invested in the company, and over 85 percent of all moneys invested by the U.S. government.

If that doesn't qualify Chrysler for comeback of the year, then I cannot imagine what would.


JEFFREY BROWN: Two years ago, a number of Republicans criticized the bailout, charging the Obama administration had overreached.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio Minority Leader: What we really ought to have is an exit plan to get the federal taxpayers' money back in the treasury and allow the private sector to be itself.

JEFFREY BROWN: And today's announcement immediately became a political football, as the Democratic National Committee released an ad taking note of the earlier criticism and celebrating Chrysler's comeback.

MITT ROMNEY, (R) former Massachusetts governor: ... that, if you write a check, they're going to go out of business.

JEFFREY BROWN: Today's move was the latest step in what may be a broader revival of a Detroit auto industry all but left for dead two years ago.

The smallest of the big three Detroit automakers, Chrysler has been fighting to restore its image, as well as its bottom line, including a big Super Bowl ad featuring Detroit's own Eminem.

EMINEM, musician: This is the Motor City, and this is what we do.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, last quarter, Chrysler posted its first net profit in five years.

American taxpayers win AND Chrysler workers win. Also, private investments look better.

POLITICS - Not Voting Trend

"Does Anybody Care? - The Right Not to Vote" by Clifford Wilson, Cliff's Notes 5/23/2011


Tuesday, May 17th was Primary Day in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Only about 14 1/2% of the registered voters (only about 65% of the eligible voters are registered) bothered to vote. The primaries in many instances determined who the state and county judges would be ,and who would hold county and municipal office and school board membership for the next four years. With Pennsylvania’s peculiar cross-filing system candidates were able to win both primaries for local judicial and school board offices and thus avoid a two party contest in the general election in November.

Pennsylvania contains the unmarked graves of hundreds at Valley Forge, and thousands in the national cemetery at Gettysburg, along with the field in Schwenksville where the plane went down when the passengers sacrificed their lives to prevent terrorists from attacking the White House in DC. These and so many others throughout our nation’s history gave their lives so their descendants could be free. And the greatest symbol of that freedom is the right to vote.

In 1608 the colonists of Jamestown, VA held an election for President of the colony; only a few of the colonists were eligible to vote. In the 1630's, as the Puritans settled throughout New England, colonists struggled to become freemen and to expand the franchise beyond church members to all residents. From the time of the American Revolution to the Civil War the nation was engaged in a great political struggle to assure universal white male suffrage. Property ownership, personal and land, had been a prerequisite for voting - that was abolished. By the time that 600,000 men died in the Civil War all white men had the right to vote. That war brought about the emancipation of black slaves and the 15th amendment to the constitution which guaranteed African American men the right to vote. That right, while initially respected, was soon buried under an avalanche of laws that effectively prevented black men from voting. In1965 the Voting Rights Act restored the authority of that amendment and guaranteed the franchise to all regardless of race. By 1920 the nation had progressed to the point of enacting woman suffrage and in 1972, largely as a result of the Vietnam War, the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18. So by the 1970's America - the symbol of Democracy - had finally put in place universal adult suffrage.

With a plethora of new election reforms such as absentee voting, registration by mail, permanent personal registration, early voting it was made both easier to register and more convenient to vote. Some states today are even using voting by mail (Oregon) and primary voting on Saturdays (West Virginia). But these changes have not resulted in increased registration nor increased turnouts - to the contrary those numbers are going down to the point where one has to question whether a 10% turnout primary is the most democratic way to chose candidates.

It is clear that the answer to low participation is not tinkering with the system - some changes may be needed because they make sense in and of themselves -- but what will increase voter participation is a change in the attitude of people. Unless our citizens begin to view voting as a Responsibility in addition to a Right they run the risk of losing that freedom altogether. Not the form of it - even fascist dictators and communists hold elections -- but the value of it. Today no matter who votes for whom it appears that the moneyed interests and those who can buy candidates and fund campaigns determine what the elected officials do once in office. This simply reinforces the view of those who say elections don’t count.

We have reached a point in our country where the Right Not to Vote seems to have trumped the right to vote. Only in Iraq and Africa and third world countries do we see lines of people waiting to vote under threat of violence and even death if they participate. Here a little rain keeps people home.

The colonists of the seventeenth century and the patriots of the eighteenth would be appalled today at the nonchalant manner in which people treat the opportunity to vote. And Lincoln standing at Gettysburg would be hard pressed to say “that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish form the earth.” We look at this past election in Pennsylvania and are moved to quote the line in 1776 when John Adams, listening to one of George Washington’s numerous appeals to the Continental Congress for help for the Continental Army, exclaims “Does Anybody Care”.

My personal view? Considering that EVERY election contains issues that are local, that effect you very closely, IF you do not vote you deserve what you get, so do not complain. Even national elections have local an state issues on the ballot.

Getting information is so easy in today's internet-connected world and via media (even if slanted or full of hyperbole) that there is very little excuse not to vote. Also in California, where I live and vote, I am registered as a Permanent Mail ballot voter (nonpartisan) which makes voting very easy AND gives me time to study issues and candidates since my ballot arrives 2 or 3 weeks before voting day. No need to worry about having time to go to a polling location.

Voting, for me, is a duty. I wish this was so for all U.S. citizens.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

THE LITE SIDE - The Mole People are Coming



Humm.... Mole People aka Tea Party?

EUROPE - A Reminder From Mother Nature

"In Europe, an ash cloud returns" by Anthony Faiola, Washington Post 5/24/2011

A gargantuan ash cloud from an Icelandic volcano is drifting over Britain, disrupting air traffic, prompting changes in President Obama’s travel plans and bringing back memories of the massive flight cancellations that stranded millions of passengers last year.

The ash cloud from the Grimsvotn volcano stretches from Greenland to Russia. But because of new policies governing air travel, the cloud appears unlikely to spark a repeat of the global transit nightmares of last April, when the eruption of a different volcano, Eyjafjallajokull, triggered the largest shutdown of European airspace since World War II.

Still, the return of the volcanic menace has Europe on edge — particularly its airlines, which lost billions of euros during last year’s cancellations.

Britain’s meteorological agency, known as the Met Office, declared a “temporary danger area” over Scotland until 1 p.m. local time (8 a.m. in Washington) Tuesday, leading British Airways to suspended all morning flights between London and Scotland. Dutch carrier KLM, no-frills airlines Easyjet and Ryan Air and numerous other regional airlines canceled flights to and from Scotland and northern England.

About 250 flights were canceled, and thousands of airline passengers were left facing long delays. A statement issued by Eurocontrol, the European aviation authority, said there is “a strong possibility that the ash cloud may impact parts of Denmark and southern Scandinavia in the course of the day.”

Since the chaos of last year — when flights were grounded in overwhelming numbers, turning much of Europe into a no-fly zone — officials have revised their understanding of when ash particles pose a danger.

They now say assumptions that volcanic clouds holding low amounts of ash were extremely hazardous were faulty. Revamped models have determined that flight conditions become hazardous only when they involve medium- or high-density portions of the ash cloud.

The new parameters mean a much more limited danger zone for flights. In Britain, rules established last year allow airlines to make their own decisions about whether to fly in skies containing volcanic ash, though they must apply for licenses from civil aviation authorities to do so.

A spokeswoman for Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority — who declined to be named, citing agency policy — described the broad no-fly policies of last year as “inflexible.”

“This time there are more working models,” the spokeswoman said. “The CAA is not saying you cannot fly; instead we’re looking at the science of how you can fly in a safe manner.”

“If aircraft are not flying, it’s their decision,” she said, referring to individual airlines. Though no permit is required for flying in low-density ash, airlines must apply for permission to fly in medium- or high-density ash clouds, and must include a sign-off from aircraft and engine manufacturers.

The spokeswoman said that some airlines have already made “safety cases” for flying in medium-density ash, but no airline has yet requested permission for flying in high-density ash.

Current weather patterns indicate that the busy international air hubs in London were unlikely to be impacted by high-particle ash clouds, and that much of continental Europe would be spared, too, said Barry Gromett, a forecaster at the Met Office.

But he cautioned that the outlook could worsen, depending on the duration of the volcanic eruption and prevailing winds.

The threat of treacherous conditions on Monday led President Obama to cut short his visit to Ireland and make haste to London for the second leg of his four-nation European tour.

It remained unclear whether the gathering ash cloud would further impact Obama’s schedule.

Another reminder of who's The Boss when it comes to our enviroment.

SCIENCE - The Universe's Multiple-Planet Stars

"Stars With Multiple Planets Abound" by Govert Schilling, Science 5/23/2011

Planets like company. No less than one in three of all planets around other stars found by NASA's Kepler space telescope are in multiple-planet systems. What's more, the sheer number of those systems suggests that they are more tranquil places than our own solar system, say astronomers working with the telescope.

Since it was launched just over 2 years ago, Kepler has found 116 systems with two planets, 45 with three, eight with four, one with five, and one with six planets, astronomer David Latham of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, reported here today at the meeting of the American Astronomical Society. That's a total of 171 multiple-planet systems. "We thought we might see a few multiplanet systems," Latham says. "Instead, we found lots of them."

Kepler detects a planet when it passes in front of its parent star, as seen from Earth. Such transits produce minute, periodic dips in the brightness of the star. Kepler continuously monitors 165,000 stars to search for those transits.

The low expectation for multiple-planet systems was based on the fact that the eight planets in our own solar system do not orbit in exactly the same plane. For instance, the plane of Mercury's orbit is tilted by 7˚ relative to that of Earth. So if the solar system were viewed from a vast distance, if one planet produced transits, most others would not.

This means Kepler's multiplanet systems must be very flat, with orbital tilts of less than a degree. "Most likely, if our solar system didn't have large planets like Jupiter and Saturn to have stirred things up with their gravitational disturbances, it would be just as flat," Latham says. In the Kepler systems found so far, smaller planets such as Neptune are much more common. Latham says, "Systems with smaller planets probably had a much more sedate history."

Still, the planets do slightly disturb each other with their mutual gravity, pulling each other around a little bit and thus causing tiny variations in the exact timing of the transits. In fact, such transit timing variations provide information on the masses of the planets. "This is a completely new [tool in the] field that might become very important," says planetary scientist Sara Seager of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.

Transit timing variations even show "indications" of the existence of nontransiting planets in some of the multiplanet systems, says Kepler principal investigator William Borucki of NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffet Field, California. "We're looking into it," Borucki says. Those unseen planets' orbits may have been tilted a bit by the perturbations of a Neptune-like planet in the system. But Ames theorist Jack Lissauer says that if no transits are observable, it will be much harder to pin down the orbits and masses of these planets.

Meanwhile, a thorough statistical analysis of the sizes of the planets Kepler has seen so far reveals "a very profound discovery," planet hunter Geoff Marcy of the University of California, Berkeley, reported at the meeting. "There are some Jupiters and some Saturns, but there are many more smaller planets out there," Marcy says, probably including a lot of them comparable in size to Earth.

The ultimate goal of the Kepler mission, which has an operational lifetime of 3½ years, is to find the abundance of Earth-like planets orbiting stars like our own sun at distances where liquid water—and possibly life—could exist on their surfaces. Borucki expects an additional release of Kepler data in June 2012 and doesn't want to speculate about what it might show. "We don't want to get premature information out," he says. "There's still a lot of analysis that needs to be done."

HEALTHCARE - It's Working! More Bad News for GOP

"Rick Ungar: 'Obamacare' Is Working" by Nsenga Burton, The Root 5/24/2011

Rick Ungar of Forbes is reporting that recent data provided by the nation’s largest health insurance companies reveals that a provision of the Affordable Care Act -- "Obamacare" – is bringing big numbers of the uninsured into the health care insurance system. The uninsured in this study include the sick and the young.

The provision of the law that permits young adults under 26, long the largest uninsured demographic in the country, to remain on their parents’ health insurance program resulted in at least 600,000 newly insured Americans during the first quarter of 2011.

Wellpoint, the nation’s largest publicly traded health insurer with some 34 million customers, reports adding 280,000 new members in the first three months of 2011.

Add in the results of some of the other large health insurers including Aetna, who added just short of 100,000 newly insured to their customer base, Kaiser Permanente’s additional 90,000, and Highmark’s 72,000 new customers, and we begin to sense our health insurance pools are filling up with some badly needed young blood.

The Health & Human Services Department had estimated that the changes in the law would result in about 1.2 million new enrollees in 2011. However, according to Aaron Smith, the executive director of a Washington based non-profit that advocates for the young, it now looks as if that number will be exceeded.

This is very good news – particularly for those in the individual and small group markets that tend not to ‘self-insure’ as the larger corporations tend to do.

It is also very good news for those of us who write a large check every month for our health coverage.

For starters, every one of the young immortals we add to the rolls of the insured is one less young adult who will turn to the emergency room to fix a broken leg and then find themselves unable to pay the bill – leaving it to the rest of us to pay the tab.

And it gets better.

Because the under 26 crowd tends not to get sick, adding them to the insurance pools helps bring the very balance that was intended by the new law. The more healthy people available to pay for those in the pool who are ill (translation- the older people), the better the system works and the lower our premium charges should go.

Health insurance companies are making record profits for the first quarter of 2011. It is not rocket science -- more healthy young people on the rolls bring balance and income. This raises the question of whether health insurance companies should be able to keep that extra money they are pocketing or forced to hold the line on premiums as a result of their good fortune? Whatever the case, having more people with insurance is a good thing. Having young people get the medical attention that they need now as opposed to later, hopefully means they will be less sick in the future. The haters and naysayers can continue to label this good news as "Obamacare," as if it's a bad thing, while supporters have concrete proof that affordable health care is working for all Americans, including Republicans.

More bad news for the Republican agenda.

OPINION - The Party of F-You

"The GOP Has Gone From the Party of No to the Party of F You" by Mitchell Bard, Huffington Post 5/23/2011

When Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels announced he would not seek the Republican nomination for president in 2012 (a week after Mike Huckabee also chose not to run), he said it was because of the "interests and wishes" of his family.

And while I have no reason to doubt Daniels's claim, I can't help think that there may also be another factor in play. Daniels has carefully built his reputation as a reasonable governor, one who puts practical solutions in front of ideological battles. (Whether he actually is the above-the-fray leader he portrays himself to be is a different story, of course.) But, as Jacob Weisberg astutely pointed out in Slate on Friday, to be a national Republican figure today, you have to embrace a litany of lies, distortions and flat-out factually incorrect positions. The GOP lives now, he says, in "a mental Shangri-La, where unwanted problems... can be wished away, prejudice trumps fact... expertise is evidence of error, and reality itself comes to be regarded as some kind of elitist plot."

And living in a self-produced and Fox News/Rush Limbaugh-protected bubble of false reality has practical consequences. For the first two years of President Obama's administration, the Republicans were the Party of No, obstructing every one of the president's initiatives to address the pile of problems left behind by George W. Bush, all for political gain. But after winning control of the House in the 2010 midterm elections (as well as state governor's mansions and legislatures across the country), the Party of No morphed into something else, fully embracing a far-right, Tea Party-driven, wealth-and-business-obsessed, social and fiscal conservatism that sits to the right of even Ronald Reagan.

The GOP is now the Party of F You. (Fitting, given last year's infectious hit of the same name by Cee-Lo Green.) And that might be too much for Daniels to embrace.

After all, the Republicans campaigned in 2010 on jobs, deficits and health care, but it was all an act, a strategy to get elected. Once in office, the GOP has embraced a very different agenda, one that could easily be called the F You Agenda. Simply put, if you are wealthy or a large corporation, the Republicans have nothing but hugs and kisses for you. But for the rest of us? The GOP only offers a stern "F you."
  • Are you out of a job because of the financial collapse-induced recession that spiked the country's unemployment rate in 2008? The Republicans say "F you." Unless you believe the fairy tale that tax cuts for the rich create jobs (a lunatic fringe position not accepted by virtually any respected economists), the GOP has done nothing to help address unemployment. They've fought federal programs to boost job growth (including stimulus proposals, even lying about the effects of the 2009 stimulus legislation). And if not addressing the problem wasn't bad enough, Republicans have blocked efforts to extend unemployment insurance to those out of work, at both the state and federal level.

  • Are you worried about another financial collapse due to a lack of regulation of the industry? The Republicans say "F you." The 2008 recession, the effects of which are still with us today, was precipitated by a near collapse of the financial system, which was brought about by major financial institutions unscrupulously taking huge risks on junk securities, all while making billions in the process. This conduct was made possible because of 30 years (dating back to Ronald Reagan) of repealing regulations that had prevented just such abuses for nearly 50 years, from after the crash of 1929 until the Regan administration. So you would think it would be common sense that regulation would be needed to ensure that the financial industry can't do it all over again. But you would be wrong. The Republicans fought the modest financial regulation bill, Dodd-Frank, that was finally enacted in 2010, and have continued to fight to weaken it or delay its implementation ever since.

  • Are you worried about cutting the federal budget deficit? The Republicans say "F you." The GOP doesn't care about deficits, despite its rhetoric, because if it did, it wouldn't adopt the position that the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy cannot be rolled back, adding billions to the deficit in the years ahead. (And it's not like we're being over-taxed as citizens right now. The Bureau of Economic Analysis recently found that Americans now enjoy their lowest tax burden since 1958.) No, the Republican agenda is to cut taxes at all costs for corporations and the wealthy, and then to use the deficits that are created to justify draconian cuts in government spending. The end game is undoing the safety net created by the New Deal and the Great Society, including government programs like Medicare and Social Security that Americans have come to rely on. Paul Ryan's proposed budget (based on ludicrously optimistic projections provided by the right-wing Heritage Foundation), which effectively destroys Medicare by replacing government-paid-for health care for seniors with vouchers that won't begin to cover their insurance costs (assuming they can get insurance at all), is the realization of 80 years of conservative dreams of returning the country back to the 1920s. Which leads to...

  • Are you someone who hopes to have medical care when you're elderly? The GOP says "F you." Acceptance of Ryan's proposed budget, with its destruction of Medicare, has become unassailable dogma in the Republican party ( just ask Newt Gingrich). As I described above, Ryan's plan would leave many seniors without health care (including in his home state of Wisconsin). But hey, that's a small price to pay for an ideological victory, right?

  • Do you believe a woman should have the right to control her own body if she gets pregnant? The Republicans say "F you." Since taking office, both in the House and in the states, eliminating a woman's right to have an abortion has been at the top of the GOP agenda. In fact, the very first bill introduced in the GOP-controlled House this session, HR 1, was laden with anti-abortion provisions.

  • If you are a woman who has been raped in a way House Republicans don't think is rape, they say "F you" to you. GOP legislation introduced in the House sought to redefine rape, limiting the types of acts that constitute rape. In fact, if you are a woman, period, Republicans say "F you" to you. Even beyond abortion, GOP proposals have been so detrimental to women, especially women's health services, that myriad organizations and writers have used the term "the Republican war on women."

  • Do you want the government to responsibly manage the country's finances and prioritize the financial health of the nation over strict ideological games and tests? The Republicans say "F you." Despite the fact that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has warned that failing to raise the debt ceiling "threatens the health of our entire global economy and the jobs of millions of Americans," and an independent report outlined the potential disastrous consequences to the economy, the Republicans are playing games. They're using the need to raise the limit as a bargaining chip, trying to extract draconian budget cuts in return, all while disingenuously downplaying the impact of failing to raise the ceiling (also this), even as John Boehner traveled to New York to assure financial executives that the limit would be raised. Keep in mind, it is truly the ideologically driven radical right behind the debt ceiling obstruction. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, an Obama-despising conservative institution, as well as financial executives like the managing director of J.P. Morgan, want the debt ceiling raised.

  • Are high gas and oil prices having a real impact on your family's budget? The Republicans say "F you." Republicans in the Senate voted to protect subsidies for big oil companies, who have made billions in windfall profits thanks to high prices, choosing their corporate benefactors over the American people (not to mention blowing an opportunity to cut into the deficit and perpetuating a dependence on oil that has grave national security, economic and environmental implications for the United States).

I could go on (global warming denying, birther-coddling, union-busting, etc.), but the Republicans repeatedly say "F you" to everyone in this country except for the elite wealthy and big corporations. The party has moved so far to the right, its core policies are far out of the American mainstream. No wonder so many Republicans are dropping out of the presidential race, including Daniels, who would have to surrender his carefully developed persona as a reasonable, pragmatic leader if he wanted to have even a prayer of getting through the far-right-dominated GOP primary process.

I know Daniels is worried about the scrutiny on his past marital problems, but I can't help wonder if, at least in part, he just didn't want to be the standard bearer for the Party of F You.

ECONOMICS - The Wall Street Reality Show!

Matt Taibbi: 'U.S. Politics Are A Reality Show Sponsored By Wall Street'

Monday, May 23, 2011

OPINION - 2 More on the GOP

"Rick Scott may have proven toxic for Mike Hogan's mayoral campaign" by Abel Harding, Times-Union/Jacksonville.com 5/19/2011

As analysts dissect the Jacksonville mayoral race to learn what propelled Democrat Alvin Brown to victory over his GOP rival, one point continues to crop up -- Gov. Rick Scott is not very popular in Duval County.

"We were thrilled when he endorsed Mike Hogan," Dave Beattie told the Times-Union today. "Barack Obama is actually viewed more positively in Duval County than Rick Scott."

Beattie, who served as Brown's pollster throughout the campaign, said Brown wanted to run a Jacksonville-centric race, but benefited when Republicans would mention Scott.

The governor's disapproval ratings topped 51 percent in the polls Beattie ran of voters who turned out. Scott and Hogan's most fervent backers -- the tea party -- also fared poorly in the polling done throughout the campaign.

The most important issue on the mind of Jacksonville voters -- funding for public schools.

"It jumped from the third most important issue in January to the most important issue by April," he said. "It's a sign of what is going on in the Legislature."

Brown, who frequently reminded voters that his two young sons attend public school, clearly benefited from voters, even Republican voters, who had concerns about funding.

In a race where less than 2,000 votes determined the winner, unease over an unpopular governor may have led more than one Republican to support a Democrat. If Scott continues to fare poorly in the coming year, and if Republicans fail to recognize unrest over public education funding, 2012 could be a tough year for GOP candidates in Florida.

"How Do You Spell Sociopath? G-O-P" by Michael Payne, OpEdNews 5/21/2011


What is a sociopath? The definitions can get very involved and complicated but, in short, a sociopath is "a person with a personality disorder marked by antisocial behavior -- a person who has little regard for the feelings of others and manipulates them in order to get what he or she desires." It's a description of an individual "who has little to no sense of right versus wrong."

That's it; that description is almost a perfect fit for the hierarchy of the Republican Party -- an organization that has "little regard for the feelings of others" to the extent it is determined to eliminate any and all governmental programs designed to help Americans in need. Its objective seems to be, "let's strip social benefits for the American people so we can give more tax cuts to our corporate masters."

For now, we will restrict this sociopathic designation to the GOP hierarchy because of its obvious behavior patterns and not include Republican and Independent voters who have, unfortunately, allowed themselves to be influenced by the clever but vicious Republican agenda. However, if the twisted ideology of the G-O-P becomes deeply embedded in their psyches, then they will be in grave danger of assuming that same sociopathic identity.

I'm not inferring that the entire Republican hierarchy should be transported to the nearest asylum. Certainly not, at least not yet. We can't say with authority that those who lead this slightly demented party totally fit the description of that behavioral disorder. However, they are moving closer to it with each passing day as their actions, primarily in the U.S. Congress, are getting more and more hateful and mean spirited as they search for new ways to serve their corporate masters at the expense of the people.

The GOP agenda has no room for the needs of the people; it's designed to just let the people fend for themselves no matter how dire their situation might be. There is no need for wasteful programs such as health care for everyone, no need for Social Security or Medicare. Republicans care nothing about people. They are much more comfortable in the company of the largest corporations of America. In fact, we might say that the GOP has become a wholly owned subsidiary of Corporate America.

Some political observers say that, with their obsession to drastically cut back or eliminate entitlements, Republicans are committing political suicide. But could we possibly be that lucky? What should we bring to the celebration? I can hardly wait to send out sympathy cards to my Republican friends. If only that were true!

Did I hear it right, can it be true that the Republican Governor LePage of Maine is trying to roll back child labor laws in that state, to increase the hours they can work and reduce their rates of pay? What??

In recent months, Republican governors in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Texas, among others, have tried to pass legislation to eliminate the bargaining rights of unionized public workers including teachers, police and firefighters. Some have actually succeeded. They eventually might see to it that those who teach your children will be paid the minimum wage. That's how much importance they assign to education, a critical part of America's foundations.

And this is just for starters, see full article.

ECONOMY - Is the Mortgage Industry Really That Blind?

"As Lenders Hold Homes in Foreclosure, Sales Are Hurt" by ERIC DASH, New York Times 5/22/2011


The nation’s biggest banks and mortgage lenders have steadily amassed real estate empires, acquiring a glut of foreclosed homes that threatens to deepen the housing slump and create a further drag on the economic recovery.

All told, they own more than 872,000 homes as a result of the groundswell in foreclosures, almost twice as many as when the financial crisis began in 2007, according to RealtyTrac, a real estate data provider. In addition, they are in the process of foreclosing on an additional one million homes and are poised to take possession of several million more in the years ahead.

Five years after the housing market started teetering, economists now worry that the rise in lender-owned homes could create another vicious circle, in which the growing inventory of distressed property further depresses home values and leads to even more distressed sales. With the spring home-selling season under way, real estate prices have been declining across the country in recent months.

EXCUSE me? DUH! This has just come to "their" attention? Is this industry really that blind?

Hint: STOP foreclosures, and refinance at affordable rates instead. In the long run, that would be more beneficial to the industry than their present course.

ENVIRONMENT - Cities and Climate Change

"A City Prepares for a Warm Long-Term Forecast" by LESLIE KAUFMAN, New York Times 5/22/2011


CHICAGO — The Windy City is preparing for a heat wave — a permanent one.

Climate scientists have told city planners that based on current trends, Chicago will feel more like Baton Rouge than a Northern metropolis before the end of this century.

So, Chicago is getting ready for a wetter, steamier future. Public alleyways are being repaved with materials that are permeable to water. The white oak, the state tree of Illinois, has been banned from city planting lists, and swamp oaks and sweet gum trees from the South have been given new priority. Thermal radar is being used to map the city’s hottest spots, which are then targets for pavement removal and the addition of vegetation to roofs. And air-conditioners are being considered for all 750 public schools, which until now have been heated but rarely cooled.

“Cities adapt or they go away,” said Aaron N. Durnbaugh, deputy commissioner of Chicago’s Department of Environment. “Climate change (link opens in new page) is happening in both real and dramatic ways, but also in slow, pervasive ways. We can handle it, but we do need to acknowledge it. We are on a 50-year cycle, but we need to get going.”

Across America and in Congress, the very existence of climate change continues to be challenged — especially by conservatives. The skeptics are supported by constituents wary of science and concerned about the economic impacts of stronger regulation. Yet even as the debate rages on, city and state planners are beginning to prepare.

Ah yes. The anti-climate-change people, science (and by association, being well educated) is suspect and economics (aka money) is MORE of a concern than how climate change will impact our economy. Their belief = lets wait until we have go into panic mode WHEN the changing climate forces us to react.