Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Bloomberg: U.S. banks financing Mexico's drug cartels

Maybe the Bush Admin. got so distracted fighting terrorists' money laundering after 9/11 that he forgot about drug cartels' money laundering?

According to a Bloomberg report, Wachovia fired -- naturally! -- the head of its anti-money-laundering unit after he blew the whistle on the bank's laundering drug money for Mexican cartels. "If you don't see the correlation between the money laundering by banks and the 22,000 people killed in Mexico, you're missing the point," he said.

No big bank has ever been indicted for violating the Bank Secrecy Act or any other federal law. Large banks are protected from indictments by a variant of the too-big-to-fail theory, as Bloomberg reckoned: indicting a big bank could trigger a mad dash by investors to dump shares and cause panic in financial markets. "There's no capacity to regulate or punish them because they're too big to be threatened with failure."

Anyhoo, this is just one more reason to support increased concentration in the banking sector thanks to bailouts, and to trust free-marketeering bankers to always do the right thing.

By Robert Oak
June 29, 2010 | The Economic Populist

Monday, June 28, 2010

SEND REINFORCEMENTS! Only 2,000 U.S. to 1 al Qaeda in Afghanistan

Can you believe this? Does anybody remember supposedly why we invaded Afghanistan in the first place? It was to deny al Qaeda a save haven and a base of operations there.
Now experts are saying there are probably fewer than 50 and no more than 100 al Qaeda members in Afghanistan! In fact, they're not there at all, they're in western Pakistan.
Meanwhile, Obama gave McChrystal most of what he wanted, with almost 98,000 troops on the ground, more than Dubya ever sent.
So, now we have a maximum ratio of almost 2,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan for every 1 member of al Qaeda there; and a minimum of about 1,000 to 1.
You know, that sounds like enough troops to do the job. In fact, that sounds like way too many troops to do the job. No more al Qaeda in Afghanistan even kind of sounds like, well, "Mission Accomplished," doesn't it? I mean, put this in perspective: we can't restrict the flow of millions of Mexicans into the U.S., but we've managed to root out all but 50 al Qaeda from a country that's not even ours, with a border that nobody controls. I say it's time to pat each other on the back, give ourselves a laurel and a hearty handshake and say, "See ya, Afghanistan!" Let's bring our victorious troops home to a big hoopla parade! Whoopee! WE WON!!!!

What?... nobody else is excited? Nobody does an endzone dance anymore? What's wrong with you people?

Yeah, well, the truth, as we all know -- what neither Obama nor Dubya will admit -- is that we are not at war; we are an occupier stuck doing nation-building in Afghanistan. Our happenstance enemy there is the Taliban, who never threatened or attacked the United States until we invaded their country and took them out of power. To keep them out of power, we have to simultaneously (1) provide security against their harsh rule and retribution against cooperating Afghans, and (2) give the people "government in a box," as McChrystal put it, so that they don't look to said Taliban to provide freedom from chaos. Only thing is, that box with shiny wrapping and a pretty bow on top is empty. There's no such thing as government in a box. And even if there were, we've chosen the hardest place on earth to start a new government: a primitive, forbidding, uneducated, dirt poor, xenophobic, heavily armed, devoutly Islamic population with no history of democracy, power-to-the-people or rational civilized discourse. These are backward village idiots and crazy goat herders of the highest order. (No disrespect intended: all 3 major religions originated with such folk; so if God loves them so should we.)

Our task there is akin to convincing the majority of rural Mississipians or Alabamans -- by giving them the equivalent of 2-3x their average income in cash and in-kind -- to become slick, multicultural, gentrified, fast-talking New Yorkers and never revert to their poor, redneck ways once our support ends. They've tried this on Wife Swap a hundred times already and it's never worked.

Leon Panetta: There May Be Less Than 50 Al Qaeda Fighters In Afghanistan
June 27, 2010 | AP/Huffington Post

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Big Oil defeated new safety rules before BP explosion

Lest we forget how BP -- together with the Offshore Operators Committee and the American Petroleum Institute -- successfully fought off rig safety inspections recommended by the MMS, and lobbied against safety regulations.

Instead, they argued that self-regulation was sufficient.

By Marcus Baram
April 26, 2010 | Huffington Post

James Woolsey: 'Destroy oil as a strategic commodity'

It seems as if neocon, Iraq War proponent, and ex-spook James Woolsey has found Jesus, so to speak, on the energy issue. He actually makes some salient points about what "energy independence" really means.

It was news to me that oil releases carcinogenic particulates into the air which cause tens of thousands of deaths each year in the U.S.

With Scott Simon
June 26, 2010 | Weekend Edition Saturday on NPR

SCOTT SIMON, host: Every president - Democratic and Republican - since Richard Nixon has vowed to strive to make the United States energy independent. Forty years later, human beings have landed on the moon, human hearts are routinely transplanted, communism has collapsed, and silicon chips have made it possible to pack a library-worth of information into a device smaller than your thumb.

So why hasn't the United States or any nation become energy independent?

Jim Woolsey is the chairman of Woolsey Partners and a former director of Central Intelligence. He specializes in a range of alternative energy and security issues. He joins us in our studios. Thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. JIM WOOLSEY (Former CIA Director): Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: So what are some of the obstructions, technological, economic and political?

Mr. WOOLSEY: Well, in part we haven't been working frequently on the right problem. There are two energy systems essentially in the U.S. One is transportation - that's at 70 percent oil - and the other is the electricity grid - and that's over half fueled by coal and then natural gas, nuclear, hydro and others. They don't have very much to do with one another now.

Back in the '70s it was different. Oil fired power plants, provided about 20 percent of the country's electricity. So, if you were building a nuclear power plant or a wind farm in the '70s, you could well be replacing oil directly. Today, you're not.

SIMON: So when people talk about generating alternative sources of energy - and it often is things like wind or solar - that's not necessarily addressing the problem of foreign oil dependence.

Mr. WOOLSEY: It's not really addressing the problem of foreign oil dependence. No, that that doesn't have much to do with it and won't for many years.

SIMON: So where does that leave us?

Mr. WOOLSEY: In a way, there's been too much emphasis on the foreign side of this. Yes, we import well over half our oil now and that's a bad thing and we borrow a billion dollars a day essentially to import oil. But producing the oil domestically helps solve the balance of payments problem, but that's about all it does. It will not interfere with OPEC's domination of oil.

Something close to 80 percent of the world's proven reserves of oil are in OPEC states. And they are the low-cost producers and they have the big reserves. So they're going to be effectively running the international oil trade and running the cartel that runs it even if we drill more domestically. And so they're going to run the system.

We have to effectively destroy oil as a strategic commodity. Not destroy oil, but destroy its strategic role, its dominance of transportation.

SIMON: Well, that's why we've asked you here. It sound attractive. How do you do it?

Mr. WOOLSEY: Well, I think you want to focus on existing infrastructure and existing vehicles, and there are several things that could be done relatively quickly. One - and the administration is doing this, I think, and various people on the Hill, encouraging moving toward electrification. Particularly, I think, plug-in hybrids.

Another is improving the efficiency of internal combustion engines. There are a number of start-up companies that are inventing computer chips and valves and all kinds of things that you can use to modify existing engines and existing vehicles to get something like a 20, 30 percent improvement in fuel efficiency.

You can also encourage the use of biofuels generally. Require the automobile manufacturers much more rapidly than we're now requiring them to move to what's called an open-standard, flexible fuel vehicles. It just requires them to change the kind of plastic in the fuel line of the car and a bit of software -40, 50 dollars a vehicle - in the manufacturing process.

And that, I think, would an extremely positive step. One reason it would be positive is that we've got a serious health risk problem from using petroleum products. The fine particulates that are carried into the atmosphere by what's called aromatics - benzene, toluene, xylene - which is what the oil companies now use to increase octane, are highly carcinogenic.

It really looks as if tens of thousands of deaths from malignancy a year and hundreds of millions of dollars in added health care costs are caused by these fine particulates, which the oil companies have a special waiver on, essentially. If you run a chemical plant, you can't put benzene, toluene, xylene into the atmosphere, but they're permitted to do it because it's from a mobile source like gasoline in a car.

SIMON: People often point out you can burn oil, it's affordable - that's why it's good for cars. There's a reason why people use oil.

Mr. WOOLSEY: Well, it does carry a lot of energy in a relatively small space. But at least, as far as I'm concerned, that's about where its advantages stop, and there are just a number of things that are in the works that are going to give oil a real run for its money. Some of them are going to need some initial help, but I think the government role could largely be one of a Teddy Roosevelt-style trust buster - going after oil's cartel and oil's dominance of transportation, to break it.

Same thing happened to salt in the very early 20th century. Salt was a strategic commodity for thousands of years. It was the only way to preserve meat, countries went to war over salt mines. At the beginning of the 20th century, the coming of the electric grids, meant that all of a sudden refrigeration and freezing was available affordably and salt's dominance just fell apart within a relatively few years. That's what we need to do to oil. We need to make it as boring as salt is today.

SIMON: Thank you, Mr. Woolsey.

Mr. WOOLSEY: Thank you.

SIMON: Jim Woolsey, chairman of Woolsey Partners and former director of the CIA.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Wilkerson on Cheney's gutting of oil regulation, etc.

Watch this report as Republican Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell's former chief of staff, describes how VP Cheney deliberately gutted U.S. environmental regulation and installed industry lobbyists and executives in regulatory agencies. For example, Cheney installed Chris Oynes, a 20-year veteran lobbyist for oil industry, as head of the MMS.

Wilkerson says Cheney recruited about 1,600 political operatives to be civil servants in key regulatory positions; and it will take 2 years for the Obama Administration to root them out.

It was classic "agency capture" or "foxes watching the hen house," as they say.

And of course we know that Cheney's ex-employer Halliburton installed the leaky cement cap on the Deep Horizon well.

Said Wilkerson, "We, Republicans, have stripped government of its ability, of its capacity, to do the kinds of things that it should do, that no one else can do, certainly not someone with a profit motive can do."

The other two parts of this interview have fascinating revelations. Although he criticized Cheney and Dubya, Wilkerson did call Cheney one of the best Secretaries of Defense since that post was created.

With Paul Jay
June 8, 2010 | The Real News Network

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Ratigan: Financial reform law is 'window dressing'

The same Washington spinsters who have driven our country into the ground seemed to be out in full force proclaiming an empty 'victory.'

By Dylan Ratigan
June 26, 2010 | AlterNet
The same Washington spinsters who have driven our country into the ground seemed to be out in full force on Friday, claiming that their latest policy "victory" is the most "sweeping change" of our financial regulatory since the Great Depression.

Actually, it is nothing more than window dressing.

The real sweeping change of our financial system took place over the past 20 years. The irresponsible repeal of Glass-Steagall in 1999. The Commodities and Futures Modernization Act of 2000 by Larry Summers and Bob Rubin -- the one that legalized the most destructive financial instruments of all, derivatives. The leverage exemption at the SEC in 2004, asked for (in person) and received by Hank Paulson and friends.

Of course, there are small victories here -- there is better investor protection and, most importantly, an awakened citizenry.

What's not fixed?

- The Cops (regulators and ratings agencies) working for the crooks.

- Banks still Too Big To Fail.

- Banks gambling with your deposits.

- Banks allowed to "mark to myth" and use off-balance sheet accounting to bonus themselves into the atmosphere, with the taxpayer taking the fall.

- Banks getting trillions from the Fed, Fannie and Freddie -- AKA you, the future and present taxpayer.

What does it mean for us?

It means that the same people who brought you these horrible changes -- rising wealth discrepancy, massive unemployment and a crumbling infrastructure -- have now further institutionalized the policies that will keep the causes of these problems firmly in place.

Meanwhile, all involved in the facade try to pretend that this should be considered a success because, gosh, real financial reform is just too hard and those crafty banksters will just outsmart us anyhow. Many in the media are either too complicit, too confused or too lazy to contradict this spin, but the rest of us shouldn't buy that BS. Real and lasting financial reform is actually quite easy to implement -- and the last time we had a crisis of this magnitude, we kept the banksters in check for 70 years.

Time and time again in America, they don't win -- we do.

And I believe as we head towards election time with leaders whose only plan for creating new jobs is a few more workers manicuring soon-to-be even bigger Bankster bonus-fueled estates coupled with a few more government handouts, this lesson will be learned once again.

BP spill is a teachable moment

Despite the fact that Obama has not been forceful or swift enough in pressuring BP, this spill nevertheless demonstrates why we need Big Guvmint. No matter how wimpy Obama has been, if it weren't for him, the situation would be much worse.

Just imagine if Rand Paul were getting his way right now, and the federal gov't was being all laissez-faire and relying on BP's good conscience and victim's legal claims to resolve the spill. Imagine if Obama had let "the market" solve the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, i.e. imagine he had done nothing.


This is a teachable moment, folks. We're seeing that, left unto themselves, big corporations have no interest in the public interest. They are simply not set up that way. There is no mechanism or incentive for them to think that way; that's not their job. That's government's job.

Ironically, Obama's pressuring BP to set up a $20 billion fund for victims of its spill has helped BP's stock. Investors hate uncertainty, and now the future of BP looks more certain. It never would have occurred to BP to set up this fund on its own, if it could have done the "smart" thing and dragged this case out in court for years or even decades and delayed any hit to its corporate bottom line.

Obama's hardline move on BP is exactly what government is supposed to do; whatever it can, within the limits of the law, to protect its citizens' interests.

By Joshua Holland
June 25, 2010 | AlterNet

Friday, June 25, 2010

Ratigan: Walking away from an underwater mortgage is 'pure capitalism'

Dylan Ratigan knows Wall Street and he knows capitalism. So listen up when he says walking away from your underwater mortgage is the capitalistic thing to do.

Forget all this sentimental, do-the-right-thing B.S. A mortgage is a contract, and many borrowers even pay a premium % for the right to walk away from that contract.

But now Wall Street has successfully lobbied Congress to go beyond that contract, to go beyond that capitalistic agreement between two parties, and go after borrowers beyond the value of the home which they have forfeited.

Don't look for Obama, the GOP or the Tea Parties to stand up for capitalism. They'll be silent as Congress once again goes after the Little Guy's last dollar while giving the super rich and TBTF banks every advantage.

By Dylan Ratigan
June 24, 2010 | Huffington Post

Sunday, June 20, 2010

MB360: FDIC insolvent, hungry for taxpayers' $$$

Posted by mybudget360

The FDIC which technically supports the nation's banking system is for all practical purposes insolvent. I'm not sure the magnitude of this problem has sunk into the psyche of the American public. The FDIC insures accounts at banks that include checking, saving, and CD accounts from a bank failure. This has occurred with regular frequency since the recession started 29 long months ago. Some 247 banks have failed since 2008 with a total asset base of $616 billion. The government has tried to calm the unsettled waters by raising the regular deposit coverage from $100,000 to $250,000 even though the FDIC deposit insurance fund is in the negative. This seems to have calmed the nerves of people since the days of long lines at IndyMac Bank in California but nothing has really changed at least at the core of the financial system. To the contrary things have worsened for the banking system.

The list of troubled banks continues to grow:

Source: Fortune, FDIC

This chart tells us that we should be gearing up for another round of bank failures. The increase of deposit insurance from $100,000 to $250,000 is largely a charade. 1 out of 3 Americans have absolutely no savings whatsoever. We have 17 percent unemployed or underemployed and another 20 to 25 percent working in the low paying service sector. Nearly 50 percent of Americans have nowhere close to $100,000 in liquid assets to insure, so increasing the insurance to $250,000 is merely a public relations move to show strength.

The current amount of assets at troubled banks is over $400 billion but since the FDIC doesn't list all troubled banks this is much larger:

Source: FDIC

Now the above survey only goes up to the end of 2009. Since the start of the year another 82 banks have failed and the FDIC is probably at some undisclosed location somewhere in the United States right now getting ready to close another few banks since Fridays have become synonymous with bank closings. The list of troubled banks increasing is a reflection of the massive amount of troubled loans. These loans wouldn't be in such deep trouble if the economy was healthy and Americans were servicing their loans. But the middle class isn't really participating in this shadow recovery.

A recent survey by none other than the FDIC shows that a good portion of Americans don't even participate in the banking system:

" A substantial percentage of lower-income households are unbanked. Nearly 20 percent of lower income U.S. households—almost 7 million households earning below $30,000 per year—do not currently have a bank account. Households with earnings below $30,000 account for at least 71 percent of unbanked households.

Not having enough money to feel they need an account is the most common reason why unbanked households are not participating in the mainstream financial system."

Do these people care that accounts are insured up to $250,000? Who are we really protecting here? You also need to ask how we are going to pay for all these additional bank failures if the deposit insurance fund is already in the negative. That is where the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury step in with more of your taxpayer money.

The Federal Reserve attempts to paint this image as a government agency but they are not. They serve the purpose to protect the banking system. Even the Fed website gives us a nice little history on this:

"(Fed history) From December 1912 to December 1913, the Glass-Willis proposal was hotly debated, molded and reshaped. By December 23, 1913, when President Woodrow Wilson signed the Federal Reserve Act into law, it stood as a classic example of compromise—a decentralized central bank that balanced the competing interests of private banks and populist sentiment."

There is much more back history to this but suffice it to say that this move helped consolidate the power of banks into a few hands instead of having many more banks competing for your business. Keep in mind when this passed, the public was heavily against it just like the public was against TARP when this crisis rolled around. Yet the Fed listens to their big banks and protects them at all costs even if it means robbing the public blind (a sort of reverse Robin Hood). In the end after nearly 100 years of the Federal Reserve, the main purpose is nearly accomplished:

"The top 4 banks of Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and Citibank make up 55 percent of all banking assets."

And banking assets across the country are enormous. The FDIC backs 8,000 banks that carry over $13 trillion in assets. These big four banks have their hands in over 50 percent of this amount. Who controls the wealth in this country controls the levers of political power. The way the system is currently setup we find that the banks have an incredible amount of power. Actually, it is the biggest banks that have the big power since they are fine with hundreds of little bank failures since that opens up the market for bigger banks to step in and open up shop. Smaller banks don't have access to the easy money Federal Reserve window and certainly did not get handouts like many of the biggest banks did.

Foreclosures remain at record levels and this means banks are facing more and more loans that enter into default. This costs money. As we have mentioned, the FDIC is insolvent so where is this money coming from?

"(US Banker) Treasury likes it, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. likes it, and the banking industry likes it—that is, S. 541, introduced last week by Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) The bill would permanently increase the FDIC's ability to borrow from the Treasury for its Deposit Insurance Fund, raising the cap to $100 billion from $30 billion, the limit set back in 1991. The Depositor Protection Act would also temporarily allow the FDIC to borrow up to $500 billion after consultations with Treasury, the Federal Reserve, and the President.

FDIC chairman Sheila Bair voiced enthusiasm in a letter to Dodd, noting "the FDIC believes it is prudent to adjust the statutory line of credit proportionally to leave no doubt that the FDIC can immediately access the necessary resources to resolve failing banks and provide timely protection to insured depositors." Passage of the increased borrowing ability "would give the FDIC flexibility to reduce the size of the recent special assessment, while still maintaining assessments at a level that supports the DIF with industry funding."

And there you have it. I am certain that the banks are spending large amounts of money creating a way to couch this additional bailout as a helping hand for middle class Americans but in the end if we don't change the system, the money will flow through the same rivers as of those from the last decade. With so many bank failures lined up because of horrible commercial real estate and residential loans, we can expect to bail out indirectly failed casinos in Las Vegas and owning shopping malls in random parts of the country. The FDIC is flashing code red and they are lining up with hat in hand for taxpayer money. If after 29 months you still haven't gotten it, this money is likely to funnel up to the top 1 percent in an incredibly unbalanced fashioned.

Cheney killed the Gulf from beyond the grave

I mean, Cheney is dead, isn't he? I thought that's why I didn't see him on TV anymore criticizing Obama, because his shriveled, walnut-sized heart finally stopped pushing cholesterol through his hardened arteries.

Anyhow... Although responsibility for the cleanup is all Obama's, we can still thank Dubya & Cheney for the lax regulation and encouragement of riskier deep-ocean drilling that caused the BP spill. Thanks again, dicks. I wonder how many other nice surprises you have arranged for us.

By Kate Sheppard
June 10, 2010 | Mother Jones


The American Petroleum Institute offered its own long list of suggestions for energy policy. A March 20, 2001, email from API to an official at the Energy Department included a draft executive order calling for all federal agencies to issue a detailed statement on any regulatory action that "adversely affects energy supply, distribution or use." It was nearly identical to the order Bush issued just two months later.

Many of the recommendations from the [secretive Cheney-led energy] task force report were adopted in the 2005 Energy Policy Act. [You remember, right? Yep, that was a Republican-led Congress and Republican White House that left that flaming bag of doo-doo on our doorstep, folks - J.] That legislation provided $6 billion in subsidies for oil and gas development. Royalty payments for oil and gas development were waived in several regions of the US. Some companies were allowed to pay royalties with oil, rather than money—a less transparent system that was more vulnerable to abuse. The bill also provided $1.5 billion in direct payments to companies to incentivize drilling in deepwater wells, and curtailed the power of states to oversee oil and gas exploration off their coasts under the Coastal Zone Management Act.

In addition, the bill weakened environmental protections for offshore drilling, making it easier to exclude a broad range of exploration and drilling activities from analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act. This has been cited as the reason that the Deepwater Horizon site was not subjected to a thorough environmental analysis.

The task force's final report also presented a rosy picture of the offshore drilling industry. Newer oil and gas drilling methods, it said, "practically eliminate spills from offshore platforms" and "enhance worker safety, lower risk of blowouts, and provide better protection of groundwater resources." The report advocated lifting the moratorium on portions of the outer continental shelf, noting that "concerns over the potential impacts of oil spills have been a major factor behind imposition of the OCS moratoria." Bush lifted the executive moratorium in 2008, and the Democratic-controlled Congress allowed its own moratorium to expire.

American Conservative: Helen Thomas a victim of PC

BTW, have you noticed how Americans are nervous about using the word "Jew," instead they usually say "Jewish"? (Jews excepted.) There's nothing wrong with either J-word. Because you could be Jewish without being a Jew, if you're a convert. And I suppose you could be a Jew who isn't Jewish, if you're not religious. I'm just sayin'.... But hey, don't take this the wrong way, I don't want to lose my job!

By Jack Hunter
June 15, 2010 | The American Conservative

Even among Israel's harshest critics, I'm not aware of anyone serious who believes or espouses what veteran White House reporter Helen Thomas said recently—that Israeli Jews should return to their nations of origin in Poland, Germany, and elsewhere in Europe, where they or their ancestors resided prior to World War II. Such a statement grossly ignores the almost unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust and Thomas should be ashamed and embarrassed for even making it.

But if we are to be honest, Thomas's sin had more to do with who she dared to criticize than what she actually said. For instance, what if Thomas had suggested white Australians should return to where they came from, out of respect for the occupied Aborigines? Or perhaps white Americans should vacate parts of the Southwest United States that once belonged to Mexico, or even go back to Europe altogether, giving the Chicora and the Cherokee back their rightful land? Of course, these suggestions are as silly as what Thomas said, but it's hard to imagine anyone being forced to resign over them. It's also not hard to imagine some pundits on the Left, or perhaps leaders for Hispanic-advocate groups, making such statements about the U.S. in particular, with little or no repercussions.

Writing for the LA Times, UCLA professor Saree Makdisi notices a blatant double standard concerning the Thomas controversy, "(If) it is unacceptable to say that Israeli Jews don't belong in Palestine, it is also unacceptable to say that the Palestinians don't belong on their own land… Yet that is said all the time in the United States, without sparking the kind of moral outrage generated by Thomas's remark." Makdisi notes that when Israel was created in 1948 "Europeans and Americans were, at the time, willing to ignore or simply dismiss the injustice inflicted on the Palestinians, who, by being forced from their land, were made to pay the price for a crime they did not commit." Makdisi then goes on to outline many instances of well-respected pundits and politicians making the same sort of harsh and unreasonable—and outright racist—comments Thomas did, only with the criticism directed at the Palestinians, concluding, "An endless deluge of statements of support for the actual, calculated, methodical dehumanization of Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular goes without comment; whereas a single offhand comment by an 89-year-old journalist, whose long and distinguished record of principled commitment and challenges to state power entitles her to respect — and the benefit of the doubt — causes her to be publicly pilloried."

My purpose here is not to defend Thomas, or even Israel or Palestine, but free speech. Being politically incorrect should mean more than a politician's willingness to oppose some liberal policy or some shock jock's eagerness to make a crude remark. Political correctness implies many things, but perhaps the best definition is that some subjects are so beyond reproach that to even "go there" means the inquisitor should be immediately discredited, read out of polite society, or as in Thomas' case, forced to end their career. Challenging the status quo—the alleged role of the press—necessarily requires questioning the very premise upon which our conventional wisdom rests. How can anyone possibly challenge the status quo without occasionally saying, thinking or writing things that sometimes stray outside the limits of respectable opinion? The very notion seems impossible.

While I don't condone her controversial comments I also don't condone the overreaction to them, and I'd rather have an army of Helen Thomas's speaking their minds and saying plenty of stupid things, than a press so constricted by fear that it never challenges convention. Liberal columnists at the New York Times and elsewhere have made sport out of saying horrible and nasty things about white Southerners—people like me and my family—and pundits on the Right have been known to say horrible and nasty things about blacks and gays and others. Yet, it's hard to recall a reporter of Thomas' stature being taken down for one admittedly dumb comment, which leads me to believe her greatest sin was "going there," or going too far, on a subject that is widely considered no-go. This is unacceptable and like white Southerners, blacks, gays, and all the rest, Israel too, should not be beyond reproach.

Defending the importance of having a free press if not Thomas, "The Daily Show's" Jon Stewart recently asked, "When does America's unwavering defense of Israel begin to compromise our unwavering defense of free speech?" Answer: with the forced resignation of Helen Thomas.

Johns Hopkins: Cat people are schizo

I always knew cat people were nuts. Now here's proof.

You never hear about a "crazy dog lady" with 100 dogs living in her house, do you?

Apparently you can get it through uncooked meats or unwashed veggies, too.

With Guy Raz
June 19, 2010 | NPR

What microorganism can make mice attracted to cats or make humans more likely to have car accidents or even develop a mental illness like schizophrenia? Host Guy Raz talks with infectious disease researcher Robert Yolken about Toxoplasma gondii and how it might affect human behavior.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

GAO probe vindicates ACORN

A preliminary probe by the U.S. GAO has found no evidence of mishandling the $40 million in federal money ACORN and affiliates received in recent years.

By John Atlas
June 17, 2010 | AlterNet

Obama is a great celebrity, but poor leader

Obama never wants to put policies forward. He won't use the bully pulpit. He won't name the names of those stifling reforms. He won't twist arms. Instead he leaves the fate of reform in the hands of Reid and Pelosi, who must battle a united Republican party that plays by no rules and draws no boundaries. Obama isn't a president with a knife in a political gunfight; he's somebody who sends Reid and Pelosi with knives into a political gunfight. He simply refuses to fight. He refuses to lead.

Can you imagine if a leader with guts like Alan Grayson was in the White House right now? BP would already be under temporary U.S. government receivership; they wouldn't be considering whether to issue billions in dividends to British pensioners back home while America's Gulf Coast drowns in oil.

Faced with the worst environmental disaster in history, Obama wants change. He just won't fight for it.

By Zach Carter
June 15, 2010 | AlterNet

There's no getting around it: President Barack Obama's speech on the BP oil disaster was an overwhelming disappointment. Despite confirming support for stronger regulation of offshore drilling and developing a national clean energy agenda, Obama failed to offer any policies to actually prevent the kind of catastrophe currently playing out on the Gulf, and refused to coalesce around any specific measures to wean the United States off of fossil fuels. Faced with the gravest environmental catastrophe in American history, Obama has indicated he believes sweeping change is necessary. It is equally clear that he is unwilling to fight for that change.

Obama did at least reiterate his support for a six-month moratorium on deepwater oil drilling, but offered no proposals for dealing with drilling in shallow waters, and no long-term solutions for how to regulate it. The president also acknowledged that the Deepwater Horizon fiasco was a direct result of our nation's failure to embrace a long-term clean energy policy, and strongly urged Congress to act now to overhaul our current policy. The best moment of the speech came nearly two-thirds of the way through:

"No matter how much we improve our regulation of the industry, drilling for oil these days entails greater risk. After all, oil is a finite resource. We consume more than 20 percent of the world's oil, but have less than 2 percent of the world's oil reserves. And that's part of the reason oil companies are drilling a mile beneath the surface of the ocean – because we're running out of places to drill on land and in shallow water."

It appeared for a moment that things were about to take off. And then ... they didn't. Obama made clear how high the stakes are on our nation's energy policy, but never exactly said what our nation must do to fix it.

"I am happy to look at other ideas and approaches from either party – as long they seriously tackle our addiction to fossil fuels .... the one approach I will not accept is inaction."

Translation: Give me a bill, I'll sign it.

What should be done? Let's start with walking back Obama's previous expansion of offshore drilling operations and redirecting the $39 billion a year in taxpayer subsidies for the oil industry toward investments in clean energy. There are plenty of problems with the cap-and-trade plan approved by the House last year, but there were plenty of good provisions that Obama could have endorsed tonight. It's not like climate change is a new issue for this administration. They've been working on it for more than a year.

The speech was, in short, woefully insufficient as a response to the worst environmental catastrophe in history. But it would be a mistake to view the shortcomings of tonight's BP speech as an isolated failure. Tonight's address, instead, is indicative of a now well-established pattern in the president's governing strategy. Obama does not advocate for reforms, he advocates for consensus, and his rhetorical insistence on fixing a "broken" Washington and entering a new "bipartisan" era has rendered his administration utterly subservient to the very problems he seeks to transcend.

When we say that Washington is broken, we mean many things, but the core issue is whether top policymakers are still capable of enacting policies in the public interest. But Obama has steadfastly refused to stick his neck out on almost any policy during his presidency. Passing a health care reform bill was the goal, not securing the public option that could rein in long-term health care costs. Passing the stimulus was the goal, not passing one large enough to actually break the back of the recession. After tonight's speech, it's not clear what, exactly, Obama is fighting for on climate change, but he is adamant about not alienating "either party."

Obama's opponents have clearly learned their lesson. All you have to do to thwart the president is refuse to play ball. The more unreasonable your behavior, the further he will cave in his quest for bipartisan support. Hence the absurd accusations of health care "death panels" and permanent Wall Street "bailouts." More than a month after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, BP's liability for economic damages stemming from the spill remains capped. The only way to end partisan sniping is to make the political debate about something other than partisan negotiations—that is to say, make the debate about an actual policy, and force people to discuss that policy in good faith. By focusing on Republicans and Democrats coming together, Obama has created a political environment that is about Republicans and Democrats, rather than citizens and solutions.

Leaders make a clear and convincing case for their policies, based on how those policies will play out in the real world. When someone opposes those policies with irrational or absurd arguments, a leader explains to the world why that opposition is unwarranted. Obama has been reluctant to confront his opponents at best, and his refusal to stand firm for sound environmental policy in the face of the BP oil catastrophe betrays him as a leader with no policies. In other words, he has allowed himself to become exactly what the John McCain campaign called him in the last desperate weeks of the 2008 contest: a mere celebrity.

There are limits to what a U.S. president can accomplish, particularly when one political party entirely devotes itself to blocking his agenda, regardless of the effect on the citizenry's well-being. But a leader does not simply refuse to fight when faced with difficult odds. And despite the small-bore reforms outlined in tonight's speech—a new chief for the regulatory agency responsible for overseeing Deepwater Horizon—Obama explicitly backed away from anything resembling a fight over energy or environmental policy.

This response to BP's malfeasance might be forgivable had it been Obama's first capitulation in the name of political expediency—environmental disaster or no, he could credibly claim to be withholding political capital for other endeavors. But we've already watched Obama give away critical provisions on the economic stimulus package, health care reform, Wall Street reform, climate change and even subsequent legislative efforts to create jobs (he is now, timidly and belatedly trying to make the case for a jobs bill in small forums). There is no longer any reason to make excuses for him. Time and again, this president has simply refused to fight for any controversial legislative act. This is not an effort to gain greater political leverage. This is Obama's "leadership" strategy. Tonight's speech, for all its minor merits, was a tremendous failure of leadership.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Vile Reaganism in easy-to-digest chart form

What else can I say?.... Why say anything? That's what charts & graphs are for.

Reagan Revolution Home To Roost -- In Charts

Dave Johnson's picture

It seems that you can look at a chart of almost anything and right around 1981 or soon after you'll see the chart make a sharp change in direction, and probably not in a good way. And I really do mean almost anything, from economics to trade to infrastructure to ... well almost anything. I spent some time looking for charts of things, and here are just a few examples. In each of the charts below look for the year 1981, when Reagan took office.

Conservative policies transformed the United States from the largest creditornation to the largest debtor nation in just a few years, and it has only gotten worse since then:

Working people's share of the benefits from increased productivity took a sudden turn down:
This resulted in intense concentration of wealth at the top:

And forced working people to spend down savings to get by:

Which forced working people to go into debt: (total household debt as percentage of GDP)


None of which has helped economic growth much: (12-quarter rolling average nominal GDP growth.)

Please leave a comment pointing people to a chart with a change after Reagan took office. How about a chart that shows America's investment in maintaining and modernizing our infrastructure over time?

Sometimes it can be so obvious where a problem comes from, but very hard to change it. The anti-government, pro-corporate-rule Reagan Revolution screwed a lot of things up for regular people and for the country. Some of this disaster we saw happening at the time and some of it has taken 30 years to become clear. But for all the damage done these "conservative" policies greatly enriched a few entrenched interests, who use their wealth and power to keep things the way they are. And the rest of us, hit so hard by the changes, don't have the resources to fight the wealth and power. (Speaking of which, you can donate to CAF here.)

Look at the influence of these entrenched interests on our current deficits, for example. Obviously conservative policies of tax cuts and military spending increases caused the massive deficits. But entrenched interests use their wealth and power to keep us from making needed changes. The facts are here, plain as the noses on our faces. The ability to fight it eludes us. Will we step up and do something to reverse the disaster caused by the Reagan Revolution or not?

Reagan Revolution Home To Roost: America Drowning In Debt Reagan Revolution Home To Roost: America Is Crumbling Finance, Mine, Oil & Debt Disasters: THIS Is Deregulation

Monday, June 14, 2010

FOX: Does Obama hate America?

In other words, "This whole thing may be made up but that is, however, beside the point." The point is that a false picture is the perfect symbol of right-wingers' false belief in Obama's anti-Americanism.

Just more stupid, wanton Obama-bashing from America's most popular news outlet.

By Liz Peek
June 14, 2010 |

Today is Flag Day, a holiday that celebrates the adoption of our nation's standard by the Second Continental Congress in 1777. Ironically, there is currently an e-mail circulating the Internet that contrasts a press conference held by President Obama with those of several of his predecessors, including George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. The difference? The former presidents stand surrounded by big, beautiful American flags; President Obama is flag-less. Not a single Old Glory festoons his podium.

It is impossible to know if this photo is genuine. It could well be that, like so many things on the Internet, the photo has been cropped, or the event is not really a press conference. That is, however, beside the point. The picture may be false, but the message will ring true to many Americans, who have come to doubt President Obama's patriotism. [...]

Ineffectiveness of sanctions on Iran

There are some really great points made in both of these reports (see below):

- Dictators like sanctions, because they help them stay in power. (Kim Jong Il and Fidel are still in power, for example; nor did sanctions interfere with Saddam's lavish lifestyle).

- Iran's Revolutionary Guard controls about 1/3 of Iran's state budget; and it rules the domestic black market economy which grows in direct proportion to trade sanctions. So, sanctions only increase its wealth and grip on power.

- Ahmadinejad is unpopular, but so far there are no alternative leaders for Iranians to support.

- Ahmadjinejad would like nothing more than to deflect attention away from his failures and the bad economy by blaming the USA.

- Iranians are young, educated, engaged with the outside world, and over 90 percent of the population is literate -- not a good recipe for a docile oppressed nation.

* And most important, any pre-emptive strike on Iran would cause Iranians, including most dissidents, to rally around the current regime, just as most peoples rally around their leaders in war. War would also give the regime an excuse to crack down even harder on dissident leaders, thereby impeding a democratic revolution from within.

Interview with Dr. Reza Aslan by Guy Raz
June 12, 2010 | All Things Considered on NPR

Why time is against Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
By Jon Leyne
June 11, 2010 | BBC