Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Right-Wing Propagandist Charles Murray Exposes the Truth About Conservatives -- They Hate Poor People, White and Black

Charles Murray right wing loser/hater/pundit
As usual, Charles Murray twists and invents economic arguments to demonize poor people. But this time, his targets are white.
February 13, 2012

The article first appeared in the Philadelphia City Paper. Click here to read more great content from them. 

Charles Murray, a leading right-wing polemicist, has spent three decades beating up on poor black people. His new book, however, is an act of more equal opportunity opprobrium, arguing that white working class America is in crisis because it has a fucked up and backward culture. And his main example is Philadelphia's Fishtown.

Murray published summaries of Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960–2010 in the Wall Street Journal and another in the right-wing New Criterion. His argument is a mean and vicious slander against the people of Fishtown and working class people everywhere, detailing the decline of what he calls the “Founding virtues” of industriousness, honesty, marriage, and religion amongst the rabble. It's based on the Philadelphia neighborhood, but Murray uses “Fishtown” as an exemplar to generalize about white Americans with “no academic degree higher than a high school diploma...[and unemployed or working in] a blue-collar, service, or low-level white-collar occupation.”

Murray complains that Fishtown residents are increasingly less moral than people in Belmont, based on the wealthy white Boston suburb full of “successful people in managerial and professional occupations―the elites who are in positions of influence over the nation’s economy, media, intellectual life, and politics.” Which is where Mitt Romney lives―so I suppose he offers a lesson in hypocrisy, avarice and greed, huh? But beyond Murray's poisonous politics, the biggest problem is that his argument is wrong.    READ MORE

Software gives visual representation of who’s following you online

By Stephen C. Webster
Thursday, March 1, 2012 11:08 EST

A new piece of software released this week by browser-maker Mozilla does something unique: it provides a real-time visualization of who is tracking your movements online.

The software is called “Collusion,” developed last year by Mozilla programmer Atul Varma, who became inspired to code the program after reading extensively about online privacy matters. It plugs into the Firefox browser and watches as websites and ad networks drop “cookies” into the browser during normal surfing.

“Each dot in the graph represents a website,” Alex Fowler, the global privacy lead at Mozilla, explained to Raw Story. “As you browse, some web sites cause requests to other third-party web sites (as part of the page you’re viewing). When cookies are sent to these third-party web sites, Collusion puts them both on the graph and draws a line between them. As you visit more and more sites, some of the third parties receive cookies from a wide range of sites. Some web sites also cause Firefox to send cookies to many third parties. These two situations will show up in Collusion as big dots with lots of lines.”

While it doesn’t sound all that creepy, just wait until you see your own graph.    READ MORE

The Truth About Drug-Testing the Unemployed

The law has many problems, including Constitutionality. And while proponents say tax money should not fund drug use, opponents see more sinister stereotyping at work.
March 1, 2012

The new federal law that lets states drug-test applicants for unemployment compensation was a small win for the Republican-led efforts to examine the urine of everyone receiving government safety-net benefits. How many people it will affect depends on how the Department of Labor establishes the regulations—and on whether the courts continue to hold that such policies violate the Constitution’s protection against unreasonable searches.

House Republicans initially wanted to let states drug-test all 7.5 million people collecting unemployment compensation. The compromise reached in the payroll tax-cut deal, along with cutting six months off the time people can collect, authorizes states to test applicants for benefits in two circumstances: if they were fired for using drugs, or if the only occupation they’re suited for is one the Department of Labor lists as commonly requiring drug-testing.

The first provision is “nothing new,” says George Wentworth, a senior staff attorney at the National Employment Law Project’s Connecticut office. Laws in about 20 states, he says, specifically state that people fired for drug use are not eligible for unemployment benefits, and all states disqualify people who lost their jobs because of “willful misconduct.”   READ MORE

What No One Is Saying: The Horrors That Would Be Unleashed By a Strike on Iran

Nobody seems to care about the consequences of a US or Israeli strike on Iran, which could include the release of radioactive materials into the Middle East.
March 1, 2012

A grim joke made the rounds in late 2002 and early 2003, in the lead-up to the US invasion of Iraq. The version I recall went something like this:

President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney go into a Texas bar. Over a couple of beers they plan the invasion of Iraq, taking out Saddam Hussein and taking control of Iraq’s vast oil reserves. The big question, though, is how Americans might react to their starting another war, with victory still elusive in Afghanistan. They decide to do an impromptu sampling of public opinion, and invite an average, all-American looking guy standing at the bar to join them for a friendly drink.
“What would you think of us invading Iraq and taking over their oil fields, if you knew that 30,000 Iraqis and one American bicycle mechanic would be killed if we do it?” Bush asks.

The fellow slowly sips his beer, his brow furrowed. He mulls the question and looks troubled. Finally he asks, “Why should an American bicycle mechanic have to die?”    READ MORE

Santorum: ‘People 20 years ago couldn’t conceive of a cell phone’

By David Edwards
Friday, March 2, 2012 15:33 EST

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum says that 20 years ago people couldn’t even imagine cell phones, but now they are commonplace because Americans “recognize the rights God has given every person.”

Speaking to supporters in Chillicothe, Ohio on Friday, the former Pennsylvania senator explained that the U.S. had “transformed the world” with the a new form of government.

“In the previous 2,000 years, life did not change,” he said. “And then America came around and said, ‘No, no more dictators, no more kings, no more classes, no more nobility.’ We believe in limited government, not an all-powerful state. We believe that if we liberate people, we recognize the rights that God has given every person then the world will change.”    READ MORE


Why Nations Start Dumb Wars: Is Israel Setting the Stage for Tragedy?

Photo Credit: Jim Watson/AFP
  Netanyahu may calculate that an election-season Israeli attack might force the Obama administration to back a war and/or damage Obama’s re-election chances.
February 28, 2012

Wars are fought because some people decide it is in their interests to fight them. World War I was not started over the Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination, nor was it triggered by the alliance system. An “incident” may set the stage for war, but no one keeps shooting unless they think it’s a good idea. The Great War started because the countries involved decided they would profit by it, delusional as that conclusion was.

It is useful to keep this idea in mind when trying to figure out whether the United States or Israel will go to war with Iran. In short, what are the interests of the protagonists, and are they important enough for those nations to take the fateful step into the chaos of battle?

Israel’s Political Problem  

How Empires Fall (Including the American One)

An interview with Jonathan Schell, author of "The Unconquerable World," on how non-violence can topple the greatest of empires.
March 1, 2012

When Jonathan Schell’s The Unconquerable World, a meditation on the history and power of nonviolent action, was published in 2003, the timing could not have been worse. Americans were at war -- and success was in the air. U.S. troops had invaded Iraq and taken Baghdad (“mission accomplished”) only months earlier, and had already spent more than a year fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. Schell's book earned a handful of glowing reviews, and then vanished from the public debate as the bombs scorched Iraq and the body count began to mount.   READ MORE

3 Mega-Banks Screwing You With Sneaky Fees -- Again

Photo Credit: betsssssy on Flickr
Consumers were outraged when Bank of America announced a $5 debit fee last fall. Undeterred, some banks are now quietly imposing even more fees.
March 2, 2012

In recent years, the U.S. government has imposed important new regulations on big Wall Street banks -- rules designed to keep banks from preying on consumers. But ironically, the mega-banks have responded to those regulations in a decidedly anti-consumer manner, with a relentless campaign to impose unfair new fees on the very consumers the regulations were designed to protect.

For years, big shiny banks like Chase and Bank of America were where you went to get "no fee," "no hassle" checking accounts. We all got so used to seeing ads touting free checking accounts that many of us just came to accept free checking as the norm. At the same time, many of us have had our checking accounts with the same big bank (and/or the big bank that bought out our original bank) for years, giving some of us the impression that we're still getting the same great deal as when we signed up.

But think about it for a second: How many advertisements for "free checking" have you heard in recent months? Probably not very many, because free checking is no longer standard at big banks. Quietly, banks have ratcheted up the fees associated with their accounts, and now, according to research firm Moebs Services, virtually all of the big banks have stopped offering free checking accounts. At the same time, the banks have increased fees for everything from lost debit card replacements to account minimums and even the "privilege" of speaking to a bank teller -- fees that often disproportionately affect poor consumers who may have less flexible schedules and a harder time maintaining account minimums. 

How the Right Has Turned Everything Into a Culture War -- And Why That's Terrible for Our Democracy

It's tough to find common ground in a divided country, but it's almost impossible when the emotional heat of the culture wars is added to the mix.
February 28, 2012

The political press takes it as a given that there is a sharp dividing line between the “social issues” propelling the culture wars (abortion, school prayer, gay rights) and matters of substance (the economy, foreign policy, immigration and safety-net programs like unemployment benefits). But as the American conservative movement has veered sharply rightward over the past 30 years, that line is no longer so clean. Today, conservatives have a social argument for every subject of debate – everything has become part of the culture wars.

Viewing tangible matters through a cultural lens is not new. In the 19th century, dime novelist Horatio Alger wrote a series of formulaic books about poor, young, street urchins meeting some wealthy benefactor who teaches them the value of hard work and living a clean life. Once the urchins get on a properly Protestant, chaste path, their fortunes grow and they end up rising to the middle-class. It's a narrative that resonates with the right today.   READ MORE

Obama Birth Certificate Maybe Forged, Sheriff Joe Arpaio Says

Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Ariz., said today that he and his investigators have evidence that President Obama's birth certificate is a forgery. He also raised questions about the authenticity of Obama's selective service registration, though critics quickly accused him of pandering for votes.

"We believe probable cause exists indicating that forgery and fraud may have been committed, not only in President Obama's long-form birth certificate, but more disturbing evidence suggests that another fraud may have been committed regarding his selected service registration card," Arpaio, 79, said at a press conference. "Based on all of the evidence presented and investigated I cannot in good faith report to you that these documents are authentic."

The findings come after a six month investigation by Arpaio's Cold Case Posse, a group of volunteers, many of whom have backgrounds in law enforcement.  READ MORE

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7 Ways to Tell What Someone is Thinking

When grappling with finding the answer to a question, most people use one of the three dominant senses to seek the solution. If you ask people what their phone number was when they were twelve years old, three different people might use the three dominant senses of vision, hearing, and feeling. One might try to picture an image of the phone dial; one might try to remember the sound of the seven digits, as learned by rote as a small child; and the last may try to call the feeling of dialing that phone number. Notice that all three people were trying to remember an image, sound, or feeling from the past. But some thoughts involve creating new images, sounds, or feelings. Neurolinguists found they could determine both the operative representational system of their clients and whether they were constructing new images or remembering old ones before the clients even opened their mouth - by observing their eye movements.

There are seven basic types of eye movements, each of which corresponds to the use of a particular sensory apparatus. Please note that these "visual accessing cues" are for the average right-handed person; left-handers' eyes ordinarily move to the opposite side. Also, "left-right" designations indicate the direction from the point of view of the observer.  READ MORE

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Ten States That Cannot Pay Their Bills

Balancing the budget is not just a federal problem, but a state one as well. The Great Recession resulted in some of the worst state revenues and budget shortages of all time. According to a report on state budgets by the Center for Budget Policy Priorities, dozens of states faced shortfalls of hundreds of millions — or even billions — of dollars.

24/7 Wall St. examined the 10 states that had budget shortfalls of 27% or more of their general funds for fiscal year 2011 — the states that were short the most money before they balanced their budgets. For the most part, the states with the worst budget gaps also had among the most anemic economies. Because of their budget shortfalls, all of them have been forced to make dramatic cuts to government services.
This content was originally published on 24/7 Wall St.

Every state but Vermont is required by its own law to balance the budget. In order to do so, state governments have to take extreme measures, instituting deep cuts that often hurt a diversity of residents. In the 2011 fiscal year, 29 states made cuts to services benefiting the disabled and elderly, 34 reduced funds for K-12 and early education, and all but six states reduced positions, benefits or wages of government employees.

The housing crisis was one of the primary causes for many of the largest budget deficits. The housing markets in states such as Nevada, Illinois and Arizona — all of which are on the list — have been hit particularly hard. Home values in Nevada declined the largest amount in the country between 2006 and 2010. Home values in Arizona decreased the fifth-largest amount over that same period. Sick housing markets weaken the economy and lower tax bases, which hurts state revenues and in turn helps create a budget gap.

Read: The 10 Most Expensive Weapons in the World

Overall, weak state economies contributed to lower revenues and rising budget shortfalls. Not surprisingly, states with slower-growing economies tended to have a larger budget gaps. And although the GDP of every state in the nation grew between 2006 and 2010, seven of the 10 states on this list fell within the 15 states with the smallest increases.    READ MORE

London-based oil executive linked to 9/11 hijackers

From left: hijack pilots Mohamed Atta, Marwan
Al-Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah were all said to have
visited the home in Sarasota while learning to fly
at nearby Venice Airport Photo: GETTY

A Saudi Arabian accused of associating with several of the September 11 hijackers and who disappeared from his home in the United States a few weeks before the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, is in London working for his country’s state oil company. 

Abdulaziz al-Hijji and his wife Anoud left three cars at their luxurious home in a gated community in Sarasota, Florida — one of them new — and flew to Saudi Arabia in August 2001. The refrigerator was full of food; furniture and clothing were left behind; and the swimming pool water was still circulating.
Security records of cars passing through a checkpoint at the Prestancia gated community indicated that Mr al-Hijji’s home, 4224 Escondito Circle, had been visited a number of times by Mohamed Atta, the leader of the 19-strong hijack team, who piloted American Airlines Flight 11 into the North Tower of the World Trade Centre in 2001.
The logs also indicated that Marwan Al-Shehhi, who crashed United Airlines Flight 175 into the South Tower, and Ziad Jarrah, who was at the controls of United Airlines Flight 93 when it crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, had visited the house.
All three men had trained to fly at Venice Airport, which is 19 miles from Sarasota.

Lawyers: Bevilacqua ordered memo on priests to be shredded

Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua
February 24, 2012|By John P. Martin, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER

Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua ordered aides to shred a 1994 memo that identified 35 Archdiocese of Philadelphia priests suspected of sexually abusing children, according to a new court filing.

The order, outlined in a handwritten note locked away for years at the archdiocese's Center City offices, was disclosed Friday by lawyers for Msgr. William J. Lynn, the former church administrator facing trial next month.

They say the shredding directive proves what Lynn has long claimed: that a church conspiracy to conceal clergy sex abuse was orchestrated at levels far above him.

"It is beyond doubt that Msgr. Lynn was completely unaware of this act of obstruction," attorneys Jeffrey Lindy and Thomas Bergstrom wrote.

Their motion asks Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina to dismiss the conspiracy and endangerment charges against Lynn, or to bar prosecutors from introducing Bevilacqua's videotaped testimony at trial.

The cardinal died Jan. 31.

The revelation is likely to further cloud Bevilacqua's complicated legacy in the handling of clergy sex abuse and could shape what happens at the historic trial, the first for a cleric accused of covering up sex abuse. Jury selection began this week. Opening statements are March 26.

Prosecutors say that Lynn, as the secretary for clergy, recommended priests for assignments despite knowing or suspecting that they would sexually abuse children. Facing trial with him are two former parish priests accused of molesting a boy in the 1990s, the Rev. James J. Brennan and Edward Avery.

Note: For lots more on sexual abuse scandals from reliable sources, click here.

Homeowners deserve protections afforded businesses

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Wyoming GOP Reps Planning for Collapse of the United States, Want to Buy an Aircraft Carrier

For those who agree with Ron Paul and friends that the US should withdraw from the world entirely (no foreign aid for you!) and the federal government should be pretty much dissolved in favor of allowing the 50 states to run their own affairs, here's a little preview of the sort of thing we might expect if they get their way:
On Friday, the Wyoming House of Representatives advanced a bill to set up a task force to prepare for the total economic and political collapse of the United States. Per the bill, the panel would investigate things like food storage options and metals-based currencies, to be implemented in the event of a major catastrophe. 
Then it goes three steps further. An amendment by GOP state rep. Kermit Brown*, calls on the task force to examine "Conditions under which the state of Wyoming should implement a draft, raise a standing army, marine corps, navy and air force and acquire strike aircraft and an aircraft carrier." As Miller explained to the Casper Star-Tribune, "Things happen quickly sometimes."
As far as I know, Wyoming is not on any ocean so it's hard to see what use it would have for a navy, but perhaps they are contemplating invading some of the coastal states and taking over their territory. They are, after all, populated by their worst enemies --- liberals, gays and racial minorities. "Things happen quickly sometimes."     READ THE ARTICLE

New Study Finds that Rich People are More Likely to Lie and Cheat

Bloomberg (yes, the same Bloomberg news outlet owned by multibillionaire New York City mayor, because you can't make this stuff up) reports that a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that the "upper class"--their words--are more likely to behave unethically than those of us with less money.

The “upper class,” as defined by the study, were more likely to break the law while driving, take candy from children, lie in negotiation, cheat to increase their odds of winning a prize and endorse unethical behavior at work, researchers reported today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Taken together, the experiments suggest at least some wealthier people “perceive greed as positive and beneficial,” probably as a result of education, personal independence and the resources they have to deal with potentially negative consequences, the authors wrote.    READ MORE

Why We Never Hear From the Anti-War Voices--Even Though They're (Almost Always) Right

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Here’s how, in his classic Vietnam War history, The Best and the Brightest, David Halberstam summed up Washington life via the career of Dean Rusk, the hawkish Secretary of State under presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson: “If you are wrong on the hawkish side of an event you are all right; if you are accurate on the dovish side you are in trouble.”

Wouldn’t it be wonderful, so many decades later, to be able to say that such a statement is thoroughly out of date in Washington and elsewhere in this country?  Unfortunately, on the evidence of the Iraq War years, it would be a lovely lie.

Where, after all, are those who went out into the streets in their millions globally to say: don’t do it, it’s madness!  And the far smaller crew who said the same about the Afghan War?  Logically, they should be celebrated today.  They were on target.  To the extent anyone could, they saw it coming.  Logically, some of the more prescient among them should be our experts of the moment.  They should be the media’s go-to guys and gals as a war atmosphere builds vis-a-vis Iran that has eerie similarities to the pre-Iraq invasion period (despite the intervening decade-plus of disaster in the Greater Middle East).  READ MORE

Why the GOP Is Trying to Pin High Gas Prices on Obama (and Gullible Americans Are Falling for It)

The Republicans are hoping to blame this rise in the price of gas on Obama's environmentally friendly policies. But here are two major problems with their story.
February 27, 2012

President Obama seems to be enjoying some good luck in that the economy appears to be picking up just in time for his re-election campaign. While the economy is still weak by almost any measure, growth is likely to be in the 2.5-3.0 percent range for 2012. This should lead to the creation of close to two million jobs and a modest drop in the unemployment rate.

That is not much to cheer about in an economy that is still down close to ten million jobs from its trend level, however compared to the recent past, this is good news. And research shows that voters tend to focus primarily on the direction of change. This means that if the unemployment rate is falling and the economy is creating jobs at a respectable pace throughout the year, President Obama stands a very good chance of being re-elected in November.

This explains the decision of the Republican Party to focus on the price of gas. The price of gas has long played a pivotal role in US politics. High gas prices will be forever a symbol of the economic malaise of the Carter presidency in the late '70s. The drop in gas prices under President Reagan was associated with a resurgence of America's political and economic power.

The fact that both the rise in the price of oil in the '70s and the subsequent decline in the '80s had little to do with domestic policy decisions and much more with international politics (e.g. the Iranian revolution in 1979) mattered little. President Carter got the blame for events beyond his control and President Reagan got the credit.

The Republicans are hoping to benefit from this pattern again in the fall election.   READ MORE

The Sad Race for Bottom on the Loony Right

As Santorum and Romney battle for the extremist vote, progressives should be worried, not gloating.
February 27, 2012

My father was a Republican for the first 78 years of his life. For the last twenty, he’s been a Democrat (he just celebrated his 98th.) What happened? “They lost me,” he says.

They’re losing even more Americans now, as the four remaining GOP candidates seek to out-do one another in their race for the votes of the loony right that’s taken over the Grand Old Party.
But the rest of us have reason to worry.

A party of birthers, creationists, theocrats, climate-change deniers, nativists, gay-bashers, anti-abortionists, media paranoids, anti-intellectuals, and out-of-touch country clubbers cannot govern America.
Yet even if they lose the presidency on Election Day they’re still likely to be in charge of at least one house of Congress as well as several state legislators and governorships. That’s a problem for the nation.

9 Santorum Speeches That Make Me Want to Throw Up

The thought of living under a neo-theocracy makes me kind of queasy.
February 28, 2012

The topic was a speech that Rick Santorum, really, really didn't like -- the speech John F. Kennedy gave during the 1960 presidential campaign, in which Kennedy declared his belief in an "absolute" wall of separation between church and state.

"That makes me throw up," Santorum, the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania told George Stephanopolous on the ABC News program, "This Week."

That got me to thinking about speeches that might make me throw up, and, funny thing, an awful lot of them were delivered by Rick Santorum. I mean, this guy is the oratorical equivalent of a bottle of ipecac.
The thought of living under a neo-theocracy makes me kind of queasy, and Santorum's oratory often displays judgments on the theology of others, not to mention the supremacy of his own, which he seems keen to institutionalize.

Then there's the anti-intellectualism, and the demonization of educators as "indoctrinators." Ew, that's a nasty taste in my mouth.    READ MORE

Corseted Minds: Does Fear of Irrelevance Send Conservative Men Fleeing to the Victorian Age?

If you focus on the utilitarian value of human beings, you may find yourself at some point nervously glancing in the mirror.
February 28, 2012

In the last 50 years, American women have finally been able to reliably earn a living, thus rendering men economically unnecessary. Women are outstripping men in education. We’re breaking the glass ceiling. Childbirth out of wedlock no longer carries disgrace. There’s enough sperm stashed away in banks to promulgate the human race indefinitely. On a biological level, modern science has debunked the Adam’s rib story about the female being a derivative of the male.

Still more shattering, there’s even worry that the Y chromosome is in danger of extinction. At the very least, it has seen better days. As the New York Times recently reported:
“Men, or at least male biologists, have long been alarmed that their tiny Y chromosome, once the same size as its buxom partner, the X, will continue to wither away until it simply vanishes. The male sex would then become extinct, they fear, leaving women to invent some virgin-birth method of reproduction and propagate a sexless species.”
That’s gotta make Rick Santorum nervous. (Though the Times does concede that men may have “long-term viability” after all).   READ MORE

Kamala Harris Has Key Role in Mortgage Settlement

California Attorney General Kamala Harris.
(photo: Ali Thanawalla/SFGate)
By Andrew S. Ross, San Francisco Chronicle
12 February 12

here were two people without whom the $26 billion mortgage settlement would not have been done. One is the attorney general of California. The other is the president of Wells Fargo's home mortgage division.

Four months ago, Attorney General Kamala Harris walked away from a proposed settlement that the banks, the Obama administration and other state attorneys general thought was in the bag, for two reasons: The money wasn't enough, and immunizing the banks from further legal liability wasn't acceptable.

Because California, the most populous state in the nation, was also far and away the worst hit by the mortgage meltdown, Harris' signature, on terms closer to what she demanded, was essential for any deal to stand up.

"It was a tough, 13-month-long strategy," said a source in Harris' office. "In the last 10 days, it's been 24/7, round-the-clock negotiations."

California's $18 billion share of a pot that could reach $45 billion, depending on negotiations with other banks, is considerably more than the $4 billion originally on the table, especially given that a central issue of the settlement , the robo-signing of foreclosure affidavits, doesn't apply to California because such documents are not used in foreclosure proceedings here. (The final amount of the settlement will be arrived at by a complicated formula.)

And then there's the law. Under a separate "California commitment" in the settlement, banks failing to enact agreed-upon principal reductions face heavy fines in state court. Other "enforceable guarantees" call on the five banks involved in the settlement - Wells Fargo, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Ally Financial - to focus early in the agreement's three-year period on mortgage relief for the state's hardest-hit areas, like Stockton.

That, said Harris in a news conference on Thursday, is to avoid a repetition of Countrywide Financial's $8.7 billion national settlement. While half the money was supposed to go toward principal reductions for California homeowners, many of them never saw a dime. "Countrywide got relief based on a promise. We made sure we won't be in the same situation," she said.   READ MORE

New Arrests Rock Murdoch Empire

Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks.
(photo: Barry Batchelor/PA)
By Jamie Doward, The Observer UK
12 February 12

Five senior journalists are held in police corruption probe amid speculation over future of the Sun

upert Murdoch is expected to fly to Britain this week to tackle the latest allegations to rock his media empire, involving the corruption of public officials by Sun journalists.

The deputy editor, Geoff Webster, chief reporter John Kay, picture editor John Edwards, chief foreign correspondent Nick Parker and deputy news editor John Sturgis were arrested in early morning raids on suspicion of bribing police and public officials. There was also a search of the Sun's offices. A Surrey police officer, a member of the armed forces and a Ministry of Defence employee were also arrested.
Part of Operation Elveden, Scotland Yard's investigation into newspaper corruption, the arrests follow those of four former and current Sun journalists and a serving Metropolitan police officer.

Senior Sun employees Chris Pharo and Mike Sullivan, executive editor Fergus Shanahan and News International's editorial development director, Graham Dudman, were arrested on 28 January. Rebekah Brooks, the Sun's former editor, and Andy Coulson, ex-editor of the News of the World, have also been questioned. The arrests have prompted speculation that News Corp, News International's US-based parent company, may be forced to consider closing the Sun, as it did with the News Of The World, in an attempt to protect the Murdoch empire.  READ MORE

Mortgage Crisis: No Political Solution to a Math Problem

Rachel Keyser and her daughter, Sydney, stand
in front of their house in Deerfield, New Hampshire.
(photo: Chris Arnold/NPR)
Dylan Ratigan and Eliot Spitzer, Reader Supported News
12 February 12

his week officials from the Obama administration, the banking regulators, and state Attorney Generals announced a settlement of claims stemming from the financial crisis. The nominal amount put forward as the cost of the settlement is $26 billion, and in return the banks will be released from civil claims on origination of mortgages and the falsification of documents in the foreclosure process, or "robosigning". This caps off a month of political noise on the housing situation which started at the State of the Union, when the president announced a task force on financial fraud headed by officials from his administration as well as New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

An investigation, and a multi-billion dollar settlement. That sounds like a lot, until you put it into perspective. Here are the numbers. Roughly half of homeowners with mortgages are underwater, which means they owe more than they own, to the tune of $1 trillion or so. And housing values are still declining so far in this "recovery", throwing more homes underwater. In terms of an investigation, the Savings and Loan crisis used roughly 1000 FBI investigators to uncover fraud - this task force taking on a crisis forty times more severe will employ 10 FBI agents.

There's a reason this is so inadequate to the problem at hand.   READ MORE

Susan G. Komen: The Tip of the Iceberg

Women successfully campaigned against Komen's
decision to pull funding from Planned Parenthood.
(photo: Gallo/Getty Images)
By Cliff Schecter, Al Jazeera English
12 February 12

Organisations that influence social, cultural and political issues in the US have been hijacked by the far right.

erhaps over the past week you've heard of the foundation named after Susan G Komen? You know the folks I'm talking about, the ones who have turned breast cancer fundraising into a non-stop Nike-like branding campaign that translates into helpful suggestions, like how you should chomp down on the extra crispy bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken to fight cancer (get heart disease, but cure cancer!).
Yeah, those guys.

They've had a bad week or two, to put it kindly. But their self-immolation at the hands of Tea Party cranks, such as their recently resigned senior vice president for public policy, Karen Handel, is worth looking at for what it tells us about the demise of institutions in the US. Because the thing is, their corruption of a charity meant to help find a cure for breast cancer with their Sharia Christianity, is only one of many examples of this phenomenon in the United States.

Whether it's the courts, Congress, state legislatures, media, churches, academia, non-profits or a variety of other institutions, these important organisations that set the social, cultural and political parameters in our democracy, and served us well (overall - on the issue of race, for example, it took many of them a while to get with the programme) have been thoroughly hijacked by what the late historian Richard Hofstadter referred to as those exhibiting the "paranoid style".   READ MORE

Tone Deaf Tin Eared Borg

Political satirist Will Durst. (photo:
By Will Durst, San Francisco Chronicle
12 February 12

There's something about Mitt. And whatever it is, a few folks are definitely allergic. Maybe they sense he has the same connection to humanity that a drive shaft has to bouillabaisse. Could be he's worth more than most small Balkan nations. Might be the Mormon thing or perhaps he just smells odd.

t's almost funny. After crushing Newt Gingrich in Florida, the nomination for the Republican primary race was written off as a done deal with Romney all but handed the crown and the beaucoup bouquets reserved for winners. And by his post election strut, you could tell the candidate thought along similar lines. Not measuring the drapes or anything, but definitely photo shopping names for inclusion on the bottom line of a bumper sticker.

But the express train to the Tampa printers derailed on the winter plains of the Midwestern states of Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri with Rick Santorum somehow swooping down to sweep all three. Having had to slap up a different wannabee front- runner every week, Romney must feel like he's playing Whack a Mole with a mallet made out of yogurt soaked cat hair clippings. Whatever that something about Mitt is, it causes conservatives to contract the dreaded "Itchy I- Don't- Knows," every time they get close to walking down the aisle with the former governor from Massachusetts. It's a rash that erupts only when Willard's name tops the national polls. A serious knee- buckling case of Buyer's Remorse. Of course the clueless plastic smile of an aged Ken doll hasn't acted as a sufficient antidote either.    READ MORE

Do Politicians Know Anything About Schools and Education? Anything?

Jasmin Garces, 7, along with other second graders,
watches as President Obama delivers a back-to-school
address to school children in Denver, Colorado,
(photo: John Moore/Getty Images North America)
By Diane Ravitch, Nieman Watchdog
08 February 12

Diane Ravitch poses a dozen piercing questions on education and school policy. Some of them turn conventional thinking on its ear, and each could be a starting point for reporting on elections, from the presidency on down to local school boards.

1. Both Republican candidates and President Obama are enamored of charter schools - that is, schools that are privately managed and deregulated. Are you aware that studies consistently show that charter schools don't get better results than regular public schools? Are you aware that studies show that, like any deregulated sector, some charter schools get high test scores, many more get low scores, but most are no different from regular public schools? Do you recognize the danger in handing public schools and public monies over to private entities with weak oversight? Didn't we learn some lessons from the stock collapse of 2008 about the risk of deregulation?

2. Both Republican candidates and President Obama are enamored of merit pay for teachers based on test scores. Are you aware that merit pay has been tried in the schools again and again since the 1920s and it has never worked? Are you aware of the exhaustive study of merit pay in the Nashville schools, conducted by the National Center for Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt, which found that a bonus of $15,000 per teacher for higher test scores made no difference?    READ MORE

Many Top Israeli Soldiers Wary of Bombing Iran

Israeli soldiers do not want to bomb Iran.
(photo: Landov/EPA)
By Peter Beinart, The Daily Beast
08 February 12

here’s nothing American Jews love more than Israeli soldiers, except perhaps, Israeli spies. Go to American synagogues - especially Orthodox synagogues - and you’ll find boys wearing green-and-yellow skullcaps bearing the Israel Defense Force’s Hebrew acronym. A central element of the Birthright Israel program, which aims to instill a love of Israel and Judaism in young American Jews, is their mifgash, or encounter - often R-rated - with Israeli soldiers. For my Bar Mitzvah, I was given a tome celebrating the exploits of Israel’s external and internal spy agencies, the Mossad and Shin Bet. My 6-year-old son recently came back from the library of his Jewish school carrying a volume entitled Keeping Israel Safe: Serving the Israel Defense Forces.

Since then, a throng of current and former security officials have issued similar warnings. In December, Dagan’s successor at Mossad, Tamir Pardo, suggested that an Iranian nuclear weapon was not an existential threat. This month, another former Mossad chief, Efraim Halevy, declared that “it is not in the power of Iran to destroy the state of Israel.” Former IDF chief of staff Dan Halutz added that “Iran poses a serious threat but not an existential threat” and that bombing would mean “taking upon ourselves a task that is bigger than us.” It’s remarkable, when you think about it. Almost every week, Israeli security officials say things about Iran’s nuclear program that, if Barack Obama said them, would get him labeled anti-Israel by American Jewish activists and the GOP.

The struggle between Israel’s civilian and military leaders eerily evokes the struggle inside the Bush administration over war with Iraq. Like Dick Cheney, Benjamin Netanyahu has only one mode: apocalyptic. His idols are Winston Churchill and Revisionist Zionist leader Vladimir Jabotinsky, both men famed for having foreseen the Nazi menace when others looked away. And throughout his career, Netanyahu has plugged virtually every adversary Israel faces into the Hitler role. In 1993, when then–Foreign Minister Shimon Peres brokered the Oslo Accords, Netanyahu compared him with Neville Chamberlain.  READ MORE

Right's Stupidity Spreads, Enabled by Too-Polite Left

A billboard put up by a 'birther' campaigner convinced
that President Obama was not born in the United States.
(photo: Bob Daemmrich/Alamy)
By George Monbiot, Guardian UK
08 February 12

elf-deprecating, too liberal for their own good, today's progressives stand back and watch, hands over their mouths, as the social vivisectionists of the right slice up a living society to see if its component parts can survive in isolation. Tied up in knots of reticence and self-doubt, they will not shout stop. Doing so requires an act of interruption, of presumption, for which they no longer possess a vocabulary.

Perhaps it is in the same spirit of liberal constipation that, with the exception of Charlie Brooker, we have been too polite to mention the Canadian study published last month in the journal Psychological Science, which revealed that people with conservative beliefs are likely to be of low intelligence. Paradoxically it was the Daily Mail that brought it to the attention of British readers last week. It feels crude, illiberal to point out that the other side is, on average, more stupid than our own. But this, the study suggests, is not unfounded generalisation but empirical fact.

It is by no means the first such paper. There is plenty of research showing that low general intelligence in childhood predicts greater prejudice towards people of different ethnicity or sexuality in adulthood. Open-mindedness, flexibility, trust in other people: all these require certain cognitive abilities. Understanding and accepting others – particularly "different" others – requires an enhanced capacity for abstract thinking.

But, drawing on a sample size of several thousand, correcting for both education and socioeconomic status, the new study looks embarrassingly robust. Importantly, it shows that prejudice tends not to arise directly from low intelligence but from the conservative ideologies to which people of low intelligence are drawn. Conservative ideology is the "critical pathway" from low intelligence to racism. Those with low cognitive abilities are attracted to "rightwing ideologies that promote coherence and order" and "emphasise the maintenance of the status quo". Even for someone not yet renowned for liberal reticence, this feels hard to write.   READ MORE

Offshore Everywhere: The Plan to End National Sovereignty as We Know It

The aftermath of a US drone attack on a
Pakistani village. (photo: Ijaz Muhammad/AP)
By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch
06 February 12

ake no mistake: we're entering a new world of military planning. Admittedly, the latest proposed Pentagon budget manages to preserve just about every costly toy-cum-boondoggle from the good old days when MiGs still roamed the skies, including an uncut nuclear arsenal. Eternally over-budget items like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, cherished by their services and well-lobbied congressional representatives, aren't leaving the scene any time soon, though delays or cuts in purchase orders are planned. All this should reassure us that, despite the talk of massive cuts, the U.S. military will continue to be the profligate, inefficient, and remarkably ineffective institution we've come to know and squander our treasure on.
Still, the cuts that matter are already in the works, the ones that will change the American way of war. They may mean little in monetary terms - the Pentagon budget is actually slated to increase through 2017 - but in imperial terms they will make a difference. A new way of preserving the embattled idea of an American planet is coming into focus and one thing is clear: in the name of Washington's needs, it will offer a direct challenge to national sovereignty.
Heading Offshore
The Marines began huge amphibious exercises - dubbed Bold Alligator 2012 - off the East coast of the U.S. last week, but someone should IM them: it won't help. No matter what they do, they are going to have less boots on the ground in the future, and there's going to be less ground to have them on. The same is true for the Army (even if a cut of 100,000 troops will still leave the combined forces of the two services larger than they were on September 11, 2001). Less troops, less full-frontal missions, no full-scale invasions, no more counterinsurgency: that's the order of the day. Just this week, in fact, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta suggested that the schedule for the drawdown of combat boots in Afghanistan might be speeded up by more than a year. Consider it a sign of the times. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Superb Idea: Student Loan Payback Based on Earnings

Slate's Eliot Spitzer (yes, that very one) thinks the way we pay for higher education is bonkers, and he's right. College costs too much. It's a financial deterrent that prevents people from pursuing degrees and career paths of social (but not financial) reward-or from attending altogether. His solution has been been praised by (otherwise diametrically opposed) thinkers Milton Friedman and James Toobin Tobin. It's the income-contingent loan. Or, as he puts it, the smart loan:

Instead of paying upfront or taking loans with repayment schedules unrelated to income, students would accept an obligation to pay a fixed percentage of their income for a specified period of time, regardless of the income level achieved. Suppose a university charged $40,000 a year in annual tuition. A standard 20-year loan in the amount of $160,000 (40,000 times four) would produce an immediate postgraduate debt obligation of $1,228.50 per month, or $14,742 per year, not sustainable at a salary of $25,000 or anything close to it. Under a smart loan program, the student could pay about 11 percent of his income, with an initial payback of $243 per month, or $2,916 per year, which is feasible at a job paying $25,000. If, after five years, the student's salary jumped to $100,000, payments would jump accordingly and move up over time as income increases. After 20 years, assuming ordinary income increase, the loan would be paid off.    READ MORE

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Meet the Governors Behind "State-Rape" Transvaginal Ultrasound Laws (It's Not Just Virginia)

Virginia's Bob McDonnell isn't the only governor who's backed terrifying new laws violating women's rights (and bodies). February 26, 2012
His name is Bob McDonnell.

We have talked so much about the proposed Virginia transvaginal probe law that I thought I should remind you the name of the governor who wants to run a state that supports legalizing rape.
So, again, his name is Bob McDonnell.

When this story broke, I had so many questions. The immediate ones seemed so basic. I wondered why Bob McDonnell is so cruel. I wondered why Bob McDonnell felt he had the legal authority to force doctors to rape their patients.

And why, why, why did Bob McDonnell, the governor of the great state of Virginia, a man on every Republican presidential hopeful's short list for vice-president ever feel he needed to?
"But wait!" you say, "Bob McDonnell backed off his support for this bill. He clearly realized that this was one of the most profoundly invasive hideous pieces of legislation anyone could imagine."

Eliot Spitzer: Spending Money on Prosecuting Pot Is Ridiculous

Former New York governor and attorney general Eliot Spitzer says he not only supports medical marijuana, but thinks we should replace marijuana prohibition with legalization.
February 24, 2012

Former New York governor and attorney general Eliot Spitzer says he not only supports medical marijuana, but thinks we should replace marijuana prohibition with legalization.  Speaking on Friday night on HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher," Spitzer said: "To spend prosecutorial resources on pot is ridiculous...I'd be in favor of legalized pot. Legalizing pot is the right way to go."
Check out the entire marijuana discussion by Maher's panel of guests, starting at 4:22 in to this clip:

Fox News Shamelessly Smears Group That Exposed Network's Sordid History

Media Matters' new book has been met by shameless propaganda by Fox news.
February 23, 2012

A new book from Media Matters is being released this week that chronicles the history of Fox News, explaining how a small group of wealthy, politically connected partisans conspired to build a pseudo-news network with the intent of advancing the right-wing agenda of the Republican Party.

The Fox Effect: How Roger Ailes Turned a Network into a Propaganda Machine, was written by David Brock and Ari Rabin-Havt (and others) of Media Matters. It begins by looking back at the early career of Fox News CEO Roger Ailes and his role as a media consultant for Republican politicians, including former president Richard Nixon. From the start, Ailes was a brash, creative proponent of the power of television to influence a mass audience. He guided the media-challenged Nixon through a treacherous new era of news and political PR, and his experiences formed the basis for what would become his life’s grand achievement: a “news” network devoted to a political party, its candidates, and its platform.

When Ailes partnered with international newspaper mogul Rupert Murdoch to launch a new 24-hour cable news channel, he was given an unprecedented measure of control to shape the network’s business and ideology. The Fox Effect examines the underpinnings of the philosophy that Ailes brought to the venture. His earliest observations exhibit an appreciation for the tabloid-style sensationalism that would become a hallmark of Fox’s reporting. Ailes summed it up in an interview in 1988 as something he called his orchestra pit theory” of politics:

“If you have two guys on stage and one guy says ‘I have a solution to the Middle East problem,’ and the other guy falls into the orchestra pit, who do you think is going to be on the evening news?”

The Rise of the Warrior Corporation: Win or Lose on the Battlefield, Big Business Always Comes Out on Top

Photo Credit: AFP
There are few clear winners in modern American warfare -- except, that is, defense corporations.
February 23, 2012

In the American mind, if Apple made weapons, they would undoubtedly be drones, those remotely piloted planes getting such great press here.  They have generally been greeted as if they were the sleekest of iPhones armed with missiles.

When the first American drone assassins burst onto the global stage early in the last decade, they caught most of us by surprise, especially because they seemed to come out of nowhere or from some wild sci-fi novel.  Ever since, they've been touted in the media as the shiniest presents under the American Christmas tree of war, the perfect weapons to solve our problems when it comes to evildoers lurking in the global badlands.

And can you blame Americans for their love affair with the drone?  Who wouldn’t be wowed by the most technologically advanced, futuristic, no-pain-all-gain weapon around?  READ MORE