Wednesday, February 10, 2010


NY Post - Has the countdown begun for the end of "Countdown with Keith Olbermann?" With his ratings in free-fall, and his hateful histrionics reaching new highs, even Olbermann's former supporters on the left are tuning out. Bloggers at the Los Angeles Times and National Public Radio noted the uberdork's 44 percent drop in listeners ages 25-54 from January 2009 to last month. . . . "There are creeping indications that the world may not have quite as much need of -- or patience for -- Olbermann and his shtick as it once did," Jeff Bercovici wrote on Daily Finance.

EPIC has filed a lawsuit against the National Security Agency and the National Security Council, seeking a key document governing national cybersecurity policy. The document, National Security Presidential Directive 54 grants the NSA broad authority over the security of American computer networks. The agencies violated the Freedom of Information Act by failing to make public the directive and related records in response to EPIC's request. EPIC's suit asks a federal judge to require the release of the documents.

According to the Washington Post, "President Obama lamented the 'erosion of civility' which is nice except that he did at a prayer breakfast sponsored by the Christian extremists of the Family. As the Post adds, "The watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington had written a letter asking Obama to boycott the event, saying its sponsor, the Fellowship Foundation, is a "shadowy religious association" that preaches "an unconventional brand of Christianity." Also present was Hillary Clinton, whose long connection with the dysfunctional Family has been carefully not reported by much of the liberal media.

EIN - According to a study by Harvard University scientists, invasive species appear to thrive during times of climate change, meaning the species could become more prevalent and more destructive. The study suggests that the invasive species are more apt to thrive because they're better able to adjust to the changing timing of annual activities such as flowering and fruiting. "These results demonstrate for the first time that climate change likely plays a diirect role in promoting non-native species success," says study author Charles C. Davis, assistant professor in organismic and evolutionary biology at Harvard.

Radar - American Idol producers "will do what it takes to sign" radio legend Howard Stern as a must-have replacement for Simon Cowell when the British mogul leaves the show after this season. "Idol bosses think he'd be even nastier than Simon," a source told the NY Post



Gallup - More than one-third of Americans (36%) have a positive image of "socialism," while 58% have a negative image. Views differ by party and ideology, with a majority of Democrats and liberals saying they have a positive view of socialism, compared to a minority of Republicans and conservatives.

Reuters - Fewer American adults report having had the flu or a cold this January than did so in January of 2009, the third consecutive month in which self-reports of flu and cold cases have been below the prior year's levels.


Utne Reader - From Yummy Time to Advances in Potato Chemistry and Technology, 2009 was a great year for odd book titles. The Bookseller magazine recently released its "Very Longlist" of 49 of the strangest book titles of 2009, including Collectible Spoons of the Third Reich, Is the Rectum a Grave?, Peek-a-Poo: What's in Your Diaper?, and Venus Does Adonis While Apollo Shags a Tree.

The longlist in full:

100 Girls on Cheap Paper

A Tortilla is Like Life

Advances in Potato Chemistry and Technology

Afterthoughts of a Worm Hunter

An Intellectual History of Cannibalism

Bacon: A Love Story

Baptist Autographs in the John Rylands University Library of Manchester 1741-1845

Bondage for Beginners

Briefs for the Reading Room

Budgeting for Infertility

Collectible Spoons of the Third Reich

Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes

Curbside Consultation in Cornea and External Disease

Cute Yummy Time

Dental Management of Sleep Disorders

Father Christmas Needs a Wee

Fluffy Little Kitten in Fluffy's Brother

Food Digestion and Thermal Preference of Toad

Governing Lethal Behaviour in Autonomous Robots

How YOU Are Like Shampoo: For Job Seekers

I Stopped Sucking My Thumb…Why Can't You Stop Drinking?

I'm Not Hanging Noodles on Your Ears

Is the Rectum a Grave?

Jokes by the Not So Famous Redneck

Map-based Comparative Genomics in Legumes

Mickey Mouse, Hitler and Nazi Germany

My Hare Line Meets the Brown Rabbit

Obama Guilty of Being President While Black

Peek-a-poo: What's in Your Diaper?

Planet Asthma: Art and Activity Book

Plough Music

Plug-in Electric Vehicles: What Role for Washington?

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Proceedings of the Fourth Annual Bean Conference

Schoolgirl Milky Crisis

Soft Drink & Fruit Juice Problems Solved

Ten Stupid Things That Keep Churches from Growing

The Changing World of Inflammatory Bowel Disease

The First Home-Built Aeroplanes

The Great Dog Bottom Swap

The Master Cheesemakers of Wisconsin

The Origin of Faeces

The Quotable Douchebag

The True History of Tea

The Wild World of Girly Men and Masculine Women - And Why Americans Suffer from So Many Other Idiotic Syndromes!

Venus Does Adonis While Apollo Shags a Tree

What Horses Do For Us

What Kind of Bean is this Chihuahu


Alexander Cockburn, Counterpunch - In terms of organized politics the explosion of radical energy in the 1960s culminated in the peace candidacy of George McGovern, nominated by the Democrats in Miami in 1972. The response of the labor unions financing the party, and of the party bosses, was simply to abandon McGovern and ensure the victory of Nixon. Since that day the party has remained immune to radical challenge. Jimmy Carter, the southern Democrat installed in the White House in 1977, embraced neo-liberalism, and easily beat off a challenge by the left's supposed champion, the late Ted Kennedy. The antiwar movement which cheered America's defeat in Vietnam mostly sat on its hands as Carter and his National Security aide Zbigniev Brzezinski ramped up military spending and led America into "the new cold war", fought in Afghanistan and Central America.

Demure under the Democrat Carter, the left did organize substantial resistance to Reagan's wars in Central America in the 1980s. It also rallied to the radical candidacy of Jesse Jackson, the first serious challenge of a black man for the presidency. Jesse Jackson, a Baptist minister and political organizer who had been in Memphis with Martin Luther King when the latter was assassinated in 1968. With his "Rainbow coalition" Jackson ran for the Democratic nomination in 1984 and in 1988, with a platform that represented an anthology of progressive ideas from the 1960s. He attracted a large number of supporters, many of them from the white working class. Each time the Democratic party shrugged him aside and elected feeble white liberals - Mondale and Dukakis - who plummeted to defeat by Reagan and George Bush Sr.

The left's rout was consummated in the Nineties by Bill Clinton who managed to retain fairly solid left support during his two terms, despite signing two trade treaties devastating to labor - in the form of the North America Free Trade Agreement and the WTO; despite the lethal embargo against Iraq and NATO's war on Yugoslavia; despite successful onslaughts on welfare programs for the poor and on constitutional freedoms.

Two important reminders about political phenomena peculiar to America: the first is the financial clout of the "non-profit" foundations, tax-exempt bodies formed by rich people to dispense their wealth according to political taste. . . Much of the "progressive sector" in America owes its financial survival - salaries, office accommodation etc -- to the annual disbursements of these foundations which cease abruptly at the first manifestation of radical heterodoxy. In the other words most of the progressive sector is an extrusion of the dominant corporate world, just are the academies, similarly dependent on corporate endowments.

The big liberal foundations were perfectly happy with Clinton's brand of neo-liberalism and took swift action to tame any unwelcome radical tendencies in both the environmental and the women's movements. Clinton's drive to ratify the "free trade" treaty with Mexico and Canada provoked a potentially threatening alliance of labor unions and environmental groups. Eventually the big liberal foundations exerted some muscle, and major enviro groups came out for the treaty. It was John Adams of the Natural Resources Defense Council who crowed, " We broke the back of the environmental resistance to NAFTA." . . . By the end of the nineties the green movement - aside from small radical, underfunded grass roots groups - had become a wholly owned subsidiary of the Democratic Party, hence of corporate America.

For its part, the women's movement steadily devolved into a single issue affair, focused almost entirely on defending women's right to abortions - under assault from the right. Women's groups, many of them getting big money from liberal Hollywood (which devotedly supported Clinton), swerved away from larger issues of social justice and kept silent as Clinton destroyed safety nets for poor women. The gay movement, radical in the 1970s and 1980s, steadily retreated into campaigns for gay marriage and "hate crime laws", the first being a profoundly conservative acquiescence in state-sanctioned relationships, and the second being an assault on free speech. . .

The Bush years saw near extinction of the left's capacity for realistic political analysis. Hysteria about the consummate evil of Bush and Cheney led to a vehement insistence that any Democrat would be qualitatively better, whether it be Hillary Clinton, carrying all the neo-liberal baggage of the nineties, or Barack Obama, whose prime money source was Wall Street. Of course black America - historically the most radical of all the Democratic Party's constituencies, was almost unanimously behind Obama and will remain loyal to the end. Having easily beguiled the left in the important primary campaigns of 2008, essentially by dint of skin tone and uplift, Obama stepped into the Oval Office confident that the left would present no danger as he methodically pursues roughly the same agenda as Bush, catering to the requirements of the banks, the arms companies and the national security establishment in Washington, most notably the Israel lobby.

As Obama ramps up troop presence in Afghanistan, there is still no anti war movement, such as there was in 2002-4 during Bush's attack on Iraq. The labor unions have been shrinking relentlessly in numbers and clout. Labor's last major victory was the UPS strike in 1997. Its foot soldiers and its money are still vital for Democratic candidates - but corporate America holds the decisive purse-strings, from which a U.S. Supreme Court decision on January 21 has now removed almost all restraints. . .

For the rest of his term Obama, can press forward with the neoliberal agenda that has now flourished through six presidencies. He and the Democratic Party display insouciance towards the left's anger. Rightly so. What have they to fear?


MIT Technology Review - A new model of the way the THz waves interact with DNA explains how the damage is done and why evidence has been so hard to gather

Great things are expected of terahertz waves, the radiation that fills the slot in the electromagnetic spectrum between microwaves and the infrared. Terahertz waves pass through non-conducting materials such as clothes , paper, wood and brick and so cameras sensitive to them can peer inside envelopes, into living rooms and "frisk" people at distance.

The way terahertz waves are absorbed and emitted can also be used to determine the chemical composition of a material. And even though they don't travel far inside the body, there is great hope that the waves can be used to spot tumours near the surface of the skin.

With all that potential, it's no wonder that research on terahertz waves has exploded in the last ten years or so.

But what of the health effects of terahertz waves? At first glance, it's easy to dismiss any notion that they can be damaging. Terahertz photons are not energetic enough to break chemical bonds or ionize atoms or molecules, the chief reasons why higher energy photons such as x-rays and UV rays are so bad for us. But could there be another mechanism at work?

The evidence that terahertz radiation damages biological systems is mixed. "Some studies reported significant genetic damage while others, although similar, showed none," say Boian Alexandrov at the Center for Nonlinear Studies at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and a few buddies. Now these guys think they know why.

Alexandrov and Co have created a model to investigate how THz fields interact with double-stranded DNA and what they've found is remarkable. They say that although the forces generated are tiny, resonant effects allow THz waves to unzip double-stranded DNA, creating bubbles in the double strand that could significantly interfere with processes such as gene expression and DNA replication. That's a jaw dropping conclusion.

And it also explains why the evidence has been so hard to garner. Ordinary resonant effects are not powerful enough to do this kind of damage but nonlinear resonances can. These nonlinear instabilities are much less likely to form which explains why the character of THz genotoxic effects are probabilistic rather than deterministic, say the team.

This should set the cat among the pigeons. Of course, terahertz waves are a natural part of environment, just like visible and infrared light. But a new generation of cameras are set to appear that not only record terahertz waves but also bombard us with them. And if our exposure is set to increase, the question that urgently needs answering is what level of terahertz exposure is safe.


Sam Smith

In part because the media has misleadingly written endlessly about global warming rather than climate change, there are going to more than a few people in mid-Atlantic cities who think the recent snows prove it's all not a problem.

In fact, as a reader recently pointed out, change is just that. It is hard to predict. We know past data definitely indicates a shift but we can't define the precise nature of that shift because we haven't experienced it yet.

Just before the current blizzard, the National Wildlife Federation issued a report that suggested that we shouldn't be surprised by such things:

"Global warming is having a seemingly peculiar effect on winter weather in the northern United States. Winter is becoming milder and shorter on average; spring arrives 10 to 14 days earlier than it did just 20 years ago. But most snow belt areas are still experiencing extremely heavy snowstorms. . . Even as global warming slowly changes the character of winter, we will still experience significant year-to-year variability in snowfall and temperature because many different factors are at play."

Washington, DC, well illustrates the uncertain quality of change. The storm last weekend dropped the fourth largest amount of snow on the city in recorded history. But you need only to go back two years to February 6, 2008, and you'll find the city setting a warmth record for that date of 74 degrees. The coldest February 6 was back in 1895, when the thermometer fell to one degree.

It may help to keep in mind two principles:

- Change is change and doesn't fully define itself until it's happened.

- An average is only an average.

Having recently moved from DC to Maine, I gaze out my window at the remains of 22 inches of snow that hardly slowed things down at all in these parts and recall the number of my friends who said something like, "How are you going to survive those Maine winters?" and I think how grateful I am I wasn't back in DC this weekend.

In fact, Maine has two mre typical advantages over the capital in winter. We have a lot of sun and the cold is dry. Twenty-five degrees on a sunny Down East day is infinitely preferable to a 35 degree cloudy day in DC with the humid cold cutting through any protection you might be wearing.

Here's how I described it back the 1970s:

"The city lived for spring and fall, periods separated by muggy summer and by an unpredictable yet dull winter. In the fall, the gauze of noxious gas that stretched over DC all summer was peeled away, permitting the sun a rare chance to lounge unimpeded against the sides of buildings or ricochet off spires. The air conditioner's monotone was finally silenced and the hint of chill repulsed by a friendly jacket. But the spring was even better; you quickly forgot the snow that didn't come, or that did come but all in one blizzard, and you luxuriated in a few months of unadulterated color and life. Summer was awful and in winter it was best to heed the words of Mark Twain:

"'When you arrived it was snowing. When you reached the hotel it was sleeting. When you went to bed it was raining. During the night it froze hard, and the wind blew some chimneys down. When you got up in the morning it was foggy. When you finished your breakfast at ten o'clock and went out, the sunshine was brilliant, the weather balmy and delicious, and the mud and slush deep and all pervading. You will like the climate-when you get used to it. . . . Take an umbrella, an overcoat, and a fan, and so forth.'"

As for Maine, I don't have to check any data to confirm that the climate has changed. All I have to do is remember the Farm Bureau supper I attended as a kid where I overheard the straw hatted Howard Mann telling a companion, "Ayah. I remembah that wintah of ought eight. We had our first snow the middle of Octobah and come May 1st we were still on runnahs."

Sam Smith, Washington Post, 1987 - Al Thompson is superintendent of roads in Freeport, Maine, with a population about one percent of that of the District. But what Maine lacks in people, it makes up in roads, so Al Thompson has about 12 percent of Washington's asphalt mileage to look after.

Now Al doesn't have anything like the equivalent of Connecticut and Wisconsin avenues in his charge, and the local politicians tend to realize that nature often is impervious to memos, directives and policy guidelines. On the other hand, he works without the benefit of Snow Command Centers, Computerized Cancellation Centers and Codes Yellow. What he does have is five trucks with 12-foot dustpans and 11-foot wings.

How long does it take his trucks to cover 130 miles? Says Al: "An hour and a half, an hour and three-quarters." Then it takes another three hours for a second "cleanup" trip.

To put it in D.C. terms, that would mean, with the number of vehicles we've got (if properly equipped), you theoretically could sweep through the city in a couple of hours. Since it is clear our trucks are outmoded and not properly equipped, let's look at it another way: 25 good snow plows could, using the Maine standard, run through every street in the city in nine hours. . .

Now, before someone at the District Building picks up the phone to tell The Post about "complex urban problems," let me tell you about George Flaherty. He's director of parks and public works for Portland, Maine. Portland is about one-tenth the size of D.C. but has nearly 30 percent of its street mileage. He uses about a quarter of D.C.'s equipment and expects to have the job done in 8 to 10 hours.

I asked if he could explain the logic of a not-uncommon Washington scene: two snow plows working directly behind each other, sometimes with a Department of Public Works pickup truck in the lead. He just laughed and said, "No." Al Thompson agrees: "Doesn't do any good to plow over ice. Got to use salt."

And you don't wait until four inches have piled up before you start plowing. You start when you've got an inch and a half, and you stay ahead of the storm. And you don't leave it to the Almighty once ice-covered streets become mushy. You run the plows through and get the stuff off. Here, even downtown, we let the streets freeze again so the morning traffic reporters will have something to talk about.

"As soon as the storm starts, we salt all our major arterials," Flaherty says. In cases of major storms, "we will salt our critical areas just before it begins to snow.". . .

It will be argued that northern cities are willing to pay a high premium for clearing their streets because they get so much snow. But this year Portland budgeted, like most cities, for the best of all possible worlds: 25 inches, a winter roughly comparable to ours so far. With one-third the street mileage of D.C., Portland still planned to spend one-third more.

Why? Maybe because they know what bringing a city to a halt really costs. Here are some figures that will give you a rough idea of the costs of closing down D.C. for a day: the D.C. government spends $3 million a day on its payroll; the federal government spends close to $20 million a day for its D.C. payroll; private businesses spend another $30 million. What did D.C. budget for snow removal? Just under $1 million. Calculate the odds yourself.


Although the media has gotten all excited over the manipulation of emails concerning climate change by a British research center, it largely ignored this story a year and a half ago. On the whole, censorship of important climate information by an American vice president is considerably more hazardous to your health than censorship of such data by a few British scientists.

Progress Report, 2008 Last October, Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee about the "Human Impacts of Global Warming." Gerberding told the committee that global warming "is anticipated to have a broad range of impacts on the health of Americans," but she gave few specifics, instead focusing on the CDC's current preparation plans. Soon after Gerberding delivered her testimony, CDC officials revealed that the White House had "eviscerated" her testimony by editing it down from 14 pages to four. The White House initially claimed that Gerberding's testimony had not been "watered down," but White House Press Secretary Dana Perino later admitted that the Office of Management and Budget had removed testimony that contained "broad characterizations about climate change science that didn't align with the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change]." In a letter responding to questions by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), former EPA official Jason Burnett revealed that Vice President Dick Cheney's office and the Council on Environmental Quality pushed to "remove from the testimony any discussion of the human health consequences of climate change." During a news conference yesterday, Boxer chided Perino's previous claim that the edits were made in order to align the testimony with the IPCC. "This was a lie," said Boxer. The White House, however, refused to admit wrongdoing. "We stand 100 percent behind what Dana said," White House spokesperson Tony Fratto told reporters.

The White House's deletions, which were "overwhelmingly denounced" by scientists and environmental health experts, included "details on how many people might be adversely affected because of increased warming and the scientific basis for some of the CDC's analysis on what kinds of diseases might be spread in a warmer climate and rising sea levels." The cuts made by the White House included "the only statements casting the health risks from climate change as a problem, describing it variously as posing 'difficult challenges' and as 'a serious public health concern.'" At the time, Perino claimed that "the decision" was made "to focus that testimony on public health benefits" of climate change. "There are public health benefits to climate change," asserted Perino. But in his letter to Boxer, Burnett said that the reason for the cuts was to "keep options open" for the EPA to avoid making an endangerment finding for global warming pollution, which was required by a recent Supreme Court ruling. . .

It's apparent that the level of editing involved in Gerberding's testimony was out of the ordinary. In October, a CDC official told the press that while it was normal for testimony to be changed in a White House review, the changes made to Gerberding's testimony were particularly "heavy-handed." In an interview with CNN yesterday, Gerberding said that she "wasn't aware that there had been any edits" to her testimony until she "got to the hearing." Gerberding maintained that she did "the very best" she could to "answer the senators' questions honestly and openly." Cheney's spokeswoman, Lea Anne McBride, refused to comment on the allegations against Cheney's office, simply saying, "We don't comment on internal deliberations."

In his letter to Boxer, Burnett revealed that Cheney's office had also objected in January to congressional testimony by EPA administrator Stephen Johnson that "greenhouse gas emissions harm the environment." According to Burnett, an official in Cheney's office "called to tell me that his office wanted the language changed." Such actions are not unusual for Cheney. Since taking office, he has taken "a decisive role to undercut long-standing environmental regulations for the benefit of business" while undermining any real action to combat climate change. In December, after Johnson "answered the pleas of industry executives" by announcing his decision to deny California the right to regulate greenhouse gases from vehicles, it was revealed that executives from the auto industry had appealed directly to Cheney. EPA staffers told the Los Angeles Times that Johnson "made his decision" only after Cheney met with the executives. Since February 2007, Cheney has quietly maneuvered to exert increased control over environmental policy by federal agencies -- particularly the regulations on greenhouse gas emissions.

Tomgram: Nick Turse, America's Shadowy Base World A Regular Antidote to the Mainstream Media
February 9, 2010
Tomgram: Nick Turse, America's Shadowy Base World

Once is an anomaly; twice is the beginning of a pattern. Right now, we’re seeing the same sequence of events for the second time in less than a decade, and it looks like the signature American way of war in our time is coming into focus.

In 2003, when the Bush administration invaded Iraq, the Pentagon already had on its drawing boards plans for building a series of permanent mega-bases in that country. (They were charmingly called “enduring camps.”) Once Baghdad fell and it turned out that, Saddam Hussein or no, the U.S. was going to have to fight rather than settle in and let the good times roll,hundreds of micro-bases were added to the mega ones -- 106 of them by 2005, more than 300 in all. Then, in 2005, Washington decided to trade in its embassy in one of Saddam’s old palaces for something a little spiffier. In its place, on a 104-acre plot by the Tigris River in the middle of Baghdad, for at least three-quarters of a billion dollars after cost overruns, it built the largest,most expensive embassy on the planet. It was planned for a staff of 1,000 “diplomats” with all the accoutrements of the good life and plenty of hired help. (Even now, despite much discussion about “ending” the American role in Iraq, further plans are reportedly being made for the embassy’s staff to double.) This was clearly to be U.S. mission control for the Greater Middle East.

Building of this expansive kind is, of course, a staggering imperial undertaking. It implies a global power with resources beyond measure, for which waste means nothing. The mega-bases and the embassy were, in that sense, American wonders of the world, our own ziggurat-equivalentsin Mesopotamia, right down to the multiple PXs, familiar fast food outlets, and miniature golf. No empire had ever launched a base-building program quite like it (if, that is, you leave out the precursor to this whole experience, the U.S. in Vietnam in the 1960s).

The Iraqi base-building project alone had already absorbed several billion taxpayer dollars in just the first half-year of construction in 2003. But it did look like a one-of-a-kind architectural adventure -- until, that is, the “forgotten war,” the one in Afghanistan, came back into view. Starting in 2008, base building ramped up there, went into overdrive in 2009, and hasn’t come out of it yet. The result: according to Nick Turse, author of The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives, an even more staggering base-construction splurge, and with it, the announcement last year that another monster embassy would go up, this time in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, for another cool near-billion. (The already large U.S. embassy in the Afghan capital, Kabul, would also be further expanded to the tune of $175-200 million). And keep in mind that none of this even includes the huge ring of supporting bases for America’s Afghan and Iraq operations in the Persian Gulf, South and Central Asia, and even on the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.

Does anyone see a pattern here? The American military must be the heaviest occupation force in history. According to reports, it now has 1.5 million pieces of equipment, micro to mega, to get out of Iraq as U.S. forces draw down. This is war and occupation of Guinness World Records proportions, a veritable Ripley’s Believe It Or Not of imperial military construction. The only thing that won’t make the record books, of course, is the results: in war-fighting terms, in both Afghanistan and Iraq, the world’s mightiest military has been battled to at least a draw by rag-tag, lightly armed, minority insurgencies.

Who would believe any of this, if it weren’t happening? Given how our media reports on such things, who would even know about it if you didn’t read it first here at Tom

The 700 Military Bases of Afghanistan
Black Sites in the Empire of Bases
By Nick Turse

In the nineteenth century, it was a fort used by British forces. In the twentieth century, Soviet troops moved into the crumbling facilities. In December 2009, at this site in the Shinwar district of Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province, U.S. troops joined members of the Afghan National Army in preparing the way for the next round of foreign occupation. On its grounds, a new military base is expected to rise, one of hundreds of camps and outposts scattered across the country.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

John Murtha Showed Us How to Be Strong

Tom Matzzie

Tom Matzzie

Posted: February 8, 2010 04:20 PM

John Murtha Showed Us How to Be Strong

I hope that we will remember John Murtha for his strengths. It is a good way to encourage others in Congress to show strength. Murtha did something very important on Iraq -- he showed leadership when there was a lack of it. He took a risk when others were hiding. And he admitted a mistake (his vote for the Iraq war) but then more importantly he worked to try to figure out how to correct for it rather than fade into the background after a soundbite.

I got to know Congressman Murtha briefly back when he spoke out on the war in November of 2005. At the time I was leading's campaign to end the war in Iraq. What struck me the most about John Murtha was that he really knew how to throw a punch and fight for what he cared about. He would give speeches, travel, go on TV, record videos and sign his name to anything important that advanced his cause. He was tireless.

Even though he wasn't from the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, Murtha had no fear of working with progressives on the Left -- he enjoyed it. He called me once and said, "Tommy, they're saying I shouldn't work with you anti-war folks. Too Left. But I just told them, I like these guys and look what working with pro-war Republicans got us into." He later would talk about how his position wasn't liberal or conservative -- it was just the right thing to do.

Despite John Murtha's actually bipartisan nature, Republicans in Congress and around the country were mean and vicious to him. They would cut into him and he would just roar back at them in a way that showed people he wasn't afraid -- it often humbled critics (see video below). What he showed us all is the importance and power of strength and outrage in our political system -- not in a personal or vitriolic way, but when fact-based.

Most important John Murtha showed Democrats in Congress how to be strong. We need more Murthas on other issues like health care, the economy and climate change. Democrats need to be a party that projects strength not through the belligerence of our policies but through the strength of our advocacy.

Murtha was flawed like all of us and he was surely a conservative Democrat (somebody once jokingly reminded me that Murtha probably would've kept us in Vietnam). But I think progressives could learn a lot from John Murtha... if only how to fight for what we care about. I will miss him.

VIDEO: Sample of Republican attacks on John Murtha and how he responded.

VIDEO: John Murtha on joking about Iraq.

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Globalization Is Killing the Globe: Return to Local Economies

Globalization Is Killing the Globe: Return to Local Economies

by Thom Hartmann

Globalization is killing Europe, just as it's already wiped out much of the American middle class.

Spain and Greece are facing immediate crises that many other European nations see on the near horizon: aging boomer workers are retiring with healthy benefit packages, but the younger workers who are paying for those benefits aren't making anything close to the income (or, therefore, paying the taxes) that their parents did.

Globalists/corporatists/conservative "free market" and "flat earth" advocates say this is a great opportunity to cut benefits for the old folks (and for the young folks in the future), thus bringing the countries budgets back into balance, and this story is the main corporate media storyline.

But it overlooks the real issue (and the real solution): how globalization is killing these nations' economies and what can be done about it.

From the days of Adam Smith, classical economics pointed out that manufacturing and extraction are the only two ways to "create wealth."

"Wealth" is different from "income." Wealth is value, which endures at least for some time. Income is simply compensation for work. If you wash my car for $10 and I mow your lawn for $10, we have a GDP of $20 and it looks like we both have income and economic activity. But no wealth has been created, just income.

On the other hand, if I build your car, I'm creating something of value. And if you turn my lawn into a small farm that produces food we can all eat, you're creating something of value. Not only do we have an "economy" with a "GDP," we also have created wealth.

A stick on the ground has no commercial value, but if you add labor to it by carving it into an axe handle -- a thing of commercial value -- you have "created wealth." Similarly, metals in the ground have no commercial value, but when you add labor to them by extracting, refining, and forming them into products, you "create wealth." Even turning seeds and dirt and cows into hamburgers is a form of manufacturing and creates wealth.

This is the "Wealth of Nations" that titled Adam Smith's famous 1776 book.

On the other hand, when a trader at Goldman Sachs makes a "profit" trading stocks, bonds, or currencies, no wealth whatsoever is created. In fact, to the extent that that trader takes millions in commissions, pay, and bonuses, he's actually depleting the wealth of the nation (particularly to the extent that he moves his money offshore to save or invest, as many do).

To use the United States as an example, in the late 1940s and early 1950s manufacturing accounted for a high of 28 percent of our total gross domestic product (and much of the rest of the economy like agriculture that, in a classical sense is "manufacturing" wasn't even included in those numbers), and when Reagan came into office it was at a strong 20 percent. Today it's about ten percent of our GDP.

What this means is that we're creating less wealth here, because we're not making much anymore. (And the biggest growth in American manufacturing has been in the military sector, where goods are made that are then destroyed when they explode over foreign cities, causing even more of our wealth to vanish.)

The main effect of the globalism fad of the past 30 yearrs -- lowering the protective barriers to trade that countries for centuries have used to make sure their own local economies are self-sufficient -- has been to ship manufacturing (the creation of wealth) from developed nations to developing nations. Transnational corporations love this, because in countries with lower labor costs and few environmental and safety regulations, it's more profitable to manufacture products. They then sell those products in the "mature" countries -- the places that used to manufacture -- and people burn through the wealth they'd accumulated in the earlier manufacturing days (home equity, principally, along with savings and lines of credit) to buy these foreign-manufactured goods.

At first, it looks like a good deal to consumers in developed nations. Goods are cheaper! But over a decade or two or three, as the creation of real wealth is reduced and the residue of the old wealth is spent, the developed nations become progressively poorer and poorer. At the same time, the "developing" nations become wealthier -- because those are the places that are producing real wealth.

Which brings us to Spain and Greece -- and the problem of all developed nations including the USA. So long as globalism continues apace, the transnational corporations and their CEOs will continue to become fabulously wealthy. But, more importantly, they also acquire the political power that comes with that control of economies.

So they tell us that instead of putting back into place tariffs, domestic content laws, and other "protectionist" policies that built America from the time the were first proposed by Alexander Hamilton in 1791 (and largely adopted by Congress in 1793) until they were dismantled by Reagan/Bush/Clinton/Bush, we should instead simple "accept the reality" that we're "living beyond our means" and we have to "cut back our wages and social programs."

In other words, they get richer, our nations become poorer, and national sovereignty is reduced.

Nations -- and in large countries like the USA, even states -- must again rebuild their manufacturing base and become locally self-sufficient, so their own consumers are buying products manufactured by their own workers.

"But won't that make Wal-Mart's stuff more expensive?" whine the flat-earthers.

Yes, it will. But most Americans (and Greeks and Spaniards) would gladly pay 10 percent more for the goods in their stores if their paychecks were 20 percent higher. And manufacturing paychecks have always been higher, because manufacturing is where "true wealth" is generated (thus the basis for most union movements, which further guarantee healthy worker income and benefits).

The transnational corporations benefiting from globalization are also, in most cases, the transnational corporations that own our media, so even the word globalization is rarely heard in reports on economic crises around the world.

But globalization is the villain here, and one that needs to be taken in hand and brought under control quickly if we don't want to see virtually the nations of the world end up subservient to corporate control, a new form of an ancient economic system known as feudalism.

Thom Hartmann (thom at is a Project Censored Award-winning New York Times best-selling author, and host of a nationally syndicated daily progressive talk program The Thom Hartmann Show. His most recent books are "The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight," "Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights," "We The People: A Call To Take Back America," "What Would Jefferson Do?," "Screwed: The Undeclared War Against the Middle Class and What We Can Do About It," and "Cracking The Code: The Art and Science of Political Persuasion." His newest book is Threshold: The Crisis of Western Culture.

America Is Not Yet Lost

America Is Not Yet Lost

by Paul Krugman

We’ve always known that America’s reign as the world’s greatest nation would eventually end. But most of us imagined that our downfall, when it came, would be something grand and tragic.

What we’re getting instead is less a tragedy than a deadly farce. Instead of fraying under the strain of imperial overstretch, we’re paralyzed by procedure. Instead of re-enacting the decline and fall of Rome, we’re re-enacting the dissolution of 18th-century Poland.

A brief history lesson: In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Polish legislature, the Sejm, operated on the unanimity principle: any member could nullify legislation by shouting “I do not allow!” This made the nation largely ungovernable, and neighboring regimes began hacking off pieces of its territory. By 1795 Poland had disappeared, not to re-emerge for more than a century.

Today, the U.S. Senate seems determined to make the Sejm look good by comparison.

Last week, after nine months, the Senate finally approved Martha Johnson to head the General Services Administration, which runs government buildings and purchases supplies. It’s an essentially nonpolitical position, and nobody questioned Ms. Johnson’s qualifications: she was approved by a vote of 94 to 2. But Senator Christopher Bond, Republican of Missouri, had put a “hold” on her appointment to pressure the government into approving a building project in Kansas City.

This dubious achievement may have inspired Senator Richard Shelby, Republican of Alabama. In any case, Mr. Shelby has now placed a hold on all outstanding Obama administration nominations — about 70 high-level government positions — until his state gets a tanker contract and a counterterrorism center.

What gives individual senators this kind of power? Much of the Senate’s business relies on unanimous consent: it’s difficult to get anything done unless everyone agrees on procedure. And a tradition has grown up under which senators, in return for not gumming up everything, get the right to block nominees they don’t like.

In the past, holds were used sparingly. That’s because, as a Congressional Research Service report on the practice says, the Senate used to be ruled by “traditions of comity, courtesy, reciprocity, and accommodation.” But that was then. Rules that used to be workable have become crippling now that one of the nation’s major political parties has descended into nihilism, seeing no harm — in fact, political dividends — in making the nation ungovernable.

How bad is it? It’s so bad that I miss Newt Gingrich.

Readers may recall that in 1995 Mr. Gingrich, then speaker of the House, cut off the federal government’s funding and forced a temporary government shutdown. It was ugly and extreme, but at least Mr. Gingrich had specific demands: he wanted Bill Clinton to agree to sharp cuts in Medicare.

Today, by contrast, the Republican leaders refuse to offer any specific proposals. They inveigh against the deficit — and last month their senators voted in lockstep against any increase in the federal debt limit, a move that would have precipitated another government shutdown if Democrats hadn’t had 60 votes. But they also denounce anything that might actually reduce the deficit, including, ironically, any effort to spend Medicare funds more wisely.

And with the national G.O.P. having abdicated any responsibility for making things work, it’s only natural that individual senators should feel free to take the nation hostage until they get their pet projects funded.

The truth is that given the state of American politics, the way the Senate works is no longer consistent with a functioning government. Senators themselves should recognize this fact and push through changes in those rules, including eliminating or at least limiting the filibuster. This is something they could and should do, by majority vote, on the first day of the next Senate session.

Don’t hold your breath. As it is, Democrats don’t even seem able to score political points by highlighting their opponents’ obstructionism.

It should be a simple message (and it should have been the central message in Massachusetts): a vote for a Republican, no matter what you think of him as a person, is a vote for paralysis. But by now, we know how the Obama administration deals with those who would destroy it: it goes straight for the capillaries. Sure enough, Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, accused Mr. Shelby of “silliness.” Yep, that will really resonate with voters.

After the dissolution of Poland, a Polish officer serving under Napoleon penned a song that eventually — after the country’s post-World War I resurrection — became the country’s national anthem. It begins, “Poland is not yet lost.”

Well, America is not yet lost. But the Senate is working on it.

Paul Krugman is professor of Economics and International Affairs at Princeton University and a regular columnist for The New York Times. Krugman was the 2008 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics. He is the author of numerous books, including The Conscience of A Liberal, and his most recent, The Return of Depression Economics.

The Terror-Industrial Complex

The Terror-Industrial Complex

by Chris Hedges

The conviction of the Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui in New York last week of trying to kill American military officers and FBI agents illustrates that the greatest danger to our security does not come from al-Qaida but the thousands of shadowy mercenaries, kidnappers, killers and torturers our government employs around the globe.

The bizarre story surrounding Siddiqui, 37, who received an undergraduate degree from MIT and a doctorate in neuroscience from Brandeis University, often defies belief. Siddiqui, who could spend 50 years in prison on seven charges when she is sentenced in May, was by her own account abducted in 2003 from her hometown of Karachi, Pakistan, with her three children—two of whom remain missing—and spirited to a secret U.S. prison where she was allegedly tortured and mistreated for five years. The American government has no comment, either about the alleged clandestine detention or the missing children.

Siddiqui was discovered in 2008 disoriented and apparently aggressive and hostile, in Ghazni, Afghanistan, with her oldest son. She allegedly was carrying plans to make explosives, lists of New York landmarks and notes referring to “mass-casualty attacks.” But despite these claims the government prosecutors chose not to charge her with terrorism or links to al-Qaida—the reason for her original appearance on the FBI’s most-wanted list six years ago. Her supporters suggest that the papers she allegedly had in her possession when she was found in Afghanistan, rather than detail coherent plans for terrorist attacks, expose her severe mental deterioration, perhaps the result of years of imprisonment and abuse. This argument was bolstered by some of the pages of the documents shown briefly to the court, including a crude sketch of a gun that was described as a “match gun” that operates by lighting a match.

“Justice was not served,” Tina Foster, executive director of the International Justice Network and the spokesperson for Aafia Siddiqui’s family, told me. “The U.S. government made a decision to label this woman a terrorist, but instead of putting her on trial for the alleged terrorist activity she was put on trial for something else. They tried to convict her of that something else, not with evidence, but because she was a terrorist. She was selectively prosecuted for something that would allow them to only tell their side of the story.”

The government built its entire case instead around disputed events in the 300-square-foot room of the Ghazni police station. It insisted that on July 18, 2008, the diminutive Siddiqui, who had been arrested by local Afghan police the day before, seized an M4 assault rifle that was left unattended and fired at American military and FBI agents. None of the Americans were injured. Siddiqui, however, was gravely wounded, shot twice in the stomach.

No one, other than Siddiqui, has attempted to explain where she was for five years after she vanished in 2003. No one seems to be able to explain why a disoriented Pakistani woman and her son, an American citizen, neither of whom spoke Dari, were discovered by local residents wandering in a public square in Ghazni, where an eyewitness told Harpers Magazine the distraught Siddiqui “was attacking everyone who got close to her.” Had Siddiqui, after years of imprisonment and torture, perhaps been at the U.S. detention center in Bagram and then dumped with one of her three children in Ghazi? And where are the other two children, one of whom also is an American citizen?

Her arrest in Ghazi saw, according to the official complaint, a U.S. Army captain and a warrant officer, two FBI agents and two military interpreters arrive to question Siddiqui at the police headquarters. The Americans and their interpreters were shown to a meeting room that was partitioned by a yellow curtain. “None of the United States personnel were aware,” the complaint states, “that Siddiqui was being held, unsecured, behind the curtain.” The group sat down to talk and “the Warrant Officer placed his United States Army M-4 rifle on the floor to his right next to the curtain, near his right foot.” Siddiqui allegedly reached from behind the curtain and pulled the three-foot rifle to her side. She unlatched the safety. She pulled the curtain “slightly back” and pointed the gun directly at the head of the captain. One of the interpreters saw her. He lunged for the gun. Siddiqui shouted, “Get the fuck out of here!” and fired twice. She hit no one. As the interpreter wrestled her to the ground, the warrant officer drew his sidearm and fired “approximately two rounds” into Siddiqui’s abdomen. She collapsed, still struggling, and then fell unconscious.

But in an article written by Petra Bartosiewicz in the November 2009 Harper’s Magazine, authorities in Afghanistan described a series of events at odds with the official version. The governor of Ghazni province, Usman Usmani, told a local reporter who was hired by Bartosiewicz that the U.S. team had “demanded to take over custody” of Siddiqui. The governor refused. He could not release Siddiqui, he explained, until officials from the counterterrorism department in Kabul arrived to investigate. He proposed a compromise: The U.S. team could interview Siddiqui, but she would remain at the station. In a Reuters interview, however, a “senior Ghazni police officer” suggested that the compromise did not hold. The U.S. team arrived at the police station, he said, and demanded custody of Siddiqui. The Afghan officers refused, and the U.S. team proceeded to disarm them. Then, for reasons unexplained, Siddiqui herself somehow entered the scene. The U.S. team, “thinking that she had explosives and would attack them as a suicide bomber, shot her and took her.”

Siddiqui told a delegation of Pakistani senators who went to Texas to visit her in prison a few months after her arrest that she never touched anyone’s gun, nor did she shout at anyone or make any threats. She simply stood up to see who was on the other side of the curtain and startled the soldiers. One of them shouted, “She is loose,” and then someone shot her. When she regained consciousness she heard someone else say, “We could lose our jobs.”

Siddiqui’s defense team pointed out that there was an absence of bullets, casings or residue from the M4, all of which suggested it had not been fired. They played a video to show that two holes in a wall supposedly caused by the M4 had been there before July 18. They also highlighted inconsistencies in the testimony from the nine government witnesses, who at times gave conflicting accounts of how many people were in the room, where they were sitting or standing and how many shots were fired.

Siddiqui, who took the stand during the trial against the advice of her defense team, called the report that she had fired the unattended M4 assault rifle at the Americans “the biggest lie.” She said she had been trying to flee the police station because she feared being tortured. Siddiqui, whose mental stability often appeared to be in question during the trial, was ejected several times from the Manhattan courtroom for erratic behavior and outbursts.

“It is difficult to get a fair trial in this country if the government wants to accuse you of terrorism,” said Foster. “It is difficult to get a fair trial on any types of charges. The government is allowed to tell the jury you are a terrorist before you have to put on any evidence. The fear factor that has emerged since 9/11 has permeated into the U.S. court system in a profoundly disturbing way. It embraces the idea that we can compromise core principles, for example the presumption of innocence, based on perceived threats that may or may not come to light. We, as a society, have chosen to cave on fear.”

I spent more than a year covering al-Qaida for The New York Times in Europe and the Middle East. The threat posed by Islamic extremists, while real, is also wildly overblown, used to foster a climate of fear and political passivity, as well as pump billions of dollars into the hands of the military, private contractors, intelligence agencies and repressive client governments including that of Pakistan. The leader of one FBI counterterrorism squad told The New York Times that of the 5,500 terrorism-related leads its 21 agents had pursued over the past five years, just 5 percent were credible and not one had foiled an actual terrorist plot. These statistics strike me as emblematic of the entire war on terror.

Terrorism, however, is a very good business. The number of extremists who are planning to carry out terrorist attacks is minuscule, but there are vast departments and legions of ambitious intelligence and military officers who desperately need to strike a tangible blow against terrorism, real or imagined, to promote their careers as well as justify obscene expenditures and a flagrant abuse of power. All this will not make us safer. It will not protect us from terrorist strikes. The more we dispatch brutal forms of power to the Islamic world the more enraged Muslims and terrorists we propel into the ranks of those who oppose us. The same perverted logic saw the Argentine military, when I lived in Buenos Aires, “disappear” 30,000 of the nation’s citizens, the vast majority of whom were innocent. Such logic also fed the drive to root out terrorists in El Salvador, where, when I arrived in 1983, the death squads were killing between 800 and 1,000 people a month. Once you build secret archipelagos of prisons, once you commit huge sums of money and invest your political capital in a ruthless war against subversion, once you empower a network of clandestine killers, operatives and torturers, you fuel the very insecurity and violence you seek to contain.

I do not know whether Siddiqui is innocent or guilty. But I do know that permitting jailers, spies, kidnappers and assassins to operate outside of the rule of law contaminates us with our own bile. Siddiqui is one victim. There are thousands more we do not see. These abuses, justified by the war on terror, have created a system of internal and external state terrorism that is far more dangerous to our security and democracy than the threat posed by Islamic radicals.

Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of many books, including: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, What Every Person Should Know About War, and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. His most recent book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.

Incentives to Going 'Off Grid' Bring Power to the People

Incentives to Going 'Off Grid' Bring Power to the People

by Matt Ford

The price of power has always been a political issue -- but now campaigners argue it could be the key to starting a green energy revolution.

[Roofs in the Vatican City covered with solar panels point the way to off-grid power.]Roofs in the Vatican City covered with solar panels point the way to off-grid power.
On February 1, the British Government announced details of the rates that will be paid for renewable power generated by homeowners and communities.

Called the Clean Energy Cashback, or feed-in tariff (FIT), the aim is to provide an above-market bonus that will encourage individuals and groups to invest in solar panels, wind turbines and other forms of green power.

It's the first national scheme of its kind in the UK, although FIT plans have been operating in other EU countries and at regional levels in the U.S.

Paul King, chief executive of the UK Green Building Council told CNN that the announcement will help make small scale renewables a more attractive and viable option, for householders, communities and businesses. King also believes that it will also support an emerging green industry and generate high quality jobs.

But others are less enthusiastic about the UK's plan, and believe the Department of Energy and Climate Change's ambition that two percent of electricity generated from small scale renewables by 2020 doesn't go far enough.

"Research shows that a successful incentive mechanism set at the right level, like the FIT scheme, could deliver up to six percent of the UK domestic electricity demand," Jemma Robinson, Renewable Energy Association, told CNN.

When Germany introduced a similar FIT scheme 10 years ago -- but with targets of ten percent -- it started a green energy revolution in the country, turning it into a European leader in renewables.

There has been considerable public interest to the scheme in the UK.

A YouGov survey published at the end of January for the Renewable Energy Association, Friends of the Earth and the Co-Operative Group, revealed that 71 percent of UK homeowners said they would consider installing green energy systems if they were paid enough cash.

If widely adopted micro-power generation could transform the shape of our homes and how housing is built.

"It could mean in future that not just new-build homes but existing homes too will include at least some small-scale renewable energy generation," Steve Turner, Home Builders Federation, told CNN.

"At present the technologies most likely to be used appear to be solar thermal panels and photovoltaic panels which can be accommodated on or integrated in roofs [but] we can look forward in the future to community scale electricity and heat generation from renewable technologies."

However the key is finding the right technology for the right area.

"Householders need the best possible advice on what works for their home -- one solution will not 'fit all'," John Alker, Head of Advocacy at the Green Building Council told CNN.

"That is also important in order for technologies to remain credible. For example, in the past micro wind turbines have been used in built up areas and credibility has suffered as a result.

"But without a sufficient financial incentive, homeowners and house builders will be reluctant to invest, and there will be little progress."

At stake in the future of micro-power generation are not just carbon emissions -- campaigners also argue that localized green energy will have other benefits.

"Renewables are decentralized by nature, largely benign and can work effectively at small as well as large scale. Small scale power technologies are about the economics of mass manufacturing and deployment - rather than economies of scale," Leonie Greene of the Renewable Energy Association told CNN.

"That also means a change in ownership patterns. Potentially everyone can become an investor. These smaller technologies are also important globally -- the implications for the global south, which often lacks grid infrastructure, are extremely positive."

Oliver Harwood, Chief Surveyor of the UK's Country Land and Business Association Limited believes that micro-power generation will make people much more aware of their energy use.

"The growth of smaller scale energy influences neighbors and the wider community: it has a knock on effect which multiples. It can address fuel poverty, and insulate against rising fossil fuel prices into the future," he told CNN.

Yet Harwood remains skeptical that the UK has the right approach to renewable energy in general.

"One can argue that the UK approach to renewables has to date been an abject failure," he said.

"[Incentives so far have] supported only the cheapest very large scale projects that have been imposed on unwilling communities, causing significant resistance, and overall leading to a much lower rate of delivery than in other EU countries.

"The UK is 26th out of 27 EU member states in renewable electricity generation, only Malta does worse.

"In contrast the 20 or so EU members who have used Feed in Tariffs to drive power from the people have ended up with far more renewables (Germany at more than 13 percent compared to UK's 5.8 percent) with far less public concern. We note communities in other countries do not protest against their own wind turbines."

It seems at best unclear whether the announcement of Britain's FIT scheme will enable the country to join its European neighbors and take a great leap forward in green energy.

Poll: Two-Thirds Of Americans Unhappy About Citizens United Ruling

Poll: Two-Thirds Of Americans Unhappy About Citizens United Ruling

by Evan McMorris-Santoro

Supreme Court Justice Sam Alito may not have wanted to hear it during the State Of The Union address, but a new poll shows the majority of Americans agree with President Obama's take on the Citizens United ruling. More than 60 percent of respondents say it was a bad idea.

The opposition was found across party lines, and according to the pollsters was especially common among independents -- the group both parties have desperately fought over for a decade now. The pollsters said that result suggests that the parties would be well-served to take on the ruling and reinstate campaign finance regulations canceled out by the ruling with new law.

The poll was conducted by a bipartisan pairing of Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg and Republican strategist Mark McKinnon. The sponsors were several groups opposed to the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, which they say will open the door to unheard of corporate influence in American politics. The results of the survey show that the general public overwhelmingly agrees. Sixty-four percent of respondents were opposed to ruling, while just 27% said they favored it.

"The results are pretty striking," Greeberg said on a conference call with reporters this morning. He said that the current anti-establishment fervor in the electorate suggests that incumbents should get as far away from the Citizens United ruling as they can. "The last thing people want to see in this environment is corporations having more influence on politicians."

That's especially true among independents, as data from the poll shows.

More than 80% of independents said new limits should be placed on campaign spending. Seventy-four percent of independents agreed with the statement that "special interests have too much influence in Washington."

Though the results are good news for campaign finance reform fans, they're not so good for the party in power at the moment. Independents did not give positive reviews on how Democrats have dealt with the problem of special interest influence in Washington. Just 30% said President Obama has reduced the power of lobbyists in Washington, while 50% said special interests have gained more power in the city since he took office.

Campaign Case May Have Set Course for Supreme Court

Campaign Case May Have Set Course for Supreme Court

by Joan Biskupic

WASHINGTON - As the Supreme Court nears the midpoint of its annual term and prepares to hear several momentous cases, one question looms: Will the justices' split decision reversing past rulings and allowing new corporate spending in political races set the tone for the term, or will Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission be an exception?

[Nearly 70 cases await resolution this term. Front row, from left: Justice Anthony Kennedy, Justice John Paul Stevens, Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas. Back row: Justices Samuel Alito, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.]Nearly 70 cases await resolution this term. Front row, from left: Justice Anthony Kennedy, Justice John Paul Stevens, Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas. Back row: Justices Samuel Alito, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.
"Is this a turning point?" asks Pamela Harris, director of Georgetown Law's Supreme Court Institute. Harris notes that Chief Justice John Roberts' concurring opinion in the campaign-finance case defended reversing past rulings that have been, as Roberts wrote, "so hotly contested that (they) cannot reliably function as a basis for decision in future cases."

"That is an incredibly muscular vision of when you would overrule precedent," which usually guides justices in new cases, Harris says. "That makes it look like this is a court that's ready to go."

Several pending cases - some that already have been argued, some that will be argued in upcoming weeks - are likely to show the reach of the Roberts Court and its boldness.

Temple University law professor David Kairys expects the Citizens United to distinguish the Roberts Court for years. "I think it will actually define more than this particular term," he says. "It might define the Roberts Court."


Among the most closely watched disputes: whether the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms covers regulation by states and cities; whether people who signed petitions for a ballot referendum against gay marriage have a First Amendment right to keep their names private; and whether a board set up to regulate public accounting firms after the Enron and Worldcom scandals violates the separation of powers and infringes on the executive branch.

That last case, Free Enterprise Fund v. Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, could challenge the legal consensus that Congress has the power to establish and set rules for certain independent agencies and their members within the executive branch. Some conservatives, including Justice Antonin Scalia, have argued in some situations that only the president can remove executive officials.

Big cases ahead

Citizens United reinforced the court's caustic ideological divide and may have signaled what's to come in the nearly 70 cases that await resolution through July.

The same acrimonious split was seen earlier in January when the five-justice conservative majority - Roberts, Scalia and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito- blocked broadcast of a federal trial in San Francisco on the constitutionality of California's ban on same-sex marriage.

Dissenting were the same four who protested in Citizens United: Justices John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.

ON THE DOCKET: Major cases facing the Supreme Court

The majority in the dispute over Proposition 8 - the 2008 voter initiative that banned gay marriage - said lower-court judges failed to follow procedures for notifying the public about the potential broadcasts, and it accepted arguments that the broadcasts could lead to the harassment of witnesses who had supported the same-sex marriage ban.

Dissenters countered that "the public interest weighs in favor of providing access to the courts" and accused the majority of "extraordinary intervention" in local affairs.

Kairys sees the current majority as the most conservative in decades. "It really is their time. They seem to have this undercurrent of, 'Let's do the things we want to do while we're in control.' "

President Obama appointed Sotomayor last year and may get another appointment or two. But the Democratic president's nominees would likely succeed liberals, who are among the older members of this bench. Stevens will turn 90 in April, Ginsburg 77 in March. Roberts, who is 55, and his fellow conservatives are generally the younger justices.

Accusations of activism

Of the 11 signed opinions the court has issued for the term, Citizens United was the most consequential.

Kairys argues that because of how money shapes politics, Citizens United marks "a change in the whole system of democracy."

Notre Dame law professor Richard Garnett is among analysts who see it as having less of an impact.

"Citizens United did not really dramatically change the presence of 'corporate' money in politics," he says. "It was there before, and always will be, for better or worse."

Yet Garnett is watching pending constitutional cases.

In Stevens' dissent in Citizens United, he referred to the "majority's agenda" and strongly suggested the majority was not "serious about judicial restraint."

Roberts, who said during his confirmation hearings in 2005 that his job would be "to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat," defended himself against criticism of conservative activism.

The chief justice cited what he saw as flaws in past campaign-finance cases that needed to be addressed and wrote, "There is a difference between judicial restraint and judicial abdication."

The unequal credit crunch

  • by Martin Hutchinson
  • February 08, 2010

When the banking system imploded in September 2008, commentators immediately feared that the result would be a credit crunch, leading to a major downturn in GDP and rise in unemployment. The U.S. government, however, deployed all its resources to ensure that housing did not suffer the credit crunch it deserved, while taking its own borrowing to unprecedented heights. The result of course has been a credit crunch, hitting especially hard the sector of the economy that is almost entirely the victim rather than the beneficiary of government programs – small business.

The Federal Reserve Bank's Senior Loan Officer Survey, which appeared February 1, demonstrates this fairly clearly. Loan officers reported that the outlook for delinquencies and charge-offs was considerably worse for small and medium-sized firms than for other businesses. At first sight, their other observation – that demand for loans from small firms was well down – would appear to indicate there was no problem. However, you should consider in this case what "demand" means. If your local bank has tightened lending standards sharply for small business, as they have, and if it believes small business loans are exceptionally likely to default, then as a small business owner, what do you think your chances are of getting the loan you need? Unless you have pictures of your bank manager in flagrante delicto, not too high – and probably not even if you have such pictures, such are the lowered moral standards of our times!

Given that getting a loan is likely to be pretty well impossible, most small businessmen, not being fools, won't bother asking for it – after all, the way credit scores work, applying for credit unsuccessfully itself lowers your credit rating. That will cause a dearth of small businessmen walking in through the door of the bank asking for loans. The "senior loan officer" will then sit smugly and report that there appears to be little "demand" by small business for loans but that, oddly enough, all the small businessmen in his neighborhood (being unable to get the finance they need) are going belly-up. He will then profitably deploy the bank's resources into government guaranteed home mortgage debt, mixed with a few Treasurys, which, thanks to Ben Bernanke's ultra-low short term interest rates, will give him a nice profit.

You can see this in action in another Fed report, the Assets and Liabilities of Commercial Banks in the United States (H8). Since December 2008, bank credit has declined about 4%, an acceptable figure in a year when the banks have been deleveraging. However, within that total, the statistics are not so pretty. Treasury and agency securities (included in "bank credit") are up 18%, with mortgage-backed securities up about 2% and non-MBS (presumably mostly direct Treasury bonds) up 23%. Other securities, corporate bonds and such, are also up 5%.

Loans and leases, the non-securities part of "bank credit," were down 8%. However, real estate loans, half of that total, are down only 1%. Of the real estate loans, home mortgages (presumably mostly again government guaranteed) were up 3%, home equity loans (mostly utterly economically unproductive credit card refinancings, I suspect) were up 1% and commercial real estate was down 6%. Credit card lending is down 15% (some of it having been refinanced through second mortgages), but other consumer lending was up 2%.

Finally, we come to commercial and industrial loans, in many ways the main purpose of the banks' existence, now that security of deposits is rendered nugatory by the FDIC guarantee. Even in December 2008, these represented only 17% of "bank credit." However, since then, their total has declined by 19%, more than any other major category of loan, and they now represent only 13% of bank credit.

These are the loans to small businesses – along with a few loans to leveraged buyouts, a market that is still open and must absorb some of the total. They represent only a small part of commercial banks' business, and their level is shrinking rapidly. Banks have too many other profitable things to do with their money, in particular lending it to government and to government guaranteed mortgages, both at high long-term rates that yield a handsome spread over short-term funding costs. All the jawboning of banks to increase small business lending has been completely ineffectual; they are reducing it as fast as they can, because in risk/reward terms, there are more attractive things to do with the money. Needless to say, since small businesses cannot get financing, they tend to fail, increasing their perceived risk.

Thus "crowding out" of small business, the economists' main worry about large government budget deficits, is most certainly happening. Government is spending more money than it takes in, so small businesses can't get finance and go bust instead. If that creates jobs, I'm a Dutchman. The most fruitful source of new employment is small new businesses that are in fields not yet tapped by the big behemoths. By suppressing small businesses while preserving large businesses, the Obama administration is suppressing the creativity of the U.S. economy, which is the only thing that economically justifies U.S. living standards being higher than China's.

Given President Obama's 2011 budget, the prognostication for the next couple of years is thus a gloomy one. However much money Ben Bernanke prints, it will simply go into asset price inflation or old-fashioned consumer price inflation. This is already apparently helping the housing market, which brings some benefit since the loss of wealth to both sides from foreclosures and mortgage defaults is very real indeed. However, if stabilization in the housing market is bought at the cost of entrenching substantial or even high inflation in the U.S. economy, the price is too high. Meanwhile, Bernanke or no Bernanke, the huge budget deficits will reduce still further the finance available for small businesses and increase still further the percentage of U.S. jobs that have been lost forever to cheaper Asian competitors.

The solution is a simple one, and it is not even all that painful. Short-term interest rates must be increased forthwith to the 5% to 6% level, at which they are above the current and impending rate of inflation. At the same time, fiscal discipline must be restored, both directly in public spending and through closing down the housing finance behemoths Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the FHA. Huge amounts of current public spending are either wasteful or outright harmful – the gigantic subsidies to "green" fuel technologies, based on a global warming theory that now seems to have been almost entirely a scam, are examples of the latter since they divert valuable private sector resources and people from more useful, wealth-generating activities.

The short-term pain from a renewed housing downturn will be finite; with those moderate interest rates, the equilibrium price level for housing is only some 10% to 15% below current levels, and financing will be readily available on "jumbo" mortgage terms, which will quickly reduce towards "conforming" levels as government guaranteed paper ceases to be available. While the foreclosures will be worse than on the current track, the housing pain will be bearable and the wasteful diversion of resources into housing reduced.

However, the real benefit of removing monetary and fiscal stimulus will come in the banks' attitude to their local small businesses. They will no longer be able to make money from investing in Treasurys because short-term rates will be as high as long-term rates. Mortgages and mortgage bonds, as well as being only modestly profitable, will now carry a degree of risk. Local small businesses, where the lending officer is aware of the businessman's competence and integrity through the community network, will become the most attractive way to make relatively secure lending returns at an attractive level. The word will soon get out through the community that small business loans are again available. At that point, "demand" for small business loans will magically reappear, and small business bankruptcies will equally magically decline to more normal levels.

The U.S. economy will then recover and move onto a more innovative growth track that supports U.S. living standards – which is what the "stimulus" was supposed to be about, wasn't it?

The Bears Lair is a weekly column that is intended to appear each Monday, an appropriately gloomy day of the week. Its rationale is that, in the long '90s boom, the proportion of "sell" recommendations put out by Wall Street houses declined from 9 percent of all research reports to 1 percent and has only modestly rebounded since. Accordingly, investors have an excess of positive information and very little negative information. The column thus takes the ursine view of life and the market, in the hope that it may be usefully different from what investors see elsewhere.

Martin Hutchinson is the author of "Great Conservatives" (Academica Press, 2005). Details can be found on the Web site

Views are as of February 8, 2010, and are subject to change based on market conditions and other factors. These views should not be construed as a recommendation for any specific security.

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is a broad gauge of the economy that measures the retail value of goods and services produced in a country.

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