Undernews For October 4, 2008

Published: Mon 6 Oct 2008 01:27 PM
Undernews For October 4, 2008
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Editor: Sam Smith
4 OCT 2008
Sam Smith
Contrary to her Joe Six Pack, hockey mom hokum, Sarah Palin proved in her debate with Joe Biden that she would fit in extremely well in Washington - albeit at an enormous price to the rest of the country.
The secret to this adaptation would be her extraordinary, joyful and utterly remorseless prevarication and perseveration, two hallmarks of contemporary capital pathology.
Her lying was astounding - not merely in the number of misstatements of facts she peddled - but the context in which she dissembled. For example, much of what she argued was based on the premise that she represented the middle class while Biden was a member of the elite. The senator was too polite to point out that, at best estimates, her net worth is at least six times that of Biden.
The really good liar doesn't settle for mere manufactured numbers and events, but creates a whole imaginary ecology in which the lies can blossom. Richard Nixon, for example, was a liar, but he never acquired the sort of manic affection for the act that one finds in Palin.
It is as if she regards life as one big Home Shopping Network on which she is the attractive, buoyant host peddling John McCain or whatever else she has in stock that day.
Even more impressive, however, is her perseveration. I first came across this phenomenon while describing someone to a psychiatrist friend. "It sounds like he's a higher functioning autistic. . . has Asperger's Syndrome."
"What's that?" I asked. And in his description he included the prevalence of repetitive or non-responsive answers in human exchanges.
"My god," I replied, "That's the Sunday morning talk shows."
Suddenly decade of reporting Washington made sense. I had started out when politicians tended to be not all that well educated and over half the reporters in the country only had a high school education, but most were highly socially intelligent. Now the place is overflowing with highly educated individuals who can't relate their data to what was actually going on in the world and when you press them on it, give Aspergerian repetitive or non responsive answers. Or pass $700 billion bailout bills without any real notion of what they are up to.
Yet in the debate, Sarah Palin put all the Washington perseverators to shame thanks to two special qualities. She applied the fundamentalist principal of rapture over reality to everything she said and she turned what is more typically a defect promoting inaction and passivity into a vigorous act of aggression, even joyously telling the moderator at one point that she wasn't going to forced into giving actual answers to the questions being asked. What we got was our first vice presidential candidate ever to speak in tongues.
Consider a few definitions of perseveration:
- Perseveration is the uncontrollable repetition of a particular response, such as a word, phrase, or gesture, despite the absence or cessation of a stimulus. . . Meaningless or pointless repetition of words, phrases, ideas, or actions.
- If an issue has been fully explored and discussed to a point of resolution it is not uncommon for something to trigger the re-investigation of the matter. This can happen at any time during a conversation.
Those with Asperger's syndrome also display a form of perseveration in that they focus on one or a number of narrow interests.
- The inability of ceasing a particular action can range in type. In any of the cases, the individual enters or continues a train of thought that is narrowly focused; in a sense, having tunnel vision. This focus could be on anything from a simple idea to a complex problem. Even if the original problem solving strategy is not the working, the person may not be able to change planes of thinking, suggesting a disability in abstract reasoning.
- A person with perseveration may actually enjoy the repetitive activities he or she is engaging in. The term obsession or compulsion is used when such activities become both undesirable actions and unstoppable.
Now a few examples directly from Dana Milbank's recap of the debate:
- This week, Sarah Palin gave a curious rationale for her candidacy. "It's time," the Republican vice presidential nominee said, "that normal Joe Six-Pack American is finally represented in the position of vice presidency.". . .
- "Let's commit ourselves just everyday American people, Joe Six-Pack, hockey moms across the nation," she proposed when asked about the mortgage crisis.
- "I want to go back to the energy plan," she said when asked about the federal bailout plan.
- "I want to talk about, again, my record on energy," she said when asked about bankruptcy.
- Biden grew frustrated. "If you notice, Gwen, the governor did not answer the question." Replied Sarah Six-Pack: "I may not answer the questions that either the moderator or you want to hear, but I'm going to talk straight to the American people."
- At other times, her answers defied comprehension, as when Ifill asked about her trigger for using nuclear weapons. "Nuclear weaponry, of course, would be the be-all, end-all of just too many people in too many parts of our planet, so those dangerous regimes, again, cannot be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons, period," she answered.
- "Oh yeah, it's so obvious I'm a Washington outsider," she said with a shy grin when Ifill asked about putting troops in Darfur. "And someone just not used to the way you guys operate."
- Asked about the possibility that she would assume the presidency if the president died in office, she found herself saying, "I think we need a little bit of reality from Wasilla Main Street there, brought to Washington, D.C."
- When backed into uncomfortable terrain, such as defending the Bush administration's economic record, she exploded into cliche and non sequitur: "Say it ain't so, Joe. There you go again pointing backwards again. . . . Now doggone it, let's look ahead." Before finishing her answer, she mentioned her "brother, who I think is the best schoolteacher in the year, and here's a shout-out to all those third-graders at Gladys Wood Elementary School, you get extra credit for watching the debate." . . . "Everybody gets extra credit tonight," the moderator assured Sarah Six-Pack. "We're going to move on to the next question."
There are treatments prescribed for this sort of problem, but significantly absent from all the prescriptions is election to high office.
CNN - Fannie Mae said it will set aside the loan of a woman who shot herself as sheriff's deputies tried to evict her from her foreclosed home. Fannie Mae foreclosed on the Akron, Ohio, home of Addie Polk, 90, after acquiring the mortgage in 2007. Fannie Mae foreclosed on the Akron, Ohio, home of Addie Polk, 90, after acquiring the mortgage in 2007.
Addie Polk, 90, of Akron, Ohio, became a symbol of the nation's home mortgage crisis when she was hospitalized after shooting herself at least twice in the upper body Wednesday afternoon.
On Friday, Fannie Mae spokesman Brian Faith said the mortgage association had decided to halt action against Polk and sign the property "outright" to her. . .
"We're going to forgive whatever outstanding balance she had on the loan and give her the house," Faith said. "Given the circumstances, we think it's appropriate."
Neighbor Robert Dillon, 62, used a ladder to enter a second-story bathroom window of Polk's home after he and the deputies heard loud noises inside, Dillon said. Don't Miss
He found her lying on a bed, and he could see she was breathing. He also noticed a long-barreled handgun on the bed, but thought she just had it there for protection. He touched her on the shoulder.
"Then she kind of moved toward me a little and I saw that blood, and I said, 'Oh, no. Miss Polk musta done shot herself,' " Dillon said.
He hurried downstairs and let the deputies in. He said they told him they found Polk's car keys, pocketbook and life insurance policy laid out neatly where they could be found, suggesting that she intended to kill herself.
"There's a lot of people like Miss Polk right now. That's the sad thing about it," said Sommerville, who had met Polk before and rushed to the scene when contacted by police. "They might not be as old as her, some could be as old as her. This is just a major problem." Video Watch Polk's neighbor describe what he saw »
In 2004, Polk took out a 30-year, 6.375 percent mortgage for $45,620 with a Countrywide Home Loan office in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. The same day, she also took out an $11,380 line of credit.
Over the next couple of years, Polk missed payments on the 101-year-old home that she and her late husband purchased in 1970. In 2007, Fannie Mae assumed the mortgage and later filed for foreclosure.
David Sirota, Alternet - American democracy is defined by vesting government power in systems and rules, not in individuals and whims. We have been, as John Adams wrote, "an empire of laws, and not of men" -- until now. Instead of responding to this meltdown by updating regulatory institutions or investing in job-creating infrastructure, the bailout proposes giving one unelected appointee -- the Treasury Secretary -- complete authority to dole out $700 billion to bank executives, with little oversight. And here's the scary part: That lurch toward dictatorship was motivated not just by crony corruption, but also by a deeper ideological shift.
We now face market forces uninhibited by democratic governance -- Chinese dictators and Saudi princes can move trillions of dollars without so much as a press release. This bailout, marketed as a speed enhancer, is an aggressive attempt to discard democracy's checks and balances and pantomime that kind of autocracy.
While our political culture still required a public sales job (thus, the fear mongering), the bill's czarism aims to permanently euthanize democracy in the name of improving our capitalism's global agility. In that sense, this week's spousal killing wasn't random. It was the beginning of a systematic assault on our Constitution.
Pro Publica - While Congress managed to pass a $700 billion financial-industry bailout before breaking for over a month to campaign, legislation to extend unemployment aid for 800,000 laid-off workers did not make the cut. Negotiations late yesterday in the Senate for streamlined passage of a bill to extend emergency jobless relief by at least seven weeks failed when Republicans balked. By evening, most senators had left town on election recess. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said the Senate would reconvene the week of Nov. 17.
William Greider, Nation - Our country is at a rare and dangerous juncture. The old order is crumbling, and virtually all the centers of power that govern us have been discredited by events. The president is irrelevant, weak and unbelievable, even to his own party. The Democratic majority controlling Congress is stalled by its own shortcomings. The treasury secretary, given his arrogant approach to the financial crisis, is not to be trusted as a steward of the public interest. Nor are the conservative Federal Reserve and its chairman. The private power of Wall Street is utterly disgraced and desperate.
This condition of vulnerability is sure to prevail for at least the next three months, until a new president and new Congress take office. In the meantime, the governing elites are clinging to the old order, trying to salvage it by delivering massive amounts of relief from taxpayers to the failing financial institutions. The American people correctly see this approach as a historic swindle that rewards the villains at the expense of the victims. A Nevada real estate broker asked the Washington Post, "Instead of having a bailout, why don't we have indictments?". .
Here are five concepts for recovery and reconstruction that are in circulation. If we are lucky, these proposals will redefine the next presidency, whoever wins.
1. Stop the easy-money bailout. Instead of buying rotten assets from Wall Street firms with no strings attached, the government should examine their books and decide which banks can be saved with direct infusions of capital in exchange for public ownership--roughly on the terms Warren Buffett got when he aided Goldman Sachs (preferred shares and guaranteed dividends). The failing institutions should get regulatory euthanasia. This approach gives the government direct control over the survivors and ensures that the public is protected from egregious loss. The model is the Reconstruction Finance Corporation of the 1930s, which recapitalized banks and corporations under stern supervision.
2. Help the folks who are hurting--directly. A homeownership corporation patterned after the New Deal original would have the money and the flexible authority to supervise "workouts" for millions of failing families. This is what bankers do for corporations when they get in over their head. Government can do the same for indebted households: stop the liquidation, stretch out default dates and arrange manageable terms. This is not a bleeding-heart gesture--keeping families in their homes is economic stimulus, and it halts the decay of neighborhoods.
3. Get serious about economic stimulus. We need a recovery program five or six times larger than the pitiful $60 billion proposed by Democratic leaders. These billions should go for the familiar list of neglected priorities--fixing bridges and schools--but should also jump-start the green agenda for alternative fuels and restoration of ruined ecosystems. The government should subsidize the new industries of our age, just as New Deal spending financed the modern development of aircraft, petrochemicals, steelmaking and other key industries in the 1930s.
4. Re-regulate the bad actors and indict the criminals. Start by restoring the law against usury--the predatory lending practices that ruin weak and defenseless borrowers. Government cannot wait for a relaxed debate about restoring regulations. We need newly designed controls over the financiers and well-defined public obligations imposed not only on banking but also on hedge funds and private equity firms. These cannot be discretionary rules. If the money guys don't like them, they should get out of the business. Paulson's Wall Street colleagues are already mobilizing lobbyists for this fight, but they may discover that Washington has been changed by events. The easygoing deference to Big Money seems suddenly out of fashion.
5. Create a new brain for government management of the economy. The crisis and the halting decision-making by the Treasury and the Federal Reserve--not to mention the secrecy and special deal-making on behalf of financial interests--make it clear that deep reform is required. I would start with a special reconstruction and recovery agency, empowered to lead policy and oversee banking regulators and the economic stimulus. The Federal Reserve's so-called independence is an antique concession to the big banks and doesn't make any sense. Monetary policy and fiscal policy must be balanced and decided in the same process. That rational approach might have stopped the Fed from the biases and dereliction that led to this crisis.
Ian Welch, Firedog Lake - Fundamentally it's the Treasury Secretary to spend pretty much as he chooses, with meaningless oversight, up to 700 billion or the debt limit. In theory it's "whichever is less" in practice it's going to be "whichever is more". Add to this the end of mark to the end of mark to market, and the move to mark to "whatever the bank says its worth" and banks are going to be allowed to stay alive no matter whether they're solvent or not as long as their cash flow doesn't go so far negative it can't be papered over the world's favorite wallpaper, the US buck. Zombie banks plus all the money flooding into trying to stop deleveraging from wiping out said financial institutions means this is a Japanification plan.
Japan had its own bubble back in the 80's. When it popped the Japanese decide that they would not force banks to write down their losses. Instead they left them on the . . . The world's most vibrant economy went into a long economic slump from which it never recovered. This wasn't a classic depression - there wasn't a huge immediate contraction. Things just generally got lousy - unemployment rose somewhat, jobs stagnated, no one had a lot of money. The good times never, ever, came back ever again. It was like being caught in a low grade recession, all the time.
That's what this bill will do in the most likely scenario. The US will go into recession, every once in a while it will seem to pop out, then it will drop again. Because the US has population growth, and Japan doesn't, the actual numbers will look better than Japan's, but the feeling of "there are no jobs anywhere" and "this economy sucks" will be pervasive. This will translate into a grinding down of Americans standards of living.
The reason this happens is that all the money that could be used to increase output and productivity or to decrease input problems (by, say, reducing the amount of oil and other commodities used) will be all be being used to prop up the current financial structure. 750 billion dollars, and this is key, is not going to be enough. Folks on Wall Street are already saying so. More money is going to keep flying into the structure to keep it from deleveraging in an uncontrolled fashion, and thus wiping out lots of rich people. I figure they'll be back for more money in 6 months, 9 max. Three months wouldn't surprise me, since Paulson has a lot of incentive to use up his full allowance while he's still secretary. . .
Note that Japanification was always the plan of the "neconomy", or Busheconomy if you prefer. It was always the endgame. Why? Because Japanification makes the winners of the final game permanent. All extra money in the system will be pumped to the people who made the bad decisions that crashed the prior economy, they will stay in power and because there isn't a dynamic economy left, no one is likely to rise to replace them. . .
For ordinary people this means a long gray suck. The US is in worse condition to handle this than the Japanese were. It has a trade deficit and its government is hemorrhaging red ink. Foreigners will start lending again, but that's because they know they're going to get a lot of the bailout cash, which means their real rate of return on the treasuries is going to be a lot more than nominal. (
Standards of living, which have been essentially stagnant with a slight decrease in the last few years, will start a steep decline. Nominal housing values may or may not fully crash, but if they don't, you'll find it very hard to find anyone to sell your house to; the housing club will become one for people who are already in it. Those who aren't won't be able to afford the overinflated prices, because only people who can sell at high prices will be able to buy at high prices.
Because the US does not run a balance of payments surplus this is a game that can't go on forever, as it has in Japan. The US still needs outside money and that money will get more and more expensive and will eventually be turned off entirely. How long? Two to four years is my guess. At that point the US will be forced to go to the IMF (which, arguably, it should be doing right now, when it can use special drawing rights with no catch except a prestige loss.) At first the IMF will lend with no conditions. Then it will lend with conditions. You will not like those conditions. At all. Since Obama will be in office and will be associated with this mess (fairly enough, since he whipped for the bill) the right will run populist right wing and odds are very good that they will win. 2013 will likely see a populist right wing government in the US.
Jonathan Weil, Bloomberg - If you think this bailout is expensive, just wait until you see the next one. The $700 billion rescue plan approved by the U.S. Senate won't fix the core problem with the nation's ailing financial institutions. And it almost guarantees that you and I will have to pony up for an even costlier bailout someday, maybe soon. . .
Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson has correctly identified the quandary: Lots of shaky banks and insurance companies are showing strangely high values for assets that aren't worth squat in the market. Many need more capital and can't raise it. And he's right in saying the outlook is grim if we don't get this fixed.
What's stunning is how little the taxpayers would get in return for their money under Paulson's package, and how illusory much of the banks' newly minted capital would be.
Under the plan, Treasury would buy some companies' troubled assets at above-market values. To boost their capital, Paulson would have to pay the companies more than what their balance sheets say the assets are worth. Then other companies would use the rigged prices to write up, or avoid writing down, the values of similar holdings on their own books.
So, the taxpayers get hosed on the asset purchases. Other banks use the trumped-up prices to cook their books. And investor confidence supposedly is restored.
Sam Smith - If this had been two or three decades ago, the first thing the congressional Democrats would have done upon hearing Secretary Paulsen's demands would have been to write their own damn bill. They would have sent it to the White House, waited for Bush to veto it, and then worked out a compromise, but one based on their - rather tha Paulsen's - foundation. Unfortunately, the Democrats have become so gopaphilic and vetophobic that they just let the Bush team run all over them.
LA Times - There is growing evidence that the country is slipping into the deepest recession in decades. The latest marker came when the government reported that employers shed 159,000 jobs in September, far more than expected. That was the worst one-month drop in more than five years and brings to 760,000 the number of jobs that have disappeared this year
Hinckley Yachts is laying off about 9 percent of its workforce, a sign that the crash is affecting even the upper reaches of the economy.
Reuters - California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has informed Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson that the most populous U.S. state may need to turn to the federal government for short-term financing because of a lack of liquidity in credit markets. California needs $7 billion to cover short-term expenses and has planned to issue revenue anticipation notes for it. "Absent a clear resolution to this financial crisis that restores confidence and liquidity to the credit markets, California and other states may be unable to obtain the necessary level of financing to maintain government operations and may be forced to turn to the Federal Treasury for short-term financing,"
Michel Chossudovsky, Global Research - There is something disturbing about the Black Monday collapse of Wall Street, following the rejection of the proposed bailout by the US Congress, and which has not been addressed by the media. There was prior information on how the Congressional vote would proceed. There was also an expectation that the market would crumble if the proposed 700 billion dollar bailout were to be rejected by the US Congress.
Speculators including major financial institutions had already positioned themselves.
On Black Monday September 29, markets around the world collapsed on news that the US Congress had voted against the bailout. The Dow Jones industrial average fell by 778 points, a decline of almost 7 percent, the largest one day decline since Sept. 17, 2001, when the market opened after September 11, 2001.
In percentage terms, it was the 17th largest one day decline of the DJIA. Those who were involved in speculative trade prior to Congress' rejection of the legislative process, made billions on Black Monday. And then on Tuesday, they made billions, when the market rebounded, with the Dow jumping up by 485 points, a 4.68% increase, largely compensating for Monday's decline.
Those financial actors who had advance inside information regarding the Congressional decision or had the ability to influence the vote of members of Congress made billions of dollars when the market crumbled. .
The banks are "double dippers"; they are the recipients of the bailout. And at the same time they make money speculating on the adoption of the bailout legislation.
What has characterized the stock market in recent years is a seesaw up and down movement, where a temporary meltdown on one day is compensated by an upward rebound on the following business day. Analysts invariably dispel the speculative mechanisms. The rebound is attributable to "regained investor confidence".
Richard C Cook, Global Research - We know that the debacle started with homeowner defaults on subprime mortgages and that it has now spread to other types of mortgages. We know that the unhealthy use of subprime mortgages started during the Clinton administration, as did the bundling and sale of these mortgages into mortgage-backed securities sold in the financial markets.
What has not been reported is that the Bush administration turned these acts of reckless lending into a national program of mortgage fraud. Soon after George W. Bush became president in 2001, meetings at the White House between Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and administration officials became more frequent. According to mortgage industry insiders I have interviewed, direction soon began to come down from the banks to mortgage brokers to falsify borrower income information to allow them to qualify for loans that were otherwise out of reach.
The FBI has investigations underway to prosecute some of these cases of mortgage fraud. But they are not reaching above the brokers’ level. The FBI is not gaining access-or at least they have not reported it publicly-to information about collusion at the political level or at the level of the banks which provided the leveraged funding for mortgage money.
When Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson testified before the Senate Banking Committee last week, he said he was shocked to learn when assuming office in June 2006 that no federal agency regulated mortgage lending. Rather this was an area left to the states.
What Paulson did not say was that when the states attempted to intervene, they were blocked by the Treasury Department’s Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. In a February 14 article in the Washington Post written before he resigned, New York governor Eliot Spitzer wrote:
"In 2003, during the height of the predatory lending crisis, the OCC invoked a clause from the 1863 National Bank Act to issue formal opinions preempting all state predatory lending laws, thereby rendering them inoperative. The OCC also promulgated new rules that prevented states from enforcing any of their own consumer protection laws against national banks. The federal government's actions were so egregious and so unprecedented that all 50 state attorneys general, and all 50 state banking superintendents, actively fought the new rules. But the unanimous opposition of the 50 states did not deter, or even slow, the Bush administration in its goal of protecting the banks. In fact, when my office opened an investigation of possible discrimination in mortgage lending by a number of banks, the OCC filed a federal lawsuit to stop the investigation."
Why did the Bush administration do this? The only possible answer is that it had every intention of producing the housing bubble, one that had the effect of not only inflating the cost of homes and real estate but also pumping billions of dollars of borrowed cash into the economy through mortgage and home equity loans.
The bubble enriched huge numbers of executives, managers, and shareholders throughout the financial and real estate industries, and provided jobs to millions of people. The bubble also brought back foreign capital to U.S. markets that had been scared away by the bust of 2000-2001.
Everyone seemed to benefit, but it was those at the top who skimmed the greatest profits. And for an economy that had already given away millions of its best manufacturing jobs through NAFTA, Most-Favored-Nation trading policies with China, World Trade Organization agreements, etc., the bubble acted as a kind of substitute economic engine.
It also resulted in tax revenues that allowed the Bush administration to implement its 2001 and 2003 tax cuts for the rich and provide funding for the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Of course these tax revenues were not enough, as the national debt soared to over $9 trillion during the Bush years as well.
Economist Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research makes the point:
"The near hysterical discussion (count the times ‘Great Depression’ appears in news stories) of the bailout still largely fails to recognize the roots of the economy's current problems in the collapse of the housing bubble. Much of the discussion assumes that the problem is just bad subprime loans and that house prices will bounce back once the credit markets are working properly.". . .
But credit is the lifeblood of the economy only because people are broke. Purchasing power in the U.S. has collapsed, and it is getting worse as the recession which has now begun worsens. . .
Richard C. Cook is a former U.S. federal government analyst, whose career included service with the U.S. Civil Service Commission, the Food and Drug Administration, the Carter White House, NASA, and the U.S. Treasury Department.
Internet Sighting - If you had purchased L1000 of Northern Rock shares one year ago they would now be worth L4.95; with HBOS, earlier this week your L1000 would have been worth L16.50; L1000 invested in XL Leisure would now be worth less than L5. . . But if you bought L1000 worth of Tennents Lager one year ago, drank it all, then took the empty cans to an aluminum re-cycling plant, you would get L214. So based on the above statistics the best current investment advice is to drink heavily and recycle.
Martin Goldberg, Financial Sense - Things You’ll Never Read. . . "Added to the house bill was a clause that amends IRS regulations to retroactively tax officers of the 700 financial companies as follows. Any income derived from salary and sale of company shares at inflated market prices that were based on falsely booked profits from dubious loan activity from 2003 onward, shall be retroactively taxed by the government at a rate of 90%. Those individuals unable to come up with the tax money due to the retroactive nature of the tax shall be given the opportunity of a government loan to cover the tax which shall be paid back at variable rates over 10 a year period."
. . This would be just and appropriate to the community. But as I said, this is a thing you’ll never read.
Washington Post - The head of the National Urban League is calling on Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. to refute statements by conservative politicians and pundits that subprime mortgages provided to minorities led to the financial crisis and a $700 billion federal rescue of Wall Street. In a strongly worded letter to Paulson this week, Marc H. Morial said Paulson has "an obligation to correct the misinformation that is spread concerning the root cause of the current financial crisis."
Morial, a former mayor of New Orleans, said in an interview yesterday that the effort "to pin the subprime crisis on African Americans and Latinos" is a "big lie."
"It's an effort to shift the climate away from deregulation and the lack of oversight," he said. "The numbers are becoming clearer each day that a large number of people who ended up with a subprime loan could have qualified for a prime loan. That's the abuse that's inherent here.". . .
On the House floor, on cable network television and in Internet blogs in recent days, conservative politicians and commentators have traced the problem to the Community Reinvestment Act, or CRA, enacted in 1977 to extend loans to minorities who were historically denied homeownership. .
Defenders of the act say claims that it encouraged risky loans and caused the foreclosure crisis do not square with the facts of subprime lending. Only a tiny fraction of subprime loans made since 2000 were ever generated to meet the goals of the act, which requires banks and savings-and-loan institutions to provide credit to their lower-income clients as well as their wealthy ones, they said.
Center on Budget Policy & Priorities - September was the ninth straight month of job declines, with employers shedding a net 760,000 jobs so far this year . The official unemployment rate was 6.1 percent in September, and other indicators show even greater labor market weakness. The percentage of the population with a job (62 percent) has not been lower since 1993.
Signs that the economy is weakening are everywhere. The effects of the first economic stimulus package appear to have run their course; consumer spending (which is over two-thirds of GDP) was anemic in August. Auto sales are plummeting, and the manufacturing index, which had been signaling only a mild contraction, suffered its largest decline since 1984 in September.
Washington Post - Mark Buse, a longtime McCain adviser who had been staff director of the Senate commerce committee, signed on as a Freddie Mac lobbyist, and his firm, ML Strategies, earned $460,000 in lobbying fees in late 2003 and 2004, according to lobbying disclosures. Buse is now chief of staff at McCain's Senate office. Buse was one of many strategic hires made by Freddie Mac in its efforts to sew up support and manage opponents on Capitol Hill, a push that peaked in 2004 with the retention of 34 outside lobbying firms. Over the past decade, Freddie spent more than $95 million on lobbying, while its sister company, Fannie Mae, spent more than $79 million. . .
McCain's own entanglements include his campaign manager, Rick Davis, who earned more than $2 million as president of an advocacy group that defended Fannie and Freddie against stricter regulation. Davis's lobbying firm, Davis Manafort, also received monthly payments of $15,000 from Freddie Mac as recently as August. . .
McCain campaign spokesman Brian Rogers said the hiring of Buse did not influence McCain. "I think the reality is that John McCain takes positions, you know, based on what he believes is in the public interest, period," Rogers said. "If these folks thought they were getting something out of John McCain . . . it's not based in fact."
Telegraph UK - Researchers have demonstrated a flexible television screen which could result in people folding up their computer and putting it in their pocket. The design could be used for television and posters, as well as computers, while it could also pave the way for the development of newspaper display technology which would allow readers to upload daily news to an easy-to-carry display contraption.
The concept demo was unveiled by researchers from Sony and the Max Planck Institute in Germany who believe "Rigid television screens, bulky laptops and still image posters are to be a thing of the past". It is all organic, flexible and transparent with an extremely low energy requirement, while it has an almost unlimited viewing angle and high efficiency.
There is no need for a backlight and response times are up to 10 times fast than LCDs (liquid crystal displays), meaning ultra-smooth motion without blurring.
Guardian, UK - Iran would consider suspending uranium enrichment if the country were guaranteed a supply of nuclear fuel for its power stations, a senior Iranian diplomat said.
Western officials responded cautiously to the remarks, pointing out that Iran had already been offered a legally binding fuel supply in a multinational proposal put forward in 2006, and renewed in June.
But the officials said the comments by Ali Asghar Soltanieh marked a break from Tehran's customary insistence that it would not negotiate its right to enrich uranium. . .
Soltanieh, Iran's envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, was speaking to journalists after a meeting organised by the European Policy Centre thinktank in Brussels, where he suggested Iran's uranium enrichment might be a matter for negotiation. "We are going to continue as long as there is no legally binding internationally recognized instrument for assurance of supply," Soltanieh said. If IAEA members guaranteed that supply, "Iran would be able to reconsider the position". But Soltanieh suggested Iran might want to retain the capacity to enrich some uranium as a "contingency in case of interruption" in supply.
Bloomberg - Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is hiring as many as 10 asset-management firms to join the lawyers and bankers he is recruiting to jumpstart the government's new $700 billion bank-rescue program.
The Treasury began implementing the plan within an hour of the House of Representatives vote giving Paulson the extraordinary powers he had sought to combat the U.S. financial crisis. Paulson is seeking to assemble a team to determine which toxic securities to target, how to value them and how to arrange purchases.
"This is something that, for a typical company, would take no less than five years,'' said Lynn Turner, a former chief accountant at the Securities and Exchange Commission. "Anyone who thinks they can do this in two weeks is insane.''
Already, BlackRock Inc., Pacific Investment Management Co. and Legg Mason Inc. are seeking to become money managers for the program, people familiar with the matter said. The three firms have been informally advising the Treasury as it negotiated the bailout package with Congress, the people said.
Ed Forst, the former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. executive Paulson hired to head the transition team, started work last week and is charged with helping establish the new Office of Financial Stability.. . . Treasury officials said Forst, who was given a contract worth $5,000, is likely to stay for several weeks before returning to Harvard University, where he sits on the board that oversees the $34.9 billion endowment. . .
Richard Sennett, Guardian, UK - When I began interviewing manual, clerical and sales workers in the 1970s, what most struck me was how much they personalize their experiences on the job, in contrast to their European equivalents. Americans view where they stand in society as a barometer of who they are as individuals, while Europeans tend to put more distance between their personal life and the circumstances of their jobs. This difference has remained throughout all the changes in the economy, patterns of migration and the loss of many American jobs overseas in the past 30 . . .
The problem Senator Obama faces is that everything about his life story - his origins as an outsider, his academic achievements, his decision to eschew making money in order to lend a helping hand to the poor - reads as a positive to working-class negatives. His life story seems to put ordinary people to shame, and the more he repeats this story, the more they manage shame - as we all do - through anger and resentment.
One thing I've learned about political messages targeted at the working class is that declaring "the system has screwed you" is likely to backfire. It casts the listener into the role of victim, a role which workers find demeaning. Better crafted political language is more impersonal, as in "there's something wrong with the system"; such messages treat everyone as in the same boat.
One issue the Obama campaign needs to think through is that the mantra of "change you can believe in" runs up against a streak of fatalism in the American working class. This fatalism has a particular cast. Lower-level workers tend to be treated on the job as invisible. The centre-left agenda for reform has seldom focused on such bread-and-butter issues as better vocational schools, insurance against industrial accidents, or skills-development programs for salesmen, secretaries and clerks; these issues don't register on the political radar just because they are so ordinary, so boring, so unexciting. The fatalism of American workers emerges as a result: those who say they are on your side don't see you.
The right has done nothing more substantial for these workers, but it has offered two cultural substitutes: nationalism and nostalgia. To make "change you can believe in" credible, the changes have to be more concrete. . .
ABC News - In an apparent violation of federal regulations, the State Department has outsourced to private contractors the responsibility to investigate possible crimes committed by security contractors in Iraq. Earlier this year, the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security hired the private firm U.S. Investigations Service to fill positions in the newly created Force Investigation Unit that investigates potential misuses of force against civilians by U.S. security contractors. The contract investigators have been in Iraq since this summer. . .
According to a contract obtained by ABC News, the company was hired to supplement Diplomatic Security personnel. However, the eight USIS contractors hired for the team represent the majority of the full-time team, an apparent violation of federal regulations that prohibit such work by contractors. According to Federal Acquisition Regulation part 7.5, it is not permissible to hire contractors for jobs "considered to be inherently governmental functions" including "the direct conduct of criminal investigations."
Bill O'Reilly in his new book: Next time you meet an atheist, tell him or her that you know a bold, fresh guy, a barbarian who was raised in a working-class home and retains the lessons he learned there. Then mention to that atheist that this guy is now watched and listened to, on a daily basis, by millions of people all over the world and, to boot, sells millions of books. Then, while the non-believer is digesting all that, ask him or her if they still don't believe there's a God!
Telegraph, UK - Sir Nigel Sheinwald, ambassador in Washington since last year, delivered his unvarnished assessment of the White House front runner in a seven-page letter to the Prime Minister, obtained by The Daily Telegraph, just before the Democratic nominee's visit to Downing Street just over two months ago.
The candid letter, marked as containing "sensitive judgements" and requesting officials to "protect the contents carefully" gives a remarkable insight into how the Foreign Office views the political phenomenon who stunned Mr Brown's inner circle by defeating their favorite, Hillary Clinton, in the Democratic primaries.
Although the picture Sir Nigel paints is a highly complimentary one - Mr Obama's speeches are "elegant" and "mesmerizing", he is "highly intelligent" and has "star quality" - he also judges that his "policies are still evolving" and that if elected he will "have less of a track record than any recent president".
The letter's contents suggest that Mr Brown could initially find it difficult to deal with a President Obama because he remains a largely unknown quantity who "resists pigeon-holing" and the leak is likely to complicate relations. . .
Sir Nigel traces the ambition of Mr Obama, 47, to reach the White House right back to his 20s or before. "He has talked at least since the 1980s about a shot at the Presidency."
He also identifies several political vulnerabilities that Sen McCain will seek to exploit in the last month of his campaign against the Illinois senator. The leaked letter will provide him with welcome ammunition.
Mr Obama "can seem to sit on the fence, assiduously balancing pros and cons", Sir Nigel wrote, and "does betray a highly educated and upper middle class mindset". Charges of elitism "are not entirely unfair" and he is "maybe aloof, insensitive" at times.
"He can talk too dispassionately for a national campaign about issues which touch people personally, e.g. his notorious San Francisco comments [in April] about small-town Pennsylvanians 'clinging' to guns and religion."
Mr Obama's Democratic primary victory over the former First Lady showed that "he is tough and competitive. This is of course the Chicago school. You don't beat Clinton without being resilient" but "his energy levels do dip and he can be uninspiring e.g. in debates". . .
Sir Nigel detects a potential clash between Downing Street and an Obama administration over Iran. "If Obama wins, we will need to consider with him the articulation between (a) his desire for 'unconditional' dialogue with Iran and (b) our and the [United Nations Security Council]'s requirement of prior suspension of enrichment before the nuclear negotiations proper can begin."
But Sir Nigel - who described the Iraq war as "the Iraq expedition" and "Bush's Iraq adventure" - briefed that Mr Obama's Iraq policy gelled with Britain's.
"Whatever the detail, our own proposed transition in south-east Iraq would be consistent with Obama's likely approach. Obama's ideas on a more expansive regional framework for Iraq would also fit well with our thinking."
He wrote approvingly of Mr Obama's "mainstream team of youthful economic advisers, with strong credentials [who] approach policy with refreshingly few prescriptions", his "progressive position on climate change" and his 'pragmatic realism" and "balanced approach to the big security issues".
Sir Nigel concludes that searching for a deal between Israel and the Palestinians is "unlikely to be a top priority for Obama" and he expresses concern about his protectionist trade policy, while noting that he has "repositioned himself somewhat towards free trade". .
"His voting record was decidedly liberal. But the main impression is of someone who was finding his feet, and then got diverted by his presidential ambitions."
He highlights luck as a key factor in Mr Obama's rise. "He was certainly lucky in having Democratic and Republican opponents for the US Senate in 2004 who were tarnished. He was lucky that Hillary Clinton had such a bad organisation in the primary campaign, and took so long to respond to Obama's threat."
Progress Report - As Congress is in the middle of approving a $700 billion financial bailout, yesterday's debate appropriately kicked off with a discussion of economic issues. Palin repeatedly stressed the reform that she and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) would bring to the government. "Now, John McCain thankfully has been one representing reform," Palin said. "Two years ago, remember, it was John McCain who pushed so hard with the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac reform measures. He sounded that warning bell." This claim, however, is an exaggeration. This morning, NPR fact-checked Palin's claim and found that in 2005, Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) was actually the one who led the effort to tighten regulations. NPR said that the only piece they could find from McCain was a press release co-sponsoring Hagel's measure. Additionally, in an interview in November 2007, McCain admitted that he was clueless about the economic mess: "So, I'd like to tell you that I did anticipate it, but I have to give you straight talk, I did not." In an interview that aired on Sept. 24, Couric pressed Palin to name "specific examples" of McCain pushing for more regulation. Palin failed, however, and simply replied, "I'll try to find you some and I'll bring them to you." Palin was similarly confused and overwhelmed by her memorized talking points in a CBS interview that aired the next day, when she inexplicably claimed that the bailout is needed to "help those who are concerned about the health care reform that is needed to help shore up the economy," a position that no experts have taken.
Palin aggressively criticized anyone advocating withdrawal from Iraq, even though it is a position held by the majority of the American public. Palin claimed that a timeline for redeployment -- now also embraced by President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri-al Maliki -- would be "a white flag of surrender." Of course, Palin failed to note that before adopting the talking points of the McCain campaign, she held a similar view. In March 2007, Palin told the Alaska Business Monthly, "I've been so focused on state government, I haven't really focused much on the war in Iraq. ... While I support our president, Condoleezza Rice and the administration, I want to know that we have an exit plan in place." Last night and during her CBS interviews, Palin made repeated references to "victory" and "winning" in Iraq while also praising Gen. David Petraeus. Petraeus, however, has disavowed such terms, wanting to avoid "premature declarations of success." The McCain campaign continues to tout Palin as a foreign policy expert. This week on NPR, McCain claimed that he has "turned to her advice many times in the past" on these issues. Defending the claim that Alaska's proximity to Russia constitutes national security experience, the campaign told CBS News this week that "Russian incursions. . . inside the air defense identification zone have occurred." However, a spokesman for the Alaska region of the North American Aerospace Defense Command has confirmed that "no Russian military planes have been flying even into that zone" during Palin's tenure.
Tom Ely, World Socialist - In 1970, fresh from the Masters program of the Harvard Business School, Paulson entered the Nixon administration, working first as staff assistant to the assistant secretary of defense. In 1972-73, Paulson worked as office assistant to John Erlichman, assistant to the president for domestic affairs. Erlichman was one of the key figures involved in organizing President Richard Nixon's notorious "plumbers" unit that carried out illegal covert operations against the president's political opponents, including espionage, blackmail, and revenge. Ehlichman resigned in 1973, and in 1975 he was convicted of obstruction of justice, perjury, and conspiracy, and was imprisoned for 18 months.
Utilizing his connections, Paulson went to work for Goldman Sachs in 1974. In a 2007 feature, the British newspaper the Guardian wrote, "Not only was he well connected enough to get the job [in the Nixon White House], but well connected enough to resign in the thick of the Watergate scandal without ever getting caught up in the fallout. He went straight to Goldman back home in Illinois."
Paulson rose through the ranks of Goldman Sachs, becoming a partner in 1982, co-head of investment banking in 1990, chief operating officer in 1994. In 1998 he forced out his co-chairman Jon Corzine "in what amounted to a coup," according to New York Times economics correspondent Floyd Norris, and took over the post of CEO.
Goldman Sachs is perhaps the single best-connected Wall Street firm. Its executives routinely go in and out of top government posts. Corzine went on to become US senator from New Jersey and is now the state's governor. Corzine's predecessor, Stephen Friedman, served in the Bush administration as assistant to the president for economic policy and as chairman of the National Economic Council. Friedman's predecessor as Goldman Sachs CEO, Robert Rubin, served as chairman of the NEC and later treasury secretary under Bill Clinton.
Agence France Press, in a 2006 article on Paulson's appointment, "Has Goldman Sachs Taken Over the Bush Administration?" noted that, in addition to Paulson, "the president's chief of staff, Josh Bolten, and the chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Jeffery Reuben, are Goldman alumni."
"But the flow goes both ways," the article continued, "Goldman recently hired Robert Zoellick, who stepped down as the US deputy secretary of state, and Faryar Shirzad, who worked as one of Bush's national security advisors.". . .
Paulson, according to a celebratory 2006 Business Week article entitled "Mr. Risk Goes to Washington," was "one of the key architects of a more daring Wall Street, where securities firms are taking greater and greater chances in their pursuit of profits." Under Paulson's watch, that meant "taking on more debt: $100 billion in long-term debt in 2005, compared with about $20 billion in 1999. It means placing big bets on all sorts of exotic derivatives and other securities."
According to the International Herald Tribune, Paulson "was one of the first Wall Street leaders to recognize how drastically investment banks could enhance their profitability by betting with their own capital instead of acting as mere intermediaries." Paulson "stubbornly [asserted] Goldman's right to invest in, advise on and finance deals, regardless of potential conflicts.". . .
Wired - Last week, a key congressman predicted that the mega-expensive Wall Street bailout would naturally force the government to cut back defense spending. Well, not if the Pentagon has anything to do with it.
The Defense Department "wants an increase of $57 billion in fiscal 2010, about 13.5 percent more than this year's budget of $514.3 billion," according to Bloomberg News.
Military spending has skyrocketed since fiscal 2000 -- up 43 percent, before the hundreds of billions for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are factored in. But even in these fat years for defense budgets, the proposal for 2010 (not yet approved by the White House) would be an anomaly. The typical increase has been a mere four percent.
Wall Street Journal - A top national-security adviser to Barack Obama said he expects military spending during a Democratic administration wouldn't drop, a key concern for a defense industry that is accustomed to growing Pentagon budgets and anxious about potential cutbacks. . .
Richard Danzig, a U.S. Navy secretary during the Clinton administration and a leading contender to be the secretary of Defense in an Obama administration, said he doesn't "see defense spending declining in the first years of an Obama administration. There are a set of demands there that are very severe, very important to our national well-being." . . .
Washington Post - The Defense Department will pay private U.S. contractors in Iraq up to $300 million over the next three years to produce news stories, entertainment programs and public service advertisements for the Iraqi media in an effort to "engage and inspire" the local population to support U.S. objectives and the Iraqi government. The new contracts -- awarded last week to four companies -- will expand and consolidate what the U.S. military calls "information - psychological operations" in Iraq far into the future, even as violence appears to be abating and U.S. troops have begun drawing down. . .
One official described how part of the program works: "There's a video piece produced by a contractor . . . showing a family being attacked by a group of bad guys, and their daughter being taken off. The message is: You've got to stand up against the enemy." The professionally produced vignette, he said, "is offered for airing on various [television] stations in Iraq. . . . They don't know that the originator of the content is the U.S. government. If they did, they would never run anything.". . . "If you asked most Iraqis," he said, "they would say, 'It came from the government, our own government.' "
New Scientist - Tests of whether sodas such as Coke and Pepsi could be used as spermicides were among the many offbeat ideas celebrated at the 2008 Ig Nobel awards. Lap dancers' tips and armadillos' uncanny ability to wreak havoc at archaeological sites were also the subjects of prize-winning studies.
The tongue-in-cheek awards, presented at Harvard University, are organized by the humorous scientific journal, the Annals of Improbable Research, for research achievements "that make people laugh – then think".
Deborah Anderson of Harvard Medical School's birth-control laboratory took her first step towards the Ig Nobel chemistry prize in the 1980s when she asked medical student Sharee Umpierre what type of contraception had been used at the all-girl Catholic boarding school she had attended in Puerto Rico.
"Coca-Cola douches," Umpierre replied. Though that was the first Anderson had heard of the idea, her gynecologist colleague, Joe Hill, remembered a song of the same name by an outrageous 1960s band called The Fugs.
"Coca-Cola douches had become a part of contraceptive folklore during the 1950s and 1960s, when other birth-control methods were hard to come by," Anderson told New Scientist. "It was believed that the carbonic acid in Coke killed sperm, and the method came with its own 'shake and shoot applicator'" – the classic Coke bottle.
To see if Coke really worked, Anderson, Umpierre and Hill mixed four different types of Coke with sperm in test tubes. A minute later, all sperm were dead in the Diet Coke, but 41% were still swimming in the just-introduced New Coke (The New England Journal of Medicine, vol 313, p 1351).
But that's not good enough, Anderson warns. Sperm "can make it into the cervical canal, out of reach of any douching solution, in seconds" – faster than anyone could shake and apply a bottle of Diet Coke.
The three researchers shared the chemistry prize with Chuang-Ye Hong of the Taipei Medical University in Taiwan and his colleagues, whose similar experiment found both Coca-Cola and its arch-rival Pepsi-Cola useless as spermicides (Human Toxicology, vol 6, p 395). Costly cure
Another experiment with huge implications for health policy garnered the Ig Nobel medicine prize for Dan Ariely of Duke University in North Carolina.
While at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he gave two groups of volunteers identical placebos masquerading as painkillers, telling one group the pills cost $2.50 each and the other that the pills had been discounted to 10 cents each.
The volunteers didn't pay for the pills, but those who took the "more costly" fake medicine felt less pain from electric shocks than those who took the cheap fakes (Journal of the American Medical Association, vol 299, p 1016). Price affects people's expectations and thus their response to medicine, Ariely says – the more expensive the pill, the more relief they expect.
One Ig Nobel-winning experiment probing human nature has been featured in New Scientist: can women somehow signal when they are at their peak fertility? Most other female mammals do so openly, but men don't consciously recognise any such signal from women.
To investigate, University of New Mexico psychologists Geoffrey Miller, Joshua Tybur and Brent Jordan asked women working as lap dancers to report their nightly tips, and whether they were on hormonal contraceptives or menstruating naturally.
The two groups of women received similar tips when they were in non-fertile parts of their cycle, but when the naturally menstruating women reached their fertile days they earned significantly more (Evolution and Human Behavior, vol 28, p 375).
Scientific Blogging - A new study has concluded that musicians have IQ scores than non-musicians, supporting other recent research that intensive musical training is associated with an elevated IQ score.
Vanderbilt University psychologists have found that professionally trained musicians more effectively use a creative technique called divergent thinking, and also use both the left and the right sides of their frontal cortex more heavily than the average person.
One possible explanation the researchers offer for the musicians' elevated use of both brain hemispheres is that many musicians must be able to use both hands independently to play their instruments.
"We were interested in how individuals who are naturally creative look at problems that are best solved by thinking 'out of the box'," Folley said. "We studied musicians because creative thinking is part of their daily experience, and we found that there were qualitative differences in the types of answers they gave to problems and in their associated brain activity."
"Musicians may be particularly good at efficiently accessing and integrating competing information from both hemispheres," Folley said. "Instrumental musicians often integrate different melodic lines with both hands into a single musical piece, and they have to be very good at simultaneously reading the musical symbols, which are like left-hemisphere-based language, and integrating the written music with their own interpretation, which has been linked to the right hemisphere."
CNN - Public bathrooms may be teeming with bacteria, but the toilet seat is probably safe for sitting. But the toilet seat is actually the cleanest part of the bathroom, one expert says.
Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona who has studied restrooms and other germ-infested environments for more than 20 years, says that because of the care people take when they're about to sit, other parts of the bathroom are much more prone to delivering bacterial infections.
"One of the cleanest things in the bathrooms we find are the toilet seats," Gerba said. "I'd put my fanny on it any time -- unless it's wet; then you'd want to wipe it first."
Public bathrooms may contain several kinds of harmful bacteria, including E. coli, salmonella, coliform, rotavirus, cold virus and the potentially deadly form of staph known as MRSA, experts say. But people are more likely to pick up these nasty bugs through touching things in the bathroom with their hands, not their behinds. . .
More concerning, however, is a child who steadies himself or herself on a toilet seat by holding onto it and then leaving without washing hands, she said. Those germs could lead to an infection once the child's hands touch the nose, mouth or eyes.
And don't forget that unwashed hands have handled everything from the door knob to the lock to the flusher. Again, if you touch one of these objects and then rub your eye, nose or mouth, you're apt to transmit that bacteria.
But there is hope. Here are hygiene helpers:
Yes, it's basic. But, in general, washing your hands is the most effective action you can take to prevent bacterial infections from a public bathroom, experts say.
"You can remove all gastrointestinal and respiratory infection bacteria by washing hands," said Judy Daly, clinical microbiologist at the University of Utah and spokesperson for the Clean Hands Campaign. "Seventeen seconds of a little bit of friction, water and soap will really mediate bacteria."
The American Society for Microbiology, which sponsors the Clean Hands Campaign, found in a study last year that about 77 percent of men and women washed their hands in public restrooms, down 6 percent from 2005. The observational study also found that women washed their hands more than men.
"It's such an easy intervention," Daly said. "If you get it to be a habit for a 30-day period, it's something you do automatically."
Recent bathroom additions like automatic hands-free faucets and paper towel dispensers diminish contact between your hands and bathroom items that may bear bacteria.
Gerba's research found that the highest concentration of germs in a public bathroom are on the floor, the outside of the sanitary napkin disposal and the sink and water taps.
When Gerba looked at women's purses, he found that one-third of them had fecal bacteria on the bottom. Make sure you hang your shoulder bag on a hook. If none is available, some people swear by hanging the strap around their necks.
The middle stall of a public restroom usually has the most bacteria because people use it the most. "I guess people like company," Gerba said. The first stall will probably be cleaner.
As a rule, the cleanest toilets are usually in hospitals, because they use disinfectants heavily, but the worst are in airports and airplanes, Gerba said. The small size of airplane bathrooms, including the sinks themselves, make it hard for people to wash their hands -- in fact, Gerba's study found a thin layer of E. coli in an airplane bathroom.
As for the airports themselves, "In the men's room at Chicago O'Hare, I don't think the toilet seat ever gets cold," Gerba said.
Architecture 2030 - According to the US Energy Information Administration, oil production from drilling offshore in the outer continental shelf wouldn't begin until around the year 2017. Once begun, it wouldn't reach peak production until about 2030 when it would produce only 200,000 barrels of oil per day. This would supply a meager 1.2% of total US annual oil consumption (just 0.6% of total US energy consumption). And, the offshore oil would be sold back to the US at the international rate, which today is $106 a barrel. So, the oil produced by offshore drilling would not only be a "drop in the bucket", it would be expensive, which translates to "no relief at the pump".
Architecture 2030 - 12,954 Nuclear Power Plants - That's how many nuclear plants the world would need to build to replace its current fossil-fuel-based energy. Even if it was physically possible to build this many plants within the seven-year timeline set by scientists to avoid dangerous climate change (it takes 8 to 12 years to get a nuclear plant on-line), the cost would be astronomical. At $6 billion per plant (a conservative figure), 12,954 plants would cost $77.72 trillion - more than the total Gross World Product of $65.95 trillion.
Washington Post - Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I) ended months of speculation by announcing that the job he really wants is the one he already has, and he said he would like to continue running America's largest city for another four years. To be eligible for another term, Bloomberg must first amend the city's term-limits law, which restricts most officeholders to eight consecutive years. Bloomberg said he will work with the City Council on a bill to do just that. He has nothing against term limits, Bloomberg said at a packed news conference in the Blue Room of New York's historic City Hall. He just thinks the limit should be 12 years, not eight. "Make no mistake about it: I still think term limits are a good thing," Bloomberg said, to an occasionally skeptical-sounding press corps. "Two terms or three terms I think is a very different debate.". . . Bloomberg's gambit appears likely to find quick and easy support in the normally pliant council, as 35 of its 51 members also would face losing their jobs without a change in the law. Although term limits were backed by voters in a 1993 referendum and upheld again three years later, the council has the power to overturn the voters' decision by a simple majority vote.. . Bloomberg's announcement drew sharp criticism from civic groups, some of which plan legal action, and from some politicians who had been fundraising for their own citywide campaigns -- and who now see their plans upended. . . John C. Liu (D-Queens), one council member opposed to a change, said: "The issue here is the lawmaking process. What's happening really does scare me. It shakes my core belief in the system."
The last time as many people watched a debate as they did the Biden-Palin smackdown was back in 1992 when Clinton, Bush and Perot. The real driver was the presence of Perot who made the thing a lot more interesting and everyone knew it. Since we can't count on anyone as thrillingly vacuous as Palin in future debates, it would be wise to let the third parties join the fun and help the numbers
Slashdot - A New Jersey Superior Court Judge has prohibited the release of an analysis conducted on the Sequoia AVC Advantage voting system. This report arose out of a lawsuit challenging on constitutional grounds the use of these systems. The study was conducted by Andrew Appel on behalf of the plaintiffs, after the judge in the case ordered the company to p
permit it. That same judge has now withheld it indefinitely from the public record on a verbal order."
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr, Op Ed News - There are about 30 scams the Republicans are deliberately using, particularly in the swing states to get Democratic voters off the rolls. These scams originate in the so-called Help America Vote Act, which was passed after the Florida debacle in the year 2000. It was originally suggested by Democrats and Republicans, but it was passed by a Republican Congress with a Republican senate and a Republican president. And instead of reforming what happened in Florida it basically institutionalized all the problems that happened in Florida. And institutionalized a series of impediments that make it very difficult for Democrats to register, for Democrats to vote and then for Democrats to have their votes counted.
Manchester Evening News, UK - [Manchester Univesity] Students say new signs on toilets at their union building might be making their WC just a 'bit too PC'. The traditional sign on the door of the Gents has been temporarily replaced with one that says 'toilets with urinals'. And the sign on the Ladies now simply says 'toilets' in a move to make the lavatories more inclusive for trans-gender students.
NOTE: You can post your comments on any of the above stories by going to our Undernews site and searching for the headline. Once posted, a copy is immediately mailed to the Review and we pick some of the most interesting to publish here.
440 pages in two days? No way. Like the Patriot Act, this thing was prepared beforehand. Do they think we're that stupid? Guess they do, and most of us are.
Right, this thing was prepared at the White House since the beginning of the ordeal. . . and with the attempt to disrupt the electoral campaigns (which were perceived as leaning towards Obama). Actually if the process would have been favorable to McCain it wouldn't have started until the spring. . . Shame on us...
Translation: Sarah Palin believes the right to privacy exists - which can only mean it exists at the individual level, yet she has no problem with state governments taking that right away, and only has a problem with the federal government ensuring the right is upheld.
Wal-Mart has been campaigning for irradiated food approval for years. So have the other four or five grocery concerns that control super-market retailing in the United States. The ability to keep meats and produce on the shelves for weeks or even months is quite appealing from a profit making perspective. My wager is this as much as anything else is driving the push to allow irradiated foods.
There are very noticeable differences in food texture, coloring, and flavor suggesting the process just might produce more profound changes than its proponents would have us believe. Indirectly, I'm none too happy about entrusting stockpiles of cobalt 60 and cesium 137 to the likes of a Donald Tyson. (Tyson owns IBP which packages more than 80% of the beef sold in the US.)
One poster hinted darkly that it is Wal-Mart and the major food distributors that are behind this move. I'm sure that's right. This technology increases the safety of the dispersed corporate food distribution system. Obviously, it would be better for humankind and the planet if we returned to a locally-based organic farming system. The political economy of peak oil will probably move us there eventually. But in the meantime, why not improve the safety of the behemoth that we've got? I try to buy from farm stands and CSA whenever possible and I encourage others to do so. However, the vast majority of people go to the local Stop n' Shop. Should we be willing to deliberately keep the food distribution unsafe and allow them to be sickened just to prove that our preferred system is better? The big conglomerates want to reduce their liability by eliminating backlash from toxic food. Does that not create the same effect as acting to ensure public health? I'd rather help Wal-Mart make a buck than willingly allowing another public health crisis.
Lastly, somebody mentioned trusting Tyson et al with radioactive materials. That is a fairly good point, but it is also a matter of economics. I seriously doubt that Tyson has any desire to own and operate an irradiation facility. There are many merchant facilities scattered across the country that perform irradiation on a fee-for-service basis. The most likely path is for the food producers to use that existing network. Furthermore, I doubt that cobalt and cesium will be the radiation sources used for this. Electron beam is more efficient for this job, is less likely to effect the food, and does not require a radiation source. There are several large-scale EB facilities already located near agricultural centers that are underutilized. No toxic nasties involved, just high energy electrons from an accelerator. No residues and no waste. - Chris Collns
Even if CC is right about everything he says (and I'm not convinced he is), this is still just another argument for local food. Why have already nutrient-deficient food made more so with radiation, when you can get food grown the right way? And I have a sneaking feeling that people thought many years ago about antibiotics the way he does about irradiation, i.e. that there's no way we could be creating a bigger problem with this solution - but look how wrong they were.
As an indirect consequence of our national paranoia over 'terrorism', accidental irradiation occurs with surprising frequency through electronic screening of containers. In the aftermath of the postal anthrax scare electronically sterilized mail adversely affected seed shipments. Many gardeners complained of near zero germination rates from many packages.---which raises a lateral issue with supermarket goods, seeds from irradiated fruit are rendered sterile, as is garlic. Some of the larger retailers have taken advantage of security x-ray examinations as a backdoor means of irradiating food and circumventing regulatory prohibitions.
I have actually purchased what was purported to be organic strawberries and was surprised to discover that they would not decay. Weeks passed and they maintained the same red color and only slightly shriveled up. The flavor was horrendous. They tasted wrong from the start. Something wasn't right and they weren't behaving as authentic organic produce. o, caveat emptor.
The federal government is now bailing out compulsive gamblers in Las Vegas, Reno, Atlantic City, and elsewhere. Anyone who has lost $1000 or more gambling in U.S. casinos may apply for a full refund at taxpayer expense, by writing to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.
Include a copy of your income tax returns as proof of your gambling losses, and the Treasury will issue you equal compensation within 6-8 weeks. The refund program does not apply to offshore gambling, Internet gambling, and losses at casinos run on Native American reservations.
Algorithms got us into this subprime mess. Economists had it all planned out. Any unforeseen event, which usually there are lots of, throw them off. - Joe R
Actually, if you want to get technical about this: Joe Biden was widowed before he married his current wife. While being widowed and being divorced are two completely different things, it still represents a marriage ending. That would then therefore give a negative one hundred and ten points to the Obama/Biden ticket. So while McCain - Palin have an electability of -104 points, the Obama - Biden ticket has an electability of -110.
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