Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Wall Street Reform

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WHAT DID THURGOOD MARSHALL EVER DO TO THE GOP?....

Political Animal
 
In early May, soon after President Obama nominated Elena Kagan for the Supreme Court, we learned that Kagan had clerked for Justice Thurgood Marshall, whom she considers a personal hero. Inexplicably, the Republican National Committee considers this an area ripe for attack.

In particular, Marshall had characterized the Constitution as having been "defective" as it related to issues like slavery. Republicans hoped to use this to attack Kagan, and the RNC's Michael Steele demanded to know whether Kagan's reverence for Marshall included "support for statements suggesting that the Constitution 'as originally drafted and conceived,' was 'defective.'"

When it appeared the RNC's line was indirectly pro-slavery, the party quickly dropped the criticism. But for some reason, Republicans haven't given up on their Marshall-bashing.

As confirmation hearings opened Monday afternoon, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee took the unusual approach of attacking Kagan because she admired the late justice Thurgood Marshall, for whom she clerked more than two decades ago.

"Justice Marshall's judicial philosophy," said Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.), the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, "is not what I would consider to be mainstream." Kyl -- the lone member of the panel in shirtsleeves for the big event -- was ready for a scrap. Marshall "might be the epitome of a results-oriented judge," he said.

It was, to say the least, a curious strategy to go after Marshall, the iconic civil rights lawyer who successfully argued Brown vs. Board of Education. Did Republicans think it would help their cause to criticize the first African American on the Supreme Court, a revered figure who has been celebrated with an airport, a postage stamp and a Broadway show? The guy is a saint -- literally. Marshall this spring was added to the Episcopal Church's list of "Holy Women and Holy Men," which the Episcopal Diocese of New York says "is akin to being granted sainthood."

With Kagan's confirmation hearings expected to last most of the week, Republicans may still have time to make cases against Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and Gandhi.

I often find Republican ideology to be rather twisted, but it simply never occurred to me that GOP senators would spend the first day of the confirmation hearings condemning one of the most venerated Supreme Court justices in American history.

http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2010_06/024488.php

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Recession cut into employment for half of working adults, study says

 
 
 

The recession has directly hit more than half of the nation's working adults, pushing them into unemployment, pay cuts, reduced hours at work or part-time jobs, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

The economic shock has jolted many Americans into a new, more austere reality, which is likely to have lasting consequences for an economy fueled mostly by consumer spending. More than six in 10 Americans say they have cut down on borrowing and spending, the survey found.

The reason: Nearly half of the survey's respondents say they are in worse financial shape as a result of the downturn, which destroyed 20 percent of Americans' wealth.

"We're going to see much lower consumption going forward," said Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. He blames diminished spending on the drop in housing prices. "People who thought they had equity in their homes have seen it disappear," he said.

The longest and deepest recession since the Great Depression has exacted a punishing toll that continues nearly a year after the economy started growing again. Hardest hit are the 9.7 percent of workers who have been out of a job for an average of nearly six months. Many Americans are delaying retirement and others have lower expectations for their children's futures, the Pew poll found.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/30/AR2010063000022.html?wprss=rss_business

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Drugsters in Academia: How Big Pharma “Educates” American Doctors

 The pharmaceutical industry has wormed its way into the hearts and minds of the medical professions in any number of ways—wining and dining doctors, sending them off to vacation in splendid spas, and even buying their names to put on industry-written articles promoting different drugs.

One little known facet of this drugster-doctor relationship is Big Pharma's role in continuing medical education (CME) programs, which are important in keeping medical professionals informed and up to date on the fast developing profession. Of the $2 billion-odd spent on these programs every year, nearly half comes from the drug business, which not-so-subtly uses the education programs to push new drugs.

Last week a conference at Georgetown University called "Prescription for Conflict" pulled together experts from academia, government, and industry to discuss the question: Should industry fund continuing medical education? The main instigator here is a former colleague of mine named Adriane Fugh- Berman, a doctor and teacher at Georgetown University Medical School. Fugh-Berman long ago became the nemesis of Big Pharma with a stream of articles and talks questioning the different aspects of liaison between the drugsters and the medical profession. I worked with her helping to set up PharmedOut.org, a website that seeks to educate the public on these liaisons, in part through exposes, both written and on video.

The conference at Georgetown included few critics as candid as Fugh-Berman. Those gathered included polite academics with hedged criticism of industry funding, and regulators like Joshua Sharfstein, principal deputy commissioner at the FDA,  and Julie Taitsman, chief medical officer the Department of Health and Human Services, who presented a list of  the different laws protecting the public. By the time they finished, I was so frustrated with government bureaucrats that I was about ready to join the Tea Party (except that they, of course, would want to do even less to control the greedmeisters at Big Pharma).

One blunt critique came from Paul Thacker, an investigator for Senate Republican Charles Grassley, who has been the most visible Congressional muckraker on the doctor-drug company love-in. Thacker bluntly told the docs to get off their supercilious "who me?'' attitude and come to grips with the scarcely believable conflicts of interest existing between the medical profession and the drug industry–conflicts that more often than not have been to the detriment of their patients.

http://unsilentgeneration.com/2010/06/28/drugsters-in-academia-how-big-pharma-educates-american-doctors/

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How David Vitter got away with it

Three years ago, the "family values" conservative was caught in a hooker scandal. Now, he's cruising to reelection

How David Vitter got away with itSometimes the strangest stories in politics are hiding in plain sight. So it is with Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana.

Vitter, a first-term senator, rose to infamy three years ago, when his phone number appeared in the records of the escort agency run by the so-called D.C. Madam, Deborah Jeane Palfrey. In the wake of the disclosure, Vitter made a de facto admission of having paid for sex, confessing to "a very serious sin in my past." 

The careers of other Republicans have been vaporized by infractions that could well be viewed as less serious. Last month, Indiana Rep. Mark Souder resigned after admitting to an extramarital affair. A hitherto-obscure California state assemblyman, Mike Duvall, departed last fall after being picked up on an open mic boasting about his amorous activities with women other than his wife. 

The taboo that continues to cling to prostitution -- along with the salient fact that soliciting a prostitute is illegal -- would have been enough, one might have thought, to put an end to Vitter's career. This is especially true given the contrast between his actions and his ardent social conservatism. (The year before he was ensnared in the scandal, Vitter declared himself "a conservative who opposes radically redefining marriage, the most important social institution in human history.")

Yet Vitter does not seem to face any great peril in his battle for reelection in November. 

A survey from the Democratic-affiliated Public Policy Polling (PPP) earlier this month gave him a 46-37 lead over his Democratic challenger, Rep. Charlie Melancon. Other polls have given Vitter even wider leads. According to Real Clear Politics' running average, Vitter enjoys an average advantage of 15.7 points. Especially considering the national climate of 2010, and Louisiana's ideological bent, Vitter doesn't seem to have much to sweat.

Perhaps more important from Vitter's perspective, no serious challenge has materialized on his right flank. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council flirted with getting into the race, as did Louisiana Secretary of State Jay Dardenne. In the end, both men stepped back.

"It takes more than one sex scandal to bring down a Louisiana politician," is the salty verdict of John Maginnis, a Baton Rouge-based political journalist who, as the author of a book about the libidinous former Gov. Edwin Edwards, knows what he is talking about. Louisiana voters, Maginnis adds, "are able to separate human failures from one's performance in office."

http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2010/06/29/david_vitter_wild_side/index.html

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Outsourcing Security: Defense Manufacturing Goes the Way of the Automobile

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From the microchips that fly F-16s and activate nuclear warheads, all the way down to the lowly (but deadly) bullet, more and more US military weapons are being made overseas by foreigners.

Some experts say that outsourcing defense contracts not only costs Americans jobs and America's connection to the war, but one of the nation's most essential assets, as well: its security.

According to William R. Hawkins, a defense expert on military contracting and former Republican Party staffer, foreigners have been manufacturing critical and sophisticated components of US weaponry for nearly 20 years now.

He says the Pentagon started outsourcing the manufacturing of "high-end" computer chips to Taiwan in the early 1990s - microchips used in US fighter jets and missile defense systems, for instance. Over time, the Taiwanese have "second-sourced" most of these contracts to the Chinese, he says.

"Can we trust buying [high-end] chips from China for our military systems? Will they perform as well?" asks Hawkins. "We have found Chinese chips do not perform as well. They've also found counterfeit chips in the supply chain. Can we be sure the Chinese won't plant Trojans or bugs in them?"

Indeed, on June 13th on 60 Minutes, Jim Gosler, an expert on cyberwarfare, said the US government has uncovered sabotaged microchips within some of the nation's most powerful weapons. "It's very clear that a foreign intelligence service put them there," he added.

Hawkins says outsourcing US weapons manufacturing started gaining serious traction back in 2004, when the Bush White House and Bush Administration free market neo-cons such as Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz began to force the outsourcing of an industry they all seemingly were in love with.

"The thinking was, there's not enough competition within the US defense industry," says Hawkins, who acknowledges the argument has substance, but argues that doesn't justify outsourcing.

Soon thereafter, the Pentagon awarded Brazilian jet manufacturer Embraer a $6 billion deal to build high-flying reconnaissance aircraft (spy planes). That contract would later be canceled; but the 240G machine gun is now made by Fabrique Nationale, based in Belgium. Italy's Beretta makes the 9mm pistol which is worn by nearly every US soldier.

The American public finally woke up to the issue two years ago when a $35 billion deal was cut with European and Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS) to build 179 in-air refueling tankers for the US Air Force.

The Pentagon rescinded the contract after EADS' main American competitor Boeing protested the deal and lobbied strongly on its own behalf. On the second go-around, Boeing won the contract in March over EADS, which was caught trying to sell helicopters to Iran in 2005.

To grasp just how much the US defense industry's loyalty to its own nation has eroded, take what Alliance TechSystems (ATS) has done to make a simple bullet.

ATS of Minneapolis is the US military's largest civilian small-arms ammunition maker, and since 2008 has been awarded $200 million in American taxpayer dollars to deliver AK-47 rounds (7.62 x 39mm) to Afghan security forces.

Two-hundred million to make bullets sounds like a stimulus plan for American defense manufacturing. Yet ATK went on to "second-source" the contract to the former Soviet Union. ATK claims they had no choice but to go overseas, and offered only the following statement in explanation:

"There are no large manufacturers of non-standard, non-NATO ammunitions in this country," says ATK spokesperson Amanda Covington. "There are only small manufacturers."

http://www.truth-out.org/outsourcing-security-defense-manufacturing-goes-way-automobile60818

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Not So Neighborly Associations Foreclosing On Homes

NPR

Capt. Mike Clauer Courtesy of Mike Clauer
Capt. Mike Clauer was serving in Iraq when he learned that his home was sold because of missed HOA dues. In many states, it is relatively easy for HOAs to foreclose on members' homes for missed payments as little as a few hundred dollars.
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The last time a President accomplished this much in office, booze was illegal

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Kucinich: ‘We are losing our nation to lies about the necessity of war’


 
denniskucinich20080710b Kucinich: We are losing our nation to lies about the necessity of warIn Afghanistan, corruption is rife. It is so abundant, in fact, that a senior US lawmaker declared on Monday that she'd be freezing $3.9 billion in Afghan aid dollars until the situation is addressed.

Rep. Nita Lowey's declaration of principle was made in response to a Wall Street Journal report that claimed over $3 billion has been legally shipped through the airport in Kabul over just the last three years, leading investigators to believe much of it comes from U.S. aid dollars being diverted by corrupt officials.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich, making a speech to the House of Representatives on Monday, had a few choice words to describe the situation.

"We are losing our nation to lies about the necessity of war," the iconoclastic Democrat opined.

The Journal reported that "the cash – packed into suitcases, piled into pallets and loaded into airplanes – is declared and legal to move" through the airport. The paper added: "The officials believe [...] customers who have sent millions of dollars of their money abroad include high-ranking officials and their associates in President Hamid Karzai's administration, including Vice President Mohammed Fahim, and one of the president's brothers, Mahmood Karzai, an influential businessman.

"Where they allegedly get the money is one of the questions under investigation."

Speaking before Congress, Kucinich raised the specter of the $12 billion shipped in pallets from the United States to Iraq just after the Bush administration's "shock and awe" bombing campaign.

"Vanity Fair reported in 2004 that 'at least $9 billion' of the cash had 'gone missing, unaccounted for,'" he noted. "$9 billion."

Kucinich continued: "

Last week, the BBC reported that 'the US military has been giving tens of millions of dollars to Afghan security firms who are funneling the money to warlords.' Add to that a corrupt Afghan government underwritten by the lives of our troops
 ... And now reports indicate that Congress is preparing to attach $10 billion in state education funding to a $33 billion spending bill to keep the war going.

 Back home, millions of Americans are out of work, losing their homes, losing their savings, their pensions and their retirement security.

"We are losing our nation to lies about the necessity of war. Bring our troops home. End the war. Secure our economy."

It's not the first time Kucinich has lambasted aid funding to Afghanistan. The Congressman declared in a 2009 press release: "U.S. contractors are paying U.S. tax dollars to the Taliban in order to protect the delivery of U.S. shipments of U.S. goods to U.S. soldiers so that our soldiers can fight the Taliban."

http://rawstory.com/rs/2010/0629/kucinich-we-losing-nation-lies-necessity-war/

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Sticking the public with the bill for the bankers’ crisis

Globe and Mail

by Naomi Klein

One-hundred-dollar U.S. notesMy city feels like a crime scene and the criminals are all melting into the night, fleeing the scene. No, I'm not talking about the kids in black who smashed windows and burned cop cars on Saturday.

I'm talking about the heads of state who, on Sunday night, smashed social safety nets and burned good jobs in the middle of a recession. Faced with the effects of a crisis created by the world's wealthiest and most privileged strata, they decided to stick the poorest and most vulnerable people in their countries with the bill.

How else can we interpret the G20's final communiqué, which includes not even a measly tax on banks or financial transactions, yet instructs governments to slash their deficits in half by 2013. This is a huge and shocking cut, and we should be very clear who will pay the price: students who will see their public educations further deteriorate as their fees go up; pensioners who will lose hard-earned benefits; public-sector workers whose jobs will be eliminated. And the list goes on. These types of cuts have already begun in many G20 countries including Canada, and they are about to get a lot worse.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/g8-g20/opinion/sticking-the-public-with-the-bill-for-the-bankers-crisis/article1620729/

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The Death -- or the Evolution -- of the Midlist Author?

by Peta Jinnath Andersen

Is the publishing crunch killing midlist authors? Or just forcing them to move on?

If you've ever walked around a bookstore, chances are you've picked up a midlist book. Midlist books take up the majority of the shelf space, filling in the gaps between bestsellers and popular books we love to hate (*cough* Twilight Saga *cough*). According to James McGrath Morris over at the Huffington Post, though, e-books are killing midlist authors everywhere, rearing their ugly, easily read e-ink heads to take chunks out of the reader-bookstore relationship. Fortunately, the slow death McGrath Morris predicts may never come to pass, if e-books and e-rights are handled with care. In fact, e-books could well be the savior of the midlist book, perhaps even the writing life itself.


Midlist books are exactly what they sound like—the middle sellers, middle catalog books that make up the bulk of a publisher's output. If you imagine publishing as a cake (as I often do), bestsellers are the frosting, midlist books are the cake itself, and poorer, unpopular books are the burnt bottom crust. Midlist books are the titles which sell well (10,000 - 20,000 copies), their authors the arguably lucky folk who make their living writing, though many still need to supplement their income with day jobs.
  
(Full disclosure: I am, for the most part, pro e-book (the iPhone Peter Rabbit app still freaks me out). I have a kindle, and I've been reading Project Gutenberg downloads since my first taste of the internet, back in the '90s.)


Authors, contrary to popular belief, do not laze around all day thinking up stories, or sit at keyboards tapping away as The Next Big Thing flows unhindered from their fingers. Publishers don't throw them giant book launch parties, and their sales information isn't always as forthcoming as they'd like. In 2004, Salon.com posted an article by a midlist author known only as Jane Austen Doe, detailing the difficulties of life as a not-quite bestseller.


From Doe's piece:


In the 10 years since I signed my first book contract, the publishing industry has changed in ways that are devastating—emotionally, financially, professionally, spiritually, and creatively—to midlist authors like me. You've read about it in your morning paper: Once-genteel "houses" gobbled up by slavering conglomerates; independent bookstores cannibalized by chain and online retailers; book sales sinking as the number of TV channels soars. What once was about literature is now about return on investment. What once was hand-sold one by one by well-read, book-loving booksellers now moves by the pallet-load at Wal-Mart and Borders—or doesn't move at all.


If that's not disheartening enough, here's James Kirvin's 2002 take (via the Salon piece):


Publishing today is a business, dominated by stockholders and profit margins, run entirely according to the hard, cold numbers. Investors in the major megacorporations that own nearly all of the New York majors want profit, and lots of it. In a business that traditionally makes maybe 4-6 percent profit in a good year, today's stockholders are demanding 15-18 percent. Gone are the days when a publisher could nurture a writer with potential through several lackluster efforts. Today's editors can't afford a single flop.


Since 2004, the situation has grown yet more dire. With the exception of children's publishing, numbers are down across the board, and publishers are scrambling to make do, struggling to get a foot in the door of the new digital domain and cement their rights lest they go the way of the music industry. Advances are lower, print runs smaller, promotion almost non-existent. As print media fights the good fight (and dies the slow death), midlist reviews, once fairly common, are dwindling, replaced by blog reviews which, while useful, simply don't pull the same numbers or respect as their print counterparts (yet). Authors and publishers are each looking for a savior, a game changer, a way to have their cake and eat it, too. And they may have found one: the e-book.


Saviors are notoriously hard to recognize, often greeted with disdain. The Gutenberg press? Met with disdain by the nobility and the Pope.  The industrial revolution? Bad, bad, bad, let's destroy the machinery. But e-books offer the industry a chance to reassess and start afresh, for us to move beyond older standards and ideas and rewrite the way we think of publishing economics in general. And it's understandable that the industry is afraid. The 1979 Supreme Court ruling on Thor Power Tool Company v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue changed publishing economics for the worse—and was the beginning of the end for midlist authors (to read more about the case and its ramifications, check out this SFWA article by Kevin O'Donnell Jr.).

http://www.popmatters.com/pm/post/127313-the-death-or-the-evolution-of-the-midlist-author

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Bob Staake depicts the gulf oil spill in the style of M.C. Escher

The July New Yorker Cover
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