Aug 13, 2011

SEC Launches New Whistleblower Program - CNBC

On Friday morning, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) will unveil a new website—one that explains how people can potentially make millions of dollars by turning in corporate wrongdoing.

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It’s part of the new Office of the Whistleblower, which is officially open for business under rules that come into effect Friday.

The unit was designed by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law to uncover the next Bernie Madoff before he or she can do too much damage.

For the first time, SEC whistleblowers will be eligible for massive bounties for tips on corporate and Wall Street fraud. People who bring in reliable new information about frauds of $1 million or more will be eligible for payouts of between 10 percent and 30 percent of the amount recovered.

Since the law was passed in July of 2010, lawyers have been busy filing cases with the SEC, says Erika Kelton, an attorney with the firm Phillips & Cohen. “We are seeing significant frauds directed at or near the top of the organization,” she said, frauds that in some cases involving prominent CEOs. “Some will be very newsworthy. These schemes are core business strategies of the company, this is not a rogue trader or the activity of an obscure regional office.”

Now those whistleblowers who have already filed claims will be able to officially stake their claim to a payout. The SEC says the new whistleblower website will also post a list of roughly 170 enforcement actions the agency has taken in the past year. The commission says any whistleblowers involved in those cases will be encouraged to file official paperwork claiming their rewards. The SEC has not yet revealed how many new tips it had gotten as a result of the bounties, or how many of those have panned out into actual cases.

“As the first Chief of the SEC’s Office of the Whistleblower, I am excited about the promise that this program holds,” said Sean McKessy, the man tapped by the SEC to head up the new effort, in a speech at Georgetown University on Thursday. “It will help us to more quickly identify and pursue frauds that we might not have otherwise found on our own. It will strengthen our ability to carry our mission. And, it will save us much time and resources in the process.”

Senator Chuck Grassley, a longtime proponent of whistleblowers, said he’s not declaring success just yet. “It’s too early to tell how the implementation of the new whistleblower rules is going,” the Iowa Republican said. “Even if things appear to be going well, it takes only one whistleblower to fall through the cracks for another Madoff to occur. I’m keeping tabs to make sure the system is put in place as quickly as possible and that any remaining institutional resistance to whistleblowers doesn’t interfere.”

Not everyone thinks this the new rules are a good idea. The business community argued for most of the year that aggressive whistleblower payouts would cripple internal corporate compliance programs, since employees with knowledge of fraud would be more likely to go to the government than to their own bosses with the information.

Business lobbyists argued that the SEC should write rules that required whistleblowers to report internally before going to the government. In the end, though, the SEC did not make that a requirement.

“The rules are a mistake,” said attorney Michael K. Loucks, a partner at Skadden. “This will make it harder for corporate compliance programs to work. There will be a slow but increasing number of leaks to the SEC, and then someone will get paid $10 million and there will be a flood.”

And that’s got fraud lawyers salivating at the possibility of cashing in on a deep well of here-to-fore unknown corporate frauds.

Attorney Stuart Meissner says he has filed at least seven cases already in the year since the Dodd Frank created the whistleblower protections, in cases ranging from failures by investment banks to disclose important information to accounting fraud at public corporations. He stands to collect a piece of whatever payout his clients collect if their tips bear fruit.

“The firms that are not doing anything wrong have nothing to worry about,” Meissner says. “But those that are are looking over their shoulders—all the way up the chain of command.”

Whistleblower advocates say their fight isn’t over. Now, they say, they’re pushing to make sure the SEC gets enough money to make the new program effective: “The fraudsters are trying to starve the SEC by playing budget games, even though its funding comes from user fees and the government’s return on investment from fraud enforcement is many times its cost,” said Susan Strawn, President of Taxpayers Against Fraud. “To realize the billions the whistleblower program could save investors, it’s critical that the SEC gets the funding it needs.”

BiG future for Biochar - State News - Agribusiness and General - General - The Land

13 Aug, 2011 04:00 AM

THE first steps towards commercial production of the carbon-fixing soil improver, biochar, have been made through a joint venture involving a NSW mixed farming enterprise and a Queensland energy equipment manufacturer.

The Larsson family’s Mara Seeds west of Casino on the North Coast, and Mackay-based BiG (Black is Green) will run trials using materials such as crop residues, timber plantation thinnings and green waste from councils to make biochar for application to crops such as soybeans, winter cereals and pastures.

Mara Seeds wants to establish the cost structures of biochar (charcoal) production, identifying inputs that work best and are readily available and whether large-scale production is economically viable.

“Biochar will be applied to crops at various rates on a broadacre basis for the next few years and the results collated in an attempt to establish its worth in a cropping and livestock system,” said Mara principal, Stuart Larsson.

Three tonnes of biochar is equivalent to approximately one to two tonnes of fixed carbon, according to BiG’s James Joyce, whose company is also committed to supplying biochar to a big fertiliser distributor.

“When applied to the soil each tonne of fixed carbon can lock up the equivalent of 3.7 tonnes of carbon dioxide for hundreds of years,” Dr Joyce said.

For Malanganee-based, Mr Larsson, whose family farming business has already successfully tapped organic grain, compost and beef markets, biochar technology is a “no brainer”.

It takes waste products and creates a beneficial product for farmers that at the same time locks carbon for a very long time,” Mr Larsson said.

“That’s the simple part. What is more complex now is pinning down the product’s value – physically and financially – to farming systems and whether producing biochar is commercially viable.”

Markets for the product would be determined by the price at which it could be offered and the uptake of sustainable farming practices based on soil health.

The project will be based at Mara Seeds’ industrial site near Bonalbo, where BiG has set up one of its biochar processing machines, a continuous retort it believes is capable of turning off biochar at a rate of 200 kilograms an hour.

BiG’s main focus has been on the technologies which take waste products through to energy, but it was already producing significant amounts of biochar as a “commercial demonstration”.

Dr Joyce said there were thousands of potential commercial uses for charcoal, but his company focused on its use as a soil improver and fossil fuel replacement.

BiG’s recent deal with an Australian fertiliser company represented the largest biochar offtake agreement in the world.

“Given Australia currently emits 450 million tonnes of CO2 each year, we could offset all our emissions by applying about 300m tonnes of biochar to 500,000 square kilometres of agricultural lands,” BiG’s website argues.

That statement represents an extreme example and would require virtually all the biomass Australia generates to be turned into biochar, but according to Dr Joyce it demonstrated the potential of the product.

“In our project, Mara Seeds will source a variety of feedstocks so they can crunch the commercial numbers and determine what is possible and what is economically viable,” he said.

Mara Seeds has long been at the forefront of sustainable farming practices, using a self-developed method of “softer farming” to produce grass seed, oilseed, cereals and organic yearling beef.

In recent years, the business has offered for sale organic compost and compost tea and opened a distribution outlet in Sydney.

Mr Larsson said collaboration with BiG evolved because he had tried to obtain biochar for use on-farm only to find he couldn’t purchase it in quantities he required.

He also saw further commercial potential from producing biochar himself through harvesting gas emitted from the biochar making processes.

“We could use it for drying hay.”

Aug 12, 2011

Monsanto's 5 Most Dubious Contributions to the Planet

There's a whole lot more than just GMO seeds. Let's take a quick look at some of the biotech giant's most dubious contributions to society over the past century.

August 12, 2011

Oh, Monsanto, you sly dog.

You keep trying to make us believe you are "committed to sustainable agriculture" with your canny advertisments on American Public Media, even as you force-feed farmers your lab-grown Frankenseeds that expire every year (which are, let's be honest, opposite of sustainable).

But we shouldn't be surprised by the mixed message, should we? After all, you've been doing this for decades. With long-running corporate sponsorships, like Disney's Tomorrowland, building reserves of goodwill as you spray us with DDT, it's clear you're entitled to send out products into the world with nary an environmental or health concern—just as long as you spend a bit of that hard-earned cash convincing us otherwise.

On that note, let's take a quick look at some of the biotech giant's most dubious contributions to society over their past century in business.

1. Saccharin

Monsanto burst onto the scene in 1901 with the artificial sweetener saccharin, which it sold to Coca-Cola and canned food companies as a sugar replacement.

But as early as 1907, the health effects of the sweetener were being questioned by Food and Drug Administration (FDA) scientists.

"Everyone who ate that sweet [canned] corn was deceived," said Harvey Wiley, the first commissioner of the FDA. "He thought he was eating sugar, when in point of fact he was eating a coal tar product totally devoid of food value and extremely injurious to health."

After enjoying decades of unfettered consumption, the sweetener was slapped with a warning label in the '70s when it was found to cause cancer in lab rats.

A subsequent three-decade effort by Monsanto to reverse the decision finally won out in 2001. After all, how could a product derived from coal tar not be safe for consumption?

2) Polystyrene

By the '40s, Monsanto had moved on to oil-based plastics, including polystyrene foam (also known as styrofoam).

As most of us are aware by now, polystyrene foam is an environmental disaster. Not only is there nothing out there that biodegrades it, it breaks off into tiny pieces that choke animals, harm marine life, and release cancer-causing benzene into the environment for a thousand years or more.

"Polystyrene foam products rely on nonrenewable sources for production, are nearly indestructible and leave a legacy of pollution on our urban and natural environments," said San Francisco Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin in 2007. "If McDonald's could see the light and phase out polystyrene foam more than a decade ago, it's about time San Francisco got with the program."

Despite the ovewhelming evidence against it, the noxious containers are still pervasive elsewhere around the country. Amazingly, they were even voted to be reintroduced into House cafeterias by Republicans earlier this year.

3) Agent Orange

First developed as an herbicide and defoliant, Agent Orange was used infamously as a military weapon by the U.S. Army during Vietnam to remove the dense foliage of the jungle canopy.

In the process, they dumped over 12 million gallons of the potent chemical cocktail—described by Yale biologist Arthur Galston as "perhaps the most toxic molecule ever synthesized by man"—over towns, farms, and water supplies during a nine-year period.

"When [military scientists] initiated the herbicide program in the 1960s, we were aware of the potential for damage due to dioxin contamination in the herbicide ... ," said Dr. James R. Clary, a former government scientist with the Chemical Weapons Branch. "However, because the material was to be used on the ‘enemy,’ none of us were overly concerned."

According to the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, that lack of concern led to 4.8 million exposures to the herbicide, along with 400,000 deaths and disfigurements and 500,000 babies born with birth defects.

4) Bovine Growth Hormone

Did you know the United States is the only developed nation that permits the sale of milk from cows given artificial growth hormones?

With the lone exception of Brazil, the rest of the developed world—including all 27 countries of the European Union, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia—has banned growth hormone use in milk destined for human consumption.

Why all the lact-haters? Milk derived from hormone-injected cows shows higher levels of cancer-causing hormones and lower nutritional value, leading even the most stubborn U.S. courts to rule in favor of separate labels for hormone-free milk.

"The milk we drink today is quite unlike the milk our ancestors were drinking without apparent harm for 2,000 years," said Harvard scientist Ganmaa Davaasambuu. "The milk we drink today may not be nature's perfect food."

According to the Center for Food Safety, thanks to increased consumer demand (and certain movies), approximately 60 percent of milk in the U.S. is rBST-free today.

5) Genetically-Modified Seeds

Not content to do mere incidental damage to the environment, Monsanto decided to get to the root of the matter in the '80s: seeds.

But with much fuss being made over the company's aggressive scare tactics and rampant mass-patenting, the biotech giant has, true to form, fought back with a multimillion-dollar marketing and advertising campaign featuring smiling children and making outlandish claims that "biotech foods could help end world hunger."

"Unless I'm missing something," wrote Michael Pollan in The New York Times Magazine, "the aim of this audacious new advertising campaign is to impale people like me—well-off first-worlders dubious about genetically engineered food—on the horns of a moral dilemma...If we don't get over our queasiness about eating genetically modified food, kids in the Third World will go blind."

What's clear is that no matter what its justification, Monsanto is a) never giving away all these seeds for free; and b) rendering them sterile so that farmers need to re-up every year, making it difficult to believe that the company could possibly have the planet's best intentions at heart.

"By peddling suicide seeds, the biotechnology multinationals will lock the world's poorest farmers into a new form of genetic serfdom," says Emma Must of the World Development Movement. "Currently 80 percent of crops in developing countries are grown using farm-saved seed."

"Being unable to save seeds from sterile crops could mean the difference between surviving and going under."

As Texas Gov. Rick Perry Enters GOP Race, New Exposé Reveals His Close Ties to Radical Evangelicals

As Texas Gov. Rick Perry Enters GOP Race, New Exposé Reveals His Close Ties to Radical Evangelicals

Republican Gov. Rick Perry of Texas is expected to announce his entry into the 2012 presidential race. Perry will make the announcement Saturday at a conference in South Carolina organized by Erick Erickson’s Early backers of Perry’s presidential run have heralded him as being behind the so-called Texas economic miracle, however many have questioned Perry’s economic claims in Texas. Questions have also arisen over Perry’s close ties to the radical-wing of the Christian evangelical movement. Last Saturday, Perry helped organize and spoke at a controversial seven-hour Christian prayer rally in Houston titled, "The Response: A Call to Prayer for a Nation in Crisis." While the prayer session drew 30,000 participants and received national press, little attention was paid to the Christian evangelicals Perry worked with to organize the event. The Texas Observer has just published an explosive article titled, "Rick Perry’s Army of God." It exposes how a group of radical Christians and self-proclaimed prophets from a little-known movement known as New Apostolic Reformation have been quietly pushing for Perry’s presidential bid. We speak with the Texas Observer’s Forrest Wilder.

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Forrest Wilder, staff writer at the Texas Observer. His latest article "Rick Perry’s Army of God" is the cover story of the latest issue of the Observer.

Another Republican Presidential candidate that is a "nut case"...  

Rick Perry Says Social Security and Medicare Are Unconstitutional


Data Tattoo - University of Illinios

A new form of electronics, small enough to fit under a temporary tattoo, changes the way scientists think about gathering data from the human body.

War Budget Cuts Possible If We Counter Contractors’ Multimillion-Dollar Campaign Spending - War Costs

By Robert Greenwald and Derrick Crowe Published: Thursday, August 11th, 2011

The deal worked out to allow a rise in the debt ceiling gives us our first real chance in more than a decade to make significant cuts to our country’s out-of-control war budget, but we are going to have to fight for them. The war industry is already deploying their favorite kind of stealth weapon on Capitol Hill to protect their profits: money and influence. Members of the newly-announced deficit committee have together taken around $1 million in campaign and PAC contributions from military contractors since 2007, and these companies plan to “cash in” on these donations to stop real cuts to big war contracts. That’s why Brave New Foundation is moving quickly to launch a new campaign, War Costs, to counter their profit-protection strategy, and we need you with us.

The first way the war industry is working to influence the politics of the debt ceiling debate is through the mainstream media. Since the outlines of the debt ceiling deal were announced, various proxies for military contractor companies have been screaming in the media about the supposed dangers of modest cuts to our outrageously excessive war spending ($1 trillion over a 10-year period). These folks are not exactly impartial. In fact, the pundits given the most prominent billing in the press have deep ties to the war industry, and they need to be exposed. For example:
The Washington Post quoted a man named Michael S. Lewis, who said that the cuts to the war budget “would have dire consequences.” The Post identified him as “an industry analyst with Lazard Capital Markets.” The Post failed to mention, however, that Lewis is a member of the National Defense Industrial Association, whichbills itself as “America’s leading defense industry association” which aims to make its war corporation members and their products “more marketable.”
In another story, the Post quoted Marion C. Blakey, president of the Aerospace Industries Association, saying that the deficit deal “dangles a Sword of Damocles over our national security.” Of course, the Aerospace Industries Association’s executive committee is filled with people like the president and CEO of Boeing, the president and CEO of Northrup Grummon, of General Dynamics, Textron, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon…you get the picture. Blakey’s bosses aren’t exactly disinterested parties who look to him to make dispassionate public statements about defense spending.

Official allies of the war industry jumped into the fray as well.
The new Pentagon head, Leon Panetta, called the cuts “completely unacceptable,” and said “the bipartisan panel should rely on tax increases and cuts to nondiscretionary spending, such as Medicare and Social Security, to provide the necessary savings.” In other words, everyone but the war industry should take the hit.
President Obama’s new nominee for chairmanship of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, said that the cuts were “extraordinarily difficult and very high risk.” Of course, he might also have been thinking of the risks to his retirement plans, since around 80 percent of retiring three- and four-star generals take lucrative jobs at defense firms.

These guys want you to think that $1 trillion saved over 10 years (or a $100 billion per year cut every year for a decade) would be a catastrophic cut to the national defense budget. The truth, however, is that the war budget in the U.S. has grown so grotesquely large that the cut should actually be much larger. Just to provide some context:
Defense spending has doubled over the last ten years, and this cut does not remotely approach reversing this massive growth. In fact, even the above-discussed Michael S. Lewis says the cuts would equal only about a 7 percent reduction.
The U.S. spends 6 times more than the next biggest spender on its military, China.
The cuts contemplated by the debt deal are less than what we’re currently spending per year just on one of the unpopular wars in which the U.S. is engaged, the Afghanistan War.

In no way are these cuts “dangerous,” a “sword of Damocles,” or “completely unacceptable,” if what what we’re talking about is the defense of the United States. If the U.S. military and the domestic war industry can’t defend our country from people using box cutters and shoe bombs on a budget of less than six times their biggest-spending possible opponent, that means they have an extreme competence problem, not a funding problem. The truth is that we spend too much on war, we can defend our nation for much, much less than what we spend today, and the cuts on the table are absolutely reasonable. What’s not reasonable is to continue funding an outdated view of national defense that requires garrisoning the planet, throwing hundreds of thousands of troops at essentially political problems and spending close to a trillion dollars every year to fight enemies who use homemade bombs.

The cuts would, however, put a dent in some war industry corporations’ hefty profits, so let’s be honest about what we’re really talking about here. The war industry executives, their bought-and-paid-for allies in the government and think tank worlds, and the careerists at the Pentagon are worried about their gravy train slowing down. In that way, they’re much like the super-rich heads of the other corporations in the U.S., manipulating the U.S. government into tearing our economic well-being apart so they can maintain the style to which they’re accustomed. What you’re experiencing is another attempted mugging by while collar criminals wrapped in the flag.

With their binge on the government dime imperiled, the defense industry lobbyists have been crystal clear about their intentions:

“There’s going to be a focus on the 12 and a focus on the leadership and a focus on the administration. Decisions will get made by a smaller number of people than you learned about in high school,” [said veteran lobbyist Tony Podesta of the Podesta Group, whose clients include major defense contractors and health-care firms.]

Other lobbyists have been more blunt:

“One Democratic lobbyist quipped that he was “preparing by writing 12 really large checks” as the best offense for helping clients.

The defense industry already has a head start: since 2007, the members of the new deficit committee have taken roughly $1 million in war industry contributions to their PACs and campaign committees. Here’s how much they’ve each taken, according to
Patty Murray (D-Wash.): $276,200
Max Baucus (D-Mont.): $139,100
Dave Camp (R-Mich.): $130,800
John Kerry (D-Mass.): $73,500
Rob Portman (R-Ohio): $68,700
Fred Upton (R-Mich.): $36,500
Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.): $32,000
Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas): $29,000
Pat Toomey (R-Pa.): $17,100

It doesn’t take a political genius to know that the corporations who made these donations will try to cash in on them, pressuring these officials to protect their contracts from cuts in the budget negotiations. That’s why it’s critical that we let Congress know that we understand the game being played here, and we want a process that puts the national interest, not war industry profits, first.

Brave New Foundation’s new War Costs campaign is circulating a petition to House Speaker Boehner, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, urging them to force members of this committee to:
Stop taking war industry contributions, and
Publicly disclose all meetings between contractors and committee members.

Please sign the petition, and we’ll deliver your message to House and Senate leadership this week. We also invite you to sign up to get email updates about future activism with the War Costs campaign, which in the coming weeks will take aim at the larger problem of massive war spending, the damage it does to our economy and the corruption it creates in U.S. politics.

This is the first real opportunity in a decade that we’ve had to make real cuts to the bloated war budget. Help us protect that opportunity by signing the WarCosts petition to fight the behind-the-scenes influence from the war industry on Capitol Hill.

Follow @robertgreenwald and @derrickcrowe on Twitter.

Aug 11, 2011

The Story of Citizens United v. FEC (2011)

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled money is equal to speech and that corporations are entitled to the same First Amendment rights as people. Money is not speech. Corporations are not people. 

Meanwhile, those of us without millions of dollars to spend on political campaigns are, in effect, silenced. 

It is as if we have to speak through kazoos while corporate CEOs speak through megaphones. 

That’s why we’ve teamed up with more than a dozen organizations to make today. 

August 11 – a day of online action: 

“The Day When $$ Equals Speech.” Amplify your voice! Go to the website set up to make it really easy to participate:

The Truth About the Vatican - Taoiseach Enda Kenny: Cloyne Report

Finally, a head of state speaks the truth about the Vatican. This is a wonderfully honest speech by Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny.

Bringing the Vatican to Justice - Sam Harris essay on the crimes of the Catholic Church

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has strongly criticised the Vatican for what he said was an attempt to frustrate the Cloyne inquiry, accusing it of downplaying the rape of children to protect its power and reputation.

Transcript of the speech:

More information:

Irish Report Finds Abuse Persisting in Catholic Church

The Next Big Change Moment: Who Will Win? The People or the Banks? | Crooks and Liars

By Mike Lux

Things are getting funky out there, with very big (big like the solar system big) changes in store for us. Five years from now, this country, and the world economic order, are going to be fundamentally changed from what they are today. We don’t yet know how, but we are without a doubt in what I called in my book on American history a Big Change Moment. But before I go there, let me start with a word about our politics and how political dynamics will impact our Big Change Moment.

In politics, most things are unpredictable and highly variable (especially in wild times like these), but there are at least a couple of things that are truisms. They are what I’d call the two destinies: demographics is destiny, and economics is destiny.

On the demographics side of things, the campaign most likely to win is the one whose base voters are fired up to turn out to vote, and fired up to go out and persuade the swing voters. Looking at the demographic differences between the 2008 electorate and the 2010 electorate is a classic case in point. In 2008, the electorate was proportionally far younger, far less white, and far less married than they were in 2010. Young people, people of color, and unmarried people are far more likely than older, whiter, married people to vote Democratic. Guess who won in 2008, and who won in 2010?

If demographics is destiny, economics is doubly so. The party in the White House never does well unless the economy is either good or is clearly getting better from a previous low point (the only two incumbents in the last 100-plus years to win re-election in a weak economy were FDR and Harry Truman, who incidentally ran classic fighting populist campaigns). We are now on the brink of true economic crisis, with markets on the verge of melting down and Europe teetering on the edge of leading the world into an economic panic, but even if policymakers control the short-term damage and reassure the markets in the short term, the best case scenario right now is that the American economy will still be pretty close to dead in the water deep into next year. That means that President Obama has to make a choice in terms of how he runs his campaign next year.

One idea is to make the case that he is a reasonable centrist by being willing to cut lots of spending, meet the Republicans in “the middle” on a variety of issues, make the case that the economy is making progress/isn’t as bad as it seems and would have been a lot worse absent Obama policies, and then to focus on “winning the future.” The strategic focus would be to emphasize the choice between Obama and the far right philosophy of the modern Republican Party, tying whoever the Republican nominee is closely to Republicans in the House. Given the nuttiness of the Republican primary electorate, and the length their candidates will have to go in the Presidential primary to satisfy their base, whoever survives that process should look pretty extreme to moderate voters, so making this a choice between Obama and the Republican (as opposed to the election being a referendum on Obama) is critically important. In general, this tactical approach, with its carefully drawn traditional centrism, is clearly what the D.C. conventional wisdom crowd is advising Obama to do, and it would be a respectable strategy in a normal political year and/or where the economy was showing any signs of progress at all. But in a year where people are feeling worse about the economy than they were four years ago, this within-the-usual-lines strategy seems fundamentally wrong to me. The one part of it that definitely makes sense is making the election a choice, not a referendum, but I am convinced that the choice needs to be drawn differently.

The second choice is to show that you are fighting for the middle class by taking the steps you can take as President to stand up for them (and against the special interests crushing them), clearly contrast yourself with right wing Republican ideology by picking clear fights with them that unify your political coalition, and to lay out a bold new economic program that takes goes to the core of the crises besetting the economy right now. Stan Greenberg has outlined and thoroughly tested a message framework that moves significant numbers in the Democratic direction with a message that strongly takes on wealthy special interests on behalf of the middle class in big economic fights, and it is a message that works far better than the message I mentioned in the paragraph above, but this is also far more than just framing. The President has to show himself thoroughly on the side of working families, middle-class voters, and people struggling in this economy by taking their side in tangible fights on their behalf. The President is far more than Legislator-in-Chief, and he needs to be very visible in boldly using the power of the executive branch in these fights.

The executive branch is, in fact, far from helpless in terms of pursuing specific economic policies and regulations that would help spur economic growth. A great example is something they already did that got little coverage because of the default crisis: new Treasury regulations that helped unemployed homeowners slow the banks down in foreclosure fights. More regulations could be created to help homeowners out in their battles with the bankers, and more pressure on the big banks could be brought to bear in general by Treasury and other agencies to push them to do many more mortgage writedowns, which could put hundreds of dollars a month into the pockets of millions of middle class homeowners. Fannie and Freddie, which are controlled by the federal government, could be far more helpful in terms of those kinds of mortgage writedowns as well, and in general could be doing several different things to help stabilize the housing market. As with the new Treasury regulations to help unemployed homeowners, my point is proved by something Fannie and Freddie just did, adapting a new policy pushed by Jared Bernstein to take foreclosed properties off the market and turn them into rentals. There are all kinds of things the administration can do to help the housing market without needing new legislation, and everything they do in that regard is a huge boost to the overall economy.

Another thing they could do, as I and others have written about before, is to use the remaining money authorized in TARP to invest in businesses that want to hire new workers. There’s $475 billion sitting in that authorization that they could tap into, and given the desperate need for jobs, that is exactly what they should do. TARP is a very unpopular program, but it would become a lot more popular very quickly if it started investing in jobs rather than bailing out big banks.

Finally, they could do a lot more with executive orders to start promoting not only jobs, but good jobs. Many Presidents, from FDR to LBJ to Nixon and Reagan, made far more aggressive use of executive orders to promote their economic agenda, and using this power when Congress won’t help revive the economy is exactly what they ought to be doing. The best example I know of is a series of executive orders promised to labor unions during the 2008 campaign that would use the federal government’s procurement power to actually promote good paying jobs in a variety of different areas from food purchasing to manufacturing military goods to trucking and transportation. These executive orders have been developed and never acted on, and would help promote middle-class wages for middle-class jobs.

In clear, strong populist messaging and in concrete action by the executive branch, the Obama administration has a chance to show they are on the side of middle-class families, and those young and poor people trying to gain a foothold to climb the ladder into the middle class. With the economy in bad shape, this is not a tactical election where nuanced positioning to show yourself to be a classical centrist is going to carry the day. The President has to be forcefully advocating that in these troubled times, he understands what people are going through, and is thoroughly on their side fighting for them.

Which brings me back to where I started this article: We are in a defining historical moment, when an economic crisis of historical proportions is forcing a big choice. Either the big banks and other economic elites are going to kill the middle class and the safety net for the poor and elderly in their efforts to save themselves from their own excess, or we are going to wrest power from them and rebuild our economy from the bottom up. My belief is that there is no in-between; this will go either one way or another within the next five years. With the economy forcing that kind of fundamental choice, things will look strikingly different when we get through this transition. Let’s hope the people win, not the banks.

Stephen Colbert: Global Warming is a Lie, Just Like Thermodynamics (Video) : TreeHugger

by Brian Merchant, Brooklyn, New York

Image: Screenshot, Comedy Central

Global warming is a hoax whipped up by the media -- and so are the very laws of thermodynamics. So sayeth Stephen Colbert, in this supremely amusing segment on the latest in brain-dead global warming denial:

The Colbert Report Get More: Colbert Report Full Episodes,Political Humor & Satire Blog,Video Archive

So it looks like the government's in on the hoax, too: Just ask Rush Limbaugh, who points out that the so-called heat index is a government conspiracy to tell you how hot to feel. Rounding out the axis of evil are television programmers for kids shows, who are dousing children with 'propaganda' designed to serve as marching orders to get them to join the new green world order.

I chronicled both of these idiotic developments last week -- nice to see Colbert so expertly dismantle both. And if there's a silver lining, it's that, as evidenced by Rush Limbaugh and Steve Doocy, the nation's key spokesmen for climate denial are increasingly looking like either a) paranoid conspiracy theorists or b) blathering idiots. Small consolation, I suppose, but perhaps these are further signs that climate denial is again headed for the fringe ...

Aug 10, 2011

Living Lands and Waters - Chad Pregracke has come a long way...!!!

Barge Party 2011

Living Lands and Waters launches NEW barge! Check out the footage!

Chad Pregracke has come a long way...!!!  Bravo... Monte

Aug 9, 2011

‪Illinois Football Oklahoma Drill 8-11-2011

Go ILLINI... 2011 !!!!  Football is sure a brutal sport we have become addicted to... You got to love that music midway through the drill...  Monte

The Market Has Spoken: Austerity Is Bad for Business | Truthout

Tuesday 9 August 2011

by: Ellen Brown, Truthout | News Analysis

The New York Stock Exchange at closing on August 8, 2011. Wall Street stocks plummeted on Monday as skittish investors, already concerned about the economy, struggled to work out the implications of an unprecedented downgrade of the US government’s credit rating. (Photo: Benjamin Norman / The New York Times)

It used to be that when the Fed chairman spoke, the market listened; but the chairman has lost his mystique. Now when the market speaks, politicians listen. Hopefully, they heard what the market just said: government cutbacks are bad for business. The government needs to spend more, not less. Fortunately, there are viable ways to do this while still balancing the budget.

On Thursday, August 4, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 512 points, the biggest stock market drop since the collapse of September 2008. Why? Weren't the markets supposed to rebound after the debt ceiling agreement was reached on Monday, avoiding US default and a downgrade of US debt? So we were told, but the market apparently understands what politicians don't: the debt deal is a death deal for the economy. Reducing government spending by $2.2 trillion over a decade, as Congress just agreed to do, will kill any hopes of economic recovery. We're looking at a double-dip recession.

The figure is actually more than $2.2 trillion. As Jack Rasmus pointed out on Truthout on August 4:

Economists estimate the "multiplier" from government spending at about 1.5. That means for every $1 cut in government spending, about $1.5 dollars are taken out of the economy. The first year of cuts are therefore $375 billion to $400 billion in terms of their economic effect. Ironically, that's about equal to the spending increase from Obama's 2009 initial stimulus package. In other words, we are about to extract from the economy - now showing multiple signs of weakening badly - the original spending stimulus of 2009!

As others have pointed out, that magnitude of spending contraction will result in 1.5 million to 2 million more jobs lost. That's also about all the jobs created since the trough of the recession in June 2009. In other words, the job market will be thrown back two years as well.

We're not moving forward. We're moving backward. The hand wringing is all about the "debt crisis," but the national debt is not what has stalled the economy, and the crisis was not created by Social Security or Medicare, which are being set up to take the fall. It was created by Wall Street, which has squeezed trillions in bailout money from the government and the taxpayers, and by the military, which has squeezed trillions more for an amorphous and unending "War on Terror." But the hits are slated to fall on the so-called "entitlements" - a social safety net that we, the people, are actually entitled to, because we paid for them with taxes.

The Problem Is Not Debt, but a Shrinking Money Supply

The markets are not reacting to a "debt crisis." They do not look at charts ten years out. They look at present indicators of jobs and sales, which have turned persistently negative. Jobs and sales are both dependent on "demand," which means getting money into the pockets of consumers; and the money supply today has shrunk.

We don't see this shrinkage because it is primarily in the "shadow banking system," the thing that collapsed in 2008. The shadow banking system used to be reflected in M3, but the Fed no longer reports it. In July 2010, however, the New York Fed posted on its web site a staff report titled "Shadow Banking." It said that the shadow banking system had shrunk by $5 trillion since its peak in March 2008, when it was valued at about $20 trillion - actually larger than the traditional banking system. In July 2010, the shadow system was down to about $15 trillion, compared to $13 trillion for the traditional banking system.

Only about $2 trillion of this shrinkage has been replaced with the Fed's quantitative easing programs, leaving a $3 trillion hole to be filled; and only the government is in a position to fill it. We have been sold the idea that there is a "debt crisis" when there is really a liquidity crisis. Paying down the federal debt when money is already scarce just makes matters worse. Historically, when the deficit has been reduced, the money supply has been reduced along with it, throwing the economy into recession.

Most of our money now comes into the world as debt, which is created on the books of banks and lent into the economy. If there were no debt, there would be no money to run the economy; and today, private debt has collapsed. Encouraged by Fed policy, banks have tightened up lending and are sitting on their money, shrinking the circulating money supply and the economy.

Creative Ways to Balance the Budget

The federal debt has not been paid off since the days of Andrew Jackson, and it does not need to be paid off. It is just rolled over from year to year. The only real danger posed by a growing federal debt is the interest burden, but that has not been a problem yet. The Congressional Budget Office reported in December 2010:

[A] sharp drop in interest rates has held down the amount of interest that the government pays on [the national] debt. In 2010, net interest outlays totaled $197 billion, or 1.4 percent of GDP - a smaller share of GDP than they accounted for during most of the past decade.

The interest burden will increase if the federal debt continues to grow, but that problem can be solved by mandating the Federal Reserve to buy the government's debt. The Fed rebates its profits to the government after deducting its costs, making the money nearly interest free. The Fed is already doing this with its quantitative easing programs and now holds nearly $1.7 trillion in federal securities.

If Congress must maintain its debt ceiling, there are other ways to balance the budget and avoid a growing debt. Ron Paul has brought a creative bill that would eliminate the $1.7 trillion deficit simply by having the Fed tear up its federal securities. No creditors would be harmed, since the money was generated with a computer keystroke in the first place. The government would just be canceling a debt to itself and saving the interest.

The Trillion-Dollar Coin Alternative

The most direct solution to the debt problem is for the government to fund its budget with government-issued money. One alternative would be for the Treasury to issue US Notes, as was done in the Civil War by President Lincoln.

Another alternative was suggested in my book "Web of Debt" in 2007: the government could simply mint some trillion-dollar coins. Congress has the constitutional power to "coin money," and no limit is put on the value of the coins it creates, as was pointed out by a chairman of the House Coinage Subcommittee in the 1980s.

This idea is now getting some attention from economists. According to a July 29 article in the Johnsville News titled "Coin Trick: The Trillion Dollar Coin":

The idea just started to get serious traction the last few days as the debt stalemate has grown more intense and partisan. Yale constitutional law professor Jack Balkin floated it as an option in a CNN op-ed yesterday (July 28th).

Today the idea has gone mainstream. It is covered byNY Magazine, CNBC, and The Economist. Even Nobel economist Paul Krugman of the NY Times has weighed in. Annie Lowrey of Slate discusses it as one of several gimmicks the government could use to resolve the debt-ceiling debacle. Krugman added:

These things [like coin seigniorage] sound ridiculous - but so is the behavior of Congressional Republicans. So why not fight back using legal tricks?

The debt ceiling itself was a legal trick, a form of extortion based on a century-old statute that conflicts with the Constitution. However, said the Johnsville News article, "coin seigniorage is not a scam. It is legal.... This plan looks like it might be Obama's ace in the hole...."

The article cites Warren Mosler, founder of MMT (Modern Monetary Theory), who reviewed the idea in a January 20 blog post and concluded it would work operationally.

Scott Fullwiler, associate professor of economics at Wartburg College, also did a comprehensive analysis and concluded that the trillion-dollar coin alternative was unlikely to result in inflation. Comparing it to Paul's plan, he wrote:

This option is much like Ron Paul's proposal - actually identical in terms of the effect on the debt ceiling and the Treasury - except that his proposal would destroy all of the Fed's capital (and then some), which is a potential problem politically ... though not operationally, and which the Fed is therefore very unlikely to agree to.

On the inflation question, just because the Treasury has money in its account doesn't mean it can spend the funds. It needs the usual Congressional approval. To keep a lid on spending, Congress just needs to be instructed in basic economics. They can spend on goods and services up to full employment without creating price inflation (since supply and demand will rise together). After that, they need to tax - not to fund the budget, but to pull excess money back in and avoid driving up prices.

Spending More While Borrowing Less

In an economic downturn, the government needs to spend more, not less, as history shows. This can be done while still balancing the budget, simply by taking back the government's constitutional power to issue money.

The budget crisis is an artificial one, and the current "solution" will only guarantee a deeper recession and more widespread suffering. Rather than obsessing over deficits and debt, the government needs to turn its focus to jobs, sales and quality of life.

The Ideology of No: Scientific American

New research into how liberals and conservatives think differently.

By Sarah Estes Graham and Jesse Graham | Tuesday, August 9, 2011


Long before Barack Obama chose “Yes We Can” as his 2008 campaign slogan, Republicans had been dubbed the Party of No. The label is popular among liberals as an insult for the GOP, but it’s also been embraced by conservatives as a proud self-description: for some on the right, the Party of No conjures the adults in the room saving future generations from an orgiastic spending spree, in the spirit of William F. Buckley’s proclamation that conservatism “stands athwart history, yelling Stop.” These conflicting views were on display in the recent debt ceiling negotiations, with liberals frustrated by Republican obstructions, and conservative Tea Party members seeing it as their duty to say No to another debt ceiling increase.

Whether intended as a slur or a badge of honor, the Party of No label stems from specific policy preferences, mainly the conservative tendency to vote “no” on non-security domestic spending and tax proposals. At first blush, policy stalemates might seem simple differences of opinion on how to run the country. But a growing body of evidence is showing that partisan rancor goes far beyond the budget and policy fare of Sunday morning talk shows. As divisions between Red States and Blue States have grown (or at least acquired greater iconographic heft), so has interest in understanding the temperamental and attitudinal foundations of political ideology. An explosion of research over the last decade is revealing the psychological underpinnings of ideological differences, unearthing the subterranean meanings of the Party of No.

That Democrats and Republicans differ on matters from foreign policy to gay marriage is well established, but how do individuals arrive at such diametrically opposed worldviews? Researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University recently published evidence that even nonpolitical attitudes are formed differently in liberals and conservatives.

In two studies, students were presented with a conditioning task involving positive or negative images (like puppies and garbage) flashed before pictures of Chinese characters. The characters were totally new and value-neutral for these non-Chinese speaking students. Some characters always followed the cheery puppies and rainbows, while some always appeared after the aversive sewage and spiders. Another set came after a neutral gray square.

After a few viewing cycles, the students simply rated how much they liked or disliked each of the Chinese characters. (They had been told they were participating in a language and memory experiment to avoid muddying the data with political assumptions or overtones.) Both studies showed that the negative images had a stronger effect than positive images for everyone, supporting the robust psychological finding that negatives make a stronger impression than positives (i.e. the snarky evaluations you remember long after the glowing ones have faded). After the brief viewing, Chinese characters that had appeared after negative images were more disliked than the other Chinese characters, even though participants had no prior experience with them.

Most strikingly, both studies showed that this negativity dominance was especially true for conservative students. In other words, those on the political right showed more of a “bad is stronger than good” bias than those on the left. Surprisingly, the political difference wasn’t to be found in the negative images, which had a strong effect on everyone across the board. If you can wrap your mind around psych study jujitsu for a moment: the differences stemmed from participants’ responses to the positive images, which carried more weight with liberal students. For example, if viewing two hypothetical television ads—one featuring an impoverished village in shambles after a failed food distribution program, and one showing clean, happy children after a successful well installation—liberals may be more likely to be convinced of the potential success of future aid programs.

This finding fits with previous studies showing conservatives (relative to liberals) to be more responsive to threats, more resistant to change, and more likely to see the world as a dangerous place – all of which involve some form of negative attitudes, be they about the past, present, or future. But the new studies stand out for two reasons. First, the attitudes being formed were not about political figures, or the role of government, or moral values, or anything else one could conceivably expect liberals and conservatives to argue about; they were about Chinese characters flashed on a computer screen with pictures of puppies or garbage.

Second, the political differences seemed to be inherent not in any consciously endorsed attitudes, but in the unconscious processes of attitude formation itself. In fact, in the second study people also directly rated how much they liked the pictures of puppies and garbage, and there were no political differences in these ratings (even though the pictures were having different unconscious effects). Thus the paper is one more indication that liberals and conservatives differ in ways unrelated to politics – and in ways they may not even be aware of.

Like much research on ideological differences, these findings are likely to inspire as much controversy as wonder, with liberals hailing the discovery of a new conservative bias, and conservatives dismissing the research itself as biased. But like many of the findings about ideology, this finding can be spun different ways: if you want to flatter the left, you can say it shows them as less biased, less cynical, and more open to a positive worldview. If you want to flatter the right, you can say this shows conservatives as more cautious, less pie-in-the-sky, and even more sensible (if you think negative information should have more of an impact). Like the Party of No label, the Psychology of No could be an insult or a compliment, depending on which side of the political spectrum you’re on.

Are you a scientist who specializes in neuroscience, cognitive science, or psychology? And have you read a recent peer-reviewed paper that you would like to write about? Please send suggestions to Mind Matters editor Gareth Cook, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist at the Boston Globe. He can be reached at garethideas AT or Twitter @garethideas.

Just as I thought... Science proves liberals are " less biased, less cynical, and more open to a positive worldview"... :-) Monte

Aug 7, 2011

Army reservists, Fort Bragg instructors learn farming techniques

For two days last week, Army reservists training at Fort Bragg visited a farm on the Cumberland-Bladen county line that is trying to revolutionize the world of agriculture.

The soldiers, who are training at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, learned techniques that could make land more fertile and improve farming conditions.
The hope is that soldiers may eventually take what they have learned and apply it in Iraq, Afghanistan or Africa, said Sgt. 1st Class Jeremy Hancock, an instructor who led a group of 10 reservists through the N.C. Farm Center Privateer Farm on Tuesday afternoon.

"In Afghanistan right now, the economy doesn't go much further than sustenance farming," Hancock said. "Agricultural development is economic development."

About 45 reservists visited the farm, along with instructors from Fort Bragg.

They were taught about the use of baked debris known as biochar and organic chemicals to create fertile soil and about new technology that captures rainwater and uses solar power to irrigate fields.

Biochar, which looks like blackened mulch, becomes a sort of reef for beneficial microbes and bacteria, according to Richard Perritt, executive director of the N.C. Farm Center.

Staff Sgt. Gerald Frushon with the Warfare Center and School coordinated the efforts with the N.C. Farm Center as a way to bring the reservists real-world experience before they are deployed across the globe.

Soldiers began their day at the farm learning how to create biochar, which is baked farm waste that, when coupled with chemicals developed by Wilmington-based True Green Organics, turned the white sands of the farm into fertile soil.

Jim Desmond, who works for True Green Organics, said the chemicals, used in conjunction with biochar could help create farmable land almost anywhere in the world.

"Suddenly, we've created fertile soil that will last for decades," he said.

The soldiers also saw a demonstration on rainwater collection by Rick Walker of Kernersville-based Rain Catcher LLC. He also showed them how solar panels can be used to pump water through drip irrigation tubes.

"We're trying to conserve what nature gives us," Walker said.

The soldiers ended their day by seeing how the techniques and technologies worked together to make land more fertile.

Squash, watermelon and tomatoes planted using the techniques learned by the soldiers appeared healthier and had higher yields than crops planted without those techniques.

The N.C. Farm Center for Innovation and Sustainability is a 6,000-acre farm straddling the county line off N.C. 53.

The nonprofit group aims to develop technology that can be used to improve both large-scale and sustenance farming across the world.

Staff writer Drew Brooks can be reached at or 486-3567.