Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Nation Of Liars, Killers, Tea Baggers Being Sucked In, Wiki Wars, And What I really Believe In.

A Nation Of Liars, Killers, Tea Baggers Being Sucked In, Wiki Wars, And What I really Believe In.

Republican Lies Kill Americans

Republicans just helped kill Americans! That is right, according to the New England Journal of Medicine, end-of-life counseling both extends life and improves the quality of life. Nonetheless, Republicans and rightwing nutjobs pushed Obama to reverse his decision yesterday on providing Medicare funding for end-of-life counseling by telling a series of lies . As a result, perhaps tens of thousands of Americans will not receive such counseling, pay more in health care, and live shorter lives.

With today’s swearing in of the new Republican congress, I starting a new blog called Republican Body Count. Since Republicans and rightwing phony freak-o-patriots wish to strip millions of American's away of their health care, safety, and overall general welfare, I will keep a tally of the eventual millions of Americans adversely affect by Republican policies in the next two years.

I start with the end-of-life counseling Republicans have been shouting about this past week. As some that follow Fox News and the rightwing blogs already know, the Rupugs have resurrected the whole “death panels” issue when they learned that Obama authorized Medicare to pay for end-of-life counseling. However, after a great deal of Republican pressure, Obama reversed his decision and called for more debate on the issue.  As a result, if only 2% of the terminally ill do not receive professional end-of-life counseling, roughly 22,000 American lives could become shortened and their bank accounts depleted.

But don’t take my word for it, here is Dr. Atul Gawande, associated professor at Harvard School of Public Health and a practicing surgeon at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston explain the horrific consequences of the Republican “death-panel” lies on

"End-of-life discussions are not death panels. But you say it over and over again, you brand it over and over again, and you begin to define what the meaning is of a major policy that’s passed. Being able to provide funding for discussions that have been shown to have a huge difference in improving the quality of life patients have and, in a recent study published in the New England Journal, also generated longer life for patients by helping them make better decisions about when to stop therapies that have become harmful to them, like that fourth round of chemotherapy and so on, those kinds of studies indicate we need more, longer and better discussions with doctors, overall. Repeal is a major mistake."

The Obama administration says only a small percentage of Americans would actually be affected by the end-of-life Medicare provision. Fair enough, since there are an estimated 1.1 million terminally ill Americans in the U.S. annually. I set the Body Count at 22,000 Americans directly affected by the Republican lies at the start of this year. I believe I am making an extremely conservative estimate, more than 1% of terminally ill Americans and less than 5%. Nonetheless, this is 6 times more Americans killed and economically plundered than on 9/11. With control of the House, Republicans have vowed to repeal health care reform, which would mean millions of Americans will end up losing their health care. Add their efforts to repeal Food Safety regulations, environmental protections, and worker protections and we can see the Republican Body Count go into the tens of millions in just two years. Let’s hope not!

For story by story update and body count of Americans hurt by the new Republican congress, check out the new website

U.S. to Send More Troops to Afghanistan
1,400 marines will be sent to boost the surge before troops begin exiting in July.

WASHINGTON—Defense Secretary Robert Gates has decided to send an additional 1,400 Marine combat forces to Afghanistan, officials said, in a surprise move ahead of the spring fighting season to try to cement tentative security gains before White House-mandated troop reductions begin in July.
The Marine battalion could start arriving on the ground as early as mid-January. The forces would mostly be deployed in the south, around Kandahar, where the U.S. has concentrated troops over the past several months.

Commanders in Afghanistan and advocates of the strategy in Washington say temporarily adding front-line forces could help counter an anticipated spring offensive by Taliban militants returning from havens in neighboring Pakistan.

Commanders are examining other proposals to temporarily boost the number of combat troops in Afghanistan in addition to the Marines authorized Wednesday. If the plans are approved, the front-line fighting force could be increased in total by as many as 3,000 troops.

U.S. commanders in Afghanistan face intense pressure to show sustainable security gains in the first half of 2011. Military officials fear an upswing in attacks by the Taliban in the spring could convince the White House that the Pentagon's war strategy is flawed and that the troop pullout—the details of which have yet to be ironed out—should be accelerated.

President Barack Obama last month said the war strategy was on the right track, but voiced caution about sustaining the gains for the longer-term.
"The rationale is to take advantage of the gains we have made over the last several months and apply more pressure on the enemy at a time when he is already under the gun," Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said.
Some Democrats in Congress are likely to question the decision to boost U.S. combat strength, even temporarily, at a time when the U.S. and its allies are preparing withdrawals, a senior congressional aide said.

No congressional approval would be required for the new boost in combat troops, but congressional support is important for Pentagon leaders and commanders who want lawmakers to stand by the strategy.
The additional Marine deployment could push the total surge troops in Afghanistan beyond the 30,000 announced by Mr. Obama in December 2009. At the time, Mr. Obama gave Mr. Gates authority to add an extra 10%—or 3,000 more troops—to respond to unforeseen contingencies.

The Pentagon initially said it intended to use the 10% reserve to rush support units, such as medical or roadside bomb-removal teams, into the war zone if needed. The reserve has, however, been tapped to fill other military needs, including trainers for Afghan security forces. Officials estimate that up to 2,000 of the 3,000 reserve slots have been deployed, but the numbers fluctuate frequently.

In addition to the 1,400 Marines being sent, officials are looking at changing the mix of forces in Afghanistan, replacing some support units with additional combat forces. A senior defense official said commanders in Afghanistan have been evaluating which support units are no longer needed.
A further boost could come in April and May by introducing new units a few weeks earlier than planned, allowing them to overlap longer with outgoing units. Commanders could also structure new deployments to get frontline troops in place more quickly.

Officials said the new deployments wouldn't raise the number of new combat troops above the total authorized by the president.

There are now 97,000 American personnel in Afghanistan. It is unclear precisely how many take direct part in combat operations. Top commanders have long sought to reduce the number of logisticians and support staff, and increase the number of frontline troops who leave their bases on missions.
The U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, known as the International Security Assistance Force, declined to discuss "predecisional operational plans and concepts," said Rear Adm. Vic Beck, an ISAF spokesman.

Fighting intensifies every year in Afghanistan when the snow melts in the mountain passages, allowing fighters to flow back into Afghanistan from Pakistan.

In a strategy review released in December, the White House said the Taliban's momentum has been arrested in much of Afghanistan, but warned those gains could be reversed, citing the threat posed by militants crossing the border from Pakistan.

Senior defense officials hope to build on what they see as recent military gains in clearing Taliban insurgents out of their southern strongholds, with the goal of exhausting the insurgents and forcing at least some of the movement's leaders to the negotiating table.

Come June, a senior U.S. official said, commanders should be able to assess the extent to which U.S.-led offensives over the past year have weakened the Taliban, or whether the insurgency is bouncing back.

Officials said nearly all the proposed additional troops would be frontline infantrymen who could immediately begin patrolling population centers and remote villages to keep the Taliban at bay. Such a deployment could double U.S. combat capabilities in and around Kandahar, the senior U.S. official said.

Preventing Taliban militants from reasserting themselves in the city where the hard-line movement was born is a top American priority. Most of the U.S. surge forces have been deployed to Kandahar and neighboring Helmand province.

The troop boost could also buy additional time for training Afghan security forces, which are slated to take over national security from foreign forces by the end of 2014.

The plan could meet resistance within Mr. Obama's Democratic Party. Key Democrats, who controlled the House in the last Congress, had pushed Mr. Obama to begin withdrawing troops, and supported the July deadline.

Republicans, who now hold a majority in the House, may be more supportive, officials said. Republicans have criticized Mr. Obama's withdrawal deadline, arguing that commanders should get the resources they need to succeed and shouldn't be boxed in by artificial time lines.

Anthony Cordesman, a defense analyst at the bipartisan Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said it was unclear what impact, if any, a temporary increase in combat power would have on the overall military campaign as long as the havens in Pakistan remain open to the Taliban.

"If the enemy simply chooses to hunker down, ride out, adapt the kinds of tactics that other guerrilla movements have used under acute pressure…you don't win the war—all you do is basically create a battle of attrition," he said.
Some officials have voiced concerns about the military's ability to maintain control of areas cleared of Taliban, citing the group's ability to replace leaders killed or captured in U.S. Special Operations raids.

"As much as we are hammering them in the south and east, their numbers aren't dwindling. They have so many young men who are disenfranchised, who have nothing better to do," the senior U.S. official said.

Defense officials in Washington and commanders in southern Afghanistan have offered the White House a more upbeat assessment, pointing to military gains, including routing the Taliban from districts surrounding Kandahar, as well as recent deals with local tribes to keep the Taliban out of their areas.
Some American officials believe sustained military pressure could open divisions within the movement or force the group to shift away from a strategy that precludes negotiations with the government of Afghanistan.

Pakistan in Turmoil

Rahimullah Yusufzai: Assassination at a time of economic crisis, war and flooding

Governor of Pakistan's Punjab Province Assassinated

Channel 4: It is claimed Salmaan Taseer was killed by one of his guards because of his opposition to blasphemy law

Despite all the hype, the Tea Party is not a “populist,” “libertarian,” or “constitutionalist” movement. Rather, it is a movement of grassroots frustration that has been co-opted by wealthy corporate interests to fight against the historic victories of Populism, against the key movements for civil liberties and civil rights, and against modern constitutional principles, argues a new report by Jamie Raskin of People For the American Way.

As the newly-empowered House GOP takes to the House floor to read the Constitution in its entirety, Raskin’s report questions the Tea Party movement’s asserted allegiance to the text and history of the Constitution, its claim to champion the liberty of the people, and its identification with earlier populist movements. “Americans who still love the promise of political democracy, the real Constitution and Bill of Rights, and the progress of human liberty and equality should carefully read the fine print, as well as  between the lines, before they drink the tea being served at this party,” Raskin writes.

Raskin, a Senior Fellow at People For the American Way, is also a Maryland State Senator and a professor of constitutional law at American University’s Washington college of Law.

The report, Corporate Infusion: What the Tea Party’s Really Serving America, discusses the modern Tea Party movement’s history and track record, including:

  • advocating in the 2010 elections for repeal of the 17th Amendment--popular election of U.S. Senators--a key victory of American Populism in the last century;

  • advocating in the 2010 elections for repeal of the 16th Amendment and attacking the federal power to impose an income tax, which is essential to modern democracy;

  • fighting the 14th Amendment’s guarantees of equal protection and birthright citizenship and arguing for repeal of parts of the 14th Amendment, including its crucial first sentence;

  • asserting the unconstitutionality of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and defending the right of private establishments to discriminate on the basis of race and other arbitrary factors;

  • advocating for a return to the gold standard and thus assailing another great victory of the Populist movement for working people;

  • opposing the reproductive rights of women and the civil rights and liberties of gay and lesbian citizens; and

  • calling for ever more “deregulation” and generating a host of silly and false political issues, like allegations about the president’s citizenship and religion, while ignoring and obscuring gigantic corporate scandals and crimes of our times, including the multi-trillion dollar sub-prime mortgage scam, the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and the lethal collapse of Massey Coal’s mines in West Virginia.

“Our Constitution reflects the American people’s historic fight for a strong democracy, civil liberties and the common good,” said Raskin. ”Although the Tea Party has been billed as embracing all of those values, it has been co-opted and channeled to fight for the power of big corporations, not the rights of the American people. We should take a close look at what the Tea Party’s words about the Constitution really mean.”

Responding to the planned Constitutional “read-out” by the Republican majority in the House of Representatives on Thursday, Raskin said: “It’s a fine idea to celebrate and study the Constitution, but the document they’re reading aloud is about two minutes longer than the one the Tea Party supports.  And what does it mean to read the Establishment Clause out loud when you support the teaching of creationism in our public schools? Or to repeat the words 'due process,' 'liberty' and 'equal protection' but deny their application to all citizens? Or to read the Commerce Clause and the necessary and proper clause but deny their use in advancing the public health and welfare? It's one thing to read the Constitution, quite another to defend its meaning.”

Outsiders Choose Hill Professionals

New House Members Pick Capitol Hill Veterans to Be Their Chiefs of Staff


(And here we go again…Now let me introduce you to this nice fella from K-Street…)


A flashy Southern auctioneer with as much a penchant for cowboy hats as for telling voters that he’s “fed up,” Rep. Billy Long struck electoral gold with his campaign as a bona fide Capitol Hill outsider.

“I may not look the part,” the Missouri Republican said in a campaign ad, cracking a sly smile. “But if you’re fed up with politicians in Washington and their cronies, I would truly appreciate your vote.”

After the election was sealed, Long’s rhetoric didn’t cease. When he came to the Capitol in November for orientation, he announced in a press release, “Mr. Outsider Meets the Insiders.” 

But Long not only met the insiders, he hired one of them as his chief of staff. Joe Lillis has been legislative director to Rep. Lynn Westmoreland since 2005, and before that, he worked for the Georgia Republican’s predecessor, Rep. Mac Collins (R), and former Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.).

Long is not alone in hiring an insider. Many new Representatives shared Long’s campaign disdain for the powers that be in Washington, D.C., but nearly 75 percent of all new House Members opted for an experienced Washington hand as their top staffer.

A Roll Call analysis of new Members’ picks for chief of staff found that of the 96 chiefs, at least 60 have previously worked for a Member of Congress or a committee.

Long declined to comment for this report, but Westmoreland recently recounted giving the inexperienced legislator the advice to hire someone who can guide him through Washington. 

“I said, ‘Billy, you’re not a detail person are you?’ He said, ‘Nope,’” 

Westmoreland told Roll Call. “I said, ‘If you’re not detail-oriented, you better hire somebody who is detail-oriented.’ The ropes are going to be hard enough for a new Member of Congress to learn. If he has eight people or seven people there who are learning the ropes together, that’s going to be a long ride.”

GOP leadership had nudged new Members to hire experienced staffers, even putting together a list of about 75 potential chiefs of staff, including current and former Capitol Hill staffers and lobbyists.

An early warning about hiring outsiders came when Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) tried to hire a conservative talk-show host as his top aide. He backtracked after inflammatory comments that she had made on the air came to light.
Asked recently whether he had taken leadership’s recommendations in hiring his new chief, Jonathan Blyth, West pointed to the former Hill and executive branch staffer and said, “You’re looking at him.”

Besides the chiefs with Hill experience, there are at least 11 aides who have worked on the national political scene, either for the national parties, the executive branch or a federal agency. 

That list includes Karen Czarnecki, chief of staff to Rep. Mike Kelly, the outspoken Pennsylvania Republican who has quickly made a name through national media interviews as the outsider du jour of the new class of Republicans.

Most recently an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, Czarnecki has toiled inside the Beltway for two decades, including a stint as senior adviser to President George W. Bush’s secretary of Labor, Elaine Chao.

Kelly said Wednesday, surrounded in his office by family, that he hired someone who understands Washington because the city is completely new to him.

“You can’t wait six months to find out whether the chief of staff has the stuff to get the job done,” he said. “I don’t think there’s anything different working in this office as working in my former position in a car dealer. I would never in my business hire someone who doesn’t have any background.”

For this new batch of chiefs, a Washington background sometimes extends from the Capitol to K Street. 

Seventeen new chiefs of staff have passed through the revolving door between lobbying and government work, according to a database maintained by the Center for Responsive Politics. One more new chief was a lobbyist but has no government experience. 

That comes to a total of at least 72 chiefs to new Members with established inside-the-Beltway résumés.

That number rankled Mark Meckler, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, who said hiring insiders gives the wrong impression from a crowd that asserted it would change the way Washington works. He said experience is necessary on any staff, but the chief pick should send a message to the political base.

“When you send the message that, ‘Hey, my top guy is a lobbyist or my top guy has spent the last 20 years here in D.C.’ ... I think that’s a problem,” Meckler said. “They’re disconnected from the people in the state. These folks live and breathe D.C., and that’s what’s important to them.”

Dave Levinthal, spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics, said hiring a former lobbyist can be particularly troublesome because of the potential for a clash between allegiances.

“Where you get into a sticky situation is if a prominent member of your staff used to work for a particular lobby shop or a particular special interest group that all of a sudden is doing business before your committee or is lobbying you to take particular action on a bill,” he said. “This does happen a lot, and there is, at the very least, potential for conflict of interest.”

After hiring former lobbyist Eric Burgeson, whose clients included the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Rep. Robert Dold (R-Ill.) instituted a policy that “my entire staff may not work on matters of substance with former clients, and all substantive inquiries from former clients must be referred to a nonaffiliated staff member for consideration.”

Still, lobbyists can be extremely helpful, bringing a robust Rolodex into the Congressional office, said Brad Fitch of the Congressional Management Foundation, a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to increasing efficiency on the Hill.

And no matter the background, Members need someone who knows how to request a Government Accountability Office report, send franked mail and fill other staff positions, he said.

“Members should avoid the height of hypocrisy but at the same time recognize without seasoned veterans working on your staff, you’re less likely to succeed. That’s the golden rule,” Fitch said. Fear of sending an insider message “fades pretty quickly when you can’t get the mail done.”

That’s not to say all Members opted for a Washington veteran. Twenty-three new chiefs come to the Capitol with no discernible D.C. experience. They range from campaign managers or state legislative chiefs of staff to county party chairmen and former state legislators. There are also a few unusual picks, including a dentist and a mechanical engineer. 

As of press time, Rep. Hansen Clarke (D-Mich.) was the only Member who declined to announce his chief of staff.

Scott Yeldell, newly appointed chief of staff to Rep. Francisco “Quico” Canseco (R-Texas), said his boss hired him to bring “fresh blood” to the staff. Yeldell was Canseco’s campaign manager and has limited national political experience.

“Quico just really felt that what was really important was bringing someone who understood the district. He campaigned on the concept of citizen legislators and bringing in people who are coming in to get a job done and not coming in to have a career,” Yeldell said. “I’m not coming in to make a career out of Washington, necessarily.”

Jackie Kucinich contributed to this report.

Just weeks prior to unveiling a giant cache of leaked U.S. State Department cables, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange threatened to sue the Guardian newspaper in Britain over publication of the documents, according to a fascinating Vanity Fair article published Thursday that explores in detail the often rocky relationship between WikiLeaks and the newspapers with which it partnered last year.

(Vanity Fair Insert Link: The collaboration between WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, the Web’s notorious information anarchist, and some of the world’s most respected news organizations began at The Guardian, a nearly 200-year-old British paper. What followed was a clash of civilizations—and ambitions—as Guardian editors and their colleagues at The New York Times and other media outlets struggled to corral a whistle-blowing stampede amid growing distrust and anger. With Assange detained in the U.K., the author reveals the story behind the headlines.)

After receiving the database of a quarter-million cables from Assange under embargo last August, the Guardian obtained a second copy of the database via a WikiLeaks insider without conditions — which led the newspaper to conclude it was no longer bound by a signed agreement with Assange that it wouldn’t publish the documents until he gave the go-ahead.

Assange, suddenly faced with having lost control of documents that WikiLeaks itself had received from a source, asserted that he owned the information and had a financial interest in how and when it was released, the magazine reports.

Assange was pallid and sweaty, his thin frame racked by a cough that had been plaguing him for weeks. He was also angry, and his message was simple: he would sue the newspaper if it went ahead and published stories based on the quarter of a million documents that he had handed over to The Guardian just three months earlier. . . . Assange’s position was rife with ironies. 

An unwavering advocate of full, unfettered disclosure of primary-source material, Assange was now seeking to keep highly sensitive information from reaching a broader audience. 

He had become the victim of his own methods: someone at WikiLeaks, where there was no shortage of disgruntled volunteers, had leaked the last big segment of the documents, and they ended up at The Guardian in such a way that the paper was released from its previous agreement with Assange—that The Guardian would publish its stories only when Assange gave his permission. Enraged that he had lost control, Assange unleashed his threat, arguing that he owned the information and had a financial interest in how and when it was released.

A marathon negotiation ensued between Assange and the Guardian. Some at the Guardian wanted to sever their relationship with Assange entirely, but the two sides managed to reach an uneasy agreement. However, the already precarious relationship never fully recovered from this and other bones of contention, according to writer Sarah Ellison, who also wrote the book War at the Wall Street Journal.

Ellison spoke with editors of the Guardian and the New York Times for her Vanity Fair story, as well as with WikiLeaks insiders to compile a look at how the unprecedented media partnership progressed.

[Vanity Fair and are both owned by Condé Nast.] …

WikiLeaks Reveals U.S. Plan to Sink Sea Shepherd


On Monday, WikiLeaks released documents indicating that U.S. and Japanese officials had conversations about how to take down Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

Sea Shepherd is known for being a thorn in the side of Japan's whaling industry, successfully disrupting the annual whale hunt in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

According to L.A. Unleashed, WikiLeaks revealed that the Japanese official expressed that "action against Sea Shepherd would be a 'major element' in achieving success at international negotiations on the number of whales killed each year." Note that Japan abiding by the moratorium on whaling wasn't an option, just maybe a willingness to discuss how many whale deaths they're allowed to flaunt in the face of international law.

Nonetheless, the U.S. rep took the bait, saying that the government can probably take away Sea Shepherd's tax exempt status "based on their aggressive and harmful actions."

So, who was involved in this backroom plotting? On Japan's side, we have Katsuhiro Machida, director general of Japan's fisheries agency. That would be the fisheries agency where officials were recently reprimanded for accepting kickbacks of whale meat worth thousands of dollars from whaling companies contracted by the government. This also isn't the first time Japan has tried to pressure foreign governments to take action against Sea Shepherd.

On the U.S. end of the line, it was none other than Monica Medina, the nation's representative to the International Whaling Commission, who spent much of last summer trying to convince the E.U. and Australia to accept a deal that would legitimize Japan's whaling. Thankfully, she failed, Japan refused to compromise and Australia took Japan to court.

As Captain Watson wrote in response to Ms. Medina's leaked comment that the government could come up with proof that Sea Shepherd should have its tax-exempt status revoked, "Monica Medina, of course, has no authority to speak on the issue of tax status because was not authorized to do so by the Internal Revenue Service or the U.S. Department of State."

There have never been charges been filed against Sea Shepherd by any country, including Japan, over these alleged "aggressive and harmful actions." Watson points out that "The fact is that Sea Shepherd has not violated a single American law, and therefore the U.S. government has no cause to act against a U.S. organization and its U.S. citizens merely at the pleasure of Japan to request that it does so."

Just before the New Year, Sea Shepherd's fleet tracked down the Japanese whaling vessels in the Southern Ocean, before they had a chance to kill any whales. Now the Japanese vessels are on the run, which means they aren't slaughtering. And the U.S., the Netherlands, New Zealand and Australia are worried about violence on the high seas between the two groups.

The U.S. government can defray both the embarrassment of the WikiLeaks documents and any potential confrontations in the Southern Ocean by calling on the International Court of Justice to issue an immediate injunction against Japanese whaling.

A U.S. official willing to smear a non-profit organization, at the behest of a country that is ignoring international law, is pretty appalling. There's one way that Ms. Medina can save face: Take a stand against Japanese whaling.


This has to be simply a matter of a mercenary, unprincipled bitch making the switch…you know the type..big bucks and climbing first, damn the consequences and screw principles!

By Brent Lang Is Glenn Beck's new website, the Blaze, taking a right-wing run at the Huffington Post? Former HuffPo CEO Betsy Morgan has just signed on as ...See all stories on this topic »

Are You Kidding Me?

Paris 'Muslim Batman' Angers Right-Wing US Bloggers


PARIS - BATMAN has battled many enemies but now has to face the anger of rightwing US bloggers furious that the comic book caped crusader has recruited a Muslim to run his crime-fighting franchise in Paris.

'The character's name is Bilal Asselah and he is an Algerian Sunni Muslim and an immigrant that is physically fit and adept at the gymnastic sport parkour,' wrote Warner Todd Huston on his site Publius Forum.

'Apparently Batman couldn't find any actual Frenchman to be the 'French saviour',' wrote the right-winger, apparently discounting the millions of French citizens of North African descent from his definition of 'actual' French.

In the December issues of DC Comics Detective Comics Annual and Batman Annual, the caped crusader decides to set up Batman Incorporated and install a superhero in cities around the world to fight crime.

The hero he picks in France is called Nightrunner, the alter ego of a 22-year-old from Clichy-sous-Bois, a tough Paris suburb where urban unrest sparked riots in immigrant districts across France in 2005.

Bilal Asselah, a Frenchman of Algerian origin, was caught up in that unrest and at one point he and his friend got beaten up by police who mistook them for rioters. Bilal's friend reacted by later burning down a police station and ended up being killed by police. But Bilal, thanks largely to the influence of his pious Muslim mother, rejects hate and fear. – AFP


Census: Number of Poor May Be Millions Higher

by Hope Yen

Poverty by the Millions: Figures Show Nation in Need

… WASHINGTON -- The number of poor people in the U.S. is millions higher than previously known, with 1 in 6 Americans — many of them 65 and older — struggling in poverty due to rising medical care and other costs, according to preliminary census figures released Wednesday.

At the same time, government aid programs such as tax credits and food stamps kept many people out of poverty, helping to ensure the poverty rate did not balloon even higher during the recession in 2009, Obama's first year in office.

Under a new revised census formula, overall poverty in 2009 stood at 15.7 percent, or 47.8 million people. That's compared to the official 2009 rate of 14.3 percent, or 43.6 million, that was reported by the Census Bureau last September.

Across all demographic groups, Americans 65 and older sustained the largest increases in poverty under the revised formula — nearly doubling to 16.1 percent. As a whole, working-age adults 18-64 also saw increases in poverty, as well as whites and Hispanics. Children, blacks and unmarried couples were less likely to be considered poor under the new measure.

Due to new adjustments for geographical variations in costs of living, people residing in the suburbs, the Northeast and West were the regions mostly likely to have poor people — nearly 1 in 5 in the West.

The new measure will not replace the official poverty rate but will be published alongside the traditional figure this fall as a "supplement" for federal agencies and state governments to determine anti-poverty policies. Economists have long criticized the official poverty measure as inadequate because it only includes pretax cash income and does not account for medical, transportation and work expenses.

"Under the new measure, we can clearly see the effects of our government policies," said Kathleen Short, a Census Bureau research economist who calculated the revised poverty numbers. "When you're accounting for in-kind benefits and tax credits, you're bringing many people in extreme poverty off the very bottom." …

By Steve Peoples and Jessica Brady : Roll Call Staff : Jan. 6, 2011, Midnight
They have seized committee gavels and newfound political clout, but the flurry of promotions within the new Republican House majority could complicate the GOP’s plans to wrest control of the Senate from Democrats in 2012.

From New York to Ohio to Wisconsin, would-be Republican Senate candidates might prefer to hold on to new leadership posts rather than run for statewide office in the next cycle, a process that has already begun in some states.

New York Republicans have long pushed Rep. Peter King to run for the Senate, but the 10-term Member told Roll Call that he’s thrilled with his new role as chairman of the Homeland Security Committee.

“Since Sept. 12, 2001, homeland security has been my absolute focus, almost an obsession,” King said, acknowledging speculation that he will challenge Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) in 2012. “Homeland security is going to be 24-7 for me. Maybe in a year or so things could change, but right now ­— and I’m not being cute ­— I really don’t expect it.”

It’s a similar story for Rep. Charlie Dent, the Pennsylvania Republican recently assigned to the Appropriations Committee, a position he has been actively seeking since before the 2008 elections.

“I basically developed a two-year strategy. I let people know I was interested,” he said in an interview. “Clearly, the real power of Congress is the power of the purse. Being on Appropriations puts me in the middle of that. ... It’s one of the few places in Congress you can touch public policy in so many places.”
Dent says he’s been encouraged to challenge Sen. Bob Casey (D) in 2012 but suggested he’s content to hold on to his new committee assignment.
“One never rules anything out,” he said. But “at the same time I haven’t been actively pursuing it.”

Some Republicans warn it’s far too early to predict whether House shifts will shape the 2012 Senate electoral landscape, although it’s clear that every seat counts. Democrats hold 53 seats, including two Independents who caucus with them, compared with 47 seats for Republicans.

“I would concede that at first glance, early on, in a couple of states it might not be helpful,” one Republican campaign strategist said of the House committee promotions.

The strategist singled out Wisconsin as perhaps the most painful example, where some hoped that Rep. Paul Ryan (R) would challenge 75-year-old Sen. Herb Kohl (D), considered vulnerable amid speculation that he might not seek a fifth term in 2012.

But Ryan is the newly minted Budget chairman. And given House Republicans’ focus on spending cuts, it’s likely that he will be busy in the new Congress.

That has yet to quell local speculation that Ryan might challenge Kohl in a state where the GOP recently captured the governorship, both chambers of the Legislature, a Senate seat and two House seats.
All those factors, Wisconsin pols said, could make it attractive for Ryan to run statewide.

“The fact that today Republicans are taking control of the House has still not dissuaded talks” of Ryan running, Wisconsin-based consultant Scott Becher said.

Ryan turns 40 later this month and is widely considered a hot commodity on the national circuit. But now in his seventh term, he serves as the brain trust of the GOP conference.

He is often mentioned as a future presidential candidate, and as Becher pointed out, “How do you become president? You become a Senator or a governor.”

But the budget wonk has repeatedly said he is not looking to run for higher office anytime soon, whether it’s for a Senate seat, the governor’s office or the White House. GOP voters don’t appear to accept that message: Ryan received 52 percent of Wisconsin Republicans’ support for the Senate nomination in a Public Policy Polling survey conducted last month.

Ryan’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

In Ohio, Republicans said they believe they have an opportunity to knock off first-term Sen. Sherrod Brown (D), but it’s unlikely they’ll persuade Rep. Jim Jordan to accept the challenge.

The three-term incumbent was elected to lead the Republican Study Committee for the next two years, a leadership position that will give him an opportunity to lead what he calls the “conservative conscience on Capitol Hill.” Already, Jordan reports being inundated with speech requests for the coming months.

“I’m focused on the Republican Study Committee and my work here,” Jordan told Roll Call. But what about a Senate bid? He’s “leaning against that,” Jordan said, noting that he’s also excited about his new chairmanship of an Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee.

In California, Rep. Darrell Issa has been listed among Republicans interested in challenging Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) in 2012. But the six-term Member is now chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee and has assumed a much higher profile on Capitol Hill.

It is not a profile he is looking to change, spokesman Kurt Bardella said.
“Chairman Issa can do more to advance his agenda by staying here in the House and working at the Oversight and Government Reform Committee than he can by being one of 100 in the Senate,” Bardella said.

In 1998, Issa wanted to challenge Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) but lost the GOP primary despite spending nearly $10 million from his own pocket. Two years later he was elected to the House. He bankrolled the 2002 recall of then-Gov. Gray Davis (D), winning him plaudits among California Republicans, but the conservative has otherwise demurred from statewide politics.

Dave Gilliard, Issa’s California-based political consultant, said it will be tough to find a formidable candidate to challenge Feinstein next year.

“I don’t know anyone who is in the majority in the House who would want to give that up to take her on,” Gilliard said of Issa and other potential candidates, including Rep. John Campbell (R). “I think a lot of people would love to see [Issa] run in the future, but right now I think he’s focused on being in the majority and his committee chairmanship.”

Questions remain about Rep. Denny Rehberg, the Montana Republican largely thought to be weighing a run against first-term Sen. Jon Tester (D).
Rehberg has served on the Appropriations Committee since 2005, but he will play a more powerful role as part of the majority. It’s also unclear whether he might be awarded a chairmanship on one of the three Appropriations subcommittees. Such announcements are expected in the coming days.
“Denny is focused on doing the job the overwhelming majority of Montana voters sent him to Washington to do,” spokesman Jed Link said in response to questions about Rehberg’s Senate prospects in 2012.

Meanwhile, some committee promotions tell a very different story.
In at least one case, a House Republican might use his new status as a launching pad for a 2012 Senate bid. Rep. Connie Mack IV, the son of a former Florida Senator, will serve as the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, where he was previously the ranking member.

A Republican aide confirmed that the Florida Republican walked away from potential slots on the Ways and Means and the Energy and Commerce committees in favor of the subcommittee chairmanship. There were as many as three Florida slots available on Ways and Means, according to the aide, but such a position likely would not allow for the same visibility as the chairmanship, with which Mack plans to be “very active,” the aide said.

Specifically, Mack will devote considerable time to examining the national security threats posed by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, a high-profile issue in Florida. The Congressman is set to deliver a speech on the subject at next month’s national Conservative Political Action Conference.

Mack has also made a handful of key hires in recent months suggesting he’s gearing up for a Senate run. In addition to senior adviser David James, a veteran of three Republican Senate campaigns and the recent New York gubernatorial race, Mack is using general consultant Arthur Finkelstein, who worked on both of Mack’s father’s successful Senate bids.


Wall Street Turns Stock Gains Into Investor Losses With Structured ...
... Director Robert Khuzami said at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing the same ... “We feel so stupid,” Carol Conklin said, adding that she still has “no ...

Banks sold more than $6 billion of bonds linked to the performance of stocks last year, promising returns of as much as 64 percent at a time when interest rates were at historic lows.
(Even Madoff Never Promises That Kind Of Return!)

Instead of reaping such extraordinary gains, reverse convertibles, as the products are known, lost 1 percent on average, according to data compiled by Bloomberg on 1,481 of the securities sold in the U.S. last year that matured by Nov. 30. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index returned 8 percent during that period and corporate bonds gained 11.1 percent, including reinvested interest, Bank of America Merrill Lynch index data show.

“Here’s an asset class that’s basically failed on all counts,” said Glenn Tongue, a money manager who oversees about $200 million with Whitney Tilson at T2 Partners LLC in New York. “I doubt these are being pitched as an opportunity to lose 1 percent.”

Barclays Plc, based in London, and UBS AG in Zurich led more than a dozen banks selling reverse convertibles, which are short-term bonds generally marketed to individuals that convert into stock if a company’s share price plummets. The securities are being created as part of a boom in structured notes, or bonds packaged with derivatives whose values are derived from assets including stocks, bonds, currencies and commodities, or from events such as changes in interest rates.

Sales Soar

Structured note sales rose 46 percent last year to a record $49.4 billion in the U.S., Bloomberg data show. The securities fed demand from individual investors frustrated with record low rates on everything from certificates of deposit to money market funds with the Federal Reserve holding its target interest rate for overnight loans between banks in a range of zero to 0.25 percent since 2008. Banks issued $33.9 billion in 2009, according to, a database used by the industry.

Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc sold $1.15 million in three-month notes tied to Rochester, New York-based Eastman Kodak Co. on June 10 that paid 24 percent annualized interest, a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission shows. That’s 24 times the average rate on one-year certificates of deposit, according to data from Bankrate Inc. in North Palm Beach, Florida.

Buyers couldn’t lose money unless shares of the camera maker fell to below $3.54 from $5.06. Kodak dropped to $3.50 on Aug. 31 in New York trading. RBS converted the bonds into stock and investors lost about 18 percent even with the high interest rate.

RBS Losses

Investors lost an average of 2 percent on the 180 reverse convertibles issued by RBS last year that matured by Nov. 30, Bloomberg data show. The securities had a total face value of $69.3 million. Pholida Phengsomphone, an RBS spokeswoman, declined to comment.

“This isn’t something that a retail investor calls up and asks for,” said Marilyn Cohen, who oversees $250 million as chief executive officer of Envision Capital Management in Los Angeles. “Is it ever explained to them that you might end up with the stock and there’s a large probability that will happen?”
Buyers profited on 75 percent of the notes analyzed by Bloomberg. The average return was negative because investors lost more on the unprofitable ones than they gained on those that made money. Investors also took on credit risk because the notes are unsecured debt.

SEC Examination

“There’s no free lunch,” Tongue said. “If you’re going to get super-standard returns, that means you’re taking super- standard risks.”

Reverse convertibles aren’t traded on exchanges and their performance isn’t reported publicly. Investors lost $27 million on the $2.19 billion of securities compiled by Bloomberg. Banks also sold $4.56 billion of reverse convertibles whose returns weren’t included because they didn’t mature by Nov. 30.

Kenneth Lench, head of the SEC’s structured products unit that investigated Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s subprime-mortgage investments, said in a September interview that the agency was examining whether brokers overcharged investors for the notes. He declined to comment for this article. 

SEC Enforcement Director Robert Khuzami said at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing the same month it has looked at reverse convertibles.
“The reason these are popular is they’re kind of an easy sale,” said Charlie O’Flaherty, who used to oversee U.S. structured products and derivatives at Bank of Ireland. The products are marketed as a way to earn higher yields during times when stock prices are stable and interest rates are low, he said. Buyers aren’t told how they have performed in the past, he said.

Bank Fees

Banks charged fees that average 1.6 percent on a three- month reverse convertible, or about 6 percent a year, the data show. The average annual fee on stock mutual funds is 1 percent, according to the Investment Company Institute, a trade group in Washington.

The three-month reverse convertibles sold by Edinburgh- based RBS and linked to Kodak, a photography company founded more than 100 years ago, paid brokers a 2.75 percent commission. 

The fees, which sometimes exceeded the securities’ maximum possible yield, cut into returns and probably account for the losses, said O’Flaherty, who left the industry last year to manage his own investments.

Professional money managers generally don’t buy reverse convertibles because they can pay less in fees by trading derivatives directly, according to Tongue and O’Flaherty. Small investors would need a computer model and access to options pricing data to see if they’re being compensated fairly for the risks they’re taking on, O’Flaherty said.

‘Big-Boy Investor’

“If you were a big-boy investor, you’d just do it yourself,” O’Flaherty said. “You’d structure it yourself and take all the middlemen out.”

Leroy and Carol Conklin, a retired couple in Sun City Center, Florida, said they were pitched an investment in reverse convertibles by James Tuberosa, a broker at H&R Block Financial Advisors whom they met at the retirement community’s annual FunFest fair.

They bought reverse convertibles from Tuberosa in 2007 and 2008, including $20,000 of notes linked to Mooresville, North Carolina-base home improvement retailer Lowe’s Cos. that paid 9 percent and that the broker called corporate bonds, the Conklins said in an interview.

“I said, ‘Boy, this is a good investment,’” said Leroy Conklin, 80, who earned a Silver Star in the 1950-1953 Korean War and worked as a high school principal.

‘No Idea’

The Lowe’s notes converted into stock at a $4,000 loss, said Jason Doss, the Conklins’ lawyer at Doss Firm LLC in Marietta, Georgia. The couple lost more than $130,000 on reverse convertibles overall, Doss said.

“We feel so stupid,” Carol Conklin said, adding that she still has “no idea” what derivatives are.

The Conklins filed an arbitration claim that’s pending against Ameriprise Financial Inc., which bought H&R Block’s financial advisory business in 2008. Tuberosa, who works for Ameriprise in Sun City Center, declined to comment, as did Benjamin Pratt, an Ameriprise spokesman. A hearing is scheduled for May.

State regulators are seeing an “influx of concerns and complaints” from individual investors about structured products, including reverse convertibles, said Joseph Borg, director of the Alabama Securities Commission. Brokers who sell the investments sometimes don’t understand them, Borg said in a telephone interview.

Losses, Gains

Barclays sold $757.4 million of reverse convertibles in 588 offerings in the U.S. last year that matured by Nov. 30, the most of any bank, Bloomberg data show. Investors lost about 2 percent on average. Kristin Friel, a Barclays spokeswoman, declined to comment.

Royal Bank of Canada’s 505 reverse convertibles with a total face value of $372.9 million lost 1 percent on average, as did Wells Fargo & Co.’s 27 with a face value of $156.8 million, Bloomberg data show. Morgan Stanley issued $294.9 million in seven deals that lost an average of 6 percent.

Citigroup Inc. sold $274.1 million of reverse convertibles in 15 deals that made an average of 6 percent, the data show. Investors made an average of 1 percent on the 114 JPMorgan Chase & Co. reverse convertibles with a face value of $85.2 million that Bloomberg analyzed. UBS sold 44 with a total face value of $177.7 million that also made about 1 percent on average.
Spokesmen for the banks declined to comment.

JPMorgan Fees

JPMorgan, based in New York, charged about 3 percent on average in fees, the data show. In some cases, the fixed fees gave banks and brokers more profit than investors could earn on the securities.

The bank sold a three-month note on April 27 linked to West Chester, Ohio-based steelmaker AK Steel Holding Corp. that paid 3.5 percent in interest over the term of the security, or 14 percent on an annualized basis, according to an SEC filing. JPMorgan charged 5.2 percent in fees.

The bond couldn’t be converted into stock unless shares of the company fell more than 20 percent from their initial level of $17.43. AK Steel plummeted and triggered the conversion when it dropped to $13.40 on May 20. Investors lost 13 percent. Justin Perras, a JPMorgan spokesman, declined to comment.
“It sounds too good to be true, but the markets are stacked against you,” said Envision’s Cohen. Reverse convertibles are “really a toxic product,” she said.
On May 11, JPMorgan sold $800,000 of reverse convertibles linked to TiVo Inc. that paid 64 percent a year in interest, according to a prospectus the bank filed with the SEC. Three days later, the Alviso, California-based digital-video recording pioneer dropped 42 percent after an adverse court ruling. Investors ended up losing 42 percent, including interest. The bank charged 1.75 percent in commission on the two-month notes.

While banks must pay competitive commissions to brokers, the fees on some short-term reverse convertibles are “very high” compared with other investments, said Richard Sandulli, a former head of structured products at Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo who left the industry last year and is now a consultant.

Most structured products are “valuable tools” that spread the fee over a longer period of time, he said. Paying too much commission cuts into investors’ returns and encourages brokers to act against their clients’ best interests, he said.

“Just because something can be sold doesn’t mean it should be,” Sandulli said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Zeke Faux in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Alan Goldstein at


 An Understandable Explanation Of Derivative Markets

Heidi is the proprietor of a bar in Detroit. In order to increase sales, she decides to allow her loyal customers - most of whom are unemployed alcoholics - to drink now but pay later. She keeps track of the drinks consumed on a ledger (thereby granting the customers loans). 

Word gets around about Heidi's drink now pay later marketing strategy and as a result, increasing numbers of customers flood into Heidi's bar and soon she has the largest sale volume for any bar in Detroit. By providing her customers' freedom from immediate payment demands, Heidi gets no resistance when she substantially increases her prices for wine and beer, the most consumed beverages. Her sales volume increases massively.

A young and dynamic vice-president at the local bank recognizes these customer debts as valuable future assets and increases Heidi's borrowing limit. He sees no reason for undue concern since he has the debts of the alcoholics as collateral.

At the bank's corporate headquarters, expert traders transform these customer loans into DRINKBONDS, ALKIBONDS and PUKEBONDS. These securities are then traded on security markets worldwide. 

Naive investors don't really understand the securities being sold to them as AAA secured bonds are really the debts of unemployed alcoholics. Nevertheless, their prices continuously climb, and the securities become the top-selling items for some of the nation's leading brokerage houses who collect enormous fees on their sales, pay extravagant bonuses to their sales force, and who in turn purchase exotic sports cars and multimillion dollar condominiums.

One day, although the bond prices are still climbing, a risk manager at the bank (subsequently fired due to his negativity), decides that the time has come to demand payment on the debts incurred by the drinkers at Heidi's bar. 

Heidi demands payment from her alcoholic patrons, but being unemployed they cannot pay back their drinking debts. Therefore, Heidi cannot fulfill her loan obligations and claims bankruptcy. DRINKBOND and ALKIBOND drop in price by 90 %. PUKEBOND performs better, stabilizing in price after dropping by 80 %. The decreased bond asset value destroys the banks liquidity and prevents it from issuing new loans.

The suppliers of Heidi's bar, having granted her generous payment extensions and having invested in the securities are faced with writing off her debt and losing over 80% on her bonds. Her wine supplier claims bankruptcy, her beer supplier is taken over by a competitor, who immediately closes the local plant and lays off 50 workers. 

The bank and brokerage houses are saved by the Government following dramatic round-the-clock negotiations by leaders from both political parties. The funds required for this bailout are obtained by a tax levied on employed middle-class non-drinkers.



1 comment:

greg said...

you're truly intelligent. i'm impressed the way you discuss the whole thing in this piece.