Friday, December 24, 2010

TSA has no regular testing system for its naked body scanners

Cory Doctorow  -- Thursday, Dec 23, 2010

Many experts are skeptical that the TSA's new backscatter pornoscanner machines are safe, but even the experts who endorse them are careful to bracket their reassurances with certain caveats: the safety of the machines depends heavily on their being properly maintained, regularly tested, and expertly operated. Whether or not you're comfortable with the intended radiation emissions from the scanners, no one in their right mind would argue that a broken machine that lovingly lingers over your reproductive organs and infuses them with 10,000 or 100,000 times the normal dosage is desirable.

But when Andrew Schneider, AOL's public health correspondent, contacted the TSA to find out what maintenance and testing is in place to ensure the safe operation of the scanners, he discovered that the TSA appears to have no regime at all to ensure that they are functioning within normal parameters. While the TSA claims that entities like the FDA, the US Army and Johns Hopkins all regularly inspect their machines, none of these groups agrees, and they all disavow any role in regularly maintaining and testing the TSA's equipment (the Army has tested machines in three airports, but has not conducted any further testing). And Johns Hopkins denies that it has certified the machines as safe for operation in the first place -- let alone taking on any ongoing testing and certification program.

For example, the FDA says it doesn't do routine inspections of any nonmedical X-ray unit, including the ones operated by the TSA.

The FDA has not field-tested these scanners and hasn't inspected the manufacturer. It has no legal authority to require owners of these devices -- in this case, TSA -- to provide access for routine testing on these products once they have been sold, FDA press officer said Karen Riley said...

Two-person teams from the Army unit performed surveys of the Advance Image Technology X-ray scanners at just three airports -- in Boston, Los Angeles and Cincinnati, she said. And that was all that the TSA asked the Army to do this year...

"APL's role was to measure radiation coming off the body scanners to verify that it fell within [accepted] standards. We were testing equipment and in no way determined its safety to humans," Helen Worth, head of public affairs for the Johns Hopkins lab, told AOL News.

"Many news articles have said we declared the equipment to be safe, but that was not what we were tasked to do," she added.

Moreover, the study said APL scientists were unable to test a ready-for-TSA scanner at their lab because the manufacturer would not supply one. Instead, the tests were performed on a scanner cobbled together from spare parts in manufacturer Rapiscan Systems' California warehouse.

FCC chairman seeks conditions on Comcast, NBC deal

Federal Communications Commission chairman seeks conditions for approval of Comcast, NBC deal
AP News - Dec 23, 2010 11:11 EST

The head of the Federal Communications Commission proposed regulatory conditions Thursday to ensure that cable giant Comcast Corp. cannot stifle video competition once it takes control of NBC Universal.

The conditions are intended to guarantee that satellite companies, phone companies and other traditional subscription television services can still get access to marquee NBC programming once the transaction closes. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski also wants to ensure that new Internet video distributors can get the programming they need to grow and compete.

FCC officials, however, wouldn't disclose the specific conditions Thursday as fellow commissioners consider whether to back Genachowski's proposal. The chairman needs the support of at least two of them to get the plan passed. He is likely to modify parts of his proposal to win the backing he needs.

Comcast is seeking government approval to buy a 51 percent stake in NBC Universal from General Electric Co. for $13.8 billion in cash and assets. The deal would create a media powerhouse that both produces and distributes content.

The deal is also still awaiting approval by the Justice Department, which will attach its own conditions. Those are likely to be similar to the final conditions imposed by the FCC.

Approval with conditions is expected early next year.

The combination would give the nation's largest cable TV company control over the NBC and Telemundo broadcast networks; 26 local TV stations; popular cable channels including CNBC, Bravo and Oxygen; the Universal Pictures movie studio and theme parks; and a stake in, which distributes NBC and other broadcast programming online.

Comcast already owns a handful of cable channels, including E! Entertainment, Versus and the Golf Channel. It also has a controlling interest in the Philadelphia 76ers and Flyers, and its SportsNet Philadelphia channel carries Flyers, Phillies and Sixers games.

But for the most part, Comcast has built its business on distributing video programming and providing Internet connections. The company has about 23 million video subscribers and nearly 17 million broadband subscribers. Taking over NBC Universal would transform it into a media giant too — giving Comcast control over major box office releases and a wide range of popular television programming.

Comcast is contributing assets worth $7.25 billion to NBC Universal and paying General Electric Co. $6.5 billion in cash for the majority stake.

Genachowski Wins on Net Neutrality, Sort of

Legal Analysis by Abigail Phillips
After a down-to-the-wire push, the Federal Communications Commission this week approved by 3-2 its long-awaited regulatory proposal on net neutrality. We haven’t finished combing through the actual rules document, all 200 pages of which were just released today, but nonetheless the summary documents gave us some important hints about what the rules contain.

The FCC’s Basis for Regulating: Contrary to some expectations, the FCC is offering new theories for its regulatory authority, opting not to re-assert the “ancillary” legal theory rejected by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Following the ‘throw it against the wall and see what sticks’ approach, the FCC has volunteered a smorgasbord of potential justifications, the sum of which apparently demonstrates that "[b]roadband Internet access services are clearly within the Commission’s jurisdiction." The lead argument appears to be Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act, which requires the FCC to report to Congress and take steps to help create universal broadband availability. We’ll see if the Court agrees that this allows the FCC to create broad rules of the road for the Internet.

The merits of the specific net neutrality proposals notwithstanding, the FCC’s continued attempt to find broad, unfocused basis for jurisdiction is a disconcerting strategy. An ungrounded rationale for regulatory authority is easily abused, opening the door to other, undesirable regulation.

Now to the substance. From what we’ve learned from FCC statements and bulletins, our anticipated concerns were right on target. The rules appear to be riddled with loopholes and exemptions, to the point where the FCC’s declaration that the order represents bright-line rules and a framework for predictability is hard to reconcile. It’s likely there won’t be much clarity around the rules’ application until they get invoked in FCC enforcement actions or otherwise.
The FCC’s release previews several points from the final order. Here’s how EFF’s list-to-watch-out-for compares:

(1) Carve-outs for wireless. The FCC order creates a subset of less restrictive rules that apply exclusively to wireless services: Wireless operators need only ensure that consumers are able to access lawful websites and also apps that compete with the providers’ own services (both requirements subject to ‘reasonable network management’ needs). In addition, the rule against unreasonable discrimination does not apply to wireless services. Similar to past proposals, only a transparency requirement in the current order applies equally to wireless and wireline. This is significantly disappointing. We previously noted that from a consumer perspective, we don’t see a valid distinction between wired and wireless internet use. Unfortunately, our urging for similar treatment has gone unheeded.

(2) Loopholes for "unlawful content." As we feared, the FCC’s "no blocking” requirement exempts ISPs that discriminate on the basis of “unlawful content," paving the way for traffic discrimination that is clothed in claims that it is protecting against copyright infringement or other illegal activity.

(3) "Reasonable network management" exceptions. Under the order, 'no blocking' and 'no unreasonable discrimination' rules may be superseded where there are "reasonable network management" requirements. While the order defines reasonable network management in what appears to be a content neutral way, it remains to be seen whether this will be the case in practice or whether, as we have warned, the exception may swallow the rule.

(4) Allowances for "managed" or "special” services." Consistent with our concerns, the order leaves room for non-neutral “specialized services” immune from nondiscrimination rules, without clear boundaries on what those encompass. The rules state that this exemption will be monitored by the FCC for discriminatory and anticompetitive practices. We’ll be monitoring it, too.

(5) Pay for priority. The FCC statement notes that commercial pay-for-priority business arrangements are not likely to pass muster under the "no unreasonable discrimination" rule. This is the main element excerpted from the current order that was not on EFF’s list of concerns. It’s another one that will require close monitoring, however, and may be especially difficult to detect in the midst of complex peering and other relationships between various internet entities.

With the caveat again that we haven’t reviewed rules themselves in entirety, it appears that Chairman Genachowski is dodging resolution on the more difficult determinations, leaving them to future enforcement actions and underscoring our speculation that he may be pursuing political image first and substantive change second, if at all, since the regulations are certainly going to be challenged in court.

So despite the best intentions of many people, we may end up with a lose/lose world in which the regulations not only fail to help combat actual network neutrality problems, but also, like the Trojan Horse, undermine our ability to stop counterproductive FCC regulation of the Internet by this or a future FCC. Let’s hope not. EFF will continue to monitor the situation and watch for ways to help ensure that real net neutrality happens.

BP partners ‘manipulating’ oil spill evidence, chemical board says

(This doesn't surprise anyone. We have reached the point where corporate corruption is expected because it is the norm, not rare in the least. BP is just one of all the corrupt corporations because they all are corrupt. Anyone who can show a corporation that plays by the rules, doesn't break laws and cares for its environment will be in fact showing a creature of fiction. You might as well tell me unicorns are real.--jef)


By Daniel Tencer - Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

The federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents has accused two BP partners of "hands-on manipulation" of evidence in the Gulf oil spill.

The US Chemical Safety Board has asked for a halt to testing of the blowout preventer involved in the Deepwater Horizon explosion, saying that employees of Cameron International and Transocean have been permitted "hands-on manipulation" of the device. reports
In a letter to the federal agency overseeing the investigation, Safety Board chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso wrote that workers for Cameron International, which made the blowout preventer, and rig owner Transocean were allowed "hands-on manipulation" during federal tests to determine why the massive device failed.
"That approach diminishes the credibility of the entire process and jeopardizes the public's trust in the examination results," he added. "Given the well-publicized history of improper relationships between the former Minerals Management Service and members of the oil industry, one would have expected that extraordinary care would be taken to conduct the BOP testing above reproach."
The board noted that the companies at times had closer access to the equipment than the safety board itself.
According to the Associated Press, the chemical board says it has been shut out of access to tests that included multiple representatives from Cameron and Transocean.

Transocean has reportedly described the chemical board's accusations as "totally unfounded."
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the agency overseeing the investigation, appears to be downplaying the board's allegations. AP reports:
An employee of Transocean -- the owner of the drilling rig that exploded in the Gulf -- has been removed as a consultant for the Norwegian firm conducting the testing, but the ocean energy bureau says that otherwise the companies have provided their expertise appropriately.
The chemical board is demanding that the ocean energy bureau fire the Norwegian company contracted to do the testing, remove Cameron and Transocean employees from the tests, and give the board access to all photos and videos of the tests, Bloomberg reports.

The ocean energy bureau was known until recently as the Minerals Management Service. It was renamed after news reports indicated the agency had been delinquent in enforcing safety standards for offshore drilling. Raw Story reported in May:
Regulators overseeing oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico reportedly allowed oil company officials to fill in their own inspection reports. According to the internal probe being released this week, oil officials sketched out their answers in pencil and turned them over to federal oversight officials, who then traced their answers in pen.
And as if that wasn't enough, a Louisiana inspector from the Minerals Management Service purportedly admitted to investigators that he'd used crystal methamphetamine, and may have been high on the illegal stimulant during a drilling inspection.
Eleven oil rig workers were killed when BP's Deepwater Horizon exploded on April 20 of this year, sending an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Dirty Big Pharma Tricks That Rip You Off and Risk Your Health for Profit

Even during a recession, pharma is still the nation's third most profitable sector. Here are some of the dirty tricks it employs to stay on top.
By Martha Rosenberg, AlterNet
Posted on December 22, 2010

Even during a two-year recession with people losing their homes and jobs, pharma is still the nation's third most profitable sector. How does it do that? In part by cheating the government, misrepresenting science, bribing doctors, patients and pharmacies, and squeezing the FDA. Other than that, the industry plays completely fair. Pharma has often been criticized for lack of creativity in developing new drugs. But these dirty tricks show its creativity is alive and well when it comes to putting the public at risk just to turn a profit.

1. Astroturf Patients?

Pharma promotes fake patient advocacy groups to lobby for its interests.

These front groups often push the FDA to approve an expensive drug that has acceptable, cheaper alternatives. Or, they'll try to prevent Medicaid from switching to the less pricey drug. One of the largest faux groups, the "grassroots" National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), was investigated by Sen. Charles Grassley for undisclosed pharma links. He found the 10 top NAMI state chapters received $3.84 million from pharma in less than five years, the biggest largesse from Eli Lilly, AstraZeneca and Bristol-Myers Squibb.

How else can you tell an astroturf group? Their Web sites look just like the pharma companies that fund them.

2. Cheating the Government

Pharma is now a top defrauder of the federal government. “Desperate to maintain their high margin of profit in the face of a dwindling number of important new drugs,” pharma illegally promotes unapproved uses of drugs and deliberately overcharges Medicare and Medicaid, says Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group. Pharmaceutical companies have been hit with $14.8 billion in wrongdoing settlements in the last five years. But that's still cheaper for Big Pharma than going about things the old-fashioned, legal way. So the fraud continues.

3. Trials and Fibulations

Presiding over clinical trials can make a doctor thousands per patient. But they wouldn't compromise patient safety just to make a buck, would they? Medical College of Georgia psychiatrist Richard Borison and his colleague Bruce Diamond did 13 years ago when they tested Zyprexa, Risperdal and 20 other drugs and ended up in jail. So did Baystate Medical Center's Scott Reuben, who went to prison earlier this year for fraudulent Celebrex, Neurontin and Lyrica trials. And a Tucson facility testing asthma drugs Symbicort, Advair and Singulair doctored data and risked patients' health to net as much as $10,000 per patient, according to a whistleblower and government and court documents. How many other drugs were tested for such fiscal outcomes? Not counting recalled ones, of course.

4. More Trials and Fibulations

Even without fraud, pharma-sponsored studies can deceive. Trials that only determine that a drug is "not worse" than another one or impute safety before real data are available -- as in the case of Vioxx and Avandia's threat of heart attacks -- can skew results. And some research is not meant to be accurate to begin with. The Johnson & Johnson Center for Pediatric Psychopathology Research at Massachusetts General Hospital was founded to "move forward the commercial goals of J.& J." according to unsealed court documents. Its head, Harvard's Joseph Biederman, promised J.& J. a proposed drug trial "will support the safety and effectiveness of risperidone [Risperdal] in this age group," before it was ever conducted. Why leave things up to science?

5. Overseas Adventurism

As pharma increasingly eyes poorer countries for new markets and cheaper manufacturing it also eyes them for cheaper clinical trials. In 1996, 11 Nigerian children died in trials testing Pfizer's not-yet-approved antibiotic Trovan. While Pfizer paid the Nigerian government and state of Kano millions in a settlement, documents released by Wikileaks show that Pfizer tried to extort Nigeria's former attorney general to drop the lawsuits. Trovan was withdrawn from U.S. markets in 2001 for liver toxicity, though "safety signals" may have appeared sooner.

6. Clueless Institutional Review Boards

Institutional review boards, charged with overseeing clinical trials, should catch the unsafe drugs and shady trials. But a Congress and General Accountability Office sting conducted last year on a Colorado review board raises serious doubts. When asked to oversee a study of Adhesiabloc, a product designed to reduce scar tissue after surgery, Coast Independent Review Board said...when do we start? Even though the product did not exist -- nor did its developer or lead researcher!

7. 'Previous Government Experience Desirable'

In the fight against medical fraud, the Justice Department is beginning to file criminal, not just civil, charges against pharma. More employees also are turning whistleblower thanks to provisions that entitle whistleblowers to 15 and even 30 percent of fraud settlements, in some cases. But the other side has a big advantage. As long as politicians like former Louisiana Rep. Billy Tauzin, who left government to head the industry trade group PhRMA, and former CDC director Julie Gerberding, now head of Merck vaccines, are willing to commit a career's worth of knowledge, judgment and relationships to sell product, the government is fighting itself.

8. Double Dealing at the Pharmacy

The best thing that ever happened to pharma (after direct-to-consumer advertising) is Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs). Their job is to negotiate the best drugs for their clients, which are heath and pension plans. But they seem far more adept at taking money to push pharma’s top branded drugs, regardless of the cost.

Recently CVS' pharmacy benefit manager, AdvancePCS, sent letters to doctors extolling the benefits of the expensive drug Zyprexa on behalf of drug giant Eli Lilly. Had a generic drug been prescribed over Zyprexa, savings would have been huge.

9. FDA Foreplay

A sneaky way pharma tries to get FDA to approve a drug -- even when the science isn’t there -- is to float the drug to the public. That's where directed marketing comes in. When “patients” (these are often astroturf groups), really want a drug approved, it puts huge pressure on the FDA to be sensitive to the public’s wishes. This tactic famously flopped for Boehringer-Ingelheim this year when it tried to sell a medication for "hypoactive sexual desire disorder" (HSDD) in women (first it had to sell the disease itself). Even though BI debuted its pink Viagra at a medical conference last year and rolled out its elaborate "Sex Brain Body: Make the Connection" Web site with TV personality Lisa Rinna soon after, FDA said no. Seems even though Boehringer-Ingelheim was effective in "raising awareness" about female sexual dysfunction, something else wasn't effective: the drug. And when it came to foreplay, the FDA had a headache.

10. Pharma Service Announcements

Public service announcements are messages for your own good, like, "Do You Know the Seven Warning Signs of Cancer?" But a lot of the awareness messages and warning signs you hear now are not from the government or medical groups, but pharma.

“Voices of Meningitis” ads on mom sites and online TV, for example, look like they are raising awareness of meningitis, but they were actually funded by maker Sanofi Pasteur, which makes a meningitis vaccine.

"Unbranded" advertising appears to have legit origins, like the National Association of School Nurses, which sponsors the Sanofi Pasteur’s meningitis ads. But when TV, radio and web messages push "awareness" of diseases like ADHD, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), restless legs syndrome (RLS) or excessive sleepiness (ES), be suspicious. Real diseases aren't given initials for quick recall and easy reference. Nor do they come with snappy self-quizzes and pretty patient models. Unbranded messages also pimp the PSA (public service announcement) money that media outlets have for actual public issues.

11. National 'Interests' of Health

The National Institutes of Health are supposed to fund research for the public health with the public's tax dollars. But recently, a researcher who was stripped of his own NIH grant because of his huge financial links to pharma, is ruling on other researchers' grants on NIH committees, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. The researcher, psychiatrist Charles Nemeroff, was also allowed to keep NIH funds when he moved to the University of Miami after being disqualified from them at Emory University. Clearly, when it comes to conflicts of interest at the top of level of government research, the fox is guarding the henhouse (or pork house).

12. Big Pharma Sends Schools Doctors

Continuing Medical Education (CME) are courses that doctors are required to take to keep their state licenses and stay up-to-date with current practice and treatment guidelines. But many are created by pharma, which covers the cost of the course for the doctor in exchange for unvarnished sales pitches. Worse, many are embarrassingly dumbed down.

A recent "course" offered by Medscape was titled "Quadrivalent HPV Vaccine May Be Effective in Women 24 to 45 Years Old." Participants were told that after taking the course, they would be able to "specify the currently recommended age range" for the vaccine (especially if they could read the title!). Another course manipulates participants to "lobby your legislators" for pharma-related Medicare funding. Congress recently investigated the billion-dollar continuing education industry for illegal marketing -- too bad Congress couldn’t investigate for stupidity.

13. Ghostwriting

Ghostwriting -- papers written by medical marketing writers, with doctors only posing as the authors -- was rampant until 2008 Congressional investigations. But even though it's now prohibited, few journals have retracted ghostwritten articles that sold Vioxx, Fen Phen, Prempro and probably Avandia. Asked about the papers ghostwritten "by" Lila Nachtigall, a professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Deborah Bohren, vice president for public affairs at New York University's Langone Medical Center said, "If we had received a complaint, we would have investigated."

A Congressional investigation doesn't qualify as a complaint?

14. Crooked Books and Slanted Messages

Pharma is often accused of ghostwriting articles that end up in medical journals under doctors' names who had nothing to do with the writing or research. But this month an entire textbook was accused of being funded and approved by pharma. The 1999 textbook, written to help primary care doctors diagnose psychiatric conditions, was funded entirely by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) -- which makes pills for... psychiatric conditions! Nor were its authors, two prominent psychiatrists, strangers to GSK. Alan Schatzberg is on GSK's speakers bureau and Charles Nemeroff was investigated by Congress for undeclared GSK income. Did the authors write the book themselves or was it ghostwritten by pharma or its marketing company? Does it matter?

15. May I Take Your Order?

Have you ever waited in a doctor's office with a 102-degree fever, only to have pharma reps swinging Vytorin totes see the doctor first, just because they brought free samples or lunch and are dressed for a music video (pharma tends to employ attractive people to hawk their wares)? Until Congressional investigations brought about the Physician Payments Sunshine Act, some doctors in medical centers say they never paid for a meal. Nor did pharma largesse end there. One doctor told AlterNet her entire group was jetted to a Caribbean island courtesy of her Paxil rep. Even medical students were schmoozed until the 62,000-member American Medical Student Association (AMSA) sought to end the pharma practice of gifts and free meals. Now pharma must report what it spends on doctors.

The ‘Repo-Demo’ Party’s Three Phase Austerity Plan for America

Get ready for more of the same failed "job creation" policies, enacted by an increasingly unified political eilte
December 23, 2010 by In These Times
by Jack Rasmus

The Bush tax cuts are now extended. What cost $3.4 trillion over the past decade, 80% of which accrued to the wealthiest households and U.S. corporations, will now cost another $802 billion over the next two years and a projected $4 trillion over the coming decade.

But the Bush tax cut extension just passed by a political elite increasingly united on economic policy—a ‘Repo-Demo’ Party dominated by corporate interests—is only the first of three phases in a new policy offensive designed to protect the incomes of the wealthy and corporate America for another decade, to be paid for directly by middle- and working-class America. Together, the three phases represent the emerging U.S. variant of a general austerity strategy, similar in objective but different in content to other austerity programs now emerging as well in the Eurozone, Japan and elsewhere.

President Obama's deal with Republican leaders, signed into law December 17, 2010, extended tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans for another two years.

Phase two: draconian spending cuts

The second phase will likely be implemented in the next three months, before the ceiling on the federal debt has to be lifted. It will take the form of massive spending cuts in the U.S. budget, targeting Social Security and Medicare in particular. (A parallel draconian slash in spending will occur at the state level, targeting Medicaid and education).

Social Security has been a prime target since the Reagan years. Unable to cut it in the early 1980s, Reagan instead settled on a major increase in the payroll tax in 1984, creating a $2.5 trillion surplus over the last 25 years. However, that surplus was ‘borrowed’ every year by Congress to cover up in part U.S. budget deficits created annually since the 1980s to pay for war spending and tax cuts.

All that remains of the surplus in the Social Security Trust Fund are government IOUs promising to replace the shortfall when necessary—a replacement we’ll never see in our lifetimes.

In 2003, Bush II re-opened the attack on Social Security by trying to privatize it, but failed. Despite the accumulated surplus having been drained, Social Security was still annually producing a surplus and was thus financially too stable to convince the public it needed basic change. In contrast, today, as a result of a chronic three year long recession, there is no longer an annual surplus being created. Social Security is just breaking even.

But implementing the pending payroll tax cuts—part of Phase One—will finally put Social Security in the red, creating for the first time the net annual losses conservatives and corporate America have always needed to push a major gutting of the program. The payroll tax cut is thus the first move in what will prove a general attack on social security that will gain momentum in the coming months. Reagan conservatives have argued it would first be necessary to ‘starve the beast’ in order to dismantle it. For the first time, that scenario will exist.

Phase three: revising tax code to help the wealthy

Following the imminent draconian cuts in spending and Social Security-Medicare-Medicaid-Education about to take place in 2011, which lie at the heart of the second phase, the third phase of the new austerity strategy will follow in the summer of 2012. It will take the form of a fundamental revision of the U.S. tax code.

As part of this general revision, the Bush tax cuts will likely be made permanent for the rest of the decade to come. In addition, personal income tax brackets for the wealthiest households will be reduced to no more than three, possibly two, with a top rate for the wealthy or no more than 28%, representing a return to Reagan years.

For corporations, depreciation write-offs, a de facto investment tax credit for business, will be accelerated to full deductions in the first year—a measure already just enacted for small business this year. For multinational corporations, the foreign profits tax will be restructured to their advantage. The corporate tax rate will be significantly reduced or even phased out entirely. Not least, the new 2% cut in payroll taxes could also be extended, forcing yet another round of further reductions in Social Security and Medicare benefits and still higher co-pays for retirees.

To pay for the tax code rewrite and even more concessions to wealthy households, investors and corporations, the middle class will pay more. Adjustments to the Alternative Minimum Tax, AMT, for the middle class will be phased out. And the mortgage interest tax credit will be eliminated in stages as well.

Same wine in same bottles, with new label

Obama and the ‘Repo Demo’ Party have launched a PR offensive in the wake of the Bush tax cut extensions, proclaiming that the Bush tax cuts plus unemployment insurance extension plus payroll tax cut together amount to a ‘Stimulus 2’ package that will result in more economic growth and new jobs.

This is the same old tired song of the Bush administration. In fact, every one of the four major Bush tax cuts passed between 2001-04 was officially called ‘job creation’ bills.

The result of these ‘job bills’ was the weakest job creation following a recession of all the nine prior recessions since 1945. It took 46 months to recover jobs lost from January 2001, the start of Bush’s first recession. The second recession of the Bush II era, which started in December 2007, was followed by a $168 billion stimulus bill passed in spring 2008—about $90 billion of which was tax cuts. The result: 4.5 million full-time jobs lost in 2008. Then another $787 billion stimulus in early 2009, Obama’s ‘Stimulus 1’ package—about half of which was tax cuts. The result: Another 6.5 million full time jobs lost in 2009. In 2010, another half million lost jobs and dropped out of the labor market. Of the 900,000 private sector jobs created in 2010, more than two thirds were part-time and temp jobs.

At the close of 2010, now we have yet another tax cut heavy ‘Stimulus 2’. Again the claim is that it will create jobs. However, except for the payroll tax cut of $112 billion there is nothing ‘net new’ in the so-called ‘Stimulus 2.’ It’s the same old wine poured into same old bottles—just a new label slapped on the side and a brand new cork (payroll tax cut) added to the opening.

The key question: Will any jobs be created?

Corporations are today sitting on a cash hoard of more than $2 trillion, according to the business press, not investing or creating jobs. Why should increasing that hoard another $500 billion or so result in anything different? That’s the key question conservatives and the ‘Repo-Demo’ Party elite must answer—but are avoiding. That’s the question the media should be asking, but about which they remain conspicuously silent.

Only the $112 billion payroll tax reduction represents a ‘net new’ contribution to stimulus. But is it sufficient to generate jobs? Not by a long shot. For those earning $50,000 a year to the top payroll tax rate of $106,800 a year, the payroll tax cut will, on average, lead to no more than $20/week in real spending power after adjustments for partial saving, debt paydowns and what will be accelerating costs for food, healthcare, and gasoline coming in 2011. Those below $50,000 will actually have less to spend, since the “Make Work Pay” credit is ending for them. That’s nowhere nearly sufficient to stimulate the economy and create jobs.

Obama’s 2011 ‘Stimulus 2’ will thus prove no more effective than his 2009 ‘Stimulus 1.’ The past decade has produced repeated tax-cut heavy policies targeting the rich and corporations: Bush II and a Republican Congress 2001-06. Bush II and a Democratic Congress 2006-08. Obama and a Democratic Congress 2008-10. And now Obama and a de facto Republican Congress.

The recent Bush tax cut extensions show the corporate-dominated political elite of both parties are now closing ranks as the economic crisis continues with no resolution for all but the wealthy and corporations. The ‘Repo-Demo’ Party, newly aligned around the same old failed policies, has just begun to do its work. Get ready for more of the same.

Not Neutrality

December 23, 2010 by Save the Internet
by Timothy Karr

On Tuesday FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski gave AT&T a decision that was gift-wrapped for the holiday season. By a 3-to-2 vote, the FCC passed a rule that, in the chairman’s words, “protects Internet freedom.”

If only that were true.

After a year of promises to deliver on President Obama's pledge to protect Net Neutrality, this chairman has pushed through a rule that favors the very industry his FCC is supposed to regulate, leaving Internet users with few protections and putting the future of the open Internet in peril.

The chairman chose to ignore the voices of more than 2 million people who have urged Washington to support real and lasting Net Neutrality protections. His rule, for the first time in history, allows discrimination over the mobile Internet, paving the way for widespread industry abuses.

Now, the chairman is trying to spin the media that this toothless decision is a win for Obama and for Internet users. Free Press and our allies are not going to let him get away with that.

The FCC rule doesn't do enough to stop the phone and cable companies from dividing the Internet into fast and slow lanes. It doesn't stop them from splitting the Internet into two -- one Internet for those who can pay to access special sites and services, and another neglected network for the rest of us.

The rule fails miserably to protect wireless users from discrimination, a prospect that's especially troubling for African American and Latino communities who increasingly access the Internet via mobile devices.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) underscored this point. "Although the new rules bar fixed broadband Internet providers from 'unreasonable discrimination' against Web traffic," she said on Wednesday. "They exempt mobile broadband providers -- leaving millions without critical consumer protections and leading to a fractured Internet."

The FCC vote is a textbook example of industry capture of a federal agency. Chairman Genachowski gave AT&T veto power over this rule. What he's now characterizing as a "reasonable compromise" looks, to anyone who compares his order to his earlier promises, as a near total capitulation to industry.

By failing to protect the open Internet, Genachowski has put at risk one of the essential needs of any healthy democracy: our right to freely access information, engage in political discourse and govern ourselves.

We’d be lying if we didn’t tell you that this vote was a major setback. But this bad rule is not the end of the story. Free Press and our many allies are going to keep fighting to secure your right to an Internet without gatekeepers.

“Coexistence” with Monsanto the Devil: Hell No!

Thursday, December 23, 2010 by
by Ronnie Cummins
"If you put a label on genetically engineered food you might as well put a skull and crossbones on it."
Norman Braksick, president of Asgrow Seed Co., a subsidiary of Monsanto the Devil, quoted in the Kansas City Star, March 7, 1994

"Monsanto the Devil should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA's job."

Phil Angell, Monsanto the Devil's director of corporate communications, quoted in the New York Times, October 25, 1998

After 16 years of non-stop biotech bullying and force-feeding Genetically Engineered or Modified (GE or GM) crops to farm animals and “Frankenfoods” to unwitting consumers, Monsanto the Devil has a big problem, or rather several big problems. A growing number of published scientific studies indicate that GE foods pose serious human health threats. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) recently stated that “Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food,” including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system. The AAEM advises consumers to avoid GM foods. Before the FDA arbitrarily decided to allow Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) into food products in 1994, FDA scientists had repeatedly warned that GM foods can set off serious, hard-to-detect side effects, including allergies, toxins, new diseases, and nutritional problems. They urged long-term safety studies, but were ignored.

Federal judges are finally starting to acknowledge what organic farmers and consumers have said all along: uncontrollable and unpredictable GMO crops such as alfalfa and sugar beets spread their mutant genes onto organic farms and into non-GMO varieties and plant relatives, and should be halted.

An appeals court recently ruled that consumers have the right to know whether the dairy products they are purchasing are derived from cows injected with Monsanto the Devil’s (now Elanco’s) controversial recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH), linked to serious animal health problems and increased cancer risk for humans.

Monsanto the Devil’s Roundup, the agro-toxic companion herbicide for millions of acres of GM soybeans, corn, cotton, alfalfa, canola, and sugar beets, is losing market share. Its overuse has spawned a new generation of superweeds that can only be killed with super-toxic herbicides such as 2,4, D and paraquat. Moreover, patented “Roundup Ready” crops require massive amounts of climate destabilizing nitrate fertilizer. Compounding Monsanto the Devil’s damage to the environment and climate, rampant Roundup use is literally killing the soil, destroying essential soil microorganisms, degrading the living soil’s ability to capture and sequester CO2, and spreading deadly plant diseases.

In just one year, Monsanto the Devil has moved from being Forbes’ “Company of the Year” to the Worst Stock of the Year. The Biotech Bully of St. Louis has become one of the most hated corporations on Earth.

Monsanto the Devil and their agro-toxic allies are now turning to Obama’s pro-biotech USDA for assistance. They want the organic community to stop suing them and boycotting their products. They want food activists and the OCA to mute our criticisms and stop tarnishing the image of their brands, their seeds, and companies. They want us to resign ourselves to the fact that one-third of U.S. croplands, and one-tenth of global cultivated acreage, are already contaminated with GMOs. That’s why Monsanto the Devil recently hired the notorious mercenary firm, Blackwater, to spy on us. That’s why Monsanto the Devil has teamed up with the Gates Foundation to bribe government officials and scientists and spread GMOs throughout Africa and the developing world. That’s why the biotech bullies and the Farm Bureau have joined hands with the Obama Administration to preach their new doctrine of “coexistence.”

FCC Rolls Out New Rules for Regulating Internet Traffic


Texas cheerleader who refused to cheer for her alleged rapist taking case to Supreme Court

Thursday, December 23rd 2010

A former high school cheerleader who claims she was kicked off the team when she refused to chant the name of her alleged rapist is taking her case to the Supreme Court.

The cheerleader is asking for the country's highest court to reverse an appeals court ruling dismissing the suit and ordering her (and her parents) to reimburse tens of thousands of dollars in legal costs, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

The Texas girl, who is only identified as "H.S.," claims that the school district violated her right to free speech when she refused to cheer for Rakheem Bolton, a star athlete at Silsbee High School. Bolton, along with his friend, she alleged, sexually assaulted her at a party in 2008.

But the school district didn't agree with her behavior, and gave her the option of cheering for Bolton when he was on the free throw line at a basketball game or leaving the team, her lawyers allege.

Her lawyers argued that no terms in the cheer squad contract required her to cheer each time the squad began a chant and doing so violated her first amendment rights.

"She cheered the entire game except for a two brief times when the accused rapist went to the free-throw line," her lawyers said in a court briefing.

H.S.'s case made national attention when she lost her case against the school and officials, including numerous appeals – in the Fifth District Appeals Court in New Orleans. The court said that as a representative of the school, not herself, she didn't have the right to refuse to do a cheer. In the ruling, the justices argued that H.S.'s refusal to cheer "Constituted substantial interference with the work of the school," the Chronicle reported.

That was based on the 1969 ruling, when the Supreme Court ruled school officials could restrict student's right to free speech if it disrupted the educational process.

"It frustrates me," H.S. told ABC in September after she lost her appeal. "All I've wanted out of this all along is for somebody to say they've done wrong."

Lawyers for the school district deny any wrongdoing and said that Bolton had not been charged at the time – and had in fact been cleared by two grand juries. When he was finally indicted by a third one, he was expelled, according to ABC.

He eventually was indicted on felony sexual assault of a minor and pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault, receiving a one-year suspended sentence, two years probation, community service and a $2500 fine, KDHM reported in September.

"I feel relieved," he told the news station after the ruling. "I'm glad we came to an agreement and I'm just ready to move on with my life."

As for the former cheerleader, she told ABC she just wants to protect future rape victims from meeting the same kind of treatment she alleged school officials gave her.

"If everything works out the way we're hoping … then it makes a point that it's not all right," she told ABC. "And if we keep fighting for that, then maybe other people will too."

The Best Way to Create Jobs

Cut the Work Week

We have been trained to think of unemployment and stagnant pay as a shortage of jobs. That fits the neoliberal sales message of endless growth and expansion. If we think of our problem as shortage of jobs and stagnant wages, the policy is always stimulus, more production, more consumption, more growth. In short, the treadmill the economy has been on for years. The stimulus is a high-energy drink to get us back on the treadmill. But if we think of the problem as a surplus of workers instead of a shortage of jobs, then a third tool beyond monetary and fiscal policy emerges – cutting the workweek. From that good things unfold. The policy becomes more jobs, environmental cleanup, and a transfer of income from the richer to the poorer. Most important, it is scalable to fit the problem. Standard working hours can be cut again as needed, while monetary and fiscal policies are exhausted and at the limit of how low interest rates and how high the deficit can go.

A pay squeeze was going on for years before the current collapse in the economy made it worse. The economy crashed because for years workers in the U.S.A. have been unable to buy, out of income, what they produced. Real wages have hardly grown, even for well-trained and well-educated workers. Bureau of Labor Statistics data show a drop in real money earnings for every educational group, from high school dropout through college graduate, over the period 2000 - 2005. Even master’s degree holders showed a drop, unless the degree was a professional one. Only those with an M.D., M.B.A., J.D. or Ph.D. saw gains in money earnings, as Scheve and Slaughter showed in Foreign Affairs in 2007. While pay stagnated, per capita GDP soared, meaning the gains were going to profits rather than pay. The picture is not better now.

Following Larry Summers, the Obama administration is attacking the problem from the wrong direction. They believe that a dose of Keynesian spending to add to demand will make everything good again. The Republicans are stuck even further back in time, advocating tax subsidies to business to hire workers to turn out more stuff for which there is no market and little use. The twin deficits of the federal budget and balance of payments constrain politically both tax cuts and government spending. Our problem isn’t cyclical, moreover, but chronic. Stimulus is essential to create jobs immediately, but it won’t cure the economy. The real remedy lies in dealing with the imbalance between the demand for work and its supply.

A problem that has always been called a job shortage is rather a worker glut. Employers have been able to cut and hold wages down because there is an excess supply of trained and eager workers on the job market. The reasons for the surplus are mostly familiar. Corporations send production abroad to get cheaper labor. The total of U.S. jobs eliminated that way in recent years is disputed but is probably more than 5 million.

At the same time, we have added job seekers from abroad in significant numbers. Immigration of skilled workers on special visas lobbied for by high-tech employers and the more publicized large-scale immigration of documented and undocumented workers from distressed economies like Ireland, Mexico and other countries has added significantly to the labor surplus. The share of immigrants in the U.S. work force climbed steadily since its post-WW II low in 1970, and by 2007 reached over 15 per cent of the total, according to The State of Working America 2008-2009 and sources cited there.

Moreover, as family income stagnates and the very rich get more and more of the national income, women and other family members have chosen or been forced by necessity to enter paid work. In an attempt to sustain income, families send more workers into the job market or work longer hours. In this way, families achieve income gains that are ultimately self-defeating, as general wage levels remain depressed by the collective increase in labor hours on offer.

Finally, the unremarked elephant in the room: productivity gains. Productivity gains are seen as a blessing, raising the national income. TV anchors announce the quarterly number and remark that productivity improvements are what allow business to pay higher wages – without adding the obvious – that they seldom do. Everyone cheers if manufacturing 100 cars took 500 workers last year and only 490 this year. Productivity has jumped, but ten people are out of work. A productivity gain, taken alone, means a loss of jobs. The long-term trend in productivity growth in the U.S. economy is around 2 to 2.5 per cent a year, climbing to 2.7 per cent annually over the past decade.

Each decade at this rate results in elimination of a shocking 25 per cent of our jobs. With other jobs sent abroad and immigrants and other workers added to the supply, the official unemployment rate would soar above today’s 9.7 per cent, unless new demand required adding workers. Against this background, the embrace of growth is easily understood.

What replaced the eliminated jobs was shopping. The U.S.A. is on its treadmill for jobs rather than stuff. Yes, we like the stuff, but we are really shopping to keep each other working. The stimulus is simply the government buying stuff or giving money to others to buy stuff, so still others will have the income to buy stuff. Our problem isn’t cyclical. It is chronic. A stimulus jolt won’t repair a dysfunctional economy. A different approach is required.

That different approach is cutting the workweek. The supply of workers must be reduced to meet weak demand for workers. At the end of the Great Depression, when the nation similarly faced a severe jobs issue, a new Wages and Hours law in 1940 cut the workweek from six to five days, the now standard 40 hours. Hours have not been reduced in the 70 years since, despite the relentless large gains in productivity.

The ideal first step would be national adoption of the four-day workweek, retaining the eight-hour day. A first step more practical politically is to make a cut of four hours per week, with the cut taken as eight hours every other week. The standard routine would be five days one week, four the next, for a 10 per cent cut in hours.

Productivity gains and a transfer of national income from profits to pay will cover the cost of a shorter workweek. A temporary cut in the withholding tax can support the transition to the shorter hours at first. Korea in 2004 used a temporary cut in payroll taxes for a transition to shorter hours, cutting to a five-day week. A phased program there began with employers of 1,000 or more workers. A year later, businesses employing more than 300 workers were added to the program, with smaller employers joining gradually thereafter.

In the U.S.A., the payroll tax is 7.65 per cent for the employer plus the same amount paid by workers for a total of 15.30 per cent. Suspending the employer’s portion and adding the average annual productivity gain would make the employer roughly financially whole for the change in the first year. Productivity typically jumps when hours are cut, so the relentless gains in productivity – past, present, and future – can also be appropriated to finance a cut to the four-day week.

For many jobs there would be little drop in output, for managers and workers alike find better ways to get the work out the door. There would be, nevertheless, a significant need for additional workers. If workers fight hard to keep income the same, profits would temporarily be hurt. The necessary correction in income distribution would occur.

Actual pay scales will be fought out, industry by industry, employer by employer, despite the transition support through suspending the payroll tax. A key to the economy’s dysfunction, addressed neither by Democrats, Republicans, nor by the Tea Party, is the untenable shift of income to the richest people in the country over recent decades. The objection that unions are too weak now to keep income up is a reasonable one, but a fight at the office or job site to maintain pay when hours are cut, broad-based among all workers, could lead to strengthening unions, rather than depending on strengthening unions first, before fighting to cut hours.

The greenest jobs of all will be those created by adopting the four-day week. Jobs created by cutting hours rely less on buying stuff than does the treadmill approach. The jump in the quality of life will be pronounced, as we spend less of our lives working.

It is time to use a new tool for managing the economy. Cutting working hours is that tool. The fight to cut hours will be intense, but it was won in the Great Depression, the last time we faced a similar job crisis.

Another Disaster Looming on the Economic Horizon

(Take this for whatever it's worth. The guy's voice is pretty boring, but what he says sounds pretty scary...--jef)


LEGAL DISCLAIMER: This work is based on SEC filings, current events, interviews, corporate press releases, and what we've learned as financial journalists. It may contain errors and you shouldn't make any investment decision based solely on what you read here. It's your money and your responsibility. Stansberry & Associates Investment Research expressly forbids its writers from having a financial interest in any security they recommend to our subscribers. And all Stansberry & Associates Investment Research (and affiliated companies), employees, and agents must wait 24 hours after an initial trade recommendation is published on the Internet, or 72 hours after a direct mail publication is sent, before acting on that recommendation. Stansberry & Associates Investment Research, LLC. 1217 Saint Paul Street, Baltimore MD 21202

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Hmmmm--that strange plane's markings seem familiar...


2010 moments of pure crazy (Part 1)

Sharron Angle, James O'Keefe, Arizona, BP, Barton, Bachmann and more! A romp through the year (Part 1)

By Tom Tomorrow

The 10 Greediest People of the Year

They came, they saw, they took it all. Welcome to the world where thieves have no honor, and those who hone their talents hammering the rest of us are lavishly rewarded.
By Sam Pizzigati, Campaign for America's Future
Posted on December 20, 2010

Hard times can be good times -- for the aggressively avaricious. Where others see pain, they see opportunity. In desperation, they delight. The grimmer the economic outlook, the more ghastly their grabbing.

And who grabbed the most outrageously in 2010? We offer below our annual take on America's ten greediest of the year.

10/ Nick Saban: A coach's fabulous crimson ride

America’s college football coaches seem to have made an end run around the Great Recession. In 2006, only 10 of the about 120 big-time college football coaches took home at least $2 million a year. The 2010 total: 38.

The king of them all: the University of Alabama’s Nick Saban, with a 2010 takehome at $6,087,349, six times the college football coaching average. Only five coaches in all of professional sports will this year make more than Saban.

Forbes has labeled Saban the “most powerful coach in sports,” and his many perks -- everything from two cars to a contract clause that lets him exit Alabama at any time without taking a financial penalty -- amply confirm that assessment.

Financial penalties, meanwhile, are abounding throughout the rest of Alabama's public sector. Budget cuts have forced some colleges in the state to up tuition as much as 23 percent. The state’s overall education budget dropped 9.5 percent in 2010, and local school boards now see no way to “avoid major layoffs.”

Saban, for his part, has been blasting the “greed” of sports agents who sneak college athletes cash in hopes of cashing out big themselves when the athletes turn pro. In August, Saban called these agents no better “than a pimp.”

A pimp, responded one national sports writer, displays a “willingness to physically exploit young people” the pimp claims “to protect” and, “above all, a love of money.” That definition, continued Fox Sports analyst Mark Kriegel, just might fit Nick Saban, Alabama’s most “highly paid state employee.”

9/ Howard Schultz: How to brew a bigger fortune

A decade ago, after running coffee giant Starbucks for 13 years, Howard Schultz stepped down as CEO to take life a bit easier as the company’s “chief global strategist.” Early in 2008, with Starbucks struggling mightily in the marketplace, Schultz took back his CEO slot.

The struggles continued. Massive layoffs would soon slash the chain's workforce by 19 percent. Schultz would feel the pain. He started trumpeting “the shared sacrifice I want to make” -- and pledged to take almost no personal salary.

But CEOs, wink, wink, only get a small fraction of their total pay from straight salary. The Starbucks corporate board, behind the sacrificing scenes, was actually turbocharging the Schultz pay package with a mammoth grant of stock options, delivered at just the moment Starbucks shares were hovering at a rock-bottom low.

Starbucks valued those options, at the time of their granting, at $12.4 million. By May 2010, after a Wall Street mini-boom, the value of the shares had soared to $46.8 million. More good news for Schultz: He scored another $26 million last year exercising options he had been granted way back in 1998 and 1999.

And what about Starbucks shareholders? Those who bought their shares in 2007, right before the Great Recession, still have no gain to show for their investment.

8/ Daniel Akerson: Competing at a mythic level

The chief executive of General Motors since this past September, Daniel Akerson, earlier this month gave his first “high-profile speech” as the automaker’s CEO. The prime takeaway from his address? The feds, said Akerson, need to ease up on the bailout pay limits still in effect for his fellow top GM executives.

”We have to be competitive,” Akerson told the Economic Club of Washington, D.C. “We have to be able to attract good people.”

Getting “good people” to fill jobs below GM’s executive level, on the other hand, apparently doesn’t matter all that much. GM salaried employees, Akerson has decided, will not see any increases this coming year in their base salaries. New assembly line workers at GM, for their part, are now making only $14 an hour, half the rate they would have been making before GM’s meltdown.

Akerson is currently making $1.7 million in cash annually, on top of $5.3 million in stock for the next three years. Before GM’s meltdown, the automaker’s CEO, Rick Wagoner, was raking in a much more “competitive” $10.2 million.

“Competitive” might not actually be the right word here. In the year Wagoner all by himself was collecting $10.2 million, Toyota’s top 32 execs -- a group that included CEO Katsuaki Watanabe -- were together pulling in only $19.9 million.

7/ Don Blankenship: Dirty business as usual

Outside the nation’s coal fields, few Americans knew Don Blankenship, the CEO at Massey Energy, before last April. But that all changed after an explosion that month left 29 Massey miners dead. Reporters would soon grill Blankenship about the mine’s long history of safety violations, over 500 in 2009 alone.

“Violations,” the Massey chief coldheartedly retorted, “are unfortunately a normal part of the mining process.”

Almost as normal as windfall paychecks for Don Blankenship. The Massey CEO took home nearly $34 million in 2005, about quadruple the industry standard. Over the last three years, he has waltzed away from his office with another $38.2 million. But the real waltzing is only now beginning.

The 60-year-old Blankenship is retiring at the end of this year with a pension valued at $5.7 million, another $12 million in severance, still another $27.2 million in deferred pay, title to a company-owned house, and a two-year consulting agreement that pays $5,000 a month for no more than 32 hours work.

Blankenship may even exit, once all this year's stats have come in, with a 2010 “performance” bonus that factors in safety.

How can a coal company CEO with 29 dead miners get a safety bonus? Massey’s flagship safety standard, “Non-Fatal Days Lost,” merely multiplies “the number of employee work-related accidents times 200,000 hours, divided by the total employee hours worked.” Death doesn’t factor in.

6/ David Cote: King of America's corporate political cash

Coal can kill. Uranium, too. Workers who handle uranium, notes labor journalist Mike Elk, “suffer rates of cancer 10 times higher than the general public.”

That’s one big reason why the union local that represents workers at a Honeywell uranium facility in Illinois this past June rejected a management proposal to eliminate retiree medical care and boost -- to $8,500 a year -- the out-of-pocket health care costs active workers have to pay.

A disappointed Honeywell, one of the nation’s top defense contractors, promptly locked the Illinois uranium workers out. Those workers, ever since then, have been trying to meet face to face with Honeywell CEO David Cote.

The week after Thanksgiving, the locked-out workers even traveled to Washington, D.C., where Cote, a member of President Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility, was discussing with his fellow commissioners a variety of proposals to slash federal spending.

Cote, who took home $13.2 million last year and $28.7 million the year before, has been spending big himself -- on political contributions. Under his direction, Honeywell has emerged as the nation’s top corporate political giver.

Cote’s agenda? Making sure the budget-cutters in Washington keep hands off defense contracts. As one alternative, press reports indicate, he’s pushing a freeze on the pay that goes to America’s servicemen and women.

5/ David Tepper: This hedge needs clipping

Nobody made more money last year than America’s top hedge fund managers, and no hedge fund manager made more than David Tepper. This 53-year-old former junk bond trader at Goldman Sachs hit a $4 billion jackpot essentially betting, in the middle of the global financial meltdown, that Uncle Sam wouldn't let Wall Street's biggest banks go under.

Tepper is currently doing his best to single-handedly reboot America’s still depressed residential real estate market. In June, he spent $43.5 million to pick up a summer home in the Hamptons that used to belong to former New Jersey governor and Goldman Sachs CEO Jon Corzine. The 6.5-acre beachfront spread sports six bedrooms, a tennis court, and a heated pool -- and rented last summer for $900,000.

The $43.5 million Tepper shelled out ended up the highest price paid this year for a Hamptons home. The total also amounted to about half the record $88 million the hedge fund industry raised for the homeless this past May at the 2010 Robin Hood Foundation dinner, Wall Street's single biggest annual charity gala.

One official at the foundation dubbed that $88 million an act of “extraordinary generosity.” Others might define “extraordinary” a bit differently. David Tepper and the rest of the hedge fund industry’s top 25 last year together pocketed $25.3 billion. They averaged, each and every business day, over $100 million.

4/ Lloyd Blankfein: Getting the most from our tax dollars

Lloyd Blankfein, the chief exec at Wall Street’s biggest bank, has had a stunning century. Since 2000, Bloomberg News calculates, Blankfein has earned a whopping $125 million in cash bonuses and enough additional stock awards to leave him with a personal stash of Goldman shares worth over $300 million.

And the goodies keep coming. This January, Blankfein will pick up another $24.3 million in stock, as a delayed payout from previous years. He’ll also pick up millions more in soon-to-be-announced bonuses for 2010.

News of these bonuses, Wall Street analyst Jeanne Branthover predicts, will leave the public “outraged” and Wall Streeters “excited” -- that “there’s still a reason to be working so hard.”

How hard is Lloyd Blankfein working? He simply never misses an opportunity, however small, to make a buck off taxpayers. This year’s prime example: the fees that Goldman Sachs has fixed on Build America Bonds, the federal program that's helping states and localities raise money for construction job projects.

Local governments, in tough times, often have to cut back on such projects because they can't afford to pay the interest on new bond offerings. With Build America Bonds, the federal government is paying 35 percent of this interest.

Investment banks charge municipalities fees to bring their bonds to investors. Goldman’s fees typically range up to 0.625 percent of each bond issue. But Goldman has been charging, on Build America Bonds, up to 0.875 percent. Why so much? Goldman, Blankfein told Congress, had to “educate the market.”

3/ Mark Hurd: Unfurling a platinum parachute

The truly greedy don’t just grab -- at the expense of those they overpower. And the truly greedy don’t just feel entitled to grab all they can get. The truly greedy feel invincible while they’re grabbing away, just like former Hewlett-Packard CEO Mark Hurd.

Hurd gained the HP reins in 2005. He proceeded to pocket $134.2 million, through 2009, mainly be wheeling and dealing his way through dozens of mergers that killed nearly 40,000 jobs.

HP’s board cheered Hurd on, every step of the way, until this past August when news surfaced that the married CEO had wined and dined a former erotic actress, handed her a huge and undeserved marketing contract, and then fudged HP's books to cover up his indiscretions.

That arrogance would cost Hurd his job, but not much else. Hurd left HP with a severance package that may total $40 million and almost immediately landed a comfy new gig as president of business software giant Oracle. His new contract will bring Hurd, in his first Oracle year, as much as $11 million -- and a boss, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, who just happens to be his buddy.

2/ Larry Ellison: How dare we call him ruthless

Mark Hurd has shown himself to be a whiz at the merge-and-purge corporate CEO two-step. But the master of that merger two-step -- snatch a rival’s customers, then fire its workers -- has always been Oracle chief executive Larry Ellison, the third-richest man in America.

Oracle has bought out 66 companies over the years, and Ellison, the Wall Street Journal estimates, has collected $1.84 billion in compensation just the last ten years alone. But Oracle's chief started this past year out vowing to change his ways.

In January, after consummating a $7.4 billion takeover of Sun Microsystems, Ellison had “We’re Hiring” buttons handed out at the news conference to announce the deal -- and then royally denounced a news report that Oracle would be axing half of Sun’s 27,600 workers.

“Those who wrote this should be ashamed of themselves,” Ellison ranted. “The truth is, we are going to hire about 2,000 new people to beef up the Sun businesses -- about twice as many as we will let go.”

The truth turned out to be anything but. Five months later, with no fanfare, an Oracle filing with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission revealed that the company was taking a huge severance write-off for personnel reductions. As many as 8,600 jobs, one analyst calculated, would be history.

1/ Andrew Clark: Education really does pay

Just a few years ago, at the height of America’s subprime frenzy, bankers and mortgage lenders were making mega millions hoodwinking vulnerable old people into refinancing their homes at unconscionably high interest rates.

Today, in an economy still reeling from that fraud, a new high-growth industry -- the for-profit higher ed sector -- is hoodwinking vulnerable young people into taking on taxpayer-financed student loans they can’t possibly repay.

And now this industry, facing federal regulations that aim to rein in its deceit, is waging a massive media campaign based on the phony premise that Washington wants to make it “harder to get the education” students “need to succeed.”

No one is personally profiting more from this for-profit higher ed industry chutzpah than the CEO of the San Diego-based Bridgepoint Education, an enterprise that specializes, of late, in going after returning military veterans. That CEO, Andrew Clark, last year took home $20.5 million.

For-profit colleges didn’t pay any particular attention to military vets until 2008. But Congress that year gave veteran tuition benefits a significant hike, and the for-profits rushed to gobble up the newly available tuition dollars. Bridgepoint's military enrollment soared to 9,200 in 2009, up from just 329 three years earlier.

Overall, the New York Times recently reported, Andrew Clark’s Bridgepoint last year spent more on marketing and promotion than on educating its students.

For-profit colleges have hit upon an enormously lucrative business model: Promise vets -- and other potential students -- anything to get them to enroll, even if that means signing them up for courses of little real value or classes, the Times notes, they would be “all but certain” to fail. If students do fail or drop out, no prob. The for-profits get to keep the tuition, courtesy of America’s taxpayers.

Plenty of America's power suits, to be sure, are making more money than Andrew Clark. But none are grabbing with any more gusto.

56 percent of bankers say bonuses ‘not enough’

Men 24 times more likely than women to feel bonuses 'unfair'By Daniel Tencer  --  Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

Wall Street's five biggest banks had a banner year in 2010, racking up their second-highest revenues on record, and to celebrate they put aside some $90 billion for year-end bonuses. But an informal poll suggests that more than half of the people receiving those bonuses feel they aren't getting enough.

Vanity Fair's Foster Kamer went to Wall Street and carried out an informal poll asking bank employees how they felt about their bonuses. He found that, of the 98 people surveyed, 56 percent said their bonuses were "not enough."

Sixty-one percent of those polled said they received a bonus this year, while 39 percent said they didn't. Even if all the respondents who didn't get a bonus were among those who wanted more, that still leaves about one-third of those with bonuses wanting more.

"Of the 61 percent who said they received a bonus, 85 percent were men — and just 15 percent were women. And we really tried to talk to women," Kamer writes.

But since only 17 of the 98 people surveyed were women, that statistic indicates a general lack of women on Wall Street more than it suggests discrimination in bonus payments. Kamer notes that men were "6.75 percent more likely" to get a bonus than female employees.

"Despite being 6.75 percent more likely to receive a bonus, the men who didn't receive bonuses were 24 times more likely to think it was 'unfair,'" Kamen writes.

Five of the respondents said they received bonuses of more than $250,000; none of them were women.

Kamer notes that the $90 billion set aside for bonuses amounts to more than the economic value of 13 countries.

Some economic observers see bonuses as being at the heart of the financial problems that led to the investment banking collapse of 2008 and the resulting government bailout of large financial institutions.

In his book Crash of the Titans, Financial Times writer Greg Farrell wrote:

The whole reason everything almost came crashing down in 2008 was twenty-five years of nonstop focus on bonus checks, on compensation. Why did Lehman Brothers go out of business? Because their people kept doing real estate deals long after the market had turned. It produced bigger bonuses for them. Why did AIG keep selling those foolhardy insurance police on CDOs? Because it was easy money and led to bigger bonuses.

Two States Sue Bank of America Over Mortgages

Arizona and Nevada sue BoA for "Widespread Fraud"

The attorneys general of Arizona and Nevada on Friday filed a lawsuit against Bank of America, accusing it of engaging in “widespread fraud” by misleading customers with “false promises” about their eligibility for modifications on their home mortgages.

In withering complaints filed in state courts in both states, the attorneys general accused Bank of America of assuring customers that they would not be foreclosed upon while they were seeking loan modifications, only to proceed with foreclosures anyway; of falsely telling customers that they must be in default to obtain a modification; of promising that the modifications would be made permanent if they completed a trial period, only to renege on the deal; and of conjuring up bogus reasons for denying modifications.

“Bank of America’s callous disregard for providing timely, correct information to people in their time of need is truly egregious,” Catherine Cortez Masto, the attorney general of Nevada said in a statement.

Many Nevada homeowners continued “to make mortgage payments they could not afford, running through their savings, their retirement funds or their children’s education funds.”

The lawsuit comes as top prosecutors nationwide are investigating whether the paperwork that banks used to support foreclosure cases often was egregiously sloppy, sometimes relying on robo-signers — employees who signed hundreds of documents a day — to sign sworn court documents.

Tom Miller, Iowa’s attorney general who is heading the multistate investigation into foreclosure fraud allegations, said the two states’ lawsuits would not dilute his inquiry. “It is clear that attorneys general in Arizona and Nevada believe that it is in their two states’ best interests to pursue coordinated civil cases against Bank of America,” he said in a statement.

A Bank of America spokesman, Dan Frahm, said bank officials were disappointed that the lawsuits were filed “at this time,” given the bank’s cooperation with the multistate investigation.

Mr. Frahm disputed the allegations in the lawsuit, saying the bank was committed to making sure no property was foreclosed until the customer had a chance to modify the loan or, if ineligible for a modification, to pursue another solution.

He said the attorneys general didn’t acknowledge the many improvements the bank had made, like providing a single point of contact for customers who have started the modification process and increasing staff to support “homeownership retention initiatives.”

Arizona and Nevada are among the states hardest hit by the housing downturn, and the state attorneys general said their lawsuits were prompted by hundreds of complaints by consumers who sought modifications of their mortgages.

The complaints in the lawsuit in many ways echoed problems encountered by homeowners nationwide who have tried with little luck to obtain mortgage modifications from banks, often through a federal program set up for that purpose. Thousands of homeowners complain that banks repeatedly lose their documents, fail to return calls or foreclose when a homeowner believes he or she is still negotiating a modification.

Indeed, according to the lawsuits, Bank of America’s efforts were the most anemic of the big banks and were not confined to the Western states but rather “reflect a pervasive nationwide pattern and practice of conduct.” The lawsuit noted that Bank of America ranked last in “virtually every homeowner experience metric” monitored in a monthly report on the federal home loan modification program.

Ms. Masto of Nevada said her office’s findings were confirmed by interviews with consumers, former employees, third parties and documents. Former employees said that Bank of America’s modification staff was “chaotic, understaffed and not oriented to customers,” according to a news release. One former employee said, “The main purpose of the training is to teach us how to get customers off the phone in less than 10 minutes.”

Another employee said, “When checking on a borrower’s status, I often found that the modification request had not been dealt with or was so old that the request had become inactive. Yet, I was instructed to inform borrowers that they were ‘active and in status.’ One time I complained to a supervisor that I felt I always was lying to borrowers.”

The Arizona complaint cites the case of an Apache Junction couple who faced foreclosure. When the wife called the bank, a representative told her ‘not to worry,’ there was a stop order on the foreclosure and the couple’s loan modification package would arrive the next day. The next day the homeowner learned that her house had already been sold, the suit says.

Terry Goddard, attorney general of Arizona, said the lawsuit was filed in part because the bank had violated the terms of a 2009 consent decree that Countrywide Home Loans — which Bank of America purchased in 2008 — had engaged in “widespread consumer fraud” in originating and marketing mortgages. As part of the judgment, Countrywide had agreed to create a loan modification program for some Arizona homeowners.

Mr. Goddard, a Democrat who lost a bid for governor, will leave office in January.

White House drafts executive order for indefinite detention

White House drafts executive order for indefinite detention
By ProPublica
Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

The White House is preparing an Executive Order on indefinite detention that will provide periodic reviews of evidence against dozens of prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, according to several administration officials.

The draft order, a version of which was first considered nearly 18 months ago, is expected to be signed by President Obama early in the New Year. The order allows for the possibility that detainees from countries like Yemen might be released if circumstances there change.

But the order establishes indefinite detention as a long-term Obama administration policy and makes clear that the White House alone will manage a review process for those it chooses to hold without charge or trial.

Nearly two years after Obama's pledge to close the prison at Guantanamo, more inmates there are formally facing the prospect of lifelong detention and fewer are facing charges than the day Obama was elected.

That is in part because Congress has made it difficult to move detainees to the United States for trial. But it also stems from the president's embrace of indefinite detention and his assertion that the congressional authorization for military force, passed after the 2001 terrorist attacks, allows for such detention.

After taking office, the Obama administration reviewed the detainee population at Guantanamo Bay and chose 48 prisoners for indefinite detention. Officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that number will likely increase in coming months as some detainees are moved from a transfer category to a continued detention category.

If signed by President Obama, the new order will provide added review for detainees designated for long-term detention. The order, which is being drafted jointly by White House staff in the National Security council and the White House counsel, will offer detainees in this category a minimal review every six months and then a more lengthy annual review. Detainees will have access to an attorney, to some evidence against them and the ability to challenge their continued detention.

Prisoners who have been deemed "high-value detainees," including the alleged conspirators of the 2001 attacks, have been designated for prosecution in civilian or military courts.

"It's been clear for a while that the government would need to put in place some sort of periodic review, and that it would want it to improve on the annual review procedures used during the previous administration," said Matthew Waxman, a professor at Columbia Law School who worked on detainee issues during the Bush administration.

ProPublica asked a spokesman from the National Security Council earlier Tuesday for comment but has yet to receive a response.

In 2008, Guantanamo detainees won the right to challenge the lawfulness of their detention in court. The executive order aims to create an executive branch review which would occur separately from the court review and would weigh the necessity of the detention, rather than its lawfulness, officials said.

"Perhaps the dangerousness of the detainee's country of origin could change, or the group that the detainee is affiliated with could cease to exist," one official explained.

Some detainees from Yemen may be sent home if security conditions there improve. Currently, there is a moratorium on transfers from Guantanamo to Yemen.

The official described the draft order as "an important piece of the government's approach to Guantanamo."

At a speech on Guantanamo in May 2009, Obama said that "a thorough process of periodic review," was needed to ensure that "any prolonged detention is carefully evaluated and justified."

The White House first began work on an Executive Order in the spring of 2009 that was the subject of a joint story by ProPublica and the Washington Post in June 2009. An administration official at the time said the order was under consideration but had not yet been completed. Civil rights groups which oppose indefinite detention came out strongly against the possibility of an executive order.

Weeks later, administration officials said the White House had decided to work with Congress on indefinite detention, rather than through Executive Order. But by the end of 2009, the White House had said it would not support legislation.

Then, in 2010, a government task force on Guantanamo completed a year-long review that placed 48 detainees in long-term detention. In its report, task force members said those detainees would be "subject to periodic Executive Branch review."

Bobby Chesney, a law professor at the University of Texas who worked briefly on the administration's detention task force, said an executive order would provide detainees with an additional layer of review. He also said it offered a compromise since an executive order can be withdrawn at anytime.

"The order takes on additional restraints and lasts as long as the president wants. The White House gets just what it wants, no more or less. And, unlike with legislation, the order doesn't have staying power if the next administration doesn’t want it."

Jameel Jaffer, a national security lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Association, agreed that "more review is better." But he said that an executive order would only "normalize and institutionalize indefinite detention and other policies," that were set in place by the Bush administration.

GOP shuts down bill to prevent child marriage

GOP shuts down bill to prevent child marriage
By Daniel Tencer
Monday, December 20th, 2010

Preventing child marriage may seem like the most non-partisan of non-partisan issues, but to Republicans scrambling to deny political victories to a lame-duck Democratic House, it seems to be yet another political football.

House Republicans are being criticized for "bringing shame to Capitol Hill" after voting against a bill to prevent child marriage in developing countries.

In voting against the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act last Thursday, Republicans said they could not abide by the cost of the bill and voiced fears that it would result in the US government supporting abortions for women in the developing world.

But the bill's supporters say there is no mention of abortion in the bill, and the bill itself -- which asks that the president focus on efforts to prevent child marriage -- requires no new funding.

They note that the bill sailed through the Senate unanimously earlier this month, before becoming the target of what they say is a smear campaign in the House.

According to the Washington Post's Conor Williams, trouble began Thursday when
In the hours before the vote, Republicans circulated a memo to pro-life members of Congress alleging that the bill could fund abortions and use child marriage 'to overturn pro-life laws.' It also reiterated concerns over the bill's cost. When it came time for a vote, a number of the bill's pro-life supporters in both parties abandoned ship. Even co-sponsors of the corresponding House bill (H.R. 2103), like Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) and Lee Terry (R-Neb.), voted against it.
But, as TalkingPointsMemo's Rachel Slajda reports,
The text of the bill does not mention abortion, contraception or family planning. Instead, it directs the president to make preventing child marriage a priority, especially in countries where more than 40 percent of girls under the age of 18 are married. The ways to do that, according to the bill: support educating communities on the dangers and health effects of child marriage, keep young girls in school, support female mentoring programs and make sure girls have access to health care services.
It was reportedly the mention of "access to health care services" that spurred Republican fears of abortion funding.

The bill failed on a vote of 241 for to 166 against. Because House rules have been suspended in the frantic last-minute legislative session, the bill needed a two-thirds majority to succeed. The bill's future is "uncertain," the Post reports.

"The action on the House floor stopping the Child Marriage bill tonight will endanger the lives of millions of women and girls around the world," Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), one of the bill's Senate sponsors, said in a statement. "These young girls, enslaved in marriage, will be brutalized and many will die when their young bodies are torn apart while giving birth. Those who voted to continue this barbaric practice brought shame to Capitol Hill.”

Women's rights campaigners have been raising the alarm about the practice of child marriage, which is prevalent in parts of the Middle East, central Asia, India and to a lesser extent in other parts of the developing world.

According to UNICEF, there are 60 million women in the developing world aged 24 and under who were married before the age of 18, and that number is expected to rise to 100 million over the next decade.

"In addition to denying tens of millions of women and girls their dignity, child marriage also endangers their health," Durbin said in the statement. "Marriage at an early age puts girls at greater risk of dying as a result of childbirth. Pregnancy and childbirth complications are the leading cause of death for women 15 to 19 years old in developing countries. Their children also face higher mortality rates."

In one now-famous case, an Afghani child bride who dared to run from her arranged marriage was horribly disfigured by her husband, father-in-law and brother-in-law. Bibi Aisha, now 20 and living in Brooklyn, received a measure of justice earlier this month when her father-in-law was arrested.

In another widely reported case, an eight-year-old Saudi girl sued to annul her marriage to a 47-year-old man. Saudi Arabia's highest court refused to hear the case.

US threatened to bully EU into accepting GMOs, cable shows

By David Edwards and Stephen Webster
Monday, December 20th, 2010

Reacting to a French pledge to represent the "common interest" in considering biotech foods, a former US ambassador recommended publishing a "retaliation list" of European locations where genetically modified organisms (GMO) were being grown in hopes that activists would destroy them and "cause some pain" for officials, a leaked diplomatic cable shows.

In a confidential communication dated Dec. 14, 2007 and released by WikiLeaks on Sunday, then-US Ambassador to France Craig Roberts Stapleton recommended creating the list if France and the EU continued to ban biotech seeds.

"Mission Paris recommends that that the [United States government] reinforce our negotiating position with the EU on agricultural biotechnology by publishing a retaliation list when the extend 'Reasonable Time Period' expires," Stapleton wrote. "Europe is moving backwards not forwards on this issue with France playing a leading role, along with Austria, Italy and even the [European] Commission."

Stapelton added that the US should create a list "that causes some pain across the EU, since this is a collective responsibility, but that also focuses in part on the worst culprits."

He continued: "The list should be measured rather than vicious and must be sustainable over the long term, since we should not expect an early victory."

The former US official added that France's "High Authority" on agricultural biotech was particularly offensive because it sought to "roll back established science-based decision making." He added that a bill considered by the French National Assembly should be rebuked by the publication "of a registry identifying the cultivation of GMOs at the parcel levels" ... "given the propensity for activists to destroy GMO crops in the field."

The document would appear to expose a high-ranking US official advocating a selective leak of otherwise confidential information to achieve a European political objective on behalf of US private industry.

The law that was considered in France would have made farmers and biotech firms liable for pollen drift of their modified crops -- a move that "could make any biotech planting impossible in practical terms," the Stapleton wrote.

It was essentially the same principle the US employs for environmental pollution: the polluter must pay. GMO firms, however, are given exception to those regulations in North America.
The spread of modified genes into the wild is of particular concern to critics of biotech food crops, who cite studies linking GM seeds to organ damage and infertility in animals. Most Monsanto the Devil's seeds are modified to resist pesticides such as Roundup, which has been shown to cause cancer and genetic mutations in humans. It is still unclear whether genetically modified foods pose health risks, but they have been adopted in soaring quantities in the United States.

"Soybeans and cotton genetically engineered with herbicide-tolerant traits have been the most widely and rapidly adopted GE crops in the U.S., followed by insect-resistant cotton and corn," according to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

gmcropadoptioninus US threatened retaliation to bully EU into accepting biotech crops, cable shows

Researchers at the University of Arkansas found in August that canola, a modified rapeseed used mainly for oil, had managed to sustain itself in the wilds of North Dakota. Up to 80 percent of the plants they tested had genes that were modified to resist herbicide. It was the first time modified crops had been discovered growing in the wild, the BBC noted.

Monsanto the devil's genetically modified corn, currently banned across the EU, was also found growing in Ireland, the Irish Department of Agriculture said.

Stapleton was appointed Ambassador to France in 2005 by President George W. Bush. His wife is a cousin of President George H.W. Bush. Stapelton was replaced as ambassador in July 2009, when President Barack Obama named Charles Rivkin to the post.

Europe continues biotech resistance

It's not clear from the release if the US went ahead with its plan for the "retaliation list," but Stapelton was certainly right on whether the US should expect an early victory in European public opinion.

In December, more than one million Europeans signed a petition demanding the EU halt the approval of new genetically modified crops. The petition was later dismissed by the EU Commission on procedural grounds.

In the last 12 years only two organisms have been licensed for seeding across Europe, and one of them was a potato that triggered the recent mass petition against the crops. The number one multinational biotech firm in the world, Monsanto, isn't happy about that.

But like other US business interests, Monsanto hasn't been sitting around whining about policy backlash foreign or domestic. The Nation's Jeremy Scahill revealed in September that the world's top producer of genetically modified seeds hired US security contractor Blackwater to "infiltrate activist groups organizing against the multinational biotech firm." The leaked cable makes no mention of Blackwater mercenaries operating in Europe.

Other cables released in recent days showed that, behind the scenes, Spain has been a key ally of the US in defending genetically modified crops.

Spanish Secretary of State and Deputy Minister Josep Puxeu contacted US officials to ask for support after his country came under pressure to ban their Monsanto-developed MON810 corn crop, a cable revealed.

"He asked that the USG maintain pressure on Brussels to keep agricultural biotechnology an option for Member States and requested that the USG work together with Spain in this endeavor."

Another cable sent to the Vatican on Nov. 19, 2009 indicated that Pope Benedict XVI also supports genetically modified crops, but will not admit it in public.

"Vatican officials remain largely supportive of genetically modified crops as a vehicle for protecting the environment while feeding the hungry, but -- at least for now -- are unwilling to challenge bishops who disagree," it explained.