Saturday, April 30, 2011

Oil companies reportedly produce less gas

(Manufacture a shortage to increase demand, raise prices and you've got yourself some windfall profits, yessir! It's immoral and evil--what we expect from the oil industry scumbags. Gas is up to $4.19 here...--jef)

Published: April 30, 2011 - UPI

WASHINGTON, April 30 (UPI) -- U.S. oil companies are producing less gas with refineries operating at about 81 percent of capacity and exporting more of their production, experts say.

That is contributing to higher prices at the pump, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday, although higher crude prices are still the major factor.

In the past 20 years, the federal Energy Department has reported refineries have averaged 89 percent of capacity in late spring.

Exxon Mobil Corp. reported this week that profits were $11 billion in the first quarter, up 69 percent from last year, on sales of $114 billion. BP, with costs up because of last year's massive Gulf of Mexico spill, reported profits of $7.1 billion.

Gas averaged $3.88 per gallon this week across the country.

"This is a page torn right out of the handbook of gouge-onomics," Charles Langley, senior gasoline analyst at the Utility Consumers' Action Network in San Diego, told the Times. "We call it the law of supply and demand: They supply less product and demand more money for it."

Carpe Libertatem

"So long as the people do not care to exercise their freedom, those who wish to tyrannize will do so; for tyrants are active and ardent, and will devote themselves in the name of any number of gods, religious and otherwise, to put shackles upon sleeping men." ~ Voltaire

"Liberty is to the collective body what health is to every individual body. Without health no pleasure can be tasted by man; without liberty, no happiness can be enjoyed by society." ~ Henry St. John

"In our country, the lie has become not just a moral category but a pillar of the State." ~ Alexander Solzhenitsyn

"[When a victimless criminal] is treated as an enemy of society, he almost necessarily becomes one. Forced into criminal acts, immersed in underworld-related supply networks, and ever-conscious of the need to evade the police, his outlooks as well as behavior become more and more anti-social." ~ Edwin M. Schur

"It is poor civic hygiene to install technologies that could someday facilitate a police state." ~ Bruce Schneier

"One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we've been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We're no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It is simply too painful to acknowledge -- even to ourselves -- that we've been so credulous. (So the old bamboozles tend to persist as the new bamboozles rise.)" ~ Carl Sagan
"Give me control of a nation's money and I care not who makes the laws." ~ Mayer Amschel Rothschild

"Petty laws breed great crimes." ~ Ouida

"If large numbers of people believe in freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech even if the law forbids it. But if public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be persecuted, even if laws exist to protect them." ~ George Orwell

"We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason if we remember that we are not descended from fearful men, not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes which were, for the moment, unpopular." ~ Edward R. Murrow

The Age of America is Over — So Says the IMF

by Paul Craig Roberts April 29th, 2011

Swiss franc:

As did the Australian dollar:

British pound:

Danish krone:

Russian ruble:

Swedish krona:

Botswana pula:

European euro (despite the “sovereign debt crisis,” a product of naive European trust in Americans and the criminality of Goldman Sachs and all of Wall Street):

Other currencies, such as the Brazilian real and Canadian dollar, have been consistently making new highs against the US dollar but failed by a few hundredths of a percent to do so today.

Canadian dollar:

Ben Bernanke says QE will end in June, but he is either delusional or lying. If the Fed stops monetizing Treasury debt, how will the $1.5-trillion-dollar annual operating deficit of the US government be financed? Are Americans, who are broke, suffering 22% unemployment, foreclosures on their homes and running out of money before the end of the month, as Wal-Mart’s CEO recently stated, going to finance a 1.5-trillion annual government deficit? If you think so, I have a bridge to sell in Brooklyn.

The combined trade surpluses of China, OPEC, Japan and Russia are insufficient to finance more than one-third of the US budget deficit, assuming these countries are willing, in the face of the evidence, to continue to acquire US debt.

That means, even under the most optimistic scenario, that the Federal Reserve will have to purchase annually $1-trillion in Treasury debt.

In other words, the US, the great Super Power over-filled with hubris, has outdone the fiscal irresponsibility of third-world banana republics. Superpower America is financing itself by printing money.

Washington, by conducting open-ended wars of aggression against non-puppet states, by giving its approval to the off-shoring of US jobs and thereby US GDP, and by saddling bankrupt taxpayers with $1-trillion in non-recourse loans to mega-rich people in order that the richest and most favored could borrow from the Fed at nearly zero rates of interest hundreds of millions of dollars to buy under-valued student loans, credit card debt, mortgages, whatever, and have any profits from the purchase of under-valued assets put in their bank account and any losses put on the Federal Reserve’s books. Obviously, the US economy is a scheme run by the rich for the rich.

In this scheme to impoverish Americans for the benefit of the mega-rich, the Federal reserve actually gave hundreds of millions of dollars to the wives of New York investment bank CEOs in non-resource loans. The already rich wives bought up under-valued debt and made a killing. The wives had no risk whatsoever, because if their investments failed, it went onto the Federal Reserve’s books, not on the wives’ entity. See Matt Taibbi’s The Real Housewives of Wall Street in Rolling Stone magazine.

As the International Monetary Fund said, recently, “the age of America is over.”

Elizabeth Warren on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart

Extended Interview

In this unedited, extended interview, Elizabeth Warren discusses Congress' fight to kill the consumer agency before it helps middle-class families.

Elizabeth Warren exposes the fight against the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in this unedited, extended interview.

In this unedited, extended interview, Elizabeth Warren believes that getting rid of the fine print in financial contracts is basic and sensible.

Superman threatens to renounce U.S. citizenship

By Reuters
Friday, April 29th, 2011

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Superman, citizen of the world?

The Man of Steel, in the latest issue of Action Comics which hit newsstands on Wednesday, said he intends to renounce his U.S. citizenship in a speech before the United Nations.

"I'm tired of having my actions construed as instruments of U.S. policy," Superman said in a short story in the issue, Action Comics No. 900 from the Time Warner Inc unit DC Comics.

In the comic, Superman never actually renounces his citizenship, he only talks about his plans to do that.

But conservative commentators reacted with disgust to the new storyline, given that the fictional superhero has long proclaimed he stood for "Truth, Justice and the American way."

In a blog post at The Weekly Standard, senior writer Jonathan Last questioned Superman's beliefs, now that he seems to have rejected the United States.

"Does he believe in British interventionism or Swiss neutrality?" Last wrote. "You see where I'm going with this: If Superman doesn't believe in America, then he doesn't believe in anything."

The new plot twist for Superman comes as the superhero visitor from a distant planet, who was raised by a Kansas farmer and his wife, looks to take on a more global mission for his battle against evil.

"The world's too small. Too connected," Superman said in the comic book.

Superman, who was first introduced in the 1938, has a long association with the United States. But Joe Shuster, the artist who helped create the character with writer Jerry Siegel, was born in Canada.

And critics have described Superman's life story as a metaphor for the immigrant experience, because he is an alien.

DC Comics co-publishers Jim Lee and Dan DiDio seemed to downplay their landmark superhero character's latest declaration, in a joint statement.

"In a short story in Action Comics 900, Superman announces his intention to put a global focus on his never ending battle, but he remains, as always, committed to his adopted home and his roots as a Kansas farm boy from Smallville," they said.

Feingold compares new Obama fundraising group to Karl Rove

By Sahil Kapur - RAW Story
Friday, April 29th, 2011

WASHINGTON – Former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) on Friday tore into Democrats for launching a new outside group to aid President Barack Obama's re-election efforts in part by raising undisclosed funds.

"Democrats who mirror the right-wing tactics of Karl Rove and David Koch do our nation no favors," said Feingold, a longtime opponent of industry-funded elections who now helms Progressives United, according to Politico's Ben Smith. "Our democracy is best served by rejecting the fundamentally corrupt strategy of embracing unlimited corporate influence."

The group, Priorities USA, is poised to receive the kinds of unlimited, undisclosed donations that Obama has spoken out against. It's similar in some respects to Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS, which spent millions in anonymous money trying to defeat Democratic candidates last year.

"It has everything to do with Karl Rove and the Koch Brothers," former Obama White House spokesman Bill Burton told The Associated Press. "As long as they play by one set of rules, we're not going to be boxed in by a double standard."

The creation of the group suggests that the White House and Democrats have -- at least for now -- thrown in the towel on campaign finance reform and chosen to fight fire with fire. They'd be trounced in election spending by Republicans if they didn't adopt similar fundraising tactics.
Raising unlimited campaign funds from anonymous donors was made possible last year by the Supreme Court in the Citizens United v. FEC ruling.

Republican Michigan governor thinks democracy ‘is a problem’

Posted on 04.29.11
By David Edwards - RAW Story

The decision-making authority of elected officials in Benton Harbor, Michigan was suspended under a new emergency manager law passed by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder.

In a speech Wednesday, Snyder said he also wanted to abolish the minimum number of hours children are required to be in school. He announced that he was targeting 23 school districts for takeover by state-appointed unilateral executives.

“Every single one of those places has just been told that them having locally elected officials, that’s a problem,” MSNBC Rachel Maddow explained Thursday. “That democracy is in the way of making things more efficient in Michigan, that Democracy is not the way we fix problems in America, that it is a problem.”

Watch this video from MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show, broadcast April 28, 2011.

Massachusetts Democrats vote to strip public unions of bargaining rights

 (See, it's not just the Republicans busting unions. The Democrats have a slice of that big corporate money, too. Corporate "persons" have more representation than real persons. That is messed up!--jef)

By Stephen C. Webster RAW Story
Friday, April 29th, 2011

Weren't Democrats supposed to be in favor of collective bargaining rights? Well, maybe not.

Welcome to bizarro world.

The Democratic-controlled Statehouse in Massachusetts voted earlier this week to strip public employee unions of their collective bargaining rights, as part of the state's budget measure. It passed by a vote of 157 to 1.

That's precisely the same action taken by Republicans in Wisconsin, where it sparked a massive democratic outcry and weeks of rowdy protests.

The Massachusetts legislation would allow local municipalities to make unilateral changes to agreed-upon benefits, like health care, bypassing the need for union approval. It would, however, leave open a 30-day window where unions may be consulted on changes to benefits.
According to The Associated Press, the budget also cuts $800 million from the state's Medicare-like program MassHealth, and strips more than $65 million in aid to state agencies and municipalities. Another $200 million would be withdrawn from the state's "rainy-day fund" to help close their spending gap for this fiscal year.

"These are the same Democrats that all these labor unions elected," Massachusetts AFL-CIO president Robert J. Haynes said in a media advisory. "The same Democrats who we contributed to in their campaigns. The same Democrats who tell us over and over again that they’re with us, that they believe in collective bargaining, that they believe in unions."

He also pledged that the unions would fight this arrangement "to the bitter end."

"We deserve better in Massachusetts. Working families lost collective bargaining rights in Game 1 of this budget process. It's on to the Senate, then conference, then the Governor.

Working people need to know who is for our right to collectively bargain and who is not."

It was unclear if state Senate President Therese Murray would allow the budget to proceed.

FOX Stages Fake Debate Between Ron Paul & Obama Impersonator

(Ron Paul's credibility sinks into the toilet. I can't believe he agreed to this. John Stossel is such a douchebag.--jef)

Why Is Damning New Evidence About Monsanto the devil's Roundup Herbicide Being Silenced?

It turns out that Monsanto's Roundup herbicide might not be nearly as safe as people have thought, but the media is staying mum on the revelation.
By Jill Richardson, AlterNet
Posted on April 27, 2011

Dr. Don Huber did not seek fame when he quietly penned a confidential letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack in January of this year, warning Vilsack of preliminary evidence of a microscopic organism that appears in high concentrations in genetically modified Roundup Ready corn and soybeans and "appears to significantly impact the health of plants, animals and probably human beings." Huber, a retired Purdue University professor of plant pathology and U.S. Army colonel, requested the USDA's help in researching the matter and suggested Vilsack wait until the research was concluded before deregulating Roundup Ready alfalfa. But about a month after it was sent, the letter was leaked, soon becoming an internet phenomenon.

Huber was unavailable to respond to media inquiries in the weeks following the leak, and thus unable to defend himself when several colleagues from Purdue publicly claiming to refute his accusations about Monsanto the devil's widely used herbicide Roundup (glyphosate) and Roundup Ready crops. When his letter was finally acknowledged by the mainstream media, it was with titles like "Scientists Question Claims in Biotech Letter," noting that the letter's popularity on the internet "has raised concern among scientists that the public will believe his unsupported claim is true."

Now, Huber has finally spoken out, both in a second letter, sent to "a wide number of individuals worldwide" to explain and back up his claims from his first letter, and in interviews. While his first letter described research that was not yet complete or published, his second letter cited much more evidence about glyphosate and genetically engineered crops based on studies that have already been published in peer-reviewed journals.

The basis of both letters and much of the research is the herbicide glyphosate. First commercialized in 1974, glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the world and has been for some time. Glyphosate has long been considered a relatively benign product, because it was thought to break down quickly in the environment and harm little other than the weeds it was supposed to kill.

According to the National Pesticide Information Center, glyphosate prevents plants from making a certain enzyme. Without the enzyme, they are unable to make three essential amino acids, and thus, unable to survive. Once applied, glyphosate either binds to soil particles (and is thus immobilized so it can no longer harm plants) or microorganisms break it down into ammonium and carbon dioxide. Very little glyphosate runs off into waterways. For these reasons, glyphosate has been thought of as more or less harmless: you spray the weeds, they die, the glyphosate goes away, and nothing else in the environment is harmed.

But Huber says this is not true. First of all, he points out, evidence began to emerge in the 1980s that "what glyphosate does is, essentially, give a plant AIDS." Just like AIDS, which cripples a human's immune system, glyphosate makes plants unable to mount a defense against pathogens in the soil. Without its defense mechanisms functioning, the plants succumb to pathogens in the soil and die. Furthermore, glyphosate has an impact on microorganisms in the soil, helping some and hurting others. This is potentially problematic for farmers, as the last thing one would want is a buildup of pathogens in the soil where they grow crops.

The fate of glyphosate in the environment is also not as benign as once thought. It's true that glyphosate either binds to soil or is broken down quickly by microbes. Glyphosate binds to any positively charged ion in the soil, with the consequence of making many nutrients (such as iron and manganese) less available to plants. Also, glyphosate stays in the soil bound to particles for a long time and can be released later by normal agricultural practices like phosphorus fertilization. "It's not uncommon to find one to three pounds of glyphosate per acre in agricultural soils in the Midwest," says Huber, noting that this represents one to three times the typical amount of glyphosate applied to a field in a year.

Huber says these facts about glyphosate are very well known scientifically but rarely cited. When asked why, he replied that it would be harder for a company to get glyphosate approved for widespread use if it were known that the product could increase the severity of diseases on normal crop plants as well as the weeds it was intended to kill. Here in the U.S., many academic journals are not even interested in publishing studies that suggest this about glyphosate; a large number of the studies Huber cites were published in the European Journal of Agronomy.

If Huber's claims are true, then it follows that there must be problems with disease in crops where glyphosate is used. Huber's second letter verifies this, saying, "we are experiencing a large number of problems in production agriculture in the U.S. that appear to be intensified and sometimes directly related to genetically engineered (GMO) crops, and/or the products they were engineered to tolerate -- especially those related to glyphosate (the active chemical in Roundup® herbicide and generic versions of this herbicide)."

He continues, saying, "We have witnessed a deterioration in the plant health of corn, soybean, wheat and other crops recently with unexplained epidemics of sudden death syndrome of soybean (SDS), Goss' wilt of corn, and take-all of small grain crops the last two years. At the same time, there has been an increasing frequency of previously unexplained animal (cattle, pig, horse, poultry) infertility and [miscarriages]. These situations are threatening the economic viability of both crop and animal producers."

Some of the crops Huber named, corn and soy, are genetically engineered to survive being sprayed with glyphosate. Others, like wheat and barley, are not. In those cases, a farmer would apply glyphosate to kill weeds about a week before planting his or her crop, but would not spray the crop itself. In the case of corn, as Huber points out, most corn varieties in the U.S. are bred using conventional breeding techniques to resist the disease Goss' wilt. However, recent preliminary research showed that when GE corn is sprayed with glyphosate, the corn becomes susceptible to Goss' wilt. Huber says in his letter that "This disease was commonly observed in many Midwestern U.S. fields planted to [Roundup Ready] corn in 2009 and 2010, while adjacent non-GMO corn had very light to no infections." In 2010, Goss' wilt was a "major contributor" to an estimated one billion bushels of corn lost in the U.S. "in spite of generally good harvest conditions," says Huber.

The subject of Huber's initial letter is a newly identified organism that appears to be the cause of infertility and miscarriages in animals. Scientists have a process to verify whether an organism is the cause of a disease: they isolate the organism, culture it, and reintroduce it to the animal to verify that it reproduces the symptoms of the disease, and then re-isolate the organism from the animal's tissue. This has already been completed for the organism in question. The organism appears in high concentrations in Roundup Ready crops. However, more research is needed to understand what this organism is and what its relationship is to glyphosate and/or Roundup Ready crops.

In order to secure the additional research needed, Huber wrote to Secretary Vilsack. Huber says he wrote his initial letter to Secretary Vilsack with the expectation that it would be forwarded to the appropriate agency within the USDA for follow-up, which it was. When the USDA contacted Huber for more information, he provided it, but he does not know how they have followed up on that information. The letter was "a private letter appealing for [the USDA's] personnel and funding," says Huber. Given recent problems with plant disease and livestock infertility and miscarriages, he says that "many producers can't wait an additional three to 10 years for someone to find the funds and neutral environment" to complete the research on this organism.

If the link between the newly discovered organism and livestock infertility and miscarriages proves true, it will be a major story.
But there is already a major story here: the lack of independent research on GMOs, the reluctance of U.S. journals to publish studies critical of glyphosate and GMOs, and the near total silence from the media on Huber's leaked letter.

How Wal-Mart Is Terrorizing the Country With its Corporate 'Personhood'

If Wal-Mart is a person, as per the Supreme Court, it's a behemoth terrorizing the countryside. But when it comes to workers' rights, it remains curiously immune from lawsuits.
By Barbara Ehrenreich, The American Prospect
Posted on April 29, 2011

What is Wal-Mart -- in a strictly taxonomic sense, that is? Based on size alone, it would be easy to confuse it with a nation: In 2002, its annual revenue was equal to or exceeded that of all but 22 recognized nation-states. Or, if all its employees -- 1.4 million in the U.S. alone -- were to gather in one place, you might think you were looking at a major city. But there is also the possibility that Wal-Mart and other planet-spanning, centi-billion-dollar enterprises are not mere aggregations of people at all. They may be independent life-forms -- a species of super-organisms.

This, anyway, seems to be the takeaway from the 2010 Citizens United decision, in which the Supreme Court, in a frenzy of anthropomorphism, ruled that corporations are actually persons and therefore entitled to freedom of speech and the right to make unlimited campaign contributions. You may object that the notion of personhood had already been degraded beyond recognition by its extension, in the minds of pro-life thinkers, to individual cells such as zygotes. But the court must have reasoned that it would be discriminatory to let size enter into the determination of personhood: If a microscopic cell can be a person, then why not a brontosaurus, a tsunami, or a multinational corporation?

But Wal-Mart's defense against a class action charging the company with discrimination against its female employees -- Dukes v. Wal-Mart -- throws an entirely new light on the biology of large corporations. The company argues that with "7 divisions, 41 regions, 3400 stores and over one million employees" (in the U.S., as of 2004, when the suit was first launched), it is "impossible" for any small group of plaintiffs to adequately represent a "class" in the legal sense. What with all those divisions, regions, and stores, the experiences of individual employees are just too variable to allow for a meaningful "class" to arise. Wal-Mart, in other words, is too big, too multifaceted and diverse, to be sued.

So if Wal-Mart is indeed a person, it is a person without a central nervous system, or at least without central control of its various body parts. There exist such persons, I admit -- whose brains have lost command over their voluntary muscles -- but they are in a tiny minority. Surely, when the Supreme Court declared that corporations were persons, it did not mean to say "persons with advanced neuromuscular degenerative diseases."

For those who have never visited more than one Wal-Mart store, let me point out that the company is not a congeries of boutiques run by egotistical retailing divas. True, there are detectable differences between stores. Some feature Wal-Mart's indigenous "Radio Grill," famed for its popcorn chicken; others offer McDonald's or Subway. But other than that, every detail, from personnel policies to floor layout, is dictated by corporate headquarters in Bentonville.

An example: In 2000, I worked for three weeks in the ladies' wear department of a Wal-Mart in Minnesota. (Full disclosure: This makes me part of the class now suing Wal-Mart for sex discrimination, though the possibility of an eventual payout in the high two-figure range has not, I think, influenced my judgment on these matters.) In the course of my work, I made a number of sensible suggestions to my supervisor -- for example, that the plus-size women's jeans not be displayed at what was practically floor-level, where plus-size women could not reach them without requiring assistance to regain altitude. Good idea, my supervisor said, but it was up to Bentonville to determine where the jeans, like all other items, resided.

Much has changed since my tenure at Wal-Mart. The company has struggled to upgrade its image from sweatshop to a green and healthful version of Target. It has vowed to promote more women. But one thing it hasn't done, as far as anyone knows, is to reconfigure itself as an anarchist collective. Bentonville still rules absolutely, over both store managers and "associates," which is the winsome Wal-Mart term for its chronically underpaid workers, some of whom report that they are still being forced to work off the clock, for no pay at all, just as I found in 2000.

So if Wal-Mart is a life-form, it is an unclassifiable one, at least in ordinary terrestrial terms. It eats, devouring acre after acre and town after town. It grows without limit, sometimes assuming new names -- Walmex in Mexico, Asda in the U.K. -- to trick the unwary. Yet in its defense in the Dukes v. Wal-Mart suit, Wal-Mart claims to have no idea what it's doing. This could be a metaphor for capitalism or perhaps a sign that a successful alien invasion is in progress. The only thing that's for sure is, should the Supreme Court decide in favor of Wal-Mart, we'll have a lot more of these creatures running around: monstrously oversized "persons" who insist that they can't control their own actions.

'Uncut' Activists Claim Purge of Facebook Pages

Protest groups claim Facebook has taken down dozens of pages in a purge of activists' accounts
by Shiv Malik - The Guardian
Activists are claiming that dozens of politically linked Facebook accounts have been removed or suspended by the company in the last 12 hours.
 The list of suspended pages include those for the anti cuts group UK Uncut, and pages that were created by students during last December's university occupations.

A list posted on the UCL occupation blog site says the Goldsmiths Fights Back, Slade Occupation, Open Brikbeck, and Tower Hamlet Greens pages as no longer functioning.
It is not yet known how many websites have been affected in total or why they are not working. Facebook is currently looking into the issue.

Guy Aitchison, 26, an administrator for one of the non-functioning pages said, "I woke up this morning to find that a lot of the groups we'd been using for anti-cuts activity had disappeared. The timing of it seems suspicious given a general political crackdown because of the royal wedding."

"It seems that dozens of other groups have also been affected, including some of the local UK Uncut groups."

Earlier, it was reported that the Metropolitan police had invoked special powers to deter anarchists in central London ahead of the royal wedding.

Police threw a section 60 cordon around the whole of the royal wedding zone on Friday morning to respond to anarchists masking up at a small gathering in Soho Square in central London.

The section 60 order allows police officers to stop and search anyone without discretion. The police also imposed section 60a, which gives them the power to remove masks and balaclavas from anyone within the area.

Scotland Yard said the decision was made after individuals were seen putting on masks in Soho Square where a group of anarchists had gathered.

The Guardian is awaiting a comment from Facebook.

• If your page is affected, please email the Guardian at

Corporate America's War on Political Transparency

Friday, April 29, 2011 by
by Robert Weissman

Companies that bid for government contracts should disclose their campaign spending, in order to diminish the likelihood that contracts are a payoff for political expenditures.

The Obama administration has indicated that it plans to impose such a rule, through an executive order. Ideally, the rule would prohibit contractors and lobbyists from campaign spending, but a disclosure standard is a very positive if modest step.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the trade association for big business, however, takes a somewhat different view.

"We will fight it through all available means," Bruce Josten, the chief lobbyist for the Chamber, told the New York Times. "To quote what they say every day on Libya, all options are on the table."

Other business lobbyists use less charged rhetoric* but echo Josten's stridency. "The President and his administration seem to be using the executive order powers for political purposes," says John Engler, president of the Business Roundtable, an association of major company CEOs. "The suggestion that federal procurement choices are the result of contributions is being seen as discouraging free speech by intimidating business donors."

Gosh, is it really a stretch to suggest that contractors think political donations help them obtain contracts? Did Lockheed really spend $16 million on campaign contributions over the last two decades -- divided fairly evenly between the two major parties (55-45 split for Republicans) -- for any other reason? Heck, the company spent $60 million over just the last five years on lobbying, primarily to affect how the government spends money.

This is a case -- there have been precious few -- where the President is going head to head with the Big Business lobby. It's up to us to help him stand strong for what's right. Go here to sign a petition urging President Obama to ignore the business pressure and issue the executive order requiring disclosure of contractors' election expenditures.

The need for such action is directly traceable to the Supreme Court's decision Citizens United v. FEC, which lifted restrictions on political spending by corporations, and paved the way for companies to make massive expenditures from their general treasuries to influence election outcomes. While companies are prohibited from making direct contributions to federal candidates, and while direct contributions from individual managers and employees of companies and their political action committees are publicly reported, it remains nearly impossible to trace most of the corporate political spending designed to curry favor and access with government officials. After Citizens United, corporations can now easily make secret and unlimited donations directly out of their corporate treasuries to "front" organizations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that then use the money for campaign expenditures.

Not only did Citizens United badly damage the functioning of our democracy, it invited a major uptick in corruption narrowly defined.

While government corruption comes in many forms, nowhere is it more prevalent than in government contracting. "Pay-to-play" deals are a form of government contracting abuse in which a business entity makes campaign contributions or expenditures on behalf of a public official in order to obtain preferential treatment in receiving government contracts. Occasionally, pay-to-play constitutes outright bribery for a government contract. More often, pay-to-play involves a contractor buying favoritism. The practice is widespread in local, state, and federal contracting but is usually kept well hidden due to inadequate monitoring of government contracting procedures. The pay-to-play system encourages fraud and abuse of power, prevents contracts from being awarded to businesses based on merit, wastes taxpayer dollars, and facilitates privatization and contracting out of services that otherwise could or should be provided by government agencies.

An example of pay-to-play abuse is the scandal surrounding impeached former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. Charges against Blagojevich included a pay-to-play scheme in which he allegedly provided a lucrative highway contract to a contributor in exchange for a donation.

Short of a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, the best way to prevent pay-to-play abuses is to bar contractors and lobbyists from political expenditures. Eight states, the Securities Exchange Commission and several local jurisdictions currently restrict government contractors from making campaign contributions to those responsible for issuing government contracts.

President Obama has proposed not restrictions on contractor spending, but mandatory disclosure, something many states already do. Under the proposed executive order, government contractors would have to report all bundled contributions from their executives and PACs, as well as any direct campaign expenditures or donations to front groups used for campaign expenditures.

For the Big Business lobby, even simple disclosure of contractor political spending is too much. If the public knows about corporate campaign expenditures, fears the U.S. Chamber and its allies, they may seek to hold companies accountable. Then, the argument goes, those companies might be deterred from making political expenditures and expressing their views. Welcome to the next step of illogic in a post-Citizens United world.

Even under Citizens United, however, disclosure rules, and rules aimed at prohibiting narrowly defined corruption, remain permissible.

The President's proposed executive order would not turn back the clock on Citizens United. That's going to take a constitutional amendment.

But deterring contractor corruption is a worthy goal in its own right.

* Imagine for just a moment if a prominent political player from the left used language that could be interpreted as calling for drone attacks on a Republican president. This is of course not to say that Josten really means to urge violence, but his words are what they are. A firestorm would erupt if the script were flipped.

Petraeus' CIA Move Raises Awkward Questions

Friday, April 29, 2011 by Reuters
by Phil Stewart and Mark Hosenball

WASHINGTON - While political Washington is cheering General David Petraeus' nomination to head the CIA, the mood at the agency's headquarters and in Pakistan's intelligence service is less celebratory.

Petraeus, the architect of the current U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, is expected as CIA director to embrace the campaign of drone strikes in Pakistan, a nominally covert CIA operation that has fueled anti-American sentiment but put heavy pressure on militant safe havens.

Continuing or stepping up drone attacks is likely to further strain relations between the CIA and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI) and, according to some experts, possibly exacerbate the awkward personal chemistry between Petraeus and top Pakistani officials.

Petraeus, nominated by President Barack Obama on Thursday to replace CIA director Leon Panetta, has a reputation for brainpower and political savvy, which he used to help salvage the U.S. campaign in Iraq.

The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee will soon begin the confirmation process for Petraeus, which is expected to proceed smoothly. Petraeus is not expected to take up his new post until September.

But at the CIA, he will be confronted by unfamiliar issues that include cybersecurity, North Korea and Iran's nuclear programs, Latin American drug cartels and even climate change.

Current and former U.S. national security officials also say there is concern among some veteran spies about Petraeus' advocacy of controversial military policies, particularly his expansion of counterinsurgency in Afghanistan.

One of the CIA's principal roles, the officials say, is to provide the president and his top advisors with objective, non-politicized advice about world events and the effectiveness of American foreign policy in responding them.

But in his role as U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, Petraeus has been a developer of the counterinsurgency strategy whose results are incomplete as the Obama administration plans to begin a withdrawal of U.S. soldiers this summer.


Because he helped to craft U.S. policy and has publicly defended it against critics, some officials wonder how open Petraeus will be in his new role to critiquing his own work.

They wonder if he will faithfully represent to the White House a CIA view of Afghanistan and Pakistan that is more pessimistic than that of Pentagon brass.

Paul Pillar, formerly the CIA's top analyst on the region, said future CIA assessments of Afghanistan will cover developments since Petraeus' departure as U.S. commander.

But Pillar noted "any such assessments inevitably would reflect well or poorly on the military strategy that had been pursued there for several years. Petraeus would continue to have a strong vested interest in how that strategy is perceived."

Besides Afghanistan, perhaps the biggest issue on Petraeus's agenda at the CIA will be the agency's relations with Pakistan's ISI, which over the last six months have suffered a series of grave setbacks.

"I think it is going to be a very strained and difficult relationship," said Bruce Riedel, a former adviser to President Barack Obama on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Riedel characterized the relationship between Petraeus and Pakistani leaders as "mutual distrust."

Petraeus' relationship with Pakistan's military chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, is publicly perceived to be less than friendly and has become a topic of discussion on Pakistani TV talk shows.

Kayani last month issued a rare public condemnation of a U.S. missile strike in a Pakistani region near the Afghan border that killed more than 40 tribesmen. Last week, he said the drone strikes undermined Pakistan's own war on militants.

Still, U.S. officials told Reuters the drone program would move ahead regardless of Pakistani objections.

As commander in Afghanistan, Petraeus increased the use of air strikes but also took steps to limit civilian casualties.

But in a move unlikely to win him new friends in Islamabad, Petraeus as CIA chief is expected to renew U.S. demands that the ISI sever ties with anti-Western insurgents attacking American forces in Afghanistan -- accusations reflecting continuing deep mistrust between uneasy allies.

Sugar Versus 'High Fructose Corn Syrup' in False Advertising Lawsuit

SAN FRANCISCO - Sugar producers think recent marketing efforts by manufacturers of high-fructose corn syrup aren't so sweet.

In a lawsuit filed last week, three sugar distributors say that equating HFCS with real sugar -- with slogans like "your body can't tell the difference" -- misleads consumers.

They accuse defendants, including Archer Daniels Midland Co and Cargill, of using the publicity campaign to offset growing customer concerns about obesity.

"This suit is about false advertising, pure and simple," said Inder Mathur, CEO of Western Sugar Cooperative, one of the plaintiffs.

Audrae Erickson, president of the Corn Refiners Association, said the lawsuit is without merit, as HFCS and sugar are nutritionally and metabolically equivalent.

"Sugar is sugar," Erickson said.

The United States is the biggest consumer and manufacturer of high-fructose corn syrup, with soft-drink makers the largest users.

The sweetener was added to beverages such as Coca-Cola in the early 1980s, but U.S. food makers have been edging away from it in recent years, trying out a return to sugar in some products after studies linked corn syrup to obesity.

However, HFCS has been able to regain market share recently amid surging sugar prices.

The Corn Refiners Association has asked federal regulators to allow HFCS to be called "corn sugar." But the lawsuit says the defendants "jumped the gun" and started using the term before receiving approval.

Erickson said the Corn Refiners Association will "vigorously" defend its right to petition for the name change with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

"We stand by the message in our ads and the science behind it," Erickson said.

The case in U.S. District Court, Central District of California is Western Sugar Cooperative et al. v. Archer Daniels Midland Co et al, 11-3473.

Let’s Admit the Truth About American Royals

According to polls, only about 6 percent of Americans are following with any close attention the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.  But that's not stopping the media fascination on both sides of the Atlantic with American's supposed fascination with Britain's royals.

“Royal wedding reminds us why we tossed Brits,” ran one letter to a local paper recently. That exorbitant $80 million spent on a medieval style ritual in time of 21st century austerity. It's shameful. It's old world. It's just what Americans fought a revolutionary war to throw off.

And then there are the folks like Rupert Cornwall at the UK Independent who argue hat people in the US love British royals precisely because they don't have their own real thing.  Gary Younge at the Nation noted that even his liberal friends wanted to know what he, a British citizen, thought of the prince marrying a "commoner." Oh please.

The only serious and in fact actually quite insidious part about this is that it re-inscribes the notion that the US has no  class.

Really? When the top one percent of wealthiest Americans own 34 percent of the country's wealth and enjoyed 80 percent of the total increase in wealth here between 1980 and 2005? No class?

As for ruling class? In the UK the commoners keep their royals on welfare. Here we do the same with our corporations. Billions in tax dollars keep them afloat and keep CEOs in mansions. Why not just give them palaces? At least we could keep them open for tours.
Since the Supreme Court has given corporations free speech rights and personhood -- how about marriage equality next?

Then, we could string up Bunting flags for the next monopolistic coupling... At the Comcast and NBC nuptials we'd all throw money while they stroll down the aisle. And -- with a nod to Jim Hightower -- instead of aristocrats with coats of arms, the paid off politicians would express their heritage -- in corporate logos on their lapels. At least then we'd know who owns whom.

The trinkets from a corporate marriage might be dreary. And the offspring, who can say? But at least we'd get a day off and one hell of a party. Plus we'd move out of denial.  The more I think about it the more I like it. Monarchies or Megacorps? Why not declare them royal?

From Democracy to Plutocracy

Thursday, April 28, 2011 by OtherWords
There's nothing conservative about Gov. Walker's autocratic power grab.
by Jim Hightower

In American politics, the past not only sticks with us, but it often provides the best definition of what's going on in the politics of the present, so it can be useful to revisit some powerful words from our history.

Today's media and political powers, for example, keep using the word "conservative" to describe current political trends in our democratic republic. Poor choice of words. From the Koch brothers to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, from GOP House Speaker John Boehner to such anti-worker governors as Scott Walker of Wisconsin, an autocratic power grab is underway to enthrone corporate power and moneyed elites to rule unilaterally over our government, economy, and environment. There's nothing conservative about that.

Rather, a word from America's past best encapsulates their goal: plutocracy. It's the direct opposite of democracy, which is government by the many, by all of the people--by us. Plutocracy, on the other hand, is government by the wealthy--by them and for them.

The struggle between democracy and plutocracy has defined our political history from the Revolution of 1776 forward. And now, here we go again. Wall Street banksters, corporate chieftains, speculators, and other pampered plutocrats are out to crush the hard-won laws, rules, institutions, and social compacts that We the People have struggled to put in place over the years to undergird our democratic authority.

Busting unions, unleashing corporate money in politics, restricting access to courts, and gutting financial and environmental regulation--all of these and more are about supplanting our democracy with their plutocracy.

Call them what they are--not conservatives, but self-serving plutocrats. Or nail them with another good word from the past: "Kleptocrats," advocates of government by thieves.

Insurers Getting Rich By Not Paying for Care

(Sadly, this won't change with the healthcare reform bill they passed. It actually gets better for the insurers.--jef)

by Wendell Potter

If I had stayed in the insurance industry, my net worth would have spiked between 4 p.m. Wednesday and 4 p.m. Thursday last week -- and I wouldn't even have had to show up for work.

I'm betting that just about every executive of a for-profit health insurance company, whose total compensation ultimately depends on the value of their stock options, woke up on Good Friday considerably wealthier than they were 24 hours earlier. Why? Because of the spectacular profits that one of those companies reported Thursday morning.

Among those suddenly wealthier executives, by the way, are the corporate medical directors who decide whether or not patients will get coverage for treatments their doctors believe might save their lives.

UnitedHealth Group, the biggest health insurer in terms of revenue and market value, earned so much more during the first three months of this year than Wall Street expected that investors rushed to buy shares of every one of the seven health insurers that comprise the managed care sector. In my view, it would be more accurate to call it the managed care cartel.

UnitedHealth is always the first of the big seven to announce earnings every quarter, so investors consider it a bellwether. If UnitedHealth exceeds Wall Street's expectations, as it has been doing consistently, investors assume that the other six will do likewise. Sure enough, all seven -- Aetna, CIGNA, Coventry, Health Net, Humana, UnitedHealth and WellPoint -- saw their stock prices close Thursday afternoon at or near 52-week highs.

UnitedHealth's shares shot up more than 8 percent during the day. Increases of that magnitude are so rare that I could almost hear the champagne corks popping in the Minnetonka, Minnesota office of UnitedHealth's CEO, Stephen J. Hemsley.

Wall Street analysts had worried that health insurers would have such a hard time complying with the provisions of the year-old health care reform law that their profit margins would decline. Those concerns were put to rest when UnitedHealth reported that its operating margins were "stable" at 8.7 percent in the quarter. The company's stellar performance should also put to rest -- forever -- the myth that "ObamaCare" is "bleeding insurers dry," as industry apologist Sally Pipes contended in a Feb. 24 commentary in Forbes.

Noting that UnitedHealth's 13 percent increase in profits prompted the company to raise its full-year earnings forecast, the Minneapolis Star Tribune opined, "Life under new health care reform laws may not be so rough after all."

Indeed. Consider these numbers: UnitedHealth's profit during the first three months of this year increased to $1.35 billion from $1.19 billion a year ago. When you do the math to determine the company's earnings per share, the result is nothing short of jaw-dropping. On that basis, UnitedHealth's profit jumped from $1.03 to $1.22 per share. Wall Street analysts had been expecting the company to earn just 89 cents a share. When you beat Wall Street's expectations by 33 cents a share, you have accomplished something that most CEOs can only dream about.

UnitedHealth's CEO at Top of Forbes 2011 Executive Pay List

Speaking of CEOs, Stephen Hemsley in particular made out like a bandit Thursday. Already at the very pinnacle of Forbes 2011 "Executive Pay List" (you read that right, his total compensation of $101.96 million last year made him the highest paid corporate executive in the United States of America), Hemsley saw his net worth skyrocket last week.

Of that $101.96 million Hemsley "earned" last year, $98.55 million came from stock gains, mostly from exercising options. And that doesn't even count the value of stock options he hasn't yet cashed in. According to published reports about the company's Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings, the total value of the options Hemsley had not exercised by the end of last year totaled almost $745 million. Considering the fact that the price of UnitedHealth's stock has increased by more than $20 per share in just the last nine months, you can be pretty certain that Hemsley is now sitting on a stash of options worth well over $1 billion. That doesn't count the shares of UnitedHealth stock Hemsley owns outright, the value of which was estimated to be $111.4 million at the end of 2010 and which, of course, is much higher now.

As you can imagine, Hemsley and other UnitedHealth executives were peppered with questions during the company's conference call with Wall Street analysts last Thursday. They wanted to know how UnitedHealth had pulled off such a stunning accomplishment.

As it turned out, they pulled it off by paying far fewer medical claims than anyone had expected. That in and of itself is not new. Last year was one of the industry's most profitable years because, the big insurers insisted, their policyholders had not needed to go the doctor or check into the hospital as much as they had in the past. Consequently the insurers did not have to pay as many claims. The reason they gave was that the flu season last year was much less severe than predicted.

Insurers Mum on What's Really Making Their Profits Skyrocket

Well, it turns out that dog won't hunt anymore. UnitedHealth executives admitted during the call with analysts Thursday morning that "the incidence of influenza was substantially higher this quarter than last year." So, even though more people had to be treated for the flu during the first three months of this year than UnitedHealth had expected, the company still managed to spend less on medical claims during the quarter than investors had expected.

Not being able to attribute the unexpected decrease in medical spending to a mild flu season this time, Hemsley and his colleagues said it was because of the unexpected decrease in stormy weather.

I'm not making this up. They blamed the company's good fortune on "the effect of severe consistent winter weather conditions across significant portions of the country."

Veteran analyst Christine Arnold of Cowen and Company apparently wasn't buying it, so she pressed for more "clarity" during the call.

"Excluding places where you saw winter storms," she asked, "was utilization (of health services) up?"

Earlier in the call, the executives seemed to be suggesting that the number of inpatient hospital "bed days" was down considerably because of bad weather.

"So, excluding storms," she probed, "were bed days up?"

UnitedHealth's chief financial officer, Dan Schumacher, finally had to 'fess up.

"Bed days excluding storms were flat to slightly down depending on the geography," he replied.

In other words, it wasn't the stormy weather after all. Unfortunately, Arnold did not press further ("OK. That's helpful. Thanks," she said) and no one asked the logical follow-up question: "Well, then, what was it?"

Insurers Pinch Policy Holders for Higher Premiums and Out-of-Pocket Costs

Contrary to what insurance company bigwigs try to make us believe, it is not snow, sleet and freezing rain or mild flu seasons that enables these companies to blow Wall Street's estimates out of the water. What they will not admit is that their companies are making record profits by pushing more and more of us into benefit plans that require us to pay a whole lot more out of our own pockets before they will pay anything for our medical care.

And I'm betting that if the insurers had to disclose their rates of claim denials and the number of procedures their medical directors are refusing to pay for, we would see that those numbers are increasing, and maybe substantially. Medical directors know they play a key role in meeting Wall Street's expectations, and they're rewarded with raises, bonuses and, yes, stock options, if management is pleased with their job performance. The less money these companies pay out for care, the more is left over to reward shareholders and a bunch of corporate executives.
This is why, folks, that "utilization" is down. Growing numbers of people who have insurance, who are paying hard-earned money every month for coverage that is increasingly inadequate as well as expensive, simply can't scrape up enough cash to go to the doctor or hospital or, in many cases, even pick up their prescriptions.

That is a trend that the insurers are determined to continue. And while we are being forced to go without necessary care and empty our pockets to pay our premiums, insurance company billionaire Stephen Hemsley and his cohorts are stuffing their pockets -- with our money.

White House Threatens to Blacklist Paper for Covering Protest

by Peter Hart
The San Francisco Chronicle is apparently in trouble with the White House for posting video of a protest against the White House's treatment of suspected WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning. The Chronicle's Carolyn Lochhead reports:
The White House threatened Thursday to exclude the San Francisco Chronicle from pooled coverage of its events in the Bay Area after the paper posted a video of a protest at a San Francisco fundraiser for President Obama last week, Chronicle editor Ward Bushee said. White House guidelines governing press coverage of such events are too restrictive, Bushee said, and the newspaper was within its rights to film the protest and post the video.

Chronicle reporter Carla Marinucci was the designated "pool" reporter at an Obama fundraiser--meaning that her write-up would be shared with other reporters who were not allowed into the event.

But something truly newsworthy happened--and she reported it:
At the St. Regis event, a group of protesters who paid collectively $76,000 to attend the fundraiser interrupted Obama with a song complaining about the administration's treatment of PFC Bradley Manning, the soldier who allegedly leaked U.S. classified documents to the WikiLeaks website.
As part of a "print-only pool," Marinucci was limited by White House guidelines to provide a print-only report, but Marinucci also took a video of the protest, which she posted in her written story on the online edition of the Chronicle at and on its politics blog after she sent her written pool report.
The Chronicle's story closes with this ironic point about the White House's view of technology and information-sharing:
At Facebook the day before the San Francisco fundraiser, Obama said, "The main reason we wanted to do this is, first of all, because more and more people, especially young people, are getting their information through different media. And obviously, what all of you have built together is helping to revolutionize how people get information, how they process information, how they're connecting with each other."
Apparently Marinucci posting a video was a little too much revolutionizing.

Interactive Satellite Images of the Alabama Tornado Destruction

Comedy Club - Eddie Griffin

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The new Obama birth certificate might be fake (but now debunked, hopefully)


It's called OCR (optical character recognition). Acrobat and many scanners do this by default. It detects letters and words on the page and allows you to add selectable text to the document without having to type it in manually.
Notice how when you hide a layer, it's white behind it? If it was truly forged, you wouldn't see any of the background missing. It's white because it doesn't know what's behind the text BECAUSE THE TEXT WAS THERE WHEN IT WAS SCANNED.
And this:

I'm not going to say this proves he wasn't born in the US because it doesn't. All it does prove is that the PDF of Obama's birth certificate they posted online is a fake.

If you have a copy of Adobe Illustrator, open the PDF with Illustrator, and the first thing you'll notice in the layers pallet is that there are several grouped layers that were masked. If you select the square right in the middle where the type is, then right click and select "release clipping mask, you'll get like 10 sub-layers each with 2 or 3 sub-layers themselves.

Here are the screenshots I took:

Right after I opened it, I released the clipping mask to reveal all the layers visible in the Layers Pallet.

I turned off all the layers above the bottom one to see what all was changed.

And as you can see, the layers of text can be selected and moved around at will.

First off, I'm not saying this proves anything other than the birth certificate is fake. Maybe someone else is trying to nail Obama by putting such an obviously faked document online. Look, even a novice graphic artist knows to do a "save as..." and flatten his artwork before posting it online. It reduces file size without reducing resolution, for one thing. For another, if you ARE trying to fake something, the easiest way to get busted is NOT to flatten your artwork.

Earlier this morning, I posted an article saying "finally, we can put this behind us" and I believed it. I thought, "That'll show those birther cocksuckers!"

I'm not saying Obama isn't a citizen, but why the fuck did they post a fake birth certificate? And why the fuck didn't the person who faked it flatten the image, so even a schmoe like me wouldn't be able to tell it's fake? Seriously, had I opened it in Illustrator and it was just one solid rasterized image, case closed, it's legit (even if it were done in Photoshop, I'd have given it the benefit of the doubt).

But...they did it in Illustrator, for some unknown reason, and there it is.

I'm going to go throw up now.

This makes me feel a little better. I'm not totally convinced, because I've scanned many documents in OCR mode, and they've never broken into so many layers like that. However, I'm more than happy to be wrong on this.


Sen Bernie Sanders' Guide to Corporate Freeloaders

Monsanto the devil Will Soon Be Allowed To Police Itself

BY Ariel Schwartz Mon Apr 25, 2011

Monsanto the devil, enemy of organic farmers and anti-GMO advocates alike, will likely be allowed to conduct its own environmental studies as part of a two-year USDA experiment. But there is no good that can possibly come of an experiment where the company behind nearly every genetically modified crop in our daily diets is allowed to decide whether its products are causing any environmental harm. And Monsanto the devil isn't the only biotech company that will be permitted to police itself.

As it stands, the USDA is responsible for assessing environmental impacts of new GMO crops. The agency has been lax about this, to say the least. In 2005, the USDA gave Monsanto the devil the go-ahead to unleash its sugar beets before preparing an Environmental Impact Statement. This decision eventually triggered a judge to rule that Monsanto the devil sugar beet seedlings should be ripped from the ground.

Because the USDA is so bad at doing its job on time, the agency decided to see if anyone else was prepared to do its safety testing work instead. And so it looks like the USDA will at least temporarily hand over environmental impact reporting responsibilities to the biotech companies behind GMO crops. The pilot program will allow these companies to conduct their own environmental assessments of crops or outsource the work to contractors. The USDA will still get the final say in determining the safety of crops.

The USDA won't actually admit that it's bad at performing its duties--instead, the agency claims that the move will make the environmental reporting process more timely, efficient, and cost-effective, according to the Federal Register (PDF). If the company has a vested interest in getting one of its crops deregulated, why wouldn't it try to fudge the numbers on an environmental review? And why wouldn't its hired contractors do the same? If this wasn't so dangerous, it would be funny.

Already, GMO crops are causing environmental problems. Monsanto the devil's Roundup Ready soy, corn, and cotton have spawned Roundup-resistant superweeds, which force farmers to douse their crops in even more Roundup Ready pesticides (that's called synergy). And cross-pollination between GMO and non-GMO crops is making it ever more difficult for companies to stay organic.

Don't expect any immediately catastrophic changes to the food-supply chain. Instead, the USDA's experiment may slowly push through more GMO crops into fields and onto our plates. One day, we may realize that these crops have triggered irreversible damages. At least we'll know exactly who to blame.

Microsoft collects locations of Windows phone users

Like Apple and Google, Microsoft collects records of the physical locations of customers who use its mobile operating system.

Windows Phone 7, supported by manufacturers including Dell, HTC, LG, Nokia, and Samsung, transmits to Microsoft a miniature data dump including a unique device ID, details about nearby Wi-Fi networks, and the phone's GPS-derived exact latitude and longitude. 

A Microsoft representative was not immediately able to answer questions that CNET posed this afternoon, including how long the location histories are stored and how frequently the phone's coordinates are transmitted over the Internet. Windows Phone currently claims about a 6 percent market share but, according to IDC, will capture about 21 percent by 2015 thanks to Microsoft's partnership with Nokia.

Microsoft does say, however, that location histories are not saved directly on the device. That's different from Apple's practice of recording the locations of visible cell towers on iPhone and iPad devices, which can result in more than a year's worth of data being quietly logged.

Google's approach, by contrast, records only the last few dozen locations on Android phones.
The privacy practices of mobile software companies have come under extensive scrutiny after a researcher at a conference last week in Santa Clara, Calif., described in detail how the iPhone's location logging works. A CNET report, however, showed that law enforcement and forensics analysts had been aware of and relied on the undocumented feature since at least last year.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) today asked Google and Apple to appear at a Senate hearing scheduled for May 10, and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has asked for a meeting. A lawsuit seeking class action status was filed today in Tampa, Fla.

According to a Web page in the "Help and How-To" section of the Windows Phone site, Microsoft has assembled a database with the "location of certain mobile cell towers and Wi-Fi access points" so a mobile device can determine its location more quickly, and with less battery drain, than if only GPS was used. Relying exclusively on GPS would have a negative "impact on mobile phone users by increasing data charges and draining the battery," the company says.

To make applications like maps work, of course, it's necessary for a smartphone or tablet to transmit its GPS coordinates to a remote server--and, in exchange, receive nearby restaurant reviews, or driving directions, and so on.

Privacy concerns begin to arise when a unique device ID is transmitted, which allows a company to track a customer's whereabouts over an extended period of time. Randomizing the device ID frequently would alleviate some concerns. (Microsoft says that in the case of Windows Phone 7, location information is transmitted to its servers only if Wi-Fi and location services are turned on. It also points out it offers a global switch to turn off all location-based services.)

"The user is identifiable if you have a series of events" that can be linked together, says Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, D.C.
Microsoft says its operating system transmits the MAC address of the Wi-Fi access point (but not the name), signal strength, a randomly generated unique device ID retained for an unspecified limited period of time, and, if GPS is turned on, the precise location and direction and speed of travel. That happens when the "application or user makes a request for location information," the company says.

One privacy concern is that location databases can be a gold mine for police or civil litigants: requesting cell phone location information from wireless carriers has become a staple of criminal investigations, often without search warrants being sought. It's not clear how often legal requests for these records have been sent to Microsoft, which said it could not immediately answer that question, or whether its lawyers require a search warrant signed by a judge.

Even though police are tapping into the locations of mobile phones thousands of times a year by contacting AT&T, Verizon Wireless, and other mobile carriers, the legal ground rules remain unclear, and federal privacy laws written a generation ago are ambiguous at best. The Obama Justice Department has claimed that no warrant is required for historical location information, a claim opposed by a coalition of companies including Google and Microsoft but not Apple. (CNET first reported on warrantless cell tracking in 2005.)

Apple acknowledged (PDF) to Congress last year that "cell tower and Wi-Fi access point information" is "intermittently" collected and "transmitted to Apple" every 12 hours, but has declined to elaborate. Google has confirmed that it collects location information from Android devices, but downplayed concerns about privacy by saying the information is not "traceable to a specific user." It has yet to respond to questions from last Friday.

Here are the questions, still unanswered, that CNET posed to Microsoft this afternoon:
  • When did Microsoft start collecting location data from mobile devices?  
  • Does Microsoft collect cell tower data?  
  • How frequently do devices running Windows Phone 7 transmit the data to Microsoft? Every 15 minutes? Hourly? Daily?  
  • How is that done? Is it an HTTP POST request to a server, like Google?  
  • Is the connection encrypted? If so, using what method?  
  • What information, exactly, is transmitted?  
  • You say the information collected includes a "randomly generated unique device ID." Is that device ID ever changed? If it is changed, how often does it change?  
  • What does Microsoft use the database of Wi-Fi access points for? Because you collect "direction and speed" if GPS is available, is it used for traffic data?  
  • You say the WiFi access points are surveyed when "the user has allowed a particular application to access location services and the application requests location information." If WiFi is turned on, location services have been activated, but no apps are ever run, will location data ever be transmitted to Microsoft?  
  • You say the randomly generated ID is "retained for a limited period." How long is that? Is the ID then deleted or only partially anonymized?  
  • Given a street address or pair of GPS coordinates, is Microsoft able to produce the location logs associated with that generated ID, if legally required to do so?  
  • Given a generated ID, is Microsoft able to produce the complete location logs associated with it, if legally required to do so?  
  • Given a MAC address of an access point, is Microsoft able to produce the generated IDs and location data associated with it, if legally required to do so?  
  • How many law enforcement requests or forms of compulsory process have you received for access to any portion of this database?  
  • If Microsoft knows that a Hotmail user is connecting from a home network IP address every evening, it would be trivial to link that with an Windows phone's device ID that also connects via that IP address. Does Microsoft do that?  
  • Is any information about current or previously-visited locations stored on a Windows Phone 7 device?  
  • Is Microsoft planning to change any of its policies regarding location data storage and transmission?

Reid to force Senate vote on controversial Ryan budget

By Sahil Kapur - RAW Story
Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

WASHINGTON – Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will hold a Senate vote on Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-WI) controversial budget plan, Raw Story has confirmed.

The plan, recently approved by the House, has virtually no chance of passing the Democratic-led Senate. The vote would serve to put Senate Republicans on the record in favor of slashing taxes on the rich while replacing Medicare with a voucher program.

"There will be an opportunity in the Senate to vote on the Ryan budget to see if Republican senators like the Ryan budget as much as the House did," Reid told reporters on a conference call. "Without going into the Ryan budget we will see how much the Republicans like it here in the Senate."

Numerous polls have found the budget's provisions to be unpopular, and House Republicans who voted for it two Friday ago -- all but four backed it -- have since faced a backlash from constituents back home.

Reid said enactment of the plan would be "one of the worst things that happened to this country."

A date hasn't yet been set for the vote, a Reid aide said.

Americans Protest Awful GOP Budget Plan Around the Country

This week, town hall anger went from a few isolated incidents to a daily deluge of passion and temper from Americans frustrated with their out-of-touch representatives.
By , ThinkProgress
on April 27, 2011

At town hall events across the country, Americans are confronting members of Congress who voted for the House Republicans' radical budget, which effectively ends Medicare, slashes Medicaid, hacks away at domestic spending, and extends tax breaks for the wealthy. The entire House GOP caucus except for four lawmakers voted for Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-WI) budget earlier this month, claiming a mandate from the November elections to drastically reduce domestic spending. But Republicans went beyond any semblance of responsible budget tightening to a radical deconstruction of core pillars of the health, safety, and security of the country. Recent polls show Americans are firmly opposed to Ryan's budget proposal, with over 70 percent of Republicans opposing cuts to Medicare, while over 80 percent of Americans overall disapprove of cuts to the social safety net program. And Americans are clearly demonstrating their displeasure with their GOP lawmakers, who are in their home districts for this month on recess from Congress. Last week, as lawmakers began holding town hall sessions in their districts, a number of Washington commentators wondered, "If the Ryan budget is so unpopular, where are the town-hall meltdowns?" This week, in the Washington commentariat got their answer as town hall anger went from a few isolated incidents to a daily deluge of passion and temper from Americans frustrated with their out-of-touch representatives. The town halls, like the opposition to the GOP budget more generally, were slow to begin in part because Ryan was so quick to act.

While President Obama and congressional Democrats allowed for over a year of debate, study, and discussion on their health care reform law, House Republicans unveiled and voted on their plan to radically transform Medicare in a matter of weeks, giving opponents almost no time to mobilize against it or educate Americans about its effects. Moreover, those opposed to Ryan's plan don't have the constant cheerleading of right-wing talk radio and Fox News, which directly helped organize and promote the 2009 town halls. Nonetheless, as part of what the Progress Report has dubbed a Main Street Movement of average Americans upset that conservatives want to cut social services and public investment for everyday people while lavishing tax breaks on the wealthy and corporations, Americans are standing up to their lawmakers on their own.

MEDICARE: Many of the town hall protests this month have targeted freshmen Republicans from swing districts who were voted into office in last November's GOP wave. While voters may have wanted to send a message to Washington by electing a Republican, they have been dismayed by how radically right-wing their new congressmen have turned out to be. One of the first documented town hall protests last week was at a stop of freshman Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-PA). During the campaign, Meehan assured his future constituents that he wouldn't vote for Ryan's "agenda," but once in office, he did just that. "Meehan was asked about entitlement reform and Medicare at nearly every town hall he went to" last week, with constituents' anger visible. By the weekend, freshmen Reps. Robert Dold (R-IL), Charlie Bass (R-NH), Sean Duffy (R-WI), and Lou Barletta (R-PA) had all faced constituent anger of their own over the GOP's Medicare privatization plan. At a town hall in Hillsborough, NH, the first six questions Bass faced from constituents were about his vote to privatize Medicare. One attendee pointed out that what the Republicans are doing is pursuing a "divide and conquer"strategy by eliminating Medicare for future generations while keeping it for current seniors. At a town hall in Shell Late, WI, Duffy got into a heated exchange with constituents when he insisted that Ryan's plan does not effectively replace Medicare with a voucher system, but attendees repeatedly corrected him. Later, Duffy got huffy; frustrated by his constituents' questions about his presentation, he told attendees, "When you have your town hall you can stand up and give your presentation." Yesterday, constituent anger reached a boiling point at a town hall in Orlando for freshman Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL) when "bedlam" erupted as constituents angrily peppered him with questions about his vote for privatizing Medicare.
Webster tried to avoid answering many of the questions, and eventually, conservative hecklers fired back at those trying to hold Webster accountable. Police officers flanked Webster and had to tell the crowd to quite down.  

TAXES: The other main theme constituents have been pressing their lawmakers on this month is tax fairness. Ryan's budget would preserve the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest two percent of Americans while cutting corporate tax rates -- a proposal even Ryan's own constituents are not happy about. During a town hall meeting in Milton, WI, last week, a constituent who described himself as a "lifelong conservative" asked Ryan about the effects of growing income inequality in our nation. The constituent noted that huge income disparities contributed to the Great Depression and the Great Recession, and thus wanted to know why the congressman was "fighting to not let the tax breaks for the wealthy expire." Ryan responded by saying, "we do tax the top," eliciting a a chorus of boos and grumbling from attendees. Yesterday, Ryan faced chants of "Ryan stop lying!" at a town hall in Kenosha, WI, which drew a capacity crowd inside and over a 100 protesters outside. "Do not renew the Bush tax credit for the wealthy," one man demanded. Meanwhile, at a town hall in Salem, NY, Rep. Chris Gibson (R-NY) faced similar outbursts. In answering a question, Gibson said that Americans pay higher taxes because "here are people in the country that are not paying taxes because they're illegal [immigrants]."

At this point, a town hall attendee cried out, "You mean like GE?!" forcing the congressman to say that he agreed that the company needs to pay its fair share. Audience members at Dold's town hall said they "don’t believe chopping 10 percentage points off the highest corporate tax rate will create jobs." At Duffy's town hall, one attendee said she agrees with Ryan's concerns about the deficit and "that’s why we have to raise taxes on the rich, and raise taxes on the corporations who have never been richer than they have now. And you guys just cut their taxes again." "Oh yeah!" another constituent responded.

'EVERY RIGHT TO SPEAK': During the 2009 town halls, which mostly targeted Democrats, Republican lawmakers repeatedly praised tea party activists for their disruptions at town halls, saying it was important to let them have their voices heard. But now that they're on the receiving end of constituents' anger, it's unclear how much Republicans will embrace this democratic process. Ryan abruptly left a town hall yesterday ahead of schedule, citing "security concerns" from hecklers. But Ryan went through with a town hall in 2009 despite credible threats against union members at the event. At a town hall in 2009, when a heckler disrupted Ryan and promoted boos from other audience members, Ryan told the crowd, "She has every right to talk, every right to speak." In an interview with Fox News at the time, Ryan said Obama's policies had driven people to the town halls, which he praised as a grass roots outpouring of "people up in arms" about bad policies. "[T]his is amazing," Ryan told a largely supportive town hall in Aug. 2009.

Meanwhile, conservatives are trying to drown out progressives at today's town halls, with American Action Network -- a relatively new conservative front group founded by a group of Wall Street bankers -- loading up conservative activists with softball questions and talking points to bolster Republican lawmakers on the Ryan plan.