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Undernews For August 6, 2008

Undernews For August 6, 2008

FROM THE PROGRESSIVE REVIEW
Washington's Most Unofficial Source
611 Pennsylvania Ave SE #381
Washington DC 20003
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Editor: Sam Smith

7 AUG 2008

WORD

Pessimists get only pleasant surprises - Nero Wolfe

As I've often told Ginsberg, you can't blame the President for the state of the country, it's always the poets' fault. You can't expect politicians to come up with a vision, they don't have it in them. Poets have to come up with the vision and they have to turn it on so it sparks and catches hold. - Ken Keysey

Give the people a choice between a Republican and a Democrat who talks like a Republican and they'll choose the Republican every time.
- Harry S. Truman

MORNING LINE

We have reported on how the Obama campaign has stagnated despite some obvious advantages including a poor economy, a weak GOP candidate and Obama's pop star image. Further, the Review's score card finds in recent weeks that the most number of senators the Democrats might gain has fallen from nine to five. Now some other journals have picked up the theme

Politico - While Obama still leads in most matchups with John McCain, the Illinois senator’s apparent stall in the polls is a sobering reminder to Democrats intoxicated with his campaign’s promises to expand the electoral map beyond the boundaries that have constrained other recent party nominees.

That gap between expectations and reality comes as Democrats enjoy the most favorable political winds since at least 1976. At least eight in ten Americans believe the nation is on the wrong track. The Republican president is historically unpopular. From stunning Democratic gains in party registration to the high levels of economic anxiety, Obama by most every measure should have a healthy lead. Yet in poll after poll, Obama conspicuously fails to cross the 50-percent threshold. . .

Three demographic groups have generally kept Obama ahead in the past two months: African-Americans, youth and Hispanics. But a lead based on those groups is a tenuous one. The youth vote, notorious for not meeting expectations, must turn out in significantly higher numbers than in past elections. Obama must continue to win the black vote nearly unanimously and still turn out new African American voters. McCain must continue to underperform with Hispanics by about 10 percentage points compared to Bush in the summer of 2004.

McCain might also be said to have hit a ceiling himself. At best, he has only statistically tied Obama for fleeting periods this summer. Yet in this Democratic year, the subject that dominates chatter among pollsters is Obama’s stubbornly slim lead. If there is a primary explanation as to why the race has remained close this summer, it is that Obama has failed to make gains overall with white voters, who still cast about three in four ballots on Election Day.

Washington Times - "His bubble hasn't burst, but it's leaking a little bit," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. "It is not massive. It is incremental, but we've seen it across the board in all of these states, that [Mr. McCain] is doing better among white voters, especially white voters without college educations." . . . [Pollster John]. Zogby said racial prejudice is clearly behind some of the defections from Mr. Obama and said Mr. McCain has made gains among conservatives, women and young voters, and now leads among Catholics - a group Mr. Obama struggled to win over in a grueling primary battle against Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York. . . Deepening Mr. Obama's woes, the appetite for negative information appears to be large. The Associated Press reported that three new anti-Obama books were among the top 20 best-sellers on Amazon.com's list on Tuesday, despite little critical attention or mainstream media coverage. . . Not all the polls show a dead-even race. The AP/Ipsos poll released Tuesday gave Mr. Obama a 47 percent to 41 percent lead, with the margin coming from women, minorities and young voters. . . In Minnesota, Mr. McCain jumped to a 48 percent to 40 percent lead among independents, after Mr. Obama led in June by 21 points - 54 percent to 33 percent - Mr. McCain also jumped to a lead among independent voters in both Ohio and Florida, and Mr. Obama lost support among independents in Michigan and Colorado.

Rasmussen Reports - McCain is currently viewed favorably by 56% of the nation’s voters, Obama by 54%. McCain is now trusted by more voters than Obama on nine of fourteen key issues tracked by Rasmussen Reports.

PAGE ONE MUST

CORPORATE EXECS ABUSING PENSION PLANS FOR OWN BENEFIT

Wall Street Journal - At a time when scores of companies are freezing pensions for their workers, some are quietly converting their pension plans into resources to finance their executives' retirement benefits and pay.

In recent years, companies from Intel Corp. to CenturyTel Inc. collectively have moved hundreds of millions of dollars of obligations for executive benefits into rank-and-file pension plans. This lets companies capture tax breaks intended for pensions of regular workers and use them to pay for executives' supplemental benefits and compensation.

The practice has drawn scant notice. A close examination by The Wall Street Journal shows how it works and reveals that the maneuver, besides being a dubious use of tax law, risks harming regular workers. It can drain assets from pension plans and make them more likely to fail. Now, with the current bear market in stocks weakening many pension plans, this practice could put more in jeopardy.

How many is impossible to tell. Neither the Internal Revenue Service nor other agencies track this maneuver. Employers generally reveal little about it. Some benefits consultants have warned them not to, in order to forestall a backlash by regulators and lower-level workers.

ANTHRAX UPDATE AUG 6

International Herald Tribune - A few days before the anthrax attacks of 2001, the scientist who has emerged as the suspect in the case sent e-mails warning that Osama bin Laden's "terrorists for sure have anthrax and sarin gas" and have "just decreed death to all Jews and all Americans," according to documents released by the government on Wednesday. Moreover, the government said, the scientist, Dr. Bruce Ivins, was the sole custodian as a microbiologist at Fort Detrick, Maryland, of the particular strain of anthrax used in the attacks, although he was not the sole person with access to that anthrax. .

The segment about the e-mails notes that the wording was similar, and in some instances identical, to the language in the anthrax-laced letters. "Death to America" and "Death to Israel" were phrases that appeared both in the doctor's e-mails and in the letters. . .

The envelopes that held the letters were "federal eagle" envelopes, so-named because of the eagle perched on a bar bearing the initials "USA" in the upper right-hand corner, and bore tiny but tell-tale defects that searchers determined were traceable to a post office in Maryland or Virginia, the official documents relate.

And of the 16 government, commercial and university laboratories that had virulent anthrax strains like the one used in the deadly mailings, only one was in Maryland or Virginia ? the Fort Detrick lab where Ivins worked before his July 29 suicide, the documents say.

In addition, searches of Ivins's home in Frederick, Maryland, turned up "hundreds" of similar letters that had not yet been sent to media outlets and members of Congress, people who were briefed by the FBI on Wednesday said. Those people said investigators found that Ivins sometimes kept odd, night-time hours in the lab, and that he would sometimes drive to mailboxes miles out of his way. . .

As for motive, the documents suggest that in addition to whatever long-term personal problems he had, Ivins was distraught because a company had lost its government approval to produce an anthrax vaccine for troops, and he believed the vaccine was essential. . .

Friends and colleagues, meanwhile, have offered a more detailed account of Ivins's difficult last nine months, saying that he was so distraught by the FBI's constant scrutiny that he began drinking excessively and had to be hospitalized twice for periods of weeks for substance abuse.

A friend and fellow member of a 12-step program for alcoholics who spent hours counseling him said Ivins, who at least in recent years had not been a drinker, went rapidly downhill after the FBI searched his house and questioned his wife and children last November.

The friend, a fellow scientist who spoke on the condition that he not be named, said Ivins had repeatedly denied sending the anthrax letters and was particularly upset at what he considered to be the FBI's aggressive questioning of his children, Andrew and Amanda, both 24, as investigators tried to get them to turn on their father.

"He said, 'I'm innocent of these charges,' " the friend said. "He was absolutely shocked they were going after him like this." Through much of the year, the friend said, Ivins was drinking large amounts of vodka, combined with Ambien and prescription tranquilizers. After being found unconscious in his home in March, he spent four weeks in a treatment program at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland After that he spent another four weeks in treatment at the Thomas Finan Center in Cumberland, Maryland, being released to go home to Frederick in late May.

Smoking Gun - Included in the affidavits is the government's bid to possibly explain why Ivins sent anthrax-filled letters to Tom Brokaw (an NBC investigative reporter had filed a Freedom of Information request regarding Ivins's laboratory work) and U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy and Tom Daschle (the pols' pro-life stance angered Ivins, a practicing Catholic). The documents also describe how Ivins created a bogus e-mail trail in a bid to deflect investigative attention from him to two other scientists at Fort Detrick, where Ivins worked. The documents also describe Ivins's fascination with the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority and how he engaged in an "edit war" on the group's Wikipedia page. Ivins, investigators reported, repeatedly posted negative information on the KKG page and was angered when it was removed from the site by other users. In a February 2007 online posting traced to one of his e-mail addresses, Ivins bizarrely claimed that the sorority had, many years earlier, labeled him an "enemy" and had issued a "Fatwah" against him. Following the September 11 attacks (but before the anthrax mailings), Ivins sent an e-mail to a colleague warning that Osama bin Laden disciples possessed anthrax and sarin gas. In other e-mails sent during 2000 and 2001, Ivins described his precarious mental state and wrote that he worried about someday reading a headline in the National Enquirer exclaiming, "Paranoid Man Works With Deadly Anthrax!!!" A July 11, 2008 affidavit reported that Ivins, angered at being the government's prime suspect, planned "to kill co-workers and other individuals who had wronged him." The law enforcement searches, executed by agents with the FBI and U.S. Postal Service, targeted Ivins's Frederick, Maryland home, his government lab, three automobiles, several e-mail accounts, and a safe deposit box.

Brad Blog - The first AP report relied heavily on testimony from Ivins' short-time social worker Jean Duley, who has a criminal record consisting of several drunk driving charges and narcotics possession. She doesn't know how to spell the word "therapist," according to her hand-scrawled note to the judge which she filed while seeking a restraining order against Ivins. . .

The Frederick News-Post then notes today that apparently the FBI encouraged Duley to seek the restraining order. "She decided to get the peace order after an FBI agent working the case suggested it," they write. . .

During a July 9 group session, Duley described Ivins as "extremely agitated" and "out of control." When she asked him what was going on, he told the group "a very long and detailed homicidal plan" including killing his co-workers and roaming the streets of Frederick trying to pick a fight with somebody so that he could stab the person.

Those are some very serious charges, obviously, but they should be easy to confirm, or quickly dismissed, by interviews with other patients, since it was group therapy after all, and theoretically, many others heard the same thing that Duley did. Has the FBI talked with those folks yet? If so, they haven't decided to leak the confirmation to the media. . .

Duley had testified to the judge (on the suggestion of the FBI) that Ivins "has been forensically diagnosed by several top psychiatrists as a sociopathic homicidal killer." Oddly enough, however, despite those supposed diagnosis, Ivins was allowed to continue working in his high-security job at a U.S. Army facility, with access to the world's most dangerous bio-terror viruses.

Stephen Kiehl, Baltimore Sun - The New York Times reported that investigators intensively questioned his children, Andrew and Amanda, now both 24. One former colleague, Dr. W. Russell Byrne, said the agents pressed Ivins' daughter repeatedly to acknowledge that her father was involved in the attacks. "It was not an interview," Byrne said. "It was a frank attempt at intimidation." Byrne said he believed Ivins was singled out partly because of his personal weaknesses. "If they had real evidence on him, why did they not just arrest him?". . .

Rep. Rush Holt, who represents the central New Jersey district where the anthrax letters were mailed, said circumstantial evidence is not enough, especially after the series of mistakes made in this case. The FBI spent years investigating Steven J. Hatfill, another scientist who worked in the same lab as Ivins. The government recently agreed to pay a $5.82 million settlement to Hatfill.

IRAQ PILES UP SURPLUS AS U.S. DEBT DEEPENS

CNN - Iraq is raking in more money from oil exports than it is spending, amassing a projected four-year budget surplus of up to $80 billion, U.S. auditors reported y. Oil accounted for 94 percent of the Iraq's revenue from 2005 to 2007, a U.S. report says. Leading members of Congress, noting that Washington is paying for reconstruction in Iraq, expressed outrage at the assessment. One called the findings "inexcusable."

"We should not be paying for Iraqi projects while Iraqi oil revenues continue to pile up in the bank, including outrageous profits from $4-a-gallon gas prices in the U.S.," said Sen. Carl Levin, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "We should require that U.S. taxpayers be reimbursed for the cost of large projects."

ADJECTIVES BEFORE ISSUES

While the massive incarceration of young black males for drug use and the socio-economic cleansing of our cities fail to attract their attention, some white liberals certainly know how to spot an evil adjective.

James Taranto, Wall Street Journal - Back in April, we noted an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times by one David K. Shipler, an expert on adjectival racism. In his view, pretty much any adjective is a few degrees of separation from a racial slur, and thus one should exercise extreme caution when modifying Barack Obama in a sentence. Example: " 'Elitist' is another word for 'arrogant,' which is another word for 'uppity,' that old calumny applied to blacks who stood up for themselves." And:

"Casting Obama as 'out of touch' plays harmoniously with the traditional notion of blacks as 'others' at the edge of the mainstream, separate from the whole. . . "

Here's another example. Some people have said Obama has a 'thin résume.' But "thin" is another word for "skinny," which is a slur for "black." Or so it is according to Slate's Timothy Noah, who has found invidious racism in the pages of the venerable Wall Street Journal.

This latest racial crisis began last Friday, when Journal reporter Amy Chozik published a piece titled 'Too Fit to Be President?' Chozik speculated that Obama may be too far gaunt to lead a nation of lard butts. As political analyses go, it was more whimsical than weighty, which was signaled by its placement on the front page of the Weekend Journal section.

Y Noah weighed in on the subject. "Any discussion of Obama's 'skinniness' and its impact on the typical American voter," he opined, "can't avoid being interpreted as a coded discussion of race." Here's his argument:

"Barack Obama is the first African-American to win a major-party nomination for president of the United States. African-Americans are distinguishable from other Americans by their skin color. This physical attribute looms large in our nation's history as a source of prejudice. . .

"When white people are invited to think about Obama's physical appearance, the principal attribute they're likely to dwell on is his dark skin. Consequently, any reference to Obama's other physical attributes can't help coming off as a coy walk around the barn."

Chozik tells Noah that this is "ridiculous," to which Noah responds that she is "clueless." Proving that cluelessness comes in all colors, Noah calls his black friend "to ask whether she was offended. She was not."
GOP AFRAID OF ELDERLY WOMEN WITH COOKIES AS WELL AS PARIS HILTON

Corrente Wire - Following the celebration [of Medicare's birthday], Rosemary Prostko, a senior citizen and volunteer with the Western PA Coalition for Single-Payer Healthcare, headed south to the Mt. Lebanon district office of her U.S. Representative, Tim Murphy, where she was joined by three other supporters. Their goal: to deliver an enormous "Happy Birthday Medicare/Support Improved Medicare for All" cookie, visible through hard plastic, along with single-payer information and an over-sized Medicare Birthday card containing hundreds of signatures in support of single-payer legislation.

Prostko’s account: "F. and I arrived at Rep. Murphy’s office at about 3:00 P.M. We were soon joined by two 60+ year old female constituents of Congressional District 18. The four of us approached the office with the camera on but not recording. I pushed the buzzer. A very young staffer opened the door a crack. I very pleasantly said, 'Since no one from your office could attend Senator Ferlo’s Birthday Party for Medicare we brought the party to you!' He slammed the door saying "We do not allow videotaping." I shouted through the door 'We will turn the camera off!' He disappeared into the darkness of the office.

"Quite surprised we looked at each other!! What should we do now?

"We decided to proceed to State Senator Pippy’s office two blocks down the street. We arrived at the Senator’s office-same materials, a second cookie, and entered. The person at the desk was very gracious. F. did ask if he could tape and was told 'Yes, of course'. . . . The whole episode took about three to four minutes and was very pleasant.

"As we left Senator Pippy’s office (three 60+ year old ladies and 45ish F.) we were approached by two Mt. Lebanon police officers. They were very polite but asked what we were doing and if we had ID. As compliant U.S. citizens doing nothing wrong, the others did as requested. I gave no ID because I had left everything in my car to carry the cookie/materials. We asked why they needed the info and they said they needed it for their report. Reports were made on all complaints. The officer doing the talking said we had frightened the staff at Rep. Murphy’s office and they were investigating the complaint. They said they would phone the representative's office and tell them who we were and our intent to deliver a cookie and written materials.

"M. and L. had run out of time so they left. F. and I went back up the street. F., as a non-constituent and the 'cameraman,' decided to stay away. The unmarked police car was in front of the office. I entered and rang the buzzer. Two staff people looked out at me and once more faded into the darkness of the office.

"I went to the police officer in his car. I said 'Please come to the office with me so they are not afraid.' He said 'I called and gave them your information. They are a private business and they do not have to admit you.' I, of course, responded ;They are not a private business they are the site of my government representative.'

"His reply once more was they did not have to let me in. I said I thought he was giving more service to them than to me. He replied if I felt threatened he would do the same to protect me as he was doing for them. I asked if he felt I was a threat to anyone. He smiled but did not answer.

"Remember, I did not give my name or any ID. This morning Rep. Murphy himself called my home to 'see what happened.' I wonder where he got my name? I will be going to the Mt. Lebanon Police Station to review the report.

"I think Murphy’s office owes us all an explanation. Democrat Steve O’Donnell is running for that seat, so if you live in Western Pennsylvania, you might want to give him a call."

SHIPPING COSTS CUTTING GLOBALIZATION

Larry Rohter, NT Times - The world economy has become so integrated that shoppers find relatively few T-shirts and sneakers in Wal-Mart and Target carrying a "Made in the U.S.A." label. But globalization may be losing some of the inexorable economic power it had for much of the past quarter-century, even as it faces fresh challenges as a political ideology. . .

"If we think about the Wal-Mart model, it is incredibly fuel-intensive at every stage, and at every one of those stages we are now seeing an inflation of the costs for boats, trucks, cars," said Naomi Klein, the author of "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.". . .

Many economists argue that globalization will not shift into reverse even if oil prices continue their rising trend. But many see evidence that companies looking to keep prices low will have to move some production closer to consumers. Globe-spanning supply chains - Brazilian iron ore turned into Chinese steel used to make washing machines shipped to Long Beach, Calif., and then trucked to appliance stores in Chicago - make less sense today than they did a few years ago.

To avoid having to ship all its products from abroad, the Swedish furniture manufacturer Ikea opened its first factory in the United States in May. Some electronics companies that left Mexico in recent years for the lower wages in China are now returning to Mexico, because they can lower costs by trucking their output overland to American consumers. . .

The cost of shipping a 40-foot container from Shanghai to the United States has risen to $8,000, compared with $3,000 early in the decade, according to a recent study of transportation costs. Big container ships, the pack mules of the 21st-century economy, have shaved their top speed by nearly 20 percent to save on fuel costs, substantially slowing shipping times.

The study, published in May by the Canadian investment bank CIBC World Markets, calculates that the recent surge in shipping costs is on average the equivalent of a 9 percent tariff on trade. . .

CHARTER SCHOOLS FLUNK IMPORTANT TEST

A new report from the National Alliance for Charter Schools argues that black students do better in charter schools than elsewhere, citing these reports:

- A national comparison of student achievement on 4th grade reading and math state tests conducted by Stanford University Professor Caroline Hoxby found that, on average, public charter schools serving a high percentage of black students have more students earning proficient scores than traditional public schools serving a similar student population

- A Florida Department of Education study shows public charter schools closing the achievement gap between black and white students at a faster rate than traditional public schools in key subjects and grade levels.

-- Black students in Massachusetts charter schools are overtaking peers in non-charters on state reading and math tests, according to a study by the Massachusetts Department of Education.

-- A 2008 survey of Chicago charter schools reveals that black students who attend a charter high school have an average composite ACT score half a point higher than black students in a traditional district school.

Missing from such arguments is one critical fact: charter school enrollment is less than three percent of public school enrollment and represents students whose parents had enough independence and initiative to place them there. From the start, charter school students are in no way typical, but come from atypical and more ambitious family backgrounds

This is obscured because the debate usually focuses on ethnicity or grades rather than on psychological factors. Parents who have enough drive to switch their children's schools out of an expectation - right or wrong - that they will do better elsewhere are most likely to apply that drive to their children on issues such as homework and classroom effort.

It is also true that charter schools tend to be smaller than public schools, another factor - again underrated in public debate - that may make a big difference.

When such factors are applied, bragging over a half point gain in ACT scores is a bit pathetic.

TENS OF THOUSANDS OF GORILLAS DISCOVERED

National Geographic - Deep in the hinterlands of the Republic of the Congo lies a secret ape paradise that is home to 125,000 western lowland gorillas, researchers announced. The findings, if confirmed, would more than double the world's estimated population of this great ape subspecies, which is classified as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Western lowland gorillas have been devastated in recent years by illegal hunting for bush meat and the spread of the Ebola virus. Just last year scientists projected the animals' numbers could fall as low as 50,000 by 2011.. . .

The gorillas have thrived thanks to their remoteness from human settlements, food-rich habitats, and two decades of conservation efforts in one of the world's poorest countries, Stokes said.

MCCAIN WANTS TO TREAT AMERICAN CITIES TO MILITARY FORCE

Think Progress - Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) spoke to the National Urban League. When an audience member asked him how he planned to reduce urban crime, McCain praised Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s efforts in New York Cirty before invoking the military’s tactics in Iraq as the model for crime-fighting: "And some of those tactics - you mention the war in Iraq - are like that we use in the military. You go into neighborhoods, you clamp down, you provide a secure environment for the people that live there, and you make sure that the known criminals are kept under control. And you provide them with a stable environment and then they cooperate with law enforcement, etc, etc.

THE SORRY HISTORY OF OBAMA'S APPROACH TO IRAQ & AFGHANISTAN

http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/fisk/robert-fisk-new-actor-on-the-same-old-stage-883270.html

Robert Fisk, Independent, UK - Hasn't anyone realised that Obama has chosen for his advisers two of the most lamentable failures of US Middle East policy-making? There, yet again, is Dennis Ross, a former prominent staff member of AIPAC, the most powerful Israeli lobby in America - yup, the very same AIPAC to which Obama groveled last month - and the man who failed to make the Oslo agreement work. And there is Madeleine Albright who, as US ambassador to the UN, said that the price of half a million dead children under sanctions in Iraq was "worth it. . .

But this dreary old stage play doesn't end there. No one follows the narrative any more because it is so repetitive. Take Nouri al-Maliki, the PMIGZ - Prime Minister of the Iraqi Green Zone - who's suddenly gone from being the Democrats' favourite target to being their election buddy-buddy, as Max Boot sagely noted in The Washington Post. Maliki suggested to Obama that Iraq will be ready to assume responsibility for its own security by 2010. Bingo. This chimes in perfectly with Obama's promises.

But wait a minute. In May, 2006, Maliki announced that "our forces are capable of taking over the security in all Iraqi provinces within a year and a half". Five months later, the PMIGZ said that it would be "only a matter of months" before Iraqi security forces "take over the security portfolio entirely and keep some (sic) multinational forces only in a supporting role". Then in January, 2007, Maliki boasted that "within three to six months our need for the American troops will dramatically go down".

Four months later, he was at it again, claiming that Iraqi forces would control all security "in every province" within eight months. . The PMIGZ's own defence minister claims his forces can't assume responsibility until 2012, while the Iraqi commander in Basra wants US troops to stay until 2020!

Even if we ignore all this drivel, what does Obama want to do with his soldiers once he withdraws them from Iraq? He's going to send the poor devils back to Afghanistan, that graveyard of foreign armies where the Taliban were so utterly defeated in 2001 that they are now stronger than ever. I would recommend that Obama glance through Appendix XXIV of the official British account of the 1878-80 Second Afghan War where he will find the British announcing victory over a massed Afghan force which included a fierce group of fighters known as "talibs." These men would choose a particular soldier in the British ranks and make a suicidal attack to seize him and cut his throat in front of his comrades.

And I am "minded" (as Jack Straw used to say when he was showing off his English) of the bleak conversation I had with an adviser to the Taliban "elders" of Kandahar, a certain Mullah Abdullah, in the last days of the dark militia's rule in 2001. "If our people return and take back this lost land, it's a success," he told me. "If we are killed trying to do so, we have received martyrdom and this will be a great success for us too. . . If we are thrown out of Kandahar, we will go to the mountains and start the guerrilla war as we did with the Russians." The Taliban would fight on, he said. They would ambush the Americans in ever greater numbers. And so today Obama is also going to reinforce his soldiers to fight on in another Muslim country. If he wins.

FBI TAKES COMPUTERS FROM PUBLIC LIBRARY WITHOUT WARRANT

WTOP, DC - The FBI removed computer records from the C. Burr Artz Library this week, a library official confirmed Saturday. Darrell Batson, director of Frederick County Public Libraries, said two FBI employees came to the downtown Frederick library. The agents removed two public computers from the library's second floor. They told him they were taking the units back to their office in Washington, D.C., Batson said. Batson expected the computers would be returned early this week, he said. . .

This was the third time in his 10 years with FCPL that the FBI has come to the library seeking records, Batson said. It was the first time they came without a court order.

The library's procedure for such requests usually requires a court order, however after the agent described the case and the situation, he was persuaded to give them access, Batson said.

"They had an awful lot of information," he said, but he was not allowed to discuss specifics. "It was a decision I made on my experience and the information given to me," he said.

RECOVERED HISTORY: MCCAIN & THE KEATING FIVE SCANDAL

Tom Fitzpatrick, Phoenix New Times, 1989 - You're John McCain, a fallen hero who wanted to become president so desperately that you sold yourself to Charlie Keating, the wealthy con man who bears such an incredible resemblance to The Joker. Obviously, Keating thought you could make it to the White House, too. He poured $112,000 into your political campaigns. He became your friend. He threw fund raisers in your honor. He even made a sweet shopping-center investment deal for your wife, Cindy. Your father-in-law, Jim Hensley, was cut in on the deal, too.

Nothing was too good for you. Why not? Keating saw you as a prime investment that would pay off in the future.

So he flew you and your family around the country in his private jets. Time after time, he put you up for serene, private vacations at his vast, palatial spa in the Bahamas. All of this was so grand. You were protected from what Thomas Hardy refers to as "the madding crowd." It was almost as though you were already staying at a presidential retreat.

Like the old song, that now seems "Long ago and far away." Since Keating's collapse, you find yourself doing obscene things to save yourself from the Senate Ethics Committee's investigation. . . .

They say that if you put five lobsters into a pot and give them a chance to escape, none will be able to do so before you light the fire. Each time a lobster tries to climb over the top, his fellow lobsters will pull him back down. It is the way of lobsters and threatened United States senators.

And, of course, that's the way it is with the Keating Five. You are all battling to save your own hides. So you, McCain, leak to reporters about who did Keating's bidding in pressuring federal regulators to change the rules for Lincoln Savings and Loan.

When the reporters fail to print your tips quickly enough--as in the case of your tip on Michigan Senator Donald Riegle--you call them back and remind them how important it is to get that information in the newspapers.

The story of "the Keating Five" has become a scandal rivaling Teapot Dome and Watergate. The outcome will be decided, not in a courtroom, but probably on national television.

Those who survive will be the sociopaths who can tell a lie with the most sincere, straight face. You are especially adept at this. . .

You, the closest of them to Keating and the deepest in his debt, have chosen the path of the hard sell. You may even make it out of the pot, but to many, your protestations of innocence taste like gall.

ITALIAN OFFICIALS BRING BACK MEMORIES OF FASCISM

Nick Pisa, Telegraph, UK - As soldiers prepare to be deployed on Italian streets, a city mayor has been accused of fascism after he passed an edict banning groups of more than three people congregating in parks and public gardens. The anti-gathering laws were enacted as thousands of soldiers were due to take to the streets of Italian cities under a controversial move by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to fight crime.

Massimo Giordano, a member of Italy's anti immigration Northern League party, defended the anti-gathering motion and claimed it would cut down on unruly behavior. However opposition councilors said it was "reminiscent of Benito Mussolini's edict of the 1920's which banned groups of five or more people".

The ban will not affect courting couples who flock to parks and gardens in the northern Italian city of Novara, where Mr Giordano holds power, but if anyone is caught in a group of three or more they face a fine of 500 euro(L350).

Mr Giordano said that the edict would ban "gatherings in a bid to protect public decorum and prevent damage to public parks and gardens" from people who gathered in them at night.

Novara, which has a population of 100,000, is not seen as a particularly crime-ridden or violent city but the mayor passed the law after several elderly residents complained of noise.

He has also banned the consumption of alcohol at the city's station after 6pm and closed a immigrant cultural centre.

Opposition councillor Sara Paladini said: "There is no emergency situation in Novara - there is no need for such a fascist edict. There are other better ways to tackle the city's problems.". . .

DEALING WITH THE ECONOMIC FREE FALL

William Greider, Nation - In their haste to do anything the financial guys seem to want, Congress and the lame-duck President are, I fear, sowing far more profound troubles for the country. First, while throwing our money at Wall Street, government is neglecting the grave risk of a deeper catastrophe for the real economy of producers and consumers. Second, Washington's selective generosity for influential financial losers is deforming democracy and opening the path to an awesomely powerful corporate state. Third, the rescue has not succeeded, not yet. Banking faces huge losses ahead, and informed insiders assume a far larger federal bailout will be needed-- after the election. No one wants to upset voters by talking about it now. The next President, once in office, can break the bad news. It's not only about the money--with debate silenced, a dangerous line has been crossed. Hundreds of billions in open-ended relief has been delivered to the largest and most powerful mega-banks and investment firms, while government offers only weak gestures of sympathy for struggling producers, workers and consumers. .

The bailouts are rewarding the very people and institutions whose reckless behavior caused this financial mess. Yet government demands nothing from them in return--like new rules for prudent behavior and explicit obligations to serve the national interest. Washington ought to compel the financial players to rein in their appetite for profit in order to help save the country from a far worse fate: a depressed economy that cannot regain its normal energies. Instead, the Federal Reserve, the Treasury, the Democratic Congress and of course the Republicans meekly defer to the wise men of high finance, who no longer seem so all-knowing. .

The political system, once again, is rewarding failure. The Fed is an unreliable watchdog, ideologically biased and compromised by its conflicting obligations. Is it supposed to discipline the big money players or keep them afloat? Putting the secretive central bank in charge, with its unlimited powers to prop up troubled firms, would further eviscerate democracy, not to mention economic justice.

If Congress enacts this concept early next year, the privileged group of protected financial interests is sure to grow larger, because other non-financial firms could devise ways to reconfigure themselves so they too would qualify for club membership. A very large manufacturing conglomerate--General Electric, for instance--might absorb elements of banking in order to be covered by the Fed's umbrella (GE Capital is already among the largest pools of investment capital). Private- equity firms, with their buccaneer style of corporate management, are already trying to buy into banking, with encouragement from the Fed (the Service Employees International Union has mounted a campaign to stop them). A new President could stop the whole deal, of course, but John McCain has surrounded himself with influential advisers who were co-architects of this financial disaster. For that matter, so has Barack Obama.

The nation, meanwhile, is flirting with historic catastrophe. Nobody yet knows how bad it is, but the peril is vastly larger than previous episodes, like the savings and loan bailout of the late 1980s. The dangers are compounded by the fact that the United States is now utterly dependent on foreign creditors--Japan and China lead the list--who have been propping us up with their lending. Thanks to growing trade deficits and debt, foreign portfolio holdings of US long-term debt securities have more than doubled since 1994, from 7.9 percent to 18.8 percent as of June 2007. If these countries get fed up with their losses and pull the plug, the US economy will be a long, long time coming back.

An agenda of deeper reforms can boost public confidence even as it undoes a lot of the damage caused by the financiers and bankers. Some suggestions:

- Nationalize Fannie Mae and other government-supported enterprises instead of coddling them. Restore them to their original status as nonprofit federal agencies that provide a valuable service to housing and other markets. Make the investors eat their losses. Buy the shares at 2 cents on the dollar. Without a federal guarantee, these firms are doomed anyway.

- Resolve the democratic contradiction of "too big to fail" bailouts by dismantling the firms that are too big to fail--especially the newly created banking conglomerates that have done so much harm. Restore the boundaries between commercial banking and investment banking. In any case, market pressures are likely to shrink those behemoths as banks sell off their parts to survive. For the remaining big boys, revive antitrust enforcement. Set stern new conditions for emergency lending from government--supervised receivership, stricter lending rules to prevent recidivism and severe.

- Assign the Federal Reserve's regulatory role to a new public agency that is visible and politically accountable. Make the Fed a subsidiary agency of the Treasury Department and reform its decision-making on money and credit to restore an equitable balance between competing goals and interests--seeking full employment but also stable money and moderate inflation.

- Begin the hard task of re-creating a regulated financial system Americans can trust, one that recognizes its obligations to the broad national interest. This requires regulatory reforms to cover money pots like private-equity funds and to clear away the blatant conflicts of interest and double-dealing on Wall Street, and also to give responsible shareholders, workers and other interests a greater voice in corporate management and greater protection against rip-offs of personal savings.

- Re-enact the federal law against usury. The details are difficult and can follow later, but this would be a meaningful first step toward restoring moral obligations in the financial sector. People would understand it, and so would a lot of the money guys. Maybe in the deepening crisis, Washington will begin to grasp that money is also a moral issue.

CONGRESS GIVES AWAY 5,100 TV CHANNELS TO BIG MEDIA

Glen Ford, Black Agenda Report - On February 17 of next year, 5,100 new digital TV channels are scheduled to become operational. Every single one of them is stolen.

The biggest theft of the public airwaves in U.S. history is nearly complete, a crime perpetrated in semi-secret, that transfers a brand new universe of the digital broadcast spectrum into the possession of wholly undeserving corporations. As a result blacks, other minorities, unions, community organizations and all other non-rich societal stakeholders may be shut out of the main streams of television for the foreseeable future. .

Acting as agents of the broadcasting industry, rather than representatives of the people, Congress awarded the already filthy rich a digital TV bonanza valued at $80 billion. It is an unearned gift of a priceless resource made possible by digital technology's capacity to deliver far more information than analog technology. The Federal Communications Commission is overseeing the mega-theft.

Ironically, corporate media, already in possession of 1,700 highly profitable, full-power TV channels, doesn't know what to do with its 5,100-channel windfall. But the industry is united in its determination to keep the channels out of anyone else's hands. Such is the nature of monopolies.

This historically unprecedented heist of the airwaves has been hidden in plain sight. By now, everyone that owns a television set knows that something big will happen early next year, that viewers who are not hooked up to cable or already own a digital converter box might find themselves without a TV signal when stations shut down their analog broadcasts and switch to digital, on February 17. Far fewer people are aware that the digital changeover will multiply the number of broadcast channels four-fold. And most Americans will be totally shocked to learn that these thousands of additional channels have already been given away - stolen, really - further enriching the corporations that have turned American commercial TV into a "vast wasteland."

UNDERVIEWS

FAITH IN DOUBT

From a sermon at a Unitarian Church in Brunswick, Maine, by Weld Henshaw

I am an atheist. . . I thought it daring to begin my brief sermon with these words, these four words. Brief - the sine qua non of any summer sermon. But I can’t just stop after four words. First, that sentence is not fully honest. Second, I should explain this derives from a real sermon by a real preacher at The Old Ship Meeting House in Hingham twenty-odd years ago. Freshly called to Old Ship, Ken Read-Brown started with, "I am an agnostic."

It took no small amount of courage and honesty for a rookie with a young family dependent on his ministry. The rest of that sermon was magnificent, something I have never forgotten. Any faith to be true has to be anchored in the bedrock of honesty. And when honesty calls for the confessions of doubt, so be it. . .

So, if I have doubts about the atheist bit, why did I use it? The answer lies in a point, made clear by celebrated evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. . . Let us guess that in the sentient population, something like twenty per cent are true blue "I know my God is real" types (and "He walks with me and he talks with me …") Then there is, say, another group who believe in God with an unsteady faith, a belief something short of certainty, but who self describe as believers.

I read recently that a majority of Americans have only a ‘weak" belief in an afterlife. So down our this slippery slope we have another category, folks who somewhat vaguely believe in God but give it little thought and are conscious of passing clouds, ideations of agnosticism. Next to them are frank agnostics, who think it’s all beyond our ken. Some of them, I for example, do not really believe in God and see no arguments that lead to faith in a real God. We could be called super-agnostics or non-assertive atheists. Without conviction, we guess God might well be a delusion, our own construct to fend off bleak thoughts of future non-being.

Finally, there are true blue flat-out atheists who know no god exists. These tough minded folk, tiny in number; hold an assertive no-doubts atheism to me flawed by a certainty where certainty does not obtain. Not even Dawkins identifies with these deniers; I’m with Dawkins on this. It just doesn’t make sense to have leaps of non-faith. So this puts me as a leftist agnostic and something close to a functional atheist. I am unaware of any miracle or answered prayer in all human history. To me, the greatest miracle ever was Bill Mazeroski’s home run in the ninth inning of the seventh game of the 1960 World Series, an event ignored by all theologians save a few from my home town, Pittsburgh. . .

The Blind Watchmaker makes plain and irrefutable that natural selection, the adaptations to conditions and changing conditions, will alter and enhance all life to survive in optimum harmony with its environment. A key to comprehending evolution is that over enough time even tiny advantageous mutations will gradually win out in the ensuing generations of reproduction.

A second lesson from Dawkins is that events do not require causes. It is generally accepted among the educated that our universe began with a monstrous explosion some 15 billion years ago. People far smarter than I are today busy trying to study the first nanoseconds of this Big Bang. What seems well established now is that events, including the Big Bang, do not require a cause or causes. This discovery has been a second setback for creationists. . .

A last mystery, the first life on earth, is still beyond man’s ken, though theories are being postulated and tested. Lightening bolts into primordial soup? Pure speculation. Self-replicating crystals adopting reproductive genes? Intriguing, beguiling, not proven. Stay tuned. . .

So here I take my waffling stand: I am a hedging atheist. So why do I go to this church? Well, I get to associate with wonderful citizens, people filled with warmth, virtue, humor and empathy. I hear things worth hearing. I sing great songs, Most of all, I get to rub shoulders with fine people who live by our seven principles. Add to that I find shared values and principles far more compelling than shared superstitions.

If Unitarians had a major role in the management of this country, as once we did, how very different would be the conduct of our government towards our citizens, towards other governments and their citizens and towards our planet and all things living or inanimate upon it.

The inherent worth and dignity of every person. Justice, equity and compassion in human relations. Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth. A free and responsible search for truth and meaning. The right of conscience and the embrace of the democratic process. The goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all. Respect for the interdependent web of all existence.

There is nothing in these seven wise principles that requires a deistic faith, nor anything that excludes it. . .

Thomas Hardy once stated that he had been looking for God for fifty years and, that if he existed, Hardy should have found him. My inquiry has been for even longer and some of Hardy’s heroes, particularly the obscure Jude, have helped lead me to where I find myself today. When I was a young Episcopalian Sunday School scholar, I was a believing and devout Christian. I was also terrified of my own inevitable though far-off death. When I assumed there was a God, he struck me as capricious and, too often, cruel beyond all reason. Now, having reached three score and ten, philosophy - Unitarian philosophy - gives me a large measure of peace about an extinction that cannot be far away. My faith is firmly placed in doubt. My principles and this aging carcass are very much at home right here. And our death does not remove us from this interconnected existential web, not ever.

And now, our finale, after which, let us go forth in peace, go forth in doubt, embrace our daunting conundrum; we have light and we have dark.

OTHER NEWS

GREAT MOMENTS IN THE LAW

http://www.citynews.ca/news/news_25452.aspx

City News, Canada - Jon Tennett loves to tinker in his garage. It's not an uncommon pastime for an 81-year-old man, but what is unusual is the city's response. Because Tennett fixes his neighbors' lawn mowers and other small machines, the City of Pickering has charged him with operating an illegal business - even though he's never charged a penny for his work.

"They could get a lot of revenue elsewhere than looking at an old 81-year-old man trying to keep his mind busy," he points out.

On the same street, a retired nurse is facing a similar problem. Janice Saroop has a lush garden, which she proudly shows off to visitors. "This one here is a spider plant, and this is a mint," she explains. But because she sells those plants three times a year, the city is threatening her, too - even though all her profits go to charity. . .

But Pickering's commercial zoning bylaws do not allow any form of home business whatsoever - and the penalties are severe. Tennett's case is currently before the courts and if he loses, he could be fined up to $25,000.

BREVITAS

DRUG BUSTS

Jacob Sullum, Reason - A perennial story in the annals of drug war stupidity is the Drug Enforcement Administration's tally of cannabis plants destroyed under its Domestic Cannabis Eradication - Suppression Program. Year after year, the figures show that nearly all of the eradicated plants are ditchweed, the feral, non-psychoactive descendants of hemp that American farmers used to legally grown for fiber. A couple years ago, for instance, I noted that "98 percent of the 223 million or so cannabis plants 'eradicated' by American law enforcement agencies in 2005 were feral hemp." Since these plants do not contain enough THC to get anyone high, the program is a vivid illustration of how drug warriors waste taxpayer money. NORML's Paul Armentano reports that the DEA seems finally to have wised up: How much ditchweed did police confiscate in 2007? That would be anyone's guess. . . . In the latest version of the Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics, visitors will discover that the column that previously reported on "ditchweed" seizures (in prior years' tables, it was seventh column from the left) is now conspicuously missing.

HEALTH & SCIENCE

A study at John Hopkins finds that insurance companies pay psychiatrists more for three 15 minute drug visits than for one 45 minute psychotherapy session. The use of talk therapy has dropped by a third since 1997.

THE CREEPING COUP

Boing Boing - Lawrence Lessig, a respected Law Professor from Stanford University told an audience at this years Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference in Half Moon Bay, California, that "There’s going to be an I-9/11 event" which will act as a catalyst for a radical reworking of the law pertaining to the Internet. Lessig also revealed that he had learned, during a dinner with former government Counter Terrorism Czar Richard Clarke, that there is already in existence a cyber equivalent of the Patriot Act, an "I-Patriot Act" if you will, and that the Justice Department is waiting for a cyber terrorism event in order to implement its provisions.
Lessig: "I said 'is there an equivalent to the Patriot Act -- an iPatriot Act -- just sitting waiting for some substantial event just waiting for them to come have the excuse for radically changing the way the Internet works?' And he said, 'Of course there is'"

ECO CLIPS

James Randerson, Guardian - Nearly half of all primate species are now threatened with extinction, according to an evaluation by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. . . In some regions, the thriving bushmeat trade means the animals are being "eaten to extinction". . . . The two biggest threats faced by primates are habitat destruction through logging and hunting for bushmeat and the illegal wildlife trade.

Tree Hugger - Dutch researchers and inventor-astronaut Wubbo Ockels are demonstrating that loops of high-flying kites can get at the stiffer jet stream wind that is circulating higher than the highest wind turbines (which are erected at between 80 and 150 meters) and use it to generate power at a possible cost of around five cents per kilowatt hour. LadderMill, as the Dutch kite configuration is called, harvested enough wind for ten homes in its most recent pilot experiments, according to the Guardian, and plans are moving ahead to try a 50 kW version of the looped and laddered kites.

INDICATORS

Eric M. Weiss Washington Post - More Americans, 52 percent, live in the suburbs than anywhere else. The suburban growth rate exceeded 90 percent in the past decade. But there's been a radical shift in recent months. Americans drove 9.6 billion fewer highway miles in May than a year earlier. In the Washington area and elsewhere, mass transit ridership is setting records. Last year, transit trips nationwide topped 10.3 billion, a 50-year high.

Home prices in the far suburbs, such as Prince William and Loudoun counties, have collapsed; those in the District and inner suburbs have stayed the same or increased. A recent survey of real estate agents by Coldwell Banker found an increased interest in urban living because of the high cost of commuting.

Brookings says transportation costs are now second only to housing as a percentage of the household budget, with food a distant third.

NEIGHBORHOOD CRIME WATCH

Politico - A new book by the author Ron Suskind claims that the White House ordered the CIA to forge a back-dated, handwritten letter from the head of Iraqi intelligence to Saddam Hussein. Suskind writes in "The Way of the World," that the alleged forgery - adamantly denied by the White House - was designed to portray a false link between Hussein’s regime and al Qaeda as a justification for the Iraq war. The author also claims that the Bush administration had information from a top Iraqi intelligence official "that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq - intelligence they received in plenty of time to stop an invasion." The letter’s existence has been reported before, and it had been written about as if it were genuine. It was passed in Baghdad to a reporter for The (London) Sunday Telegraph who wrote about it on the . . . Suskind writes in his new book that the order to create the letter was written on "creamy White House stationery." The book suggests that the letter was subsequently created by the CIA and delivered to Iraq, but does not say how. The author claims that such an operation, part of "false pretenses" for war, would apparently constitute illegal White House use of the CIA to influence a domestic audience, an arguably impeachable offense.

OUTLYING PRECINCTS

PR Watch - The New York Times notes that, "in an effort to cast himself as independent of the influence of money on politics, Senator Barack Obama often highlights the campaign contributions of $200 or less that have amounted to fully half of the $340 million he has collected so far. But records show that one-third of his record-breaking haul has come from donations of $1,000 or more: a total of $112 million, more than Senator John McCain, Mr. Obama's Republican rival, or Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, his opponent in the Democratic primaries, raised in contributions of that size. Behind those larger donations is a phalanx of more than 500 Obama 'bundlers,' fund-raisers who have each collected contributions totaling $50,000 or more. Many of the bundlers come from industries with critical interests in Washington. . . Given his decision not to accept public financing, Mr. Obama is counting on his bundlers to help him raise $300 million for his general-election campaign and another $180 million for the Democratic National Committee. An analysis of campaign finance records shows that about two-thirds of his bundlers are concentrated in four major industries: law, securities and investments, real estate and entertainment."

Jay Leno - Have you seen the new commercial? The McCain campaign compares Barack Obama to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. And today the Obama campaign released an ad comparing John McCain to Zsa Zsa Gabor and Bea Arthur. . . McCain is not backing down. He's defending the commercial, where he compared Barack Obama to Paris Hilton, as being 'all talk and little action.' That's what he said. Like Paris, Barack Obama is all talk and little action. Really? Has he seen her sex video? There is no talk. It is all action.

In 2005, Obama
- and not McCain - compared himself to Paris Hilton sahying, "Andy Warhol said we all get our 15 minutes of fame," says Barack Obama. "I've already had an hour and a half. I mean, I'm so overexposed, I'm making Paris Hilton look like a recluse."

According to Ballot Access News,
the Libertarians have made the ballot in 34 states, the Greens and Constitution parties in 23 each and Nader in 11.

Wonkette - Here's some weird news about the already-weird John Edwards baby-mama alleged scandal: The "love child" in question has no daddy listed on the birth certificate. And we can't even dismiss this latest tiny bit of scandal as "tabloid trash" because it comes from Edwards' hometown mainstream media, McClatchy Newspapers' News & Observer. Rielle Hunter is the gal who met Edwards in a New York bar and then earned $114,000 from his PAC making "webisodes" which all mysteriously vanished from his website when she quit working for him because she wound up pregnant and then his loyal North Carolina aide (who is married with kids) gallantly claimed he was the father and then installed Ms. Hunter (real name: "Rielle Jaya James Druck" or just "Lisa Druck") in lodgings adjoining his own home in a gated North Carolina neighborhood.

Ralph Nader and his vice presidential running mate, Matt Gonzalez, have won the California Peace and Freedom Party nomination, guaranteeing the Independent candidates a spot on the state's ballot in the November election.

JUSTICE

Phil Leggiere, Don't Taser Me Bro' A school in Texas will force students who don't follow the rules to wear prison-like jumpsuits in a controversial move this coming school year. Gonzales High School has new navy blue jumpsuits that students will wear if they break the dress code. Violators will be forced to wear the jumpsuit for the day, the report said. Some parents said the jumpsuits will make students feel like prisoners but the district said it's just a way to keep the children dressed appropriately for school. A school board official said it's "worth a try" because it's a way to keep the district's conservative values intact.

Worldnet Daily - Parents of a 16-year-old boy in intensive care with a broken back want to know why police Tasered their son 19 times rather than calling an ambulance for help. Citizens noticed Branson, Mo., teenager Mace Hutchinson walking alongside the road and, fearing for his safety, called 911. "We called the police. My wife was afraid he was going to get ran over or hit," said witness Doug Messersmith. "He looked a little agitated but, other than that, he didn't look to be falling down drunk or anything like that." When police arrived, they found Hutchinson under an overpass on U.S. 65 Saturday morning, Springfield's KY3 News reported. The boy had fallen 30 feet off the overpass and was lying on the shoulder. When the boy didn't respond to police, they Tasered him, repeatedly. . . "He refused to comply with the officers and so the officers had to deploy their Tasers in order to subdue him," Capt. Thomas Rousset said. "He is making incoherent statements; he's also making statements such as, 'Shoot cops, kill cops,' things like that. So there was cause for concern to the officers." Authorities say their use of a Taser weapon should not be questioned, because they were trying to help Hutchinson to safety.

MONEY & WORK

Alan Bjerga, Bloomberg - U.S. farmland values are at a record high even as the rest of the country suffers the worst housing crisis since the Great Depression, with the highest crop prices ever pushing up agricultural real estate. The value of all land and buildings on farms averaged $2,350 an acre at the start of this year, up 8.8 percent from a year earlier, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said today in an annual report. Surging corn, wheat and soybean prices boosted values in the Northern Plains, which includes Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota, by 15.5 percent, the biggest increase in the country, according to the report. . . The most expensive farmland in the U.S. was in Massachusetts at $12,200 an acre, followed by Rhode Island and Connecticut. The least expensive was in New Mexico, where land prices averaged $630 an acre

The campaign by car wash employees for fair wages and decent work in the Los Angeles area gained a major boost when the Los Angeles City Council unanimously passed a resolution strongly endorsing efforts of car wash workers to secure just wages, safe working conditions and the freedom to organize a union.
The passage of the resolution comes just days after the carwasheros (car wash workers) filed complaints with the California Department of Industrial Relations' Division of Occupational Safety and Health alleging serious health and safety violations at two Los Angeles car washes. . .

Fred Moseley, Dollars and Sense - Over one million U.S. homeowners have already lost their homes due to foreclosures since the mortgage crisis began last summer. Another one million homeowners are 90 days past due on their mortgages and two million more are 30 days past due, so three million more households may face foreclosure in the months ahead. If current policies do not change, it is estimated that up to five million homeowners would lose their homes due to foreclosure over the next few years. Five million is roughly 10% of the total number of homes with mortgages. This is clearly the worst housing crisis since the Great Depression, and will wreck havoc in the lives of millions of families unless something is done. . .

LATIN AMERICA

Philadelphia Inquirer - Venezuela is better known for oil than for coffee. But the South American nation has decided to copy its neighbor, Colombia, and retail its aromatic caffeinate directly to North Americans - using Venezuelan-owned Citgo local gas stations and convenience stores as a distribution network. . . Venezuela says it once produced almost as much coffee as Colombia, but farm exports dropped as oil became dominant in the last half-century. . .

FURTHERMORE. . . .

Oakland Tribune - University officials say people living and sleeping in the wide street median outside the UC Berkeley tree-sit are creating a messy, dangerous and noisy situation with their tents, litter and drumming circles. But the people in the tents - who act as ground support for a handful of people still living in a university oak grove - say their small encampment is there to protect the grove, help those still perched in the trees and keep a watchful eye on university police, who they've sparred with in the past. . . Three people remain living in a single redwood in the grove. The university is allowing one bag of food and water to go up daily. Ground supporters are out there Advertisement to monitor that exchange and help bring awareness to the long-standing protest, they say. . . People began living in the oak and redwood trees to the west of California Memorial Stadium in December 2006 to protest the university's plan to build a $140 million sports training center for its sports teams. Three groups - the city of Berkeley, the Panoramic Hill Association and the California Oak Foundation - sued to stop the sports center project. Last month, an Alameda County judge ruled in the university's favor, saying Cal can move forward with the project. But the Panoramic Hill Association and the California Oak Foundation filed an appeal and an injunction that had been in place for more than 18 months was extended through Aug. 13. It could be lifted next week.

On this date in 1970, 750 yippies infiltrated Disneyland. According to a report, "They take over Fort Wilderness on Tom Sawyer Island and stage a smoke-in in protest of nuclear weapons to commemorate the anniversary of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. They try to march down Main Street and liberate Minnie Mouse. Anaheim police in riot gear attempt to evict them, but the Yippies disburse throughout the park. At this point the park was closed and 30,000 guests are escorted out. Police make 23 arrests."

NY Daily News
- Muggers are getting younger - and the iPhone is to blame. Kids ages 11 to 19 make up a growing proportion of the crooks arrested this year for theft, fueled in part by a lust for the snazzy new phones, police said. . . Electronics - mostly iPhones, iPods and Sidekicks - were the stolen booty in 20% of the robbery arrests and 12% of the grand larceny arrests. "A kid taking out an iPhone and using it is like waving around $300," a cop source said. Kids agree. . . "People are just acting crazy," said Stephanie Phillips, 18, a midtown supermarket cashier who hides her Sidekick when walking around. "They will slice you for your phone in a second."

Guardian, UK - The ashes of actor James Doohan, who played Montgomery "Scotty" Scott in Star Trek, were lost on the way to space on Sunday morning, when the rocket carrying them malfunctioned minutes after take-off. The actor's ashes were among those of 208 people, including Mercury astronaut Gordon Cooper, who had paid to have their remains fired into space aboard Falcon 1, a rocket developed by the private space company SpaceX. The launch, from the US Army's Reagan Test Site on Omelek Island in the Pacific, appeared to be perfect, but within a few minutes live footage from an on-board camera went dead. Engineers later said that the two stages of the rocket had failed to separate.

WORLD'S WORST OLYMPIC SWIMMING TRIAL

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