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Undernews For September 16, 2008

Undernews For September 16, 2008

Washington's Most Unofficial Source
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Washington DC 20003
Editor: Sam Smith

16 SEP 2008


I am prepared. I am prepared. I need no on-the-job training. I wasn't a mayor for a short period of time. I wasn't a governor for a short period of time. - John McCain during the primaries


Sam Smith

Stop talking like them. As Harry Truman said, "Give the people a choice between a Republican and a Democrat who talks like a Republican and they'll choose the Republican every time." Ever since closet conservative Bill Clinton conned his party into thinking that his narrow 1992 win thanks to Ross Perot 19% of the vote was some sort of triumph, the Democrats have been under the illusion that the way to win is to play Republican. It hasn't worked. Since then the number of Democratic governors, senators, representatives and state legislators have declined markedly. The biggest Democratic margins - under FDR and LBJ - have occurred when there was not the slightest doubt what Democrats were and what they were going to do for you.

Answer the important question: There were only two really important questions in politics: what have you done for me lately and what are you going to do for me? There is no major candidate running who can give a good answer to the first question but there is no reason why Obama can't give a better answer to the second than he has so far. The answer needs to be not grandiose and abstract - like $150 billion for alternative energy over the next decade - but specific and personally appealing and without a lot of ideological baggage:

Here are a few examples:

- Add to the Obama healthcare plan that nobody can really understand this simple proposal: lower the age of Medicare from 65 to 60. There are ten million people who will like this. If you want to try for more, add Medicare for children from birth to five and when the Republicans oppose it, just say that Democrats, unlike the GOP, don't believe that the sanctity of life ends when a baby leaves the birth canal. Where's the money going to come from? Well, we're getting out of Iraq aren't we?

- Come up with a major plan to revive passenger trains in America with particular emphasis on places that are currently short changed (like a lot of red states). Biden, the DC-Delaware Amtrak commuter, is the perfect guy to push this. Most people don't know much about solar collectors or wind farms, but they do know about trains and could easily appreciate how they could make moving things and people cheaper.

- Attack credit card usury. Sure, Biden is the Man from Mastercard but if he's vice president he won't need them so much. No issue would be more easily supported by more people than a proposal to return credit card interest rates to their 1980s single digit levels.

- Help homeowners rather than just lenders. Stunningly ignored in all the talk about the Fannie and Freddy bailout is that it grossly favors lenders over borrowers. If we can have socialism for the biggest and the richest, let's have it for the little ones as well. One plan: shared equity in which the feds help qualified first time homeowners and those facing foreclosure by taking over some of their house equity. You can reasonably bet that a decade from now the government would do better financially with such a plan than with lemon socialism for the big guys.

- Reduce National Guard exposure to overseas adventures. The abuse of the country's state militias in recent decades has been astounding. In Vietnam, for example, only 23,000 were called up but by the first American Iraq invasion, the number soared to 75,000. More than 270,000 National Guard troops taken part in George Bush's escapades in Iraq and Afghanistan, more elsewhere. one. Many have had their service extended beyond the original twelve months and many are subjected to double tours. Among other things, the foreign abuse of the National Guard reduces reenlistment and while the numbers directly affected is not that large, when you add in families, friends, fellow parishioners and co-workers who learn of the disruption being caused by the use of National Guard by politicians as political toy soldiers, it becomes a significant issue.

Speak United States - Obama needs to get out of the pulpit and give voters more than a crowd handshake. Speaking to 75,000 of the fully converted doesn't amount to much when you compare it with the number of undecided voters. Obama efforts often come off as haughty and above it all. He needs to stop talking so much and start listening more, to stop preaching and start chatting. He needs to toss around more basketballs and fewer bromides.

Get real. Perhaps by now Obama has learned that those of who live by spin can also die by it. His relatively benign con of the conventional parading as special and superior worked fine for the primaries but almost instantly deflated. One reason was even noted by Obama: the GOP is far better at campaigning than at governing. One reason for this: they are much more willing to lie. Watching the GOP convention was like being at a talent show of a mental institution. The theatrics were great but much was based on psychopathic, hypocritical and dishonest rhetoric. If you are going to try to outspin them without being a crook you're probably going to lose. The alternative is to keep steering the public back to reality such as constantly asking the question Ronald Reagan raised: are you better off than you were eight years ago? And Obama needs to dump the hope thing unless he starts giving specific reasons for the hope.

Forget law school - From the start, the image some of us got of Obama was not primarily that of a black man but of a law school graduate. One of the major problems with this is that lawyers can drain the life out of any topic and Obama has well developed this questionable skill. He tries to come across as thoughtful and balanced; instead too often his lawyerly equivocation raises concerns rather than answering them. This is not his problem alone. It is part of the culture of Washington which has been overwhelmed by the culture of lawyers, so much so it is highly like that Social Security, a minimum wage or Medicare could never be passed today. Washington's political lawyers would find too much wrong with them.

Give David Axelrod some help - As Mark Cunningham noted in the NY Post, neither Obama nor his campaign guru have much experience dealing with real GOP opposition: "Barack Obama has never run a campaign against a real Republican. And his main strategist, David Axelrod, is way out of his areas of expertise. Axelrod specializes in urban politics. He's run a bunch of mayoral races (usually in cities with lots of blacks), plus contests in true-blue states like Massachusetts and New York. . . Obama has lived a lot of places, but his adult life has been overwhelming anti-Palin country - urban and/or elite: here in New York as a Columbia undergrad, and later with NYPIRG; Cambridge, Mass., for Harvard; Chicago." Obama desperately needs some James Carville types to help him learn how to deal politicallyt and rhetorically with much of America.

Don't blame voters for the ethnic divide; cross it - Sure there's a lot of racism in America but most of it was already locked up for McCain long ago. And liberals do themselves no service by confusing the normal hesitancy of ethnic unfamiliarity with racism, implicitly blaming the very voters they're trying to reach. Black politicians have a particularly hard time because they have so long operated in the comfort of places with large black constituencies. It is amazing how few models of cross-ethnic black pols (Doug Wilder is a rare exception) that Obama has.

It is, however, a skill that Obama has to learn fast. Among the best models are the old Irish politicians who instinctively understood that the only way a minority could truly win was by leading the majority and to do that you had to turn one's own ethnicity into something everyone could share and enjoy. This is why since Martin Luther King Jr, the African-American figures who have been among the best at reaching into white culture have been black comedians.

Similarly, political scientist Milton L. Rakove, credits Irish dominance in Chicago partially to the fact that the Irish ran saloons that "became centers of social and political activity not only for the Irish but also for the Polish, Lithuanian, Bohemian and Italian immigrants. . . As a consequence of their control of these recreational centers of the neighborhoods, the Irish saloon keepers and bartenders became the political counselors of their customers, and the political bosses of the wards and, eventually, of the city." As one politician put it, "A Lithuanian won't vote for a Pole, and a Pole won't vote for a Lithuanian. A German won't vote for either of them -- but all three will vote for an Irishman."

Obama needs to act more like an old Irish pol or a black comedian.

Don't raise McCain and Palin's status; lower it - Abused Democratic candidates have a tendency to unintentionally increase their opponents status by the ponderousity of their outrage. The alternative is to steadily, gently and with humor lower that status by helping voters to not take them so seriously. One of the best examples of this was Earl Long when he ran against Fred Preaus, a church deacon, head of the chamber of commerce and a scrupulously honest car dealer. Earl would combat these virtues by saying: "Fred Preaus is an honest man. If I were buying a Ford car, I'd buy it from Fred Preaus. He would give me a good deal. If I had trouble with the car, he'd give me a loaner while he got it fixed -- that's just the kind of man he is. But if I was buying two Fords -- well, he's just not big enough to handle a deal that size."

Obama needs to make people understand what size deal McCain and Palin could truly handle which, at best, is somewhere between one and two Fords.



Progressive Review - We find it interesting that the media is ignoring the fact that the Treasury Secretary controlling the bailout of the American financial interest was formerly the head of one of the major money machines: Goldman Sachs, as was his predecessor, Robert Rubin. In other contexts, this would be considered a major conflict especially since Goldman Sachs has a huge interest in the bailout of Fannie and Freddie and far less interest in the success of Lehman Brothers, which Henry Paulson let fail.

It's a little like the situation with the sainted Alan Greenspan of whom the French economist Patrick Artus said, "He created four major crises: savings and loans, [Long-Term Capital Management], new-technology shares, and subprime mortgages." He then was "congratulated for his role as fireman, but he's the one who started the fire."

Having covered the Savings & Loan scandal - in which the bailout became the successor scandal - we can assure you that the powers that be have absolutely no interest in finding out how we got into this mess, only in how their friends can survive as well as possible. But as a reminder of how this stuff really works, consider this Wikipedia note on Robert Rubin:

"In 1999, affirming his career-long interest in markets, Mr. Rubin joined Citigroup. Of note, the supermerger between Travelers Group and Citicorp was facilitated by the repeal of the Glass Steagall Act. This legislation was passed under the Clinton administration, days before Rubin's resignation. Consolidation of investment, commercial banking, and insurance services as practiced by Citigroup under the direction of Rubin, has been implicated in the subprime mortage crisis. Despite criticism for his role in this debacle, Rubin serves as a Director and Chairman of the Executive Committee. . .

"He sparked controversy in 2001 when he contacted an acquaintance at the Treasury Department and asked if the department could convince bond-rating agencies not to downgrade the corporate debt of Enron, a debtor of Citigroup. Rubin wanted Enron creditors to lend money to the troubled company for a restructuring of its debt; a collapse of the energy giant might have serious consequences for financial markets and energy distribution. The Treasury official refused. A subsequent congressional staff investigation cleared Rubin of any wrongdoing, but he was still harshly criticized by political opponents.

Mother Jones The natural result of the federal government response that emerged over the weekend around the Lehman Brothers catastrophe is to place the venerable Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the government institution that insures the bank deposits of hundreds of millions of Americans, in grave jeopardy. While Treasury secretary Henry Paulson and others talk about not sinking taxpayers’ funds into saving Lehman, the real, unstated policy is just the opposite.

It is going to work like this: As it did with Merrill Lynch, the government’s approach to the crisis will force commercial banks to swallow troubled Wall Street investment companies, flooding the commercial banks with the lousy junk bonds and faulty mortgages that the investment companies own, and that started this mess to begin with. More and more commercial banks will find themselves on the edge, and they will turn to the FDIC. But the FDIC can’t possibly shoulder the growing burden. At that point, Congress will have to step in and shore up the FDIC. The deal doubtless will include some version of the S&L bailout, with the creation of a Resolution Trust Company type institution into which the banks can dump the sub-prime mortgages, junk bonds, and the like.

In other words, the public will end up paying for Wall Street’s financial binge. And the leaders of the financial community who got us into this expensive mess? They’ll get the traditional golden parachutes and lavish pension arrangements--huge payoffs for screwing the public.


Adhip Chaudhuri, Al Jazeera - Both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are US government "sponsored" home loan banks. Each of them have formal names, but are primarily known by their nicknames. In fact, both these institutions prefer to go by their nicknames rather than their official names. That's like the US government going by "Uncle Sam" all the time.

Fannie Mae was created by the government in 1938 to guarantee mortgage loans made by private banks.
After the Great Depression, which was characterised by bank failures on the one hand, and substantial losses of income on the part of large number of households on the other, the private mortgage market was providing mortgage loans to too few households.

The objective of the Roosevelt Administration was to restore widespread homeownership, which had become almost an ideology in the United States from early on in the twentieth century.

Thirty years later, in 1968, the government freed Fannie Mae from its control and privatized it with a Congressional charter. It became just like any other bank, except that it still did not make mortgage loans directly to the public. Instead, it bought up what is called the "secondary" market - the mortgages which had already been made by the private banks.

Two years later, in 1970, the US government created Freddie Mac, an exact duplicate of Fannie Mae. The reason behind a second institution was that high economic growth of the 1960s had led to rising incomes and the resulting widespread homeownership made just one government sponsored mortgage institution, namely Fannie Mae, unappealingly, if not scarily, large.

Both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have been private enterprises since then, up until September 7, 2008.
They have stockholders who provide the equity capital, they both sell bonds to raise funds, and they both pay for their operations out of their profits. There has been no money paid by the American taxpayers to these two institutions.

The two were "sponsored" banks, meaning that there was an implicit guarantee from the US government that it would not allow these two institutions to fail.

The principal act that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are mandated to do is to buy mortgages from private banks. The private banks, meanwhile, make mortgage loans with the comfort of knowing that they will be able turn around and sell those loans to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

This comfort has two aspects. First, the banks which make the initial loans in the primary market get their liquidity back when they sell off their mortgages in the secondary market to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

They can, therefore, make fresh mortgages to new customers with the funds they received from selling the previous mortgages, thereby making it possible for greater homeownership.

The second benefit that private banks get from the existence of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is that they can offer mortgages to middle class and low income households at affordable interest rates with the sure knowledge that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will take those mortgages over.

Where do Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac . . . raise funds first by issuing bonds on Wall Street just like any private company.

Then, in addition, they sell some of their mortgage holdings in the tertiary markets. They pool together a lot of mortgages and create a marketable security. These are called mortgage backed securities. If any household, whose mortgage is part of a MBS, fails to pay its mortgage obligation for, say, a month, then Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, whoever is the relevant party, will make good the payment to the MBS holder.

Similarly, if there is a foreclosure and the sale price of the distress sale ends up being less than the value of the mortgage, then Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will make up the difference.

A lot of these MBS are sold in foreign markets, especially to central banks with large US dollar holdings. The central bank of China is reputed to be holding $340 billion worth of MBS. . .

The overly aggressive primary mortgage lenders knew full well that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would have to buy up all the mortgages below the congressional cap of $417,000.

The primary mortgage companies get their profits from commissions and fees per mortgage that they make, and not from the repayments of principal plus interest from the mortgage borrowers, that is, the homeowner. That is why they were so reckless in their lending - it is a classic case of "moral hazard".

As the housing prices have plummeted, there have been two problems that have hurt Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac very badly. First, they have had to make increasing payments to cover the defaults in the MBS which the two institutions have sold.

Second, they have had to set aside reserves for those mortgages in their own portfolios which are "non-performing", meaning that the borrower cannot keep up with their payments. These set-aside reserves do not earn any income for the two mortgage institutions and hence, contribute to losses.

As the profitability of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac decreased, their borrowing costs went up, squeezing the interest rate differential between what they earn from the mortgages they hold and the rate they have to pay on the bonds that they issue.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac did not help themselves during the crisis much either. They did not implement the guidelines they normally impose on the primary mortgage lenders, but instead they accepted many bad mortgages including "sub-prime" mortgages.

"Sub-prime" mortgages refer to those loans which were made without the necessary information on the borrowers. For example, a "sub-prime" mortgage may not require borrowers to disclose their incomes.

In addition the two institutions followed highly spurious accounting concepts to overstate their capital base. And lastly, they continued paying their top executives obscenely high salaries, even when their stock values fell by 80 per cent.

Legally speaking, the US government has put the two institutions under its "conservatorship". It's not clear what exactly does that mean.

The following is what we know now: The US government will immediately take hold of $1 billion worth of equity in each of the institutions. These will be in the form of preferred stocks with a guaranteed 10 per cent rate of return. These $1 billion infusions are however, not real cash infusions but rather, just compensation for the privilege of being expropriated by the US government.

The government has allowed itself to infuse as much as $100 billion to each of the institutions, and thus the American tax payers could be out $200 billion by the time the housing crisis plays itself out. The savings and loan crisis cost the tax payers $120 billion. Presumably, this bail-out will be less expensive.

In addition, all cash infusions by the US government will be more like an investment because they will receive a 10 per cent return. . .

The Nation - The deal stinks because it doesn't really solve anything. Fannie and Freddie executives got sacked, but nothing substantial was changed in the weirdly illegitimate structure of these private, profit-making corporations sponsored by the federal government. Instead of acting decisively, the Treasury basically opened the public's wallet and promised to spend whatever it takes to keep the companies upright. "Conservatorship" is a fiction. The taxpayers own these two high-flying turkeys in all but name because they are now picking up the tab.

A real solution to this mess is not complicated: wipe out the corporations and nationalize them, buy out the shareholders for pennies on the dollar and restore Fannie Mae to its original status as a federal housing agency (maybe merged with Freddie). Its functions involve vital public services--supporting the flow of mortgage financing, encouraging broader homeownership and subsidizing construction of low-income housing. These public goods do not much interest private financiers unless they can harvest rip-and-run profits, which is exactly what they did, with their usurious lending in the subprime mortgage scandal. . .

Instead of rescuing financial losers, the government ought to be devoting its heaviest resources to jump- starting the real economy. Instead of bailing out the money guys who caused this crisis, Washington should concentrate on bolstering enterprise, employment and productive investment.

Washington has got it backward. The financial system will not get well and return to normal lending until the economy regains its natural vigor. .

Does Barack Obama or John McCain understand this? Neither candidate has acknowledged the enormity of what's facing the country or explained the dire implications with clarity and frankness, much less described plausible solutions. McCain is hopeless, mouthing right-wing bromides about corporate tax cuts and smaller government. Obama has said useful things about financial reforms and has supported some infrastructure funding, but he too has lacked the courage to tell the hard truth about the ditch the country is in and how to get us out. Obama's limited comments suggest he sees the crisis much the way Washington does. That won't be good enough if he becomes President--though a deepening crisis may force him to take bolder action.

Whatever the two candidates claim to believe now, one of them is going to get walloped in January when he enters the Oval Office.

Solari - Originating a great deal more debt than anyone could carry, let alone pay back always ends in failure and bankruptcy of someone or something. So Fannie and Freddie's failure or nationalization was always in the cards - it was a matter of when.

If your goal is total centralized control, this is a great way to achieve it. Between Freddie, Fannie, Ginnie Mae, FHA, VA and the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, the federal government no longer regulates or provides credit to the residential mortgage market - it is the market.

Combined with the digitization of the mortgage credit scoring, origination and servicing process, the implications for privacy and personal freedom are simply stupefying. And the best part is that this can be described as the government "helping."

Econbrowser - In response to the largest de facto nationalization in US history, we have this example of Governor Palin's comprehension of this issue: "The fact is that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have gotten too big and too expensive to the taxpayers. The McCain-Palin administration will make them smaller and smarter and more effective for homeowners who need help.". . . I would have hoped to have more comprehension from a candidate at a time when the estimate of a resulting $300 billion taxpayer liability is viewed as plausible.

Financial Times, UK - The US began to face the financial consequences of the bail-out of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac after Congress's budget watchdog said the housing giants' operations should sit on the government's books and the cost of insuring against a US default crept higher. With the stock market tumbling, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office said the government takeover of Fannie and Freddie meant the companies should no longer be regarded as outside the public . . . Peter Orszag, CBO director, said: "It is the CBO view that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac should be directly incorporated into the federal budget." The Bush administration appeared to be caught by surprise. A spokeswoman for the Office of Management and Budget told the Financial Times: "We are working through this issue with Treasury and other stakeholders." The White House could take a different view on Fannie and Freddie and exclude them from its budgets. But this would be difficult because the CBO is regarded as the leading independent authority on US finances and its assessments guide spending decisions by Congress.

The two mortgage companies have between them $5,400bn in liabilities, equal to the entire publicly traded debt of the US, alongside mortgage-related assets of about equal value. These will now all be accounted for by the CBO, although public accounting rules mean that its tally of US government debt may not necessarily increase by $5,400bn.

Guardian UK - These two strange, gargantuan financial bodies could not have been born in Britain and they could not have been saved in Britain. They carried in their DNA both the old idealism of FDR's New Deal (established in 1938, Fannie Mae was a government agency for its first 30 years) and a much more modern and toxic capacity to bring the world financial system to its knees.

Without the US government's decision to take control - nationalisation in all but name - and to inject up to $100bn into each, the downturn could have slumped into depression. This rescue had to happen. . . At great cost, American taxpayers have defused a bomb whose imminent detonation might have caused intercontinental financial ruin. But all that has been gained is time. The world still needs to work out what should happen next. . .

Robert Scheer, San Fracisco Chronicle - The housing bubble was the result of the Ponzi-scheme antics of those other financial entities: commercial banks, stockbrokers and hedge funds, which were allowed in a GOP-deregulated market to get into the "swap" business. Through the rampant reselling of loans, the obligation to collect on a loan was divorced from the act of selling it in the first place, so who cared if the recipient of the loan was not at all qualified or the appraisal of the property value was inflated, as long as the paper was traded away, or insured, before the moment of foreclosure?

As with any Ponzi scheme, the perps, who include the legislators as well as the bankers who exploited the loopholes they provided, expected to bail long before the bubble burst. The role of the legislators, Republican-led but with far too many Democratic running dogs, was critical to the success of the scam.

The mortgage swaps distancing the originator of the loan from the ultimate collector were only made legal as a result of the Commodity Futures Modernization Act that former Texas Republican Sen. Phil Gramm pushed through Congress just hours before the 2000 Christmas recess. Gramm, until recently co-chair of the McCain campaign, also had co-authored the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act that became law in 1999, with President Bill Clinton's signature. That gem, which Gramm had pushed for years with massive financial industry lobbying, destroyed the Depression-era barrier to the merger of stockbrokers, banks and insurance companies. Those two acts effectively ended significant regulation of the financial community, and no wonder we have witnessed an even more rapid and severe meltdown in housing values than during the Great Depression. .

Amazingly, the turmoil in the housing market, which has led to the socialization of the nation's revered homeownership market in a massive expansion of the role of big government, has apparently not troubled McCain's conservative supporters.

CNN - Freddie CEO Richard Syron and Fannie CEO Daniel Mudd will no longer run the agencies, while the FHFA will assume control of the boards. Regulators took care not to foist blame on the two executives, adding that they would stick around to help with the transition.

Syron and Mudd will be replaced by two finance veterans charged with restoring the mortgage titans to health. Herb Allison, the former chairman and CEO of pension provider TIAA-CREF, will head Fannie Mae. Allison formerly served as president of Merrill Lynch.

David Moffett, who served as vice chairman and chief financial officer of U.S. Bancorp until early 2007 and then joined the Carlyle Group private-equity firm as a senior adviser, will take over Freddie Mac.

Independent, UK - The status of Freddie and Fannie was always a tad unclear but that suited all sides. Borrowers could obtain cheaper funds (the safety of the US Treasury meant investors would accept a lower interest rate) and investors had never seen, nor imagined, a default on a Freddie or Fannie bond. Take that confidence away and you would engineer a further collapse in the US property market, more defaults and more foreclosures.

And in the US, unlike here, these are "non recourse" - when you hand the house keys to the bank you can walk away from the debt. Great for foolish homebuyers - not so much for banks with burgeoning bad debts, which in turn makes them unable to lend. And that is bad news for the economy, for jobs and, in a vicious circle, for the real estate market.

The vast quantities of Fannie and Freddie bonds held in just about every life insurance and pension policy and bank balance sheet across the globe would have been effectively trashed, creating more damage to the financial system and to the global economy.

For a lame-duck administration this is a bold move. Financially and politically it is on the scale of the bail-outs for the City of New York and the Chrysler Corporation under Ronald Reagan and the vast extensions of federal power during the Franklin Roosevelt era.

Ironically, it was the last serious US housing slump that led Roosevelt to establish Fannie Mae as a government agency in 1938. It is strange that, in the home of free enterprise, the state should again have to come to the rescue. But when you're too big to fail . . .


TPM Muckraker - Sarah Palin was not quite as conservative as she claims in her requests for earmarks. And here's a great example from just this year. According to Alaska's 2009 catalog of earmark requests the state's sea life are in great need of federal money. As Politico points out, Palin's office requested $2 million in federal monies to study crab mating habits; $494,900 for the recreational halibut harvest and $3.2 million for seal genetics research. Those requests for the study of wildlife genetics and mating habits seems pretty antithetical to the long-standig views of Palin's running mate, John McCain. "We're not going to spend $3 million of your tax dollars to study the DNA of bears in Montana," McCain said earlier this year, referring to a request from Montana for federal money to study the endangered grizzly bear.


Vanity Fair - Laura Bush Oscar de la Renta suit: $2,500 Stuart Weitzman heels: $325 Pearl stud earrings: $600-$1,500 Total: Between $3,425 and $4,325

Cindy McCain Oscar de la Renta dress: $3,000 Chanel J12 White Ceramic Watch: $4,500 Three-carat diamond earrings: $280,000 Four-strand pearl necklace: $11,000-$25,000 Shoes, designer unknown: $600 Total: Between $299,100 and $313,100

(All prices except Laura's shoes and Cindy's watch are estimates, and the jewelry prices are based on the assumption that the pieces are real.)


Miami Herald - State elections officials will resume enforcement of a controversial state law that requires Floridians to have their identification match up with a state or federal database in order to register to vote.
Secretary of State Kurt Browning sent notice to the state's 67 supervisors of elections that the 2006 law, which has been on hold for the last year pending court rulings, would take effect again.

The result is that voters whose identification doesn't match with state files on Election Day will be given a provisional ballot and two days to prove their identity for their ballot to count.

Voting rights activists, who had unsuccessfully challenged the constitutionality of the law, blasted the decision, saying it allows the state to rely on what they consider error-prone databases in the month before voter registration ends on Oct. 6.

"This 11th-hour decision is an ill-advised move to apply a policy the state has never enforced in its current form, at a time when registration activity is at its highest, said Alvaro Fernandez of the Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project, a plaintiff in the case along with the NAACP and the Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition. .

The law, passed by the Republican-led legislature in 2005, requires Floridians registering to vote to supply a drivers license number or the last four digits of their social security number. Proponents of the law say it was needed to prevent voter fraud. . .

Elizabeth Westfall, senior attorney with the Washington, D.C.-based Advancement Project, a civil rights group, said that when the law was in effect in 2006 and 2007, it disproportionately excluded Latino and African American voters who often had double last names that often didn't register accurately in the data files.

The civil rights groups sued the state in September 2007, won an injunction in December and the state won a reversal on appeal in June in federal district court in Atlanta. The ruling became final on July 28 and was not enforced during registration for the Aug. 26 primary.

Westfall says to enforce the law now "creates quite a bit of chaos and needless disenfranchisement."


Charles Gibson aked Palin if she didn't hesitate and question whether she was experienced enough.

"I didn't hesitate, no," she said.

He asked if that didn't that take some hubris.

"I answered [McCain] yes," Ms. Palin said, "because I have the confidence in that readiness and knowing that you can't blink, you have to be wired in a way of being so committed to the mission, the mission that we're on, reform of this country and victory in the war, you can't blink. So I didn't blink then even when asked to run as his running mate."


Island Packet, NC - A 10-year-old Hilton Head Island boy has been suspended from school for having something most students carry in their supply boxes: a pencil sharpener. The problem was his sharpener had broken, but he decided to use it anyway. A teacher at Hilton Head Island International Baccalaureate Elementary School noticed the boy had what appeared to be a small razor blade during class on Tuesday, according to a Beaufort County sheriff's report. It was obvious that the blade was the metal insert commonly found in a child's small, plastic pencil sharpener, the deputy noted. The boy -- a fourth-grader described as a well-behaved and good student -- cried during the meeting with his mom, the deputy and the school's assistant principal. He had no criminal intent in having the blade at school, the sheriff's report stated, but was suspended for at least two days and could face further disciplinary action.


Think Progress - In a press conference, a reporter asked White House Press Secretary Dana Perino about the administration's ongoing efforts to find Osama bin Laden, calling him the "mastermind" of 9/11. Perino interrupted the reporter, claiming bin Laden was not the true "mastermind" of the attacks:

Q: But Osama bin Laden is the one that - you keep talking about his lieutenants, and, yes, they are very important, but Osama bin Laden was the mastermind of 9/11 ¬

PERINO: No, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was the mastermind of 9/11, and he's sitting in jail right now.

Perino seems to be attempting to justify the White House's failure to catch bin Laden by suggesting he was not the "mastermind." But in September 2006, former press secretary Tony Snow stated:

"Osama bin Laden, mastermind of September 11th, the person that many people talk about and still have concerns about, calls this fight, the fight in Iraq, 'the third world war.'"

While Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has admitted to being the 'architect' of 9/11, bin Laden was not inconsequential; he approved and executed the attacks. KSM in fact, brought the idea to bin Laden, who according to the 9/11 Commission, "wanted to hit the White House, Pentagon and U.S. Capitol," not just the World Trade Center.

Perino suggested that it would take "superpowers" to catch bin Laden. "So there are human limitations to any - this is not the movies, we don't have superpowers," she said. It didn't, however, take "superpowers" to capture bin Laden at Tora Bora in late 2001, where he escaped in part because of a lack of troops.


World Socialist - In remarks that clearly pointed toward the restoration of the military draft under an Obama administration, the Democratic candidate said that his job as president would include demanding that the American people recognize an "obligation" for military service. "If we are going into war, then all of us go, not just some," Senator Barack Obama declared.

Obama's comments came as he and his Republican opponent, Senator John McCain, took part in a forum on national service at Columbia University in New York City. Earlier in the day, both candidates joined in a memorial service at the site of the World Trade Center, commemorating the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

While "national service" encompasses more than the military, including such government-run programs as the Peace Corps, Americorps and Teach for America, as well as private and religious programs, both McCain and Obama focused on expanding the US Armed Forces as a major goal of the next administration, whether Democratic or Republican.

In an indication of the bipartisan support for the increasing militarization of American society, McCain jokingly offered to name Obama his coordinator for national service if the Republican were to win the election, and Obama reciprocated.

The forum was co-hosted by Judy Woodruff of the Public Broadcasting Service and Richard Stengel, editor of Time magazine. Woodruff introduced Stengel as the man responsible for the magazine's 2007 cover story, "The Case for National Service," which Woodruff said had "ignited this movement.". . .

Obama [made] his most direct statement of the campaign about expanding military service, declaring: "But it's also important that a president speaks to military service as an obligation not just of some, but of many. You know, I traveled, obviously, a lot over the last 19 months. And if you go to small towns, throughout the Midwest or the Southwest or the South, every town has tons of young people who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. That's not always the case in other parts of the country, in more urban centers. And I think it's important for the president to say, this is an important obligation. If we are going into war, then all of us go, not just some.". . .

In political terms, Obama's appearance at Columbia was aimed at demonstrating to the American political establishment that he is prepared to reject any pressure from antiwar college students, who are a major component of his campaign's personnel and volunteers. To that end, Obama not only called for expanded military service, he directly attacked the exclusion of the Reserve Officers Training Corps from many college campuses.

Stengel noted that Columbia had invited President Ahmadinejad of Iran to speak on the campus, but "haven't invited ROTC to be on campus since 1969."

Obama replied, "Yes, I think we've made a mistake on that. I recognize that there are students here who have differences in terms of military policy. But the notion that young people here at Columbia or anywhere, in any university, aren't offered the choice, the option of participating in military service, I think is a mistake."

ROTC became a focus of hostility on hundreds of campuses during the Vietnam War era, and was in many cases banned as a student organization. These restrictions largely ended after 1975, but they were continued or reestablished on a handful of campuses after the Clinton administration established the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy, reaffirming the longtime Pentagon ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military. Such a ban violates the non-discrimination rules imposed by many campuses on corporate recruiters.


Time - Improvements in computing power and a better understanding of how the brain works have scientists busy hunting for the distinctive neural fingerprints that flash through a brain when a person is talking to himself. The Army's initial goal is to capture those brain waves with incredibly sophisticated software that then translates the waves into audible radio messages for other troops in the field. "It'd be radio without a microphone, " says Dr. Elmar Schmeisser, the Army neuroscientist overseeing the program. "Because soldiers are already trained to talk in clean, clear and formulaic ways, it would be a very small step to have them think that way.". . .

The five-year contract it awarded last month to a coalition of sceintists from the University of California at Irvine, Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of Maryland, seeks to "decode the activity in brain networks" so that a soldier could radio commands to one or many comrades by thinking of the message he wanted to relay and who should get it. Initially, the recipients would most likely hear transmissions rendered by a robotic voice via earphones. But scientists eventually hope to deliver a version in which commands are rendered in the speaker's voice and indicate the speaker's distance and direction from the listener.

"Having a soldier gain the ability to communicate without any overt movement would be invaluable both in the battlefield as well as in combat casualty care," the Army said in last year's contract solicitation. "It would provide a revolutionary technology for silent communication and orientation that is inherently immune to external environmental sound and light.". . .

Dr. Mike D'Zmura of UC-Irvine, the lead scientist on the project, says his task is akin to finding the right strands on a plate full of pasta. "You need to pick out the relevant pieces of spaghetti," he says, "and sometimes they have to be torn apart and re-attached to others." But with ever-increasing computing power the task can be done in real time, he says. Users also will have to be trained to think loudly. "How do we get a person to think something to themselves in a way that leaves a very strong signal in EEGs that we can read off a


Sam Smith, Progressive Review - Since there is so much bad financial news these days, we thought this might cheer you up. The drug business is doing extremely well, thanks in large part to years of de facto subsidy by the perversely misnamed "war on drugs."

A recent CNN report said the Coast Guard had seized $4.7 billion worth of cocaine last year. That's only the amount the Coast Guard seized and it's only the value of cocaine, not all the other drugs.

The value is just shy of the $4.83 billion Google earned in the last quarter of last year. At the time Google had about 16,000 employees.

When you are able to lose $4.7 billion a year in just one product line and still keep growing, you've got an impressive business.

Back in 1997, I interviewed Billy Bear Bottoms, the pilot for one of the biggest drug importers of the time, Barry Seal. Bottoms told me that Seal had made about 50 trips of 300 kilos each, or approximately 16 tons total.

The Coast Guard recently seized one vessel - a self propelled semi-submersible that costs up to a million bucks to build - and found seven tons on the craft or 21 times as much as the notorious Seal was able to transport on one trip. Another of this year's seizures amount to more than Seal was able to import on 50 flights.

One day, and sadly far too late, we will finally learn that the biggest driver of the drug trade is US law enforcement.


Add to the list of Bush war crimes: It is now been reported by senior American officials that the president secretly told the military to carryn out actions inside Pakistan without the approval of the Pakistani government. Said one of the officials, "The situation in the tribal areas is not tolerable. We have to be more assertive. Orders have been issued."


Robert Parry, Consortium News - Despite strong evidence to the contrary, it has become established conventional wisdom among mainstream Washington journalists that the "surge" was the singular reason for the recent decline in Iraq's violence. It's also agreed that McCain deserves great credit for pushing the "surge" idea early.

Barack Obama has been repeatedly chastised -- even badgered -- for opposing the "surge." His attempts to refocus the debate more broadly on the wisdom of invading Iraq in the first place are rudely rejected by Big Media interviewers. . .

In reality, the "surge" of about 30,000 additional troops sent to Iraq appears to have been only one factor and -- according to military officials interviewed for Bob Woodward's new book, The War Within -- possibly a secondary one in explaining the drop-off in the violence that had made Iraq a living hell. . .

Woodward, whose book draws heavily from Pentagon insiders, reported that the Sunni rejection of al-Qaeda extremists in Anbar province (which preceded the surge) and the surprise decision of radical Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr to order a unilateral cease-fire by his militia were two important factors.

A third factor, which Woodward argued may have been the most significant, was the use of new highly classified U.S. intelligence tactics that allowed for rapid targeting and killing of insurgent leaders. Woodward agreed to withhold details of these secret techniques from his book so as not to undercut their continuing success. . .

Other brutal factors -- that the Washington press corps almost never mentions -- help explain the decline in violence:

- Vicious ethnic cleansing has succeeded in separating Sunnis and Shiites to such a degree that there are fewer targets to kill. Several million Iraqis are estimated to be refugees either in neighboring countries or within their own.

- Concrete walls built between Sunni and Shiite areas have made "death-squad" raids more difficult but alshave "cantonized" much of Baghdad and other Iraqi cities, making everyday life for Iraqis even more exhausting as they seek food or travel to work.

- During the "surge," U.S. forces expanded a policy of rounding up so-called "military age males" and locking up tens of thousands in prison.

- Awesome U.S. firepower, concentrated on Iraqi insurgents and civilian bystanders for more than five years, has slaughtered countless thousands of Iraqis and has intimidated many others to look simply to their own survival.

- With the total Iraqi death toll estimated in the hundreds of thousands and many more Iraqis horribly maimed, the society has been deeply traumatized. As tyrants have learned throughout history, at some point violent repression does work.


Time - For much of the latter part of summer, police officers in Helena, Ark., shouldered military-style M-16 rifles equipped with laser sights and patrolled the streets of this little community of 15,000. White signs on large blue barrels were placed in a 10-block area, warning that it was under 24-hour curfew. "Everybody is subject to being stopped and questioned," said Mayor James Valley. "Our officers will ride in unmarked vehicles, pull surprises on people and check everybody out to see who they are."

A crime spree prompted a similar lockdown in Hartford, Conn. After a chain of shootings that left one 21-year-old dead, a 15-month-old shot in the left leg and six young people wounded, the city in August imposed a 30-day emergency curfew on everyone under the age of 18. Mayor Eddie Perez said in a statement: "We must do this because we cannot and will not tolerate innocent people, especially children, to be victims."

A growing number of U.S. towns and cities are fighting escalating crime by imposing tough curfew ordinances. In Chicago, people under the age of 17 have to be off the streets by 10 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on weekends. Mayor Richard Daley believes the ordinance will help prevent further gun crime, which has taken the lives of nearly 30 Chicago public school students this academic year alone. But while the curfews may be popular with voters, civil-rights advocates argue that they are violating constitutional rights.

Curfews "essentially place an entire demographic under house arrest for the inappropriate actions of a few," says David McGuire, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney in Connecticut. Restricting citizens to their home during certain hours of the day, he and others argue, violates the right to assemble, the right to travel freely and other basic due process rights protected by the 14th Amendment. . .

Curfew laws have been struck down by courts in New Jersey, Washington and California but upheld in Texas and the District of Columbia. They continue to be debated in several jurisdictions. Yet the constitutionality of youth curfew laws has yet to be tested in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.


Dozens of students at Mashwood High School in South Berwick ME staged a sit in to protest the school's ban on backpacks. The superintendent won't budge arguing that the ban improves school safety, reduces classroom clutter and lessens the stress on the students' backs.


Ecomodder - It may seem counterintuitive, but according to a recent report more cyclists on the road mean fewer accidents involving cyclists and motor vehicles. . . "It's a virtuous cycle," says Dr Julie Hatfield, an injury expert from University of New South Wales. "The likelihood that an individual cyclist will be struck by a motorist falls with increasing rate of bicycling in a community. And the safer cycling is perceived to be, the more people are prepared to cycle." Also, even more encouragingly, it doesn't seem that cycling infrastructure is responsible for the change:

Experts say the effect is independent of improvements in cycling-friendly laws such as lower speed limits and better infrastructure, such as bike paths. Research has revealed the safety-in-numbers impact for cyclists in Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, 14 European countries and 68 Californian cities.


Electronic Frontier Foundation - In an unprecedented victory for cell phone privacy, a federal court has affirmed that cell phone location information stored by a mobile phone provider is protected by the Fourth Amendment and that the government must obtain a warrant based on probable cause before seizing such records.

The Department of Justice had asked the federal court in the Western District of Pennsylvania to overturn a magistrate judge's decision requiring the government to obtain a warrant for stored location data, arguing that the government could obtain such information without probable cause. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, at the invitation of the court, filed a friend-of-the-court brief opposing the government's appeal and arguing that the magistrate was correct to require a warrant. The court agreed with EFF and issued an order affirming the magistrate's decision.

EFF has successfully argued before other courts that the government needs a warrant before it can track a cell phone's location in real-time. However, this is the first known case where a court has found that the government must also obtain a warrant when obtaining stored records about a cell phone's location from the mobile phone provider.


Times of India - Scientists have discovered that going veggie could be bad for your brain-with those on a meat-free diet six times more likely to suffer brain shrinkage.

Vegans and vegetarians are the most likely to be deficient because the best sources of the vitamin are meat, particularly liver, milk and fish. Vitamin B12 deficiency can also cause anaemia and inflammation of the nervous system. Yeast extracts are one of the few vegetarian foods which provide good levels of the vitamin.

The link was discovered by Oxford University scientists who used memory tests, physical checks and brain scans to examine 107 people between the ages of 61 and 87.

When the volunteers were retested five years later the medics found those with the lowest levels of vitamin B12 were also the most likely to have brain shrinkage. It confirms earlier research showing a link between brain atrophy and low levels of B12.

Brain scans of more than 1,800 people found that people who downed 14 drinks or more a week had 1.6% more brain shrinkage than teetotallers. Women in their seventies were the most at risk.

Beer does less damage than wine according to a study in Alcohol and Alcoholism.

And being overweight or obese is linked to brain loss, Swedish researchers discovered. Scans of around 300 women found that those with brain shrink had an average body mass index of 27 And for every one point increase in their BMI the loss rose by 13 to 16%.


Slate - On Sunday morning, Prime Minister Harper began the race by predicting "a very nasty kind of personal-attack campaign." Two days later, his party briefly released an ad that showed a bird defecating on the leader of the Liberal Party. So much for Canadians being nice.


Greg Guma, Maverick Media - Two years ago it looked as if Pacifica Radio, the original listener-supported network, was on the road to reconciliation and renewed relevance after a decade of internal warfare. New national shows had been launched, the number of affiliates was increasing, a mood of collaboration and mutual respect was taking hold, and, in September 2006, the CFO reported the highest revenues in the organization's 57-year history. A year later, the financial news was less encouraging, but Pacifica was about to hire a new executive director, Nicole Sawaya, returning to Pacifica after nine years with enthusiastic support from the board and community.

Cut to September 2008. As Pacifica approaches its 60th anniversary, it faces the most serious organizational and financial crisis in years. According to several well-placed sources, Sawaya has resigned - for the second time in ten months - effective in early October. The network is considering budget cuts of more than $900,000, including at least 10 staff positions at stations and possible layoffs from the national staff.

Pacifica is also grappling with the need for multiple bylaw amendments and the high cost of lawsuits. The national board is split down the middle, the human resources director has left, a line of credit has been secured from Wells Fargo to cover recent expenses, based on a C.D. held by KPFA, and another loan is being sought.

Nevertheless, those waiting for an official announcement, especially concerning personnel changes, would be well-advised not hold their breath. Although critical of the mainstream media, Pacifica's managers and Board are often late and consistently coy when the subject is their own internal activities. Concerned about the staffing implications and potential for panic, recent meetings of the National Finance Committee have been conducted in executive session. The term "transparency" is used frequently, but, in part due to the crisis, is being selectively applied.

As Sawaya's predecessor, I'm not that shocked by recent developments. Things certainly weren't easy or conflict free during my two years in the job. But the rapid pace of the decline does raise at least two questions: How could so much go wrong so fast? And, what do Pacifica's leaders hope to do about it? The second question may be answered, at least in part, at the in-person meeting of the Pacifica national board scheduled for next weekend, Sept. 19-21, in Washington, DC


Low Tech Magazine - If we cut the average speed of all vehicles by half, fuel consumption would decrease by a whopping 75 percent. . .

Engineers treat velocity as a non-variable, while in fact it is the most powerful factor to save a really huge amount of energy - with just one stroke, at minimal cost, and without the need for new technology. Lower speeds combined with more energy efficient engines, better aerodynamics and lighter materials could make fuel savings even larger.

Air resistance (drag) increases with the square of speed, and therefore the power needed to push an object through air increases with the cube of the velocity. If a car cruising on the highway at 80 km/h requires 30 kilowatts to overcome air drag, that same car will require 240 kilowatts at a speed of 160 km/h.. . .

Drag can be partly offset by better aerodynamics: a boxy car like the Volvo 740 has a drag area that is almost twice that of the most aerodynamic standard car, the Honda Insight. The Volvo needs almost two times the engine power of the Honda when driven at 120 km/h.

Yet a Volvo 740 driving at 60 km/h will face less than half the drag and will need 4.6 times less energy power than a Honda Insight driving at 120 km/h. When compared to velocity, the potential of aerodynamics is limited. . .

The blindness for the importance of speed leads to doubtful conclusions, like the environmentally friendly label of high speed trains. The French TGV that set the most recent speed record at 575 km/h for wheeled trains in 2007 has an engine output of 19,600 kilowatts. A contemporary "slow" train like the Siemens ES64 with a top speed of 240 km/h has a maximum power output of 6,400 kilowatts.

Travelling 1,000 kilometres, the "slow" train will consume 26,240 kilowatt-hours (over 4.1 hours) while the fast train will consume 33.320 kilowatt-hours (over 1.7 hours). . . .

A decrease of 75 percent in fuel consumption is not peanuts. More than 60 percent of world oil production is used for transportation, which means that total oil production would be almost halved. In combination with more efficient engines, better aerodynamics and lighter materials a 75 percent reduction of oil production is not unrealistic.

Yet, when the International Energy Agency argues that the average car sold in 2030 would need to consume 60 percent less fuel than the average car sold in 2005, it claims: "With current technologies, only plug-in hybrids are capable of this".

This statement is wrong. We could lower the fuel consumption of cars (and other vehicles) by at least 75 percent, we could do it today, and we can do it with present technology.


Michigan Messenger - The chairman of the Republican Party in Macomb County Michigan, a key swing county in a key swing state, is planning to use a list of foreclosed homes to block people from voting in the upcoming election as part of the state GOP's effort to challenge some voters on Election Day.

'We will have a list of foreclosed homes and will make sure people aren't voting from those addresses,' party chairman James Carabelli told Michigan Messenger in a telephone interview earlier this week. He said the local party wanted to make sure that proper electoral procedures were followed. . .

One expert questioned the legality of the tactic.

'You can't challenge people without a factual basis for doing so,' said J. Gerald Hebert, a former voting rights litigator for the U.S. Justice Department who now runs the Campaign Legal Center, a Washington D.C.- based public-interest law firm. 'I don't think a foreclosure notice is sufficient basis for a challenge, because people often remain in their homes after foreclosure begins and sometimes are able to negotiate and refinance.'

As for the practice of challenging the right to vote of foreclosed property owners, Hebert called it, 'mean- spirited.'


Michigan Messenger - The chairman of the Republican Party in Macomb County Michigan, a key swing county in a key swing state, is planning to use a list of foreclosed homes to block people from voting in the upcoming election as part of the state GOP's effort to challenge some voters on Election Day.

'We will have a list of foreclosed homes and will make sure people aren't voting from those addresses,' party chairman James Carabelli told Michigan Messenger in a telephone interview earlier this week. He said the local party wanted to make sure that proper electoral procedures were followed. . .

One expert questioned the legality of the tactic.

'You can't challenge people without a factual basis for doing so,' said J. Gerald Hebert, a former voting rights litigator for the U.S. Justice Department who now runs the Campaign Legal Center, a Washington D.C.- based public-interest law firm. 'I don't think a foreclosure notice is sufficient basis for a challenge, because people often remain in their homes after foreclosure begins and sometimes are able to negotiate and refinance.'

As for the practice of challenging the right to vote of foreclosed property owners, Hebert called it, 'mean- spirited.'


Anchorage Daily News - The Alaska governor campaigned in 2006 on a build-the-bridge platform, telling Ketchikan residents she felt their pain when politicians called them "nowhere." They're still feeling pain today in Ketchikan, over Palin's subsequent decision to use the bridge funds for other projects -- and over the timing of her announcement, which they say came in a pre-dawn press release that seemed aimed at national news deadlines. "I think that's when the campaign for national office began," said Ketchikan Mayor Bob Weinstein on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Weinstein noted, the state is continuing to build a road on Gravina Island to an empty beach where the bridge would have gone -- because federal money for the access road, unlike the bridge money, would have otherwise been returned to the federal government.


HEALTHCARE BLOG - Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) emphasizes freedom, personal choice and responsibility when promoting his plan to reform America's health care system. He's not calling for an incremental approach but "nothing short of a complete reform of the culture of our health system and the way we pay for it will suffice.". . .

The man who wants to reduce state-regulated health insurance and hard-won consumer protections has never spent a day of his life outside the cozy blankets of publicy-sponsored government health coverage.

John Sidney McCain III was born in the Panama Canal Zone on Aug. 29, 1936 while his father was a Navy admiral. From this birth and throughout his childhood, Navy physicians cared for McCain.

After high school, McCain enrolled in the U.S. Military Academy, where the naval health care continued until he retired from the Navy in 1981. .

After his naval retirement, he went straight to the U.S. House of Representatives after winning the 1982 election for Arizona's 1st congressional district. After serving two terms, he was elected to the Senate in 1986, where he has been ever since. Throughout that time, he qualified for the generous Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. On his 65th birthday in 2001, McCain qualified for Medicare.


Alternet - A VA report acknowledged that suicide rates for young male Iraq- and Afghanistan-era veterans hit a record high in 2006, the last year for which official records are available. . . After five years of war in Iraq, Marine suicides doubled between 2006 and 2007, and Army suicides are at the highest level since records were first kept in 1980. Reported suicide attempts jumped 500 percent between 2002 and 2007.


Reuters - Honduras, a former U.S. ally in Central America now run by a leftist government, told a U.S. envoy not to present his credentials as ambassador on Friday in a diplomatic snub in support of Bolivia. Bolivia and anti-U.S. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez are in a fight with Washington over what they see as U.S. support for violent protests against Bolivian President Evo Morales. Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, who has moved the country closer to Chavez, was due to receive a new U.S. ambassador on Friday in a ceremony at which the envoy would present a letter with his diplomatic credentials. But Zelaya temporarily put off the event in support of Bolivia, a government source said. . .

The United States imposed sanctions on aides to Venezuela's Chavez on Friday in retaliation for his expulsion of the U.S. ambassador, escalating a crisis that raises the specter of a possible oil supply cutoff.

Bolivia and the United States expelled their respective ambassadors earlier this week after Morales accused Washington of supporting the opposition in the Andean country.

Violent anti-government protests have killed eight people in Bolivia, where rightist governors have rebelled against the popular president, demanding autonomy and rejecting his plans to overhaul the constitution and break up ranches to give land to poor Indians.

CNN - Bolivian President Evo Morales on Thursday accused the United States of fomenting a coup d'etat by rich eastern department landowners against him, and he called for the U.S. ambassador to leave for allegedly encouraging those protesters. For the past two weeks, the demonstrators in the country's richer eastern lowlands have been protesting Morales' plans to redistribute the country's natural gas revenues. . .

Before expelling the U.S. diplomat from his country, Chavez also said Thursday that he had uncovered a U.S.-backed plot to remove him from power. "It's the empire that's behind this," he told supporters in a televised address. "They go around looking for a way to stop our revolution and, with it, to strike all the processes of change that are occurring in our Americas, in the Caribbean, in Central America."

Chavez then played a four-minute tape of what he said were conversations among current and retired members of the Venezuelan military discussing whom they could count on to support a movement against the presidential palace.

He said also that the presence of two Russian warplanes on Venezuelan soil for a training exercise "is a warning" to the rest of the world that Venezuela's allies include Russia.


From the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cuba, September 10

Yesterday, September 9, 2008, at 11:50 A.M., the Department of State conveyed to the Interests Section of Cuba in Washington Note 252/18 in which, after expressing its regrets for the additional damage caused to the Cuban people by hurricane Ike, it insists in the visit to our country of a "humanitarian assessment team" to "inspect the affected areas".

Today, September 10, at 7:20 P.M. the Interests Section of Cuba in Washington sent to the Department of State Note No 046/08, in which it conveys its appreciation for the expressions of regret by the Government of the United States for the damage caused in Cuba by hurricane Ike, and reiterates that Cuba does not require the assistance of a humanitarian assessment team as it has a sufficient number of trained specialists to deal with this task.

The Note emphasizes that if the Government of the United States is really willing to cooperate with the Cuban people it is requested to allow the sale to Cuba of indispensable material, such as materials for roofing, for building repairs and for the re-establishment of electric networks.

Likewise, it reiterates the request that the Government of the United States suspend the restrictions preventing U.S. companies from providing private commercial credits to Cuba for the purchase of foodstuffs in the United States .

The Note also calls the attention of the Department of State that the visit to Cuba of a humanitarian assessment team is not required to allow the sale of the aforementioned materials and to authorize private credits for the purchase of foodstuffs. . .

This is a cynical attitude of the Government of the United States . It attempts to suggest that it is desperate to cooperate with Cuba , and that we are the ones refusing. It lies shamelessly.

Why does the Government of the United States insist on the pretext of carrying out an inspection "in situ" when the information disseminated regarding the serious effects caused by the hurricanes in Cuba is widespread and obvious?

Why does it use the precondition of sending an inspection team, something that no one else has done among the scores of countries that are already generously cooperating with Cuba ?

Why does the Government of the United States refuse to allow Cuba to purchase materials for building repairs, roofing or components the re-establishment of electrical networks in the U.S. ?

Why does if forbid U.S. companies and their subsidiaries in all countries, to provide Cuba with private credit for the purchase of foodstuffs, which today are essential to ensure food for the affected population and to replace reserves in the event of new hurricanes?. . .

Cuba has not asked the Government of the United States for any gift whatsoever. Simply to be allowed to purchase.



Darcie Moore, Brunswick Times Record - A life-altering chain of events may be under way that launches a new music group into careers that take them to stages far beyond Bowdoinham. Last Friday night, the Board of Selectmen weren't dealing with budgets or sludge management. Instead, Bowdoinham's Singing Selectmen met for their first practice session. . . Though it was the first time all three played together, it was quite a jamming frenzy, especially when the musicians sank into a rendition of "Proud Mary (Rollin' on the River)."

Selectmen Steve Ciembroniewicz and Wayne Dorr showed up at fellow Selectman David Whittlesey's home with their guitars for the practice. Whittlesey had his fiddle ready to go and they were soon tuning guitars in Whittlesey's guest apartment. . . After trying a few songs, Dorr asked, "Do we have any Bob Marley?"

Someone started playing instead "Proud Mary" and Dorr improvised a line or two: "... Rollin', rollin', rollin' on the Cathance [a local revier- TPR]"

With a song like that, "we can get the whole crowd singing," Dorr said. "We'll have to get a few cops to keep the fans off us."

Ciembroniewicz suggested they start off a cappella.

"Oh jeez, you guys," Dorr murmured. But he got to choose the key.



Wisconsin State Journal - The state elections agency is investigating complaints about a massive campaign mailing Republican Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign has directed toward Wisconsin Democrats and other voters. Each mailing includes at least one copy of the state application for an absentee ballot that has the address of a local clerk and a box for postage printed on the other side. But in some cases, the incorrect clerk's address is printed on the application, leading some Democrats to wonder if the Arizona senator's campaign is deliberately trying to get them to apply for absentee ballots in places where they aren't eligible to vote. "They're trying to knock me off the rolls," said Democrat Beverly Jambois, of Middleton. "I can't tell you how upsetting it is to me. This is how you win elections? By disenfranchising other voters?" Her household received the flier this week addressed to her husband, Robert, a lawyer for the state Department of Transportation. The couple are registered to vote in Middleton, but the absentee ballot application was addressed to the city clerk's office in Madison. A McCain campaign spokeswoman said in a statement the mailing mistakes are "certainly not intentional" but she wouldn't answer questions. The statement also said the mailing went to "potential supporters across the spectrum.". . .

Wall Street Journal - The biggest project that Sarah Palin undertook as mayor was an indoor sports complex, where locals played hockey, soccer, and basketball, especially during the long, dark Alaskan winters. The only catch was that the city began building roads and installing utilities for the project before it had unchallenged title to the land. The misstep led to years of litigation and at least $1.3 million in extra costs for a small municipality with a small budget. What was to be Ms. Palin's legacy has turned into a financial mess that continues to plague Wasilla. . . Litigation resulting from the dispute over Ms. Palin's sports-complex project is still in the courts, with the land's former owner seeking hundreds of thousands of additional dollars from the city.

Fact Check - September 12, 2008: Palin says Alaska supplies 20 percent of U.S. energy. Not true. Not even close. Alaska did produce 14 percent of all the oil from U.S. wells last year, but that's a far cry from all the "energy" produced in the U.S. Alaska's share of domestic energy production was 3.5 percent, according to the official figures kept by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. And if by "supply" Palin meant all the energy consumed in the U.S., and not just produced here, then Alaska's production accounted for only 2.4 percent..

Sarah Palin's church is boosting a conference aimed at turning gays into heterosexuals. According to the Wasilla Bible Church bulletin, ""You'll be encouraged by the power of God's love and His desire to transform the lives of those impacted by homosexuality.

Daily Kos notes that Rudolph Giuiliani attacked Obama's ability to lead, saying at the GOP convention, "He's never run a city, never run a state, never run a business." If it sounded familiar, it was. Here is what Giuliani said about McCain during the primaries: " [He] has never run a city, never run a state, never run a government. He has never been responsible as a mayor for the safety and security of millions of people."

SF Chronicle - Third-party political activist Peter Camejo, a perennial candidate for state and national office who helped pioneer the financial market niche of socially responsible investments, died Saturday. He was 68. Mr. Camejo, who had been battling a recurrence of lymphoma, died at home in Folsom (Sacramento County). He helped found the California Green Party in 1991 and ran three times for governor of California. He also ran as independent Ralph Nader's vice presidential running mate in the 2004 presidential election in which President Bush won a second term. In 1976 he ran for president as the Socialist Workers Party candidate. Mr. Camejo described himself as a watermelon - red on the inside, green on the outside




Wisconsin State Journal
- Saying illegal Wisconsin votes could sway the presidential election, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen has sued the state elections agency to force ineligible voters off the rolls. But election experts warned that if the Justice Department lawsuit is successful, eligible voters could be disenfranchised and the state could face a post-election ballot-counting frenzy similar to Florida's after the 2000 presidential race. "You shouldn't penalize the voter because you've got mistakes in your database," said Dan Tokaji, an election law expert at Ohio State University. "That's the absolute worst thing to do."
The suit filed in Dane County Circuit Court on Wednesday is believed to be the only one of its kind in the country, according to Tokaji and other national election experts.


Independent, UK - The threat of global warming is so great that campaigners were justified in causing more than £35,000 worth of damage to a coal-fired power station, a jury decided. The jury at Maidstone Crown Court cleared six Greenpeace activists of criminal damage. Jurors accepted defence arguments that the six had a "lawful excuse" to damage property at Kingsnorth power station in Kent to prevent even greater damage caused by climate change. The defence of "lawful excuse" under the Criminal Damage Act 1971 allows damage to be caused to property to prevent even greater damage ¬ such as breaking down the door of a burning house to tackle a fire. The not-guilty verdict, delivered after two days and greeted with cheers in the courtroom, raises the stakes for the most pressing issue on Britain's green agenda and could encourage further direct action.

Business Week - If ever there was a car made for the times, this would seem to be it: a sporty subcompact that seats five, offers a navigation system, and gets a whopping 65 miles to the gallon. . . Ford's 2009 Fiesta Econetic goes on sale in November. But here's the catch: Despite the car's potential to transform Ford's image and help it compete with Toyota Motor and Honda Motor in its home market, the company will sell the little fuel sipper only in Europe. "We know it's an awesome vehicle," says Ford America President Mark Fields. "But there are business reasons why we can't sell it in the U.S." The main one: The Fiesta Econetic runs on diesel. Automakers such as Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz have predicted for years that a technology called "clean diesel" would overcome many Americans' antipathy to a fuel still often thought of as the smelly stuff that powers tractor trailers. Diesel vehicles now hitting the market with pollution-fighting technology are as clean or cleaner than gasoline and at least 30% more fuel-efficient. Yet while half of all cars sold in Europe last year ran on diesel, the U.S. market remains relatively unfriendly to the fuel. Taxes aimed at commercial trucks mean diesel costs anywhere from 40 cents to $1 more per gallon than gasoline. Add to this the success of the Toyota Prius, and you can see why only 3% of cars in the U.S. use diesel. "Americans see hybrids as the darling," says Global Insight auto analyst Philip Gott, "and diesel as old-tech."


Tree Hugger - Following on the heels of a recently published study in the journal Nature Geoscience, which estimated that Arctic permafrost could hold 60% more organic carbon than previously thought, a team of scientists from Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation has found that the planet's permafrost layers -- comprising an area that covers a fifth of Earth's land mass -- store twice as much methane and carbon dioxide as previously believed. . Release of even a fraction could greatly increase future temperature rise While he said it was too early to start making dire predictions about future melting rates, Pep Canadell, a CSIRO atmospheric scientist who co-authored the paper, warned that: "With temperatures in the higher latitudes estimated to rise by as much as eight degrees by the end of this century, the world could experience a major melt of large tracts of permafrost in Canada, Russia, Alaska, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Greenland".


Tom Engelhardt, Tomdispatch - At the height of the Roman Empire, the Romans had an estimated 37 major military bases scattered around their dominions. At the height of the British Empire, the British had 36 of them planetwide. Depending on just who you listen to and how you count, we have hundreds of bases. According to Pentagon records, in fact, there are 761 active military sites abroad. The fact is: We garrison the planet north to south, east to west, and even on the seven seas, thanks to our various fleets and our massive aircraft carriers which, with 5,000-6,000 personnel aboard -- that is, the population of an American town -- are functionally floating bases.


BBC - Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim has bought a 6.4% stake in publisher of the New York Times, according to a US regulatory filing. The telecoms tycoon, dubbed the world's second-richest man by Forbes Magazine, is the second major investor this year to buy into the struggling media group. Shares in the New York Times Company have fallen 33% over the last year. Mr Slim's acquisition of 9.1 million shares means he and his family are the firm's third-largest investors. Other key shareholders are the Sulzberger family - who own a controlling stake - and two hedge funds which bought stakes earlier this year. Mr. Slim and the hedge funds, Harbinger Capital and Firebrand Partners, collectively hold more than 30% of firm's Class A shares. The Sulzberger family own 19%.


Independent, UK - Up to 30 more airlines will go bankrupt before Christmas, the chief executive of British Airways warned, as the biggest rescue of stranded passengers in travel industry history began. Willie Walsh said the scenes of chaos in which 85,000 passengers have been stranded at locations around the world after the collapse of XL, Britain's third largest holiday company, would become a familiar sight as the travel industry struggled with soaring fuel costs and the effects of a global economic downturn. . . Travel industry experts said smaller airlines and tour operators were most at risk and warned passengers to book in a way that ensured they got their money back if an airline went bankrupt. . . Britain's biggest tour operators, TUI Travel and Thomas Cook, have already announced they are cutting by about 8 per cent the number of holidays on offer next summer to avoid being caught out by falling demand.


Daily Mail, UK - David Miliband was subjected to an astonishing four-letter tirade from his Russian counterpart at the height of the Georgia crisis. The Foreign Secretary received the undiplomatic tongue-lashing over the telephone after expressing the EU's anger with the Kremlin. . . At one point Sergei Lavrov, the colourful Russian foreign minister, became so incensed that he reportedly barked: 'Who the f*** are you to lecture me?' Mr Lavrov, who is seen as the fearsome face of Russia's new aggressive foreign policy, objected to what he believed was Mr Miliband's condescending tone. He used full-strength industrial language to suggest to the Foreign Secretary that he knew little, if anything, of Russia's history - perhaps unaware that Mr Miliband's grandfather Samuel served in the Red Army and his father Ralph was a leading Marxist theoretician. Such was the repeated use of the F-word that it was difficult to draft a readable note of the exchange, according to one insider who has seen the transcript. A Whitehall source said: 'It was effing this and effing that. It was not what you would call diplomatic language. It was rather shocking."

CNET - Leaders of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, which represents some 19,000 workers including American Airlines flight attendants, asked American Airline's management this week to consider adding filters to its in-flight Wi-Fi access to prevent passengers from viewing porn and other inappropriate Web sites while in-flight. A union representative told Bloomberg News that attendants and passengers have raised "a lot of complaints" over the issue. American Airlines is one of several airlines testing in-flight Internet access as a way to lure more passengers. American has been offering the service on a limited basis since August 20th on some flights between New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, and between New York and Miami. The cost of the service on cross-country flights is $12.95, and it's $9.95 on the New York to Miami route. . . Given that people are packed onto planes literally elbow to elbow, it's often hard not to at least glance at the laptop screen of the person sitting next to you. But airlines have not banned people from reading pornographic magazines or watching their own DVDs on flights. And it's just as easy for someone to view a DVD of an adult video on a laptop or flip through Hustler as it is to surf porn Web sites.

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