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Undernews For September 30, 2008

Undernews For September 30, 2008

FROM THE PROGRESSIVE REVIEW
Washington's Most Unofficial Source
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Editor: Sam Smith

30 SEP 2008

CRASH TALK

Craig Crawford, CQ - How did anyone think the public would get behind something sold as a bailout of Wall Street multi-millionaires? Make it a bailout of homeowners, and you would have something that could pass in Congress. But to do that, the Bush administration needs to put something in the package that might actually help homeowners -- like giving bankruptcy judges the power to order modifications of usurious loans. Or maybe some protections against exorbitant credit card interest. If this bailout ends up as a better deal for average homeowners in crisis, Monday's turmoil in Congress will have been a very good thing.

David Korten, Yes Magazine - Rather than seeking to restore the health of Wall Street’s predatory private institutions, a proper plan would seek to rid Wall Street of its purely predatory elements while dismantling and reassembling its useable institutions to create a new system accountable to the needs of Main Street. Here are some of the basics.

Hedge funds and private equity funds pose great risks to society while performing no beneficial function. They should be dismantled. . .

It is time to revive anti-trust to break up all excessive concentrations of corporate power and particularly the banking conglomerates that have been fueling speculation in global financial markets. To meet the financial needs of Main Street create a system of federally regulated, community banks that fulfill the classic textbook function of acting as intermediaries between local people looking for a secure place for their savings and local people who need a loan to buy a home or finance a business.

Proceeds from taxes on the ill-gotten gains of those who created the financial mess can be used to make whole the pensioners, home owners, and credit card holders the system victimized.

Perhaps the most important of all the needed reform measures is to make money creation a public function and strip private banks of their ability to create money out of nothing by issuing loans at interest against unsecured demand deposits.

John Gray, The Observer, UK - Our gaze might be on the markets melting down, but the upheaval we are experiencing is more than a financial crisis, however large. Here is a historic geopolitical shift, in which the balance of power in the world is being altered irrevocably. The era of American global leadership, reaching back to the Second World War, is over.

You can see it in the way America's dominion has slipped away in its own backyard, with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez taunting and ridiculing the superpower with impunity. Yet the setback of America's standing at the global level is even more striking. With the nationalization of crucial parts of the financial system, the American free-market creed has self-destructed while countries that retained overall control of markets have been vindicated. In a change as far-reaching in its implications as the fall of the Soviet Union, an entire model of government and the economy has collapsed.

Ever since the end of the Cold War, successive American administrations have lectured other countries on the necessity of sound finance. Indonesia, Thailand, Argentina and several African states endured severe cuts in spending and deep recessions as the price of aid from the International Monetary Fund, which enforced the American orthodoxy. China in particular was hectored relentlessly on the weakness of its banking system. But China's success has been based on its consistent contempt for Western advice and it is not Chinese banks that are currently going bust. How symbolic that Chinese astronauts take a spacewalk while the US Treasury Secretary is on his knees.

Despite incessantly urging other countries to adopt its way of doing business, America has always had one economic policy for itself and another for the rest of the world. Throughout the years in which the US was punishing countries that departed from fiscal prudence, it was borrowing on a colossal scale to finance tax cuts and fund its over-stretched military commitments. Now, with federal finances critically dependent on continuing large inflows of foreign capital, it will be the countries that spurned the American model of capitalism that will shape America's economic future. . .

Meltdowns on the scale we are seeing are not slow-motion events. They are swift and chaotic, with rapidly spreading side-effects. . .

Having created the conditions that produced history's biggest bubble, America's political leaders appear unable to grasp the magnitude of the dangers the country now faces. Mired in their rancorous culture wars and squabbling among themselves, they seem oblivious to the fact that American global leadership is fast ebbing away. A new world is coming into being almost unnoticed, where America is only one of several great powers, facing an uncertain future it can no longer shape.

Dan La Botz, Monthly Review - Whatever the ultimate bailout plan, the financial situation could well continue to unravel, curtail credit, and shrink the broader economy, leading to a deep recession or depression. The U.S. Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, might then be forced -- despite their deep aversion to any form of government ownership -- to not only bail out the banks but to buy them. The increasingly popular sentiment that the bankers should be made to pay for the crisis opens the door to the notion of nationalization of the banks. What would it mean to have the government own the banks?

Historically the Populists, various labor parties, and the Socialist and Communist left have raised the slogan of nationalization of the banks as part of a process of bringing about socialism. Their argument has been that if the banks were owned by the government, and the government were controlled by the people, we could democratically plan an economy to meet the needs of all. . .

In recent history governments have nationalized banks when the pressures of internationalized financial markets and international competition have made it difficult for them to control and stabilize their finances and currency. During the last couple of decades, countries as different as Mexico, France, Sweden, and Japan carried out partial or more or less complete bank nationalizations to regain control of the financial situation.

Japan's experience more than a decade ago was much like that of the United States in many ways. After a period of great productivity and prosperity in the 1980s, in the early 1990s, Japan's housing bubble burst, leaving Japanese banks holding sheaves of bad loans. The Japanese housing boom collapsed just as China began to become an export competitor. After neglecting the problem for some time the Japanese government intervened, spending $440 billion dollars of its taxpayers' money to nationalize the weakest banks, infuse capital into the stronger banks, and to protect depositors. Japanese banks were required to create a Business Revitalization Plan, at the center of which was a capital/asset ratio. Some economists and journalists have suggested that Japan's solution -- partial nationalization and partial financial support for private banks -- could provide a model for the United States in the current crisis.

Sweden handled its financial crisis of the early 1990s through a quasi-nationalization. The Swedish Social Democrats -- not the conservatives -- had deregulated the banks in the 1980s. But in the early 1990s Swedish real estate values began to fall and banks were left holding bad loans. Sweden spent $11.7 billion to rescue its banks but in return received warrants, that is, paper granting the government the right to buy stock in the banks whenever it wished. This constituted a quasi-nationalization of the banks restoring public confidence. As part of the Swedish deal, banks had to write down their losses, sell their distressed assets, and later the government sold the shares it held in the banks. The government's temporary control allowed the financial situation to stabilize, and the re-privatized banks reentered the national and global financial markets strengthened, though still subject to the ongoing, worldwide crisis of capitalism.

Both Mexico and France nationalized their banks in the 1980s in response to international financial pressures and international competition. In Mexico, the government of President Lopez Portillo raised the banner of the Mexican Revolution as he nationalized the banks in an attempt to regain control of finances and to stop capital flight abroad. In France, the Socialist and Communist parties and the middle class Radical party had adopted in 1972 the Common Program of the Left, which called for the nationalization of the banks. But in France too it was the new international character of finance which led the government to nationalize the banks in large part to get control of the expanding money supply. . .

We can note some similarities in the experience of nationalization of the banks. First, an important sector of bankers resisted nationalization and, when finally forced by the government to relent, fought for higher compensation for their property than originally offered . . and usually won. Second, in none of these cases was bank nationalization complete, with some domestic and foreign banks usually excluded. Third, where banks were more completely nationalized, the bankers opened new financial institutions which tended to engage in banking functions and significantly drained off capital. In general, bank nationalization tended to contribute to the centralization and modernization of the banking industry as a whole. In all cases after a few years the nationalized banks were reprivatized, usually to many of the same financiers who had previously owned them.

The nationalization of banks does not necessarily represent a progressive measure, nor is it a logical next step toward socialism. Government ownership of banks, at least partial ownership and sometimes complete ownership, is quite common around the world. Many capitalist nations -- both developed and developing ones -- have nationalized their banks during the twentieth century. A 2002 study of banks found that around a third of all banks were government-owned, though such bank ownership was more common in the developing world. In capitalist societies governments engage in the nationalization of banks to reestablish financial stability and improve their economic position in the international market, not to advance the common good.

Reuters - Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the U.S. mortgage finance giants that were taken over by the government this month, said on Monday they were subpoenaed for documents as part of a federal grand jury investigation into their accounting. . . The FBI said it was expanding its probe of possible corporate fraud related to the U.S. mortgage market collapse to include Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc and insurer American International Group. The allegations would deal with misstatements of assets, FBI Director Robert Mueller told Congress earlier this month.

Dean Baker, Prospect - On January 3, 2001 the NASDAQ jumped more than 14 percent. What was the basis of this euphoria? Alan Greenspan had lowered the federal funds rate by a full percentage point in a rare special meeting. Investors were convinced that this meant that the fed would prevent a recession. Two months later the economy began losing jobs and entered a recession. It didn't begin adding jobs again until the fall of 2003. The moral of this story is that financial markets should not be viewed as the embodiments of wisdom about the economy. The big actors in the financial markets are subjects to bouts of fear and panic just like the rest of us. In fact, they might even be more subject to irrational mood swings because they sit around talking to each other all day. The conventional wisdom in the media was that the economy would collapse in the absence of the bailout. I know of few, if any, economists who shared this view, even among those who supported the bailout. However, the disaster view undoubtedly permeated Wall Street just as the euphoria view permeated Wall Street in January of 2001.

David Weigel, Reason - The big mystery on the floor was why so many Democrats went against Pelosi. . . . A sample of the different takes:

Donna Edwards, a Maryland Democrat elected this year (in a primary then a special election) on the backs of bloggers and the SEIU. One of the majority of black caucus members who couldn't go back home and argue for welfare for Wall Street: "This bill was vague and contained more dressing than substance for working Americans. It gave the Secretary of the Treasury unparalleled purchasing power of any financial instrument without adequate, enforceable oversight. There were no guidelines in this bill directing the Secretary as to how or which troubled assets to buy. The bill did not address how or when the government would sell the purchased assets back in the market. Despite the positive provisions of this bill that help tenants, the provisions to help homeowners were not mandatory; they were discretionary. Finally, the ECONOMIC STIMULUS bill which passed the House and included real benefits to working Americans such as extending unemployment benefits, providing additional food stamp assistance, and investing in infrastructure to create good-paying jobs is effectively dead.

Tom Udall, a New Mexico Democrat who's running for Senate (and expected to win): "Any plan that puts taxpayer money at risk must ensure that taxpayers get paid back before shareholders, bondholders or executives-so that corporate CEOs do not get a golden parachute while taxpayers are left to pay the bill. Additionally, Congress should act further to keep Americans in their homes by addressing the crisis in the mortgage industry as well as the one in the financial sector. Any economic package that allows tens of thousands of Americans to lose their homes is simply inadequate."

Dennis Kucinich: "Why aren't we helping homeowners directly with their debt burden? Why aren't we helping American families faced with bankruptcy. Why aren't we reducing debt for Main Street instead of Wall Street? Isn't it time for fundamental change in our debt based monetary system, so we can free ourselves from the manipulation of the Federal Reserve and the banks? Is this the United States Congress or the board of directors of Goldman Sachs? Wall Street is a place of bears and bulls. It is not smart to force taxpayers to dance with bears or to follow closely behind the bulls."

Redding News Review - Many black lawmakers released a deluge of negative statements explaining their votes on a $700 billion bailout bill for troubled financial companies. The statements came as 21 of the 42-members of the Black Congressional Caucus votes were key to defeating the measure in the House by a margin of 228-205. Rep. Barbara Lee, who voted against the plan, said that she is "convinced that this bailout plan is not the solution to this mess." . . . "First, it does little to address the underlying problem - the foreclosure crisis," the California Democrat said. "We need a moratorium on foreclosures and bankruptcy reform to help people stay in their homes. Second, this bill should be paid for by the high-flying industry that created this problem.$700 billion should not be given to Wall Street and the Bush Administration unless those who cause this mess pay for it. . . And third, we need an economic stimulus package to deal with the crushing reality of the recession that is hitting people hard and growing every day.

C. Gopinath, Hindu Business Online - My recommendation is that after the dust settles, the government must call for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to find out what happened and why. We would have an interesting cast of characters. Among others, Mr Alan Greenspan, who headed the central bank from 1987 to 2006 may have to explain how he created an environment that allowed sub-prime mortgages to thrive and brought us to this state. Mr Henry Paulson may have to be witness for the prosecution (he is the current Secretary of the Treasury) and for the defense (he was head of Goldman Sachs, an investment bank, for many years). Mr Robert Rubin, former Secretary of the Treasury under the Clinton administration, also an alumnus of Goldman Sachs, in whose time the Glass-Steagall Act was repealed, should also be an invitee.
Mr Warren Buffet, the successful investor and head of Berkshire Hathaway, may like to come forward and say, ‘I told you so a long time ago’ for he has been one who has been warning everyone who would listen about the dollar slide, and consequences for the economy.

Baron's - 1997: Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan's famous "irrational exuberance" speech in 1996 was somehow ignored by, um, Fed Chairman Greenspan. The Fed missed the opportunity to change margin requirements. Had the Fed acted, the bubble would not have inflated as much, and the subsequent crash would not have been as severe.

1998: Long Term Capital Management was undercapitalized, used enormous amounts of leverage to purchase all manner of thinly traded, hard-to-value paper. It failed, and under the authority of the Federal Reserve a "private-sector" rescue plan was cobbled together. Had these bankers suffered big losses from LTCM, they might have thought twice before jumping into the exact same business model of undercapitalized, overleveraged, thinly traded, hard-to-value paper. Instead, they reaffirmed Benjamin Disraeli's famous aphorism: "What we learn from history is that we do not learn from history."

1999: The Financial Services Modernization Act repealed Glass-Steagall, a law that had separated the commercial-banking industry from Wall Street, and the two industries, plus insurance, came together again. Banks became bigger, clumsier, and hard to manage. Apparently, risk-management became all but impossible, even as banks had greater access to larger pools of capital.

2000: The Commodities Futures Modernization Act defined financial commodities such as "interest rates, currency prices, and stock indexes" as "excluded commodities." They could trade off the futures exchanges, with minimal oversight by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Neither the Securities and Exchange Commission, nor the Federal Reserve, nor any state insurance regulators had the ability to supervise or regulate the writing of credit-default swaps by hedge funds, investment banks or insurance companies.

2001-03: Alan Greenspan's Fed dropped federal-fund rates to 1%. Lulled into a false belief that inflation was not a problem, the Fed then kept rates at 1% for more than a year. This set off an inflationary spiral in housing, and a desperate hunt for yield by fixed-income managers.

2003-07: The Federal Reserve failed to use its supervisory and regulatory authority over banks, mortgage underwriters and other lenders, who abandoned such standards as employment history, income, down payments, credit rating, assets, property loan-to-value ratio and debt-servicing ability. The borrower's ability to repay these mortgages was replaced with the lender's ability to securitize and repackage them.

2004: The SEC waived its leverage rules. Previously, broker/dealer net-capital rules limited firms to a maximum debt-to-net-capital ratio of 12 to 1. This 2004 exemption allowed them to exceed this leverage rule. Only five firms -- Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns and Morgan Stanley -- were granted this exemption; they promptly levered up 20, 30 and even 40 to 1.

2005-07: Unscrupulous home appraisers found that they could attract more business by inflating appraisals. Intrinsic value was ignored, so referrals kept coming in. This helped borrowers obtain financing at prices that were increasingly unsupportable. When honest appraisers petitioned both Congress and the bureaucracy to intervene in the widespread fraud, neither branch of government acted.

MORNING LINE

Sam Smith, Progressive Review - There's a lot of talk about racism among the Obama crowd, with speculation that polls might be overrating Obama because of the so-called Bradley effect, Bradley being a black gubernatorial candidate in California who showed up much better in the polls than in the final count.

But the problem with the Bradley effect - or the Wilder or Dinkens effect - is that the examples being used are two decades old, since which American ethnic attitudes have evolved.

A far more instructive example is the case of Harold Ford who ran for the Senate from Tennessee two years ago and came within 3% of winning the southern state. He was defeated, many think, because of a GOP ad in which a white woman talks abut meeting the then unmarried Ford at a Playboy party.

Now look at how the pristine Obama is doing in Tennessee. He's down 12-24 points in the past month. Translated into votes that's about 150,00 to 350,000 people who were willing to vote for Ford who don't feel the same way about Obama. That's not race; it merely reflects the fact the Ford was a better politician and more effective at reaching those who didn't look like him.

The Obama campaign should stop worrying about the Bradley effect and try instead to learn the Ford effect.

PAGE ONE MUST

SAD DAYS AMONG THE IVIES

Dan Haley, Ivygateblog - George, an Ivy-educated pseudonymous banker working as an analyst at Merrill Lynch, describes how he found out about Bank of America's buyout of Merrill:

<<< I was shocked. I was screaming. One of my friends at Bank of America texted me, 'Hey, we might be buying you guys.' I was in denial. You see, Merrill has a much better reputation than a commercial bank like Bank of America. I was shocked I would be joining a lower-tier commercial bank. There's a feeling, 'I didn't go through this whole interview process to work at a commercial bank.' Hopefully, Bank of America won't change too much of Merrill's culture." >>>>

According to George, this may spell the end of i-banking's mysterious popularity among Ivy League students. George says: "Changing compensation will obviously change the attitude of students toward the industry. They might go to med school or law school instead.". . .

AHMADINEJAD WOULD ACCEPT ISRAEL IF PALESTINIANS AGREE

Peter Tatchell, Guardian, UK - Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has made a remarkable announcement. He's admitted that Iran might agree to the existence of the state of Israel.

Ahmadinejad was asked: "If the Palestinian leaders agree to a two-state solution, could Iran live with an Israeli state?"

This was his astonishing reply:

"If they [the Palestinians] want to keep the Zionists, they can stay . . Whatever the people decide, we will respect it. I mean, it's very much in correspondence with our proposal to allow Palestinian people to decide through free referendums."

Since most Palestinians are willing to accept a two-state solution, the Iranian president is, in effect, agreeing to Israel's right to exist and opening the door to a peace deal that Iran will endorse.

Ahmadinejad made this apparently extraordinary shift in policy during an interview last week when he was in New York to address the UN general assembly.

He was interviewed on September 24 by reporters Juan Gonzalez, writing for the New York Daily News, and Amy Goodman for the current affairs TV program, Democracy Now.

Surprisingly, Ahmadinejad's sensational softening of his long-standing, point-blank anti-Israeli stance was not even headlined by the two reporters. Perhaps this was a decision by their editors? Did they not want to admit that Ahmadinejad may have, for once, said something vaguely progressive?

Equally odd, the story wasn't picked up by the world's media. For many years, the Iranian president has been vilified, usually justifiably. Now, when he says something positive and helpful, the media ignores it. Is this because of some anti-Iran or pro-Israel agenda?. . .

I am not defending or endorsing Ahmadinejad in any way, shape or form. Indeed, I am on record as being one of Ahmadinejad's harshest critics. I've protested dozens of times outside the Iranian Embassy in London and written scores of articles exposing his regime's persecution of trade unionists, students, journalists, human rights defenders, women's equality campaigners, gay people, Sunni Muslims and ethnic minorities such as the Arabs, Kurds, Azeris and Balochis. . .

Much as I loathe his regime, Ahmadinejad is basically right. The key to peace in the Middle East is concessions from the occupying power. As the stronger, wealthier and conquering partner, Israel should take the initiative and help kick-start the peace process by withdrawing unilaterally and totally from the territories it has occupied illegally (according to international law) since the 1967 war. This means pulling out from all of the West Bank and dismantling all the illegal Israeli settlements.

The West Bank, plus Gaza, should become the independent, sovereign state of Palestine, backed with international aid and investment to create the infrastructure for economic development and for social provision (new houses, schools, hospitals, transport links and sports facilities).

Jobs and prosperity in Palestine will undercut and isolate the men of violence. They will lose support and become marginalised in a self-governing state where ordinary Palestinians experience the tangible benefits of peace.

This is so damn obvious. When will Israel's leaders wake up and realize that peace with justice is the only way to give their people lasting security?

WHY THE INTERNET ISN’T FRIENDLY TO NEWSPAPERS

William Lobdell - For many years, I always thought that newspapers would successfully make the transition from a paper product to the Internet - though the process would be painful. I’m not so sure anymore. Here’s why. The majority of Internet readers aren’t looking for a comprehensive news report that is incredibly expensive to produce. Need evidence? Just look at the top-viewed stories on two Southern California newspaper sites. At this moment, the top stories on latimes.com are these:

The majority of the stories are commentaries on the news or crime briefs. The top-viewed stories don’t reflect the work of 600-plus journalists busting their asses around the world. That’s just not valued by Internet readers. Sad, but true. Okay, now take a looked at the Orange County Register’s top-viewed stories:

Okay, what do we have? A dog photo contest. The Lakers. A weather story. And a crime story.

Both The Times and Register devote tremendous resources to provide readers with in-depth reporting from around the world. But do today’s readers care? I would argue that they would rather read commentary (the reason why the Huffington Post has been so successful) and celebrity and crime news.

Compounding the problem is the fact that Internet advertising provides only a faction of the income as old-school print advertising revenue. So newspapers have to face two stubborn facts: the majority of readers don’t want their in-depth, quality news coverage and (even if they did) advertising revenues won’t support that kind of editorial heft.

Now we can argue what this means for our democracy or, more pointedly, to websites and bloggers when their free source of news dries up, but the facts remain. Readers and the business model won’t support the expensive journalism newspaper operations produce.

In this case, it’s two strikes and newspapers are out.

"Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America" will be in bookstores February 2009. The memoir, published by HarperCollins, is about Los Angeles Times journalist William Lobdell's spiritual journey while covering religion in America, which took him from evangelical Christian to someone who, reluctantly, no longer believed in God.

STATES ACT TO CUSHION WALL STREET MELTDOWN

Stateline - Cascading economic problems flowing from the crisis on Wall Street are forcing states to urgently redraw their financial blueprints for the rest of this year and next to cushion the impact of the credit squeeze, staggering paper losses for millions of ordinary Americans and soaring energy prices.

California, which just ended a record 85-day budget impasse, fears its newly-approved plan to balance its books is already $1 billion in the red. Utah cut most state agency budgets by 3 percent in a Sept. 24 special session, and Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski (D) has rescinded a 3.2 percent pay raise for agency directors in his state.

In New York, the epicenter of the financial cataclysm, Gov. David Paterson (D) is laying the groundwork for a special legislative session to deal with conditions that he expects will add $1 billion to the state’s $6.4 billion deficit. New York, along with New Jersey and Connecticut, will be hard hit by the layoffs of thousands of financial industry employees - by some estimates, the financial sector accounts for as much as one-fifth of their revenues.

Article includes rundown of recent state actions to deal with the emergency

OLMERT CALLS FOR DRAMATICALLY NEW ISRAELI POLICIES

Richard Silverstein, Tkun Olam - Ehud, where were you when we needed you to say these things? Why now, when you no longer have the power to implement them? At any rate, here are words that are painful to read if only because the man uttering them could’ve changed history if he had done so while he still had the power to make them come true:

"Israel should withdraw from nearly all territory captured in the 1967 Middle East war in return for peace with the Palestinians and Syria, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was quoted on Monday as telling a newspaper."

The N.Y. Times translates additional passages from the interview:

<<< "What I am saying to you now has not been said by any Israeli leader before me," Mr. Olmert told the newspaper Yediot Aharonot in the interview on the occasion of the Jewish new year, observed from Monday evening till Wednesday evening. "The time has come to say these things."

He said that traditional Israeli defense strategists had learned nothing from past experiences and that they seemed stuck in the considerations of the 1948 war of independence.

"With them, it is all about tanks and land and controlling territories and controlled territories and this hilltop and that hilltop," he said. "All these things are worthless.". . .

Over the last year, Mr. Olmert has publicly castigated himself for his earlier right-wing views and he did so again in this interview. On Jerusalem, for example, he said: "I am the first who wanted to enforce Israeli sovereignty on the entire city. I admit it. I am not trying to justify retroactively what I did for 35 years. For a large portion of these years, I was unwilling to look at reality in all its depth.". . .

"A decision has to be made," he said. "This decision is difficult, terrible, a decision that contradicts our natural instincts, our innermost desires, our collective memories, the prayers of the Jewish people for 2,000 years."

Olmert concedes what Israeli public opinion has already come to accept that East Jerusalem must eventually come under Palestinian sovereignty:

Mr. Olmert made clear that the eastern, predominantly Arab, sector had to be yielded "with special solutions" for the holy sites.

On peace with the Palestinians, Mr. Olmert said in the interview: "We face the need to decide but are not willing to tell ourselves, yes, this is what we have to do. We have to reach an agreement with the Palestinians, the meaning of which is that in practice we will withdraw from almost all the territories, if not all the territories. We will leave a percentage of these territories in our hands, but will have to give the Palestinians a similar percentage, because without that there will be no peace." >>>

Rather extraordinarily, regarding Iran, Olmert rejected what had appeared to be Israeli policy that an attack on Iran was not only feasible, but perhaps inevitable:

<<< On Iran, Mr. Olmert said Israel would act within the international system, adding: "Part of our megalomania and our loss of proportions is the things that are said here about Iran. We are a country that has lost a sense of proportion about itself." >>>

I remember reading a blog post Bernard Avishai wrote about his own experience with Olmert. The former said he found Olmert to be a charming and captivating individual. Avishai even admired him and enjoyed his company a great deal, though he didn’t agree with him. After reading this, I can completely understand how this might be possible. In this interview, we see a man attempting to liberate himself from the political shackles that have enchained him for decades. He knows what should be done and articulates it clearly.

And yet, Olmert’s political career is a real tragedy. Instead of being the Israeli DeGaulle, he has fallen far short. At least DeGaulle implemented his reformed vision of what was necessary when he extricated France from Algeria. The best Olmert could do was tell us what needs to be done without being able to help us do it. It is a frustrating political legacy.

My hope is that Tzipi Livni can build upon these insights and that unlike Olmert, who did not get to the Promised Land, she will. She appears to be as intelligent and perceptive as Olmert about these issues. Let us hope so.

STUDY: MEDIA HIDES PHARMA FUNDING OF STUDIES IN MANY STORIES

Journal of the American Medical Association - We reviewed US news articles from newspaper and online sources about all pharmaceutical company-funded medication studies published in the 5 most prominent general medical journals between April 1, 2004, and April 30, 2008. We also surveyed editors at the 100 most widely circulated newspapers in the United States.

Of the 306 news articles about medication research identified,130 (42%) did not report that the research had received company funding. Of the 277 of these articles reporting on medications with both generic and brand names, 186 (67%) referred to the study medications by their brand names in at least half of the medication references.

STATE & LOCAL GROUPS WANT MORE RESPECT FROM NEXT PRES

Governing - The leaders of the Big " state and local government groups -- National Governors Association, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Council of State Governments, the National Association of Counties, the United States Conference of Mayors, the National League of Cities and the International City/County Management Association -- released a statement calling on the next president to pay more attention to states and localities in drafting policy:

<<< The federal-state-local partnership is vital to ensuring the general welfare and well-being of our citizens and our country. As a new administration begins, it is important to recognize that the foundation of this partnership must be developed early and continuously nurtured and strengthened. To promote this relationship, the leaders of state and local government ask the next president to follow two main guiding principles.

The first is to consult and cooperate with state and local leaders. We are on the frontlines everyday and know the effect of national policies and programs on the delivery of services to our citizens. We ask the next administration to adopt a policy of constructive engagement with state and local government to gather relevant information about existing issues, build on innovative programs already in place at the state and local level and ensure national policies are implemented in the most effective and efficient manner possible.

Second, we encourage the next Administration to promote innovation at the state and local level. State and local leaders can respond more quickly and experiment more widely than our federal partners. We urge the new president to strive for federal policy that encourages this innovation by maximizing state and local flexibility as we implement national policies and programs.>>>

OBAMA DOES WELL AMONG LATINOS

Candidatousa - Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama is polling well among Hispanics in key battleground states where Latinos make up at least 10 percent of the voting population. . . Conducted by Sergio Bendixen for the Democratic Party think tank NDN, the poll indicates that Obama is ahead of his Republican rival Sen. John McCain among Latino voters in Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado. In Florida, the two candidates are tied. . .

Nevada: Obama led McCain 62 percent to 20 percent among Hispanics. Among non-Latinos, McCain was favored 46 percent to 37 percent

New Mexico: Obama led McCain 56 percent to 23 percent among Latinos. McCain had a 50 percent to 34 percent edge among non-Hispanics

Colorado: Obama topped McCain 56 percent to 26 percent among Hispanics. Among non-Latinos Obama holds a narrow 45 percent to 41 percent lead

Florida: McCain and Obama are tied among Latinos at 42 percent each and among non-Hispanics at 43 percent

OTHER NEWS
A FIRE DISPATCHER RETIRES ON THE AIR

Elliot Goodman recently retired as a DC fire department dispatcher after 24 years of service. He announced the news over the department radio between emergency calls and his colleagues responded in kind. You can hear the moving exchange here.

(Your editor has a special affection for fire dispatchers is because 51 years ago, as a brand new radio reporter, he was in daily contact with them. A number of volunteer dispatchers would call the station after sending out equipment (we paid a buck for each news tip) and while DC dispatchers like Steve Stevenson wasn't allowed to accept the money, he was always glad to help with needed info.)

RECOVERED HISTORY

DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN: NO-FAULT CAPITALISM MEETS LEMON SOCIALISM

Sam Smith
Progressive Review, August 1990

Click here for a chart comparing the 1990 S&L bailout with depression era rescue efforts

In the early days of the savings and loan crisis the joke was that in Texas if you bought a toaster oven they gave you a free S&L. It turns out not to have been much of a joke. The Resolution Trust Corporation - the government's misnamed S&L caretaker that is neither producing a resolution nor inspiring trust -- is engaged in a massive giveaway that may make Teapot Dome look like a demi-tasse cup.

The RTC is already the nation's largest operator of financial institutions and, according to the New York Times, "quickly becoming the biggest financial institution in the world, the largest single owner of real estate, the largest liquidation company and the largest auction firm." This ungainly monster of America's late empire period was established without meaningful public debate nor with any serious consideration of alternatives,

But official Washington is not alone in its odd indifference to the nature of the S&L solution. The media --even the op-ed pages and Sunday feature sections -- have largely ignored the question. The topic was not listed on the agenda of The Other Economic Summit ~ the progressive alternative to the meeting of economic ministers ~ even though TOES gathered this year at virtual ground zero of the crisis: Houston, Texas. And Ralph Nader's major concern seems to be which group of taxpayers will bear the fiscal burden of the scandal,

Cost estimates continue to soar - as high as $500 billion if you believe congressional analysts or $1.4 trillion (that's right between the (JNP of West Germany and Japan, folks) if you accept the calculation of a knowledgeable Wall Street Journal correspondent. But the press, the politicians and even the public interest groups seem far more concerned about how the crisis came about than what we are going to do about it.

One has to admit the former matter is enthralling and appalling. Put rather neatly by one former FBI fraud specialist to the Village Voice, the S&L crisis is perhaps the largest criminal conspiracy ever created. The FBI currently has some 8000 cases of S&L fraud before it, 1300 of them gathering dust for lack of funds to pursue them. Another 13,000 tips haven't even been followed up, according the Newsweek. According to Rep. John Conyers, to date the government has recovered less than 2% of the money lost through criminal fraud in thrift cases, even though fraud was involved in at least three-quarters of S&L insolvencies,

The sum of money involved is staggering,

Newsweek estimates that even at a conservative $250 billion cost, this is an amount that would pay for existing education programs for the next four years; or nearly pay for universal health insurance and long-term care for the next four years; or overhaul the nation's water systems, repair all bridges and have money left over to start fixing highways. There are currently some 40,000 law suits over all this money and the figure is expected to double by year's end,

But recounting neither the sum nor the sin involved leads to a solution. After all, the broad scandal have been known for some time yet in its wake the president and the Congress have fashioned an extraordinarily shoddy, dangerous, expensive and corrupt jury rig to correct the matter,

Not only is the government failing to solve the problem, it is creating massive new scandals, inequities and public deficits. Not the least of these is the likelihood that the major beneficiaries of the S&L bailout will be the very states responsible for it. . .

Among the other clear beneficiaries of the bailout are the quick-rich financiers who, with their soul brothers, helped to create the scandal. Small business and ordinary citizens are not invited to the RTC's extraordinary fire sales. You can't get a catalog and order by mail. Yet The New York Times reported on July 3 that RTC owns 35,908 properties and "though no specific list has been released, the agency's holdings include coal and uranium mines, ranches and pasture lands, 162 golf courses, oil fields, marinas and boat yards, athletic dubs, garages, parking lots and mobile home parks, 84% of the total inventory is residential - mainly in Texas." Public Citizen notes that the assets include "a buffalo sperm bank, a Nevada bordello, a windmill farm, a share of the Dallas Cowboys, [and] an entire town in Florida." With a few exceptions - such as the RTCs grudging, miserly and belated offering of housing to non-profit groups - the marketing of assets is what they call in the trade a private sale. As a result you may not heard about the satellite auction that will take place in September to sell 98 properties worth $341 million. The government reports that buyers in Japan, Britain and Canada are expressing the most interest. You won't be able to get it on cable,

Billions of dollars worth of assets are being traded at prices that challenge even Crazy Eddie's Emporium in the midst of a recession Memorial Day weekend, - but for the benefit only a handful of huge corporations and redundantly wealthy financial bustiers.

We know - or should know by now - that the crisis was created in no small part by the gluttony and stupidity of advocates of the so-called free market running rampant through America's fiscal countryside. What you may not realize is how far the government's acquiescence went. For example, until the deregulation of the 1980s, S&Ls had to have at least 400 shareholders. By 1981, the government had made it possible for there to be only one shareholder and that shareholder didn't have to have any hard equity in the institution. It was also possible for a S&L to have only one borrower. Further, Congress raised the limit of federal insurance from $40,000 to $100,000 - and that per account rather than per individual depositor. As Rep. Charles Schumer put it, "The government behaved like a fire insurance company that said to its customers, go ahead, play with matches. We'll cover you if anything goes wrong."

Although some Democrats are smugly blaming the Republicans for the S&L disaster, the truth is that this bill passed the House 380 to 13 and by a voice vote in the Senate. In another spate of misdirected bipartisanship, Senator Jake Garn and Rep. Ferdinand St. Germain introduced successful legislation which allowed S&Ls to get into such new activities as junk bonds, unsecured commercial loans and major real estate projects,

Thanks to recent revelations we now have a better idea of why Congress didn't look after our interests more assiduously. As just one small example, one study has found that S&Ls gave $45 million to congressional candidates during the past three elections, including more than $1 million to members of current congressional banking committees. The aforementioned St. Germain, according to the newsletter PACS & Lobbies, received nearly $150,000 in campaign contributions, over a six year period. In contrast, S&L and HUD prober Henry Gonzalez received only $1750 during the same time,

Such facts blast huge holes in arguments that S&Ls were largely victims of changing world economics, regional recessions and other macroeconomic rationalizations. They were, in fact, victims of the avarice of their owners, licensed in their greed by the United States Congress and the executive branch. And the media hardly said a mumblin' word. _ It is this same cast of characters that have given us - or are overseeing - the so-called S&L bailout. The same hidden agendas, the same fiscal fast shuffles, the same class of beneficiaries, the same lack of media concern for the import of public actions,

The drama is reminiscent of corporate reorganizations described many decades ago by Thurman Arnold in The Folklore of Capitalism: "In reality the struggle which attended the 'insolvency' of a great organization could be nothing other than a struggle for political control of that organization. The symbols were debts and credits and sales, and men had to plan their practical campaigns in those terms. This created a situation in which the rules of debts and credits became like the platforms in a political campaign,

"They didn't mean anything. They were full of contradictions. . . The conflict could only be resolved by a public drama where the rules paraded in dress clothes, while a political machine directed the play from behind the scenes."

Behind the public drama of the S&L solution is the most egregious example to date of no-fault capitalism and lemon socialism. The former is the remarkable principle that - notwithstanding all the fawning over the "free market economy" - our largest business institutions are philosophically, fiscally and criminally exempt from the ultimate consequences of laisse faire. The latter is the equally inconsistent principle that to maintain the free market the government is responsible for anything out of which private enterprise can't make a profit. It may not, however, help support this magnificent non sequitur through activities that might actually provide income for the government,

No, the rules of the game are that a major industry is allowed to make whatever mistakes it wishes in pursuit of the holy grail of free enterprise, the costs of which to be fully borne by the taxpayer,

Further, the S&L solution has the hidden goal of moving America towards increasing financial oligopoly. The government is prepared to guide, assist, regulate and tax to accomplish this goal. This sort of economic policy has been seen before in fully developed form and it has a name: fascism, described by Mussolini biographer Adrian Lyttelton as "the product of the transition from the market capitalism of the independent producer to the organized capitalism of the oligopoly." As Italian fascist economic theorist Alfredo Rocco put it, such an economy "is organized by the producers themselves, under the supreme direction and control of the state."

What has taken place certainly involves fraud, malfeasance, misfeasance and nonfeasance. But beyond that, what we are experiencing approaches a fiscal coup. Using the not unreasonable cost estimate of $500 billion we are talking about a sum the size of the combined 1986 assets of General Motors, Exxon, Ford, IBM, Mobil, General Electric, ATT, Texaco, Dupont, Chevron, Chrysler Philip Morris and Amoco,

Our last line of defense - the media - has been absorbed in the human interest and fraud aspects of the crisis, but woefully unskilled in reporting what is really going on. Reading separate stories about an RTC deal is unnerving. In one S&L case, The New York Times listed an institution's assets at $1.8 billion, while the Washington Post pegged them at $3.3 billion. Deposits were $2.1 billion in the Times and $52 billion in the Post. Remember now, we are talking billions. In another story, the Times put the government's annual assistance to an S&L deal at $250 million; the Post called it $250 thousand.

There has been a stunning lack of discussion of alternative approaches to the S&L problem. In fact, the plan represents an escalation in no-risk subsidization of big business even in comparison with such recent precedents as the Chrysler bailout, in which the government retrieved money through exercising stock warrants. Below are some alternatives:

o Provide for government profit-sharing. Although this has occurred to some degree, even in these cases it has been inadequate. After all, in private enterprise, if you put up the bulk of the money, you expect more than 20% of the profits,

o Wait for the market to improve. The sale of government-held assets at prices depressed by current economic conditions and further depressed by the urge to dump them is foolish and costly. The government is ideally positioned to wait for improved conditions,

o Keep a stake in the business. The government could take stock in companies buying failed thrifts as part of the deal,

o Don't pay off depositors who don't need their money. In some failed thrift cases, the government is writing checks to the depositors for the amount in their account. This is not necessary. The money will probably just be put into an account somewhere else. These are, after all, savings. The institution getting the new account will then go out and loan the money for a profit, thus providing another hidden subsidy to the financial industry. It could be cheaper, assuming a medium-term resolution of the problem, to keep accumulating the interest charges.

o Tax the S&L industry for its rip-off of the public. The argument that successful S&Ls should not be held accountable for the failures of their soul mates totters on the history of the crisis. Because of extraordinary lobbying and financial contributions, the entire industry is, in no small part, to blame for this crisis. A surtax on industry profits would be in order,

o Part of the losses could be recovered through a windfall profits tax on income and capital of gains of companies purchasing S&L assets from the government.

o Decentralize resolution of specific cases. Imagine, for example, that all bankruptcies in the country were handled through a central Washington bureaucracy and one can get an idea of the fallacy of the current approach to the S&Ls. It would probably be far better, to treat each situation on a more decentralized basis, using court appointed conservators to manage matters and to decide on the amount and nature of federal assistance to request. Among other things, this would reduce the political intrusion on these decisions,

o Lease rather than sell. Operate on the principle of shopping mall owners who know a sale is here today and gone tomorrow but a lease you can have forever.

o Use loans rather than loan guarantees. And get collateral. The shift towards loan guarantees by the government is a dangerous one with most of the benefits accruing to the no-fault capitalists. It represents yet another hidden subsidy to the financial industry, essentially providing it with no risk loan clients.

o Trade assets for stock in growing companies. Allow the taxpayer to enjoy capitalism, too. If the stock doubles, the government has, in effect, gotten twice what it would have gotten for selling the asset outright.

o Make a virtue of necessity. Depending on how you look at it, 20,000 units of real estate can be a burden - or it can be a housing program. Groups like ACORN would like to see the latter alternative, but have received little help from the administration. Similarly, office buildings could be used to relocate federal agencies, golf courses could become Job Corps centers and garages can be turned into homeless shelters. It's all a matter of how you look at it,

o Start a Bank: With many of the S&L failures concentrated in a few states, there is the opportunity to reorganize them as state banks, modeled on the North Dakota state bank established decades ago to aid farmers mistreated by eastern financial institutions. Some S&Ls could be turned into cooperative banks or credit unions,

S&L stories are relegated to the business pages despite their enormous effect on every American. As a result many readers may have missed, for example, a February 3, 1989, financial page story in the Washington Post. The story, just as the government started rushing pell-mell to dump S&Ls, began: "The head of the General Accounting Office yesterday criticized the government's year-end fire sale of 200 failing savings and loans, saying taxpayers would have paid less in the long run if the S&Ls had been turned over to the government or closed. The Federal Home Loan Bank Board, which oversees and regulates the thrift industry should have held onto the S&Ls rather than promising an estimated $60 billion in tax breaks to the investors who agreed to buy the ailing institutions." The GAO said the Federal Home Loan Bank Board weighted its assumptions in favor of sales by not including tax breaks and calculating unrealistic interest rate figures,

The GAO boss, Charles Bowsher, testifying before the Senate, said it would have been cheaper if the regulators had done nothing. Bowsher proposed that insolvent savings and loans be placed in receivership until regulators could figure out whether it would be cheaper to shut them down or merge them into other institutions.

In a more recent example, the media tended to regard as technical information the news that the Office of Thrift Supervision would temporarily allow the strongest S&Ls to lend up to 60% of their capital to a single developer for residential construction. This is four times the amount allowed under the bailout law. Most Americans remain unaware that its government is slipping back into practices that created the crisis in the first place. Does the media really believe it is too hard for the average person to understand the risks involved with a financial institution lending the majority of its money to one developer? Or does the media not understand it?

Certainly the developers understand what is going on. AP quoted the economist for a homebuilders association as saying, "This will give us some breathing room." Unasked questions Among the questions in which the media has generally been disinterested are these:

o How does each of these multi-billion dollar deals compare with what would happen in a normal business transaction? Or even in previous bids for the same company?

o Are purchasers paying fair price for deposits?

o Why are lists of assets for sale not readily available? Why has the media and Congress not demanded more prior information on these sales?

o Why has the media not done its own independent appraisals of various assets to check on the government's work? The rigging of appraisals was one of the causes of the S&L scandal. A 1985 study by the House consumer and monetary affairs subcommittee said, "Faulty and fraudulent real estate appraisals contributed directly to the insolvency of the nation's financial institutions and have helped cause billions of dollars of losses." There is no reason to believe this manipulation has ceased. As one small appraiser once told me: "There are different types of appraisals. There's an appraisal for an arms-length transaction. There's an appraisal for a deal between friends. There's an appraisal for a divorce settlement. There's an appraisal for insurance purposes and there's an appraisal for estate purposes. Depending on which appraisal you want, that table over there is worth anywhere from $50 to $500." Neither of us at the time had heard of appraisals for a government trying to get a $500 billion monkey off its back and keep campaign contributors happy at the same time,

o Are the government agencies involved in the bailout competent to do the job? Scattered reports from the field should raise far more concern than they have. For example, Rep. Bruce Vento tells of "growing reports of overpaid individuals running RTC-held institutions [and] of officers from failed institutions staying on the government payroll with six figure salaries." Newsweek says of the RTC: "Many of its 3000 employees have little experience in the field." True enough. The government has advertised for staffers in banking magazines and the like but, as one banker put it, "who are you going to get willing to leave" a stable situation "for an 18-month career?" But if this is the case, what does it say for the underlying approach government has taken towards the S&Ls?

If the approach is premised on staking the future of the worst financial crisis of our history on such people, what does it say about the premise? And why so little concern? One of the more extraordinary tales to come out of the S&L crisis is the GAO report that found that the Federal Savings & Loan Insurance Corporation had netted only $57,000 on more than $3 million in S&L assets. The government spent over $2 million with four firms for communications equipment, inventory and appraisal, moving and warehousing. It turns out all four firms had the same owner and competitive bidding had not been used. As New Jersey banking analyst James Marks notes, "When there's that much money flowing, there's always someone who figures out a way to stick his finger in and divert some of the flow."

o Who picked the real estate brokers, appraisers and outside lawyers involved in the bailout and how? We're talking $500 million in outside legal fees alone,

o How does the RTC - and Congress and the media -- determine the difference between bad assets and bad borrowers? The fact that a borrower is going bankrupt does not reveal much about the nature of a particular asset. The media and much of the public seems to have bought the idea that the assets owned by failed S&Ls are all dogs. This is highly unlikely but helps to justify fire sale prices,

On the other hand, the questions the media have asked often miss the mark. Because these questions are frequently planted by "official sources," however, they do reveal some of the hidden agenda behind the bailout. Here is an exquisite example from the Times in a recent weekend roundup of the news: "Does the nation need a specialized industry to finance housing when it now has an efficient mortgage market? Does the nation need 13,000 independent banks and 3000 independent thrifts, or should institutions be allowed to consolidate across state lines, which would also enable them to spread their risks by diversifying their sources of loans and deposits? Most important is ft time to consider changing the system for insuring deposits so that there is less of an incentive to gamble with taxpayer's money?

The clue to the source of such queries is the phrase "efficient mortgage market," one of those delightful terms of art used by economists and financiers which would never be used by the average homeowner or wistful would-be purchaser. The latter would be more incline to favor words like "gouging." In fact, the mortgage market is efficient only to the extent that it has made some people and some institutions a lot of money. It has also developed in such a way that the average age at which someone can afford their first home is rising rapidly, people are paying an exorbitant percentage of their income, and the standard home mortgage has been increasingly replaced by such economic Russian roulette techniques as variable rate financing . .

In the first part of the 20th century, in the wake of the San Francisco earthquake, as other bankers watched their money disappear in fire and rubble, Amadeo Peter Giannini of the Bank of Italy walked 18 nines from his home to the bank where he retrieved some $80,000 in gold and silver from the vaults, loaded it on a wagon, and made his way to his brother's house in the hills. There he opened for business, loaning the money to San Franciscans so they could rebuild their homes and businesses. He gambled that hs action would encourage others to deposit funds they had been hoarding so he could loan still more. It worked and on this shaky foundation arose the Bank of America, later to become the largest banking house in the world.

In the last decade of the 20th century, in the wake of another great disaster, America has reversed the parable. The money of the taxpayers, needed for their homes and businesses, is being loaded on the wagons of the state for deposit in the vaults of those few who have the means, the political power and the gall to profit from the rubble of the fiscal crisis that has struck the S&L industry,

And America, its politicians, its captains of industry, its media, can think of little else to do about it except tacitly sanction the continued looting in the wake of the great capitalist riot of the 1980s.

BREVITAS

OUTLYING PRECINCTS

Joel Stein, LA Times - If you need proof that this is the most important election in a generation, get this: Jewish grandkids are flying to Florida to visit their grandparents -- without being guilted into it -- to talk their elders out of voting for John McCain. The Jewish Council for Education and Research -- a new pro-Obama political action committee -- is organizing "The Great Schlep," in which hundreds of Jews will make the Southern exodus on Columbus Day weekend, Oct. 10-13. They will travel to the Fort Lauderdale area, where they will visit their grandparents, organize political salons in their condos and eat incredibly bad food. . . More than hockey moms or gun-toting God lovers, old Floridian Jews are the most important demographic in this election. They make up about 5% of the voters in a swing state with 27 electoral college votes. They never miss so much as a condo board vote and are normally reliable Democrats. Barack Obama's trouble winning over older Jewish voters has been difficult for pollsters to explain, so I came here this week to visit my grandmother, Mama Ann, and find out what the hang-up is. After a long discussion about policy, I asked her if the reason she was leaning toward voting for McCain was because Obama is black. She assured me that it was not. Though during dinner, she did casually mention that her grandfather used to express a superstition that if you ate marrow, you'd date a black man. I had no idea that for so many generations, Jews have hated marrow. . .

ECO CLIPS

Architecture 2030 - According to the US Energy Information Administration, oil production from drilling offshore in the outer continental shelf wouldn't begin until around the year 2017. Once begun, it wouldn't reach peak production until about 2030 when it would produce only 200,000 barrels of oil per day. This would supply a meager 1.2% of total US annual oil consumption (just 0.6% of total US energy consumption). And, the offshore oil would be sold back to the US at the international rate, which today is $106 a barrel. So, the oil produced by offshore drilling would not only be a "drop in the bucket", it would be expensive, which translates to "no relief at the pump".

USA Today - The state of Washington is telling its local governments they must prohibit home car washing unless residents divert the wash water away from storm drains, where they say it causes water pollution. "I understand this is something people have done for a long time," says Bill Moore, water quality specialist with the Washington state Department of Ecology, which is requiring the ban. "It's not something we should be doing any longer." He says the soapy runoff is toxic to salmon and other fish and that small metal particles that wash off cars, such as brake dust, is harmful, too. Unlike public sanitary sewer systems that clean wastes from water, storm drain systems in most communities empty straight into streams and eventually rivers and oceans. . . Washington state environmental officials insist they aren't banning home car washing - just the runoff into storm drains, Moore and Schmanke say. They say residents will still be able to wash cars on lawns or gravel driveways where water will soak in the ground. Residents can wash on pavement if they install barriers to prevent wash water from going into storm sewers.

PR Watch - In an opinion column, former Greenpeace activist turned PR consultant Patrick Moore waxes lyrical about a proposal by Luminant to build two new reactors at its Comanche Peak nuclear power station in Texas. Luminant's new reactors, he wrote, would produce "electricity from virtually carbon-free nuclear power." Moore's brief biographical note states only that he is "co-chair of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, a national grass-roots coalition that promotes nuclear power." What neither Moore nor the Dallas Morning News discloses to readers of the column is that he is a consultant for the Nuclear Energy Institute , which funds the "coalition." Luminant is a member of the NEI.

Architecture 2030 - 12,954 Nuclear Power Plants - That's how many nuclear plants the world would need to build to replace its current fossil-fuel-based energy. Even if it was physically possible to build this many plants within the seven-year timeline set by scientists to avoid dangerous climate change (it takes 8 to 12 years to get a nuclear plant on-line), the cost would be astronomical. At $6 billion per plant (a conservative figure), 12,954 plants would cost $77.72 trillion - more than the total Gross World Product of $65.95 trillion.

MEDIA

Fishbowl DC - On Friday's "Hardball," Chris Matthews interviewed a number of student members of the group Concerned Youth of America. One of those students -- Caroline -- is his daughter, a student at the University of Pennsylvania. . . One tipster tells FishbowlDC that "Matthews, at the asking of his daughter, instructed the producers not to name her."

MONEY & WORK

Luke Reiter, DC Examiner - Homeless shelters and food banks in the Washington area are seeing huge increases in the number of people seeking assistance as the national economy falters. Manna Food Center, a food bank that serves Montgomery County, has seen a 25 percent increase in clientele from 2007 to 2008, compared with a 1 percent increase from 2006 to 2007. . Similarly, the Arlington Food Assistance Program provided food to 918 families last week, compared with 542 in the same week two years ago. . . Marion Peele, director of agency relations at the Capital Area Food Bank, said she had recently been contacted by an unemployed lawyer who was struggling to start his own firm. He told her he had never needed to use a food bank before, but he could no longer afford to pay his mortgage and buy food.

FURTHERMORE. . . .

Manchester Evening News, UK - [Manchester Univesity] Students say new signs on toilets at their union building might be making their WC just a 'bit too PC'. The traditional sign on the door of the Gents has been temporarily replaced with one that says 'toilets with urinals'. And the sign on the Ladies now simply says 'toilets' in a move to make the lavatories more inclusive for trans-gender students.

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