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Undernews For October 8, 2008

Undernews For October 8, 2008

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

8 OCT 2008


All our political forms are exhausted and practically nonexistent. Our parliamentary and electoral system and our political parties are just as futile as dictatorships are intolerable. Nothing is left. And this nothing is increasingly aggressive, totalitarian, and omnipresent. Our experience today is the strange one of empty political institutions in which no one has any confidence any more, of a system of government which functions only in the interests of a political class, and at the same time of the almost infinite growth of power, authority, and social control which makes any one of our democracies a more authoritarian mechanism than the Napoleonic state. - Jacques Ellul, 'Anarchie et Christianisme'



Sam Smith, Progressive Review - Listening to the sordid efforts by McCain and Palin to tie Obama to onetime Weatherman Bill Ayers brought to mind the challenge to the 1903 seating of Republican Reed Smoot of Utah, the first Mormon ever elected Senator. Mormon polygamy was central to the dispute and, in the course of the debate, a Smoot supporter, Senator Boes Penrose of Pennsylvania, looked at some of this colleages known for their adulterous activities and said, "As for me, I would rather have seated beside me in this chamber a polygamist who doesn't polyg than a monogamist who doesn't monog."

Anyone who spends more than fifteen minutes listening to Barack Obama should be aware that however many meetings he attended with Ayers they did not have the slightest affect. You don't need an ex-weatherman to know which way Obama is blowing and most of the time he's becalmed. The only thing Obama could possibly bomb would be his own campaign, but that is not because of any covert radicalism but because of a fear of saying anything that might upset anyone anytime.

On the other hand, patriot pretender Sarah Palin still sleeps with the First Dude who was, except for a brief time, a member of the Alaska Independence Party from 1995 to 2002. Palin herself went to the 1994 and 2000 conventions of the group and addressed it this year. The founder of the group once summarized his feelings like this: "The fires of hell are frozen glaciers compared to my hatred for the American government. . . And I won't be buried under their damn flag."

Furthermore. Obama's other purportedly evil pal, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, never had anyone jailed and then chased out of town for being a witch as did one of Palin's favorite pastors.

So who would you rather have in Washington: a cautious, boring attorney who attended a few meetings with a Weatherman or an Alaskan governor who lives with a guy who wanted to dump America entirely?

And while we're asking about such matters, isn't it time for McCain to either shut up about Obama's associations or give us the names of everyone he has played poker or shot craps with over the past 20 years? Bet that would change the national conversation in a hurry.


Sam Smith, Progressive Review - Georgia pol Eugene Talmadge used to campaign on the theme, "Y'all only got three friends in the world: the Lord God Almighty, the Sears Roebuck catalog and Eugene Talmadge . . . And you can only vote for one of them."

A fellow Chicago politician said of Alderman Jake Arvey, "Not a sparrow falls inside the boundaries of the 24th Ward without Arvey knowing of it. And even before it hits the ground there's already a personal history at headquarters, complete to the moments of it tumble."

And Boston mayor James Michael Curley summed up his career this way: "Where I found a muddy lane, I left a broad highway; where I found a barren waste, I left a hospital; where I found a disease-breeding row of tenement houses, I left a health center. . . Throughout life, wherever I have found a thistle I endeavored to replace it with a rose."

Corrupt, yes, but not one of these pols earned a fraction of the benefits received by the average national politician of today through a variety of legalized bribery starting with campaign contributions.

Essential to this old style politics was the close connection between the politicians and those who elected them. It was, yes, a feudal relationship but it survived because of the service the politicians provided to ordinary citizens and it thrived on an spirit of empathy virtually invisible in American national politics these days.

Which is why I found myself squirming as I watched the second presidential debate. As Tom Shales wrote in the Washington Post: "The debate had the aura of an almost meaningless ritual being conducted in a soundproof room while outside, panic and calamity were spreading like giant cracks in the earth. The candidates seemed protected from reality rather than having met on the field of battle to confront it."

There was McCain wandering around the stage obsessed with the ninth letter of the alphabet. Obama, equally self-absorbed, repeatedly pointing his finger at the undecided as if they were somehow to blame for all our problems. And the latter looking more like prisoners at a probation hearing than fully enfranchised U.S. citizens.

During the whole dreary debate there was not one moment of relief from a sense that both men saw salvation only in their own ascent to power and not a second of credible empathy for those who are suffering so badly these days - just more sloppy solutions, canned cliches and boring bromides. Spurred by a priggish Tom Brokaw they even lectured the public on its responsibilities while leaving their own only a vague prospect.

McCain and Obama are, of course, not alone in this inability of contemporary figures to get closer to the public than a handshake and a smile. They see the world from behind a TV camera and we are the ones behind the screen.

Empathy between the powerful and those constitutionally entitled to empower them may be gone forever, a victim of television, modern propaganda, corrupt campaign financing and a country grown too big for its own good.

The loss is also a product of three decades of glorification of greed, including granting our leaders the right to declare their power an adequate symbol of our progress. Though of different generations both McCain and Obama deeply share this assumption.

It is embittering to think that in the midst the country's worst economic crisis since the depression that all these two could offer was one more platitudinous puppet show. As we start to rebuild America out of the present wreckage, part of the job will be to find leaders who offer us something more, closer and warmer than that we sit passively in the audience, our hands carefully folded, accepting at best only a vicarious satisfaction in their personal success.


Sam Smith, Progressive Review - If we're going to play this game, let's play it right. Far more important than who sat on the board of a Chicago education group with Obama is where the money came from. Much originated with a foundation built on the wealth of Moe Annenberg, a major rightwing opponent of FDR and publisher of the Philadelphia Inquirer, who later pled guilty to tax evasion and was sentenced to three years.

The foundation was started by Moe's son Walter, who also established the Annenberg School of Communications in honor of his father. When the school was announced, a distinguished Philadelphian wrote the competing newspaper to wonder if the Philadelphia Bulletin was now planning to start an Al Capone Tax Institute.

Walter Annenberg was a right winger, ambassador to Britain, and the one who introduced Reagan to Margaret Thatcher, thereby giving Reagan brains he was lacking and helping to inspire the next three decades of American madness, which have led to the current fiscal disaster.

So, forget about Bill Ayers. Obama is clearly under the evil spell of rightwing Republicans named Annenberg.


Bloomberg reports that the 2008 drop in the S&P is the worst yearly slump since 1937. The same is true for the Dow.

Michael Zweig, Newsday - Congress should take $220 billion of the $700 billion it has set aside for the current crisis and apply it to those who need it most: the millions of economically distressed workers across the country who have gotten absolutely nothing from the "rescue package" so far.

A principal justification for bailing out Wall Street was to free up frozen credit markets. This would be important for Main Street, Wall Street told us, because businesses and consumers could borrow again and functioning credit markets would allow the economy to grow. But economic recovery requires more than willing lenders and a ready supply of credit. Recovery requires growing demand for goods and services that would justify taking out the loans that will presumably now be available and generate the new jobs we need.

In a study by Stony Brook University's Center for Study of Working Class Life, we propose a stimulus package that will move our economy toward full employment by channeling the stimulus to financially struggling workers. Our stimulus proposal has three parts:

- Increase funding for existing income-support programs by extending eligibility and increasing payments to recipients. We propose adding $60 billion (about 40 percent of recent expenditures) to the earned income tax credit, unemployment compensation, housing subsidies, food stamps, and school nutrition programs.

- Increase federal aid to the states so they can reverse cuts in their budgets made necessary by deficits arising from the weak economy. These cuts have hit Medicaid particularly hard, and other programs that help economically distressed workers. Some $50 billion sent to the states would relieve their budget shortfalls, restore cuts and send the money back out into the economy.

- Send checks to people. The first stimulus package earlier this year sent money to almost everyone, including people at the upper end of the income distribution, who tend to save the money. Instead, the government should now send an average $2,000 check to each of the 55 million households in the bottom half of the income distribution, those making less than $50,000 a year. These families will spend the money they receive, simultaneously relieving their own economic needs and stimulating the new production and employment required to meet their new demand for goods and services.

Economic stimulus should also come from infrastructure projects. New and repaired bridges, roads, ports and rail lines will provide long-term support for private- sector economic growth once they've been completed, as well as offer short-term stimulus from the jobs and income they generate as they are built. But infrastructure projects take a year or more to begin, so other stimulus measures must come first. As the big projects get started, and as the economy improves from the three elements of this package that can be implemented quickly, payments for income support and subsidies to the states can be reduced.

The most important force that could sink economic recovery despite a stimulus package is the undertow of the millions of home foreclosures we will see in coming months, as the last of the junk mortgages issued into April 2007 reach their two-year reset.

The Hope for Homeowners Act Congress passed in July is woefully inadequate, extending relief to only 400,000 homeowners and offering them only less onerous interest terms if creditors agree. Congress should extend the relief to all who will need it, and allow bankruptcy courts to reduce the value of the mortgages as property values have fallen, requiring banks holding the mortgages to absorb some of the losses as well as the homeowner.

Michael Zweig is a professor of economics and director of the Center for Study of Working Class Life at Stony Brook University

Telegraph, UK - Pakistan facing bankruptcy Pakistan's foreign exchange reserves are so low that the country can only afford one month of imports and faces possible bankruptcy. Officially, the central bank holds $8.14 billion (£4.65 billion) of foreign currency, but if forward liabilities are included, the real reserves may be only $3 billion - enough to buy about 30 days of imports like oil and food. Nine months ago, Pakistan had $16 bn in the coffers. The government is engulfed by crises left behind by Pervez Musharraf, the military ruler who resigned the presidency in August. High oil prices have combined with endemic corruption and mismanagement to inflict huge damage on the economy.

Dean Baker, Prospect - I'm waiting to see a reporter write this story, but I'm not holding my breath. The basic point is simple, given a path of future profits, if the stock market is high, it will cost our children and grandchildren much more money to buy a certain share of these future profits than if the market is low. In other words, if the S&P is at 1000, then our children will get much higher returns on their savings than if the S&P is 2000. . . So, the young people out there should be celebrating the plunge in the stock market, except for the relatively small group who were anticipating inheritances from their parents. You can't please everyone.

Washington Post - The stock market's prolonged tumble has wiped out about $2 trillion in Americans' retirement savings in the past 15 months, a blow that could force workers to stay on the job longer than planned, rein in spending and possibly further stall an economy reliant on consumer dollars, Congress's top budget analyst said yesterday. For many Americans, pensions and 401(k) plans are their only form of savings. The dwindling of these assets -- about a 20 percent decline overall -- is another setback just as many people are grappling with higher gas and food prices, more credit card debt, declining home values and less access to loans.

Washington Post - Joseph Cassano, the financial products manager whose complex investments led to American International Group's near collapse, is receiving $1 million a month in consulting fees. Former chief executive Martin J. Sullivan, whose three-year tenure coincided with much of the company's ill-fated risk-taking, is receiving a $5 million performance bonus.

And just last week, about 70 of the company's top performers were rewarded with a week-long stay at the luxury St. Regis Resort in Monarch Beach, Calif., where they ran up a tab of $440,000. At a House committee hearing yesterday, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) showed a photograph of the resort, which overlooks the Pacific Ocean, and reported expenses for AIG personnel including $200,000 for rooms, $150,000 for meals and $23,000 for the spa.

"Less than a week after the taxpayers rescued AIG, company executives could be found wining and dining at one of the most exclusive resorts in the nation," Waxman said in kicking off an angry hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Wall Street Journal - The relentless slide in home prices has left nearly one in six U.S. homeowners owing more on a mortgage than the home is worth, raising the possibility of a rise in defaults -- the very misfortune that touched off the credit crisis last year. The result of homeowners being "under water" is more pressure on an economy that is already in a downturn. No longer having equity in their homes makes people feel less rich and thus less inclined to shop at the mall. And having more homeowners under water is likely to mean more eventual foreclosures, because it is hard for borrowers in financial trouble to refinance or sell their homes and pay off their mortgage if their debt exceeds the home's value. A foreclosed home, in turn, tends to lower the value of other homes in its neighborhood. About 75.5 million U.S. households own the homes they live in. After a housing slump that has pushed values down 30% in some areas, roughly 12 million households, or 16%, owe more than their homes are worth, according to Moody's Economy. The comparable figures were roughly 4% under water in 2006 and 6% last year, says the firm's chief economist, Mark Zandi, who adds that "it is very possible that there will ultimately be more homeowners under water in this period than any time in our history."

Telegraph, UK - Tycoon Hugh Hefner has been advised to cut back on staff at his multi-million dollar glamour empire as it struggles to cope during the global economic turmoil. The 83-year-old has been told to lay off some of his staff at his Los Angeles and New York offices as soon as this month or go bankrupt. The company has recently seen shares fall from L6.20 to L1.55.

An insider at the company told the Daily Star that bosses had been aware of the worsening situation for "a while. Only the top brass has known for a while how bad things have been for Hef recently.". . .

The news will be another blow to Hefner who recently discovered that two of his "bunnies" may have been cheating on him. Holly Madison, who has previously been named as Hefner's "No.1" girlfriend, is alleged to have had an affair with magician Criss Angel and another bunny, Kendra Wilkinson, is reportedly dating football star Hank Baskett. Playboy spokesman Rob Hillburger denied the rumors, saying: "The rumors that Holly left Hef for Criss Angel are not true. Holly and Kendra are all still living at the Mansion."

DC Examiner - Pending home sales rose 7 percent from July to August, an unexpected piece of positive news for the battered U.S. housing market. The National Association of Realtors said its seasonally adjusted index of pending sales for existing homes rose to 93 from an upwardly revised July reading of 87. The reading was the highest since June 2007. Home sales are considered pending when the seller has accepted an offer, but the deal has not yet closed. Typically there is a one- to two-month lag before a sale is completed.

Reuters - U.S. household heating fuel costs will rise 15 percent this winter from last year, the government's top energy forecasting agency said, citing more expensive fuel and the likelihood of much colder weather than last winter. Heating oil and natural gas customers face the steepest price jumps, although double-digit percentage increases also are in store for users of propane and electricity, the Energy Information Administration said in its latest winter forecast.

Adam Hanft, Daily Beast - 237 million prescriptions were written last year for anti-depressants, making them the most prescribed drugs in America. . . There are many who argue that anti-depressants got to #1 status because Big Pharma has spent hundreds of millions to create a nation of psychological hypochondriacs using canny marketing to blur the difference between serious depressive states and merely painful, Billie Holiday-like blues.

But what exactly would turn psychotropic drugs like Prozac and Paxil and Zoloft into a subplot in the subprime mess? It's the biochemistry. Those drugs are SSRIs-serotonin uptake inhibitors-and they spin their mood magic by elevating levels of serotonin in the brain. And serotonin is a neurotransmitter associated with behaviors that might contribute to the temptation of borrowing $501,000 on a $500,000 house.

When I asked Dr. Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist who studies brain chemistry, if my hypothesis passes the expert smell test, she replied: "I wouldn't at all be surprised if people taking drugs that elevate their levels of serotonin-which blunt the emotions-make some dumb financial decisions. Our emotions evolved, at least in part, to help us monitor our actions. "

Eli Lilly's website offers a different take on what happens when you change the brain's perception of what's real and what isn't:

"Prozac is one of the world's most widely prescribed antidepressants; it has been prescribed for more than 54 million people worldwide. Chances are, someone you know is getting better because of it."

And chances are you also know someone who has a house they can't afford, possibly because of it, too. Christopher Lane, who wrote Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness told me at first he was skeptical of my hypothesis. "But as I thought about it, it made sense that drugs could have numbed people to the risks involved-extra serotonin can create a false sense of well-being and present a misleading neural picture to the brain that may be substantially at variance with reality. This may interfere with rational processes.". . .

People on the drugs are removed from the consequences of action, a real disconnection said Charles Barber, author of Comfortably Numb: How Psychiatry is Medicating a Nation. He told me, "There is a theme in the literature about disinhibition, a buffered sense of reality." Dr. Eric Hollander, who is a Professor of Psychiatry, and Director of Clinical Psychopharmacology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine - as well as a practicing psychiatrist - told me, "Without a doubt, SSRIs make people perceive less of a sense of threat, so they are more comfortable with risk."

When I asked him if he has seen patients on these drugs who take financial risks they shouldn't, he said that he sees impulse control problems all the time. . .

Joel Weinberger, who is a Professor at the Derner Institute for Advanced Psychological Studies, Adelphi University, and an expert in unconscious processes, noted that the power of group-think which encourages people to take larger risks was fully operational during the bubble. There were shows on TV like Flip This House. If you were on meds, you might very well have crossed the line into unhealthy risk-taking from the combination of all those social pressures.

And that's just anti-depressants. There is also an enormous, additional population that is on stimulants for ADD, ADHD, and other conditions. The drugs they take-like Ritalin-trigger elevated dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter like serotonin, and is associated with reward-seeking behavior and the search for novelty. Another possible culprit.

I could be wrong about this. And to be fair, some experts I spoke to weren't totally convinced. But there's more than enough to warrant some further investigation. . . Perhaps after a little research, the familiar "Do not operate heavy machine when taking this drug" could become "Do not apply for a home-equity loan when taking this drug."

A new CNN poll finds 62% of Americans oppose a plan that would all workers to invest a part of their Society Security taxes in the stock market.

Annie Shattuck and Eric Holt-Gimenez, Common Dreams - Rising food prices are proving deadly for the world's poor. Reeling under a combination of speculation, high oil prices, agro fuels and a weak dollar, one in every six people on earth are going hungry this year. Fully half the world is now at risk of hunger and malnutrition. The current financial crisis that threatens to spread globally can only mean disaster for the world's poor. The crisis is not limited to the developing world. In the United States food stamp enrollment is at an all time high. The 35 million people living below the poverty line-now joined by the 50 million near-poor are turning to the nation's food banks in record numbers. There, pickings are getting slimmer, as food programs strain under a combination of high food prices and shrinking donations.

Unfortunately, the unprecedented $700 billion Wall Street bailout will do nothing to alleviate this festering disaster-in fact, it may make things worse. The bailout will increase the U.S.'s national debt to over $11 trillion, calling into question the very creditworthiness of the U.S. Treasury. Debt and uncertainty will further drive down the value of the dollar. A weak dollar means high food prices to consumers because when the dollar decreases in value it takes more dollars to buy the same quantity of food. Though a low dollar might initially stimulate exports, a falling dollar will send food prices steadily upwards. Food prices have already increased 127% since the dollar began to lose value in 2001. The conservative CATO Institute estimates that up to 55% of this year's increase in rice prices was caused by the falling dollar alone.

Los Angeles Times - The state budget approved only weeks ago is already falling into the red, and lawmakers may be forced to return to Sacramento this month to make emergency spending cuts and take other measures to keep California from running out of cash. The financial pressures on the state are numerous. Revenue is dropping precipitously as the economy falters. The global credit crunch may make it impossible for officials to obtain billions of dollars in short-term loans that they typically rely on at this time of year. And a federal judge on Monday put the state on notice that it may need to spend as much as $3.5 billion more on prison healthcare in this fiscal year than lawmakers had planned.

Dean Baker, Prospect - Remember way back to last week when it was going to be the end of the world if Congress didn't pass the bailout package? Remember the Washington Post's account in which Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson told President Bush, "there is no Plan B."

Well, it looks like the Fed has discovered a Plan B. It turns out that the Fed can buy commercial paper directly from non-financial corporations needing credit to maintain operations. This will keep the credit markets working even if the zombie banks aren't up to the task. In other words, the threat of a complete meltdown in the absence of a bailout was nonsense and the media once again got taken for a ride by the Bush administration.

Of course, relying on the central bank to dish out credit to corporations is not ideal, but neither is it ideal to overpay for $700 billion of junk assets on the books of troubled banks. Too bad that the media didn't spend more time focusing on the options available, instead of selling President Bush's bailout package.

James McCusker, Everett Herald, WA - Modern market systems can trace their origins to seaborne commerce. And the sea could be a fierce disciplinarian. It had no tolerance for character flaws and delivered severe, even cruel, punishment to the unprepared, the careless, the lazy and especially the arrogant, whose hubris blinded them to the reality of risk. Markets are amazingly similar. The language of the sea continues to salt the rhetoric and the analytical language of today's financial markets. Companies and stock offerings are still launched. Ventures still sink. Bonds are floated; portfolios are sometimes under water. And now, of course, we have bailouts. . .

There are at least three things that we should consider in the wake of this financial meltdown. The first is whether the federal government should be the Grand Exalted Bilge Pump Operator for bailouts or, instead, whether a mandatory, privately-funded insurance fund, along the lines of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation should be imposed on the financial industry.

The second is the need for a government-funded risk assessment agency that can help both investors and regulators to figure out the exposure of financial firms, large and small, to risk. The complexity of today's financial instruments make that process technically demanding, and the ratings agencies have proved themselves inadequate to the task, quite possibly because of their financial dependence on the firms and the industry they rate.

The third is to figure out what the capital requirements really are for firms that combine investment banking, brokerage and banking. If Congress is determined not to restore the Glass-Steagall wall between banks and stock underwriting, the least we can do is to update the regulatory environment needed to ensure the stability of the large financial operations that are, in a very real way, too big to fail.



Anne Applebaum, Washington Post - Although there are plenty of native Washingtonians working as doctors or cabdrivers or bank managers, most of the people who actually control the city's most famous institutions -- Congress, the White House, the federal government -- weren't born in Washington. Like Sarah Palin, they are from "in the heartland," in places like Wasilla, and it is the values of the heartland and Wasilla that they must be therefore presumed to embody. . .

Among these "outsiders" I would include our current president, who was raised in Midland, Tex.; our vice president, who was raised in Casper, Wyo.; our most recent former president, who was born in Hope, Ark.; even our most senior former president, who comes from Plains, Ga. I would also include the large numbers of ex-Texans -- Karen Hughes, Karl Rove, Alberto Gonzales -- who have towered over national politics for the past eight years, as well as such notable figures as Michael "heck of a job" Brown, the Oklahoma native who presided over the government's response to Hurricane Katrina as director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Above all, I would include Congress, which by definition contains hundreds of "outsiders," many from places just like Wasilla. I am thinking here of Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska (a resident of Girdwood), now on trial on charges of corruption, and Texas Rep. Tom DeLay (born in Laredo), who resigned in disgrace. For the sake of bipartisanship, I'll mention Louisiana Democratic Rep. William Jefferson (originally of Lake Providence), recently indicted on charges of corruption. But if more small-town Republican names come to mind, that's because small-town Republicans have figured among the most powerful and most prominent Washington politicians for much of the past decade.


Washington Post - The Maryland State Police classified 53 nonviolent activists as terrorists and entered their names and personal information into state and federal databases that track terrorism suspects, the state police chief acknowledged. Police Superintendent Terrence B. Sheridan revealed at a legislative hearing that the surveillance operation, which targeted opponents of the death penalty and the Iraq war, was far more extensive than was known when its existence was disclosed in July.

The department started sending letters of notification Saturday to the activists, inviting them to review their files before they are purged from the databases, Sheridan said. "The names don't belong in there," he told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. "It's as simple as that."

The surveillance took place over 14 months in 2005 and 2006, under the administration of former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R). The former state police superintendent who authorized the operation, Thomas E. Hutchins, defended the program in testimony y. Hutchins said the program was a bulwark against potential violence and called the activists "fringe people."

Sheridan said protest groups were also entered as terrorist organizations in the databases, but his staff has not identified which ones.

Hutchins said the intelligence agents, whose logs were obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland as part of a lawsuit, were monitoring "open public meetings." His officers sought a "situational awareness" of the potential for disruption as death penalty opponents prepared to protest the executions of two men on death row, Hutchins said.

"I don't believe the First Amendment is any guarantee to those who wish to disrupt the government," he said. Hutchins said he did not notify Ehrlich about the surveillance.


Press Republican, NY - Keene Valley resident Jerilea Zempel was detained at the U.S. border this summer because she had a drawing of a sport-utility vehicle in her sketchbook. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers told Zempel they suspected her of copyright infringement. She was released after more than an hour in custody at the Houlton, Maine, port of entry from New Brunswick, Canada. Her release came only after she persuaded border guards she was an artist doing a project that involved a crocheted SUV as a statement against America's dependence on oil and love for big vehicles.

Zempel's adventure began when she was returning from the Cultural Capital Festival in Sackville, New Brunswick, where her submission was an SUV cozy on a rented Hyundai Santa Fe. . . After the festival, Zemple headed for home in her own Toyota Prius hybrid and stopped at the border crossing on Interstate 95 in Maine. . .

Zempel's passport showed she'd been to Africa, Australia, Central and South America, Mexico, Turkey and Europe in the last nine years.

"U.S. citizens who've traveled to the places I've been need to be looked at. A half hour at the computer gave the agent cause to put me into another suspicious category, meriting a full car search. She (the agent) took my keys and went through my car. After going through my (laptop) computer, digital camera, cell phone, business cards, suitcase, reading materials, boxes of yarn and crochet tools, she returned with my sketchbook. "I was taken to a room and told to sit on a bench with handcuffs at both ends. But they did not handcuff me."

"My sketchbook puzzled her," Zempel said. "It was a cartoon sketch. They couldn't understand what I was doing. She said, Just what were you doing in Canada? We think you're engaged in some kind of copyright infringement."

She said she and the CBP agent then had a "lively discussion" over Zempel's status as an artist and a professor at Fordham University in New York City.

"I had to spell Fordham for her. She left the room to see if she could find me on the college's Web site."

While she was out, Zempel found her college ID and showed it to the agent when she came back.

"Somehow being a college professor made it all OK. She said.' I was allowed to leave."


ABC, Australia - British lender Northern Rock is being forced to turn away customers after being deluged with people seeking the safety of a deposit with a state-run bank. Northern Rock was nationalized last year as the credit crisis started to bite. The move meant that all future deposits with the bank would be guaranteed by the government. The bank has now been forced to pull six of its most popular savings products off the market because they were proving too popular. In recent weeks it has attracted lots of interest as nervous savers pull money out of institutions they think are failing and put them somewhere safer.

Northern Rock is one of only three UK High Street institutions that can guarantee 100 per cent of their customers' deposits, along with the Government-owned National Savings & Investments and the Post Office. In order to stop Northern Rock breaching European competition rules, the bank has promised to take no more than 1.5 per cent of Britain's retail deposits.


NEVADA officials have seized records from the civic group ACORN accusing it of submitting false registration forms including the fake names of pro football players among others. ACORN has registered some 1.3 million people nationally. It has become a target of GOP campaigners. Said one ACORN official, "The fact is, this is hard work and there were some people that probably sat down on a couch and filled out names out of a phone book. That's really what we're talking about here - not an attempt to steal an election.

Over the past year, ACORN has worked hard to help over 80,000 people in Clark County register to vote. As part of our nonpartisan voter registration program, we have [to] review all the applications submitted by our canvassers. When we have identified suspicious applications, we have separated them out and flagged them for election officials. We have zero tolerance for fraudulent registrations. We immediately dismiss employees we suspect of submitting fraudulent registrations.

For the past 10 months, any time ACORN has identified a potentially fraudulent application, we turn that application in to election officials separately and offer to provide election officials with the information they would need to pursue an investigation or prosecution of the individual.

Election officials routinely ignored this information and failed to act. In early July, ACORN asked to meet with election officials to express our concerns that they were not acting on information ACORN had presented to them. ACORN met with Clark County elections officials and a representative of the Secretary of State on July 17th. ACORN pleaded with them to take our concerns about fraudulent applications seriously. One week later, elections officials asked us to provide them with a second copy of what we had previously provided to them. ACORN responded by giving election officials copies of 46 "problem application packages," which involved 33 former canvassers.

On September 23, ACORN had received a subpoena dated September 19th requesting information on 15 employees, all of whom had been included in the packages we had previously submitted to election officials. ACORN provided our personnel records on these 15 employees on September 29.

Today's raid by the Secretary of State's Office is a stunt that serves no useful purpose other than discredit our work registering Nevadans and distracting us from the important work ahead of getting every eligible voter to the polls."

And in regard to Indiana, from an ACORN spokesperson earlier today [said]The Republican Party is trying to use this attack to stop early voting from happening and disenfranchise tens of thousands of Lake County residents.

ACORN has submitted 1.3 million applications nationally and over 23,000 in Indiana.

ACORN engages in comprehensive quality control procedures, every card is called through three times.

ACORN flags and turns in three kinds of cards, those that it can verify, those that are incomplete, and those that it flags as problematic. It turns those in labeled in a special way and are very conservative in terms of what it flags as problematic. It has stacks of problematic cover sheets.

The Lake County Board of Elections refused to acknowledge the categories of cards when ACORN turned them in, or sign its paperwork. The Lake County Board knew about the questionable registrations today because ACORN flagged them for the board. For example, the Jimmy John’s card is one that a caller had flagged and labeled as problematic. ACORN can get that caller to talk to the press.

ACORN did Voter Registration from in July and some parts of August. As it was doing quality control ACORN noticed a large number of problematic cards and because of this it eased doing registration until late September when it could clear its quality control backlog.


J. R. Kerr-Ritchie, Howard University Historians Against the War - It would be premature to characterize Afghanistan as a failed state, but the inherent weakness of the Kabul government is undeniable. The regime is rife with cronyism and corruption, while the state has only been able to effect limited improvements in outlying areas. . .

The nature of economic development is also a problem. The UN estimates that poppy cultivation increased 17% in 2007. It is also estimated that 30% of the country's GDP is based upon drug activities, with over 90% of the world's heroin coming from Afghanistan. Cannabis cultivation is also on the rise. Much of the increase was reported from strongholds of the Taliban, as well as new areas in the southwestern provinces. Many poor farmers are surviving in this economy; which also pays for the insurgency. So far, attempts to eradicate the opium trade have largely failed. There has also been a lack of viable alternatives for poor farmers thus exacerbating the problem. Most important, the drug and black market economy are funding the insurgency. Finally, the economy is showing contradictory tendencies. The economy reportedly grew in 2007 by 13%; but the inflation rate was 20%, with youth unemployment at 40%. This high rate of joblessness no doubt feeds into illegal economic activities and the counter-insurgency, much like youth joblessness fuels crime in urban areas globally.

There are only two solutions. First, all NATO forces and US anti-terrorist forces should immediately withdraw from Afghanistan. The consequence will probably be regional civil war, but this is inevitable after three decades of proxy wars. There is simply no acceptable reason for a Cold-War organization like NATO to be spear-heading regional military intervention. Second, there should be a series of UN supervised regional comprehensive political meetings that include all political players. These must include the Taliban as well as the various factions in Pakistan. The alternative is balkanization, a policy that would exacerbate the transnational existence of Pashtuns living in both Afghanistan and Pakistan in ways similar to Kurdish people straddling the line between northern Iraq and southern Turkey. In other words, seek a political not a military solution.


Marc Abraham, Guadian, UK - Scholars like to celebrate the leadership genius of President George Bush - scholars named Carolyn B Thompson, James W Ware, Marvin Olasky and Ken Blanchard.

Thompson and Ware wrote a book called The Leadership Genius of George W Bush: 10 Common Sense Lessons from the Commander-in-Chief. Published during the early years of his presidency, it begins with these words: "George Bush may not hold himself out as a genius, but as the book closed on the 2002 midterm elections, it became abundantly clear that he is a brilliant leader."

The authors remind us that, before Bush was made US president, political commentators held him in low regard: "In their eyes he was a lightweight worthy of little but scorn and contempt."

Thompson and Ware say: "Something was wrong with this picture. As authors and consultants in the field of leadership, we were knowledgable about the subject ... We asked ourselves: what makes him so effective? How does he do it?"

Their chapter titles highlight the keys to Bush's brilliance:

Can I Trust You? Become Credible.

Bring in the Right People, part 1. Don't Be Afraid to Hire People Smarter Than You.

Bring in the Right People, part 2. Leave 'Em Alone!

Give It to 'Em Straight. Communicate.

Intuitive Wisdom. Trust Your Instincts.

Getting Results. Hold People Accountable.

These are the very qualities for which Bush later came to be celebrated - his trustworthiness, his persistence in hiring the "right" people and scrupulously not micro-managing them, his approach to forthrightness and honesty, his inarguable gut reactions, and his practice of always holding other people accountable.

Thompson and Ware point out that Bush named his campaign plane Accountability, and that he said: "There is a concept that you are responsible for your behavior. You can't shirk off your problems on somebody else."

They remind us that Bush is just like Albert Einstein. "For Einstein," they explain, "intuition was more important than knowledge."

Abraham is the editor of the Annals of Improbable Research


LA Times - Paul Trujillo decided it was time to do something positive and inspiring. The 16-year-old graffiti artist's moniker, ERA, was scrawled on retaining walls and in alleyways throughout Denver. But after the Democratic National Convention came here in late August, Paul decided to try something new: He and two friends spray-painted a 26-foot-long mural of Barack Obama along the rear fence of his grandparents' house. Now the city is ordering him to get rid of it.

Paul's artwork includes the word "Vote," which Denver officials ruled makes it an illegal election sign. The city gave him until Friday to come up with a new design. "We took our time to do that," Paul said this week as he stood in his grandparents' kitchen, "and for someone to just come by and say you can't have that . . . " He trailed off dejectedly.

Denver permits political signs that are 8 square feet or less to be displayed on private property. "It just doesn't meet the code as it is," said Kerry Buckey, an assistant city attorney. . .

Paul -- who has grown up in the house -- regularly spray-painted the interior door of his bedroom before graduating to the back fence. He and his friends started displaying their personal logos there to cover up marks left by taggers, but they had never done a project that could be considered politically relevant.

Then early last month, his grandmother suggested he use his talents for something more ambitious.

"I said, 'I don't just want words up there, do something artistic,' " Esther Vigil said.

Paul said that he and his fellow graffiti artists were inspired by the red, white and blue Obama posters created by guerrilla artist Shepard Fairey.

The focal point of their mural is a portrait of Obama. The background evokes the colors of the American flag.

Paul -- slim and quiet, with piercings in his eyebrows and chin -- said the work was driven by political hope. "We need a change from everything that's going on," he said. "We need to get out of war. We need a change from prices all going up."

Taggers have left the mural untouched. People stop by and take pictures. One visitor was Patricia Calhoun, editor of the alternative weekly Denver Westword, who was writing about how city police had painted over a mural just before the Democratic convention. She asked officials if Paul's work would count as art. If so, it would qualify for an exemption from Denver's ordinance under federal law.

But, Buckey said, the mural does not meet the legal standards. So once Calhoun asked them about the work, the city was obligated to cite the Vigils. The couple got a letter ordering them to alter the work or face a $150 fine, which would escalate over time.

The Vigils say they don't know what to do. "You can't fight City Hall," Henry Vigil said. But Tuesday, Buckey hinted at a possible solution.

He noted that the family could appeal the citation to the city's zoning department. The board responsible, Buckey said, has so many cases in front of it already that any hearing on the mural likely would be delayed until after the election.


BBC - A small radio station in southern Sao Paulo has discovered how to turn radio into a new medium. Radar Cultura is allowing listeners to vote for songs, chat to other people and create their own playlists via the station's website. The idea was created in late 2007 by Andre Avorio, who drew inspiration from sites like and to produce a novel type of radio experience. . .

Mr Avorio created Radar Cultura's website using free open source software called Drupal that helps them manage the content they produce - be that radio shows or playlists. Screengrab from Radar Cultura homepage, Rada Cultura The site lets listeners decide what they want to listen to.

The whole station and its website is run using Drupal and the tools that have grown up around it.

"Any other radio station who wants to use the same system behind Radar Cultura, is able to download the software from Drupal's website," he added.

Much of the information published on the site is also released under the Creative Commons license so anyone can take and use it freely.

"The idea is to create collaborative radio and the audience is invited to produce everything," said Leah Ranja, the station's internet producer.

"The audience can vote for the music that they want and we then play the music with the most votes.

"You can also see all the other people who have selected the same track as yourself," she added.



NY Times - American business, typically a reliable Republican cheerleader, is decidedly lukewarm about Senator John McCain’s proposal to overhaul the health care system by revamping the tax treatment of health benefits, officials with leading trade groups say. . . Officials with eight business trade groups contacted by The New York Times predicted the McCain plan would raise costs and force some employers to stop providing health benefits. A recent survey of 187 corporate executives by the American Benefits Council and Miller & Chevalier, a consulting firm, found that three-fourths felt the repeal of the tax exclusion would have a “strong negative impact” on their workers. Only 4 percent said they would provide additional pay to fill any gaps.

Ben Smith, Politico - Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill's mild affect masks a bit of a killer, and she's perhaps the Obama campaign's deftest surrogate on the attack. . . McCaskill was stepping out of her chair at the end of an MSNBC interview, and Romney was up next. She and a staffer unplugged her various wires, and she handed Romney the earpiece the guests use to hear the host. "I spit on this before I put it in," she said to Romney, with a sweet smile. . . UPDATE: Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom emails: "You should have seen what she did to the chair."

Ballot Access - Arkansas holds State Senate elections next month in 18 districts. In 17 of those districts, only one person is on the ballot. Only the 30th district has a contest, which is between a Democrat and a Republican.

Speaking to a crowd in Virginia, John McCain's brother Joe said, "I've lived here for at least 10 years and before that about every third duty I was in either Arlington or Alexandria, up in communist country. " Arlington and Alexandria lean Democratic.



ABC News - Election officials and watchdog groups are bracing for the wave of sneaky or suspicious phone calls, leaflets and emails that typically hit battleground states in the final 30 days of the presidential campaign. Young voters at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Penn. have already been targeted, with students reporting that flyers have been posted around campus warning that undercover police will be at the polls on Election Day looking to make arrests. The flyer reads like a friendly letter to fellow students relaying a warning from an "Obama supporter": "He informed me that on the day of the election there will be undercover officers to execute warrants on those who come to vote based on the anticipated turnout," writes the anonymous student in the letter which was later posted on the Drexel College Democrats website. "He advised me if I had any outstanding warrants or traffic offenses I should clear them up prior to voting.". . . Raymond and Sabato say voters should be on the look out for a number of other time-honored tricks, including:

- "Push-poll" phone calls using the guise of a survey to push negative information about a candidate.

- Leaflets or emails listing the wrong date or a "rain date" for the election.

- Automated voicemail messages telling voters that the location of their polling place has changed.

- Repeated late night automated "robo-calls" with a message from a candidate.


Telegraph, UK - Researchers from the Cochrane Library looked at 29 trials of 5,489 patients with symptoms of major depression. They found that [St John's wort] performed as well as even more traditional medication.

"Overall, we found that the St. John's wort extracts tested in the trials were superior to placebos and as effective as standard antidepressants, with fewer side effects," says Klaus Linde, from the Centre for Complementary Medicine in Munich, Germany, who led the study.

However, he warned that some of the studies looked at could contain unintentional biases, as the findings were more favorable in trials conducted in German-speaking countries, where the herbal extract is in common use and is often prescribed by doctors.

"Using a St John's wort extract might be justified, but products on the market vary considerably, so these results only apply to the preparations tested," he said.


Governing - A report from the American Public Transportation Association says that the average savings from switching commuting modes is one-third higher than the average amount a household spends on food for a year. A ranking of the average savings in the top 20 cities. . . range from $13,370 in New York down to $8,496 in Pittsburgh.

Guardian, UK - More than 370 young penguins, who were mysteriously washed up on tropical beaches in Brazil, have been airlifted to safety in cooler water. A Hercules military aircraft flew the flightless birds to Pelotas, in south Brazil, where they were released to cheers from a group of spectators. The young birds were among a thousand Magellanic penguins, which have appeared on Brazil's warm north-east shores over the last few months. The other birds either died or were too unhealthy to send back. The healthy penguins, which had been kept at an animal rehabilitation centre in Salvador, north-east Brazil, were flown 1,550 miles south on a plane usually used for transporting military hardware. . . Experts from the International Fund for Animal Welfare, who helped organize the airlift, hope these older birds will guide young ones south to the Patagonia.

Tree Hugger - In an effort to keep roads relatively clear, the Beijing government has decided to start a car ban like the one it used during the Olympic Games. Starting October 11, roughly a fifth of the city's cars will be kept from the roads on weekdays. Cars whose number plates end with 1 or 6 will be taken off roads on Monday, while those ending with 2 or 7 will be banned on Tuesday, and so on. The government has also said it will limit the registration of new license plates to 100,000 (400,000 are registered every year at current rates), raise the price of parking downtown, and continue developing public transit. . . To compensate drivers, who have already raised many concerns, restricted vehicles will be exempt from one month of vehicle tax and road maintenance fee a year. Drivers who breach the new rules will not enjoy the exemption.


Angry Arab - Who invented Hummus? Joseph--irate as always--sent me this: "As'ad, you must say something about the audacity of the Lebanese to claim Hummus and tabouleh and fattoush and all of these pan-Syrian dishes, which came from Damascus and Aleppo, as Lebanese. The attempt by the Lebanese (and this is initially a Christian Lebanese project) to appropriate Syrian food is quite horrific even if it is not as horrific as the Israeli attempt. All the Lebanese can claim is to have a restaurant industry but not a cuisine or a kitchen which they have never had. Nonetheless, you cannot pretend as you did in your post that Hummus is indeed a Lebanese dish (since you did not question the Lebanese claim of possession of it). There are no such thing as Lebanese dishes except in the lexicon and ideology of Lebanese chauvinists."


Physicians for a National Health Care Plan -
Over 5,000 US physicians have signed an open letter calling on the presidential candidates and Congress to "stand up for the health of the American people and implement a non-profit, single payer national health insurance system." The letter is being circulated by Physicians for a National Health Program, a single-payer advocacy group. What is radical is not the content of the letter. What is radical is the fact that so many physicians, traditionally a conservative group, are coming out in public support of single payer health care. The strong physician support for this letter, with signers including some of the most prominent names in American medicine, reflects physicians’ growing realization that continued reliance on the private insurance industry is bad for both patients and doctors. The letter’s release follows a survey in the Annals of Internal Medicine this spring that shows 59 percent of U.S. physicians support national health insurance, a jump of 10 percentage points from five years ago.



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