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Undernews For October 14, 2008

Undernews For October 14, 2008

FROM THE PROGRESSIVE REVIEW
Washington's Most Unofficial Source
611 Pennsylvania Ave SE #381
Washington DC 20003
202-423-7884
Editor: Sam Smith

14 OCT 2008

WORD

As we view the achievements of aggregated capital, we discover the existence of trusts, combinations and monopolies, while the citizen is struggling far in the rear, or is trampled beneath an iron heel. Corporations, which should be the carefully restrained creatures of the law and the servants of the people, are fast becoming the people's masters. - President Grover Cleveland, 1888

THE SWAMPOODLE REPORT

TAKING IT FROM THE TOP AGAIN

Sam Smith, Progressive Review - One of the things about being ahead of the curve is that every once in awhile the curve catches up and what was dismissed as radical rant suddenly becomes conventional thinking or a cliche. Perhaps - as in the present instance - it takes no more than a few days or weeks to implode concepts as massive as thirty years of Reaganesque values, values observed by most who claimed power, ranging from the National Review to National Public Radio, and from John McCain to Barack Obama.

While the introduction of reality is generally a step forward, it does have a couple of problems. One is that the same misguided, misleading and misbegotten crowd is still in charge. For example, I have yet to see one conventional columnist praise Ralph Nader, Dean Baker or Dennis Kucinich for their perception or suggest that we nationalize healthcare coverage so it will be on the same field as banks, that former icon of the free enterprise system.

Instead, the elite treat ideas much like employees. If the quarterly return on a particular idea flops, you simply fire the idea. You certainly don't change those in charge. Thus the new reality is controlled by old incompetents and is soon easily twisted into another fantasy for another three decades or so.

There's not a lot we can do about this, but we have to remember that progressives also have presumptions and that it is also easy for us to cling to old concepts when times dramatically change.

This is a rare moment. If progressives just play by rote, then this moment will pass them by, too. They have to start thinking right now about what's changed and how they're going to deal with it in a changed way.

This doesn't necessarily mean new ideas; it may be as simple as rummaging through memory and archives to find ideas that didn't launch the first time. But one thing is clear: merely being grumpy about Sarah Palin or fawning over Obama is not enough.

Trying to take my own words to heart, a couple of things come to mind - both involving the way that we do things.

The first is the Internet and why progressives have not been more effective with it. As early as 1994 I was enthralled by the Internet's potential, writing in my book, Shadows of Hope:

"The computer, once considered primarily a tool of orthodoxy, has now become a major weapon against authoritarianism. The highly effective campus anti-apartheid protests were organized with the help of a computer bulletin board that advised newcomers how to plan demonstrations and deal with the media. In the last days of the Soviet Union, the relative security of computer information provided dissidents a means of communications with each other and with the outside world. More recently, computers have established the first strong link among environmentalists working to save Lake Baikal in Siberia. . . And thousands of miles away, in the Silicon Valley community of Sunnydale CA, a city councilman was elected with 60% of the vote after campaigning almost exclusively on the Internet computer network."

I remember being particularly struck by the release of a labor leader after the Russian police station received hundreds of calls from angry Internet users around the world. But I also sensed a problem:

"Yet the very anarchistic nature of our new sources of data, -- including computer services, cable channels, special interest magazines, and the archives of our video store -- also means that we may have less information in common. At a time when communications and transportation make it ever simpler to cross geographic and cultural borders, we increasingly seem to make the trip alone. We see far more than we understand or are understood. Louis Farrakhan and the Anti-Defamation League have the same technology available to them but they are checking in at different bulletin boards."

It is a conundrum that still bedevils us: why is this huge window on the world not helping us more?

In part, I suspect, the answer is that the highly pragmatic approach used, say, for the release of that Russian labor leader or in the organizing of college anti-apartheid groups has been increasingly submerged in a spin-drenched, funding hungry and graphic centered approach which is attractive to look at, pleasant to read (if you already agree with what's on the page) but surprisingly short on practical advice such as how to make friends with a state legislator, what forms of demonstrations work best, samples of well written legislation, things that have succeeded elsewhere, key points to make in testimony, where to find new allies and so forth.

The problem is partially in the character of the beast itself. Every medium invites its own style and the Internet is in many ways the opposite of community organizing. It does, after all, give us one more reason not to go to that meeting.

I have, on the Review site, attempted to deal with this by having pages on activism and hidden issues, useful stats on a variety of matters and topic pages that include links to data and organizations. Not much, I admit, but what do you expect from a busker on the corner?

Besides, where are my role models? I spend no small part of each day trying to find facts on all sorts of issues and I'm constantly struck by how difficult it is even when visiting well endowed sites. They are quite ready to tell me how to think but short on information on how to do something with these thoughts other than to have them, add my name to a list and send them some money.

Progressive sites need to think more like community organizers and less like fundraisers and spin meisters. But that brings us to the second problem. A community organizer gathers the social and political assets in a neighborhood and helps to place them on a common course. The typical non-profit today seeks to make itself stand out from those who are meant to be on the same course, but are actually competing for attention and money. Like dysfunctional children, they often don't play well with others.

One of the ways to change this is so mundane it may seem superfluous to mention. Only sadly it isn't.

Over all the years in which I have been involved in one movement or another, I can think of only of a handful of examples since the 1970s when leaders of groups with much in common got together on a regular basis simply to share ideas, enthusiasm and frustrations.

One example was Eric Sterling's wonderful lunches at the Criminal Justice Foundation for those fighting the drug war. Present were those ranging from full legalizers to those just seeking reforms and from lawyers to activists to preachers. Each week someone would speak and then we would sit around and talk. There was no agenda and no pressure. But each week you left a little wiser about something.

At one meeting I casually dropped a one liner about how we needed a group to compete with MADD, maybe something like Mothers Opposed to Mandatory Sentencing - or MOMS. At the lunch was Julie Stewart whose brother had been sentenced to five years for growing some marijuana. Before long, she started a group called FAMM - Families Against Mandatory Minimums - which would become the major voice for decency in sentencing. Thanks to its efforts, since 1994 one in four first time drug offenders entering federal prison has received sentence reductions.

I mention my one liner not to brag but because it illustrates a key point alien to many in a time obsessed with mechanistic approaches to organization: for good things to happen you have to have good places where they can happen. That hardly ever occurs during a tedious discussion of mission statements; it can happen easily over a casual lunch attended by a range of people of common interests but different perspectives.

Some years later, the lunches moved to a non profit on Capitol Hill and the tone of the discussions changed with the locale. Everyone was more directed, more serious and more conventional in conversation. And instead of helping to start a new organization with thousands of members, the best we could come up with were some minor legislative amendments.

Scott McLarty took a new approach with the DC Statehood Green Party; he introduced the notion that it would have business meeting only every other month; the alternate months would be reserved for social events. And Teamsters official Roger Newell - whose activism dates back to the 1960s as a student at DC's Eastern High School - ran a regular meeting for a cross section of local leaders at a homeless shelter, again without a hard agenda, instead relying on the serendipity of the community he gathered. Even without specific results, one left these gatherings invigorated in your own effort and happy to find that you were not as alone as you had thought before you walked into the room.

I was reminded of all this the other day after another absorbing meeting of the local NAACP police justice committee on which I sit. It is a small gathering as, sadly, such things are these days. But on the committee are the executive director of the National Black Police Association, the head of the local gay and lesbian alliance, a couple of officials of the ACLU, the former head of the DC Police community relations task force (and now a university professor) with committee chair and Sirius radio talk show host Marc Thompson. Again, a meeting weak on agenda but strong on support for whatever each participant is up to and powerful enough to raise issue of a unconstitutional police blockade of a community to major attention. (For an example of the local ACLU at work, click here).

There are lots of new ideas and strategies that need to be pursued in the wake of the present collapse. Discovering others who point your way, and sharing with them, is a good place to start. Each town in America could have a monthly lunch for progressive leaders- informal to encourage the novel and discourage the competition, short on agendas and long on ideas.

And if that doesn't work, try something else. Just take it from the top again. All of our worlds have changed. Let's get go discover them.

CRASH TALK

Robert J. Samuelson, Washington Post - Alone, American subprime mortgages should not have triggered a global crisis. Losses are smaller than they seem. Mark Zandi of Moody's Economy.com estimates that all U.S. mortgage losses will ultimately reach $650 billion. But that hefty amount pales against the value of all financial assets -- stocks, bonds, bank loans. For the United States, these totaled almost $60 trillion at the end of 2007; for the world, the comparable figure exceeded $250 trillion.

Such a vast financial system should have absorbed the subprime losses without calamity. By way of contrast, the stock market's drop since its peak in October 2007 to Friday was $8.4 trillion, or 42 percent, reports Wilshire Associates. The official response to the subprime losses also seems larger than the problem. The government has taken over mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; the Federal Reserve is pumping out short-term loans of $1 trillion or more; and Congress's $700 billion rescue allows the Treasury Department to buy subprime securities and to make direct investments in banks. . .

What we've discovered is that the real problem is bigger. Large parts of the financial system are too thinly capitalized and too dependent on unreliable short-term debt. Leverage ratios often reached 30 to 1 for investment banks and hedge funds (that is, $30 of debt for every $1 of capital). The presumption was that the MBA types had learned how to "manage risk." That false conceit backfired. Low capital didn't adequately protect against losses. Confidence and trust evaporated, because no one knew which institutions held suspect securities, how much the losses were and who was ultimately safe. . .

Consider stocks. Their plunge has been driven in part by hedge fund selling. Hedge funds often buy stocks by borrowing from their "prime dealers" -- firms such as Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, which in turn borrow from commercial banks. If banks "deleverage" by reducing loans to prime dealers, then prime dealers tighten up on hedge funds, which react by selling stocks. "It's a big piece of why the stock market is down," says Michael Decker, former chief economist for the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association and now co-head of the Regional Bond Dealers Association. . .

The present challenge is far more complicated than merely quarantining dubious mortgage-related securities. What's involved is a fundamental remaking of the global financial system, from one that was inherently fragile to one that rests on firmer foundations. But if the change proceeds too quickly and haphazardly, it risks a hugely destructive credit implosion. All the policies undertaken so far will ultimately be judged by whether they succeed in managing the transition and restoring confidence in financial markets that self-correct naturally -- as opposed to submitting to the continuing mayhem of uncontrolled deleveraging.

Matt Smith, San Francisco Weekly - In the new book Chasing the American Dream: New Perspectives on Affordable Homeownership, Lawrence Vale, head of MIT's planning department, describes how this conventional wisdom and the generations of public policy based on it were the fruits of an aggressive campaign led by President Herbert Hoover to turn individual homeownership into a national moral imperative. "The high rate of homeownership in the United States has been neither an accident nor an inevitable outcome of land availability and widespread prosperity," Vale writes. "Rather, it has been nurtured by generations of public policy, which were in turn preceded by concerted efforts to instill an ideological belief in the moral value of the owned home."

By 1931, Hoover's pro-homeownership campaigns had distributed millions of flyers, set up more than 7,000 local committees, and even impugned the moral and sexual adequacy of renters. Ownership of detached houses protected families from "the unwholesome and not infrequently contaminating ideas of the floating classes that predominate in the close-in rental districts," one pamphlet claimed, making an opaque, typical reference to immigrants, minorities, and Communists. . .

Dean Baker, Prospect - Well, if the Republicans blamed the financial crisis on Elvis Presley USA Today would probably just write it up politely and then note that the Democrats disagree. That is exactly what the paper did today in an article discussing how both parties contributed to the crisis.

The article notes that Phil Gramm, a former senator and adviser to John McCain, pushed through a law that prevented the Commodity Futures Trading Commission from regulating derivatives. It then presents Gramm's claim that the real problem was the Community Reinvestment Act, but notes that Democrats and "many experts dispute that."

It would have been worth noting that Gramm's claim makes no sense. The CRA did not even apply to the biggest actors in the subprime market. How could the CRA be responsible for forcing financial institutions to make subprime loans when they were not even covered by the CRA. It makes as much sense to blame Elvis.

In discussing the role of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the crisis, it would have been useful to point out that they lost market share during the peak years of the housing bubble. Their share of the mortgage market fell from 50.1 percent in 2002 to 34.8 percent in 2006. While they did get heavily involved in junk mortgages, they lagged the private sector. They did not create the problem.

It would have been useful to mention the bubble itself. Neither party thought it was appropriate to force the Fed to take steps to burst the bubble before it reached such dangerous proportions. This was their bigggest failing.

NNPA - As the black unemployment rate leaped another eight percentage points last month - from 10.6 percent to 11.4 percent, the white unemployment rate actually remained the same - at 5.4 percent, less than half the rate for blacks. . .

John Petro, DMI - We should look at the idea of the ownership society as it relates to urban housing. In most big cities a majority of households rent their homes. Future housing policies should reflect this reality. Many urban households choose to rent because it is less expensive than owning, but it is far from cheap to rent. The number of renter households that have a severe cost burden (yearly rent exceeds 50 percent of annual income) rose 20 percent between 2001 and 2006. Severe rental burden is not just a low-income household problem either. In the same period, the number of upper-middle income households that experienced a severe rental housing burden rose by 66 percent while severely rent-burdened lower-middle income households rose by 70 percent.

If the ultimate goal is indeed ownership, we still need to address the strain that rental prices are making on middle-income households. The cost of renting is making it more difficult for households to get ahead and to save, seriously hurting the chance that such a household will be able to get together the money needed for a down-payment on a mortgage. But we will also need to challenge the central tenet of the ownership society and see if it truly holds water, the assertion that for every household in America it is better to own than to rent.

Steve Lohr, International Herald Tribune - If the U.S. government moves ahead with a plan to take ownership stakes in American banks, as seems likely, it would be an exceptional step - but not an unprecedented one. . In 1917, the government seized the railroads to make sure goods, armaments and troops moved smoothly in the interests of national defense during World War I. Bondholders and stockholders were compensated, and railroads were returned to private ownership in 1920, after the war ended.

During World War II, Washington seized dozens of companies including railroads, coal mines and, briefly, the Montgomery Ward department store chain. In 1952, President Harry Truman seized 88 steel mills across the country, asserting that unyielding owners were determined to provoke an industry-wide strike that would cripple the Korean War effort. That forced nationalization did not last long, since the Supreme Court ruled the action an unconstitutional abuse of presidential power.

In banking, the U.S. government stepped in to take an 80 percent stake in the Continental Illinois National Bank and Trust in 1984. Continental Illinois failed in part because of bad oil-patch loans in Oklahoma and Texas. As one of the country's top 10 banks, Continental Illinois was deemed "too big to fail" by regulators, who feared wider turmoil in the financial markets. Continental was sold to Bank of America in 1994.

Yet the nearest precedent for the plan the Treasury is weighing, finance experts say, is the investments made by the Reconstruction Finance Corporation in the 1930s. The agency, established in 1932, not only made loans to distressed banks but also bought stock in 6,000 banks, at a total cost of about $3 billion, said Richard Sylla, an economist and financial historian at the Stern School of Business at New York University. . . When the economy eventually stabilized, the government sold the stock to private investors or the banks themselves.

BBC - Concern about the economy is keeping about half of people in the UK awake at night, an online poll suggests. Nearly half of the 1,000 men and women surveyed by NetDoctor said they were sleeping worse now than a year ago. One-fifth of them are regularly getting fewer than five hours sleep a night and a quarter wake up more than three times a night, the survey suggests. Stress was cited as a major factor, with two-thirds blaming money and work worries for their insomnia. Snoring was also a contributing factor, with 30% complaining that their partner's snoring keeps them awake at night.

HOW THE MELTDOWN WORKED

PAGE ONE MUST

SENTENCING PANEL MULLS ALTERNATIVES TO PRISON

Washington Post - As the nation's inmate population climbs toward 2.5 million, the U.S. Sentencing Commission is considering alternatives to prison for some offenders, including treatment programs for nonviolent drug users and employment training for minor parole violators.

The commission's consideration of alternatives to incarceration reflects its determination to persuade Congress to ease federal mandatory minimum sentencing laws that contributed to explosive growth in the prison population. The laws were enacted in the mid-1980s, principally to address a crime epidemic related to crack cocaine. But in recent years, federal judges, public defenders and probation officials have argued that mandatory sentences imprison first-time offenders unnecessarily and disproportionately affect minorities.

If the commission moves ahead with recommending alternatives to Congress, it would send a strong signal to state sentencing commissions and legislatures, and could pave the way for a major expansion of drug courts and adult developmental programs for parolees, advocates said.

"We are leading the world in incarcerating adults, and that's something Americans need to understand," said Beryl Howell, one of six members of the commission, which drafts federal sentencing guidelines and advises the House and Senate on prison policy. "People should be aware that every tough-on-crime act comes with a price. The average cost [of incarceration] across the country is $24,000 a year per inmate. . . . It's going up far faster than state budgets can keep up."

About 2,000 drug courts nationwide spend between $1,500 and $11,000 per offender, according to the National Drug Court Institute. Those scattered courts handle only a small fraction of the 1.5 million nonviolent drug offenders who are arrested and charged with a crime, said C. West Huddleston, chief executive of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals.

BEYOND THE PALE WITH PALIN: SWEETHEART CONTRACTING

Wayne Barrett, Village Voice - The #12.5 million sports complex and hockey rink that is the lasting monument to Palin's two terms as Wasilla mayor is also a monument to the kind of insider politics that dismays Americans of both parties. Six months before Palin stepped down as mayor in October 2002, the city awarded nearly a half-million-dollar contract to design the biggest project in Wasilla history to Kumin Associates. Blase Burkhart was the Kumin architect on the job - the son of Roy Burkhart, who is frequently described as a "mentor" of Palin and was head of the local Republican Party (his wife, June, who also advised Palin, is the national committeewoman). Asked if the contract was a favor, Roy Burkhart, who contributed to her campaign in the same time frame that his son got the contract, said: "I really don't know." Palin then named Blase Burkhart to a seven-member builder-selection committee that picked Howdie Inc., a mostly residential contractor owned at the time by Howard Nugent. Formally awarded the contract a couple of weeks after Palin left office, Nugent has donated $4,000 to Palin campaigns. Two competitors protested the process that led to Nugent's contract. Burkhart and Nugent had done at least one project together before the complex - and have done several since.

A list of subcontractors on the job, obtained by the Voice, includes many with Palin ties. One was Spenard Builders Supply, the state's leading supplier of wood, floor, roof, and other "pre-engineered components." In addition to being a sponsor of Todd Palin's snow-machine team that has earned tens of thousands for the Palin family, Spenard hired Sarah Palin to do a statewide television commercial in 2004. When the Palins began building a new family home off Lake Lucille in 2002 - at the same time that Palin was running for lieutenant governor and in her final months as mayor - Spenard supplied the materials, according to Antoine Bricks, who works in its Wasilla office. Spenard actually filed a notice "of its right to assert a lien" on the deed for the Palin property after contracting for labor and materials for the site. Spenard's name has popped up in the trial of Senator Stevens - it worked on the house that is at the center of the VECO scandal as well.

Todd Palin told Fox News that he built the two-story, 3,450-square-foot, four-bedroom, four-bath, wood house himself, with the help of contractors he described as "buddies." As mayor, Sarah Palin blocked an effort to require the filing of building permits in the wide-open city, and there is no public record of who the "buddies" were. The house was built very near the complex, on a site whose city purchase led to years of unsuccessful litigation and, now, $1.3 million in additional costs, with a law firm that's also donated to Palin collecting costly fees from the city.

Dorwin and Joanne Smith, the principals of complex subcontractor DJ Excavation & Development, have donated $7,100 to Palin and her allied candidate Charlie Fannon (Joanne is a Palin appointee on the state Board of Nursing). Sheldon Ewing, who owns another complex subcontractor, Weld Air, has donated $1,300, and PN&D, an engineering firm on the complex, has contributed $699.

Ewing was one of the few sports-complex contractors, aside from Spenard, willing to address the question of whether he worked on the house as well, but he had little to say: "I doubt that it occurred, but if it did indirectly, how would I know anyhow?" The odd timing of Palin's house construction - it was completed two months before she left City Hall and while she and Todd Palin were campaigning statewide for the first time - raises questions, especially considering its synergy with the complex.

Salon's David Talbot recently visited the complex, which, he said, resembled "a huge airplane hangar" so far away from the city's center that kids can't bike or walk there. It's adorned by a plaque commemorating Palin. Even as a governor, she is still such a champion of the complex - which loses money every year - that she just steered state funding for a new kitchen to it.

OBAMA GETS CLOSER TO CONSERVATIVE DEMOCRATS

Washington Post- Obama's outreach to the Democratic centrists is part of a broader effort by his campaign to prepare for a possible transition. . . Jason Furman, Obama's economic policy adviser, has held his own extensive talks with Blue Dog Democrats and said Obama would seek to establish "a government unified around the concept of fiscal discipline and centered around the pay-go rule. Insisting on paying for things will lead to better economic policy."

While Democrats could well emerge next month with sizable majorities in the House and Senate, the party will remain divided between members who want to restore budget discipline, and more traditional Democrats who yearn for new spending in areas such as health care and education. Republicans are unlikely to help either side. The name "Blue Dogs" comes from a quip from one member that moderate Democrats, traditionally known as "Yellow Dogs," had been "choked blue" on spending by the demands of more liberal party members.

THE FALLACY OF THE 401(K)

Marie Cocco, Washington Post - Despite the hype, the data on 401(k)s have never -- ever -- shown that these accounts were creating a mass of workers who would be able to retire with security, let alone luxury.

The 401(k)s didn't expand the proportion of the work force with pension coverage, notwithstanding claims that shifting to accounts that required workers to contribute would make employers more willing to offer the benefit. Less than half of workers have any type of pension coverage from their current employer at all, according to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

For those who do have retirement accounts, the bottom line has long been grim. In 2004, the last year for which data are available, the median balance in IRA and 401(k) retirement accounts was $35,000, according to the Federal Reserve. For those nearest to retirement -- households headed by someone between 55 and 64 -- the median balance in 2004 was $60,000. That's enough to generate about $400 a month in retirement income, according to the research center. . .

More recently, even companies with healthy, traditional pension systems have frozen those plans (effectively abandoning their pledges to longtime workers) and replaced them with 401(k)s. Why? "Shifting from a defined-benefit plan to a 401(k) plan will reduce required employer contributions from 7 to 8 percent of payrolls to the 3 percent employer match," Munnell and a team of researchers wrote in a 2006 paper.

This was never about empowering workers to reap the rewards of financing their own retirement. It was about reducing corporate costs.

NON PROFIT HOSPITALS BEING SHUT DOWN

Wall Steet Journal - Ascension Health, the country's largest nonprofit hospital system, says its mission is to serve all, "with special attention to those who are poor and vulnerable." But in this city, where one in four people don't have health insurance, it's become harder for the poor and vulnerable to find Ascension. Last year, Ascension's local subsidiary closed [Detroit's] Riverview Hospital, the third hospital it has shut down in Detroit in the past 10 years and the only hospital that remained on the city's blighted east side. Meanwhile, 30 miles away, in a suburb of multimillion-dollar homes, Ascension is opening a new $224 million hospital. Of the 42 hospitals in the city in 1960, fewer than 10 are left. .

Net income at Ascension, which owns 67 hospitals located mostly in the Midwest, South and Northeast, nearly tripled to $1.2 billion between 2004 and 2007 thanks largely to investment gains.
. Nonprofit hospital systems have shuttered facilities from Los Angeles to Chicago to Newark, N.J., while spending billions on suburban expansions. This all comes as large nonprofit chains have been enjoying some of their most prosperous times ever.

LAS VEGAS ON THE HUDSON. . . AND WHAT WE PAID FOR IT

Margareta Pagano and Simon Evans, Independent, UK - The market is worth more than $516 trillion, roughly 10 times the value of the entire world's output: it's been called the "ticking time-bomb".

It's a market in which the lead protagonists - typically aggressive, highly educated, and now wealthy young men - have flourished in the derivatives boom. But it's a market that is set to come to a crashing halt - the Great Unwind has begun. . .

The complex and opaque derivatives markets in which these hedge funds played has been dubbed the world's biggest black hole because they operate outside of the grasp of governments, tax inspectors and regulators. They operate in a parallel, shadow world to the rest of the banking system. They are private contracts between two companies or institutions which can't be controlled or properly assessed. In themselves derivative contracts are not dangerous, but if one of them should go wrong - the bad 2 per cent as it's been called - then it is the domino effect which could be so enormous and scary.

Most markets have something behind them. Central banks require reserves - something that backs up the transaction. But derivatives don't have anything - because they are not real money, but paper money. It is also impossible to establish their worth - the $516 trillion number is actually only a notional one. . .

Little-known Democratic senator Byron Dorgan from North Dakota was one of the most vociferous refuseniks, telling his supposedly more savvy New York peers of the dangers. "If you want to gamble, go to Las Vegas. If you want to trade in derivatives, God bless you," he said. He was ignored.

Warren Buffett, the American investment guru, dubbed them "financial weapons of mass destruction", but for the once-great-and-good of Wall Street they were the currency that enabled banks, hedge funds and other speculators to make billions.

Anything that carries a price can spawn a derivatives market. They are financial contracts sold to pass on risk to others. The credit or bond derivatives market is one such example. It is thought that speculation in this area alone is worth more than $56 trillion, although that probably underestimates the true figure since lax regulation has seen the market explode over the past two years.

At the core of this market is the credit derivative swap, effectively an insurance policy against the default in the interest payment on a corporate bond. One doesn't even need to own the bond itself. It is like Joe Public buying an insurance policy on someone else's house and pocketing the full value if it burns down. . .

As markets slid into crisis, and banks and corporations began to default on bond payments, many of these policies have proved worthless.

Emilio Botin, the chairman of Santander, the Spanish bank that has enjoyed phenomenal success during the credit crunch, once said: "I never invest in something I don't understand." A wise man, you may think.

Sam Smith, Progressive Review, May 2008 - America was just a decade past the last major war it would ever win. The length of the average work week was down significantly from the 1930s but real income had been soaring and would continue do so through the 1970s. We had a positive trade balance and the share of total income gained by the top 1% of the country was only around 8%, down from 24% in the 1930s.

As Jermie D. Cullip describes it:

"From 1950 to 1959, the total number of females employed increased by 18%. The standard of living during the fifties also steadily rose. Most people expected to own a car and a house, and believed that life for their children would be even better. . . The number of college students doubled. Getting a college education was no longer for the rich or elite
"The decade of the fifties was a decade of major breakthroughs in technology. James Watson and Francis Crick won the Nobel Prize for decoding the molecular structure of DNA. Tuberculosis had all but disappeared, and Jonas Salk's vaccine was wiping out polio in the United States. . .

"Over the decade the housing supply increased 27 percent . . . Growth in the economy also led to increasing popularity of other financial intermediaries. Life insurance companies flourished for the first half of the decade and a large number of new private firms entered the market to absorb the excesses of personal savings. Savings and Loan Association holdings of mortgage loans during the decade clearly demonstrate the boom in construction at this time. In 1950 $13.6 billion was held rising to $60.1 billion in 1960. Another important growth in the 1950s capital markets was in pension funds. This industry grew from $11 billion in 1950 to $44 billion in 1960.

"By mid- 1955, the country had pulled out of the previous year's recession and gross national product was growing at a rate of 7.6 percent. The boom was so great that the budget for 1956 predicted a surplus of $4.1 billion. With the surges in production and the economy, the 1950s is often recognized as the decade that eliminated poverty for the great majority of Americans. Over the decade, GNP per capita almost doubled and the public welfare reacted accordingly as the cost of living index rose by just 1 percent and unemployment dropped to 4.1 percent'"

All in all not a bad decade to be in if you were running a business. So much so, in fact, that some began griping about it all in books like The Organization Man and plays like Death of a Salesman.

But here is the truly amazing part - given all we have been taught in recent years: America did it all as its universities turned out less than 5,000 MBAs a year.

By 2005 these schools graduated 142,000 MBAs. In the other words, in the 1950s it would take two centuries to produce a million MBAs. By 2005, with huge trade and budget deficits, a disappearing auto industry, the most costly and disastrous war since the mid 19th century, a growing gap between rich and poor, a constantly projected inability to care for our ill or elderly and a pessimism repeatedly confirmed in polls, we could produce a million MBAs in only seven years.

There are plenty of worthy arguments to be made correlating the rise of business school culture with the decline of the our economy. For example, in the period that corporate culture has been in ascendance - roughly since the Reagan years - wages of lower income workers have declined, the ratio of executive to worker pay has soared, the real value of the minimum wage has fallen by almost a third, total hours worked has increased, percent of jobs with pensions has dropped, our balance of payments has become increasingly negative, the top 1% is back to getting 21% of all income and the age at which one receives Social Security has increased.

A few years back I put it this way: "A cursory examination of American business suggests that its major product is wasted energy. Compute all the energy loss created by corporate lawyers, Washington lobbyists, marketing consultants, CEO benefits, advertising agencies, leadership seminars, human resource supervisors, strategic planners and industry conventions and it is amazing that this country has any manufacturing base at all. We have created an economy based not on actually doing anything, but on facilitating, supervising, planning, managing, analyzing, tax advising, marketing, consulting or defending in court what might be done if we had time to do it. The few remaining truly productive companies become immediate targets for another entropic activity, the leveraged buyout." And this was all before the rise of the killer hedge fund.

DERIVATIVES EXPLAINED

A GOOD CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT TO AVOID

ABC News - West Palm Beach Congressman Tim Mahoney (D-FL), whose predecessor resigned in the wake of a sex scandal, agreed to a $121,000 payment to a former mistress who worked on his staff and was threatening to sue him, according to current and former members of his staff who have been briefed on the settlement, which involved Mahoney and his campaign committee.

Mahoney, who is married, also promised the woman, Patricia Allen, a $50,000 a year job for two years at the agency that handles his campaign advertising, the staffers said.

A Mahoney spokesperson would not answer questions about the alleged affair or the settlement, but said Allen resigned of her own accord and "has not received any special payment from campaign funds."

Senior Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives, including Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL), the chair of the Democratic Caucus, have been working with Mahoney to keep the matter from hurting his re-election campaign, the Mahoney staffers said.

A spokesperson for Emanuel denies that account, but said Emanuel did confront Mahoney "upon hearing a rumor" about an affair in 2007 and "told him he was in public life and had a responsibility to act accordingly." The spokesperson added that it was a "private conversation" that had nothing to do with Mahoney's re-election prospects.

The affair between Mahoney and Allen began, according to the current and former staffers, in 2006 when Mahoney was campaigning for Congress against Foley, promising "a world that is safer, more moral."

At the time, Mahoney's campaign ads featured a picture of him with his wife, Terry, with the line, "Restoring America's Values Begins at Home."

Friends of Allen told ABC News that Allen sought to break off the affair when she learned Mahoney was allegedly involved in other extra-marital relationships at the same time. Her friends say she told them Mahoney threatened that ending the relationship could cost her the job.

"You work at my pleasure," Congressman Mahoney told Allen on a January 20, 2008 telephone call that was recorded and played for Mahoney staffers. ABC News was provided a copy.

OBAMA KNEW BILL AYERS; MCCAIN IS DEPENDING ON PEOPLE LIKE THIS

Washington Post - The chairman of the Virginia Republican Party has compared Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama to Osama bin Laden because of the Illinois senator's past association with Bill Ayers, who has confessed to domestic bombings as a member of the Vietnam War-era Weather Underground. . . According to a report in this week's Time magazine, the Virginia party chairman, Del. Jeffrey M. Frederick (R-Prince William), told Virginia volunteers working for GOP nominee John McCain that Obama and bin Laden "both have friends that bombed the Pentagon." . . . Yesterday, Frederick said he stood by the comparison, even though bin Laden planned the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the Pentagon that killed 184 people and Obama was a child and hadn't met Ayers when the Weather Underground planted a bomb at the Pentagon in 1972. . .

Danville Register & Bee - Republican presidential candidate John McCain's campaign has ousted its Buchanan County chairman for writing a newspaper column deemed racially offensive. The McCain campaign announced it was dropping Bobby May, a Republican political advertising specialist, after it discovered the column commenting on a potential Barack Obama administration.

The column, "The (clarified) platform of Barack Hussein Obama," originally appeared The Voice, a newspaper in the southwestern Virginia county. In it, May mockingly laid out his opinion of what Obama's presidential policies would be. May wrote that if elected, the Democratic candidate would hire rapper Ludacris to paint the White House black and change the national anthem to the "Black National Anthem" by James Weldon JohnsonMay has been involved with dozens of Republican campaigns throughout Virginia, including former gubernatorial candidate and Attorney General Jerry Kilgore, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling and Rep. Virgil H. Goode Jr., R-5th. Sarah Arkin is a staff writer for the Danville Register & Bee in Danville

OBAMA CALLS SINGLE PAYER 'EXTREME'. . . NOW A FEW WORDS FROM A NOBEL PRIZE WINNING ECONOMIST

Paul Krugman, New York Times - Harry Truman tried to create a national health insurance system. Public opinion was initially on his side: Jill Quadagno's book "One Nation, Uninsured" tells us that in 1945, 75 percent of Americans favored national health insurance. If Truman had succeeded, universal coverage for everyone, not just the elderly, would today be an accepted part of the social contract.

But Truman failed. Special interests, especially the American Medical Association and Southern politicians who feared that national insurance would lead to racially integrated hospitals, triumphed.

Sixty years later, the patchwork system that evolved in the absence of national health insurance is unraveling. The cost of health care is exploding, the number of uninsured is growing, and corporations that still provide employee coverage are groaning under the strain.

So the time will soon be ripe for another try at universal coverage. Public opinion is already favorable: a 2003 Pew poll found that 72 percent of Americans favored government-guaranteed health insurance for all.

But special interests will, once again, stand in the way. And the big debate among would-be reformers is how to deal with those interests, especially the insurance companies. These companies played a secondary role in Truman's failure but have since become a seemingly invincible lobby. . .

A system in which the government provides universal health insurance is often referred to as "single payer," but I like Ted Kennedy's slogan "Medicare for all." It reminds voters that America already has a highly successful, popular single-payer program, albeit only for the elderly. It shows that we're talking about government insurance, not government-provided health care. And it makes it clear that like Medicare (but unlike Canada's system), a U.S. national health insurance system would allow individuals with the means and inclination to buy their own medical care.

The great advantage of universal, government-provided health insurance is lower costs. Canada's government-run insurance system has much less bureaucracy and much lower administrative costs than our largely private system. Medicare has much lower administrative costs than private insurance. The reason is that single-payer systems don't devote large resources to screening out high-risk clients or charging them higher fees. The savings from a single-payer system would probably exceed $200 billion a year, far more than the cost of covering all of those now uninsured

Some people, not all of them right-wingers, fear that a single-payer system would hurt innovation. But the main reason these proposals give private insurers a big role is the belief that the insurers must be appeased.

That belief is rooted in recent history. Bill Clinton's health care plan failed in large part because of a dishonest but devastating lobbying and advertising campaign financed by the health insurance industry - remember Harry and Louise? And the lesson many people took from that defeat is that any future health care proposal must buy off the insurance lobby.

But I think that's the wrong lesson. The Clinton plan actually preserved a big role for private insurers; the industry attacked it all the same. And the plan's complexity, which was largely a result of attempts to placate interest groups, made it hard to sell to the public. So I would argue that good economics is also good politics: reformers will do best with a straightforward single-payer plan, which offers maximum savings and, unlike the Clinton plan, can easily be explained.

We need to do this one right. If reform fails again, we'll be on the way to a radically unequal society, in which all but the most affluent Americans face the constant risk of financial ruin and even premature death because they can't pay their medical bills.

ACORN DEFENDS ITSELF

ACORN has implemented the most sophisticated quality-control system in the voter engagement field but in almost every state we are required to turn in all completed applications, even the ones we know to be problematic.

ACORN flags in writing incomplete, problem, or suspicious cards when we turn them in. Unfortunately, some of these same officials then come back weeks or months later and accuse us of deliberately turning in phony cards. In many cases, we can actually prove that these are the same cards we called to their attention.

Our canvassers are paid by the hour, not by the card . ACORN has a zero-tolerance policy for deliberately falsifying registrations, and in the cases where our internal quality controls have identified this happening we have fired the workers involved and turned them in to election officials and law-enforcement.

No criminal charges related to voter registration have ever been brought against ACORN or partner organizations. Convictions against individual former ACORN workers have been accomplished with our full cooperation, using the evidence obtained through our quality control and verification processes - evidence which in most cases we called to the attention of authorities

Most election officials have recognized ACORN's good work and praised our quality control systems. Even in the cities where election officials have complained about ACORN, the applications in question represent less than 1% of the thousands and thousands of registrations ACORN has collected.

OBAMA FINALLY COMES UP WITH SOME IDEAS FOR THE CRISIS

After offering practically nothing to the discussion of the fiscal crisis for several weeks,, Barack Obama has finally come up with useful proposals. . . .

Reuters: Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama on Monday proposed four steps to create jobs and to cushion Americans against the effects of the economic downturn as he campaigned in an area hit hard by the slowdown. The proposals, costing $60 billion over two years, include tax credits for firms that create new jobs, penalty-free withdrawals from retirement accounts and temporarily barring banks from foreclosing on people trying to pay their mortgages. Obama also called on the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department to set up a facility to lend to state and municipal governments, similar to the steps recently taken by the Federal Reserve to inject liquidity into the commercial debt market.

Obama's proposals include:

- A temporary $3,000 tax credit to companies for each new job created in the United States over the next two years.

- Penalty free withdrawals from 401(k) and IRA retirement accounts up to a maximum of $10,000 this year and next.

-- A 90-day moratorium on foreclosures for homeowners who are living in their homes and making good-faith efforts to make their mortgage payments.

- A call for the Treasury to help unfreeze markets for individual mortgages, student loans, car loans, loans for multifamily dwellings and credit card loans.

THE IDEA MILL: PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING

Josh Lerner, Grassroots Economic Organizing - Low-income residents and activists in hundreds of cities around the world have designed a different way of managing public money: participatory budgeting. This is a process in which people who are impacted by a budget directly and democratically decide how it is spent. The most famous example is the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre, where residents decide on municipal spending in an annual cycle of assemblies and meetings. Since Porto Alegre pioneered participatory budgeting in 1989, however, it has spread throughout the world. Most of these experiences share a common process: diagnosis, discussion, decision-making, implementation, and monitoring. First, at neighborhood assemblies, residents identify local priority needs, generate ideas to respond to these needs, and elect delegates to represent each community. These delegates then discuss the local priorities and develop concrete projects that address them, together with experts. Next, residents vote for which of these projects to fund. Finally, the government implements the chosen projects, and residents monitor this implementation. For example, if neighborhood residents identify access to medical care as a priority, their delegates might develop a proposal for a new community health clinic. If the residents approve the proposal, the city funds it. The next year, a new health clinic is built.

Roughly 1,200 cities have participatory budgets already. Several countries have passed laws making participatory budgeting mandatory for local governments. The UN and other international organizations have actively promoted it. Even the Church of England is a fan.

Why such broad support? Probably because participatory budgeting offers something for everyone. It gives residents a forum to voice their demands and resources to satisfy many of those demands. They feel more connected to their city and better able to improve their environment, and they learn a lot in the process. Low-income and marginalized residents gain the most, thanks to their high rates of participation (unlike in most consultations) and 'pro-poor' spending criteria that redistribute funds to those with the greatest needs. Social movements and community organizations get to spend less time pressuring policy-makers and more time deciding policies themselves. Regular budget assemblies even help them recruit members and build stronger community networks. For bureaucrats and economists, participatory budgeting is a way to get better information on public needs and minimize corruption. For politicians, it can provide closer links with constituents and increase their popularity.

But participatory budgeting does not always have these effects. When politicians control decision-making and use it to support their own agendas, participatory budgeting can become disempowering. This danger of co-optation is particularly strong in the US. New York, Los Angeles, and other municipalities are increasingly holding consultations on city priorities, but not giving these consultations much power. Politicians and bureaucrats set the agendas, and although residents can share their opinions, they cannot make decisions. This controlled participation may look good for the city, but it rarely changes government spending. In the long run, it shows people that getting involved isn't worth the bother.

Co-optation is not the only challenge. Compared with Brazil, US cities have less urgent needs, more linguistic diversity, and fewer leftists in power. Experiences with participatory budgeting in developed countries, however, suggest strategies for adapting it to the US. Start small, with a pilot project in one neighborhood, agency, or program. So far, participatory budgeting has not caught hold in the US, but some cities are heading towards it. Seattle and Burlington, for example, have like-minded participatory grant-making programs, in which boards of residents help decide how city grants are awarded to community groups.

Some activists are also working to start participatory budgeting in public housing and schools, based on successful processes in Canada. A US participatory budgeting network recently formed to build on these experiences.

OTHER NEWS

AMERICAN NOTES: WHEN URBAN DEVELOPERS MEET FARMERS

National Harbor is a large new development near Washington DC

Jenna Johnson, Washington Post - There are no pickups at National Harbor's American Market. No dirt-caked potatoes or grotesquely misshapen heirloom tomatoes. Everything is clean, colorful and tastefully displayed under matching white tents.

Yes, National Harbor has managed to make even a farmers market an upscale experience. No fewer than 21 rules, along with a host of contractual requirements, ensure that the seasonal Saturday market is just so.

But in its first year, the market has had difficulty attracting Maryland farmers. Some say they were put off by the elaborate system of rules, the lengthy application process, the requirement that they open their farms to inspection and the weekly fee for participation.

"We just want to sell produce," said Whitney Dawkins, who operates a booth with goods from her boyfriend's farm in St. Mary's County. "We don't want to sign our lives away."

Dawkins said other farmers she has tried to persuade to join her at the market in Prince George's County have been discouraged by the paperwork and other requirements.

American Market is made up of about three dozen booths on a grassy patch sandwiched between two large parking garages and the towering Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center. Each vendor is given a tent but is responsible for creating professional, colorful displays.

The market, which opened in May and ends this coming weekend, showcases produce from three farms, fewer than organizers had hoped, and also features artwork, crafts, homemade soaps, pastries and gourmet pickles.

The rules and policies governing the market are necessary to maintain high quality, said Rocell Viniard, National Harbor's vice president in charge of marketing. Vendors are required to open by 9 a.m., and the inspections ensure that the produce is grown as it is being advertised.

Tourists staying at the Gaylord wander over to the market from time to time, but they are more likely to buy crafts, artwork or jams than fresh produce. "They might buy one or two pieces of fruit, but if they are flying back the next day, they can't really buy five or 10 pounds of a product," said Dan Donahue of El Vista Orchards, which gathers produce from seven Pennsylvania farms.

Dawkins said that, although she thinks the market will flourish once the condominiums are occupied, most of the customers she now encounters are budget-minded shoppers from nearby Fort Washington. "Those ladies nickel-and-dime you," she said. "They rip you apart. They rip on the produce you brought."

BREVITAS

OUTLYING PRECINCTS

McCain is only leading by 8 points in his home state according to a poll by Arizona State University. . . And an initiative that would only recognize hetero marriages leads by just 7.

NY Times - After favoring Republicans by a ratio of more than two to one for most of the last decade, pharmaceutical companies and others in the health care industry are now splitting their contributions evenly between the two major parties, campaign finance reports show. Lobbyists and executives in the industry say the swing reflects the fact that Democrats control both houses of Congress, are expected to increase their majorities and may win the White House, giving them a dominant voice on health policy

WATCHING THE COUNT

Progress Report - In early October, ACORN announced that it had registered 1.3 million new voters for the November election. Seizing on reports of apparently fraudulent voter registrations in some states, conservatives began claiming that the purpose of ACORN is to commit "voter fraud." However, all that was found during a raid of ACORN's office in Nevada was apparently fraudulent voter registration forms, which do not constitute voter fraud. "It's not voter fraud unless someone shows up at the voting booth on election day and tries to pass himself off as 'Tony Romo.'" And who would try to do that?" wrote Rep. Jesse Jackson (D-IL). As New York University's Brennan Center for Justice noted, "There are no reports that we have discovered of votes actually cast in the names of [false] registrants." Under most state laws, in fact, voter registration organizations like ACORN are required to turn in all the forms they receive, even the suspicious ones. Furthermore, as Brad Friedman pointed out in the Guardian, "If [ACORN] can't authenticate the registration, or it's incomplete or questionable in other ways, they flag that form as problematic. . . In almost every case where you've heard about fraud by Acorn, it's because Acorn itself notified officials about the fraud that's been perpetrated on them by rogue canvassers."

Cleveland Plain Dealer - Teenager Freddie Johnson said he was offered smokes and dollar bills to fill out voter registration cards. And now the Cuyahoga County Elections Board has 73 cards with Johnson's name on them. Johnson and another prolific registrant were subpoenaed to testify at a meeting as the Elections Board continued its look at possible fraud by ACORN. . . Johnson, 19, said he mostly was trying to help ACORN workers who begged him to sign up because they needed to keep their jobs. "They'd come up with a sob story why they needed the signature," said Johnson, of Garfield Heights. ACORN leaders have acknowledged that workers paid by the hour were given quotas to fill. . . A second person to testify, Christopher Barkley, 33, said ACORN workers pestered him while they tried to gather signatures. Barkley, of Cleveland, said he was homeless and reading a book on Public Square when he signed some of the 13 cards that contain his name. He filled out cards - with his mother's house or workplace as the address - to help workers stay employed. "Me being a kind-hearted person, I said 'Yeah,' " Barkley recalled.

ECO CLIPS

Cornucopia Institute - Groups representing organic farmers and their customers are calling on consumers to help save the organic industry by exclusively patronizing dairies, and other brands, that uphold the spirit and letter of the federal organic law. They claim the acquisition of major brands by corporate agribusiness, and their dependence on factory farms, threatens to force families off the land and deprive consumers of the superior nutritional food they think they are paying for. . . The Wisconsin-based Cornucopia Institute announced that it has filed formal legal complaints, seeking USDA enforcement, against two more operators of giant industrial dairies. The farm policy research group claims they are "masquerading as organic. . . For eight years, participants in the organic community - farmers, consumers, retailers, and other stakeholders - have fought the industrialization of organic milk by giant corporations and factory farms milking as many as 10,000 animals. Although the National Organic Standards Board, the expert panel set up by Congress to advise the Secretary of Agriculture, has voted to crack down on industry scofflaws five times since 2000, Bush administration officials have refused to act.

DRUG BUSTS

Stateline - Ballot questions next month will give voters in California, Massachusetts and Michigan a chance to revisit their states' policies on marijuana. . . In California and Massachusetts, voters will decide Nov. 4 whether to join 10 other states that have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana, . . . Instead of facing arrest and time behind bars, those caught with up to an ounce of marijuana would be subject to civil fines of $100 or less - similar to those paid for traffic violations. In Michigan, voters could make the state the first in the Great Lakes region to authorize medical marijuana.

ARTS & CULTURE

Bookstacks Fitz - Last year, the Chicago Tribune kicked its stand-alone book review tabloid section -- which was anorexic but still alive -- out of the Sunday paper to the little-read Saturday edition, in a city where the first Sunday editions hit the streets before high noon. This weekend, the Trib killed the books tab altogether, replacing it with a broadsheet section that's called "books & media," but really is five pages -- for now, anyway -- in the Saturday entertainment section that includes comics, movie theater ads, and the weather page. Once upon a time metro newspapers of even medium ambition all had thriving book review sections. But with the downsizing in Chicago, the only weekly stand-alone book review supplements remaining, so far as I know, are The Washington Post's "Book World" and the granddaddy of them all, The New York Times Book Review.

CORPORADOS

In a further degradation of the American government, George Bush has signed a bill approved by the Democratic Congress that essentially gives the RIAA and MPAA a role at the White House similar to that of the Defense Secretary and the Department of Housing & Urban Development. Reports CNET: "The Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property Act establishes within the executive branch the position of Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, who will be appointed by the president. The law also steepens penalties for intellectual property infringement and increases resources for the Justice Department to coordinate for federal and state efforts against counterfeiting and piracy. The PRO-IP Act passed unanimously in the Senate last month and received strong bipartisan support in the House."

FURTHERMORE . . .

Fark headline of the day - 15 newspapers endorse Obama, none for McCain. Sarah Palin cancels her subscriptions, still has 800 papers to read every day.

GALLERY: THE GOLDEN AGE OF TRAINS IN BLACK AND WHITE

READER COMMENTS

NOTE: You can post your comments on any of the above stories by going to our Undernews site and searching for the headline. Once posted, a copy is immediately mailed to the Review and we pick some of the most interesting to publish here. http://prorev.com/indexa.htm

BRITISH STUDY SAYS POT LESS RISKY THAN ALCOHOL:

The reason most illegal drugs are illegal is because it is very easy for agencies like the CIA to raise a lot of money quickly and quietly by selling illegal drugs. If the drugs were legal and regulated they could not make this money off the books. If drugs were decriminalized the prices would soften, making selling drugs less profitable.

Because of drugs being such a great covert moneymaker for the CIA and similar interests, cannabis has a special place of hatred, because so much of it is produced inside the US and the CIA and friends cannot get their hands on the money from it as easily. They get no taxes from it's manufacture and sale, and they don't get the big payoffs by controlling the import.

Add to that, that cannabis can be used to replace a number of medications made by big pharma, and you have an additional deep pocket interest working to keep Cannabis illegal.

CANNING FOOD

The link for Canning 101 is a good resource, but, another very healthful way of preserving food is brine fermentation. I prefer it to hot water bath canning because it is easier and I can preserve a couple of jars of produce at a time with a few spare minutes, instead of spending half the day over a pot of hot water. Brine fermentation cultivates beneficial bacteria and enzymes during the fermentation process making the food preserved that way even more nutritious and healthy.

LAS VEGAS ON THE HUDSON. . . AND WHAT WE PAID FOR IT

When I first came to St. Louis in 1978, I read an article about a guy who borrowed money - two hundred bucks - against a car he no longer owned. He got ten years in prison. All this three card monty shit that the banks have done is essentially the same; they've solicited investment for which there is little or no collateral. The feds knew this. Instead of going to prison, the thieves are rescued by law. The taxpayer is ordered by their "elected representatives" to reimburse the thieves. We live in parallel universes apparently. I advise every citizen to buy himself a copy of " You Can't Win" by Jack Black. William Burroughs might have been crazy, but he was no fool.

Essentially the culture you describe took off with the complete dislocation of money in 1973. The government decided that wise men like the Fed chairman were better equipped to make decisions about how much your dollar would be worth.

Before there was some moral connection between how much you worked and your prosperity. Now that link was severed and you could be elevated or bankrupted depending on decisions taken up on Mount Olympus about the dollar. If you were a farmer, you did well in inflation while your buyers suffered. Conversely the eaters did better during deflation at the expense of the farmer. None of it however had anything to do with what you planted. - well basically

OBAMA'S MANY VIEWS ON MARIJUANA:

First of all, allow me to say i am a pothead, have been since I was 13 and will be when I am in a casket. The man is keeping me down; if I am pulled over in my car and even have red eyes I have to do a field sobriety test. If that ain't the ball breaker I don't know what is. Getting a DUI for smoking four hours earlier and driving to Burger King after a nap and having approximately a gram on me. I mean, please, your gonna waste your tax dollars on me because I wanted a cheese burger and had a bowls worth of weed? I think there's approximately 275 murders a year in my city. Approx 75-100 are solved. Can't we do something about that instead of giving me a DUI?

THE SWAMPOODLE REPORT: THE MYTH OF AMERICAN CAPITALISM:

Amazing! This article encapsulates what really happened. The only factor which Sam didn't bring into scope is how the modern notion of "progress" was woven into the fabric: That we must endure these inhumane new forms of social control (i.e. competition, "the marketplace", etc.) because we get "progress" into the bargain. Thus, for example, as we get more Ipods and satellite radio, we get less and less locally created and genuine music. Even rap, which is the modern equivalent in many ways of the spirituals of the cotton fields in its being authentic, has been co-opted, processed and shrink-wrapped by the corporation. That's progress. Learn to love it.

THE TRUE CHARACTER OF MUSICAL KEYS:

Yet another example of a cognitive anomaly known as synaesthesia--the elicitation of percepts associated with one sense within the domain of another sense. In addition to evocation of emotions, colors may become associated with keys or tonalities. Certainly most everyone has experienced this phenomena to some extent while listening to the musical form commonly known as the blues.

NOT IN AMERICA

Never have so many written so much only to confuse the many that much more. I am far from an expert, but the experts have been mostly wrong, so allow me to chime in with the bottom line as I see it. The easy money is being blown out of the system, which is suffering a serious but predictable malaise, a major capitalist bust cycle. The so-called free market does not solve all problems, especially when the market becomes a place where transactions take place without either party knowing the value of the commodity, let alone the actual risk involved. I knew the bankers had most of the world's money, thanks to never saying "no" to financing war or the reconstruction that follows. I knew they could afford to put out a pretty nice credit line, which could be passed along the economic ladder. I never thought that they would put out so much of their money just to make more money and to ignore the risk of such actions. Never underestimate the power of selfishness and greed. It creates blinders, then stumbling, then a hard fall. Good luck to everyone. Hope you've got a mattress under you when you land.-- Polar Bear

OBAMA'S MARGIN

Does it matter how weakly he gets elected? Had JFK not been supported by Daley's machine and mob money there might never have been a prorev.com, given LeMay's determinaton to have a nuclear war. McCain's imminent endgame is now sidetracked by the new Obama era. We got lucky, as in 1962.

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