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Undernews For December 9, 2008

Undernews For December 9, 2008

The news while there's still time to do something about it

THE PROGRESSIVE REVIEW
611 Pennsylvania Ave SE #381
Washington DC 20003
202-423-7884
Editor: Sam Smith

9 December 2008

FLOTSAM & JETSAM

THE CRASH OF AMERICAN IMAGINATION

Sam Smith

One of the problems with hiring a Harvard Law School graduate as president is that you're likely to find someone steeped in precedent and shallow - even skeptical of - possibility.

The law, after all, represents the rules of the existing order. It favors the past over the future, the tested over the experimental, the documented over the imagined.

It is necessary, of course, but it is, in the end, a skill rather than a philosophy and is based on reviewing old records rather than opening new windows.

There are plenty of lawyers who understand this and use the law as a tool rather than as a product, which is why, for example, we have the ACLU or the countless volunteer legal advisors to worthy non-profit organizations. My lawyer father used to advise my friends to go to law school but then do something different.

Barack Obama, however, seems one of those attorneys who pride themselves in turning reason into a religion rather than as a road to some place else, the sort who either pompously or pedantically elevate their belief (often self-serving) in caution, the status quo and elite consensus into a god, ignoring Jim Hightower's wisdom that there is little to be found in the middle of the road other than a yellow stripe and dead armadillos.

This is not a political problem, but a cultural one. Here we are, at a moment screaming for new ideas, imagination and reasonable risk and we find ourselves stuck with a Harvard Law School grad whose appointments and pronouncements have been, to date, almost pathetically conventional.

Obama, of course, is not alone. What is truly scary about this crisis is that no one in power has offered a single exciting or appealing idea as to what to do about it. Not Paulson, not Congress, nor the Washington media.

A major part of the problem is that we are run by a generation highly educated in the skill of coming up with approved answers according to the standardized tests of our culture. The current fiasco is a grim warning to those persisting in the mechanical solutions of No Child Left Behind: they produce the sort of adults who are now leaving us all behind. And at the top of the list are the huge number of lawyers that have come in recent decades to control Washington, people who have never had to start, invent, convert, salvage or create anything. At a moment crying for massive change, we are guided by those trained in the art of keeping things as they are.

This struck home when, on the same day, I read the latest frustrating news on the bailout and then this from the Maine Life website

Maine''s lobstermen are in such dire straits that many fear the industry won''t survive this recession. But Mainers and Maine businesses have pulled together and are doing everything possible to help out. . .

Downeast Toyota in Bangor has promoted Maine lobster in its automotive advertising, while a full-scale community lobster bake was spearheaded by Heidi Stevens, co-owner of By George Jewelers in Rockland.

Lobster appreciation events in the coastal Maine communities of Georgetown, Rockland, Stonington and Boothbay Harbor have resulted in the sale of over 10,000 lobsters, with additional lobster bakes and promotional plans in the works in other communities.

Maine state representative Leila Percy of Phippsburg wrote and recorded a lobster jingle featured in the PSA campaign.

Hannaford, Shaw''s and Wegmans supermarkets are featuring Maine lobster promotions in their stores in New England and New York.

Restaurants, including the Weathervane seafood chain and DiMillo''s Floating Restaurant in Portland, also have launched lobster promotion efforts and advertising campaigns.

Lobster retailers are donating back proceeds from their sales to the Maine Institute and Grudens, who make the foul weather gear and overalls worn by almost every lobstermen, is donating a portion of the proceeds from their ""eat lobster"" t-shirts back to the institute as well.

Recently, we''ve been invited to and have eaten more lobster dinners than I care to count. Everyone is buying lobsters having friends over and doing what they can to help out. Others are shipping lobsters to friends and family far and wide.


Such behavior is in the old Maine tradition of "fix it up, make it do, wear it out, use it up, do without," a spirit that is almost entirely absent from Washington. Lobstering is also a complex form of competition and cooperation totally foreign to free marketers. I once knew a lobsterman in Maine who was badly injured. With a few days, all of his traps had been hauled and neatly stored - a service to him, his competitors and the lobsters, a communal act totally alien to the way Washington thinks and acts.

While Obama's public works program will undoubtedly help, it is a sign of how far the capital is from reality that the new administration is being compared to FDR's New Deal. As Steve Fraser wrote in Tom Dispatch, it is no such thing:

A suffocating political and intellectual provincialism has captured the new administration in embryo. Instead of embracing a sense of adventurousness, a readiness to break with the past so enthusiastically promoted during the campaign, Obama seems overcome with inhibitions and fears. . .

All of these people [of FDR's administration] -- the corporatists and the Keynesians, the planners and the anti-trusters -- were there at the creation. They often came to blows. A genuine administration of "rivals" didn't faze FDR. He was deft at borrowing all of, or pieces of, their ideas, then jettisoning some when they didn't work, and playing one faction against another in a remarkable display of political agility. Roosevelt's tolerance of real differences stands in stark contrast to the new administration's cloning of the Clinton-era brainiacs.

It was this openness to a variety of often untested solutions -- including at that point Keynesianism -- that helped give the New Deal the flexibility to adjust to shifts in the country's political chemistry in the worst of times. If the New Deal came to represent a watershed in American history, it was in part due to the capaciousness of its imagination, its experimental elasticity, and its willingness to venture beyond the orthodox. Many failures were born of this, but so, too, many enduring triumphs.

Of course, failure is a dirty word these days in national politics, Far better to simply spend a lot more money doing things the same old way. Then, when you fail, it will be harder to notice.

The mere fact that Obama, his aides and the Washington media speak of rebuilding "infrastructure" is a clue. No one outside of politicians, think tankers, and media uses this term. Real Americans call it bridges, roads, and schools or, if you want to be really abstract, public works. The term "infrastructure" reveals both the distance of the capital from ordinary people and the ability of the city to turn even the most visibly tangible object into an invisible, intangible gossamer.

A major portion of his plan involves roads and bridges. As Obama puts it, "We will create millions of jobs by making the single largest new investment in our national infrastructure since the creation of the federal highway system in the 1950s.

Clearly roads and bridges need rebuilding. But why at a time when people are so ready for change - they even thought they voted for it - is Obama limiting himself to something so cautious? Here are a few of the things that appear to have been ignored:

- Why not provide money for parallel mass transit rail lines or exclusive bus lanes on roads being rebuilt?

- Why not provide money for creation or expansion of such services within cities as well as intra neighborhood transit as we move towards more self-sufficient and less transportation dependent communities? Americans are already voting with their fare cards: transit and rail ridership is going up while road use is down.

- Why not provide for a major expansion of rail service in the US? How can such a self-assumed intelligent administration ignore the need for America to catch up with the rest of the world in this area? And we're not talking, Biden like, about sexy high speed trains that will serve the elite but freight lines and ordinary passenger routes that are desperately needed.

- Why not spend money on facilities that will reduce the need for people to commute, such as neighborhood business centers where workers can hold video conferences, such as with their colleagues at suburban headquarters?

- Why not spend money on facilities that will reduce the need for people to travel longer distances by helping to change the general migratory culture of business? Much of this movement - such as for conferences and conventions - is ritualistic, while it remains unnecessarily difficult for colleagues on a specific topic to come together because, say, one is in Denmark, one in Thailand and the other in Des Moines.

In short, why is so little of this money being spent on two of our most pressing needs: stopping people from having to move around so much and finding cheaper ways of doing it when they must?

One reason is that the modern, well educated, legalized, corporatized and bureaucratized official finds it hard to think this way. The other answer is that we need results in a hurry and we don't have time to plan.

That would be an appealing argument if it were not for a bit of history that doesn't get enough attention - not the New Deal depression years but the massive conversion of the country as a result of World War II. Christopher J. Tassava described it for Economic History Services . As you read it, ask yourself: could we do this now and if not, why not?

"Conversion" was the key issue in American economic life in 1940-1942. In many industries, company executives resisted converting to military production because they did not want to lose consumer market share to competitors who did not convert. Conversion thus became a goal pursued by public officials and labor leaders. In 1940, Walter Reuther, a high-ranking officer in the United Auto Workers labor union, provided impetus for conversion by advocating that the major automakers convert to aircraft production. Though initially rejected by car-company executives and many federal officials, the Reuther Plan effectively called the public's attention to America's lagging preparedness for war. Still, the auto companies only fully converted to war production in 1942 and only began substantially contributing to aircraft production in 1943. . .

Merchant shipbuilding mobilized early and effectively. The industry was overseen by the U.S. Maritime Commission, a New Deal agency established in 1936 to revive the moribund shipbuilding industry, which had been in a depression since 1921, and to ensure that American shipyards would be capable of meeting wartime demands. . . The entire industry had produced only 71 ships between 1930 and 1936, but from 1938 to 1940, commission-sponsored shipyards turned out 106 ships, and then almost that many in 1941 alone. . .

[Another] wartime socioeconomic trend was somewhat ironic, given the reduction in the supply of civilian goods: rapid increases in many Americans' personal incomes. Driven by the federal government's abilities to prevent price inflation and to subsidize high wages through war contracting and by the increase in the size and power of organized labor, incomes rose for virtually all Americans - whites and blacks, men and women, skilled and unskilled.

Despite the focus on military-related production in general and the impact of rationing in particular, spending in many civilian sectors of the economy rose even as the war consumed billions of dollars of output. Hollywood boomed as workers bought movie tickets rather than scarce clothes or unavailable cars. Americans placed more legal wagers in 1943 and 1944, and racetracks made more money than at any time before. In 1942, Americans spent $95 million on legal pharmaceuticals, $20 million more than in 1941. Department-store sales in November 1944 were greater than in any previous month in any year. Black markets for rationed or luxury goods - from meat and chocolate to tires and gasoline - also boomed during the war.

As observers during the war and ever since have recognized, scientific and technological innovations were a key aspect in the American war effort and an important economic factor in the Allies' victory. While all of the major belligerents were able to tap their scientific and technological resources to develop weapons and other tools of war, the American experience was impressive in that scientific and technological change positively affected virtually every facet of the war economy. . .

Aerospace provides one crucial example. American heavy bombers, like the B-29 Superfortress, were highly sophisticated weapons which could not have existed, much less contributed to the air war on Germany and Japan, without innovations such as bombsights, radar, and high-performance engines or advances in aeronautical engineering, metallurgy, and even factory organization.

Encompassing hundreds of thousands of workers, four major factories, and $3 billion in government spending, the B-29 project required almost unprecedented organizational capabilities by the U.S. Army Air Forces, several major private contractors, and labor unions. Overall, American aircraft production was the single largest sector of the war economy, costing $45 billion (almost a quarter of the $183 billion spent on war production), employing a staggering two million workers, and, most importantly, producing over 125,000 aircraft. . .

Between 1939 and 1945, the hundred merchant shipyards overseen by the U.S. Maritime Commission produced 5,777 ships at a cost of about $13 billion. Four key innovations facilitated this enormous wartime output. First, the commission itself allowed the federal government to direct the merchant shipbuilding industry. Second, the commission funded entrepreneurs, the industrialist Henry J. Kaiser chief among them, who had never before built ships and who were eager to use mass-production methods in the shipyards. These methods, including the substitution of welding for riveting and the addition of hundreds of thousands of women and minorities to the formerly all-white and all-male shipyard workforces, were a third crucial innovation. Last, the commission facilitated mass production by choosing to build many standardized vessels like the ugly, slow, and ubiquitous "Liberty" ship. By adapting well-known manufacturing techniques and emphasizing easily-made ships, merchant shipbuilding became a low-tech counterexample to the atomic-bomb project and the aerospace industry, yet also a sector which was spectacularly successful. . .

Reconversion spurred the second major restructuring of the American workplace in five years, as returning servicemen flooded back into the workforce and many war workers left, either voluntarily or involuntarily. .

Servicemen obtained numerous other economic benefits beyond their jobs, including educational assistance from the federal government and guaranteed mortgages and small-business loans via the Serviceman's Readjustment Act of 1944 or "G.I. Bill." Former servicemen thus became a vast and advantaged class of citizens which demanded, among other goods, inexpensive, often suburban housing; vocational training and college educations; and private cars which had been unobtainable during the war. . .

The U.S. emerged from the war not physically unscathed, but economically strengthened by wartime industrial expansion, which placed the United States at absolute and relative advantage over both its allies and its enemies.

In brief, as economic historian Alan Milward writes, "the United States emerged in 1945 in an incomparably stronger position economically than in 1941". . .

Will we be able to say something similar four years from now? We might if we shifted automobile production to trains and ecological products just as Walter Reuther got plants to shift to planes or as Budd shifted from building Dodge parts to building railroad cars before World War I. We might if we treated the environmental crisis with the same seriousness was we did WWII. Or if we were willing to use this time to build an exciting, imaginative future rather than just rebuilding freeways we shouldn't really be using anyway.

It clearly happened during the Roosevelt years. In a non-economic sense, it also happened during Lyndon Johnson's Great Society when more good legislation was passed in less time than at any other point in American history.

But it's not happening now, despite all the talk about hope and change, and it won't happen unless we honor innovation, imagination, creativity, reasonable risk and possibility more than we do today - the sort of values that built America until we decided being smart didn't have to include them anymore.

AS BRIBES GO, BLAGOJEVICH IS A PIKER

Other than breaking the law, Rod Blagojevich's two biggest problems are that he's a piker and he's dumb. Over the past couple of years, both John McCain and Barack Obama accepted far larger bribes than the Illinois governor allegedly did, but they did it the smart way: by inference rather than by tapped phone. This is why we find the Congress so speedy in bailing out Wall Street and so indifferent to the fate of auto workers.

The alternative is public campaign financing before an election, rather than after, which is what we have now as politicians pay off their contributors by funding pet projects or granting tax favors. Until we deal with this, we shall continue to get outraged by the Blagojevichs of politics while happily ignoring the vast legal corruption that supports our electoral system.

Sam Smith, US Capitol Rally, 1999 - I have three objections to our current system of campaign financing.

The first is literary. Being a writer I try to show respect for words, to leave their meanings untwisted and unobscured.

This is alien to much of official Washington which daily engages in an activity well described by Edgar Alan Poe. Poe said, "By ringing small changes on the words leg-of-mutton and turnip. . . could 'demonstrate' that a turnip was, is, and of right ought to be, a leg-of-mutton."

For example, for centuries ordinary people have known exactly what a bribe was. The Oxford English Dictionary found it described in 1528 as meaning to "to influence corruptly, by a consideration." Another 16th century definition describes bribery as "a reward given to pervert the judgment or corrupt the conduct" of someone.

In more modern times, the Meat Inspection Act of 1917 prohibits giving "money or other thing of value, with intent to influence" to a government official. Simple and wise.

But that was before the lawyers and the politicians got around to rewriting the meaning of bribery. And so we came to a time not so many months ago when the Supreme Court actually ruled that a law prohibiting the giving of gifts to a public official "for or because of an official act" didn't mean anything unless you knew exactly what the official act was. In other words, bribery was only illegal if the bribee was dumb enough to give you a receipt.

The media has gone along with the scam, virtually dropping the word from its vocabulary in favor of phrases like "inappropriate gift," "the appearance of a conflict of interest," or the phrase which brings us here today: "campaign contribution."

Another example is the remarkable redefinition of money to mean speech. You can test this one out by making a deal with a prostitute and if a cop comes along, simply say, "Officer, I wasn't giving her money, I was just giving her a speech." If that doesn't work you can try giving more of that speech to the cop. Or try telling the IRS next April that "I have the right to remain silent." And so forth. I wouldn't advise it.

As George Orwell rightly warned, "When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink."

My second objection to our system of campaign financing is economic. It's just too damn expensive for the taxpayer. The real cost is not the campaign contributions themselves. The real cost is what is paid in return out of public funds.

A case in point: Public Campaign recently reported that in 1996, when Congress voted to lift the minimum wage 90 cents an hour, business interests extracted $21 billion in custom-designed tax benefits. These business interests gave only about $36 million in campaign contributions so they got out of the public treasury nearly 600 times what they put in. And you helped pay for it.

Looked at another way, that was enough money to give 11 million workers a 90 cent an hour wage increase for a whole year -- or, to be more 1990s about it, to give 21,000 CEOs a million dollar bonus.

This is repeated over and over. For example, the oil industry in one recent year gave $23 million in campaign contributions and got nearly $9 billion in tax breaks.

The bottom line is this: if you want to save public money, support public campaign financing.

My final objection is biologic. Elections are for and between human beings. How do you tell when you're dealing with a person? Well, they bleed, burp, wiggle their toes and have sex. They register for the draft. They register to vote. They watch MTV. They go to prison and they have babies and cancer. Eventually they die and are buried or cremated.

Now this may seem obvious to you, but there are tens of thousands of lawyers and judges and politicians who simply don't believe it. They will tell you that a corporation is a person, based on a corrupt Supreme Court interpretation of the 14th Amendment from back in the robber baron era of the late 19th century -- a time in many ways not unlike our own.

Before this ruling, everyone knew what a person was just as everyone knew what a bribe was. States regulated corporations because they were legal fictions lacking not only blood and bones, but conscience, morality, and free will. But then the leg of mutton became a turnip in the eyes of the law.

Corporations say they just want to be treated like people, but that's not true. Test it out. Try to exercise your free speech on the property of a corporation just like they exercise theirs in your election. You'll find out quickly who is more of a person. We can take care of this biologic problem by applying a simple literary solution: tell the truth. A corporation is not a person and should not be allowed to be called one under the law.

I close with this thought. The people who work in the building behind us have learned to count money ahead of votes. It is time to chase the money changers out of the temple. But how? After all, getting Congress to adopt publicly funded campaigns is like trying to get the Mafia to adopt the Ten Commandments as its mission statement. I would suggest that while fighting this difficult battle there is something we can do starting tomorrow. We can pull together every decent organization and individual in communities all over America -- the churches, activist organizations, social service groups, moral business people, concerned citizens -- and begin drafting a code of conduct for politicians. We do not have to wait for any legislature.

If we do this right, if we form true broad-based coalitions of decency, then the politicians will ignore us only at their peril.

At root, dear friends, our problem is that politicians have come to have more fear of their campaign contributors than they have of the voters. We have to teach politicians to be afraid of us again. And nothing will do it better than a coming together of a righteously outraged and unified constituency demanding an end to bribery of politicians, whether it occurs before, during, or after a campaign.

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ORWELLANDIA TREATS PAPERBOYS AS TERRORISTS

Daily Mail, UK - Cambridgeshire County Council used the controversial [anti-terror] Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to spy on eight paperboys thought to be working without permits. It sent undercover council officers to lurk outside a Spar in the village of Melbourn and take notes on the movements of the boys. The evidence was used in a criminal prosecution of the shop's owners for employing five of the boys without the correct documentation.

Cambridgeshire's approach is just the latest example of local authorities using the RIPA for minor misdemeanours. Such activities have been likened to those of the Stasi, the East German secret police. . .

Andrew Lansley, Tory MP for South Cambridgeshire, agreed, saying: 'These powers should only be used for the scope they were intended, which is to tackle serious crime and terrorism.' But a Cambridgeshire Council spokesman said: 'Delivering heavy bags early in the morning is potentially very hazardous. We do not want to wait until someone has an accident before we start to uphold the law properly.'

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act was supposed to grant only the police and security services the power to spy on emails and phone calls. But it was extended to town halls, which have been taking advantage on a daily basis.

In the last financial year, 154 local authorities made 1,707 requests for communications data under RIPA.

TEXAS BOARD OF ED MEMBER CALLS PUBLIC EDUCATION A 'PERVERSION'

Star Telegram, TX - An Austin watchdog group has called for the removal of State Board of Education member Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond, from the board’s committee that governs what is taught in public schools and which textbooks are adopted. The Texas Freedom Network, a group that opposes religious influence on public education, is reacting to Dunbar’s newly published book, One Nation Under God, which refers to public education as "a subtly deceptive tool of perversion" and calls the establishment of public schools unconstitutional and "tyrannical.". . .

In her book, Dunbar writes that she believes public schools are unconstitutional because they undermine the scriptural authority of families to direct their children’s education. Her own children have been privately educated and home-schooled.

Reached Friday, Dunbar said her book was written for Christian parents who are looking for educational options compatible with their beliefs. The phrase "deceptive tool of perversion" is explained further and in context in the book, she said.

"I also go on at the end of the chapter and say that I do not believe that it would be responsible to dismantle a system that educates more than 80 percent of the children in this country," Dunbar said. "We need to try now to implement the best system of public education that we can."

LOCAL CURRENCY SHOWS UP IN MILWAUKEE

Erika Slife,Chicago Tribune - Residents from the Milwaukee neighborhoods of Riverwest and East Side are scheduled to meet to discuss printing their own money. The idea is that the local cash could be used at neighborhood stores and businesses, thus encouraging local spending. .

"You have all these people who have local currency, and they're going to spend it at local stores," said Sura Faraj, a community organizer who is helping spearhead the plan. "They can't spend it at the Wal-Mart or the Home Depot, but they can spend it at their local hardware store or their local grocery store."

Incentives could be used to entice consumers into using the new money. For example, perhaps they could trade $100 U.S. for $110 local, essentially netting them a 10 percent discount at participating stores.

It's not a new concept-experts estimate there are at least 2,000 local currencies all over the world-but it is a practice that tends to burgeon during economic downturns. During the Great Depression, scores of communities relied on their own currencies.

And it's completely legal. As long as communities don't create coins, or print bills that resemble federal dollars, organizations are free to produce their own greenbacks-and they'd don't even have to be green.

Sam Smith, Shadow of Hope, 1993 - During a recession, the lease for a restaurant in Great Barrington, Mass., expired. The local bank wouldn't lend restaurateur Frank Tortrello money to move across the street. So Frank decided to print his own. He called them Deli Dollars. Each sold for $9 and could be redeemed for $10 worth of food after six months. Not only did the idea provide Frank with enough money to make his move, but it spread throughout the community. A local farm issued notes with the slogan "In Farms We Trust," featuring the head of a cabbage instead of the head of a president. New restaurants followed with their own currency and the local bills started showing up everywhere, including in church collection plates.

Alternative currency has cropped up in Ithaca NY and is being used by 700 individuals and business. In Seattle, some have devised cardboard money. In another town, wooden coins.

Then there’s Daisy Alexander, a retiree from Montclair, New Jersey, and Pepe, a recent immigrant from Havana, Cuba. They both live in a low-income senior housing development section of Miami, Florida. At first glance, Daisy and Pepe seem to have little in common. But they are bound to each other -- in friendship and through the common bonds of a new economic system called time dollars or service credits.

Time dollars, described in the book Time Dollars: A Currency for the 90's by Edgar Cahn and Jonathan Rowe, operate like a blood bank. People help others in their community and get credits in a computer data base that they can draw upon in times of need. Cahn and Rowe describe how time dollars have trans¬formed over 100 communities and how grass-roots groups built the new currency.

Here's how it works for Daisy and Pepe: Daisy volunteers three days a week tutoring first graders at the elementary school across the street from her home. Every week Pepe comes to her house and takes her grocery shopping. An amputee with a cane, Daisy is dependent on Pepe to provide this service for her. But no money changes hands. Daisy simply "cashes in" the time dollars she earns tutoring to "pay" for Pepe's shopping help. In turn Pepe earns time dollars to buy services he needs. But Daisy and Pepe gain in other ways as well. Both are renewed and enthused about the opportunity for helping, and inspired by the social activities that the sense of community has produced.

"The potential benefits of the time dollars concept are limitless. It can touch every life in every community, ranging from an apartment complex to an entire nation, every facility, from a nursing home to a university campus," says au¬thor Cahn. "It fosters a sense of financial independence, camaraderie, community spirit, harmony among age groups, races, religions, in¬come levels, and even political adversaries."

In each of these cases, citizens have come to understand that money is just a way that we translate the value of products and services. Just because one may not have money does not mean there is no value to be exchanged. It is simply a matter of coming up with a way to keep track of it without the services of the Federal Reserve.

Sam Smith, Great American Political Report Manual - Says Barbara Brandt in Whole Life Economics, in the 1860s there were more than ten thousand different kinds of locally issued bank notes in use in the US simultaneously, including that issued by state banks.

After the creation of federal banking during the Civil War and a federal reserve system in the early 1900s, the variety of money in this country contracted. But in the 1930s, when communities found themselves with products, needs, skills and labor but little money, local currencies made a comeback. Writes Brandt:

In numerous communities, local governments, business associations, or charitable groups began to create their own money systems for local use. Local depression money came in many variations: vouchers that could only be traded in specific stores, or for specific items, and printed currencies (often called 'scrip') on paper, cardboard, or even wood, which had to be spent within the community a certain number of times or before a certain date. y 1933, the New York Times reported that one million Americans in three hundred communities were using barter or scrip system to keep their economies going.

In 1983, Michael Linton developed a 'local exchange trading system' on Vancouver Island that created $350,000 worth of trading in its first four years. LETS is as close to a biological organism as an economic system can be. Low administration fees pay for daily operations entirely in green dollars. Federal dollar expenses like telephone and postage come from nominal annual fees. . .

In Ithaca NY, some half million dollars worth of local trade has been added to the economy through Ithaca Hour notes. An Ithaca Hour is based on the average local wage, about $10 an hour. Ithica Hours have been used to buy plumbing, child care, car repair, and eyeglasses. They are accepted at restaurants, movie theatres, bowling alleys, and health clubs. As Paul Glover explained in In Context, "We printed our own money because we watched federal dollars come to town, shake a few hands, then leave to buy rain forest lumber and to fight wars. The local money, on the other hand, stays in our region to help us hire each other."

BIGGEST JUMP IN TRANSIT RIDERSHIP IN 25 YEARS

Boston Globe - The nation's public transportation systems saw the largest quarterly ridership increase in 25 years as more Americans shunned their automobiles even as gas prices began to ease, according to industry figures.
Subways, buses, commuter rail, and light-rail systems saw a 6.5 percent jump in ridership from July to September, according to the Washington-based American Public Transportation Association. During the same quarter, Americans drove 4.6 percent less on the nation's highways. . The Federal Highway Administration has reported 11 consecutive months of decline in driving. Meanwhile, US auto sales in September dropped below 1 million for the first time in 15 years and continued to decline in October and November.

JIM RIDGEWAY LAUNCHES SITE FOR A BETTER GROWING OLD

Longtime alternative journalist Jim Ridgeway has launched a site called Unsilent Generation for "people who don't believe that getting old means getting dumb, getting conservative, getting complacent or getting used to spending your days driving a golf cart to early bird dinner specials.

"It's a site for people who know that old age doesn't have to be a slow shuffle toward the grave, but it also isn't always the glorious adventure that's depicted in 'senior' lifestyle magazines or commercials for retirement investments.

"Unsilent Generation features information and commentary on a variety of issues and subjects-some of which we geezers might care about because they especially affect our lives, and some of which we might care about because we've just lived too long to take any more of this bullshit.

"The inspiration for the name of the site is explained in one of my inaugural posts, No Country Club for Old Men. But Unsilent Generation is not meant for any particular generation: It's for everyone who is old or plans on some day becoming old."

Ridgeway has written for the Village Voice, Ramparts, Mother Jones and The New Republic; and founded and edited two independent newsletters, Hard Times and The Element. He is also the author of 16 books.

WHY ROTE LEARNING DOESN 'T WORK ANY MORE

Times UK - Memorizing facts and figures is a waste of time for most schoolchildren because such information is readily available a mere mouse click away, a leading commentator has said.

The existence of Google, Wikipedia and online libraries means that there is no useful place in school for old-fashioned rote learning, according to Don Tapscott, author of the bestselling book Wikinomics and a champion of the "net generation".

A far better approach would be to teach children to think creatively so that they could learn to interpret and apply the knowledge available online. "Teachers are no longer the fountain of knowledge; the internet is," Tapscott said. "Kids should learn about history to understand the world and why things are the way they are. But they don't need to know all the dates. It is enough that they know about the Battle of Hastings, without having to memorise that it was in 1066. They can look that up and position it in history with a click on Google," he said.

Tapscott denies that his approach is anti-learning. He argues that the ability to learn new things is more important than ever "in a world where you have to process new information at lightning speed". He said: "Children are going to have to reinvent their knowledge base multiple times. So for them memorizing facts and figures is a waste of time."

Tapscott . . . bases his observations in his latest book, Grown Up Digital, on a study of nearly 8,000 people in 12 countries born between 1978 and 1994. . .

Schools are increasingly moving towards more independent study and so-called enrichment activities, with pupils learning at their own pace and focusing on what interests them most. At Wellington College in Berkshire, for example, teenagers are not taught from the front of the class, but instead sit around a large oval table for seminar-style discussions.

Tapscott believes that the model of education that prevails today in most classrooms was designed for the industrial age. "This might have been good for the mass production economy, but it doesn't deliver for the challenges of the digital economy, or for the 'net gen' mind," he said.

He suggests that the brains of young people today work differently from those of their parents. He argues that digital immersion, in which children may be texting while surfing the internet and listening to their MP3 player, can help them to develop critical thinking skills.

OBAMA OWES CARTER AN APOLOGY

Ralph Nader - Now that the season of electoral expediency is over, Barack Obama owes Jimmy Carter an apology. At the Democratic National Convention in Denver, the Party denied Jimmy Carter the traditional invitation to speak that is accorded its former presidents. According to The Jewish Daily Forward, "Carter's controversial views on Israel cost him a place on the podium at the Democratic Party convention in late August, senior Democratic operatives acknowledged to the Forward."

Silencing Carter, who negotiated the Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement, involved behind the scenes tensions between supporters of the hard-line AIPAC lobby and those Democrats who argued both respect and free speech to let Carter join Bill Clinton on the stage and address a nationwide audience.

First, there was a compromise offer to let Carter speak but only on domestic policy subjects. This would have kept him from mentioning his views on securing peace between the Israelis and Palestinians through a two-state solution essentially back to the 1967 borders. He previously elaborated his analysis and recommendations in his 2006 bestseller titled Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid..

Even this astonishing restriction on the former president was unacceptable to the dictatorial censors. They wanted nothing from the deliberate, candid Georgian short of complete exclusion.

It is false to attribute this shutdown to the opinions of American Jews, a majority of whom polls show support a two-state solution and disagree on other issues with the AIPAC lobby. . .

The Convention planners, with the full knowledge and approval of their candidate, Barack Obama, arranged to have a short video on Carter's work during the post-Katrina crisis followed by a walk across the stage by Carter and his wife Rosalynn to applause.
Carter's opponents did not hide their efforts to keep him from speaking. They spoke openly to the media. They disliked Carter's recognition of Palestinian suffering under the Israeli government's military and colonial occupation, the blockades, the violations of UN Resolutions and international law. He championed the work of the Israeli and Palestinian peace movements who together have worked out a detailed two-state accord that is supported by a majority of their respective peoples.

Little of what Carter wrote and spoke about has not been said by many prominent Israelis, leading newspapers and columnists for years. Hundreds of Israeli reservists, called refuseniks, have declined to fight in the West Bank or Gaza, though they will defend Israel's borders to the utmost.

Clearly, there is more freedom to speak about injustice against Palestinians and be critical of government policy in the Knesset and in the Israeli media than there is in the Congress or at American political conventions. It is a shame of the Democratic Party and its new leader that they forgot about civil liberties for differing viewpoints and covered it up for unknowing television viewers with the video scam.

Jimmy Carter knew fully what the party did to him. But he played the loyal Democrat as a good sport and avoided a ruckus without even a public grumble. Privately, however, he and Rosalynn were very upset, believing that political pandering prevents the United States from playing a key role in peace-making between the powerful Israelis and their Palestinian neighbors.

In a March 2008 poll by the respected Haaretz newspaper, sixty-four percent of Israelis supported "direct negotiations with Hamas"-the elected government of Gaza that now accepts a two-state solution back to the 1967 borders.

Jimmy Carter-the early peacemaker between Israel and Egypt (for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize)-has remained the most steadfast, prominent American friend that the Israeli and Palestinian peoples have in securing a stable peace in that region. The new President Obama should welcome Mr. Carter's wise and seasoned counsel.

OBAMA AND CASTRO ON LATIN AMERICA

Barack Obama, Miami, May 23 2008 - Since the Bush Administration launched a misguided war in Iraq, its policy in the Americas has been negligent toward our friends, ineffective with our adversaries, disinterested in the challenges that matter in peoples' lives, and incapable of advancing our interests in the region.

No wonder, then, that demagogues like Hugo Chavez have stepped into this vacuum. His predictable yet perilous mix of anti-American rhetoric, authoritarian government, and checkbook diplomacy offers the same false promise as the tried and failed ideologies of the past. But the United States is so alienated from the rest of the Americas that this stale vision has gone unchallenged, and has even made inroads from Bolivia to Nicaragua. And Chavez and his allies are not the only ones filling the vacuum. While the United States fails to address the changing realities in the Americas, others from Europe and Asia - notably China - have stepped up their own engagement. Iran has drawn closer to Venezuela, and just the other day Tehran and Caracas launched a joint bank with their windfall oil profits. . .

It's time for a new alliance of the Americas. After eight years of the failed policies of the past, we need new leadership for the future. After decades pressing for top-down reform, we need an agenda that advances democracy, security, and opportunity from the bottom up. So my policy towards the Americas will be guided by the simple principle that what's good for the people of the Americas is good for the United States. . .

My policy toward Cuba will be guided by one word: Libertad. And the road to freedom for all Cubans must begin with justice for Cuba's political prisoners, the rights of free speech, a free press and freedom of assembly; and it must lead to elections that are free and fair. . .

I will never, ever, compromise the cause of liberty. And unlike John McCain, I would never, ever, rule out a course of action that could advance the cause of liberty. . .
I will maintain the embargo. It provides us with the leverage to present the regime with a clear choice: if you take significant steps toward democracy, beginning with the freeing of all political prisoners, we will take steps to begin normalizing relations. That's the way to bring about real change in Cuba - through strong, smart and principled diplomacy.

Fidel Castro, Dec 2, 2008 - Following Obama's speech, on May 23 this year, to the Cuban American National Foundation established by Ronald Reagan, I wrote a reflection entitled "The Empire's Hypocritical Policy."

[I] offered several arguments and unethical examples of the general behavior of the Presidents who preceded the one who would be elected to that position on the November 4 elections. I literally wrote:

"I find myself forced to raise various sensitive questions:

1. Is it right for the President of the United States to order the assassination of any one person in the world, whatever the pretext may be?

2. Is it ethical for the President of the United States to order the torture of other human beings?

3. Should state terrorism be used by a country as powerful as the United States as an instrument to bring about peace on the planet?

4. Is an Adjustment Act, applied as punishment on only one country, Cuba, in order to destabilize it, good and honorable, even when it costs innocent children and mothers their lives? If it is good, why is this right not automatically granted to Haitians, Dominicans, and other peoples of the Caribbean, and why isn't the same Act applied to Mexicans and people from Central and South America, who die like flies against the Mexican border wall or in the waters of the Atlantic and the Pacific?

5. Can the United States do without immigrants, who grow vegetables, fruits, almonds and other delicacies for Americans? Who would sweep their streets, work as servants in their homes or do the worst and lowest-paid jobs?

6. Are crackdowns on illegal residents fair, even as they affect children born in the United States?

7. Are the brain-drain and the continuous theft of the best scientific and intellectual minds in poor countries moral and justifiable?

8. You state, as I pointed out at the beginning of this reflection, that your country had long ago warned European powers that it would not tolerate any intervention in the hemisphere, reiterating that this right be respected while demanding the right to intervene anywhere in the world with the aid of hundreds of military bases and naval, aerial and spatial forces distributed across the planet. I ask: is that the way in which the United States expresses its respect for freedom, democracy and human rights?

9. Is it fair to stage pre-emptive attacks on sixty or more dark corners of the world, as Bush calls them, whatever the pretext may be?

10. Is it honorable and sound to invest millions upon millions of dollars in the military industrial complex, to produce weapons that can destroy life on earth several times over?"

I could have included several other issues. Despite the caustic questions, I was not unkind to the African American candidate. I perceived he had greater capacity and command of the art of politics than his adversaries, not only in the opposing party but in his own, too. . .

Obama is somebody we can talk to anywhere he wishes since we do not preach violence or war. He should be reminded, though, that the stick and carrot doctrine will have no place in our country. . .

RARE PROGRESSIVE SHOWS UP AS CHIEF ECONOMIC ADVISOR. . . .TO JOE BIDEN

Michael D. Shear, Washington Post - Jared Bernstein, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, will serve as the chief economic adviser to Vice President Joseph Biden, providing a strong advocate for workers in the White House.

Biden announced the appointment, calling Bernstein "an acclaimed economist, and a proven, passionate advocate for raising the incomes of middle class families." . . .

Bernstein is a well-known skeptic on free trade and has worked for years as a senior official at EPI, a labor-funded think tank which advocates for low and middle-income workers. On its website, the group writes that "The story of international trade for the American economy is not win-win, but rather good news, bad news. The good news is that some Americans will reap large rewards, and these rewards will actually be so large as to raise the average income of the entire American economy."

Berstein's appointment contrasts sharply with the more centrist views of many of president-elect Barack Obama's economic advisers.

HEALTHCARE BEAT

Marie Cocco, Washington Post - With employers quickly shedding workers, is there any doubt that more health benefit cuts are coming for those lucky enough to keep their jobs? And when recovery comes, does anyone think American business is going to abandon its argument that health costs represent a competitive disadvantage in the global marketplace? They won't, because it's accurate. And that's largely because other countries have universal, taxpayer-funded health care systems.

These are the immutable truths of the health care conundrum. They haven't changed much in two decades. Costs are driven inexorably higher by continual advances in care as well as an aging population that needs more of it. Employers can't cope unless they scale back coverage, shift costs to workers or eliminate benefits altogether. States have become insurers of last resort -- but right now they face crippling budget shortfalls that threaten this safety net.

Using this compromised system as the basis for health insurance revision is folly -- more so now than it was in the Clinton era, when more employers still were covering their workers. Tightening regulation of the insurance industry and creating a new, government-based plan to make coverage available to those who cannot afford to buy it from private insurers -- the essence of Obama's campaign proposal -- would only add another layer of complexity and, eventually, cost. Only a single, government-financed system can eliminate the administrative waste, unfairness and economic burden of our current health insurance scheme. Timidity is no longer an option.

FREE MARKET FREE FALL

Phil Mattera, Dirt Diggers Digest - It was only about week ago that the Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve and the FDIC rushed to put together an emergency rescue package for Citigroup consisting of a $20 billion capital infusion and protection against up to $306 billion in losses on the financial giant's portfolio of mortgage-backed securities. This was in addition to an earlier $25 billion investment in Citi as part of the effort to prop up the country's largest banks.

Now comes the news that an arm of Citigroup agreed to pay $10 billion to buy a Spanish toll road operator . . . Funny, I don't recall Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson mentioning that the taxpayers were bailing out Citi so that it could speculate in the foreign infrastructure privatization market.

This caused me to wonder what else major financial institutions have been doing with their federal infusions other than expanding credit for U.S. consumers and businesses. . . To answer this question I started with the tally of bailout recipients maintained by Pro Publica and searched for recent announcements by those companies. I found, for example:

- Bank of America ($25 billion received) gave notice of its plan to exercise the remainder of its option to purchase shares in China Construction Bank Corporation from China SAFE Investments Limited (Huijin). The purchase will increase B of A's holdings in CCB from 10.8 percent to 19.1 percent. The cost was not reported.

- JP Morgan Chase ($25 billion) announced an enhancement of its cash management and trade services in India, which represented part of a $1 billion plan to expand the bank's worldwide cash management and treasury business.

- Bank of New York Mellon ($3 billion) announced that it had received a license to initiate banking operations in Mexico.

Under normal circumstances, such announcements would merit no comment. But at a time when these institutions are receiving massive amounts of taxpayer funds, they take on a new significance. While the infusions of federal money were designed to expand the flow of credit in the United States, banks are using some of the funds to expand their foreign operations and investments. They are taking our money and running overseas.

Reuters - California is on track to run out of cash in February or March and faces a $15 billion cash shortage by the end of its fiscal year in June unless officials plug an $11.2 billion budget gap, according to the state's budget director. Additionally, if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and lawmakers fail to close the current fiscal year's budget shortfall soon, California, the most populous U.S. state, may in March delay payments to its vendors or hand them notes promising payment, according to a December 1 letter to top lawmakers from the director of the Department of Finance, Michael Genest.

Sharona Coutts, Pro Publica - The Internal Revenue Service is debating how best to collect potentially billions of dollars in unpaid taxes that wealthy Americans have squirreled away in offshore bank accounts, according to the New York Times. One of the options being discussed is a "global settlement," which provides a kind of amnesty. The Times describes it as "a take-it-or-leave-it deal that allows clients to settle their tax debts in exchange for reduced penalties and possibly reduced tax payments." The debate comes as the Justice Department investigates several top-tier banks for providing the private tax shelters for their clients. If prosecuted, those clients could face steep fines - sometimes worth much more than what's left in their offshore accounts - and other penalties, including jail. . . The Justice Department is investigating banks UBS, Credit Suisse and HSBC. There is a separate investigation involving Deutsche Bank, which got wrapped up in a tax shelter scheme orchestrated by a then-employee of Bank One, which was later acquired by JP Morgan Chase. That scheme was called Homer and is estimated to have cost taxpayers about $100 million.

CNN - A record 1.35 million homes were in foreclosure in the third quarter, driving the foreclosure rate up to 3%, the Mortgage Bankers Association said. That's a 76% increase from a year ago, according to the group's National Delinquency Survey. At the same time, the number of homeowners falling behind on their mortgages rose to a record 7%, up from 6% a year ago, the association said.
This means that one in 10 borrowers in America are either delinquent or in foreclosure.

Financial Times - Chinese bargain hunters are preparing to descend on American cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, where homeowners have suffered some of the steepest price falls in the US. Sou Fun, the biggest real estate website in China, is organizing a trip next month to look at properties in California and possibly Nevada. Liu Jian, the company's chief operating officer, said about 300 people had expressed interest in the idea in the three days since it was advertised, though the company would take only a small group on the first trip. . . . "Given the problems in the Chinese market now, many people have been asking us about taking a look at overseas markets, especially the US," he said.
. . "The US market absolutely terrifies me," said one Shanghai-based real estate executive. "However, there are plenty of people here who think this a great time for bottom-fishing."

Michael Lewis, Portfolio - To this day, the willingness of a Wall Street investment bank to pay me hundreds of thousands of dollars to dispense investment advice to grownups remains a mystery to me. I was 24 years old, with no experience of, or particular interest in, guessing which stocks and bonds would rise and which would fall. The essential function of Wall Street is to allocate capital-to decide who should get it and who should not. Believe me when I tell you that I hadn't the first clue.

I stumbled into a job at Salomon Brothers in 1985 and stumbled out much richer three years later, and even though I wrote a book about the experience, the whole thing still strikes me as preposterous-which is one of the reasons the money was so easy to walk away from. I figured the situation was unsustainable. Sooner rather than later, someone was going to identify me, along with a lot of people more or less like me, as a fraud. Sooner rather than later, there would come a great reckoning when Wall Street would wake up and hundreds if not thousands of young people like me, who had no business making huge bets with other people's money, would be expelled from finance.

When I sat down to write my account of the experience in 1989-Liar's Poker, it was called-it was in the spirit of a young man who thought he was getting out while the getting was good. I was merely scribbling down a message on my way out and stuffing it into a bottle for those who would pass through these parts in the far distant future. . .

I thought I was writing a period piece about the 1980s in America. Not for a moment did I suspect that the financial 1980s would last two full decades longer or that the difference in degree between Wall Street and ordinary life would swell into a difference in kind. I expected readers of the future to be outraged that back in 1986, the C.E.O. of Salomon Brothers, John Gutfreund, was paid $3.1 million; I expected them to gape in horror when I reported that one of our traders, Howie Rubin, had moved to Merrill Lynch, where he lost $250 million; I assumed they'd be shocked to learn that a Wall Street C.E.O. had only the vaguest idea of the risks his traders were running. What I didn't expect was that any future reader would look on my experience and say, "How quaint.". .

Agence France Presse - The hedge fund dealers partied at a New York nightclub like there was no tomorrow -- which for some was probably true.
Swilling martinis and vodkas, they filled Manhattan's white, tent-themed Nikki Beach to bursting. Waiters, trays of tapas held high in the air, became stranded, wedged into crowds swaying to music under pink lights.

About 650 guests attended the event late Wednesday, a third more than organizers expected. . . The evening was billed as a networking session. Sometimes that meant angling for a particularly special deal.

"A lot of people are looking for a job," said Nicole Alexander from Ovation Group, a corporate travel company. "There is no stigma now because so many people have lost jobs," she said. "The joke is that the new status symbol, instead of a Porsche or Ferrari, is having health insurance and a desk."

Job losses across Wall Street are forecast by New York state accountants to hit 48,000 by the end of next year. . .

A new study by Morgan Stanley predicts assets under hedge fund management globally will drop to 900 billion dollars by the end of 2009, half the peak valuation earlier this year.

JOB LOSS WORST SINCE 1974

RETAIL SALES WEAKEST IN 5 YEARS

BREVITAS

OBAMALAND

Political Wire - In a forthcoming interview, DNC Chairman Howard Dean noted that Rep. Rahm Emanuel wasn't an early fan of his 50-state strategy, which helped put Barack Obama in the White House. When asked if he felt vindicated, Dean said, "Rahm ended up as chief of staff to Barack Obama, so I don't feel too vindicated." He added, "I might have been right but I'd rather be chief of staff."

OUTLYING PRECINCTS

Politico - Chris Matthews is dead serious about running for the Senate in Pennsylvania - and is shopping for a house in the state and privately discussing quitting MSNBC as proof of his intense interest, according to NBC colleagues, political operatives and friends. Even so, some NBC insiders think it's all simply a negotiating ploy to jack up his contract. . . Over Thanksgiving weekend, at his vacation house in Nantucket, Matthews' family members gave him their full backing. As speculation surrounding his potential candidacy heats up, Matthews has also been asking advisers whether to step down from his MSNBC post well before his contract expires in June. At one recent meeting, he was advised that if he truly intends to run, he should resign from the network as soon as possible.

David Sirota, Open Left - Having grown up outside of Philadelphia, I just want to say I really hope Chris Matthews runs for the U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, and is humiliatingly obliterated in a Democratic primary (preferably by a good progressive like, for instance, former Rep. Joe Hoeffel). The sense of entitlement that this blowhard personifies is truly stunning. He's spent his entire life as a principle-free political gossip in Washington - a human embodiment of all that is sick and wrong with Beltway culture. And yet, he really thinks he can just parachute into one of the largest states in the country, buy a mansion in Philadelphia and be a senator on sheer celebrity alone. Maybe he can - maybe politics is now so devoid of meaning that this is just the way it is. But I really hope not.

Political Wire - A new Rasmussen survey shows Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) "is potentially vulnerable" in his 2010 bid for re-election. In a much-rumored match up, Specter leads talk show Chris Matthews (D) by just three points, 46% to 43%.

Politico - A close John McCain ally charged that Barack Obama had followed Richard Nixon's 1972 path to victory - drowning his opponent with cash - and asserted Obama was never held to account for breaking a promise to participate in a system that would have limited his campaign's historic spending. "If the roles were reversed and it was the Republican Party nominee who had decided to walk away from the system and spend hundreds of millions of dollars more than the Democratic nominee - having a very direct effect on the election - I do not think it would have been taken with as much equanimity by the press and the powers that be as has been the case this year," said Trevor Potter, a McCain confidant who served as the top lawyer to the Republican presidential candidate's campaign.

JUSTICE & FREEDOM

Phil Leggiere, Don't Tase Me Bro - University disciplines student leader for sending out mass protest e-mail to faculty members. Its rationale: School's bulk email rules characterize any emailing to more than 30 people as "unauthorized spam". The student, Kara Spencer and a host of student groups on campus, along with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, are protesting the policy as an infringement by a state university of free political speech.

CULTURE

Live Science -
According to a study published in the journal Psychological Science. . . researchers compared responses from teens in 1975 and 2006, asking questions about their qualities and abilities. The study found that today's kids consider themselves to be far more intelligent and capable than their 1970s counterparts, and more likely to report being "completely satisfied" with themselves. . . The new study confirms polls and surveys that find most Americans generally happy with themselves. In one of the largest surveys ever taken of American youth, a 1998 poll surveyed more than a quarter of a million grade-school students; 93 percent of teens said they feel good about themselves.

ECO CLIPS

Canwest News Service - Toronto City Council voted to ban the sale of plastic water bottles on all municipal premises from City Hall to golf courses by 2011.
Stuart Green, spokesman for Toronto Mayor David Miller, said the plastic-water-bottle ban, along with other measures, is all part of the city's plan to divert 70 per cent of Toronto's waste from the dump by 2010. He added in conjunction with the plastic-water-bottle ban on municipal premises the city would upgrade drinking fountains to ensure Torontonians access to clean as safe drinking water.

MEDIA

Media Matters - On the December 3 edition of CNN's Situation Room, host Wolf Blitzer falsely claimed that an autoworker who belongs to the United Auto Workers "makes $73 an hour, on average, when you factor in all the benefits, compared to $48 an hour for nonunion autoworkers here in the United States." In fact, according to General Motors, the figure representing the hourly cost of labor to U.S. automakers -- a cost that GM puts at $69 -- includes not only current workers' hourly wages and benefits, such as health care and retirement, but also retirement and health-care benefits that U.S. automakers are providing for retirees.

Editor & Publisher - Less than three months after launching its content-sharing network, Politico has signed up more than 100 clients, including 67 newspapers. . . Word of Politico's success comes as The Associated Press is facing some unhappy newspaper members who have given notice to not renew their contracts due to a new rate structure and other complaints. CNN, meanwhile, is meeting with 30 newspaper editors in Atlanta to promote its own new wire service, CNN Wire. Politico Network makes the political news Web site's content available in exchange for advertising placement.

MOVING?

The nifty site, Optimal Home Location, allows you to compare your commutes from a number of alternative locations, compare town demographics (real estate taxes, % of homes with kids), map neighborhood attractions (schools, supermarkets, libraries, Starbucks, churches and temples), find walkable neighborhoods and smaller carbon footprint. And then print a report to discuss with family and friends.

RULES OF THUMB

Finding something small you've dropped Drop something off a similar size, weight and shape from the same place while watching carefully with good light. This will help you estimate how far the object will have bounced/rolled.

FURTHERMORE. . .

Richmond-Twickenham Times, UK - A highly respected literary and academic figure failed to attend a talk he was due to give for a literature festival, after getting confused over the date. Professor of philosophy Anthony Grayling, of Birkbeck College, University of London, had arranged to speak about his latest book, The Choice of Hercules. His talk was part of Richmond's 17th annual literature festival. The book reflects on the challenges of duty versus pleasure. Anna Lombardo, of Mount Ararat Road, Richmond, who was part of the crowd gathered for the event, said: "I was left in some doubt over Professor Grayling's position on the matter, after he failed to show up."

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