Monday, November 30, 2009

Boom Times: Wall St. Luxury Spending Rises. So Does Food Stamp Use! from Crooks and Liars

 by Susie Madrak


From the New York Times, we find out just how many Americans now qualify for food assistance:

MARTINSVILLE, Ohio — With food stamp use at record highs and climbing every month, a program once scorned as a failed welfare scheme now helps feed one in eight Americans and one in four children.

With millions of jobs lost and major industries on the ropes, America's array of government aid — including unemployment insurance, food stamps and cash welfare — is being tested as never before. This series examines how the safety net is holding up under the worst economic crisis in decades.

It has grown so rapidly in places so diverse that it is becoming nearly as ordinary as the groceries it buys. More than 36 million people use inconspicuous plastic cards for staples like milk, bread and cheese, swiping them at counters in blighted cities and in suburbs pocked with foreclosure signs.

Virtually all have incomes near or below the federal poverty line, but their eclectic ranks testify to the range of people struggling with basic needs. They include single mothers and married couples, the newly jobless and the chronically poor, longtime recipients of welfare checks and workers whose reduced hours or slender wages leave pantries bare.

But look, not everyone's doing poorly. In fact, the Masters of the Universe are back to their old free-spending ways, thanks to the massive government bailout funded by our tax dollars:


Conspicuous consumption is making a comeback on Wall Street. But no one wants to admit they're doing it.As traders and investment bankers near the finish line of what looks like a boom year for pay, some are spending money like the financial crisis never happened. From $15,000-a-week Caribbean getaways to art auctions to $200,000 platinum wristwatches that automatically adjust for leap years, signs of the good life are returning.

"What we're seeing in the last four to eight weeks is a fairly substantial uptick" in demand for extravagant purchases as Wall Street employees grow more confident that the market's steep rebound so far in 2009 will soon bring them fat bonuses, says David Arnold, senior vice president at Robb Report, a magazine targeted at the super-wealthy.

Isn't that heartwarming? We can be glad that someone's doing well, even if it's at our expense!

The Devastating Consequences of a Corporate Health Care Bill from

- Impeach Bush and Cheney Now!

The Devastating Consequences of a Corporate Health Care Bill
By Shamus Cooke | Op Ed News

Wading through the endless debate over health care has exhausted the patience of most Americans — the zigzags, obscure language, and long-winded discussion is inherently repulsive.

But now the dust is starting to settle, and the Congressional vision for health care in the U.S. is emerging. Instead of being "progressive," it will amount to a massive, corporate-inspired attack on American workers, the elderly, and the poor.

After months of confusion and delay, Congress has shipwrecked the popular energy over health care onto the jagged rock of corporate interests. More spectacularly, health care "reform" is being used as an opportunity to greatly advance corporate influence over social spheres long-dedicated to the working-class — seemingly harmless provisions carry with them enormous implications.

These devils hide in the details of the competing health care bills in Congress; both contain debilitating right-wing policies hidden within a progressive shell. Obama is indeed acting as the agent of change, to the great benefit of the U.S. corporate elite.

And although the final bill has yet to be crafted, there exists general agreements as to what the end version will look like. Americans will be forced to buy shoddy corporate insurance with no limit to the cost, no guarantee of quality, with large premiums and other tricks to further gouge consumers. If a public option emerges in the final bill — by no means a guarantee — it will be shrunken enough to insure very few people (2 percent of the U.S. population).

But it gets worse. How this health care "reform" will be paid for has implications that dwarf the above atrocities.

For example, the Democrats were determined to pass a health care bill that "will not add one cent to the deficit." And they have succeeded: the House and Senate health care bills both plan to reduce the deficit by over $100 billion. But a second-grader could do the math here: more service does not equal less cost — a truism that dominates the for-profit health care industry.

So how does the government plan to save billions of dollars as they "help" millions of people?

The two biggest cost saving schemes are the most damaging. The first is the enormous attack on Medicare. Since its inception, the corporate elite wanted this program struck down. Now they have their man for the job — a Republican could never get away with such obvious treachery. Read more.

Capital Eye's PolitiQuizz: Who are the Biggest of Big Oil Lobbyists? from Capital Eye


oildrum.jpgThis week's PolitiQuizz focuses on the energy industry, particularly because Congress is considering taking up climate change legislation in the coming weeks or months:

ExxonMobil spent more money in 2008 on federal lobbying efforts -- $29 million -- than any other oil/gas-related company or special interest group. In three guesses, name three of the next four top lobbying spenders last year from the oil and gas industry. 

The first person to correctly respond in this blog post's comments section will win a free copy of The Blue Pages: Second Edition, the new book for which the Center for Responsive Politics provides data and analysis. Answers will be accepted until 5 p.m. Friday. Results will be posted as part of next Monday's PolitiQuizz. (Make sure to provide your e-mail address so we may contact you if you win!)

And with that, the answers to last week's question, which was: "There are 11 nations this year that have not recorded a single visit to the Center for Responsive Politics' Capital Eye blog. Correctly name two of them in only two guesses."

We received a number of excellent answers, but only one that provided two correct countries. The answers just so happened to belong to our first respondent, JohnJ, who correctly guessed Somalia and North Korea. Congratulations, JohnJ -- you'll receive a free copy of The Blue Pages: Second Edition.

And in case you're wondering what other countries haven't yet recorded a single visit to the Capital Eye blog, here they are: North Korea, Somalia, Angola, Chad, Paraguay, Western Sahara, Mauritania, Turkmenistan, Serbia and Montenegro, Liberia and Guinea.

ACLU: Obama’s reversal on Patriot Act reform ‘a major travesty’ from Raw Story Breaking News


patriotactprotest ACLU: Obamas reversal on Patriot Act reform a major travesty

Key components in the USA Patriot Act are set to expire at the end of the year, but President Barack Obama is seeking to extend them, reversing his stark opposition in the past to the same provisions.

"The president's reversal on Patriot Act reform is a major travesty," said Michelle Richardson, Legislative Counsel for the leading civil rights group ACLU, in an interview with Raw Story. "There have been many, many abuses of power in the last four years."

These three main aspects in question allow the government to acquire private information about civilians through warrantless wiretapping of phone calls and emails, as well as seizure of records from credit reporting companies, banks, internet service providers and libraries. Another component includes the loosening of conditions under which an individual can be accused of providing "material support" to terrorists.

In 2005, then-Senator Obama pledged to filibuster a Bush-sponsored bill that included several of these exact components, calling it "just plain wrong" in a Senate speech.

Story continues below...

"Government has decided to go on a fishing expedition through every personal record or private document -- through library books they've read and phone calls they've made," he declared, adding: "We don't have to settle for a Patriot Act that sacrifices our liberties or our safety -- we can have one that secures both."

ABC News reports that "Four years ago, then Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., who taught constitutional law, voted down the same provisions along with all Senate Democrats who insisted on changes to the bill that better protected libraries, limited clandestine search warrants, roving wiretaps, and FBI gag orders."

"This was the most opportune time for the surveillance authorities to reverse course," Richardson told Raw Story. "If these programs continue, more abuses of power are absolutely inevitable -- there's no way around it. The level of secrecy granted by Congress is very troubling."

Obama has championed the continuation of all three provisions until at least 2013, a wish that has been granted by the Senate Judiciary Committee and two-thirds fulfilled by the House counterpart. (The House version slaps greater oversight and restrictions on acquiring personal records of non-US citizens.) While he has always been resolutely opposed to former President George W. Bush's vision of the Act, he has defended certain parts of it, and voted in 2006 to re-authorize an altered version.

"Overall, the Obama administration has made marginal improvements but is largely a continuation of the Bush administration with respect to civil liberties," Richardson told Raw Story, referring to the president's rising acquiescence to his predecessor's approach.

The Patriot Act, initially pushed through Congress quickly after 9/11 by the Bush administration as an alleged necessity to combat future attacks, has long been fiercely criticized by the ACLU and other civil libertarians as a gross violation of privacy rights under the Constitution.

Salon's Glenn Greenwald, a former civil rights litigator, recently wrote: "Democrats spent so many years screaming bloody murder over Bush's use of indefinite detention, military commissions, state secrets, renditions, and extreme secrecy -- policies Obama has largely and/or completely adopted as his own."

Dutch Scientists Grow First Pork Meat In Lab from Popular Science -

by Paul Adams

A Dutch project that launched in 2005 has finally borne fruit: cells from a delicious pig have been cultured in the laboratory to grow the first successful filet of in vitro pork, The Times reports.

The prospect of vat-grown meat has been the stuff of science fiction for quite a while, and the subject of serious study for over a decade. A number of groups, including odd bedfellows NASA and PETA, see it as the answer to feeding a hungry world, without all the unpleasant externalities of large-scale meat production. And many vegetarians say they would not have an ethical dilemma eating meat if no animal was killed to produce it.

The team at Holland's Eindhoven University extracted muscle cells from a living pig and incubated them in an appetizing nutrient broth "derived from the blood products of animal foetuses," according to The Times. Future lab meat will be grown in a synthetic medium instead.

An actual lab-grown pork chop is still a ways away, though. Meat suitable for the plate has to be more than a simple petri-dish-grown wad of muscle tissue. Without blood flow, bones, connective tissue, and a modest amount of exercise, the flavor and texture of the muscle will be far from palatable. The culture achieved by the Dutch scientists is reportedly a "soggy form of pork" that its creators have not yet ventured to taste.

For now, though, before the technology for a beautiful synthetic steak has been perfected, lab-grown meat may still be suitable for feeding to other animals, where its impact on environmental and economic issues would still be beneficial. At present, for instance, 25 percent of the world's fish catch is fed back to farmed fish each year, a ratio that's hugely detrimental to the sustainability of the seafood industry.

The lab-grown meat might be edible as a component of sausage as well; and indeed one of the primary funding sources of the Dutch study is Stegeman, a sausage manufacturer owned by Sara Lee.

Barack Obama: Manchurian Candidate Version 2.0 from TPR: The Public Record | In-Depth, Incisive, Independent Reporting


barack-obama-1I once wrote an article about former President George W. Bush saying that he was a perfect Manchurian candidate. That is, if his missing year when he was supposed to have been flying fighter jets with the Texas Air National Guard was actually spent in the former Soviet Union being reprogrammed as a covert KGB agent whose job it was to go back to America, win election to the White House, and proceed to destroy the US, he couldn't have done a better job than he actually did.

Now I wonder whether President Obama might not be a perfect Manchurian Candidate of the Republican Party, or perhaps of some nefarious foreign entity—perhaps the China or the always-enigmatic Al Qaeda. How else to explain policies that have wreaked such destruction on the Democratic Party in Washington and on the nation at large.

Consider for a moment the history of this new president in whom so many invested so much hope and enthusiasm:

Almost immediately upon taking office President Obama announced that he was appointing Timothy Geithner, part of the Bush/Cheney financial team, to head up his Treasury Department. This is the same Timothy Geithner who, as head of the New York Federal Reserve, engineered the initial give-away of $85 billion to AIG, and the subsequent pass-through of tens of billions of dollars to a handful of the nation's largest banks and investment banks—surely the largest theft of public assets by private billionaires in the history of mankind.

Obama went on to name a whole gang of Wall Street crooks to run his economic policy, assuring that the recession would be not an opportunity to restore long neglected and undermined New Deal programs, but rather to crush workers and the middle class while shifting staggering sums to the wealthy.

This was followed by a deliberate policy of dropping the ball on health reform, which a vast majority of Americans was clamoring for, and allowing it to be turned into a giant wet kiss for the insurance industry, whose stocks have leapt up with each advance of the massive and massively corrupt health "reform" legislation in Congress. (The ball drop took the form of Obama simply leaving the whole task of "reforming" health care up to the Congress, staying on the sidelines while Congress blew the job.)

Then there is the military. Here Obama kicked things off by insuring that there would be no real change from the Bush/Cheney imperialist scheme by reappointing to the post of secretary of defense the same guy, Robert Gates, who was secretary of defense under President Bush. He put the general formerly in charge of the Iraq War, David Petraeus, in charge of overall Middle East military operations, and took another Bush-era general, Stanley McCrystal, who had run special ops in Iraq, in charge of the Afghanistan War. And since then he has proceeded to ramp up the Afghanistan War from a small-scale operation to a full-fledged war, with no prospect of ending it, and every sign pointing to an ever wider and bigger war in that region, possibly sucking in Pakistan and Iran.

And as for the biggest crisis facing mankind, climate change, this new president, who because of the collapse of the US auto industry had a unique opportunity to compel one of the industries most responsible for the looming global ecological catastrophe to start to fix it by beginning a massive conversion to development and production of electric vehicles and mass transit, instead dropped the ball and just provided a taxpayer bailout with the goal of getting the domestic auto industry back into the business of cranking out gas guzzlers. The president has provided no leadership on climate change at all, effectively sabotaging the global effort to reach a new treaty to limit and cut back on greenhouse gas emissions this December.

Think about this. If the Republicans had created and inserted into the Democratic Party a secret candidate designed to trick Democrats into electing him, so that he could then enact Republican policies of robbing from the poor to enrich the rich, expanding the military budget to a level not seen since World War II, putting the nation deeper into a global war against Islam, sabotaging efforts to combat climate change, and further deregulating the financial sector, could they have come up with anything better than Barack Obama?

If Al Qaeda had wanted to insinuate someone into the White House to further undermine American empire, already on shaky legs during the Bush/Cheney years, by getting the US to further overextend its military, further bankrupt its already creaky economy, and further demoralize its citizens by boosting unemployment and undermining its Constitution, could Bin Laden & Co. have come up with a better Manchurian Candidate than Barack Obama?

If China had wanted a candidate to destroy the American currency, bankrupt the US and its remaining industrial base and leave it helpless and begging to be bought out by Chinese interests (there is now serious talk of China buying General Motors), could the country's Communist rulers have done better than Barack Obama?

Now don't get me wrong. I don't think for a second that Obama is a secret Republican or a secret Al Qaeda or Chinese operative, though I know that there are right-wing Tea Baggers out there who sincerely believe the latter two scenarios (often at the same time!). I think Obama is simply another slick politician with a giant ego and a shriveled sense of principle and ethics—a man that is, not unlike most of our political class, though with better diction and smile, whose interests include himself, his family, and those who bankroll him, but certainly not you, me and the country as a whole.

But it might help if we started to think of him in these terms, because objectively what we have right now in the White House is a president who is steering the nation towards disaster as surely as if it were his goal in life.

Because he is a Democrat, and because he talked a good line during the campaign last year, progressives are disoriented and don't know how to respond to his massive betrayal of all things progressive. At this rate, by next fall, we could have a raging full-scale war going on in Afghanistan, Pakistan in a state of chaos, Iran under attack by Israel or perhaps by Israel and the US, health reform a forgotten issue, real unemployment at over 20 percent, the dollar at half the value of the British pound, and negotiations for a global climate treaty in collapse. And progressives still will not be mounting any effective protest or political action.

I'm not sure what the answer is to this crisis. Many people on the left are arguing that it is essential to abandon the Democrats and move to a third party. I think that's a great idea. The Democratic Party has proved to be absolutely corrupt and beyond salvation–useful only as a sump pump whose purpose is to suck the life out of the progressive movement, such as it is.

But I also can't help noticing that the vast majority of the middle class seems still content enough to struggle on with the jobs they still have—the 80-85 percent of them who still have jobs—ignoring the plight of those who do not and of the poor. It was an observation made by the late John Kenneth Galbraith that the problem with modern post-industrial democracies is that the vast majority of people do well enough that they no longer care about the suffering of the minority of the population.

As long as the ruling elites are able to keep the majority at least employed and in their homes, they can tighten the screws on the rest with impunity, and that is the situation we are in today. It is hard to see a new progressive party succeeding under such circumstances.

What is undeniable is that we are witnessing the systemic and probably terminal decline of the US as an economic power, and as a military power, and that is certainly a good thing, if not for Americans, then surely for the larger world. What is remarkable is watching President Obama, who was elected by Americans who were hoping he would turn things around, again and again act to hasten that decline.

Dave Lindorff is a Philadelphia-based journalist. He is author of Killing Time: An Investigation into the Death Penalty Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal (Common Courage Press, 2003) and The Case for Impeachment (St. Martin's Press, 2006). His work is available at

Latest High-Flying Accused Ponzi Schemer Has Ties To Indiana Repub Guv Mitch Daniels from TPMmuckraker

Meet the latest high-living accused Ponzi schemer with close ties to Republican politicians. That would be Tim Durham, the flamboyant Indianapolis-based owner of Fair Finance Co., and ally of Governor Mitch Daniels...

In court papers filed last week by the Feds and examined by TPMmuckraker, Durham was accused of using money from new purchasers of his company's investment certificates to pay off earlier investors, thereby thereby "lulling the earlier victims into believing that their money was being [handled] responsibily." The filing followed an FBI raid last Wednesday on Durham's Indianapolis office.

An investigative report in the Indiana Business Journal last month raised questions about Fair's ability to repay its investors -- most of whom are based in Ohio -- who had purchased $197 million in investment certificates. IBJ reported that Durham had used Fair to fund other business interests, some of them unsuccessful, and that he and related parties owed Fair more than $168 million.

A lawyer for Durham has said his client is cooperating with investigators and believes he has done nothing wrong.

But it's Durham's political connections and flashy lifestyle that really make this story pop.

Durham, 47, who bought Fair from Donald Fair, the son of its founder, in 2002, has been quoted as saying he longs to die as the richest man on earth, and was profiled on the CNBC segment "Rise of the Super Rich." In the court filing, the Feds sough to seize Durham's assets, including a 30,000-square-foot mansion, a home in Los Angeles, and a Bugatti sports car. He also owns a 100-foot yacht, and is a major investor in National Lampoon, which made the movie Animal House, among other raucous hits.

Durham's MySpace page reportedly once showed pictures taken at a 2007 party he hosted at his mansion -- including one that showed two naked women kissing. The page also reported that Penthouse magazine model Martina Warren was there.

Durham raised $160,000, and served as finance chair, for the campaign of Marion County prosecutor Carl Brizzi, who has described Durham as a close friend. So close, indeed, that Brizzi agreed this fall to serve on Fair's board after being asked by Durham. Brizzi says he changed his mind after IBJ's investigative report came out last month.

But Durham also played on bigger stages: He was a significant fundraiser for Daniels, and reportedly also served on the governor's re-election steering committee.

A spokesman for Daniels, a former top Bush White House official who has been talked about as a potential 2012 presidential candidate, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the governor's ties to Durham.

Let This Flowchart Tell You Which Chain Restaurant To Visit Next from Consumerist

 by Chris Walters

Sometimes it's hard to decide on a chain restaurant when you're going out to eat. Luckily, the blog Eating The Road has produced a handy flowchart. What I like best about it is it asks the important questions, things like "Are you Drunk? Do you want to be? Are you high?" And most important, "Do you mind flair?"

If you want to see a bigger version, click the link at the bottom of the post to visit Eating The Road.


"Where Should I Eat? Chain Restaurant Edition" [Eating The Road]

Washington Times Runs Anti-Obama Birther Ad Featuring Racial Undertones from Think Progress


This latest national edition of the Washington Times features a full-page ad that claims that President Obama is not a natural-born citizen of the United States. The ad was purchased by the anti-Obama website While the group has placed several birther ads in the Washington Times in recent months, the version that ran this morning contains far more inflammatory imagery — three monkeys, apparently intended to represent the U.S. Congress, courts, and the media:


The hardly intelligible ad copy claims that under a 60-year-old British law, President Obama is a citizen of Britain and "is currently also a British protected person and/or a British citizen to this day." The Center for American Progress' Ian Millhiser points out that if this rule were actually applied to the presidency, every foreign nation would have the power to remove the President of the United States simply by granting the president citizenship.

The website promoted by the ad is run by Charles F. Kerchner, Jr., a plaintiff in a birther lawsuit filed against President Obama in New Jersey.

European Team May Have Solved Galactic 'Chicken or Egg' Conundrum from Popular Science -

So which comes first, the black hole or the galaxy? The questions has vexed astrophysicists for ages, but European researchers think they may have figured out the answer. A recent study suggests supermassive black holes can spawn star formation, in essence creating their own host galaxies around them.

The team of astronomers observed a specific quasar (HE0450-2958 for all you space wonks) that, by all appearances, has no host galaxy. Researchers thought that perhaps the quasar's host galaxy was hidden behind a large mass of space dust, but using ESO's Very Large Telescope, they determined that this is not the case. What they did find is that an unrelated galaxy nearby is producing stars like it's going out of style -- something like 350 suns per year, 100 times more quickly than other galaxies in the universal neighborhood.

So what's the rush? It turns out that the frantic rate of star formation isn't a result of anything in the companion galaxy's construction, but of the one quasar itself. The quasar is bombarding the companion galaxy with highly energetic particles and fast moving gas streams, pumping it full of matter and energy. It is also inching toward the companion galaxy, where it will eventually merge and take up residency. At that point, all the matter and energy the quasar spewed into the companion galaxy will become its own galaxy.

As such, researchers think black hole jets could catalyze galaxy formation by providing the energy and matter necessary to create stars. The theory also provides an explanation as to why galaxies with more massive black holes contain more stars.

Paul Krugman Takes Will to Task Over Hacked Scientists' Emails-Not a Single Smoking Gun from Crooks and Liars

 by Heather
Download WMV Download Quicktime
PLAYS: (437)
Play WMV Play Quicktime

Looks like George Will is at it again. This time carrying some water for James Inhofe on the hacked emails from the University of East Anglia. Paul Krugman reminds Will that there was no "smoking gun" in those emails and also asks Will why he hates the free market so much with his opposition to cap and trade.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And meanwhile, he is also going to be dealing with health care, right now on the floor of the Senate. He announced this week to Copenhagen to deal with climate change. And it comes at a time when the politics seem to be changing a little bit in this.

Let me show our latest ABC News/Washington Post poll. It shows whether people believe global warming is occurring. That number is going down. July 2008, 80 percent of the public; down to 72 percent now. And there's been a sort of a real partisanship. Look at Republicans, 74 percent believed global warming was occurring back in 2008. Now, a 20-point drop to 54 percent.

George, there has been a partinizing of this issue, and let me turn to one more complication we've had over the last week. This Climate Research Institute at East Anglia University, someone hacked into their e-mail account and showed a bunch of emails between scientists, which opponents of climate change legislation said proves that they are rigging the science and trying to hide information that runs counter to their theories.

WILL: It raises the question of -- we're being asked to wage trillions of dollars and substantially curtail freedom on climate models that are imperfect and unproven. And the consensus far from being as solid as they say it is, and the debate as over as they say it is. The e-mails indicate people are very nervous about suppressing criticism, gaming the peer review process for scholarly works and all the rest. One of the e-mails said it is a travesty, his word, it is a travesty that we cannot explain the fact that global warming has stopped. Well, they shouldn't be embarrassed about that. It's a complicated business, and that's why we shouldn't be (inaudible).

KRUGMAN: All those e-mails -- people have never seen what academic discussion looks like. There's not a single smoking gun in there. There's nothing in there. And the travesty is that people are not able to explain why the fact that 1988 was a very warm year doesn't actually mean that global warming has stopped. I mean, that's loose wording. Right? Everything is about -- we're really in the same situation as if there was one extremely warm day in April. And then people are saying, well, you see, May is cooler than April, there's no trend here. And that's what -- the travesty is how hard it has been to explain...

WILL: One of the emails, Paul, said he wished he could delete, get rid of the medieval warming period. That lasted 600 years...

KRUGMAN: It's not -- read -- this has all been explained. What he meant is they want to put a start on it. We have an end to it, we don't have a start on it. There's a lot of loose use of language when you're just talking among each other. And what the deleting really meant, the deleting would be meant that, you know, we don't know when this thing started, because we don't have very good data back then. There weren't any weather stations. And that's what the context was.


WILL: But what I was going to say there is that the United States pledges to reduce its carbon emissions 83 percent below the 2005. That will not even be seriously attempted, and here is why. That would mean we would have total carbon emissions equal to the United States in 1910, when there were 92 million Americans. Furthermore, our per-capita carbon emissions in 2050, when he says this is going to happen, when there's going to be 420 million Americans, would be on a per-capita basis what we had in 1875.

STEPHANOPOULOS: (inaudible) credibility problem as well. I mean, I think the issue is, I think the president had to go to Copenhagen. It was the only way to get the Indians and the Chinese to go as well. But, Paul, as he goes, he'll be making a commitment that he can't necessarily keep unless the Senate follows through.


KRUGMAN: Everyone understands that. And I just want to say, I'm surprised, George, that you lack faith in the power of the marketplace. All this cap-and-trade is about is putting a price on carbon emission, and people will do amazing things given a market incentive.

WILL: Speaking of the marketplace, the biggest industry in the world right now may be fighting climate change. There are billions, trillions of dollars on the table, and when you say, well, they are academics and they are scientists and they talk in funny ways -- academics are human beings, and the enormous incentive to get on the bandwagon on global warming, the financial incentive, the market driving this, is huge.

KRUGMAN: There is tremendously more money in being a skeptic than there is in being a supporter. It's so much easier, come on. You got the energy industry's behind it. There are 20 times as many believers as there are skeptics in the scientific community. They get almost equal time in the media.


WILL: Is there a larger venture capital firm in this country than the Energy Department of this government, which right now is sending out billions and billions of dollars in speculation on green energy?

KRUGMAN: Oh...come on.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Bush spokesperson forgets 9/11 attacks occurred under Bush from Raw Story Breaking News

Dana%20Perino%20Compares%20White%20House%20Attack%20On%20Fox%20to%20Hugo%20Chavez Bush spokesperson forgets 9/11 attacks occurred under BushPresident Bush's last press secretary, Dana Perino, is almost as forgetful as Vice President Dick Cheney, who repeatedly told investigators he'd forgotten details about the outing of CIA officer Valerie Plame.

Perhaps more so.

In an interview with Fox News' Sean Hannity Tuesday night, the onetime Bush spokesperson attacked President Barack Obama's administration for not labeling the recent killings at Ft. Hood a terrorist attack.

She then took one step further -- and claimed there had been no terrorist attacks under President George W. Bush.

"We did not have a terrorist attack on our country during president Bush's term," Perino quipped. "I hope they're not looking at this politically. I do think that we owe it to the American people to call it what it is."

Story continues below...

Either Perino was deliberately lying -- or she forgot about the deadliest terrorist attack in the history of the United States: Sept. 11, 2001.

In addition, a July 4, 2002 shooting at Los Angeles International Airport was determined by federal investigators, the Department of Justice and the FBI to fit the "definition of terrorism."

CNN reported in April of 2003:

Hesham Mohamed Hadayet, a 41-year-old Egyptian national, opened fire at the airport, killing two Israelis and wounding four others before being shot dead by a security guard for the Israeli airline.

The earlier report concluded that Hadayet hoped to influence U.S. government policy in favor of the Palestinians.

During the extensive worldwide investigation, sources said, investigators found no evidence linking Hadayet to any terrorist group. They characterized the shooting as an act of terrorism because Hadayet espoused anti-Israeli views and was opposed to U.S. policy in the Middle East, the sources said.

Despite being tapped by President Obama last week, for a key post on a board overseeing government-sponsored international broadcasting, former Bush spokesperson Perino (and current Fox News contributor) hasn't stopped attacking the Obama administration on Fox.

Earlier this week she blasted the current administration for creating a "mockery" out of the justice system and suggested that the president should know better than to be captured on video playing golf during wartime.

Watch the video below:

Obama admin refuses to sign land mine treaty from Raw Story Breaking News

landminevictim Obama admin refuses to sign land mine treatyAfter reviewing the Bush-era policy, the Obama White House has decided to maintain the prior administration's refusal to sign an international treaty banning land mines, according to published reports.

"More than 150 countries have agreed to the Mine Ban Treaty's provisions to end the production, use, stockpiling and trade in mines," the Associated Press noted. "Besides the United States, holdouts include: China, India, Pakistan, Myanmar and Russia."

"We made our policy review and we determined that we would not be able to meet our national defense needs, nor our security commitments to our friends and allies if we sign this convention," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly reportedly said.

Advocacy organizations like Human Rights Watch had urged administration officials to sign the treaty. The United States is the largest worldwide contributor to the recovery of undetonated mines, which still pose a severe danger to civilians in 70 countries. No land mines have been produced by the U.S. since 1997, when the Land Mine Ban Treaty took effect. The last time American forces deployed the weapon was during the 1991 invasion of Iraq.

According to the International Campaign to Ban Land Mines (ICBL), efforts undertaken in 1999 to recover mines "have saved millions of lives through the removal of more than 2.2 million emplaced antipersonnel mines, 250,000 antivehicle mines, and 17 million" explosive remnants of war.

Story continues below...

Last year land mines "killed at least 1,266 people and wounded 3,891," AP added, citing the ICBL. One third of the deaths were children, according to the group.

"In contravention of the treaty, however, the United States stockpiles some 10 million antipersonnel mines and retains the option to use them," Reuters reported.

Florida students suspended over ‘Kick a Jew Day’ from Raw Story Breaking News

northnaplesmiddleschool Florida students suspended over Kick a Jew DayIncident follows 'Kick a Ginger Day' controversies

Ten students at a Naples, Florida, middle school have been given one-day, in-school suspensions for participating in "Kick a Jew Day," in which Jewish students were targeted for assault, according to news reports in the local media.

Parents and students at North Naples Middle School told NBC channel 2 in Naples that many students -- all of them Jewish -- were targeted in the attacks, which took place last week.

The station obtained a letter from one parent who said his daughter was a target of the attacks.

"Kids pretender to kick her, and later at lunch, they actually kicked her," the letter stated. "Apparently, many kids, all Jewish, were kicked. I was furious and attempted to call the parents of the girl who initiated this hatred."

Story continues below...

School officials reacted immediately to complaints from students, but some in the Jewish community say the punishment for the ten students didn't go far enough.

"You are talking about an incident that has anti-Jewish bias, if not anti-Semitism," Jewish Community Online quoted David Barkey of the Florida Anti-Defamation League. "You have Jewish students being singled out, harassed and assaulted. ... If the allegations are true, it is possible these students violated Florida's new anti-bullying law. And, if students were physically assaulted, it could rise to the level of criminal conduct."

But Rabbi James Perman of Temple Shalom in North Naples said it "seems that the school system has taken appropriate measures," though he noted that he hadn't "seen anything like it in my 17 years in Naples."


The "Kick a Jew Day" incident seems to follow in the footsteps of "Kick a Ginger Day," which started as a Facebook group inspired by an episode of South Park, and resulted in suspensions in school districts around the world after red-headed students were assaulted.

The Fox affiliate in Los Angeles reported Thursday that police are questioning 25 students at a Calabasas, California, middle school after seven red-haired students were allegedly assaulted.

Two dozen students at an elementary school near Toronto, Ontario, were suspended last week after taking part in "Ginger Day," the Toronto Star reports. reports that the first "Kick a Ginger Day" was organized for Nov. 20 of last year by a 14-year-old Canadian girl. The girl has reportedly apologized and renamed her Facebook group "Universal Hug A Ginger Day."

The following video was broadcast on NBC Channel 2 news in Naples, Florida, November 23, 2009.

Infamous Episodes in GOP History: Rush Limbaugh Mocks Michael J. Fox from

The OxyMoron, Rush Limbaugh, has done a lot of despicable things in his time. But one of the most infamous occurred on Oct. 23, 2006, when Limbaugh mocked Michael J. Fox's symptoms of Parkinson's disease. Limbaugh mocked and imitated the symptoms that Fox displayed during a TV ad that supported political candidates who favor stem cell research.

"He is exaggerating the effects of the disease," the Pig-Man told his delusional listeners. "He's moving all around and shaking and it's purely an act....This is really shameless of Michael J. Fox. Either he didn't take his medication or he's acting."

As we all know, taking medication is something that the Pig-Man knows quite a bit about.

You know, watching Limbaugh bouncing around as he does in this video, reminds me of the "bowl full of jelly" line in the classic yuletide poem, "Twas the Night Before Christmas."

Indeed, I guess you could even think of the plump Limbaugh as a Santa Claus of sorts (that is, if your image of Santa is an obese, thrice-divorced, serial lying, cowardly chickenhawk, hillbilly heroin-guzzling, NeoNazi piece of shit).

A reminder about who Glenn Beck really is from Daily Kos

From my inbox Friday morning:

Beck E-mail

It's sort of amusing: despite all his crazy bluster, Glenn Beck, at the heart of it all, is just a carnival salesman, and his product is his own hot air.

He may be one of the most powerful voices in the Republican Party, but he's still just a Morning Zoo radio show host who found a gimmick that put him on the big stage.

It almost says more about the G.O.P. than Glenn Beck that they are so devoid of talent and ideas that a guy like him could skyrocket to straight to the top in such a short period of time.

How Boehner Gets His Tan: His PAC Spent $83K On Golf Outings! from Crooks and Liars

Download WMV Download Quicktime
PLAYS: (1764)
Play WMV Play Quicktime

Mika and Joe have a great time bashing John Boehner after finding out the House minority leader's PAC spent almost $83K on golf outings.

Scarborough compared him to Evita PerĂ³n, who would show poor people her jewels so they would have something to aspire to. "Think about the people in his district who are out of work right," he said. "Thirty thousand dollars on one golf outing!" He noted that was more than most of the people in Boehner's district make in a year.

"Howard, you wouldn't do that, would you?" Mika asked Howard Dean.

"I don't play golf," Dean replies. (See why I love him?) He said it was difficult for Republicans to hold themselves up as the model for fiscal responsibility when they spent money on things like this.

A viewer wrote in to say Boehner's tan "was proof that global warming is real."

German banker admits transferring money from rich to help poorer clients from Hacker News

In these financially troubled times, bankers tend not to score too highly on the scale of public admiration, with their bonuses, bailouts and bad loans. But today details emerged of a woman who may confound the popular view that everyone in the industry is in it for themselves.

The 62-year-old branch head of one German bank was hailed as a hero after she confessed to transferring money from rich customers to help her poorer clients. Already, she has been dubbed "Die Robin Hood Bankerin".

She was given a 22-month suspended sentence after moving more than €7.6m (£6.9m) in 117 transfers between 2003 and 2005. The court in Bonn was told that the employee, who has not been named, took no money for herself.

"The accused hasn't put one cent in her own pocket. She did it purely out of sympathy with people who were suffering financially," the woman's lawyer, Thomas Ohm, said. She was a "good samaritan" with a "Mother Courage" nature, referencing the Brecht character who believes she can do good in a bad world. The employee was accused of allowing overdrafts for customers who would not normally qualify for them. She then used the money from richer customers to temporarily disguise the loans during the bank's monthly audit of overdrafts.

The woman knew most of the clients of her small rural branch and had access to their accounts, German TV station WDR reported. That's how she discovered that some of her richest customers – some with six-figure balances – had not touched their accounts in years. Meanwhile, others were drowning in debt. "Customers asked me if I could help them. They couldn't get credit in a conventional way," the woman told the court, adding that she found her actions unbelievable now. "I can't understand it any more. I must have had helper syndrome."

Out of sympathy, she began to move money about, ostensibly to "lend" from the rich to the poor for a short period. The authorities finally cottoned on when she broadened her reach, subsidising a small taxi firm in addition to her private clients.

The woman could have faced a four-year prison sentence, but the court decided on leniency as she had confessed immediately and did not profit personally.

The judge said: "It's difficult to find an appropriate punishment here. On the one hand we have big losses. But on the other hand we have here this altruistic behaviour, which makes the case very different from the norm."

1,500 Uninsured Arkansans Line Up For A Free Health Care Clinic from Think Progress

One out of every five people in Arkansas lacks health insurance coverage. However, today over 1,500 uninsured Arkansans received health care at a free clinic hosted by Communities Are Responding Everyday (CARE) at the Statehouse Convention Center in Little Rock, which was made possible in part because of calls for donations by MSNBC's Keith Olbermann. A wide variety of medical services, including physicals and screenings for such conditions as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, were provided at the clinic.

The Arkansas Times spoke both to volunteers and people waiting to receive care. Several of the volunteers expressed their enthusiasm to help their fellow community members, while at the same time feeling "ashamed" to be in a country where health care is still a privilege:

MAN: Well I came to get health. I do have diabetes and I haven't been able to get healthcare since I lost my last job. And I am a student so it's been a little difficult to get a full time job where I can get benefits. [...] I haven't seen a doctor probably in three or four years. [...] I thank all of the volunteers.

WOMAN: I got laid off in 2008 and since I haven't had insurance [...]

MAN: I don't make really enough money to pay bills and have healthcare also. This is a good opportunity for me. And I haven't really had a check up or anything in more years than I'd like to admit. [...] I'm really thankful.

Watch it:


Earlier today, Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) announced today that she would provide the 60th vote "in support of cloture on the motion to proceed" to the health care reform bill. But Lincoln also stressed that she is "opposed to a new government administered health care plan as a part of health care reform and will not vote on the health care proposal introduced by leader Reid as it is written."

As it is currently written, the Senate health bill would reduce the number of uninsured by 31 million while also reducing the deficit by $130 billion in ten years. So while Lincoln considers voting against the bill, free clinics like the one today remain the only option for hundreds of thousands of people in her state. The next free clinic event is scheduled for December 9-10 in Kansas City, Mo.

Bailed-Out AIG Forcing Poor to Choose Between Running Water and Food from Truthout - All Articles

Thanks to AIG, some of the poorest residents of rural Kentucky learned you can always be made poorer by corporate villains.

What are we getting in return for the bailout? So far, predatory credit card rates, exorbitant bank fees and obscene Wall Street bonuses. But we're being robbed in other, sneakier ways, too. It seems that taxpayers in the poorest, most vulnerable parts of the county are getting plundered by the same institutions they bailed out. One example is AIG's underhanded fleecing of residents of rural Kentucky.

Middlesboro and Clinton are two tiny, impoverished towns in southern Kentucky with a combined population of 12,000. In 2008, Middlesboro's per capita income was $13,189 a year, only a few hundred dollars more than the average worker earned in third-world Mexico. That is if they were lucky to even get a job. Real unemployment hovers somewhere around 30%, and the state is so broke that half the people eligible for unemployment benefits can't receive them. Life may be tough and most people live in poverty, but that doesn't mean they can't be made a little poorer. That's the lesson locals learned after bailed-out insurance villain AIG took over their water utility and instantly raised rates to squeeze an extra $1 million in profits out of its new customers, forcing some to consider choosing between running water and food.

The towns are so rural, their residents have yet to be touched by the Internet revolution. Forget comment sections or forum threads. In Clinton, you have to track down actual hand-written notes that residents filed with city hall to read their complaints about the rate increase. Luckily, city officials were nice enough to scan some of them.

Here's one, dated August 8, 2009:

My husband and I are on a fixed income and with everything going up in price this would be very a very large burden on us as well as most of the citizens of Clinton. Our town is mostly of people like us and this would be such a hardship for us. A 50.8% raise is outrageous on anything. Please do not let this happen. It would mean the difference in bringing buying food and medicine or paying a high water bill to make someone else's life easier.

Here is how the AIG takeover went down: In 2005, flush with cash from its shady dealings in the mortgage derivatives market, AIG announced that it was in the process of acquiring Utilities Inc., a holding company that controlled scores of small water utilities across 17 different states. With just 300,000 customers, the company wasn't huge, but it boasted of being the largest privately held water utility in the country.

"We have long considered water infrastructure as an attractive investment opportunity and an excellent complement to [our] existing energy infrastructure portfolio. Utilities Inc. is a leader in this industry and we are pleased that [we have] the opportunity to acquire this business," AIG Chairman and CEO Win J. Neuger gloated in a press release.

AIG had reason to be pleased with its purchase. Water utilities are one hell of a profitable business, with international corporations easily making a 20 to 30% profit margin, according to a 2007 report by Food and Water Watch. In the US, federal regulations limit profits to 10%, a pesky rule that companies easily subvert by shuffling their income around and "investing" it in side businesses. These kinds of returns would be the envy of the pharmaceutical and oil industries. How do water companies do it? According to Food and Water Watch, they charge 50% more for services than public utilities and pocket the difference, thereby unleashing the potential of the free market.

People who have been ripped off by bailed-out banks' schemes to trick late fees out of their customers will recognize what Utilities Inc. did to the people of Middlesboro and Clinton. In the summer of 2008, as AIG was teetering and desperate for funds, it "upgraded" its billing system, and suddenly a slew of late fee charges hit the struggling locals.

Residents had been getting their water bills like clockwork for as long as anyone could remember, but confusion and disorder set in as soon as Utilities rolled out its new and improved billing system. Monthly statements started coming late or didn't come in for months at a time. People were double-billed and double-penalized for bills that never arrived. One month, a bill would include sewer fees, the next month it wouldn't—and you'd be charged if didn't catch the omission. It's obvious the new invoice system was designed for pure harassment, creating chaos and reaping the rewards of the late fees it generated.

Internally, Utilities referred to their revamp of the billing system as "Project Phoenix." It sounded eerily similar to the CIA's "Phoenix Program," which was designed to terrorize, kill and torture uppity Vietnamese villagers into submission during the Vietnam War. One month after Project Phoenix started wreaking havoc on locals, AIG collapsed and took the first of over $150 billion in taxpayer bailout funds. That meant Project Phoenix could still go on terrorizing locals—which it did.

Here is how a local newspaper described the new billing program in Clinton in March, 2008:

It wasn't until the summer of 2008 that the new bills began to arrive and from Day One, they were messed up. Few customers here in Clinton [called] the water company because they got multiple bills. One business thought it got a break when its bill went down somewhat, only to discover that the bill hadn't included sewer costs. This went on for several months. Finally, the [sewer bill] showed up – due in full – on one bill. Requests to spread out the payment fell on deaf ears. . . . Some of us were so confused by the bills, we paid them every time they came in. . . . Fears of bad credit reports and shut offs kept most customers paying whenever a bill arrived.

To make it harder for Clinton residents to file complaints, AIG closed the utility's local office as soon as it took over the company. Pleas made by phone were rejected.

Local citizens are angry, upset and fearful. Many senior citizens on fixed incomes are already stretched past the breaking point. Others living below the poverty line without hope of getting a job are worried about how to pay another rising utility bill.

Customers we've talked to "want to do something," but say they cannot afford to file to intervene in the case. The trip to Frankfort is daunting and expensive. Some dare not leave the jobs or businesses they have for the time it would take to travel and attend a hearing in Frankfort.

In November 2008, right as AIG was recieving the second installment of its bailout and the economy was in a free-fall, AIG's water utility notified Middlesbro and Clinton residents that it would be raising rates by 51%. It would mean more than $750,000 in additional revenue a year, just from 8,000 customers. The money wouldn't be used to fund infrastructure improvements—none had been made and none were planned. No, according to a company spokesman, the utility was trying to recoup money it had invested in its "improved" billing system, in effect forcing the victims of the billing system to pay for their own fleecing. 

It seems Utilities was quite honest about explaining that a good chunk of the $750,000 would be transferred straight into the pockets of its investors, according to the West Kentucky Journal of Politics and Issues.

[Another] reason came from [the] company's financial expert, Pauline M. Ahern, who opined that a rate increase will allow [the utility] to "earn a range of common equity cost ratio of 11.60% to 12.10%." In the present market, that is an attractive return on investment.

One million dollars may not seem like much these days, but it sure meant a lot to the poverty-stricken residents of Middlesbro and Clinton. There were quite a few bleak handwritten statements filed with Clinton's city hall during a public hearing on the water rates increase. It makes sense to quote them to get a feel for the level of despair that exists in rural communities like this all over the United States.

Here's one from August 8, 2009:

I get $675.00 a month, if they raise the water, or utilities, I can't pay them. I would have to go without water, etc. or gas. I'm disabled and I can't walk. Raising the utilities hurt a lot of people here in Clinton. Not just me but everyone. As it is I can't pay the water bills because its high. But I pay what I can.

And here is another from August 12, 2009:

I feel that a rate increase of 50.8% will add a heavy burden on our small rural community. Our citizin [sic] that lives in our city are on Social Security, have full time jobs that pay barely minimum wage or are working as many as 3 part time jobs to make their monthly budget.

And another from May, 2009:

"I always have a high bills [sic] to pay. I pay what I can. I am on disable. [sic] I try not to use too much water. But yet I have a high water bill. If the bill goes up, I will be lucky to pay them $10.00 instead of $80.00.

In the end, Kentucky's regulatory commission reduced the water rate increase from 50.1% to 30%. How long before they try raise the rate again? Or until the energy company decides to follow suit? It's hard to say. But one thing is for certain: AIG's takeover shows again that the American people were screwed by the bailed-out billionaires, who, instead of showing gratitude or willingness to reciprocate, have been preying upon the most vulnerable Americans like they are 15th century barons soaking the peasants.

And as our cities and states start leasing out and selling public infrastructure to pay off their municipal debts, we can expect banks to gain more control of public wealth. Middlesbro and Clinton are a glimpse into the future of post-privatized America.

Coal-Fueled Chamber Of Commerce Demands Lawmakers Defeat Health Reform In Order To ‘Stop’ Clean Energy Bill from Think Progress

Corporate front groups and large business trade associations are funneling their resources into defeating health reform. Even though health reform will lower costs for small businesses and boost worker productivity economy-wide, it appears that corporate entities influenced by major polluters are hoping that the defeat of health care legislation will slow President Obama's agenda and derail their true enemy: clean energy reform.

The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, which is largely backed by the coal industry, candidly revealed this strategy in a letter released today to Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Robert Byrd (D-WV). The Chamber of Commerce demanded that the senators use "their clout and seniority" to obstruct the health reform debate until cap and trade legislation is taken off the table and the EPA is barred from regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant. As Ken Ward of the Charleston Gazette noted, Rockefeller has already rejected a similar proposal of blocking health reform unless the EPA stops reviewing mountaintop removal permits. The coal lobby has also pressured West Virginia state legislators to pass resolutions opposing clean energy reform.

The coal industry's selfish push to block health reform displays how little it cares about West Virginia and the communities where coal is burned for energy. Not only do 19 percent of West Virginians lack health insurance, but coal is literally killing people:

The American Lung Association reports that there are 24,000 premature deaths every year due to coal power plant pollution. In addition, the ALA research estimates that coal pollution causes over 550,000 asthma attacks, 38,000 heart attacks and 12,000 hospital admissions.

– A report by Physicians for Social Responsibility found that coal combustion releases mercury, particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and dozens of other substances known to be hazardous to human health. These coal pollutants are associated with increased congestive heart failure, lung cancer, infant mortality, stunted lung development, and Ischemic stroke, among other diseases.

The national Chamber of Commerce is also fighting health reform tooth and nail. Like the West Virginia Chamber, the U.S. Chamber is dominated by coal and polluter interests and denies the science underpinning climate change. The U.S. Chamber's extreme approached forced pro-clean energy companies Apple, Levi Strauss & Company, Mohawk Paper and the utilities Pacific Gas and Electric, Exelon and PNM Resources to resign from the Chamber. By killing both clean energy and health reform, U.S. Chamber President Tom Donohue may be hoping to protect his own wallet. Donohue sits on the board of a major coal industry player, Union Pacific.

Indeed, one of the most powerful corporate front groups, Americans for Prosperity, is focusing its efforts on defeating health reform. Although AFP is backed by oil industry giant David Koch, his ultimate goal of stopping clean energy appears to begin with stopping health reform.

BlueCross BlueShield's Anti-Public Option, HCR Campaign from Daily Kos

BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina is getting some unwelcome attention for a recent mailer and robo-calls they deployed to their customers in the state, urging them to call Sen. Kay Hagan and tell her to oppose the public option.

Today, a group of 20 state legislators asked Attorney General Roy Cooper and Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin to probe whether BCBS violated laws restricting robo-calls, as well as whether it engaged in political advocacy using the premiums of its customers.

But the probe the lawmakers are calling for appears to be underway already. "We received an inquiry from the AG's office a couple weeks ago," about whether the campaign violated laws, Lew Borman, a spokesman for BCBS of North Carolina, told TPMmuckraker. "We don't believe we broke any laws," Borman added.

BCBS has been particularly aggressive in trying to push it customers to lobby on its behalf. Remember what they were doing in North Dakota?

They sent out a letter [pdf] to subscribers threatening even bigger rate increases if reform passes:

Your health care costs will rise even faster than they have in the recent past Health care costs have skyrocketed the last several years. With current reform proposals, you'll see it increase even more dramatically because:

  • North Dakotans won't have the variety of choices they have today. You'll be forced to buy insurance with richer benefits (i.e. higher price tags) than most of you buy today.
  • Not every North Dakotan will be covered because it's too easy to opt out until they get sick. That leaves the rest of insurance consumers paying more.
  • Low-income residents get state-subsidized plans at a reasonable cost, but those who don't qualify for subsidies will pay outrageous prices.
  • Young North Dakota adults will see insurance costs raised by 60 percent to 100 percent—another reason for them not to stay in North Dakota.
  • Private insurance rates will increase by 50 percent to 70 percent for small employers.

Nice use of class warfare there, huh? What they are failing to mention is that there isn't a gun being held to the heads of poor insurance company executives to make them increase costs for their customers.

After that story ran, I got an e-mail from a reader and Kossack in Illinois, who shared a couple of e-mails that the company s/he works for received from BCBS Illinois, urging business subscribers to contact Representatives to fight the House bill.

As a business owner who provides health insurance coverage to your employees, you know firsthand how critical it is for health insurance premiums to remain affordable for you and your employees.  Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois, a division of Health Care Service Corporation (HCSC) is working with stakeholders like you to ensure reforms work by building on today's employer-based system to extend coverage to everyone, rein in costs and improve the quality of care.

We are now at a critical point in the legislative process and your help is needed to voice concern over the pending legislation in the House of Representatives.  Your help is needed in the next 24 hours to voice concern over the Affordable Health Care for America Act. Tell your Representative to vote "NO" on H.R. 3962.

Health care reform legislation in Congress will unintentionally increase premiums to levels that are unaffordable for individuals, families and small businesses.  Affordability is the most critical factor in extending health care coverage to everyone.

There is no question that changes need to be made to our health care system and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois supports a requirement that health insurance companies offer coverage to all applicants, regardless of pre-existing conditions.  However, this only will work if every American is required to carry health insurance, minimum benefit levels are sensible, young and healthy individuals are encouraged to purchase coverage, and the personal responsibility requirement is enforceable.

<bBlue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois opposes the following measures that are included in pending health care reform legislation:</strong>

A government-run health plan in any form – A government plan in any form is unnecessary, would immediately or eventually underpay providers causing major access issues, would increase cost shifting to private insurance and cause millions of people to lose their existing private coverage.

A weak individual mandate, high minimum benefit designs and narrow age rating bands – These proposals will combine to dramatically increase premiums for individuals, families and employers.

Congress is making decisions that will affect your business now.  I urge you to contact your Members of Congress today on this critically important issue. [emphasis in original]

As in North Dakota, BCBS sent a second e-mail, with the Illinois version of extortion, promising increased costs for customers if reform passed in including their wish list for reform--all centered on maintaining their profits:

Oliver Wyman's Actuarial and Health and Life Sciences Practice recently provided an analysis for the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association (BCBSA). The analysis estimated the effect of the proposed health care reform on insurance premiums and shows the total effect five years after reform is implemented. The intent of the analysis is to demonstrate the impact that these proposals will have on premiums in the states Health Care Service Corporation serves, to provide information that policymakers can use to better shape health care reform legislation and to urge members of Congress to carefully consider the consequences of the proposed legislation. Following is the executive summary that briefly explains the analysis, as well as an attachment containing details of the study. However, here are some key findings:

  * Health care coverage becomes less affordable
   * Premiums increase
   * In Illinois, there could be as much as a 119 percent jump
   * Broad participation is imperative
   * Young and healthy people must participate
   * People can't simply choose to buy insurance when they need it

As a result of this thorough analysis, we are recommending these changes to the current reform proposals:

   * Strengthen the mandate for individuals to obtain insurance, without which many people will not purchase coverage until they need it.
   * Allow greater age discounts for young/healthy people to address the expected increase in their premiums — helping ensure they purchase coverage. We recommend the 5:1 age band included in the original Senate Finance Committee bill.
   * Lower the proposed minimum benefit requirements to the levels currently seen in the marketplace, since richer benefits mean richer premiums.
   * Eliminate the new $6.7 billion annual insurer fee beginning 2010, which will increase individual and family premiums substantially.
   * Include comprehensive medical liability reform, which the Congressional Budget Office states could save $54 billion over 10 years in physician "defensive medicine" practices that increase costs through unnecessary services.

We hope you will find this information helpful in understanding the full impact of these recommendations. As health care reform is debated in Congress, we will keep you informed and may again ask you to contact your elected officials.

Isn't that helpful of BCBS, informing their customers of how they'll gouge them in new and creative ways if reform passes? Thanks, Lieberman, Lincoln, Landrieu, and Nelson, for helping them out.

The Video Professor Scam

Video Professor Tries To Bully Washington Post, Fails

Video Professor continues to be angry that I called them a scam in my original Scamville post. They've gotten nowhere reaching out to me directly (more on that below), so now they've tried complaining to the Washington Post, which has syndicated our content since 2008. The Washington Post stood firm beside us today and kept our original post as written. Good for them.

Essentially Video Professor is arguing that they didn't have the chance to respond to our post before we published, and that in general we aren't behaving very journalistically.

One of my favorite habits of journalists is that they refuse to state an opinion. Instead, they find a source to say whatever it is they want said and then quote them. And when I say "favorite," what I really mean is that I hate it.

The story the journalist writes has the look of objectivity but really it's just the same as if the journalist wrote what she or he meant, directly, in the first place. A gold star journalist will then find a "balancing" quote from someone else, often the person or entity being attacked. "When did you stop beating your wife," etc.

I prefer to just skip all that nonsense and get right to the meat of a matter. And most of my favorite bloggers do the same. None of us have the audacity to think that we are your only news source. You can find other opinions elsewhere, and judge them on their merits, too.

Video Professor was a side note in our original Scamville post, just one of a bunch of scams that were making their way into social games on Facebook and MySpace. But now we're focused on them like a laser.

Video Professor is unlike mobile scams which look to get a relatively small $10 – $20/month subscription on your mobile bill and hope you never notice. They go for the big kill: $190 – $290 charged to your credit card on time.

I haven't found the Video Professor scam on Facebook social games since the Scamville posts, but the site is still live, and there are still lot of links from Google and Facebook (they still advertise directly on Facebook).

What you see when you first hit the site depends on how you got there – directly or via an advertising partner. The least scammy version is what you see if you go to directly. On the home page in very small font is a statement that you are going to be charged $290 if you engage in a transaction with them. But that's the only on-screen disclosure you'll see. Click on a product and go to the next page and you are told you get lots of stuff for free, all you have to do is pay up to a $10 shipping charge. You choose your product and you're on to the checkout page. Nothing is stated about the $290 charge. After that you are on the final checkout page, showing a total price of $4.56. There's no fine print, just two links on the page to pages with hugely long agreements with text hidden in the middle of it all that you are actually being sent tons of products and you'll be charged $290 for them all if you don't cancel in ten days.

Needless to say, people who get this stuff either don't read fine print and are charged, or try to return it. There are hundreds of user complaints about refunds not being paid. 271 complaints to be exact, on RipoffReport alone.

I've put the purchase flow at the bottom of this post. Remember that this is the least scammy version I've found (here's how they lured people in from Facebook a couple of weeks ago). For users who hit the site via Facebook, Google or other advertisments, it's even scammier.

Is This A Scam?

You're damn right it's a scam. Users are obviously being tricked into buying something they don't understand and wouldn't want even if they did understand the details. The company says they comply with federal and state laws. But they continually refine the landing and checkout pages to comply with the bare minimum of legal requirements while maximizing ROI. Jump to 3:15 of this video for a description of how services like these trick users into buying useless products.

Here's an easy way to determine if something is a scam – would users pay for it if they knew exactly what they were buying? In Video Professor's case, the answer is no, and the company has to resort to tricking the user into paying nearly $300 for a bunch of CDs. Our governments should be protecting us from this nonsense, but they can't or won't. I'll be damned if I'll stop writing about it, though.

Here's what people have to say about video professor. See this article and comments, as well as Amazon and epinions reviews.

And to the people behind these companies – how do you sleep at night knowing that you are nothing but a deadweight loss to society, taking money from people who aren't Internet savvy enough to know they're being scammed? When you're 80 and look back at what you've done with your life, is this really what you want to have spent your time doing?

History Of Threats

I'm not surprised that Video Professor is going to so much effort to shut me up – this is how they do business. Video Professor has gone after people who've criticized the company. Some of the links in this article pointing to other criticisms are now dead links – victims of litigation?

When Video Professor sent me an email after my post arguing that they weren't a scam, I replied "It's a huge fucking scam. And you know it." Which pretty much summed up my position on the matter. Here's the letter they sent to the Washington Post. Note that they argue that they simply want to tell their side. I argue that their website tells their side of the story:

Dear [removed],

[removed] referred me to you, after we inquired about this story:

In the story, Mr. Arrington accused us of being a "Scam." Mr. Arrington never contacted us in advance of making this charge for an opportunity to present our side of the story.

Assertion with attribution.

We contacted Mr. Arrington, and essentially answered the questions he didn't ask of us prior to writing the story, and it appearing in the online edition of the Washington Post.

His response to me was as follows:

"It's a huge f*cking scam. And you know it." ( I replaced the "u" with the asterisk in case your filters prevent this sort of language from reaching your inbox)

Two question sir:

1. Is it now the policy of the Washington Post, either in print or online editions to make such assertions, without first contacting someone prior to accusing them of being a Scam?

2. Is it now the policy of the Washington Post, either in print or online editions to have their writers respond to inquiries with the "F" bomb?

For the record, and the point we tried to make with Mr. Arrington, we are not a scam. We are members of the BBB with whom we maintain an "A" rating. The BBB reviews all of our marketing materials on a regular basis. We also are in full compliance with all rules and regulations of the FTC.

All we ever asked was a chance to offer our side. Mr Arrington would then have been free to "call it as he saw it."

But we were essentially told to "F-Off"

I'd appreciate your thoughts sir and also your time and attention.

Yours truly,
Brian D. Olson

Brian Olson
Vice-President of Public Affairs
Video Professor, Inc
303-232-1244 Ext 380

The Washington Post's response? In a nutshell, "you'll have to discuss directly with the editors at TechCrunch."

Crunch Network: MobileCrunch Mobile Gadgets and Applications, Delivered Daily.