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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Do Bees Have Feelings? - Obama Caves to Republicans - Republican Voter Suppression - Peak Oil - Melting Polar Ice Releases Toxins - Racial Wealth gap Grows- Africa Drought Worsens - US Never Planned to Capture Bin Laden - more

- Do Bees Have Feelings?
    It’s... an important [question] with implications for how we should treat not just bees, but the great majority of animals. Recently, studies by Geraldine Wright and her colleagues at Newcastle University in the UK have rekindled debate over these issues by showing that honeybees may experience something akin to moods.
- Republican Voter Suppression
    More dirty tricks from Wisconsin's Scott Walker, who first passed a voter ID/suppression law requiring photo IDs at the polls [a law which would effect democratic voters] and then started closing DMV offices where residents - oddly, mostly Democrats - could get them, while at the same time expanding hours in Republican areas.
- The Scourge of 'Peak Oil'
    When demand for oil consistently surpasses supply, experts warn that our lives will look "very differently".

    "Peak oil is the time when the world's production reaches the highest point, then starts back down again," Whipple told Al Jazeera. "Oil is a finite resource, and [it] someday will go down, and that is what the peak oil discussion is all about."

    There are signs that peak oil may have already arrived.
- Melting Arctic Ice Releasing Banned Toxins, Warn Scientists
    The chemicals seeping out as temperatures rise include the pesticides DDT, lindane and chlordane as well as the industrial chemicals PCBs and the fungicide hexachlorobenzene (HCB). All of these are know as persistent organic pollutants (Pops), and are banned under the 2004 Stockholm convention.

    Pops can cause cancers and birth defects and take a long time to degrade. Over past decades, the low temperatures in the Arctic trapped volatile Pops in ice and cold water. But scientists in Canada and Norway have discovered that global warming is freeing the Pops again.
- US Squandered £21 Billion on Private Contractors in Afghanistan and Iraq
    Waste, mismanagement and poorly conceived projects mean the United States could have lost more than 15 per cent of the total given out in contracts and grants.
- A surprising war on leaks under Obama
    When President Obama took office, federal employees who had exposed wrongdoing or were considering doing so had reason for hope. Eight years of the Bush administration's relentless retaliation against whistle-blowers had ended, and Obama spoke encouragingly of transparency and due process.

    Since then, the administration has taken some positive steps for whistle-blowers, most notably in (unsuccessfully) advocating legislation to protect them and in loosening the government's grip on public information. However, its treatment of national-security and intelligence whistle-blowers - arguably the ones we need most - has been brutal. It has pursued multiple prosecutions of such whistle-blowers on espionage charges.
- UN Urges 'Massive' Action on Horn of Africa Drought
    An estimated 3.7 million people in Somalia -- around a third of the population -- are on the brink of starvation and millions more in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda have been struck by the worst drought in the region in 60 years.

    Officials said at Monday's meeting the UN has received about $1 billion (696 million euros) since first launching an appeal for the region in November 2010 but needs a billion more by the end of the year to cope with the emergency.
- Obama Administration Delays Smog Rule Amid Pushback From Industry and Republicans
    The latest delay comes as major industry groups, many Republicans and some conservative Democrats are pressuring EPA and the White House to scuttle the rules.
- Study Shows Racial Wealth Gap Grows Wider
    There's long been a big gap between the wealth of white families and the wealth of African-Americans and Hispanics. But the Great Recession has made it much worse — the divide is almost twice what it used to be.
- Republican Climate Change Deniers and Tea Party Funders the Koch Brothers are Busy Suppressing Votes and Strangling Democracy
    Koch Slime Knows No Bounds Dept: It seems the ever-helpful Koch Brothers'  Americans for Prosperity was kind enough to send out absentee ballots to Democratic voters in Wisconsin for upcoming recall elections against six GOP state senators. But in a mysterious "typo," the forms tell voters to return them by Aug. 11. The election is Aug. 9. Wisconsin Democrats have filed a complaint; now, we are too.
- Bin Laden Raid 'Was Strictly to Kill Him'
    The raid on Osama bin Laden's hideout in Pakistan was a mission to kill him, and there was ''never any question'' he would be captured alive, one of those directly involved has claimed.
- Special Comment: The Four Great Hypocrisies of the Debt Deal

Retreat, Surrender, Can He at Least Plead?
by Ralph Nader
Published on Tuesday, August 2, 2011 by

The headlines came quickly after President Obama concluded the deficit-debt deal with the Republicans Sunday evening. There were few shades of gray. The New York Times editorial was titled "To Escape Chaos, a Terrible Deal: Democrats won almost nothing they wanted except avoiding default."

It was truly, as the Times pointed out, "a political environment laced with lunacy." But don't blame it all on the Republican "mad dogs" on Capitol Hill playing chicken with the economic plight of the American people and its wobbling economy. It was President Obama who surrendered.

In one of the most inept episodes of Presidential-Congressional relations, Mr. Obama managed to give the Republicans more than they expected and leave the Democrats with less than the Republicans offered. The Republicans never expected Mr. Obama to give in entirely on tax increases on the wealthy, on the reviled oil industry giants and other corporate tax escapees. The Republicans even agreed to $800 billion in new revenue over ten years. Obama fumbled the ball day after day, and with the August 2 debt ceiling deadline looming, he fell to the extortionists.

Unlike Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush II, who routinely expected and got debt ceilings raised without conditions.

President Obama's disaster began months ago when he agreed to tie raising the debt ceiling to a grand bargain with the Republicans regarding deficits and revenues instead of demanding a debt ceiling raise while he was caving on extending Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. That immediately gave the "fanatic" Republicans a veto power over the "establishment" Republicans in Congress. And fanatics don't blink. Especially those fanatics who, elected last year, say they don't care about being re-elected.

So Obama accepted about $2.5 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade, got no revenue producing tax increases and therefore made it nearly impossible to create a public works jobs program to uplift a sliding economy.

With economic indicators registering more trouble in recent days for American workers, Mr. Obama has no cards left. Interest rates cannot be driven any lower by the Federal Reserve. He didn't get even a renewal of the extension of unemployment benefits.
Consumer spending - 2/3rds of the economy, is stagnant. Without consumer demand, new investment is sluggish. Unemployment is rising, and without jobs, workers can't increase their consumer spending. State, local and federal government spending cannot increase under the yoke of the just agreed-upon cuts. The weaker dollar may increase exports a little, but the U.S. still has a continuing massive trade deficit, especially with China. Europe's financial problems will curb orders of U.S. goods and services.

So what can Mr. Obama do? He can propose a public works program, paid for by the tax increases on the wealthy and the corporations. Both are getting richer. The large corporations are reporting very good second quarter profits further disconnecting their affluence from that of their workers and labor in general. He could, if he wanted, make a very strong case for repairing America's infrastructure and bring the soldiers back from Iraq and Afghanistan, as a majority of the American people and the most mayors of our cities desire.

First, however, he has to take the offensive by showing that the bulk of the deficits since 2002 were caused by the Bush tax cuts, mostly for the wealthy, and Bush's two wars. Obama also has to hold the Republicans accountable for their hostage-taking of the American economy so they cannot impede public works proposals in an election year.
Amazingly, as a Harvard-trained lawyer, he was quick to compromise from the get-go. Consequently, he painted himself into a corner. So, since he is not a leader, maybe he can become a pleader.

Given that non-financial companies are sitting on two trillion dollars of inert cash and other liquid assets, maybe he can appeal to these companies to disgorge ten percent in immediate special dividends to their long-parched shareholders who are, after all, their owners. Loosening the executive locks on this hoard of money would provide $200 billion for more likely spending in the market place. Companies like Apple, Google, Cisco, Intel and Microsoft alone are sitting on well over $200 billion cash. To these coddled, indentured U.S. companies he can invoke President John F. Kennedy's challenge--"Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."

Second, he can plead with those very profitable corporations that have benefited from the government bailout, or pay little or no federal income taxes, to voluntarily contribute to a public works fund.

Companies like GE, Verizon, Exxon Mobil, Boeing, IBM, Wells Fargo, DuPont, American Electric Power, FedEx, Honeywell, Yahoo, United Technologies as a group made $171 billion in U.S. profits over three years and paid zero federal income tax with a $2.5 billion negative advantage. And that, says Bob McIntyre, director of Citizens for Tax Justice, is "just the tip of an iceberg of widespread corporate tax avoidance."

Is such pleading just Pollyannaish? Maybe. But it will resonate with the American people's sense of injustice. Those feelings of indignation can reverberate and cause members of Congress to start remembering who sent them to Washington. Last I heard, corporations don't have a single vote.