Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Fox News Poll: 79% Say U.S. Economy Could Collapse

The latest Fox News poll finds that 79 percent of voters think it’s possible the economy could collapse, including large majorities of Democrats (72 percent), Republicans (84 percent) and independents (80 percent).

Most American voters believe it’s possible the nation’s economy could collapse, and majorities don’t think elected officials in Washington have ideas for fixing it.

The latest Fox News poll finds that 79 percent of voters think it’s possible the economy could collapse, including large majorities of Democrats (72 percent), Republicans (84 percent) and independents (80 percent).

Just 18 percent think the economy is "so big and strong it could never collapse."

Moreover, 78 percent of voters believe the federal government is "larger and more costly" than it has ever been before, and by nearly three-to-one more voters think the national debt (65 percent) is a greater potential threat to the country’s future than terrorism (23 percent).

Who has a plan for dealing with the economy?

Overall, 35 percent of voters think the Obama administration has a clear plan for fixing the economy, down from 42 percent last summer (July 21-22, 2009).

At the same time the number saying the White House doesn’t have a plan for the economy has increased from 53 percent in July to 62 percent in the new poll. That includes almost all Republicans (88 percent), two-thirds of independents (67 percent), as well as a third of Democrats (33 percent).

Even fewer people think Democrats in Congress (24 percent) and Republicans in Congress (16 percent) have clear plans to fix the economy.

There is a large gap in party support, as Democrats (46 percent) are significantly more likely than Republicans (25 percent) to think their party has a strategy for the economy.

The national telephone poll was conducted for Fox News by Opinion Dynamics Corp. among 900 registered voters from March 16 to March 17. For the total sample, the poll has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

"These results reveal a deep anxiety about the fragility of our economy, as voters face continued uncertainty about jobs and an expanding commitment to public sector spending," said Ernest Paicopolos, a principal of Opinion Dynamics.

Three in 10 American voters (30 percent) say they are comfortable with the size and role of the federal government right now, while 65 percent say the government has become too big and "is restricting American freedoms."

Sizable majorities of Republicans (84 percent) and independents (74 percent) think the government is too big, while just over half of Democrats (51 percent) are okay with the size of government.

Anti-Semitism: What is it?

Several of us among the incurably curious asked ourselves a simple question: what is anti-Semitism? That it must be written with a capital “S” says a lot.

Then we realized it also morphs. To that feature I can attest. In November 2002, I met a “John Doe” in London who proposed a research challenge. While meeting that challenge, I encountered various versions of anti-Semitism.

A colleague advised against this challenge. First he fretted at the criminal nature of what the research has since confirmed. Then he inquired about my safety. That said a lot.

The colleague was M.I.T. Professor Noam Chomsky. For his criticism of Israeli policy, he was attacked as a self-hating Jew. Were he not Jewish, doubtless he would have been an anti-Semite. For critics of Israel, those are the only two options. He cautioned me:

You’ll get the same thing: anti-Semitic, Holocaust denier, want to kill all the Jews, etc. It doesn’t matter what the facts are. Bear in mind that you are dealing with intellectuals, that is, what we call ‘commissars’ and ‘apparatchiks’ in enemy states.

Is anti-Semitism a geopolitical strategy? If so, for what purpose? Character assassination?

Ten months ago, I met with Professor William Robinson on the University of California Santa Barbara campus. We met soon after he was attacked by the Anti-Defamation League and its network.

Robinson had read Guilt By Association, the first release based on this research. His question mirrored Prof. Chomsky’s concern: “Are they going to kill me?” he asked. Who are They? Those who attack anyone critical of Israeli policy.

Anti-Semitism—A License to Kill?

For his class on globalization, Robinson provided an email link to a photo essay critical of Israeli policy. The essay had been circulating online for weeks. When two students complained to the ADL, its attack troops insisted on Robinson’s removal while its national network urged alumni to threaten the withholding of gifts and bequests to the university.

Word quickly spread among academics nationwide. That time-critical ADL strategy silenced on-campus criticism of the Israeli assault on Gaza. Is it anti-Semitic to suggest that’s how anti-Semitism works?

When the Anti-Defamation League intimidates on a national scale, does anti-Semitism morph into something even more sinister? The Gaza assault killed 1,400, including 400 Palestinian children. That slaughter was scheduled during America’s political and media “down time”—between Christmas 2008 and the January 2009 inaugural of Barack Obama.

Is it anti-Semitic to suggest a strategic motive behind the timing of Israel’s latest savagery?

Then there’s the motive for 911. Is it anti-Semitic to raise that taboo subject? Ask those members of the 911 Commission who objected—successfully—when the chair and vice-chair proposed hearings on the motivation for that high-profile provocation.

Instead, Americans were left to cope with the results of an overwrought reaction to an unexplained mass murder too quickly blamed on “Islamo” fascism. Only now can we see the full costs in blood and treasure of a war waged on fixed intelligence and false pretenses.

The fiscal tab alone is projected to total $3 Trillion. That includes the future costs of military pensions, disabilities, record-level post-traumatic stress, suicides and so forth.

All that money is borrowed, a first for an American war. The interest cost could reach $700 billion. Is it anti-Semitic to mention here that debt is always the prize?

At the end of WWII, the victorious U.S. was home to 50% of the world’s productive power. Our bonds were gilt-edged and remained so for two generations. Now we are widely hated, our credibility is shot, our credit rating is slipping and our economy teeters on a meltdown.

Is it anti-Semitic to ask, “What happened?”

Is it anti-Semitic to report that the so-called “mastermind” behind 911 cited as his motive the U.S.-Israeli relationship?

Would it be anti-Semitic to ask for an accounting of the “but for” costs of this relationship?

But for this “special relationship” what would be the current condition of the U.S.—financially, militarily, diplomatically, geopolitically? Would the computation of those costs be an exercise in anti-Semitism? How about future costs?

Is it Anti-Semitic to call for a New 911 Commission?

America was misled to wage war in Iraq. Who had a relationship with us privileged enough to succeed with such duplicity in plain sight?

Who had the means, motive, opportunity and—importantly—the stable nation state intelligence to deceive us from inside our own government? Is that question anti-Semitic?

We were betrayed. Does that betrayal trace to those who befriended us?

We were defrauded. Does that treason trace to those we were induced to trust?

As counsel to the U.S. Senate Finance Committee (1980-87), I crafted federal tax law governing funds under management. Those funds surged from $800 billion in 1980 to more than $17,000 billion by the spring of 2007.

Those tax policies created a vast pool of “money-on-autopilot.” Today’s consensus belief can be simply put: money should be allowed to pursue more of itself—freely.

The unspoken assumption is that money is smarter than people. That’s the generally accepted truth behind the finance-fixated obsession we now know as “economics.”

Legions of consensus-touting consultants insist that this One True Faith guide lawmaking worldwide. By law, financial freedom became a proxy for personal freedom. Tribunals under the World Trade Organization may yet enforce that worldview globally.

How did such a narrow perspective become a widely agreed-to mindset? How were we induced to set America’s course by those values peculiar to money?

Rather than the civil rights refrain, “Let my people go,” the consensus refrain is “Let my money go.” Were we induced by a subculture within a subculture…within a subculture to freely embrace the very money myopic mindset that now endangers our freedom?

This mindset first surfaced as the “Chicago model” before morphing over decades into the “Washington” consensus.

How were we as a nation induced to brand democracy with a point of view that, by law, displaces those values not denominated in money? Is that an anti-Semitic question?

Shutting Down Debate

Early on in this challenge, I included the noun “Jew” in a Google search. I received in return an automated response from the Anti-Defamation League implying I was an anti-Semite.


More importantly, how did a Google response appear in my email inbox—automatically—from the Anti-Defamation League?

The ADL network conducts trainings for law enforcement under recently enacted federal hate crimes legislation. By my use of a common noun in an online search, am I now identified in a database as wanting to kill all the Jews?

Mark Yudoff, president of the University of California, could have intervened in the on-campus events that caused Professor Robinson to fear for his life. He declined. Richard Blum, chair of the state’s Board of Regents, could have intervened. He too declined.

Judith Yudoff is the immediate past international president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism representing 760 synagogues. Blum’s wife, U. S. Senator Diane Feinstein, chairs the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Is it anti-Semitic to report these facts?

My apologies. Clearly I don’t yet grasp what anti-Semitism is. Thus I throw the challenge to you the reader: what is it? Together perhaps we can sort this out.

Family bonus(es) plan

Less than two years after graduating from Harvard University, Lloyd Blankfein's son, Alex, fetched a hefty $155,000 in compensation last year, according to a filing from Goldman Sachs, for his work in cross-asset sales, or selling various products to clients.

For someone who graduated in 2008, that's not too shabby, especially considering the average salary for a recent college graduate in 2009 was about $49,000, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

Blankfein's other son, Jonathan, who is expected to graduate from Harvard this spring, is also likely to find himself doing pretty well when he joins the firm this summer as part of Goldman's new crop of analysts.

Jonathan twice had internships at his father's firm, and according to business blog Business Insider, is writing his senior thesis on the fund that predated the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

But the Blankfein boys aren't the only ones benefiting from family working at the gold-plated firm.

A number of other Goldman executives' relatives are enjoying compensation of $200,000 or more, according to the securities filings, which did not identify the children's names.

Among those with family members working at the bank are CFO David Viniar, whose stepdaughter pocketed $225,000 in 2009, up from $150,000 a year earlier. In-house lawyer Esta Stecher, whose son earned $200,000 for 2009, made $124,000 a year earlier.

And the connections go beyond just offspring. Ex-Goldman president Jonathan Winkelried's sibling pulled in $175,000 in compensation, according to the filing, which adds, "These amounts were determined in accordance with our standard compensation practices applicable to similarly-situated employees."

The issue of compensation has become a sensitive issue for Goldman over the past year. After riding out the financial crisis with its most profitable year ever, Goldman was poised to see its bonus pool balloon to as much as $23 billion before the bank caved to public pressure, trimming the size of the pool to $16.2 billion and adopting a more conservative approach by paying top executives more in stock than cash.

That led Blankfein, who pulled in $68 million in 2007, to see his bonus shrink to $9 million in stock for 2009, less than half of what JPMorgan Chase boss Jamie Dimon pocketed for his 2009 bonus.

Has Germany just killed the dream of a European superstate?

So after weeks of Euro-bluff it looks ever more like an IMF rescue for Greece after all, and hence for any other eurozone nation driven to ruin by the wrong monetary policy.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has little hope of selling a bail-out of Greece to German voters
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has little hope of selling a bail-out of Greece to German voters

German and Dutch leaders have concluded in the nick of time that they cannot defy the will of their sovereign parliaments by propping up a country that lied about its deficits, or risk court defeats by breaching the no-bail-out clause in Article 125 of the EU Treaties.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has halted at the Rubicon. So has Dutch premier Jan Peter Balkenende, as well he might in charge of a broken government facing elections in a country where far-right leader Geert Wilders is the second political force, and where the Tweede Kamer has categorically blocked loans for Greece.

The failure of EU leaders to cobble together a plausible bail-out – if that is what occurs at this week’s Brussels summit – is a 'game-changer' in market parlance. Eurogroup chair Jean-Claude Juncker said last month that such an outcome would shatter the credibility of monetary union. It certainly shatters many assumptions.

There will be no inevitable move to fiscal federalism; no EU treasury or economic government; no debt union. It is Stalingrad for the federalist camp and the institutions of the permanent EU government.

I remember hearing Joschka Fischer, then German Vice-Chancellor, telling Euro-MPs a decade ago that EMU was “a quantum leap ... creating an inexorable federal logic”. Such views were in vogue then.

Any euro crisis would force Europe to create the necessary machinery to make it work, acting as a catalyst for full-fledged union. Yet the moment of truth has come. There is no quantum leap. We have a Merkel pirouette.

Paris is watching nervously. As Le Monde put it last week, “behind the question of aid to Greece is a France-Germany match that pitches two conceptions of Europe against each other.” The game is not going well for 'Les Bleus’. The whole point of the euro for the Quai D’Orsay was to lock Germany into economic fusion. Instead we have fission.

EU leaders may yet rustle up a rescue package that keeps the IMF at bay, but alliances are shifting fast. Even Italy has slipped into the pro-IMF camp, knowing that rescue costs can be shifted on to the US, Japan, Britain, Russia, China, and the Saudis, lessening the burden for Rome.

Besides, too much has been said over the last week that cannot be unsaid. Mrs Merkel’s speech to the Bundestag was epochal, a defiant warning that henceforth Germany would pursue the German national interest in EU affairs, capped by her call for treaty changes to allow the expulsion of fiscal sinners from Euroland. Nothing seems so permanent about the euro any more.

Days later, Thilo Sarrazin from the Bundesbank blurted out that if Greece cannot pay its bills “it should do what every debtor has to do and file for insolvency. This would be a suitably frightening example for every other potentially unsound state,” he said, pointedly excluding France from the list of sound countries.

Dr Sarrazin should be locked up in a Frankfurt Sanatorium. It was such flippancy that led to the Lehman disaster, requiring state rescues of half the world’s financial system. A Greek default would alone be twice the size of the combined defaults by Argentina and Russia. Contagion across Club Med would instantly set off a second banking crisis.

Some suspect that ultra-hawks in Germany want to bring the EMU crisis to a head, deeming delay to be the greater danger. How else to interpret last week’s speech by Jürgen Stark, Germany’s man at the European Central Bank, calling for tightening to head off inflation.

This is alarming. Core inflation in Euroland was 0.9pc in February, the lowest since the data series began. It is certain to fall further as the doubling of oil prices fades from the base effect. M3 money has been contracting for a year. Business credit is shrinking at a 2.7pc rate.

So, it is not enough for the EU to impose a fiscal squeeze of 10pc of GDP on Greece, 8pc on Spain, and 6pc on Portugal, and 5pc on France over three years, we need a dose of 1930s monetary policy as well to make sure life is Hell for everybody.

Be that as it may, Greece’s George Papandreou says his country is in the worst of both worlds, suffering IMF-style austerity without receiving IMF money – which comes cheap at around 3.25pc. So why allow his country to be used as a “guinea pig” – as he put it - by EU factions pursuing conflicting agendas?

The IMF option has its limits too. The maximum ever lent by the Fund is 12 times quota, or €15bn for Greece, not enough to nurse the country through to June. The standard IMF cure of devaluation is blocked by euro membership. So Greece will have to sweat it out with a public debt spiralling to 135pc of GDP next year, stuck in slump with no exit route.

The deeper truth that few care to face is that under the current EMU structure Berlin will have to do for Greece and Club Med what it has done for East Germany, pay vast subsidies for decades. Events of the last week have made it clear that no such money will ever be forthcoming.

Let me be clear. I do not blame Greece, Ireland, Italy, or Spain for what has happened. No central bank could have tried more heroically than the Banco d’España to counter the effects of negative real interest rates, but the macro-policy error of monetary union washed over its efforts.

Nor do I blame Germany, which generously agreed to give up the D-Mark to keep the political peace. It was the price that France demanded in exchange for tolerating reunification after the Berlin Wall came down.

I blame the EU elites that charged ahead with this project for the wrong reasons – some cynically, mostly out of Hegelian absolutism – ignoring the economic anthropology of Europe and the rules of basic common sense. They must answer for a depression.

Geithner says Fannie, Freddie overhaul must wait

US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on Tuesday swatted aside pressure for a swift reform of troubled government-backed mortgage giants as data pointed to a still struggling real estate market.

Geithner told Congress any restructuring of lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which received a 100-billion-dollar-plus government bailout at the height of the housing crisis, "must be done as part of a reform of the wider housing finance system."

Facing pressure from Republicans for a quick unwinding of government's role in the market, Geithner argued reforms would "take several months" to develop and should only be "enacted and executed at a time of greater market stability."

"Private capital has not yet returned to provide the amount of funding that would be needed to allow families to get a mortgage to buy a new home or to sensibly refinance the house they already live in," he said.

Without Fannie and Freddie's continued activity, "mortgage rates would be higher and homeowners would have a significantly harder time obtaining credit," he said.

That view appeared to be supported by figures published on Tuesday showing the massive real estate market was still struggling to recover from the effects of the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression.

The National Association of Realtors on Tuesday said existing-home sales slipped 0.6 percent nationally in February, the third straight monthly drop.

But the association said widespread winter storms in the second month of the year might mask underlying demand.

"Some closings were simply postponed by winter storms, but buyers couldn?t get out to look at homes in some areas and that should negatively impact near-term contract activity," said Lawrence Yun the association's chief economist said.

But Republicans lambasted Geithner for failing to reform the two lenders more than 18 months after the government was forced to prevent their collapse.

Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican from West Virginia, argued normal market activity was improving but would not fully resume until the so-called government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) are reformed

"The nation's housing finance system is slowly recovering but the system is being dominated by the GSEs and we need to work together to restore a strong private market presence," she told the financial services committee of the House of Representatives.

Geithner promised Fannie and Freddie's future roles "will be fundamentally different from the role played in the past," arguing that the mixture of private investment and government preferences had failed.

"The housing finance system cannot continue to operate as it has in the past," he said "private gains can no longer be supported by the umbrella of public protection.

"Capital standards must be higher and excessive risk-taking must be appropriately restrained," he added.

Obamacare: Taxing The American People Into Oblivion

"Death and taxes may be inevitable, but they shouldn't be related"

H.R. 3590, The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, to give it its full title, is rammed full of tax increases which will further economically cripple Americans already laboring under the worst financial crisis since the great depression.

The partnering Reconciliation Act, currently in the Senate, also contains a raft of pork barrel and tax hikes, there to fund the trillion dollar cost of nationalizing medicine.

As reported by Bloomberg News today, analysis by the nonpartisan congressional Joint Committee on Taxation reveals that the bill will generate $409.2 billion in additional taxes by 2019.

In addition, the Congressional Budget Office states that the bill also levies almost $69 billion more in penalties for those who fail to meet mandates to buy insurance.

The Journal of Accountancy boils down some of the tax hikes and penalty fees in H.R. 3590 and the Reconciliation Act - the highlights include:

Excise Tax on Uninsured Individuals - Individuals who fail to maintain minimum essential coverage will be subject to a penalty equal to $750. The fee for an uninsured individual under age 18 is one-half of the adult fee.

Excise Tax on High-Cost Employer Plans - The federal government would impose a 40% tax on the value of employer-sponsored health coverage exceeding certain thresholds. Those levels are projected to be $8,500 for self only and $23,000 for any other level by the year 2013. This excise was announced with fanfare by the White House and labor unions in January and remains in the final bill.

Increase in additional tax on distributions from Health Savings Accounts and Archer Medical Savings Accounts not used for qualified medical expenses - An increase from 10% to 20% on taxes of money in a health savings account not used for qualified medical expenses. For Archer medical savings accounts, an increase from 15% to 20%.

Additional Hospital Insurance Tax on High-Income Taxpayers - High income tax payers, making on a joint return over $250,000 and a standard return over $200,000, are required to pay an additional 0.5% of wages. This applies to both self-employed, and regularly employed individuals.

Fees on Health Plans - A fee applied to all health insurance providers based upon net premiums and any third party fees associated with the administration of those programs. The fees will total $6.7 billion annually. This figure begins at $8 billion in the Reconciliation Act and rises to $14.3 billion by 2018.

Tax on Indoor Tanning Services - The act imposes a 10% tax on amounts paid for indoor tanning services. Like a sales tax, the tax will be collected from the person tanning when payment for the tanning services is made.

Business Insider boils down 15 more tax hikes here - highlights include:

Tax on individuals without acceptable health care coverage - A 2.5% income tax on individuals who do not have health care coverage, limited to a cost less than the average national health care premium.

Excise tax on elective cosmetic medical procedures - A tax of 5% is levied upon the am mount paid for any cosmetic surgery. This does not include the need for such surgeries created by trauma or a disfiguring disease. If the tax is not collected by that professional completing the procedure, their business is still liable for the requirement.

The Reconciliation Act also legislates for the following surcharges: 1% surcharge on individuals making more than $350,000, 1.5% surcharge on individuals making more than $500,000, 5.4% surcharge on individuals making more than $1 million.

Yet more tax provisions in the bill are highlighted by INvestors Business Daily in their piece titled 20 Ways ObamaCare Will Take Away Our Freedoms - highlights include:

Taxes On Employers - If you are a large employer (defined as at least 101 employees) and you do not want to provide health insurance to your employee, then you will pay a $750 fine per employee (It could be $2,000 to $3,000 under the reconciliation changes) (Section 1513).

Taxes on Pharmaceutical Companies - The government will extract a fee of $2.3 billion annually from the pharmaceutical industry (Section 9008 (b)).

Taxes on medical device manufacturers - The government will extract a fee of $2 billion annually from medical device makers (Section 1405).

As a candidate and President, Barack Obama has had one core message for middle class Americans: I won't raise your taxes.

By putting his name to the health care reform bill today he has swiftly put to bed any pretence that he would uphold that pledge (multi-trillion dollar bailouts aside).

While the new taxes on individuals are bad enough, the penalties imposed on pharmaceutical corporations, health insurers and employers are will inevitably serve as a double whammy as the hikes will undoubtedly be passed on to the general public in the form of higher costs.

"Simply, you have nationalized healthcare by proxy." writes Jonah Goldberg of the LA Times.

"Insurance companies are now heavily regulated government contractors. Way to get big business out of Washington! They will clear a small, government-approved profit on top of their government-approved fees. Then, when healthcare costs rise -- and they will -- Democrats will insist, yet again, that the profit motive is to blame and out from this Obamacare Trojan horse will pour another army of liberals demanding a more honest version of single-payer."

"The Obama administration has turned the insurance industry into the Blackwater of socialized medicine." Goldberg concludes.

A swift dose of propaganda is sure to silence some critics. However, if the softly softly approach fails, the myriad of new taxes and regulations contained in the Obamacare bill will be aggressively enforced by no less than 16,500 new "combat trained" IRS agents armed to the teeth with shotguns, who will also closely scrutinize Americans' income tax returns and be waiting to pounce should they find evidence of anyone trying to avoid paying for mandatory government health care.

Even if you agree with socialized health care in principle, the fact is that this will only benefit the insurance companies who wrote it. Meanwhile millions of Americans will be subjected to more taxation, harassment, and oppression at the hands of a federal government run amok. An out of control leviathan, hell-bent on an agenda to control every aspect of your life, as they lay in wait to exploit the momentum achieved through the passage of Obamacare by ramming through nightmare cap and tax levies to further financially castrate already beleaguered Americans.

Anti-War Rally, March 20 - San Francisco

Click this link .....

Auschwitz Death Camp Doctors' Documents Found

WARSAW, Poland — Food coupons for some of the notorious Nazi doctors at the Auschwitz death camp – including perhaps the sadistic Dr. Joseph Mengele – have been found in the attic of a nearby house, where they had lain unseen for decades.

Also found in the attic were other documents relating to the lives of Nazi officials, including death certificates and a map.

Some sugar coupons bear the names of Horst Fischer and Fritz Klein, doctors who were executed for their crimes after the war, Adam Cyra, a historian at the Auschwitz memorial museum who is looking through the documents, said Monday.

"The sensational value of this discovery is in the fact that these original documents, bearing the names of main murderers from Auschwitz, were found so many years after the war," Cyra said.

Cyra said he believes a June 1943 coupon for a small amount of sugar probably was assigned to Dr. Joseph Mengele, who was infamous for his sadistic experiments, but the writing is unclear.

A February 1944 coupon for 0.28 kilograms of butter is made out for a Dr. Mergerle. There was no SS doctor by that name at camp, so Cyra believes a clerk misspelled Mengele's name.

Doctors and pharmacists at the camp conducted pseudo-medical experiments on the inmates and helped select Jews arriving at the camp for either labor or death. Mengele escaped after World War II and evaded capture for the rest of his life.

The documents – almost 300 in total – were found in the attic of a house being renovated in the town of Oswiecim, where the Nazis built the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp.

The homeowner, who has requested anonymity, made them available to historians at the Auschwitz museum on Friday, museum officials said. They believe the house was used by an SS officer during the war, but it is not clear which one.

Historians have checked through some of the documents but have more to pore over, museum spokesman Pawel Sawicki said.

The material does not document crimes committed at the camp.

The documents include a German-language map of the area around Oswiecim and a death certificate for Adolf Kroemer, a pharmacist at Auschwitz, saying he died of a heart attack in February 1944.

About 150 blank food coupons and death certificates were also found, Cyra said.

Between 1940 and 1945 more than 1 million people, mostly Jews, were killed in the gas chambers at Auschwitz or died of starvation or disease while forced to perform hard labor at the camp.

Judge Napolitano: Why State Efforts Against Obamacare Are Doomed

FOX Senior Judicial Analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano weighs in on the legality of the health-care legislation.

Top Analyst: "Developed Market Governments Are Insolvent By Any Reasonable Definition"

Dylan Grice, a top analyst for European financial giant Société Générale, writes:

Developed market governments are insolvent by any reasonable definition.

Who could have known?

Everyone, actually.

As I wrote in December 2008, "The "Central Banks' Central Bank" says Bailouts Putting Nations at Risk, as Confirmed By Higher Credit Default Swap Spreads":

The Bank for International Settlements (BIS) is often called the "central banks' central bank", as it coordinates transactions between central banks.

BIS points out in a new report that the bank rescue packages have transferred significant risks onto government balance sheets, which is reflected in the corresponding widening of sovereign credit default swaps:

The scope and magnitude of the bank rescue packages also meant that significant risks had been transferred onto government balance sheets. This was particularly apparent in the market for CDS referencing sovereigns involved either in large individual bank rescues or in broad-based support packages for the financial sector, including the United States. While such CDS were thinly traded prior to the announced rescue packages, spreads widened suddenly on increased demand for credit protection, while corresponding financial sector spreads tightened.
In other words, by assuming huge portions of the risk from banks trading in toxic derivatives, and by spending trillions that they don't have, central banks have put their countries at risk from default.

Grice also says:

Eventually, there will be a crisis of such magnitude that the political winds change direction, and become blustering gales forcing us onto the course of fiscal sustainability. Until it does, the temptation to inflate will remain, as will economists with spurious mathematical rationalisations as to why such inflation will make everything OK . Until it does, the outlook will remain favorable for gold. But eventually, majority opinion will accept the painful contractionary medicine because it will have to. That will be the time to sell gold.
For background, see this, this, this, this, this, this and this.

Government to drop carbon tax in another setback for Sarkozy

Prime Minister Fillon (pictured) indicated Tuesday that the government is set to drop plans for a carbon tax. The move is another blow for President Nicolas Sarkozy, who had labelled the bill a cornerstone of the fight against global warming.
By News Wires (text)

Owen FAIRCLOUGH (video)

REUTERS - France will delay implementing a domestic tax on carbon dioxide emissions until it can get an agreement with its European partners, Prime Minister Francois Fillon signalled on Tuesday.

President Nicolas Sarkozy last year hailed the new tax as a vital weapon in the fight against global warming when it was first approved by parliament.

But it was struck down by France’s highest court just 48 hours before it was due to come into force, on the basis there were too many loopholes for the big industrial polluters.

A revised version was due to take effect in July but, with no sign of an immediate accord with other European countries, it now appears to have been put back indefinitely.

Speaking in parliament, Fillon said sustainable development policies could not be allowed to put French industry at risk.

“We have to amplify measures that help reinforce the competitiveness of our economy,” he said.

“In that spirit, I would like to indicate that the decisions we are going to take regarding sustainable development have to be better coordinated with all European countries so as not to widen our gap in competitiveness with our neighbour Germany.”

The prime minister’s office released a statement saying the carbon tax would be implemented but adding that all decisions relating to sustainable development had to be analysed with a view to their impact on industry.

“That goes for the carbon tax. We want decisions to be taken jointly with other European countries,” the statement said, adding that France would push the European Commission for a swift harmonisation of environmental taxes throughout the bloc.

Election loss

Junior Environment Minister Chantal Jouanno broke with normal cabinet practice and condemned the move.

“I despair at this retreat. I despair that environmental scepticism has won out,” she said, according to aides.

The expected delay to the carbon tax, which was deeply unpopular with industry, farmers and motorists, follows the severe defeat suffered by Sarkozy’s centre-right UMP party in last weekend’s regional elections.

The president has moved quickly to quell growing unhappiness in the ranks of his own party, bringing in three new ministers with the aim of heading off potential malcontents, and there had been growing speculation the carbon tax could be halted.

It had been expected to raise 1.5 billion euros ($2.15 billion) this year and the government had rushed to try to find its way around the court ruling, eager for new funds as the deficit is set to shoot over 8 percent of GDP.

Environmentalists condemned the turnaround, saying it called into question the environmentalist credentials which Sarkozy claimed with a burst of Green initiatives after he came to power in 2007.

“Between the pro-environmental frenzy of your first months in office and the denial that marks your policies now, only three years have passed. What can we expect in future?” Climate Action Network, which includes Greenpeace and WWF, said.

But parliamentarians were concerned that any new tax was bound to penalise French industry unless EU competitors were forced down the same road. There is no concerted effort in the EU to introduce such a tax.

“We are relieved for industry as a whole which would not have been able to bear this new handicap to competitiveness,” said Laurence Parisot, head of the French business federation Medef. “We were able to get our argument through.”

Geithner: Taxpayers Are Likely to Face "Very Substantial" Losses From Government's Takeover of Fannie and Freddie

Tim Geithner told the House Financial Services Committee today that txpayers are likely to face "very substantial" losses from the government's takeover of home mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

As Shahien Nasiripour notes:

Taxpayers have pumped more than $125 billion into the failed firms -- and on the hook for many more after the administration promised an unlimited source of funds just before Christmas to backstop their growing losses.

And as Nasiripour points out, Geithner has absolutely no idea how to fix Fannie or Freddie.

Heck of a job, Timmy.

The new arms race: China planning high-speed rail network to Russia, India, Europe

Forget the space race. The new arms race is over high-speed trains.

China is in negotiations to build a high-speed rail network to India and Europe that would make a trip from London to Beijing last just two days.

The network would begin in London and extend to India, Pakistan and Beijing. It could eventually carry passengers from on to Singapore, a trip that would last three days, according to project consultant Wang Mengshu, as reported in the Telegraph (UK).

A second line would extend from Beijing northward, through Russia to Germany, linking with the European railway system.

A third line would extend southward, connecting Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar (Burma) and Malaysia.

If you don’t think two days is very impressive, consider this: London is 5,070 air miles away from Beijing. Singapore? 6,750 miles.

“We are aiming for the trains to run almost as fast as aeroplanes,” said Mr Wang. “The best case scenario is that the three networks will be completed in a decade,” he added.

According to the Telegraph report, China is in negotiations with 17 nations for the massive project, which would effectively open the Central, East and Southeast Asia to Europe (and vice-versa).

In a way, it’s the Silk Road 2.0: the rail lines would allow China to transport raw materials more directly and efficiently.

According to the report, the system wasn’t China’s idea — it was the other nations, such as India. But it took Chinese know-how and tech to get it done.

China is in the midst of completing a $735.6 billion, five-year domestic railway expansion project consisting of almost 19,000 miles of new railways.

The nation unveiled the world’s fastest train, the Harmony Express, last year. The train has a top speed of almost 250 miles per hour, and will be used between the cities of Wuhan and Guangzhou.

The exact routes of the three lines haven’t yet been decided, but construction for the southern line has already begun, according to the report.

Here’s an interesting bit from the report:

China has offered to bankroll the Burmese line in exchange for the country’s rich reserves of lithium, a metal widely used in batteries.

The only rail line that serves the area was built by the French in Vietnam a century ago.

The only issue? Money, of course. But politics plays a part, too: ensuring the use of a common gauge across so many nations’ territories has its own hurdles, not to mention visa requirements.

A new Schengen Treaty, anyone? (Shenyang, perhaps?)

Map: The Transport Politic

More high-speed rail coverage on SmartPlanet:

Homeowners Facing Foreclosure Take Own Lives

PHILADELPHIA (CBS 3) ―The foreclosure crisis in Philadelphia is now becoming a matter of life and death. Eyewitness News has learned that in the past month, two homeowners took their own lives before sheriff's deputies arrived to tell them that they were being evicted.

On March 5, deputies arriving to post an eviction notice on Lynda Clark's South Philadelphia home found she had hanged herself.

"It's devastating for everyone. We're not even family members and it's just devastating to us," Captain Albert Innaurato of the Philadelphia Sheriff's Office said.

Less than three weeks later, owner Gregory Bellows shot and killed himself shortly before deputies arrived to evict him from his Roxborough home.

Court records show Clark, whose debt topped $100,000, lost her home at a Sheriff's Sale last October. Bellows, owing more than $240,000, had his home sold at a Sheriff's Sale in 2008.

While the numbers are clear, it most likely will never be known when the homeowner's huge debts turned into despair.

"They really don't understand that it's imminent, it's going to happen. Take some sort of proactive steps to stop it from happening," foreclosure prevention director Darrel K. Stewart said.

The Philadelphia Sheriff's Office wants those facing crises to know that help is available. They say that while eviction is heartbreaking, it does not have to end in tragedy.

"They have to learn from day one to be on top of it, there's a lot of agencies and a lot of programs in place that can help them," Innaurato said.

Healthcare Intervention: The Bigger Picture

The prospect and reality of Obamacare have woken up many people to the need to stop the socialization of medical care in America. It will produce here what it has produced everywhere: stagnation, overutilization, rationing, and the sacrifice of individual well-being in the name of collective justice.

This is the result not only of every experiment in socialized medicine but of every experiment in socialism generally. The reasons were spelled out by Mises in 1922. He explained that, without property and market prices, economic rationality disappears. The result is unworkable, chaotic, and impoverishing.

Medical socialism is but one variety of a larger problem. But it is one that is particularly devastating to people, because it affects their capacity for staying healthy and alive. By robbing individuals of their rights to exchange and choose, Mises wrote, state-run medical systems are comparable to those run by the army or by prisons, which are not centers of health but of disease and disaster.

What was Mises responding to? The nascent systems of universal medical care already in place in Germany. In the United States, it has taken much longer, but consider that the first national conference calling for universal health and social insurance came about during the 1910s. This followed the monopolization of the medical profession by the American Medical Association ten years earlier.

In other words, it has taken more than 100 years for the push toward total control to get this far. And consider that even now, even under Obamacare, nothing like total socialism in medical services is really being considered an option. What is really happening are continuing efforts to patch up a failed system that has been cobbled together for more than a century.

The fact is that 29 percent of all American adults already depend on the government to provide their healthcare. And Uncle Sam provides healthcare for more than three-quarters of those over 65, whether they realize it or not, as the famous town-hall exchange between Republican Congressman Bob Inglis and one of his constituents in South Carolina illustrates. "Keep your government hands off my Medicare," demanded the man who couldn't be convinced that Medicare was already a government program.

In all the debate over this legislation, this longer-term perspective is being lost. We need to grasp the political dynamic under which this legislation is being passed. It seeks to address genuine problems that were generated by the present system, which mixed private enterprise with a ghastly regulatory apparatus of government subsidies, licenses and controls, patents and monopolies, consumption controls, outright welfare, and fascistic impositions on every sector.

The current system cries out for fixing. And how does the state propose to fix it? Never through more freedom, never by rolling back the real problem. Instead, it proposes more power. This has been the systematic trajectory during every presidential administration for many decades.

"Medical socialism is but one variety of a larger problem. But it is one that is particularly devastating to people, because it affects their capacity for staying healthy and alive."

One of the worst problems concerns the wedge that the state drove between the payer and the healthcare provider. Businesses became the wedge. When? During World War II wage controls. Businesses scrambled to find ways to pay their employees without running afoul of the law. They turned to providing medical care. This is no different from how banks offered toasters to depositors when interest rates were controlled in the 1970s. It is the market desperately trying to get around a problem created by the state. But once this happens, if the controls are not repealed, the escape hatch becomes the norm. And this is precisely what happened.

This is how the seeds of the current legislation were sown — not after Obama's election or during Clinton's term or even during Johnson's presidency but all the way back 65 years ago during wartime, with intervention that hardly anyone objected to because of the national emergency.

"The health of American children, like their education, should be recognized as a definite public responsibility," President Harry Truman told Congress on November 19, 1945, just after the war and only seven months into his presidency. "The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health," was a part of Truman's proposed Economic Bill of Rights. Another was the "right to adequate protection from the economic fears of … sickness."

Truman proposed in that speech that a national health-insurance fund be created and run by the federal government. Even the American Medical Association (AMA) called the bill "socialized medicine" and said that those in the Truman White House were "followers of the Moscow party line."

Despite support from the large labor unions, Truman was forced to abandon his attempted government healthcare takeover. But like most bad ideas hatched in Washington, parts of Truman's proposal lived on to resurface as legislation two decades later. In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Medicare into law at the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum and reminded onlookers that Medicare "all started really with the man from Independence."

There is no greater example of why it is morally incumbent on everyone to oppose all forms of government intervention in all times. That includes, especially, wars that socialize the economy. Even seemingly small interventions can become huge and terrible decades later, even after those who imposed the measure are long dead. This is also why Mises and his best students were so intransigent in arguing against any and all government intervention.

There is another factor that hardly anyone mentions. How is all of this free government medical service going to be paid for? If the government were going to tax everyone, it could never work. The citizens wouldn't stand for it over the long term. The national debt is already beyond belief. Where are the resources to pay for this glorious utopia of perfect health equality?

It seems like an inauspicious place to look, but we must look to the marble palace on Constitution Avenue: the Federal Reserve. Here is the institution that runs the moneymaking machines that guarantee all the debt and that will create the phony money to pay for these insane dreams of universal happiness. Without the Fed, I can promise you, no one in Washington would be in a position to promise such absurdities.

If you think about it, then, the real problem is not that politicians dream impossible dreams. They've been doing that for a hundred years, a thousand years, and even back to the ancient world. The real problem is structural and institutional: it is the central bank that leads politicians to imagine that their visions can be achieved. It is the central bank that unhinges them — at our expense.

In some ways, then, a worsening system of medical provision is only the beginning of the downside of universal health insurance. The unseen costs include inflation down the line, worsening business cycles, and, quite possibility, the final destruction of the dollar and the wiping out of all private wealth.

"There is no greater example of why it is morally incumbent on everyone to oppose all forms of government intervention in all times. That includes, especially, wars that socialize the economy."

Yes, the problem is serious. But protests and partisan politics only go so far. Ultimately the solution comes from intellectual understanding of the broader issues, which go well beyond the details of this particular legislation. We must understand the dynamic of intervention and the role of fiat money and the central bank in funding the whole process.

Another book we need to reread is by Henry Hazlitt. It is called Time Will Run Back. It tells the story of a despot who inherits a decrepit, burned out, totalitarian society, and he is inspired to rethink the logic of the system. With the aid of some reading, he and his aides systematically unravel the interventions. The same logic that led the state to ramp up its control led it to retreat and allowed freedom to flower.

I believe this is in our future. But we can't have that future without the right intellectual resources. This is why I'm so grateful to the Mises Institute, the source for nearly every important book on socialism, regulation, central banking, and intervention. The Mises Institute is the intellectual source for an enlightened future.

We can follow the headlines and despair or we can support the source of light and have hope. Please join the Mises Institute in our work of bringing that light to a new generation. As Mises said, ideas are more powerful than armies and certainly more powerful than the meddling legislative bodies and huckster politicians that manipulate them.

This mess can be rolled back, and freedom can triumph. But it is up to us to make it happen.

Lehman Bros categorized loans as sales to hide debt

Click this link ......

Dems Push Financial Reform to Full Senate

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Michael Savage Reacts to ObamaCare Passing - Discusses Flaws in Bill

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Gerald Celente : when Government gets involved it is a guaranteed failure

Click this link ........

Where Were You When the Republic Died?

In November 2008, Americans elected a socialist as their president. In March 2010, they woke up stunned to find themselves living in a socialist country.

Health insurers -- once private companies -- are now organs of the federal government. Every citizen is a ward of the state, which can now compel you to have insurance, punish you if you don't; determine if your insurance is acceptable, punish you if it isn't. Thousands of new federal bureaucrats will soon spill from the D.C. Beltway and flood the country, scrutinizing our finances to verify compliance with this new law.

A government that grants itself this kind of power over us can conceivably do anything to us. For our own good, of course. Such a country is in no meaningful sense "free."

And this is only the beginning. Liberals are salivating in contemplation of all the fanciful window trimmings that can in the future be hung from this legislative framework. Public option will soon appear as prelude to single payer, as was the intent all along. Soon, Americans won't even have the illusion of a choice -- the government will move from subsidizer to provider, and it will be the only game in town.

So what's next? Some look to the states as possible saviors. Please. The states long ago surrendered their sovereignty, and they are now junkies on federal monies, which they need for schools, roads, Medicaid, and much else. If the citizens are now wards of the federal government, then the states long since preceded them in that sorry servitude.

The individual? What are we going to do, not pay the taxes to support this beast? Oh, they'll take that from you before you ever get your check; we gave them that power to them long ago, remember. March on Washington, en masse? Lot of good that's done thus far.

The Republicans? Assuming the GOP can take back both houses of Congress and the White House in the next couple of elections (by no means a sure thing), can you name one gigantic entitlement enacted by liberals that Republicans have successfully repealed? Or even made serious effort to repeal? Ever? Anyone?

The Courts? Sure, maybe Obamacare will work its way through the courts, and maybe the Supreme Court will finally take up the case (there is no guarantee of that, remember), and maybe the Court will not have tilted left by then, and maybe the Justices will declare it unconstitutional. Then what? Who will enforce this decision? Obamacare is already unconstitutional on its face, and yet it is the law of the land. Do you think the Democrats will say, "Oh, all-right, never mind," and cheerfully strike it from the books after their successful five-decades-long crusade?

And even if a court challenge is eventually successful, how much of the bureaucracy will by then already be in place, how many of the thousands of new regulations already in effect, how much of the billions in new taxes and fines collected, how many jobs killed, how many middle class families addicted to the entitlement?

There's a reason why Democrats were desperate to ram this through at any cost -- once enacted, such things are all but perpetual. Former freedom-loving peoples begin to tell themselves that it's really not so bad. Sure, government is forcing you to eat state-approved gruel, but hey, at least they hold the spoon, and they even pour a little sugar on top when you're good.

The worst part of watching the proceedings unfold on Sunday was the endless stream of commentators and pundits calmly discussing this bill as if it were just one more piece of bad legislation that we will have to live under. In fact, what has transpired is nothing less than an overthrow of the old Constitutional order.

In 1776, the American Republic boldly announced its birth with the Declaration of Independence. In 2010, it quietly expired with a declaration of dependence -- on government, on entitlement, and on the Democratic party.

By Matt Patterson
Matt Patterson is a National Review Institute Washington Fellow and the author of Union of Hearts: The Abraham Lincoln & Ann Rutledge Story. His e-mail is

Proof That Vaccines Didn't Save Us

History shows us that vaccines did NOT eradicate the diseases that plagued humanity. That is a common misconception -- in actual fact, it was better sanitation and hygiene in the cities that prevented the spread of diseases. These charts, from official sources, show us that vaccines (1) were not responsible, and are not necessary, for eliminating infectious diseases, (2) are not effective, and (3) are dangerous.


These charts are part of a document prepared by Raymond Obomsawin, PhD. You can access this document here in PDF format or in DOC(X) format. The data comes from various sources including national public health agencies, encyclopedias, Vital Statistics and Historical Statistics of the US, published medical journals, UNICEF reports, and more.

The charts are grouped as follows :

FIGURE SET I : Natural Infectious Disease Declines Preceding Public Immunization Efforts (vaccines DID NOT eradicate the diseases that plagued humanity)
Figures one (1) through eleven (11) graphically illustrate that in North America, Europe, and the South Pacific, major declines in life-threatening infectious diseases occurred historically either without, or far in advance of public immunization efforts for specific diseases as listed. This provides irrefutable evidence that vaccines are not necessary for the effective elimination of a wide range of infectious diseases.

FIGURE SET II : Immunization Effectiveness (vaccines ARE NOT effective)
Figures eleven (12) through twenty-four (24) graphically illustrate that immunization is not by any means a proven and foolproof measure for protection from various infectious disease conditions. It is often inconsequential epidemiologically, and in some cases it is shown to actually worsen health-care outcomes.

FIGURE SET III : Immunization Dangers (vaccines ARE dangerous)
Figures twenty-five (25) through thirty five (35) graphically illustrate that increases in the number of governmental mandated vaccines correlates with significant increases in death rates for children under the age of five (5); and that the practice is linked to sudden infant death syndrome; various degenerative diseases, including diabetes; and appears to cause general immune system impairment in infants and children. Evidence also points to the practice of immunization as a principal factor in the recent massive increases in neurodegenerative conditions such as autism in children.

Credentials of the researcher, Raymond Obomsawin, Ph.D. :

Raymond Obomsawin has served as Director National Office of Health Development - National Indian Brotherhood (AFN); and Founding Chairman - NIB's National Commission Inquiry on Indian Health; Executive Director in the California Rural Indian Health Board; Supervisor of Native Curriculum – Government of the Yukon Territory; and Evaluation Manager - Department of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada.

His most recent post in the Canadian public service was as Senior Advisor on Cultures, Knowledge Systems, Local Ownership and Ethnicities at the Canadian International Development Agency. He is currently engaged with government funding as Senior Researcher relative to establishing a Public Sector Policy on Traditional Medicine in Canada.

A few highlights of Dr. Obomsawin’s professional experiences and achievements follow:

  • Co-Chaired the United Nations Environment Program - Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group on the Potential Impacts of Genetic Use Restriction Technologies (alius “Terminator Seed” technologies).
  • Spearheaded the first world-wide inter-sectoral review funded by a Western government on Indigenous Culture Based Knowledge Systems in Development. The study elicited the involvement of over 500 public and NGO sector bio-social development, technical and research institutions in all world regions, and entailed field mission research carried out in the Andean and upper Amazon regions of South America, as well as East Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia.

He has produced academically and/or professionally over eighty-five (85) articles, reports, policy documents, presentations, and publications.

State's pension fund running a deficit for first time since 1997

Dennis MacKee says diversifying would reduce risk.
Dennis MacKee says diversifying would reduce risk.

On March 1, the state agency that invests public pension money issued a news release bragging about a 16.3 percent rebound in its portfolio in the second half of 2009.

Two days later, the State Board of Administration sat down with its advisory council and revealed the rest of the story:

Even with those gains, Florida's public pension fund slipped into the red in 2009 for the first time in a dozen years. And the fund's shortfall is projected to be even bigger this year. That news has not been as widely publicized.

While past surpluses in the pension fund kept a lid on local contributions during boom times, now the bill is coming due. And plugging the multibillion-dollar deficit will require about a 40 percent hike in contributions from local governments stretched by declining revenues.

Though checks will still be in the mail for Florida's public retirees, by July the fund is expected to have just 87 cents for every dollar in pension promises made. Like a tiny leak, this unfunded liability can grow into a gusher if not addressed quickly. But none of the fixes will be too palatable with either the nearly 1 million public employees and retirees covered by the plan or taxpayers who foot the bill.

The options include:

• Raising more money from local governments.

• Trimming benefits for retirees.

• Making public employees, who now pay nothing toward their pensions, chip in.

Variations on these themes are already bubbling through the Legislature, with limited success. Under one proposal, the state's pension plan would be closed to new employees; another would make new hires pay 1 percent toward their pensions. A less-ambitious proposal by Republican Sen. Mike Bennett of Bradenton, which would affect benefits of employees with less than 10 years' service, was watered down in committee Tuesday. It's the first pension reform proposal to get a hearing this year.

Miami Republican Rep. Juan Zapata has put forth the most far-reaching changes, including limiting payouts to higher-paid "special-risk" employees like firefighters.

Zapata, who is not running for re-election, knows tinkering with benefits is unpopular.

"I took it upon myself to kind of take one for the team to, at the very least, have a conversation about it," he said. "Because nobody's talking about it, and it's an incumbent problem."

State law requires government contributions be set at a rate that covers a year's benefits, but the state doesn't have to fully eliminate the long-term deficit. Last week, a House committee proposed taking this route, which still translates into a $460.8 million bump in local contributions.

But, barring a meteoric rise in investment returns, ignoring the pension deficit means watching it grow. To adequately address the gap, the fund's actuary said, governments will have to pony up even more money — more than doubling the contribution for some elected positions.

The House is proposing to postpone the full increase until after the fall elections.

• • •

While lawmakers tinker with the funding side of the equation, the SBA is exploring ways to increase investment returns on the $116 billion fund. The strategy? Put more money into higher-risk but potentially higher reward alternatives like hedge funds, private real estate and even timber land.

Dennis MacKee, SBA spokesman, denies that the move into riskier investments is anything new. "We started looking into hedge funds when we were well overfunded," he said.

And he says that by diversifying its portfolio, the SBA is actually decreasing risk.

But even if the SBA upped its risk profile considerably, the payoff is debatable. The board's consultants said earlier this month that by sticking with its current asset mix of mostly stocks and bonds, there's only about a 50-50 chance the fund is going to reach its assumed rate of return of 7.75 percent.

Jack up the risk? Probability of making that return ticks up slightly, to 55.4 percent.

"It's a joke," said Leo Kolivakis, a former senior investment analyst at two of Canada's largest pension funds and publisher of the blog, Pensionpulse. "They're deluding themselves if they think they can get that kind of return. And they're taking big risks with pensioners' money."

But the alternative is even less attractive. Lower the projected rate of return to a more conservative number and the state's pension gap grows, triggering even harsher demands on the funding side.

"Pension funds that are experiencing downturns are turning to a 'Hail Mary' pass to save them," said former SEC attorney and South Florida accountant Edward Siedle about the move to riskier investments. "But they'd better have a really good arm, because it's a stretch."

Nor are the SBA's trustees — Gov. Charlie Crist, Attorney General Bill McCollum and Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink — particularly eager to tackle the unfunded liability issue. As beneficiaries of the plan, they're not anxious to talk about paring back benefits. As politicians, all running for higher office, they see no upside in demanding more money from taxpayers or telling them they'll lose services because the dollars are going to government retirees. Voters will be mad enough to find out their library is closing. Tell them the money is going to the retired librarian and they'll be even madder.

Andrew Biggs, former principal deputy commissioner of the Social Security Administration, has strongly criticized public pensions for using what he calls "bogus accounting" and believes the unfunded liability in all states, including Florida, is worse than projected.

"There's no incentive for anybody to be honest about this stuff because the taxpayers are going to be upset," said Biggs, now resident scholar at American Enterprise Institute. "That produces lower contribution rates today but passes off the risk to future taxpayers."

• • •

When experts talk about the recently opened gash in Florida's pension fund, they quickly add this caveat: We're in a whole lot better shape than most states.

Florida was one of only four state pension funds to go into the current recession fully funded. And based on its performance in fiscal 2008 — before the market meltdown — Florida was touted as a nationwide model in a report on public pension funds by the Pew Center on the States.

Kil Huh, director of research at Pew, said it's not surprising that Florida's pension fund should slip into a deficit, given market conditions.

"You're going to see a drop in assets, as well as an increase in unfunded liabilities until the actuarially required contributions catch up," he said. "But that's provided states fully fund these things, which is a big 'if' in this fiscal environment."

States that procrastinate find the tab quickly snowballs. New Jersey was fully funded in 2002 when it began to shortchange its contributions. By 2008 the New Jersey plan was one of the worst in the nation, about 73 percent funded. Catching up now would cost an estimated $3 billion; the state's new governor has recommended simply skipping this year's payment.

Richard Keevey, a professor at Princeton University and consultant on a Pew pension report in 2007, has watched the New Jersey debacle unfold in his back yard.

"When economic times are bad, legislatures are torn by priorities and underfund the pension a little bit till things get better, but they never do," he said. "Florida shouldn't go down that path."

Eric Johnson, assistant county administrator in Hillsborough County, knows exactly what it would take for his municipality to fulfill its pension obligations to about 5,000 public employees this year: $44.5 million, an increase of 18 percent.

To meet that obligation during a year when tax revenues continue to plummet, Johnson said the county was considering cutting benefits or replacing workers with private contractors.

While he's relieved to hear the Legislature is proposing a somewhat smaller increase in contributions, Johnson is troubled by what that means long term. He worries that Hillsborough's triple A credit rating, which translates into lower borrowing costs, could be jeopardized by the move.

"If you have a pension plan, it ought to be fully funded," Johnson said. "Part of the creditworthiness of a government is based on its unfunded liabilities. And the challenge is, when you punt one time, how confident should anyone be that you won't punt a second time?''

Times/Herald staff writer Mary Ellen Klas and Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Kris Hundley can be reached at

$15.4 billion Florida's public pension fund deficit in fiscal year 2009, compared with a surplus
of $8.2 billion at the end of the previous year.

1997 Last time the fund had a deficit.

1 million Number of fund members in 2009, with roughly two active workers for every retiree.

0 Amount state employees in Florida contribute to pension fund. In 44 states, public employees are required to contribute a median of 5 percent of their salaries.

[Last modified: Mar 23, 2010 10:44 PM]

EPA To Issue Stricter Drinking Water Standards

WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency is tightening drinking water standards to impose stricter limits on four contaminants that can cause cancer.

In a speech Monday, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said the agency is developing stricter regulations for four chemical compounds: tetrachloroethylene, trichloroethylene, acrylamide and epichlorohydrin. All four compounds can cause cancer.

Trichloroethylene, also known as TCE, and tetrachloroethylene are used as industrial solvents and can seep into drinking water from contaminated groundwater or surface water. The other two compounds are impurities that can be introduced into drinking water during the water treatment process.

Jackson said the EPA will issue new rules on TCE and tetrachloroethylene within the next year. Rules for the other two compounds will follow.

Jackson made the comments Monday as she announced a new strategy to better protect public health from contaminants in drinking water. With budgets strained and new threats emerging, the EPA, states and utilities need to foster innovation that can increase cost-effective measures to protect drinking water, Jackson said.

"To make our drinking water systems work harder, we have to work smarter," she said in a speech to the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies.

Jackson called for greater collaboration among states and the federal government, as well as development of new technologies to meet the needs of rural, urban and other water-stressed communities.

The new strategy would address contaminants as a group to improve efficiency; develop new technologies to address health risks from a broad array of contaminants; use a combination of federal and state laws to protect drinking water; and form partnerships with states.

EPA's current approach to drinking water protection is focused on detailed assessments of individual contaminants and can take many years, Jackson said, resulting only in "slow progress."

TCE is especially problematic. The compound was used to clean nuclear missiles and was frequently dumped at missile sites.

Exposure to high concentrations of the chemical can cause nervous system problems, liver and lung damage, abnormal heartbeat, coma and death, according to the Department of Health and Human Services' Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is identifying and cleaning up dozens of former nuclear missile sites in nine states. The missile sites include 14 in Kansas, 10 in Nebraska, seven in Wyoming, seven in Colorado and two in Oklahoma. California, New Mexico, New York and Texas have one contaminated site each.

Putin, China's Xi vow 'strategic' support in first meeting

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, tipped to become China's president, hailed the strength of bilateral ties Tuesday as they looked to forge a counterbalance to the power of the US.

"We are in favour of Russia playing an important role in international and regional affairs," Xi, currently China's vice-president, said after the pair held their first talks. "We will surely support you.

"In our opinion, China and Russia should in the future facilitate the establishment of a multipolar world and democratisation of international relations," he added, speaking through a Russian translator.

The meeting came as Moscow and Beijing seek to put behind them the rivalries of the Cold War, a period when the two Communist powers eyed each other with suspicion, and position themselves as counterweights to US global dominance.

In both countries, the issue of political succession is expected to be one of the dominant aspects of the political agenda in the coming years.

Xi is being groomed to take over the Chinese presidency in 2012-13, while in Russia many observers believe Putin -- still considered the country's top decision maker -- may return to the Kremlin as president in 2012.

Putin called China the country's "strategic partner in the full sense of this word," offering Moscow's support for China's position on Taiwan.

"We have always supported China on the most sensitive issues, including the Taiwan problem," Putin said, who last visited China in October 2009 for talks with China's President Hu Jintao.

China considers Taiwan, where the mainland's nationalists fled in 1949 after losing the civil war, to be a territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.

Russia and most of the world also view Taiwan as an integral part of China, but Taiwan trades with and receives support from numerous countries, notably the United States.

Both leaders praised growing Russian-Chinese business relations, with Xi calling on the two countries to resolve all outstanding economic issues.

Russia, which has been watching Beijing's growing economic and political might with a mixture of awe and uneasiness, wants to diversify its energy client base to Asia.

American as Apple Pie!

Just could not pass this one up. It is from a media syndication from Israel. It is called Arutz Sheva and is considered an openly Zionist media source. The article speaks for its self and is worth the read. Also a Reuters article that was carried in the New York Times.

The below article quotes Anwar al-Awlaqi who was featured in another recent post called, “Club Jihadi Rehab for al-Qaeda-ics!”. He is the US born Yemeni-American cleric that has captured a lot of attention lately. He is quoted in the article saying that American led jihad is becoming “as American as apple pie”.

Arutz Sheva article (quoting Anwar al-Awlaqi)

“Jihad Jane,” who last week pleaded not guilty to charges of terrorism, is one of approximately 40 native Americans in a growing U.S. Jihad movement that is “as American as apple pie,” says a native American terror fugitive. Anwar al-Awlaqi boasted that Jihad Jane, a resident of Pennsylvania and born as Colleen LaRose, helped “shatter whatever trust was left in the value of profiling” by allegedly trying to recruit Muslim terrorists to murder a Swedish cartoonist who mocked the prophet Mohammed.

Can not say I have met any American jihadist lately but I have not had any apple pie lately either. Interesting read for sure.

Click here for original Arutz Sheva article

Click here for original New York Times article