Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Debt commission leaders paint gloomy picture

BOSTON (AP) -- The heads of President Barack Obama's national debt commission painted a gloomy picture Sunday as the United States struggles to get its spending under control.

Republican Alan Simpson and Democrat Erskine Bowles told a meeting of the National Governors Association that everything needs to be considered -- including curtailing popular tax breaks, such as the home mortgage deduction, and instituting a financial trigger mechanism for gaining Medicare coverage.

The nation's total federal debt next year is expected to exceed $14 trillion -- about $47,000 for every U.S. resident.

"This debt is like a cancer," Bowles said in a sober presentation nonetheless lightened by humorous asides between him and Simpson. "It is truly going to destroy the country from within."

Simpson said the entirety of the nation's current discretionary spending is consumed by the Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security programs.

"The rest of the federal government, including fighting two wars, homeland security, education, art, culture, you name it, veterans, the whole rest of the discretionary budget, is being financed by China and other countries," said Simpson. China alone currently holds $920 billion in U.S. IOUs.

Bowles said if the U.S. makes no changes it will be spending $2 trillion by 2020 just for interest on the national debt.

"Just think about that: All that money, going somewhere else, to create jobs and opportunity somewhere else," he said.

Simpson, the former Republican senator from Wyoming, and Bowles, the former White House chief of staff under Democratic President Bill Clinton, head an 18-member commission. It's charged with coming up with a plan by Dec. 1 to reduce the government's annual deficits to 3 percent of the national economy by 2015.

Bowles led successful 1997 talks with Republicans on a balanced budget bill that produced government surpluses the last three years Clinton was in office and the first year of Republican George W. Bush's presidency. Simpson, as the Senate's GOP whip in 1990, helped round up votes for a budget bill in which President George H.W. Bush broke his "read my lips" pledge not to raise taxes.

Despite their backgrounds, both Simpson and Bowles said they were not 100 percent confident of success this time around.

Simpson labeled the commission members "good people of deep, deep difference, knowing the possibility of the odds of success are rather harrowing to say the least."

Bowles also said Congress had to be ready to accept the commission's findings.

"What we do is not so hard to figure out; it's the political consequences of doing it that makes it really tough," he said.

Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe was one of those leaders who sat in rapt attention during the presentation, one of the first in public by the commission leaders.

"I don't know that I ever heard a gloomier picture painted that created more hope for me," said Beebe, commending its frankness.


Chicago's new gun law goes into effect today

Chicago's newly minted handgun regulation law goes into effect today, less than a month after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the city's ban on handguns.

The new ordinance bans gun shops in Chicago and prohibits gun owners from stepping outside their homes, even onto their porches or in their garages, with a handgun.

"Our big thing is knowing who has weapons," Chicago Police Supt. Jody Weis. "Believe it or not, we are trying to make it as easy as possible for people to register their weapon."

The police department has posted forms and other information on permits and registration on its Web site, the superintendent said.

Lawsuits have already been filed by a man who wants to open a gun shop in Lincoln Park, by four residents and a gun sellers group. They claim the ordinance is unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court ruled in June that Americans have the right to have handguns for self-defense. The ruling effectively made the city's 28-year-old gun ban unenforceable.

Starting today, anyone who wants to get a handgun must obtain a Chicago firearm permit. People who have committed violent crimes, or have two or more convictions for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, will not be allowed permits.

To apply for a gun permit, applicants must be 21 years old or older (or 18, with parents' permission), have a valid FOID card and an affidavit signed by a state-certified firearms instructor, among other requirements. The permit fee is $100, the permit itself expires in three years and the application must be submitted in person at police headquarters, 3510 S. Michigan Ave., though applicants were advised not to bring their weapons with them.

Key provisions of the ordinance include:

  • Firearm sales will be banned in the city.
  • Gun training totaling four hours in a classroom and an hour on a firing range will be required before getting a permit. But firing ranges are banned, so training must be completed outside Chicago.
  • To transport a gun, it will have to be "broken down," not immediately accessible, unloaded, and in a firearm case.
  • Firearms may be possessed only inside the dwelling. It will be illegal to have a gun in the garage, on porches or in the yard. Guns also will not be allowed in hotels, dorms and group-living facilities.

Permit-bearing owners also must individually register each gun they own within five days of purchase and are allowed to register only one handgun per 30-day period, Weis said. The registration fee is $15.

-- Staff report, Associated Press

French minister in boy sex tourism claim

A senior aide to French President Nicolas Sarkozy defended Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand who is facing calls for his resignation for having written about paying boys for sex.

The revelations were made in a 2005 autobiography The Bad Life and have surfaced after Mitterrand passionately defended film-maker Roman Polanski, who faces deportation from Switzerland were he was arrested to the United States for having had sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977.

Politicians from all parties have criticised Mitterrand for his attack on the United States.

The far-right National Front party has called for him to step down.

"French political debate sometimes takes on a pathetic form. It's excessive and quite undignified," Sarkozy adviser Henri Guaino said on France 2 television.

Asked whether Mitterrand should resign, he said: "When there is a controversy as pathetic as this, with so much delay, I don't think there should be such drastic consequences."

Guaino said there were no facts to back up the accusations and Mitterrand had not been subject to any legal complaints.

The experiences in the book are presented as a mixture of straight autobiography and more dreamlike reflection.

"I got into the habit of paying for boys," Mitterrand wrote, adding that his attraction to young male prostitutes continued even though he knew the sordid details of this traffic.

"All these rituals of the market for youths, the slave market excited me enormously ... the abundance of very attractive and immediately available young boys put me in a state of desire."

Mitterrand is the nephew of former Socialist President Francois Mitterrand and was drafted into Sarkozy's centre-right cabinet in June.

Although he was not a Socialist, his surname still reverberates in France and carries a lot of clout.

Sarkozy was delighted to have brought him on board, but now faces unease within his own UMP party over his choice of minister.

France considers itself to be at the forefront of the fight against sex tourism but Guaino said Mitterrand would not compromise this position.

"I have not heard Frederic Mitterrand say anything against France's position of fighting sex tourism," Guaino said.

Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux said Mitterrand was respected for his competence in the role of culture minister.

Although still openly siding with Polanski, Mitterrand has toned down his language, saying his emotions overtook him the day he heard that Switzerland had arrested the film director.

Gunman kills 2, wounds 4 others at office

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A gunman angry about a dispute with his girlfriend forced his way into the New Mexico manufacturing plant where she works and killed two employees Monday before turning the gun on himself.

Police identified the shooter as 37-year-old Robert Reza, who had addresses in Rio Rancho and Albuquerque.

Four others were wounded in a rampage police said was motivated by Reza's disgust over a domestic violence dispute involving the girlfriend.

Police Chief Ray Schultz said no other names will be released before Tuesday.

Reza confronted the girlfriend outside the fiber optics and solar manufacturing plant in Albuquerque, and his rampage continued inside, Schultz said. She was hospitalized in critical condition with gunshot wounds.

The chief called the Emcore plant "a very secure facility" and said it appeared the gunman forced his way into the building and entered several areas. Schultz said detectives and FBI agents were reviewing surveillance video.

"It was a large and complex shooting scene," he said.

Why Loan Mods & Short Sales are a Sucker's Game

Loan modification and short sales are a sucker’s game the banks play with you. They are designed to lure you into a false hope and squeeze you for every last dime the they can get out of you before they throw you into the street.

Here’s why.

First and primarily, you are negotiating with your servicing entity, not the true owner of the note. As such, the person you are talking to has no authority to do anything. They can’t do anything without permission from the note holder. And who is the note holder? No one knows and that is the entire basis of this website.

But that’s not all. If the servicing agency tries to pull certain notes out of a securitized trust for modification, he must buy those individual notes outright at the value the trust would have seen for that note had it held it to maturity. No one wants to do that.

As evidence, Countrywide settled a suit from several state Attorneys General to modify the terms of what the attorneys general had called predatory loans. No sooner had Countrywide entered into that agreement than they were served with a multi-billion dollar class action lawsuit from the bondholders demanding Countrywide buy the notes under question at full value before re-negotiating any terms.

Next, you need to understand there is big money in foreclosures and short sales. One of the metrics of a bank’s health is the number of performing loans on its books. If a bank forecloses on a home or submits to a short sale, they remove a non-performing loan from their books. Further to that,
Fannie & Freddie have cut a deal with the banks where they will receive 90% of the face value in the event of a foreclosure and 70% of face value in the event of a short sale.

So if a home is foreclosed upon, the bank collects upon the insurance on the default through the SIV (Structured Investment Vehicle) as well as 90% of the face value from Fannie & Freddie. They are paid twice. In addition, they own a hard asset (your home) which counts towards the bank’s overall health.

Another way they make money is at the Sherriff's sale itself. Oftentimes, the banks are the only one's who show up for the sale. They buy the houses out of a special account and then sell or transfer the house to its internal REIT (Real Estate Investment Trust) who then contracts with the local rental agency(ies) to manage the houses as rental properties. They buy them on the cheap and are making bank in short order from the rental income.

In the event of a short sale, they get the money from the short sale (performing note), 70% of the face value of the old note (it has nothing to do with the real value), plus, unless you are careful, they can come after you for the shortage. Paid Thrice.

Our Federal Government has a program which guides distressed homeowners through the short sale process. This program is supposed to ease the transition to homelessness by facilitating short sales instead of going through the whole foreclosure. Buried in the agreement at the bottom of page 3 in a 7 page document is language which forces the homeowner to give up their interest in the house through a Deed in Lieu of Foreclosure in the event there is no short sale. So even if you try to do the short sale to get away from the house as quickly as possible, if it doesn't go through, which, as we know will rarely happen as the person with actionable interest in title can never be found, you give up the house without them having to go through the expense of a foreclosure. When can you move out?

And let’s not forget the money these sales generate for title companies, real estate agents (in the event of a short sale and sale of REO's (Real Estate Owned)), foreclosure mills, house rental agencies, appraisers and mortgage bottom feeders like PennyMac – a company formed by former Countrywide execs to take advantage of the collapsing mortgage market.

If you are a homeowner, you need to check the title on your deed. You can do this by a quick trip to the recorder’s office at your county courthouse. Do not bother with your title company. What they have will most likely mirror what you will see at the courthouse, but not necessarily. The only information which matters is that which is at the courthouse.

If you see MERS on your title, or verbiage like CWALT Inc Alternative Loan Trust 2005-28C3 Mortgage Pass Through Certificates, then there is a high probability your mortgage has been securitized and as such there is a real chance that in addition to no one being able to foreclose, no one is able to deliver clear title.

If you are in foreclosure, or fighting a rear guard action to forestall foreclosure, do NOT pin your hopes on loan modification or a short sale. Those two are designed to suck you of the money you need if you choose to fight. Save your money, save your headache and heartache. Do not bleed your savings to keep paying your mortgage. You can play the game so the people on the other side of the phone are happy, but know going into it that the whole purpose is to make you feel good as they bleed you for a few more months and then foreclose anyway. Don’t play.

Short sales, loan modifications and even deed in lieu of foreclosure are the way the herd is trained to operate. The herd will pressure you to do what the herd does because that is what the herd does. But always remember, if you follow the herd, they are quite liable to run you over the cliff.

Do the research. Trust your mind. Hire a good attorney. Challenge the system. Spread the word.

Local Currencies: Communities Printing Own Money To Keep Cash Flowing

USA Today's reporting on local currencies gives the impression that this is a NEW phenomenon born from the recession. Rather, many of these programs have existed for some time.
The organization that runs BerkShares, told Huffington Post that it has been producing currency since 2006, well before the financial crisis dominated headlines. Ithaca Hours have been in production since 1991. Despite the fact that these currencies have existed - a point USA Today should update - there is a growing interest in currency production for communities hit by the recession. New currencies, like the Detroit Cheers are coming into play.

Read the article from USA Today on local currencies.

A small but growing number of cash-strapped communities are printing their own money.

Borrowing from a Depression-era idea, they are aiming to help consumers make ends meet and support struggling local businesses.

Do you know of other local currencies that have been circulated in response to the recession? Are you part of a community that has been using local currencies? Is there more of an interest in your local currency now more than ever? If so, send photos of your local money to submissions+localcurrency@huffingtonpost.com--include an explanation of who started the currency and how successful it has been. If you regularly spend your local currency, tell us how it has affected your purchasing habits and your local businesses.

Keep reading for more info on local currencies:

The Detroit News
expands on the movement, with an article on its local currency, "Detroit Cheers," which was re-born from the Depression era push to create currencies.

A Detroit trio of small-business owners are reviving the idea, following an emerging national trend. The businesses are creating a currency called Detroit Cheers, and more than a dozen city merchants have already agreed to accept it as real money. "The world is just now reeling from economic chaos; in Detroit, that's how we always roll," said Jerry Belanger, 49, a backer of the currency, as he watched the initial run of Cheers bills roll off the presses last week....

Detroit Cheers joins an estimated 75 local currency systems that have sprung up recently in the U.S., said Michael Shuman, author of "The Small-Mart Revolution: How Local Businesses Are Beating the Global Competition."

Below is a slideshow of some of the local currencies out there:

If you want to know more about how a local currency works, check out the fact sheet on BerkShares, a currency that is now being used in Massachusetts. Below is an excerpt on how the money helps the economy there:

How do BerkShares benefit the local economy?

Everyone benefits from using BerkShares. Consumers benefit from receving a 10% discount on purchases. Businesses benefit from increased patronage. Local non-profit organizations can also benefit by purchasing BerkShares at the 5% discount rate and selling them at full face value to their supporters.

It will take citizens working in their own communities, region by region, to create the kind of systemic change that will lead to sustainable economic practices--practices that foster ecologically responsible production of goods and a more equitable distribution of wealth. Local currencies are a tool to bring about such change. BerkShares are about building community while building the local economy.

Crisis Awaits World’s Banks as Trillions Come Due

FRANKFURT — The sovereign debt crisis would seem to create worry enough for European banks, but there is another gathering threat that has not garnered as much notice: the trillions of dollars in short-term borrowing that institutions around the world must repay or roll over in the next two years.

The European Central Bank, the Bank of England and the International Monetary Fund have all recently warned of a looming crunch, especially in Europe, where banks have enough trouble raising money as it is.

Their concern is that banks hungry for refinancing will compete with governments — which also must roll over huge sums — for the bond market’s favor. As a result, credit for business and consumers could become more costly and scarce, with unpleasant consequences for economic growth.

“There is a cliff we are racing toward — it’s huge,” said Richard Barwell, an economist at Royal Bank of Scotland and formerly a senior economist at the Bank of England, Britain’s central bank. “No one seems to be talking about it that much.” But, he added, “it’s of first-order importance for lending and output.”

Banks worldwide owe nearly $5 trillion to bondholders and other creditors that will come due through 2012, according to estimates by the Bank for International Settlements. About $2.6 trillion of the liabilities are in Europe.

U.S. banks must refinance about $1.3 trillion through 2012. While that sum is nothing to scoff at, analysts seem most concerned about Europe because the banking system there is already weighed down by the sovereign debt crisis.

How banks will come up with the money is an open question. With investors worried about government over-indebtedness in Greece, Spain, Ireland and other parts of Europe, many banks have been reluctant or unable to sell bonds, which they typically use to raise money that they lend on to businesses and households.

The financing crunch has its origins in a worldwide trend for banks to borrow money for shorter periods.

The practice of short-term borrowing and long-term lending contributed to the near-collapse of the world financial system in late 2008 when short-term financing dried up. Banks suddenly found themselves starved for cash, and some would have collapsed without central bank support.

Government bank guarantees extended in response to the crisis also inadvertently encouraged short-term lending. The guarantees were typically only for several years, and banks issued bonds to match.

Other banks took advantage of the gap between short-term and long-term rates, borrowing cheaply from money markets or central banks and lending to their customers at higher, long-term rates.

A study in November by Moody’s Investors Service found that new bond issues by banks during the past five years matured in an average of 4.7 years — the shortest average in 30 years.

Since then, worries about Greek and Spanish debt and whether Europe is headed for another recession have caused new problems. Investors are unsure which institutions are in good shape and which are sitting on piles of bad loans and potentially tainted government bonds.

Bond issuance by financial institutions in Europe plunged to $10.7 billion in May, compared with $106 billion in January and $95 billion in May 2009, according to Dealogic, a data provider. New issues have recovered somewhat since, to $42 billion in June and $19 billion so far in July.

Bank stress tests being conducted by European regulators could help if they succeed in convincing markets that most banks are healthy. Bank regulators plan to release results of the tests, covering 91 large banks, on July 23.

Sandeep Agarwal, head of financial institutions debt capital markets in Europe at Credit Suisse, predicted that the market could be separated into haves and have-nots, with the healthy banks raising money fairly easily but weaker banks required to pay a premium. “There is cash at the right price for many institutions, not all institutions,” Mr. Agarwal said.

That could add pressure on the weakest banks to merge, seek government help, or scale back their activities. Some might even fold. The Landesbanks in Germany, savings banks in Spain or other institutions that have struggled may be forced to confront difficult choices.

A shortage of bank finance also could create quandaries for the European Central Bank, which appears anxious to wean banks from the cheap cash that it began providing in the heat of the global financial crisis.

If institutions are unable to raise the money that they need on the open market, the European Central Bank would have to decide whether to continue to prop them up.

Anger in Costa Rica Over Deal to ‘Invite’ 46 US Warships

US Marines, Warships to Operate 'at Will' in Quiet Nation

Costa Rica’s opposition is expressing increasing opposition to the government’s agreement to allow the United States to send a significant force, 7,000 US Marines and 46 warships, into the tiny Central American nation.

Ostensibly the extension of a long-standing agreement to cooperate in the US war on drugs, the new version actually explicitly allows the US to send warships instead of Coast Guard ships and allows the troops to “carry out the activities it deems necessary” in the nation, basically giving the US military a blank check for all operations in Costa Rica.

The “People’s Movement” party panned the deal, saying it turns the nation into a “US Protectorate,” while the Christian Social Unity Party insisted the deal violated the Costa Rican Constitution.

The nation’s value to the US war on drugs seems to be primarily its narrowness, allowing it to act as a choke-point for blocking ground transport of drugs from South America to Mexico.

It is particularly controversial in Costa Rica, however, because the nation has no military of its own, having abandoned it in 1948 and enjoyed unrivaled peace and stability (compared to its neighbors) ever since. Costa Rica continues to celebrate a national holiday on December 1 called Military Abolition Day.

Free to Go

Click this link ..... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_CBBKGusYX0

Islamists suspected in deadly Ugandan World Cup bombings

Click this link ..... http://nalert.blogspot.com/2010/07/islamists-suspected-in-deadly-ugandan.html

The Creativity Crisis

For the first time, research shows that American creativity is declining. What went wrong—and how we can fix it.

Back in 1958, Ted Schwarzrock was an 8-year-old third grader when he became one of the “Torrance kids,” a group of nearly 400 Minneapolis children who completed a series of creativity tasks newly designed by professor E. Paul Torrance. Schwarzrock still vividly remembers the moment when a psychologist handed him a fire truck and asked, “How could you improve this toy to make it better and more fun to play with?” He recalls the psychologist being excited by his answers. In fact, the psychologist’s session notes indicate Schwarzrock rattled off 25 improvements, such as adding a removable ladder and springs to the wheels. That wasn’t the only time he impressed the scholars, who judged Schwarzrock to have “unusual visual perspective” and “an ability to synthesize diverse elements into meaningful products.”

The accepted definition of creativity is production of something original and useful, and that’s what’s reflected in the tests. There is never one right answer. To be creative requires divergent thinking (generating many unique ideas) and then convergent thinking (combining those ideas into the best result).

In the 50 years since Schwarzrock and the others took their tests, scholars—first led by Torrance, now his colleague, Garnet Millar—have been tracking the children, recording every patent earned, every business founded, every research paper published, and every grant awarded. They tallied the books, dances, radio shows, art exhibitions, software programs, advertising campaigns, hardware innovations, music compositions, public policies (written or implemented), leadership positions, invited lectures, and buildings designed.

Nobody would argue that Torrance’s tasks, which have become the gold standard in creativity assessment, measure creativity perfectly. What’s shocking is how incredibly well Torrance’s creativity index predicted those kids’ creative accomplishments as adults. Those who came up with more good ideas on Torrance’s tasks grew up to be entrepreneurs, inventors, college presidents, authors, doctors, diplomats, and software developers. Jonathan Plucker of Indiana University recently reanalyzed Torrance’s data. The correlation to lifetime creative accomplishment was more than three times stronger for childhood creativity than childhood IQ.

Like intelligence tests, Torrance’s test—a 90-minute series of discrete tasks, administered by a psychologist—has been taken by millions worldwide in 50 languages. Yet there is one crucial difference between IQ and CQ scores. With intelligence, there is a phenomenon called the Flynn effect—each generation, scores go up about 10 points. Enriched environments are making kids smarter. With creativity, a reverse trend has just been identified and is being reported for the first time here: American creativity scores are falling.

Kyung Hee Kim at the College of William & Mary discovered this in May, after analyzing almost 300,000 Torrance scores of children and adults. Kim found creativity scores had been steadily rising, just like IQ scores, until 1990. Since then, creativity scores have consistently inched downward. “It’s very clear, and the decrease is very significant,” Kim says. It is the scores of younger children in America—from kindergarten through sixth grade—for whom the decline is “most serious.”

Weekly Podcast and Radio Program 7/10/10: Obamanomics, Immigration, Spy Games; Keys to Creativity; Israel and Iran; The Karen Oberlin Loesser Show; Movie Review: Inception; From the Archives: McNamara's Mistake. SUBSCRIBE OR DOWNLOAD PODCAST: http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/newsweek-on-air/id73329823

The potential consequences are sweeping. The necessity of human ingenuity is undisputed. A recent IBM poll of 1,500 CEOs identified creativity as the No. 1 “leadership competency” of the future. Yet it’s not just about sustaining our nation’s economic growth. All around us are matters of national and international importance that are crying out for creative solutions, from saving the Gulf of Mexico to bringing peace to Afghanistan to delivering health care. Such solutions emerge from a healthy marketplace of ideas, sustained by a populace constantly contributing original ideas and receptive to the ideas of others.

It’s too early to determine conclusively why U.S. creativity scores are declining. One likely culprit is the number of hours kids now spend in front of the TV and playing videogames rather than engaging in creative activities. Another is the lack of creativity development in our schools. In effect, it’s left to the luck of the draw who becomes creative: there’s no concerted effort to nurture the creativity of all children.

Around the world, though, other countries are making creativity development a national priority. In 2008 British secondary-school curricula—from science to foreign language—was revamped to emphasize idea generation, and pilot programs have begun using Torrance’s test to assess their progress. The European Union designated 2009 as the European Year of Creativity and Innovation, holding conferences on the neuroscience of creativity, financing teacher training, and instituting problem-based learning programs—curricula driven by real-world inquiry—for both children and adults. In China there has been widespread education reform to extinguish the drill-and-kill teaching style. Instead, Chinese schools are also adopting a problem-based learning approach.

Plucker recently toured a number of such schools in Shanghai and Beijing. He was amazed by a boy who, for a class science project, rigged a tracking device for his moped with parts from a cell phone. When faculty of a major Chinese university asked Plucker to identify trends in American education, he described our focus on standardized curriculum, rote memorization, and nationalized testing. “After my answer was translated, they just started laughing out loud,” Plucker says. “They said, ‘You’re racing toward our old model. But we’re racing toward your model, as fast as we can.’ ”

Overwhelmed by curriculum standards, American teachers warn there’s no room in the day for a creativity class. Kids are fortunate if they get an art class once or twice a week. But to scientists, this is a non sequitur, borne out of what University of Georgia’s Mark Runco calls “art bias.” The age-old belief that the arts have a special claim to creativity is unfounded. When scholars gave creativity tasks to both engineering majors and music majors, their scores laid down on an identical spectrum, with the same high averages and standard deviations. Inside their brains, the same thing was happening—ideas were being generated and evaluated on the fly.

Researchers say creativity should be taken out of the art room and put into homeroom. The argument that we can’t teach creativity because kids already have too much to learn is a false trade-off. Creativity isn’t about freedom from concrete facts. Rather, fact-finding and deep research are vital stages in the creative process. Scholars argue that current curriculum standards can still be met, if taught in a different way.

To understand exactly what should be done requires first understanding the new story emerging from neuroscience. The lore of pop psychology is that creativity occurs on the right side of the brain. But we now know that if you tried to be creative using only the right side of your brain, it’d be like living with ideas perpetually at the tip of your tongue, just beyond reach.

When you try to solve a problem, you begin by concentrating on obvious facts and familiar solutions, to see if the answer lies there. This is a mostly left-brain stage of attack. If the answer doesn’t come, the right and left hemispheres of the brain activate together. Neural networks on the right side scan remote memories that could be vaguely relevant. A wide range of distant information that is normally tuned out becomes available to the left hemisphere, which searches for unseen patterns, alternative meanings, and high-level abstractions.

Having glimpsed such a connection, the left brain must quickly lock in on it before it escapes. The attention system must radically reverse gears, going from defocused attention to extremely focused attention. In a flash, the brain pulls together these disparate shreds of thought and binds them into a new single idea that enters consciousness. This is the “aha!” moment of insight, often followed by a spark of pleasure as the brain recognizes the novelty of what it’s come up with.

Now the brain must evaluate the idea it just generated. Is it worth pursuing? Creativity requires constant shifting, blender pulses of both divergent thinking and convergent thinking, to combine new information with old and forgotten ideas. Highly creative people are very good at marshaling their brains into bilateral mode, and the more creative they are, the more they dual-activate.

Is this learnable? Well, think of it like basketball. Being tall does help to be a pro basketball player, but the rest of us can still get quite good at the sport through practice. In the same way, there are certain innate features of the brain that make some people naturally prone to divergent thinking. But convergent thinking and focused attention are necessary, too, and those require different neural gifts. Crucially, rapidly shifting between these modes is a top-down function under your mental control. University of New Mexico neuroscientist Rex Jung has concluded that those who diligently practice creative activities learn to recruit their brains’ creative networks quicker and better. A lifetime of consistent habits gradually changes the neurological pattern.

A fine example of this emerged in January of this year, with release of a study by University of Western Ontario neuroscientist Daniel Ansari and Harvard’s Aaron Berkowitz, who studies music cognition. They put Dartmouth music majors and nonmusicians in an fMRI scanner, giving participants a one-handed fiber-optic keyboard to play melodies on. Sometimes melodies were rehearsed; other times they were creatively improvised. During improvisation, the highly trained music majors used their brains in a way the nonmusicians could not: they deactivated their right-temporoparietal junction. Normally, the r-TPJ reads incoming stimuli, sorting the stream for relevance. By turning that off, the musicians blocked out all distraction. They hit an extra gear of concentration, allowing them to work with the notes and create music spontaneously.

Charles Limb of Johns Hopkins has found a similar pattern with jazz musicians, and Austrian researchers observed it with professional dancers visualizing an improvised dance. Ansari and Berkowitz now believe the same is true for orators, comedians, and athletes improvising in games.

The good news is that creativity training that aligns with the new science works surprisingly well. The University of Oklahoma, the University of Georgia, and Taiwan’s National Chengchi University each independently conducted a large-scale analysis of such programs. All three teams of scholars concluded that creativity training can have a strong effect. “Creativity can be taught,” says James C. Kaufman, professor at California State University, San Bernardino.

What’s common about successful programs is they alternate maximum divergent thinking with bouts of intense convergent thinking, through several stages. Real improvement doesn’t happen in a weekend workshop. But when applied to the everyday process of work or school, brain function improves.

So what does this mean for America’s standards-obsessed schools? The key is in how kids work through the vast catalog of information. Consider the National Inventors Hall of Fame School, a new public middle school in Akron, Ohio. Mindful of Ohio’s curriculum requirements, the school’s teachers came up with a project for the fifth graders: figure out how to reduce the noise in the library. Its windows faced a public space and, even when closed, let through too much noise. The students had four weeks to design proposals.

Working in small teams, the fifth graders first engaged in what creativity theorist Donald Treffinger describes as fact-finding. How does sound travel through materials? What materials reduce noise the most? Then, problem-finding—anticipating all potential pitfalls so their designs are more likely to work. Next, idea-finding: generate as many ideas as possible. Drapes, plants, or large kites hung from the ceiling would all baffle sound. Or, instead of reducing the sound, maybe mask it by playing the sound of a gentle waterfall? A proposal for double-paned glass evolved into an idea to fill the space between panes with water. Next, solution-finding: which ideas were the most effective, cheapest, and aesthetically pleasing? Fiberglass absorbed sound the best but wouldn’t be safe. Would an aquarium with fish be easier than water-filled panes?

Then teams developed a plan of action. They built scale models and chose fabric samples. They realized they’d need to persuade a janitor to care for the plants and fish during vacation. Teams persuaded others to support them—sometimes so well, teams decided to combine projects. Finally, they presented designs to teachers, parents, and Jim West, inventor of the electric microphone.

Along the way, kids demonstrated the very definition of creativity: alternating between divergent and convergent thinking, they arrived at original and useful ideas. And they’d unwittingly mastered Ohio’s required fifth-grade curriculum—from understanding sound waves to per-unit cost calculations to the art of persuasive writing. “You never see our kids saying, ‘I’ll never use this so I don’t need to learn it,’ ” says school administrator Maryann Wolowiec. “Instead, kids ask, ‘Do we have to leave school now?’ ” Two weeks ago, when the school received its results on the state’s achievement test, principal Traci Buckner was moved to tears. The raw scores indicate that, in its first year, the school has already become one of the top three schools in Akron, despite having open enrollment by lottery and 42 percent of its students living in poverty.

With as much as three fourths of each day spent in project-based learning, principal Buckner and her team actually work through required curricula, carefully figuring out how kids can learn it through the steps of Treffinger’s Creative Problem-Solving method and other creativity pedagogies. “The creative problem-solving program has the highest success in increasing children’s creativity,” observed William & Mary’s Kim.

The home-game version of this means no longer encouraging kids to spring straight ahead to the right answer. When UGA’s Runco was driving through California one day with his family, his son asked why Sacramento was the state’s capital—why not San Francisco or Los Angeles? Runco turned the question back on him, encouraging him to come up with as many explanations as he could think of.

Preschool children, on average, ask their parents about 100 questions a day. Why, why, why—sometimes parents just wish it’d stop. Tragically, it does stop. By middle school they’ve pretty much stopped asking. It’s no coincidence that this same time is when student motivation and engagement plummet. They didn’t stop asking questions because they lost interest: it’s the other way around. They lost interest because they stopped asking questions.

Having studied the childhoods of highly creative people for decades, Claremont Graduate University’s Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and University of Northern Iowa’s Gary G. Gute found highly creative adults tended to grow up in families embodying opposites. Parents encouraged uniqueness, yet provided stability. They were highly responsive to kids’ needs, yet challenged kids to develop skills. This resulted in a sort of adaptability: in times of anxiousness, clear rules could reduce chaos—yet when kids were bored, they could seek change, too. In the space between anxiety and boredom was where creativity flourished.

It’s also true that highly creative adults frequently grew up with hardship. Hardship by itself doesn’t lead to creativity, but it does force kids to become more flexible—and flexibility helps with creativity.

In early childhood, distinct types of free play are associated with high creativity. Preschoolers who spend more time in role-play (acting out characters) have higher measures of creativity: voicing someone else’s point of view helps develop their ability to analyze situations from different perspectives. When playing alone, highly creative first graders may act out strong negative emotions: they’ll be angry, hostile, anguished. The hypothesis is that play is a safe harbor to work through forbidden thoughts and emotions.

In middle childhood, kids sometimes create paracosms—fantasies of entire alternative worlds. Kids revisit their paracosms repeatedly, sometimes for months, and even create languages spoken there. This type of play peaks at age 9 or 10, and it’s a very strong sign of future creativity. A Michigan State University study of MacArthur “genius award” winners found a remarkably high rate of paracosm creation in their childhoods.

From fourth grade on, creativity no longer occurs in a vacuum; researching and studying become an integral part of coming up with useful solutions. But this transition isn’t easy. As school stuffs more complex information into their heads, kids get overloaded, and creativity suffers. When creative children have a supportive teacher—someone tolerant of unconventional answers, occasional disruptions, or detours of curiosity—they tend to excel. When they don’t, they tend to underperform and drop out of high school or don’t finish college at high rates.

They’re quitting because they’re discouraged and bored, not because they’re dark, depressed, anxious, or neurotic. It’s a myth that creative people have these traits. (Those traits actually shut down creativity; they make people less open to experience and less interested in novelty.) Rather, creative people, for the most part, exhibit active moods and positive affect. They’re not particularly happy—contentment is a kind of complacency creative people rarely have. But they’re engaged, motivated, and open to the world.

The new view is that creativity is part of normal brain function. Some scholars go further, arguing that lack of creativity—not having loads of it—is the real risk factor. In his research, Runco asks college students, “Think of all the things that could interfere with graduating from college.” Then he instructs them to pick one of those items and to come up with as many solutions for that problem as possible. This is a classic divergent-convergent creativity challenge. A subset of respondents, like the proverbial Murphy, quickly list every imaginable way things can go wrong. But they demonstrate a complete lack of flexibility in finding creative solutions. It’s this inability to conceive of alternative approaches that leads to despair. Runco’s two questions predict suicide ideation—even when controlling for preexisting levels of depression and anxiety.

In Runco’s subsequent research, those who do better in both problem-finding and problem-solving have better relationships. They are more able to handle stress and overcome the bumps life throws in their way. A similar study of 1,500 middle schoolers found that those high in creative self-efficacy had more confidence about their future and ability to succeed. They were sure that their ability to come up with alternatives would aid them, no matter what problems would arise.

When he was 30 years old, Ted Schwarzrock was looking for an alternative. He was hardly on track to becoming the prototype of Torrance’s longitudinal study. He wasn’t artistic when young, and his family didn’t recognize his creativity or nurture it. The son of a dentist and a speech pathologist, he had been pushed into medical school, where he felt stifled and commonly had run-ins with professors and bosses. But eventually, he found a way to combine his creativity and medical expertise: inventing new medical technologies.

Today, Schwarzrock is independently wealthy—he founded and sold three medical-products companies and was a partner in three more. His innovations in health care have been wide ranging, from a portable respiratory oxygen device to skin-absorbing anti-inflammatories to insights into how bacteria become antibiotic-resistant. His latest project could bring down the cost of spine-surgery implants 50 percent. “As a child, I never had an identity as a ‘creative person,’ ” Schwarzrock recalls. “But now that I know, it helps explain a lot of what I felt and went through.”

Creativity has always been prized in American society, but it’s never really been understood. While our creativity scores decline unchecked, the current national strategy for creativity consists of little more than praying for a Greek muse to drop by our houses. The problems we face now, and in the future, simply demand that we do more than just hope for inspiration to strike. Fortunately, the science can help: we know the steps to lead that elusive muse right to our doors.

Swiss refuse extradition, free Polanski

Officials say U.S. failed to turn over requested documents. The State Department and Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley criticize the decision.

The Swiss government's decision Monday to free Roman Polanski outraged Los Angeles prosecutors and U.S. officials but effectively ended a legal odyssey that has lurched along with periodic eruptions of public furor since 1977, when the famed director was accused of raping a 13-year-old girl.

Polanski will not be extradited to the United States to face sentencing for having unlawful sex with the girl , allowing him to live freely in Switzerland and France, where he has resided since he fled the United States 32 years ago.

Swiss justice officials said the U.S. failed to turn over documents they had requested. They also said Polanski, who has a vacation home in Switzerland, would not have expected to be arrested and deported because American officials knew of his frequent presence there in recent years but never acted on it.

In Los Angeles and Washington, officials vowed to continue their pursuit of Polanski, though their options are now significantly limited.

"A 13-year-old girl was drugged and raped," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said. "This is not a matter of technicality."

Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, who led the effort to bring Polanski back to the U.S., said he was dumbfounded.

"Mr. Polanski is still convicted of serious child sex charges," Cooley said. "The Swiss could not have found a smaller hook on which to hang their hat."

He said he would seek extradition again if Polanski is arrested in any other country where U.S. officials have extradition treaties in place.

But Samantha Geimer, the victim in the case who has publicly forgiven Polanski, said she hopes this finally brings the issue to a close.

"I hope that the D.A.'s office will now have this case dismissed and finally put the matter to rest once and for all," she said in an e-mail.

Polanski's whereabouts were unknown Monday. Swiss authorities said they turned off the electronic monitoring bracelet that he had to wear during his seven months of house arrest at his three-story villa in the ski resort town of Gstaad.

"He can go to France or to Poland, anywhere he will not be arrested," Swiss Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said at a news conference.

The director has been in Swiss custody since September, when police arrested him on his arrival in Zurich to accept a lifetime achievement award at the local film festival. The arrest was performed at Cooley's request, and reignited debate from Paris to Hollywood over the fugitive director's case.

For all the legal maneuvering and spectacle of recent months, both sides are basically where they were in 1978, with the district attorney refusing to let the case go and Polanski refusing to come back.

In April, the 2nd District Court of Appeal rejected Polanski's request to be sentenced in absentia to time served.

The legal argument that has dragged the case along for more than a generation hinges on whether Polanski already served his time.

Before Polanski's sentencing in 1977, Judge Laurence J. Rittenband ordered him to undergo a 90-day psychiatric study at the state prison in Chino. The prosecutor and Polanski's attorney understood that this time in the prison would serve as Polanski's punishment.

Polanski reported to Chino and was released after 42 days. But Rittenband then told the attorneys in private that he wanted Polanski to finish the 90 days — and then leave the country. If he didn't leave, he'd get even more prison time.

Hearing this, Polanski fled.

Romanian Recession Deepens on Cuts, BOA Merrill Says (Update1)

July 12 (Bloomberg) -- Romania’s recession this year will be deeper than previously seen as the government cut spending and raised the value-added tax to curb a swelling budget deficit, Bank of America Merrill Lynch said.

BOA Merrill lowered its forecast for the European Union member’s 2010 economic performance to a 1.3 percent contraction from a previous forecast for a decline of 0.7 percent, Mai Doan, a London-based analyst at the bank, wrote in an e-mailed note. The economy shrank a record 7.1 percent in 2009.

“As spending cuts and a VAT hike become effective in the second half of 2010, while euro-zone demand slows into 2011, there is little support for economic growth in Romania,” Doan wrote. “Private consumption and investment continued to subtract from annual growth” in the first quarter, “a reflection of high unemployment and stagnant lending.”

Prime Minister Emil Boc’s administration, raised the value- added tax as of July 1 by 5 percentage points to 24 percent and made further cuts to public-sector wages to secure further disbursements from a International Monetary Fund-led 20 billion- euro ($25 billion) bailout program. The IMF backs a budget- deficit target of 6.8 percent of gross domestic product this year.

‘Fiscal Slippage’

Even with the additional measures, “fiscal slippage” is likely to occur, according to Doan, who forecasts the budget shortfall at 7.3 percent of GDP. Political wrangling over the cutbacks risk delays in unlocking further installments of the loan, threatening the stability of financing, Doan wrote.

“Financing in the short term is covered with the fifth disbursement from the IMF and EU, but remains a concern in the medium term,” Doan said. “Continued blocks by the opposition and challenges at the Constitutional Court against austerity measures risk delaying future IMF aid, with early elections a possible scenario.” A materialization of that risk would also make it difficult for the country to borrow in international bond markets, Doan said.

The value-added tax increase will push the inflation rate above 8 percent by year-end and halt the central bank’s interest rate cuts until next year, according to Doan. Inflation was unchanged at 4.4 percent in June, a month before the tax increase, the Bucharest-based statistical office said today.

The central bank’s inflation target is 3.5 percent, with a percentage point divergence allowed on either side. The Banca Nationala a Romaniei left the monetary policy rate at a record-low 6.25 percent on June 30. While central bank Governor Mugur Isarescu said there’s “no reason for the interest rate to react” to the value-added tax increase, Bank of America Merrill predicts it will prevent any reduction to borrowing costs until next year.

The central bank’s “hands are tied,” according to Doan. “The easing cycle has likely come to a halt as the VAT hike will likely see inflation overshoot the target, but further cuts may resume in 2011 to counterbalance fiscal austerity and support economic growth,” she wrote.

--Editors: Alan Crosby, Balazs Penz

American Credit Scores Crash To New Lows

“Figures provided by FICO Inc. show that 25.5 percent of consumers — nearly 43.4 million people — now have a credit score of 599 or below, marking them as poor risks for lenders. It’s unlikely they will be able to get credit cards, auto loans or mortgages under the tighter lending standards banks now use,” according to the AP. Historically, just 15 percent of the 170 million consumers with active credit accounts, or 25.5 million people, fell below 599, according to data posted on Myfico.com.The recession, tight lending practices by banks, and unemployment have caught up to the consumer credit market, and the trend is likely to worsen.

Banks, particularly regional and community financial firms, are struggling with defaults on both residential and commercial mortgages. To stay out of the clutches of the FDIC, they have become remarkably cautious about lending, even to people with good credit scores.

The number of people who have been unemployed for over six months is now in the millions and nearly 25 million Americans are out of work. This population is not likely to see their credit scores repaired for years.

The young, for years targets for credit card companies, are unemployed at higher rates than people over 25. That means that this “feeder” population for credit cards is falling and some of these people noe have no credit scores at all.

Another trend that has hurt credit scores immensely is the disappearance of home equity loans which were once taken out by huge numbers of Americans who had houses worth more than their mortgages. Now, more than 11 million mortgages in the US are underwater. People are abandoning homes that are being foreclosed upon. Either of those actions severely damages credit ratings.

One of the long-term effects of low credit scores is a likely long-term drop in consumer spending. People often cannot afford to buy things by paying cash. And austerity is the rule of the day.

Douglas A. McIntyre

80,000+ still need to pay income taxes

The Indiana Department of Revenue is sending out more than 80,000 tax bills to those who still owe income tax money. Bills issued this month are reported to total nearly $60 million.

80,000+ Still Need To Pay Taxes In Indiana

The Indiana Department of Revenue is sending out more than 80,000 tax bills to those who still owe income tax money. Bills issued this month are reported to total nearly $60 million. If you don't pay your bill by the due date, the bill could become a tax warrant which will then be turned over to your county sheriff or to professional tax agencies. (WXIN-TV FOX59 / July 12, 2010)

Indianapolis - The state is sending a warning to delinquent taxpayers, in the form of overdue tax bills.

The Indiana Department of Revenue is sending out more than 80,000 tax bills to those who still owe income tax money. Bills issued this month are reported to total nearly $60 million.

If you don't pay your bill by the due date, the bill could become a tax warrant which will then be turned over to your county sheriff or to professional tax agencies.

North Korea, US to Hold Warship Talks

South Korean Internet-savvy citizens, such as bloggers, Twitter users and online media reporters, who are invited by the Defense Ministry, visit the wreckage of a warship that the government claims was sunk by a North Korean torpedo in March.
Photo: AP

South Korean Internet-savvy citizens, such as bloggers, Twitter users and online media reporters visit the wreckage of the Cheonan warship that the government claims was sunk by a North Korean torpedo in March, 8 July 2010.

Senior officers from the U.S.-led United Nations Command and North Korea are expected to meet Tuesday to discuss the recent sinking of a South Korean warship. The United Nations Command said Monday the meeting will be at the truce village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone.

North Korea had initially rejected the U.N. Command's request to discuss possible violations of the 1953 truce that ended the Korean War.However, Pyongyang changed its stance after Seoul rejected its proposal to send a military team to inspect the Cheonan, which sank after an explosion in March.

An international investigation blamed a North Korean torpedo for sinking the South Korean navy ship, killing 46 sailors. North Korea denies responsibility.

Pyongyang is likely to maintain that position Tuesday's meeting Tuesday, said Baek Seung-joo with the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses. He said he expects the North's delegation to criticize the conclusion of the investigation holding North Korea responsible, calling into question the scientific evidence. However, the meeting could clear the way for higher-level talks between the two sides, he added.

The U.N. Security Council has condemned the attack on the Cheonan, but did not directly blame North Korea. Pyongyang hailed the U.N. statement as a "great diplomatic victory."

Seoul expressed satisfaction with the Security Council statement but also reiterated its call for North Korea to apologize and demonstrate its willingness to give up its nuclear weapons programs.

The sinking of the Cheonan significantly raised tensions on the peninsula.

The delegates at Tuesday talks will be colonels, who are expected to prepare for a meeting of generals. The last talks between generals were in March 2009. The talks have been held 16 times since they were instituted in 1998 as a confidence-building measure.

In response to the Cheonan sinking, the South Korean and U.S. navies plan joint maneuvers, although they have not announced the date and location of the exercise.

Will we lose mortgage deductions, Medicare?

BOSTON — The chairmen of President Obama's national debt commission painted a gloomy picture Sunday as the United States struggles to control its spending.

Republican Alan Simpson and Democrat Erskine Bowles told a meeting of the National Governors Association that everything needs to be considered — including curtailing popular tax breaks, such as the home-mortgage deduction, and instituting a financial trigger mechanism for gaining Medicare coverage.

The nation's total federal debt next year is expected to exceed $14 trillion — about $47,000 for every U.S. resident.

"This debt is like a cancer," Bowles said in a sober presentation lightened by humorous asides between him and Simpson. "It is truly going to destroy the country from within."

Simpson said the entirety of the nation's current discretionary spending is consumed by the Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security programs.

"The rest of the federal government, including fighting two wars, homeland security, education, art, culture, you name it, veterans, the whole rest of the discretionary budget, is being financed by China and other countries," Simpson said. China alone holds $920 billion in IOUs from the U.S. government.

If the United States makes no changes, Bowles said, the nation will be spending $2 trillion by 2020 just for interest on the national debt.

"Just think about that: All that money, going somewhere else, to create jobs and opportunity somewhere else," he said.

Simpson, a former Republican senator from Wyoming, and Bowles, a former White House chief of staff under President Clinton, head an 18-member commission. The panel is charged with coming up with a plan by Dec. 1 to reduce the government's annual deficits to 3 percent of the national economy by 2015.

Bowles led successful 1997 talks with Republicans on a balanced-budget bill that produced government surpluses the last three years Clinton was in office and the first year of Republican George W. Bush's presidency. Simpson, as the Senate's GOP whip in 1990, helped round up votes for a budget bill in which President George H.W. Bush broke his "read my lips" pledge not to raise taxes.

Despite their backgrounds, both Simpson and Bowles said they were not 100 percent confident of success this time.

Simpson labeled the commission members "good people of deep, deep difference, knowing the possibility of the odds of success are rather harrowing to say the least."

Bowles also said Congress had to be ready to accept the commission's findings.

"What we do is not so hard to figure out; it's the political consequences of doing it that makes it really tough," he said.

Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat, was one of those leaders who sat in rapt attention during the presentation, one of the first in public by the commission leaders.

"I don't know that I ever heard a gloomier picture painted that created more hope for me," Beebe said.


Michael Rivero

Note: This article first appeared as a post written by myself at Free Republic in late 2000. I was surprised to learn that it was copied re-posted at dozens of sites around the world. So, it seems only fitting that the article should re-appear here on my own web site.

In recent months, I have posted a series of article on the deplorable and quite frankly hopeless financial situation the government of the United States is presently in due to reckless and outright irresponsible fiscal policy.

In summary, the combined state and federal debt of the United States now stands at an estimated $65 trillion. The United States, the world's largest creditor nation when Ronald Reagan took office, is now the world's largest debtor nation. The federal debt has doubled in the last 8 years, during what is reported to the American people as being a record setting economic boom. During this same supposed economic boom, the federal government looted your social security trust fund for another 3/4 of a trillion dollars to balance the books.

A serious doubt exists as to whether this huge debt and its crushing interest payments ($60,000 per taxpayer since 1960) are really the responsibility of the taxpayers. Considering that the law under which this debt was incurred was voted into law before most of us were born, it's clear that the taxpayers have never really had a choice in the matter. Certainly the young people of today, not yet old enough to vote, have had no choice regarding the continuing payment of interest charges for a debt not of their making. To hand such a huge debt to our children and order them to pay it is indentured servitude at best, outright slavery at worst. No valid argument exists as to why children not yet old enough to vote are obliged to pay the debts of reckless government officials who held office before these children were born. The government decides that children shall be slaves to the debt, so slaves they shall be (until some courageous parents decide to put a stop to it).

Virtually every argument coming from those who would convince us to go on parting with our hard-earned money to pay this massive and impossible debt amounts to a claim that we always have the choice to vote for politicians who will somehow change things, and that the election of a particular candidate amounts to approval of his or her policies. Put simply, the fact that the public voted for Bill Clinton amounts to permission by the public for him to run the federal government deeper into debt and loot our retirement money, or so goes the theory.

One can easily challenge the logic behind such a claim. If, after all, the only candidates on the ballot intend to borrow more money, does that mean the voters approve of the eventual loans? Does the fact that Hitler won his election prove that all Germans approved of the concentration camps?

But beyond that simple fallacy lies a greater issue, one that until now has never been fully and properly examined. And that is whether the public really voted for those who are in power at all. Are our elections truly fair, or are they simply an illusion that the public approves of whatever despot has cheated his or her way to power.

Cuba is a good example. It's now generally acknowledged by historians that the elections which kept Batista in power were rigged. The CIA is known to have rigged elections in numerous countries around the world, to put in governments friendly to American interest, often detrimental to the people of those nations (often leading to revolution). A search through the news reports of elections around the world shows that a truly fair and honest election is indeed a rarity. It is therefore naive (not to mention racist) to start out assuming American elections are honest simply because we are Americans.

Are the elections in the United States fair and honest? A review of the facts is far less than reassuring.

Since 1964, right after John F. Kennedy was assassinated, vote tabulation for national elections has been handled not by the government, but by a private company lacking any official oversight at all. This company, which changes its name on a regular basis, is currently called "Voters News Service" and is located in New York City. This company is owned by a consortium of TV networks and wire services, which are in turn controlled by the CIA through its Operation MOCKINGBIRD. The TV networks will make a great show of being "first with the election results", but in reality all of them rely on the numbers sent to them by VNS, while seldom acknowledging its existence during the election coverage.

This is the voting process most in use in America today. A voter punches a card in the voting booth. That card is run through a computer at the local voting center, then that computer contacts computers at Voters News Service, or the precinct official telephones the numbers the computer shows him to Voters News Service, which then announces the results via the networks. Poll watchers are allowed to watch the voting booths, to guard against polling place electioneering, but in most precincts, the actual counting of the ballots is concealed from the public, and nobody is allowed to see inside the voting machines, or review the computer software that counts the ballots. 70% of all votes in America are counted by machine, and nobody, not private citizen, not local election official, nobody, is allowed to examine how it all works. The accuracy tests conducted on the voting machines before and after the actual election are utterly worthless, as they cannot detect fraud designed to fool the accuracy test itself. In 1988, when voting machines in Illinois were tested with tens of thousands of ballots instead of the few dozen normally used for the accuracy test, over 1/4 of the machines which had passed the standard accuracy test were found to have mistabulated the larger test vote results!

While researching the book, "VOTESCAM", the Collier brothers actually managed to videotape members of the League of Women voters forging ballots, and found hard evidence that Shouptronics and Printomatic vote machines were rigged in the Dade County Elections. In the Shouptronics, the wheels of the mechanical counters were shaved to cause miscounts. In the Printomatic machines, a malfunction revealed that the paper tape with the voting results had been pre-printed before the voting even started! The Colliers, along with attorney Ellis Rubin, handed the evidence to the assistant State Attorney for Florida. Sadly, that assistant State Attorney was Janet Reno, who in a pattern we have all become too familier with, killed the investigation. 60 Minutes taped a segment on the Dade County Vote Fraud, but never aired it.

Mandatory voter registration laws, such as "Motor voter" have been a boon to election fraud, generating registered voters who don't vote and whose names may be used to obtain absentee ballots. In the California election that unseated Bob Dornan following his efforts to investigate the Clinton White House, canvassers discovered that nearly half of the names registered to vote in the GOP election from 7 precincts simply did not exist. The California Attorney General's office was informed by the precinct worker, but again nothing was done. In 1998, almost 20,000 fraudulent voter registrations were discovered on the voting rolls, but were allowed to remain on the excuse that their removal in time for the election would cost too much!

The evidence for massive vote fraud in the United States uncovered by the Voting Integrity Project and organizations like it are ignored by the government, which has obviously been the beneficiary of such chicanery, and by the media, which is complicit in the fraud. When vote fraud was suspected in the 1996 Arizona Primary (the one that ended Pat Buchanon's winning streak after New Hampshire), the Arizona legislature passed a special law forbidding a recount for that one primary election only! When the Miami Magazine ran a story on the Dade County Vote Fraud, the magazine was purchased just one month later by the editor of the Miami News, Sylvan Meyer, who ordered that no further stories on vote fraud be published. When precinct workers in the 1974 Dade County elections discovered that the voting machines they were using were rigged, they walked off the job and refused to certify the election process. Police and fire fighters took over the polling duties. The next day, the Miami Herald reported the walk out, but not the reason. When the precinct workers went to the media to report the election rigging, the media ignored them. So did the local attorney general. So did the FBI. Citizens who tried to observe the next election were arrested.

Typical of the horror stories associated with the media-owned Voters News Service is what happened in Dubuque County Iowa during the 1996 Caucuses. The county's 41 precincts met in 41 classrooms at two high schools and voted on old fashioned paper ballots, which were then counted in full view of all present (including representatives of the candidates), and the results posted for all to see and verify. The vote totals were then phoned directly into Voters News Service by the county chairman, again in full view of all participants that night. Buchanon won the county by a wide margin, garnering 870 votes. By next morning, Voters News Service had dropped Buchanon's vote total for that county down to 757 votes, a 13% drop. Buchanon lost Iowa by a much smaller margin than 13%.

The Iowa state GOP claimed it could do nothing about the problem; they were "in VNS' hands". VNS, despite the paper ballots proving Buchanon's 870 votes, refused to admit error and refused to change the results for the county. Needless to say, the question of whether Buchanon had had 13% of his votes shaved off in other Iowa counties, ones in which computerized vote machines meant there was no audit trail to check, was ignored. The fact that an obviously fraudulent vote had made it all the way through the system to be reported on national television was also ignored by the media. (Iowa is the state, it should be noted, where a columnist for Salon magazine was charged with vote fraud.)

The complicity by the law enforcement machinery of this nation is astounding. In one election in Boston, a judge declared 968 ballots which had been declared "blank" due to multiple punches to be valid, arbitrarily assigning most of the disputed votes to the incumbent candidate, thereby reversing his defeat. In a computer vote fraud case in West Virginia, an expert witness testifying for the plaintiff sat down at a CES voting machine provided by the defendants, studied it for a while, then with a single ballot card added 10,000 votes to one of the fictional candidates. The judge refused to allow the jury to see the demonstration and the charges were eventually dropped.

Only three states, California, Florida, and Michigan, have laws requiring that the voting machine source code be placed in escrow should it need to be examined after an election. None of those states have any means to verify that the source code placed in escrow is in fact the origin of the compiled code running on the machines election night, and in Michigan, the escrow is simply handled by the voting machine company itself with no overview by a state agency or public interest group.

All the voting machines used in the United States come from just three companies. The Presidents of two of them have been convicted of vote fraud and yet all state governments continue to do business (at very steep fees) with just these three companies. The largest of the three companies has direct access to 50% of the nation's votes. Nobody is allowed to inspect the machines, or watch as the vote totals are accumulated and counted, and there is no audit trail anywhere along the path from the voting machine to Voter's News Service, the private media-owned company that without any official oversight, tells us all what the election results are.

Most states have now passed laws requiring a challenge to election results to be filed within a few weeks of the election, far too short a time for anyone to properly determine if such a challenge is warranted.

Despite such an obvious inhibition, a Democrat who lost a legislative seat in the 1998 Hawaiian election did file a challenge, claiming there was vote fraud. A quick audit showed that vote fraud involving absentee ballots had indeed occurred, but mostly by the Democrat; who had cheated, but not enough to win. This scandal triggered public questions about several races, including that of the Democratic Governor, Ben Cayutano, who had been trailing his Republican challenger all during the election night, only to have a sudden surge of votes at the last second push him over the top. The governor offered to over-ride the state's two week filing deadline for election challenges and allow a full recount, then back-pedaled and made a full recount contingent on a "pre-audit". The "pre-audit" was assigned to the company which had run the election, along with a warning that if it turned out the election was flawed, their final payment would be withheld by the State of Hawaii. Needless to say the pre-audit found no errors in the election, and despite the urging of the Voter Integrity Project (which was conducting its own investigation) the full recount was canceled. The voting company, ES&S was again been awarded the voting contract for the 2000, 2002, and 2004 elections, without any open bidding.

Who chooses what government we live under? Those who cast the votes, or as Stalin observed, those who count them? Do We The People pick those who govern us, or does a private company, owned by the CIA controlled media, and operating without any public oversight? Have We The People consented by vote to bear the $65 trillion burden of a government's reckless fiscal policy, or was that consent and that vote fraudulently obtained?

Just think about all it really means if the elections are being rigged on a massive scale.

It means that the contract between ruler and ruled is broken. The government does not govern with the consent of the governed, it rules by treachery and deception. The crown it wears is a stolen one, usurped from the people by three voting machine companies and one media owned results-announcer totally beyond review and reproach.

So, now we come back to the issue of government debt and who is really responsible for it. If, as appears to be the case, our elections are routinely being rigged, then it cannot be argued that We The People either chose, or approved of, those officials who borrowed trillions of dollars without our permission and sought to enslave us to that debt.

In an atmosphere of doubt about the validity of the voting process, it cannot be assumed that the American people have actually voted for or approved of any of the government's actions and policies for the last 35 years. That includes a couple of wars and some $65 trillion in debt, and the $60,000 in interest payments alone each taxpayer has had to fork over since the 1960s.

In light of the numerous incidents of vote fraud uncovered through the years and the quite obvious stonewall on the subject by the officials who benefit from rigged elections and the media that at least helps in the rigging, it is dangerous to assume that American elections are honest. The burden of proof must lie with VNS and the voting machine companies to prove their honesty.

In an atmosphere of doubt about the validity of the voting process, it appears that the entire voting process is a sham, a trick to fool the American people into accepting whatever is done to them by creating the illusion that the people somehow voted for and approved of whatever is being done. That's how Batista fooled the Cuban people. That's how the USSR fooled the Soviet citizens. And that's how the American government fools us.

Do We The People owe that $65 trillion? No, we do not. It was borrowed without our permission. No citizen agreed to repay that money.

Those government officials who borrowed that money and intend that We The People should be forced to repay it can no longer do so on the assumption that they rule with the consent of those who vote.

The best that can be said is that they rule with the consent of those who count the vote.