Archive for August 5, 2011

The Price of a U.S. Credit Rating Downgrade

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S&P Downgrades U.S. Debt Rating

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Source: http://www.marketwatch.com

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) — Standard & Poor’s cut its ratings outlook on the U.S. to negative from stable on Monday, lighting a fire under Washington’s deficit-reduction debate and sending stock markets sharply lower.

The rating agency effectively gave Washington a two-year deadline to enact meaningful change, just days after House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and President Barack Obama each outlined their plans for slashing debt. S&P nonetheless kept its highest rating, AAA, on the U.S.

Relative to triple-A-rated peers, the U.S. has very large budget deficits and rising government indebtedness, and the path to addressing those issues is unclear, S&P analysts said.

They noted an increasing gap between a lack of action by U.S. fiscal policy makers and steps taken by its AAA-rated peers, even after the Republicans and Obama administration released their 2012 budget proposals.

“The fiscal profile of the U.S. is increasingly diverging from that of its AAA peers,” said David Beers, an S&P analyst, on a conference call. “This was the time to update our opinion.”

It’s the first time S&P lowered its outlook for the U.S. from stable, but Moody’s Investors Service sent up red flags in 1996, only to be taken down when policy makers raised the debt ceiling — which will again be hit soon.

The debt ceiling was not mentioned in S&P’s release or on a conference call with their analysts.

The outlook change indicates a one in three chance of an actual rating downgrade over the next few years, Beers said.

The U.S. is one of 19 sovereign governments rated AAA by S&P, out of 127 rated countries. But all of the closest AAA peers — Germany, France, Canada and the U.K. — have done more to address their fiscal problems coming out of the recession, which in some cases were worse than what the U.S. experienced, analysts said.

“We’re mindful of the fact that policy makers are beginning to focus on some type of fiscal agreement,” Beers said. “Reaching a concrete agreement on a path of fiscal consolidation will be difficult to agree on in the next two years.”

If a meaningful agreement to address medium- and long-term budgetary challenges isn’t reached and implementation hasn’t begun by 2013, it would render the U.S. fiscal profile meaningfully weaker than its AAA-rated peers, analysts wrote in a release. See text of S&P decision.

The news rattled markets, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA +0.54%  plunging more than 200 points. It recently traded down 192 points, led by more than 3% drops in Caterpillar Inc. CAT +0.24%   and Bank of America Corp. BAC -1.10%  shares. See Market Snapshot.

However, Treasury bonds maturing in under 30 years 30_YEAR +5.16%  recovered, and the U.S. dollar EURUSD +0.20%  rose more than 1% versus the euro. See story on Treasury bonds.

Analysts said the U.S. still looks relatively better for the next few years, especially against some European countries which have needed bailouts or seem to be considering defaulting on their debt. Read about the dollar.

The New Physics of Gridlock in a Polarized Capital: Ezra Klein

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Source: http://www.bloomberg.com

Here’s the general theory of legislative failure: Political polarization leads to congressional gridlock, and congressional gridlock leads to legislative inaction. If Congress can’t get its act together, then the worst that happens is nothing gets done.

But that standard version of political physics is wrong, or at least incomplete. Political polarization does lead to congressional gridlock, but congressional gridlock often leads not to inaction, but to extra-congressional action — that is, action that either skirts Congress altogether or radically subverts the normal legislative process. If you believe government should be accountable, efficient and, for business, predictable, that’s not a good outcome.

It is, however, an increasingly frequent one. The debt deal that Congress passed this week is the latest example. The core of it isn’t the $900 billion in cuts scheduled to come soon; it’s the special committee charged with cutting $1.5 trillion later. If that committee produces a plan supported by a majority of its 12 members, the proposal is allowed to speed through both chambers of Congress, immune to the filibusters and amendments that impede most legislation. The committee’s powers are so great and so unusual that it has attracted a not entirely affectionate nickname: “Supercommittee.”

This is the age of superpowers. Last year’s Affordable Care Act plotted a detour around congressional inaction, and even opposition, by creating the Independent Payment Advisory Board, a 15-member panel of experts empowered to make profound changes to the system. To stop the board’s recommendations from taking effect, Congress must vote them down, after which the president must either agree with Congress or have his veto overridden by two-thirds of each house. Bloomberg View columnist Peter Orszag, former director of the Office of Management and Budget and the panel’s chief sponsor, called it “the largest yielding of sovereignty from the Congress since the creation of the Federal Reserve.” He meant it as a compliment.

At the Department of Education, Secretary Arne Duncan has prepared contingency plans in the event Congress fails to reauthorize or replace the No Child Left Behind Act. Duncan would unilaterally grant waivers to all 50 states, releasing them from most of the law’s mandates. Neither Duncan nor Congress favors this path. It’s just not clear that lawmakers will be able to get their act together and pass an education bill in this polarized environment. And if Congress doesn’t act, someone else must.

The Fed is considering its own bypass of Congress, seeking unconventional measures it might be able to uncork to support a floundering economy that Congress seems uninterested in aiding. With interest rates near zero and the central bank’s ability to deploy monetary policy constrained, it would be far easier for Congress to support the economy with fiscal policy — tax cuts or infrastructure investment, for example. But Congress won’t act. As a result, the Fed might be forced to.

The list goes on. One more: The Environmental Protection Agency is preparing to regulate carbon emissions because Congress has been unable to pass an energy bill. Gridlock doesn’t simply mean nothing gets done. It means that nothing gets done in the transparently democratic way it is supposed to.

All of these extra-congressional ventures take place with the implicit approval of Congress. If Congress chose to exercise its constitutional powers, it could shutter the EPA, hamstring the secretary of Education, repeal the Independent Payment Advisory Board, abolish the Fed and pass its own deficit- reduction bill. Conversely, it could vote to protect the environment, reauthorize No Child Left Behind, overhaul Medicare, stimulate the economy and bring spending in line with revenue.

But rather than choose one path or another, Congress delegates responsibility to others to exercise power on its behalf. It leaves governance in a liminal state. Congress neither musters sufficient support for policies to enact them, nor generates sufficient opposition to policies to stop others from acting on them. The result is not stasis, which seems to be the logical conclusion of gridlock. It is action. It’s just a kind of action that is far less accountable, and less effective, than that produced by a fully functioning legislative body.

Observers occasionally sigh deeply and blame this on bitter polarization of the two major political parties. But that’s not quite the problem. Nor is the issue that our political system is ill-designed. It’s that our political system is ill-designed for parties that are so polarized. Our system is designed for consensus. When that breaks down, the system turns on itself, its many veto points and blockages placing a chokehold on action. To escape the gridlock, the parties establish elaborate extra-congressional fixes, circumventing the political system itself. The government can still work. It just doesn’t work very well: not for liberals, not for conservatives, not for the country.

(Ezra Klein is a Bloomberg View columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer of this article: Ezra Klein at wonkbook@gmail.com.

To contact the editor responsible for this article: Francis Wilkinson at fwilkinson1@bloomberg.net.

USDA Connected Salmonella to Cargill Plant Two Weeks Ago

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Source:

Federal health officials say they knew more than two weeks ago that the source for the salmonella outbreak linked to ground turkey was most likely connected to the Cargill meat plant in Springdale, Ark., but they were unable to issue a recall because they simply did not have enough information.

At a press conference Thursday afternoon, officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Agriculture said they began “traceback activities” related to tainted ground turkey on July 18.

“There were two cases in the same state, and in two days we were able to confirm that the two cases were related to the plant,” said Dr. David Goldman, an assistant administrator for the office of Public Health Science at the USDA-Food Safety and Inspection Service.

But, Goldman pointed out, before a recall can be issued there are a lot of bases officials need to cover.

“We need to coordinate the findings on traceback to findings at the plant. We get information provided to us from the inspection force in the field, and we need to ensure everything has lined up in a way that convinces us,” he said.

Officials became convinced on July 29, and contacted the legal team at the Minnesota-based company to have a preliminary discussion with them about their findings, but it wasn’t until Wednesday that the meat giant was presented with the “full facts” that the CDC and USDA had uncovered.

As a result, Cargill issued one of the biggest meat recalls ever – pulling 36 million pounds of fresh and frozen turkey products off store shelves, which were produced at the Springdale plant from Feb. 20 through Aug. 2.

All of the packages recalled include the code “Est. P-963,” according to Cargill, though packages were labeled under many different brands. Many of the recalled meats are under the label Honeysuckle White. Other brands include Riverside Ground Turkey; Natural Lean Ground Turkey; Fit & Active Lean Ground Turkey; Spartan Ground Turkey and Shady Brook Farms Ground Turkey Burgers. The recall also includes ground turkey products packaged under the HEB; Safeway; Kroger; Randall’s; Tom Thumb and Giant Eagle grocery store brands.

The recall also includes some ground turkey that isn’t labeled at all and some that went to food service establishments, according to Cargill.

Illnesses in the outbreak date back to March and have been reported in 26 states coast-to-coast. As of Tuesday, there were 78 cases and one death linked to the outbreak.

In announcing the recall, Cargill officials said all ground turkey production has been suspended at the Springdale plant until the company is able to determine the source of the contamination.

“Given our concern for what has happened, and our desire to do what is right for our consumers and customers, we are voluntarily removing our ground turkey products from the marketplace,” said Steve Willardsen, president of Cargill’s turkey processing business.

A chart on the CDC’s website shows cases have occurred every month since early March, with spikes in May and early June. The latest reported cases were in mid-July, although the CDC said some recent cases may not have been reported yet. The CDC said the strain is resistant to many commonly prescribed antibiotics, which can make treatment more difficult.

Dr. Chris Braden, director of the division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases at the CDC said out of the 78 people that have been sickened, 22 people, or 38 percent have been hospitalized, which are higher numbers than normal.

“We are working to explore why this may be,” Braden said. “We know the strain is resistant to several antibiotics, which may increase hospitalization and failure of treatment.”

Braden said the good news is that this strain, known as Salmonella Heidelberg, does respond to several other commonly used antibiotics such as Cipro and Bactrim.

The states reporting the highest number sickened are Michigan and Ohio, with 10 each. Texas has reported nine illnesses; Illinois, seven; California, six; and Pennsylvania, five.

Twenty states have one to three reported illnesses linked to the outbreak, according to the CDC. They are Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee and Wisconsin.

The CDC estimates that 50 million Americans each year get sick from food poisoning, including about 3,000 who die. Salmonella causes most of these cases, and federal health officials say they’ve made virtually no progress against it.

Government officials say that even contaminated ground turkey is safe to eat if it is cooked to 165 degrees. But it’s also important that raw meat be handled properly before it is cooked and people wash their hands with soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling the meat. Turkey and other meats should also be properly refrigerated or frozen and leftovers heated.

The most common symptoms of salmonella are diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fever within eight to 72 hours of eating a contaminated product. It can be life-threatening to people with weakened immune systems.

“It is regrettable that people may have become ill from eating one of our ground turkey products,” said Willardsen — “and, for anyone who did, we are truly sorry.”

All The President’s Wars: How Foreign Policy Became One Man’s Prerogative

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Pentagon Plan to Monitor Activists On Facebook and Twitter

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Source: http://www.federaljack.com/?p=92977

The New York Times and the Washington Post have posted articles detailing a plan by the Pentagon to detect and track popular ideas on social networks.

They are not interested in what people think about Lady Gaga or the latest cooking recipes.

In 2005, it was reported that the Pentagon was adding anti-war groups and individuals to a terrorist database. A Defense Department document leaked to NBC provided a “first inside look at how the U.S. military has stepped up intelligence collection inside this country since 9/11, which now includes the monitoring of peaceful anti-war and counter-military recruitment groups.”

Northcom also has a unit dedicated to snooping on political activists.

In 2002, the Pentagon established CIFA, Counterintelligence Field Activity, by directive. Its size and budget were classified. CIFA created a database, TALON (Threat and Local Observation Notice), to keep track of antiwar activists and individuals opposed to invading and bombing small defenseless countries. After a spate of bad PR, the government said CIFA was to be dismantled. It was later revealed that its operations were outsourced and privatized.

The Washington Post admits the DARPA – the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency – plan to hire programmers and researchers to build software to track “popular ideas” on social networks is political.

The plan “makes a certain amount of sense, if you think about how Twitter, Facebook and other social media networks have been used to broadcast the ideas of revolutionaries, protesters and other political figures over the past few years,” writes Hayley Tsukayama.

And, as the report highlights, DARPA could also use the social networks to identify threats. It suggests, for example, that the agency could look into incidences of several people in the same area posting messages about rumors that a wanted individual is hiding nearby.

Or where the next demonstration against the Federal Reserve will be held so agents provocateurs and informers can be dispatched.

“Social networks can allow the military not only to follow but also to shape the action,” writes David Streitfeld for the New York Times.

In 2009, the Pentagon released a “Force Protection Advisory” about “planned protests at all Federal Reserve Banks and office locations within the United States.” The “advisory” went out to Northcom and the FBI.

On November 22, 2008, Alex Jones led a rally at the Federal Reserve Bank in Dallas Texas. The Dallas protest is specifically mentioned in the official Army document. Ron Paul’s brother was also in attendance.

Cartoonist Targeted With Criminal Probe For Mocking Police

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Source: http://www.kirotv.com

One of the small videos can be seen by following the link above.

KIRO 7 Eyewitness News Investigative Reporter

Posted: 4:46 pm PDT August 3, 2011Updated: 7:55 am PDT August 5, 2011

RENTON, Wash. — The Renton City Prosecutor wants to send a cartoonist to jail for mocking the police department in a series of animated Internet videos.The “South-Park”-style animations parody everything from officers having sex on duty to certain personnel getting promoted without necessary qualifications. While the city wants to criminalize the cartoons, First Amendment rights advocates say the move is an “extreme abuse of power.”Only KIRO Team 7 Investigative Reporter Chris Halsne holds a key document that really lays bare the city’s intent. The document was quietly filed in King County Superior Court last week. It’s a search warrant accusing an anonymous cartoon creator, going by the name of Mr. Fiddlesticks, of cyberstalking (RCW 9.61.260). The Renton Police Department and the local prosecutor got a judge to sign off as a way to uncover the name of whoever is behind the parodies. Halsne talked with three nationally respected legal experts who believe the use of the cyberstalking statute is likely stomping on the constitution. Email Your Tip To Chris Halsne The series of web-based short cartoons feature a mustachioed street cop and a short-haired female bureaucrat. The dry, at times, witty banter between the two touches on some embarrassing insider secrets, some of which seem to match up with internal affairs investigations on file within Renton PD.

Cartoon Character of Officer: “Is there any reason why an anonymous video, with no identifying information that ties it to the department or city is being taken more seriously than officers having sex on duty, arguing with outside agencies while in a drunken stupor off duty, sleeping while on duty, throwing someone off a bridge, and having inappropriate relationships with coworkers and committing adultery?”
Cartoon Character of Bureaucrat: “The reason is that internal dirt is internal. The department will crucify certain people and take care of others.”A criminal court document, uncovered by Team 7 Investigators, not only shows how badly the city of Renton wants to “out” the cartoonist (who goes by the name MrFiddlesticks), but states some of the fake character’s lines discuss real life incidents.For example, the search warrant says one cartoon statement “discussed a past incident that has already been investigated…..regarding a dating relationship (a female detective) had with a suspect.” An embarrassing revelation; yes, but criminal?We asked attorney Venkat Balasubramani to review several parody videos and the court documents. He’s an expert in cyber-law and constitutional issues.“The cyberstalking angle doesn’t pass the laugh test,” Balasubramani told KIRO-TV. “It’s a serious stretch and I’d be surprised if somebody looked at it and realistically thought these acts actually fit the statute and we could make somebody criminally liable.”When we asked about the more likely scenario, Balasubramani said, “I think they were trying to get at the speaker and they looked around for a statute that shoehorned their conduct into and sent that to Google and said ‘turn over the information.”Historically, Google and You-Tube are far more likely to cough up an anonymous animator’s real name when there’s a criminal case, as opposed to just an internal affairs investigation into some personnel issues.KIRO Team 7 Investigators went to the City Attorney’s office to ask the chief prosecutor, Shawn Arthur, his motivations to criminalize cartoon creators. Halsne was told to leave a handwritten note. We did not hear back from Arthur. A similar thing happened at the Renton police department. A spokesperson told Halsne that Chief Kevin Milosevich was unavailable.Team 7 Investigators, however, did track down Penny Bartley. She’s a former Renton Police Public Information Officer and current jail administrator, which court records say is the female bureaucrat in some of the cartoons.The mystery animator makes fun of her ankles and questions her resume, yet Bartley wouldn’t talk about the parodies, except to say the city prosecutor never contacted her regarding the filing of a criminal warrant.Halsne: “The video is insulting to you. Can’t you at least step out and talk about how that makes you feel?”
Bartley: “I’m not going to talk about that.”
Halsne: “So you’re not offended?”
Bartley: “I’m not going to comment on this Chris, I’ve said that.”KIRO-TV found two of the full parodies still hanging around the web (which are now posted on our site), but police said there were 6 or 7 additional cartoons created with animation software at www.xtranorma.com and posted under a pseudonyms. KIRO-TV has since obtained four more videos. When KIRO 7 Eyewitness News asked for comment from the city, we were told that there is a point person in charge of comments, and that person is on vacation in Canada.

 

Jury reaches verdict in trial of 5 police officers charged in post-Katrina Danziger Bridge shootings w/ follow-up

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Source: http://www.nola.com

Verdicts in post-Katrina Danziger Bridge shooting case are imminent

The jury in the high-stakes Danziger Bridge case has indicated to U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt that it has reached a verdict. Lawyers for both sides have been directed to return to the courtroom.

Alex Brandon, Times-Picayune archiveLance Madison was arrested Sept. 4, 2005, after the police shootings on the Danziger Bridge. Two people died and four others were wounded.

Stay with NOLA.com for the verdicts as they are read.

Five current or former New Orleans police officers were tried in the shootings, which occurred a week after Hurricane Katrina. Police shot six people, killing two and badly injuring four. The jury considered 25 counts, some of which contain charges against several officers.

The trial began June 22 and lasted six weeks. In that time, the jury of seven men and five women heard testimony from about 60 witnesses.

Four of the officers on trial — Sgts. Ken Bowen and Robert Gisevius, and former officers Anthony Villavaso and Robert Faulcon — acknowledged taking part in the shootings on Sept. 4, 2005. The officers were responding to a distress call from a fellow officer, and they maintained they were either taking fire on the bridge, or had good reason to believe they were under fire. Prosecutors portrayed the shootings as an act of murder.

The fifth officer on trial, retired Sgt. Arthur “Archie” Kaufman, was accused of helping to oversee a massive cover-up of the events on the bridge, one that persisted for years. Kaufman planted a gun in the case’s evidence file, according to testimony in the trial, and prosecutors said he made up two witnesses who he then quoted saying the shootings were justified.

Here is the verdict form the jury must fill out.

As a follow up:

Danziger Bridge jury form details charges against 5 guilty NOPD officers

Five New Orleans police officers have been convicted in the deaths of two people and the injuring of four others on the Danziger Bridge in the days after Hurricane Katrina.

This is the form the jurors had to complete, listing 25 counts.

 

Count 1

Deprivation of James Brissette’s civil rights

Kenneth Bowen: Guilty

(more…)

E-Trade Baby Loses Everything – Thanks to @VickiMcKenna :)

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Too cute not to share.

 

The Current Banking System, well since 1913!

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“And…It’s Gone!”

 

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