// September 21, 2011 by derk
// September 20, 2011 by sgwhites
Feeling fed up watching Washington fight over tax breaks for the wealthiest 1 percent of the population while unemployment continues to plague the rest of the country? Sick of watching Wall Street tank the economy and walk away? You're not alone and this weekend, protestors took to the streets of lower Manhattan with a demand for change.
The protests in Manhattan are formed by a loose coalition of groups who say they've been inspired by the "Arab Spring" protests that have been rippling through the Middle East. Beginning on Saturday, protestors began to converge on lower Manhattan in protest of the corporate influence in American politics. It's not just a one-off protest event, either. Protestors are calling for people to pitch tents and set up barricades to occupy Wall Street for a few months.
The original call for protest came from Adbusters, which called for people to support democracy, not corporateocracy:
The most exciting candidate that we've heard so far is one that gets at the core of why the American political establishment is currently unworthy of being called a democracy: we demand that Barack Obama ordain a Presidential Commission tasked with ending the influence money has over our representatives in Washington. It's time for DEMOCRACY NOT CORPORATOCRACY, we're doomed without it.
The group is organizing via the OccupyWallStreet website, with updates and livestreaming as well as resources for those who wish to join or aid the protests. But AdBusters isn't the only group -- the hacktivist group Anonymous is also supporting the effort, as is a group called the 99 Percent Project, which advocates for the 99 percent of Americans who aren't among the wealthiest in the nation.
As a loose coalition, there has yet to be one single, articulated demand from the protests. But the theme is taking corporate money and influence out of politics. The protestors, frustrated by a shrinking middle class and a financial sector that has escaped consequences for wreaking havoc on the economy, want to take the country back from the richest 1 percent that hold great influence over the political process. The goal? Return democracy to the people.
Protestors have continued to occupy Wall Street through the weekend and into this week, though the numbers have been smaller and several protestors have been arrested. The lack of leadership has also led to inefficiency as protestors debate the next move. Further complicating matters, emails regarding the protest that contained a link to the website were generating a message in YahooMail, leading some to suggest that Yahoo was censoring communication by activists, though the company says blocked emails were the result of an error.
Why it matters
A groundswell of popular support could make a big difference in the upcoming elections. Americans are frustrated by the recession, slow recovery and a government weighed down with corporate influence.
The Wall Street occupiers are vocalizing the frustration shared by many Americans across the country. They're calling for change and for attention to the cause, and some better organization and focus could go a long way toward making this the beginning of an American movement to take back our democracy.
Update: Keith Olbermann, who has been off the air since Wednesday, tweets today that he'll be covering the Wall Street occupation and media blackout on tonight's episode of "Countdown."
// September 16, 2011 by derk
Catch up on the most compelling images and the biggest news with "The Week in Photos." This week: America, including the mourning father below, commemorates the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Speaker John Boehner now appears to hold the power over Obama's jobs plan, trains collide in India, and Russian cosmonauts parachute back to Earth.
Click here, or on the photo below to launch the gallery.
Robert Peraza, who lost his son Robert David Peraza, pauses at his son's name at the North Pool of the 9/11 Memorial during tenth anniversary ceremonies at the site of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2011, in New York City. New York City and the nation are preparing to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on lower Manhattan which resulted in the deaths of 2,753 people.
// September 16, 2011 by sgwhites
Catch up on news from around the globe as we take you around the world in eight links. This week: Unrest in Greece, violence in Yemen, Denmark's first female premier and more.
Want the news in picture? Click here to go around the world in photos, or click on any of the thumbnail images below.click here to continue reading
// September 14, 2011 by derk
UPDATE, Sept. 21: And the winner is...
"Don't worry, I'll say something stupid again next week" -- by Carl Volbrig
UPDATE, Sept. 19: The three finalists are in!
Amused, shocked and a little flushed are all appropriate words to describe our reactions to many of the suggestions. Suffice it to say we never could have anticipated such creative and varied uses of corn dog imagery. That said, picking this week's finalists was admittedly of an exercise in finding the most PG-rated of the bunch. With that in mind, here are the three finalists...
"God told me to wear this sweater" -- by Rob Williams
"Don't worry, I'll say something stupid again next week" -- by Carl Volbrig
"You unseat Obama. No you unseat Obama. No YOU unseat Obama" -- by Patrick Moore
Go the Current Facebook page to vote now and the winner will be revealed on the current.com home page Tuesday afternoon!
ORIGINAL POST: Each week, we'll post a buzzworthy image and ask you -- the creative minds of our community -- to submit the perfect caption. We'll pick our three favorites and put them up for a vote on Current's Facebook page on Monday afternoon. The top-voted caption will be featured on the current.com home page Tuesday afternoon.
Submit your best caption below and good luck! (Note: Some pictures may be worth a thousand words, but this one isn't. Please keep entries to 200 characters or fewer for consideration.)
Photo credit: Getty Images
// September 14, 2011 by sgwhites
You can do just about anything you want online -- from sending an email to ordering a pizza to managing your bank account. Most people take secure websites for granted, but news of a recent attack on Google users in Iran could be a sign that we shouldn't.
The Iranian intercept
At the end of August, a man-in-the-middle attack on Iranian Google users was uncovered -- one that had gone on without detection for two months. The attack allowed for the interception of data including emails to search results. How? By compromising Dutch certificate authority (CA) DigiNotar, one of the companies authorized to create SSL certificates that verify websites. Once the CA was compromised, fraudulent certificates were created, allowing the attacker to eavesdrop on traffic between a user and a website that appears secure.
Certificates and security
If you're online, you're relying on CAs and SSL to protect your privacy, even if you don't think about it. In short, SSL certificates work by verifying that the website you're on is the one you meant to visit. Look at the address bar in your browser when you're logged into your Gmail -- that "https" means it's verified that you're logging into Gmail, and not another site allowing someone to siphon off data. These certificates are relied on for sites to guarantee the security of everything from email communications to credit-card information.
SSL certificates are issued by CAs, which number in the hundreds and operate in many jurisdictions. Any one CA being compromised, as in the case of DigiNotar, could result in hundreds of fraudulent certificates. Since these companies operate in many locations, it's also conceivable that a government could compel a CA to create fraudulent certificates for the purposes of engaging in espionage or investigation of political dissidents.
Privacy and information
As the Internet becomes an essential element of everything from commerce to communication to government, privacy and data become evermore valuable. The rise of organizations such as Wikileaks demonstrate the power of releasing information, and groups like Anonymous and LulzSec give activists and protesters an opportunity to use technical vulnerabilities to make a point, often with unsuspecting users getting caught in the crossfire.
Internet and mobile communications are also valuable for political dissidents and activists. If an individual hired by a government -- as the person claiming responsibility for the Iranian attacks claims to be -- could compromise a CA, or a government could compel a company to authorize false certificates, it would be possible to engage in espionage or conduct surveilllance on citizens. Malware downloaded from such sites could provide the ability to constantly spy on a user's activity.
The compromise of a major CA could also have a crippling impact on the Web. In response to the attacks, major Web browsers revoked DigiNotar certificates. But an attack on a major CA would result in a major disruption of Web services if governments or browsers were forced to revoke certificates, affecting everything from communications to the financial industry.
Why it matters
Because it was bogged down in technical details, the Iranian intercept story failed to catch the attention of those outside the tech media. The industry is taking the attacks seriously, but the public needs to as well.
The more the Internet becomes essential for daily life, the more important privacy and security become, and people should be aware of of potential vulnerabilities and the steps they can take to protect themselves.
// September 09, 2011 by sgwhites
Catch up on news from around the globe as we take you around the world in eight links. This week: Twitter terrorism in Mexico, Europe's economy tanks, protests in Syria and Israel, and more.
Controversy over Mexico's Twitter terrorism case
False rumors about school attacks in the Mexican city of Veracruz caused panic in the streets, but it's the decision by prosecutors to charge the perpetrators with terrorism and sabotage that's causing controversy, CNN reports.
Lifetime ban on gay blood donation lifted in the U.K.
The U.K. has lifted the lifetime ban on blood donation for gay men, instead putting into place standards that allow gay men to donate blood if it's been more than a year since they've had sex with another man. The lifetime ban, which has been in place since the 1980s, was relaxed in light of better procedures for testing for blood-borne illnesses as well as concerns about discrimination, according to The Telegraph.
Chief economist of the European Central Bank resigns
BBC news reports that Jeurgen Stark, chief economist of the European Central Bank, has resigned nearly three years before his term is due to end. The move is being seen by some as a sign of trouble for the bank, and European markets plummeted on Friday.
Suicide attacks in Pakistan
Suicide bombers in Pakistan killed at least 23 and wounded 52 in an attack on a senior paramilitary official, according to CNN. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Syria cries for international protection
Activists in Syria are calling for international protection from security crackdowns carried out by Bashar al Assad's government. Al-Jazeera English reports that protesters have taken to the streets to demand protection from their own government.
Inside Israel's protests
The Atlantic takes a look at the largest demonstration in Israel's history, where citizens rallied for social justice. Although the protest was social and focused on the issue of Israel's priorities, the political backdrop of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could not be ignored.
African leaders promise action on drought
East African leaders have promised to take action to deal with the recurring droughts affecting millions. However, the Associated Press reports, leaders said little about efforts to fight the corruption that activists say plays a role in the widespread hunger facing the region.
NATO-led forces admit to killing BBC reporter in Afghanistan
BBC News reports that the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force has admitted to mistakenly killing a BBC journalist in July. A U.S. soldier mistook journalist Ahmed Omed Khpulwak for an insurgent during the response to an insurgent attack on Radio Television Afghanistan.
Did you find other international news stories this week you'd like to share? Post a link in the comments area below.
// September 07, 2011 by derk
UPDATE, Sept. 13: And the winner is ...
"Oh, Grandma, stop! You're embarrassing me." -- by Brett Schlottmann
UPDATE, Sept. 12: The three finalists are in!
Your obsession with zombies was a bit unsettling ("Braaains... BRAAAAINNNNS..." was posted by Scotch Hinojos on Facebook, in addition to some other brain-eating references), and there were certainly some suggestions that made us laugh but might be too hot for public consumption (see: "Oh and this little one belongs to wife number three, I think." -- submitted by Lisayou).
But three finalists are:
"This one needs salt..." -- by unimatrix0
"John Huntsman.....first candidate to pick his running mate." -- by Leen61
"Oh, Grandma, stop! You're embarrassing me." -- by Brett Schlottmann
Go the Current Facebook page to vote now, and the winner will be revealed on the current.com home page Tuesday afternoon!
Each week, we'll post a buzzworthy image and ask you -- the creative minds of our community -- to submit the perfect caption. We'll pick our three favorites and put them up for a vote on Current's Facebook page on Monday afternoon. The top-voted caption will be featured on the current.com home page Tuesday afternoon.
Submit your best caption below and good luck! (Note: Some pictures may be worth a thousand words, but this one isn't. Please keep entries to 200 characters or fewer for consideration.)
Photo credit: Getty Images
// September 07, 2011 by sgwhites
Congress is set to return to Washington this week and the controversial, bipartistan supercommittee of 12 members tasked with paring down the deficit by $1.5 trillion will also start its work. The chosen dozen needs to find that amount in spending reductions over a decade or face $1.2 trillion in across the board cuts starting in 2013. But who's influencing the supercommittee?
The K Street Connection
The path between K Street, the home of many of D.C.'s lobbying firms, and Capitol Hill is a well-traveled one. Former lobbyists sign on to work as staffers for new members of Congress, and former staffers make their way to K Street firms to lobby their old colleagues on Capitol Hill. It's networking, Washington-style. The Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks the revolving door of lobbyists and staffers, reported that more than twice as many former lobbyists have been hired this session than in the previous one, giving lobbying firms even more ties to Congress.
The Washington Post reports that the debt supercommittee is heavily connected to lobbyists. Nearly 100 former staffers of the supercommittee's members now working as lobbyists who will undoubtedly be trying to convince their former employers to go easy on their clients.
So which committee members are the most connected? Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont. (pictured), who has 25 former staffers now working as lobbyists, including a former chief of staff, David Castagnetti, whose firm lobbies for a number of industries, including health care, oil and gas, and the automotive industry, among others. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., comes in a distant second, with 14 former staffers now working as lobbyists, and one current staffer with a previous lobbying career.
At the other end of the scale are Rep. James E. Clyburn, D-S.C., who has only two former staffers now working as lobbyists, and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., with two staff members who formerly worked in the lobbying industry.
Why It Matters
After a protracted debate over the debt ceiling, the supercommittee has been tasked with making deep cuts to the nation's spending. With so many ties to corporate interests, how will that influence the members' decisions on where to make cuts? Americans should be paying close attention as the supercommittee begins its work, to ensure the interests of the American people aren't shuffled aside by connections to powerful players trying to protect their interests.
Have a story you think isn't getting enough attention? Send us an email at email@example.com, ATTN: Underreported Story.
See what "Countdown" guest host David Shuster and Bill Press had to say about the supercommittee last month:
// August 31, 2011 by sgwhites
Between Rick Perry's prayer rally and Michele Bachmann's religious background and beliefs, the Republican primary isn't short on faith. As the election heats up, both Bachmann and Perry have been connected to particular set of Christian beliefs that could influence their politics in a significant way.
The Roots of Dominionism
Dominionist Christianity lays it's foundations on one specific verse of the Bible, the King James translation of Genesis 1:26:
And God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth."
From this, dominionism takes the view that it is an obligation for Christians to rule and reclaim the world for Christ, not just in the realm of the church but in the realm of the state, as well, in a system based on Biblical law. Unlike traditional evangelicalism, which places the emphasis on salvation through individual conversion, dominionism emphasizes the creation of a state governed by Christian law and pits believers against non-believers in a struggle for control of society.
Dominionism isn't new. Rousas John Rushdoony, a Calvinist philosopher, and Francis Schaeffer, who Bachmann has cited as an influence on her thinking, provided the foundations of the movement in the 1960s and 1970s. But politicians on the right have become increasingly cozy with the movement, particularly around election season.
The New Apostolic Reformation
One of the new players on the scene is the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), headed by C. Peter Wagner, and the group affiliated with Perry's prayer rally. A loosely connected group, the NAR's members see themselves as modern-day apostles and prophets and preach spiritual warfare as a weapon to fight back against demonic influences.
Of course, the effects of spiritual warfare often spread beyond the realm of prayer. Several of those associated with the NAR also have a history in Uganda, promoting the anti-homosexuality bill that makes being gay punishable by death.
Primacy of Biblical law
That's where the dominionist theology starts to have serious real-world consequences. Believing that the Bible is the only authority, one of the goals is to bring "Biblical Foundations" to the American court system, a goal helped by the creation of Christian law schools such as Oral Roberts University Law School, Bachmann's alma mater. The school's founder, Herb Titus, sees secular law as a form of tyranny, and interprets the First Amendment to mean that Congress cannot establish institutions tantamount to religions or enforce duties owed to God.
Proponents of the movement have gained strength by playing on the narrative of Christians as second-class citizens saddled with the yoke of secular law. Although Christians still constitute a religious majority in the U.S., these movements do not typically consider mainline Christianity to be fully in accordance with scripture, and while they are growing, still make up a minority. This has helped fuel support from those who feel surrounded by an increasingly secular and pluralistic society.
Why it matters
Perry and Bachmann have quickly emerged as front-runners in the GOP, and it's worth examine the religious philosophies that are guiding them. Although some have dismissed criticism of dominionism as liberal hysteria, the movement's ties to Uganda alone should serve as a warning of the potential consequences that can arise when mixing faith and politics.
When it comes to candidates with ties to dominionism and the NAR, we need to be asking the hard questions: How much would a candidate allow faith to guide legislative decisions? To what extent do they believe Biblical law should influence American jurisprudence? Only then will voters be able to make an informed decision at the polls.
// August 26, 2011 by sgwhites
You may have seen the video of Matt Damon's recent smackdown of a reporter at an education rally. But you may have missed the news coming out this week: that the Obama Administration had a sudden interest in meeting with Damon and the teachers involved in the "Save Our Schools" rally before the event.
The Save Our Schools Million Teacher March
In July, actor Matt Damon spoke at the "Save Our Schools" rally, criticizing education policy and defending teachers. He also got into an exchange with a reporter that quickly went viral online.
It has now come to light that Education Secretary Arne Duncan tried to meet with Damon prior to the event. Leaders of the teacher march, who had been trying to get the attention of the White House previously, were also suddenly invited to meet with officials beforehand. When they offered to meet after the march instead, however, they were turned down.
The No Child Left Behind Decade
The "Save Our Schools" Million Teacher March that took place in July was a response by teachers to the No Child Left Behind era of education policy.
The brainchild of the Bush administration, NCLB focuses education policy on standardized test scores. All schools are required to meet proficient standards by the 2013-2014 school year and also must demonstrate adequate yearly progress or face consequences, up to closing the school or turning it over to private management.
The emphasis on test scores has had a number of unintended consequences. The curriculum has narrowed, with schools cutting time spent on history, art, languages, music and other subjects not covered by the tests and putting pressure on teachers to teach to the test. Teachers in high-poverty schools or who teach disadvantaged populations face consequence for low test scores, despite facing daunting challenges.
Those in favor of NCLB and similar reforms view it as a concrete way of measuring educational progress, with one set of standards that schools and teachers must meet to be considered acceptable. They also point to perfromance-based evaluation as a motivating factor. The argument goes something like this: If teacher pay isn't based on performance, there's no reason for teachers to work harder. Proponents also argue that teacher pay isn't as low as it seems, citing the hours of the school day and the length of the school year for students, while glossing over the additional, unpaid hours that teachers spend preparing lessons, grading, and providing additional support to students.
While standardized test scores can provide a useful bit of data when evaluating school performance, there are also limitations to what they can measure. The emphasis on test scores also ignores the challenges teachers face in a classroom, facing students at varying levels of ability -- all of whom are expected to meet the same set of standards. Schools have also narrowed curriculums, resulting in what's known as teaching to the test. The emphasis on test scores has also opened the door for schools under pressure to cheat to meet standards. Test fraud has been uncovered in Atlanta and Washington, D.C., with teachers changing test scores to boost results, while New York state dropped its passing mark in order to boost the number of schools meeting a certain level. Other districts have discouraged low-performing students from coming to school or, in the case of charter schools, refusing to accept them at all.
Obama and Education
The Obama Administration promised to reform No Child Left Behind. So far, they are -- by making test scores even more important. The Obama Administration is offering waivers to states facing looming deadlines set in place by NCLB, as long as those states promise to meet other educational reforms, which have been described as No Child Left Behind on steroids.
The Bottom Line
Educators have been speaking out against No Child Left Behind for some time, yet it took a Hollywood actor's appearance to prompt the Department of Education to offer a meeting, and even only before the really, presumably in hopes of quelling opposition. It certainly would appear that there's no desire for a high-profile celebrity shining the light on education reform. Which would seem to indicate it's an issue that deserves closer attention.
// August 19, 2011 by sgwhites
In the midst of a swirl of coverage of the Republican primary and the economy, NPR reported on changes that are quietly affecting the death penalty and the 58 prisoners on federal death row who are increasingly unlikely to be executed during President Obama's watch.
The Death Penalty in the U.S.
In addition to individual state laws, the federal government can apply capital punishment as a sentence for 60 crimes, including three which do not involve murder. The exceptions are espionage, treason and drug trafficking in large amounts. Relatively few developed countries employ the death penalty. Japan and South Korea are the only other established democracies that still conduct executions.
The death penalty has a long history in the United States -- the first person executed in the then-colonies was put to death in 1608 (his name was George Kendall, and he was accused of being a spy for Spain). There was a brief lull between 1972, when the Supreme Court decision in Furman v. Georgia voided 40 death penalty statutes and effectively suspended the death penalty, and 1976 when Gregg v. Georgia approved guided discretion statutes and the death penalty was reinstated.
Lethal Injection Drug Shortages
A new challenge to the death penalty has arisen due to a shortage of the drug sodium thiopental, that serves as one of the key components in lethal injection. Sodium thiopental is an anesthetic and the first in the sequence of three drugs that makes up lethal injection, and is intended to prevent pain.
After a temporary production halt in 2010, Hospira, Inc., the sole American manufacturer of the drug announced in January it would no longer produce it. The company producing the drug had intended to resume production in Italy, however, Italian authorities refused to permit export if the drug were to be used for executions. A U.K. producer of the drug likewise refused to export the drug as of December 2010.
Changes to Executions
Facing the shortage of sodium thiopental, state and federal authorities have worked to develop alternate solutions for lethal injection. On Aug. 18, a Virginia man became the first prisoner in the state to be executed using a new drug cocktail that replaces sodium thiopental with phenobarbital.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons, however, is still working to modify its lethal injection protocols, making it likely that Obama will not preside over any executions during his presidency. In 2006, a federal judge stayed the executions of three prisoners who challenged the constitutionality of lethal injection, claiming that the drug cocktail leaves prisoners conscious and in excruciating pain. Until the new procedures are in place, the litigation cannot proceed and no executions can be scheduled.
In addition to the efforts to revise the lethal injection procedures, phenobarbital producer Lundbeck announced last month that it would restrict the drug's distribution to prevent it from being used for capital punishment.
A Shift in Prosecution
While all of this has been happening, the Justice Department has also adjusted the way it instructs federal prosecutors who wish to seek the death penalty, listening more closely to local prosecutors and seeking the death penalty less often in cases involving the murder of drug dealers. These policies are a shift from the Bush Administration, when controversy arose from Attorney General John Ashcroft, who directed U.S. attorneys who chose not to pursue the death penalty to reconsider.
A Shift in View?
If Obama's term proceeds without any federal executions, it will stand in contrast to the Bush Administration, which presided over the excecutions of three federal prisoners. Could the changes quietly happening behind the scenes be a sign of a shift in attitudes toward the death penalty in the U.S.?
// August 16, 2011 by sgwhites
Don't want to get caught off guard by the news cycle? Here's a roundup of some stories we're keeping an eye on this week.
- Will the stock market keep rising?: The stock market roller coaster hit an upswing with a three-day rally coming on the heels of last week's losses and returning the market to pre-downgrade levels. Will it continue to climb? Mergers in tech and finance have helped spur the momentum but new data coming this week -- including joblessness claims and the Consumer Price index -- could affect the upward swing.
- Obama hits the midwest: At the same time, President Obama has hit the road with a midwest bus tour to talk job growth. He kicked the tour off in Minnesota, and the trip includes stops in Illinois and Iowa. The President is using the trip to hear concerns about the economy and encouraging voters to rally against partisanship in Washington.
- Buffett starts the week with a bang: Unlike most Americans, Warren Buffett is asking Congress to please, raise his taxes. In a New York Times op-ed that has gone viral, the billionaire said that the coddling of the super-rich should come to an end in this economy. Buffett's piece made for a lot of conversation Monday, and it will be interesting to see how pundits and politicians react.
The GOP Race
- Pawlenty's out, Perry's in, the race is on: Michele Bachmann took the straw poll in Iowa, Tim Pawlenty dropped his presidential bid after discovering Iowans just weren't that into him and Texas Gov. Rick Perry made it official and launched into the race. So what's next for the Republican hopefuls?
With some time on the calendar before the next debates, Bachmann, Romney and Perry are shaping up as the field's front-runners. In the early days of his campaign, Perry has already made headlines by courting evangelical leaders. His efforts to tout job growth in Texas is also already being called into question from those who suggest that his success in Texas has been a result of the energy boom, not his political leadership. Now that he's moved from the peanut gallery and into the fray, how will he handle the heat of the campaign's spotlight?
- Health care law headed to Supreme Court?: A federal court ruled the individual mandate portion of Obama's health care reform act unconstsitutional, a move that contradicts another federal court ruling and makes it more likely that the law will head for the Supreme Court. Obama has defended the law, but the ruling is sure to provide material for the GOP race.
- Super Congress is in place -- now what?: In Congress, the final members of the debt super committee were announced, and while the group may have ideological differences, some are criticzing the lack of racial and gender diversity. Now in place, the committee will have until November to propose an additional $1.5 trillion in budget cuts.
Which stories are you watching this week, and what do you hope to see develop on the economy, the GOP campaign and other stories we're following?
// August 12, 2011 by sgwhites
If the first thing that springs to mind when you think of Iceland is Bjork, you may have missed the underreported news of Iceland's surprising approach to economic recovery. Although it's been developing for some time, the story of how Iceland has put the wishes of the Icelandic population ahead of the financial industry and turned the conventional approach to recovery on its head has started people talking.
In the years leading up to the 2008 financial crisis, Iceland's economy grew with the help of cheap, foreign credit and lowered taxes. Newly privatized banks merged commercial and investment banking, and the banks grew larger and more interconnected, and income and wealth inequality expanded. Iceland's income levels were fifth highest in the world, and Reykjavik was an expanding city full of luxury goods.
In 2008, when the financial crisis came crashing down on the world, Iceland's banks fell. The IMF arrived in Reykjavik to rescue the country, the first time it did so in a developed country since 1976. The IMF offered a loan to stabilize the krona, with the condition that Iceland honor the obligations to pay back foreign creditors.
Although the government agreed, Iceland's population said no, erupting into protests and assembling in Reykjavik to demand the government's resignation. As a result, rather than than bail out the banks, the Icelandic government let them collapse. Twice now, the country has voted not to repay foreign creditors the money that was lost during the bank default, and to put citizens ahead of bankers.
It's been referred to as "bankrupting your way to recovery" and some have suggested it as a viable alternative for countries dealing with crippling debt. Compare the situation in Iceland to that of Ireland -- while Ireland has guaranteed all debts, it's had to engage in austerity measures to pay for it. Iceland, on the other hand, has preserved social welfare. In addition, unemployment is falling and the Icelandic economy is expected to grow.
It's not all rosy, however. The Icelandic krona collapsed, making Reykjavik an attractive tourist destination but costing Icelanders who saw prices soar at the same time as wages fell. During the boom years, Icelanders were also encouraged to take out loans in foreign currencies, which mean they have seen their loans double or triple in value as well.
The Bottom Line
Iceland's solution to economic recovery may not be a viable option across the board. The country has several factors that play a key role, including a relatively small population and their own currency. But the quiet revolution from the Icelandic people to put citizens ahead of the banking industry is worth noting and worth considering as we struggle through our own economic recovery.
// August 05, 2011 by sgwhites
While everyone was staring up at the debt ceiling, a story trickled out about bill in the House that would require Internet service providers to retain records of your online activity, raising questions about online privacy and putting them up against the desire to combat child pornography on the Internet.
Last week, the House Judiciary Committee approved HR 1981, a bill that would require ISPs to save subscriber information for at least 18 months. This data could be used to identify what websites you visited and the content you've posted online.
Sponsored by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of legislators, the legislation is intended to help aid investigations into child pornography. While ISPs do keep records of activity, these are currently purged on a routine basis, which the bill's supporters claim makes it difficult to identify those trafficking in child porn online.
Digital rights groups, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, oppose the bill, saying it's an expansion of federal power and a threat to the privacy of Internet users. Others in the House also question the scope of the bill, saying it does not clearly restrict the use of data to specific investigations related to child safety. While this bill is intended to help prosecute cases of child pornography, the stored data could be used in other types of cases or in civil court cases, such as divorce.
The Bottom Line
On the one hand, it's difficult to disagree with a goal of getting child pornography off the Internet and finding the individuals responsible. On the other, HR 1981 has implications for the privacy of everyone online, even those doing nothing illegal.
There's also a risk of data being breached -- with all the recent hacking cases in the news, it's easy to imagine such records could be a tempting target. At what point does the need to protect children outweigh civil liberties and privacy concerns?
// July 28, 2011 by sgwhites
In the midst of endless coverage over competing debt ceiling deals, you might have missed the quiet rumblings over a move to include a second "one-time" tax holiday for corporations. The idea has gained support among moderate Democrats in the Senate, including Kay Hagan (N.C.), Charles Schumer (N.Y.), and John Kerry (Mass.), and Rep. Shelley Berkley (Nev.) in the House.
As it is, leading members of the Senate are seriously considering giving the most profitable companies in the world a total tax holiday as a reward for their last seven years of systematic tax avoidance. Hundreds of billions of potential tax dollars would disappear from the Treasury. And there isn’t a peep from anyone, anywhere, on this issue.
So how does a tax repatriation holiday work? Current tax law allows companies to avoid paying taxes on profits kept overseas until the money comes back to the U.S., where it is taxed at a rate of 35-40 percent.
But in 2004, corporations lobbied Congress for a tax holiday, in which they paid about 5 percent in taxes, with the idea that the savings would be used for job creation.
Now, in the midst of ongoing debates over the debt ceiling, corporations want another chance to bring profits back home at a reduced tax rate. The idea is touted as an effort to incentivize job creation, and at least one proposal from Rep. Berkley wouldn't restrict the ways in which companies use the repatriated profits. This means the money could just as easily be turned into share buybacks and increased dividends rather than job creation or research and development -- which is exactly what happened the last time around.
Proponents of the tax holiday -- which include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and tech giants Apple and Google -- claim it would bring in $50 billion in revenue and spur job creation. But at the same time, Cisco, one of the corporations pushing for the tax holiday, is already planning to cut 16 percent of its workforce.
Opponents have suggested that a second "one-time" tax holiday wouldn't necessarily fund job creation and could send a message to corporations that they can just hold profits and jobs overseas until the next tax holiday rolls around.
If there's no evidence that a tax holiday has stimulated job creation in the past, why try again now? In an economic recovery where corporate profits are rising while median wages are falling and the unemployment rate remains high, this is a holiday we shouldn't take.
// July 29, 2011 by Victor_Balta
Boy, time flies when you're not writing blog posts.
It's been well over a year since this News blog saw much action, so we figured we'd dust it off and see if we can use it as a place to inform.
We'll be using the News blog to post items we think you should know about, including analysis and commentary on the big issues facing the country. We'll also be looking to bring you some of the stuff you're not finding elsewhere.
In that spirit, we're proud to offer up our first official relaunch post, an item that will become a regular feature here called "The Underreported Story." With all the shouting, talking points and rhetoric volleyed around in the mainstream media, there's always that big story out there which no one seems to be talking about. We'll try to find it.
This week, we're looking at proposal to include a new corporate tax holiday into the debt-ceiling compromise.
This is exactly the kind of news we'll aim to bring here regularly, so welcome back and we hope you enjoy.
// October 30, 2009 by afitzgeraldFrom Darren Foster in the Vanguard Blog:
The largest drug bust in Kentucky state history is underway as hundreds of police target the flood of prescription pills from Florida and other states. The illicit “pill pipeline” between Florida and Kentucky was the focus of our documentary “The OxyContin Express.” Kentucky leads the nation in prescription drug abuse and has become a hot market for pills from Florida, which has become the nation’s largest source of potent painkillers, particularly oxycodone.
Police obtained warrants for 518 people, mostly from Eastern Kentucky, and so far over 300 have been arrested under “Operation Flamingo Road.”
But that just might be the beginning. From the Lexington Herald-Leader:
The number of people charged, while eye-opening, still doesn’t show the true extent of the problem, said Kevin Payne, head of the state police drug-enforcement unit for Eastern Kentucky.
State police have information on 1,700 other people going out of the state to get pill prescriptions, Payne said.
“It tells me that this is a huge, huge problem,” he said.
We’re trying to get Greenup County Sheriff Keith Cooper, who was featured in “The OxyContin Express”, on the phone. According to the story at least 9 warrants were served in Greenup alone.
From the Lexington Herald Leader: "518 in 34 counties to be charged in state's largest drug roundup" (http://www.kentucky.com/latest_news/v-print/story/998003.html)
// October 14, 2009 by afitzgeraldFROM THE VANGUARD BLOG:
By Mariana van Zeller
Sometimes it takes an outside perspective to piece it all together. I’m reading today’s LA Times story about Vanguard and even though I sat down for an interview with Matea Gold to talk about what it was like to work here while our friends Laura and Euna were being detained in North Korea, it didn’t really come together until just now.
We’ve all been swept up in preparation for the season that premieres tonight, and for the months during Laura and Euna’s absence, keeping busy was one way we all dealt with the grief and anxiety.
Darren and I were in Sri Lanka in March, reporting on the end of the war there when we got the call. It was four in morning. It was surreal, but we thought it would be only a matter of days before they were released and we completed our assignment.
In May, we were driving through Kentucky to interview the Lt. Governor Daniel Mongiardo with Cerissa Tanner, our co-producer on “The OxyContin Express”, when word came that Laura and Euna were going to be sentenced. We pulled over to the side of the highway and even though none of us are particularly religious, we prayed. The whole making of this season was filled with moments like this. But to know how much Laura had put into building Vanguard, we felt there was nothing better we could do than to keep it going.
For me, tonight’s premiere is an emotional one, not just because of the powerful subject, but because I remember the cloud under which it was produced. Of course, most of that cloud was lifted on Aug. 4th when the team gathered around the TV to watch Laura and Euna boarding a plane in North Korea.
The rest will lift as we dedicate this season to them.
// March 31, 2010 by LilyBixlerEach day this week seemed to bring news about the fate of Hummer, America's polluting elephant in the room. Early in the week it seemed that an obscure Chinese machinery company called Sichuan Tengzhong would buy the General Motors marque for $150 million.
But as it turned out, Tengzhong couldn't get its act together. Chinese banks withdrew lending offers and American banks are weary of becoming involved. Tengzhong even tried to go through a subsidiary outside China to buy Hummer, according to Chinese media.“The deal is on the ropes, if it’s not on the canvas yet,” Michael Dunne, the president of a Hong Kong auto consulting firm told The New York Times.
Also, the Chinese government didn't approve regulation for the deal. Why, you might ask? The New York Times reports, that it's in large part because "senior Chinese officials are trying to put a new emphasis on limiting China’s dependence on imported oil and protecting the environment."
And to think that in the early days of the Iraqi war, the Hummer epitomized pro-America. Now that sustainability is on our radar, it would seem that things have changed. Now everyone wants in on a piece of the sustainability pie.
As of Wednesday, the bid is off. Hummer could be destined for the junkyard. A New York Times editorial said, "We suspect the deal collapsed because the Chinese Communist Party — which rarely shows much shame — is worried about China’s image as the most polluting nation on the planet."
GM said it would shut down Hummer after the Tengzhong's bid collapsed.
Then on Thursday, Hummer had a come-back when news broke that GM contacted four Chinese companies to gauge interest in the brawny military-derived SUV.
It’s unlikely a Chinese firm will buy the entire unit, analysts said, but the firms may only be interested in buying parts of Hummer's assets (i.e. tooling and equipment at Hummer's Louisiana factory.)
In response to GM's announcement, Detroit Free Press joshed that "flags across oil-rich Saudi Arabia were lowered to half-mast while the entire Exxon/Mobil board of directors were seen at a group grief counseling session. On Wall Street, oil speculators were jumping from windows while in Michigan, some people were mourning the possibility of a world without Hummers."
Photo: All Right Released.
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