Monday, July 12, 2010

Agent provocateurs of Russia

Headless bodies and other immigration tall tales in Arizona
By Dana Milbank
Arizona Gov. Jan BrewerJan Brewer has lost her head.

The Arizona governor, seemingly determined to repel every last tourist dollar from her pariah state, has sounded a new alarm about border violence. "Our law enforcement agencies have found bodies in the desert either buried or just lying out there that have been beheaded," she announced on local television.

Ay, caramba! Those dark-skinned foreigners are now severing the heads of fair-haired Americans? Maybe they're also scalping them or shrinking them or putting them on a spike.

But those in fear of losing parts north of the neckline can relax. There's not a follicle of evidence to support Brewer's claim.

The Arizona Guardian Web site checked with medical examiners in Arizona's border counties, and the coroners said they had never seen an immigration-related beheading. I called and e-mailed Brewer's press office requesting documentation of decapitation; no reply.

Brewer's mindlessness about headlessness is just one of the immigration falsehoods being spread by Arizona politicians. Border violence on the rise? Phoenix becoming the world's No. 2 kidnapping capital? Illegal immigrants responsible for most police killings? The majority of those crossing the border are drug mules? All wrong.

This matters, because it means the entire premise of the Arizona immigration law is a fallacy. Arizona officials say they've had to step in because federal officials aren't doing enough to stem increasing border violence. The scary claims of violence, in turn, explain why the American public supports the Arizona crackdown.

Anti-immigrants don't know their own history


By Robert O'Connor

In their quixotic attempt to create their shining white city on a hill, anti-immigrants have decided to try and remove citizenship from "anchor babies" - children born to migrant workers in the US, who are US citizens, and thus eligible for various government programs.

This granting of citizenship to children born in the US - regardless of what nationality their parents are - is in the first section of the 14th amendment to the Constitution. That section also bans the denial of rights without due process and forbids states from giving anyone unequal protection of the laws. Good luck at overturning that.

Wil Wilkinson tries defending this in the normally intelligent The Week.

But here's my question: suppose everyone had to earn citizenship the same way immigrants do? You couldn't register for the army, vote, or do any of your civic duties unless you pass the same tests that immigrants do? How would Americans measure up to the standards they place on those wanting to become Americans?

(here's a list of sample questions)

In a 2006 survey held by the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum, 23% of respondents knew freedom of religion was one of the freedoms guaranteed by the first amendment. 21% thought the right to own a pet was one of them, and 17% thought the right to drive a car was one. Only one tenth of one percent was able to name all five (speech, press, religion, assembly, petition for redress of grievances).

2/3rds of respondents in a later poll couldn't name a single branch of government.

Palestinian villagers battle plans to wall them in

WAR ON YOU - Breaking News Without Corporate Views, Forum Message Board, Conspiracy Theories, Martial Law blog,

By Selim Saheb Ettaba

AL-WALAJAH, Palestinian Territories — Omar Hajaj says he will soon be caged "like a zoo animal," with an electric fence encircling his house and his village hemmed in by the notorious West Bank barrier.

The rumble of bulldozers has become a common sound around this Palestinian village on Jerusalem's southern outskirts as earthmovers work on a huge trench which will be filled with towering slabs of concrete.

After years of interruptions, work finally got under way in April to lay the foundations for another stretch of Israel's "security fence" — a section which will completely encircle this southern West Bank village.

At the moment, villagers have more or less open access to the nearby city of Bethlehem. But not for much longer.

"It is the only village in the West Bank that will be completely surrounded by the wall," says Willow Heske, of the Oxfam humanitarian group, which is helping villagers make their voices heard.

Since the 1967 Middle East War, half of Al-Walajah was annexed by Israel as part of municipal Jerusalem, while the other half remained in the West Bank.

The initial route would have sliced the village in two but following intervention by Israel's high court, it was changed to incorporate the rest of the village — with one exception: the Hajaj family.

When the towering concrete wall is erected, it will cut directly through Hajaj's property, leaving half on the Al-Walajah side, and the rest — including his house and nine acres of land — on the Israeli side.

This would normally have given him free access to Jerusalem.

But last week, government officials told Hajaj his property would be hemmed in by an additional barrier — a five-metre (16-feet) high electric fence.

His only way into the village will be via a gate in the concrete wall.

From his house, Hajaj can just make out Jerusalem's biblical zoo — and fears his fate will soon be like that of the animals.

"Anyone one seeing my house closed off will think they are looking at a zoo with caged animals."

One Big Thing Congress Can Do to Improve the Economy Before Election Day


The level of anger and unhappiness does not arise from disagreement with some government policy. It is not because they don't like the new health care law, or "big government". Voters are angry and unhappy because from their perspective the economy still stinks. Vast numbers of those who lost their jobs when the recklessness of the Wall Street banks sent the economy over the cliff, are still out of work. Those who are working have experienced stagnant incomes. Everyday Americans are worried about the economic futures of their families.

And it's no wonder. A recent study showed that more than half of Americans have been directly affected by the recession.

When Congress returns from its Fourth of July recess, there are not many things it can actually do to improve the economic picture in the four short months before Election Day. But there is, in fact, one thing Congress can do that will have a big impact right away: pass a jobs bill that provides fiscal relief to state and local government and extends unemployment benefits.

Zombie Social Security lies: Retirement age must be raised because people are living longer

Earlier this week, Ezra Klein voiced a strong argument against raising the age for receiving Social Security benefits to 70:

I'm not surprised to hear there's energy behind pushing the retirement age at which you get full Social Security benefits back to 70. It's been in the discussion for a long time, people have grown comfortable talking about the idea, and perhaps most importantly, it seems like a no-brainer to pundits and politicians who would happily pay you to keep working to age 70, and in fact beyond.

But I've never liked it. The customary justification is that when Social Security was created, people died younger, and so it was never meant to stretch this far in the first place. But that argument works in the other direction, too: Our country has become far richer than the architects of Social Security could have possibly imagined. It would make perfect sense for us to give ourselves more leisure time, if we chose to take it, at the end of our lives.

This is a strong and civilized argument that carries a lot of weight, and one with which I think most progressives can heartily agree. However, there is a stronger argument, not based on an appealing philosophy but on solid statistics, that is getting very, very short shrift in this debate, and it's laid out best by Nancy Altman in her excellent (and highly recommended) history of Social Security, The Battle for Social Security: From FDR's Vision To Bush's Gamble:

Related to issues about retirement age are questions about life expectancy. Many people are under the mistaken impression that Americans receive retirement benefits for considerably longer than they did when the program was created. The misconception results from looking at life expectancies from birth, which have changed dramatically because of the medical success achieved in conquering childhood diseases. But those numbers reflect changes in the numbers of those who survive to retirement, not what happens thereafter. The statistics regarding children distort the overall average ....

For Social Security purposes, the correct question is not how many live to age 65, but rather how long those reaching age 65 live thereafter. Here the numbers are not as dramatic. In 1940, men who survived to age 65 had a remaining life expectancy of 12.7 years. Today, a 65 year old man can expect to live not quite three years longer than he might have in 1940, or 15.3 years beyond reaching age 65. For women, the comparable numbers are 14.7 years beyond age 65 in 1940; 19.6 years in 1990. [Emphasis added.]

Clearly, despite the common misconception that we're all living a dozen or so years longer than the 65-year-old retiree did 70 years ago, it's just not true.

Christianist Professor Calls for Religious McCarthyism

Although I've learned not to expect much from the right-leaning Supreme Court, I've been pleasantly surprised by some of their recent decisions. First was Holy See v. John Doe, in which the court upheld a ruling that the Vatican isn't immune from lawsuits over its protection of pedophiles. The second was Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, in which a Christian student group sued a California law school to demand - what else? - the legal right to discriminate against gays.

The law school has a policy that all official student groups must accept all comers and may not turn anyone away on grounds of race, gender, or sexual orientation. The Christian group claimed that they should be able to exclude gays and still receive all the benefits granted to officially recognized student groups: university funding, the use of university facilities for meetings, and the right to use the university's newsletter for their communications. Fortunately, the Supreme Court disagreed:

The court held that the all-comers condition on access to a limited public forum was both reasonable and viewpoint neutral, and therefore did not violate CLS's right to free speech. Nor, in the court's view, did Hastings impermissibly impair CLS's right to expressive association: Hastings did not order CLS to admit any student, nor did the school proscribe any speech; Hastings merely placed conditions on the use of school facilities and funds.

This decision was both simple and reasonable, and is the obvious consequence of state and federal laws forbidding the government to cooperate in discrimination. Since the activity fee that funds student groups is mandatory, Hastings' policy ensures that no student is "forced to fund a group that would reject her as a member". As the court points out, other groups such as fraternities and sororities don't have official school recognition, yet they continue to thrive, and CLS is also still in existence and still holding its own events.

Departing Justice John Paul Stevens summed up the issue at hand in his concurrence, in a praiseworthy reminder that religiously inspired bigotry is no different than any other kind of bigotry:

Other groups may exclude or mistreat Jews, blacks, and women — or those who do not share their contempt for Jews, blacks, and women. A free society must tolerate such groups. It need not subsidize them, give them its official imprimatur, or grant them equal access to law school facilities.

All well and good, and I look forward to this decision being applied across the country.

Israeli academics hit back over bid to pass law that would criminalise them

Backlash over threat to outlaw supporters of boycott movement aimed at ending the continued occupation of the West Bank

Palestinian protest against the expansion of the Israeli settlements
A Palestinian woman shouts at an Israeli soldier as clashes erupted with Palestinian protesters on Friday during a demonstration against the expansion of the Israeli settlements at Nabi Salih village near the West Bank City of Ramallah.
Photograph: Alaa Badarneh/EPA

An academic backlash has erupted in Israel over proposed new laws, backed by the government of Binyamin Netanyahu, to criminalise a handful of Israeli professors who openly support a campaign against the continuing occupation of the West Bank.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel has gained rapid international support since Israeli troops stormed a Gaza-bound flotilla of aid ships in May, killing nine activists. Israeli attention has focused on the small number of activists, particularly in the country's universities, who have openly supported an academic boycott of Israeli institutions.

A protest petition has been signed by 500 academics, including two former education ministers, following recent comments by Israel's education minister, Gideon Saar, that the government intends to take action against the boycott's supporters. A proposed bill introduced into the Israeli parliament – the Knesset – would outlaw boycotts and penalise their supporters. Individuals who initiated, encouraged or provided support or information for any boycott or divestment action would be made to pay damages to the companies affected. Foreign nationals involved in boycott activity would be banned from entering Israel for 10 years, and any "foreign state entity" engaged in such activity would be liable to pay damages.

Saar last week described the petition as hysterical and an attempt to silence contrary opinions. While the vast majority of the signatories do not support an academic boycott of Israel, they have joined forces over what they regard as the latest assault on freedom of expression in Israel.

How much a country's leader is paid compared to GDP per person
Leaders of the fee world

ON MONDAY July 5th Raila Odinga, Kenya's prime minister, rejected the pay increase he was awarded by the country's parliament last week. MPs had granted Mr Odinga a rise to nearly $430,000 a year, while giving themselves a 25% increase to $161,000. This boost would place Mr Odinga among the highest-paid political leaders in the world. More worryingly, his salary would be some 240 times greater than the country's GDP per person (measured on a purchasing-power parity basis). Lee Hsien Loong, the prime minister of Singapore, tops our list of selected leaders' salaries. He is paid more than 40 times the city-state's GDP per person. At the other end of the scale, Manmohan Singh, the prime minister of India, reaffirms his reputation for saintliness by taking a modest sum from Indian taxpayers.

Biggest Defaulters on Mortgages Are the Rich

No need for tears, but the well-off are losing their master suites and saying goodbye to their wine cellars.

The housing bust that began among the working class in remote subdivisions and quickly progressed to the suburban middle class is striking the upper class in privileged enclaves like this one in Silicon Valley.

Whether it is their residence, a second home or a house bought as an investment, the rich have stopped paying the mortgage at a rate that greatly exceeds the rest of the population.

More than one in seven homeowners with loans in excess of a million dollars are seriously delinquent, according to data compiled for The New York Times by the real estate analytics firm CoreLogic.

By contrast, homeowners with less lavish housing are much more likely to keep writing checks to their lender. About one in 12 mortgages below the million-dollar mark is delinquent.

How Many Workers Can You Hire for the Price of One CEO?

money struggleNot all CEOs are as generous as Apple's (AAPL) Steve Jobs. The company's founder makes a mere $1 a year, while a starting sales associate at one of his Apple stores makes more than $31,200. But Jobs is an anomaly.

Even though the gap between executive and entry-level worker pay has shrunk ever so slightly in the past couple of years, it's still not unusual for the CEO of a large public company to earn more per day than some of his employees earn over the course of an entire year.

Interestingly, some industries have much larger pay gaps than others. In technology, pharmaceuticals and manufacturing, the differences between worker and CEO salaries tend to be smaller, thanks to higher worker pay. In retail and other consumer-facing industries (where employees work directly with consumers to sell a good or provide a service), the gap tends to be bigger, due in part to the low pay of entry-level workers.

We looked at more than a dozen companies where the difference between what the CEO makes and what an entry-level worker makes is unusually large. We obtained the CEO total compensation figures (which include cash, bonuses, stock options and any other perks -- like say a corporate jet), from the most recent proxy statements. Employee salary figures, many of them based on hourly wages, came from the companies, as well as from interviews we conducted with unions and workers themselves.

One CEO stands out on the list. Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan (JPM), made "only" $1.3 million largely because of pressure on Wall Street CEOs to keep management compensation low in response to the financial crisis and government bailout. What may be forgotten is that Dimon made over $35 million in 2008 as the global credit system was falling apart along with the JPMorgan stock price.

Don't feel so bad for Jobs, either. He's incredibly wealthy thanks to his Apple stock holdings.

To get a sense of how the CEO of a company you regularly do business with pays his or her employees compared to themselves, we've broken it down for you below:

CVS Caremark (CVS)
Thomas M. Ryan: $30.4 million (2009 Compensation)
Starting Cashier: $8/hour, $20,800/year
One CEO = 1,461 entry-level employees

AT&T (T)
Randall Stephenson: $29.2 million (2009 Compensation)
Starting Sales Associate: $10/hour, $26,000/year
One CEO = 1,123 entry-level employees

The Walt Disney Co. (DIS)
Robert Iger: $29 million (2009 Compensation)
Disneyland Hotel Housekeeper: $10/hour, $26,000/year
One CEO = 1,115 entry-level employees

McDonald's (MCD)
James A. Skinner: $17.6 million (2009 Compensation)
Starting Cashier: $7.25/hour, $18,850/year
One CEO = 933 entry-level employees

See full article from DailyFinance:

Obama Wouldn’t Have Done This for You

Ed Stein