27 April 2012

Blind Chinese lawyer-activist CHENG GUANGSHEN escapes house arrest 27APR12

THIS is amazing and very good news, though we must now focus on the safety and freedom of Chen Guangchen's wife and his family members and friends who helped him escape, because revenge can be vicious from Beijing.

BEIJING — Chen Guangcheng, the blind, self-taught lawyer known for his outspoken opposition to China’s forced abortion and sterilization policies, has escaped from house arrest and posted a dramatic YouTube video calling on Premier Wen Jiabao to investigate his case and protect his family.
Hu Jia, another prominent activist and friend of the Chen family, said Chen arrived in Beijing on Monday and was currently in the U.S. Embassy under the protection of U.S. diplomats. The embassy would neither confirm nor deny that he was there.
“As far as I know, he is in the U.S. Embassy, the safest place in China,” Hu said. “He is in the U.S. Embassy, or under the shelter of diplomats at least. I’m not sure if he’s going to ask for political asylum or not. I don’t know if he still wants to stay in China.”
All information about Chen has now been censored on Sina Weibo, the popular microblogging site that often serves as an alternative news source in China.
“Premier Wen, with great difficulty, I have escaped,” Chen announced in the video message.
Regardless of whether the U.S. government is currently helping shelter Chen, his escape from his village in Shandong province on Sunday, and the video detailing abuse he and his wife suffered under house arrest, seemed likely to embarrass the Beijing government just days before Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner arrive for a long-scheduled talks on political and economic matters. Clinton has repeatedly called for Chen’s release.
“Since this happened just one week before the Sino-U.S. strategic dialogue, the timing is good,” Hu said. “Chen must be able to meet the U.S. human rights specialist and hopefully, he will meet Clinton.”
“This is an election year in the U.S.,” Hu said. “The Republicans are also watching what [President] Obama will do on this case.”
State Department officials in Washington were silent on Chen’s whereabouts, neither confirming nor denying reports that the dissident had taken refuge in the U.S. Embassy, and refusing to comment at all about his status.
It is extremely rare, but not unprecedented, for detained activists to evade their captors and escape from house arrest in China. Chen’s escape, which apparently was planned over several weeks, raised fears that he could face severe reprisals if he is caught.
Chen’s case attracted attention, both inside China and abroad, because he had already served a 51-month sentence imposed after a sham trial on largely discredited charges of “obstructing traffic.”
Following his release, in September 2010, he was taken to his farmhouse in Dongshigu village and kept under an unofficial kind of house arrest, surrounded by armed thugs in plain clothes who prevented Chen and his wife from leaving and brutally blocked journalists and activists from going to see him.
Among those roughed up trying to see Chen was “Batman” star Christian Bale, who was in China filming a movie, “The Flowers of War.” Bale’s treatment helped further spotlight Chen’s confinement, which is unlawful even under China’s constitution and laws but has become a common way for the country’s security services to deal with those who they consider to be dangerous dissidents and troublemakers.
Phelim Kine, senior Asia researcher for the group Human Rights Watch, said Chen’s case “highlights the yawning divide between the government’s often lofty rhetoric about rule of law and the far grimmer reality endured by people like Chen, who challenge the status quo by merely seeking to access rights and freedoms guaranteed by China’s laws and constitution.”
“While the Chinese government has made much of its commitment to rule of law through its investigations of former Chongqing party secretary Bo Xilai and his activities in Chongqing,” Kine said in an e-mailed statement, “the Chinese government has allowed a small army of plainclothes thugs to brazenly flout Chinese law in Dongshigu with utter impunity.”
Kine said Chen’s house arrest over the past 19 months amounted to “effectively a de facto and de jure kidnapping by elements of the security apparatus.”
According to activist sources with knowledge of Chen’s escape, it happened last Sunday. Chen had apparently planned his departure for weeks, pretending to be bedridden in hopes that those guarding his farmhouse would become less attentive.
Hu said Chen had to climb over a high wall, which was especially difficult because Chen is blind. “His story is the Chinese version of the Shawshank Redemption,” Hu said.
ChinaAid reported that He Peirong, a friend who helped Chen with his plans and apparently drove him from his home, has since been arrested at her home in Nanjing. Witnesses said He was taken away by security officials; efforts by The Washington Post to reach her were unsuccessful.
ChinaAid also reported that Chen’s older brother and a nephew were arrested following the escape.
In his video message, Chen, wearing his characteristic dark glasses and seated before a white curtain, addresses Wen and announces that he has escaped.
Chen goes on to say that the reports of abuse he suffered “are all true. And the reality is more serious than the descriptions online.”
Chen says he still fears for his family. “My mother, my wife and my children are still in their clutches,” he says.
And he urged Wen to investigate corruption in his area.
“The money of our ordinary people and the taxpayers should not be used by some local officials who break the law to hurt people or hurt the image of our party,” Chen says. “Many people don’t understand whether all of these illegal acts are just law-breaking by the local party officials or whether it was ordered by the Central Committee. I think you should give a clear answer to people before long.”
A link to the video was sent to multiple Web sites, activists said, including, an overseas Chinese community Web site run from Durham, N.C.
Watson Meng, 47, who runs, said he did not know where Chen was or whether the U.S. Embassy was sheltering him. He said an activist contact in Beijing sent the video link to him via Skype and that someone in China had uploaded the video to the Microsoft Web site,
Separately, a friend of Meng’s in Beijing sent a Skype message to him that had come from activist Guo Yushan. “Dear Friends, Chen Guangcheng has left Shandung magically,” the message said. “He is free at the moment. He is in a safe place. Chen Guangcheng authorized me to send three requests to Premier Wen Jiabao.” Chen discussed the requests in the video.
Washington Post researcher Zhang Jie in Beijing and staff writers Joby Warrick and Elen Nakashima in Washington contributed to this report.


"As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share."
- 1 Timothy 6:17-18

Sea Shepherd E-vite: Watch "Whale Wars: Viking Shores" this Friday on Animal Planet 27APR12

THIS new series from Sea Shepherd starts on Animal Planet tonight, 27APR12 in the U.S. Be prepared to be outraged by the ignorance of the Faeroe Islanders and impressed by the bravery of the Sea Shepherd crews!

This Friday night on Animal Planet, tune in to Whale Wars: Viking Shores! It is a brand new, five-part, weekly series that chronicles our campaign to save the pilot whales in the Faeroe Islands from the annual obscenity known as "Grindadráp" or "the Grind".

The five, one-hour episodes will take you to the front lines with the Sea Shepherd crew on Operation Ferocious Isles as we courageously go to the seaside towns of the Faeroe Islands and use stealth tactics at sea — and on land — to expose the barbaric tradition, educate the locals, and defend the whales against this senseless slaughter! 

The premiere of Whale Wars: Viking Shores is scheduled to air in the US on Friday, April 27th
at 9 PM (et/pt), and in Canada on Wednesday, May 2nd at 9 PM, but check your local listings to be sure of the showtime in your area. It's already available "on demand" with some cable providers.

As a special treat and prelude to Whale Wars: Viking Shores, Animal Planet has created a one-hour, one-episode special that documents our campaign in the Mediterranean to protect the bluefin tuna
known as Operation Blue Rage. The special is called Whale Wars: Operation Bluefin and airs on Friday at 8 PM (et/pt) in the US.

We want you to know that these campaigns and the issues facing these animals are very real, even though you see the content on a TV show. Sea Shepherd is passionate about defending ocean wildlife worldwide, and we plan to carry out many more campaigns in defense of the oceans. These animals need us for their survival, and we need you to help us get there.

Learn more about Operation Ferocious Isles, as seen in Whale Wars: Viking Shores and Operation Blue Rage, as seen in Whale Wars: Operation Bluefin, and please make a donation to support our efforts and help us carry out our very important marine protection mission.

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society | PO Box 2616 | Friday Harbor | WA | 98250 | USA

Tell President Obama: Stop the massive mountaintop removal mine in West Virginia 27APR12

THE battle to stop the Spruce Mine in W Virginia continues pitting residents and environmentalist against the money of big coal. Even if you have participated before please do so again as the President and our other elected leaders and the EPA need to keep hearing from us until they do the right thing and permanently stop Spruce Mine and end mountaintop removal mining! For more on this see my earlier postSupport EPA veto of Spruce No. 1 mine (CRMW) & Keep Up The Fight To Stop Mountaintop Removal Mining (EARTHJUSTICE) 31MAR12 & Spruce No. 1 Mine (from EPA) 18MAI10 From Credo Action....

Protect West Virginia from mountaintop removal coal mining!
Clicking here will automatically add your name to this petition to the White House Council on Environmental Quality:
"President Obama has the power to stop the destruction at the Spruce Mine in West Virginia. Support EPA's veto of the Spruce Mine and direct the Army Corps of Engineers to revoke the mine's permit."
Automatically add your name:
CREDO Action | more than a network, a movement.
Arch Coal is moving forward with the largest mountaintop removal coal mining operation in West Virginia's history — but President Obama's White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) has the power to step in and block this disastrous project.
The Environmental Protection Agency had already vetoed a permit for the Spruce Mine, but last month, a federal judge overruled the agency paving the way for the project.1
The court's decision means that the destruction of mountains and burying of streams could begin very soon — unless the Council on Environmental Quality steps in. We need activists from all over the country to let President Obama know we're watching this decision.
In situations where agencies within the federal government differ on environmental matters, it is the role of the Council on Environmental Quality to weigh in and resolve the matter. And by directing the Army Corps of Engineers to revoke the Spruce Mine permit, the CEQ can stop this highly polluting and disastrous project once and for all.
Mountaintop removal mining is a process in which coal companies use explosives to literally blow the tops off of the mountains, dumping the leftover rocks and dirt into streams and valleys below. The practice is linked with high mortality rates, contaminated drinking water and increased flooding, among other problems.2
EPA's veto of the permit for expanded mountaintop removal mining at the Big Spruce Mine in Logan County was the right decision for public health and the environment, but unless the Council on Environmental Quality steps in, this massive mine will soon begin operations.
Appalachian states like West Virginia have been dealing with the devastation of mountaintop removal mining for far too long. Let's make sure the CEQ knows that we expect it to use its power to protect West Virginia's residents, mountains and waterways from dirty and destructive mountaintop removal mining.
Click below to automatically sign the petition to the White House Council on Environmental Quality:
Thank you for fighting mountaintop removal coal mining.
Josh Nelson, Campaign Manager
CREDO Action from Working Assets
1. Judge Overturns EPA Veto of Spruce Mine Permit, West Virginia Gazette, 3/23/12
2. Community Impacts of Mountaintop Removal, Appalachian Voices



I want one!!!

26 April 2012

Burden of Proof: Geithner, the President, and Wall Street's Unpunished Crimes 26APR12

I was naive, I thought that N.Y. AG Eric Schneiderman was going to go after the greedy wall street financiers and bankers that caused the "Great" recession that began in 2008 over the objections of the Treasury Dept. Now it seems, unless he moves quickly, the skeptics will be right, the bank-financial cabal and wall street corporations own a controlling majority of our elected officials and Schneiderman is a eunuch. Anyone wanna bet the winning word in the 2012 national spelling bee will be plutocracy? From HuffPost.....
Forgery. Perjury. Investor fraud. Bribery. Money laundering. The body of evidence against individuals at the nation's biggest banks is overwhelming. Nothing speaks louder about the banks' guilt than this evidence -- nothing, that is, except the billions they've paid to settle the charges.
The Administration reacted indignantly this week to suggestions it's still slow-walking its investigation. And then, despite all this evidence, the Treasury Secretary of the United States proclaimed that no laws had been broken. And the White House wonders why its word is no longer enough?
A source in the office of a key figure in the investigation has denied a new story that they've ruled out criminal prosecutions. But the burden of proof has shifted. Nothing will convince the public now except action.
Straw Men

Whether it's JPMorgan Chase settling bribery charges in Alabama, Wells Fargo settling charges of laundering drug-cartel money in Mexico, or the nation's five largest banks buying their way out of widespread foreclosure fraud and tax evasion, never in history has so much evidence led to so little action. Investigators pinpointed the fraudulent activity of individual accountants in GE Capital's settlement with the SEC, only to be dumbfounded to discover that no criminal indictments were handed down.
So it was nothing short of astonishing to hear the Secretary of the Treasury assert yesterday that no crimes were committed by America's banks, saying that "most financial crises are caused by a mix of stupidity and greed and recklessness and risk-taking and hope" and adding "you can't legislate away stupidity and risk-taking and greed and recklessness."
That's a straw-man argument, since nobody has suggested outlawing character traits. The Administration's critics are pointing to a mound of evidence implicating bankers in criminal activity and asking the simple question: Where are the prosecutions?
Free Pass

Geithner was doubling down on an assertion his boss made last December, when President Obama told 60 Minutes that "Some of the most damaging behavior on Wall Street -- in some cases some of the least ethical behavior on Wall Street -- wasn't illegal."
Deliberately or not, that sent a message to bankers that they could stop worrying about indictments -- that is, if they ever had worried. Why would they? There's been no investigation, no grilling, no subpoenaing of bank executives' emails or phone records. And as far back as 2010, Eric Holder and his Justice Department were trying to pass off long-standing investigations as part of a major assault against financial fraud called "Operation Blind Trust."
The DoJ's claims were quickly debunked and "Blind Trust" was shown to be nothing more than a deception which a Bloomberg columnist said used "trumped-up numbers." The Columbia Journalism Review summed up their recap of "Blind Trust" coverage with the headline, "Obama Administration's Financial Fraud Task Force Stunt Misfires."
Burden of Proof
But we were told those days are over. Now the President's really cracking down on Wall Street, we were told. In the face of widespread criticism for his proposed foreclosure fraud settlement with five top banks, the President eventually accompanied that deal with a promise of tougher enforcement. He appointed New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who had been pursuing banks and resisting previous deals, to his previously-lethargic mortgage fraud group.
"The mortgage fraud task force I announced in my State of the Union address retains its full authority to aggressively investigate the packaging and selling of risky mortgages that led to this crisis," the President said on February 9. "Working closely with state attorneys general, we're going to keep at it until we hold those who broke the law fully accountable."
But then there were stories that the task force's proposed staff, whose proposed numbers were already absurdly low when compared to those used to pursue criminal behavior under Reagan after the much smaller savings and loan scandal of the 1980s, hadn't even been hired.
The Administration responded swiftly. Unnamed Justice Department employees joined Schneiderman's press secretary in telling The Nation's George Zornick that the task force's five co-chairs are in "constant communication" and "meet regularly." Fifty attorneys and other employees were already working on the project, Zornick was told. (It was not made clear whether they were assigned to the task force full-time.)
The Candidate

Yesterday Zornick published a piece quoting former Democratic Rep. Brad Miller, an outspoken advocate for bank investigations, as saying he was strung along by the task force after being led to believe he was a leading candidate by Schneiderman's office. What's more, he made the explosive suggestion that, in Zornick's words, "the working group was afraid of Wall Street."
Miller told Zornick that he knew "Republicans were watching the work of the task force very closely and very critically, and that they would oppose my playing that role." Most explosively, he said he had been told that "People being indicted and looking at the possibility of prison sentences -- they were saying they did not expect any of that. They expect civil litigation or civil enforcement but not criminal prosecution."
If the task force had abandoned any thoughts of criminal prosecution with Schneiderman's assent, it would be a political and legal bombshell. But a source in Schneiderman's office who said he was Miller's point of contact denies that suggestion -- "vehemently," he added.
The source said Miller was a candidate for the job, but that some felt he lacked prosecutorial experience. In addition, I was told, concerns were expressed about appointing someone with a political background. "That would give Republicans another avenue of attack against the whole task force," the source said. (The Republicans have already been harrassing the group at every opportunity.) Schneiderman's office recognizes that statutes of limitation present a real problem.
"But abandon prosecutions altogether," the source added, "and let the word get out that everybody's off the hook? How silly would that be?"
The Problem

The real problem isn't that they haven't appointed the right Executive Director for the task force,although that's extremely important. The real problem is that the Administration didn't take more aggressive action in 2009 or 2010 to investigate criminal behavior on Wall Street. Now the wrongdoers -- and their political sympathizers -- are trying to run out the clock.
The real problem is that the senior officials in the same Administration are making public proclamations about the innocence of people who should, by all rights, be suspects in a criminal investigation.
The real problem isn't that somebody's lust for vengeance isn't being fulfilled. It's not even the fact that senior officials find it understandably difficult to contemplate criminal investigations of people they've known for years as colleagues, friends... and yes, as donors.
The real problem is this: As long as bankers know they won't be prosecuted for committing crimes they'll commit them again. Officials in the Justice Department and elsewhere privately express fears that it will be difficult to obtain convictions after so much time has passed, or in cases where intent is difficult to prove.
But they don't even look like they're trying. Comments like Mr. Geithner's only add to the perception that bankers have a free pass to commit crimes without fear of prosecution. That's not just an injustice. It's also a threat to our economic security.
This perception can only be changed if the Administration moves aggressively to hire and staff this Task Force with the best people and best managers possible. The public needs to see action, and it needs to see it now.

Social Security and Medicare: Six Common Myths, Debunked 24APR12 & Social Security In US Less Generous Than Similar Countries 21APR12

AS negotiations for the 2013 budget begin, and the deadline for federal budget cuts loom we will be bombarded with propaganda, misinformation and deception about Social Security and Medicare in an attempt to raise the retirement age and cut benefits. Here are some of the lies and facts about these programs from HuffPost and Crooks & Liars.....
In the coming days and weeks we'll be hearing a lot of misinformation about the Trustees Report from the Social Security Administration. It's time to separate the myths from the realities:
1. Myth: "Social Security and Medicare have a cost problem."
Fact: Medicare has a financial problem. As this chart shows, the cost of providing Social Security benefits is not out of control or skyrocketing.

Social Security is on an even keel for the foreseeable future. Twenty years from now it's projected to be in a position to pay only 75 percent of benefits -- but that's easily fixed by lifting the payroll tax cap. 2. Myth: "Aging workforce strains Social Security, Medicare"

Fact: That's a headline we saw repeated across the country in anticipation of the Trustees Report, but it's wrong. What's "straining" Social Security and Medicare today is the unequal distribution of income and a broken regulatory system for Wall Street that has put the entire economy under stress.
Social Security was actuarially stable after it was overhauled by the Greenspan Commission in the 1980s. The baby boomers were all alive and (mostly) working by then. So what really happened?
First, a radical upward shift in income toward the "1 percent" -- and the "0.0001 percent" -- meant that more and more of the nation's income was above the payroll tax cap threshold. That reduced the revenue for Social Security (and much of Medicare) from a projected 90 percent of national income to a figure that's closer to 83 percent.
Secondly, a financial crisis brought on by reckless and under-regulated Wall Street banks crashed the economy in 2008. For millions of Americans it has never come back. Joblessness, along with wage stagnation for the "99 percent," further depleted the programs' revenues.
3. Myth: We need to place limits on Medicare spending and cut its benefits.

Fact: That's like saying the way to end forest fires is by firing Smokey Bear. Benefit cuts and spending caps won't solve our health cost problem. There has been an explosion of for-profit hospital chains in the last twenty years, along with profit-driven laboratories, imaging centers, and other types of health providers.
In addition, our system of reimbursing physicians provides an incentive for them to treat more and charge more for their services. That's costly -- and it subjects patients to a lot of unnecessary tests. On top of that, the lion's share of our health economy is "managed" by for-profit insurance companies who have little motivation or skill when it comes to prudent fiscal management.
If we expand Medicare to our entire population we'd have a health system like that of all other industrialized countries -- whose health costs are roughly 60 percent of our own and grow more slowly than our own. Medicare's cost problem would be solved.
By contrast, the solutions being floated in Washington wouldn't fix the problem -- they'd just dump it onto the backs of seniors and the disabled.
4. Myth: We can't get our federal deficits under control without cutting Social Security benefits -- either by raising the eligibility age, placing gimmicky limits on cost-of-living adjustments, or all of the above.

Fact: Social Security is forbidden by law from contributing to the federal deficit. It's an entirely self-sustaining program. If the day comes when it can't pay its full scheduled benefits, those benefits must and will be cut. This is a phony argument.
5. Myth: Too many millionaires are collecting Social Security and Medicare, so we should means-test and deny them these benefits.

Fact: The number of actual "millionaires" on Social Security and Medicare is tiny, by any objective measure. It wouldn't have any significant impact on their budgets to exclude them -- although it would help a lot to tax them.
(Oh, we can't do that! say the "centrists.")
What's more, Medicare and Social Security are social insurance programs. By definition, insurance shouldn't be means-testing like welfare and other aid programs, because you've already paid your premiums. The "means-testing" argument is often used to mischacterize these programs as "welfare," instead of what they really are: Something people have paid into through the payroll tax throughout their working lives, and (in Medicare's case) which they've also supported through their taxes.
6. Myth: Social Security benefits are too generous. They need to be cut because we can't afford them.

Fact: Our Social Security benefits are lower than those of nations that are economically similar to the US. As we said, the current reductions in revenue were caused by 1) an upward distribution of wealth to the "1 percent" and 2) a financial crisis brought about by Wall Street greed and speculation.
That suggests two possible solutions to Social Security's 20-year-from-now problem: 1) Lift the payroll tax cap, and/or 2) impose a small financial transactions tax on Wall Street and use it to make up the Social Security shortfall. Either of these approaches would solve the problem.
Richard (RJ) Eskow, a consultant and writer (and former insurance/finance executive), is a Senior Fellow with the Campaign for America's Future and the host of The Breakdown, broadcast Saturdays nights from 7-9 pm on WeAct Radio, AM 1480 in Washington, D.C. 

Social Security In US Less Generous Than Similar Countries

When compared to other similar countries, retirement benefits in the United States are relatively modest. A report from CNBC took a closer look at retirement systems in numerous countries and found the U.S. to be performing lower than the average. Retirees in the U.S. generally receive about 47 percent of their pre-retirement income on Social Security. Similar programs in Europe and elsewhere generally pay about 68 percent of pre-retirement income.
In the 2011 Melbourne Mercer Global Pensions Index, the U.S. was given a middling grade of "C," along with France, Singapore, Brazil, Poland and Germany.
A country given a C has “a system that has some good features, but also has major risks and/or shortcomings that should be addressed,” the report states. “Without these improvements, its efficacy and/or long-term sustainability can be questioned.”
The United States ranked close to average among 16 countries in adequacy of benefits provided and above average in sustainability, the likelihood that the system can maintain the benefits in the future. It fell short, however, on a sub-index focused on the private sector pension system.
The U.S. could take steps for a better score, the report said, including raising the minimum benefit for low-income retirees, improving benefits vesting, and further limiting access to funds before retirement.
The Service Employees International Union, among other organizations, is calling upon Washington to improve the U.S. retirement system:
The fastest, most efficient and fairest way to improve retirement security in the United States is to strengthen Social Security. Social Security is often the sole source of retirement income for low wage workers who are less likely to have access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan. The problem with Social Security is that its retirement benefits are less than $1,200 per month for millions of low wage workers.
SEIU reports that the upper one percent of Americans have already stopped paying Social Security taxes for 2012 because of a cap on what earnings pay into the system. Currently, once someone reaches $110,100 of income they have paid Social Security taxes on, they pay no more into the system for the year. Eliminating this cap is widely seen as the easiest and fairest solution to shoring up the future of Social Security. SEIU has an action opportunity for citizens to contact Congress and demand they scrap the cap.


SO I borrowed the phrase from Mother Jones / MOJO, I don't think they'll mind if they see these videos...
Uploaded by on Aug 8, 2011
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Angie Johnson and Sidewinder perform a cover of Adele's "Rolling in the Deep." Sidewinder is part of the 571st Air Force Band, 131st Bomb Wing, Air National Guard. They are deployed as the U.S. Air Forces Central Command Band!/pages/SIDEWINDER-Air-National-Guard-Band-of-the-Ce...

Sidewinder is Capt John Arata - officer in charge, keyboards, fiddle; Tech. Sgt. Kevin Maret - NCO in charge, percussion; Tech. Sgt. John Cavanaugh - operations/logistics, bass; Tech. Sgt. Joseph Castilleja - guitar; Staff Sgt. Tobias Callaway - saxophone; Staff Sgt. Ransom Miller - trumpet; Staff Sgt. Devin LaRue - trombone, guitar, keyboards; Staff Sgt. Brian Owens - vocals; Staff Sgt. Angie Johnson - vocals; Staff Sgt. Sean Navarro - Audio, Trombone.

Outrage and hope.& Plans for CLIMATE IMPACTS DAY 5/5 26APR12

UPDATE on Climate Impacts Day 5MAY12 from, click the link to find an event near you and / or more about the organization...

We're less than 9 days away from Climate Impacts Day on 5/5, and it is shaping up to be truly stunning. 
To see all the amazing events coming together across the globe, click here
Picture this: three firefighters, dressed for work, standing in a blackened landscape scarred by wildfires and flash floods. They hold bright, circular signs: This is climate change. More CO2 = More Wildfires. Connect the Dots.
That's what some of our friends in New Mexico are planning for Climate Impacts Day on 5/5/12. That landscape they'll be standing in? The Bandelier National Monument, where the largest fire in New Mexico's history burned 60% of the park last year. As the planet warms, wildfires are getting both fiercer and more frequent. As Ken Frederick of the United States Bureau of Land Management and a former firefighter said, "we are in the era of the mega-fire."
But we are also in the era of the mega-movement. has led global days of action before, but things are different this year: for people everywhere, the climate crisis is no longer some distant, abstract challenge. It's here, it’s real, and its impacts are already being felt -- and people everywhere are taking notice.
Now it’s up to all of us in this movement to use this unique moment in history as a planetary wake-up call.  People from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe are gearing up for 5/5/12 -- with events that will educate their communities and put a human face on the climate crisis. At each and every event, activists will take a big group photo of a massive dot representing their local climate impacts -- and as soon as the event is over they'll upload their photos to
Our team will connect those climate dots to make a potent mosaic of images around the world. We'll spread those images far and wide, and make sure that governments and global media start connecting the dots on the climate crisis.
But these actions are linked by more than crisis -- they're also linked by hope that together we can overcome this challenge. By coming together with bold global action, we'll be strengthening our movement and showing that we are united in our outrage and our hope.
I'm sure that many of you share that hope and outrage. If you do, I look forward to joining you in action. To find an action (or start one -- there's still time to pull together a quick event) visit
Let's do this,
May Boeve for the team
P.S. It's up to every one of us to connect the dots for our friends and family -- can you share this call to action with your social networks? Click here to share on Facebook and here to share on Twitter.

  • Background and scientific citations for the link between wildfires and climate change (and other climate impacts) can be found at is building a global movement to solve the climate crisis. Connect with us on Facebook and Twitter, and sign up for email alerts. You can help power our work by getting involved locally and donating here.
What is 350? Go to our website to learn about the science behind the movement.

State Of The Air 2012: American Lung Association Reports Improvements, Challenges 25APR12

THE repiglicans and tea-baggers want to eliminate the EPA, and that is not campaign rhetoric, they are serious. From the American Lung Assoc via HuffPost....
More than 127 million Americans -- about 41 percent of the country -- still suffer from pollution levels that can make breathing dangerous, according to a new report.
The American Lung Association State of the Air 2012, released Wednesday, shows signs of air-quality improvement, but also indicates struggles in many regions nationwide. The volunteer health organization examined 2008-2010 ozone levels, the main ingredient of smog air pollution, and air-particle pollution at official measuring sites across the U.S.
Out of the 25 cities with the most ozone pollution, 22 saw improvements in air quality over last year's report. Similar advancements were seen among cities with the most year-round particle pollution.
“State of the Air shows that we’re making real and steady progress in cutting dangerous pollution from the air we breathe,” said Charles Connor, American Lung Association president, in a statement. "But despite these improvements, America’s air quality standards are woefully outdated, and unhealthy levels of air pollution still exist across the nation, putting the health of millions of Americans at stake.”
ALA project director Janice Nolen told The Huffington Post that the continued cleanup of power plants and fleet turnover has led to improvements.
"Cleaning up air pollution has measurable public health benefits," Nolen said. During the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, for example she said, morning traffic levels decreased by 23 percent, the region's ozone levels decreased by 28 percent, and pediatric asthma emergency room visits dropped by an estimated 42 percent.
"These results suggest that efforts to reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality also can help improve the respiratory health of a community," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
Nolen also cited the EPA's 2010 findings that reduced air pollution resulting from Clean Air Act amendments in 1990 prevented more than 160,000 premature deaths.
Despite the benefits of reduced air pollution, Nolen said that generally, "we are not yet at the point where we're providing air that doesn't send people to the emergency room."
Regions that topped the list for year-round particle pollution included Bakersfield-Delano, Calif.; Hanford-Corcoran, Calif; and Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside, Calif.
While short-term particle pollution is based on a 24-hour period, year-round particle pollution is considered the annual average of pollution in the region. The report used a weighted average number of days for both ozone and short-term particle pollution levels.
Bakersfield-Delano also was first among regions most polluted by short-term particle pollution, with Fresno-Madera, Calif., and Hanford-Corcoran following. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside; Visalia-Porterville, Calif.; Bakersfield-Delano were the three most ozone-polluted regions in the country.
Four cities were newcomers to the list of cities most polluted by particle pollution: Wheeling, W. Va.; Atlanta; Fairmont, W. Va.; and Davenport, Iowa. Although the cities were added in part because other cities made greater improvements in reducing pollution levels, the list includes cities "where some of the cleanup measures haven't been put in place as much, where you've had a lot of pollution from coal plants," said Nolen.
Some states suffer not just from plants in their own cities, but plants in other states. "The folks who live in those communities can't address it themselves. They can't stop the pollution from blowing across state lines," according to Nolen.
The reasons for high levels of air pollution vary to a degree by location. California regions face challenges due in part to the agricultural processes, weather and goods-movement industry there. The goods-movement industry includes everything from ships, trucks and trains to machines that load and unload freight and stock store shelves.
In the middle and eastern U.S., coal-fired power plants play a larger role in contributing to air pollution.
The report lists at-risk groups that are particularly vulnerable to air-pollution threats, although air pollution does not necessarily cause these conditions. They include people with asthma, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and those of certain ages. Another notable group listed is people living in poverty.
"Over 16.9 million people with incomes meeting the federal poverty definition live in counties with unhealthful levels of ozone," the report says.
Nolen said people with low incomes tend to be at higher risk from air pollutants than wealthier people. "One, they live closer to sources that are producing the pollution. You don't have high rent housing near a power plant, or downwind from an industrial site contributing to a problem, or near a busy highway ... You also have folks who have higher incidents of diseases, which makes them at higher risk ... Third, often it's harder for them to get medical care."
She encouraged at-risk groups and concerned citizens to "let your member of Congress know that you expect the Clean Air Act to protect you and your family. Which means we have to have pollution reductions that can provide that kind of protection. We're not seeing that."
While Nolen said the EPA is taking some steps to reduce pollution, it faces challenges in the court and from members of Congress.
With an eye toward the future, one of ALA's goals for the year, Nolen said, is "to get a strong particulate matter standard out and finalized ... There are cleaner sources than coal burning for energy. But we do realize we have a ways to go."
More information and rankings from this year's State of the Air report can be found here.
Click through the slideshow below to see the cities with the most year-round particle pollution:

Cities Most Polluted By Year-Round Particle Pollution

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Thousands sing in defiance of Norway mass killer Breivik as his terror trial continues & Mass choir of 40,000 sang in Breivik protest 26APR12

WHAT a beautiful response to this madman's rhetoric! 
Facing terror with music, tens of thousands have gathered across Norway to sing a children’s song that mass killer Anders Behring Breivik has claimed is being used to brainwash young Norwegians. View photos from the trial and after the attacks.
OSLO, Norway — Facing terror with music, tens of thousands have gathered across Norway to sing a children’s song that mass killer Anders Behring Breivik has claimed is being used to brainwash young Norwegians.
The event was organized as an act of defiance against the right-wing fanatic as survivors gave tearful testimony Thursday in his trial for the July 22 bombing and shooting massacre that killed 77 people.

In the drizzling rain, 40,000 people converged at a central square in Oslo to sing the 1970’s song “Children of the Rainbow” — a Norwegian version of American folk music singer Pete Seeger’s “Rainbow Race.”

Mass choir of 40,000 sang in Breivik protest

(Updated) Artist Lillebjørn Nilsen led when a mass choir gathered at Youngstorget in downtown Oslo on Thursday to sing his song "Children of the Rainbow" (Barn av regnbuen) in protest against Behring Breivik.
The protest was a spontaneous Facebook reaction after Breivik stated in court that the song is an example of Marxistic influence on Norwegian children.
An overwhelming crowd of 40,000 people braved the pouring rain and gathered at the square, according to the police. Beforehand, around 5,000 had signed up to say they would be coming.
The song describes a "World where - every sister and every brother - shall live together - like small children of the rainbow".
The ministers of culture from five Nordic countries, - Denmark, Sweden, Iceland, the Faroes and Norway,-  participated in the singing, NRK reports.
Following the singing, the crowd went in a rose parade from the Youngstorget Square to the Oslo City Court, where the trial against Anders Behring Breivik is held.
There are also reports of similar spontaneous gatherings from many other places around the country.

Top 50 Things Accomplished by President Barack Obama A look back at Obama's first term. 4APR12

KEEP these things in mind when considering your vote this November...mitt romney can't even come close to what Pres Obama has done for the nation!

1. Passed Health Care Reform: After five presidents over a century failed to create universal health insurance, signed the Affordable Care Act (2010). It will cover 32 million uninsured Americans beginning in 2014 and mandates a suite of experimental measures to cut health care cost growth, the number one cause of America’s long-term fiscal problems.
2. Passed the Stimulus: Signed $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009 to spur economic growth amid greatest recession since the Great Depression. Weeks after stimulus went into effect, unemployment claims began to subside. Twelve months later, the private sector began producing more jobs than it was losing, and it has continued to do so for twenty-three straight months, creating a total of nearly 3.7 million new private-sector jobs.
3. Passed Wall Street Reform: Signed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (2010) to re-regulate the financial sector after its practices caused the Great Recession. The new law tightens capital requirements on large banks and other financial institutions, requires derivatives to be sold on clearinghouses and exchanges, mandates that large banks provide “living wills” to avoid chaotic bankruptcies, limits their ability to trade with customers’ money for their own profit, and creates the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (now headed by Richard Cordray) to crack down on abusive lending products and companies.
4. Ended the War in Iraq: Ordered all U.S. military forces out of the country. Last troops left on December 18, 2011.
5. Began Drawdown of War in Afghanistan: From a peak of 101,000 troops in June 2011, U.S. forces are now down to 91,000, with 23,000 slated to leave by the end of summer 2012. According to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, the combat mission there will be over by next year.
6. Eliminated Osama bin laden: In 2011, ordered special forces raid of secret compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in which the terrorist leader was killed and a trove of al-Qaeda documents was discovered.
7. Turned Around U.S. Auto Industry: In 2009, injected $62 billion in federal money (on top of $13.4 billion in loans from the Bush administration) into ailing GM and Chrysler in return for equity stakes and agreements for massive restructuring. Since bottoming out in 2009, the auto industry has added more than 100,000 jobs. In 2011, the Big Three automakers all gained market share for the first time in two decades. The government expects to lose $16 billion of its investment, less if the price of the GM stock it still owns increases.
8. Recapitalized Banks: In the midst of financial crisis, approved controversial Treasury Department plan to lure private capital into the country’s largest banks via “stress tests” of their balance sheets and a public-private fund to buy their “toxic” assets. Got banks back on their feet at essentially zero cost to the government.
9. Repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”: Ended 1990s-era restriction and formalized new policy allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military for the first time.
10. Toppled Moammar Gaddafi: In March 2011, joined a coalition of European and Arab governments in military action, including air power and naval blockade, against Gaddafi regime to defend Libyan civilians and support rebel troops. Gaddafi’s forty-two-year rule ended when the dictator was overthrown and killed by rebels on October 20, 2011. No American lives were lost.
11. Told Mubarak to Go: On February 1, 2011, publicly called on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to accept reform or step down, thus weakening the dictator’s position and putting America on the right side of the Arab Spring. Mubarak ended thirty-year rule when overthrown on February 11.
12. Reversed Bush Torture Policies: Two days after taking office, nullified Bush-era rulings that had allowed detainees in U.S. custody to undergo certain “enhanced” interrogation techniques considered inhumane under the Geneva Conventions. Also released the secret Bush legal rulings supporting the use of these techniques.
13. Improved America’s Image Abroad: With new policies, diplomacy, and rhetoric, reversed a sharp decline in world opinion toward the U.S. (and the corresponding loss of “soft power”) during the Bush years. From 2008 to 2011, favorable opinion toward the United States rose in ten of fifteen countries surveyed by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, with an average increase of 26 percent.
14. Kicked Banks Out of Federal Student Loan Program, Expanded Pell Grant Spending: As part of the 2010 health care reform bill, signed measure ending the wasteful decades-old practice of subsidizing banks to provide college loans. Starting July 2010 all students began getting their federal student loans directly from the federal government. Treasury will save $67 billion over ten years, $36 billion of which will go to expanding Pell Grants to lower-income students.
15. Created Race to the Top: With funds from stimulus, started $4.35 billion program of competitive grants to encourage and reward states for education reform.
16. Boosted Fuel Efficiency Standards: Released new fuel efficiency standards in 2011 that will nearly double the fuel economy for cars and trucks by 2025.
17. Coordinated International Response to Financial Crisis: To keep world economy out of recession in 2009 and 2010, helped secure from G-20 nations more than $500 billion for the IMF to provide lines of credit and other support to emerging market countries, which kept them liquid and avoided crises with their currencies.
18. Passed Mini Stimuli: To help families hurt by the recession and spur the economy as stimulus spending declined, signed series of measures (July 22, 2010; December 17, 2010; December 23, 2011) to extend unemployment insurance and cut payroll taxes.
19. Began Asia “Pivot”: In 2011, reoriented American military and diplomatic priorities and focus from the Middle East and Europe to the Asian-Pacific region. Executed multipronged strategy of positively engaging China while reasserting U.S. leadership in the region by increasing American military presence and crafting new commercial, diplomatic, and military alliances with neighboring countries made uncomfortable by recent Chinese behavior.
20. Increased Support for Veterans: With so many soldiers coming home from Iraq and Iran with serious physical and mental health problems, yet facing long waits for services, increased 2010 Department of Veterans Affairs budget by 16 percent and 2011 budget by 10 percent. Also signed new GI bill offering $78 billion in tuition assistance over a decade, and provided multiple tax credits to encourage businesses to hire veterans.
21. Tightened Sanctions on Iran: In effort to deter Iran’s nuclear program, signed Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act (2010) to punish firms and individuals who aid Iran’s petroleum sector. In late 2011 and early 2012, coordinated with other major Western powers to impose sanctions aimed at Iran’s banks and with Japan, South Korea, and China to shift their oil purchases away from Iran.
22. Created Conditions to Begin Closing Dirtiest Power Plants: New EPA restrictions on mercury and toxic pollution, issued in December 2011, likely to lead to the closing of between sixty-eight and 231 of the nation’s oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants. Estimated cost to utilities: at least $11 billion by 2016. Estimated health benefits: $59 billion to $140 billion. Will also significantly reduce carbon emissions and, with other regulations, comprises what’s been called Obama’s “stealth climate policy.”
23. Passed Credit Card Reforms: Signed the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure Act (2009), which prohibits credit card companies from raising rates without advance notification, mandates a grace period on interest rate increases, and strictly limits overdraft and other fees.
24. Eliminated Catch-22 in Pay Equality Laws: Signed Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009, giving women who are paid less than men for the same work the right to sue their employers after they find out about the discrimination, even if that discrimination happened years ago. Under previous law, as interpreted by the Supreme Court in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., the statute of limitations on such suits ran out 180 days after the alleged discrimination occurred, even if the victims never knew about it.
25. Protected Two Liberal Seats on the U.S. Supreme Court: Nominated and obtained confirmation for Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic and third woman to serve, in 2009; and Elena Kagan, the fourth woman to serve, in 2010. They replaced David Souter and John Paul Stevens, respectively.
26. Improved Food Safety System: In 2011, signed FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, which boosts the Food and Drug Administration’s budget by $1.4 billion and expands its regulatory responsibilities to include increasing number of food inspections, issuing direct food recalls, and reviewing the current food safety practices of countries importing products into America.
27. Achieved New START Treaty: Signed with Russia (2010) and won ratification in Congress (2011) of treaty that limits each country to 1,550 strategic warheads (down from 2,200) and 700 launchers (down from more than 1,400), and reestablished and strengthened a monitoring and transparency program that had lapsed in 2009, through which each country can monitor the other.
28. Expanded National Service: Signed Serve America Act in 2009, which authorized a tripling of the size of AmeriCorps. Program grew 13 percent to 85,000 members across the country by 2012, when new House GOP majority refused to appropriate more funds for further expansion.
29. Expanded Wilderness and Watershed Protection: Signed Omnibus Public Lands Management Act (2009), which designated more than 2 million acres as wilderness, created thousands of miles of recreational and historic trails, and protected more than 1,000 miles of rivers.
30. Gave the FDA Power to Regulate Tobacco: Signed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (2009). Nine years in the making and long resisted by the tobacco industry, the law mandates that tobacco manufacturers disclose all ingredients, obtain FDA approval for new tobacco products, and expand the size and prominence of cigarette warning labels, and bans the sale of misleadingly labeled “light” cigarette brands and tobacco sponsorship of entertainment events.
31. Pushed Federal Agencies to Be Green Leaders: Issued executive order in 2009 requiring all federal agencies to make plans to soften their environmental impacts by 2020. Goals include 30 percent reduction in fleet gasoline use, 26 percent boost in water efficiency, and sustainability requirements for 95 percent of all federal contracts. Because federal government is the country’s single biggest purchaser of goods and services, likely to have ripple effects throughout the economy for years to come.
32. Passed Fair Sentencing Act: Signed 2010 legislation that reduces sentencing disparity between crack versus powder cocaine possessionfrom100 to1 to 18 to1.
33. Trimmed and Reoriented Missile Defense: Cut the Reagan-era “Star Wars” missile defense budget, saving $1.4 billion in 2010, and canceled plans to station antiballistic missile systems in Poland and the Czech Republic in favor of sea-based defense plan focused on Iran and North Korea.
34. Began Post-Post-9/11 Military Builddown: After winning agreement from congressional Republicans and Democrats in summer 2011 budget deal to reduce projected defense spending by $450 billion, proposed new DoD budget this year with cuts of that size and a new national defense strategy that would shrink ground forces from 570,000 to 490,000 over the next ten years while increasing programs in intelligence gathering and cyberwarfare.
35. Let Space Shuttle Die and Killed Planned Moon Mission: Allowed the expensive ($1 billion per launch), badly designed, dangerous shuttle program to make its final launch on July 8, 2011. Cut off funding for even more bloated and problem-plagued Bush-era Constellation program to build moon base in favor of support for private-sector low-earth orbit ventures, research on new rocket technologies for long-distance manned flight missions, and unmanned space exploration, including the largest interplanetary rover ever launched, which will investigate Mars’s potential to support life.
36. Invested Heavily in Renewable Technology: As part of the 2009 stimulus, invested $90 billion, more than any previous administration, in research on smart grids, energy efficiency, electric cars, renewable electricity generation, cleaner coal, and biofuels.
37. Crafting Next-Generation School Tests: Devoted $330 million in stimulus money to pay two consortia of states and universities to create competing versions of new K-12 student performance tests based on latest psychometric research. New tests could transform the learning environment in vast majority of public school classrooms beginning in 2014.
38. Cracked Down on Bad For-Profit Colleges: In effort to fight predatory practices of some for-profit colleges, Department of Education issued “gainful employment” regulations in 2011 cutting off commercially focused schools from federal student aid funding if more than 35 percent of former students aren’t paying off their loans and/or if the average former student spends more than 12 percent of his or her total earnings servicing student loans.
39. Improved School Nutrition: In coordination with Michelle Obama, signed Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010 mandating $4.5 billion spending boost and higher nutritional and health standards for school lunches. New rules based on the law, released in January, double the amount of fruits and vegetables and require only whole grains in food served to students.
40. Expanded Hate Crimes Protections: Signed Hate Crimes Prevention Act (2009), which expands existing hate crime protections to include crimes based on a victim’s sexual orientation, gender, or disability, in addition to race, color, religion, or national origin.
41. Avoided Scandal: As of November 2011, served longer than any president in decades without a scandal, as measured by the appearance of the word “scandal” (or lack thereof) on the front page of the Washington Post.
42. Brokered Agreement for Speedy Compensation to Victims of Gulf Oil Spill: Though lacking statutory power to compel British Petroleum to act, used moral authority of his office to convince oil company to agree in 2010 to a $20 billion fund to compensate victims of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico; $6.5 billion already paid out without lawsuits. By comparison, it took nearly two decades for plaintiffs in the Exxon Valdez Alaska oil spill case to receive $1.3 billion.
43. Created Web site run by independent board of inspectors general looking for fraud and abuse in stimulus spending, provides public with detailed information on every contract funded by $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Thanks partly to this transparency, board has uncovered very little fraud, and Web site has become national model: “The stimulus has done more to promote transparency at almost all levels of government than any piece of legislation in recent memory,” reports Governing magazine.
44. Pushed Broadband Coverage: Proposed and obtained in 2011 Federal Communications Commission approval for a shift of $8 billion in subsidies away from landlines and toward broadband Internet for lower-income rural families.
45. Expanded Health Coverage for Children: Signed 2009 Children’s Health Insurance Authorization Act, which allows the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to cover health care for 4 million more children, paid for by a tax increase on tobacco products.
46. Recognized the Dangers of Carbon Dioxide: In 2009, EPA declared carbon dioxide a pollutant, allowing the agency to regulate its production.
47. Expanded Stem Cell Research: In 2009, eliminated the Bush-era restrictions on embryonic stem cell research, which shows promise in treating spinal injuries, among many other areas.
48. Provided Payment to Wronged Minority Farmers: In 2009, signed Claims Resolution Act, which provided $4.6 billion in funding for a legal settlement with black and Native American farmers who the government cheated out of loans and natural resource royalties in years past.
49. Helped South Sudan Declare Independence: Helped South Sudan Declare Independence: Appointed two envoys to Sudan and personally attended a special UN meeting on the area. Through U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice, helped negotiate a peaceful split in 2011.
50. Killed the F-22: In 2009, ended further purchases of Lockheed Martin single-seat, twin-engine, fighter aircraft, which cost $358 million apiece. Though the military had 187 built, the plane has never flown a single combat mission. Eliminating it saved $4 billion.
Paul Glastris, Ryan Cooper, and Siyu Hu collaborated on this article. Glastris is the editor in chief of the Washington Monthly. Cooper and Hu are interns at the magazine


VIRGINIA'S HB 9 will strip the right to vote from students, the poor, disabled and people of color. It is a right-wing extremist attack on the most basic of our civil liberties. The closest thing we have recently had to voter fraud in Virginia was the 1500 signatures on newt gingrich(k)'s petition to get on the gop / tea-bagger presidential primary ballot (they were all signed by the same person), but this was NOT voter fraud! This is not a problem in Virginia and will not be unless the governor signs this bill, then the fraud will be the election being held with tens of thousands being denied the right to vote! Please send a message to Gov McDonnell telling him to veto HB9 and protect everyone's right to vote, click the link......

Do you like being able to vote? Did you know that pretty soon in Virginia it could be harder for you to do so? Right now, HB9 is waiting for Governor McDonnell's signature. This bill would make it harder for thousands of Virginians to vote, maybe including you.
Can you sign our petition to Governor McDonnell right now asking him to veto voter suppression bill HB9?
Voting is a fundamental American freedom. Now conservatives are pushing through laws to make it harder for students, people of color, and seniors to cast a ballot because they'll do anything to win. The right to vote and choose our leaders is at the heart of what it means to be an American. We can't let them take it away.
Sign the petition to Governor McDonnell now to demand he veto voter suppression bill HB9.
Virginia has always been for voters. Let's keep it that way.

President Obama Asks Students to Tell Congress: #DontDoubleMyRate 24APR12 & Will a Young Generation's Dreams Be Rescued -- Or Bundled and Sold on Wall Street? 25APR12

AT a time when student loan debt exceeds credit card debt in America Congress is deadlocked in addressing the issue because the repiglicans and tea-baggers are committed to protecting the interest of the financial-banking cabal on wall street and the corporate tax loopholes of the wealthy who own them and big oil. Congressional Democrats are exploring increasing taxes on millionaires or cutting tax breaks for big oil to pay for student loan debt relief, repiglicans and tea-baggers want to take money from funding for health care. They want to transfer the burden of debt for the poor, working and middle classes from education debt to medical debt rather than require those who should be paying more to do so. No matter how this turns out students and their families need to remember who was and is on their side when they vote in November. This from HuffPost and the WH....

President Obama was at the University of North Carolina this afternoon asking students to tell their members of Congress one thing: Don’t double my rates.
Five years ago, Congress cut the rates on federal student loans in half. That was a good thing to do. But on July 1st -- that’s a little over two months from now -- that rate cut expires.  And if Congress does nothing, the interest rates on those loans will double overnight.... And just to give you some sense of perspective -- for each year that Congress doesn’t act, the average student with these loans will rack up an additional $1,000 in debt -- an extra thousand dollars.  That’s basically a tax hike for more than 7 million students across America -- more than 160,000 students here in North Carolina alone.
President Obama said that stopping this from happening -- and helping more young people afford college -- should be a no-brainer because in today's economy, a college degree is an economic imperative:
In today’s economy, there is no greater predictor of individual success than a good education.  Right now, the unemployment rate for Americans with a college degree or more is about half the national average.  Their incomes are twice as high as those who don’t have a high school diploma.
And a college education –whether from a two-year or four-year school – shouldn’t be something that only some families can afford. A good education should be within reach for all students willing to work for it. But tuition and fees at America’s colleges have more than doubled since today’s college students were born, and students are taking on more debt to pay for it.
President Obama has worked to help more young people and their families afford a higher education. His Administration is offering incentives for states, colleges, and universities to keep costs down. And now he’s calling on Congress to do their part, and he’s asking students to help make sure they do.
But I’m asking everyone else who’s watching or following online -- call your member of Congress. Email them. Write on their Facebook page. Tweet them -- we’ve got a hashtag. Here’s the hashtag for you to tweet them:  #dontdoublemyrate. All right?  I’m going to repeat that -- the hashtag is #dontdoublemyrate.  
... Your voice matters. Stand up. Be heard. Be counted. Tell them now is not the time to double the interest rate on your student loans. Now is the time to double down on smart investments that build a strong and secure middle class. Now is the time to double down on an America that’s built to last.

Learn more:
President Barack Obama Delivers Remarks on Student Loan Interest Rates
President Barack Obama delivers remarks on student loan interest rates, at Carmichael Arena, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, April 24, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy) 

Will a Young Generation's Dreams Be Rescued -- Or Bundled and Sold on Wall Street?

 Interest rates for student loans will double on July 1 unless Congress acts. That's outrageous -- but the fiscal abuse of our nation's young people runs far deeper than that. An entire generation has been trapped into debt servitude and joblessness by the implacable machinery of Wall Street greed. Bank-servile scolds insult the young people of America while the bankers' economic engines strip-mine their financial future.
Jobless or overextended college graduates aren't even allowed to declare bankruptcy -- a privilege that's extended to every reckless investor and mismanaged corporation in the nation. Once they finally find work, college graduates face years of garnished wages to repay the loans that funded their often-overpriced educations. If they haven't repaid that debt by the time they grow old -- a very real possibility at the cost of a college education today -- they'll even be forced to surrender part of their Social Security benefits.
That's indentured servitude.
Meanwhile banks have been slicing and dicing student loans into derivative financial instruments called "SLABS" -- student-loan asset backed securities. We've seen this movie before -- the one where big banks mass-market loans to a population with stagnated wages and dwindling economic prospects, then bundle them and sell them to investors who haven't reviewed the way they were underwritten and sold.
Hey, what could go wrong?
It's true that many of these packaged debts are backed by the U.S. government -- but not all of them.
Why are these graduates facing such a bleak job market? Because Wall Street's gambling on other financial bets crashed the economy, leaving an entire generation without much of a future to give them optimism and hope. Their parents can't help them much, because most of their assets were taken by Wall Street, too. So as an entire generation of college students graduates with unprecedented debt -- and joblessness that's unprecedented in modern memory -- they're looking forward to a lifetime of reduced expectations.
And just like their parents, these young people are being told the the banks aren't the problem: They are.
Half of today's college graduates are un- or under-employed. The total amount owed on student loans is greater than our country's entire credit card debt. The banks were rescued in a multi-billion dollar bailout (that did not turn a profit), but If anybody talks about a WPA-like program to rescue young people the bank-funded political crowd gasps in horror.
Instead of help, young people get comments like this now-notorious one from perenially ignorant GOP representative Virginia (Ginny) Foxx: " I have very little tolerance for people who tell me that they graduate with $200,000 of debt or even $80,000 of debt because there's no reason for that."
Ginny Foxx is acting out the last in a four-step process to crush the soul and spirit of a generation:
First, cut funding for colleges and universities throughout the country, driving the cost of a college education out of reach of most Americans. And while you're at it, play footsie with the for-profit college industry, giving out student loans for paper mills that churn out worthless diplomas at inflated prices -- but whatever you do, don't tell the students that!
Second, lobby to "privatize" much of the student loan industry. Turn Sallie Mae, the agency created to help students, into a greed-driven get-rich-quick scheme for greedy executives (See "Sallie Mae's Jets") who used government money to lobby for their own get-rich-quick schemes and turned the student loan program into a taxpayer-funded money tree for already-rich bankers. (To their great credit, the Obama Administration and Democrats on the Hill did a great deal to roll back this part of the greed machine with last year's student reform law.)
Third, deregulate Wall Street and allow them to wreck the economy, forcing an entire generation to face the bleakest job future in modern memory.
Fourth, condemn them for their own situation. That distracts some people from the real cause of this generational misery.
Blame the victim: It's the oldest game in the world. In fact, it's exactly what was done to many of their parents when they bought their homes. They convinced them that homes would rise in value forever, sometimes hired crooked appraisers to inflate their homes' value, encouraged them to take out loans on that inflated value -- and then, when the bubble burst, convinced a lot of people that the real problem in this country is 'greedy homeowners.'
But this time it may not work. There are too many young people, and too many parents, who have learned how the game works. They may not stand for it a second time.
There's another reason why it won't work -- and why Mitt Romney is suddenly the voice of reason, urging his fellow Republicans not to let these interest rates double. If they do rise after July 1, a lot of students will be unable to pay their debts. Not all of those loans are backed by the government, so a lot of banks will be hurt.
Republicans don't want that to happen -- so expect a lot of conversions to "reasonableness" in the coming weeks. The delinquency rates for these loans may be higher than originally believed, and there's reason to believe it could go much higher as more students graduate into a bleak job market. The financial industry is beginning to worry.
It should worry. So should all of the investors who have bought those "SLABS." Between the politics and the economics, Republicans would be crazy to let these interest rates soar. But then, they've done lots of crazy things lately ...
Our financial system can't afford another shock. That's another reason why the Administration's additional proposals for easing student loan debt should be passed immediately, especially the "pay as you earn" and "forgiveness in 20 years" (or less) provisions.
But that isn't enough. We owe the next generation a lot more than what's being offered. We owe them nothing less than a national program of jobs -- a program that will give them experience, income and a sense of restored optimism about the future.
Students also deserve the chance to pay off their loans altogether by taking on tough jobs (with salaries) that help society, as well as themselves. (There's some reduction in the length of the loan under the current system, but it should be improved.)
And yes, we should be talking about forgiveness.
It's surprising that we haven't seen more student protests like those that have gripped Quebec. The Occupy Student Debt Campaign may be the first step in that direction.
Think about it: One trillion dollars in loans -- loans that look increasingly risky with every month that passes. A generation that was tricked into borrowing for their educations -- in many cases for an overpriced or useless diploma, and in many other cases at costs that were driven sky-high by the selfishness and false economy of their elders.
And now, instead of helping our kids, we're letting people like Ginny Foxx demonize them. Or we're letting candidates like Mitt Romney say all the right things, then push for only the bare minimum needed to placate the public -- and protect the banks, which is their real agenda.
The choice is simple, really: We can do the right thing by the nation's young people -- or we can let the banks slice and dice their futures and sell them to unwary buyers. We can give our kids the chance for a decent life, or let their hopes be run through the Wall Street meat grinder.
We welcomed them into this world with promises. Will we sell their dreams to Wall Street to be carted away on SLABs?
Richard (RJ) Eskow, a consultant and writer (and former insurance/finance executive), is a Senior Fellow with the Campaign for America's Future and the host of The Breakdown, broadcast Saturdays nights from 7-9 pm on WeAct Radio, AM 1480 in Washington DC.