The Edge of Health
|Joe Eaton||February 23rd 2012|
It seemed simple enough at the time. In 2009, John Harrison, a 63-year-old oil industry sales manager in Mission, Texas, had surgery to repair the rotator cuff in his right shoulder, a routine procedure that usually requires at most a single nightâ€™s stay in the hospital, followed by physical therapy. For Harrison, however, there was nothing routine about the ordeal that ensued. In the weeks following the surgery, his scar turned bright red, hot to the touch, and oozed thick fluid that looked â€œlike butter squeezed from a bag.â€ Alarmed, Harrisonâ€™s wife Laura called The Methodist Hospital in Houston, where the surgery was performed. The doctor urged Harrison to immediately make the seven-hour drive back to Houston for an emergency checkup. That night, surgeons opened up Harrisonâ€™s shoulder and found that infection had eaten away part of his shoulder bone and rotator cuff. Screws and metal hardware surgeons placed in his shoulder had pulled loose. Sutures had come undone. Surgeons cleaned out Harrisonâ€™s shoulder, installed two drains and gave him antibiotics to battle the infection. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|John Dunbar||February 22nd 2012|
Thanks to a small number of wealthy individuals, the outside spending groups known as â€œsuper PACsâ€ that are working to put the four leading GOP candidates in the White House collectively raised more than the candidates themselves in January. Candidates Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul raised a combined $21.1 million for the month, according to Federal Election Commission records, while the four primary super PACs backing them raised $22.1 million. Donors to candidates number in the thousands, but they may only give $2,500 per candidate, per election. Super PAC donors, thanks to the Citizens United Supreme Court decision and a lower-cour ruling, can give unlimited amounts. The funds can come from billionaires, corporations and labor unions. So far this election, the funds have been spent overwhelmingly on advertising disparaging competing candidates. Super PACs are prohibited from coordinating their activities with the candidates.
The average donation to a super PAC filing in January was $63,000. Two of the super PACs â€” â€œWinning Our Future,â€ supporting Newt Gingrich and â€œEndorse Liberty,â€ supporting Ron Paul â€” are dominated by a single donor. Of the $11 million Winning Our Future raised in January, $10 million â€” more than three-quarters of the group's total haul â€” came from billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson and his wife. Thatâ€™s in addition to $1 million given by other Adelson family members to the PAC last year. Of the $2.4 million raised by the pro-Ron Paul super PAC "Endorse Liberty," $1.7 million â€” more than 70 percent â€” came from Peter Thiel, hedge fund manager, co-founder of PayPal and early Facebook investor. Thatâ€™s on top of the $900,000 he gave last year. Read more ..
The Water's Edge
|Ingrid Weel and Mar Cabra||February 18th 2012|
Members of the Animal Party asked the Dutch government Wednesday to ban catches of threatened jack mackerel that vessels from the Netherlands and other European countries have overfished in the South Pacific. "For years there have been meetings to bring to a halt the activities of big floating fish factories in whose nets whole soccer stadiums could fit," MP Anja Hazekamp of the Animal Party, said, according to the Dutch daily Trouw. â€œBut there are still no binding fishing quotas established.â€ The parliamentary debate was sparked by a recent exposÃ© by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which revealed that European, Asian and Latin American fleets have decimated the jack mackerel population in the once-rich waters of the southern Pacific. The stocks have declined from 30 million metric tons to less than 3 million in just two decades.
The bony, bronze-hued jack mackerel plays an important role in the marine ecosystem as food for bigger fish and is a key component of fishmeal for aquaculture. It can take more than 5 kilos of jack mackerel to raise a single kilo of farmed salmon. Fleets compete in a free-for-all in the southern Pacific, the ICIJ investigation found, because governments have failed since 2006 to create and ratify a regional fisheries management organization that can impose binding regulations. In the meantime, quotas are only voluntary. Read more ..
The Drug Wars
|Ben West||February 16th 2012|
Mexican authorities announced Feb. 8 the largest seizure of methamphetamine in Mexican history -- and possibly the largest ever anywhere -- on a ranch outside of Guadalajara. The total haul was 15 tons of pure methamphetamine along with a laboratory capable of producing all the methamphetamine seized. While authorities are not linking the methamphetamine to any specific criminal group, Guadalajara is a known stronghold of the Sinaloa Federation, and previous seizures there have been connected to the group.
Methamphetamine, a synthetic drug manufactured in personal labs for decades, is nothing new in Mexico or the United States. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has led numerous crusades against the drug, increasing regulations on its ingredients to try to keep it from gaining a foothold in the United States. While the DEA's efforts have succeeded in limiting production of the drug in the United States, consumption has risen steadily over the past two decades. The increasing DEA pressure on U.S. suppliers and the growing demand for methamphetamine have driven large-scale production of the drug outside the borders of the United States. Given Mexico's proximity and the pervasiveness of organized criminal elements seeking new markets, it makes sense that methamphetamine would be produced on an industrial scale there. Indeed, Mexico has provided an environment for a scale of production far greater than anything ever seen in the United States. Read more ..
America on Edge
|Susan Ferriss||February 12th 2012|
California, often a trendsetter, could make history if it approves Gov. Jerry Brownâ€™s bid to close all state-run youth prisons and eliminate its state Division of Juvenile Justice. Much depends, though, on whether the stateâ€™s politically influential prison guards, probation officers and district attorneys can be convinced â€” or forced by legislators â€” to agree to Brownâ€™s proposal. That wonâ€™t be an easy sell, due to both public-safety arguments and sure-to-surface haggling over just who pays to house juvenile offenders. owing to restructure government more efficiently, Brown, a Democrat, wants to close the last three of 11 youth prisons that have long been attacked by critics as â€œexpensive failures.â€ If the state phases out the last three of its aging detention centers, all future young offenders would be held, schooled and treated by Californiaâ€™s 58 counties.
This is the second time since taking office last year that Brown has proposed closing the state juvenile division, which is part of its corrections system. The divisionâ€™s responsibility has already been slashed dramatically from 10,000 wards in the mid-1990s to about 1,100 in state custody today. Their numbers may be few, but the cost for keeping those youth in state custody runs about $200,000-a-year for every ward. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Anne Farris Rosen||February 9th 2012|
Of all the investments made by the super-wealthy partners at Bain Capital, perhaps none have a greater potential return than the one they have made in Mitt Romney.
Current and former Bain executives and their relatives have given about $4.7 million to organizations dedicated to making Romney the next president of the United States, according to an investigation. And they havenâ€™t just come around lately. Some Bain associates have been filling Romneyâ€™s campaign coffers since 2004 when the former Massachusetts governor had early aspirations to become president, and long before he officially embarked on a run. Read more ..
Edge of Environmental Health
|Jim Morris||February 6th 2012|
Publication of a landmark government study probing whether diesel engine exhaust causes lung cancer in miners â€” already 20 years in the making â€” has been delayed by industry and congressional insistence on seeing study data and documents before the public does. A federal judge has affirmed the right of an industry group and a House committee to review the materials and has held the Department of Health and Human Services in contempt for not producing all of them.
The much-anticipated study of 12,000 miners exposed to diesel fumes carries broad implications. If the research suggests a strong link between the fumes and cancer, regulation and litigation could ramp up â€” with consequences not only for underground mining, but also for industries such as trucking, rail and shipping. Exposure isn't limited to workers; people who live near ports, rail yards and highways also are subjected to diesel exhaust laced with carcinogens such as benzene, arsenic and formaldehyde. But for the time being, at least, the results of an $11.5 million investigation by the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health are under lock and key. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Peter H. Stone||February 1st 2012|
A handful of Democratic super PACs and nonprofits reported raising together just over $19 million last year, a paltry sum compared to the leading GOP groups.
The groups formed last year to help President Barack Obama win a second term and improve Democratsâ€™ congressional fortunes,
The total is based on a joint press release the groups issued Tuesday evening and includes over $6.7 million for Priorities USA and Priorities USA Action, started in early 2011 by two former White House aides, Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney â€” a slow start toward their goal of roping in $100 million to spend this election year.
In the first half of last year, the two groups backing Obama raised over $5 million which underscores their lackluster results in the second half. Read more ..
|Michael Hudson and E. Scott Reckard||January 24th 2012|
Federal authorities are investigating possible fraud at General Electric Co.â€™s former subprime mortgage arm amid increased public pressure to hold Wall Street accountable for its role in the financial crisis.
The FBI and the U.S. Justice Department are looking into potentially criminal business practices at Burbank, Calif.-based WMC Mortgage Corp. during the home-loan boom, according to four people with knowledge of the investigation. They declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the investigation.
The government is asking whether WMC used falsified paperwork, overstated borrowersâ€™ income and other tactics to push through questionable loans, two of the people said. They said the probe appears to be focusing on whether senior managers condoned improper practices that enabled fraudulent loans to be sold to investors.
â€œItâ€™s mostly about: Did they knowingly sell mortgages into the secondary market that they knew were fraudulent?â€ said one person with direct knowledge of the investigation.
A spokesman for the FBI declined to comment, and the Justice Department did not return telephone calls. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Fred Schulte and Aaron Mehta||January 19th 2012|
As President Barack Obama ramps up his campaign for a second term, many of his top fundraisers are showing how money helps win influence and access to power in Washington.
Dozens of Obamaâ€™s elite donors â€” many of them wealthy business figures â€” have been appointed to advisory panels and commissions that can play a role in setting government policy. Others have been invited to a range of exclusive White House briefings, holiday parties and splashy social events.
And some have snagged lucrative government contracts that benefit their business interests or investment portfolios, an investigation has found. These fundraisers are known as â€œbundlersâ€ because they solicit $2,500 contributions from multiple friends, colleagues and family members and provide â€œbundlesâ€ of checks to the campaign. The sum of contributions per bundler ranges from $50,000 to more than $500,000. Read more ..
The Arab Fall in Egypt
|Eric Trager||January 16th 2012|
The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
Given the Muslim Brotherhood's anti-Western outlook, Washington must prepare for the strong possibility that it will hold only limited influence with Egypt's next government.
The FJP was licensed on April 30, 2011, making it the second new party to be recognized by the Egyptian government following Hosni Mubarak's February 11 ouster. Initially, it sought to assuage fears of a post-Mubarak Islamist takeover by promising to run for fewer than 50 percent of the seats. But after its electoral alliance with the Wafd Party broke down in late October, the FJP announced that it would contest 77 percent of the seats.
In the first round of the elections, which began on November 28, the FJP's coalition won an estimated 73 of 150 seats (48.7 percent), and in the second round, which began on December 14, an estimated 79 of 172 seats (45.9 percent). Its margin of victory is expected to increase in the third round, which is taking place in traditional Brotherhood strongholds such as the Gharbiyah and Daqahliyah governorates. Read more ..
The Edge of Justice
|Sarah Favot, Kirsten Berg, and Jenna Ebersole||January 16th 2012|
One 16-year-old went looking for pot at a Brookline High School graduation party, then shot the guest of honor in the chest when he got a racial slur instead. The other 16-year-old stabbed a man 23 times inside his Springfield apartment, returning the next day to steal things from the victimâ€™s home while his body lay nearby. Both crimes were horrific, but the punishments were strikingly different. The murderer in Springfield, Edgardo Rodriguez, accepted a plea deal for the 2004 killing of Joel Rivera Delgado, allowing him to potentially walk free within the next decade. The other teen, Antonio Fernandez, took his 2002 case to trial and received the harshest juvenile sentence Massachusetts permits â€” the harshest in the country, in fact â€” for shooting Perry Hughes: life in prison without the possibility of parole. Until then, Fernandez had never been charged with anything worse than stealing video games. Now, heâ€™s sentenced to die in prison.
The two cases illustrate the profound inequities that have grown up in the juvenile justice system in the wake of a 1996 law aimed at cracking down on juvenile â€œsuper predators,â€ by requiring them to be tried in adult court where they face the maximum adult penalty for first degree murder, an investigation by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting has found. Before the change, juvenile killers could only be sentenced to serve until age 21 unless their case was transferred to adult court. Read more ..
The 2012 Vote
|Josh Israel and Aaron Mehta||January 16th 2012|
Rick Santorum the presidential candidate casts himself as a Washington outsider, â€œone of the most successful government reformers in our history,â€ according to his campaign bio, â€œtaking on Washington's powerful special interests from the moment he arrived in our nationâ€™s capital.â€ But Rick Santorum the House and Senate member received more than $11 million in contributions from corporate and other special interest political action committees (PACs) over his career, according to a Center for Public Integrity investigation.
Among the largest donors are giants from the telecommunications, tobacco, and banking industries, the analysis found. The Center examined contributions to the Pennsylvanianâ€™s congressional, senatorial and 2012 presidential campaigns â€” as well as his â€œAmericaâ€™s Foundationâ€ and â€œFight PACâ€ leadership PACs, entities set up by Santorum to aid others in their political campaigns. Corporate PACs connected to telecommunications firms that became todayâ€™s AT&T Inc. poured more than $98,000 into Santorumâ€™s campaign coffers, making the behemoth his top career patron. Those donations may have been rewarded with support for the industry; in 1996 Santorum was one of 91 Senators to approve the heavily lobbied rewrite of telecommunications law that deregulated the industry. Government watchdog group Common Cause decried the industry for â€œbuyingâ€ the legislation. Read more ..
America on Edge
|John Aloysius Farrell||January 3rd 2012|
Todd Dagres, a prominent venture capitalist and independent movie producer, earned $3.5 million in 2003, and paid not a cent in federal income tax.
The IRS challenged the math, and sent Dagres a bill for $981,980 in back taxes, plus $196,369 in penalties.
So Dagres lawyered up. His attorneys waived one lucrative tax break to exploit an even better one, and claimed victory in the case in March.
In the course of the dispute, Dagres offered five years of his tax returns as evidence in U.S. Tax Court. His testimony, tax forms and other documents offer a rare glimpse of how wealthy Americans work the angles to keep from paying taxes. Read more ..
The Gender Edge
|Leslie Shepherd||December 29th 2011|
More than two-thirds of paramedics surveyed have experienced verbal, physical or sexual abuse on the job, new research has found. Verbal abuse by patients and their friends or relatives, Emergency Medical Service (EMS) co-workers or bystanders, was the most commonly reported, followed by intimidation and physical abuse, the study found. "EMS providers can experience violence in the workplace as they perform their jobs in unpredictable environments and near people in crisis," said Blair Bigham, the lead investigator. "Anecdotal reports and workplace safety records have highlighted cases of verbal, physical and sexual abuse, yet until now, there has been little scientific research. More research is needed to understand the impact of this workplace violence."
Bigham is an advanced care flight paramedic for York Region EMS and Ornge, and an associate scientist at Rescu, based at S. Michael's Hospital. Rescu is part of the Resuscitations Outcomes Consortium, a large, multinational research collaboration of 10 sites across the United States and Canada, studying how promising new tools and treatments can improve survival rates among people who suffer cardiac arrest or life-threatening traumatic injury outside of hospitals. Read more ..
|Michael Hudson||December 29th 2011|
Darcy Parmer ran into trouble soon after she started her job as a fraud analyst at Wells Fargo Bank. Her bosses, she later claimed, were upset that she was, well, finding fraud. Company officials, she alleged in a lawsuit, berated her for reporting that sales staffers were pushing through mortgage deals based on made-up borrower incomes and other distortions, telling her that she didnâ€™t â€œsee the big pictureâ€ and that â€œit is not your job to fix Wells Fargo.â€ Management, she claimed, ordered her to stop contacting the companyâ€™s ethics hotline. In the end, she said, Wells Fargo forced her out of her job.
Parmer isnâ€™t alone in claiming she was punished for objecting to fraud in the midst of the nationâ€™s home-loan boom. iWatch News has identified 63 former employees at 20 financial institutions who say they were fired or demoted for reporting fraud or refusing to commit fraud. Their stories were disclosed in whistleblower claims with the U.S. Department of Labor or court documents. â€œWe did our jobs. We had integrity,â€ said Ed Parker, former fraud investigations manager at now-defunct Ameriquest Mortgage Co., a leading subprime lender. â€œBut we were not welcome because we affected the bottom line.â€ Read more ..
|Michael Hudson||December 29th 2011|
In the case of the salesman who wouldnâ€™t sell, the two sides have starkly different tales to tell. Greg Saffer says conscience and common sense prevented him from pushing the product his bosses wanted him to sell â€“ â€œOption ARMâ€ home loans that, he says, put homeowners at risk. â€œIâ€™m not going to steer people into a loan program that might not be good for them just because itâ€™s more profitable for the company,â€ he says.
JP Morgan Chase Bank counters that Saffer didnâ€™t sell because he didnâ€™t have the chops to close deals. â€œRather than a paragon of virtue, Saffer was simply a guy who could not sell loans in an increasingly tough market,â€ the bankâ€™s lawyers say in legal papers. JP Morgan is matched against Saffer because it bought Safferâ€™s ex-employer, Seattle-based Washington Mutual Bank, in September 2008, after regulators seized WaMu in what was the largest bank failure in U.S. history. Saffer charged in a lawsuit filed in 2009 in Los Angeles Superior Court that he was forced out of his job for refusing to take part in â€œfraudulent schemes.â€ In testimony in the lawsuit and in documents in arbitration proceedings, he claims WaMu retaliated against him because he refused to push â€œtoxicâ€ Option ARMs and mislead borrowers about how the loans worked and how much they would cost. Read more ..
American Economy on Edge
|John Aloysius Farrell||December 18th 2011|
A select group of U.S. multinational corporations have been furiously lobbying for a tax holiday, they say, to bring more than a trillion dollars in so-called â€œtrappedâ€ foreign earnings back home and invest it in the American economy.
But a Senate report released Thursday shows the money is anything but trapped. Some of the richest firms have already brought hundreds of billions of dollars back to America, without paying U.S. taxes, and invested it in US banks, bonds, stocks and other assets. The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations surveyed some of the best known U.S. multinationals and found that 27 of the cash-flush firms, including Apple, Google and Microsoft, had invested almost $250 billion in the United States. â€œThose foreign earnings are not trapped or locked offshore at all,â€ said Sen. Carl Levin, the Democrat from Michigan who chairs the subcommittee. â€œAbout half of the so-called offshore funds were actually onshore.â€ Read more ..
Nicaragua on Edge
|Sasha Chavkin and Ronnie Greene||December 17th 2011|
Maudiel Martinez is 19 years old and has a shy smile, a tangle of curly black hair and a lean, muscular build shaped by years of work in the sugarcane fields. For most of his adolescence, he was healthy and strong and spent his days chopping tall stalks of cane with his machete.
Now Martinez is suffering from a deadly disease that is devastating his community along with scores of others in Central America, where it has decimated the ranks of sugarcane workers. The same illness killed his father and his grandfather and affects all three of his older brothers. â€œThis disease eats our kidneys from inside us,â€ Martinez said. â€œWe donâ€™t want to die, and we feel grief because we already know that weâ€™re hopeless.â€
Martinezâ€™ illness stands at the heart of a lethal mystery â€” and legacy of neglect by industry and governments, including the United States, which have resisted pleas for aggressive action to spotlight the malady and find a remedy. Wealthier nations are more focused on spurring biofuels production in the regionâ€™s sugarcane industry and keeping up the heavy flow of sugar to U.S. consumers and food manufacturers than the plight of those who harvest it. Read more ..
The Toxic Edge
|Jim Morris and Chris Hamby||December 17th 2011|
The Environmental Protection Agency has allowed the use of unapproved methods to demolish buildings containing asbestos, threatening public health and possibly violating worker safety rules, the EPAâ€™s inspector general has concluded.
In an â€œearly warning reportâ€ to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson that speaks to the urgency of the matter, Inspector General Arthur A. Elkins Jr. noted that asbestos is a human carcinogen â€œwith no safe level of exposure.â€ Nonetheless, Elkins found, the agency allowed its own employees and contract workers to be exposed to the toxic, fire-resistant mineral â€” widely used in buildings after World War II â€” during tests in Texas and Arkansas in 2006 and 2007.
Elkins said his officeâ€™s preliminary research showed that the unsafe demolition methods â€” designed to save time and money â€” have been used more recently at the Hanford Superfund Site near Richland, Wash., a former Department of Energy nuclear weapons production site, and are under consideration at a DOE-owned uranium enrichment facility in Paducah, Ky. Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
|Jude Freeman||December 15th 2011|
Cutting Edge Correspondent
Ledgers from the Lebanese Canadian Bank have revealed the covert operations of terrorist organization Hezbollah, according to a New York Times
article. In February, the Obama administration accused the notoriously secretive bank of laundering money on the behalf of an international cocaine ring linked to Shiite militants Hezbollah.
Investigations by the Drug Enforcement Administration have exposed a global operation to conceal the source of illegal gains, with the Lebanese Canadian Bank at the center of activities. The findings appear to confirm the suspicions of international law enforcement agencies, who believe that Hezbollahâ€™s terrorist operations are funded by overseas loyalists involved in drug trafficking and a range of criminal activities.
A recent announcement by Federal prosecutors in Virginia revealed that a key player in the Lebanese Canadian Bank case had been formally charged with trafficking drugs and laundering money for Columbian cartels and deadly Mexican gang Los Zetas. Read more ..
|Michael Hudson||December 14th 2011|
On her first day at Countrywide Financial Corp., Cynder Niemela gave a talk to a gathering of her new colleagues. Every company, she said, has its own culture. Each is a tribe with its own rituals and myths.
Niemela, a management guru whoâ€™d worked for Boeing and other big employers, told the group of executives that research showed it took 16 months for a worker to become fully part of a corporate â€œtribe.â€ That time would allow her, she added, to offer a fresh perspective on how things were done at Countrywide. Afterwards, she recalls, one of her new colleagues introduced himself and, with a knowing smile, said, â€œI canâ€™t wait to see if youâ€™re here 16 months from now.â€ She lasted 16 months, but not much longer.
Countrywide fired her, Niemela claimed, after she raised questions about fraud against customers and employee discontent with top management. The last straw, she alleged in an arbitration claim, came after she complained that higher-ups had revised and distorted one of her PowerPoint presentations in an effort to obscure the companyâ€™s problems with employee dissatisfaction and turnover. Read more ..
The Bear is Back
|Lauren Goodrich||December 13th 2011|
Tensions between the United States and Russia have risen in the past month over several long-standing problems, including ballistic missile defense (BMD) and supply lines into Afghanistan. Moscow and Washington also appear to be nearing another crisis involving Russian accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO).
The crises come as Washington struggles over its many commitments in the world and over whether to focus on present events in Afghanistan or future events in Central Europe. Russia has exploited the U.S. dilemma, using its leverage in both arenas. However, if Moscow takes its aggressive moves too far, it could spark a backlash from the United States and Central Europe.
The Persisting Disagreement over BMD
The U.S. BMD scheme for Europe has long been a source of U.S.-Russian tensions. Washington argues that its European BMD program aims to counter threats emerging from the Middle East, namely Iran, but its missile defense installations in Romania and Poland are not slated to become operational until 2015 and 2018, respectively, by which time Russia believes the United States will have resolved its issues with Iran. Moscow thus sees U.S. missile defense strategy as more about the United States seeking to contain Russia than about Iran. Moscow does not fear that the United States is seeking to neutralize or erode Russiaâ€™s nuclear deterrent, however; the issue is the establishment of a physical U.S. military footprint in those two states â€” which in turn means a U.S. commitment there. Romania and Poland border the former Soviet Union, a region where Russia is regaining influence. Read more ..
America on Edge
|Susan Ferriss||December 11th 2011|
As he waited for his first disciplinary appeal hearing to begin this fall, the sixth-grade student began sobbing.
He was barely 11 years old. He had been expelled againâ€”for the rest of the school yearâ€”from his Bakersfield elementary school district, this time for alleged sexual battery and obscenity.
The offense: â€œSlapping a girl on the buttock and running away laughing,â€ according to school documents.
The boyâ€™s pro bono attorney, a retired FBI agent, was appalled.
â€œThis, on his record, puts him right up there next to the kid who raped somebody behind the backstop,â€ said Tim McKinley, who spent 26 years in the bureau, much of it locking up murderous members of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang.
For the boyâ€™s local school board in Kern County, the punishment fits the crime. It upheld a panelâ€™s initial approval of expulsion.
For McKinley, the discipline is dramatic overkill sure to prove counter-productive for both the child and the community at large.
These days such disagreements are hardly unusual. In Californiaâ€™s southern Central Valley, Kern County is at the leading edge of a contentious debate over where to draw the line in exacting school discipline. Teachers want a safe environment in which to teach. Parents want to know their children are secure and not getting bullied. And no-nonsense school districts in this conservative oil and agribusiness region are suspending and expelling students for a broad range of indiscretions. Read more ..
The Digital Edge
|Jude Freeman||December 11th 2011|
Cutting Edge Correspondent
The secret behind Googleâ€™s profit growth has been revealed in a ZDNet report. The internet giant has launched an attack on smaller businesses who gain revenue from affiliate programs.
By favoring larger brands in its search engine results, Google has increased revenue by billions but, according to ZDNet, such combative tactics are costing jobs as smaller firms that profit from affiliate marketing are displaced. While analysts and media are preoccupied by the publicity of Googleâ€™s non-revenue schemes, including G+ and driverless cars, the plan to position itself as the largest affiliate has, until now, gone undetected. Read more ..
|Jude Freeman||December 3rd 2011|
Cutting Edge correspondent
For over two years, the Federal Reserve and banking giants concealed what is now known to be the largest rescue package in US history. According to Bloomberg Markets Magazine, while bankers were painting a rosy picture of financial health to their investors, they were borrowing tens of billions in emergency loans. On December 5, 2008, the Federal Reserve bailed out the banks to the tune of a staggering $1.2 trillion. These loans came at a time when the banks could enjoy the Fedâ€™s below-market rates and, as Bloomberg reported in its January 2011 issue, this resulted in estimated income for those banks of $13 billion.
As Congressâ€”unaware of the bailoutâ€”thrashed out legislation to avoid another collapse, the rescued banks, unnamed by the Fed at the time, continued to lobby against government legislation. Bloomberg reports that 29,000 pages of Federal Reserve documents and over 21,000 central bank transactions acquired under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) give a new account of the economic crisis of 2007 to 2009. Taxpayer dollars helped maintain a structure for even greater growth for the biggest banks, their anonymity giving Congress a false picture of their health and reducing the probability the flawed regulatory system would be addressed. Read more ..
|Pete Kasperowicz||November 25th 2011|
The Department of Justice is reviewing the activity of major banks for possible antitrust law violations related to an attempt earlier this year to raise debit card fees.
The DOJ is looking to see if the financial institutions acted in concert as they tried â€” unsuccessfully â€” to impose the fees, according to a letter sent to Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) last week.
"The Department of Justice is reviewing the statements and actions by banks and their trade associations regarding possible increases in consumer fees for using debit cards," Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich wrote in a Nov. 16 letter. "Please be assured that if it finds that individuals, banks or other parties may have violated antitrust laws, the department will take appropriate action."
The DOJ letter is a response to a Welch letter from October that asked the attorney general to examine possible antitrust violations. Welch welcomed the letter as a hurdle that banks would face in raising fees on consumers, which he and many other Democrats opposed. Read more ..
The Edge of Food
|Kate Willson and Marina Walker Guevara||November 21st 2011|
|A routine catch of Bluefin Tuna on a sales floor in Japan|
Nearly 50 countries that trade in high-priced Eastern Atlantic Bluefin Tuna agreed earlier this month to transform an archaic paper-based method for tracking fish into a digitalized system that officials say will make it harder for fleets to smuggle plundered bluefin into market.
Member countries of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), the body charged with protecting the bluefin stocks threatened by overfishing, will implement the new electronic system by the time ships set out in the spring of 2013.
Last year, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) exposed the paper-based Bluefin Catch Document scheme as so full of holes as to render it virtually useless. The system was riddled with inaccuracies and inconsistencies and did little to stop the thriving black market in bluefin. Before the ICIJ report, officials had lauded the system as a successful deterrent to illegal trade â€” a way to track every fish from hook, through fattening farms and to the final buyer. Read more ..
|Jim Morris and Emma Schwartz||November 21st 2011|
|Asarco Plant (credit: Emma Schwartz/iWatch)|
As Betty Amparano sees it, the failures that all but ruined her townâ€”Hayden, Arizonaâ€”occurred on multiple levels.
A copper smelter failed to keep toxic air pollution in check. The state failed to lean on the smelterâ€™s owner, Asarco. And the federal government failed, until days ago, to override the state.
â€œThe bottom line is that the whole town is contaminated,â€ said Amparano, who was born in Hayden and has lived here most of her life.
Soil tainted by airborne metals has been excavated from hundreds of yards. In some families, generations claim to have suffered ill effects from bad air. Deaths from cancer are common. Regulators have done little; for people who live here, the sense of betrayal is profound.
On November 10, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency moved against Asarco for what the EPA describes as more than six years of illegal emissions of arsenic, lead, chromium and seven other dangerous compounds from the smelter. The agency issued an unpublicized administrative action that could result in millions of dollars in fines from Asarco for allegedly being in â€œcontinuous violationâ€ of the Clean Air Act since June 2005. The action is a slap at both the company and the stateâ€”another measure of failure. Read more ..
|Howard Berkes and Sarah Harris||November 20th 2011|
â€œThis person right here has cancer. His granddaughter has cancer.â€
Jeff Galemore pointed to house after house as he steered his white pickup through a tree-lined neighborhood in Chanute, Kansas, a town of 9,000 on the stateâ€™s southeastern prairie.
â€œThis gal has cancer,â€ the 53-year-old oilfield worker continued. â€œThe one across the street from where I live has cancer. Two houses south of me has cancer. But they repeatedly tell us thereâ€™s not a problem.â€
Three miles north and east, part-time Lutheran minister and pecan grower Ken Lott wondered why it had been so quiet on his rural Chanute farm. â€œI used to have bullfrogs out here all the time,â€ explains Lott, 71. Itâ€™s been at least seven years since heâ€™s heard the melodic croaking.
At the opposite end of town, retired railroad worker Dale Stout, 80, lamented the deaths of seven hedge trees that were almost as old as him. â€œThey planted it after the dust bowl,â€ Stout said of the sturdy row of trees used as windbreaks and natural fences. â€œYou donâ€™t just up and kill a hedge tree.â€ Read more ..
The Solyndra Scandal
|Andrew Restuccia||November 19th 2011|
Energy Secretary Steven Chu will take full responsibility for approving a $535 million loan guarantee to the now-bankrupt solar firm Solyndra during a House hearing Thursday, insisting that politics did not influence the decision.
â€œAs the Secretary of Energy, the final decisions on Solyndra were mine, and I made them with the best interest of the taxpayer in mind. I want to be clear: over the course of Solyndraâ€™s loan guarantee, I did not make any decision based on political considerations,â€ Chu will say, according to written testimony made public by the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday evening.
â€œMy decision to guarantee a loan to Solyndra was based on the analysis of experienced professionals and on the strength of the information they had available to them at the time.â€ Read more ..
|Chris Hamby and Ronnie Greene||November 19th 2011|
For a decade, hazardous emissions from a refinery regularly swept into a mostly poor, minority neighborhood in Corpus Christi known as Hillcrest, where residents complained of odors, dizziness, vomiting and a range of conditions from asthma to cancer.
In June 2007, jurors found the refineryâ€™s owner, Citgo Petroleum Corp., guilty of two felony criminal violations of the Clean Air Act for failing to control emissions of benzene, a carcinogen, from two massive, uncovered tanks at its refinery on the southern cusp of Texas.
It seemed a major victory for the federal government in its quest to punish Clean Air Act violators. The Justice Department, which prosecuted the case, and the Environmental Protection Agency, which investigated Citgo, said the verdict sent an important message. Read more ..
|Ronnie Greene and Howard Berkes||November 18th 2011|
Here in Ponca City, Oklahoma, the land of big skies and broad terrain, the air pollution flowing from local industry was so palpable residents could touch it. On their hands, on their shoes, on their pets, their clothes, their cars, their windows, their grass, their doors, their childrenâ€™s toys.
For more than a decade, residents of this city of 25,000 filled the local Department of Environmental Quality office with so many complaints they required 20 binders to hold. Those complaints, some coming from members of the Ponca Tribe of Indians living nearest the plant, blamed Continental Carbon Co., manufacturer of carbon black, a product used in tires, rubber and plastic goods. The plant manufactures carbon black from petroleum refinery residual oil, and the finished substance is a form of almost pure carbon, classified as a possible carcinogen.
Homeowners said a black dust cascaded from the plant and blanketed their lives. One mother insisted her child ride her bike, with training wheels, inside the house to avoid the carbon black. A teenager kept his prized Dallas Cowboys jersey wrapped in a plastic bag inside the house to avoid black smudges. Others complained their dogsâ€™ feet turned black walking through town; when they cleaned the dogs, the tub developed a ring of black. White tennis shoes changed color. Read more ..
|Jim Morris, Chris Hamby, and Elizabeth Lucas||November 18th 2011|
For all of her 62 years, Lois Dorsey has lived five blocks from a mass of petrochemical plants in Baton Rouge. She worries about the health of people in her life: A 15-year-old granddaughter, recovering from bone cancer. A 59-year-old sister, a nonsmoker, felled by lung cancer. Neighbors with asthma and cancer.
She's complained to the government about powerful odors and occasional, window-rattling explosionsâ€”to no avail, she says. Pollution from the plantsâ€”including benzene and nickel, both human carcinogens, and hydrochloric acid, a lung irritantâ€”continues.
â€œIf anything," said Dorsey, herself a uterine cancer survivor, "itâ€™s gotten worse."
Americans might expect the government to protect them from unsafe air. That hasnâ€™t happened. Insidious forms of toxic air pollutionâ€”deemed so harmful to human health that a Democratic Congress and a Republican president sought to bring emissions under control more than two decades agoâ€”persist in hundreds of communities across the United States, an investigation shows. Read more ..
The Edge of Terrorism
|Avi Jorich||November 2nd 2011|
|Mahmoud Reza Khavari |
As details of the Iranian terror plot to blow up the Saudi Embassy in Washington DC become clearer, the U.S. and other Western allies will look to punish Iran. One of the most powerful ways to influence Iran is through the banking sector. Through an interesting turn of events, Canada is in a position to exert significant financial leverage through one individual in particular.
One of the world's most important international bankers is currently residing in Toronto after fleeing his country of origin. Mahmoud Reza Khavari was until recently the head of Iran's Bank Melli, an institution notorious for assisting in Iran's proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and financing of terrorism. Canadian authorities have yet to take action against Mr. Khavari, who represents a potential gold mine of information regarding how Iranian banks raise and move money around the globe. Read more ..
Honduras on Edge
|Olga Imbaquingo & Gabriela Acosta||October 31st 2011|
Council on Hemispheric Affairs
As always, but with an unusual quota of aggression since 2010, freedom of speech and the personal security of Honduran journalists are under permanent attack from groups, gangs, and individuals who launch their strikes under a cloak of anonymity. The journalist Medardo Flores, a relentless supporter of former President Manuel Zelaya, is the latest victim of the wave of violence directed toward members of the Honduran working press. With all the disrespect attributable to the government of Porfirio Lobo, as demonstrated here, it is not unreasonable to presume that the perpetrators, along with their underlying political motives, want to silence such journalists at any cost.
â€œPresident Lobo, who is killing the journalists?â€ is the question that is being raised by various national and international bodies, though they are only answered with silence and impunity. This prolonged state of deeply disturbing uncertainty has all but eliminated freedom of expression and investigative journalism in the country, two concepts that Hondurans badly need to protect their fragile, budding democracy and extremely delicate human rights situation. The dark forces behind this wave of menacing injustice comprise a broad collection of foreboding tactics ranging from common violence to political violence to the activities of drug cartels, which have silenced journalists reporting on the subject of corruption and other crimes related to narco-trafficking out of fear of losing their lives. Read more ..
|Ronnie Greene, Matthew Mosk, and Brian Ross||October 24th 2011|
|Fisker Karma; Tesla Model S|
Standing in a shuttered General Motors plant in Wilmington, Del., Vice President Joe Biden heralded a half-billion-dollar Department of Energy loan that would transform the idled site into a production line for electric cars.
â€œFolks, weâ€™re making a bet,â€ Biden said on Oct. 27, 2009. â€œWeâ€™re making a bet in the future, weâ€™re making a bet in the American people, weâ€™re making a bet in the market, weâ€™re making a bet in innovation.â€
That loan is part of a $1 billion bet the Energy Department has made on two politically connected California electric carmakers producing sportyâ€”and priceyâ€”cutting-edge autos. One is Fisker Automotive, the project heralded by Biden and backed by a powerhouse venture capital firm whose partners include former Vice President Al Gore and a campaign donor to President Obama. The other is Tesla Motors, whose prime backers include a major fundraiser for Obama and Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Read more ..
The Solyndra Scandal
|Ronnie Greene and Matthew Mosk||October 12th 2011|
An elite Obama fundraiser hired to help oversee the administrationâ€™s energy loan program pushed and prodded career Energy Department officials to move faster in approving a loan guarantee for Solyndra, even as his wifeâ€™s law firm was representing the California solar company, according to internal emails made public late Friday, October 7.
â€œHow hard is this? What is he waiting for?â€ Steven J. Spinner, who worked in the Obama administrationâ€™s energy loan guarantee program, wrote in August 2009. â€œI have OVP [the Office of the Vice President] and WH [the White House] breathing down my neck on this.â€ Spinner, a high-tech consultant and energy investor who raised at least $500,000 for Obamaâ€™s campaign, joined the DOE in April 2009. Read more ..
Global Economy on Edge
|Kate Willson, Mar Cabra, and Marcos Garcia Rey||October 5th 2011|
Decades of overfishing have left Europeâ€™s fish stocks in peril and its fishermen in poverty. Itâ€™s an impasse paid for by EU taxpayers. Yet a proposed revision of the EUâ€™s fishing law, hailed as a sweeping reform, is rapidly losing momentum.
A look at the industryâ€™s biggest playerâ€”Spainâ€”shows what officials are up against. Billions of euros in subsidies built its bloated fleet and propped up a money-losing industry. All the while companies systematically flout the rules while officials overlook fraud and continue to fund offenders, an ICIJ investigation has found.
â€œSpain has earned its bad reputation,â€ said Ernesto Penas Lado, director of policy and enforcement at the European Commissionâ€™s Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries. â€œThe problem is others donâ€™t have the reputation and deserve it just as much.â€ Read more ..
The Race for Solar
|Andrew Restuccia ||October 3rd 2011|
|President Obama and Solyndra officials|
Administration officials raised concerns about a 2010 visit by President Obama to a Solyndra manufacturing plant in California, arguing that the visit would embarrass the White House if the company ultimately went bankrupt, emails released Monday show.
In the days before Obama visited the now-bankrupt solar company's facility on May 25, 2010, one OMB official wrote an email to a colleague that said, â€œHope doesnâ€™t default before then.â€ Another official said, â€œI am increasingly worried that this visit could prove embarrassing to the Administration in the not too distant future, given 1) what we just heard today from DOE that Solyndra is delaying their IPO at least until the end of the year, and 2) what the auditors said about Solyndra making it through the year absent new financing.â€ Solyndra canceled plans to go public in June of 2010. Read more ..
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