Tuesday, October 14, 2008

BREVITAS

CRASH TALK

Steve Lohr, International Herald Tribune -
If the U.S. government moves ahead with a plan to take ownership stakes in American banks, as seems likely, it would be an exceptional step - but not an unprecedented one. . . In 1917, the government seized the railroads to make sure goods, armaments and troops moved smoothly in the interests of national defense during World War I. Bondholders and stockholders were compensated, and railroads were returned to private ownership in 1920, after the war ended.

During World War II, Washington seized dozens of companies including railroads, coal mines and, briefly, the Montgomery Ward department store chain. In 1952, President Harry Truman seized 88 steel mills across the country, asserting that unyielding owners were determined to provoke an industry-wide strike that would cripple the Korean War effort. That forced nationalization did not last long, since the Supreme Court ruled the action an unconstitutional abuse of presidential power.

In banking, the U.S. government stepped in to take an 80 percent stake in the Continental Illinois National Bank and Trust in 1984. Continental Illinois failed in part because of bad oil-patch loans in Oklahoma and Texas. As one of the country's top 10 banks, Continental Illinois was deemed "too big to fail" by regulators, who feared wider turmoil in the financial markets. Continental was sold to Bank of America in 1994.

Yet the nearest precedent for the plan the Treasury is weighing, finance experts say, is the investments made by the Reconstruction Finance Corporation in the 1930s. The agency, established in 1932, not only made loans to distressed banks but also bought stock in 6,000 banks, at a total cost of about $3 billion, said Richard Sylla, an economist and financial historian at the Stern School of Business at New York University. . . When the economy eventually stabilized, the government sold the stock to private investors or the banks themselves.

BBC -
Concern about the economy is keeping about half of people in the UK awake at night, an online poll suggests. Nearly half of the 1,000 men and women surveyed by NetDoctor said they were sleeping worse now than a year ago. One-fifth of them are regularly getting fewer than five hours sleep a night and a quarter wake up more than three times a night, the survey suggests. Stress was cited as a major factor, with two-thirds blaming money and work worries for their insomnia. Snoring was also a contributing factor, with 30% complaining that their partner's snoring keeps them awake at night.

OUTLYING PRECINCTS

McCain
is only leading by 8 points in his home state according to a poll by Arizona State University. . . And an initiative that would only recognize hetero marriages leads by just 7.

NY Times
- After favoring Republicans by a ratio of more than two to one for most of the last decade, pharmaceutical companies and others in the health care industry are now splitting their contributions evenly between the two major parties, campaign finance reports show. Lobbyists and executives in the industry say the swing reflects the fact that Democrats control both houses of Congress, are expected to increase their majorities and may win the White House, giving them a dominant voice on health policy

WATCHING THE COUNT

Progress Report -
In early October, ACORN announced that it had registered 1.3 million new voters for the November election. Seizing on reports of apparently fraudulent voter registrations in some states, conservatives began claiming that the purpose of ACORN is to commit "voter fraud." However, all that was found during a raid of ACORN's office in Nevada was apparently fraudulent voter registration forms, which do not constitute voter fraud. "It's not voter fraud unless someone shows up at the voting booth on election day and tries to pass himself off as 'Tony Romo.'" And who would try to do that?" wrote Rep. Jesse Jackson (D-IL). As New York University's Brennan Center for Justice noted, "There are no reports that we have discovered of votes actually cast in the names of [false] registrants." Under most state laws, in fact, voter registration organizations like ACORN are required to turn in all the forms they receive, even the suspicious ones. Furthermore, as Brad Friedman pointed out in the Guardian, "If [ACORN] can't authenticate the registration, or it's incomplete or questionable in other ways, they flag that form as problematic. . . In almost every case where you've heard about fraud by Acorn, it's because Acorn itself notified officials about the fraud that's been perpetrated on them by rogue canvassers."

Cleveland Plain Dealer - Teenager Freddie Johnson said he was offered smokes and dollar bills to fill out voter registration cards. And now the Cuyahoga County Elections Board has 73 cards with Johnson's name on them. Johnson and another prolific registrant were subpoenaed to testify at a meeting as the Elections Board continued its look at possible fraud by ACORN. . . Johnson, 19, said he mostly was trying to help ACORN workers who begged him to sign up because they needed to keep their jobs. "They'd come up with a sob story why they needed the signature," said Johnson, of Garfield Heights. ACORN leaders have acknowledged that workers paid by the hour were given quotas to fill. . . A second person to testify, Christopher Barkley, 33, said ACORN workers pestered him while they tried to gather signatures. Barkley, of Cleveland, said he was homeless and reading a book on Public Square when he signed some of the 13 cards that contain his name. He filled out cards - with his mother's house or workplace as the address - to help workers stay employed. "Me being a kind-hearted person, I said 'Yeah,' " Barkley recalled.

ECO CLIPS

Cornucopia Institute
- Groups representing organic farmers and their customers are calling on consumers to help save the organic industry by exclusively patronizing dairies, and other brands, that uphold the spirit and letter of the federal organic law. They claim the acquisition of major brands by corporate agribusiness, and their dependence on factory farms, threatens to force families off the land and deprive consumers of the superior nutritional food they think they are paying for. . . The Wisconsin-based Cornucopia Institute announced that it has filed formal legal complaints, seeking USDA enforcement, against two more operators of giant industrial dairies. The farm policy research group claims they are "masquerading as organic. . . For eight years, participants in the organic community - farmers, consumers, retailers, and other stakeholders - have fought the industrialization of organic milk by giant corporations and factory farms milking as many as 10,000 animals. Although the National Organic Standards Board, the expert panel set up by Congress to advise the Secretary of Agriculture, has voted to crack down on industry scofflaws five times since 2000, Bush administration officials have refused to act.

DRUG BUSTS

Stateline -
Ballot questions next month will give voters in California, Massachusetts and Michigan a chance to revisit their states' policies on marijuana. . . In California and Massachusetts, voters will decide Nov. 4 whether to join 10 other states that have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana, . . . Instead of facing arrest and time behind bars, those caught with up to an ounce of marijuana would be subject to civil fines of $100 or less - similar to those paid for traffic violations. In Michigan, voters could make the state the first in the Great Lakes region to authorize medical marijuana.

ARTS & CULTURE

Bookstacks Fitz -
Last year, the Chicago Tribune kicked its stand-alone book review tabloid section -- which was anorexic but still alive -- out of the Sunday paper to the little-read Saturday edition, in a city where the first Sunday editions hit the streets before high noon. This weekend, the Trib killed the books tab altogether, replacing it with a broadsheet section that's called "books & media," but really is five pages -- for now, anyway -- in the Saturday entertainment section that includes comics, movie theater ads, and the weather page. Once upon a time metro newspapers of even medium ambition all had thriving book review sections. But with the downsizing in Chicago, the only weekly stand-alone book review supplements remaining, so far as I know, are The Washington Post's "Book World" and the granddaddy of them all, The New York Times Book Review.

CORPORADOS

In a further
degradation of the American government, George Bush has signed a bill approved by the Democratic Congress that essentially gives the RIAA and MPAA a role at the White House similar to that of the Defense Secretary and the Department of Housing & Urban Development. Reports CNET: "The Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property Act establishes within the executive branch the position of Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, who will be appointed by the president. The law also steepens penalties for intellectual property infringement and increases resources for the Justice Department to coordinate for federal and state efforts against counterfeiting and piracy. The PRO-IP Act passed unanimously in the Senate last month and received strong bipartisan support in the House."

FURTHERMORE . . .

Fark headline of the day - 15 newspapers endorse Obama, none for McCain. Sarah Palin cancels her subscriptions, still has 800 papers to read every day.

GALLERY: THE GOLDEN AGE OF TRAINS IN BLACK AND WHITE

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