Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

July 21, 2009



NY Times - The anemic economy decimated state tax collections during the first three months of the year, according to a report by the Rockefeller Institute of Government. The drop in revenues was the steepest in the 46 years that quarterly data has been available. . . Over all, the report found that state tax collections dropped 11.7 percent in the first three months of 2009, compared with the same period last year. After adjusting for inflation, new changes in tax rates and other anomalies, the report found that tax revenues had declined in 47 of the 50 states in the quarter.

Matt Taibbi, Trueslant - So what's wrong with Goldman posting $3.44 billion in second-quarter profits, what's wrong with the company so far earmarking $11.4 billion in compensation for its employees? What's wrong is that this is not free-market earnings but an almost pure state subsidy.

Last year, when Hank Paulson told us all that the planet would explode if we didn't fork over a gazillion dollars to Wall Street immediately, the entire rationale not only for TARP but for the whole galaxy of lesser-known state crutches and safety nets quietly ushered in later on was that Wall Street, once rescued, would pump money back into the economy, create jobs, and initiate a widespread recovery. This, we were told, was the reason we needed to pilfer massive amounts of middle-class tax revenue and hand it over to the same guys who had just blown up the financial world. We'd save their asses, they'd save ours. That was the deal.

It turned out not to happen that way. We constructed this massive bailout infrastructure, and instead of pumping that free money back into the economy, the banks instead simply hoarded it and ate it on the spot, converting it into bonuses. So what does this Goldman profit number mean? This is the final evidence that the bailouts were a political decision to use the power of the state to redirect society's resources upward, on a grand scale. It was a selective rescue of a small group of chortling jerks who must be laughing all the way to the Hamptons every weekend about how they fleeced all of us at the very moment the game should have been up for all of them. . .

Washington Post - The White House announced that, as expected, Robert D. Hormats, vice chairman of Goldman Sachs (International) and formerly deputy U.S. trade representative, has been tapped to be undersecretary of state for economic, energy and agricultural affairs. He was also assistant secretary of state for economic and business affairs in the Reagan administration, deputy assistant secretary of state in the Carter administration and a senior international economic affairs aide on Nixon's National Security Council.

Washington Post - Eighteen highway rest stops in Virginia were scheduled to shut down, the latest step in the state's struggle to close a $2.6 billion shortfall in transportation revenues.

Kennebec Journal, - In a sign of the economic times, the Franklin County, Maine, Children's Task Force has given its last welcome-baby bag at Franklin Memorial Hospital. For 20 years, all first-time parents at Franklin Memorial received a handmade diaper-bag tote filled with baby essentials and parenting information. But with a drop in state and private funds, the Task Force has no money left to provide the gifts. The totes were sewn by Belle Foss, of Temple, using donated material. They were packed with a baby quilt made by local quilters, diapers, baby toiletries, pacifiers, socks, washcloth, receiving blanket and a new outfit. In the past, these items were donated -- but now, even the quilters have stopped providing their cozy blankets.

Wall Street Journal - During the boom years, Las Vegas wasn't just a place where gamblers could hit the jackpot, but where hard-working hotel maids and cocktail waitresses could, too. The city offered something almost no other place in America did: upward mobility for the working class.

The recession has jolted Las Vegas in a fundamental way. Like other job-creating cities in the Sunbelt, Las Vegas saw its population, income levels and housing prices surge over the past decade. And like those cities -- including Phoenix, Orlando and San Diego -- it's been battered in the bust.

But by many measures, Las Vegas's rise and fall has been more dramatic than most. Last year, Clark County's population declined for the first time in more than two decades. More than 10,000 people left Las Vegas between July 2007 and July 2008, according to Keith Schwer, director for the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. The unemployment rate in the metropolitan area tripled from 4% in May 2007 to just over 12.3% in June 2009, higher than the national rate of 9.5%. And after the median price of existing homes rose by 122% in sales between 2000 and 2006 -- more than double the national rise of 49% -- sale prices fell by 30% between last year and this year.

The big bet that fueled Las Vegas's growth for so long is the same one that's now going bad: tourism. Vegas expanded into the lucrative market for business meetings and conventions, building massive exhibition halls and new hotels and casinos. Construction jobs multiplied and the housing market bubbled over. Now that tourism and business travel have collapsed, Vegas has little else to cushion the blow.

Washington Post - Cash-strapped states are increasingly turning to alternative sentencing methods and to streamlined probation and parole as a way to keep low-level offenders out of prison and in their communities.
The alternative sentencing methods have been in limited use for years, often with little funding and less publicity. But recently they have gained in popularity across the country and have attracted interest from lawmakers. The measures include drug courts, which allow low-level drug offenders to avoid prison time through treatment and intense, personal, weekly intervention by a judge, and at least 500 courts for people arrested for driving while intoxicated. Drivers avoid jail by attending regular alcohol-treatment classes and by submitting to random tests. States have also begun to shorten probation and to reduce the number of people sent to prison for technical violations, such as missing appointments. Some states are also more readily granting parole to prisoners as they become eligible, reversing a trend that kept even parole-eligible inmates locked up longer.


Wall Street Journal - Executives and other highly compensated employees now receive more than one-third of all pay in the U.S., according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Social Security Administration data . . . Highly paid employees received nearly $2.1 trillion of the $6.4 trillion in total U.S. pay in 2007, the latest figures available. The compensation numbers don't include incentive stock options, unexercised stock options, unvested restricted


Lost in the debate about gay marriage is that it is overwhelmingly a freedom of religion issue. While the state may have the right to define marriage, the opposition to gays being included comes almost entirely from certain religious groups. For example, 44% of the contributions to overturn Maine's gay marriage provision comes from the Portland Catholic dicese and the Knights of Columbus. Another 9% comes from the rightwing religious group, Focus on Family. Further, the arguments against gay marriage are almost exclusively those of Catholic or fundamentalist Christian religions. Thus for any state - or the federal government - to ban gay marriage is to establish a hierarchy of religions in this country, which is unconstitutional. For example, a gay marriage ban officially places the Catholic Church above Unitarians or fundamentalist Christianity over Quakerism. That's against the law.

While waiting for a lawyer to take on that case, there are some other legal problems with gay marriage. . . Boston Globe: Episcopal bishops in New England and Iowa, the only parts of the nation where same-sex marriage is legal, are preparing for a wave of requests . . . In interviews, none of several bishops interviewed said they were immediately prepared to allow priests to officiate at same-sex weddings, which remain prohibited by the canons of the Episcopal Church. But, citing the denomination's decision Friday to allow bishops in states where same-sex marriage is legal to "provide generous pastoral response'' to same-sex couples, the bishops indicated that they are looking for ways to allow priests to at least celebrate, if not perform, gay nuptials in church. "The problem is the prayer book says that marriage must conform to the laws of the state and the canons of the church, but if we respond to the laws of the state, we are in violation of the canons of the church,'' said Bishop Stephen T. Lane of Maine, where the situation is further complicated by a possible referendum to overturn same-sex marriage. "We're trying to respond pastorally, but not to get so far beyond the bounds of what the church understands that our clergy are just sort of hanging out there.'' Lane also said bishops of New England, where same-sex marriage has been approved in every state but Rhode Island, are hoping to reach a common plan, because "we don't want people running back and forth between the New England states.''


Washington Post - Violent crime has plummeted in the Washington area and in major cities across the country, a trend criminologists describe as baffling and unexpected. The District, New York and Los Angeles are on track for fewer killings this year than in any other year in at least four decades. Boston, San Francisco, Minneapolis and other cities are also seeing notable reductions in homicides. "Experts did not see this coming at all," said Andrew Karmen, a criminologist and professor of sociology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. In the District and Prince George's County, homicides are down about 17 percent this year. . .




Guardian, UK - The government announced the formal go-ahead for four environmentally friendly eco-towns across England. . . The ecotown project is intended to meet housing needs and tackle climate change, with as many as 10 environmentally friendly settlements built by 2020 What makes an eco-town: community heat sources, charging points for electric cars . . . all homes within 10 minutes walk of frequent public transport and everyday services . . . parks, playgrounds and gardens to make up 40% of towns . . . zero carbon buildings including shops, restaurants and schools . . . car journeys to make up less than half of all journeys . . . homes fitted with smart meters plus solar and wind generation . . . residents can sell surplus energy back to the grid



Register Guard - Oregon is about to become the first Western state to permit its farmers to grow industrial hemp. But there are a couple problems to be confronted before Oregon becomes a Hemptopia by the Pacific: It's still an illegal crop, according to the federal government. . . A spokesman for Gov. Ted Kulongoski said he plans to sign Oregon's new hemp legislation, Senate Bill 676, into law. When that happens, Oregon will become the seventh state to allow farmers to grow hemp. And it will be the only one in the continental United States west of the Rockies. Hawaii's governor signed a similar law this month, and Maine's governor did the same in June.

CBS - Over the last several years, without many people realizing it, the U.S. government has changed the focus of its anti-drug efforts, deemphasizing marijuana in favor of prescription drugs. A CBS News survey of government and nonprofit anti-drug groups has found a retreat from anti-marijuana campaigns over the past several years as prescription and over the counter drug abuse has grown amongst teens. In fact, the Partnership for a Drug Free America, the nation's largest creator of anti-drug messages, hasn't produced a single anti-marijuana public service advertisement since 2005. The change comes as a result of the decline in marijuana use amongst teens, and growing worry over the abuse of prescription drugs. Marijuana use has been declining for 10 years and past-month use is down 25 percent since 2001 according to the largest tracking study in the U.S., "Monitoring the Future" by the University of Michigan. Meanwhile prescription drug abuse has held steady over the past five years according to the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, with nearly one in five teens (19 percent) abusing prescription medications to get high.

Science Daily - Injections of THC, the active principle of cannabis, eliminate dependence on opiates (morphine, heroin) in rats deprived of their mothers at birth. The findings could lead to therapeutic alternatives to existing substitution treatments.


Washington Times - For more than a month, two U.S. citizens who worked for contractors in Iraq were held in prison with no formal charges against them. They were pressed to sign an Iraqi government statement but refused, their attorneys say, and waited 43 days for their day in court before being released on bond after a hearing in Iraq's Central Criminal Court over the weekend. Yet their attorneys say they still do not know specifically why they were detained. The men weren't being held by Iraqi authorities but rather by the FBI in a U.S. military prison, prompting allegations from their attorneys that American due-process laws weren't being followed. "When American citizens are held by American authorities, the Constitution and Bill of Rights all apply regardless of the technical circumstances," said Tim Haake, a former two-star Army general and lawyer who is helping to represent the two detained men, Micah Milligan and Jason Jones.


USA Today
- The number of Hispanic workers who die on the job has risen, even as the overall number of workplace deaths has declined, according to federal statistics. Hispanic worker deaths increased from 533 in 1992 to 937 in 2007 - a 76% jump. In the same period, total fatalities in all jobs nationwide fell from 6,217 to 5,657, according to the data. The 2007 tally, the latest available from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, followed a record 990 Hispanic deaths in 2006.


Fox News - The typical driver in Sioux Falls will go 13.5 years between collisions; that's more than two and a half times as long as the 5.1 years for Washington, D.C. drivers. The results are part of Allstate's fifth annual "America's Most Improved Driving City" report, which ranks the 200 largest U.S. cities based on collision frequency. Among the most-improved cities were Alexandria, Virginia; Lexington-Fayette, Kentucky; and Arlington, Texas. . . The Safest Driving Top Ten: 1. Sioux Falls, SD 2. Fort Collins, CO 3. Chattanooga, TN 4. Cedar Rapids, IA 5. Knoxville, TN 6. Fort Wayne, IN 7. Lexington-Fayette, KY 8. Eugene, OR 9. Boise, ID 10. Colorado Springs, CO. . . Bottom of the List - Riskiest Driving Cities: 1. Washington, D.C. 2. Baltimore, MD 3. Glendale, CA 4. Hartford, CT 5. Newark, NJ 6. Philadelphia, PA 7. Elizabeth, NJ 8. Providence, RI 9. San Francisco, CA 10. Los Angeles, CA


Blogger robbie said...

Where did CBS get these marijuana decline numbers? I recently read that more school-age kids are smoking pot than cigarettes. That doesn't necessarily mitigate an overall decline, but CBS is like any other mainstream media outlet: disseminating disinformation about the drug war.

July 22, 2009 7:25 AM  

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