And the Debt Bomb Ticks On
With his approval rating moving up to 50 percent and higher in some polls, the pundits are all agreed. President Obama has turned the corner. He is now the winter-book favorite in 2012.
How, two months after his "shellacking," did he do it?
First, by taking the wheel from Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, cutting a deal to extend the Bush tax cuts, bringing aboard Bill Daley, and separating himself from the demonizers of Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck as moral accomplices in the Tucson massacre.
Second, Obama has been the beneficiary of bullish news.
Corporate profits are coming in higher than expected. The stock market has surged. Nine of 10 economists surveyed by USA Today are more positive about the economy than they were three months ago. The ratio of businesses that anticipate new hires over businesses that anticipate new layoffs has not been better in a decade.
There is a feeling that at last we are coming out of the Great Recession.
But has the debt bomb really been defused?
On Jan. 20, The New York Times had two front-page stories that ought to concentrate the mind.
"A Path is Sought for States to Escape Their Debt Burdens," was the headline over the first, which reported that bankruptcy lawyers were being consulted by congressional aides on how states like California might go into Chapter 9, "leaving investors in state bonds ... possibly ending at the back of the line as unsecured creditors."
Illinois, the story said, might, with federal help, do what GM did.
But GM bondholders were wiped out, as some of us know all too well.
Should states win the right to seek bankruptcy protection against their state bondholders, the $3 trillion municipal bond market, which has lately been taking hits, could crater.
The second Times story wrote of a rebellion in the House Republican Study Committee by conservatives and Tea Partiers who think the leadership is being too timid in cutting this year's budget.
Rep. Paul Ryan & Co. want to cut $60 billion to $80 billion. But, says, Mick Mulvaney, a freshman from South Carolina, "We want more." These conservatives want $100 billion cut from discretionary programs.
Among their ideas: a five-year freeze on federal salaries, a 15 percent cut in federal employees, a rollback to 2006 spending levels, $300 billion in long-term funding cuts from such programs as foreign aid, Amtrak, public broadcasting and the Washington, D.C., subway system.
As the Tea Partiers' proposed cuts do not touch the military, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security or interest on the debt, the biggest budget items, slashes in transportation, education, domestic security, law enforcement and medical research, said the Times, "would be nothing short of drastic."
Undeniably. Yet, consider. The federal deficit for the fiscal year 2011, which ends Sept. 30, is projected at between $1,200 billion and $1,500 billion.
Thus, the $100 billion in cuts the firebrands are pushing, and few think they will get, add up at best to 8 percent of the deficit and 2.5 percent of the $3.87 trillion budget Obama proposed.
Thus, at best, this Congress will only slightly reduce the rate of speed at which we are heading toward a debt default.
The last few days have brought other news bearing on the debt bomb hanging over the Western world.
The Irish, upon whom austerity has been imposed as a condition of an EU bailout, saw their government fall this weekend. Elections are in March, and the ruling Fianna Fail, at 13 percent approval, is expecting a wipeout.
Will the Irish accept endless austerity, or vote for populists who will default and let EU governments and banks take the hit?
Should Ireland default, she will not be the last to do so.
Also this weekend, the European Central Bank chief warned that inflation in the global economy -- the rising prices for oil, food, minerals and precious metals -- may mandate a rise in interest rates. That would be bad news for bondholders and governments everywhere, including our deeply indebted states that now borrow to cover operating costs.
Then there is the crisis in the housing market that continues to deepen.
"All previous postwar recoveries," writes Mort Zuckerman, "have been able to depend on a growing U.S. housing market."
But 8 million homes are today in foreclosure or their owners are delinquent in their mortgage payments. Some 5.5 million are occupied by families whose mortgages are at least 20 percent higher than the value of the property, making them prime candidates for foreclosure.
This weekend, Bank of America reported fourth-quarter losses of $1.6 billion and a 2010 yearly loss of $3.6 billion. Its credit card unit took a $10 billion write-down, and its home loan business is still reeling from the fallout of the exploded housing bubble.
Now, facing trillion-dollar deficits as far as the eye can see, House Republicans are balking at agreeing to raise the debit limit of $14.3 trillion, though the national debt just crossed the $14 trillion mark.
Are the happy days really here again?
CAIRO, EGYPT—They banged rocks on metal barricades that pinned them to the sidewalk. They pounded drums. And if that wasn’t enough, they blew whistles with all the wind they had left. (A video of the protest is here.)
The ruckus on a steamy Cairo afternoon (see video beow) was absolutely deafening in a place where such disorder was taboo and quite dangerous only a few years ago. But here were dozens of straggly, sweaty workers from a factory outside of Cairo, sleeping nightly on the sidewalk in front of one of the houses of the Egyptian parliament and daily raising a noisy, eye-catching hell along one of the Cairo’s busiest downtown streets.
They were just one of the many groups of workers who have taken to Egypt’s streets in the last few years, creating a wave that has swept up private workers, public employees and workers in the government’s vast warehouse of state-owned industries.
The surge is stunning because it openly defies Egypt’s traditional union leadership, which is closely linked to the government and pokes its fingers in the face of a security-minded regime that has led the country for the last 29 years under emergency powers.
It is estimated that over 2 million workers have taken part in over 3,300 factory occupations, strikes, demonstrations or other forms of protest since 2004.
For Egypt’s politics, for the country’s workers and for parts of the Arab world, where unions are neither free nor even exist, what’s been happening in downtown Cairo has been more than riveting.
Joel Beinin, a Stanford University professor, describes it as “the largest modern labor movement in Egypt and the largest social movement in the Arab world since World War II.” But for the average Egyptian it’s a guessing game whether it will have any lasting effects or vanish with a handful of deals.
What has brought the workers’ blood to a boil is less of a mystery.
A much-detailed report released earlier this year by the AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center on the roots of the unrest points to the steady growth in unemployment for average workers and deteriorating conditions for those struggling by on low wages. Beinin, a leading expert on Egyptian labor, was the major writer.
Life is, indeed, dire for some Egyptians.
Unchanged since 1984, the minimum wage in Egypt today is about $7 a month. Many workers earn more than that, but just barely, according to Egyptian news reports. The average government worker, for example, earns about $70 a month, said al Ahram, a government-owned newspaper.
Despite economic gains and shimmering suburbs on Cairo’s edges, poverty haunts Egypt.
An estimated 40 percent of the 80 million Egyptians earn less than $2 a day, which puts them under the international standard for poverty. But it is not just their low wages that has angered Egyptian workers. Many of the demonstrations in the last few years have involved workers angry about broken promises from their bosses. So, too, after the government stepped up its privatization of state-owned businesses several years ago, workers’ complaints took off.
Rather than boosting workers’ pay and conditions, privatization, according to the Solidarity Center report, has brought less job security, longer hours and lower social standards for the workers.
The complaint from the workers from the Amonsito textile factory, who were sleeping in front of the parliament, was that the owner of their factory had fled the country due to financial problems and left the factory and them to flounder.
The bank that took over the plant eventually shut it, leaving the workers to rely on occasional payments from the Ministry of Manpower and Immigration, according to the independent newspaper al Masry al Youm.
Driven to financial desperation, the workers had camped outside of the parliament several months ago, and that led to a deal from the bank to make one-time factory closing payments to the factory’s 1,700 workers. But when the payments were not forthcoming, the workers returned to the sidewalk.
“We are not going to fight or make trouble. We are just going to stay here until the government implements the agreement to pay us the money,” vowed Khaled el Shishawy.
A short, muscular man in his 40s with 20 years at the factory, he patrolled the line-up of demonstrators as passengers in hundreds of cars stalled in the rush hour traffic stared at them and at the dozens of police and security forces lined up facing the workers.
The workers didn’t want their closing money, but they had no choice since there are no other jobs for them, el Shishawy said. “We call this ‘early death money,’” he explained over the din. “The older people will not be able to find work again but the younger ones will try. But even they can’t find work.”
They weren’t the only protesters on the street. Nearby was a group of disabled complaining about the lack attention to their needs. And there was a father protesting inadequate education for his children.
To keep their demonstration going, the workers were taking shifts on the street. That allowed them to go home occasionally to scrounge for money for the families. In the meanwhile, they experimented with new ways to catch the attention of the Egyptian news media. Some days they tore their shirts to show their poverty. Some days they held fake funerals.
And when the heat became unbearable, they prayed en masse in the early mornings.
To Hossam el Hamalaway, a journalist and photographer who has documented Egypt’s labor unrest, the “strikes are important because Egypt is going through an era of transition.” Spurred by the daring shown by political demonstrators, the workers “got courage,” he said.
Indeed, a turning point came in December 2007, labor experts say, when workers representing 3,000 municipal real estate tax collectors occupied a Cairo street in front of a government Ministry building. Their 11-day long protest netted an agreement for a hefty salary increase.
Plus they were able to form the first independent union since the Egyptian Trade Union Federation was created a half century earlier. But the Amonsito workers’ determination not to budge crumbled in minutes near the end of May.
In a sudden show of force, government security forces cleaned them and any other protesting workers off the streets in front of the parliament. Officials said they were reacting to threats from the Amonsito workers, and ordered the security forces to deal leniently with the demonstrators, according to al Ahram.
In contrast, the workers complained that the security forces had bludgeoned them without reason, leaving several bruised and battered, according to an article by the Egypt Daily News.
Not long afterward, a handful of the Amonsito workers gathered in a rundown building in another part of Cairo along with others who share their workplace woes.
It didn’t matter that they had been swept off the street, confidently explained el Shishawy. His fellow workers would take up their protests outside other government buildings in Cairo, he said.
What the worker activists mostly wanted to talk about was how to get their word out to workers around the world. They didn’t think anyone had heard about their struggles.
And because they are dissidents, trying to form independent unions outside of the government-controlled organizations, they said they had no idea how to reach beyond Egypt. “We are not afraid,” said one middle-aged factory worker. “But we don’t know who to talk to.”
Abel Kader Nada, a veteran worker and an official in the newly formed union for real estate tax collectors, was there to brainstorm with the others about a joint strategy.
Until his fellow workers protested, he said he had never been involved in union activities. But that came to an end with their protest. And their luck in landing handsome wage increases, he added, wasn’t the only reason for the change of mind that he and others experienced.
“It gave us courage,” he explained.
If anyone tells you that the US Dollar is not in trouble, I can prove it. How? Read this story from the Associated Press Regarding a new 1.5 Billion Dollar offering for FaceBook. US Investors are not included. What do you think of that?
NEW YORK - Goldman Sachs has prohibited US investors from participating in a private offering expected to raise up to $US1.5 billion for social networking site Facebook, citing widespread media coverage that could run afoul of securities guidelines.
The investment bank said on Monday it had decided to restrict the fund to prospective shareholders in Asia and Europe because it determined that the news coverage could be inconsistent with the laws that govern private placements.
In a statement, Goldman Sachs said it made the decision on its own and "believes this is the most prudent path to take."
Although Goldman Sachs did not specify which laws it was concerned about, the Securities and Exchange Commission has guidelines that regulate the amount of solicitation and publicity that is allowed in connection with a private placement.
The development comes after Goldman Sachs and a Russian investor invested $500 million in the privately held social networking site earlier this month. The bank set up the offshore fund, which initially was to have been available to investors in the United States.
Goldman Sachs has declined to specify when the offering may close. It is expected to raise as much as $1.5 billion for the privately held Facebook, the world's largest internet social network.
The Wall Street Journal, which reported the decision to exclude US clients from the private offering on Monday, said about $7 billion in orders have been received, citing a person who was familiar with the situation who was not identified.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, 26, has been in no hurry to take the company public, partly because he hoped to preserve a free-wheeling culture.
Link to source: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/technology/news/article.cfm?c_id=5&objectid=10700389
Fluoride in drinking water — credited with dramatically cutting cavities and tooth decay — may now be too much of a good thing. It's causing spots on some kids' teeth.
A reported increase in the spotting problem is one reason the federal government will announce Friday it plans to lower the recommended limit for fluoride in water supplies — the first such change in nearly 50 years.
About 2 out of 5 adolescents have tooth streaking or spottiness because of too much fluoride, a surprising government study found recently. In some extreme cases, teeth can even be pitted by the mineral — though many cases are so mild only dentists notice it.
Health officials note that most communities have fluoride in their water supplies, and toothpaste has it too. Some kids are even given fluoride supplements.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is announcing a proposal to change the recommended fluoride level to 0.7 milligrams per liter of water. And the Environmental Protection Agency will review whether the maximum cutoff of 4 milligrams per liter is too high.
The standard since 1962 has been a range of 0.7 to 1.2 milligrams per liter.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the splotchy tooth condition, fluorosis, is unexpectedly common in kids ages 12 through 15. And it appears to have grown much more common since the 1980s.
"One of the things that we're most concerned about is exactly that," said an administration official who was not authorized to speak publicly before the release of the report. The official described the government's plans in an interview with The Associated Press.
The government also is expected to release two related EPA studies which look at the ways Americans are exposed to fluoride and the potential health effects. This shift away from government's long-standing praise of the benefits of fluoride is sure to re-energize groups that still oppose it.
Fluoride is a mineral that exists naturally in water and soil. Scientists in the early 1940s discovered that people who lived where water supplies naturally had more fluoride also had fewer cavities. Some locales have naturally occurring fluoridation levels above 1.2.
Today, most public drinking water supplies are fluoridated, especially in larger cities. Counting everyone, including those who live in rural areas, about 64 percent of Americans drink fluoridated water.
Fluoridation has been fought for decades by people who worried about its effects, including conspiracy theorists who feared it was a plot to make people submissive to government power.
Maryland is the most fluoridated state, with nearly every resident on a fluoridated water system. In contrast, only about 11 percent of Hawaii residents are on fluoridated water, according to government statistics.
Drinking water patterns have changed over the years, so that some stark regional differences in fluoride consumption are leveling out. There was initially a range in recommended levels because people in hotter climates drank more water. But with air conditioning and sodas, Americans in the South and Southwest don't necessarily consume more water than those in colder states, said one senior administration official.
Fluorosis is considered the main downside related to fluoridation.
According to the CDC, nearly 23 percent of children ages 12-15 had fluorosis in a study done in 1986 and 1987. That rose to 41 percent in the more recent study, which covered the years 1999 through 2004.
"We're not necessarily surprised to see this slow rise in mild fluorosis," Dr. William Kohn, director of the CDC's division of oral health, said in a recent interview.
Health officials have hesitated to call it a problem, however. In most kids, it's barely noticeable; even dentists have trouble seeing it, and sometimes don't bother to tell their unknowing patients. Except in the most severe cases, health officials considered the discoloring of fluorosis to be a welcome trade-off for the protection fluoride provides against cavities.
"One of water fluoridation's biggest advantages is that it benefits all residents of a community — at home, work, school, or play. And fluoridation's effectiveness in preventing tooth decay is not limited to children, but extends throughout life, resulting in improved oral health," said HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Dr. Howard Koh, in a statement.
Indeed, many health leaders continue to be worried about cavities, particularly among poor families with kids who eat a lot of sweets but don't get much dental care. The American Public Health Association in November adopted a resolution calling for coordinated programs to be established at public health, dental and medical clinics to offer fluoride varnish — a highly concentrated lacquer painted on teeth to prevent cavities.
Secretary Kathleen Sebelius could make a final decision within a few months, the administration official said.
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ROCK 'n' roll legend Chuck Berry is recuperating at home and said to be in good health after collapsing during a Chicago show at the weekend.
A representative for Berry said the 84-year-old rocker was suffering exhaustion when he collapsed. He remained still for several minutes before being helped off stage on Saturday night.
He reportedly returned to stage about 20 minutes later, when most of the audience had left.
Rock N' Roll legend Chuck Berry collapsed onstage during a packed New Year's Day performance at the Congress Theatre in Chicago.According to Rolling Stone, Berry was an hour into his set when he slumped over his keyboard, saying "I'm struggling," before venue staff members ushered him offstage for medical attention. He returned 15 minutes later and attempted to tune his guitar, only to be escorted back offstage to be examined by paramedics.
A review of the performance at Rolling Stone reports that he returned yet again, but this time the 84 year old Berry relented and ended the show, saying, "Ladies and gentlemen, I've been trying to dig myself out of this hole that I'm in. If I'm living next New Year's, I'm gonna walk on this stage and do a whole new show. I want to apologize."
Pollstar reports that Berry's agent, Dick Alen, is blaming the events in Chicago on exhaustion. He said Berry was feeling "tired but good," and heading home to rest in the St. Louis area. The New Year's Day gig was Berry's third in two days. He played two shows on New Year's Eve the night before at B.B. King Blues Club in New York City.
Chuck Berry is scheduled to perform again on January. 19 at Blueberry Hill in St. Louis, MO, where he performs a monthly set.
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