Wednesday, January 13, 2010's interactive map on job losses, by County, since Jan. 2007 -Depressing!

When Did Your County's Jobs Disappear?An interactive map of vanishing employment across the country, updated with the latest figures.
By Chris WilsonUpdated Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2009, at 1:05 PM ET

The economic crisis, which has claimed more than 5 million jobs since the recession began, did not strike the entire country at once. A map of employment gains or losses by county tells the story of how those job losses first struck in the most vulnerable regions and then spread rapidly to the rest of the country. As early as August 2007, for example—several months before the recession officially began—jobs were already on the decline in southwest Florida; Orange County, Calif.; much of New Jersey; and Detroit, while other areas of the country remained on the uptick.

Using the Labor Department's local area unemployment statistics, Slate presents the recession as told by unemployment numbers for each county in America. Because the data are not seasonally adjusted for natural employment cycles throughout the year, the numbers you see show the change in the number of people employed compared with the same month in the previous year. Blue dots represent a net increase in jobs, while red dots indicate a decrease. The larger the dot, the greater the number of jobs gained or lost. Click the arrows or calendar at the bottom to see each month of data. Click the green play button to see an animation of the data.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Who is the progressive choice to succeed (bankers' friend) Sen. Chris Dodd?

I was quite pleased to see Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd announce his retirement.

He historically has had too close and friendly a relationship with the banking industry. As we see from this post, November, 2009, the Open Secrets site has gone into how Sen. Dodd got many generous contributions over the years from the banking industry.
Note: the following article updates a profile of Dodd that first appeared on Capital Eye in January.

(CORRECTION, 12/7/09: This article originally misstated information about Dodd's purchase of his cottage in Ireland. Dodd did not purchase the estate with Bearn Stearns principal Ed Downe. Rather, Dodd and his long-time friend, William Kessinger, purchased the estate together (and Dodd later bought out Kessinger). Kessinger and Dodd became friends through Downe, who was convicted of insider trading and later pardoned by President Clinton. Downe signed the official transfer document as a witness but had no financial role in the transaction. The Center regrets the error. The article has been updated accordingly.)

Name: Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.)

PowerPlayers.JPGPosition: Chris Dodd is a native of Connecticut and the state's longest-serving U.S. senator, at nearly 30 years. His father, Thomas Dodd, also represented Connecticut for more than a decade as a Democratic senator, from 1959 to 1971. After college, Chris Dodd joined the Peace Corps and worked in the Dominican Republic. Upon his return, he served in the U.S. Army Reserve, while earning his law degree at the University of Louisville. In 1974, voters elected him to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he served until he ran for Senate in 1980.

Since the Democrats regained control of the Senate in 2007, Dodd has chaired the powerful Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. His committee oversees the nation's financial institutions, housing and mass transit programs. In this role, he has helped shape legislation to jump-start the economy and assist floundering companies. He is also at the helm as the committee debates new regulatory efforts.

Money Summary: Dodd has raised a total of $46.5 million since 1989 and has spent $45.5 million. His large war chest can be attributed, in part, to his presidential bid in 2008, which he abandoned after receiving less than 1 percent of the vote in the Iowa caucus that kicked off the primary season. He raised $18 million in his attempt to win the White House.

Overall, Dodd has received 62 percent of his contributions from individuals (rather than the political action committees of unions and corporations) and is a popular beneficiary of Wall Street money, collecting $5.4 million from donors in New York City -- more than any other metro area. He's given other lawmakers and candidates 23 percent of the total $2.3 million that his leadership PAC, Chris PAC, has raised since the start of the 2004 election cycle.

Campaigns Donors: Not surprisingly, Dodd's most generous sector is finance, insurance and real estate, which is filled with companies directly affected by legislation shepherded by the Banking Committee. The finance, insurance and real estate sector has given Dodd a total of $13.9 million since 1989 -- nearly 3.5 times more than the next sector. In a distant second place, lawyers and lobbyists rank as Dodd's second most generous backer, giving him $4 million since 1989.

The securities and investment industry, insurance companies, real estate industry, commercial banks, accountants and finance and credit companies all rank among his top 20 industry donors.

Between 2005 and 2008, Dodd was among the top five recipients of money in the Senate from 19 industries, many of which are finance-related. He's currently the top recipient in the Senate of money from mortgage bankers and brokers, and the Senate's second highest beneficiary of money from insurance companies and finance and credit companies.

The $819,950 he has received during the past 20 years from hedge funds, which are a big industry in Connecticut, ranks him as the largest beneficiary of the industry currently serving in the Senate. In 2007, Dodd expressed concern over a bill that would have increased taxes on private-equity firms and hedge fund managers.

Dodd's most generous donors include many of the companies that have filed for bankruptcy or sought government help during the last year and a half: Citigroup ($427,700), Bear Stearns ($347,350), AIG ($281,000), Goldman Sachs ($274,450), Morgan Stanley ($211,300), Lehman Brothers ($185,100) and Merrill Lynch ($185,000).

Not all of Dodd's financial supporters, however, come from Wall Street.

Law firms, lobbyists, pharmaceutical companies, health professionals and the entertainment industry also rank among his most generous industries. During the race for the White House, the International Association of Fire Fighters endorsed Dodd and spent $202,300 independently to help him win. Dodd has sponsored bills to provide more funding to fire stations for equipment, training and staff.

Series_logo.JPGOn Financial Regulation: Dodd sponsored legislation (which President Barack Obama signed in August) to crack down on credit card companies. Provisions of the bill targeted "any time any reason" interest rate increases, charging interest on balances that consumers have already paid, deceptive marketing to young people and skyrocketing penalty interest rates.

Dodd is now spearheading new efforts to tackle financial sector regulatory reform. On Nov. 10, he unveiled new legislation with eight other Democrats on the Banking Committee. Dodd's proposal calls for the creation of a Consumer Financial Protection Agency, a new federal agency to advocate for consumers. It also seeks to end the concept of "too big to fail," including a requirement that large and complex financial institutions develop their own "funeral plans" for how to safely shut down without destabilizing the financial system.

The legislation also creates new regulations for payday lending, over-the-counter derivatives, hedge funds and other asset-backed securities. And it requires that the sponsor or broker of these investments retain "skin in the game," that is, maintain a certain level of financial investment in its performance. Furthermore, the bill would give shareholders more say in how executives are compensated, and it requires more transparency and accountability from credit rating agencies and the quality of their ratings. Dodd's plan would also keep in place a second system of banking for small community banks that pose less systemic risk.

Industry Favors: The U.S. Senate was called on in January to release the second half of the $700 billion bailout money. Despite strong financial backing from Wall Street interests, Dodd pushed for stronger oversight provisions and limits on executive compensation for the companies receiving a handout. Yet he also amended his executive pay limit provision at the time -- at the direction of the Obama administration and U.S. Treasury. The resulting change allowed some retroactive bonuses for bailout recipients, including insurance giant AIG. Dodd says this effect was unintentional and that he did not know that AIG would benefit from the amendment, but it still made him the target of significant public ire.

Invests in: Compared to the rest of the Senate, Dodd is middle class. In 2008 he was worth between $534,018 and $1.7 million, ranking him 66th among all senators. Like many lawmakers and investors during the recent economic crisis, his personal fortune has taken a hit. Between 2007 and 2008, his net worth fell by 15 to 20 percent. According to his most recent personal financial disclosure reports, the largest stock holding of he and his wife was $100,000 to $250,000 invested in company that runs the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. They further own between $50,000 and $100,000 worth of holdings in both Blockbuster and Brookdale Senior Living. They also have a few smaller investments in drug manufacturers including Pear Tree Pharmaceutical (worth between $1,001 and $15,000), Cardiome Pharma (worth between $0 and $4,000) and Javelin Pharmaceuticals (worth between $0 and $3,000).

Dodd also owns a cottage and a 10-acre estate in Ireland, which he purchased with a long-time friend whom he met through a Bear Stearns principal who was convicted of insider trading and later pardon by President Bill Clinton, reportedly at Dodd's urging. According to the 2008 filing, this estate is valued at 470,000 euros -- a value that puts it in the range of between $500,000 and $1 million on the same form.

Other Money Matters: When mortgage buyers Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae were in dire financial straits last year and seeking help from the government, Dodd came under some fire for having received more money from the two companies' employees and political action committees than any other lawmaker over time -- at $165,400. Dodd helped push through a rescue plan for the two companies last year, including better regulatory oversight in the measure.

The Senate Ethics Committee recently investigated Dodd over allegations that he received preferential treatment by Countrywide Financial when, in 2003, he refinanced his home mortgages. Dodd benefited from a VIP program, known as "Friends of Angelo," named after the Countrywide chief executive Angelo Mozilo. In August, the ethics probe cleared Dodd of any wrongdoing, saying there was "no substantial credible evidence" that the refinanced mortgages violated ethics rules or that Dodd used his position for personal gain.

In His Own Words: "We need to take action to restore Americans' confidence, their sense of optimism -- and their financial security -- by reforming a regulatory system that still contains far too many gaps, loopholes, and redundancies," Dodd said during a committee hearing earlier this fall. "The 20th century regulatory structure has been outpaced by the 21st century innovations in the financial services industry, and if we don't fix it, we could be right back where we were a year ago, facing a another dreadful choice between a massive outlay of taxpayer dollars or an unimaginable economic disaster for our nation and others around the globe."
I had often wondered: why did progressives pour all of their scorn on Joe Lieberman and not Chris Dodd? It was so intense, with so many plays on Lieberman's name. I wondered whether there was some anti-Semitism as the motivation.

So, I hope that MoveOn, Progressive Democracy and other progressives can get into the open, the discussion: who is the more progressive of the potential replacements for Dodd?
*Former vet and Al Gore aide, Merrick Alpert
*Connecticut Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal
*Former Bill Clinton aide, and 2002 gubernatorial candidate (to challenge John Rowland) Bill Curry
*Former eastern Connecticut Congressman, Sam Gejdenson
*Cable TV entrepreneur Ned Lamont, 2006 Democratic nominee, and challenger to Lieberman.
Chime in, at right, in my unscientific poll.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

New station and time for All Souls Unitarian Radio Broadcasts

New Station and Time for All Souls Radio Broadcasts
(Unitarian Church, New York, New York):

Sundays at 11 AM on WWRL AM 1600

Personal actions will prevent contributing to the "Plastic Continent"

The other continent
Laura Rose

(From - When I heard about the "Plastic Continent" in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, I have to admit that I thought it was just an urban myth or an overreaction by some extreme activists.

Much to my dismay, what I found by searching the Internet was that it was more of an understatement than an exaggeration. There it was "3.5 million tons of trash, 80 percent of it plastic" a mass twice the size of Texas. Yes, TEXAS!

At a cost of billions of dollars to clean up the mess, no country wants to take responsibility for it, and so it has continued to grow at a rate of tenfold per decade since 1950.

Sea turtles mistake plastic sandwich bags for jellyfish, and birds feed their young bottle caps and other plastic chards, unknowingly filling their stomachs to the point that they die of starvation. Beaches once scattered with drift wood and seashells are increasingly covered in plastic debris.

If you live in San Francisco, you now know why the Board of Supervisors, led by Ross Mirkarimi, outlawed the use of plastic bags in grocery stores and other retail outlets. Every city needs to follow their example and make this a priority.

Right now, there doesn't seem to be much that we can do about the garbage dump that churns between San Francisco and Hawaii, but we can do our part to keep it from growing.

1) Tell everyone you know about the Plastic Continent. The first step in solving any problem is awareness.

2) Use reusable shopping totes.

3) Get rid of the plastic sandwich bags in your child's lunch box, or at least reduce the number you use. Replace them with reusable containers or, at a minimum, rinse them and use again.

4) Buy a stainless water bottle. Make it a policy among friends and organizations to bring stainless bottles to soccer games and other sporting events and outings.

5) Write to your local, state, and national political leaders. Encourage them to outlaw the use of plastic bags. Know that lobbyists for plastic manufacturers are very influential; we need to influence with our letters and our votes.

6) Watch what you consume. Our lifestyle of constant consumerism and instant gratification hasn't just hurt our wallets, it's hurt our environment.

T.R. Reid from Washington Post., debunking myths about health care around world

From Washington Post, Aug. 23, 2009 ... Never too late.
5 Myths About Health Care Around the World
As Americans search for the cure to what ails our health-care system, we've overlooked an invaluable source of ideas and solutions: the rest of the world. All the other industrialized democracies have faced problems like ours, yet they've found ways to cover everybody -- and still spend far less than we do.
I've traveled the world from Oslo to Osaka to see how other developed democracies provide health care. Instead of dismissing these models as "socialist," we could adapt their solutions to fix our problems. To do that, we first have to dispel a few myths about health care abroad:

1. It's all socialized medicine out there.

Not so. Some countries, such as Britain, New Zealand and Cuba, do provide health care in government hospitals, with the government paying the bills. Others -- for instance, Canada and Taiwan -- rely on private-sector providers, paid for by government-run insurance. But many wealthy countries -- including Germany, the Netherlands, Japan and Switzerland -- provide universal coverage using private doctors, private hospitals and private insurance plans.

In some ways, health care is less "socialized" overseas than in the United States. Almost all Americans sign up for government insurance (Medicare) at age 65. In Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands, seniors stick with private insurance plans for life. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is one of the planet's purest examples of government-run health care.

2. Overseas, care is rationed through limited choices or long lines.

Generally, no. Germans can sign up for any of the nation's 200 private health insurance plans -- a broader choice than any American has. If a German doesn't like her insurance company, she can switch to another, with no increase in premium. The Swiss, too, can choose any insurance plan in the country.

In France and Japan, you don't get a choice of insurance provider; you have to use the one designated for your company or your industry. But patients can go to any doctor, any hospital, any traditional healer. There are no U.S.-style limits such as "in-network" lists of doctors or "pre-authorization" for surgery. You pick any doctor, you get treatment -- and insurance has to pay.

Canadians have their choice of providers. In Austria and Germany, if a doctor diagnoses a person as "stressed," medical insurance pays for weekends at a health spa.

As for those notorious waiting lists, some countries are indeed plagued by them. Canada makes patients wait weeks or months for nonemergency care, as a way to keep costs down. But studies by the Commonwealth Fund and others report that many nations -- Germany, Britain, Austria -- outperform the United States on measures such as waiting times for appointments and for elective surgeries.
In Japan, waiting times are so short that most patients don't bother to make an appointment. One Thursday morning in Tokyo, I called the prestigious orthopedic clinic at Keio University Hospital to schedule a consultation about my aching shoulder. "Why don't you just drop by?" the receptionist said. That same afternoon, I was in the surgeon's office. Dr. Nakamichi recommended an operation. "When could we do it?" I asked. The doctor checked his computer and said, "Tomorrow would be pretty difficult. Perhaps some day next week?"

3. Foreign health-care systems are inefficient, bloated bureaucracies.

Much less so than here. It may seem to Americans that U.S.-style free enterprise -- private-sector, for-profit health insurance -- is naturally the most cost-effective way to pay for health care. But in fact, all the other payment systems are more efficient than ours.

U.S. health insurance companies have the highest administrative costs in the world; they spend roughly 20 cents of every dollar for nonmedical costs, such as paperwork, reviewing claims and marketing. France's health insurance industry, in contrast, covers everybody and spends about 4 percent on administration. Canada's universal insurance system, run by government bureaucrats, spends 6 percent on administration. In Taiwan, a leaner version of the Canadian model has administrative costs of 1.5 percent; one year, this figure ballooned to 2 percent, and the opposition parties savaged the government for wasting money.

The world champion at controlling medical costs is Japan, even though its aging population is a profligate consumer of medical care. On average, the Japanese go to the doctor 15 times a year, three times the U.S. rate. They have twice as many MRI scans and X-rays. Quality is high; life expectancy and recovery rates for major diseases are better than in the United States. And yet Japan spends about $3,400 per person annually on health care; the United States spends more than $7,000.
4. Cost controls stifle innovation.

False. The United States is home to groundbreaking medical research, but so are other countries with much lower cost structures. Any American who's had a hip or knee replacement is standing on French innovation. Deep-brain stimulation to treat depression is a Canadian breakthrough. Many of the wonder drugs promoted endlessly on American television, including Viagra, come from British, Swiss or Japanese labs.

Overseas, strict cost controls actually drive innovation. In the United States, an MRI scan of the neck region costs about $1,500. In Japan, the identical scan costs $98. Under the pressure of cost controls, Japanese researchers found ways to perform the same diagnostic technique for one-fifteenth the American price. (And Japanese labs still make a profit.)

5. Health insurance has to be cruel. Not really. American health insurance companies routinely reject applicants with a "preexisting condition" -- precisely the people most likely to need the insurers' service. They employ armies of adjusters to deny claims. If a customer is hit by a truck and faces big medical bills, the insurer's "rescission department" digs through the records looking for grounds to cancel the policy, often while the victim is still in the hospital. The companies say they have to do this stuff to survive in a tough business.

Foreign health insurance companies, in contrast, must accept all applicants, and they can't cancel as long as you pay your premiums. The plans are required to pay any claim submitted by a doctor or hospital (or health spa), usually within tight time limits. The big Swiss insurer Groupe Mutuel promises to pay all claims within five days. "Our customers love it," the group's chief executive told me. The corollary is that everyone is mandated to buy insurance, to give the plans an adequate pool of rate-payers.

The key difference is that foreign health insurance plans exist only to pay people's medical bills, not to make a profit. The United States is the only developed country that lets insurance companies profit from basic health coverage.

In many ways, foreign health-care models are not really "foreign" to America, because our crazy-quilt health-care system uses elements of all of them. For Native Americans or veterans, we're Britain: The government provides health care, funding it through general taxes, and patients get no bills. For people who get insurance through their jobs, we're Germany: Premiums are split between workers and employers, and private insurance plans pay private doctors and hospitals. For people over 65, we're Canada: Everyone pays premiums for an insurance plan run by the government, and the public plan pays private doctors and hospitals according to a set fee schedule. And for the tens of millions without insurance coverage, we're Burundi or Burma: In the world's poor nations, sick people pay out of pocket for medical care; those who can't pay stay sick or die.
This fragmentation is another reason that we spend more than anybody else and still leave millions without coverage. All the other developed countries have settled on one model for health-care delivery and finance; we've blended them all into a costly, confusing bureaucratic mess.

Which, in turn, punctures the most persistent myth of all: that America has "the finest health care" in the world. We don't. In terms of results, almost all advanced countries have better national health statistics than the United States does. In terms of finance, we force 700,000 Americans into bankruptcy each year because of medical bills. In France, the number of medical bankruptcies is zero. Britain: zero. Japan: zero. Germany: zero.

Given our remarkable medical assets -- the best-educated doctors and nurses, the most advanced hospitals, world-class research -- the United States could be, and should be, the best in the world. To get there, though, we have to be willing to learn some lessons about health-care administration from the other industrialized democracies.

T.R. Reid, a former Washington Post reporter, is the author of "The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care," [the NPR "Fresh Air" interview link] to be published Monday.