A Word of Caution re: Polling

You probably already knew this, but don't trust Fox News polls. The network's questions are as biased as its hosts are insane.

CEO Blues

The Wall Street Journal reports that CEO pay was down a whopping 3.4% last year.  But wait!

CEO compensation decreased more sharply at banks and brokerages, long the source of some of the biggest paychecks. Median annual cash compensation for CEOs in the financial industry fell 43%, to $976,000. Total direct compensation fell 14.2%, to a median $7.6 million.

So that's what happens when you destroy the global financial system: your pay goes down 14% to a mere $7.6 million per year.  I guess we showed them, didn't we?

Downsizing Brenda Starr

The bloodbath in America's newsrooms has come to the funny pages. The latest victim of corporate short-sightedness and the death of print media: Brenda Starr, who in the course of her 69-year news career (take that, Helen Thomas) has become synonymous with hard-hitting reportage from exotic locales such as Kazookistan and a fabulous head of sparkly fire-red hair (nice try, Maureen Dowd). On Tuesday, Starr got furloughed by the publisher and CEO of the financially troubled Flash, Al Neuharth-lookalike B. Babbit Bottomline. It's not clear what Starr's next move will be; in typical cartoon soap opera style, this plot development is taking agonizingly long to unfold. There's been hints that she'll follow in the footsteps of her "scrappy intern" Pug, who headed to India, "where newspapers are still thriving." Or maybe she'll launch an exciting second career on the Internets, perhaps with the tech-savvy former colleague who recently told her to "E-mail me on Facebook!". Stay tuned!

Rocket Fuel Found in Infant Formula

A scary new under-the-radar CDC study has found that 15 infant formulas sold in the US are contaminated with the rocket fuel additive perchlorate—which is even worse than it sounds, because so is the tap water parents mix formula with.

From the Environmental Working Group:

Researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have reported that 15 brands of powdered infant formula are contaminated with perchlorate, a rocket fuel component detected in drinking water in 28 states and territories.
The two most contaminated brands, made from cow’s milk, accounted for 87 percent of the U.S. powdered formula market in 2000, the scientists said.
The CDC scientists did not identify the formula brands they tested.
The little-noticed CDC findings, published in the March 2009 edition of the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology, raise new concerns about perchlorate pollution, a legacy of Cold War rocket and missile tests. Studies have established that the chemical is a potent thyroid toxin that may interfere with fetal and infant brain development (Kirk 2006).

Read the full EWG report, or learn more about perchlorate in this Mother Jones investigation by David Corn.

Update: Don't miss ProPublica's story on perc problems.

Having the Right Enemies

Richard Scott is rich, conservative, and hates universal healthcare.  He's all about "patients' rights," you see, and intends to spend a big chunk of his fortune making sure people know it.  But if he intends to play the role of shady financier to the anti-reform crowd — well, that's fine by me:

Once lauded for building Columbia/HCA into the largest health care company in the world, Mr. Scott was ousted by his own board of directors in 1997 amid the nation’s biggest health care fraud scandal.

....“He’s a great symbol from our point of view,” said Richard J. Kirsch, the national campaign manager for Health Care for America Now. “We cannot have a better first person to attack health care reform than someone who ran a company that ripped off the government of hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Conservative health care activists, while glad to have a potential ally willing to spend $5 million out of his own pocket, are not fully embracing Mr. Scott....“I just don’t understand why he would be a messenger people would listen to,” said Charles N. Kahn III, who was a senior executive with the insurance industry group that ran the “Harry & Louise” advertisements credited with helping to kill the Clinton plan 15 years ago but who is working for a deal now. “I don’t think people are waiting to hear from him.”

....Mr. Scott has said his sole policy interest is to see to it that whatever overhaul Mr. Obama and Congress consider does not move the country toward a socialized system and away from what he calls his four pillars of reform: “choice, competition, accountability and personal responsibility.”

Ah, yes: competition and accountability.  Let's talk about that, shall we?  Or, rather, let's outsource it to our very own Blue Girl, who just happens to have worked at HCA back when they were bilking the taxpayers out of millions of dollars.  If you want to know how they did it, she's got the story right here.  It was simple!  And it'll remind you of Enron, IndyMac, AIG, and all the other bright lights of competition and accountability in corporate America that we've come to know and hate.

And for a real zeitgeist blast, there's also this: Scott steadfastly maintains that he did nothing wrong, and for his current venture he's hired the same PR firm that represented Swift Boat Veterans for Truth in 2004.  Central casting could hardly do better.  The wingers really know how to pick 'em, don't they?

Bruno Trailer Is Here (If You're Over 17)

I've been covering Sacha Baron Cohen's follow-up to Borat for a while now, from reports that his Austrian fashionista character Bruno was terrorizing midwesterners to unconfirmed but overwhelmingly positive early reviews of the film. But now, via HuffPo, we have something real: the actual, official trailer for the actual, official movie, which you can watch above. Needless to say, it is Not Safe For Work, and you have to enter your age to even make it play—the film was given a preliminary rating of NC-17, because, you know, references to gay sexuality are way worse than elaborate torture. Don't get me started. Anyway, the preview is perhaps even more raucous than one could have imagined, with practically every scene a jaw-dropping, and potentially dangerous, act of queer trickery. I'd say Baron Cohen should get a MacArthur genius grant, but I'm sure he's going to make a zillion dollars anyway. Bruno is out July 10.

Great Moments in Diplomacy

McClatchy's Steven Thomma reports that things were tense at the G-20 meeting until Barack Obama stepped in to save the day.  Listen and learn, grasshopper:

Heading into the summit's final hour [] it appeared that the group would fail to reach a consensus, as French President Nicolas Sarkozy pushed to have the G-20 spotlight offending tax havens based on a list published Thursday by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and China objected, largely because it doesn't belong to the OECD.

That was when Obama, long a champion of ending or curbing tax havens, decided to float a compromise and pulled Sarkozy aside....Obama proposed that the G-20 merely "take note" of the OECD list, thus opening the door to implicit but not direct endorsement of that list.

....Obama then met with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Sarkozy in a corner of the summit meeting room, as the other world leaders waited. Upon the trio's reaching agreement, the G-20 summit then agreed to note the list of tax havens.

I guess I shouldn't make fun of this stuff.  The world is what it is.  But seriously: today's big ruckus was about whether to "spotlight" tax havens or to merely "take note" of them?  Jeebus.

Of course, this is all based on the word of an anonymous White House official who's got a vested interest in making Obama look like a diplomatic powerhouse.  And this business of China objecting to an OECD list because it doesn't belong to the OECD is almost certainly bogus.  (More likely it's because Macao and Hong Kong are tax havens and China isn't keen on having them cleaned up.)  So who knows if this story is even true?

But it sounds disturbingly plausible.  Of such stuff are diplomatic communiqués made.

Coolest G-20 Leaders Forming a Band?

Anybody else notice the similarity between the arrangement of four of our world leaders at the G-20 conference in this picture, and a famous shot of one of the world's greatest bands? Because we did. I'm trying to think of a joke about "Obama met the queen and now he wants to be in Queen," but it's not happening. So, what instrument do you think each of them plays? Hu Jintao's got the Freddy Mercury position, but he just doesn't seem like he's got lead singer charisma. Sorry, but it's true. Belusconi, on the other hand, thinks he's in the Monkees. You're supposed to try and look cool, dude! Medvedev is so the drummer. By the way, how pissed is Sarkozy he didn't get in this shot? That'll teach him to be late to dinner. Although five members does make your musical combo much more likely to be a "boy band," so maybe he got a "non, merci" from the clearly-intent-on-musical-integrity Medvedev? Our own Dave Gilson didn't see "rock band" in this picture, he saw Japanese Photo Booth. He has a point. Check out his enhanced version of the shot after the jump.

Senate Introduces Mining Reform Bill

Senator Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico has just introduced a mining reform bill in the Senate, bringing Congress one step closer to updating the nation's most outdated public lands law, the General Mining Law of 1872. A similar bill from House stalled in the Senate last year, where Majority leader Harry Reid, the son of a gold miner, has been a powerful ally of the hard rock minerals industry. Mining companies are still allowed to remove minerals from public lands without paying a cent in federal royalties. As I reported in a recent profile of Reid, Nevada remains an anachronism in a region that is becoming much less tolerant of the America's most polluting industry.

Bingaman's bill is less progressive than a similar House measure, but might win key support from Reid and moderate Republicans. According to Velma Smith, the manager of the Pew Campaign for Responsible Mining, the bill proposes reducing the House's proposed 8 percent royalty to something between 2 and 5 percent, to be set at the discretion of the Department of Interior. It would also impose a reclamation fee of .3 to 1 percent.

In what's been a keen interest of Bingaman's, the bill also asks the National Academy of Sciences to perform a study on uranium mining. Smith says uranium, which is the only energy mineral overseen by the mining law, may be moved to a leasing system. Environmentalists have been concerned that mining on any one of 1,200 uranium mining claims along the Colorado River could pollute the water supply for Las Vegas and Southern California.

In other important respects, the Senate and House bills are the same. Both call for stricter environmental permitting of mines, better ways for lands to be set off-limits to mining, and more financial assurances that mining companies will clean up after themselves. The cost of cleaning up abandoned mines in the U.S. is now estimated to be at least $32 billion.

Will Reid support the bill? "I really don’t know," Smith says. "My sense was that Senator Bingaman's office took a long time vetting this with a lot of people. I don’t see this as an extreme bill by any means. So I think there’s a chance for the industry and environmentalists to come together."

The Great Paper Heist

Chris Hayes of the Nation has a nice scoop. Apparently, the paper industry has been bilking the federal government in a massive, massive way. Chris explains:

In 2005 Congress passed, and George W. Bush signed, the $244 billion transportation bill. It included a variety of tax credits for alternative fuels such as ethanol and biomass. But it also included a fifty-cent-a-gallon credit for the use of fuel mixtures that combined "alternative fuel" with a "taxable fuel" such as diesel or gasoline.

Enter the paper industry. Since the 1930s the overwhelming majority of paper mills have employed what's called the kraft process to produce paper. Here's how it works. Wood chips are cooked in a chemical solution to separate the cellulose fibers, which are used to make paper, from the other organic material in wood. The remaining liquid, a sludge containing lignin (the structural glue that binds plant cells together), is called black liquor. Because it's so rich in carbon, black liquor is a good fuel; the kraft process uses the black liquor to produce the heat and energy necessary to transform pulp into paper. It's a neat, efficient process that's cost-effective without any government subsidy....

By adding diesel fuel to the black liquor, paper companies produce a mixture that qualifies for the mixed-fuel tax credit, allowing them to burn "black liquor into gold," as a JPMorgan report put it....

Get that? Paper companies are adding an unnecessary and extremely harmful fossil fuel to their manufacturing processes in order to take advantage of a federal subsidy that was intended to help the environment. Hayes says the 10 largest paper companies will get as much as $8 billion this year from this little racket they are running. Hopefully, with enough attention to this story, the federal government can shut it down.

Photo by flickr user toastiest.