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Airport scanners and cancer

Told ya. Pro Publica:

On Sept. 23, 1998, a panel of radiation safety experts gathered at a Hilton hotel in Maryland to evaluate a new device that could detect hidden weapons and contraband. The machine, known as the Secure 1000, beamed X-rays at people to see underneath their clothing.

One after another, the experts convened by the Food and Drug Administration raised questions about the machine because it violated a longstanding principle in radiation safety — that humans shouldn’t be X-rayed unless there is a medical benefit.

“I think this is really a slippery slope,” said Jill Lipoti, who was the director of New Jersey’s radiation protection program. The device was already deployed in prisons; what was next, she and others asked — courthouses, schools, airports? “I am concerned … with expanding this type of product for the traveling public,” said another panelist, Stanley Savic, the vice president for safety at a large electronics company. “I think that would take this thing to an entirely different level of public health risk.”

[…] Research suggests that anywhere from six to 100 U.S. airline passengers each year could get cancer from the machines. Still, the TSA has repeatedly defined the scanners as “safe,” glossing over the accepted scientific view that even low doses of ionizing radiation — the kind beamed directly at the body by the X-ray scanners — increase the risk of cancer.

Go read the whole sorry tale of how this happened and why.

Upper Big Branch Mine

Rep. George Miller gave this powerful speech on the floor of the House this morning. Go read it.

General strike

Even the Men’s Warehouse?

Nuclear fission

Well, that is embarrassing! Pay no attention, will you? There’s a good fellow!

Looking for work

Young people in Britain. Sound familiar?

Oh dear

Mother Jones:

Goldline International, the California precious metals retailer promoted by Glenn Beck and other right-wing radio hosts, was formally charged with 19 criminal counts—including grand theft by false pretenses, false advertising, and conspiracy—on Tuesday by the Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office. The criminal complaint also implicates Goldline CEO Mark Albarian, along with two other company executives and two salespeople.

The charges detailed in the complaint support what MoJo’s Stephanie Mencimer first reported in 2010: Using aggressive telemarketing tactics, Goldline employees routinely pressured customers to purchase expensive coins with mark-ups so steep that it was very unlikely the consumer would ever make his money back. The company racked up a long list of complaints with the Federal Trade Commission, and at one point was sanctioned by the state of Missouri. But Beck and other endorsers (including liberal talker Ed Schultz) lent an air of legitimacy to the whole operation, sowing fears of a total economic collapse to help make the pitch for Swiss Francs.

Business as usual

What a week it already is! First, we find that the Super Committee is still talking about cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and then the news that a very, very bad 50-state settlement is in the wings and if we don’t raise some holy hell, it may be rammed through. As Matt Stoller points out, this is even more infuriating because the banks are still using robo-signing:

Gretchen Morgenson is ringing alarm bells that a 50-state settlement on the foreclosure fraud issue is on deck, and is spelling out some of the details. There would be some principal write-downs, random cash payouts for those who were foreclosed, and money to buy off nonprofits in the states that work on housing issues (a classic Fannie/Freddie Dem friendly tactic Morgenson and Rosner exposed nicely in their book Reckless Endangerment). The settlement looks vague and stupid, and will probably be executed with the care and competence of HAMP. But let’s put that aside.What makes these discussions so utterly absurd, so ridiculous, and farcical, is that robo-signing, an abuse the banks have admitted to and clam they’ve ceased, is still going on.

The AP reported this in July; mortgage servicers in Nevada have stopped foreclosing because of a law explicitly criminalizing robo-signing. Yes, the banks are asking for a release of claims on acts, or perhaps crimes, that are ongoing. And these abuses are extensive: lying to investors about the quality of the mortgages; violating their own contracts by failing to convey mortgages properly to securitization trusts; charging fees that are impermissible under Federal law and the contracts; making a mess of property records and engaging in deceptive consumer practices through the use of MERS; and engaging in document forgeries and fabrications in foreclosures. All these people trying to give the banks “a settlement” are in fact immunizing banks against acts they are committing and will commit going forward. Only in the future, when a voter complains to his or her state AG, that official will have to explain to that voter that his/her rights have been given away.

We’re talking about an ongoing case of criminal theft of private property by mortgage servicers charging illegal fees and then using fraudulent documents to foreclose. Now, a settlement implies that this practice is over, and that the banks are remediating past wrongs. It isn’t over, but the AGs and Federal regulators are treating it as if it is. Think about this incentive – why should a bank change its mortgage servicing once it has immunity for robo-signing, origination, pyramiding of fees, etc? The last consent decrees weren’t enforced, why would this one be enforced?

This speaks to the basic issue at hand, which is that there has been no serious investigation of the problem, on a Federal or state level. We don’t know how widespread the problem is, or how to fix it. My guess is that even the banks have no idea how to fix it, even if they wanted to. They have systematically under-invested in their mortgage servicing operations, and they don’t intend to do it right next time. Why should they? The fine is cheaper, especially when you layer on second lien exposure (the big mortgage servicers own a lot of second lien debt while they only service first lien debt, leading to a massive conflict of interest). Hell, this might even make them money, if they can write off first lien debt which would elevate the value of their second lien holdings.

The larger problem is that banks mistreat homeowners and abuse property rights, and this is going to continue and worsen until the housing market just dies.

Also, this.

Last night

David Waldman offered some interesting and scary insights into how Congress operates. Follow his very funny Twitter feed at @KagroX.

Chinese honey

In your Honey Nut Cheerios?

Democracy or finance?

Greece’s choice – and ours. Via Robert Reich.

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