Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Judge blocks NM plan to verify immigrant licenses

Judge blocks NM plan to verify immigrant licenses (4:18 p.m.)

By Milan Simonich / Texas-New Mexico Newspapers

SANTA FE - A New Mexico judge today issued a temporary restraining order halting Gov. Susana Martinez's residency certification program for up to 10,000 foreign nationals. District Judge Sarah M. Singleton of Santa Fe issued the order, based on a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the governor's action. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund filed the suit last week.
Martinez's administration established special Motor Vehicle Division centers in Albuquerque and Las Cruces to determine if foreign nationals with New Mexico driver's licenses actually live in the state. State residency is a requirement to legally obtain a driver's license.
MALDEF and immigrant groups said the policy is discriminatory, as it forces people who have complied with the licensing law to travel long distances to prove themselves a second time.
Martinez countered New Mexico's system is rife with fraud because illegal immigrants can obtain New Mexico driver's licenses. Only two other states - Utah and Washington, have similar laws.
A full hearing is the next step in the judicial proceedings, but immigrant groups celebrated stoppage of the residency program.
"it's a great relief," said Marcela Diaz of the group Somos Un Pueblo Unido. "Many people simply could not comply with this certification program and they were afraid their driver's licenses were going to be canceled."
Diaz said numerous immigrants had hardships that made it difficult or impossible for them to travel to certification centers.
Martinez, a Republican, will push for legislation to repeal the licensing law for illegal immigrants during the special legislative session that starts Tuesday.
Please see Thursday's print edition for more details.
Santa Fe Bureau Chief Milan Simonich can be reached at or 505-820-6898. His blog is at

JCPenney Pulls "I'm Too Pretty to Do Homework" Shirt

JCPenney Pulls "I'm Too Pretty to Do Homework" Shirt

Outraged consumers called the shirt sexist.

LOS ANGELES (KTLA) -- Department store JCPenney has pulled a shirt from its shelves after consumers complained it had a sexist message.

The shirt, which was intended for girls 7 to 16 years old, says, was made by the brand Self Esteem.

It says, "I'm too pretty to do homework, so my brother has to do it for me."

The description accompanying the shirt, which was sold online, said, "Who has time for homework when there's a new Justin Bieber album out? She'll love this tee that's just as cute and sassy as she is."

JCPenney received complaints from shoppers who thought the shirt promoted sexist stereotypes by suggesting that girls' looks were more important than their brains.

Laura Todd started a petition on Tuesday asking JCPenney to pull the shirt off its shelves, quickly garnering over 1,500 signatures.

The petition read, "Under the guise of being 'cute,' J.C. Penney is promoting merchandise that encourages girls to value looks over brains; to leave academics to the boys, and to aspire to nothing more than fawning after Justin Bieber."

More than 1,500 people signed the petition.

The company had removed the shirt from its website by Wednesday morning.

The Los Angeles Times reports that JCPenney sent Todd an email saying: "We agree that the 'Too pretty' T-shirt does not deliver an appropriate message, and we have immediately discontinued its sale. Our merchandise is intended to appeal to a broad customer base, not to offend them."

Photography Copyright, Rihanna, and why we need a bright-line rule

Photography Copyright, Rihanna, and why we need a bright-line rule

Recording Labels Sue YouTube Downloader Website, Fail To Grasp The Insignificance Of Their Actions

Recording Labels Sue YouTube Downloader Website, Fail To Grasp The Insignificance Of Their Actions

KTLA: Father Defends Behavior After Allegedly Tossing His Son Overboard in Newport Harbor; Carolyn Costello reports

KTLA: Father Defends Behavior After Allegedly Tossing His Son Overboard in Newport Harbor; Carolyn Costello reports

Federal Austerity Changes Disaster Relief

August 30, 2011

Federal Austerity Changes Disaster Relief

WASHINGTON — As Senator Bernard Sanders toured Vermont by helicopter on Tuesday to assess the damage from what he said could be his state’s worst-ever natural disaster, the idea of cutting other federal programs to aid towns pummeled by Hurricane Irene was stoking his outrage.
“To say that the only way you can come up with funding to rebuild devastated communities is to cut back on other desperately needed programs is totally absurd,” said Mr. Sanders, an independent, responding to a call by leading Republicans to balance any financial relief with spending reductions elsewhere. “Historically in this country we have understood that when communities and states experience disasters, we as a nation come together to address those.
“That is what being a nation is about,” he said in an interview.
The new push for federal austerity is threatening to change the traditional dynamic when it comes to government relief in the aftermath of a storm, an earthquake or other calamity. It has touched off an intensifying debate over whether the government should just tack needed money onto the deficit or try to find a way to adjust the budget to cover the costs.
Holding fast to their push for lower federal spending, top Congressional Republicans have argued that any federal aid in the aftermath of the double whammy of an earthquake followed by a hurricane should be offset, if possible, by spending less on other programs.
“Clearly when disasters and emergencies happen, people expect their government to treat them as national priorities and respond properly,” said Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for Representative Eric Cantor, the Virginia Republican and majority leader who has advocated offsetting emergency aid. “People also expect their government to spend their dollars wisely, and to make efforts to prioritize and save when possible.”
Representative Ron Paul, the Texas Republican who is seeking his party’s presidential nomination, has gone beyond that view to argue that the federal government’s role in disaster preparation and relief should be cut substantially. Mr. Paul said he saw little value in the Federal Emergency Management Agency, saying the federal approach has given birth to an intrusive bureaucracy and supplants what should be an area for private insurance.
“The bleeding heart will say, well, we have to take care of them,” Mr. Paul said on “Fox News Sunday,” calling FEMA “a gross distortion of insurance” and saying that workers for the agency “hinder the local people, and they hinder volunteers from going in.”
“So there’s no magic about FEMA,” he concluded.
That view and the idea of offsetting the cost of relief is unsettling to those of both parties who see disaster aid as a chief responsibility of the federal government. They note that past efforts were financed through deficit spending by both parties — a fact pointedly made on Tuesday by the White House spokesman, Jay Carney, when he was asked about paying for relief efforts with corresponding cuts.
“I guess I can’t help but say that I wish that commitment to looking for offsets had been held by the House majority leader and others, say, during the previous administration when they ran up unprecedented bills and never paid for them," Mr. Carney said.
As FEMA struggles with its own significant shortfall in financing, officials at the agency emphasized this week that immediate relief efforts were not being shortchanged even as the agency had been forced to shift money to cover its costs.
“Our immediate focus is continuing doing everything we can to support our state and local partners as they respond to Irene and meet the immediate needs of disaster survivors, and we have the resources needed to do this,” an agency spokeswoman, Rachel Racusen, said.
Conservative Republicans have pushed in the past to pay for disaster relief through budget cuts elsewhere, most notably in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. But party leaders ultimately relented under political and public pressure, and much of the aid was delivered through deficit spending. Research by Senate Democrats showed that since 1989, Congress has approved 33 emergency appropriations for disaster relief without offsetting that money with cuts in other departments or agencies.
But with the federal debt now more than $14 trillion, the dialogue has shifted on Capitol Hill, and Republicans are under pressure to hold firm on spending. The hard-fought debt limit deal struck this month would cut spending for federal agencies by $7 billion in 2012, and much of that savings could be quickly consumed by emergency relief.
Congress will return next week to begin confronting the issue, both in setting a budget for the Department of Homeland Security, which includes disaster relief money, and a stopgap measure most likely to be needed as the end of the fiscal year, which is Sept. 30 approaches. It promises to be a politically charged fight.
In an appearance on Fox News this week, Mr. Cantor promised to find the money for the storm aid.
“But those monies are not unlimited,” said Mr. Cantor, who called for offsets and faulted the Senate for not moving ahead with a bill passed by the House to bolster FEMA’s accounts.
In response, top Democrats warned that the emergency relief should not get tied up in the running budget dispute.
“While getting our fiscal house in order needs to remain a top priority,” said Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the Democrat whip, “this is clearly an emergency situation, and we need to take action as quickly as possible to help those in need.”

Obama Draws Line on Possible Cuts to Veterans Programs

August 30, 2011

Obama Draws Line on Possible Cuts to Veterans Programs

MINNEAPOLIS — President Obama vowed on Tuesday that he would not allow cuts in programs for veterans as Congress and the administration look for ways to balance the budget.
In a somber speech to the annual convention of the American Legion that dwelled on the need to tackle unemployment among veterans, but offered little in the way of specifics about his overall economic proposals that are due next week, the president repeated his assertion of earlier this summer that after a decade of war, it was time to turn the country’s attention to domestic prosperity.
“It’s time to focus on nation-building here at home,” Mr. Obama told 6,000 members of the country’s largest veterans group, who clapped politely. Mr. Obama singled out the “9/11 generation veterans,” who, he said, “have the skills and dedication to help lead the way.”
He praised “all who have worn the uniform in these wars” and said it was time, now, for the government to help these veterans find a place at home.
“Far too many of our veterans are unemployed,” the president said.
He said he had directed the federal government to hire 100,000 more veterans. But at a time of restricted budgets, overall government employment is constrained.
“As a nation, we’re facing some tough choices as we put our fiscal house in order, but I want to be clear,” Mr. Obama said. “As a nation, we cannot, we must not and we will not balance the budget on the backs of veterans.”
By the end of the year, Congress and the administration must agree to significant cuts in the 10-year deficit, with spending cuts shared among domestic and security programs, or face severe automatic across-the-board cuts that would fall particularly hard on military programs.
Mr. Obama, meanwhile, has proposed a Returning Heroes Tax Credit for companies that hire unemployed veterans, and a Wounded Warrior Tax Credit for companies that hire unemployed veterans with a disability. “When Congress returns from recess, this needs to be at the top of the agenda,” he said.
The administration has long championed employment for returning veterans; the unemployment rate among those who joined the military after Sept. 11 was 13.3 percent in June.
But Mr. Obama is also facing a looming battle when Congress returns. He has promised to unveil his own jobs proposals next week after Labor Day, which administration officials say will most likely include an expansion of the payroll tax cuts and tax credits for companies that hire the unemployed. Viewed as devices to stimulate the economy, tax cuts would also worsen the budget deficits.
It remained unclear just how far Mr. Obama would go in picking a fight with a Republican-controlled House of Representatives, where Tea Party supporters have demanded deficit-reduction measures and balked at compromising with the president on offsetting revenue increases, like raising taxes on the rich.
“We have to create more jobs, and do it faster,” Mr. Obama said. “Most of all, we have to break the gridlock in Washington that’s been preventing us from taking the action we need to get this economy moving. That’s why, next week, I’ll be speaking to the nation about a plan to create jobs and reduce our deficit, a plan I want to see passed in Congress. We need to get this done.”
That might be a tall order; Congress thus far has not shown much interest in Mr. Obama’s budget proposals.
The president will attend ceremonies next month in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington — including a prayer service at the National Cathedral — for the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. In his American Legion speech, he said it was imperative for the country to take care of its Sept. 11 veterans and all of its veterans “as well as you’ve taken care of us.”
The American Legion meeting, in a cavernous hall at the Minneapolis Convention Center, was filled with the veterans of Vietnam, Korea, the gulf war and the current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Before Mr. Obama spoke, the group heard polka tunes and sang patriotic songs. Most of the men in the audience wore hats with their military ranks and badges.
Hatted, too, in her own way, was a speaker who spoke before Mr. Obama: the reigning Miss America, Teresa Scanlan. Ms. Scanlan wore a crown and gave a speech in which she talked about her grandparents escaping from Yugoslavia during the Communist era.
Mr. Obama worked a rope line after his speech, shaking hands and posing for pictures.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Peru Rating Lifted to BBB at S&P

Peru Rating Lifted to BBB at S&P

Peru had its foreign debt rating raised one level by Standard & Poor’s, which said it expects recently elected President Ollanta Humala to continue policies that support the country’s economic expansion.
S&P raised Peru to BBB, the second-lowest investment grade, from BBB-. The outlook is stable. S&P also lifted Paraguay’s rating to BB-, three steps below investment grade, from B+, because an agreement with Brazil to boost its revenue share from a hydroelectric power plant has improved the country’s “fiscal flexibility.”
Humala, who took office last month, has signaled “policy continuity” by reappointing “respected” central bank President Julio Velarde and picking Luis Miguel Castilla, a Harvard University-trained economist, as finance minister, S&P said.
“We expect that broad fiscal and monetary policy continuity under Peruvian President Ollanta Humala’s new government will support stronger economic policy flexibility and growth,” S&P said.
The Andean country’s economic growth averaged 7.2 percent in the past five years as policy makers tapped into a global mining boom while curbing inflation and the budget deficit.

Republican Bill to Force Major Changes at the UN

Republican Bill to Force Major Changes at the UN

Republican chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Photographer: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
House Republicans introduced legislation today that seeks to force major changes at the United Nations, using as leverage the threat to withhold some of the U.S.’s 22 percent contribution to the world body’s operating budget.
The bill by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Republican chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, would demand that the UN let countries decide how much to pay and which programs they will support, rather than assessing payments based on a formula. It would end funding for Palestinian refugees, limit use of U.S. funds to only purposes outlined by Congress and put a hold on creating or expanding peacekeeping operations until management changes are made.
“We need a UN which will advance the noble goals for which it was founded,” Ros-Lehtinen of Florida said in a statement. “The current UN continues to be plagued by scandal, mismanagement and inaction, and its agenda is frequently hijacked by rogue regimes which protect each other while targeting free democracies like the U.S. and Israel.”
Republicans are moving against the world body at a time when the Obama administration is increasingly building its foreign policy around multilateral institutions, such as the alliance-based approach on Libya.
The bill, which has 57 co-sponsors who are all Republicans, may advance in the Republican-controlled House. It is likely to face opposition in the Senate and from President Barack Obama.

Administration Opposition

“We oppose this legislation,” said Victoria Nuland, a State Department spokeswoman, at a press briefing today. She said the measure would cut by half U.S. funding for the U.N and “dangerously weaken the UN.”
“We believe in UN reform,” she said. “We just don’t think this is the right way to go about it.”
The U.S. pays 22 percent of the UN’s regular operations budget and is assessed 27 percent of the peacekeeping budget. U.S. payments totaled $3.35 billion in 2010, of which $2.67 billion was dedicated to the 16 peacekeeping operations worldwide, from South Sudan to Haiti.
“After two years of the closest and most productive cooperation in decades at the UN between Washington and the rest of the international community, it is hard to understand why Republicans in the House of Representatives are determined to poison the well,” Jeffrey Laurenti, a UN analyst at the Century Foundation, a New York-based research group, wrote in a blog post yesterday.

International Cooperation

Laurenti cites UN support for the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, the world body’s move to authorize limited military action in Libya at U.S. urging and its successful work in handing power over to the legitimate winner of Ivory Coast’s presidential election.
Brett Schaefer, a UN analyst at the Washington-based Heritage Foundation that supports many Republican initiatives, said that Ros-Lehtinen’s goals dovetail with the administration’s interests in seeing more UN accountability, improvements in peacekeeping and an end to policies that single out Israel for criticism.
“The real point of divergence is how do you achieve these policy goals,” Schaeffer said in a telephone interview.
Representative Howard Berman, the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the bill would hurt Israel and undermine U.S. leadership.
“At a time when efforts to isolate and delegitimize Israel in the General Assembly and elsewhere are gaining steam, I can’t see how a bill that will undoubtedly weaken our influence at the UN and make it harder to counter Palestinian attempts to unilaterally declare statehood is in Jerusalem’s interest, let alone our own,” Berman said in a statement.

Percentage of Contribution

If passed into law, Ros-Lehtinen’s bill would have the U.S. withhold a percentage of its contributions until at least 80 percent of the UN budget was voluntary.
The legislation also would limit the use of U.S. contributions to only the specific purposes outlined by Congress and would withhold U.S. funding for any UN agency that upgrades the status of the Palestinian observer mission or any agency that helps Palestinian refugees.
The bill would also withhold funding for the UN Human Rights Council until the State Department can certify that it doesn’t include members subject to Security Council sanctions, under Security Council-mandated investigations for human rights abuses or are state sponsors of terrorism.
Last month, Ros-Lehtinen’s committee approved an authorization bill that would cut by almost 10 percent U.S. funding for peacekeeping operations, which are assessed based on each member nation’s relative share of the global economy.

Peacekeeping Bills

U.S. law limits the peacekeeping funding to 25 percent of the cost of operations, but Congress has given an annual waiver to permit payment of the full 27 percent assessment for peacekeeping. Ros-Lehtinen wants to bring that amount down, in line with the law, the House aide said.
Ros-Lehtinen’s bill would direct the president to have his UN ambassador use the U.S. veto power in the Security Council to block the creation of new peacekeeping operations or the expansion of existing ones until reforms are made.
Groups that promote strong U.S.-UN relations, such as the Washington-based Better World Initiative, said the bill would undermine U.S. influence at the UN.
“We are hard-pressed to find a moment in history where the UN has had a greater role in promoting American interests,” said Executive Director Peter Yeo in an e-mail. The bill would “severely erode America’s leadership role at the United Nations and undermine our nation’s security.”
Tensions between the UN and the U.S. over management and funding are not new. A push for improvements in UN management came during the administration of President Bill Clinton, who signed the Helms-Biden United Nations Reform Act of 1999. It tied U.S. payments to specified steps to improve management.
In 2006, President George W. Bush’s ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, said the U.S. might push to make contributions to the UN budget voluntary, as Ros-Lehtinen is doing.

Consumer Confidence Nosedives

The debt-ceiling drama and the S&P downgrade of the US did in fact pull down consumer confidence which fell a very steep 14.7 points in August to 44.5 for the lowest reading since April 2009 (May revised three tenths lower to 59.2). Weakness is concentrated heavily in the leading component which is expectations where the consumer's outlook on employment, business conditions and on income all fell. The expectations index, at 51.9, is also at its lowest level since April 2009.

Consumer Confidence in U.S. Plunges to Lowest Since 2009 on Jobs Outlook

Women carry shopping bags in New York. Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg
Aug. 30 (Bloomberg) -- Jonathan Spector, chief executive officer of the Conference Board, talks about the group's consumer confidence survey for August and the outlook for the U.S. economy. The Conference Board’s index slumped to 44.5, the weakest since April 2009, from a revised 59.2 reading in July. Spector speaks with Matt Miller on Bloomberg Television's "Street Smart." (Source: Bloomberg)
Aug. 30 (Bloomberg) -- Robert Shiller, an economics professor at Yale University and co-creator of the S&P/Case-Shiller home-price index, talks about the U.S. housing market and economy, and his prescription for government action to boost growth and employment. Property values in 20 cities fell 4.5 percent in the year ended in June, after a 4.6 percent drop in the 12 months ended in May that was the biggest since 2009, according to the Case-Shiller index. Shiller speaks with Tom Keene on Bloomberg Television's "Surveillance Midday." (Source: Bloomberg)
Aug. 26 (Bloomberg) -- Allan Meltzer, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University and a historian of the Federal Reserve, Jacob Frenkel, chairman of JPMorgan Chase International, and Dean Maki, chief U.S. economist at Barclays Capital, offer their views on today's speech by Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke at the Kansas City Fed's annual symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. This report also contains comments by Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial Holdings Inc., Allen Sinai, chief global economist at Decision Economics Inc., Richard Dekaser, an economist at the Parthenon Group, and Kevin Hassett, director of economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. (Source: Bloomberg)
Shoppers look over merchandise at a Gap Inc. store in San Francisco. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg
Confidence among U.S. consumers plunged in August to the lowest in more than two years as Americans’ outlooks for employment, incomes and business conditions soured. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg
Confidence among U.S. consumers plunged to the lowest level in more than two years as Americans’ outlooks for employment and incomes soured.
The Conference Board’s index slumped to 44.5, the weakest since April 2009, from a revised 59.2 reading in July, figures from the New York-based research group showed today. It was the biggest point drop since October 2008. A separate report showed home prices declined for a ninth month.
Treasury yields dropped on concern consumers will pull back on the spending that makes up about 70 percent of the economy, increasing the risk of a recession. An unemployment rate above 9 percent, partisan bickering over the budget deficit and a volatile stock market weighed on sentiment.
“This paints a picture of underlying demand weakening,” said Bricklin Dwyer, an economist at BNP Paribas in New York, whose forecast of 45 was most accurate in a Bloomberg News survey. “Consumers are seeing their wealth deteriorate. We’ve seen a huge decline continuing in the housing market. They’ve also been hit on the chin by the equity markets.”
Treasuries climbed, pushing down the yield on the benchmark 10-year note down to 2.17 percent from 2.26 percent late yesterday. After declining as much as 1.2 percent, the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rose 0.2 percent to 1,212.92 at the 4 p.m. close in New York after minutes of the Federal Reserve’s last meeting showed some policy makers wanted to take more action to spur growth.

Global Confidence Slump

American consumers aren’t the only ones feeling more glum. European confidence in the economic outlook plunged in August by the most since December 2008 as a persistent debt crisis roiled markets and clouded growth prospects. An index of executive and consumer sentiment in the single-currency region fell to 98.3 from a revised 103 in July, the European Commission in Brussels said today.
The S&P/Case-Shiller index of property values in 20 cities fell 4.5 percent in June from a year earlier, after a 4.6 percent drop in the 12 months ended in May that was the biggest since 2009.
Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago President Charles Evans urged easier monetary policy to keep the recovery going after the central bank on Aug. 9 vowed to keep its benchmark interest rate close to zero at least through mid 2013.
“I would favor more accommodation,” Evans, a voting member of the Fed’s policy-making committee, said today in a CNBC television interview. “I am somewhat nervous about the economic recovery and where we stand at this point.”

Survey Results

Economists predicted the Conference Board’s gauge would fall to 52 in August, according to the median forecast in the Bloomberg survey. The index averaged 98 during the economic expansion that ended in December 2007.
The share of consumers who said jobs are currently hard to get increased to 49.1 percent, the highest since November 2009, from 44.8 percent in July. Confidence dropped in all nine U.S. regions.
“If you were advised to lean on one side or the other, I’d say it’s more likely to be slightly more negative from a sentiment perspective in consumers in the United States,” Glenn Murphy, chief executive officer of Gap Inc. (GPS), said in an Aug. 18 conference call with analysts. “Maybe the holiday season could be slightly positive, but we’re not counting on it right now.”
San Francisco-based Gap, the largest U.S. apparel chain, reported a 19 percent decline in second-quarter profit as price increases failed to keep up with higher costs to make clothes.

Other Measures

Today’s confidence report is in line with other figures. The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan final index of consumer sentiment dropped this month to the lowest level since November 2008. The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index has been hovering at levels previously consistent with recessions.
A struggling labor market is weighing on consumer sentiment. Employers added 75,000 jobs in August, compared with 117,000 in July, as the unemployment rate held at 9.1 percent, according to the median estimates in a Bloomberg survey ahead of a Sept. 2 report from the Labor Department.
“Economic growth has, for the most part, been at rates insufficient to achieve sustained reductions in unemployment,” Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said Aug. 26 at the Jackson Hole, Wyoming, central bank symposium.
The Conference Board’s data showed a measure of present conditions declined to 33.3, the second-lowest this year, from 35.7 in July. The measure of expectations for the next six months slid to 51.9, the weakest since April 2009, from 74.9.

Job Concerns

The percent of respondents expecting more jobs to become available in the next six months fell to 11.4, the lowest since March 2009, from 16.9 the previous month. The proportion expecting their incomes to rise over the next six months declined to 14.3 from 15.9. The percent expecting a drop rose to 18.7, the highest since November 2009.
Fewer respondents in the Conference Board’s survey indicated they were planning to buy a house, while more intended to purchase cars or major appliances in the next six months.
The cutoff date for the survey responses in this month’s calculation was Aug. 18, Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board’s Consumer Research Center, said in an interview. The group looked at the responses received before and after the downgrade of U.S. debt by Standard & Poor’s and saw very little difference, she said.
“The decline we saw was already in place before the downgrade, and there was really already a significant change in confidence,” said Franco.

Broad-Based Drop

All of the 20 cities in the S&P/Case-Shiller home-price index showed a year-over-year decline in June, led by an 11 percent drop in Minneapolis.
Any recovery in home values is probably years away as foreclosures dump more properties onto to the market, while a jobless rate hovering around 9 percent and strict lending rules hurt sales.
“Prices aren’t going to rebound back rapidly,” said Paul Dales, a senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics Ltd. in Toronto.

VMAs have become a carnival of self-promotion

‘Video’ games

VMAs have become a carnival of self-promotion

By Rich Juzwiak Monday, August 29, 2011

Once upon a time, the Video Music Awards pretended to care about videos, but it seems they’re not even interested in doing that anymore.

They throw some bones around that rarely make much sense. What about Katy Perry’s combustible bust made “Firework” the Video of the Year, but not the Best Female Video, which it lost to Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way?”

The needlessness of giving pop stars trophies was evident in the speeches. Gaga’s (in which she reiterated the simplistic, yet specific message of “Born”) and Perry’s (in which she reiterated the simplistic, vague message of “Firework” with “I feel like I’m doing something right when I sing that song”), in particular, were self-administered pats on the back.

Hilariously, Tyler, the Creator’s expletive-laden speech included a message for the kids, which was almost entirely inaudible. If you believe that children are the future, you’ll agree that this was for the best. Meanwhile, Dave Grohl, accepting Foo Fighters’ Best Rock Video Moonman for “Walk,” told the crowd, “Never lose faith in real rock ’n’ roll music.” He must know that the church closed a while ago, yes?

So right, the awards are stupid. There are always the performances, right? Ugh! Jessie J, the “house band” with a busted leg, bridged to and from virtually every commercial break with seated warbling. Clearly, someone still wants to make Jessie J happen, but the only thing happening is everyone on Twitter saying, “That’ll do, Jessie J.” Adele’s desolate rendition of “Someone Like You,” for which she was backed only by a piano, was supposed to set brows high, but it was a snooze (note: that song is virtually purposeless without the cord-scraping falsetto at each chorus’ conclusion). Kanye West and Jay-Z performed “Otis” together amongst flames and smoke, and their jeans said everything about its non-eventfulness. If MTV is barely bothering to care about music, Chris Brown could be its spokesman because, as he tossed around the stage in a harness, he openly lip-synched.

On the good side, Beyoncé performed the adorably dorky “Love on Top” in a sequined blazer that was straight out of the cellophane of a party store’s ringmaster costume set. At the end, she flung back her jacket and rubbed her baby bump, letting the world know what they already knew when she did something similar on the “black” carpet before the show: She is with child. Best Moonman of the Night!

Gaga opened the show with a bizarre standup routine and remained in male drag through the ceremony. Her greaser character, Jo Calderone — as seen in the video for “You and I,” a song she performed — is straight out of an S.E. Hinton cinematic adaptation and her interpretation is straight off a high school stage. It’s sometimes hard to know how to take Gaga, but any reaction beyond second-hand embarrassment for this was virtually inconceivable.

But Gaga embodied the cross-genre spirit of the show better than anyone. After all, the VMAs were ultimately the bridge between a very special “Jersey Shore” episode (Ronnie and Mike fought, but Mike hit his own head and sent himself to the hospital!) and an unappealing-sounding new show called “I Just Want My Pants Back.” (Are we British now?) Even the tribute to Amy Winehouse was basically an ad for Tony Bennett’s “Duets II” album. He presented a video of him recording “Body and Soul” with her in March. In it, she wore a shirt from her Fred Perry line of clothing, which is now available. Synergistic as always.

Bruno Mars Sues My Contract Bugs the Hell Out of Me

Bruno Mars Sues
My Contract Bugs
the Hell Out of Me

Bruno Mars is declaring war on his music publisher -- claiming the company refuses to let him out of his contract ... even though he has already delivered on his end of the bargain.

Mars has filed a lawsuit against Bug Music, Inc. -- claiming the company failed to pick up the option on his contract after he delivered an agreed upon number of songs.

In the documents, filed today in L.A. County Superior Court, Mars claims he turned in all of his music by  February -- at which point, Bug had a certain amount of time to exercise its option to continue the relationship with Mars.

Bruno claims Bug never got back to him ... so he considered the contract terminated.

According to the docs, the honchos at Bug believe Mars is wrong -- and insist he is still under a contract which gives them 50% of the copyrights of any music Bruno makes.  

Now, Mars says ... he needs a judge to issue a declaration that his contract is in fact over -- so he can move on with his career.

We called Bug for comment -- but they didn't want to talk.

Olympia Snowe On Debt Ceiling Debate: 'I've Never Seen A Worse Congress'

Olympia Snowe On Debt Ceiling Debate: 'I've Never Seen A Worse Congress'

Olympia Snowe Debt Ceiling
First Posted: 8/10/11 12:27 PM ET Updated: 8/11/11 01:02 PM ET
Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) talked to people in Saco, Maine about the debt ceiling negotiations Wednesday, and lamented the extreme partisanship that characterized the debate this summer.
“I’m embarrassed by all of us,’’ Snow said, according to the Associated Press. “I’ve never seen a worse Congress in my whole political life.’’
Polls conducted after the debt ceiling deal have showed that Americans hold an increasingly negative view of Congress. A New York Times/CBS News poll last week showed Congress' approval rating falling to 14 percent, with a record 82 percent of Americans disapproving of the way Congress is handling its job -- the most since the Times first began asking the question in 1977.
A CNN poll this week showed, for the first time in its history, that most Americans think their own representatives do not deserve reelection.
Snowe, who served as Maine's congresswoman from 1979 to 1995 and has been a senator ever since, is being targeted by the Tea Party for voting in favor of the debt ceiling deal despite the fact that it did not include a balanced budget amendment.
"Just 25 days ago, Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe told us she would vote for a debt plan with a balanced budget amendment," Scott D'Amboise, a conservative Republican who is challenging Snowe for her Senate seat, wrote in the fundraising letter just hours after the debt ceiling vote. "However, today Snowe betrayed us by voting with the Democrats for a debt deal that gives President Obama a blank check in exchange for only token spending cuts and no promise for a balanced budget amendment."

FEMA’s Budget Disaster

FEMA’s Budget Disaster

As Hurricane Irene slams into the East Coast, the federal disaster relief agency is dangerously low on cash. And politicians are already bickering about where to get new money.

US President Barack Obama (far right) and US Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano (second from right) get an update regarding Hurricane Irene at FEMA headquarters, August 27, 2011., Paul J. Richards / AFP-Getty Images
It’s been a busy year for America’s disaster agency, and that may soon spell disaster for its budget.
It started with severe winter storms in the east and southwest in January. Tsunami waves from the Japanese earthquake struck the West Coast and Hawaii in March, followed by the tornado that flattened parts of southern Missouri in May. Several Midwest states saw flooding earlier this month. And an earthquake and hurricane rocked the East Coast this week.
So far in 2011, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has responded to  “major disasters” 65 times, among the highest in the agency’s history. The unprecedented demand has stretched the agency and its budget increasingly thin.
Craig Fugate, FEMA’s administrator, told White House reporters in May that the agency’s disaster relief fund was running low, then just above $1 billion. Without an infusion from Congress, he said, relief workers would only address immediate needs, like delivering food and water, instead of less immediate concerns like clearing felled trees and cleaning streets.
But just weeks before the worst of Hurricane Irene began to pelt Washington, D.C. and New York with heavy rain and wind, the agency’s disaster relief fund dropped below $1 billion—to $792 million—nearly the lowest the fund has ever been only eight months into the year. As a result, FEMA officials on Saturday implemented what’s known as "immediate needs funding guidance,” which allows the agency to divert funds from long-term repair and rebuilding projects so it can focus on response and recovery efforts from the hurricane.
FEMA spokesperson Rachel Racusen said that the agency had the funds to meet the immediate needs of disaster survivors. But, she said, "This strategy prioritizes the immediate, urgent needs of survivors and states when preparing for or responding to a disaster."

That means the agency may have to forego recovery projects that it normally does in states that turn to the agency for help. Previously, cash-strapped states have relied on FEMA to help rebuild schools, hospitals and other public infrastructure after major natural disasters. But with a bank balance of $792 million to respond to the areas affected by the hurricane, stretching from North Carolina up to New England, officials expect those funds to deplete quickly in the coming few days.
Getting the agency more money for both Irene and disasters through the rest of the year will require an act of Congress. But already the issue has become political, with the same fault lines forming as they did during the debt debate that paralyzed Washington last month.
Neither party has threatened to deny funds for areas and people in need, but House Republicans, including Majority Leader Eric Cantor, have vowed that any new funding for FEMA will have to come from money cut elsewhere from the federal budget.
“We’ve had discussions about these things before and [FEMA] monies will be offset with appropriate savings or cost-cutting elsewhere in order to meet the priority of the federal government’s role in a situation like this,” Cantor said at a news conference after last week’s earthquake. His district, just south of Washington DC was among the hardness hit by the trembler.
Democrats see the GOP trying to make disaster relief a political debate over what spending is needed and what isn’t and accused Republicans of setting up political arguments in the wake of a debilitating disaster.
“Millions of Americans will suffer if we artificially handcuff the government when it comes to disaster relief,” Rep. Chris Van Hollen says.
“We should try to realistically budget for emergencies but millions of Americans will suffer if we artificially handcuff the government when it comes to disaster relief,” Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat whose district borders Washington, told Newsweek and The Daily Beast. “That’s a negligent approach to governing.”
Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for Cantor, said that no request has yet been made for federal funding, and if money is needed Congress will respond appropriately.
Meanwhile, a group of senior Republicans have already placed the blame squarely on the White House and the Democratically controlled Senate.
Reps. Hal Rogers, (R-KY), Robert Aderholt (R-AL), and Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO), who all sit on the Appropriations Committee, released a statement Saturday morning when it started raining in Washington. The reason for FEMA’s money problem, they said, was that Democrats didn’t make the agency’s budget big enough to begin with.

Ron Paul: FEMA Signals Too Much 'Dependency' On The Federal Government In Disasters (VIDEO)

Ron Paul: FEMA Signals Too Much 'Dependency' On The Federal Government In Disasters (VIDEO)

WASHINGTON -- With reports that Hurricane Irene killed at least 10 people, knocked out power to more than 2 million homes and businesses and left many towns flooded over the weekend, presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) stood by his controversial belief that the federal government should reduce its role in disaster relief.
On Friday, Paul told NBC News that there was nothing "magic" about the Federal Emergency Disaster Agency (FEMA), which has been coordinating the response to Hurricane Irene.
"We should be like 1900, we should be like 1940, 1950, 1960," said the Texas congressman during a stop in New Hampshire.
In an interview with "Fox News Sunday," Paul -- who appeared on the show immediately after an interview with FEMA Director Craig Fugate -- stood by his remarks but acknowledged that it would take time to get rid of the agency.
"It's a system of bureaucratic central-economic planning, which is a fallacy that is deeply flawed. So no, you don't get rid of something like that in one day," he said.
"I propose that we save a billion from the overseas war mongering, bring half that home and put it against the deficit, and yes, tide people over until we come to our senses and realize that FEMA has been around since 1978. It has one of the worst reputations for a bureaucracy ever," added Paul, arguing that federal money often goes to contractors instead of disaster victims.
In 1900, the year that Paul cited as a model for disaster intervention, "the greatest natural disaster to ever strike the United States occurred at Galveston, Texas," according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. More than 6,000 people died.
In 2008, Hurricane Ike hit parts of the Texas Coast. Paul voted against a bill to send millions of dollars in federal aid to the area, which included his district.
Paul also said he would vote against any request for additional money for FEMA, if the Obama administration asks for an emergency funding bill. He said it was time citizens "transition out of the dependency on the federal government."
"Where would the money come from?" he responded. "We don't have any money. What are you going to do? Go hat in hand to China and borrow the money? ... The whole idea of FEMA is a gross distortion of insurance. "
Earlier in the show, host Chris Wallace asked Fugate whether FEMA will need emergency spending to deal with Irene. The FEMA director replied that they currently have enough funds to deal with the response, although the agency may need more as the full toll becomes clearer.
"Going into this storm, we had over $800 million still in the relief fund, which is allowing us to continue the response in the existing disasters and ramp up for this one," he said. "Really, Chris, it depends on how much damages and recovery and rebuilding costs and that will determine how much more funds we're going to need. We won't know that until we actually get out and see some of the damages and do some of the damage assessments. But for the response piece, we do have the funds there to go, and we are committing the resources, even as Irene moves up the coast."
Houses Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has not gone as far as Paul, but he has argued that any potential emergency funding for natural disasters must be offset by spending cuts elsewhere. His remarks have been criticized by members of both parties.
Cantor's own district was in the path of Hurricane Irene, but when The Huffington Post asked his spokesman last week whether he would require offsets for aid specifically tied to the storm, he declined to comment.

Drug testing of welfare applicants a GOP fishing expedition

Drug testing of welfare applicants a GOP fishing expedition

During his 2010 gubernatorial campaign, Rick Scott promised to keep drug abusers off Florida's welfare rolls.

Scott, who called for drug testing of welfare applicants with Elmer Gantry-like fervor and credibility while on the stump, got his way earlier this year when the state's GOP-dominated legislature passed a law requiring such examinations.
"Studies show that people that are on welfare are higher users of (illegal) drugs than people not on welfare," the Florida governor said on CNN shortly before the law took effect in July. While there are also studies that dispute Scott's contention, his push for drug testing has inspired copycat efforts in at least 26 other states.
His scheme has also hit an unexpected snag. So far, just 2% of Florida's welfare applicants have tested positive for illegal drug use; another 2% failed to complete the application process; and 96% were found to be drug-free. While every applicant is required to pay for their drug test, the state must reimburse those who pass.
Takes the Fifth
Even so, Scott — who invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination 75 times during a 2000 civil suit brought against him and Columbia/HCA, the troubled company he led — has shown no misgivings about treating poor Floridians like criminals. That's what happens when ideology overtakes good sense. Scott's drug-testing program, like those championed in other states, is part of a right-wing effort to reduce the size and role of government. It is a fishing expedition to find a reason to cut the welfare rolls. It is premised on the hunch that women with children who are destitute enough to ask a state for temporary cash assistance are more inclined than others to abuse drugs. Ironically, as unemployment rose during the current economic downturn, the number of people receiving welfare was "at or near the lowest in more than 40 years," The New York Timesreported in 2009.
Florida's law offers poor mothers with needy children no "Fifth Amendment" opportunity to avoid being tested for illegal drug use. It gives those found to be drug users no chance to enter a drug treatment program to keep from being denied the financial assistance they need for their children. So, in essence, Florida's law punishes children for the sins of their parent.
What about the children?
Scott says his law is meant to prevent the misuse of taxpayers' money. But he makes no allowance for the fate of those needy children to whom it denies welfare assistance. Drug testing not based on reasonable suspicion smacks of an unconstitutional search, the kind of government intrusion upon an individual's rights that conservatives ought to rail against.
But Scott's assault on welfare mothers plays to the right-wing argument that big government is the playground of left-wing radicals — and a crutch for shiftless people. Scott rode this position to victory in the governor's race in the Sunshine State, which will be a key battleground in next year's presidential election. By treating mothers who apply for welfare benefits as a criminal class who must disprove a suspicion of drug abuse before obtaining badly needed support, Scott panders to the soft bigotry of class warfare.
And he becomes an integral part of the rot that is eating away at this nation's body politic.

China announces plans to boost secret detention powers

China announces plans to boost secret detention powers

A paramilitary policeman stands next to a gate at the Forbidden City, in central Beijing, August 25, 2011. REUTERS/Jason Lee
BEIJING | Tue Aug 30, 2011 9:41am EDT
(Reuters) - China wants to cement in law police powers to hold dissidents and other suspects of state security crimes in secret locations without telling their families, under draft legislation released on Tuesday that has been decried by rights advocates.
The critics said the proposed amendments to China's Criminal Procedure Code could embolden authorities to go further with the kind of shadowy detentions that swept up human rights lawyers, veteran protesters and the prominent artist-dissident, Ai Weiwei, earlier this year.
"If this was already law, then people like me, Ai Weiwei and many others could have been detained with even fewer problems and obstacles and with a firmer legal basis," said Jiang Tianyong, a lawyer in Beijing.
Jiang was detained for two months without any contact with his family earlier this year, when the government cracked down on dissent over fears that unrest in the Arab world could spill into China.
"This would be a big step backwards, but I wouldn't discount the strong possibility of it becoming law," added Jiang. "More people would face the risk of being disappeared."
Ai Weiwei, whose detention sparked an international outcry, said in a commentary published on Sunday that "the worst thing about Beijing is that you can never trust the judicial system."
Crime suspects and defendants detained under "residential surveillance" should usually be held in their own homes, says the proposed law released by China's National People's Congress, the Communist Party-controlled parliament. But politically sensitive crimes can be treated differently.
"Those suspected of committing state security crimes, terrorist crimes and major bribery crimes" can be held at locations outside usual detention centers, says the draft released on the parliament's website (
Likewise, the families of ordinary suspects and defendants held under "residential surveillance" should be notified of their status within 24 hours. But in state security and other sensitive cases, police do not have to tell the families "if notification could hinder investigations," says the draft.
In China, "state security crimes" include subversion and other charges often used to punish dissidents who challenge the ruling Communist Party.
China's police already have broad powers to hold people, and the party-controlled courts rarely challenge how those powers are exercised. But critics said the amendment would add an extra veneer of legitimacy to arbitrary powers.
"This is in complete contravention of international standards. One of the key principles of international human rights law is deprivation of freedom can only take place if it has been decided by the court," said Nicholas Bequelin, a researcher on China for Human Rights Watch, an advocacy group based in New York.
The Chinese government appeared to be bristling at the uproar triggered by its secretive detention of Ai Weiwei and other dissidents, said Bequelin, who was interviewed before the full draft of the proposed amendments was issued.
"The response is not to be more respectful of the law, but simply to change the law and remove the protections that were there," he said.
China's parliament said citizens were welcome to comment until the end of September on the proposed amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code before lawmakers take them up. The country's state-run news agency said the rules on residential surveillance were enlightened.
The draft amendment "will further help protect human rights, and conforms rather than contradicts international conventions," the Xinhua news agency said, citing several Chinese legal scholars.
The clauses authorizing police not to tell families where detainees are held "are an exception, and will not become regular," Song Yinghui, a law professor at Beijing Normal University told Xinhua.
But independent Chinese rights advocates said the amendment would mark a big setback for legal rights if it passed into law under parliamentary approval.
In principle, residential surveillance is a more humane kind of detention, allowing suspects and defendants to stay with their families, said Li Fangping, a Beijing lawyer who has defended dissidents and protesters.
In practice, he and other critics said, it is used as a pretext to spirit detainees away to informal detention sites, including hotels, without telling their families or lawyers.
"If you can hold someone somewhere without effective means of oversight, without allowing detainees to see lawyers, then their rights guarantees face dreadful prospects," said Li.
Some lawyers said the proposed amendment was likely to become law, despite the controversy that has spilled onto China's Internet; others said the amendment could be diluted or even dropped. All were unsure when the parliament would next consider the amendments.
"This is going to be controversial, because it marks an excessive expansion of police powers," said Li. "I don't know if opposing this can work, but we'll certainly try."
(Additional reporting by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Brian Rhoads and Nick Macfie)

China state media urge crackdown on microblog "rumors"

China state media urge crackdown on microblog "rumors"

BEIJING | Tue Aug 30, 2011 3:27am EDT
(Reuters) - China's state-run news agency demanded on Tuesday that Internet companies, regulators and police do more to cleanse websites of "toxic rumors," adding to signs that the ruling Communist Party wants to tame the explosion of freewheeling microblogs.
The Xinhua news agency's denunciation of Internet "rumor mongering" came after a senior official last week urged Sina Corp and other Chinese companies do more to staunch harmful hearsay among the 200 million or more Chinese who use Twitter-like microblogs to spread information with lightning speed.
China's Internet, with more registered users than any other nation, is a lively forum for public opinion, said Xinhua.
"However, the rapid advance of this flood has also brought 'mud and sand' -- the spread of rumors -- and to nurture a healthy Internet, we must thoroughly eradicate the soil in which rumors grow," it added.
"Concocting rumors is itself a social malady, and the spread of rumors across the Internet presents a massive social threat," it said, noting the capacity of blogs and microblogs to spark the "explosive" proliferation of falsehoods.
A Xinhua comment does not amount to a policy directive, but this one and other recent signals suggest tighter censorship, whether formal or informal, is on policy-makers' minds.
"Fundamentally eradicating the soil in which rumors sprout and spread will demand stronger Internet administration from the responsible agencies, raising the intensity of attacks on rumors," said the Chinese-language Xinhua commentary.
The feverish growth and growing influence of microblogs appear to have unsettled officials, who have complained that such sites can spread baseless rumors unchecked, sowing panic and distrust of government.
The number of Chinese people using microblog sites reached 195 million by the end of June, an increase of 209 percent on the number at the end of 2010, according to the China Internet Network Information Center. But Sina this month reported that its microblogging "Weibo" site, which dominates the scene, alone had grown to 200 million registered accounts.
These microblogs allow people to shoot out short bursts of opinion, presenting a quandary for censors. They fear an uproar if they shut the popular sites, but struggle to keep ahead of the rapid-fire messages that can spread news and opinion the government, wary of any social unrest, would like to contain.
China's state-run television news recently denounced the spread of unfounded rumors on microblogs, called "Weibo" in Chinese, and demanded more be done to staunch accusations of official foul play, corruption and misdeeds that officials have said can spread in spite of no supporting evidence.
Many users of Sina's site ( leapt on the Xinhua comment as evidence that tighter censorship is coming.
"If this was really about quashing rumors, Internet users would surely welcome that, but I fear that this is not about mere rumors," wrote one user.
"It's more about waving this banner as a pretext to cleanse so-called rumors and ban the people from telling the truth."
China's microbloggers showed their potency in a string of recent official scandals, particularly the online uproar in the wake of a high-speed bullet train crash in July that killed 40 people. Microbloggers led the charge in challenging rail officials' evasive accounts of the disaster.
Last week, Sina sent out messages that microblog users had their accounts frozen for a month for spreading false rumors: one saying the Red Cross Society of China profiteered from donated blood; another that the killer of a young woman escaped punishment because of family political connections.
The Communist Party secretary of Beijing, Liu Qi, also weighed in. During a visit to's offices in the national capital, Liu both praised and chided the Weibo site.
"Internet sites must actively explore strengthening administration and resolutely blocking the spread of false and harmful information," he said, according to a report in the Beijing Daily.
For critics, such words augur stricter censorship of the Internet, especially news and comment unwelcome to wary party officials, irrespective of whether it is true or false. China heavily filters the Internet, and blocks popular foreign sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
Sina and other Chinese microblog operators already deploy technicians and software to monitor content, and block and remove comment deemed unacceptable, especially about protests, official scandals and party leaders.
The Xinhua commentary said police should mete out more punishment to people found culpable of spreading falsehoods.
"To staunch the spread of rumors, have the central leaders face up to their history, have Xinhua end bogus news, have the National Bureau of Statistics end fake data," said one Sina microblog user, denouncing the Xinhua commentary.
"The most effective way to eradicate rumors is openness and transparency," wrote another.

Nana Teens, Rated X

Nana Teens

 RT:   Susan Elaine Cooper



Monday, August 29, 2011

Irene leaves 5.5 million without power, hits refining

Irene leaves 5.5 million without power, hits refining

Related Topics

NEW YORK | Mon Aug 29, 2011 3:33pm EDT
(Reuters) - Energy firms along the Eastern Seaboard scrambled on Monday to resume operations after Hurricane Irene left 5.5 million customers without power.
Utility firms whose transmission lines were battered by the storm over the weekend faced the most daunting workload, with millions of homes and businesses from North Carolina to Maine still cut off. They said the work would take days, and up to weeks in the hardest-hit zones, as they dealt with flooding and debris.
"Irene was weaker than some expected, but it will probably take a week to restore power to some areas," said energy analyst Peter Beutel of Cameron Hanover in Connecticut.
"The storm shouldn't have a permanent impact on energy infrastructure."
ConocoPhillips' 238,000 barrel per day (bpd) Bayway oil refinery in Linden, New Jersey was due to restart on Monday after closing Saturday, a source familiar with the plant said.
Sunoco shut a crude unit at its Philadelphia refinery after a pump was flooded, sources said. The company was boosting output at another Pennsylvania plant, Marcus Hook.
Other East Coast refineries that throttled back for Irene were resuming normal operations.
One nuclear power reactor at Constellation Energy's Calvert Cliffs facility in Maryland remained shut after being struck by wind-blown debris on Sunday, but the company said the plant was safe. Other plants that reduced operations were preparing to restore normal rates, while Exelon Corp's Oyster Creek New Jersey plant, which supplies up to 600,000 homes, remained offline.
By Monday, only a small portion of the 6 million customers whose power was cut off by Irene had their electricity restored. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) estimated that 5.5 million customers were still affected as of 10:00 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT).
New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Virginia -- where the outages were greatest in number -- all had more than 600,000 customers without power on Monday.
In Rhode Island around two-thirds of all customers had no power, or nearly 275,000, the DOE said.
In New York State, where 939,000 customers were down on Monday, electric companies had managed to restore electricity to only 4,000 users overnight, the DOE figures showed.
Consolidated Edison, which powers New York City and nearby Westchester County, said nearly 100,000 remained affected in those areas. It expected to restore city customers by late Tuesday and others by Thursday.
Utilities warned that work could be slow-going.
"There are still areas we can't get to because of flooding and debris," said Jersey Central spokesman Ron Morano, who estimated that restoring service would take several days. Around a third of the firm's 1.1 million customers in central and northern New Jersey were affected on Monday.
The New York Harbor, a shipping hub for millions of barrels a day in crude oil and refined products, said it expected to resume normal activities on Monday after Irene's approach forced the port to restrict vessel traffic. The Port of Philadelphia, which serves nearby refineries, also reopened.
The 2.37 million bpd Colonial pipeline system, which ships refined oil products from the Gulf Coast to New York, said on Monday it was nearly ready to resume normal operations. The storm cut power to some oil terminals supplied by the pipeline.
Kinder Morgan's 600,000 bpd Plantation pipeline from North Carolina to Washington D.C. resumed normal operations on Monday after a brief shutdown during the storm.
(Additional reporting by David Sheppard, Janet McGurty, Jeanine Prezioso, Eileen Moustakis, Joe Silha, Kristen Hays and Jeff Kerr; Editing by Bob Burgdorfer, Matthew Robinson and Alden Bentley)