Monday, March 31, 2008

Paulson's regulation plan won't fix current economic crisis

Kevin G. Hall | McClatchy Newspapers

last updated: March 30, 2008 07:27:59 PM

WASHINGTON - Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson makes public on Monday a new blueprint for regulation of the turbulent financial markets, one that has plenty to do with the future and little to fix what ails the economy right now.

The plan would merge some federal bank regulators, weaken the agency that regulates the stock market and broaden the shoulders of the Federal Reserve, which will become the chief regulator for the safety and soundness of financial markets.

It's the broadest reform of oversight in the financial markets since the aftermath of the Great Depression and is sure to touch off a frenzy by Gucci-shoed lobbyists in the months and years ahead.

Exclusive: 22-year-old Pentagon arms dealer also marketed to civilians

The 22-year-old Florida man who allegedly provided old, substandard Chinese-manufactured ammunition to troops in Afghanistan as part of a nearly $300 million Pentagon contract also started a private company that specialized in selling foreign munitions to civilian gun enthusiasts, according to public documents, a RAW STORY investigation reveals.

Efraim E. Diveroli, 22, could face federal fraud charges after he tried to pass off the Chinese ammo as manufactured in Hungary. His company, AEY Inc., was banned from doing future business with the Defense Department after the New York Times revealed the shady circumstances surrounding a $298 million contract he received in January 2007.

CNN: Iran helped broker ceasefire in Iraq

It was reported on Sunday that Iranian officials had helped broker a ceasefire agreement in the recent fighting between Iraq's government and radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Iran has close ties to both al-Sadr's movement and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and representatives of two of the parties in Maliki's coalition traveled to Iran to finalize the talks.

Paul Krugman: The Dilbert Strategy

Anyone who has worked in a large organization — or, for that matter, reads the comic strip “Dilbert” — is familiar with the “org chart” strategy. To hide their lack of any actual ideas about what to do, managers sometimes make a big show of rearranging the boxes and lines that say who reports to whom.

You now understand the principle behind the Bush administration’s new proposal for financial reform, which will be formally announced today: it’s all about creating the appearance of responding to the current crisis, without actually doing anything substantive.

The financial events of the last seven months, and especially the past few weeks, have convinced all but a few diehards that the U.S. financial system needs major reform. Otherwise, we’ll lurch from crisis to crisis — and the crises will get bigger and bigger.

Revamp Proposed for Financial Regulators

Monday March 31, 6:56 pm ET
By Jeannine Aversa, AP Economics Writer

Proposed Financial Overhaul Puts Fed in Charge of Market Stability; No Fix for Present Woes WASHINGTON (AP) -- It's a Herculean task: revamping a financial regulatory system dating back to the Civil War to deal with 21st century crises imperiling the country.

Under an ambitious Bush administration plan, the Federal Reserve would take on the unwieldy role of uber cop in charge of financial market stability. Other regulatory agencies could see their influence diminished.

The proposal won't fix the host of economic and financial problems that threatens to plunge the United States into a deep recession, but it might help guard against future troubles. It would take years and a lot of political wrangling -- in Congress, on Wall Street, in statehouses and elsewhere -- to implement all the changes envisioned.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Commentary: Shame on them and shame on us

Joseph L. Galloway | McClatchy Newspapers
last updated: March 26, 2008 12:31:38 PM

This week, the Iraq war claimed its 4,000th American killed in action, but that sad and tragic milestone came as the war seems to have slipped off the evening news, off the front pages and from the minds of the American people.

I suppose this benign neglect of so important and damaging an event is combat fatigue on the part of the public. No doubt the White House is happy to see Iraq shoved to a back burner, just as all three presidential candidates are relieved to talk about something else, anything else, but their half-baked ideas about the war.

Shame on them, and shame on us, for such callous indifference to the service, sacrifice and suffering of the families of the dead, wounded and injured troops who've given so much for so little in return.

The Decriminalization of Corporate Crime

Posted on Mar 29, 2008
By Stanley Kutler

With our economic and financial crises deepening, government insiders reportedly are debating whether we need to restore some regulation—or not. Given the state of things, we can expect further woes and no regulation.

Why have regulation when JPMorgan can gobble up Bear Stearns for peanuts, with the backstage encouragement and acquiescence of the Federal Reserve Board? The Fed’s concern for the big investors is no surprise, and it needed no cue from John McCain to reject any thoughts of helping the victims of the banks’ sting operations. Meanwhile, JPMorgan has offered bonuses to Bears Stearns’ top brokers to stay on, though many of them are probably responsible for the subprime loans Bear Stearns so aggressively pursued.

Time to honour America’s debt to the retired

By John Shilling

Published: March 27 2008 19:09 | Last updated: March 27 2008 19:09

The first American baby boomers have now become eligible to retire and start drawing on Social Security, the government pension programme. Many politicians are telling us that the resulting rise in Social Security “entitlement” payments will break the budget, so we have to cut benefits to retired people. But the politicians do not want to mention that the Social Security system has been compiling a huge surplus. Why? Because they have been using that surplus for years to hide the real size of the current federal budget deficit, allowing them to spend more and justify tax cuts for the wealthy.

US Office of Management and Budget data show that while government’s reported deficit averaged about $300bn a year from 2002 to 2006 – roughly $4,000 per household – the real current deficit was actually more than 50 per cent bigger. The government just “borrowed” about $165bn from the Social Security Trust Fund every year – under the table.

The Degeneration of American Education

The high-stakes testing mania in general and No Child Left Behind in particular have reduced too much of public education to a system to be games. Some people play the game sincerely and seriously. The teachers and principal in Linda Perlstein's Tested are such players. They have doubts about the value of the state test, but they strive mightily to get their impoverished students over that barrier. After the test is given in late spring, they start acting like real teachers in a real school -- they take the kids to museums and aquariums and to watch the Blue Angels perform. They make art and write poetry. But only in the short time between the state test and the end of the school year.

Some people play it cynically, doing whatever it takes to get children close to the passing score -- the bubble kids -- off the bubble and into the magic kingdom of "proficient." The "sure things" and "hopeless cases" are ignored. Or emphasizing the increasing passing rates on a required test as students enter their senior year, not taking into account the massive dropouts that have occurred along the way. Or establishing "leaver codes" in sufficient number that a school can have over 1000 9th-graders, fewer than 300 12th-graders and zero dropouts.

10 days That Changed Capitalism

By Robert Borosage
March 28th, 2008 - 12:31pm ET

By Rob Johnson and Robert Borosage

The world has changed. The market fundamentalism that has dominated our economics over last three decades has been unmasked as a sham, deemed useless by the guardian of the integrity of finance itself, the Federal Reserve.

Without a vote of the Congress or a public debate, the Bush administration and the Federal Reserve have made government the guarantor of the shadow banking system – the unregulated, unhinged hedge funds and investment houses whose compulsive excesses now threaten the global economy. They say necessity is the mother of invention, but we seen only a part of the new machine, not surprisingly, the part that buttresses Wall Street. They have scrambled to put this together in an emergency, behind closed doors, without a hint of the necessary regulatory changes that must rationally accompany such guarantees. That is what the fight in the coming months will surely be about.

Girls Will Be Girls. Or Not.

Why aren't more powerful public women caught up in sex scandals?

By Julia Baird | NEWSWEEK
Mar 31, 2008 Issue | Updated: 1:04 p.m. ET Mar 22, 2008

Catherine the Great was a woman with an extravagant, exacting sexual appetite. During the 34 years of her reign, she had a host of young, well-trained lovers—many of them soldiers—who were paid handsomely for sating her, and were often rewarded with plum positions on her court, or gifts of property or serfs. Her libido was so legendary that when she died of a stroke in 1796, rumor spread quickly that she had been crushed under the weight of a stallion she was attempting to have sex with. It's a myth that has endured, and serves as a reminder of our fascination with powerful, sexual women: will they stop at nothing?

The question is, as another round of public sex scandals unfolds, where are these women today? The confessions of Eliot Spitzer, David Paterson (the man who, on the same day he replaced Spitzer, admitted to past affairs) and, more recently, the allegations against Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, pale when compared with tales of the Russian empress. Yet while there has been a spate of men caught with their pants around their ankles in recent years, political scientists scratch their heads when asked to come up with a female equivalent for the men--Spitzer, former New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey--the New York tabs have dubbed "Luv Guvs."

A Case of the Blues

Published: March 30, 2008

Correction Appended

The Oklahoma Congressman Tom Cole is 58 years old, but he has never been famous before, and after this year, he will most likely never be famous again. Even this kind of fame, brief and slight, is uncomfortable on him. Cole is a party man, a lifelong Republican consultant, campaign worker and politician whose career, like that of a typical European Social Democrat, has recognized only a fluid and fungible line between political operative and elected official. It sometimes seems an accident he’s in Congress at all. He is tall and slightly formal, and slightly awkward; people who meet him casually describe him as cordial or gentlemanly. The Republican Party, in its current uncertainty, might have chosen an ideologue to fill Cole’s post or, as is its habit, a money man. Its choice of Cole, an operative, was the establishment insisting that its own learned habits were enough to save itself. “Right now, with where we are,” Ken Mehlman, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, told me, “Tom Cole is the perfect leader.”

Rich Men Behaving Badly

Meet the super-rich, the dysfunctional class threatening American values.

By Daniel Gross
Posted Saturday, March 29, 2008, at 7:08 AM ET

For decades, social scientists, policy wonks, and politicians have studied and debated what's come to be known as the "culture of poverty." The consensus: A group of Americans is set apart from the mainstream by geography, class, and income. Its members adhere to norms that don't apply to the rest of society and engage in self-destructive behavior that imposes significant costs on the nation at large. The culture of poverty has made for potent politics (remember Ronald Reagan's fictitious welfare queen?) and spawned best-selling polemics from the right (Charles Murray) to the left (Jonathan Kozol).

We don't hear as much about the culture of poverty these days. Perhaps it's because the market turmoil is making us all feel a little poorer. Or perhaps it's because a highly visible group is now exhibiting all the outward appearances of the underclass: the overclass. Forget welfare queens and the culture of poverty. Think Wall Street kings and the culture of affluence.

Struggling homeowners find little hope in federal program

WASHINGTON — In the nearly four months since Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson challenged mortgage lenders to modify distressed home loans voluntarily to ease record numbers of foreclosures, it remains difficult to gauge the program's success.

McClatchy followed several homeowners as they worked with — and sometimes battled — lenders and loan collectors during the mortgage modification process, called Hope Now.

These homeowners got their loan problems fixed, either temporarily or permanently, but the process was arduous and varied. Some got stays from foreclosure, while others merely saw the threat pushed into the future. For many, the total values of their loans didn't drop and remained larger than the current values of their homes.

Those who control oil and water will control the world

New superpowers are competing for diminishing resources as Britain becomes a bit-player. The outcome could be deadly

This article appeared in the Observer on Sunday March 30 2008 on p33 of the Comment section. It was last updated at 00:03 on March 30 2008.

History may not repeat itself, but, as Mark Twain observed, it can sometimes rhyme. The crises and conflicts of the past recur, recognisably similar even when altered by new conditions. At present, a race for the world's resources is underway that resembles the Great Game that was played in the decades leading up to the First World War. Now, as then, the most coveted prize is oil and the risk is that as the contest heats up it will not always be peaceful. But this is no simple rerun of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Today, there are powerful new players and it is not only oil that is at stake.

It was Rudyard Kipling who brought the idea of the Great Game into the public mind in Kim, his cloak-and-dagger novel of espionage and imperial geopolitics in the time of the Raj. Then, the main players were Britain and Russia and the object of the game was control of central Asia's oil. Now, Britain hardly matters and India and China, which were subjugated countries during the last round of the game, have emerged as key players. The struggle is no longer focused mainly on central Asian oil. It stretches from the Persian Gulf to Africa, Latin America, even the polar caps, and it is also a struggle for water and depleting supplies of vital minerals. Above all, global warming is increasing the scarcity of natural resources. The Great Game that is afoot today is more intractable and more dangerous than the last.

Frank Rich: Hillary’s St. Patrick’s Day Massacre

MOST politicians lie. Most people over 50, as I know all too well, misremember things. So here is the one compelling mystery still unresolved about Hillary Clinton’s Bosnia fairy tale: Why did she keep repeating this whopper for nearly three months, well after it had been publicly debunked by journalists and eyewitnesses?

In January, after Senator Clinton first inserted the threat of “sniper fire” into her stump speech, Elizabeth Sullivan of The Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote that the story couldn’t be true because by the time of the first lady’s visit in March 1996, “the war was over.” Meredith Vieira asked Mrs. Clinton on the “Today” show why, if she was on the front lines, she took along a U.S.O. performer like Sinbad. Earlier this month, a week before Mrs. Clinton fatefully rearmed those snipers one time too many, Sinbad himself spoke up to The Washington Post: “I think the only ‘red phone’ moment was: Do we eat here or at the next place?”

The Wright Controversy Revealed America's Deeply Insecure Side

By Matt Taibbi,
Posted on March 27, 2008, Printed on March 30, 2008

The word "squeeb" is a crude mix of squid and dweeb, and by inventing it I mean no disrespect to the squid, which in most respects is an excellent and admirable animal. In the ocean there's almost nothing you'd rather be than a squid, one of nature's most perfect predators -- fast, resilient, ruthless, more intelligent by leaps and bounds than your average fish, and able to squeeze into impossibly tiny cracks. In the ocean, there is no hiding from a squid, I tell you.

But on land, a squid is about as useless as it gets. It's a spineless, squishy little hunk of seafood that wouldn't stand a chance in a cage match with a baby squirrel. It has no heart, and its first instinct when trouble comes is to hide in a cloud of its own excretions. This is why a squiddy word like squeeb seems to me to be a good way to describe the American voter during a presidential election season.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Warlord vs. Warlord

What are they fighting about in Basra?

The wars in Iraq (the plural is no typo) are about to expand and possibly explode, so it might be useful to have some notion of what we're in for.

Here is President George W. Bush, speaking this morning in Dayton, Ohio, and revealing once again that he has no notion:

[A]s we speak, Iraqi security forces are waging a tough battle against militia fighters and criminals in Basra—many of whom have received arms and training and funding from Iran. … This offensive builds on the security gains of the surge and demonstrates to the Iraqi people that their government is committed to protecting them. … [T]he enemy will try to fill the TV screens with violence. But the ultimate result will be this: Terrorists and extremists in Iraq will know they have no place in a free and democratic society.

Paul Krugman: Loans and Leadership

When George W. Bush first ran for the White House, political reporters assured us that he came across as a reasonable, moderate guy.

Yet those of us who looked at his policy proposals — big tax cuts for the rich and Social Security privatization — had a very different impression. And we were right.

The moral is that it’s important to take a hard look at what candidates say about policy. It’s true that past promises are no guarantee of future performance. But policy proposals offer a window into candidates’ political souls — a much better window, if you ask me, than a bunch of supposedly revealing anecdotes and out-of-context quotes.

The $3 Trillion War

After wildly lowballing the cost of the Iraq conflict at a mere $50 to $60 billion, the Bush administration has been concealing the full economic toll. The spending on military operations is merely the tip of a vast fiscal iceberg. In an excerpt from their new book, the authors calculate the grim bottom line.

by Joseph E. Stiglitz and Linda J. Bilmes
April 2008

On March 19, 2008, the U.S. will have been in Iraq for five years. The Bush administration was wrong about the need for the Iraq war and about the benefits the war would bring to Iraq, to the region, and to America. It has also been wrong about the full cost of the war, and it continues to take steps to conceal that cost.

In the run-up to the war there were few public discussions of the likely price tag. When Lawrence Lindsey, President Bush’s economic adviser, suggested that it might reach $200 billion all told, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld dismissed the estimate as “baloney.” Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz went as far as to suggest that Iraq’s postwar reconstruction would pay for itself through increased oil revenues. Rumsfeld and Office of Management and Budget Director Mitch Daniels estimated the total cost of the war in the range of $50 to $60 billion, some of which they believed would be financed by other countries.

US gave $300m arms contract to 22-year-old with criminal record

· Old stock sent to Afghan forces battling Taliban
· 40-year-old ammunition had to be destroyed

Suzanne Goldenberg in Washington
Friday March 28 2008

This article appeared in the Guardian on Friday March 28 2008 on p18 of the International section. It was last updated at 00:14 on March 28 2008.

The Pentagon entrusted a 22-year-old previously arrested for domestic violence and having a forged driving licence to be the main supplier of ammunition to Afghan forces at the height of the battle against the Taliban, it was reported yesterday.

AEY, essentially a one-man operation based in an unmarked office in Miami Beach, Florida, was awarded a contract worth $300m (£150m) to supply the Afghan army and police in January last year. But as the New York Times reported in a lengthy investigation, AEY's president, Efraim Diversoli, 22, supplied stock that was 40 years old and rotting packing material.

Obama's Sweeping Foreign Policy Critique

By Spencer Ackerman, The American Prospect
Posted on March 28, 2008, Printed on March 29, 2008

When Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama met in California for the Jan. 31 debate, their back-and-forth resembled their many previous encounters, with the Democratic presidential hopefuls scrambling for the small policy yardage between them. And then Obama said something about the Iraq War that wasn't incremental at all. "I don't want to just end the war," he said, "but I want to end the mind-set that got us into war in the first place."

Until this point in the primaries, Clinton and Obama had sounded very similar on this issue. Despite their differences in the past (Obama opposed the war, while Clinton voted for it), both were calling for major troop withdrawals, with some residual force left behind to hedge against catastrophe. But Obama's concise declaration of intent at the debate upended this assumption. Clinton stumbled to find a counterargument, eventually saying her vote in October 2002 "was not authority for a pre-emptive war." Then she questioned Obama's ability to lead, saying that the Democratic nominee must have "the necessary credentials and gravitas for commander in chief."

How Lethally Stupid Can One Country Be?

By David Michael Green, AlterNet
Posted on March 28, 2008, Printed on March 29, 2008

Watching George W. Bush in operation these last couple of weeks is like having an out-of-body experience. On acid. During a nightmare. In a different galaxy.

As he presides over the latest disaster of his administration (No, it's not a terrorist attack -- that was 2001! No, it's not a catastrophic war -- that was 2003! No, it's not a drowning city -- that was 2005! This one is an economic meltdown, ladies and gentlemen!) bringing to it the same blithe disengagement with which he's attended the previous ones, you cannot but stop and gaze in stark comedic awe, realizing that the most powerful polity that ever existed on the planet twice picked this imbecilic buffoon as its leader, from among 300 million other choices. Seeing him clown with the Washington press corps yet once again -- and seeing them fawn over him, laugh in all the right places, and give him a standing ovation, also yet once again -- is the equivalent of having all your logic circuits blown simultaneously. Truly, the universe has a twisted and deeply ironic sense of humor. Monty Python is about as funny -- and as stiff -- as Dick Nixon, by comparison.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Born-Again Americans and That Old-Time (Civil) Religion

By Sara Robinson
March 26th, 2008 - 11:25pm ET

Can we progressives -- who won't be caught dead these days calling ourselves liberals -- can we stop serving as a punching bag for the right?

And speak with depth and conviction about the things that really matter to us? Once and for all, can we break through the false and humiliating charade that they and they alone are the arbiters of family values, morality, patriotism, the flag, the life of the spirit, God-talk? And that they alone have the credibility to speak to these subjects and concerns?

The search for meaning that defines us as humans is the greatest conversation going, and I want IN.

-- "Born-Again American" Norman Lear at the Take Back America conference last week

Ever since the overlong election season first kicked off last summer, I've been feeling deep gratitude for the happy fact that, for the first time since 1988, we're finally having a presidential election that does not involve re-fighting the Vietnam War. To everyone's profound relief, there's nary a draft dodger, National Guardsman, Bronze Star recipient, or Swiftboater in sight. Nobody's service records are under investigation. Not a single public conversation has devolved into an ugly he said/he said over who did what in some swamp somewhere in 1969. I think I speak for an entire grateful nation when I say: It's been nice.

I must confess, however, that I'm just about ready to take it all back. Because this time, instead of military exploits two-thirds of the country is too young to remember, this election is being fought over religion -- which is, apparently, the new battlefield on which candidates must try themselves and not be found wanting. Obama's pastor of 20 years is being trotted out to whip up white voters' latent terror of Angry Scary Black Men (and, as a twofer, also undercut the resonance of his strong moral voice). McCain is proudly advertising his bizarre affiliations with John Hagee, Richard Land, and Rod Parsley -- religious ideologues so extremist and creepy that most straight-thinking Evangelicals won't have anything to do with them. Jeff Sharlet has a new book coming out shortly that will detail Hillary's long association with a shadowy elitist global prayer group that puts her in spiritual cahoots with the worst kind of paleo-cons and dictators. And I'm watching this theological three-ring circus -- and actually find myself longing wistfully for the good old days when we were merely obsessed with re-hashing the details of a 40-year-old war.

Mark Morford: Tax my rich white torturer

Schools? Health care? As if. Your taxes pay for brutality and Wall St. bailouts. Feel better?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Just so we have this straight: You are not paying taxes merely to fund torture and bomb-dropping and the killing of countless innocents in Iraq in a futile and lost war that's not really a war and is far more of a massive fiscal, tactical and moral failure which will end up costing the nation an estimated $3 trillion, burn through any remaining sense of national dignity and leave repercussions that will last for generations.

Ha. You should be so lucky. Because your tax money is right now also funding the Fed's unprecedented and rather shocking multibillion-dollar bailout of rich bankers and fund managers who have, through their greed and excess and with the implied blessing of former Chairman Alan Greenspan (whom many consider the architect of the collapse in the first place), helped bring about what is shaping up to be the worst fiscal crisis since World War II.

What the Government Doesn't Want You To Know About Global Warming

By Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!
Posted on March 24, 2008, Printed on March 27, 2008

JUAN GONZALEZ: Dr. James Hansen is widely regarded as the leading climate change scientist in the country. It was his testimony to a Senate committee in 1988 that first brought the threat of global warming to the world's attention. For the past quarter of a century he has headed the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, NASA's premiere climate research center.

Just over a year ago, Dr. Hansen went public with a charge that made headlines around the world, that the Bush administration had been trying to silence his warnings about the urgent need to address climate change.

Economy nearly stalled in 4th quarter

By JEANNINE AVERSA, AP Economics Writer
2 hours, 16 minutes ago

The economy nearly sputtered out at the end of the year and probably is faring even worse now amid continuing housing, credit and financial woes.

The Commerce Department reported Thursday that the gross domestic product, or GDP, increased at a feeble 0.6 percent annual rate from October through December. The reading, unchanged from a previous estimate a month ago, provided stark evidence of just how much the economy has weakened. In the previous three months, the economy had a sizzling 4.9 percent growth rate.

The GDP measures the value of all goods and services produced in the United States and is the best barometer of economic health.

Many economists say they believe growth in the current January-through-March quarter will be even weaker than the 0.6 percent figure from late 2007. A growing number says the economy actually may be shrinking now. Under one rough rule, the economy needs to contract for six straight months to be considered in a recession. The government will release its estimate for first-quarter GDP in late April.

Glenn Greenwald: What can and cannot be spoken on television

I'm going to re-post the segment I posted yesterday, from Charlie Rose's fifth anniversary Iraq show, because I want to encourage as many people as possible to watch it. If I could recommend one article or segment for Americans to read or watch regarding the current Iraq debate, it would be this interview -- the entire interview -- with Sinan Antoon and Ali Fadhil, an Iraqi professor and journalist, respectively, currently living in the U.S.


The significance of the interview lies as much in what it says about the American occupation of Iraq as it what it illustrates about the American media. In the American media's discussions of Iraq, when are the perspectives expressed here about our ongoing occupation -- views extremely common among Iraqis of all types and grounded in clear, indisputable facts -- ever heard by the average American news consumer? The answer is: "virtually never."

The Society of the Owned: Moral Hazards

Part Seven of a Series

Imagine that you've come upon two people who have somehow fallen into a very deep hole, which neither of them can climb out of on their own. (Nor, for some reason, can they help one another climb out.) In the course of figuring out what to do, you learn how they each came to be in that hole.

One of them fell in because he either didn't see the hole or should have seen it but wasn't paying attention. OK, so he could have avoided falling into the hole if he'd been more careful. The other person, you find out, apparently dug the hole for the one who fell in first, and then fell in himself.

Which one do you help out of the hole? The careless one who fell in first? Or the one who dug the hole in the first place? Which one do you leave in the hole? Which one do you help out first?

Tomgram: The Fate of the Bear Market

The Little Administration That Couldn't

Rebuilding the American Economy, Bush-style
By Tom Engelhardt

No one was prepared for the storm when it hit. The levees meant to protect us had long since been breached and key officials had already left town. The well-to-do were assured of rescue, but for everyone else trapped inside the Superdome in a fast-flooding region, there was no evacuation plan in sight. The Bush administration, of course, claimed that it was in control and the President was already assuring his key officials that they were doing a heck of a job.

No, I'm not talking about post-Katrina New Orleans. That was so then. I'm talking about the housing and credit crunches, as well as the Bear Stearns bailout, that have given the term "bear market" new meaning.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Supreme Court allows retiree benefit cuts

Employers may coordinate with Medicare on healthcare provisions for seniors. An AARP legal challenge is turned away.
By David G. Savage, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
March 25, 2008
WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court on Monday gave employers a green light to reduce health benefits for millions of retirees who turn 65 and become eligible for Medicare. The justices turned away a legal challenge from AARP, the nation's leading senior citizens lobby, which had contended these lower benefits for older retirees violated the federal law against age discrimination.

The court's action upholds, in effect, a rule adopted last year by federal regulators that says the "coordination of retiree health benefits with Medicare" is exempt from the anti-age-bias law.

Sadr urges 'civil revolt' as battles erupt in Basra

A ceasefire crucial to recent security improvements in Iraq was today under severe strain after Moqtada al-Sadr called for "civil revolt" following a crackdown on Shia factions in Basra.

Iraqi security forces in the southern Iraqi city encountered heavy resistance as battles broke out with gunmen from Sadr's Mahdi Army militia.

Officials in Basra said 22 people were killed in the clashes, with a further 58 wounded.

Following the clashes, Sadr appeared to threaten to end the ceasefire, which was declared last August.

IRD Blows Smoke in Response to Expose Film

By Frederick Clarkson
Mon Mar 24, 2008 at 07:34:53 PM EST

The oxymoronically named Institute on Religion and Democracy for a generation has sought to disrupt and divide the major denominations of mainline Protestantism, as well as the wider ecumenical communions, the National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches. Even more remarkably perhaps, while presenting itself an agency dedicated to reform and "renewal" of the churches, IRD's leadership and staff have been substantially populated by men and women who are not even members of any of the churches they say they seek to "renew."

I mention all this, because IRD Methodist program staffers Mark Tooley and John Lomperis recently issued a sliming of Steven D. Martin's DVD discussion of the agency: Renewal or Ruin: The Institute on Religion & Democracy's Attack on the United Methodist Church. Martin has written

I was able to produce "Renewal or Ruin?" using only personal funds. I wanted to avoid the accusation that it had been made by someone with an agenda. I wanted to be as fair, and as firm, as I could be. You can see the results of the project by visiting, and by viewing the trailer for the video.

Architect of War(s)


[from the April 7, 2008 issue]

What more fitting way for the Bush Administration to observe the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq than to send its principal architect, Vice President Dick Cheney, to Baghdad to rally dispirited US troops for years more of futile sacrifice? "It's been a difficult, challenging but nonetheless successful endeavor," Cheney opined during a surprise visit on March 17, at the beginning of a ten-day Middle East trip. As he toured Baghdad, bragging of "phenomenal" security improvements, a bomb went off in the heavily guarded Shiite holy city of Karbala, killing fifty and wounding dozens more.

Ostensibly, Cheney's visit is intended to lend muscle to the White House claim that substantial progress is being made in Iraq because of the troop surge--thereby burnishing the Administration's "legacy" and enhancing the election prospects of John McCain (who recently made an Iraq trip of his own with this purpose). Cheney also sought to persuade Iraqi lawmakers to pass a national hydrocarbon law, thus smoothing the way for the exploitation of Iraqi oilfields by US energy firms.

Fighting Words: How to Humiliate -- and Convert -- a Right-Winger

By John Dolan, AlterNet
Posted on March 25, 2008, Printed on March 25, 2008

I'd like to suggest a very simple strategy for American liberals: Get mean. Stop policing the language and start using it to hurt our enemies. American liberals are so busy purging their speech of any words that might offend anyone that they have no notion of using language to cause some salutary pain.

Why, for example, not popularize slogans that mock the Bush loyalists as "suckers"? Something like, "There are two kinds of Republicans: millionaires and suckers." Put that on a few bumper stickers and I guarantee a lot of "South Park Republicans" will quit the GOP. They just smirk when you tsk-tsk at them for being disrespectful. They want to be disrespectful; every normal young male wants to be.

Sedatives and Sex Hormones in Our Water Supply

By Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!
Posted on March 25, 2008, Printed on March 25, 2008

Editor's Note: Read more about this topic on AlterNet from Wenonah Hauter of Food and Water Watch.

AMY GOODMAN: Saturday was World Water Day, and the United Nations estimates close to 1.5 billion people around the world do not have access to clean drinking water. What about here in the United States?

The Associated Press has conducted an extensive investigation into the drinking water in at least twenty-four major American cities across the country, which contain trace amounts of a wide array of pharmaceuticals. The amounts might be small, but scientists are worried about the long-term health and environmental consequences of their presence in the water supplies of some forty-one million Americans.

Consumer confidence plunges in March

By EILEEN ALT POWELL, AP Business Writer
Tue Mar 25, 1:53 PM ET

American consumers are gloomier about the economy that at any point since just before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, as slumping housing prices and soaring fuel costs depress consumer confidence to its lowest level in five years.

The Conference Board, a business-backed research group, said Tuesday that its Consumer Confidence Index plunged to 64.5 in March from a revised 76.4 in February.

The March reading was far below the 73.0 expected by analysts surveyed by Thomson/IFR and was the worst reading since the gauge registered 61.4 in March 2003, just ahead of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Volunteer Army: Who Fights and Why?

By Michael Massing


In 2003, Colby Buzzell, then twenty-six, was living in a small room in a renovated Victorian house in the Richmond district of San Francisco, doing data entry for financial companies. Raised in the suburbs of the Bay Area, Buzzell had hated high school and, deciding against college, ended up in a series of low-paying jobs—flower deliverer, valet parker, bike messenger, busboy, carpet cutter, car washer. Data entry paid somewhat better— about $12 an hour—but even so he was barely able to get by. At one point, he ran into an old friend who had joined the Marines, and, in his telling, military life sounded like one big frat party, but with weapons and paychecks. After nearly a year of feeling stuck, Buzzell decided to visit an Army recruiter. He describes his state of mind in My War: Killing Time in Iraq,[1] an uproarious account of his life in the military:

I was sick of living my life in oblivion where every fucking day was the same fucking thing as the day before, and the same fucking routine day in and day out. Eat, shit, work, sleep, repeat.
At the time, I saw no escape from this. I was in my mid-twenties and I still had no fucking idea what the hell I wanted to do with myself....

Black carbon pollution emerges as major player in global warming

Soot from biomass burning, diesel exhaust has 60 percent of the effect of carbon dioxide on warming but mitigation offers immediate benefits

Black carbon, a form of particulate air pollution most often produced from biomass burning, cooking with solid fuels and diesel exhaust, has a warming effect in the atmosphere three to four times greater than prevailing estimates, according to scientists in an upcoming review article in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego atmospheric scientist V. Ramanathan and University of Iowa chemical engineer Greg Carmichael, said that soot and other forms of black carbon could have as much as 60 percent of the current global warming effect of carbon dioxide, more than that of any greenhouse gas besides CO2. The researchers also noted, however, that mitigation would have immediate societal benefits in addition to the long term effect of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Harold Meyerson: A New New Deal

Reshaping the U.S. economy so that it actually benefits Americans won't be easy. But it must be done.

Harold Meyerson | March 21, 2008 | web only

The American Prospect is co-sponsoring the Roosevelt Institution's Toward a New New Deal Conference on April 9 in Washington, D.C.

Putting together everything we've learned over the past 10 days about high finance in Manhattan, one thing is clear: If Eliot Spitzer had saved all the money he apparently paid "Kristen" and her co-workers at the Emperors Club, he could have bought Bear Stearns.

Manhattan's culture of conspicuous consumption and conspicuous collapse has been on display in recent days as it has not since 1929. Now, as then, an edifice of shaky credit is toppling. Now, as then, what we took to be prosperity turns out to have been a bubble.

The Gentlemen's Bailout

The Federal Reserve's announcement of an open-ended bail-out for Wall Street's endangered financial firms and banks opens an ominous new chapter in what might be called "market socialism with American characteristics." If Washington tries to do something for "losers" who are ordinary citizens, financial titans complain about violating free-market principles. When the titans themselves are going down, they rush to their patrons at the central bank and demand extraordinary relief. Government must save the big money, we are told, for the overall good of the economy. Thus, the financial system's reckless losses--approaching $1 trillion but probably far more--are being "socialized," dumped on the public, the very people victimized by its snares and falsified valuations.

Put aside the obvious hypocrisy and greed. This nation is on the brink of a historic catastrophe. It requires emergency responses from the federal government on a scale not seen since the Great Depression and the New Deal, the subject of this special issue. Yet the rescue party is composed of the same people who co-wrote this disaster. They are, first, the financiers who indulged their own appetites for extreme wealth and enlarged a financial system of esoteric fakery that inflated prices and profits. Second, the close collaborators were the Federal Reserve and other authorities who blessed this dangerous concoction and declined to enforce prudential standards.

Paul Krugman: Taming the Beast

We’re now in the midst of an epic financial crisis, which ought to be at the center of the election debate. But it isn’t.

Now, I don’t expect presidential campaigns to have all the answers to our current crisis — even financial experts are scrambling to keep up with events. But I do think we’re entitled to more answers, and in particular a clearer commitment to financial reform, than we’re getting so far.

In truth, I don’t expect much from John McCain, who has both admitted not knowing much about economics and denied having ever said that. Anyway, lately he’s been busy demonstrating that he doesn’t know much about the Middle East, either.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Recession Literature

The best books, articles, and Web sites about the economic collapse.

This is the first installment of "Reading List," in which Slate writers discuss which books, articles, and Web sites they are reading about the subject that interests them most. The weekly column appears in both Slate and the Washington Post's Outlook section.

For connoisseurs of financial folly, commercial irrationality, and general fiscal inanity, these last several weeks have been an all-you-can-eat buffet. In New York, the implosion of Bear Stearns and the serial failure of billion-dollar hedge funds have induced a combination of schadenfreude (I knew those guys never deserved their big salaries) and foreboding (What will this do to the price of that co-op I just bought?). And across the country, the bursting of the real-estate and housing-credit bubble is destroying personal balance sheets.

So what am I, a business/finance journalist and a self-proclaimed expert on bubbles, reading to keep up?

For less-educated workers, good jobs will be harder to find

WASHINGTON — The steady loss of "good jobs" by less-educated workers has left them more vulnerable to recession than at any time in nearly 30 years, and signs are mounting that a recession is either already here or coming soon.

High-school dropouts and even high-school graduates who lack specialized job training have seen their already limited employment prospects steadily decline during America's decades-long shift from a manufacturing-based economy to a service economy.

Scientists warn of soot effect on climate

Soot produced by burning coal, diesel, wood and dung causes significantly more damage to the environment than previously thought, according to research published today. So-called "black carbon" could cause up to 60% of the current warming effect of carbon dioxide, according to the US researchers, making it an important target for efforts to slow global warming.

Around 400,000 people are estimated to die each year due to inhaling soot particles, particularly because of indoor cooking on wood and dung stoves in developing countries. These deaths are mainly among women and children. Professor Greg Carmichael, of the University of Iowa, one of the authors of the study, published in Nature Geoscience, said: "Trying to develop strategies that really go after black carbon is really a very good short-term strategy and a win-win strategy for both climate and air pollution perspectives."

Frank Rich: The Republican Resurrection

THE day before Barack Obama gave The Speech, Hillary Clinton gave a big speech of her own, billed by her campaign as a “major policy address on the war in Iraq.” What, you didn’t hear about it?

Clinton partisans can blame the Obamaphilic press corps for underplaying their candidate’s uncompromising antiwar sentiments. But intentionally or not, the press did Mrs. Clinton a favor. Every time she opens her mouth about Iraq, she reminds voters of how she enabled the catastrophe that has devoured American lives and treasure for five years.

Race has been America’s transcendent issue far longer than that. I share the general view that Mr. Obama’s speech is the most remarkable utterance on the subject by a public figure in modern memory. But what impressed me most was not Mr. Obama’s rhetorical elegance or his nuanced view of both America’s undeniable racial divide and equally undeniable racial progress. The real novelty was to find a politician who didn’t talk down to his audience but instead trusted it to listen to complete, paragraph-long thoughts that couldn’t be reduced to sound bites.

Digby: Wright And Wrong

*Note: this is a tediously long post. If you are inclined to spout off in anger at me about it, could you please do me the favor of reading the whole thing before you do it.

I finally got a chance to hear Senator Obama's speech in full today and I couldn't help but think of a piece Rick Perlstein wrote for the Washington Post a few weeks back. He wrote:

One of the most fascinating notions raised by the current presidential campaign is the idea that the United States can and must finally overcome the divisions of the 1960s. It's most often associated with the ascendancy of Sen. Barack Obama, who has been known to entertain it himself. Its most gauzy champion is pundit Andrew Sullivan, who argued in a cover article in the December Atlantic Monthly that, "If you are an American who yearns to finally get beyond the symbolic battles of the Boomer generation and face today's actual problems, Obama may be your man."

No offense to either Obama or Sullivan, but: No he isn't. No one is.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Cheney, Saudis to discuss oil crisis

Vice President Dick Cheney to Talk About Oil, Security Issues With Saudi King


Mar 21, 2008 05:07 EST

High oil prices socking U.S. consumers will be a key topic of Vice President Dick Cheney's talks Friday with Saudi King Abdullah but it's unclear whether Cheney will ask the Saudis to increase production.

Early this year, the oil producing nations ignored President Bush's request to increase supplies so that gas prices, which are up over $3 a gallon, could fall. Bush asked the Saudis, a main player in OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) to push oil producing nations to pump more oil when he was in Saudi Arabia in January.

Paul Krugman: Partying Like It’s 1929

If Ben Bernanke manages to save the financial system from collapse, he will — rightly — be praised for his heroic efforts.

But what we should be asking is: How did we get here?

Why does the financial system need salvation?

Why do mild-mannered economists have to become superheroes?

The answer, at a fundamental level, is that we’re paying the price for willful amnesia. We chose to forget what happened in the 1930s — and having refused to learn from history, we’re repeating it.

Glenn Greenwald: The media's special relationship with John McCain

The Washington Post's Ruth Marcus yesterday discussed the reasons why there has been so little media attention paid to John McCain's repeated (though somehow perfectly innocent) "slips of the tongue" regarding the non-existent Iran-Al Qaeda connection, and I think her comments are the most revealing to date about how the media treats McCain (h/t Teddy at FDL):

Ruth Marcus: I thought that was an odd comment from Sen. McCain, and I do think that it would have gotten a lot more attention were it not coming from someone who is generally judged to have a lot of foreign policy expertise.
Several minutes later, she said this:
Probably won't break through the chatter, and I agree, would be a bigger deal if the speaker had been different.

The Fed Packages Corruption as Sound Public Policy

By David Sirota, Creators Syndicate
Posted on March 21, 2008, Printed on March 21, 2008

The Federal Reserve Bank's decision last week to address the housing crisis by extending $200 billion of taxpayer-financed credit to Wall Street banks was met with a stunned reaction typical of surprising events. But really, the move was the expression of longstanding isms that routinely package corruption as sound public policy.

Some background: During the housing boom, banks doled out home loans to financially strapped borrowers, often on predatory terms. On the creditor side, these same banks packaged many of the loans as complex securities and sold them off to unwitting investors, generating a handsome profit on the paper transactions. At the same time, Wall Street used campaign contributions to coerce Congress into blocking anti-predatory-lending bills and repealing a landmark law regulating how banks could buy and sell securities.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Most republicans think the US health care system is the best in the world; democrats disagree

All political groups agree the US lags in providing affordable care and controlling costs

Boston, MA - A recent survey by the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and Harris Interactive, as part of their ongoing series, Debating Health: Election 2008, finds that Americans are generally split on the issue of whether the United States has the best health care system in the world (45% believe the U.S. has the best system; 39% believe other countries have better systems; 15% don’t know or refused to answer) and that there is a significant divide along party lines. Nearly seven-in-ten Republicans (68%) believe the U.S. health care system is the best in the world, compared to just three in ten (32%) Democrats and four in ten (40%) Independents who feel the same way.

This poll was conducted during a period of debate over the comparative merits of the U.S. health care system and the health care systems in other countries. President Bush and other prominent political figures have claimed that the U.S. has the best system in the world. At the same time, the World Health Organization and other organizations have ranked the U.S. below many other countries in their comparisons, while Michael Moore presented a similarly negative assessment of the U.S. health system in a popular format with his film Sicko.

Bush's Triumphalist Amnesia

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Wednesday, March 19, 2008; 12:52 PM

On the fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq, President Bush today attempted to recast it as a great success for the United States and a major blow to Osama bin Laden. But for the American people to go along with his construction will require a pretty severe case of amnesia.

The security situation in Iraq is undeniably somewhat better than it was a year ago, before Bush increased the number of American troops there to more than 160,000. But the violence nevertheless continues at an appalling level. And the political reconciliation the "surge" was intended to bring about remains a distant fantasy.

Five years of Iraq lies

How President Bush and his advisors have spent each year of the war peddling mendacious tales about a mission accomplished.

By Juan Cole

Mar. 19, 2008 | Each year of George W. Bush's war in Iraq has been represented by a thematic falsehood. That Iraq is now calm or more stable is only the latest in a series of such whoppers, which the mainstream press eagerly repeats. The fifth anniversary of Bush's invasion of Iraq will be the last he presides over. Sen. John McCain, in turn, has now taken to dangling the bait of total victory before the American public, and some opinion polls suggest that Americans are swallowing it, hook, line and sinker.

The most famous falsehoods connected to the war were those deployed by the president and his close advisors to justify the invasion. But each of the subsequent years since U.S. troops barreled toward Baghdad in March 2003 has been marked by propaganda campaigns just as mendacious. Here are five big lies from the Bush administration that have shaped perceptions of the Iraq war.

Democrats, Bush Square Off Over Housing Relief

President Resists Wide-Scale Assistance

By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum and Lori Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 20, 2008; D01

Now that the Federal Reserve has pledged billions of dollars to rescue Wall Street bankers from possible default, lawmakers and regulators are turning their attention to helping average citizens -- from homeowners in danger of foreclosure to people who want to buy a home.

But unlike the Fed's rapid moves last week to stabilize financial markets, the consumer benefits are likely to progress slowly as they face resistance from the Bush administration on some broad issues and from special interests on some narrow ones.

More Library Wrecking by Federal Agents

By Arthur Allen 03/18/2008 06:00PM

If you've ever worked in one of the cramped docket rooms of a federal agency, you know it can be a tiresome way to get insights into the intricacies of regulation. So the government's plan to put documents online is a good, democratic thing.

But before you destroy the paper copies, it's a good idea to make sure they've been scanned.

Apparently, the EPA forgot to do this.

Reducing carbon emissions could help -- not harm -- US economy

New Haven, Conn. — A national policy to cut carbon emissions by as much as 40 percent over the next 20 years could still result in increased economic growth, according to an interactive website that reviews 25 of the leading economic models used to predict the economic impacts of reducing emissions.

“As Congress prepares to debate new legislation to address the threat of climate change, opponents claim that the costs of adopting the leading proposals would be ruinous to the U.S. economy. The world’s leading economists who have studied the issue say that’s wrong — and you can find out for yourself,” said Robert Repetto, professor in the practice of economics and sustainable development at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies who created the site.

The difference between Jeremiah Wright and radical, white evangelical ministers

Ross Douthat and Ezra Klein are arguing about whether Jeremiah Wright's statements are comparable to those of Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and John Hagee's. To argue that they're not comparable, Douthat -- like most people commenting on this raging controversy -- conflates two entirely separate analytical issues:

(1) Given their close and long-standing personal relationship, does Wright merit more scrutiny vis-a-vis Obama than white, radical evangelical ministers merit vis-a-vis Republican politicians? and,

(2) Are the statements of white evangelical ministers subjected to the same standards of judgment as those being applied to Wright's statements?

Even if the answer to (1) is "yes," that doesn't change the fact that the answer to (2) is a resounding "no."

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Being responsible

-- by Dave
"This is an acknowledgment that we need to fundamentally change what our conversation about national security and war looks like in order to be able to move forward."
-- Darcy Burner
I felt a real burst of old-fashioned Northwesterner pride yesterday watching Darcy Burner lead a contingent of Democratic congressional candidates announce their "Responsible Plan to End the War in Iraq" before the Take Back America Conference here in D.C. Not only was it clear that Darcy was the sparkplug and leader for the group -- and it was an impressive group -- but all the reasons to support her congressional campaign were on full display: the razor intelligence, the fearlessness, the natural leadership qualities.

But Burner herself must take a back seat to the plan, which is perhaps even more impressive: a thorough, comprehensive approach not just to solving the immediate issues around the Iraq conflict but also the systemic issues that go deeper. The idea is not just to end the war and bring peace and stability to Iraq, but to keep such a blunder from happening again.

And Now for the Really Bad News. . .

Just in case the arrival of St. Patrick’s Day doesn’t furnish an adequate reason for you to hang on a nice stiff drink, here’s some more.

Last week while the media were engaged in spinning various silly tales relating to presidential candidates, not to mention the enticingly lurid story of the fall of Eliot Spitzer, the nation’s financial markets were in a barely observed meltdown. Here are just a few snippets that suggest what we’re in for.

Greenspan: Worst Crisis Since World War II
Alan Greenspan offers sobering analysis in the pages of the Financial Times:

The current financial crisis in the US is likely to be judged in retrospect as the most wrenching since the end of the second world war. It will end eventually when home prices stabilise and with them the value of equity in homes supporting troubled mortgage securities.

The Greenspan article is fascinating, readable, and ends predictably with a strong (and certainly correct) argument against over-regulation as a false panacea. But Greenspan acknowledges that the crisis has been precipitated by irresponsible profit taking on the part of major financial institutions, and the subprime market figures as an obvious example.

America was conned - who will pay?

The South Sea Bubble ended in riots as trust was lost. Wall Street also duped the public

Larry Elliott, economics editor
The Guardian,
Monday March 17 2008

Bear Stearns marks the moment when the global financial crisis went critical. Up until last Friday, it had been possible - just about - to believe that the worst was over and that things were about to get better. That pretence was stripped away when JP Morgan, at the behest of the Federal Reserve, stepped in when the hedge funds pulled the plug on the fifth-biggest US investment bank.

It is now clear that no end is in sight to the turmoil, and the reason for that is that the Fed and the US treasury are no closer to solving the underlying problem than they were eight months ago. The crisis will only end when house prices stop falling and banks stop racking up huge losses on their loans. Doing that, however, will require the US government to intervene directly in the real estate market to end the wave of foreclosures. Ideologically, it is ill-equipped to take that step and, as a result, property prices will fall and the financial meltdown will go on and on.

Time magazine invents facts to claim that Americans support Bush's domestic spying abuses

No matter how corrupt and sloppy the establishment press becomes, they always find a way to go lower. Time Magazine has just published what it purports to be a news article by Massimo Calabresi claiming that "nobody cares" about the countless abuses of spying powers by the Bush administration; that "Americans are ready to trade diminished privacy, and protection from search and seizure, in exchange for the promise of increased protection of their physical security"; and that the case against unchecked government surveillance powers "hasn't convinced the people." Not a single fact -- not one -- is cited to support these sweeping, false opinions.

UN warns climate change melting glaciers at alarming rate

ZURICH (AFP) — The world's glaciers are melting at an alarming rate, the UN said Sunday, calling for immediate action to prevent further constraints on water resources for large populations.

"Millions if not billions of people depend directly or indirectly on these natural water storage facilities for drinking water, agriculture, industry and power generation during key parts of the year," said Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The culprit is climate change, according to data from the World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS), based at the University of Zurich and supported by UNEP.

Obama Race Speech: Read The Full Text

"We the people, in order to form a more perfect union."

Two hundred and twenty one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America's improbable experiment in democracy. Farmers and scholars; statesmen and patriots who had traveled across an ocean to escape tyranny and persecution finally made real their declaration of independence at a Philadelphia convention that lasted through the spring of 1787.

The document they produced was eventually signed but ultimately unfinished. It was stained by this nation's original sin of slavery, a question that divided the colonies and brought the convention to a stalemate until the founders chose to allow the slave trade to continue for at least twenty more years, and to leave any final resolution to future generations.

Of course, the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution - a Constitution that had at is very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time.

The crunch bites deeper in the US

By Stephanie Flanders
Economics Editor, BBC News

The credit crunch has hit the US economy hard. From Wall Street to Main Street, loans that looked rock-solid a year ago now look shaky.

And the US central bank, the Federal Reserve, is throwing away the rule book to contain the effects.

Kevin Logan of Dresdner Kleinwort, one of the less gloomy New York economists, summarises the state of play as the credit crunch has spread to different types of assets as follows: "We're all sub-prime now".

Monday, March 17, 2008

Digby: Tell Me Lies

As we hurtle forward into GOP smear season, this article in this week-end's NY Times magazine may help us explain how these character assassinations damage Democrats so successfully:
...To determine the veracity of a given statement, we often look to society’s collective assessment of it. But it is difficult to measure social consensus very precisely, and our brains rely, instead, upon a sensation of familiarity with an idea. You use a rule of thumb: if something seems familiar, you must have heard it before, and if you’ve heard it before, it must be true.

New Yorker: Abu Ghraib abuses were 'de facto US policy'

Photographer wanted to expose 'what the military was allowing to happen'

Some of the most iconic images of the Iraq war came not from photojournalists on the front lines, but US soldiers carrying point-and-shoot digital cameras. In its latest issue, the New Yorker profiles the woman who snapped many of the photos depicting abuse at Abu Ghraib prison that the same magazine revealed nearly four years ago.

The Gathering Storm at Justice

I don’t in the ordinary course review and recommend law review articles, but I’ve just come across one that is close to indispensable for public affairs junkies. On December 7, 2006—the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor—at least eight U.S. attorneys received phone calls from Michael Battle, the executive director of the Office of U.S. Attorneys at the Justice Department. Each was essentially ordered to submit his or her resignation.

The Administration attempted to sell the event as a routine personnel turn-over. But Congress and the public weren’t buying. After a series of hearings at which senior members of the Administration committed acts of perjury, there was a public uproar. In its wake the entire senior echelon of political appointees at the Justice Department were forced to leave office under a cloud and subject to an investigation into potentially criminal misconduct, as were a number of senior White House figures, most prominently including Bush’s senior political advisor, Karl Rove.

Only Saddam Hussein can run Iraq, says aide

By Damien McElroy in Baghdad
Last Updated: 7:36pm GMT 16/03/2008

A prominent figure in the Iraqi opposition movement that helped propel America and Britain to war in 2003 has said the country would be better off if Saddam Hussein was still in power.

Lufti Saber, once a key lieutenant of the first post-Saddam Iraqi prime minister, Ayad Allawi, has a ringside seat on the new Baghdad regime as an aide to the American-led military coalition.

'It's not so much about the mission anymore'

The order came over the radio: "Charlie Mike," US army jargon for "continue mission."

Cliff Hicks' team of soldiers patrolling a typically friendly neighbourhood had mistaken celebratory gunfire at a wedding for a hostile attack and had shot up a house, wounding two people and killing a little girl.

The troops didn't want to linger in the house, and their command centre ordered them out.

Paul Krugman: The B Word

O.K., here it comes: The unthinkable is about to become the inevitable.

Last week, Robert Rubin, the former Treasury secretary, and John Lipsky, a top official at the International Monetary Fund, both suggested that public funds might be needed to rescue the U.S. financial system. Mr. Lipsky insisted that he wasn’t talking about a bailout. But he was.

It’s true that Henry Paulson, the current Treasury secretary, still says that any proposal to use taxpayers’ money to help resolve the crisis is a “non-starter.” But that’s about as credible as all of his previous pronouncements on the financial situation.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

JPMorgan buys Bear Stearns for $2 a share

By Francesco Guerrera in New York and Henny Sender in Abu Dhabi

Published: March 16 2008 18:03 | Last updated: March 16 2008 23:29

JPMorgan Chase on Sunday night agreed to buy Bear Stearns, the stricken US investment bank, for around $236m in shares in a deal that puts an end to Bear’s 85 years of independence and highlights the serious risks faced by banks during the credit crunch.

JPMorgan’s cut-price takeover of Bear, which has the backing of the Federal Reserve and the Treasury, was agreed before the opening of Asian markets on Monday morning in an attempt to stave off a run on other banks.

Tomgram: Philip K. Dick Meet George W. Bush

Blowing Them Away Means Never Having to Say You're Sorry

Globalization Bush-style
By Tom Engelhardt

Imagine, for a moment, that you live in a small town somewhere near the Southern California coast. You're going about your daily life, trying to scrape by in hard times, when the missile hits. It might have come from the Iranian unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) -- its pilot at a base on the outskirts of Tehran -- that has had the village in its sights for the last six hours or from the Russian sub stationed just off the coast. In either case, it's devastating.

In Moscow and Tehran, officials announce that, in a joint action, they have launched the missile as part of a carefully coordinated "surgical" operation to take out a "known terrorist," a long-term danger to their national security. A Kremlin spokesman offers the following statement:

"As we have repeatedly said, we will continue to pursue terrorist activities and their operations wherever we may find them. We share common goals with respect to fighting terrorism. We will continue to seek out, identify, capture and, if necessary, kill terrorists where they plan their activities, carry out their operations or seek safe harbor."

JPMorgan to buy Bear for $2 a share

By JOE BEL BRUNO and MADLEN READ, AP Business Writers
1 minute ago

JPMorgan Chase said Sunday it will acquire rival Bear Stearns for a bargain-basement $236.2 million — or $2 a share — a stunning collapse for one of the world's largest and most storied investment banks.

The last-minute buyout was aimed at averting a Bear Stearns bankruptcy and a spreading crisis of confidence in the global financial system.

The Federal Reserve and the U.S. government swiftly approved the all-stock deal, showing the urgency of completing the deal before world markets opened.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Americablog: Where are all of the "free market" people now?

by Chris in Paris · 3/15/2008 06:38:00 AM ET · Link

Now that the Fed has chopped interest rates (and will chop again, not that it's going to translate into lower rates for consumers) and they pumped $200 billion into Wall Street, I'd like to know where exactly the so-called free market/industry self-regulate people are. Where are they? They're all at the front of the bloody line calling for more handouts. When Democrats ask for money for SCHIP or food money for the poor or unemployment extensions, all we hear is about cost. What is the matter with Democrats? Is it so hard to scream and yell like the GOP? Why are they so silent on this bailout? Even the homeowner bailout is a pittance compared to the Wall Street bailout.

The Rise of American Incompetence

We used to be the world's most skillful entrepreneurs and managers. Now we're laughingstocks. What happened?

By Daniel Gross

Posted Saturday, March 15, 2008, at 7:12 AM ET

The dollar plunged to new lows against foreign currencies this week. There are plenty of reasons for its plunge, but at the most basic level, the dollar's weakness reflects the world's collective, two-thumbs-down verdict about the ability of the United States—businesses, individuals, the government, the Federal Reserve—to manage the global financial system and the world's largest economy. Countries that outsourced their monetary policy by pegging domestic currencies to the dollar are having second thoughts. Kuwait last year detached the dinar from the dollar, and Qatar government officials last week said they were considering doing the same with their currency. International financiers are unnerved by the toxic combination of "misplaced assumptions about housing, a lack of necessary regulation and irresponsible use of debt with sophisticated financial instruments," said Ashraf Laidi, currency strategist at CMC Markets.

Wall Street fears for next Great Depression

By Margareta Pagano, Business Editor
Sunday, 16 March 2008

Wall Street is bracing itself for another week of roller-coaster trading after more than $300bn (£150m) was wiped off the US equity markets on Friday following the emergency funding package put together by the Federal Reserve and JPMorgan Chase to rescue Bear Stearns.

One UK economist warned that the world is now close to a 1930s-like Great Depression, while New York traders said they had never experienced such fear. The Fed's emergency funding procedure was first used in the Depression and has rarely been used since.

A Goldman Sachs trader in New York said: "Everyone is in a total state of shock, aghast at what is happening. No one wants to talk, let alone deal; we're just standing by waiting. Everyone is nervous about what is going to emerge when trading starts tomorrow."

Robert Fisk: The cult of the suicide bomber

Friday, 14 March 2008

Khaled looked at me with a broad smile. He was almost laughing. At one point, when I told him that he should abandon all thoughts of being a suicide bomber – that he could influence more people in this world by becoming a journalist – he put his head back and shot me a grin, world-weary for a man in his teens. "You have your mission," he said. "And I have mine." His sisters looked at him in awe. He was their hero, their amanuensis and their teacher, their representative and their soon-to-be-martyred brother. Yes, he was handsome, young – just 18 – he was dressed in a black Giorgio Armani T-shirt, a small, carefully trimmed Spanish conquistador's beard, gelled hair. And he was ready to immolate himself.

A sinister surprise. I had travelled to Khaled's home to speak to his mother. I had already written about his brother Hassan and wanted to introduce a Canadian journalist colleague, Nelofer Pazira, to the family. When Khaled walked on to the porch of the house, Nelofer and I both realised – at the same moment – that he was next, the next to die, the next "martyr". It was his smile. I've come across these young men before, but never one who so obviously declared his calling.

A $3 trillion debacle

NEARLY FIVE years since the start of the Iraq war, the Bush administration is still funding much of it through emergency appropriations, and only partially through the regular defense budget. This is one of several ways in which the administration has managed to hide the true cost of the war from the American people. Until Congress insists on a full and open accounting, the nation won't know how much of a drag it is on the economy.

Economists once believed that wars stimulated an economy. But when much of the funding goes to Iraqi or Filipino contractors working in Iraq, the benefit to the US economy diminishes, especially in light of what the funding could achieve if used for home-front needs.

In the run-up to the war, President Bush's top economic adviser, Larry Lindsey, said it might cost as much as $200 billion. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the actual amount would be just $50 billion to $60 billion, calling Lindsey's projection "baloney," much as Rumsfeld had belittled General Eric Shinseki's estimate that it would take several hundred thousand US troops to fight the war successfully.

F.D.R.’s Safety Net Gets a Big Stretch

It was an old-fashioned bank run that forced Bear Stearns to turn to the government for salvation on Friday. The difference is that Bear Stearns is not a commercial bank, and is therefore not eligible for the protections those banks received 75 years ago when Franklin D. Roosevelt halted bank runs with government guarantees.

Bear was, instead, emblematic of a financial system that grew up over the last two decades, one that largely marginalized traditional banking and that enabled lenders to evade much of the regulatory framework that had also begun during the Roosevelt administration.

Bad News at the Pump: The Dangerous Implications of $100-Plus Oil

By Michael T. Klare,
Posted on March 15, 2008, Printed on March 15, 2008

On Monday March 3, the price of crude oil reached $103.95 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, surpassing the record set nearly 30 years ago during another moment of chaos in the Middle East. Will that new mark prove distinctive in the annals of world history or will it be forgotten as energy prices drop, just as they did following their April 1980 peak?

When oil costs are plotted over time, the 1980 oil crisis -- prompted by Ayatollah Khomeini's Iranian revolution -- stands out as a sharp spike on that price curve. Both before and after that moment, however, oil supplies proved largely sufficient to meet rising global demand, in part because the Saudis and other major producers were capable of compensating for declining Iranian production. They simply increased their output substantially, dumping a surplus of oil onto the global market. Aided by the development of new fields in Alaska and the North Sea, prices dropped precipitously and stayed low through the 1990s (except for a brief spike following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990).

Friday, March 14, 2008

President weakens espionage oversight

Board created by Ford loses most of its power

WASHINGTON - Almost 32 years to the day after President Ford created an independent Intelligence Oversight Board made up of private citizens with top-level clearances to ferret out illegal spying activities, President Bush issued an executive order that stripped the board of much of its authority.

The White House did not say why it was necessary to change the rules governing the board when it issued Bush's order late last month. But critics say Bush's order is consistent with a pattern of steps by the administration that have systematically scaled back Watergate-era intelligence reforms.

U.S. faces severe recession: NBER's Feldstein

Friday March 14, 10:55 am ET
By Ros Krasny

BOCA RATON, Florida (Reuters) - The United States is in a recession that could be "substantially more severe" than recent ones, National Bureau of Economic Research President Martin Feldstein said on Friday.

"The situation is very bad, the situation is getting worse, and the risks are that it could get very bad," Feldstein said in a speech at the Futures Industry Association meeting in Boca Raton, Florida.

"There's no doubt that this year and next year are going to be very difficult years."

NBER is a private sector group that is considered the arbiter of U.S. business cycles. Feldstein is also a Harvard economics professor and former economic advisor to President Ronald Reagan.

Oil Rises Above $110 to Record as the Dollar Falls Against Euro

By Mark Shenk

March 12 (Bloomberg) -- Crude oil rose above $110 a barrel to a record in New York after the dollar weakened to an all-time low against the euro, prompting investors to buy commodities.

The dollar fell to $1.556 per euro, the lowest since the currency's 1999 debut. The declining U.S. currency has spurred investors to move funds into commodities such as oil and gold. Prices fell earlier after a government report showed that U.S. oil and gasoline supplies rose.

Paul Krugman: Betting the Bank

Four years ago, an academic economist named Ben Bernanke co-authored a technical paper that could have been titled “Things the Federal Reserve Might Try if It’s Desperate” — although that may not have been obvious from its actual title, “Monetary Policy Alternatives at the Zero Bound: An Empirical Investigation.”

Today, the Fed is indeed desperate, and Mr. Bernanke, as its chairman, is putting some of the paper’s suggestions into effect. Unfortunately, however, the Bernanke Fed’s actions — even though they’re unprecedented in their scope — probably won’t be enough to halt the economy’s downward spiral.

Future unclear for Bush's Faith-Based Initiative

After seven years both Democratic presidential candidates express support for and reservations about Republican religious patronage system

The seventh anniversary of President George W. Bush's Faith Based Initiative passed quietly. Unlike the much ballyhooed launching of his faith-based initiative in January 2001, when a string of religious officials witnessed Bush sign executive orders bringing the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (OFBCI - website) into existence, this year the president was apparently occupied by more pressing matters; convincing the public that a recession wasn't looming, trumpeting so-called successes of the surge in Iraq, and no doubt wondering what else he's going to be doing until its time to scurry back to Texas next January.

Ozone Rules Weakened at Bush's Behest

EPA Scrambles To Justify Action

By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 14, 2008; A01

The Environmental Protection Agency weakened one part of its new limits on smog-forming ozone after an unusual last-minute intervention by President Bush, according to documents released by the EPA.

EPA officials initially tried to set a lower seasonal limit on ozone to protect wildlife, parks and farmland, as required under the law. While their proposal was less restrictive than what the EPA's scientific advisers had proposed, Bush overruled EPA officials and on Tuesday ordered the agency to increase the limit, according to the documents.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Leading Engineers and Scientists Identify Advances That Could Improve Quality of Life Around the World

February 20, 2008

A diverse committee of experts from around the world, convened at the request of the National Science Foundation (NSF), announced 14 grand challenges for engineering in the 21st century that, if met, would improve how we live.

"Tremendous advances in quality of life have come from improved technology in areas such as farming and manufacturing," said committee member and Google co-founder Larry Page. "If we focus our effort on the important grand challenges of our age, we can hugely improve the future."

Learning From the Cultural Conservatives, Part III: Taking It To The Street

By Sara Robinson
March 11th, 2008 - 10:51am ET

Part I
Part II

The conservative worldview has succeeded so wildly -- and is still holding such tenacious sway over the ways Americans approach their current stack of problems -- because the conservatives started out 30 years ago with a focused plan that put promoting their model of reality at the center of every other action. Over the past two posts, I've been mining the specific strategies that early planners like Paul Weyrich used to advance the conservative worldview, in the hope that we might gain some insight that will help us engage them directly on this deepest, most important territory.

Progressives will not be able to implement their vision of the future until we're able to supplant the conservative worldview with our own. We won't win until we take control of the discourse, offer Americans new ways to make meaning and evaluate and prioritize events, and get them to abandon conservative assumptions about how reality works.

White House won't remove loophole allowing foreign contractors to ignore fraud

03/13/2008 @ 8:32 am
Filed by John Byrne

The White House has indicated it will not remove a loophole quietly inserted into a budget rule which allows contractors abroad to keep silent if they observe fraud or abuse on US government contracts.

The proposed rule, put forth by the White House Office of Management and Budget last year, exempts all companies who do work overseas from a new regulation requiring US contractors to report waste, fraud or abuse they encounter while doing work for the government.

Are We Closer to War?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Wednesday, March 12, 2008; 11:51 AM

The abrupt resignation yesterday of the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, Admiral William J. "Fox" Fallon, has sparked a new round of speculation that President Bush and Vice President Cheney have some sort of plan in the works to attack Iran before their time is up.

Fallon's resignation -- or firing -- was apparently precipitated in part by a recent Esquire profile that depicted him as brazenly pushing back against the White House hawks eager to launch another war.

Feds warn entire salmon season could be halted

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

(03-12) 04:00 PDT Sacramento - --

So few salmon are living in the ocean and rivers along the Pacific Coast that salmon fishing in California and Oregon will have to be shut down completely this year unless an emergency exception is granted, Pacific Fishery Management Council representatives said Tuesday.

It would mark the first time ever that the federal agency created 22 years ago to manage the Pacific Coast fishery canceled the coast's traditional salmon fishing season from April to mid-November.

Gold hits $1,000 for first time

The price of gold reached a record, trading at $1,000 an ounce for the first time, pushed higher by a weak US dollar and fears about the US economy.

Concerns about a possible US recession are seeing investors buy up commodities such as gold as an alternative to company shares and the US dollar.

Hedge fund on verge of collapse

Carlyle Capital Corporation (CCC), a unit of the private equity firm Carlyle Group, has said it will not be able to meet lenders' demands for money.

The US mortgage-backed bond fund will collapse if, as expected, its lenders seize its remaining assets.

CCC's problems are the latest sign of the credit market turmoil that has prompted billions of dollars of losses at some of the world's biggest banks.