Thursday, July 31, 2008

Billlmon: The Great White Hope

Thu Jul 31, 2008 at 11:37:58 AM PDT

The media’s moment of disillusionment with John McCain appears to be at hand. Even Joe Klein has finally noticed that McCain’s profile is beginning to resemble the endomorphic shadow of his backstage advisor, Karl Rove, not one of the faces on Mt. Rushmore.

It’s all very predictable – about as predictable as the media’s abrupt discovery in the summer of 2005, as New Orleans sank beneath the waves, that the president of the United States was, gasp!, an incompetent boob.

But anyone who’s studied McCain’s career with any intellectual detachment at all (as opposed to the hagiographic tendencies of his media cheerleading claque) could have told you: The truth about John McCain is that he'll do just about anything and say just about anything to win. He always has. He's just been more clever (and cynical) than most in how he goes about it.

Scahill: Blackwater now in the private intelligence business

Jeremy Scahill, author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, is worried about the giant mercenary firm's latest foray into private intelligence. "They're marketing their services to not only foreign governments, but to Fortune 500 corporations," he recently told an interviewer.

The forthcoming paperback edition of Scahill's book on Blackwater, which appeared in hardcover in February 2007, will include 100 pages of new material, including a discussion of last September's shooting spree in Baghdad by Blackwater operatives -- which killed 17 Iraqi civilians but for which nobody has ever been charged.

Md. mayor's dogs killed by SWAT after cops deliver pot

BERWYN HEIGHTS, Md. — A SWAT team raided the home of a Washington, D.C.-area mayor, killing his two black Labrador retrievers and seizing an unopened package of marijuana delivered there.

Prince George's County Police said Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo brought a 32-pound package of marijuana into his home that had been delivered by officers posing as delivery men. The Tuesday evening raid was conducted by county police narcotics officers and a sheriff's office SWAT Team.

'Major discovery' from MIT primed to unleash solar revolution

Scientists mimic essence of plants' energy storage system

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- In a revolutionary leap that could transform solar power from a marginal, boutique alternative into a mainstream energy source, MIT researchers have overcome a major barrier to large-scale solar power: storing energy for use when the sun doesn't shine.

Until now, solar power has been a daytime-only energy source, because storing extra solar energy for later use is prohibitively expensive and grossly inefficient. With today's announcement, MIT researchers have hit upon a simple, inexpensive, highly efficient process for storing solar energy.

Anti-gay politics continues to drive Don Wildmon's American Family Association

California's Proposition 8 draws big-buck supporters, while Wildmon declares that outcome of 'culture wars' depends on turning back gay marriage

Two different -- yet ultimately interlinked -- issues relating to the "homosexual agenda" are agitating the folks at the Tupelo, Mississippi-based headquarters of Donald Wildmon's American Family Association (AFA) these days. One is your basic AFA-sponsored boycott; the other, according to Wildmon, will determine the final outcome of America's "culture wars."

Wildmon is simultaneously leading an effort to boycott the fast food giant McDonald's, and marshaling the troops in support of Proposition 8, a California ballot initiative that would reverse the state's Supreme Court recent decision in support of gay marriage.

There's Something About Mary: Unmasking a Gun Lobby Mole

NEWS: Mary McFate was a prominent gun control activist. Mary Lou Sapone was a freelance spy with an NRA connection. They are the same person. A Mother Jones investigation. July 30, 2008

This is the story of two Marys. Both are in their early 60s, heavyset, with curly reddish hair. But for years they have worked on opposite ends of the same issues. Mary McFate is an advocate of environmental causes and a prominent activist within the gun control movement. For more than a decade, she volunteered for various gun violence prevention organizations, serving on the boards of anti-gun outfits, helping state groups coordinate their activities, lobbying in Washington for gun control legislation, and regularly attending strategy and organizing meetings.

Glenn Greenwald: Karl Rove’s Media Birds Chirp About Obama’s ‘Arrogance’

Displaying the startling prescience and unconventional insights that have long been the hallmark of his magazine, The New Republic’s Jonathan Chait wrote on June 30:

The best aspect of a McCain presidency is that, while it would probably follow the policies of George W. Bush, it would put an end to the politics of Karl Rove . . . . In Bush’s Washington, critics are enemies to be dismissed rather than engaged. A McCain presidency would promise to dismantle the whole Rovian method that has torn open such a deep wound in the national psyche.

From The New York Times Editorial Page, yesterday:

On July 3, news reports said Senator John McCain, worried that he might lose the election before it truly started, opened his doors to disciples of Karl Rove from the 2004 campaign and the Bush White House. Less than a month later, the results are on full display. The candidate who started out talking about high-minded, civil debate has wholeheartedly adopted Mr. Rove’s low-minded and uncivil playbook.

New Analysis Finds $33 Billion in Taxpayer-Funded Giveaways

Big Oil benefits from tax loopholes, royalty rollbacks, R&D subsidies and accounting gimmicks

WASHINGTON - July 31 - Even though it is already experiencing record profits, the oil and gas industry is set to receive at least $33 billion in handouts from taxpayers over the next five years, according to a new analysis released today by Friends of the Earth.

“This is a tremendous sum for taxpayers to be doling out to the oil and gas industry,” said Friends of the Earth’s Erich Pica, who authored the analysis. “The corporate fat cats at these big oil companies are already earning record profits—they don’t need our tax dollars too. There are far smarter places to use this money, including bringing down energy costs by investing in the clean power sources of the future, such as wind and solar.”

Kidding ourselves about high price of debt

Posted on Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Credit cards, as most people theoretically understand, can turn into the 21 st century equivalent of sharecropping. First, you borrow from The Man to get your cotton planted (or maybe to buy that new flat-screen HDTV ). Comes picking time (or the warranty runs out ) and you’re likely to discover, in the words of an old country song, that you “owe your soul to the company store.” Not to mention late fees and a big jump in the interest rate. Meanwhile, you’re getting letters daily offering you a new card at temptingly low rates for the first six months. Why not double down ? Hey, your 15-year-old’s being offered a platinum card with the logo of his high school’s mascot. Shoot, I’ve got a Charolais calf named Layla who’s probably eligible for EZ-Credit today. Basically, anybody who can walk and chew cud at the same time can end up owing a half-dozen company stores.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Orcinus: Of Madmen and Martyrs

Monday, July 28, 2008
by Sara

We are an odd group, we Unitarians.

Conventional wisdom says that we're soft in all the places our society values toughness. Our refusal to adhere to any dogma must mean that we're soft in our convictions. Our reflexive open-mindedness is often derided as evidence that we're soft in the head. Our persistent and gentle insistence on liberal values is evidence of hearts too soft to set boundaries. And all of this together leads to a public image of a mushy gathering of feckless intellectuals that somehow lacks cohesion, backbone, focus, or purpose.

The Unaffordable Economic Costs of Iraq

George Bush, John McCain, and their conservative allies believe that the Iraq war has been worth the cost. About two-thirds of Americans disagree, according to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll. Apparently, conservatives don’t understand “opportunity cost”—the basic economic concept that when you choose to buy one thing, you can’t use that money to buy something else.

Thomas Frank: Barack's European Vacation

As I watched the right pour out its rain of fury on Barack Obama after his Berlin speech I couldn't help but think of poor old Wile E. Coyote, raging impotently as the Road Runner zips through one of his carefully prepared snares.

Over the years conservatives have invested considerable capital, and enjoyed considerable success, in making "old Europe" a veritable synonym for all that is effete and snobbish and Chablis-drinking and just plain alien about liberalism. "Europe" was a bit of symbolism they thought they had tarnished beyond redemption; a well they had poisoned for good.

Mothers from affluent neighborhoods near highways increase odds of low weight babies by 81 percent

New study from Université de Montréal and University of South Australia published in Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health

Montreal, July 30, 2008 – Living near city expressways is associated with adverse birth effects on expectant mothers and their newborns, according to a novel study with global implications. In the August edition of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, scientists from the Université de Montréal and the University of South Australia reveal that women living closest to expressways are more vulnerable to highway pollution – especially affluent mothers.

Obama vows to review Bush’s executive orders

By Mike Soraghan and Jared Allen
Posted: 07/29/08 08:04 PM [ET]

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama told House members Tuesday that, if he wins the presidency, one of his first acts will be to review every executive order signed by President Bush.

It was one of the few specifics the Illinois senator offered to the House Democratic Caucus in a policy and politics pep rally Tuesday night intended to fire up fellow Democrats for the convention and the fall campaign.

A new attack on birth control

July 30, 2008

WITH JUST a few months left in office, President Bush is still doing the bidding of social conservatives who oppose women's reproductive freedoms. Under the guise of rules to protect antiabortion nurses and doctors from discrimination in hiring, a proposed new regulation would expand the definition of abortion to include any form of contraception that can work by stopping implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus. This can include common birth-control pills, emergency contraception, and the intra-uterine device, or IUD. Doctors who refuse to perform abortions for reasons of personal conscience already are protected by law.

Scott Ritter: America Is Already Committing Acts of War Against Iran

By Scott Ritter, Truthdig
Posted on July 30, 2008, Printed on July 30, 2008

The war between the United States and Iran is on. American taxpayer dollars are being used, with the permission of Congress, to fund activities that result in Iranians being killed and wounded, and Iranian property destroyed. This wanton violation of a nation's sovereignty would not be tolerated if the tables were turned and Americans were being subjected to Iranian-funded covert actions that took the lives of Americans, on American soil, and destroyed American property and livelihood. Many Americans remain unaware of what is transpiring abroad in their name.

Many of those who are cognizant of these activities are supportive of them, an outgrowth of misguided sentiment which holds Iran accountable for a list of grievances used by the U.S. government to justify the ongoing global war on terror. Iran, we are told, is not just a nation pursuing nuclear weapons, but is the largest state sponsor of terror in the world today.

A Smoking Gun Incriminates the Judge Who Ruled Against Don Siegelman

David Fiderer
Tue Jul 29, 7:36 PM ET

Before commencing deliberations, jury foreman Sam Hendrix began each day with his fellow jurors by holding hands and saying a payer. They prayed for the defendants, including former Governor Don Siegelman, who had been indicted for bribery and government corruption. "We didn't want to crucify people," Hendrix told the Auburn Villager, "but we did want to send a message."

As for the jury comprised of five whites and seven blacks, "we were all really good friends," Hendrix told the Montgomery Advertiser in July 2006. "There was a bond between us. It never got personal. I think we were very fortunate that we had a very congenial group of people who respected each other and listened to each other."

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Ted Rall: Recession, Year 8

Bickering Over Terminology Delays Real Action

SAN DIEGO--There's a debate in the media about the recession. On the right are those who say that the economy has never been better. Not so fast, says the official left: we've (just) started a recession.

Phil Gramm, McCain's former economic advisor, leads the School of Sunny Optimism. "This is a mental recession," said Gramm. "We may have a recession, we haven't had one yet. We have sort of become a nation of whiners." Given his day job, you have to admire his attitude. UBS Investment Bank, which employs Gramm as its vice chairman, was recently forced to write off $38 billion in bad debts because of its exposure to the sub-prime mortgage meltdown. All its profits since 2004 have been wiped out.

Report: Repairing U.S. bridges would cost $140 billion

Story Highlights
  • Group says almost one in four bridges structurally deficient or needs fix or widening
  • Report: Average age of bridges is 43 years; most designed to last 50 years
  • Report notes country's bridges are safe, but calls for investment
  • Funding issues prevent states from keeping "bridges sound indefinitely," report says
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- It would cost at least $140 billion to repair all the nation's bridges if work began immediately, a nationwide safety organization said in a comprehensive report Monday.

The price tag will rise if the repairs are delayed, the group said.

"States simply cannot keep up with bridge maintenance," the report warns, adding that 73 percent of U.S. road traffic -- and 90 percent of truck traffic -- travels over state-owned bridges.

Study questions US strategy against al-Qaida

By BARRY SCHWEID, AP Diplomatic Writer
Tue Jul 29, 12:32 AM ET

The United States can defeat al-Qaida if it relies less on force and more on policing and intelligence to root out the terror group's leaders, a new study contends.

"Keep in mind that terrorist groups are not eradicated overnight," said the study by the federally funded Rand research center, an organization that counsels the Pentagon.

Its report said that the use of military force by the United States or other countries should be reserved for quelling large, well-armed and well-organized insurgencies, and that American officials should stop using the term "war on terror" and replace it with "counterterrorism."

Acidification of the sea hampers reproduction of marine species

Decreasing pH the biggest threat to marine animal life for thousands of years

By absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and from the human use of fossil fuels, the world's seas function as a giant buffer for the Earth's life support system. The chemical balance of the sea has long been regarded as immovable. Today, researchers know that the pH of the sea's surface water has gone down by 0.1, or 25 percent, just since the beginning of industrialisation just over a century ago. Jon Havenhand and Michael Thorndyke, researchers at the University of Gothenburg, along with colleagues in Australia, have studied how this acidification process affects marine animal life.

As part of the study, which is one of the world's first on this subject, they have allowed sea urchins of the species Heliocidaris erythrogramma to fertilise themselves in water where the pH has been lowered from its normal 8.1 to a pH value of 7.7. This means an environment three times as acidic, and corresponds to the change expected by the year 2100. The results are alarming.

Army recruiters threaten high school students


HOUSTON -- With a war in Iraq and fighting on the rise in Afghanistan, the struggle to bring in new U.S. Army recruits is heating up again.

And Irving Gonzales, 18, got caught up in it all.

As his family’s oldest male, he feels he has to do whatever it takes to help out his single mom. For him, that means working long hours at his after-school job.

Goodling Passed Over Experienced Counterterrorism Prosecutor Because Wife Was A Democrat

In today’s Justice Department report on Monica Goodling’s and other DOJ officials’ politicization of the department, the investigators reveal that Goodling’s political considerations were “particularly damaging to the Department because it resulted in high-quality candidates for important details being rejected in favor of less-qualified candidates.”

In one disgraceful example, Goodling refused to hire “one of the leading terrorism prosecutors in the country” because his wife was a Democrat:

Are We Facing Just Another Market Problem or a System Collapse?

By Danny Schechter, AlterNet
Posted on July 28, 2008, Printed on July 29, 2008

The question we face in late July, as regulators seize two more banks, is: will we be engulfed by a further collapse in our economy or can the damage be contained, or, even turned around?

We know what goes up must come down but when will what's down go back up?

It isn't looking good -- and, even now, the two presumptive major party presidential candidates are talking about everything but this deepening crisis. They are debating terrorists and Afghanistan and how to meander out of Iraq but not the reality that so many Americans are living with: a squeeze that is leaving so many of us broke, in deeper and deeper debt and disgusted.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Obama Doesn't Sweat. He should.

by Greg Palast

In swing-state Colorado, the Republican Secretary of State conducted the biggest purge of voters in history, dumping a fifth of all registrations. Guess their color.

In swing-state Florida, the state is refusing to accept about 85,000 new registrations from voter drives – overwhelming Black voters.

In swing state New Mexico, HALF of the Democrats of Mora, a dirt poor and overwhelmingly Hispanic county, found their registrations disappeared this year, courtesy of a Republican voting contractor.

In swing states Ohio and Nevada, new federal law is knocking out tens of thousands of voters who lost their homes to foreclosure.

Senate Aims at Offshore Tax Evasion

Democrats Say Havens Syphon Off Hundreds of Billions in Revenue

By Mike Lillis 07/25/2008
Spurred by reports that abusive offshore tax havens are syphoning hundreds of billions of dollars in federal revenues, Congress's leading voices on tax policy called Thursday for tighter restrictions on companies and individuals doing business abroad.

The issue is of particular significance to Democratic leaders, who have accumulated a challenging legislative wish-list for next year -- much of which they hope to fund by closing the $345 billion tax gap. Experts warn, however, that a slew of hurdles stands in their way.

Gasoline prices retreat; could fall more: survey

By Franklin Paul

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. retail gasoline prices fell sharply in the last two weeks, just below $4 a gallon, in line with retreating crude oil markets, and prices at the pump may slide further, an industry analyst said on Sunday.

The U.S. average retail price for self-serve, regular unleaded gasoline fell to $3.9959, off nearly 12 cents in the past two weeks, according to the Lundberg nationwide survey of about 7,000 gas stations.

Paul Krugman: Another Temporary Fix

So the big housing bill has passed Congress. That’s good news: Fannie and Freddie had to be rescued, and the bill’s other main provision — a special loan program to head off foreclosures — will help some hard-pressed families. It’s much better to have this bill than not.

But I hope nobody thinks that Congress has done all, or even a large fraction, of what needs to be done.

This bill is the latest in a series of temporary fixes to the financial system — attempts to hold the thing together with bungee cords and masking tape — that have, at least so far, succeeded in staving off complete collapse. But those fixes have done nothing to resolve the system’s underlying flaws. In fact, they set the stage for even bigger future disasters — unless they’re followed up with fundamental reforms.

Record deficit for next president

The next US president is expected to face a record federal budget deficit of almost half a trillion dollars.

The White House has lifted its deficit forecast for 2009 to $482bn (£242bn) up from $407bn.

The budget deficit measures how much more the government is spending than it is raising through taxes.

Tomgram: Chalmers Johnson, Warning: Mercenaries at Work

[Note for TomDispatch readers: Part 2 of Pepe Escobar's TomDispatch interview is now posted. In it, Nick Turse discusses his new book The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives about which Chalmers Johnson has said: "Americans who still think they can free themselves from the clutches of the military-industrial complex need to read this book… Nick Turse has produced a brilliant exposé of the Pentagon's pervasive influence in our lives." To read Part 1 of the interview, with Tom Engelhardt, click here.]

To offer a bit of context for Chalmers Johnson's latest post on the privatization of U.S. intelligence, it's important to know just how lucrative that intelligence "business" has become. According to the latest estimate, the cumulative 2009 intelligence budget for the 16 agencies in the U.S. Intelligence Community will be more than $55 billion. However, it's possible that the real figure in the deeply classified budget may soar over $66 billion, which would mean that the U.S. budget for spooks has more than doubled in less than a decade. And as Robert Dreyfuss points out at his invaluable blog at the Nation, even more spectacularly (and wastefully), much of that money will end up in the hands of the "private contractors" who, by now, make up a mini intelligence-industrial complex of their own.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Frank Rich: How Obama Became Acting President

IT almost seems like a gag worthy of “Borat”: A smooth-talking rookie senator with an exotic name passes himself off as the incumbent American president to credulous foreigners. But to dismiss Barack Obama’s magical mystery tour through old Europe and two war zones as a media-made fairy tale would be to underestimate the ingenious politics of the moment. History was on the march well before Mr. Obama boarded his plane, and his trip was perfectly timed to reap the whirlwind.

He never would have been treated as a president-in-waiting by heads of state or network talking heads if all he offered were charisma, slick rhetoric and stunning visuals. What drew them instead was the raw power Mr. Obama has amassed: the power to start shaping events and the power to move markets, including TV ratings. (Even “Access Hollywood” mustered a 20 percent audience jump by hosting the Obama family.) Power begets more power, absolutely.

Year after year, costs of fighting wildfires skyrocket

The Forest Service has struggled for years to pay for fighting fires that last year alone scorched almost 10 million acres. As fire seasons grow longer and the blazes more intense in forests stressed by global warming, the agency's funding woes mount.

Senate Gives Final Approval to Sweeping Housing Bill

WASHINGTON — Hoping to stretch a safety net under the nation’s tumbling housing market, the Senate on Saturday overwhelmingly approved a huge package of legislation that includes a program to save hundreds of thousands of families from losing their homes to foreclosure.

The legislation is the latest in a series of extraordinary interventions this year by the Bush administration, Congress and the Federal Reserve as they seek to limit shockwaves in the housing sector from rippling across the American economy and the world financial system. In the process, the central bank and taxpayers have taken on what critics warn are incalculable liabilities and risk.

The Endless Smearing of Joe Wilson

Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee reminded everyone that rules barred personal attacks on George W. Bush during Friday’s hearing on his presidential abuses, but they didn’t feel obliged to forego the lashing of a favorite whipping boy, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson.

In a continuation of what has amounted to a five-year campaign to destroy Wilson’s reputation, Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, flourished two pieces of evidence that supposedly showed that Wilson was a perjurer and that President Bush was right all along when he accused Iraq of seeking yellowcake uranium from Niger.

King cited the CIA’s now-declassified report on its debriefing of Wilson after he returned from a fact-finding trip to Niger in early 2002 in which he checked out a bogus claim that Iraq had been trying to buy yellowcake uranium from the African nation.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Torture Memo Shields Interrogators

Government Memo Says Even Brutal Actions OK if Done in 'Good Faith'

By Spencer Ackerman

One of the most important building blocks in the Bush administration's apparatus of torture became public Thursday.

An Aug. 1, 2002 memorandum from the Justice Dept.'s Office of Legal Counsel to the Central Intelligence Agency instructed the agency's interrogators on specific interrogation techniques for use on Al Qaeda detainees in its custody. Most of the 17-page memo is blacked out and unreadable. But at least one of those techniques is waterboarding, the process of pouring water into the mouth and nostrils of a detainee under restraint until drowning occurs.

Commentary: Back to the future in the war on terror

The events of this week served to underline the fact that the war on terrorism was always really about Afghanistan and Pakistan, and that President George W. Bush's splendid little adventure in Iraq was always a sideshow, even though it siphoned off the biggest chunk of manpower and resources.

The president and his would-be Republican successor, Sen. John McCain, had barely completed even one Iraq victory lap singing hosannas to the surge when they were obliged to begin thinking and talking about how they're going to shore up a failing policy in Afghanistan.

Wealth does not dictate concern for the environment

Stillwater, OK – July 24, 2008 – It has been a long-held assumption that poor nations will not support efforts to protect the environment since their citizens are too preoccupied with meeting basic needs, such as food and housing. However, a new study in The Sociological Quarterly reveals that citizens of poorer nations are just as concerned about environmental quality as their counterparts in rich nations.

Riley E. Dunlap, PhD, of Oklahoma State University and Richard York, PhD, of the University of Oregon compared results from four large cross-national surveys, each conducted in several dozen nations ranging with differing economic statuses. Representative samples of citizens were surveyed in each nation.

Glenn Greenwald: The Parade of ‘Shrill, Unserious Extremists’ on Display at Today’s Impeachment Hearings

Former Reagan DOJ official, constitutional lawyer, and hard-core conservative Bruce Fein was one of the first prominent Americans to call for George Bush’s impeachment in the wake of the illegal NSA spying scandal. Back in late 2005 and 2006, when even safe-seat Democrats like Chuck Schumer were petrified even of uttering the words “broke the law” when speaking of the Bush administration — let alone taking meaningful action to investigate and putting a stop to the lawbreaking — Fein wrote a column in The Washington Times forcefully and eloquently arguing:

Volumes of war powers nonsense have been assembled to defend Mr. Bush’s defiance of the legislative branch and claim of wartime omnipotence so long as terrorism persists, i.e., in perpetuity. Congress should undertake a national inquest into his conduct and claims to determine whether impeachable usurpations are at hand.

Main Core: New Evidence Reveals Top Secret Government Database Used in Bush Spy Program has published new details about a top secret government database that might be at the heart of the Bush administration’s domestic spying operations. The database is known as “Main Core.” It reportedly collects and stores vast amounts of personal and financial data about millions of Americans. Some former US officials believe that “Main Core” may have been used by the National Security Agency to determine who to spy on in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

Free College for Poorest Students Puts Ivy League to Shame

By Leonard Doyle, Independent UK
Posted on July 26, 2008, Printed on July 26, 2008

Berea University in rural Kentucky is one of the wealthiest colleges in America but it only accepts the poorest applicants. The dropout rate is negligible and its students go out into the world debt-free, unlike the majority of those who emerge every year from America's universities, proudly clutching a degree but burdened by massive debts.

Berea is lucky. It has a $1bn endowment which, wisely invested, produces enough income, topped up by fundraising, to teach 1,500 students. Some of Berea's students even leave with money in their pockets.

How Should the Next President Deal with the Bush White House's Crimes?

By Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!
Posted on July 26, 2008, Printed on July 26, 2008

Amy Goodman:The dominant role of corporations is one of a number of issues fueling skepticism around the 2008 campaign. Criticism has also mounted recently over presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama's perceived shift to the right.

In an apparent reversal, Obama backed a new bill authorizing the Bush administration's domestic spy program and granting immunity for the telecom companies that took part. He also supported a Supreme Court decision to overturn a D.C. handgun ban. On foreign policy, Obama said he'd be open to revise his pledge to withdraw US troops from Iraq and also called for a major increase to the size of the US occupation of Afghanistan. And like all top Democratic leaders, Obama has refused to support calls for the prosecution of President Bush and top White House officials for war crimes and other abuses of power.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Fannie’s and Freddie’s free lunch

By Joseph Stiglitz

Published: July 24 2008 18:25 | Last updated: July 24 2008 18:25

Much has been made in recent years of private/public partnerships. The US government is about to embark on another example of such a partnership, in which the private sector takes the profits and the public sector bears the risk. The proposed bail-out of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac entails the socialisation of risk – with all the long-term adverse implications for moral hazard – from an administration supposedly committed to free-market principles.

Defenders of the bail-out argue that these institutions are too big to be allowed to fail. If that is the case, the government had a responsibility to regulate them so that they would not fail. No insurance company would provide fire insurance without demanding adequate sprinklers; none would leave it to “self-regulation”. But that is what we have done with the financial system.

AP: Food industry bitten by its lobbying success

By LARRY MARGASAK, Associated Press Writer
Fri Jul 25, 7:14 AM ET

One of the worst outbreaks of foodborne illness in the U.S. is teaching the food industry the truth of the adage, "Be careful what you wish for because you might get it."

The industry pressured the Bush administration years ago to limit the paperwork companies would have to keep to help U.S. health investigators quickly trace produce that sickens consumers, according to interviews and government reports reviewed by The Associated Press.

The White House also killed a plan to require the industry to maintain electronic tracking records that could be reviewed easily during a crisis to search for an outbreak's source. Companies complained the proposals were too burdensome and costly, and warned they could disrupt the availability of consumers' favorite foods.

Selling the Family Jewels

Desperate American banks are selling everything that isn't nailed down (except the private jets).

By Daniel Gross

President Bush neatly summed up the complex problems in the financial sector last week in terms he could understand. "Wall Street got drunk," he said. "It got drunk and now it's got a hangover." And to pay for the hangover cure, Wall Street is now selling Grandma's silverware and little Billy's new bicycle.

In recent weeks, American financial services companies have moved from the post-binge phase of dilutive capital raising—running around the world with a tin cup, urging well-heeled foreigners to invest in the crippled firms on purportedly advantageous terms—into the phase of selling the family jewels. Over the past year, banks have taken write-downs and raised new cash from investors, only to take new write-downs within weeks, thus turning those new investors into losers. And so as they face the need to raise more capital, banks can no longer raise billions from Dubai gazillioniaries and Chinese investment funds, who've been burned once. Now banks are having to sell their hard assets—in some cases, extremely valuable hard assets that have been passed down from generation to generation.

'Fuel battery' could take cars beyond petrol

13:11 25 July 2008 news service
Colin Barras

A new approach to storing electrical energy can store more energy than gasoline in the same volume, and could help extend the range of electric vehicles. But some experts say other approaches are more practical.

The biggest technological hurdle facing electric vehicles is their range. Even the best rechargeable batteries cannot match the density of energy stored in a fuel tank.

Democrats: White House must publish 'chilling' climate change document

by Elana Schor
Friday July 25 2008

The row over US inaction on carbon emissions reached new heights yesterday after the White House allowed Congress to look at last year's government proposal to officially deem climate change a threat to public health – a plan that aides to George Bush refused to acknowledge or read.

The climate plan was finished in December by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in response to a supreme court ruling that required the Bush administration to state whether carbon emissions should be regulated to protect public health.

Minimum Wage Raise Too Little, Too Late

by Holly Sklar

Minimum wage workers have been stuck in a losing game of “Mother May I” with the federal government. Workers step forward when the government says yes to raising the minimum wage. Workers step backward when the cost of living increases, but the minimum wage doesn’t.

Until 1968, minimum wage workers took frequent and big enough steps forward to make overall progress. Since 1968, when the minimum wage reached its peak buying power, workers have taken many steps backward for every step forward.

The July 24 minimum wage raise is so little, so late that workers will still make less than they did in 1997, adjusting for the increased cost of living, and way less than in 1968.

ACLU Obtains Key Memos Authorizing CIA Torture Methods

Memo Instructed CIA To Document Both Torture Techniques And Agents Participating In Interrogations

NEW YORK - July 24 - The American Civil Liberties Union today obtained three redacted documents related to the Bush administration’s brutal interrogation policies, including a previously withheld Justice Department memo authorizing the CIA’s use of torture. The government was ordered to turn over the documents in response to an ongoing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit brought in 2004 by the ACLU and other organizations seeking records on the treatment of prisoners in U.S. custody overseas.

“These documents supply further evidence, if any were needed, that the Justice Department authorized the CIA to torture prisoners in its custody,” said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National Security Project. “The Justice Department twisted the law, and in some cases ignored it altogether, in order to permit interrogators to use barbaric methods that the U.S. once prosecuted as war crimes.”

Foreclosure filings up 120%

220,000 homes were lost to bank repossessions in the second quarter, and the annual forecast for 2008 will have to be revised upward.

By Les Christie, staff writer
Last Updated: July 25, 2008: 8:02 AM EDT

NEW YORK ( -- As foreclosures continue to soar, 220,000 homes were lost to bank repossessions in the second quarter, according to a housing market report Friday issued by RealtyTrac.

That's nearly triple the number from the same period in 2007.

'A mountain bike changed my life'

HIGH BRIDGE, New Jersey (CNN) -- "The thought that I can reach out and permanently improve someone's life for the better is addictive," says Dave Schweidenback.

Several times a year, the 55-year-old can be found prepping large shipments of used bicycles bound for a developing country. For Schweidenback, gathering and breaking down these bikes is a labor of love -- one that is helping to keep the bikes out of landfills and give them new life.

Hullabaloo: Political Participation - The Real Fascism

by dday

Jesse Taylor at Pandagon had a remarkably insightful piece today about the wingnut carping over the Barack Obama speech in Berlin, the media reaction, and his popularity generally. I really think this is important to understand. The right has always held a goal of minimizing political participation; normally this is done through voter suppression, onerous voter ID or ballot access laws, and generally disenfranchising those for whom it is hardest to engage in the process. Now they've taken it a step further, basically planting the seed that ANY participation whatsoever, not just voting but showing up for a rally or working a phone bank or donating money, is toxic and inherently fascistic. Because their deficit in this election year is enthusiasm, they're trying to make such support and excitement untenable.

The Minimum Wage Remains a Key Issue


The federal minimum wage has increased from $5.85 to $6.55, providing a much-needed raise to millions of American workers. Today is a good day to remind our fellow citizens that we’re on their side while the right wing fights against the interests of American workers.

Let’s tout last year’s victory. But let’s also remind Americans that the job isn’t done—we need a minimum-wage solution that works for the long term.

Felons Seeking Bush Pardon Near a Record

Correction Appended

WASHINGTON — Felons are asking President Bush for pardons and commutations at historic levels as he nears his final months in office, a time when many other presidents have granted a flurry of clemency requests.

Among the petitioners is Michael Milken, the billionaire former junk bond king turned philanthropist, who is seeking a pardon for his 1990 conviction for securities fraud, the Justice Department said. Mr. Milken sought a pardon eight years ago from President Bill Clinton, and submitted a new petition in June.

In addition, prominent federal inmates are asking Mr. Bush to commute their sentences. Among them are Randy Cunningham, the former Republican congressman from California; Edwin W. Edwards, a former Democratic governor of Louisiana; John Walker Lindh, the so-called American Taliban; and Marion Jones, the former Olympic sprinter.

Who’s Paying for the Conventions?

Posted on Jul 23, 2008

By Amy Goodman

The election season is heating up, with back-to-back conventions approaching—the Democrats in Denver followed by the Republicans in St. Paul, Minn. The conventions have become elaborate, expensive marketing events, where the party’s “presumptive” nominee has a coronation with much fanfare, confetti and wall-to-wall media coverage. What people don’t know is the extent to which major corporations fund the conventions, pouring tens of millions of dollars into a little-known loophole in the campaign-finance system.

Stephen Weissman of the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute explains the unconventional funding:

“It’s totally prohibited to give unlimited contributions to political parties. It’s totally prohibited for a corporation or a union to just go right into its treasury and give money to political parties. Yet, under an exemption that was created by the Federal Election Commission, which essentially is made up of representatives of the two major parties, all of this money can be given if it’s given through a host committee under the pretense that it’s merely to promote the convention city.”

Republicans Block Provision to Alter Strategic Oil Reserve Mix

By Daniel Whitten

July 24 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. House defeated a Democratic proposal to substitute heavy crude oil for light petroleum in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, after White House officials threatened a veto of the measure.

The measure, at least the fourth energy bill to fail under suspension of rules in the last month, would have directed that 10 percent of the reserve be released into the market over six months and replaced with heavier oil over a five-year period. Considering a bill under suspension of House rules means that the bill needs a two-thirds majority in order to pass.

Full Text of Obama's Berlin Speech

Thank you to the citizens of Berlin and to the people of Germany. Let me thank Chancellor Merkel and Foreign Minister Steinmeier for welcoming me earlier today. Thank you Mayor Wowereit, the Berlin Senate, the police, and most of all thank you for this welcome.

I come to Berlin as so many of my countrymen have come before. Tonight, I speak to you not as a candidate for President, but as a citizen - a proud citizen of the United States, and a fellow citizen of the world.

How Wall Street Wrecked Your Retirement

By Nicholas von Hoffman, The Nation
Posted on July 25, 2008, Printed on July 25, 2008

Our disfunctional financial system hit a new low last week when Citigroup, the hopeless wreck of Wall Street, announced it had lost $2.5 billion in the past three months -- a cheer went up, and so did the Dow. Only $2.5 billion; people were afraid the losses would be much higher. Happy days are here again.

There are no happy days for the millions of Americans who have been trying to put away some money for their retirement in tax-sheltered entities like IRAs, Roth Accounts and 401(k)s. For them, the market's downward slope has been harrowing and frightening. When will the steady erosion of their savings end? And when it does, what will be left of their future financial security?

You need Uncle Sam, Iraq told

By Gareth Porter

WASHINGTON - Instead of moving toward accommodating the demand of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki for a timetable for United States military withdrawal, the George W Bush administration and the US military leadership are continuing to pressure their erstwhile client regime to bow to the US demand for a long-term military presence in the country.

The emergence of this defiant US posture toward the Iraqi withdrawal demand underlines just how important long-term access to military bases in Iraq has become to the US military and national security bureaucracy in general.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Digby: Unpardonable

D-Day wrote about this the other day, but I think it's worth further discussion. There's chatter about Bush issuing pre-emptive pardons to all those involved in the illegal interrogation and wiretapping regime of the last four years.
As the administration wrestles with the cascade of petitions, some lawyers and law professors are raising a related question: Will Mr. Bush grant pre-emptive pardons to officials involved in controversial counterterrorism programs?

Digby: Younger Than Springtime

I love this. Via Maha, I see that right wingers are now arguing that Obama is too young to be president. The man is 47 years old. Old enough to be a grandfather. (But hey, I'm only four years older than him and I've been feeling pretty damned old lately so this is good news. I feel young again!)

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, argue[s] that in choosing between different interpretations of the Constitution, we should select the one that will produce the best consequences. This method too suggests that Obama should be understood to be constitutionally barred from serving as president by reason of his age.

The Left Coaster: Blood For Oil

by Jeff Dinelli

Riveted to HBO's brilliant docudrama series "Generation Kill" for the last two weeks, it's brought me back to the original build-up and initial invasion of Iraq. The days of yelling, "IRAQ?? What the hell are we doing?" Remembering those feelings and watching the young Marines crossing the border into Saddam Hussein's country with no air cover or tank assistance has made for quite an emotional viewing experience.

The announcement a few weeks ago of a deal being worked out between the Iraq Oil Ministry and Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP (original partners decades ago in the Iraq Petroleum Company, now joined by Chevron and other smaller oil companies) raises some serious questions about the nature of the invasion. Questions that should be raised and discussed by Obama, McCain, Congress, Americans everywhere, and the Iraqi people, who have no say in the future of their country.

Are 400,000 Terrorists, 44 Terrorist Groups, and Five State Sponsors of Terror Trying to Attack the United States?

July 21, 2008
Ivan Eland

After having begun a series of investigative stories criticizing the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in May 2008, CNN reporter Drew Griffin reports being placed with more than a million other names on TSA’s swollen terrorism watch list. Although TSA insists Griffin’s name is not on the list and pooh-poohs any possibility of retaliation for Griffin’s negative reporting, the reporter has been hassled by various airlines on 11 flights since May. The airlines insist that Griffin’s name is on the list. Congress has asked TSA to look into the tribulations of this prominent passenger.

In a recent op-ed in the Washington Post, probably responding to the controversy over Griffin, Leonard Boyle, the director of the Terrorist Screening Center, defended the watch list, claiming that because terrorists have multiple aliases, the names on the list boiled down to only about 400,000 actual people. If there are 400,000 terrorists lying in wait to attack the United States, we are all in trouble.

How Much Does John McCain Really Know About Foreign Policy?

Not as much as he'd like you to think.

By Fred Kaplan

After Barack Obama's opening day in Iraq this week, the New York Times headline read, "For Obama, a First Step Is Not a Misstep." The story, by Richard Oppel Jr. and Jeff Zeleny, noted, "Mr. Obama seemed to have navigated one of the riskiest parts of a weeklong international trip without a noticeable hitch."

That was the big nail-biter: Would Obama, the first-term senator and foreign-policy newbie, utter an irrevocably damaging gaffe? The nightmare scenarios were endless. Maybe he would refer to "the Iraq-Pakistan border," or call the Czech Republic "Czechoslovakia" (three times), or confuse Sunni with Shiite, or say that the U.S. troop surge preceded (and therefore caused) the Sunni Awakening in Anbar province.

The Agonist: Who is Really to Blame for the Financial Crisis?

Are we all to blame for this financial crisis?

That’s the current thinking coming out of Washington and being taken as accepted wisdom among economists and newspaper columnists. Consumers were greedy and didn’t read the mortgage documents they were signing. Banks were careless in their pursuit of profits and let credit standards lapse. Regulators sat by and did nothing while a housing boom and debt explosion raged for nearly a decade.

This doctrine of shared culpability, however, is starting to fray, as people are asking deeper questions about how so much debt could be piled on to so little equity. More interestingly, some columnists are beginning to wonder whether the banking system weighed the scales much more heavily against the consumer than anyone realized.

House leader Rangel calls for ethics probe on himself

Nick Langewis
Published: Wednesday July 23, 2008

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, has an ethics complaint ... against himself.

As promised Tuesday, Rangel requested that the House open a probe into whether he "inadvertently failed to comply with House Ethics Rules regarding the use of congressional letterhead" in June 2005 and March 2007 to arrange talks with charity leaders and the business community regarding possible donations to the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at the City College of New York.

How Smart Homes Could Power the Future

By Michael Schirber, Special to LiveScience

posted: 23 July 2008 03:57 pm ET

Editor's Note: Each Wednesday LiveScience examines the viability of emerging energy technologies — the power of the future.

BARCELONA, Spain — As much as 75 percent of a home's heat escapes through the roof and walls. A new European initiative plans to design homes that are much smarter about energy use.

A typical U.S. or European household consumes around 13,000 kilowatt-hours of energy per year on space heating. A number of building designs have been put forward that cut this and other home energy use to nearly zero, but only a few of the houses have been built.

Paying to save tropical forests could be a way to reduce global carbon emissions

Wealthy nations willing to collectively spend about $1 billion annually could prevent the emission of roughly half a billion metric tons of carbon dioxide per year for the next 25 years, new research suggests. It would take about that much money to put an end to a tenth of the tropical deforestation in the world, one of the top contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, researchers estimate.

Cow power could generate electricity for millions

Converting livestock manure into a domestic renewable fuel source could generate enough electricity to meet up to three percent of North America's entire consumption needs and lead to a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, according to US research published today, Thursday, July 24, in the Institute of Physics' Environmental Research Letters.

Obama Is Saying the Wrong Things About Afghanistan

He hit the right notes during his swing through Iraq, but his plans for that other war could mean trouble.

by Juan Cole

Barack Obama’s Afghanistan and Iraq policies are mirror images of each other. Obama wants to send 10,000 extra U.S. troops to Afghanistan, but wants to withdraw all American soldiers and Marines from Iraq on a short timetable. In contrast to the kid gloves with which he treated the Iraqi government, Obama repeated his threat to hit at al-Qaida in neighboring Pakistan unilaterally, drawing howls of outrage from Islamabad.

But Obama’s pledge to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan will not be easy to fulfill. While coalition troop deaths have declined significantly in Iraq, NATO casualties in Afghanistan are way up. By shifting emphasis from Iraq to Afghanistan, would a President Obama be jumping from the frying pan into the fire?

Bush Seeks $12 Billion to Waste on Obsolete Missile Defense

By Joseph Cirincione, Foreign Policy
Posted on July 24, 2008, Printed on July 24, 2008

If President George W. Bush's budget requests are met, the United States will spend more this year than it ever has on antiballistic missile defense -- some $12 billion, or nearly three times what the United States spent on antimissile systems during any year of the Cold War. The United States would spend more than $60 billion on missile defense in the next six years, an unprecedented sum, even for the Pentagon. But what makes this spending most remarkable is that the threat it seeks to counter is actually declining. There are far fewer missiles, missile programs, and hostile states with missiles aimed at the United States and its armed forces than there were 20 years ago. The number of long-range missiles fielded by China and Russia has decreased 71 percent since 1987. The number of medium-range ballistic missiles pointed at U.S. allies in Europe and Asia has fallen 80 percent. Most of the 28 countries that have any ballistic missiles at all have only short-range Scud missiles -- which travel less than 300 miles and are growing older and less reliable each day. Even the number of countries trying to develop ballistic missiles is falling.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Vicious Ideologue Renews Attack on Social Security

by Dean Baker

Billionaire investment banker Peter Peterson is back on the warpath. He just established a new foundation with a $1 billion endowment, the main purpose of which is to cut back spending on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

These programs, which provide an essential safety net to virtually the entire country, are hugely popular and will be politically difficult to cut. Nonetheless, $1 billion is a lot of money. Therefore, Peterson’s campaign deserves to be taken seriously.

Peterson has long been an ardent foe of these programs. He first rose to national prominence as commerce secretary in the Nixon administration. He then returned to the private sector and became a partner in the Blackstone Group, a very successful private equity fund.

Borrowers and Bankers: A Great Divide

THE credit crisis has exposed and worsened a dangerous and deepening divide in this country between a vast number of average borrowers and a fairly elite slice of corporations, banks and executives enriched by the mortgage mania.

Borrowers who are in trouble on their mortgages have seen their government move slowly — or not all — to help them. But banks and the executives who ran them are quickly deemed worthy of taxpayer bailouts.

On the ground, this translates into millions of troubled borrowers, left to work through their problems with understaffed, sometimes adversarial loan servicing companies. If they get nowhere, they lose their homes.

Al-Qaeda's got a brand new bag

By Pepe Escobar

WASHINGTON - Al-Qaeda is back - with a vengeance of sorts. Listen to Mustafa Abu al-Yazeed - a senior al-Qaeda commander in Afghanistan, in a very rare interview with Pakistan's Geo TV, shot in Khost, in eastern Afghanistan.

"At this stage this is our understanding - that there is no difference between the American people and the American government itself. If we see this through sharia [Islamic] law, American people and the government itself are infidels and are fighting against Islam. We have to rely on suicide attacks which are absolutely correct according to Islamic law. We have adopted this way of war because there is a huge difference between our material resources and our enemy's, and this is the only option to attack our enemy."

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Bair Market

The FDIC chairwoman's great ideas for preventing the meltdown of America's banking industry.

By Daniel Gross
Posted Friday, July 18, 2008, at 12:39 PM ET

In ordinary times, a public discussion on deposit insurance would hold all the drama of a seminar on Canadian land use. But these are no ordinary times. Last Wednesday at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, a bank of television cameras, several reporters, and about 100 people picking at their lunch—arugula salad, stuffed chicken, a strange fruit/cream confection—paid close attention when a fiftysomething woman with a professorial mien took the podium. Sheila Bair, chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., stood under a large banner reading, "CONFIDENCE AND STABILITY"—an unsubtle attempt to bolster flagging confidence in the nation's financial sector. The panel discussion, featuring Terry Savage, the Suze Orman of the Windy City, was part of a $5 million public education campaign marking the FDIC's 75th anniversary. As Bair told me before the excitement began: "We're bringing in local experts, and banks, and talking about deposit insurance." Par-TAY!

Influx of Voters Expected to Test New Technology

With millions of new voters heading to the polls this November and many states introducing new voting technologies, election officials and voting monitors say they fear the combination is likely to create long lines, stressed-out poll workers and late tallies on Election Day.

At least 11 states will use new voting equipment as the nation shifts away from touch-screen machines and to the paper ballots of optical scanners, which will be used by more than 55 percent of voters.

About half of all voters will use machines unlike the ones they used in the last presidential election, experts say, and more than half of the states will use new statewide databases to verify voter registration.

Study reveals air pollution is causing widespread and serious impacts to ecosystems

If you are living in the eastern United States, the environment around you is being harmed by air pollution. From Adirondack forests and Shenandoah streams to Appalachian wetlands and the Chesapeake Bay, a new report by the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and The Nature Conservancy has found that air pollution is degrading every major ecosystem type in the northeastern and mid-Atlantic United States.

Buyer Beware: The Many Ways Retailers Can Trick You

Shoppers do crazy things. And retailers bank on it.

Several studies reveal how Americans shop in irrational ways, and increasingly scientists are figuring out how easily we can be duped. Retailers in turn use these tricks to get inside our heads, encouraging window shoppers to become real shoppers, driving purchases of sales items regardless of real value, and helping buyers feel good about the things they walk out with ... often for no good reason.

The Misdirection

By Scott Horton

Last week the House Judiciary Committee conducted two further hearings into the formulation of Bush Administration torture policy. In the second, John Ashcroft was questioned and some significant progress was made. Ashcroft acknowledged that the White House had effectively co-opted the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), and that its opinions were no longer being issued at arm’s length. While reiterating some absurd fantasies about torture (starting with the indefensible proposition that waterboarding has always been fine), he stated that it was “not hard” to rescind the original torture memorandum because it was a shoddy product.

Rick Perlstein: Progressives: Stop Being Suckers

You can watch me, Digby, Paul Krugman, and Atrios yap about how the media learned to bend over backward to please the right here.

I told one of my favorite stories from the book: the media's trauma after the Chicago Democratic convention in 1968, when they believed themselves to have revealed to the nation a moral outrage—cops indiscriminately beating up both defenseless anti-war protesters and defenseless reporters and cameramen—then watched, helplessly, as the nation side with the police. It brought on a bout of morbid self-obsession among the media, as its mandarins tied themselves in knots wondering if they were showing contempt for "the heartland," and displaying "liberal bias," if they reported accurately about police abuses.

Glenn Greenwald: McCain campaign adopts Bush's respect for free expression

One of the hallmarks of events at which George Bush appeared was the complete elimination of any dissent. In one of the most notorious cases, three individuals who arrived at a 2005 Bush town hall meeting in Denver with an anti-war bumper sticker on their car and anti-Bush t-shirts underneath their clothing were first threatened with removal before they sat down and then, 20 minutes later, were forcibly removed despite not having uttered a word. Numerous other cases of that kind have been documented, where perfectly well-behaved individuals were barred, removed and even arrested at Bush speeches, including taxpayer-funded events, exclusively for holding signs or wearing clothing that were critical of the Leader or his policies.

Nightmare on Wall Street: Washington Can't Bail out the Sea of Red Ink

By Bill Moyers, Bill Moyers Journal
Posted on July 22, 2008, Printed on July 22, 2008

The following is a transcript of an interview with author Bill Greider from the July 18 broadcast of Bill Moyers Journal(watch the video).

Bill Moyers:With me now is one of America's leading chroniclers of money, power, and politics, who says what's happening is the disgrace of Wall Street, its excesses paid for by people like those in Cleveland and millions like them around the country.

William Greider has spent forty years examining how powerful institutions affect ordinary people. Once a top editor of The Washington Post, a columnist for Rolling Stone, and now National Affairs Correspondent for The Nation, he has produced a series of best-selling books: Secrets of the Temple: How the Federal Reserve Runs the Country, One World, Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism, Who Will Tell the People: The Betrayal of American Democracy, and The Soul of Capitalism. He's working on a new book with the title: Come Home, America.

Monday, July 21, 2008

COINTELPRO Comes to My Town: My First-Hand Experience With Government Spies

Finally, at long last, I have something in common with Muhammad Ali.

No, I'm not the heavyweight champion of the world, and haven't been named spokesperson for Raid bug spray. Like "the Greatest" - not to mention far too many others -- I have been a target of state police surveillance for activities -- in my case against the death penalty -- that were legal, non-violent, and, so we assumed, constitutionally protected.

Thousands in Florida with criminal records work unlicensed as loan originators

Gary Kafka, former body builder with a long rap sheet and violent past, wrote millions of dollars in mortgages in South Florida without ever applying for a state license.

Fresh out of prison after serving time for bank fraud, he never went through a criminal background check before selling loans. He never took a competency exam.

Glenn Greenwald: The AT&T Convention in Denver

This blogger has obtained an image of the very handsome welcome bag that every delegate and member of the media will receive upon arrival at the Democratic National Convention next month in Denver. Here is one side (in my view, the prettier side) of the bag:


He has the other side here, and notes that there's "no word on what will be in the bags yet." If AT&T's parents taught it any manners at all, that bag will runneth over with all sorts of fine items, as AT&T has much to be grateful for, both to the Party whose convention it is generously sponsoring and to the media stars who will be attending. How far are we away from both parties selling naming rights to the companies on whose behalf they so assiduously labor?

Glenn Greenwald: The motivation for blocking investigations into Bush lawbreaking

Harper's Scott Horton yesterday interviewed Jane Mayer about her new book, The Dark Side. The first question he asked was about the Bush administration's fear that they would be criminally prosecuted for implementing what the International Red Cross had categorically described as "torture."

Mayer responded "that inside the White House there [had] been growing fear of criminal prosecution, particularly after the Supreme Court ruled in the Hamdan case that the Geneva Conventions applied to the treatment of the detainees," and that it was this fear that led the White House to demand (and, of course, receive) immunity for past interrogation crimes as part of the Military Commissions Act of 2006.

The White House wins a disturbing legal victory

The Bush administration has been a waging a fierce battle for the power to lock people up indefinitely simply on the president's say-so. It scored a disturbing victory last week when a federal appeals court ruled that it could continue to detain Ali al-Marri, who has been held for more than five years as an enemy combatant. The decision gives the president sweeping power to deprive anyone - citizens as well as noncitizens - of their freedom. The Supreme Court should reverse this terrible ruling.

Al-Marri, a citizen of Qatar legally residing in the United States, was initially arrested in his home in Peoria, Illinois, on ordinary criminal charges, then imprisoned by military authorities.

Are Fannie and Freddie Screwed? Bush Hopes So

By Scott Thill, AlterNet
Posted on July 21, 2008, Printed on July 21, 2008

President Bush made it his sub rosa mission to end the hegemony of these two Democrats-in-waiting companies. I don't even think he understood what the guarantee was or what they were supposed to do. -- Jim Cramer, "An Elegy for Fannie and Freddie"

In January, I wrote a cultural analysis of the Federal National Mortgage Association and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, more casually known as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and how the Bush administration might be trying to take them down. Ex-CEO Franklin Delano Raines was in court and accusing Bush of what the Washington Post described as "a coordinated plan within the Bush administration to depress Fannie Mae's stock price," which would have gotten more play in the press were it not for the fact that Raines was accused by Fannie Mae's overseer, the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (OFHEO), of skimming millions off the top for himself. The soap opera thickened under the weight of the fact that OFHEO director James B. Lockhart was not only a Bush contributor but a loyalist who went to school with him at Yale. And while the two parties, and their political parties, waged war with each other over control of two government-sponsored entities, the housing meltdown caught serious fire.

It has since cratered.

Debt capitalism self-destructs

By Henry C K Liu

In a period of less than a year, what had been described by US authorities as a temporary financial problem related to the bursting the housing bubble has turned into a fully fledged crisis at the very core of free-market capitalism.

A handful of analysts have been warning for years that the wholesale deregulation of financial markets and the wrong-headed privatization of the public sector during the past two decades would threaten the viability of free-market capitalism. Yet ideological neoliberal fixation remain firmly imbedded in US ruling circles, fertilized by irresistible campaign contributions from profiteers on Wall Street, methodically purging regulatory agencies of all who tried to maintain a sense of financial reality.

Dangers of 'the best military'

By William J Astore

When did American troops become "warfighters" - members of "Generation Kill" - instead of citizen-soldiers? And when did we become so proud of declaring our military to be "the world's best"? These are neither frivolous nor rhetorical questions. Open up any national defense publication today and you can't miss the ads from defense contractors, all eagerly touting the ways they "serve" America's "warfighters." Listen to the politicians, and you'll hear the obligatory incantation about our military being "the world's best".

All this is, by now, so often repeated - so eagerly accepted - that few of us seem to recall how against the American grain it really is. If anything - and I saw this in studying German military history - it's far more in keeping with the bellicose traditions and bumptious rhetoric of Imperial Germany under Kaiser Wilhelm II than of an American republic that began its march to independence with patriotic Minutemen in revolt against King George.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Glenn Greenwald: Rendering public opinion irrelevant

One of the most striking aspects of our political discourse, particularly during election time, is how efficiently certain views that deviate from the elite consensus are banished from sight -- simply prohibited -- even when those views are held by the vast majority of citizens. The University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes -- the premiere organization for surveying international public opinion -- released a new survey a couple of weeks ago regarding public opinion on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, including opinion among American citizens, and this is what it found:

A new poll of 18 countries finds that in 14 of them people mostly say their government should not take sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Presidential Campaigns Fight Over The Meaning Of Maliki

The presidential campaigns battled today over the significance of Nouri al-Maliki's endorsement of Barack Obama's proposed 16-month withdrawal timetable -- with the McCain campaign making the rather curious claim that Maliki was actually backing up McCain's position.

The Obama campaign reacted to Maliki's Der Spiegel interview with a statement on how the foreign policy debate is continuing to move towards Obama's position.

GOP cyber-security expert suggests Diebold tampered with 2002 election

Larisa Alexandrovna and Muriel Kane
Published: Friday July 18, 2008

A leading cyber-security expert and former adviser to Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) says he has fresh evidence regarding election fraud on Diebold electronic voting machines during the 2002 Georgia gubernatorial and senatorial elections.

Stephen Spoonamore is the founder and until recently the CEO of Cybrinth LLC, an information technology policy and security firm that serves Fortune 100 companies. At a little noticed press conference in Columbus, Ohio Thursday, he discussed his investigation of a computer patch that was applied to Diebold Election Systems voting machines in Georgia right before that state's November 2002 election.

Frank Rich: It’s the Economic Stupidity, Stupid

THE best thing to happen to John McCain was for the three network anchors to leave him in the dust this week while they chase Barack Obama on his global Lollapalooza tour. Were voters forced to actually focus on Mr. McCain’s response to our spiraling economic crisis at home, the prospect of his ascension to the Oval Office could set off a panic that would make the IndyMac Bank bust in Pasadena look as merry as the Rose Bowl.

“In a time of war,” Mr. McCain said last week, “the commander in chief doesn’t get a learning curve.” Fair enough, but he imparted this wisdom in a speech that was almost a year behind Mr. Obama in recognizing Afghanistan as the central front in the war against Al Qaeda. Given that it took the deadliest Taliban suicide bombing in Kabul since 9/11 to get Mr. McCain’s attention, you have to wonder if even General Custer’s learning curve was faster than his.

Chemical breakthrough turns sawdust into biofuel

17:08 18 July 2008 news service
Colin Barras

A wider of range of plant material could be turned into biofuels thanks to a breakthrough that converts plant molecules called lignin into liquid hydrocarbons.

The reaction reliably and efficiently turns the lignin in waste products such as sawdust into the chemical precursors of ethanol and biodiesel.

Housing prices haven't hit bottom yet

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration's pledge to rescue ailing housing finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac raises anew questions about just when the nation's dismal housing market will hit bottom.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson have suggested over the past year that an end is in sight. But with each prediction, things have grown worse. For many homeowners, the deep housing slump feels like a drop off a skyscraper. Every time another 15 floors have passed, there seems to be more room to fall.

Engineer's small footprint leaves big mark on world

Jayant Baliga is a man of average size, but he probably has the world's smallest footprint.

Carbon footprint, that is.

Baliga, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at N.C. State, is the inventor of a power-saving switch that prevents 1.4 trillion pounds of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere each year, at a cost savings of $300 billion.

And by saving 125 gigawatts of power each year, Baliga has offset the carbon footprint of 175 million people. You'd have to plant tens of millions of trees to achieve the same effect.

The Declining Value of Your College Degree


A four-year college degree, seen for generations as a ticket to a better life, is no longer enough to guarantee a steadily rising paycheck.

Just ask Bea Dewing. After she earned a bachelor's degree -- her second -- in computer science from Maryland's Frostburg State University in 1986, she enjoyed almost unbroken advances in wages, eventually earning $89,000 a year as a data modeler for Sprint Corp. in Lawrence, Kan. Then, in 2002, Sprint laid her off.

Given a Shovel, Americans Dig Deeper Into Debt

The collection agencies call at least 20 times a day. For a little quiet, Diane McLeod stashes her phone in the dishwasher.

But right up until she hit the wall financially, Ms. McLeod was a dream customer for lenders. She juggled not one but two mortgages, both with interest rates that rose over time, and a car loan and high-cost credit card debt. Separated and living with her 20-year-old son, she worked two jobs so she could afford her small, two-bedroom ranch house in suburban Philadelphia, the Kia she drove to work, and the handbags and knickknacks she liked.

Then last year, back-to-back medical emergencies helped push her over the edge. She could no longer afford either her home payments or her credit card bills. Then she lost her job. Now her home is in foreclosure and her credit profile in ruins.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Digby: Jess Folks

Jamison Foser has a good column this week about the Village media's obsessive desire to help the Republicans depict Barack Obama as some sort of exotic freak that "regular people" (according to Chris Matthews) can't relate to. He points out that they insist on this despite ample evidence in the polling that says "regular people" relate to him just fine.

It's infuriating to watch these gasbags presume to speak for Real Americans on this matter in the first place. I know that Brian Williams loves to shop at Target, but I still think they might, on the whole, be a little bit removed from the cares of the average American, seeing as they are multi-millionaires and all --- just like their favorite maverick flyboy, the fabulously wealthy everyman St. John McCain.

Commercial bankruptcies soar, reflecting widening economic woes

WASHINGTON — Driven by a sour economy and skittish consumers, U.S. business bankruptcies saw their sharpest quarterly rise in two years, jumping 17 percent in the second quarter of 2008, according to an analysis by McClatchy.

Commercial filings for the first half of 2008 are up 45 percent from last year, as the national climate for commerce continues to deteriorate amid rising energy and food costs, mounting job losses, tighter credit and a reticence among consumers to part with discretionary income.

Iraq: 1-year limit on no-bid contracts

BAGHDAD: The Iraqi government will limit no-bid contracts being negotiated with several major oil companies to one year to avoid overlap with longer-term deals expected to be signed next June, a senior Oil Ministry official said Thursday.

The contracts sparked a backlash because they involve major Western oil companies.

There are concerns that granting such contracts to Western oil companies could feed perceptions that U.S.-led forces toppled Saddam Hussein to seize the world's third-largest oil reserves.

Al Gore Steals the Show at Netroots

by Lilly Rockwell

AUSTIN - Former Vice President Al Gore stole the show from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s fireside policy chat at the Netroots Nation conference in Austin on Saturday.

Pelosi spent 45 minutes talking about abortion rights, efforts to bring the troops back from Iraq and why she didn’t think the Senate version of the FISA bill was appropriate. Some questions seemed to take her off guard, such as when one audience member asked about care packages being sent to troops, and if Congress should pass a bill to provide basic hygiene supplies to them.

Mother’s Milk of Politics Turns Sour

by Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

Once again we’re closing the barn door after the horse is out and gone. In Washington, the Federal Reserve has finally acted to stop some of the predatory lending that exploited people’s need for money. And like Rip Van Winkle, Congress is finally waking up from a long doze under the warm sun of laissez faire economics. That’s French for turning off the alarm until the burglars have made their getaway.

Philosophy is one reason we do this to ourselves; when you worship market forces as if they were the gods of Olympus, then the gods can do no wrong — until, of course, they prove to be human. Then we realize we should have listened to our inner agnostic and not been so reverent in the first place.

Economic Realities Are Killing Our Era of Fantasy Politics

By Matt Taibbi,
Posted on July 19, 2008, Printed on July 19, 2008

I am a single mother with a 9-year-old boy. To stay warm at night my son and I would pull off all the pillows from the couch and pile them on the kitchen floor. I'd hang a blanket from the kitchen doorway and we'd sleep right there on the floor. By February we ran out of wood and I burned my mother's dining room furniture. I have no oil for hot water. We boil our water on the stove and pour it in the tub. I'd like to order one of your flags and hang it upside down at the capital building... we are certainly a country in distress. -- Letter from a single mother in a Vermont city, to Senator Bernie Sanders

The Republican and Democratic conventions are just around the corner, which means that we're at a critical time in our nation's history. For this is the moment when the country's political and media consensus finally settles on the line of bullshit it will be selling to the public as the "national debate" come fall.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Police Spied on Activists In Md.

Officers Infiltrated Groups During Ehrlich Years

By Lisa Rein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 18, 2008; A01

Undercover Maryland State Police officers conducted surveillance on war protesters and death penalty opponents, including some in Takoma Park, for more than a year while Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. was governor, documents released yesterday show.

Detailed intelligence reports logged by at least two agents in the police department's Homeland Security and Intelligence Division reveal close monitoring of the movements as the Iraq war and capital punishment were heatedly debated in 2005 and 2006.

Water fresh from the tarp

By Matthew Knight

LONDON, England (CNN) -- It may look like an air mattress you might see lying around next to a swimming pool but in reality its function couldn't be less trivial.

The Solar Water Disinfecting Tarpaulin (SWDT) -- a new portable water purifier -- could be a major step forward in the fight against disease and mortality in the Third World.

Eric Olsen, a San Francisco-based architect and the inventor of the SWDT believes the product could help eradicate the scourge of polluted water which the World Health Organization (WHO) estimate claims over 1.5 million lives every year.

Ocean quest: The race to save the world's coral reefs

Last week, scientists issued their latest, grim assessment of the world's coral reefs. But as Steve Connor reports from Florida, extraordinary new ocean 'reseeding' techniques mean there may still be time to halt – or even reverse – the destruction of mother nature's marine marvels

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Coral reefs are often described as the tropical rainforests of the oceans. But marine biologists sometimes use another analogy: that of the canary in the coalmine. These birds were used by miners as an early warning for lethal gas; corals, too, are extraordinarily sensitive to environmental change. For Nancy Knowlton, a scientist at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, it's an apt description: "If that's the analogy, then the canary has passed out on the floor of the cage. Coral reefs are potentially immortal. They only have to die if we make them."

And that's just what we seem to be doing. In the 25 years that Knowlton has been studying the reefs, she has witnessed all the signs of their terminal decline. They are being degraded at a rate of 2 per cent a year. About a fifth of the world's stock has already gone, and nearly half of the remainder is in danger of disappearing within the next 20 years. And like so many other experts in her field, Knowlton is worried: a lethal combination of pollution, predators, disease, rising sea temperatures, over-fishing and the acidification of the sea have put our coral reefs on the critical list.