Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Top 10 Rightblogger Stories of 2008

Posted by Roy Edroso at 2:51 AM, December 29, 2008

Excited (not to say deranged) by the long Presidential campaign, conservative bloggers -- rightbloggers, in our affectionate parlance -- were in top form this year, and outstripped the sleepy Main Stream Media in every way. If mainstream Republicans were content to call Obama a socialist, rightbloggers insisted that he killed his grandmother. If the GOP lashed out at Al Gore, rightbloggers denounced his cartoon avatar Wall-E. Rightbloggers turned even the dullest political fodder into comedy gold, and we honor their achievements with a year-end top ten.

Iceland After the Fall

Down With the Man! Up With the Potato!

By Nathan Heller
Posted Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2008, at 11:52 AM ET

When people talk about Iceland, they talk about numbers, distance, and the awesome lack of human imprint on the landscape. The Vikings settled the harbor. It is 2,600 miles from New York. The island's footprint is 103,000 square kilometers, an area larger than South Carolina but smaller than Virginia, and 79 percent of the terrain is what the U.S. government calls "wasteland." Nine-tenths of the country's heat is geothermally produced. Renewable sources provide all electricity. The population has grown to 313,000—this is slightly less than the residency of Manhattan's Upper West Side, up to 155th Street—and the temperature of the Blue Lagoon, because I know you were wondering, averages 100 degrees, even in winter. What else? Iceland's culture today is a model of North European savoir-vivre. Almost two-thirds of its university students are women; the literacy rate has been estimated at 99.9 percent; and the annual publishing output is, per capita, the largest in the world.

Data like these are trotted out whenever Iceland appears in the news—which, until this fall, was rarely—not because literacy rates are inherently telling but because they capture a vaguer sense of what the country signifies to outsiders. Iceland is, for many of us, the waist of the hourglass: the narrowest point in the flow of culture and commerce that buoys modern life, a place where the First World is winnowed and exposed. This is why we call its financial collapse a "crisis." It's the reason some of us with no clear stake are keen to learn what happened. And it's why, one afternoon not long ago, I stood in Austurvöllur Square in Reykjavík and watched a group of Icelanders rally against their government.

Thomas Frank: The 'Market' Isn't So Wise After All

This year saw the end of an illusion.


As I read the last tranche of disastrous news stories from this catastrophic year, I found myself thinking back to the old days when it all seemed to work, when everyone agreed what made an economy go and the stock market raced and the commentators and economists and politicians of the world stood as one under the boldly soaring banner of laissez-faire.

In particular, I remembered that quintessential work of market triumphalism, "The Lexus and the Olive Tree," by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. It was published in the glorious year 1999, and in those days, it seemed, every cliché was made of gold: the brokerage advertisements were pithy, the small investors were mighty, and the deregulated way was irresistibly becoming the global way.

Revealed: The cement that eats carbon dioxide

Alok Jha, green technology correspondent, Wednesday 31 December 2008 14.59 GMT

Cement, a vast source of planet-warming carbon dioxide, could be transformed into a means of stripping the greenhouse gas from the atmosphere, thanks to an innovation from British engineers.

The new environmentally formulation means the cement industry could change from being a "significant emitter to a significant absorber of CO2," says Nikolaos Vlasopoulos, chief scientist at London-based Novacem, whose invention has garnered support and funding from industry and environmentalists.

Children of the Revolution

House Republicans, now even more conservative.

Eve Fairbanks, The New Republic Published: Wednesday, December 31, 2008

"[T]hey saw in the New Deal only revolution or anarchy; ... they fought it in bitterness and in vain."--Henry Steele Commager, on the congressional conservatives under FDR, 1959

You would not expect House conservatives, dwindled in numbers and without even the consoling possibility of filibusters, to be relishing the prospect of 2009. But purist right-wingers in the House are oddly happy these days. That's because they, like many outcast peoples, have discovered in their folklore their own Little Bighorn, a tale of resistance that gives them pride and hope.

The legend was born last August 1. Throughout the $4-per-gallon-gasoline summer, House conservatives had been pestering their Democratic overlords to scrap Congress's moratorium on offshore oil drilling; but, by the end of July, Speaker Nancy Pelosi had tired of the squabbling and dismissed the House for vacation. But one faction of representatives was too impatient to go. Insulted by Pelosi's brush-off and sensing a hot opportunity, Representative Mike Pence of Indiana rallied a troupe of conservatives in the abandoned chamber. There, as the Capitol staff milled about turning off lights, microphones, and cameras, Pence's gang announced that they were launching a hostile occupation of the House floor until Pelosi returned.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Glenn Greenwald: David Gregory Shows Why He's The Perfect Replacement for Tim Russert

by Glenn Greenwald

Several months before he was named as moderator of Meet the Press, David Gregory went on MSNBC to categorically reject Scott McClellan's accusations that the American media failed to scrutinize the Bush administration's pre-war claims. Gregory vigorously praised the job which he and his "journalistic" colleagues did in the run-up to the Iraq War -- the period which Salon's Gary Kamiya called "one of the greatest collapses in the history of the American media." Proclaimed Gregory, with a straight face: "Questions were asked. I think we pushed. I think we prodded. I think we challenged the President. Not only those of us in the White House Press Corps did that, but others in the media landscape did that." Most revealingly of all, Gregory said:

I think there are a lot of critics who think that . . . . if we did not stand up and say this is bogus, and you're a liar, and why are you doing this, that we didn't do our job. I respectfully disagree. It's not our role.

Indeed. Perish the thought that a reporter should point out when government officials are making "bogus" claims and are lying a country into a war.

Brilliant New Book Teaches You How to Evaluate Sustainable Energy Claims

by JohnnyRook
Mon Dec 29, 2008 at 09:54:34 AM PST

Everybody who is paying attention knows that Climaticide is the most pressing problem that we face. They also know that in order to avoid climate catastrophe we have to find a way to ween ourselves from our dependence on fossil fuels. Unfortunately, that is about as far as the consensus goes.

When it comes to deciding how we will replace fossil fuels and with what, the disagreements are serious and the debates passionate and, all too often, vitriolic. We meet proponents of wind (onshore and offshore), of solar (and its various subcategories), of nuclear (and its various subcategories), of geothermal, of wave, of carbon capture and storage for coal, etc.

Thermostats, Tissues, Light Bulbs, and Power Strips

The Green Lantern presents a superefficient, four-in-one economy answer pack!

By Jacob Leibenluft

In an effort to do a little New Year's cleaning, here are some quick answers to a few popular (though not so consequential) questions that keep showing up in the Lantern's inbox:

I've heard that my appliances waste energy even when I'm not using them, so long as they're still plugged in. Can I save that "vampire power" by plugging everything into a power strip? Or will the surge protector suck its own vampire power?

It's not hard to see why this brainteaser is so popular among the Lantern's readers. This column thrives on tricky lifestyle questions with unexpected answers. It may be interesting to ask whether polystyrene coffee cups are really worse than a dish-washed mug or whether a CSA is still environmentally friendly if its members waste a lot of food. But there's a risk to trying to be too clever about these things. Yes, according to data from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, some types of power strips do waste a tiny bit of electricity even when switched off. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't use them whenever possible to cut down on vampire power waste.

The Beautiful Machine

Greed on Wall Street and blindness in Washington certainly helped cause the financial system's crash. But a deeper explanation begins 20 years ago with a bold experiment to master the variable that has defeated so many visionaries: Risk.

By Robert O'Harrow Jr. and Brady Dennis
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, December 29, 2008; A01

First of three parts

Howard Sosin and Randy Rackson conceived their financial revolution as they walked along the Manhattan waterfront during lunchtime outings. They refined their ideas at late-night dinners and during breaks in their busy days as traders at the junk-bond firm of Drexel Burnham Lambert.

Sosin, a 35-year-old reserved finance scholar who had honed his theories at the famed Bell Labs, projected an aura of brilliance and fierce determination. Rackson, a 30-year-old soft-spoken computer wizard and art lover, arrived on Wall Street with a Wharton School pedigree and a desire to create something memorable.

They combined forces with Barry Goldman, a Drexel colleague with a PhD in economics and a genius for constructing complex financial transactions. "Imagine what we could do," Sosin would tell Rackson and Goldman as they brainstormed in the spring of 1986.

8 Things That Must Happen Now to Salvage the Economy -- and the Country

By Jeff Madrick, The Nation
Posted on December 30, 2008, Printed on December 30, 2008

Every time I read about a solution to the economic crisis these days, I invariably find an underlying assumption that once we are past all this, America will be just fine again. If we get the banks spending, if we stop the mortgage defaults, if we stimulate enough and if we reregulate the errant, greedy financial community, prosperity is sure to follow.

The economic emergency, however, is not simply the consequence of mindless, ideological deregulation and investment bubbles gone bust. It is the result of a narrowly conceived economic model and the failure of Washington's social contract with America, whose weaknesses were essentially disguised by ever more debt. To save America, that social contract has to change, and the economic model on which it is based has to be modified.

Farewell to All That: An Oral History of the Bush White House

The threat of 9/11 ignored. The threat of Iraq hyped and manipulated. Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib. Hurricane Katrina. The shredding of civil liberties. The rise of Iran. Global warming. Economic disaster. How did one two-term presidency go so wrong? A sweeping draft of history—distilled from scores of interviews—offers fresh insight into the roles of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and other key players.

by Cullen Murphy and Todd S. Purdum February 2009

With assistance from Philippe Sands.

January 20, 2001 After a disputed election and bitter recount battle in Florida whose outcome is effectively decided by the Supreme Court, George W. Bush is sworn in as the 43rd president of the United States. In foreign affairs he promises an approach that will depart from the perceived adventurism of his predecessor, Bill Clinton, in places such as Kosovo and Somalia. (“I think the United States must be humble,” Bush said in a debate with his opponent, Al Gore.) In domestic affairs Bush pledges to cut taxes and improve education. He promises to govern as a “compassionate conservative” and to be “a uniter, not a divider.” He comes into office with a $237 billion budget surplus.

On the day of the inauguration the White House chief of staff, Andrew Card, declares a moratorium on the Clinton administration’s last-minute regulations on the environment, food safety, and health. This action is followed in the coming months by disengagement from the International Criminal Court and other international efforts. Nonetheless, the early presumption is that the administration’s affairs are in steady hands, though some disquieting signs are noted.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Lawsuit Targets Banks With Novel Tactic

Advocacy Group Takes Grievances to Housing Court

By Mary Kane 12/29/08 3:11 AM

Some Cleveland neighborhoods have a message for banks that abandon their foreclosed houses or unload them at fire sale prices to speculators: Stop dumping your trash on us.

Using a novel legal technique that could be copied elsewhere, the Cleveland Housing Renewal Project Inc., a private, non-profit housing advocacy group, is asking Cleveland housing court to declare the business practices of Deutsche Bank and Wells Fargo in violation of local public nuisance laws. The suit seeks to force the banks to either fix up their foreclosed houses before selling them or to demolish them entirely - instead of dumping them back on the market at Basement Bob-style real estate prices.

A housing court judge on Dec. 15 granted a restraining order preventing the two banks from selling 36 foreclosed houses for at least two weeks. A ruling on whether to make the order permanent was scheduled for Monday, but the banks over the weekend had the case moved to federal court in Cleveland, Wells Fargo said in a statement.

Henry Kissinger: Eminence Noire

The recent release of 40-year-old tape recordings of President Lyndon Johnson complaining about “treason” by Richard Nixon’s campaign for sabotaging Vietnam peace talks in 1968 also reflects darkly on one of Washington’s enduring Wise Men, a person whose views are still sought and respected: former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

It was Kissinger, who – while serving as a peace-talk adviser to the Johnson administration – made obstruction of the peace talks possible by secretly contacting people working for Nixon, according to Seymour Hersh’s 1983 book, The Price of Power.

"It is certain," Hersh wrote, "that the Nixon campaign, alerted by Kissinger to the impending success of the peace talks, was able to get a series of messages to the Thieu government [in Saigon] making it clear that a Nixon presidency would have different views on the peace negotiations."

In Transition | FCC

Friday, December 26, 2008; A21

How is the transition likely to affect the Federal Communications Commission?

What it does: The FCC was created by the Communications Act of 1934. It regulates communications by radio, telephone, television, wire, satellite and cable. The growth of the Internet and wireless technology has expanded the agency's profile, as it also oversees consumer prices and contracts, mergers among communications and media companies, and access to communications services during natural disasters. That has brought people such as Google co-founder Larry Page and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates to lobby in the past year.

The FCC also oversees auctions of government spectrum, such as an auction earlier this year of broadcast television airwaves that will be freed by digital television conversion on Feb. 17. And it reviews mergers by considering whether the transfer of communications licenses benefit the public.

Bush steps out of world picture in which U.S. is no longer the star

Decline in U.S. influence partly a result of aversion to his policies

By Paul Richter
Washington Bureau
2:03 AM CST, December 28, 2008

WASHINGTON — As President George W. Bush's term comes to a close, the United States has the world's dominant economy and its most powerful military. Yet its global influence is in decline.

The United States emerged from the Cold War a solitary superpower whose political and economic leverage often enabled it to impose its will on other nations. Now America usually needs to build coalitions of nations to get its way—and often finds other world powers aren't willing to go along.

The Republican War on Science Isn't Going Anywhere

By Jeremy Adam Smith, Greater Good
Posted on December 29, 2008, Printed on December 29, 2008

Americans' trust in the media, their government and each other has declined over the past four decades. And yet, according to many national surveys, such as the Harris and Gallup polls, trust in science and scientists remains high. In one Harris poll, for example, 68 percent of respondents said they trust scientists to tell the truth -- more than the number who trusted the president.

In recent years, however, several areas of scientific research -- from global warming to stem cell research to evolution -- have become highly politicized, in ways that threaten the credibility of prominent scientists and their findings.

Was the 'Credit Crunch' a Myth Used to Sell a Trillion-Dollar Scam?

By Joshua Holland, AlterNet
Posted on December 29, 2008, Printed on December 29, 2008

There is something approaching a consensus that the Paulson Plan -- also known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP -- was a boondoggle of an intervention that's flailed from one approach to the next, with little oversight and less effect on the financial meltdown.

But perhaps even more troubling than the ad hoc nature of its implementation is the suspicion that has recently emerged that TARP -- hundreds of billions of dollars worth so far -- was sold to Congress and the public based on a Big Lie.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Was 2008 the beginning of another Great Depression?

WASHINGTON — It wasn't 1929, but like that infamous year, 2008 is sure to be remembered by economic historians as one unlike any other.

"We had a much simpler financial system back then. The number of wild and crazy things that happened this year is completely without precedent in world history," said Alan Blinder, a Princeton University economics professor and a former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve.

'Little Rock Nine' prepare to celebrate day of victory

The president-elect has invited as inauguration guests the nine black people who as children defied racist mobs in Arkansas over 50 years ago

Joanna Walters in New York
The Observer, Sunday 28 December 2008

When Barack Obama is inaugurated next month, thousands of African Americans who risked their lives in the civil rights movement will flock to Washington to witness the moment.

Among the vast crowds, none will feel more proud than a small group of black pioneers who faced down violent mobs more than 50 years ago when they struggled to end racial segregation in schools.

Beaten, kicked, spat at, threatened with death and abused daily for months after enrolling in a white high school in Arkansas, the "Little Rock Nine" have been invited as honoured guests to perhaps the most eagerly awaited inauguration in American history.

The Noose Tightens

Rumsfeld, Ashcroft and other top Bush officials could soon face legal jeopardy.

By Jonathan Tepperman | Newsweek Web Exclusive
Dec 19, 2008

The United States, like many countries, has a bad habit of committing wartime excesses and an even worse record of accounting for them afterward. But a remarkable string of recent events suggests that may finally be changing—and that top Bush administration officials could soon face legal jeopardy for prisoner abuse committed under their watch in the war on terror.

In early December, in a highly unusual move, a federal court in New York agreed to rehear a lawsuit against former Attorney General John Ashcroft brought by a Canadian citizen, Maher Arar. (Arar was a victim of the administration's extraordinary rendition program: he was seized by U.S. officials in 2002 while in transit through Kennedy Airport and deported to Syria, where he was tortured.)

Frank Rich: You’re Likable Enough, Gay People

IN his first press conference after his re-election in 2004, President Bush memorably declared, “I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it.” We all know how that turned out.

Barack Obama has little in common with George W. Bush, thank God, his obsessive workouts and message control notwithstanding. At a time when very few Americans feel very good about very much, Obama is generating huge hopes even before he takes office. So much so that his name and face, affixed to any product, may be the last commodity left in the marketplace that can still move Americans to shop.

I share these high hopes. But for the first time a faint tinge of Bush crept into my Obama reveries this month.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

How kangaroo burgers could save the planet

COWS, sheep and goats may seem like innocent victims of humanity's appetite for meat, but when it comes to climate change they have a dark secret. Forget cars, planes or even power stations, some of the world's worst greenhouse gas emitters wander idly across rolling pastures chewing the cud, oblivious to the fact that their continuous belching (and to a lesser degree, farting) is warming the planet.

Take New Zealand, where 34.2 million sheep, 9.7 million cattle, 1.4 million deer and 155,000 goats emit 48 per cent of the country's greenhouse gases in the form of methane and nitrous oxide. Worldwide, livestock burps are responsible for 18 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions - more than produced from all forms of transport combined. Methane accounts for the bulk of ruminant green house gas emissions, one tonne of the gas has 25 times the global warming potential of the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide.

Obama to Inherit Legacy of Free Market Free Fall

by Adrianne Appel

BOSTON - Despite hundreds of billions of dollars thrown at banks large and small, the U.S. economy is in a free fall, just weeks before President-elect Barack Obama takes office, analysts say.

"Most measures of economic and financial activity look like they fell off a cliff in September and October, and have been deteriorating at an alarming rate ever since," says Nariman Behravesh, chief economist at IHS Global Insight.

The bank bailout, which now stands at 335 billion dollars, was supposed to ease credit lending, and jumpstart the economy. But U.S. businesses and individuals report that they are still unable to get loans from banks, and new reports show the economy in very bad shape.

Red Family, Blue Family

Right after the election, I heard the same words over and over: “The country has gone crazy.”

You may have heard something different. I run in liberal circles - east coast, urban, educated, liberal circles, to be more precise. My friends are the kind of people who watch PBS and read The New Yorker for more than just the cartoons. They are accustomed to having explanations for things, and get agitated when they don’t. They can’t just shrug and let mysteries be mysteries.

And that, more than anything, was what had them pulling their hair out last November. Not that we had lost. (Deep down, most of us had expected to lose, even when the early exit polls said otherwise.) But that we could not understand it. The thinking of more than half the country seemed unfathomable. Like Butch Cassidy, we kept looking over our shoulders and asking: “Who are those guys?”

Fighting for Our Families

Last month's piece on how to talk to your conservative relatives over the holidays [1] was apparently welcome and necessary. Not only was it one of the biggest hits at this year; several hundred other sites also picked it up, and I've gotten a steady flow of thank-you notes from people who were finally grateful to have some options besides mumbling into their mashed potatoes or packing up and leaving early.

Even more interesting was the reaction from a dozen or so conservative sites, most of whom objected -- no surprise there -- finding my generalizations about how conservatives think either infuriating or laughable. Also not a surprise: bullies never like it when somebody comes along and teaches their victims how to fight back.

Some of my letter-writers said they've noticed an increasing boldness among progressives over the course of this year. Conflict-averse we may be, but we're finally fighting back. Conservative failure is now an inarguable fact of American discourse; and the election emboldened people who've been intimidated into silence every since 9/11 to recover their voices and shoot back with a crisp, "We told you so."

Health reform a joint mission

Obama to solicit Congress at start; Looks to heed lessons from '90s

WASHINGTON - President-elect Barack Obama and his team have signaled that they plan to work jointly with Congress to overhaul the healthcare system, rather than produce a separate White House bill that would be sent to Capitol Hill, according to people involved in healthcare strategy discussions.

The Obama team is determined to avoid the mistakes of the early 1990s, when the Clinton White House created a healthcare policy team that had more than 500 members and spent months secretly developing a 1,342-page proposal with minimal input from Congress. A lack of investment among congressional leaders helped doom the bill, which never even went to a vote.

Juan Cole: Top Ten Myths about Iraq, 2008

1. Iraqis are safer because of Bush's War. In fact, conditions of insecurity have helped created both an internal and external refugee problem:

' At least 4.2 million Iraqis were displaced. These included 2.2 million who were displaced within Iraq and some 2 million refugees, mostly in Syria (around 1.4 million) and Jordan (around half a million). In the last months of the year both these neighbouring states, struggling to meet the health, education and other needs of the Iraqi refugees already present, introduced visa requirements that impeded the entry of Iraqis seeking refuge. Within Iraq, most governorates barred entry to Iraqis fleeing sectarian violence elsewhere.'
2. Large numbers of Iraqis in exile abroad have returned. In fact, no great number have returned, and more Iraqis may still be leaving to Syria than returning.

No Furnaces but Heat Aplenty in ‘Passive Houses’

DARMSTADT, Germany — From the outside, there is nothing unusual about the stylish new gray and orange row houses in the Kranichstein District, with wreaths on the doors and Christmas lights twinkling through a freezing drizzle. But these houses are part of a revolution in building design: There are no drafts, no cold tile floors, no snuggling under blankets until the furnace kicks in. There is, in fact, no furnace.

In Berthold Kaufmann’s home, there is, to be fair, one radiator for emergency backup in the living room — but it is not in use. Even on the coldest nights in central Germany, Mr. Kaufmann’s new “passive house” and others of this design get all the heat and hot water they need from the amount of energy that would be needed to run a hair dryer.

Bush a catalyst in America's declining influence

The president oversaw a period of eroding economic and political power, in which the rise of China, India and others was a major factor, but assisted by an aversion to him and his policies.
By Paul Richter
December 25, 2008
Reporting from Washington -- First in a series of occasional reports on President Bush's legacy.

As President Bush's term comes to a close, the United States has the world's largest economy and its most powerful military. Yet its global influence is in decline.

The United States emerged from the Cold War a solitary superpower whose political and economic leverage often enabled it to impose its will on others. Now, America usually needs to build alliances -- and often finds that other powers aren't willing to go along.

Archive Publishes Treasure Trove of Kissinger Telephone Conversations

Washington, D.C., December 23, 2008 - Amidst a massive bombing campaign over North Vietnam, Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon candidly shared their evident satisfaction at the “shock treatment” of American B 52s, according to a declassified transcript of their telephone conversation published for the first time today by the National Security Archive. “They dropped a million pounds of bombs,” Kissinger briefed Nixon. “A million pounds of bombs,” Nixon exclaimed. “Goddamn, that must have been a good strike.” The conversation, secretly recorded by both Kissinger and Nixon without the other’s knowledge, reveals that the President and his national security advisor shared a belief in 1972 that the war could still be won. “That shock treatment [is] cracking them,” Nixon declared. “I tell you the thing to do is pour it in there every place we can…just bomb the hell out of them.” Kissinger optimistically predicted that, if the South Vietnamese government didn’t collapse, the U.S. would eventually prevail: “I mean if as a country we keep our nerves, we are going to make it.”

Stop Being Stupid

I’ve got a new year’s resolution and a new slogan for the country.

The resolution may be difficult, but it’s essential. Americans must resolve to be smarter going forward than we have been for the past several years.

Look around you. We have behaved in ways that were incredibly, astonishingly and embarrassingly stupid for much too long. We’ve wrecked the economy and mortgaged the future of generations yet unborn. We don’t even know if we’ll have an automobile industry in the coming years. It’s time to stop the self-destruction.

Financial Meltdown 101

Friday, December 26, 2008

We Finally Have a Strategy for Afghanistan

Unfortunately, that may not be enough.

By Fred Kaplan

It's time to start getting nervous about Afghanistan.

In recent days, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has talked about doubling the number of U.S. troops in the country from 30,000 to 60,000—way more than the three brigades (roughly 12,000 extra troops) that Barack Obama endorsed on the campaign trail.

A case could be made that reinforcements are needed. But it's not clear—to anyone, including many officers—whether this will mark the pivotal boost or the start of a quagmire.

Seasonal forgiveness has a limit. Bush and his cronies must face a reckoning

Heinous crimes are now synonymous with this US administration. If it isn't held to account, what does that say about us?

'Tis the night before Christmas and the season of goodwill. The mood is forgiving. Our faces warm with mulled wine, our tummies full, we're meant to slump in the armchair, look back on the year just gone and count our blessings - woozily agreeing to put our troubles behind us.

As in families, so in the realm of public and international affairs. And this December that feels especially true. The "war on terror" that dominated much of the decade seems to be heading towards a kind of conclusion. George Bush will leave office in a matter of weeks and British troops will leave Iraq a few months later. The first, defining phase of the conflict that began on 9/11 - the war of Bush, Tony Blair and Osama bin Laden - is about to slip from the present to the past tense. Bush and Blair will be gone, with only Bin Laden still in post. The urge to move on is palpable.

Fox News: "Historians Pretty Much Agree" That FDR Prolonged the Great Depression

I appeared on Fox News to discuss both the Blagojevich flap and the imminent economic recovery package from the Obama administration. You can watch the clip here. As you'll see, on that latter issue, Fox News is starting its campaign to stop Obama's big spending plan by stating - as assumed fact - that "historians pretty much agree" that Franklin Roosevelt prolonged the Great Depression, and that therefore, Obama shouldn't try another New Deal.

When I say Fox News' assertion about historians is patently false, they literally laugh at me as if I've said something so clearly untrue, something Americans supposedly assume is so obviously stupid, that it's worthy of ridicule.

Glenn Greenwald: Torture ambivalence masquerading as moral and intellectual superiority

Behold the now-solidified Smart, Reasonable American Consensus on torture: the agreed-upon method for dismissing away -- mitigating and even justifying -- the fact that our leaders, more or less out in the open, instituted a systematic torture regime with the consent of our key elite institutions and a huge bulk of the American citizenry, engaging in behaviors which, for decades, we insisted were inexcusable war crimes when engaged in by others:

Sure, it was wrong. OK, we "crossed some lines." Yeah, we probably shouldn't have done it, etc. etc. etc. (yawn). But . . . . when American leaders did it, it was different -- fundamentally different -- than when those evil/foreign/dictator actual-war-criminals did it. Our leaders had good reasons for doing it. They were kind and magnanimous torturers. They committed war crimes with a pure heart. They tortured because they were scared, because they felt guilty that they failed to protect their citizens on 9/11, because they were eager -- granted: perhaps too eager -- to keep us, their loyal subjects, safe from The Murderous Terrorists.

Paul Krugman: Barack Be Good

Times have changed. In 1996, President Bill Clinton, under siege from the right, declared that “the era of big government is over.” But President-elect Barack Obama, riding a wave of revulsion over what conservatism has wrought, has said that he wants to “make government cool again.”

Before Mr. Obama can make government cool, however, he has to make it good. Indeed, he has to be a goo-goo.

Goo-goo, in case you’re wondering, is a century-old term for “good government” types, reformers opposed to corruption and patronage. Franklin Roosevelt was a goo-goo extraordinaire. He simultaneously made government much bigger and much cleaner. Mr. Obama needs to do the same thing.

The US Has 761 Military Bases Across the Planet, and We Simply Never Talk About It

By Tom Engelhardt,
Posted on September 8, 2008, Printed on December 26, 2008

AlterNet is resurfacing some of the best and most popular articles published in 2008 as the year comes to a close. First, Tom Engelhardt's essay on the spread of American military bases and global empire, published this September.

Here it is, as simply as I can put it: In the course of any year, there must be relatively few countries on this planet on which U.S. soldiers do not set foot, whether with guns blazing, humanitarian aid in hand, or just for a friendly visit. In startling numbers of countries, our soldiers not only arrive, but stay interminably, if not indefinitely. Sometimes they live on military bases built to the tune of billions of dollars that amount to sizeable American towns (with accompanying amenities), sometimes on stripped down forward operating bases that may not even have showers. When those troops don't stay, often American equipment does -- carefully stored for further use at tiny "cooperative security locations," known informally as "lily pads" (from which U.S. troops, like so many frogs, could assumedly leap quickly into a region in crisis).

At the height of the Roman Empire, the Romans had an estimated 37 major military bases scattered around their dominions. At the height of the British Empire, the British had 36 of them planetwide. Depending on just who you listen to and how you count, we have hundreds of bases. According to Pentagon records, in fact, there are 761 active military "sites" abroad.

The Right-Wing Economics That Got Us into This Mess Should Go the Way of Soviet Communism

By Arianna Huffington, Huffington Post
Posted on December 26, 2008, Printed on December 26, 2008

The collapse of Communism as a political system sounded the death knell for Marxism as an ideology. But while laissez-faire capitalism has been a monumental failure in practice, and soundly defeated at the polls, the ideology is still alive and kicking.

The only place you can find an American Marxist these days is teaching a college linguistic theory class. But you can find all manner of free market fundamentalists still on the Senate floor or in Governor's mansions or showing up on TV trying to peddle the deregulation snake oil.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Medicare Advantage Plans

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Saul Friedman writes the bi-monthly Reflections column for Time Goes By in which he comments on news, politics and social issues from his perspective as one of the younger members of the greatest generation. He also publishes a weekly column, Gray Matters, on aging for Newsday.

I don’t wish to alarm you. But did you know that many of people on Medicare - more that 8.6 million of you - are inadvertently helping to kill Medicare? I don’t blame you for not realizing this. I didn’t really recognize the threat early on. But it’s worth remembering.

In 1995, after the right-wing cabal led by new House Speaker Newt Gingrich took over the Congress with its “Contract for America,” I attended a press breakfast with Gingrich’s lieutenant, Richard Armey, of Texas. And during the discussion, Armey told us that among other goals, the new Republican majority intended to “wean our old people away from Medicare.” I did not know exactly what he meant.

Another presidential legacy gets the Orwellian treatment; Reagan got away with it, George W. will not

The jig has been up for some time now for the once revered Bush administration PR machine with the President's job approval rating failing to crack the fortieth percentile in more than two years. In fact, the President's numbers never really rebounded since 2005 following his hugely unpopular attempt to privatize Social Security; the tragic milestone of 2000 fallen U.S. soldiers hit and surpassed in Iraq; and of course, his administration's woefully inept response to Hurricane Katrina.

That year, Katrina's wake washed away whatever credibility remained following the exposure of this Administration's penchant for payola, staged "town hall meetings," disingenuously named initiatives like "Clear Skies" and "Healthy Forests," fabricated news reports praising the President's prescription drug program, gallingly inappropriate stunts like strutting across an aircraft carrier in a flight suit to declare "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq, and even a phony reporter planted in White House press briefings as a lifeline. Such propaganda tactics would make "The Ministry of Truth" from George Orwell's dystopian classic 1984 blush.

Seeing Through Wall Street

Restoring trust to the economy will require bringing transparency to the markets.

By Eliot Spitzer

There is an odd symmetry to a year that began with a subprime meltdown—initially affecting those at the lower end of the economic spectrum, before it lit the fuse that burned down the entire house—and ended with the Bernard Madoff scandal, an old-fashioned Ponzi scheme whose victims were nominally sophisticated investors. Clearly, nobody has been immune to this now-global plague. Every effort to rebuild an economy in free fall has been one moment too late or one step too short, and the remedies, though expensive, have so far at least failed to address underlying structural issues.

Yet certain truisms have continued to prove their validity. As Justice Brandeis observed, sunlight is the best disinfectant. The transparency that comes with the glare of sunlight is hard for companies and government to deal with—and so is resisted.

They Came, They Saw, They Exonerated

The Obama team's report on the Blagojevich affair says just what they said it would.

By Christopher Beam

The Obama campaign's strategy for dealing with the Blagojevich affair has evolved. It started with dithering, then moved on to momentary cooperation followed by delay. Now, at long last, we have the final strategy: "See ya!"

On Monday, Barack Obama himself lit out for Hawaii, where he has been walking around shirtless. Chief of Staff-to-be Rahm Emanuel, who is the focus of the report, has disappeared on what one transition official called "a long-planned family vacation in Africa."

Jobless claims surge to 26-year high

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of U.S. workers filing new claims for jobless benefits jumped by 30,000 to a 26-year peak last week, government data on Wednesday showed, as the country's year-long recession continued to chill the labor market.

Initial claims for state unemployment insurance benefits rose to a seasonally adjusted 586,000 in the week ended Dec 20 from a revised 556,000 the prior week, the Labor Department said. It was the highest since the week ended November 27, 1982, when initial claims rose 612,000.

Analysts polled by Reuters had forecast 560,000 new claims versus a previously reported count of 554,000 the week before.

A Labor Department official said there were no special factors influencing the data and no noticeable impact from severe winter weather in northern parts of the country.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Exclusive: Cheney’s admissions to the CIA leak prosecutor and FBI

Vice President Dick Cheney, according to a still-highly confidential FBI report, admitted to federal investigators that he rewrote talking points for the press in July 2003 that made it much more likely that the role of then-covert CIA-officer Valerie Plame in sending her husband on a CIA-sponsored mission to Africa would come to light.

Cheney conceded during his interview with federal investigators that in drawing attention to Plame’s role in arranging her husband’s Africa trip reporters might also unmask her role as CIA officer.

Cheney denied to the investigators, however, that he had done anything on purpose that would lead to the outing of Plame as a covert CIA operative. But the investigators came away from their interview with Cheney believing that he had not given them a plausible explanation as to how he could focus attention on Plame’s role in arranging her husband’s trip without her CIA status also possibly publicly exposed. At the time, Plame was a covert CIA officer involved in preventing Iran from obtaining weapons of mass destruction, and Cheney’s office played a central role in exposing her and nullifying much of her work.

On Fox, Barnes, Krauthammer echoed conservative claim that CRA played key role in subprime crisis

Summary: On Special Report, Fred Barnes and Charles Krauthammer echoed other conservatives in claiming that the Community Reinvestment Act and efforts to expand affordable housing are at least in part to blame for the home foreclosure crisis. But as experts have noted, the CRA does not govern the vast majority of subprime lenders.

Sounding a common conservative refrain during the December 22 edition of Fox News' Special Report, Fox News contributors Fred Barnes and Charles Krauthammer each claimed that the Community Reinvestment Act and efforts to expand affordable housing to minorities and low income people are at least in part to blame for the home foreclosure crisis. However, experts have said that approximately 80 percent of subprime loans were offered by financial institutions that are not subject to the CRA, which applies only to depository institutions like banks and savings and loans, and also pointed out that lenders subject to the CRA face stricter regulations than do other lenders.

Irregularity Uncovered at IndyMac

WASHINGTON — Two months before IndyMac Bancorp collapsed in July, at a cost of $8.9 billion to taxpayers, a top federal banking regulator allowed the bank to backdate a capital infusion and gloss over its deepening problems, the Treasury Department’s independent investigator said Monday.

In what industry analysts said was an example of the excessively cozy relations between high-flying subprime lenders and federal bank regulators, the Office of Thrift Supervision’s West Coast director allowed IndyMac’s parent company to backdate an $18 million contribution to preserve its status as a “well-capitalized” institution.

Man Is a Cruel Animal

By Chris Hedges

It was Joseph Conrad I thought of when I read an article in The Nation magazine this month about white vigilante groups that rose up out of the chaos of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans to terrorize and murder blacks. It was Conrad I thought of when I saw the ominous statements by authorities, such as International Monetary Fund Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn, warning of potential civil unrest in the United States as we funnel staggering sums of public funds upward to our bankrupt elites and leave our poor and working class destitute, hungry, without health care and locked out of their foreclosed homes. We fool ourselves into believing we are immune to the savagery and chaos of failed states. Take away the rigid social structure, let society continue to break down, and we become, like anyone else, brutes.

Where'd the bailout money go? Shhhh, it's a secret

WASHINGTON – It's something any bank would demand to know before handing out a loan: Where's the money going?

But after receiving billions in aid from U.S. taxpayers, the nation's largest banks say they can't track exactly how they're spending the money or they simply refuse to discuss it.

"We've lent some of it. We've not lent some of it. We've not given any accounting of, 'Here's how we're doing it,'" said Thomas Kelly, a spokesman for JPMorgan Chase, which received $25 billion in emergency bailout money. "We have not disclosed that to the public. We're declining to."

Paul Krugman's horror story

Posted December 21, 2008 9:28 AM

by Frank James

Paul Krugman is one of the smartest, most entertaining economists alive which explains why he may the best known too,

The New York Times columnist and Princeton University professor appeared at the National Press Club in Washington Friday, fresh on the heels of receiving his Nobel Prize. And he simultaneously scared the audience out of its wits and left them laughing and wanting more, not a bad achievement for a practitioner of the dismal science.

Readers pick Cokie Roberts' "foreign, exotic" Hawaii comments as Most Inane

In the end, it wasn't close. By an overwhelming margin, criticism by Cokie Roberts, NPR contributing senior news analyst and ABC political commentator, of then-Sen. Barack Obama for choosing Hawaii, the state of his birth, to take his August family vacation was the most popular entry in Media Matters for America's poll for Most Inane Punditry of the 2008 presidential campaign. Readers chose Roberts' comments -- which included her characterizing Hawaii, where Obama vacations regularly, as "foreign, exotic" -- in greater numbers than her two closest competitors combined. Roberts stated: "I know his grandmother lives in Hawaii and I know Hawaii is a state, but it has the look of him going off to some sort of foreign, exotic place," adding, "He should be in Myrtle Beach, and, you know, if he's going to take a vacation at this time."

It's Official: We're Just a Few Years from Peak Oil

By George Monbiot,
Posted on December 21, 2008, Printed on December 23, 2008

Can you think of a major threat for which the British government does not prepare? It employs an army of civil servants, spooks and consultants to assess the chances of terrorist attacks, financial collapse, floods, epidemics, even asteroid strikes, and to work out what it should do if they happen. But there is one hazard about which it appears intensely relaxed. It has never conducted its own assessment of the state of global oil supplies and the possibility that one day they might peak and then go into decline.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Katha Pollitt: Rick Warren is an Insulting Choice

Preacher Rick Warren's views are simply too extreme for Obama's supporters.

by Katha Pollitt

To understand how angry and disappointed many Democrats are that Barack Obama has invited evangelical preacher Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inaugural, imagine if a President-elect John McCain had offered this unique honor to the Rev. Al Sharpton -- or the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. I know, it's hard to picture: John McCain would never do that in a million years. Republicans respect their base even when, as in McCain's case, it doesn't really return the favor.

Only Democrats, it seems, reward their most loyal supporters -- feminists, gays, liberals, opponents of the war, members of the reality-based community -- by elbowing them aside to embrace their opponents instead.

Most Americans who've heard of Warren know him as the teddy-bearish, Hawaiian-shirted head of the Saddleback megachurch in Orange County and the author of "The Purpose Driven Life." Perhaps they also know he's the rare right-wing Christian pastor who sometimes talks about poverty and global warming and HIV. His concern for those issues has given him a reputation as a moderate and has made him the darling of Democratic Party think tanks, ever hoping to break the Republican lock on the white evangelical vote.

Ted Rall: LBO No Mo-Stop Speculators From Ruining Strong Companies

JAMAICA, VERMONT--The Crash of '08 offers the incoming Obama Administration a rare chance to rein in the excesses of our economic system. I can think of few better places to start than banning leveraged buyouts.

Leveraged buyouts (LBOs) are Wall Street's solution to American capitalism's dirtiest secret and biggest problem: no one has any money. Really. Working as an investment banker during the 1980s, I was repeatedly astonished when deals would fall apart because would-be buyers of major corporations didn't have enough cash on hand to buy a house in the Hamptons. Many of the wealthiest people in the world, it turned out, have zero or negative net worth. According to The New York Times, for example, one of Donald Trump's biggest sources of income was his job hosting the TV show "The Apprentice." Those buildings with his name on them? He leased his name to developers who liked his brand.

Howard Dean, a Victim of His Own Success?

By Chris Cillizza And Perry Bacon Jr.
Monday, December 22, 2008; A03

Former Vermont governor Howard Dean, the man regarded by many sharp political operatives as the progenitor of President-elect Barack Obama's successful 2008 campaign, finds himself without an obvious next job as his tenure as head of the Democratic National Committee comes to an end.

Those closest to Dean insist that he has any number of job offers and spots on corporate boards at his fingertips, is traveling to Europe three times in early 2009 to advise progressive parties about the lessons learned from the 2008 campaign, and is speaking out on his pet issue -- health care.

GOP consultant killed in plane crash was warned of sabotage: report

John Byrne, David Edwards and Stephen Webster
Published: Monday December 22, 2008

The Republican consultant accused of involvement in alleged vote-rigging in Ohio in 2004 was warned that his plane might be sabotaged before his death in a crash Friday night, according to a Cleveland CBS affiliate.

45-year-old Republican operative Michael Connell was killed when his single-passenger plane crashed Friday into a home in a suburb of Akron, Ohio (PREVIOUS REPORT). The consultant was called to testify in federal court regarding a lawsuit alleging that he took part in tampering with Ohio's voting results in the 2004 election.

Paul Krugman: Life Without Bubbles

Whatever the new administration does, we’re in for months, perhaps even a year, of economic hell. After that, things should get better, as President Obama’s stimulus plan — O.K., I’m told that the politically correct term is now “economic recovery plan” — begins to gain traction. Late next year the economy should begin to stabilize, and I’m fairly optimistic about 2010.

But what comes after that? Right now everyone is talking about, say, two years of economic stimulus — which makes sense as a planning horizon. Too much of the economic commentary I’ve been reading seems to assume, however, that that’s really all we’ll need — that once a burst of deficit spending turns the economy around we can quickly go back to business as usual.

Media cite Japan's "lost decade" to criticize Obama's economic stimulus plan, but economists disagree

Summary: Numerous media figures have cited Japanese fiscal policy during the "lost decade" of the 1990s to criticize President-elect Barack Obama's plan to undertake a large-scale stimulus program. These media figures ignore evidence that, according to prominent economists, economic conditions were improving in Japan before the Japanese government temporarily abandoned stimulus spending in an attempt to reduce the deficit.

In recent weeks, numerous media figures have cited Japanese fiscal policy during the "lost decade" of the 1990s to criticize a plan announced by President-elect Barack Obama to launch a large-scale economic stimulus plan that includes extensive spending for public works. These media figures ignore evidence that, according to prominent economists, economic conditions were improving in Japan before the Japanese government temporarily abandoned stimulus spending in an attempt to reduce the deficit. Nobel laureate and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, for one, points to Japan's fiscal stimulus packages as having "probably prevented a weak economy from plunging into an actual depression."

The Pentagon is muscling in everywhere. It's time to stop the mission creep.

By Thomas A. Schweich
Sunday, December 21, 2008; B01

We no longer have a civilian-led government. It is hard for a lifelong Republican and son of a retired Air Force colonel to say this, but the most unnerving legacy of the Bush administration is the encroachment of theDepartment of Defense into a striking number of aspects of civilian government. Our Constitution is at risk.

President-elect Barack Obama's selections of James L. Jones, a retired four-star Marine general, to be his national security adviser and, it appears, retired Navy Adm. Dennis C. Blair to be his director of national intelligence present the incoming administration with an important opportunity -- and a major risk. These appointments could pave the way for these respected military officers to reverse the current trend of Pentagon encroachment upon civilian government functions, or they could complete the silent military coup d'etat that has been steadily gaining ground below the radar screen of most Americans and the media.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Obama to tap retired admiral as intelligence czar: US media

WASHINGTON (AFP) — President-elect Barack Obama has tapped retired Navy admiral Dennis Blair as his intelligence czar, US media reported Saturday.

Unnamed government officials familiar with the selection process confirmed the choice to the Los Angeles Times, but the daily added that Obama had yet to conclude his search for a new Central Intelligence Agency chief.

'Karl Rove's IT guru' Mike Connell dies in plane crash

A top level Republican IT consultant who was set to testify in a case alleging GOP election tampering in Ohio died in a plane crash late Friday night.

Michael Connell -- founder of Ohio-based New Media Communications, which created campaign Web sites for George W. Bush and John McCain -- died instantly after his single-prop, private aircraft smashed into a vacant home in suburban Lake Township, Ohio.

Filmmaker's 'Warning' explores consequences of Bush-era abuses

Five iconoclastic authors, one crucial message.

Filmmaker JP Sottile, after years toeing the line among the ranks of mainstream press, has broken away. His new documentary, 'The Warning,' is nothing if not an urgent plea for a return to Constitutional values in an age of rampant abuse.

Comprised of interviews with authors Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. ("Crimes Against Nature"), Naomi Wolf ("The End of America"), Naomi Klein ("The Shock Doctrine"), Chris Hedges ("American Fascists") and Joe Conason ("It Can Happen Here"), 'The Warning' plumbs deep the frightening, totalitarian advances seen in US governance since the appointment of George W. Bush, and the threats these new executive powers pose in the coming years.

Scientists doubt inventor's global cooling idea — but what if it works?

WASHINGTON — Ron Ace says that his breakthrough moments have come at unexpected times — while he lay in bed, eased his aging Cadillac across the Chesapeake Bay bridge or steered a tractor around his rustic, five-acre property.

In the seclusion of his Maryland home, Ace has spent three years glued to the Internet, studying the Earth's climate cycles and careening from one epiphany to another — a 69-year-old loner with the moxie to try to solve one of the greatest threats to mankind.

Obama cranks up the green revolution

The next US president is reversing Republican policy on global warming by putting leading scientists in key posts. Geoffrey Lean reports

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Barack Obama yesterday promised to end George Bush's "twisting" of science to suit "politics or ideology" in an extraordinarily outspoken address to the nation, and announced that he was putting top climate scientists in key positions in his administration.

The move, which signals perhaps his sharpest break with the outgoing administration, makes it clear that he was going to put climate change and the environment among the most urgent priorities of his presidency.

America Scams You: Allison Barber's Many "No-No's"

by Dianne Farsetta

There's a telling email exchange quoted in the Defense Department Inspector General's report on America Supports You (ASY), a Pentagon program launched in 2004, ostensibly to boost troop morale.

Allison Barber, who founded and led ASY until her recent resignation as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Internal Communications and Public Liaison (and who infamously helped President Bush stage a teleconference with troops in Iraq), asked in a June 2004 email: "Overseas, we make troops [not living on military bases] buy a digital receiver for their televisions so they can see AFRTS," the American Forces Radio and Television Service. "Is there a way for me to make this situation know [sic] to corporate America and offer them the option of 'sponsoring' a receiver? So the receiver might have a sticker on it that says 'brought to you by Sears'."

We WERE Punked

Hale "Bonddad" Stewart at the Huffington Post [1] counters the argument I made on Rachel Maddow's MSNBC show this week [2] and that I've been making in my columns and blog postings for the better part of the last three months. He says the American people weren't deceived on the Wall Street bailout; implies that handing over a trillion-dollar no-strings-attached blank check to the financial industry was perfectly appropriate; and explicitly states that "to say we were 'punked by Wall Street' flies in the face of every available fact on the crisis."

Oddly, Bonddad then goes on to prove - arguably better than anyone else to date - that we were, in fact, punked.

Bonddad spends most of his post telling us that banking profits are down, noting that "financial stocks are down almost 70% since the summer of 2007." No argument there from me, or anyone else. He creates a straw man by suggesting that many people are claiming there was no "serious problem with the financial system that needed fixing" - nobody, not me, not even the authors of a controversial Minneapolis Fed report, claim there isn't a real financial problem. He then goes on to note that the Federal Reserve Bank's Beige Book has been saying that credit conditions were somewhat tightening before the bailout and - here's the most important part - that "loan demand was decreasing." Again, no argument there from me, or anyone else.

Treasury Has Spent $350 Billion of Bailout Fund

WASHINGTON — The Treasury Department said on Friday that it had used up the first $350 billion that Congress approved for its financial bailout program. But it made no move to ask Congress for the next round of money.

Instead, administration officials signaled that they were unlikely to ask for the money until at least January, when Congress returns with stronger Democratic majorities in both chambers. They may well punt on the issue and leave it for President-elect Barack Obama, who will be sworn in as president on Jan. 20.

UAW's Sacrifices Look to Some Like Surrender

By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 20, 2008; Page A01

For decades after its founding in 1935, the United Auto Workers stood as a powerful model for the American labor movement, an influential organization that historians credit with uplifting living standards for all working Americans.

But with the announcement of the federal loan deal yesterday, the union found itself being forced into concessions that some described as tantamount to surrender.

Frank Rich: Who Wants to Kick a Millionaire?

DURING the Great Depression, American moviegoers seeking escape could ogle platoons of glamorous chorus girls in “Gold Diggers of 1933.” Our feel-good movie of the year is “Slumdog Millionaire,” a Dickensian tale in which we root for an impoverished orphan from Mumbai’s slums to hit the jackpot on the Indian edition of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”

It’s a virtuoso feast of filmmaking by Danny Boyle, but it’s also the perfect fairy tale for our hard times. The hero labors as a serf in the toilet of globalization: one of those mammoth call centers Westerners reach when ringing an 800 number to, say, check on credit card debt. When he gets his unlikely crack at instant wealth, the whole system is stacked against him, including the corrupt back office of a slick game show too good to be true.

In Need of Cash, More Companies Cut 401(k) Match

Companies eager to conserve cash are trimming their contributions to their workers’ 401(k) retirement plans, putting a new strain on America’s tattered safety net at the very moment when many workers are watching their accounts plummet along with the stock market.

When the FedEx Corporation slimmed down its pension plan last year, it softened the blow by offering workers enriched 401(k) contributions to make up for the pension benefits some would lose. But last week, with Americans sending fewer parcels and FedEx’s revenue growth at a standstill, the company said it would suspend all of its contributions for at least a year.

IMF urges spending to spur growth

More spending by governments will be needed to stimulate worldwide economic growth, the head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has told the BBC.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn said he feared measures announced by the Group of 20 nations last month would not be enough.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Destroying What the UAW Built

By Harold Meyerson
Wednesday, December 17, 2008; A17

In 1949, a pamphlet was published that argued that the American auto industry should pursue a different direction. Titled "A Small Car Named Desire," the pamphlet suggested that Detroit not put all its bets on bigness, that a substantial share of American consumers would welcome smaller cars that cost less and burned fuel more efficiently.

The pamphlet's author was the research department of the United Auto Workers.

Secretary of Saving the World

Tim Geithner's daunting to-do list at the Treasury Department.

Confidential sources have passed on to me a January to-do list apparently penned by Timothy Geithner, the New York Fed chief tapped to serve as President-elect Barack Obama's treasury secretary:

1. Find new house in D.C.
2. Fix unholy mess that is Wall Street.
3. Ditto for Securities and Exchange Commission.
4. Restore faith in global finance system.
5. Housing?

Obey: U.S. falling into 'massive hole'


As Democrats move closer to taking command in Washington, there is growing alarm and anger in the party over the economy Barack Obama will inherit and the huge cost incurred after months of stalemate between Congress and President Bush over how to respond.

Thursday night, the White House was hoping to announce — possibly as early as Friday — plans to stave off bankruptcies in the auto industry by using available Treasury funds, a decision favored by Democrats. But Congress and President Bush remain at loggerheads over any larger fiscal stimulus package — even after leading economists in both parties have urged action.

Schapiro Taking SEC’s Reins Shows Regulator Dodged Cox Critics

By Alison Fitzgerald and Jesse Westbrook

Dec. 19 (Bloomberg) -- Mary Schapiro has escaped the criticism that followed U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Christopher Cox as subprime mortgage securities brought down investment banks and Bernard Madoff was charged with a $50 billion fraud buffeting investors around the world.

The 53-year-old head of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, who was nominated yesterday by President-elect Barack Obama to succeed Cox, earned a reputation for political independence during almost three decades in public service, David Martin, co-head of the corporate and securities practice at Washington-based Covington & Burling, said in an interview.

Cox "Worked to Dismantle The SEC," Says Commission Vet

There's no longer much debate about the fact that the SEC badly slipped up by failing to catch Bernard Madoff's alleged "$50 billion ponzi scheme." Even commission chair Chris Cox lamented "multiple failures over at least a decade" in the matter. And yesterday President-elect Barack Obama declared that the commission had "dropped the ball."

But it's also becoming clear that the Madoff failures didn't arise out of nowhere. In recent years, particularly under Cox, a former California GOP congressman, the SEC has pursued a policy of de-emphasizing enforcement, part of the broader anti-regulatory philosophy of the Bush years -- helping to make Madoff, and perhaps others like him, possible.

Commentary: Bush makes a farewell tour. Good riddance

We've been treated to a real spectacle this week as President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney limped into the home stretch of their Magical History Tour, employing distortions, half-truths and untruths in a final, desperate attempt to pervert or somehow prevent history from judging them accurately.

The president journeyed to the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., to try to polish his legacy with a rambling 15-minute speech that laid out his many glorious achievements of the last eight years for a captive military audience.

Media Matters Action Network acquires from Cursor, Inc.

Today, Media Matters Action Network and Cursor, Inc. jointly announced the sale of Cursor, Inc.'s website to Media Matters Action Network. Together they released the following statements:

“This sale is a win-win for both parties,” said Rob Levine, president of Cursor, Inc. “We've been trying for some time to institutionalize our organization and websites but have unfortunately been unable to raise the funds necessary to carry on our labor-intensive tasks. As the primary tool for tracking the funding of conservative organizations and their representatives who appear in the media, is an excellent fit for Media Matters as they continue to expand their efforts to hold the media accountable.”

Bush's Legacy: Conservative Failure (2)

On Tuesday I wrote in the first part of this series on George Bush's conservative failure legacy [1] that it all follows from a single utterance, from Ronald Reagan upon his inauguration on January 20, 1981; "Government is not the solution; government is the problem."

Easy to see how the fallacy plays itself out the issues I reviewed earlier this week: rotting infrastructure and E. coli conservatism. It goes, however, much deeper than that: to issues of the soul. That's what I've been writing about here most of all these past twenty months.

The Fed and the Treasury Need to Come Clean About Where The Money Is Going

By Nomi Prins, The Nation
Posted on December 20, 2008, Printed on December 20, 2008

Three months ago, the country was galled by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson's offhand request that taxpayers hand over billions to a tanking financial sector with no strings attached. Lawmakers keen on salvaging the bailout rushed to add amendments intended to ensure proper oversight of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). The bill that passed established a Congressional Oversight Panel, a tiny, underresourced but committed watchdog team that on December 10 issued its first report in the form of Questions About the $700 Billion Emergency Economic Stabilization Funds. The panel wrote, "We are here to ask the questions that we believe all Americans have a right to ask: who got the money, what have they done with it, how has it helped the country, and how has it helped ordinary people?"

No Justice for the African-Americans Targeted by White Vigilantes After the Katrina Flooding

By Liliana Segura, AlterNet
Posted on December 20, 2008, Printed on December 20, 2008

In the days after Hurricane Katrina swept through Louisiana and Mississippi, the bodies of African American men began to turn up on the streets. But these weren't the bloated corpses of drowned Gulf residents whose images were beamed around the world. Instead, their nameless bodies contained bullet holes, slain at the hands of persons unknown.

A number of these killings took place in the community of Algiers Point, a small, isolated place west of the Mississippi and a "white enclave" in a largely African American area. Situated between the Lower Ninth Ward and the rescue point for so those who were trying to flee, a band of residents there responded to accounts of post-hurricane looting by arming themselves to the teeth and going out in search of criminals, lynch-mob style.

US military 'to defy' Iraqi pact

By Gareth Porter

WASHINGTON - United States military leaders and Pentagon officials have made it clear through public statements and deliberately leaked stories in recent weeks that they plan to violate a central provision of the US-Iraq withdrawal agreement requiring the complete pullout of all US combat troops from Iraqi cities by mid-2009 by reclassifying combat troops as support troops.

The scheme to engage in chicanery in labeling US troops represents both open defiance of an agreement which the US military has never accepted and a way of blocking president-elect Barack Obama's proposed plan for withdrawal of all US combat troops from Iraq within 16 months of his taking office.

Obama names Holdren, Lubchenco to science posts

WASHINGTON – President-elect Barack Obama on Saturday named Harvard physicist John Holdren and marine biologist Jane Lubchenco to top science posts, signaling a change from Bush administration policies on global warming that were criticized for putting politics over science.

Both Holdren and Lubchenco are leading experts on climate change who have advocated forceful government response. Holdren will become Obama's science adviser as director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; Lubchenco will lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees ocean and atmospheric studies and does much of the government's research on global warming.

Holdren also will direct the president's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology. Joining him as co-chairs will be Nobel Prize-winning scientist Harold Varmus, a former director of the National Institutes of Health, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Eric Lander, a specialist in human genome research.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Obama to financial sector: More regulation is coming

WASHINGTON — President-elect Barack Obama signaled Thursday that he plans to put Wall Street on a tighter leash, saying that he'll soon unveil plans to intensify and perhaps restructure regulation of the financial sector.

"We have been asleep at the switch," Obama said at a news conference in Chicago, where he unveiled his selection of Mary Schapiro, a longtime regulator, to head the Securities and Exchange Commission, which oversees finance.

Paul Krugman: The Madoff Economy

The revelation that Bernard Madoff - brilliant investor (or so almost everyone thought), philanthropist, pillar of the community - was a phony has shocked the world, and understandably so. The scale of his alleged $50 billion Ponzi scheme is hard to comprehend.

Yet surely I'm not the only person to ask the question: How different, really, is Madoff's tale from the story of the investment industry as a whole?

The financial services industry has claimed an ever-growing share of America's income over the past generation, making the people who run the industry incredibly rich. Yet, at this point, it looks as if much of the industry has been destroying value, not creating it. And it's not just a matter of money: The vast riches achieved by those who managed other people's money have had a corrupting effect on our society as a whole.

Replicating Milgram: Researcher finds most will administer shocks when prodded by 'authority figure'

Nearly 50 years after one of the most controversial behavioral experiments in history, a social psychologist has found that people are still just as willing to administer what they believe are painful electric shocks to others when urged on by an authority figure.

Abrupt Climate Shifts May Come Sooner, Not Later

Rising Seas, Severe Drought, Could Come in Decades, Says U.S. Report

San Francisco-- The United States could suffer the effects of abrupt climate changes within decades—sooner than some previously thought--says a new government report. It contends that seas could rise rapidly if melting of polar ice continues to outrun recent projections, and that an ongoing drought in the U.S. west could be the start of permanent drying for the region. Commissioned by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, the report was authored by experts from the U.S. Geological Survey, Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and other leading institutions. It was released at this week’s meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

Glenn Greenwald: Demands for War Crimes Prosecutions Are Now Growing in The Mainstream

For obvious reasons, the most blindly loyal Bush followers of the last eight years are desperate to claim that nobody cares any longer about what happened during the Bush administration, that everyone other than the most fringe, vindictive Bush-haters is eager to put it all behind us, forget about it all and, instead, look to the harmonious, sunny future. That's natural. Those who cheer on shameful and despicable acts always want to encourage everyone to forget what they did, and those who commit crimes naturally seek to dismiss demands for investigations and punishment as nothing more than distractions and vendettas pushed by those who want to wallow in the past.

Surprisingly, though, demands that Bush officials be held accountable for their war crimes are becoming more common in mainstream political discourse, not less so. The mountain of conclusive evidence that has recently emerged directly linking top Bush officials to the worst abuses -- combined with Dick Cheney's brazen, defiant acknowledgment of his role in these crimes (which perfectly tracked Bush's equally defiant 2005 acknowledgment of his illegal eavesdropping programs and his brazen vow to continue them) -- is forcing even the reluctant among us to embrace the necessity of such accountability.

Bush's Legacy: Conservative Failure (1)

"History will treat me well," Winston Churchill, at the nadir of his public reputation, is said to have once confidently proclaimed. "How do you know?" his interlocutor came back. "Because," Churchill concluded, "I intend to write it."

Now, our president surely could not write his way out of a sopping wet paper bag, but that's not to say he doesn't grasp the Churchillian impulse. Rewriting history has been the substance of his presidency in recent weeks—and, with a major American Enterprise Institute address planned for Thursday on "Building a Foundation for the Future, with a specific focus on domestic policy initiatives," we can expect to hear more.

Glenn Greenwald: Committing war crimes for the "right reasons"

The Atlantic's Ross Douthat has a post today -- "Thinking About Torture" -- which, he acknowledges quite remarkably, is the first time he has "written anything substantial, ever, about America's treatment of detainees in the War on Terror." He's abstained until today due to what he calls "a desire to avoid taking on a fraught and desperately importantly (sic) subject without feeling extremely confident about my own views on the subject."

I don't want to purport to summarize what he's written. It's a somewhat meandering and at times even internally inconsistent statement. Douthat himself characterizes it as "rambling" -- befitting someone who appears to think that his own lack of moral certainty and borderline-disorientation on this subject may somehow be a more intellectually respectable posture than those who simplistically express "straightforward outrage."

The Torture Report

Most Americans have long known that the horrors of Abu Ghraib were not the work of a few low-ranking sociopaths. All but President Bush’s most unquestioning supporters recognized the chain of unprincipled decisions that led to the abuse, torture and death in prisons run by the American military and intelligence services.

Now, a bipartisan report by the Senate Armed Services Committee has made what amounts to a strong case for bringing criminal charges against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld; his legal counsel, William J. Haynes; and potentially other top officials, including the former White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and David Addington, Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff.

Pension Funds Collapse: The End of Retirement?

By Shamus Cooke, Information Clearing House
Posted on December 19, 2008, Printed on December 19, 2008

Unless things change fast, human history will show that the phenomenon of "retirement" was limited to one generation. After World War II, when European and Japanese economies stood in tatters, American capitalism could fulfill "the American dream," since there was little foreign competition to speak of. For the first time ever, workers were promised that -- after working thirty or so years -- they would be able to securely retire. That was largely the case ... for one generation.

The second generation is having a devastating reality check. 2008 was supposed to be a watershed year for retirement: it was the first year that the baby-boomers turned 62, and the retirement frenzy was to begin (since people could begin to draw on their social security benefits). Early in the year, however, a study was conducted that found one-fourth of these boomers were delaying retirement (only the baby-boomers who were actually able to plan for retirement were studied). The economy has since nosedived, and many more retirements are being delayed. The unfortunate reality is that many who planned on retiring will work until the grave, joining the millions of other baby-boomers who never had such dreams.

Why such drastic action? The Fed is utterly petrified

After 18 months firing blanks, US policymakers have turned to printing money. Convention has gone out the window

Larry Elliott
The Guardian, Thursday 18 December 2008

During the decade leading up to the crash of 2007, some of us warned that excessive lending by reckless banks was an accident waiting to happen. We were told not to be so silly. The gods of the financial markets knew what they were doing.

When the global financial system seized up in August of that year, we said there was a risk of an economic pandemic that might plunge the world's economy into a dangerous tailspin. This was greeted with derision. The system was robust, we were told. Economies were well-placed to withstand any problems, we were told. The problem would be contained because policymakers had matters in hand, we were assured.

EPA should pursue cumulative risk assessment of phthalates and other chemicals

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should examine whether combined exposures to chemicals known as phthalates could cause adverse health effects in humans, says a new report from the National Research Council. In addition, this analysis, called a cumulative risk assessment, should consider other chemicals that could potentially cause the same health effects as phthalates, instead of focusing on chemicals that are similar in structure, which is EPA's current practice. Furthermore, EPA should consider using the recommended approach for future cumulative risk assessments on other kinds of chemicals.

Phthalates are used in a wide variety of consumer products, such as cosmetics, medical devices, children's toys, and building materials. In light of concerns, the European Union and the United States have passed legislation that restricts the concentrations of several phthalates in children's toys, and the European Union has also banned several phthalates from cosmetics. EPA asked the Research Council to recommend whether it should conduct a cumulative risk assessment for phthalates, and if so, how it should be framed. Accordingly, the National Research Council report is not a comprehensive profile on the health effects of phthalates.

The Top Ten Ethics Scandals of 2008

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has released its year-end list of the "top" 10 ethics scandals of 2008. Why isn't the recent criminal complaint against Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on the list? Well, for one, it's not a Washington-centered problem. But Melanie Sloan, CREW's executive director, adds that while the Blagojevich case may be the flavor of the week right now, she thinks the scandals on her administration's list will have more of an impact in the long run.

New ban imposed on regulating global warming gases

WASHINGTON – The Bush administration is trying to make sure in its final days that federal air pollution regulations will not be used to control the gases blamed for global warming.

In a memorandum sent Thursday, outgoing Environmental Protection Agency Administratorcarbon dioxide emissionscoal-fired power plants and other facilities. Stephen Johnson sets an agency-wide policy prohibiting controls on from being included in air pollution permits for

The decision could give the agency a legal basis for issuing permits that increase global warming pollution until the incoming Obama administration can change it, a process that would require a lengthy rulemaking process.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Patrick Fitzgerald's inconvenient truths of distraction

There is not now, nor has there been for some time, any public notion that Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich is anything but a cretinous worm, besides, that is, a bumbling sociopath.

But it could also be that his archnemesis, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, has precipitously tried to break new legal ground in prosecuting the governor's durable human failings under the statutory guise of conspiracy to commit bribery and fraud.

Because, as a growing number of news analyses have recently pointed out, in the United States it is not illegal to be a moron, not even a disgracefully undisguised moron in possession of a constitutional office of former -- very former -- public trust.

THE TANGLED US-IRAN KNOT, Part 5: Iran's power rooted in Shi'ite ties

By Gareth Porter

PART 1: Change or deja vu? Obama divides Iran
PART 2: Iran urges Obama to start talks - now
PART 3: Economy, ties with West key to polls
PART 4: Is a US-Iran deal on the Middle East possible?

TEHRAN - As president-elect Barack Obama's national security team assesses the challenge of Iran's role in the Middle East, it confronts a paradox: Iran is seen as having ambitions of regional hegemony, but it lacks the military power normally associated with such a role.

That paradox is explained by the fact that Iran's position in the Middle East depends to a significant degree on its cultural, spiritual and political ties with other Shi'ite populations and movements in the region. That characteristic of Iranian foreign policy, which Iranian officials and think-tank specialists emphasized in interviews with this writer, poses some unique problems for the United States in opposing Iranian influence in the region