Saturday, January 31, 2009

Republicans' Bizarre Collective Response to Obama's Economic Recovery Plan: We're Out to Lunch

By Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!
Posted on January 30, 2009, Printed on January 31, 2009

Ed. Note: The following is the transcript of Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman's interview with author William Greider after Barack Obama's stimulus package passed in the House of Congress.

Amy Goodman: The House approved an $819 billion stimulus package Wednesday, marking one of the most expensive pieces of legislation ever to move through Congress. Despite an all-out lobbying push by President Obama, the bill passed without a single Republican vote. Eleven Democrats also opposed the measure.

The Los Angeles Times says the package is “the largest attempt since World War II to use the federal budget to redirect the course of the nation’s economy.” The two-year stimulus plan totals $275 billion in tax cuts and nearly $545 billion in domestic spending. It would provide up to $1,000 per year in tax relief for most families, increase funding for alternative energy production, and direct more than $300 billion in aid to states to help rebuild schools, provide healthcare to the poor and reconstruct highways and bridges.

Senate Democrats promise to change stimulus bill

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Democrats promised more money for infrastructure projects when an almost $900 billion version of President Barack Obama's stimulus plan hits the Senate floor next week.

That could mean more money for roads, bridges and more traditional public works programs than presently in the measure.

"We're going to be offering some amendments to improve the package and hopefully make it more amenable to some of the Republicans," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who wants to add $3 billion for mass transit programs. He said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., chairman of the panel responsible for transportation and housing spending, would propose more infrastructure spending.

Steep Slide in Economy as Unsold Goods Pile Up

Published: January 30, 2009

The economy shrank at an accelerating pace late last year, the government reported on Friday, adding to the urgency of a stimulus package capable of bringing the country back from a recession that appears to be deepening.

The actual decline in the gross domestic product — at a 3.8 percent annual rate — fell short of the 5 to 6 percent that most economists had expected for the fourth quarter. But that was because consumption collapsed so quickly that goods piled up in inventory, unsold but counted as part of the nation’s output.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Katha Pollitt: Stalling over birth control

It is bewildering that Barack Obama sacrificed women's rights and health in a vain attempt to woo Republican ideologues

Katha Pollitt, Friday 30 January 2009 15.00 GMT

To the outrage of many feminists and family planners, the Democrats heeded President Obama and dropped from the stimulus bill a provision that would have made it easier for states to offer contraception through Medicaid to low-income women not now covered by Medicaid. This followed several days in which Republicans mocked the item as frivolous pork – like Las Vegas's proposed Mob Museum or the reseeding of the national mall. And how dare Nancy Pelosi suggest that women should be helped to avoid unwanted pregnancies in the midst of an economic crisis? It's eugenics and China's one-child policy rolled into one.

You may wonder how it is that giving women more freedom to plan their kids equals forcing them not to have any? Ask Chris Matthews – that noted expert on women – who on his cable TV show, Hardball, seemed to think the United States had narrowly escaped becoming a reproductive gulag: "It turns out the idea of getting people to have fewer children didn't sell as national policy. Maybe people don't like Washington, which has done such a bang-up job regulating the sharpies on Wall Street, to decide it's now time to regulate the number of kids people might be in the mood for."

PowerPoint to the People

The urgent need to fix federal archiving policies.

By Fred Kaplan

President Barack Obama's decision last week to revive the Freedom of Information Act was a good first step toward fulfilling his campaign pledge for a "new era of open government."

Here's an idea for a good second step: Force the federal agencies to file and maintain all the records they're creating now, so that in the future when citizens file FOIA requests to declassify documents, they won't receive a form letter that reads, "Sorry, no such documents exist."

A 2005 report by the National Archives and Records Administration—which was declassified just this week under a FOIA suit filed by the National Security Archive, a private research organization at George Washington University—concluded that, in an era when nearly all records are stored on hard drives, rather than typed on paper, the raw bits of history are evaporating.

Demoralized Mortgage Insurer Overlooked Challenge in Crisis

Federal Housing Administration Must Ramp Up, Despite Years of Neglect

By Mary Kane 1/29/09 2:56 PM

With credit remaining tight and banks continuing to restrict lending, it’s been up to the government to keep the mortgage markets moving. And a major player these days is the Federal Housing Administration, a Depression-era insurer of mortgage loans specifically tapped to take on a much larger role as savior of the housing sector and rescuer of homeowners facing foreclosure.

But with the FHA’s share of the mortgage market expected to grow to nearly 50 percent, the agency finds itself facing the same dilemma as its parent, the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Both were shunted aside during the Bush Administration. Like HUD, the FHA doesn’t have enough staff or even up-to-date technology to handle its expanded role. It lowered its loan standards to compete with private lenders during the subprime boom, and problems with fraud continue to plague it, just as it backs more loans than ever.

Davos Man, Confused

Why the world's economic leaders blame the catastrophe on the system instead of themselves.

For centuries, historians have debated whether history is propelled by Great Men (and Women), human forces of nature who bend events and systems to their will, or by vast impersonal forces (communism, capitalism, globalization) that render even the most powerful of us a mere reed basket floating in a massive river. There's no session on the subject at the World Economic Forum in Davos. But at least with regard to finance and business, the consensus seems to be clear: Success is the work of Great Men and Great Women, while failure can be pinned on the system.

Paul Krugman: Health Care Now

The whole world is in recession. But the United States is the only wealthy country in which the economic catastrophe will also be a health care catastrophe — in which millions of people will lose their health insurance along with their jobs, and therefore lose access to essential care.

Which raises a question: Why has the Obama administration been silent, at least so far, about one of President Obama’s key promises during last year’s campaign — the promise of guaranteed health care for all Americans?

Let’s talk about the magnitude of the looming health care disaster.

Economy shrinks, pointing to trying times to come

WASHINGTON — As bad as Friday's grim government report on economic growth was, it points to even worse times ahead. The collapse of exports, industrial production and the inability of companies to sell their products all portend an even deeper contraction as the U.S. and global economies sink further in the weeks and months ahead.

The Commerce Department reported that the U.S. economy contracted 3.8 percent in the final three months of last year, the biggest such quarterly shrinkage in almost 27 years.

Water Plays Surprising Role in Climate Change

By Adriana Bailey, University of Colorado
posted: 30 January 2009 09:26 am ET

This Behind the Scenes article was provided to LiveScience in partnership with the National Science Foundation.

With its sea turtles and surf shops, the Big Island of Hawaii resembles a tropical, watery world. Yet for climate scientists, it's the ideal place to study low-humidity air and the processes that dehydrate the atmosphere.

From the sprawling dome of Mauna Loa — 11,000 feet above Hawaii's coconut-fringed beaches — climate scientists David Noone and Joe Galewsky can track water vapor that's traveled as far as the equator and the pole. They're the first to try to measure vapor's chemical signature in real-time in order to understand the processes controlling the global water cycle.


Contamination Case in Closed-Door Negotiations for “Non-Regulatory” Resolution

Washington, DC — Dow Chemical is in the final stages of “confidential” negotiations with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to secure an “alternative” non-enforcement approach for addressing massive dioxin contamination stemming from the chemical maker’s Midland, Michigan headquarters. If consummated as slated by February 15, the pact would constitute a precedent-setting abdication of public health protection to a polluter, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

At issue is 52 miles of toxic chemical pollution downriver from the Dow headquarters into Huron Lake’s Saginaw Bay. The deadly dioxin plume in one of the Great Lake’s largest watersheds has caused fish and game consumption health advisories and has led to dioxin absorption in local residents. The highest levels of dioxin ever found in a U.S .river system were found 30 miles downriver from the company plant.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Space detectives delve into mystery of missing carbon

WASHINGTON — For years, scientists have been trying to solve what they call the ``Mystery of the Missing Sinks.''

No, they're not talking about misplaced kitchenware. These ``sinks'' are the world's forests, pastures, crops and soil, which soak up the excess carbon — in the form of carbon dioxide — that's a major driver of global warming. Even golf courses and suburban lawns serve as carbon sinks.

Is ethical capitalism possible?

By Devin T Stewart

I was scheduled to deliver a keynote speech next month to more than 1,000 business executives on the topic of whether ethical capitalism is possible. The event organizers, a Tokyo-based consultancy that specializes in corporate social responsibility, had the foresight to pose this question last autumn. Ironically, the intervening events of the global economic downturn - caused by misguided incentives, greed, and moral lapses - forced the company to cancel the event.

For me, this recession has been defined by frustrating paradoxes. Easy money, overcapacity, and reckless consumption are what got us into this mess, yet governments must react by lowering interest rates and pushing through enormous fiscal stimulus packages with the hope that the housing, retail, and investment markets won't fall much more. Similarly, long-term sensible investments in clean energy and social welfare are hindered by falling oil prices, a lack of funding, and fresh anxiety about corporate bottom lines.

Obama's arc of instability

By Pepe Escobar

WASHINGTON - As money shots go, especially archived under "team of rivals", few surpass the one last week heralding the launch of the new United States State Department.

The photo features President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, new US Middle East envoy George Mitchell and new US Afghanistan/Pakistan envoy Richard Holbrooke. Washington's chattering classes have genuflected accordingly and burned down their Blackberrys in awe.

Novel technology could produce biofuel for around €0.50 a liter ($2.49 a gallon)

A novel technology for synthesizing chemicals from plant material could produce liquid fuel for just over €0.50 a liter ($2.49 a gallon), say German scientists. But only if the infrastructure is set up in the right way, states the research published in this month's issue of Biofuels, Bioproducts & Biorefining.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Glenn Beck blames bad economy on existence of central banking system

-- by Dave

It's no wonder that Fox's newest conserva-star addition to its Angry White Men lineup, Glenn Beck, has such an emotional affinity for Sarah Palin. Because like Palin, Beck is not just a conservative; he's actually a good old-fashioned right-wing populist.

For those who follow such phenomena, Beck made it explicit Thursday on his Fox News show when he launched into a segment seemingly devoted to the thesis that the whole problem with the economy lies not with capitalism, but boils down to the fact that we rely on a central banking system

Digby: Uriah Heeps On Parade

It's Republican day on the cable networks. They are crawling over every show like fire ants. I presume the Democrats must be too busy combing the bill for what they can take out of it to stop the cacophonous whining. But they really should be out there trying to defend themselves because the conventional wisdom is gelling that Obama is going to fail in his most important mission --- his promise to end partisanship --- because the Democrats are corrupt spendthrifts who want to lard up the stimulus with pet projects and defy their own president's allegedly heartfelt desire that conservative policies be continued.

Ain't post-partisanship grand?

House Panel Approves Cram Downs

by CalculatedRisk on 1/27/2009 07:08:00 PM

From the WSJ: U.S. House Panel Approves Mortgage Measure (hat tip Ken)

A measure to allow judges to reduce the principal amounts of mortgages for troubled borrowers in bankruptcy cleared a key hurdle Tuesday when it was approved by a U.S. House panel.
Under the legislation, borrowers would be eligible to have a bankruptcy judge reduce the principal balance on their home loan -- a move known as a "cram down."

HuffPost Breaks Huge Corruption Story -- And We Must Do Something About It

You can't make this stuff up. Breaking news from The Huffington Post:

Three days after receiving $25 billion in federal bailout funds, Bank of America Corp. hosted a conference call with conservative activists and business officials to organize opposition to the U.S. labor community's top legislative priority.

Participants on the October 17 call -- including at least one representative from another bailout recipient, AIG -- were urged to persuade their clients to send "large contributions" to groups working against the Employee Free Trade Act (EFCA), as well as to vulnerable Senate Republicans, who could help block passage of the bill.

PBS: NSA could have prevented 9/11 hijackings

01/27/2009 @ 12:53 pm
Filed by Muriel Kane

The super-secretive National Security Agency has been quietly monitoring, decrypting, and interpreting foreign communications for decades, starting long before it came under criticism as a result of recent revelations about the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program. Now a forthcoming PBS documentary asks whether the NSA could have prevented 9/11 if it had been more willing to share its data with other agencies.

Thomas Frank: Toll Roads Are Paved With Bad Intentions

Conservatives have stoked hostility toward the state.


Back in the days when the market was a kind of secular god and all the world thrilled to behold the amazing powers of private capital, the idea of privatizing highways and airports and other bits of our transportation infrastructure made a certain kind of sense.

Private businesses did everything better than the state, we were told. And that meant even tasks as inherently public as maintaining bridges and roads.

Congressional Budget Office compares downturn to Great Depression

The nation's current recession is likely to be the longest since World War II, and by some measures could be the worst since the Great Depression, a new Congressional Budget Office forecast said Tuesday.

Without a major economic stimulus plan, "the shortfall in the nation's output relative to its potential would be the largest – in terms of both length and depth – since the Depression of the 1930s," said new CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf in testimony prepared for the House Budget Committee.

GOP may vote no, but economists back Obama stimulus

WASHINGTON — Economists think the stimulus plan that the House of Representatives will vote on Wednesday, while far from perfect, will help stimulate the moribund U.S. economy.

There's no panacea for what ails the economy. A stimulus plan will work only in combination with other actions, such as more aid to the banking system to spark lending and boost consumer confidence, and the implementation of any plan will be as important as what's in it.

The Anti-Stimulus Crowd Blows a Gasket

by Dean Baker

The anti-stimulus crowd is getting desperate. The possibility that a young charismatic new president will push through an ambitious package that begins to set the economy right is truly terrifying to this crew. After all, if the economy begins to turn around and has largely recovered in three or four years, the Republican leadership can look forward to spending most of their careers in the political wilderness.

President Obama will cakewalk to re-election, and even his designated successor will be able to benefit from the glow of his success. If the New Deal serves as precedent, Congress will stay in Democratic hands long past the time that the current leaders of the Republican Party start collecting their pensions.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Pope Benedict reaches out to anti-Semitic Catholics, but liberals still talk to the hand

-- by Dave

A lot of people were concerned when an arch-conservative like Cardinal Ratzinger was named the pope, but I don't think any of us imagined that he would be soon playing footsie with some of Catholicism's most prominent anti-Semites -- namely, the Society of St. Pius X.

From the Catholic Reporter:
Papal reconciliation move will stir controversy

In a gesture billed as an “act of peace,” but one destined both to fire intra-Catholic debate about the meaning of the Second Vatican Council and to open a new front in Jewish/Catholic tensions, the Vatican today formally lifted a twenty-year-old excommunication imposed on four bishops who broke with Rome in protest over the liberalizing reforms of Vatican II (1962-65).

Move to End "Internet Neutrality": Blow to Bloggers. "Ten Pin Strike against Political Freedom"

If the cable and phone companies that transmit Internet data are allowed to charge higher rates to some producers for faster service the result will be “a ten pin strike against political freedom,” a prominent legal authority warns.

That’s because the change will enable the wealthy to “quickly take over the high speed transmissions (for their trash commercial content) just as they completely monopolize radio and TV, and just as their incredibly greedy profit-seeking has had a very deleterious effect on print journalism,” writes Lawrence Velvel, dean of the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover.

Back to the woodshed

By Julian Delasantellis

Many explanations were proffered for the 1980 electoral victory of Ronald Reagan that marked the commencement of the conservative era in the United States. My favorite was not from some American political strategist or pundit but from a writer for Pravda, what was then the official house organ of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

This person was certainly not going to attribute the cause to US concern for the world situation following the previous year's Soviet invasion of Afghanistan; for at that time the party line was that the invasion was a glorious triumph for the whole world, delivering to a primitive nation the blessings of modernity. Also, the explanation was not going to be the national humiliation of the Iranian hostage crisis, whose travails the Soviets viewed with, at the very least, sublime serendipity.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Two Santa Clauses or How The Republican Party Has Conned America for Thirty Years

by Thom Hartmann

This weekend, House Republican leader John Boehner played out the role of Jude Wanniski on NBC's "Meet The Press."

Odds are you've never heard of Jude, but without him Reagan never would have become a "successful" president, Republicans never would have taken control of the House or Senate, Bill Clinton never would have been impeached, and neither George Bush would have been president.

When Barry Goldwater went down to ignominious defeat in 1964, most Republicans felt doomed (among them the then-28-year-old Wanniski). Goldwater himself, although uncomfortable with the rising religious right within his own party and the calls for more intrusion in people's bedrooms, was a diehard fan of Herbert Hoover's economic worldview.

We Are All Keynesians Again

Why Ben Bernanke isn’t listening to Robert Samuelson.

By James K. Galbraith

The Great Inflation and Its Aftermath: The Past and Future of American Affluence
by Robert J. Samuelson
Random House, 299 pp.

The heroes of Robert J. Samuelson’s The Great Inflation and Its Aftermath: The Past and Future of American Affluence, a reflection on the troubles of the 1970s, are Paul Volcker, Federal Reserve chairman from 1979 to 1987, and Ronald Reagan, U.S. president from 1981 to 1989. The goats are the British economist John Maynard Keynes, dead since 1946, and his followers, especially the late John Kenneth Galbraith (1908–2006), the father of this reviewer. Galbraith père stands in here for a raft of postwar Keynesians whose names appear in the book only briefly, especially Paul Samuelson (no relation to the author), James Tobin, and Robert Solow—all Nobel Prize winners, and the real architects of the Keynesian consensus of those years.

From Here to Retirement

If you have a 401(k) retirement plan at work, you don’t need us to tell you that you’ve taken a hit in the past year. The really bad news is that the damage to your retirement security is likely worse than what the numbers say on your statement.

Many Americans didn’t have enough savings coming into the downturn. And employers are increasingly cutting back or suspending their 401(k) match. FedEx, Eastman Kodak, Motorola, General Motors and Ford, among others, have announced such moves.

There’s also no guarantee that today’s battered 401(k)’s will rebound powerfully. People close to retirement don’t have time for a do-over. Even for those still far from retirement, there’s no telling how stocks will perform in the future.

Bad Reactors

Rethinking your opposition to nuclear power? Rethink again.

By Mariah Blake

Seven years ago, Finland was faced with a daunting energy dilemma. To keep its domestic industries up and running, it needed to double its electricity supply by 2025. At the same time, it had to cut carbon emissions by fourteen million tons a year to comply with its obligations under the Kyoto Protocol. The question was how to fill the gap without stifling its flourishing economy or increasing dependence on costly imports.

As it hunted for solutions, the Finnish government decided to consider a controversial option: building another nuclear power plant. It was not a new idea; in fact, the Finns had weighed and rejected it nine years earlier. But since then, officials reasoned, the situation had changed. Besides a new imperative to reduce carbon emissions, a new generation of nuclear reactors had recently come onto the market. None had been built, but the industry claimed that their simple, standardized designs and modular components would make them far easier and less expensive to assemble than their predecessors. In fact, a study by the Lappeenranta University of Technology, which used figures on par with industry estimates for capital costs, found that a new atomic plant could deliver electricity more affordably than any other large-scale energy option. A group of lawmakers appointed by Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen to study the issue also concluded that a single reactor could create a much greater drop in greenhouse gas emissions than the next cheapest option, building more gas-fired plants. This meant there would be less pressure on the government to enact other mechanisms, such as a gasoline tax, that might put a dent in consumer spending and hamper economic growth.

Lost in Their Bloomberg Terminals

The Wall Street wizards who brought on catastrophe by pretending to eliminate risk.

By Brendan I. Koerner

Panic: The Story of Modern Financial Insanity
edited by Michael Lewis
W. W. Norton, 352 pp.

For those of us who enjoy watching twenty-two behemoths maul each other on autumn weekends, no figure of speech beats a good football simile. So helmets off to Michael Lewis for coming up with a classic in his 1999 New York Times Magazine account of the collapse of Long-Term Capital Management, a tale now anthologized in Panic: The Story of Modern Financial Insanity. A hedge fund that specialized in fixed-income arbitrage, LTCM was run by ex-academics who were widely considered too brilliant to lose money, let alone preside over one of history’s greatest financial disasters. Lewis had worked with several of these LTCM eggheads during his days on Salomon Brothers’ bond desk, and he recalls the humbling experience of asking them to elucidate one of their arcane trades. Minutes after receiving a step-by-step explanation, Lewis realized that he had barely understood a word.

Paul Krugman: Bad Faith Economics

As the debate over President Obama’s economic stimulus plan gets under way, one thing is certain: many of the plan’s opponents aren’t arguing in good faith. Conservatives really, really don’t want to see a second New Deal, and they certainly don’t want to see government activism vindicated. So they are reaching for any stick they can find with which to beat proposals for increased government spending.

Some of these arguments are obvious cheap shots. John Boehner, the House minority leader, has already made headlines with one such shot: looking at an $825 billion plan to rebuild infrastructure, sustain essential services and more, he derided a minor provision that would expand Medicaid family-planning services — and called it a plan to “spend hundreds of millions of dollars on contraceptives.”

Dramatic expansion of dead zones in the oceans

Unchecked global warming would leave ocean dwellers gasping for breath. Dead zones are low-oxygen areas in the ocean where higher life forms such as fish, crabs and clams are not able to live. In shallow coastal regions, these zones can be caused by runoff of excess fertilizers from farming. A team of Danish researchers have now shown that unchecked global warming would lead to a dramatic expansion of low-oxygen areas zones in the global ocean by a factor of 10 or more.

Whereas some coastal dead zones could be recovered by control of fertilizer usage, expanded low-oxygen areas caused by global warming will remain for thousands of years to come, adversely affecting fisheries and ocean ecosystems far into the future. The findings are reported in a paper 'Long-term ocean oxygen depletion in response to carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels' published on-line in the scientific journal Nature Geoscience.

Death agony of Thatcher era

By F William Engdahl

During the end of the 1970s into the 1980s, British Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher and the City of London financial interests who backed her introduced wholesale measures of privatization, state budget cuts, moves against labor and deregulation of the financial markets.

They did so in parallel with similar moves in the US initiated by advisers around Reagan. The claim was that hard medicine was needed to curb inflation and that the bloated state bureaucracy was a central problem.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

How We Were Ruined & What We Can Do

By Jeff Madrick

The Trillion Dollar Meltdown: Easy Money, High Rollers, and the Great Credit Crash
by Charles R. Morris, PublicAffairs, 194 pp., $22.95

Financial Shock: A 360° Look at the Subprime Mortgage Implosion, and How to Avoid the Next Financial Crisis
by Mark Zandi, FT Press, 270 pp., $24.99

The Reckoning
a series of articles by Gretchen Morgenson et al.
The New York Times, September 28–December 28, 2008

Some prominent figures in the financial markets insist that unchecked opportunism by financiers was not a root cause of the current credit crisis. Robert Rubin, the former Treasury secretary who has just resigned as a high-level adviser and director at Citigroup, told The Wall Street Journal in November that the near collapse of Citigroup, which was bailed out by the federal government, was caused by the "buckling" financial system, and not any mistakes made at his company. "No one anticipated this," said Rubin, who once ran the investment firm Goldman Sachs. Others such as Harvey Golub, former chairman of American Express, maintain that the fault lies principally with the federal government, which since the 1990s and even earlier has been actively promoting mortgages for low-income Americans. This, he argues, led to the unsustainable frenzy of sub-prime mortgages in the 2000s.

Obama Plans Fast Action to Tighten Financial Rules

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration plans to move quickly to tighten the nation’s financial regulatory system.

Officials say they will make wide-ranging changes, including stricter federal rules for hedge funds, credit rating agencies and mortgage brokers, and greater oversight of the complex financial instruments that contributed to the economic crisis.

Broad new outlines of the administration’s agenda have begun to emerge in recent interviews with officials, in confirmation proceedings of senior appointees and in a recent report by an international committee led by Paul A. Volcker, a senior member of President Obama’s economic team.

A Revolution in Spirit

by Benjamin R. Barber

As America, recession mired, enters the hope-inspired age of Barack Obama, a silent but fateful struggle for the soul of capitalism is being waged. Can the market system finally be made to serve us? Or will we continue to serve it? George W. Bush argued that the crisis is "not a failure of the free-market system, and the answer is not to try to reinvent that system." But while it is going too far to declare that capitalism is dead, George Soros is right when he says that "there is something fundamentally wrong" with the market theory that stands behind the global economy, a "defect" that is "inherent in the system."

The issue is not the death of capitalism but what kind of capitalism--standing in which relationship to culture, to democracy and to life? President Obama's Rubinite economic team seems designed to reassure rather than innovate, its members set to fix what they broke. But even if they succeed, will they do more than merely restore capitalism to the status quo ante, resurrecting all the defects that led to the current debacle?

Billmon at Daily Kos: Obama at the Plate

Tue Jan 20, 2009 at 09:51:41 PM PST

Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

Barack Obama
Inaugural Address
January 20, 2009

In the end, maybe the speech didn't matter that much. I think he could have read the first 50 names out of the D.C. phone directory and gotten as much applause and as many approving nods from the babbling heads. Once again, although probably for the last time, who he is spoke louder than what he said.

But, to the extent the words today did matter, they weren't the ones I had expected to hear, which I thought was actually an encouraging sign -- although hardly a conclusive one.

Bill Moyers with David Sirota and Thomas Frank

January 23, 2009

President Obama was barely in office a day before the THE ST. PETERSBURG TIMES' fact-check Web site posted "The Obameter: Tracking Barack Obama's Campaign Promises." Expectations are high for the new president — especially in progressive circles. Bill Moyers sat down with political columnist and blogger David Sirota and WALL STREET JOURNAL columnist Thomas Frank to talk about their expectations for this administration and what they think Obama must accomplish to bring real "change" to Washington.

Sirota and Frank are both happy with the change in administration in Washington. On his blog on inaguraution eve David Sirota wrote — in large type — "Late-Night Re-Realization of the Wonderful...Just a quick, late night re-realization of something downright wonderful: An African American named Barack Hussein Obama is the President of the United States."

The Quitter Economy

Companies are liquidating; homeowners are mailing in the keys. Have we given up?

By Daniel Gross
Posted Saturday, Jan. 24, 2009, at 7:57 AM ET

"Everything Must Go!" blares a bright-yellow sign at the Circuit City store on Broadway and 80th St. in Manhattan, N.Y. The revolving doors whir with curious customers looking for bargains. As can be inferred from the huddles of dejected employees wearing bright-red Circuit City polos, this store will soon be closing, along with the other 566 outlets of the nation's second-largest electronics retailer, leaving 34,000 people unemployed. Circuit City must liquidate some $1 billion in merchandise by the end of March.

There was a time, not so long ago, that a company like Circuit City would have stuck it out by filing for Chapter 11. A Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing gives companies breathing room from creditors in order to regroup and relaunch. Circuit City started down this path in November, but in mid-January it decided that rehab was too tough and threw in the towel. Sharper Image, Linens 'n Things, retailer Steve & Barry's, and the department store Mervyn's all filed for bankruptcy with the intent of reorganizing. And all have wound up liquidating. "The reason we're seeing liquation rather than bankruptcy from so many retailers is because people are hopeless," says Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research at the Economic Policy Institute. "We're still looking at a very bad year in 2009 and probably most of 2010, so it's very difficult to be optimistic about reorganizing and coming out of it stronger."

Pentagon's terror 'recidivism' claims blasted as 'propaganda'

01/23/2009 @ 8:47 am
Filed by David Edwards and Stephen C. Webster

Ever wonder how many of President Bush's terror war detainees were released, only to "return to the fight"?

"Their numbers have changed from 20, to 12, to seven, to more than five, to two, to a couple, to a few, 25, 29, 12, and then 24," quoted Keith Olbermann on Thursday's edition of Countdown.

The latest figure, 61, which was carried unchallenged by CNN, the MSNBC host noted, appears to be nothing but "propaganda."

Frank Rich: No Time for Poetry

PRESIDENT Obama did not offer his patented poetry in his Inaugural Address. He did not add to his cache of quotations in Bartlett’s. He did not recreate J.F.K.’s inaugural, or Lincoln’s second, or F.D.R.’s first. The great orator was mainly at his best when taking shots at Bush and Cheney, who, in black hat and wheelchair, looked like the misbegotten spawn of the evil Mr. Potter in “It’s a Wonderful Life” and the Wicked Witch of the West.

Such was the judgment of many Washington drama critics. But there’s a reason that this speech was austere, not pretty. Form followed content. Obama wasn’t just rebuking the outgoing administration. He was delicately but unmistakably calling out the rest of us who went along for the ride as America swerved into the dangerous place we find ourselves now.

Obama tells US of his radical new agenda

President uses his first weekly address to unveil bold plans for economy and the environment

Paul Harris in Washington
The Observer, Sunday 25 January 2009

The delivery of Barack Obama's first weekly presidential address to the nation yesterday was hi-tech, but his message was distinctly resonant of the 1930s.

With a calm voice and serious expression, Obama laid out the details of a massive economic plan aimed at rescuing the US economy, creating millions of jobs and "greening" the country's infrastructure.

In a clear echo of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, Obama urged popular support for the plan and published fresh ideas covering billions of dollars of investment in alternative energy and huge construction projects.

How America Embraced Lemon Socialism

by Robert Reich

America has embraced Lemon Socialism.

The federal government -- that is, you and I and every other taxpayer -- has taken ownership of giant home mortgagors Fannie and Freddie, which are by now basket cases. We've also put hundreds of millions into Wall Street banks, which are still flowing red ink and seem everyday to be in worse shape. We've bailed out the giant insurer AIG, which is failing. We've given GM and Chrysler the first installments of what are likely to turn into big bailouts. It's hard to find anyone who will place a big bet on the future of these two.

Media menu: Scrutiny, with a side order of sound judgment

The blogger Digby recently mentioned to me that the media, after years of deference to President Bush, are about to lurch back toward the excessively critical approach they took toward President Clinton:

Just as they treated Bush with extraordinary respect in reaction to their heinous behavior during the Clinton years, the villagers are now preparing to treat Obama with skepticism in reaction to the failures that resulted from their fawning obsequiousness.

Oddly, these lurches always seem to disfavor the Democrats.

Digby's concern is shared by many progressive media critics, this one included.

Risen: I May Have Been A Victim Of The NSA’s Program Spying On Journalists

Earlier this week on MSNBC’s “Countdown with Keith Olbermann,” former National Security Agency (NSA) analyst Russell Tice revealed that the agency had “monitored all communications” of Americans — specifically targeting journalists. To discuss this development, Olbermann yesterday hosted Pulitzer-Prize winning New York Times reporter James Risen, who famously angered the Bush administration by revealing the government’s domestic wiretapping program and its secret snooping on the financial records of thousands of Americans allegedly linked to terrorists.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

He told us so

Emma Brockes
The Guardian, Saturday 24 January 2009

They called him Dr Doom. He was the economist who three years ago predicted in detail a collapse of the housing market and worldwide recession - and was roundly ridiculed for it. Emma Brockes asks Nouriel Roubini what he foresees now

The New York offices of Nouriel Roubini's consultancy firm are as spare as the times: a desk, a phone, some blank Post-it notes and 134 pages printed from Wikipedia listing every bank in the world, all a superhero in the new austerity needs. Three years ago, Roubini, an economist, was dismissed as a doom-monger for identifying massive vulnerability in the US banking system and predicting its collapse. Now he's a guru, attracting the interest not only of governments and bank chiefs, but of New York's premiere gossip website, which has wound him up so spectacularly and to a pitch of such fury that - along with "Where did all the money go?" and "Is now a good time to buy a house?" - the question one most wants to ask of Roubini is exactly what does happen at his loft parties in downtown Manhattan?

President Barack Obama painted a bleak economic picture of the country

By Paul Steinhauser
CNN Deputy Political Director

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Barack Obama painted a bleak economic picture of the country on Saturday, hours before he is to meet with his economic team.

"We begin this year and this administration in the midst of an unprecedented crisis that calls for unprecedented action," he said in his weekly radio and Internet address.

"Just this week, we saw more people file for unemployment than at any time in the last 26 years, and experts agree that if nothing is done, the unemployment rate could reach double digits," Obama said.

Stimulate The Economy By Stimulating Saving? One Progressive's Idea

While conservatives offer tax cuts as an all-purpose elixir, whether they make sense or not, the truth is that our tax code is out of whack and we should be thinking about progressive reforms.

Laura Kalick, a veteran tax attorney based in Washington, has been thinking about one such reform that she says will provide short-term economic stimulus while addressing the nation's notoriously low savings rate. Her idea follows. What do you think? Let's have a dialogue about this and other progressive tax reform ideas.

We are in an economic crisis that has many causes, one of which is excessive borrowing. We are a nation with many tax laws that encourage people to save for retirement, education and health care, but there is no incentive to just save for a rainy day or save to buy a car. And the rules are too complicated for the average person to understand. Furthermore, there is a myriad of paperwork and fees that accommodate setting up accounts that are usually invested in securities.

Pelosi Backs Letting Courts Modify Troubled Mortgages

By Renae Merle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 23, 2009; D03

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi yesterday gave her support to legislation that would allow bankruptcy judges to modify troubled mortgages, saying it is a "very high priority and should be passed as soon as possible."

Democrats have been considering whether to include the provision in the economic stimulus package making its way through Congress or attempt to pass it as a stand-alone bill. "Either way, I'd like to get it passed as soon as possible," the California Democrat said.

Two Rock Hill men ask for and receive forgiveness for their racist past

‘We accept your apology’

- The (Rock Hill) Herald

ROCK HILL — Next to a lunch counter that was segregated for so long sat a table of two white people and five black people Friday afternoon. Conversation quickly took them back to Jan. 31, 1961.

Elwin Wilson, one of those white men, had come that day to that very lunch counter four steps away from where he was now, wanting to pull one of those black men off the stool. He wanted to give a beating.

Icelandic government becomes first to be brought down by the credit crunch

By Graham Smith
Last updated at 3:10 PM on 23rd January 2009

The government of Iceland today became the first to be effectively brought down by the credit crunch.

After several nights of rioting over the financial crisis, Prime Minister Geir Haarde, surrendered to increasing pressure and called a general election for May.

The U.S. and UK Are on the Brink of Debt Disaster

By Ed Kemp, Reuters
Posted on January 24, 2009, Printed on January 24, 2009

The United States and the United Kingdom stand on the brink of the largest debt crisis in history.

While both governments experiment with quantitative easing, bad banks to absorb non-performing loans, and state guarantees to restart bank lending, the only real way out is some combination of widespread corporate default, debt write-downs and inflation to reduce the burden of debt to more manageable levels. Everything else is window-dressing.

Obama adds diplomatic dynamite

At a briefing led by new Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, United States President Barack Obama named two legendary negotiators as special envoys to deal with the Israel-Arab conflict and "the deteriorating situation" in Afghanistan and Pakistan, respectively. A third veteran diplomat is expected to be named specifically to handle US relations with Iran.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Media's Role In The Financial Crisis

Our government's current operating principle seems to be bailing out people who were culpable in the financial meltdown. If so, journalists are surely entitled to billions of dollars.

Why? Journalists were grossly deficient when it came to covering the reckless behavior, sleaze and willful ignorance of fundamental economics, much of which was reasonably obvious to anyone who was paying attention, that inflated the housing and credit bubbles of the past decade. Their frequent cheerleading for bad practices -- and near-total failure to warn us, repeatedly and relentlessly, of what was building -- made a bad situation worse.

10 Cars That Could Salvage Detroit

November 14, 2008 03:07 PM ET | Rick Newman
The road to recovery in Detroit is so long and pitted that General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler might not all make it. Billions in federal aid will help. But the government doesn't build cars, and without top products in the most important segments, the Detroit Three will continue to flounder while the Japanese and Europeans surge ahead. Here are some of the cars that are key to the revival of the domestic automakers

The Next Bank Bailout

With financial stocks sliding as fears grow that more major banks may fail, it’s easy to overlook the problems at the Federal Home Loan Banks, a group of 12 regional institutions that play a crucial role in providing banks around the country with money for mortgage lending.

But that would be a mistake. The banks served as a lender of last resort as the credit crunch tightened, propping up other banks that now have gone under. The crisis now facing them exemplifies the regulatory and other weaknesses in the financial system that have led to the worsening banking crisis, analysts say - sloppy accounting, a lack of transparency, lax oversight, and the trend toward “scheming” a way out of the credit crunch. Wall Street is nervous because it can’t determine the true extent of problems at the banks. And, once again, taxpayers may end up picking up the tab.

Repudiate the Carter Doctrine

by Michael Klare

Twenty-nine years ago, President Jimmy Carter adopted the radical and dangerous policy of using military force to ensure U.S. access to Middle Eastern oil. "Let our position be absolutely he clear," he said in his State of the Union address on January 23, 1980. "An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region [and thereby endanger the flow of oil] will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.

This principle — known ever since as the Carter Doctrine — led to U.S. involvement in three major wars and now risks further military entanglement in the greater Gulf area. It's time to repudiate this doctrine and satisfy U.S. energy needs without reliance on military intervention.

A Presumption of Disclosure

Obama revives the Freedom of Information Act.

By Fred Kaplan

It has received the least attention of his first-day decisions, but President Barack Obama's memorandum on reviving the Freedom of Information Act stands as the clearest signal yet that his campaign talk about "a new era of open government" wasn't just rhetoric; it's for real.

The key phrase comes right at the top: "The Freedom of Information Act should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails."

Later in the memo: "All agencies should adopt a presumption of disclosure. … The presumption of disclosure should be applied to all decisions involving FOIA."

Paul Krugman: Stuck in the Muddle

Like anyone who pays attention to business and financial news, I am in a state of high economic anxiety. Like everyone of good will, I hoped that President Obama’s Inaugural Address would offer some reassurance, that it would suggest that the new administration has this thing covered.

But it was not to be. I ended Tuesday less confident about the direction of economic policy than I was in the morning.

Just to be clear, there wasn’t anything glaringly wrong with the address — although for those still hoping that Mr. Obama will lead the way to universal health care, it was disappointing that he spoke only of health care’s excessive cost, never once mentioning the plight of the uninsured and underinsured.

What Bush action can Obama undo next? Emissions standards

WASHINGTON — With a new occupant in the White House, California could soon start enforcing its 2002 law that requires a sharp reduction in vehicle emissions.

State leaders and environmentalists are pressing for quick approval of a waiver that would let California and at least 13 other states impose tougher air-quality standards than are allowed under federal law. The Bush administration rejected the request a year ago, but that could be reversed by President Barack Obama and his environmental team.

Only about one of ten unemployed workers obtain COBRA coverage

Low-income unemployed need new coverage options and financial assistance to keep health insurance

New York, NY—As unemployment rates reach the highest levels in 16 years, a new analysis from The Commonwealth Fund finds that few laid-off workers—only 9 percent—took up coverage under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) in 2006. Unemployed workers who also lose their health insurance would need substantial financial assistance, covering 75 to 85 percent of their health insurance premiums, for their premium contributions to remain at the levels they paid while they were working, according to the report, Maintaining Health Insurance During a Recession: Likely COBRA Eligibility, by Michelle M. Doty, director of survey research at The Commonwealth Fund and colleagues.

Research ties tree mortality trends to climate warming

Global warming is speeding up the mortality of trees, and NAU research is providing some of the data to prove it.

Pete Fulé, an NAU associate professor in the School of Forestry and a director of the university's Ecological Restoration Institute, is a coauthor of "Widespread Increase of Tree Mortality Rates in the Western United States," an article to be published in the Jan. 23 issue of Science journal.

White House Website Now 'Sodomite Publication,' says Religious Right

By Bill Berkowitz
Wed Jan 21, 2009 at 04:46:54 PM EST

Religious Right attacks Obama's broad Civil Rights agenda

It took less than a day for both the editor at Covenant News and the American Family Association's Rev. Donald Wildmon to lose that "We are One" feeling, and get all dyspeptic over a bunch of agenda items listed in the category of "Civil Rights" posted at ( by the Obama Administration.

The editor of wrote:

The White House policies published on its new website confirms that Barack H. Obama intends to use his office to promote and maintain the sexual deviant criminal behavior of homosexuality (with malice aforethought).

Sweden’s Fix for Banks: Nationalize Them

The Swedes have a simple message to the Americans: Bite the bullet and nationalize.

Officials in Washington are trying to figure out how to shore up American banks that once ruled the financial world but now seem to weaken by the day, despite receiving hundreds of billions of dollars in government aid.

With Sweden’s banks effectively bankrupt in the early 1990s, a center-right government pulled off a rapid recovery that led to taxpayers making money in the long run.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Obama Inauguration: A New Tone. No More Fake Optimism for The People

by Naomi Wolf

I know that Barack Obama is incredibly smart, and it's not that I'm surprised that he gave a fantastic speech. But I've been following American politics for a long time, and sometimes you see something that works on so many levels that you kind of have to gasp at its sophistication.

This speech marked a sharp line in the sand, breaking overtly with the past administration. That message was clear and intentional. It is a much more confrontational approach than ­inauguration speeches have typically been in America. I am overjoyed.

I thought Obama did three things impressively. Firstly, he sounded a note of our dire circumstances that was in line with a reality that many have been in denial about. That is technically ­brilliant, because he's inheriting a mess, and he's telling people, "We're not going to dig ourselves out of this easily." But also, "Don't blame me for it all."

Capitalism's Self-Inflicted Apocalypse

by Michael Parenti

After the overthrow of communist governments in Eastern Europe, capitalism was paraded as the indomitable system that brings prosperity and democracy, the system that would prevail unto the end of history.

The present economic crisis, however, has convinced even some prominent free-marketeers that something is gravely amiss. Truth be told, capitalism has yet to come to terms with several historical forces that cause it endless trouble: democracy, prosperity, and capitalism itself, the very entities that capitalist rulers claim to be fostering.

Plutocracy vs. Democracy

Let us consider democracy first. In the United States we hear that capitalism is wedded to democracy, hence the phrase, "capitalist democracies." In fact, throughout our history there has been a largely antagonistic relationship between democracy and capital concentration. Some eighty years ago Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis commented, "We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both." Moneyed interests have been opponents not proponents of democracy.

America's Fear of Competition

How cronyism and rent-seeking replaced "creative destruction."

By Eliot Spitzer

Although everybody claims to love the market, nobody really likes the rough-and-tumble of competition that produces the essential "creative destruction" of capitalism. At bottom, this abhorrence of competition and change are the common theme that binds together the near death of the American car industry, the collapse of the credit market, the implosion of the housing market, the SEC's disastrous negligence, the Madoff Ponzi scheme, and the other economic catastrophes of recent months.

Consider the examples of the SEC and GM, which would appear to have nothing to do with each other. The traditional critiques of the SEC have been that it was underfunded and didn't have up-to-date laws needed to regulate sophisticated financial transactions in evolving markets. That's not accurate. The SEC is a gargantuan bureaucracy of 3,500 employees and a budget of $900 million—vast compared with the offices that actually did ferret out fraud in the marketplace. And the general investigative powers of the SEC are so broad that it needs no additional statutory power to delve into virtually any market activity that it suspects is improper, fraudulent, or deceptive. After each business scandal (Enron, Wall Street analysts, Madoff …), the SEC claims a need for more money and statutory power, yet those don't help. The SEC has all the money and people and laws it needs. For ideological reasons, it just didn't want to do its job, and on the rare occasions when it did, it didn't know how.

Matt Taibbi: Someone Take Away Thomas Friedman's Computer Before He Types Another Sentence

By Matt Taibbi, New York Press
Posted on January 22, 2009, Printed on January 22, 2009

When some time ago a friend of mine told me that Thomas Friedman's new book, Hot, Flat and Crowded, was going to be a kind of environmentalist clarion call against American consumerism, I almost died laughing.

Beautiful, I thought. Just when you begin to lose faith in America's ability to fall for absolutely anything -- just when you begin to think we Americans as a race might finally outgrow the lovable credulousness that leads us to fork over our credit card numbers to every half-baked TV pitchman hawking a magic dick-enlarging pill, or a way to make millions on the Internet while sitting at home and pounding doughnuts -- along comes Thomas Friedman, porn-'stached resident of a positively obscene 11,400-square-foot suburban Maryland mega-monstro-mansion and husband to the heir of one of the largest shopping-mall chains in the world, reinventing himself as an oracle of anti-consumerist conservationism.

Matt Taibbi: Someone Take Away Thomas Friedman's Computer Before He Types Another Sentence

No easy exit for nationalization

By Henry C K Liu

Part 1: The zero interest rate trap

The notion that nationalization is only an emergency measure that can be undone as soon as the economy recovers appears to be wishful thinking. Discussing the US Federal Reserve's market exit strategy problem, Fed chairman Ben Bernanke said in his London School of Economics Stamp Lecture: "The Crisis and the Policy Response":

Some observers have expressed the concern that, by expanding its balance sheet, the Federal Reserve is effectively printing money, an action that will ultimately be inflationary. The Fed's lending activities have indeed resulted in a large increase in the excess reserves held by banks. Bank reserves, together with currency, make up the narrowest definition of money, the monetary base; as you would expect, this measure of money has risen significantly as the Fed's balance sheet has expanded. However, banks are choosing to leave the great bulk of their excess reserves idle, in most cases on deposit with the Fed. Consequently, the rates of growth of broader monetary aggregates, such as M1 and M2, have been much lower than that of the monetary base. At this point, with global economic activity weak and commodity prices at low levels, we see little risk of inflation in the near term; indeed, we expect inflation to continue to moderate.

Roubini Predicts U.S. Losses May Reach $3.6 Trillion

By Henry Meyer and Ayesha Daya

Jan. 20 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. financial losses from the credit crisis may reach $3.6 trillion, suggesting the banking system is “effectively insolvent,” said New York University Professor Nouriel Roubini, who predicted last year’s economic crisis.

“I’ve found that credit losses could peak at a level of $3.6 trillion for U.S. institutions, half of them by banks and broker dealers,” Roubini said at a conference in Dubai today. “If that’s true, it means the U.S. banking system is effectively insolvent because it starts with a capital of $1.4 trillion. This is a systemic banking crisis.”

Losses and writedowns at financial companies worldwide have risen to more than $1 trillion since the U.S. subprime mortgage market collapsed in 2007, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

House of Cards

Why Analysts Fear $1 Trillion Credit Card Market Could Be Next Crash

By Martha C. White 1/21/09 6:00 AM

Even as the subprime mortgage fallout continues its ripple effect across the economy, fiscal storm-watchers have an eye on the next gathering cloud: nearly $1 trillion of consumer credit card debt. Defaults are up; in November, the percentage of charge-offs — money card issuers give up on ever collecting — rose to 5.62 percent. According to some economists, that percentage could double before this current downturn is over. The bearish RGE Monitor predicts the default rate could rise as high as 13 percent, eclipsing the previous high-water mark of a 7.85 percent in the first quarter of 2002.

This is bad news for the banks and third-party investors that hold this debt, as well as for consumers hit with the double-whammy of rising unemployment and restricted credit. Americans are relying on their credit cards to an ever-increasing degree. In 2008, the average credit card balance was $11,212, according to Compare this to 15 years ago, when the average credit card debt was a comparatively paltry $4,306. Factors like California’s plan to delay income tax refunds and long-jobless workers running out their unemployment benefits don’t help the situation, either. With no silver-bullet solution in sight, economists and analysts are nervous.

A Law Review Breakthrough

Editor's note: In 1990, Globe reporter Linda Matchan and photographer Lane Turner interviewed 28-year-old Barack Obama, a Chicago community organizer who had just become the first African-American head of the Harvard Law Review. The following is an early glimpse of a rising star.

Barack Obama became the first black president of the influential Harvard Law Review last week, after a marathon 17-hour selection process that pitted him against 18 other candidates. But he says he felt the full significance of the honor only after a rival candidate, also black, embraced him.

"He held onto me for a long time," said Obama, 28, a second-year student at Harvard Law School. "It was an important moment for me, because with that embrace I realized my election was not about me, but it was about us, about what we could do and what we could accomplish."

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Growing Bird Populations Show Conservation Successes

Many birds are thriving today.

Posted January 16, 2009
By Jeanna Bryner, LiveScience

At a time when scientists are sounding ever more frequent alarms on the potential extinction of this creature or that, yesterday's collision with a flock of geese that put an airliner in the Hudson River is a reminder that some species are doing just fine.

Many birds have been faring well in the United States, even in urban environments (and in some cases especially in them), over the past few decades, say two bird experts and conservationists.

Reactions to Obama's Historic Moment From Around the Globe

By , AlterNet
Posted on January 21, 2009, Printed on January 21, 2009

Over the past eight years, the gap between most Americans' perception of their country's role in world affairs and that of the citizens of other nations has grown into a yawning chasm. For several years, global public opinion polls have found that a majority of the planet's residents believe the United States plays a "mainly negative" role in world affairs.

Much of Obama's inaugural speech was directed not only to the citizens of this country, but to the rest of the world as well. In a rebuke to the Cheney Doctrine, and other neoconservative madness that drove so many of Bush's policies, Obama said that earlier generations of American leaders had "understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint."

Thomas Frank: George W. Is No Martyr

Bush deserves all the criticism he gets.

Ordinarily we are able to limit the comparisons to Harry S. Truman to the campaign season. That's when, by annoying tradition, the presidential aspirant who is down in the polls always finds that he bears a remarkable resemblance to the plainspoken Missouri Democrat who, famously, came from behind to win the election of 1948.

But now we find that Truman has a second amazing historical quality: Not only is he the patron saint of floundering presidential campaigns, but he is the star of hope for presidents leaving office at the nadir of their public approval ratings.

MoveOn Launches Campaign for Bold Progressive Reforms as the Obama Era Begins

By Ali Gharib, AlterNet
Posted on January 21, 2009, Printed on January 21, 2009

Huge throngs came to Washington to watch President-elect Barack Obama get sworn into office and attend one, or if they were lucky, several balls, parties and events. Widely billed as the biggest celebration ever to come to town, visitors couldn't help but notice that the grassroots progressive groups that helped get Obama elected are far from fading into the background until the next round of elections. Instead, those visitors -- and perhaps some Washington insiders, too -- were forced to see the advertisements spread across D.C.'s transit system proclaiming that is preparing to throw its full weight behind immediately launching bold progressive reforms.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Historical Mystery of Bush's Presidency

by Robert Parry

After little more than two years of the Watergate scandal, Richard Nixon resigned and his successor, Gerald Ford, famously declared, "our long national nightmare is over." But the painful end game of Nixon's presidency was nothing compared to the eight excruciating years of George W. Bush.

Even on Inauguration Day 2009, as most Americans rejoice that Bush's disastrous presidency is finally heading into the history books, there should be reflection on how this catastrophe could have befallen the United States - and on who else was responsible.

Indeed, it may become one of the great historical mysteries, leaving future scholars to scratch their heads over how a leader with as few qualifications as George W. Bush came to lead the world's most powerful nation at the start of the 21st century.

We've Been Through Some Crappy Times Before

Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose:

It may perhaps be asked what need there is of reasoning or proof to illustrate a position which is not either controverted or doubted, to which the understandings and feelings of all classes of men assent, and which in substance is admitted by the opponents as well as by the friends of the new Constitution. It must in truth be acknowledged that, however these may differ in other respects, they in general appear to harmonize in this sentiment, at least, that there are material imperfections in our national system, and that something is necessary to be done to rescue us from impending anarchy.

The facts that support this opinion are no longer objects of speculation. They have forced themselves upon the sensibility of the people at large, and have at length extorted from those, whose mistaken policy has had the principal share in precipitating the extremity at which we are arrived, a reluctant confession of the reality of those defects in the scheme of our federal government, which have been long pointed out and regretted by the intelligent friends of the Union.

Declining Male Fertility Linked To Water Pollution

ScienceDaily (Jan. 20, 2009) — New research strengthens the link between water pollution and rising male fertility problems. The study, by Brunel University, the Universities of Exeter and Reading and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, shows for the first time how a group of testosterone-blocking chemicals is finding its way into UK rivers, affecting wildlife and potentially humans.

The End of Banking as We Know It

THE concept of the financial supermarket — the all-things-to-all-people, intergalactic, behemoth banking institution — bit the dust last week.

The first death notice came on Tuesday, when Citigroup, Exhibit A for the failure of the soup-to-nuts business model, said it was dismantling. Just over a decade after the deal-maker Sanford I. Weill tried to meld insurance, investment banking, mortgage lending, credit cards and stock brokerage services, the dissolution began.

Citigroup, it turned out, was too big to manage, too unwieldy to succeed and too gigantic to sell to one buyer.

Frank Rich: Bush 'goofed it up and got away with it'

Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert invited New York Times columnist Frank Rich to his program on Monday to needle him about his pleasure at Barack Obama's inauguration and his incessant criticism of George Bush over the last eight years.

"Why did you never give the guy a fair break?" Colbert complained, in his best fake-conservative pundit style. "The entire time, you just hammered him. ... Did you just keep beating on him hoping for a Pulitzer to drop out?"

Bush won’t pardon Libby

Today is President Bush’s last full day in office, and according to Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff, he has decided not to pardon Vice President Cheney’s former chief of staff Scooter Libby for his role in the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame’s identity.

Key posts at the Office of Management and Budget announced

Washington—Today, President-elect Barack Obama announced the following key posts at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB): Jeffrey Liebman, Executive Associate Director; Steve Kosiak, Associate Director for Defense and International Affairs; Robert Gordon, Associate Director for Education, Income Maintenance and Labor; Xavier de Souza Briggs, Associate Director for General Government Programs; Preeta Bansal, OMB General Counsel and Senior Policy Advisor; and Kenneth Baer, Associate Director for Communications and Strategic Planning.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Closing the Books on an Economic Disaster

Fri Jan 09, 2009 at 02:55:27 PM PST

While we can't total up the damage from the current recession or even the current financial crisis, since both are still ongoing, with the release of December's unemployment numbers we can at least start to draw a line under the Bush presidency -- to the American economy what Hurricane Katrina was to New Orleans, or Doug Feith's Pentagon was to Iraq.

Since December marked the last full month of Bush's maladministration, we now have a reasonably full record of presidential job creation -- or, in his case -- job decimation -- to examine. (My past practice has been to add the final January of a term to the outgoing president's economic record, but closing the books now can't be called unfair to Shrub, since the economy is likely to cough up as many jobs this month as it did in December, if not more.)

The Riddle of Herbert Hoover

How the hypercompetent technocrat failed.

By David Greenberg

In 1932, the parents of a 4-year-old went to court to change his legal name. Christened Herbert Hoover Jones in 1928, when the commerce secretary and Republican presidential nominee was a national hero, the boy deserved relief, said his parents, from "the chagrin and mortification which he is suffering and will suffer" for sharing a moniker with the now-disgraced chief executive. His new name: Franklin D. Roosevelt Jones.

No president has ever suffered a reversal of political fortune as sudden and complete as the fall from glory to ignominy that was the sum and substance of Herbert Hoover's presidency. Elected in a landslide in 1928 to nurture the prosperity of the buoyant Coolidge era, Hoover proved unable and unwilling to lift America out of the Great Depression. Worse, he declined to palliate the misery of the millions cast into homelessness, unemployment, and hunger. Keeping up with the Joneses, Americans felt their admiration for Hoover curdle into hatred. Cascading boos spoiled his appearance at the 1931 World Series; chants of "Hang Hoover!" resounded at a Detroit campaign stop the next summer

Paul Krugman: Wall Street Voodoo

Old-fashioned voodoo economics — the belief in tax-cut magic — has been banished from civilized discourse. The supply-side cult has shrunk to the point that it contains only cranks, charlatans, and Republicans.

But recent news reports suggest that many influential people, including Federal Reserve officials, bank regulators, and, possibly, members of the incoming Obama administration, have become devotees of a new kind of voodoo: the belief that by performing elaborate financial rituals we can keep dead banks walking.

Rising sea levels threaten East Coast

By Jasmin Melvin

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Sea levels on the United States' mid-Atlantic coast are rising faster than the global average because of global warming, threatening the future of coastal communities, the Environmental Protection Agency said on Friday.

Coastal waters from New York to North Carolina have crept up by an average of 2.4 to 4.4 millimeters (0.09 to 0.17 inches) a year, compared with an average global increase of 1.7 millimeters (0.07 inches) a year, the EPA said in a report.

FDR's grandson to Obama: 'Go for broke' on the economy

NEW YORK -- Frank Roosevelt thinks Barack Obama could learn a thing or two from his famous grandfather -- starting with FDR's mistakes.

Roosevelt, an economics professor at Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers and the 32nd president's grandson, said Obama should throw more money at the fractured economy than FDR ever did into the New Deal.

FDR's grandson to Obama: 'Go for broke' on the economy

Editorials worldwide pillory Bush one final time

BERLIN (Reuters) – Editorial writers around the world have been taking their final printed whacks at George W. Bush, accusing the president of tarnishing America's standing with what many saw as arrogant and incompetent leadership.

Some newspaper editorials, for all their criticism, suggested historians might just be kinder later on than those now writing first drafts of history. A success often cited by those seeking a silver lining was the United States' freedom from further homeland attacks following September 11.

Bush's successor, Barack Obama, will be sworn in as the 44th U.S. president on Tuesday.

Progressive Revolution: We Can't Afford to Play Small-Ball and Tip-Toe Around Right-Wingers Anymore

By Mike Lux, Wiley
Posted on January 19, 2009, Printed on January 19, 2009

The following is an excerpt from chapter 8 of Mike Lux's new book, "The Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came to Be" (Wiley, 2009). In this text, Lux argues that a "culture of caution" dominates Democratic politics in the modern era: "When you try something big and fail, even if the failure is due in great part to your own timidity, you only become more cautious. The failure of health-care reform made President Clinton more cautious, and he started playing small ball." As Obama's inauguration approaches, progressives and Democrats in Washington need to overcome their fears of proposing bold policies and stand up for the kind of America they believe in.

When Barack Obama based much of his 2008 Presidential campaign on the theme of hope, he certainly wasn't the first candidate to make that pitch. And when John McCain, George W. Bush, and Dick Cheney, during the years since 9/11, preached fear and more fear and nothing but fear, they weren't the first to do that, either. The entire history of American political debate can, in some sense, be described as the argument between the hope of progressives for a better future vs. the fear of conservatives who want to protect the way things are now.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Glenn Greenwald: Salon Radio: Jay Rosen on the media's control of political debates

This week, Jay Rosen -- the NYU Journalism Professor and author of the PressThink blog -- wrote one of the best and most insightful pieces yet on how the American media artificially limits the range of political debate. I recommend as highly as possible that the entire piece be read -- here.

Rosen begins by citing a chart from the 1986 book, The Uncensored War, by Daniel Hallin, which defined the three categories of arguments that the media employed during the Vietnam War: (1) those within the "Sphere of Consensus" (ideas deemed so plainly true that they required no debate or examination); (2) those within the "Sphere of Legitimate Controversy" (ideas deemed reasonable enough to be debated and disputed within mainstream discussion); and (3) those within the "Sphere of Deviance" (ideas so plainly wrong, radical and fringe that they deserved no hearing at all):

According to Rosen, the diagram depicting these three spheres is "easily the most useful diagram [] found for understanding the practice of journalism in the United States, and the hidden politics of that practice." Rosen argues -- quite persuasively -- that American journalists, usually unthinkingly (i.e., without even realizing that they do it), control and restrict political discussions by using these categories for virtually every political issue of any significance. No theory regarding how the media controls political debate is complete without reference to Manufacturing Consent, but Rosen's explanation is quite compatible with it and, standing alone, has great value.

One Idea for Bank Crisis: Quarantine the Bad Assets

U.S. Officials Look To Solution Used By Sweden in '91

By Binyamin Appelbaum and David Cho
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, January 18, 2009; A25

A housing bubble bursting, banks faltering toward failure, a nation plunging into recession.

The year was 1991, and the Swedish government responded with a dramatic plan: Unpaid loans and other troubled assets would be dumped into new state-owned banks, scrubbing the banking industry of problems in the hope of sparking a lending revival.

Frank Rich: White Like Me

I cannot testify to what black Americans feel as our nation celebrates the inauguration of our first African-American president. But I can speak for myself, as a white American who grew up in the segregated nation’s capital of the 1960s. Barack Obama’s day is one that I never thought would come, and one that I still can’t quite believe is here.

Last week I joined a group of journalists at an off-the-record conversation with the president-elect, a sort of preview of the administration’s coming attractions. But as I walked some desolate downtown blocks to the standard-issue federal office building serving as transition headquarters, ghosts of the past mingled with hopes for the future. The contrast between the unemployed men on Washington’s frigid streets and the buzzing executive-branch bees inside was, for me, as old as time.

Feds Drop Case Against Accused Iraqi Agent

"The Government has determined that continued prosecution of this case as to LINDAUER would not be in the interests of justice."*

Michael Collins
"Scoop" Independent News

(Jan. 16, Wash. DC) The Department of Justice entered a motion to drop all charges against Susan Lindauer yesterday morning, Jan. 15, 2009. The filing (see below) at the federal district court in lower Manhattan ends the government's attempt to prosecute her for allegedly acting as an "unregistered agent" for Iraq. Since her arrest in early 2004, she has repeatedly asked for a trial to present evidence that she had been a United States intelligence asset since the early 1990's.

By filing this order, the government surrendered forever its ability to prosecute Lindauer as an "Iraqi foreign agent" and for lesser charges contained in the indictment, including a one week trip to Baghdad in March, 2002.

Paul Krugman: What Obama Must Do

Dear Mr. President:

Like FDR three-quarters of a century ago, you're taking charge at a moment when all the old certainties have vanished, all the conventional wisdom been proved wrong. We're not living in a world you or anyone else expected to see. Many presidents have to deal with crises, but very few have been forced to deal from Day One with a crisis on the scale America now faces.

So, what should you do?

In this letter I won't try to offer advice about everything. For the most part I'll stick to economics, or matters that bear on economics. I'll also focus on things I think you can or should achieve in your first year in office. The extent to which your administration succeeds or fails will depend, to a large extent, on what happens in the first year — and above all, on whether you manage to get a grip on the current economic crisis.

Bush's Only Gift to America

George W. Bush’s gift to the American Republic may be that he has discredited a host of right-wing theories and practices – “trickle-down economics”; “self-regulating markets”; “tough-guy” foreign policy; the “imperial presidency”; and the notion that “government is the problem.”

As the United States gazes out on the wreckage of the past eight years – a $1.2 trillion (and growing) budget deficit, 7.2 percent (and rising) unemployment, two open-ended wars, a sullied U.S. image abroad, environmental degradation and a world that seems to be ripping apart – the hope must be that Bush has so tarnished these policies, which trace back to Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, that they will never be tried again.

If that is the lesson that the United States learns, then Barack Obama’s election truly could mark the end of an era and the start of something very different. However, if Obama and the Democrats fail to drive these lessons home – if they let bygones be bygones – they are courting a huge risk in that the same behavior could reemerge and the misjudgments could reoccur.

Cornyn Blesses Detainee Torture, Threats to Judges

Sat Jan 17, 2009 at 04:11:28 PM PST

Among the lowlights of the confirmation hearings for Eric Holder this week was a jaw-dropping endorsement of torture by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX). Having watched one too many "ticking time bomb" scenarios on the Fox series 24, Cornyn asked the would-be Attorney General if he "would still refuse to condone aggressive interrogation techniques like waterboarding to get that information." But as the record shows, John Cornyn is an aggressive advocate of illicit violence not just against terrorism suspects, but towards American judges as well.

Of course, many of the leading lights in the Republican Party have it made clear that judicial intimidation is now an acceptable part of conservative discourse and political strategy. And Cornyn, himself ironically a former Texas Supreme Court Justice, has been at the forefront of GOP advocacy of violence towards members of the bench whose rulings part ways with conservative orthodoxy.

Blackwell: GOP Must Defeat Job-Creating Stimulus Because It Will Ruin GOP’s Election Chances

In an article published on Townhall today, RNC Chairman candidate and former Ohio governor Secretary of State Ken Blackwell urges congressional conservatives to oppose the reinvestment and recovery stimulus plan promoted by President-elect Obama. Though he offers standard conservative arguments against the plan — including a screed against the growth of “big government” — Blackwell seemed most concerned about the political benefit Democrats might see from successfully boosting the economy.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Will Anyone Give Bush a Job?

Being ex-president is usually easy and lucrative. It won't be for George W. Bush.

By Daniel Gross

For many of President Bush's critics, the fact that he is now seeking work in the worst job market in a generation is poetic justice. As Bush noted in his farewell press conference, he is too much of a Type A for "the big straw hat and Hawaiian shirt, sitting on some beach." (He might want to reconsider: Thanks to the recession, tropical resorts are running great promotions.)

Given recent history, Bush probably expects to profit from ex-presidency. Bill Clinton reported income of more than $90 million from 2000-07. But Bush is very unlikely to earn Clintonian numbers. Ex-presidents peddle image, presence, and experience. In Bush's case, each is tarnished. To aggravate matters, many of the industries in which ex-presidents make easy money are a) doing poorly, and b) based in the Washington-Boston corridor where Bush hostility runs deep.

Slight Changes in Climate May Trigger Abrupt Ecosystem Responses

Slight changes in climate may trigger major abrupt ecosystem responses that are not easily reversible. Some of these responses, including insect outbreaks, wildfire, and forest dieback, may adversely affect people as well as ecosystems and their plants and animals.

Report calls aerosol research key to improving climate predictions

Scientists need a more detailed understanding of how human-produced atmospheric particles, called aerosols, affect climate in order to produce better predictions of Earth's future climate, according to a NASA-led report issued by the US Climate Change Science Program on Friday.

Redefining "Moral Clarity"

They keep using those words. It turns out that they don't mean what we think they mean.

On Thursday night, for the first time since 9/11, I actually sat down and watched George Bush speak. (At this late date, I figured there was absolutely nothing the man could say that could quench the deep satisfaction of knowing that this was the last time we'd ever have to endure The Smirk.) There was one passage, in particular, that rang in my ears long after his final goodbye. It probably went over most Americans' heads -- but it went right to the heart of Our Problem With George:

As we address these challenges - and others we cannot foresee tonight - America must maintain our moral clarity. I have often spoken to you about good and evil. This has made some uncomfortable. But good and evil are present in this world, and between the two there can be no compromise. Murdering the innocent to advance an ideology is wrong every time, everywhere. Freeing people from oppression and despair is eternally right. This nation must continue to speak out for justice and truth. We must always be willing to act in their defense and to advance the cause of peace.

That phrase "moral clarity" -- conservatives use it a lot. And it always sounds absurd to progressive ears, coming as it does from members of an administration that shredded the Constitution, deprived people of due process, committed horrific acts of torture, and lied the country into the worst military debacle in its history. It's always bewildering to listen to such people lecture the rest of us on "moral clarity." What in the hell are they talking about?

What Bush Left Out of His Flat Farewell

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George W. Bush gave his final speech to the nation on Thursday night. I skipped it to see my daughter, who has known no other president, perform with her school chorus. But when I later sat before my television to see how the speech was being punditized on the cable news shows, I was surprised. The water-landing of a US Airways flight in New York City dominated the coverage. There was little chatter--almost nothing--about Bush's farewell.

After watching the speech on the White House website, I understood why. It was flat and short. Bush said little of interest. He dwelled mostly on 9/11 and the so-called war on terror, once again (and for the last official time) characterizing the invasion of Iraq as part of his effort to take "the fight to the terrorists." He suggested that although the Iraq war was the subject of "legitimate debate," there "can be little debate about the results. America has gone more than seven years without another terrorist attack on our soil."