Saturday, April 18, 2009

Stiglitz Says Ties to Wall Street Doom Bank Rescue

By Michael McKee and Matthew Benjamin

April 17 (Bloomberg) -- The Obama administration’s bank- rescue efforts will probably fail because the programs have been designed to help Wall Street rather than create a viable financial system, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz said.

“All the ingredients they have so far are weak, and there are several missing ingredients,” Stiglitz said in an interview yesterday. The people who designed the plans are “either in the pocket of the banks or they’re incompetent.”

Prelude to Disaster

Please excuse the late intervention. I stayed up last night to finish Lords of Finance and should say first that I recommend it.

This is not a polemical book and it is also not primarily a work of economics, though there is a huge amount of economic history in it. It is first of all the social history of a small, important and largely forgotten group: the central bankers of the early 20th century, in the four countries whose finances, empires and ambitions dominated the globe. No question that the cover image is well-chosen.

Time To Bring In Justice

I don't generally overreact to news (from the NYT this morning, on the AIG-Goldman connection that runs through Edward Liddy's stock ownership), but this has gone far enough.

Have we completely lost of sense of what is and is not a conflict of interest? Have we really built a system in which greed fully overshadows responsibility? Is it not time for a complete rethink of what constitutes acceptable executive behavior?

EPA Tells Congress: Cap Carbon, Or We'll Do It For You


After Congress in 1990 gave the EPA the authority to regulate air pollution, after the Supreme Court in 2007 told Bush's EPA they couldn't ignore greenhouse gas pollution that causes global warming, and after a full review of the scientific evidence, the EPA announced that greenhouse gases "threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations," [1] which means the EPA is obligated to act.

Teabagging & Fake Grassroots: Fury Over Conservative Con-Job Allegations

By Tana Ganeva, AlterNet
Posted on April 18, 2009, Printed on April 18, 2009

Last Wednesday, angry conservatives took to the streets to protest taxes by draping themselves in tea bags and wielding a variety of terrifying (some borderline racist) signs.

The so-called tea parties were packaged as an outpouring of populist rage. But, as many liberal writers delighted in pointing out (almost as much as they enjoyed making teabagging jokes), the ostensibly grassroots, spontanous demonstrations were in fact launched by the conservative advocacy group FreedomWorks, nurtured by Republican operatives, then blasted out through the Fox News propaganda machine.

Paranoid Right-Wingers See Obama's Volunteer Service Project as Sinister Plot to 'Re-Educate' Americans

By Alexander Zaitchik, AlterNet
Posted on April 18, 2009, Printed on April 18, 2009

The far right has seen the fresh face of fascism, and it looks like the civic-minded legislative love child of Sens. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.

Most Americans applauded last month when the Senate voted across party lines to expand national-service opportunities. How could you not? The Serve America Act, which passed easily 78-20, invests $5 billion in volunteer corps focused on education, clean energy, health care and veteran issues. In a symbolic but meaningful gesture, the bill also designates Sept. 11 as a National Day of Service, thus expanding a post-9/11 concept of patriotism previously limited to dying in Iraq and shopping at JC Penny.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The mother of all cockfights

By Pepe Escobar

On one side, the most powerful man on Earth, who happens to carry a Muslim middle name. On the other, the largest tribal nation in the world, which happens to be Muslim. Welcome to the mother of all cockfights.

As it was leaked by government sources to the Pakistani daily The News, the success rate of the Barack Obama administration's "hell from above" Predator drone war over the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) is a mere 6%. Of "60 Predator strikes between January 14, 2006, and April 8, 2009, only 10 hit their targets, killing 14 wanted al-Qaeda leaders" but most of all "killing 687 innocent Pakistani civilians". All of them Pashtuns.

Maya nut changes lives while aiding the rain forest

  • Erika Vohman teaches women in Central America the value of their native Maya nut
  • Nutrient-rich seed grows abundantly in rain forest but many are unaware of it
  • With Vohman's help, communities have planted more than 800,000 trees

FLORES, Guatemala (CNN) -- In the rain forests of Central America grows the nutrient-rich Maya nut. The marble-sized seed can be prepared to taste like mashed potatoes, chocolate or coffee. To those who stumble upon the nuts on the ground, they're free for the taking.

The problem, however, is that many people living in areas where the Maya nut grows abundantly don't know about it.

Home › Blog Time to Deliver: No Turning Back, Part II

By Sara Robinson
Created 04/13/2009 - 5:52pm

Part I [2]of this short series, I talked about the three main scenarios that dominate progressive conversations about America's future:

1) Permanent Decline -- Due to Americans' native hyperindividualism, political apathy, and overweening willingness to accept personal blame for their country's failures, the corporatists finally succeed in turning the US into Indonesia. This time, we will not find the will to fight back (or, if we do, it will be too late). As a result, in a few years there will be no more middle class, no upward mobility, few remaining public institutions devoted to the common good, no health care, no education, and no hope of ever restoring American ideals or getting back to some semblance of the America we knew.

2) Reinvented Greatness -- Americans get over their deeply individualistic nature, come together, challenge and restrain the global corporatist order, and finally establish the social democracy that the Powers That Be -- corporate, military, media, conservative -- have denied to us since the 1950s. This happens in synergy with a move to energy and food self-sufficiency, the growth of a sustainable economy, a revival of participatory democracy, and a general renewal of American values that pulses new life into our institutions and assures us a much more stable future.

3) Happy Face -- Prop up the banks, keep people in their houses, and by and by everything will get back to "normal" (defined as "how it all was a few years ago.")

Thomas Frank: Here Come the Plastic Pitchforks

Our latest populism is vague on the issues.

Unless it rains today, thousands of average people will stand up across the land, declare their mad-as-hell-ness. Look for folks to holler for lower estate taxes and a replacement for Sarbanes-Oxley. They will put on three-cornered hats, wave "don't tread on me" flags, and imagine that they are channeling the spirit of Tom Paine as they do their part to ease the troubles of the economy's winners.

And Fox News, which plans to cover the tea parties, will no doubt hail this plastic populism as the realest kind of social uprising, a movement that is the rightful expression of this year's discontents.

Taxes, Widows, and Orphans

Conservative hypocrisy about Obama's proposal to limit charitable tax deductions for the rich.

Should we use the tax code to encourage virtuous behavior, such as, say, charitable giving? And should we avoid making changes in the tax code that would discourage charitable giving at this time of charitable stress? These questions would seem to be a matter of principle: It's either a good idea or a bad idea. But it all depends on how you're using the tax code. If the change involves a moderate tax hike on merely rich people, some think it's a bad idea that would be the equivalent of kicking widows and orphans in the face. But if the change is a massive tax cut for a few really, really rich people that would reduce charitable giving much more, the very same people think it's a great idea.

The great right-wing freak-out

Symptoms of the conservative crack-up were on full display after President Obama's trip abroad. Bill Kristol, take a bow.

By Juan Cole

April 13, 2009 | President Obama's recent trip to Europe, Turkey and Iraq was a fairly bland freshman outing in foreign affairs, notable for the enormous good will it generated toward the U.S., along with some practical achievements and a few minor errors. It lacked the drama of the untested young Kennedy grappling over Berlin with the wily old Khrushchev in Vienna in 1961. On the American right, however, Obama's trip produced a hysteria not seen since radio listeners mistook Orson Welles's 1938 radio production about an invasion from Mars for the real thing, and crowded the highways, heads wrapped in wet towels, to escape the poisonous miasma of the onrushing aliens. The weeping and trembling of Sean Hannity, Karl Rove, Rush Limbaugh and William Kristol underlined once again that the right-wingers are playground crybabies who kick and scream and faint whenever they do not get their way.

The peasant mentality lives on in America

It took a good long while for news of the Teabag movement to penetrate the periphery of my consciousness — I kept hearing things about it and dismissing them, sure that the whole business was some kind of joke. Like a Daily Show invention, say. It pains me to say this as an American, but we are the only people on earth dumb enough to use a nationwide campaign of “teabag parties” as a form of mass protest, in the middle of a real economic crisis.

Taxing grandma to pay Goldman Sachs

By Peter Morici

Goldman Sachs' report this week of much larger than expected first-quarter profits came hard on the heels of Wells Fargo's strong earnings. No one should be surprised.

The US Federal Reserve has provided the banks with lots of cheap funds through its various emergency lending facilities and quantitative easing. The Fed has permitted the banks and financial houses to park vast sums of unmarketable paper on its books - securities made nearly worthless by the misjudgment and avarice of bankers. In return, the Fed has provided these scions of finance with fresh funds, cheaply, that they may lend at healthy rates on credit cards, auto loans and even mortgages.

GOP lawmaker can only name 1 of 17 socialists he said were in Congress

An Alabama Republican lawmaker who declared last week that a gang of socialists are stalking the halls of Congress is apparently taking the Fifth.

Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-AL) told a gathering in Trussville, Ala. on Apr. 9 that there were 17 socialists in Congress. "Some of the men and women I work with in Congress are socialists," said Bachus, the top Republican on the Financial Services Committee.

World leaders miss the target

By Henry C K Liu

Leaders attending the Group of 20 second Summit on Financial Markets and the World Economy in London on April 2, echoing the first such gathering in Washington in November 2008, continued the tradition of superficial posturing for political theater on global television, while missing the real target - that is, the need not so much to revive dysfunctional trade that has collapsed from its own internal contradictions, but to redefine the predatory terms of international trade created by dollar hegemony.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Gilded Age Taxation

The problem isn’t taxes. The problem is who pays taxes and who gets the benefits.

The federal tax code becomes less fair every year. Thirty years ago, the tax code was broadly progressive, reflecting shared contributions to public investments and our common good. Loopholes were fewer and covered such items as home mortgages that everyone could understand and appreciate.

Paul Krugman: Tea Parties Forever

This is a column about Republicans — and I’m not sure I should even be writing it.

Today’s G.O.P. is, after all, very much a minority party. It retains some limited ability to obstruct the Democrats, but has no ability to make or even significantly shape policy.

Beyond that, Republicans have become embarrassing to watch. And it doesn’t feel right to make fun of crazy people. Better, perhaps, to focus on the real policy debates, which are all among Democrats.

Hemp Could Be Key To Zero-carbon Houses

ScienceDaily (Apr. 13, 2009) — Hemp, a plant from the cannabis family, could be used to build carbon-neutral homes of the future to help combat climate change and boost the rural economy, say researchers at the University of Bath.

A consortium, led by the BRE Centre for Innovative Construction Materials based at the University, has embarked on a unique housing project to develop the use of hemp-lime construction materials in the UK.

Krugman Calls Out GOP Hypocrisy On Job Creation And Defense Cuts

In February, only three Republican senators broke party ranks to vote for the economic recovery package. Zero House Republicans voted for passage. Part of their opposition centered around the belief that an increase in government spending would do nothing to create jobs:

– “And first off the government doesn’t create jobs. Let’s get this notion out of our heads that the government creates jobs. Not in the history of mankind has the government ever created a job. Small business owners do, small enterprises do. Not the government.” [RNC Chairman Michael Steele, 2/2/09]

After smearing Obama, media figures call him polarizing

Summary: Several conservative media figures who have repeatedly spread falsehoods and smears of President Obama are now highlighting a poll analysis to suggest that Obama has polarized approval ratings, and have made the disputed suggestion that Obama himself has caused that polarization.

Recently, several conservative media figures have cited an April 2 Pew Research Center poll analysis to suggest that a March 9-12 Pew Research poll found that President Obama "has the most polarized early job approval ratings of any president in the past four decades." Several of those media figures have also made the disputed suggestion that Obama has caused that polarization.

Plan to Change Student Lending Sets Up a Fight

WASHINGTON — The private student lending industry and its allies in Congress are maneuvering to thwart a plan by President Obama to end a subsidized loan program and redirect billions of dollars in bank profits to scholarships for needy students.

The plan is the main money-saving component of Mr. Obama’s education agenda, which includes a sweeping overhaul of financial aid programs. The Congressional Budget Office says replacing subsidized loans made by private banks with direct government lending would save $94 billion over the next decade, money that Mr. Obama would use to expand Pell grants for the poorest students.

Is Geithner's Game Up?

By Mike Whitney, CounterPunch
Posted on April 13, 2009, Printed on April 13, 2009

On Tuesday, a congressional panel headed by ex-Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren released a report on Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's handling of the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP). Warren was appointed to lead the five-member Congressional Oversight Panel (COP) in November by Senate majority leader Harry Reid. From the opening paragraph on, the Warren report makes clear that Congress is frustrated with Geithner's so-called "Financial Rescue Plan" and doesn't have the foggiest idea of what he is trying to do. Here are the first few lines of "Assessing Treasury's Strategy: Six Months of TARP":

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Spontaneous Uprising? Corporate Lobbyists Helping To Orchestrate Radical Anti-Obama Tea Party Protests

Yesterday, Think Progress reported on Republican lawmakers planning to speak at anti-Obama “tea party” protests taking place nationwide on April 15. Last night, Eric Odom of the DontGo website — one of the organizers of the protests — wrote a blog post stressing that these protests are displays of “regular American[s] in protest of government spending and extreme taxation,” rather than something affiliated with a political party or special interest agenda.

Today on Fox News — which has actively been promoting the protests — Glenn Beck pushed the tea party talking points, similarly claiming that the protests aren’t “coordinated” and are fully organized by “regular” people.

Digby: Shocked Disbelief

These bankers amaze me. In spite of everything, they continue to flex their muscles and insist that the taxpayers should hand over money with no strings attached and do things their way. Or else.

Remember when Alan Greenspan said this?
"Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholder's equity -- myself especially -- are in a state of shocked disbelief."
Well, I wasn't that shocked, but I confess that I am a bit shocked by their current self-destructive narcissism. The executives of these lending institutions understand their own self-interest to be to do anything they damned well please and to hell with anyone who says otherwise and they are ready to take down the entire system if they don't get their way.

Digby: Mad As Hell

I just watched one of the most disturbing yet bizarrely entertaining shows I've ever seen on television. It's a Glenn Beck special called "Destined To Repeat(?)" featuring noted right wing intellectuals Jonah Goldberg, Amity Schlaes, and a couple of other fringy authors discussing the connections between Obama and Hitler, Stalin, Woodrow Wilson, FDR and other "progressive" dictators, illustrated throughout with black and white footage of Nazis and concentration camps.

It ended with a stirring speech by an actor dressed as Thomas Paine exclaiming that the American founders wouldn't have flown airplanes into buildings or passed the biggest spending program in history. And then he said to join the tea parties.

Rick Warren’s peeps start up the damage control machine - massive FAIL

Oh the joy of getting busted lying on international TV and having to do serious damage control. My post on Tuesday, ”Rick Warren lies about his homobigotry on Larry King Live,” was picked up by Huff Post and created a buzz for pointing out that on the man who delivered the invocation at the President’s inaugural, Rick Warren, the spiritual leader of Saddleback church, flat-out lied about his support for Prop 8. A recap from the CNN transcript...

I See You Typing

Spying on someone by hacking into his webcam is disturbingly easy. Why don't more people do it?

The China-based cyber-spy network known as "GhostNet" is a sophisticated group of hackers capable of logging its victims' keystrokes, stealing their documents, capturing images from their screens—and staring creepily at them through their webcams.

Who’s manning the TARP desk?

Posted by Anupama, April 10th, 2009

Less than half a dozen people are responsible for making the final decisions about which banks get part of the $700 billion in bailout money available through the Troubled Asset Relief Program, according to Department of Treasury officials. In response to a Freedom of Information Act request made by the Sunlight Foundation in January for the members of the TARP Investment Committee, a FOIA officer recently responded with just four names, including Assistant Secretary, Neel Kashkari; Chief Investment Officer, James Lambright; Acting Assistant Secretary for Financial Markets, Karthik Ramanathan and Acting Assistant Secretary for Economic Policy, Ralph Monaco, all holdovers from the Bush administration.

CDC covered up high lead levels in D.C.

Eight years ago, engineers and officials in Washington, D.C. decided to give the go-ahead for a program that would eliminate the "potentially carcinogenic by-products" of chlorine in tap water. The program replaced chlorination with chloramination, and it worked. However, in the next three years, hundreds of families with homes fitted with lead pipes in the District of Columbia were exposed to dangerously high lead levels. Unknown to scientists at the time, the chlorine in tap water served as a 'binder' for the lead pipes, keeping a certain amount of lead from dissolving in the water. In 2004, the chlorination method was restored. Still, in the first half of that year, 74 out of 108 household taps sampled had lead concentrations above the "EPA action level," some astronomically so.

Learning to Love the Bailout

Among the criticisms of the Obama administration’s bank rescue proposal is that it’s a heads-I-win-tails-you-lose proposition, with Wall Street flipping the coin and taxpayers coming up tails.

Under the plan, which could be up and running in a matter of weeks, the government will provide up to $1 trillion in financing for big private investors, like the powerhouse asset manager BlackRock, to buy up banks’ bad assets. If those assets subsequently lose value, the investors do not have to repay the government loans, sticking taxpayers with potentially huge losses. If the assets make money, taxpayers get only half the profit.

KU professors found companies realized big tax savings by spending for lobbyists

Three professors at the University of Kansas say dozens of America’s largest companies got that sweet deal four years ago — not by hiring workers or purchasing new equipment, but by investing in Washington lobbyists.

Those lobbyists, the three said, helped write a federal tax break that eventually put roughly $100 billion in tax savings in the pockets of the firms and their shareholders, at a cost to the companies of just pennies on the dollar.

Frank Rich: Awake and Sing!

“I am pronouncing the depression over!” declared CNBC’s irrepressible Jim Cramer on April 2. The next day the unemployment rate, already at the highest level in 25 years, jumped yet again, but Cramer wasn’t thinking about the 663,000 jobs that disappeared in March. He was thinking about the market. Mad money. Fast money. Big money. The Dow, after all, has rallied in the weeks since Timothy Geithner announced his bank bailout 2.0. Par-tay! On Wednesday, Cramer rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange, in celebration of the 1,000th broadcast of his nightly stock-tip jamboree.

Given Cramer’s track record on those tips, there’s no reason to believe he’s right this time. But for the sake of argument, let’s say he is. (And let’s hope he is.) The question then arises: What, if anything, have we learned from this decade’s man-made economic disaster? It wasn’t just trillions of dollars of wealth that went poof in the bubble. Certain American values also crumbled and vanished. Making quick killings by reckless gambling in the markets — rather than by investing long-term in new products, innovations, technologies or services that might grow and benefit America and the world — became the holy grail in the upper echelons of finance.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Assessing Treasury’s Strategy: Six Months of TARP

The April oversight report for COP is entitled Assessing Treasury’s Strategy: Six Months of TARP. In this report, COP offers a preliminary look at Treasury’s strategy and offers a comparative analysis of previous efforts to combat banking crises in the past.
Over the last six months, Treasury has spent or committed $590.4 billion of the TARP funds. Treasury has also relied heavily on the use of the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet which has expanded by more than $1.5 trillion (not including expected TALF loans) in conjunction with the financial stabilization activities it has undertaken beyond its monetary policy operations. This has allowed Treasury to leverage TARP funds well beyond the funds appropriated by Congress.

Of, by, and for the Bondholders

When in trouble, bondholders have always looked to Washington for relief.

At a conference last week on the panic of 2008, a group of distinguished academics tried to puzzle out the meaning of the tumultuous events of the past year. Sitting in the Moot Court Room at the George Washington University Law School, I listened to people who possess more degrees than me struggle mightily to shoehorn the bewildering facts into the accepted model and theories that are supposed to govern our world. Efficient markets? Rational actors? Regulatory capture?

Ancient Life Tapped for Solar Technology

By LiveScience Staff

posted: 08 April 2009 02:30 pm ET

An ancient life form has been tapped to create one of the newest technologies for solar energy. The systems that may be surprisingly simple to build compared to existing silicon-based solar cells, researchers said today.

Interestingly, the scientists aren't sure exactly how it works.

Tiny, single-celled marine life forms called diatoms have existed for at least 100 million years and are at the bottom of the food chain, supporting much of the life in the oceans, but they also have rigid shells that can be used to create order in a natural way at the extraordinarily small level of nanotechnology.

Socialism has failed. Now capitalism is bankrupt. So what comes next?

Whatever ideological logo we adopt, the shift from free market to public action needs to be bigger than politicians grasp

Eric Hobsbawm
The Guardian, Friday 10 April 2000

The 20th century is well behind us, but we have not yet learned to live in the 21st, or at least to think in a way that fits it. That should not be as difficult as it seems, because the basic idea that dominated economics and politics in the last century has patently disappeared down the plughole of history. This was the way of thinking about modern industrial economies, or for that matter any economies, in terms of two mutually exclusive opposites: capitalism or socialism.

We have lived through two practical attempts to realise these in their pure form: the centrally state-planned economies of the Soviet type and the totally unrestricted and uncontrolled free-market capitalist economy. The first broke down in the 1980s, and the European communist political systems with it. The second is breaking down before our eyes in the greatest crisis of global capitalism since the 1930s. In some ways it is a greater crisis than in the 1930s, because the globalisation of the economy was not then as far advanced as it is today, and the crisis did not affect the planned economy of the Soviet Union. We don't yet know how grave and lasting the consequences of the present world crisis will be, but they certainly mark the end of the sort of free-market capitalism that captured the world and its governments in the years since Margaret Thatcher and President Reagan.

Ralph Nader: CPAs MIA

Where were the giant accounting firms, the CPAs, and the rest of the accounting profession while the Wall Street towers of fraud, deception and cover-ups were fracturing our economy, looting and draining trillions of dollars of other peoples' money?

This is the licensed profession that is paid to exercise independent judgment with independent standards to give investors, pension funds, mutual funds, and the rest of the financial world accurate descriptions of corporate financial realities.

It is now obvious that the accountants collapsed their own skill, integrity and self-respect faster and earlier than the collapse of Wall Street and the corporate barons. The accountants-both external and internal-could have blown the whistle on what Teddy Roosevelt called the "malefactors of great wealth."

Glenn Greenwald: Obama and Habeas Corpus -- Then and Now

It was once the case under the Bush administration that the U.S. would abduct people from around the world, accuse them of being Terrorists, ship them to Guantanamo, and then keep them there for as long as we wanted without offering them any real due process to contest the accusations against them. That due-process-denying framework was legalized by the Military Commissions Act of 2006. Many Democrats -- including Barack Obama -- claimed they were vehemently opposed to this denial of due process for detainees, and on June 12, 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court, in the case of Boumediene v. Bush, ruled that the denial of habeas corpus rights to Guantanamo detainees was unconstitutional and that all Guantanamo detainees have the right to a full hearing in which they can contest their accusations against them.

In the wake of the Boumediene ruling, the U.S. Government wanted to preserve the power to abduct people from around the world and bring them to American prisons without having to provide them any due process. So, instead of bringing them to our Guantanamo prison camp (where, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, they were entitled to habeas hearings), the Bush administration would instead simply send them to our prison camp in Bagram, Afghanistan, and then argue that because they were flown to Bagram rather than Guantanamo, they had no rights of any kind and Boudemiene didn't apply to them. The Bush DOJ treated the Boumediene ruling, grounded in our most basic constitutional guarantees, as though it was some sort of a silly game -- fly your abducted prisoners to Guantanamo and they have constitutional rights, but fly them instead to Bagram and you can disappear them forever with no judicial process. Put another way, you just close Guantanamo, move it to Afghanistan, and -- presto -- all constitutional obligations disappear.

Many of the jobless get no unemployment benefits

When Clarence Athy lost his job laying concrete just before Thanksgiving, the 56-year-old single father did what most people do: He applied to collect unemployment benefits.

But like many Americans, Athy was denied.

Athy, of Kalispell, Mont., was told by state workers that he was not at his job long enough to collect benefits. He has applied for jobs all over town — where the unemployment rate is in the double digits — without any luck. Now, he's trying to do what he can to feed himself and his son, Calvin, 15, and keep a roof over their heads. He is behind on his rent, has turned off his telephone and next week may lose his electricity.

America's 10 Most Endangered Rivers

By , Environment News Service
Posted on April 10, 2009, Printed on April 11, 2009

"Our nation is at a transformational moment when it comes to rivers and clean water," said Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers as she released the organization's annual list of America's 10 Most Endangered Rivers on Tuesday. "Water is life, yet our nation's water infrastructure is so outdated that our clean drinking water, flood protection and river health face unprecedented threats."

This year's report highlights what Wodder calls the "sorry state" of the nation's water infrastructure - drinking water, wastewater and stormwater systems, and dams and levees – and the need for green, 21st century investments to protect clean water, public health and safety, and the fish and wildlife that depend on healthy rivers.

Big Food Is Copying Big Tobacco's Disinformation Tactics, How Many Will Die This Time?

By Fen Montaigne, Yale Environment 360
Posted on April 11, 2009, Printed on April 11, 2009

Increasingly, the question of what we eat and how it affects our health is a subject that is important not just to those concerned about nutrition but to environmentalists. Kelly D. Brownell, a psychologist who is director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, has been a leading researcher into America's obesity epidemic and its links to the practices of the food industry. Author of the 2004 book, Food Fight, Brownell has recently become interested in the connections between obesity, the environment, and hunger, believing that sustainably growing and producing more nutritious foods can help solve each of these challenges.

How the Toxic Asset Plan Will Magically Make Your Money Disappear

By Cenk Uygur, Huffington Post
Posted on April 11, 2009, Printed on April 11, 2009

Under the Treasury Department's toxic asset proposal, the government puts in 85% of the investment in these assets through a loan given by the FDIC. The Treasury puts in another 7.5% of the money and the private investor contributes the final 7.5%

This is a guaranteed way of transferring money from the American taxpayer to the private investors. Let me show you how.

The Red Cross Torture Report: What It Means

By Mark Danner

ICRC Report on the Treatment of Fourteen "High Value Detainees" in CIA Custody
by the International Committee of the Red Cross

43 pp., February 2007

Download the text of the ICRC Report on the Treatment of Fourteen "High Value Detainees" in CIA Custody by The International Committee of the Red Cross, along with the cover letter that accompanied it when it was transmitted to the US government in February 2007. This version, reset by The New York Review, exactly reproduces the original including typographical errors and some omitted words.

When we get people who are more concerned about reading the rights to an Al Qaeda terrorist than they are with protecting the United States against people who are absolutely committed to do anything they can to kill Americans, then I worry.... These are evil people. And we're not going to win this fight by turning the other cheek.
If it hadn't been for what we did—with respect to the...enhanced interrogation techniques for high-value detainees...—then we would have been attacked again. Those policies we put in place, in my opinion, were absolutely crucial to getting us through the last seven-plus years without a major-casualty attack on the US....
—Former Vice President Dick Cheney, February 4, 2009[1]


When it comes to torture, it is not what we did but what we are doing. It is not what happened but what is happening and what will happen. In our politics, torture is not about whether or not our polity can "let the past be past"—whether or not we can "get beyond it and look forward." Torture, for Dick Cheney and for President Bush and a significant portion of the American people, is more than a repugnant series of "procedures" applied to a few hundred prisoners in American custody during the last half-dozen or so years—procedures that are described with chilling and patient particularity in this authoritative report by the International Committee of the Red Cross.[2] Torture is more than the specific techniques—the forced nudity, sleep deprivation, long-term standing, and suffocation by water," among others—that were applied to those fourteen "high-value detainees" and likely many more at the "black site" prisons secretly maintained by the CIA on three continents.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Obama to release Reagan records kept secret by Bush

04/10/2009 @ 7:34 pm
Filed by Muriel Kane

The Obama administration is about to release 244,966 pages of documents from the Reagan White House that the Bush administration had held back for years during a review of whether to assert executive privilege.

Historians and advocates of government transparency have complained strongly about the Bush backlog, which Obama ended with an executive order signed the day after he took office that limits the review period to 30 days in most cases.

A Plea To President Obama: Don't Bankrupt America

by Sarah van Gelder

President Obama's massive giveaway to Wall Street threatens to bankrupt the federal government and undermine the agenda that got him elected. Here are some first steps needed to change course.

Dear President Obama,

I'm getting a sinking feeling. Watching your appointees' latest bank bailout makes me wonder if all your administration's good work on health care, education, and jobs will be swept away by the extraordinary giveaway of trillions in taxpayer money to a group of powerful Wall Street operatives, who appear willing to bankrupt our country to continue building their wealth and power.

Could this be happening on the watch of someone who, like yourself, came to Washington with the promise of personal integrity and a concern for the common good?

Hannity rewrites economic history to bash Obama

Summary: Calling President Obama's proposed tax plan, "the antithesis of the Reagan economic model," Sean Hannity falsely claimed that during President Reagan's term, 21 million jobs were created, revenues doubled, and the U.S. experienced the longest period of peacetime economic growth in U.S. history.

During an interview with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) on the April 9 edition of his Fox News program, Sean Hannity stated that President Obama's proposed "tax plan is the antithesis of the Reagan economic model, which led us to 21 million new jobs, the longest period of peacetime economic growth in history, and the doubling of revenues to the government." In fact, as Media Matters for America has noted, the number of total nonfarm payroll jobs increased by 16 million during Reagan's term, not 21 million. Additionally, when adjusted for inflation, federal revenue did not double during President Ronald Reagan's term in office; rather, it increased 15 percent ($1.077 trillion to $1.236 trillion). And the longest period of peacetime economic growth in U.S. history occurred between March 1991 and March 2001, largely during President Bill Clinton's term, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research.

More fuzzy math? How GOP estimates carbon tax impact

David Lightman and Renee Schoof | McClatchy Newspapers

last updated: April 09, 2009 06:23:45 PM

WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans are trying to convince consumers that the White House and Democratic lawmakers will raise their taxes every time people flick on a light switch.

They're gaining some political traction as Washington struggles to craft legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, one of the Obama administration's top 2009 priorities.

Paul Krugman: Making Banking Boring

Thirty-plus years ago, when I was a graduate student in economics, only the least ambitious of my classmates sought careers in the financial world. Even then, investment banks paid more than teaching or public service — but not that much more, and anyway, everyone knew that banking was, well, boring.

In the years that followed, of course, banking became anything but boring. Wheeling and dealing flourished, and pay scales in finance shot up, drawing in many of the nation’s best and brightest young people (O.K., I’m not so sure about the “best” part). And we were assured that our supersized financial sector was the key to prosperity.

The Official End of Obama’s Honeymoon

But Summers, a leading architect of the administration’s economic policies and response to the global recession, appears to have collected the most income. Financial institutions including JP Morgan, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch paid Summers for speaking appearances in 2008. Fees ranged from $45,000 for a Nov. 12 Merrill Lynch appearance to $135,000 for an April 16 visit to Goldman Sachs, according to his disclosure form.

via Summers Raked in Speaking Fees from Wall Street | 44 |

So I guess that $45,000 speaking fee from Merrill Lynch wasn’t technically a bribe because Summers wasn’t named to Obama’s Economic Transition Team until November 24 — a full twelve days later. I’m sure Summers had absolutely no inkling whatsoever that he was going to be one of the key advisers to the new administration back on November 12.

It likewise makes perfect sense that Merrill Lynch, a company just months removed from having to be rescued from bankruptcy by an eleventh-hour, pseudo-state-subsidized buyout by Bank of America, would decide to spend $45,000 on a speaking appearance by Larry Summers because, well, they really valued his economic expertise and his proven ability to rally the troops with his stirring rhetoric. It certainly had nothing to do with the fact that a) it was eight days after a Democrat was elected to the presidency, and b) Summers had a long history of being one of the key policymakers in Democratic Party politics, and c) Merrill was absolutely not going to survive more than a few more months unless taxpayers forked over another twenty billion or so to cover the giant hole in Merrill’s balance sheet that was, at that time, still being hidden from Bank of America and its shareholders.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Terrorism charges against 'RNC Eight' dropped

Citing 'distraction,' prosecutor intends to focus on 'core illegal conduct'

Terrorism charges against the eight protesters arrested for plotting to disrupt the Republican National Convention have been dropped while lesser felony charges remain in place.

"The Ramsey County attorney's office said [Thursday morning] that it would file amended complaints in the cases of the men and women known as the 'RNC 8.' The charges of conspiracy to commit riot and conspiracy to commit criminal damage to property will remain, but other charges of conspiracy to commit riot and conspiracy to commit criminal damage to property 'in furtherance of terrorism" will be dismissed,' writes

Geithner Bank Plan Faces New Wave Of Criticism

Two weeks after being introduced, Timothy Geithner's bank rescue plan is facing a new round of withering criticism from economists who say the proposal is likely to produce major losses for taxpayers as banks and investors game the system.

In public writings and interviews with the Huffington Post, some of the same figures that issued early warnings about the current financial crisis now say that Geithner's designs for alleviating toxic assets from the nation's banks are inherently flawed. As evidence, they point to the massive amount of federal funding, in the form of FDIC backing, being offered to prospective buyers of toxic assets. It is the "closest thing to risk-free investing -- with leverage! -- around," wrote Andrew Ross-Sorkin of the New York Times.

Soros: Obama "Lost a Great Opportunity" to Fix the Banks

Posted Apr 09, 2009 07:17am EDT by Aaron Task

George Soros was an early and avid supporter of Barack Obama, so it's probably no surprise he gives the President high marks for his handling of international affairs, the stimulus package, the budget (the famed financier calls it "very courageous") and for "stabilizing" the financial crisis.

But President Obama "lost a great opportunity" by not taking a more radical approach in dealing with the banks, Soros says. "There's too much continuity with the bumbling and mishandling by the previous administration. Not enough discontinuity."

GM Pensions May Be ‘Garbage’ With $16 Billion at Risk

By Holly Rosenkrantz

April 8 (Bloomberg) -- Den Black, a retired General Motors Corp. engineering executive, says he’s worried and angry. The government-supported automaker is going bankrupt, he says, and he’s sure some of his retirement pay will go down with it.

“This is going to wreck us,” said Black, 62, speaking of GM retirees. “These pledges from our companies are now garbage.”

Prize for 'Sun in the box' cooker

By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News website

A cheap solar cooker has won first prize in a contest for green ideas.

The Kyoto Box is made from cardboard and can be used for sterilising water or boiling or baking food.

The Kenyan-based inventor hopes it can make solar cooking widespread in the developing world, supplanting the use of wood which is driving deforestation.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Disconnect electrical grid from Internet, former terror czar Clarke warns

04/08/2009 @ 9:16 am

Filed by David Edwards and Ron Brynaert

The Wall Street Journal reported that spies from Russia and China have penetrated the United States power grid. "The intruders haven't sought to damage the power grid or other key infrastructure, but officials warned they could try during a crisis or war," the report said.

Former White House cyber security adviser Richard Clarke told ABC's Diane Sawyer that the U.S. should consider disconnecting the power grid from the internet to decrease the likelihood of attack.

ThomasFrank: Eighteenth-Century Man

Mark Sanford, the Republican governor of South Carolina, is the conservative of the moment. For months he has been the object of national attention thanks to his refusal to accept a portion of funds set aside for his state in the $787 billion stimulus package. Conservatives love him: Here is another brave South Carolina nullifier, putting high principle before low, craven politics.

Mr. Sanford sees nothing unusual about his stand. "I've got a 15-year pattern of doing exactly this kind of thing," he said last month.

Aerosols may drive a significant portion of arctic warming

Though greenhouse gases are invariably at the center of discussions about global climate change, new NASA research suggests that much of the atmospheric warming observed in the Arctic since 1976 may be due to changes in tiny airborne particles called aerosols.

Politics is a street fight, not a seminar

Considering that 70 percent of those surveyed in the latest New York Times/CBS News poll were "very or somewhat concerned" that within the next year a family member would fatten the already swollen ranks of the unemployed, it was reassuring news that 66 percent still broadly approved of the president's job performance.

Reassuring, since someday soon Mr. Obama will indeed take ownership of the GOP's economic sewer. But that day, obviously, is not yet upon him; it looks as though the multitudes may grant him 180 days or so before they reckon he's had plentiful time to stop and reverse three decades of criminal incompetence and carefree madness.

Congressional Panel Suggests Firing Managers, Liquidating Banks

April 8 (Bloomberg) -- A congressional panel overseeing the U.S. financial rescue suggested that getting rid of top executives and liquidating problem banks may be a better way to solve the economic crisis.

The Congressional Oversight Panel, in a report released yesterday, also said the Treasury may be relying on too rosy an economic scenario to guide its $700 billion bailout, and declared that the success of the program after six months is “mixed.” Three of the group’s members disagreed with at least some of the findings.

The president makes a victory lap

By Pepe Escobar

United States President Barack Obama's up-to-the-last-minute secret Iraq drop-in was as virtual as a Nevada-based Predator drone pilot's visit to the tribal areas in Pakistan. Iraqis have every reason to say the president did not see Iraq - but the Pentagon in Iraq.

The date couldn't be more pregnant with meaning. Baghdad under Saddam Hussein fell to the US Marines Corps under George W Bush exactly six years ago this Thursday - light years of death and devastation ago. To prove his point, made rhetorically in Ankara at the Turkish parliament, that "the United States is not, and will never be, at war with Islam", Obama could have hit the definitive home run by going to Firdous Square and delivering a rousing speech to real, flesh-and-blood suffering Iraqis, Sunni and Shi'ites alike. Meeting a joyous 600 among the 139,000 US troops still occupying Iraq doesn't even come close.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Glenn Beck and the rise of Fox News' militia media

by Eric Boehlert

After a night of drinking, followed by an early-morning argument with his mother, with whom he shared a Pittsburgh apartment, 22-year-old Richard Poplawski put on a bulletproof vest, grabbed his guns, including an AK-47 rifle, and waited for the police to respond to the domestic disturbance call his mother had placed. When two officers arrived at the front door, Poplawski shot them both in the head, and then killed another officer who tried to rescue his colleagues.

In the wake of the bloodbath, we learned that Poplawski was something of a conspiracy nut who embraced dark, radical rhetoric about America. He was convinced the government wanted to take away his guns, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. Specifically, Poplawski, as one friend described it, feared "the Obama gun ban that's on the way" and "didn't like our rights being infringed upon." (FYI, there is no Obama gun ban in the works.) The same friend said the shooter feared America was "going to see the end of our times."

The "Disaster Stage" of U.S. Financialization

Thirty to forty years ago, the early fruits of financialization in this country - the first credit cards, retirement accounts , money market funds and ATM machines - struck most Americans as a convenience and boon. The savings and loan implosion and junk bonds of the 1980s switched on some yellow warning lights, and the tech bubble and market mania of the nineties flashed some red ones. But neither Wall Street nor Washington stopped or even slowed down.

In August, 2007, the housing-linked crisis of the credit markets predicted the arriving disaster-stage, the Crash of September-November 2008 confirmed the debacle, and now an angry, fearful citizenry awaits a further unfolding. There is probably no need to fear a second coming of nineteen-thirties Depression economics. This is not the same thing; the day-to-day pain shouldn't be as severe.

Time to Deliver: No Turning Back, Part I

By Sara Robinson
Created 04/07/2009 - 10:40am

Terrance's last post heroically set out and engaged the two dominant scenarios about the American future that progressives seem to be wrestling with right now. These two scenarios might be described as:

1) Permanent Decline -- Due to Americans' native hyperindividualism, political apathy, and overweening willingness to accept personal blame for their country's failures, the corporatists finally succeed in turning the US into Indonesia. This time, we will not find the will to fight back (or, if we do, it will be too late). As a result, in a few years there will be no more middle class, no upward mobility, few remaining public institutions devoted to the common good, no health care, no education, and no hope of ever restoring American ideals or getting back to some semblance of the America we knew.

2) Reinvented Greatness -- Americans get over their deeply individualistic nature, come together, challenge and restrain the global corporatist order, and finally establish the social democracy that the Powers That Be -- corporate, military, media, conservative -- have denied to us since the 1950s. This happens in synergy with a move to energy and food self-sufficiency, the growth of a sustainable economy, a revival of participatory democracy, and a general renewal of American values that pulses new life into our institutions and assures us a much more stable future.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Gates Follows Through

The Pentagon is finally cutting expensive weapons programs it doesn't need.

By Fred Kaplan

This is remarkable: In his budget address today, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates actually did what he has said he'd do for some time now—killed or slashed a bunch of weapons programs that don't fill the needs of modern warfare, vastly boosted spending for weapons that do, and took the first steps toward truly reforming the way the Pentagon does business.

Charting a New Course at the FDA

by Marcia Angell

On March 14, President Obama nominated Margaret Hamburg to become commissioner of the FDA and appointed Joshua Sharfstein, a longtime critic of the pharmaceutical industry, as her principal deputy. Sharfstein, who does not need Senate approval, took over the agency as acting commissioner last week, pending Hamburg's confirmation. His appointment gives real hope that the FDA will stop kowtowing to the big drug companies. For too long the agency has behaved as though its job is to speed brand-name drugs to market, not to ensure that they are safe and effective. But while new leadership is crucial, more needs to be done.

A Trillion Dollars for the Banks: How About a Second Opinion?

by Dean Baker

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner wants to have the government lend up to a trillion dollars to hedge funds, private equity, funds and the banks themselves to clear their books of toxic assets. The plan implies a substantial subsidy to the banks. It is likely to result in the disposal of these assets at far above market value, with the government picking up the losses.

As much as we all want to help out the Wall Street bankers in their hour of need, taxpayers may reasonably ask whether this is the best use of our money. After all, the $1 trillion that is being set aside for this latest TARP variation is equal to 300 million SCHIP kid years. Congress has had heated debates over sums that were a small fraction of this size. To give another useful measuring stick, the Geithner plan could fund 1 million of the Woodstock museums that were the main prop of Senator McCain's presidential campaign.

Resist or Become Serfs

By Chris Hedges

America is devolving into a third-world nation. And if we do not immediately halt our elite’s rapacious looting of the public treasury we will be left with trillions in debts, which can never be repaid, and widespread human misery which we will be helpless to ameliorate. Our anemic democracy will be replaced with a robust national police state. The elite will withdraw into heavily guarded gated communities where they will have access to security, goods and services that cannot be afforded by the rest of us. Tens of millions of people, brutally controlled, will live in perpetual poverty. This is the inevitable result of unchecked corporate capitalism. The stimulus and bailout plans are not about saving us. They are about saving them. We can resist, which means street protests, disruptions of the system and demonstrations, or become serfs.

Can Organic Cropping Systems be as Profitable as Conventional Systems?

Results show that diversified systems are more profitable than monocropping.

MADISON, WI, April 6, 2009 -- Which is a better strategy, specializing in one crop or diversified cropping? Is conventional cropping more profitable than organic farming? Is it less risky?

To answer these questions, the University of Wisconsin’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Michael Fields Agricultural Institute agronomists established the Wisconsin Integrated Cropping Systems Trial (WICST) in 1990. This research is funded by USDA-ARS.

Michael Kinsley: Life After Newspapers

Few industries in this country have been as coddled as newspapers. The government doesn't actually write them checks, as it does to farmers and now to banks, insurance companies and automobile manufacturers. But politicians routinely pay court to local newspapers the way other industries pay court to politicians. Until very recently, most newspapers were monopolies, with a special antitrust exemption to help them stay that way. The attorney general has said he is open to additional antitrust exemptions to lift the industry out of today's predicament. The Constitution itself protects the newspaper industry's business from government interference, and the Supreme Court says that includes almost total immunity from lawsuits over its mistakes, like the lawsuits that plague other industries.

Signs emerge of global crime wave

By Michael T Klare

In all catastrophes, there are always winners among the host of losers and victims. Bad times, like good ones, generate profits for someone. In the case of the present global economic meltdown, with our world at the brink and up to 50 million people potentially losing their jobs by the end of this year, one winner is likely to be criminal activity and crime syndicates.

From Mexico to Africa, Russia to China, the pool of the desperate and the bribable is expanding exponentially, pointing to a sharp upturn in global crime. As illicit profits rise, so will violence in the turf wars among competing crime syndicates and in the desperate efforts by panicked governments to put a clamp on criminal activity.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Utah Student Who Prevented Bush Admin Sell-Off of Public Land Charged for Disrupting Auction

We speak to University of Utah student Tim DeChristopher, who has just been charged with two felonies for disrupting the auction of over 100,000 acres of federal land for oil and gas drilling. DeChristopher was arrested after he posed as a bidder and bought 22,000 acres of land in an attempt to save the property from drilling. He faces up to ten years in prison.

Solution to the carbon problem could be under the ground

Hope for the fight against climate change as study finds greenhouse gas can be buried without fear of leaking

By Steve Connor, Science Editor

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Carbon dioxide captured from the chimneys of power stations could be safely buried underground for thousands of years without the risk of the greenhouse gas seeping into the atmosphere, a study has found.

The findings will lend weight to the idea of carbon capture and sequestration (CSS) – when carbon dioxide is trapped and then buried – which is being seriously touted as a viable way of reducing man-made emissions of carbon dioxide while still continuing to burn fossil fuels such as oil and coal in power stations.

Frank Rich: Even Rick Wagoner’s Firing Got Lousy Mileage

EVEN among pitchfork-bearing populists, there was scant satisfaction when the White House sent the C.E.O. of General Motors to the guillotine.

Sure, Rick Wagoner deserved his fate. He did too little too late to save an iconic American institution from devolving into a government charity case. He embraced the Hummer. G.M.’s share price fell from above $70 to under $3 on his watch. Yet few disputed the judgment of the Michigan governor, Jennifer Granholm, that Wagoner was a “sacrificial lamb,” a symbolic concession to public rage ordered by a president who had to look tough after being blindsided by the A.I.G. bonuses. Detroit’s chief executive had to be beheaded so that the masters of the universe at the top of Wall Street’s bailed-out behemoths might survive.

Joseph Stiglitz: "It's going to be bad, very bad"

In an interview, the Nobel Prize-winner and former chief economist at the World Bank talks about the Great Depression, Obama's stimulus package and today's financial crisis.

By Spiegel staff

Editor's note: This article originally appeared in Der Spiegel.

Apr. 03, 2009 |

Many people are comparing the financial crisis to the Great Depression. Will it really be that bad?

It's going to be bad, very bad. We're experiencing the worst downturn since the Great Depression, and we haven't reached the bottom yet. I'm very pessimistic. Governments are indeed reacting better today than during the global economic crisis. They're lowering interest rates and boosting the economy with economic stimulus plans. This is the right direction, but it's not enough.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Glenn Greenwald: Larry Summers, Tim Geithner and Wall Street's Ownership of Government

White House officials yesterday released their personal financial disclosure forms, and included in the millions of dollars which top Obama economics adviser Larry Summers made from Wall Street in 2008 is this detail:

Lawrence H. Summers, one of President Obama's top economic advisers, collected roughly $5.2 million in compensation from hedge fund D.E. Shaw over the past year and was paid more than $2.7 million in speaking fees by several troubled Wall Street firms and other organizations. . . .

Financial institutions including JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch paid Summers for speaking appearances in 2008. Fees ranged from $45,000 for a Nov. 12 Merrill Lynch appearance to $135,000 for an April 16 visit to Goldman Sachs, according to his disclosure form.

That's $135,000 paid by Goldman Sachs to Summers -- for a one-day visit.

Behind The Numbers: Workforce Dropouts

Home Feature Box:

March Unemployment: The Rest Of The Story

Friday’s Bureau of Labor Statistics report on unemployment and jobs in March confirms that the economy continues to spiral downward. But the news reports only tell a small part of the story. The other part of the story is who is counted and who is not counted in the unemployment figure.

The unemployment rate in March only tells a small part of the story. The other part of the story is who is counted and who is not counted in the unemployment figure.

Today’s Bureau of Labor Statistics report on unemployment and jobs in March confirms that the economy continues to spiral downward as deeply stressed households face worsening employment and financial conditions.

Bill Moyers Interviews William K. Black

BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the Journal.

For months now, revelations of the wholesale greed and blatant transgressions of Wall Street have reminded us that "The Best Way to Rob a Bank Is to Own One." In fact, the man you're about to meet wrote a book with just that title. It was based upon his experience as a tough regulator during one of the darkest chapters in our financial history: the savings and loan scandal in the late 1980s.

WILLIAM K. BLACK: These numbers as large as they are, vastly understate the problem of fraud.

BILL MOYERS: Bill Black was in New York this week for a conference at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice where scholars and journalists gathered to ask the question, "How do they get away with it?" Well, no one has asked that question more often than Bill Black.

The former Director of the Institute for Fraud Prevention now teaches Economics and Law at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. During the savings and loan crisis, it was Black who accused then-house speaker Jim Wright and five US Senators, including John Glenn and John McCain, of doing favors for the S&L's in exchange for contributions and other perks. The senators got off with a slap on the wrist, but so enraged was one of those bankers, Charles Keating — after whom the senate's so-called "Keating Five" were named — he sent a memo that read, in part, "get Black — kill him dead." Metaphorically, of course. Of course.

Now Black is focused on an even greater scandal, and he spares no one — not even the President he worked hard to elect, Barack Obama. But his main targets are the Wall Street barons, heirs of an earlier generation whose scandalous rip-offs of wealth back in the 1930s earned them comparison to Al Capone and the mob, and the nickname "banksters."

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Mark-to-Market Myth

Today the Financial Accounting Standards Board voted - by one vote - to relax accounting standards for certain types of securities, giving banks greater discretion in determining what price to carry them at on their balance sheets. The new rules were sought by the American Bankers Association, and not surprisingly will allow banks to increase their reported profits and strengthen their balance sheets by allowing them to increase the reported values of their toxic assets.

This makes no sense, for three reasons.

Defense Contractors Angered by Gates Budget Strategy

Defense Secretary Keeps Details Close to Chest Before Delivery to White House

By Spencer Ackerman 4/3/09 12:15 PM

On Monday, an Iraq veteran named John Guardiano took to the right-leaning op-ed page of The Washington Examiner, a free daily paper in the district, to inveigh against the “Secret Defense Budget Tribunals” of Pentagon chief Bob Gates. Guardiano, troubled by the unusual steps taken by Gates to hold the details of his fiscal-2010 budget close to the vest, compared Gates’ efforts to the ill-fated efforts of then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton to construct a universal health-care regime in secret that ended in 1994. Needless to say, he disapproved. “Democracy can be messy and untidy, noisy and boisterous,” he wrote, “it can disrupt the work of the ruling class, who think they know better than we the people.” After all, Guardiano reminded, “America is not the Soviet Union or China.”

Guardiano’s bio for the paper quickly noted that his views “do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. military or his employer, a defense contractor.” The paper didn’t see fit to name the contractor.

The Return of Statecraft

How Obama proved his mettle at the G20 summit.

By Fred Kaplan

Vast multinational conferences, like the G20 summit in London, are useful mainly for the "bilaterals"—the one-on-one side-room conversations—and, in these forums, President Barack Obama is living up to high expectations.

Which is to say, the United States seems to be returning to diplomatic basics—a development that in the wake of the last eight years is practically revolutionary.

Paul Krugman: China’s Dollar Trap

Back in the early stages of the financial crisis, wags joked that our trade with China had turned out to be fair and balanced after all: They sold us poison toys and tainted seafood; we sold them fraudulent securities.

But these days, both sides of that deal are breaking down. On one side, the world’s appetite for Chinese goods has fallen off sharply. China’s exports have plunged in recent months and are now down 26 percent from a year ago. On the other side, the Chinese are evidently getting anxious about those securities.

But China still seems to have unrealistic expectations. And that’s a problem for all of us.

Count the problems in the NYT's article on Obama's G-20 trip

Published Fri, Apr 3, 2009 8:57am ET by Eric Boehlert

Just really dreadful journalism by Helene Cooper, who already embarrassed herself on the trip by whining on the Times blog that Obama was trying to "muzzle" the press, because at a joint appearance with the British PM, Obama took three questions from the press, while the PM took four.

Here's news: G-20 summit actually achieved something

LONDON — The leaders of the world's major industrialized nations accomplished something at their G-20 summit here Thursday that rarely happens at such gatherings of heads of state.

They produced large achievements.

They pledged the first-ever global regulation of hedge funds and private-equity firms, big players in global finance that have enjoyed operating under the regulatory radar. They agreed to a require banks to set aside more capital in good times to help them function in bad times. They vowed to crack down on tax haven nations that allow the wealthy to escape taxation. And they pledged $1.1 trillion to the International Monetary Fund and related institutions to help revive the global economy.

Media Tries to Sabotage Obamas With Pseudo Stories on Faux Gaffes But No One Buys It

By Leslie Savan, The Nation
Posted on April 3, 2009, Printed on April 3, 2009

The real question about how Barack and Michelle Obama are being received on their Rolling-G-20-Summit/Euro-Tour '09 has nothing to do with how the Europeans treat them, but all about the American mainstream media itself: What infinitesimal nit will they find to pick about the new president's conduct abroad that can be blown up into a two- to three-day pseudo-international incident?

You know the sort of story I mean. We're not talking about serious systemic issues, such as the different perspective a country like Germany (with universal health care, generous unemployment benefits, and a highly unionized work force) might have on the need for a global stimulus when compared to the U.S., where the party Obama just turned out of office has proposed effectively privatizing Medicare. That would be too much like journalism, and way too MEGO.

Globocop versus the TermiNATO

By Pepe Escobar

The people of Strasbourg have voted in their apartment balconies for the French-German co-production of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's 60th birthday this Saturday. Thousands of "No to NATO" banners, alongside "Peace" banners, sprung up all around town until forcibly removed by French police.

Prime "liberal democracy" repression tactics were inevitably on show - just as in the much-hyped "we had 275 minutes to save the world and all we could come up with was half-a-trillion dollars for the International Monetary Fund" Group of 20 summit in London. Protesters were tear-gassed as terrorists. Downtown was cordoned off. Residents were forced to wear badges. Demonstrations got banished to the suburbs.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

New storage system design brings hydrogen cars closer to reality

Researchers have developed a critical part of a hydrogen storage system for cars that makes it possible to fill up a vehicle's fuel tank within five minutes with enough hydrogen to drive 300 miles.

Fooling With Disaster?

Startling new evidence about Three Mile Island disaster raises doubts over nuclear plant safety

Thirty years ago this week, Randall and Joy Thompson were hired to monitor radiation releases after the Three Mile Island reactor meltdown. What they saw didn't match what officials say happened -- but, fearing for their lives, they gave up trying to tell their story. Now, Facing South shares their account -- and their warning about the dangers of a nuclear revival.

by Sue Sturgis
Facing South
April 2, 2009

It was April Fool's Day,1979 -- 30 years ago this week -- when Randall Thompson first set foot inside the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant near Middletown, Pa. Just four days earlier, in the early morning hours of March 28, a relatively minor problem in the plant's Unit 2 reactor sparked a series of mishaps that led to the meltdown of almost half the uranium fuel and uncontrolled releases of radiation into the air and surrounding Susquehanna River.

Conservative crusader against health care reform has a shady past (even his allies are worried)

A couple weeks ago, I did a post on Rick Scott, the face of a right wing group fighting health care reform. I linked to an excellent piece, "Healthcare Enemy No. 1" in The Nation by Chris Hayes, which exposed Scott's shady background noting:
Having Scott lead the charge against healthcare reform is like tapping Bernie Madoff to campaign against tighter securities regulation. You see, the for-profit hospital chain Scott helped found--the one he ran and built his entire reputation on--was discovered to be in the habit of defrauding the government out of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Myths and falsehoods relating to President Obama's budget proposal

Summary: Following the release of President Obama's proposal for the fiscal year 2010 budget, media figures and outlets have promoted a number of myths and falsehoods related to the proposal.

Following the release of President Obama's proposal for the fiscal year 2010 budget, media figures and outlets have promoted a number of myths and falsehoods about the proposal. These myths and falsehoods include the suggestion that Obama's proposal would increase taxes on a large percentage of small businesses and the suggestion that using reconciliation to pass major policy goals would represent an unusual or unprecedented tactic.

Rule change intended to ease bank crisis could make it worse

WASHINGTON — The little-known Financial Accounting Standards Board is poised to deliver Thursday a change in accounting rules that proponents say will save the banking system — and opponents warn could bring even more ruin to the U.S. economy.

The FASB board is expected to relax the rules on how banks value assets that investors no longer are willing to purchase.

Obama's Blackwater?

By Jeremy Scahill, AlterNet
Posted on April 2, 2009, Printed on April 2, 2009

On the campaign trail, Barack Obama's advisers said he "can't rule out [and] won't rule out" using mercenary forces, like Blackwater. Now, it appears that the Obama administration has decided on its hired guns of choice: Triple Canopy, a Chicago company now based in Virginia. It may not have Blackwater's thuggish reputation, but Triple Canopy has its own bloody history in Iraq and a record of hiring mercenaries from countries with atrocious human rights records. What's more, Obama is not just using the company in Iraq, but also as a U.S.-government funded private security force in Israel/Palestine, operating out of Jerusalem.

Beginning May 7th, Triple Canopy will officially take over Xe/Blackwater's mega-contract with the U.S. State Department for guarding occupation officials in Iraq. It's sure to be a lucrative deal: Obama's Iraq plan will inevitably rely on an increased use of private contractors, including an army of mercenaries to protect his surge of diplomats operating out of the monstrous U.S. embassy in Baghdad.

Geithner's dirty little secret

By F William Engdahl

US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, in unveiling his long-awaited plan to put the US banking system back in order, has refused to tell the dirty little secret of the present financial crisis. By refusing to do so, he is trying to save de facto bankrupt US banks that threaten to bring the entire global system down in a new more devastating phase of wealth destruction.

The Geithner proposal, his so-called Public-Private Partnership Investment Program, or PPPIP, is not designed to restore a healthy lending system that would funnel credit to business and consumers. Rather it is yet another intricate scheme to pour even more hundreds of billions of dollars directly to the leading banks and Wall Street firms responsible for the current mess in world credit markets, without demanding they change their business model.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Resembling I.F. Stone

I.F. Stone’s Son on the Izzy Awards, Amy Goodman and Glenn Greenwald

by Jeremy Stone

This is adapted from comments made at Tuesday's inaugural ceremony of the Izzy Awards for independent media - named after legendary journalist I.F. "Izzy" Stone. Blogger Glenn Greenwald and Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! shared the award presented by Ithaca College's Park Center for Independent Media.

When I first heard about an award for people who most "resembled" Izzy, I had high hopes that I might finally win a prize. Unfortunately, the selection committee appears to have been concerned with behavior.

Resembling Izzy in behavioral terms does not lead to an easy life. His capacity for thinking independently, and acting on principle, isolated him from just about everyone.

The Regulatory Charade

Washington had the power to regulate misbehaving banks. It just refused to use it.

By Eliot Spitzer

Does it strike you as odd that the American government has invested $115 billion in TARP money alone in Citibank, JPMorgan Chase, and Bank of America, fully 70 percent of their market cap ($164.5 billion, as of March 30), yet we have virtually no say in the management or behavior of these banks? Does it seem even odder that these banks are getting along extremely well with the government regulators who should be picking them apart for having destroyed the economy and financial system?

There is a grand, implicit bargain being struck in our multitrillion-dollar bailout of the financial-services sector. Those in power in D.C. and New York are pretending the bargain is: You give us trillions, and in return, we fix this industry so the economy recovers and this never happens again. In fact, the bargain is much more alarming: Trillions of dollars of taxpayer money will be invested to rescue the banks, without the new owners—taxpayers—being allowed to make any of the necessary changes in structure, senior management, or corporate behavior. In return, the still-private banks will help the D.C. regulators perpetuate the myth that regulators didn't have enough power to prevent the meltdown. In sum, banks get bailed out with virtually no obligations imposed; regulators get more power and a pass on their past failures. The symbiosis of the past decade continues.

Thomas Frank: Lock 'Em Up

Jailing kids is a proud American tradition.


At first glance, the news from Luzerne County, in northeastern Pennsylvania, is not good. In what is known locally as the "kids for cash" scandal, two judges have pleaded guilty to accepting $2.6 million in kickbacks from a for-profit juvenile correctional facility -- a privately owned jail for kids, essentially.

And here is what the judges delivered, according to the charges of the U.S. Attorney overseeing the case: In 2003 one of them, Judge Michael Conahan, who had authority over such expenses, defunded the county-owned detention center, channeling kids sentenced to detention to the private jail -- along with the public's money.

Watchdogs: Treasury won't disclose bank bailout details

WASHINGTON — The massive programs designed to rescue the nation's financial sector are operating without adequate oversight, with vague goals and limited disclosure of their details to the taxpayers who are paying for them, government watchdogs told a Senate panel Tuesday.

The Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, was launched in the midst of last fall's collapse of the nation's banking system and is designed to get loans flowing to businesses and individuals.

Obama’s Ersatz Capitalism

THE Obama administration’s $500 billion or more proposal to deal with America’s ailing banks has been described by some in the financial markets as a win-win-win proposal. Actually, it is a win-win-lose proposal: the banks win, investors win — and taxpayers lose.

Treasury hopes to get us out of the mess by replicating the flawed system that the private sector used to bring the world crashing down, with a proposal marked by overleveraging in the public sector, excessive complexity, poor incentives and a lack of transparency.