Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Looking In The Rearview Mirror

by digby

... and seeing carnage in your wake.

Today the ACLU and many bloggers who are concerned with the fact that the United States tortured prisoners and apparently has no intention of holding anyone responsible for it are blogging about a little known fact about the issue: the US Government didn't just torture a bunch a prisoners, as bad as that was, and as horrible as it remains for those who survived it. The United States tortured many prisoners to death. This does not seem to be common knowledge, but the evidence is quite clear that this happened. Torture and death by torture was not isolated.

Bishops, Baptists Organizing Against Contraception

It’s precisely because of stances like this that it’s very hard to take the “abortion is murder” crowd seriously when they say abortion is murder. Their revealed behavior indicates that they don’t actually find abortion especially problematic, but just place it on a spectrum containing a general aversion to women controlling their own sexuality:

The Global Warming Lie Detector

by Dean Baker

The House's passage of the Waxman-Markey bill raises the possibility that the United States will finally do something on global warming. This prospect has the industry hacks screaming at top volume about the horrible fate that awaits the economy. Everyone should know not to take them seriously, as I will explain in a moment.

First, we should acknowledge the obvious: The bill is awful. It gives away permits to greenhouse gas emitters that should instead be auctioned. As a result, money that could be rebated to taxpayers or used to fund the development of clean technologies instead goes to the industries that are the source of the problem.

Second, the use of tradable permits rather than a tax is a rather questionable policy. Permits will almost certainly require more government enforcement bureaucracy than a system of taxes and subsidies. And, incidentally, permits will allow Goldman Sachs and our other Wall Street friends to make tens of billions of dollars on trading fees in the coming decades, a high priority for all Americans.

Obama and the Stone Tablets

By E.J. Dionne

Every general studies the mistakes of the last war, and President Obama’s style has been much influenced by the difficulties of Bill Clinton’s presidency.

In particular, Obama has shied away from handing Congress his own plans on “stone tablets,” a phrase much loved by senior adviser David Axelrod, and instead allowed it room to legislate.

The president has won a lot, including a decent stimulus bill and laws on children’s health coverage, tobacco regulation and employment discrimination that, in less exciting times, would have been seen as landmarks. But the stimulus bill was neither as good nor as large as it might have been, and there was a legislative train wreck on Obama’s effort to close Guantanamo prison.

Camp David Chaplain: "First we get the military, then we get the nation"

Bruce Wilson
Mon Jun 29, 2009 at 04:51:21 PM ES

For a few hours today it seemed, according to a new Time Magazine story by Amy Sullivan, released Monday morning, that US President Barack Obama had chosen, as his main place of worship, Camp David's Chapel as his church. The chapel is currently headed by a Navy Chaplain who has publicly advocated for a Christian takeover of the United military, then the United States. [note: story first covered by MRFF Senior Research Director Chris Rodda]

The White House has subsequently issued a statement denying that Obama has chosen the Evergreen Chapel, and heated discussion of the affair is currently raging at the leading Democratic activist forum, the Daily Kos.

Why Does Our Government Still Spy On, Arrest and Persecute Dissidents?

By Emily Spence, Consortium News
Posted on June 30, 2009, Printed on June 30, 2009

Recently, an American Civil Liberties Union report pointed out, "Anti-terrorism training materials currently being used by the Department of Defense (DoD) teach its personnel that free expression in the form of public protests should be regarded as ‘low level terrorism’.”

Although DoD officials removed the offensive section at the urging of ACLU members, the DoD stance is still troubling since a longstanding practice to designate peaceful, law-abiding activists as dangerous and treasonable still exists in many government departments and agencies.

Bogus Think Tank "Third Way" Pops Up to Thwart Health Care Reform

By Alexander Zaitchik, AlterNet
Posted on June 30, 2009, Printed on June 30, 2009

A couple of weeks ago, the slippery think tank Third Way came under fire from progressives when a memo surfaced under the group's letterhead arguing against the creation of a public health care plan. In place of a public plan, Third Way proposed a "hybrid" model attached to a ludicrous sunset provision of four years.

Not for the first time, the question was asked aloud: Who are these Third Way people, and why are they calling themselves "progressives"? Why does their goal appear to be to complicate the drive for public health insurance?

Monday, June 29, 2009

How a Loophole Benefits General Electric in Bank Rescue

WASHINGTON – General Electric, the world's largest industrial company, has quietly become the biggest beneficiary of one of the government's key rescue programs for banks.

At the same time, GE has avoided many of the restrictions facing other financial giants getting help from the government.

Bizarre, Almost Comic, Way Ugly

Not sure we've got a good general heading to put this under. But over the weekend Francine Busby was holding a fundraiser in an upper-income neighborhood in San Diego, prepping to run again in the fairly Republican CA-50 district. Remember, that's Duke Cunningham's old district, now represented by Brian Bilbray. So Busby's holding her fundraiser. Some neighbor calls the cops complaining of noise. And before you know it, the sheriff's department is there with eight squad cars and a helicopter, dousing multiple attendees with pepper spray and arresting one of the hostesses. (Click here for our TPMDC interview with Francine Busby discussing the incident.)

Water should be a human right

In this month's PLoS Medicine editorial, the editors argue that -- despite recent international objections -- access to clean water should be recognized as a human right. At the March 2009 United Nations meetings, coinciding with the World Water Forum, Canada, Russia and the United States refused to support a declaration that would recognize water as a basic human right. But this flies in the face of considerable evidence that access to water, which is essential for health, is under threat, argue the editors.

Toxic chemicals affect steroid hormones differently in humans and invertebrates

In a study with important consequences for studies on the effects of chemicals on steroid responses in humans, a team of French and American scientists, including Michael E. Baker, PhD, professor in UC San Diego's department of medicine, division of nephrology-hypertension, have found that -- contrary to earlier assumptions -- enzymes used for the synthesis of steroids in insects, snails, octopuses and corals are unrelated to those used in humans.

Pecora Commission To Be Named This Week?

Word is circulating in Washington that members for the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission will be named this week.

The commission is supposed to resemble the 1930s Pecora commission that dug into the culprits behind the Great Depression [1] and laid the groundwork for major bank reform. But that will only be true if the commission is run by aggressive seekers of truth, independent of the financial industry, willing to use their subpoena power, knowledgeable enough to have warned us of impeding crisis in the first place despite market cheerleading from the political and media establishments.

Will the maximum sentence given to Bernie Madoff, after he ruined the lives of many, put a renewed spotlight on the need for tough reforms?

Paul Krugman: Betraying the Planet

So the House passed the Waxman-Markey climate-change bill. In political terms, it was a remarkable achievement.

But 212 representatives voted no. A handful of these no votes came from representatives who considered the bill too weak, but most rejected the bill because they rejected the whole notion that we have to do something about greenhouse gases.

And as I watched the deniers make their arguments, I couldn’t help thinking that I was watching a form of treason — treason against the planet.

A classic revolutionary dilemma

By Dilip Hiro

By marshalling the regime's coercive instruments, Iran's 70-year-old Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has, for now, succeeded in curbing the popular, peaceful challenge to the authenticity of Iran's fateful June 12 presidential election. But he has paid a heavy political price.

Before his June 19 hardline speech at a Friday prayer congregation, Khamenei had the mystique of a just arbiter of authority, perched on a lofty platform far above the contentiousness of day-to-day politics. In his sermon, he asserted the validity of the re-election of Mahmud Ahmadinejad while the Guardians Council, the constitutional body charged with validating any national election, was still dealing with 646 complaints about possible election misbehavior and fraud. As a result, he damaged his status as a just ruler, a matter of grave importance since justice is a vital element in Islamic values.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Saudis coerced bombing suspects to blame Iran, shield al Qaeda

Posted By Gareth Porter / IPS On June 26, 2009 @ 8:46 pm In

When a truck bomb exploded outside a housing unit in Saudi Arabia in 1996, killing 19 US service members, the Saudis quickly concluded that the plot had been carried out by Hezbollah with the backing of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. FBI Director Louis Freeh was prepared to accept the confessions obtained by the Saudis as proof, but the Department of Justice suspected they had been obtained through torture.

Gareth Porter reports that by 2003, it had become apparent that the Saudis routinely tortured terror suspects and coached them into making confessions that would not implicate al Qaeda. By that time, however, Freeh had embarked on a new career as the chief defender of the Saudis’ response to the Khobar plot.

This is the final installment of a five-part series, “Khobar Towers Investigated: How a Saudi Deception Protected Osama bin Laden”. The work on this series was supported by the Fund for Investigative Journalism.

Known terrorists were allowed to keep aviation licenses

Those who were shocked to discover, after 9/11, how easy it is for persons linked to terrorism to acquire pilots' licenses may be surprised to discover that, nearly eight years after that fateful day, at least six people known to have -- or suspected of -- terrorist links were able to keep their aviation licenses.

Among them, says a story in the New York Times, was a Libyan national convicted for his role in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Walter Cronkite not expected to recover, family says

Legendary CBS newsman Walter Cronkite III, once regarded as the "most trusted man in America," is on his deathbed suffering from a respiratory illness and not expected to recover, his family said in a prepared statement published Saturday.

"In order to dispel false rumors, Walter Cronkite's family want it known that, sadly, he is very ill and is not expected to recuperate; he is resting at home surrounded by family, friends and a wonderful medical team," the statement read. "We thank everyone for their prayers and good wishes."

Slowdown in Once-Booming Organics Troubles Farmers

by Rick Callahan

Westby, Wisc. - The organic dairy industry was thriving when Allen and Jean Moody bought a 200-acre Wisconsin dairy farm in 2006 and joined the ranks of farmers churning out milk raised without growth hormones, pesticides or other chemicals.

Three years later, the good days are gone and the Moodys aren't alone in wanting out.

A growing number of farmers who went all-natural in the years when organic food sales were growing at a double-digit pace are giving up their organic certifications. Organic farming is costly and labor-intensive, and many consumers are no longer willing to pay the price in a recession.

Sales in the U.S. of organic foods sold mostly at supermarkets are expected to drop 1.1 percent to $5.07 billion this year, according to the Chicago-based research firm Mintel. While the drop is small, it is the first in an industry that has seen annual growth of 12 percent to 23 percent since 2003.

MRFF Demands DoD Revoke Authority of Chaplain Endorser Who Suggested Democrats Should Be Executed

by Chris Rodda
Sat Jun 27, 2009 at 04:55:11 PM EST

As I wrote back in May, the antics of disgraced former Navy chaplain Gordon Klingenschmitt, and his retaliation against the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, after the two organizations issued a joint letter to the Chief of Naval Operations requesting an investigation of his use of his image in uniform to solicit funds for political causes, led MRFF to take a closer look at Klingenschmitt's endorser, the Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches (CFGC) and its leader, retired Army colonel Jim Ammerman. What we found was astounding, and led to a decision by MRFF to formally demand that Ammerman, whose agency provides the ecclesiastical endorsements required by the Department of Defense for over 270 military chaplains and chaplain candidates, be stripped of the authority granted to him and his organization by the DoD to endorse military chaplains.

MRFF's letter to the Secretary of Defense, copied to numerous other government and DoD officials, went out on June 24, accompanied by a 55-page package of enclosures supporting the four separate reasons that Ammerman's authority must be revoked.

Frank Rich: 40 Years Later, Still Second-Class Americans

LIKE all students caught up in the civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s, I was riveted by the violent confrontations between the police and protestors in Selma, 1965, and Chicago, 1968. But I never heard about the several days of riots that rocked Greenwich Village after the police raided a gay bar called the Stonewall Inn in the wee hours of June 28, 1969 — 40 years ago today.

Then again, I didn’t know a single person, student or teacher, male or female, in my entire Ivy League university who was openly identified as gay. And though my friends and I were obsessed with every iteration of the era’s political tumult, we somehow missed the Stonewall story. Not hard to do, really. The Times — which would not even permit the use of the word gay until 1987 — covered the riots in tiny, bowdlerized articles, one of them but three paragraphs long, buried successively on pages 33, 22 and 19.

But if we had read them, would we have cared? It was typical of my generation, like others before and after, that the issue of gay civil rights wasn’t on our radar screen. Not least because gay people, fearful of harassment, violence and arrest, were often forced into the shadows. As David Carter writes in his book “Stonewall,” at the end of the 1960s homosexual sex was still illegal in every state but Illinois. It was a crime punishable by castration in seven states. No laws — federal, state or local — protected gay people from being denied jobs or housing. If a homosexual character appeared in a movie, his life ended with either murder or suicide.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Report: Obama Admin Drafts Memo To Detain Terror Suspects Indefinitely

The latest installment in the Obama administration's tendency to mimic the Bushies on war on terror tactics:

The Washington Post and Pro Publica report:

The Obama administration, fearing a battle with Congress that could stall plans to close Guantanamo, has drafted an executive order that would reassert presidential authority to incarcerate terrorism suspects indefinitely, according to three senior government officials with knowledge of White House deliberations.

Such an order would embrace claims by former president George W. Bush that certain people can be detained without trial for long periods under the laws of war. Obama advisers are concerned that bypassing Congress could place the president on weaker footing before the courts and anger key supporters, the officials said.

Financial Reform, Words and Deeds

by Ralph Nader

It's good that Barack Obama is an agile basketball player because on financial regulatory reform he's having to straddle an ever widening chasm between his words and his deeds.

Obama said: "Millions of Americans who have worked hard and behaved responsibility have seen their life dreams eroded by the irresponsibility of others and by the failure of their government to provide adequate oversight. Our entire economy has been undermined by that failure."

"Over the past two decades, we have seen, time and again, cycles of precipitous booms and busts. In each case, millions of people have had their lives profoundly disrupted by developments in the financial system, most severely in our recent crisis."

Strong words, even though he didn't include "corporate crime, fraud and abuse" to replace the euphemism "irresponsibility." One would think that his 88 page reform proposal to Congress would be up to his words. Instead he provides Washington aspirins for Wall Street brain cancer.

Wall Street Sets Campaign on ‘Populist Overreaction’

Wall Street Sets Campaign on ‘Populist Overreaction’

By Robert Schmidt

June 25 (Bloomberg) -- Wall Street’s largest trade group has started a campaign to counter the “populist” backlash against bankers, enlisting two former aides to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson to spearhead the effort.

In memos of confidential meetings with top financial executives, the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association said it began this month the “execution phase” of the operation, which pledges to “embrace change” and accountability. The plan targets policy makers and the media in New York, London, Washington and Brussels and calls for a “city-by-city, grass roots” approach.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Paul Krugman: Not Enough Audacity

When it comes to domestic policy, there are two Barack Obamas.

On one side there’s Barack the Policy Wonk, whose command of the issues — and ability to explain those issues in plain English — is a joy to behold.

But on the other side there’s Barack the Post-Partisan, who searches for common ground where none exists, and whose negotiations with himself lead to policies that are far too weak.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Global Recovery for a Global Recession

by Joseph E. Stiglitz

This is not only the worst global economic downturn of the post-World War II era; it is the first serious global downturn of the modern era of globalization. America's financial markets failed to do what they should have done--manage risk and allocate capital well--and these failures have had a major impact all over the world. Globalization, too, did not work the way it was supposed to. It helped spread the consequences of the failures of US financial markets around the world. September 11, 2001, taught us that with globalization not only do good things travel more easily across borders; bad things do too. September 15, 2008, has reinforced that lesson.

A global downturn requires a global response. But so far our responses--to stimulate and regulate the global economy--have largely been framed at the national level and often take insufficient account of the effect on others. The result is that there is less coordination than there should be, as well as a smaller and less well-designed stimulus than is optimal. A poorly designed and insufficient stimulus means that the downturn will last longer, the recovery will be slower and there will be more innocent victims. Among these victims are the many developing countries--including those that have had far better regulatory and macroeconomic policies than the United States and some European countries. In the United States a financial crisis transformed itself into an economic crisis; in many developing countries the economic downturn is creating a financial crisis.

How bad is the Peterson-Waxman deal on climate legislation?

Surprising no one—but disappointing many—House energy chief Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) has caved in to the demands of the the agribusiness industry over the climate bill.

In reality, he had little choice if he wanted his legislation to get through the House. For more than a month, House Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.)—an unabashed proponent of agribusiness interests—has thundered and roared about how no climate bill could get through the House without containing his agenda.

Big Business Is Aiding the Internet Crackdown in Iran and China -- Will the Technology Be Used on Americans Next?

By Amy Goodman, King Features Syndicate
Posted on June 25, 2009, Printed on June 25, 2009

Tools of mass communication that were once the province of governments and corporations now fit in your pocket. Cell phones can capture video and send it wirelessly to the Internet. People can send eyewitness accounts, photos and videos, with a few keystrokes, to thousands or even millions via social networking sites. As these technologies have developed, so too has the ability to monitor, filter, censor and block them.

A Wall Street Journal report this week claimed that the "Iranian regime has developed, with the assistance of European telecommunications companies, one of the world's most sophisticated mechanisms for controlling and censoring the Internet, allowing it to examine the content of individual online communications on a massive scale." The article named Nokia Siemens Networks as the provider of equipment capable of "deep packet inspection." DPI, according to the Electronic Privacy Information Center, "enables Internet Service Providers to intercept virtually all of their customers' Internet activity, including Web surfing data, e-mail and peer-to-peer downloads."

Why You May Be Stuck Holding the Bill for the Largest Taxpayer Rip Off

By Dean Baker, AlterNet
Posted on June 23, 2009, Printed on June 25, 2009

This is the time when the excrement starts hitting the fan. The lobbyists are in overdrive, rounding up members of Congress just like the cowboys of the Old West would bring in the herd.

The industry groups will also have their friends in the news media working overtime hyping any possible obstacle to health care reform. And they are filling the airwaves with scary ads, warning that people will never be able to see a doctor again if meaningful health care reform passes.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Thomas Frank: Obama and 'Regulatory Capture'

It's time to take the quality of our watchdogs seriously.


The reason why those who see economic regulations as akin to tyranny often win policy debates is because they have a fiery argument with visceral appeal. Those who try to sell the virtues of the supervisory state tend to favor the passive voice. They don't do fire. They do law review.

The situation ought to be the reverse today. We have just come through the most wrenching financial disaster in decades, brought about in no small part by either the absence of federal regulation or the amazing indifference of the regulators.

This is the moment for a ringing reclamation of the regulatory project. President Barack Obama is clearly the sort of man who could do it. But in a white paper his administration released on the subject last week, the bureaucratic mindset prevails.

Robust Health Care Reform is the Moment of Truth for Obama and the Democrats

Fellow Americans, and fellow Democrats and Obama supporters, we are at a moment of truth, a pivotal turning point -- in the form of what happens in the next days and weeks with robust, universal health reform. A fork in the road socially, economically -- and politically. It could go either way depending on Obama and the Democratic officeholders many of us worked so hard to elect. They have the power to act, but will they use it -- or lose it?

If at this remarkable juncture Obama and the Democrats cannot enact a robust health care reform -- with a strong nationwide public option, cost controls, and nearly universal coverage -- I would not want to be in charge of fundraising and mobilization for them in the 2010 and 2012 elections! Most of us who supported them last time will of course not vote for a Republican.. But if Obama and the Democrats cannot act now on a once in a half century challenge and opportunity, they are not worthy of extra energy. And those of us who wrote big checks last time will tell the Democrats -- especially in the Senate -- to hold pharmaceutical fundraisers instead.

Broken Health Care: What It Really Costs Us

Sometimes, when you're up to your chin in alligators, it's hard to focus on the fact that there's a big, broad, alligator-free world waiting somewhere out there, beyond the edge of the swamp.

In this case, it's hard for most Americans to even imagine that nobody in the rest of the developed world lives this way. We've been living inside the restrictions and making the trade-offs required to hang onto our all-important health care coverage for so long that we don't even realize that we're cutting those deals, or what we're giving up, or how thoroughly those choices have come to dominate and limit our lives.

A Lost Decade for Jobs

Posted by: Michael Mandel on June 23

Private sector job growth was almost non-existent over the past ten years.

Between May 1999 and May 2009, employment in the private sector sector only rose by 1.1%, by far the lowest 10-year increase in the post-depression period.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

New Rules Aren't Enough

The Obama administration's financial reforms won't prevent future economic crises if regulators remain asleep on the job

by Dean Baker

The Obama administration [1]'s proposal for reforming financial regulation [2] has many useful features. In particular, the proposed consumer financial protection agency likely would have prevented many of the worst abuses in the subprime market over the last decade, as well as in other areas of consumer lending.

Other measures, like requiring that standardised derivatives be traded as clearing houses and that hedge funds register their interests with the Securities and Exchange Commission are positive steps towards modernising regulation, although they do not go far enough [3].

The US Treasury should be trying to standardise all derivatives and have them exchange traded to maximise transparency. There also should be increased public disclosure of hedge fund dealings. But, these are not the biggest flaw in the administration's regulatory proposals. The biggest flaw is that they help to support the view that the main problem was inadequate regulations, rather than failed regulators.

False profits and prophecies

By Henry C K Liu

In an earlier article for Asia Times Online, Tip-toe regulatory reform [Jun 18], I referred to George Soros - the speculator who broke the Bank of England over a defense of the pound sterling - as having said in the Financial Times that a requirement for lenders selling securitized loans as securities to retain 5% exposure "is more symbolic than substantive". This is because many institutions were playing the game of regulatory arbitrage, the practice of taking advantage of a regulatory difference between two or more markets.

The issue of regulatory arbitrage was discussed in my recent article on my website: "Mark-to-Market vs Mark-to-Model" [1], an abridged version of which also appeared on the website of New Deal 2.0, a project of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute. [2]

Monday, June 22, 2009

Paul Krugman: Health Care Showdown

America’s political scene has changed immensely since the last time a Democratic president tried to reform health care. So has the health care picture: with costs soaring and insurance dwindling, nobody can now say with a straight face that the U.S. health care system is O.K. And if surveys like the New York Times/CBS News poll released last weekend are any indication, voters are ready for major change.

The question now is whether we will nonetheless fail to get that change, because a handful of Democratic senators are still determined to party like it’s 1993.

And yes, I mean Democratic senators. The Republicans, with a few possible exceptions, have decided to do all they can to make the Obama administration a failure. Their role in the health care debate is purely that of spoilers who keep shouting the old slogans — Government-run health care! Socialism! Europe! — hoping that someone still cares.

Goldman Sachs Issues Non-Apology for Destroying the World Economy

By Matt Taibbi, True/Slant
Posted on June 22, 2009, Printed on June 22, 2009

Anyone else out there find himself doubled over laughing after reading Goldman, Sachs chief Lloyd Blankfein's "apology" for his bank's behavior leading up to the financial crisis? Has an act of contrition ever in history been more worthless and insincere? Even Gary Ridgway did a better job of sounding genuinely sorry at his sentencing hearing -- and he was a guy who had sex with dead prostitutes because it was cheaper than paying live ones.

Looking at Blankfein's one-sentence apology, I'm struck in particular by a couple of phrases:

While we regret that we participated in the market euphoria...

Really, Lloyd? You "participated" in the market euphoria? You didn't, I don't know, cause the market euphoria? By almost any measurement, Goldman was a central, leading player in the subprime housing bubble story. Just yesterday I was talking to Guy Cecala at Inside Mortgage Finance, the trade publication that tracks statistics in the mortgage lending industry. He said that at the height of the boom, in 2006, Goldman Sachs underwrote $76.5 billion in mortgage-backed securities, or 7% of the entire market. Of that $76.5 billion, $29.3 billion was subprime, which is bad enough -- but another $29.8 billion was what's called "Alt-A" paper. Alt-A mortgages are characterized, mainly, by crappy documentation and lack of equity: no income verification, no asset verification, little-to-no cash down. So while "only" 38% of the mortgage-backed securities Goldman underwrote were subprime, more than three-fourths of their securities were what is called "non-prime," ie either subprime or Alt-A. "There's a lot of crap in there too," says Cecala.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Frank Rich: Obama’s Make-or-Break Summer

THAT First 100 Days hoopla seems like a century ago. The countless report cards it engendered are already obsolete. The real story begins now. With Iran, universal health care, energy reform and the economic recovery all on the line, the still-new, still-popular president’s true tests are about to come.

Here’s one thing Barack Obama does not have to worry about: the opposition. Approval ratings for Republicans hit an all-time low last week in both the New York Times/CBS News and Wall Street Journal/NBC News polls. That’s what happens when a party’s most creative innovations are novel twists on old-fashioned sex scandals. Just when you thought the G.O.P. could never match the high bar set by Larry Craig’s men’s room toe-tapping, along came Senator John Ensign of Nevada, an ostentatiously pious born-again Christian whose ecumenical outreach drove him to engineer political jobs for his mistress, her cuckolded husband and the couple’s son. At least it can no longer be said that the Republicans have no plan for putting Americans back to work.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Compensation Hustle

Mid-June saw Executive Compensation Week here in Washington. On June 11 the House Financial Services Committee convened a hearing on Compensation Structure and Systemic Risk, just one day after the administration announced that attorney Ken Feinberg (lately of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund) would serve as the "Special Master" overseeing executive compensation at firms receiving TARP funds. His vaguely kinky title notwithstanding, early reports suggest Feinberg won't be imposing much discipline on naughty execs. "Our people kind of thought it was a nonevent," a bank executive told the Washington Post.

But all the attention on bonuses for executives at TARP firms obscures a much bigger issue, one touched on but never sufficiently investigated during the hearing: how to recalibrate the share of gains captured by shareholders, executives and workers in the post-crash economy.

Conservative Justices’ Strange Enthusiasm for the Punishment of the Innocent

Here’s a beaut of a decision from the increasingly brutal and inhumane conservative-dominated Supreme Court. Not content with gutting anti-discrimination legislation, a 5-4 majority has decided that if people are wrongfully convicted they should be punished anyway because, hey, tough on crime!

In 1993, William Osburne was convicted of kidnapping, assaulting and raping a woman in Anchorage, Alaska. He spent the next 14 years of his life behind bars. Osburne insists that he is innocent, the State of Alaska has in its possession DNA evidence which will once and for all prove his guilt or innocence, and Osburne has offered to pay for DNA testing out of his own pocket. Allowing Osburne to prove—or disprove–his claim of innocence will cost Alaska literally nothing.

Memo to the President: What You Must Do To Save Universal Health Care

Mr. President:

Momentum for universal health care is slowing dramatically on Capitol Hill. Moderates are worried, Republicans are digging in, and the medical-industrial complex is firing up its lobbying and propaganda machine.

But, as you know, the worst news came days ago when the Congressional Budget Office weighed in with awful projections about how much the leading healthcare plans would cost and how many Americans would still be left out in the cold. Yet these projections didn't include the savings that a public option would generate by negotiating lower drug prices, doctor fees, and hospital costs, and forcing private insurers to be more competitive. Projecting the future costs of universal health care without including the public option is like predicting the number of people who will get sunburns this summer if nobody is allowed to buy sun lotion. Of course the costs of universal health care will be huge if the most important way of controlling them is left out of the calculation.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Worse than subprime? Other mortgages imploding slowly

WASHINGTON — Call it son of subprime. Experts warn that a new wave of mortgage foreclosures may be coming soon and could rival the default rates for subprime mortgages and slow efforts to find bottom in a prolonged national housing slump.

The mortgages in question are $230 billion of option adjustable-rate mortgages, creative lending products that flourished at the height of the housing boom. In an option ARM, a borrower can opt to pay less than his or her monthly balance due, and the difference is tacked onto the outstanding loan balance.

Teens are heading in wrong direction: Likely to have sex, but not use contraception

Between 2003 and 2007, the progress made in the 1990s and early 2000s in improving teen contraceptive use and reducing teen pregnancy and childbearing stalled, and may even have reversed among certain groups of teens, according to the study "Changing Behavior Risk for Pregnancy Among High School Students in the United States, 1991-2007."

Power Play

Obama's new rules are fine, but the feds already have all the authority they need to fix Wall Street.

By Eliot Spitzer

In laying the intellectual foundation for the Obama administration's proposed overhaul of financial regulations, Timothy Geithner and Larry Summers rightly point out that "basic failures in financial supervision and regulation" contributed to our current predicament. That phrasing is exactly right—but they then jump in exactly the wrong direction. They presume that the failure of supervision and regulation was a result of inadequate power, rather than the lack of will to use existing power. Their conclusion, therefore, is to seek a grant of additional power rather than to question why those who had it didn't use it.

This distinction is important, because if we misunderstand the history of the crisis, we will learn the wrong lesson. Washington loves to pass new laws conferring additional power whenever there is a major mishap or crisis. Doing so implicitly confers immunity on those who were in power at the beginning of the crisis by sending the following message: The appropriate authorities did not have the power to forestall this problem. But now that we have granted new powers to these authorities, they will avert the next crisis. The problem with this grant of immunity is that we then fail to ask why no one used the power they had and whether rigid ideological thinking got us into the crisis in the first place.

Paul Krugman: Out of the Shadows

Would the Obama administration’s plan for financial reform do what has to be done? Yes and no.

Yes, the plan would plug some big holes in regulation. But as described, it wouldn’t end the skewed incentives that made the current crisis inevitable.

Let’s start with the good news.

Our current system of financial regulation dates back to a time when everything that functioned as a bank looked like a bank. As long as you regulated big marble buildings with rows of tellers, you pretty much had things nailed down.

But today you don’t have to look like a bank to be a bank. As Tim Geithner, the Treasury secretary, put it in a widely cited speech last summer, banking is anything that involves financing “long-term risky and relatively illiquid assets” with “very short-term liabilities.” Cases in point: Bear Stearns and Lehman, both of which financed large investments in risky securities primarily with short-term borrowing.

Firing Back on Right-Wing Domestic Terrorism

It's been a wild couple of weeks for those of us in the wingnutology business. Our services have been in tremendous demand as the mainstream media tries to sort out the meaning of what Scott Roeder and James von Brunn did. I've done an average of one radio show every day for the past two weeks trying to help various lefty talkers around the country make some sense of it all; and I'm generally gratified at how seriously people are starting to take this.

At the same time, I'm also appalled (though, sadly, hardly surprised) by the conservative myth-making that's going on around the very serious issue of right-wing domestic terrorism. So it's obviously time to pull together another "Firing Back" piece to give progressives what they need to separate fact from fiction when these talking points start flying.

Glenn Greenwald: The Washington Post fires its best columnist. Why?

One of the rarest commodities in the establishment media is someone who was a vehement critic of George Bush and who now, applying their principles consistently, has become a regular critic of Barack Obama -- i.e., someone who criticizes Obama from what is perceived as "the Left" rather than for being a Terrorist-Loving Socialist Muslim. It just got a lot rarer, as The Washington Post -- at least according to Politico's Patrick Gavin -- just fired WashingtonPost.com columnist, long-time Bush critic and Obama watchdog (i.e., a real journalist) Dan Froomkin.

What makes this firing so bizarre and worthy of inquiry is that, as Gavin notes, Froomkin was easily one of the most linked-to and cited Post columnists. At a time when newspapers are relying more and more on online traffic, the Post just fired the person who, in 2007, wrote 3 out of the top 10 most-trafficked columns. In publishing that data, Media Bistro used this headline: "The Post's Most Popular Opinions (Read: Froomkin)." Isn't that an odd person to choose to get rid of?

The growing controversy over military chaplains using the armed forces to spread the Word

Ever since former president George W. Bushreferred to the war on terror as a “crusade” in the days after the September 11 attacks, many have charged that the United States was conducting a holy war, pitting a Christian America against the Muslim world. That perception grew as prominent military leaders such as Lt. Gen. William Boykin described the wars in evangelical terms, casting the U.S. military as the "army of God." Although President Obama addressed the Muslim world this month in an attempt to undo the Bush administration's legacy of militant Christian rhetoric that often antagonized Muslim countries, several recent stories have framed the issue as a wider problem of an evangelical military culture that sees spreading Christianity as part of its mission.

Obama's New Economic Plan: The Good, the Bad and the Weak

By Nomi Prins, Mother Jones
Posted on June 19, 2009, Printed on June 19, 2009

On Wednesday, after weeks of the requisite press leaks and prefabricated spin, the Obama administration released details of its new "rules of the road" financial regulations, which had been billed as the most sweeping overhaul of the financial system since the Great Depression.

Obama, alas, is no FDR. Roosevelt's New Deal reforms included the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, which split complex financial institutions into commercial banks (for consumers) and investment banks (for speculators). This enabled government to safeguard the boring, conventional activities of consumer banking without insuring the dice-rolls of high-risk investors. His reforms also opened the banking sector to independent audits to ensure financial soundness -- as opposed to just taking the banks' word for it, as Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's recent stress tests effectively did -- and established the Home Owners' Loan Corporation, which helped people at risk of foreclosure cover their mortgages.

Group of Two is the wrong number

Advocates in the United States of a Group of Two power pairing that would link Beijing and Washington in leading a new world order acknowledge China's desire for recognition as a global power. They overlook China's preference for multilateralism and the energy it is devoting to deepening ties around its northern and western borders.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Ta-Nehisi Coates: Nathan Bedford Forrest Has Beautiful Eyes

Of the many reckonings that black people of honest political consciousness must endure, the appointment with black slavery is the most agonizing. I don't mean the appointment with the notion of white people as the enslavers of our ancestors, but the appointment with our African ancestors as brokers.

I think, when you're in your intellectual infancy, myth keeps your sane. When I was young I believed, like a lot of us at that time, that my people had been kidnapped out of Africa by malicious racist whites. Said whites then turned and subjugated and colonized the cradle of all men. It was a comforting thought which placed me and mine at the center of a grand heroic odyssey. We were deposed kings and queens robbed of our rightful throne by acquisitive merchants of human flesh. By that measures we were not victims, but deposed nobles--in fact and in spirit.

E-Mail Surveillance Renews Concerns in Congress

Published: June 16, 2009
WASHINGTON — The National Security Agency is facing renewed scrutiny over the extent of its domestic surveillance program, with critics in Congress saying its recent intercepts of the private telephone calls and e-mail messages of Americans are broader than previously acknowledged, current and former officials said.

The agency’s monitoring of domestic e-mail messages, in particular, has posed longstanding legal and logistical difficulties, the officials said.

GOP Introduces Bill To Derail Comparative Effectiveness Research

On Monday, Sens. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and Pat Roberts (R-KS) introduced the “Preserving Access to Targeted, Individualized, and Effective New Treatments and Services (PATIENTS) Act of 2009,” a new bill prohibiting Medicare or Medicaid from using “comparative effectiveness research to deny coverage.”

For Kyl, fear mongering about the consequences of government-takeover of health care or medical research is a part time job. He actively rallied against medical research during the stimulus debate, Kathleen Sibelius’ confirmation, and today, he took to the Senate floor to attack Democrats of seeking to “ration care”:

Dean On Conrad's Co-op Plan: Insurance Industry Licking Its Lips

Sen. Kent Conrad's proposal for a cooperative approach to health insurance coverage has created a unique challenge for progressive health care advocates who don't object to the idea but find it inadequate. Hoping not to seem uncompromising on what is health care reform's bipartisan flavor for the day, several high-profile figures began a push-back on Monday, insisting that while Conrad's idea was well intentioned, it simply would not suffice.

"This is a big mistake," former Gov. Howard Dean told the Huffington Post. "These co-ops will be very weak. Many won't have the half-million members that most experts think is necessary to influence the market... Insurance companies will be licking their lips."

Thomas Frank: Modern Slavery Comes to Kansas

Workers who were exploited abroad tend to be exploited here.

Prairie Village, Kan.

Back in grade school our teachers would take us to the statehouse in Topeka, Kan., and maneuver us in front of John Steuart Curry's terrifying mural of John Brown, trying to make abolitionism seem fresh and vivid. But we were children of the 1970s and knew that slavery was a brutish subject from long ago. This was the modern world. If we thought about such things at all, we understood that the concerns of our time were matters like inflation and the Problem of Conformity.

Over the intervening years, however, bonded labor has made a comeback, spotted by journalists in places like Saipan. And now it has apparently come all the way home, from the exotic periphery to the beige office building you pass every day in your air-conditioned sedan.

On May 27, a federal grand jury indictment was unsealed accusing a group of 12 people, mainly Uzbekistanis along with a company called Giant Labor Solutions, of running a labor trafficking ring in Kansas City, Mo., and its suburbs. If the indictment is to be believed, the scam involved the same sort of debt-bondage tricks that have pushed workers elsewhere into servitude for years.

Obama Reg Plan (Sort of) Blames Summers for Financial Mess

On Wednesday, the White House released its plan for reviving financial regulatory reform. And the plan nicely sums up how credit default swaps--complex financial instruments traded between financial firms to cover possible losses--helped grease the way to the current economic disaster:

One of the most significant changes in the world of finance in recent decades has been the explosive growth and rapid innovation in the market for financial derivatives. Much of this development has occurred in the market for OTC derivatives, which are not executed on regulated exchanges. In 2000, the Commodity Futures Modernization Act (CFMA) explicitly exempted OTC derivatives, to a large extent, from regulation by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. In addition, the law limited the SEC’s authority to regulate certain types of OTC derivatives. As a result, the market for OTC derivatives has largely gone unregulated.

Tip-toe regulatory reform

By Henry C K Liu

United States Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and National Economic Council Director Larry Summers jointly wrote an op-ed piece in the Washington Post on Monday, June 15, to lay out the policy goal of the Barack Obama administration's regulatory reform plan to be announced two days later.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The New Boom-Bust Cycle

The housing and finance sectors caused the economic mess. Here's why they can't fix it.

By Daniel Gross

The financial media are desperate to find good news in the troubled finance and housing sectors, the very industries that got us into this mess. This quest for green shoots is frequently comical. Today, the Wall Street Journal featured a piece about new jobs in the financial services industry. Why, JPMorgan hired 950 new loan counselors, and a former Morgan Stanley guy found a job with an asset-management company! But given that financial services firms have shed 600,000 jobs since December 2006, that hardly seems like a triumph.

On Tuesday, Bloomberg noted that housing starts were "soaring," in May, up 17.2 percent from April. That's up three straight months, the Journal chimed in. But housing is an extremely seasonal business. The CEO of a large bank once told me that his bank's mortgage business all but disappeared in the fall because men in the Northeast wouldn't look at houses on Sundays during the football season. So noting that housing starts or sales rose sequentially in the spring months is a little like saying traffic at the train station next to Yankee Stadium was up hugely in April, when 20 games were played, from March, when no games were played. What really matters is the comparison with the previous year. And the news is horrid on that front. "Year over year, housing starts were 45.2 percent lower than the pace of construction in May 2008," the Journal noted.

The Isolationism of Health Reform


The Isolationism of Health Reform

Why won't Congress consider how other countries do it?

By Timothy Noah

The health care debate is, within mainstream political discourse, isolationism's last refuge.

Every day Washington's leaders tell us that we live in an interdependent world with a globalized economy. A butterfly beats its wings in Guangdong province, and four Wal-Marts materialize in Duluth. The peso plunges, and 30 Honda workers get laid off in Marysville. A coal-fired power plant belches carbon dioxide in Prague, and Lohachara Island sinks into the Bay of Bengal.

But change the subject to reform of the health care system, and the community of nations abruptly vanishes. No France, no Canada, no Germany, no Japan. Let there be no mention of any industrialized democracy save that of the United States, which is proud to claim 37th place in the World Health Organization's rankings of the world's health systems and 15th in the Commonwealth Fund's ranking by avoidable mortality of 19 industrialized countries (the highest rank indicates the fewest such deaths). To achieve a better score would be unpatriotic!

In huge change, Obama to strip Fed of power over credit cards

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will propose Wednesday creating a new body to regulate financial products such as mortgages and credit cards, with an eye toward protecting consumers and ordinary investors. It's a radical shift in approach and a tacit acknowledgment of federal failure.

Obama will unveil the broadest proposed revamp of financial regulations since the Great Depression, addressing many of the shortcomings that left the U.S. financial system on the brink of collapse and triggered the recession.

Barbara Ehrenreich: Too Poor to Make the News

THE human side of the recession, in the new media genre that’s been called “recession porn,” is the story of an incremental descent from excess to frugality, from ease to austerity. The super-rich give up their personal jets; the upper middle class cut back on private Pilates classes; the merely middle class forgo vacations and evenings at Applebee’s. In some accounts, the recession is even described as the “great leveler,” smudging the dizzying levels of inequality that characterized the last couple of decades and squeezing everyone into a single great class, the Nouveau Poor, in which we will all drive tiny fuel-efficient cars and grow tomatoes on our porches.

But the outlook is not so cozy when we look at the effects of the recession on a group generally omitted from all the vivid narratives of downward mobility — the already poor, the estimated 20 percent to 30 percent of the population who struggle to get by in the best of times. This demographic, the working poor, have already been living in an economic depression of their own. From their point of view “the economy,” as a shared condition, is a fiction.

School Daze: Religious Right Still Can't Grasp Separation Of Church And School

By Rob Boston
Tue Jun 16, 2009 at 12:39:31 PM EST

Yesterday, I took the day off to attend a special end-of-the-year event at my son's school: He and other members of his fifth-grade class wrote and illustrated stories, which they bound in books and read aloud to visiting parents.

As I surveyed the classroom full of eager students and proud parents, I couldn't help but be struck by the diversity. All races were represented, and several kids mentioned being born in other countries.

I'd guess there was a lot of religious diversity there, too. I suspect we had many varieties of Christians in that room, along with Jews, non-believers, Muslims and probably others.

It was a stark example of why we don't preach religion in public schools.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Un-Cooperative: The Trouble with Conrad's Compromise

Editor's Note: Jacob S. Hacker is co-director of the Center for Health, Economic, and Family Security at U.C. Berkeley; a fellow at the New America Foundation; and the editor of Health at Risk: America's Ailing Health System--and How to Heal It. He's also a regular guest contributor to The Treatment.

In the fast-moving debate over health care, no idea invites more admiration or ire than the “public health insurance option”--or what I’ve been trying to get people to describe as “public plan choice”. The idea is overwhelmingly popular with Americans, garnering 85 percent support in a new independent poll from the Employee Benefit Research Institute. It’s also compelling and simple: If you don’t have coverage from your employer, you can choose from a menu of health insurance products that includes not just a range of private health plans but also a public insurance plan provided on the same terms nationwide.

Military accepting neo-Nazis, white supremacists, probe finds

The US military has effectively adopted a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy concerning white supremacists and neo-Nazis in an effort to bolster recruiting and retention, an article published Monday says.

Numerous articles have detailed the Army’s recruiting woes in the wake of two ongoing US wars abroad. Soldiers are less likely to enlist — or re-enlist — when faced with possible death overseas, though recruiting has gotten easier during the current recession.

Paul Krugman: Stay the Course

The debate over economic policy has taken a predictable yet ominous turn: the crisis seems to be easing, and a chorus of critics is already demanding that the Federal Reserve and the Obama administration abandon their rescue efforts. For those who know their history, it’s déjà vu all over again — literally.

For this is the third time in history that a major economy has found itself in a liquidity trap, a situation in which interest-rate cuts, the conventional way to perk up the economy, have reached their limit. When this happens, unconventional measures are the only way to fight recession.

Yet such unconventional measures make the conventionally minded uncomfortable, and they keep pushing for a return to normalcy. In previous liquidity-trap episodes, policy makers gave in to these pressures far too soon, plunging the economy back into crisis. And if the critics have their way, we’ll do the same thing this time.

Fertilizer industry finds its alternative energy: corncobs

WASHINGTON — American agriculture has become increasingly dependent on foreign sources of natural gas, a key ingredient in the nitrogen fertilizer that farmers use to get high yields of crops such as corn and wheat.

Now, a California start-up company is preparing to open a plant that will make fertilizer in the U.S. and reduce fossil fuel emissions from agriculture.

Nothing exotic needed, said the company, SynGest of San Francisco. The raw ingredient for the same ammonia-based fertilizer farmers have used for decades is something many already have and don't really need: corncobs.

The Age of Tom Paine


He was the master wordsmith of the American Revolution. His ideas are embedded deep in our DNA. "These are the times that try men's souls," he wrote, and patriots of every rank responded — farmers, blacksmiths, merchants and aristocrats. But he died broke, scorned and alone, here in New York City two hundred years ago this week. So unsung is this hero, a foundling father one historian calls him, that only a handful of his most ardent fans showed up at the ceremonies marking the bicentennial of his death.

The following is a transcript from the June 12 edition of PBS' Bill Moyers Journal.

BILL MOYERS: He was the master wordsmith of the American Revolution. His ideas are embedded deep in our DNA. "These are the times that try men's souls," he wrote, and patriots of every rank responded — farmers, blacksmiths, merchants and aristocrats. Thomas Paine lived a life of adventure, stirred radical sentiments on two continents, knew Washington and Jefferson, Lafayette and Napoleon. But he died broke, scorned and alone, here in New York City two hundred years ago this week.

So unsung is this hero, a foundling father one historian calls him, that only a handful of his most ardent fans showed up at the ceremonies marking the bicentennial of his death.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Fascism is not liberal: The profound dishonesty of Jonah Goldberg

-- by Dave

I picked up the most recent copy of National Review – the one with the strange “Sotomayor as a Buddhist” cover – while I was in D.C. because I wanted to read the piece headlined across the cover: “Jonah Goldberg on His Critics”. Brian Beutler at TPM pointedly observed: “That better be a long article.”

Actually, it’s only two pages long. So, predictably, it’s pretty short on any discussion, as is the list of critics he actually addresses by name or argument. Namely: two – David Oshinsky and Michael Tomasky. And just as predictably, he completely misrepresents their arguments, setting up little strawmen and knocking them down instead.

And as if on cue, we get the point of writing the piece in the headline: “Obama’s Playbook, In Paperback.” (I’ll add the link if and when it ever becomes available online.) Yes, you see, Barack Obama is now the leading exponent of “liberal fascism.” This, of course, is Glenn Beck’s favorite thesis these days too.

Paul Krugman's fear for lost decade

As analysts and media hailed the tentative emergence of green shoots last week, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman caused international shock with a prediction that the world economy would stagnate just as badly, and for just as long, as Japan's did in the 1990s. In an exclusive interview, he talks to Will Hutton about his anxiety for the future - and how Gordon Brown might have saved Britain from the blight that hangs over the West

  • The Observer, Sunday 14 June 2009

Will Hutton: You are warning that what happened to Japan could happen to the whole world. Japan's GDP at the end of this year will be no higher than it was in 1992 - 17 lost years. You are saying that this is an ongoing risk, certainly for the North Atlantic economy - maybe the world economy.

Paul Krugman: Yes. It's not that the risk of the Japan syndrome has receded very much. The risk of a full, all-out Great Depression - utter collapse of everything - has receded a lot in the past few months. But this first year of crisis has been far worse than anything that happened in Japan during the last decade, so in some sense we already have much worse than anything the Japanese went through. The risk for long stagnation is really high.

Fitch Expects Home Prices to Fall through 2nd Half of 2010

by CalculatedRisk on 6/13/2009 08:44:00 AM

Fitch expects "home prices will fall an additional 12.5% nationally and 36% in California" from Q1 2009.

And, oh, you remember subprime?

From HousingWire: Subprime Bloodletting Continues at Fitch

Fitch Ratings today made massive downgrades on various vintage ‘05 through ‘08 subprime residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS), indicating the extent of the fallout related to subprime defaults has yet to subside.

About Climate Change: Never Mind

How one think tank adapted when the debate moved on from its favorite issue.

By Lydia DePillis

It was a gathering of the anti-Washington elite. On Thursday evening, in a vast hotel ballroom just steps from the Capitol, the Competitive Enterprise Institute celebrated 25 years of existence. The Cato Institute, Reason magazine, and Americans for Prosperity all sent contingents. Master of ceremonies Tucker Carlson cracked jokes about Al Sharpton and Al Gore. The crowd of 500 dined on sea bass and toasted liberty.

But on its signature issue—climate change—at the still-young age of 25, CEI is already going senile.

Frank Rich: The Obama Haters’ Silent Enablers

WHEN a Fox News anchor, reacting to his own network’s surging e-mail traffic, warns urgently on-camera of a rise in hate-filled, “amped up” Americans who are “taking the extra step and getting the gun out,” maybe we should listen. He has better sources in that underground than most.

The anchor was Shepard Smith, speaking after Wednesday’s mayhem at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. Unlike the bloviators at his network and elsewhere on cable, Smith is famous for his highly caffeinated news-reading, not any political agenda. But very occasionally — notably during Hurricane Katrina — he hits the Howard Beale mad-as-hell wall. Joining those at Fox who routinely disregard the network’s “We report, you decide” mantra, he both reported and decided, loudly.

What he reported was this: his e-mail from viewers had “become more and more frightening” in recent months, dating back to the election season. From Wednesday alone, he “could read a hundred” messages spewing “hate that’s not based in fact,” much of it about Barack Obama and some of it sharing the museum gunman’s canard that the president was not a naturally born citizen. These are Americans “out there in a scary place,” Smith said.

Conspiracy as Prophecy

Fri Jun 12, 2009 at 03:58:13 PM EST

What is New World Order conspiracy theory and how is it spreading through our society?

A few weeks ago I spoke at an event sponsored by one of the local chapters of the American Jewish Committee and emphasized the growing dangers of New World Order Conspiracy theories. Included in my presentation were video clips and examples of the rapid mainstreaming of this conspiracy storyline. However, my presentation was not focused on white supremacist groups but Christian Zionist leaders who freely and openly disseminate this paranoid conspiracy to millions worldwide in the guise of end times prophecy.

The press is focusing on the manifestations of hatred by white supremacist groups as opposed to the narrative through which they teach their hateful obsession with Jews. This "New World Order" narrative, as well as the process through which this narrative is transmitted to others, is an important part of understanding the growing epidemic of paranoid conspiracy theories. The narrative is not just about indulging in hatred of "the other" but a cohesive storyline about the battle between good and evil in society. This narrative can be disseminated in religious or secular versions, and can be told in an anti-Semitic or "philo-Semitic" millennial frame. But the basic storyline of world control by an interconnected and demonic cabal remains the same. Understanding this narrative can help to explain a question that numerous commentators posed this week, as they wondered why the election of our first African American president could bring about an increase in anti-Semitic violence.

A wake-up call on water use

A long-running resource issue finally trickles down to more consumers.

By Gloria Goodale | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor/ June 10, 2009 edition

Santa Monica, Calif.

Move over, carbon, the next shoe to drop in the popular awareness of eco-issues is the “water footprint.”

That’s the word in environmental circles these days. Just as the image of a heavy carbon foot made it possible for the masses to grasp the power of carbon-dioxide emissions, water footprint is the phrase now drawing attention to the impact of human behavior regarding water.

“H2O is the next CO2,” says Nicholas Eisenberger, managing principal of GreenOrder, a consulting firm that specializes in sustainable business. As a phrase, water footprint “will probably move more quickly through the public mind as it catches on,” he says, because water is more tangible than carbon.

Juan Cole: Stealing the Iranian Election

op Pieces of Evidence that the Iranian Presidential Election Was Stolen

1. It is claimed that Ahmadinejad won the city of Tabriz with 57%. His main opponent, Mir Hossein Mousavi, is an Azeri from Azerbaijan province, of which Tabriz is the capital. Mousavi, according to such polls as exist in Iran and widespread anecdotal evidence, did better in cities and is popular in Azerbaijan. Certainly, his rallies there were very well attended. So for an Azeri urban center to go so heavily for Ahmadinejad just makes no sense. In past elections, Azeris voted disproportionately for even minor presidential candidates who hailed from that province.

2. Ahmadinejad is claimed to have taken Tehran by over 50%. Again, he is not popular in the cities, even, as he claims, in the poor neighborhoods, in part because his policies have produced high inflation and high unemployment. That he should have won Tehran is so unlikely as to raise real questions about these numbers. [Ahmadinejad is widely thought only to have won Tehran in 2005 because the pro-reform groups were discouraged and stayed home rather than voting.)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Right-wing media and the fringe: A growing history of violence (and denial)

This week, the country's attention was captured by the horrific shooting at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, allegedly by James W. von Brunn, an 88-year-old man with ties to white supremacist and anti-Semitic organizations. The fatal shooting came just two months after an April 7 Department of Homeland Security report detailing potential increases in right-wing extremism.

As Media Matters for America documented, the DHS report was immediately and vehemently rejected by numerous conservative commentators, such as Lou Dobbs, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michelle Malkin, and David Asman, who portrayed it as an illegitimate and politically motivated assault on conservatives. (Media Matters Senior Fellow Karl Frisch puts the attacks in even broader perspective here.)

America's socialism for the rich

The US has a huge corporate safety net, allowing the banks to gamble with impunity, but offers little to struggling individuals

Joseph Stiglitz
Friday 12 June 2009 20.00 BST

With all the talk of "green shoots" of economic recovery, America's banks are pushing back on efforts to regulate them. While politicians talk about their commitment to regulatory reform to prevent a recurrence of the crisis, this is one area where the devil really is in the details – and the banks will muster what muscle they have left to ensure that they have ample room to continue as they have in the past.

The old system worked well for the bankers (if not for their shareholders), so why should they embrace change? Indeed, the efforts to rescue them devoted so little thought to the kind of post-crisis financial system we want that we will end up with a banking system that is less competitive, with the large banks that were too big too fail even larger.

Who Can We Bank On, Who Who Can We Trust, as Crisis Sharpens?

Washington Seems Tethered At The Hip To Wall Street and Does It’s Bidding

by Danny Schechter

Can it possibly be true that the Congress can't walk and chew gum at the same time? This question is prompted by the announcement that financial reform is being pushed back as health care becomes the priority.

This makes me nervous for two reasons. First, it portends a long drawn out legislative battle on health care reform with more time for industry lobbyists and the Congresspersons and Senate persons on their payrolls to compromise away or wreck the change we so deeply need.

Second, it confirms that the lobbyists for financial institutions -- the people responsible for the collapse of our economy -- have been scheming and wrangling to gut the reforms that could stop another economic breakdown. Reviving this industry without restructuring and re-regulating it just guarantees another disaster down the line.

Memo to the Right Wing: Put Up or Shut Up

Dear Conservatives:

Your fellow Americans demand an answer -- and we want it now. Just one simple question:

Are you deliberately trying to start a civil war?

Just answer the question. Yes or no. Don't insult us with elisions, evasions, dithering, qualifications, or conditional answers. We need to know what your intentions are -- and we need to know NOW. People are being shot dead in the streets of America at the rate of several per month now. You may not want responsibility for this -- but the whackadoodles pulling the triggers make no bones about who put them up to this.

You did.

Coal Ash Spills Too Dangerous To Reveal To Public, Says DHS

Just how bad has the coal ash situation gotten in the United States? So bad that the Department of Homeland Security has told Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) that her committee can't publicly disclose the location of coal ash dumps across the country.

The pollution is so toxic, so dangerous, that an enemy of the United States -- or a storm or some other disrupting event -- could easily cause them to spill out and lay waste to any area nearby.

Naomi Klein: The Financial Crisis Presents a Huge Opportunity for Change -- We Can't Let Obama Blow It

The above is the text of Naomi Klein's speech to the Momentum Plenary at the America's Future Now conference in Washington. It has been edited for length and clarity.

[The previous speech by activist Gabriela Sanchez] made me think of this idea of whether we should have Obama's back, or whether we should be pushing him further. You know Bob says both, and I think that's a good answer, but I also want to say something else, which is, Rahm Emanuel has Barack Obama's back. He is a great politician, Obama. He's doing fine and has people like Gabriela Sanchez and the people who work with her, who need us to have their back. It's a basic principle. A solidarity.

The president of the most powerful country in the world is doing all right. But there are a lot of people in this country who are not doing all right, and we need to rediscover these basic principles of solidarity in this moment more than any other.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Scrutiny of Bank of America's Merrill purchase intensifies

Lawmakers blitzed Bank of America chief executive Ken Lewis on Thursday about why he didn't alert shareholders to the deepening troubles behind his deal to buy Merrill Lynch and about whether he tried to pass blame to regulators.

Critics on the House panel said Lewis was trying to play the victim, blaming the government for making him take on a company with mounting losses that he tried to abandon. But Lewis also had supporters on the panel, who tried to cajole him into laying more of the blame on the government.

Another Look at the Dems’ Tobacco Bill

he Democrats’ bill placing the tobacco industry under the oversight of the Food and Drug Administration is on its way to the White House, having passed the Senate today, and party leaders are patting themselves on the back for their accomplishment. (Some lawmakers, after all, have been pushing this concept for decades.)

But Paul Smalera, writing in Slate this week, has another approach to the legislation that’s worth a look.

Paul Krugman: The Big Hate

Back in April, there was a huge fuss over an internal report by the Department of Homeland Security warning that current conditions resemble those in the early 1990s — a time marked by an upsurge of right-wing extremism that culminated in the Oklahoma City bombing.

Conservatives were outraged. The chairman of the Republican National Committee denounced the report as an attempt to “segment out conservatives in this country who have a different philosophy or view from this administration” and label them as terrorists.

Tomgram: Michael Klare, Goodbye to Cheap Oil

Buckle your seatbelt, you may be going nowhere -- and it could be a very bumpy ride. Oil futures have just passed $71 for a barrel of "light, sweet crude oil" (sweet for energy stocks, anyway) on its way to... well, we don't know exactly where, but it won't feel good, not at the pump and not in the economy either. In the Midwest and scattered other locations, gas prices are already at the edge of $3.00 a gallon and the height of summer isn't even upon us.

Much of this sudden rise has been fueled by OPEC production cuts, investor dreams of a global economic recovery (and so a heightened desire for energy), and the enthusiasm of market speculators. Explain it as you will, the price of crude, which hit a low of about $32 a barrel in December, as the planet seemed to meltdown economically, has doubled in recent months.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

What Happened to Single Payer?

As Congress dives head first into what has fast become a thorny debate over health care reform, the key Democrats in the discussion have insisted that all options remain on the table.

All, that is, except one.

Universal, single-payer health care — the idea that the government will cover everyone’s medical bills using taxpayer dollars — was dismissed by leading Democrats long before any details of their reform plans have been finalized. In the Senate Finance Committee, for example, a series of health reform discussions this year included input from academics, retirees, health insurers and other industry representatives, but no single-payer advocates were invited. Last month, the White House’s top health official told lawmakers that President Obama rejects the model altogether.

A Republican to Save Us

By Robert Scheer

You probably don’t know much about Sheila Bair, but she is looking out for you, and that is why the big guys on Wall Street and their allies in the Obama administration are out to get her.

Bair is the Republican whom President Obama reappointed to head the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., but she is protecting the interest of taxpayers as no Democrat has in this administration, and she needs your support. Huge financial decisions are being made by this government, involving trillions in future obligations of U.S. taxpayers, and Bair has been a rare effective voice for the interests of ordinary folk.

Tragedy at the Holocaust Museum: Stand Up To Terrorism


You have to go back a long, long way in American history before you come to a place where you find incidents like this happening an average of once every two weeks.This escalating level of violence is adding data points to a potentially emergent pattern that we need to be looking at and preparing for. So far, there are at least five things I'm particularly concerned about.

The storm I've been warning about [1] is coming in faster now. It is time for the right to stand up against the escalating tide of violence fueled by its own rhetoric.

First ever worldwide census analysis of caribou/reindeer numbers reveals dramatic decline

Worldwide decline in caribou/reindeer numbers

Caribou and reindeer numbers worldwide have plunged almost 60% in the last three decades.

The dramatic revelation came out of the first ever comprehensive census analysis of this iconic species carried out by biologists at the University of Alberta.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Progressives Have a Chance to Dominate American Politics for the Next 40 Years

By Sara Robinson, AlterNet
Posted on June 10, 2009, Printed on June 10, 2009

The following is a transcript of Campaign for America's future fellow Sara Robinson's speech to the America's Future Now! conference panel, "Kick Them When They Are Down? How the Right Plans to Come Back and What Can Be Done About It." It has been edited for clarity.

I'm going to offer a couple of reason why the long-term prospects for the progressive movement are actually pretty good. I think in the long term, the spirit of the country is with us, and there's a couple of reasons for that. Then I want to get into three core strategies that I think we need to focus on to make the most of the opportunity.

So, I want to say flat out that I think that the progressive movement has real potential to be a lot longer and a lot stronger than most people think. And I'll flat out say -- if we play our cards right, we progressives have the potential to dominate American politics for the next 40 years. We have a huge opening here.

Study Follows the Money on Cram-Down Vote

by: Matt Renner, t r u t h o u t | Report

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Max Baucus (D-Montana). Baucus was one of 12 Democrats to vote against cram-down provisions. (Photo: AP)

A new analysis from a government watchdog group shows senators who killed off a consumer-friendly change in law aimed at addressing the foreclosure crisis received more money in campaign contributions from the industries their vote aided.

Senators who voted against the consumer-friendly amendment received $3.98 million from the financial industry during the 2008 election cycle, while proponents of the bill received $2.65 million.

Thomas Frank: Red State Story

How a murder fed conspiracy theories about the liberal media.

Two weeks ago, former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline sent out a fund-raising letter asking for help paying down legal bills he incurred during one of his fights with that state's abortion providers. After recounting his battles with Wichita abortion doctor George Tiller and others, Mr. Kline moaned that "They must silence the truth by silencing the messenger."

The depiction of the state's abortion providers as a malign power capable of "silencing" whoever opposes them might seem absurd, but it is unremarkable for Kansas conservatives, who once routinely accused Dr. Tiller and his colleagues of pulling the strings controlling the state's politics.

What makes this particular fund-raising missive supremely awkward is that it arrived in people's mailboxes after Tiller himself had been silenced forever, gunned down in a Wichita church, allegedly by a man from the fringes of the antiabortion movement.

Caribbean reefs 'flattened' in just 40 years

In just 40 years, the Caribbean's spectacular branched corals have been flattened. Research reveals that the corals have been replaced by shorter rival species – and points to climate change as at least partly to blame.

Most of the reefs have lost all the intricate, tree-like corals that until the 1970s provided sanctuary for unique reef fish and other creatures, as well as protecting coastlines by sapping the energy of waves.

WSJ publishes op-ed falsely equating "ObamaCare" with Canadian "single-payer" system

June 09, 2009 3:52 pm ET

SUMMARY: A Wall Street Journal op-ed by David Gratzer falsely equated "a new public insurance program" supported by "Congressional Democrats" to the Canadian "single-payer" system. In fact, President Obama has explicitly rejected a Canadian-style system and supports a "public plan" option alongside private insurance plans.

In a June 9 Wall Street Journal op-ed, headlined "Canada's ObamaCare Precedent," Dr. David Gratzer, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute, falsely equated "a new public insurance program" that "Congressional Democrats will soon put forward" to the Canadian "single-payer" system, which he suggested was "government health care" that is neither "compassionate" nor "equitable." In fact, President Obama and key congressional Democrats -- such as Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee chairman Ted Kennedy and House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Henry Waxman -- have stated that they support the creation of a federally funded "public plan" as one of many insurance options available in the health care market, not as the sole option, as in "single-payer" systems such as Canada. Moreover, Obama has explicitly rejected a Canadian-style system.