Monday, August 31, 2009

Climate Trouble May Be Bubbling Up in Far North

Reverse Bank Robbery

No wonder America's banks are making profits again: the US government is bribing them to borrow its own money

by Dean Baker

Most of us work for a living, the rest are bankers. These days the news is filled with great tales [1] about how America's banks are coming back.

Even that giant corpse Citigroup [2] is showing signs of life. Its stock is now selling for more than five times the lows it hit earlier this year. Its market capitalization is up near $57bn, a bit more than the $45 billion that the government lent them through the Troubled Assets Relief Programme [3], or Tarp. Some are even expecting that the government will make a profit on its Citigroup [4] investment.

These hopes are probably somewhat premature. Citigroup still has many bad assets on its books which it has not yet written down. Furthermore, the government is directly on the hook for $300bn of these bad assets, having offered a guarantee as part of its "December Citigroup Rescue Special".

The Secret Government

By Christopher Hayes

This article appeared in the September 14, 2009 edition of The Nation.

August 26, 2009

It is now clear that we are facing an implacable enemy whose avowed objective is world domination by whatever means and at whatever cost. There are no rules in such a game. Hitherto acceptable norms of human conduct do not apply. If the United States is to survive, long-standing American concepts of "fair play" must be reconsidered.

Though these words echo his famous endorsement of working "the dark side" in order to triumph in the "war on terror," they were not, in fact, written by Dick Cheney. They come from the Doolittle Report, which was commissioned by President Eisenhower in 1954 to craft an intelligence strategy for winning the cold war. From a strategic perspective, the threat posed by global communism, headquartered in a massive, nuclear-armed superpower with almost 6 million men under arms, and Al Qaeda, a networked, globally distributed group of thousands of nonstate actors, could not be more different. But the national security state's understanding of each as an existential threat was, and continues to be, nearly identical. The enemy is ingenious, relentless and unencumbered by the procedural and moral niceties that hamstring the bureaucrats of a liberal democracy. Victory--indeed, survival--requires us to become more like them.

And so: the CIA contracted a Mafia boss to murder Fidel Castro, sent biotoxins to the Republic of Congo with orders to poison Patrice Lumumba and tested LSD on unsuspecting citizens (one of whom jumped out of a window to his death). It fomented coups and bloodshed against democratically elected governments, while the National Security Agency, in coordination with the major telegram companies, read every single telegram coming in or going out of the country for three decades. The FBI infiltrated peaceful antiwar groups, breaking up marriages of activists with forged evidence of infidelity, while surveilling civil rights leaders with an assortment of bugs and break-ins. It even attempted to blackmail Martin Luther King Jr. into committing suicide, shipping him tapes of him midcoitus with a mistress and a note that said, "There is but one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy, abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation."

Powerful Ideas: Bacteria Clean Sewage and Create Electricity

By Charles Q. Choi, Special to LiveScience

posted: 31 August 2009 09:34 am ET

Editor's Note: This occasional series looks at powerful ideas — some existing, some futuristic — for fueling and electrifying modern life.

Batteries made with microbes could help generate power by cleaning up organic waste at the same time.

Sewage is loaded with energy-rich sugars that researchers have struggled for years to convert into useful power. To do so, investigators have experimented with nature's experts on breaking down waste — bacteria.

Paul Krugman: Missing Richard Nixon

Many of the retrospectives on Ted Kennedy’s life mention his regret that he didn’t accept Richard Nixon’s offer of a bipartisan health care deal. The moral some commentators take from that regret is that today’s health care reformers should do what Mr. Kennedy balked at doing back then, and reach out to the other side.

But it’s a bad analogy, because today’s political scene is nothing like that of the early 1970s. In fact, surveying current politics, I find myself missing Richard Nixon.

No, I haven’t lost my mind. Nixon was surely the worst person other than Dick Cheney ever to control the executive branch.

But the Nixon era was a time in which leading figures in both parties were capable of speaking rationally about policy, and in which policy decisions weren’t as warped by corporate cash as they are now. America is a better country in many ways than it was 35 years ago, but our political system’s ability to deal with real problems has been degraded to such an extent that I sometimes wonder whether the country is still governable.

Glenn Beck's Crazy Lies About Van Jones

By Eva Paterson, Equal Justice Society
Posted on August 31, 2009, Printed on August 31, 2009

After smearing White House special advisor Van Jones for days on his show, Glenn Beck said on August 27, 2009: "I want to point out the silence; no one has challenged these facts -- they just attack me personally."

Well, the White House is wise to stay above the fray but someone has to set the record straight. And as the person who first hired Van Jones, initially as a legal intern and later as a legal fellow, I am in a unique position to know the truth.

And the truth is: Beck is fabricating his facts.

Trial by Fire

Did Texas execute an innocent man?

David Grann
September 7, 2009

The fire moved quickly through the house, a one-story wood-frame structure in a working-class neighborhood of Corsicana, in northeast Texas. Flames spread along the walls, bursting through doorways, blistering paint and tiles and furniture. Smoke pressed against the ceiling, then banked downward, seeping into each room and through crevices in the windows, staining the morning sky.

Buffie Barbee, who was eleven years old and lived two houses down, was playing in her back yard when she smelled the smoke. She ran inside and told her mother, Diane, and they hurried up the street; that’s when they saw the smoldering house and Cameron Todd Willingham standing on the front porch, wearing only a pair of jeans, his chest blackened with soot, his hair and eyelids singed. He was screaming, “My babies are burning up!” His children—Karmon and Kameron, who were one-year-old twin girls, and two-year-old Amber—were trapped inside.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Malpractice Lawsuits Are ‘Red Herring’ in Obama Plan

By Alex Nussbaum

June 16 (Bloomberg) -- Protecting doctors from lawsuits may do more to gain political cover for President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul than to rein in medical costs.

While Obama vowed to address physicians’ malpractice worries in a speech yesterday, annual jury awards and legal settlements involving doctors amounts to “a drop in the bucket” in a country that spends $2.3 trillion annually on health care, said Amitabh Chandra, a Harvard University economist. Chandra estimated the cost at $12 per person in the U.S., or about $3.6 billion, in a 2005 study. Insurer WellPoint Inc. said last month that liability wasn’t driving premiums.

Lockerbie Part of a Bigger Story

by Eric Margolis

Libya's Moammar Khadaffy, once branded "the mad dog of the Middle East" by Ronald Reagan, is celebrating 40 years in power in spite of a score of attempts by western powers and his Arab "brothers" to kill him.

In 1987, I was invited to interview Khadaffy. We spent an evening together in his Bedouin tent. He led me by the hand through the ruins of his personal quarters, bombed a year earlier by the U.S. in an attempt to assassinate him. Khadaffy showed me where his two-year old daughter had been killed by a 1,000-pound bomb.

"Why are the Americans trying to kill me, Mister Eric?" he asked, genuinely puzzled.

I told him because Libya was harbouring all sorts of anti-western revolutionary groups, from Palestinian firebrands to IRA bombers and Nelson Mandela's ANC. To the naive Libyans, they were all legitimate "freedom fighters."

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Secret camps and guillotines? Groups make birthers look sane

WASHINGTON — Is the federal government building secret camps to lock up people who criticize President Barack Obama?

Will it truck off young people to camps to brainwash them into liking Obama's agenda? Are government officials planning to replicate the French Revolution's Reign of Terror, using the guillotine to silence their domestic enemies?

No. The charges, of course, are not true.

Glenn Greenwald: The Washington Post's Cheney-ite Defense of Torture

If anyone ever tells you that they don't understand what is meant be "stenography journalism" -- or ever insists that America is plagued by a Liberal Media -- you can show them this article from today's Washington Post [1] and, by itself, it should clear up everything. The article's headline is "How a Detainee Became An Asset -- Sept. 11 Plotter Cooperated After Waterboarding" -- though an equally appropriate headline would be: "The Joys and Virtue of Torture -- how Dick Cheney Kept Us Safe." I defy anyone to identify a single way the article would be different if The Post had let Dick Cheney write it himself. The next time someone laments the economic collapse of the modern American newspaper, one might point out that an industry which pays three separate reporters (Peter Finn, Joby Warrick and Julie Tate) and numerous editors to churn out mindless, inane tripe like this has brought about its own demise.

Re-Appointed Fed Chief Ben Bernanke Didn't Get Us Out of the Economic Crisis, He Helped Cause It

By William Greider, The Nation
Posted on August 27, 2009, Printed on August 29, 2009

The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer can be thought of as the Potemkin village of American democracy. Every evening, it presents a prettified version of political debate -- ever so civil and high-minded -- that thoroughly blots out the substance of dissenting critics or the untamed opinions of mere citizens. PBS's sanitized version of news was deployed this summer to assist the charm offensive launched by the Federal Reserve and its embattled chairman, Ben Bernanke. The NewsHour staged a "town meeting" in Kansas City at which Bernanke fielded prescreened questions from preselected citizens. As town meetings go, this was strictly polite. As TV goes, it was deadly dull. The citizens were so deferential they seemed sedated. Jim Lehrer was so laconic, several times I thought he had nodded off.

The message, however, was reassuring. With folksy talk, Bernanke came across as a mild-mannered professor earnestly coping with financial complexities and sleepless nights. Gentle Ben struggles to save us from another Great Depression. People are angry at the Fed (and the elected government) for devoting so many trillions to bail out failing bankers while the populace copes with the disastrous results of the bankers' folly. Bernanke said he too hated the bailouts but had no choice. "I am as disgusted as you are," Gentle Ben allowed. To show further he is a good guy, Bernanke appointed a labor leader, Denis Hughes, as chairman of the board at the New York Federal Reserve Bank (the operating president, however, is a Goldman Sachs guy).

Friday, August 28, 2009

Is TARP Profitable?

The huge government bailout could have cost taxpayers $700 billion. Now it looks like it might break even.

By Daniel Gross

The Troubled Asset Repurchase Program, the controversial $700 billion package passed in the heat of last fall's presidential election campaign, wasn't presented as a bailout of a failed system. Rather, then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and his allies touted it as an opportunity for the taxpayer to profit by making investments in name-brand companies. Indeed, during the Great Panic of 2008, American taxpayers reluctantly made a series of very expensive investments in blue-chip companies—Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the insurer AIG, General Motors. Since these bailouts were designed to halt failure rather than stimulate growth, the return on most of these efforts has been largely intangible.

And yet. As we approach the one-year anniversary of the Panic of 2008, it's clear that the actual cost of the TARP will be a fraction of the original $700 billion estimate and that taxpayers are even turning a profit from the central component of the package. The initial effort that Paulson began, and that his successors in the Obama administration continued, had the characteristics of an investment fund. Under the Capital Purchase Program, the government would borrow from the public at low rates—1 percent or so per year—and lend the money to banks at 5 percent, through the purchase of preferred shares. As investors in troubled companies do, the government demanded something extra: warrants, which are the right to buy a stock at a set price. It's kind of like lending money to someone to buy a house but getting ownership of the basement as part of the deal.

The Secret History of Hurricane Katrina

There was nothing natural about the disaster that befell New Orleans in Katrina's aftermath.

—By James Ridgeway

Confronted with images of corpses floating in the blackened floodwaters or baking in the sun on abandoned highways, there aren't too many people left who see what happened following Hurricane Katrina as a purely "natural" disaster. The dominant narratives that have emerged, in the four years since the storm, are of a gross human tragedy, compounded by social inequities and government ineptitude—a crisis subsequently exploited in every way possible for political and financial gain.

But there's an even harsher truth, one some New Orleans residents learned in the very first days but which is only beginning to become clear to the rest of us: What took place in this devastated American city was no less than a war, in which victims whose only crimes were poverty and blackness were treated as enemies of the state.

Fed Up

Did Ben Bernanke really save America's financial system?

By James K. Galbraith

David Wessel’s new account of the Great Crisis, In Fed We Trust, has many merits: it is timely, well written, and informative. The protagonists—Ben Bernanke, Henry Paulson, and Timothy Geithner—were faced in September 2008 with a supreme challenge. Wessel gives us, without judgment, a narrative of what they did. As history, this is first-draft stuff, but it’s as good a first draft as one could hope for, less than a year after the events it describes.

Wessel begins with the collapse of Lehman Brothers, as the crisis climaxed. We see the government acting as the ultimate investment banker, an ur-manager for the too-big-to-fail. Bernanke, Geithner, and Paulson shuttle between New York and Washington, send signals, urge Lehman to find a buyer, court Bank of America and then Barclays, and pressure other Wall Street CEOs to join a deal. It is all in direct line of descent from J. P. Morgan’s epic rescue of the Trust Company of New York in the panic of 1907—a comparison Wessel does not neglect to draw.

Michael Kinsley: Change We'd Rather Do Without

The reason Americans have turned against health-care reform, after electing President Obama in part for promising it, is simple: Despite protestations to the contrary, Americans don't like change. You wouldn't know it, of course, if you listen to politicians in high-pander mode, or to talk radio hosts of the right or TV pundits of the left. Or, for that matter, if you listened to the president of the United States. You would think that while we might disagree about what kind of change we want, Americans are in total agreement that the current situation is intolerable in all areas and that change -- big, immediate change -- is essential. Americans do agree about this -- in the abstract. But as soon as it seems that change might actually happen -- as soon as we leave the abstract for the particular -- we panic. We suddenly develop nostalgia for the comforts of the status quo. Sure, we want change -- as long as everything can stay just as it is.

Yes, of course, the opposition party has gotten away with some grotesque misrepresentations. But that will always be true as you move from the abstract to the particular. There will always be a Betsy McCaughey sharpening her pencils and cackling as she underlines promising sub-clauses. And she will always find something. Obama thought he could avoid this by not supplying the document. He thought -- hell, we all thought -- that Hillary Clinton's big mistake in the 1990s was too much detail. Obama said he would leave all that up to Congress. But at some point, you've got to show your hand. All Obama seems to have achieved in the end was a shift in timing -- and not an advantageous one. Instead of being in trouble almost from the beginning, his reform remained popular until it was time for Congress to vote.

Caution! Quagmire Ahead!

The United States can't win in Afghanistan unless its new president makes major reforms, and quickly.

The ballots haven't all yet been counted in Afghanistan's election, but the interim reports—of intimidation, low turnout, continued violence, and widespread fraud—bode poorly for the country and our war there.

The strategic goal of a counterinsurgency war is to build support for the central government. Our forces provide security to the people. As a result, the regime can supply basic services. As a result, the insurgents lose their base of popular support.

Paul Krugman: Till Debt Does Its Part

So new budget projections show a cumulative deficit of $9 trillion over the next decade. According to many commentators, that’s a terrifying number, requiring drastic action — in particular, of course, canceling efforts to boost the economy and calling off health care reform.

The truth is more complicated and less frightening. Right now deficits are actually helping the economy. In fact, deficits here and in other major economies saved the world from a much deeper slump. The longer-term outlook is worrying, but it’s not catastrophic.

The only real reason for concern is political. The United States can deal with its debts if politicians of both parties are, in the end, willing to show at least a bit of maturity. Need I say more?

Nixon dug deep for dirt on Ted Kennedy

WASHINGTON – President Richard Nixon considered Ted Kennedy such a threat that he tried to catch Kennedy cheating on his wife, even ordering aides to recruit Secret Service agents to spill secrets on the senator's behavior.

"Do you have anybody in the Secret Service that you can get to?" Nixon asked his aide John Ehrlichman in a stark series of Oval Office conversations about Kennedy before the 1972 election. "Yeah, yeah," Ehrlichman replied.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Fascist America III: Resistance for the Long Haul

August, die she must. The town hall freak show is winding down, the media circus is packing the cameras and satellite dishes and hairspray back into the vans, and Congress is soon heading back to the relative safety of DC. Yet, after all the fuss and bother, they're probably no more or less resolved to pass health care reform than they were back in June, when those first delirious fevers rose like clouds of infectious mosquito nymphs hatched from a thick, overheated carpet of soggy astroturf.

Let's hope they succeed at getting it done. But, win or lose, we're crazy to think that the goon squads formed and trained to instigate this summer's health care wars will pack it in just because the silly season is over. Those folks have tasted power, graduated from their introductory courses in Political Bullying 101, shared some camraderie and beer, and felt the heft of their own political muscle. That was fun. Now, what do we do next? Paralyze the school board over evolution in the textbooks? Intimidate the city council into shutting down the immigrants' services center -- or beat up some immigrants, so they'll just stop using it? Vandalize the cars and houses of known liberals? Get one of our own elected sheriff, so he can deputize the rest of us and make our posse official?

Federal Reserve Says Disclosing Loans Will Hurt Banks

By Mark Pittman

Aug. 27 (Bloomberg) -- The Federal Reserve argued yesterday that identifying the financial institutions that benefited from its emergency loans would harm the companies and render the central bank’s planned appeal of a court ruling moot.

The Fed’s board of governors asked Manhattan Chief U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska to delay enforcement of her Aug. 24 decision that the identities of borrowers in 11 lending programs must be made public by Aug. 31. The central bank wants Preska to stay her order until the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York can hear the case.

Real US unemployment rate at 16 pct: Fed official

The real US unemployment rate is 16 percent if persons who have dropped out of the labor pool and those working less than they would like are counted, a Federal Reserve official said Wednesday.

"If one considers the people who would like a job but have stopped looking -- so-called discouraged workers -- and those who are working fewer hours than they want, the unemployment rate would move from the official 9.4 percent to 16 percent, said Atlanta Fed chief Dennis Lockhart.

Powerful Ideas: Mutant Bacteria + Polyester = More Biofuel

Brewing a certain type of biofuel with a mutant bacteria and polyester could double the fuel's production, researchers have found.

The biofuel, butanol, is a type of alcohol that is mainly used as a solvent, or in industrial processes that make other chemicals. But researchers think it has potential as a biofuel that could one day replace gasoline.

Obama’s FCC to enforce ‘net neutrality’

By Kevin Bogardus and Kim Hart
Posted: 08/25/09 02:17 PM [ET]

The Obama administration’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) plans to keep the Internet free of increased user fees based on heavy Web traffic and slow downloads.

Julius Genachowski, the FCC chairman, told The Hill that his agency will support “net neutrality” and go after anyone who violates its tenets.

'Crude': The Film Chevron Doesn't Want You to See

By Han Shan, AlterNet
Posted on August 26, 2009, Printed on August 27, 2009

American oil giant Chevron is now the 5th largest company on the planet. But I doubt Chevron executives have had much time to savor their 'Masters of the Universe' status lately. Instead, I imagine them working overtime with their internal public relations team and mercenary army of PR spinmasters, lobbyists, and sponsored bloggers they've brought on to fight what looks more and more like a losing battle. What's got them burning the midnight oil?

Two weeks from today, a powerful new documentary film is opening in New York, and then playing in select theaters across the country. Called CRUDE, the film tells a shocking story that Chevron does not want the world to know.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Three Myths About Healthcare Reform

Since Congress began considering healthcare reform, conservatives and their industry allies -so-called opponents of healthcare reform- have embarked on a shameless misinformation campaign about the consequences and implications of expanding access to affordable coverage. Here, debunked, are three of the right wing's most widely circulated myths about reform.

World's Stocks Controlled by Select Few

By Lauren Schenkman, Inside Science News Service

posted: 26 August 2009 11:13 am ET

WASHINGTON -- A recent analysis of the 2007 financial markets of 48 countries has revealed that the world's finances are in the hands of just a few mutual funds, banks, and corporations. This is the first clear picture of the global concentration of financial power, and point out the worldwide financial system's vulnerability as it stood on the brink of the current economic crisis.

A pair of physicists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich did a physics-based analysis of the world economy as it looked in early 2007. Stefano Battiston and James Glattfelder extracted the information from the tangled yarn that links 24,877 stocks and 106,141 shareholding entities in 48 countries, revealing what they called the "backbone" of each country's financial market. These backbones represented the owners of 80 percent of a country's market capital, yet consisted of remarkably few shareholders.

Heat forms potentially harmful substance in high-fructose corn syrup

Researchers have established the conditions that foster formation of potentially dangerous levels of a toxic substance in the high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) often fed to honey bees. Their study, which appears in the current issue of ACS' bi-weekly Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, could also help keep the substance out of soft drinks and dozens of other human foods that contain HFCS. The substance, hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF), forms mainly from heating fructose.

People vary widely in ability to eliminate arsenic from the body

Large variations exist in peoples' ability to eliminate arsenic from the body, according to a new study that questions existing standards for evaluating the human health risks from the potentially toxic substance. The study found that some people eliminate more than 90 percent of the arsenic consumed in the diet. Others store arsenic in their bodies, where it can have harmful effects. The research, based on the first application of new methods for studying arsenic, is scheduled for the Sept. 21 issue of ACS's Chemical Research in Toxicology, a monthly journal.

Thomas Frank: Health Care and the Democratic Soul

It's time for Obama to channel Harry Truman.

What is at stake in the debate over health care is more than the mere crafting of policy. The issue is now the identity of the Democratic Party.

By now we know that Democrats can bail out traditional Republican constituencies like Wall Street, but it remains to be seen whether they can enact a convincing version of their own signature issue, health-care reform.

At this point, it's fair to ask whether Democrats remember why health care is their issue in the first place. As health-care debates always have done, this one has pushed to the fore all the big questions about the rightful role of government, and too many Democrats have sought to avoid them with mushy appeals to consensus and bipartisanship. The war is on and if Democrats want to win they need to start fighting.

Health Care Debate Based on Total Lack of Logic

Heated partisan debate over President Obama's health care plan, erupting at town hall meetings and in the blogosphere, has more to do with our illogical thought processes than reality, sociologists are finding.

The problem: People on both sides of the political aisle often work backward from a firm conclusion to find supporting facts, rather than letting evidence inform their views.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Lessons in Leadership: Why Obama Needs to Brush Up on His FDR

Watching the gun-toting, Nazi-sign-holding town hall crazies, the talk radio charlatans, and the Palin-infected politicos, my first instinct has been to rally around President Obama and defend his handling of the health care debate against this Cuckoo's Nest menagerie.

But my better instinct has prevailed over my protective instinct. It's time to take a cold, hard look at how the president's leadership -- or, more accurately, his lack of leadership -- on health care has helped create the vacuum that allowed these fringe-dwellers and their preposterous claims to dominate the debate.

CBO Warns of Higher Unemployment: Washington Worries About the Deficit

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) will release a new set of economic and budget projections for the next decade on Tuesday. These projections are likely to show a cumulative deficit over the next 10 years that is $2 trillion higher (@ 1 percent of GDP) than the deficit CBO projected in January.

The reason for the higher projected deficit is not that Congress has suddenly blown another 2 trillion of the taxpayers' dollars on frivolous projects. Rather, the main reason for the jump in the projected deficit is that CBO is now projecting lower growth and higher unemployment over this decade than it did last January.

Don't Want a Public Plan? Well, What Do You Think of Medicare?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Opponents of health-care reform should be chanting "No more Medicare!" The arguments that have been made against the public option (a health insurance plan sold and administered by the federal government) apply with equal or greater force to Medicare.

Plan designed by the government? Check. Government bureaucracy? Check. Subsidized? Check. (Medicare does not have to fund itself solely by charging premiums to its members; instead, it is largely funded by a payroll tax levied on all workers.) Able to drive private insurers out of business? Check. Medicare dominates the over-65 market.

Seven Points on the CIA Report

By Scott Horton

You can catch my review of the CIA Inspector General John Helgerson’s report on BBC’s “The World” or on MSNBC’s Live with Carlos Watson today at 11 ET. Here, in the meantime, are seven points that I draw from it:

  1. The worst is yet to come. Yesterday the CIA released a fresh copy of the report with roughly half of the “case study” discussion now unmasked. But context and placement suggest that the material that remains concealed contains some of the worst discussion of abuse in the report. The heavy redactions start around page 25, and the redactions cover discussion of the origins of the program and the approval process, as well as the discussion of specific prisoners, notably Abu Zubaydah, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, and Khalid Shaikh Mohammad. Although cases in which the guidelines provided by the Justice Department were exceeded have been discussed, it’s likely the case that the still blacked-out passages cover instances where Justice gave a green light but the conduct was so gruesome that CIA wants to keep it under wraps. That means we haven’t heard the last of the Helgerson report, and further disclosures are likely.

The Two-Track Economy: Inequality Emerging From Today’s Recession

Simon Johnson, a professor of entrepreneurship at M.I.T.’s Sloan School of Management, is the former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund.

The quick way to talk about how any economy is doing is in terms of “growth.” This is just what it sounds like — a measure of how much the total value of production in a country has increased in the last month, quarter or year.

Thinking in terms of total production — more precisely, this is usually gross domestic product (G.D.P.) — never tells you everything that you want to know, but it usually gives you a sense of the near-term dynamics: Are business prospects expanding or contracting; is unemployment going to rise further; and will people’s wages outpace or fall behind inflation?

Conservative Hypocrisy: “Protecting” Medicare

Seniors are the only group in our society that has a guarantee of good health coverage and they certainly appreciate it. They love their government-run health care program [1], even if they don’t always realize Medicare is a government program [2].

Ironically, Conservatives are using older Americans’ love of their government-run health insurance plan to fight health care reform that would give others the right to choose a similar program for themselves. The Republican National Committee (RNC) has put out a “Seniors’ Health Care Bill of Rights” [3] in an attempt to pit that powerful demographic against reform with fears that it will affect their Medicare benefits.

But it doesn’t. AARP, which represents millions of older Americans, put out a statement in response titled “AARP Glad to Have GOP on the Side of Older Americans,” [4] which affirms:

“AARP agrees with Chairman Michael Steele’s goals for reforming our health care system, and we are pleased nothing in the bills that have been proposed would bring about the scenarios the RNC is concerned about.”

The Green Lantern Goes to the Bathroom

How to do your business green.

By Nina Shen Rastogi

Last year, you looked at how to deal with animal poop. But what about my trips to the bathroom? Should I be concerned about greening my ablutions?

Sanitation raises a host of fascinating ecological questions: Should we use processed sewage sludge to fertilize our fields? What about poop to power our appliances? For more on those questions, the Lantern directs you to Rose George's The Big Necessity, excerpts of which appeared on Slate last year. When it comes to individual toilet behavior in the Western world, though, there are pretty much two areas of concern: water and paper.

The humble commode is a thirsty appliance. In a 1999 study of 1,188 American homes, toilet flushes accounted for 27 percent of an individual's daily indoor water consumption—more than washing machines (22 percent) or showers (17 percent). Your personal toll will depend on what kind of toilet you have. If it was purchased after January 1994, federal law requires that it use 1.6 gallons or fewer per flush; otherwise, it might drain 3.5 to 7 gallons with every pull of the lever. The average American flushes his home toilet five times a day, sending 8 gallons to 35 gallons of water down the tubes.

Triumph of the commons: Helping the world to share

25 August 2009 by Mark van Vugt

DO YOU ever get the impression that civilisation has degenerated into an unedifying free-for-all? Like pigs gobbling at their troughs, we all seem to be out to get as much as possible of whatever is on offer. Everyone is at it, from loggers felling the Amazonian rainforest and fishers fighting over the last few cod to SUV drivers running the oil wells dry and politicians on their gravy trains. Science even has a name for the phenomenon - one that seems eerily prescient following the recent revelation about MPs' expense claims in the UK. It is called the Tragedy of the Commons.

Study Suggests Alcohol Ads Target Teens

By Christopher Wanjek, LiveScience's Bad Medicine Columnist

posted: 25 August 2009 10:39 am ET

The beer and spirits industries either deliberately advertise to underage children despite pledges otherwise, or they are really, really lousy at matching expensive ad time with the right demographics.

This is the conclusion of a study to be published in the October issue of American Journal of Public Health, which found a striking correlation between teenage viewership and the frequency of alcohol advertising on cable television.

World's last great forest under threat: new study

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

The world's last remaining "pristine" forest - the boreal forest across large stretches of Russia, Canada and other northern countries - is under increasing threat, a team of international researchers has found.

The researchers from the University of Adelaide in Australia, Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada and the National University of Singapore have called for the urgent preservation of existing boreal forests in order to secure biodiversity and prevent the loss of this major global carbon sink.

The boreal forest comprises about one-third of the world's forested area and one-third of the world's stored carbon, covering a large proportion of Russia, Canada, Alaska and Scandinavia.

Majority of Americans Believe Health Care Reform 'Myths'

More than 50 percent of Americans believe a public insurance option will increase health care costs, according to a new survey on assertions the White House has called myths.

The national survey, conducted from Aug. 14 - 18, involved a random sample of 600 Americans aged 18 and older living in the 48 contiguous states and Washington, D.C. Respondents indicated whether or not they believed 19 claims about health care reform, each of which is considered a myth by the White House.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Remember me? Wall Street repackages toxic debt

WASHINGTON — Wall Street may have discovered a way out from under the bad debt and risky mortgages that have clogged the financial markets. The would-be solution probably sounds familiar: It's a lot like what got banks in trouble in the first place.

In recent months investment banks have been repackaging old mortgage securities and offering to sell them as new products, a plan that's nearly identical to the complicated investment packages at the heart of the market's collapse.

"There is a little bit of deja vu in this," said Arizona State University economics professor Herbert Kaufman.

Group challenges corporate personhood in Supreme Court

Corporate Personhood Challenged in Supreme Court

On August 1st Democracy Unlimited filed a brief in the U.S. Supreme Court challenging “corporate personhood,” the illegitimate and undemocratic legal doctrine which allows courts to overturn democratically elected laws that attempt to control corporate harm and abuse.

Democracy Unlimited joined the Program on Corporations Law & Democracy, the Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom, Shays2: The Western Massachusetts Committee on Corporations & Democracy, and the Clements Foundation in making the legal argument. The brief was drafted and filed by attorney Jeff Clements, who represented all five organizations in the matter.

Your Junk Insurance Is About to Get Worse, Courtesy of Max Baucus & Rahm Emanuel

By: Jane Hamsher Monday August 24, 2009 9:54 am

If you think your insurance is expensive and doesn't cover much now, wait until the Senate Finance Committee bill gets jammed through the Senate:

In May, the Senate Finance Committee discussed requiring that insurers reimburse at least 76% of policyholders' medical costs under their most affordable plans. Now the committee is considering setting that rate as low as 65%, meaning insurers would be required to cover just about two-thirds of patients' healthcare bills. According to a committee aide, the change was being considered so that companies could hold down premiums for the policies.

Most group health plans cover 80% to 90% or more of a policyholder's medical bills, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service. Industry officials urged that the government set the floor lower so insurers could provide flexible, more affordable plans.

The Defense Industry's Secret Weapon

How a top Pentagon official—and former Raytheon lobbyist—is undermining vital reform at the DOD.

—By Winslow T. Wheeler and Pierre M. Sprey
Mon August 24, 2009 4:00 AM PST

In July, to great fanfare, the Obama administration finally killed the F-22 fighter jet—an underperforming, overpriced Cold War relic that has never flown a combat mission over Iraq or Afghanistan. But all the breathless talk of Defense Secretary Robert Gates' "sweeping reforms" obscures an unpleasant truth. While the rare defeat of congressional porkmongers offers a ray of hope, real reform will require a far more ambitious, persistent effort. And standing in the way is the Pentagon's No. 2 civilian official—handpicked by Gates and coming directly from a lobbying job for the giant defense contractor Raytheon.

Roubini warns of double-dip recession: report

Aug 23, 2009 18:31 EST

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Nouriel Roubini, one of the few economists who accurately predicted the magnitude of the world's recent financial troubles, sees a "big risk" of a double-dip recession, according to an opinion piece posted on the Financial Times' website on Sunday.

Roubin, a professor at New York University's Stern School of Business, said it appears the global economy will bottom out in the second half of this year, and that U.S. and western European economies will likely experience "anemic" and "below trend" growth for at least a couple of years.

Bug power makes salt water sweet

10:43 24 August 2009 by Ewen Callaway

It's not often that bacteria make water more drinkable, but a new microbial desalination cell does precisely that. The proof-of-principle system removed 90 per cent of the salt from a seawater-like solution.

"We just wanted to show that it was possible," says Bruce Logan, an electrical engineer at Pennsylvania State University in University Park who helped make the prototype. "We hope that there will be more research going into this and it could lead to a commercial technology," he adds.

Wallace crops VHA doc to falsely suggest Obama administration pressuring vets to end their lives

August 23, 2009 2:57 pm ET

On Fox News Sunday, Chris Wallace repeatedly cropped quotes from a Veterans Health Administration (VHA) document to falsely suggest that the Obama administration is pressuring veterans to end their lives prematurely and to accuse Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs Tammy Duckworth of lying about it. In fact, contrary to Wallace's false assertions, the document he referred to does not require doctors to direct veterans to what conservatives have labeled the "Death Book for Veterans."

Paul Krugman: All the President’s Zombies

The debate over the “public option” in health care has been dismaying in many ways. Perhaps the most depressing aspect for progressives, however, has been the extent to which opponents of greater choice in health care have gained traction — in Congress, if not with the broader public — simply by repeating, over and over again, that the public option would be, horrors, a government program.

Washington, it seems, is still ruled by Reaganism — by an ideology that says government intervention is always bad, and leaving the private sector to its own devices is always good.

Call me naïve, but I actually hoped that the failure of Reaganism in practice would kill it. It turns out, however, to be a zombie doctrine: even though it should be dead, it keeps on coming.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

From 'Death Panels' To ' Death Books'...

The far-right campaign against health care reform started with the routine, predictable falsehoods anyone could have seen coming a mile away. Bogus claims about covering illegal immigrants, paying for abortion, and "socialized medicine" were obvious.

But the right does not lack for creativity. Concerned that the more traditional lies may not be sufficient, we soon heard about "death panels." When the gullible started believing that, the right made the transition to "health-care racism" and "mandatory home inspections," both of which are imaginary, limited to the minds of right-wing activists and their leaders.

The new one is "death books."

Right-wingers are always eager to dismiss the existence -- and the threat -- of far-right extremists

Sunday, August 23, 2009
-- by Dave

Conservatives have been working like mad to whitewash out of public view the existence of violent right-wing extremists, only to run into one problem: They keep popping back up again, time after time. Darned reality intrudes again.

So when the Southern Poverty Law Center recently confirmed what we've been reporting at C&L for awhile now -- that the far-right "militia" movement of the 1990s was roaring back to life -- it really wasn't a big surprise when Fox ran a story quoting a bunch of various right-wing officials dismissing it:
"I think it's utter nonsense to say it's racial," said Carter Clews, spokesman at Americans for Limited Government. Clews said Obama's "doctrinaire socialistic approach to government" has triggered a populist backlash, but "it's inappropriate to use the word militia."

No, Wait, I Know This One--the Answer to "Who Does Joe Klein Think is the Crazy Left?" Glenn Greenwald, for fifty points.

This is the summer of Joe Klein, resurgent. He's been washed in the blood of the lamb and, like Andrew "fifth column" Sullivan wishes to be welcomed back into the liberal punditin' fold. Every time he says something mildly rational about the irrationality of our current Republican opposition--"nihilists" was good--he gets an approving link from someone in the bloggosphere. Just yesterday Athenae, however, noted Joe up to his old tricks of false equivalency and asked herself "what the f? Is Joe really going to keep running this tired shtick until the Republicans are back in charge and he can get on Hugh Hewitt's show again?"

Athenae quotes Joe's latest:
There are more than a few Democrats who believe, in practice, that government should be run for the benefit of government employees’ unions. There are Democrats who are so solicitous of civil liberties that they would undermine legitimate covert intelligence collection. There are others who mistrust the use of military power under almost any circumstances.

Come Saturday Morning: Things Many Think Are True (But Aren’t)

By: Phoenix Woman Saturday August 22, 2009 7:30 am

Things that many Americans, thanks in large part to well-financed conservative myth machines, think are true but which aren't:

-- "The 'Wild West' Didn't Have Gun Control." Oh yes it did:

Pioneer publications show Old West leaders repeatedly arguing in favor of gun control. City leaders in the old cattle towns knew from experience what some Americans today don't want to believe: a town that allows easy access to guns invites trouble.

What these cow-town leaders saw intimately in their day-to-day association with guns is that more guns in more places created not greater security but greater danger in an already dangerous wilderness. By the 1880s many in the West were fed up with gun violence. Gun control, they contended, was absolutely essential, and the remedy advocated usually was usually no less than a total ban on pistol-packing.

The prevalence of gun control in the West is part of what kept it from being anywhere near as wild as the dime-store novelists, writing for Eastern and European audiences, depicted -- depictions that NRA-worshipping conservatives cherish so much that they screamed bloody murder at Clint Eastwood when he dared to show 19th-century Western gun control in his film Unforgiven.

Competition lacking among private health insurers

WASHINGTON — One of the most widely accepted arguments against a government medical plan for the middle class is that it would quash competition — just what private insurers seem to be doing themselves in many parts of the U.S.

Several studies show that in lots of places, one or two companies dominate the market. Critics say monopolistic conditions drive up premiums paid by employers and individuals.

For Democrats, the answer is a public plan that would compete with private insurers. Republicans see that as a government power grab. President Barack Obama looks to be trapped in the middle of an argument that could sink his effort to overhaul the health care system.

FACT CHECK: The Right-Wing Smear Campaign Against Mark Lloyd

Since the FCC appointed Mark Lloyd as the agency’s Chief Diversity Officer/Associate General Counsel on July 29, conservatives have made him their new target in the ongoing campaign to baselessly warn about the reemergence of the Fairness Doctrine.

The most absurd attacks have come from pundits like right-wing radio host Michael Savage, who has called Lloyd a “neo-Nazi” and “piece of garbage” intent on closing down “conservatives in the media.” He said that Lloyd’s title — Chief Diversity Officer — is “code word for the KGB.” For the record, Lloyd has a distinguished career on communications policy issues. Most recently he was a vice president at the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. He taught communications policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, served as general counsel to the Benton Foundation, worked as a communications attorney at a major D.C. law firm, and has nearly 20 years of experience in journalism.

Corporate 'Personhood'

This is the text of the 1886 Supreme Court decision granting corporations the same rights as living persons under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Quoting from David Korten's The Post-Corporate World, Life After Capitalism (pp.185-6):

In 1886, . . . in the case of Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that a private corporation is a person and entitled to the legal rights and protections the Constitutions affords to any person. Because the Constitution makes no mention of corporations, it is a fairly clear case of the Court's taking it upon itself to rewrite the Constitution.
Far more remarkable, however, is that the doctrine of corporate personhood, which subsequently became a cornerstone of corporate law, was introduced into this 1886 decision without argument. According to the official case record, Supreme Court Justice Morrison Remick Waite simply pronounced before the beginning of arguement in the case of Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company that

The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of opinion that it does.

Was Oil Part of a Deal for the Lockerbie Bomber?

By Vivienne Walt Saturday, Aug. 22, 2009

Was it an oil deal? Convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi flew home from a Scottish prison on Thursday, freed by the Scottish government on compassionate grounds because doctors say Megrahi's cancer will kill him within three months. But was that the real reason? Could Britain have traded Megrahi in return for lucrative deals with the energy-rich North African nation?

Frank Rich: The Guns of August

“IT is time to water the tree of liberty” said the sign carried by a gun-toting protester milling outside President Obama’s town-hall meeting in New Hampshire two weeks ago. The Thomas Jefferson quote that inspired this message, of course, said nothing about water: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” That’s the beauty of a gun — you don’t have to spell out the “blood.”

The protester was a nut. America has never had a shortage of them. But what’s Tom Coburn’s excuse? Coburn is a Republican senator from Oklahoma, where 168 people were murdered by right-wing psychopaths who bombed a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995. Their leader, Timothy McVeigh, had the Jefferson quote on his T-shirt when he committed this act of mass murder. Yet last Sunday, when asked by David Gregory on “Meet the Press” if he was troubled by current threats of “violence against the government,” Coburn blamed not the nuts but the government.

Millions face shrinking Social Security payments

WASHINGTON – Millions of older people face shrinking Social Security checks next year, the first time in a generation that payments would not rise.

The trustees who oversee Social Security are projecting there won't be a cost of living adjustment (COLA) for the next two years. That hasn't happened since automatic increases were adopted in 1975.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Dream of a Common Language. Sueño de un Idioma Común.

The graduates of a radical bilingual education program at Alicia R. Chacón International, in El Paso, would have no trouble reading either of these headlines. What can they teach the rest of us about the future of Texas?

Saigon 2009

Afghanistan is today's Vietnam. No question mark needed.


For those who say that comparing the current war in Afghanistan to the Vietnam War is taking things too far, here's a reality check: It's not taking things far enough. From the origins of these North-South conflicts to the role of insurgents and the pointlessness of this week's Afghan presidential elections, it's impossible to ignore the similarities between these wars. The places and faces may have changed but the enemy is old and familiar. The sooner the United States recognizes this, the sooner it can stop making the same mistakes in Afghanistan.

Even at first glance the structural parallels alone are sobering. Both Vietnam and Afghanistan (prior to the U.S. engagement there) had surprisingly defeated a European power in a guerrilla war that lasted a decade, followed by a largely north-south civil war which lasted another decade. Insurgents in both countries enjoyed the advantage of a long, trackless, and uncloseable border and sanctuary beyond it, where they maintained absolute political control. Both were land wars in Asia with logistics lines more than 9,000 miles long and extremely harsh terrain with few roads, which nullified U.S. advantages in ground mobility and artillery. Other key contributing factors bear a striking resemblance: Almost exactly 80 percent of the population of both countries was rural, and literacy hovered around 10 percent.

Breakthrough Makes LED Lights More Versatile

By Andrea Thompson, Senior Writer

posted: 20 August 2009 02:01 pm ET

LEDs have started to blink on all over the place in recent years, from car taillights to roadside billboards. But design and manufacturing drawbacks have limited the ways in which the energy-efficient lights can be used.

A new study, detailed in the Aug. 21 issue of the journal Science, tackles these limitations by combining the best of two worlds of LEDs to make ultrathin, ultrasmall and flexible light-emitting diodes that may one day be used to create everything from laptop screens to biomedical imaging devices.

LEDs come in two types: organic and inorganic. Organic LEDs aren't alive, they are just made of organic materials, which means they contain carbon atoms. Inorganic LEDs are more robust and brighter than organic ones, but they're also bulkier as result of how they are put together, explained study leader John Rogers of the University of Illinois.

Dying for affordable healthcare — the uninsured speak

In a week of claim and counter-claim about the merits of healthcare provision in the US and UK, Ed Pilkington travelled to Quindaro, Kansas, to see how the poorest survive

Ed Pilkington, Kansas City,
Friday 21 August 2009 20.44 BST

In the furious debate gripping America over the future of its health system, one voice has been lost amid the shouting. It is that of a distinguished gynaecologist, aged 67, called Dr Joseph Manley.

For 35 years Manley had a thriving health clinic in Kansas. He lived in the most affluent neighbourhood of Kansas City and treated himself to a new Porsche every year. But this is not a story about doctors' remuneration and their lavish lifestyles.

Neutralizing Big Oil's Climate Bill Attack, With Investment in Manufacturing

The oil lobby's latest Astroturf concoction is "Energy Citizens." [1] Its website practically looks like it's a group pushing clean green jobs [1], with it's green-tinted USA map and call to "support American jobs and affordable energy." Its attempt as a grassroots rally was rightly deemed nothing more than a "company picnic," [2] just another ruse to kill the clean energy and climate protection bill which passed the House and should be taken up by the Senate later in the year.

As we've seen in the health care debate, the conservative movement and their corporate backers still have the ability to spread lies and warp debate. If the climate bill is tagged as a job-killer, that will be a bill-killer.

While the entire enterprise of averting a climate crisis by capping carbon emissions is sure to launch a vibrant green jobs industry, we must take extra steps to ensure that the America component of any global warming strategy creates good-paying American green jobs, not sends even more jobs away to other countries. This is our best chance to revitalize America's manufacturing base, and we'll likely lose political support to address the climate crisis if we don't also seize this economic opportunity.

Report: Public Plan Choice In Congressional Health Plans

The Good, The Not-So-Good, And The Ugly

By Jacob S. Hacker, Ph.D.


The historic health reform bills passed out of three House committees and the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee all include a national public health insurance plan as a way to rein in costs, improve quality, and help make health care affordable. This new public plan would be available alongside regulated private plans within an insurance “exchange” open to those without employment-based insurance, promoting choice and competition in often highly concentrated local insurance markets. Yet crucial differences in the design and robustness of the public plan distinguish the bills passed out of committee. Meanwhile, the Senate Finance Committee, which has yet to produce a bill, has already taken the public health insurance option off the table.

This policy brief explores the various versions of public plan choice on the congressional agenda and shows how their best aspects can be combined to produce an effective public plan that will deliver on its promise—and why the cooperative “alternative” embraced by negotiators in the Senate Finance Committee does not merit consideration.

Lockerbie Doubts

In any kind of major transnational event, there is the historical truth, what actually happened, and the political truth, what must have happened for the nations involved to continue on as before.

Sometimes, these accounts match; other times, these “truths” are wildly divergent, which appears to be the case with the Lockerbie bombing.

On Thursday, Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the former Libyan intelligence officer convicted of planting a bomb aboard Pan Am Flight 103 which exploded over the hills over Lockerbie, Scotland, on Dec. 21, 1988, was released. The Scottish authorities said they were letting al-Megrahi go free on “compassionate grounds” because he was terminally ill from cancer.

Want to Boycott Fox News Sponsors? Here's a List

By Bill Mann, Huffington Post
Posted on August 21, 2009, Printed on August 22, 2009

Fox News, the future home of Lou Dobbs, aka "The Bill O'Reilly/Megyn Kelly Network," has recently lost some big-name advertisers on psychic exile Glen Beck's race-baiting carnival sideshow, you've probably read here.

I mentioned here last week that it's possible to have your local city council pull that toxin-spewing outfit off the local cable lineup in your town when the cable operator's contract comes up for But there's something else you can do in the meantime that could be far more effective in stopping the ringleaders of the Disloyal Opposition.

Health Care Mobs = Swift Boat Vets... And the Press Plays Dumb, Again

By Eric Boehlert, Media Matters for America
Posted on August 21, 2009, Printed on August 22, 2009

Here we go again.

During August's summer daze, right-wing mini-mobs (egged on by corporate interests) have run wild at town hall meetings, propagating all kinds of smears and misinformation in an effort to derail an important Democratic campaign. Yet the mini-mob members have been treated as deeply important newsmakers by the press during a slow summer news month.

Sound familiar? Recall August 2004, when the right-wing Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (egged on by corporate interests) stole a month's worth of campaign headlines by propagating all kinds of smears and misinformation in an attempt to derail an important Democratic campaign. Yet they were treated as deeply important newsmakers by the press during a slow summer news month.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Stiglitz Calls for New Global Reserve System

Published: Friday, 21 Aug 2009 | 9:13 AM ET
By: Reuters

A new global reserve system is needed after the global financial crisis exposed the U.S. dollar-based system as flawed and risky, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz said on Friday.

The "dollar now is yielding almost zero return," Stiglitz said in a speech at the United Nations regional headquarters in Bangkok. "The current global reserve system is fraying. It's falling apart. The issue isn't whether we go to a new system.

Has Obama Lost the Trust of Progressives, as Krugman Says?

Paul Krugman: Obama’s Trust Problem

According to news reports, the Obama administration — which seemed, over the weekend, to be backing away from the “public option” for health insurance — is shocked and surprised at the furious reaction from progressives.

Well, I’m shocked and surprised at their shock and surprise.

A backlash in the progressive base — which pushed President Obama over the top in the Democratic primary and played a major role in his general election victory — has been building for months. The fight over the public option involves real policy substance, but it’s also a proxy for broader questions about the president’s priorities and overall approach.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Why the health care debate is so important regardless of one's view of the "public option"

The New York Times today has a discussion from several contributors, including me, of the politics of the health care debate. My contribution, which focuses on the role the White House has played and the ample evidence that they have been quite active in shaping the course of events, can be read here. I want to elaborate on a couple of points I referenced in passing.

Over the past decade, the Democratic Party has specialized in offering up one excuse after the next for its collective failures. During the early Bush years, the excuse was that they endorsed Bush policies because his popularity and post-9/11 hysteria made it politically unwise to oppose him. In later Bush years when his popularity plummeted, the excuse was that Democrats were in the minority and could do nothing. After 2006 when they won a Congressional majority, the excuse was that Bush still controlled the White House and had veto power. After 2008 when a Democrat won the White House, the excuse was that Republicans could filibuster.

Rove op-ed reveals he had inside information about probe

Posted By Larisa Alexandrovna On August 20, 2009 @ 4:01 pm In

Lawyer declines to say how he found out accuser didn’t talk to Justice Department

Karl Rove’s latest attempt to proclaim his innocence and demand apologies from those who have accused him of being behind the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman may backfire if it turns out that Rove was improperly receiving inside information after leaving his position as Deputy White House Chief of Staff.

“For more than two years,” Rove [1] writes in the Wall Street Journal, “House Judiciary Committee Democrats and the New York Times editorial board have argued that I personally arranged for Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman to be prosecuted in 2004 for corruption and ordered the removal of eight U.S. attorneys in 2006 for failing to investigate Democrats. The Washington Post editorial board also echoed this last charge. The Times and the Post have published a combined 18 editorials on these issues, which were also catnip to House Judiciary Committee Democrats.”

Utilizing Public Airwaves, Media Mogul Murdoch Is Big Muscle Behind Fraudulent Astro Turfers

By Adele M. Stan, AlterNet
Posted on August 20, 2009, Printed on August 20, 2009

As nearly 2,000 progressives made their way last weekend to Pittsburgh for the annual Netroots Nation conference, the right made its stand in the same town with a conference called RightOnline, sponsored by Americans for Prosperity, a group that has gained notoriety for its involvement in organizing seemingly grassroots opposition to health-care reform.

Billed as a counterconference to the Netroots Nation gathering of bloggers and online activists, RightOnline convened at a Sheraton hotel, offering a few 101-level workshops on new technologies like Twitter and YouTube.

Health Care Rats Come Out of the Woodwork

By Matt Taibbi, True/Slant
Posted on August 20, 2009, Printed on August 20, 2009

It is not the be-all and end-all of health-care reform. It is not the long-awaited safety net for the uninsured. And if, as many liberals hope, it turns out to be nothing more than Medicare for All, it won't do anything to hold down long-term growth in health spending.

via Public Optioned-Out -- The Opinionator Blog --

There are some days when it almost seems like the national press is making a conscious effort to prove Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent gospel.

Blackwater: CIA Assassins?

By Jeremy Scahill

August 20, 2009

In April 2002, the CIA paid Blackwater more than $5 million to deploy a small team of men inside Afghanistan during the early stages of US operations in the country. A month later, Erik Prince, the company's owner and a former Navy SEAL, flew to Afghanistan as part of the original twenty-man Blackwater contingent. Blackwater worked for the CIA at its station in Kabul as well as in Shkin, along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, where they operated out of a mud fortress known as the Alamo. It was the beginning of a long relationship between Blackwater, Prince and the CIA.

Now the New York Times is reporting that in 2004 the CIA hired Blackwater "as part of a secret program to locate and assassinate top operatives of Al Qaeda." According to the Times, "it is unclear whether the CIA had planned to use the contractors to capture or kill Qaeda operatives, or just to help with training and surveillance."

UBS Money Laundering: What Did Phil Gramm Know?

Posted on Aug 18, 2009

By Robert Scheer

In recent days yet another wealthy private customer of the Swiss-based banking conglomerate UBS admitted to criminal fraud in a growing parade of perp walks that could extend into the thousands. It is a case that threatens to ensnare former Sen. Phil Gramm, the Texas Republican who is vice chairman of UBS’ investment banking business. Given the widespread involvement of UBS in what the Justice Department alleges were systematic efforts to violate U.S. tax laws, it must be asked: Did Gramm as a top executive have no inkling about what was going on?

Perhaps, but for Gramm this has to be a moment that at the very least tests his ideological commitment to the radical deregulation of banking that he championed during his 24 years in Congress. He joined UBS soon after the bank acquired Enron, a company that had gone bankrupt after jumping through the “Enron loophole” in the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, which Gramm had pushed though Congress. Gramm’s wife, Wendy, had been an Enron board member and head of its audit committee but failed to sound the alarm before the Houston-based company collapsed. Then UBS itself ran into big trouble because of $37 billion in bad mortgage debt made possible by derivatives market deregulation engineered by then-Sen. Gramm. U.S. taxpayers have had to pony up money to heal UBS’ self-inflicted wound. But the bank’s involvement with tens of thousands of secret accounts tied to allegations of tax evasion raises starker issues—of possible criminal fraud through practices that Gramm as a senator helped keep opaque.

Health Care Hypocrisy

Many of the pundits attacking government health insurance rely on government health insurance for their own families.

You have to give Whole Foods CEO John Mackey credit for having the courage of his convictions. Last week, the libertarian penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal arguing that national health care was a step toward socialism and advocating a series of alternative steps—including healthier eating and high-deductible insurance policies of the type that Whole Foods employees are offered. A Whole Foods spokeswoman told me that Mackey "participates in the same plan that is offered to all of our Whole Foods Market team members," which includes a "combination of high-deductible health insurance and a Personal Wellness Account." (Whole Foods pays the premium for full-timers' health insurance and puts up to $1,800 into the savings accounts.) In Mackey's case, what's good for the free-range goose is good for the free-range gander.

Thomas Frank: Dissent Commodified

The counterculture seamlessly fits into business culture.

The 40th anniversary of the Woodstock music festival has certain pundits in a misty-eyed nostalgic funk for the days when youth culture came of age, challenging conformity, standing up for individuality, and making awesome music before it all got so commercialized.

The memory it brought back for me came from the late Trader Monthly magazine, a chronicler of the truculent way of the trading pits and possibly the definitive opposite of the Aquarian spirit. Leafing through an old issue a while ago, I happened across "Cash of the Titans," an accounting of the nation's most successful speculators, in which images of the billionaires were tastefully rendered by none other than Peter Max, the artist once beloved of the Now Generation for his psychedelic posters.

Perhaps this coming together of peace, love and accumulation brought a curse to the lips of Woodstock's earnest memorialists. For me, it was a reminder of how seamlessly counterculture and business culture have meshed; how neatly '60s cultural radicalism fit into structures it was supposedly against.


Integrity deficit has its price
By Henry CK Liu

In a global financial architecture of national fiat currencies, the role of a reserve currency in international trade is to keep all trading nations monetarily honest.

This is done by requiring each and every currency issuer to adopt monetary policies that will protect and maintain the exchange value of their separate fiat currencies to the reserve currency. Thus for the exchange rate regime to work, it is imperative for the reserve currency itself to hold constant purchasing power.

The Afghan pipe dream

By Pepe Escobar

PARIS - America's convoluted, Alice-in-Wonderland interpretation of this summer's top political show - the "free expression of the people" in the Afghanistan election - reads like an opium dream. In fact, it is actually a pipe dream - as in Pipelineistan. With the added twist that no one's saying a word about the pipe that's delivering the opium dream.

As in an opium dream, delusion reigns. The chances of United States President Barack Obama actually elaborating what his AfPak strategy really is are as likely as having his super-envoy Richard Holbrooke share a pipe with explosive uber-guerrilla warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Activist Who Staged Gun Interview At Obama Event Was Prominent Defender Of '90s Militia

By Justin Elliott - August 18, 2009, 6:47PM

Ernest Hancock, the online radio host who staged an interview with an assault rifle-wielding cohort at the Obama event in Arizona yesterday -- and was himself armed with a 9 millimeter pistol -- was a vocal supporter and friend of right-wing anti-government militia members who were convicted of conspiracy and weapons charges in the 90s.

And in an interview today with TPMmuckraker, Hancock said he still believes the Viper Militia case was "manufactured" by the same government that manufactured Waco and lied to its people about 9/11.

How mercury becomes toxic in the environment

Naturally occurring organic matter in water and sediment appears to play a key role in helping microbes convert tiny particles of mercury in the environment into a form that is dangerous to most living creatures.

Key feature of immune system survived in humans, other primates for 60 million years

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new study has concluded that one key part of the immune system, the ability of vitamin D to regulate anti-bactericidal proteins, is so important that is has been conserved through almost 60 million years of evolution and is shared only by primates, including humans – but no other known animal species.

The fact that this vitamin-D mediated immune response has been retained through millions of years of evolutionary selection, and is still found in species ranging from squirrel monkeys to baboons and humans, suggests that it must be critical to their survival, researchers say.

The Lanny Davis Disease and America's Health Care Debate

by Glenn Greenwald

After Tom Daschle was selected to be Barack Obama's Secretary of Health and Human Services and chief health care adviser, Matt Taibbi wrote: "In Washington there are whores and there are whores, and then there is Tom Daschle." One could easily have added: "And then there's Lanny Davis." Davis frequently injects himself into political disputes, masquerading as a "political analyst" and Democratic media pundit, yet is unmoored from any discernible political beliefs other than: "I agree with whoever pays me." It's genuinely difficult to recall any instance where he publicly defended someone who hadn't, at some point, hired and shuffled money to him. Yesterday, he published a new piece simultaneously in The Hill and Politico -- solemnly warning that extremists on the Far Left and Far Right are jointly destroying democracy with their conduct in the health care debate and urging "the vast center-left and center-right of this country to speak up and call them out equally" -- that vividly illustrates the limitless whoring behavior which shapes Washington generally and specifically drives virtually every word out of Lanny Davis' mouth.

Where's Mr. Transformer?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

It's true that politics is the art of the possible, but it's also true that great leaders expand the scope of possibility. Barack Obama took office pledging to be a transformational president. The fate of a government-run public health insurance option will be an early test of his ability to end the way Washington's big-money, special-interest politics suffocates true reform.

Mandate For A Backlash

Dean Baker raises [1] a very important point about health care reform without a public option: what happens to the mandate? He argues that for political reasons, if they jettison the public plan, the Democrats should not include mandates either, since they will only line the pockets of the insurance companies until the political pressure becomes so great that a public option will have to be formed anyway. The best thing would be to get rid of mandates now and bring that day closer.

In my view the Democrats are playing with fire in the worst way if they institute mandates without offering any option for reasonably priced insurance. In effect, they will be telling all the people who are currently uninsured that unless they buy unaffordable policies upfront (for which they may receive some money back at the end of the year when they file their taxes) that they must not just live in fear of getting sick as they already do --- they are now criminals. I can't think of a more politically inflammatory thing to do at a time like this. And the right will demagogue this thing in a way that makes Sicko look subtle by comparison.