Saturday, October 31, 2009

Baseline Scenario, October 30, 2009

Yesterday morning I testified to a Joint Economic Committee of Congress hearing (update: that link may be fragile; here’s the JEC general page). The session discussed the latest GDP numbers, the impact of the fiscal stimulus earlier this year, and whether we need further fiscal expansion of any kind.

I argued that a global recovery is underway and in the rest of the world will likely be stronger than the current official or private consensus forecast, but growth remains fragile in the United States because of problems in our financial sector. While our situation today is quite different in key regards from that of Japan in the 1990s, the Japanese experience strongly suggests that fiscal stimulus is not an effective substitute for confronting financial sector problems head on (e.g., lack of capital, distorted incentives, skewed power structure).

Paul Krugman: If a deficit falls in the forest …

Matt Yglesias makes a good point:

A lot of politicians and political operatives in DC are very impressed by polling that shows people concerned about the budget deficit. I think it would be really politically insane for people to take that too literally. If congress makes the deficit even bigger in a way that helps spur recovery, then come election day people will notice the recovery and be happy. If, by contrast, the labor market is still a disaster then people will be pissed off. It’s true that they might say they’re pissed off at the deficit, but the underlying source of anger is the objective bad conditions.

The Pluses and Minuses of Pelosi’s Package

Nancy Pelosi’s health care reform bill has much to commend it, and much to condemn it.

On the plus side, there’s a public option, with no opt out.

The insurance companies won’t be able to deny coverage for preexisting conditions or rescind policies once someone gets sick.

And it greatly expands Medicaid.

Higher Ed Slashed, Left Dripping in Red

The Chronicle of Higher Education released a survey of chief financial officers at four-year universities across the country and it is no treat; their outlook for this budget year (FY 2010) was gloomy, by next year? Even scarier. According to universities surveyed, 62% of officials expect the worst of financial pressures are still to come, with higher education budgets dripping in red ink, bitten by the recession looking forward.

This is despite the fact that universities have already slashed budgets, passed hair-raising tuition hikes, and in some cases chopped enrollment. At least 34 states already took the ax to public colleges and universities, reducing faculty and staff, coupled with steep tuition increases for the upcoming year.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Conservatives’ 25-year goal of ‘defunding the left’ revealed by ACORN controversy

When Michele Bachman crowed in September that the exposure of alleged illegal activity by the anti-poverty group ACORN was just the start of a campaign to "defund the left," she may have revealed more about current Republican strategy than she intended.

“Defunding the left is going to be so easy,” Bachmann told the audience at a conservative conference, “and it’s going to solve so many of our problems.”

Does Ben Bernanke Have The Facts Right On Banking?

Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, has stayed carefully on the sidelines while a major argument has broken out among and around senior policymaking circles: Should our biggest banks be broken up, or can they be safely re-regulated into permanently good behavior? (See the recent competing answers from WSJ, FT, and the New Republic).

But the issues are too pressing and the stakes are too high for key economic policymakers to remain silent or not have an opinion. On Cape Cod last Friday, Mr. Bernanke appeared to lean towards the banking industry status quo, arguing that regulation would allow us to keep the benefits of large complex financial institutions.

Paul Krugman: The Defining Moment

O.K., folks, this is it. It’s the defining moment for health care reform.

Past efforts to give Americans what citizens of every other advanced nation already have — guaranteed access to essential care — have ended not with a bang, but with a whimper, usually dying in committee without ever making it to a vote.

But this time, broadly similar health-care bills have made it through multiple committees in both houses of Congress. And on Thursday, Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, unveiled the legislation that she will send to the House floor, where it will almost surely pass. It’s not a perfect bill, by a long shot, but it’s a much stronger bill than almost anyone expected to emerge even a few weeks ago. And it would lead to near-universal coverage.

Former Wall Street Player Reveals the Inside World Behind Shady Bailouts to Bankers

By Joshua Holland and Nomi Prins, AlterNet
Posted on October 30, 2009, Printed on October 30, 2009

A former managing director at Goldman Sachs and now a razor-sharp financial muckraker (and regular AlterNet contributor), Nomi Prins understands the labyrinthine world of Wall Street finance, with all its warts, as well as anyone.

In her new book, It Takes a Pillage: Behind the Bailouts, Bonuses and Backroom Deals From Washington to Wall Street, Prins lays bare the whole fetid corpse of the burst mortgage bubble.

Pentagon officials won’t confirm Bush propaganda program ended

By Brad Jacobson
Thursday, October 29th, 2009 -- 9:36 am

Read Part I and Part II of this series.

The covert Bush administration program that used retired military analysts to generate favorable wartime news coverage may not have been terminated, Raw Story has found.

In interviews, Pentagon officials in charge of the press and community relations offices — which worked in partnership on the military analyst program — equivocated on the subject of whether the program has ended.

Right-wing blogs distort Frank's comments

October 28, 2009 12:26 pm ET — 88 Comments

Numerous right-wing websites, including the Fox Nation and the Drudge Report, have parroted a misleading headline posted on October 26 by Real Clear Politics and NewsBusters asserting that Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) stated, "We are trying on every front to increase the role of government." In fact, while specifically discussing financial regulation, Frank actually said, "[W]e are trying on every front to increase the role of government in the regulatory area" [emphasis added].

Rove-Dean health care debate punctuated by name calling

Karl Rove and Howard Dean brought the national health care debate to Penn State on Tuesday night.

There was little agreement, but a good bit of name calling, during the event, which ranged in tone from heated to humorous.

"That's a made up statistic, Karl Rove. . . . For the first time tonight, I'm calling you on it," said Dean, a physician and the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee. "You made that up."

Pelosi unveils House version of health care bill

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveiled revised health care-overhaul legislation Thursday that includes a stronger government-operated insurance option than the one that the Senate plans to consider.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is pushing a government health insurance plan that would allow states to "opt out." Pelosi, D-Calif., is expected to support a public option with no such escape hatch. The revised measure she unveiled merges terms from three separate but similar bills that three committees in the House of Representatives passed earlier.

Lack of insurance may have figured in nearly 17,000 childhood deaths, study shows

Lack of health insurance might have led or contributed to nearly 17,000 deaths among hospitalized children in the United States in the span of less than two decades, according to research led by the Johns Hopkins Children's Center.

According to the Hopkins researchers, the study, to be published Oct. 30 in the Journal of Public Health, is one of the largest ever to look at the impact of insurance on the number of preventable deaths and the potential for saved lives among sick children in the United States.

Using more than 23 million hospital records from 37 states between 1988 and 2005, the Hopkins investigators compared the risk of death in children with insurance and in those without. Other factors being equal, researchers found that uninsured children in the study were 60 percent more likely to die in the hospital than those with insurance. When comparing death rates by underlying disease, the uninsured appeared to have increased risk of dying independent regardless of their medical condition, the study found. The findings only capture deaths during hospitalization and do not reflect deaths after discharge from the hospital, nor do they count children who died without ever being hospitalized, the researchers say, which means the real death toll of non-insurance could be even higher.

Is Obama Plotting to Shut Down the Internet?

— By Stephanie Mencimer | Tue October 27, 2009 8:15 PM PST

The world is full of a lot of conservative anti-Obama craziness these days—Glenn Beck, the Birther movement, etc. But anti-immigration activist William Gheen might take the prize as this week's most paranoid Obama critic. On Tuesday, Gheen circulated an email claiming that the Obama administration may intend to use the swine flu epidemic as an excuse to shut down the web and thus silence his critics. Gheen’s source for his claim? A small Reuters story about a recent GAO report suggesting the Department of Homeland Security doesn't have a backup plan should millions of bored Americans, home with swine flu, overload the Internet with too many games of XBlaster.

Lesson unlearned

By Henry CK Liu

October 29, 2009, is the 80th anniversary of the market crash in the United States that led to the Great Depression. Did the world learn the lesson of 1929?

Milton Friedman identified through exhaustive analysis of historical data the potential role of monetary policy in shaping the course of inflation and business cycles, with the counterfactual conclusion that the Great Depression of the 1930s could have been avoided with appropriate Federal Reserve monetary easing to counteract destructive market forces.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Thomas Frank: Obama Is Right About Fox News

But the criticism was clumsy.

Journalism has a special, hallowed place for stories of its practitioners' persecution. There is no higher claim to journalistic integrity than going to jail to protect a source. And the Newseum in Washington, D.C., establishes the profession's legitimacy with a memorial to fallen scribes, thus drawing an implicit connection between the murdered abolitionist editors of long ago and the struggling outfit that gave you this morning's page-one story about cute pets in Halloween costumes.

But no journalistic operation is better prepared to sing the tragedy of its own martyrdom than Fox News. To all the usual journalistic instincts it adds its grand narrative of Middle America's disrespectful treatment by the liberal elite. Persecution fantasy is Fox News's lifeblood; give it the faintest whiff of the real thing and look out for a gale-force hissy fit.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Elizabeth Warren for President

“Beyond monitoring how the government is mopping up after the financial crisis, Warren is pushing a proposal that could help prevent the next one: creating a Financial Product Safety Commission to protect consumers from abusive lenders. Mortgages and credit cards, she wrote in a 2007 journal article about the proposal, “should be subject to the same routine safety screening that now governs the sale of every toaster, washing machine, and child’s car seat.”

Commission Impossible

How the Angelides Commission can crack open the Wall Street scandal—if it dares.

By Eliot Spitzer

Commissions are often created to defer tough decisions; to forge a consensus around a hard solution to a genuine problem; and, rarely, actually to delve into underlying facts. The Angelides commission, officially chartered by Congress this summer as the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, has the chance to be that third kind of commission, gathering the missing empirical data on fundamental questions that can guide future decision-making.

We already know an awful lot more about what happened last year than we did in 1932, when the legendary Pecora commission was created to investigate the Wall Street crash. We know the fundamental violations of sound banking practice and regulatory failures that brought us to the precipice. Yet there are still critical areas that would benefit from the commission's detailed analysis: four structural issues that have not yet received adequate attention and one particular transaction that is still highly ambiguous.

Green Junk: Energy Star's Falling Standards

New agency rules may be at odds with legislation

Thursday October 22, 2009 8:11 a.m.
By Michelle Chen

As the market for energy efficient products booms, consumers are increasingly dependent on regulatory protections that help them separate green goods from green junk.

That was supposed to be the idea behind Energy Star, a federal program that certifies the energy efficiency of certain washing machines, DVD players refrigerators and other products and appliances. But the program has come under fire for slack standards that encourage manufacturers to greenwash their products. Now, lawmakers' reform efforts are reportedly running up against friction from the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy, and some wonder if the agencies are simply trying to do an end-run around congressional authority.

Our Economy Was a Scam and Now We're Dead Broke

By Joe Bageant,
Posted on October 27, 2009, Printed on October 27, 2009

When Barack Obama took office it seemed to some of us that his first job was to get the national silverware out of the pawn shop. Or at least maintain the world's confidence that it was possible for us to get out of debt. America is dead broke, the easy credit, phantom "growth" economy has been exposed for what it was. A credit scam. Even Hillary Clinton and Obama's best efforts have not coaxed much more dough out of foreign friends. But at least we again have a few friends abroad.

So now we must jackleg ourselves back into something resembling a productive activity. No matter how you cut it, things will not be as much fun as shopping and speculative "investing" were.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Simple measures can yield big greenhouse gas cuts, scientists say

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- New technologies and policies that save energy, remove atmospheric carbon and limit greenhouse gas emissions are needed to fight global climate change – but face daunting technological, economic and political hurdles, a Michigan State University scientist said.

The good news: Basic actions taken by everyday people can yield fast savings at low cost, according to MSU Professor Thomas Dietz and colleagues.

Senate Dems to Obama: Um, a Little Help Here?

Jonathan Cohn
Jonathan Cohn
Senior Editor
  • The Public Option Lives. Wow.
  • Democrats Taking from the Poor?!
  • Senate Dems to Obama: Um, a Little Help Here?
October 26, 2009 | 12:01 am

After a weekend of furious activity, Democratic leaders in the Senate think they are close to getting the votes they need in order to pass an "opt-out" version of the public option.

But they feel like President Obama could be doing more to help them, with one senior staffer telling TNR on Sunday that the leadership would like, but has yet to receive, a clear "signal" of support for their effort.

The Cover-Up Continues

The Obama administration has clung for so long to the Bush administration’s expansive claims of national security and executive power that it is in danger of turning President George W. Bush’s cover-up of abuses committed in the name of fighting terrorism into President Barack Obama’s cover-up.

We have had recent reminders of this dismaying retreat from Mr. Obama’s passionate campaign promises to make a break with Mr. Bush’s abuses of power, a shift that denies justice to the victims of wayward government policies and shields officials from accountability.

Paul Krugman: After Reform Passes

So, how well will health reform work after it passes?

There’s a part of me that can’t believe I’m asking that question. After all, serious health reform has long seemed like an impossible dream. And it could yet go all wrong.

But the teabaggers have come and gone, as have the cries of “death panels” and the demonstrations by Medicare recipients demanding that the government stay out of health care. And reform is still on track. Right now it looks highly likely that Congress will, indeed, send a health care bill to the president’s desk. Then what?

Financial Support for the Unemployed Dries Up at the Worst Possible Time

By Marianne Hill, Dollars and Sense
Posted on October 15, 2009, Printed on October 26, 2009

Millions of workers have lost their jobs in the current recession. Employment is down 12 percent in manufacturing, 7 percent in professional and business services, and more than 5 percent overall in the private sector compared to last year. Over 5.6 million people have lost their jobs since last June. The ranks of the unemployed are continuing to grow; the unemployment rate in June hit 9.5 percent. Good thing that unemployment insurance provides income to help tide these workers over this rough patch, right? Not so fast.

The share of unemployed workers receiving benefits has gradually shrunk since the 1970s. In 1975, over half of unemployed workers received regular benefits. But in 2008, only 37 percent of the unemployed did; in some states the figure was less than 25 percent. And so-called “discouraged workers,” those who want but are not actively seeking employment, are not considered part of the labor force and so are not even included in these figures.

Right-Wing Extremist Group on Active Military Duty?

By Rob Waters, Southern Poverty Law Center
Posted on October 26, 2009, Printed on October 26, 2009

Oath Keepers, the militia/“Patriot” extremist group made up of law enforcement officers, military personnel and veterans, has posted a photo on its site showing (it says) “an active duty Oath Keeper in Mosul, Iraq” wearing two Velcro-attached “tabs” or patches, one saying “Oath Keeper” and the other “Three percent.” The flag patch beneath them is also an insignia of the “Three Percenters,” an informal alliance of hard-line gun owners.

The Oath Keepers figured prominently in a recent special report by the Southern Poverty Law Center on the resurgence of the antigovernment militia movement. The report described the group as “a particularly worrisome example of the Patriot revival.” Oath Keepers is fully on board with all the standard right-wing conspiracy theories, as evidenced by its official list of 10 “Orders We Will Not Obey,” in which it vows to resist any government efforts to “disarm the American people” or turn cities into “giant concentration camps.”

US threats prompted Iran nuclear facility

By Gareth Porter

WASHINGTON - The administration of United States President Barack Obama claims that construction of a second Iranian uranium enrichment facility at Qom began before Tehran's decision to withdraw from a previous agreement to inform the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in advance of such construction. But the November 2007 US intelligence estimate on Iran's nuclear program tells a different story.

The Iranian decision to withdraw from the earlier agreement with the IAEA was prompted, moreover, by the campaign of threats to Iran's nuclear facilities mounted by the George W Bush administration in early 2007, as a reconstruction of the sequence of events shows.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Afghan insurgency given new life by their enemies

Paul McGeough
October 24, 2009 - 6:07PM

This is the full text of an address given last Thursday by Paul McGeough, the chief correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald, at a conference on the Afghanistan crisis which was organised by the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies at the Australian National University in Canberra

In their rush to congratulate President Hamid Karzai on buckling to a second Afghan presidential election this week, world leaders heaved a sigh of relief. But none bothered – at least, not in public – to canvas the part played by the international community in bringing Afghanistan to the brink.

That is what makes the 60-page assessment of the conflict by US General Stanley McChrystal a damning document, more because of who he is than what he actually has to say.

The Baseline Scenario What happened to the global economy and what we can do about it Patchwork Fixes, Conflicting Motives, And Other Things To Avoid

Improving the regulation of the financial sector is a prime topic of conversation amongst financial economists, and appropriately so. Most agree that massive failures of financial regulation were one, if not perhaps the largest, cause of the 2008 meltdown.

When the conversation turns to the specifics of what needs to be regulated, how regulation should work, and what agencies should be involved, the range of views is tremendous. There is agreement that some kind of prudent regulation is needed, as is investor and consumer protection, but that’s about it. Fueled by billions of dollars of lobbying and purchased research, everyone has their own idea. One super-regulator? Council of regulators? Control bankers compensation schemes? Exchange-trade them? The cacophony is deafening.

It's Fourth And Ten, And Obama Is Bringing Out The Punting Squad

Obama was handed the football at the Democrats one yard line. The team outlined eight plays it needed to get a touchdown. Close Gitmo, repeal DADT, repeal DOMA, run a transparent government with no secret meetings, reform health care, bring our troops home from Iraq, and provide a stimulus to energize the economy and create much needed jobs.

The home team fans are in shock that we're not even close to a goal, and it's fourth and ten at the fifty yard line! This administration is preparing to punt as there is absolutely no possibility they will pull out a fourth and ten with their playbook.

Prognosis improves for public insurance

Top Democrats push option in health-care legislation

By Shailagh Murray and Lori Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 24, 2009

Democratic leaders in the Senate and House have concluded that a government-run insurance plan is the cheapest way to expand health coverage, and they sought Friday to rally support for the idea, prospects for which have gone in a few short weeks from bleak to bright.

The shift in momentum is so dramatic that many lawmakers now predict that President Obama will sign a final bill that includes some form of government-sponsored insurance for people who do not receive coverage through the workplace. Even Democrats with strong reservations about expanding government's role in the health-care system say they are reconsidering the approach in hopes of making low-cost plans broadly available.

Nouriel Roubini: Big Crash Coming

By Dave Nadig
On 3:00 am EDT, Friday October 23, 2009

Dr. Nouriel Roubini, professor of economics and international business at the Stern School of Business at NYU and chairman of RGE Monitor, is perhaps best known for his prescient predictions of the financial market collapse in 2005.

Dr. Roubini will be the keynote speaker at IndexUniverse’s upcoming “Inside Commodities” conference on Nov. 4 at the New York Stock Exchange. We sat down with Dr. Roubini ahead of the conference to take his temperature on global markets, the role of oil and gold and the impact of regulation.

If Lenders Say ‘The Dog Ate Your Mortgage’

Published: October 24, 2009

FOR decades, when troubled homeowners and banks battled over delinquent mortgages, it wasn’t a contest. Homes went into foreclosure, and lenders took control of the property.

On top of that, courts rubber-stamped the array of foreclosure charges that lenders heaped onto borrowers and took banks at their word when the lenders said they owned the mortgage notes underlying troubled properties.

Stealthy wind turbines aim to disappear from radar screens

15:22 23 October 2009
by Colin Barras

For all their environmental appeal, wind turbines have few fans in the military or among air traffic controllers. Strange as it might seem, radar systems easily confuse the turbines' rotating blades with passing aircraft. Now a company has developed a "stealthy", radar-invisible blade that could see many more wind farms springing up across the UK and elsewhere.

The concern over wind turbines is delaying their deployment. According to the UK Government's Department of Energy and Climate Change, plans for over 5 gigawatts of wind power are currently stalled by aviators' objections .

How to turn pig poo into green power

STINKING lagoons of pig manure created by thousands of animals in giant hog farms can pollute rivers, poison groundwater and pump out clouds of methane and carbon dioxide. So finding alternative uses for the slurry - to generate electricity, say - makes a lot of sense. The problem was that no one has been certain which way of doing it makes the most electricity for the least greenhouse gas production.

Now a Danish team has analysed the various ways in which firms in that country treat pig manure and use it to generate electricity in systems such as anaerobic digesters or incinerators. In anaerobic digestion, bacteria break down waste material by warming it in an oxygen-free vessel, releasing methane which is used in gas turbines. Incinerators burn material to boil water and drive a steam turbine.

Beware a Times/Pentagon 'Virtual Coup' on Aghanistan

by Harvey Wasserman

Some military coups are still done the old-fashioned way. Tanks surround the capital, generals grab the radio station, the slaughter begins.

Here, the Declaration of Independence scorned King George III for elevating his army over our colonial legislatures. The Founders opposed a standing army. Our first Commander George Washington warned against military entanglements. So did Dwight Eisenhower nearly two centuries later. These "quaint" monuments to civilian rule form the core of our constitutional culture.

So when the Pentagon wants to trash inconvenient opposition and escalate yet another war, it seeks subtler means. For example: the "virtual coup" now being staged in league with the New York Times, aimed at plunging us catastrophically deeper into Afghanistan.

An Open Letter To Elie Wiesel

Dear Mr. Wiesel,

Your years of tireless campaigning for human rights and against anti-Semitism have earned our deepest respect. For this reason we have written the following letter in hope that you will reconsider your support of events sponsored by John Hagee's Christians United for Israel. We realize that the outward show of support for Jews and Israel, on display at Hagee's CUFI events, can be very enticing but there is another aspect of Christian Zionism which we believe runs strongly counter to Jewish and Israeli interests.

John Hagee teaches "theological racism," the idea that the destiny of peoples is based on their biblical genealogy. Hagee claims Jewish souls are different from those of gentiles and that, according to divine plan, Jews have no right to live anywhere on Earth but in Israel. Hagee's fellow Christian Zionists predict that a coming, divinely ordained paroxysm of anti-Semitic violence, a "second Holocaust," will be necessary to force all Jews to make aliyah. From the pulpit, pastor Hagee and his fellow Christian Zionists preach their theological racism that risks provoking such a catastrophe.

Friday, October 23, 2009 It is official, Fox fabricated the "denied access" story ...

By GottaLaff

My pal Larisa Alexandrovna got down to work after she got wind of this. And what work she did. Look what she found out (via TPMDC), in part:

Despite the facts, Fox and the glue-sniffing idiots who defend them spread word far and wide of the "Nixonian" (interesting how that term suddenly popped up everywhere and all at once, as though a memo had been issued) war against them and Obama's "enemy list" bullshit.

So in short, Fox fabricated a story to make themselves look like victims of a fabricated war on them being waged by the evil Commie Obama. [...]

Prosecutors Turn Tables on Student Journalists

Published: October 24, 2009

EVANSTON, Ill. — For more than a decade, classes of students at Northwestern University’s journalism school have been scrutinizing the work of prosecutors and the police. The investigations into old crimes, as part of the Medill Innocence Project, have helped lead to the release of 11 inmates, the project’s director says, and an Illinois governor once cited those wrongful convictions as he announced he was commuting the sentences of everyone on death row.

But as the Medill Innocence Project is raising concerns about another case, that of a man convicted in a murder 31 years ago, a hearing has been scheduled next month in Cook County Circuit Court on an unusual request: Local prosecutors have subpoenaed the grades, grading criteria, class syllabus, expense reports and e-mail messages of the journalism students themselves.

Frank Rich: In Defense of the ‘Balloon Boy’ Dad

FOR a country desperate for good news, the now-deflated “balloon boy” spectacle would seem to be the perfect tonic. As Wolf Blitzer of CNN summed up the nation’s unrestrained joy upon learning that the imperiled boy had never been in any peril whatsoever: “All of us are so excited that little Falcon is fine.”

Then came even better news. After little Falcon revealed to Blitzer that his family “did this for the show,” we could all luxuriate in a warm bath of moral superiority. No matter what our own faults as parents, we could never top Richard Heene, who mercilessly exploited his child for fame and profit. Nor could we ever be as craven as the news media, especially cable television, which dumped a live broadcast of President Obama in New Orleans to track the supersized Jiffy Pop bag floating over Colorado.

Or such are the received lessons of this tale.

Essex man organizes volunteers to restore Back River

By Mary Gail Hare | The Baltimore Sun
October 25, 2009

Even a casual glance at the view from his front porch brings an understanding of why Jerry Ziemski has worked so tirelessly to restore Back River. Sunlight glistens on gentle waves lapping at tree-lined shores. Blue herons, ducks and an occasional eagle flutter by. Anglers drop their lines from piers and crabbers check their nets.

"I know this view is a dream for a lot of people, and I am lucky to have it," said Ziemski, 54, known to many of his Essex neighbors as Captain Jerry. "I stand on this porch, look out there and know all the cleanup work is worth it."

Friday, October 23, 2009

Arctic Sediments Show That 20th Century Warming Is Unlike Natural Variation

PNAS paper indicates that changes since the middle of the 20th century are unprecedented

Since the mid-20th century, changes seen in Arctic sediments retrieved by UB geologist Jason Briner and his colleagues, are unprecedented in the last 200,000 years.


Ellen Goldbaum


Release Date: October 19, 2009

Buffalo, N.Y. – The possibility that climate change might simply be a natural variation like others that have occurred throughout geologic time is dimming, according to evidence in a Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences paper published today.

The research reveals that sediments retrieved by University at Buffalo geologists from a remote Arctic lake are unlike those seen during previous warming episodes.

The $200,000 Insult: Come to Chicago

Kenneth Feinberg, President Obama's compensation czar for bailed out banks, appears to have taken some genuine steps to rein in excessive executive compensation at the basket case banks that received the most TARP money. He cut cash salaries by 90 percent in some cases and reduced overall compensation for the top executives at the seven institutions that received the most government money.

This is a good first step, but it is only a first step. The pay caps involve only a relatively small number of people in an industry where hugely bloated salaries are the norm. Even in these cases it is too early to know that the pay caps will actually prove to be binding. After all, Wall Street's main craft is evading regulations and taxes. It is entirely possible that those clever Wall Street boys will find a way to get around whatever pay restrictions Mr. Feinberg puts in place.

Paul Krugman: The Chinese Disconnect

Senior monetary officials usually talk in code. So when Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, spoke recently about Asia, international imbalances and the financial crisis, he didn’t specifically criticize China’s outrageous currency policy.

But he didn’t have to: everyone got the subtext. China’s bad behavior is posing a growing threat to the rest of the world economy. The only question now is what the world — and, in particular, the United States — will do about it.

Some background: The value of China’s currency, unlike, say, the value of the British pound, isn’t determined by supply and demand. Instead, Chinese authorities enforced that target by buying or selling their currency in the foreign exchange market — a policy made possible by restrictions on the ability of private investors to move their money either into or out of the country.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

McCain introduces bill to block Net neutrality

Republican strategy is to paint Net neutrality as government 'control' of Internet

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) introduced a bill in the Senate on Thursday that would effectively allow Internet service providers to slow down or block Internet content or applications of their choosing.

The move came the same day as the federal government decided to move forward on an official Net neutrality policy that would prevent ISPs from making those types of decisions.

The Organic Revolution: How We Can Stop Global Warming

by Ronnie Cummins

"Let us not talk falsely now, for the hour is getting late."

Bob Dylan, "All Along the Watchtower"

* * *

Beyond the gloom and doom of the climate crisis, there lies a powerful and regenerative grassroots solution: organic food, farming, and ranching. Even as politicians and the powerful fossil fuel lobby drag their heels and refuse to acknowledge that we have about ten years left of "business as usual" before we irreversibly destroy the climate and ourselves, there is a powerful, though largely unrecognized, life-force spreading its roots underground.

Millions of organic farmers, ranchers, conservationists, and backyard gardeners (supported by millions of organic consumers) are demonstrating that we can build a healthy alternative to industrial agriculture and Food Inc. Our growing organic movement is proving that we can not only feed the world with healthy food, but also reverse global warming, by capturing and sequestering billions of tons of climate-destabilizing greenhouse gases in the soil, through plant photosynthesis, composting, cover crops, rotational grazing, wetlands preservation, and reforestation.

Wall Street's Naked Swindle

A scheme to flood the market with counterfeit stocks helped kill Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers — and the feds have yet to bust the culprits


Posted Oct 14, 2009 9:30 AM

On Tuesday, March 11th, 2008, somebody — nobody knows who — made one of the craziest bets Wall Street has ever seen. The mystery figure spent $1.7 million on a series of options, gambling that shares in the venerable investment bank Bear Stearns would lose more than half their value in nine days or less. It was madness — "like buying 1.7 million lottery tickets," according to one financial analyst.

But what's even crazier is that the bet paid.

Big meat tries to spin new antibiotics report

The American Academy of Microbiologists (“the world’s oldest and largest life science organization”), just issued a major report on antibiotic resistance which, among many recommendations, calls for decreasing or eliminating the use of antibiotics in animal production. The report adds more support for the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA), Rep. Louise Slaughter’s (D-N.Y.) bill before Congress that would end sub-therapeutic doses on antibiotics for livestock.

Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act

S. 909, H.R. 1913

Hate Crimes in America

Every hour, a crime motivated by the perpetrator’s bias against the victim occurs in the United States. These hate crimes terrorize whole communities by making members of certain classes - whether racial minorities, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, religious minorities or people who are perceived to be members of these groups - afraid to live in certain places and be free to move about in their community and across the country.

Because perpetrators commit hate crimes to send a message and express anger or hatred for the victim, they often involve more violent acts than it takes to subdue or incapacitate the victim. Sometimes they involve mutilation, torture or holding the victim captive, such as in a car trunk.

Johann Hari: The three fallacies that have driven the war in Afghanistan

Case for escalating the war is based on premises that turn to dust on inspection

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Is Barack Obama about to drive his Presidency into a bloody ditch strewn with corpses? The President is expected any day now to announce his decision about the future of the war in Afghanistan. He knows US and British troops have now been stationed in the hell-mouth of Helmand longer than the First and Second World Wars combined – yet the mutterings from the marble halls of Washington DC suggest he may order a troop escalation.

Obama has to decide now whether to side with the American people and the Afghan people calling for a rapid reduction in US force, or with a small military clique demanding a ramping-up of the conflict. The populations of both countries are in close agreement. The latest Washington Post poll shows that 51 per cent of Americans say the war is "not worth fighting" and that ending the foreign occupation will "reduce terrorism". Only 27 per cent disagree. At the other end of the gun-barrel, 77 per cent of Afghans in the latest BBC poll say the on-going US air strikes are "unacceptable", and the US troops should only remain if they are going to provide reconstruction assistance rather than bombs.

Fate of White House Counsel Is in Doubt

WASHINGTON — Every morning, Gregory B. Craig, the White House counsel, sits at the conference table of the Roosevelt Room with the rest of the president’s senior staff members.

His colleagues greet him, friendly as always. He updates the room on his issues and listens as they update him on theirs.

The one issue that does not come up? Mr. Craig himself.

As President Obama’s top lawyer, Mr. Craig has been at the center of thorny decisions on closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and revising interrogation and detention policies, problems that have bedeviled the new administration and generated fierce battles inside and outside the White House. And for months now, he has endured speculation in print and around the White House about whether he is on the way out.

Trigger Troubles—And Why the Senate Can’t Fix Them

As closed-door discussions continue in the Senate, the resilient bad idea of triggering the public plan is once again on the table. Advocates of the trigger cast it as a compromise that will attract the support of the small number of conservative Democrats who have expressed reservations about the public option, as well as Republican Olympia Snowe, who has proposed a trigger.

But to be a compromise between public-plan skeptics and the majority of senators who support a public plan because it is central to ensuring affordable coverage while limiting the budgetary costs of reform, a trigger must have some prospect of working—and a trigger inserted into the two Senate bills now being merged would not.

Survey: Many Americans Now Plan to Work Past 67

About two-thirds of American workers now believe they'll have to delay their retirement by at least one year, with 27% expecting to work at least five years longer than planned because of the debilitating economy and stock-market losses, according to a new survey.

Michael Moore: 15 Things Every American Can Do Right Now


It's the #1 question I'm constantly asked after people see my movie: "OK -- so NOW what can I DO?!"

You want something to do? Well, you've come to the right place! 'Cause I got 15 things you and I can do right now to fight back and try to fix this very broken system.

Here they are:


1. Declare a moratorium on all home evictions. Not one more family should be thrown out of their home. The banks must adjust their monthly mortgage payments to be in line with what people's homes are now truly worth -- and what they can afford. Also, it must be stated by law: If you lose your job, you cannot be tossed out of your home.

2. Congress must join the civilized world and expand Medicare For All Americans. A single, nonprofit source must run a universal health care system that covers everyone. Medical bills are now the #1 cause of bankruptcies and evictions in this country. Medicare For All will end this misery. The bill to make this happen is called H.R. 3200. You must call AND write your members of Congress and demand its passage, no compromises allowed.

Where Will the Jobs Come From?

They are popping the bubbly on Wall Street. Million-dollar bonuses, the Dow at 10,000, the casino is open again. Forget President Obama, who says we can't go back to an economy where finance pockets 40 percent of the profits. We're already headed there.

The current-account deficit is down as Americans have cut back spending. But the deficit with China is hitting new records; companies are still shipping manufacturing jobs over there. The dollar is down, but not against the Chinese currency. Forget about Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke, who warns against going back to the unsustainable trade imbalances that led us over the cliff. The old patterns are coming back.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Thomas Frank: From John Birchers to Birthers

The right's paranoid political style has gone mainstream.


Next month will mark the 45th anniversary of the publication by Harper's Magazine of Richard Hofstadter's famous essay, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics," a work that seems to grow more relevant by the day.

I was not always a fan. When I first read it two decades ago, I thought Hofstadter was being needlessly insulting by equating political views with mental illness—despite his insistence that he wasn't using the word that way. Besides, I thought, who really cared about the strange notions that occurred to members of marginal groups like the John Birch Society? Joe McCarthy's day was long over, and even in the age of high Reaganism, I thought, the type of person Hofstadter described was merely handing out flyers on street corners.

As the historian himself admitted, "in America it has been the preferred style only of minority movements." Why bother with it, then?

Beck, others use climate trade negotiations to fearmonger about world government, communism

October 20, 2009 8:18 pm ET — 9 Comments

Glenn Beck and other media conservatives, including Rush Limbaugh and Michelle Malkin, seized on comments by British lord Christopher Monckton to fearmonger that if the United States agreed to a treaty dealing with climate change, it would be signing its sovereignty away to a "world government." Beck and others have previously fearmongered about the possibility of world government and the loss of U.S. sovereignty.

Hersh: Military waging war with White House

10.14.09 - 12:23 am
By Neil Offen; 419-6646

DURHAM — The U.S. military is not just fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, America’s most renowned investigative journalist says.

The army is also “in a war against the White House — and they feel they have [President] Obama boxed in,” Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Seymour Hersh told several hundred people in Duke University’s Page Auditorium on Tuesday night. “They think he’s weak and the wrong color. Yes, there’s racism in the Pentagon. We may not like to think that, but it’s true and we all know it.”

CBO finds Dem bill with public option reduces deficit

From Deirdre Walsh

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A preliminary estimate from the Congressional Budget Office projects that the House Democrats' health care plan that includes a public option would cost $871 billion over 10 years, according to two Democratic sources.

Nancy Pelosi, right, here with Harry Reid, proposes a "more robust" public option. The CBO analyzed the plan.

CBO also found that the Democrats' bill reduces the deficit in the first 10 years.

Gloating with Wall Street's goodfellas

By Julian Delasantellis

Let's say that living on your block is a friendly, easygoing, always ready to lend a hand to a guy in trouble fellow we'll call Mr Tarp. In September of last year, another neighbor, we'll call him Mr Bank, came to him with a tale of woe.

Ah, it had been hard times for Mr Bank. Speculating in wild, hare-brained financial schemes had left him destitute and on the brink of eviction and ruination. A little assistance, a few bucks, would help a lot.

Which Came First: Government Ownership or Catastrophic Losses?

Companies like Citi and GM were failing before we took over.

By Daniel Gross

In the past year, taxpayers and government agencies have engineered optimal conditions for bankers to score. To use a metaphor bankers could understand (golf), by supporting markets, taking interest to zero, and providing legions of subsidies, the government has widened the fairways, enlarged the greens, and dug holes the size of bomb craters. Some bankers are playing the redesigned course like Tiger Woods. JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs each earned more than $3 billion in the last quarter. But other huge banks are playing like Ted Knight's Judge Smails in Caddyshack. Citi scratched out a mere $101 million in earnings and suffered heavy credit losses, while Bank of America lost $1 billion. A similar dynamic is evident in the domestic auto industry. Cash for Clunkers and government support for auto lenders has helped prop up demand. In September, Ford saw sales rise 5 percent from September 2008, and the company gained market share. But sales at General Motors and Chrysler were off 45 percent and 42 percent, respectively, from a year before.

In both banking and autos, the companies that are partially government-owned are flailing while the independent firms are thriving. But the results raise a financial version of the age-old question: Which came first? Are these companies losing market share and facing mounting losses because they have big-government ownership and oversight? Or do they have government oversight and ownership because, for years, they lost market share and racked up losses? For folks who believe that government caused the crisis—i.e., that the Community Reinvestment Act somehow caused Bear Stearns and Lehman Bros. to destroy themselves—it's the former. For those of us who believe that the crisis was largely the making of wealthy CEOs who had every incentive to see their companies succeed but simply failed (and that their poor choices were abetted by poor regulation), it's the latter. Put more simply: Government ownership doesn't cause catastrophic losses; catastrophic losses cause government ownership.

One in six Americans in poverty, new study finds

The level of poverty in America is even worse than first believed.

A revised formula for calculating medical costs and geographic variations show that approximately 47.4 million Americans last year lived in poverty, 7 million more than the government's official figure.

The disparity occurs because of differing formulas the Census Bureau and the National Academy of Science use for calculating the poverty rate. The NAS formula shows the poverty rate to be at 15.8 percent, or nearly 1 in 6 Americans, according to calculations released this week. That's higher than the 13.2 percent, or 39.8 million, figure made available recently under the original government formula.

Carbon-offsetting and conservation can both be winners in rainforest

Logged rainforests can support as much plant, animal and insect life as virgin forest within 15 years if properly managed, research at the University of Leeds has found.

Because trees in tropical climates soak up large amounts of carbon dioxide, restoring logged forest through planting new trees could also be used in carbon trading, according to Dr David Edwards, from University's Faculty of Biological Sciences.

Bill Moyers: How Can the U.S. Be an Empire and a Democracy at the Same Time?

By Bill Moyers, Bill Moyers Journal
Posted on October 20, 2009, Printed on October 21, 2009
The following is a transcript from Bill Moyers' interview with journalist Mark Danner on his new book, Stripping Bare the Body, broadcast on PBS's Bill Moyers Journal.

Bill Moyers: President Obama has been holding one meeting after another trying to decide whether to escalate the war in Afghanistan. He would do well to hold off another discussion until he has sent everyone home for the weekend to read this new book with the provocative title, Stripping Bare the Body, and a cover that holds the eye like a magnet.

The subject is politics, violence, and war, and running through it is an old truth often forgot: you start a war knowing what you are fighting, but in the end you find yourself fighting for things you had never thought of.

Study: States can't afford death penalty

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- At 678, California has the nation's largest death row population, yet the state has not executed anyone in four years.

But it spends more than $130 million a year on its capital punishment system -- housing and prosecuting inmates and coping with an appellate system that has kept some convicted killers waiting for an execution date since the late 1970s.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Hurdles remain as FCC ponders Internet data rules

Oct 18, 2009 11:57 EST

With Democrats in charge in Washington, supporters of so-called "net neutrality" rules seem poised to finally push through requirements that high-speed Internet providers give equal treatment to all data flowing over their networks.

These rules — at the heart of a five-year policy debate — are intended to guarantee that Internet users can go to any Web site and access any online service they want. Phone and cable companies, for instance, wouldn't be able to block subscribers from using cheaper Internet calling services or accessing online video sites that compete with their core businesses.

Yet making that happen is proving thorny — and it's likely that the courts and perhaps even Congress will ultimately get involved.

Paul Krugman: The Banks Are Not All Right

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. O.K., maybe not literally the worst, but definitely bad. And the contrast between the immense good fortune of a few and the continuing suffering of all too many boded ill for the future.

I’m talking, of course, about the state of the banks.

The lucky few garnered most of the headlines, as many reacted with fury to the spectacle of Goldman Sachs making record profits and paying huge bonuses even as the rest of America, the victim of a slump made on Wall Street, continues to bleed jobs.

Will Beck denounce conservatives who've cited Mao, Lenin, Viet Cong?

On his Fox News program, Glenn Beck aired a clip of White House communications director Anita Dunn calling Mao Zedong and Mother Teresa two of her "favorite political philosophers" and used those comments to falsely link Dunn to the murder of tens of millions of Chinese under Mao's reign. But numerous conservatives have approvingly cited the tactics of Mao, Vladimir Lenin, and the Viet Cong, stated that they had used those tactics in their political work, or have otherwise highlighted their philosophies -- leading Media Matters for America to question whether or not Beck will denounce them next.

Shifting the world to 100 percent clean, renewable energy as early as 2030 -- here are the numbers

Most of the technology needed to shift the world from fossil fuel to clean, renewable energy already exists. Implementing that technology requires overcoming obstacles in planning and politics, but doing so could result in a 30 percent decrease in global power demand, say Stanford civil and environmental engineering Professor Mark Z. Jacobson and University of California-Davis researcher Mark Delucchi.

To make clear the extent of those hurdles – and how they could be overcome – they have written an article that is the cover story in the November issue of Scientific American. In it, they present new research mapping out and evaluating a quantitative plan for powering the entire world on wind, water and solar energy, including an assessment of the materials needed and costs. And it will ultimately be cheaper than sticking with fossil fuel or going nuclear, they say.

Report examines hidden costs of energy production and use

WASHINGTON -- A new report from the National Research Council examines and, when possible, estimates "hidden" costs of energy production and use -- such as the damage air pollution imposes on human health -- that are not reflected in market prices of coal, oil, other energy sources, or the electricity and gasoline produced from them. The report estimates dollar values for several major components of these costs. The damages the committee was able to quantify were an estimated $120 billion in the U.S. in 2005, a number that reflects primarily health damages from air pollution associated with electricity generation and motor vehicle transportation. The figure does not include damages from climate change, harm to ecosystems, effects of some air pollutants such as mercury, and risks to national security, which the report examines but does not monetize.

Requested by Congress, the report assesses what economists call external effects caused by various energy sources over their entire life cycle -- for example, not only the pollution generated when gasoline is used to run a car but also the pollution created by extracting and refining oil and transporting fuel to gas stations. Because these effects are not reflected in energy prices, government, businesses and consumers may not realize the full impact of their choices. When such market failures occur, a case can be made for government interventions -- such as regulations, taxes or tradable permits -- to address these external costs, the report says.

Race and the Right's Paranoid Obama Conspiracies

Late last week, Democratic-leaning pollster Stan Greenberg released a focus group study showing that conservative GOP base voters live in an alternative universe of their own political paranoia. In this world, President Obama is ruthlessly advancing a secret agenda to ruin -- yes, ruin -- the economy so he can impose socialism upon the United States and destroy the core civil liberties of American democracy. And in this covert crusade, Obama is no more than a frontman for unseen interests aiming to annihilate the United States.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Letting Goldman roll the dice

On this morning’s conference call, David Viniar, Goldman Sachs’ chief financial officer, emphasized the bank’s valuable social role. His bank made markets and provided credit when other financial players were suffering.

But is Goldman really such an indispensible financial intermediary? One look at the firm’s revenue breakdown shows that it’s more casino than anything else, and some of the markets it makes still put the economy in danger.

With markets recovering and competitors falling away, Goldman’s trading and principal investment revenue through the first nine months of the year was nearly $24 billion, on pace to break the $30 billion record set in 2007.

Frank Rich: Goldman Can Spare You a Dime

AT the dawn of the progressive era early in the last century, muckrakers attacked the first billionaire, John D. Rockefeller, for creating capitalism’s most ruthless monster. “The Octopus” was their nickname for Standard Oil, the trust that controlled nearly 90 percent of American oil. But even in that primordial phase of the industrial era, Rockefeller was mindful of his public image and eager to counter it. “His great brainstorm,” writes his biographer, Ron Chernow, “was undoubtedly his decision to dispense shiny souvenir dimes to adults and nickels to children as he moved about.” Who could hate an octopus tossing glittering coins?

It was hard not to think of Rockefeller’s old P.R. playbook while watching Goldman Sachs’s behavior when the Dow hit 10,000 last week. As leader of the Wall Street pack, Goldman declared surging profits, keeping it on track to dispense a record $23 billion in bonuses for 2009. But most Americans know all too well that only the intervention of billions of dollars in taxpayer bailout money saved Goldman from the dire fate of its less well-connected competitors. The growing ranks of under-and-unemployed Americans, meanwhile, are waiting with increasing desperation for a recovery of their own.

How Moody's sold its ratings -- and sold out investors

WASHINGTON -- As the housing market collapsed in late 2007, Moody's Investors Service, whose investment ratings were widely trusted, responded by purging analysts and executives who warned of trouble and promoting those who helped Wall Street plunge the country into its worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

A McClatchy investigation has found that Moody's punished executives who questioned why the company was risking its reputation by putting its profits ahead of providing trustworthy ratings for investment offerings.

The ACORN Standard

By Jeremy Scahill

October 14, 2009

The nonpartisan Project on Government Oversight and Reform recently revealed that the top 100 government contractors made nearly $300 billion from federal contracts in 2007 alone. Since 1995 these same contractors have been involved with 676 cases of "misconduct" and paid $26 billion in fines to settle cases stemming from fraud, waste or abuse. Fines and other penalties, it seems, are simply the stunningly small price of doing government business.

Take the case of the top three war contractors, Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Northrop Grumman. These companies have engaged in 108 instances of misconduct since 1995 and have paid fines or settlements totaling nearly $3 billion. In 2007 they won some $77 billion in federal contracts. Or consider pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, which in September paid $2.3 billion to settle a slew of criminal and civil cases, including Medicaid fraud. According to the Justice Department, this was "the largest healthcare fraud settlement" in its history. Yet Pfizer made more than $40 billion in profits last year and won $73 million in federal contracts in 2007; it continues to do robust business with the government. Not bad for a "corporate felon."

Agent Orange in Vietnam: Ignoring the Crimes Before Our Eyes

by Dave Lindorff

On Oct. 13, the New York Times ran a news story headlined "Door Opens to Health Claims Tied to Agent Orange," which was sure to be good news to many American veterans of the Indochina War. It reported that 38 years after the Pentagon ceased spreading the deadly dioxin-laced herbicide/defoliant over much of South Vietnam, it was acknowledging what veterans have long claimed: in addition to 13 ailments already traced to exposure to the chemical, it was also responsible for three more dread diseases-Parkinson's, ischemic heart disease and hairy-cell leukemia.

Under a new policy adopted by the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, the VA will now start providing free care to any of the 2.1 million Vietnam-era veterans who can show that they might have been hurt by exposure to Agent Orange.

Obama Threatens Insurers’ Anti-Trust Exemption

WASHINGTON — President Obama mounted a frontal assault on the insurance industry on Saturday, accusing it of using “deceptive and dishonest ads” to derail his health care legislation and threatening to strip the industry of its longstanding exemption from federal antitrust laws.

In unusually harsh terms, Mr. Obama cast insurance companies as obstacles to change interested only in preserving their own “profits and bonuses” and willing to “bend the truth or break it” to stop his drive to remake the nation’s health care system. The president used his weekly radio and Internet address to challenge industry assertions that legislation will drive up premiums.

“It’s smoke and mirrors,” Mr. Obama said. “It’s bogus. And it’s all too familiar. Every time we get close to passing reform, the insurance companies produce these phony studies as a prescription and say, ‘Take one of these, and call us in a decade.’ Well, not this time.”

Sudan’s Critics Relieved That Obama Chose a Middle Course

WASHINGTON — A day after the first details began to emerge of the Obama administration’s long-awaited policy for Sudan — one that proposes working with the government rather than isolating it — advocates of a tougher approach toward Khartoum said they wished the administration had been stronger.

But they also expressed relief at what has been released so far, saying they had feared the White House would take an even more conciliatory line toward the government, whose leader has been charged with crimes against humanity.

Going 'deep', not 'big', in Afghanistan

By Gareth Porter

WASHINGTON - A veteran United States Army officer who has served in both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars warns in an analysis now circulating in Washington that the counter-insurgency strategy urged by General Stanley A McChrystal is likely to strengthen the Afghan insurgency, and calls for withdrawal of the bulk of United States combat forces from the country over 18 months.

In a 63-page paper representing his personal views but reflecting conversations with other officers who have served in Afghanistan, Lieutenant Colonel Daniel L Davis argues that it is already too late for US forces to defeat the insurgency.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Paul Krugman: Superfreakonomics on climate, part 1

OK, I’m working my way through the climate chapter — and the first five pages, by themselves, are enough to discredit the whole thing. Why? Because they grossly misrepresent other peoples’ research, in both climate science and economics.

The chapter opens with the “global cooling” story — the claim that 30 years ago there was a scientific consensus that the planet was cooling, comparable to the current consensus that it’s warming.

The View From Inside a Depression

Dow at 10,000 as Crisis Ebbs

— Wall Street Journal headline on Thursday

In January 1931, a lawyer named Benjamin Roth, 38 years old, solidly Republican, a solo practitioner in Youngstown, Ohio, decided to start a diary. Realizing that he was “living through an historic thing that will long be remembered” — as he put it in one early entry — he wanted to keep a record for posterity.

Mr. Roth’s diaries have just been published in book form — “The Great Depression: A Diary” — edited by his son Daniel, who worked in his father’s law practice for many years, and James Ledbetter, the editor of The Big Money, a financial site run by Slate. It is an eye-opening read, though not necessarily in the ways you might think.

Because it was written in the 1930s, Mr. Roth’s diary is not the kind of tell-all we’ve come to expect in this less restrained age. Although he mentions repeatedly the struggles of lawyers and other “professional men” during the depression — Mr. Roth always uses the lower-case “d” — he never shares how his family struggled through it, or how he was able to send his daughter to college in 1937. (Daniel Roth told me that his father, who died in 1978, later divulged that he had had a good life insurance policy, which he borrowed against to keep food on the table.)

What’s yours is mine

Andrew Simms
Published 15 October 2009

The scramble for the world’s resources has barely abated with the recession, and our ecological debts are mounting

The elephant is still standing, and still dead. Around its feet are hundreds of coins thrown by visitors. Room after room at the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, on the outskirts of Brussels, is full of stuffed animals perched rigidly against crude backdrops of African forest and grassland. Another exhibit surveys Africa's economic contribution to the world: maps on the wall dissect and label each country, tagging them like the pickled fish and stuffed apes.

This is Africa as a cornucopia of natural wealth to be mined, harvested, picked, squeezed and taken. The maps reduce the continent in general, and Congo in particular, to a series of carefully plotted locations for the extraction of oil, cotton, coffee, sugar, rice, maize, diamonds, jute, cobalt, tin, copper and gold. One term for it is the "resource curse", exemplified by King Leopold II's brutal Central African reign during the first scramble for Africa in the 19th century. Leopold still sits proudly in the central courtyard of the museum, chin imperially upturned: a statue in honour of international relations built on murder, theft and deception.

What’s so bad about inflation?

David Blanchflower
Published 15 October 2009

In contrast to the tiny costs of inflation, the costs of unemployment are enormous


But to business. In his speech to the Tory conference, David Cameron discussed what he felt was the way out of the economic crisis. His three options were as follows, and I quote:

“Option one: we can just default on the debt. Not pay it. Other countries have done that in the past. But I don't think anyone in this country wants to go down that road.

“Option two: we could encourage inflation, which would wipe out the value of the debt, making it easier to pay off. But that's not just an economic disaster, it's a social disaster, too. It doesn't just wipe out debts, it wipes out people's hard-earned savings.

US Healthcare History: Our Very Own Killing Fields

by Donna Smith

Jenny Fritts was 24 years old. Jenny lived with her husband Sean for the past five years, and together they had a little girl named Kylee, 2. Jenny was seven-and-a-half months pregnant with her second child - a beautiful, baby girl.

Jenny is dead. Jenny's unborn baby is dead. They died because they were turned away for appropriate care at a for-profit hospital because they did not have health insurance. Sean rushed Jenny back to another hospital when her symptoms became even more severe, and he lied about having insurance to get her in the door. She was placed on a respirator in intensive care, but she didn't make it. She died. And so did her baby.

The Politics of the Public Option

Indeed, if the Democrats abandon the public option for the sake of passing a bill like the one that came out of the Senate Finance Committee, they may be courting electoral disaster once voters grasp that they will have to wait years for the law to be implemented and then that it could lead to higher costs for much the same unpopular private insurance plans.

The public option offers the only means for a reform to be quickly implemented and to demonstrate a beneficial effect for the people by 2010 and 2012. It has the potential for reducing costs, especially for small businesses and individuals who are now being soaked by private insurers or denied coverage.

What Comes Next for Health-Care Reform?

The first of Harry Reid's meetings to merge the Finance and HELP Committee bills and create one compromise bill able to survive the Senate floor happened Wednesday. The participants in the room were a high-powered bunch: Reid, of course; Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee; Chris Dodd, who led the HELP Committee's health-care reform effort. The White House sent Rahm Emanuel, Peter Orszag, Nancy-Ann DeParle, Kathleen Sebelius and Phil Schiliro. And then staff. Lots and lots of staff. Contrary to reports from earlier this week, it no longer looks like Olympia Snowe will be a constant presence.

Democratic destiny and electoral doom

Last night, on Chris Matthews' "Hardball," there appeared a Tea Partyer -- from Texas, I think, though I'm not sure, as during the segment's opening I was preparing my typical American-proletarian feast of generic Rice Krispies -- who was hustling the fiction that he and his little neanderthal band's "movement," if you will, is nonpartisan and non-ideological.

Matthews sat stupefied, if not amused, pursuing logic and history, which is always a wasteful mistake with these guys.

Where, asked Matthews, were you folks and your outrage when George W. Bush was busting the budget like a Mad King Ludwig and putting plutocrats on lavish government welfare? And what was Barack Obama to do, when he inherited this wreck of a nation, other than try to stimulate the economy? Was he to emulate Herbert Hoover? Is that what you wanted?

Well, Matthews' Tea Partying guest avowed historical ignorance of Hooverism -- strangely, I believed him -- but on the other hand he was expert on what followed; he was, that is, pretty darn sure that FDR's reversal of Hooverism was what deepened and prolonged the Great Depression. Matthews, once an econ major and still a vigorous reader of American history, was too befuddled and time-constrained to educate the idiot. Like that would have helped, anyway.

British Censorship Chills US Reporting

They say that when Wall Street sneezes, Europe catches a cold. But it seems that when London puts a freeze on facts, the chill can spread just as well the other way.

What I'm about to tell you was censored in Britain until yesterday night because of a "super-injunction" won for the oil-trading company Trafigura by the famously aggressive media law firm Carter-Ruck. Super-injunctions, for those unfamiliar with Britain's baroque libel and media law, are gagging orders which cannot themselves be mentioned, thus allowing corporations and oligarchs to carry on their business untainted by public suspicion. They have become increasingly popular with both British and foreign litigants who have something to hide--and with lawyers who make fortunes squeezing foreign libel cases into the British courts. Such is the chilling effect of these dubious legal instruments that even The Nation, First Amendment champion par excellence, felt obliged to hold an earlier version of this post for two and a half days while its lawyers considered the risks of publication. It's only because Trafigura has lifted the injunction in Britain after an outcry on the internet, in the press and in the House of Commons that you are reading this now.

The death of language?

By Tom Colls
Today programme

An estimated 7,000 languages are being spoken around the world. But that number is expected to shrink rapidly in the coming decades. What is lost when a language dies?

In 1992 a prominent US linguist stunned the academic world by predicting that by the year 2100, 90% of the world's languages would have ceased to exist.

Far from inspiring the world to act, the issue is still on the margins, according to prominent French linguist Claude Hagege.

How Climate Change Kills History

It's eight days to our global climate day of action and I'm just headed back from Nashville, where I spoke to the annual meeting of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. I feel like one of those candidates on the eve of the election, scrambling across the landscape to make sure they leave no vote ungot. But truth be told, I don't really know what I'm doing.

I'm an author turned part-time activist. Not out of desire—my bumper sticker should read "I'd rather be writing"—but out of frustration, and the sense that no one was really building a popular movement about climate change, and that it needed to be done. In this quest I've worked with a crew of young people, all recent college grads, and we've learned side by side about how to organize. Learned by experience, because there's really no guidebook (so we wrote one last year, Fight Global Warming Now).

Friday, October 16, 2009

Democracy Corps: Republican Base Voters Living In Another World

A new focus-group of Republican base voters by the Democracy Corps (D), the consulting and polling outfit headed up by James Carville and Stan Greenberg, presents a picture of the GOP base as being motivated by a fundamentally different worldview than folks in the middle or on the Dem side -- and they see the country as being under a dire threat.

"They believe Obama is ruthlessly advancing a 'secret agenda' to bankrupt the United States and dramatically expand government control to an extent nothing short of socialism," the analysis said." While these voters are disdainful of a Republican Party they view to have failed in its mission, they overwhelmingly view a successful Obama presidency as the destruction of this country's founding principles and are committed to seeing the president fail."

Paul Krugman: A Hatchet Job So Bad It’s Good

In the past, the insurance industry’s power has been a major barrier to health-care reform. Most notably, the industry paid for the infamous “Harry and Louise” ads that helped kill the Clinton plan. But times have changed.

Last weekend, the lobbying organization America’s Health Insurance Plans, or AHIP, released a report attacking the reform plan just passed by the Senate Finance Committee. Some news organizations gave the report prominent, uncritical coverage. But health-care experts quickly, and correctly, dismissed it as a hatchet job. And the end result of AHIP’s blunder may be a better bill than we would otherwise have had.

Brilliant! Roof Tiles Change Color to Save Energy

On a blazing summer day, a black roof gets miserably hot, while a white roof reflects the sun and keeps a home cooler. In winter, the warmth generated by a solar-radiation-absorbing black roof can save energy.

That's well-known and simple enough. Unfortunately, you can't have it both ways. Well ...

Bill Shields Most Banks From Review

WASHINGTON — Bowing to political pressure from community bankers, the House Financial Services Committee approved an exemption on Thursday for more than 98 percent of the nation’s banks from oversight by a new agency created to protect consumers from abusive or deceptive credit cards, mortgages and other loans.

The carve-out in legislation overhauling the regulatory system would prevent the new consumer financial protection agency from conducting annual examinations of the lending practices at more than 8,000 of the nation’s 8,200 banks, leaving only the largest banks and other lenders subject to the agency’s examiners.

Earlier in the day, the committee completed its work on a different contentious provision of the legislation when, on a nearly straight party-line vote of 43 to 26, it approved tougher regulations over the derivatives market. That provision, too, contained exemptions for many businesses.

The Roving Eye: Putin lays down law for Clinton

By Pepe Escobar

For the (Western) news cycle, what stood out from United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to Russia this week was an "appeal for cooperation" and a "challenge" for Russia to open up its political system, embrace "diversity" and shelve Cold War thinking.

Who's fooling whom? One might be forgiven to picture a torrent of laughter echoing in the Kremlin's corridors - later washed down with prime Stoli vodka - especially considering Washington's current poor standing in the world, as well as those usual suspects, "Western values"; and the fact that Russian intelligentsia has been pointing out for years that it is Washington hawks who are still in fact mired in the Cold War. Such a pity that Iran hawk Hillary did not cross paths with chess master Vladimir.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Chamber of Commerce Has It Backwards

The US Chamber of Commerce is opposing the administration’s proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency, on the grounds that it would hurt small business. Their argument is that this agency will extend the dead hand of government into every small business.

For the Chamber of Commerce, government is the enemy of small business and should always and everywhere be fought to a standstill. Chamber Senior Vice President (and former Fred Thompson campaign manager) Tom Collamore sees this as “advocacy on behalf of small businesses, job creators, and entrepreneurs” (quoted in the WSJ link above), and the Chamber has launched the “American Free Enterprise” campaign.

Hidden Costs of Medicare Advantage

Plans' Free Perks Are Subsidized By Government

By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 15, 2009

TUCSON -- Patrick Higney, 66, doesn't want to give up the freebies that come with his zero-premium Medicare Advantage plan: free aspirin and free Band-Aids, a free blood pressure machine and a free ear thermometer.

Nancy Smyth, 68, wants to keep the free gym membership that comes with the Medicare Advantage policy she bought from Health Net, a private HMO. And John Kizer, 72, hopes his plan will continue to offer free prescription eyeglasses and free hearing aids.

"Everybody's trying to save their little kingdom," Kizer, a retired dairy farmer, said last week after receiving a flu shot. The shot was free, of course.

Is Foreclosure Relief Failing?

Why the Treasury's mortgage modification plan may need its own rescue.

Oct 14, 2009

Is the Obama administration's signature foreclosure relief program succeeding? Absolutely, according to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who last Thursday trumpeted the news that 500,000 mortgages had been modified—on a trial basis—under the Home Affordable Modification Program, a month ahead of the administration's November 1 benchmark for reaching this goal. A day later, however, the Congressional Oversight Panel (COP) reached a far different conclusion when it released its own evaluation of the Treasury Department's foreclosure prevention efforts. According to the financial watchdog, the efficacy of HAMP is very much in doubt, and the program may wind up doing little to assuage the growing foreclosure mess.

The Great Challenge of Our Time: Re-Creating America's Great Middle Class

By Marie Cocco, Washington Post Writers Group
Posted on October 14, 2009, Printed on October 15, 2009

The challenge of our time is to re-create America as a middle-class nation.

The idea does not find voice in the cacophony of the 24-hour news cycle. It has no place in the media's daily digest of gossip, false controversy and ideological cant. It is barely mentioned in the halls of power, where the very officials who capitalize on the economic angst of working people to win election forget that this raw anguish -- not the sophisticated arguments of lobbyists and campaign donors -- is supposed to motivate them every day.

It is easy to blame the financial crisis, Wall Street's breathtaking bonuses or the culture of excess that glittered until we found ourselves on the precipice of a second Great Depression. In truth, we've been dismantling the economic foundation of the middle class for more than three decades.

Without Drastic CO2 Cuts Immediately, the World Faces a Massive 'Oh Sh*t' Moment

By Mark Hertsgaard, The Nation. Posted October 15, 2009.

A frightening new climate change study says the United States must eliminate its enormous rate of carbon emission within ten years.

Editor's Note: This is the kickoff to a series of pieces as a Copenhagen Primer about climate change that we will be running in the lead up to the international climate talks in Copenhagen beginning on December 7. Stay tuned.

They say that everyone who finally gets it about climate change has an "Oh, shit" moment -- an instant when the full scientific implications become clear and they suddenly realize what a horrifically dangerous situation humanity has created for itself. Listening to the speeches, ground-breaking in their way, that President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao delivered September 22 at the UN Summit on Climate Change, I was reminded of my most recent "Oh, shit" moment. It came in July, courtesy of the chief climate adviser to the German government. Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, chair of an advisory council known by its German acronym, WBGU, is a physicist whose specialty, fittingly enough, is chaos theory. Speaking to an invitation-only conference at New Mexico's Santa Fe Institute, Schellnhuber divulged the findings of a study so new he had not yet briefed Chancellor Angela Merkel about it. The study, Solving the Climate Dilemma: The Budget Approach, has now been published here. If its conclusions are correct -- and Schellnhuber ranks among the world's half-dozen most eminent climate scientists -- it has monumental implications for the pivotal meeting in December in Copenhagen, where world leaders will try to agree on reversing global warming.