Thursday, December 31, 2009

Lessons Learned From The 1990s

In the 1990s, the Clinton Administration amassed a great deal of experience fighting financial crises around the world.

Some of the U.S. Treasury’s specific advice was controversial – e.g., pressing Korea to open its capital markets to foreign investors at the height of the crisis – but the broad approach made sense: Fix failing financial systems up-front, because this is the best opportunity to address the underlying problems that helped produce the crisis (e.g., banks taking excessive risks). If you delay attempts to reform until economic recovery is underway, the banks and other key players are powerful again, real change is harder, and future difficulties await.

Solution to killer superbug found in Norway

By MARTHA MENDOZA and MARGIE MASON, Associated Press Writers
Thu Dec 31, 12:01 am ET

OSLO, Norway – Aker University Hospital is a dingy place to heal. The floors are streaked and scratched. A light layer of dust coats the blood pressure monitors. A faint stench of urine and bleach wafts from a pile of soiled bedsheets dropped in a corner.

Look closer, however, at a microscopic level, and this place is pristine. There is no sign of a dangerous and contagious staph infection that killed tens of thousands of patients in the most sophisticated hospitals of Europe, North America and Asia this year, soaring virtually unchecked.

The reason: Norwegians stopped taking so many drugs.

Is This Really an Intelligence Failure? Real Talk on Abdulmutallab

By Spencer Ackerman 12/31/09 9:09 AM

In an appearance on “Democracy Now!” yesterday morning to discuss Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, I made the point that Abdulmutallab’s ability to board Northwest Airlines Flight 253 demonstrates a policy failure more than an intelligence failure. By that I meant that the threat information acquired on Abdulmutallab was insufficient to ground him, based on the bureaucracy’s process for placing someone on the no-fly list. And for seemingly good reason: the input on him leading to the conclusion that he was dangerous was his father’s Nov. 19 appeal to officials at the U.S. embassy in Abuja.

Investors could only lose in Goldman's Caymans deals

When Goldman Sachs joined some of its Wall Street rivals in late 2005 in secretly packaging a new breed of offshore securities, it gave prospective investors little hint that the deals were so risky that they could end up losing hundreds of millions of dollars. Not only were investors buying shaky securities backed by mortgages, but they also were agreeing to pay Goldman if the risky home loans nose-dived in value — as Goldman was betting they would.

The Year's Best Book on Our Great Divide

Monopoly Capitalism Is the Root of All of America's Problems

By Daniela Perdomo, AlterNet
Posted on December 31, 2009, Printed on December 31, 2009

Something is rotten in the state of American capitalism, and if you agree with Barry C. Lynn, almost all stinky paths lead to the monopolization of our economy. The rise of behemoths like Wal-Mart and Viacom are not only lowering the quality and safety of the products you use, but also undermining our so-called democracy.

I had a chance to speak to Lynn about just how bad things are -- and what we might be able to do about it. Lynn's new book, Cornered: The New Monopoly Capitalism and the Economics of Destruction, from Wiley Press, will be out in January.

Q: In the book you say we have no choice but to reverse the process of monopolization in our economy. How can we practically achieve that, at this stage of the game?

Barry C. Lynn: We can achieve it and there’s proof we can because we’ve done it in the past. In the late 19th century there was a really incredible process of monopolization. In the Guilded Age, you ended up with really tight concentration of control over finance in Wall Street. Think of Standard Oil, of U.S. Steel. There was some effort to break up those companies in the early 20th century but the real change took place after what people call the Second New Deal. The Roosevelt administration ended up breaking up a number of companies. What they did most successfully is stop the growth of massive companies and created space for new companies to grow.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Move Your Money: A New Year's Resolution

Posted: December 29, 2009 06:02 PM
Arianna Huffington and Rob Johnson

Last week, over a pre-Christmas dinner, the two of us, along with political strategist Alexis McGill, filmmaker/author Eugene Jarecki, and Nick Penniman of the HuffPost Investigative Fund, began talking about the huge, growing chasm between the fortunes of Wall Street banks and Main Street banks, and started discussing what concrete steps individuals could take to help create a better financial system. Before long, the conversation turned practical, and with some help from friends in the world of bank analysis, a video and website were produced devoted to a simple idea: Move Your Money.

Glowing Walls Could Kill Off the Light Bulb

by Ben Webster

Light-emitting wallpaper may begin to replace light bulbs from 2012, according to a government body that supports low-carbon technology.

A chemical coating on the walls will illuminate all parts of the room with an even glow, which mimics sunlight and avoids the shadows and glare of conventional bulbs.

No, We're Not a Broken People

By David Swanson
For OpEdNews: David Swanson - Writer

In 2004 I began speaking at rallies and forums around the country on issues of peace and justice, something I've done off-and-on ever since. Up through 2008, it was extremely unusual for questions from the audience to consist of pure defeatism. In 2009, it was rare to get through a Q&A session without being asked what the point was of trying.

And the defeatism is so contagious that it will be hard for me to make it through 2010 if people don't shut up about how doomed we are. If current trends continue, by 2011 the only people showing up at forums on peace and justice will all be old enough to tell my grandparents they're too young to understand how pointless it is to try. And my grandparents are dead.

Solar Could Generate 15% of Power by 2020, If US Ends Fossil Fuel Subsidies

The Result: 882,000 New Jobs, 10% Drop in Emissions

Solar power technologies could generate 15 percent of America's power in 10 years, but only if Washington levels the playing field on subsidies, a report by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) says.

That means either rolling back fossil fuel subsidies, as President Obama proposed earlier this year, or increasing subsidies for clean energy, the association says.

Sen. Hatch admits GOP ’standard practice’ was to run up deficit

By David Edwards and Daniel Tencer
Tuesday, December 29th, 2009 -- 10:36 am

MSNBC's Rachel Maddow believes she has found the smoking gun proving Republicans' hypocrisy on health care and the budget deficit: an admission by Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch that, during the Bush administration, "it was standard practice not to pay for things."

"Every single Republican opposed the health reform bill when it was voted on on Christmas Eve, and that includes the 24 Republicans who voted for George Bush's Medicare prescription-drug expansion in 2003," Maddow said on her show Monday night. "Now that expansion in 2003, unlike the reform bill that's being currently debated, added tens of billions of dollars to the deficit. And this makes for some awkward politics, because many Republicans are citing worries about the deficit as their reason for voting against health reform now."

The Toilet That Can Help Solve Our Water and Energy Problems

By Gar Smith, Earth Island Journal
Posted on December 28, 2009, Printed on December 30, 2009

Upwards of 3 million people die annually from diarrhea, dysentery, and parasitic diseases -- all for the want of clean water. Meanwhile, each year in the water-rich United States, 2.1 billion gallons of the world's most precious liquid are used, not to water thirsty crops or slake parched throats, but to flush human waste from home toilets to municipal sewers. While harvesting rainwater and recycling graywater are fine strategies, it's time to get to the seat of the problem. We need a Toilet Revolution.

As frequently happens, the solution to this modern problem can be found in the recent past -- and the Third World present. Jeff Conant, author of The Community Guide to Environmental Health, has traveled the world in search of the perfect "waterless toilet." He found it in the Mexican town of Tepotzlan, which boasts hundreds of "non-traditional waterless" eco-loos. In the 1980s, Tepotzlan's innovators got a boost when former UNICEF worker Ron Sawyer settled in to help the locals design a new generation of "eco-san" toilets.

Inventing a New Economy

What patent applications can tell us about America's economic prospects.

By Eliot Spitzer

As the economic cataclysm of the past two years has unfolded, there has been no shortage of data to help us understand what has already happened and what might happen next. GDP growth, unemployment rates, trade and federal deficit levels, inflation rates, foreclosure rates, capital and leverage ratios—all have been paramount in our conversation.

As we continue to parse the economy and try to understand what the future holds, I want to focus occasionally on some numbers that do not typically generate headlines the way that, say, the monthly unemployment numbers do. Yet over the long run, these statistics may be a more important part of the larger economic story line. I call them "other numbers that matter."

Cause and Effect in the 'Terror War'

by Glenn Greenwald

"In all their alleged allegedness, this Administration has an allergy to the concept of war, and thus to the tools of war, including strategy and war aims" -- Supreme Tough Guy Warrior Mark Steyn, National Review, yesterday.

"The White House has authorized an expansion of the C.I.A.'s drone program in Pakistan's lawless tribal areas, officials said this week, to parallel the president's decision, announced Tuesday, to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan" -- New York Times, December 4, 2009.

"In the midst of two unfinished major wars, the United States has quietly opened a third, largely covert front against Al Qaeda in Yemen" -- New York Times, yesterday.


Actually, if you count our occupation of Iraq, our twice-escalated war in Afghanistan, our rapidly escalating bombing campaigns in Pakistan and Yemen, and various forms of covert war involvement in Somalia, one could reasonably say that we're fighting five different wars in Muslim countries -- or, to use the NYT's jargon, "five fronts" in the "Terror War" (Obama yesterday specifically mentioned Somalia and Yemen as places where, euphemistically, "we will continue to use every element of our national power"). Add to those five fronts the "crippling" sanctions on Iran many Democratic Party luminaries are now advocating, combined with the chest-besting threats from our Middle East client state that the next wars they fight against Muslims will be even "harsher" than the prior ones, and it's almost easier to count the Muslim countries we're not attacking or threatning than to count the ones we are. Yet this still isn't enough for America's right-wing super-warriors, who accuse the five-front-war-President of "an allergy to the concept of war."

The GOP's Ugly 2010 Campaign: Pushing the Obacalypse

Posted: 12/29/09

An e-mail I received today reminded me of an obvious fact: 2010 is going to be an election year of ugly politics. The note came from Rep. Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican, who chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee. That's the outfit in charge of electing GOPers to the House.

Wall Street's 10 Greatest Lies of 2009

By Nomi Prins, AlterNet
Posted on December 28, 2009, Printed on December 30, 2009

On December 13, President Obama declared that he was not elected to help the “fat cats." But the cats got another version of that memo. A day later, 10 of them were supposed to partake in some White House face-time to talk about their responsibilities to the rest of the country, but only seven could make it. No-shows for the "very serious discussion" -- due to inclement New York weather or being too busy with internal bonus discussions to bother with the President -- were Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack and Citigroup Chairman Richard Parsons.

Yes, Obama inherited a big financial mess from the Bush administration – which inherited its set-up from the Clinton administration (financial recklessness, it turns out, is non-partisan) -- but he and his appointees have spent the year talking about fighting risk and excess on Wall Street, while both have grown.

Christmas presents for bankers

The US financial sector drove the economy into a ditch, and the White House is still throwing piles of cash at the problem

Dean Baker, Monday 28 December 2009 18.30 GMT

On Christmas night in 1776, George Washington led a surprise attack on a group of Hessian mercenaries employed by the British to suppress the American revolution. This was one of the biggest military victories of the Revolutionary War.

In the same spirit of surprise, the Obama administration announced on Christmas eve that it was removing the $400bn cap on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's access to the US Treasury. The new draw is limitless. It also announced that the chief executives of the two government-controlled mortgage giants would be getting compensation packages worth $6m a year. This was another big blow for the financial sector in its effort to sap every last cent from the productive economy.

Monday, December 28, 2009

There may be a 'party' in your genes

Research published in Political Research Quarterly

Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore and Washington DC (Dec 28, 2010) Genetics play a pivotal role in shaping how individual's identify with political parties , according to an article in a recent issue of Political Research Quarterly, the official journal of the Western Political Science Association (published by SAGE).

Political party identification (PID) is among the most studied concepts in modern political science. Scholars have long held that PID was the result of socialization factors, including parental socialization. The possibility that partisan identification could be transmitted genetically rather than socially was not considered and largely left untested.

The Secret Political Reach Of 'The Family'

You may recognize these names from recent headlines: Sen. John Ensign, Rep. Bart Stupak and Rep. Joe Pitts. Stupak and Pitts have become familiar names through the media's health care overhaul coverage; their abortion funding amendment introduced an 11th-hour twist as the House of Representatives approached a vote on a landmark health care bill.

Ensign was the focus of media attention over his affair with a campaign staffer. Just last night, a Nevada man disclosed that he found out about his wife's affair with the state's junior senator — his best friend — via a text message.

Republicans Who Opposed The Stimulus Continue To Pan It As A ‘Failure,’ While Also Taking Credit For Its Success

Every Republican in the House and nearly every Republican Senator voted against the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (also known as the stimulus). Although the Congressional Budget Office has credited the stimulus with creating up to 1.6 million jobs, the same GOP politicians who opposed the stimulus have attempted to justify their opposition to the policy by smearing it as a failure. But as ThinkProgress has documented, the same politicians are returning to their districts to take credit for the economic success of the stimulus.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The words on the 'Street'

By Simon Johnson
Sunday, December 27, 2009; B01

At 6:30 a.m. on June 6, 1944, U.S. forces began their assault on Omaha Beach as part of the Normandy landings. Casualties among the first wave were horrendous as infantry struggled out of their landing crafts, known as Higgins boats, under intense fire. Incredible acts of individual heroism and great leadership on the spur of the moment eventually saved the day, but not before chaos and death swept the sand. Combat historian S.L.A Marshall described Omaha Beach as "an epic human tragedy which in the early hours bordered on total disaster."

At 11 a.m. on Sept. 15, 2008, Lloyd Blankfein pulled up in front of a Manhattan office building to continue working on a way to save his firm, Goldman Sachs. "I don't think I can take another day of this," one of his employees remarked. Blankfein shot back, "You're getting out of a Mercedes to go to the New York Federal Reserve. You're not getting out of a Higgins boat on Omaha Beach."

Copenhagen Has Given Us the Chance to Face Climate Change With Honesty

by James Hansen

Last weekend's minimalist Copenhagen global climate accord provides a great opportunity. The old deceitful, ineffectual approach is severely wounded and must die. Now there is a chance for the world to get on to an honest, effective path to an agreement.

The centrepiece of the old approach was a "cap-and-trade" scheme, festooned with offsets and bribes – bribes that purportedly, but hardly, reduced carbon emissions. It was analogous to the indulgences scheme of the Middle Ages, whereby sinners paid the Church for forgiveness.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Paul Krugman: Tidings of Comfort

Indulge me while I tell you a story — a near-future version of Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol.” It begins with sad news: young Timothy Cratchit, a k a Tiny Tim, is sick. And his treatment will cost far more than his parents can pay out of pocket.

Fortunately, our story is set in 2014, and the Cratchits have health insurance. Not from their employer: Ebenezer Scrooge doesn’t do employee benefits. And just a few years earlier they wouldn’t have been able to buy insurance on their own because Tiny Tim has a pre-existing condition, and, anyway, the premiums would have been out of their reach.

But reform legislation enacted in 2010 banned insurance discrimination on the basis of medical history and also created a system of subsidies to help families pay for coverage. Even so, insurance doesn’t come cheap — but the Cratchits do have it, and they’re grateful. God bless us, everyone.

The Election Sabotage Commission

No one is in charge these days at the Federal Election Commission, the agency that is supposed to enforce campaign law. Repeated stalemates engineered by Republican members raise the potential for runaway abuses in next year’s Congressional elections.

The six-member commission, shared evenly by the two parties, needs a majority for any enforcement action. For months, Republican members have cynically withheld their votes, rejecting staff investigators’ sound recommendations for citations and fines in current cases of obvious abuse. They seem to have completely forgotten why they are there: they are supposed to be enforcing the law, not sabotaging it.

How A Bone Disease Grew To Fit The Prescription

December 21, 2009 - MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

And today, we have an unusual biography. It's the biography of a box of pills, how it got into a medicine cabinet in Richmond, Virginia, and into the medicine cabinets of millions of women all across America.

NPR's Alix Spiegel explains how the marketing of the pills changed the definition of a disease and created a whole new category of people who saw themselves as needing treatment.

Michele Bachmann: Welfare Queen

By Yasha Levine

Michele Bachmann has become well known for her anti-government tea-bagger antics, protesting health care reform and every other government “handout” as socialism. What her followers probably don’t know is that Rep. Bachmann is, to use that anti-government slur, something of a welfare queen. That’s right, the anti-government insurrectionist has taken more than a quarter-million dollars in government handouts thanks to corrupt farming subsidies she has been collecting for at least a decade.

And she’s not the only one who has been padding her bank account with taxpayer money.

Bachmann, of Minnesota, has spent much of this year agitating against health care reform, whipping up the so-called tea-baggers with stories of death panels and rationed health care. She has called for a revolution against what she sees as Barack Obama’s attempted socialist takeover of America, saying presidential policy is “reaching down the throat and ripping the guts out of freedom.”

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Thomas Frank: A Low, DishonesThomas Frank: A Low, Dishonest Decade t Decade

The press and politicians were asleep at the switch.


Stock-market indices are not much good as yardsticks of social progress, but as another low, dishonest decade expires let us note that, on 2000s first day of trading, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 11357 while the Nasdaq Composite Index stood at 4131, both substantially higher than where they are today. The Nasdaq went on to hit 5000 before collapsing with the dot-com bubble, the first great Wall Street disaster of this unhappy decade. The Dow got north of 14000 before the real-estate bubble imploded.

And it was supposed to have been such an awesome time, too! Back in the late '90s, in the crescendo of the Internet boom, pundit and publicist alike assured us that the future was to be a democratized, prosperous place. Hierarchies would collapse, they told us; the individual was to be empowered; freed-up markets were to be the common man's best buddy.

Save Social Security - 10 Questions for the Deficit Commission

It is possible that there is going to be a “deficit commission” [1] to look for ways to reduce our country’s budget deficits. I have some questions for them to ask to help get things started in the right direction:

1) President Reagan increased Social Security taxes, but used that money to cut the very top tax rates that only the wealthiest pay. Now that the money borrowed from Social Security is coming due, which income group is better positioned to pay it back, wealthy people or the elderly to whom this money is owed?

2) President Clinton left office with a huge budget surplus. Then, President Bush gave tax cuts to the wealthy, and his last budget had a $1.4 trillion deficit. How much of this change was because of those tax cuts for the rich?

Timothy Geithner

The Treasury secretary was largely responsible for directing the federal government's response to the financial crisis. He's still got his work cut out for him.

By Daniel Gross | NEWSWEEK
Published Dec 21, 2009
From the magazine issue dated Jan 4, 2010

Gross: After moving to Washington, you put your house in suburban New York on the market for less than you paid for it. Analysts saw that as a great metaphor for the national housing crisis: the Treasury secretary is going to take a loss on his house. Did you manage to sell it?

Geithner: We decided to rent it very early, because rents were better than prices in most of the country, and it was a financially good decision. It wasn't as good a metaphor as people thought.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Top Ten Worst Things about the Bush Decade; Or, the Rise of the New Oligarchs

by Juan Cole

By spring of 2000, Texas governor George W. Bush was wrapping up the Republican nomination for president, and he went on to dominate the rest of the decade. If Dickens proclaimed of the 1790s revolutionary era in France that it was the best of times and the worst of times, the reactionary Bush era was just the worst of times. I declare it the decade of the American oligarchs. Just as the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet Union allowed the emergence of a class of lawless 'Oligarchs' in Russia, so Neoliberal tax policies and deregulation produced American equivalents. (For more on the analogy, see Michael Hudson.) We have always had robber barons in American politics, but the Neoliberal moment created a new social class.

What Your Favorite Blogger May Not Be Telling You About Health Reform

Must Read:
Health Care for All

The progressive "journo/blogospere" is sharply split over the Senate health bill. Some, like Jane Hamsher [1]and Matt Taibbi [2], are saying "kill it." Others, like Paul Krugman, Ezra Klein, and Jonathan Cohn, are saying "pass it" - as is. Steve Benen [3] says " it's worth appreciating the vibrancy, energy, and seriousness with which progressives are engaging in the debate."

I say maybe - but there's been a lot of condescension and hostility, too. And what bothers me even more is the tendency of some bloggers - good people, people who are seen not only as advocates but as as information gatherers on health policy- to ignore data that undercuts their position while pushing a false political choice. I'm not saying their decisions are deliberate, and I assume they're not. But it's disappointing, and it's worth discussing.

They're All Against Jobs

Sen. Fritz Hollings
Former South Carolina Senator
Posted: December 18, 2009

Who is against jobs in the United States? The big banks, Wall Street, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Business Roundtable, the United States Chamber of Commerce, the National Retail Federation, Corporate America, the President of the United States, Congress of the United States. Everyone is crying for jobs, but no one seems to understand why there aren't any. And the reason for those opposing jobs is money.

Beginning in 1973, big banks made most of their profit outside of the United States. Industries off-shoring, investing, banks financing the investments, transfer fees, fees and interest on the loans made for bigger profits. Long since, the big banks under the leadership of David Rockefeller have led the way to off-shore and make a bigger profit. Goldman Sachs, AIG, Citicorp and Wall Street, conspiring for a bailout and now using it for bonuses, make more money from the off-shored operations.

Finance Professionals Don't See U.S. Companies Hiring Until 2011

By E. Johns - Published: December 17, 2009

Access to Credit Emphasizes Strategies to Conserve Cash

Dec. 17, 2009 -- WASHINGTON -- Significant hiring won't begin at most U.S. companies until well into 2011, even though the U.S. economy will continue its modest recovery next year, according to professionals in the finance departments of U.S. companies.

The 2010 Business Outlook Survey released today by the Association for Financial Professionals (AFP) and underwritten by Wells Fargo & Company (NYSE: WFC) shows that while more than a quarter of respondents indicate that their organizations will shrink their payrolls in 2010, 46 percent expect that their organizations' workforces will be stable in the new year.

Too late to learn?

The Cost of Capitalism: Understanding Market Mayhem and Stabilizing our Economic Future, by Robert Barbera

Reviewed by Julian Delasantellis

Just for a moment, pretend this is the 1967 movie The Graduate. You, readers, are poor, confused liberal arts graduate Benjamin Braddock. I'm the older gentleman who, at the graduation party thrown by Ben's parents at the family home, takes the younger man aside to give some advice derived from the labors and pains of the years.

Recovery likely strengthening after weaker 3Q

WASHINGTON – All signs suggest the economic recovery will end the year on firmer footing despite a report Tuesday that the economy grew at a 2.2 percent pace in the third quarter, less than previously thought.

The Commerce Department's new reading on gross domestic product for the July-to-September quarter was weaker than the 2.8 percent growth rate estimated a month ago. Economists had predicted this figure would remain the same in the final estimate of the quarter's GDP — the value of all goods and services produced in the United States.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Leadership, Obama Style, and the Looming Losses in 2010: Pretty Speeches, Compromised Values, and the Quest for the Lowest Common Denominator

Drew Westen
Posted: December 20, 2009 09:34 PM

As the president's job performance numbers and ratings on his handling of virtually every domestic issue have fallen below 50 percent, the Democratic base has become demoralized, and Independents have gone from his source of strength to his Achilles Heel, it's time to reflect on why. The conventional wisdom from the White House is those "pesky leftists" -- those bloggers and Vermont Governors and Senators who keep wanting real health reform, real financial reform, immigration reform not preceded by a year or two of raids that leave children without parents, and all the other changes we were supposed to believe in.

An Overview of the New Senate Health Bill

by mcjoan
Sun Dec 20, 2009 at 07:02:05 PM PST

What's good?

  • They banned pre-existing conditions for children starting in 2010.
  • That annual cap on benefits that was supposed to have been out of the bill but we found out was slipped back in? The one that the blogs raised hell about? It's out, mostly.

    The very first provision of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's Manager's Amendment would explicitly prohibit insurers from imposing either annual or lifetime limits.

Stiglitz Says U.S. Should Prepare for Second Stimulus

By Shamim Adam

Dec. 21 (Bloomberg) -- Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz says the U.S. needs to prepare for a second stimulus package as there’s a “significant” chance growth will slow in the second half of 2010.

The world’s largest economy isn’t likely to expand fast enough to create jobs for new entrants into the labor force or compensate for increases in productivity that will reduce demand for workers, Stiglitz told reporters in Singapore today.

Defend and Demand: The Progressive Way Forward

By Theda Skocpol - December 19, 2009, 1:01PM

The 2009 health reform end game -- yes, the end of the beginning is in sight -- has been excruciating for progressives. Reforming health care in the real world in which we live means paying to include millions more Americans while fending off all of the tricks America's privileged, left and right, use to resist paying taxes; and it means finding ways to use public regulations and subsidies to put health delivery and finance on a more sustainable path for us all, while watching key mechanisms like the public option shrink and disappear to buy the votes of a few weasly "Democrats" in Congress who want to guarantee profits for private insurers.

Paul Krugman: A Dangerous Dysfunction

Unless some legislator pulls off a last-minute double-cross, health care reform will pass the Senate this week. Count me among those who consider this an awesome achievement. It’s a seriously flawed bill, we’ll spend years if not decades fixing it, but it’s nonetheless a huge step forward.

It was, however, a close-run thing. And the fact that it was such a close thing shows that the Senate — and, therefore, the U.S. government as a whole — has become ominously dysfunctional.

After all, Democrats won big last year, running on a platform that put health reform front and center. In any other advanced democracy this would have given them the mandate and the ability to make major changes. But the need for 60 votes to cut off Senate debate and end a filibuster — a requirement that appears nowhere in the Constitution, but is simply a self-imposed rule — turned what should have been a straightforward piece of legislating into a nail-biter. And it gave a handful of wavering senators extraordinary power to shape the bill.

Obama praises health care bill as it nears passage

By ERICA WERNER, Associated Press Writer
1 hr 20 mins ago

WASHINGTON – Well on the way to winning passage before Christmas after clearing its biggest hurdle in the wee hours of the morning, the Senate's health care bill will make a "tremendous difference for families, for seniors, for businesses and for the country as a whole," President Barack Obama said Monday.

Senate Democratic leaders basked in the victory for the landmark legislation that will insure 30 million more Americans. They looked ahead to the next make-or-break vote Tuesday morning. They snapped up a coveted endorsement from the American Medical Association and batted down Republican complaints about special deals lawmakers got in the bill.

Why I Still Believe in This Bill

Jacob S. Hacker

Jacob S. Hacker is the Stanley B. Resor Professor of Political Science at Yale University. An expert on the politics of U.S. health and social policy, he is author, coauthor, or editor of numerous books and articles, both scholarly and popular, including The Great Risk Shift: The New Economic Insecurity and the Decline of the American Dream (2006; paperback, January 2008) and Health At Risk: America’s Ailing Health System and How to Heal It (2008).

Now that the core demand of progressives has been removed from the Senate health care bill--namely, the public health insurance option--should progressives continue to support the effort?

For me, the question is particularly difficult. I have been the thinker most associated with the public option, which I’ve long argued is essential to ensuring accountability from private insurers and long-term cost control. I was devastated when it was killed at the hands of Senator Joe Lieberman, not least because of what it said about our democracy -- that a policy consistently supported by a strong majority of Americans could be brought down by a recalcitrant Senate minority.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Stupid Voters, Part Two

by: John Emerson

Sat Dec 19, 2009 at 13:00


Last week I put up a piece on the oft-heard liberal meme “People vote for the Republicans because people are stupid”. Ever since I first started thinking about the Stupid Voter meme I’ve been seeing it everywhere (for example here, here and -- comments to the previous link -- here.) For a lot of liberals the Stupid Voter explanation of Republican success is a self-evident, unthought truth. However, in reality the Stupid Voter meme is a harmful illusion and a source of some of the Democratic Party’s big weaknesses. Today I’d like to quickly summarize last week’s argument, while also developing it further and revising it in certain ways. (Readers who find my summary here too sketchy can go to the original here; my data and links to my sources are also included there).

Why the Senate Should Vote Yes on Health Care


IF I were still a United States senator, I would not only vote yes on the current health care reform bill, I would do so with the sure knowledge that I was casting one of the most historic votes of my 36 years in the Senate. I would vote yes knowing that the bill represents the culmination of a struggle begun by Theodore Roosevelt nearly a century ago to make health care reform a reality. And while it does not contain every measure President Obama and I wanted, I would vote yes for this bill certain that it includes the fundamental, essential change that opponents of reform have resisted for generations.

We have been here before. In the past, as the moment of decision drew nearer, criticism from both the left and the right grew louder. Compromises were derided. The perfect became the enemy of the good.

Most recently, in 1993, Democrats had a chance to forge a compromise with Senator John Chafee, Republican of Rhode Island, on a health care reform bill. Congress’s failure to pass health care reform that year led to 16 years of inaction — and 16 years of exploding health care costs and rising numbers of uninsured Americans.

Increase in Shining Clouds Highlights Climate ‘Weirding’

By Alexis Madrigal | December 18, 2009 | 2:17 pm

SAN FRANCISCO — Shining clouds at the edge of space are growing in number and brightness. For years, scientists have puzzled over the observed increase in these noctilucent clouds.

Now two groups modeling the behavior of the atmosphere have found new support for the idea that human-induced climate change is the cause.

Their models, presented here at the American Geophysical Union meeting, accurately reproduced both the variability induced by the solar cycle and the intensification trend. The intensification is driven by changes in the atmosphere below the clouds, triggered by increasing amounts of greenhouse gases.

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WE end this extraordinary financial year with news that the Treasury is in discussions with American International Group about selling the taxpayers’ 80 percent ownership stake in that company. The government recently permitted several banks to break free of its potential oversight by repaying loans made during the rescue. But with respect to A.I.G., the Treasury should not move so fast. There is one job left to do.

A.I.G. was at the center of the web of bad business judgments, opaque financial derivatives, failed economics and questionable political relationships that set off the economic cataclysm of the past two years. When A.I.G.’s financial products division collapsed — ultimately requiring a federal bailout of $180 billion — those who had been prospering from A.I.G.’s schemes scurried for taxpayer cover. Yet, more than a year after the rescue began, crucial questions remain unanswered. Who knew what, and when? Who benefited, and by exactly how much? Would A.I.G.’s counterparties have failed without taxpayer support?

The three of us, as experienced investigators and prosecutors of financial fraud, cannot answer these questions now. But we know where the answers are. They are in the trove of e-mail messages still backed up on A.I.G. servers, as well as in the key internal accounting documents and financial models generated by A.I.G. during the past decade. Before releasing its regulatory clutches, the government should insist that the company immediately make these materials public. By putting the evidence online, the government could establish a new form of “open source” investigation.

The Three Artificially Manufactured Assumptions Driving the Insurance/Drug Industry's Health Bill

by: David Sirota

Sat Dec 19, 2009 at 14:00

Without getting into the policy debate about whether this health care bill should be passed or rejected (my personal opinion is here for those interested), I think it's important to step back and just look at the false assumptions that are being made. Not about the bill's substance, mind you, but about the process. And it's important to consider those assumptions, if only to understand how the parameters and rules of the game are inherently - and dishonestly - rigged:

What’s The Matter With Democrats?

Five years ago, Thomas Frank wrote “What’s The Matter With Kansas?”, about how the GOP uses cultural populism to dupe rural working-class Americans into supporting pro-corporate policies that hasten their own economic demise. Today’s Obama/Rahm/Reid Democrats have turned that dynamic on its head, in more ways than one.

Not only have Obama and the Senate Democrats adopted pro-corporate policies that will hasten their own political demise, but they have allowed the Republicans to keep their hands clean and pretend to oppose legislation that they would have happily championed a few years ago.

GOP's New Prayer Guru Says Gays Possessed By Demons

Meet the Republican Party's new spiritual guru, Lou Engle:

[excerpt from 2007 Engle Los Vegas speech. see here for extended transcript. right: audio excerpt from Engle sermon]

"My son Jesse, he's nineteen years old. God has given him dreams, to go to San Francisco to launch a house of prayer, one block from the Castro District - where the homosexuals boast the dominion of darkness. He's going there with weeping in his heart. With the dream that prayer is stronger than the dominion of that spirit.

...He said to me, "dad," he said, "as long as I'm there I don't think the Lord will judge San Francisco." [boos, angry murmur from Engle's audience]...

Saturday, December 19, 2009

“It’s Certainly Not For A Lack Of Effort”

The fundamental divide in opinion regarding our financial system is: Are the people running “large integrated financial groups“ hapless fools, buffeted by forces beyond their comprehension and control; or do they know exactly how to ensure they get the upside and the awful, sickening downside is borne by society – including through high unemployment.

Some light was shed on this issue by Monday’s meeting at the White House or, more specifically, by who didn’t turn up and why. Of the dozen bank CEOs invited, Vikram Pandit was supposedly busy trying to extricate Citi from TARP and asked Dick Parsons to attend instead – a wimpy but smart move, as Parsons is close to the President.

Foreclose on the Banks

How to Give America Its Best Christmas Ever

by Ted Rall

NEW YORK - Citibank is suspending foreclosures and evictions for 30 days, until after the holidays.

Mighty white of them.

Who knew bankers could be so amusing? In an interview, Citi mortgage czar Sanjiv Das acknowledged that "moratoriums are not permanent solutions" and said his company was looking for "some long-term fundamental alternatives" to throwing people out of their homes because they've fallen behind on their payments. But he didn't offer a specific example.

Stephen King Meets the Estate Tax

by Bill Gates Sr. and Chuck Collins

Imagine a story about tax policy created by horror writer Stephen King. A fictional Congress, divided between anti-tax ideology and fiscal responsibility, amends the inheritance tax on the very wealthy so that it disappears entirely one year and then returns at steeper rates the following year. Over the "zero year," death rates skyrocket in the nation's most affluent ZIP codes. Seemingly robust and healthy billionaires perish in mysterious accidents. Lexus wheels fall off from Bloomfield Hills to Scarsdale to Beverly Hills. Sailboats and yachts inexplicably crash in calm coastal and Caribbean waters. Tainted champagne wipes out clusters of prosperous alumni at class reunions from dozens of elite prep schools from Groton to Choate.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Paul Volcker Picks Up A Bat

For most the past 12 months, Paul Volcker was sitting on the policy sidelines. He had impressive sounding job titles – member of President Obama’s Transition Economic Advisory Board immediately after last November’s election, and quickly named to head the new Economic Recovery Board.

But the Recovery Board, and Volcker himself, have seldom met with the President. Economic and financial sector policy, by all accounts, has been made largely by Tim Geithner at Treasury and Larry Summers at the White House, with help from Peter Orszag at the Office of Management and Budget, and Christina Romer at the Council of Economic Advisers.

Testing, Testing

The health-care bill has no master plan for curbing costs. Is that a bad thing?

by Atul Gawande

Cost is the spectre haunting health reform. For many decades, the great flaw in the American health-care system was its unconscionable gaps in coverage. Those gaps have widened to become graves—resulting in an estimated forty-five thousand premature deaths each year—and have forced more than a million people into bankruptcy. The emerging health-reform package has a master plan for this problem. By establishing insurance exchanges, mandates, and tax credits, it would guarantee that at least ninety-four per cent of Americans had decent medical coverage. This is historic, and it is necessary. But the legislation has no master plan for dealing with the problem of soaring medical costs. And this is a source of deep unease.

Paul Krugman: Pass the Bill

A message to progressives: By all means, hang Senator Joe Lieberman in effigy. Declare that you’re disappointed in and/or disgusted with President Obama. Demand a change in Senate rules that, combined with the Republican strategy of total obstructionism, are in the process of making America ungovernable.

But meanwhile, pass the health care bill.

Yes, the filibuster-imposed need to get votes from “centrist” senators has led to a bill that falls a long way short of ideal. Worse, some of those senators seem motivated largely by a desire to protect the interests of insurance companies — with the possible exception of Mr. Lieberman, who seems motivated by sheer spite.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Kucinich: ‘Class war is over, working people lost’

WASHINGTON -- Reflecting on the growing divide between Wall Street and Main Street, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) on Wednesday offered a powerful critique on the state of the economy in an open committee hearing.

"The class warfare is over -- we lost," Kucinich said before the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. "I want to make that announcement today. Working people lost. The middle class lost."

Exclusive: Fox-backed seniors group exposed as conservative front

By Sahil Kapur
Thursday, December 17th, 2009 -- 12:01 pm

Group's founder formerly headed firm bankrolling Beck, Hannity projects

WASHINGTON -- The seniors group American Seniors Association (ASA) describes itself as a conservative alternative to the AARP and has attracted notable press coverage this year for its opposition to health care reform. A Raw Story investigation, however, reveals that the group has a massive web of affiliations to right-wing activists, think tanks, politicians, media and executives -- signaling ideological motivations than extend well beyond serving the interests of seniors.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Paul Krugman: Would cutting the minimum wage raise employment?

It seems that more and more Serious People (and Fox News) are rallying around the idea that if Obama really wants to create jobs, he should cut the minimum wage.

So let me repeat a point I made a number of times back when the usual suspects were declaring that FDR prolonged the Depression by raising wages: the belief that lower wages would raise overall employment rests on a fallacy of composition. In reality, reducing wages would at best do nothing for employment; more likely it would actually be contractionary.

Revealed: Bush officials e-mailed bogus rumor blaming Gore for failure to kill Bin Laden

By Margie Burns
Wednesday, December 16th, 2009 -- 9:03 am

White House emails retrieved from Bush administration records reveal that top Bush Justice Department officials circulated a memo falsely blaming Al Gore for U.S. failure to get Osama bin Laden. The apocryphal Osama-Al Gore-Oliver North story, already debunked on, was forwarded internally to administration personnel by David M. Israelite, Deputy Chief of Staff and Counselor to Attorney Gen. John Ashcroft.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Valuable, rare, raw earth materials extracted from industrial waste stream

Fierce competition over raw materials for new green technologies could become a thing of the past, thanks to a discovery by scientists from the University of Leeds.

Researchers from Leeds' Faculty of Engineering have discovered how to recover significant quantities of rare-earth oxides, present in titanium dioxide minerals. The rare-earth oxides, which are indispensable for the manufacture of wind turbines, energy-efficient lighting, and hybrid and electric cars, are extracted or reclaimed simply and cheaply from the waste materials of another industrial process.

Greenland Glaciers: What Lies Beneath

Researchers learning more about how water beneath glaciers contributes to ice loss

San Francisco -- Scientists who study the melting of Greenland’s glaciers are discovering that water flowing beneath the ice plays a much more complex role than they previously imagined.

Researchers previously thought that meltwater simply lubricated ice against the bedrock, speeding the flow of glaciers out to sea.

Howard Dean says ‘Kill the Senate bill!’

In a pre-recorded interview given today by Howard Dean and set to air at 5:30pm EST on Vermont Public Radio, Dean has called for the Senate health care bill to be put to death as it no longer proposes enough reform to make a difference. Dean’s comments come in reaction to what appears to be the Democratic Caucus’ decision to remove both the Medicare buy-in and a public option from the Senate health care reform package.

What Public Option Supporters Won

The public option is dead this morning. And this time, it isn't coming back to life. The Senate isn't going to include any version of the idea in its bill. And while the House can still demand a public option in conference, nobody I know expects the House to prevail.

The primary causes of death were the fierce opposition of special interests and the institutional habits of the United States Senate, in which a clear majority of senators representing an even clearer majority of the people lack the power to pass a bill. The time of death? Somewhere around 6:30 p.m. last night, during a meeting of the Democratic caucus, in which Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that the votes for a public option just weren't there--and that passing a health care reform bill, as quickly as possible, was too important to risk further debate and delay.

Howard Zinn and Bill Moyers on Right-Wing Demagogues and Progressive Resistance

By Bill Moyers and Howard Zinn, Bill Moyers Journal
Posted on December 15, 2009, Printed on December 15, 2009

BILL MOYERS: There's a long tradition in America of people power, and no one has done more to document it than the historian, Howard Zinn. Listen to this paragraph from his most famous book: "If democracy were to be given any meaning, if it were to go beyond the limits of capitalism and nationalism, this would not come, if history were any guide, from the top. It would come through citizen's movements, educating, organizing, agitating, striking, boycotting, demonstrating, threatening those in power with disruption of the stability they needed." This son of a working class family got a job in the Brooklyn shipyards and then flew as a bombardier during World War II. He went to NYU on the G.I. Bill, taught history at Spellman College in Atlanta, where he was first active in the Civil Rights movement, and then became a professor of political science at Boston University.

Iraq's oil auction hits the jackpot

By Pepe Escobar

BEIJING - Former United States vice president Dick Cheney, ex-defense minister Donald Rumsfeld and assorted US neo-cons will have plenty of time to nurse their apoplexy. One of their key reasons to unleash the war on Iraq in 2003 was to seize control of its precious oilfields and thus shape a great deal of the new great game in Eurasia - the energy front - by restricting the access of Europe and Asia to Iraq's staggering 115 billion barrels of proven oil reserves.

After at least US$2 trillion spent by Washington and arguably more than a million dead Iraqis, it has come to this: a pipe dream definitely buried this past weekend in Baghdad with round two of bids to exploit a number of vast and immensely profitable oil fields.

Monday, December 14, 2009

These Three Books Explain the American Crisis

Looking for a gift for the policy wonk in your life? Here are some recommendations.

More than a year after the most inspiring presidential election in a generation, and despite the most severe economic crisis in two generations, the change that so many Americans hoped for has not come. A modest health care reform bill is limping through Congress. The government has not tackled climate change or fixed the financial markets that nearly destroyed the economy. In the most significant policy arenas—economic growth, health reform, and foreign policy—we are seeing not the transformational politics we had hoped for but, at best, mere incrementalism. Why?

Does the United States even have the capacity—emotionally or politically—to make the massive changes necessary for us to compete in the 21st century global economy?

Peterson, Conrad Weaken Democracy, Social Security, Medicare, & Recovery

On Monday morning, wealthy hedge fund mogul Peter Peterson and his Commission on Budget Reform will hold a press conference to issue a "Call to Action to Stem the Mounting Federal Debt." Their scary promotional material declares, "The ever-growing federal debt is spiraling out of control. If not addressed . . . Americans could be faced not only with a lower standard of living, but a real fiscal crisis."

Peterson's self-appointed deficit warriors don't really have a plan to cut debt and deficits - although most of them have a clear record of trying to cut America's meager Social Security and Medicare benefits. But they are selling a dangerous and undemocratic new budget process that would take the responsibility for budget-making away from the President and the committees of Congress and give it to a new commission charged with coming up with a plan to reduce the deficit and then jamming it through Congress on an up or down vote, with little debate and no chance for amendments.

Despite Market Plunge, DeMint Calls For Privatizing ‘Socialistic’ Social Security

Last week, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) sent out a recruitment call for “new Republicans,” confirming that he sees “little use for a big-tent approach for his party.” As South Carolina’s The State put it, DeMint is setting himself up as a kingmaker, wading into national races to endorse far-right candidates.

And one of the issues about which DeMint feels very strongly is Social Security. In an interview with Bloomberg News’ Al Hunt, DeMint blasted Social Security as “socialistic,” and advocated reviving President George Bush’s Social Security privatization scheme:

Monsanto seed business role revealed

By CHRISTOPHER LEONARD, AP Agribusiness Writer
Sun Dec 13, 1:45 pm ET

ST. LOUIS – Confidential contracts detailing Monsanto Co.'s business practices reveal how the world's biggest seed developer is squeezing competitors, controlling smaller seed companies and protecting its dominance over the multibillion-dollar market for genetically altered crops, an Associated Press investigation has found.

With Monsanto's patented genes being inserted into roughly 95 percent of all soybeans and 80 percent of all corn grown in the U.S., the company also is using its wide reach to control the ability of new biotech firms to get wide distribution for their products, according to a review of several Monsanto licensing agreements and dozens of interviews with seed industry participants, agriculture and legal experts.

Matt Taibbi: Obamania

There is an important parallel between those who believe all criticism of Obama to be illegitimate and those on the Right who despise him without pause. The latter is every bit as personality-driven as the former: they despise Obama not for any specific policy decisions (often, those are aligned with their ostensible views), but because of personality caricatures they’ve adopted: he’s a narcissistic, vacant, Socialist Muslim and therefore nothing he does is right. That is simply the opposite side of the same coin as those who revere his personality and thus believe that nothing he does merits real criticism.

That’s unsurprising, given that many of the most vehement Obama-haters were the same ones who most loved Bush and now love Palin: this is all about cultural identification and personality admiration and has nothing to do with the factors that ought to be used to judge political leaders.

via Glenn Greenwald –

I supported Barack Obama. I still do. If I had to vote tomorrow between Obama and Tim Pawlenty, or Sarah Palin, it wouldn’t be a choice that required a whole lot of thought. He’s done some good things. He’s restored some confidence in the United States among foreign leaders. We had something of a revolutionary regime for eight years under George Bush, and Obama has put the United States back into the club of rule-abiding nations, at least to some degree.

Paul Krugman: Disaster and Denial

When I first began writing for The Times, I was naïve about many things. But my biggest misconception was this: I actually believed that influential people could be moved by evidence, that they would change their views if events completely refuted their beliefs.

And to be fair, it does happen now and then. I’ve been highly critical of Alan Greenspan over the years (since long before it was fashionable), but give the former Fed chairman credit: he has admitted that he was wrong about the ability of financial markets to police themselves.

But he’s a rare case. Just how rare was demonstrated by what happened last Friday in the House of Representatives, when — with the meltdown caused by a runaway financial system still fresh in our minds, and the mass unemployment that meltdown caused still very much in evidence — every single Republican and 27 Democrats voted against a quite modest effort to rein in Wall Street excesses.

Are Americans a Broken People? Why We've Stopped Fighting Back Against the Forces of Oppression

By Bruce E. Levine, AlterNet
Posted on December 11, 2009, Printed on December 14, 2009

Can people become so broken that truths of how they are being screwed do not "set them free" but instead further demoralize them? Has such a demoralization happened in the United States?

Do some totalitarians actually want us to hear how we have been screwed because they know that humiliating passivity in the face of obvious oppression will demoralize us even further?

What forces have created a demoralized, passive, dis-couraged U.S. population?

The supply-side tax con

By Henry CK Liu

In recent decades, an intuitive myth has been pushed on the unsuspecting public by supply-side economists - that low taxes encourage corporations, employers and entrepreneurs to create high-paying jobs. The counterintuitive historical truth is that a progressive income tax regime with over 90% for top-bracket incomes actually encourages management and employers to raise wages. The principle behind this truth is that it is easier to be generous with the government’s money.

In the past, when the top corporate income tax rate was over 50% and the personal income tax rate at over 90%, both management and employers had less incentive to maximize net income by cutting costs in the form of wages. Why give the government the money when it could be better spent keeping employees happy?

22 million missing Bush White House e-mails found

By PETE YOST, Associated Press Writer
29 mins ago

WASHINGTON – Computer technicians have found 22 million missing White House e-mails from the administration of President George W. Bush and the Obama administration is searching for dozens more days' worth of potentially lost e-mail from the Bush years, according to two groups that filed suit over the failure by the Bush White House to install an electronic record keeping system.

The two private groups — Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and the National Security Archive — said Monday they were settling the lawsuits they filed against the Executive Office of the President in 2007.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Reining in, and Reigning Over, Wall Street

A chat with Elizabeth Warren, President Obama's point person for financial regulation.

Education Rate in U.S. Declines

by Daniel Luzer

Virtually everywhere in the world people tend to be more educated than their parents. This is no longer true in the United States. A report ... indicates that the U.S. is one of only two nations on Earth in which people aged 25 to 34 have lower educational attainment than their parents.

On Obama’s Sellout

This is pernicious for a lot of journalistic reasons, but politically it’s bad for progressives beacuse conspiracy theories stand in the way of good policy analysis and good activism, replacing them with apathy and fear.

via TAPPED Archive | The American Prospect.

When we went to print with the latest Rolling Stone piece about Obama’s economic hires, a couple of my sources advised me to expect some nastiness in the way of a response from Obama apologists. One jokingly suggested that there would be a waiting period to see if anyone even read the piece first, and only if there was enough negative buzz would I start getting hit with the charges of being an irresponsible conspiracy theorist, factually sloppy, and so on.

Well, weeks after the piece came out, that process is finally underway, most notably with this post on the American Prospect. And, to be perfectly honest, some of this is my own fault, since there is indeed a factual error in the piece — a minor biographical detail that identifies Bob Rubin’s son Jamie as a former Clinton diplomat. There is in fact a James Rubin who was a diplomat in the Clinton White House, but that James Rubin is not the James Rubin I’m referring to in the piece.

US business interests suspected in ‘fabricated’ climate scandal

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, December 13th, 2009 -- 12:02 pm

Business interests and US partisan politics are behind the furor over leaked emails that have whipped up a controversy at the Copenhagen climate talks, Canadian experts say.

The global talks to hammer out a deal on curbing greenhouse gas emissions are being derailed by public attention on the so-called "Climategate," scientist Andrew Weaver and author James Hoggan told AFP.

Frank Rich: Hollywood’s Brilliant Coda to America’s Dark Year

ON Christmas Day, Hollywood will blanket America with a most unlikely holiday entertainment. That’s when “Up in the Air,” the acclaimed new movie starring George Clooney, will spread from its big-city engagements to more than 2,000 screens. Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a corporate road warrior for a small, Omaha-based contractor hired to lay off employees for companies that prefer to outsource that unpleasant task. Ryan has fired so many people in so many cities that he is approaching a frequent-flier status unknown to all but a few Americans.

How could a film with that premise be a Christmas hit in a country reeling from the highest unemployment rate in decades? By using the power of pop culture to salve national wounds that continue to fester in the real world.

“Up in the Air” is not a political movie. It won’t be mistaken for either a Michael Moore or Ayn Rand polemic on capitalism. What makes it tick is Ryan’s struggle to reclaim his own humanity, a story that will not be described or spoiled here. But the film’s backdrop is just as primal — and these days perhaps more universal — than the personal drama so movingly atomized by Clooney in the foreground.

The end of a dream

John Gray
Published 10 December 2009

Unreality is the defining feature of the fashionable ideas of the past decade. Perhaps only a more serious crisis will overturn these delusive fancies

To look back on the ideas that shaped the past decade is to survey a scene of wreckage. Ten years ago, the best and the brightest were believers in the "Washington consensus" - the idea that the debt-fuelled free market that had existed in the US for little more than a decade was the only economic system consistent with the imperatives of modernity, and destined to spread universally.

It was not only the neocon right that believed this. Centre-left parties, whose historical role had been to set limits on free markets, bought in to this idea with enthusiasm. When Bill Clinton and Tony Blair embraced neoliberal economics, they did more than triangulate policies for the sake of electoral advantage. They endorsed the belief that a bubble engineered by Alan Greenspan at the end of the 1990s, when he lowered interest rates to artificial levels after the blow-up of a hedge fund, represented a new era in economic history. Both the triangulating politicians and many left-of-centre commentators became convinced that, for all practical purposes, neoliberal capitalism was indestructible.

Sick of swine flu? Toxic algae could be the next big threat

WASHINGTON — With a new theory surfacing that toxic algae rather than asteroids killed the dinosaurs, scientists are still trying to unravel the mystery of what caused a massive algae bloom off the Northwest Coast that left thousands of seabirds dead and may have sickened some surfers and kayakers.

The bloom, which stretches roughly 300 miles from Newport, Ore., north to the Canadian border, still persists, though it's a shadow of its September and October peak.

U.S. has role in Africa's unplanned baby bonanzaBy Shashank Bengali | McClatchy Newspapers SIRAKANO, Uganda — At age 45, after giving birth to 13 chi

SIRAKANO, Uganda — At age 45, after giving birth to 13 children in her village of thatch roofs and bare feet, Beatrice Adongo made a discovery that startled her: birth control.

"I delivered all these children because I didn't know there was another way," said Adongo, who started on a free quarterly contraceptive injection last year. Surrounded by her weary-faced brood, her 21-month-old boy clutching at her faded blue dress, she added glumly: "I fear we are already too many in this family."

Despite U.S. laws, thousands still virtual slaves in America

The United States banned slavery on Dec. 6, 1865. Yet tens of thousands of foreign-born workers are held in involuntary servitude throughout the United States — and the U.S. government has been unable to stop it. America declared war on human trafficking nearly a decade ago, but still the scourge of involuntary servitude has spread from America's coasts into its heartland.

Under the Icy North Lurks a ‘Carbon Bomb’

Tropical deforestation is a climate change crisis, but scientists fear for boreal wilderness, too

by Beth Daley

OTTAWA - North of Canada's capital, underneath an endless expanse of spruce, pine, and birch, ticks what some scientists are calling a carbon bomb: Peat.

A thick layer of the black spongy soil, the remnants of ancient forests, wraps the globe's northern tier. Deeper than 15 feet in places, the peat layer extends over more than 6 million square miles across Russia, Scandinavia, China, Canada, and the United States.


by Bill Quigley

On December 11, 2009, a federal judge ruled that Congress had unconstitutionally cut off all federal funds to ACORN. The judge issued an injunction stopping federal authorities from continuing to cut off past, present and future federal funds to the community organization.

ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) and its allies in 75 cities will again have access to millions of federal dollars to counsel people facing foreclosure, seeking IRS tax refunds, and looking for affordable low cost housing. ACORN, which has received about $54 million in government grants since 1994, will be able to apply for new federal programs just like any other organization.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Obama’s Delusion

David Bromwich

Long before he became president, there were signs in Barack Obama of a tendency to promise things easily and compromise often. He broke a campaign vow to filibuster a bill that immunised telecom outfits against prosecution for the assistance they gave to domestic spying. He kept his promise from October 2007 until July 2008, then voted for the compromise that spared the telecoms. As president, he has continued to support their amnesty. It was always clear that Obama, a moderate by temperament, would move to the middle once elected. But there was something odd about the quickness with which his website mounted a slogan to the effect that his administration would look to the future and not the past. We all do. Then again, we don’t: the past is part of the present. Reduced to a practice, the slogan meant that Obama would rather not bring to light many illegal actions of the Bush administration. The value of conciliation outweighed the imperative of truth. He stood for ‘the things that unite not divide us’. An unpleasant righting of wrongs could be portrayed as retribution, and Obama would not allow such a misunderstanding to get in the way of his ecumenical goals.

New Lie On Bank Reform

Dave Johnson
December 11, 2009 - 2:30pm ET

Opponents of financial reform, after huddling with banking lobbyists, are now circulating a story that the reform bills are nothing more than more bailouts for the big banks. In fact the bills do the opposite, and have a mechanism for shutting banks down instead of bailing them out in the future.

But the bank lobbyists and their paid-for allies in the Congress understand that the public just hates the bailouts, so they are trying to direct that hatred to try to kill a bill that would ... prevent bailouts.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Senate Tweaks Away Your Healthcare

by Donna Smith

As my grandmother used to say, "I was born on a weekend but not last weekend." The latest insult to Americans hungry for a bit of healthcare justice for all comes from the news that the Senate health bill now allows insurance companies to place annual limits on payments for some catastrophic illnesses, like cancer.

Surprise, surprise, surprise. Another day. Another lie uncovered in the process. Another piece of this reform bill that favors the for-profit health insurance industry.

What Is Living and What Is Dead in Social Democracy?

By Tony Judt

The following is adapted from a lecture given at New York University on October 19, 2009.

Americans would like things to be better. According to public opinion surveys in recent years, everyone would like their child to have improved life chances at birth. They would prefer it if their wife or daughter had the same odds of surviving maternity as women in other advanced countries. They would appreciate full medical coverage at lower cost, longer life expectancy, better public services, and less crime.

When told that these things are available in Austria, Scandinavia, or the Netherlands, but that they come with higher taxes and an "interventionary" state, many of those same Americans respond: "But that is socialism! We do not want the state interfering in our affairs. And above all, we do not wish to pay more taxes."

Health care loophole would allow coverage limits

By RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR, Associated Press Writer
Fri Dec 11, 10:12 am ET

WASHINGTON – A loophole in the Senate health care bill would let insurers place annual dollar limits on medical care for people struggling with costly illnesses such as cancer, prompting a rebuke from patient advocates.

The legislation that originally passed the Senate health committee last summer would have banned such limits, but a tweak to that provision weakened it in the bill now moving toward a Senate vote.

Paul Krugman: Bernanke’s Unfinished Mission

Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, recently had some downbeat things to say about our economic prospects. The economy, he warned, “confronts some formidable headwinds.” All we can expect, he said, is “modest economic growth next year — sufficient to bring down the unemployment rate, but at a pace slower than we would like.”

Actually, he may have been too optimistic: There’s a good chance that unemployment will rise, not fall, over the next year. But even if it does inch down, one has to ask: Why isn’t the Fed trying to bring it down faster?

Fox Nation, right-wing blogs seize on heavily edited anti-abortion video to smear Planned Parenthood

December 10, 2009 4:49 pm ET — 69 Comments

Right-wing blogs have seized on yet another heavily edited undercover video to attack a progressive organization, this time Planned Parenthood. However, the activists behind the video criticized Planned Parenthood employees for referring to a 10-week-old fetus as a "fetus" and for saying that abortion at that stage of pregnancy is safer than giving birth -- both of which are accurate statements.

Right-wing blogs seize on undercover smear video

Conservative activists release undercover video purporting to show "evidence of counseling abuse at Planned Parenthood." On December 9, Live Action -- an anti-abortion activist group headed by Lila Rose -- released a heavily edited video that the group claimed showed, among other things, Planned Parenthood employees "encouraging the one who is pregnant to obtain an abortion because 'women die having babies.' "

Exxon’s man in Copenhagen

9 Dec 2009 1:30 PM
by Jonathan Hiskes
I tracked down Brian Flannery today. He’s the top climate advisor for ExxonMobil, a veteran of international climate talks, and a bona fide villain in the eyes of environmental groups. That’s largely due to Exxon’s funding of front groups that sow misinformation about the urgency of climate change.

Supreme Court's Ruling Would Allow Bin Laden to Donate to Sarah Palin's Presidential Campaign

By Greg Palast, AlterNet
Posted on December 11, 2009, Printed on December 11, 2009

I thought that headline would get your attention. And it's true.

I'm biting my nails waiting for the Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which could come down as early as Tuesday. At issue: whether corporations, as "unnatural persons," can make contributions to political campaigns.

The outcome is foregone: the five GOP appointees to the court are expected to use the case to junk federal laws that now bar corporations from stuffing campaign coffers.

Blackwater Predator missile-load contract ending

WASHINGTON – CIA Director Leon Panetta has canceled a contract with the former Blackwater security firm that allowed the company's operatives to load missiles on Predator drones in Pakistan.

Panetta canceled the contract earlier this year and the work is being transitioned to government personnel, a person familiar with the contract said Friday. The person spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the classified program.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Obama's Big Sellout

Barack Obama ran for president as a man of the people, standing up to Wall Street as the global economy melted down in that fateful fall of 2008. He pushed a tax plan to soak the rich, ripped NAFTA for hurting the middle class and tore into John McCain for supporting a bankruptcy bill that sided with wealthy bankers "at the expense of hardworking Americans." Obama may not have run to the left of Samuel Gompers or Cesar Chavez, but it's not like you saw him on the campaign trail flanked by bankers from Citigroup and Goldman Sachs. What inspired supporters who pushed him to his historic win was the sense that a genuine outsider was finally breaking into an exclusive club, that walls were being torn down, that things were, for lack of a better or more specific term, changing.

Digby: Colloquy For Crisis

Milton Friedman:
Only a crisis produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.
Naomi Klein:
Friedman understood that just as prisoners are softened up for interrogation by the shock of their capture, massive disasters could serve to soften us up for his radical free-market crusade. He advised politicians that immediately after a crisis, they should push through all the painful policies at once, before people could regain their footing. He called this method “economic shock treatment.” I call it “the shock doctrine.” Take a second look at the iconic events of our era, and behind many you will find its logic at work. This is the secret history of the free market. It wasn’t born in freedom and democracy; it was born in shock."
Today, Senators Gregg and Conrad had a colloquy on the floor of the Senate arguing for the Pete Peterson Foundation's pet project, the Bipartisan Committee To Destroy Social Security and Medicare So Wealthy People Don't Ever Have To Pay Higher Taxes (aka "Our Favorite Idea That's Been Lying Around".) And quite an exchange of scary rhetoric it was.

UCLA researchers engineer bacteria to turn carbon dioxide into liquid fuel

Global climate change has prompted efforts to drastically reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas produced by burning fossil fuels. In a new approach, researchers from the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science have genetically modified a cyanobacterium to consume carbon dioxide and produce a liquid fuel precursor to isobutanol, which holds great potential as a gasoline alternative. The reaction is powered directly by energy from sunlight, or photosynthesis.

‘Wake up, gentlemen’, world’s top bankers warned by former Fed chairman Volcker

One of the most senior figures in the financial world surprised a conference of high-level bankers yesterday when he criticised them for failing to grasp the magnitude of the financial crisis and belittled their suggested reforms.

Paul Volcker, a former chairman of the US Federal Reserve, berated the bankers for their failure to acknowledge a problem with personal rewards and questioned their claims for financial innovation.

New Report Highlights Medicare Advantage Insurers’ Higher Administrative Spending

Today Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Bart Stupak released a new report which found that 34 Medicare Advantage insurers expend significant sums on profits, marketing, and other corporate expenses. Last year, the insurers spent an average of $1,450 per beneficiary on profits, marketing, and other corporate expenses, nearly ten times as much as traditional Medicare spent on administrative expenses per beneficiary.

Obama Nobel Peace Prize Speech

Below is Obama's Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, "A Just and Lasting Peace," as prepared for delivery. Scroll to the bottom for video.

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Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Distinguished Members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, citizens of America, and citizens of the world:

I receive this honor with deep gratitude and great humility. It is an award that speaks to our highest aspirations - that for all the cruelty and hardship of our world, we are not mere prisoners of fate. Our actions matter, and can bend history in the direction of justice.