Saturday, July 31, 2010

Frank Rich: Kiss This War Goodbye

IT was on a Sunday morning, June 13, 1971, that The Times published its first installment of the Pentagon Papers. Few readers may have been more excited than a circle of aspiring undergraduate journalists who’d worked at The Harvard Crimson. Though the identity of The Times’s source wouldn’t eke out for several days, we knew the whistle-blower had to be Daniel Ellsberg, an intense research fellow at M.I.T. and former Robert McNamara acolyte who’d become an antiwar activist around Boston. We recognized the papers’ contents, as reported in The Times, because we’d heard the war stories from the loquacious Ellsberg himself.

But if we were titillated that Sunday, it wasn’t immediately clear that this internal government history of the war had mass appeal. Tricia Nixon’s wedding in the White House Rose Garden on Saturday received equal play with the Pentagon Papers on The Times’s front page. On “Face the Nation” the guest was the secretary of defense, Melvin Laird, yet the subject of the papers didn’t even come up.

That false calm vanished overnight once Richard Nixon, erupting in characteristic rage and paranoia, directed his attorney general, John Mitchell, to enjoin The Times from publishing any sequels. The high-stakes legal drama riveted the nation for two weeks, culminating in a landmark 6-to-3 Supreme Court decision in favor of The Times and the First Amendment. Ellsberg and The Times were canonized. I sold my first magazine article, an Ellsberg profile, to Esquire, and, for better or worse, cast my lot with journalism. That my various phone conversations with Ellsberg prompted ham-fisted F.B.I. agents to visit me and my parents only added to the allure.

A Neocon Re-write of American History

Boot constructed what purported to be a historical narrative demonstrating why it was always a mistake for the U.S. government to trim back its standing army, arguing that such cutbacks caused troubles from the Whiskey Rebellion after the Revolutionary War to George W. Bush’s botched occupation of Iraq.

The lesson, according to Boot, is to maintain a very large military even after a major conflict ends and to view the current defense budget – which is approaching nearly half of what the entire world spends on military costs – as “a bargain considering the historic consequences of letting our guard down.”

That Big Sucking Sound in the Economy Is the Threat of Serious Deflation

By William Greider, The Nation
Posted on July 30, 2010, Printed on July 31, 2010

The economic specter stalking Barack Obama is not the nonsense debate that captivates deficit hawks and witless political reporters. It is the threat of a full-blown monetary deflation that would truly put the US economy in ruin. In a general deflation, everything falls--prices, output, wages, profits. Unchecked, this can lead to another Big D--the Depression Obama claims he has avoided.

Depression was the fate that befell Herbert Hoover after 1929 and the outlines of this larger catastrophe are present again. It is easy to dismiss deflation warnings from curbstone critics, including from me. But it is more significant--and truly scary--when senior policy makers of the Federal Reserve begin to express the same fear, as the New York Times reported today [1]. The Fed has done quite a lot in the last two years to prevent this disaster from unfolding, but some officials are now worried the Fed hasn't done enough.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Reports of BP disaster’s death are greatly exaggerated

In a contrarian take, Time Magazine's Michael Grunwald wrote a preemptive post-mortem impact of BP's Deepwater Horizon disaster, saying that it "does not seem to be inflicting severe environmental damage." Grunwald believes that Rush Limbaugh "has a point" because the right-wing radio host spent weeks dismissing the disaster. New York Times reporters Justin Gillis and Campbell Robertson wrote that the "oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico appears to be dissolving far more rapidly than anyone expected." The Associated Press's John Carey believes "the oil slicks that once spread across thousands of miles of the Gulf of Mexico have largely disappeared." The narrative of the disappearing disaster has been promoted by Politico's Mike Allen and the Drudge Report.

Obama Starts Race War to Win Election: An Inquiry Into Conspiracy Theories, Part II

The beat goes on.

In the nearly two weeks since I wrote Part I of this series [1], an armed gunman was arrested en route to assaulting an obscure progressive foundation in San Francisco -- one that's often been at the center of Glenn Beck's blackboard (which has become Conspiracy Theory Ground Zero for 2010). Also, this just in [2]: President Obama is attempting to foment a race war, complete with New Black Panthers in the streets, in order to win the November elections.

I know. It's just so hard to keep up.

In the last post, I defined a conspiracy theory as "any story that assumes that things happen due to the deliberate, covert actions of powerful others -- even when the preponderance of evidence points to the conclusion that the events were almost certainly accidental and unintended." And I talked about the cultural conditions that soften up people's skulls and predispose them to accepting these baroque works of storytelling rather than simply accept what the evidence shows.

This post moves from outside influences to what goes on inside our heads. What's going on internally that makes conspiracy stories appealing to us as individuals? As before, I'm drawing heavily on David Aaronovitch's Voodoo Histories: The Role of Conspiracy Theories in Shaping Modern History [3] as one of the better guides out there to all the factors at play when we willfully choose to believe the unbelievable.

Republicans Block Bill to Aid Small Business


WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans on Thursday rejected a bill to aid small businesses with expanded loan programs and tax breaks, in a procedural blockade that underscored how fiercely determined the party’s leaders are to deny Democrats any further legislative accomplishments ahead of November’s midterm elections.

The measure, championed by Senator Mary L. Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana, had the backing of some of the Republican Party’s most reliable business allies, including the United States Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business. Several Republican lawmakers also helped write it.

But Republican leaders filibustered after fighting for days with Democrats over the number of amendments they would be able to offer. A last-ditch offer by Democrats to allow three was refused by the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Paul Krugman: Curbing Your Enthusiasm

Why does the Obama administration keep looking for love in all the wrong places? Why does it go out of its way to alienate its friends, while wooing people who will never waver in their hatred?

These questions were inspired by the ongoing suspense over whether President Obama will do the obviously right thing and nominate Elizabeth Warren to lead the new consumer financial protection agency. But the Warren affair is only the latest chapter in an ongoing saga.

Mr. Obama rode into office on a vast wave of progressive enthusiasm. This enthusiasm was bound to be followed by disappointment, and not just because the president was always more centrist and conventional than his fervent supporters imagined. Given the facts of politics, and above all the difficulty of getting anything done in the face of lock step Republican opposition, he wasn’t going to be the transformational figure some envisioned.

And Mr. Obama has delivered in important ways. Above all, he managed (with a lot of help from Nancy Pelosi) to enact a health reform that, imperfect as it is, will greatly improve Americans’ lives — unless a Republican Congress manages to sabotage its implementation.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Trove of FDR's Papers Finally Available to the Public

by: Tish Wells | McClatchy Newspapers | Report

Washington — President Franklin D. Roosevelt never kept a diary. He never gave lengthy interviews to historians. He died before he had a chance to write a memoir. Yet he held the nation's top office at a time of amazing tumult and transition.

Now historians have a new set of documents to help piece together the details of the nation's longest presidency — and one of its most momentous.

The Grace Tully Archives, a collection of papers preserved by Roosevelt's longtime secretary, were unveiled on Wednesday, weeks after legislation took effect that moved them from private hands to the National Archives.

Glenn Beck's Incendiary Rhetoric Is Dangerously Close to Having a Body Count

By Eric Boehlert, Media Matters for America
Posted on July 27, 2010, Printed on July 29, 2010

On his Monday radio show, Glenn Beck highlighted claims that before he started targeting a little-known, left-leaning organization called the Tides Foundation on his Fox News TV show, "nobody knew" what the non-profit was.

Indeed, for more than a year Beck has been portraying the progressive organization as a central player in a larger, nefarious cabal of Marxist/socialist/Nazi Obama-loving outlets determined to destroy democracy in America. Beck has routinely smeared the low-profile entity for being staffed by "thugs" and "bullies" and involved in "the nasty of the nastiest," like indoctrinating schoolchildren and creating a "mass organization to seize power."

As Media Matters reported, the conspiratorial host had mentioned (read: attacked) the little-known progressive organization nearly 30 times on his Fox program alone since it premiered in 2009, including several mentions in the last month. (Beck's the only TV talker who regularly references the foundation, according to our Nexis searches.)

White House pushes for warrantless access to Internet records

By Muriel Kane
Thursday, July 29th, 2010 -- 11:30 am

Attorney speculates data could include Facebook friend requests

The White House has asked Congress to make it possible for the FBI to demand that Internet service providers turn over customers' records in cases involving terrorism or other intelligence issues without first obtaining a court order.

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act currently states that companies are required to provide basic subscriber data to the FBI, but lists only the four kinds of information that might be found on phone bills -- customer's name, address, length of service, and toll billing records.

Just say no to fake Net neutrality

Editors' note: This is a guest column. See S. Derek Turner's bio below.

The debate in Washington over Net neutrality--the fundamental principle that keeps the Internet open and free from discrimination--is coming to a head. That means that the wheeling and dealing is under way, and consumers need to watch out.

There are currently closed-door meetings taking place between phone and cable behemoths, and the biggest Internet companies, to craft a "compromise" deal that could carve up the Internet for them and leave consumers and smaller competitors behind. If the fix is in, it won't be long before they launch a PR campaign presenting this scheme as some kind of middle ground far from the "radical fringe." But buyer beware: This could be fake Net neutrality.

The job machine grinds to a halt

By Harold Meyerson
Wednesday, July 28, 2010; A15

Ain't no hiring. And ain't likely to be any for a good long time.

The problem isn't merely the greatest downturn since the Great Depression. It's also that big business has found a way to make big money without restoring the jobs it cut the past two years, or increasing its investments or even its sales, at least domestically.

In the mildly halcyon days before the 2008 crash, the one economic outlier was wages. Profit, revenue and GDP all increased; only ordinary Americans' incomes lagged behind. Today, wages are still down, employment remains low and sales revenue isn't up much, either. But profits are the outlier. They're positively soaring.

Before the CIA, there was the Pond

Thu Jul 29, 2:27 pm ET

NEW YORK – It was a night in early November during the infancy of the Cold War when the anti-communist dissidents were hustled through a garden and across a gully to a vehicle on a dark, deserted road in Budapest. They hid in four large crates for their perilous journey.

Four roadblocks stood between them and freedom.

What Zoltan Pfeiffer, a top political figure opposed to Soviet occupation, his wife and 5-year-old daughter did not know as they were whisked out of Hungary in 1947 was that their driver, James McCargar, was a covert agent for one of America's most secretive espionage agencies, known simply as the Pond.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Two Crises Wasted

Washington's perverse refusal to grapple with the energy crisis or to genuinely reform Wall Street.

The past news week was dominated by the Shirley Sherrod saga, a miserable episode that involved political operatives masquerading as journalists distorting fact in order to promote pre-existing bias, followed by a rush to judgment on the part of those too weak or fearful to exercise independent thought. A casualty of the Sherrod story's domination of the news is that it obscured the whimpering end of two of the largest crises of the past several years: the signing of the Dodd-Frank financial services reform bill and the plugging of the BP well.

Paul Krugman: Ma! He’s Looking At Me Funny!

That’s basically the thrust of Mort Zuckerman’s op-ed accusing Obama of “demonizing” business.

The op-ed contains the usual — false claims that Fannie and Freddie caused the financial crisis, false claims that fear of government policy — as opposed to weak demand — is holding back investment and hiring.

Latest 'green' packing material? Mushrooms

Packing foam now entering the marketplace is engineered from mushrooms and agricultural waste

A new packing material that grows itself is now appearing in shipped products across the country.

The composite of inedible agricultural waste and mushroom roots is called Mycobond™, and its manufacture requires just one eighth the energy and one tenth the carbon dioxide of traditional foam packing material.

And unlike most foam substitutes, when no longer useful, it makes great compost in the garden.

The Great Decoupling of Corporate Profits from Jobs

by Robert Reich

Second-quarter earnings reports are coming in, and they're making Wall Street smile. Corporate profits are up. And big American companies are sitting on a gigantic pile of money. The 500 largest non-financial firms held almost a trillion dollars in the second quarter, and that money pile is growing larger this quarter. Profits that plummeted in the recession have bounced back. Big businesses have recovered almost 90 percent of what they lost.

So with all this money and profit, they'll start hiring again, right? Wrong - for three reasons.

US withdraws 'heat ray' gun from Afghanistan

A heat ray gun developed by the US military has been withdrawn from Afghanistan, army chiefs have confirmed.

The Active Denial System (ADS) is a non-lethal weapon that heats up the skin "intolerably" but, according to tests, causes no permanent damage.

Its invisible beam is designed to repel enemies and disperse violent crowds, causing anyone targeted to immediately move away.

They Cast Out Demons & Burn "Witchcraft Items," and They're Taking Over Entire States

[editor: This story is about a radical right wing movement in charismatic Christianity that claims to fight demons but, leaving demonology aside, is demonstrably close to seizing the reigns of power in entire US states.]

They claim to be able to raise the dead and cause miracles, such as the multiplication of Thanksgiving turkey dinners. They burn "witchcraft items" and "idols." They hold mass exorcisms to cast out alleged evil spirits they say cause lust, pornography, addiction, homosexuality, bisexuality, and perversion. They claim to be able to heal HIV, AIDS, Hepatitis C, Glaucoma, and cancer, and to break "generational curses" and "witchcraft curses." Who are they? Here are a few overviews (1, 2, 3.)

WikiLeaks Bombshell Docs Paint Afghan War as Utter Disaster -- Will We Finally Stop Throwing Money and Lives at This Catastrophe?

By Ray McGovern, Consortium News
Posted on July 26, 2010, Printed on July 28, 2010

The brutality and fecklessness of the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan have been laid bare in an indisputable way just days before the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on whether to throw $33.5 billion more into the Afghan quagmire, when that money is badly needed at home.

On Sunday, the Web site Wikileaks posted 75,000 reports written mostly by U.S. forces in Afghanistan during a six-year period from January 2004 to December 2009. The authenticity of the material -- published under the title “Afghan War Diaries” -- is not in doubt.

Audit: US cannot account for $8.7B in Iraqi funds

BAGHDAD – A U.S. audit has found that the Pentagon cannot account for over 95 percent of $9.1 billion in Iraq reconstruction money, spotlighting Iraqi complaints that there is little to show for the massive funds pumped into their cash-strapped, war-ravaged nation.

The $8.7 billion in question was Iraqi money managed by the Pentagon, not part of the $53 billion that Congress has allocated for rebuilding. It's cash that Iraq, which relies on volatile oil revenues to fuel its spending, can ill afford to lose.

Monday, July 26, 2010

On a power failure and a failure of power

A 15-hour outage caused by a storm in DC? The shocking truth: it wouldn't happen if the government gave people work

Dean Baker, Monday 26 July 2010 18.00 BST

I was late with my column this morning. It was the first time I'd missed a deadline since I started college. This made me angry, not just because I hated to see a 34-year streak end, but more importantly, because of the reason I was late.

Sunday afternoon, a storm hit Washington. It knocked out the power not only in my house, approximately 3 miles from the White House, but also in large chunks of the city and suburbs. Fifteen hours later, we still don't have power.

Since temperatures were predicted to get into the 90s today, we can expect that people will die. Sick and elderly people who cannot get into an air-conditioned facility will have great difficulty surviving in such heat.

WikiLeaks and the War

Among the ninety-one thousand or so documents from the Afghan war released by WikiLeaks Sunday is an incident report dated November 22, 2009, submitted by a unit called Task Force Pegasus. It describes how a convoy was stopped on a road in southern Afghanistan at an illegal checkpoint manned by what appeared to be a hundred insurgents, “middle-age males with approx 75 x AK-47’s and 15 x PKM’s.” What could be scarier than that?

Maybe what the soldiers found out next: these weren’t “insurgents” at all, at least not in the die-hard jihadi sense that the American public might understand the term. The gunmen were quite willing to let the convoy through, if the soldiers just forked over a two- or three-thousand-dollar bribe per truck; and they were in the pay of a local warlord, Matiullah Khan, who was himself in the pay, ultimately, of the American public. According to a Times report this June (six months after the incident with Task Force Pegasus), Matiullah earns millions of dollars from NATO, supposedly to keep that road clear for convoys and help with American special-forces missions. Matiullah is also suspected of (and has denied) earning money “facilitating the movement of drugs along the highway.”

UK diplomat: ‘Deep state’ bureaucracy blocking Iraq inquiry

By Daniel Tencer
Sunday, July 25th, 2010 -- 2:43 pm

Former KGB spy claims evidence that whistleblower David Kelly didn't commit suicide

Britain's public inquiry into the country's instrumental role in the Iraq invasion is being thwarted by "deep state" bureaucrats who are intimidating witnesses and withholding documents, says a former Iraq expert for the UK government.

Paul Krugman: Who Cooked the Planet?

Never say that the gods lack a sense of humor. I bet they’re still chuckling on Olympus over the decision to make the first half of 2010 — the year in which all hope of action to limit climate change died — the hottest such stretch on record.

Of course, you can’t infer trends in global temperatures from one year’s experience. But ignoring that fact has long been one of the favorite tricks of climate-change deniers: they point to an unusually warm year in the past, and say “See, the planet has been cooling, not warming, since 1998!” Actually, 2005, not 1998, was the warmest year to date — but the point is that the record-breaking temperatures we’re currently experiencing have made a nonsense argument even more nonsensical; at this point it doesn’t work even on its own terms.

But will any of the deniers say “O.K., I guess I was wrong,” and support climate action? No. And the planet will continue to cook.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Frank Rich: There’s a Battle Outside and It Is Still Ragin’

THE glittering young blonde in a low-cut gown is sipping champagne in a swank Manhattan restaurant back in the day when things were still swank. She is on a first date with an advertising man as dashing as his name, Don Draper. So you don’t really expect her to break the ice by talking about bad news. “The world is so dark right now,” she says. “One of the boys killed in Mississippi, Andrew Goodman — he’s from here. A girlfriend of mine knew him from summer camp.” Her date is too busy studying her décolletage, so she fills in the dead air. “Is that what it takes to change things?” she asks. He ventures no answer.

This is just one arresting moment — no others will be mentioned here — in the first episode of the new “Mad Men” season premiering tonight. Like much in this landmark television series, the scene haunts you in part because of what people don’t say and can’t say. “Mad Men” is about placid postwar America before it went smash. We know from the young woman’s reference to Goodman — one of the three civil rights activists murdered in Philadelphia, Miss., in June 1964 — that the crackup is on its way. But the characters can’t imagine the full brunt of what’s to come, and so a viewer in 2010 is left to contemplate how none of us, then or now, can see around the corner and know what history will bring.

Seeing vs. Doing


“WHAT did they know, and when did they know it?” Those are questions investigators invariably ask when trying to determine who’s responsible for an offense or a misdeed.

But for the Wall Street banks whose financing of the subprime mortgage machine placed them at the center of the credit crisis, it’s becoming clear that a third, equally important question must be asked: “What did they do once they knew what they knew?”

As investigators delve deeper into the mortgage mess, they are finding in too many cases that Wall Street firms did nothing when they learned about problem loans or improprieties in lending. Rather than stopping practices of profligate originators like New Century, Fremont and Ameriquest, Wall Street financiers, which held the purse strings for these companies, apparently decided to simply look the other way.

John C. Bogle: Financial Reform: Will it Forestall a Future Crisis of Ethic Proportions?

The financial reform act that was signed into law this week -- while imperfect -- represents an important first step in attempting to preclude or mitigate future financial collapses. But increased regulation and oversight alone will be insufficient to prevent a recurrence of the recent financial crisis.

The causes of the collapse are no secret. While it is often claimed that "victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan," the defeat suffered by investors in our devastating financial crisis seems to have, figuratively speaking, a thousand fathers. The Federal Reserve kept interest rates too low for too long after the 2000-2002 stock market crash, and failed to impose discipline on mortgage bankers. Not only did our commercial and investment banks design and sell trillions of dollars worth of incredibly complex and risky mortgage-backed bonds and tens of trillions of dollars worth of derivatives (largely credit default swamps) based upon those bonds, they were also left holding the bag, with many of these toxic derivatives held on balance sheets that were highly leveraged -- sometimes by as much as 33 to one or more. Just do the math; a mere three percent decline in asset value wipes out 100 percent of shareholder equity.

John Bolton Needs To Be Stopped (Again)!

Howie Klein
Down With Tyranny
Posted: July 24, 2010 06:29 PM

John Bolton, the man who makes your garden variety neo-conservative look like Dennis Kucinich, is attempting a political comeback.

As you'll recall, Bolton is the guy who said it wouldn't be a big deal if we lopped off ten stories of the U.N. Secretariat building in New York City. So, of course, President Bush nominated him to be U.N. Ambassador. His confirmation hearings didn't go so well:

In 2005 Time Magazine took a stab out of explaining who Bolton is and why Bush nominated him to represent our country in the UN.

In the seven weeks since Bush named him, Bolton has been getting reacquainted with some of those people he offended during a 24-year career in the Federal Government. They are, among others, the two intelligence analysts who claim that as a senior State Department official during Bush's first term, Bolton tried to have them fired or reassigned when they disagreed with him; the foreign-aid worker who says Bolton, then a private attorney, chased her down a Moscow hotel hallway in 1994 in an effort to intimidate her; and the former U.S. ambassador to South Korea who complained that Bolton had misled the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by suggesting that the ambassador had approved an incendiary speech Bolton made about North Korea in 2003.

...Bolton's pattern of intimidation, they claim, was also aimed at distorting vital intelligence. Government sources tell Time that during President Bush's first term, Bolton frequently tried to push the CIA to produce information to conform to--and confirm-- his views.

The Fight to Protect Social Security

Editor’s Note: The Washington press corps often assesses how “serious” a politician is by whether he or she is ready to slash the benefits going to Americans via Social Security and Medicare, clearly the way to impress on “Meet the Press.”

President Obama’s center-right-dominated fiscal commission is currently pondering its own recommendations for how deeply to slash those programs, while showing a lot less interest in cutting military spending or raising taxes on the wealthy, as Kevin Zeese notes in this guest essay:

The commission – co-chaired by former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson and President Bill Clinton’s White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles – is talking about cuts to Social Security, Medicare and middle-class benefits like the home mortgage deduction rather than focusing on three key causes of the deficit: massive war and weapons spending, giant tax cuts for the wealthy, and the faltering economy.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

New York Times: "Race" Means "Class"

by billmon
Wed Apr 14, 2010 at 06:50:10 PM PDT

Proving once again that no power on earth can force the "newspaper of record" to recognize what it is determined to ignore, the New York Times tonight released the results of a major survey of the teabagger movement. The paper's considered judgement:

Their fierce animosity toward Washington, and the president in particular, is rooted in deep pessimism about the direction of the country and the conviction that the policies of the Obama administration are disproportionately directed at helping the poor rather than the middle class or the rich.

Maddow: Fox Uses ‘Flagrantly Bogus Stories’ to Provoke White Racism

MSNBC's Rachel Maddow called out Fox News for its role in promoting reports about Shirley Sherrod and ACORN that proved to be distorted.

July 24, 2010 | MSNBC's Rachel Maddow called out Fox News on Thursday for its role in promoting reports about Shirley Sherrod and ACORN that proved to be distorted. She charged that the network "continually campaigns on flagrantly bogus stories designed to make white Americans fear black Americans."

"I showed up in the weirdest place last night," Maddow began. "I was on The O'Reilly Factor. It was very spooky."

Friday, July 23, 2010

On the death of the climate bill

As Jon noted, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has officially announced that there will be no climate bill this year. But Jon's post doesn't fully convey the extent of the capitulation. What's happened is total and complete surrender. There's no silver lining in this cloud.

Not only will the bill not contain any restrictions on greenhouse gases -- not even a watered-down utility-only cap -- it won't even contain the two other key policies that would have moved clean energy forward: the Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) and the energy efficiency standards.

No To Oligarchy

Bernie Sanders | July 22, 2010

The American people are hurting. As a result of the greed, recklessness and illegal behavior on Wall Street, millions of Americans have lost their jobs, homes, life savings and their ability to get a higher education. Today, some 22 percent of our children live in poverty, and millions more have become dependent on food stamps for their food.

And while the Great Wall Street Recession has devastated the middle class, the truth is that working families have been experiencing a decline for decades. During the Bush years alone, from 2000-2008, median family income dropped by nearly $2,200 and millions lost their health insurance. Today, because of stagnating wages and higher costs for basic necessities, the average two-wage-earner family has less disposable income than a one-wage-earner family did a generation ago. The average American today is underpaid, overworked and stressed out as to what the future will bring for his or her children. For many, the American dream has become a nightmare.

The Geek Labyrinth

The most frightening thing about our unfathomably complex intelligence bureaucracy.

Don't believe the cynics, the lazybones, the tree-full-of-owls academics, or the apparatchik-apologists who dismiss it as simplistic, pointless, wrongheaded, or dangerous. The Washington Post's three-part series this week on "Top Secret America" is as important as the paper's PR campaign suggests. (Disclosure: The Washington Post Co. owns Slate.)

The culmination of a two-year probe by Dana Priest, one of the country's best military reporters, and William M. Arkin, a national-security sleuth of unparalleled ingenuity, the series lays out—in (occasionally numbing) detail—the vast proliferation of supersecret enterprises, and the compartmentalized security clearances that go with them, since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Veggieworld: Why eating greens won't save the planet

IF YOU'RE a typical westerner, you ate nearly 100 kilograms of meat last year. This was almost certainly the costliest part of your diet, especially in environmental terms. The clamour for people to eat less meat to save the planet is growing ever louder. "Less meat = less heat", proclaimed Paul McCartney in the run-up to last December's conference on global warming in Copenhagen. And this magazine recently recommended eating less meat as a way to reduce our environmental footprint.

Big Falsehoods: An updated guide to Andrew Breitbart's lies, smears, and distortions

July 21, 2010 3:24 pm ET — 9 Comments

Following the dissolution of Andrew Breitbart's smear of former Obama administration official Shirley Sherrod, Media Matters provides an updated look at how his sensationalist stories have been based on speculation, gross distortions, and outright falsehoods.

The "video evidence" of Shirley Sherrod's "racism" (NEW)

"Nationwide ACORN child prostitution investigation" (UPDATED)

Our Secret Leviathan

By Joe Conason

Back in the bad old days of the Cold War—when mutual nuclear annihilation was a policy option—a culture of secrecy arose in Washington. What wise observers understood even then was that while governments tried to keep secrets from each other, their chief concern was to keep secrets from their own people.

Considering what had been done in the name of the United States, from Mafia assassination plots against foreign leaders to murder, corruption and coups d’état, that concern was quite sensible. And there was hell to pay when the hidden history began to emerge.

During the nine years since 9/11 the national security state has doubled or tripled in size, with huge annexes in the private sector—and the culture of secrecy has metastasized simultaneously. As The Washington Post reports in a landmark series titled “Top Secret America,” by Dana Priest and William Arkin, the dimensions of the security colossus are stunning. It is nothing less than a fourth branch of government, so large, so powerful and so wealthy that no other branch can even grasp it, let alone control it.

Paul Krugman: Addicted to Bush

For a couple of years, it was the love that dared not speak his name. In 2008, Republican candidates hardly ever mentioned the president still sitting in the White House. After the election, the G.O.P. did its best to shout down all talk about how we got into the mess we’re in, insisting that we needed to look forward, not back. And many in the news media played along, acting as if it was somehow uncouth for Democrats even to mention the Bush era and its legacy.

The truth, however, is that the only problem Republicans ever had with George W. Bush was his low approval rating. They always loved his policies and his governing style — and they want them back. In recent weeks, G.O.P. leaders have come out for a complete return to the Bush agenda, including tax breaks for the rich and financial deregulation. They’ve even resurrected the plan to cut future Social Security benefits.

But they have a problem: how can they embrace President Bush’s policies, given his record? After all, Mr. Bush’s two signature initiatives were tax cuts and the invasion of Iraq; both, in the eyes of the public, were abject failures. Tax cuts never yielded the promised prosperity, but along with other policies — especially the unfunded war in Iraq — they converted a budget surplus into a persistent deficit. Meanwhile, the W.M.D. we invaded Iraq to eliminate turned out not to exist, and by 2008 a majority of the public believed not just that the invasion was a mistake but that the Bush administration deliberately misled the nation into war. What’s a Republican to do?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Protofascism Comes to America

The Rise of the Tea Party

by Ted Rall

Is the Tea Party racist? Democrats who play liberals on TV say it isn't. Vice President Joe Biden says the Tea Party "is not a racist organization" per se, but allows that "at least elements that were involved in some of the Tea Party folks expressed racist views."

Right-wing Congresswoman Michele Bachmann has received permission to form an official Tea Party Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives. It's official. The Tea Party matters.

So: is it racist? Certainly a sizeable minority of Tea Partiers' "take America back" rhetoric is motivated by thinly disguised resentment that a black guy is president. As for the remainder, their tacit tolerance of the intolerant speaks for itself. "Take America back" from whom? You know whom. It ain't white CEOs.

Groundbreaking Sandia study ties climate uncertainties to economies of US states

California, Pacific Northwest and Colorado achieve positive net impacts; other states languish

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A climate-change study at Sandia National Laboratories that models the near-term effects of declining rainfall in each of the 48 U.S. continental states makes clear the economic toll that could occur unless an appropriate amount of initial investment — a kind of upfront insurance payment — is made to forestall much larger economic problems down the road.

Why tie climate change to economics?

“Absent any idea of costs, the need to address climate change seems remote and has a diluted sense of urgency,” study lead George Backus said.

Restoring a Vibrant Middle Class in America

by Brian Miller

Imagine joining friends for a late-night game of Monopoly, but in this game, there’s a twist: At the start of the game, one player gets an entire side of the game board, from Pacific Ave. to Boardwalk, including the Short Line railroad. Instead of pondering easy questions like whether to be the shoe or the thimble, you’re now grappling with a more important question: Do you even stand a chance in such a lopsided game?

As you ponder the fairness of this board game, Congress is debating the very real future of our federal estate tax, a tax on inherited wealth designed in part to prevent one player from owning most of the board before the game even begins.

We’re In A One-and-a-half Dip Recession

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

We’re not in a double-dip recession yet. We’re in a one and a half dip recession.

Consumer confidence is down. Retail sales are down. Home sales are down. Permits for single-family starts are down. The average work week is down. The only things not down are inventories – unsold stuff is piling up in warehouses and inventories of unsold homes are rising – and defaults on loans.

Anti-Immigrant Hard-liners Try to Co-Opt Environmental Movement

By David L. Ostendorf, Imagine 2050
Posted on July 21, 2010, Printed on July 22, 2010

Who would have thought that the renowned Lester Brown of Worldwatch Institute or Roderick Nash, author of the classic Wilderness and the American Mind, would involve themselves in a portion of the environmental movement that dallies with nativists and white nationalists? Or that the Weeden Foundation, a mainstay funder of numerous environmental groups, might “steer the environmental movement toward a course fueled by bigotry and racism?”

With the release today of “Apply the Brakes: Anti-Immigrant Co-optation of the Environmental Movement,” the Center for New Community has laid these unseemly realities bare, and exposed yet another effort by anti-immigrant forces to corrupt the dialogue on the relationship of immigration to population growth to environmental degradation. As well, the report maps the ties between anti-immigrant interests and environmental groups nationwide.

IMF cancels $268 million Haiti debt

PARIS – The IMF says it has canceled Haiti's $268 million debt and will lend the earthquake-devastated country another $60 million to help it with reconstruction plans.

The International Monetary Fund said Wednesday the decision is part of a plan for long-term reconstruction after the Jan. 12 magnitude-7 quake, which killed as many as 300,000 people.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Another Senate Charade

This note comes courtesy of my friend David Sirota out in Colorado. This is a classic example of how the Senate works. If the public understood better how rigged this game is, and how few issues are actually left to an honest vote in the legislature, I'm pretty sure the pitchfork factor would be twice even what it is now.

The short version of this story: Bernie Sanders had put forth a proposal in the Senate to put a 15 percent cap on credit-card interest. Who isn't in favor of this kind of legislation? The only difference between credit card companies and loan sharks at this point is that you can choose to not patronize a loan shark. As an adult professional in this country one has to have a credit card - it's impossible to rent a car, buy a hotel room, shop online or do countless other things without one.

What do deficit slashers wear under their hair shirts?

It's worthwhile trying to uncover the assumptions made by the economists who demand rapid 'fiscal consolidation'

All intellectual systems rely on assumptions that do not need to be spelled out because all members of that particular intellectual community accept them. These "deep" axioms are implicit in economics as well but, if left unscrutinised, they can steer policymakers into a blind alley. That is what is happening in today's effort, in country after country, to slash spending and bring down budget deficits.

The chief task that John Maynard Keynes set himself in writing his General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money was to uncover the deep axioms underlying the economic orthodoxy of his day, which assumed away the possibility of persistent mass unemployment. The question he asked of his opponents was: "What must they believe in order to claim that persistent mass unemployment is impossible, so that government 'stimulus' to raise the employment level could do no good?" In answering this question, Keynes reconstructed the orthodox theory – and then proceeded to demolish it.

Senate approves jobless payments to millions

76 WASHINGTON – State unemployment agencies are gearing up to resume sending unemployment payments to millions of people as Congress moves to ship President Barack Obama a measure to restore lapsed benefits.

After months of increasingly bitter stalemate, the Senate passed the measure Wednesday by a 59-39 vote. Obama is poised to sign the measure into law after a final House vote on Thursday.

Democrats to Propose Extending Bush's Middle-Class Tax Cuts

By Jay Newton-Small / Washington
Wednesday, Jul. 21, 2010

Senate Democrats will soon advance a plan to make permanent President George W. Bush's 2001 tax cuts for middle-class Americans earning less than $200,000, but let the tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans expire, two Senate party aides said Tuesday. They will also propose to reinstate a 45% estate tax on individuals for the next two years.

The emerging tax plan is designed, as much as anything else, to clarify the differences between the two parties as they hurtle toward the fall elections. Following on their success with the financial-regulatory-reform bill, Democrats are betting that Republicans will once again take up a legislative battle on behalf of the wealthy. "Republicans are going to have a real choice ahead of them," says a Democratic aide. "Are you for extending these tax cuts for middle-class families or are you against them because you want to protect tax cuts for the wealthiest 1% of Americans?''

Why the US Is So Badly Equipped to Deal with Unemployment

By Dean Baker, ISN
Posted on July 20, 2010, Printed on July 21, 2010

It has been two-and-a-half years since the recession officially began in the United States. While the economy has been growing for more than a year, unemployment remains near the 10.1 percent peak of October 2009. Few economists predict a rapid decline from its June level of 9.5 percent and, with stimulus being phased down over the next year, it is very plausible that the rate will edge higher in coming months.

The US, unlike most western European countries, is not set up to sustain long periods of high unemployment. Its system of social welfare is very much centered on work. This is most evident with health care. The vast majority of non-elderly people get their health care through employer provided health insurance. Individual policies tend to be very expensive, especially for people with any history of medical problems. When people lose their jobs, they generally lose their health care coverage as well. While there is a public program for low-income families, it doesn’t cover most of the unemployed, and the quality is often quite poor.

The business cycle lives

By Henry C K Liu

On December 18, 2002, I wrote a post to the online economics discussion list Post Keynesian Thought (PKT) about an earlier post of February 11, 2000, when the Dow Jones Industrial Average was heading towards 12,000.

The earlier post challenged the extravagant claim by the Bill Clinton administration Council of Economic Advisors (CEA) Annual Economic Report for 2000 that the business cycle was heading for historical relic status because of effective policies carried out by the Clinton White House.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

It’s the End of the World As We Know It

What are 308,367,109 Americans supposed to do?

First of all, despite clamping down on immigration, our population grew by 2.6M people last year. Unfortunately, not only did we not create jobs for those 2.6M new people but we lost about 4M jobs so what are these new people going to do? Not only that, but nobody is talking about the another major job issue: People aren’t retiring! They can’t afford to because the economy is bad - that means there are even less job openings… The pimply-faced kid can’t get a job delivering pizza because his grandpa’s doing it.

There are some brilliant pundits who believe cutting retirement benefits will fix our economy. How will that work exactly? Pay old people less money, don’t cover their medical care and what happens? Then they need money. If they need money, they need to work and if they need to work they increase the supply of labor, which reduces wages and leaves all 308,367,109 of us with less money. Oh sorry, not ALL 308,367,109 - just 308,337,109 - the top 30,000 (0.01%) own the business the other 308,337,109 work at and they will be raking it in because labor is roughly 1/3 of the cost of doing business in America and our great and powerful capitalists have already cut their manufacturing costs by shipping all those jobs overseas, where they pay as little as $1 a day for a human life so now, in order to increase their profits (because profits MUST be increased) they have now turned inward to see what they can shave off in America.

National Security Inc.

The intent of the memorial is to publicly honor the courage of those who died in the line of duty, but it also conceals a deeper story about government in the post-9/11 era: Eight of the 22 were not CIA officers at all. They were private contractors.

To ensure that the country's most sensitive duties are carried out only by people loyal above all to the nation's interest, federal rules say contractors may not perform what are called "inherently government functions." But they do, all the time and in every intelligence and counterterrorism agency, according to a two-year investigation by The Washington Post.

Liberal? Are we talking about the same thing?

Is there a more elastic word in the English language than the word liberal?

Is there a more abused, innocent, in-need-of-protection-from-bullies-word than the word liberal?

On either side of the Atlantic - for that matter, wherever English is spoken - liberal means whatever the speaker says it means, although that is often not what the hearer thinks it means. Confusion reigns.

How Amazon Kills Books and Makes Us Stupid

By Colin Robinson, The Nation
Posted on July 19, 2010, Printed on July 20, 2010

Jeff Bezos loves numbers. In a speech in May to graduates at his alma mater, Princeton University, he recounted a childhood memory: when driving with his grandmother, a heavy smoker, he calculated how many years her addiction would reduce her life expectancy. Announcing the result from the back seat of the car, he expected praise for his deft maths. But his grandmother just burst into tears.

The Amazon founder's geeky obsession with numbers evidently formed early, and despite the glimmer of discomfort revealed by his Princeton anecdote, his fervently quantitative take on the world still predominates. In a letter accompanying the 2009 Amazon annual report, for instance, he sets out a mind-boggling 452 goals for the company in the coming year. The word "revenue" is mentioned only eight times, yet revenue growth is central to the Amazon story. Expanding both internationally and across other products—nonbook sales represent 75 percent of total Amazon turnover—Amazon's global business has increased fifteenfold over the past decade, 28 percent last year alone. Sales in 2009 topped $24.5 billion. To put that in perspective, in 2008 total sales by all US bookstores were less than $17 billion. In other words, the company is significantly larger than the entire American book business.

Report: Afghan, Iraq wars teaching US gang members military combat

By Daniel Tencer
Sunday, July 18th, 2010 -- 2:26 pm

Gang members in the US military are returning home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan armed with knowledge of military tactics, a fact that could threaten the lives of law enforcement officers in the US and worsen the gang problem, according to a new report from the Chicago Sun-Times.

Jeffrey Stoleson, a Wisconsin corrections officer who has completed multiple tours in Iraq, also told the Sun-Times that civilian contractors are a part of the growing drug-gang problem within the US's overseas wars. Stoleson says he was "involved in destroying a large quantity of drugs confiscated from US contractors in Iraq."

The Retirement Nightmare: Half of Americans Have Less Than $2,000 Banked for Their Golden Years

By Scott Thill, AlterNet
Posted on July 16, 2010, Printed on July 20, 2010

The days of quietly retiring with a nest egg built up from years of savings from a long career on the verge of disappearing. For tens of millions of Americans, facing rising costs, shrinking incomes and growing debts they already have disappeared.

"One out of three working Americans does not have retirement savings beyond Social Security, and about 35% of those over 65 rely almost totally on Social Security alone," Dallas Salisbury, president of the Alliance for Investor Education and the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) , explained to AlterNet. "Of the remaining two-thirds of working Americans that have some retirement savings, 27 percent report less than $1,000, 16 percent between $1,000 and $9,999, 11 percent between $10,000 and $24,999, 12 percent between $25,000-$49,999, and 36 percent $50,000 or more." Perhaps the most shocking number is that half of Americans have $2,000 or less saved for retirement.

Crunch the numbers and you end up with a retirement myth, rather than a money-maker. We face a colder economic reality: Not only are there no astronomical retirement returns coming down the financial pike, but what nuts and nest-eggs families have set aside for their futures have been mostly sucked dry.

Report: U.S. intelligence community inefficient, unmanageable

By the CNN Wire Staff
July 19, 2010 11:52 a.m. EDT

Washington (CNN) -- The September 11, 2001, attacks have led to an intelligence community so large and unwieldy that it's unmanageable and inefficient -- and no one knows how much it costs, according to a two-year investigation by the Washington Post.

Ahead of the publication, many in the intelligence community worried that the stories would disclose too much information about contractors and the classified tasks they handle.

Paul Krugman: The Pundit Delusion

The latest hot political topic is the “Obama paradox” — the supposedly mysterious disconnect between the president’s achievements and his numbers. The line goes like this: The administration has had multiple big victories in Congress, most notably on health reform, yet President Obama’s approval rating is weak. What follows is speculation about what’s holding his numbers down: He’s too liberal for a center-right nation. No, he’s too intellectual, too Mr. Spock, for voters who want more passion. And so on.

But the only real puzzle here is the persistence of the pundit delusion, the belief that the stuff of daily political reporting — who won the news cycle, who had the snappiest comeback — actually matters.

This delusion is, of course, most prevalent among pundits themselves, but it’s also widespread among political operatives. And I’d argue that susceptibility to the pundit delusion is part of the Obama administration’s problem.

Deficits of Mass Destruction

The Real Reason Geithner Is Afraid of Elizabeth Warren

As reported on HuffPost last week, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has expressed opposition to the possible nomination of Elizabeth Warren to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, according to a source with knowledge of Geithner's views.

One can assume that Geithner, being very close to the nation's biggest banks, is concerned that Warren, if chosen, will exercise her new policing and enforcement powers to restrict those abusive practices at our commercial banks that have been harmful to consumers and depositors.

Certainly, Warren is not the commercial banking industry's first pick to serve in this new role. And unlike other legislation in which an industry's lobbying effort would naturally slow or cease once the legislation is passed, the new financial reform bill is continuing to attract enormous lobbying action from the banks. The reason is simple. The bill has been written to put a great deal of power as to how strongly it is implemented in the hands of its regulators, some of which remain to be chosen. The bank lobby will work incredibly hard to see that Warren, the person most responsible for initiating and fighting for the idea of a consumer financial protection group, is denied the opportunity to head it.

10 Most Horrifying, Absurd Things in the GOP State Platforms

By Tana Ganeva, AlterNet
Posted on July 16, 2010, Printed on July 20, 2010

The GOP leadership's plan for addressing the nation's problems is to make them worse in order to screw over Obama and Democrats. Republicans at the state level, however, have introduced more proactive solutions to America's ills. These include outlawing oral sex and porn, taking a stand against the New World Order, and, of course, granting fetuses greater rights than women.

Republican state platforms don't have a direct impact on national politics: they're way too weird for the GOP leadership, which has to balance pandering to the crazy right-wing with wooing independents. But since the state platforms are mostly cobbled together in town halls, they're a good gauge of what inspires activists on the ground -- an important guide to Republican politics in an election year that's seen many GOP fixtures felled by Tea Party right-wingers. (In May, Maine Tea Partiers staged a bloodless coup at the GOP platform town halls, replacing the traditional, bland party platform with a statement of principles soaked in Glenn Beckian paranoia.)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Tax Aversion and the Legacy of Slavery

An essay by Robin L. Einhorn
author of American Taxation, American Slavery

The evidence is clear, and especially around April 15. Americans hate everything about taxation—with a passion. We sometimes tell pollsters we are willing to pay higher taxes to get better public services from our governments (schools, roads, and so on), but, in a "read my lips" political culture, no campaign promise works better than the promise to cut taxes. The hatred at issue has little to do with the actual cost of the taxes. We are willing to pay hefty premiums to private HMOs, but not the taxes to finance a national healthcare system. Intermittent rounds of hoopla aside, it has very little to do with the behavior of the Internal Revenue Service either. We tolerate the hardball nastiness of the private collection agency but work ourselves into a rage at the very idea that the IRS will get serious about tax evasion. Most strangely, American antitax attitudes seem unrelated to the distribution of tax burdens. Middle-income people who pay big chunks of their earnings in payroll and sales taxes will support tax cuts for millionaires (estate tax abolition, low capital gains rates), which not only threaten the funding for the services on which they depend—but may even increase their taxes!

Chart Of The Day

I'm not sure it's sunk in yet within the political class (outside of economists) how horrible the prospects are for bringing the unemployment rate back to pre-Great Recession levels any time soon. And by soon, I don't mean November 2010. We're talking more like November 2015 or November 2020.

Frank Rich: The Good News About Mel Gibson

FOR Fourth of July weekend fireworks, even Macy’s couldn’t top the spittle-spangled eruptions of Mel Gibson. The clandestine recordings of his serial audio assaults on his gal pal were instant Web and cable-TV sensations — at once a worthy rival to Hollywood’s official holiday releases and a compelling sequel to his fabled anti- Semitic rant of 2006. A true showman, Gibson offered vitriol for nearly all tastes, aiming his profane fusillade at women, blacks and Latinos alike. The invective was tied together by a domestic violence subplot worthy of “Lethal Weapon.” There was even a surprise comic coda, courtesy of Whoopi Goldberg, who, alone among Gibson’s showbiz peers, used her television platform on “The View” to defend her buddy’s good character.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Paul Krugman: More On Deficit Limits

amie Galbraith responded to this post in comments; what he said, and my counter-response, below the fold:

First, Jamie:

Paul’s argument is that *infinite* inflation is a theoretical possibility. Well, yes. It happened in Germany in 1923.

There is no reason to cut Social Security benefits or Medicare now, with effect in the future, in order to avoid the theoretical possibility that some combination of policies might at some time in the future give us the economic conditions of post World War I Germany.

Digby: Exploding the Social Security Myths

I have a reading assignment for you. It's a short one, but an important one. If you don't get to it right away, bookmark it for some time when you have a few minutes.

The assignment is this and this post by Susan G at Daily Kos about Social Security myths. The first is this one about life expectancy, which is something that has driven me crazy for years. Mush of the literature about "problems" with social security will tell you that longer life expectancy was unanticipated by the people who designed the system, which is ridiculous. They certainly did. And they will also tell you that life expectancy was only 63 at the time social security was designed, which is true, but they neglect to explain that life expectancy in those days was was shorter mostly because of childhood diseases, which means that the financing ratios were never affected. After all, kids who die at 3 never pay FICA in the first place. Anyway, the upshot is this, from Nancy Altman's important book on the subject The Battle for Social Security: From FDR's Vision To Bush's Gamble:

For Social Security purposes, the correct question is not how many live to age 65, but rather how long those reaching age 65 live thereafter. Here the numbers are not as dramatic. In 1940, men who survived to age 65 had a remaining life expectancy of 12.7 years. Today, a 65 year old man can expect to live not quite three years longer than he might have in 1940, or 15.3 years beyond reaching age 65. For women, the comparable numbers are 14.7 years beyond age 65 in 1940; 19.6 years in 1990.

Telling It Like It Is

Dave notes the following ridiculous statement from Tea Party Patriot leadership:

The NAACP has long history of liberalism and racism. If you are a conservative -- including a conservative African-American -- there is no room for you at the NAACP. If you have opinions that differ from the NAACP and the liberal establishment, and if you are African-American, you are an "Uncle Tom," a "negro," "not black enough" and "against our people."

Citing his own posts, Dave asserts:

When I said the NAACP's move would backfire, I meant things like this would happen. I didn't mean they were wrong to go down that road. It's just that they should know that calling out a group for "racism" is pointless -- whoever's been targeted will simply claim to have been attacked unfairly and had his free speech threatened.Remember what happened when Eric Holder said that America had been a "nation of cowards" in discussing race. Boom: Backlash. Anger. Debate over why he said it, but not what he meant. A year and change later we have a ridiculous national debate over whether Holder's department hates white people because it won't draw and quarter the New Black Panther Party. This stuff is what he meant, of course. But saying it isn't actually starting the debate. It's pretty obvious that the NAACP failed here.

One way of looking at the Tea Party Patriot statement on the facts. It is true that NAACP is fairly liberal. It is also true that Michael Steele is arguably the most prominent black conservative in America. He is also--among many other things--a member of the NAACP, and thus presumably part of a racist group.

A Roosevelt Moment for America’s Megabanks?


WASHINGTON, DC – Just over a hundred years ago, the United States led the world in terms of rethinking how big business worked – and when the power of such firms should be constrained. In retrospect, the breakthrough legislation – not just for the US, but also internationally – was the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890.

The Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Bill, which is about to pass the US Senate, does something similar – and long overdue – for banking.

Prior to 1890, big business was widely regarded as more efficient and generally more modern than small business. Most people saw the consolidation of smaller firms into fewer, large firms as a stabilizing development that rewarded success and allowed for further productive investment. The creation of America as a major economic power, after all, was made possible by giant steel mills, integrated railway systems, and the mobilization of enormous energy reserves through such ventures as Standard Oil.

Krugman finally gets it right — The Republicans as crisis-creators

I don't mean Krugman finally "gets it right" about economics; he's done that many times over. Paul Krugman finally calls the Republican playbook correctly, in terms of its real goals.

It's one thing to say the talk doesn't match the walk, something he's been saying a lot lately. It's another to say why — and make sense. In the Friday column he says why, and makes sense. Finally.

Obama & the Embeds (Liz Fowler edition)

We might as well call it "self-inflicted edition," though this is no accident.

John caught this a few days ago. According to David Sirota and Marcy Wheeler, Team Less Change Than You Wanted has hired former WellPoint VP Liz Fowler to run the "consumer oversight" aspect of the new health care bill.

Poor Little CEOs

The government's giving them everything they want, yet still they whine.

By Daniel Gross

After an eight-year slumber, the Environmental Protection Agency is again issuing regulations. Two years after an appalling financial debacle, Congress has finally moved to regulate Wall Street. But to hear our nation's corporate chieftains tell it, it's enough to plunge us back into recession. "We have to become an industrial powerhouse again, but you don't do this when government and entrepreneurs are not in sync," lamented GE CEO Jeff Immelt in a recent speech. On July 12, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, and National Federation of Independent Business held a "Jobs for America" summit. While President Obama met with CEOs at the White House, the summiteers called for—wait for it!—cutting taxes for companies, extending tax cuts for the wealthy, and opening up federal areas for resource exploration.

The notion of these guys holding a jobs summit is a little like BP holding a deepwater-drilling safety summit. Between 2001 and 2009, corporate America designed the playing field to its specifications—easy money from the Federal Reserve; lower taxes on capital gains, dividends, and income; an administration that let industry essentially write its own regulations. But the players proceeded to put up goose eggs. In January 2001, there were 111.6 million private-sector payroll jobs in the United States. In January 2009, when Bush left office, there were 110.9 million. The stock market is basically where it was a decade ago. The lost decade ended with the deepest recession since the Great Depression.

Our 10,000 Year Struggle Against Aristocracy

by: Gislebertus

Sat Jul 17, 2010 at 14:00

(A very welcome expansion on a comment I made in a previous post. 10,000 years in less than 10,000 words? Pretty much! - promoted by Paul Rosenberg)

In a recent blog post here, Paul Rosenberg explained the inability or unwillingness of the "serious people" in charge of our nation to address its fundamental problems: "It's the same old elitist aristocratic death grip that we've been struggling against for the past 10,000 years."

That's an excellent observation, one not often made, and I'd like to elaborate on it. Below is a basic outline of that struggle.

Obama's done a lot, but gets little credit for it; why?

WASHINGTON — Step by step, President Barack Obama is building a record of major legislation that's sure to make a mark on history.

The most sweeping financial regulation since the Great Depression. A vast expansion of health care, which Democrats had wanted for more than six decades. An $862 billion stimulus package that locked in long-sought Democratic priorities.

Yet his job-approval rating remains low. Why doesn't he get any credit?

Scientists baffled by unusual upper atmosphere shrinkage

By Derrick Ho, Special to CNN
July 17, 2010 -- Updated 0407 GMT

(CNN) -- An upper layer of Earth's atmosphere recently shrank so much that researchers are at a loss to adequately explain it, NASA said on Thursday.

The thermosphere, which blocks harmful ultraviolet rays, expands and contracts regularly due to the sun's activities. As carbon dioxide increases, it has a cooling effect at such high altitudes, which also contributes to the contraction.

But even these two factors aren't fully explaining the extraordinary contraction which, though unlikely to affect the weather, can affect the movement of satellites, researchers said.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Treasury Makes A Mistake – Claiming They Are Not Blocking Elizabeth Warren

By Simon Johnson

It’s one thing to block Elizabeth Warren from heading the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

It’s quite another thing to deny in public, for the record, that any such blocking is going on (e.g., see this report; Michael Barr apparently said something quite similar today).

There is a strong groundswell of opinion on this issue from the left – see the BoldProgressives petition. But the center also feels strongly that, given everything Treasury has said and done over the past few months, it would be a complete travesty not to put the strongest possible regulator in change of protecting consumers.

Obama Blows Up The Gulf: An Inquiry Into Conspiracy Theories, Part I

You've heard the latest one, right? President Obama -- or maybe it was Obama working hand-in-glove with BP -- deliberately blew up the Deepwater Horizon, sent 11 workers to their deaths, destroyed the country's biggest fishery, and smeared the coasts of five states with endless tides of oil.

Why did he do this? Why, to pass the new energy bill, of course.

This is the Conspiracy Theory Of The Week (TM) on the far right this past week -- our little dip into the alternate, fact-free, gravity-free reality zone of the rabid right. Tracking the loony parade of right-wing conspiracy theories became something of a personal enthusiasm last spring, when the right wing's Bizarro World stories took a quantum leap for the weird. Up until the inauguration, these confections had almost always been wrapped around a kernel of factual truth; but there came a point -- it was somewhere in the early phases of the health care debate -- when that chewy middle suddenly became optional. Some new level of outrage and irrationality had been breached; and beyond that point, the new stories being told had absolutely no relationship to any observable reality at all.

GOP Fairy Tales

— By Kevin Drum | Fri Jul. 16, 2010 3:00 AM PDT

Back in the day, one of the key Republican arguments against the estate tax was that it forced hardworking, salt-of-the-earth children of small farmers to sell the family plot in order to pay their taxes after dad died. It was a sad story, but with one problem: no one could find even a single small farmer who had been forced to liquidate in order to satisfy Uncle Sam's voracious maw. Even the American Farm Bureau Federation was eventually forced to admit that it couldn't come up with a single example, and a few years later the Congressional Budget Office estimated that under the now-current exemption level, only a tiny handful of small farms were likely to owe any estate tax to begin with — and of those, only about a dozen lacked the assets to pay their taxes. And even those dozen had 14 years to pay the bill as long as the kids kept running the farm. In other words, the story was a fraud from beginning to end.

Hundreds of Afghanistan contractor deaths go unreported

Congressional report estimates Afghanistan death rate more than four times greater than for U.S. troops

By Justin Elliott

In one of the least examined aspects of President Obama's escalation of the Afghan war, armed private security contractors are being killed in action by the hundreds -- at a rate more than four times that of U.S. troops, according to a previously unreported congressional study.

At the same time, the Obama administration has drastically increased the military's reliance on private security contractors, the vast majority of whom are Afghans who are given the dangerous job of guarding aid and military convoys, the new Congressional Research Service study found.

Social Security Cuts Eyed by Deficit Commission ‘Especially Painful,’ Report Finds

Next month, Social Security, one of the nation’s most successful and important government programs, turns 75. It is the cornerstone of retirement security for tens of millions of Americans.

(Today, the U.S. House Ways and Means subcommittee on Social Security will examine the success of Social Security 75 years after President Franklin Roosevelt signed it into law. We’ll be covering the hearing.)

Governor purges database of innocents stopped and frisked by NYPD

By The Associated Press
Friday, July 16th, 2010 -- 12:08 pm

NY gov signs law removing information from stop-frisk database; NYC mayor, top cop decry move

Gov. David Paterson signed legislation Friday that eliminates a database of thousands of people stopped and frisked by New York City police without facing charges, calling the practice "not a policy for a democracy."

The Economic Crunch We're in: Corporations Want Fewer Workers, But They Still Need Everyone to Be Consumers

By Robert Parry, Consortium News
Posted on July 15, 2010, Printed on July 16, 2010

A hard truth about the U.S. economy is that corporations don’t need as many of us as workers but still need us as consumers. That dilemma helps explain why unemployment is stuck near 10 percent and why the economic recovery is stumbling toward a double dip.

The Washington Post reported Thursday that nonfinancial companies are sitting on $1.8 trillion - about one-fourth more than at the start of the recession - but won't add personnel in part because they're waiting for consumer demand to pick up, which isn't happening because many Americans don't have jobs or are afraid of losing theirs.

The Questionable Cost of America’s Spy Games

by Stephen Engelberg
ProPublica, Yesterday, 1:59 p.m.

There's nothing like a spy story to get the journalistic juices flowing. They have all the elements. High stakes. Betrayal. And, if you're lucky, sexual intrigue.

The true import of spy stories is more difficult for readers to weigh. The facts are invariably spooned out by intelligence agencies whose interests lie mainly in covering up their secrets and obscuring their missteps. For understandable reasons, law enforcement officials seldom disclose exactly how they came to unmask the culprits. (If the National Security Agency were taping the cell phone calls of, say, Vladimir Putin, it would probably want to hide that fact.)

Paul Krugman: Redo That Voodoo

Republicans are feeling good about the midterms — so good that they’ve started saying what they really think. This week the party’s Senate leadership stopped pretending that it cares about deficits, stating explicitly that while we can’t afford to aid the unemployed or prevent mass layoffs of schoolteachers, cost is literally no object when it comes to tax cuts for the affluent.

And that’s one reason — there are others — why you should fear the consequences if the G.O.P. actually does as well in November as it hopes.

For a while, leading Republicans posed as stern foes of federal red ink. Two weeks ago, in the official G.O.P. response to President Obama’s weekly radio address, Senator Saxby Chambliss devoted his entire time to the evils of government debt, “one of the most dangerous threats confronting America today.” He went on, “At some point we have to say ‘enough is enough.’ ”

Chomsky: Is the U.S. Gearing Up for the Destruction of Iran?

By Noam Chomsky, Noam Chomsky's Official Site
Posted on July 15, 2010, Printed on July 16, 2010

The dire threat of Iran is widely recognized to be the most serious foreign policy crisis facing the Obama administration. General Petraeus informed the Senate Committee on Armed Services in March 2010 that "the Iranian regime is the primary state-level threat to stability" in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, the Middle East and Central Asia, the primary region of US global concerns. The term "stability" here has its usual technical meaning: firmly under US control.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

There's No Crying in the Oval Office

By: David Dayen Thursday July 15, 2010 7:51 am

Netroots Nation is next week, and if you go, you’ll see the Majority Leader of the Senate, the Speaker of the House, at least three other Senators and a half-dozen members of Congress, and a bevy of candidates running in November. You won’t see a single member of the Administration, save for the late addition of the Secretary of Transportation (and that’s on a panel, not a keynote session).

See, the White House is deeply hurt that liberal validators are slagging them around. So hurt that they blabbed to VanDeHarris about it.

Eric Alterman, in a column that drew wide notice, wrote in The Nation that most liberals think the president is a “big disappointment.” House Democrats are in near-insurrection after White House press secretary Robert Gibbs stated the obvious — that the party has a chance of losing the House under Obama’s watch. And independent voters have turned decisively against the man they helped elect 21 months ago — a trend unlikely to be reversed before November [...]

After Advocating For Cutting Servers Wages, MN GOP Gubernatorial Candidate Gets Pennies Dumped On Him

As ThinkProgress previously reported, the Republican candidate for Minnesota’s gubenatorial race, Tom Emmer, recently advocated for reducing the minimum wage of service workers in his state, ludicrously citing $100,000 compensation that few Minnesota service workers get.

Yesterday, Emmer held a town hall with servers at a Mexican restaurant in Roseville, Minnesota, to try to contain the political backlash from his earlier comments.

22 Statistics That Prove The Middle Class Is Being Systematically Wiped Out Of Existence In America

The 22 statistics that you are about to read prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the middle class is being systematically wiped out of existence in America.

The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer at a staggering rate. Once upon a time, the United States had the largest and most prosperous middle class in the history of the world, but now that is changing at a blinding pace.

David Axelrod's Talking Points

David Axelrod was on the Diane Rehm show this morning -- a great opportunity to connect with listeners who will actually stop what they are going and pay attention, at least for a short while. He was awful.

He had even the most basic facts wrong -- it's not "8 million people have lost their jobs" but rather "more than 8 million jobs have been lost" since December 2007. He rambled -- it was hard to see his point, particularly in the introduction. But most of all, there was no narrative -- why exactly did we have a recession, why has it been so bad, and why aren't the jobs coming back?

Without a narrative, how can anyone make sense of the past 18 months?