Undernews For November 15, 2008

Published: Mon 17 Nov 2008 02:59 PM
Undernews For November 15, 2008
The news while there's still time to do something about it
611 Pennsylvania Ave SE #381
Washington DC 20003
Editor: Sam Smith
15 November 2008
When we remember that we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained. - Mark Twain
Sam Smith
Looking over the seven page questionnaire that the Obama organization has for prospective appointees, several thoughts occurred:
- I couldn't get a job there. Just assembling everything I had ever written or said would take me more than four years.
- Barack Obama couldn't get a job there, thanks to some of his less than elegant past connections.
- I wouldn't want to belong to an administration staffed with people who had passed this test. What a boring, unimaginative and probably ineffective crowd.
This may surprise some readers accustomed to my criticism of public officials. But as a student of political corruption going back to my 12th year when I helped Philadelphia, by stuffing envelopes, to end 69 years of GOP rule, I have come to understand important differences in corruption. Basically it comes down to this: what does the public get in return?
Today, very little. The typical corrupt politician doesn't even tithe to the voters. Instead, like so much of successful American life, politicians - instead of being favored members of a community - have become primarily manipulators of communities - narcissistic, insatiable strivers after personal wealth and power.
Compare them with Richard Daley pere or James Michael Curley, who continued to live in their communities and in the same dwellings for much of their careers. While plenty of people got rich off of them; they would seem pathetically inefficient at the personal abuse of power compared to the pols of today.
As I wrote at the beginning of the Clinton years:
||||| Reform breeds its own hubris and so few noticed that as we destroyed the evils of machine politics we also were breaking the links between politics and the individual, politics and community, politics and social life. We were beginning to segregate politics from ourselves.
As the Chicago alderman Vito Marzullo put it, "My home is open 24 hours a day. I want people to come in. As long as I have a breathing spell, I'll go to a wake, a wedding, whatever. I never ask for anything in return. On election day, I tell my people, "Let your conscience be your guide."
In the world Marzullo politics was not something handed down to the people through such intermediaries as Larry King It was not the product of spin doctors, campaign hired guns or phony town meetings. It welled up from the bottom, starting with one loyal follower, one ambitious ballplayer, twelve unhappy pushcart peddlers. What defined politics was an unbroken chain of human experience, memory and gratitude.
Sure, it was corrupt. But we don't have much to be priggish about. The corruption of Watergate, Iran-Contra or the S fed no widows, found no jobs for the needy or, in the words of one Tammany leader, "grafted to the Republic" no newly arrived immigrants. At least Tammny's brand of corruption got down to the streets. Manipulation of the voter and corruption describe both Tammany and contemporary politics. The big difference is that in the former the voter could with greater regularity count on something in return. |||||
Key to the movements that replaced the old machines was not the elimination of corruption but its rebranding as acceptable "reform" or, in today's terms, "economic development" and "globalization." I can guarantee you that any developer will do better under DC's supposedly clean local government than under the old, corrupt Barry machine. The same would be true of corporations dealing with the Bush administration compared to the Eisenhower years. We have learned, at both the local and national level, how to legalize and sanitize corruption.
The other problem with squeaky cleanness is that it doesn't produce particularly good government. With a few exceptions - a long line of capable and honest New England politicians come to mind - the best government has often been the product of a maddening confluence of the good and the bad, the noble and the seedy. Thus, two of the biggest scoundrels of modern politics - LBJ and Adam Clayton Powell - got more good legislation passed in less time than anyone in American history and when asked to name the best mayor of Washington in my lifetime I shock people by saying Marion Barry in his first two terms - before he became a personal wreck.
When Barry began to fall apart, I wrote this:
||||| With Earl [Long] and Willie Stark (aka Huey Long) the mechanics of their politics was even more corrupt than that of our mayor; yet in some mystical way they managed to immunize the philosophy that the politics served from its corruption. Jack Burden, the journalist-turned-Stark henchman who narrates 'All the King's Men,' says at one point, "Process as process is neither morally good nor morally bad. We may judge results but not process. The morally bad agent may perform the deed which is good. The morally good agent may perform the deed which is bad. Maybe a man has to sell his soul to get the power to do good."
Thus you look at Huey Long's platform of the 1930s and wish the current national Democratic Party could do as well. But those were days when you could see and feel political virtue. A new road, a new hospital, tax relief that made a difference. Today politics has become a giant Nintendo game, exciting and convincing while you're playing, but nothing there when you turn off the set. If we drive around Washington we would be hard pressed to find places where we could point and say, "Look, at least Marion Barry did this." There are no Barry monuments, no Barry unfulfilled dreams, no Barry proverbs to mitigate his memory. Yet before we become too moralistic about it, we should remember that Barry was doing no more than playing by the current rules, which state that social programs only need be promised, wars on social ills need only be waged, and virtue only need be declared. Nothing in politics anymore need be brought to fruition. Marion Barry said he never used drugs; George Bush said he would eliminate them. And perhaps Barry learned from the Bushes of America that it really didn't matter what you said. No one would bother with the final truth. . . |||
In the eighteen years since that was written, it's only gotten worse. And that's one of the reasons I look as skeptically and carefully at the "reformers" - most recently Obama - as I do the corrupt. The potential for evil exist with both, the major difference being that with the reformer you don't get enough warning except from a few cynics like myself.
So I won't be filling out that questionnaire and I'm not too optimistic about those who do so successfully. It's like the poet William Stafford said, "When the pond is purified, the lilies die."
The Progressive - Nonviolent resistance is not only the morally superior choice. It is also twice as effective as the violent variety. That's the startling and reassuring discovery by Maria Stephan and Erica Chenoweth, who analyzed an astonishing 323 resistance campaigns from 1900 to 2006.
"Our findings show that major nonviolent campaigns have achieved success 53 percent of the time, compared with 26 percent for violent resistance campaigns," the authors note in the journal International Security:
"First, a campaign's commitment to nonviolent methods enhances its domestic and international legitimacy and encourages more broad-based participation in the resistance, which translates into increased pressure being brought to bear on the target," they state. "Second, whereas governments easily justify violent counterattacks against armed insurgents, regime violence against nonviolent movements is more likely to backfire against the regime."
In an interesting aside that has relevance for our times, the authors also write that, "Our study does not explicitly compare terrorism to nonviolent resistance, but our argument sheds light on why terrorism has been so unsuccessful."
To their credit, the authors don't gloss over nonviolent campaigns that haven't been successes. They give a clear-eyed assessment of the failure so far of the nonviolent movement in Burma, one of the three detailed case studies in the piece, along with East Timor and the Philippines.
David Sirota, Open Left - Tom Friedman has been the most aggressive and well-known spokesman for know-nothingist free trade, job outsourcing and sending blue-collar kids off to die in wars for oil. . . He's spent most of his adult life as a guy who married into a billion-dollar fortune. I say "most of his adult life" because Vanity Fair reports that he's now "only" a $25 millionaire thanks to the real estate bust brought on by the very boom-bust economy Friedman himself championed. Indeed, the company that created the family fortune he married into is on the brink of going bankrupt.
Vanity Fair - The author's wife, Ann (nee Bucksbaum), is an heir to the General Growth fortune. In the past year, the couple-who live in an 11,400-square-foot mansion in Bethesda, Maryland-have watched helplessly as General Growth stock has fallen 99 percent, from a high of $51 to a recent 35 cents a share. The assorted Bucksbaum family trusts, once worth a combined $3.6 billion, are now worth less than $25 million.
Radley Balko, Reason - Executive privilege is the idea that a president should be able to shield his staff from congressional or legal inquiries because staffers who know they could potentially be subpoenaed may not feel as free and open to give the president candid advice. This is nonsense. . . The phrase "executive privilege" doesn't actually appear anywhere in the Constitution. Rather, it has been inferred by presidents from the Constitution's provisions dividing power among the three branches of the federal government. Though variations on executive privilege were claimed in limited circumstances by several presidents before him, including Thomas Jefferson and Harry Truman, the term itself was first coined by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1954 during the Army-McCarthy hearings. Eisenhower went on to invoke the privilege dozens of times over the next six years.
The Supreme Court has been inconsistent on the matter. During Aaron Burr's trial for treason in 1807, President Jefferson argued something similar to executive privilege in attempting to prevent Burr from subpoenaing Jefferson's private letters about Burr. The Supreme Court found that the president is not exempt from the discovery process in a criminal trial, and ordered Jefferson to turn over the letters. He complied.
In the 1974 case U.S. v. Nixon, the Court upheld the general notion that presidential aides should be granted some room to speak candidly without fear of subpoena, but the Court also thoroughly rejected Nixon's claim of "absolute privilege." The ruling-that there's some privilege, but not absolute privilege-left a lot of gray area. Subsequent presidents Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush periodically invoked executive privilege, but it was the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations that really abused the idea. . .
What we see, over and over, is that the executive privilege doctrine is most often invoked to prevent congressional committees, independent counsel, and other oversight bodies from investigating possible legal and ethical breaches by members of the executive branch. It's not being used to promote candor and open dialogue among presidential advisers, but to prevent the public from learning about possible abuses of power by members of the administration, and from holding those members accountable.
If Obama were to peremptorily swear off executive privilege early on in his administration, and vow that his staff and advisers will not have his permission to invoke it at a later date, it would not only send a clear and important message to the country that he plans to keep his vow to run a transparent and accountable government, it would also send a message to everyone working in his administration that what they say and do will be on the record, and that they should behave accordingly.
Abrahm Lustgarten, Pro Publica - In July, a hydrologist dropped a plastic sampling pipe 300 feet down a water well in rural Sublette County, Wyo., and pulled up a load of brown oily water with a foul smell. Tests showed it contained benzene, a chemical believed to cause aplastic anemia and leukemia, in a concentration 1,500 times the level safe for people.
The results sent shockwaves through the energy industry and state and federal regulatory agencies.
Sublette County is the home of one of the nation's largest natural gas fields, and many of its 6,000 wells have undergone a process pioneered by Halliburton called hydraulic fracturing, which shoots vast amounts of water, sand, and chemicals several miles underground to break apart rock and release the gas. The process has been considered safe since a 2004 study by the Environmental Protection Agency found that it posed no risk to drinking water. After that study, Congress even exempted hydraulic fracturing from the Safe Drinking Water Act. Today fracturing is used in nine out of 10 natural gas wells in the United States.
Over the last few years, however, a series of contamination incidents have raised questions about that EPA study and ignited a debate over whether the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing may threaten the nation's increasingly precious drinking water supply.
An investigation by Pro Publica, which visited Sublette County and six other contamination sites, found that water contamination in drilling areas around the country is far more prevalent than the EPA asserts. Our investigation also found that the 2004 EPA study was not as conclusive as it claimed to be. A close review shows that the body of the study contains damaging information that wasn't mentioned in the conclusion. In fact, the study foreshadowed many of the problems now being reported across the country.
LA Times - The boycott effort against businesses whose owners backed Proposition 8 appears to be picking up steam. Dozens of groups have sprouted up on urging its members to boycott businesses -- restaurants, jewelry stores, car-repair shops and more. Other activists have gone onto and other business rating sites, posting messages telling users which restaurants donated to the "Yes on 8" campaign.
There has also been talk of a boycott of the Cinemark movie chain, whose CEO gave money to "Yes on 8." This could have a major effect on the Sundance Film Festival, which uses the chain's theaters to show movies.
The actions have alarmed supporters of Prop. 8, which banned gay marriage in California. . .
Dr Don McCanne, Physicians for a National Health Plan - Obama's plan emphasizes increased government regulation and oversight of private and public insurance plans, leading to an incremental expansion of the existing system. As part of this, he would introduce a new Medicare-like plan for persons under 65 to serve as an alternative to private health insurance plans.
In terms of universal coverage, Obama's plan probably will not expand coverage very much, mainly because his plan doesn't do much to bring down the cost of health care. It continues to use the defective private insurance model.
The problem is that private insurers will not accept everyone in the risk pool, lest their costs go up. Even if regulations require them to do so, they still game the system through measures such as selective marketing. So people who are at higher risk will head for the new public or semi-public plans.
These plans, which under Obama's proposal would be available through a new National Health Insurance Exchange, would be required to accept people with pre-existing conditions. But they would still involve payment of premiums, co-pays and deductibles.
Obama says they would be patterned after the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program, but that may not be all that great. The plans that are offered to federal employees vary in price and a Senator can afford a plan that has far better benefits that his staffers. The FEHBP plans are not totally stripped down, but they still have deductibles, co-pays and other out-of-pocket expenses, and restrict people to a limited list of providers. In fact, 100,000 federal workers eligible for the FEHBP plans remain uninsured primarily because they cannot afford their share of the costs. Obviously that program wouldn't work for far too many of us.
Additionally, the program Obama describes will be costly. He says individuals who can't afford the premiums offered through the health insurance exchange plans will receive subsidies. But I think these subsidies will have to be much larger than estimated and will have to be provided to a much larger number of people than he currently estimates - not only low-income, but middle-income people and even those at the lower end of the high-income group.
So Obama's stated goal of universal coverage will be foiled by the lack of availability of affordable plans that have adequate benefits. His approach is flawed because the private health plans are not going to be able to have enough benefits if they're going to have affordable premiums.
The offering of a public plan option is not as simple as it would seem. Depending on the details and amount of funding, it has the potential to be the most important feature of his plan, or it could be a disaster. But even so, it alone won't lead to anything even close to universal coverage. Obama has stated repeatedly that he knows that single payer is a superior solution for health care reform.
It's likely that the public plan will be impacted by adverse selection - i.e. that individuals who are sick, or small businesses who have workers with costly disorders such as diabetes or cancer, will tend to seek out the public plans because the private plans would likely withdraw from markets that include high-cost individuals - markets in which they would be losing money. These individuals and small businesses will end up in relatively high-risk pools. It is essential those pools be adequately funded.
To fund the public high risk pools, either the private insurance companies would have to shift some of their funds into the public program through risk adjustment, or, as the public program uses up its funds, the government would have to make a greater contribution. To compete with the private plans, the public program and private plans would have to be funded at the same levels accurately corrected for the level of risk in their pools. That's not technically feasible. Nobody has a way to do that. So insurers are always able to game the system.
Even if you could get private insurers to compete with the public program on a level playing field, that still leaves a lot of problems. You still don't get the administrative savings you would under a single-payer system. Providers would still have to deal with multiple insurers. And both the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the World Health Organization say systems that leave private plans in place are more expensive, less efficient and less equitable than a single public system. . .
The private health insurance plans of the 21st century have decided that they should cover only the healthy, putting an end to risk pools that enable a transfer from the many who are healthy to those with sickness or injury. They also realize that they should avoid competing with each other based on lower premiums, but should instead use their oligopolies to push premiums up to the maximum that the market will bear. . .
What we really need is a system that removes the financial burden from patients and more effectively pools our funds into a public program that is able to address costs more effectively by introducing greater efficiency and value into our health care system.
Such a system would guarantee comprehensive health care to everyone by replacing the private insurance industry with a tax-supported government agency or agencies that would pay all medical bills, similar to the way Medicare operates today, but even better than Medicare. People would have the freedom to choose their own doctors and hospitals.
That's a single-payer system. Such a system is embodied in H.R. 676, the "U.S. National Health Insurance Act," introduced by Rep. John Conyers. It currently has 90 co-sponsors in Congress, more than any other health reform proposal.
There are some in the political arena and health policy field who say the 2008 policy debate is over. They say single payer has lost out, and it's time to move on
Edward K. Vogel and Trafton Drew, Scientific American - Our brains are crammed with a massive amount of memories that we have formed over a lifetime of experiences. These memories range from the profound (who am I and how did I get here?) to the most trivial (the license plate of the car at a stoplight). Furthermore, our memories also vary considerably in their precision. . .
In the past several decades, cognitive psychologists have determined that there are two primary memory systems in the human mind: a short-term, or "working," memory that temporarily holds information about just a few things that we are currently thinking about; and a long-lasting memory that can hold massive amounts of information gained through a lifetime of thoughts and experiences. . .
A recently published study by Timothy F. Brady, a cognitive neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and colleagues suggests that these long-term memories may not be nearly as fuzzy as once thought, however. In their work, the researchers asked subjects to try to remember 3,000 pictures of common objects-including items such as backpacks, remote controls and toasters-that were presented one at a time for just a few seconds each. At the end of this viewing phase, the researchers tested subjects' memory for each object by showing them two objects and asking which one they had seen before. Not surprisingly, subjects were exceptionally good (more than 90 percent correct) even though there were thousands of objects to remember. This high success rate attests to the massive storage ability of long-term memory. What was most surprising, however, was the amazing level of detail that the subjects had for all of these memories. The subjects were just as good at telling the difference between two pictures of the same object even when the objects differed in an extremely subtle manner, such as a pair of toasters with slightly different slices of bread.
Of course, this finding raises the obvious question: if our memories aren't all that fuzzy, then why do we often forget the details of things we want to remember? One explanation is that, although the brain contains detailed representations of lots of different events and objects, we can't always find that information when we want it. As this study reveals, if we're shown an object, we can often be very accurate and precise at being able to say whether we've seen it before. If we're in a toy store and trying to remember what it was that our son wanted for his birthday, however, we need to be able to voluntarily search our memory for the right answer-without being prompted by a visual reminder.
Michelle Rhee
One of the worst ideas floating around Washington is to give some high federal position to Michelle Rhee, DC school chancellor. Rhee, who has accomplished little of substance, is the media protected product of an area business community that would like to undermine public education as much as possible. Hence DC has an exceptional number of effectively unmonitored charter schools and Rhee is going after teacher tenure - not to mention teachers themselves - like a Blackwater mercenary dealing with Iraqis.
Rhee's master plan includes bribing teachers to give up tenure with a promise of raises of as much as $40,000. Sounds good until you realize the money is coming from unsecured grants from private foundations and Rhee could be gone in a short while, either through misguided promotion to the federal level or being dumped. In any case there's no tenure in the alternative to tenure.
You can find much more of this sorry story on our local site and searching for Rhee.
Jamie Gorelick
Investors Business Daily - Gorelick earned an estimated $26 million serving as vice chair of Fannie Mae from 1998 to 2003. In 1998, according to the Washington Post , Gorelick received a bonus of $779,625, despite a scandal in which employees falsified signatures on accounting transactions to manipulate books to meet 1998 earning targets.
In 2003, she got a "Friends of Angelo" sweetheart mortgage deal from Countrywide Financial for almost $1 million. Her $960,000 mortgage refinancing in 2003 was handled through a program reserved for influential figures and friends of Countrywide's chief executive at the time, Angelo Mozilo.
Countrywide's loans on preferential terms to influential figures are the subject of a federal grand jury investigation in Los Angeles, according to people involved in the inquiry. So Gorelick is in fact under investigation by the department she might soon be running.
On March 25, 2002, Business Week quoted Gorelick as saying: "We believe we are managed safely. Fannie Mae is among the handful of top-quality institutions." One year later, government regulators accused Fannie Mae of improper accounting to the tune of $9 billion in unrecorded losses. This keen financial oversight set the stage for the financial meltdown to follow.
Paul Street, Z Mag - A considerable segment of the U.S. foreign policy establishment thinks that Obama's race, name (technically Islamic), experience living (Muslim Indonesia, as a child) in and visiting (chiefly his father's homeland Kenya) poor nations and his nominally anti-Iraq War history will help them repackage the U.S. imperial project (replete with more than 730 military bases located in nearly every nation on Earth) in softer and more politically correct cover. John Kerry, who ran for the presidency four years earlier largely on the claim that he would be a more effective manager of empire (and the Iraq War) than George W. Bush, was certainly thinking of these critical imperial "soft power" assets when he praised Obama as someone who could "reinvent America's image abroad". . . .
Obama's distinctive biography is one of his great attractions to the mostly white U.S. foreign policy elite in a majority non-white world that has been deeply provoked and disgusted by U.S. behavior in the post-9/11 era (and truthfully before). He is a perfect symbol of deceptive imperial "re-branding." According to the unconsciously power-worshipping and imperialist New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof two weeks ago, the election of a black president "could change global perceptions of the United States, redefining the American 'brand' to be less about Guantanamo and more about equality". Never mind that the U.S. remains the most unequal and wealth-top-heavy country in the industrialized world by far, strongly dedicated to maintaining steep socioeconomic and disparity within and between nations and scarred by a domestic racial wealth gap of seven black cents on the white dollar.
Call it "the identity politics of foreign policy." The Empire wants new clothes and Obama is just the man to wear them.
Jon Hurdle, NY Times - Philadelphia, Phoenix and Atlanta will seek at least $50 billion in emergency financing from the federal Treasury to help with infrastructure renewal, pension costs and short-term borrowing, which have all been curtailed by the credit crisis. The cities are calling on Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. to release the money from the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program authorized by Congress to bail out banks and financial institutions. About a half-dozen other cities, including Chicago, are reviewing the plan and may sign on, said a spokesman for Mayor Michael Nutter of Philadelphia, who is leading the initiative. . . In the past three weeks, Philadelphia, New York and other cities have announced cuts to services as revenues hit by the economic slowdown create budget deficits. Philadelphia will lay off about 220 city employees, and shut libraries and swimming pools to close a $108 million gap in its current $4 billion budget.
Pro Publica - Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-OH) said the HOPE housing program had attracted far fewer applicants than expected. In its first two weeks of existence, the Federal Housing Authority's HOPE for Homeowners program, meant to help as many as 400,000 homeowners avoid foreclosure, has fielded a grand total of 42 applications. The program set aside $3.9 billion to help people in "neighborhoods hardest hit by foreclosures" renegotiate their loans, but as Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-OH) noted in yesterday's congressional hearings on the financial crisis, the effort appears to have fallen flat and now expects to receive only a fraction of the applications it was designed to manage.
Naomi Klein, Alternet - Despite potential lawlessness, the Democrats are either openly defending the administration or refusing to intervene. "There is only one president at a time," we hear from Barack Obama. That's true. But every sweetheart deal the lame-duck Bush administration makes threatens to hobble Obama's ability to make good on his promise of change. To cite just one example, that $140 billion in missing tax revenue is almost the same sum as Obama's renewable energy program. . .
I suspect that the real reason the Democrats are so far failing to act has less to do with presidential protocol than with fear: fear that the stock market, which has the temperament of an overindulged 2-year-old, will throw one of its world-shaking tantrums. Disclosing the truth about who is receiving federal loans, we are told, could cause the cranky market to bet against those banks. Question the legality of equity deals and the same thing will happen. Challenge the $140 billion tax giveaway and mergers could fall through. "None of us wants to be blamed for ruining these mergers and creating a new Great Depression," explained one unnamed congressional aide.
More than that, the Democrats, including Obama, appear to believe that the need to soothe the market should govern all key economic decisions in the transition period. Which is why, just days after a euphoric victory for "change," the mantra abruptly shifted to "smooth transition" and "continuity."
Washington Post - Retail sales plunged by the largest amount on record in October as the financial crisis and the slumping economy caused consumers to sharply cut back on their spending. . . The decline in sales was led by a huge drop in auto purchases, but sales of all types of products from furniture to clothing fell as consumers retrenched. The 2.8 percent drop marked the fourth consecutive monthly decline in retail sales and was much bigger than the 2 percent fall economists expected.
Portland Press Herald, ME - The market for recycled waste has collapsed during the past few weeks, slashing the revenue that helps cover municipal trash budgets and forcing regional waste handlers to stockpile old newspapers and other castaways. "It started with newsprint, then it went to cardboard, then it went to steel cans, then it went to plastics," said Kevin Roche, general manager of Ecomaine, a waste disposal and recycling cooperative owned by 21 Greater Portland communities. The market got so bad for old newsprint, in fact, that Ecomaine couldn't give it away. It has filled a warehouse and part of a parking lot with bales that used to be worth $162 a ton, Roche said. Ecomaine started sending the paper off for recycling again this week, but it now has to pay to get rid of it.
Phil Mattera, Dirt Diggers Digest For his next trick, the Great Paulson is applying that same technique to the consumer finance sector. Using language similar to his scare talk in September about the housing and business finance sectors, Paulson yesterday warned that consumer finance "is currently in distress, costs of funding have skyrocketed and new issue activity has come to a halt. Today, the illiquidity in this sector is raising the cost and reducing the availability of car loans, student loans and credit cards."
No doubt that is all true, but Paulson's apparent plan to address the crisis is more of the same. Rather than helping consumers directly, he intends to provide capital infusions to the corporations that are supposed to provide those loans. In other words, he is applying the same dubious logic as with the bank investments: Prop up the balance sheets of the lenders and the loans will start flowing again.
Keep in mind that the consumer finance industry followed the same path as home lending in recent years. Shaky and often predatory loans were pushed on struggling borrowers and then repackaged as asset-backed securities that are now in precarious condition. Paulson's infusions will go to the same companies that perpetuated that abusive system. . .
What Paulson can't seem to understand is that lenders of all kinds are spooked by the weakness of the economy. Credit is based on the faith that the borrower can repay the loan, and for now almost no one looks trustworthy. Until significant steps are taken to boost employment and household income, all the federal investments in the financial sector serve as nothing more than corporate handouts. Maybe that's Paulson's real sleight of hand.
Barney Frank is writing a bill that would give the auto industry $25 billion in loans but would include an equity position for the federal government, something missing from the other proposals. He might want to add a provision that the auto industry must provide the EPA with a complete list and details of every patent it has bought over the decades and not used. Buried in these may be some amazing ideas for running more efficient cars that the big three didn't want out in public.
Amit R. Paley, Washington Post - No formal action has been taken to fill the independent oversight posts established by Congress when it approved the bailout to prevent corruption and government waste. Nor has the first monitoring report required by lawmakers been completed, though the initial deadline has passed.
"It's a mess," said Eric M. Thorson, the Treasury Department's inspector general, who has been working to oversee the bailout program until the newly created position of special inspector general is filled. "I don't think anyone understands right now how we're going to do proper oversight of this thing."
In approving the rescue package, lawmakers trumpeted provisions in the legislation that established layers of independent scrutiny, including a special inspector general to be nominated by the White House and a congressional oversight panel to be named by lawmakers themselves. .
CNN - Another 84,868 homes were lost to foreclosure in October. . a total of 936,439 homes have been lost to foreclosure since the housing crisis hit in August, 2007. Foreclosures hit a record high in August when 304,000 homes were in default and 91,000 families lost their houses. Since then, a number of states have adopted legislation to freeze foreclosures and give homeowners a chance to modify their mortgages. These laws have helped slowed the rate of foreclosures.
"The really sobering reality for us is that despite these various state programs that are artificially keeping the numbers down, we are still up 25% from a year ago," said Rick Sharga, senior vice president of RealtyTrac.
Robert Reich - Why, exactly, is the Treasury substituting government bailouts for chapter 11? Even if you assume Wall Street's major banks and insurance giant AIG are so important to the national and global economy that they can't be allowed to fail, that doesn't mean they have to be bailed out. They could be reorganized under bankruptcy protection. True, their creditors, shareholders, and executives would take bigger hits than they're taking now that taxpayers are bailing them out. But they're the ones who took the risk. We didn't.
The Treasury seems to have lost sight of its real client. It's client is not the creditors, shareholders, or executives of any of these firms. Its sole client is the American people.
It would be different if Main Street was getting something out of all this. But credit still isn't flowing to small businesses or distressed homeowners, and unemployment is skyrocketing.
There's more at stake for Main Street when it comes to General Motors and other automakers now teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, because two and a half million households depend directly or indirectly on them for their paychecks. But the best way to protect all these people is not to pay off the automakers' creditors, shareholders, and executives, with no strings attached. Recall that when the government bailed out Chrysler in the early 1980s, a third of its employees lost their jobs.
In exchange for government aid, the Big Three's creditors, shareholders, and executives should be required to accept losses as large as they'd endure under chapter 11, and the UAW should agree to some across-the-board wage and benefit cuts. The resulting savings, combined with the bailout, should be enough to allow the Big Three to shift production to more fuel efficient cars while keeping almost all its current workforce employed. Ideally, major parts suppliers would adhere to the same conditions. . .
It's not the big guys who need rescuing. It's the small. Right now, the government has its priorities upside down.
Ashley Powers, Los Angeles Times, Wells, NV - The women at Donna's Ranch are crowded around the kitchen table on a warm summer night, dining on stir fry, tugging at thigh-high dresses, griping about depleted bank accounts. At this northeastern Nevada bordello, which marks a gravel road's end, they woo grizzled truckers and weary travelers for a single reason: money.
Amy, 58, once bought a $32,000 Toyota Tacoma in cash; now her $1,200 mortgage saps her dwindling pay. Some weeks, she could make more flipping burgers than flirting under a made-up name. Marisol's daughters think she works at a resort; she struggles to keep up the ruse. It now takes months, not weeks, to bring $5,000 back to Southern California. "Marisol," one of her regulars tells her, "it costs me in gas what it takes for me to spend a half-hour with you."
Signs of the economic free fall have cropped up in many of Nevada's 25 or so legal brothels. The Mustang Ranch, for example, has a steady stream of customers, but the number of women vying for work has soared. Even a 74-year-old applied. This summer, the Shady Lady gave $50 gas cards to those who spent $300. The Moonlite Bunny Ranch offered extras to customers paying with their economic stimulus checks.
At least we'll look better - CROX late Wednesday reported a third-quarter loss of $148 million, or $1.79 a share, battered by inventory write downs on its colorful sandals and restructuring charges to rejuvenate its once high-flying business. Sales fell 32% to $174 million. In the year-earlier period, Crocs earned $57 million, or 66 cents a share. Crocs warned more losses are coming as it downsizes. It expects to lose between 50 cents and 65 cents in the fourth quarter on sale of up to $120 million. Shares of Crocs closed ahead of the report at $1.90. - Market Watch
Boston Globe - A bruised and battered economy is threatening the livelihood of local lobstermen. . . The men and women who trap the shellfish for a living say the price drop is catastrophic for their business. "We are hoping that the processors come back and start buying product again, which is really the reason the price is so low," Massachusetts Lobstermen's Association President Bernie Feeney said. "It's adding up, and this is the time of year we make money to make up for the spring work. We came down and worked on gear all day, and we didn't make anything.". . . "Go right on down to your local harbor and knock on the back of a boat and say, 'I'd like to buy some lobsters.' This is the time to buy them. A 1 pound lobster off the back of a vessel is cheaper than an ice cream cone," Feeney said.
Forbes - According to Credit Sights, a research firm in New York and London, the U.S. government has put itself on the hook for some $5 trillion, so far, in an attempt to arrest a collapse of the financial system. The estimate includes many of the various solutions cooked up by Paulson and his counterparts Ben Bernanke at the Federal Reserve and Sheila Bair at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., as the credit crisis continues to plague banks and the broader markets.
The Fed has taken on much of that total, including lending a cumulative $1 trillion in overnight or short-term loans since March to primary dealers through its emergency discount window and making a cumulative $1.8 trillion available through its term auction facility, a series of short-term transactions it began making available twice a month in January. It should be noted that a portion of the funds lent in these programs has been repaid and that the totals represent what has been made available.
The Review, along with a number of other media - including MSNBC - ran a misleading story that claimed a GOP advisor named Martin Eisenstadt had peepped Sarah Palin. According to Fox News:
"David Shuster, an anchor for the cable news network, said on air that, a McCain policy adviser, had come forth and identified himself as the source of a Fox News Channel story saying Palin had mistakenly believed Africa was a country instead of a continent. Eisenstadt identifies himself on a blog as a senior fellow at the Harding Institute for Freedom and Democracy. Yet neither he nor the institute exist; each is part of a hoax dreamed up by a filmmaker named Eitan Gorlin and his partner, Dan Mirvish, the New York Times reported."
"The hoax was limited to the identity of the source in the story about Palin -- not the Fox News story itself. While Palin has denied that she mistook Africa for a country, the veracity of that report was not put in question by the revelation that Eisenstadt is a phony."
"Eisenstadt's 'work' had been quoted and debunked before. The Huffington Post said it had cited Eisenstadt in July on a story regarding the Hilton family and McCain. Among the other victims were political blogs for the Los Angeles Times and The New Republic, each of which referenced false material from Eisenstadt's blog. And in July, Jonathan Stein of Mother Jones magazine blogged an item about Eisenstadt speaking on Iraqi television about a casino in Baghdad's 'Green Zone.'
Valley News, NH- Grafton County Treasurer Carol Elliott attributed her defeat on Election Day to "brainwashed" college students who voted for the Democratic ticket and asserted that most "real people" backed her candidacy. The 66-year-old Plymouth Republican also said she would not seek a recount but referred to the 20-year-old Dartmouth College student who defeated her by about 500 votes as a "teenybopper."
Politico - Intense backlash from women's groups may have pushed former Clinton Treasury Secretary Larry Summers off the short-list to lead Treasury for President-elect Barack Obama, according to widespread reports circulating in Democratic circles. The women's opposition to a possible Summers' appointment was the explanation some Democratic sources are hearing for why the Obama transition team has crossed Summers off their list. The Obama team doesn't want to kick off its administration with a controversy nor go head-to-head with an important constituency when there are other qualified candidates, political operatives speculate. . . The Summers backlash rises out of a controversial 2005 comment he made as president of Harvard University that innate differences between men and women might be one reason fewer women succeed in science and math careers. Coming on top of other tensions with faculty, the incident led to his ouster as president.
Paul Street, Z Mag - Ryan Lizza noted in The New Yorker last July, "Perhaps the greatest misconception about Barack Obama is that he is some sort of anti-establishment revolutionary. Rather, every stage of his political career has been marked by an eagerness to accommodate himself to existing institutions rather than tear them down or replace them" Obama's business-friendly centrism has helped him garner an astonishing, record-setting stash of corporate cash. He has received more than $33 million from the finance-real-estate and insurance sector. His winnings include $824,202 from the leading global investment firm Goldman Sachs. He has been consistently backed by the biggest and most powerful Wall Street firms. At the same time and by more than mere coincidence, Obama has enjoyed a remarkable windfall of favorable corporate media coverage. That media treatment is the key to Obama's success in winning support and donations from the middle-class and from non-affluent people . . .
Mark Krikorian, who runs an anti-immigrant organization, has some interesting thoughts on Rahm Emanuel : "As Yuval Levin recently wrote at The Corner, Emanuel is "a vicious graceless partisan: narrow, hectic, unremittingly aggressive, vulgar, and impatient." But it is precisely this partisanship, combined with an awareness of the visceral public sentiment on immigration, that has led him to counsel caution for his party on the issue. To the chagrin of hard-left activists, Emanuel has said of immigration that "For the American people, and therefore all of us, it's emerged as the third rail of American politics. And anyone who doesn't realize that isn't with the American people." Last year Emanuel told a Hispanic activist that "there is no way this legislation ["comprehensive immigration reform"] is happening in the Democratic House, in the Democratic Senate, in the Democratic presidency, in the first term." One lefty activist has described Emanuel's cautions as "disgusting and immoral," while another called his stance "cowardly or xenophobic," and a third described him as a "war-mongering anti-immigrant NAFTA-pusher."
Bloomberg President-elect Barack Obama is barring lobbyists from participating in the transition that will help install his administration. He will still leave room on his team for the rich and powerful. Top fundraisers and other well-connected supporters will serve in an advisory capacity before the Democrat takes office on Jan. 20. Five of the 12 members of Obama's transition advisory board raised at least $50,000 for his presidential campaign, and eight contributed the maximum individual donation of $4,600. Other transition team members include a partner in a lobbying firm and two executives of financial companies whose employees were among his biggest donors. "If an Obama administration is going to sell influence, these are the ones who have bought it,'' said Craig Holman of Public Citizen, a Washington-based advocacy group that favors stronger campaign-finance and lobbying laws.
Firedog Lake - "There was a high percentage of minority vote," [Saxby] Chambliss told Alan Colmes, "but we weren't able to get enough of our folks out on election day.". . . During the fall Senate campaign, Chambliss cautioned his followers that "the other folks" are voting. The senator added that the "rush to the polls by African-Americans" has "got our side energized early, they see what is happening."
Ballot Access News From preliminary election returns, it appears that these are the best counties for five particular presidential candidates: Nader: Morgan County, Tennessee 5.2% Barr: Esmeralda County, Nevada, 2.7% Baldwin: Millard County, Utah, 5.6% McKinney: either St. Bernard or LaFourche Parish, both in Louisiana, each 1.1% Brian Moore: Essex County, Vermont, 2.1%. . . For the major parties, McCain's best county is King County, Texas, at 93.2%; Obama's best jurisdiction is Washington, D.C., which gave him a higher percentage than any county in any state, 92.9%. Aside from D.C., Obama's best county is Prince Georges County, Maryland, 89.1%.
A study finds that if no one over 65 had voted, Prop 8 would have failed by a point or two.
Personal to Virginia voters - The archaic media won't tell you this, but Terry McAuliffe may not be the sort of guy you want running your state. To find out more, check out our page on the topic.
What the New York Times might look like if we had a Green Party president . . . or Ralph Nader
Charlie Savage, NY Times - When a Congressional committee subpoenaed Harry S. Truman in 1953, nearly a year after he left office, he made a startling claim: Even though he was no longer president, the Constitution still empowered him to block subpoenas. "If the doctrine of separation of powers and the independence of the presidency is to have any validity at all, it must be equally applicable to a president after his term of office has expired," Truman wrote to the committee. Congress backed down, establishing a precedent suggesting that former presidents wield lingering powers to keep matters from their administration secret. Now, as Congressional Democrats prepare to move forward with investigations of the Bush administration, they wonder whether that claim may be invoked again.
NY Times - The city may never sleep, but some of its buildings do. . . Motion sensors ensure that unoccupied offices, storerooms and canteens go dark after workers and cleaning crews leave at night. Dimmers soften overhead lights that once could burn only bright or not at all. Timers guarantee that buildings fade to black while the city sleeps. Gone are the days when cheap electricity, primitive lighting technology and landlords' desire to showcase their skyscrapers kept floor after floor of the city's highest towers glowing into the night. Now, rising energy costs, conservationism, stricter building codes and sophisticated lighting systems have conspired to slowly, often imperceptibly, transform Manhattan's venerable nightscape into one with a gentler glow. Instead of tower after tower shining at all hours - the World Trade Center stayed aglow long after its occupants went home - the skyline is becoming a patchwork of sparsely sparkling buildings decorated with ornamentally lighted tops.
Tree Hugger - For a year and a half, HP and UPS have been working together to develop a scanner/printer that prints sorting labels directly on packages. . . According to UPS's estimates, it will save about 92,456 hours year through increased productivity, save about 1,338 tons of paper, and reduce carbon emissions by 3,807 tons each year. The HP Handheld sp400 All-in-One was tested in Orlando Florida, where it was used on 40,000 packages per day with zero errors. The device scans the label, and prints sorting information directly on the package with fast-drying ink designed by HP. It replaces the previous system that included a large thermal printer, PC, monitor and scanner, which hopefully means a lot less electricity and e-waste in addition to all the other savings.
Tree Hugger - Don't adjust your monitors: Natural light has become 10 to 25 percent dimmer in cities such as Beijing, Karachi, Shanghai and New Delhi as 3-km thick "brown clouds" of pollution spread across Asia and elsewhere, according to a new UN report. The smog cloud stretches from the Arabian Peninsula to the Yellow Sea. During the spring, it sweeps across Asia past North and South Korea and Japan, and sometimes drifts as far east as California and Oregon. According to the report, India as a whole had become darker by about two percent per decade between 1960 and 2000, while China had lost its natural light by about three percent to four percent per decade from the 1950s to the 1990s.
Food and Water Watch - American consumers drink more bottled water every year, in part because they think it is somehow safer or better than tap water. Rather than buying into this myth of purity in a bottle, consumers should drink from the tap. Bottled water generally is no cleaner, or safer, or healthier than tap water. In fact, the federal government requires far more rigorous and frequent safety testing and monitoring of municipal drinking water. In some cases, beverage companies use misleading labels, including marketing bottled tap water as spring water. In fact, as much as 40 percent of bottled water is bottled tap water. Furthermore, the production of bottled water causes many equity, public health, and environmental problems. The big beverage companies often take water from municipal or underground sources that local people depend on for drinking water. Producing the plastic bottles uses energy and emits toxic chemicals. Transporting the bottled water across hundreds or thousands of miles spews carbon dioxide into the air, complicating our efforts to combat global climate change. And in the end, empty bottles are piling up in landfills.
Tree Hugger - Earth Friendly Product's 'New Wave High-Performance Auto Dishwasher Gel' held its own against Cascade in an independent study showing that these phosphate-free cleaners can perform just as well as conventional cleaners. . . Both solutions performed equally well when it came to removing dirt and grime from dishes. Then dishes were inspected for spotting and filming and both received high scores.
Angus Crawford, Common Dreams - On 3 December, more than 100 countries, including the UK, will sign a treaty banning cluster bombs. . . Cluster bombs have been used in countries including Cambodia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Lebanon, and were used in the conflict in Lebanon in 2006. Those who ratify the convention in December will then have eight years to get rid of their stockpiles of the weapons. . . But the world's biggest users - Israel and the USA - will not sign this treaty. Nor, it's thought, will China, Russia, India and Pakistan.
BBC - The US Supreme Court has removed restrictions on the navy's use of sonar in training exercises near California. The ruling is a defeat for environmental groups who say the sonar can kill whales and other mammals. . In its 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court said the navy needed to conduct realistic training exercises to respond to potential threats. The court did not deal with the merits of the claims put forward by the environmental groups. It said, rather, that federal courts abused their discretion by ordering the navy to limit sonar use in some cases and to turn it off altogether in others.
Osama bin Laden is alive and "putting a lot of energy into his own security," the director of the CIA, General Michael Hayden, said today. laden hayden Osama bin Laden is alive and hiding in Pakistan, said CIA chief Michael Hayden today, though the terrorism leader has little oversight of the al Qaeda daily operations. He also claimed, without providing details, that the US intelligence community had disrupted an attack "that would have rivaled the destruction of 9/11." A senior intelligence official said Hayden was referring to the 2006 liquid bomb on airliners plot that was foiled in London.
BBC - The European Commission has scrapped controversial rules that prevent oddly-sized or misshapen fruit and vegetables being sold in Europe. The EU's agriculture commissioner called it "a new dawn for the curvy cucumber and the knobbly carrot". Marketing standards for 26 types of produce were scrapped, in a drive to cut bureaucracy. . . Some 20% of produce is rejected by shops across the EU because it fails to meet the current requirements. The 26 types are: apricots, artichokes, asparagus, aubergines, avocadoes, beans, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflowers, cherries, courgettes, cucumbers, cultivated mushrooms, garlic, hazelnuts in shell, headed cabbage, leeks, melons, onions, peas, plums, ribbed celery, spinach, walnuts in shell, water melons and witloof/chicory.
The rules will remain unchanged for another 10 types of produce, which account for 75% of EU fruit and vegetable trade: apples, citrus fruit, kiwi fruit, lettuces, peaches and nectarines, pears, strawberries, sweet peppers, table grapes and tomatoes.
Michael Grabell, Pro Publica - Since 9/11, more than three dozen federal air marshals have been charged with crimes, and hundreds more have been accused of misconduct, an investigation by Pro Publica has found. Cases range from drunken driving and domestic violence to aiding a human-trafficking ring and trying to smuggle explosives from Afghanistan. . . An examination of police reports, court records, government reports, memos and e-mails shows that 18 air marshals have been charged with felonies, including at least three who were hired despite prior criminal records or being fired from law enforcement jobs. A fourth air marshal was hired while under FBI investigation. Another stayed on the job despite alarming a flight attendant with his behavior. . . Before 9/11, the Air Marshal Service was a nearly forgotten force of 33 agents with a $4.4 million annual budget. Now housed in the Transportation Security Administration, the agency has a $786 million budget and an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 air marshals, although the official number is classified. Only a fraction of them have been charged with crimes, and some degree of misconduct occurs at all law enforcement agencies. But for air marshals, the stakes are uniquely high. Their beat is a confined cabin with hundreds of passengers in firing range. There are no calls for backup at 30,000 feet, putting a premium on sound judgment and swift action. Since 9/11, air marshals have taken bribes, committed bank fraud, hired an escort while on layover and doctored hotel receipts to pad expenses, records show
Mark Schoofs, Wall Street Journal - The startling case of an AIDS patient who underwent a bone marrow transplant to treat leukemia is stirring new hope that gene-therapy strategies on the far edges of AIDS research might someday cure the disease. The patient, a 42-year-old American living in Berlin, is still recovering from his leukemia therapy, but he appears to have won his battle with AIDS. Doctors have not been able to detect the virus in his blood for more than 600 days, despite his having ceased all conventional AIDS medication. Normally when a patient stops taking AIDS drugs, the virus stampedes through the body within weeks, or days. . . . The breakthrough appears to be that Dr. Hutter, a soft-spoken hematologist who isn't an AIDS specialist, deliberately replaced the patient's bone marrow cells with those from a donor who has a naturally occurring genetic mutation that renders his cells immune to almost all strains of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. . . . While cautioning that the Berlin case could be a fluke, David Baltimore, who won a Nobel prize for his research on tumor viruses, deemed it "a very good sign" and a virtual "proof of principle" for gene-therapy approaches.
The other day we cited a number of cases of top officials talking about the likelihood of another major guerilla attack, perhaps along the line of 9/11. Jeff Stein has a counter-story
Jeff Stein, CQ - Considerable anxiety has been expressed about the possibility of al Qaeda taking advantage of the handoff of security agencies from the Bush administration to the incoming Obama team. But according to CIA Director Michael V. Hayden, all's very quiet on the Western front. For the moment.
Hayden, who headed the eavesdropping National Security Agency before taking the CIA job, said Thursday there had been "no increased chatter" about plots picked up by U.S. intelligence, according to my CQ colleague Tim Starks, who covered Hayden's appearance at The Atlantic Council of the United States, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington. "We do not see any real or artificial spike" in that chatter as a result of the election, Hayden said in answer to a question after his speech. On the other hand, Hayden said, "We don't know what we don't know."
Overheard in DC - Saturday by the Reflecting Pool: Six-year-old boy: "Daddy, I want to run in the water and catch a goose!" Dad: "You do that and you'll never get security clearance." The little boy's face falls and he turns away from the pool.- DCist
NOTE: You can post your comments on any of the above stories by going to our Undernews site and searching for the headline. Once posted, a copy is immediately mailed to the Review and we pick some of the most interesting to publish here.
If you are serious about educating your child, send him to private school, or home school him. My SO works in a public school, well regarded as public schools go around here (NH). I hear the drumbeat of outrage every evening. Believe it: NCLB may be bad, but the foundations of our public education system are rotted and corrupt. Removing NCLB will remove the only visible relic of accountability left in the system. I do not endorse NCLB, but I testify that contemporary US public education is a war crime without the war. -- wam
Claire McCaskill knows well of which she speaks--she's been 'channeling' Jim Talent more or less since defeating him two years ago. True enough, many who've supported Talent in the past are pleasantly surprised by their Senator McCaskill. For those of us who voted for her in 2006 in an effort to provide the Democrats with the mandate to challenge the excesses of recent years, her election has been a grave disappointment.
As for President-elect Obama, the writing has been on the wall for at least the last five years. One can only hope that he, too, is capable of change and will find it in himself to rise up to fulfill the image of leadership he inspired in the imaginations of those who actually voted for him.
Instead of killing themselves in such an agonizing way, maybe the farmers of India should take some moneylenders and GM profiteers with them. - Per Fagereng, Portland, Oregon
I woke up thinking about something that President Obama and an invigorated Democratic Congress should do: pass a law requiring the Census Bureau to count all incarcerated persons to their last address prior to their imprisonment. (Same with anyone in the military who hasn't changed his or her voting registration to the state where they reside --- they should be counted for census and apportionment purposes as living in the state where they entered the service and where they are registered to vote.)
This way the communities that were victimized by their crimes don't suffer another loss as all the prisons built in the recent prison building boom in deep red rural areas lead to a vicious cycle of "tuff on crime" measures that have the primary effect of targeting urban areas, which then suffer population and representation losses to the same rural areas, and so on.
How may fat cats, and, yes, people are now running around DC trying to protect their jobs and fat pay checks!? I'd imagine it's going to be squealing time in the hog pen. He did it! She did it. And the all time favorite, I was doing only what I was told to do! Seems a few million Nazi's used this one at one time. Let's face it, anyone who gets the big chair has made friends with people in higher places with most of the marbles. You can't do anything in politics without doing so. How about just letting us out here breathe a little easier, before you start finding fault with the newly elected. It's nice to find some hope in our days now. People run on hope. People need hope. Oh Sam, if you happen to run across Scotty, tell him I'm ready to beam up. - m
I am sixty years old and this is the first time in my lifetime that the Democrats, at the national level, have had a strong working majority and a clear mandate for change. Even during the LBJ era and before and after, when the Democrats had a numerical majority, that included conservative 'Dixiecrats' who eventually became Republicans during the Reagan era. For once the Democrats can advance needed reforms and have no excuse for being bought off by lobbyists, militarists, or corporatists. It may be possible to back off our imperialistic wars being waged in the name of fighting terrorism, since terrorism like crime is truly unending if nothing is done about its root causes. Maybe more diplomacy and listening to some criticism from other countries will reap some rewards and restore some trust. Maybe backing off militarism and its huge budget would free enough money to repair our domestic institutions and infrastructure, and stimulate the economy from the ground up, by encouraging the growth of small business and job creation. Maybe it will be possible to control Wall Street and K Street and return to some real principles of democracy and representative government. That's a lot of maybes to be sure, but as one who has been very cynical for a long time, I have to say there's a glimmer of hope here that might be something real.-- Polar Bear
The O-man ain't perfect but he's got to be better than we got now. Take care and keep up the good work. - Pete Lannon
Congratulations on the outstanding piece on Obama. For the past 48 hours I've been desperately trolling the internet dessert for some small oasis of sanity amidst the pep rallies, self empowerment sessions, revival meetings and found almost nothing-nothing in the Nation, nothing on Democracy Now, nothing on Air America, nothing in the Progressive, etc.
One small extension: you hit the nail on the head when you say that Obama is not an agent of the movements for basic justice and decency but rather its beneficiary. But in recognizing that comes another point having to do with the movements themselves-such as they are.
Namely, they have bought into a trickle down view of civil rights whereby effectiveness of the movement is evaluated not by looking at the objective conditions of those at the bottom, i.e. one million blacks in prison, stagnating real incomes, life expectancy for males in Harlem comparable to Bengladesh etc. but rather by the system providing access and opportunity to those at the top-Obama himself being now the paradigmatic case.
These matters have been covered in depth in "The Trouble with Diversity" an excellent and almost totally ignored book by Walter Benn Michaels. Alas, it will probably take several years of kool-aid drinking before sheep like leftists begin to recognize this as the fact of the matter. - John
Some of these comments are scary to say the least. We are truly living 1984. It seems no one is bothering to listen to the real facts when someone presents them and are instead mesmerized by the pretty pictures on their telescreens. Those who have pointed out his not very liberal ways are accused of being a McCain supporter or even worse, a racist.
Even when confronted with what Obama has actually voted for or espoused during the campaign, which much of it is very right wing, they still chant, "change we can believe in."
What if Obama's name wasn't mentioned at the beginning of that list and McCain's name was inserted instead? What on earth do you think these so called "progressives" for change would have to say then? I rest my case.
It would indeed be interesting to put that list up in front of 'progressives' without Obama's name or that this is Democratic policy being mentioned. I wonder how many would support that agenda. People always say that McCain would be better than Obama. The ones who say that never give reasons why. They just chant it like a mantra. They just say it over and over and thus it must be true.
But, when you see a list like the one the excellent Mr. Smith has compiled here, one wonders just how much better than McCain Obama really is. Of course, I regularly get booted off of progressive web sites for daring to point that out. - Samson
This is about the best thing I have read on Obama. For those interested in my far more modest offerings.
Anyone here have ideas on what to do now to further the progressive movement, or are we just going to complain about Obama not being progressive enough? - Dave
I used kinesiology to test this for truth. Sorry, but it failed! Shame on you. What's your agenda?
Sam sounds like a crabby old 60's counterculture radical who is one step away from complaining about "these young people and their god-damned loud music " and two steps away from waving his cane at them and shouting "get off my lawn, you punk kids"
Hey, I don't hold it against him. This is (I'm guessing) a guy who came of age at a time when all his heroes - JFK, MLK, Bobby Kennedy, were shot down, and who has lived through Nixon, Reagan, Bush the first, and the disastrous Bush II.
People who follow the news with a skeptical eye already discovered everything in this article. Like Sam, we've have kept our mouth shut.
For myself I have no illusions about Obama being able to move the country very far in the direction it needs (single-payer health care, dismantling our overseas empire). In fact I am pretty sure that he wouldn't do it even if he had was given a magic wand to pass legislation doing those things. But he has done something I haven't seen before - he's run a campaign that built a genuine grass-roots movement of people who learned the ABCs of organizing and taking hold of power, including a lot of young people and a lot of hard-pressed people who really don't have time for that kind of thing, but know how important it is. If Obama-Biden morphed into Bush-Cheney next week, that would still be a force to reckon with.
A remarkable confluence of a lousy economy and a charismatic candidate with appeal to the young elected Obama, but the electorate itself (as opposed to the polling population) indeed tends to vote right-wing, and the election of Obama is and was a fluke. But in the end, the choice was between McCain and Obama, and while Obama is in no way progressive, McCain is positively ante diluvium; I doubt he actually can walk upright for long periods of time. This wasn't by any means the first time we had to choose the lesser of two evils, and it won't be the last, either.
Obama can change and grow in office, and he won't be anywhere near as bad as Dubya.He couldn't be; that's the best we can hope for. This is America, after all, a nominally Democratic but wholly capitalist country, after all. - Adam Shinbrot
Obama is a religious messiah. The religion is Democrat Delusion. People supported and voted for Obama because of a religious fantasy, a sort of distorted prophecy of "hope's audacity." Nobody paid attention to Obama's virtual identity with the Bush/Cheney agenda. Why would they? You can't be a messiah and a turncoat at the same time, can you? Somehow, The Obama Prophecy reminds me of Joseph Smith, the Angel Moroni, and the LDS Church. Great essay. - M Pyre
one finger clapping
as bob drools more
neolib spectacle
into the widely
spread beaks
of a generation
which knows no
thank god the u.s.
is not the
- Juan
The collapsed economy is changing the US and far more profound change is coming. Most of the change will not be good. How bad it gets will depend upon what true colors Obama shows. I'll be watching, hopeful, that some good change does occur. - fav08.
Level headed people will give President Obama a minimum of 100 days to give him the chance to set an agenda. Extremely level headed people will probably give him longer than that.
Bob Marley died from cancer that metastasized to his lungs and brain, not started in the lungs. It started in a football wound in his toe. The fact is, there is no recorded deaths directly attributable to marijuana, and all organic matter, when burned, gives off cancerous hydrocarbons. Cannabis has been proven to have no link with lung cancer (see UCLA studies) and actually had a positive correlation meaning that it made cancer less likely. Millions of Americans use it every day and society has not crumbled. Amsterdam's crime went drastically down after the legalization of cannabis, and teenage use dropped by 50 percent. - Matt
I am not a regular marijuana consumer. I would say on average I use about 3-4 times a year. Not enough data points to make any statistical argument. Also, I do not have a medical degree so I can't make a well informed opinion about those effects either. What I do have is a degree in mathematics and masters degree from Cornell in Finance.
In 2003 dollars enforcement of marijuana laws cost and estimate $13-16 billion. If we were to allow citizens to make a personal choice and pay $1000 each year for the ability to grow a plant for personal consumption and lets say 25 million people pay this tax. $25 billion of tax we could collect. I personally think 25 million people is a conservative figure.
Another $10 to $15 billion in reduced spending on enforcement of marijuana laws and we are looking at a $35 - $40 billion a year swing.
If you are afraid of the person who has no control over their ability to consume and will smoke themselves to death. I say, let it happen. It is easy evolution. Cull the weak and let the responsible citizens who enjoy the non habit forming, relaxing occasional use.
But hey. . . fess up. . . sometimes we know that being stoned means "Dude, I'm so fucked up", which has it's ups and downs. Moderation matters. - Lazerus Paladin
It is no wonder some of the big name clothing stores are closing. People are getting smart to their little games. The poor get poorer and the rich get richer. It is ridiculous and nothing but greed when they buy for 32 cents and sell for 32 dollars and brag it. The Lord is telling them about their greed and wrong doing.
I'm tired of these people at Harvard and their continuous ear bleed over Summers' comments. Summers was a pretty clueless Treasury secretary who has been too high on himself to re-examine the financial record of the US. That's why he should be viewed with suspicion, not because he said something that any professor at Harvard should be able to handle. - wellbasically
For those people who don't want to do this, and think it is a waste of time, you are exactly the reason we need this. I asked my 12 year old daughter what she thought, and she thinks it would be great. Grow up and get off the xbox, you slackers!
As a living breathing unit of the slacker generation I have to say that I'm definitely not opposed to their proposal. Rham's quote on giving all young people basic training and survival skills at a young age - this is a bad idea? Tons of other nations have very successful civil service programs, some of which result in lower gun violence.
This is one of the stupidest ideas I've ever heard. How the hell are people supposed to be successful in college if they have to go to class, work, attend sports practice, study, and keep a 4.0. I guess he just wants a bunch of mediocre people in this country mooching off of everyone else. I don't have to work and it's hard enough to do the rest without having to waste my time doing community service. I enough to charity, I don't feel I should be forced to go out do community service, that is a choice, not an obligation
How the hell are people supposed to be successful in college if they have to go to class, work, attend sports practice, study, and keep a 4.0. Here's how: stop drinking and partying. For us adults, it's called multi-tasking.
That's the point: they don't go to college until after they have put in service. Just like the army. And they would not be mooching as you put it. They would be required to work. Get their hands dirty as it were. - Chris
Those supposed to be the people's agents in the federal goverment spend their time funneling public money and privilege to corporations. Whom do you think the draftees will wind up working for at taxpayer expense? A logical next step on the road to fascism.
Two American black men, Obama and Rangel, wish to become slavemasters.
Inflating the currency wasn't enough; now government wants us to work for free, or maybe just peanuts. When does the political indoctrination start? - Joseph
I think this is a great idea. But feel 100 hrs is not sufficient. Maybe one or two years. And no one is exempt for any reason. Far, far too many people live isolated lives and this would be a step out into the world if implemented correctly. Maybe even some service in a foreign country. Get out to see how others live. Great character builder.
I think it's a great idea for everyone on welfare; otherwise I think it's the dumbest thing I've ever heard of.
They'll teach you something so bleeding obvious you knew it already - or so hopelessly idealistic and vague that you'll forget it five days after you leave. Waste of time.
Obama spoke about public service many times during the campaign, including a tuition program, but he always spoke about it as a voluntary program. Your argument of "mind-changing" is weak because there's no strong evidence that he was ever pushing anything other than a voluntary public service program.
He spoke about a voluntary service program during the campaign and that's what I see on his website now. If there was temporarily something different from that online it would suggest that a mistake was by the staffer who wrote the page which was later corrected. But hey, innuendo and mind-reading is more fun, right? - Will
The win of Obama is depictive of not a race, creed or religion but American's choice of a leader with requisite positive traits to face the challenges of 21st century as a head of the only super power of the day. - M Saleem Chaudhry
Nice work. But I would vote for Obama over McCain any day. I use to be a Republican before McCain ran for President.
Hmm, sounds like Hitler's youth camp programs to me. Let's force people into servitude for the government. That sounds great. Take away our choice to do so. That's really nice all you people supporting this. I wonder what choices are next on the list to be taken away?
But, as usual, arguing with you Obama drones is as pointless as Obama's term in the US Senate was I hope that this does not come to fruition, because it's just one more step in the direction of socialism.
As a Viet Nam era vet, I'm sure I know the realities of military service. I have made hundreds of friends and acquaintances who were Viet Nam vets. I can say confidently that not one of them is right in the head about it. There is simply no way to tell a kid for eighteen years that it's wrong to harm anyone, then give him a gun with orders to kill people he doesn't even know and expect him to come home sane. Whilst the corporations control our government, a citizen would be a fool to give up his offspring for their profit. The U.S. would do well to cease raping and killing for corporados. We'd then have many less enemies. I'm sure if there's ever a real threat to the U.S. there'll be no shortage of volunteers, but let's be serious, this national service scheme is a scam by Obama and his corporate masters to tighten their control and get cheap labor.
American's aren't known for helping others; they're known for beating down people, stripping away rights, dividing the country and attacking anyone who dares to be different. Anyone with common sense needs to stand up and say 'enough' and get your stupid country back on track.
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