The jobless figure reached 6.7 percent last month, up from 6.5 percent in October. More than half a million—533,000—were made unemployed during November. It's only the fourth time in the past 58 years that payrolls have fallen by more than 500,000 in a month. “The figures suggest the year-long U.S. recession may approach or even exceed the 1981-1982 downturn in severity, and support expectations that Federal Reserve officials will soon lower interest rates to levels not seen in a half century,” reports the Wall Street Journal. When marginally attached and involuntary part-time workers are included, the rate of unemployed or underemployed workers reached even higher: 12.5% last month, up 0.7 percentage point from October.
Monday, December 15, 2008
by: Marc Ash, t r u t h o u t | Perspective
- Mohandas Gandhi
Our federal government is utterly corrupt; we are confronted by creeping fascism and our environment is imperiled. The problems are real and solutions are few. There is a sense of futility and anger that becomes an oppression unto itself.
Of all things lost these past eight years, none has left a greater void than the departure of our national dignity. We have become a fundamentally unjust society, some say, always were.
People always vote for change. Every vote is cast in the belief that it will make a difference, that things can change. But no vote ever brings about change. Change, real, meaningful, lasting change, is always human. Both subtle and enormous real change come from a sense of empowerment in the hearts and minds of those who seek it.
The election of Barack Obama may not guarantee change. but has already created that sense of empowerment. People walked away from the election saying and believing, "si, se puede" (yes, we can). The critical word being "we."
Yesterday, in a spontaneous fit of rage, an Iraqi journalist attending a press conference with George W. Bush stood and hurled his shoes at Bush. Bush then remarked, "I don't know what the guy's cause is." His cause is the liberation of his people and his land from foreign occupiers. There is much to change.
Nothing could be more critical to the restoration of American democracy than the restoration of the rule of law. Specifically in the nation's capitol. The Bush administration and the Republican Congressional power structure made a mockery of the law beginning the day the towers fell. Even now, they look untouchable. There is much to change.
Forty million Americans have no health insurance and the vast majority of those who do have no rights in dealing with their health care provider. Congress could long ago have fixed all of that. Congress has chosen instead to do the bidding of the health care industry, ignoring all the suffering that could have been prevented. There is much to change.
A new president has been elected. Fairly so, in fact. The new president is popular with the people and comes to office with much support. However, he alone cannot bring about the changes the people seek. It will take more than an act of change; it will take a sea of change, not from the seat of power, but from the powerless.
Those who seek change must be the first to change and lead by example. Others will follow. Each day brings a new opportunity to interact in a new and positive way. We can demand better; we can show more respect for those who toil and have little; we can ask simple, but powerful questions.
If the movement fails, the leaders will fail with it. If the nation changes, so will those in power. Early in his campaign, Barack Obama said, "We are the ones we've been waiting for."
Yes, we can; yes, we must.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
When it decided to not bailout US automakers, the Senate told working Americans to drop dead.
They could have given the loan on the condition that the automakers start building only cars and mass transit that reduce our dependency on oil.
They could have given the loan on the condition that the automakers build cars that reduce global warming.
They could have given the loan on the condition that the automakers withdraw their many lawsuits against state governments in their attempts to not comply with our environmental laws.
These Senate vampires wanted blood. Blue collar blood.
They could have given the loan on the condition that the management team which drove these once-great manufacturers into the ground resign and be replaced with a team who understands the transportation needs of the 21st century.
Yes, they could have given the loan for any of these reasons because, in the end, to lose our manufacturing infrastructure and throw 3 million people out of work would be a catastrophe.
But instead, the Senate said, we'll give you the loan only if the factory workers take a $20 an hour cut in wages, pension, and health care. That's right. After giving BILLIONS to Wall Street hucksters and criminal investment bankers—billions with no strings attached and, as we have since learned, no oversight whatsoever—the Senate decided it is more important to break a union, more important to throw middle class wage earners into the ranks of the working poor than to prevent the total collapse of industrial America.
We have a little more than a month to go of this madness. As I sit here in Michigan today, tens of thousands of hard working, honest, decent Americans do not believe they can make it to January 20th. The malaise here is astounding. Why must they suffer because of the mistakes of every CEO from Roger Smith to Rick Wagoner? Make management and the boards of directors and the shareholders pay for this.
Of course that is heresy to the 31 Republicans who decided to blame the poor, miserable autoworkers for this mess. And our wonderful media complied with their spin on the morning news shows: "UAW Refuses to Give Concessions Killing Auto Bailout Bill." In fact the UAW has given concession after concession, reduced their benefits, agreed to get rid of the Jobs Bank, and agreed to make it harder for their retirees to live from week to week. Yes! That's what we need to do! It's the Jobs Bank and the old people who have led the nation to economic ruin!
But even doing all that wasn't enough to satisfy the bastard Republicans. These Senate vampires wanted blood. Blue collar blood. You see, they weren't opposed to the bailout because they believed in the free market or capitalism. No, they were opposed to the bailout because they're opposed to workers making a decent wage. In their rage, they were driven to destroy the backbone of this country, not because the UAW hadn't given back enough, but because the UAW hadn't given up.
It appears that the sitting President has been looking for a way to end his reign by one magnanimous act, just like a warlord on his feast day. He will put his finger in the dyke, and the fragile mess of an auto industry will eke through the next few months.
That will give the Senate enough time to demand that the bankers and investment sharks who've already swiped nearly half of the $700 billion gift a chance to make the offer of cutting their pay.
Michael Moore is an Academy Award-winning filmmaker and author. He directed and produced Roger & Me, Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11, and Sicko. He has also written seven books, most recently, Mike’s Election Guide 2008.
There is a modest rush to bring humanitarian aid to the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). After weeks of escalating conflict, during which hundreds of thousands have been displaced, hundreds more women raped, and many civilians slaughtered, there is now the possibility that three thousand additional peacekeepers will be sent to DRC. There have been high-level meetings with militia leader Nkunda and Presidents Kabila of the Congo and Kagame of neighboring Rwanda. There is a new element of care and concern.
But why does the world behave as if there is suddenly a new war in the DRC? For thousands upon thousands of women, the war that began 12 years ago has never ended. Each day, women have been threatened with rape, torture, abuse and violation. Many of us have been calling for intervention on their behalf for years, especially the last two years. We have spoken at the Security Council, we have met with European governments, we have pushed the U.S. administration, we have made countless speeches. We have launched a worldwide campaign: "Stop Raping our Greatest Resource; Power to the Women and Girls of the DRC". We have begged, cajoled and pleaded for triple the number of peacekeepers to protect the women, for an end to impunity, for shining a light on the connection between the sexual violence and the plundering of Congo's vast resources my militias and multi-national companies. We have worked with brave and resilient women and men in the DRC who are building movements from the ground up to break the silence, demanding an end to war.
It is acknowledged across the board that the sexual atrocities perpetrated on women in the DRC are without a doubt the worst atrocities in the world today. It may seem extreme to call what is happening a Femicide --- the violence may not fit the exact legal definition of the Genocide Convention -- but for the women facing such systematic destruction, targeted precisely and only because they are women, Femicide is a word whose time has come. The numbers are appalling. More than a quarter of a million women have been raped in the last decade. The crimes are shocking: gang rapes; the raping of three-month-old infants and eighty-year-old women; the dispatching of militias who have AIDS and other STDs to rape entire villages; women being held as sex slaves for weeks, months and years; and women being forced to eat murdered babies.
At Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, over ten women who have been raped and tortured arrive daily. Their vaginas are ripped apart; for some that means that their reproductive organs are permanently destroyed. Many have fistula -- a hole in the wall of tissue between the vagina and the rectum or the vagina and the bladder. These wounds are most often inflicted by militias who attack using sticks, knives or guns, or through the merciless vaginal penetration of mass rape.
What makes it all so appalling is that everyone in power knows what is happening. On December 10, the founder of Panzi -- Dr. Denis Mukwege -- was awarded the United Nations Prize in the field of Human Rights, an award which Nelson Mandela and other esteemed leaders have received. There are Security Council resolutions, dramatic visits by western Foreign Ministers, increasing news coverage, coalitions of UN agencies, statements by humanitarian NGO's, 17,000 peacekeepers on the ground, and yet the sexual violence never ceases.
The missing piece of the analysis is that peace and war have always been measured in gun blasts. When men take up arms, and other men fight back, war is declared; when men agree to a ceasefire, the war is said to have stopped. Now we've come to the point when the world has recognized that in conflict after conflict, a gruesome, sadistic dimension has been added to modern-day-war, a widespread strategy employed by men to achieve their military and political ends: the rape of civilian women and girls.
All the parties to the war in the DRC may agree in theory that rape is being used as a 'weapon of war', but when they sit around the negotiating table and work out the terms that will end the fighting, they consistently forget to include for discussion just one weapon in the arsenal: rape. And so sexual violence has continued unabated, never letting up during the periods of so-called 'peace'.
And it will continue, because although we claim that rape is a weapon, committing a rape has never constituted a breach of any peace accord.
Enough of the lip service. If rape is a weapon of the Congo's war -- and we know that the threat of rape is a terrorist tactic, causing communities to flee their homes and farms, causing millions of deaths by starvation, making rape the single most deadly of all the militias' weapons --- then treat it with the gravity afforded every other weapon. Insist that the militias lay down their weapons AND stop their raping. Until the sexual violence ends, the world has no right to speak of peace.
Eve Ensler is a writer and activist, and the founder of V-Day, the global movement to end violence against women and girls.
Stephen Lewis is the Co-Founder of AIDS-Free World and the former UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa.
Friday, December 12, 2008
With Rod Blagojevich facing the triple threats of impeachment, court-ordered removal from office, and a federal indictment, the tribulations of the Illinois Governor may yet prove to have an effect on Barack Obama's approval ratings -- but the early signs are that Blago will have no tangible impact on the public's perception of the President-elect.
Indeed, with essentially three full days of interviewing having been conducted after Blagojevich's arrest on on Tuesday morning, Obama's approval ratings remain pristine. Gallup shows that 72 percent of the public has a favorable view of Obama, and 18 percent an unfavorable view. The 72 percent favorability rating matches the 72 percent score that Obama achieved on November 7th-9th for the highest since the election, whereas the 18 percent disapproval rating is Obama's lowest yet. Three days ago, before Blagojevich's arrest, those ratings were 70 percent and 21 percent, respectively.
Rasmussen, likewise, sees no change to Obama's approval ratings. 67 percent of their voters now approve of Obama's performance, and 31 percent disapprove, exactly matching Obama's ratings from three days prior, and within a percentage point of his peak totals.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
By Joseph E. Stiglitz, Vanity Fair
There will come a moment when the most urgent threats posed by the credit crisis have eased and the larger task before us will be to chart a direction for the economic steps ahead. This will be a dangerous moment. Behind the debates over future policy is a debate over history - a debate over the causes of our current situation. The battle for the past will determine the battle for the present. So it's crucial to get the history straight.READ FULL STORY»
As I think about our bailing out Detroit, I can’t help but reflect on what, in my view, is the most important rule of business in today’s integrated and digitized global market, where knowledge and innovation tools are so widely distributed. It’s this: Whatever can be done, will be done. The only question is will it be done by you or to you. Just don’t think it won’t be done. If you have an idea in Detroit or Tennessee, promise me that you’ll pursue it, because someone in Denmark or Tel Aviv will do so a second later.
Why do I bring this up? Because someone in the mobility business in Denmark and Tel Aviv is already developing a real-world alternative to Detroit’s business model. I don’t know if this alternative to gasoline-powered cars will work, but I do know that it can be done — and Detroit isn’t doing it. And therefore it will be done, and eventually, I bet, it will be done profitably.
And when it is, our bailout of Detroit will be remembered as the equivalent of pouring billions of dollars of taxpayer money into the mail-order-catalogue business on the eve of the birth of eBay. It will be remembered as pouring billions of dollars into the CD music business on the eve of the birth of the iPod and iTunes. It will be remembered as pouring billions of dollars into a book-store chain on the eve of the birth of Amazon.com and the Kindle. It will be remembered as pouring billions of dollars into improving typewriters on the eve of the birth of the PC and the Internet.
What business model am I talking about? It is Shai Agassi’s electric car network company, called Better Place. Just last week, the company, based in Palo Alto, Calif., announced a partnership with the state of Hawaii to road test its business plan there after already inking similar deals with Israel, Australia, the San Francisco Bay area and, yes, Denmark.
The Better Place electric car charging system involves generating electrons from as much renewable energy — such as wind and solar — as possible and then feeding those clean electrons into a national electric car charging infrastructure. This consists of electricity charging spots with plug-in outlets — the first pilots were opened in Israel this week — plus battery-exchange stations all over the respective country. The whole system is then coordinated by a service control center that integrates and does the billing.
Under the Better Place model, consumers can either buy or lease an electric car from the French automaker Renault or Japanese companies like Nissan (General Motors snubbed Agassi) and then buy miles on their electric car batteries from Better Place the way you now buy an Apple cellphone and the minutes from AT&T. That way Better Place, or any car company that partners with it, benefits from each mile you drive. G.M. sells cars. Better Place is selling mobility miles.
The first Renault and Nissan electric cars are scheduled to hit Denmark and Israel in 2011, when the whole system should be up and running. On Tuesday, Japan’s Ministry of Environment invited Better Place to join the first government-led electric car project along with Honda, Mitsubishi and Subaru. Better Place was the only foreign company invited to participate, working with Japan’s leading auto companies, to build a battery swap station for electric cars in Yokohama, the Detroit of Japan.
What I find exciting about Better Place is that it is building a car company off the new industrial platform of the 21st century, not the one from the 20th — the exact same way that Steve Jobs did to overturn the music business. What did Apple understand first? One, that today’s technology platform would allow anyone with a computer to record music. Two, that the Internet and MP3 players would allow anyone to transfer music in digital form to anyone else. You wouldn’t need CDs or record companies anymore. Apple simply took all those innovations and integrated them into a single music-generating, purchasing and listening system that completely disrupted the music business.
What Agassi, the founder of Better Place, is saying is that there is a new way to generate mobility, not just music, using the same platform. It just takes the right kind of auto battery — the iPod in this story — and the right kind of national plug-in network — the iTunes store — to make the business model work for electric cars at six cents a mile. The average American is paying today around 12 cents a mile for gasoline transportation, which also adds to global warming and strengthens petro-dictators.Do not expect this innovation to come out of Detroit. Remember, in 1908, the Ford Model-T got better mileage — 25 miles per gallon — than many Ford, G.M. and Chrysler models made in 2008. But don’t be surprised when it comes out of somewhere else. It can be done. It will be done. If we miss the chance to win the race for Car 2.0 because we keep mindlessly bailing out Car 1.0, there will be no one to blame more than Detroit’s new shareholders: we the taxpayers.
Monday, December 8, 2008
Sunday 07 December 2008
by: Abdon Pallasch, The Chicago Sun-Times
Also see below:
In Factory Sit-In, an Anger Spread Wide •
President-elect Barack Obama put himself on the side of the workers at the Republic Windows and Doors factory Sunday:
"When it comes to the situation here in Chicago with the workers who are asking for their benefits and payments they have earned, I think they are absolutely right," Obama said Sunday at a news conference announcing his new Veterans Affairs director. "What's happening to them is reflective of what's happening across this economy.
"When you have a financial system that is shaky, credit contracts. Businesses large and small start cutting back on their plants and equipment and their workforces. That's why it's so important for us to maintain a strong financial system. But it's also important for us to make sure that the plans and programs that we design aren't just targeted at maintaining the solvency of banks, but they are designed to get money out the doors and to help people on Main Street. So, number one, I think that these workers, if they have earned their benefits and their pay, then these companies need to follow through on those commitments.
"Number two, I think it is important for us to make sure that, moving forward, any economic plan we put in place helps businesses to meet payroll so we are not seeing these kinds of circumstances again,'' he said. "Have we done everything that we can to make sure credit is flowing to businesses and to families, and to students who are trying to get loans? And to homeowners who have been making payments on their homes but are still finding their property values so depressed that it becomes very difficult for them to make the mortgage payments?
"That's where the rubber hits the road and that's going to be the central focus of my administration."
Sunday, December 7, 2008
Sunday 07 December 2008
by: Chris Cillizza, The Washington Post
Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg has discussed the open Senate seat in New York with Governor David Paterson. (Photo: Reuters)
Caroline Kennedy, a scion of the most famous family in American politics, has spoken by phone with New York Gov. David A. Paterson (D) about the Senate seat that would open with the confirmation of Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a cousin of Caroline Kennedy, confirmed to the Associated Press late Friday that she was "interested" in the seat, but national party operatives cautioned that the process of picking a replacement for Clinton remains in its early stages.
One New York political insider suggested that the revelation of Kennedy's interest in the seat is designed to keep New York Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo, the current front-runner, from winning the appointment. "In their mind [this] freezes the selection process," the source said. "They also thought that by doing this, it enhances Caroline's stature in case she ultimately decides to join Obama administration."
Kennedy's interest in the Senate seat presents a marked contrast to her public life up to now, which has been defined by her avoidance of the spotlight. During the campaign of President-elect Barack Obama, however, Kennedy emerged as a more high-profile player - endorsing Obama in a New York Times editorial during the primary season and then participating in the selection of Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.) as the Democratic nominee's running mate.
Kennedy, the daughter of former president John F. Kennedy and niece of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and former attorney general Robert F. Kennedy, is the most high-profile name being mentioned as a replacement for Clinton. Clinton is expected to resign her seat next month when, and if, she is confirmed as the nation's top diplomat.
Among the other potential appointees - in addition to Cuomo, who is divorced from Caroline Kennedy's cousin Kerry - are Reps. Kirsten Gillibrand, Steve Israel, Brian Higgins, Jerrold Nadler, Gregory W. Meeks, Nydia M. VelÃ¡zquez and Carolyn B. Maloney; Nassau County Executive Thomas R. Suozzi; and Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown.
Paterson has given few clues about New York's next senator.
"The governor has not yet reached out to any potential candidates," Paterson spokesman Errol Cockfield told the AP. "He has been approached by several candidates. Any discussions related to that selection are private, and the governor will not comment about speculation before a decision is made."
The person Paterson selects will run in a 2010 special election as well as a 2012 contest for a full six-year term. So the governor is almost certain to pick a candidate who has the statewide name recognition and fundraising ability to keep the seat in Democratic hands.
Saturday, December 6, 2008
editorial published in today's New York Times
IN the recently concluded presidential race, I was unwillingly thrust upon the stage and asked to play a role in a profoundly dishonest drama. I refused, and here’s why.
Unable to challenge the content of Barack Obama’s campaign, his opponents invented a narrative about a young politician who emerged from nowhere, a man of charm, intelligence and skill, but with an exotic background and a strange name. The refrain was a question: “What do we really know about this man?”
Secondary characters in the narrative included an African-American preacher with a fiery style, a Palestinian scholar and an “unrepentant domestic terrorist.” Linking the candidate with these supposedly shadowy characters, and ferreting out every imagined secret tie and dark affiliation, became big news.
I was cast in the “unrepentant terrorist” role; I felt at times like the enemy projected onto a large screen in the “Two Minutes Hate” scene from George Orwell’s “1984,” when the faithful gathered in a frenzy of fear and loathing.
With the mainstream news media and the blogosphere caught in the pre-election excitement, I saw no viable path to a rational discussion. Rather than step clumsily into the sound-bite culture, I turned away whenever the microphones were thrust into my face. I sat it out.
Now that the election is over, I want to say as plainly as I can that the character invented to serve this drama wasn’t me, not even close. Here are the facts:
I never killed or injured anyone. I did join the civil rights movement in the mid-1960s, and later resisted the draft and was arrested in nonviolent demonstrations. I became a full-time antiwar organizer for Students for a Democratic Society. In 1970, I co-founded the Weather Underground, an organization that was created after an accidental explosion that claimed the lives of three of our comrades in Greenwich Village. The Weather Underground went on to take responsibility for placing several small bombs in empty offices — the ones at the Pentagon and the United States Capitol were the most notorious — as an illegal and unpopular war consumed the nation.
The Weather Underground crossed lines of legality, of propriety and perhaps even of common sense. Our effectiveness can be — and still is being — debated. We did carry out symbolic acts of extreme vandalism directed at monuments to war and racism, and the attacks on property, never on people, were meant to respect human life and convey outrage and determination to end the Vietnam war.
Peaceful protests had failed to stop the war. So we issued a screaming response. But it was not terrorism; we were not engaged in a campaign to kill and injure people indiscriminately, spreading fear and suffering for political ends.
I cannot imagine engaging in actions of that kind today. And for the past 40 years, I’ve been teaching and writing about the unique value and potential of every human life, and the need to realize that potential through education.
I have regrets, of course — including mistakes of excess and failures of imagination, posturing and posing, inflated and heated rhetoric, blind sectarianism and a lot else. No one can reach my age with their eyes even partly open and not have hundreds of regrets. The responsibility for the risks we posed to others in some of our most extreme actions in those underground years never leaves my thoughts for long.
The antiwar movement in all its commitment, all its sacrifice and determination, could not stop the violence unleashed against Vietnam. And therein lies cause for real regret.
We — the broad “we” — wrote letters, marched, talked to young men at induction centers, surrounded the Pentagon and lay down in front of troop trains. Yet we were inadequate to end the killing of three million Vietnamese and almost 60,000 Americans during a 10-year war.
The dishonesty of the narrative about Mr. Obama during the campaign went a step further with its assumption that if you can place two people in the same room at the same time, or if you can show that they held a conversation, shared a cup of coffee, took the bus downtown together or had any of a thousand other associations, then you have demonstrated that they share ideas, policies, outlook, influences and, especially, responsibility for each other’s behavior. There is a long and sad history of guilt by association in our political culture, and at crucial times we’ve been unable to rise above it.
President-elect Obama and I sat on a board together; we lived in the same diverse and yet close-knit community; we sometimes passed in the bookstore. We didn’t pal around, and I had nothing to do with his positions. I knew him as well as thousands of others did, and like millions of others, I wish I knew him better.
Demonization, guilt by association, and the politics of fear did not triumph, not this time. Let’s hope they never will again. And let’s hope we might now assert that in our wildly diverse society, talking and listening to the widest range of people is not a sin, but a virtue.
William Ayers, a professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is the author of “Fugitive Days” and a co-author of the forthcoming “Race Course.”
Friday, December 5, 2008
"The 533,000 jobs lost last month, the worst job loss in 34 years, is more than a dramatic reflection of the growing economic crisis we face. Each of those lost jobs represents a personal crisis for a family somewhere in America. Our economy has already lost nearly 2 million jobs during this recession, which is why we need an Economic Recovery Plan that will save or create at least 2.5 million more jobs over two years while we act decisively to maintain the flows of credit on which so many American families and American businesses depend.
"There are no quick or easy fixes to this crisis, which has been many years in the making, and it's likely to get worse before it gets better. But now is the time to respond with urgent resolve to put people back to work and get our economy moving again. At the same time, this painful crisis also provides us with an opportunity to transform our economy to improve the lives of ordinary people by rebuilding roads and modernizing schools for our children, investing in clean energy solutions to break our dependence on imported oil, and making an early down payment on the long-term reforms that will grow and strengthen our economy for all Americans for years to come," said President-elect Obama.
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
| By: Attaturk Wednesday December 3, 2008 1:30 am || |
As George W. Bush leaves the White House on a "high note" (but that's just the pisco sours talkin') blaming everyone but him for the nation's problems, let us note that the delusional gene runs strong in his party.
Early December 1972:
Both men [Nixon and Kissinger] sometimes avoided the word "bombing." Instead, they talked of "the action."
As Nixon said, "Let's look at the action. We can't have any doubts about it."
...in a Dec. 9, 1972, conversation, Nixon told his daughter, Julie Nixon Eisenhower, that the purpose of the presidency is "to do good things every day."
Oh, for a secret taping system of the last eight years.
posted from firedoglake.com
by: Eric Lotke, The Campaign for America's Future
The Obama administration is being urged to pursue stimulus plans focused on infrastructure and jobs. (Photo: California High-Speed Rail Authority)
Everybody is saying the same thing. Stimulus plans don't mean tax rebates worth a few tanks of gas and a restaurant dinner. Stimulus plans means new roads and bridges, aid to states so they won't lay off nurses and teaching assistants, and a down payment on a new energy economy with windmills and commuter rail.
Most importantly, people have turned the corner on money. Stimulus will take real money, measured in hundreds of billions of dollars and percents of GDP. Low estimates put the investment at $300 billion. High ones reach $700 billion. Paul Krugman, with his hot new Nobel prize in economics, recommends "figure out how much help [you] think the economy needs, then add 50 percent."
The former but not future Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers has changed his tune. No longer should stimulus be "targeted, timely and temporary." Now it should be "speedy, substantial and sustained." If he changes the first S to "strategic," he'll sound just like the Campaign for America's Future. "Strategic" points towards energy and education, investments that pay back over time.
Increasingly, even the deficit hawks recognize that this is not the time to worry about deficits. This is the time for action. To paraphrase FDR, when the house is burning, you don't fret about the cost of the hose.
Over the weekend, president-elect Barack Obama started to define what the New York Times labeled a Vast Economic Stimulus Plan.
"We'll be working out the details in the weeks ahead, but it will be a two-year, nationwide effort to jumpstart job creation in America and lay the foundation for a strong and growing economy. We'll put people back to work rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, modernizing schools that are failing our children, and building wind farms and solar panels, fuel-efficient cars and the alternative energy technologies that can free us from our dependence on foreign oil and keep our economy competitive in the years ahead."
He is exactly right, and he's been saying this since the campaign.
In June he told the U.S. conference of Mayors:
"Now is not the time for small plans. Now is the time for bold action to rebuild and renew America. We've done this before. Two hundred years ago, in 1808, Thomas Jefferson oversaw an infrastructure plan that envisioned the Homestead Act, the transcontinental railroads, and the Erie Canal. One hundred years later, in 1908, Teddy Roosevelt called together leaders from business and government to develop a plan for a 20th century infrastructure. Today, in 2008, it falls on us to take up this call again - to re-imagine America's landscape and remake America's future. That is the cause of this campaign, and that will be the cause of my presidency."
Back then he was estimating expenditures in the $150 billion range - and nowadays that's rounding error. But back then the Dow was at 12,000 and 1.5 million more people had jobs. It's nice to see him up the ante.
The American people are behind this too. A June survey by Hart Research showed a country that wants more than quick stimulus. Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of voters think the economy is facing "long-term, structural economic problems." Only one-third (30 percent) say it is a "short-term economic downturn."
Investing in physical infrastructure is among the most popular of long-term solutions. A June survey by Rockefeller Foundation found 82 percent support for "increasing government spending on things like public-works projects to help create jobs." Reconstruction will take time and exceed the limits of a single budget cycle - but for long term solutions to long term problems, you don't "pay as you go." You invest over time.
Build, baby, build. The consensus is emerging.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
By: Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog
While the US economy has only recently been officially deemed as in recession, many Americans have been struggling with poverty for a long time. (Photo: Stephen Shames, 1985)
If this isn't a Great Crash I don't know how to define one. Stocks were down another 7 percent today. Since the peak of last year, major stock indexes have dropped 47 percent. We're in range of the Great Crash of 1929.
Why is the Great Crash of 2008 happening? First, because investors are beginning to understand the enormity of the bubble economy that began to form in the late 1990s when all constraints were lifted on borrowing in order to buy everything that was assumed to be increasing in value - starting with houses and including securities and shares of stock themselves. So-called "margin requirements," first instituted in the wake of the Great Crash of 1929, were all but abandoned, as big banks and hedge funds found ways around them.
Even more important, investors are starting to fathom the emptiness of American consumers' wallets. Retail sales last Friday and Saturday - the first days of the Christmas buying season - were disappointing. Had retailers not discounted to the point of taking losses, sales would have been abysmal. In other words, consumers have gone on strike.
Why have they gone on strike? Not because of the difficulty of getting credit. Most consumers can barely afford to pay the interest charges on the debt they're already carrying. Consumers have gone on strike because their earnings haven't kept up. The recovery that officially ended December, 2007 (the National Bureau of Economic Research now tells us) was the first on record in which median earnings declined, adjusted for inflation. Since then, many people have also lost their jobs or are working part time when they'd rather be working full time, or else know they're in danger of losing their jobs.
The speculative bubble still has some air in it; asset values will continue to drop before they hit bottom. That will take at least a year, possibly two. But don't expect asset values to bounce substantially back, even then. The only way to revive Wall Street is to revive Main Street, and the only way to accomplish this is to get America back on the course of rising median incomes.
Robert Reich is the nation's 22nd Secretary of Labor and a professor at the University of California at Berkeley. His latest book is "Supercapitalism."
|by: Christy Hardin Smith Tuesday December 2, 2008 6:00 am|| |
Why am I not surprised? Treasury bailout overseer sees no real plan, no coherence, nothing strategic as yet in the billions of dollars pouring forth out of our taxpayer pockets and into failing corporate coffers. Via NYTimes:
...the government still does not seem to have a coherent strategy for easing the financial crisis, despite the billions it has already spent in that effort.
Elizabeth Warren, the chairwoman of the oversight panel, said...that the government instead seemed to be lurching from one tactic to the next without clarifying how each step fits into an overall plan.
“You can’t just say, ‘Credit isn’t moving through the system...You have to ask why.”
Having some strategic planning and contemplating implications for the long haul might be the teensiest bit useful, don't you think?
Instead, we have outright panic maneuvers designed for public CYA. And stalling until January so the problem can be fobbed off...but little else.
Ezra discussed Krugman's smackdown of conservative deficit hawks and the value of public works expenditures. Krugman will be here live tomorrow at noon PT/3 pm ET for a book salon about "The Return Of Depression Economics And The Crisis of 2008." We couldn't host him at a better time, because everything old is new again:
Only much later would those same distinctive characteristics -- the cozy relationship between government and business, the extension of easy credit by government-guaranteed banks to closely allied companies -- come to be labelled crony capitalism and seen as the root of economic malaise. (p. 60)
Krugman is talking about Japan's recession in the 1990s, but it does have a certain familiar ring, doesn't it?
Economic signs are worsening, pointing to a longer recession, and every time Hank Paulson speaks the market tanks. With no coherent plans, shouldn't we all be asking why in the hell they continue to throw our money at problems they haven't bothered to think about beyond "shit! we have to look busy, throw more money on the pyre!"
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images
“Clinton advisers are assisting Obama’s transition team and serving on several advisory committees. But staff is destiny, and there are conflicting reports about how much latitude Clinton will have to bring her own team aboard.”
Not only is the U.S. economy now officially in recession, but it has been so since December 2007, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. It's the first time in the postwar era that the euro zone, Japan, and the United States have all simultaneously been in recession. It also makes President Bush the first executive since Nixon to oversee two recessions. "We're going on 12 months already, and we're just getting started," one economist told Bloomberg. The chairman of the Institute for Supply Management said, "This may be referred to as the Great Recession." 1.2 million jobs have been lost so far this year, and the 325,000 that were probably lost in November are the most in any month since the last recession.
The Huffington Post’s Danny Shea was the first to report that the moderator slot on NBC’s Meet the Press will go to David Gregory. Gregory’s name has circulated, along with NBC’s Chuck Todd and Andrea Mitchell, since Time Russert’s death in June. Before ascending to the host’s chair on various NBC programs, Gregory was a feisty presence on the White House beat, often enraging conservatives with his questions to Bush press officials. Brokaw will reportedly leave the show this weekend after interviewing Barack Obama. The Politico's Mike Allen even has a vote of confidence from Ari Fleischer, who calls Gregory "nothing but fair."
While we continued to tour Georgia, the dominant political news of the day was the official announcement from Barack Obama that he will nominate Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State. Regardless of one's opinion of the pick, it's clear Clinton has a golden opportunity here to refresh her image not only within the Democratic Party, but with the country as a whole.
Her future presidential ambition is now inextricably bound to Barack Obama's success as President. From Obama's perspective, harnessing that energy to work in his favor was apparently worth the risk of the horrendous message discipline the Clinton machine brings with it wherever it goes. At first blush, it wouldn't seem like a position endlessly scrutinized by foreign governments would be the ideal place for a political group that cannot keep a secret.
But most Democrats seem willing to give Obama's judgment in the matter the benefit of the doubt. In a battle between skepticism of Clinton and trust of Obama, right now most of Obama's supporters who mistrust Clinton seem willing to trust Obama's judgment.
Not that they have a choice. Obama's the boss.
In other news, with Janet Napolitano's expected successful appointment to Homeland Security, Republican Secretary of State Jan Brewer will take the vacant governor's seat. Hillary Clinton's Senate seat will be appointed by Democratic Governor David Paterson. This is the third Democratic Senate seat that needs to be filled. Ted Kaufman will replace Joe Biden in Delaware, and in Illinois Rod Blagojevich will name a replacement for Barack Obama.
Monday 01 December 2008
by: Noam N. Levey, The Los Angeles Times
The prospect of bold government action appears to be accepted among players across the ideological and political spectrum, including those who opposed the idea in the 1990s.
Health care reform is near the top of the agenda for the new administration. (Photo: Stephen J. Serio)
Washington - After decades of failed efforts to reshape the nation's healthcare system, a consensus appears to be emerging in Washington about how to achieve the elusive goal of providing medical insurance to all Americans.
The answer, say leading groups of businesses, hospitals, doctors, labor unions and insurance companies - as well as senior lawmakers on Capitol Hill and members of the new Obama administration - is unprecedented government intervention to create a system of universal protection.
At the same time, those groups, which span the ideological and political spectrum, largely have agreed to preserve the employer-based system through which most Americans get their health insurance.
The idea of a federal, single-payer system patterned on those in Europe and Canada, long a dream of the political left, is now virtually off the table.
Rejected as well is the traditionally conservative concept, championed by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) during the presidential campaign, of reforming healthcare mainly by giving incentives for more Americans to buy insurance on their own.
There also is a widespread understanding that any expansion of coverage must be accompanied by aggressive efforts to bring down costs and reward quality care. And key players in the healthcare debate increasingly back a massive investment of taxpayer money for healthcare reform despite the burgeoning budget deficits.
Beyond those areas of basic agreement, the details of what would be one of the most momentous changes in domestic policy since World War II remain vague.
As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama embraced both expanded insurance coverage and preservation of the job-centered system, but since he won the White House he has provided few specifics about his plans once he takes office.
Disagreements over specifics could again lead to a stalemate. Even the most sanguine advocates of sweeping reform concede that difficult negotiations lie ahead.
But what is taking shape is a debate very different from previous discussions about what America's healthcare system should look like.
"A lot has changed," said Karen Ignagni, president of America's Health Insurance Plans, or AHIP, a leading trade group whose members helped kill the Clinton administration's healthcare campaign in the early 1990s.
AHIP is participating in talks with other interest groups to build consensus before Obama takes office in January and Congress begins debating any healthcare legislation.
Among the issues to be decided as more concrete proposals emerge in the months ahead is whether the roughly 46 million uninsured people in the U.S. will be pushed to buy private coverage or will be enrolled in a government insurance program, as some consumer groups want.
Hospitals and doctors fear another public program would reduce what they are paid, as Medicare and Medicaid have done. Insurers worry they could lose customers to the government.
Also unresolved is what mechanisms might be created to force individuals or businesses to get insurance, both potentially contentious subjects.
And few have tackled how the government will control costs and set standards of care, proposals that raise the unpopular prospect of federal regulators dictating which doctors Americans can see and what drugs they can take.
"There are some very big questions and some very big stumbling blocks," said Stuart Butler, vice president for domestic policy at the conservative Heritage Foundation, who has been watching the healthcare debate for three decades.
"Once you get into the details, the consensus is going to vanish pretty quickly, I suspect," he said.
At the same time, advocates for a single-payer system, including the California Nurses Assn., have vowed to continue pushing the idea next year along with many Democrats on Capitol Hill.
Republican lawmakers, still reeling from their election day losses, have signaled discomfort with a major expansion of government spending, a position many in the GOP hope will help return the party to power.
"Increasing access for the uninsured is not going to come cheap," Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said at a recent hearing on healthcare reform. "And it's clear to me that our economy cannot stand much further deficit spending."
Nonetheless, the current agreement on principles contrasts markedly with previous reform efforts. Today, many of the key players in the debate see the importance of preserving elements of the current healthcare system that many Americans say they like.
"There is a growing understanding that you have to give people choice and you can't take away what they have," said Ron Pollack, head of Families USA, an influential advocacy group for healthcare consumers that is working with a diverse collection of interest groups to build consensus. "One of the big no-nos is that you must not ever threaten the coverage that people have."
The Clinton Effort
Fifteen years ago, there was much less agreement about preserving an employment-based system that now insures about 177 million people.
Opponents of President Clinton's plan were able to sink it by raising the specter that government would take away consumers' choices in a new system that would force them into inferior health insurance.
But now the prospect of bold government action to address the healthcare crisis appears to have been accepted far more broadly by many of those involved in the debate.
Even business leaders traditionally wary of government intervention now are pushing for the federal government to act decisively to reshape the healthcare marketplace - in large part because of the increasing burden imposed on them by rising costs.
"Doing this piecemeal is not going to work," said Todd Stottlemyer, president of the National Federation of Independent Business, which was also instrumental in defeating the Clinton plan.
Many involved in the healthcare debate, including Democratic lawmakers and members of Obama's team, also see healthcare reform as part of a broader economic picture.
Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill have begun sketching out plans for healthcare reform that, like Obama's plan, preserve the employer-based system and create a new system for those without insurance.
Last month, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) outlined such a plan in an 87-page white paper titled "Call to Action." Similar approaches have been endorsed by House Democrats.
In contrast, the Clinton administration drew up its healthcare reform plan with little involvement from congressional Democrats. In the Senate, then-New York Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who was chairman of the finance committee at the time, actively resisted the idea of sweeping change in healthcare.
There are no signs of a similar rift today, said Jacob Hacker, a political scientist at UC Berkeley who has written a book about the failed Clinton effort.
"Possibly more important than policy agreements," Hacker said, "is the fact that the political forces now are in alignment."
Monday, December 1, 2008
Sunday 30 November 2008
by: Kevin Berends, t r u t h o u t | Perspective
(Photo: Mark Wilson / Getty Images)
During the transition period there is a silent coup d'état occurring inside the federal government in the form of last-minute firings and dubious personnel placements. The easy response to this practice is: "That always happens during the transition period and it isn't even newsworthy. That's how Washington works - always has, always will." Perhaps, but considering how pervasively the Bush administration has flouted every branch of government, from ignoring Congressional subpoenas, to ignoring Supreme Court rulings, to violating the Geneva Conventions, to profuse and legally feeble signing statements - it's clear that embedding operatives loyal to the party and policies jettisoned by the voters in the election is tantamount to laying mines throughout the government.
As if this isn't enough, while the outgoing administration lays mine fields to sabotage President-elect Obama's initiatives that could threaten the status quo, it is also terminating outstanding federal employees whom the current administration can assume, correctly, would be supportive of the new president's policies. In the case of Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, who received her Notice of Proposed Removal from the Environmental Protection Agency on October 30, 2008, the message is clear: remove the person who has demonstrated like no other person within the EPA a determination to ensure that what the agency protects is the environment (as opposed to the corporations and other interests whose practices harm the environment but yield staggering profits) - and a chilling effect on other conscientious workers will have been achieved. Dr. Coleman-Adebayo's landmark court victory in Coleman-Adebayo v. Browner (former EPA Administrator Carol Browner,) represents the most serious challenge the status quo has ever seen. Thus, decapitate the head and the uncontrolled beast of conscientious federal workers will fall. Last week, this particular purge prompted a letter to beleaguered outgoing EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson from Congressional Liaison to the White House Chris Van Hollen, urging reconsideration of Dr. Coleman-Adebayo's firing, and the postponement of any further action until the transition is complete.
This poisonous cocktail of embedding shills within the federal government while terminating exemplars imitates the old Soviet-style purges, where dissidents were forcibly removed and expelled to the Gulag. For courageous federal employees, however, our Siberia is a fate of poverty and disenfranchisement. Further, the embedding and termination process allows Bush-sympathetic bureaucrats - whose allegiance is to the failed president's cronyism above concerns for an endangered environment - to keep "political insiders" within the bureaucracy to sabotage the Obama administration's best efforts to bring the EPA back into sync with the best scientific evidence we have - that there is no time to waste before environmental damage will reach the point of no return.
In the midst of severe economic downturn, terminated federal employees are sure to find themselves on the street without the possibility of future employment, because the government refuses, in many cases, to provide favorable recommendations for them. In many documented instances, the only thing these employees are "guilty" of was having blown the whistle on illicit practices within the federal system. Yet their firing often results in a twenty- to thirty-year gap in their employment history, because the "scarlet letter" of being fired discourages others from hiring them. This, of course, has cascading effects where many fired employees have lost their homes and have been added to the ranks of the unemployed and to the rising number of people having to rely on welfare to survive. While this is designed to produce a chilling effect and spread a cold climate of fear and intimidation throughout the federal system, it will do nothing to cool an at-risk planet.
Employees fearful that talking to the press will lead to them being identified and fired are controllable employees. This is where we need to give the devil his do. President Bush signed the No FEAR Act into law so that such retaliation and discrimination could be banished from the status quo. Or at least so it would appear to have been. Truth be known, No FEAR has been easily circumvented, for lack of enforceable code. But that's where the No FEAR II and Federal Disclosures Acts could come in - at exactly the right moment when the electorate, its new president, and a willing Congress - quite apart from looking the other way while decent people have their careers destroyed - could erase decades of business as usual.
Both acts would put teeth into existing Whistleblower protection law: by holding managers who tolerate discrimination, retaliation - and eleventh-hour purges - personally accountable for those crimes; by expediting claims against those managers through the courts, and by financial incentives for whistleblower attorneys.
The day when the old familiar rejoinder of "This is what always happens during the transition period" is a thing of the past and is as close as being within reach of Congress's vote and the president's pen.
Barack Obama's announcement today of Hillary Clinton as his secretary of state will be one of the year's biggest surprises. Politico runs an article looking at the development of Obama's and Clinton's relationship. It began cordially enough in the Senate, when Obama said he would look to Clinton as a model of how to handle political celebrity, but chilled in 2006 when Obama began preparing to run for president and Clinton thought he had not put in his time. The details of their primary battle are, by now, well hashed, but "I think that the people around each disliked the other candidate more than they ever disliked each other," says one Democrat. Obama repeatedly brought up Clinton as a VP possibility but was rebuked by his team. Throughout the fall, as Clinton campaigned for Obama in Pennsylvania and Florida, and with women voters, she earned his trust.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Prominent writers for DailyKos, the country's top liberal blog, are launching a new site to scrutinize and pressure the Democratic Congress.
This week, as most politicos focus on appointments in the incoming Obama administration, DailyKos bloggers began a "soft launch" for Congress Matters, which promises a "community-based political watch party" for Democrats on Capitol Hill.
"It'll be a place where we'll try to explain Congressional rules and procedure so that the netroots community gets a better handle on it and can become more effective advocates for their priorities," said David Waldman, an attorney and former Congressional aide who blogs on the front page of DailyKos under the name Kagro X.
While netroots activists often call Congress, Waldman explained, "the reality is that by the time a bill gets to the floor, it's almost too late to have any real impact by calling." The new blog will tap DailyKos' audience and brand, he told The Nation, with the aim of "getting people involved earlier in the process, teaching them about committee markups and the amendment process to eventually put them in a position where they can intervene at the critical points in the process -- the way lobbyists have learned to do."
Another Hill staffer turned blogger, Joan McCarter, penned an open letter to the Democratic Congressional leadership after the election, and posted it on DailyKos' coveted front page real estate. Even after election fever subsided, the site remains the eighth most popular blog in the country. (It beats techie favorites like the Google blog, better-funded news sites including CNN ticker, and even the traffic powerhouse ICanHasCheezburger, which posts pictures of cats.) McCarter pressed for Iraq withdrawal, economic renewal, health care reform and dismantling the unitary executive. "We've been in election land for so long on the blog that the community needs to regroup and change gears," she told The Nation.
The new blog arrives at at time when the traditional media is questioning the netroots' influence after the Democratic Senate Caucus embraced Joe Lieberman, and as some bloggers worry that Obama's initial appointments look more like a third Clinton term than bottom-up change.
This venture rebuffs Washington's penchant for measuring clout and the (understandable) urge to assess a new president. Instead, the Kossacks are bearing down further on legislative activism. In the end, it might even be a good route to influence, too.