Thursday, September 24, 2009

Climate Change is Killing Our People

Climate Change is Killing Our People

UN leaders should know: climate change is destroying my village in Uganda – flooding our homes and ruining our crops

by Constance Okollet

There are no seasons any more in eastern Uganda. Before, we had two harvests every year, but now there's no pattern. Floods like we've never seen came and swept up everything. It rained and rained until all the land was soaked and our houses were submerged in the water. This forced us to move to higher ground, where we sought refuge. By the time we came back home, all the houses had collapsed, our granaries were destroyed and food was washed away. The remaining crops were rotten, and our food was no more.

As the ground in the village remained flooded, there were a lot of mosquitoes around, and five of my family members became ill with malaria. Because there was no clean water to drink, some people got cholera and diarrhoea. Many of the people in my village died. Children didn't go to school since they were too weakened by disease and their parents had no money for school fees.

Our farms were ruined, so we didn't have food until the government came to help us. This was so humiliating for us, because we had never depended on aid to survive.

This year, when we managed to get seeds to plant for our own food, we were struck by a drought like we had never seen before. It was so hot, all of the crops dried up and the wells where we used to collect water also became dry. There was no water in the boreholes, and so the cycle of hunger and thirst returned, but this time caused by the excessive heat.

We didn't understand why this had happened. We wondered what we had done to make God so angry. But we now know it's climate change. The cycle continues, and it hasn't gotten much better, as we have had more droughts and more floods. It's very hard for us to grow food, and some mornings, I go to my field only to find that someone has stolen the potatoes. Although it makes me angry, I know that if my neighbours didn't steal the potatoes, they wouldn't have anything to eat.

When I heard that leaders of the world were meeting at the UN in New York to talk about fighting climate change, I wished that there was a way I could tell them what my community has gone through. I wanted to make them understand that we are getting poorer and poorer because of climate change, and we are dying. I wanted to be there to tell them our story.

With Oxfam's help, I am have joined a number of women like me from different corners of the world in New York to speak my mind.

I ask the leaders of the rich countries to take action to reduce their carbon emissions so that we can look forward to rains to plant our crops without having to face floods that wash them away. And I ask them to help my community fight the climate change that destroys our houses, increases diseases and stops our children from attending schools. That's all I am asking for on behalf of my fellow villagers.

Constance Okollet is farmer from the Tororo district in eastern Uganda. A mother of seven, she is also a community activist and chairperson of the Osukura United Women Network.

One Year After the Bank Bailout, We Still Need a People’s Economic Recovery

One Year After the Bank Bailout, We Still Need a People’s Economic Recovery

by Sarita Gupta

One year ago Jobs with Justice, a coalition of labor and community organizations, took to the streets to oppose the Bush Administration's bailout of Wall Street's banks and other financial institutions. We warned against transferring public money to private banks through Bush's Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) without some level of public ownership and control. But the TARP passed as is, entrusting the banks to put money back into the economy and help put the brakes on the recession.

Instead, these corporate criminals stole our money.

The banks said they needed taxpayer money to continue lending and to keep the economy running, yet they refuse to extend credit to viable companies like Hartmarx and Republic Windows and Doors. They are forcing small businesses to close and costing thousands of workers their jobs. Today, unemployment stands at 9.7%.

Mortgage lenders have failed to work with homeowners to curtail foreclosures, even those who qualify for refinancing. Today, nearly 1 in 25 homes is in foreclosure.

So what have the banks spent our taxpayer dollars on? Over the last year, we've watched one corporate scandal after another unfold. The bailed-out financial industry has paid outrageous executive salaries and bonuses, thrown lavish parties on foreclosed properties, and spent millions lobbying against health care reform, banking regulations, and workers' rights legislation. We must put an end to these corporate crimes.

Today, some pundits are starting to talk about the "end of the recession." Wall Street seems to be back to business as usual, and some banks are even turning profits. But what about the rest of us? One year later, what do your finances look like?

This week marks the one-year anniversary of the Wall Street bailout. Jobs with Justice will be in the streets again to demand that the banks stop using our taxpayer dollars to lobby for corporate interests instead of financing the recovery. The banks must extend credit to companies facing short term economic problems in order to stop unnecessary layoffs and plant closings. They must work with people at risk of foreclosure, and stop evicting them from their homes.

When Obama took office, he and Congress passed an economic stimulus package, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which included programs to help working people weather the economic downturn. This was a good start, but was clearly not enough to turn our economy around for working people.

We believe that our government can and must pass legislation that creates a better economy for everyone. The bailed-out banks are lobbying against the reforms that could help kick-start our economy and prevent future crises - financial reform, workers' rights legislation, health care reform, and mortgage regulation. We must not let the banks dictate an economic recovery for the top only. We need a people's economic recovery for us all.

Sarita Gupta is Executive Director of Jobs with Justice. For more information about JwJ’s economic recovery week of action go to

Saving the Obama Revolution

Saving the Obama Revolution

by Robert Scheer

The Obama revolution, and there was the hope of one, might still succeed. But only if Barack Obama follows the model of the incredibly successful Reagan revolution and heeds the political base that made his presidency possible.

Love him or not, Ronald Reagan had at least one outstanding political virtue-his respect for the concerns of those who placed their trust in him. And whenever the political vultures that feast on power tried to lead him astray, they were fired at the insistence of Reagan or his remarkably savvy wife, Nancy. Hopefully Obama and his no-less-impressive mate, Michelle, will do the same.

The first obligation of Obama as president is to be a peacemaker, since he as a candidate seized that mantle, successfully exploiting his early opposition to the Iraq war, which his closest rival, Hillary Clinton, had supported. Obama, as opposed to her flirtations with U.S. imperial arrogance, has stuck to a vision of a complex multipolar world in which the military option is to be chosen only as a last resort.

In that regard the president is making some progress, particularly with his decision to stop provoking the Russians with an unneeded and unworkable missile defense on their border. He also seems serious about getting the Israelis and Palestinians to peace negotiations, the one issue in the Mideast that must be solved if the region's religious fanatics are to be neutralized. And he will deserve credit if he backs his attorney general's quest to hold the enablers of a U.S. government torture policy accountable.

The deal breaker in foreign policy so far has been his escalation of the folly of U.S. nation-building in Afghanistan that feeds rather than mitigates terrorist recruitment. That is the unmistakable, if unintended, conclusion of the 66-page declassified report of Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal that became public this week. It states: " ... many indicators suggest the overall situation is deteriorating. We face not only a resilient and growing insurgency; there is also a crisis of confidence among Afghans-in both their government and the international community-that undermines our credibility and emboldens the insurgents."

The report makes clear that the insurgents are deeply divided into three camps (one of which previously fought against the Taliban) and are basically homegrown, and provides no evidence that defeating them has anything to do with making us safer from attack by al-Qaida terrorists. Lest we forget, the 9/11 hijackers found it easier to operate from Germany, San Diego and Florida rather than forlorn Afghanistan.

The foreign influence behind the insurgency comes primarily from one of the countries we are allied with; as the report notes, "Afghanistan's insurgency is clearly supported from Pakistan." And the document goes on to say that the historical India-Pakistan rivalry has now been transferred to Afghanistan, where "the current Afghan government is perceived by Islamabad to be pro-Indian." Great, another Kashmir battlefield in the making.

Obama was right during his appearances Sunday on the TV political talk shows to put the emphasis on going after what remains of Osama bin Laden's forces in Pakistan and elsewhere rather than simply throwing more troops into the Afghanistan war. He raised the all-important question of what U.S. troops in Afghanistan are expected to do.

The McChrystal report agrees that the key is the question of mission rather than simply increasing troop numbers: "Success is achievable, but it will not be attained simply by trying harder or ‘doubling down' on the previous strategy. Additional resources are required, but focusing on force or resource requirements misses the point entirely. The key take away from this assessment is the urgent need for a significant change to our strategy and the way we think and operate."

There is a sobering honesty to McChrystal's report that those who want to "win" in Afghanistan must take into account. The mission the general outlines is one of nation-building with a vengeance by U.S. forces that must forsake the safety of their bases, learn the local languages and enter into the administration of local life without being able to count on the support of the hopelessly corrupt and, after the rigged election, illegitimate Afghan government. "Afghans are frustrated and weary after eight years without evidence of the progress they anticipated," the report says.

It's the old winning-hearts-and-minds strategy that has never worked-as Richard Holbrooke, Obama's point man in the region, should know from his failed efforts to win hearts and minds during the war in Vietnam, where he specialized in "rural pacification." That was a Democrat's war, and the base of the party, which knows better than to repeat that disastrous error, should tell the president so.

Robert Scheer is editor of and a regular columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle.

'Local' Goes Loco

'Local' Goes Loco

by Jim Hightower

In "Through the Looking Glass," Humpty Dumpty declared, "When I use a word, it means what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less."

Mr. Dumpty would have loved living in our era of corporate-speak, when even a plain word of obvious meaning can be dumped down the semantical rabbit hole to be swirled and twirled by marketing meisters.

Then — sproing! — out it pops, looking like the same word, but now burdened with a convoluted connotation that is the very opposite of what the word appears to mean.

This corporatization of language is presently being applied to the common term, "local" — as in: right here, in the immediate vicinity, this neck of the woods, hereabouts, our backyard, etc.

In the past few years, "local" has become an important commercial term, as small businesses have proudly attached it to their products, services and presence in the marketplace. The term differentiates them from the gigantism, plasticity, aloofness and frequent abusiveness of faraway, big-box, chain operations. The message conveyed by these local enterprises is that "we are your neighbors, you know us and we know you, we share a community bond beyond just taking your money."

"Local" is a growing movement in American commerce. Some 30,000 small businesses have organized themselves into "local business alliances" in more than 130 cities. The movement is phenomenally popular with consumers, who like the personality and uniqueness of homegrown enterprises and prefer to buy from people who keep consumer dollars moving through the local economy.

As a result of the movement's financial success, many more businesses are joining the local push. For example, such down-home outfits as Barnes & Noble, CVS, Frito Lay, HSBC, Starbucks, Unilever and Wal-Mart are trying to get in on the action.

Believe it or not, these giants are using TV ads and other promotional outlets to hawk their centralized, standardized and globalized brands as "local." Here are a few of the twists they've made in the straightforward definition of the term:

— HSBC, a sprawling, British-based financial conglomerate, has thousands of branch banks in localities across the globe (from Boston to Brazil), so it has labeled itself, "the world's local bank."

— Barnes & Noble, the biggest bookseller in the world, is trying to scale its image down to mom-and-pop level by proclaiming that "all book-selling is local."

— Hellmann's, a division of the Dutch-owned Unilever conglomerate, is claming that its mayonnaise is a local product because most of its ingredients come from somewhere in North America — a 9.5 million square mile stretch of "local."

— Starbucks, the ubiquitous 16,000-store caffeine purveyor, has been losing market share to cool, local shops that are the opposite of cookie-cutter chain stores, so the giant is opening a series of pretend-funky shops designed by corporate headquarters to present a "local vibe" — a consumer hoax that includes no display at all of the Starbucks name and logo.

These examples are closer to loco than they are to local!

Stacy Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance notes that the corporate pretenders are often boosted by economic development officials.

She recently reported on a "buy local" campaign in Fresno, Calif., in which county authorities sold out the true locals (as well as the English language) by proclaiming, "Just so you know, buying local means any store in your community: mom-and-pop stores, national chains, big-box stores — you name it."

This "ya'll come" perversion of reality is supported by PR consultants for giant marketers. As rationalized by Michelle Barry, an executive of the Hartman Group: "There is a belief that you can only be local if you are a small and authentic brand. This isn't necessarily true; big brands can use the notion of local to their advantage as well. ... It's a different way of thinking about local that is not quite as literal."

Wow, Humpty Dumpty would be proud of her! By that definition, "Made in China" could be local.

To connect with the "literal" world of local business, contact the Institute for Local Self-Reliance:

National radio commentator, writer, public speaker, and author of the book, Swim Against The Current: Even A Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow, Jim Hightower has spent three decades battling the Powers That Be on behalf of the Powers That Ought To Be - consumers, working families, environmentalists, small businesses, and just-plain-folks.

Collapse or Survive: The Stark Choice Facing Our Species

Collapse or Survive: The Stark Choice Facing Our Species

We all know what has to happen. But are we too primitive and irrational to do it?

by Johann Hari

We are - at the same time - thrillingly close and sickeningly far from solving our planetary fever. The world's leaders huddled in New York City yesterday to discuss man-made global warming, in a United Nations building that will soon be underwater if they fail. They all know what has to happen: their scientists have told them, plainly and urgently.

As man-made warming rises by up to 2.4C, all sorts of awful things happen - whole island-states in the South Pacific will drown, for example - but we can stop it. If we turn off the warming gases, the temperature will stabilise. But if we go beyond 2.4C, global warming will run away from us, and we will have lost the "Stop" button. The Amazon rainforest will dry out and burn down, releasing all the carbon stored in the trees; the vast amounts of warming gases stored in the Arctic will be belched into the atmosphere; and so 3C will turn ineluctably to 4C, which will turn to 5C, and the planet will rapidly become a place we do not recognise.

To stay the right side of this climatic Point of No Return, global emissions need to start falling by 2015 - just six years from now - and drop by 85 per cent by 2050. Our leaders need to agree this at the climate talks in Copenhagen in December. The scientific debate is over. The answer is in sight. Indeed, each one of the leaders could feel the solution on their skin and in their hair yesterday: it lies in the awesome power of the sun.

Each day, the sun bombards our planet with 9,000 times more power than we need to run every car, warm every home, and power every electrical appliance on earth. If we can capture just a sliver of one per cent of it, we can kick fossil fuels into the melting dustbin of history. The technology exists. It is there, waiting for us. Professor Anthony Patt has shown that all the energy Europe needs could be provided by lining 0.3 per cent of the Sahara desert - an area the size of Belgium - with concentrating solar power technology. A consortium of Germany's leading corporations is raring to go. They just need the money. It costs a lot up front - $50bn - but this is nothing like as much we would spend chasing the last dribbles of oil into warzones, and defending ourselves as the planet goes into meltdown.

Every continent has the same option. The entire energy needs of the US could be met by covering 200 square kilometres of its empty deserts with solar plants: it would cost about 10 years' worth of oil purchases, with none of the wars, tyrannies, or blowback Islamism. China and India have similar options. It is achievable, with the kind of great effort we made to defeat the Nazis. We too could be a great generation - one that came close to the brink, but then came together in a great collective effort to change course. We would leave a lean, green civilisation that will run for millennia.

But instead, our leaders are fiddling with the old dirty technologies, too addicted and too addled to move us on and up. In Britain, we are actually turning back to coal, mining 15 per cent more this year than last. Professor Jim Hansen, the head of Nasa and the world's leading climatologist, calls coal power stations "death factories" that condemn millions to drown, or starve, or burn. Across Europe, solar power is being allowed to wither: Germany's biggest solar company, Q-Cells, has seen its stock fall from €100 to €10 in a year. The other market-leader, Spain, has seen a similarly disastrous fallback.

The World Bank, which receives £400m of your taxes every year, is promoting this soot-streaked vision across the planet. They have just spent $5bn helping poor countries to build power plants that will destroy them. Indeed, it just bankrolled the single biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in earth - a coal plant in Gujarat, Western India.

How can this possibly be defended? US and European governments are engaged in the collective fantasy that coal can be rendered "clean" by "scrubbing" its carbon emissions from the chimney-stacks, and storing them somewhere forever. In the real world, one of the largest "clean coal" pilot plants in operation, Hazelwood power station in the Latrobe Valley, catches just 0.05 per cent of its carbon emissions. Professor Howard Herzog, the renowned expert on this technology, was recently asked what the chances of the technology achieving the cuts we need is. He replied: "Zero."

But a small number of people make a lot of money on coal and oil and gas. A shift to reaping power from the sun and the wind and the waves would render the rocks and barrels they have spent a fortune mining worthless - so they are prepared to pay politicians to keep the system working in their favour, and lavish billions on misinformation campaigns to keep us confused.

You can see this process working most clearly in the United States. Barack Obama is a highly intelligent man who has appointed some of the best scientists in the world to explain to him what needs to happen now. But he is trapped in a political system soaked in petrol. The lackey-filled House of Representatives has passed a woefully inadequate "Cap and Trade" bill, which - if it worked perfectly - would cut emissions by six per cent below 1990 levels. Even that won't happen: many of the permits oil companies are supposed to pay for will now be given away for nothing, producing no reductions at all. And even this feeble, sickly bill may not make it through Congress.

Meanwhile, China has hinted it would agree to more substantial restraint at Copenhagen if the rich world - responsible for 90 per cent of all the warming gases belched into the atmosphere so far - agrees to give one per cent of its GDP annually to poor countries to adjust to clean fuels. There's a lot to criticise the Chinese dictatorship for, but this isn't one of them. It's a reasonable request for simple justice. Poor countries have done very little to cause this crisis, but they will feel the worst, first. They deserve our reparations. Yet both the EU and US have damned this sane proposal as "totally unrealistic".

So are we, as a species, condemned to fall into the historical crack between a world powered by fossil fuels, and one powered by the sun? Will the fossil record discovered millions of years from now show we were just too irrational and too primitive to make that leap?

If we despair and wait glumly for the meltdown, we will make it so. Then we will have little choice but to try to survive as best we can in a radically altered landscape. But there is still a slim window in which sanity can prevail - and I believe, perhaps madly, that it can. It will require a global mass movement of extraordinary tenacity, pressuring governments everywhere, and overpowering the fossil fools. We can still change the tale of the 21st century from one of collapse to one of a species finding a way to live with its ecosystem, rather than against it.

It can be done. It must be done. Copenhagen is in three months. There, and in the years after when the deal must be implemented, we will learn something profound about ourselves. Are we a great generation - or the worst of all?

Johann Hari is a columnist for the London Independent. He has reported from Iraq, Israel/Palestine, the Congo, the Central African Republic, Venezuela, Peru and the US, and his journalism has appeared in publications all over the world.

A Novel Idea

A Novel Idea

by Ralph Nader

At a little noticed meeting with Senate Democrats, Warren Buffett, the famous investors' guru, told the lawmakers that rich people are not paying enough taxes.

A tax increase for the very wealthy? Many of the Senators backed away from that recommendation, even though it came from the world's second richest man. That is just one reason why Mr. Buffett plays a central role in my first work of fiction, Only the Super Rich Can Save Us! The title is derived from an exchange between Buffett and a woman from New Orleans. Buffett is leading a convoy of critical supplies right after Katrina to help the fleeing poor stranded on the highways without food, water, medicine and shelter. At one stop, Buffett was distributing supplies when a grandmother clasped his hands, looked right into his eyes and cried out: "Only the super-rich can save us!"

Her words jolted Buffett to his core. Arriving back at his modest home in Omaha, he knew what he had to do.

The next scene is early January 2006. Buffett and 16 enlightened super-rich elders gather at a mountaintop hotel in Maui, and devise an elaborate strategy to take on the corporate goliaths and their Washington allies, and to redirect the country toward long overdue changes.

What follows is a top-down, bottom-up mobilization of Americans from all backgrounds in a head-on power struggle to break the grip of the corporate titans on our government.

With four out of five Americans believing that the U.S. is in decline, imagining the super-rich powerful engine revving up an organized citizenry is a precondition to revitalizing democracy.

Tom Peters, the best selling author of In Search of Excellence summed up my book's objective by calling it a work of fiction that he would love to see become nonfiction.

Step by step, week by week, Buffett's super-rich, who call themselves "the Meliorists" build their campaigns-first privately and then openly launching their initiatives during the 4th of July weekend with media, fanfare and parades.

Turning real, well-known people into fictional roles does not mean that their past achievements and beliefs are overlooked. To the contrary, I extend their achievements and beliefs to a much more intense level of what I believe they wish to see our country become.

Over the years, I have spoken to many super-rich and found many of them discouraged and saddened about our nation's inability to solve major problems-a society paralyzed because the few have too much political and economic power over the many.

Buffett, in my ‘political science fiction,' to use my colleague Matt Zawisky's phrase, selected people like George Soros, Ted Turner, Ross Perot, Sol Price, Yoko Ono, William Gates Sr., Barry Diller, Bill Cosby, Joe Jamail, Bernard Rapoport, Leonard Riggio, Phil Donahue, and others because each brought unique experience, determination, money and rolodexes to that secluded Maui hotel where they met every month.

The "Meliorists" address the enormous mismatch of resources between citizen groups and the corporate supremacists. This time the entrenched CEOs are challenged by the retired or elderly billionaires and megamillionaires who know the ways and means of business and political power, and can throw the resources, smarts and grassroot organizing talent against the corporate behemoths, who are not reluctant to counterattack.

In 1888, a Bostonian by the name of Edward Bellamy published a tremendous bestseller about a utopian U.S. in the year 2000 called Looking Backward. The book inspired the then-growing progressive movement.

Obviously, Bellamy's utopian dream was not actualized. In my book, I show not a utopian society but a primer for how the super-rich, as a catalyst, could provide the means for millions of Americans to upgrade their quality of life and their livelihoods while confidently building civic and political institutions to hold and extend their gains.

I mean this book to interest anyone searching for ways to make fundamental, sustainable change. With this book you could see how your favorite big issue could be handled strategically and tactically. If you just want to escape your despair over our national gridlock and peer into the possible, into what could happen now if enough people and progressive super-rich come together, this book is for you, too.

Every week, leading reformers in our country produce documentations, diagnoses, denunciations of injustice and proposals to address it. Little happens. Too many mismatches. We need major catalysts. But first, we need imaginations rooted in fulfilling available potentials-transformations for us and for posterity.

By the way, my fictional Meliorists have a task force on posterity as well. For more, see OnlyTheSuperRich.Org. Take it from there.

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer, and author. His most recent book - and first novel - is, Only The Super Wealthy Can Save Us. His most recent work of non-fiction is The Seventeen Traditions.

Obama Tightens State Secrets Standard

Obama Tightens State Secrets Standard

New Policy May Affect Wiretap, Torture Suits

by Carrie Johnson

The Obama administration on Wednesday announced a new policy making it much more difficult for the government to claim that it is protecting state secrets when it hides details of sensitive national security strategies such as rendition and warrantless eavesdropping.

[President Barack Obama's administration on Wednesday made it more difficult for the government to suppress information on security grounds, amid allegations the power was used to cover up Bush-era excess. Attorney General Eric Holder, pictured in August 2009, announced that from today he would personally review claims to state secrecy privilege, and vowed tougher standards would be put in place. (AFP/Getty Images/File/Win Mcnamee)]President Barack Obama's administration on Wednesday made it more difficult for the government to suppress information on security grounds, amid allegations the power was used to cover up Bush-era excess. Attorney General Eric Holder, pictured in August 2009, announced that from today he would personally review claims to state secrecy privilege, and vowed tougher standards would be put in place.(AFP/Getty Images/File/Win Mcnamee)
The new policy requires agencies, including the intelligence community and the military, to convince the attorney general and a team of Justice Department lawyers that the release of sensitive information would present significant harm to "national defense or foreign relations." In the past, the claim that state secrets were at risk could be invoked with the approval of one official and by meeting a lower standard of proof that disclosure would be harmful.

That claim was asserted dozens of times during the Bush administration, legal scholars said.

The shift could have a broad effect on many lawsuits, including those filed by alleged victims of torture and electronic surveillance. Authorities have frequently argued that judges should dismiss those cases at the outset to avoid the release of information that could compromise national security.

The heightened standard -- described in a memorandum issued by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. -- is designed in part to restore the confidence of Congress, civil liberties advocates and judges, who have criticized both the Bush White House and the Obama administration for excessive secrecy. The new policy will take effect Oct. 1 and has been endorsed by federal intelligence agencies.

"This policy is an important step toward rebuilding the public's trust in the government's use of this privilege while recognizing the imperative need to protect national security," Holder said in a statement. "It sets out clear procedures that will provide greater accountability and ensure the state secrets privilege is invoked only when necessary and in the narrowest way possible."

The policy, however, is unlikely to change the administration's approach in two high-profile cases, including one in San Francisco filed by an Islamic charity whose lawyers claim they were subjected to illegal government wiretapping. That dispute, involving the al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, provoked an outcry from the American Civil Liberties Union and other public policy groups this year after the Obama Justice Department followed the Bush strategy and asserted "state secrets" arguments to try to stop the case.

In a separate lawsuit filed by five men who say they were transported overseas to CIA "black site" prisons, where they underwent brutal interrogation, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit this year criticized the Justice Department for making a sweeping argument to scuttle the case and keep even judges from reviewing materials.

To side with the government, the court ruling said, would mean that judges "should effectively cordon off all secret government actions from judicial scrutiny, immunizing the CIA and its partners from the demands and limits of the law."

In a news conference the day after the court's ruling, Obama told reporters that he thought the privilege was "overbroad" and could be curtailed.

"There are going to be cases in which national security interests are genuinely at stake and that you can't litigate without revealing covert activities or classified information that would genuinely compromise our safety," the president said in late April. "But searching for ways to redact, to carve out certain cases, to see what can be done so that a judge in chambers can review information without it being in open court, you know, there should be some additional tools so that it's not such a blunt instrument." Under the new approach, a team of career prosecutors must review and the attorney general must approve any assertions of the state secrets privilege before government lawyers can make that argument in court. Officials said the new policy will ensure that the secrecy arguments are more narrowly tailored and that they are not employed to hide violations of law, bureaucratic foul-ups or details that would embarrass government officials.

The policy will also severely limit the government's ability to claim that the very subject of some lawsuits should trigger the state secrets privilege, except when necessary to protect against the risk of significant harm.

It is unclear how the new policy will affect pending legislation on Capitol Hill, where Democrats in the House and Senate Judiciary committees have introduced bills that would give judges more authority to sift through sensitive evidence when the government has invoked the legal privilege. The legislation would raise the standard for state secrets to instances when the release of material "would be reasonably likely to cause significant harm to the national defense or the diplomatic relations of the United States."

That standard closely tracks language in Holder's memo.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), a co-sponsor of one state secrets bill, said reforms are a "priority . . . to bring a greater degree of transparency and accountability to a process that has been shrouded in secrecy."

The Justice Department officials said Tuesday that their agency would give regular reports on their use of the state secrets privilege to oversight committees on Capitol Hill and that the attorney general would pass along "credible" allegations of wrongdoing by government agencies or officials to watchdogs at the appropriate agencies, even if the administration had decided to invoke the legal privilege in sensitive cases.

The new policy was welcomed by Gary Bass, executive director of OMB Watch, a nonprofit that promotes government transparency. He said it was "enormously consistent with open-government recommendations" from himself and other advocates.

Since February, a Justice Department task force of eight lawyers has been sifting through about a dozen pending cases in which state secrets arguments have been made.

So far, they have reversed course in only one lawsuit -- a bizarre case in federal court in the District in which a former agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration accuses the State Department and the CIA of installing listening devices in a coffee table in his home.

Patriot Act May Get Renamed, but With a Few Changes

Patriot Act May Get Renamed, but With a Few Changes

by David G. Savage

WASHINGTON - The USA Patriot Act, a favorite of the Bush administration's fight against terrorism, may be renamed later this year as the Justice Act at the hands of congressional Democrats.

[Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., holds up a copy of National Security Investigations and Prosecutions, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2009, on Capitol Hill in Washington during the committee's hearing on the reauthorization of the Patriot Act. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)]Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., holds up a copy of National Security Investigations and Prosecutions, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2009, on Capitol Hill in Washington during the committee's hearing on the reauthorization of the Patriot Act. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
But the law, including its provisions that gave FBI agents more leeway to search computers and bank records, is likely to survive, albeit with changes to limit who can be searched.

"Security and liberty are both essential in our free society," Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said Tuesday in introducing a bill to extend three provisions of the law due to expire Dec. 31.

As a senator from Illinois, Barack Obama was a critic of the Patriot Act. Last week, however, the Obama administration asked Congress to extend the three expiring of its provisions.

The House subcommittee on the Constitution held its first hearing Tuesday on extending the Patriot Act. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., the chairman, said the law has "aroused a great deal of controversy and concern" but "remains a useful tool."

The provisions set to expire are not the most contentious parts of the law.

Far more controversial is the FBI's use of so-called National Security Letters to obtain financial records and computer information -- without the approval of a judge. That provision is not set to expire, and Leahy and Nadler said Tuesday they will not seek to repeal that part of the law but will press for changes.

Bank Lobby Defeats Obama Reform Plan

Bank Lobby Defeats Obama Reform Plan

Hill resisting financial plan

by Sean Lengell

Congress appears set to ignore President Obama's proposal that banks be required to offer "plain vanilla" financial products such as 30-year fixed-rate mortgages, giving the banking industry an early victory in its fight with the administration over how to reform the financial-services sector.

[Barney Frank (D-MA) chairman of the House Financial Services Committee waits for President Barack Obama to speak about the global financial crisis at Federal Hall in New York, September 14, 2009. (REUTERS/Jeff Zelevansky)]Barney Frank (D-MA) chairman of the House Financial Services Committee waits for President Barack Obama to speak about the global financial crisis at Federal Hall in New York, September 14, 2009. (REUTERS/Jeff Zelevansky)
Instead, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank will forge ahead with plans for a watered-down Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA) -- a blow to the administration's push for tighter regulations and more control over the banking and financial-service industries.

In a Tuesday memorandum from Mr. Frank to Democratic members of his committee that was obtained by The Washington Times, the Massachusetts Democrat said he was making several changes to the president's plan "to make clear that CFPA will not disrupt merchants, retailers and other nonfinancial businesses or subject banks and other depository institutions to needless additional regulatory burdens and costs."

Key among those changes is Mr. Frank's decision to omit the "plain vanilla" mandate from his pending CFPA bill.

So-called "exotic" financial products -- particularly subprime mortgages that typically offered low introductory payments that later ballooned in size -- have caused soaring default rates and were considered a major factor in last year's financial crisis. The administration had wanted to ensure that banks and other mortgage lenders give customers the option of less risky fixed-rate and simple adjustable-rate home loans.

But the mandate for "plain vanilla" products has appeared politically unattainable amid growing opposing from financial institutions, Republicans and even some Democrats.

Forcing banks to offer such products would mean that financial products not labeled "plain vanilla" would be ripe for lawsuits, said Scott Talbott, a spokesman with the Financial Services Roundtable, which represents some of the nation's biggest financial-services firms.

"The government should not dictate products," he said.

The proposal also was expected to fall flat in the Senate, where even some Democrats questioned the wisdom of mandating "vanilla" products.

Kirstin Brost, a spokeswoman for Senate banking committee Chairman Christopher J. Dodd, told the Associated Press that the Connecticut Democrat "has a hard time seeing how plain vanilla would work," but he is still working with his colleagues to draft the legislation.

Mr. Frank also is calling for "nonfinancial" businesses, such as merchants and retailers, to be exempt from CFPA oversight, according to the memo.

But Mr. Frank's revised plan still would create a new agency with many new powers. It would monitor the fine print on such products as mortgages and credit cards, and require that lenders be upfront about the cost of their products.

It also would consolidate many of the regulatory duties that are spread over several agencies, such as the Federal Reserve, the Office of Thrift Supervision, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

The financial-services industry has waged an aggressive advertising campaign against the proposed agency, saying it would stifle investment and innovation in the financial world and possibly slow down the flow of capital.

"There were some fissures that became apparent around mid-July when people said, 'Wait a minute, what does this thing really do?' " said one banking industry official. "It's really a huge government overreach."


This last panic, and the hopeless and imbecile incompetence cowardly imbecility and gross dishonesty of our eastern capitalist class has settled me once for all. I am tired of Wall Street and State Street. They are failures from their own standpoint. - Henry Adams writing of the 1893 fiscal panic

Monday, September 21, 2009

Court Rules Voter ID Unconstitutional in Indiana

by: Desiree Evans | Facing South

Voting booth in Indiana. (Photo: IndyDina / Flickr)

The voter ID debate was re-energized Thursday when the Indiana Court of Appeals struck down the Indiana state law requiring voters to show identification, considered the strictest voter ID law of its kind in the country.

As Facing South has reported, voter ID legislation was a hot-button and contentious issue across the country during the 2008 campaign season. Earlier this year, in state legislatures across the South and around the country, passing voter ID legislation quickly become one of the GOP's top issues for the 2009 legislative session.

The U.S. Supreme Court declared Indiana's voter ID law constitutional in April 2008, and it was this ruling that spurred much of the push for passage of ID laws in Republican circles. But the appellate court ruling this week said that Indiana's voter ID law did indeed violate the Indiana constitution by not treating all voters impartially.

According to the Indianapolis Star:

The ruling fanned the flames on a debate that has raged since 2005, when Indiana became the first state to require voters to show government-issued photo identification at the polls.
Republicans have long held that the law strengthens the electoral process and prevents fraud, while Democrats have insisted that it disenfranchises elderly, disabled and poor voters.

As the Indianapolis Star notes, Indiana's voter ID law has served as a lightning rod for criticism and as a model for other states. Thursday's Indiana ruling was based on a League of Women Voters' challenge that the law violated the Indiana Constitution by imposing a requirement on some, but not all, voters.

Voting rights advocates oppose voter ID legislation, much of which requires voters to present government-issued photo identification before they cast their ballots. Voting rights advocates underscore that these laws act as "de-facto poll taxes" and are discriminatory and burdensome, disproportionately impacting the indigent, elderly, students, women, people with disabilities, low income people and minorities. Several of these ID laws have prompted lawsuits from voting rights advocates.

The New York Times reports that the state level could be where the final battles will be waged over voter ID laws:

[Prof. Richard L. Hasen of Loyola Law School in Los Angeles] said Thursday's decision and a similar 2006 case in Missouri suggested that the federal courts, once a bastion of voters' rights, could be taking a back seat to more liberal state courts given the Supreme Court's conservative posture.
Michael J. Pitts, an associate professor at the Indiana University School of Law, agreed. "The state courts are much more amenable to these kinds of lawsuits than the federal courts are," Professor Pitts said, "and this is where these battles are going to be played out."

In other voter ID news, earlier this month Mississippi Republicans, including Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, came together to push for the 100,000 signatures that are needed to put voter ID on the 2010 Mississippi ballot. A bill requiring most Mississippians to show identification to vote passed in the Mississippi House in February, but died in the state Senate in March. Following this, Republicans took their efforts to the streets, kicking off a statewide voter ID petition initiative. In order to get voter ID on the November 2010 ballot, they'll need to fill the petition with 100,000 signatures by Oct. 7. The Mississippi Sun Herald reports that as of last week, about 35,000 signatures had been verified on the petition.


Battle Looms Over the Patriot Act

by: Charles Savage | The New York Times

Patriot Act (Illustration: Wiretap Studios / Flickr)

Washington - As Congress prepares to consider extending crucial provisions of the USA Patriot Act, civil liberties groups and some Democratic lawmakers are gearing up to press for sweeping changes to surveillance laws.

Both the House and the Senate are set to hold their first committee hearings this week on whether to reauthorize three sections of the Patriot Act that expire at the end of this year. The provisions expanded the power of the F.B.I. to seize records and to eavesdrop on phone calls in the course of a counterterrorism investigation.

Laying down a marker ahead of those hearings, a group of senators who support greater privacy protections filed a bill on Thursday that would impose new safeguards on the Patriot Act while tightening restrictions on other surveillance policies. The measure is co-sponsored by nine Democrats and an independent.

To read more about the future of the Patriot Act, click here.


As ACORN Grew, so Did Its Clout and Its Problems

by: Barbara Barrett | Mcclatchy Newspapers

Acorn symbol.

Washington - Long before two conservative young activists strode into an ACORN office wearing a hidden camera, the grassroots organization had been racking up kills in its decades-long quest to protect working-class people from what it saw as wrongheaded corporate interests.

ACORN - the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now - was founded in 1970 by a 21-year-old organizer who wanted to try a new way of lifting up low- and moderate-income workers.

It grew over the years, mushrooming from a one-man operation in Arkansas to 400,000 members working in 105 cities - the largest community organizing group in the nation.

According to Republican investigators and a top ACORN official, the group has received some $53 million in federal funding since 1994. Other funding comes from members' dues and foundations.

Along the way, activists helped pass state laws requiring living wages from companies contracting with state and local governments, and raising minimum wages. They helped monitor banks and lenders on the illegal practice of steering minorities into certain neighborhoods. They forged deals with corporations such as H&R Block to protect low-income earners. And they called attention to the rising scandal of subprime lending and the foreclosures that followed.

The non-partisan group also has helped register 1.7 million voters since 2004, many of them African-Americans and Hispanics in urban neighborhoods who were more likely to vote Democratic.

"(ACORN) has given a voice to people who would otherwise be politically powerless," said Peter Dreier , a professor of public policy at Occidental College in Los Angeles who has written about ACORN's work. "And it's rubbed the powerful forces in American society - particularly the Republican Party and big business - the wrong way."

In recent years, the organization also found itself accused of voter registration fraud after some of its canvassers turned in fake names to election offices in some states. And last year, the organization's board pushed out its founder, Wade Rathke , after learning that he had concealed for eight years the embezzlement of nearly $1 million by his brother.

Internal ACORN notes obtained by Republican investigators found some of the agency's top leadership worried about news coverage and angry at the actions of Rathke.

"Leadership has no faith in staff," read the minutes of an August 2008 meeting. "Wade betrayed them."

Rep. Darrell Issa , a California Republican, used the minutes as part of an 88-page report in July outlining what he called questionable - even criminal - practices by the group.

The GOP staff of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform , of which Issa is the top Republican, accused the organization of evading taxes, obstructing justice and improperly engaging in partisan political activities.

Weeks after the Republican House report, two undercover conservative activists began visiting ACORN offices across the country posing as a prostitute and her pimp.

In many of the offices, ACORN workers kicked the couple out and called police. But hidden-camera videos released earlier this month show ACORN workers at a handful of offices offering tax advice that appeared to encourage illegal activity.

Washington lawmakers reacted with fury, pushing to deny ACORN the right to receive much of its federal funding in separate votes last week in the House and Senate .

President Barack Obama's spokesman called the video's findings "completely unacceptable." ACORN fired the offending employees and ordered a halt to all new customers at its offices.

Conservative commentator Glenn Beck urged listeners to call their local newspapers and demand that the ACORN stories be put on the front page. Republican lawmakers lambasted the group as corrupt.

"Every day we continue to allow ACORN access to federal funding is another opportunity for this troubled organization to misuse and abuse taxpayer dollars," said House Minority Leader John Boehner .

Rep. David Price , a North Carolina Democrat, said the group bears watching.

"I want to see ACORN police itself; I want to see the federal government police ACORN," said Price, who was one of 75 House members voting against a motion to strip federal funding because of what he considered partisan posturing.

"It may well be there will be serious cutbacks on direct or indirect contract work that ACORN does," Price said.

The massive community group never was launched as a national effort.

It was founded in Little Rock, Ark. , in 1970 by Wade Rathke , who had previously worked as an organizer in Massachusetts .

"We were going to work very locally," Rathke recalled Friday in an interview. "I'd hoped that I could build an organizing model. I knew the chances of failure were huge."

Within a few years, the group expanded to South Dakota , then Texas and other states, 28 in all.

Robert Fisher , a professor of community organization at the University of Connecticut , said ACORN and its budget grew significantly during the second Bush administration as society became more stratified.

"ACORN was being a force for progressive change," said Fisher, editor of an upcoming book, "The People Shall Rule: ACORN, Community Organizing, and the Struggle for Economic Justice," due out next month from Vanderbilt University Press .

ACORN succeeded in part, he said, because it worked as a blend of local activists backed by a national structure.

"In their campaign against H&R Block , they were able to hold demonstrations at Block offices at 55 different sites around the nation simultaneously, so they could get the attention of a Fortune 500 company," Fisher said.

The group saw itself as both radical and practical.

When H&R Block began allegedly over-charging poor workers to help them get their Earned Income Tax Credit, ACORN picketed the group, but also encouraged state attorneys general to take action.

Eventually, ACORN and the company signed a deal to settle their differences and work together to educate low-income earners.

In one high-profile protest, a group of activists in Oakland, Calif. , padlocked themselves to a house being foreclosed on earlier this year, working on behalf of a homeowner who was a victim of a "rip-off loan," said Dreier of Occidental .

The group has worked within the mainstream political and economic system as well. Last summer, ACORN chief executive officer Bertha Lewis appeared with big-city mayors at a Washington press conference to tout mandatory settlement conferences between lenders and borrowers prior to foreclosure sales.

Around the country, workers at ACORN offices offer tax advice, loan counseling and housing assistance in low-income neighborhoods - some of it with federal funds.

In 2007, the group received $1.9 million from the Department of Housing and Urban Development for housing counseling, resident support services and Section 8 housing assistance, according to the database

ACORN officials say their impact has been significant.

An independent study done on behalf of ACORN found that the organization had brought monetary benefits worth $15.2 billion from 1994 to 2004 to moderate-income families through its work.

"Our mission is to help communities get more of a voice to better their lives, be it through better housing, decent schools or better neighborhoods," said Brian Kettenring , ACORN's deputy director of national operations.

But in recent years, the organization faced difficulties as it grew, say some observers.

"All of a sudden they had this infusion of money," Fisher said. "They became much more of a national force. ... They needed to become more formalized and more careful about what was going on, and they made errors."

According to the GOP investigation of ACORN, an outside legal firm warned the agency in 2008 that it could be improperly co-mingling financial accounts.

Meanwhile, local district attorneys in several states charged some ACORN workers with voter registration fraud. In one highly publicized case, forms were filled out with such names as Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck .

Dreier said most of those cases were revealed after ACORN brought the fraudulent registrations to officials' attention.


Tomgram: Ann Jones, Us or Them in Afghanistan?‏ A Regular Antidote to the Mainstream Media
September 20, 2009
Tomgram: Ann Jones, Us or Them in Afghanistan?

In Washington, calls are increasing, especially among anxious Democrats, for the president to commit to training ever more Afghan troops and police rather than sending in more American troops. Huge numbers for imagined future Afghan army and police forces are now bandied about in Congress and the media -- though no one stops to wonder what Afghanistan, the fourth poorest country on the planet, might actually be like with a combined security force of 400,000. Not a "democracy," you can put your top dollar on that. And with a gross national product of only $23 billion (a striking percentage of which comes from the drug trade) and an annual government budget of only about $600 million, it's not one that could faintly maintain such a force either. Put bluntly, if U.S. officials were capable of building such a force, a version of Colin Powell's Pottery Barn rule for Iraq would kick in and we, the American taxpayers, would own it for all eternity.

On the other hand, not to worry. As Ann Jones makes clear in her revelatory piece below, the odds on such an Afghan force ever being built must be passingly close to nil. Such a program is no more likely to be successful than the massively expensive Afghan aid and reconstruction program has been. In fact, for all the talk about the subject here, it's remarkable how little we actually know about the staggering expensive American and NATO effort to train the Afghan army and police. Stop and think for a moment. When was the last time you read in any U.S. paper a striking account, or any account for that matter, in which a reporter actually bothered to observe the training process in action? Think how useful that might have been for the present debate in Washington.

Fortunately, TomDispatch is ready to remedy this. Site regular Jones, who first went to Afghanistan in 2002 and, in an elegant memoir, Kabul in Winter, has vividly described her years working with Afghan women, spent time this July visiting U.S. training programs for both the Afghan army and police. She offers an eye-opening, on-the-spot look at certain realities which turn the "debate" in Washington inside out and upside down. Tom

Meet the Afghan Army
Is It a Figment of Washington's Imagination?
By Ann Jones

The big Afghanistan debate in Washington is not over whether more troops are needed, but just who they should be: Americans or Afghans -- Us or Them. Having just spent time in Afghanistan seeing how things stand, I wouldn't bet on Them.

Frankly, I wouldn't bet on Us either. In eight years, American troops have worn out their welcome. Their very presence now incites opposition, but that's another story. It's Them -- the Afghans -- I want to talk about.

Afghans are Afghans. They have their own history, their own culture, their own habitual ways of thinking and behaving, all complicated by a modern experience of decades of war, displacement, abject poverty, and incessant meddling by foreign governments near and far -- of which the United States has been the most powerful and persistent. Afghans do not think or act like Americans. Yet Americans in power refuse to grasp that inconvenient point.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Declare Your Independence From Government Tyranny!

By Danny Schechter and Mikael Page


As many conservative activists (Teabaggers, Birthers, Dittoheads, Wannabe Rambos and Members of Congress from South Carolina) rail against government programs and Obama imposed “socialism,” hardly any have yet elected to return government benefits they receive or have already put in the bank.

This form letter may help them in this regard. After all, we are sure they agree that it is the height of hypocrisy to take benefits from institutions that you personally disapprove of, or are in conflict with your values and ideals.



To: The Administrator, Social Security Administration
Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary, Health and Human Services
and all other relevant government officials and departments.

I am a [(check one) () man () woman () other () FOX news employee] over the age of 65. I am (check one) () white.

In the spirit of the 9-12 movement and the vision promulgated by Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and the Republican Party and its fellow travelers, I, the undersigned, hereby revoke all my current government benefits.

I hereby reject and repudiate my Medicare benefits and all other forms of Social Security. Despite my disabilities or the onset of various medical complications, my personal political philosophy dictates that I can no longer participate in what I consider an oppressive bureaucratic [(check one) () Socialist () Nazi () Fascist () Obamaist] system.

Furthermore, I shall be withdrawing all accounts from banks and other institutions that have received stimulus payments or TARP loans. I will withdraw my children from schools that receive government funding and I will, with all deliberate speed, reimburse federal, state and local governments for all benefits received in the course of my lifetime, including student or veterans loans, food stamps, tax rebates, and any all funds or benefits of any cash value. I will also cancel all mortgage deductions.

I base my decision on information I’ve gathered from [(check one) () cable news () my local bar () World Wrestling Federation () my friends and associates]. What’s more, I have skimmed legislation proposed by non-American President Barack Hussein Obama and his do-nothing-I-like Congress, and what I’ve read sounds like something straight out of [(check one) () Nazi Germany () Communist Russia/China/ North Korea/Canada () Terrorist Iran And All Those Other Countries () Sweden () New York City, especially Green Witch Village () all of the above].

Any monies gained from my reimbursements should ideally be put towards either paying down the national debt or invading China. If those initiatives are not feasible, please use the funds as you deem appropriate, with the exception of the following outstanding initiatives, as circled along with their reasoning:

(a) Economic stimulus: our free market Armageddon will correct itself
(b) Police & firefighters: much more effective if privatized
(c) Air traffic controllers: proven ineffective at keeping planes out of rivers
(d) ACORN: treasons too numerous to mention
(e) The Obamas’ wardrobe: they couldn’t look that good without taxpayer help

I find these to be grievous expenditures of taxpayer dollars, but then again, I also consider taxation a form of slavery, so technically all expenditures apply.

Thank you for your compliance with my request. If you would also, please forward this letter to all seniors who might be interested in joining with me, particularly [(check one) () Rupert Murdoch () Don Imus () Craig T. Nelson], as his public image may help garner widespread support for this patriotic initiative.

I will also stop using the Internet because I have learned that its development was funded initially with national defense funds, not Al Gore’s personal wealth. I am considering returning my driver’s license because the government should not be regulating my freedom to travel. Ditto for other public services or any and all so-called “options.” I reject all options.

We also oppose zip codes as a violation of our Constitutional rights to privacy. Telephones are also to be avoided because of secret government surveillance along with the UN and its black helicopters. Finally, get the government and the FDA out of the drug approval business; if you don’t trust it, don’t take it!

Thank you again, and burn in hell, you [(check one) () liar () Marxist () appropriate racial epithet].

Stronger, Less Civil, Message To Follow.

These Colors Do Not Run!

Patriotically yours,

[insert name, address and social security number]

– News Dissector Danny Schechter edits and is just finishing a book and film about the financial crisis as a crime story. Mikael Page is a Globalvision intern. Comments to

Obama Tip-Toes Around Wall Street's Looming Meltdown

By Nomi Prins, Mother Jones. Posted September 16, 2009.

Obama claims that govt. funding of the banking system saved the economy, but without reform he is playing an expensive and dangerous game.

In Special Coverage

Mythmaking 101: Why Millions Have Bought into 'Death Panel' Propaganda
Kenny Smith

Corporate Accountability and WorkPlace:
Why We're Fighting a Trade War with China Over Tires
Marie Cocco

What's the Matter with San Diego? An Anti-Marijuana City in the Green Oasis of California
Phillip S. Smith

Can Condoms Save Us from Climate Change?
Tara Lohan

Health and Wellness:
Unbelievable: As a Lesbian Mother, I Have to Pay More For Health Care
Elizabeth G. Hines

Arguments Against "Birth Right" Citizenship Run Against Constitutional Principles
Elizabeth B. Wydra

Media and Technology:
Time Magazine's Dishonest and Incompetent Profile on Glenn Beck Enables His Sick Lies
Jamison Foser

Movie Mix:
Michael Moore's 'Capitalism' Flick Rips into Crimes of Wall Street
Xan Brooks

Racism in America Doesn't Stop with Glenn Beck and His Fans -- It's in Our Health Care Debate Too
Allison Kilkenny

Reproductive Justice and Gender:
The Insurance Industry's Heartless Logic: Getting Beaten by Your Husband Is an Excuse to Deny Coverage
Ryan Grim

Rights and Liberties:
Why We Need a Government Agency to Defend the Pursuit of Happiness
Walter Mosley

Sex and Relationships:
What Happened When I Had Sex With Married Women I Met on a Website for Cheaters
Jack Harrison

Take Action:
Stop GOP Hooligans From Stalling Health Reform
Byard Duncan

Take Back the Tap and Keep Supporting Municipal Water Systems
Robin Madel

Why I Threw My Shoes At Bush
Mutadhar al-Zaidi

More stories by Nomi Prins

On Monday-one year after the once-mighty Lehman Brothers collapsed in the nation's biggest bankruptcy-President Obama addressed the state of the economy and again outlined his proposals for what he calls reform. The location-Federal Hall at 26 Wall Street, near the New York Stock Exchange and New York Federal Reserve Bank-was fitting. George Washington took his presidential oath there, a precursor for how intertwined Washington and Wall Street would become. And Obama's speech indicates that he's still making the grave error of mistaking the health of Wall Street for the health of the American economy.

Obama chose not to deliver his speech on, say, the streets of Bend, Oregon, or Fresno, California, which provide different indicators of our economic predicament. That's because Washington's approach to the crisis has been to focus on the banking system, throw a few crumbs to citizens, and hope everything else will magically work itself out.

The problem with concentrating on the banking system is that it allows the administration to present an overly optimistic assessment of its actions. "The storms of the past two years are beginning to break," Obama pronounced, attributing this to a government that "moved quickly on all fronts, initializing a financial stability plan to rescue the system from the crisis and restart lending for all those affected by the crisis." He continued: "By taking aggressive and innovative steps in credit markets, we spurred lending not just to banks, but to folks looking to buy homes or cars, take out student loans, or finance small businesses. Our home ownership plan has helped responsible homeowners refinance to stem the tide of lost homes and lost home values."

Those steps were certainly aggressive. Under both the Bush and Obama administrations, the government, from the Federal Reserve to the Treasury Department, has flushed the banking systems and other components of the financial markets with $17.5 trillion worth of loans, guarantees, and other forms of support. About another $1 trillion has been provided to citizens through the recovery package, first-time homeowner tax benefits, auto purchase credits, and approximately $800 billion to help guarantee the loans of certain lenders-which somewhat helps borrowers, but helps lenders more.

But these measures have hardly brought the economy back from the brink. They brought Wall Street back from capital starvation and prevented the possibility of more big banks going bankrupt-instead of the slew of smaller and mid-size ones that have since met the same fate as Lehman Brothers. Taking credit for stabilizing the financial system after feeding it with massive amounts of federal money is like a teacher bragging about turning around the academic performance of a failing student after handing them all the answers to the big tests.

Here's how the economy is really faring (and how Washington is failing to take adequate steps to fix it):

  • National unemployment is at 9.7 percent, higher than last year's 5.8 percent, with double digit jobless rates in 139 metropolitan areas this July, compared to 14 last July.
  • The number of foreclosures is greater than last year: nearly 2 million new foreclosure filings occurred in the first half of 2009, up 15 percent from the same period in 2008.
  • While homes in some areas have begun to slowly sell again, they are doing so at deeply depressed prices, in many instances below their mortgage value.
  • Wall Street bonuses are back to pre-crisis levels. For some firms, such as Goldman Sachs, they are even higher.
  • Bank leverage, or excessive borrowing on the back of risky assets-a major cause of the meltdown-is rising again.
  • Geithner recently reported that his program to enable private financial firms to buy up toxic assets with government help will wind up costing less than the $1 trillion he had first envisioned. However, he did not mention that there are less toxic assets available to buy partly because the Fed has allowed banks to use some toxic assets as collateral in return for cheap loans.
  • Big banks are bigger than they were last year. Since the Fed blessed more mergers last fall, the nation's three largest banks-Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo-hold the maximum percentage of legally permissable US deposits or more.
  • Mid-size and smaller banks keep closing. This year, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) has closed 92 banks and depleted its deposit insurance money in the process.
  • We still don't have detailed information on the trillions of dollars of loans the Fed handed out to the banking sector or about the quality of the collateral banks provided in return.

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See more stories tagged with: economy, obama, wall street, federal reserve

Nomi Prins is a senior fellow at the public policy center Demos and author of Other People's Money and Jacked: How "Conservatives" are Picking Your Pocket (Whether You Voted for Them or Not)