Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Fundamental Requirement of Social Change: A Mass Movement that Goes Beyond the Limitations of the President and Congress


This is the undeniable ugly truth in a nutshell...But the paramount question as always is: What are we gonna do about it?


October 17, 2009


Impatiently Waiting
By Charles M. Blow
New York Times

When, Mr. President? When will your deeds catch up to your words? The people who worked tirelessly to get you elected are getting tired of waiting. According to a Gallup poll released on Wednesday, Americans’ satisfaction with the way things are going in the country has hit a six-month low, and those decreases were led, in both percentage and percentage-point decreases, by Democrats and independents, not by Republicans.

The fierce urgency of now has melted into the maddening wait for whenever.

Take health care reform. Because of the president’s quixotic quest for bipartisanship, he refused to take a firm stand in favor of the public option. In that wake, Democrats gutted the Baucus bill to win the graces of Olympia Snowe — a Republican senator from a state with half the population of Brooklyn, a senator who is defying the will of her own constituents. A poll conducted earlier this month found that 57 percent of Maine residents support the public option and only 37 percent oppose it.

She is certainly living up to the state’s motto: Dirigo. That’s Latin for “I lead.” And the Democrats have followed. For shame.

When will the president take the risk of standing up for his convictions on health care instead of sacrificing good policies for good politics? (Or maybe not even good politics since a one-sided compromise is the same as a surrender.)

And health care is only one example.

On the same weekend that gay rights protesters marched past the White House, the president again said that his administration was “moving ahead on don’t ask don’t tell.” But when? This month? This year? This term?

As we prepare to draw down troops from the disaster that was the war in Iraq, we may commit more troops to the quagmire that is the war in Afghanistan and the government may miss its deadline for closing the blight that is the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Obama pledged to stem the tide of job losses and foreclosures and to reform the culture of the financial sector. Well, the Dow just hit 10,000 again while the national unemployment rate is about to hit 10 percent. And the firms we propped up are set to dole out record bonuses while home foreclosures have hit record highs. Main Street is still drowning in crisis while Wall Street is awash in Champagne. When will this imbalance be corrected?

Candidate Obama pledged to make the rebuilding of New Orleans a priority, but President Obama whisked into the city on Thursday for a visit so brief that one Louisiana congressman dubbed it a “drive-through daiquiri summit.” The president spent more time on the failed Olympic bid in Copenhagen than he did in the Crescent City.

At the town hall in New Orleans, Obama appealed for patience. He said, “Change is hard, and big change is harder.” Is that the excuse? Now where have I heard that before? Oh, yeah. From George Bush.

I invite you to join me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter, or e-mail me at

October 17, 2009

Bailout Helps Fuel a New Era of Wall Street Wealth
By Graham Bowley
New York Times

Even as the economy continues to struggle, much of Wall Street is minting money — and looking forward again to hefty bonuses.

Many Americans wonder how this can possibly be. How can some banks be prospering so soon after a financial collapse, even as legions of people worry about losing their jobs and their homes?

It may come as a surprise that one of the most powerful forces driving the resurgence on Wall Street is not the banks but Washington. Many of the steps that policy makers took last year to stabilize the financial system — reducing interest rates to near zero, bolstering big banks with taxpayer money, guaranteeing billions of dollars of financial institutions’ debts — helped set the stage for this new era of Wall Street wealth.

Titans like Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase are making fortunes in hot areas like trading stocks and bonds, rather than in the ho-hum business of lending people money. They also are profiting by taking risks that weaker rivals are unable or unwilling to shoulder — a benefit of less competition after the failure of some investment firms last year.

So even as big banks fight efforts in Congress to subject their industry to greater regulation — and to impose some restrictions on executive pay — Wall Street has Washington to thank in part for its latest bonanza.

“All of this is facilitated by the Federal Reserve and the government, who really want financial institutions to get back to lending,” said Gary Richardson, a research fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research. “But we have just shown them that they can have the most frightening things happen to them, and we will throw trillions of dollars to protect them. I have big concerns about that.”

Not all banks are doing so well. Giants like Citigroup and Bank of America, whose fortunes are tied to the ups-and-downs of ordinary consumers, are struggling to turn themselves around, as are many regional banks.

But the decline of certain institutions, along with the outright collapse of once-vigorous competitors like Lehman Brothers, has consolidated the nation’s financial power in fewer hands. The strong are now able to wring more profits from the financial markets and charge higher fees for a wide range of banking services.

“They are able to charge more for all kinds of services because companies need banks and investment banks more now, and there are fewer strong ones to help them,” said Douglas J. Elliott of the Brookings Institution.

A year after the crisis struck, many of the industry’s behemoths — those institutions deemed too big to fail — are, in fact, getting bigger, not smaller. For many of them, it is business as usual. Over the last decade the financial sector was the fastest-growing part of the economy, with two-thirds of growth in gross domestic product attributable to incomes of workers in finance.

Now, the industry has new tools at its disposal, courtesy of the government.

With interest rates so low, banks can borrow money cheaply and put those funds to work in lucrative ways, whether using the money to make loans to companies at higher rates, or to speculate in the markets. Fixed-income trading — an area that includes bonds and currencies — has been particularly profitable.

“Robust trading results led the way,” said Howard Chen, a banking analyst at Credit Suisse, describing the latest profits.

To prevent a catastrophic financial collapse that would have sent shock waves through the economy, the government injected billions of dollars into banks. Some large institutions, like Goldman and Morgan, have since repaid their bailout money. But most of the industry still enjoys other forms of government support, which is helping to stoke profits.

Goldman Sachs and its perennial rival Morgan Stanley were allowed to transform themselves into old-fashioned bank holding companies. That switch gave them access to cheap funding from the Federal Reserve, which had been unavailable to them.

Those two banks and others like JPMorgan were also allowed to issue tens of billions of dollars of bonds that are guaranteed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which insures bank deposits. With the F.D.I.C. standing behind them, the banks could borrow the money on highly advantageous terms. While some have since issued bonds on their own, they nonetheless enjoy the benefits of their cheap financing.

Granted, banks are also benefiting from a stabilizing economy. The fear that gripped the markets earlier this year, when doomsayers predicted a second Great Depression, has largely dissipated. Stocks, corporate bonds, even risky corporate i.o.u.’s — have all rallied from their bear market lows, some spectacularly so. The Dow Jones industrial average has soared 50 percent this year, and touched 10,000 this week for the first time since the crisis.

Banks that had marked down the value of the assets on their books during the dark days of the crisis are now enjoying a rebound in the value of many of those assets.

“Confidence has returned,” said Shubh Saumya, a financial services specialist at the Boston Consulting Group. “Some of the assets that bankers wrote down last year in the midst of the crisis, now they have got some of that back.”

As the number of banks has dwindled, the survivors are moving into the void left by rivals that are either dead or limping and unwilling to take risks.

A big reason for Goldman Sachs’s blowout profits this year has been the willingness of its traders to take big risks — they have put more money on the line while other banks that suffered last year have reined in such moves. Executives say there are big strategic gaps opening up between banks on Wall Street that are taking on more risks, and those that are treading a safer path.

Banks that have waded back into the markets have been able to exploit large gaps in the prices of various investments, a feature of the postcrisis financial markets. The so-called bid-ask spreads — the difference between the price at which banks are willing to buy things like bonds, and the price at which they are willing to sell — are roughly twice what they were two years ago.

Still, the newfound success is largely limited to the big securities houses on Wall Street. This week, Citigroup and Bank of America reported losses from credit card delinquencies and mortgage defaults — a sign of the lingering pain on Main Street.

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Ralph Nader On Corporate Capitalism, Class Struggle, 'Practical Utopias', and the Obama Administration


Truthout Interview With Ralph Nader: "Only the Rich Can Save Us"
Wednesday 14 October 2009
by: Jason Leopold, t r u t h o u t | Video Interview

Ralph Nader will always be remembered by his critics as the man whose bid for the White House in 2000 gave us eight years of George W. Bush. The disdain many liberals have for Nader still runs deep nearly a decade later.

But there's no denying the positive impact his activism has had on this country over the past half-century. Without Ralph Nader there wouldn't be an Environmental Protection Agency, an Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a Consumer Product Safety Commission, a Safe Drinking Water Act and so on.

Nader has also written scores of books, many of which spotlighted his crusade against corporate behemoths like General Motors and the two-party system he says has steered the country in the wrong direction. Simply put, Nader may be accused of being a "spoiler," but he's also a true believer.

Recently, I sat down with Nader to discuss his latest doorstopper of a book, "Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us" a fictional account involving real-life public figures, including Warren Buffet, Ted Turner, Yoko Ono and Phil Donahue, who set off to start a progressive revolution using their enormous wealth.

Although fictional, Nader does not refer to this highly readable tome as a novel. Rather, he describes it as a "practical utopia."

"Historically, our country has benefited from 'practical utopias,' or utopian fiction" that "infused and gave vision to the progressive movement," Nader said in our wide-ranging interview. "But in the last 50 years or so, we just haven't done much practical utopian fiction."

In addition to describing how the theme of his book can become reality, Nader also offered blistering analyses of President Obama's job performance thus far and the debate surrounding health care reform.

Though I pointed out to Nader that the president has only been in office for eight months (at the time of this interview), he referred to Obama as a "concessionary politician" despite his short time in office.

"He doesn't like conflict, he doesn't like taking on the corporate powers - he demonstrated that as senator of Illinois and senator in the US Senate. He is what might be called a concessionary personality, a harmony ideology," Nader said. "In Washington, you project that from the White House and the shark tank known as the Congress will eat you alive."

Nader said Obama has "lost huge momentum" in his attempt to overhaul the health care industry, in part because "he's turned his back on liberals and progressives who elected him. He doesn't invite them, for the most part, to the White House, but he invites the CEOs of the drug companies, of the auto companies, of the banks, and he bails out these crooks on Wall Street."

As for his political aspirations, Nader did not indicate whether he would mount another presidential bid. But he said he wanted to see "a major, historical, progressive convention convened to sort of elevate the whole progressive movement, with a thorough agenda of empowerment and substantive justice, and very substantial financial resources."

"The progressive movement - if it's not demoralized, it's fractured," Nader said. "It doesn't have a sense of pride and identity for what its forebears delivered to the American people."

Secondly, Nader said, "Maybe this book will stimulate some billionaires and mega-millionaires who are enlightened and of advanced age and have no axe to grind, who will come forward and take [on] their great cause."


For more information on "Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us," visit

To see more Truthout Videos check out our video page.

Obama's Back and Our Own: Michael Moore Weighs in on Nobel Prizes and The Big(ger) Picture


Excellent and insightful commentary by the best political documentary filmmaker in this country, Michael Moore (BTW: go see Moore's new film 'Capitalism: A Love Story"-- it's brilliant and right on target!). So I will join with Michael in cutting Barack some slack on the Nobel Prize and enthusiastically endorse Moore's far more important points on what we on the Left have to do to be "pro-active and push the agenda that we want to see enacted". I've been saying all that and more for a long time now of course but it can never be said (or acted upon!) too many times. These kind of reminders are always timely and necessary. So thanks for the heads up Michael! Now let's ALL get to work--including President Obama,,,


Get Off Obama's Back ...second thoughts from Michael Moore
Saturday, October 10th, 2009


Last night my wife asked me if I thought I was a little too hard on Obama in my letter yesterday congratulating him on his Nobel Prize. "No, I don't think so," I replied. I thought it was important to remind him he's now conducting the two wars he's inherited. "Yeah," she said, "but to tell him, 'Now earn it!'? Give the guy a break -- this is a great day for him and for all of us."

I went back and re-read what I had written. And I listened for far too long yesterday to the right wing hate machine who did what they could to crap all over Barack's big day. Did I -- and others on the left -- do the same?

We are weary, weary of war. The trillions that will have gone to these two wars have helped to bankrupt us as a nation -- financially and morally. To think of all the good we could have done with all that money! Two months of the War in Iraq would pay for all the wells that need to be dug in the Third World for drinking water! Obama is moving too slow for most of us -- but he needs to know we are with him and we stand beside him as he attempts to turn eight years of sheer madness around. Who could do that in nine months? Superman? Thor? Mitch McConnell?

Instead of waiting to see what the president is going to do, we all need to be pro-active and push the agenda that we want to see enacted. What keeps us from forming the same local groups we put together to get out the vote last November? C'mon! We're the majority now -- the majority by a significant margin! We call the shots -- and we need to tell this wimpy Congress to get busy and do what we say -- or else.

All I ask of those who voted for Obama is to not pile on him too quickly. Yes, make your voice heard (his phone number is 202-456-1414). But don't abandon the best hope we've had in our lifetime for change. And for God's sake, don't head to bummerville if he says or does something we don't like. Do you ever see Republicans behave that way? I mean, the Right had 20 years of Republican presidents and they still couldn't get prayer in the public schools, or outlaw abortion, or initiate a flat tax or put our Social Security into the stock market. They did a lot of damage, no doubt about that, but on the key issues that the Christian Right fought for, they came up nearly empty handed. No wonder they've been driven crazy lately. They'll never have it as good again as they've had it since Reagan took office.

But -- do you ever see them looking all gloomy and defeated? No! They keep on fighting! Every day. Our side? At the first sign of wavering, we just pack up our toys and go home.

So, at least for this weekend, let us celebrate what people elsewhere are celebrating -- that America now has a sane and smart man in the White House, a man who truly wants a world at peace for his two daughters.

Many, for the past couple days (yes, myself included), have grumbled, "What has he done to earn this prize?" How 'bout this:

The simple fact that he was elected was reason enough for him to be the recipient of this year's Nobel Peace Prize.

Because on that day the murderous actions of the Bush/Cheney years were totally and thoroughly rebuked. One man -- a man who opposed the War in Iraq from the beginning -- offered to end the insanity. The world has stood by in utter horror for the past eight years as they watched the descendants of Washington, Lincoln and Jefferson light the fuse of our own self-destruction. We flipped off the nations on this planet by abandoning Kyoto and then proceeded to melt eight more years worth of the polar ice caps. We invaded two nations that didn't attack us, failed to find the real terrorists and, in effect, ignited our own wave of terror. People all over the world wondered if we had gone mad.

And if all that wasn't enough, the outgoing Joker presid
ed over the worst global financial collapse since the Great Depression.

So, yeah, at precisely 11:00pm ET on November 4, 2008, Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize. And the 66 million people who voted for him won it, too. By the time he took the stage at midnight ET in the Grant Park Historic Hippie Battlefield in downtown Chicago, billions of people around the globe were already breathing a huge sigh of relief. It was as if, in that instant, one man did bring the promise of peace to the world -- and most were ready to go wherever he wanted to go to achieve that end. Never before had the election of one man made every other nation feel like they had won, too. When you've got billions of people ready, willing and able to join a cause like this, well, a prize in Oslo is the least that you deserve.

One other thought. The Peace Prize historically has been given to those who have worked to throw off the yoke of racial discrimination and segregation (Martin Luther King, Jr., Desmond Tutu). I think the Nobel committee, in awarding Obama the prize, was also rewarding the fact that something profound had happened in a nation that was founded on racial genocide, built on racist slavery, and held back for a hundred-plus years by vestiges of hateful bigotry (which can still be found on display at teabagger rallies and daily talk radio). The fact that this one man could cause this seismic historical event to occur -- and to do so with such grace and humility, never succumbing to the bait, but still not backing down (yes, he asked to be sworn in as "Barack Hussein Obama"!) -- is more than reason enough he should be in Oslo to meet the King on December 10. Maybe he could take us along with him. 'Cause I also suspect the Nobel committee was tipping its hat to all of us -- we, the American people, had conquered some of our racism and did the truly unexpected. After seeing searing images of our black fellow citizens left to drown in New Orleans -- and poor whites seeing their own treated no better than the black man they had been raised to hate -- we had all seen enough. It was time for change.

Thank you, Barack Obama, for giving us the opportunity to redeem ourselves. Now for the tasks ahead. We need you to do all that you promised to do. We need it. The world needs it.

My prediction for the future? You become the first *two-time* winner of the Nobel Peace Prize! Yeah!

Fred (that's Norwegian for "Peace"),
Michael Moore