Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

March 20, 2009



Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone -
It's over - we're officially, royally fucked. no empire can survive being rendered a permanent laughingstock, which is what happened as of a few weeks ago, when the buffoons who have been running things in this country finally went one step too far. It happened when Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was forced to admit that he was once again going to have to stuff billions of taxpayer dollars into a dying insurance giant called AIG, itself a profound symbol of our national decline - a corporation that got rich insuring the concrete and steel of American industry in the country's heyday, only to destroy itself chasing phantom fortunes at the Wall Street card tables, like a dissolute nobleman gambling away the family estate in the waning days of the British Empire.

The latest bailout came as AIG admitted to having just posted the largest quarterly loss in American corporate history - some $61.7 billion. In the final three months of last year, the company lost more than $27 million every hour. That's $465,000 a minute, a yearly income for a median American household every six seconds, roughly $7,750 a second. And all this happened at the end of eight straight years that America devoted to frantically chasing the shadow of a terrorist threat to no avail, eight years spent stopping every citizen at every airport to search every purse, bag, crotch and briefcase for juice boxes and explosive tubes of toothpaste. Yet in the end, our government had no mechanism for searching the balance sheets of companies that held life-or-death power over our society and was unable to spot holes in the national economy the size of Libya (whose entire GDP last year was smaller than AIG's 2008 losses).

So it's time to admit it: We're fools, protagonists in a kind of gruesome comedy about the marriage of greed and stupidity. And the worst part about it is that we're still in denial - we still think this is some kind of unfortunate accident, not something that was created by the group of psychopaths on Wall Street whom we allowed to gang-rape the American Dream. When Geithner announced the new $30 billion bailout, the party line was that poor AIG was just a victim of a lot of shitty luck - bad year for business, you know, what with the financial crisis and all. Edward Liddy, the company's CEO, actually compared it to catching a cold: "The marketplace is a pretty crummy place to be right now," he said. "When the world catches pneumonia, we get it too." . . .

The mistake most people make in looking at the financial crisis is thinking of it in terms of money, a habit that might lead you to look at the unfolding mess as a huge bonus-killing downer for the Wall Street class. But if you look at it in purely Machiavellian terms, what you see is a colossal power grab that threatens to turn the federal government into a kind of giant Enron - a huge, impenetrable black box filled with self-dealing insiders whose scheme is the securing of individual profits at the expense of an ocean of unwitting involuntary shareholders, previously known as taxpayers.

- Nineteen US states are demanding that insurance giant AIG reveal details of bonuses paid to executives, so they can take steps to recover the funds. This comes after New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said AIG had given him such a list.. . . Connecticut has also subpoenaed AIG for the details. Governor Jodi Rell said the state would pursue "all legal means available to void the bonuses and recapture the taxpayer dollars." The coalition of states is made up of Arizona, Delaware, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington and West Virginia.


The Obama administration
has advised federal agencies to release their records and information to the public unless foreseeable harm would result.

Telegraph - While not exactly a film buff, Gordon Brown was touched when Barack Obama gave him a set of 25 classic American movies - including Psycho, starring Anthony Perkins on his recent visit to Washington. Alas, when the PM settled down to begin watching them the other night, he found there was a problem. The films only worked in DVD players made in North America and the words "wrong region" came up on his screen. Although he mournfully had to put the popcorn away, he is unlikely to jeopardize the special relationship - or "special partnership", as we are now supposed to call it - by registering a complaint. . . A White House spokesman sniggered when I put the story to him and he was still looking into the matter when my deadline came last night.


WTOP, DC -- It began as a pilot program, but now D.C.'s Smartbike program is pedaling toward a huge expansion. By summer, the D.C. Department of Transportation will have expanded the current Smartbike system from 10 racks to 50 racks. . . The expansion will bring the total number of bikes on the city's streets to around 500. The goal is to get Smartbike running in all eight Wards of the District. . . . D.C.'s Smartbike program now has over 1,000 registered members and more than 10,000 rentals have been paid for. To become a member of Smartbike, users have to pay a $40 annual fee. Renters can take the bikes for three hours at a time and for an unlimited number of trips a day. When the program rode into the District last summer, it was hailed as the first of its kind in North America. The program has a good report card so far -- there have not been any accidents reported and only one bike has been stolen.


Huffington Post -
Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) reintroduced legislation to abolish the death penalty. [The move] comes just after New Mexico governor Bill Richardson's decision to ban capital punishment in his state. Feingold notes that "In 2007, only China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan executed more people than the United States."


Navy Times
- Thirty-eight graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., came out of the closet Monday with an offer to help their alma mater educate future Army leaders on the need to accept and honor the sacrifices of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender troops. . . "We're publicly announcing our sexuality, our orientation," said 1st Lt. Dan Choi, a National Guardsman with the 1st Bn., 69th Infantry, based in Manhattan. "It's just one part of who we are in saying that we are standing to be counted." In forming Knights Out, its 38 members are following the example of similar support and education groups formed by graduates of the U.S. Naval Academy and U.S. Air Force Academy, known respectively as USNA Out and Blue Alliance.


ABC News
- [In 2009] about 43 million U.S. households intend to grow their own fruits, vegetables, berries, and herbs -- up 19 percent from just last year -- according to data from the National Gardening Association.


Anonymous robbie said...

RE: videos to Gordon Brown

Bad enough that this was a state gift from us to the UK, but then nobody thought about the incompatibility issue?!? Too funny.

March 20, 2009 4:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Keep on top of the hard-hitting issues!

March 20, 2009 8:26 PM  

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