Nick Baumann

Nick Baumann

Senior Editor

Nick is based in our DC bureau, where he covers national politics and civil liberties issues. Nick has also written for The Economist, The Atlantic, the Washington Monthly, and Commonweal. Email tips and insights to nbaumann [at] motherjones [dot] com. You can also follow him on Facebook.

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Dow Finishes Day Lower Than When Bush Took Office

| Wed Sep. 17, 2008 5:00 PM EDT

The Dow Jones Industrial average just closed for the day at 10609.66, about 50 points lower it was the week George W. Bush took office as president of the United States.* In seven and a half years, GOP stewardship of the economy has produced negative results in the stock market. Remember, this is the same stock market that the Bush administration (and John McCain) wanted to invest your Social Security money in. That money would have been managed, in part, by now-bankrupt Lehman Brothers and no-longer-independent Bear Sterns and Merrill Lynch.

If you invested in the stock market in 2001, betting that Republicans are better for the economy, you bet wrong. Instead, we're in the midst of what Alan Greenspan has called a "once-in-a-century" crisis. But since you're a well-informed reader of MoJo Blog (or perhaps of Kevin Drum), you already know that Democrats are better for the economy.

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Remember, it's not just the stock market that's done poorly under Republican leadership. It's also most Americans. GOP economic policies have redistributed wealth upwards, benefiting the private-jet-and-personal-megayacht set but leaving almost everyone else, including many who would technically be considered "rich", behind. Between 2002-2006, the bottom 90 percent of Americans got 4 percent of the nation's income growth, according to figures from the Center for American Progress (PDF). (The great chart to the right is from that same report). The 15,000 richest families in America got 25 percent of the income growth, and the median household income was 0.6 percent lower in 2007 than in was in 2000. And all these figures were calculated before the turmoil of 2008 and the chaos of the past week.

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Despite Palin's Rhetoric, Alaska Still Pursuing "Bridge to Nowhere"

| Mon Sep. 15, 2008 1:26 PM EDT

Sarah Palin has repeatedly made the (false) claim that she "told Congress 'Thanks, but no thanks' on the bridge to nowhere." Actually, when Palin campaigned for governor in 2006, part of her platform included supporting the bridge, even though by then it had already become a controversial symbol of federal pork. She didn't change course on the bridge until September 2007, almost a year after she was elected, when it became clear that Congress would not allow the earmarked money to be spent on the original bridge project. But on Monday, ProPublica's Paul Kiel reported that the Palin administration is still pushing for a bridge between the city of Ketchikan, Alaska and its international airport on nearby Gravina island:

Gov. Palin's administration acknowledges that it is still pursuing a project that would link Ketchikan to its airport -- with the help of as much as $73 million in federal funds earmarked by Congress for the original project.
"What the media isn't reporting is that the project isn't dead," Roger Wetherell, spokesman for Alaska's Department of Transportation, said. In a process begun this past winter, the state's DOT is currently considering (PDF) a number of alternative solutions (five other possible bridges or three different ferry routes) to link Ketchikan and Gravina Island.

ProPublica has more, including an Alaska Department of Transportation map of all the "different" bridges the Palin administration is considering building.

BofA Buys Merrill; Lehman Files for Bankruptcy; AIG, WaMu Teeter

| Mon Sep. 15, 2008 1:23 AM EDT

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While you were sleeping, the landscape of the US financial system changed dramatically. CNBC is calling it, "The biggest shakeup in the history of the US financial system." The country is in a "once-in-a century" financial crisis, former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan said on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday. The New York Times reported late Sunday that Bank of America has reached a $44 billion deal to buy troubled investment firm Merrill Lynch. Another firm wasn't so lucky: Unable to find a buyer over the weekend, 158-year-old investment bank Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy Monday morning. Lehman's liquidation will mark the largest collapse of a Wall Street bank since Drexel Burnham Lambert folded in the wake of the junk bond scandal almost two decades ago.

The problems don't end there. "We will see other major financial firms fail," Greenspan said on "This Week." Giant insurance company American International Group (A.I.G.) asked the Federal Reserve for $40 billion, "without which the company may have only days to survive," according to the Times. Washington Mutual, too, may be in trouble, after its shares plummeted late last week and Moody's Investor Service downgraded the bank's debt to "junk" status. And in Europe, a Swiss newspaper reported that Swiss bank UBS will have to take another $5 billion in write-downs.

We'll see what happens over the course of the day on Monday, but A.I.G., at least, seems to be in serious trouble. Adam Bakhtiar, a CNBC analyst, called Sunday's events a "tidal wave of horrific news." James K. Galbraith, an economist and contributing writer for Mother Jones, wrote in an email that while he has "a pretty good record on attacking Wall Street," his "schadenfreude is very much under control at the moment":

The world will not be a better place with two free-standing investment banks—Goldman [Sachs] and Morgan [Stanley]—and a half-dozen major commercial banks, if that, running everything. Further, there is a risk that the unraveling will become disorderly and out of control from this point, as assets hit the market in fire sales and do not find takers. This will affect pension funds and greatly compound the collapse of the wealth position of the middle class.... The collapse of Wall Street will hit Main Street like Ike hit Houston.

So how do we get out of this crisis? Well, the prime mover of all of these problems is the collapse of the housing bubble in the United States. "There's no question that this is in the process of outstripping anything I've seen, and it still is not resolved and it still has a way to go," Greenspan said Sunday. "And indeed, it will continue to be a corrosive force until the price of homes in the United States stabilizes."

The collapse of Lehman and the broadening crisis will undoubtedly be topic "A" for the presidential campaigns this week. Barack Obama and John McCain want to lead this country. How do they plan to respond to Monday morning's news?

Palin, Giuliani Mocked Obama's Organizing Work, But It Was Sponsored By The Catholic Church

| Thu Sep. 4, 2008 5:20 PM EDT

Last night at the Republican National Convention, both Rudy Giuliani and McCain veep choice Sarah Palin mocked Barack Obama's work as a community organizer in Chicago two decades ago. Comparing her experience to Obama's, Palin said "I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer—except that you have actual responsibilities." Despite the fact that organizers do have responsibilities, Palin's derision was echoed by the delegates in the hall, who roared with laughter at the idea that "community organizing" is real work.

But in guffawing at Obama's work, the GOP was mocking the efforts of an important group: the Catholic Church. Obama's community work was part of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, a project sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The Campaign for Human Development has been the church's main anti-poverty and social justice program in America since 1969. Do Palin, Giuliani and all those GOP delegates really believe that bishops' effort to improve the lot of the poor and jobless is a laughing matter?

Mocking church-sponsored community organizing also undermines the right's case for faith-based initiatives and so-called compassionate conservativism. Under the conservative model, a caring citizen doesn't wait for the government to help; he raises himself and his community up—sometimes with the help of community (but non-governmental) groups. It's hypocritical for Republicans to make fun of people for doing what Republicans are always saying they should do—lifting themselves up by their bootstraps. If you want government to to do less, you ought to want community organizers to do more. And as Roland Martin pointed out yesterday on CNN (video below), community organizers are the people assisting Americans hit by the housing crisis and the sputtering economy:

Palin and Giuliani got a good laugh from a friendly crowd, but a lot of Americans won't be in on the joke.

Clinton v. Palin, Anyone?

| Thu Sep. 4, 2008 1:59 AM EDT

Below is a guest blog entry by economist and MoJo author Nomi Prins:

That wasn't Sarah Palin running for Vice President tonight. It was Palin running for President, reaching straight for the hearts of small town America, fists pumping the air, lips blowing kisses.

No matter who wins this year, I predict Palin will be on the ticket in 2012. If Obama/Biden win, Palin has just been groomed to be the GOP pick for 2012. And, if McCain/Palin win, well… she's next in line for the GOP nomination. And who do you think would be the Democrat? A Clinton/Palin fight could present a fascinating and less muddled arena in which the actual views and policies of two women trump their gender.

On the election at hand, progressives should over- rather than underestimate Palin's ability to debate Joe Biden, and concentrate on picking apart the policies she and McCain represent. Palin has shown she is tough enough to stand up to Biden, and that she can figure out what she needs to communicate (probably, even without a prompter). And maybe that's a good thing for all of us. It may bring more attention to the national issues, and less to her personal ones.

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