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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Free Internet Press Newsletter - Thursday January 29 2009 - (813)

Thursday January 29 2009 edition
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What Financial Crisis? Wall Street Paid $18.4 Billion In Annual Bonuses
2009-01-29 00:44:48

By almost any measure, 2008 was a complete disaster for Wall Street - except, that is, when the bonuses arrived.

Despite crippling losses, multibillion-dollar bailouts and the passing of some of the most prominent names in the business, employees at financial companies in New York, the now-diminished world capital of capital, collected an estimated $18.4 billion in bonuses for the year.

That was the sixth-largest haul on record, according to a report released Wednesday by the New York State comptroller.

While the payouts paled next to the riches of recent years, Wall Street workers still took home about as much as they did in 2004, when the Dow Jones industrial average was flying above 10,000, on its way to a record high.

Some bankers took home millions last year even as their employers lost billions.

The comptroller’s estimate, a closely watched guidepost of the annual December-January bonus season, is based largely on personal income tax collections. It excludes stock option awards that could push the figures even higher.

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U.S. Army To Report Record Number Of Suicides
2009-01-29 00:44:24
The U.S. Army will report Thursday the highest level of suicides among its soldiers since it began tracking the rate 28 years ago.

Statistics obtained by CNN show the Army will report 128 confirmed suicides last year and another 15 suspected suicides in cases under investigation among active-duty soldiers and activated National Guard and reserves.

The confirmed rate of suicides for the Army was 20.2 per 100,000. Army officials were reviewing the suspected suicides Wednesday. If any of them are confirmed, the rate would rise.

Last month, Army officials said the nation's suicide rate was 19.5 people per 100,000, a 2005 figure considered the most recent.

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Al Gore To Congress: Move Swiftly Or Face Catastrophic Global Warming
2009-01-28 20:47:19

Former vice president Al Gore urged lawmakers Wednesday to adopt a binding carbon cap and push for a new international climate pact by the end of this year in order to avert catastrophic global warming.

Appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Gore delivered a short slide show that amounted to an update of his Oscar-winning documentary "An Inconvenient Truth," lecturing some of his former colleagues that even if the world halted greenhouse gas emissions now, it could experience a temperature rise of between 2.5 to 7.5 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100.

"This would bring a screeching halt to human civilization and threaten life everywhere on Earth, and this is by the end of this century," said Gore.

The high-tech display included a graphic illustration of how the Arctic's permanent summer ice cover has melted in recent decades, a pulsating image the Nobel Peace Prize winner described as "30 years in less than 30 seconds," and a short video clip of a scientist who ignited the methane gas seeping out of the melting Arctic permafrost.

After the audience watched the flames leap up and the researcher scurry away, Gore remarked, "She's okay. The question is, are we?"

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Obama: Not A 'Moment To Spare' On Stimulus Plan
2009-01-28 16:15:15
Declaring that “we don’t have a moment to spare,” President Obama on Wednesday pushed hard for passage of his economic stimulus plan, promising that it would be not just enormous in scope but run with a transparency and accountability not always associated with huge Washington projects.

“We’ll invest in what works,” the president said after what he called “a sober meeting” with prominent business executives at the White House to discuss not just the immediate economic crisis but the ability of America to compete in the global marketplace in the 21st century.

Hours before the House was expected to approve his proposed $825 billion program, largely along partisan lines and in the face of heavy criticism, Obama tried to convey his message far beyond the corridors of the Capitol and into boardrooms and living rooms. The future of the American economy rests less in his hands than it does “with American companies and workers,” said Obama.

“They are the ones whose efforts and ideas will determine our economic destiny, just as they always have,” the president said. “For in the end, it’s businesses, large and small, that generate the jobs, provide the salaries and serve as the foundation on which the American people’s lives and dreams depend.”

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Despite Huge Inventory Buildup, Oil Prices Rise
2009-01-28 16:14:53
Oil prices rose Wednesday despite another government report showing that U.S. crude stockpiles are growing as consumers and business slash spending on energy.

Traders on the New York Mercantile Exchange instead looked to Washington, D.C., where the House was expected to approve an $816 billion economic stimulus plan that could help jump-start the ailing economy.

Light, sweet crude for March delivery rose $1.09 to $42.67 a barrel in trading on Nymex. The contract fell $4.15 Monday with bad news about housing and jobs sapping consumer confidence.

Supporters of the massive stimulus bill say it would create up to 4 million jobs. The bill, which includes roughly $550 billion in spending and $275 billion in tax cuts, could be signed by President Barack Obama by mid-February.

If so, it would lead to more energy spending by manufacturers as they ramp up production, and perhaps millions of Americans who have lost jobs since last year.

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U.S. Interior Dept. Ignored Science When Limiting Water To Grand Canyon
2009-01-28 16:14:33

U.S. Interior Department officials ignored key scientific findings when they limited water flows in the Grand Canyon to optimize generation of electric power there, risking damage to the ecology of the spectacular national landmark, according to documents obtained by the Washington Post.

A Jan. 15 memo written by Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent Steve Martin suggests that the department produced a flawed environmental assessment to defend its actions against environmentalists in court. The Grand Canyon Trust, an advocacy group, has sued Interior for reducing the flow of water from Glen Canyon Dam at night, when consumer demand for electricity is low, on the grounds that the policy hurts imperiled fish species such as the endangered humpback chub and erodes the canyon's beaches.

"The government's brief as presented continues to misinterpret key scientific findings related to the humpback chub, status of downstream resources in Grand Canyon, and the need for the Secretary to acknowledge [National Park Service] authorities and responsibilities to protect resources under [National Park Service] administration," Martin wrote in a memo that the Washington Post obtained from the group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. Martin added that his agency continues to fear that the current policy "will significantly impair Grand Canyon resources."

The behind-the-scenes skirmish, which took place just days before President George W. Bush left the White House, highlights the sort of challenges Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will face in his new position. While Salazar declined to comment specifically on the Grand Canyon case because it is the subject of an ongoing legal battle, he said in an interview Tuesday that he would emphasize "the need to have sound science in all decision making in the Department of Interior."

"Science should not be shoved under the table in order to deal with special interests that are knocking at the door," said Salazar, adding that he will be looking at several last-minute decisions made by Bush before he left office. "My point of view is, nothing is sacrosanct in terms of being reexamined."

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U.S. Postmaster General Says Mail Service May Need To Be Cut
2009-01-28 16:14:03
Massive deficits could force the post office to cut out one day of mail delivery per week, the postmaster general told Congress on Wednesday. Postmaster General John E. Potter asked lawmakers to lift the requirement that the agency deliver mail six days a week.

Faced with dwindling mail volume and rising costs, the post office was $2.8 billion in the red last year and, "if current trends continue, we could experience a net loss of $6 billion or more this fiscal year," Potter said in testimony for a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee.

Total mail volume was 202 billion items last year, more than 9 billion less than the year before, the largest single volume drop in history.

Despite annual rate increases, Potter said 2009 could be the first year since 1946 that the actual amount of money collected by the post office declines.

"It is possible that the cost of six-day delivery may simply prove to be unaffordable," said Potter. "I reluctantly request that Congress remove the annual appropriation bill rider, first added in 1983, that requires the Postal Service to deliver mail six days each week."

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U.S. House Votes Against Delaying Switch To Digital TV
2009-01-28 16:13:12

The U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday defeated a bill to delay the nation's switch to all-digital television by four months. The action comes less than two days after the Senate unanimously passed a plan to postpone the Feb. 17 switch to June 12.

The defeat was a setback for the Obama administration and Hill Democrats, who are concerned that too many Americans are not ready to get digital programming. House Republicans have argued that postponing the date would cause confusion for consumers and cost millions for broadcasters who have planned to make the transition.

Congress three years ago mandated that all television broadcasters shut off analog signals and air only digital programming. As a result, viewers who rely on older analog TV sets and antennas to receive broadcasts will need to upgrade to a digital TV or install a converter box to continue watching television.

The Nielsen Co. estimates more than 6.5 million U.S. households that rely on over-the-air broadcast signals, or 5.7 percent of the population, are not prepared for the transition and could see their TV sets go dark next month.

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China Raids Homes, Businesses In Lhasa, Tibet
2009-01-28 16:12:38
Chinese authorities carrying out a "strike hard" campaign in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa have raided thousands of homes and businesses, run checks on 5,766 suspects and detained at least 81 people, including two for having reactionary music on their cellphones, according to official reports and news accounts.

The state-controlled Tibetan Daily, in a Sunday report, and the Lhasa Evening News last week said the campaign targets criminal activity such as burglary, prostitution and theft, and is needed to uphold the city's social order; but experts and activists who support greater autonomy for Tibet said the motive behind the campaign, which began Jan. 18, is to detain those involved in last spring's riots and warn off others who support Tibetan independence.

Chinese leaders are worried about the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Tibetan Uprising. On March 10, 1959, Tibetans rose up against Chinese rule, but the rebellion ended after 20 days with the flight of the Dalai Lama into exile in India. Beijing-backed Tibetan lawmakers have proposed a new holiday this year, on March 28, the day China  announced the dissolution of the Tibetan government, to mark the "liberation" of Tibetan serfs.

Lhasa's entire investigative police force mobilized more than 600 people and 160 vehicles to check 2,922 rented apartments or houses, 14 hotels and guest houses, 18 bars and 3 Internet cafes, the Lhasa Evening News said, according to a translation e-mailed by the International Campaign for Tibet, which advocates for more autonomy for the Himalayan region. The police push follows 10 months of tight security after rioting broke out March 14 last year, leading to the deaths of at least 18 civilians and one police officer and sparking anti-government protests and a massive government crackdown.

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Tribunal: British Government Must Cabinet Minutes On Lead-Up To Iraq War
2009-01-28 03:22:07

Secret British government discussions about the Iraq war are to be disclosed after an information tribunal Tuesday ordered the release of cabinet minutes from 2003.

The decision follows a lengthy battle by campaigners, who have argued that the public interest in learning what was said about the planned invasion outweighs the public interest in cabinet discussions being kept secret.

Cabinet ministers have strongly opposed the request, arguing that the Freedom of Information Act was never intended to allow for the publication of information of this kind.

The tribunal upheld a decision by the information commissioner that details of the sessions on March 13 and 17 should be disclosed.

The meetings considered the highly controversial issue of whether the invasion was allowed under international law. Lord Goldsmith, who was attorney general at the time, initially suggested that the legality of the invasion was legally questionable before subsequently issuing legal advice saying that it would be compatible with international law.

This has given rise to persistent claims that ministers were not fully briefed on the possible legal pitfalls of an invasion.

Tuesday's ruling does not necessarily mean the minutes will be published because the government has 28 days to appeal.The tribunal said that the exceptional circumstances relating to the two cabinet meetings meant that publication was justified and that it would not set a precedent for the publication of all cabinet minutes.

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Obama Calls For Green Battle Against Economic Crisis
2009-01-28 03:21:32

U.S. President Barack Obama has said this week he wants to fight climate change, making the kind of statements the rest of the world has been waiting to hear for a long time. He's dressing his proposals up as an economic stimulus package, but can he drum up enough U.S. support for a deal in Copenhagen later this year?

When the new United States president walked into the East Room of the White House on Monday, he was supposed to focus on climate change, but Barack Obama first wanted to say a few words about the bleak economic climate, an area where he has some immediate decisions to make.

Frightening new figures have been jolting the U.S. economy in recent days. The list of companies making large cuts in employees is long: construction-machine builder Caterpillar is cutting 20,000 jobs, mobile phone giant Sprint is shedding 8,000, home improvement chain Home Depot will eliminate 7,000 workers. And the list doesn't end there - it is getting longer and longer, and includes blue chip companies like Microsoft, Intel and United Airlines.

"These are not just numbers on a page," Obama says. "As with the millions of jobs lost in 2008, these are working men and women whose families have been disrupted and whose dreams have been put on hold. We owe it to each of them and to every single American to act with a sense of urgency and common purpose."

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CIA Station Chief In Algeria Accused In 2 Sex Assaults
2009-01-29 00:44:36

The CIA's top officer in Algeria has been returned to Washington, D.C., amid allegations that he drugged and raped two women at his Algiers residence, an accusation that presents the Obama administration's new intelligence team with an unexpected legal and diplomatic crisis even before it officially takes office.

The 41-year-old Algiers station chief was ordered home by the State Department after a months-long investigation of alleged sexual assaults in September 2007 and February of last year, U.S. officials confirmed yesterday. The two women involved in the incidents told U.S. diplomats that they became unconscious after receiving what they believed were knockout drugs served to them in drinks.

The alleged assaults, if confirmed, are viewed as particularly serious because they could potentially damage diplomatic relations with Algeria, a U.S. ally, and undermine U.S. efforts to improve its image in the Muslim world, said former diplomats and foreign policy experts.

The CIA and State Department declined to comment on the alleged assaults, which were first described in an Internet report yesterday by ABC News. State Department spokesman Robert A. Wood confirmed that an investigation was ongoing and that the officer involved had been recalled to Washington.

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Stocks Rise 200 Points On Reports Of Obama Plan For Bad Assets
2009-01-28 20:47:29
The stock market notched a broad-based gain Wednesday thanks to a powerful rally in financial stocks that was driven by the government's latest anticipated effort to boost the banking sector.

The Dow Jones industrial average gained more than 200 points and other major indexes surged higher amid anticipation over a plan expected from the Obama administration to remove troubled assets from bank balance sheets.

Shares of Citigroup were up 19%, while Bank of America surged 14% and State Street ballooned 31%. The KBW bank stock index gained 14%.

The government's bank plan eased fears that it would move in effect to nationalize the industry, which has rattled investors all month.

"There's just a little bit more of a level of confidence that the government is doing something without saying, 'We're going to call the shots from here on out,' " said Joe Cusick, senior market analyst at Chicago-based brokerage OptionsXpress.

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California's Cardinal Mahoney Under Federal Fraud Investigation Over Abusive Priests
2009-01-28 20:47:07
The U.S. attorney in Los Angeles has launched a federal grand jury investigation into Cardinal Roger M. Mahony in connection with his response to the alleged molestation of children by priests in the Los Angeles Archdiocese, according to two law enforcement sources familiar with the case.

The probe, in which U.S. Atty. Thomas P. O'Brien is personally involved, is aimed at determining whether Mahony, and possibly other church leaders, committed "honest services fraud" by failing to adequately deal with priests accused of sexually abusing children, said the sources, who requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly about the investigation.

One federal law enforcement source said such a prosecution could be brought under a federal statute that makes it illegal to "scheme ... to deprive another of the intangible right of honest services."

In this case, the victims would be parishioners who relied on Mahony and other church leaders to keep their children safe from predatory priests, said the source. To convict on such a charge, prosecutors would have to prove that Mahony used the U.S. mail or some form of electronic communication in committing the alleged fraud, the source said.

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Federal Reserve Is Ready To Expand Assistance As Needed
2009-01-28 16:15:04
Conceding that the economy is still spiraling downward on most fronts, the Federal Reserve signaled on Wednesday that it would expand its use of unconventional measures to directly prop up lending for mortgages, consumer loans and businesses.

“The Federal Reserve will employ all available tools to promote the resumption of sustainable economic growth and to preserve price stability,” the Fed said in its statement.

The Federal Reserve has already been buying mortgage-backed securities and it said Wednesday in its statement that it would expand its intervention as needed. The committee also served notice that it would purchase longer term Treasury bonds, a move that would drive down long-term interest rates of all types.

It expressed its most pointed concern so far that deflation could be a problem, and it saw “some risk” that price inflation remained uncomfortably low.

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Wells Fargo Posts $2.55 Billion Loss As Wachovia Takes Toll
2009-01-28 16:14:43
Wells Fargo reported a $2.55 billion fourth-quarter loss on Wednesday in the first signs that its hurried acquisition of the troubled Wachovia Corporation was the start of a long and difficult struggle.

Wells Fargo, the country’s biggest consumer bank, set aside more than $21.7 billion to cover losses amid a nationwide housing slump and a deepening recession. Wells Fargo already had one of the biggest real estate portfolios of any bank, but with the Wachovia deal it absorbed more than $219 billion worth of commercial real estate and corporate loans and a big book of toxic pay-option mortgages.

The firm’s $2.55 billion fourth-quarter loss, which amounts to 79 cents a share, compares with the $1.36 billion profit, or 41 cents a share, that it earned at the same time last year. Revenue in the quarter was $9.8 billion, down 4 percent from $10.2 billion in the period a year ago.

“The environment in which Wells Fargo operates continued to be challenging in the fourth quarter and, if anything, became even more difficult, with the unexpected, abrupt and sharp decline in economic activity late in the quarter,” John Stumpf, Wells Fargo’s chief executive, said in a statement. Stumpf added that he felt better about the Wachovia deal now than he did when it was first announced, and the bank said it had no plans to request additional government money.

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Officials: Peanut Plant Knew Of Salmonella And Sold Products Anyway
2009-01-28 16:14:22

The Georgia food plant that federal investigators say deliberately shipped contaminated peanut butter also had mold growing on its ceiling and walls, and it has foot-long gaps in its roof, according to results of a federal inspection.

More than 500 people in 43 states have been sickened, and eight have died, after eating crackers and other products made with peanut butter from the plant, which is owned by the Peanut Corporation of America. More than 100 children under the age of 5 are among those who have been sickened.

The plant sells its peanut paste to some of the nation’s largest food manufacturers, including Kellogg and McKee Foods. As a result of the contamination, more than 100 products have been recalled, mostly cookies and crackers.

Officials from the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, traced the outbreak to the Peanut Corporation of America plant in Blakely, Georgia. On Jan. 9, investigators descended on the plant for a thorough inspection, which was completed Tuesday.

The report from the inspection, first posted on the Internet by Bill Marler, a lawyer, cites 12 instances in 2007 and 2008 in which the company’s own tests of its product found contamination by salmonella.

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GM And Chrysler Closing Jobs Banks
2009-01-28 16:13:32
The era when factory workers who lost their jobs could still collect nearly their full salary will be over by next week at General Motors and Chrysler,the two automakers that have borrowed billions of dollars from the federal government to avoid bankruptcy.

G.M. on Wednesday said that it would eliminate its jobs bank, a program often held up by critics as a symbol of Detroit’s inefficiency, as of next Monday. Chrysler ended its jobs bank last Monday.

The United Automobile Workers union agreed to let the car makers terminate the programs as one of several concessions offered by its leadership to help win support for the so-called bridge loans. The union also said it would delay required payments into a new retiree health care trust and has begun talks with the companies about other ways to cut costs in its labor agreements.

G.M. said about 1,600 of its workers are currently in the jobs bank. They will officially be laid off and begin collecting about 72 percent of their full-time pay, through a combination of state unemployment benefits and supplemental benefits from G.M.

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Senate Panel Approves Eric Holder As Attorney General
2009-01-28 16:12:58
The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee this morning approved the nomination of Eric H. Holder, Jr., to serve as the nation's first African American attorney general.

Holder, 58, ultimately won support from all of the Democrats on the panel; many cited his credentials and backing by 130 law enforcement groups.

In a surprise, given comments over the past two months, several Republican lawmakers also cast their votes for Holder. Only two Republican senators, John Cornyn, of Texas, and Tom Coburn, of Oklahoma, voted "nay" on the nomination. Cornyn expressed concern about the nominee's role in controversial Clinton era pardons, Holder's view on terrorism issues and his approach to gun rights.

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U.S. Workers Joining Unions Increases Significantly For First Time In 25 Years
2009-01-28 16:12:17

The percentage of American workers belonging to a union jumped in 2008, the first statistically significant increase in the figure in the 25 years that it has been reported.

In 2008, union members represented 12.4 percent of employed workers, up from 12.1 percent a year earlier, according to a report from Bureau of Labor Statistics issued this morning. Until last year, union membership had generally been in a slow and steady decline since the 1950s.

"We saw what looked like a bottoming out last year, and this suggests that we might have turned the corner," said John Schmitt, senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. "These results do not suggest that the labor movement is out of the woods in any way. What it does suggest is that some of the biggest structural problems they have faced have abated."

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Europe's Gas Pipeline War
2009-01-28 03:21:54
The most recent conflict between Moscow and Kiev over natural gas supplies has reignited the controversy over new transit routes. Europe could get its future gas from the highly controversial Nord Stream pipeline to the north, or via the Nabucco pipeline to the south - but will either ever get built?

A grey-green carpet lies on the snow, leading to a wooden stage erected between construction trailers and bulldozers. Heavy snowflakes are falling under a gray sky. They land on the neatly parted hair of two men as they cross the carpet, walking almost in lockstep, and step onto the stage.

They have come here to this spot in the Russian taiga to celebrate a "historic event," as one them says: the launch of "one of the biggest projects of its kind in the world."

He waves to two workers in red protective suits standing below, and they switch on their welding equipment. As the sparks fly, they weld together two thick gas pipes.

Viktor Zubkov, the chairman of energy giant Gazprom since stepping down as Russian prime minister, and Alexei Miller, the company's CEO, are symbolically inaugurating a new pipeline. It will run from the city of Ukhta, where the ceremony is being held, northeast to the Yamal Peninsula in the Artic.

Ukhta is a provincial city in the autonomous republic of Komi, 350 kilometers (218 miles) from the Arctic Circle. Built by prisoners, the city was once part of the famous Gulag archipelago described by Aleksander Solzhenitsyn. The only trees that can survive the biting cold so far north are small birch trees and stunted pines.

Yet there are riches in the region. By 2030, up to 360 billion cubic meters of natural gas are expected to be flowing through Ukhta toward the West each year. A portion of that gas is intended for a pipeline that has become the center of a bitter dispute in Europe that now borders on a clash of cultures.

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Commentary: Rewriting The Rulebook For 21st Century Capitalism
2009-01-28 03:21:16
Intellpuke: This commentary was written by Jeffrey Sachs and appeared in the Guardian online edition for Wednesday, January 28, 2009. Mr. Sachs is professor of economics and director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. He is also a special adviser to the United Nations Secretary General on the millennium development goals; and author of the book "Common Wealth". In his commentary he writes: "Technology is at the core of Obama's plans for a sustainable future. In this new era of public action, the U.S. is back in the lead." Prof. Sachs' commentary follows:

One of President Barack Obama's historic contributions will be a grand act of policy jujitsu - turning the crushing economic crisis into the launch of a new age of sustainable development. His macroeconomic stimulus may or may not cushion the recession, and bitter partisan fights over priorities no doubt lie ahead. But Obama is already setting a new historic course by reorienting the economy from private consumption to public investments directed at the great challenges of energy, climate, food production, water and biodiversity.

The new president has taken every opportunity to underscore that the economic crisis will not slow, but rather will accelerate, the much-needed economic transformation to sustainability. He made this clear again on Monday with new commitments on climate change. The fiscal stimulus, soon to go before Congress, will lay down the first steps of a massive generation-long technological overhaul - embracing the power sector, energy efficiency in buildings, public and private transportation, and much more. The U.S. has lagged behind the world in such efforts for 30 years. Yet with America's technological prowess, and Obama's pivotal commitment, it is likely to jump to the lead.

Obama has started with the most important first step: a team of scientific and technological advisers of stunning quality, including two Nobel laureates (Steven Chu and Harold Varmus), and longstanding leaders in climate, energy, ecology and cutting-edge technologies. He has also focused on two core truths of sustainable development: that technological overhaul lies at the core of the challenge, and that such an overhaul requires a public-private partnership for success. Taking shape, therefore, is nothing less than a new 21st-century model of capitalism itself, one which is committed to the dual objectives of economic development and sustainability, and is organized to steer core technologies to achieve these twin goals.

Consider the challenge of a bankrupt automobile sector, with General Motors and Chrysler on the verge of insolvency, and Ford not far behind. Rather than viewing the crisis merely as a traditional left-right debate over bail-outs versus market-driven bankruptcy, Obama recognized that the near-bankruptcy of the sector calls for a hands-on approach to transform the core of automotive technology itself. In the Obama strategy, GM will not be closed to punish it for past corporate or societal mistakes. It's worth far too much as a world leader in the electric vehicles of the 21st century.

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