FUBAR

Are Americans ignorant about civics?

Congress opened a shiny, new visitor’s center on Dec. 2. The $621 million underground complex opened four years behind schedule and $400 million over budget — hardly extraordinary in Washington, D.C.

What is noteworthy is a last minute change to the center’s edifice: A cheap plaster plaque with the nation’s official motto "In God We Trust," now covers up "E Pluribus Unum." The defunct motto had been engraved in marble before anyone noticed the error.

It’s official: We’re in a recession

For the past 12 months, President George W. Bush has assured a skeptical nation that America’s economy is strong and that we’re not in a recession.

Today, the National Bureau of Econmic Research said what most Americans already knew: The U.S. is officially in a recession. In fact, it has been in a recession since December 2007.

Which means Bush lied.

The White House is now accepting the fact that the country is in a recession but is trying to spin the story by pointing out what it calls the positive steps the Bush Administration is taking to bring about economic recovery.

Meanwhile, the Dow closed down 700 points.

A military takeover of U.S. law enforcement?

The Pentagon, rushing to complete lame-duck President George W. Bush’s expansion of the military’s role in the United States, is stepping up to put more troops inside this country and take over key roles in homeland security.

In a move that will certainly alarm civil libertarians and should concern American citizens, the military plan rolls back the Posse Comitatus Act that limits the military’s role as a law enforcement agency inside U.S. borders.

Residents in and around the nation’s capital have already witnessed the transformation of that city into an armed military camp. Assault weapon carrying soldiers guard federal institutions and commuters to and from work pass military vehicles topped with machine guns and manned by troops alongside public highways.

Foreclosures looming for businesses

Black Friday’s retail shoppers hunting for holiday bargains won’t be enough to stave off what’s likely to become the next economic crisis. Malls from Michigan to Georgia are entering foreclosure, commercial victims of the same events poisoning the housing market.

Hotels in Tucson, Ariz., and Hilton Head, S.C., also are about to default on their mortgages.

That pace is expected to quicken. The number of late payments and defaults will double, if not triple, by the end of next year, according to analysts from Fitch Ratings Ltd., which evaluates companies’ credit.

"We’re probably in the first inning of the commercial mortgage problem," said Scott Tross, a real estate lawyer with Herrick Feinstein in New Jersey.

It’s Black Friday…and madness begins

On Black Friday, the Christmas season officially begins.

And so I’m always reminded of my dear Grandma Victoria, for whom my eldest daughter is named. One year when I was very little, she apparently arrived from Ohio on Christmas Eve to find the presents for us five kids spilling out from under the tree far onto the living room floor. (My dad had a flair for excess.) Anyway, having been a mother of young children during the Great Depression, she was nothing less than horrified. Much later, it was revealed that that particular Christmas she decided we kids had "more than enough" gifts, and so she packed up her own presents which she had intended to give to us, and took them right back to Toledo with her, wrappings and all.

Guess what? Apparently we all survived just fine.

Betting on Black Friday

The day after Thanksgiving is now, at least semi-officially, Black Friday. It is not funeral name like Black Tuesday in October, 1929, when the stock market crashed. No, Black Friday is, as Martha Stewart would say, a good thing because it is the day when retailers, like perhaps Stewart herself, hope their businesses start turning a profit for the year, i.e., go into the black.

Black Friday is the start of the holiday shopping season although that has eroded somewhat now that Christmas specials are being offered before Halloween and all fall retailers have been offering big discounts to woo credit-strapped consumers back into the store. And the stores are making extra effort. Kohl’s is opening at 4 a.m. Friday, Toys "R" Us at 5.

The big three stooges

What are we to think of the Big Three automakers plea to Congress (and each of us) for a $25 billion bailout, euphemistically known as a bridge loan or rescue package?

During the disastrous trip to Washington by the auto companies’ three CEOs (stupidly arriving on private luxury jets), the three men were unable to say exactly how much they need and how it would be spent, provide assurance they wouldn’t be back in a few months demanding more money and, finally, explain why Americans won’t buy their products.

You don’t give your last tourniquet to a dead man, said one lawmaker. What is at the end of the bridge, another demanded. Why are Toyota’s U.S. operations able to sell its cars, and you can’t sell yours, another congressman asked.

Feds ante up another bailout

Rushing to rescue Citigroup, the government agreed to shoulder hundreds of billions of possible losses at the stricken bank and to plow a fresh $20 billion into the company.

Regulators hope the dramatic action will bolster badly shaken confidence in the once mighty banking giant as well as the nation’s financial system, a goal that so far has been elusive despite a flurry of government interventions to battle the worst global crisis since the 1930s.

An economy and nation in crisis

A global economy in free fall, banking giants like Citigroup tetering on the precipice of collapse, auto giants like General Motors facing insolvency, faltering wars on two fronts: No President-elect in modern times has faced so much crisis as he approached inauguration day.

The question of whether or not Barack Obama is up to the job is no longer relevant. He has the job and the question now is what he will, or can, do with it. Obama says his top priority is the economy but he will face equally daunting problems on almost every front.

So much for Obama’s promise of change

Barack Obama’s apparent decision to ask Eric Holder to be his attorney general is not without peril for a young president-elect who has repeatedly promised to clean up the scandal polluted, partisan atmosphere of Washington.

Senate Republicans will lack the strength to deny confirmation to Holder, the former deputy U.S. attorney general under Bill Clinton. But they certainly can make his nomination their first big challenge of the new administration and in the process give Obama some very bad moments by resurrecting one of the more questionable last minute actions by an outgoing president in recent history.