New Census data for 2008, the first full year of this recession, show just how bad our national economic stumble has been and add new urgency to policymakers' efforts to protect the fragile recovery.
The national poverty rate -- an income of $22,025 or less for a family of four -- rose to 13.2 percent, up from 12.5 percent the year before and the highest level in 11 years. In 2007, the recession pushed 2.6 million more Americans into the ranks of the poor, bringing the total to 39.8 million.
One year after Wall Street teetered on the brink of collapse, seven out of 10 Americans lack confidence the federal government has taken safeguards to prevent another financial industry meltdown, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.
Even more — 80 percent — rate the condition of the economy as poor and a majority worry about their own ability to make ends meet. The pessimistic outlook sets the stage for President Barack Obama as he attempts to portray the financial sector as increasingly confident and stable and presses Congress to act on new banking regulations.
The Census Bureau on Friday severed its ties with ACORN, a community organization that has been hit with Republican accusations of voter-registration fraud.
"We do not come to this decision lightly," Census director Robert Groves wrote in a letter to ACORN, which was obtained by The Associated Press.
In splitting with ACORN, Groves sought to tamp down GOP concerns and negative publicity that the partnership will taint the 2010 head count.
"It is clear that ACORN's affiliation with the 2010 census promotion has caused sufficient concern in the general public, has indeed become a distraction from our mission, and may even become a discouragement to public cooperation, negatively impacting 2010 census efforts," Groves wrote.
President Obama went to the well of the House and the House welled up with discord.
Although his insistence on the moral imperative and economic necessity of overhauling the health care system was well received by Democrats, Republicans remain skeptical. (Most notably the boorish Joe Wilson of South Carolina who shouted that the president was lying about not subsidizing health care for illegal immigrants although he later apologized.)
Fact checkers say the president was correct about that point and about not setting up "death panels" to kill seniors as a way of cutting costs.
But the nation is now so polarized, too many people believe what they want to believe, no matter what the facts are, while demagogues hog the airwaves.
As the healthcare reform debate roars on, Uncle Sam resembles a restless college senior who is flunking economics, finance, and management. Despite a report card full of Fs, he suddenly announces: "I want to go to medical school!"
Similarly, President Barack Obama stood before a joint session of Congress Wednesday night and re-embraced a government option for health insurance. As he explained, "sometimes government has to step in to help deliver" on the promise that "hard work and responsibility should be rewarded by some measure of security and fair play."
Alas, too often when Washington steps in, failing grades follow:
President Barack Obama used only-in-Washington accounting Wednesday when he promised to overhaul the nation's health care system without adding "one dime" to the deficit. By conventional arithmetic, Democratic plans would drive up the deficit by billions of dollars.
The president's speech to Congress contained a variety of oversimplifications and omissions in laying out what he wants to do about health insurance.
A look at some of Obama's claims and how they square with the facts or the fuller story:
OBAMA: "I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficits either now or in the future. Period."
Economic activity is stabilizing or improving in the vast majority of the country, according to a government survey released Wednesday. The findings indicate that the worst recession since the 1930s may be over.
The Federal Reserve's snapshot of economic conditions backs predictions by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and most other analysts that the economy has started to grow once again in the current quarter.
There may be a lesson plan for grown-ups in the contrived controversy about Barack Obama's back-to-school pep talk to students. It would be to do your homework, just as the president told the pupils.
That way, the people who protested the Obama speech before they knew what was in it would have realized there is nothing unusual about a president appearing at a public school as the classroom year begins. The previous three Republicans have and there wasn't any stir, aside from some Democratic nitpicking about White House expenses, proving that neither party has a monopoly on pettiness. It was routine. As, in the end, Obama's Tuesday talk was.
In what could be a landmark case involving members of the George W. Bush administration and abuses of constitutional rights after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a federal appeals court ruled Friday that former Attorney General John Ashcroft (left) can be sued by those who say they were wrongfully detailed in the days, weeks and months following the attacks.
The court ruling called the government's actions "repugnant to the Constitution."
"We find this to be repugnant to the Constitution and a painful reminder of some of the most ignominious chapters of our national history," wrote Judge Milan D. Smith Jr.
Fox News Network will not broadcast President Barack Obama's speech to a joint session of Congress next Wednesday night.
It's not the first time the network, owned by right-wing news magnate Rupert Murdoch, has opted for reality shows instead of a nationally-televised appearance of the nation's first African-American president.
Odds are, it won't be the last. Fox will air the speech on its "news" channel and business network.