Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Israeli Apartheid

A small victory in the fight against the Israeli de facto apartheid state:
JERUSALEM — Israel’s Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that a major access highway to Jerusalem running through the occupied West Bank could no longer be closed to most Palestinian traffic.
In a 2-to-1 decision, the court said the military overstepped its authority when it closed the road to non-Israeli cars in 2002, at the height of the second Palestinian uprising. The justices gave the military five months to come up with another means of ensuring the security of Israelis that permitted broad Palestinian use of the road.
From the Association for Civil Rights in Israel:
In an earlier hearing in March 2008, the High Court issued an interim decision which effectively bestowed a stamp of approval on the separation of roads according to nationality - one set of roads for Palestinians and one for Israelis - representing a watershed moment in the legal history of the Occupation of the West Bank.
One set of roads for Palestinians, and one set of roads for Israelis. The "Israeli De Facto Apartheid State" is not hyperbole. It's impossible to read this without recalling the racist and segregationist "separate but equal" policy which could be found in the United States until the 1960's, or of the dehumanizing system of apartheid employed by the South African regime.
Why does Israel get a free pass? 

Right-wingers will, no doubt, say that it's necessary for security reasons. But historically, Israel has used these policies to appropriate land, money, and political power from Palestinians. This de facto apartheid is the cause of the security concerns, not a result of them. 

Some would say that this is none of our business. Perhaps they would be right, if we weren't sending Israel billions of dollars in aid and arms every year, and offering them unconditional political and strategic support. When we do this, Palestinian sympathizers (specifically, Muslims), assume that we support this policy of apartheid, which they rightly see as dehumanizing. This has a powerful tendency to radicalize Muslims, and to turn them against the Untied States. Radicalization eventually manifests itself in events like this, or this.

While I wouldn't advocate invading Israel over this, just as I wouldn't advocate invading Iran over their human rights violations, it is unconscionable that the United States does not object to these policies, withdraw support, and impose sanctions. This is what we would do if it were any other country but Israel.

This, of course, won't happen. America believes it is a moral, advanced, egalitarian country. Let's not forget that we're not too far removed from Jim Crow ourselves.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Clear Choice

I've been debating the fundamental issues of our current foreign policy and how it affects our national security, and thought I'd post a summary of it here.

The argument really breaks down to this:

Do you believe that radical Muslims are motivated by a hatred of American culture and ideals, or do you think that they are motivated by opposition to US foreign policy?

I believe that they are primarily motivated by US foreign policy choices. The United States has a long history of policies which adversely affect Muslims and Muslim countries. At the same time, numerous polls have shown that large majorities of Muslims admire the culture and the idea of America, including its freedoms. Furthermore, Bin Laden has repeatedly stated that it is US foreign policy which is motivating Al Qaeda. His list of offenses is long, specific, accurate, and compelling.

This leaves us with a clear choice. We can continue these policies, and remain in a perpetual and escalating state of war with Islam. This war, at a minimum, will prove extremely costly, both in terms of money and in the freedoms we will sacrifice in an attempt to maintain security. In all likelihood, our efforts to prevent a billion* Muslims from obtaining a nuclear device and detonating it in the US, which will probably start a world wide war.

Or we can change our policies. This will not be easy. It will require us to become energy efficient, so that we no longer need to invade and occupy Muslim lands, and so that we no longer need to support Arab oil dictatorships. And it will require us to withhold support from Israel. Israel has, unnecessarily, made a lot of enemies in the Muslim world. There is no reason to make their enemies our enemies as well. If Israel wants to pursue expansionist policies, let them do so at their own peril, not ours.

I fear that these policy changes will prove to be politically impossible. The political elite and big business finds oil profits and Israeli influence to be more important than American security. The voters do not understand the issues, and the government is in no hurry to explain them, preferring, instead, to perpetuate the false belief that Muslims hate us for who we are, and so there is nothing else to do but kill them.

I believe that it will take a terrorist attack on an unprecedented scale before Americans will begin to question things. I hope it does not come to this.

* I realize that most Muslims are not radicalized; however, a continuation of current police will assure that most of them will become so.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Sadly, Not (A Great Decade

Sadly Not! has an amusing rundown of the best years of the decade. Here are a couple...

4. 2002: Ahh, those innocent days of 2002, as yet unspoiled by the alarming realization that you just took a massive dump on every principle you ever held out of simple, shorts-staining cowardice.
3. 2005: Goldman Sachs gave the GNP of this year to a junior trader as a year-end bonus, some of which eventually trickled down to a coke dealer we know.

I won't give away the best, which is saved for last.

Monday, December 21, 2009

More Casualties of the "War on Terror"

There is an important post up at Washington's Blog which talks about some of the truly scary things that have been happening as a result of the Obama administration's attempt to gain total government immunity for everything it does in regards to what it considers national security. Here's an tease; read the rest here.

If the president or one of his subordinates declares someone to be an “enemy combatant” (the 21st century version of “enemy of the state”) he is denied any protection of the law. So any trouble-maker (which means anyone) can be whisked away, incarcerated, tortured, “disappeared,” you name it. Floyd’s commentary:
After hearing passionate arguments from the Obama Administration, the Supreme Court acquiesced to the president’s fervent request and, in a one-line ruling, let stand a lower court decision that declared torture an ordinary, expected consequence of military detention, while introducing a shocking new precedent for all future courts to follow: anyone who is arbitrarily declared a “suspected enemy combatant” by the president or his designated minions is no longer a “person.” They will simply cease to exist as a legal entity. They will have no inherent rights, no human rights, no legal standing whatsoever — save whatever modicum of process the government arbitrarily deigns to grant them from time to time, with its ever-shifting tribunals and show trials...
The Constitution is clear: no person can be held without due process; no person can be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. And the U.S. law on torture of any kind is crystal clear: it is forbidden, categorically, even in time of “national emergency.” And the instigation of torture is, under U.S. law, a capital crime. No person can be tortured, at any time, for any reason, and there are no immunities whatsoever for torture offered anywhere in the law.
And yet this is what Barack Obama — who, we are told incessantly, is a super-brilliant Constitutional lawyer — has been arguing in case after case since becoming president: Torturers are immune from prosecution; those who ordered torture are immune from prosecution….let’s be absolutely clear: Barack Obama has taken the freely chosen, public, formal stand — in court — that there is nothing wrong with any of these activities.
Yves here. The implications are FAR worse. Anyone can be stripped, with NO RECOURSE, of all their legal rights on a Presidential say so. Readers in the US no longer have any security under the law.
Roman citizens enjoyed a right to a trial, a right of appeal, and could not be tortured, whipped, or executed except if found guilty of treason, and anyone charged with treason could demand a trial in Rome. We have regressed more than 2000 years with this appalling ruling. 
To make this worse, this is the Supreme Court which is setting this precedent. They were the last line of defense, and they've completely abdicated they're responsibility to the Constitution in the face of pressure from the Obama administration.

To make it perfectly clear, these decisions quite literally enable the president to order you arrested, to declare you an enemy combatant, and to then proceed to torture you to death. The Supreme court has said that you will have no rights, and that the president or his men cannot be held responsible for anything the do, including torturing and killing you. It will not matter if you are an American citizen. The only thing that will matter is whether the King president wants to kill you. Because there is now no one who can stop him, or even make him think twice.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Obama Report Card: FAIL

It's been almost a year since Obama was inaugurated, and, now that the excitement has worn off, it's time to look critically at what he has done for progressives.

Economy/Recession: Obama has filled his administration with Wall Street insiders. He then gave enormous sums of taxpayer money to the same Wall Streeters who destroyed the financial system. He gave this money with few strings attached, and very little protection for the taxpayer. His administration has intentionally sweetened these deals even further, while hiding these actions from the public. He has allowed Wall Street insiders to write the important parts of the financial reform bill, and has turned away from serious reform at almost every opportunity. The Obama Justice Department has done absolutely nothing to hold accountable the people who destroyed our financial system. A charitable view here would be that he was simply out of his league; at this point, however, this view would appear naive, as the administration has actively assisted Wall Street, and while acknowledging that unemployment is unacceptable, has done very little about it. Grade: FAIL

Health Care: After proposing that we reform our health care system, the president left the details of the reform entirely up to Congress. The result is a bill which is stripped of just about everything that would make it appealing to liberals. This bill will force 30 million Americans to buy health insurance from private insurance companies, who will be allowed to make 25% profits on the premiums, and who will often have no competition. It is the biggest giveaway to the health care industry that one could imagine, and it goes hand in hand with the secret agreement Obama made with the pharmaceutical companies. The president has claimed that he wanted a more progressive bill, yet he did absolutely nothing to make this happen. It is now becoming apparent that he got the bill that he wanted. Grade: FAIL.

Foreign Policy: While it would be almost impossible to design a worse foreign policy than his predecessor's, being slightly better than Bush is nothing to hang your hat on. It's commendable that he hasn't tried to nuke Iran, but he has continued to show unconditional support for Israel, a nation that is clearly endangering American security. Afghanistan has been the big issue so far, and he has sent 30,000 troops into a war that has no hope of being won, and for which there are not even any objectives other than a vague desire to make the world safe from terrorists who do not live in Afghanistan, and for whom an Afghan escalation will be a first rate recruiting tool. Grade: FAIL

Civil Rights: Obama's administration has covered up torture, has continued to torture, has claimed the right to hold people in preventative detention without trial until they die, and has now actively and successfully convinced the Supreme Court to rule that the president literally has the power to decide if someone is a "person", and if the president decides that that someone is not, then he literally has the right to imprison, torture, and even kill that individual if he so chooses. He has, in almost every area, been worse than President George Bush, as unbelievable as that may sound.* Grade: FAIL

I realize that this is not a complete account of everything that the president has done. But these were the big issues this year, and in every one of them he has sided against the American people. On health care, he let the insurance lobby write the bill. On foreign policy, Israel and the American military-industrial complex has had its way. On the economy, well, his own administration is full of Wall Streeters, so he didn't even need to lobbied to side with Wall Street over Main Street. On civil rights, he has sided with his own administration against the rights of the citizenry.

It appears that Obama's main goal is to make sure that the campaign contributions keep coming in for the Democrats. If you believe that having the Democrats in control is a good thing in and of itself, even though the policies they pursue are truly terrible, then you will probably disagree with my grades. And if this is the case, then I would say that your love of donkeys some from looking in the mirror at one.

I personally couldn't care less about Democrats. We need real health care reform, we need to stop trying to project power around the world, we need to reform our financial system, and we need to pay attention to civil rights. If the Democrats, and Obama, aren't willing to do this, then I'm ready to find someone or some party who can.

Because the president and the Democrats have failed.

Jameel Jaffer, head of the ACLU's National Security Project, said that while "the Bush administration constructed a legal framework for torture, the Obama administration is constructing a legal framework for impunity.”

Constitutional Blasphemy? Get Rid of the Senate

Our system of government literally does not work any more. The biggest obstacle to a functioning government is the United States Senate itself.

Does this sound crazy?

Consider the power of a Senator. At the time of the ratification of the Constitution, there were approximately 150,000 citizens per Senator. Today, there are 100 Senators, which means that each US Senator represents 3 million citizens, or 20 times the number in 1788.

What are the consequences of this change?

It's important to note the power which the Senate holds. For all practical purposes, Congress can do nothing without it. The function of Congress is primarily to pass laws, and no law can pass Congress without the assent of the Senate. When considering Congress as law-making body, this means that legislative power in the United States is primarily held by 100 people. More specifically, 100 people have the ability to stop any law from passing, and therefore have the leverage to dictate, to a large degree, the content of any legislation that does pass, as well as to decide whether any will pass at all.

This makes a US Senator one of the most powerful people on earth. It also makes them extremely susceptible to bribery. (Or, if you prefer, lobbying.) It is far easier for organized special interests to buy a good part of the US Senate when there are only 100 of them. It would much more difficult if there were 1000, or 2000 of them. To make things worse, senators are elected to six-year terms, which makes them even less responsive to the electorate.

This extreme concentration of power is fundamentally undemocratic. It is also atypical among western democracies. Here is a quick list of the ratio of elected legislators to citizens in some other countries.
Country          # of Legislators          Population          Ratio

UK                    646                         61,000,000            94,000:1
Germany           622                         82,000,000          132,000:1
France               923                         65,000,000            70,000:1
Japan                 722                        128,000,000          177,000:1
Canada              308                        33,000,000            107,000:1
Italy                   945                        60,000,000            63,000:1
United States     535                       300,000,000           561,000:1

The concentration of political power in the American system is striking. In order for the U.S. to bring its legislator-to-citizen ratio within the middle of the range of the other nations above, it would need to increase the number of elected representatives from 535 to around 3000.

Politically, there is almost no conceivable way to get there from here any time soon, if ever. Concentrated power is always averse to dilution. And there is a huge number of people for whom a change in this direction would be beneficial, but who would oppose it because they are fundamentally conservative in nature, and believe that the American system of government is perfect, even though they descend on Washington regularly screaming about how the individuals who populate our system are personally corrupt.

This belief in American exceptionalism is, in fact well grounded. America has an exceptionally high level of military spending and of people in prison. It has an exceptionally bad health care system. It has an exceptionally high level of income disparity. It is highly likely that many or all of these problems are a result of our exceptionally undemocratic political system. It's time to start working on changing that.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

More Goldman Sachs Bullshit

Goldman Sachs has decided that it's executives will get only stock bonuses this year, and they will be required to hold them for five years.
Goldman Sachs Group Inc., moving to defuse public outrage over its pay, said its top 30 executives will receive no cash bonuses for 2009 despite the firm's expected record profits.
Thursday's announcement was the biggest concession yet by Goldman in response to the criticism of its compensation barely a year after the New York company received $10 billion in taxpayer-funded aid. Instead of a mix of cash and stock, Chairman and Chief Executive Lloyd C. Blankfein and the rest of Goldman's management committee will be awarded only stock that can't be sold for five years.
But the changes are only for 2009 and don't necessarily affect more than 31,000 other Goldman employees, consultants and temporary workers. That group includes traders and other employees who are fueling most of this year's revenue and profit surge, putting them in line for sharply higher bonuses early next year. In addition, Goldman gave no indication in its announcement that it will buckle to pressure to rein in overall pay levels.
A couple comments are in order.

First, this is good policy,  because it will force the executives to take a slightly longer view. So it's just slightly better than the situation yesterday.

But the situation yesterday was completely fucked up.

The taxpayers have already bailed Goldman out, and the fact that they will delay taking their massive bonuses doesn't make the bonuses any less of a giant rip-off for taxpayers.

Goldman is still making money hand over foot, and they're doing it by gambling with taxpayer money, which is being lent to them at 0% interest from the Federal Reserve. If the Federal Reserve would lend you money at 0%, you might be able to make some yourself. Of course, you don't have every member of your family working for the Obama administration, and you haven't spent hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying Congress, so you'll just have to settle for whatever your local bank wants to lend you, at whatever rate they feel like charging you. It probably won't be 0%.

What's more, by taking their bonuses in deferred stock, these executives won't have to pay any income tax on them, which means that, between now and then, you'll be giving these guys a personal tax-free loan.

But someone has to pay taxes to pay for all these wars and bailouts, right? Yep. You.

The bankers, of course, will ague that the stock is risky. If something happens to Goldman, the stock price might go down. Well, this would be true except for one thing: it won't go down, because taxpayers will bail them out if anything happens.

But don't worry. They're just doing "God's Work".

A Delusional President?

David Bromwich has a well written piece at the London Review of Books:
 ...on 21 May, he [Obama] gave a speech on law and national security at the National Archives: the worst speech of his presidency. He  said that his paramount duty was ‘to keep the American people safe’: that word, safe, which was accorded a primacy by George W. Bush it had not been given by any earlier president, Obama himself now ranked ahead of the words justicerightliberty and constitution.
And if this is truly what Obama thinks, it means that he has now accepted one of the basic precepts of  the right; namely, that the security of the United States must be defended at all costs, even if it means that everything which these putative patriots proffer as the embodiment of our nation- justice, freedom, equality, democracy, and a government which is answerable to its people- can simply be cast aside the moment any threat, real or imagined, is perceived.

These are the same people who appeal to our founding fathers on a daily basis. But our founding fathers sacrificed their personal security for these ideals, while these cowards would sacrifice our ideals for the illusion of security.

Those same people who would send our soldiers halfway around the world to die for those ideals can't be bothered to defend them here at home.

A foreign government that tortured, claimed the power of indefinite detention, refused to allow defendants a day in court, and considered itself literally above the law in any matter which it deems relevant to whatever it decides is "national security" would be condemned by those some people who support those actions when committed by the United States.

Remember this the next time some politician blathers on about "American Exceptionalism".

Friday, December 11, 2009

And Here's the Taibbi RS Story...It's a Must-Read

Here's why you should care about economic policy. And Taibbi, as always, makes it easy to understand. Here's your teaser...

Whatever the president's real motives are, the extensive series of loophole-rich financial "reforms" that the Democrats are currently pushing may ultimately do more harm than good. In fact, some parts of the new reforms border on insanity, threatening to vastly amplify Wall Street's political power by institutionalizing the taxpayer's role as a welfare provider for the financial-services industry. At one point in the debate, Obama's top economic advisers demanded the power to award future bailouts without even going to Congress for approval — and without providing taxpayers a single dime in equity on the deals.
How did we get here? It started just moments after the election — and almost nobody noticed.

'Just look at the timeline of the Citigroup deal," says one leading Democratic consultant. "Just look at it. It's fucking amazing. Amazing! And nobody said a thing about it."
Barack Obama was still just the president-elect when it happened, but the revolting and inexcusable $306 billion bailout that Citigroup received was the first major act of his presidency. In order to grasp the full horror of what took place, however, one needs to go back a few weeks before the actual bailout — to November 5th, 2008, the day after Obama's election

Read the rest... 

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Taibbi on Obama

Here's a great interview with Matt Taibbi. If you don't know who he is, he's the guy who, among other things, wrote the devastating expose of Goldman Sachs, which famously described them in the opening paragraph this way.
The world's most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money. 
Here he describes how Obama made a calculated decision to fill his administration will Wall Street insiders, including the despicable Robert Rubin. (H/T Digby)

There is really no point anymore in defending Obama from the right wing nutcases who attack him as a socialist. They're too blinded by what is all too often overt racism to realize that on economic policy, Obama is one of them. So let them eat their own.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Glenn Beck Will Say Whatever He's Paid To Say, Even If Grandma Has to Lose the House Over It

Daily Finance has the story on how Glenn Beck is using his Fox News show to promote gold without telling his viewers that he is a paid salesman for a gold company.

Glenn Beck's dual embrace of gold -- as an investment vehicle for his listeners and a personal moneymaking opportunity for himself -- has drawn boos from various journalism watchdogs. And now it looks like the talk-show host's close relationship with one purveyor of gold coins has gotten him in a bit of trouble with his employer Fox News.

Beck is prominently featured on the website of Goldline International, a vendor of "gold, silver, and platinum coins and bars as well as rare and collectible numismatic coins." According to the site, Beck is a "paid spokesman" for the company. "This is a top notch organization," a thumbnail photo of Beck's head declares.
Beck regularly does "live reads," or live commercials, for Goldline on his syndicated radio show, and has even interviewed Mark Albarian, Goldline's president and CEO, twice on the show, most recently on Nov. 12, 2009.
Critics including Media Matters say it's a major conflict of interest for Beck, who has often advised the viewers of his Fox News program to buy gold to protect themselves against the collapse of the dollar -- and of Western civilization -- without informing them of his Goldline deal.
Fox News must be pretty pissed off. One of their big stars is ruining the integrity (try not to laugh here) of their network so he can promote some company that he's shilling. Surely they must have some rules about this?
Like other news organizations, Fox News prohibits its on-air personalities from making paid product endorsements. But it makes an exception for its commentators who are also radio hosts, who are allowed to perform live reads, says Joel Cheatwood, senior vice president for development.
So, Fox News think it's a conflict of interest for their "journalists" to be paid to promote points of view. And their response is to ban these payments, unless...well, unless they decide to make an exception. Here's Joel Cheatwood, Fox News senior vice president for development.
"When we hired Glenn at Fox News, we hired him with the understanding that he had a well-established, burgeoning radio business, and we had to be accepting of certain elements of that," Cheatwood tells DailyFinance...
Translation: We knew he was corrupt, and we decided we didn't care.

When asked whether Beck was capable of covering the show in an impartial way, Cheatwood replied:
"If gold declines and the dollar goes up," Cheatwood added, "I absolutely guarantee the reporting will be that on the show."
 So, if you listen to Glenn Beck, believing that he is objective, and go out and put your retirement into gold, which subsequently crashes and destroys your life savings, everything will be fine.

Because you have an absolute guarantee from Joel Cheatwood.


Presumably, Beck owns gold himself. This should be enough to get an SEC investigation moving. You are not allowed to give investment advice about stocks or commodities which you own without informing your viewers that you own them, and that you have a potential conflict of interest.

If you're not familiar with these things, here's why.

Let's say you're Glenn Beck, and that you own $10,000 XYZ Corp, which you paid $1 each for, and which is about what those shares are worth. Let's also say that you'd really like to make some money on these shares.

So you go on TV, and talk about how great XYZ is, and how the share price is sure to go up, and how people are going to thank you one day if they follow your advice to buy. So people start buying the stock, which starts to go up in price as more people watch Glenn Beck and decide they need to buy it. Three months later, it peaks at $100 per share. After three months of watching the stock go up as Beck talks about how great it is, someone's Grandma cashes in her $100,000 retirement fund to buy 1000 shares. The next day Glenn sells his 1000 shares for a cool $90,000 profit. This sale triggers a selling frenzy, but Grandma, who does not work on Wall Street, doesn't know what to do, and can't bring herself to sell the stock until it hits $1 per share again, and winds up with a net loss of $90,000.

Perfect example of the free market at it's best. Survival of the fittest, right?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Student Loan Hijinks

The House recently passed a bill which would reform our Rube Goldberg student loan system.

This should be the most uncontroversial bill in the history of government.

Gail Collins, take it away:
Let us stop here and recall how the current loan system works:
1) Federal government provides private banks with capital.
2) Federal government pays private banks a subsidy to lend that capital to students.
3) Federal government guarantees said loans so the banks don’t have any risk.
And now, the proposed reform:
1) The federal government makes the loans.
Wow. You really do wonder why nobody came up with this idea before.
Back to the Washington Post article:

A bill that cleared a House committee Tuesday would largely remove private lenders from the federal student loan industry, generating an estimated $87 billion savings over 10 years to fund more government grants and loans.
The Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009 would eliminate an entire category of student loans issued by private lenders and subsidized by the federal government, vastly expanding direct lending by the government starting next July. Democrats would use the savings to fund a $40 billion increase in federal Pell Grant scholarships over 10 years, $10 billion in community college upgrades and $8 billion in pre-kindergarten changes, among other uses.
Republicans opposed to the legislation say it amounts to a federal takeover of student lending.

Read that last line again, because it's a perfect example of

A) How dumb the Republicans are, or

B) How dumb they think you are.

This whole program is just a huge giveaway to private lenders, who charge us a fee to lend our money to students, when we could just do it ourselves. These lenders make money on the loans, but if the loans go bad, we end up paying.

In all fairness, they do have one actual argument besides just yelling "Government Takeover" in a crowded Tea Party:
Republicans say colleges and universities will be hard-pressed to switch from subsidized to direct government lending.
They say that the conversion will be too hard to do; financial aid offices are just too used to working with these private lenders.

Whatever happened to American Exceptionalism? Didn't our goverment put a man on the moon? Are you telling me that the same people who think our government can build a brand a new country from scratch on the other side of the world in Afghanistan can't figure out how to process their own fucking student loan applications?

That's just unpatriotic.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

This Will End Badly

It's hard to see how there can ever be a successful conclusion to a war like this. At least from our point of view.

The United States, and what's left of our allies, really have only one advantage. We have technological arms superiority. We have tanks, and planes, and bombs, and fancy missiles. We even have nuclear weapons.

The problem is that we really can't use any of these weapons. They were designed for use in large scale, nation versus nation conventional warfare. They are useless against an insurgency which fights using guerilla tactics. And in a conflict in which we are supposedly winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people, the collateral damage which these weapons would cause is politically unacceptable as well.

So we find ourselves fighting on the Taliban's terms, with similar weapons, in terrain which is hostile to us (but friendly to them), and at the cost of $1 million per soldier per year. I'm not sure what the Taliban's cost per soldier is, but it's a heck of a lot less than that. And they have an endless supply of them, while we are sending 30,000 more troops to a conflict which needs, according to the Army's own assessment, another 4-500,000 troops.

And what is the goal? CIA estimates that there are fewer than 100 Al Qaeda left in Afghanistan. The rest are spread around the globe. Fighting a conventional war against a transnational terrorist group, which has real and legitimate problem with United States foreign policy, is ludicrous. Unless we are prepared to invade every country on earth, we are not going to solve the problem this way.

The United States has two choices.

It can continue on its chosen foreign policy path (invasions and occupations of Muslim lands, support for tyrannical, authoritarian regimes which oppress Muslims, unconditional support for Israel), and just accept the security consequences of radicalizing an increasing percentage of the world's second largest religion. There is an excellent possibility that this will eventually result in the detonation of a nuclear weapon in a major US city, but maybe we feel that this is an acceptable price to be paid for cheap oil and the continued congressional campaign contributions of the Israeli lobby.

Or we can withdraw from Muslim lands, stop supporting the likes of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and cut Israel loose, requiring it to bear the burden of its immoral and illegal wars and expansion.

But sending another 30,000 troops to Afghanistan will not make a damn bit of difference.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


From Digby:

Estate taxes should be high. This is not an aristocracy and the concentration of wealth in this country is already distorting our society in myriad ways. And if the deficit is the biggest threat to the American way of life the billionaires keep insisting it is, then perhaps the wealthy dead among them can be asked to help their country in its time of need even if the live ones are too "talented" and "productive" to be asked to sacrifice.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thought for the Day

If you can calculate a return on investment for a political donation, then you are a member of the elite.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Gospel According to Mammon, and Craazyman

Naked Capitalism has a great, but technical, story about how Goldman was selling securities to unwary investors, then betting against the securities, and collecting money from both the government (through AIG, when the securities defaulted), and by collecting on the bets that they made against the securities.

How did they make sure the securities defaulted? They sabotaged them. They sold them to investors (pension plans, small towns, whoever), and then willingly sabotaged them.

It's kind of like selling a house to someone, taking out insurance on it, and then setting the house on fire as soon as the sale goes through so you can collect the insurance money. Except that in Goldman's case, they had already collected "insurance" from the taxpayer.

No one ever said these guys weren't smart.

Of course, Lloyd Blankfein, the Goldman CEO, thinks that they are doing God's work. Which would explain, I guess, why their executives demanded and got flu vaccines before the public did.

Craazyman commented on this story, and his comment is not technical, and it made my day:

And Don John entered into his house, which they called a john, and sat upon his pile, which reacheth up as unto a heaven, and called his disciples and said unto them.

“When ye go to the market place let not your communications be Yeah and Nay, as the hypocrites do, for truly they will have no reward for their labors.

But when ye pray, and prepareth ye to greet thy neighbor, entereth into thy closet so that no man seeth, and let thy words be as snakes in the grass, who slink and slither and coil, yeah around themselves as it were, into a knot.

Nor forgive ye men their trespasses against thee, for there be no profit in mercy nor doth pity increaseth thy stature. And deception be not an abomination, nor doth tickery reduceth thy pile, and even as ye confound thy neighbor and be as a briar unto him, ye shall find favor in the lord of hosts and ye shall prosper.”

And the disciples did as they were instructed and their words were as snares and as the tounges of serpents, and their words numbered even as the stars in the heavens, and they bound the multitude into a great vexation, for the multitude was rendered as a man whose pile bloweth away like a house of sand, yeah unto the ends of the earth, as in a storm.

The Gospel According to Mammon, VI, ix – xii

I just realized why Americans are in debt

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Scahill on Blackwater

Uber Tool Chuck Todd say that we shouldn't prosecute anyone for torture, because if any of the cases went wrong, you might not be able to prosecute anyone for torture later.

Of course, if we never prosecute anyone for torture, then we'll never prosecute anyone for torture later, either. This is mind-numbing stupidity from a man who is too scared to do his job as a journalist and actually investigate something.

Chuck Todd is a concern troll of the highest order. From Urban Dictionary:

Concern Troll (N):
In an argument (usually a political debate), a concern troll is someone who is on one side of the discussion, but pretends to be a supporter of the other side with "concerns". The idea behind this is that your opponents will take your arguments more seriously if they think you're an ally. Concern trolls who use fake identities are sometimes known as sockpuppets.

The only thing important to Chuck Todd is maintaining the status quo. Somehow, somewhere, the fourth estate got so screwed up that it managed to elevate a brown-noser like Chuck Todd to a position of high influence, a Serious Person. As a White House correspondent, Chuck believes that his job is to faithfully write down everything that the occupants of the White House tell him to write, and then to transmit this information without the prejudice of critical thought, to the huddled masses below. Glenn Greenwald appropriately calls this "stenography".

It most certainly isn't journalism. But Chuck is a useful tool for an president; he is like a White House spokesman who has the added benefit that people actually think he is a journalist. Chuck's main goal in life, you see, is to not rock the boat. And why should he? As a journalist, he not qualified to deliver the morning paper. But he gets great access, because everyone knows he won't ask any questions!

Of course, Chuck thinks prides himself on being fair and balanced.

To Chuck, this means not just repeating what the president says, but verifying the presidents truthfulness and telling the public when he is lying.

Did you believe that last sentence? You shouldn't. It's not true. Let me rephrase it.

To Chuck, this means not just repeating what the president says, but also repeating what the Republicans say, and then letting the public just make guesses as to which of the two parties is lying.

(Hint: It's usually both.)

Of course, this is "fair" and "balanced", but it is absolutely worthless as journalism. And don't forget, a strong and vigorous press is the only thing that keeps the government in check.

Chuck Todd is neither strong, nor vigorous. Chuck Todd is a tool.

Update: I know it's cruel and petty, but Chuck Todd deserves it, and I deserve it, and you deserve it too.

I just can't help but think he looks like Murray from Flight of the Conchords, only Murray is almost likeable.

Maybe They Aren't All Crazy, After All

Peter Galbraith, a US advisor to the Kurdish regional government in Iraq, is going to make hundreds of millions of dollars from an oilfield in the Kurdish region.

OSLO — Peter W. Galbraith, an influential former American ambassador, is a powerful voice on Iraq who helped shape the views of policy makers like Joseph R. Biden Jr. and John Kerry. In the summer of 2005, he was also an adviser to the Kurdish regional government as Iraq wrote its Constitution — tough and sensitive talks not least because of issues like how Iraq would divide its vast oil wealth.

These talks were very contentious, to say the least. The Kurds have never gotten along with the rest of Iraq, and were demanding that they had rights to the oil in their region, and that those rights superseded any claim the Iraqi government had.

Now Mr. Galbraith, 58, son of the renowned economist John Kenneth Galbraith, stands to earn perhaps a hundred million or more dollars as a result of his closeness to the Kurds, his relations with a Norwegian oil company and constitutional provisions he helped the Kurds extract.

In the constitutional negotiations, he helped the Kurds ram through provisions that gave their region — rather than the central Baghdad government — sole authority over many of their internal affairs, including clauses that he maintains will give the Kurds virtually complete control over all new oil finds on their territory.

Mr. Galbraith, widely viewed in Washington as a smart and bold foreign policy expert, has always described himself as an unpaid adviser to the Kurds, although he has spoken in general terms about having business interests in Kurdistan, as the north of Iraq is known.

So it came as a shock to many last month when a group of Norwegian investigative journalists at the newspaper Dagens Naeringsliv began publishing documents linking Mr. Galbraith to a specific Norwegian oil company with major contracts in Iraq.

Here is one thing you can be sure of. Galbraith knew precisely what he was doing, and he knew it at every step of the way. You do not "accidentally" earn a hundred million dollars just for standing around. And if it's all above board, why didn't he say anything about it? Why did he claim to be an unpaid advisor? Even if it's technically true, in the sense that he wasn't on salary, his denial makes it pretty apparent that he did not want anyone knowing that he had interests in Iraqi oil.

When drillers struck oil in a rich new field called Tawke in December 2005, no one but a handful of government and business officials and members of Mr. Galbraith’s inner circle knew that the constitutional provisions he had pushed through only months earlier could enrich him so handsomely.

So he helped design the Iraqi constitution, and then, shockingly, it turns out that that same constitution is going to make him very rich. Somehow I don't think the Muslim world will find that to be coincidental.

As the scope of Mr. Galbraith’s financial interests in Kurdistan become clear, they have the potential to inflame some of Iraqis’ deepest fears, including conspiracy theories that the true reason for the American invasion of their country was to take its oil.

Of course, these conspiracy theories don't sound so far-fetched now, do they, as a former US Ambassador and the Kurds have conspired to help themselves to Iraqi oil, oil which Iraq desperately needs as it tries to rebuild. Oil which it will need to sell if the US taxpayer has any hope of ever freeing itself from the burden of supporting Iraq.

Some officials say that his financial ties could raise serious questions about the integrity of the constitutional negotiations themselves. “The idea that an oil company was participating in the drafting of the Iraqi Constitution leaves me speechless,” said Feisal Amin al-Istrabadi, a principal drafter of the law that governed Iraq after the United States ceded control to an Iraqi government on June 28, 2004.

In effect, he said, the company “has a representative in the room, drafting.”

DNO’s chief executive, Helge Eide, confirmed that Mr. Galbraith helped negotiate the Tawke deal and advised the company during 2005. But Mr. Eide said that Mr. Galbraith acted solely as a political adviser and that the company never discussed the Constitution negotiations with him. “We certainly never did give any input, language or suggestions on the Constitution,” Mr. Eide said.

Sure. They had a man in the room, helping to write a constitution which would have a major financial impact on the company, but they didn't really pay any attention to him, or give him any suggestions. If there was even the slightest possibility of this statement being true, then you would also be reading about the massive stock sell-off as investors realized the company was being run by morons.

Kurdish officials said that they were informed of Mr. Galbraith’s work for DNO and that they still considered him a friend and advocate. Mr. Galbraith said that during his work on the Constitution negotiations, the Kurds “did not pay me and they knew I was being paid by DNO.”

Yes, of course the Kurds knew. Galbraith was helping them get a bigger piece of the action, at the expense of the Iraqi people, and he got a cut of it in return. The real question is did the Iraqis know that he was working for an oil company when he was pretending to be a mediator as he worked on their constitution. And they clearly did not.

The reasons why the Muslim world hates the US are getting clearer and clearer every day. They aren't crazy at all.

And there can hardly be any doubt that actions of Peter Galbraith will cost American lives and money, and will go a long way towards making Americans less secure.

I hope it was worth it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Blackwater Murders Civilians, Tries To Cover It Up With Bribes

Breaking News:

WASHINGTON — Top executives at Blackwater Worldwide authorized secret payments of about $1 million to Iraqi officials that were intended to silence their criticism and buy their support after a September 2007 episode in which Blackwater security guards fatally shot 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad, according to former company officials.

Blackwater is a private military unit, which is owned by a militant Christian fundamentalist named Erik Prince. According to testimony from two of his former employees, Prince "views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe," and that Prince's companies "encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life."

Somehow, though, the US Government gave this man billions of dollars to provide "security" in Iraq, a country populated mostly by Muslims.

I can almost hear how this conversation went:

Bush: Hey Erik! I need someone to keep the peace over there in Iraq. Those Islamites are looking kind of tense right now.

Prince: Well, I can do that!

Bush: I need someone who can really keep it chill. What're yer qualities, uh, quantitizat-, i mean, qualifications? Yeah.

Prince: Well, Dubya, I'm hell-bent on eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe. Family values, you know?

Bush: Perfect! Heh heh. Perfect!

And of course this happened:

At midday on Sept. 16, 2007, a Blackwater convoy opened fire on Iraqi civilians in the crowded intersection, spraying automatic weapons fire in ways that investigators later claimed was indiscriminate, and even launching grenades into a nearby school. Seventeen Iraqis were killed and dozens more were wounded.

Read more here. It's pretty bad.

Of course, this was just one of many Blackwater crimes in Iraq. But this one was so bad, so egregious, that they realized that not even the Bush administration could protect them if the Iraqis wanted to bar them from operating in the country. So, according to former company officials, they tried to bribe the Iraqis with $1 million.

And Blackwater is accountable to no one. They operated in Iraq with virtual immunity; their mercenary soldiers could kill almost at will. They are an evil outfit.

It's becoming harder and harder every day to vilify insurgents in countries that have been invaded by the United States.

Drone Terror

From David Rohde's account of his capture and captivity by the Taliban. This is what people in Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan live with daily.

It was March 25, and for months the drones had been a terrifying presence. Remotely piloted, propeller-driven airplanes, they could easily be heard as they circled overhead for hours. To the naked eye, they were small dots in the sky. But their missiles had a range of several miles. We knew we could be immolated without warning.

This is terrorism. How could this fail to strike fear into the hearts of anyone who had to live with this eye in the sky. It is as though the United States has set itself up as a god, who is always watching from above, ready to smite at the slightest provocation, or just on a whim.

There is no appeal to this god, no recourse to his laws. Your life, at all times, is in his hands.

Even the meekest of the meek would chafe under this oppression. How can we be surprised that the response of a culture as macho and honor-driven as the Taliban would be one of hate, fear, and violence? What is irrational about that?

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Worst of the Worst

If you don't have 9 minutes now, come back when you do. This is what your government has done, and it is fighting today for the power to keep doing this.

Crying Terrorist

The new definition of terrorism is, apparently, any violence committed by Muslims against anyone else.

Joe Leiberman, quoted in the WSJ today, said:

"We don't know enough to say now, but there are very, very strong warning signs here that Dr. Hasan had become an Islamist extremist and, therefore, that this was a terrorist act," Mr. Lieberman added.

In other words, any and all violence committed by a Muslim with radical views (i.e., different from Lieberman's) are acts of terror. The obverse of that argument, of course, is that violence committed by non-Muslims is never terrorism.

So terrorism is something that only Muslims do, by definition.

If you think this is pushing it a little far, look at what some of the nutbags over at Atlas Shrugs posted:

Islamic Terror Attacks on American Soil

We recently got taken to the mat by a polite, young Muslim living in the U.K. who took issue with our oft-repeated statement that no Muslim-American lost their life to vigilante violence following 9/11. She provided us a list of six or seven candidates and, after whittling out the ones where the killer was unknown or in cases with mitigating circumstances such as “victim was sleeping with killer’s ex-girlfriend” (and we’re not making that up), we reached a shocking conclusion:

We were wrong.

There is one seemingly unambiguous case that occurred in Dallas, Texas where Waqar Hasan, a Muslim convenience storeowner, was gunned down by Mark Anthony Stroman four days after the 9/11 attacks. Stroman claimed to have been motivated by anger from watching the towers fall. He is not exactly your average American, however, even apart from the shooting. For one thing, he is a white supremacist who carried a felony criminal record at the time of the attack. He also went on to shoot two more people in the weeks that followed.

Thankfully, an American jury sentenced Mark Stroman to death. The same cannot be said of many Muslim terrorists such as Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset Al Megrahi, who not only have sanctuary in Muslim countries, but are often treated as heroes by devout followers of Muhammad.

Nevertheless, we acknowledge that our friend is correct and that there was at least one Muslim killed in an anti-Arab hate crime in the U.S. following the anti-American hate crime on 9/11. For anyone keeping score:

People killed by radical Muslims on 9/11: 2,996
Muslim-Americans killed "in revenge": 1


One Muslim-American.

One Muslim-American has died since 9/11, in revenge for that terrible act, and so the indiscriminate killing of tens of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans is glossed over. It's as though it didn't even happen.

The breathtaking stupidity of that statement almost needs to be savored for moment, and chewed over a few times before being vomited out as the vile piece of propaganda that it is.

The fact is that terrorism is not a useful term. There is war, and there is immoral war. There is violence, and there is immoral violence.

If a US Special Forces commando was to infiltrate an Al Qaeda cell, pull out a couple pistols and shoot everyone in sight while yelling "God Bless the USA", would Joe Lieberman call him a terrorist?

Of course not. He would be hailed as a hero, and Lieberman would fall all over himself to place him in the pantheon of noble Americans.

Here's the ugly truth. When America spends more on its war machine ($663 Billion next year!) than the entire gross domestic product of 174 of the world's 191 countries, the only way to fight back is to do whatever you can.

Terrorism is literally the only way most of the world's people have of effecting political change with the United States. It doesn't make it right, but it's impossible to argue that it's somehow morally worse than the Shock and Awe campaign in Baghdad, or dropping nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or the fire-bombing of Dresden. In fact, the collateral damage of terrorism is far less than that of full-scale conventional war.

Roughly 3000 Americans were killed in the attacks on 9/11. Since then, it is estimated that we have killed between 100,000 and 1,000,000 million Iraqis. Many of these were civlians.

So what, really, is the difference between 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq?

Both were unjustified. Both killed innocent civilians. (Far more in Iraq)

Is it because the 9/11 attackers were religious?

So was George Bush, who believed, as a born-again Christian, that the coming rapture required a war in the Middle East.

Is it because the 9/11 attackers wanted to effect political change?

So did the United States; one of its stated objectives was the removal of Saddam Hussein.

Is it because it used fear and terror as a method of achieving that goal?

What, exactly, do you think Shock and Awe was supposed to do?

No, it's not any of these things.

Is it because the 9/11 attackers were Muslims?


Monday, November 2, 2009

Afghan Democracy?

Abdullah Abdullah has dropped out:

In an emotional speech on Sunday to thousands of supporters here, Mr. Abdullah said he could not take part in a runoff that he believed would be at least as fraudulent as the tainted first round in August, in which almost a million ballots for Mr. Karzai were thrown out as fakes.

“I hoped there would be a better process,” he said. “But it is final. I will not participate in the Nov. 7 elections.

Afghanistan is not ready for democracy. They are not even close. You can't just throw up some polling stations and ballots and claim that you have a functioning, democratic government.

Think about what happened here. There was an election of sorts, which everyone knew was going to be fraudulent. It was found to be fraudulent, and so everyone decided that there should be another one. And then it was apparent that that one would be fraudulent too, and that a whole lot of innocent people were going to die. So everyone convinced one of the candidates to quit, and declared the election off, and decided that the guy who stole the first election gets to keep being president. And then they all stand around and talk about how great it is that there is democracy in Afghanistan.

This is what we're fighting for? What a joke.

Sure, Afghanistan had an election. But what they don't have is a government.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Former Marine Captain: Time to Come Home


A former Marine captain who became the first foreign service official to publicly resign in protest over the war in Afghanistan says staying in the country is not in America's interest.

"The losses of our soldiers do not merit anything that comes in line with our strategic interests or values," Matthew Hoh, who signed on as a foreign service official in Afghanistan after fighting in Iraq, tells NPR's Melissa Block.

Hoh resigned last month after spending five working months in Afghanistan. In his resignation letter, he said he had "lost understanding of and confidence in the strategic purpose of the United States' presence in Afghanistan."

Hoh says he is more concerned about why the U.S. is in Afghanistan than debating Gen. Stanley McChrystal's views or those of others in Washington. McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, has asked for an additional 40,000 troops, a request President Obama is considering.

"I prefer to keep talking about: Is it worth winning?" Hoh says. "Is it worth losing more lives? And is it worth spending billions of dollars that, frankly, this country does not have?"

In his long resignation letter to the State Department, Hoh says the U.S. has not understood the true nature of the Afghan insurgency, and he uses the word "valleyism" to describe much of the insurgency there.

"In Afghanistan, everything is much more localized," Hoh tells NPR. "Allegiance is to your family, and then to your village or your valley, and that's what they fight for.

"There has not been a traditional central government there and I don't believe a central government is wanted, and actually, I believe, they fight the central government just as much as they fight the foreign occupiers," he adds.

In his letter, Hoh says families must be reassured their dead have sacrificed for a "purpose worthy of futures lost, love vanished, and promised dreams unkept. I have lost confidence such assurances can anymore be made." He says it was difficult for him to write that.

"But I don't believe we should continue losing and sacrificing our young men and women for goals that meet no strategic purpose to the United States," he tells NPR. "And the idea that we should continue fighting there just because we have been fighting there for the last eight years I think is completely irrational."

Hoh dismisses concerns, raised by others such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, that a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan will prompt a Taliban comeback and, consequently, a return of al-Qaida. He says after al-Qaida lost its Afghan safe haven following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the group evolved its strategy, looking beyond a political or geographical boundary.

"They are not looking for a safe haven in Afghanistan. They don't need that," he says. "They've already got safe havens in half a dozen other countries — Somalia, Sudan, Yemen."

More to the point, he says, the vast majority of attackers in al-Qaida's successful operations, including Sept. 11, are not from the ethnic Pashto belt of Afghanistan or Pakistan. They are, in fact, from the West and the Persian Gulf states. The continued U.S. presence in Afghanistan only reinforces al-Qaida's message, and causes people to want to fight the West and to join its ranks, he says.

Read the rest here.

Stewart on Fox

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
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Jon Stewart and the Daily Show do more to expose the stupidity of the village than anyone else. I know Fox News is biased. Everyone with a brain knows that.

I wish they didn't exist, but if you want freedom of speech you have to put up with jackasses like Beck, O'Reilly and Hannity.

Just don't call yourself a news organization, and don't pretend to be "fair and balanced".

And if Fox News isn't really news, than what is it? It's pretty much just a spokesperson for the Republicans. And if the Obama administration got into an argument with the Republican Party, no one would care.

It's called politics, people.

Arrest the Naked Pumpkin People!


BOULDER, Colo. -- This city has always taken pride in its liberal-to-the-point-of-loony reputation. But this Halloween, one of its wackiest traditions is under siege: the Naked Pumpkin Run.

The event is exactly what its name implies. Scores of men and women pour into downtown streets for a late-night jog, wearing not a stitch between the jack-o'-lanterns on their heads and the sneakers on their feet.

For nearly a decade, naked pumpkin runners did their thing unmolested, stampeding through the frigid dark past crowds of admirers who hooted, hollered and tossed candy. But last year the run attracted more than 150 participants, and Police Chief Mark Beckner fears things are getting out of hand. "It's a free-for-all," he says.

So he intends to stop it.

He will station more than 40 officers on the traditional four-block route tonight, with two SWAT teams patrolling nearby. All have orders to arrest gourd-topped streakers as sex offenders.

150 naked people running. With pumpkins on their heads. And the Boulder police chief decide he needs 40 cops and two swat teams, and that he plans on arresting everyone that runs. Since Boulder has no public nudity ordinance, this jackass of a cop cast around for the nearest excuse to ruin people's lives and found a state statute which will allow him to charge the runners as sex offenders.

As pathetically stupid as all this sounds, it could get worse. Boulder's police department has tasers, and they aren't afraid to use them. And in case you haven't heard, Tasers can kill.

I Thought Democracy Is What We're Dying For

This was just reported today:

NYT, KABUL, Afghanistan — Abdullah Abdullah, the chief rival to President Hamid Karzai, plans to announce on Sunday his decision to withdraw from the Nov. 7 Afghan runoff election, handing a new five-year term to Mr. Karzai but potentially damaging the government’s credibility, according to Western diplomats here and people close to Mr. Abdullah.

But Mr. Abdullah seemed to be keeping his options open until the last second, as he has done through the Afghan political crisis. Those close to him, speaking on condition of anonymity on Saturday, said Mr. Abdullah was still trying to decide whether to publicly denounce Mr. Karzai, whom he has accused of stealing the Aug. 20 election, or to step down without a fight.

American and other Western diplomats said they were worried that a defiant statement by Mr. Abdullah could lead to violence and undermine Mr. Karzai’s legitimacy, and they were urging him to bow out gracefully. Obama administration officials have scrambled for weeks to end the deadlock, trying to ensure a smooth government transition as President Obama weighs whether to increase the American military presence in Afghanistan.

Karzai is as corrupt as they come. He tried to steal this election.

And the reaction of the United States is to encourage his opponent to just accept the fraud, and get over it.

Remember this?

Here's Neo-Con John Bolton, writing on June 15 in Politico about the Iranian elections:

Instead of continuing to play by the mullahs’ rules, Iranians across the board must resolve to change not just the rules but the entire system, overthrowing the Revolution and its superstructure and creating institutions that truly allow for representative government. That would be “change” we could believe in.

John McCain, June 15 2009:

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Monday called the recent reelection of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a “sham” and criticized President Barack Obama’s administration for not voicing strong opposition to the election’s result.

“The reaction of the Iranian people shows their discontent with this regime,” McCain said during an interview on Fox News’ “Fox & Friends.”

“It’s really a sham that they've pulled off and I hope that we will act,” he said.

The neocon outrage was palpable. Where is that outrage now, when the United States and it's allies are complicit in defrauding the Afghan people, and helping to keep a corrupt, opportunistic politician like Karzai in office just because it's convenient to us?

I suppose this proves that we're not there for nation-building.

The Hanging Judge

Cameron Todd Willingham was put to death in 2004 after being convicted of setting a fire that killed his daughters. The arson investigation has since been entirely discredited by the leading arson investigators in the country, and it is now apparent to anyone with a brain that an innocent man was executed. I've written more about the case and investigation here, here, here, and here.

Nightline recently interviewed some of the people involved in this story.

From the interview with John Jackson, who prosecuted Willingham, and who is now judge:

Nightline's Terry Moran: You would agree that this report, from the Texas Forensic Science Commision, call into very serious question the methodology, and the way, this arson investigation-

Jackson: Without question.

Moran: ...That it really has a problem.

Jackson: That the techniques used were flawed.

Moran: Deeply.

Jackson: Yes...Some of the evidence is certainly less than, less credible than I would have liked to see.

Moran: And doesn't that give you pause at all, about sending a man to death?

Jackson: Not a man like Todd....The best evidence to me is not the investigation of the arson, the best evidence that I believe I presented was the, uh, prior attempts of Todd Willingham to kill his children.

Moran: He beat his wife when she was pregnant, therefore he killed his children in the fire?

Jackson: I think that's the major factor that most finders of facts such as jurors would consider.

Even Willingham's wife testified that he would never have hurt their children. Nor was there ever any evidence that he had tried to harm or kill his children. Jackson is just lying here, and he knows it.

Here's Jackson again, talking about the burn marks on the floor, which seem pretty random.

Jackson: It's perhaps a pentagram kind of a figure, ah, that some people accosiate with devil worship, that sort of thing.

Moran: You think that, that Todd Willingham poured accelerant in the shape of a pentagram, some sort of devil worship thing?

Jackson: I think that's very possible, and I think that's very likely.

Moran (obviously stunned): It's likely?

Jackson: Yes.

Moran: Based on the fact that he liked heavy metal and Iron Maiden, and liked metal rock groups that use skulls, and those kind of imagery, that makes him a devil worshipper?

Jackson: No, it does not make him, but it makes him more likely that he is a devil worshipper, or that he is obsessed with, ah, ah, Satan-like figures and that sort of thing.

Moran: And that would...that's evidence that he killed his children.

Jackson: Uh, that's certainly one factor that, that, uh, a finder of fact could consider.

Which would make half of the teenage boys in America in 1991 devil worshippers, and by, extension, child killers, apparently.

Here's Jackson talking about how he felt that Willingham's angry refusal to admit that he killed his children in exchange for a life sentence, was evidence that he was guilty.

Jackson: I think it's a response to his belief that, uh, a life sentence for him would be, uh, worse than a death penalty.

Isn't it also possible that he just was telling the truth when he said that, "I will never plead guilty to something I didn't do, especially killing my kids"?

Jackson: Uh, I don't think it's a very good possibillity that Todd Willingham ever told the truth to anybody, about anything. He's- he was one of the most completely manipulative individuals that you'd ever hope to find. (Pause) He's still manipulating us from the grave!

Paranoia. Irrational fear of things you don't know anything about, like heavy metal. Refusal to change one's mind in light of new information.

I think we got us a conservative here, boys!

Jackson is still in denial:

Moran: They say the conclusions reached by the investigators are not warranted by modern fire science, and are based on primitive, old wives tales...fold lore.

Jackson: It's not to say that they're not correct though.

Moran: You send a man to death on that.

Jackson: I'm comfortable with that.

Moran: Beyond a reasonable doubt?

Jackson: Beyond a doubt.

This man is still a judge in Texas. Is there any way on earth, after reading that, that you could expect a fair trial in front of this judge?


Here's Doug Fogg, the original arson investigator who decided that the fire was arson, explaining that all the tests and studies that have been done show him to be wrong:

Fogg: And, they gonna take it to these labs, and, blah, blah, blah, try and disapprove it. Well, I'll take it to a lab and disapprove it. But, ah, come to the real word sometime. Go out and let the beasts get ahold of you.

I don't even know what this statement means. In the real world, where they actually ran experiments, Fogg's theories of arson have be proven to be bullshit.

Update 2

Here are the actual interviews:

This Is Going to Cost More Than Health Care Would

Here's another reason why the billions of dollars in bonuses that financial companies like Goldman Sachs are paying out should really piss you off.

Unlike profits that, say, a technology company makes, the bonuses will never be re-invested in research, or more production (jobs), and anything else productive. They'll just be given to executives and traders who can use them to buy that important 3rd mansion or 4th yacht.

And, of course, all that money is being made by banks who are gambling with your taxpayer money, which is being provided free of charge by the government, a government which is owned by those very banks.

Of course, when you give all the money in the economy to banks, who gamble with it, there is none left for companies who might actually do something with it, like make things, and create jobs.

And when you let banks gamble with your money, and tell them they get to keep the winnings and stick you with the losses, you can't really be surprised when they do it. Of course, eventually the dice will come up wrong, and taxpayers will be on the hook for it. But by the time the banks fail again, these traders and executives will already have their bonuses.

You'll just have the bill.

A Billion Here, A Billion There

From WSJ:

The $2.3 billion in taxpayer money spent to save CIT Group Inc. is likely to be wiped out, as the lender prepares to file for bankruptcy protection in a high-stakes restructuring plan aimed at keeping the firm in business.

People familiar with the plan said CIT, a major lender to small businesses, intends to file for bankruptcy-court protection in New York within days, perhaps as early as Sunday or Monday.

Luckily, we only pissed away $2.3 billion with these guys.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

This Is What We're Fighting For

From Balkinization:

Saturday, October 24, 2009
The Murderous Thugs We are Supporting in Afghanistan--and Why a Heroine Wants Us Out

Brian Tamanaha

Malalai Joya is an incredibly courageous Afghan woman, only 30 years old, living under the constant threat of being killed because she dares to speak the truth. The people who want to kill her are the people we put into power in Afghanistan.

Ms. Joya lived in refugee camps in Iran and Pakistan during Taliban rule. She loved to read and wished to share this gift with other Afghan women. With the support of a charity, Ms. Joya snuck back into Afghanistan and opened a secret school to teach young girls to read. This was at great risk to her personal safety, for the Taliban would have punished her severely if they found her out, which nearly occurred on a number of occasions.

One would think, given this history, that she would be pleased about the ejection of the Taliban and its aftermath. Not so:

Dust has been thrown into the eyes of the world by your governments [speaking to a British reporter]. You have not been told the truth. The situation now is as catastrophic as it was under the Taliban for women. Your governments have replaced the fundamentalist rule of the Taliban with another fundamentalist regime of warlords. [That is] what your soldiers are dying for. (quote from this piece in The Independent, October 21, 2009, which provides the material about Joya for this post).
The warlords of whom she speaks—our allies—are the ones who have openly threatened to kill her. She expects that they may well succeed.

We “won” the initial war against the Taliban by relying upon fighters supplied by warlords, supported by our special forces soldiers and backed by our heavy equipment and bombing capacity. CIA operatives were also on the ground distributing piles of money. Following the quick collapse of the Taliban government, we put into place a replacement government that was stocked at the highest levels with these very warlords. The Karzai government is as weak as the warlords are strong—and we have increased their power by funneling millions of dollars to them.

It’s natural for a military power to reward its allies in battle with plunder and power after victory, and that’s what we did. The problem is that we claimed to be bringing democracy and saving the Afghan people from tyranny, but the warlords have a long record of terrible behavior that predates the Taliban. Before the Taliban took over control of the government, the warlords were fighting one another for territory and control, destroying parts of the cities, killing many civilians, and raping women. Ms. Joya reminds us of this recent past:

Most people in the West have been led to believe that the intolerance and brutality toward women in Afghanistan began with the Taliban regime. But this is a lie. Many of the worst atrocities were committed by the fundamentalist mujahedin during the civil war between 1992 and 1996. They introduced the laws oppressing women followed by the Taliban—and now they were marching back to power, supported by the United States. They immediately went back to their old habit of using rape to punish their enemies and reward their fighters.

Click the link at the top and read the whole thing.