Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Ron Paul and the Blindness of Ideological Belief

Lew Rockwell, Ron Paul, Free Markets

Ron Paul has a piece up at Lew Rockwell's site about the mischaracterizations of Obama as a socialist. He is obviously right about that, but wrong about much else, as usual.

Proceed, sir.

Lately many have characterized this administration as socialist, or having strong socialist leanings. I differ with this characterization. This is not to say Mr. Obama believes in free-markets by any means. On the contrary, he has done and said much that demonstrates his fundamental misunderstanding and hostility towards the truly free market. But a closer, honest examination of his policies and actions in office reveals that, much like the previous administration, he is very much a corporatist. This in many ways can be more insidious and worse than being an outright socialist.

I just want to stop here and go on the record for first time readers by saying socialism is certainly not insidious. It may or may not be the best system for creating the highest amount of profits, but that really has nothing to do with whether it's a good system or not. That, of course, will have to remain a topic for another discussion.

Socialism is a system where the government directly owns and manages businesses. 

This is untrue. Socialism is a system where the means of production are owned by workers and administered either by them or in their name by the state. In a social democracy, the two groups are one and the same.

Corporatism is a system where businesses are nominally in private hands, but are in fact controlled by the government. 

This is also untrue. Ron Paul hates government, so he places all the blame on government while accusing it of taking over business. But in a corporate state, business and government are one and the same. And if business is governing, then there can be no democracy. This is, of course, where we are heading in the United States. The Obama administration has been a continuation of the Bush administration in this regard.

In a corporatist state, government officials often act in collusion with their favored business interests to design polices that give those interests a monopoly position, to the detriment of both competitors and consumers.

And, even more importantly, to the detriment of workers, who soon find themselves at the mercy of large corporations and their government policies.

More to the point, in a corporatist state, there is no actual distinction between government and corporate officials. They are often interchangeable, and sometimes occupy both positions at once. Their loyalty is to each other, and their concern for the general citizenry is limited to ensuring that there are no armed rebellions.

This is exactly where we find ourselves today. Retired generals who serve as special advisors to the government at the same time they serve on the boards of defense contractors (who stand to make billions from each new war) were regularly appearing on TV advocating the invasion of Iraq. Where they government officials? Were they businessmen? There is no longer any real distinction.

Health insurance CEO's literally wrote much of the legislation in the recent health reform bill. Blackwater managers directly commanded US troops in Iraq. Hank Paulson went directly from his position as CEO at Goldman Sachs to his next job as Treasury Secretary, where he was responsible for overseeing his former company. Did he even need to change offices?

A careful examination of the policies pursued by the Obama administration and his allies in Congress shows that their agenda is corporatist. For example, the health care bill that recently passed does not establish a Canadian-style government-run single-payer health care system. 

(Which it would have done if it actually reflected the wishes of most Americans.)

Instead, it relies on mandates forcing every American to purchase private health insurance or pay a fine. It also includes subsidies for low-income Americans and government-run health care “exchanges.” Contrary to the claims of the proponents of the health care bill, large insurance and pharmaceutical companies were enthusiastic supporters of many provisions of this legislation because they knew in the end their bottom lines would be enriched by Obamacare.

Absolutely true, although calling it "Obamacare" belies this point, and, while sure to incite a rabid response from his Tea Party minions, obscures the fact that his role was one of merely marketing the product, not creating it. That job was left to the industry, which fought not with Congress or the administration, but amongst each other over which sector would get the biggest pound of flesh.

Similarly, Obama's “cap-and-trade” legislation provides subsidies and specials privileges to large businesses that engage in “carbon trading.” This is why large corporations, such as General Electric support cap-and-trade.

Also true. Instead of making them buy the carbon credits from the peasants who will bear the costs of pollution, the industry plans to just give them to themselves, at which point they can sell them back to the taxpayer in the event that the taxpayer actually wants to stop carbon emissions. And of course, if they do sell them back, they'll just give themselves some more.

To call the President a corporatist is not to soft-pedal criticism of his administration. It is merely a more accurate description of the President’s agenda.

And Ron Paul will probably be called a Marxist for this statement.

When he is a called a socialist, the President and his defenders can easily deflect that charge by pointing out that the historical meaning of socialism is government ownership of industry; under the President’s policies, industry remains in nominally private hands. Using the more accurate term – corporatism – forces the President to defend his policies that increase government control of private industries and expand de facto subsidies to big businesses. 

Although, given the fact that corporate media is also a part of the virtual government, it's unlikely that he'll be forced to defend himself any time soon.

This also promotes the understanding that though the current system may not be pure socialism, neither is it free-market since government controls the private sector through taxes, regulations, and subsidies, and has done so for decades.

It's amazing that Ron Paul can't take the next logical step. He's been so sure that businesses operating in a free market are the cure for all that ails us that he can't see that in a free market, corporatism is the inevitable result. If there are no rules, why shouldn't the corporate world consolidate into large companies and then take over government?

In fact, the last 30 years have been an experiment in destroying social democracies and anyone else who got in the way of corporate interests,  from Chile to Argentina to China to Russia to Iraq and now finally right here in the United States. It's all been done in the name of Ron Paul's beloved free markets. The free market philosophy has triumphed, and it has led us to this place: the Corporate States of America- authoritarian rule by an elite who have consolidated political power and the means of production. This fact is so glaringly self-obvious that it is astonishing that Paul cannot see it, and yet that is the nature of ideology. It is that blinding.

Using precise terms can prevent future statists from successfully blaming the inevitable failure of their programs on the remnants of the free market that are still allowed to exist. 

Remnants? There has never been a free market. You cannot have an "kind of" free market. It's like being "kind of" pregnant. The quest for a free market is an impossible one; it results not in free markets (which no one really wants anyway), but in the consolidation of power by those born into it or lucky enough to attain it. Once this consolidation reaches a critical mass, reversing it will become nearly impossible, as the corporate state will own both the means of production and the political system by which it is maintained.

The problem isn't free markets. They are a myth. The problem is that the quest for free markets inevitably results in a corporatist state-the same corporatist state that Ron Paul professes to hate.

We must not allow the disastrous results of corporatism to be ascribed incorrectly to free market capitalism or used as a justification for more government expansion. 

To what else, then, would you ascribe it? It has been the direct result, to varying degrees, of every single instance of free-market capitalism. It's not a bug; it's a feature. There is not one single example in the history of the entire human race of a successful free market system outside of Ron Paul's imagination.

And the reason for that is simple. It's a theory. It's an elaborate theory, yet one that seems simple enough to be understood by your average person. It's appealing because it tells you that all you have to do is be selfish and the world will be perfect. But it's a theory. It has never been tried because it fails to take into account one major thing: the fact that human beings never have complete information, and don't always behave in the perfectly rational ways that this theory requires them to do. In other words, it's a beautiful theory ruined by imperfect people.

And so who are you going to believe-your eyes that tell you that every time free markets are tried, they result in a corporate state, or Ron Paul, who insists that "It shouldn't happen that way! That's not how I planned it!"?

Most importantly, we must learn what freedom really is and educate others on how infringements on our economic liberties caused our economic woes in the first place. 

What is true freedom, Mr. Paul? Is it the freedom to choose between food and health care while executives eat caviar in their private jets? Is it the freedom to defraud pension funds out of billions of dollars of retirement funds so that Wall Street execs can buy another island? Is it the freedom to trick unsophisticated 20 year olds into going into credit card debt which will take them years to dig themselves out of? Is it the freedom to sell extremely complex and rigged financial products to unsuspecting clients, while taking out insurance on them with AIG so that you get paid off when they fail? Is it the freedom to threaten the poor and middle class taxpayer with the complete destruction of the economy if they don't pay those multi-billion dollar insurance claims when AIG fails? Is it, as Matt Taibbi puts it, the freedom to "sell some working father a car with wobbly brakes, then buy life insurance policies on that customer and his kids"?

Government is the problem; it cannot be the solution.

In a corporate state, this is true. In a democracy, government is us.

Monday, April 26, 2010

It's All Right There

Glenn Greenwald, Ross Douthat, South Park

Glenn Greenwald rightfully skewers Ross Douthat's outrage at the censorship of the South Park caricatures of Mohammed, noting that Douthat's claim that Muslims get special deference is ludicrous. Go read that column for more.

But I noticed two things at the end of this column that Greenwald didn't address.  Here's Douthat:
This is what decadence looks like: a frantic coarseness that “bravely” trashes its own values and traditions, and then knuckles under swiftly to totalitarianism and brute force.
He's speaking here of our supposed deference to Islam, but as a description of what conservatives like him have done to the Constitution in response to the so-called Muslim threat is much worse. Comedy Central pulled a few seconds out of a cartoon; conservatives have exploited the fear to justify invasion, mass killings, torture and an absolute shredding of the Bill of Rights.
Happily, today’s would-be totalitarians are probably too marginal to take full advantage. This isn’t Weimar Germany, and Islam’s radical fringe is still a fringe, rather than an existential enemy.
No, today's totalitarians are on the right wing, as usual, and they have taken full advantage. This isn't Weimar Germany, another famous right wing republic; it's the Neo-Con era, and for Muslims, the difference probably doesn't seem too great.
For that, we should be grateful. Because if a violent fringe is capable of inspiring so much cowardice and self-censorship, it suggests that there’s enough rot in our institutions that a stronger foe might be able to bring them crashing down.
It's already been sent crashing. And his movement is the one that did it.

Tasing Is About Sending A Message. Send One Back.

Taser, Frank Meek, Jackson WY

JH Underground's Jim Stanford takes a break from his Jazz Fest duties to alert us to another report on Tasering, this time from my hometown paper:

The Teton County attorney said Wednesday he plans to dismiss criminal charges against a man whom police subdued with a Taser last week during a traffic stop.
County Attorney Steve Weichman said the pretrial publicity in the case against Frank Meek makes him uncomfortable.
Meek, 60, was arrested during a traffic stop April 7 on a misdemeanor charge of interfering with a police officer and cited for improper vehicle registration. Meek has Colorado plates on his car. He said he is a Colorado resident who lives part time with his girlfriend in Driggs, Idaho, and works at the Jackson Hole Twin Cinema.
Meek accused police of using a Taser on him more than 10 times during the traffic stop. Police released a video of the traffic stop that shows Meek repeatedly calling officers profane names and displaying generally defiant behavior.

This isn't the first time area cops have had fun with a Taser. They famously Tased a harmless streaker at a demo derby a few years ago in front of a large family crowd, literally torturing him and causing him to urinate on himself before losing consciousness. This, of course, was their way of making sure that the event was kept safe for kids to view.

No doubt the cops are glad to have the Tasers. It would be terrible if they had to do what they presumably did before they got them. I suppose they would have had to just shoot that streaker, and the guy who had the audacity to argue with a cop would presumably have been filled with lead as well.

I don't believe that all cops are evil or anything. But to become a cop, you kind of have to have an authoritarian streak. You need to be interested in telling people what to do, as well as in the power that you get when you get a badge, a gun and a Taser.

And in a society that has decided to simply criminalize social behavior that it finds distasteful, like drug use or profanity, you just aren't going to get a lot of people applying for police positions who don't buy into that philosophy. So it's more symptomatic of American society's rightward lurch toward authoritarianism than some narrow indictment of law enforcement.

Look at what is already happening in Arizona, as a result of the new law that requires everyone to carry papers with them at all times to prove they are legal residents:

PHOENIX – A Valley man says he was pulled over Wednesday morning and questioned when he arrived at a weigh station for his commercial vehicle along Val Vista and the 202 freeway.

Abdon, who did not want to use his last name, says he provided several key pieces of information but what he provided apparently was not what was needed. 
He tells 3TV, “I don't think it's correct, if I have to take my birth certificate with me all the time.”
3TV caught up with Abdon after he was released from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in central Phoenix. He and his wife, Jackie, are still upset about what happened to him.  
Jackie tells 3TV, “It's still something awful to be targeted. I can't even imagine what he felt, people watching like he was some type of criminal.”
Abdon was told he did not have enough paperwork on him when he pulled into a weigh station to have his commercial truck checked. He provided his commercial driver’s license and a social security number but ended up handcuffed.…
Both were born in the United States and say they are now both infuriated that keeping important documents safely at home is no longer an option. 
Jackie says, “It doesn't feel like it's a good way of life, to live with fear, even though we are okay, we are legal…still have to carry documents around.”
Let's leave aside the obvious and eerie similarities to the way the Gestapo, the KGB and the East German Volkspolizei typically operated. What will happen when people become understandably upset at the fact that they are being arrested for the crime of not carrying their proper papers with them?

I don't think we should be surprised when we start seeing more completely innocent people brutalized and killed by cops who Tase them for protesting their innocence.

The goal, of course isn't to just subdue the person on hand. It's to send a message loudly and clearly: If you argue or protest your innocence or do anything other than immediately lie on the ground and submit to arrest, you will be immediately and repeatedly shot with 50,000 volts of electricity, which will result in extreme pain or death. After that, you will probably be charged with resisting arrest or assault on a police office so that the officer can justify the shooting.

In other words, the goal is to terrorize people into complying.

This is how police states begin, and the use of psychological terror is a hallmark of each and every one. But it's not too late. It's not too late to call your mayor's office or city councilman or county commissioner and demand that they remove the Tasers from law enforcement agencies.

If you live in Jackson Hole, here are some numbers:

Mayor Mark Barron: 307-733-3092
Teton County Commissioners: 307-733-8094

Call them. They won't think you care if you don't.

No, Our Great Recession Was Not A Mistake. Stop Saying That.

Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve chairman who was as responsible as anybody for the economic crisis which has cost millions of average Americans their jobs, and millions more their life savings, is now trying to convince whoever is still listening that the crisis was not a repudiation of his ideology:

TAPPER:  You'll be testifying about the financial crisis on 
Wednesday before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission.  When you 
testified before Congress in October, you said that you finally saw a 
flaw in -- in the way that you looked at markets, that markets cannot 
necessarily be trusted to completely police themselves.
 But isn't it -- isn't it more than a flaw?  Isn't it an indictment 
of Ayn Rand and the view that laissez-faire capitalism can be expected 
to function properly, that markets can be trusted to police themselves?
GREENSPAN:..So it's not the principle of competitive markets which really has no 
alternative which works.  It is a strict application -- as I presented 
in a Brookings paper fairly recently on a somewhat technical area, the 
major mistake was assuming what the nature of risk would be.  And the 
reason it was missed is we have had no experience of the type of risks 
that arose following the default of Lehman Brothers in September 2008.

This is total horseshit. For one thing, the amounts of risk were not missed. People were pointing them out over and over again during the years leading up to the crisis. For another, this exact same thing caused the Great Depression, and has been repeated over and over in every banana republic in the world. It's not some mystery or unintended consequence.

There was nothing accidental about this crisis. Purely free markets are designed to result in large disparities in wealth. And, in fact, this wasn't a disaster for the people who were responsible. The major financial players (big banks and hedge funds, particularly) made out like bandits. Or, more to the point, the executives and traders of these firms did. They had every expectation that the government would transfer huge amounts of taxpayer money to the banks, and that once they had it they could pay themselves bonuses as they liked. And no one would hold them accountable. In other words, they're keeping your money. They'll be on an island somewhere while the rest of us spend a generation paying the bill.

This is how a free market works. Without political restraint in the form of an educated, involved electorate, the players in a free market will begin to accumulate wealth and power. When they do, they will consolidate that power and use it to control the political system in the absence of any meaningful voter interest (and voters know nothing about the complex ways in which these players rig the game until it's too late, if even then.)

There is nothing anti-free market about big banks using their immense power and influence to control government. In a purely free market, anything goes. It's survival of the fittest, after all, right? And the firms which are best suited to survive in a free market system are not those that make the best product, or provide the best service. No, the ones who know how to write the laws and make government an accomplice to the theft of trillions from poor and working-class Americans are the ones who will flourish in a free-market system.

Greenspan: That's the critical mistake.  And I made it.  Everybody that I know who works in this business made it.  And it means that basically we have to work our way back to understanding what went on.  And as I argue, what we need is far more required capital for financial institutions than we've had.

What was the critical mistake? That he was wrong about the correct level of capital reserves? Does he not recognize that in a true Randian free-market economy, there would be no capital reserves? Does he not realize that the position of great power he once held, that of Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, would not even exist in a Randian free-market economy?

Here's the deal, Greenspan. If you want a "free market", then try proposing that we abolish the Federal Reserve, the SEC, the FDIC, the FBI, every single law every written about fraud, and basically the entire system of business and civil law that Western economies have devised over the past few centuries. See how that flies.

And when even your most sycophantic, Randian cultists recoil at the specter of creating a lawless Somalian-style free-for-all, maybe you'll admit that you do need a few laws here and there.

And then maybe, just maybe, you'll admit that the fight isn't over whether we have laws, but over who will be the ones writing them for their own benefit.

For the last 30 years, the financial sector has been writing those laws, and telling all Americans that they are for the good of all the country.

That lie is getting a lot harder to tell these days, isn't?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

"Journalism" At Its Best

This is what passes for reporting these days. Here is an excerpt from a story in the NYT about Obama's planned speech to Wall Street.
The president and his allies have eagerly portrayed Republicans as handmaidens of Wall Street, while the Republicans have accused Democrats of trying to strangle the financial markets and even institutionalize the idea of bailouts in tough times.
One of these statements is true; the Republicans are taking millions from Wall Street in exchange voting as Wall Street instructs. 
But the second is demonstrably false. The NYT, of course, could not make that claim itself, because it knows it is false. So instead, it mindlessly prints that "the Republicans have accused", and then never once bothers to find out whether the Republican accusation is  false. 
I honestly believe that if the Republicans claimed that the moon was made of cheese, the New York Times would simply repeat that claim, and if the Democrats disagreed, they would note the disagreement and move on.
I understand that it is sometimes impossible, due to space limitations, to fully analyze every lie that Republicans make. But if you can't at least note that it's not true, and then link to an analysis of why it isn't, then just don't print the lie in the first place. 
It is a well known fact that when people read these lies, it is very difficult to ever get them to rally believe the truth, That's the way the human mind works. You can show them all the evidence you want further down the road; it won't matter. 
But this is the sorry state of mainstream "journalism" today. It's not about finding out the truth; it's about simply repeating whatever people in power say. Instead of being an adversary of entrenched power, mainstream journalism aids and abets it.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Republicans Are Outraged At The Attacks On Poor, Defenseless Goldman Sachs

You've probably read about the fraud charges that the SEC has leveled against Goldman Sachs. Goldman has been accused of intentionally selling investors securities which they knew were designed to fail. People are outraged; the investors include institutions like pension funds and so forth, and Goldman has been a big cause of the financial collapse and has received billions of dollars in taxpayer money, which it has used to pay it's employees obscene bonuses.
Naturally, the Republicans are outraged at what happened. But not at Goldman, you see. They are actually outraged at the SEC for filing the charges, because it makes them look bad for defending the status quo in general and Goldman in particular. From Politico:
Rep. Darrell Issa, the top Republican on the House Oversight committee, is demanding a slew of documents from the Securities and Exchange Commission, asserting that the timing of civil charges against Goldman Sachs raises “serious questions about the commission’s independence and impartiality.” 
Issa’s letter, addressed to SEC Chairwoman Mary Schapiro and signed by eight other House Republicans, asks whether the commission had any contact about the case, prior to its public release, with White House aides, Democratic Party committee officials, or members of Congress or their staff. 
“[W]e are concerned that politics have unduly influenced the decision and timing of the commission’s controversial enforcement action against Goldman,” Issa writes. 

Of course they are concerned. Republicans wouldn't dream of ever taking political advantage, especially not regarding an issue as important as financial reform. Don't think that the millions of dollars they've taken from companies like Goldman Sachs would ever influence them to do anything other than what's best for America. 
They're probably trying to return that money right now, and if they can't, they'll go spend it on something that's not political, like strip clubs or private jet service.
And I'm sure that they're also concerned that Goldman, which only earned around $3.5 billion in the first three months of the year, won't be able to afford a decent attorney to defend itself against these charges. 
I'm not too concerned for them, myself. After all, not only are they too big to fail, but, as their CEO claims,  they're also "doing God's work."

Great. Now Let's Go Home

BAGHDAD — Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki announced Monday that two top insurgent leaders had been killed, including a somewhat mythic figure who has operated under the name Abu Omar al-Baghdadi. Mr. Baghdadi has been reported dead or detained several times previously, and his very existence had been called into question a few years ago by American military leaders.

How many "top Al Qaeda leaders" have been captured or killed since the the war in Iraq began? The list is as long as it's unimpressive. Is this somehow supposed to reassure us that we're making progress in Iraq? Are we to believe that these two guys, whoever they are, won't be replaced immediately by two more?

It reminds me of the constant trumpeting of the arrest of major Mexican or Colombian drug lords, who are replaced just as immediately, and the arrest of whom makes absolutely no difference in the vain attempt to halt the flow of drugs to Americans who want them.

Both men were found in a hole in the ground.
“The security forces surrounded the hole, and when they got them out they were dead,” Mr. Maliki said at the news conference. Mr. Maliki said computers and letters were found that included communication between the men and Osama bin Laden.
I'm curious to know why they were dead. Were they just shot to death in cold blood? If so, why weren't they captured alive and tried? 
To the casual observer, this might seem like progress. But if you follow the history, you'll realize that these captures are meaningless. They should be ignored, and they aren't leading to any real change in the underlying situation in Iraq, which is still a complete disaster.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Ray LaHood Wants To Outlaw Cars...Or Something

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood recently announced a new departmental policy which would recognize methods of transportation such as walking and biking as deserving the same opportunity for funding as driving.

Predictably, the defenders of the helpless oil and auto industries immediately attacked LaHood, going as far as to suggest that he was on drugs.

LaHood, of course, was not suggesting that we give biking and walking special treatment. He was just suggesting that we recognize that walking and biking are legitimate forms of transportation.

Of course, driving is already subsidized. The gas tax does not cover the cost of road construction, so money is taken from the general budget for that. But that's just the start of the massive subsidies that driving gets.

The United States has spent trillions of dollars and endured thousands of casualties as a result of the endless wars it now fights to ensure the supply of oil. This is a direct subsidy to oil companies, the auto industry, and drivers. 

Who pays for this subsidy? Well, people who walk and bike do. All Americans do, through the payment of taxes to fund these wars. And most importantly, millions of innocent people in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and more pay for it with their lives.

Our current rate of oil consumption is, of course, unsustainable. It is devastating to our economy and to our national security. Our transportation policy currently favors the use of vehicles over any other mode of transportation. Ray LaHood just wants to give people who want to walk or bike a chance to do so. He wants to fund things like bike paths and walkways, or plowing those things in winter so they can be used year round. He is not trying to force anyone to walk or bike. It's a minor change of policy, and one that is long overdue.

He's trying to do his part to make America safer for its citizens and the rest of the world.

And for that, the defenders of corporate America, in their callousness, greed, and complete disregard for human life, laugh at him and accuse him of being a criminal. Will they ever have enough money?

That's how our political system works these days.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Whatever Happened To The Purple Heart?

I guess they phased those out along with body armor when it became clear that useless stealth fighters were more profitable.

This should make you sick:
For three years The Nation has been reporting on military doctors' fraudulent use of personality disorder to discharge wounded soldiers [see Kors, "How Specialist Town Lost His Benefits," April 9, 2007]. PD is a severe mental illness that emerges during childhood and is listed in military regulations as a pre-existing condition, not a result of combat. Thus those who are discharged with PD are denied a lifetime of disability benefits, which the military is required to provide to soldiers wounded during service. Soldiers discharged with PD are also denied long-term medical care. And they have to give back a slice of their re-enlistment bonus. That amount is often larger than the soldier's final paycheck. As a result, on the day of their discharge, many injured vets learn that they owe the Army several thousand dollars.
According to figures from the Pentagon and a Harvard University study, the military is saving billions by discharging soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan with personality disorder.

It's not really surprising. No one really gives a damn about the troops once they come home. They're important when they are over there, of course, because you can justify invading foreign countries with some nonsense about supporting the troops. But when they come home, they're mostly just poorly-educated, lower-income citizens, and a large percentage of them are minority. Why would anyone care about a group of people like that?

You Had Your Chance, And YOU BLEW IT!

Simon Johnson on the Republican plan for financial reform:
At one level, it is good to see the Republican Senate leadership finally express clear positions on the financial industry and what we need in order to make it safer.  At another level, what they are proposing is downright scary.
In a Senate floor speech yesterday, Senator Mitch McConnell (Senate Republican leader) said,
"The way to solve this problem is to let the people who make the mistakes pay for them. We won’t solve this problem until the biggest banks are allowed to fail.”
Do not be misled by this statement.  Senator McConnell’s preferred approach is not to break up big banks; it’s to change nothing now and simply promise to let them fail in the future. 

What makes McConnell's plan not only foolish, but dishonest as well, is the fact that he has already had the chance to let these big banks fail, back in October 2008. So what did he do then?

He voted to bail them out!

The Republicans can talk all day long about how important it is to "let the market decide", and to let these banks fail, but what every single person with even a passing familiarity with the subject knows is that, when the United States Congress is faced with the choice of:

A) Allowing the financial industry to collapse, and doing nothing while tens of millions more Americans lose their jobs in what is sure to be a worse disaster than the previous one 
B) Voting to avert complete collapse by handing over trillions of middle class tax dollars to the very corporations which are funding their campaigns, and whom they hope to work for when they leave Congress

they sure as hell aren't going to let these banks fail. And the market knows this. Major Wall Street firms are getting funding at rates which reflects the fact that knowledgeable operators have zero doubt that our government will not let them fail. And Mitch McConnell knows this, too.

But what does he care? When taxpayers finally wise up after the next bailout, he'll probably still have 4 years left in his term, and then he'll just go make a hundred million or so "consulting" for Citibank or Wells Fargo like Robert Rubin did after his "public service" as Treasury Secretary.

I suppose he's doing it for the children. His children, that is.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Still Making Terrorists

(Posting will be a little light, as I'm on the road for a month.)

KABUL, Afghanistan — American troops raked a large passenger bus with gunfire near Kandahar on Monday morning, killing and wounding civilians, and igniting angry anti-American demonstrations in a city where winning over Afghan support is pivotal to the war effort.
This really shouldn't be too surprising, I suppose. Innocent people get killed all the time during war. There's no using in wondering why these troops wouldn't bother to try something else before just opening fire. You can't arm a bunch of 20 year olds with automatic weapons, give them a license to kill, and then profess surprise when they do it. And it's not the first time it's happened, either.

General McChrystal has sought to emphasize to troops how such cases undermine Afghan support. But he has also stressed his sympathy for troops who have to make critical decisions in an instant.
“We really ask a lot of our young service people out on checkpoints because there’s danger, they’re asked to make very rapid decisions in often very unclear situations,” he told troops in a video conference last month.
“However, to my knowledge, in the nine-plus months I’ve been here, not a single case where we have engaged in an escalation of force incident and hurt someone has it turned out that the vehicle had a suicide bomb or weapons in it and, in many cases, had families in it.”

Please remind me once again what our goal in Afghanistan actually is. If we're there to wipe out Al Qaeda, well they aren't there anymore. They moved over to Yemen, and if we invade Yemen they'll just go somewhere else. 

So what are we doing? Saving the Afghan people from the Taliban? They are the Taliban, and the more we terrorize the population by doing unavoidable things like opening fire on buses, the better the Taliban looks. 

Here's what we are actually accomplishing in Afghanistan (and Iraq, and Yemen, and Somalia.) We are creating thousands of angry people, who become suicidal with grief and rage. After that, it's just a matter of Al Qaeda operatives strapping the bombs onto them and pointing them in the direction of Americans, or anyone else who looks like an easy target. Listen to the father of two men who, along with their pregnant wives, were murdered in cold blood by US Special forces, who woke them in the middle of the night and shot them on the basis of some rumor from someone who didn't like them:
The father of the two brothers who were killed in the raid adds, "My heart is burning. I will take revenge, no matter what happens to me."
"I have lost patience. I am obliged to revenge my martyrs," he told an ABC News cameraman on March 18. "I will destroy everything I have and will launch my own suicide attack. My heart is burning."
When the Special Forces entered that home, there was one big family and no terrorists. When they left, the family was murdered, and there was a terrorist left behind.

This may not be our mission, but we are accomplishing it nonetheless.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Marc Thiessen Tries To Excuse The Machine-Gunning Of Innocent Civilians

Torture fetishist Marc Thiessen weighs in today on "Collateral Murder", the video released recently by Wikileaks.

Thiessen: Left-wing blogs have jumped on the video as proof of the callous brutality of American troops. 
Glenn Greenwald made a point of saying this:

The WikiLeaks video is not an indictment of the individual soldiers involved -- at least not primarily. Of course those who aren't accustomed to such sentiments are shocked by the callous and sadistic satisfaction those soldiers seem to take in slaughtering those whom they perceive as The Enemy (even when unarmed and crawling on the ground with mortal wounds), but this is what they're taught and trained and told to do. If you take even well-intentioned, young soldiers and stick them in the middle of a dangerous war zone for years and train them to think and act this way, this will inevitably be the result. The video is an indictment of the U.S. government and the war policies it pursues.
I agree with Greenwald, as long as he is not completely absolving the troops from blame. The real blame for tragedies like these lies with those who pushed for, supported, and enabled this tragic, unjust and unnecessary war. People like Marc Thiessen.

Thiessen: The Huffington Post ran a story describing how “crew members can be heard celebrating their kills. ‘Oh yeah, look at those dead bastards,’ says one crewman after multiple rounds of 30mm cannon fire left nearly a dozen bodies littering the street. A crewman begs for permission to open fire on the van and its occupants, even though it has done nothing but stop to help the wounded: ‘Come on, let us shoot!’ Two crewmen share a laugh when a Bradley fighting vehicle runs over one of the corpses. And after soldiers on the ground find two small children shot and bleeding in the van, one crewman can be heard saying: ‘Well, it’s their fault bringing their kids to a battle.’”
This, of course, is all true.

Thiessen: These words sounds horrific with the 20/20 hindsight of knowing that the targets were not insurgents, but civilians and journalists.
No, this sounds horrific no matter what. At one point a crew member is heard begging one of the wounded to pick up a gun so he can legally shoot him again. He wants the man to pick up a weapon, which would make him dangerous, just so he can shoot him! These aren't brave warriors; they're bullies.

Thiessen: But watching the video, it is clear the troops did not know they were firing on civilians.
That is not clear at all. What is clear is that they a) had no idea who these people were, 2) had a vague suspicion that they were armed and c) couldn't wait to mow them down with machine gun fire.

Thiessen: They thought they were attacking terrorists and insurgents who kill innocent civilians on a daily basis. 
Everyone looks like that when you have an itchy trigger finger.

Thiessen: As even the Times points out, the “attacks took place amid clashes in the neighborhood and … one of the men was carrying a rocket-propelled grenade.” 
Does this mean that anytime you see someone with what you think is an RPG, you are entitled to shoot everyone in sight, whether they are armed or not? And that you can then murder the Good Samaritans who show up to help?

Thiessen: As the video unfolds, the troops mistake a telephoto lens for a weapon and repeatedly say things such as: “That’s a weapon,” “Have individuals with weapons,” “Yup, he’s got a weapon too,” “Have five to six individuals with AK-47s. Request permission to engage,” “He’s got an RPG,” “We’ve got a guy with an RPG,” “Have eyes on an individual with an RPG getting ready to fire,” and “we had a guy shooting and now he’s behind the building.” As the video unfolds, it’s clear the troops believe they have come across heavily armed enemy fighters.
No, that just means that they know that they are on radio, and that if they want to shoot someone, they are going to have to say those sorts of things to justify it. It doesn't mean that it's true, and it doesn't mean that they believe it.

Thiessen: In other words, what unfolds is not “collateral murder” but a tragedy of mistaken identity.
I guess if I convince myself that Marc Thiessen is packing heat and threatening me, I am justified in murdering him in cold blood. As long as I believe it, right? (I do not believe this, just to be clear.)

Thiessen: The Huffington Post reports that “unveiling the video at the National Press Club on Monday morning, [WikiLeaks editor Julian] Assange said the helicopter crew approached its job as if it were a video game, not something involving human lives. ‘Their desire was simply to kill,’ he said. ‘Their desire was to get high scores on that computer game.’” That is unfair. Their desire was not to kill innocent people; their desire was protect the American and Iraqi people from a murderous enemy. 
They killed innocent people. They did it in a very enthusiastic way. There is absolutely nothing in that video that would lead you to believe that they cared one bit if those people were innocent or not. They showed an absolute lack of any concern whatsoever. For Thiessen to give these troops the benefit of the doubt is a huge leap of faith, one which a honest person would not be prepared to make.

Thiessen: The video is heart-wrenching to watch, but I suspect that those most horrified after they learned the truth were the troops aboard that Apache helicopter who discovered they had accidentally killed innocent civilians. 
You could tell how horrified they were by the way they casually said "Well, it’s their fault bringing their kids to a battle."

Thiessen: The incident deserves investigation, and it appears that the military was not fully forthcoming about what took place. 
Not fully forthcoming? The military lied about this from the beginning, and refused to release the videos. They were forced into this admission by Wikileaks, an organization which is dedicated to revealing the truth about the war, and which is being targeted by the US Government for its efforts.

Thiessen: If so, disciplinary action may be warranted. But using this tragedy to question the humanity of American troops, or to suggest they have a callous disregard for human life—as WikiLeaks and the HuffingtonPost do—is simply wrong.
Who is questioning their humanity? They are all too human, it appears. And when our troops mow down innocent civilians and children in cold blood as though they are characters in a video game, they deserve to be questioned. And people like Marc Thiessen, who have enabled these horrific wars in the first place, deserve far worse.

Standard Operating Procedures

From Al Jazeera (which runs circles around American MSM when it comes to reporting) comes this story about the children whose father was murdered in shocking* tape released by Wikileaks (video below):

Two young children whose father was killed in the attack could not understand why they were targeted.
"We were coming back and we saw an injured man. My father said, let's take him to hospital. Then I heard only the bullets ... Why did they shoots us? Didn't they see we were children?" said Sajad Mutashar, who was injured along with his sister.
His uncle, Satar, demanded the pilot be taken to court.
"Nobody gave the children anything, their rights are gone and the Americans didn't even compensate for the destroyed car. I sold it for $500 to spend the money treating them," Satar told Al Jazeera.
The US army says it has authorised payments to the family.

The US Army also said that they don't doubt the authenticity of the video, but that everyone did everything by the book.

And the sad thing is, it's true. It appears that they did. The problem is that doing things by the book includes murdering people in cold blood because they looked suspicious.

*To be clear, what is shocking isn't that this happens. What is shocking is that you are actually seeing it, because this is the kind of thing that the US Government does everything it can to keep quiet about. It wouldn't want people thinking that there might be a reason all those Muslims are angry.

Here is the video if you haven't see in it yet:

Collateral Murder

This explosive new video from Wikileaks absolutely must be seen by anyone who cares the slightest about what American troops have done in Iraq:

This video shows the cold-blooded murder of civilians who are doing nothing more than standing around talking, and who are not engaged in any kind of military action. After the Apache crew brutally mows them down with a machine gun, a good Samaritan drives by in a van with two young girls clearly visible in the front seat. He stops, and attempts to load up a badly wounded man (who, instead of being an insurgent, was an Iraqi citizen who worked for the Reuters news agency.)

The Apache crew opens fire again, killing the injured man and his rescuer in cold blood, and injuring the two girls in van.

It's like target practice for these guys, who can be heard begging for permission to open fire.

Please watch this. It may make you uncomfortable, but it is your duty as an American citizen to see what your government is doing.

And this is not some isolated incident. These men apparently followed the Rules of Engagement, which means that this kind of indiscriminate killing is officially sanctioned by the chain of command, which goes all the way up to the president.

Keep in mind that we invaded this country after accusing it of accumulating weapons of mass destruction, weapons which we knew that they did not have. We destroyed this country under false pretexts, caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, and now pretend to outraged and shocked when Muslims decide to fight back the only way they know how.

This entire war was an illegal act of terror, one that dwarfed what happened on 9/11. And these people had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11.

This is what war is. And the people who are responsible for this invasion and the subsequent widespread death and destruction (particularly George Bush, Dick Cheney and Karl Rove, among others) have still not been brought to justice.

Putting A Hit On An American Citizen

From the NYT:
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration has taken the extraordinary step of authorizing the targeted killing of an American citizen, the radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who is believed to have shifted from encouraging attacks on the United States to directly participating in them, intelligence and counterterrorism officials said Tuesday. 
This is indeed an extraordinary step, and one which should disabuse anyone of the notion that President Obama is not only continuing the attacks on the constitutional civil rights of American citizens, but escalating them.

Al-Awlaki is an American citizen. He is not an enemy combatant, and the government is not claiming the right to kill him during battle, but at any time they see him, whether he is at home with his family or out shopping.

This is a direct assault on the Constitution of the United States, and specifically the 5th Amendment thereof:
No person shall be held to answer for any capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation. 
The law is very clear on this. The US government cannot kill people for crimes they may have committed without first arresting them, trying them, and convicting them. The only exception is if they are engaged in active warfare. Al-Awlaki is most certainly not engaging in active warfare.

He has been vocal in his criticism of the United States and it's unjust war against Iraq. But this is not a crime. In fact, it is essential and protected free speech.

He has praised Ft. Hood shooter Major Nidal Hassan. But praising someone is also free speech, and the government has done nothing to show that he conspired with Hasan in any way. Furthermore, using the government's own definitions, Hasan was an enemy combatant, not a terrorist, and he directly attacked soldiers.

He has expressed support for the actions of others who have plotted attacks against the United States, but he has claimed steadfastly that he has not been involved in planning these attacks.

Al-Awlaki may or may not be guilty of plotting terror attacks. We just don't know, and the US government is claiming only that it believes this to be true. It has presented no evidence to a judge. It has presented no evidence to the American people.  But we do know that he is an American citizen. He was born in New Mexico; his father has a PhD from the University of Nebraska. He is guaranteed certain rights by the US Constitution. And now Obama plans to disregard those rights, and to murder him on sight without so much as a trial or a hearing before a federal judge to present evidence.

With this action, Obama is claiming the right to kill any American citizen anywhere, at any time, for any reason that he deems sufficient.

Film director Roman Polanksi fled the country after pleading guilty to the sexual assault of a 13 year old girl. Why not send in a sniper team to kill him? He's actually had his day in court.

Nine members of the Hutaree Christian militia were believed to be plotting to murder police officers. Why not just drop a bomb on their homes?

The fact that we can't easily arrest Al-Awlaki because he is in Yemen is not an excuse to murder him. The United States government has not even gone to the trouble of presenting evidence and getting an indictment. Is their evidence so thin that they believe they can't get an indictment? If so, how can they contemplate murdering him on the basis of this evidence?

Both the C.I.A. and the military maintain lists of terrorists linked to Al Qaeda and its affiliates who are approved for capture or killing, former officials said. But because Mr. Awlaki is an American, his inclusion on those lists had to be approved by the National Security Council, the officials said.

Who gave the National Security Council the authority to unconstitutionally target American citizens for killing? The NYT notes that "As a general principle, international law permits the use of lethal force against individuals and groups that pose an imminent threat to a country," but international law does not supersede the US Constitution.

Al Qaeda is undoubtedly winning. Their goal was never to defeat the United States on its home soil militarily; that would be impossible. Their goal was change the fundamental character of the United States, and every time we allow our government to suspend civil rights- to spy on its citizens, to torture, to murder its own citizens without any due process whatsoever-Al Qaeda wins.

And today, Obama is driving one more nail into the coffin that holds all the things that America once stood for.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Moving Your Money

Well, it took a a day or so, but I finally closed down my Wells Fargo account. I had an account for around 10 years with a local bank that was bought out by Wells Fargo a year or so ago. I never had any problems with the local bank; you could always get someone on the phone, and they were never trying to screw you over with fees every chance they got.

Wells Fargo, on the other hand, was another story. At one point they deposited a tax refund in the someone else's account, and then refused to credit me even after months of IRS correspondence resulted in a copy of the EFT which showed that they didn't bother to check the name. I had to begin legal proceedings in order to get this money credited; apparently, they realized that it might look bad to screw a customer out of their tax refund so soon after screwing millions of taxpayers out of billions of dollars.

And that's the real reason I changed banks. I can no longer in good conscience support the activities of the top six banks in the United States, all of which are using the money of depositors like you and me to fund a giant gambling operation which adds no value to the American economy, and in which the executives pay themselves massive bonuses with their winnings and simply bill the taxpayer when they lose. Those top six banks are

  • Bank of America
  • Citibank
  • JPMorgan Chase 
  • Wells Fargo
  • Goldman Sachs
  • Morgan Stanley

There are plenty of modern local and mid-sized banks in the country which did not gamble with your money in the derivatives market, who are not still gambling with your money in the derivatives market, and which are not going to gamble with your money in the derivatives market. These six are not among them.

One of the defenses that these big banks like to use is that they provide financial innovation.

This is true. The problem is that the innovations they provide are just fancier and more complex ways to screw their customers and the US taxpayer.

As Paul Volcker, the former Federal Reserve chairman, said last year, the only useful financial innovation to occur in the last 30 years has been the ATM.

This is no longer actually true. My new bank, USAA, has recently introduced a mobile banking application for the Iphone which allows me to deposit checks by simply taking a picture of them. I no longer have to go to a bank to do this. It works, and it's awesome. This is actual innovation.

USAA, incidentally, was never in danger of insolvency, and, in fact is not even a corporation. It is an exchange, and since it has no shareholders, it returns its profits to its members or uses them as the ensure that it is adequately capitalized. This is pretty much the epitome of responsible banking.

USAA is reserved for former military people, so it might not be an option for many readers. However, there are thousands of well-capitalized, well-run banks in the United States, and if you're using one of the banks listed above, I urge you to close your account and move your money elsewhere. There is a national movement underway to do just that; you can find more here at moveyourmoney.info.

Consumer deposit accounts are the lifeblood of the banking cartel which is strangling our economy. Instead of investing in businesses, these massive banks are taking your money and gambling with it or using it to pay off regulators to look the other way. The are the reason we have massive unemployment and massive public debt. And they are using your money to defeat reform legislation which would cut them down to size.

If you think Congress will ever pass any meaningful reform, you're mistaken- because these big banks, as Senator Dick Durbin said, "frankly own the place." And if Congress won't act (and they won't), then depositors are the only people who can actually do anything about it.

You have the power. Don't think of it as just a statement. It is one, but it's also an action that will deprive these banks of the ability to further destroy our economy.

Move your money.

Update: Reader Jose Castillo emails the following info:

USAA is great, and they allow anyone to open an account. Some products are limited to military, but anyone can apply for a bank account or credit card*. Go to: https://www.usaa.com/inet/ent_membereligibility/CpMemberEligibility?action=init

*A few cards are reserved for military only