As of March 2010, Google is no longer supporting FTP publishing of it's Blogger blogs. Therefore I will be consolidating all of my blogs into a single front page format that I will be experimenting with and changing from time to time until I find something I like.
Obama Is All Talk, Nothing More (Naomi Klein, Alternet,January 18, 2010) Though it's too soon to issue a verdict on the Obama presidency, we do know this: he favors the grand symbolic gesture over deep structural change every time. So he will make a dramatic announcement about closing the notorious Guantánamo Bay prison - while going ahead with an expansion of the lower profile but frighteningly lawless Bagram prison in Afghanistan, and opposing accountability for Bush officials who authorized torture. He will boldly appoint the first Latina to the Supreme Court, while intensifying Bush-era enforcement measures in a new immigration crackdown. He will make investments in green energy, while championing the fantasy of "clean coal" and refusing to tax emissions, the only sure way to substantially reduce the burning of fossil fuels. Most importantly, he will claim to be ending the war in Iraq, and will retire the ugly "war on terror" phrase - even as the conflicts guided by that fatal logic escalate in Afghanistan and Pakistan. . . . This preference for symbols over substance, and this unwillingness to stick to a morally clear if unpopular course, is where Obama decisively parts ways with the transformative political movements from which he has borrowed so much . . . Another way of putting it is that Obama played the anti-war, anti-Wall Street party crasher to his grassroots base, which imagined itself leading an insurgency against the two-party monopoly through dogged organization and donations gathered from lemonade stands and loose change found in the crevices of the couch. Meanwhile, he took more money from Wall Street than any other presidential candidate, swallowed the Democratic party establishment in one gulp after defeating Hillary Clinton, then pursued "bipartisanship" with crazed Republicans once in the White House. . . . The risk - and it is real - is that the response will be waves of bitter cynicism, particularly among the young people for whom the Obama campaign was their first taste of politics. Most won't switch parties, they'll just do what young people used to do during elections: stay home, tune out ["go local"].
[COMMENT by Lorenzo: But, of course, locals always survive Empires.]. . . Read more!
If you wanted proof that Bushco had no clue and were overrun with amateurs, here's proof... In 2003, a technological snake oil salesman convinced the management gnomes at CIA and the Bush White House, including George Tenet and Homeland Security, that he had devleoped software that could analyze and decrypt secret "barcodes" in broadcasts by Al Jazeera which contained secret "messages". Dennis Montgomery, 50-year-old chief technology officer at Reno, Nevada-based eTreppid Technologies was so convincing the government issued orders to "ground transatlantic flights, deploy heavily armed police on the streets of Manhattan and evacuate 5,000 people from the Metropolitan Museum of Art." Homeland Security secretary Tom Ridge told the press the terror alert was the result of "credible sources - about near-term attacks that could either rival or exceed what we experienced on September 11" - FEAR, FEAR, FEAR - We will PROTECT You!!! But not all at CIA were duped. A counter-intelligence official said, "We were fucking livid. I was told to shut up. I was saying, 'This is crazy. This is embarrassing.'" Frances Townsend, the senior homeland security adviser to Bush, said she did not regret having relied on Montgomery's mysterious intelligence. "It didn't seem beyond the realm of possibility. We were relying on technical people to tell us whether or not it was feasible," she said. Well, I guess if you get your intelligence from Dick Tracy comic books anything is possible. It all fell nicely into the policy of "FEAR" the idiots at Bushco wanted implemented. Hopefully, those currently in place at 1600 are a little more reality-based...hopefully. But, of course, that's just this old Curmudgeon's opinion...
Obama's War (Robert ScheerVeteran, Huffington Post, December 2, 2009) [COMMENT by Lorenzo: It's your war now, Mr. Obama. Apparently you weren't paying very close attention in your history classes. I don't see how any Viet Nam Veteran can ever vote for you again, after you so callously have condemned more American's to die in a fruitless cause.]
It is already a 30-year war begun by one Democratic president, and thanks to the political opportunism of the current commander in chief the Afghanistan war is still without end or logical purpose. President Barack Obama's own top national security adviser has stated that there are fewer than 100 al-Qaida members in Afghanistan and that they are not capable of launching attacks. What superheroes they must be, then, to require 100,000 U.S. troops to contain them. . . . Obama stated Tuesday in a speech announcing a major escalation of the war, "It's important to recall why America and our allies were compelled to fight a war in Afghanistan in the first place." But he then cut off any serious consideration of that question with the bald assertion that "we did not ask for this fight." . . . Of course we did. The Islamic fanatics who seized power in Afghanistan were previously backed by the U.S. as "freedom fighters" in what was once marketed as a bold adventure in Cold War one-upmanship against the Soviets. It was President Jimmy Carter, aided by a young liberal hawk named Richard Holbrooke, now Obama's civilian point man on Afghanistan, who decided to support Muslim fanatics there. Holbrooke began his government service as one of [as an assassin!] the "Best and the Brightest" in Vietnam and was involved with the rural pacification and Phoenix assassination program in that country, and he is now a big advocate of the counterinsurgency program proposed by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal to once again win the hearts and minds of locals who want none of it. . . . The current president's military point man, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, served in Carter's National Security Council and knows that Obama is speaking falsely when he asserts it was the Soviet occupation that gave rise to the Muslim insurgency that we abetted. Gates wrote a memoir in 1996 which, as his publisher proclaimed, exposed "Carter's never-before-revealed covert support to Afghan mujahedeen--six months before the Soviets invaded." . . . Carter's national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, was asked in a 1998 interview with the French magazine Le Nouvel Observateur if he regretted "having given arms and advice to future terrorists," and he answered, "What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?" Brzezinski made that statement three years before the 9/11 attack by those "stirred-up Muslims." . . . So here we go again, selling firewater to the natives and calling it salvation. We have decided to prop up a hopelessly corrupt Afghan government because, as Obama argued in one of the more disgraceful passages of Tuesday's West Point speech, "although it was marred by fraud, [the recent] election produced a government that is consistent with Afghanistan's laws and constitution." . . . To suggest that the Afghan government will be in seriously better shape 18 months after 30,000 additional U.S. and perhaps 5,000 more NATO troops are dispatched is bizarrely out of touch with the strategy of the McChrystal report, which calls for American troops to restructure life down to the level of the most forlorn village. Surely the civilian and military supporters of that approach who are cheering Obama on have been giving assurances that he will not be held to such an unrealistically short timeline. Evidence of this was offered in the president's speech when he said of the planned withdrawal of some forces by July of 2011: "Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground. We'll continue to advise and assist Afghanistan's security forces to ensure that they can succeed over the long haul." . . . A very long haul indeed, if one checks the experience of Matthew Hoh, the former Marine captain who was credited with being as successful as anyone in implementing the counterinsurgency strategy now in vogue. In his letter of resignation as a foreign service officer in charge of one of the most hotly contested areas, Hoh wrote: "In the course of my five months of service in Afghanistan ... I have lost understanding and confidence in the strategic purpose of the United States' presence in Afghanistan. ... I have observed that the bulk of the insurgency fights not for the white banner of the Taliban, but rather against the presence of foreign soldiers and taxes imposed by an unrepresentative government in Kabul." . . . Maybe they should have given Capt. Hoh the Noble Peace Prize. . . . Read more!
WalMart Can't Operate Without Taxpayer Subsidies (UCFW, September 30, 2009) Free enterprise isn't really free enterprise when American taxpayers are subsidizing corporations. . . . But in Ohio, responsible employers are being undercut by irresponsible big businesses who rely on the state to make up for the wages or health care they don't provide to their workers. . . . And no surprise to regular readers of this blog--Walmart is at the top of the list. . . . A new report released by Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, and promoted by the Ohio UFCW locals shows that Walmart has more employees on any kind of state assistance than any other employer. In fact, about 28% of Walmart's employees are on Medicaid alone! That's not counting Walmart workers on food stamps, CHIP, or other numerous taxpayer-funded program. . . . The truth of the matter, is that Walmart's "competitive" business model can't compete without taxpayer subsidies. All of us have to bear the burden for their irresponsible corporate behavior--and that's unfair to responsible corporate citizens who compete with Walmart AND provide affordable, quality health care to their employees. . . . So Walmart must change its ways. And as we look at health care reform, we need to make sure any reform includes strong employer responsibility provisions. . . . We need to make sure that Walmart and other companies can't shirk their responsibilities and force responsible companies into an unfair situation.. . . Read more!
Banking Problems Are Now Bigger Than Pre-Lehman (Mark Deen and David Tweed, Bloomberg.com, September 13, 2009) Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize- winning economist, said the U.S. has failed to fix the underlying problems of its banking system after the credit crunch and the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. ... "In the U.S. and many other countries, the too-big-to-fail banks have become even bigger," Stiglitz said in an interview today in Paris. "The problems are worse than they were in 2007 before the crisis." . . . Stiglitz's views echo those of former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, who has advised President Barack Obama's administration to curtail the size of banks, and Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer, who suggested last month that governments may want to discourage financial institutions from growing "excessively." . . . "We aren't doing anything significant so far, and the banks are pushing back," he said. ... "It's an outrage," especially "in the U.S. where we poured so much money into the banks," Stiglitz said. "The administration seems very reluctant to do what is necessary. Yes they’ll do something, the question is: Will they do as much as required?" . . . Stiglitz, former chief economist at the World Bank and member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said the world economy is "far from being out of the woods" even if it has pulled back from the precipice it teetered on after the collapse of Lehman. . . . "We're going into an extended period of weak economy, of economic malaise," Stiglitz said. The U.S. will "grow but not enough to offset the increase in the population," he said, adding that "if workers do not have income, it's very hard to see how the U.S. will generate the demand that the world economy needs." . . . The Federal Reserve faces a "quandary" in ending its monetary stimulus programs because doing so may drive up the cost of borrowing for the U.S. government, he said. . . . "The question then is who is going to finance the U.S. government," Stiglitz said. . . . Read more!
Special Help for Military Families Available (PDF file) Aid and Attendance is a medical reimbursement pension for Veterans, their spouses, and surviving spouses. It was established by an Act of Congress in 1952 under section 38 USC. It is a mandatory pension and is not subject to partisan spending or discretionary Federal budget cuts. ... This pension is available to all qualified Veterans even if you are receiving military retirement pay based on years of service. ... This program pays up to: $1,632.00 monthly for a veteran; $1,055.00 monthly for a surviving spouse; $1,949.00 monthly for veteran and spouse. These funds may be used to pay the following:
1) Nursing home long term care.
2) Assisted living or for adult care services such as board and care.
3) And in some cases it pays family members, except for the spouse, to provide care at home.
4) Professional home care providers to come into the home. Qualification is more difficult.
5) Up to $1200.00 to renovate the home to help with disability such as ramps and grab bars.
When you think about the fact that a Veteran can receive up to $19,000.00 a year, a surviving spouse can receive up to $12,660.00 a year, a Veteran and spouse can receive up to $23,000.00 a year TAX FREE, I think you'll agree the benefit is worth putting up with a little inconvenience.
If you would like more information, please contact Ed Harris (at) aidandattendance70 (at) yahoo (dot) com
. . . Read more!
Seeds of Dissent in the U.S. Military Are Growing (By Dahr Jamail, Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute, July 2, 2009) "It was in Iraq that I turned against the occupations. I started to feel very guilty. I watched contractors making obscene amounts of money. I found no evidence that the occupation was in any way helping the people of Iraq. I know I contributed to death and human suffering. It's hard to quantify how much I caused, but I know I contributed to it." ... [COMMENT by Lorenzo: This is precisely how I felt during my deployment to Viet Nam in 1967 and why I became a pacifist.] ... "During my stints in Iraq between August 2005 and July 2006, we probably ran 300 patrols. Most of the men in my platoon were just in from combat tours in Afghanistan and morale was incredibly low. Recurring hits by roadside bombs had demoralized us and we realized the only way we could avoid being blown up was to stop driving around all the time. So every other day we would find an open field and park, and call our base every hour to tell them we were searching for weapon caches in the fields and everything was going fine. All our enlisted people had grown disenchanted with the chain of command." ... "Our platoon sergeant was with us and he knew our patrols were bullshit, just riding around to get blown up," he explained. "We were at Camp Victory at Baghdad International Airport. A lot of the time we'd leave the main gate and come right back in another gate to the base where there's a big PX with a nice mess hall and a Burger King. We'd leave one guy at the Humvee to call in every hour, while the others stayed at the PX. We were just sick and tired of going out on these stupid patrols." ... These understated acts of refusal were often survival strategies as well as gestures of dissent, as the troops were invariably undertrained and ill-equipped for the job of putting down an insurgency. ... "Sometimes if they called us up to go and do something, we would swiftly send computer reports that we were headed in that direction. On the map we would manually place our icon to the target location and then move it back and forth to make it appear as though we were actually on the ground and patrolling. This was not an isolated case. Everyone did it. Everyone would go and hide somewhere from time to time." ... "Dissent starts as simple as saying this is bullshit. Why am I risking my life?" ... Sometimes such feelings have permeated entire units and soldiers in them have refused to follow orders en masse. One of the more dramatic of these incidents occurred in July 2007. The 2nd Platoon of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, in Baghdad had lost many men in its 11 months of deployment. After a roadside bomb killed five more, its members held a meeting and agreed that it was no longer possible for them to function professionally. Concerned that their anger might actually touch off a massacre of Iraqi civilians, they staged a quiet revolt against their commanders instead. ... Kelly Kennedy, a reporter with the Military Times embedded with Charlie Company prior to the revolt, described the shape the platoon members were in by that time: "[T]hey went right to mental health and they got sleeping medications, and they basically couldn't sleep and reacted poorly. And then, they were supposed to go out on patrol again that day. And they, as a platoon, the whole platoon -- it was about 40 people -- said, 'We're not going to do it. We can't. We're not mentally there right now.'" ... According to Sergeant Simpson, here's how a feeling of discontent and opposition creeps up on you while you're on duty: The part of the war you're involved in, interrogating Iraqis in his case, "doesn't make any sense. You realize that the whole system is flawed and if that is flawed, then obviously the whole war is flawed. If the basic premise of the war is flawed, definitely the intelligence system that is supposed to lead us to victory is flawed. What that implies is that victory is not even a possibility." ... "I love my country, but I believe that this particular war is unjust, unconstitutional and a total abuse of our nation's power and influence. And so, in the next few days, I will be speaking with my lawyer, and taking actions that will more than likely result in my discharge from the military, and possible jail time... and I am prepared to live with that.... My father said, 'Do only what you can live with, because every morning you have to look at your face in the mirror when you shave. Ten years from now, you'll still be shaving the same face.' If I had deployed to Afghanistan, I don't think I would have been able to look into another mirror again." ... Present-day G.I. resistance to the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan cannot begin to be compared with the extensive resistance movement that helped end the Vietnam War and brought an army of draftees to the point of near mutiny in the late 1960s. Nevertheless, the ongoing dissent that does exist in the U.S. military, however fragmented and overlooked at the moment, should not be discounted.. . . Read more!
Official story of 9/11 "almost entirely untrue" per U.S. Official (Daily Kos, May 16,2009) John Farmer served as Senior Counsel to the 9/11 Commission, . . . James Farmer has just come out with his new book. . . . Description: As of the 9/11 Commission's one of the primary authors report, John Farmer is proud of his and his colleagues' work. Yet he came away from the experience convinced that there was a further story to be told, one he was uniquely qualified to write. . . . Now that story can be told. Tape recordings, transcripts, and contemporaneous records that had been classified have since been declassified, and the inspector general’s investigations of government conduct have been completed. Drawing on his knowledge of those sources, as well as his years as an attorney in public and private practice, Farmer reconstructs the truth of what happened on that fateful day and the disastrous circumstances that allowed it: the institutionalized disconnect between what those on the ground knew and what those in power did. He reveals - terrifyingly and illuminatingly — the key moments in the years, months, weeks, and days that preceded the attacks, then descends almost in real time through the attacks themselves, revealing them as they have never before been seen. . . . Farmer himself states that "at some level of the government, at some point in time ... there was an agreement not to tell the truth about what happened." . . . Ultimately Farmer builds the inescapably convincing case that the official version not only is almost entirely untrue but serves to create a false impression of order and security. The ground truth that Farmer captures tells a very different story — a story that is doomed to be repeated unless the systemic failures he reveals are confronted and remedied. For more than two years after the attacks, officials with NORAD and the FAA provided inaccurate information about the response to the hijackings in testimony and media appearances. Authorities suggested that U.S. air defenses had reacted quickly, that jets had been scrambled in response to the last two hijackings and that fighters were prepared to shoot down United Airlines Flight 93 if it threatened Washington. . . . In fact, the commission reported a year later, audiotapes from NORAD's Northeast headquarters and other evidence showed clearly that the military never had any of the hijacked airliners in its sights and at one point chased a phantom aircraft -- American Airlines Flight 11 -- long after it had crashed into the World Trade Center. . . . Maj. Gen. Larry Arnold and Col. Alan Scott told the commission that NORAD had begun tracking United 93 at 9:16 a.m., but the commission determined that the airliner was not hijacked until 12 minutes later. The military was not aware of the flight until after it had crashed in Pennsylvania. . . . These and other discrepancies did not become clear until the commission, forced to use subpoenas, obtained audiotapes from the FAA and NORAD, officials said. The agencies' reluctance to release the tapes -- along with e-mails, erroneous public statements and other evidence -- led some of the panel's staff members and commissioners to believe that authorities sought to mislead the commission and the public about what happened on Sept. 11. . . . Sure would be nice to find out what really happened that day. And left wondering HOW such a monumentally huge fuck-up, at every level imaginable, both during the attacks, and after, and during the investigation that followed, could have possibly happened in this country. And why people were tortured to deliberately give false information that could be used in a report everybody knew was bogus anyway. . . . And why we are now involved in two wars, both unnecessary and without end ... And why we're being lied to about it all, to this day.
Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy put forth a proclamation that minces no words about the positive side of this medical herb which is being used at this time by over 22,000 Oregon residents.
OFFICE OF THE MAYOR
City of Eugene, Oregon
WHEREAS: In November 1998, Oregon voters passed into law the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act, allowing Oregonians suffering from debilitating medical conditions to use marijuana as medicine. Currently, nearly 25,000 patients are enrolled and over 2,900 doctors have provided recommendations for patients' utilization of medical marijuana; and,
WHEREAS: Thirteen states have passed laws allowing for chronically and seriously ill patients to use cannabis with the approval of their physicians; and,
WHEREAS: On September 6, 1988, Drug Enforcement Administrations (DEA) own Administrative Law Judge, Francis L. Young, ruled that Marijuana, in it˙s natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known; and,
WHEREAS: There are over are over 17,000 published scientific studies on the therapeutic values of cannabis and cannabinoids in the National Library of Medicine, and, there are over 2,600 patents filed for the medical use of cannabinoids in the United States Patent office; and,
WHEREAS: Pre-Clinical and Clinical trials indicate that cannabinoids are useful in controlling Alzheimer˙s Disease, Cancer, Chronic Pain, Diabetes, G I Disorders, Hepatitis C, Multiple Sclerosis, Osteoporosis, Pruritis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Sleep Apnea; and,
WHEREAS: Marijuana has a history of thousands of years of safe use without any recorded deaths attributed to its use, and, all citizens deserve to know the truth about cannabis,
NOW, THEREFORE, I, Kitty Piercy, Mayor of the City of Eugene, Oregon, do hereby proclaim the Week of April 30th, 2009 to May 6th, 2009 as Medical Marijuana Awareness Week in the city of Eugene, and encourage all citizens to join in this observance.
Hemp Is Not Pot: It's the Economic Stimulus and Green Jobs Solution We Need (Dara Colwell, AlterNet, Posted on March 26, 2009) While Uncle Sam's scramble for new revenue sources has recently kicked up the marijuana debate -- to legalize and tax, or not? -- hemp's feasibility as a stimulus plan has received less airtime. . . . But with a North American market that exceeds $300 million in annual retail sales and continued rising demand, industrial hemp could generate thousands of sustainable new jobs, helping America to get back on track. . . . "We're in the midst of a dark economic transition, but I believe hemp is an important facet and has tremendous economic potential," says Patrick Goggin, a board member on the California Council for Vote Hemp, the nation's leading industrial hemp-farming advocacy group. "Economically and environmentally, industrial hemp is an important part of the sustainability pie." . . . With 25,000 known applications from paper, clothing and food products -- which, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal this January, is the fastest growing new food category in North America -- to construction and automotive materials, hemp could be just the crop to jump-start America's green economy. . . . But growing hemp remains illegal in the U.S. The Drug Enforcement Administration has lumped the low-THC plant together with its psychoactive cousin, marijuana, making America the planet's only industrialized nation to ban hemp production. We can import it from Canada, which legalized it in 1997. But we can't grow it. . . . "It's a missed opportunity," says Goggin, who campaigned for California farmers to grow industrial hemp two years ago, although the bill was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, citing the measure conflicted with federal law. . . . Considering California's position as an agricultural giant -- agriculture nets $36.6 billion dollars a year, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture -- Goggin's assessment is an understatement. Especially if extended nationwide. . . . "Jobs require capital investment, which isn't easy to come by at the moment, and we need hemp-processing facilities, because the infrastructure here went to seed. But this is a profitable crop, and the California farming community supports it." . . . Just how profitable? According to Chris Conrad, a respected authority on cannabis and industrial hemp and who authored Hemp for Health and Hemp, Lifeline to the Future, the industry would be regionally sustainable, reviving the local economy wherever it was grown. . . . "Hemp will create jobs in some of the hardest-hit sectors of the country -- rural agriculture, equipment manufacturing, transportable processing equipment and crews -- and the products could serve and develop the same community where the hemp is farmed: building ecological new homes, producing value-added and finished products, marketing and so forth," he writes in an e-mail from Amsterdam, where he is doing research. "Add to that all the secondary jobs -- restaurants, health care, food products, community-support networks, schools, etc., that will serve the workers. The Midwestern U.S. and the more remote parts of California and other states would see a surge of income, growth, jobs and consumer goods." . . . Considering today's economic crisis and the combined threats of peak oil and global warming, there is increasing pressure to move toward sustainable resources before everything goes up in smoke. If there was any time to revisit hemp, it's now. . . . "Industrial hemp is the best gift a farmer could have. It's the ideal alternative crop," says Gale Glenn, on the board of the North American Industrial Hemp Council. Glenn, now retired, owned and managed a 300-acre Kentucky farm producing burley tobacco, and she immediately launches into hemp's benefits: It's environmentally friendly, requiring no pesticides or herbicides, it's the perfect rotation crop because it detoxifies and regenerates the soil, and it's low labor. . . . "You just plant the seed, close the farm gate and four months later, cut it and bale it," she says. . . . And there's more. As a food, hemp is rich in essential omega-3 fatty acids; the plant's cellulose level, roughly three times that of wood, creates paper that yields four times as much pulp as trees; hemp is an ideal raw material for plant-based plastics, used to make everything from diapers to dashboards. . . . In fact, Germany's DaimlerChrysler Corp. has equipped its Mercedes-Benz C-class vehicles with natural-fiber-reinforced materials, including hemp, for years. Even Henry Ford himself manufactured a car from hemp-based plastic in 1941, archival footage of which can be found on YouTube, and the car ran on clean-burning hemp-based ethanol fuel. . . . This leads to the most compelling argument for hemp: fuel. Hemp seeds are ideal for making ethanol, the cleanest-burning liquid bio-alternative to gasoline, and when grown as an energy crop, hemp actually offsets carbon emissions because it absorbs more carbon dioxide than any other plant. . . . As the world rapidly depletes its reserves of petroleum, America needs to create a renewable, homegrown energy source to become energy independent. Luckily, unlike petrol, hemp is renewable, unless we run out of soil.. . . Read more!
The Voters' Uprising: President Obama What Are You Thinking? (Don Hazen, AlterNet, Posted on March 23, 2009) "During the past nine months, gigantic financial bailouts amid collapsing economic life made visible the crippling divide between governing elites and citizens at large. People everywhere learned a blunt lesson about power, who has it and who doesn't. They watched Washington rush to rescue the very financial interests that caused the catastrophe. They learned that government has plenty of money to spend when the right people want it. 'Where's my bailout,' became the rueful punch line at lunch counters and construction sites nationwide. Then to deepen the insult, people watched as establishment forces relaunched their campaign for "entitlement reform" -- a euphemism for whacking Social Security benefits, Medicare and Medicaid." . . . Writes Taibbi in Rolling Stone: "It's over -- we're officially, royally fucked. No empire can survive being rendered a permanent laughingstock, which is what happened as of a few weeks ago, when the buffoons who have been running things in this country finally went one step too far. It happened when Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was forced to admit that he was once again going to have to stuff billions of taxpayer dollars into a dying insurance giant called AIG, itself a profound symbol of our national decline -- a corporation that got rich insuring the concrete and steel of American industry in the country's heyday, only to destroy itself chasing phantom fortunes at the Wall Street card tables, like a dissolute nobleman gambling away the family estate in the waning days of the British empire." . . . Just about everything is riding on how we navigate this unprecedented, and frightening, moment in history. And and our new president appears to be on the verge of squandering the enormous goodwill that swept him into office. He has a decision to make, and thus far he seems to be siding with the banks and not with his voters. If that is what he continues to do, it could be a very quick demise to a very promising career, as his unpopularity will quickly build. . . . Frank Rich, in another compelling essay from Sunday calls it, Obama's "Katrina moment": "A charming visit with Jay Leno won't fix it. A 90 percent tax on bankers' bonuses won't fix it. Firing Timothy Geithner won't fix it. Unless and until Barack Obama addresses the full depth of Americans' anger with his full arsenal of policy smarts and political gifts, his presidency and, worse, our economy will be paralyzed. It would be foolish to dismiss as hyperbole the stark warning delivered by Paulette Altmaier of Cupertino, Calif., in a letter to the editor published by the [New York] Times last week: 'President Obama may not realize it yet, but his Katrina moment has arrived.' " . . . There is much outrage across the land and increasing agitation. Many want to know what they can do to channel their frustration and anger in useful and productive ways. Over the next days and weeks AlterNet will be capturing the best of the ideas and organizing, the best writing, opinions via interviews, and novel and compelling experiments designed to face a future that none of us expected, and frankly are not quite prepared for. One interesting idea -- Common Security Clubs -- part study circle, part mutual-aid association and part social-action group, are popping up in communities where people are looking for ways to support each other and take action. . . . Chuck Collins writes: "The common security club model was born out of work done in the last few years by people struggling with overwhelming indebtedness. Participants spend some time discussing the root causes of the economic crisis, drawing on readings and materials provided by the network. But they mostly focus on what they can do together to increase their economic security and press for policy changes."
We Are Being Robbed! (MATT TAIBBI, Rolling Stone, Mar 19, 2009) The global economic crisis isn't about money - it's about power. How Wall Street insiders are using the bailout to stage a revolution
all this happened at the end of eight straight years that America devoted to frantically chasing the shadow of a terrorist threat to no avail, eight years spent stopping every citizen at every airport to search every purse, bag, crotch and briefcase for juice boxes and explosive tubes of toothpaste. Yet in the end, our government had no mechanism for searching the balance sheets of companies that held life-or-death power over our society and was unable to spot holes in the national economy the size of Libya . . . So it's time to admit it: We're fools, protagonists in a kind of gruesome comedy about the marriage of greed and stupidity. And the worst part about it is that we're still in denial - we still think this is some kind of unfortunate accident, not something that was created by the group of psychopaths on Wall Street whom we allowed to gang-rape the American Dream. . . . a huge chunk of your taxpayer dollars in this particular bailout scam will be going to pay off the other high rollers at its table . . . The reality is that the worldwide economic meltdown and the bailout that followed were together a kind of revolution, a coup d'etat. They cemented and formalized a political trend that has been snowballing for decades: the gradual takeover of the government by a small class of connected insiders, who used money to control elections, buy influence and systematically weaken financial regulations. . . . The crisis was the coup de grace: Given virtually free rein over the economy, these same insiders first wrecked the financial world, then cunningly granted themselves nearly unlimited emergency powers to clean up their own mess. And so the gambling-addict leaders of companies like AIG end up not penniless and in jail, but with an Alien-style death grip on the Treasury and the Federal Reserve - "our partners in the government," as Liddy put it with a shockingly casual matter-of-factness after the most recent bailout. . . . The mistake most people make in looking at the financial crisis is thinking of it in terms of money, a habit that might lead you to look at the unfolding mess as a huge bonus-killing downer for the Wall Street class. But if you look at it in purely Machiavellian terms, what you see is a colossal power grab that threatens to turn the federal government into a kind of giant Enron - a huge, impenetrable black box filled with self-dealing insiders whose scheme is the securing of individual profits at the expense of an ocean of unwitting involuntary shareholders, previously known as taxpayers. . . . Cassano was selling so-called "naked" CDS deals. In a "naked" CDS, neither party actually holds the underlying loan. In other words, Bank B not only sells CDS protection to Bank A for its mortgage on the Pope — it turns around and sells protection to Bank C for the very same mortgage. This could go on ad nauseam: You could have Banks D through Z also betting on Bank A's mortgage. Unlike traditional insurance, Cassano was offering investors an opportunity to bet that someone else's house would burn down, or take out a term life policy on the guy with AIDS down the street. It was no different from gambling, the Wall Street version of a bunch of frat brothers betting on Jay Feely to make a field goal. Cassano was taking book for every bank that bet short on the housing market, but he didn't have the cash to pay off if the kick went wide. . . . Cassano's outrageous gamble wouldn't have been possible had he not had the good fortune to take over AIGFP just as Sen. Phil Gramm — a grinning, laissez-faire ideologue from Texas — had finished engineering the most dramatic deregulation of the financial industry since Emperor Hien Tsung invented paper money in 806 A.D. For years, Washington had kept a watchful eye on the nation's banks. Ever since the Great Depression, commercial banks - those that kept money on deposit for individuals and businesses - had not been allowed to double as investment banks, which raise money by issuing and selling securities. The Glass-Steagall Act, passed during the Depression, also prevented banks of any kind from getting into the insurance business. . . . But in the late Nineties, a few years before Cassano took over AIGFP, all that changed. [when Bill Clinton and the Democrats went along with the looters and canceled Glass-Steagall.] . . . The very next year, Gramm compounded the problem by writing a sweeping new law called the Commodity Futures Modernization Act that made it impossible to regulate credit swaps as either gambling or securities. Commercial banks — which, thanks to Gramm, were now competing directly with investment banks for customers — were driven to buy credit swaps to loosen capital in search of higher yields. . . . When AIG finally blew up, the OTS regulator ostensibly in charge of overseeing the insurance giant - a guy named C.K. Lee - basically admitted that he had blown it. His mistake, Lee said, was that he believed all those credit swaps in Cassano's portfolio were "fairly benign products." . . . By the fall of 2007, it was evident that AIGFP's portfolio had turned poisonous, but like every good Wall Street huckster, Cassano schemed to keep his insane, Earth-swallowing gamble hidden from public view. That August, balls bulging, he announced to investors on a conference call that "it is hard for us, without being flippant, to even see a scenario within any kind of realm of reason that would see us losing $1 in any of those transactions." As he spoke, his CDS portfolio was racking up $352 million in losses. . . . So that's the first step in wall street's power grab: making up things like credit-default swaps and collateralized-debt obligations, financial products so complex and inscrutable that ordinary American dumb people - to say nothing of federal regulators and even the CEOs of major corporations like AIG — are too intimidated to even try to understand them. That, combined with wise political investments, enabled the nation's top bankers to effectively scrap any meaningful oversight of the financial industry. In 1997 and 1998, the years leading up to the passage of Phil Gramm's fateful act that gutted Glass-Steagall, the banking, brokerage and insurance industries spent $350 million on political contributions and lobbying. Gramm alone - then the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee - collected $2.6 million in only five years. The law passed 90-8 in the Senate, with the support of 38 Democrats, including some names that might surprise you: Joe Biden, John Kerry, Tom Daschle, Dick Durbin, even John Edwards. . . . When one considers the comparatively extensive system of congressional checks and balances that goes into the spending of every dollar in the budget via the normal appropriations process, what's happening in the Fed amounts to something truly revolutionary — a kind of shadow government with a budget many times the size of the normal federal outlay, administered dictatorially by one man, Fed chairman Ben Bernanke. "We spend hours and hours and hours arguing over $10 million amendments on the floor of the Senate, but there has been no discussion about who has been receiving this $3 trillion," says Sen. Bernie Sanders. "It is beyond comprehension." . . . Another member of Congress, who asked not to be named, offers his own theory about the TARP process. "I think basically if you knew Hank Paulson, you got the money," he says. . . . This cozy arrangement created yet another opportunity for big banks to devour market share at the expense of smaller regional lenders. While all the bigwigs at Citi and Goldman and Bank of America who had Paulson on speed-dial got bailed out right away — remember that TARP was originally passed because money had to be lent right now, that day, that minute, to stave off emergency - many small banks are still waiting for help. Five months into the TARP program, some not only haven't received any funds, they haven't even gotten a call back about their applications. . . . Nonetheless, the lion's share of the bailout money has gone to the larger, so-called "systemically important" banks. "It's like Treasury is picking winners and losers," says one state banking official who asked not to be identified. . . . This itself is a hugely important political development. In essence, the bailout accelerated the decline of regional community lenders by boosting the political power of their giant national competitors. . . . Which, when you think about it, is insane . . . In essence, Paulson and his cronies turned the federal government into one gigantic, half-opaque holding company, one whose balance sheet includes the world's most appallingly large and risky hedge fund, a controlling stake in a dying insurance giant, huge investments in a group of teetering megabanks, and shares here and there in various auto-finance companies, student loans, and other failing businesses. Like AIG, this new federal holding company is a firm that has no mechanism for auditing itself and is run by leaders who have very little grasp of the daily operations of its disparate subsidiary operations. . . . In other words, it's AIG's rip-roaringly shitty business model writ almost inconceivably massive — to echo Geithner, a huge, complex global company attached to a very complicated investment bank/hedge fund that's been allowed to build up without adult supervision. . . . The real question from here is whether the Obama administration is going to move to bring the financial system back to a place where sanity is restored and the general public can have a say in things or whether the new financial bureaucracy will remain obscure, secretive and hopelessly complex. It might not bode well that Geithner, Obama's Treasury secretary, is one of the architects of the Paulson bailouts; as chief of the New York Fed, he helped orchestrate the Goldman-friendly AIG bailout and the secretive Maiden Lane facilities used to funnel funds to the dying company. Neither did it look good when Geithner - himself a protege of notorious Goldman alum John Thain, the Merrill Lynch chief who paid out billions in bonuses after the state spent billions bailing out his firm - picked a former Goldman lobbyist named Mark Patterson to be his top aide. . . . In fact, most of Geithner's early moves reek strongly of Paulsonism. . . . As complex as all the finances are, the politics aren't hard to follow. By creating an urgent crisis that can only be solved by those fluent in a language too complex for ordinary people to understand, the Wall Street crowd has turned the vast majority of Americans into non-participants in their own political future. . . .
Does America Face the Risk of a Fascist Backlash? Without loans from China, the U.S. economy cannot be revived. The significance of this cannot be overstated: the U.S. no longer exercises sovereignty over its own economic affairs. That sovereignty now resides in the hands of China, the U.S.'s greatest long-term rival.
Thanks to Republican policies of massive debt and shipping jobs abroad, the U.S. has technically become a colony of China.
If the largest companies in the world, those at the very heart of the capitalist system itself, can lose virtually all of their value in only 18 months, what is the possible meaning of the phrases "efficient markets" and "fundamental value"?
The other core tenets of free market ideology are equally compromised. Major actors are clearly not rational -- a breakdown of theological proportions admitted by no less an avatar of the cult than its pope himself, Alan Greenspan. Free markets clearly cannot, will not, regulate themselves. It is precisely their innate, irrepressible propensity for sociopathic greed and predatory fraud that has brought the whole of the world's economy to the precipice of collapse.
If Obama is successful, it will not only advertise the full extent of their failure, it will provide a model of liberal governance that would render Republicans irrelevant for decades, much as FDR's success left them out in the political cold for an entire generation. Liberal failure is a matter of life and death for Republicans.
And it's not at all clear that the liberals won't fail. No one should underestimate the task at hand. Never before -- not even during the Great Depression -- has the country inherited such a daunting, intractable set of economic problems
The Republican propensity for fascism must not be underestimated. Witness their phony justifications for the war in Iraq, fanning the flames of nationalistic aggression, just as Hitler did with Austria, the Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia, and Poland in the 1930s. Consider their symbiotic embrace of corporate interests in the oil, weapons, telecommunications, pharmaceutical, finance, and other industries-the same type of corporate interests that sponsored Hitler's ascent to power. Look at their efforts to dismantle civil liberties with the Patriot Act and the Military Commissions Act. Or their relentless, pervasive propaganda laundered through their corporate-owned right-wing media machine.
These are the classic hallmarks of fascism. The strategy is to obstruct recovery, facilitate collapse, and then incite the faux-populism of public resentment to re-install a corporatist oligarchy which has failed, but which will not abide a reduction of its privileges or a diminution of its control.
World War I was a once-in-a-millennium upset in the architecture of global power. In four years, it shifted the center of that power from Europe to the United States. But failure now by the U.S. will shift that center once again, from the United States to China, out of the western world where it has resided for the past 500 years. The psychic shock to the billion-odd people living in western civilization, with its liberal democracies, capitalist economies, and Enlightenment ideals, will be incalculable, irretrievable.
This shift may be inevitable and only a matter of time. It is quite possible that the damage inflicted on the western world's economy by rapacious Republicans is already beyond repair. But it will be tragedy beyond measure if such a shift is consummated by the very wrecking crew that took us down the road to ruin, all the while so unctuously proclaiming "patriotism" as its crowning ideal. They are not patriots and their goal is not the revival of American power. It is the revival of their own power, even at the expense of America's. They represent a very dangerous threat to the nation's future.
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... and who do you suppose will rise to become the Republicans' version of Hitler? ... stay tuned!
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The End of Law in America (Paul Krugman, The New York Times, January 15, 2009) Last Sunday President-elect Barack Obama was asked whether he would seek an investigation of possible crimes by the Bush administration. "I don't believe that anybody is above the law," he responded, but "we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards." . . . I'm sorry, but if we don't have an inquest into what happened during the Bush years - and nearly everyone has taken Mr. Obama's remarks to mean that we won't - this means that those who hold power are indeed above the law because they don't face any consequences if they abuse their power. . . . Let's be clear what we're talking about here. It's not just torture and illegal wiretapping, whose perpetrators claim, however implausibly, that they were patriots acting to defend the nation's security. The fact is that the Bush administration's abuses extended from environmental policy to voting rights. And most of the abuses involved using the power of government to reward political friends and punish political enemies. . . . Speaking of Iraq, let's also not forget that country's failed reconstruction: the Bush administration handed billions of dollars in no-bid contracts to politically connected companies, companies that then failed to deliver. And why should they have bothered to do their jobs? Any government official who tried to enforce accountability on, say, Halliburton quickly found his or her career derailed.
There's much, much more. By my count, at least six important government agencies experienced major scandals over the past eight years - in most cases, scandals that were never properly investigated. And then there was the biggest scandal of all: Does anyone seriously doubt that the Bush administration deliberately misled the nation into invading Iraq? . . . Why, then, shouldn’t we have an official inquiry into abuses during the Bush years? . . . One answer you hear is that pursuing the truth would be divisive, that it would exacerbate partisanship. But if partisanship is so terrible, shouldn't there be some penalty for the Bush administration's politicization of every aspect of government? . . . Alternatively, we're told that we don't have to dwell on past abuses, because we won’t repeat them. But no important figure in the Bush administration, or among that administration's political allies, has expressed remorse for breaking the law. What makes anyone think that they or their political heirs won't do it all over again, given the chance? . . . Meanwhile, about Mr. Obama: while it's probably in his short-term political interests to forgive and forget, next week he's going to swear to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States." That's not a conditional oath to be honored only when it's convenient. . . . And to protect and defend the Constitution, a president must do more than obey the Constitution himself; he must hold those who violate the Constitution accountable. So Mr. Obama should reconsider his apparent decision to let the previous administration get away with crime. Consequences aside, that's not a decision he has the right to make.
[COMMENT by Lorenzo: Of course, young Mr. Obama may actually want to continue the practices of the Bush regime. He has all this new power now. Why should he prosecute Bush for giving it to him?] . . . Read more!
How Rick Warren Is Undermining AIDs Prevention in Africa (Max Blumenthal, The Daily Beast,January 8, 2009) Warren's defense against charges of intolerance ultimately depends upon his ace card: his heavily publicized crusade against AIDS in Africa. Obama senior adviser David Axelrod cited Warren's work in Africa as one of "the things on which [Obama and Warren] agree" on the Dec. 28 episode of Meet the Press. Warren may be opposed to gay rights and abortion, the thinking goes, but he tells evangelicals it is their God-given duty to battle one of the greatest pandemics in history. What could be wrong with that? . . . But since the Warren inauguration controversy erupted, the nature of his work against AIDS in Africa has gone unexamined. Warren has not been particularly forthcoming to those who have attempted to look into it. His Web site contains scant information about the results of his program. However, an investigation into Warren's involvement in Africa reveals a web of alliances with right-wing clergymen who have sidelined science-based approaches to combating AIDS in favor of abstinence-only education. More disturbingly, Warren's allies have rolled back key elements of one of the continent's most successful initiative, the so-called ABC program in Uganda. Stephen Lewis, the United Nations special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, told the New York Times their activism is "resulting in great damage and undoubtedly will cause significant numbers of infections which should never have occurred." . . . By 2005, billboards promoting condom use disappeared from the streets of Kampala, replaced by billboards promoting virginity. "Until recently, all HIV-related billboards were about condoms. Those of us calling for abstinence and faithfulness need billboards, too," Ssempa told the BBC at the time. A 2005 report by Human Rights Watch documented educational material in Uganda's secondary schools falsely claiming condoms had microscopic pores that could be penetrated by the AIDS virus and noted the sudden nationwide shortage of condoms due to new restrictions imposed on condom imports. . . . AIDS activists arrived at the 16th International AIDS Conference in Toronto in 2006 with disturbing news from Uganda. Due, at least in part, to the chronic condom shortage, HIV infections were on the rise again. The disease rate had spiked to 6.5 percent among rural men and 8.8 percent among women -- a rise of nearly two points in the case of women. . . . Warren, in his effort to dispel criticism, has denied harboring homophobic sentiments. "I could give you a hundred gay friends," he told MSNBC's Ann Curry on Dec. 18. "I have always treated them with respect. When they come and want to talk to me, I talk to them." . . . But when Uganda's Anglican bishops threatened to bolt from the Church of England because of its tolerant stance towards homosexuals, Warren parachuted into Kampala to confer international legitimacy on their protest. . . . "The Church of England is wrong, and I support the Church of Uganda on the boycott," Warren proclaimed in March 2008. Declaring homosexuality an unnatural way of life, Warren flatly stated, "We shall not tolerate this aspect [homosexuality in the church] at all.". . . Read more!
"Time" Calls Obama a Bigot (Kilian Melloy, EDGE Boston,Dec 22, 2008) The GLBT community and liberals have joined in their condemnation of President-Elect Barack Obama’s selection of mega-church pastor Rick Warren to deliver the Inaugural Invocation. Now Time Magazine has joined the chorus. . . . "Homosexuality, Pastor Warren explained in the virtually content-free language of the dogmatist, is 'not the natural way.'" . . . Cloud recollected that Warren, speaking with an interviewer, had compared marriage equality with incest and pedophiles, and wrote, "I wish the reporter had asked the next logical follow-up: If gays are like child-sex offenders, shouldn't we incarcerate them?" . . . Added Cloud, "Gays and lesbians are angry that Barack Obama has honored Warren, but they shouldn’t be surprised. . . . "Obama has proved himself repeatedly to be a very tolerant, very rational-sounding sort of bigot. He is far too careful and measured a man to say anything about body parts fitting together or marriage being reserved for the nonpedophilic, but all the same, he opposes equality for gay people when it comes to the basic recognition of their relationships."j . . . Cloud compared Obama to Richard Russell, Jr., "the longtime Senator from Georgia who--as historian Robert Caro has noted--cultivated a reputation as a thoughtful, tolerant politician even as he defended inequality and segregation for decades." . . . Wrote Cloud, "Obama gave a wonderfully Russellian defense of Warren on Thursday at a press conference. Americans, he said, need to ’come together’ even when they disagree on social issues." . . . Added Cloud, "Russell would often use the same tactic to deflect criticism of his civil rights record. It was a distraction, Russell said, from the important business of the day uniting all Americans." . . . Cloud's editorial went on, "Obama also said today that he is a 'fierce advocate for equality' for gays, which is--given his opposition to equal marriage rights--simply a lie. . . . "It recalls the time Russell said, 'I'm as interested in the Negro people of my state as anyone in the Senate. I love them.'" . . . Addressing the popular speculation that Obama's repeated claim not to believe in marriage equality is ideological smoke concealing a more equitable disposition toward gay and lesbian families, Cloud noted, "People seemed to feel that once he had won, he would find a way--in his contemplative style--to help convince Americans that gay people really do deserve basic equality. . . . "Instead, he has found a way to insult gay people deeply.". . . Read more!