Saturday, December 12, 2009

Obama's Lies…Lead to Cheney in Iowa?

One Middle East analyst interviewed in connection with Obama's Nobel Prize award ceremony this month said that despite his good intentions, Obama hasn't accomplished much as far as resolving crises, especially on the Israeli Palestinian issue.

Good intentions? I suspect that we're beginning to see that not only are the outcomes on so many crucial issues the opposite of what we would wish, but we're beginning (we latecomers) to be forced to conclude that the intentions were not what we imagined.

Which brings us to the question of presidential lying.

All presidents lie, it comes with the territory.

Yet we wonder if  BHO’s lying is perhaps among the worst in post war history, up there with LBJ, Nixon, Reagan and Bush-Cheney?

At least with Bush Jr there was something good-natured with his lies in the sense that his pronouncements weren't intended to be taken seriously – except as media fodder. He and Cheney couldn't care less that their political opponents knew they were lying. What was important to them was their power to pursue their agenda. And as for their supporters, the regime's real agenda was always clear and the lies were viewed simply as the necessary cover story. 

The difference with Obama is that he's lying to his base, intending to fool us -- perhaps less and less successfully after about a year -- into thinking that he’s on our side. 

It would seem that the difference between Obama's rhetoric and the agenda he's pursuing, -- replicating and consolidating the worst policies inherited from the most criminal regime in U.S. history -- contributes to his falling popularity and makes him a potentially weak candidate in 2012. Perhaps that is why Art Cullen, editor of The Storm Lake (Iowa) Times is predicting that “Cheney Will Visit Iowa.” According to Cullen:

       Cheney thinks Obama is a pipsqueak and that he can beat him. Most important, Cheney believes in his bad ideas and is perfectly willing to run on them.

 We're fortunate to live in an age that has produced the first Black president, and a smart, eloquent one at that. But it appears that we're just as unlucky that our first minority president has turned out to be some combination of too young and inexperienced and too feckless to rise to the challenge of providing us with the leadership so desperately needed. 

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Obama's Surge Consolidates the Bush-Cheney Legacy

Obama's Surge Consolidates the Bush-Cheney legacy


What could be worse than a continuation of the Bush-Cheney administration?

What could be worse in an Obama administration than the consolidation of the worst of the Bush-Cheney  policies starting with their permanent war agenda?

Why has Obama embraced permanent war, a policy that he, as well as anyone else knows, is unsustainable, if not suicidal?

Some, if not many, agree that the twin pillars that underpin the status quo are the military industrial complex and the Zionist lobby, for which constant war is always the desideratum.

Perhaps fewer will agree that the chief way, in a post cold war age that permanent war is maintained is by funding, arming and directing the enemy.

Where and how, one might ask, do the Taliban get their weapons and wherewithal?

The enemy is the U.S. in a literal way that we have not previously imagined.

Now that Obama has moved to the consolidation of permanent war, HE is the enemy.

The first step is to know thy enemy.



Saturday, November 07, 2009

("Bush &) Obama's Trillion Dollar Bailouts -- Questions that won't die

Trillion $ Bailouts  – Questions that won’t die

by Ronald Bleier



A major political question that doesn’t want to die is whether the billion and trillion dollar Wall Street bailouts that Washington handed out were necessary to keep the economy from disintegrating.  Despite the persistence of the question, the only answer seemingly allowed in the mainstream is the monotonously uniform: Without the bailouts we’d be using beads for currency -- a line I heard on TV this week. 


Yet there is another, rather different answer available. The alternative response is that not only were the bailouts unnecessary to save the economy, but they represent perhaps the biggest single criminal theft and transfer of wealth to the wealthy from the rest of us.


Some of the evidence for such an unorthodox view was presented back in September by Mike Whitney, a regular contributor to the indispensable website.


Whitney took the trouble to read some of the findings of independent economist, Dean Baker, who took the trouble to look at some of the relevant data.


According to Mike Whitney


Lehman Bros. didn't die of natural causes; it was drawn-and-quartered by high-ranking officials at the US Treasury and the Federal Reserve. Most of the rubbish presently appearing in the media, ignores this glaring fact. Lehman was a planned demolition (most likely) concocted by ex-Goldman Sachs CEO Henry Paulson, who wanted to create a financial 9-11 to scare Congress into complying with his demands for $700 billion in emergency funding (TARP) for underwater US banking behemoths.  The whole incident reeks of conflict of interest, corruption, and blackmail.


(9.15.09)“Lehman Died So TARP and AIG Might Live”)


Whitney explains that Lehman brothers could have been saved relatively easily if “Bernanke and Paulson had merely provided guarantees for some of their trading positions.” According to Whitney, their claim that they didn’t have the legal authority for such guarantees was “a lie.”


Whitney continues by quoting economist Dean Baker who explains that the $700 billion TARP authority wasn’t necessary to rescue the commercial paper market - –the market that most major companies rely on to meet their payrolls and pay other routine bills.  Dean explains that Bernanke “forgot to tell Congress…that the Fed has the authority to directly buy commercial paper from financial and non-financial companies [and thus] the power to prevent the sort of economic collapse that Bernanke warned would happen if Congress did not quickly approve the TARP.” Indeed, Dean continues, the weekend after TARP was approved the plan for the Fed to buy this commercial paper was put in motion. (emphasis mine)


For more on the case for criminal indictments of Messrs Bernanke, Geithner, Summers, et. al., read the work of the brilliant Matt Taibi in recent articles in Rolling Stone --  if you can deal with his liberal use of obscenities which he childishly thinks somehow improves his prose -- who has done the legwork and taken the trouble to understand and to pass along the nature of some of the frauds that have been managed – and are doubtless continuing.  

Wall Street's Naked Swindle  by Matt Taibbi -- October 2009

A scheme to sell fake stocks helped kill Bear Sterns and Lehman Brothers — exposing the counterfeit nature of our entire economy.  

The Great American Bubble Machine  by Matt Taibbi  -- July 2009

From tech stocks to high gas prices, Goldman Sachs has engineered every major market manipulation since the Great Depression - and they're about to do it again.


Sunday, August 30, 2009

Letter to the New York Times --Obama and the Lack of Accountability

Another in the long list of my letters that the NYTimes has ignored. --RB

The New York Times
August 28, 2009
To the Editor
Re: "Abuse Issue Puts The Justice Dept And CIA At Odds", Front Page, 8.28.09
The latest developments in connection with US employment of torture on the pretext of fighting the "global war on terror," suggest that President Obama's dictum that we look forward not backward will be in the news for as long as he maintains such a misleading and dangerous political posture.
On the issue of accountability, we might like to recall Winston Churchill who effectively reminds us what's at stake. .
“The use of recriminating about the past is to enforce effective action at the present.” --Winston Churchill, 1936.
Ronald Bleier

Doug Henwood, Left Business Observer: The Health Care Debate --The Enemy Within

One of the most astute observers of the health care reform debate must be Doug Henwood, author, journalist and radio producer.

On his July 16, 2009 program radio program for WBAI-FM, New York, his guest, Len Rodberg of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), outlined the problems with current versions of ObamaCare. And Henwood followed up with a précis of the situation in his invaluable Left Business Observer (LBO) #120, August 2009.

It seems that the White House has effectively given up on an effective public option that would compete with private insurers. Instead we have an agreement between Obama and the insurance industry whereby they make certain changes to their restrictive practices in return for which they get to collect the premiums of dozens of millions of U.S. citizens and residents not currently insured. One can only guess at the rate at which the insurance companies will benefit over and above their current profits. For every dollar that they will expend under the new guidelines, can we not expect that they’ll take in an extra $10? $100? $1,000? or more? Thus we won't be surprised to find that the salaries of top executives of the ever more consolidated private insurance industry will be enlarged over and above their current payoffs –- in some cases $10 or $20 or $30 million or more annually-- into really healthy amounts.

There’s more. For example, current proposals are that the U.S. will subsidize some portion of the premiums under the mandatory rules that everyone must carry insurance. Who’s going to pay these billions? We’ve just answered the question. The U.S. taxpayer. But in order to squeeze the billions this will cost into an acceptable package for Congress, current proposals are that huge amounts will be – is “stolen” too harsh a word?-- from Medicare (and Medicaid?) disbursements. One number I’ve seen is half a trillion ($), so that seniors are correct to be scared –really scared --that their services will be reduced if not crippled.

In addition, according to Dr. Jerry Avorn of the Harvard Medical School (Author, "Powerful Medicines"), as reported on NPR’s All Things Considered (July 23, 2009; “Drug Firms Pour $40 million into Health Care Debate”

government negotiated drug prices is already off the table. While this immense concession has apparently not yet publicly been set in stone, such a consideration is not inconsistent with the way the Rahm Emanuel-Obama administration has tilted toward the previous administration’s policies on so many foreign and domestic issues.

One of the reasons I was so opposed to Hillary Clinton and supported Obama was because I was convinced that she and her husband intended to sabotage health care reform from the inception of their presidency in 1992. I suspected that they were opposed to reform because of some combination of their right wing ideology (the undeserving poor are truly undeserving) and their loyalty to some of their biggest financial supporters.

In 2008 I figured that our only hope for change was an Obama presidency. But the bad news is that for his own complex of reasons – perhaps slightly different from the Clintons but surely overlapping when it comes to seeking the favor of the movers and shakers -– we are faced with the prospect of legislation just as bad or worse than the Clintons managed to devise.

Ironically, I’m now wondering whether a 2009 Hillary Clinton victory might have produced a bill with elements of real reform simply because her former opposition (disguised as mistakes) was well known and for credibility’s sake she would have been forced into effective change. But such speculation runs into the reality of Hillary Clinton as a lightening rod and a divider.


Health Care and Consumer Spending

LBO # 120 follows up with a brilliant analysis of the astonishing degree to which consumer spending has been bolstered by health care costs. It turns out that consumer non- health spending has remained pretty steady over the years including the last two decades while close to 80% of the increase (is this possible?) has been due to health care spending. In other words, U.S. citizens (and residents) weren’t by and large on a buying binge: we were going into debt to pay for health care.

This turns out to be such a new finding that Henwood actually apologizes for not understanding this trend earlier.



Speaking of the LBO, Henwood’s #119 (July 2009) is worth the price for his insightful contrast between FDR and BHO. Henwood notes that Obama’s not the man to make a speech anything like FDR’s October 1936 announcement of a second New Deal. Henwood cites FDR’s famous lines:

They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.

Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred.

And Henwood’s analysis continues with the suggestion that the difference between the two men is that FDR was a product of the aristocracy with all the self confidence of someone from that class, while Obama’s emergence from the meritocracy leaves him with little but admiration for the “establishment that groomed him.”


Go to for information regarding subscriptions to LBO (the print edition is $22; digital $20)



Monday, August 17, 2009

Greg Eow: I used to be a fan of Bernard Lewis and the Neocons

H/T to FJ by way of Mondoweiss 8.13.09 for this wonderful email showing that, with some effort, time and money --and, btw, an open mind -- people's views of the Israeli-Palestinian issue can change to better reflect reality. Come to think of it, it happened to me despite my years of yeshiva indoctrination and it didn't cost all that much, and I didn't even have to read 20 books on the subject.

One can get cheered up after reading an example of such change, but all too soon one is brought back to reality to realize that the siege of Gaza and the starvation of the Gazans is ongoing. The slow genocide and the removal of the Palestinians from their land is occurring with the full knowledge of Sec Clinton and President Obama who either don't care or prefer not to risk political capital trying unsuccessfully to "interfere" with Israeli policy.


I was with the neocons– (Then I went to the Middle East)
by Greg Eow
August 13, 2009

Mondoweiss wrote:

In April, Greg Eow wrote a letter to a professor he had met in graduate school at Rice University, Ussama Makdisi, describing his political transformation. Eow. . . shares it with us.

Dear Professor Makdisi,

I don’t know if you rem ember me, but I finished my PhD in the Rice history department in 2007. I was one of Thomas Haskell’s students. We ran into each other a handful of times, including once when I helped you with some of the microfilm machines in Fondren Library. Anyway, this is a strange e-mail, both to write and most likely to receive. But I wanted to tell you about some recent experiences which have profoundly changed my view of the Israeli-Palestinian issue. You have demonstrated an interest in changing how people think about the issue, and so I thought you might be interested in what for me has turned out to be a transformative event.

First of all, a quick word about presuppositions. I confess that I previously never paid a great deal of attention to the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Insofar as I did follow the issue, my sympathies were with neoconservatives. Samuel Huntington and Bernard Lewis were my guides. They were realists, I would tell myself, whereas those who quarreled with them, for instance colleagues at Rice who were more interested in postcolonial studies than I, had political axes to grind. Not for me the romance of resistance. I was a good skeptic, an empiricist; and if there was a problem in Israel it was clear to me it had to do wi th Muslim fundamentalism, terrorism, and the clash between Enlightenment values and democracy on the one hand and premodern tribalism and totalitarianism on the other.

Flash forward a couple of years.
I’m through with grad school, I finally have some time and money, and I embark on a self-directed course of study on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I have my feelings, sure, but I realize that I don’t know a whole lot, that a lot of smart people disagree with me, and now I want to make a good faith effort to learn about the issue and test my prejudices against the scholarship in the field. I read Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said, Benny Morris, Patrick Seale, David Fromkin, Juan Cole, Efraim Karsh, Tom Segev, William Cleveland, Bernard Rougier, Albert Hourani. I read your book and article on anti-Americanism. And I spend two weeks traveling through Syria, Lebanon, Jerusalem and the West Bank. In sum, I read about forty books from a number of different standpoints and travel through the region to see what is going on with my own eyes.

The result? Well, the whole experience essentially knocked me on my butt. I was wrong about a great many things. And not just wrong but deeply wrong. Wrong to a degree that to realize it has left me shaken, wondering how exactly I got to be so intellectually, and in this case morally, obtuse. Just a taste of the data that undid my worldview:

1) The Arab people I met in Syria, Lebanon and the West Bank (and Jerusalem), the vast majority of them Muslims, were almost uniformly lovely, warm, and welcoming. I wasn’t expecting20passersby in the street in all of these places to invite me into their homes for tea to discuss how much they "hate George Bush, but like Americans." (This happened too often to count.) Pretty much everyone thought U.S. policy was a disaster. But they were angry about policy and lovely to me in ways that make the "they hate us for our freedom" line not only inaccurate but criminal. Among the people I met: a 20 year old Shiite Muslim named Mohammed whom I met in the Bequaa Valley. Mohammed supports Hezbollah because of their 1) resistance to Israeli incursions into Lebanon (he didn’t say anything about Hezbollah provocations), 2) their welfare programs, and 3) their support of the20Palestinian cause (all his words). He’s been to Mosque no more than twice in his life, eats pork, and likes nothing more than going dancing in Beirut. That is to say, he is entirely secular. With Bernard Lewis and Samuel Huntington as my guides, I have no way to make sense of such an encounter.

2) Driving through the West Bank at night allows one to see the proliferation of illegal Israeli settlements with immediate and striking force. They are everywhere, some small, some huge, in the high ground lit up like prisons. I thought the reason why the two-state solution had failed was Palestinian intransigence. A look at the settlements – even a quick look – demolishes such a simple explanation. Traveling through the West Bank at=2 0night, and later visiting and talking with people in Ramallah, reinforced an essential point: Israel, at least powerful forces within Israel, is actively pursuing policies to colonize and annex the West Bank while simultaneously making life so difficult for Palestinians that they will pick up and leave. The evidence was there for anyone with eyes to see, irrefutable and horrible in its obviousness. How I got duped by the "Israel wants peace behind the 1 967 borders but extremists deny it to them" line is a question I will be asking myself again and again with embarrassment and not a little shame.

I could go on, but this (unsolicited) e-mail has gone on long enough and you get the point. What I’m saying is this: keep writing, keep telling U.S. citizens to better inform themselves about what is going on in their name and with their tax dollars. If they’re honest, and they go see for themselves what’s going on, I can guarantee that the reasonableness of what you and others have written on the matter will soon become apparent.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Emptywheel/bmaz: Washington Post features John Yoo -- Let's trash the Constitution

Here's bmaz from the more and more indispensable Emptywheel site from the very special Marcy Wheeler. One characteristic of her site is that it often gets thoughtful comments. I append one of the superb responses.


The Yoo Tumor
By: bmaz Sunday July 26, 2009

John Yoo is a cancer on the Constitutional body politic of the United States, and he won't go away. For some inexplicable reason, Carrie Johnson, and her editors at the Washington Post, have decided to fluff the one man self rationalization and obfuscation tour Yoo has been on as of late:

Some public figures, if their judgment and ethics come under fire, retreat into solitude. Then there is John C. Yoo.

The former Justice Department official, whose memos blessed the waterboarding of terrorism suspects and wiretapping of American citizens, has come out fighting, even as negative assessments of his government service pile up.

Last month, a federal judge in California refused to dismiss a lawsuit that accuses Yoo of violating a detainee's constitutional rights. This month, the Justice Department's inspector general described Yoo's legal analysis of the Bush surveillance program as "insufficient" and sometimes inaccurate. Also expected in coming weeks is a department ethics report that sources have said could renounce Yoo's approval of harsh CIA interrogation practices and recommend that he and Jay S. Bybee, a former colleague, be referred to their state bar associations for discipline.

While former colleagues have avoided attention in the face of such scrutiny, Yoo has been traveling across the country to give speeches and counter critics who dispute his bold view of the president's authority. Now a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, he engages in polite but firm exchanges with legal scholars over conclusions in their academic work. This month, he wrote an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal defending his actions and labeling critics' arguments as "absurd" and "foolhardy" responses to "the media-stoked politics of recrimination."

There is nothing whatsoever new in the story, save perhaps for the information that even if the long delayed OPR Report recommends bar discipline against Yoo, he is unlikely to suffer any consequences because the only state he is licensed in, Pennsylvania, has a five year statute of limitations on ethics infractions. Johnson and the Post, of course, do not discuss whether the Pennsylvania statute may have been tolled because the information was not publicly available for a good deal of the time.

The Post article is beyond disingenuous with the way it blithely equates the pros and cons of Yoo and his work. It even points out the recent decision in Federal court in NDCA by Judge Jeffrey White without noting in any detail that White carved Yoo's work up like a Butterball turkey.

John Yoo arguably has done as much, if not more, harm to the Constitution than any government lawyer in history. Yoo authored legal reliance opinions eviscerating the Fourth Amendment and authorizing the implementation of a state sponsored torture regime. If the Washington Post is going to fluff Yoo, they ought to at least be intellectually honest enough to give some credible billing to the moral and legal hell he hath wrought. Apparently, it is asking too much.


Bob in HI responded:

The trouble is that major news organizations no longer know what “fair and balanced” means. Part of what this indicates is that there is no longer any public consensus on what is “right” and “wrong.” I’m not referring to some cosmic yardstick here. I’m referring to a cultural consensus.

But what is truly alarming, to me, about this shattering of the cultural consensus is that the Constitution of the United States has lost its primary place. The culture now apparently views it, like George Bush, as “just a piece of paper.” Defending the Constitution is no longer a big priority to our Congresspersons, even though they take an oath of office to do so.

Instead, “Public Safety” has now been elevated to a priority equal to, or exceeding, that of the Constitution. The public consensus is shifting, and not for the better.

The MSM [Major Media?] are no longer defending the Constitution because it is no longer seen as a fundamental priority, on which all other priorities are based. And the MSM don’t defend the Constitution because the Presidency has not done so, for about 8 years. And neither has Congress. Only the Courts still seem to act as though defending the Constitution is Job #1.

Yoo is a symptom of a deep cultural malaise.

Bob in HI

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Obama abandoning public health care option?

Obama Abandoning Public Health Care Option?

Democracy Now's headlines for 7.7.09 and 7.8. (see below) included items on the Obama administration’s signals that it’s ready to abandon or perhaps has already effectively abandoned the public health plan option. (see below)

In that case, we can guess that Obama has bowed to the Republican wall of opposition and to the opposition of some of his wealthy corporate campaign contributors. No other U.S. president has so clearly enunciated the need for such a government run health care option so there is no question that he well understands the stakes involved.

The only questions are for the future. Will there be a health care reform bill signed by President Obama and if so will it be any real improvement over the current intolerable situation? And what will be the political ramifications for Obama and for the Democrats?

The sad or tragic thing about this episode – taken together with Obama’s serial betrayals on fixing the financial meltdown, civil liberties, Af-Pak, Iraq, Palestine, mountaintop removal, Don Siegelman – what else? – is what it shows about the character of our 44th president. We have just passed through (and we lucky ones have barely survived) the tough minded, focused, powerful presidency of Bush-Cheney and we could have wished for similar toughness in reversing their horrors.

Instead it seems that we’re saddled with another weak-willed, feckless and directionless Democrat leader. Followers of Walter Karp (Indispensable Enemies, and Liberty Under Siege) are seeing signs that Obama is following in the tradition of virtually all the Democratic presidential contenders after LBJ -- either they didn’t want the job or they only took it on condition that they wouldn’t have to lead from the Left. (Interesting that only Jimmy Carter is a partial exception to this phenomenon.)

So if Obama follows Bill Clinton’s trajectory, his healthy congressional margins will melt away starting in 2012 to the point where, like his predecessor, he can be our savior simply by playing defense against the Republicans.

Emmanuel: Obama Open to Dropping Public Health Plan
The Obama administration continues to downplay its stated commitment to a government-run public health insurance program. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said he thinks it’s more important to inject competition between insurance plans than it is to create a plan run by the government. Private insurers have opposed the public plan because they feel its cheaper costs would provide too much competition and potentially put them out of business. Emanuel’s comments echo recent statements from President Obama. At a White House news conference last month, Obama refused to call the public health proposal non-negotiable and said he hasn’t “drawn lines in the sand.”

President Obama, speaking June 23rd: “We are still early in this process. So, you know, we have not drawn lines in the sand, other than that reform has to control costs and that it has to provide relief to people who don’t have health insurance or are underinsured. You know, those are the broad parameters that we’ve discussed.”

See also:
Obama Defends Commitment to Public Health Option
President Obama has issued a vague response to criticism his administration is backing away from its advocacy of a government-run public health insurance program. On Tuesday, Obama released a statement saying: “I] still believe… that one of the best ways to bring down costs, provide more choices, and assure quality is a public option that will force the insurance companies to compete and keep them honest. I look forward to a final product that achieves these very important goals.” The statement came hours after White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel told the Wall Street Journal he think it’s more important to inject competition between insurance plans than it is to create a plan run by the government. Emmanuel instead said the White House could back a plan that would “trigger” a public option only if private insurers failed to provide suitable care.

Friday, July 03, 2009

New Yorker: Iran, Hope and Disillusionment

The hope for change in Iran that inspired the leading " Talk of the Town" piece published in the June 29, 2009 New Yorker seemed outdated a week later, the time of its official publication. But Laura Secor's comment remains a valuable snapshot of that brief moment. She speaks of the "majesty" of the demonstrations. She emphasizes the "modesty" of the reform movement's demands: It wasn't an attempt to overthrow the mullah regime. It was to repudiate Ahamadinejad. It was simply to count the votes.

Secor reviews the disillusionment when President Khatami couldn't live up to the hope he engendered in 1997. This led to calls for a boycott of the 2005 elections which Ahmadinejad "won." Did his win make a difference? Yes, it did, writes Secor. A major difference.

A major one, as it turned out. Under Ahmadinejad, a crackdown on dissent forced scores of journalists, intellectuals, and activists to flee the country. Ahmadinejad centralized government, empowered the Basij militia and the Revolutionary Guards, flouted expert economic advice, and packed the ministries with ideological cronies. With few reformists permitted to run in the interim elections of 2006 and 2008, liberals and moderates had little recourse inside the political system...

---Laura Secor, The New Yorker



Protest Vote, by Laura Secor

New Yorker

June 29, 2009 (published a week earlier)

More than a hundred Iranian reformists have been arrested in the turmoil following Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s hastily declared victory in the June 12th Presidential election. Among them is Saeed Hajjarian, who had been a political consultant to former President Mohammad Khatami. In 2000, Hajjarian was shot in the face by an assassin who was widely believed to have been in the employ of the intelligence ministry. Hajjarian had once been a high official in the intelligence apparatus, and he was suspected of being the source of stories in a reformist newspaper tying the ministry to the grisly murders of dissidents. He survived the shooting, but was left partially paralyzed and is dependent on the constant care of doctors and family. He speaks with difficulty, and his office in the reformist-party headquarters contains a hospital bed. His doctor says that keeping him in detention without proper medical care could endanger his life.

It is not a good sign when a government feels the need to imprison even the dissidents it has already shot. But the skies are full of ominous signs for Iran’s protest movement. In a sermon at Friday prayers last week, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, defied any expectation that he might reverse course and call a new election under neutral monitors; instead, he demanded an end to the street protests and threatened their leaders with reprisals. The speech was surprising only in the light of the giddy, contagious hope that had risen from the sight of a long-suppressed citizenry’s refusal to be cowed. As one Iranian-American observer put it, using an indelicate Iranian expression, the leader has a saw in his posterior: he can’t go forward and he can’t go back. Unfortunately, even to hold still looks excruciating, most of all for the protesters at the wrong end of the batons, knives, and firearms of the Revolutionary Guards’ special forces.

Mir-Hossein Moussavi, the Presidential contender whose legions of supporters have taken to the streets of Iranian cities, has a long and complex history with Khamenei. When Moussavi was Prime Minister, in the nineteen-eighties, he belonged to a faction known as the Islamic Left. It shared power with a rival faction, the Islamic Right, led by Khamenei, who was then the President. When Moussavi and Khamenei clashed, as they often did, the charismatic leader of the Islamic Revolution and the supreme leader of the country, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, intervened—most frequently on Moussavi’s side.

So, in 1989, when Khomeini died and Khamenei replaced him as supreme leader, the Islamic Left was exiled to political purgatory. Moussavi did not lift his head in Iranian politics for twenty years. But during those years the rest of his Islamic Left faction, including Saeed Hajjarian, made one of the most dramatic turnabouts in Iran’s political history. It abandoned its hard-line commitments in favor of an agenda of liberalization, freedom of expression, the relaxation of Islamic social codes, and friendlier dealings with the world. On the strength of this platform, in 1997, Khatami, who had been Moussavi’s minister of culture, won the Presidency in a landslide. Parliament soon fell to the reformists, too. Although these elected officials were subordinate to Khamenei, Hajjarian believed that they could extend their reach by triangulating between the mass movement they represented and the autocratic state with which they shared power. He coined the phrase that would define the reformists’ strategy: “Pressure from below, negotiation at the top.”

That strategy failed. The pressure from below was for far-reaching democratic reform, which Khatami could not deliver within the confines of the constitution. Moreover, the authorities at the top were not interested in negotiating. A hundred independent newspapers and magazines opened, only to be forced to close; the Guardian Council vetoed much of the legislation passed by the parliament; and Khatami could not keep his inner circle out of prison, let alone the young people whose votes had won him the Presidency. By the time he left office, in 2005, the reformists had neither a credible leader nor a constituency. Activists and public figures called for a boycott of that year’s election. What good was voting if a President with a broad popular mandate could still be controlled and stymied by unelected powers? What difference did it even make who was President?

A major one, as it turned out. Under Ahmadinejad, a crackdown on dissent forced scores of journalists, intellectuals, and activists to flee the country. Ahmadinejad centralized government, empowered the Basij militia and the Revolutionary Guards, flouted expert economic advice, and packed the ministries with ideological cronies. With few reformists permitted to run in the interim elections of 2006 and 2008, liberals and moderates had little recourse inside the political system. Iran seemed headed for a confrontation between irreconcilables: the forces for secular democracy and those for autocratic theocracy.

“Reform is dead, long live reform”—that is another of Saeed Hajjarian’s favorite sayings. This spring, the reform movement looked deader than ever. Moussavi, its leading Presidential candidate, was a cipher. But some reformists were encouraged by his long rivalry with Khamenei, which they felt would make him a powerful and fearless advocate for his constituency, a role Khatami never undertook. Although Khatami’s party endorsed Moussavi, he described himself as independent, and assured voters that he believed in the principles of the Islamic Revolution. And yet, in a breathtaking, even inexplicable development, the Moussavi campaign produced a “green wave.” Perhaps all that voter apathy since 2005 masked a deeper, embarrassed hope. Or was it despair that had liberated Iranians to be pragmatic—to resign themselves to the longevity of the system and to set modest, achievable goals, like the repudiation of Ahmadinejad?

Whatever its origins, the Moussavi wave has coalesced with extraordinary speed into a disciplined, tactically sophisticated, and strikingly moderate movement. The protesters are not directly challenging Khamenei, or the constitution that allows him nearly unlimited power, despite the widely shared impression that his hand is behind the apparent manipulation of the election results and the crackdown that has followed. Instead, they are demanding that their votes be counted and, numbers permitting, that they be allowed to elect the candidate of their choice, from among the few whom Khamenei’s Guardian Council had preapproved to run for office. In effect, they insist that the path of legal, internal reform be kept open. Whether this unity and singularity of purpose will survive depends partly on Moussavi’s leadership, and partly on how much pressure Khamenei brings to bear.

Count our votes: the modesty of this demand is particularly moving, set against the majesty of the demonstrations. Under the Islamic Republic, public spaces are surveilled for adherence to the dress code and Islamic morality, for suspicious gatherings and raucous laughter, for trespasses that take even their perpetrators by surprise. For those with secrets to hide, the streets are full of eavesdroppers. But now, for once, life as it pulses in the sanctuary of Iranian homes has burst onto the streets. The scale of the crowds is remarkable, as is their confidence, which seems to grow with each day that the protests are not met with overwhelming violence.

But of the two sides in this confrontation only one has an army of special forces, known as white shirts, willing to extract a price for defiance in blood. There is something vertiginous now about the display of all that courage under the lengthening shadow of Tiananmen Square, in a nation whose government has long appeared to view China’s as a model. President Obama has so far struck the right notes by upholding the human and civil rights of the protesters without interfering in Iran’s internal politics. But a bigger showdown is coming. If the Islamic Republic dares to mow down those ebullient crowds, it will write itself a villainous chapter in history and offend the conscience of the world. ♦

Friday, June 19, 2009

Marcy Wheeler A G Eric Holder's demagoguery on hate crimes

The blog post below is from Marcy Wheeler's terrific website which I think more and more people will be following as the Obama administration and Attorney General Holder continue to trash the Constitution in the tradition of Bush-Cheney. A precedent that will apparently continue indefinitely unless some outside force -- the Supreme Court??? -- finds a way to stop them.

On a personal/technical note, there are some aspects to Marcy Wheeler's website which I haven't yet had the patience (or ability) to track down. For one thing, its name: I know it as Emptywheel and as Firedoglake. Also, in the blog on Eric Holder/hate crimes below I thought I was reading the prose of Marcy Wheeler but then I look up and see the byline -- bmaz. Who is bmaz?

Anyway, I can't help repeating the first line of bmaz's item.

Eric Holder can't seem to do squat for transparency, privacy, accountability or a plethora of other ills carried over from the Bush/Cheney Administration, but he is concerned that we need more hate crime laws:

So much for change for the better in the Obama administration. Holder's demagoguery on hate crimes reminds me of the misdirection of the Bush-Cheney years when they successfully masked the lack of any kind of positive domestic agenda by pushing for the privatization of Social Security even though they well knew it would go down in flames. I recall how in his final press conference Bush snarkily cited the Social Security privatization plan as one of his "mistakes."

So Holder is proving that he's the same empty suit that he was in the Clinton years. Obama sure knows how to choose 'em.

The interesting question is whether the Obama administration
a. stands for nothing?
b. the Rightwing pushback against standing for principle is too great for Obama to bear?

Either way, whether it's cowardice or lack of conviction or some combination, we get crushed by the Zionists and the militarists.


Eric Holder Demagogues Hate Crimes
By: bmaz Tuesday June 16, 2009

Eric Holder can't seem to do squat for transparency, privacy, accountability or a plethora of other ills carried over from the Bush/Cheney Administration, but he is concerned that we need more hate crime laws:

"Over the last several weeks, we have witnessed brazen acts of violence, committed in places that many would have considered unthinkable," Holder told the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.

He cited separate attacks over a two-week period that killed a young soldier, an abortion provider and a guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
In order to stop that violence, he said, Congress should past an updated version of hate crimes legislation, in order to more effectively prosecute those who commit violent attacks based on gender, disability, or sexual orientation.

Yeah, that bunk ought to really stop Tiller's killer, the Arkansas recruiting center shooter and thevon Brunns of the world from committing murders when that piddly old first degree murder capital offense with the death penalty couldn't. Okay, I want to be completely honest, the District of Columbia does not have the death penalty, but it certainly has life in prison available for the offense of premeditated murder. Both Kansas and Arkansas, the locations of the other two heinous crimes, do indeed have the death penalty for such offenses. What exactly does Eric Holder think the "hate crimes" he is demagoguing about are going to do for deterrence that the death penalty or life in prison won't?

I have a problem with "hate crime" laws. We already have laws for assault and battery, murder, intimidation etc. The same conduct, and level of conduct, should not have different laws and heightened penalties because it is targeted to a minority or other protected group. Why is the assault of a black worth more than an assault on on a white? Why is an assault on a gay man any more heinous than an assault on a straight? Why is one group of human beings entitled to more protection under the law than another? Yet, that is exactly what hate crime legislation does. This really flies in the face of the quintessential Constitutional and founding concepts of equal protection, fundamental fairness and all men being created equal.

The Supreme Court disagrees, but that is my take. And no matter what your view, I would argue that Eric Holder and the United States Department of Justice have far more important tasks to attend to right now, and they have been failing miserably on most.


A military dictatorship in Iran?

What should we make of two American Enterprise Institute (AEI) fellows who argue in a prominent New York Times Op ed that Iran's theocratic regime has given way to a military dictatorship? ("Iran's Hidden Revolution," by Danielle Pletka and Ali Alfoneh, 6.17.09)

For one thing, such a theory advances the right wing/Zionist agenda of continuing the demonization of Iran so as to ensure that both Israel and the US have at least the appearance of a credible enemy -- to add to non-state actors like the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, both creations and puppets of US/Pakistani/Indian intelligence services.

While the AEI theory of a military dictatorship in Teheran would account for much of the data, the question is whether it’s possible or important to distinguish between a theocratic government backed by the military -- or a military regime with theocrats as front men.

As for Iran’s rigged elections, back in 2005 it was publicly announced that candidate Mehdi Karroubi, a moderate, came in ahead of Ahmadinejad in the first round of elections, but was mysteriously eliminated from the runoff so that Ahmadinejad could face Rafsanjani. Furthermore Pletka and Alfonseh write that Western intelligence believes that in 2005 Ayatollah Khamenei approved the rigging of the required numbers of votes so that Ahmadinejad would prevail over Rafsanjani.

If that’s true, the fraud was conducted in such a way in 2005 that there would be little or no domestic or international commotion. One of the current mysteries is why Iranian election officials didn’t announce plausible numbers for an Ahmadinejad victory. Were they bunglers or simply sufficiently arrogant to proclaim the end of the vestige of democracy in Iran?

Another question is why some on the Left argue that Ahmadinejad won this election fair and square. According to official figures he got seven million MORE votes this time than in 2005. Hmmmm. (Update: I just noticed that James Petras and popular Canadian blogger Xymphora can be added to this list which includes Paul Craig Roberts, the Leveretts -- and others?)

I gather that some on the Left would like to establish Ahmadinejad’s legitimacy so as to give the militarists less of an excuse to bomb, bomb, bomb Iran.
McCain sounds like he can’t wait.

Update: 6.19.09

The above post was written in the day or two before the speech of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, defending the election of M. Ahmadinejad and calling for an end to demonstrations. The protests have now entered a new and in all likelihood even bloodier phase. See the books of Azar Nafisi for some of the gruesome details that we can expect. (Reading Lolita in Teheran and Things I’ve Been Silent About) Either the protests will continue and rivers of blood will flow or the protests will slowly or not so slowly come to an end and somewhat less blood will flow – for the moment. The only brake on the murderers will be their understanding that the whole world is watching. We can only hope that this will continue to make a difference.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

New York Times: Obama favors bankers vs homeowners

Whose side is Obama, on?. His constituents or the big banks who have been the recipients of Bush and Cheney’s and his administration’s largesse?

Rhetorical question, right?

Yes, but the novelty is that the outline (at least) of Obama’s betrayal is recorded in the NYT, in a front page story on how the banking lobby removed the “centerpiece” of the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act, namely giving judges the power to lower the amount owed on a home loan. (See excerpts from the Times story below.)

Never mind that keeping families in their homes is an important key to stabilizing neighborhoods and perhaps also to the nation’s economic recovery.

You’d think such a provision would be a priority for this government. But the sad story is that the banks and Secretary Geithner didn’t like it and so the Obama administration didn’t push for it, leaving a vacuum that the banks and the Republicans were all too happy to fill. In the void left by Geithner/Obama, the banks had little trouble rounding up a gaggle of Senate Democrats to seal the deal.

Selections from: The New York Times

June 5, 2009

(Ailing, )Banks Still Field Strong Lobby at Capitol

Throughout it all, the banks took advantage of the Obama administration’s seeming ambivalence. Despite its occasional populist rhetoric, the White House was conspicuously absent from weeks of pivotal negotiations this spring.

“This would have been a much different deal if Obama had pressed it,” said Camden R. Fine, head of the Independent Community Bankers of America and one of the chief lobbyists opposing the bankruptcy change. “The fact that Obama effectively sat it out helped us a great deal.

”Surprising Ease

In the end, the banks’ startling success in defeating the provision, which was pushed hardest by Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, caught even their lobbyists by surprise. Not only did they defeat the cramdown provision, but the banks walked away with billions in new bailout money.

Housing advocacy groups argued that it was unfair that bankruptcy judges have had the authority since 1978 to modify mortgages on vacation homes, farms and even luxury yachts, but not on primary residences. They also argued that a string of federal programs to help reduce foreclosures had been ineffective because of resistance by lenders and investors who own pools of loans, all of whom stand to lose money when a mortgage is modified.

Those arguments won the day in the House, which adopted the legislation on March 5 by a 234-191 vote.

In the Senate, where Republicans were looking for a chance to recoup after narrowly failing to block Mr. Obama’s huge stimulus package, the banks argued that the proposal interfered with their contractual rights.

But the real threat was to their profits. The proposal would have shifted negotiating power to the millions of troubled homeowners who could use the threat of bankruptcy to wrest lower monthly payments from lenders. The banks claimed that that would force them to raise rates.

That claim is in dispute. For one thing, the legislation would not have applied to new mortgages….

While Mr. Obama reaffirmed his support for the proposal shortly after becoming president, administration officials barely participated in the negotiations, a factor that lobbyists said significantly strengthened their hand. Lawmakers who have discussed the issue with the administration said that the president’s senior aides had concluded that a searing fight with the industry was simply not worth the cost.

Moreover, Timothy F. Geithner, the Treasury secretary, did not seem to share Mr. Obama’s enthusiasm for the bankruptcy change.

Mr. Geithner was lobbied by the industry early. Two days after he was sworn in, he invited Mr. Fine from the community bankers to his office for a private meeting. The association, with influential members in every Congressional district, is one of Washington’s most powerful trade groups.

A senior adviser to Mr. Geithner said the administration supported the cramdown proposal, but it preferred that distressed homeowners seek to modify their loans through the Treasury’s new $75 billion program, which rewarded banks if they modified home loans, rather than through bankruptcy court.

Mr. Durbin acknowledges that it was a mistake not to call on the administration for help.

“If I would have known how it would unfold, I would have called on the White House earlier to get involved,” he said….

There was no counterweight to that legislative muscle. Bankrupt homeowners do not have a political action committee or lobbyists.

Mr. Fine reports that the political action committees run by his association alone have built a war chest of nearly $2 million, a 40 percent jump over the last year, even though members have had to cut other expenses in the recession.

“The banks get it,” Mr. Fine said. “They understand you need a strong political action committee to get access to the fund-raisers. That’s where the lawmakers are.”

Thursday, April 30, 2009

George Washington's Blog: 911 Confessions and Guilty Parties KSM confesses to crimes he didn't commit


The following blog entry advocates the No Planes Theory (NPT) on 9/11 – a subset of the conspiracy theory that 9/11 was an inside job. For a more mainstream perspective regarding the absence of proof of the guilt of some of the alleged terrorists, see George Washington’s Blog below. (For more information on the NPT, see the links below.) --RB


A recent George Washington's Blog (GWB) entry noticed that the only evidence against reputed high value "terrorists" Abu Zubaida and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the notorious KSM, are allegations by the Bush-Cheney administration.

GWB emphasizes that he’s not arguing that Abu Zubaida and KSM were NOT guilty; he's only saying that no reliable evidence has been presented on the subject.

Unlike, GWB I can confidently say that the aforementioned detainees are not guilty of having any part in the terror events of 9/11 since 9/11 was an inside job, a concoction of the Bush-Cheney White House.

Moreover, there were no, repeat NO Arabs or Muslims involved. There were no hijackings, no hijackers and no plane crashes into buildings or anywhere else on 9/11/01.

No planes explains why there were no jet interceptors airborne until after the attack on the Pentagon –most likely a missile attack. There were no interceptions by jets because there were no hijacked planes to be intercepted.

No planes and no Muslim or other hijackers also explains why the CIA, NSA, FBI and other security agencies have made a point of hiring as few Arab speakers as possible since Arab speakers, if they saw the relevant traffic, could expose who the real terrorists were. The NPT is also consistent with the lack of verifiable plane wreckage or passenger jet body parts from the “crash” sites.

911 as an inside job also explains why the Bush-Cheney White House employed torture. Waterboarding was one way to get false confessions. It’s good to see that some are beginning to raise questions about the guilt of those who were tortured even while the Left consensus appears to agree with the Right that there must be at least a few “bad guys” at Guantanamo.

It has been pointed out that the torture inflicted on detainees makes the normal judicial process difficult or impossible. We can guess that making fair trials impossible was in part the purpose of the torture.

Now that the issue has fallen into the lap of the Obama administration, the White House seems to feel that it is required to set up some extra-judicial, extra- constitutional arrangement for the Bush-Cheney detainees. The latest rumor is that they will be sent to prisons in Afghanistan or Iraq or elsewhere. Obama seems to be bowing to political pressures that take for granted their guilt.

The pity of it goes beyond the detainees and points to the dagger at the heart of the system of justice that supports civil life in the U.S. and in many countries. One could hope that those in favor of justice and due process would consider examining the evidence regarding what really happened on 9/11. Not least because many of those who continue to defend the torturers appear to have no qualms about citing 3,000 dead on 9/11 as the basis for their continued trashing of the rule of law.

Yes, we can hope. But hopes too often founder on the rocks of reality. In his masterful book on Hitler and Stalin (Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives (1991, pp. 476-477) Alan Bullock briefly explores the question of how it was possible for the great majority of Soviet citizens (and many of Stalin's victims) to believe that Stalin, “the Great Helmsman,” was the target of conspiracies against his government, and not the great conspirator himself.

Part of Bullock’s answer is that Stalin’s propaganda campaign was so successful that to believe in Stalin’s guilt would have been to “turn the world upside down in the most alarming way and undermine all sense of security…To think [that Stalin was guilty of unspeakable crimes] would have been to feel the solid ground giving way beneath one’s feet.”

Such considerations tangentially or not remind us that the subtler system of restrictions on permissible political discourse in the West are competitive with Soviet style repression.


April 23, 2009

George Washington's blog wrote:

Self-Confessed 9/11 "Mastermind" Also Falsely Confessed to Crimes He Didn't Commit

As the Washington Post writes of Guantanamo Bay detainee Abu Zubaida:

President George W. Bush had publicly described him as "al-Qaeda's chief of operations," and other top officials called him a "trusted associate" of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and a major figure in the planning of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. None of that was accurate, the new evidence showed.

Okay, maybe they got that one wrong.

But certainly Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's confession that he was the mastermind of 9/11 proves his guilt, right?

Well, as the Telegraph notes today:
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-confessed mastermind of 9/11, was waterboarded 183 times in one month, and “confessed” to murdering the journalist Daniel Pearl, which he did not. There could hardly be more compelling evidence that such techniques are neither swift, nor efficient, nor reliable
If one of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's major confessions (Pearl murder) was false, why should we believe his confession about 9/11?

After all, tough-as-nails Navy Seals usually become hysterical when waterboarded once in training sessions. After 183 waterboarding sessions in a month, I wouldn't be surprised if KSM also confessed to murdering Lincoln and Kennedy.

Note: I am not saying that KSM did or didn't have anything to do with 9/11 (I have no idea). I am saying that nothing that the government said about 9/11 should be accepted without independent verification, and that torture does not constitute independent verification. Indeed, given that the government used techniques which were developed especially for producing false confessions, the assumption must be that any confessions were, in fact, false.

-- George Washington's Blog

Links to information regarding No Planes on 9/11

Gerard Holmgren, "Manufactured Terrorism – The Truth About Sept 11," (2004, revised 2006).;

Morgan Reynolds, "We Have Some Holes in the Plane Stories," (March 2006).

An essay by Ronald Bleier summarizing the Holmgren and Reynolds findings (with a section on the controlled demolition of the Twin Towers) can be found at:

Friday, April 03, 2009

New York Times & Sarkozy: Obama says no to financial reform

Financial System Reform?? + update 4.3.09

French President Sarkozy’s earlier high profile threat to wreck the London G20 financial summit if his demands for tougher financial regulations were not met suggested that he well understood the signals coming from the Obama administration that they were not inclined to promote real reform. Much of the same unease was clear in the NYT editorial which detailed the evasions in Treasury Secretary Geithner’s well hyped but discouraging proposals.

The NYT editorial (3.29.09) “Questions for Reform” pointed out that Geithner’s call for large hedge funds and private equity firms to register with the Security and Exchange commission is a good start, but that under his proposal, the SEC would not really have the full authority necessary to address important concerns. Instead it would be reduced to merely reporting issues up a “convoluted chain of regulatory command.”

Secondly, Geithner’s call for oversight of unregulated derivatives includes a loophole “disguised as a new rule.” Despite the clear demand by the public and the international community for effective hedge fund and derivative regulation Geithner’s proposals suggest that the Obama administration has caved in to the worst offenders who seem to wish to maintain the current discredited system.

There’s more. The Times goes on to criticize what Geithner left unsaid. They fault him for not challenging the concept of firms too big to fail. Instead they find that the Geithner plan unaccountably “assumes that such firms will be a feature of the financial landscape going forward.”

The Times also notes the absence of a call for a thorough investigation of all the moving parts of the current system, without which the proper fix may be elusive and Geithner’s proposals merely a “charade.”

If the Obama administration is not going to take this once in a generation opportunity to promote effective reform on this clear and crucial issue, how can we expect them to protect our interests on much more tangled and controversial issues.

Whatever we might think of the right of center Sarkozy, it seems he has a better line on what is currently necessary than does the Obama administration.


Update 4.3.09

It was embarrassing to read the front page story of the NYT for 4.2.09, “Obama Faces Calls for Rules on Finances.” Instead of enjoying our attractive and well spoken new leader cutting a dashing figure on the world stage, we find the Times forced to confirm that Obama was standing naked for all to see.

Obama’s position seems to be that Europe and the rest of the world – mainly China – should stimulate their economies so they can bail out Obama while he not merely bails out the reprehensibles (some of his major contributors), but, by giving real reform the back of his hand – as we might expect from Cheney – he works to ensure that their time in the sun will continue as long as Obama can create the trillions to do it with.

Further reading.
There’s so much on the economic misdirection from Obama and his economic sidekicks, Geithner and Summers, that it's difficult to keep up -- not to mention, as Paul Krugman, writes, despair making.

One of many notable and important broadsides comes from the Times op ed page, by Nobel laureate Joseph E. Stigliz, “Obama’s Ersatz Capitalism," 4.1.09.

See also the very good website which seems to have article after article detailing the mess. For example:

Mike Whitney, Zombie Economics: Judgment Day for Geithner,” (3.23.09); “Geithner’s Hog Wallow” 3.27-29, 2009)
Dave Lindorff, “Toxic Bailouts” (3.23.09)
Dean Baker, “Billions More for Failed Banks” (3.25.09)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Why the US/NATO is in Afghanistan: A Query inspires an unconventional if not an outlandish response

JJ wonders why we're in Afghanistan

The material below is from It's very interesting analysis, but it leaves me more confused than ever about the fundamental question: What is the American interest in Afghanistan? I had thought it was to pacify the country for the proposed Unocal pipeline. But I see no rational connection between war and getting that result. On the contrary, I'd expect war to ensure the unattainability of such a goal, by getting the Afghans more antagonized and sabotage-minded with each passing day.

Are we really there, then, in search of one man, Osama bin Laden? Or to suppress the Taliban or al Qaeda? I suspect bin Laden is long since dead, and I'd think war would be the perfect recruiting tool for such entities. Are we there to outflank Iran? That hardly fits with what follows. To outflank Pakistan and its nukes? That doesn't seem to make sense either, especially given the history of our involvement.

Perhaps someone can enlighten me as to what we're trying to do.

In the meantime, as I say, what follows is interesting stuff. Note the figures for the comparative costs of maintaining an army in Afghanistan and maintaining one in Iraq

Ronald responds to JJ:
Thanks for asking. I’m afraid my views are unconventional but – like others – I find that the evidence I choose to look at is not inconsistent with my theories.
Yes, quite the right question. What is the American interest in Afghanistan?.
First thing of course is that the Obama administration is following the Bush administration’s policy.
What was that policy? Just as it was in Iraq, to further their permanent war agenda and to cause as much pain and suffering and turmoil and tension and oppression as possible.
I submit that in Iraq it’s very easy to point to indictable evidence: namely the disbanding of the Iraqi army and the firing of virtually all the able bureaucrats –de-bathification.
Have you seen the documentary No End in Sight? (actually I’m blanking on the title. That might be a lucky guess.)
Either those two policies were mistakes or purposeful actions intended to ensure that there would be a pretext – an insurgency and the emergence of al-Qaeda in Iraq -- to keep the war going indefinitely. Take your choice. Alternately you can ask yourself if Cheney is the type to make such mistakes.
Needless to say there’s a mountain more evidence. High on the list are policies to ensure that there would be no reconstruction of the country. Talk about evidence not inconsistent: Have you seen Ragiv Chandrasekaran’s book on the Green Zone?
The same with Afghanistan. Their purpose is to destroy the country. The interesting irony there is that Taliban rule is what they wanted (there and here and everywhere) and they were unhappy to overthrow it. But as we have seen, it was done in such a way as to ensure the return of the Taliban after a few years. Karzai sort of gave the game away in a December ’08 interview to the Washington Post: He asked: How can a little group of ragtag fanatics be causing so much trouble. He was pointing to U.S. aid to the Taliban by means of the Pakistani ISI. Yup, we’re paying billions so that they can kill U.S. soldiers and thousands upon thousands of Afghanis.
We might have hoped that the Obama administration would change policy. I used to joke after Nov 4 and before Jan 20 that we had hope. It’s not such a joke anymore. It’s not the Obama administration. It’s the Rahm Emanuel –Obama administration with the latter the figurehead.
You can see why my views aren’t popular. Most people figure that there’s got to be something ---$$$$ -- in it for the policymakers. But to me it’s a question of evidence. Your astute questions are more evidence.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

William Black (Huffington Post) Geithner (Obama) Continues Bush's corruption

With Bush it was malevolence, with Obama it's apparently stupidity and ignorance. Stupidity for believing that Geithner had some answers even though he contributed to the Bush plan that many could see would only help the most corrupt elements. And ignorance in thinking that listening to such discredited veterans as Lawrence Summers would do any good. It's not too early to see that Obama is way off base and has chosen in too many cases, for reasons which are not entirely clear, people who will contribute to failure in too many critical policies. We hoped for change and we got someone in training wheels. We're wondering now if Hillary could have done any worse. --RB

William K. Black

Associate Professor, University of Missouri; Senior regulator during S&L debacle
February 10, 2009 |
Huffington Post Audacity of Dopes

We are being played for chumps. The Bush and Obama plans could only have been designed by failed bankers -- for their principal beneficiaries are failed bankers. We already know enough to confirm that the Bush administration made us the "fool" in the market by massively overpaying for assets. The Obama administration is about to compound that scandal with a "guarantee" program. The bankers that caused the crisis designed both programs. The senior officers at big bank aren't very good lenders, but they are expert in maximizing their compensation.

Worse, Mr. Geithner, the senior public official who, with former Treasury Secretary Paulson, designed the failed Bush plan is the architect of the disastrous Obama plan. Indeed, as theNew York Times has just revealed, it should be called the Geithner plan. He overcame intense opposition within the Obama administration and designed a plan that is even worse than the failed Bush program. Geithner's gifts to the bankers that caused the crisis include: a unnecessary taxpayer bailout of "risk capital," a massive coverup of their banks' insolvency, gutting the proposed limits on executive compensation, and devising a "guarantee" mechanism designed to hide the expenses of the unprincipled bailouts from the American public. Remember, executive compensation is not "merely" a fairness issue. Executive compensation and the compensation systems used for appraisers, accountants, and rating agencies were designed, and served, to create the perverse incentives and ethical rot that caused the ongoing financial crises by producing a "Gresham's dynamic" in which fraudulent and abusive lending and accounting practices drove good practices out of the marketplace.

Here's the amazing part -- the bankers are so arrogant that they bragged to a sympathetic CNBC commentator they are playing us:

What a delicious irony this is--last week, just as President Obama was publicly bashing the stupidity of the banks ... his economic team [was] privately begging for input from Wall Street. The administration was conducting around-the-clock discussions and interviews with senior Wall Street executives, including many from the same firms he was theoretically appalled with, about how to fix the lingering financial crisis. "

There are proven ways to resolve the crisis that are far cheaper and more effective because they don't subsidize bankers and "risk capital." We know how to resolve failed banks. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) can place even the largest banks in "pass through" receiverships on Friday at the close of business and reopen them as "New Federal" bank Monday morning with minimal disruption to customers and creditors and retain "going concern" value. This is how the Reagan administration resolved failed S&Ls during the debacle.

The FDIC appoints a senior manager to ensure that "New Federal" is run prudently. There is plenty of unemployed banking talent available. Hundreds of good bankers lost their jobs during the financial bubble because they refused to make bad loans. Research has shown that its sister agency, FSLIC, appointed receivership managers that greatly reduced losses during the S&L debacle. Leaving the managers in charge of failed banks that they led into insolvency is suicidal. The new senior leader is picked based on expertise in prudent lending and integrity. If we want failed banks to return promptly to making prudent loans and help lead an economic recovery an S&L style "New Federal" is the best possible device. The existing managers have terrible incentives -- to cover up existing losses and to make bad or even fraudulent loans that produce the greatest (fictional) accounting income and to "live large" through bonuses and perks. (The Obama compensation limits are political cover. The bankers have designed the "guarantee" plan to ensure that the compensation limits will be illusory.)

The FDIC managers have the correct incentives to finally produce an honest evaluation of which assets are toxic and how much they are worth. This transparency is essential if we are to end this crisis. Under the Bush and Obama plans we retain the existing managers that have overwhelming incentives to cover up the losses. The bankers have designed the guarantee plan to encourage banks to continue to cover up their toxic assets and not recognize their losses. These cover-ups make a financial crisis last longer and increase the taxpayers' costs.

The FDIC managers preserve the going concern value by making prudent loans and get the "New Federal" in shape to be acquired. By providing reliable information about the toxic assets the managers reduce acquisition risks, which expands the number of bidders and reduces the financial assistance required to aid the acquisition.

"New Federal" receiverships dramatically reduce cash needs. Most costs are deferred until the New Federals are sold.

Pass through receiverships save the taxpayers money and prevent perverse managerial incentives because they do not subsidize "risk capital" when banks are insolvent. Common and preferred stock and subordinated debt in banks are "risk capital." Their holders are supposed to receive nothing if a bank becomes insolvent, but the Bush and Obama plans reward them. There is no need to do this. Subsidizing risk capital and maintaining the failed managers at insolvent banks creates the worst possible incentives. It will cause future crises. It will delay the recovery from the ongoing crises. It robs the U.S. taxpayers and primarily benefits the wealthy -- many of them non-U.S. citizens. The contract they made was that they would get nothing if the bank failed. It has failed, and they are often complicit in those failures. The bankers have convinced the Bush and Obama administrations that the taxpayers should be looted to bail out risk capital. We should stop listening to the folks that caused the crisis and have interests hostile to our interests. Let's stop them from using us as chumps.

Read more:

William K. Black, Associate Professor of Economics and Law, University of Missouri - Kansas City. He held senior regulatory positions during the S&L debacle and is the author of "The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One" (2005)

Monday, February 02, 2009

AMEU: Joel Kovel on Israel's Immunity despite savagry

Here's AMEU's flyer for the latest issue of their publication, The Link. Every issue is outstanding and all their back issues are available on their website.

This article, by the brilliant Joel Kovel, the author of Overcoming Zionism, will resonate with many. I'll excerpt two sections, the first which gives the most realistic definition of the Lobby that I've seen.

The second is an important description of soft Zionists. It's a good reminder that there are some who see themselves as anti-Zionists, and/or are opposed to Israel's brutality, wanton destruction and lawlessness, but who, nevertheless, are opposed to efforts to transform the Jewish state into a state for all its people. They find ways of denying the reality of the power of the Lobby, often by smearing opponents as anti-Semites. It's as if they don't understand that Zionism, on the road to becoming perhaps the most destructive ISM in history, means a Jewish state. How can you be an anti –Zionist and support a Jewish state? How can you oppose Israeli oppression and support a Jewish state? The structure of Israel as a Jewish state requires its savagery.

I have one minor or not so minor quibble with Kovel. He writes that U.S. support for Israel would collapse if not for the power of the Lobby (as per his definition). I believe it’s more complicated. Part of the power of the Lobby is that it resonates not merely with activists, but with a large majority of the population, the grassroots who, for a variety of reasons, believe that the Jews are good and the Arabs and Muslims are bad. It’s a Lobby-grassroots dynamic that’s mutually sustaining. The Lobby is telling many people what they want to hear.

from Joel Kovel's "Overcoming Immunity"

The suppression mechanism is usually ascribed to an influencing agent, or lobby, either called the “Israel Lobby” or, equivalently, the “Zionist Lobby,” with its apex in AIPAC. Needless to say, a massive and richly funded institutional system of lobbies are a vital part of the process; indeed, one might call them the factories in which the manufacture of the final product is carried out. But the suppression of criticism is not made from whole cloth; there are also components and raw materials to be taken into account. So it is with the lobbies, the raw material for which entails a common belief system that circulates among elites and stems from deeply held assumptions that go back to the origins of our society.

The lobbies as such are therefore powerful enforcers of a much more broadly based system. This develops within what is called civil society, the interconnected set of institutions that comprises the connective tissue of a nation, and includes churches and synagogues, schools, libraries, publishers, and a wide range of community organizations. Among this great mass certain Zionist organs of repression have crystallized in recent years—Campus Watch, CAMERA, the David Project, and so forth—and, in alliance with traditional Zionist groups such as the Anti-Defamation League and the Zionist Organization of America, have acted as focal points of repression. I am sure that they communicate with each other, with AIPAC, and with other major Jewish organizations, as well.

But while there are definitely lobbies among these networks, the overall network is no lobby. It would be better to call it, as sociologist James Petras has, a “Zionist Power Configuration,” or perhaps we could say, a “Zionist Apparatus.” What we call it is not especially important; what matters is that we understand that the loose and decentralized character of the network floats atop an attitudinal sea that supports the basic notions of Zionism, and functions to structure the Israeli cause in the collective mind.

Though a great many repressive acts are initiated by one node of the network or another, a great many others are executed without any particular organizational focus. These fade off, as is the case with most discriminatory campaigns, into gestures and slights, shunnings and glances that never register on the meter as newsworthy. Thus numberless decisions are made by publishers to automatically reject books critical of Israel, at times without even an acknowledgement of receiving the manuscript; or literary agents will decline to represent the work; or if the book finally does get published library committees will decide not to purchase it, or editors of journals will more or less automatically decide not to review it.



from Joel Kovel's "Overcoming Immunity"

The soft Zionist cannot so easily override the moral contradictions that dog the Jewish state. He is therefore obliged to admit criticism. But he cannot allow criticism to reach the stage of calling Zionism itself into question. Therefore soft Zionism calls for “responsible” criticism and remains divided in its soul. This leads to a veritable frenzy of subterfuges, rationalizations and legal pettifogging. The soft Zionist, generally speaking, does not exult in Israel’s power nor allow himself to dream of Jewish restoration. He will console himself, rather, with “realism” and call attention to the complexities and imperfections of this world. He will advance the (quite specious) notion that everyone is entitled to a national state; or ponder the great sufferings of the Jews and their entitlement, therefore, to a country of their own; or congratulate the Jewish state for allowing the Palestinians who live in Israel proper to vote, all the while chiding its improprieties. More generally, he will consider Israel to be a “normal” state; and when its massive impunity and lawlessness is pointed out—for example, that the country has flouted scores of U.N. resolutions, or that it lacks a constitution—he will rejoin that after all, England lacks a constitution, too, or that nobody is perfect, or that the Arabs are much worse. The technique of the soft Zionist, then, is to employ lines of reasoning that enable Palestinians and Jews to be compared on equal ground—for example, how much each side has suffered, or as perpetrators of equivalent violence. Thus the soft Zionist dwells on narratives—individualized lines of reasoning that foster the equivalence of both sides in a complex and imperfect world—rather than on basic structures of justice whose asymmetry reflects the actual history of Zionist conquest.

Soft Zionists are more numerous than hard Zionists and are often successful in academia, the law, and politics. Being conflicted, they can go one way or the other, and thus on occasion will aid the cause of justice. An important example has arisen in context of the debacle of the neocon-driven 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq. This has provoked a reaction from representatives of the so-called “realist” school of foreign policy. In the process, Israel itself has come under open criticism for the first time from within the elites, and this in turn provoked a harsh reaction from hard Zionists....


Kovel continues with a discussion of President Jimmy Carter's book, Palestine -- Peace Not Apartheid.

read more:


Overcoming Impunity, by Joel Kovel
AMEU's Latest Issue of The Link
January 1, 2009
Contents of This E-mail:
-- Overcoming Impunity
-- Lessons Learned
-- Link Author Joel Kovel
-- Rabbi Elmer Berger
-- The USS Liberty Website

This is the first of five scheduled year 2009 "alerts" to inform you of a new issue of The Link.

Overcoming Impunity

Writing in Haaretz on Dec. 29 about Israel's all- out war on Gaza, Israeli historian Tom Segev observed that:

Israel is striking at the Palestinians to "teach them a lesson." That is a basic assumption that has accompanied the Zionist enterprise since its inception: We are the representatives of progress and enlightenment, sophisticated rationality and morality, while the Arabs are a primitive, violent rabble, ignorant children who must be educated and taught wisdom - via, of course, the carrot-and-stick method, just as the drover does with his donkey."

Israel learned long ago that whatever gratuitous violence and collective punishments it might unleash on Palestinians using weapons and cash from American taxpayers, the U.S. Government would remain silent at best, or, as in the current case of Gaza, perform as cheerleaders. Israel, as Dr. Joel Kovel, points out in the current Link operates without restraint under an umbrella of impunity provided by the world's sole superpower.

Lessons Learned

In listing incidents which informed Israel that the U.S. would always be its Great Enabler, Kovel begins with Israel's 1967 attack on the USS Liberty in international waters off the coast of Gaza. Thirty-four seamen were killed and 137 wounded. President Lyndon B. Johnson called off a rescue mission and survivors were ordered to say nothing about the incident. To this day it is the only peacetime attack on a U.S. naval vessel that Congress refuses to investigate.

Impunity was drawn upon once again by Israel just four days ago when its Navy vessels set upon the mercy ship Dignity 90 miles off Gaza in international waters, firing live ammunition around it without warning, ramming it three times, and forcing it to abort the mission of delivering three tons of medical supplies and surgeons to besieged Gazans.

Link Author Joel Kovel

Joel Kovel, a retired medical doctor, is Professor of Social Studies at Bard College in Annandale, N.Y. He describes himself as a "citizen of the United States and a Jew descended from Russian-Ukrainian immigrants," and explains how he came to write about Zionism and Israel:

Although I spent a great portion of my adult life in movements against racism, war, U.S. imperialism, the corruptions of media and mass culture . . . , I remained relatively quiet about Israel itself until the year 2000. This was not for lack of aversion to Israeli policies, nor did I fear the accusation of anti-semitism, the identification of which with criticism of Israel I had always regarded as tedious, albeit pernicious, nonsense. My reticence stemmed, rather, from certain family conflicts. When the individuals concerned in these--chiefly my mother--passed away, my political development in this sphere resumed and, as if to make up for lost time, gathered speed.

Rabbi Elmer Berger

As each new Link is placed on our website, a companion issue is selected from our archive. To complement Dr. Kovel's discussion on Zionism--his book "Overcoming Zionism" is available from AMEU--we have chosen a Link written by Rabbi Elmer Berger, who for 50 years headed up American Jewish Alternatives to Zionism.

During that half century, Rabbi Berger refused to travel to Israel, saying he would do so only when Israel acknowledged its theft of Palestinian lands, allowed refugees who wanted to return to do so, and paid reparations to others for the land and property they had lost. Rabbi Berger died in 1996, never having set foot in Israel.

As a new feature of every Link issue we interview the webmaster of a site we believe deserves attention. Our interview for this issue is with James Ennes, Jr., who discusses the USS Liberty website. Ennes was on the bridge of the Liberty when it was attacked by Israel.

The USS Liberty Website

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