Shocked and Persuaded

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Separating Fact From Fiction

BlackWater Meet BlackRock

It appears that the Obama administration is going to hand over the reigns of their Public Private Investment Program (PPIP) to the money manager BlackRock, which is on the surface awfully similar to handing over the security responsibilities in Iraq and Afghanistan to a private contractor. Wait that did happen and boy has it turned out swimmingly (http://www.thenation.com/doc/20060828/scahill; http://www.thenation.com/doc/20070528/scahill) with the outsourcing approved by the Bush administration and lucrative contracts given to companies like Blackwater, Triple Canopy, and KBR (ie Kellogg Brown and Root a subsidiary of Halliburton). If the actions of Blackwater in Baghdad’s Nisour Square in September of 2007 are any indication of what happens when the government privatizes crucial responsibilities we had better get ready to duck! (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/21/world/middleeast/21blackwater.html?scp=2&sq=Blackwater%20Nisour&st=cse).

Privatization is increasingly the trend with the federal government and it is exactly the remedy for what ales Grover Nordquist & Co. vis á vis describe in their “Starve the Beast” complex (becker_2001_starve-the-beast-article1; bartlett-2007_starve-the-beast1; http://www.nytimes.com/2003/09/14/magazine/the-tax-cut-con.html?scp=1&sq=Tax%20cut%20con&st=cse), which simply states we should gradually or suddenly reduce all taxes, which would force the Federal Government to shrink. This will be the case if the the debt to GDP ratio in the U.S. continues it’s dramatic upward trajectory from 58% at the start of the Bush administration to a historical high of 70% last year. Yeah I know fiscal conservatives will argue that big government = big deficits and that is the downfall of democracies. Well not according to none other than Dicky Cheney who in meeting with the administration’s economic team in 2002 stated “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter,” WAIT Cheney said that? The Dick Cheney? The same Dick Cheney who Mr. Nordquist presumably idolizes? Yep. Yep. And Yep! Turns out he was talking about short-term impact according to William A. Niskanen then of Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisers and now at the Cato Institute (http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A26402-2004Jun8). Of course we should have know that it was short-term, why would any neocon think about the long-term health of anything let alone the federal government? If we privatize our tax dollars via Blackrock-like partnerships as Mr. Geithner’s PPIP is suggesting than we de-insentivize the private companies responsibility. Our indebtedness to China will go up while the folks at Blackrock and PIMCO will get off scot free. Classic heads I win Tails You Lose scenario!

national-debt-gdp-l

The reason why this % increases is not so much a function of government spending as many Adam Smith and Milton Friedman economists would have us believe but rather a result of increasingly smaller tax revenues. Again we are not talking about the regressive idea of increasing payroll taxes (ie poor folks suffering disproportionately) but rather the drastic cuts we have seen in income, inheritance, and capital gains taxes all of which lead Warren Buffett to conclude that his secretary hands over a greater % of her income than he does.

Now what does this all have to do with Blackrock? Well Blackrock just happens to be 47% owned by Bank of America and it seems that The Great Timmy Geithner has figured out a way to give Ken Lewis & Co. the $33.9 billion his bank will need to proceed according to Mr. Geithner oh so stressful “Stress Tests” (http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2009/05/07/business/0507-bank-stress-test.html). He will do this not by directly handing over the capital to BofA but rather letting Blackrock’s oracle Laurence Fink invest it for him seeing as how Geithner and Mr. Fink are quit chummy back to the former’s days as the head of the NY Federal Reserve Bank (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124269131342732625.html).

It is amazing how many people Timmo is friends with or has done favors for I feel like he is to the financial services industry what George Bush was to the Military Industrial Complex and Religious Right. Anyway you might ask well why doesn’t Geithner just give the money to BofA? Well besides the fact that they have already been given $45 billion and are 6% owned by Joe The Taxpayer (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/17/business/17bofa.html?scp=1&sq=Bank%20of%20America%20government%20aid%20total&st=cse) there is a little something called AIG, which really didn’t go well for the Feds.

In bailing out the giant insurer we found out in March that much of the money went towards foreign banks like Société Générale and Deutsche Bank ($12 billion each), Goldman Sachs ($12.9 billion), Merrill Lynch ($6.8 billion), and the aforementioned BofA ($5.2 billion). This incident demonstrated the incestuous nature of the financial services industry, the power of Goldman Sachs, and that these companies operate with incredible degrees of hubris and impunity two characteristics not so coincidentally used to describe Blackwater (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/16/business/16rescue.html?dbk). We’ll see if the general public catches on to the hypocrisy of going in on an investment in toxic assets with a company almost half owned by BofA.

This type of blurring of the lines that should clearly separate the public and private sectors can be traced back to the repeal of the Glass-Steagall (1933) Act via Phil Gramm and Jim Leach’s Gramm-Leach Bliley Act of 1999. More importantly and much earlier the taxpayer was made the prime guarantor of all Savings & Loan (S&L) deposits, while allowing S&Ls to lend more aggresively (ie predatory lending) via the Garn-St. Germain Depository Institutions Act of 1982. These crucial laws had broad bi-partisan support. However, I would imagine if they were given to the public to vote on without the DC double-think and -speak we would have laughed them away outright.

As for Blackwater they were a result of a President and VP who were in bed with the Military Industrial Complex (On Steroids!) and the Oil Companies and why shouldn’t they be they stood to profit greatly upon returning to the private sector where much of their blind-holdings are undoubtedly in the $1.16 trillion industry.

Blackrock will likewise benefit greatly from only putting up 7cents for every dollar of investment, while we will invest 7cents and the FDIC will loan the remaining 85 as non-recourse loans to the banks, meaning if they aren’t happy with the way things are going they can just walk away. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could do that with student loans? This company has $1.3 trillion in assets or 9% of US GDP in 2008. You would think with all these assets and a 47% stake BofA could fund their own damn bailout? Unfortunately if you had such a crazy notion you would be dead wrong.

SO as I think we now know what Rahm Emanuel meant when he said “Never let a serious crisis go to waste!”. It essentially means, in DC parlance, that when a crisis comes down the shoot it is time to convince folks that preemptive war is good, torture is necessary, action without thought is patriotic, and…….. giving money to those that least deserve it is necessary to avoid Armageddon. Oh yeah what about privatization of our military and our tax dollars? Well you’ll thank us later! I think not and I think we have an administration now that is dangerously close to being changed rather than being the agent of change! Bush had his Blackwater scandal and I think if Obama ain’t careful he’ll have an equally if not greater hubbaloo with Blackrock.

Who Forgot To Make The Bed?

The answer is George Bush et al. (that means you as well Ms. Pelosi, Mr. Reid, and the rest of you supine Democrats)! For that President Obama we as a nation wish we had handed you something with a little more pizazz, but we didn’t. In the words of the the NYT’s editorial board “We do not envy President Obama as he tries to undo George W. Bush’s illegal and shameful detainee policy.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/17/opinion/17sun1.html?ref=todayspaper) However, you volunteered Mr. Obama and I don’t think there was anything about this job and it’s myriad obstacles you had not been well versed in. You have the intellect of the last 10 presidents combined, but it appears that it escapes you every time you ponder Pakistan and your policy towards “resolving” the conflict. As press reports have recently discussed 14 terrorists have been killed by predator and reaper drone strikes in Pakistan’s northern tribal regions. If you combined that with Pakistan’s estimate of 700 civilians you get 2% efficiency. Okay I know you would reply that the military’s civilian casuality numbers are much lower. How much lower? A third? Well that still leaves us at 6% efficiency, which by my qualitative assessment would require that we not even use the word efficient when discussing remotely piloted drones in Pakistan. According to Kilcullen and Exum “…every one of these dead noncombatants represents an alienated family, a new desire for revenge, and more recruits for a militant movement that has grown exponentially even as drone strikes have increased.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/17/opinion/17exum.html?ref=todayspaper)

Oh yeah and the fact that the title of an article about your new COO in Afghanistan Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal is “MAN IN THE NEWS; General Steps From Shadow” (http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9E04E2DA113FF930A25756C0A96F9C8B63) really ain’t very assuring or indicative of the change you said was heading towards DC. I wonder is this shadow that McChrystal emerged from like a beacon in the night the same one that former VP Cheney referred to a week after 9/11 with Tim Russert

“We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. We’ve got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we’re going to be successful. That’s the world these folks operate in, and so it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective.” (http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/vicepresident/news-speeches/speeches/vp20010916.html)

Unfortunately by these folks Mr. Cheney meant Gen. McChrystal and his boss Donald Rumsfeld, along with the convenient advice of folks like John Yoo, David Addington, and current Federal District Judge Jay Bybee. This statement by Cheney is often cited as the tacit acknowledgement that torture was going to be used and more importantly was deemed well within our right as a nation under attack. Torture! Well it seems Mr. Obama is placing his eggs in the centrist to right of center basket on this one as well. Why? Well it probably has something to do with the Democrats feeling as though they have to flex their muscle Hulk Hogan style with respect to terror. Obama is dangerously close to having complete ownership of the war in Afghanistan and the quagmire that is Iraq (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/06/opinion/06herbert.html; bybee-torture-memo; bybee_to_rizzo_torture_memo)

Instead of choosing the 4:1 diplomacy:military ratio suggested by the Progressive Caucus the Obama administration is going to continue to rely on the 1:10 ratio employed by the hawkish policy makers in the previous adminstration (http://www.truthout.org/052109A) This will get us nowhere fast and will facilitate the creation of jihadist and anti-American sentiment where there was none. Gen. McChrystal who was the commander of the Pentagon’s Join Special Operations Command (JSOC) an ultra-covert crew of heavies not proned to diplomacy but rather brute force. According to Tom Engelhardt it was Cheney in endorsing the super-general that said “I think you’d be hard put to find anyone better than Stan McChrystal.” The general’s crews use of force clearly bordered on if not blatantly stepped over the line of torture in Baghdad specifically Task Force 6-26 according to Engelhardt (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tom-engelhardt/going-for-broke_b_206438.html).

So anyway Bush didn’t make his bed and for that he will be perpetually tarnished, but you Mr. Obama don’t need to make things worse, because if you do your name will find an equally unflattering fate. Use your superior intellect and immense resources to severe ties with the previous administration. That includes aborting predator and reaper drone attacks and the employment of an Afghanistan COO whose heavy-handed and borderline Geneva violating past will only fuel the insurgency and spawn generations of jihadists. Oh yeah and try giving the people of Afghanistan a viable alternative to poppy rather than simply scolding them for growing one of the only crops that could survive in AfPak.

Israel’s Dick Cheney

Noticed primarily in the middle east extended during Israel’s recent election was the ascent and legitimization of Avigdor Lieberman Israel’s equally bellicose and more blatantly racist answer to Ol’ Dicko. This is a man who unlike his counterpart here in McLean, Virginia has only recently been granted the opportunity to perform on the world stage. Boy has he taken advantage of it. This man’s hawkish nature would make even Rummy and Paul Wolfowitz blush! Thus far he has categorically ruled out returning to ’67 borders in the West Bank (http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2009/05/24-1), proposed a loyalty oath for all with the aim of cleansing Israel of 1.45 million Arabs (http://www.thestar.com/article/639832), and according to a report in The Independent Netanyahu “…has made it perfectly clear there will be no two-state solution; and he has planted a tree on Golan to show the Syrians they will not get it back. And now he’s brought into the cabinet a man who sees even the Arabs of Israel as second-class citizens.”

This man has openly pondered “…drowning Palestinians in the Dead Sea or executing Israeli Palestinians who talked to Hamas.” (http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/fisk/robert-fisk-why-avigdor-lieberman-is-the-worst-thing-that-could-happen-to-the-middle-east-1647370.html) These are just a handful of the acts Lieberman has been associated with and this all comes with the understanding that he has catered to the religous right of Israel as it were, mostly members of the Likud and his former Kach party. However, he is a self-described secularist and like the agnostic-at-best Roves, Rumsfelds, Negropontes he feeds on the unquestioning sheepishness of his devoitly Jewish flock.

This is shameful given his zionist and racist objectives. He very easily conflates Judaism with nationalism, which yields poorly informed and quite maleable constituents similar to those that were shaped in the image of the aforementioned Neocon Order constructed by the now defunct Plan for a New American Century (PNAC) AND reborn Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI). Oh yeah and the latter were the ones that framed the position regardin a “surge” in Afghanistan that the Obama adminstration adopted whole-heartedly (http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2009/03/26-7)! Lieberman is a favorite of AIPAC and we all know how well they are connected as you will recall the first place President Obama stopped after being declared the Democratic nominee and shortly after John McCain was AIPAC’s annual meeting last year (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/05/us/politics/05aipac.html?scp=11&sq=Obama%20AIPAC&st=cse; http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/03/us/politics/02cnd-mccain.html?scp=3&sq=McCain%20June%202008%20AIPAC&st=cse) Mr. Lieberman has cited our treatment of Japan during WWII (ie Nagasaki and Hiroshima) as potential tactics in the war against Hamaz, Hezbollah, and Fatah. This man is a perfect synthesis of Cheney and Rumsfeld’s bluster mixed with the cunning and intellect of Henry Kissinger…pretty dangerous cocktail if you ask me! (hitchens_harpers_kissinger-2001; ) I think as a nation we need to stop consuming ourselves with fear of the next 9/11 or related retribution and start concerning ourselves with the very real and growing trend towards geopolitical replication, both from a policy/strategy and a personality perspective. Lieberman was given clout by spreading fear and intolerance of descent. Both of which were in full-effect under the Bush/Cheney regime. I don’t take much solace in knowing that at this time we have only to turn to the likes of Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Steny Hoyer. It is time for President Obama to stand up to intra- and inter-nation bullying, fear mongering, and use of religion for what can only be described as nefarious motives. Avigdor Lieberman is not a cause but he sure is a symptom and the only tool to fight the spread of his disease is education and compassion. The Israel of Lieberman/Netanyahu tolerates dissent about as well as the Republican party of Michael Steele, Rush Limbaugh, Pat Toomey, and Shaun Hannity as is evidence from the latter’s as of yet refusal to form a coalition with the more centrist Kadima party and it’s leader Tzipi Livni (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/feb/11/israeli-elections-2009-israelandthepalestinians2). This again is the blind and more importantly arrogant pursuance of hegemony – whether it be local in the case of Israel or global in the case of the Bush administration – with no concern for > 10-20yr ramifications. The most violent and scary byproducts of such policies will not be retaliation but rather replication. Monkey see monkey do!

Thank You Senator Grassley!

While we spend so much time focusing on the negative in DC it is worth noting that Senatory Chuck Grassley of Iowa (R) has been spending the past couple of years engaging in a singularly noble effort to open the curtain and reveal the machinations of the medical-, religous-, and academic-industrial complex. While folks may not agree with the senator on other issues the list of achievements below is a credit to his independent nature and ability in the face of mounting pressure from neocons to acknowledge what makes sense and what is just.

For that Senator Grassley deserves recognition and is a prime example of why the Republican party sans moderates will most definetely implode. I know this is not the belief of Rush, Chairman Steele and up & comer Pat Toomey (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/t/pat_toomey/index.html?inline=nyt-per; http://www.commondreams.org/views03/1203-06.htm), but it is the belief of folks like Lindsay Graham an otherwise pretty conservative chap from South Carolina who stated upon hearing of Arlen Specter’s defection “If we pursue a party that has no place for someone who agrees with me 70 percent of the time, that is based on an ideological purity test rather than a coalition test, then we are going to keep losing.” Senator Graham went on to say “Do you really believe that we lost 18-to-34-year-olds by 19 percent, or we lost Hispanic voters, because we are not conservative enough? No. This is a ridiculous line of thought. The truth is we lost young people because our Republican brand is tainted.” Senator Grassley has not let his core values color his belief that the job of congress is primarily one of making and enforcing laws that protect us against the whims and deviant philosophies of those that can’t resist praying on fears and misguided perceptions. Here are seven examples:

1. He has busted open the case of Wyeth and it’s hiring of DesignWrite to publish journal articles that painted Prempro, a hormone replacement therapy, in a favorable light (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/13/business/13wyeth.html?scp=1&sq=Wyeth%E2%80%99s%20Use%20of%20Medical%20Ghostwriters%20Questioned&st=cse). These publications have zero authenticity or credibility and Senator Grassley simply discussing them in DC has brought significant, albeit undesired, attention to a practice of ghostwriting that has come to pervade the now opaque boundary between research and industry with respect to drugs and device makers here in the US. The article in The Times cited past ghostwriting disasters like Merck’s painkiller Vioxx and Wyeth’s diet pills Redux (Ironic!) and Pondimin. In responding to evidence that she was herself a ghostwriter Dr. Lila E. Nachtigall the director of NYU’s Women’s Wellness Center said “It kind of makes me laugh that with what goes on in the Senate, the senator’s worried that something’s ghostwritten. I mean, give me a break.” HOW BOUT you give us a break Dr. Nightingale and realize that if you did do what the evidence suggests you did than that is a crime and you definetely don’t deserve to associate yourself with a Women’s Wellness Center. Oh yeah and what is more important than medical transparency? Exactly!

2. Most recently the senior Senator from Iowa has announced an investigation of Dr. Timothy R. Kuklo (the Dr. used loosely here!) who falsified a study on a bone-growth product called Infuse, made by Medtronic, in studies of war vets at Walter Reed that “…had suffered sever lower leg injuries in Iraq.” Additionally, this fantastic character forged the the names of four co-authors, with the publishing journal retracting the paper in question immediately. Kuklo is now teaching at Washington University in St. Louis. When asked about the issue Col. Norvell V, Coots the head of the Walter Reed Health Care System stated “My guess is we will probably find something more here,” I would hope so and I think with Senator’s Grassley’ propensity to push such issues we will see results and open repudiation in the medical field (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/19/business/19surgeon.html?scp=1&sq=Senator%20Seeks%20Data%20on%20Doctor%20Accused%20by%20Army%20of%20Falsifying%20a%20Product%20Study&st=cse; http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/13/business/13surgeon.html?scp=1&sq=Doctor%20Falsified%20Study%20on%20Injured%20G.I.%E2%80%99s,%20Army%20Says%20&st=cse).

3. He was indirectly instrumental in convincing the Cleveland Clinic to fully disclose it’s doctors’ and researchers’ ties to drug and device makers a huge step for one of the leading medicial institutions in the US if not worldwide.

4. overly prescribed antipsychotic drugs such as risperidon to children, while simultaneously taking money from the companies that make such medications (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/20/us/20psych.html?scp=1&sq=Drug%20Maker%20Told%20Studies%20Would%20Aid%20It,%20Papers%20Say%20&st=cse; http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/28/health/policy/28subpoena.html?scp=1&sq=3%20Researchers%20at%20Harvard%20Are%20Named%20in%20Subpoena&st=cse). The researcher in question Dr. Joseph Biederman (again the Dr. used loosely) presented a Powerpoint slide to the makers of an antipsychotic drug that stated trials “…will support the safety and effectiveness of risperidone in this this age group.

5. Additionally, Mr. Grassley has recently aligned himself with the ever so slightly left of center congressman from Vermont Peter Welch to crack down on the unsustainable and irresponsible increases in college tuitions nationwide, with mixed results as of yet, but shining the light on university presidents has revealed the underbelly of the beast that is education for profit and it ain’t very pretty (trends-in-college-pricing-20081; trends-in-student-aid-20081). In pressing college presidents to release what they actually do with their tax-free endowments Senator Grassley cited a report stating that “…universities earned an average return of 17.2 percent on their assets but spent only 4.6 percent.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/09/education/09college.html?scp=1&sq=Grassley%20Welch&st=cse)

6. The good Senator has most likely risked within party political capital by seizing on the predatory tendencies of certain ministry that rely on what is referred to as “prosperity gospel”, which “…assures followers that the more they give, including in the form of tithes to the church, the more they will receive from God. Some prosperity gospel preachers live lavishly, as proof of the abundance God can bring.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/24/us/24church.html?scp=1&sq=Senator%20Awaiting%20Records%20of%20Ministries%E2%80%99%20Finances&st=cse) These “Houses of God” turn around and continue to flout their tax exempt status even though what they are preaching and asking of their flock is by no means Holy and could be easily interpreted as criminal.

7. Defending utility of whistle-blowers in the face of intense pressure from within his own party. Senators Grassley and Leahy (D) of Vermont recently came to the defense of Sibel Edmonds and former FBI translator who called out systemic failures in the Bureau related to “…sale of nuclear secrets, shielding of terrorist suspects, illegal arms transfers, narcotics trafficking, money laundering, espionage. She may be a first-rate fabulist, but Ms. Edmonds’ account is full of dates, places and names.” (http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/opinion/points/stories/DN-sibeledmonds_17edi.ART.State.Edition1.45b446a.html) Ms. Edmonds was instead of being heralded for attempting to open dialogue immediately marginalized by then Attorny General John Ashcroft (http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9905E4D61438F936A25752C0A9639C8B63).

Torture is Torture is Torture!

“Punching, flogging, assault and bodily attacks, hitting with the hand, kicking, ear pulling, hair pulling, head shaving, beating on the soles of the feet, burning, scalding, stabbing, severe beatings with or without clothes, being made to kneel and stand in fixed positions for lengthy periods, made to sleep outside overnight, being forced into cold or excessively hot baths and showers, hosed down with cold water before being beaten, beaten while hanging from hooks on the wall, being set upon by dogs, being restrained in order to be beaten, physical assaults by more than one person, and having objects thrown at them.”

This is not an accounting of happenings at Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib or Bagram or Laos. No this is from a report issued about the treatment of boys and girls in Irish Catholic church-run residential schools from the 1930s to 1990s (http://www.childabusecommission.com/rpt/). Release of the report was delayed by an apparent beacon of integrity the Christian Brothers, who objected to having the abusers’ names included. If you want to do this kind of thing to children you need to be prepared to face the backlash. Oh yeah and if you engage in such practices in the name of Homeland Security or the War on Terror you also need to face the consequences. What is even more amazing is that the Vatican has no response? No response, but yet this same Vatican has the time to reinstate Bishop Richard Williamson a noted Holocaust denier (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/25/world/europe/25pope.html?scp=1&sq=Bishop%20Richard%20Williamson&st=cse). This is the same institution that in releasing their bioethical assessment restated their belief that every human life is sacred even embryos (http://www.usccb.org/comm/Dignitaspersonae/Dignitas_Personae.pdf). Well what about chidren that were essentially conscripted because their parents couldn’t afford them, had committed adultery, or were birthed out of wedlock. Instead of focusing on the product the Vatican needs to focus on the process underyling the results. They could stand to spend less time insighting fire and more time putting it out! The Vatican could at this point separate themselves from other religions by getting out in front of such a controversy rather than sheepishly making excuses or belated apologies. My suggestion is that the Vatican could go a long way towards making right by these children by denouncing all forms of torture, whether it be of Irish schoolchildren or supposed terrorists at Guantanamo Bay prison. There has been far too much blood shed in the name of religions and it is about time all the worlds major religions shed their supine image as it really is not very becoming.

Top 6 Signs the Banks “Own the Place”

1. The banks, hedge funds, and equity firms invested in Chrysler nearly got 65 cents on the dollar for their stakes in the car company, when the same government that bailed them and their collegues out was only offering 15-22 cents ouf our money. They backed away from this claim only after President Obama called them nasty names (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/23/business/23chrysler.html?scp=1&sq=Treasury%20Said%20to%20Raise%20Offer%20to%20Chrysler%20Lenders&st=cse).

2. They lobbied as hard as they could to successfully remove the mortgage cram down provision from the most recent credit bill. This provision would have given judges the power to make them settle with the defaulting home owner, allowing both creditor and debtor some relief. However, as Senator Durbin these folks “…are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place.” (http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/05082009/watch.html)

3. Public Private Investment Program (PPIP) addressing “Toxic Assets”, which would allow banks, hedge funds, and equities to invest 7 cents on the dollar, matched by 7 cents from the taxpayer, with the remaining 85 cents coming from non-recourse loans via the FDIC. Okay these loans essentially mean that if the investments, which start off as toxic get even more toxic…Well the investors could walk away from the loan with No Recourse. Not bad!

4. Lessening by a Democrat dominated congress the Mark To Market accounting rules put in place by these same financial titans. This would allow them to put an essentially arbitrary price on their “Toxic Assets”, because to paraphrase Tim Geithner the Lapdog (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/27/business/27geithner.html?scp=5&sq=Gretchen%20Morgenson%20Geithner&st=cse) what we have is a confidence problem AND NOT a liquidity problem.

5. A Shadow Money Stock amounting to $9-9.5 trillion, while the actual stock is around $6 trillion. This fictional money is  what the financial services industry creates to finance a boom (http://demandside.podbean.com/; http://zerohedge.blogspot.com/2009/05/chasing-shadow-of-money.html).

6. Getting 0.25% interest from the Federal Reserve, taking in money from US the taxpayer at 2% and lending out at 5-6.5%. (http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2009/05/20-3) You do the math you won’t like the results.

Don’t Hate the Player Hate the Game!

This past winter/spring many were overcome with a sense of fear centered on the peanut and pistachio industries and products derived from these 2 nuts. However, lost in the debate was the fact that most of the problem lay at the feet of big processors such as ConAgra, Nestlé, or the Blackstone Group. In a recent article in The Times Michael Moss (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/15/business/15ingredients.html?scp=1&sq=Food%20Companies%20Are%20Placing%20the%20Onus%20for%20Safety%20on%20Consumers&st=cse) noted:

“…corporations that supply Americans with processed foods are unable to guarantee the safety of their ingredients… Other companies do not even know who is supplying their ingredients, let alone if those suppliers are screening the items for microbes and other potential dangers, interviews and documents show. Yet the supply chain for ingredients in processed foods…is becoming more complex and global as the drive to keep food costs down intensifies.”

All the while communities reliant on pistachio production in California and the peanut producing capital of the US Blakely, GA are being hit as hard if not harder than Detroit and Flint, MI. It absolutely appropriate to be concerned about food safety, but I would just suggest we not act hastily in breaking our peanut butter habits, without contemplating the trickle-down cascade this type of pullback has on many economies may be devastating and more importantly may be permanent. The profit margin for the folks in Blakely is quite small, with many already out of business and small operations not seeing much light at the end of the tunnel.

co2-emissions-of-meat

Given that the FAO is predicting we will have to double global food production by 2050 misplaced bullying of the world’s farmers does no one any good (http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2009/01/26-8).

meat-production

These are real people with real families and real worries. When they take their commodity to processors they assume (somewhat naively) that the latter will safely and efficiently get the finished product to market. However, the constant lengthening of the food-chain is allowing for infiltration by some who feel an allegiance to a board or stockholders. So, for example farmers in California have turned to regulating themselves, because the FDA has continuously failed to perform their responsibility (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/17/business/17leafy.html?scp=1&sq=To%20Fill%20Food%20Safety%20Gap,%20Processors%20Pay%20Inspectors&st=cse). As I said California farmers are relying on self-regulation out of desperation…Need I say more?

The point is that we need to accurately identify the culprit(s) responsible for recent agricultural scares and shine a light on their practices and obfuscation of the data. I would imagine based on recent accounts that light will shine not on the rows of corn, peanuts, soybeans, etc. in this country and around the world, rather it will be the multi-nationals whose short-term fiduciary responsibilities have put the jobs and lives of small-town America (You know real America!) at risk of extinction. Who will feed us then? Monsanto? Sweet! Supporting local agriculture is not just about warm & fuzzies it is about safety. Small-farmers have a greater love of what they do, tend to use less chemicals and hormones, greater sense of purpose, and strong affinity for their communities. I would imagine they also take more seriously what they feed their kids and themelves. Data is scant and an undestanding of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) would probably lend some insight into how the latest swine flu mushroomed (http://www.chelseagreen.com/content/will-allen-we-need-food-and-farming-regulation-now/). Treating animals this way will eventually cost us dearly just as treating our farmers as if they actually wanted to make us sick!

Cheers to you Mr. Fine!

I think it is about time we salute the beacon of light that is Glenn Fine the Justice Department’s pugnacious Inspector General. You see folks while we were all looking forward to January 19th, 2009 he was working diligently to bring some semblance of respect back to the department that risks losing its title. Mr. Fine has gained bi-partisan support from Arlen Specter and Patrick Leahy for staying above the morally corrupt fray in the DOJ. When the entire department looked like it lacked even a modicum of scruples Mr. Fine reminded us that some were worried about their reputation and alas upholding the law. This man’s pragmatic and methodical internal investigation, while not really uncovering anything salacious, did buttress claims from those in the know at the ACLU and elsewhere and those who smelled a rat without actually seeing one like yours truly. We can only hope that Eric Holder need not be raked over the IG’s coals like Alberto and Mr. Mukasey. However, after this brief congratulatory note it is worth asking the question of the aforementioned members of the judiciary committee: If you have such high praise for Mr. Fine and virtually jumped up and hugged Mr. Holder when he agreed that waterboarding is torture why sirs did you do nothing about it? You’ll get reactions from both and others on the committee that they did in fact work tirelessly to quell the heinously biased activities of Alberto & Co, however, I would contend the filibuster option with respect to Mukasey was available and you chose against it. Why because former Senator Bill Frist said that if you employed it the Republicans would change the law? You know what we should have seen who blinked first on that one gentleman. The filibuster is one bedrock tools of our democracy and when most assured that you were right you coward in the face of Rove’s spin machine, which would have immediately labeled you as unpatriotic. So, you left it up to Mr. Fine’s diligence and lucky for us he had a spine and was not willing to sacrifice his integrity for secrecy and illegal dealings of his colleagues. I hope that when something like this comes up again those in the senate will do the same, because if we can’t depend on them then the next stop is an imperial presidency. Oh yeah that worked real well!

25 Minutes of Your Day?

Upon returning from St. Paul last fall to protest the war, trampling of our civil liberties, and continued mistreatment of the planet I was disappointed to hear the trivial nature of what concerns our community. We have fallen prey to those whose goal it is to distract us with sensationalism and misdirection. The substantive backbone of our skeleton is crumbling exponentially. This is to say that “We do a lot of churning here, but don’t produce a lot of butter.” When telling people in Burlington we were going to the RNC, many of them exclaimed “Good for you!” or “Wow I wish I could do that!” Are you kidding me? Traveling to such events is the equivalent of paying attention to politics once every four years (Ring a bell?). Marches on St. Paul or DC or the WTO are not the events/actions that make change. Rather it is the incremental, methodical, unemotional, fact-based bombardment of public officials that makes change. Acute events are sensationalized and more often than not misinterpreted by the media, while chronic questioning and discourse change the argument’s trajectory. Most of the bravado and academic dialogue takes place in front of or within the sociopolitical “choir” as it were. What happened to sending letters, calling, emailing your policy makers here in Burlington and in DC? This brings me to the title of this piece and my assertion that this region’s citizens spend 25 minutes each day pursuing their activist side. It seems that many of us spend far more time then this advocating for the Moran Plant resolution in March and the idea that we should convert it to an ice-climbing wall (A What?). I was left scratching my head that in the tight economic times we are in, all that this city needs specifically in the north end (Old Not New mind you!), and what the influence of such a retrofit would be to our CO2 footprint…Why? This town and state needs the same type of zeal relative to things like mandatory composting, bottled water bans, conversion of city fleets to vegetable oil, engaging the agronomic sector, home-fueling, etc…..Not fulfilling the fantasies of a couple of die-hard ice climbers. Pragmatic and considerate of the entire community this idea was not.
25 minutes is not much! It is the amount of time we spend surfing ridiculous websites or gabbing about the latest gossip in this and other publications. The former could include the aforementioned elected official contacts or otherwise abhorrent or mundane acts such as not walking by plastic and cans but rather picking them up and placing them in recycling bins, or simply paying attention! I also happen to know that with just a couple minutes a day set aside for investigation of issues and policy we would influence both, as it stands now we are wallowing in the reputation established a long time ago. Never let regional pride haze objectivity and discourse! It is time that we stop viewing geopolitical and environmental concerns as a buzz kill, stop patting each other on the back for tokenism or even a modicum of interest in the machine that is the US government, and start holding officials from the bottom on up accountable for their actions…..CONSTANTLY! Apathy is not becoming of our elected officials and is even less so on us the electorate. 25 Minutes a day would keep the apathy away and allow us all to sleep better at night sans alcohol or pharmaceuticals! If all this didn’t scare you into action I would just note in conclusion that those opposed to abortion, evolution in classrooms, civil liberties, GLBT rights, etc. spend 2 or 3 times this on their opposition and getting policy shaped to their liking. We’re not where we are right now because the right is more powerful, we’re where we are because they truly care about the path, albeit misguided, that this country is on. Don’t blame them folks!

Win or Lose Less?

Ever since former long-time US intelligence officer and more recently UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter visited us here in Burlington, Vermont for a lecture at the UU Church and later at St. Michael’s college his words have haunted me “This country isn’t against the war in Iraq because their against war or even one in Iraq. Their against it because we’re losing and Americans hate losing!” This coming from a man who while raucous and sometimes over the top is pragmatic and knows of what he speaks. I was left to wonder what does winning really mean? I guess it is easily quantifiable with respect to sports, but beyond that isn’t it really just a qualitative and highly biased measure of success? I mean ask the folks of Tijuana if Felipe Calderón’s war on drugs is working? How bout the war on AIDS? Are these winnable ventures or simply rallying cries geared at coalescing folks around an elusive goal? Many would argue that the War on Terror is winnable. Is that right? How? By pounding into submission fundamentalists? Or wait I know why don’t we just integrate them like the Canadian and US government did with native Americans and the Australians with aborigines? Yeah that’s it just wash them of their profligate ways imposing our culture so forcefully that they suffocate with consumptive glee. Or in the words of Henry Kissinger with Charlie Rose (December 16, 2008)
I know the view that you start by converting the whole world to our political philosophy. I don’t think that can be done in one or two terms of an administration. That’s a historic process…
OR Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee on December 12, 2008 during the debate about what to do with the “Big Three” in Detroit “Crisis is when goods things happen. You know when you can make people do things.
I would note these people we are trying to cleanse see all the angles and aren’t having it. Their convictions run to their marrow and beyond. If that wasn’t the case Alexander the Great or the Russians before us would have conquered the tribal regions of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and all the other “Stans”. They didn’t and we won’t because our definitions of winning couldn’t be more disparate from theirs. We’re impatient their not. Our convictions are fiscal and hegemonic in nature theirs are nationalistic. We paint broad regional character brushes, while prior to the war in Afghanistan and the occupation of Iraq, they were able to separate government from people. Unfortunately by most accounts the latter is no longer true, which is in large part due to the crimes of Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and Bagram Air Base.
Getting back to what it means to win a war. Are all the lives lost in the respective pursuit of eliminating cocaine and marijuana trade with Columbia and Mexico worth the countless lives lost? These on top of the lives lost in this country from addiction, which if given the money these wars were allotted would be a lot further along today.
It comes down to the simple fact that sans the Super Bowl or World Cup winning is not real it is not something that ever really happens, rather it is perception framed by the media or government or both working in concert so as to not worsen morale. When the latter happens and it has happened quite often recently this country is a dangerous place, a place where answers are hard to come, where secrets, redacted transcripts, and decisions by a few that affect the masses are commonplace. This was the case in the days of the robber barons and their overwhelming influence on Washington, specifically the Rockefellers, Carnegies, Vanderbilts, etc. Wait that doesn’t happen anymore does it? What would you call Exxon, Dow, Pfizer, General Electric? We are moving beyond those days because consolidation of wealth is at an all time high and this phrase we all have come to know and love “Too big to fail” threatens the fabric of this democracy, while phrases such as “Too big to exist” are shrugged off as socialist jargon, even though plenty of very centrist economists espouse the latter including former chief IMF economist (http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200905/imf-advice). What about “Too Important to fail”? If we forget about the importance of the 3rd estate, K-12 education (and beyond!), and our civil liberties for the sake of “Homeland Security” what are we?