Thursday, March 27, 2008

WALL ST JOURNAL, page ONE: unregulated capitalism has failed

This was on page one. Isn't this the equivalent of the Chamber of Commerce running up a white flag?

David Wessel

Officials Improvised
To Rescue Markets;
Will It Be Enough?

March 27, 2008; Page A1

The past 10 days will be remembered as the time the U.S. government discarded a half-century of rules to save American financial capitalism from collapse.

On the Richter scale of government activism, the government's recent actions don't (yet) register at FDR levels. They are shrouded in technicalities and buried in a pile of new acronyms.

But something big just happened. It happened without an explicit vote by Congress. And, though the Treasury hasn't cut any checks for housing or Wall Street rescues, billions of dollars of taxpayer money were put at risk. A Republican administration, not eager to be viewed as the second coming of the Hoover administration, showed it no longer believes the market can sort out the mess.

"The Government of Last Resort is working with the Lender of Last Resort to shore up the housing and credit markets to avoid Great Depression II," economist Ed Yardeni wrote to clients.


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Unasked Questions on Iraq War 5 years later

I did not supported Ron Paul's bid for the presidency, but when he was referred to as an Iraq War critic, I looked up what he said about the war before it started. He asked the following questions five months before the war started at the peak of the war propaganda. To my knowledge, neither Hillary or Obama have been as direct in their criticism of the war.

Most of what Paul asks required no particular special or classified knowledge to think up, simply a memory of the recent Cold War, history, and other current events:

1. Is it not true that the reason we did not bomb the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War was because we knew they could retaliate?

2. Is it not also true that we are willing to bomb Iraq now because we know it cannot retaliate- which just confirms that there is no real threat?

Everyone in Congress was old enough to know exactly what he was talking about. We have enough nukes to end the world five times over. If that was enough to stay the hand of a country that had as many or more, why would a little country use one or a few on us knowing we would survive but they would be burned off the map?

5. Is it not true that the intelligence community has been unable to develop a case tying Iraq to global terrorism at all, much less the attacks on the United States last year? Does anyone remember that 15 of the 19 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia and that none came from Iraq?
Even the mainstream media got this right for a while--until Karl Rove faxed their new talking points to them.

By the time the Joint Congressional Inquiry into 9/11 found that Saudi intel funded and directed some of the hijackers, they were glad to pass over the story as quickly as possible, and forget it once Bush assured them that the Saudis were valued allies and we needed to bomb someone else.

8. Is it not true that northern Iraq, where the administration claimed al-Qaeda were hiding out, is in the control of our "allies," the Kurds?

9. Is it not true that the vast majority of al-Qaeda leaders who escaped appear to have safely made their way to Pakistan, another of our so-called allies?

13. How can Hussein be compared to Hitler when he has no navy or air force, and now has an army 1/5 the size of twelve years ago, which even then proved totally inept at defending the country?
Anyone who watched CNN during the first Gulf War would know we beat Saddam the first time in a matter of days, and they might know that we destroyed 80% of his military and that we controlled his airspace when the current war started. Do you have to be a military expert to figure out Saddam wouldn't have had much offensive capability?
23. How can our declared goal of bringing democracy to Iraq be believable when we prop up dictators throughout the Middle East and support military tyrants like Musharaf in Pakistan, who overthrew a democratically-elected president?

27. Why do the oil company executives strongly support this war if oil is not the real reason we plan to take over Iraq?

28. Why is it that those who never wore a uniform and are confident that they won’t have to personally fight this war are more anxious for this war than our generals?

Rep. Ron Paul's speech on floor of Congress, September 10, 2002

More frustrating for me that than trying to get Fox News fans to think about these questions was seeing the mainstream media NOT ask them again and again despite direct access to Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Powell.

I remember yelling questions like these at the screen when they were having asinine discussions about whether Arabs and Muslims were evolved enough to have democracy as if they were apes who just descended from the trees instead of people who did have some democracy until we snuffed them out at the request of oil companies and related geopolitical strategery.

Even today, the closest the Bush administration, the media, and even most Democrats get to telling the truth about the war is saying, "We need that oil!" or more often, we have to protect "our strategic interests in the region.


Our economy runs on oil, and we need it. But if this war was just about getting oil to gas up your Camry, why would Bush be forcing an oil law on the Iraqis that gives 88% of the new oil income to big oil companies and that even the Bush approved Iraqi parliament won't pass? Wouldn't it make more sense to let the Iraqis have whatever kind of oil law they want and strong arm our oil companies to take the terms so the Iraqis will be happy and we'll get the oil without further violence?

Since we are not doing that, isn't it obvious that the war is to give the profits from Iraq's oil to big oil companies and not keep the lid on the price for the rest of us?

Why should trillions of our tax dollars be used to enrich so few?

What will oil companies give us back?

If the United States had just one thing of value, one source of income, and another nation was trying to steal it, wouldn't we fight back?

It is to our undying shame as a democracy that all of our elected representatives in Congress aren't talking about the Iraq War in these terms, but instead lie to us again and again with talk of fighting terrorism, spreading democracy, and regional stability, when all of those things take a backseat to corporate profits.

We are not a real democracy when the real decisions are made behind closed doors, and we only get to choose who will lie to us about those decisions, someone who will comfort us or someone who will scare us.


Sunday, March 23, 2008

Sam Harris vs. Obama & Harriet Beecher Stowe on slavery

Sam Harris, an atheist who has written several excellent books on atheism and destructive power of religion, has written one of the few legitimate criticisms of Obama's historic race speech, saying Obama could NOT walk away from his church because it would call his Christianity into question, a guaranteed lethal political wound that would make the effects of Wright's comments look like a stubbed toe. The sad part was Harris' accurate closing statement:
But Obama’s candidacy is also depressing, for it demonstrates that even a person of the greatest candor and eloquence must still claim to believe the unbelievable in order to have a political career in this country. We may be ready for the audacity of hope. Will we ever be ready for the audacity of reason?

Sam Harris is dead on as usual with one exception: he treats religion as a cause rather than effect or tool of an even deeper cause, greed.
He mentioned Southerners giving their lives for slavery because their churches told them to:
The Confederate soldiers who eagerly laid down their lives at three times the rate of Union men, for the pleasure of keeping blacks in bondage and using them as farm equipment, did so with the conscious understanding that they were doing the Lord’s work.

But he has it backwards. The churches were telling them what they wanted to hear, that their sociopathic behavior that made them a lot of money was morally acceptable.
Harriet Beecher Stowe put these words in the mouth of a guilt-ridden slave owner in chapter 16 of Uncle Tom's Cabin:
"suppose that something should bring down the price of cotton once and forever, and make the whole slave property a drug in the market, don't you think we should soon have another version of the Scripture doctrine? What a flood of light would pour into the church, all at once, and how immediately it would be discovered that everything in the Bible and reason went the other way!"
I sometimes wonder if this isn't exactly what happened. Slaves were replaced by sharecroppers who instead of getting a subsistence living from their masters ended up owing them money, and today, we have illegal immigrants who rather than being fed and clothed year round as slaves were can be dismissed to starve on their own dime after the harvest or even removed by a call to la migra (now ICE).

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obama's Race Speech & Moments of Seeing the Other as Part of Us

Obama gave a speech on race today that is only partly about the flap over his pastor. The rest is about what his presidency could represent for all of us in terms of race and our history.

One thing he does here that is especially impressive is showing the parallel between white and black anger about race and how it misses the real cause of economic hardship, our corporation and wealthy first politics.

I only found one paragraph a bit off, but the rest represents the best of what most of us want America to be.

We have had so much stoking of fear and hatred in our society that when moments come when former enemies or those we thought of as other are recognized as us, it is truly a surprise but recognized as one of the most transcendent moments in life. They don't even give us the words for these moments that are equal to their significance, so the few we have sound like empty Hallmark platitudes.

I have felt this a couple of times.

One was the fall of the Berlin Wall and when the Russians stormed the White Palace after Soviet hardliners tried to undo Gorbachev's reforms. Suddenly instead of being the people who could kill us in a split second, they were us, people struggling for democracy and a better life.

I felt the same way when I watched the lack of action to help Hurricane Katrina victims. Those people in the squalid Superdome, scrambling on their roofs to escape the water, or floating face down dead were not poor, black refugees; they were us.

Past generations must have felt this when we had our first Catholic president or after the Holocaust when what was done to the Jews was so horrific that their otherness went up the smokestacks of the crematoriums.

Ironically, though the media and our politicians try to stoke that fear to the point of violence that those who commit it try the rest of their lives to forget even as it haunts their dreams and tears their families apart, when these moments of feeling a part of others passes, we wonder where it went and when it will come again.

This is what the Obama moment represents to a lot of us. The rift between black and white people in America has lasted longer than the "War on Terror," the Cold War, and the existence of the United States as a country. I suppose it is only natural a self-inflicted wound so great can only be closed stages: freeing the slaves in the 1860s, guaranteeing the rights of citizenship in the 1960s, and perhaps now seeing an African American as our best hope for a leader after the most divisive and destructive president in our history.

Whatever quality of president he would be, it will be a little harder for the next merchant of fear and death to divide us after him.

Barack Obama on Race

March 18, 2008

Two hundred and twenty one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America’s improbable experiment in democracy. Farmers and scholars; statesmen and patriots who had traveled across an ocean to escape tyranny and persecution finally made real their declaration of independence at a Philadelphia convention that lasted through the spring of 1787.

The document they produced was eventually signed but ultimately unfinished. It was stained by this nation’s original sin of slavery, a question that divided the colonies and brought the convention to a stalemate until the founders chose to allow the slave trade to continue for at least twenty more years, and to leave any final resolution to future generations.

Of course, the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution – a Constitution that had at is very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time.

And yet words on a parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights and obligations as citizens of the United States. What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part – through protests and struggle, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience and always at great risk - to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time.

This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this campaign – to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America. I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together – unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction – towards a better future for of children and our grandchildren.

This belief comes from my unyielding faith in the decency and generosity of the American people. But it also comes from my own American story.

I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton’s Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I’ve gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world’s poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners – an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.

But for all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream, there were many who didn’t make it – those who were ultimately defeated, in one way or another, by discrimination. That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations – those young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future. Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race, and racism, continue to define their worldview in fundamental ways. For the men and women of Reverend Wright’s generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years. That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co-workers or white friends. But it does find voice in the barbershop or around the kitchen table. At times, that anger is exploited by politicians, to gin up votes along racial lines, or to make up for a politician’s own failings.

And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews. The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright’s sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning. That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.

In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch. They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren’t always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze – a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns – this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.


Sen. Levin continues ugly ''blame the Iraqis'' meme

Carl Levin is like a landlord who goes to collect the rent and finds an apartment door open. In a barcolounger, he sees the husband stinking of alcohol, passed out drunk with a gun in his lap. On the floor, he sees the wife, dressed for her job as a waitress, but with swollen black eyes, bruised arms and legs, and blood trickling out of her nose and mouth, seemingly beaten unconscious.

After surveying the situation, he throws a glass of water in the wife's face to wake her up, then demands to know why the rent is late.

There is actually a couple of problems with my analogy. First, the landlord knows the woman is not his wife. The ''husband'' killed her real husband and her kids five years ago, threw her in his trunk, and took her home as his slave. The wife is Iraq.

Likewise, the landlord would more accurately be the owner of the neighborhood liquor store, who knows full well who is doing all the drinking, but rather than bothering the drunk and possibly losing his business, he picks on the ''wife'' because he knows she has hidden some money from the drunk, hoping that someday she can use it to escape his abuse. The drunk is of course Bush and his big oil and other corporate cronies.

I just got this email from Carl Levin saying he wants to investigate why more Iraqi oil money isn't going into reconstruction. At first glance that might seem reasonable, but then I wondered if by reconstruction Bechtel, Halliburton, and others who have done only token work and pocketed most of our tax dollars that were meant to help Iraqis.

Getting our money back from them and giving it directly to Iraqis should be a higher priority than brow-beating the Iraqis about how they spend their money (aren't they supposed to be sovereign, you simpering corporate boot-lick?)

Likewise, it is almost criminal to mention Iraq's oil income without mentioning that Bush is strong-arming them to sign an oil law that will give 88% of their oil income to big oil companies, a deal no other oil rich country in the Persian Gulf would take without a gun to their head. Levin has gone as far as demanding that the Iraqis hurry up and pass this bill that robs their country of its one source of wealth. You would think that if the war had anything to do with reducing terrorism, we would let the Iraqis pass an oil law that no one in the country could possibly find exploitive.

Levin has misdirected our attention before and even lied about Iraqis ''wanting'' us to stay.

These lies and misplaced priorities must be addressed because we cannot end the war in Iraq until our elected representatives are honest about the big oil and other corporate interests that are keeping us there. Iraq has tens of trillions of dollars worth of oil. Most politicians in Washington are pursuing business for past or future corporate employers, so them invading Iraq and saying it was to stop terrorism or spread democracy is like Homer Simpson breaking into a donut shop and saying he just wanted to do a health inspection.

People like Carl Levin must be asked:

Who the fuck do you work for?

Are you working for the American people or a handful of banks, corporations, and wealthy individuals even when it means impoverishing and endangering the rest of us, and even taking the lives of Americans and those in other countries?

Senator Levin, represent us and stop behaving like corporate moral filth.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

POLICE VIDEO OF PORTLAND PROTEST: they ID leader by name & SSN, then take him down

A woman got a copy of the police video of a protest along with the police talking to each other about who to film, including identifying a leader by name and social security number. Shortly after the tape him, he is surrounded by several cops and taken down even though he is just standing there with a sign.

They go to great lengths to get clear shots of those they guess are leaders, and when some protesters have their faces covered, they zoom in clothing, shoes, and tattoos to try to identify them.

This is the first time I've heard the cops own commentary on what they are doing and it's kind of chilling since no one they are watching is being violent.

I disagree with the person who posted this when she said this is why you should try to cover your face. Someone wearing a mask is not a person, your neighbor, or cousin, and therefore it is easier to give them the beat down without a second thought. And if you don't have a mask on, someone who knows you but didn't know how strongly you feel about the issue might see you on TV.

I also disagree with some of the protesters who said "fuck you" and flipped off the police. Better to remind they are on our side with signs like:

COPS: protect democracy not kleptocracy

COPS: they'll send you to Iraq next

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Which doctor do you see, the new kid or the ones who killed a million patients?

When you are sick, you find that there are only three doctors to choose from.

One has been a doctor for a very long time. He has helped some patients but made many a lot worse by saying the best treatment was no treatment at all, and then moving the life-saving equipment to the room of a very wealthy patient getting a tummy tuck. When he would prescribe a treatment for regular folks, it was often because he got kickbacks from the drug company, and the patient did not necessarily get better--but he was still required to pay his bill. The one time the very seasoned doctor saw an irritated patch of skin on a patient, declared it a potential epidemic of flesh eating bacteria, and prescribed a cure that killed over four thousand of our troops, and a million Iraqis (but some drug companies did suspiciously well during the epidemic).

The second doctor has less experience but has a good record treating children and bandaging some knees. She did occasionally prescribe some drugs that seemed to help the drug-makers more than the patients too. Unfortunately, she strongly agreed with the first doctor about the big epidemic, and help administer the treatment that killed so many. Worse, she sees a nearby rash that she says will need the same treatment, and will likely lead to even more deaths.

Both say the third doctor is dangerously inexperienced. They admit that it was true he correctly diagnosed the irritated patch of skin as something that could have just been watched and treated with some ointment, but he does not have the long experience of killing patients that they do.

So who do you choose, the inexperienced but correct doctor, or the experienced ones who bury their patients?

Saturday, March 01, 2008

FOIA doc shows 9/11Commission lied about hijackers connection to Saudi government

A small issue and a big one.

The small is that two of the hijackers made airline reservations for AFTER 9/11, including back to Saudi Arabia. That could arguably be to make their activities look less suspicious--or the guys themselves might not have known they wouldn't survive their 9/11 flights.

The bigger issue is the 9/11 Commission lied about when these two hijackers hooked up with another Saudi in the US and redacted the third guy's name from the report (even though it can be found elsewhere). The report says they met by chance after wandering around LA for a couple of weeks, but their rental agreement shows they met the day the guys arrived since they signed that day.

Their contact who was already in America started receiving stipend checks from the Saudi ambassador's wife, and made constant phone calls to Saudi officials in DC and LA.

The effect of leaving this information out is to obscure the Saudi role in 9/11.

Since this information was provided by the FBI to the 9/11 Commission, it is reasonable to assume the Bush administration saw it too.

We were attacked by an ally, Saudi Arabia, covered their tracks, and used the attacks as an excuse to attack someone else, Iraq.

Why exactly would the Saudis do this if they weren't 100% sure of what our reaction would be? If they were acting on their own, wouldn't they expect at minimum the kind of beat down we gave Afghanistan? Instead, Prince Bandar, whose wife sent the checks to the hijackers, was smoking cigars on the back balcony of the White House with Bush two days after 9/11.

Former Senator Bob Kerrey, who served on the 9/11 Commission, has said this should be investigated. No word from the Bushies on the Commission like Zelikow, who had written a book with Condi.

On a related note, it was recently revealed Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia, long time ambassador to the US, made veiled threats of terrorist attacks against Great Britain if they didn't back off a corruption investigation, and Tony Blair took them seriously enough to call off the investigation.

Just for the hell of it, why not call your congressman and senators and ask them why they don't look into this stuff?


FBI documents contradict 9/11 Commission report
02/28/2008 @ 8:01 am
Filed by Larisa Alexandrovna

Newly-released records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request contradict the 9/11 Commission’s report on the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and raise fresh questions about the role of Saudi government officials in connection to the hijackers.

The nearly 300 pages of a Federal Bureau of Investigation timeline used by the 9/11 Commission as the basis for many of its findings were acquired through a FOIA request filed by Kevin Fenton, a 26 year old translator from the Czech Republic. The FBI released the 298-page “hijacker timeline” Feb. 4.

The FBI timeline reveals that alleged hijacker Hamza Al-Ghamdi, who was aboard the United Airlines flight which crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center, had booked a future flight to San Francisco. He also had a ticket for a trip from Casablanca to Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia.

“In the official version of the story now, the hijackers drift around L.A. listlessly for two weeks before chancing to come across Bayoumi in a restaurant [according to Bayoumi’s account],” Thompson added. “Whereupon he's an incredible good Samaritan and takes them down to San Diego, pays their rent, etc.”

”But from the FBI's timeline, we now know the hijackers started staying at Bayoumi's place on Jan. 15 – the very same day they arrived,” Thompson says. “So obviously they must have been met at the airport and taken care of from their very first hours in the US. That's huge because the FBI maintains to this day that the hijackers never had any accomplices in the US.”


“Bayoumi seemed clearly to be working for some part of the Saudi government,” [New York Times reporter Phillip] Shenon wrote on page 52. “He entered the United States as a business student and had lived San Diego since 1996. He was on the payroll of an aviation contractor to the Saudi government, paid about $2,800 a month, but apparently did no work for the company.”

In fact, Bayoumi was an employee of the Saudi defense contractor Dallah Avco. According to a 2002 Newsweek article about Bayoumi, Dallah Avco is “an aviation-services company with extensive contracts with the Saudi Ministry of Defense and Aviation, headed by Prince Sultan, the father of the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar.”

Newsweek points to another connection between Bayoumi and Bandar: “About two months after al-Bayoumi began aiding Alhazmi and Almihdhar, [the two hijackers] NEWSWEEK has learned, al-Bayoumi's wife began receiving regular stipends, often monthly and usually around $2,000, totaling tens of thousands of dollars. The money came in the form of cashier's checks, purchased from Washington's Riggs Bank by Princess Haifa bint Faisal, the daughter of the late King Faisal and wife of Prince Bandar, the Saudi envoy who is a prominent Washington figure and personal friend of the Bush family. The checks were sent to a woman named Majeda Ibrahin Dweikat, who in turn signed over many of them to al-Bayoumi's wife (and her friend), Manal Ahmed Bagader. The Feds want to know: Was this well-meaning charity gone awry? Or some elaborate money-laundering scheme? A scam? Or just a coincidence?”

According to then-Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL), who served as a co-chair of the 9/11 Congressional inquiry that preceded the 9/11 Commission, during the period of Alhazmi and Almihdhar’s [the two hijackers] arrival in the US, Bayoumi had an “unusually large number of telephone calls with Saudi government officials in both Los Angeles and Washington.” (Graham and Nussbaum, 2004, pp. 168-169)

Bayoumi moved to London in 2001 and lived there until his arrest immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks. Following his release, Bayoumi returned to Saudi Arabia, where he was interviewed in October 2003 by the Executive Director of the 9/11 Commission, Philip Zelikow, and Senior Counsel Dieter Snell.