Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Auto Industry Really Is Shovel Ready

Less than one year ago — June 2008.

President Obama has shown GM CEO Rick Wagoner the door. Surprising. He has the right credentials — a Harvard Business degree and a massively failed company under his belt. At this point, were he in the financial industry, he would be considering an offer to join the Obama administration, the "Team of Rivals" aka "The League of Harvard Super Best Friends".

Evidently, as Times editorialist William Holstein put it, Obama "did not believe G.M. had moved fast enough in facing up to global competition". That's it, right there. The executives at Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and AIG may be lying, cheating, thieving con artists, but, damn, it's all in the spirit of competition, and boy did they move fast. They were figuring how much bailout money would go to bonuses before the ink of Obama's signature was dry. No exec can make funny money like a Wall Street exec . . . at the expense of, well, whomever (meaning, Us).

By contrast, GM and the other auto manufacturers have a huge huge drawback — unionized workers, at good 'ol fashioned American manufacturing jobs, the kind that form the bedrock of a nation's economy. Totally unsuited for Our Brave New Economy where we all sell each other life insurance, grossly over-priced homes and obscure, substanceless financial instruments in a never ending war of all against all to make more money this week than last. (Remember, there is no such thing as making too much money. Dow 36,000 and all that. Wot wot.)

Conservatives will love love love this. Force GM to declare bankruptcy. Bust those damn unions. Get rid of those damn contracts! Save money. Get workers's wages down to something reasonable, like . . . I don't know . . . $15 per day, like in Mexico.

(But Larry Summers told us a contract is inviolate . . . . Well, only if it's ten or twenty million for one person. The kind of person this nation, or at least its oligarchs, pay attention to.)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Sunday, March 22, 2009

US Adviser Chuckles Romer 'Incredibly Confident" of Recovery

Christina Romer, head of the White House's economic advice council, told Fox TV "we will be seeing signs the economy is turning around". She is "incredibly confident" the US economy will recover within 12 months. Says "private forecasters" expect we will "bottom out this year". She failed to say whether the "private forecasters" work for AIG. Here, the BBC account:

A key adviser within US President Barack Obama's administration says she is "incredibly confident" the US economy will recover within 12 months.

Christina Romer, head of the White House's economic advice council, told Fox TV "we will be seeing signs the economy is turning around".

She also told CNN that the US recession would "bottom out" in 2009, predicting economic growth later this in the year.


Speaking on CNN, Ms Romer said she had "every expectation, as do private forecasters [emphasis mine], that we will bottom out this year and actually be growing again by the end of the year".

"Incredible" is the word here. But let's give her a shot. (No, not the kind you want to give AIG, Shitigroup and Goldman Sucks.) The clock is running. Let's see if on April 1, 2010 -- April Fool's Day -- unemployment is decreasing, foreclosures are decreasing, housing precises have stabilized, etc.

What? You don't think that's what Chuckles has in mind? (Yes, 'Chuckles'. Watch the video -- see if she isn't always smiling -- the mark of a liar.)

You think Chuckles means the stock market will be recovering? That billionaires will be back to billions? Yeah, that's what I think too.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Why the Bonuses Do Matter

The public is in a fervor over the millions bailout recipients, especially AIG, continue to dole out to precisely those individuals and firms who manufactured the financial disaster and then conspired, with the aid of Timothy Geithner, Hank Paulson, and Ben Bernanke, to conceil the truth from the very people — the taxpayers — now funding the bailout. The newest detail is that the total given out by AIG is more, $50 million more, than the $165 million now widely reported, according to Connecticut's attorney general.

A real question here is whether AIG — 'too big to fail' — is leveraging that position to con the government out of more money to funnel on to Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and others. Frank Rich, one of several New York Times columnists who sounds a good deal more liberal than a year or two ago, put it this way: AIG "has, in essence, been laundering its $170 billion in taxpayers’ money by paying off its reckless partners in gambling and greed, from Goldman Sachs and Citigroup on Wall Street to Société Générale and Deutsche Bank abroad." [1]

Still another question, raised by many pundits of many stripes, is whether the bonus issue is bogus, whether it is a diversion from the more serious issue of the billions AIG is passing along.

The bonuses should be taken seriously, if for no other reason than that the con artists at AIG, Goldman, Citigroup do so. The executives at AIG, Goldman and all the others are motivated by one thing only — money. Any blather they offered about serving stockholders has been conclusively proven false. (It had already been proven false years ago in the US business culture driven by management and the demands of management as opposed to those of owners, namely stockholders.)

Nor are the executives driven by the intricacies of economic problem-solving, or they would not now be working so hard to find ways to keep those bonuses while conceiling the fact from the public and the government (or most of the government, since we now know that Timothy Geithner, Sen. Christopher Dodd and others did know about the bonus boondoggle [2]).

Hank Paulson, Timothy Geithner and their ilk are largely of a piece with this ethos. Paulson was smack dab in the middle of it as an exec at Goldman Sachs. Geithner comes out of an environment populated by willing slaves — lionizing, idolizing the Paulsons, Rubins, etc., much like Alan Greenspan or any of that fundamentally conservative wealth-is-virtue school.

This country has for some thirty years effectively been governed with0ut question by the demands of wealth. The US has always held wealth to be the finest repository of power. European nations and others had monarchs, sometimes not the most wealthy, who commanded the greatest power. Ages ago, religious institutions held the power. But the US broke with all that, exalting money as the greatest good. Indeed, George Washington may well have been the wealthiest person in the colonies at the time of the American Revolution. He was certainly one of the wealthiest.

(It would be interesting to poll people at random simply asking them to name a great American from the turn of the last century, or from 50 years ago. From the time of the revolution, they would almost certainly mention Washington. From the Civil War, Lincoln. That was the time of power in government. But then the US began to assume to role of world's leading industrial and economic power. So from 1900, who?)

Deregulation is the most obvious instantiation of the driving priniciple of Wealth as the Greatest Virtue. Trickle down 'theory'. The pattern of compensation in our private and public institutions. Our culture, with its unalloyed reverence for wealth and fame, further supports this conclusion. The titans of Wall Street may not be the flashiest. Athletes and actors enjoy that privilege, but the oligarchs are the economic decision makers, and their motive is money money money.

The meaning of their lives has one measure. To deny them the vast sums they clearly think they have a right to, regardless of the quality of their labor, is the greatest possible punishment short of actual imprisonment. It is wholly appropriate that We the People force this much from an Obama administration that is again proving itself too spineless or too corrupt to hold to account this nation's greatest criminals.


1. Rich's Times piece, by the way, is a beautiful example of the power of internet journalism. It is thick with cross-links to supporting stories. For example, Republican blowhards like Mitch McConnell now call for curbs on greedy executives. Not long ago, he and others were dead set against them. These are the same Republicans who opposed tooth and nail any Obama stimulus measure, then went home and took credit for the very thing they had opposed.

2. From CNN (emphasis mine): "Dodd told CNN . . . that he was responsible for language added to the stimulus bill to make sure that already-existing contracts for bonuses at companies receiving federal bailout money were honored. A Treasury Department official told CNN earlier that the Obama administration pushed for the language.

"Dodd initially denied he had anything to do with adding the provision.

"Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner [told CNN] that his department asked Dodd to make the changes."

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Quantitative Easing — Print the Money and Run

On Wednesday, March 17, the Federal Reserve (home of the should-be disgraced Ben Bernanke) "stunned investors by announcing plans to buy $300bn of US government debt, triggering a plunge in bond yields and the dollar," as the Financial Times put it.

This is the Big One — in modern newspeak "quantitative easing".
The term quantitative easing refers to the creation of a pre-determined quantity of new money 'out of thin air through open market operations by a central bank as the start of a process to increase the money supply. It can, more simply, be understood as an indirect method of printing money. This new money is injected into the private banking system when the accounts of the vendors of the securities purchased by the central bank through the open market operations are credited.
As many have noted, the comedy here is that, until recently, US government officials and others were complaining that We the People were not saving enough. Now, they're desperate to get everybody spend spend spending, witness President Obama's and Larry Summers's recent shilling for Wall Street.

Mike Whitney, writing on Counterpunch, wrote of this a full year ago:
If the Fed can't bring Libor down with interest rate cuts, then it will have to develop a back-up plan. The next step would be “quantitative easing”; a monetary policy that was implemented by the Bank of Japan in 2001 “to revive that country's economy that was stagnant for a decade. Quantitative easing entails flooding the banking system with excess reserves, resulting in pushing the benchmark overnight bank lending to zero.” (Reuters) There are indications that Bernanke is already preparing for this radical option, but there's little chance that it will succeed. Whether the banks are able to lend or not is irrelevant. Public attitudes towards indebtedness have changed dramatically in the past few months. Overextended consumers are looking for ways to pay off their debts. This will make it more difficult for Bernanke to reflate the equity bubble through credit expansion. When people are frightened or pessimistic about the future, they naturally curtail their spending.
As the Financial Times reported, "Goldman Sachs said the Fed was throwing the 'kitchen sink' at the problem. The plan to buy Treasuries caught investors off guard. 'It appears that they wanted to give the market a jolt,' said Peter Hooper, an economist at Deutsche Bank."

The last time the central bank attempted to bring down yields on long-term securities through direct intervention came during the ill-fated Operation Twist in the 1960s. Recent comments by Ben Bernanke, Federal Reserve chairman, and William Dudley, New York Fed president, did not suggest that Treasury purchases were imminent.

But the deterioration in the US outlook, problems rolling out the US financial rescue plan and the Bank of England’s success in buying UK government gilts seem to have persuaded the Fed to act.

Alan Ruskin, a strategist at RBS, said it was a “flip-flop” that “could be cast as a sign of desperation” but “confirmed that Bernanke will do whatever it takes to get some hold of the problem”.


Wednesday’s Fed announcement will increase the size of its balance sheet by another $1,150bn to about $3,000bn even before the roll-out of a $1,000bn scheme to finance credit markets. Once this scheme is fully implemented, its balance sheet could approach $4,000bn – nearly a third the size of the US economy.

A swollen Fed balance sheet runs the risk that the US central bank may find it difficult to manage down the money supply when the economy turns, raising the possibility of inflation.

So, the Fed is just plain printing money. The FT has an 'interactive feature' to explain (woo hoo!). (Actually, the only thing that's interactive is that you hit 'play'.)

As the world suffers its worst recession since the second world war, policy makers are searching for the best tools to limit the downturn. Central banks have rapidly lowered interest rates in order to reduce the cost of borrowing. The hope is to stimulate spending in the economy now.

So far, it has been to no avail. Confidence disappeared from banks, companies and households in the autumn of 2008 and unemployment is rising fast in 2009. Without an obvious source of fresh demand, central banks are moving to open the way to more unorthodox approaches to address the crisis. . . . One of those is quantitative easing.

The rich are getting the asses out of Dodge, putting their money in gold or in currencies that look like they might remain stable. As for the rest of us, we're boned.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Prosecuting Bush War Criminals

Democracy Now interviewed Michael Ratner, head of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Backlash for Bloomberg?

March 16th’s New York Times has a story on populist opposition to the bailout (penned by Adam Nagourney who is evidently re-emerging after is miserable excuse for journalism during the election campaign):

The Obama administration is increasingly concerned about a populist backlash against banks and Wall Street, worried that anger at financial institutions could also end up being directed at Congress and the White House and could complicate President Obama’s agenda.

As my seven-year-old daughter would say, “Duuuh!” (said with that perfect bi-syllabic inflection that gives the edge that added sharpness).

So the “Team of Rivals”, better termed the “Team of Super Harvard Friends” or the “Bailout League” (both names following the form of superhero TV cartoons), is beginning to connect the dots:
  • Initially obscure candidate, Obama, soars to presidency by galvanizing public sentiment following eight years of criminal ‘leadership’ and sixteen years of gross disregard for the benefits of careful regulation;
  • Obama, having gained presidency, immediately proceeds to put in place a ‘team of rivals’ that amounts to no more than a rivalry between Bush economics and Clinton economics, or Harvard on Wall Street economics and Chicago in the classroom.
  • That team then continues an already unpopular Bush-Bernanke-Geithner-Paulson (BPGP) scheme, perserving massive bailouts with no punishment of any kind whatsoever for exactly those people who manufactured the crisis.
  • Worse, that team offers little more than a verbal slap on the wrist when the very same architects of collapse further reward themselves with bonuses, vacations, etc.
  • Last, the shock and awe that The People might find something objectionable in this, that The People are not the dimwitted sheep that privileged Harvard and Chicago grads are encouraged to think they are.

Let’s be blunt. This is a president who, now in office, has abandoned very nearly every measure that gave him any appeal in the first place. He has toadied up to the very Republicons who gave us this calamitous, criminal war. He has persevered in bailing out kickbacks to those who lead the funding drive for him (most notably Goldman Sachs).

He has offered one and only one real carrot to The People, namely a promise of universal healthcare. But even on that count, he has already strictly ruled out the one solution that a large majority of Americans know is the way to go — single payer. He has done this because it would deny wealthy insurers the means to strangle to death, both figuratively and literally (by denial of care), the people insured in name only.

Similarly, despite the fact that over 70% of Americans want to see Bush administration war criminals investigated, Obama offers nothing but evasions and lame excuses for why it might not be prudent to do so. And thus, not only the rest of the world, but many Americans too come to see American justice for what it really is — a two-tiered system of punishments for the common citizens and rewards no matter what for the elite.

As unemployment skyrockets (especially if we consider real unemployment, as opposed to the figure popularized by the government and obediently parroted by the media), Obama proposes “shovel-ready” projects. As already noted by this ranter, anyone who has seen a cattle farm knows what is shovel-ready in heaps.

Worse, Obama and his Team Captain Lawrence Summers are echoing Bush: “Buy! Buy! Buy!” as if a soaring stock market would do anything at all to get people into paying jobs.

In New York City, we should be seeing some evidence of concern among Bloomberg boosters. But no. No concern for Bloomberg — despite his cozy relationship with Wall Street and his long record of advocating deregulation — because he is more than rich enough to squash any opponent. And even were he not so, his backroom bargains with the likes of City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, while not the violently corrupt machine politics of an older New York, are more than sufficient to undermine any real democracy in New York City.

Just as President Obama is ignoring a core principle of democracy nationwide, so too is Michael Bloomberg in New York: Public Officials Serve the People. Obama and Bloomberg are public servants, despite what they may think. In a true democracy, the fear of electoral loss might mitigate against the anti-democratic sentiments of its leaders. But nationwide the Democrats and Republicans have a well-established system of one hand washing the other. And citywide, Mayor Bloomberg doesn’t even make a token effort to conceal his contempt for the commoner. He’s too wealthy to care.

Friday, March 13, 2009

More Solid Gold Art!

Some may remember the Greatest Statue of the Century from some months ago — a SOLID GOLD statue of a contorted model Kate Moss. Whew! That's one heapin' big pile of art.

Now we have MORE SOLID GOLD ART! And remember, if it's gold, it must be art!

The esteemed Gagosian Gallery has announced it will show the new work by artist Chris Burden — at the Gagosian's Beverly Hills gallery, not New York. Somehow it seems for appropriate in LA.

One Ton, One Kilo, a new masterpiece from daring Chris Burden. It's a genuine Chris Burden Original. Burden, some may remember, has done some pretty edgy stuff. In 1974 he had himself crucified on a Volkswagen Beetle. Now that was art.

What is Christ Burden going to do now? Is he going to melt down masses of gold and have himself gilded while still living (at least by all accounts)? Is he going to swallow molten gold as some were forced to do in the grand old days of the Middle Ages (whose torture techniques were popular in the Bush years and haven't been fully forsworn by Obama)?

Who knows? The piece has been held up (ha ha ha) by the great trend of our time . . . the Ponzi Scheme. Not in this case the Greatest Ponzi Scheme of all, the financial collapse and the bailout. Not the model American Bernard Madoff. This time it's R. Allen Stanford. Stanford Coins and Bullion sold Gagosian the gold. Now it's frozen by court order.

Oh, the burden of artists. Saints preserve us.

In all fairness, I haven't even seen this shite yet. So who the hell am I to talk. I ain't nobody, that's who I am. I just have a problem with millionaire artistes making millions out of millions and even more with pole up the ass galleries. But it was ever thus.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

As with Labor, So with Healthcare

As President-elect Obama announced members of his economic team, progressives and a handful of others noted the absence of any labor advocates from the "Team of Rivals". Last week, President Obama hosted a 'summit' on healthcare reform. Absent were any advocates for single-payer — the system at use in very nearly every other industrialized country around the world.

Why, if Obama and his team of god=like thinkers are so 'open to all the options' is one of the most obvious and publicly popular options being excluded? Could it be that Obama has been told by The American Oligarchs that single-payer isn't allowed? That change is great, but only so much?

Luke Mitchell
of Harper's Magazine, speaking on Democracy Now, noted that Sen. Max Baucus, said first that "everything is on the table" but then "went out of his way to say that we can't have single payer."

We have a clue to the reason in the Obama administrations hand-waving over bank bailouts and particularly nationalization:

Private Property is Sacrosanct.

Ben Bernanke and Timothy Geithner, among others, have made a point of saying that the Obama administration has no intention of challenging the model of "private banking". Nor do it likely have any intention of challenging private insurance.

If in the midst of the US economic collapse, we cannot consider real change in either the US banking system or the US insurance system, then what hope have we of the Great Change that Obama held out promise for?

Indeed, we now have at least three clear instances of the Idols of Institutional Inertia which President Obama dares not challenge:
  • Private banking, despite prove provided in recent months of institutionalized corruption, greed, lying and outright theft on one of the largest scales in word history;
  • Private insurance, a case still in the making, but already well-supported by that of "too-big-to-fail AIG" and soon to be supported by what I predict will be a house of cards attempt address healthcare; and
  • Israel, a case where US National Intelligence Council nominee Chas Freeman has been forced to step down after ruthless campaign by the Israel lobby including US Senators Charles Schumer and the vile Joseph Lieberman.
We have also seen Obama effectively continue Bush policy on extraordinary rendition and slightly diluted belligerence with substantial but far from total troop reductions in Iraq and marked increases in Afghanistan.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Global Warming Predictions Continue to Worsen

The BBC (and no doubt many other news organizations) has a story on a new round of predictions regarding sea-level rise. Once again, the new predictions cast old ones as too rosy. What gives?

This report fits into a pattern over the past ten years in which succeeding reports prove earlier ones to have been too optimistic. That is, for ten or more years, new studies of the likely outcomes of global warming have repeatedly revealed even the most pessimistic of old studies to be too optimistic. That suggests that climate scientists are consistently stating things optimistically. Nevertheless, politicians — particularly in the know-nothing moderate and conservative circles of the US — consistently dismiss scientific warnings that are taken to be 'too pessimistic'.

We know that through the eight years of the Bush Disaster, scientists were intimidated and coerced into revising their studies to be less dire. Most notoriously, Bush administration thought police sought to censor the statements of NASA scientist James Hansen.

Now, with Barrack Obama in the White House and a more Democratic Congress, energy industry lobbyists and others are greatly increasing lobbying efforts to head off any legislation to protect the environment.

Below is the BBC story:
Sea rise 'to exceed projections'
By David Shukman
Environment correspondent, BBC News, Copenhagen

The global sea level looks set to rise far higher than forecast because of changes in the polar ice-sheets, a team of researchers has suggested.

Scientists at a climate change summit in Copenhagen said earlier UN estimates were too low and that sea levels could rise by a metre or more by 2100.

The projections did not include the potential impact of polar melting and ice breaking off, they added.

The implications for millions of people would be "severe", they warned.

Ten per cent of the world's population - about 600 million people - live in low-lying areas.

The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its 2007 Fourth Assessment Report, had said that the maximum rise in sea level would be in the region of 59cm.

Professor Konrad Steffen from the University of Colorado, speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, highlighted new studies into ice loss in Greenland, showing it has accelerated over the last decade.

Professor Steffen, who has studied the Arctic ice for the past 35 years, told me: "I would predict sea level rise by 2100 in the order of one metre; it could be 1.2m or 0.9m.

"But it is one metre or more seeing the current change, which is up to three times more than the average predicted by the IPCC."

"It is a major change and it actually calls for action."

Dr John Church of the Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research added: "The most recent research showed that sea level is rising by 3mm a year since 1993, a rate well above the 20th century average."

Ice flow

Professor Eric Rignot, a senior research scientist at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said that results gathered since the IPCC showed that melting and ice loss could not be overlooked.

"As a result of the acceleration of outlet glaciers over large regions, the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are already contributing more and faster to sea level rise than anticipated," he observed.

Professor Stefan Ramstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research said: "Based on past experience, I expect that sea level rise will accelerate as the planet gets hotter."

The forecasts by the team of scientists are critically important for coastal communities.

At Lowestoft, on the UK's east coast, the Environment Agency official in charge of coastal protection, David Kemp, said that even small rises in sea level could be overwhelming.

"Put bluntly, if it's 10cm below the height of the defence, then there's no problem," he told me.

"But if it's 10cm above the defence, then we could be looking at devastation.

"It looks very benign today but the North Sea can turn into a very ferocious beast."

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Forget About Things Improving This Year

The Bureau of Labor Statistics offers a graph of current job losses versus those in other recent recessions:

From the Onion

Are Violent Video Games Adequately Preparing Children For The Apocalypse?

Friday, March 6, 2009

Our American Lifeboat Problem

In moral philosophy the lifeboat problem is a clean way of presenting the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few. What do you do if you find yourself one of a handful of people in a lifeboat, say eight? There is food enough only to keep six alive until an island is reached. Two must be sacrificed for the majority to survive. What do you do? Is it ethical to take the lives of a few to save the many?

This is no idle philosophical thought experiment. It has been faced in the past: by the members of the Donner Party as they crossed the Sierra Nevada in the winter of 1846-47; the survivors of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 after their crash in the Andes in October, 1972; and by many military men in combat throughout history.

This is arguably the form of the problem the United States now faces. The solution currently being ineptly implemented by Timothy Geithner and Ben Bernanke involves the very opposite of the standard lifeboat solution. The well-geing of hundreds of millions of Americans are being sacrificed to serve the well-being the limited number of Wall Street executives and shareholders who are the immediate beneficiaries of US taxpayer generosity.

The Standard Claim is that the financial system must be saved if the economic system of the nation as a whole is to avoid a Hobbesian war of all against all. Whether this is indeed true and what it says about the nature and grave injustice of American Capitalism is the subject of another essay.

For the purposes of this inquiry, the truth of the Standard Claim is irrelevant. Let us take it that the financial system of the United States must indeed be bailed out in some sense, that it must be re-capitalized from some source.

The Obama Administration has taken it as an article of faith that the American people collectively must be the source of any funds for a bailout. A growing spectrum of critics from Alan Greenspan on the right to Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz on the liberal end argue for nationalization.

Which of these two approaches is appropriate is also largely irrelevant to the subject of this essay.

There is an alternative source of funds, whether or not the Obama or the Nationalization approach is the way to go. The proper source of funds is the that population which has most benefited from the greed and crimes of the past 30 years.

Before the current market declines the wealthiest 15 (fifteen) Americans alone had a combined worth of over $300 billion. The combined worth of the wealthiest 400 Americans is in the neighborhood of $1.5 trillion. The combined wealth of the most fortunate 1000 or 2000 exceeds that by still more.

Why not demand of those who have benefitted most — arguably at our expense — the greatest financial sacrifice? A graduated scheme could be managed, leaving all of these fabulously wealthy people a great deal wealthier than the vast majority of us.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Bush's Police State

From Counterpunch, an essay by Marjorie Cohn on the Bush Justice Department memos authored by, among others, the war criminal John Yoo:
Blueprints for a Police State
The Yoo-Bybee Memoranda

Seven newly released memos from the Bush Justice Department reveal a concerted strategy to cloak the President with power to override the Constitution. The memos provide “legal” rationales for the President to suspend freedom of speech and press; order warrantless searches and seizures, including wiretaps of U.S. citizens; lock up U.S. citizens indefinitely in the United States without criminal charges; send suspected terrorists to other countries where they will likely be tortured; and unilaterally abrogate treaties. According to the reasoning in the memos, Congress has no role to check and balance the executive. That is the definition of a police state.

Who wrote these memos? All but one were crafted in whole or in part by the infamous John Yoo and Jay Bybee, authors of the so-called “torture memos” that redefined torture much more narrowly than the U.S. definition of torture, and counseled the President how to torture and get away with it. In one memo, Yoo said the Justice Department would not enforce U.S. laws against torture, assault, maiming and stalking, in the detention and interrogation of enemy combatants.

What does the federal maiming statute prohibit? It makes it a crime for someone "with the intent to torture, maim, or disfigure" to "cut, bite, or slit the nose, ear or lip, or cut out or disable the tongue, or put out or destroy an eye, or cut off or disable a limb or any member of another person." It further prohibits individuals from "throwing or pouring upon another person any scalding water, corrosive acid, or caustic substance" with like intent.

The two torture memos were later withdrawn after they became public because their legal reasoning was clearly defective. But they remained in effect long enough to authorize the torture and abuse of many prisoners in U.S. custody.

The seven memos just made public were also eventually disavowed, several years after they were written. Steven Bradbury, the Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General in Bush’s Department of Justice, issued two disclaimer memos – on October 6, 2008 and January 15, 2009 – that said the assertions in those seven memos did “not reflect the current views of this Office.” Why Bradbury waited until Bush was almost out of office to issue the disclaimers remains a mystery. Some speculate that Bradbury, knowing the new administration would likely release the memos, was trying to cover his backside.

Indeed, Yoo, Bybee and Bradbury are the three former Justice Department lawyers that the Office of Professional Responsibility singled out for criticism in its still unreleased report. The OPR could refer these lawyers for state bar discipline or even recommend criminal charges against them.

In his memos, Yoo justified giving unchecked authority to the President because the United States was in a “state of armed conflict.” Yoo wrote, “First Amendment speech and press rights may also be subordinated to the overriding need to wage war successfully.” Yoo made the preposterous argument that since deadly force could legitimately be used in self-defense in criminal cases, the President could suspend the Fourth Amendment because privacy rights are less serious than protection from the use of deadly force.

Bybee wrote in one of the memos that nothing can stop the President from sending al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners captured overseas to third countries, as long as he doesn’t intend for them to be tortured. But the Convention Against Torture, to which the United States is a party, says that no country can expel, return or extradite a person to another country “where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.” Bybee claimed the Torture Convention didn’t apply extraterritorially, a proposition roundly debunked by reputable scholars. The Bush administration reportedly engaged in this practice of extraordinary rendition 100 to 150 times as of March 2005.

The same day that Attorney General Eric Holder released the memos, the government revealed that the CIA had destroyed 92 videotapes of harsh interrogations of Abu Zubaida and Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, both of whom were subjected to waterboarding. The memo that authorized the CIA to waterboard, written the same day as one of Yoo/Bybee’s torture memos, has not yet been released.

Bush insisted that Zubaida was a dangerous terrorist, in spite of the contention of one of the FBI’s leading al Qaeda experts that Zubaida was schizophrenic, a bit player in the organization. Under torture, Zubaida admitted to everything under the sun – his information was virtually worthless.

There are more memos yet to be released. They will invariably implicate Bush officials and lawyers in the commission of torture, illegal surveillance, extraordinary rendition, and other violations of the law.

Meanwhile, John Yoo remains on the faculty of Berkeley Law School and Jay Bybee is a federal judge on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. These men, who advised Bush on how to create a police state, should be investigated, prosecuted, and disbarred. Yoo should be fired and Bybee impeached.

Marjorie Cohn is president of the National Lawyers Guild and author of Cowboy Republic.

Unemployment Up, Dow Up

More evidence today that the stock market is indifferent to employment figures. February saw the loss of 697,000 jobs. Meanwhile, Dow Jones Industrial Average lofted up just under 150 points.

From the Financial Times:
US job losses reach 697,000 in February
By Alan Rappeport in New York and Alan Beattie in Washington
Published: March 4 2009 13:59 | Last updated: March 4 2009 19:07

The US private sector shed 697,000 jobs in February, according to a closely watched survey of business employment published on Wednesday.

Separately, the services sector shrank less than expected last month but more sharply than in January. The Institute of Supply Management’s non-manufacturing index fell to 41.6 from 42.9 the month before. Readings below 50 signal contraction.

The grim data were compounded by the release of a pessimistic assessment of the US economy by the Federal Reserve, which showed a weakening labour market, consumer demand, manufacturing output and commercial real estate almost across the board.

The so-called ”Beige Book”, which collates reports from the Fed’s twelve districts, said that national economic conditions deteriorated during late January and early February and were not expected to pick up until the end of the year or into 2010. Ten of the twelve regional reports indicated weaker conditions or declines in economic activity, while Philadelphia and Chicago said that their economies ”remained weak”, the study said.

The report suggested that rising unemployment was beginning to feed through into slowing or falling wages, which have remained relatively strong so far in the recession. ”With rising layoffs and hiring freezes, unemployment has risen in all areas, reducing or eliminating upward wage pressures,” the Beige Book said.

The monthly ADP Employer Services survey, which tracks private non-farm payroll employment, showed further deterioration in the labour market. The result was worse than economists expected and followed ADP’s dire January report estimating a revised 614,000 jobs lost.

ADP changed the methodology of its survey in December after it significantly undershot the US government’s labour report. Last month’s result also undershot the official figures, which showed that 598,000 jobs were lost in January compared with ADP’s original estimate of 522,000.

“The nightmare continues,” said Ian Sheperdson, chief US economist at High Frequency Economics. “Every indicator we know tells us that employment is tanking right across the economy.”

The services sector was hit the hardest last month, shedding 359,000 workers. Meanwhile the goods-producing sector lost 338,000 jobs, the 25th consecutive monthly drop, and manufacturing lost 219,000 jobs, marking three years of consecutive monthly declines. The construction sector lost 114,000 jobs in February and has shed more than 1m workers since January 2007.

Construction work has contracted severely during the last two years, as the housing market has collapsed. On Monday government figures showed that construction spending fell by 3.3 per cent in January, more than double what analysts had predicted. After downward revisions, the quarterly decline was the worst on record.

Mid-sized and small businesses suffered the most job cuts last month, shedding 314,000 and 262,000 workers respectively. Large companies – those with more than 500 employees – cut 121,000 jobs.

“Sharply falling employment at medium and small-size businesses clearly indicates that the recession is spreading aggressively beyond manufacturing and housing-related activities,” according to the ADP report.

In a separate report on Wednesday, Challenger, Gray and Christmas, a consultancy, found that companies announced 186,350 job cuts in February, down 23 per cent fom January’s seven-year high. However, the February total was 158 per cent higher than in the same month the prior year.

Economists expect the official non-farm payrolls report due on Friday to show that 650,000 jobs were lost in February, bringing the unemployment rate to 7.9 per cent. Pessimistic forecasters project that as many as 850,000 jobs may have been lost last month.

According to ISM employment activity contracted in February for the 13th time in the last 14 months, with 14 out of 18 industries showing declining employment. The contraction was less severe than in January and jobs grew in the real estate, rental and leasing industry and in the utilities sector, while retail, construction and education services shed jobs.

The ISM’s measure of business activity showed contraction accelerating in February. The only industries showing improved performance were agriculture, the arts and healthcare. Wholesale trade, management and real estate performed worse last month.

Inventory levels slimmed in February, as companies cleared their stocks. But inventory sentiment rose, a sign that businesses feel that their backlogs remain too high.

The overall reading of 41.6 was slightly better than the 41 economists were expecting and from November’s record low of 37.4.

“The rate of deterioration in economic conditions has moderated a little from the virtual free-fall that existed late last year,” said Josh Shapiro, chief US economist at MFR. “While a step in the right direction, this hardly is indication of impending recovery.”

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Obama Shills for Wall Street

Today, March 2nd, President Obama waded into the waters of Wall Street traders saying that price to earnings ratios indicate it's a good time to buy if investing for the long term.
What you’re now seeing is profit and earning ratios are starting to get to the point where buying stocks is a potentially good deal, if you've got a long-term perspective on it.
Wall Street didn't buy it. And the American people are a helluva lot smarter than any money-grubbing asshole on Wall Street. The catch is that the "long-term perspective" now needed is one that exceeds the life-expectancy of any living American. You're buying for your grandchildren folks (if you're under 20, that is).

But why shouldn't Obama turn penny stock pusher? The Wall Street 'experts' have proven to be anything but, so why not get the nation's top lawyer in on the game? The catch is, of course, that another fact proven in recent years is that performance of the stock markets has surprisingly little to do with the performance of the economy. Averages like the Dow have been adjusted, fiddled, finagled to immunize them against economic bad news, most particularly by removing firms from the average that do not perform suitably. Now, the entire market is doing so badly (it's not entirely immune) that there is no way but down.

But for Obama to jump in sounds more like a Hail Mary. "Puhleeze puhleeze buy stocks. Give us some good news."

This may be sadly reflective of the advice Obama is getting from Summers, Geithner and Bernanke — the Team Of Rivals. The Team of Rivals is not really in the tradition of Lincoln, but the Republicrat tradition of the past 30 years. It is the Team of Bush & Clinton. Torture, extraordinary rendition, responsibility on civil rights — Bush. Stupid economy — Clinton.

Or perhaps it is only a Team of Softball Rivals, the kind that organized between business buddies — Goldman Sachs versus A.I.G. — to play in Central Park during the warm weather.

One way or another, Obama is getting bupkis from his 'team'. It's quite amazing that his proposed budget is as daring as it is. Perhaps that is an attempt to mollify voters even the blindest of whom can see that the 'bailout' is the largest kickback to slovenly, shit-for-brains, billionaire leeches in history.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Brave New World

George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Gattaca . . . take your pick. The future is Now! LA Fertility Institutes is "offering would-be parents the chance to select traits like the eye and hair colour of their offspring," according to a BBC report. Presumably, the parents can only select from the traits that are embodied in their combined genetic pools. This is the predictable development of programs that already screen for genetically borne diseases or abnormalities.
A US clinic has sparked controversy by offering would-be parents the chance to select traits like the eye and hair colour of their offspring.

The LA Fertility Institutes run by Dr Jeff Steinberg, a pioneer of IVF in the 1970s, expects a trait-selected baby to be born next year.

His clinic also offers sex selection.

UK fertility experts are angered that the service will distract attention from how the same technology can protect against inherited disease.

The science is based on a lab technique called preimplantation genetic diagnosis, or PGD.

  • I would not say this is a dangerous road. It's an uncharted road
    Dr Steinberg

This involves testing a cell taken from a very early embryo before it is put into the mother's womb.

Doctors then select an embryo free from rogue genes - or in this case an embryo with the desired physical traits such as blonde hair and blue eyes - to continue the pregnancy, and discard any others.

Dr Steinberg said couples might seek to use the clinic's services for both medical and cosmetic reasons.

For example, a couple might want to have a baby with a darker complexion to help guard against a skin cancer if they already had a child who had developed a melanoma. But others might just want a boy with blonde hair.

His clinic is offering this cosmetic selection to patients already having genetic screening for abnormal chromosome conditions in their embryos.

  • This is the inevitable slippery slope of a fertility process which results in many more embryos being created than can be implanted"
    Josephine Quintavalle of Comment on Reproductive Ethics

"Not all patients will qualify for these tests and we make NO guarantees as to 'perfect prediction' of things such as eye colour or hair colour," says the clinic's website.

Dr Steinberg said: "I would not say this is a dangerous road. It's an uncharted road."

He said the capability to offer such services had been around for years, but had been ignored by the medical community.

"It's time for everyone to pull their heads out of the sand."

Slippery slope

But Dr Gillian Lockwood, a UK fertility expert and member of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists' ethics committee, questioned whether is was morally right to be using the science in this way.

"If it gets to the point where we can decide which gene or combination of genes are responsible for blue eyes or blonde hair, what are you going to do with all those other embryos that turn out like me to be ginger with green eyes?"

She warned against "turning babies into commodities that you buy off the shelf."

Josephine Quintavalle of Comment on Reproductive Ethics said: "This is the inevitable slippery slope of a fertility process which results in many more embryos being created than can be implanted. Choices will always have to be made. Do you choose octuplets or the ones with the prettiest noses?"

In the UK, sex selection is banned and choices are currently permitted only in relationship to the baby's health.

Italian fertility law does not permit the creation of surplus embryos or selective testing. Ms Quintavalle said that was "one sure way to avoid the slippery slope".

Meanwhile, new legislation in the UK, due to come in on 6 April, will allow IVF mothers to name anyone as "father" on the birth certificate - even another woman.

The only restriction on naming a second parent will be if they are close blood relatives or if the second person does not agree.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2009/03/02 10:17:50 GMT