Thursday, April 30, 2009

Manhattan, President's Aide, . . .

The newest developments in the spread of swine flu include a 20 year old student at Pace University in Manhattan and an aide to President Obama. This follows one day on the first death in the United States (a terribly sad case of a 23 month old toddler).

What is notable here is not the spread of the illness, but the persistent misrepresentations of government officials from President Obama down to Mayor Michael Bloomberg in New York and on. These officials have consistently said that the spread is something to take seriously but that there is no substantial reason for concern on the part of the public.

Mayor Bloomberg's response has approached being dismissive, even glib.

Honesty combined with calls for calm and caution is needed here. Not dismissiveness and not belittling of concerns people have.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Economic Treason?

At what point does an official's abrogation of duty cease to be mere incompetence and rise to the level of crime? At what point does a public official's crimes rise to the level of treason, particularly when those crimes seem entirely domestic in scope?
"Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort."
So reads the Constitution. George W. Bush gave us a new definition of "enemy," one President Obama has yet to reject. Nevertheless, it is little more than rhetoric to charge Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner with treason. To do so seriously, we would have to suppose that the Oligarchs of Wall Street are enemies of the United States. That case could be made. They have enriched themselves at the expense of 300 million Americans. But we know that case will never be made by anyone other than lefty ranters like yours truly.

As president of New York Federal Reserve, Geithner was merely a conniving, grovelling servant of the American Oligarchs. Now he is conniving, grovelling servant endorsed, abetted, and presumably directed by President Obama. (Obama is playing the political plausible deniability well by just keeping largely silent, except for the occasional pitch for stocks.)

This administration, a public 'champion' of transparency, has recently been forced, by lawsuit, to make its and Bush's scheming public. So we now know who Geithner, a public servant, really served.

The New York Times reports,

Last June, with a financial hurricane gathering force, Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. convened the nation’s economic stewards for a brainstorming session. What emergency powers might the government want at its disposal to confront the crisis? he asked.

Timothy F. Geithner, who as president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank oversaw many of the nation’s most powerful financial institutions, stunned the group with the audacity of his answer. He proposed asking Congress to give the president broad power to guarantee all the debt in the banking system, according to two participants, including Michele Davis, then an assistant Treasury secretary.

The proposal quickly died amid protests that it was politically untenable because it could put taxpayers on the hook for trillions of dollars.


But in the 10 months since then, the government has in many ways embraced his blue-sky prescription. Step by step, through an array of new programs, the Federal Reserve and Treasury have assumed an unprecedented role in the banking system, using unprecedented amounts of taxpayer money, to try to save the nation’s financiers from their own mistakes.

And more often than not, Mr. Geithner has been a leading architect of those bailouts, the activist at the head of the pack. He was the federal regulator most willing to “push the envelope,” said H. Rodgin Cohen, a prominent Wall Street lawyer who spoke frequently with Mr. Geithner.

Today, Mr. Geithner is Treasury secretary, and as he seeks to rebuild the nation’s fractured financial system with more taxpayer assistance and a regulatory overhaul, he finds himself a locus of discontent.

Even as banks complain that the government has attached too many intrusive strings to its financial assistance, a range of critics — lawmakers, economists and even former Federal Reserve colleagues — say that the bailout Mr. Geithner has played such a central role in fashioning is overly generous to the financial industry at taxpayer expense.

An examination of Mr. Geithner’s five years as president of the New York Fed, an era of unbridled and ultimately disastrous risk-taking by the financial industry, shows that he forged unusually close relationships with executives of Wall Street’s giant financial institutions.

His actions, as a regulator and later a bailout king, often aligned with the industry’s interests and desires, according to interviews with financiers, regulators and analysts and a review of Federal Reserve records.


[F]or all his ties to Citi, Mr. Geithner repeatedly missed or overlooked signs that the bank — along with the rest of the financial system — was falling apart. When he did spot trouble, analysts say, his responses were too measured, or too late.

In 2005, for instance, Mr. Geithner raised questions about how well Wall Street was tracking its trading of complex financial products known as derivatives, yet he pressed reforms only at the margins. Problems with the risky and opaque derivatives market later amplified the economic crisis.

As late as 2007, Mr. Geithner advocated measures that government studies said would have allowed banks to lower their reserves. When the crisis hit, banks were vulnerable because their financial cushion was too thin to protect against large losses.

In fashioning the bailout, his drive to use taxpayer money to backstop faltering firms overrode concerns that such a strategy would encourage more risk-taking in the future. In one bailout instance, Mr. Geithner fought a proposal to levy fees on banks that would help protect taxpayers against losses.

The bailout has left the Fed holding a vast portfolio of troubled securities. To manage them, Mr. Geithner gave three no-bid contracts to BlackRock, an asset-management firm with deep ties to the New York Fed.

To Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel-winning economist at Columbia and a critic of the bailout, Mr. Geithner’s actions suggest that he came to share Wall Street’s regulatory philosophy and world view.


A bill sent recently by the Treasury to Capitol Hill would give the Obama administration extensive new powers to inject money into or seize systemically important firms in danger of failure. It was drafted in large measure by Davis Polk & Wardwell, a law firm that represents many banks and the financial industry’s lobbying group. Mr. Geithner also hired Davis Polk to represent the New York Fed during the A.I.G. bailout.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Condoleezza Rice — War Criminal

Condoleezza Rice, guilty of crimes against humanity.

Britain's Guardian newspaper, among others, has confirmed what we already knew — that Condoleezza Rice was just as vile a war criminal as anyone in the Bush administration. Indeed, it now appears that she provided the first official approval for waterboarding. She has worked harder than most of the Bush war criminals to cover her tracks, but the report newly released by the Senate intelligence committee lays bare her role.

Moreover, this means that she lied to Congress and the American people last fall.
Rice gave early approval for CIA waterboarding,
Senate report reveals
• Go-ahead in July 2002 is first known official approval
• Finding suggests greater Rice role than she admitted

Condoleezza Rice gave permission for the CIA to use waterboarding techniques on the alleged al-Qaida terrorist Abu Zubaydah as early as July 2002, the first known official approval for the technique, according to a report released by the Senate intelligence committee yesterday.

The revelation indicates that Rice, who at the time was national security adviser and went on to be secretary of state, played a greater role than she admitted in written testimony last autumn.

The committee's narrative report (pdf) also shows that dissenting legal views about the interrogation methods were brushed aside repeatedly. The mood within the Bush administration at the time is caught in a handwritten note attached to a December 2002 memo from Donald Rumsfeld, the then defence secretary, on the use of stress positions. "I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?" he asked.

The intelligence committee's timeline comes a day after the Senate armed services committee released an exhaustive report detailing direct links between the harsh interrogation programme of the CIA and abuses of prisoners at the US prison at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, in Afghanistan and at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison.

The latest report, which compiles legal advice provided by the Bush administration to the CIA, indicates that Rice personally conveyed the administration's approval for waterboarding Zubaydah to the then CIA director, George Tenet, in July 2002.

Last autumn, Rice acknowledged to the armed services committee only that she had attended meetings where the CIA interrogation request was discussed. She said she did not recall details. Within days, the justice department secretly approved the use of waterboarding. Zubaydah underwent waterboarding at least 83 times in August 2002.

In the years that followed, according to yesterday's report, there were numerous internal legal reviews, suggesting government lawyers were concerned that methods such as waterboarding might violate federal laws against torture and the US constitution. Bush administration lawyers continued to validate the programme, but the CIA voluntarily dropped the use of waterboarding after 2005.

The 232-page armed services committee report, the most detailed investigation yet into the background of torture, undercut the claim of the then deputy defence secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, that the abuse of prisoners in Iraq was the work of "a few bad apples".

Its release yesterday added to the debate raging within the US after President Barack Obama, who regards the techniques as torture, opened the way for possible prosecution of members of the Bush administration.

Carl Levin, the Democratic chairman of the committee, said: "The paper trail on abuse leads to top civilian leaders, and our report connects the dots." The report shows a paper trail going from Rumsfeld to Guantánamo to Afghanistan and to Iraq.

The report says: "The abuse of detainees in US custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of "a few bad apples" acting on their own. The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorised their use against detainees."

The report, the result of an 18-month inquiry, revealed that the administration rejected advice from various branches of the armed services against using more aggressive techniques. The military questioned the morality and the reliability of information gained.

The report condemned the techniques adopted, saying: "Those efforts damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority."

The report disclosed that waterboarding and other techniques used were based on a faulty premise. The methods were lifted from a military programme known as Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape, but the armed forces pointed out this was intended to train troops in resisting torture during the Korean war, rather than establishing whether these were useful interrogation methods.

A New York Times report says that, even then, it was appreciated that the techniques induced false confessions from the American personnel on which it was tried. The paper adds that the US prosecuted torturers who employed waterboarding in war crimes trials following the second world war and that it was a technique known to have been used by despots including Pol Pot in Cambodia.

The New York Times says administration officials briefed by Tenet were not aware that the former military psychologist who played a central role in persuading the CIA to use waterboarding had never conducted a real interrogation and that the justice department lawyer most responsible for declaring the method legal had "idiosyncratic ideas" that the department would later renounce.

Bush administration memos released by Obama last week were confined to interrogations at Guantánamo and CIA secret prisons around the world, but the Senate report goes wider, including prisons run by the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

In the Year of Our Obama . . .

The cult of Obama is taking some hits. The "hope and change" mantra is proving to mean change, as in the loss of hope. Obama is looking like a coward or an accomplice in Wall Street's looting of the United States. He is looking like a coward or an accomplice in the immunizing of Bush-era war criminals against prosecution for crimes domestic and foreign.

The issues of economics are so complicated and so veiled by the secrecy guaranteed by Geithner, Bernanke, Summers — all under the aegis of Obama — that it is difficult even for those well-versed in economics to describe clearly what is happening. Not so in the case of torture.

Moreover, in the case of Bush torture policy, the public sentiment is unambiguously and overwhelmingly in favor of investigation and probably prosecution. Yet the coward Obama won't even go so far as to investigate.

Jeremy Scahill, author of the key study of Blackwater's crimes in Iraq, has an excellent essay examining Obama's stance on investigation and prosecution.

This development [release of a new report on Bush torture policy] comes as the movement to try to hold senior Bush administration officials, their torturers and their lawyers accountable for their crimes is gaining new momentum. President Obama’s comments on Tuesday, made during a meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah, has been reported in the press as Obama keeping the door open to prosecuting former Bush administration officials. What he actually indicated is that he may take the position that it “is going to be more of a decision for the Attorney General within the parameters of various laws” and is open to Congress forming a bipartisan commission to conduct an inquiry. The statement on Attorney General Eric Holder is perhaps a small step forward, but the “commission” idea is very problematic (more on this in a moment). The fact is that the president already did incredible damage to the accountability movement, and possibly acted unconstitutionally and in contravention of international law, by publicly—and repeatedly—stating that he will not allow prosecution of the CIA torturers because they were “in good faith” following evil orders. One of the most recent comments by Obama about this was made at CIA headquarters:

“Don’t be discouraged by what’s happened in the last few weeks,” he told employees. “Don’t be discouraged that we have to acknowledge potentially we’ve made some mistakes. That’s how we learn. But the fact that we are willing to acknowledge them and then move forward, that is precisely why I am proud to be president of the United States and that’s why you should be proud to be members of the C.I.A.”

Legal experts have pointed out that the decision not to prosecute the torturers was not Obama’s to make. “The attorney general is entrusted with upholding the law where crimes are committed, not making a political decision as to whether the president believes it is expedient to do so,” according to the Center for Constitutional Rights.


Scahill notes that Senator Diane Feinstein seems to be taking a "sit on it 'til things blow over" approach, much as the Senate did in the Iran-Contra investigations during the Reagan administration.

President Obama seems be a master of nothing so much as the balancing act of political neutrality, in the service of . . . what? Self-preservation, I think. Anyone from a country with a more blatantly corrupt government would recognize the pattern. Corrupt officials of one party ensure their own immunity by guaranteeing that of the other equally corrupt parties. You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.

Just as Wall Street is proving wholly immune to accountability for robbing the American people blind, so too are our elected leaders proving immune to accountability for crimes against humanity. This is an essential feature of oligarchy.

It's 35 years since we last really held a president - Nixon - even remotely accountable. Reagan committed impeachable offenses, and Congress ultimately did nothing. (I remember well seeing Rep. Thomas Foley responding to a reporter's question saying that it seemed that impeachable offenses might have been committed.)

George W. Bush surpassed Nixon and Reagan combined in the sheer criminality of his administration. But Obama, who will in due course commit his own crimes in Afghanistan or in abetting the annihilation of the American economy, will in due course seek his own immunity. And in the case of torture specifically, plenty of Democrats were happy to applaud as long as it seemed the president enjoyed some popularity.

The general point is, that the United States has a leadership -- public and private, Democratic and Republican -- that wants, expects, demands immunity from the will of the people. It has passed the point of a mere desire to being understood as a right. The Divine Right of Oligarchs. Look at the response of Jane Harman to being subjected to a legal version of the very invasion of privacy that she supported in illegal instances.

The Quiet Sun

Amateur astronomers have probably already heard that the weather on the sun has been remarkably tame all year. The BBC has a story on astronomers scratching their heads and on possible climatic effects on Earth.
'Quiet Sun' baffling astronomers
By Pallab Ghosh

The Sun is the dimmest it has been for nearly a century.

There are no sunspots, very few solar flares - and our nearest star is the quietest it has been for a very long time.

The observations are baffling astronomers, who are due to study new pictures of the Sun, taken from space, at the UK National Astronomy Meeting.

The Sun normally undergoes an 11-year cycle of activity. At its peak, it has a tumultuous boiling atmosphere that spits out flares and planet-sized chunks of super-hot gas. This is followed by a calmer period.

Last year, it was expected that it would have been hotting up after a quiet spell. But instead it hit a 50-year year low in solar wind pressure, a 55-year low in radio emissions, and a 100-year low in sunspot activity.

According to Prof Louise Hara of University College London, it is unclear why this is happening or when the Sun is likely to become more active again.

"There's no sign of us coming out of it yet," she told BBC News.

"At the moment, there are scientific papers coming out suggesting that we'll be going into a normal period of activity soon.

"Others are suggesting we'll be going into another minimum period - this is a big scientific debate at the moment."

In the mid-17th Century, a quiet spell - known as the Maunder Minimum - lasted 70 years, and led to a "mini ice-age".

This has resulted in some people suggesting that a similar cooling might offset the impact of climate change.

According to Prof Mike Lockwood of Southampton University, this view is too simplistic.

"I wish the Sun was coming to our aid but, unfortunately, the data shows that is not the case," he said.

Prof Lockwood was one of the first researchers to show that the Sun's activity has been gradually decreasing since 1985, yet overall global temperatures have continued to rise.

"If you look carefully at the observations, it's pretty clear that the underlying level of the Sun peaked at about 1985 and what we are seeing is a continuation of a downward trend (in solar activity) that's been going on for a couple of decades.

"If the Sun's dimming were to have a cooling effect, we'd have seen it by now."

'Middle ground'

Evidence from tree trunks and ice cores suggest that the Sun is calming down after an unusually high point in its activity.

Professor Lockwood believes that as well as the Sun's 11-year cycle, there is an underlying solar oscillation lasting hundreds of years.

He suggests that 1985 marked the "grand maximum" in this long-term cycle and the Maunder Minimum marked its low point.

"We are re-entering the middle ground after a period which has seen the Sun in its top 10% of activity," said Professor Lockwood.

"We would expect it to be more than a hundred years before we get down to the levels of the Maunder Minimum."

He added that the current slight dimming of the Sun is not going to reverse the rise in global temperatures caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

"What we are seeing is consistent with a global temperature rise, not that the Sun is coming to our aid."

Data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shows global average temperatures have risen by about 0.7C since the beginning of the 20th Century.

And the IPCC projects that the world will continue to warm, with temperatures expected to rise between 1.8C and 4C by the end of the century.

No-one knows how the centuries-long waxing and waning of the Sun works. However, astronomers now have space telescopes studying the Sun in detail.

According to Prof Richard Harrison of the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Oxfordshire, this current quiet period gives astronomers a unique opportunity.

"This is very exciting because as astronomers we've never seen anything like this before in our lifetimes," he said.

"We have spacecraft up there to study the Sun in phenomenal detail. With these telescopes we can study this minimum of activity in a way that we could not have done so in the past."

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Follow-Up on Obama's Tacit Endorsement of Torture

Two days ago I wrote, "Obama's rejection of law could itself constitute a violation of international law." The BBC now reports that Manfred Nowak, UN special raporteur on torture has said that, "US is bound under the UN Convention against Torture to prosecute those who engage in it."
CIA torture exemption 'illegal'

US President Barack Obama's decision not to prosecute CIA agents who used torture tactics is a violation of international law, a UN expert says.

The UN special rapporteur on torture, Manfred Nowak, says the US is bound under the UN Convention against Torture to prosecute those who engage in it.

Mr Obama released four "torture memos" outlining harsh interrogation methods sanctioned by the Bush administration.

Mr Nowak has called for an independent review and compensation for victims.

"The United States, like all other states that are part of the UN convention against torture, is committed to conducting criminal investigations of torture and to bringing all persons against whom there is sound evidence to court," Mr Nowak told the Austrian daily Der Standard.

The memos revealed by Mr Obama approved techniques including simulated drowning, week-long sleep deprivation, forced nudity, and the use of painful positions.

Torture trials

Mr Obama on Thursday said he would not prosecute under anti-torture laws CIA personnel who relied in good faith on Bush administration legal opinions issued after the 11 September attacks.

Mr Nowak - who is due to travel to Washington to meet with officials - said that could be a mitigating factor, but does not absolve those involved.

"The fact that you carried out an order doesn't relieve you of your responsibility," he was quoted as saying by AP news agency.

Mr Nowak, an Austrian law professor, said US courts could still try those suspected of carrying out torture, as Mr Obama has not sought an amnesty law for affected CIA personnel.

He called for an investigation by an independent commission before suspects were tried and said it was important that all victims receive compensation.

Human rights groups have criticised President Obama's decision to protect CIA interrogators, saying charges were necessary to prevent future abuses and hold people accountable.

President Obama banned the use of the controversial interrogation techniques in his first week in office.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Olbermann on Obama

Too simplistic a view offered here, especially on what happened post-WW1, but refreshing to see that a moderately liberal voice will challenge the lies that Obama is offering.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Obama Rules: "Torturers are OK If They Were Following Orders"

It is "time for reflection, not retribution."

"In releasing these memos, it is our intention to assure those who carrying out their duties relying in good faith upon the legal advice from the department of justice that they will not be subject to prosecution."

Thus Barack Obama joins the ranks of apologists for American war crimes, offering the conclusively rebutted defense that "they were following orders." Pathetic, shameful, revolting. And sufficient reason to reject a second term for a 'compromising' toad who seems bent upon joining the ranks of American war criminals with an expanded war in Afghanistan. And, as if this were not enough, Obama has embarked on the largest transfer of wealth from the poor and middle classes to the rich in American, and perhaps world, history.

Eric Holder
, already distinguished in his contempt for the average American, added "It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the justice department." One wonders how far this insane illogic could be carried.

And Leon Panetta, CIA Director, jumped in also, promising legal and financial help for any CIA employees who might face Congressional or foreign legal or court actions: "CIA’s detention and interrogation effort was authorized and approved by our government. For that reason, as I have continued to make clear, I will strongly oppose any effort to investigate or punish those who followed the guidance of the Department of Justice.... In addition, the Department will provide legal representation to CIA personnel subject to investigations relating to these operations."

Even investigation is being ruled out. (Wouldn't want to turn up any info that might undermine the Obama line.)

The Obama administration understanding of law is nothing more than an assertion by Obama that "I am the law". It is legal just in case the executive branch says it is legal. Remember Nixon saying that "When the president does it, that means it is not illegal"? Obama has tacitly endorsed the legal strategy of the Bush administration: An officially contrived legal excuse is all that is needed to act illegally.

The American Civil Liberties Union has noted that this effective immunity is being granted before we know all, or even most, of the facts. Much remains, and will remain, secret and uninvestigated.

Also unaddressed, though the implications seems clear, is whether Obama will hold accountable the higher-ups who provided the legal excuse — Gonzalez, Rumsfeld, Rice, Yoo, Addington, Bybee, and others. And could Obama administration figures become liable if they provide safe harbor for known war criminals?

It must again be noted that Obama was a professor of law at what is routinely touted as the nation's leading law school — Harvard, once and future home of war criminals, apologists for war criminals and training ground for architects of economic disaster.

Sadly, Spain has backed away from the precedent it established in the case of Chilean president Augusto Pinochet. Spain's attorney general said, "If there is a reason to file a complaint against these people, it should be done before local courts with jurisdiction, in other words in the United States."

Let us summarize some of the points that are either lost on a dimwitted Obama or deliberately ignored or dismissed by a malicious Obama:
  • The Obama administration is still keeping classified most of the Bush documents and is swearing off investigation of Bush actions.
  • Ignorance of the law is no defense. Willfully twisting the law certainly isn't.
  • Obama, AG Eric Holder, and CIA Director Leon Panetta have effectively granted federally-backed immunity for American war criminals.
  • The US has repeatedly and explicitly rejected exactly the kind of defense Obama now offers for American war criminals. This includes both the precedents of US actions against foreign nationals and several long-standing American treaty obligations. Indeed, Obama's rejection of law could itself constitute a violation of international law.
  • The defense is the notorious Nuremberg defense: "We were following orders." Wrong wrong wrong.
The issue ultimately is one of Justice, and once again the United States is telling the world that there is one standard for the world and another for the United States.

When does Justice apply? Common Sense emphatically says always. President Obama says "when it suits us". This is commonly called 'pragmatic' or 'realistic'. In truth, it is cowardly, craven, criminal. If 'pragmatism' and 'realism' are frames for justice, when will a crime be a crime? If Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney and Alberto Gonzalez (or or their Obama adminstration counterparts) say killing civilians is legal and US forces simply kill people on the street, are they exempt from prosecution because they 'believed they were acting legally'?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

On the Bright Side

A terrific surprise on something called Britain's Got Talent. Also available in its entirety on YouTube.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

And the Military Budget

ABC, NPR, CNN, The New York Times were falling all over themselves to applaud the 'drastic change' in the approach to the Pentagon and the military budget. A four percent reduction was described as "huge", "drastic", etc. Meanwhile, cutting entire social programs is routinely described as 'trimming waste'. It is true, of course, that the Pentagon's gravy train has finally been superceded by something more important — the Bailout for Billionaires. So now we see the true hierarchy in the US — rich fucks first (including our 'representatives'), then the military, then the rest of us sorry shites.

Once again, it took lefties and comedians to get it right. So here is Jon Stewart's take:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Military Budget Cuts
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisPolitical Humor

Stephen Colbert Says About Ted Stevens What the Times, CNN and NPR Won't Dare Say

I have never heard NPR come to the defense of a liberal, much less a lefty, but they sure as hell sounded like they were in Ted Stevens's camp this past week as the former senator's conviction was overturned on the basis of prosecutorial misconduct.

There is little if any evidence in Stevens's record of support for the rights of the accused against prosecutors or even of upholding long-standing constitutional principles like habeus corpus. Yet here he is standing on his constitutional rights. It took Stephen Colbert to note this irony because the Times and NPR are to cowardly or too conservative to do so.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Alpha Dog of the Week - Ted Stevens
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorNASA Name Contest

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

President Obama Tells Muslims, "Some of My Best Friends Are Muslim."

Before the Turkish Parliament, President Obama has asserted that the United States "is not and never will be at war with Islam". Never mind that the war currently under way, now to be prolonged in Afghanistan and Pakistan, was early characterized by George W. Bush as a "Crusade."

President Obama has to be given some credit here. No president before him and few American political leaders have spoken warmly to Muslims. Moreover, he still faces an American population with a significant minority that persists in insisting that he is Muslim. We live in a nation where members of Congress and prominent popular speakers (almost all on the right wing) happily assert that no Muslim should be allowed to serve in Congress, that Muslims should be forced to take loyalty oaths, and worse.

As the Times noted in an April 6th story, "Mr. Obama, who spent part of his childhood in Indonesia, is calculating that the benefits of demonstrating to the Muslim world that Americans are not antagonistic toward it outweigh the potential political fallout back home." It is a sobering commentary on the state of tolerance in the United States that the President must fear the political repercussions of merely seeking closer ties with another people.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Defense Secretary Announces 'Cuts' — A Whole Lot of Nuthin', Like Many Obama Measures to Date

President Obama's budget includes at least $534 billion for 'defense' — "at least" because that total does not include the black budget, secret government expenditures which go almost exclusively to the Pentagon and spying (an amount probably in the neighborhood of $50 billion).

Among the programs cut is the Lockheed VH-71, the new presidential helicopter. Seven of the nine planned have already been delivered. The cost for those nine? $3.8 billion ... originally. Costs had ballooned to $13 billion. Do the math — from over $400 million to over $1 billion per helicopter. One billion dollars for one helicopter!

The F-22 fighter will be cut back with production ceased at 187 aircraft. Officially, the F-22 costs $140 million each, but that excludes the development costs and all the overruns then, which brings the effective total to somewhere in the neighborhood of $300 million each.

Star Wars, first begun in the Reagan years, will not be cut. It will just undergo another metamorphosis "to focus on threats posed by 'rogue' missile threats such as from North Korea." Rogue missile threats. Does that mean a missile accidentally off target, or a deliberately targeted weapon from a 'rogue' nation (meaning, Iran or North Korea)? Either way, we face a program for a grossly improbable threat that now has racked up hundreds of billions of expenses over the past 25 years. (Improbably because, as has been pointed out time and again for over twenty years, any 'rogue' nation is very unlikely to attack by an easily traced means which would bring absolutely certain, devastating reprisals.)

Star Wars will also see continued life in what, by any reasonable measure, is a deliberately provocative placement of the "European Missile Defense System" in countries bordering Russia. (This continues a clear American strategy of encircling states deemed insufficiently friendly — Russsia, Iran, North Korea.)

More money will be spent on weapons like the Predator drone, used to allow Americans to attack with genuine impugnity in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. $2 billion will buy another 25 drones — $80 million per aircraft.

Meanwhile, Wall Street will continue to see billions, if not trillions, in bailout cash. But Obama seems unlikely to offer any substantive change in health care (since he has already ruled out single payer). Millions more will join the 5 million-plus who have lost their jobs in the past 2 years. And hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, still face losing their homes to foreclosure.

So, defense costs will be modestly reduced. Bailout bonuses to Wall Street will continue to increase. And average Americans' suffering will continue to worsen.

It requires a good stretch of the imagination to see how Obama yet represents any marked change from the Bush years. Lots of window dressing. Playing well with Europeans (G20 summit). Saying the right things to Muslims (speeches in Turkey). And little that is likely to make the Earth safer or Americans (beyond the select ranks of the oligarchs) better off.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

New York Times Reports on Larry Summers Ties to Wall Street

Turns out that Larry Summers, President Obama's top economic adviser and former disgraced President of Harvard, has a vested interest in preserving the status quo on a corrupt, venal Wall Street.
Lawrence H. Summers, the top economic adviser to President Obama, earned more than $5 million last year from the hedge fund D. E. Shaw and collected $2.7 million in speaking fees from Wall Street companies that received government bailout money, the White House disclosed Friday in releasing financial information about top officials.

Mr. Summers, the director of the National Economic Council, wields important influence over Mr. Obama’s policy decisions for the troubled financial industry, including firms from which he recently received payments.

Last year, he reported making 40 paid appearances, including a $135,000 speech to the investment firm Goldman Sachs, in addition to his earnings from the hedge fund, a sector the administration is trying to regulate.


[Financial] disclosure forms also shed further light on the compensation received by a top Obama aide who previously worked for Citigroup, one of the largest recipients of taxpayer bailout money. The aide, Michael Froman, deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs, received more than $7.4 million from the company from January 2008 to when he joined the White House this year.

That money included a year-end bonus of $2.25 million for work in 2008, which Citigroup paid him in January. Such bonuses have prompted political controversy in recent months, including sharp criticism from Mr. Obama, who in January branded them as “shameful.”


Millionaires work in a variety of positions across the administration, and they include Desirée Rogers, the White House social secretary. Ms. Rogers, a close Chicago friend of the Obama family, reported income of $2.3 million last year. She earned a salary of $1.8 million from People’s Gas & North Shore Gas, along with three other sources of income from serving on insurance company boards.

Thomas E. Donilon, the deputy national security adviser, reported earning $3.9 million as a partner at the Washington law firm O’Melveny & Myers. His disclosure form says major clients included Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and Apollo Management, a private equity firm in New York that specializes in distressed assets and corporate restructuring....

Friday, April 3, 2009

Queen Elizabeth Chews Out Berlusconi

Queen Elizabeth comments on Italy's obnoxious Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

G19 + Amer'ka Tell World, "We're Coming! Uh, No, Wait Wait..."

The incompetent bunglers who have mangled their domestic economies are gathered in London to mangle the whole world. I feel better already.