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September 28, 2008

Tales of Corporate Greed

Gretchen Morgenson in the NY Times explains the details of how the world's largest insurance company was brought down by rampant greed in its London derivatives office.

Politicians love to talk about how inter-connected Wall Street is with Main Street, how the taxpayer bailout of A.I.G. was as unavoidable as the pending bailout of many other greedy billionaires.

They talk about this being the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. But none of them mention that the way out of that stock market crash was a massive injection of capital directly into Main Street. The government created jobs across all industries, fed the hungry, and expanded the nation's infrastructure. Apparently, mere humans are no longer important to the economy. Only corporations matter.

The WILPF US Section issued a statement yesterday responding to the collapse of the financial system.

Posted by cj at 1:05 PM | Comments (0)

Nuclear Non-Proliferation: World Security Hacked by US Corporations

Nuclear proliferation is one of the gravest threats facing the world. It was even one of the few substantive foreign policy issues discussed during the recent US presidential debate. And yet, the United States government has actively worked to diminish the effectiveness of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

First, the USG supported the creation of the Israeli nuclear warheads, the biggest open secret mocking the effectiveness of the NPT. Then, the USG actively worked to disrupt the diplomatic process at NPT review conferences. Under extreme pressure from the USG, the nuclear suppliers group issued an exemption to India, allowing any country to sell it nuclear supplies despite the fact that India refuses to sing the NPT. And now, the US Congress is poised to open the floodgates to US nuclear trade with India.

WILPF issued a statement on the Nuclear Supplier's group decision to exempt India from joining the NPT before selling it nuclear supplies.

WILPF's Reaching Critical Will project created a backgrounder on the US-India deal, available here.

The House of Representatives passed the trade agreement yesterday. Earlier this week, NPR's Morning Edition had a report explaining the intense pressure exerted by industry lobbyists to suspend Congressional rules for review of such trade agreements. Unfortunately, the lobbyists for global security were not as well funded as the military industrial complex.

Proponents of the trade deal say US corporations will lose out to French and Russian nuclear dealers if the US law wasn't immediately changed. They say India will of course only use the technology to keep its nuclear power generators operating. Yet the only way to ensure that will happen is to force India to sign the NPT and the world community, including the US Congress, has severely diminished the effectiveness of this vital treaty by accepting India's refusal to comply with international norms.

There's no need for me to even mention the environmental and human damage caused by nuclear power in this argument. Even if you think it's a good thing to expose the world to increased levels of thyroid cancer and other health problems, it's impossible to argue that it's a good thing to expose the world to more nuclear weapons.

Today is a sad day for global security. It scares me that this horrific development didn't warrant more than a below-the-fold article on page 19 in the Sunday NY Times. While no nonproliferation experts were quoted in the article, they did at least note there is more opposition to the deal in India than there is in the US. More proof that the political process in this country is completely broken.

Posted by cj at 12:32 PM | Comments (0)

September 21, 2008

Crony Capitalism, brought to you by King Henry Paulson

If you want to understand how horrifically out of touch Treasury Secretary Paulson is with reality, just watch Meet the Press and This Week.

Let's get this straight: bailing out unbridled Wall Street greed is the only way to maintain the stability of the global economy. Only billion dollar banks deserve to be bailed out by the US taxpayers. Common home-owners, who cannot afford their mortgages are shit out of luck because they must take personal responsibility for accepting loans they could not afford.

CNBC reporters blithely called this bailout the creation of the socialist nation of America and their assertions went unchecked by the moderator. Let's be clear: socialist democracies place human needs at the center of government's responsibility. A treasury czar who dismisses the economic crisis of individual citizens out of hand is not acting in the interests of humanity, he is acting in the interest of corporate greed. His actions and the Congress' acquiescence to immediately agree to bail out Wall Street is the essence of crony capitalism.

Naomi Klein's shock doctrine theory is being played out. Congress is apparently willing to fall over itself to increase the imperial power of the executive branch. And Americans should accept a government bailout of billionaires because otherwise our lives will be irreversibly harmed. Don't worry about the guy next door getting kicked out of his home; that's his fault. Care deeply about maintaining corporate earnings for the top 1% of this country.

Crony capitalism and imperial reign. It's time to shout that the emperor has no clothes and that King Henry has to go.

Posted by cj at 3:40 PM | Comments (0)

$700 Billion Blank Check

The Imperial Presidency continues its quest to unfetter the executive branch from the undesirable checks and balances of the legislative and judiciary branches.

In 2.5 pages, the Treasury Secretary laid out a simple ultimatum to the US Congress: give me the ability to spend up to $700 billion to buy undefined mortgage-related junk from Wall Street. I will not tell you how I will use the money, nor will I give you an oversight of the project. But you can take away this authority in 2 years if you have the (never used) balls to do so.

This is the grand plan of the imperial presidency. Absolutely zero help for cash-strapped American citizens, zero pressure on banks to rewrite mortgage terms to keep more citizens in their houses, and did I mention zero oversight on the biggest corporate bailout in American history?

Crony capitalism writ large.

Read all about it in the LA Times.

Or "Bubblenomics," in the NYT Week in Review.

Or the complete NYT coverage of the crisis.

Posted by cj at 12:16 PM | Comments (0)

September 14, 2008

Community Organizing, Fear, and the American Public

I never thought I'd see the day when Saul Alinsky's name was used by a conservative politician on a national broadcast talk show. Nor am I surprised that Tom Brokaw was unable to refute the blatant lies spewed by Giuliani. Here's what the hypocritical former mayor of New York said on Meet the Press this morning:

This is--and also, the group that recruited him was a Saul Alinsky group that has all kinds of questions with regard to their outlook on the economy, their outlook on capitalism. I think it's at the core of Senator Obama's belief that the tax system should be used for a redistribution of wealth, rather than really for gaining revenues for the country. When, when Senator Obama was asked about his increase in capital gains tax and was told that if he does that, he would actually deprive the federal government of revenues, his answer was, "Well, it's only fair." Which gets you to a very core Saul Alinsky kind of almost socialist notion that it should be used for redistribution of wealth.
Instead of refuting this moronic characterization of the founder of community organizing, Brokaw pointed out that Warren Buffett is an Obama supporter and "I think it would be probably a pretty big reach to describe him as a Saul Alinsky kind of economist." Let's be clear, people: Alinsky was not a dogmatic socialist. In fact, he preached an extremely conservative approach to challenging the system. He was not a crusading Robin Hood, and I'm disgusted that the media can't even research history enough to understand that.

Alinsky founded the Industrial Areas Foundation, which was the organization that Obama worked for. IAF works on a simple founding principle: organize community leaders to pressure government to create incremental change that will help make the community a better place. Incremental change like job training programs and public-private housing developments and forcing trash conglomerates to stop dumping waste in empty lots. Church leaders, school principals, and other traditional community leaders who are organized by IAF are not exactly rushing to bring down the pillars of capitalism; rather, they're trying to make capitalism work for everyday Americans as much as it works for Wall Street investors.

I shouldn't be surprised that community organizing is so misunderstood by the MSM. After all, the only defense of organizing Brokaw offered was a button slogan - "Jesus Christ was a community organizer. Pontius Pilate was a governor." A fair and balanced media would explain the basis for community organizing, instead of tacitly accepting a false association with socialism. The basic principal of community organizing is teaching individuals to work together to create change through the political system. Why is it so difficult for the MSM to state this fact?

This election has become a battle between Cold War mentality: fear the Other, fear Socialism, fear Big Cities and Hope based on belief in American ingenuity and global cooperation.

There's a simple reason the Republican strategy works. US presidents are not chosen by popular vote. Rural America is the backbone of this country because its system of States Rights makes Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Minnesota battle ground states, whereas the vast majority of the population does not matter in this election because they live in big cities on the coasts. Don't get me wrong: I have nothing against people from small towns. It is parochialism, racist nationalism, and general Fear of Facts that disgusts me.

Don't believe me? Simply read the comments section of this polling site to realize that people think Obama is a closet Muslim, the anti-Christ, and other disparaging terms I refuse to type. It is far easier to characterize your opponent as the crazy other than it is to create a policy platform that will lead the country off the precipice of economic ruin. The vast majority of Americans make less today than they did 20 years ago; but no need to worry because we've got more lines of credit now than we ever did before. By focusing on creating Enemies out of political adversaries, Republicans are able to sway small town voters by creating an Us vs. Them mentality that leaves no room for educated debate. Indeed, George W. Bush proved that being dumb is an asset in this corrupt political system.

Patriotism and its sister Nationalism are used by petty political leaders to rally citizens around an Ideal of Country that makes Us look Strong and others look weak. It allows a political party to point to the Other and denounce their otherness. Though US corporations are the engine behind globalization, US citizens love to pretend they are the victims. It's those damn Chinese and Indians taking our high tech jobs and those Mexicans taking our low tech jobs. Nevermind that US "free trade" agreements have decimated Latin American economies, forcing people to migrate north for any hope of economic survival; or that US corporations get tax breaks to move high tech jobs overseas. It's easier to blame The Other than to learn about the real basis for the precariousness of your economic stability.

I don't focus my activist energy on elections because there is no room in a binary system for nuanced policy debate. But I'm grateful for community organizers and community leaders who work for incremental change regardless of the barriers thrown up by Republican hacks like Giuliani. I pray that the organizing principals Obama learned from the IAF will lead to a more effective Get Out The Vote effort than the fear-mongering of the corrupt Republican machine.

Posted by cj at 12:03 PM | Comments (0)

September 7, 2008

Responding to British Critism of US Elections

A Nick Cohen commentary in the Guardian newspaper was forwarded to a WILPF listserv. I believe the person forwarding the article thought it was an good reproach of the media's review of Sarah Palin's record as a politician and a mother.

Here is my response to that article (note my original audience was a group of international members of WILPF):

As an American, I need to point out some flagrant lies in the below article.

First of all, US presidents are elected undemocratically by an Electoral College system, which was written into the Constitution to limit the influence of the rabble constituents and promote the importance of states in our federal system. This is why our government continues to subsidize ethanol production rather than fix the problems of our inner-cities. People who live in rural America (and corporations) live a far more subsidized existence than the vast majority of our citizens. But my primary point is that a national poll about the presidential race is irrelevant to becoming the next president of this country.

Second, "liberal media bias" is a red herring that conservatives love to throw at the truth the mainstream media sometimes unearths about our politicians. See "Media Bashing 101," by Mark Leibovich in the New York Times for a deeper explanation -

Third, Nick Cohen never once touched on the hypocrisy of Sarah Palin that was uncovered by the mainstream media. She campaigns as a crusader against pork barrel spending, yet was the first mayor of her small town to hire a lobbyist in D.C. to secure funding for the town. That bridge to nowhere? It was actually a bridge to a new airport, and when running for governor she supported the bridge; then, she decided to cancel building the bridge, but kept the $200+ million from the nation's taxpayers for use in some other Alaskan slush fund.

As a woman, I am spitting mad that Republicans dare to say I'm sexist for questioning whether Palin is fit to be a heart beat away from the presidency. As a WILPFer, I am disgusted that a politican with breasts can work against every single aspect of gender equality: from the right to reproductive choice to dismissing grassroots activism and still be labeled a feminist. You want to know why leftists mock her family values? Because her party has been ramming abstinence-only sex education into our public schools, which is scientifically proven to not work and to increase public health problems (now more teenagers engage in anal and oral sex because somehow they think this keeps their virginity in tact); yet, her daughter's shotgun wedding is supposed to make me feel like she's more relatable.

Let me be clear - I'm not an Obama partisan. Another thing Nick Cohen got wrong was trying to draw a parallel between US and British politics. There is no room in the US system for more than two parties, neither of which embody WILPF's ideals. Combine that with the documented election fraud caused by electronic voting machines, the thousand ways US corporations have a larger influence on government than US citizens, and you'll be hard pressed to find anywhere in this country where poor or middle class people lead public policy. I agree that left wing people sound shrill to the ears of the masses and need to learn how to have conversations with their opponents rather than dismissing them as irrational religious nuts. Nevertheless, I find this article to be a right-wing critique of the American media and British liberals, rather than a reality check on motherhood, careers, and the mainstream media.

For a partisan, but effective critique of the Republican presidential ticket, see "Palin and McCain's Shotgun Marriage," by Frank Rich in the NYT.

Posted by cj at 12:36 PM | Comments (0)