Saturday, March 28, 2009

We’re Paying Congress for This?

We’re Paying Congress for This? by Stanley Kutler on Truthdig

As someone who became aware of politics back when my mom had the Watergate hearings on TV in the house every day, this is something I'm painfully aware of. Congress no longer does real investigations.

And now comes Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank’s choreographed extravaganza in the House of Representatives, supported by an echoing committee, with sound bites worthy of a night in the Borscht Belt. The ostensible probe of executive bonuses at AIG—forget about any investigation of the company’s decisions that so damaged the financial world—offered a painful reminder of Congress’ now largely ignored unique power of investigation, derived from its constitutionally sanctioned authority to legislate. True, Congress has abused this power from time to time, but that is no argument against its existence.

Rep. Frank provided a perfunctory, carefully staged hearing this month. His fellow committee members had been prepped and primed—seemingly by their press aides rather than by any legal staff.

I stopped that excerpt in mid-paragraph because this is undoubtably true. The whole purpose of a Congressional hearing these days is to give each member 5 or 10 minutes to talk in front of a camera. That is the whole point of a modern congressional hearing. It was true when the Republicans were refusing to do any oversight of their president, and it was true for the last two years when the Democrats refused to do any oversight on a Republican President.

Hearings used to be much more open-ended. The main questioners of witnesses were the legal staff of the hearing that had spent long hours compiling and reviewing evidence and taking depositions from key witnesses. Each congress-critter would also ask questions, but the time they had for this wasn't nearly so limited as today.

In a modern hearing, its all designed to fit into a nice slot on C-span, and to provide each congress-critter with film clips of them looking officious asking questions at a hearing. But, you can see how each Congress-critter usually only gets one 5 minute slot to do this in. This of course makes it possible for any witness to dodge answering questions by running out that 5 minutes and moving on to the next questioner. The whole thing is just a giant PR show, and getting any real information out of the witnesses is not the point.

Its clear that replacing the Republicans with Democrats didn't change this. And that's very unfortunate because congressional hearings play a key role in our democracy. We are supposed to have separate but equal branches of government that provide checks and balances upon each other. And if any of these is supposed to be strongest, it is supposed to be the Congress, not the Executive Branch. Having an independent Congress with the power to investigate is a key pillar in what is supposed to be our free and democratic government.

Each Congress-critter takes an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution. When they shirk that key constitutional duty to instead just posture for the cameras, they are doing grave damage to our country. Want to know who's 'un-American' these days? Watch a Congressional hearing. But its not some supposed secret communist who's the un-American person on your screen. Its the congress-critters who are failing to live up to the oath they took with their hand on a bible at the start of the session of Congress.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Flim-Flam Obama Man: The “New Democrat[ic]” President's Wall Street Loyalties Get Clearer Every Day

Flim-Flam Obama Man: The “New Democrat[ic]” President's Wall Street Loyalties Get Clearer Every Day by Paul Street on ZNet

Obama briefly expresses calculated outrage against "excessive" executive bonuses at AIG. He makes carefully orchestrated visits expressing concern about poverty and job-loss to hard-hit places like Pomona, California and Elkhart, Indiana. But it's all a public relations game. It's about pricking the boil of citizen fury to more effectively screw the citizenry over. The White House says mean things about capitalist parasites and then proceeds to give the financial overlords yet more of the public treasure - all in the name of restoring the "free enterprise" system.

The real point is to provide faux-populist cover for Obama's corporate, Wall Street agenda. Meanwhile the "mainstream" (corporate) media continues to ignore the new administration's related commitment to the amazingly unmentionable 1$ trillion-a-year Pentagon budget, a giant subsidy to high-tech industry that pays for more than 760 bases across more than 130 nations and accounts for nearly half the military spending on earth - all in the name of "defense." The leading Wall Street investment firm and bailout recipient Morgan Stanley reported one day after Obama's election victory that Obama has been advised and agrees that there is no peace dividend." [11]

At the same time, Obama's tepid and undersized stimulus plan is deceptively described as "massive" in much of the business press. It is dysfunctionally over-loaded with business-friendly tax cuts and too short on labor-intensive projects to put people to work right away. He says nothing about the overdue labor law reform he campaigned on, the Employee Free Choice Act. He speaks in support of the anti-union, teacher-bashing, and test-based corporate education agenda, advocating teacher "merit pay" and charter schools. He makes a public visit (in support of his stimulus bill) to the headquarters of Caterpillar, a provider of bulldozers for illegal Israeli settlements. Caterpillar was also the first large U.S. manufacturer in decades to break a major strike with scabs.

Witness to Israel's war crimes

Witness to Israel's war crimes Interview with James Leas, who visited Gaza after the main attacks, as a part of a National Lawyer's Guild delegation. Interview posted on

UN Director [of Operations in Gaza] John Ging was actually in telephone contact with the Israelis before they attacked the UN compound, telling them that bombing was coming quite close. Ging told the Israelis that they should avoid hitting the UN compound.

The Israelis knew its coordinates, they knew exactly where it was, they could see it from the air very clearly. Ging told the Israelis that there were hundreds of refugees there, and that there were fuel tanks near the building, which if hit could create a massive explosion.

Ging told them that if they hit it with the white phosphorous bombs that were raining down around the city, there could be an enormous tragedy. But the Israelis went ahead and hit it anyway. Fortunately, there were some very brave people who ran out during the fire bombing and moved the trucks away, so they didn't have that explosion.

Just one of many incidents described in this article.

Iran Nuclear Nonsense

MI chief: Iran has crossed nuclear bomb threshold in Haaretz.

From a nuclear engineer's point of view (at least that's what my degree was in), what's in this article is total nonsense.

Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin told lawmakers on Wednesday that Iran has "crossed the technological threshold" for making a nuclear bomb.

Ooooh. Sounds scary. But, notice there's no detail in there. Just a scary statement. If you read further, and if you have your brain engaged, you'll find its nonsense.

The article then swerves into a side issue about how the evil Iranians have developed a 'surface to surface' missile capable of carrying nuclear weapons. But that has nothing to do with the headline or the first quote. I'll return to that point later.

Then we get to the roll-on-the-floor-laughing part ....

According to Yadlin, the bottleneck in Iran's nuclear weapons program was in obtaining fissionable material.

No kidding?

That's like saying, the main bottleneck to cooking dinner tonight is that there is no food in the house. Oh, we can see alarming preparations towards cooking dinner. We can tell they've tested the gas burners on the stove. And we feel they could have dinner ready in 20 minutes once they obtain actual food.

But hey, without the food, there ain't gonna be no dinner. And, likewise, the main obstacle to building a nuclear weapon is always going to be 'obtaining fissionable material'.

Oh, and here's the fun part where the Israelis decide to tell you that they've been lying their rear's off to you all along.

The Iranians enrich between one and two kilos of low grade uranium, Yadlin said. However, once they decide to bring that to weapon's grade enrichment levels (93%) they could produce the amount needed for a bomb within several months to a year.

Note that the Israeli Military Intelligence chief says 'once they'. But, the Israelis have been screaming for years now that the Iranians have already been doing this. Now, the Israeli Military Intelligence chief is clearly saying that they haven't been, but that they might decide to do it. Gee, I guess its a good thing we didn't already bomb Iran based on the Israeli assertions that the Iranians were building a bomb.

This by-the-way, is in total agreement with what the IAEA has been saying all along. That there is no evidence that the Iranians have ever gone beyond the 4% or so enrichment needed to fuel a nuclear power reactor.

The Israelis don't seem to be able to keep their lies straight. In today's 'You-should-be-very-scared' story, they managed to admit they've been lying all along.

One last note. The article acts like to go from the 4% levels of enrichment to 93% levels of enrichment, its just like putting something in the microwave for 5 minutes. Its not nearly that easy. 'Enrichment' means trying to separate atoms that are nearly identical except for the weight of three additional neutrons in one atom over the other. If I gave that difference in weight in grams, it would be an incredibly small number. And I mean like a decimal point then 20 or so zeros before you get to the numbers sort of small amount of weight in even milligrams. They are trying to separate one thing that weighs almost nothing from something else that weighs just the tiniest bit more than almost nothing. Remember, they are trying to separate molecules of gas based on weight. They do this by spinning this around in a centrifuge.

The trick is, that you could have imperfections in your system that might allow you to get to 4%, but that would never let you get anywhere near 93%. This is a very tricky task, to spin atoms of a gas to one end of a centrifuge, then pull those atoms, and only those atoms out of the centrifuge and separate them. Each run through a centrifuge only 'enriches' by a tiny amount. Quite likely, if the Iranians were to try to go to 93%, they would discover flaws in their system that stop them at a lower level. At least that's what's happened to everyone else who's tried to do this, as far as I know. Those flaws aren't insurmountable, but its likely to be a 'try it - it didn't work - why didn't it work - oh fix this - try it again' sort of process. Ie, it doesn't just happen because someone throws a switch.

And all of this would take both a long time and all of those thousands of centrifuges the Iranians claim to have. Which means this, if we have IAEA inspectors going to the facilities, there is no way they could do this in secret. The US built a massive facility in Oak Ridge and ran thousands of centrifuges for months to do this during the Manhattan project.

In other words, there is no reason to be scared at all. If the Iranians were to go down this path, the whole world would know it months before they ever got there.

One more last note. When they say 'surface-to-surface missiles that can carry nuclear warheads', this is obviously dependent on the size of the nuclear warheads. That's the part of nuclear weapon design that takes some skill. Its simple to make the dang thing blow up. The trick is to make it small enough to fit on top of a missile, and still blow up. Go find pictures of the first American bombs, they were huge, and needed the entire bomb-bay of a WWII super-bomber to carry them. No way they'd fit on top of a missile.

So, the key question is, how big would be the nuclear bomb that would go on this missile? I suspect that what the Israelis are really saying is that the Iranians have a missile that would carry a modern American nuclear weapon, which the Americans have been designing on for 60 years to make a warhead small enough to fit on top of it.

This in no way means that the Iranians, who've never even exploded a test nuclear warhead of any size, can design and build a nuclear weapon to fit on top of this missile.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Making of an 'Animal Rights Terrorist'

How Corporate Provacateurs Made Fran Trutt an “Animal Rights Terrorist” by Will Potter at

Can't really excerpt this. The short version is that a purported attempt to pipe-bomb the executive of a company that uses dogs for product testing and training was actually orchestrated by a company called "Perceptions International" that was hired by the same executive. Follow the link to go read the whole story.

Remember the old rule of thumb some old 60's activist once taught me. If you want to know who the FBI informant in the group is, they'll be the one urging others to some sort of violent and illegal act.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Quakers for War

I'm on an email alert list for a group called "Friends Committee on National Legislation." They are basically the same people as the American Friends Service Committees.

The email they sent me staggered me. They are trying to get me to contact my Congress-critters to support "new, transformative vision that President Barack Obama laid out for this country in his budget proposal for 2010."

This is the same budget that increases Pentagon spending by $22 billion. I never thought I'd see the day that the Quakers would contact me and urge me to support a budget that RAISES Pentagon spending.

I'd say that they want me to support increased spending on the wars, but technically, that's not true. The Democrats have already broken their earlier promise to bring the wars 'on-budget'. Instead, the Democrats are doing exactly what Bush did and are asking for another $200 billion of 'off-budget', 'emergency' supplemental money to continue to fight the wars this year and next.

This is the same budget that increases Homeland Security spending by 6%

The Department of Homeland Security will receive $42.7 billion in discretionary spending for 2010, a 6 percent increase over 2009. The increase may be only 1.2 percent after Congress completes appropriations for 2009, according to the Associated Press. While the document describes how some of the homeland security money will be spent, intelligence spending is classified.

Dont' be fooled it the percentage increase goes 'down' to 1.2%. That just means that our lovely Democratic Congress is likely to spend even more on Homeland Security in 2009. Thus the 2010 money represents less of an increase over what we'll waste on this pork-barrel in 2009.

The words 'discretionary spending' are worrisome. That must mean there is non-discretionary spending, or perhaps compulsory spending in the Dept of Homeland of Security. I understand non-discretionary spending that keeps people fed or with shelter. But, for the Dept of Homeland Security? I'd say that whole department is 'discretionary'. Doesn't mean we shouldn't spend anything here. But, surely in a collapsing economy with out-of-control government deficits, almost all of this can be called 'discretionary'.

"Intelligence" spending is classified. Of course, most other nations know pretty much what we spend on this, so this is more about not telling the American tax-payers how much we spend on this. But this particular bit about what they want to do is fascinating.

Facilitates information Sharing. The President’s 2010 Budget will support initiatives to improve the sharing of intelligence, including terrorist-related information, with Federal, State, local, tribal and foreign partners. These efforts include advancing the National Suspicious Activity reporting Initiative; establishing agency-based, outcome-oriented performance targets for information sharing; and institutionalizing the use of
effective business practices.

This is exactly the programs that end up with Quakers on Terrorism Watch Lists and with records on file with what used to be called "Terrorism task forces" around the country.

Amazing, the Quakers seemed to have bought into Obama-mania so completely that they are urging me to contact my Congress-critters and beg them to support the budget that promises to spend even more money collecting and sharing information about groups like the Quakers.

Absolutely amazing.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Where is it easy?

Robert Fisk’s World: I told him I admired his refusal to sign the death sentences by Robert Fisk in The Independent.

I told him I always admired him for refusing to sign the death sentences on two condemned men. He smiled faintly and pointed out to me that as soon as Rafiq Hariri became prime minister – yes, the same supposedly saintly Hariri who was cruelly murdered in Beirut just over four years ago – Hariri signed the death sentences and the two men were hanged. Word has it that even then, the executioners messed up their work and at least one of the two had to be throttled to death by policemen who pulled on his legs. Did they ever, in their brief extension of life, thank the prime minister who tried to save them? "They didn't have time," Dr el-Hoss replied. Defenders of human rights have a tough time in the Middle East.

OK, where in the world do 'defenders of human rights' have it easy?

Or, another question that comes to mind. America was one of the few great powers left after World War II. America had a 'sphere of influence' over which it had a great deal to say about what happened there. Around about 1990, the other great superpower, the Soviet Union, collapsed, leaving America as the world's only remaining superpower.

Given that we've been the world's only superpower for nearly 20 years, and were one of only two or so for fifty years before that, lets ask this question again. Where in the world is it easy for defenders of human rights? Not just merely less awful than some other place, but what places in the world truly respect human rights? And, did America have anything to do with its creation?

Since America has been fighting to defend freedom for fifty years now, and since the country that was supposed to be our main opponent left the field 20 years ago, isn't it worth asking just how well we are doing?

Red Light Flashing

When Things Fall Apart by Paul Craig Roberts on

On March 19 the New York Times reported: “The Fed said it would purchase an additional $750 billion worth of government-guaranteed mortgage-backed securities, on top of the $500 billion that it is currently in the process of buying. In addition, the Fed said it would buy up to $300 billion worth of longer-term Treasury securities over the next six months.”

The current estimate for the 2009 budget deficit is now over $1.8 trillion dollars. This is a huge jump from the deficts of $400 to $500 billion a year that the government had been running.

It sounds nice to plan on spending this money. And in many ways, the new spending on 'stimulus' is needed. But the question always was 'who are we going to borrow this money from?' The rest of the world had already become leery of US debt, and the US didn't have a 'savings rate' even before the collapse.

So, this news is one big giant flashing red light warning of trouble ahead. The government is now playing Enron like accounting games, taking advantage of the fact that the Fed is not a government entity to use them to loan money to the rest of the government by buying massive amounts of bonds.

We need the stimulus. We need money pumped into this economy to try to create jobs. What we don't need is the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We can't afford them. What we don't need is trillions of dollars being pumped into banks to keep them afloat. What we don't need is one to two trillion dollars a year being spend on 'defense' and 'homeland security'.

Obama and the Democrats are making the classic mistake. They are trying to keep spending huge amounts on war and the military, while also trying to ramp up the domestic economy. They've failed to notice that its always guns OR butter. Guns AND butter at the same time never works.

We need the butter. We don't need the guns. We are heading for a major crisis worse than it is today if we foolishly fail to end these wars and massively slash what we spend on the military, intelligence, and homeland security.

Sometimes, you see evil

This image is from Dead Palestinian babies and bombed mosques - IDF fashion 2009 in Haaretz. Warning, its only the tip of the iceberg as to what you'll find in this story about a print shop that does work for members of IDF units.

Sometimes, you see evil. Its just right there in front of you.

Evil comes when people forget to treat other people as people. Evil comes when minds get so twisted by thoughts, dreams, ideology, greed, or anything else, that they forget that others are people just like them with their own loves and hopes and dreams. Evil can only occur when the mind has become so twisted that it thinks of others as some object or name, but never other human beings.

Listen to soldiers talk, and you always hear the most violent, racist demeaning language used to describe those they kill. Both the military command and the soldiers themselves know that this is the only way they can commit the evil that they commit.

In a war, it goes both ways. I'm sure one could easily find evil people on the Arab side that talk in racist terms about Jews, and easily justify to themselves the launching of rockets aimed at mothers and children, or the bombing of a pizza parlor or an ice cream shop.

Awhile back, I printed a famous quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr about violence. Since it applies here, let me requote it here.
"The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. . . Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. . . . Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; Only love can do that." - Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Among the killers, among those who believe in evil, the myth is that killing can always settle the fight. The myth is that one can kill all of one's enemy, thus achieving peace. It never works that way.

Or to put it another way. The soldier that made this t-shirt probably believes he is defending the security of his country. And its easy for the soldier in the middle of the battle to think of only how many kills he is racking up, much like the dwarf and the elf did in the Lord of the Rings movies. But, someone in charge needs to be smart enough to realize that if this sniper fulfills his evil dreams, there would be others outraged by the death of a pregnant young woman and her child that will never see the light. Her husband, her father, her brothers would all know the shock of this. Maybe that young child that would never be already has an older brother who just lost both a mother and sibling.

What are the odds that these people might walk into a pizza parlor in Israel with explosives strapped to their chest? The snipers 'two kills' for one bullet would very likely lead to more exploding pizza parlors and ice cream shops and more attempts to launch missiles to try to hit other mothers and children.

Violence always begets more violence. Dr. King was right about that. In war, there is no 'security'. In war, someone is always trying to find a way to do harm to you. And, often times they will succeed.

The only 'security' comes from peace.