Friday, June 5, 2009

Obama's speech

Lots of articles out there on Obama's speech in the Middle East. I'll post some links in a bit, but this bit really struck me. Obama's Non-Starter by Stanley Heller on

At one point Obama says, “We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security. Because we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women, and children.”

The author goes on to point out how Obama didn't object so much to the deaths in Gaza from Israeli bombing. But I went to look for a different response. It didn't take long to find just one of the many examples I thought I'd find.

President Obama Orders Pakistan Drone Attacks from, Jan 23, 2009

A pair of US drone strikes in the North and South Waziristan tribal agencies of Pakistan killed 22 people today. Many of them appear to have been militants, but at least four of them were also children. The attacks, the first of President Obama’s fledgling administration, and the responses in their aftermath suggest that, in the end, very little has changed.

President Obama claims that he rejects the killing of innocent men, women and children. Yet, just days after becoming President, 4 children were dead by his order.

Of course, we know what the official US response would be. They were trying to kill some evil, dangerous extremists. The four children just happened to get in the way. The usual lines about how the US military goes to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties.

This of course has been going on for years. The US military conducts strikes. Civilians die because of the strikes. The US military then says that it either didn't know the civilians would die, or that they said they took all possible steps to avoid killing them. Yet, when you do something over and over and over, and when exactly the same thing results each time, at what point can you continue to claim innocence as to your actions? By this point, it is very, very clear that when the President orders strikes like these, he is ordering civilian casualties.

War itself causes the deaths of innocent men, women and children. This is a foreseeable outcome for which anyone who orders the starting or expansion of a war must take responsibility. How many innocents have died because of Mr. Obama's expansion of the Afghan war into Pakistan? The direct drone strikes into Pakistan seemed to have stopped or at least slowed down. But that's only because we've insisted that the Pakistani army begin ground actions. How many innocents have died because of those actions? There is no doubt that they are occurring because the US and President Obama want them to occur. And, it seems as if sometime in his term, we will go to war with Iran. The latest hints seem to point to early next year. How many innocents will die if Mr. Obama gives that order?

Mr. Obama claims that he rejects, as do people of all faiths, the killing of innocent men, women and children. Nice words. Too bad he doesn't really believe them. You judge people by their actions, not their words. President Obama's actions are to order the deaths of innocent men, women and children. It was one of the first things he did upon taking office.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Lack of Money Ends Wars

In reading history, there seems to be one thing that forces power-hungry leaders to end wars. Money. Or lack thereof more precisely.

If you read Gabriel Kolko's excellent history of the Vietnam war, you'll see that's what happened then. Nixon was always willing to escalate to try to force the 'peace' he wanted. It was the finance system that eventually said NO. Back then, the US was on 'the gold standard'. In other words, it was only supposed to print money that it had gold in Fort Knox to back up. The idea was that anyone could take US dollars and ask for gold in exchange. By the early 70's, the US was running out of money for both its domestic priorities and its war in Vietnam. When forced to choose, any sensible politician chooses domestic priorities, as that's what gets them re-elected or kicked out of office.

Read this piece by Paul Craig Roberts, As the Dollar Falls Off the Cliff ... (via Counterpunch).

It is obvious to Chinese officials that neither China nor the entire world has enough spare money to purchase $4 trillion of US Treasuries over the next two years. According to the London Telegraph on May 27, Dallas Federal Reserve Bank president Richard Fisher was repeatedly grilled by senior officials of the Chinese government during his recent visit about whether the Federal Reserve was going to finance the US budget deficit by printing money. According to Fisher, “I must have been asked about that a hundred times in China. I was asked at every single meeting about our purchases of Treasuries. That seemed to be the principal preoccupation of those that were invested with their surpluses mostly in the United States.”

US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has gone to China to calm the fears. However, even before he arrived, a Chinese central bank spokesman gave Geithner the message that the US should not assume China will continue to finance Washington’s extravagant budgets. The governor of China’s central bank is calling for the abandonment of the dollar as reserve currency, using the International Monetary Fund’s Special Drawing Rights in its place.

President Lyndon Johnson’s “guns and butter” policy during the 1960s forced president Richard Nixon to eliminate the gold backing that the dollar had as world reserve currency, putting foreign central banks on the same fiat money standard as the US economy. In its first four months, the Obama administration has outdone president Johnson. Instead of ending war, Obama has expanded America’s war of aggression in Afghanistan and spread it into Pakistan. War, bailouts, and stimulus plans have pushed the government’s annual operating budget 50 per cent into the red.

That's the almost surrealistic part of this. The US is broke. We are running huge deficits. Orders of magnitude higher than anything before. That's the cost of pumping trillions of US dollars into the reserves of the Wall Street banks to keep them from collapsing because of their fraud and bad business decisions. What amazes me is why on earth we don't shut these wars down and do it now?

In other news today, the House and the Senate reached agreement on the next $100 billion dollar installment of war funding. No big surprise, since Democrats and Republicans seem to be in full agreement that the wars must go on. If there was debate, it was on the details of the additional 'pork' that is added on to this bill. There was never any disagreement over funding the wars.

That's insane. One thing about being broke. You need every dollar you can lay your hands on. We just spent three times as much on these wars as we just spent trying to prop up our auto industry from the results of their own bad decisions. That was $30 billion. And, you'll see an article below where the union workers in that industry just lost all their pension and health for retirees benefits to fund the Wall Street bankers so they don't lose a dime on the deal.

Think about that. We have to steal $6 billion of the money that retired autoworkers put aside for their own pensions and health care in order to keep the fat cats on Wall Street happy. But we can find $100 billion to fund going to the other side of the world and killing people. Insanity.

At this point, I don't expect anyone in Washington to understand the moral issue that its not right to go around the world killing people. No matter how much you want their oil. But, surely these people can do what every American sitting at the kitchen table making a budget understand. That is, sometimes you just can't afford something. You can't have it right now. No matter how much your evil little heart wants to go to the other side of the world to kill someone who doesn't look like you ... sometimes you just can't afford it.

Monday, June 1, 2009

In case you were wondering .....

Banks run Congress, top Democrat says by John Byrne on

“The banks run the place,” Peterson told the New York Times in Monday’s editions. “I will tell you what the problem is — they give three times more money than the next biggest group. It’s huge the amount of money they put into politics.”

Well, that's what you get when you have a political system where money rules.

Grand Theft Auto

The following came to me in an email from Greg Palast. Don't see a link to a web version, so I'm relaying on the full text. The quote from Justice Brandeis to the left seems very appropriate today.

Grand Theft Auto: How Stevie the Rat bankrupted GM

by Greg Palast
Monday, June 1, 2009

Screw the autoworkers.

They may be crying about General Motors' bankruptcy today. But dumping 40,000 of the last 60,000 union jobs into a mass grave won't spoil Jamie Dimon's day.

Dimon is the CEO of JP Morgan Chase bank. While GM workers are losing their retirement health benefits, their jobs, their life savings; while shareholders are getting zilch and many creditors getting hosed, a few privileged GM lenders - led by Morgan and Citibank - expect to get back 100% of their loans to GM, a stunning $6 billion.

The way these banks are getting their $6 billion bonanza is stone cold illegal.

I smell a rat.

Stevie the Rat, to be precise. Steven Rattner, Barack Obama's 'Car Czar' - the man who essentially ordered GM into bankruptcy this morning.

When a company goes bankrupt, everyone takes a hit: fair or not, workers lose some contract wages, stockholders get wiped out and creditors get fragments of what's left. That's the law. What workers don't lose are their pensions (including old-age health funds) already taken from their wages and held in their name.

But not this time. Stevie the Rat has a different plan for GM: grab the pension funds to pay off Morgan and Citi.

Here's the scheme: Rattner is demanding the bankruptcy court simply wipe away the money GM owes workers for their retirement health insurance. Cash in the insurance fund would be replace by GM stock. The percentage may be 17% of GM's stock - or 25%. Whatever, 17% or 25% is worth, well ... just try paying for your dialysis with 50 shares of bankrupt auto stock.

Yet Citibank and Morgan, says Rattner, should get their whole enchilada - $6 billion right now and in cash - from a company that can't pay for auto parts or worker eye exams.

Preventive Detention for Pensions

So what's wrong with seizing workers' pension fund money in a bankruptcy? The answer, Mr. Obama, Mr. Law Professor, is that it's illegal.

In 1974, after a series of scandalous take-downs of pension and retirement funds during the Nixon era, Congress passed the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. ERISA says you can't seize workers' pension funds (whether monthly payments or health insurance) any more than you can seize their private bank accounts. And that's because they are the same thing: workers give up wages in return for retirement benefits.

The law is darn explicit that grabbing pension money is a no-no. Company executives must hold these retirement funds as "fiduciaries." Here's the law, Professor Obama, as described on the government's own web site under the heading, "Health Plans and Benefits."

"The primary responsibility of fiduciaries is to run the plan solely in the interest of participants and beneficiaries and for the exclusive purpose of providing benefits."

Every business in America that runs short of cash would love to dip into retirement kitties, but it's not their money any more than a banker can seize your account when the bank's a little short. A plan's assets are for the plan's members only, not for Mr. Dimon nor Mr. Rubin.

Yet, in effect, the Obama Administration is demanding that money for an elderly auto worker's spleen should be siphoned off to feed the TARP babies. Workers go without lung transplants so Dimon and Rubin can pimp out their ride. This is another "Guantanamo" moment for the Obama Administration - channeling Nixon to endorse the preventive detention of retiree health insurance.

Filching GM's pension assets doesn't become legal because the cash due the fund is replaced with GM stock. Congress saw through that switch-a-roo by requiring that companies, as fiduciaries, must

"...act prudently and must diversify the plan's investments in order to minimize the risk of large losses."

By "diversify" for safety, the law does not mean put 100% of worker funds into a single busted company's stock.

This is dangerous business: The Rattner plan opens the floodgate to every politically-connected or down-on-their-luck company seeking to drain health care retirement funds.

House of Rubin

Pensions are wiped away and two connected banks don't even get a haircut? How come Citi and Morgan aren't asked, like workers and other creditors, to take stock in GM?

As Butch said to Sundance, who ARE these guys? You remember Morgan and Citi. These are the corporate Welfare Queens who've already sucked up over a third of a trillion dollars in aid from the US Treasury and Federal Reserve. Not coincidentally, Citi, the big winner, has paid over $100 million to Robert Rubin, the former US Treasury Secretary. Rubin was Obama's point-man in winning banks' endorsement and campaign donations (by far, his largest source of his corporate funding).

With GM's last dying dimes about to fall into one pocket, and the Obama Treasury in his other pocket, Morgan's Jamie Dimon is correct in saying that the last twelve months will prove to be the bank's "finest year ever."

Which leaves us to ask the question: is the forced bankruptcy of GM, the elimination of tens of thousands of jobs, just a collection action for favored financiers?

And it's been a good year for SeƱor Rattner. While the Obama Administration made a big deal out of Rattner's youth spent working for the Steelworkers Union, they tried to sweep under the chassis that Rattner was one of the privileged, select group of investors in Cerberus Capital, the owners of Chrysler. "Owning" is a loose term. Cerberus "owned" Chrysler the way a cannibal "hosts" you for dinner. Cerberus paid nothing for Chrysler - indeed, they were paid billions by Germany's Daimler Corporation to haul it away. Cerberus kept the cash, then dumped Chrysler's bankrupt corpse on the US taxpayer.

("Cerberus," by the way, named itself after the Roman's mythical three-headed dog guarding the gates Hell. Subtle these guys are not.)

While Stevie the Rat sold his interest in the Dog from Hell when he became Car Czar, he never relinquished his post at the shop of vultures called Quadrangle Hedge Fund. Rattner's personal net worth stands at roughly half a billion dollars. This is Obama's working class hero.

If you ran a business and played fast and loose with your workers' funds, you could land in prison. Stevie the Rat's plan is nothing less than Grand Theft Auto Pension.

It doesn't make it any less of a crime if the President drives the getaway car.


Economist and journalist Greg Palast, a former trade union contract negotiator, is author of the New York Times bestsellers The Best Democracy Money Can Buy and Armed Madhouse. He is a GM bondholder and card-carrying member of United Automobile Workers Local 1981.

Palast's latest reports for BBC Television and Democracy Now! are collected on the newly released DVD, "Palast Investigates: from 8-Mile to the Amazon - on the trail of the financial marauders." Watch the trailer here.

Most investors or businesses would be thrilled to get a 10% or even a 20% "Return on Investment"(ROI). That is, if they invest say $1,000,000, they then make a profit of $100,000 or $200,000. In today's America, the political system has made corruption the best possible investment. In the last election, the "FIRE" (Finance, Insurance, Real Estate) sector gave a bit over $20 million to Obama's campaign.

Today, two of these companies alone just made BILLIONS of dollars. Maybe in a different bankrupcty proceeding, that $6 billion in loans these two banks made to GM might have been paid off at 33% ($2 billion). That's a guess, but a ballpark figure is good enough for this example. So, in one day, these firms just made $4 Billion in return for a portion of $20 Million to fund Obama's campaign. A 'return' of $4 Billion on, lets say $10 Million investment, is an ROI of 40,000%. Yes, you read that right ... for every dollar 'invested' in Obama, they just made $400 in return.

This obviously distorts the economy. Why on earth make regular investments when buying politicians creates such a return? Invest in a company that hires American workers ... these days, that's the sucker play. Wall Street now knows what the mob has known for years. The best business investment is to go buy some politicians. Sounds like Chicago. Wait a minute, where's Obama from again?

Look at the effect that money had. Some of it came in very early in the campaign. Obama was quickly established as the one alternative to Hillary's 'inevitable' campaign in 2007 because of the money he raised. Go read those stories again today on early 2007 fundraising, and Wall Street was the leading contributor. Without that early money, Obama is just some junior Senator running for President in a big primary field.

The 2008 Democratic primaries were always going to be a race between the Hillary vote and the anti-Hillary vote. The early strategic goal of all of the candidates in the race, besides Hillary of course, was to establish themselves as the single alternative to Hillary. Obama did that, and he did it with Wall Street money. Without that money, the line on Obama would have been that he was just running this time to prep himself for 2012. Someone else would have been the choice as the 'anti-Hillary' this time.

Makes one wander what sort of bidding contest went on in the formerly-smoke-filled-rooms as the Democratic candidates went begging to Wall Street for money. Wall Street was going to back someone, and that someone was likely to be President. I wonder what the various Democrats offered to Wall Street to try to get that deal? Well, at least we've got a pretty good idea of what Obama bid. $300 billion in TARP money, a few $Trillion from the Fed, and toss in the auto workers pension and health care funds as a few colored sprinkles on top. Oh, and no prosecutions for Wall Street concerning the fraud games that caused this economic collapse.

The difference between the Obama campaign and the Kucinich campaign last time around was that early money. The difference between the Obama campaign and the Nader campaign was the mountains of cash that Obama had to spend. Do you wonder what a election system that let all candidates talk equally to the voters would look like? Do you wonder why both the Democrats and Republicans constantly oppose such an idea?

I wonder how many of those auto workers who are losing their jobs and the pensions and their retirement health care had Obama stickers on their cars last fall?

Someday, American voters have to learn that the candidates with the money are not their friend. Oh, they'll be able to pay lots of speechwriters and consultants to make it look like they are the voter's friend. But, the sure bet is that the candidates with all the money are going to look out for the people who gave them the money.

We need to make it such in this country that the candidates with the money NEVER win. We need to make is such that the American people automatically look at a candidate with lots of money and say 'No way in h@#% am I electing you." The broke candidate who needs their supporters to give them a ride in from the airport is the much better choice. At least you'll know they aren't bought.