Posts from — December 2008
I see that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (photo below) has demanded an immediate cease-fire in Gaza and I also see that his “demand” has been ignored. Rockets continue to rain down on Israel and hundreds of innocent civilians, including women and children, are still being slaughtered in Gaza.
So what does the U.N. secretary-general do now? I would expect him to send in peacekeepers. That’s right: Americans, Canadians, Turks, Arabs, Iranians, Africans… whatever peacekeepers are available, without regard to their ethnic origin. If the Hamas terrorists don’t stop firing rockets into Israel, I expect the peacekeepers to shoot them – dead. If the Israelis don’t stop blowing up people and buildings in Gaza, I expect the same thing to happen to them. Under the rule of law, that is known as the justifiable use of deadly force.
I am not kidding. Nobody is above the law. And there is a concept known as international law. So why can’t this concept be applied in the Gaza conflict?
But what is Mr. Ban doing? He is blaming “regional and international partners” for not “doing enough” to end the violence. And he is urging Arab foreign ministers, who are holding an emergency meeting in Cairo today “to act swiftly and decisively to bring an early end to this impasse.”
Here’s what Mr. Ban had to say:
I think regional and international partners have not done enough. At the same time, other world leaders must also step up efforts to support a longer term resolution of the issue.
What is he talking about? That should be the U.N.’s job. If we have to depend on “world leaders” to solve international disputes, why have the U.N.? What is Mr. Ban getting paid to do? Why do all those U.N. delegates get together and make speeches from time to time? What on earth do they do to justify their existence?
December 31, 2008 No Comments
If anyone doubted that the Republican Party is racist, a “joke” perpetrated by a man who wants to be the party’s chairman should settle the issue. Tennessee Republican leader Chip Saltsman distributed a Christmas CD that included a parody on “Puff the Magic Dragon.” The title? “Barack the Magic Negro.” (Photo below shows Saltsman with Fox News host Mike Huckabee, who is backing him for party leader, pheasant hunting in Iowa.)
And if that wasn’t enough, the party’s official apology should end all debate. It was titled “An official apology to America’s negroes.” That was followed by another apology – for not capitalizing “Negroes.”
I haven’t seen or heard that word, with or without the capitalization, in years. The last time I recall hearing it was back in the Seventies, in a movie. As I recall, the female lead asked the male lead whether he was a Negro and the young man replied, “No, I’m a Capricorn.”
But I’m not surprised that the Republicans didn’t get the memo. This is the party that recently elected a 19 year-old white supremacist to a seat on its Palm Beach County Executive Committee. Huffington Post contributor Paul Jenkins sums up today’s Republican Party this way:
Like a restricted country club that would rather die than change, the Republican Party is marginalizing itself for the sake of the white men who run it. “Barack The Magic Negro” and Palm Beach aryanists are just the more bizarre manifestations of a party that has wallowed for so long in the privileges of its white male supremacy that it does not even realize that everyone has left the plantation, and they are not coming back.
Jenkins makes the point that:
(Republican) Congressional representation is nearly uniformly white, and overwhelmingly male. So much so, in fact, that there is not one single African-American GOP member of Congress (out of 219 or 220); nor, for that matter, are there any black GOP Governors (out of 22). There are just four Republican Latinos in Congress, all Florida Cuban-Americans; one of them, Senator Mel Martinez, has announced his retirement. He is the only non-white or Hispanic GOP Senator.
The Republicans are not only anti-black. They’re equal-opportunity offenders. Saltsman’s Christmas CD (called “We Hate the USA”) includes such songs as “John Edwards’ Poverty Tour,” “Wright Place, Wrong Pastor,” “Love Client #9,” “Ivory and Ebony” and “The Star Spanglish Banner.” First played on Rush Limbaugh’s repulsive radio show, the ditties were composed by a so-called satirist named Paul Shanklin.
These guys are not only racist. As their pathetic parodies show, they’re not even clever.
December 30, 2008 9 Comments
When Britain ran the world, it was easy to resolve international disputes. The Brits sent a gunboat over to the affected area and told the locals how they were going to settle their differences. In India, for example, Britain decided to separate the Muslims from the Hindus and carved out an area named Pakistan for the Muslims to inhabit. India and Pakistan have been fighting off and on ever since. As I write this, the two nuclear powers are squaring off in a dispute that could end really badly – not only for them but also for the rest of us. Similarly, after World War I, it was Britain that chopped up a part of the Ottoman Empire, designating a piece of it as Jordan and another piece as Israel.
After World War II put an end to the British Empire (by draining it of its wealth, much the same as the Iraq War has done to the American Empire), the United Nations took over the responsibility for running the world. The UN has done a lousy job – even worse than the Brits. It was the UN that gave Israel 55 per cent of what was then Palestine back in 1947. The Israelis and the Palestinians have been blowing up each other’s children almost continuously since that fateful decision.
You would think that in the past six decades, the UN would have figured out how to sort out the multitudinous grievances accumulated by both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But the UN has been curiously disengaged. If Zimbabwe and Uganda were involved in a war that endangered the rest of the world, you can bet the territory would be crawling with peacekeepers, but nobody wants to get between the Arabs and Israelis.
The UN could be a useful organization if its member nations would set aside their individual agendas and think about the welfare of the world for a change. There is international legal machinery that could resolve disputes and avert the bloody horror of war, but this machinery is used in the most capricious manner. If I were running America, I would do everything in my power to strengthen the UN, encouraging it to become the world’s de facto law enforcement agency. It would save America a lot of money, a lot of lives and a lot of heartbreak.
It is nonsensical to talk about Israel being “our most important ally in the region.” That’s gunslinger lingo. This is the 21st Century. By now we should have figured out ways to resolve human differences without resorting to violence. If individual countries can claim to believe in the rule of law, why can’t the concept be applied globally?
December 29, 2008 No Comments
Have you ever wondered why an American dollar buys so much and a Jamaican dollar buys so little? It’s a question we should ask some of those geniuses who run governments, attend important conferences and sign agreements that affect millions of lives around the world.
There was a time when a nation’s wealth depended on how much gold it had tucked away somewhere. Why gold? Ask King Croesus. I think he was the first ruler who decided gold was as good as – well – gold, and declared it the currency of his kingdom back in 550 BC (photo at right). That’s kind of how it worked until 1971 when the United States said the heck with it, or words to that effect. The “gold standard” was internationally formalized in 1944 when a group of big shots from various nations got together at a place called Bretton Woods in New Hampshire and decided that countries should “peg” their currency to the value of an ounce of gold. At that conference, the bigwigs also decided it would be OK for other countries to peg their currency to the value of the American dollar. So in 1971, a different gaggle of bigwigs agreed that they might as well just use the dollar as the benchmark and forget about the price of gold.
Yes, professor, I know that’s a gross oversimplification, but it will do for the purpose of this blog. The point is that what makes us think the U.S. dollar is still as good as gold? With the mint working overtime and trillions of U.S. dollars flooding the market, I have an uneasy feeling that it won’t be long before the money changers look around for something more substantial to sustain the global economy. The euro comes to mind, for example.
If I were one of those seers who get to decide these things, I would be exploring an entirely new way of greasing the wheels of commerce. For one thing, if I ran the United States, I would close the Federal Reserve Bank and have the American government manage its own money instead of paying a gang of bankers to do it. These banking bandits are doing such a lousy job that I don’t see how anyone could argue against firing them.
Then I would overhaul the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and all those other institutions that supposedly exist to facilitate international finance. I might even go so far as to have the United Nations issue a global currency that all nations could use. The various countries could have their own internal currencies, perhaps pegged to the value of the UN unit of exchange, based on universally accepted criteria.
Yes, I know I’m probably talking nonsense. But is it any more nonsensical than what’s going on in the world today? It seems to me that the financial system isn’t working, and – even more frightening – that it is vulnerable to wholesale plunder. Isn’t it time somebody did something to fix it?
December 27, 2008 No Comments
Today we celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, an itinerant preacher who healed the sick, raised the dead, fed the multitude, walked on water and died on a cross at Calvary to free Mankind from guilt. He was not rich in worldly goods. As far as I can tell, His only possessions were a seamless robe and a pair of sandals; and when He was hungry He picked an ear of corn or figs, or went fishing. He was tolerant and kind, but capable of outrage: He drove the money changers from the Temple in Jerusalem, saying they had turned it into “a den of thieves.”
He taught us to love one another and to seek inner peace rather than ostentatious success, that this is the way not only to eternal life but also to fulfillment here on earth. And He taught us that faith can move mountains. Christians believe that He rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven. We are confident that He will return and that we will join Him in the after-life because His death paid for our sins and He asks nothing in return but that we accept His gift.
December 25, 2008 2 Comments
I am puzzled by the American media’s reluctance to expose the involvement of organized crime in the global economic crisis. Reporters are too busy trying to link President-elect Obama to the Blagojevich scandal to shed any light on the crimes that may have been committed in the financial sector.
It has taken the French to call the world’s attention to the fact that criminals are partly responsible for the global financial mess. Writing in Le Figaro, Jean-Francois Gayraud, divisional commissioner of the National Police, and Noel Pons, adviser at the Central Service for the Prevention of Corruption, “remind everyone that crime – whether organized or not – infiltrates everywhere where money reigns, including the financial markets.”
Recalling that U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey warned in a May speech of the growing threat to national security represented by “organized crime’s penetration of the markets,” the two French lawmen charged that “mafias, gangs and cartels” helped bring down the world’s economy. They reminded Le Figaro’s readers of the collapse 20 years ago of America’s Savings & Loan industry, and the financial crisis that rocked Japan at about the same time. (One of several books on the S&L scandal is shown below.)
“The source, at the epicenter of the (American) disaster, was large-scale criminal frauds conducted by executives at these savings and loans, along with outside beneficiaries, sometimes even known Mafiosi,” they charged. “Seventy to 80 percent of these savings and loan bankruptcies were due to criminal activity.” And in Japan, “banks shortsightedly lent to companies and entrepreneurs with a tang of Yakuza, the Japanese mafia.”
In the current crisis, the writers blame “convoluted scams… conflicts of interest between rating agencies and banks, and banks and insurance companies…” They accuse financial companies of setting up fictional balance sheets like those made famous in the Enron scandal.
In this climate, aren’t you troubled by the secrecy surrounding the $350 billion that Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson distributed to American banks recently? The banks refuse to give an accounting, and reporters are complaining that they get the brush-off when they ask questions.
The bailout may well be completely above board. I certainly have no way of finding out what’s going on. But in view of all that has transpired, I would hesitate to trust the bankers without at least getting a few answers. I think it’s time for Congress to start holding hearings. Don’t you?
December 24, 2008 No Comments
As millions of American families face the future with tears in their eyes and dread in their hearts, a privileged class will enjoy a very merry Christmas. Like the Cossacks, the Vikings and the Reivers of old, these latter-day raiders seem to pillage at will without fear of reprisal. But nowadays the pillaging is legal.
For the life of me, I cannot figure out why these folks are so privileged. Is it just that they know the right people? That they have “connections” in high places? Or is there a hidden quid-pro-quo that rewards politicians for allowing raiders access to the public coffers?
Congress has not been able to find out what happened to the first half of that seven hundred billion dollars Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson demanded in order to “save the financial system.” But the Associated Press has dug up some facts and figures that may shed some light on the matter.
According to the AP analysis, nearly 600 executives of the banks that benefited from the “bailout” shared about $1.6 billion in salaries, bonuses and other benefits despite their institutions’ pathetic performance. Here are a few examples:
John A. Thain (photo at right), chief executive officer of Merrill Lynch, topped all corporate bank bosses with $83 million in earnings for the year. Thain could have raked in even more but withdrew a demand for a $5-to-$10 million bonus following a public outcry. Merrill Lynch got $10 billion from the bailout.
Lloyd Blankfein (photo far right, above), president and chief executive officer of Goldman Sachs, took home nearly $54 million in annual compensation. The company’s top five executives received a total of $242 million. Goldman Sachs also pocketed $10 billion of the bailout money.
Banks that got bailout funds also paid millions for such extras as home security systems, private chauffeured cars and club dues, AP reported
Goldman Sachs’ tab for leased cars and drivers ran as high as $233,000 per executive.
JPMorgan Chase chairman James Dimon (photo below, right) spent $211,182 on private jet travel because his family lived in Chicago and he was commuting to New York. The company got $25 billion in bailout funds.
At Bank of New York Mellon Corp., chief executive Robert P. Kelly’s allowance for financial planning services came to $66,748, on top of his $975,000 salary and $7.5 million bonus. His car and driver cost $178,879. Kelly (photo at far left) also received $846,000 in relocation expenses, including help selling his home in Pittsburgh and purchasing one in Manhattan.
Wells Fargo of San Francisco, which took $25 billion in taxpayer bailout money, gave its top executives up to $20,000 each to pay personal financial planners.
The bailout was intended to flood financial institutions with money so they could lend it to you and me. But credit remains frozen. And despite the Fed’s drastic interest rate cut – to nearly zero per cent – lending has not taken off. Indeed, some credit card companies have raised interest rates.
It seems that the only effect the bailout has had so far is to enrich the people who ran the financial system aground. Of course we do not know who else might have filled their pockets. Congress is still waiting to find out.
December 22, 2008 No Comments
Nine hundred billion American dollars have gone up in smoke in Iraq and Afghanistan, and what have we purchased? Death, despair, misery and corruption. Recently, one of those international organizations that figure these things out declared Iraq the second-most corrupt country in the world (Myanmar, which used to be called Burma, is Number One).
And this week a former National Public Radio reporter who has lived in Afghanistan for the past eight years, wrote an article in the Washington Post arguing that the biggest problem in that country is America’s support of a corrupt and abusive government.
Sarah Chayes, who organized a co-op of Afghan men and women making skin care products from herbs and botanicals as an alternative to the opium poppy trade, wrote, “I hear from Westerners that corruption is intrinsic to Afghan culture, that we should not hold Afghans up to our standards. I hear that Afghanistan is a tribal place, that it has never been, and can’t be, governed. But that’s not what I hear from Afghans.”
Chayes followed up that article with an interview with Bill Moyers on PBS. She told him that in order to justify the sacrifices in money and troops, the United States and its NATO allies have had to convince themselves and public opinion back home that there is a democratic government in Afghanistan. But she reported that what Afghans see is a restoration to power under President Hamid Karzai (pictured above with President Bush) of the crooked warlords who were ousted by the Taliban after the Soviet withdrawal two decades ago. Chayes accused officials in the current Afghan government of bribery, extortion and violence. And she said this has resulted in a Taliban resurgence.
Chayes is not the only observer disgusted by conditions in Afghanistan. Here is another view from Marc W. Herold of the Whittemore School of Business & Economics, University of New Hampshire:
The forms taken by pseudo-development in Kabul are many and grotesque: construction of luxury hotels, shopping malls and ostentatious “corrupto-mansions,” grinding poverty amidst opulence, pervasive insecurity, lock-down and deserted streets at night, an opium and foreign monies-financed consumption boom, pervasive corruption, alcohol and prostitutes for the foreign clientele…
Anyone who has studied history will recall examples of U.S. support for death squads and other agents of oppression throughout the Americas. The apparent motive was advancing the interests of those big corporations that used to be American but now are globally owned and run. But are there more sinister undercurrents?
I recently read a diatribe on the Web, written by Michael C. Ruppert, who claims to have been an FBI agent. You can read it yourself here:
Ruppert concedes that the authorities think he’s crazy, so maybe he is. But what if he isn’t? The things he accuses America of doing sent chills down my spine. According to this guy, a Halliburton subsidiary is deeply involved in the international drug trade, providing warehouses and transportation in exchange for a share of the profits. That’s one way in which the American CIA is funded, Ruppert claims.
You know about Halliburton, don’t you? The company formerly headed by Vice President Dick Cheney? I am sure you’ve heard how that outfit grew rich by exploiting the Iraq occupation. Anyway, according to the ex-FBI man, opium production in Afghanistan has expanded enormously since the U.S. became involved in that country.
As I said, this guy could be a nut case. But he is not the only person who claims the American government is secretly involved in the drug trade. Of course, they could all be conspiracy nuts. But, as I lie awake at nights, I wonder: Why are young Americans dying in distant lands, and why is the country committing so much of its resources to killing strangers when so much needs to be done at home? And when you follow the money, where does it lead?
December 21, 2008 1 Comment
The Bush-Cheney era has been such a disaster for America that Barack Obama may have an opportunity to effect worthwhile changes that would otherwise be politically impossible. Health care springs to mind. With the devastating layoffs of the past two years, millions of Americans have lost the medical insurance that went with their jobs. Added to the 47 million already without health insurance, this stampede of the uninsured can be expected to provide a strong demand for government intervention. Until recently, the majority of Americans were opposed to the idea of “socialized medicine.” I am confident that few of them knew what that meant, but they had been brainwashed by decades of propaganda against anything “socialist.” Now that their own lives are in jeopardy, they might be more amenable to a rational health care system.
Also, with the economy in shambles and credit frozen, the environment might be more favorable to other forms of government intervention. American taxpayers have seen the rocks on which the siren song of low taxes and deregulation has landed the ship of state; perhaps now they will accept the hard truths of governance. Sooner or later the piper must be paid. You can fund public initiatives – such as a ruinous war – by raising taxes or by budgeting for a deficit. If you budget for a deficit, somebody sometime will have to foot the bill. President Bush chose the latter course and the result is a trillion-dollar deficit.
We will have to pay that debt some day, but it won’t be any time soon. First the economic collapse must be addressed, and that will mean another trillion dollars of red ink – or something close to it. However, in such a drastic crisis, there is the opportunity for structural change that could produce long-term benefits.
I think the Obama Administration should consider public-private partnerships of the kind employed in many other countries. The Bush Administration already has partly socialized the financial system. Perhaps, that trend should be continued. The American government might do well to look at Canada’s banking system, for example.
Another area in which “Socialism” should be contemplated is auto manufacturing. After dithering interminably, President Bush has finally given car companies a $17.4 billion rescue loan, defying rebel Republicans who wanted to see the domestic industry collapse and the Auto Workers union broken. He recognized that letting the Big Three auto makers collapse was not an option amid a recession, housing slump and financial credit crunch, but he is demanding tough concessions from the automakers and their employees. If the carmakers fail to prove viability – a positive cash flow and ability to make good on the loans – by March 31, they will be required to repay the government loans. That’s something they would find all but impossible to do.
Of course, all Bush has done is postpone the solution of the auto manufacturing crisis to Obama’s presidency. If I were the President-elect, I would be studying countries like Sweden, where the government is involved in running essential industries. I would consider at least some government ownership of the auto industry. With a stake in the operation, the government could pursue such objectives as pollution reduction and improved fuel efficiency.
This would not be such a big departure for America. From railroads in the 19th century to huge investments in aerospace and computer technology in the 20th century, the US government has a history of investing in major industries as well as crisis intervention.
I expect that there would be a clamor of dissent from doctrinaire free-enterprise economists. They argue that entrepreneurs, not the government, create wealth and that the free market must be allowed to rise and fall without interference. All I have to say to those poor souls is, look around you at the disastrous consequences of your philosophy. Isn’t it time to cry enough?
December 20, 2008 No Comments
Those TV talking heads almost had me this time! They almost made me mad at Barack Obama. In fact I was all set to fire off a blog blasting the President-elect. And it wasn’t until I read Lee Stranahan’s piece in The Huffington Post yesterday that I realized my anger was based on incomplete information.
Here’s what got my dander up: CNN and MSNBC both reported that “progressives” were mad at Obama for inviting Rev. Rick Warren (photo at right) to give the invocation at his inauguration. The reason for their ire? Warren supported California’s Proposition 8, the recently passed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. And according to the TV news, Warren had compared gay couples to creeps like child molesters.
Now, I don’t like Rick Warren. And it’s not just because I think he’s a bigot who is trying to undermine the Constitutional separation of Church and State. I don’t like him because he’s much too unctuous. And too fat. I prefer religious leaders who look more like Mahatma Gandhi… you know acetic and ethereal, with glowing eyes and sunken cheeks… seekers after truth… forsakers of fleshly delights… that kind of thing.
I think it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a well-fed millionaire like Warren to get into Heaven. But that’s just me. Apparently thousands – maybe millions – of Americans prefer pastors who are fat… sleek-headed men… men who sleep at night (my apologies to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar).
Anyway, I suspected Obama of pandering to those people. And that was what made me mad. But what the TV talking heads didn’t tell me was that Warren wasn’t going to be the only pastor on stage at the inauguration. When I read Stranahan’s article defending Obama’s invitation to Warren, I found out that the President-elect had invited Joseph Lowery to give the benediction.
Dr. Lowery (photo at right) supports same-sex marriage, but that’s not what impresses me most. He is an icon of the Civil Rights Movement in America. Born Oct. 6, 1921 in Huntsville, Alabama, he helped lead the Montgomery bus boycott after Rosa Parks’ arrest in 1955. He headed the Alabama Civic Affairs Association, an organization devoted to the desegregation of buses and public places. In 1957, with Martin Luther King Jr., he founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and subsequently led the organization as its president from 1977 to 1997.
At King’s request, Lowery led the Selma-to-Montgomery march in 1965. Co-founder and former president of the Black Leadership Forum, he protested against Apartheid in South Africa. And he was among the first African American protesters arrested at the South African Embassy in Washington DC. The City of Atlanta renamed Ashby Street in his honor. And in 2004 he was honored at the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame in Atlanta.
In view of the fact that Dr. Lowery will be on that stage, I guess I can’t be too mad at the President-elect for having Rev. Warren there, too. I suppose Obama thinks it only fair to give the Other Side equal time.
December 19, 2008 10 Comments