30 September 2008

war is over! if you want it...

[from salon...]

Remember Iraq?

The drop in violence has made the war an afterthought -- and allowed McCain to claim we're "winning." Here's why we're not -- and we can't.

By Gary Kamiya

Sep. 30, 2008 | With Congress rejecting the $700 billion bailout package, the Dow falling 700 points and the U.S. economy on the edge of a cliff, no one is paying much attention to Iraq. Money talks, and incomprehensible and endless wars walk. From a purely financial perspective, that dismissive attitude makes no sense. The Iraq war has already cost almost $700 billion, and as Joseph Stiglitz and Linda J. Bilmes have argued, its total cost, factoring in huge back-end costs like disability payments, could end up exceeding $3 trillion. As Tom Engelhardt and Chalmers Johnson point out on TomDispatch, the money we've poured and are continuing to pour down the bottomless pit of Iraq, to the tune of $10 billion a month, could have bailed us out many times over.

But of course, the Iraq war is about a lot more than money. It's about the 146,000 U.S. troops still stationed there, and their families. It's about the stability of the Middle East, and our vital national interest in ensuring that it does not explode. It's about the overall direction of our foreign policy. It's about how America is perceived throughout the world. And it's about the fate of Iraq itself, a nation that our invasion devastated and that we owe our best efforts to rebuild.

Along with fixing our economy, then, what we should do about Iraq is the most important issue facing the country. And the choices offered by the two presidential candidates could not be more different. John McCain will continue the same policies as George W. Bush. He insists that Iraq remains "the central front in the war on terror," claims that the surge was a decisive turning point and that we are now winning the war, and warns that if America elects Barack Obama, we will lose, with catastrophic consequences. Obama argues that the war was a mistake to begin with, that it led us to "take our eye off the ball" and allow Osama bin Laden to escape and al-Qaida to regroup, and that it has strengthened Iran. He says that if elected he will withdraw American troops in stages over a 16-month period.

The first presidential debate highlighted these clear differences between Obama and McCain. But, unfortunately, Obama did not really challenge McCain's central claim that we are "winning" in Iraq. There are good political reasons why he didn't: The fact that he opposed a war that McCain ardently supported, and that most Americans have long turned against, allowed him to win the debate without venturing onto that dangerous terrain. But as a result, McCain's exaggerated claims about the surge, and his larger claim that we are winning in Iraq, have gone unrefuted. And what is actually happening in Iraq bears no resemblance to McCain's triumphant vision.

George W. Bush has defined "victory" in Iraq as a unified, democratic and stable country. McCain echoed this definition in the debate, saying that Iraq will be "a stable ally in the region and a fledgling democracy." Yet McCain never explained just how Iraq is going to become unified, democratic or stable, let alone a U.S. ally -- and Obama did not demand that he do so. McCain was lucky he didn't, because there is no answer.

McCain's entire position on Iraq boils down to two words: the surge. According to McCain, Gen. Petraeus' counterinsurgency tactic worked to perfection, and after years of failed approaches, victory is now within our grasp. McCain endlessly attacks Obama for not supporting the surge, painting his rival as a craven defeatist who, as McCain's top foreign policy advisor put it, "would rather lose a war that we are winning than lose an election by alienating his base."

The media has largely bought into this rosy view of the surge. Violence has fallen sharply in Iraq and U.S. casualties are down, and the media and the U.S. public have tacitly accepted both that the surge was largely responsible for these laudable outcomes and, to a lesser degree, that the underlying situation in Iraq has fundamentally improved. Unfortunately, neither claim is true.

First, the surge was not primarily responsible for the drop in sectarian violence in Iraq. It played a role, but was far less important than the simple, grim fact that the Shiite militias in Baghdad had already succeeded in ethnically cleansing the city. This was established by a team of UCLA geographers who analyzed night-light signatures in the city. They found that night lights in Sunni neighborhoods declined dramatically just before the February 2007 surge and never came back. "Essentially, our interpretation is that violence has declined in Baghdad because of intercommunal violence that reached a climax as the surge was beginning," John Agnew, a UCLA professor of geography and the study's lead author, told Science Daily. "By the launch of the surge, many of the targets of conflict had either been killed or fled the country, and they turned off the lights when they left ... The surge really seems to have been a case of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted."

The UCLA scientists' findings are supported by Shiite expert Juan Cole, who argues that the surge actually helped the Shiite militias to ethnically cleanse Baghdad by disarming Sunnis. "Rates of violence declined once the ethnic cleansing was far advanced, just because there were fewer mixed neighborhoods," Cole argues.

Joining Cole and the UCLA team is one of the best field reporters in Iraq, Nir Rosen, author of an important piece, "The Myth of the Surge," which appeared in Rolling Stone. Rosen points out that another key factor behind the cessation of violence is that U.S. troops began bribing their former deadly enemies, Sunni insurgents, to cooperate. (The Sunnis had turned against al-Qaida because of its brutal tactics -- a key factor in the decline of terrorist attacks in Iraq that the surge had nothing to do with.) But these Sunnis, called "the Awakening" or "Sons of Iraq," will be off the U.S. payroll on October 1, and Rosen paints a grim picture of what is likely to happen next. "There is little doubt what will happen when the massive influx of American money stops: Unless the new Iraqi state continues to operate as a vast bribing machine, the insurgent Sunnis who have joined the new militias will likely revert to fighting the ruling Shiites, who still refuse to share power."

The final reason for the cessation of violence was the stand-down by Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, which is lying low. That stand-down, which can be reversed at any time, was brokered by -- Iran. But Iran is playing all sides: It supports both Maliki and Sadr. The U.S. simply cannot compete in this kind of deep game, at which Iran has excelled for centuries, without diplomatic engagement. But for McCain, that is anathema.

Insofar as the surge helped to contribute to lowered levels of violence in Iraq, it is to be commended. And there is no doubt that Gen. Petraeus' adoption of classic counterinsurgency doctrine, which mandates moving troops out of secure bases and closer to the people, was a significant improvement over previous tactics. But as the above should make clear, the surge was not the main reason for the reduction of violence -- which remains at terrifyingly high levels. In any case, the mere reduction of sectarian violence does not prove that the U.S. is "winning." Even the Bush administration has acknowledged that the critical issue in Iraq is political reconciliation. And the sad reality is that there has been no political reconciliation in Iraq, that there are no indications it is on the horizon and that there is no reason to believe that the continued presence of U.S. troops will help bring it about.

As analyst Peter Galbraith points out in an excellent piece in the New York Review of Books, the salient fact about Iraq is that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government is allied with Iran, wants to create a Shiite Islamic state and will never integrate the Sunni Awakening forces into the Iraqi Army, because it correctly sees them as threatening the current regime's existence. Its rapprochement with the Kurds, the only group that supports the U.S., is fragile and could collapse at any time, with the fate of the disputed, oil-rich city of Kirkuk likely to be the trigger.

Galbraith sums up the situation thus: "George W. Bush has put the United States on the side of undemocratic Iraqis who are Iran's allies. John McCain would continue the same approach. It is hard to understand how this can be called a success -- or a path to victory."

Most critically, the Maliki regime wants U.S. forces to leave Iraq -- on the same 16-month timetable as the one Obama has proposed. The Iraqi people also want the U.S. out. The U.S. simply lacks the power to oppose this demand, and McCain's bluster about staying in Iraq until "victory" is absurd in the face of it.

McCain's talk of "victory" is not just logically false, it is morally obscene. Our unprovoked invasion destroyed Iraq. Up to a million Iraqis may have died. The infrastructure is dreadful, far worse than in Saddam's time. Most of Iraq's doctors have fled or been killed. Vast numbers of Iraqis have been forced into exile, and few have dared to return. The sectarian war our invasion let loose has ripped the country apart. Iraq remains one of the most dangerous and violence-torn countries in the world. (On Sunday, five bomb attacks in Baghdad killed at least 27 people.)

What do we do confronted with this situation? What do we owe the Iraqi people? What do we owe ourselves? What is in our national interest? And with our economy melting down, how long can we spend $10 billion a month waiting to decide?

There are no easy answers to these questions. But we cannot hide them behind cheap talk of "victory" and incoherent fear-mongering. We will have to hope that in January we will get a new administration, one not deluded by empty slogans and neoconservative ideology. And they will then have to begin the difficult process of figuring out how to responsibly extricate ourselves and the Iraqi people from the nightmare we created.

~lee.

29 September 2008

everything is fucked and we're all going to die...

i wrote to a friend earlier this evening that "half of me thinks that this really is just a market correction-- in that wall street just could not sustain all the bullshit book cookery that's gone on since whenever and that it's finally just coming back down to earth, albeit harshly [and really bad for my bottom line]-- and half of me thinks i'm going to be fighting gas pirates and swinging from meathook bungee cords in the fucking thunderdome a year from now.

know what i mean?"

great essay from glenn greenwald, my intellectual rival.

Bailout follows the 10 normal principles for how our government functions

(updated below - Update II - Update III)

The word being used most frequently to describe the bailout package that is about to pass is "extraordinary." That adjective may apply to the amounts of money being transferred from taxpayers to Wall Street, but the process by which this is all happening is anything but "extraordinary." All of the "principles" that drive how our Government functions in general -- what explain the last eight years at least -- are perfectly evident in what has happened here:

(1) Incredibly complex and consequential new laws are negotiated in secret and then enacted immediately, with no hearings, no real debate, no transparency. Nancy Pelosi has praised herself for decreeing that the new law will be online for 24 hours before Congress votes on it -- a full 24 hours for the American public to understand and assess a law that forces them to subsidize Wall St.'s losses in a way that may impact them for decades, if not generations. The most significant and consequential pieces of legislation over the last eight years -- the Patriot Act, the various expanded surveillance laws, the Military Commissions Act -- were the by-product of identical anti-democratic processes.

(2) Those who created the crisis, were wrong about everything, drive the process. Experts who dissent from the prevailing Washington orthodoxy, particularly ones who were presciently warning about what was happening, are simply ignored -- systematically excluded from the process. Professor Nouriel Roubini:

It is pathetic that Congress did not consult any of the many professional economists that have presented -- many on the RGE Monitor Finance blog forum -- alternative plans that were more fair and efficient and less costly ways to resolve this crisis.
Last week, Hank Paulson -- who bears responsibility for the crisis in numerous ways -- demanded that $700 billion be transferred to him in order to purchase toxic assets from his Wall St. friends, and while there was much howling of outrage in many quarters, no other framework was ever considered.

(3) Public opinion is largely ignored, as always, and public anger is placated through illusory, symbolic and largely meaningless concessions. Much is being made over the allegedly strong oversight provisions to limit the Treasury Secretary's power, accomplished through the creation of two oversight panels -- one that is composed of 5 administration officials (including the Treasury Secretary himself, the Federal Reserve Chairman and the SEC Chairman -- the definitive foxes guarding the hen house), and another that is appointed by Congress but which -- as is true for everything Congress touches -- has little real authority over what is done.

Identically, executive compensation limits -- used to bestow the plan with its populist bona fides -- are minimal and extremely limited. Worse, the public is being told that the financial services industry must pay for any losses to the Treasury still outstanding after five years, but the bill requires nothing of the sort, simply requiring that the president "propose" a plan for recoupment, not that Congress enact any such plan.

And, most of all, while not as absolute as it was in the original Paulson proposal, the Congressional plan still vests extraordinarily vast and centralized power in the Treasury Secretary -- just as Paulson demanded. As the NYT put it this morning: "During its weeklong deliberations, Congress made many changes to the Bush administration’s original proposal to bail out the financial industry, but one overarching aspect of the initial plan that remains is the vast discretion it gives to the Treasury secretary."

(4) The Government begins with demands for absolute power so brazen and absurd that anything, by comparison, seems reasonable. Thus, the law that will be passed does improve on the original Paulson Plan in certain ways -- equity shares under some circumstances, some oversight provisions and mild home-owner protections -- and people thus end up grateful for what is, by any measure, an extreme outcome, all because it's not quite as extreme as what the Bush administration began by demanding.

(5) Wall Street, large corporations and their lobbyists own the Federal Government and both parties, and (therefore) they always win. Professor Roubini:

Thus, the Treasury plan is a disgrace: a bailout of reckless bankers, lenders and investors that provides little direct debt relief to borrowers and financially stressed households and that will come at a very high cost to the US taxpayer. And the plan does nothing to resolve the severe stress in money markets and interbank markets that are now close to a systemic meltdown . . . . This is again a case of privatizing the gains and socializing the losses; a bailout and socialism for the rich, the well-connected and Wall Street. And it is a scandal that even Congressional Democrats have fallen for this Treasury scam that does little to resolve the debt burden of millions of distressed home owners.
Both parties depend on, are drowning in, the largesse of the very industries they are supposed to regulate, and the only possible outcome from the very beginning was that Congress would do what most helps Wall St. and their largest corporate donors. That's what they always do.

(6) The people who run the Washington Establishment are drowning in conflicts of interest. Hank Paulson let Lehman Brothers go bankrupt while intervening to save AIG, only for it to be revealed after the fact that Goldman Sachs -- Paulson's career-long firm of which he was Chairman until just a couple years ago -- would have lost $20 billion had AIG failed. Worse, Goldman's current CEO, Lloyd Blankfein, was present with Paulson when the decision to save AIG was made.

Beyond the litany of Wall St.-loyal government officials demanding this Wall St.-friendly bailout (Bush's Chief of Staff, Josh Bolten, is also a former Goldman Sach official), Congressional leaders are, with very few exceptions, all vested heavily in Wall St. As but one example, Nancy Pelosi's tens of millions of dollars are invested (.pdf) in firms such as AIG, AT&T and others. It only stands to reason -- as always -- that if Wall St. is both owning the Government and running it, it will prevail over the proverbial "Main Street" every time. And it does, and just did again.

(7) For all the anger over what Wall St. has done, the Government -- as it bails them out -- isn't doing anything to rein in their practices. Nancy Pelosi today said: "We sent a message to Wall Street -- the party is over," but to the extent that's true, the Government has done nothing to bring it to an end. To the contrary, by announcing -- yet again -- that there are never any consequences for recklessness and real corruption on the part of the ruling class, that behavior is only being further incentivized. If you were running a large financial services corporation whose failure would jeopardize many other companies, why wouldn't you continue to pursue extremely high-risk/high-reward transactions, comfortable in the knowledge that the Congress you own will protect you from any real cataclysmic failure (in exactly the way that high government officials know they can commit crimes with impunity and thus are incentivized to do so)?

(8) When the Government wants greater and greater power and wants to engage in pure corruption, it need only put the population in extreme fear and it gets its way in every case. Establishment mavens rush forth to assure the public that they have no choice but to submit to what the Government is demanding. The anger and impotence level of the citizenry increases further, further alienating them from their Government and ensuring even greater levels of submission in the future, grounded in an accurate perception of futility.

(9) On the most consequential and fundamental questions that define the country, the establishment/leadership of both political parties are in full agreement, and insulate themselves from any political ramifications by acting jointly. Democrats in particular jump eagerly into line when told they must cooperate with the White House to avert whatever the Disaster du Jour is (and in this case, House Republicans were most impressive in defying these orders until they, too, were basically whipped into line), but ultimately, the differences between the parties at the level of their leadership are impossible to detect.

(10) Whenever you think that the Government has done things so extreme that it can't top itself -- torture, theories of presidential lawbreaking, a six-year war justified by blatantly false pretenses -- it always tops itself. On top of the massive debt under which the country was already drowning, another $700 billion is now being added in order to save the nation's richest individuals from the consequences of their own recklessness, allowing many of them not only to remain enriched, but become further enriched, all while basically ensuring that the Government is incapable of spending any money for years, if not longer, on programs designed to improve the lives of the vast, vast majority of its citizens -- the same citizens who are forced to fund this bail-out. That seems hard to top, but the only thing certain is that they will find a way to do so.

UPDATE: Amazingly, the House just rejected the bailout, sending the Dow plummeting by more than 500 points. According to Kagro:

The bill is defeated. 205-228 -- there was a last, and I mean really last, minute switcher. A Dem, switching from yea to nay. Could have been a yea voter looking to move to reconsider. Partisan breakdown: 140 Dems for, 95 against, and 65 Rs for, 133 against.
The economy and the markets are clearly in severe distress, and some form of Government action is needed. I don't think anyone denies that. But this was the wrong deal, and in terms of market confidence and stability, there's probably nothing worse than announcing so definitively -- again -- that a deal has been agreed to, only for it to be defeated. Our political leaders are as inept as they are corrupt.

UPDATE II: House Republicans are blaming a speech Nancy Pelosi gave this morning for defeat of the bill, claiming that her "partisan tone" drove many GOP members to vote against it. That is really dumb. If House Republicans decided how to vote on this bailout based on a speech Nancy Pelosi gave -- rather than their views on the merits -- that is as potent an indictment of those GOP members as anyone else could make.

What seemed to happen is that enough members were afraid of the extreme public anger against this bailout bill and petrified of what it would do to their future job security. That's a good thing -- it's called responsiveness and accountability.

UPDATE III: Matt Stoller has some important revelations and observations about today's vote -- here. The "private" conference call which Treasury Department officials held with Wall St. analysts (and which bloggers infiltrated) referenced by Stoller is revealed in detail here.

-- Glenn Greenwald

~lee.

this'll probably be the last thing i post about ol' governor eskimo pie out respect to you know, whatever. enjoy...

[from newsweek...]

Sam Harris
NEWSWEEK

From the magazine issue dated Sep 29, 2008

Let me confess that I was genuinely unnerved by Sarah Palin's performance at the Republican convention. Given her audience and the needs of the moment, I believe Governor Palin's speech was the most effective political communication I have ever witnessed. Here, finally, was a performer who—being maternal, wounded, righteous and sexy—could stride past the frontal cortex of every American and plant a three-inch heel directly on that limbic circuit that ceaselessly intones "God and country." If anyone could make Christian theocracy smell like
apple pie, Sarah Palin could.

Then came Palin's first television interview with Charles Gibson. I was relieved to discover, as many were, that Palin's luster can be much diminished by the absence of a teleprompter. Still, the problem she poses to our political process is now much bigger than she is. Her fans seem inclined to forgive her any indiscretion short of cannibalism. However badly she may stumble during the remaining weeks of this campaign, her supporters will focus their outrage upon the journalist who caused her to break stride, upon the camera operator who happened to capture her fall, upon the television network that broadcast the good lady's misfortune—and, above all, upon the "liberal elites" with their highfalutin assumption that, in the 21st century, only a reasonably well-educated person should be given command of our nuclear arsenal.

The point to be lamented is not that Sarah Palin comes from outside Washington, or that she has glimpsed so little of the earth's surface (she didn't have a passport until last year), or that she's never met a foreign head of state. The point is that she comes to us, seeking the second most important job in the world, without any intellectual training relevant to the challenges and responsibilities that await her. There is nothing to suggest that she even sees a role for careful analysis or a deep understanding of world events when it comes to deciding the fate of a nation. In her interview with Gibson, Palin managed to turn a joke about seeing Russia from her window into a straight-faced claim that Alaska's geographical proximity to Russia gave her some essential foreign-policy experience. Palin may be a perfectly wonderful person, a loving mother and a great American success story—but she is a beauty queen/sports reporter who stumbled into small-town politics, and who is now on the verge of stumbling into, or upon, world history.

The problem, as far as our political process is concerned, is that half the electorate revels in Palin's lack of intellectual qualifications. When it comes to politics, there is a mad love of mediocrity in this country. "They think they're better than you!" is the refrain that (highly competent and cynical) Republican strategists have set loose among the crowd, and the crowd has grown drunk on it once again. "Sarah Palin is an ordinary person!" Yes, all too ordinary.
We have all now witnessed apparently sentient human beings, once provoked by a reporter's microphone, saying things like, "I'm voting for Sarah because she's a mom. She knows what it's like to be a mom." Such sentiments suggest an uncanny (and, one fears, especially American) detachment from the real problems of today. The next administration must immediately confront issues like nuclear proliferation, ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (and covert wars elsewhere), global climate change, a convulsing economy, Russian belligerence, the rise of China, emerging epidemics, Islamism on a hundred fronts, a defunct United Nations, the deterioration of American schools, failures of energy, infrastructure and Internet security … the list is long, and Sarah Palin does not seem competent even to rank these items in order of importance, much less address any one of them.

Palin's most conspicuous gaffe in her interview with Gibson has been widely discussed. The truth is, I didn't much care that she did not know the meaning of the phrase "Bush doctrine." And I am quite sure that her supporters didn't care, either. Most people view such an ambush as a journalistic gimmick. What I do care about are all the other things Palin is guaranteed not to know—or will be glossing only under the frenzied tutelage of John McCain's advisers. What doesn't she know about financial markets, Islam, the history of the Middle East, the cold war, modern weapons systems, medical research, environmental science or emerging technology? Her relative ignorance is guaranteed on these fronts and most others, not because she was put on the spot, or got nervous, or just happened to miss the newspaper on any given morning. Sarah Palin's ignorance is guaranteed because of how she has spent the past 44 years on earth.

I care even more about the many things Palin thinks she knows but doesn't: like her conviction that the Biblical God consciously directs world events. Needless to say, she shares this belief with mil-lions of Americans—but we shouldn't be eager to give these people our nuclear codes, either. There is no question that if President McCain chokes on a spare rib and Palin becomes the first woman president, she and her supporters will believe that God, in all his majesty and wisdom, has brought it to pass. Why would God give Sarah Palin a job she isn't ready for? He wouldn't. Everything happens for a reason. Palin seems perfectly willing to stake the welfare of our country—even the welfare of our species—as collateral in her own personal journey of faith. Of course, McCain has made the same unconscionable wager on his personal journey to the White House.

In speaking before her church about her son going to war in Iraq, Palin urged the congregation to pray "that our national leaders are sending them out on a task that is from God; that's what we have to make sure we are praying for, that there is a plan, and that plan is God's plan." When asked about these remarks in her interview with Gibson, Palin successfully dodged the issue of her religious beliefs by claiming that she had been merely echoing the words of Abraham Lincoln. The New York Times later dubbed her response "absurd." It was worse than absurd; it was a lie calculated to conceal the true character of her religious infatuations. Every detail that has emerged about Palin's life in Alaska suggests that she is as devout and literal-minded in her Christian dogmatism as any man or woman in the land. Given her long affiliation with the Assemblies of God church, Palin very likely believes that Biblical prophecy is an infallible guide to future events and that we are living in the "end times." Which is to say she very likely thinks that human history will soon unravel in a foreordained cataclysm of war and bad weather. Undoubtedly Palin believes that this will be a good thing—as all true Christians will be lifted bodily into the sky to make merry with Jesus, while all nonbelievers, Jews, Methodists and other rabble will be punished for eternity in a lake of fire. Like many Pentecostals, Palin may even imagine that she and her fellow parishioners enjoy the power of prophecy themselves. Otherwise, what could she have meant when declaring to her congregation that "God's going to tell you what is going on, and what is going to go on, and you guys are going to have that within you"?

You can learn something about a person by the company she keeps. In the churches where Palin has worshiped for decades, parishioners enjoy "baptism in the Holy Spirit," "miraculous healings" and "the gift of tongues." Invariably, they offer astonishingly irrational accounts of this behavior and of its significance for the entire cosmos. Palin's spiritual colleagues describe themselves as part of "the final generation," engaged in "spiritual warfare" to purge the earth of "demonic strongholds." Palin has spent her entire adult life immersed in this apocalyptic hysteria. Ask yourself: Is it a good idea to place the most powerful military on earth at her disposal? Do we actually want our leaders thinking about the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy when it comes time to say to the Iranians, or to the North Koreans, or to the Pakistanis, or to the Russians or to the Chinese: "All options remain on the table"?

It is easy to see what many people, women especially, admire about Sarah Palin. Here is a mother of five who can see the bright side of having a child with Down syndrome and still find the time and energy to govern the state of Alaska. But we cannot ignore the fact that Palin's impressive family further testifies to her dogmatic religious beliefs. Many writers have noted the many shades of conservative hypocrisy on view here: when Jamie Lynn Spears gets pregnant, it is considered a symptom of liberal decadence and the breakdown of family values; in the case of one of Palin's daughters, however, teen pregnancy gets reinterpreted as a sign of immaculate, small-town fecundity. And just imagine if, instead of the Palins, the Obama family had a pregnant, underage daughter on display at their convention, flanked by her black boyfriend who "intends" to marry her. Who among conservatives would have resisted the temptation to speak of "the dysfunction in the black community"?

Teen pregnancy is a misfortune, plain and simple. At best, it represents bad luck (both for the mother and for the child); at worst, as in the Palins' case, it is a symptom of religious dogmatism. Governor Palin opposes sex education in schools on religious grounds. She has also fought vigorously for a "parental consent law" in the state of Alaska, seeking full parental dominion over the reproductive decisions of minors. We know, therefore, that Palin believes that she should be the one to decide whether her daughter carries her baby to term. Based on her stated position, we know that she would deny her daughter an abortion even if she had been raped. One can be forgiven for doubting whether Bristol Palin had all the advantages of 21st-century family planning—or, indeed, of the 21st century.

We have endured eight years of an administration that seemed touched by religious ideology. Bush's claim to Bob Woodward that he consulted a "higher Father" before going to war in Iraq got many of us sitting upright, before our attention wandered again to less ethereal signs of his incompetence. For all my concern about Bush's religious beliefs, and about his merely average grasp of terrestrial reality, I have never once thought that he was an over-the-brink, Rapture-ready extremist. Palin seems as though she might be the real McCoy. With the McCain team leading her around like a pet pony between now and Election Day, she can be expected to conceal her religious extremism until it is too late to do anything about it. Her supporters know that while she cannot afford to "talk the talk" between now and Nov. 4, if elected, she can be trusted to "walk the walk" until the Day of Judgment.

What is so unnerving about the candidacy of Sarah Palin is the degree to which she represents—and her supporters celebrate—the joyful marriage of confidence and ignorance. Watching her deny to Gibson that she had ever harbored the slightest doubt about her readiness to take command of the world's only superpower, one got the feeling that Palin would gladly assume any responsibility on earth:

"Governor Palin, are you ready at this moment to perform surgery on this child's brain?"

"Of course, Charlie. I have several boys of my own, and I'm an avid hunter."

"But governor, this is neurosurgery, and you have no training as a surgeon of any kind."

"That's just the point, Charlie. The American people want change in how we make medical decisions in this country. And when faced with a challenge, you cannot blink."

The prospects of a Palin administration are far more frightening, in fact, than those of a Palin Institute for Pediatric Neurosurgery. Ask yourself: how has "elitism" become a bad word in American politics? There is simply no other walk of life in which extraordinary talent and rigorous training are denigrated. We want elite pilots to fly our planes, elite troops to undertake our most critical missions, elite athletes to represent us in competition and elite scientists to devote the most productive years of their lives to curing our diseases. And yet, when it comes time to vest people with even greater responsibilities, we consider it a virtue to shun any and all standards of excellence. When it comes to choosing the people whose thoughts and actions will decide the fates of millions, then we suddenly want someone just like us, someone fit to have a beer with, someone down-to-earth—in fact, almost anyone, provided that he or she doesn't seem too intelligent or well educated.

I believe that with the nomination of Sarah Palin for the vice presidency, the silliness of our politics has finally put our nation at risk. The world is growing more complex—and dangerous—with each passing hour, and our position within it growing more precarious. Should she become president, Palin seems capable of enacting policies so detached from the common interests of humanity, and from empirical reality, as to unite the entire world against us. When asked why she is qualified to shoulder more responsibility than any person has held in human history, Palin cites her refusal to hesitate. "You can't blink," she told Gibson repeatedly, as though this were a primordial truth of wise governance. Let us hope that a President Palin would blink, again and again, while more thoughtful people decide the fate of civilization.

Harris is a founder of The Reason Project and author of The New York Times best sellers “The End of Faith” and “Letter to a Christian Nation.” His Web site is samharris.org.


~lee.

27 September 2008

paul newman 1925 - 2008...

paul newman has always been one of my biggest heroes and influences... he was a man who first and foremost did great work-- butch cassidy, cool hand luke, the color of money. he was politically active-- for him it was a source of pride that he was on nixon's "enemies" list. he was a humanitarian and a philanthropist of the highest order-- "newman's own," which has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for children's charities, is to me still unparalleled in its genius.

but most of all, to me he was a guy who lived in connecticut and loved his wife. "i have a steak at home; why go out for a hamburger?" was his simple reasoning.

i know it's an uber- cliche, but they don't seem to make them anymore like that, do they?

rest in peace, mr. newman. you were a force for good on this planet and you will be missed.



~lee.

26 September 2008

stupid fucking white people...

ah ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

!!!!!!!!!

the apotheosis of the bush voter/ fox news mindset. i wonder if they go to sarah palin's church.

i've said this before, but when i hear people make ad hominem statements about "barack hussein obama," and how "he's going to lose the war 'cause he's secretly a muslim," that he's not a "real american," etc. etc.-- this is exactly how nakedly racist and pathetic they* always look and sound to me.

it's like bill hicks once said: "do you ever notice how people who don't believe in evolution look less evolved?"

careful, the n- word flies pretty freely in this one. enjoy.



~lee.

*she was a hillary voter? really?

23 September 2008

i love love love naomi klein...

[from the huffington post...]

Naomi Klein

Naomi Klein

Posted September 22, 2008 | 06:56 PM (EST)

Now is the Time to Resist Wall Street's Shock Doctrine

I wrote The Shock Doctrine in the hopes that it would make us all better prepared for the next big shock. Well, that shock has certainly arrived, along with gloves-off attempts to use it to push through radical pro-corporate policies (which of course will further enrich the very players who created the market crisis in the first place...).

The best summary of how the right plans to use the economic crisis to push through their policy wish list comes from Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich. On Sunday, Gingrich laid out 18 policy prescriptions for Congress to take in order to "return to a Reagan-Thatcher policy of economic growth through fundamental reforms." In the midst of this economic crisis, he is actually demanding the repeal of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which would lead to further deregulation of the financial industry. Gingrich is also calling for reforming the education system to allow "competition" (a.k.a. vouchers), strengthening border enforcement, cutting corporate taxes and his signature move: allowing offshore drilling.

It would be a grave mistake to underestimate the right's ability to use this crisis -- created by deregulation and privatization -- to demand more of the same. Don't forget that Newt Gingrich's 527 organization, American Solutions for Winning the Future, is still riding the wave of success from its offshore drilling campaign, "Drill Here, Drill Now!" Just four months ago, offshore drilling was not even on the political radar and now the U.S. House of Representatives has passed supportive legislation. Gingrich is holding an event this Saturday, September 27 that will be broadcast on satellite television to shore up public support for these controversial policies.

What Gingrich's wish list tells us is that the dumping of private debt into the public coffers is only stage one of the current shock. The second comes when the debt crisis currently being created by this bailout becomes the excuse to privatize social security, lower corporate taxes and cut spending on the poor. A President McCain would embrace these policies willingly. A President Obama would come under huge pressure from the think tanks and the corporate media to abandon his campaign promises and embrace austerity and "free-market stimulus."

We have seen this many times before, in this country and around the world. But here's the thing: these opportunistic tactics can only work if we let them. They work when we respond to crisis by regressing, wanting to believe in "strong leaders" - even if they are the same strong leaders who used the September 11 attacks to push through the Patriot Act and launch the illegal war in Iraq.

So let's be absolutely clear: there are no saviors who are going to look out for us in this crisis. Certainly not Henry Paulson, former CEO of Goldman Sachs, one of the companies that will benefit most from his proposed bailout (which is actually a stick up). The only hope of preventing another dose of shock politics is loud, organized grassroots pressure on all political parties: they have to know right now that after seven years of Bush, Americans are becoming shock resistant.

www.naomiklein.org

~lee.

rome burned. pompeii was covered in ash...

does anyone else get the feeling that rome is burning? i mean, our market economy--absolutely the lifeblood or our democracy-- is basically on the verge of collapse. this is bigger than the dow tanking, or lehman brothers, etc.: those are just some of the moving parts. this-- and i hate to sound like a y2k alarmist here-- feels like the soviet union in 1989.

obviously i don't think the united states itself is going to collapse but still. this is a moment, here, people.

don't blame me, i voted for gore.

[from salon...]

Not so fast, Secretary Paulson!

The stakes could not be higher. Forty-three days before Election Day, Congress and the White House are going to spend this week hammering out the details of the most radical government intervention in the U.S. economy since the Great Depression. One would hope that this kind of profound remaking of capitalism would only take place after Congress had time to hold lengthy hearings exploring all the potential pitfalls of putting many hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer money at risk while attempting to stabilize terminally skittish markets. But that will not happen.

There is no time for careful reflection. We can disagree with Treasury Secretary Paulson on many things, but there is little doubt that the bottom is waiting to fall out of financial markets. The consequences of no action could be, indeed, are almost certain to be, disastrous. So here we go -- as University of Chicago professor Luigi Zingales wrote on Thursday, "The decisions that will be made this weekend matter not just to the prospects of the U.S. economy in the year to come; they will shape the type of capitalism we will live in for the next fifty years."

The outlines of the debate are rapidly evolving. Paulson and the White House want a "clean" bill -- in other words, they want Congress to roll over and give Treasury authority to spend $700 billion buying bad debt, with little or no provision for making sure that A) the system is somehow fundamentally improved after this gambit and B) the parties at fault, who will benefit from the rescue, are punished in some way for their irresponsibility.

No way, say congressional Democrats. Late Sunday, Sen. Chris Dodd, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, released his plan. It calls for limits on executive compensation, government getting a piece of equity in the firms that are being rescued, and the creation of a new oversight body. As he told the panel on "Morning Joe" Monday morning:

"Are you going to turn over $700 billion to someone ... who will be in charge of all of this, without any accountability, oversight? Are you going to do it without making sure the taxpayer is first in line ... to get something back if these assets produce any -- any wealth?

The uncertainty as to how this drama will play out is obviously spooking investors. As of this writing the Dow Jones industrial average was down over 200 points, and one has the very strong sense that the euphoria that overcame investors late Thursday and Friday, when the news of the bailout plan first broke, is rapidly fading away. It's never too smart to speculate about what drives market investor psychology, but underneath the clear-and-present fear about what might happen to their portfolios this week, there are also much larger questions fueling their discomfort.

Martin Wolf, the esteemed economics commentator for the Financial Times, expressed this unease in a round table hosted by Fareed Zakaria on CNN on Sunday. "Will this call into question," he worried, "the whole movement to somewhat freer markets to liberalization across everything -- trade, movement of people, movement of capital? That's a very big sort of question about the whole zeitgeist, the time we live in."

In other words, will the seismic shift currently roiling government and the economy roll back, not just the Reagan revolution -- the so-called Great Deregulation that began in the 1970s -- but will it roll back globalization itself -- the intimate linkages between national economies that ensure that any flutter of the butterfly's wings in New York become a tsunami in Shanghai, London and Tokyo faster than a Bloomberg terminal can update its stock-ticker.

Appearing on the same program as Wolf, Rep. Barney Frank, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, made his position clear. The experience of the last few years demonstrates the bankruptcy of the status quo approach and offers a golden opportunity for new thinking:

The conservative icon, Ronald Reagan, in his first inaugural says, "government is not the answer to the problem; government is the problem."

We now have Secretary Paulson and Chairman Bernanke appearing on Wall Street, and their announcement is "We're from the government. We're here to help you."

Clearly, there has got to be a constraint on risk-taking and the highly leveraged risk-taking that the system doesn't provide itself.

Frank's contention is that such stronger regulation should be seen as "pro-market" -- without government setting firm rules, investors will continue what Frank calls "an investors strike. And until and unless there is some assurance to those investors, that has to come in part from sensible regulation, they don't go back in."

So let's take a closer look at the Dodd proposal, the provisions of which are likely to be echoed by whatever Frank is cooking up on the House side. A new supervisory body makes sense, as many are currently noting, on both sides of the political spectrum; why should we trust whoever is appointed secretary of the Treasury by whoever is elected in November to decide who should be rescued, without appeal to any other court or agency? At one time, let us recall, one of the great defenders of deregulation, Sen. Phil Gramm, was considered a likely prospect for Treasury secretary under a McCain administration.

Some kind of restriction on executive compensation in return for a bailout seems an absolutely necessary requirement for new legislation, even if the Bush administration will resist mightily. But the politics of the moment require it. On Monday morning, John McCain, inhabiting the newest of his Madonna-like series of constant personal reinventions -- the crusading economic populist -- railed against golden parachutes for Wall Street executives. When the Republican presidential candidate is pushing class warfare, it's hard to see Congress could pass a bailout plan without some punishment for the guilty, just before voters head to the polls. We've seen this Democratic Congress bend over before, but now is the time, to quote George H.W. Bush, to draw a line in the sand and say: Thus far, and no further.

As Barack Obama declared last week, the current troubles are a verdict on a failed economic philosophy; it is unthinkable that those who benefited most from that philosophy should avoid suffering the consequences of its failure. As Dodd pointed out on "Morning Joe," if you're looking for a way to ensure that "Pat Buchanan's army with pitchforks will be at the gates," letting financial institution executives off the hook would be a good way to go about it.

But Dodd's proposal that the government get shares in the companies it rescues is the most interesting part of his plan. After all, why should the taxpayer bear all the liability for the uncertain value of Wall Street's bad debt?

The Wall Street Journal reports:

Sen. Dodd's plan would not allow the Treasury Department to purchase any assets "unless the Secretary receives contingent shares in the financial institution from which such assets are to be purchased equal in value to the purchase price of the assets to be purchased."

You don't often find a Democratic senator and a University of Chicago free-market true-believer economist on the same side, but Luigi Zingales' widely circulated "Why Paulson Is Wrong" essay provides strong support for the idea that the government should get a piece of the action, framed in terms of debt forgiveness in exchange for equity.

Zingales argues that a reduction in debt can benefit both equity holders and debt holders because "there are real costs from having too much debt and too little equity in the capital structure." But debt holders tend to resist government-ordered debt forgiveness for the very simple reason that a government bailout is a preferable solution, for them.

As during the Great Depression and in many debt restructurings, it makes sense in the current contingency to mandate a partial debt forgiveness or a debt-for-equity swap in the financial sector. It has the benefit of being a well-tested strategy in the private sector and it leaves the taxpayers out of the picture. But if it is so simple, why no expert has mentioned it?

The major players in the financial sector do not like it. It is much more appealing for the financial industry to be bailed out at taxpayers' expense than to bear their share of pain.

Let the battle be joined. On one side, the White House and Henry Paulson, using the threat of a systemic crash to bludgeon Congress into passing immediate legislation that expressly benefits those who profited the most from the Great Deregulation. On the other, a House and Senate about to face reelection, with an opportunity to fundamentally change the terms of the game as it has been played for decades.

We'll keep you updated.

UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal reports that Barney Frank says the White House is already making concessions:

The Bush administration has conceded several changes to its rescue plan for the troubled banking industry, including agreeing to compensation limits for bank chief executives taking part in the plan and the need for more help for homeowners facing foreclosure, a leading House Democrat said Monday. Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee Rep. Barney Frank said the Treasury also agreed to Democrats' idea that the federal government should receive warrants to take an equity stake in financial firms in exchange for the government purchasing toxic assets from them.


~lee.

22 September 2008

oh hell yes... bow chicka wow wow...

[from aquarium drunkard*...]

deep-throat-soundtrack.jpg

Deep Throat:
a) an early 1970s porn film that is credited with, ahem, among other things, bringing traditional stag films to a mainstream auduence. b) the code name of the government insider/informant during Watergate.

Light In The Attic records just released the official soundtrack to Deep Throat - Anthology, Parts I & II. It’s sound is more akin to an early ’70s blaxploitation film’s soundtrack than that of what would become known as “porn music” a decade later. Bow chicka bow bow.

Note: In the early 1970’s, the U.S. government seized all film reels and master tapes for Deep Throat I. Therefore all musicians and writers are unknown. In early 2004, a number of long-lost reels were discovered, giving fans a deeper glimpse into the legend of Deep Throat. After a detailed restoration by John Golden Mastering, sonic imperfections still do apply, but definite aural improvements have been made, including the conversion from mono to stereo and a considerable decrease in hiss and distortion. (via)

Download:

http://rapidshare.com/files/89688485/Deep_Throat_Anthology__Pts_I___II__2004_.rar

~lee.

*i provided the rapidshare link. please contact me in the comments section if you have any questions regarding .rar files.

21 September 2008

"what's next," "the thing," assorted sports metaphors, martin sheen doing that weird thing with his suit coat, the walk- and- talk...

my absolute favorite television show of all time was "the west wing." loved this.

September 21, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist

Aaron Sorkin Conjures a Meeting of Obama and Bartlet

Now that he’s finally fired up on the soup-line economy, Barack Obama knows he can’t fade out again. He was eager to talk privately to a Democratic ex-president who could offer more fatherly wisdom — not to mention a surreptitious smoke — and less fraternal rivalry. I called the “West Wing” creator Aaron Sorkin (yes, truly) to get a read-out of the meeting. This is what he wrote:

BARACK OBAMA knocks on the front door of a 300-year-old New Hampshire farmhouse while his Secret Service detail waits in the driveway. The door opens and OBAMA is standing face to face with former President JED BARTLET.

BARTLET Senator.

OBAMA Mr. President.

BARTLET You seem startled.

OBAMA I didn’t expect you to answer the door yourself.

BARTLET I didn’t expect you to be getting beat by John McCain and a Lancôme rep who thinks “The Flintstones” was based on a true story, so let’s call it even.

OBAMA Yes, sir.

BARTLET Come on in.

BARTLET leads OBAMA into his study.

BARTLET That was a hell of a convention.

OBAMA Thank you, I was proud of it.

BARTLET I meant the Republicans. The Us versus Them-a-thon. As a Democrat I was surprised to learn that I don’t like small towns, God, people with jobs or America. I’ve been a little out of touch but is there a mandate that the vice president be skilled at field dressing a moose —

OBAMA Look —

BARTLET — and selling Air Force Two on eBay?

OBAMA Joke all you want, Mr. President, but it worked.

BARTLET Imagine my surprise. What can I do for you, kid?

OBAMA I’m interested in your advice.

BARTLET I can’t give it to you.

OBAMA Why not?

BARTLET I’m supporting McCain.

OBAMA Why?

BARTLET He’s promised to eradicate evil and that was always on my “to do” list.

OBAMA O.K. —

BARTLET And he’s surrounded himself, I think, with the best possible team to get us out of an economic crisis. Why, Sarah Palin just said Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had “gotten too big and too expensive to the taxpayers.” Can you spot the error in that statement?

OBAMA Yes, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac aren’t funded by taxpayers.

BARTLET Well, at least they are now. Kind of reminds you of the time Bush said that Social Security wasn’t a government program. He was only off by a little — Social Security is the largest government program.

OBAMA I appreciate your sense of humor, sir, but I really could use your advice.

BARTLET Well, it seems to me your problem is a lot like the problem I had twice.

OBAMA Which was?

BARTLET A huge number of Americans thought I thought I was superior to them.

OBAMA And?

BARTLET I was.

OBAMA I mean, how did you overcome that?

BARTLET I won’t lie to you, being fictional was a big advantage.

OBAMA What do you mean?

BARTLET I’m a fictional president. You’re dreaming right now, Senator.

OBAMA I’m asleep?

BARTLET Yes, and you’re losing a ton of white women.

OBAMA Yes, sir.

BARTLET I mean tons.

OBAMA I understand.

BARTLET I didn’t even think there were that many white women.

OBAMA I see the numbers, sir. What do they want from me?

BARTLET I’ve been married to a white woman for 40 years and I still don’t know what she wants from me.

OBAMA How did you do it?

BARTLET Well, I say I’m sorry a lot.

OBAMA I don’t mean your marriage, sir. I mean how did you get America on your side?

BARTLET There again, I didn’t have to be president of America, I just had to be president of the people who watched “The West Wing.”

OBAMA That would make it easier.

BARTLET You’d do very well on NBC. Thursday nights in the old “ER” time slot with “30 Rock” as your lead-in, you’d get seven, seven-five in the demo with a 20, 22 share — you’d be selling $450,000 minutes.

OBAMA What the hell does that mean?

BARTLET TV talk. I thought you’d be interested.

OBAMA I’m not. They pivoted off the argument that I was inexperienced to the criticism that I’m — wait for it — the Messiah, who, by the way, was a community organizer. When I speak I try to lead with inspiration and aptitude. How is that a liability?

BARTLET Because the idea of American exceptionalism doesn’t extend to Americans being exceptional. If you excelled academically and are able to casually use 690 SAT words then you might as well have the press shoot video of you giving the finger to the Statue of Liberty while the Dixie Chicks sing the University of the Taliban fight song. The people who want English to be the official language of the United States are uncomfortable with their leaders being fluent in it.

OBAMA You’re saying race doesn’t have anything to do with it?

BARTLET I wouldn’t go that far. Brains made me look arrogant but they make you look uppity. Plus, if you had a black daughter —

OBAMA I have two.

BARTLET — who was 17 and pregnant and unmarried and the father was a teenager hoping to launch a rap career with “Thug Life” inked across his chest, you’d come in fifth behind Bob Barr, Ralph Nader and a ficus.

OBAMA You’re not cheering me up.

BARTLET Is that what you came here for?

OBAMA No, but it wouldn’t kill you.

BARTLET Have you tried doing a two-hour special or a really good Christmas show?

OBAMA Sir —

BARTLET Hang on. Home run. Right here. Is there any chance you could get Michelle pregnant before the fall sweeps?

OBAMA The problem is we can’t appear angry. Bush called us the angry left. Did you see anyone in Denver who was angry?

BARTLET Well ... let me think. ...We went to war against the wrong country, Osama bin Laden just celebrated his seventh anniversary of not being caught either dead or alive, my family’s less safe than it was eight years ago, we’ve lost trillions of dollars, millions of jobs, thousands of lives and we lost an entire city due to bad weather. So, you know ... I’m a little angry.

OBAMA What would you do?

BARTLET GET ANGRIER! Call them liars, because that’s what they are. Sarah Palin didn’t say “thanks but no thanks” to the Bridge to Nowhere. She just said “Thanks.” You were raised by a single mother on food stamps — where does a guy with eight houses who was legacied into Annapolis get off calling you an elitist? And by the way, if you do nothing else, take that word back. Elite is a good word, it means well above average. I’d ask them what their problem is with excellence. While you’re at it, I want the word “patriot” back. McCain can say that the transcendent issue of our time is the spread of Islamic fanaticism or he can choose a running mate who doesn’t know the Bush doctrine from the Monroe Doctrine, but he can’t do both at the same time and call it patriotic. They have to lie — the truth isn’t their friend right now. Get angry. Mock them mercilessly; they’ve earned it. McCain decried agents of intolerance, then chose a running mate who had to ask if she was allowed to ban books from a public library. It’s not bad enough she thinks the planet Earth was created in six days 6,000 years ago complete with a man, a woman and a talking snake, she wants schools to teach the rest of our kids to deny geology, anthropology, archaeology and common sense too? It’s not bad enough she’s forcing her own daughter into a loveless marriage to a teenage hood, she wants the rest of us to guide our daughters in that direction too? It’s not enough that a woman shouldn’t have the right to choose, it should be the law of the land that she has to carry and deliver her rapist’s baby too? I don’t know whether or not Governor Palin has the tenacity of a pit bull, but I know for sure she’s got the qualifications of one. And you’re worried about seeming angry? You could eat their lunch, make them cry and tell their mamas about it and God himself would call it restrained. There are times when you are simply required to be impolite. There are times when condescension is called for!

OBAMA Good to get that off your chest?

BARTLET Am I keeping you from something?

OBAMA Well, it’s not as if I didn’t know all of that and it took you like 20 minutes to say.

BARTLET I know, I have a problem, but admitting it is the first step.

OBAMA What’s the second step?

BARTLET I don’t care.

OBAMA So what about hope? Chuck it for outrage and put-downs?

BARTLET No. You’re elite, you can do both. Four weeks ago you had the best week of your campaign, followed — granted, inexplicably — by the worst week of your campaign. And you’re still in a statistical dead heat. You’re a 47-year-old black man with a foreign-sounding name who went to Harvard and thinks devotion to your country and lapel pins aren’t the same thing and you’re in a statistical tie with a war hero and a Cinemax heroine. To these aged eyes, Senator, that’s what progress looks like. You guys got four debates. Get out of my house and go back to work.

OBAMA Wait, what is it you always used to say? When you hit a bump on the show and your people were down and frustrated? You’d give them a pep talk and then you’d always end it with something. What was it ...?

BARTLET “Break’s over.”

~lee.

money, its a gas. grab that cash with both hands and make a stash...

i don't know a whole lot about macroeconomics, but this struck me.

[from firedoglake.com...]

Paulson’s Blank Check

By: Ian Welsh Saturday September 20, 2008 4:00 pm

I've pasted the text of the bill below the jump. Everyone should read it. But here are the key points:
  • No one who foresaw the crisis, such as Krugman or Stiglitz, is involved in making the plan to fix it.
  • The man overseeing the bailout is the ex-CEO of Goldman Sachs, a Wall Street Company. He helped cause the crisis.
  • Paulson helped obtain the SEC exemption which allowed brokerages to increase leverage to 60:1 from 12:1.
  • The money is Paulson's to use for buying commercial and residential mortgages and mortgaged backed securities as he chooses. No one has any oversight over him, and he can pay any price he wants to, including face amount of the debt.
  • Courts cannot review his decisions, not can any regulators. He has to report to Congress once every six months.
  • He gets 700 Billion dollars to use as he sees fit, looking after the taxpayer is a "consideration" not a requirement.
  • Bet on that 700 Billion dollars being gone before January 20, 2009. Bet on Treasury asking for more.
  • That is $2,324 dollars per man, woman and child in America
  • There is no bailout for mortgage holders. Banks get bailed out, but not ordinary people.
  • Banks and brokerages made record profits these last eight years. Ordinary Americans barely broke even.
  • In 2007 Wall Street paid itself bonuses equal to the raises of 80 million Americans.
  • Banks bailed out by this plan need make no changes in how they do business.
  • Banks bailed out need not replace the management which drove them into insolvency.
  • Shareholders and bondholders of such banks do not lose a cent.
  • The securities which caused this crisis are still allowed.
  • Expect the 700 billion dollars to increase inflation, especially in oil.
  • Bush is asking you to trust his administration with 700 billion after spending 580 billion on the Iraq war. Do you trust him?


LEGISLATIVE PROPOSAL FOR TREASURY AUTHORITY TO PURCHASE MORTGAGE-RELATED ASSETS

Section 1. Short Title.

This Act may be cited as ____________________.

Sec. 2. Purchases of Mortgage-Related Assets.

(a) Authority to Purchase.--The Secretary is authorized to purchase, and to make and fund commitments to purchase, on such terms and conditions as determined by the Secretary, mortgage-related assets from any financial institution having its headquarters in the United States.

(b) Necessary Actions.--The Secretary is authorized to take such actions as the Secretary deems necessary to carry out the authorities in this Act, including, without limitation:

(1) appointing such employees as may be required to carry out the authorities in this Act and defining their duties;

(2) entering into contracts, including contracts for services authorized by section 3109 of title 5, United States Code, without regard to any other provision of law regarding public contracts;

(3) designating financial institutions as financial agents of the Government, and they shall perform all such reasonable duties related to this Act as financial agents of the Government as may be required of them;

(4) establishing vehicles that are authorized, subject to supervision by the Secretary, to purchase mortgage-related assets and issue obligations; and

(5) issuing such regulations and other guidance as may be necessary or appropriate to define terms or carry out the authorities of this Act.

Sec. 3. Considerations.

In exercising the authorities granted in this Act, the Secretary shall take into consideration means for--

(1) providing stability or preventing disruption to the financial markets or banking system; and

(2) protecting the taxpayer.

Sec. 4. Reports to Congress.

Within three months of the first exercise of the authority granted in section 2(a), and semiannually thereafter, the Secretary shall report to the Committees on the Budget, Financial Services, and Ways and Means of the House of Representatives and the Committees on the Budget, Finance, and Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs of the Senate with respect to the authorities exercised under this Act and the considerations required by section 3.

Sec. 5. Rights; Management; Sale of Mortgage-Related Assets.

(a) Exercise of Rights.--The Secretary may, at any time, exercise any rights received in connection with mortgage-related assets purchased under this Act.

(b) Management of Mortgage-Related Assets.--The Secretary shall have authority to manage mortgage-related assets purchased under this Act, including revenues and portfolio risks therefrom.

(c) Sale of Mortgage-Related Assets.--The Secretary may, at any time, upon terms and conditions and at prices determined by the Secretary, sell, or enter into securities loans, repurchase transactions or other financial transactions in regard to, any mortgage-related asset purchased under this Act.

(d) Application of Sunset to Mortgage-Related Assets.--The authority of the Secretary to hold any mortgage-related asset purchased under this Act before the termination date in section 9, or to purchase or fund the purchase of a mortgage-related asset under a commitment entered into before the termination date in section 9, is not subject to the provisions of section 9.

Sec. 6. Maximum Amount of Authorized Purchases.

The Secretary’s authority to purchase mortgage-related assets under this Act shall be limited to $700,000,000,000 outstanding at any one time

Sec. 7. Funding.

For the purpose of the authorities granted in this Act, and for the costs of administering those authorities, the Secretary may use the proceeds of the sale of any securities issued under chapter 31 of title 31, United States Code, and the purposes for which securities may be issued under chapter 31 of title 31, United States Code, are extended to include actions authorized by this Act, including the payment of administrative expenses. Any funds expended for actions authorized by this Act, including the payment of administrative expenses, shall be deemed appropriated at the time of such expenditure.

Sec. 8. Review.

Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.

Sec. 9. Termination of Authority.

The authorities under this Act, with the exception of authorities granted in sections 2(b)(5), 5 and 7, shall terminate two years from the date of enactment of this Act.

Sec. 10. Increase in Statutory Limit on the Public Debt.

Subsection (b) of section 3101 of title 31, United States Code, is amended by striking out the dollar limitation contained in such subsection and inserting in lieu thereof $11,315,000,000,000.

Sec. 11. Credit Reform.

The costs of purchases of mortgage-related assets made under section 2(a) of this Act shall be determined as provided under the Federal Credit Reform Act of 1990, as applicable.

Sec. 12. Definitions.

For purposes of this section, the following definitions shall apply:

(1) Mortgage-Related Assets.--The term “mortgage-related assets” means residential or commercial mortgages and any securities, obligations, or other instruments that are based on or related to such mortgages, that in each case was originated or issued on or before September 17, 2008.

(2) Secretary.--The term “Secretary” means the Secretary of the Treasury.

(3) United States.--The term “United States” means the States, territories, and possessions of the United States and the District of Columbia.



~lee.

17 September 2008

new song...

just finished writing a new song, a tribute. enjoy.

tome [blues for dfw].

how could i possibly write anything about you?
how could i possibly write what i really want to say?
you were a man [had a mind] like a monument, and
the shadow that you cast won't easily fade...
[david, was that a cliche?]

tributes quite often fit like wet clothes...
it's so sad for me to see such humanity gone.
there's prince hamlet standing in a grave holding
old poor yorick's skull...
"where be your gibes now? your gambols? your songs?"

tome...
was your heart as heavy as your thoughts?
alone...
you must've felt so alone, a raskolnikov.
tome...
i push my hair out of my face and think of yours.
alone...
a magic man-- i'm gonna miss you, sir.

[rest assured, you'll hold a place in the canon...
much more just than a footnote in the pantheon.]
















~lee.

and now, for a change, some liberal bitching about bush...

[from dailykos...]

Cheers and Jeers: Wednesday

Wed Sep 17, 2008 at 04:29:53 AM PDT

From the GREAT STATE OF MAINE...

Charlie and Me---15 Minutes Before the Palin Interview
(Rush transcript)

Do you agree with the Bush Doctrine?

In what respect, Charlie?

What do you interpret it to be?

Well, Charlie, that's tough. Is it the Bush doctrine that says you can go back on your promise to cut global emissions as soon as you take office? Or the one that says ignore PDBs that warn of an imminent attack on the United States? Perhaps you're speaking of the Bush doctrine of sticking the government's nose into private family health decisions? Or the one that says you can spy on any American at any time for any reason? Or maybe the one that says, hey, let's politicize the Department of Justice! How about the one where you can divert resources from the war on terror to invade a country because its leader once tried to kill your daddy? Or ignore congressional subpoenas at will? Or change laws anytime with signing statements? That doctrine? Am I close?

Well, I was thinking...

Wait, I know! Is it the Bush doctrine that says torture is okay and that the writ of habeas corpus is "quaint?" Or the Bush doctrine that says the free market will regulate itself and bring us endless prosperity? Is it the doctrine that says deficits don’t matter? Or the one that says cronies are competent stewards of the nation's safety? Maybe it's the doctrine of thinking that cutting taxes in the middle of two wars is smart? Or the doctrine that says government commissions---like the Iraq Study Group---should be taken seriously until they release their report, after which they should be ignored? Then there's this one: no matter how much people beg for relief, don't lift a finger to fix the health care mess in this country, but do pass major legislation that increases the profits of drug companies. How about the doctrine that says any country that doesn’t make themselves over in America's image should be mocked and ridiculed and even invaded? Hey, here's a great doctrine: running the Iraq war "off the books" so it looks like it's not costing us anything. Brilliant! Are these doctrines ringin' any bells, Charlie?

Err...um...

Is it the Bush doctrine that says you should commute the sentence of a top White House official who committed perjury to help cover up the fact that you outed a covert CIA operative as an act of political revenge? Or the one that says vote for me because I'm a CEO and I know what I'm doing? That is, unless it's the one that says vote for me because I'm an oilman and I'll keep gas prices low? How about the one that says let's privatize Social Security by putting it into the hands of companies like Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers? Maybe it's the doctrine that says it's a good idea to taunt terrorists by sneering, "Bring 'em on!" Wait a minute! It must be the Bush doctrine of raising the terror threat level when it's politically expedient! Oh, wait...it could be the doctrine of spending more time on vacation than any other president in history. Actually, it might be the doctrine that says let's fuck up the country as much as possible and then blame it on the Democrats.

Tell me, Charlie: which Bush doctrine are you referring to?

The Bush Doctrine as I understand it is that we have the right of anticipatory self-defense. That we have the right of a preemptive strike against any other country that we think is going to attack us. Do you agree with that?

Hell, I dunno. Ask the lady over there beating her ex-brother-in-law with a moose antler.

~lee.

16 September 2008

know your rights, pt. II...

a postcript to my earlier posts following the brutality at the rnc.

[from pitchfork...]

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists Issue Surprise Charity EP


Ted Leo and the Pharmacists Issue Surprise Charity EP

To say that Ted Leo was dismayed by the violence at the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, would be an understatement. So he decided to take his anger and do something about it. As he writes, "The surveillance, pre-emptive detention, arrest, and beating of journalists, protesters, and watchdogs by the St. Paul police department, the Ramsey County sheriff's department, and the FBI was so egregious that it couldn't be allowed to pass without comment."

The ever-outspoken punk rocker gathered his Pharmacists and hit the studio to lay down the two original songs and two covers that comprise the Rapid Response EP, available right this very instant for digital download from Touch and Go.

In the liner notes for the EP, Leo explains, "Real people were hurt in St. Paul, and real people have bills to pay, and real people need funding to continue their good works. We (the band and I) were all feeling these events as deeply as we could from our 1200 mile remove, and so as not to feel entirely powerless, and in an attempt to contribute SOMETHING to that continuation of those good works, we wrote a song and recorded it, along with another new one we'd already been working on that's pertinent to election time politics, and two covers we enjoy and that also have timely sentiments." Those covers are of crust punk bands Amebix and Cock Sparrer."

All proceeds from the EP will go to Democracy Now! and the Minneapolis chapter of Food Not Bombs. It's available exclusively through Touch and Go at the moment, but will make its way to other online retailers after two weeks. Touch and Go is offering a sliding scale of payment for the EP, based on how much you'd like to donate to the cause.

[from the album's liner notes...]

EP Liner Notes From Ted Leo

For a very brief moment, it seemed like people were actually reporting the truth. The surveillance, pre-emptive detention, arrest, and beating of journalists, protestors, and watchdogs by the St. Paul police department, the Ramsey County sheriff's department, and the FBI was so egregious that it couldn't be allowed to pass without comment. I heard WNYC's Bob Hennelly compare the treatment of RNC protestors to the fact that Trojan condoms had a product booth inside the building at the Republican National Convention, saying, "It seems as if free speech exists only for those who can pay for it." I heard the name "Amy Goodman" actually spoken by, and written about in, the "mainstream media" after her roughing up at the hands of the St. Paul police. The story of the ABC cameraman who was smacked around and had his video camera smashed was about to bring down the righteous indignation of a formerly complacent press. And the license and viciousness and carelessness with which these acts and the banal bullying that seemed to be a constant around them - infiltration of peaceful (and not so peaceful) groups by police spies and agents provacatuer - the omnipresent pepper spray repeatedly maiming eyes that were only challenging with looks - stun guns, tear gas, and concussion grenades launched on a citizenry trying yet again to be heard - was finally coming under proper scrutiny. Was there violence launched against delegates, property, and police as well? I'm sure there was. And the majority of it is to be dismissed and condemned, but some of it has be to be understood as what was likely a natural response to this culture of military free-reign that pumps our protectors up to believe that we, exercising our rights as Americans, are an enemy to be crushed without concern and without reason. How they get away with it all... How they get away with anything they want to! We yammer on about the efficacy of trickle-down economics, but we ignore the trickle down effect that eight long years of example of contempt for the standards of the very same reasonable society this government claims to desire to defend, and the cynical exploitation of the populace via their fears and willingness to allow any transgression against their rights in the name of comfort (to inadvertently quote Shelter), but the proof of that trickle-down effect is all around, and was on display during the RNC in St. Paul. And this was actually being discussed somewhere other than within the remnants of punk fanzine culture and marginal message boards!

And then came the Sarah Palin Side Show, and we've all moved on (but let me dive in, yet again, for one second to relate it to the point I was making above, and ask a question: how is it that a candidate for vice president, one allied with the "anti-big government" "pro-individualism" and even pro-states' rights faction - can openly mock concern for an individual's rights in the face of government accusation - endorse a "shoot first, ask questions later" policy - and actually be considered for a post that requires deference to and upholding of the Constitution? In the world that they've created, there is no accountability). But real people were hurt in St. Paul, and real people have bills to pay, and real people need funding to continue their good works. We (the band and I) were all feeling these events as deeply as we could from our 1200 mile remove, and so as not to feel entirely powerless, and in an attempt to contribute SOMETHING to that continuation of those good works, we wrote a song and recorded it, along with another new one we'd already been working on that's pertinent to election time politics, and two covers we enjoy and that also have timely sentiments. It's a small thing, but as the particle collider that cranked up at CERN yesterday will continue to reveal, all big things are made out of smaller things. Thanks for your contribution in purchasing this EP.

A few words about the songs...

First of all, don't get on my case about recording quality, excessive compression, distortion, etc. - the point was to get this down and get it out as quickly as possible, so we just used our usual cruddy demoing set-up, and I mixed it down into, >ulp<... Garage Band. Also, I've been listening to not much but the last two Darkthrone records recently, so... that's probably had some effect on my vision of "production values." Also, I know that at one point it sounds like I'm saying "Amy GoodWIN," but it's just that I had never actually sung the song before, and I was rushing through it, not paying much attention to annunciation - I think I deserve the benefit of the doubt on that one, but you can still consider this a pre-emptive "clarification."
"PARANOIA: Never Enough" - written specifically for this event and this release. I wrote it on Thursday in Rhode Island, we recorded it on Friday in New Jersey. Hope you enjoy.
"Mourning in America" - it's about race as a campaign issue. If it makes it onto our next LP, it will no longer be campaign season, but the frustrating irony is that in a few years time, it'll probably be "timely" again.

"I Got Your Number" - it's pretty explicitly about media manipulation of political thought, I think. I also think it's about time Cock Sparrer got a reassessment and a bit of the respect they deserve in the Punk Pantheon.

"Nobody's Driving" - apparently Amebix is getting back together. I applaud that. Hugely inspirational. Daryl K. introduced me to them way back when we were in Citizens Arrest. After repeated listens to the EP with just the previous three songs, I felt like it needed another. I spent the afternoon yesterday doing a more elaborate version of this - two guitars, two tin whistles, an air organ, backing vocals, etc. - but wasn't really feeling it. I recorded over it by just playing and singing it live and alone - one guitar and one voice. Be forewarned - unless Touch and Go somehow manages to do some mastering to this before it gets posted, the first guitar chord comes in a little hot - if you're listening in headphones, you might want to turn it down a notch when "I Got Your Number" ends.

So that's it!

And again - this isn't meant to be some grand sweeping statement on our part - it's just a way for us to contribute SOMETHING real to the lives of real human beings, and show our material support for those whose actions and thoughts we value in this ideological struggle.

Enough said.

Thanks to James, Marty, and Chris for getting right behind this idea, along with Molly at Indivision, and everyone at Touch and Go. It feels good to work with good people!

And thanks again to you for helping Democracy Now! and Food Not Bombs.

Stay informed, stay alive - resist and survive.

xo - TL

~lee.

back to work...

[from the new york times...]

September 14, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist

The Palin-Whatshisname Ticket

WITH all due deference to lipstick, let’s advance the story. A week ago the question was: Is Sarah Palin qualified to be a heartbeat away from the presidency? The question today: What kind of president would Sarah Palin be?

It’s an urgent matter, because if we’ve learned anything from the G.O.P. convention and its aftermath, it’s that the 2008 edition of John McCain is too weak to serve as America’s chief executive. This unmentionable truth, more than race, is now the real elephant in the room of this election.

No longer able to remember his principles any better than he can distinguish between Sunnis and Shia, McCain stands revealed as a guy who can be easily rolled by anyone who sells him a plan for “victory,” whether in Iraq or in Michigan. A McCain victory on Election Day will usher in a Palin presidency, with McCain serving as a transitional front man, an even weaker Bush to her Cheney.

The ambitious Palin and the ruthless forces she represents know it, too. You can almost see them smacking their lips in anticipation, whether they’re wearing lipstick or not.

This was made clear in the most chilling passage of Palin’s acceptance speech. Aligning herself with “a young farmer and a haberdasher from Missouri” who “followed an unlikely path to the vice presidency,” she read a quote from an unidentified writer who, she claimed, had praised Truman: “We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty and sincerity and dignity.” Then Palin added a snide observation of her own: Such small-town Americans, she said, “run our factories” and “fight our wars” and are “always proud” of their country. As opposed to those lazy, shiftless, unproud Americans — she didn’t have to name names — who are none of the above.

There were several creepy subtexts at work here. The first was the choice of Truman. Most 20th-century vice presidents and presidents in both parties hailed from small towns, but she just happened to alight on a Democrat who ascended to the presidency when an ailing president died in office. Just as striking was the unnamed writer she quoted. He was identified by Thomas Frank in The Wall Street Journal as the now largely forgotten but once powerful right-wing Hearst columnist Westbrook Pegler.

Palin, who lies with ease about her own record, misrepresented Pegler’s too. He decreed America was “done for” after Truman won a full term in 1948. For his part, Truman regarded the columnist as a “guttersnipe,” and with good reason. Pegler was a rabid Joe McCarthyite who loathed F.D.R. and Ike and tirelessly advanced the theory that American Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe (“geese,” he called them) were all likely Communists.

Surely Palin knows no more about Pegler than she does about the Bush doctrine. But the people around her do, and they will be shaping a Palin presidency. That they would inject not just Pegler’s words but spirit into their candidate’s speech shows where they’re coming from. Rick Davis, the McCain campaign manager, said that the Palin-sparked convention created “a whole new Republican Party,” but what it actually did was exhume an old one from its crypt.

The specifics have changed in our new century, but the vitriolic animus of right-wing populism preached by Pegler and McCarthy and revived by the 1990s culture wars remains the same. The game is always to pit the good, patriotic real Americans against those subversive, probably gay “cosmopolitan” urbanites (as the sometime cross-dresser Rudy Giuliani has it) who threaten to take away everything that small-town folk hold dear.

The racial component to this brand of politics was undisguised in St. Paul. Americans saw a virtually all-white audience yuk it up when Giuliani ridiculed Barack Obama’s “only in America” success as an affirmative-action fairy tale — and when he and Palin mocked Obama’s history as a community organizer in Chicago. Neither party has had so few black delegates (1.5 percent) in the 40 years since the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies started keeping a record.

But race is just one manifestation of the emotion that defined the Palin rollout. That dominant emotion is fear — an abject fear of change. Fear of a demographical revolution that will put whites in the American minority by 2042. Fear of the technological revolution and globalization that have gutted those small towns and factories Palin apotheosized.

And, last but hardly least, fear of illegal immigrants who do the low-paying jobs that Americans don’t want to do and of legal immigrants who do the high-paying jobs that poorly educated Americans are not qualified to do. No less revealing than Palin’s convention invocation of Pegler was the pointed omission of any mention of immigration, once the hottest Republican issue, by either her or McCain. Saying the word would have cued an eruption of immigrant-bashing ugliness, Pegler-style, before a national television audience. That wouldn’t play in the swing states of Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada, where Obama already has a more than 2-to-1 lead among Hispanic voters. (Bush captured roughly 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004.)

Since St. Paul, Democrats have been feasting on the hypocrisy of the Palin partisans, understandably enough. The same Republicans who attack Democrats for being too P.C. about race now howl about sexism with such abandon you half-expect Phyllis Schlafly and Carly Fiorina to stage a bra-burning. The same gang that once fueled Internet rumors and media feeding frenzies over the Clintons’ private lives now express pious outrage when the same fate befalls the Palins.

But the ultimate hypocrisy is that these woebegone, frightened opponents of change, sworn enemies of race-based college-admission initiatives, are now demanding their own affirmative action program for white folks applying to the electoral college. They want the bar for admission to the White House to be placed so low that legitimate scrutiny and criticism of Palin’s qualifications, record and family values can all be placed off limits. Byron York of National Review, a rare conservative who acknowledges the double standard, captured it best: “If the Obamas had a 17-year-old daughter who was unmarried and pregnant by a tough-talking black kid, my guess is if they all appeared onstage at a Democratic convention and the delegates were cheering wildly, a number of conservatives might be discussing the issue of dysfunctional black families.”

The cunning of the Palin choice as a political strategy is that a candidate who embodies fear of change can be sold as a “maverick” simply because she looks the part. Her marketers have a lot to work with. Palin is not only the first woman on a Republican presidential ticket, but she is young, vibrant and a Washington outsider with no explicit connection to Bush or the war in Iraq. That package looks like change even if what’s inside is anything but.

How do you run against that flashy flimflam? You don’t. Karl Rove for once gave the Democrats a real tip rather than a bum steer when he wrote last week that if Obama wants to win, “he needs to remember he’s running against John McCain for president,” not Palin for vice president. Obama should keep stepping up the blitz on McCain’s flip-flops, confusion, ignorance and blurriness on major issues (from education to an exit date from Iraq), rather than her gaffes and résumé. If he focuses voters on the 2008 McCain, the Palin question will take care of itself.

Obama’s one break last week was the McCain camp’s indication that it’s likely to minimize its candidate’s solo appearances by joining him at the hip with Palin. There’s a political price to be paid for this blatant admission that he needs her to draw crowds. McCain’s conspicuous subservience to his younger running mate’s hard-right ideology and his dependence on her electioneering energy raise the question of who has the power in this relationship and who is in charge. A strong and independent woman or the older ward who would be bobbing in a golf cart without her? The more voters see that McCain will be the figurehead for a Palin presidency, the more they are likely to demand stepped-up vetting of the rigidly scripted heir apparent.

But Obama’s most important tactic is still the one he has the most trouble executing. He must convey a roll-up-your-sleeves Bobby Kennedy passion for the economic crises that are at the heart of the fears that Palin is trying to exploit. The Republican ticket offers no answers to those anxieties. Drilling isn’t going to lower gas prices or speed energy independence. An increase in corporate tax breaks isn’t going to end income inequality, provide health care or save American jobs in a Palin presidency any more than they did in a Bush presidency.

This election is still about the fierce urgency of change before it’s too late. But in framing this debate, it isn’t enough for Obama to keep presenting McCain as simply a third Bush term. Any invocation of the despised president — like Iraq — invites voters to stop listening. Meanwhile, before our eyes, McCain is turning over the keys to his administration to ideologues and a running mate to Bush’s right.

As Republicans know best, fear does work. If Obama is to convey just what’s at stake, he must slice through the campaign’s lipstick jungle and show Americans the real perils that lie around the bend.



~lee.