Saturday, 27 February 2010


Our governor is a disgrace.

Paterson finally realized that his chances for election this fall were and have been nil for months. He bowed out after getting a poly sci 101 lesson from his rapidly shrinking inner circle who finally told him to pack it in before the governor’s mansion collapses around his ears. But he remains clueless about how appallingly he’s behaved while the rest of us learn more and more about his creepy, inexcusable hypocrisy.

Paterson made domestic violence one of his pet issues as a state senator. Was he serious or just rattling off talking points prepared by a staffer? Did he read his own bills? The governor has a law degree—does he know what the law is? Does he give a shit?

The details trickle out: Paterson’s driver’s girlfriend goes to court for a restraining order after a violent incident last Halloween. The state police—who have absolutely no business getting involved in the matter—start phoning the complaining woman and, she reports, harassing her to drop the charges.

Paterson’s own office then places a call to the woman, asking her to phone in. Paterson himself talks to her shortly before she is to appear in court. If that was not illegal, it should be.

The victim herself is now in the sights of investigators for having purchased a shiny new automobile for $30,000 in cash, which the extremely hostile New York Post rightly wonders about, given her annual salary of around $60K. Wouldn’t it be something if it turns out she got some carrot to go with the stick?

The whole affair is beyond tawdry and makes the gossip about a supposed sex scandal look tame by comparison—not that some further trash couldn’t follow. What’s most amazing is the utter incomprehension displayed by this alleged adult over what is appropriate behavior, not just for a governor but for a human being. One would have to probe the guy’s childhood as the scion of a Harlem political machine family for insights—if anyone cared.

Paterson’s swan song news conference featured the following sterling line: ‘I give you this personal oath—I have never abused my office.’ No reporter asked the obvious question: ‘How would you know?’

Chile Quake

Chile’s 8.8 earthquake illustrates that Haiti’s disaster wasn’t an ‘act of God’ but simply the result of centuries of poverty and exploitation. The Chilean quake was 100 times stronger but total deaths there will add up less than 1% of those in Haiti. Chile has fairly strict seismic construction regulations, and the capital city’s 30-plus-story apartment towers [above] will sway a full meter at the top without causing any structural damage—which is not to say that it’s a pleasant experience if you’re up there.

While the older adobe structures can pancake and kill a lot of people in rural areas, the country factors in hits like yesterday’s every 20 years or so as a fact of topography. There are good emergency medical services, and organized first responders are moderately efficient. The last earthquake in 1985 occurred under the famously abusive rule of one Augusto Pinochet, so of course a lot of the aid that poured in got siphoned off by corrupt military consuls and their friends. But only about 120 people died in that one, which registered 7.7 on the Richter scale, still far more powerful than the Haitian quake [right].

It’s awfully annoying to keep hearing the Red Cross milk the tragedy and the oily Bill Clinton-George W. Bush ads on the radio every morning asking us to send cash to a country neither one of them helped when they were the most powerful men on earth. My donation went to a small development agency with a long history in the country and let’s say a skeptical view of the current hand-wringing performances that will soon be winding down as the TV images no longer compel, and CNN moves on to something sexier.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Paterson Smells a Political Corpse-His Own

Our accidental and utterly incompetent governor [above left] is within a pair of news cycles from calling quits to his re-election campaign and none too soon. After weeks of gossip that the New York Times was about to spill a juicy sex scandal involving the pro tem lord of Albany, the real story turned out to be less salacious but far more damning than yet another wandering weenie—the news that the governor had tried to hush up a domestic violence accusation against David W. Johnson [above right, with scowl], his erstwhile driver-cum-key advisor.

What is it about pols here in New York that makes them want to promote their wheelmen to top patronage jobs? Giuliani unwisely pumped up Bernard Kerik first to head the prisons and then, incredibly, almost to the Department of Homeland Security. Only Kerik’s silly and crude style of cashing in on his influence with extremely dubious characters saved us from seeing him in charge of the main post-9/11 repressive apparatus of the nation and won him a nice jail term instead.

The details of the Paterson self-immolation are quite ugly, and the fact that the governor, who made a big deal of his intolerance of women being smacked around, would stoop to intimidating his buddy’s girlfriend after a particularly violent episode will deservedly end this bozo’s far too lengthy career.

At the same time, is it not curious that while the country has no problem tolerating torture and the continued railroading of foreign (male) detainees, it rises up in horror at the thought of a hand raised against an American woman? I’m all for the indignation, but it would be nice to see a little fairness and consistency as we say a hurried goodbye to the governor-who-never-was.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Defrauding Europe

We assume our bosses pretty much run the world, but it is bracing to see how the 25 member states of the European Union sometimes have a slightly different view—and gingerly act upon it.

Two incidents attracting attention outside the U.S. might eventually penetrate consciousness over this way: one is the hit pretty obviously performed by the Israeli secret service, Mossad, on an alleged Hamas arms dealer in a Dubai hotel.

Official assassination doesn’t seem to bother the world’s powerful as a foreign policy tool, especially when performed by Israel, and Americans can hardly object in principle since George W. Bush bragged that we do it too in front of a joint session of Congress—to stormy applause.

But the Mossad agents apparently used a slew of phony EU passports whose numbers correspond to real citizens of Ireland, France and the U.K. Breaching the sanctity of Official Documents, to the member states, is a far more serious matter than some silly old state-sponsored murder. Given the interests involved, we can safely assume the whole thing will blow over shortly, but it is a sign of the exasperation some in Europe feel with constantly being treated like Israel’s pet hamsters with the Americans looking on benignly.

An incident less easily brushed under the diplomatic rug is the role of Goldman Sachs in hiding Greece’s debt by selling it ‘complicated financial instruments’ (how familiar does THAT sound?) for which GS collected a tidy $300 million in fees. While Goldman hid this maneuver, other investors not privy to the scammish details were investing in Greek government debt that might turn out to be worth a lot less than they thought.

To prevent Greece, which is part of the Euro common currency zone, from becoming the target of speculators and driven into financial collapse, stronger partners like France and Germany must now pony up cash. It’s the equivalent of what we had to do as taxpayers in 2008 with one major difference: they are foreign countries.

A Bloomberg story headlined the Goldman/Greece operation this way: ‘Goldman Sachs, Greece Didn’t Disclose Swap, Investors Fooled’.

I think ‘fooling’ investors is usually known as ‘fraud’. Simon Johnson at The Baseline Scenario said of the latest scandal:

‘If the Federal Reserve were an effective supervisor, it would have the political will sufficient to determine that Goldman Sachs has not been acting in accordance with its banking license. But any meaningful action from this direction seems unlikely’.

That is putting it mildly. On the other hand, French and German regulators and prosecutors don’t have to milk Wall Street for campaign contributions, which undoubtedly gives them quite a different perspective on seeing their countries ripped off by these sleazemeisters.

One possible bit of fallout is the impact on the race for head of the European Central Bank (ECB), their equivalent of our Fed. Mario Draghi of Italy was considered a top contender, but turns out he was a senior manager at—guess where?—Goldman Sachs during the period in which the phony Greek debt salad was being tossed in the GS banquet kitchen.

Another expert predicts ‘sovereign’ defaults, meaning governments going belly up, will proliferate. As a lay reader of economic news, this strikes me as eerily similar to the early rumblings about problems in the mortgage finance sector, a year or so before the kaboom associated with water tumbling over Wall Street’s rapidly cracking dams.

At that time, too, a couple of Bear Stearns mortgage funds were reported to be in trouble, and the Great and Mighty assembled to work things out and stem the damage. We now know that it was impossible, but the early accounts were quite sunny and insouciant.

Now skim the headlines about the Greek debt debacle for reassuring intonings from European bankers about how everything is in order or soon will be. Well, we shall see, but as our own government is increasingly captured by the billionaires and their corporations, it could get interesting if foreign countries decide that enough is enough.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Sudden end of GWOT

After a decade of nonstop fear-mongering and systematic dismantling of our civil protections in the name of the Great War on Terror (GWOT), what happens when a new terrorist act actually occurs, and it’s a white guy angry at the IRS? The teabagger crowd immediately goes into ‘understanding’ and sympathy mode.

The eerie silence accompanying the apology for domestic terrorism from the newly minted Republican senator from Massachusetts, Scott Brown, is yet another reason why the Democrats deserve to get shellacked this fall. And will.

The vastness of the hypocrisy around wacko Joe Stack’s suicide bombing of an IRS building is stupefying even for one prepared to believe the worst of his fellow bipeds. These are the people who jump up and down screeching about ‘respect for the law’ when discussing the Mexican immigrants who wash their cars. But suddenly they forget all about the holy Law when someone like themselves tries to slaughter federal employees who happen to collect taxes?

Brown, the latest member of the dysfunctional Senate, told Fox News that he ‘hopes’ [wink, wink] that there is no connection between Stack and the ‘frustration’ people feel about Washington. Brown then went on a bizarre ramble about how elected officials should be ‘accountable and open and talk about the things that are affecting [voters’] daily lives’. Meaning what? That Joe Stack should have watched more C-SPAN?

The talking heads will naturally refuse to use the term ‘terrorism’ when applied to this particular incident of flying airplanes into inhabited buildings, prompting one neighbor of same to totally lose his composure.

But a special punishment room should be prepared for the Democrats elected to be our ‘leaders’—including the annoying Mr Cool at the top—who refuse to jump all over this scumbag and pillory the Republicans for empowering people who think terrorism is perfectly fine when directed against the targets they love to hate. As the teabagger crowd inches ever closer to a fascist movement, who has the spirit, instinct or desire to defend our wobbly democracy and the steadily sinking rule of law?

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

‘Gridlock’? We only wish

Evan Bayh’s thoroughly dishonest and distasteful swan song as he dashes for the K Street loot is a good reminder of how complicit his party was with the extremism of the Bush years.

Bayh moans NOW about partisanship and the resulting gridlock in Washington. But where oh where was gridlock when it could have done us some good? We could have used a little of it to block or modify Bush’s budget-busting tax cuts, to slow his mad dash to war on totally bullshit premises, or to at least make him pay for his conquistador fantasies with the inevitable tax increase now left to future presidents.

Bayh’s close to Republican positions and might well be one if his dad had not been a Democrat. He was all gung-ho for the Iraq war and co-sponsored the congressional joint resolution authorizing it. His wife is a professional corporate director, and the companies she represents are directly affected by her hubby’s votes on key committees. But Bayh pretended there was never any pillow talk about her businesses and therefore no conflict of interest—the very idea!

One terrifying thought: Bayh almost became Obama’s running mate in 2008, which would have enabled us to throw up our hands a year early.

It’s intellectually bankrupt and opportunistic to denounce partisanship and play the reasonable centrist when the subversive heel-digging and obstructionism is coming from one easily identifiable side. If Bayh and his Blue Dog cousins really cared about dysfunction in Washington, they would use their positions to remind the true extremists that the majority of citizens expressed themselves quite clearly a year ago and have yet to see any of the things they voted for become reality. Bayh laments the collapse of the cozily conservative consensus he was fully part of for a decade but doesn’t give two hoots for the failure of our democracy to reflect the popular will.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Brits show the way

What a contrast to see how the British are confronting their complicity in the torture of defenseless detainees, including the entirely admirable position of the both the Liberal Democrat and the Conservative opposition in denouncing the Labour government’s dismantling of centuries of British common law protections for the accused.

On the other hand, here in the U.S. the Republicans denounce Obama for even contemplating putting the accused on trial and not torturing them some more.

The latest episode is a public bitch-slapping match between Jonathan Evans [above], the head of Britain’s spy unit, MI5, and The Guardian newspaper for revealing the contents of a scathing judicial criticism of Her Majesty’s torturers. As usual, the brouhaha generated by the guilty is over whether the acts should be publicized, not the acts themselves.

Evans whined about ‘conspiracy theory and cariacature’ while the government’s second in command, Home Secretary Alan Johnson, denounced ‘groundless accusations’ and ‘ludicrous lies’. Just what you’d expect to hear as the truth comes tumbling out bit by bit.

The latest episode is typical of the slow ooze of the rot torture generates in a society, and we should not think the collusion among Congress and the Bush and Obama teams to suppress our version of it will escape the same process.

Not that it particularly matters, but the specific issue this time is whether or not British spies were present when Binyam Mohammed [below], a U.K. citizen no less, was being ‘interrogated’, in between getting his genitals sliced with a razor blade.

The denials are couched in carefully worded legalese, like this from Evans: ‘We did not practise mistreatment or torture and do not do so now, nor do we collude in torture or encourage others to torture on our behalf’. Of course, that depends on what you mean by ‘torture’, and Bush showed us how easily that inconvenient term is gotten around with the help of the infamous Yoo and Bybee memos.

There’s virtually no doubt that British MI5 agents were fully complicit with plenty of torture sessions, so all the indignant denials are just staving off the inevitable collapse. Here’s another prisoner, Moazzam Begg, recalling an experience similar to Mohamed’s:

After running the gauntlet of US soldiers punching and kicking me and dogs barking at me, I was forced to my knees, hooded and in shackles, with a gun pointed towards me.

When the hood was lifted, so, metaphorically, was the veil, and in front of me I saw British intelligence agents.

I remember very well when I was held—not just in Guantánamo, but also in Bagram and Kandahar—that British intelligence services were present at every leg of that journey. I knew one of them from the U.K. because he’d visited my house in Birmingham, so we already knew each other when I saw him again at Kandahar and Bagram.

Continued denials will just make the eventual flood of truth that much more humiliating. Britain today, us tomorrow.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Biped hogs

The news that another member of our bloated City Council has been indicted on corruption charges will elicit a ho-hum from anyone over 8 years of age, especially those inclined to think that ‘politics’ is nothing more than organized pilfering and that all ‘politicians’ are crooks and thieves. (This appellation for some reason is never applied to unelected heads of state like kings and military dictators . . . but I digress.)

The incident raises a chronic inquiry of mine especially as I am running through Season 6 of The Sopranos on DVD and observing the fascinating putrefaction of that gaggle of social parasites as they prepare to consume each others’ rotting flesh in the last few episodes. But taken as a clan, they seem just slightly more unsavory than the cabals running most countries most of the time. What makes them criminals and the usual party stalwarts guarantors of democracy especially given how closely they seem to work together?

We have a double standard about the whole notion of ‘corruption’ just as we do with things like ‘government spending’, wherein dubious acts whose benefits that trickle down directly to us are considered more or less forgivable while those that don’t are labeled ‘stealing’. Electoral politics, after all, is a way to organize competing social interests so that there is some orderly procedure involved in divvying up the goods and spreading the benefits around enough to keep the peace.

Some operators within any political system will be cleverer than others at shepherding the collective resources towards their clan and, depending on the extant rules, may even avoid prison. If so, they get their names on public property from post offices to trash cans and can retire from their elective office to take up ‘consulting’, another form of legalized payoffs.

When the local rainmaker gets sent up for pocketing cash—such as this typical Queens pol/graft recipient—loyalists are inevitably quick to point out all the good things he brought to the community, along with his prison record. Not long ago, liberal Connecticut reelected the loathsome Joe Lieberman based on his skill at hauling military weapons contracts back from Washington to the state, yet another example of how the buttering of the bread trumps other niceties.

All the fawning over the late Congressman John Murtha from Pennsylvania—who dared call for the Iraq war to end—has studiously avoided reference to his deep immersion in the dubious waters of Washington influence-peddling and his extremely close call with an Abscam indictment in the 1980s after he refused a bribe ‘for now’. Murtha argued that he was just trying to bring job-creating investment to his district, and the FBI entrapment scheme illustrated how hard it is to delineate between honest deal-making and payoffs, fair contract bidding and scales-tipping graft.

The Russians and Chinese have devised a particularly insidious form of pyramidal capitalism that protects the powerful by making bribery and tax evasion essential for getting anything at all done, then holding the ‘illegal’ acts over the heads of those who fail to do the bidding of the top guys. For example, China is now prosecuting executives from the Australia-based Rio Tino Zinc company for some alleged naughtiness in the midst of ‘heated’ negotiations over raw materials contracts. Tony S would approve.

It all leaves the question of how to organize the use of our collective wealth in such a way as to benefit the majority instead of a few sharpies. On that score, none of our sophisticated systems have discovered how to overcome biped greed and the limitless perversity that it awakens.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Obama Meets the Whinocracy

Obama’s showed at the Baltimore town hall encounter with the Republican House Caucus a week ago that he isn’t going to be easy to shove over despite the missteps of the first year. The direct confrontation with the assembled enablers of the teabagger fringe was delightful for the complete mastery Obama showed over these whiny conservatives and how easily he dismantled their bubble-world when given a platform from which to do so.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the meeting was hearing how convinced Republican politicians from Texas and West Virginia are that they’re being mistreated and sidelined by bad old Nancy Pelosi, forgetting, of course, that they (1) were repudiated in the last election and (2) did far worse when they had the chance and now fairly gloat that they will do so again as soon as they get back in the driver’s seat. To hear them tell it, Obama’s team are the ones refusing to seek bipartisan cooperation, not them.

What a wacko universe they inhabit—probably from watching Fox News all day long in their offices. The party that has made an explicit, public virtue out of total obstructionism projects its bullying intransigence onto the other guy.

As many commentators—including Obama himself—have pointed out, there is a danger in pumping up blatant fantasies and falsehoods for short-term (electoral) gain because people start to believe the horror stories and act upon them. Republicans might think it’s cool that nearly half their loyalists think Obama’s not a U.S. citizen and another quarter are ‘not sure’ because these frightened bunnies are more likely to pour into the voting booths later this year and give them a few more seats.

But that’s playing with fire. Encouraging people to blast the system as illegitimate as soon as they lose undermines our democracy, which is a lot more fragile than most of us suppose. Obama struck a brilliant note by walking into the lion’s den and showing how flimsy the teabagger/Republican discourse really is, and he showed some teeth (at last) in not letting them getting away with their absurdities.

However, I’m not holding my breath to see a repeat. I can’t imagine anyone at the Republican National Committee supposing that they won points with this public display of their bratty attitudes and intellectual puniness. If only we could have Question Time and see both sides slug it out British-style, our political discourse would be elevated by several levels of magnitude. To which end, I enthusiastically signed onto this: and invite you to do the same.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

A less efficient military isn't always a bad thing

The 1993 ban on gay and lesbian service in the military is one of the stupidest tales in a very stupid pair of decades given that butch homos and uniformed lesbies have been part of every military force in history and always will be. ‘Don’t ask/Don’t tell/Don’t Pursue/Don’t Harass’ harmed people’s lives and fanned homophobia, and it worsened the situation for people trying to keep a low profile because it was always based on a lie—that if you were discreet, you’d be left alone.

In fact, the Clinton collapse on non-discrimination led to immediate hounding, snooping and entrapment designed to weed out gays—exactly what that hypocrite promised would not happen. I’m always amazed by the gay advocacy groups’ ability to forget what a disaster good ol’ Bill was when he actually had the power to affect gay and lesbian lives—as opposed to issuing warm boilerplate and smiling benignly over what ‘should’ theoretically be done by other people.

After Clinton came up with his disastrous, phony compromise, gay men and lesbians in the service experienced increased harassment, assaults, witchhunts (especially at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey CA—gays are famously adept at learning foreign languages) while their commanding officers were completely AWOL on their alleged duties to address racial and sexual harassment. I wonder if the detectives who missed Nidal Hasan, the wacko psychiatrist/gunman at Fort Hood, were too busy tracking down who was singing Broadway musical numbers to himself in the shower instead.

On the other hand, I can’t help applauding one aspect of this hateful and reactionary policy, which is that it caused the armed forces to shoot itself in the collective foot and weaken illegitimate U.S. enterprises like the conquest of Iraq and the torture of defenseless detainees, especially in the Arab world. Every time I read about the firing of hundreds of interpreters and translators as part of the antigay crusade, I say to myself, Too bad for them, but good for the eventual victims of the criminal machinery of which they too often form a part.