Friday, 27 January 2012

A-G Schneiderman: Hero or Sell-Out?

The leftish blogosphere has been alight this week with heady hosannas of triumph over the appointment of New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to head a new federal Unit on Mortgage Origination and Securitization Abuses to investigate the nefarious doings of the big banks. Schneiderman was state senator for my district for 20 years and should be ascended directly into heaven for his work in dismantling the horrible Rockefeller drug laws in our state. I always liked him and actually contributed money to his tough campaign for A-G, in which he was not the darling of the party establishment.

He also has taken a strong lead in pushing for real investigations of bankster misdeeds in the housing arena and has kept admirably distant from the scandalously phony ’50-state’ A-G settlement led by bankster front man Tom Miller of Iowa. Schneiderman, Biden of Delaware, Masto of Nevada, Harris of California and several others have bolted from this charade designed to give the guilty banks legal cover while Obama and Geithner have lent Miller substantial political support. So did Obama suddenly see the light? Or did the Occupy movement’s impact on the national debate require a better PR response?

I hope Schneiderman succeeds in carrying out investigations of the banks and holding their criminal feet to the fires of hell. But there are plenty of reasons to suspect that this appointment is a head-fake and that its ultimate aim is the opposite of what Obama trumpeted in the SOTU speech. If so, Schneiderman is a turncoat.

First of all, we need to ask why this federal unit needs to be created at all. It sounds good and has obviously persuaded many people that Obama is finally going to go after banking crimes, which have been detailed on the finance blogs in excruciating and appalling detail. But there are plenty of federal agencies, including the Department of Justice itself, with the subpoena power and resources to undertake this sort of investigation, none of which have been encouraged to do so by one Barack Obama. If the president has had a major change of heart, why not get his current employees to do their jobs instead of creating another level of bureaucracy?

A parallel question is why not encourage or strengthen current and ongoing state A-G efforts to pursue their local investigations and bring solid civil and criminal cases against the originators, servicers and other white-collar gangsters who continue to undermine the mortgage market? The hold-outs named above have been doing exactly that with the scant resources at their disposal. Or why not at least redirect Miller to stop negotiating a Get Out of Jail Free Card for the banks while the investigations that we supposedly need—and Miller steadfastly has refused to carry out—are undertaken?

One possible answer is that Obama doesn’t really want tough investigations and prosecutions at all but realized he needed to neutralize the independent state A-Gs who can bring charges and do serious damage to the banks. New York is the key state in all this given that many of the legalized theft vehicles a.k.a. securitization trusts, that were formed to package the lousy mortgages that blew up our economy, were headquartered in our state and are thus subject to its laws. Therefore, Schneiderman held very powerful cards, which he may now be handing over to the White House.

It’s pretty clear what the White House is getting out of this: Obama looks like he’s finally getting it vis-√†-vis the banks just as campaign season gets underway. He re-convinces his disgruntled followers that he is out for the little guy after all. But what does Schneiderman get, other than national exposure and a shot at the eternal gratitude of the Wall Street-dependent Democratic Party?

There are many more unanswered questions in this surprise appointment: did Schneiderman’s fellow A-G holdouts know that he was going to take this gig? Did they agree to it? Were there negotiations among them to sketch the terms of the new entity and guarantee Schneiderman’s independence from the sorts of bureaucratic obstacles thrown by the White House at Elizabeth Warren, whom Obama famously tossed under the corporate bus to the delight of the big banks? A-G Biden of Delaware (son of the Veep) sounded a little sour about the deal, which suggests that he was blindsided by it.

In short, the whole thing pretty much stinks, and while one should not attribute motive nor presume in advance that it will fail, the chances that this is a sincere attempt to serve the public interest and prosecute bank fraud are slim. Obama is in the middle of a political campaign and needs the deep pockets of exactly the people who would be facing perp walks and huge, costly settlements if the new federal unit’s investigations actually succeed. How likely is it that this is Obama’s true intention?

Perhaps I will turn out to be wrong, but this gambit does not pass the whiff test: it is more likely to be a masterful political stroke by a president who is extraordinarily clever at looking like the reasonable, empathetic guy on the side of the downtrodden while doing the bidding of the powerful. And the ongoing clown show on the GOP side gives him precisely the cover he needs to make populist noises while doing nothing.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Scary is as scary does

The cynicism of Obama standing before Congress as the defender of the little guy is breathtaking even if one acknowledges the golden opportunity presented by the bizarre circular firing squad over in the Republican camp. But from an unscientific reading of my Facebook feed, it’s going to work: Obama is going to look like the noble defender of Fairness against mean, rich, white people.

Others are going to parse the weakness of the announced measures, especially the dastardly turning of our state A-G, Eric Schneiderman, who was poised to do some real harm to the mortgage-industrial complex and now looks like a sellout. But I prefer to take note of other developments this week, such as the simultaneous endorsement of war crimes and indictment of whistle-blowing, all occurring on the watch of Mr Fair Guy.

As the people of Iraq are painfully aware, Frank Wuterich, the sole remaining defendant in the notorious Haditha massacre of 2005 has just gotten off with a slap on the wrist and no jail time. This despite ample evidence that he led his squad in slaughtering two dozen civilians in a revenge attack after a U.S. soldier died.

Not that the incident was particularly unusual, just harder to cover up, as reporters later discovered. In 2011 the New York Times found secret transcripts of military interviews from the investigation into the Haditha massacre in which Marines described killing civilians on a regular basis, including shooting children in vehicles that failed to stop at military checkpoints.

Amazingly, no one at the Times was indicted for aiding the enemy during wartime for these reports on the whacking of civilians.

Meanwhile, on the home front, John Kiriakou, a CIA employee who dared dissent from the torture regime is now facing espionage charges. Kiriakou made news in 2007 when revealed that accused terrorist Abu Zubaydah had been waterboarded. Now that’s where the investigative and prosecutorial machinery really gears up under President Fair: when the secrets start to leak out of how our government agents kidnap people, fly them around the world to be tortured and then lock them up without charges.

So spare me the horror stories about nasty Newt and Million-Dollar Mitt. Okay, they’re repulsive snakes and in a normal world would be required to take medication under supervision. But they’re so obvious as to be somewhat less dangerous. It’s the smooth-talking enablers of corruption and war crimes that have me worried.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Save us

The mystery of South Carolina deepens even while the decision to renew the attack on Fort Sumter attracts a broad consensus among its white citizenry.

Federal government taken over by socialist Muslims—check.

Welfare queens still getting a free ride on taxpayers’ back—check.

Military strength undermined by Arab-loving anti-Semitic forces disloyal to Israel—check.

Belief in God under assault by secular baby-killers and homos—check.

Federal government to take honest workers’ pay to pay for socialized medicine—check.

National budget on verge of collapse due to tax-and-spend Democrats—check.

Economy run into the ground by enemies of free enterprise—check.

So with all these facts so clear, why is it that the Republicans have put on such a remarkably fickle display? Why do their love affairs with candidates explode faster than a Kardashian matrimony?

And why, oh Knower of All Mysteries, can Newt Gingrich still exist at all, much less be poised to win today’s primary (according to Nate Silver, who should know)?

Bachmann, Perry, Cain, Gingrich, Santorum, Gingrich redux—why can none of these figures, all spouting roughly equal amounts of bizarre and meaningless rhetoric, win the hearts of the inflamed GOP masses? Smarter people than I have tried to provide an answer and failed.

However, Gingrich the Undead provides one possible hint: he arises like Prince Vlad to feed on anything human. The zombie party needs BRAINS just as the Vampire Lestadt requires a pint of AB-positive. Gingrich’s facile blathering softens up the enemy’s tissue and prepares it for quick consumption.

In addition, his permanent posture of aggrieved nastiness fits the culture of a society that has lost its moral compass, celebrating aggressive war for conquest and institutionalized torture in exchange for the will-o’-the-wisp of Safety.

Like an addict whose life is falling apart, the punch-drunk whites of South Carolina cast about wildly to find scapegoats upon whom to place the blame for the daily and accelerating chaos, instead of examining the three decades of Reaganite illusion that generated it. If they manage to lose in November, an election that was theirs for the asking had they exercised a minimum of self-control, a new enemy will need to be invented.

By then, after being browbeaten relentlessly with televised bile, mass disgust with what passes for ‘politics’ will be at the boiling point.

I’d rather not think about what they will clamor for next.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

"Oh, Carry Me Back. . . "

Rick Perry went for the Confederate vote in the run-up to Saturday’s South Carolina primary by saying that the state was ‘at war’ with the federal government. Perry probably should have been born a couple of centuries back when that was literally true, but nostalgia aside, the message was pretty unmistakable: it’s time to revisit the idea of secession.

No accident, either, that Perry’s remark came after a question from the lone black guy, Juan Williams, about suppression of minority voting rights.

If Perry is playing General Beauregard firing on Fort Sumter, Obama has not yet shed his imitation of President Buchanan, the antebellum incompetent who did everything he could to appease the seditious southerners, to no avail. In the face of a nationwide campaign to subvert democracy by keeping unwanted voters away from the polls with photo-ID laws and the like, Obama and his fully complicit Democratic Party can’t bring themselves to name and shame it.

There has been a raft of book reviews and academic debates lately chronicling Abraham Lincoln’s evolving feelings about slavery and emancipation, and it’s disturbing to remember how the guy was dragged kicking and screaming to the historic Proclamation that ended the national shame only in the rebellious states (the slave-holding border states were exempt). It was only after the Civil War that the constitutional amendments codified minimum equality for all citizens, and nearly 200 years later the fight still isn’t over.

Today’s latest—Newt Gingrich’s announcement that he would ditch the annoying Constitution and ignore Supreme court rulings—is further confirmation that our nation is heading toward a new confrontation in which a rewrite of the verdict of the War between the States is on the table. The rebel states were forced to accept federal domination and recognize the human rights of former slaves until Reconstruction was abandoned under President Hayes and Jim Crow segregation began. Newt is saying we should repeat that happy history.

This is the real culture war of today—when the Republicans denounce the errors of the ‘60s, turns out they’re not referring to Woodstock. They mean the 1860s.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Liberal New York’s underbelly of greed

Carolyn Maloney represents the tony ‘silk-stocking’ district of Manhattan’s Upper East Side and toils for a host of worthy goals such as women’s health, relief for the 9/11 victims and anti-corruption oversight in federal contracts. She was touted as a possible successor for Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat and from all appearances seems to be a nice lady, too.

But money talks in the same language in liberal Manhattan as in the cracker backwoods of Georgia. Maloney has now been exposed as a cheap date after joining with former car thief and congressional thug Darrell Issa to author and introduce the scandalous Research Works Act (H.R. 3699) of 2011 to reverse public access to federally funded science to the benefit of academic publishers like Elsevier, which (surprise, surprise!) turns out to have donated cash to her campaign.

Academic publishing is one of the great, misunderstood scams of modern life. The owners of ‘peer reviewed’ journals, which researchers rely on to get their work out, are monopoly institutions that exploit unpaid labor to roll up huge profits. They get scientists to submit articles, then farm out the drafts to reviewers who spend hours pouring over each detail to spot errors and weaknesses, return the whole mess to the authors for rewrites, do little or no copy-editing and then sit back smugly as the ‘owners’ of the final product, for which they sometimes charge tens of thousands of dollars annually for subscriptions. So research originally funded by public monies ends up for sale in private hands after 99% of the work has been done for free.

But Maloney has some of these publishing companies in her district and was so susceptible to the blandishments of their PR people that she didn’t even bother to rework the lobbyists’ talking points before using them in her replies to unhappy constituents. A little campaign cash apparently didn’t hurt either, not that Maloney needs any—she crushed her last Republican opponent by 60 percentage points.

There has been some progress in recent years in breaking the monopoly over academic publishing and liberating federally-funded scientific knowledge for public use instead of permitting corporate behemoths like the Dutch octopus Elsevier from slurping up torrents of cash for virtually nothing. That’s where congressional whoring comes in handy, to turn back anything that might smack of the public interest. We expect it from creeps like Issa, and it’s a bracing dose of reality to see the same service to corporate overlords coming from smiley moms like Maloney wearing excellent suits.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

The PR of war

If we are in a run-up to war with Iran, it would make sense for the preparations to proceed along parallel tracks, one being the demonization of the enemy-to-be as monstrous and bellicose. The Iranian mullahs offer plentiful opportunity for that and have ever since the unlovely eyebrows of Ruhollah Khomeini were contrasted with our nice-guy ally, the Shah. [U.S. Navy photo via AP]

But equally important is the contrasting image of oneself as an innocent lamb just trying to get along peaceably in a complex world. That’s where the rescue of Iranian fishermen from Somali pirates came in very handy, and while the act may have genuinely been a lucky accident, its utility to stoke to flames of war is a cynical triumph. How can the Iranians be so unreasonable, we might ask ourselves, when our friendly sailors are being so neighborly?

It might help by way of context to recall that the U.S. has not always behaved quite so gently towards the Iranian populace. For example, does anyone recall that in 1988 the U.S. Navy shot down an Iranian airliner in the contested Straits of Hormuz, killing 290 civilian passengers, an act for which money, but no apology, was ever offered? Our guys said the whole thing was an unfortunate accident--would that have persuaded us had the roles and nationalities of attacker and victim been reversed?

And how many of today’s New Hampshire primary voters might recall the American support for Saddam Hussein for doing us the favor of waging war against Iran for eight years, including the use of his arsenal of chemical weapons against Iranian soldiers? Yes, that Saddam Hussein and those weapons of mass destruction, which propagandists like Rice and Rumsfeld would later use to justify an unnecessary war of conquest.

So it’s nice that the fishermen were saved from kidnapping, and no, it doesn’t mean U.S. intentions are benign.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Adult intervention, please

Bipeds are a sorry race, but theistic bipeds are more trouble than a bag of cats. Put GOP Bible-thumpers on one side and Iranian mullahs on the other, and—no, better yet, don’t put them anywhere near each other.

With the chattering classes all agog about the Republican nutbag de jour, we are in serious danger of being blindsided by a new war that few really want but that nobody is capable of stopping.

Belligerent rhetoric about Iran and its nuclear capabilities has ratcheted up in recent weeks and is now reaching dangerous levels, boosted by the irresponsible threats from the candidates and the crazy excess influence of the Israeli lobby on our political machinery.

It’s clear Israel wants to pull the United States into an attack on Iran, and that’s an understandable short-term goal, albeit suicidal in the long run. But what is truly astonishing is that after the somewhat less than glorious chapter of the Iraq war—also heavily boosted by Israel— is scarcely concluded, the politico-military establishment can think another war in Asia is a good idea for our country.

The Iranians, not known for prudent moderation, have been pumping up the counter-threats and have succeeded in driving up the price of oil through generating nervousness about what might happen if their country is attacked. Although we can read optimistic accounts
of how well the West is prepared to deal with an interruption of crude from the Gulf, our creaky economic recovery is in no condition to sustain a sudden spike in the price of gas.

An outbreak of hostilities in Iran would almost certainly drive up prices at the pump at least temporarily, slamming consumer pocketbooks just as the presidential election fight begins in earnest. That alone might make Obama cautious about green-lighting Israeli adventurism, but our current president has not distinguished himself by his resistance to the escalating demands of the Israeli ‘ally’.

The trouble with beating the war drums is that the situation can suddenly escape the control even of those in charge. The biped masses can be stirred up, but they can’t always be calmed down quite so easily.

There is a fascinating tale, by way of example, from the Falklands/Malvinas war where the Argentine generals suddenly realized that they could not retreat in their confrontation with the British colonists and had backed themselves into a corner requiring the ill-fated invasion of the islands. This was a vicious military dictatorship that casually picked up dissidents and tossed them out of helicopters, but even they were powerless in the face of the aroused populace baying for blood.

This time, Obama has a moral duty to exercise statesmanship and refuse to let his country be dragged into a war that is counter to its long-term interests. He may be making electoral calculations and looking for a way to keep everyone happy, but war is not something upon which it is possible to split the difference. There is no middle ground between war and not-war; you either do it, or you don’t.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

The Christian spirit, Iowa-style

In the spirit of modern Christianity as practiced by the Iowan evangelicals, I celebrate herewith the personal suffering of the losers in yesterday’s caucuses.

To Michele Bachmann: HA HA HA, your religious nutcake friends don’t want to be led by a woman because they’re patriarchal assholes. You didn’t realize that? Go read the Bible again while standing in a corner with your head covered.

To (Williard) ‘Mitt’ Romney: HA HA HA, even putting a hippish, informal-sounding name on your ballot line instead of the creaky, doofus handle your parents gave you didn’t help. You’re a big phony and so transparently insincere that even these Iowa rubes want to puke on your face. You’ll eventually become the nominee and wish you hadn’t.

To Rick Perry: HA HA HA, Texas bullshit doesn’t export very well. It’s okay to be a big dumb fuck down in that windswept prairie and let the barbecue sauce run down your string tie, but on the national stage you have to know where to find China on a map. Maybe Sarah Palin will invite you onto her reality show to joke-hump an ibex. (Because we know a little something about your personal life, don’t we? but now it’s safe because you’re a nobody again.)

To Rick Santorum: HA HA HA, enjoy it while it lasts because your timing was accidentally brilliant, and no one knows what a dope you are. Yet. Soon they will, and you will join the ranks of the Great GOP Losers’ Circus toot sweet.

To Ron Paul: HA HA HA, you sounded almost like a Czech dissident standing next to that collection of retards, but attracting attention now means you have to explain the neo-nazis doing your canvassing. But hey, legalizing drugs and abolishing the central bank is a winning strategy for the Christian Plutocrat Party, go for it!

To John Huntsman: HA HA HA, 1% in Iowa, even Sarah Palin did better than that while making millions of dollars not campaigning for anything. You didn’t get the memo about sanity being grounds for disqualification? Oh well, it’s in the mail.

To: Newt Gingrich: HA HA HA, you came in fourth because big, nasty Mitt’s secret PACs threw a shit-silo at you anonymously, awww, poor widdle booboo. Your policy of dismantling public campaign financing ended up exposing your pyramids of pseudo-intellectual pud-slapping, dat is so mean!

To Herman Cain: HA HA HA, that’s me laughing at you because you are a laughingstock and a pompous fool. You didn’t even last long enough to be on the ballot! You are a historic failure, 999%! Go put your hand up a hooker’s panties—but now you’ll have to pay her.

This year will be hell, but at least all of you except one gets to lose. That is some slight consolation.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Not listed

The Iowa caucuses’ results will be in shortly, and a lot of useless jaw and tongue exercise will ensue. Hairdos will be analyzed; comely wives (and one limp-wristed husband) will be displayed; band music will be heard from sea to shining sea. Journalists earning more than half the city of Dubuque will stand in front of cameras pretending that this is some earth-shaking event in the annals of Democracy.

Lost in this cacophony of pointlessness is the sad fact that no American can vote, now or later in 2012, to preserve the constitutional protections against search and seizure, for the right to be stand accused before a judge, for the sanctity of private life from the intrusive nose of the State.

No one in America can vote to hold the criminal war-mongerers of 2003 responsible for their violation of the core Nuremberg principle: aggressive war. No one can cast a ballot against the drumbeats of an attack on Iran, a country on the other side of the world that cannot threaten our security even in the fevered imaginations of a whole pod of Beltway think tanks. (Although of course, Iran might create problems for Israel, the foreign nation that directs our foreign policy.)

No one can vote to dismantle the Guant√°namo dungeons or to cease the systematic destruction of human personalities that has been made into official United States of America policy, endorsed by two presidents.

No one can exercise their suffrage to demand the investigation of the white-collar crimes that led to the financial panic that destroyed millions of workers’ lifetime assets. No one can vote to put a stop to the banksters’ ongoing looting and pillaging of the country’s pension funds, productive industry, municipalities and states. No one can opt to vote for the 99% instead of choosing a representative of one of the two wings beholden to the elite 1%.

No one can vote to rationalize the demented medical care system that gobbles up nearly a fifth of our gross domestic product. No one can vote to dig in the nation’s heels and resist the attempts to wreck Social Security, the solidarity program that saved our parents and grandparents from the shameful poverty of the aged that was the fate of their own ancestors.

No one can vote to restrain the militarization of our policing functions or to stop the melding of local enforcers with the vast intelligence and spying apparatus.

No, none of us can vote for any of these things because they are not on offer in the voting booth here in the Greatest Nation on Earth. The terms of our democratic exercise for 2012 are already set, and they do not include any of these pressing and, some might even say, crucial issues. They are not on any ballot anywhere because the Democratic Party, led by President Barack Obama, has eliminated substantive debate on these issues by adopting by Republican position on them.

And so while the Ringling Bros. spectacle continues among the Republican contenders, we do not notice that they have already won the election without a single vote being cast.