Monday, September 22, 2008

About this bazillion dollar bailout

Hi, everyone! When it rains it pours, right? A hair- raising presidential election, an overwhelmingly destructive hurricane season and now what many are calling the worst economic crisis our country has faced since the Great Depression. Enough already! It's been hard to keep my head straight.

For some reason though, this bazillion dollar bail-out of Wall Street is the one that's giving me the funniest feeling, a sort of free-floating anxiety that just won't go away.

About a year and a half ago I read something on the Information Clearinghouse website that predicted this sort of thing... It was an old article even then and the author was talking about how then Federal Reserve Board chairman Alan Greenspan was setting the country up for a major ripoff of the middleclass by keeping Fed rates artificially low. The writer predicted the current housing crisis and alleged that it would result in the very rich consolidating and increasing their wealth and power well the rest of us were going to be pretty much diminished in our share of the American dream pie.

Well, my parents lived through the Great Depression and as a result my brother and sister and I were born into a pro-Union, Democratic Party loving and FDR honoring family and that was that. The phrases "the little man," "working people," and "the working class," were a part of their political vocabulary and they were always used with pride. Or maybe it was empathy. But you know, ever since the Reagan Administration, "the little man" has been losing his standing. People don't want to think of themselves as members of the working class. Even the most marginal workers like to identify with the wealthy. Maybe that's what the media-induced celebrity madness is about. And you know that's got to be behind the housing boom: the idea that we can all live like kings and queens even if we have to work two or three jobs to afford it. Newsweek's Daniel McGinn wrote a book about it called House Lust.

Following is an excerpt from the online magazine, Counterpunch

America's Own Kleptocracy, September 20, 2008

By MICHAEL HUDSON

Nobody expected industrial capitalism to end up like this. Nobody even saw it evolving in this direction. I’m afraid this failing is not unusual among futurists: The natural tendency is to think about how economies can best grow and evolve, not how it can be untracked. But an unforeseen road always seems to appear, and there goes society goes off on a tangent.

What a two weeks! On Sunday, September 7, the Treasury took on the $5.3 trillion mortgage exposure of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, whose heads already had been removed for accounting fraud. On Monday, September 15, Lehman Brothers went bankrupt, when prospective Wall Street buyers couldn’t gain any sense of reality from its financial books. On Wednesday the Federal Reserve agreed to make good for at least $85 billion in the just-pretend “insured” winnings owed to financial gamblers who bet on computer-driven trades in junk mortgages and bought counter-party coverage from the A.I.G. (the American International Group, whose head Maurice Greenberg already had been removed a few years back for accounting fraud). But it is Friday, September 19, that will go down as a turning point in American history. The White House committed at least half a trillion dollars more to re-inflate real estate prices in an attempt to support the market value junk mortgages – mortgages issued far beyond the ability of debtors to pay and far above the going market price of the collateral being pledged.

These billions of dollars were devoted to keeping a dream alive – the accounting fictions written down by companies that had entered an unreal world based on false accounting that nearly everyone in the financial sector knew to be fake. But they played along with buying and selling packaged mortgage junk because that was where the money was. Even after markets collapse, fund managers who steered clear were blamed for not playing the game while it was going. I have friends on Wall Street who were fired for not matching the returns that their compatriots were making. And the biggest returns were to be made in trading in the economy’s largest financial asset – mortgage debt. The mortgages packaged, owned or guaranteed by Fannie and Freddie alone exceeded the entire U.S. national debt – the cumulative deficits run up by the American Government since the nation won the Revolutionary War!

This gives an idea of just how large the bailout has been – and where the government’s (or at least the Republicans’) priorities lie! Instead of waking up the economy to reality, the government has thrown all its resources to promote the unreal dream that debts can be paid – if not by the debtors themselves, then by the government – “taxpayers,” as the euphemism goes.

Overnight, the U.S. Treasury and Federal Reserve have radically changed the character of American capitalism. It is nothing less than a coup d’ĂȘtat for the class that FDR called “banksters.” What has happened in the past two weeks threatens to change the coming century – irreversibly, if they can get away with it. This is the largest and most inequitable transfer of wealth since the land giveaways to the railroad barons during the Civil War era.

How's that for starters... Michael Hudson was the economic advisor to the campaign of Dennis Kucinich. Checking him out online, I found this interview on KPFA's Guns and Butter for August 15, 2007. I must say listening to this interview was rather alarming but highly informative. Go here to listen to it.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Protest Iranian Government's Repression of Feminist Writers

Solmaz Igdar is a student, a child rights advocate, and regular contributor to the website of Kanoon-e Zanan-e Irani -- the Association for Iranian Women (www.irwomen.com). She was arrested on August 29, 2008, while attending a ceremony in Khavaran to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Iranian regime's mass execution of political prisoners. Security forces disrupted the ceremony and arrested some of those in attendance. Igdar's family learned of her arrest that evening when the authorities permitted her to make a brief phone, during which she informed them that she was being transferred to Evin Prison. Her family has been unable to obtain any other information or to visit her in prison.

In addition to Igdar, two other activists, Jafar Eghdami and Ali Amir-Gholi are also reportedly detained.

The ceremony at Khavaran, a cemetery situated to the South East of Tehran, was to mark the 20th anniversary of the Iranian regime's systematic execution of thousands of political prisoners. Estimates of the number executed vary, ranging from 8,000 to 30,000 prisoners. The Iranian regime has never admitted to the full scale of the execution and has tried to keep the killings secret.

In addition, four other women's rights activists who have contributed articles to women's rights websites were sentenced to six-month prison terms for "acting against national security," under Article 500 of the Islamic Penal Code. The four women are: Parvin Ardalan, Maryam Hosseinkhah, Jelveh Jahaveri, and Nahid Keshavarz. The conviction is on the basis of articles the women contributed to the websites Change for Equality (the website of the One Million Signatures Campaign) and Zanestan.

Ardalan is a well-known activist who was awarded the Olaf Palme Prize for Human Rights, but was prevented from traveling to Stockholm to receive it. Javaheri spent 32 days in Evin prison after being summoned and interrogated at the security branch of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran on December 1, 2007. She had previously been arrested in March 2007 for peacefully protesting outside the courtroom where five other women's rights defenders were on trial. Keshavarz was also among the 33 women arrested for protesting outside the courtroom, and she was also arrested on April 2, 2007 while collecting signatures on behalf of the One Million Signatures Campaign. Following that arrest she spent 13 days in prison before being released on bail. Hosseinkhah is a journalist who had been summoned for interrogation on November 18, 2007 and spent 45 days in Evin prison.

http://action.humanrightsfirst.org/campaign/Igdar/85s67369l3w6id3?


Thursday, September 4, 2008

I have trouble watching the Republicans..


I have trouble watching the Republicans running down Obama. They never discuss the issues: the national debt, the financial crisis, the falling dollar, the decreasing incomes and increasing costs of living for most Americans, our overextended military. Instead, they talk about Obama's lack of experience, ignoring how he exceeds his jaded opponents in wisdom, compassion and insight.

Because young people, middle-aged and old people have responded to his decency and integrity in such great numbers, they deride him as a rock star and trivialize him with comparisons to Brittany Spears and Paris Hilton. Because he talks about the dignity of work, respect for one's opponents and encourages us to believe in ourselves and each other, because he encourages us to shrug off apathy and to hope, they accuse him of having a messiah complex and make jokes about him walking on water.

It is clear that Obama's Republican detractors have no idea how many of us are longing for a change from the deep cynicism, hypocrisy and mean-spiritedness that has characterized this administration and the Republican Congress that has given it unwavering support.

It is clear they have no idea how concerned so many of us are about how the Bush Administration has been so reckless and incompetent in its use of military power and how careless it has been in its stewardship of our economy.

There are substantial issues at the heart of the Obama campaign; his willingness to address these issues has led so many of us to recognize him as a leader.

It is not surprising that the GOP standard bearers are so intent on ignoring them, misrepresenting them, even lying about them.

It is not surprising that they choose instead to ridicule this unexpected leader who has surprised us all with his clear vision and his authoritative (because it is authentic) demeanor.

It is not surprising that they do this. But I have trouble watching them. Because they're really making fun of me. They are making fun of you and me. They are ridiculing us.

Taking Back the Republic

Four years ago, in concluding his speech before The Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, Michael Ruppert said: "Our task, if we and much of human civilization are to survive, is not to keep our republic, but to take it back."

Earlier in the speech, Ruppert referred to the imminent financial collapse of the U.S. (which we are now beginning to experience) and to an article by economist John Kenneth Galbraith, published in 2002, outlining its fundamental cause, to wit, a state of permanent war.

This is the war to which, under false pretences, the Bush Administration committed our nation in 2003 and which John McCain has promised to continue for a long as necessary, even for 100 years.

This is the war which Barack Obama refused to support at the time and which he continues to decry. The idea of permanent war is the primary issue of the current presidential campaign. McCain is for it. Obama is against it. Ruppert's words rang true four years ago. They are deafeningly true today. So is Galbraith's analysis to which he refers below:

Ruppert (in 2004): "What we are witnessing now is a collision: a collision of a financial system relying on fractional reserve banking, debt-financed growth, and a fiat currency system with a planet and energy resources that are finite, limited, and running out. Infinite growth is battling with finite energy. One is not possible without the other and I have absolutely no doubt as to which side will win.

"In November 2002 James Kenneth Galbraith wrote an article titled "The Unbearable Costs of Empire":

'None of these problems will be cured so long as war remains our dominant political theme. But serious though they are, they pale in comparison with the larger problem of the international trade-and-financial order under conditions of permanent war.

It is a straightforward fact that if global oil production starts to decline but U.S. consumption does not, everyone else will be required to cut purchases and uses of oil. But how can oil prices be held stable for Americans yet be made to rise for everyone else? Only by a policy of continuing depreciation in everyone else's currency. Such a policy of dollar hegemony amid worldwide financial instability, of crushing debt burdens and deflation throughout the developing world, is perverse.

'It will make our trading partners' exports cheap, render their imports dear and keep their real wages low. It will price American goods out of world markets and lead to unsustainable dependence on foreign capital. It will be a policy, in short, of beggar-all-of-our-neighbors while we live alone, in increasing idleness and inside the dollar bubble.

'This is the policy that Bush and Cheney are actually imposing on the rest of the world. But they cannot make it last. It will make lives miserable elsewhere, generating ever more resistance, terrorism and military engagement. Meanwhile, we will not experience even gradual exposure to the changing energy balance; we will therefore never make the investments required to adjust, even eventually, to a world of scarce and expensive oil.

'In the end, therefore, that world will arrive much more abruptly than it otherwise would, shaking the fragile edifice of our oil economy to its foundations. And we will someday face a double explosion: of anger against our arrogance and of actual shortage and collapsing living standards, when the confidence of investors in the dollar finally gives way.

'Compared with this future, a new commitment to collective security, to a new world financial structure, to a rational energy and transportation policy, and to spending to meet our actual domestic needs would be a bargain.

' At the end of the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin was asked what type of government the framers had given our new country. He famously replied, "A republic, if you can keep it."'

Ruppert concludes:

"In 49 BC Julius Caesar, fresh from a battlefield victory in central Italy ordered his legions to cross a small creek called the Rubicon. Under the laws of the Roman Republic, the army was not allowed to enter the capital city. As Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon, the Roman Republic died and the Roman Empire was born. Our task, if we and much of human civilization are to survive, is not to keep our republic, but to take it back. Thank you."

Address of Michael C. Ruppert To the Commonwealth Club – San Francisco Tuesday August 31, 2004

A note from Artemisa's Granddaughter: Michael Ruppert, who used to publish a blog called A Voice in the Wilderness, along with oil industry insider, Matthew Simmons, has been writing about the oil addiction crisis for many years.(Another industry insider, T. Boone Pickens, is talking about it now.)

The economic fallout that he and the late John Kenneth Galbraith (along with many others) were warning us about several years ago has come to pass. Our financial system is experiencing shocks unheard of since the Great Depression.. The standard of living of middle class and poor Americans is falling. Our war debt is owned by China and heaven knows what other foreign nations.

More than ever we need clear thinking and the courage to change in our national leadership. This is what the Obama/Biden ticket is offering. John McCain and Republican Party with its confused social agenda and its commitment to "permanent war" are offering us more of the same. We cannot afford it. Our country cannot afford it. Our planet cannot afford it.

This photo graphic of Bush morphing into John McCain is from Buddy Stone's Flickr photostream.


Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Vetting Sarah Palin



Bloggers at The Edge of the American West have done a tasteful job of examining Palin's executive experience and evaluating her performance as Mayor of Wasilla. Check it out by clicking the highlighted print.

And here's another link: http://content.vetpalin.com/index.html

And about her standing up to Ted Stevens, the indicted Republican senator from Alaska: