Saturday, October 18, 2008

America for sale

....No taxpayer protections, such as a future plan for recouping losses from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), that new agency within the U.S. Department of the Treasury charged with taking $700 billion worth of Wall Street's toxic waste off its books and reselling it for whatever the Treasury can get. (TARP is structured much like the Resolution Trust Company of the savings and loan era.) How we will repay these losses added to the national debt is anyone's guess.

Lawmakers have agreed that the financial future of our children and our grandchildren is a bottomless pit into which our generation's mistakes can be shoveled. There were no investments that could have rebooted our economy and reversed unemployment. No investments in our neglected roads, bridges and schools. No investments in green technology. No investments in research and innovation in sectors where America can take a leadership position, like biotech or nanoscience. No retooling for industrial America. No retraining of our workforce.

And—astonishingly!—there is no new regulation or supervision of Wall Street.

Yes, you read that right. No new regulation or supervision of the robber barons of Wall Street, even after the blow-up. No new Glass-Steagall Act (absolutely central to meaningful reform). No curtailment of subprime debt (after all the serial bailouts of this past year, subprimes seem almost quaint). No limits on securitized debt, like CMOs, CDOs and SIVs (the radioactive toxic waste that inflicted such terrible damage on our economy and that will take many years to dispose of; alas, there are no salt caverns deep beneath the earth's surface to dump this stuff).

No exchange or central clearinghouse for the hundreds of trillions of dollars in swaps and derivatives (discussed at length in these pages; also, see Peter S. Goodman's excellent article on the front page of the New York Times, Thursday, Oct. 9, 2008). No punishment for that new master race on Wall Street, those shadow bankers known as "prime brokers" (also discussed in here). No rejection of the sham of the free-market voodoo economics espoused by such neocon knuckleheads like Karl Rove and Phil Gramm. (Burn them at the stake!) No backward look at the fiscal and economic mismanagement that led to the current crisis.

In other words, this massive bailout of your tax dollars was just business as usual for the casinos of Wall Street. Just roll the dice. If you win, keep it. If you lose, the Feds will bail you out. Privatize profit, socialize loss.

When a few pundits objected, those in Congress—even the good people, like Mike Thompson—answered like a Greek chorus.

 "What's worse than a flawed bailout?" asked Henry Paulson.

"No bailout," sang Congress.

Onto this stage stepped one of the creepiest men in the world. Meet Maurice R. "Hank" Greenberg. He is licking his chops.

A few factoids about Hank Greenberg: Age 83. Said he liberated Dachau, plans on living forever. Strict vegetarian who employs a private chef and personal trainer and bears more than a vague resemblance to Charles Montgomery Burns, owner of the Springfield Power Plant on The Simpsons. Chairman and CEO of C.V. Starr, which was spun off of AIG. Works 18-hour days. Lives in Coral Reef, Fla. Lately, busy with clients in China.

Last year, Greenberg ranked 135 of the Forbes 400 Richest People, net worth $3 billion (onshore monies that we knew about; offshore, probably a lot more). Used to rank in the Top 100 until New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer busted him for fraud. Settled with Spitzer for $1.64 billion. Former chairman and CEO of American International Group (AIG), the world's largest insurance and financial services company, and the world's sixth largest company by assets. (Also, one of the few U.S. companies found in China; AIG can trace its roots to a group of insurance companies started in China by Cornelius Vander Starr in 1919.) Biggest shareholder at AIG, controlling 13 percent of AIG through holding companies and trusts.

With his sons, Jeffrey Greenberg, former chairman and CEO of Marsh & McLennan before he was ousted, and Evan Greenberg, president and CEO of ACE Limited, Hank Greenberg controls a mind-boggling part of the world's insurance and financial services industry.

Over the years, the hard-driving Greenberg has been critical of corporate governance laws, including Sarbanes-Oxley. He led the Bush administration's attack on tort lawyers. He's a good friend to neocons; hell, he's a folk hero, really. Once was quoted as saying, "All I've ever wanted was an unfair advantage."

And guess what else? Last month, Greenberg was the biggest single beneficiary of the Feds' $85 billion bailout of AIG. Last week, the Feds handed AIG another $37.5 billion,  just for the asking. Incidentally, none of this $85 billion plus $37.5 billion is included in the $700 billion bailout bill. This is extra. Like a bonus.

It pays to have friends in high places.

America is for sale. And Hank Greenberg is out to buy it....

~ more... ~

Satire" McCain holds auditions for angry mob

Open Casting Call for Irate White People

With just three weeks to go until Election Day, the McCain campaign has launched a nationwide talent search to find angry audience members for their increasingly hate-filled rallies, McCain aides confirmed today.

"People assume that when we hold a rally, angry white people just magically appear, but that's not the case," said McCain aide Hardin Carley.  "The fact is, a lot of planning goes into this."

In order to stock their rallies with the requisite number of irate white voters, the McCain camp has reached out to Hollywood, retaining the services of casting agent Tracy Klugian, who found the angry crowds for the 2000 film "Gladiator."

"They were really clear about my assignment," said Mr. Klugian.  "They were like, we want the same kind of crowds you had for 'Gladiator,' only more bloodthirsty."

~ more... ~


Bogus anthrax 'state of emergency' protects drugmakers, not public

Not a single case of human anthrax has been reported in the United States this year, but the nation is now officially in a state of anthrax emergency.

The emergency was declared earlier this month by the Department of Health and Human Services, and will last until 2015. Whether it will protect public health is debatable, but it will certainly protect makers of faulty anthrax vaccines.

Emergency exemption from legal liability is granted to vaccine manufacturers by the Public Readiness and Preparedness Act, passed in 2005 to protect against paralyzing lawsuits during outbreaks of anthrax, avian influenza or other potentially pandemic diseases.

The act is supposed to be invoked when the Secretary of Homeland Security has determined "that there is a domestic emergency, or a significant potential for a domestic emergency, involving a heightened risk of attack with a specified biological, chemical, radiological, or nuclear agent or agents."

But as Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff explains in a letter to the DHHS, none of these conditions are met: there's neither emergency nor heightened risk of attack nor "credible information indicating an imminent threat of an attack." But that doesn't matter.

"These findings are not necessary to make a determination," Chertoff wrote. It's enough that anthrax was declared a threat four years ago, and that "were the government to determine in the future that there is a heightened risk of an anthrax attack ... that determination would almost certainly result in a domestic emergency."

In other words, there could be an emergency someday — so we might as well declare an emergency now.

~ more... ~


Sure, the economy is causing a crisis, but what about anthrax? How about smallpox?

In a little noticed move, federal officials this month have declared a series of public health emergencies relating to potential weapons of biological terror.

On Oct. 1, Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt declared an anthrax public health emergency. On Oct. 10, he declared health emergencies for smallpox, radiation sickness from the detonation of a nuclear device and poisoning from botulinum toxins, the active ingredient of Botox.

There's no clear evidence that terrorists have managed to weaponize anthrax or stolen large caches of Botox from cosmetic surgeons in Beverly Hills.

But by declaring these public health emergencies, HHS has granted manufacturers of anti-terrorism drugs and vaccines and others involved with the products protection from lawsuits if the drugs were to cause unfortunate side effects.

In the past, drug companies have shied from vaccine development because of low profit margins and legal risks. The actions of HHS are a necessary reassurance to persuade companies to make the drugs, and doctors and other providers to administer them, federal officials and some terrorism experts say.

But consumer advocates see it as a giveaway to the drug industry that strips the public of legal protections.

"It gives the manufacturers and other people involved a 'get out of jail free' card," said Joan Claybrook, president of Washington-based Public Citizen.

"These are potentially dangerous products. There could be a bad vaccine, and suppose people relied on that?" Claybrook asked. "There is no deterrent if there's no liability."

The emergency declarations cover a host of antibiotics to fight anthrax infection, anthrax and smallpox vaccines, and a drug to stimulate white blood cell production in people harmed by radiation.

~ more... ~


How the Nobel Peace Prize was won

The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari has been widely hailed in the West, where there has been an outpouring of praise for the man and his efforts. Generally seen as a tireless promoter of peace and reconciliation, Ahtisaari has another side that has not received sufficient attention.

Although his record is long, Ahtisaari's role in the diplomatic end to NATO's 1999 war against Yugoslavia is regarded as the key to his selection. In praising the man, Nobel committee secretary Geir Lundestad noted, "There is no alternative to an independent Kosovo." This baldly political statement indicates why Ahtisaari's selection is proving so popular among Western leaders, and it is Kosovo that shows just whose interests Ahtisaari has served.

During the 1999 war, NATO's attacks were having little effect on Yugoslav forces. Through the use of extensive camouflage and decoys, Yugoslav troops had managed to emerge largely unscathed by the end NATO's bombing campaign. U.S. General Wesley Clark led the NATO campaign, and he pressed military and diplomatic contacts from other NATO countries for agreement to widen the scope of bombing. Clark was a strong advocate of bombing civilian targets, and at one meeting he rose from his chair and banged the table with his fist, bellowing, "I've got to get the maximum violence out of this campaign – now!" Under Clark's direction, the air campaign rapidly took on the character of sustained terror bombing. I saw the effects myself when I was in Yugoslavia in 1999. Every town I visited had been bombed. Purely residential areas had been flattened. Cluster bombs struck civilian areas. Hospitals, schools, apartment buildings, factories, bridges, office buildings – there was no category of civilian targets that NATO had not seen fit to hit. It was impossible to avoid the conclusion that NATO's strategy was to win its war through terror tactics.

Terror bombing paved the way for final negotiations. It was Yugoslavia's misfortune that Boris Yeltsin was the president of Russia at the time. He selected former prime minister Victor Chernomyrdin to handle negotiations with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Always anxious to please the U.S., Yeltsin had Chernomyrdin essentially do little more than deliver NATO's messages to Milosevic. This approach was not yielding fruit, so Chernomyrdin suggested to American officials that it would be helpful to have someone from a non-NATO Western nation join him when he next visited Belgrade. It was Secretary of State Madeleine Albright who offered the name of Martti Ahtisaari. Getting the Russians on board with the American insistence on NATO leading the occupation of Kosovo was the main sticking point. In the end, Yeltsin, as was his habit, gave the U.S. everything it wanted.

~ more... ~


Military exercises showcase Russian power, and its limits

The Russian government may not yet describe itself as a superpower, but its latest military exercise, "Stability 2008," clearly aims to affirm Russia's global military reach. The exercise's hypothetical scenario posited a local conflict (e.g., over Georgia) that escalates into a world war, pitting Russia and its ally, Belarus, in a conflict with the West in which both sides employ land, air, maritime, and eventually nuclear forces. All three components of Russia's strategic nuclear deterrent (bombers, submarines, and land forces) participated in the maneuvers, which were the largest conducted on Russian territory since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. One Russian commentary on the month-long exercise, which began on Sept. 21, described it as an opportunity for Russia to "prove its Major League status."

Although the Georgia War has brought the issue to the forefront, Russia's military activities expanded well before this summer's conflict. For several years, Russia's Strategic Missile Forces (SMF) have engaged in an enlarged testing program of the country's land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). The launches aim both to confirm existing missiles' reliability, and to develop new missile and warhead technologies. In August, for instance, the SMF test-launched Russia's main intercontinental ballistic missile, the RS-12M Topol ICBM (NATO codenamed SS-25 Sickle), with a new warhead designed to overcome U.S. missile defenses. Spokesperson
Alexander Vovk declared, "An experimental warhead hit a target at a testing range on the Kamchatka peninsula with high precision, demonstrating its capability to deliver pinpoint strikes on well-defended targets."

In addition to its ICBM deterrent, Russia has been reinvigorating its air-based deterrent recently as well. Since last year, Russian strategic bombers have
resumed global patrols, simulating nuclear attacks against the United States and its allies.

During the Stability 2008 exercises, Russian strategic bombers
conducted their first live-fire exercises since the collapse of the Soviet Union. In northern Russia, the Tu-160 White Swan (NATO codename Blackjack) and Tu-95MS Bear-H strategic bombers deployed and launched their maximum combat payload of cruise missiles. Additional Russian combat and support warplanes also participated in the exercise.

And on Sept. 10, two Russian Tu-160 Blackjack supersonic strategic bombers flew to Venezuela, where they conducted a week of highly publicized exercises before returning to their home base of Engels in central Russia on Sept. 19. Their 16-hour flights were the longest in the history of Russian strategic aviation. The planes carried only dummy warheads on this deployment, as Russian warplanes usually do on exercises.

Perhaps the most interesting component of Russia's military resurgence, though, is the return of the Russian Navy, which in recent months has conducted exercises in maritime regions unvisited by Russian sailors since Soviet times. During the Georgia War, warships from Russia's Black Sea fleet, based at the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol, deployed along the coast of Georgia's breakaway province of Abkhazia to support Russian ground and air operations. After NATO warships entered the Black Sea to provide humanitarian assistance to the Georgian government, Russian Adm. Eduard Baltin
boasted that the Russian Navy could destroy the NATO naval contingent within 20 minutes. President Dmitry Medvedev, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, and other Russian leaders expressed concerns that the NATO ships were actually delivering weapons to Georgia under the guise of providing humanitarian assistance.

Chile jails death squad officers

Chile's supreme court has jailed five retired senior military officers over the killing of dozens of government opponents under military rule.

The officers were all members of a military committee known as the Caravan of Death, which criss-crossed the country killing suspected leftists.

Their crimes date back to shortly after the late Gen Augusto Pinochet took power in a military coup in 1973.

The head of the committee, Gen Sergio Arellano Stark, is now 88.

He was jailed for six years for ordering the murder of four men at a military prison in Linares, southern Chile.

One of the other officers was also sentenced to six years, and the other three received four-year terms.

~ BBC News ~


War resisters gather to commemorate 40th anniversary of "Presidio 27 Mutiny"

by Jeff Paterson
Vietnam War resisters were joined by Gulf War and Iraq War resisters to commemorate the anniversary of the "Presidio 27 Mutiny," a 1968 protest and sit-in conducted by imprisoned Vietnam War resisters.
During the Vietnam War era, the Presidio Stockade was a military prison notorious for its poor conditions and overcrowding with many troops imprisoned for refusing to fight in the Vietnam War. When Richard Bunch, a mentally disturbed prisoner, was shot and killed on October 11th, 1968, Presidio inmates began organizing. Three days later, 27 Stockade prisoners broke formation and walked over to a corner of the lawn, where they read a list of grievances about their prison conditions and the larger war effort and sang "We Shall Overcome." The prisoners were charged and tried for "mutiny," and several got 14 to 16 years of confinement. Meanwhile, disillusionment about the Vietnam War continued to grow inside and outside of the military.

The mutiny's anniversary today comes at a time when military resistance against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is climbing. U.S. Army soldiers are resisting service at the highest rate since 1980, with an 80 percent increase in desertions, defined as absence for more than 30 days, since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, according to the Associated Press.

"This was for real. We laid it down, and the response by the commanding general changed our lives," recalls Keith Mather, Presidio "mutineer" who escaped to Canada before his trial came up and lived there for 11 years, only to be arrested upon his return to the United States. Mather is currently a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of Veterans for Peace.

Other "mutineers" who attended the commemoration today include: John Colip of Mesa, Arizona; Randy Roland of Seattle, Washington; and Mike "The Mole" Marino of Vacaville, California. They were joined by Roger Broomfield, a stockade guard who later became a defense witness, and former San Francisco District Attorney Terence Hallinan who helped kickoff his career by defending "The Presidio 27."

"This was one of the first major acts of GI resistance against the Vietnam War. Forty years later we again have growing resistance within the military in opposition to a long, brutal occupation war-complete with prisoners of conscience and resisters seeking refuge in Canada," explained Gulf War GI resister Jeff Paterson, Project Director of Courage to Resist, an organization established to support Iraq War era military objectors.

Among the dozens of folks who gathered to listen to the "mutineers" was a class of high school students from the Presidio Bay School. Iraq War resister Stephen Funk explained to the students that this was not simply a question of history, but that GI resisters are locked up today for refusing this generation's unjust wars.

Reward offered for equipment stolen at West Point

The U.S. Army is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to whoever stole more than $400,000 worth of equipment at West Point, including hundreds of portable radios.

The Army Criminal Investigation Command says the equipment was stolen in mid-September from a warehouse on the grounds of the U.S. Military Academy.

Investigators say the stolen items included more than 300 portable digital radios, worth $1,142 each, and about 600 batteries worth $87 each.

Investigators didn't release information on the theft and reward until this week.

~ Staten Island Advance ~



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