Tomgram: William Astore, Rebuilding America, Remaking Ourselves

September 24, 2008

[Note to TomDispatch Readers: Again, thanks to all of you who offered your hard-earned dollars to help this site via the new “Support TomDispatch. Resist Empire.” button. Believe me, that was truly appreciated. Be forewarned, I’m traveling this week and may turn out to be an even worse correspondent than usual for those of you who write in. Last week, I also appealed to all of you to consider writing friends, colleagues, relatives to suggest that they go to the “sign up” window at the upper right of the TomDispatch main screen, put in their email addresses, and sign on for the new, snazzily updated site mailing that offers notification whenever a post goes up. (Word of mouth is, of course, still the major kind of publicity this site can afford.) A number of you did so and TD got a small flood of new subscribers. So, many thanks indeed! If some of you meant to do this and didn’t quite get around to it, now’s as perfect a time as any. Lots of good posts upcoming, so please pass the word!]

When you can read a piece headlined in the Wall Street Journal, “Worst Crisis Since ’30s, With No End Yet in Sight” — with passages like, “Fed Chairman Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, walking into a hastily arranged meeting with congressional leaders Tuesday night to brief them on the government’s unprecedented rescue of AIG, looked like exhausted surgeons delivering grim news to the family” — you know you’re at a new moment in our history. Recently, thinking about the American experience in the 1930s, I was wondering why the present administration was now so willing to throw vast sums at the speculators, who thought nothing of the rest of us in their high times, and not even crumbs to Americans; why no one calls us to “the colors” of civil society, as Franklin D. Roosevelt did then. Fortunately, along came TomDispatch regular William Astore with the following post, based on memories of his father’s days in the Civilian Conservation Corps. (That program, which put so many Americans to work rebuilding the country, was, by the way, the one New Deal initiative that even Republicans, even the fiercest opponents of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, came to admire.) Tom

Hey, Government! How About Calling on Us?

Reviving National Service in a Big Way

By William J. Astore
Lately, our news has focused on tropical depressions maturing into monster hurricanes that leave devastation in their wake — and I’m not just talking about Gustav and Ike. Today, we face a perfect storm of financial devastation, notable for the enormity of the greed that generated it and the somnolent response of our government in helping Americans left devastated in its wake.

As unemployment rates soar to their highest level in five years and home construction sinks to its lowest level in 17 years, all our federal government seems able to do is buy up to $700 billion in “distressed” mortgage-related assets, bail-out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (at a cost of roughly $200 billion) or “loan” $85 billion to liquidate insurance giant AIG. If you’re Merrill Lynch, you get a hearing; if you’re just plain Marilyn Lynch of Topeka, what you get is a recession, a looming depression, and a federal tax bill for the fat-cat bail-outs.

But, amazingly enough, ordinary Americans generally don’t want bail-outs, nor do they want handouts. What they normally want is honorable work, decent wages, and a government willing to wake up and help them contribute to a national restoration.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.


Dirty Secret Of The Bailout: Thirty-Two Words That None Dare Utter

September 23, 2008

This post by Jason Linkins in The Huffington Post sheds light on the proposed Bush Administration bailout package:

A critical – and radical – component of the bailout package proposed by the Bush administration has thus far failed to garner the serious attention of anyone in the press. Section 8 (which ironically reminds one of the popular name of the portion of the 1937 Housing Act that paved the way for subsidized affordable housing ) of this legislation is just a single sentence of thirty-two words, but it represents a significant consolidation of power and an abdication of oversight authority that’s so flat-out astounding that it ought to set one’s hair on fire. It reads, in its entirety:

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.

In short, the so-called “mother of all bailouts,” which will transfer $700 billion taxpayer dollars to purchase the distressed assets of several failed financial institutions, will be conducted in a manner unchallengeable by courts and ungovernable by the People’s duly sworn representatives. All decision-making power will be consolidated into the Executive Branch – who, we remind you, will have the incentive to act upon this privilege as quickly as possible, before they leave office. The measure will run up the budget deficit by a significant amount, with no guarantee of recouping the outlay, and no fundamental means of holding those who fail to do so accountable.

[…]

Read the rest of this article here.


Global Research: The Real State of the US Economy

August 5, 2008

This is a brutally honest, sobering piece on the US economy, which your government or the mainstream media definitely won’t tell you:

When Henry Paulson agreed to leave his job as chairman of the powerful Wall Street investment bank, Goldman Sachs to go to Washington as Treasury Secretary in 2006 he demanded extraordinary powers as de facto economic czar. He got it. Paulson is also head of the President’s Working Group on Financial Markets — the secretary of the treasury and the chairmen of the Federal Reserve Board, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. The Working Group is the financial world’s equivalent of the Pentagon war room. Paulson, not Fed chairman Bernanke, is the person running the Administration’s crisis management. And his recent actions indicate he has lost control as the snowballing problems from the semi-government mortgage companies Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae to the collapse of the multi-trillion dollar market in Asset Backed Securities (ABS) to the real economy are compounding into the worst crisis since the 1930’s Great Depression.

‘The US banking system is sound…’
[…]

Read rest of this article by William F. Engdahl on Global Research here.


Integrate This! – SPP Watch Update

August 2, 2008

SPP Watch

SPP WATCH makes the links between daily news items, new government initiatives and the ongoing Security and Prosperity Partnership talks between Canada, Mexico and the United States. As well as regular SPP updates, we will continue to post new reports, interviews and multimedia presentations critical of what is sometimes called the “deep integration” of North America.

The Integrate This website will slow down over the summer as staff take their annual vacations and as Stuart Trew, the Council of Canadians researcher/writer who has been administering the site’s content, heads to Toronto to become the Council’s regional organizer for Ontario-Québec. We will continue to post news articles and important reports but not as frequently as we have been over the past eight months.

Harper launches major assault on food safety, fires government scientist; regulatory harmonization blamed
The extent of Harper’s current assault on Canada’s food and drug inspection system is about to dwarf any previous concerns we had with the regulatory harmonization of pesticide residues. The Prime Minister is simultaneously eliminating funding for BSE testing for Canadian producers, offloading federal research facilities to the private sector and academia, and firing government scientists who dare stand up against this widespread deregulation for the sake of corporate profits.

What’s good for U.S. energy security is good for the SPP
A recent U.S. statement confirms the ongoing push for greater North American energy integration that leaves Canada wide open for the worst of an energy gold rush.   In addressing the Subcommittee of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in Washington DC, Daniel Sullivan (Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Economic, Energy, and Business Affairs) calls for more energy integration and dependence on market-based solutions in the face of rising oil and gas prices and the havoc this is wreaking on the U.S. economy.

Majority of Canadians would renegotiate NAFTA, says Angus Reid poll
You’d never know it from the lengths our federal and provincial governments are going to in defence of NAFTA, but most Canadians think we should renegotiate the free trade and investment pact, says a new poll by Angust Reid.

Plan Mexico, SPP about “armouring NAFTA,” says Avi Lewis
Journalist and human rights activist Avi Lewis, commented on Plan Mexico and the Security and Prosperity Partnership this week on U.S. radio program Democracy Now.

Put on the EDL brakes
From the speed at which provinces are introducing so-called enhanced driver’s licences, you’d think they were a universally acclaimed technology (Passport Alternative Approved In Sask. – B.C. and online editions, July 31). But as a public forum in Toronto this month showed, there is much skepticism among Canada’s privacy commissioners, consumer groups and the public.

Industry Week magazine contrasts European vs. SPP approach to chemicals regulation
A new article in Industry Week magazine offers an interesting and brief explanation of Europe’s new chemicals regulation laws (the Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals (REACH) legislation), and how they differ from the North American approach being developed through the Security and Prosperity Partnership.

“Any harsh treatment endured by Khadr is Canada’s responsibility,” says lawyer Kuebler
As reported by CTV this week, new documents and video footage “suggest Canada was aware of the harsh treatment that Canadian terror suspect Omar Khadr was being subjected to in Guantanamo Bay at the hands of U.S. military interrogators.” But Prime Minister Harper still says the government knew nothing and has no intention of interfering, or in asking that Khadr be allowed to return to Canada.

For more information on the SPP, please visit www.IntegrateThis.ca.


The Smirking Chimp: Visualize the Dow at 6,000

July 26, 2008

“The banking system is broke, busted, penniless; and yet the Fed and the G-7 allow this comedy to persist like nothing is wrong. When will the American people wake up?” Asks Mike Whitney in this post.   When indeed?

Pay attention to this excerpt:

It’s funny; while Bush was hosting his faux-press conference, live-footage was appearing on other media of fully-armed LA policemen being dispatched to the various Indymac locations. Their task was to remind the gathering of elderly “blue-hair” women and middle-aged white guys in Tommy Bahama T-shirts that any public display of outrage would be swiftly met with Rodney King-style justice. Hmmm. So now withdrawing one’s savings from the bank is not only riskier; it’s tantamount to committing a felony. My, how America has changed.

* Read this post by Mike Whitney in its entirety on the Smirking Chimp here.

Read more of Mike Whitney’s posts on his blog.

Read more news and commentary on The Smirking Chimp.


Tomgram: Michael Klare, The Pentagon as Energy Insecurity Inc.

June 16, 2008

If you thought things were bad, with a barrel of crude oil at $136 and the oil heartlands of our planet verging on chaos, don’t be surprised, but you may still have something to look forward to. Alexei Miller, chairman of Russia’s vast state-owned energy monopoly, Gazprom, just suggested that, within 18 months, that same barrel could be selling for a nifty $250. Put that in your tank and… well, don’t drive it. It will be far too valuable.

Think of Miller’s sobering prediction as, at least in part, a result of the Bush administration’s attempt to “secure” the Middle East and the oil-rich Caspian basin by force in two failing wars (and occupations). Now, imagine for a moment, what his price scenario might be if, as journalist Jim Lobe — never one to leap from rumors to sensational conclusions — recently suggested, forces in the Bush administration (and in Israel) in favor of launching an air campaign against Iran are gaining strength. Just the suggestion last week by Shaul Mofaz, an Israeli deputy prime minister, that an attack on Iran is “unavoidable” if that country doesn’t halt its nuclear program — “If Iran continues with its program for developing nuclear weapons, we will attack it. The sanctions are ineffective.” — helped send the price of crude oil soaring. Imagine what an actual air attack might do.

You know that old joke: military justice is to justice as military music is to music; well, someday, not so far into the future, a similar, though far grimmer joke, is likely to be made about Washington’s attempts to secure the U.S. oil supply by military means. In the meantime, Michael Klare, author most recently of Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy, considers the madness of Washington’s long-term militarization of oil delivery and the devastating oil wars that have resulted. (His previous book, Blood and Oil, by the way, has recently been turned into a documentary film. Check it out.) Tom

Garrisoning the Global Gas Station

Challenging the Militarization of U.S. Energy Policy

By Michael T. Klare

American policymakers have long viewed the protection of overseas oil supplies as an essential matter of “national security,” requiring the threat of — and sometimes the use of — military force. This is now an unquestioned part of American foreign policy.

On this basis, the first Bush administration fought a war against Iraq in 1990-1991 and the second Bush administration invaded Iraq in 2003. With global oil prices soaring and oil reserves expected to dwindle in the years ahead, military force is sure to be seen by whatever new administration enters Washington in January 2009 as the ultimate guarantor of our well-being in the oil heartlands of the planet. But with the costs of militarized oil operations — in both blood and dollars — rising precipitously isn’t it time to challenge such “wisdom”? Isn’t it time to ask whether the U.S. military has anything reasonable to do with American energy security, and whether a reliance on military force, when it comes to energy policy, is practical, affordable, or justifiable?

How Energy Policy Got Militarized

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Tomgram: Steve Fraser, The Two Gilded Ages

May 15, 2008

Think of it as gilding the pain. Last year, hedge fund manager John Paulson of Paulson & Co. hauled in a nifty $3.7 billion. (Yes, you read that right.) Mainly, he did so, according to the Wall Street Journal, “by shorting, or betting against, subprime mortgage securities and collateralized debt obligations.” And he wasn’t alone. Hedge fund money-maker Philip Falcone of Harbinger Capital Partners raked in a comparatively measly $1.7 billion in 2007, also by shorting subprime mortgages. These are fortunes beyond imagining, made in no time at all by betting on the pure misery of others. Think of them as Las Vegas with a mean streak a mile wide.

In a week in which Citibank released news of quarterly losses of $5.1 billion and sweeping job cuts, food riots dotted the planet, oil hit $117 a barrel, and regular gas prices averaged $3.47 a gallon at the pump (with another 30 cents likely to be tacked on in the next month), Institutional Investor’s Alpha magazine released its list of the 50 top hedge fund managers. In 2007, they “made” a cumulative $29 billion. (Even to slip in among the top 25, you had to take in at least $360 million.) To put this in perspective, Paulson alone made $1.6 billion dollars more than it is going to cost J.P. Morgan Chase to pick up the tanking Bear Stearns; in one hour, he made 30 times what the median American family earned all last year. And here’s a little tidbit to go with that: Income inequality in 2007 was, according to the Associated Press, “at the highest level since 1928, the year before the Great Depression began.”

And still, a New York Times piece on the gains of Paulson and crew described the hedge fund managers with genuine awe as “those masters of a secretive, sometimes volatile financial universe.” Master of the Universe (a label originally attached to an over-muscled action figure of the 1980s by the name of He-Man) — such descriptions have been with us since the beginning of our new Gilded Age and no one knows this better than Steve Fraser. His book on our financial “masters of the universe” from the eighteenth century to the present, Wall Street: America’s Dream Palace, has just been published. As he writes, “Beginning with the merger and acquisition mania of the mid-1980s, the media were overrun with depictions of Wall Street ‘gunslingers,’ ‘white knights’ and ‘black knights,’ ‘killer bees,’ ‘hired guns,’… and ‘barbarians at the gates,! ‘ warrior appellations borrowed helter-skelter from antiquity, the Middle Ages, and America’s mythologized West.” The language brought to bear always had that requisite edge of awe, part of an ethos that added up to a cult of the Titan. Fraser, whose book is simply superb (and, in this age of information onslaught, mercifully short), offers a brief history of key images of Wall Street movers and shakers — the aristocrat, the confidence man, the hero, and the immoralist — taking you on a concise tour of America’s love/hate relationship with Wall Street from the founding of the republic to late last night.

Now, as the gilding on our present age begins to peel and flake, Fraser turns back to the last Gilded Age at the end of the nineteenth century, to ask a few questions germane to our moment, especially why, today, unlike in the late nineteenth century, the protests over the Paulsons of our world aren’t rising to the heavens. Tom

The Great Silence

Our Gilded Age and Theirs
By Steve Fraser

Google “second Gilded Age” and you will get ferried to 7,000 possible sites where you can learn more about what you already instinctively know. That we are living through a gilded age has become a journalistic commonplace. The unmistakable drift of all the talk about it is a Yogi Berra-ism: it’s a matter of déjà vu all over again. But is it? Is turn-of-the-century America a replica of the world Mark Twain first christened “gilded” in his debut bestseller back in the 1870s?

Certainly, Twain would feel right at home today. Crony capitalism, the main object of his satirical wit in The Gilded Age, is thriving. Incestuous plots as outsized as the one in which the Union Pacific Railroad’s chief investors conspired with a wagon-load of government officials, including Ulysses S. Grant’s vice president, to loot the federal treasury once again lubricate the machinery of public policy-making. A cronyism that would have been familiar to Twain has made the wheels go round in these terminal years of the Bush administration. Even the invasion and decimation of Iraq was conceived and carried out as an exercise in grand-strategic cronyism; call it cronyism with a vengeance. All of this has been going on since Ronald Reagan brought back morning to America.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.