The tsunami of populist rage coursing through America is bigger than Daschle’s overdue tax bill, bigger than John Thain’s trash can, bigger than any bailed-out C.E.O.’s bonus. It’s even bigger than the Obama phenomenon itself. It could maim the president’s best-laid plans and what remains of our economy if he doesn’t get in front of the mounting public anger.
Tell Majority Leader Harry Reid – Respect Venezuela’s Sovereignty, Reject Sanctions Bill September 17, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Latin America, Venezuela, Foreign Policy.
Tags: roger hollander, Latin America, Venezuela, McCain, soa, harry reid, venezuela democracy, venezuela sovereignty, rubio, menendez, Ros-Lehtinen, venezuela sanctions
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Roger’s note: please sign the petition.
As an SOA Watch supporter who has previously taken online action defending Venezuela’s sovereignty, it should be no surprise to you that Venezuela is once again under attack by the powerful far-right Cuban-American lobby and its allies. Senators Marco Rubio, Robert Menendez, John McCain, and Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen are desperately attempting to ram through a bill that would impose sanctions on Venezuelan officials based on exaggerated claims of human rights abuses that do not match up with the facts on the ground.
The sanctions bill is seen by the rest of Latin America as politically-motivated and a continuation of the typical intervention by the U.S. in the internal affairs of a democratic Latin American country. Earlier this month, Sen. Rubio sent Majority Leader Senator Harry Reid a letter calling on him to bypass Sen. Mary Landrieu’s committee and bring the sanctions bill to a vote. This after hypocritically attacking Sen. Landrieu in a Louisiana newspaper for holding up the vote due to concerns about the sanctions bill. Please take a moment to urge Senator Reid to continue supporting diplomacy, resist the far-right fear-mongering, and not bring up the Cold War era sanctions bill for a vote.
We should also take this opportunity to push him to deepen his opposition to the bill, which is currently based on protecting Senator Landrieu’s reelection bid and the Democratic Senate majority in November, to include support for U.S.-Venezuela dialogue, diplomacy, and respect for Latin American sovereignty.
Sen. Reid’s actions as Majority Leader are vital to ensuring respect for democracy in Venezuela and throughout Latin America. Your voice and the voice of your community are essential and can make the difference for setting the tone for U.S.-Latin American relations for decades to come. Urge Sen. Harry Reid (through his Foreign Policy Aide, Jessica Lewis) to do the right thing. It only takes 1 minute, please take action today and share this link widely!
Owen, Arturo, and the SOA Watch Legislative Working Group
P.S. In addition to taking online action, a follow-up call to Sen. Reid’s DC office will drive our message home. Call (202) 224-3542 and ask to speak with Jessica Lewis, his Foreign Policy Aide. Tell Ms. Lewis you oppose the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014 because you support diplomacy with Venezuela’s democratically elected government, and want to see the U.S. respect the sovereignty of Latin American nations.
Obama Dances With Drones April 24, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Pakistan, War.
Tags: al-Qaeda, ashfaq kiyani, Asif Ali Zardari, civilian casualties, Clinton, drone missiles, islam, islamic countries, islamist jihadis, jane perlez, McCain, obama administration, Osama bin laden, pakistan, pakistan airstrikes, pakistan civilians, pakistani taliban, Pervez Musharaff, richard holbrooke, roger hollander, steve weisman, unmanned missiles
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Photo-illustration: Everett Bogue / t r u t h o u t)
“Once Obama won the presidency, the game should have changed. The question to ask before going any further was whether the military gains from killing al-Qaeda leaders justified the political reaction from ordinary Pakistanis every time one of the drones killed women, children and wedding guests, which the drones do all too often. No doubt the question has been quietly asked and answered, though only within the White House, and President Obama has decided that whatever the political costs, the military gains count more.”
Wednesday 22 April 2009
by: Steve Weissman, t r u t h o u t | Perspective
In America’s relations with Islamic countries, a peculiar dishonesty reigns. It is all so hush-hush, and often done with a wink and nod, as the rulers of these lands lead Washington to believe one story while telling their own people the opposite. The media reports are hard to forget: Arab nations wanted the Bush administration to invade Iraq. Sunni Arab leaders are urging Israel and the United States to bomb suspected nuclear sites in Shiite Iran. And, from The New York Times last week, “Pakistan Rehearses Its Two-Step on Airstrikes.”
Citing unnamed Pakistani and American officials, the well-placed Jane Perlez reported that Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari had given the Obama administration the go-ahead for our remotely piloted drones to fire rockets at targets inside the country. Most of the drones, she wrote, take off “with Pakistani assent from a base inside Pakistan.”
Her account, though breathless, was hardly breaking news. Over a year ago, in March 2008, Newsweek reported that then-President Pervez Musharaff had given Washington “virtually unrestricted authority” to launch Predator drones from secret bases near Islamabad and Jacobabad. The Washington Post similarly spoke of a tacit understanding that Washington had with Musharraf and Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani to allow US strikes on foreign fighters operating in Pakistan, but not against the Pakistani Taliban.
What Jane Perlez added was a candid discussion of how President Zardari was talking out of the other side of his mouth as well. He was, she reported, continuing to proclaim publicly “that the drones represent an infringement of Pakistani sovereignty that the government cannot tolerate.” Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi went even further, publicly rebuking Washington for the drone strikes, which were – he said – eroding trust between the allies. He said all this while standing next to Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Richard Holbrooke, President Barack Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. According to Perlez, Ambassador Holbrooke dismissed the rebuke as something to be expected.
Expected? Perhaps. But who benefits from what Perlez called the diplomatic dance around the drones? More important, who stands to lose?
For Obama, the go-ahead serves to justify his position during the presidential election campaign that the United States should make a priority of striking militarily against al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistan. Candidate Obama said he would do it with or without Pakistani permission, which brought furious condemnation from both Hillary Clinton and John McCain. All three must have known from their advisers that Musharaff had already given his assent, much as candidate John F. Kennedy knew that the Eisenhower administration had already planned to invade Cuba when he called in his debates with Richard Nixon for tough action against Fidel Castro. As with JFK, Obama’s apparently undiplomatic assertion let him stand tall and talk tough, which is politically what he thought he needed to do.
Once Obama won the presidency, the game should have changed. The question to ask before going any further was whether the military gains from killing al-Qaeda leaders justified the political reaction from ordinary Pakistanis every time one of the drones killed women, children and wedding guests, which the drones do all too often. No doubt the question has been quietly asked and answered, though only within the White House, and President Obama has decided that whatever the political costs, the military gains count more.
Next the American brass will likely push for the right to send Special Forces on covert raids into Pakistan, as high-level officials reportedly urged General Musharaff to accept during a meeting in January 2008. Mushareff pointedly refused, but Zardari, who is widely seen in Pakistan as an American puppet, might prove more amenable. And even if Zardari says no, the American military will urge Obama to give the go-ahead for covert raids on his own, as he said he would do during the presidential campaign.
Zardari’s permission for the drones to operate in his country and the Pakistani military’s zeal to have drones of their own do not in any way diminish the huge popular backlash against the weapons. But Islamabad’s refusal to stand openly on the issue puts the onus on Washington, making it easier for Islamist opponents to build a nationalistic, anti-American movement in the only Islamic country with nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them. This is a threat that will keep on growing no matter what happens to al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden.
Even more telling, the insistence on a secret understanding should in itself have warned Obama that the killer drones had become too hot to handle. Sadly, he failed to take the warning to heart. In his pursuit of a military victory against al-Qaeda, and his insistence that the Zardari government seek a military showdown with the Pakistani Taliban and their Islamist allies, our normally astute president simply cannot see that the remotely piloted Predators only feed an ever-escalating civil war. Killing bin Laden with a drone or commando raid would certainly give many Americans enormous satisfaction and win Obama unending political praise at home. But that is hardly worth the price of losing a nuclear-armed Pakistan to the Islamist jihadis.
A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France.
Bill Moyers Journal: William K. Black Interview April 16, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Uncategorized.
Tags: AIG, bailout, bank deregulation, banker fraud, banking industry, banksters, bill moyers, charles keating, conggressional oversight, congress, derivatives, doj, Economic Crisis, Federal Reserve, general motors, glass-steagall, gm, indymac, japan lost decade, jim wright, john glenn, justice department, lawrence summers, liar's loans, McCain, ninja loans, paulson, pecora investigation, Phil Gramm, ponzi, ponzi scheme, roger hollander, rubin, s&l scandal, savings and loan, sub-prime, subprime scandal, tim geithner, toxic assets, toxic loans, ubs, Wall Street, wall street barons, wall street bonuses, william k. black
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BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the Journal.
For months now, revelations of the wholesale greed and blatant transgressions of Wall Street have reminded us that “The Best Way to Rob a Bank Is to Own One.” In fact, the man you’re about to meet wrote a book with just that title. It was based upon his experience as a tough regulator during one of the darkest chapters in our financial history: the savings and loan scandal in the late 1980s.
WILLIAM K. BLACK: These numbers as large as they are, vastly understate the problem of fraud.
BILL MOYERS: Bill Black was in New York this week for a conference at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice where scholars and journalists gathered to ask the question, “How do they get away with it?” Well, no one has asked that question more often than Bill Black.
The former Director of the Institute for Fraud Prevention now teaches Economics and Law at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. During the savings and loan crisis, it was Black who accused then-house speaker Jim Wright and five US Senators, including John Glenn and John McCain, of doing favors for the S&L’s in exchange for contributions and other perks. The senators got off with a slap on the wrist, but so enraged was one of those bankers, Charles Keating — after whom the senate’s so-called “Keating Five” were named — he sent a memo that read, in part, “get Black — kill him dead.” Metaphorically, of course. Of course.
Now Black is focused on an even greater scandal, and he spares no one — not even the President he worked hard to elect, Barack Obama. But his main targets are the Wall Street barons, heirs of an earlier generation whose scandalous rip-offs of wealth back in the 1930s earned them comparison to Al Capone and the mob, and the nickname “banksters.”
Bill Black, welcome to the Journal.
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Thank you.
BILL MOYERS: I was taken with your candor at the conference here in New York to hear you say that this crisis we’re going through, this economic and financial meltdown is driven by fraud. What’s your definition of fraud?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Fraud is deceit. And the essence of fraud is, “I create trust in you, and then I betray that trust, and get you to give me something of value.” And as a result, there’s no more effective acid against trust than fraud, especially fraud by top elites, and that’s what we have.
BILL MOYERS: In your book, you make it clear that calculated dishonesty by people in charge is at the heart of most large corporate failures and scandals, including, of course, the S&L, but is that true? Is that what you’re saying here, that it was in the boardrooms and the CEO offices where this fraud began?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Absolutely.
BILL MOYERS: How did they do it? What do you mean?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Well, the way that you do it is to make really bad loans, because they pay better. Then you grow extremely rapidly, in other words, you’re a Ponzi-like scheme. And the third thing you do is we call it leverage. That just means borrowing a lot of money, and the combination creates a situation where you have guaranteed record profits in the early years. That makes you rich, through the bonuses that modern executive compensation has produced. It also makes it inevitable that there’s going to be a disaster down the road.
BILL MOYERS: So you’re suggesting, saying that CEOs of some of these banks and mortgage firms in order to increase their own personal income, deliberately set out to make bad loans?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: How do they get away with it? I mean, what about their own checks and balances in the company? What about their accounting divisions?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: All of those checks and balances report to the CEO, so if the CEO goes bad, all of the checks and balances are easily overcome. And the art form is not simply to defeat those internal controls, but to suborn them, to turn them into your greatest allies. And the bonus programs are exactly how you do that.
BILL MOYERS: If I wanted to go looking for the parties to this, with a good bird dog, where would you send me?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Well, that’s exactly what hasn’t happened. We haven’t looked, all right? The Bush Administration essentially got rid of regulation, so if nobody was looking, you were able to do this with impunity and that’s exactly what happened. Where would you look? You’d look at the specialty lenders. The lenders that did almost all of their work in the sub-prime and what’s called Alt-A, liars’ loans.
BILL MOYERS: Yeah. Liars’ loans–
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Liars’ loans.
BILL MOYERS: Why did they call them liars’ loans?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Because they were liars’ loans.
BILL MOYERS: And they knew it?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: They knew it. They knew that they were frauds.
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Liars’ loans mean that we don’t check. You tell us what your income is. You tell us what your job is. You tell us what your assets are, and we agree to believe you. We won’t check on any of those things. And by the way, you get a better deal if you inflate your income and your job history and your assets.
BILL MOYERS: You think they really said that to borrowers?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: We know that they said that to borrowers. In fact, they were also called, in the trade, ninja loans.
BILL MOYERS: Ninja?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Yeah, because no income verification, no job verification, no asset verification.
BILL MOYERS: You’re talking about significant American companies.
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Huge! One company produced as many losses as the entire Savings and Loan debacle.
BILL MOYERS: Which company?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: IndyMac specialized in making liars’ loans. In 2006 alone, it sold $80 billion dollars of liars’ loans to other companies. $80 billion.
BILL MOYERS: And was this happening exclusively in this sub-prime mortgage business?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: No, and that’s a big part of the story as well. Even prime loans began to have non-verification. Even Ronald Reagan, you know, said, “Trust, but verify.” They just gutted the verification process. We know that will produce enormous fraud, under economic theory, criminology theory, and two thousand years of life experience.
BILL MOYERS: Is it possible that these complex instruments were deliberately created so swindlers could exploit them?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Oh, absolutely. This stuff, the exotic stuff that you’re talking about was created out of things like liars’ loans, that were known to be extraordinarily bad. And now it was getting triple-A ratings. Now a triple-A rating is supposed to mean there is zero credit risk. So you take something that not only has significant, it has crushing risk. That’s why it’s toxic. And you create this fiction that it has zero risk. That itself, of course, is a fraudulent exercise. And again, there was nobody looking, during the Bush years. So finally, only a year ago, we started to have a Congressional investigation of some of these rating agencies, and it’s scandalous what came out. What we know now is that the rating agencies never looked at a single loan file. When they finally did look, after the markets had completely collapsed, they found, and I’m quoting Fitch, the smallest of the rating agencies, “the results were disconcerting, in that there was the appearance of fraud in nearly every file we examined.”
BILL MOYERS: So if your assumption is correct, your evidence is sound, the bank, the lending company, created a fraud. And the ratings agency that is supposed to test the value of these assets knowingly entered into the fraud. Both parties are committing fraud by intention.
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Right, and the investment banker that — we call it pooling — puts together these bad mortgages, these liars’ loans, and creates the toxic waste of these derivatives. All of them do that. And then they sell it to the world and the world just thinks because it has a triple-A rating it must actually be safe. Well, instead, there are 60 and 80 percent losses on these things, because of course they, in reality, are toxic waste.
BILL MOYERS: You’re describing what Bernie Madoff did to a limited number of people. But you’re saying it’s systemic, a systemic Ponzi scheme.
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Oh, Bernie was a piker. He doesn’t even get into the front ranks of a Ponzi scheme…
BILL MOYERS: But you’re saying our system became a Ponzi scheme.
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Our system…
BILL MOYERS: Our financial system…
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Became a Ponzi scheme. Everybody was buying a pig in the poke. But they were buying a pig in the poke with a pretty pink ribbon, and the pink ribbon said, “Triple-A.”
BILL MOYERS: Is there a law against liars’ loans?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Not directly, but there, of course, many laws against fraud, and liars’ loans are fraudulent.
BILL MOYERS: Because…
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Because they’re not going to be repaid and because they had false representations. They involve deceit, which is the essence of fraud.
BILL MOYERS: Why is it so hard to prosecute? Why hasn’t anyone been brought to justice over this?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Because they didn’t even begin to investigate the major lenders until the market had actually collapsed, which is completely contrary to what we did successfully in the Savings and Loan crisis, right? Even while the institutions were reporting they were the most profitable savings and loan in America, we knew they were frauds. And we were moving to close them down. Here, the Justice Department, even though it very appropriately warned, in 2004, that there was an epidemic…
BILL MOYERS: Who did?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: The FBI publicly warned, in September 2004 that there was an epidemic of mortgage fraud, that if it was allowed to continue it would produce a crisis at least as large as the Savings and Loan debacle. And that they were going to make sure that they didn’t let that happen. So what goes wrong? After 9/11, the attacks, the Justice Department transfers 500 white-collar specialists in the FBI to national terrorism. Well, we can all understand that. But then, the Bush administration refused to replace the missing 500 agents. So even today, again, as you say, this crisis is 1000 times worse, perhaps, certainly 100 times worse, than the Savings and Loan crisis. There are one-fifth as many FBI agents as worked the Savings and Loan crisis.
BILL MOYERS: You talk about the Bush administration. Of course, there’s that famous photograph of some of the regulators in 2003, who come to a press conference with a chainsaw suggesting that they’re going to slash, cut business loose from regulation, right?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Well, they succeeded. And in that picture, by the way, the other — three of the other guys with pruning shears are the…
BILL MOYERS: That’s right.
WILLIAM K. BLACK: They’re the trade representatives. They’re the lobbyists for the bankers. And everybody’s grinning. The government’s working together with the industry to destroy regulation. Well, we now know what happens when you destroy regulation. You get the biggest financial calamity of anybody under the age of 80.
BILL MOYERS: But I can point you to statements by Larry Summers, who was then Bill Clinton’s Secretary of the Treasury, or the other Clinton Secretary of the Treasury, Rubin. I can point you to suspects in both parties, right?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: There were two really big things, under the Clinton administration. One, they got rid of the law that came out of the real-world disasters of the Great Depression. We learned a lot of things in the Great Depression. And one is we had to separate what’s called commercial banking from investment banking. That’s the Glass-Steagall law. But we thought we were much smarter, supposedly. So we got rid of that law, and that was bipartisan. And the other thing is we passed a law, because there was a very good regulator, Brooksley Born, that everybody should know about and probably doesn’t. She tried to do the right thing to regulate one of these exotic derivatives that you’re talking about. We call them C.D.F.S. And Summers, Rubin, and Phil Gramm came together to say not only will we block this particular regulation. We will pass a law that says you can’t regulate. And it’s this type of derivative that is most involved in the AIG scandal. AIG all by itself, cost the same as the entire Savings and Loan debacle.
BILL MOYERS: What did AIG contribute? What did they do wrong?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: They made bad loans. Their type of loan was to sell a guarantee, right? And they charged a lot of fees up front. So, they booked a lot of income. Paid enormous bonuses. The bonuses we’re thinking about now, they’re much smaller than these bonuses that were also the product of accounting fraud. And they got very, very rich. But, of course, then they had guaranteed this toxic waste. These liars’ loans. Well, we’ve just gone through why those toxic waste, those liars’ loans, are going to have enormous losses. And so, you have to pay the guarantee on those enormous losses. And you go bankrupt. Except that you don’t in the modern world, because you’ve come to the United States, and the taxpayers play the fool. Under Secretary Geithner and under Secretary Paulson before him… we took $5 billion dollars, for example, in U.S. taxpayer money. And sent it to a huge Swiss Bank called UBS. At the same time that that bank was defrauding the taxpayers of America. And we were bringing a criminal case against them. We eventually get them to pay a $780 million fine, but wait, we gave them $5 billion. So, the taxpayers of America paid the fine of a Swiss Bank. And why are we bailing out somebody who that is defrauding us?
BILL MOYERS: And why…
WILLIAM K. BLACK: How mad is this?
BILL MOYERS: What is your explanation for why the bankers who created this mess are still calling the shots?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Well, that, especially after what’s just happened at G.M., that’s… it’s scandalous.
BILL MOYERS: Why are they firing the president of G.M. and not firing the head of all these banks that are involved?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: There are two reasons. One, they’re much closer to the bankers. These are people from the banking industry. And they have a lot more sympathy. In fact, they’re outright hostile to autoworkers, as you can see. They want to bash all of their contracts. But when they get to banking, they say, â€˜contracts, sacred.’ But the other element of your question is we don’t want to change the bankers, because if we do, if we put honest people in, who didn’t cause the problem, their first job would be to find the scope of the problem. And that would destroy the cover up.
BILL MOYERS: The cover up?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Sure. The cover up.
BILL MOYERS: That’s a serious charge.
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Of course.
BILL MOYERS: Who’s covering up?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Geithner is charging, is covering up. Just like Paulson did before him. Geithner is publicly saying that it’s going to take $2 trillion — a trillion is a thousand billion — $2 trillion taxpayer dollars to deal with this problem. But they’re allowing all the banks to report that they’re not only solvent, but fully capitalized. Both statements can’t be true. It can’t be that they need $2 trillion, because they have masses losses, and that they’re fine.
These are all people who have failed. Paulson failed, Geithner failed. They were all promoted because they failed, not because…
BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Well, Geithner has, was one of our nation’s top regulators, during the entire subprime scandal, that I just described. He took absolutely no effective action. He gave no warning. He did nothing in response to the FBI warning that there was an epidemic of fraud. All this pig in the poke stuff happened under him. So, in his phrase about legacy assets. Well he’s a failed legacy regulator.
BILL MOYERS: But he denies that he was a regulator. Let me show you some of his testimony before Congress. Take a look at this.
TIMOTHY GEITHNER:I’ve never been a regulator, for better or worse. And I think you’re right to say that we have to be very skeptical that regulation can solve all of these problems. We have parts of our system that are overwhelmed by regulation.
Overwhelmed by regulation! It wasn’t the absence of regulation that was the problem, it was despite the presence of regulation you’ve got huge risks that build up.
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Well, he may be right that he never regulated, but his job was to regulate. That was his mission statement.
BILL MOYERS: As?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: As president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which is responsible for regulating most of the largest bank holding companies in America. And he’s completely wrong that we had too much regulation in some of these areas. I mean, he gives no details, obviously. But that’s just plain wrong.
BILL MOYERS: How is this happening? I mean why is it happening?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Until you get the facts, it’s harder to blow all this up. And, of course, the entire strategy is to keep people from getting the facts.
BILL MOYERS: What facts?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: The facts about how bad the condition of the banks is. So, as long as I keep the old CEO who caused the problems, is he going to go vigorously around finding the problems? Finding the frauds?
BILL MOYERS: You–
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Taking away people’s bonuses?
BILL MOYERS: To hear you say this is unusual because you supported Barack Obama, during the campaign. But you’re seeming disillusioned now.
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Well, certainly in the financial sphere, I am. I think, first, the policies are substantively bad. Second, I think they completely lack integrity. Third, they violate the rule of law. This is being done just like Secretary Paulson did it. In violation of the law. We adopted a law after the Savings and Loan crisis, called the Prompt Corrective Action Law. And it requires them to close these institutions. And they’re refusing to obey the law.
BILL MOYERS: In other words, they could have closed these banks without nationalizing them?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Well, you do a receivership. No one — Ronald Reagan did receiverships. Nobody called it nationalization.
BILL MOYERS: And that’s a law?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: That’s the law.
BILL MOYERS: So, Paulson could have done this? Geithner could do this?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Not could. Was mandated–
BILL MOYERS: By the law.
WILLIAM K. BLACK: By the law.
BILL MOYERS: This law, you’re talking about.
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: What the reason they give for not doing it?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: They ignore it. And nobody calls them on it.
BILL MOYERS: Well, where’s Congress? Where’s the press? Where–
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Well, where’s the Pecora investigation?
BILL MOYERS: The what?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: The Pecora investigation. The Great Depression, we said, “Hey, we have to learn the facts. What caused this disaster, so that we can take steps, like pass the Glass-Steagall law, that will prevent future disasters?” Where’s our investigation?
What would happen if after a plane crashes, we said, “Oh, we don’t want to look in the past. We want to be forward looking. Many people might have been, you know, we don’t want to pass blame. No. We have a nonpartisan, skilled inquiry. We spend lots of money on, get really bright people. And we find out, to the best of our ability, what caused every single major plane crash in America. And because of that, aviation has an extraordinarily good safety record. We ought to follow the same policies in the financial sphere. We have to find out what caused the disasters, or we will keep reliving them. And here, we’ve got a double tragedy. It isn’t just that we are failing to learn from the mistakes of the past. We’re failing to learn from the successes of the past.
BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: In the Savings and Loan debacle, we developed excellent ways for dealing with the frauds, and for dealing with the failed institutions. And for 15 years after the Savings and Loan crisis, didn’t matter which party was in power, the U.S. Treasury Secretary would fly over to Tokyo and tell the Japanese, “You ought to do things the way we did in the Savings and Loan crisis, because it worked really well. Instead you’re covering up the bank losses, because you know, you say you need confidence. And so, we have to lie to the people to create confidence. And it doesn’t work. You will cause your recession to continue and continue.” And the Japanese call it the lost decade. That was the result. So, now we get in trouble, and what do we do? We adopt the Japanese approach of lying about the assets. And you know what? It’s working just as well as it did in Japan.
BILL MOYERS: Yeah. Are you saying that Timothy Geithner, the Secretary of the Treasury, and others in the administration, with the banks, are engaged in a cover up to keep us from knowing what went wrong?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Absolutely.
BILL MOYERS: You are.
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Absolutely, because they are scared to death. All right? They’re scared to death of a collapse. They’re afraid that if they admit the truth, that many of the large banks are insolvent. They think Americans are a bunch of cowards, and that we’ll run screaming to the exits. And we won’t rely on deposit insurance. And, by the way, you can rely on deposit insurance. And it’s foolishness. All right? Now, it may be worse than that. You can impute more cynical motives. But I think they are sincerely just panicked about, “We just can’t let the big banks fail.” That’s wrong.
BILL MOYERS: But what might happen, at this point, if in fact they keep from us the true health of the banks?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Well, then the banks will, as they did in Japan, either stay enormously weak, or Treasury will be forced to increasingly absurd giveaways of taxpayer money. We’ve seen how horrific AIG — and remember, they kept secrets from everyone.
BILL MOYERS: A.I.G. did?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: What we’re doing with — no, Treasury and both administrations. The Bush administration and now the Obama administration kept secret from us what was being done with AIG. AIG was being used secretly to bail out favored banks like UBS and like Goldman Sachs. Secretary Paulson’s firm, that he had come from being CEO. It got the largest amount of money. $12.9 billion. And they didn’t want us to know that. And it was only Congressional pressure, and not Congressional pressure, by the way, on Geithner, but Congressional pressure on AIG.
Where Congress said, “We will not give you a single penny more unless we know who received the money.” And, you know, when he was Treasury Secretary, Paulson created a recommendation group to tell Treasury what they ought to do with AIG. And he put Goldman Sachs on it.
BILL MOYERS: Even though Goldman Sachs had a big vested stake.
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Massive stake. And even though he had just been CEO of Goldman Sachs before becoming Treasury Secretary. Now, in most stages in American history, that would be a scandal of such proportions that he wouldn’t be allowed in civilized society.
BILL MOYERS: Yeah, like a conflict of interest, it seems.
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Massive conflict of interests.
BILL MOYERS: So, how did he get away with it?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: I don’t know whether we’ve lost our capability of outrage. Or whether the cover up has been so successful that people just don’t have the facts to react to it.
BILL MOYERS: Who’s going to get the facts?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: We need some chairmen or chairwomen–
BILL MOYERS: In Congress.
WILLIAM K. BLACK: –in Congress, to hold the necessary hearings. And we can blast this out. But if you leave the failed CEOs in place, it isn’t just that they’re terrible business people, though they are. It isn’t just that they lack integrity, though they do. Because they were engaged in these frauds. But they’re not going to disclose the truth about the assets.
BILL MOYERS: And we have to know that, in order to know what?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: To know everything. To know who committed the frauds. Whose bonuses we should recover. How much the assets are worth. How much they should be sold for. Is the bank insolvent, such that we should resolve it in this way? It’s the predicate, right? You need to know the facts to make intelligent decisions. And they’re deliberately leaving in place the people that caused the problem, because they don’t want the facts. And this is not new. The Reagan Administration’s central priority, at all times, during the Savings and Loan crisis, was covering up the losses.
BILL MOYERS: So, you’re saying that people in power, political power, and financial power, act in concert when their own behinds are in the ringer, right?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: That’s right. And it’s particularly a crisis that brings this out, because then the class of the banker says, “You’ve got to keep the information away from the public or everything will collapse. If they understand how bad it is, they’ll run for the exits.”
BILL MOYERS: Yeah, and this week in New York, at this conference, you described this as more than a financial crisis. You called it a moral crisis.
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: Why?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Because it is a fundamental lack of integrity. But also because, if you look back at crises, an economist who is also a presidential appointee, as a regulator in the Savings and Loan industry, right here in New York, Larry White, wrote a book about the Savings and Loan crisis. And he said, you know, one of the most interesting questions is why so few people engaged in fraud? Because objectively, you could have gotten away with it. But only about ten percent of the CEOs, engaged in fraud. So, 90 percent of them were restrained by ethics and integrity. So, far more than law or by F.B.I. agents, it’s our integrity that often prevents the greatest abuses. And what we had in this crisis, instead of the Savings and Loan, is the most elite institutions in America engaging or facilitating fraud.
BILL MOYERS: This wound that you say has been inflicted on American life. The loss of worker’s income. And security and pensions and future happened, because of the misconduct of a relatively few, very well-heeled people, in very well-decorated corporate suites, right?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Right.
BILL MOYERS: It was relatively a handful of people.
WILLIAM K. BLACK: And their ideologies, which swept away regulation. So, in the example, regulation means that cheaters don’t prosper. So, instead of being bad for capitalism, it’s what saves capitalism. “Honest purveyors prosper” is what we want. And you need regulation and law enforcement to be able to do this. The tragedy of this crisis is it didn’t need to happen at all.
BILL MOYERS: When you wake in the middle of the night, thinking about your work, what do you make of that? What do you tell yourself?
WILLIAM K. BLACK: There’s a saying that we took great comfort in. It’s actually by the Dutch, who were fighting this impossible war for independence against what was then the most powerful nation in the world, Spain. And their motto was, “It is not necessary to hope in order to persevere.”
Now, going forward, get rid of the people that have caused the problems. That’s a pretty straightforward thing, as well. Why would we keep CEOs and CFOs and other senior officers, that caused the problems? That’s facially nuts. That’s our current system.
So stop that current system. We’re hiding the losses, instead of trying to find out the real losses. Stop that, because you need good information to make good decisions, right? Follow what works instead of what’s failed. Start appointing people who have records of success, instead of records of failure. That would be another nice place to start. There are lots of things we can do. Even today, as late as it is. Even though they’ve had a terrible start to the administration. They could change, and they could change within weeks. And by the way, the folks who are the better regulators, they paid their taxes. So, you can get them through the vetting process a lot quicker.
BILL MOYERS: William Black, thank you very much for being with me on the Journal.
WILLIAM K. BLACK: Thank you so much.
William K. Black suspects that it was more than greed and incompetence that brought down the U.S. financial sector and plunged the economy in recession — it was fraud. And he would know. When it comes to financial shenanigans, William K. Black, the former senior regulator who cracked down on banks during the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s, has seen pretty much everything.
Now an Associate Professor of Economics and Law at the University of Missouri, William K. Black tells Bill Moyers on the JOURNAL that the tool at the very center of mortgage collapse, creating triple-A rated bonds out of “liars’ loans” — loans issued without verifying income, assets or employment — was a fraud, and the banks knew it.
And while there is no law against liars’ loans, Black points out that there are, “many laws against fraud, and liars’ loans are fraudulent. […] They involve deceit, which is the essence of fraud.”
Only the scale of the scandal is new. A single bank, IndyMac, lost more money than the entire Savings and Loan Crisis. The difference between now and then, explains Black, is a drastic reduction in regulation and oversight, “We now know what happens when you destroy regulation. You get the biggest financial calamity of anybody under the age of 80.”
William K. Black, author of THE BEST WAY TO ROB A BANK IS TO OWN ONE, teaches economics and law at the University of Missouri — Kansas City (UMKC). He was the Executive Director of the Institute for Fraud Prevention from 2005-2007. He has taught previously at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin and at Santa Clara University, where he was also the distinguished scholar in residence for insurance law and a visiting scholar at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.
Black was litigation director of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, deputy director of the FSLIC, SVP and general counsel of the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco, and senior deputy chief counsel, Office of Thrift Supervision. He was deputy director of the National Commission on Financial Institution Reform, Recovery and Enforcement.
Black developed the concept of “control fraud” — frauds in which the CEO or head of state uses the entity as a “weapon.” Control frauds cause greater financial losses than all other forms of property crime combined. He recently helped the World Bank develop anti-corruption initiatives and served as an expert for OFHEO in its enforcement action against Fannie Mae’s former senior management.
Published April 3, 2009. Guest photos by Robin Holland
Barack Obama, Iraq and the Big Lie March 1, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in About Barack Obama, About War, Barack Obama, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: Barack Obama, Bechtel, big lie, Blackwater, cheney, corporate america, counter terrorism, democracy, dynacorp, erc alterman, first gulf war, George Bush, gulf war, gulf war 1991, haliburton, Iraq, iraq combat troops, iraq military occupation, iraq redeployment, iraq transition, Iraq war, Iraqi people, jeremy scahill, joel hirschhorn, judge judy, kuwait, McCain, Middle East, military industrial complex, Nancy Pelosi, oil, phyllis bennis, republican right, roger hollander, saddam hussein, SOFA, south korea, status of forces agreement, tyranny, us embassy baghdad, xe
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By Roger Hollander, March 1, 2009, www.rogerhollander.wordpress.com
“Don’t piss on me and try to tell me it’s raining”
Does it matter whether it is a moral and intellectual imbecile like George W. Bush or a brilliant and charismatic intellectual like Barack Obama who employ the Big Lie as a tactic to explain and justify the unjustifiable?
In a posting that appeared in towardfreedom.com on February 18, Joel S. Hirschhorn writes, “Compared to rioting Europeans, Americans seem like docile, drugged out sheep … mesmerized by melodic rhetoric of political messiah Barack Obama.”
(http://towardfreedom.com/home/content/view/1529/1/) (italics added)
In an ironic and tragic twist of fate, it now appears that Barack Obama’s mesmerizing and melodic rhetoric has turned out to be a two-edged sword. The same magic timbre that inspired and motivated millions of America to work day and night for his election in order to end America’s disastrous military adventures in the Middle East is now being put to use to give credibility to the Bush/Cheney worldview of the Iraq War and to thwart the desires, interests and welfare of those very same millions. The delivery hasn’t changed, but God help us, look at the content (which is what this article is all about).
In an article entitled “War Is Over (IF You Want It)” that appears in the current edition of The Nation magazine (http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090316/alterman), Eric Alterman calls attention to the radical Republican right strategy of defining the fiasco in Iraq as a “victory.” He cites, for example, an editorial that appeared in the Wall Street Journal that quotes Bush speech writer Marc Thiessen, “As Mr. Bush leaves office, Iraq is a unified and free country, and our enemies there have suffered a devastating defeat. If his successor does not squander that victory, a free Iraq will one day be to the Middle East what a free South Korea has been to Asia.” (this parallels the same kind of Big Lie that the radical right has propagated about the Vietnam War, that it could have been won if only the politicians had given the military a free hand – to nuke Hanoi presumably).
Alterman goes on to cite other neocons in a similar vein and suggests that this is a conscious and concentrated strategy the purpose of which is to set up President Obama up for failure. If that is indeed the case, then Obama seems to be willingly and blithely walking into the trap.
In his speech given on Friday, February 27 at marine Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, Obama both affirms the neocon revisionist history of the Iraq invasion and occupation and lies blatantly to the American public about the proposed withdrawal.
First the latter. Obama: “Let me say this as plainly as I can: by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end …. And under the Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government, I intend to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011.”
A bald faced lie.
Writing in the journal Foreign Policy in Focus on Friday, February 27, (http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/5910), Phyllis Bennis exposes Obama’s dissimulation about the up to 50,000 allegedly non-combatant troops “left behind.” Leaving aside the question of why that huge number would be required to “train,equip and advise” (one is reminded of the “advisors” in Vietnam), which even Nancy Pelosi has questioned, Bennis refers to a December New York Times article “describing how military planners believe Obama’s goal of pulling out combat troops ‘could be accomplished at least in part by re-labeling some units, so that those currently counted as combat troops could be ‘re-missioned,’ their efforts redefined as training and support for the Iraqis.’” She adds, “That would mean a retreat to the lies and deception that characterized this war during Bush years — something President Obama promised to leave behind. It would also mean military resistance in Iraq would continue, leading to more Iraqi and U.S. casualties.”
Along with AlterNet’s Jeremy Scahill (“All Troops Out By 2011? Not So Fast; Why Obama’s Iraq Speech Deserves a Second Look,” (http://www.alternet.org/waroniraq/129362/all_troops_out_by_2011_not_so_fast%3B_why_obama%27s_iraq_speech_deserves_a_second_look/), Bettis shows how the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which was adopted by the Iraqi government but never ratified by the United States, and which calls for all U.S. troops to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011, is full of loopholes that the Pentagon and presumably the President are ready, willing and able, to employ when the time comes for the helicopters to be evacuating the remaining troops a la Vietnam (in other words, it ain’t gonna happen).
Obama himself (inadvertently, I presume) lets it slip into the speech where he states that he will “retain a transitional force … conducting targeted counter-terrorism missions.” Such missions can hardly be characterized as anything other than combat missions. He also telegraphs to both the American people via his warning to the Iraq resistance what his ace-in-the-loophole will be: “But our enemies should be left with no doubt: this plan gives our military the forces and the flexibility they need to support our Iraqi partners, and to succeed.” It’s that flexibility that we knee-jerk peace-mongers worry about.
Sins of omission can be as deceptive, disingenuous and morally corrupt as sins of commission. As Bettis points out, Obama neglected to mention the future use of air and naval force in Iraq, the disposition of the more than fifty military bases in Iraq, or the future status of the enormous numbers of mercenaries and contractors (e.g. Dyncorp, Bechtel, and Blackwater, now Xe). Nor did refer to the city within a city that is the United States Embassy in Baghdad, the largest embassy in the history of humankind of which you can bet that it wasn’t built to become redundant in a period of a couple of years. Come December 31, 2111, all logic and experience tell us that United States military presence in Iraq will continue to be substantial. Obama does himself and the nation a disservice by suggesting otherwise.
As for the Bush, Cheney, neocon, and now apparently Obama fairytale version of the United States involvement in Iraq, it is probably true that it is the only one that would have been palatable for obvious reasons to the marines at Camp Lejeune, not to mention the neo-Fascist right that has ruled the country for the past eight years. But to speak before the country and the entire world and characterize the United States invasion and occupation of Iraq, which has been responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths, untold misery for millions and the virtual destruction of the Iraq infrastructure, as some kind of a noble venture is to contort reality into nothing less than a Big Lie which can only serve to justify past atrocity and foreshadow future ongoing bloodshed and destruction.
Obama: “We Americans have offered our most precious resource – our young men and women – to work with you to rebuild what was destroyed by despotism; to root out our common enemies; and to seek peace and prosperity for our children and grandchildren, and for yours.” Bush could not have said it any better (which is probably why McCain is salivating as we speak).
The Biggest Lie of all comes toward the end of Obama’s speech: “And so I want to be very clear: We sent our troops to Iraq to do away with Saddam Hussein’s regime …We kept our troops in Iraq to help establish a sovereign government …And we will leave the Iraqi people with a hard-earned opportunity to live a better life …”
Alleging that “we sent our troops to Iraq to do away with Saddam Hussein’s regime” contains the truth within a lie. In making the statement, Obama incredibly admits that the United States government violated the most fundamental precept of the United Nations Charter and international law, to wit, an unprovoked attack on a sovereign nation. But does the President expect the American people and the world to forget about the intentionally false information about nuclear materials and weapons of mass destruction that was fed to the American people and world community as the justification for the invasion in the first place? In this instance Obama’s Big lie serves to reinforce the Original Big Lie of the Bush administration. The growing demand for prosecutorial accountability with respect to Bush and Company include, we should remember, not only torture, rendition, illegal wiretapping, etc. but also the crime of lying to the American public and Congress about the grounds for the invasion.
(To put matters into an even broader historical context, I refer readers to Nora Eisenberg’s excellent piece in AlterNet.com where she documents the Big Lie technique that was used to justify the first Gulf War in 1991 where according to a United Nations report the United States Air Force bombed Iraq “back into the Dark Ages.” “Obama to Announce Iraq Troop Withdrawal,”
As for establishing a sovereign government and leaving the Iraqi people the opportunity to have a better life, while the jury may still be out on those counts, the evidence we have to date flies in the face of such empty rhetorical wishful thinking.
Some time ago Bush and the neocons began, ominously, comparing Iraq with South Korea, where the U.S. has had a “successful” military presence for over 50 years. They neglect, of course, to note the difference, to wit, that South Korea was a military ally of the United States against the North Korean invasion, whereas the U.S. has been bombing the life out of Iraq since 1991 and through its unlawful invasion provoked a near civil war within the country that has cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis? Will this South Korea paradigm fiction be the next straw that Obama will need to grasp in order to justify occupation in perpetuity?
There are two other critical concepts, which are central to the forces that were behind the original invasion and which impulse the continued military occupation, that Obama neglected to mention. One of them is “war profiteering.” Wipe out the infrastructure, and then as a pretext for reconstructing it, give billions in untendered contracts to the likes of Dick Cheney’s Haliburton. And that is not to mention the corporate ghouls who manufacture our weapons of mass destruction.
The other concept, however, is one that virtually every American, not to mention the rest of the world, knows in her or his heart to have been, is, and will continue to be the single most – if not the only – motivating force behind the U.S. military adventure in Iraq. It can be found in the original but quickly discarded acronym for the mission: Operation Iraqi Liberation.
Further Deconstruction of President Obama’s February 27 “Withdrawal from Iraq” Speech
Obama: (to the military) “You have fought against tyranny …”
Deconstruction: Those soldiers who have fought tyranny are living in Canada.
Obama: (to the military) “You have fought against … disorder.”
Deconstruction: Disorder created not only by the current invasion and occupation but also by 19 years of U.S. bombing and economic blockade. Eisenberg: “We never learned that the government’s goals had changed from expelling Saddam’s forces from Kuwait to destroying Iraq’s infrastructure. Or what a country with a destroyed infrastructure looks like — with most of its electricity, telecommunications, sewage system, dams, railroads and bridges blown away.”
Obama: “Violence has been reduced substantially from the horrific sectarian killing of 2006 and 2007.”
Deconstruction: Sectarian killing and violence that the U.S. invasion and occupation provoked and by which Saddam Hussein’s atrocities pale in comparison. U.S. inspired violence and killing 2003-2006 conveniently ignored.
Obama: “Al Qaeda in Iraq has been dealt a serious blow by our troops and Iraq’s Security Forces …”
Deconstruction: And has been handed a recruiting opportunity that will dramatically inflate the ranks of revenge-motivated terrorists who will plague us for decades or more.
Obama: “… a transition to full Iraqi responsibility … an Iraq that is sovereign, stable and self-reliant … The United States pursues no claim on your territory or your resources.”
Deconstruction: An Iraq that is occupied by the U.S. military in perpetuity, in order to ensure the protection of U.S. interests in the region’s natural resources and to ensure the “election” of government’s that maintain Iraq as a client state of the U.S.
Obama: “There are those … who will insist that Iraq’s differences cannot be reconciled without more killing.”
Deconstruction: We don’t insist on more killing we just do it. Bennis: “And what if the reduction in ground troops is answered with an escalation of U.S. air power? The U.S. appears to be planning to control the skies over Iraq for years to come. That means even more Iraqi civilians being killed by the U.S. military. We need the withdraw all air and naval forces too — something the SOFA agreement mentions, but we have yet to hear anything from the Obama administration. The U.S. has been conducting continuous overflights and regular bombing of Iraq since January 1991 – isn’t 18 years of air war enough?”
Obama: “And as long as I am your Commander-in-Chief, I promise you that I will only send you into harm’s way when it is absolutely necessary …”
Deconstruction: Necessary to what and to whose ends?
Obama: “What we will not do is let the pursuit of the perfect stand in the way of achievable goals.”
Deconstruction: Forget such wishy-washy idealist notions such as actual peace and justice.
Obama: (with respect to) “millions of displaced Iraqis … America has … a moral responsibility – to act.”
Deconstruction: This is another Obama slip up: America has no “moral responsibility” to help those refugees. It was Saddam who made us create all those refugees. Right? We do it out of the goodness of our gas-guzzling hearts.
Obama: “… the United States of America – a nation that exists only because free men and women have bled for it from the beaches of Normandy to the deserts of Anbar; from the mountains of Korea to the streets of Kandahar.”
Deconstruction: Obama gives us jingoistic triumphalistic patriotism, when the American people hunger for a truthful acknowledgement of the past crimes.
One has to ask the question why the entire sub-text, not to mention the practical implications, of Obama’s speech was addressed directly to the radical Republican right, corporate America, and the military-industrial complex.
Tsunami Of Populist Rage Coursing Through America February 8, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis.
Tags: AIG, Alston & Bird, bank rescue, bob dole, ceo bonus, citygroup, crony capitalism, deregulation, derivative markets, Economic Crisis, economic meltdown, frank rich, Goldman Sachs, great depression, Hank Paulson, health care reform, income inequality, job loss, Joe the Plumber, Larry Summers, McCain, ordinary americans, Palin, paul volcker, Pepsi and Viagra, Phil Gramm, president obama, public anger, Rahm Emanuel, retirement savings, revolving door, Robert Reich, roger hollander, salary caps, slumdog milionaire, tarp, tax delinquency, tax evasion, timothy geithner, tom daschle, treasury secretary, unemployment
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In New York, editorial pages on both ends of the political spectrum, The Wall Street Journal and The Times, called for Daschle to step down. But not The Washington Post. In a frank expression of the capital’s isolation from the country, it thought Daschle could still soldier on even though “ordinary Americans who pay their taxes may well wonder why Mr. Obama can’t find cabinet secretaries who do the same.”
As Jon Stewart might say, oh those pesky ordinary Americans!
In reality, Daschle’s tax shortfall, an apparently honest mistake, was only a red flag for the larger syndrome that much of Washington still doesn’t get. It was the source, not the amount, of his unreported income that did him in. The car and driver advertised his post-Senate immersion in the greedy bipartisan culture of entitlement and crony capitalism that both helped create our economic meltdown (on Wall Street) and failed to police it (in Washington). Daschle might well have been the best choice to lead health-care reform. But his honorable public record was instantly vaporized by tales of his cozy, lucrative relationships with the very companies he’d have to adjudicate as health czar.
Few articulate this ethical morass better than Obama, who has repeatedly vowed to “close the revolving door” between business and government and end our “two sets of standards, one for powerful people and one for ordinary folks.” But his tough new restrictions on lobbyists (already compromised by inexplicable exceptions) and porous plan for salary caps on bailed-out bankers are only a down payment on this promise, even if they are strictly enforced.
The new president who vowed to change Washington’s culture will have to fight much harder to keep from being co-opted by it instead. There are simply too many major players in the Obama team who are either alumni of the financial bubble’s insiders’ club or of the somnambulant governmental establishment that presided over the catastrophe.
This includes Timothy Geithner, the Treasury secretary. Washington hands repeatedly observe how “lucky” Geithner was to be the first cabinet nominee with an I.R.S. problem, not the second, and therefore get confirmed by Congress while the getting was good. Whether or not this is “lucky” for him, it is hardly lucky for Obama. Geithner should have left ahead of Daschle.
Now more than ever, the president must inspire confidence and stave off panic. As Friday’s new unemployment figures showed, the economy kept plummeting while Congress postured. Though Obama is a genius at building public support, he is not Jesus and he can’t do it all alone. On Monday, it’s Geithner who will unveil the thorniest piece of the economic recovery plan to date — phase two of a bank rescue. The public face of this inevitably controversial package is now best known as the guy who escaped the tax reckoning that brought Daschle down.
Even before the revelation of his tax delinquency, the new Treasury secretary was a dubious choice to make this pitch. Geithner was present at the creation of the first, ineffectual and opaque bank bailout — TARP, today the most radioactive acronym in American politics. Now the double standard that allowed him to wriggle out of his tax mess is a metaphor for the double standard of the policy he must sell: Most “ordinary Americans” still don’t understand why banks got billions while nothing was done (and still isn’t being done) to bail out those who lost their homes, jobs and retirement savings.
As with Daschle, the political problems caused by Geithner’s tax infraction are secondary to the larger questions raised by his past interaction with the corporations now under his purview. To his credit, Geithner, like Obama, has devoted his career to public service, not buckraking. But he still has not satisfactorily explained why, as president of the New York Fed, he failed in his oversight of the teetering Wall Street institutions. Nor has he told us why, in his first major move in his new job, he secured a waiver from Obama to hire a Goldman Sachs lobbyist as his chief of staff. Nor, in his confirmation hearings, did he prove any more credible than the Bush Treasury secretary, the Goldman Sachs alumnus Hank Paulson, in explaining why Lehman Brothers was allowed to fail while A.I.G. and Citigroup were spared.
Citigroup had one highly visible asset that Lehman did not: Robert Rubin, the former Clinton Treasury secretary who sat passively (though lucratively) in its executive suite as Citi gorged on reckless risk. Geithner, as a Rubin protégé from the Clinton years, might have recused himself from rescuing Citi, which so far has devoured $45 billion in bailout money.
Key players in the Obama economic team beyond Geithner are also tied to Rubin or Citigroup or both, from Larry Summers, the administration’s top economic adviser, to Gary Gensler, the newly named nominee to run the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and a Treasury undersecretary in the Clinton administration. Back then, Summers and Gensler joined hands with Phil Gramm to ward off regulation of the derivative markets that have since brought the banking system to ruin. We must take it on faith that they have subsequently had judgment transplants.
Obama’s brilliant appointees, we keep being told, are irreplaceable. But as de Gaulle said, “The cemeteries of the world are full of indispensable men.” You have to wonder if this team is really a meritocracy or merely a stacked deck. Not only did Rubin himself serve on the Obama economic transition team, but two of the transition’s headhunters were Michael Froman, Rubin’s chief of staff at Treasury and later a Citigroup executive, and James S. Rubin, an investor who is Robert Rubin’s son.
A welcome outlier to this club is Paul Volcker, the former Federal Reserve chairman chosen to direct Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board. But Bloomberg reported last week that Summers is already freezing Volcker out of many of his deliberations on economic policy. This sounds like the arrogant Summers who was fired as president of Harvard, not the chastened new Summers advertised at the time of his appointment. A team of rivals is not his thing.
Americans have had enough of such arrogance, whether in the public or private sectors, whether Democrat or Republican. Voters turned on Sarah Palin not just because of her manifest unfitness for office but because her claims of being a regular hockey mom were contradicted by her Evita shopping sprees. John McCain’s sanctification of Joe the Plumber (himself a tax delinquent) never could be squared with his inability to remember how many houses he owned. A graphic act of entitlement also stripped naked that faux populist John Edwards.
The public’s revulsion isn’t mindless class hatred. As Obama said on Wednesday of his fellow citizens: “We don’t disparage wealth. We don’t begrudge anybody for achieving success.” But we do know that the system has been fixed for too long. The gaping income inequality of the past decade — the top 1 percent of America’s earners received more than 20 percent of the total national income — has not been seen since the run-up to the Great Depression.
This is why “Slumdog Millionaire,” which pits a hard-working young man in Mumbai against a corrupt nexus of money and privilege, has become America’s movie of the year. As Robert Reich, the former Clinton labor secretary, wrote after Daschle’s fall, Americans “resent people who appear to be living high off a system dominated by insiders with the right connections.”
The neo-Hoover Republicans in Congress, who think government can put Americans back to work with corporate tax cuts but without any “spending,” are tone deaf to this rage. Obama is not. It’s a good thing he’s getting out of Washington this week to barnstorm the country about the crisis at hand. Once back home, he’s got to make certain that the insiders in his own White House know who’s the boss.
Tags: bailout, bailout fraud, Dennis Kucinich, Economic Crisis, harry reid, McCain, president obama, roger hollander, tarps, taxpayer
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February 2nd, 2009 | Banker Bailouts
By: D. H.
Williams @ 10:34 PM – EST
America continues to be fleeced by big business and politicians from Harry Reid to John McCain and Barack Obama. Both parties are eager to give billions in your money to the financial interests who support them in return.
Banks have received billions and perhaps trillions (No one is really sure of the amount since details are kept secret.) of dollars of U.S. taxpayers money creating a debt that will take generations to pay off and most certainly will cause currency deflation in the near future. And what have the banksters done so far with their windfall? Spent millions on super bowl parties and private jets.
And now even as the majority in both parties negotiate to give the banksters billions more only a few lawmakers willing to speak out. One of those who has opposed these disastrous bailouts is Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH).
“We shouldn’t be approving any more of these TARPS. We should force this economic system to come to terms with their speculative practices. With their misspending. With their bad investments.” Kucinich continues, “This is a fraud that’s being perpetrated on the American taxpayer on a scale that is unprecedented in the history of our country.”
Happy New Year December 31, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Political Commentary.
Tags: 2008, Afghanistan, AIG, bailout, bernanke, Bush, cia, citygroup, Clinton, Economic Crisis, fammie may, fredie mac, hamas, happy new year, human rights, Iraq, McCain, Middle East, Obama, pakistan, Palin, Pentagon, roger hollander, spitzer, torture, wal-mart, Wall Street, war, waterborading, william rivers pitt
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A Very Bad Year
Wednesday 31 December 2008, www.truthout.org
by: William Rivers Pitt, t r u t h o u t | Columnist
– Eugene O’Neill
At least 43 people were killed in Baghdad when bombs exploded in two marketplaces, the US military admitted accidentally killing nine civilians south of Baghdad and George W. Bush introduced a $3.1 trillion budget on top of a near-record deficit of $410 billion. Tornados killed 57 people in the Southern US, a $158 billion economic stimulus package failed to pass a procedural vote, but a subsequent $168 billion stimulus package was successfully passed. Hamas launched 20 rockets into Israel, a suicide bomber killed 20 people at a political rally in Pakistan and a car bomb killed 25 people in Iraq. The US Congress voted in favor of granting immunity to the telecommunications companies involved in the NSA surveillance scandal, voted against letting the CIA use “waterboarding” while interrogating prisoners and voted to hold Bush administration officials Harriet Miers and Joshua Bolten in contempt regarding the fired US attorneys scandal. Obama won a bunch of states, Clinton won a bunch of other states and Ralph Nader got into the race. Roy Scheider and William F. Buckley died. Twenty-nine American soldiers died in Iraq, one American soldier died in Afghanistan, and that’s not nearly all that happened, but that’s some of what happened in February of 2008.
A US submarine flipped at least one missile into Somalia, two bombs killed 54 people in Baghdad, a bomb was set off outside a US military recruiting center in Times Square and the US began talks with Iraqi officials about establishing the long-term presence of US forces in that country. New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer was implicated in the investigation of a prostitution ring and resigned his office, the US Congress failed to override Bush’s veto of the anti-waterboarding legislation and Adm. William Fallon resigned as commander of the US Central Command over disagreements with the Bush administration regarding their posture towards Iran. The value of the US dollar dropped to its lowest point in 13 years, Bear Stearns received emergency funding from JPMorgan Chase and was later bought out by Chase for pennies on the dollar. Obama won some states, Clinton won some other states and McCain won enough states to become the presumed GOP nominee for president. Arthur C. Clark died, Richard Widmark died and Dith Pran died. Thirty-nine American soldiers died in Iraq, eight American soldiers died in Afghanistan and the total number of US soldiers killed in Iraq passed 4,000. That’s not nearly all that happened, but that’s some of what happened in March of 2008.
A suicide bomber attacked a checkpoint in Mosul and killed seven people, the US State Department renewed their security contract with Blackwater despite several investigations into that company’s involvement in the massacre of Iraqi civilians, gunmen kidnapped 42 university students in Mosul, all of whom were later released unharmed. Twenty people were killed in Sadr City clashes, rockets fell into the US Green Zone in Baghdad, two bombings in Baquba and Ramadi killed 60 people and the massive $736 million US embassy in Iraq opened for business. The Bush administration brought back the one-year Treasury note to combat the onrushing recession, real estate prices plummeted 12.7 percent and consumer confidence dropped again. Clinton won Pennsylvania but lost Mark Penn, the GOP lost Alan Keyes and John McCain kept on rolling. Charlton Heston died and Albert Hoffman died. Fifty-two American soldiers died in Iraq, five American soldiers died in Afghanistan, and that’s not nearly all that happened, but that’s some of what happened in April of 2008.
The Fed auctioned off $24.12 billion in Treasury securities to try and blunt the impact of the subprime mortgage crisis, crude oil futures reached $130 for the first time in history, US home prices dropped 14.1 percent and the US Congress approved a $300 billion loan to help homeowners avoid foreclosure. Cyclone Nargis killed nearly 30,000 people in Burma, dozens were killed and wounded in Iraq during fighting between Iraqi militias and US forces, suicide bombers killed dozens more in and around Baghdad and an independent investigation into Pentagon spending on Iraq contracts found that 95 percent of the billions of dollars spent could not be accounted for. Obama won some states, Clinton won some other states and the Democratic primary season inched closer to a final conclusion. Willis Lamb and Sydney Pollack died. Nineteen American soldiers died in Iraq, 17 American soldiers died in Afghanistan, and that’s not nearly all that happened, but that’s some of what happened in May of 2008.
A suicide bomber killed eight people outside the Danish embassy in Pakistan, US forces accidentally killed ten Pakistani soldiers in an airstrike, two bombs killed 12 people at a train station in Algeria and a car bomb killed 51 people at a bus station in Baghdad. Wachovia fired its CEO over the subprime crisis, AIG fired its CEO over the subprime crisis, General Motors announced the closing of several factories and the elimination of 10,000 jobs, two Bear Stearns executives were arrested on criminal charges and the price of a barrel of crude oil spiked $11 in one day. A bill to lower greenhouse gas emissions died in Congress after being successfully filibustered by Senate Republicans, and flooding in Wisconsin, Indiana and Iowa killed ten people. Clinton officially conceded defeat, making Obama the presumptive Democratic nominee for president. Bo Diddley died, Tim Russert died and George Carlin died. Twenty-nine American soldiers died in Iraq, 28 American soldiers died in Afghanistan, and that’s not nearly all that happened, but that’s some of what happened in June of 2008.
Starbucks closed 600 coffee shops in the US, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke assured Congress that neither Fannie May nor Freddie Mac were in danger of failing and GOP Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska was indicted. The Pentagon extended the 24th Marine Expeditionary Force’s tour of duty in Afghanistan, an explosion near the Red Mosque in Pakistan killed ten people, a car bomb killed 41 people outside the Indian embassy in Afghanistan, another suicide bomber killed 18 people near a Pakistani police station, a suicide bomber killed 35 people in Baquba and Iran test-fired nine long- and medium-range missiles. A global study of coral reefs determined that one-third of the world’s coral-building species faced extinction, wildfires in California forced 10,000 people to evacuate and George W. Bush lifted the ban on offshore oil drilling. Jesse Helms died, Tony Snow died and Estelle Getty died. Thirteen American soldiers died in Iraq, 20 American soldiers died in Afghanistan, and that’s not nearly all that happened, but that’s some of what happened in July of 2008.
US unemployment rose to 5.7 percent, the highest level in four years, 12 people were killed when a minibus exploded in Baghdad and 21 street cleaners were killed by an explosion in Somalia. The Georgia-Ossetia conflict erupted, thousands of civilians were killed and GOP presidential candidate John McCain declared all Americans to be Georgians. Taliban fighters forced the retreat of Pakistani soldiers from the Afghan border and later attacked a US base in the Khost province. The US inked a missile shield deal with Poland, causing Russia to declare Poland a “legitimate military target” that had “opened itself to a nuclear strike.” Conservative columnist Robert Novak retired, former Democratic Senator and vice-presidential candidate John Edwards admitted to cheating on his cancer-stricken wife, the Democratic National Convention nominated Barack Obama for president and GOP presidential candidate John McCain chose Sarah Palin to be his running mate. Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes died. Twenty-three American soldiers died in Iraq, 22 American soldiers died in Afghanistan, and that’s not nearly all that happened, but that’s some of what happened in August of 2008.
The Republican National Convention nominated John McCain and Sarah Palin for president and vice president and Jack Abramoff was sentenced to four years in prison for his role in the US lobbying scandal. The US economy lost 84,000 jobs, the US government took Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into conservatorship, Washington Mutual fired its CEO over the subprime mortgage crisis and HP announced they were eliminating nearly 25,000 jobs. In the space of 48 hours, AIG asked the US government for a $40 billion loan to save it from collapse, Bank of America bought Merrill Lynch, Citibank acquired Wachovia, Lehman Brothers filed Chapter 11 and the Dow dropped more than 500 points. The US government loaned AIG more than $80 billion, a car bomb in northern Pakistan killed more than 30 people, video surfaced implicating the US military in the bombing deaths of more than 90 civilians in Afghanistan, a car bomb killed 32 people in Iraq, five explosions in India killed 30 people, the Marriott Hotel in Pakistan was bombed and Hurricane Ike made its deadly landfall in Texas. David Foster Wallace and Paul Newman died. Twenty-five American soldiers died in Iraq, 27 American soldiers died in Afghanistan, and that’s not nearly all that happened, but that’s some of what happened in September of 2008.
The Senate approved a massive $700 billion bailout plan aimed at salvaging the American economy, Bush signed it, the Dow dropped 800 points in its single largest loss on record and retail sales plummeted for the third straight month. A senior British military commander was quoted as saying that victory in Afghanistan would be impossible to achieve, a suicide bomber killed 27 people in Pakistan, a suicide bomber killed 25 people in Sri Lanka, the Taliban executed 30 people they had kidnapped in Afghanistan, a series of bomb blasts killed 66 people and wounded nearly 500 in India, North Korea threatened to turn South Korea into “debris” and US forces attacked a civilian building in Syria. The NSA was accused of listening in on thousands of telephone conversations between Americans at home and Americans abroad, including conversations between US soldiers serving overseas and their families and two white supremacists were arrested for plotting to assassinate Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. Tony Hillerman and Studs Terkel died. Fourteen American soldiers died in Iraq, 16 American soldiers died in Afghanistan, and that’s not nearly all that happened, but that’s some of what happened in October of 2008.
The Alaskan legislature concluded that Gov. Sarah Palin acted improperly in the “Troopergate” scandal, which mattered little after the McCain/Palin GOP presidential ticket was soundly thrashed at the polls by the Democratic presidential ticket of Barack Obama and Joe Biden. The passage of Proposition 8 ended same-sex marriages in California and inspired protests by millions of people in 300 cities. An anonymous hold by a GOP senator disrupted the mandated oversight of the $700 billion bailout deal, an explosion on a Minibus killed 11 people in Russia, five Guantanamo detainees were ordered released by a US judge and terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India’s financial heartland, killed hundreds of people. Unemployment levels in the US reached their highest level in 14 years, a second bailout of AIG cost taxpayers an additional $150 billion, retail chain Circuit City filed for Chapter 11 and the euro zone entered the first official recession in its history. Citigroup announced the elimination of 75,000 jobs and got $32 billion from the US government, Pepsi announced 3,000 layoffs and representatives from the “Big Three” automakers began pushing for a bailout of their crippled industry. Two people were shot to death in a Toys ‘R Us in California and a Wal-Mart employee was trampled to death in New York on the first official day of the Christmas shopping season. Michael Crichton and Mitch Mitchell died. Seventeen American soldiers died in Iraq, one American soldier died in Afghanistan, and that’s not nearly all that happened, but that’s some of what happened in November of 2008.
GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss won re-election, O.J. Simpson was sentenced to prison and Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested for his role in a vast pay-for-play bribery scheme involving, among other things, the open Senate seat recently vacated by president-elect Obama. The Tribune Company filed for Chapter 11, Sony announced the elimination of 8,000 jobs and the closure of 10 percent of its manufacturing facilities, the “Big Three” automotive industry bailout staggered to and fro in Washington, hundreds of thousands in New England lost electrical power for more than a week after a massive ice storm struck the region and the US consumer price index fell to its lowest point since the Great Depression. A suicide bomber killed ten people in Afghanistan, a bomb in Pakistan killed 17 people and rioters turned Athens into a war zone. A suicide bomber killed 48 people in Iraq, four Royal Marines were killed in Afghanistan, Pakistan deployed thousands of troops along the Indian border amid rising tensions after the Mumbai attacks, Israel launched a massive attack against Hamas and an Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at George W. Bush. Odetta died, Bettie Page died, Deep Throat died, Harold Pinter died, Eartha Kitt died and Freddie Hubbard died. Twelve American soldiers died in Iraq, three American soldiers died in Afghanistan, and that’s not nearly all that happened, but that’s some of what happened in December of 2008.
Happy New Year. Who else needs a drink?
William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: “War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn’t Want You to Know” and “The Greatest Sedition Is Silence.” His newest book, “House of Ill Repute: Reflections on War, Lies, and America’s Ravaged Reputation,” is now available from PoliPointPress
Tags: Abu Ghraib, al kahtani, bin Laden, christmas, constitution, Dick Cheney, dictatorship, enhanced interrogation, geneva conventions, George Bush, Guantanamo, Iraq, jonathan fredland, justice, McCain, nixon, Obama, pinochet, roger hollander, rule of law, rumsfeld, sere, Tony Blair, torture, war cirmes, waterboarding
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www.truthout.com, Christmas Day 2008
24 December 2008
by: Jonathan Freedland, The Guardian UK
Heinous crimes are now synonymous with this US administration. If it isn’t held to account, what does that say about us?
‘Tis the night before Christmas and the season of goodwill. The mood is forgiving. Our faces warm with mulled wine, our tummies full, we’re meant to slump in the armchair, look back on the year just gone and count our blessings – woozily agreeing to put our troubles behind us.
As in families, so in the realm of public and international affairs. And this December that feels especially true. The “war on terror” that dominated much of the decade seems to be heading towards a kind of conclusion. George Bush will leave office in a matter of weeks and British troops will leave Iraq a few months later. The first, defining phase of the conflict that began on 9/11 – the war of Bush, Tony Blair and Osama bin Laden – is about to slip from the present to the past tense. Bush and Blair will be gone, with only Bin Laden still in post. The urge to move on is palpable.
You can sense it in the valedictory interviews Bush and Dick Cheney are conducting on their way out. They’re looking to the verdict of history now, Cheney telling the Washington Times last week: “I myself am personally persuaded that this president and this administration will look very good 20 or 30 years down the road.” The once raging arguments of the current era are about to fade, the lead US protagonists heading off to their respective ranches in the west, the rights and wrongs of their decisions in office to be weighed not in the hot arena of politics, but in the cool seminar rooms of the academy.
Not so fast.
Yes, the new year would get off to a more soothing start if we could all agree to draw a line and move on. But it would be wrong. First, because we cannot hope to avoid repeating the errors of the last eight years unless they are subject to a full accounting. (It is for that reason Britain needs its own full, unconstrained inquiry into the Iraq war.) Second, because a crucial principle, one that goes to the very heart of the American creed, is at stake. And third, because this is not solely about the judgment of history. It may be about the judgment of the courts – specifically those charged with punishing war crimes.
Less than a fortnight ago, in the news graveyard of a Friday afternoon, the armed services committee of the US Senate released a bipartisan report – with none other than John McCain as its co-author – into the American use of torture against those held in the war on terror. It dismissed entirely the notion that the horrors of Abu Ghraib could be put down to “a few bad apples”. Instead it laid bare, in forensic detail, the trail of memos and instructions that led directly to the then defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld.
The report was the fruit of 18 months of work, involving some 70 interviews. Most of it is classified, but even the 29-page published summary makes horrifying reading. It shows how the most senior figures in the Bush administration discussed, and sought legal fig leaves for, practices that plainly amounted to torture. They were techniques devised in a training programme known as Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape or SERE, that aimed to teach elite American soldiers how to endure torture should they fall into the hands of pitiless enemies. The SERE techniques were partly modelled on the brutal methods used by the Chinese against US prisoners during the Korean war. Yet Rumsfeld ruled that these same techniques should be “reverse engineered”, so that Americans would learn not how to endure them – but how to inflict them. Which they then did, at Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib and beyond.
The Senate report cites the memorandums requesting permission to use “stress positions, exploitation of detainee fears (such as fear of dogs), removal of clothing, hooding, deprivation of light and sound, and the so-called wet towel treatment or the waterboard”. We read of Mohamed al Kahtani – against whom all charges were dropped earlier this year – who was “deprived of adequate sleep for weeks on end, stripped naked, subjected to loud music, and made to wear a leash and perform dog tricks”. Approval for this kind of torture, hidden under the euphemism of “enhanced interrogation”, was sought from and granted at the highest level.
And that doesn’t mean Rumsfeld. The report’s first conclusion is that, on “7 February 2002, President George W Bush made a written determination that Common Article 3 of the Geneva conventions, which would have afforded minimum standards for humane treatment, did not apply to al-Qaida or Taliban detainees”. The result, it says, is that Bush “opened the door” to the use of a raft of techniques that the US had once branded barbaric and beyond the realm of human decency.
For this Bush should surely be held to account. And yet there is no sign that he will, and precious little agitation that he should. A still smiling Cheney denies the Bush administration did anything wrong. Note this breathtaking exchange with Fox News at the weekend. He was asked: “If the president during war decides to do something to protect the country, is it legal?” Cheney’s answer: “General proposition, I’d say yes.”
It takes a few seconds for the full horror of that remark to sink in. And then you remember where you last heard something like it. It was the now immortalised interview between David Frost and Richard Nixon. The disgraced ex-president was asked whether there were certain situations where the president can do something illegal, if he deems it in the national interest. Nixon’s reply: “Well, when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.”
It is no coincidence that Cheney began his career in the Nixon White House. He has the same Nixonian disregard for the US constitution, the same belief that executive power is absolute and unlimited – that those who wield it are above the law, domestic and international. It is the logic of dictatorship.
But Nixon was forced from office, his vision of an unrestrained presidency rejected. If Bush and Cheney are allowed to retire quietly, America will have failed to reassert that bedrock principle of the republic: the rule of law.
This is why there must be a reckoning. Bush will do all he can to avoid it: and it is wholly possible that one of his last acts as president will be to cover himself, his vice-president and all his henchmen with a blanket pardon. Even if that does not happen, Barack Obama is unlikely to want to spend precious capital pursuing his predecessor for war crimes.
But other prosecutors elsewhere in the world should weigh their responsibilities. In the end, it was a lone Spanish magistrate, not a Chilean court, who ensured the arrest of Augusto Pinochet. A pleasing, if uncharitable, thought this Christmas, is that Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush will hesitate before making plans to travel abroad in 2009. Or indeed at any time – ever again.
Tags: amy goodman, Argentina, balnket pardons, berlin, brandenburg gate, Bush, carl levin, Chile, counterterrorism, detainees, dictatorships, germany, Guantanamo, hitler, human rights, McCain, prisoners, roger hollander, rumsfeld, torture, us torturers, war on terrorism
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December 12, 2008
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Bertolt Brecht’s Threepenny Opera, “Mack the Knife.” I’m Amy Goodman. We’re broadcasting from Berlin, from East Berlin, that is. In fact, right around the corner is the theater where this is performed, the Bertolt Brecht Theatre.
We’re joined right now by a longtime German attorney to talk about a bipartisan Senate report that was released on Thursday that accused former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other top Bush administration officials of being directly responsible for the abuse and torture of prisoners at Guantanamo and other US prisons.
The report stated, “The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of ‘a few bad apples’ acting on their own. The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees.”
The report was released by Democratic Senator Carl Levin and Republican John McCain of the Senate Armed Forces Committee. It was based on a nearly two year Senate investigation. The report was issued as speculation is running high in Washington over whether President Bush will issue blanket pardons of officials involved in some of the administration’s more controversial counterterrorism programs.
I’m joined here in Berlin by human rights attorney Wolfgang Kaleck. He is the General Secretary of the European Center of Constitutional and Human Rights. He has twice filed war crimes suits against Donald Rumsfeld in Germany.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Wolfgang.
WOLFGANG KALECK: Hi, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Let’s start off by talking about the significance of this US Senate report. It’s interesting that it’s not only the Democrat Carl Levin but the former Republican presidential candidate John McCain.
WOLFGANG KALECK: Well, the report is fine, as many other reports which have been released during the last four years, but, one has to say, it only confirms the information which was already on the table. We had a lot of revelations by colleagues of yours, by Jane Mayer, by other investigative journalists. We had the book of Philippe Sands. And it’s the last report in a row. So what we are interested in is the consequences of all this. You know, where does it lead to? When does the new administration take the necessary measure to deal with these crimes? And they were crimes.
AMY GOODMAN: Do we see any move in that direction with the Barack Obama—just what is being put out now, his selections for his cabinet? Of course, he’s not in power yet.
WOLFGANG KALECK: Yeah, we follow a vivid discussion right now in the US. Some people demand at least—and this is the minimum—some kind of truth commission with subpoena powers. But this is the absolute minimum. Yeah, and others, like Michael Ratner from the Center for Constitutional Rights, demand strongly prosecution in the US. And we from Europe follow this process very carefully, because if nothing happens in the US or if Bush files preemptive pardon, we know it’s our turn again here in Europe.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about these lawsuits that you have filed against Donald Rumsfeld and also what most surprised you in the, I mean, US Senate report. You’ve been researching this for a long time, but it’s different when a body like the Senate says things like you have been saying.
WOLFGANG KALECK: No, actually, I’m very happy with the report. It’s another confirmation. And also, you know, it’s not only about dealing with these persons who are—some of them already left the administration. I’m not really interested in these persons, as such. I’m interested in a change of the attitude of the US military’s and the US Secret Service’s, and, of course, I’m interested in a restoration of the rule of law, and that requires investigation and prosecution. And we are very reluctant to have any firm opinion yet on that, because we have to wait for the 20th of January. But we will very carefully follow the first steps of the Obama administration.
AMY GOODMAN: And what most—what you think is most significant in the Senate report?
WOLFGANG KALECK: Well, there are strong conclusions, you know, like saying what we always were saying, that the US military and the CIA were using the methods of the old enemies in the Cold War, like waterboarding, which was used by North Korea, by North Vietnam and by China and the Soviet Union. So, this was already on the table. This is like ridiculous. But it’s good that it’s now being said by a congressional report, of course.
AMY GOODMAN: Your lawsuits that you’ve brought against Donald Rumsfeld—
WOLFGANG KALECK: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —together with the Center for Constitutional Rights—
WOLFGANG KALECK: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —explain what they are and where they’ve gone and why you, as a German attorney, are involved with this at all.
WOLFGANG KALECK: The Center approached us in Germany four years ago, when there was nearly total impunity in the US and no attempts at all to be seen that any other than the “rotten apples,” the twelve persons from the night shift in Abu Ghraib, should be sued for what happened in Abu Ghraib. And so, in 2004, we filed the first lawsuit here in Germany. Actually, it was linked with what you have been discussing right now, because many of the mother units of the acting persons in Abu Ghraib were stationed in Germany, so there was even a territorial connection. Four of the twelve persons—other than Rumsfeld, four of the twelve persons were stationed in Germany. So Germany—in our opinion, Germany had the obligation to pursue this. And against Rumsfeld, our complaint was based on the universal jurisdiction laws in Germany. So that was 2004.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain universal jurisdiction.
WOLFGANG KALECK: Universal jurisdiction is when there is, yeah, no territorial link or no person, no citizen from the country, neither as an actor nor as a victim, as someone involved in the crime. So when there is no connection at all to the country, many countries in the world now have so-called universal jurisdiction laws, which allow them to investigate and prosecute if the state where the crime occurred and if the International Criminal Court won’t take the case. So—but this is only one side of the game.
The other side is what we always said. Yeah, we tried to blame Rumsfeld for—and others, of course, especially the lawyers—for what they’ve done in conducting the torture program, but we don’t have to forget that—and this is not about universal jurisdiction. This is about territorial jurisdiction and about personal jurisdiction. We have many, many European countries right now with pending lawsuits because of their involvement in the US torture program. So we have ongoing trials in Italy, in Spain. We have—even now in Bosnia, in Poland, we have brave prosecutors who are investigating against their own officials. We have parliamentary inquiries. We have criminal investigations in Denmark, in Holland, in many other countries.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain a few of these?
WOLFGANG KALECK: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Because I think there’s very little sense in the United States of what goes on outside of the United States.
WOLFGANG KALECK: You know that the CIA rendition program was called by one investigator of the Council of Europe a “spider’s web.” So, this is to demonstrate the power of the CIA, like covering the whole world with their stations and using air bases all over the world to kidnap people, to torture them and to bring them anywhere.
AMY GOODMAN: By rendition. You’re referring to extraordinary rendition.
WOLFGANG KALECK: By rendition, yeah. I’m referring to the CIA extraordinary rendition program. So, on one hand, this really seems like a very powerful demonstration. On the other hand, they leave traces. Everywhere they act, there is jurisdiction on their actions. So they acted in Italy, for example. They kidnapped a Muslim cleric, Abu Omar, and brought him to Egypt, where he was really brutally tortured. And a brave prosecutor in Italy investigated the case and now is standing on trial against not only CIA agents, but also against the heads of the Italian secret service who helped the CIA.
AMY GOODMAN: But the CIA agents, of course, are not there. They’re being tried in absentia.
WOLFGANG KALECK: Yeah, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: So, what does it mean? It means they can never return to Italy?
WOLFGANG KALECK: They can never return. There are arrest warrants, like there are arrest warrants in Germany against twelve CIA agents. So—
AMY GOODMAN: What happened here in Germany?
WOLFGANG KALECK: In Germany, it’s all because of the case of Khalid El-Masri, a German citizen who was kidnapped in Macedonia and then brought to Afghanistan and then returned to Germany. You know what? But what this means is, four years ago, everybody said suing—a lawsuit against US CIA agents, against US militarists, never brings you anywhere. And four years later, we find ourself in a situation where we have to say, this is, of course, not enough, but this is more than nothing. A lot has been happening. So, many, many lawyers, many prosecutors, many judges in several European countries took action, and I think there is more to come up. And it depends very much—there is much hope on the Obama administration, but it will depend very much if there is really something going on in the US. If not, I guess there will be more and more lawsuits here in Europe.
AMY GOODMAN: Wolfgang Kaleck, your first lawsuit against Rumsfeld in 2004, that was thrown out by the German government.
WOLFGANG KALECK: Yeah, that was a nice one, because we filed the lawsuit in late 2004, and they were somehow revising our complaint, because it was a very strong, long complaint. And Rumsfeld announced at a certain point that he wouldn’t come to Germany because of that pending lawsuit. And he wanted to come to the Munich Security Conference on 11th of February in 2005, and so the German prosecutor filed the dismissal on the 10th of February, 2005, one day before, so that Rumsfeld could attend the Munich Security Conference, which he did. So, that was—
AMY GOODMAN: Was the US bringing a lot of pressure to throw this out?
WOLFGANG KALECK: Yeah, it seems so. It seems so, because there were also upcoming visits of Condoleezza Rice and re-elected President George Bush by that time.
This attitude of the Germans, which was obviously politically motivated, gave us a fair chance to file a new lawsuit in 2006, where actually not only the Center for Constitutional Rights and we, the Germans, filed the case, but fifty organizations all over the world backed the case. And so, yeah, you know that the case gained a lot of public attention and also initiated a discussion that international justice has to be more than special justice for fallen dictators from Southern countries or special tribunals for Africa. If international justice wants to be taken serious in the future, it has to go after the powerful perpetrators also of the West and the North.
AMY GOODMAN: Wolfgang Kaleck, we’re sitting here in a studio in Berlin, East Berlin, to be exact. For those who are listening on radio, you can go to our website at democracynow.org. You’ll see the backdrop of this broadcast, significant buildings and monuments in Berlin. Can you talk about your concern—against the backdrop of this history, give us a quick one-minute tour of Berlin and its significant places. Even in the break, we were playing Bertolt Brecht’s Threepenny Opera, “Mack the Knife.” The significance of Bertolt Brecht here, a theater right around the corner.
WOLFGANG KALECK: Yeah. You know, we’re facing the Victory Column, where Barack Obama gave his speech in July. And this was actually a demonstration of war, because Germany was leading many wars in the past.
AMY GOODMAN: And we’re showing that backdrop right now.
WOLFGANG KALECK: Yeah, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: This was where—the significance of that place, where Barack Obama spoke?
WOLFGANG KALECK: Yeah, yeah. Berlin is full of monuments of war. And the Brandenburg Gate was the place, just where we’re sitting here—that was the first demonstration of Adolf Hitler when he was elected as a chancellor. So we have dealt a lot with impunity. And actually, you know, the Nazi—the whole chapter of the Nazi crimes was never, never really challenged by German justice. So, maybe we the Germans are not the best persons to tell others how to tackle impunity, but some of us learned a lot during the last years.
AMY GOODMAN: And the significance of the wall coming down that divides where we are in East Berlin from West Berlin, that many people don’t even refer to east and west anymore, thinking of it as one united city now, the government back here at the Reichstag?
WOLFGANG KALECK: Now, that’s—the interesting thing for us with the fall of the wall is that it showed that history is open, and sometimes things may happen that you haven’t expected in years before. And that’s, you know, what we are also experiencing with our work against impunity in Southern America, because we deal with cases against Chilean and Argentinean military officers, where, thirty years after the crimes during the dictatorships in the ’70s, these people now find themselves on trial. And so, this is our hope, that the continuous work of human rights organizations, of lawyers and organizations all over the world will at some point result in investigation and prosecution against US torturers.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us today. Wolfgang Kaleck is the General Secretary of the European Center of Constitutional and Human Rights, as we wrap up our trip through Sweden and Germany. We’ll be back in New York on Monday, and we’ll be dealing with the issue of extraordinary rendition there, as well.