Archives for June 2011

How to deal with the US deficit? End ‘war for profit’

In 1961 President Eisenhower warned against what he called the ‘military-industrial complex’ in his final address to the American people. He was referring to an ‘all too friendly’ relationship which had emerged over the war years between the military, defence contractors and Congress. He warned of unwarranted influence and what he termed as the ‘disastrous rise of misplaced power’ .  He felt strongly that this alliance was a serious threat and that it had grave implications not only for the  American people, but for the structure of society. He has been proved right.

Despite Eisenhower’s warning, the industrial-military complex is alive and well. What effect it has had on American foreign policy since 1961, on the number of young Americans who have been sacrificed for personal ambition and profit or even the part it played in the winning of the Cold War is open to argument.

Today, the uncomfortable reality is that the military-industrial complex is bankrupting the US. This year the US will need to borrow $14 trillion, and it is heading for a deficit of $1 trillion. Military spending in 2011 will top $4 trillion. This is an unsustainable level of spend.

Right now President Obama is fighting hard to get Congress to approve a tax rise for wealthy Americans to save the day. With the current balance of power in Congress he is unlikely to succeed.

The bottom line is that US defence spending needs to be halved. The US couldn’t afford Iraq and it can’t afford Afghanistan. The days of war for profit are over. There has to be change. Unfortunately, the military-industrial complex is well established. Obama may find it an impossible nut to crack.

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It’s Netanyahu who is ‘delegitimising’ Israel

FEATURED ARTICLE by M J ROSENBERG

Israel’s way of “changing the subject” from its illegal occupation of Palestine is to label any criticism as an attack.

The “pro-Israel” lobby’s latest hobbyhorse is “delegitimisation”. Those who criticise Israeli policies are accused of trying to “delegitimise” Israel, which supposedly means denying Israel’s right to exist.

Even President Obama has gotten into the act, stating in his May 19 speech that “for the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimise Israel will end in failure”.

Obama seemed to be referring to the Palestinians’ plan to seek recognition of their state at the United Nations this autumn, although it’s hard to imagine just how that would delegitimise Israel.

After all, the Palestinians are not seeking statehood in Israeli territory, but in territory that the whole world (including Israel) recognises as having been occupied by Israel only after the 1967 war. Rather than seeking Israel’s elimination, the Palestinians who intend to go to the United Nations are seeking establishment of a state alongside Israel. That state would encompass 22 per cent of Mandate Palestine, with Israel possessing 78 per cent.

The whole concept of “delegitimisation” seems archaic.

Israel achieved its “legitimacy” when the United Nations recognised it 63 years ago. It has one of the strongest economies in the world. Its military is the most powerful in the region. It has a nuclear arsenal of some 200 bombs, with the ability to launch them from land, sea, and air.

In that context, the whole idea of “delegitimising” Israel sounds silly. Israel can’t be delegitimised.

So what is the lobby talking about?

The answer is simple: It is talking about the intensifying opposition to the occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza which, by almost any standard, is illegitimate. It is talking about opposition to the settlements, which are not only illegitimate but illegal under international law. It is talking about calls for Israel to grant Palestinians equal rights.

The lobby’s determination to change the subject from the existence of the occupation to the existence of Israel makes sense strategically. Israel has no case when it comes to the occupation, which the entire world (except Israel) agrees must end. But Israel certainly has the upper hand in any argument over its right to exist and to defend itself.

That is why Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu routinely invokes Israel’s “right to self-defence” every time he tries to explain away some Israeli attack on Palestinians, no matter whether they are armed fighters or innocent civilians.

If the whole Israeli-Palestinian discussion is about Israel’s right to defend itself, Israel wins the argument. But if it is about the occupation – which is, in fact, what the conflict has been about since 1993 when the PLO recognised Israel – it loses.

It wasn’t that long ago that neither the Israeli government nor the lobby worried about the “forces of delegitimisation.”

On the contrary, in 1993, following Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s recognition of the Palestinians’ right to a state in the West Bank and Gaza, nine non-Arab Muslim states and 32 of the 43 sub-Saharan African states established relations with Israel. India and China, the two largest markets in the world, opened trade relations. Jordan signed a peace treaty and several of the Arab emirates began quiet dealings with Israel.

The Arab boycott of Israel ended. Foreign investment soared. No one discussed “delegitimisation” while much of the world, including the Muslim world, was knocking on Israel’s door to establish or deepen ties.

That trend continued so long as the Israeli government seemed to be genuinely engaged in the peace process.

The most graphic demonstration of Israel’s high international standing back then occurred at Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral in 1995, which rivalled President Kennedy’s in terms of international representation.

Leaders from virtually every nation on Earth came to pay homage to Rabin: President Clinton, Prince Charles, the leaders of Egypt and Jordan, every European president or prime minister, top officials from most of Africa and Asia (including India and China), Latin America, Turkey, Morocco, Mauritania, Oman, Qatar, and Tunisia. Yasser Arafat himself went to Mrs Rabin’s Tel Aviv apartment to express his grief.

The world mourned Rabin because under him, Israel had embraced the cause of peace with the Palestinians. The homage to Rabin was a clear demonstration – as was the opening of trade and diplomatic relations with formerly hostile states – that Israel was not being isolated because it was a Jewish state, and hence illegitimate, but because of how it treated the Palestinians.

And that is the case today. It’s not the Palestinians who are delegitimising Israel, but the Israeli government which maintains the occupation. And the leading delegitimiser is Binyamin Netanyahu, whose contemptuous rejection of peace is turning Israel into an international pariah.

Sure, Netanyahu received an embarrassing number of standing ovations when he spoke before the United States Congress. But that demonstrates nothing except the power of Israel’s lobbyists.

It is doubtful that Netanyahu would get even one standing ovation in any other parliament in the world – and that includes Israel’s. The only thing we learned (yet again) from Netanyahu’s reception by Congress is that money talks. What else is new?

So let’s ignore the talk about “delegitimisation,” even though Madison Avenue message-makers certainly deserve credit for coming up with that clever distraction. Israel’s problem is the occupation, the Israeli government that defends it, and the lobby that enforces support for it in Congress and the White House.

Once again, Israel’s “best friends” are among its worst enemies.

MJ Rosenberg is a Senior Foreign Policy Fellow at Media Matters Action Network.

 

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Wee Willie Wilkie gets it wrong

I have no reason to doubt that Mr Justice Wilkie is a good judge. However, his handling of the Levi Bellfield trial, which ended yesterday, was not one of his finest performances. The treatment of the Dowler family by defence counsel Jeffrey Samuels QC, was disgraceful. By all accounts his cross-examination was aggressive, unnecessarily intrusive and hurtful. It caused the family considerable distress. One family member actually collapsed after leaving the witness box. The Dowlers said they suffered a “mentally scarring experience on an unimaginable scale”.

Today, there is widespread revulsion at the treatment of the Dowlers and there are calls for the system to be changed. The director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, said it raised “fundamental questions” and said he would examine how victims were treated.

But does the system need to be changed?  Probably not. The defence counsel would argue that he did his best for his client and acted within the rules. The fact that “very useful operator” Jeffrey Samuels QC, as he is described on his chamber’s website, overstepped the mark in his cross-examination is a matter for the judge. The judge is in charge of the conduct of a trial. It is his job to ensure that over-zealous QCs who use high-profile trials to further their own interests, are reined in. Mr Justice Wilkie failed to intervene, not necessarily to comment on the questions that were being asked, but the way in which they were being put to a very traumatised family.

Let’s hope Her Majesty’s judges, and Mr Justice Wilkie in particular, learn from this unfortunate trial. If they fail to conduct trials properly, it will be extremely difficult to persuade witnesses to give evidence.

 

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Politicos by Roz

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EU leaders should go to Specsavers

George C Marshall, US Secretary of State at the end of WW 2, had vision. At a time when Europe was broke and didn’t have the ability to produce goods that could be turned into hard currency, he devised what came to be known as ‘The Marshall Plan’. The plan provided money to get things moving again…to ‘rehabilitate the economic structure of Europe’.

Marshall’s plan was designed to achieve recovery and sustainable growth. He recognised that Europe’s ‘rehabilitation’ would take time and effort – and cooperation. His plan succeeded not only because of the cash it provided, but because he insisted that no money would be forthcoming until nations had devised an acceptable plan showing how the money would be used.  For the first time Europe had to work together as one economic unit. His plan was the foundation of modern day Europe.

Victorious Britain, on the other hand, was not part of the Marshall plan. The ‘Lend-Lease’ agreement Churchill had made with Roosevelt in 1941 meant that we had to pay back the US for all the equipment they had given us during the war. Not until the early sixties did we emerge from a period of severe austerity. Only in 1962 was Harold Macmillan able to say ‘we’ve never had it so good’, but the better times had been a long time coming. And Europe? Because of the Marshall plan Europe had been able to steal the march on us. They had booming economies and a significantly higher standard of living.

Today, the future of the European Union, forged out of Marshall’s plan of cooperation and support, is at risk because of the Greek debt crisis – unless European leaders can discover a Marshallian vision.

Whatever the causes of Greece’s problems, the EU not insisting on significant social and economic reform before they were allowed to join, the world banking crisis, or widespread corruption, the Greek debt crisis is potentially as great a challenge to European leaders as the rehabilitation of Europe at the end of WW 2 was to the ‘victorious powers’.

The arithmetic of the Greek problem is undeniable. The reality is that Greece cannot achieve enough growth to pay the interest on its debt. More loans carrying more interest liabilities will only compound the problem. Austerity measures being demanded by the IMF and the EU are sending the wrong message to the Greek people and will eventually ensure the collapse of the Euro – and perhaps the EU.

If the EU is to survive, the vast majority of Greek debt will have to be forgiven. The sooner EU leaders face up to this reality the better. If Greece is to prosper and contribute to the future success of the EU, it needs significant social, economic and political reform – and a Marshall plan to rehabilitate it economically. That plan should have the same condition as the original Marshall Plan – that ‘no money would be forthcoming until an acceptable plan showing how the money would be used’ had been produced.

Will it happen? Unfortunately our current crop of politicians are political chess players not visionaries. They’re pretending the Greek problem is one for the Euro zone and nothing to do with them. Like silly schoolboys they have their eyes shut and hands over their ears. The reality is that the Greek problem is as much a problem for Britain as any other European country. Greece needs a Marshall Plan not a Versailles treaty. We should be doing all we can to make that happen.

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The end of monarchical exceptionalism

FEATURED ARTICLE  by  JILLIAN SCHWEDLER

The idea that Arab monarchies enjoy greater legitimacy and stability than their neighbours should finally be put to rest

The idea that Arab monarchies enjoy greater legitimacy and stability than their republican neighbours should finally be put to rest. Protests in Jordan, Morocco, and Bahrain may not have yet reached the scale of those in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, and Syria, but the weekly gatherings have persisted for months and promise to not go away any time soon. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Oman have also seen protests and are likely to see more in the coming months.

The notion of monarchical exceptionalism rests on two premises, only one of which has any basis in reality. The first premise is that monarchies that allow for some degree of political participation – notably Morocco, Jordan, and Kuwait – can tolerate a much broader space for legal political dissent than can the authoritarian republics precisely because they do not have to pretend that their authority to rule stems from electoral victories.

The failed regimes of Mubarak, Ben Ali, and Saleh, like the floundering one of Assad, were forced to go to extraordinary lengths to “win” elections that reaffirmed their popular support. Of course no citizen of these repressive regimes believed that these victories were real. But the electoral farce was needed to maintain the pretence of popular support, and that required that opposition groups – whether legalised as parties or operating independently – were consistently repressed through tactics ranging from electoral engineering and ballot-box stuffing, to massive arrests and imprisonment, to the assassination of the leaders of competing parties (notably the assassination attempts on hundreds of Yemeni Socialist Party leaders in the early 1990s).

Monarchies, by comparison, can allow opposition groups to flourish as long as elections can be engineered to produce pro-regime assemblies (even though those parliaments have little real power to legislate). Indeed, promoting pluralist political spheres has worked as a means for monarchs to monitor as well as channel opposition forces.

While far from meaningful democratic spaces, the spheres of political opposition were significantly more tolerated in Morocco, Jordan, and Kuwait than they were in any of the republics.

The second and false premise is that monarchies enjoy a greater degree of legitimacy than did the single-party republican regimes, particularly when they claim their authority to rule on religious grounds (direct blood descent from the family of the Prophet Muhammad) rather than on spurious electoral victories. As a result, Muslims must necessarily accept the legitimacy of their rule.

This argument has found renewed life among pundits and some academics, and is a favourite of the Obama administration, which is eager to find reasons to defend its support of the Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the other monarchies. But how do we know legitimacy when we see it?

In autocratic settings, we have good reason to suspect that popular expressions of adoration of the ruler are motivated by self preservation – to fend off the attention of repressive security apparatuses and government officials whose job is to ferret out all political dissent. We certainly didn’t believe that Saddam was as beloved as Iraqis expressed while he was in power, so why should we conclude that the same about the authoritarian monarchies whose repression has been well documented? We should not, as there simply is no evidence that these monarchies really enjoy broad popular support.

Protests in these kingdoms are met with pro-regime counter-protests, to be sure, but these crowds remain small. Even if we believe that pro-regime crowds really adore their monarchs and accept the legitimacy of their rule, it is notable that these counter-protesters often have to be manufactured and brought in for the occasion.

Even the carefully crafted narratives put forth by the regimes are crumbling. Jordan’s King Hussein did enjoy a degree of popular support, but King Abdullah and Queen Rania have been the subject of widespread criticism and contempt from day one. As the king toured the country last week following the pomp celebrations of Army Day, Coronation Day, and the anniversary of the Great Arab Revolt, the crowds in the supposedly loyalist city of Tafileh greeted the king’s motorcade with rocks and bottles, rather than with roses and blown kisses.

Transjordanian Tafileh, with no Palestinian population to speak of, has long been viewed as part of the regime’s traditional base of support. But with more to lose than Jordan’s majority second-class Palestinian population, Transjordanians have long been at the forefront of dissent in the kingdom. So far Jordanian protesters have not been calling for an end to the monarchy, but the ongoing protests, combined with the attack on the royal motorcade, leaves little room for the claim that the monarchy enjoys widespread popular legitimacy.

Protests in the region’s monarchies have been persistent, and not always limited in scope. With few isolated exceptions, protesters there have not been calling for an end to the monarchies, but that probably has little to do with popular support for the ruling families than concerns about what the alternatives might look like or the regimes’ unwillingness to go down without a fight, particularly given that the wealthy Gulf monarchies would likely provide considerable support. Jordanians and Moroccans may dream of following the paths forged by Tunisians and Egyptians, but they certainly fear even more the current fates of their neighbours in Yemen, Libya, and Syria. This explains the reluctance to call for the overthrow of the monarchies, but it would be foolish to conclude that those calls will never emerge. The political map of the entire region is irreversibly changing, and no one wants to be entirely left behind.

And the monarchs are clearly panicking, as they should be. The Gulf Cooperation Council (of Sunni monarchies) is seeking to expand its membership to the non-Gulf monarchies of Morocco and Jordan (what, no invitation to Yemen, despite its far greater proximity to the Gulf than either Morocco or Jordan?). Jordan has already sent troops to Bahrain to help quell the (Shia) protests there. But more importantly, this week saw back-to-back announcements from Morocco’s King Muhammad VI and Jordan’s King Abdullah announcing significant (if limited) expansions of powers to the popularly elected parliaments. The monarchs – all of them – have gotten the memo, they just need to heed it: everything is on the table, and superficial reforms will no longer suffice. No regime is immune from demand for substantive change, meaningful representation, and greater dignity for the quarter million people in the region. Monarchies, get thee on the right side of history.

Jillian Schwedler is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and author of Faith in ‘Moderation: Islamist Parties in Jordan and Yemen’ (Cambridge 2006).

 

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Adel: a decade of injustice

FEATURED ARTICLE  by CLIVE STAFFORD-SMITH.

For someone to be held without trial once might be accidental; twice, misfortune; but the third time means he is the victim of persecution. Egypt must set Adel al-Gazzar free at once.

Adel, a former Guantanamo prisoner, was detained in the Cairo airport having finally tried to return home. He has undergone a decade-long ordeal involving torture, detention in legal black holes, and medical malpractice so severe that his leg had to be amputated. It had been 11 years since he had seen his wife and three children. However, the joyous reunion which his family envisioned was snatched from them when he was detained once again, this time by Egypt’s interim military government.

It is impossible to imagine that scene at the airport: Adel longing to see loved ones for the first time in years, only to be shackled once more. What kind of “Arab Spring” is it when the Egyptian military compounds the mistakes of the US-led “War on terror”?

Adel had been a volunteer with the Red Crescent in Afghanistan. When the war came, he tried to leave, and was injured by one of the many indiscriminate US bombs. To add insult to injury, he was then sold to the Americans for a bounty from his hospital bed in Pakistan.

Adel became one of hundreds of innocent people who were swept up, labelled “the worst of the worst” and sent to Guantanamo Bay. There, he rotted for several years – literally, since the failure to treat his injuries properly resulted in the threat of gangrene and the loss of his leg.

Held without trial by the United States in Guantanamo, he was meanwhile tried in absentia by a Mubarak military tribunal. He was not present, was not allowed to defend himself, and was condemned as an enemy of the regime – based on the fact that he had been tarred as a “terrorist” by the Americans.

Eventually, I was able to get in to see him in May 2005. We forced the US military to admit their mistake, and Adel was cleared for release. Yet he could not return to Egypt, where everyone agreed he faced persecution by Mubarak. He waited for eight years in Guantanamo before, in January 2010, a “safe” country – Slovakia – offered him asylum from Mubarak’s venom.

Even this kindness turned sour: upon his arrival, Slovakia inexplicably detained him without charge for over six months. He was forced to go on hunger strike in order to secure his release.

So far he has twice been held without trial, and once tried without being present. Adel longed to return to his family. Adel’s confidence in the post-revolution regime in Egypt was misplaced; he is now facing the third phase of detention without trial. It is time to fulfil the promise of Tahrir Square: Adel must be set free at once, and reunited with his tearful wife.

Clive Stafford Smith is the founder and director of Reprieve, a not-for-profit organisation which provides legal support to victims of human rights abuses.

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I could Chote on this…and nearly did!

Christopher Chote, the redoubtable Conservative MP for Southampton Christchurch, has had a brainwave. He wants people to be able to offer their labour at below the minimum wage. He argues that they should be able to offer their services at a rate that doesn’t attract any tax or NI. This he believes would  save small businesses a fortune and tempt them to employ more.

I’m sure his motivation to propose this change in the law might be well intentioned. He cites the UN universal declaration of human rights that includes “the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain his living by work, which he freely chooses or accepts”.  He gives the example of a single person who, on the minimum wage of £5.73 an hour (£11,018 pa), should be allowed to opt out of the minimum wage and be paid £4.82 and hour i.e. the minimum wage less the tax and NI due.

The effect of this bizarre idea would be chaos and confusion in the labour market.  What employer would not swear blind that all employees on the minimum wage had agreed to opt out? The effect on employment? That’s anybody’s guess, probably not great – and employees would be no better off.

What Chote’s rather muddled thinking does highlight though, is that someone on the minimum wage pays a humungous amount of tax and NI. £1,887 on an income of £11,918…that’s nearly 16%. This is a ludicrous amount.  Why does someone on the minimum wage pay tax at all? What is the point of reducing people’s income through taxation and then for the state to have to provide a costly system of benefits to help them survive? Why are successive governments so determined to tax people into poverty?

I am reminded of what billionaire Warren Buffet  said when addressing a gathering of super rich in the US, “We pay a lower part of our income in taxes than our receptionists do, or our cleaning ladies, for that matter. If you’re in the luckiest 1 per cent of humanity, you owe it to the rest of humanity to think about the other 99 per cent.” They won’t of course because, to quote Christopher Hitchens,  “Nobody is more covetous and greedy than those who have too much.”

Chote’s Bill is doomed, but it could act as a catalyst for some fresh thinking on the way we tax the less well off. Surely the best way of reducing the cost of the benefits system is to let people keep more of what they earn? Our current tax system is both unfair and plain wrong. Britain is one of the most unequal societies in the Western world, and our system of taxation helps to maintain that shameful position. It’s time for those that have to have less, and for those that have little to have more.

Postscript to the above;

Not surprisingly Chote’s Bill didn’t fly (not many of them do). Didn’t stop Philip Davies jumping on the Chote bandwagon. He thinks Chote’s plan would be a great idea for disabled people who he felt would have a much better chance of landing a job if they could sell their labour at a cheaper rate.

He’s missed the point too. He he could have made the suggestion that employers who employ disabled people should not have to pay NI, but he didn’t.

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Kill Bill: the sabotage of US financial reform

FEATURED ARTICLE  by  DANNY SCHECTER.

Some years back Thomas Frank nailed it in his book, The Wrecking Crew.

It was subtitled “How Conservatives Rule” and showed how narrow
self-interest and well practiced cynicism in the service of partisan warfare
has crippled our political system, resulting in a deep paralysis – despite the
threat of a collapse.

I call it sabotage, a tactic that goes way back and involves deliberate effort
to insure that reforms are effectively undermined.

When the book came out, Publishers Weekly praised it and criticised it
in the same breath, writing, “Frank paints a complex and conspiracy-ridden
picture that illuminates the sinister and controversial practices of the
Republican party in the 20th and 21st centuries.”

“While Frank’s assessments and interpretations of key events, players
and party doctrines is accurate and justifiable, his overwhelming blame of the
Republican Party as the source of everything that’s wrong with this county and
as the emblem of self-destructing government denies the Democrats and the
citizenry their roles in a decaying democracy.”

How true. They didn’t argue with his findings – calling them “accurate and
justifiable” – but at the same time noted that political labels are often
poor guides to understanding how this game is played. That’s because politics
is no longer (if it ever was) a game played just by politicians. Politics is
now an industry that plays itself out in an arena of the seen and unseen.

Today, the hatchets are out to destroy much-needed financial reforms in a bill
that has already been neutered and nit-picked, trimmed, sliced and diced by
what’s called “legislative compromise”.

Now, like bin Laden waiting for the kill in Pakistan, a congressional Seal Team
Six is ready to pounce. There is no corporate privilege or malevolent bank
practice that the lobbyists will not defend in the name of fostering economic
growth.

One juicy sex scandal involving one or more politicians gets more ink than all
the investigations of how special interests, well-paid lobbyists, billionaire
funders, think-tank gun-slingers and slippery lawyers-for-hire operate to serve
the status quo and stop even the most mild reform, if it might cost the
industries they work for money or influence.

There are no reforms they won’t endlessly amend into oblivion.

First they commission and use bogus selective studies to “prove” why
reforms need to be reformed. Then, with PR and complicit media, they
orchestrate coverage to do their bidding. They start with something small like
protections for debit cards and then escalate a full-scale war.

Thanks to the Democratic majority in the Senate, an attempt to delay rules
governing what banks and credit card companies can charge for retailers to
process cards was voted down, with the New York Times noting that this
war will continue: “Even with the defeat, the vote represented a
remarkable come-from-behind lobbying campaign by banks to recover from the
drubbing they took during the anti-Wall Street atmosphere that pervaded last
year.”

Four years ago, the markets melted down, sparking a global crisis. The
bailouts followed and a bank-led “recovery” helped many banks recover.
Unemployment and foreclosures stayed high. Growth seized up. The crisis
continues.

What to do? There were several schools of thought.

The administration locked itself into an alliance with Wall Street. They killed
proposals for structural reform and restraints on private economic power. They
were gambling on a turnaround – their version of faith-based politics – even as
jobs showed no sign of coming back.

In short, they still have no answers and are not prepared to fight any messy
battles with the real power structure. In the name of pragmatism, they betrayed
their own campaign compromises and tacked right to out-Republican even the
Republicans.

They call it “triangulation”. Their critics call it “a
sell-out”, and what was left of the left was quickly left out.

The wise men of the (wild) West

The Republicans retreated into simplistic ideologies, blaming everything on
Democrats and government spending. They began fuelling a scare about the
deficit the way their predecessors had raved against the “Red
Menace”.

In Congress, the wise men came up with a financial reform called Dodd-Frank.
After stripping it of any radicalism, they offered up some pragmatic measures
to increase regulation and tried to force the finance industry to act
responsibly with more transparency and accountability. The bill explicitly
rejected proposals for any and all international standards.

Dodd-Frank passed, but then the real bargaining began on what the new rules
should be. The finance industry mounted a lobbying force of 25 high-powered
lawyers and consultants for every member of Congress. The deliberations moved
out of public view and into the closed corridors and clubs of Washington.

The predictable result has now surfaced in the New York Times:

“Nearly one year after Congress passed financial changes to rein in the
banking sector, more than two dozen of the legislation’s rules are behind
schedule, and no end to the wrangling over details is in sight.”

The delays come as regulators extend public comment periods on the rules, as
some on Wall Street and in Congress resist the changes. One result may be that
many new safeguards do not take hold in earnest before the next election, an
outcome that could open the door for newly elected officials to back away from
the overhaul entirely.

The well respected blog Naked Capitalism has followed this in
excruciating detail. Richard Smith, a London based capital markets IT
Specialist, concluded:

“So where does that leave us with our shadow banking reforms? Well, we
have a modest tweak to bank capital requirements, of unknown efficacy. The
mountain has laboured, and brought forth a mouse. Or you might prefer to pursue
the anaconda/rabbit imagery to a physiologically realistic conclusion.”
(Translation: The snake swallowed the rabbit.)

Yves Smith, the editor of the blog, is not surprised – suggesting this was
the outcome that was always intended: To kill the bill by appearing to
“strengthen” it.

So where are we? Nowhere, or perhaps it’s even worse than that. Many in the
public backed the reforms including protections of consumers – and they think
it is being enacted. When the next market crash occurs, as many insiders fear
it will, they will realise how they were played, but then it will be too late.

Are we condemned for more of this rollercoaster ride to the apocalypse?

Smith seems disgusted, pointing out that even these tepid reforms emerged from
a “weak analysis of the causes of the crash, some disjointed looking
proposals, some mild BS. Kind of picking at the problem, with lobbyists at the
ready. But what is the result of nine months’ thought and some horse-trading
with concerned Congressmen, juggling lobbyists and angry voters?”

What, indeed?

We can see where all this is headed. We will find out soon enough if the
predictions of a possible “great, great depression” come to pass. The
problem is that while many see the logic of an illogical system, so intricately
sabotaged from within, it is set up to make the train wreck inevitable. On
this, the press is largely missing.

The astute economics editor of the Guardian, Larry Eliot, sees only
one possible way to stop this disaster in the making.

“Policy, as ever, is geared towards growth because the great existential
fear of the Federal Reserve, the Treasury and whoever occupies the White House
is a return to the 1930s.”

“Back then; the economic malaise could be largely attributed to
deflationary economic policies that deepened the recession caused by the
popping of the 1920s share market bubble. The feeble response to today’s growth
medicine suggests the US is structurally far weaker than it was in the
1930s.” (Emphasis mine)

To tackle these weaknesses, finance’s stranglehold over the economy must be
broken – and a boost must be given to ordinary families’ spending power to cut
their reliance on debt.

Can we break finance’s stranglehold over the economy? Maybe – if these
issues displace the sex scandal of the week, as the real threat to our future.
Can we identify and stop the saboteurs?

We keep reading about the Arab Spring, but not the American winter.

News Dissector Danny Schechter directed Plunder: The
Crime of Our Time
, a film about the financial crisis.  Comments to dissector@mediachannel.org

 

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An overdue appointment in The Hague

In February 1982 President Hafez Assad sent his younger brother Rifaat, his trusted ‘enforcer’, to the Syrian town of Hama with specific orders to put down a revolt by the Sunni community. This he did with devastating efficiency. An estimated 20,000 men, women and children were killed by troops under command of this zealous young patriot.

Later Rifaat’s ambition would get the better of him. He tried to topple his elder brother which didn’t go down too well, and he was banished from Syria. Since then he’s been languishing in comfort in Europe  – actually he’s been holed up in London.

It beggars belief that we’ve given succour to a man like Rifaat Assad. His crimes are well known. It’s not as if there has ever been any doubt about his role in the Hama massacre. So what is he doing enjoying our hospitality in London?

It is utterly unbelievable that we have allowed Rifaat Assad  to stay in Britain. The Foreign Office must have known he was here, so why didn’t they do anything about removing him? Doesn’t this fall into the category of gross incompetence? However, it’s not to late for them to make amends. Hague can book him an appointment with the prosecutors at the International Court – before Rifaat has time to book his flight to Venezuela. But he won’t, will he?

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