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Posts Tagged ‘corruption

The Senate Finance Committee’s Revolving Door

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The New York Times has an excellent article on former finance legislators now lobbying their old congressional buddies to make favorable legislation for the financial sector, a practice known affectionately as the “revolving door”. They cite enough examples to show that this sort of thing is a pretty widespread, and they focus on the particularly egregious case of an aide to Rep. Bernie Sanders who drafted financial legislation last summer and is now lobbying for a major bank.

I highly recommend this article

Written by pavanvan

April 15, 2010 at 10:05 pm

How Not to End the War in Afghanistan

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A rather disappointing article in The New York Review of Books by British Labour politician David Miliband this week entitled “How to End the War in Afghanistan” prominently displays all the hang-ups our ‘coalition forces’ suffer when contemplating that quagmire of a war. It would be interesting to discuss this article because it contains within it the genealogy of orientalist Western thought toward that unfortunate desert; from British gamesmanship during the 19th century to hedge against Russia to the 21st century Anglo-American occupation of the same desert, ostensibly to hedge against Iran and China. Astoundingly, it seems we have learned nothing of imperialism, of cultural imposition and brute coercion in the intervening centuries. Then, as now, we marched in and expected the Afghans to listen to us because, after all, it was in their best interest to do so. Then, as now, we expressed our bewilderment that they could not grasp so easy a concept. And then (as now) we wrung our hands and lamented that we wish there were another way, but we must, unfortunately, continue our occupation until we achieve a “stable” “friendly” “democracy” in that far-off, warlord-plagued desert.

For an article with such a direct title, Mr Milibrand chooses a roundabout method of answering his implied question. After all, “How to End the War in Afghanistan” could be summed up in about a paragraph: NATO-led coalition forces should immediately cease all combat operations, issue an apology to the Afghan people for using them as pawns in macabre game of geopolitical chess, withdraw all troops and war material, and extend some manner of reparations for the thirty years of horrific destruction the US and Britain collectively wrought upon their land.

From the first sentence of his article, we can see Mr. Milibrand rejects that method of “ending the war”. He repeats, with no sense of irony, the prevailing narrative which brought us into the war in the first place, a narrative which has been shown to be false, and which goes directly against the stated aim of Milibrand’s article (‘ending the war’). In his opening paragraph below, I have bolded the most dubious claims:

In the 1990s that country’s Taliban government provided a safe haven and support for al-Qaeda. In return Osama bin Laden provided the Taliban with money and fighters. Afghanistan became the incubator for the September 11 attacks. The international intervention in response to those attacks had widespread support around the world. But we never meant for our militaries to be there forever. Eight years later, with al-Qaeda pushed into Pakistan, it is not enough to explain to people why the war started. We need to set out how it will be ended—how to preserve what has been achieved and protect South Asia from a contagion that would affect us all.

Now, it is clear that one would not begin an article with such fantastic mendacity if one were serious about “ending the war”. As Milibrand well knows, 15 of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, not Afghanistan; the US provided far more dollars to the Taliban than Osama Bin Laden (and continues to do so); the 2001 invasion saw massive, worldwide protests that were the largest yet seen (but were surpassed two years later against the Iraq War); and the so-called “contagion” that would “affect us all” has neither been defined nor genuinely demonstrated.

And so on. The article continues to detail the pernicious “insurgent” problem that threatens the “stability” of Hamid Karzai’s US-imposed dictatorship, the opium which continues to be a “major problem” for Afghanistan (even though the premier opium kingpin in Afghanistan is on the CIA’s payroll), and the problems of “corruption” (even though the US-supported Karzai regime is widely considered to be one of the most corrupt in the world.)

The mendacity displayed here is astonishing, but it is the natural result of the inherent contradictions in Mr Miliband’s position. On one hand, like all politicians seeking election, he wants this unpopular war to “end”. On the other hand, like all geopolitical power players, he wants a US-friendly regime in Afghanistan, one which will act precisely as we wish it to act and will acquiesce to the permanent stationing of US troops, should China, Pakistan or Iran begin to act uppity. Now, obviously, imposing an illegitimate, unelected government like that of Mr Karzai would tend to make a few of his citizens upset, and just as obviously, the US would have to use force, perhaps indefinite force, to defend its client. Hence the contradiction. “Ending the War” implies letting go of our client state in Afghanistan, something which Mr Miliband and our US policy planners are evidently unwilling to do.

Hence the vague threats of “contagion”, the constant apology for the Karzai dictatorship (He has, after all, “promised to tackle corruption”), the rancid bellicosity toward “extremists” (“They must be beaten back”, says Miliband, which sounds pretty “extreme” to me), etc.

The most astounding line in the whole essay comes when Mr Miliband says: “The idea of anyone reaching out to political engagement with those who would directly or indirectly attack our troops is difficult.” The lack of self-awareness in such a pronouncement is almost too much to be believed. Let us imagine that Britain had been invaded by Germany in 1940, as was then thought to be a serious possibility. The British had been preparing for guerrilla warfare to repel the Nazis, but, under Milibrand’s logic, any British resistance would have been illegitimate! After all, the German general could say, “The idea of reaching out to those who would attack our troops is difficult.” How dare those British attack good German soldiers? And likewise, how dare those dastardly Afghans attack our stalwart American forces, who only invaded their country and installed a corrupt and unpopular dictator in order to bring them Peace™ and Democracy™ !

So, in the end, despite a confused list of policy suggestions that happen not to make a lick of sense (how the hell does he expect to “eradicate corruption” while supporting stolen elections and massive payments to drug kingpins?!), Mr Miliband’s essay argues cogently in favor of the Afghan war. If there is one thing we are meant to take away from this essay, it is that these desert wogs simply have no idea how to govern themselves and need constant oversight from their best friends in the United States and Britain. Doing so, of course, requires a long-term military presence (something which Mr Miliband curiously appears to support). He ought to have titled it “How not to End the War in Afghanistan”.

Written by pavanvan

April 12, 2010 at 1:11 pm

Greece to Get $41 Billion Bailout

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The Wall Street Journal reports today that Greece will get a $41 Billion “financing” package from Germany and France, who, I hasten to point out, aren’t exactly swimming in liquidity themselves.

The plan seems to be that Germany and France will soak up some of this Greek debt via public markets and state-owned banks, due to a EU bylaw that prohibits member states from owning the debt of other members. What’s astounding to me is that no one is asking Wall Street to pony up any of this cash. They, after all, are almost entirely responsible for this Greek debt crisis, and they made hundreds of millions of dollars watching Greece go down in flames.

Goldman Sachs alone, who was arguably the single biggest catalyst for Greece’s downward spiral, paid out more than $21 Billion in sheer bonuses to its employees. AIG, another  major player in this, paid out more than $100 million. I mean, shouldn’t some of this money go toward cleaning up the mess they caused? The Times printed an excellent series of articles on Wall Street’s complicity in this just one week ago.

Javier Hernandez  even reported that major bank shares swung upward on rumors of a pending EU Bailout to Greece. So they’re blatantly profiting from their crimes. I mean, how is this legal?

Oh yeah, I keep forgetting. The banks own Congress. They make the laws.

Written by pavanvan

February 28, 2010 at 2:34 pm

Wall Street Bonuses Increase 17%: A Banker’s Reaction

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A little part of me dies when I read stories like this. I mean, I know Wall Street “owns” Congress, as Rep. Dick Durbin was kind enough to inform us, and so the chances of any meaningful punitive action towards them are virtually nil, but still these developments never fail to outrage.

And through it all, one cannot help but wonder: What exactly do these bankers do to deserve their multi-million dollar salaries? People tell me they “work hard”, sure, but then so does a ditch-digger outside Kuala Lumpur, and no one pays him a million dollars. It isn’t even as though their work helps anyone, or at least not objectively. I’ve heard all manner of explanations that “the economy stops without Wall Street” – as though it hadn’t done that with Wall Street’s help.

The part most perplexing to me is how these bankers seem immune to shame for their theft. Surely they read the newspapers, every one of which carries countless stories of everyday citizens who had their lives turned upside-down by this crisis of their making. The Times had a particularly good one the other day about how millions face years of unemployment because of the crisis. The article is entitled “The New Poor“. Several of the people they interviewed had their savings wiped out and are now on the verge of homelessness. I mean, don’t they read articles like that and feel bad?

Apparently not. I recently spoke with a high-school buddy of mine (well, maybe buddy is the wrong word) who, after an economics degree at Duke, found a comfortable position at a prominent Wall Street firm.

“Yeah, I’m a fat cat”, he said, with an unmistakable note of pride.

I wanted to know how he felt about the new poor, particularly as the company to which he attached himself had a direct hand in causing the financial crisis.

He shrugged. “Those people deserved it. They should have been smarter with their money.”

I was appalled. “But your company sold them predatory loans! I mean, you guys willfully misled them.”

“Look”, he countered, “No one put a gun to their heads and forced them to trust us. They’re idiots. If they were smarter, they would have gone to school, gotten business degrees, and been in a position to know what they’re talking about. You play with fire, you get burned.”

“But then what’s the point of your business? Aren’t you in the business of handling the money of people who lack the knowledge to handle it themselves?”

He laughed mirthlessly. A cold look crept into his eyes. “Are you stupid or something? We’re in the business of making money. That’s it. Sometimes we make money by making other people money – sometimes we make money when other people lose money. That’s the bottom line.”

I was at a loss for words. “How can you be so callous?” I managed to stammer.

“Stop it with this gay shit. Like its my responsibility to worry about every poor loser who comes through my door. I’m only responsible for myself. Period. I don’t go around telling people to watch my back – I watch my own. They should do the same. I’m fucking sick of you assholes coming up to me and whining about all these idiots who lost money during the crash. Those retards deserved it. I looked out for myself – my company looked out for itself – and we’re making money. Those idiots didn’t look out for themselves. They expected someone else to do it. And look what happened.”

Nearly defeated, I asked, “So the banks have no responsibility for all these people who are now financially ruined?”

“If they want to blame someone, they should take a long, hard look in the mirror. These dickheads were happy enough with us when we were making them 15% per year, but now that things go sour they look for someone to blame. It’s their own damn fault. What, they think we’re in business just to help them out? Fucking retards.”

Conscious that I was beginning to sound like a broken record, I persisted. I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

“Well, you guys were ready enough to take the government bailouts. I mean, how can you justify that?”

He scowled. “Look, you have no idea what the fuck you’re talking about. What did you study in undergrad? Engineering? Leave this shit to the experts, troll. If the government allowed the banks to fail, the economy would have crashed. Done. The world would have been over. And all those bullshit sob stories you’re trying to sell me, they would have been 100 times worse. Anyway, we’re paying you assholes back, so I don’t see what you’re crying about.”

He left me with a bit of advice. “You really need to pull your head out of your ass. All this crying over others isn’t gonna get you anywhere. You’re what – 22? How much money do you make?”

I told him. He burst into laughter.

“See, that’s what I’m talking about! You’re gonna grow up to be one of these losers we take advantage of, if you aren’t careful. Here, what you should do – read some Ayn Rand. She’ll tell you all you need to know.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the mentality of Wall Street, that collection of companies without whom we cannot survive.

Written by pavanvan

February 24, 2010 at 12:37 pm

Citizens United and the Media

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Columbia Journalism Review has a great roundup of various media responses to the Citizens United case and what it means for the media. I guess I don’t have too much more to add, except that with the floodgates open to corporate “donations” for various campaigns, our corporations will have a much greater incentive to pony up the cash to keep the media’s mouth shut. And we all know our major newspapers are just immune to bribery, right?

“A lot of corporations right now are probably having frank and interesting discussions around how they want to use this,“ says Levinthal, a former politics reporter for the Dallas Morning News. “One great story might be trying to get ahead of the decisions they are going to make, and asking local companies how they anticipate using this before they do.”

“I think it’s going to be essential, to put it in old fashioned terms, to follow the money here,” says Wertheimer. “Public disclosure only works if someone discloses the information to the public, and I believe that the media has a very big responsibly to help fill that role.”

“It’s my hope that we’re going to get comprehensive disclosure requirements for corporations and labor unions, and from intermediate groups that are used as pass throughs, and from the people that are spending the money. But on top of all of that, investigative reporting above and beyond the disclosure information has an important role to play. These are very hard stories to do, and in the past there hasn’t been a lot of appetite among editors for taking the time to do investigative stories that may be very time consuming, but they’re essential now,” says Wertheimer. “It’s straightforward, and basic, and extremely important.”

Written by pavanvan

February 12, 2010 at 5:27 pm

Let Them Eat Cake

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Jeff Strabone waxes philosophic in 3 Quarks Daily:

It seems to me that over the past decade, in the United States, the state and a narrow circle of powerful interests—banks, energy companies, and private health insurers in particular—have simply given up trying to persuade the rest of us that their interests were our interests. Could we be moving in the twenty-first century to a state that practices domination without hegemony? Or, to put it in plain English, will the state shamelessly turn itself completely over to serving the interests of a powerful few without bothering to pretend that it’s not? And if it does, how should we respond?

Torture, of course, is nothing new. The United States has been implicated in torture before, most famously in Central America in the 1980s. See, for instance, the article on torture in Honduras by James LeMoyne in the New York Times Magazine for June 5, 1988. But until recently, torture was always part of covert operations. The people who ordered the operations felt they had something to hide. What torture and corporate kleptocracy have in common in the twenty-first century is the lack of shame that characterizes the responsible parties.

Written by pavanvan

January 25, 2010 at 6:54 pm

The F Word

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Andrew Sullivan with one of the most succinct and well-written reactions to the Supreme Court’s campaign bribery decision:

So we have a government fused with corporations, a legislature run by corporate lobbyists who have just been given a massive financial gift to control the process even more deeply; we have a theory of executive power advanced by one party that gives the president total extra-legal power over any human being he wants to call an “enemy combatant” and total prerogative in launching and waging wars (remember Cheney did not believe Bush needed any congressional support to invade Iraq); we have a Supreme Court that believes in extreme deference to presidential power; we have a Congress of total pussies on the left and maniacs on the right and little in the middle; we have a 24-hour propaganda channel, run by a multinational corporation and managed by a partisan Republican, demonizing the president for anything he does or does not do; we have the open embrace of torture as a routine aspect of US government; and we have one party urging an expansion of the war on Jihadism to encompass a full-scale war against Iran, an act that would embolden the Khamenei junta and ensure that a civilizational war between the nuttiest Christianists in America and the vilest Islamists metastasizes to Def Con 3.

There’s a word that characterizes this kind of polity. It’s on the tip of my tongue …

Written by pavanvan

January 23, 2010 at 10:25 am

In These Corporate States

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The Supreme Court’s recent decision that corporations are allowed unlimited donations to their candidate of choice comes as a shock, but not a very jarring one. Yes, it’s awful to have it codified that “corporations are just like very rich individuals” and this somehow confers on them the right to buy elections – but we have been living under that assumption for a long time now. The decision’s technical significance is in declaring the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Act mostly unconstitutional. I wonder if anyone will notice?

A valiant effort to keep corporate dollars out of elections, the McCain-Feingold bill itself needed, ironcally, corporate sponsorship in order to pass. What came out was “finance reform” that looked good on paper, but proved ineffectual in practice. Corporate entities were nominally restricted to a donation of $2,300 per candidate. But in practice, this bill left a gaping loophole. Corporations could simply instruct their employees to donate to such-and-such candidate and then reimburse them the cost of the donation. Or they can set up “Political Action Committees”, and funnel the money through those. This sort of thing happened to an unbelievable scale in the 2008 election, and one need only peruse Mr. Obama’s Open Secrets page to see the extent. With this recent decision, our corporations can dispense with even that thinly-veiled subterfuge. I suppose the real benefit goes to our political class, who can demand ever-larger “donations” from the now-uninhibited corporations.

Tyler Cowen links to a marvelous piece of obscurantism in an effort to demonstrate how this just isn’t a big deal – which it isn’t, if you think corporations should be allowed to run the country. For the rest of us, however, this recent decisions codifies a trend we have dejectedly watched for decades.

Also, hat’s off to The Associated Press for at least having the guts to explain to the public what this means. Compare the Press and Washington Post headlines and opening paragraphs for this story:

The Washinton Post:

Headline: “High Court Shows It Might Be Willing to Act Boldly

The Roberts court ended its term last summer avoiding a constitutional showdown with Congress over the Voting Rights Act. But its first major decision of the current term might signal a new willingness to act boldly.

The Associated Press:

Headline (From the NYT): “Justices Block Key Part of Campaign Law”

WASHINGTON (AP) — A bitterly divided Supreme Court vastly increased the power of big business and unions to influence government decisions Thursday by freeing them to spend their millions directly to sway elections for president and Congress.

The AP headline could certainly have been stronger – the decision blocked a key part of campaign finance law – but I imagine the Times were the ones to muddle with the headline. Otherwise a strong opening with resonant phrases: “Spend their millions directly to sway”, “bitterly divided Supreme Court”, etc. In once sentence it tells us everything we need to know.

Compare this to the work of Mr. Robert Barnes of The Washington Post. His opening tells us nothing. “might signal a willingness to act boldly”? Give me a break. But seeing that The Washington Post has repeatedly opined in favor of corporate control of elections, I suppose one can hardly be surprised.

This sorry episode is one lost battle in a larger debate on “free speech” and what constitutes an “individual”. Is bribery free speech? Are corporations individuals? According to the supreme court, yes and yes.

Written by pavanvan

January 22, 2010 at 11:04 am

Sarah Palin: Political Scientist

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Apropos Ms. Palin’s recent entry into political commentary, I think it’s important to remember this lengthy article in October’s Vanity Fair, written by none other than Ms. Palin’s once (but not future) son-in-law, the man who impregnated her daughter, Mr. Levi Johnson.

The public saw Levi only once, following the bizarre announcement that Ms. Palin’s 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, was pregnant during the 2008 election. He made a single appearance at the Republican National Convention, which the article suggests he was basically forced to do, and nobody really heard from him again. Until now.

Palin comes across in Mr. Johnson’s article as a careerist par-none, a person for whom the next step in the executive (here, political) ladder is their sole driving force, who would be willing to sacrifice anything and tell any lie to get ahead, for whom even her children and (soon-to-be) grandchildren are little more than political pawns. It seems likely that Mr. Johnson has some ax to grind with Ms. Palin, as the bulk of the article states how she never had time for her children or family – but he levels some charges which, if true, would be fantastically outrageous.

You may remember, for instance, the short-lived speculation that Ms. Palin’s most recent son, Trig, was actually her daughter’s. This turned out not to be true, but a similar scheme almost went into play. As Levi explains:

“You’ve got to listen to what my mom just said.” Sarah told me she had a great idea: we would keep it a secret—nobody would know that Bristol was pregnant. She told me that once Bristol had the baby she and Todd would adopt him. That way, she said, Bristol and I didn’t have to worry about anything.

Sarah kept mentioning this plan. She was nagging—she wouldn’t give up. She would say, “So, are you gonna let me adopt him?” We both kept telling her we were definitely not going to let her adopt the baby. I think Sarah wanted to make Bristol look good.

Truly absurd.

And let’s not forget why Ms. Palin quit her governorship of Alaska, despite having two more years to serve. In her resignation speech, she mumbled something about dead fish not swimming with the stream, or something like that – but Levi gives us another take:

[After the election], Sarah was sad for a while. She walked around the house pouting. I had assumed she was going to go back to her job as governor, but a week or two after she got back she started talking about how nice it would be to quit and write a book or do a show and make “triple the money.” It was, to her, “not as hard.” She would blatantly say, “I want to just take this money and quit being governor.”

Oh. Yeah, I guess that makes more sense.

The article is worth reading in full, but any of the coverage on Ms. Palin should give some idea of her intellectual rigor. This is a woman who, in 2008 was unable to explain the Bush Doctrine, someone who didn’t know what the Federal Reserve did, who had only a vague grasp of the dynamics of the Cold War, who could not explain why there was a North and South Korea, why we’re best friends with “communist” China, or even what the phrase “checks and balances” means.

When pressed on these issues, Ms. Palin, of course, points to her faux-blue collar background – the whole “I didn’t get to go to a fancy college” line, but we’re talking about a basic grasp of high school history here. Nevertheless, I’m sure Fox News will find her commentary most valuable.

A grim, misanthropic version of myself hopes she wins the Presidency in 2010. She would be no more than we deserve, and, much more than the Bush scion, would lay bare the decadence of our political culture. Already her popularity and soon-to-be status as a bona-fide political “journalist” betrays the wide and bottomless pit in which we now carry our discourse.

Written by pavanvan

January 12, 2010 at 7:54 pm

UN Opera

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The Times gives us a juicy piece in today’s issue about an American UN official named Peter Galbraith who plotted *gasp* to depose the fraudulent Hamid Karzai and install a more “western-friendly” leader in Afghanistan.  The journalists at the Times treat this matter with the delicacy of threading a needle, for though it is clear Hamid Karzai’s victory was illegitimate, they want to make it clear that ousting a president is very, very bad (unless, of course, the US government does it).

Shortly after making this suggestion, Mr. Galbraith mysteriously left the country and was subsequently fired:

Mr. Galbraith abruptly left the country in early September and was fired weeks later. Mr. Galbraith has said that he believes that he was forced out because he was feuding with his boss, the Norwegian Kai Eide, the top United Nations official in Kabul, over how to respond to what he termed wholesale fraud in the Afghan presidential election. He accused Mr. Eide of concealing the degree of fraud benefiting Mr. Karzai.

Galbraith was one of the few voices crying “fraud” after the August elections. He was soon vindicated, after almost one-third of Karzai’s votes turned out to be fakes in a UN audit this October. Galbraith then set upon outlining his plan to remove Karzai, which first took form in a letter to his boss, Eide. After reading the letter, Eide remarked that the plan was:

“unconstitutional, it represented interference of the worst sort, and if pursued it would provoke not only a strong international reaction” but also civil insurrection. It was during this conversation, Mr. Eide said, that Mr. Galbraith proposed taking a leave to the United States, and Mr. Eide accepted.

The whole election was “unconstitutional”, of course, and there can be no worse sort of “interference” than an armed invasion by a global superpower, but the question merits consideration: since Karzai is an illegitimate president, having won no elections, would the US be justified in forcibly replacing him? I have the feeling two wrongs do not make a right.

But the story gets even more complicated. Galbraith has repeatedly accused his boss of having corrupt ties to the Karzai government, and while I don’t think he specifically mentioned it, I’m sure the accusation is that Eide is somehow profiting from the vast heroin fortune that runs through the Karzai family.

The Times only mentions that Eide will be “in Afghanistan until the end of his term”, and says nothing else on the matter. But the policy blogs have been buzzing about Galbraith’s recent accusation (circa only three days ago) that the real reason his boss isn’t running for a second term is that Eide, in fact, was fired, for his corrupt contacts with the Karzai government.

It is interesting that The Times neglects to mention this accusation, and equally interesting that it places most of it’s article’s focus on Galbraith. Though it has not refrained from criticizing the August election (proclaiming it “deeply flawed” though not yet an outright fraud), The Times has displayed itself as a fundamentally pro-Karzai paper. Then it should be clear why they would focus on a failed coup idea (which led to its progenitor’s dismissal) and not to a benefactor of Karzai’s corruption (which also led to a dismissal.)

Meanwhile, this sorry little episode exemplifies, if anything, the staid dysfunction under which the UN operates, the pettery personal politics, and at times, outright corruption.

Written by pavanvan

December 17, 2009 at 10:45 am

Posted in War

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Indian Cynicism

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A young man describes the budget appropriation procedures in India:

“This road was unpaved for a long time, so we began to agitate for it. The central government appropriated $10 million. It had to go through the Chief Minister, after which $5 million remained. Then it passed to the city commissioner, and it became $3 million. The rest of city government took their cut, and $1 Million remained. The contractor did $500,000 worth of work, and pocketed the rest for himself. The whole $10 million, that was all people money; it all went to rich individuals.”

With the history of 2008 in mind, can we honestly say to ourselves that things are different in America?

Written by pavanvan

December 7, 2009 at 9:06 pm

Public and Secret Buildups

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As expected, President Obama will soon announce his decision to escalate the Afghan War to the tune of around 30,000 soldiers. Meanwhile, Blackwater is busy at work in Pakistan, heading up our governments secret assassination program and performing “various tasks” for the CIA and Joint Chiefs of Staff. Jeremy Scahill’s article is worth quoting in detail:

“Part of this, of course, is an attempt to get around the constraints the Congress has placed on DoD. If you don’t have sufficient soldiers to do it, you hire civilians to do it. I mean, it’s that simple. It would not surprise me,” [said Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff from 2002 to 2005.]

Blackwater, he said, is already so deeply entrenched that it has become a staple of the US military operations in Pakistan. According to the former Blackwater executive, “The politics that go with the brand of BW is somewhat set aside because what you’re doing is really one military guy to another.” Blackwater’s first known contract with the CIA for operations in Afghanistan was awarded in 2002 and was for work along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

We are not told the extent of mercenary presense in Pakistan/Afghanistan, but some sources allege there to be one mercenary soldier for every US Army man there. So the true extent of the escalation has been hidden from the public, and it might be prudent to double any reported troop presence in Afghanistan. Obama’s stated “buildup” of 30,000 troops will bring the official total in the Afghan theatre to around 110,000 soldiers, which means there could be up to 200,000 actually there.

Good thing we elected such a progressive leader!

Written by pavanvan

November 25, 2009 at 1:32 pm

Posted in War

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India: A Local Perspective

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A young man on the street was gracious enough to share his opinions regarding India:

“Corruption is endemic here. Let’s say, for example, I get stopped by the police. I jumped a red light. Now I can either take the ticket, around Rs. 1000 or so, or I can simply bribe the policeman, say Rs. 200. Who, I ask you, would prefer to pay the ticket? 99.9% of us will just give the bribe and  be done with it. That sort of thing simply cannot happen in America.”

“Oh yes, income inequality is still huge, still a major problem, but I think there is reason to believe it is getting better. If you came here, say, 10 years ago, you would have seen it a lot worse. Come in another 10 years or so, and you’ll likely see it less. Can poverty ever be truly eradicated here? Probably not. The rich are getting a lot richer in this country; they have been for the past two decades. The poor have not seen anything like that; life for the bottom has continued in much the same way.”

“Pollution… well, what can you say about a people who throw their trash on the ground and then blithely forget it? These are cultural problems, but they are also political problems. You think there isn’t enough money to make it so that people don’t have to beg? You think we lack the knowledge and manpower – I mean, you think it’s beyond us to construct a decent municipal trash system, to make sure the sewer reaches all areas of the city, to make regularized trash pickup a basic right? Of course it isn’t, but the political will to enact such programs just isn’t there. The vested interests who run our political system would rather see our resources to go different ends. Their ends. Look at New York City – every vehicle has a catalytic converter, trash is superbly managed – hell, there’s a trash can on every street corner. We’re a long way from that.”

“In fact, I would say we in India are about 100 years behind the West.”

(At this, I demurred.)

“No, certainly we are! The things you take for granted there – social security, regularized pensions, food banks, homeless shelters, scrupulous policeman; we have none of those here. P. Sainath said that all the judges and magistrates in India don’t have the power of a single police constable, and he said it right. We hardly even have a sense of ourselves as a nation, as such. We would much rather identify with smaller communal structures: Religion, race, caste, social status, and so forth. What do the Indian billionaires really have in common with the destitute on the street? Not a damn thing.”

“But – and here is the rub – we are all implicated! Take the example of the policeman. Who will say they have never given a bribe?  I know I have. Our politicians – we say they are corrupt, we complain and moan, but in the end who elected them? We did. It is a vicious circle, without a beginning or end.”

“Perhaps I misspoke, however. If I could point to a beginning of the circle, it would surely be the population. All of our problems stem from that. But again, it is a cultural problem. Everyone gets married here; it is basically a law. And if you get married and don’t have kids, people will immediately assume something is wrong. The gossip one hears! ‘Cheh, did you hear so-and-so still hasn’t had a child? They’ve been married for more than a year! I think his wife may be infertile. Such a shame, such a shame!” One cannot escape talk like that, and one cannot, I think, live with it for more than a short time. So we are compelled to have children by a thousand different pressures. And one is not enough, you must have at least two! And woe unto you if they turn out to be girls, especially if you’re poor! In that case the dominant strategy is to just keep having children until a boy turns up. What can you do in the face of that? We distribute condoms, but nobody uses them – we hold sessions on family planning, but no one shows up.”

“About the future, I am not too optimistic. Our pollution corresponds directly with our need for an “affluent lifestyle”, and there is no getting away from it. We rely on coal to an alarming extent. Our population keeps growing and there seems no power strong enough to check it. 40% of our population is under the age of 30, but that is both a blessing and a curse. What will we do in ten years when they all start to want families?”

Written by pavanvan

November 24, 2009 at 12:59 pm

Geithner and AIG, Sitting in a Tree

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The Times reports on a recently released audit which concludes, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that Timothy Geithner (now Treasury Secretary, then President of the New York Fed) voluntarily gave up vast negotiating powers when choosing to shower AIG with billions upon billions of dollars.

The article is written in standard Times-ese, which is to say that it seeks to relate truly scandalous information in such a way as to cause as little uproar as possible, but although it must be translated into standard English, some truly damning testimony emerges:

Just two days before the New York Fed paid A.I.G.’s partners 100 cents on the dollar to tear up their contracts with the insurance giant, one bank volunteered to take a modest haircut — but it never got the chance.

UBS, of Switzerland, alone offered to give a break to the New York Fed in the negotiations last November over how to keep A.I.G. from toppling and taking other banks down with it. It would have accepted 98 cents on the dollar.

The Fed “refused to use its considerable leverage,” Neil M. Barofsky, the special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, wrote in a report to be officially released on Tuesday, examining the much-criticized decision to make A.I.G.’s trading partners whole when people and businesses were taking painful losses in the financial markets.

So this means: The New York Fed decided to print 100% of the value of AIG’s investors’ bad loans in order to get them to divest from AIG, and (hopefully) save the money-laundering giant. Realize, now, that the Fed was under no obligation whatsoever to guarantee these loans with taxpayer dollars, and certainly not guarantee them at full value. Given that these CDS loans were later revealed to be totally fraudulent, this decision makes even less sense.

If I convinced you to give me real dollars for Monopoly Money, and then you complained to the government that the Monopoly Money you received was actually worthless, would you expect them to just print 100% of the value and give it to you, no questions asked? Or would you expect them to give you nothing and tell you, in effect, to be smarter next time?

What’s truly astounding about this episode is that some of the banks offered to take less than 100% of the value of their worthless investments, but Geithner refused! He said to them, essentially, that “oh well, it doesn’t matter – it’s taxpayer dollars anyway! Go ahead, take the full value!”

This is the man who is now our Treasury Secretary.

Goldman and The Government: Strange Bedfellows

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The Huffington Post gives us a nice preview of an insider report in the upcoming issue of Vanity Fair, detailing the secret meetings between Goldman Sachs and the US Treasury at the height of last year’s stock market crash.

Here is a nice little Q&A with the author, Andy Sorkin, to get you warmed up. Look out for this article.

Written by pavanvan

September 30, 2009 at 10:23 pm

Overcrowded Philippine Classrooms!

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The Times on Philippine classroom overcrowding

The article begins by relating the story of an unfortunate teacher who must shout herself hoarse to be heard by her 100-student class.

Then we are told that an “exploding population” has combined with “an education budget so small that it cannot find space to teach its children” to create these conditions.

The rest of the piece goes on to detail the sordid conditions of Philippine education – the over crowded classrooms, the dearth of teachers, the students sharing seats. We are told that the Philippines spends only 2.18% of its budget on education, and that despite promises of change from President Ayorro, the situation has not improved.

Once again, The New York Times fails to include the most basic facts about this situation: that the Philippine education budget is largely sacrificed to the military, and that the US provides massive military aid with an almost negligible educational counterpart.

I mentioned this before, but it bears repeating that the US is the largest benefactor of the Philippines’ military, and they receive the 12th largest military gift of any US-sponsored dictatorship. (Source: The Philippines Embassy, May 13, 2009) The aid has recently increased to $680 million, much of it for the military, and represents “the appreciation and value the Obama Administration gives to the US-Philippines partnership”

Could some of that that money be spent on improving the Philippines’ educational system? Easily, of course – but then that wouldn’t be in our “national interest”.

Ask the New York Times why.

Written by pavanvan

August 25, 2009 at 2:23 pm

Afghan elections

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The beleaguered Afghan nation, tormented for three decades, first by the Soviet Union, then the US, dutifully inked their fingers yesterday to vote in a general election. Though the field was a bit more diverse this time around, with more than 40 candidates from which to choose, Hamid Karzai is widely seen as the winning favorite.

Favorite, that is, of the US establishment and Afghan elite – not the Afghan populace, whose opinion matters remarkably little in affairs such as these. The US needs a mandate to continue its aggression in Afghanistan; it needs a friendly Prime Minister to allow construction of the Central Asia oil pipeline – thus, a second term for Hamid Karzai is all but a foregone conclusion.

It matters very little, of course, that entrenched corruption within his government is now widely acknowledged. The US cares very little that Karzai is deeply unpopular among the population he rules. It doesn’t even matter that his own Deputy President openly proclaimed that Hamid Karzai is a “US stooge”. In fact, that is precisely why he will win.

It is interesting to view The Times’ coverage of Hamid Karzai, particularly this saccharine article, published a couple weeks ago. After a brief and dismissive list of the very real charges against him, we are told that Karzai “clearly abhors violence”, that he is “a lonely man”, “painted into a corner”, that “no one is one his side.” (Except, of course, the corrupt graft machine of which he sits at the head).

The article follows a similar tone throughout. I suppose allegations that Karzai’s family derives its wealth largely from opium is beneath The Times’ notice. The article had the audacity to quote Karzai as saying  “I’m a very, very, very simple person. I have no property. I have no money. I have no love for luxury.” without any challenge. This, from the leader of one of the most corrupt governments on earth!

As I write, the Afghans count their votes. No one doubts that Karzai, the “US Stooge”, the corrupt executor of our command, the ‘deeply unpopular’ incumbent will prevail. It is no coincidence that the vast majority of Afghan election coverage centers around this man.  In him, the US ruling establishment will find an avaricious, though obedient, stooge in Afghanistan.

Written by pavanvan

August 20, 2009 at 7:40 pm

Contributors to the McCain Campaign

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For comparison, here are the top ten corporations who donated to the McCain presidential campaign. Notice any similarities?

1 Merrill Lynch: $381,995
2 Citigroup Inc: $331,051
3 Morgan Stanley: $274,452
4 Goldman Sachs: $259,345
5 JPMorgan Chase: $240,357
6 AT&T Inc: $220,438
7 US Government: $208,604
8 UBS AG: $196,593
9 Wachovia Corp: $196,313
10 Credit Suisse Group: $185,453

The banks that donated to both campaigns are highlighted in bold. No matter which candidate won, their interests were secure from the start.

Written by pavanvan

August 19, 2009 at 8:00 pm

Top Contributors to the Obama Campaign

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Opensecrets.org is an excellent resource to find out where our elected officials get their money. From their website:

University of California: $1,591,395
Goldman Sachs: $994,795
Harvard University: $854,747
Microsoft Corp: $833,617
Google Inc: $803,436
Citigroup Inc: $701,290
JPMorgan Chase & Co: $695,132
Time Warner: $590,084
Sidley Austin LLP: $588,598
Stanford University: $586,557
National Amusements Inc: $551,683
UBS AG: $543,219
Wilmerhale Llp: $542,618
Skadden, Arps et al: $530,839
IBM Corp $528,822
Columbia University $528,302
Morgan Stanley $514,881
General Electric $499,130
US Government $494,820
Latham & Watkins $493,835

Financial sector firms are in bold, while law firms are italicized.  All together, corporate donations comprise an overwhelming proportion of the money given to the “Obama for America” presidential campaign.

Now ask yourself why President Obama was so keen on bailing out the financial sector.

Written by pavanvan

August 19, 2009 at 2:21 pm