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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

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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