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Monthly Archives: December 2013

So this is Christmas.

This is what we traditionally think of as Christmas here in the US – a lovely video set to Josh Groban’s compelling rendition of “O, Holy Night”:

After two days of self-imposed news exile, I returned to the land of the interwebs to find that the US government officially celebrated Christmas in a distinctly different fashion than I had.

Obama took a break from the heavy lifting of doing Christmas in Hawai’i to sign into law the budget bill and the 2014 NDAA.  Signing the following year’s National Defense Authorization Act during the Christmas holiday is becoming an Obama tradition.  The NDAA is the vehicle in which Obama was given the power to assassinate anyone anywhere upon his whimsy.  (“Happy holidays from the White House – to you, your family and your spouse.  In signing this law it has come to pass that I now have the power to kill your ass.  Season’s Greetings, Barack Obama.”)

We are going to continue spending vast sums of money on the war efforts.  What war? Why, any war, all war, those past, those current and those yet to come wars.

“[…] The [NDAA] bill assures $552.1 billion in military spending, as well as $80.7 billion for overseas contingency operations, namely the war in Afghanistan. […]”

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/12/26/obama-signs-bipartisan-budget-deal-and-guantanamo-transfer-bills-into-law/

By the way, I really enjoy how the media feels compelled to place the word “bipartisan” in front of the words “budget deal” every goddamned time they mention it.  And note is taken of their reluctance to put “NDAA” or “Defense Authorization Act” in any headline.  It is always called “a defense bill” or, as Rawstory does above, the headline totally obscures the nature of the bill altogether.  The 2014 NDAA does not transfer Guantanamo detainees anywhere.

Pentagon spending, the gift that keeps on giving.

“[…] Because of its persistent inability to tally its accounts, the Pentagon is the only federal agency that has not complied with a law that requires annual audits of all government departments. That means that the $8.5 trillion in taxpayer money doled out by Congress to the Pentagon since 1996, the first year it was supposed to be audited, has never been accounted for. That sum exceeds the value of China’s economic output last year. […]”

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/11/18/us-usa-pentagon-waste-specialreport-idUSBRE9AH0LQ20131118

To promote festive feelings globally on this special day, the US took action to spread the Christmas message abroad.

For instance, we killed four people via drone-strike in Pakistan.  On Christmas Day.

http://dissenter.firedoglake.com/2013/12/26/while-americans-were-celebrating-christmas-obama-administration-launched-drone-strike-in-pakistan/

We sent troops into South Sudan.  Sudan/South Sudan has oil.  It also has civil strife, partly because we arranged it for them a couple of years ago.  Anywhere in the world where there is the even the potential for civil unrest, the US exploits the situation to the best of its abilities.  If the world were a comic book, the US would be Exacerbation Man, swooping in to make all bad situations worse.

[…] RT: A small contingency of US troops are already in Sudan and marines are on stand-by, is a larger American military involvement possible?

Abayomi Azikiwe: It could very well lead to a larger US and UN presence in the Republic of South Sudan. It’s a very volatile situation, we are right now analyzing reports about the possibility of the discovery of two mass graves, one in the capital Juba and the other in Bor, in the capital of Jonglei state, there also has been fighting in Unity state which are all the producing area. The US has a lot invested politically in the Republic of South Sudan and they were the main forces behind encouraging the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement to break away from the Republic of Sudan in the north of the country. Therefore, they have a lot to say about developments that are going on right now in this troubled nation.

RT: Washington was one of the main champions of South Sudan’s secession. Could it have foreseen these problems that it faced just a couple of years around?

AA: I think they were more interested in weakening the Republic of Sudan. Prior to the partition Sudan was the largest geographic nation-state in Africa, it was also an emerging oil-producing state, it was producing over 500,000 oil barrels per day. 80 per cent of the oil concessions with the Republic of Sudan in Khartoum were held by the People’s Republic of China, who state-owned oil farms there. So it was a concerted move on the part of US to weaken the government in Khartoum and also to lessen the influence of the People’s Republic of China in Sudan.

RT: When it was one country Sudan was under American sanctions, so US oil giants couldn’t do business there. Has this changed?

AA: Yes, in the south the US is trying to develop mechanisms for exploring the oil. The problem is the US doesn’t have a lot of resources to invest in the oil industry inside the country. President Salva Kiir of the Republic of South Sudan went to China several months ago to try to get them to assist in a building of a pipeline where they could circumvent the flow of oil from the south into the north. However, the Chinese refused to finance such a project, although they did pledge to provide some aid. It’s a very difficult situation as far as the US is concerned because the country deteriorates into a civil war between the followers of Riek Machar, the ousted Vice President, and President Salva Kiir. This of course will damage US interest in region, and it can also spread to other countries throughout Central and East Africa. […]

http://rt.com/op-edge/foreign-involvement-in-south-sudan-782/

We are back in Iraq, baby.  Once we glom onto a country, we hang around like a fucking germ.

Two years after President Barack Obama declared that his administration had ended the catastrophic US war in Iraq “responsibly… leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant” government, the US has rushed emergency shipments of Hellfire missiles to Baghdad and appears to be preparing for a possible renewal of direct military intervention in the form of drone missile attacks. […]

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2013/12/27/iraq-d27.html

And we are going under the sea – no, not to study ocean acidification or to find out why there are peculiar events occurring with the sea life all over the planet, but to weaponize the waters with drones.

http://rt.com/usa/navy’s-ocean-powered-drone-843/

We need to stop this shit.  We need to.  Our government won’t stop it until we, the people, demand an end to the killing.  The montage that accompanies this song is what the US actually does at Christmas instead of quietly celebrating the birth of the pacifist Jesus, depicted in the video with which I opened this post.  Dismally, more than four decades after they wrote this song, we still have yet to realize the hopeful and pointed message Lennon and Ono expressed in the lyrics.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono, “Happy Xmas (War is Over)”, 1971:

“Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” lyrics:

(Happy Xmas Kyoko

Happy Xmas Julian)

So this is Xmas

And what have you done

Another year over

And a new one just begun

And so this is Xmas

I hope you have fun

The near and the dear one

The old and the young

A very Merry Xmas

And a happy New Year

Let’s hope it’s a good one

Without any fear

And so this is Xmas (war is over)

For weak and for strong (if you want it)

For rich and the poor ones (war is over)

The world is so wrong (if you want it)

And so happy Xmas (war is over)

For black and for white (if you want it)

For yellow and red ones (war is over)

Let’s stop all the fight (now)

A very Merry Xmas

And a happy New Year

Let’s hope it’s a good one

Without any fear

And so this is Xmas (war is over)

And what have we done (if you want it)

Another year over (war is over)

A new one just begun (if you want it)

And so happy Xmas (war is over)

We hope you have fun (if you want it)

The near and the dear one (war is over)

The old and the young (now)

A very Merry Xmas

And a happy New Year

Let’s hope it’s a good one

Without any fear

War is over, if you want it

War is over now

Happy Xmas

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11 Comments

Posted by on December 27, 2013 in drones, Iraq, Pakistan

 

And now a brief word from our sponsor.

Dear Assorted Assholes,

It has come to my attention that the U.S. Congress has recently passed a budget that cuts extended unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed, and continues forward with the sequester cuts to the food-stamp, heating assistance and WIC programs, amongst other programs of aid.  This has been done largely because most members of Congress seem to believe that helping the poor and financially distressed encourages sloth. Some members of Congress have even opined that they are following Biblical teachings by taking these hard-line austerity actions. I must say that I find it perplexing that this same Congress holds the obviously contradictory opinion that giving money to the already wealthy does not encourage sloth, greed, or general douchebaggery.

It also seems that while condemning the more fundamentalist Islamic communities for promoting their sharia beliefs within their own countries, the US military allows some indulgence for supposed Christian messages to be scrawled on bombs or printed on the gunsights of weapons. I understand that Colin Powell and Dick Cheney both personally signed bombs three days before the 1991 bombing of Baghdad’s Ameriyah Shelter, for the sheer fun of it.  Although they did not invoke the name of any deity, such lighthearted glee at the thought of killing other humans is a particularly grotesque example of the worst impulses of man.

http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/us-military-weapons-inscribed-secret-jesus-bible-codes/story?id=9575794 and see also: http://www.globalresearch.ca/military-deviancy-and-war-trophies-body-parts-forearms-and-souvenir-stars-and-stripes-from-predator-drones/5343963?print=1

I give a special shout-out to George W. Bush, who claimed that he was told directly by God to invade Iraq and Afghanistan, thereby unleashing the wholesale slaughter of several million people living in countries which had never threatened the United States.

I would like to mention Lloyd Blankfein and Michael Bloomberg by name as well:

Lloyd, back in 2009, after wreaking nearly complete destruction on the economy around the globe, which will not recover as long as people like you are in any positions of power, you claimed that bankers were “doing God’s work”.  That you seemed serious while making such a remark is a pretty fucking sad commentary on the state of your worthless soul.  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1226114/Goldman-Sachs-chief-says-Gods-work-defends-banks-bumper-profits.html

Michael, you banned food donations to the homeless shelters in NYC, because you think you need to monitor how much salt and other unhealthy foodstuffs the poor ingest.  I’m here to tell you that salt intake is the least of their problems.

http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2012/03/19/bloomberg-strikes-again-nyc-bans-food-donations-to-the-homeless/

Then, when you were asked about a story in the NYTimes on a homeless 11-year-old and her family, you said, “This kid was dealt a bad hand. I don’t know quite why. That’s just the way God works. Sometimes some of us are lucky and some of us are not.”

http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2013/12/18/3079711/bloomberg-dasani-comments/#

To all those mentioned above and to all the other various assholes, too numerous to list in such limited space, who claim that they are somehow righteous in their hideous acts against humanity, I would like to say: quit blaming it all on me, bitches.

Thank you.

– God

 
1 Comment

Posted by on December 22, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Jeh Johnson to be the head of the Department of Homeland Security.

“Johnson won confirmation 78-16. He could be sworn in as early as this week in order to begin immediately tackling some departmental priorities including stiffening border security, upgrading airport protections and improving immigration enforcement operations.”

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/12/16/jeh-johnson-confirmed-as-new-homeland-security-chief/

It’s kind of hard to imagine who would be a good person to head the agency with the Gestapo-like moniker and duties of the Department of  Homeland Security. so why should we object to Jeh?  Heck, why should we object to the DHS at all?

That the DHS, which was allocated $47 bb for its 2012 budget, cannot pass an audit is irrelevant.  We are only talking about taxpayer dollars here, not, y’know, money that needs any sort of real accounting.  Just ask the Pentagon.  KPMG, the independent auditor of the DHS, was unable to give an audit opinion of the DHS books in 2003, 2005, 2007, 2008, or 2009.  Their reports for ’04 and ’06, supposedly available on the DHS website, are not actually available (one gets a “404 error”).  For fiscal year 2010, KPMG couldn’t even begin an audit, as the DHS books were such a mess.  Despite that, the chief financial officer of DHS issued this message on its 2010 “report”: ” This Annual Financial Report (AFR) is our principal financial statement of accountability to the President, Congress and the American public. The AFR gives a comprehensive view of the Department’s financial activities and demonstrates the Department’s stewardship of taxpayer dollars.”   The message from the DHS CFO concludes “I am extremely proud of the Department’s accomplishments … we will continue to build upon our successes.”  [http://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/cfo-afrfy2010.pdf]

Janet Napolitano’s (then the secretary of DHS) note on the 2010 report ended with these words; “[the DHS] is ‘continuing to be responsible stewards of taxpayer resources. The scope of our mission is broad, challenging, and vital to the security of the Nation … Thank you for your partnership and collaboration. Yours very truly, Janet Napolitano”   [http://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/cfo-afrfy2010.pdf]

Full disclosure: I have never personally collaborated with the fucking DHS, but appreciate that Janet took the time to thank those who have.

Since its inception under George W. Bush, the DHS has given us such delights as the TSA and fusion centers, has been steadily militarizing our local police forces, claimed the right to (illegally) confiscate laptops and electronics at our borders, and open our personal mail.

David Rittgers (Cato Institute) wrote an article about the fusion centers in 2011, mentioning:

[…] a long line of fusion center and DHS reports labeling broad swaths of the public as a threat to national security. The North Texas Fusion System labeled Muslim lobbyists as a potential threat; a DHS analyst in Wisconsin thought both pro- and anti-abortion activists were worrisome; a Pennsylvania homeland security contractor watched environmental activists, Tea Party groups, and a Second Amendment rally; the Maryland State Police put anti-death penalty and anti-war activists in a federal terrorism database; a fusion center in Missouri thought that all third-party voters and Ron Paul supporters were a threat….”

http://www.cato.org/blog/were-all-terrorists-now

Regarding our private mail, there’s this:

‘All mail originating outside the United States Customs territory that is to be delivered inside the U.S. Customs territory is subject to Customs examination,’ says the CBP [Customs and Border Protection] Web site. That includes personal correspondence. “All mail means ‘all mail,’” said John Mohan, a CBP spokesman, emphasizing the point. […]

http://www.nbcnews.com/id/10740935/ns/us_news-security/

DHS feels it has the right to simply seize our possessions at border crossings, Bill of Rights notwithstanding, because of  “terrorists” and “child pornographers”  – and can do so based on the “hunches” of DHS employees.

WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — U.S. border agents should continue to be allowed to search a traveler’s laptop, cellphone or other electronic device and keep copies of any data on them based on no more than a hunch, according to an internal Homeland Security Department study. It contends limiting such searches would prevent the U.S. from detecting child pornographers or terrorists and expose the government to lawsuits.

The 23-page report, obtained by The Associated Press and the American Civil Liberties Union under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, provides a rare glimpse of the Obama administration’s thinking on the long-standing but controversial practice of border agents and immigration officers searching and in some cases holding for weeks or months the digital devices of anyone trying to enter the U.S.

Since his election, President Barack Obama has taken an expansive view of legal authorities in the name of national security, asserting that he can order the deaths of U.S. citizens abroad who are suspected of terrorism without involvement by courts, investigate reporters as criminals and — in this case — read and copy the contents of computers carried by U.S. travelers without a good reason to suspect wrongdoing.

Related: Obama Administration Defends ‘Daily’ Collection Of US Citizen Phone Records

The DHS study, dated December 2011, said the border searches do not violate the First or Fourth amendments, which prohibit restrictions on speech and unreasonable searches and seizures. It specifically objected to a tougher standard in a 1986 government policy that allowed for only cursory review of a traveler’s documents.

“We do not believe that this 1986 approach, or a reasonable suspicion requirement in any other form, would improve current policy,” the report said. “Officers might hesitate to search an individual’s device without the presence of articulable factors capable of being formally defended, despite having an intuition or hunch based on experience that justified a search.” It added: “An on-the-spot perusal of electronic devices following the procedures established in 1986 could well result in a delay of days or weeks.”

The Homeland Security report was prepared by its Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

http://washington.cbslocal.com/2013/06/05/dept-of-homeland-security-laptops-phones-can-be-searched-based-on-hunches/

Getting back to Jeh, the new head of the DHS, President Obama heaped profuse praise on him, no doubt in part simply because one of his nominees finally made it through the Congressional gauntlet.  Perhaps also because Jeh gave a whole lot of money to Obama’s campaigns.  Also because terrorists.

[…] “In Jeh, our dedicated homeland security professionals will have a strong leader with a deep understanding of the threats we face and a proven ability to work across agencies and complex organizations to keep America secure,” President Barack Obama said in a statement praising the bipartisan vote.

“As secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh will play a leading role in our efforts to protect the homeland against terrorist attacks, adapt to changing threats, stay prepared for natural disasters, strengthen our border security, and make our immigration system fairer.”

As the Pentagon’s top lawyer, Johnson was responsible for a prior legal review of every military operation ordered by the president or the defense secretary.

In October, when he announced his nomination, Obama said Johnson was an “absolutely critical” member of his national security team and had been at the heart of many of the policies that have kept America safe. […]

DHS is an amalgamation of 22 separate agencies with 240,000 employees, and critics have argued that the department is in disarray.

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/12/16/jeh-johnson-confirmed-as-new-homeland-security-chief/

Jeh, you might remember, was the Obama advisor who opined that it was acceptable for the president to target Americans in drone strikes.

“… Johnson also suggested that U.S. citizens could be targeted in strikes in a February 2012 speech at Yale Law School…Johnson’s role in drone policy at the Defense Department could play into the Department of Homeland Security’s quest to build up a fleet of domestic drones, including Predator drones, with ‘nonlethal weapons’ …”  http://www.nationaljournal.com/national-security/meet-jeh-johnson-drone-lawyer-and-obama-s-homeland-security-nominee-20131017)

So, yeah, that’s who should be directing internal security policies in the US – the guy who advises the President on his illegal drone assassination program and who declared that it was acceptable for the Pres and his secret cabal to target Americans (amongst others) for drone-bombing if the secret group decided, in secret, that the person in question was a “belligerent” – the definition of which is secret, of course.  And it’s okay to kill that person (American or otherwise) without charges being brought, an arrest taking place, or an ensuing trial.

Doesn’t take too much imagination to grasp what Jeh’s DHS will look like.

 
4 Comments

Posted by on December 17, 2013 in civil rights, drones, security state

 

News round-up.

Here are some brief notes on a few news items of the past week or two, most of which were overlooked by the mainstream press.  I’ll really try to keep it all brief (though I am not very good at that and am more known for my enthusiastic verbosity), so if you are one of those people who is wrecking the attention span and memory functions of your brain by overusing “twitter” and such shit, you can skim quickly and not have to digest too much at a time.  I won’t use hashtags, though.  One has to draw the line somewhere.

As of November this year, 164 detainees remain at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp without charge or trial; many of them have been held for more than 11 years. Since 2010, 86 detainees have been approved for release by the Administration’s Guantanamo Review Task Force, yet only 2 have been transfered in the past year.

The U.S. will no longer report to the public any hunger strikes taking place among the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.  Disclosure of hunger strikes at the prison are “not in the interest” of the military.  This would be called censoring the news were it to occur in the old USSR or modern North Korea.  Here, we don’t call it anything – we just do it.

MIAMI — The U.S. military will no longer disclose to the media and public whether prisoners at Guantanamo Bay are on a hunger strike, a spokesman said Wednesday, eliminating what had long been an unofficial barometer of conditions at the secretive military outpost in Cuba.

Hunger strikes have been employed by men held at Guantanamo since shortly after the prison opened in January 2002, and the United States has long disclosed how many are refusing to eat and whether they meet military guidelines to be force-fed.

Officials have determined that it is no longer in their interest to publicly disclose the information, said Navy Cmdr. John Filostrat, a spokesman for the military’s Joint Task Force Guantanamo.

“JTF-Guantanamo allows detainees to peacefully protest, but will not further their protests by reporting the numbers to the public,” Filostrat said in an e-mail. “The release of this information serves no operational purpose and detracts from the more important issues, which are the welfare of detainees and the safety and security of our troops.” […]

Human rights groups, lawyers and the media had long used the number of hunger strikers as a measure of discontent at the prison. A mass protest over conditions this year peaked in July at 106 detainees.

The Miami Herald reported that as of Monday, when the statistics were apparently released for the last time, 15 men were on hunger strike, up from 11 in mid-November.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/guantanamo-detainees-hunger-strikes-will-no-longer-be-disclosed-by-us-military/2013/12/04/f6b1aa96-5d24-11e3-bc56-c6ca94801fac_story.html

The FDA issued rules pertaining to the removal of antibiotics from animal feed; the overuse of antibiotics in feed has increased drug-resistant strains of infectious diseases amongst both animals and humans in what is being called an epidemic by the medical community.  Naturally, being the present-day FDA, run by former Monsanto employees, the new rules are voluntary, non-binding, and allow a three-year timeframe for phasing out the the use of antibiotics on healthy animals.

In response to concerns about the rise in drug-resistant superbugs worldwide, US regulators Wednesday issued voluntary guidelines to help cut back on antibiotics routinely fed to farm animals.

The plan described by the Food and Drug Administration is not mandatory, and applies only to certain pharmaceuticals that are given to healthy livestock in a bid to grow bigger animals and boost food production. […]

The FDA guidelines set out a three-year timeframe for phasing out the use of antibiotics that are important in human medicine for growth uses in farm animals. […]

The World Health Organization says inappropriate use of antimicrobial medicines in farm animals is one the factors underlying the spread of drug-resistant infections in people, including tuberculosis, malaria and gonorrhea. […]

Consumer advocates say 80 percent of antibiotics sold in the United States are destined for use in livestock, so leaving the responsibility in the hands of business is a mistake.

Louise Slaughter, the only microbiologist in Congress, described the FDA’s voluntary guidance as “an inadequate response to the overuse of antibiotics on the farm with no mechanism for enforcement and no metric for success.”

This guidance “falls woefully short of what is needed to address a public health crisis,” she added in a statement.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest said there are “several loopholes” in the FDA plan that could undermine its aim.

“Unfortunately it requires the drug companies who profit from sales of their drugs to initiate the process,” said CSPI food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal. […]

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/12/11/fda-issues-non-binding-rules-for-removing-antibiotics-from-farms/

We have killed 18 people via drone-bombing in Yemen in just the past week.  In one instance, there were 15 members of a wedding party murdered (what the hell else can you call it?) and a few days before that, three people traveling in a car were assassinated by a drone missile.

(Reuters) – Fifteen people on their way to a wedding in Yemen were killed in an air strike after their party was mistaken for an al Qaeda convoy, local security officials said on Thursday.

The officials did not identify the plane in the strike in central al-Bayda province, but tribal and local media sources said that it was a drone.

“An air strike missed its target and hit a wedding car convoy, ten people were killed immediately and another five who were injured died after being admitted to the hospital,” one security official said.

Five more people were injured, the officials said. […]

On Monday, missiles fired from a U.S. drone killed at least three people travelling in a car in eastern Yemen.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/12/12/us-yemen-strike-idUSBRE9BB10O20131212?irpc=932

We adopted the Volker so-called “rule” this week.  However, like Elizabeth Warren’s 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act and John Delaney’s infrastructure bill (see my recent articles on these subjects), the Volker rule has been watered down enough to make it essentially meaningless.  The banks have until 2015 to comply with the “rules”.  The “rules” will be overseen and enforced by the regulatory agencies now peopled largely by former Goldman, Sachs employees.  That there is what we call reform in these United States.

The so-called “Volcker rule,” adopted Tuesday by the main US bank regulatory agencies, is being hailed by the Obama administration as a major reform that will rein in Wall Street speculation and hold bankers accountable. In fact, it is a toothless measure that will do nothing to stop the speculative and fraudulent activities that triggered the financial meltdown of 2008 and have continued unabated since then.

The rule, named after former Federal Reserve chairman and Obama economic adviser Paul Volcker, is among the most contested parts of the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory overhaul that was signed into law by President Obama in July of 2010. The rule ostensibly bars commercial banks, which benefit from federally guaranteed retail deposits and other government backstops, from speculating with bank funds, including customers’ deposits, on their own account—a practice known as proprietary trading. […]

The document approved Tuesday by the Federal Reserve Board, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), spanning 953 pages, nominally restricts proprietary trading. But it incorporates loopholes and exemptions that will enable the banks to continue to make risky bets on stocks, bonds and other securities for their own profit.

The rule delays the date for compliance by the banks to July 2015, three years after the date laid down in the Dodd-Frank law. This is designed to give the banks and their lawyers ample time to devise ways to evade the rule’s provisions and, if they so decide, mount lawsuits to block all or part of the measure. […]

The measure requires bank CEOs to affirm annually that they have established programs to ensure that their firms are complying with the rule’s provisions. However, in another concession to Wall Street, its does not require that the executives attest that their companies are actually in compliance with the rule. […]

The Wall Street Journal in an editorial Wednesday was more blunt. The newspaper wrote: “Rest assured banks will find loopholes. And rest assured some of the Volcker rule-writers will find private job opportunities to help with that loophole search once they decide to lay down the burdens of government service.” […]

As the Wall Street Journal noted on Thursday, “Consultants wasted no time in starting to work with their banking clients on how to put in place the new rules… Law firm Shearman & Sterling LLP last year hired Donald Lamson, who had been a banking regulator at the OCC [Office of the Comptroller of the Currency] to help focus on Volcker-rule matters… ‘We’re already getting inquiries from our clients,’ said Robert Cook, a partner at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP, who until earlier this year was helping write the new financial rules as a lawyer at the SEC.”

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2013/12/13/volc-d13.html

The annual Mayors’ Report has been issued and it is not pretty – in fact, the statistics on poverty and homelessness in our cities are horrible.  This will not stop Congress from stripping federal aid from the poverty-stricken, the working poor, the jobless and the homeless as quickly as possible.  And until the majority of non-military Americans is completely decimated and living on the edges of starvation, I’m pretty sure most of the country has no problem with that – I cannot recall a period in my entire lifetime where so much of the population has had so much animosity and outright hatred toward the less fortunate.  The operative theory here is that giving money to the rich makes them work harder and entices them to “provide jobs”, while giving any amount of aid to the poor makes them stop working altogether.

And the military, via Pentagon funding, will continue to receive the bulk of federal funds so that we can continue in perpetuity the “war on terror”.  (Can I hear a “USA – fuck yeah!”?  I thought so.)

A new report on hunger and homelessness paints a devastating picture of the conditions facing millions of workers and poor people in America. The new US Conference of Mayors’ Task Force annual survey highlights the extent and causes of hunger and homelessness in 25 cities for the year between September 1, 2012 and August 31, 2013.

The report finds that 83 percent of the cities surveyed reported an increase in requests for emergency food assistance over the past year, and 52 percent saw an increase in the total number of people experiencing homelessness. Despite this growing need, mayors in the surveyed cities expect assistance for the hungry and homeless to decrease in the coming year.

This social catastrophe is unfolding as the federal government prepares deeper cuts to the food stamp program, now known as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), and Congress allows federal extended jobless benefits for 1.3 million long-term unemployed to expire after Christmas. […]

All but four of the surveyed cities reported a rise in emergency food assistance requests, and across all cities this need increased by an average of 7 percent. Among those seeking assistance, 58 percent were persons in families, 21 percent were elderly, and 9 percent were homeless. The working poor made up 43 percent of those requesting food assistance.  

The surveyed cities listed unemployment as the leading driver of hunger, followed by low wages, poverty and high housing costs. With unemployment insurance claims jumping to 368,000 in the week that ended December 7, from 300,000 the week before, and the Obama administration and Congress prepared to cut jobless benefits, the need for food assistance is certain to rise even further.

While cities reported a 7 percent average increase in the amount of food distributed during the past year, budgets for emergency food purchases increased by less than 1 percent. As a result, more than one-fifth of those needing emergency food assistance—21 percent—did not receive it. 

In all of the 25 cities surveyed, food pantries were forced to reduce the quantity of food people could receive at each visit, and emergency kitchens had to cut back on the amount of food offered per meal. In two-thirds of the cities, people were turned away due to a lack of resources. […] 

Based on a single-night count in 3,000 US cities and counties, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimates that more than 610,000 people were homeless across the US on any given night last year. Of these, 65 percent were living in emergency shelters or transitional housing, while 35 percent were living in unsheltered locations such as under bridges, in cars, or in abandoned buildings. Individuals comprise 64 percent of those experiencing homelessness, while families make up 36 percent.

The number of homeless families increased in 64 percent of the cities included in the mayors’ report. Sixty-eight percent of cities cited poverty as the main cause of homelessness among families, followed by lack of affordable housing (60 percent), unemployment (54 percent), eviction (32 percent), family disputes (28 percent), and domestic violence and low-paying jobs (12 percent each). […]

The surveyed cities were also asked to provide information on the characteristics of their adult homeless populations. The cities reported that, on average, 30 percent of homeless adults were severely mentally ill, 19 percent were employed, 17 percent were physically disabled, 16 percent were victims of domestic violence, 13 percent were veterans, and 3 percent were HIV Positive.

Seventeen of the 25 cities surveyed reported that emergency shelters had to turn away families with children experiencing homelessness because there were no beds available, while two-thirds of the cities were forced to turn away homeless unaccompanied individuals. The unmet need for emergency shelter ranged from 25 percent to 50 percent in eight cities. […]

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2013/12/13/conf-d13.html

The savvy Obama administration has made its usual move of killing the hostages itself before Congress has a chance to.  Immediately after working out a (bogus) interim agreement with Iran, Obama expanded the list of Iranian people and companies included in current sanctions.

In what some charge is a bid to ‘stave off congressional action,’ White House expands list of Iran-linked people and companies subject to financial blockade.

Iranian officials on Friday slammed a U.S. expansion of a sanctions blacklist of companies and people claimed to be linked to Iran’s alleged nuclear program, with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi declaring it “against the spirit of the Geneva deal.”

“We are evaluating the situation and Iran will react accordingly to the new sanctions imposed on 19 companies and individuals,” Araghchi, Iran’s deputy foreign minister, told the Iranian Fars news agency on Friday.

The late November interim agreement between Iran and the P5+1 nations required Iran to freeze its nuclear program, despite no evidence of nuclear weapons development, in exchange for a slight—and critics charge grossly insufficient—easing of sanctions in a bid to buy time for more talks.

The deal unleashed a wave of hope in Iran that an easing of US-led sanctions would alleviate severe economic hardship and shortages of medical supplies and equipment that hit Iran’s poor and working classes the hardest.

Yet, immediately following the agreement, the U.S. vowed to escalate enforcement of the sanctions that remained, the Christian Science Monitor reports.

Meanwhile, members of Congress are calling for more severe sanctions on Iran—a move that critics charge could jeopardize the deal and increase the risk of a regional war with dangerous and unknown consequences. The congressional move appears to be in step with vigorous efforts by both Israel and Saudi Arabia to prevent a deal with Iran.

Robert Naiman, policy director for Just Foreign Policy, told Common Dreams that the U.S. expansion of the black list is likely a bid on the part of the Obama administration to “stave off congressional action.”

http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2013/12/13-3

The southern leg of the Keystone pipeline, which despite not yet being officially approved, is beginning to ship oil through.  One might wonder how that is possible, given that it does not have approval yet, but such wonderment is simply the vague musings of a baffled mind.  In this nation of laws, the management is free to overlook said laws.  That’s how it works now. Still confused?  You must hate democracy.

TransCanada has begun pumping oil into the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline, a company spokesman announced on Tuesday. However, it remains to be seen whether President Obama will actually approve the project.

The corporation began moving oil into the stretch of pipeline that runs from Oklahoma to the Texas Gulf Coast early on Saturday. […]

The completed section of the pipeline will soon be filled with three million gallons of oil, the company said. […]

http://rt.com/usa/oil-pumped-southern-keystone-pipeline-031/

On the tentative budget agreement: it’s atrocious and keeps in place most of the sequester (except for the Pentagon part, which gets a raise).  Not surprising, though.  Once those fuckers in Congress got their cuts to the poor and the public good via the sequester, you knew they wouldn’t open their tightly clenched fists.  Yet as George W. Bush once said, “It’s clearly a budget.  It’s got a lot of numbers in it.”

US House and Senate negotiators reached agreement Tuesday on a budget that will leave in place over a trillion dollars in sequester spending cuts over 10 years, while slashing the retirement benefits of federal workers and military retirees and imposing regressive consumption taxes. 

The brutal character of the bipartisan agreement is underscored by the fact that it makes no provision for the extension of federal extended jobless benefits, threatening over a million unemployed people with the loss of their only cash income the week after Christmas. […]

By the White House’s own figures, failure to extend the unemployment benefits will end cash assistance for 1.3 million people immediately after the holidays and impact an additional 3.6 million people in the first half of 2014. […]

Obama added that “this agreement replaces a portion of the across-the-board spending cuts known as ‘the sequester’ that have harmed students, seniors, and middle class families.”

In fact, the proposed two-year budget restores only a small fraction of the more than $1 trillion in cuts scheduled over the next ten years, and the reduced level of cuts is more than offset by regressive consumption taxes in the form of “user fees,” increased pension costs for federal civilian workers, cuts in retirement benefits for military employees and further reductions in Medicare spending. 

Above all, the deal leaves intact the mechanism of automatic across-the-board cuts in domestic discretionary spending known as sequestration, which took effect last March and has already resulted in $85 billion in cuts, in part through unpaid furloughs affecting hundreds of thousands of federal workers. […] 

Under the proposed budget agreed to on Tuesday, $63 billion in government spending is scheduled to be cut back in 2014 and 2015, or about one third of the total in sequester cuts slated for those years, will be restored. The biggest chunk of restored funds will go to the Pentagon. 

This modest rollback in sequester cuts will be more than offset by an additional $85 billion in deficit reduction over the next ten years. One of the largest cuts, amounting to $12 billion over a decade, will be to retirement benefits for federal civilian workers and military employees.

Beginning January 1st, new federal civilian employees will increase their contributions to their pensions by 1.3 percent, slashing spending by $6 billion. This will come on top of a three-year pay freeze for federal workers and the loss of as much as 15 percent of their income as a result of sequester-related unpaid furloughs.

Military retirees between the ages of 40 and 62 will see their cost-of-living adjustments slashed, adding another $6 billion in deficit reduction.

The budget proposal also adds another $22 billion to the existing sequester cuts by extending cuts to Medicare providers through 2022 and 2023.

The budget will raise $12.6 billion by increasing security fees for airline passengers and another $8 billion by charging higher fees for insuring private-sector pensions. […]

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2013/12/11/budg-d11.html

 

Further reading:

EU announces token fines on banks caught rigging global rates.  “Token” is accurate, and it is stunning, to say the least, that these cartoonish fines (no criminal prosecutions for this group of economic hitmen) aren’t being broadcast with screaming headlines everywhere.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2013/12/07/libo-d07.html

 

An article at vice.com describes how many major liberal news outlets (Mother Jones, Democracy Now) exploits unpaid interns while railing on about how horrible economic inequality is. Here is one nice quote:

“Meanwhile, Democracy Now!, venerable progressive broadcast hosted by journalist Amy Goodman, requires interns at its new, LEED Platinum–certified office in Manhattan to work for free for two months, for a minimum of 20 hours a week, after which ‘a $15 expense allowance is provided on days you work five or more hours.’ ”

http://www.vice.com/read/the-exploited-laborers-of-the-liberal-media

 

Very good essay on the latest re: Fukushima:

http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2013/12/fukushima-radiation-hits-west-coast.html

 

On Obamacare (h/t Kitt):

http://jacobinmag.com/2013/12/socialism-converting-hysterical-misery-into-ordinary-unhappiness/

 

The Greecing of America.

Or, Greece as a role model.

My new (elected 2012) Representative to the House is one John Delaney.  He ran as a Democrat. (Snort.)  Sometimes he was referred to as a “progressive Democrat”, whatever the hell that means, by the media during the election.  To be fair, he won not because this part of Md. suddenly turned into raging liberals (before they gerry-mandered our district, I was in the most Republican district in the state), but because it seems everyone had had enough of old Roscoe Bartlett, who had been in office for ten terms and who had accrued more than a few embarrassing scandals on his tote sheet.  The Republicans gerry-mandered Bartlett out.  Delaney, my new guy, is the 6th wealthiest member of Congress – both chambers.  His net worth is between 47 and 231 million dollars.

[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Delaney_(Maryland_politician)]

Well, clearly the man is bona fide  – in the way we Americans measure such things.

I’m getting to know him through his e-mailed responses to me when I sign some petition that goes to his office.  For instance, I suggested to Delaney that I support diplomatic solutions to the Iran issue and would kinda like him to, as well.  Just letting him know what one of his constituents thinks.  Using diplomacy – as opposed to bombs and sanctions, which are generally not understood to be “diplomacy” as the word is commonly defined – with a foreign country that has not invaded or threatened another country in several hundred years is not a strange, freaky, or outlandish viewpoint, in my opinion.  And we surely don’t need to get mired down in another war of choice in the Middle East.

This crap is the answer I got from his office:

Dear [friend];

Thank you for contacting me about U.S. policy towards Iran. I appreciate hearing from you on this important matter.

Iran developing nuclear weapons is one of the most significant foreign policy threats facing our country. A nuclear Iran has the potential to destabilize the Middle East and threatens our allies in the region. To prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, we must continue to impose tough economic sanctions and closely monitor the Central Bank of Iran, so we can prevent the Iranian government from funneling money to its weapons program. It is essential that the U.S. be willing to leave all options on the table.

I am committed to working with my colleagues in both the House and Senate to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear capabilities.

I’m only surprised that the whole thing wasn’t written in all capital letters with numerous exclamation points tossed around and about; just to emphasize the Enormous Risks! that our Homeland! faces from the Rogue Nation! that is Iran! which threatens our Purity!, our very Democracy! and our Womenfolk! (not to mention Israel!) on a freaking daily basis!  Hey, there, Mr. Delaney, is anyone monitoring our banks, by the way?  You know, just to make sure we aren’t funneling money into weapons programs and illegal wars or disrupting the financial well-being of the entire globe?  Oh.  Never mind.

Then one day I got an unanticipated e-mail from Delaney.

21 Nov, 2013:

Dear Friend,

I write to you today to update you on my efforts to rebuild our nation’s infrastructure through the Partnership to Build America Act, H.R. 2084. This major bipartisan legislation will finance $750 billion in needed repairs to our nation’s crumbling infrastructure, at no cost to the taxpayer. This week, H.R. 2084 gained its 50th cosponsor in the House of Representatives, bringing us one step closer to starting critical work that will update our nation’s infrastructure and keep our economy competitive.

As you know, infrastructure plays a critical role in our country, connecting millions of people with their jobs, families and more. My bill would help to upgrade our country’s aging infrastructure by creating a $50 billion American Infrastructure Fund (AIF), leveraged to $750 billion, through the sale of bonds offering a one percent interest rate. Bonds sold to capitalize the AIF would not be guaranteed by the government, ensuring that the fund does not put taxpayers at risk.

Since its introduction, H.R. 2084 has garnered substantial backing from Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. This week, supporters of infrastructure development won a major victory when my bill received its 50th cosponsor in the House of Representatives, with 25 Republican and 25 Democratic backers. While this progress is encouraging, our focus has now shifted to the introduction of a Senate companion bill that will continue to build on the momentum we have seen in this Congress.

You sent me to Washington to break the partisan gridlock and rebuild our economy, and that spirit has motivated this legislation. As the 113th Congress moves forward, I will continue to support smart, bipartisan efforts to put our economy back on track.

Gosh, bipartisan support and smart and all.  Except that it sounds a bit like the private/public bond deals with the big banks that have been getting so many states and counties in trouble all around the US.  Aren’t some of these states/counties having to renege on their public workers’ pension funds and the like in order to pay back these bond deals when they head south?  And don’t some of these private/public deals result in higher user costs to the public?  (Think of the parking meter deal in Chicago, for example.)  Looking into it further, I saw that it was exactly this sort of thing, with some extra juicy goodness thrown in to entice the private entities.  I’ll get to that in a minute.

This whole idea of the American Infrastructure Fund has multiple layers of corporate and financial sector incentives that don’t square readily with the public interest.  It will create projects, or replace or repair existing projects, with potentially privatized or partially privatized projects requiring user fees to service the debt, with the projects themselves serving as collateral.  The local states or counties act as the governmental sponsors (the “public” part of this deal) rather than the federal government for any such projects; they are on the hook as the ultimate borrower/guarantor.  Now how Delaney sees this as “ensuring that the fund does not put taxpayers at risk” – which he mentions twice so as to really, really reassure us that we aren’t just the patsies in this whole fucked-up carnival game – when most of us have to pay taxes to our states and so would see our local taxes go up should the deals not work out so well, might have an interesting answer should one bother to ask it of him.  No-one has yet.

Here is how his idea works.  A new public/private “bank” type entity, the American Investment Fund (AIF), is set up with $50 billion of private capital and given 15:1 federal fractional reserve (leverage) authority (allowing up to $750 billion in project fundings) for the purpose of making loans to counties or states for county- or state-sponsored infrastructure projects.  The jurisdictions may elect to include private partners in those projects, but AIF is restricted from making a loan on any project lacking state or county sponsorship.

Corporations are incented to provide the initial $50 billion in a number of ways: 1) a nominal interest rate of 1% paid on their investment into the fund (their investment is actually a 50-year loan to the fund, which is often referred to or stated in other terms such as “buying a bond” in the fund);   2) a likely share in the profits and ownership of AIF, which, to be fair, may be minimal because: i) the charter is for AIF to make low interest rate loans; ii) AIF is a public/private entity, though I haven’t seen that expanded on so I’m not sure how (or how much) public ownership there will be in AIF  – and its Board, significantly, is set up to be private sector majority; iii) AIF may even be structured as a non-profit though I’m not sure about that; but, 3) by far the most important incentive and corporate driver is that there is to be a multiplier, set by the auction of the AIF bonds themselves, on the number of dollars that the corporations are allowed to repatriate, tax-free, back into the US, for each dollar they invest in AIF.

Delaney estimates the multiplier will auction out at around $4 of tax-free repatriation for each $1 invested in AIF, which is plenty rich enough already. His math is based on two layers of suspect assumptions, however, and no allowance at all is made for corporate malfeasance (collusion) to pervert the auction process (as is the normal standard in oil and gas lease auctions, etc.), so God only knows how high the tax-free repatriation multiplier will actually be.

Obviously, whatever the final numbers are, the federal government is giving up a lot of potential tax revenue to create this fund, and the actual effective return to the corporate investors will, in any scenario, be quite, shall we say, substantial.

To get comfortable with any of this, you have to buy off on the notion that, absent such vehicles as AIF, they (the corporations) were never going to repatriate those dollars at all. And once you believe that, you must decide that neither the US, the states, nor the counties have the capacity to build or maintain infrastructure without private assistance and/or that private ownership of public use assets is actually desirable.

This bill appears to me to be a way to accomplish both corporate tax avoidance and privatization while conducting infrastructure improvements that would be accomplished more readily and cheaply by the governmental structures already in place. For example, if the US government were to simply fund AIF (or the projects themselves) directly, preferably by: a) generating the money by actually taxing the repatriation of corporate profits; b) generating the money by actually taxing corporations at all, as most of the big corporations currently pay an actual tax rate of zero or less on corporate profits; c) generate the money by repealing the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 and then printing the money; d) taking the money from the Pentagon or the CIA or Homeland Security or NSA; or e) generating the money by the usual dumb-shit method of selling treasuries, we would, even in the worst case analysis, be funding those projects at normal Treasury rates, with no user fees required (unless local jurisdictions wanted to create new revenue sources, which we’d hope not because all such consumption taxes are super regressive), and without the odious, sovereignty-destroying, potential privatization of public-use infrastructure assets.  And why would these civic-minded entities be at all inclined to take on projects that serve the public benefit (think libraries, schools, bridges) rather than tollroads, bioweapons labs, new spy agency headquarters, and oil pipelines?

Since Goldman, Sachs, Wells Fargo, and JPMorgan are the experts which will get to run the whole shebang, and along with Halliburton, Bechtel, and Lockheed, are the ones with global profits to repatriate at the attractive tax rate of zero, fully tax-free, and they will collectively get all the no-bid infrastructure construction jobs, and they may each or all elect to participate in the initial public/private ownership of those assets, and will receive the interest paid by the jurisdictions on the AIF loans, and will, after jurisdictional default, then own, via their ownership of AIF, all of those assets plus the deficiency still owed by the jurisdiction, what’s not to like?

By my count, that’s a win-win-win-win-win-win-win!  Shit, Delaney is underselling this booger.

Following hard on the heels of this email from him, I saw that Delaney had an opinion piece published in the Washington Post.

21 Nov, 2013

John Delaney, a Democrat, represents Maryland’s 6th District in the U.S. House.

Washington has gotten so used to political theater that many here have lost the ability to spot real chances to do the right thing. The budget conference is an opportunity for Congress to craft a bipartisan compromise that serves the common good. Despite low expectations, the conference should be taken seriously.

The facts before the conferees are clear: Millions of Americans are out of work, growth remains stagnant, our long-term fiscal trajectory is unsustainable and the American people have said, loudly, that Washington is broken. Policy and political needs are aligned: Washington and the country desperately need a bipartisan, pro-growth compromise.

The conferees ought to consider a bipartisan solution that would create jobs in the short term, improve long-term economic growth and lower barriers for private-sector investment. The Partnership to Build America Act (H.R. 2084) is such a solution. The bill has 25 Republican and 25 Democratic co-sponsors, which may make it the most significant piece of unfinished bipartisan economic-oriented legislation in the House.[…]

My bill would create an American Infrastructure Fund (AIF), a large-scale financing capability that could act like a bond insurer or bank for state and local governments to build transportation, energy, water, communication and educational infrastructure. The fund would be capitalized with $50 billion that could be leveraged 15 to 1 to create a $750 billion infrastructure financing capability. Over 50 years, the AIF could finance $2 trillion worth of infrastructure and create more than 3 million jobs. [Teri’s note: Okay, the whole thing is neoliberal privatization, but seriously?  3 million jobs over 50 years? That’s your hard estimate?  We’ve already lost more jobs than that in just the past 5 years that all need to be replaced, not to mention the number of people who will need jobs over the next 50 freaking years.]

The $50 billion of capital would be funded not by government but by private companies that purchase 50-year bonds at 1 percent interest that are not government-guaranteed. No taxpayer money would support the American Infrastructure Fund. As an incentive to purchase these below-market bonds, buyers would be allowed to repatriate a certain amount of overseas earnings tax-free. The specific ratio would be established by auction, which would encourage interested companies to bid against one another, guaranteeing a fair deal for the government. The winners of the auction would be the companies that bid the lowest exchange ratio. I expect the winning ratio to be in the neighborhood of 4 to 1, based on what companies would be willing to pay as an effective tax. This means that if Company X purchases $1 billion in infrastructure bonds, it would be able to bring back $4 billion in overseas earnings tax-free. If the bonds are worth 20 cents on the dollar to the company, then the cost to Company X is the equivalent of a 13 percent tax.

This would help private and public sectors. Almost $2 trillion of corporate cash is sitting overseas. [Teri’s note: given that this is probably an underestimate of the cash sitting overseas, why don’t you slackers in Congress just demand these companies pay their fucking taxes instead of allowing such outrageous tax-avoidance scams in the first place?] Many large companies would like to bring home some of this money and reinvest it. By tying that repatriation to infrastructure, we guarantee that jobs would be created. [Teri’s note: I have to seriously question the premise that “many large companies” would “like to bring the money home”.  If they wanted to, they would have already.  It is patently obvious by this late date that they have abandoned the US.] […]

If U.S. ports can’t meet the demands of global commerce, jobs will leave our shores. If U.S. schools fall apart, American students will fall further behind. And if U.S. roads remain in disrepair, commutes will grow longer. [Teri’s note: Done, done and done.]  Infrastructure is a good investment; for every $1 spent on infrastructure, the economy receives $1.92 in benefit.

Pro-growth economic policy helps address our national debt in a politically feasible manner. Under current trajectories, we will face extremely tough choices after 2020, when interest on the debt and unreformed entitlement programs will threaten to crowd out our ability to pay for anything else. [Teri’s note: I particularly like the jab at Social Security and Medicare here.  Spoken like a true New Neolib Democrat.]  Economic growth, coupled with additional reforms, would lead to fiscal stability and ensure that the next generation has a chance to live the American dream. […]

Both parties have long called for a budget conference. Now that we have one, we should seize the opportunity to strengthen the economy. Congress has staged enough tragedies this year. Let’s come together and give the American people an ending worthy of our audience. [Teri’s note: I am not certain to which he refers here – the end of the Congressional year or the end of America.] 

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/john-delaney-driving-the-economy-forward-with-infrastructure-investment/2013/11/21/15ea1278-5211-11e3-a7f0-b790929232e1_story.html

This opinion piece can be challenged on nearly every front, including the desirability of “lower[ing] barriers for private-sector investment” when that really means “lowering barriers for private sector ownership of public assets”, or the desirability of allowing corporations to invest in and own actual hard assets in lieu of them paying taxes to the government so the government (i.e., the people) can invest in and own the actual hard assets.

Even if we were to accept as a given that the total combined capital equipment and materials costs, e.g., cement, steel, technology, project management, etc., for the infrastructure projects are held to a ridiculous estimate of zero dollars ($0.00), which seems to be what Delaney is suggesting, even though, of course, infrastructure projects are by their nature quite capital intensive, his ambitiously calculated $2 trillion in projects over 50 years can produce 3 million jobs only by paying an un-liveable $11,000 per employee.  So either it creates 3 million permanent – but way below poverty-level jobs – or it creates a much smaller number of part-time or temporary jobs.

For example, someone who worked only once during the entire 50 years, for only a total of 8 months during calendar year 2027 when he was employed to help build the Keystone Pipeline Annex Cul de Sac Coffee Klatch & Homeland Dronewar Heliport (the KPACdSCKHDH) in Bismarck, North Dakota, or one of the KPACdSCKHDH’s built in Oklahoma, Texas, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Louisiana, or Montana (because all those KPACdSCKHDH projects will definitely qualify as necessary infrastructure), will be counted among the 3 million jobs created, even though it might appear to the casual observer that he, more accurately, has been basically wholly unemployed.  (Hope he’s careful with the money he made.)  Do you think perhaps the corporate investors will hire him to serve coffee or maintain the heliport?  Oh, wait.  Robots do those tasks now.  The robots we got for free with all the other free capital materials and equipment we used while putting Delaney’s whole entire budget toward creating those 3 million jobs.

I was interested, after doing my research for this article, to see that the noted economist, Dr. Michael Hudson, had already addressed this private/public infrastructure bank concept way back in July; apparently Obama brought up the idea in a speech he gave at that time.   And I missed it – shoot dang.  I guess Obama gave this particular assignment to Delaney.  (“Hey, you!  New guy!   You been here long enough to screw over any Americans yet?  No?  Okay then, I’m sending my friends Jamie and Lloyd over to your office at lunch to help you write some ‘legislation’, if you get my drift.”)

Dr. Hudson sees it the same way I do, but he is a lot smarter than I am, so I’ll post some excerpts of his article to close with:

25 July, 2013

President Obama chose Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois (originally founded by anti-slavery activists in the 1830s) to float the economic program he has been working out with Wall Street investment bankers. His aim is to wrap this program in a democratic rhetoric. The speech’s actual content boils down to: “I’m doing fine and housing prices are recovering. The way to heal the economy faster is to make a Public-Private Partnership (with Wall Street) to finance new infrastructure investment. The government will guarantee a return – and if there’s any loss, we (you taxpayers) will bear it.” His political genius was not to sugar-coat the shady parts of his proposals. […]

The question is, how will infrastructure be financed. The danger that is looming is a giveaway to high finance, such as we have seen in Chicago, where Goldman Sachs and other hedge funds bought the right to install tollbooths on Chicago’s sidewalks with parking meters to squeeze out revenue at the cost of raising the price of driving and transportation in the city.

Most great fortunes in history have been carved out of the public domain. That was the case with America’s colonial land grants, and the railroad land grants after the Civil War. The great question facing Europe as well as America today is whether infrastructure will be provided at a low price – which can best be achieved by public investment – or at a high price as rent-extracting owners turn roads into toll roads, bridges into toll bridges, and so on throughout the economy. This is the looming Wall Street plan, using today’s downturn as an opportunity to cloak a vast new monopoly grab as a “solution” to the economic problem rather than looming as a new threat to price American labor and industry out of global markets.

The same thing is happening in Greece and other Eurozone countries obliged to pay bondholders by selling off infrastructure. In today’s world, privatization means financialization – funding the new construction with debt-financing, building interest and dividend charges into the price of services – and making this revenue tax-free as a result of the tax deductibility of interest. […]

This is essentially what the President proposes to do with mortgages that are still underwater. “I’ve asked Congress to pass a good, bipartisan idea – one that was championed by Mitt Romney’s economic advisor – to give every homeowner the chance to refinance their mortgage and save thousands of dollars a year.”  Under this plan the government will absorb the loss – the writedown – that otherwise would be borne by the banks and other mortgage holders. Taxpayers will foot the bill to pay Wall Street. This is the basic model for Obama’s infrastructure plan to be unveiled in the next few weeks. […]

The basic script is a fairy tale that balancing the budget in the face of the $13 trillion in Wall Street bailouts requires cutting back spending elsewhere in the economy. The Federal Reserve and Treasury were able to create this money for the banks, but pretend to be unable to do the same for the projected $1 trillion in Social Security deficits that may or may not materialize a generation from now. New wars in Syria and elsewhere can be funded by money creation, but not social spending programs – to say nothing of financing public infrastructure costs with public money creation rather than by recourse to Wall Street. This is the great policy asymmetry of the Obama Administration’s plans to use the economic crisis as an opportunity to cut and ultimately privatize Social Security as the capstone of a financialized Public-Private Partnership.

Here’s the problem that President Obama did not address yesterday: Today’s debt deflation and economic shrinkage are pushing federal, state and local budgets into deficit. This is forcing public spending to be cut back proportionally. That cutting will push state, local and federal budgets even further into deficit. This is why we are hearing calls to start selling off public infrastructure – to buyers who will become new customers for Wall Street investment banks.

It is the same phenomenon we are seeing in Europe. The newest economic prize is the right to buy rent-extraction rights to turn public roads into toll roads and similar rentier tollbooth installations. All this increases the cost of living and doing business, making the economy high-cost even as it is being impoverished.

That is not a solution. It bears out the classic principle that the solution to every problem tends to create new, even larger problems. Often these are unforeseen. But today’s problems in the making are all too foreseeable. What is needed is to keep translating the President’s speeches into their subtext.

http://michael-hudson.com/2013/07/obamas-master-class-in-demagogy-101/

Further reading:

Matt Taibbi on bond-rigging scams:

“[…]  The banks [GE, JP Morgan Chase, BoA, UBS, etc.] achieved this gigantic rip-off by secretly colluding to rig the public bids on municipal bonds, a business worth $3.7 trillion. […] the banks systematically stole […] from virtually every state, district and territory in the United States.[…]”

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-scam-wall-street-learned-from-the-mafia-20120620#ixzz2n5TP3Dfk 

Taibbi’s most excellent 2010 article on the bond deals in Jefferson Co., Ala., “Looting Main Street: How the nation’s biggest banks are ripping off American cities with the same predatory deals that brought down Greece”:

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/looting-main-street-20100331

Taibbi, 2011, in a follow-up on Jefferson County, Ala:

“The good times just keep coming for Jefferson County, Alabama […] the city was roped into a series of deadly swap deals by a number of banks, most notably JP Morgan Chase, that left the county billions of dollars in debt. […]”

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/blogs/taibblog/jefferson-county-alabama-screwed-by-wall-street-still-paying-20110407#ixzz2n5VKhbE5

Les Leopold on Greece:

http://www.alternet.org/story/153795/vampire_hedge_funds_are_sucking_greece_dry?page=0%2C2&paging=off&current_page=1#bookmark

Dr. Michael Hudson on Greece; this is one of the best articles on the general topic of the global neoliberal cramdown ever written.  Dr. Hudson has presented a clear and compelling synopsis, readily decipherable, and familiar enough as a description of what is happening right now in the United States.  “Replacing Economic Democracy with Financial Oligarchy”:

http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2011/06/michael-hudson-replacing-economic-democracy-with-financial-oligarchy.html

 
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Posted by on December 10, 2013 in Congress, corporatocracy, economy, Wall St and banks

 

Anthology

I am working on a couple of articles, but it may be a day or two before they are up.  In the meantime, here is a bit of music, because dang, sometimes you just need a break.  Some of these will take you back to the day….

In no particular order:

The Troggs; “Love is All Around”:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uLi0ppwOOwI&list=ALBTKoXRg38BAqz9D2M86d6QZ3lkiYffRF

Tommy James and the Shondells; “Crystal Blue Persuasion”:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XDl8ZPm3GrU 

Johnny Nash; “I Can See Clearly Now”:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahb7kQoLTTA 

Dobie Gray; “Drift Away”:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NIuyDWzctgY

Buffalo Springfield; “For What It’s Worth”:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aVgoOVl6cb4 

Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young; “Ohio”:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JCS-g3HwXdc 

Arlo Guthrie; “City of New Orleans”:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TvMS_ykiLiQ

Juice Newton; “Angel of the Morning”:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HTzGMEfbnAw 

Paul Simon; “American Tune”:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AE3kKUEY5WU 

Cat Stevens; “Morning Has Broken”:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U5sSEkZ86ts

Bob Marley and The Wailers;  “One Love”:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sonYFxHHvaM

Led Zeppelin; “Stairway to Heaven”:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w9TGj2jrJk8 

John Lennon; “Imagine”:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XLgYAHHkPFs

Green Day; “Holiday”:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9iJayMaUGrk 

Pearl Jam; “Masters of War”:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_aB8kSNlz2A

The Beatles; “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, performed by T. V. Carpio in “Across the Universe”:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D92Lyxj7U7Q

 

 
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Posted by on December 8, 2013 in Uncategorized