Monday, September 22, 2008

The American Crisis

I can't say nothing about the Great Treasury Robbery. I am going to post some excerpts from other sources.

From Devilstower at Daily Kos, an essay called Three Times is Enemy Action:

"Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is Enemy Action."
-- Auric Goldfinger

James Bond's wealthy nemesis may have had an obsession with gold, but he judged, quite correctly, that if people keep putting your plans awry, that was likely their intent.

[Much relevant history, justifying the "three times."]

The sub-prime mortgage crisis that has not only come so close to utterly destroying the markets, but has ruined the value of many people's homes and left millions with mortgages they can't pay, was also the outcome of the deregulation created by these men. The very predictable outcome. When taxpayers are left holding the bag for $1 trillion this time around, it's hard to believe it's any sort of accident.

This is enemy action. This is a bullet deliberately fired into the economy by men willing to exercise their ideology regardless of the cost to taxpayers. Men who have every expectation that they can plunder the system again and again, while the public picks up the tab. John McCain may not have had his finger directly on the trigger, but he was there. He assisted. These were his personal friends and philosophical comrades. He may not be the high priest, but he has been a loyal acolyte in the cult of deregulation.

From, an article called Seven Simple Reasons to Oppose the Bailout:

[Reason 6] Constraining our future. As I said yesterday, not only will this bailout deny us access to capital that we could have used for countless new projects and investments that we desperately need, but it will further constrain us from engaging in any sort of new infrastructure building or real innovation to put this country back on track. While Obama’s administration may be able to push through legislation that amends or changes existing laws, the real big-ticket items–climate change mobilization, national health care, broadband investment–will not happen without capital to fund them. This is a political time bomb designed to sabotage any attempt Obama will make at real change by hamstringing him financially until the Republicans move to take back Congress in 2010. It’s no coincidence that Paulson’s package is on a two-year timeframe, after all.

And just for the least glimmer of hope, an anonymous e-mail supposedly from an angry Democrat in Congress:

...I also find myself drawn to provisions that would serve no useful purpose except to insult the industry, like requiring the CEOs, CFOs and the chair of the board of any entity that sells mortgage related securities to the Treasury Department to certify that they have completed an approved course in credit counseling. That is now required of consumers filing bankruptcy to make sure they feel properly humiliated for being head over heels in debt, although most lost control of their finances because of a serious illness in the family. That would just be petty and childish, and completely in character for me.

I'm open to other ideas, and I am looking for volunteers who want to hold the sons of bitches so I can beat the crap out of them.

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

America, America

On the plus side (from the wonderful The Big Picture).

And on the other, chilling souls across the USA and beyond:

Brad DeLong.

Dymaxion World.

John Cole at Balloon Juice.

I wish I could say, "That is all."

Update: Here's a comment to that Balloon Juice post.

I don't know why I can't link to Balloon Juice but it referred to this.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Life -- and corruption -- in the imperial capital

From a Washington Post Q&A today:

Raleigh, N.C.: What has Dana Perino [White House Press Secretary] had to say about the McClatchy series on torture? Which administration officials have legal protection from war crimes charges, and what are those protections?

Dan Froomkin: You seem to assume that someone [in the White House Press Corps] has asked her about it. As far as I know, no one has.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

More of this, please

Last night at Knox College, Illinois, site of one of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, John Ashcroft, former US Attorney General tried to justify his legacy of torture and government spying. The students weren't having any of it. Read all about it at DailyKos.

The Q&A session.

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Monday, April 14, 2008

What I should have talked about in the last World History lecture

I have concluded that I missed an opportunity to discuss two important issues in the last World History lecture last Monday. I blame it on end-of-term fatigue.

The first of these issues is the coming global famine. I walked into the room wanting to say something about this, which reading the Egyptian news at Al-Ahram had alerted me to. Food prices have gone up for a while and now reasonably stable if not very prosperous countries like Egypt are being hit hard. Since Monday, I've read a lot more. Here is a detailed article from the Wall Street Journal, and here are Phil Paine's remarks at his blog (April 13 post). The Journal blames the rise on commodity prices, which is just code for oil; thus the food crisis is another indirect effect of the Iraq war.

The second issue I did mention briefly, in connection with the international criminal court in the Hague. The United States, extremely imperfectly, has provided leadership in the post-World War II world and various public and especially private initiatives originating there have had a positive effect. We cannot depend upon that anymore. Not only has the USA abandoned the multilateral approach to world peace, the need for which was so evident after both world wars, it has become a great danger to that peace, not in just one place or region, but everywhere its influence reaches. This post at the blog Empire Burlesque -- Too Much of Nothing: Crime Without Punishment, War Without End -- pretty much catches my mood. I'm not sure there will be an attack on Iran, but even without that concluding bit, things are quite bad enough as it is.

One of my more attentive students challenged me privately after the last lecture for my doom and gloom view of recent events. Actually, I felt I was softening the blow. I am afraid we will see just how much damage a modern superpower without a moral compass can do, to itself and everyone else.

(Thanks to Atrios at Eschaton for the EB link; that's why I read you, Atrios.)

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

"History will not judge this kindly."

You bet.

ABC News reports that we now know who in the US government approved torture. Watch this:

I am sorry not to have a more cheerful subject to break my grading-related blogging silence, but some things need to be spoken immediately.

I rather like the statement by Colin Powell that implies he might not be able to remember discussions of the sort reported. You are a real hero, Colin. An example to the children of America. (That link not for those who are creeped out easily.)

Update: For those of you who care about the Constitution, see this (from

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Monday, March 24, 2008

The tide goes in, the tide goes out

In the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, the first national election has replaced the monarchy with a democratic government. The originator of this movement is the last-but-one king Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who according to the Washington Post,
had taken methodical steps to give power to the people, saying that he believed no leader should be "chosen by birth instead of merit."

He also launched a movement called Gross National Happiness,a " development philosophy of grass-roots health, education and environmental programs."

The election turn-out was high. Good luck, Bhutan.

In the meantime in the United States of America, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has proposed that the country needs not only a Commander-in-Chief but a Commander-in-Chief of the economy. An excerpt from a Philadelphia speech reported at

So we need a president who can restore our confidence, a president who is ready to confront complex economic problems with comprehensive solutions, a president who will act at the first signs of trouble, working with experts to identify the problem, with agencies to adapt regulations, with Congress to pass necessary legislation, working to prevent crises rather than just reacting too little too late. We need a president who is ready on day one to be Commander-in-Chief of our economy.

Good luck, USA.

Image: Tiger's Nest monastery, from

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Katyn: the Germans did it, not us

The Economist reports on an ominous sign of official Russian backsliding. After the fall of Soviet Communism, the new Russian government admitted that Stalin's secret police had killed 40,000 Polish officers in Katyn forest, not the Nazis as Stalin claimed.

Now Putin's government is back to peddling the party line.

Read the column in the Economist for how ominous this is.

Curiously, this incident (Katyn) just came up in a World History seminar this afternoon.

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Mark this day

Friday, November 09, 2007

Wrong on torture

Despite the fact that he won't give a straightforward opinion that nearly drowning someone is torture, Michael Mukasey has been confirmed as US Attorney General in a surprise vote in the US Senate. Worse, as Glenn Greenwald points out, leading Democrats voted for him even though they claimed to be opposed to torture and Mukasey's stand:

The most amazing quote was from chief Mukasey supporter Chuck Schumer, who, before voting for him, said that Mukasey is "wrong on torture -- dead wrong."

A commentator at Daily Kos puts it this way:

This is a watershed moment. It's now possible to be "wrong on torture" and survive. Not just survive, though. Thrive. Win high office. Be the chief law "enforcement" officer of the United States of America.

What standard does this set? What practices, if any, are and will forever be out of bounds?

Chuck Schumer's logic is just another step toward the day when campaign ads of the future will deliver as a straight line the news that the opposition is, "Wrong on cannibalism. Wrong for America."

One does wonder what is wrong with America's political leadership. The Democrats had the votes to stop this appointment but were content to pose for the cameras.

I'm not sure this was a watershed moment, though. I'd pick the passage of the Military Commissions Act.

What this vote shows is that this drift toward dictatorship will not just slowly run out of steam. The American people will have to do something to stop it.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Dictatorship watch

US telecommunications companies won't talk to Congress about illegal spying (which began before 9/11, BTW) because the White House objects.

It doesn't matter that "the White House" has been shown to be dishonest, contemptuous of the Constitution, and an unmitigated disaster.

Why doesn't it matter?

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Current problems in the history of democracy

I have a long-standing interest in the history of democracy as a world phenomenon. What I've written on this subject has been done in collaboration with Phil Paine.

Recently Phil has been writing in his blog about the coup in Thailand. Thailand, he points out, is a pretty important country with a lot of potential and a lot of problems. After reading various news sources and corresponding with people from Thailand, he has concluded:

The fact that Prime Minister Thaksin just happened to be the richest man in the country makes it plain that his regime was "democratic" in name only. That is not what happens in genuine democracies. It is clearly no real loss to the world democratic movement that he has been ousted, even though the precedent of military action is extremely damaging. But Thailand is still left in the position of having no real democratic infrastructure.
What is a democratic infrastructure? It is local democratic institutions well-integrated with higher levels of government:

In a functioning democracy, a head of state gets into their role by working their way through layers of public service, until they have proven themself responsible to larger and larger electorates. The most successful national democracies were built on foundations of democratic process on the local level.

Thai democracy, says Phil, was a "shell" or "mock" democracy, because no such process produced the regime of Prime Minister Thaksin.

Phil then makes this further point:

The existence of such shell democracies or mock democracies is more of a hindrance to evolving functioning democracies than outright dictatorship. With a crude dictatorship, the problem and the alternative are clear. With shell democracies, ordinary people are left with the impression that this kind of "big man" autocracy is what the word "democracy" is supposed to mean, and so the idea of democracy itself falls into disrepute.

Speaking of things that throw democracy into disrepute, what can one say about the current situation in the United States, a country that likes to think of itself as the foremost champion of democracy? Congress, under a great deal of pressure from the White House, seems set to pass a bill not only legitimating torture, but abrogating the principle of habeas corpus. Habeas corpus is a procedure which says no one can be imprisoned unless a court determines that there is legitimate reason to do so. Although the current bill is being presented as a defense against foreign terrorists, Americans too could be arrested and held indefinitely under its provisions.

I will restrict myself to saying that although English warlords of the 13th century, when writing Magna Carta, keenly appreciated how important the principle and procedure was to their continued freedom, Americans of 2006 seem to be largely oblivious to what is happening, and their elected representatives are going to pass the bill.

This is a major event in the world history of democracy.

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