Ever since the 1960s, Washington has gulled its citizens and creditors by debasing official statistics, the vital instruments with which the vigor and muscle of the American economy are measured.
The effect has been to create a false sense of economic achievement and rectitude, allowing us to maintain artificially low interest rates, massive government borrowing, and a dangerous reliance on mortgage and financial debt even as real economic growth has been slower than claimed.
The corruption has tainted the very measures that most shape public perception of the economy:
• The monthly Consumer Price Index (CPI), which serves as the chief bellwether of inflation;
• The quarterly Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which tracks the U.S. economy's overall growth;
• The monthly unemployment figure, which for the general public is perhaps the most vivid indicator of economic health or infirmity.
Not only do governments, businesses and individuals use these yardsticks in their decisionmaking, but minor revisions in the data can mean major changes in household circumstances — inflation measurements help determine interest rates, federal interest payments on the national debt, and cost-of-living increases for wages, pensions and Social Security benefits.
And, of course, our statistics have political consequences too. An administration is helped when it can mouth banalities about price levels being "anchored" as food and energy costs begin to soar.
The truth, though it would not exactly set Americans free, would at least open a window to wider economic and political understanding. Readers should ask themselves how much angrier the electorate might be if the media, over the past five years, had been citing 8 percent unemployment (instead of 5 percent), 5 percent inflation (instead of 2 percent), and average annual growth in the 1 percent range (instead of the 3-4 percent range).
Let me stipulate: The deception arose gradually, at no stage stemming from any concerted or cynical scheme. There was no grand conspiracy, just accumulating opportunisms.
The political blame for the slow, piecemeal distortion is bipartisan — both Democratic and Republican administrations had a hand in the abetting of political dishonesty, reckless debt and a casino-like financial sector. To see how, we must revisit 40 years of economic and statistical dissembling.
"Pollyanna Creep" is an apt phrase that originated with John Williams, a California-based economic analyst and statistician who "shadows," as he puts it, the official Washington numbers. In a 2006 interview, Williams noted that although few Americans ever see the fine print, the government "always footnotes the changes and provides all the fine detail. Nonetheless, some of the changes are nothing short of remarkable, and the pattern over time is what I call Pollyanna Creep."
Williams is one of the small group of economists and analysts who have paid any attention to the phenomenon. A few have pointed out the understatement of the Consumer Price Index — the billionaire bond manager Bill Gross has described it as an "haute con job." In 2003, a University of Chicago economist named Austan Goolsbee (now a senior economic adviser to Barack Obama's presidential campaign) published an op-ed in the New York Times pointing out how the government had minimized the depth of the 2001-2002 U.S. recession, having "cooked the books" to misstate and minimize the unemployment numbers.
Unfortunately, the critics have tended to train their axes on a single abuse, missing the broad forest of statistical misinformation that has grown up over the past four decades.
The story starts after the inauguration of John F. Kennedy in 1961, when high jobless numbers marred the image of Camelot-on-the-Potomac and the new administration appointed a committee to weigh changes. The result, implemented a few years later, was that out-of-work Americans who had stopped looking for jobs — even if this was because none could be found — were labeled "discouraged workers" and excluded from the ranks of the unemployed, where many, if not most, of them had been previously classified.
By the 1969 fiscal year, Lyndon Johnson orchestrated a "unified budget" that combined Social Security with the rest of the federal outlays. This innovation allowed the surplus receipts in the former to mask the emerging deficit in the latter.
Richard Nixon, besides continuing the unified budget, developed his own taste for statistical improvement. He asked his second Federal Reserve chairman, Arthur Burns, to develop what became an ultimately famous division between "core" inflation and headline inflation. If the Consumer Price Index was calculated by tracking a bundle of prices, so-called core inflation would simply exclude, because of "volatility," categories that happened to be troublesome: at that time, food and energy.
Core inflation could be spotlighted when the headline number was embarrassing, as it was in 1973 and 1974. (The economic commentator Barry Ritholtz has joked that core inflation is better called "inflation ex-inflation" — i.e., inflation after the inflation has been excluded.)
In 1983, under the Reagan administration, inflation was further finagled when the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) decided that housing, too, was overstating the Consumer Price Index; the BLS substituted an entirely different "Owner Equivalent Rent" measurement, based on what a homeowner might get for renting his or her house. This methodology, controversial at the time but still in place today, simply sidestepped what was happening in the real world of homeowner costs.
Because low inflation encourages low interest rates, which in turn make it much easier to borrow money, the BLS's decision no doubt encouraged, during the late 1980s, the large and often speculative expansion in private debt — much of which involved real estate, and some of which went spectacularly bad between 1989 and 1992 in the savings-and-loan, real estate and junk-bond scandals.
The distortional inclinations of the next president, George H.W. Bush, came into focus in 1990, when Michael Boskin, the chairman of his Council of Economic Advisers, proposed to reorient U.S. economic statistics principally to reduce the measured rate of inflation. His stated grand ambition was to move the calculus away from old industrial-era methodologies toward the emerging services economy and the expanding retail and financial sectors. Skeptics, however, countered that the underlying goal, driven by worry over federal budget deficits, was to reduce the inflation rate in order to reduce federal payments — from interest on the national debt to cost-of-living outlays for government employees, retirees, and Social Security recipients.
It was left to the Clinton administration to implement these convoluted CPI measurements, which were reiterated in 1996 through a commission headed by Boskin and promoted by Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan.
The Clintonites also extended the Pollyanna Creep of the nation's employment figures. In 1994, the Bureau of Labor Statistics redefined the work force to include only that small percentage of "discouraged workers" who had been seeking work for less than a year. The longer-term discouraged — some 4-million U.S. adults — fell out of the main monthly tally. Some now call them the "hidden unemployed."
For its last four years, the Clinton administration also thinned the monthly household economic sampling by one sixth, from 60,000 to 50,000, and a disproportionate number of the dropped households were in the inner cities; the reduced sample (and a new adjustment formula) is believed to have reduced black unemployment estimates and eased worsening poverty figures.
Despite the present Bush administration's overall penchant for manipulating data (e.g., Iraq, climate change), it has yet to match its predecessor in economic revisions. In 2002, the administration did introduce an "experimental" new CPI calculation (the C-CPI-U), which shaved another 0.3 percent off the official CPI; and since 2006 it has stopped publishing the M-3 money supply numbers, which captured rising inflationary impetus from bank credit activity.
After 40 years of manipulation, more than a few measurements of the U.S. economy have been distorted beyond recognition.
Untruth in labeling
Last year, the word "opacity," hitherto reserved for Scrabble games, became a mainstay of the financial press. A credit market panic had been triggered by something called collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), which in some cases were too complicated to be fathomed even by experts. The packagers and marketers of CDOs were forced to acknowledge that their hypertechnical securities were fraught with "opacity" — a convenient and legally judgment-free word for lack of honest labeling.
Exotic derivative instruments with alphabet-soup initials command notional values in the hundreds of trillions of dollars, but nobody knows what they are really worth. Some days, half of the trades on major stock exchanges come from so-called black boxes programmed with everything from binomial trees to algorithms; most federal securities regulators couldn't explain them, much less monitor them.
Transparency is the hallmark of democracy, but we now find ourselves with economic statistics every bit as opaque — and as vulnerable to double-dealing — as a subprime CDO.
Of the "big three" statistics, let us start with unemployment. Most of the people tired of looking for work, as mentioned above, are no longer counted in the work force, though they do still show up in one of the auxiliary unemployment numbers.
The BLS has six different regular jobless measurements — U-1, U-2, U-3 (the one routinely cited), U-4, U-5, and U-6. In January 2008, the U-4 to U-6 series produced unemployment numbers ranging from 5.2 percent to 9.0 percent, all above the "official" number.
The series nearest to real-world conditions is, not surprisingly, the highest: U-6, which includes part-timers looking for full-time employment as well as other members of the "marginally attached," a new catchall meaning those not looking for a job but who say they want one. Yet this does not even include the Americans who (as Austan Goolsbee put it) have been "bought off the unemployment rolls" by government programs such as Social Security disability.
Second is the Gross Domestic Product, which in itself represents something of a fudge: Federal economists used the Gross National Product until 1991, when rising U.S. international debt costs made the narrower GDP assessment more palatable. The GDP has been subject to many further fiddles, the most manipulatable of which are the adjustments made for the presumed starting up and ending of businesses (the "birth/death of businesses" equation) and the amounts that the Bureau of Economic Analysis "imputes" to nationwide personal income data (known as phantom income boosters, or imputations; for example, the imputed income from living in one's own home, or the benefit one receives from a free checking account, or the value of employer-paid health- and life-insurance premiums).
During 2007, imputed income accounted for some 15 percent of GDP. John Williams, the economic statistician, is briskly contemptuous of GDP numbers over the past quarter century. "Upward growth biases built into GDP modeling since the early 1980s have rendered this important series nearly worthless," he wrote in 2004. "(T)he recessions of 1990/1991 and 2001 were much longer and deeper than currently reported (and) lesser downturns in 1986 and 1995 were missed completely."
Nothing, however, can match the tortured evolution of the third key number, the somewhat misnamed Consumer Price Index. Government economists themselves admit that the revisions during the Clinton years worked to reduce the current inflation figures by more than a percentage point, but the overall distortion has been considerably more severe. Just the 1983 manipulation, which substituted "owner equivalent rent" for home-ownership costs, served to understate or reduce inflation during the recent housing boom by 3 to 4 percentage points.
Moreover, since the 1990s, the CPI has been subjected to three other adjustments, all downward and all dubious: product substitution (if flank steak gets too expensive, people are assumed to shift to hamburger, but nobody is assumed to move up to filet mignon), geometric weighting (goods and services in which costs are rising most rapidly get a lower weighting for a presumed reduction in consumption), and, most bizarrely, hedonic adjustment, an unusual computation by which additional quality is attributed to a product or service.
The hedonic adjustment, in particular, is as hard to estimate as it is to take seriously. No small part of the condemnation must lie in the timing.
If quality improvements are to be counted, that count should have begun in the 1950s and 1960s, when such products and services as air-conditioning, air travel, and automatic transmissions — and these are just the A's! — improved consumer satisfaction to a comparable or greater degree than have more recent innovations. That the change was made only in the late '90s shrieks of politics and opportunism, not integrity of measurement.
Most of the time, hedonic adjustment is used to reduce the effective cost of goods, which in turn reduces the stated rate of inflation. "All in all," Williams points out, "if you were to peel back changes that were made in the CPI going back to the Carter years, you'd see that the CPI would now be 3.5 percent to 4 percent higher" — meaning that, because of lost CPI increases, Social Security checks would be 70 percent greater than they currently are.
Furthermore, when discussing price pressure, government officials invariably bring up "core" inflation, which excludes precisely the two categories — food and energy — now verging on another 1970s-style price surge.
Numbers that crunch
The real numbers, to most economically minded Americans, would be a face full of cold water. Based on the criteria in place a quarter century ago, today's U.S. unemployment rate is somewhere between 9 percent and 12 percent; the inflation rate is as high as 7 or even 10 percent; economic growth since the recession of 2001 has been mediocre, despite a huge surge in the wealth and incomes of the superrich, and we are falling back into recession.
If what we have been sold in recent years has been delusional "Pollyanna Creep," what we really need today is a picture of our economy ex-distortion. For what it would reveal is a nation in deep difficulty not just domestically but globally.
Undermeasurement of inflation, in particular, hangs over our heads like a guillotine. To acknowledge it would send interest rates climbing, and thereby would endanger the viability of the massive buildup of public and private debt (from less than $11-trillion in 1987 to $49-trillion last year) that props up the American economy. Moreover, the rising cost of pensions, benefits, borrowing, and interest payments — all indexed or related to inflation — could join with the cost of financial bailouts to overwhelm the federal budget.
Arguably, the unraveling has already begun. As Robert Hardaway, a University of Denver professor, pointed out last fall, the subprime lending crisis "can be directly traced back to the (1983) BLS decision to exclude the price of housing from the CPI. … With the illusion of low inflation inducing lenders to offer 6 percent loans, not only has speculation run rampant on the expectations of ever-rising home prices, but home buyers by the millions have been tricked into buying homes even though they only qualified for the teaser rates."
Were mainstream interest rates to jump into the 7 to 9 percent range — which could happen if inflation were to spur new concern — both Washington and Wall Street would be walking in quicksand. The make-believe economy of the past two decades, with its asset bubbles, massive borrowing, and rampant data distortion, would be in serious jeopardy.
The credit markets are fearful, and the financial markets are nervous. If gloom continues, our humbugged nation may truly regret losing sight of history, risk and common sense.
Kevin Phillips' new book, Bad
Money: Reckless Finance, Failed
Politics and the Global Crisis of
American Capitalism, was published last month by Viking.
Under John Kennedy, out-of-work Americans who had stopped looking for jobs — even if this was because none could be found — were labeled "discouraged workers" and then excluded from the ranks of the unemployed.
Lyndon Johnson orchestrated a "unified budget" that combined Social Security with the rest of the federal outlays. This innovation allowed the surplus receipts in Social Security to mask the emerging federal deficit.
Richard Nixon created a division between "core" inflation and headline inflation. If the Consumer Price Index was calculated by tracking a bundle of prices, so-called core inflation would simply exclude, because of "volatility," categories that happened to be troublesome (and thus in the "headlines"). At that time, it was food and energy (as it is now).
Under Ronald Reagan, the Bureau of Labor Statistics decided that housing was overstating the Consumer Price Index and substituted an entirely different "Owner Equivalent Rent" measurement, based on what a homeowner might get for renting his house. This methodology, controversial at the time but still used, sidestepped what was happening in the real world of homeowner costs. Some say that led to the mortgage crisis today.
Under the first President Bush, officials moved to reorient U.S. economic statistical measure away from old industrial-era methodologies toward the emerging services economy and the expanding retail and financial sectors. Skeptics said the underlying goal was to reduce the inflation rate in order to reduce federal payments — from interest on the national debt to cost-of-living outlays for government employees, retirees and Social Security recipients.
Under President Clinton, the convoluted CPI changes proposed under Bush were implemented. And the Clintonites tinkered with the unemployment number, in part, by changing its housing economic sampling, disproportionately eliminating inner city households. That is believed to have reduced black unemployment estimates and eased worsening poverty figures.
Saturday, May 17, 2008
Friday, May 16, 2008
Finally tonight, as promised, a Special Comment on two topics a lot of us had foolishly thought, had naively hoped, we would not again have to address… and a third topic nobody thought a president would ever seriously mention in public unless perhaps he'd just been hit in the head with something and was not in full possession of his faculties - how he expressed his "empathy" to the families of the dead in Iraq - by giving up golf.Link.
The President has resorted anew to the sleaziest fear-mongering and mass manipulation of an administration - of a public life - dedicated to realizing the lowest of our expectations.
And he has now applied these poisons to the 2008 presidential election, on behalf of the party at whose center he and Mr. McCain lurk.
Mr. Bush has predicted that the election of a Democratic president could, "eventually lead to another attack on the United States."
This ludicrous, infuriating, holier-than-thou and most importantly bone-headedly wrong statement came yesterday during an interview with Politico-dot-com and on-line users of Yahoo.
The question was phrased as follows: "If we were to pull out of Iraq next year, what's the worst that could happen, what's the doomsday scenario?"
The President replied: "Doomsday scenario, of course, is that extremists throughout the Middle East would be emboldened, which would eventually lead to another attack on the United States.
The biggest issue we face is - it's bigger than Iraq - it's this ideological struggle against cold-blooded killers who will kill people to achieve their political objectives."
Mr. Bush, at long last, has it not dawned on you that the America you have now created, includes 'cold-blooded killers who will kill people to achieve their political objectives'?'
They are those in, or formerly in, your employ, who may yet be charged some day with war crimes.
Through your haze of self-congratulation and self-pity, do you still have no earthly clue that this nation has laid waste to Iraq to achieve your political objectives?
'This ideological struggle,' Mr. Bush, is taking place within this country.
It is a struggle between Americans who cherish freedom - ours and everybody else's - and Americans like you, sir, to whom freedom is just a brand name, just like "Patriot Act" is a brand name or "Protect America" is a brand name.
But wait, there's more.
You also said "Iraq is the place where al Qaeda and other extremists have made their stand - and they will be defeated."
They made no "stand" in Iraq, sir. You allowed them to assemble there!
As certainly as if that were the plan, the borders were left wide open by your government's farcical post-invasion strategy of 'they'll greet us as liberators.'
And as certainly as if that were the plan, the inspiration for another generation of terrorists in another country was provided by your government's farcical post-invasion strategy of letting the societal infra-structure of Iraq dissolve, to be replaced by an American Vice-Royalty enforced by merciless mercenaries who shoot unarmed Iraqis and then evade prosecution in any country, by hiding behind your skirts, sir.
Terrorism inside Iraq is your creation, Mr. Bush!
It was a Yahoo user who brought up the second topic upon whose introduction Mr. Bush should have passed, or punted, or gotten up and left the room claiming he heard Dick Cheney calling him.
"Do you feel," asked an ordinary American, "that you were mis-led on Iraq?"
"I feel like - I felt like, there were weapons of mass destruction. You know, "mislead" is a strong word, it almost connotes some kind of intentional - I don't think so, I think there was a - not only our intelligence community, but intelligence communities all across the world shared the same assessment. And so I was disappointed to see how flawed our intelligence was."
You, Mr. Bush, and your tragically know-it-all minions, threw out every piece of intelligence that suggested there were no such weapons.
You, Mr. Bush, threw out every person who suggested that the sober, contradictory, reality-based intelligence needed to be listened to, fast.
You, Mr. Bush, are responsible for how "intelligence communities all across the world shared the same assessment."
You and the sycophants you dredged up and put behind the most important steering wheel in the world propagated palpable nonsense and shoved it down the throat of every intelligence community across the world and punished anybody who didn't agree it was really chicken salad.
And you, Mr. Bush, threw under the bus all of the subsequent critics who bravely stepped forward later to point out just how much of a self-fulfilling prophecy you had embraced, and adopted as this country's policy - in lieu of, say, common sense.
The fiasco of pre-war intelligence, sir, is your fiasco.
You should build a great statue of yourself turning a deaf ear to the warnings of realists, while you are shown embracing the three-card monte dealers like Richard Perle and Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney.
That would be a far more fitting tribute to your legacy, Mr. Bush, than this presidential library you are constructing as a giant fable about your presidency, an edifice you might as claim was built from Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction because there will be just as many of those inside your presidential library as there were inside Saddam Hussein's Iraq.
Of course if there is one over-riding theme to this president's administration it is the utter, always-failing, inability to know when to quit when it is behind.
And so Mr. Bush answered yet another question about this layered, nuanced, wheels-within-wheels garbage heap that constituted his excuse for war.
"And so you feel that you didn't have all the information you should have or the right spin on that information?"
"No, no," replied the President. "I was told by people, that they had weapons of mass destruction…"
The insane informant "Curveball?"
The Iraqi snake-oil salesman Ahmed Chalabi?
The American snake-oil salesman Dick Cheney?
"I was told by people that they had weapons of mass destruction, as were members of Congress, who voted for the resolution to get rid of Saddam Hussein. And of course, the political heat gets on and they start to run and try to hide from their votes."
Mr. Bush - you destroyed the evidence that contradicted the resolution you jammed down the Congress's throat, the way you jammed it down the nation's throat.
When required by law to verify that your evidence was accurate, you simply re-submitted it, with phrases amounting to "See, I done proved it," virtually written in the margins in crayon.
You defied patriotic Americans to say "The Emperor has no clothes" - only with the stakes (as you and the mental dwarves in your employ put it) being a "mushroom cloud over an American city."
And as a final crash of self-indulgent nonsense, when the incontrovertible truth of your panoramic and murderous deceit has even begun to cost your political party seemingly perpetual congressional seats in places like North Carolina and - last night - Mississippi, you can actually say with a straight face, sir, that for members of Congress "the political heat gets on and they start to run and try to hide from their votes" - while you greet the political heat and try to run and hide from your presidency - and your legacy - 4,000 of the Americans you were supposed to protect, dead in Iraq, with your only feeble, pathetic answer being, "I was told by people that they had weapons of mass destruction."
Then came Mr. Bush's final blow to our nation's solar plexus, his last re-opening of our common wounds, his last remark that makes the rest of us question not merely his leadership or his judgment but his very suitably to remain in office.
"Mr. President," he was asked, "you haven't been golfing in recent years. Is that related to Iraq?
"Yes," began perhaps the most startling reply of this nightmarish blight on our lives as Americans - on our history.
"It really is. I don't want some mom whose son may have recently died, to see the Commander-in-Chief playing golf. I feel I owe it to the families to be as - to be in solidarity as best as I can with them. And I think playing golf during a war just sends the wrong signal."
Golf sends the wrong signal to the grieving families of our men and women butchered in Iraq?
Do you think these families, Mr. Bush - their lives blighted forever - care about you playing golf?
Do you think, sir, they care about you?
You, Mr. Bush, let their sons and daughters be killed.
Sir, to show your solidarity with them - you gave up golf?
Sir, to show your solidarity with them - you didn't give up your pursuit of this insurance-scam, profiteering, morally and financially bankrupting war.
Sir, to show your solidarity with them - you didn't even give up talking about Iraq - a subject about which you have incessantly proved without pause or backwards glance, that you may literally be the least informed person in the world?
Sir, to show your solidarity with them, you didn't give up your presidency?
In your own words - "solidarity as best as I can" - is to stop a game? That is the "best" you can?
4,000 Americans give up their lives and your sacrifice was to give up golf!
Not "gulf" - golf.
And still it gets worse.
Because it proves that the President's unendurable sacrifice, his unbearable pain, the suspension of getting to hit a stick with a ball, was not even his own damned idea.
"Mr. President, was there a particular moment or incident that brought you to that decision, or how did you come to that?"
"I remember when de Mello, who was at the U.N., got killed in Baghdad as a result of these murderers taking this good man's life. And I was playing golf - I think I was in central Texas - and they pulled me off the golf course and I said, it's just not worth it any more to do."
Your one, tone-deaf, arrogant, pathetic, embarrassing gesture, and you didn't even think of it yourself?
The great Bushian sacrifice - an Army private loses a leg, a Marine loses half his skull, four thousand of their brothers and sisters lose their lives, you lose golf… and they have to pull you off the golf course to get you to just do that?
If it's even true…
Apart from your medical files, which dutifully record your torn calf muscle and the knee pain which forced you to give up running at the same time - coincidence, no doubt - the bombing in Baghdad which killed Sergio Vieira de Mello of the U-N… and interrupted your round of golf, was on August 19th, 2003.
Yet there is an Associated Press account of you playing golf as late as Columbus Day of that year - October 13th - nearly two months later.
Mr. Bush, I hate to break it to you, six-and-a-half years after you yoked this nation and your place in history to the wrong war, in the wrong place, against the wrong people but the war in Iraq is Not. About. You.
It is not, Mr. Bush, about your grief when American after American comes home in a box.
It is not, Mr. Bush, about what your addled brain has produced in the way of paranoid delusions of risks that do not exist, ready to be activated if some Democrat, and not your twin Mr. McCain succeeds you.
The war in Iraq - your war, Mr. Bush - is about how you accomplished the derangement of two nations, and how you helped funnel billions of taxpayer dollars to lascivious and perennially thirsty corporations like Halliburton and Blackwater, and how you sent 4,000 Americans to their deaths - for nothing.
It is not, Mr. Bush, about your golf game!
And, sir, if you have any hopes that next January 20th will not be celebrated as a day of soul-wrenching, heart-felt Thanksgiving, because your faithless stewardship of this presidency will have finally come to a merciful end, this last piece of advice:
When somebody asks you, sir, about Democrats who must now pull this country back from the abyss you have placed us at…
When somebody asks you, sir, about the cooked books and faked threats you foisted on a sincere and frightened nation…
When somebody asks you, sir, about your gallant, noble, self-abnegating sacrifice of your golf game so as to soothe the families of the war dead…
This advice, Mr. Bush…
Shut the hell up!
15 Numbers That Add Up to an Age of InsecurityLink.
By Tom Engelhardt
Once upon a time, I studied the Chinese martial art of Tai Chi -- until, that is, I realized I would never locate my "chi." At that point, I threw in the towel and took up Western exercise. Still, the principle behind Tai Chi stayed with me -- that you could multiply the force of an act by giving way before the force of others; that a smaller person could use the strength of a bigger one against him.
Now, jump to September 11, 2001 and its aftermath -- and you know the Tai Chi version of history from there. Think of it as a grim cosmic joke -- that the 9/11 attacks, as apocalyptic as they looked, were anything but. The true disasters followed and the wounds were largely self-inflicted, as the most militarily powerful nation on the planet used its own force to disable itself.
Before that fateful day, the Bush administration had considered terrorism, Osama bin Laden, and al-Qaeda subjects for suckers and wusses. What they were intent on was pouring money into developing an elaborate boondoggle of a missile defense system against future nuclear attacks by rogue states. Those Cold War high frontiersmen (and women) couldn't get enough of the idea of missiling up. That, after all, was where the money and the fun seemed to be. Nuclear was where the big boys -- the nation states -- played. "Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S.…," the CIA told the President that August. Yawn.
After 9/11, of course, George W. Bush and his top advisors almost instantly launched their crusade against Islam and then their various wars, all under the rubric of the Global War on Terror. (As Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld pungently put the matter that September, "We have a choice -- either to change the way we live, which is unacceptable, or to change the way that they live; and we chose the latter.") By then, they were already heading out to "drain the swamp" of evil doers, 60 countries worth of them, if necessary. Meanwhile, they moved quickly to fight the last battle at home, the one just over, by squandering vast sums on an American Maginot Line of security. The porous new Department of Homeland Security, the NSA, the FBI, and other acronymic agencies were to lock down, surveil, and listen in on America. All this to prevent "the next 9/11."
In the process, they would treat bin Laden's scattered al-Qaeda network as if it were the Nazi or Soviet war machine (even comically dubbing his followers "Islamofascists"). In the blinking of an eye, and in the rubble of two enormous buildings in downtown Manhattan, bin Laden and his cronies had morphed from nobodies into supermen, a veritable Legion of Doom. (There was a curious parallel to this transformation in World War II. Before Pearl Harbor, American experts had considered the Japanese -- as historian John Dower so vividly documented in his book War Without Mercy -- bucktoothed, near-sighted military incompetents whose war planes were barely capable of flight. On December 8, 1941, they suddenly became a race of invincible supermen without, in the American imagination, ever passing through a human incarnation.)
When, in October 2001, Congress passed the Patriot Act, and an Office of Homeland Security (which, in 2002, became a "department") was established, it was welcome to the era of homeland insecurity. From then on, every major building, landmark, amusement park, petting zoo, flea market, popcorn stand, and toll booth anywhere in the country would be touted as a potential target for terrorists and in need of protection. Every police department from Arkansas to Ohio would be in desperate need of anti-terror funding. And why not, when the terrorists loomed so monstrously large, were so apocalyptically capable, and wanted so very badly to destroy our way of life? No wonder that, in the 2006 National Asset Database, compiled by the Department of Homeland Security, the state of Indiana, "with 8,591 potential terrorist targets, had 50 percent more listed sites than New York (5,687) and more than twice as many as California (3,212), ranking the state the most target-rich place in the nation."
In the administration's imagination (and the American one), they were now capable of anything. From their camps in the backlands of Afghanistan (or was it the suburbs of Hamburg?), as well as in the murky global underworld of the arms black market, al-Qaeda's minions were toiling feverishly to lay their hands on the most fiendish of plagues and pestilences -- smallpox, botulism, anthrax, you name it. They were preparing to fill suitcases with nuclear weapons for deposit in downtown Manhattan. They were gathering nuclear refuse for dirty bombs. Nothing was too mad or destructive for them. Every faint but strange odor -- the sweet smell of maple syrup floating across a city -- was a potential bio-attack. And everywhere, even in rural areas, politicians were strapping on their armor and preparing to run imminent-danger, anti-terror campaigns, while urging their constituents to run for cover. Meanwhile, that former Sodom of the New World, New York City, had somehow been transformed into an I-heart-NY T-shirt-and-cap combo.
So, thank you, Osama bin Laden for expediting the Department of Homeland Security, glutting an already bloated Pentagon with even more money, ensuring that all those "expeditionary forces" would sally forth to cause havoc and not find victory in two hopeless wars, enabling the establishment of a vast offshore prison network (and the torture techniques to go with it), and creating a whole new global "security" industry to "thwart terrorists" that was, by 2006, generating $60 billion a year in business and whose domestic wing was devoted to locking down America.
When the history of this era is finally written, based on the Tai Chi Principle, Osama bin Laden and his scattering of followers may be credited for goading the fundamentalist leaders of the United States into using the power in their grasp so -- not to put a fine point on it -- stupidly and profligately as to send the planet's "sole superpower" into decline. Above all, bin Laden and his crew of fanatics will have ensured one thing: that the real security problems of our age were ignored in Washington until far too late in favor of mad dreams and dark phantoms. In this lies a bleak but epic tale of folly worthy of a great American novelist (wherever she is).
In the meantime, consider the following little list -- 15 numbers that offer an indication of just what the Tai Chi Principle meant in action these last years; just where American energies did and did not flow; and, in the end, just how much less safe we are now than we were in January 2001, when George W. Bush entered the Oval Office:
536,000,000,000: the number of dollars the Pentagon is requesting for the 2009 military budget. This represents an increase of almost 70% over the Pentagon's 2001 budget of $316 billion -- and that's without factoring in "supplementary" requests to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the President's Global War on Terror. Add in those soaring sums and military spending has more than doubled in the Bush era. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, since 2001, funding for "defense and related programs... has jumped at an annual average rate of 8%... -- four times faster than the average rate of growth for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid (2%), and 27 times faster than the average rate for growth for domestic discretionary programs (0.3%)."
1,390,000: the number of subprime foreclosures over the next two years, as estimated by Credit Suisse analysts. They also predict that, by the end of 2012, 12.7% of all residential borrowers may be out of their homes as part of a housing crisis that caught the Bush administration totally off-guard.
1,000,000: the number of "missions" or "sorties" the U.S. Air Force proudly claims to have flown in the Global War on Terror since 9/11, more than one-third of them (about 353,000) in what it still likes to call Operation Iraqi Freedom. This is a good measure of where American energies (and oil purchases) have gone these last years.
509,000: the number of names found in 2007 on a "terrorist watch list" compiled by the FBI. No longer, in George Bush's America, is a 10 Most Wanted list adequate. According to ABC News, "U.S. lawmakers and their spouses have been detained because their names were on the watch list" and Saddam Hussein was on the list even when in U.S. custody. By February 2008, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, the names on the same FBI list had ballooned to 900,000.
300,000: the number of American troops who now suffer from major depression or post-traumatic stress, according to a recent RAND study. This represents almost one out of every five soldiers who served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Even more -- approximately 320,000 -- "report possible brain injuries from explosions or other head wounds." This, RAND reports, represents a barely dealt with "major health crisis." The depression and PTSD alone will, the study reported, "cost the nation as much as $6.2 billion in the two years following deployment."
51,000: the number of post-surge Iraqi prisoners held in American and Iraqi jails at the end of 2007. In that country, the U.S. now runs "perhaps the world's largest extrajudicial internment camp," Camp Bucca, whose holding capacity is, even now, being expanded from 20,000 to 30,000 prisoners. Then there's Camp Cropper, with at least 4,000 prisoners, including "hundreds of juveniles." Many of these prisoners were simply swept up in surge raids and have been held without charges or access to lawyers or courts ever since. Add in prisoners (in unknown numbers) in our sizeable network of prisons in Afghanistan, at Guantanamo, and in our various offshore and borrowed prisons; add in, as well, the widespread mistreatment of prisoners at American hands; and you have the machinery for the manufacture of vast numbers of angry potential enemies, some undoubtedly willing to commit almost any act of revenge. Though there is no way to tabulate the numbers, hundreds of thousands of prisoners have certainly cycled through the Bush administration's various prisons in these last seven years, many emerging embittered. (And don't forget their embittered families.) Think of all this as an enormous dystopian experiment in "social networking," the Facebook from Hell without the Internet.
5,700: the number of trailers in New Orleans -- issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency as temporary housing after Hurricane Katrina -- still occupied by people who lost their homes in the storm almost three years ago. Such trailers have also been found to contain toxic levels of formaldehyde fumes. Katrina ("Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job") was but one of many security disasters for the Bush administration.
658: the number of suicide bombings worldwide last year, including 542 in Afghanistan and Iraq, "more than double the number in any of the past 25 years." Of all the suicide bombings in the past quarter century, more than 86% have occurred since 2001, according to U.S. government experts. At least one of those bombers -- who died in a recent coordinated wave of suicide bombings in the Iraqi city of Mosul -- was a Kuwaiti, Abdallah Salih al-Ajmi, who had spent years locked up in Guantanamo.
511: the number of applicants convicted of felony crimes, including burglary, grand larceny, and aggravated assault, who were accepted into the U.S. Army in 2007, more than double the 249 accepted in 2006. According to the New York Times, between 2006 and 2007, those enrolled with convictions for wrongful possession of drugs (not including marijuana) almost doubled, for burglaries almost tripled, for grand larceny/larceny more than doubled, for robbery more than tripled, for aggravated assault went up by 30%, and for "terroristic threats including bomb threats" doubled (from one to two). Feel more secure yet?
126: the number of dollars it took to buy a barrel of crude oil on the international market this week. Meanwhile, the average price of a gallon of regular gas at the pump in the U.S. hit $3.72, while the price of gas jumped almost 20 cents in Michigan in a week, 36 cents in Utah in a month, and busted the $4 ceiling in Westchester, New York, a rise of 65 cents in the last year. Just after the 9/11 attacks, a barrel of crude oil was still in the $20 range; at the time of the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, it was at about $30. In other words, since 9/11, a barrel of crude has risen more than $100 without the Bush administration taking any serious steps to promote energy conservation, cut down on the U.S. oil "addiction," or develop alternative energy strategies (beyond a dubious program to produce more ethanol).
82: the percentage of Americans who think "things in this country… have gotten pretty seriously off on the wrong track," according to the most recent Washington Post-ABC News poll. This is the gloomiest Americans have been about the "direction" of the country in the last 15 years of such polling.
40: the percentage loss ("on a trade-weighted basis") in the value of the dollar since 2001. The dollar's share of total world foreign exchange reserves has also dropped from 73% to 64% in that same period. According to the Center for American Progress, "By early May 2008, a dollar bought 42.9% fewer euros, 35.7% fewer Canadian dollars, 37.7% fewer British pounds, and 17.3% fewer Japanese yen than in March 2001."
37: the number of countries that have experienced food protests or riots in recent months due to soaring food prices, a global crisis of insecurity that caught the Bush administration completely unprepared. In the last year, the price of wheat has risen by 130%, of rice by 74%, of soya by 87%, and of corn by 31%.
0: the number of terrorist attacks by al-Qaeda or similar groups inside the United States since September 11, 2001.
So consider "the homeland" secure. Mission accomplished.
And if you doubt that, here's one last figure, representative of the ultimate insecurity that, by conscious omission as well as commission, the Bush administration has left a harried future to deal with: That number is 387: Scientists at the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii just released new information on carbon dioxide -- the major greenhouse gas -- in the atmosphere, and it's at a record high of 387 parts per million, "up almost 40% since the industrial revolution and the highest for at least the last 650,000 years." Its rate of increase is on the rise as well. Behind all these figures lurks a potential world of insecurity with which this country has not yet come to grips.
Last month a US court ruled that border agents can search your laptop, or any other electronic device, when you're entering the country. They can take your computer and download its entire contents, or keep it for several days. Customs and Border Patrol has not published any rules regarding this practice, and I and others have written a letter to Congress urging it to investigate and regulate this practice.Link.
But the US is not alone. British customs agents search laptops for pornography. And there are reports on the internet of this sort of thing happening at other borders, too. You might not like it, but it's a fact. So how do you protect yourself?
Encrypting your entire hard drive, something you should certainly do for security in case your computer is lost or stolen, won't work here. The border agent is likely to start this whole process with a "please type in your password". Of course you can refuse, but the agent can search you further, detain you longer, refuse you entry into the country and otherwise ruin your day.
You're going to have to hide your data. Set a portion of your hard drive to be encrypted with a different key - even if you also encrypt your entire hard drive - and keep your sensitive data there. Lots of programs allow you to do this. I use PGP Disk (from pgp.com). TrueCrypt (truecrypt.org) is also good, and free.
While customs agents might poke around on your laptop, they're unlikely to find the encrypted partition. (You can make the icon invisible, for some added protection.) And if they download the contents of your hard drive to examine later, you won't care.
Be sure to choose a strong encryption password. Details are too complicated for a quick tip, but basically anything easy to remember is easy to guess. (My advice is at tinyurl.com/4f8z4n.) Unfortunately, this isn't a perfect solution. Your computer might have left a copy of the password on the disk somewhere, and (as I also describe at the above link) smart forensic software will find it.
So your best defence is to clean up your laptop. A customs agent can't read what you don't have. You don't need five years' worth of email and client data. You don't need your old love letters and those photos (you know the ones I'm talking about). Delete everything you don't absolutely need. And use a secure file erasure program to do it. While you're at it, delete your browser's cookies, cache and browsing history. It's nobody's business what websites you've visited. And turn your computer off - don't just put it to sleep - before you go through customs; that deletes other things. Think of all this as the last thing to do before you stow your electronic devices for landing. Some companies now give their employees forensically clean laptops for travel, and have them download any sensitive data over a virtual private network once they've entered the country. They send any work back the same way, and delete everything again before crossing the border to go home. This is a good idea if you can do it.
If you can't, consider putting your sensitive data on a USB drive or even a camera memory card: even 16GB cards are reasonably priced these days. Encrypt it, of course, because it's easy to lose something that small. Slip it in your pocket, and it's likely to remain unnoticed even if the customs agent pokes through your laptop. If someone does discover it, you can try saying: "I don't know what's on there. My boss told me to give it to the head of the New York office." If you've chosen a strong encryption password, you won't care if he confiscates it.
Lastly, don't forget your phone and PDA. Customs agents can search those too: emails, your phone book, your calendar. Unfortunately, there's nothing you can do here except delete things.
I know this all sounds like work, and that it's easier to just ignore everything here and hope you don't get searched. Today, the odds are in your favour. But new forensic tools are making automatic searches easier and easier, and the recent US court ruling is likely to embolden other countries. It's better to be safe than sorry.
John McCain, looking through a crystal ball to 2013 and the end of a prospective first term, sees "spasmodic" but reduced violence in Iraq and Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden dead or captured and government spending curbed by his ready veto pen.[more]
Actually, the former substance abuser neglected to point out that grandpa made his fortune in part from business dealings with the Nazis which is to say he was, at the least, an enabler of the Nazis and thereby, arguably, the Holocaust.
Way to go, Bushie!
And a little more reaction is here.
And a little more about Grandpa Bush:
Way to go, Bushie!
Dear Mr. Bush,Link.
Your speech on the Knesset floor today was not only a disgrace; it was nothing short of treachery. Worse still, your exploitation of the Holocaust in a country carved out of the wounds of that very crime, in order to strike a low blow at American citizens whose politics differs from your own is unforgivable and unpardonable. Let me remind you, Mr. Bush, of your words today:
"Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along," Bush said at Israel's 60th anniversary celebration in Jerusalem.
"We have heard this foolish delusion before," Bush said in remarks to Israel's parliament, the Knesset. "As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: 'Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.' We have an obligation to call this what it is -- the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history."
Well Mr. Bush, the only thing this comment lacked was a mirror and some historical facts. You want to discuss the crimes of Nazis against my family and millions of other families in Europe during World War II? Let me revive a favorite phrase of yours: Bring. It. On!
The All-American Nazi
Your family's fortune is built on the bones of the very people butchered by the Nazis, my family and the families of those in the Knesset who applauded you today:
WASHINGTON -- President Bush's grandfather was a director of a bank seized by the federal government because of its ties to a German industrialist who helped bankroll Adolf Hitler's rise to power, government documents show.
Prescott Bush was one of seven directors of Union Banking Corp. (search), a New York investment bank owned by a bank controlled by the Thyssen family, according to recently declassified National Archives documents reviewed by The Associated Press.
Fritz Thyssen was an early financial supporter of Hitler, whose Nazi party Thyssen believed was preferable to communism.
Both Harrimans and Bush were partners in the New York investment firm of Brown Brothers, Harriman and Co., which handled the financial transactions of the bank as well as other financial dealings with several other companies linked to Bank voor Handel that were confiscated by the U.S. government during World War II.
Union Banking was seized by the government in October 1942 under the Trading with the Enemy Act.
Oh, but there is much more too:
The two Holocaust survivors suing the US government and the Bush family for a total of $40bn in compensation claim both materially benefited from Auschwitz slave labour during the second world war, Kurt Julius Goldstein, 87, and Peter Gingold, 85, began a class action in America in 2001, but the case was thrown out by Judge Rosemary Collier on the grounds that the government cannot be held liable under the principle of "state sovereignty".
I cannot think of one Democrat who can boast this kind of lineage. Can you? No, I don't think so. But you can lie brazenly and attack a sitting US Senator on foreign soil by comparing him to Nazi sympathizers? Let us continue down memory lane to help those who applaud you understand just what it is they are celebrating.
The All American Traitor
You family did not stop with supporting fascists and Nazis abroad, did they Mr. Bush? Surely you must know of your grandfather's role in the treasonous plot of 1933 to overthrow democracy in America? Let me remind you.
Grandpa Bush - that is to say, your grandfather - wanted fascism imported into the United States, or as you now call this type of transformation, "exporting democracy." Prescott went so far as to subsidize a coup attempt in order to achieve his dream of a fascist America (see BBC report below):
Document uncovers details of a planned coup in the USA in 1933 by right-wing American businessmen. The coup was aimed at toppling President Franklin D Roosevelt with the help of half-a-million war veterans. The plotters, who were alleged to involve some of the most famous families in America, (owners of Heinz, Birds Eye, Goodtea, Maxwell Hse & George Bush's Grandfather, Prescott) believed that their country should adopt the policies of Hitler and Mussolini to beat the great depression. Mike Thomson investigates why so little is known about this biggest ever peacetime threat to American
In other words, not only was your grandfather a self-professed fascist, he was a Nazi sympathizer and a war profiteer who should have stood trial at the Hague instead of buying his way into the US Senate. He was also a traitor, twice over.
Now clearly the crimes of Prescott Bush are not your fault, Mr. George W. Bush. Let us therefore judge your actions and words on their own merit.
Iraq is your Poland
Your reminiscence today about the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany should have been seen as your own condemnation of your own abhorrent actions against Iraq. The morbid irony of what you said will likely never register with your or your speechwriter. To truly grasp the grotesqueness of what you said requires that you have both a conscience and some understanding of history. We know you possess neither.
I will therefore make your history lesson brief, but to the point. The unprovoked attack on Poland by Germany was a war crime just as your attack against Iraq - based on lies - is a war crime. This is not my opinion. This is not a political attack. This is a fact. Consider the words of the esteemed former chief prosecutor in the Nuremburg trials, Benjamin Ferencz, regarding your war of aggression against Iraq:
"...Prima facie case can be made that the United States is guilty of the supreme crime against humanity, that being an illegal war of aggression against a sovereign nation."
Moreover, your reckless verbiage and partisan pandering using something as tragic and criminal as Germany's war of aggression against Poland is an insult to all victims of those atrocities.
My grandfather's sister and parents were having supper in their Warsaw home when a German bomb erased them from this planet. Your evoking the German atrocities against Poland in order to play dirty politics against Democrats is as offensive to me as if you had pinned a swastika onto your lapel.
Even your own words appear to be penned by Hitler's ghost all the while you imply that Democrats are Nazis and/or terrorists - something you have done over and over. Your lies and Hitler's lies even have the same purpose.
When you, Mr. Bush, said "see in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda," were you aware of Adolph Hitler's eerily similar statement? Hitler said "If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed."
Yet if words alone were your only weapon and words strung together into lies your only crime, you might be seen as simply the loathsome, unethical dilettante and despot that you are. Unfortunately, your crimes are many and so similar to those of the Nazi regime that at times one wonders if you are not yourself reenacting that very history you used today as an insult against a political opponent.
Your very own concentration camps
You ordered the creation of secret camps all over the world and on US territory where you also authorized the torture of countless men, women and children is a violation of the Geneva Conventions, international law, and domestic law. In other words, you authorized war crimes.
We don't know the number of people you have had disappeared, tortured, and possibly murdered. Although we have some idea of what these numbers may be, I doubt the full truth of it all will ever be known.
In 2005, I had a CENTCOM document leaked to me illustrating that since the start of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, more than 70,000 men, women, and children have been detained at one of your various camps Mr. Bush. We don't know what happened to them, if they were tortured, raped, or murdered. What we do know is that less than 2% of those 70,000 had any sort of charge brought against them in a court of law. None of those alleged crimes, by the way, were acts of terrorism. We don't know if that 70,000 figure was the actual and full count of detainees in US custody around the world in 2005. But it is safe to say that in the last 3 years since this document was published, the number of detainees has likely grown.
What we also now know, in great horror, is that at least one of your camps had a crematorium in it, which some of the US soldiers stationed there suspected was used for burning bodies:
"We had some kind of incinerator at the end of our building," Specialist Megan Ambuhl said. "It was this huge circular thing. We just didn't know what was incinerated in there. It could have been people, for all we knew--bodies." Sergeant Davis was not in doubt. "It had bones in it," he said, and he called it the crematorium. "But hey, you're at war," he said. "Suck it up or drive on."
What we also now know is that Dick Cheney and senior members of your administration carried out a plan of torture and abuse that violated international and domestic law with regard to human rights, down to the type of torture tactics that would be used against prisoners in our custody. This plan, we now know, was approved by you.
Has the mirror cracked yet from this much fact or are you still peering into the political sphere hoping to ascribe your own crimes to others? It won't work. It never has and it certainly won't work now. We know far too much about you and yours.
I could continue listing the litany of your crimes, both against the United States and against foreign nations. I won't. We know what you are and what you have done. Having roughly 1,000,000 dead Iraqis under your belt should have shamed you into the parasitic hole you came out of, attaching yourself to the blood of this nation and sucking it dry. Instead, you parade around, the globe-trotting horror show and anti-Semite that you are.
Yes, you are an anti-Semite
Would you say no, you are not an anti-Semite? Consider your own words when you thought no one was keeping score:
"You know what I'm gonna tell those Jews when I get to Israel, don't you Herman?" a then Governor George W. Bush allegedly asked a reporter for the Austin American-Statesman.
When the journalist, Ken Herman, replied that he did not know, Bush reportedly delivered the punch line: "I'm telling 'em they're all going to hell."
Only an anti-Semite would think this type of humor is acceptable. Did you tell the Jews of Israel they were going to hell? No, instead, you told them that American Democrats are Nazi sympathizers and in an act of sheer indecency, the right wing Likud party orchestrated the greatest applause you ever got. For shame!
What this blind adoration finally proves to me is that the right-wing regime that has overtaken Israel cares nothing for its people, its heritage, and the tragic history that they now honor by applauding a man whose family-fortune was built on the bodies of their loved ones. Like their Republican (and Lieberman) counterparts in the United States, Likud does not represent its people, rather, it represents its owners. Likud has traded Israel, its Jews, their heritage and history for the same golden calf purchased and sold by the far-right wing in the United States.
I am ashamed of you Mr. Bush. I am ashamed of those who applauded your political porn played out against the hallowed backdrop of the Holocaust. I am ashamed of those reporters with you, who between them could not muster the moral courage to call you out on your ugly rhetoric and ask you about your own family Nazi ties. You are, sir, the most abhorrent human being of my lifetime. I dare say, in the lifetime of this nation.
And a little more reaction is here.
And a little more about Grandpa Bush:
The Business PlotLink.
In 1933, group of wealthy businessmen that allegedly included the heads of Chase Bank, GM, Goodyear, Standard Oil, the DuPont family and Senator Prescott Bush tried to recruit Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler to lead a military coup against President FDR and install a fascist dictatorship in the United States. And yes, we're talking about the same Prescott Bush who fathered one US President and grandfathered another one.
How did that work out?
A good rule of thumb: never trust a man named Smedley to run your hostile military coup for you. Besides being no fan of fascism, Smedley Butler was both a patriot and a vocal FDR supporter. Apparently none of these criminal masterminds noticed that their prospective point man had actively stumped for FDR in 1932.
Smedley spilled the beans to a congressional committee in 1934. Everyone he accused of being a conspirator vehemently denied it, and none of them were brought up on criminal charges. Still, the House McCormack-Dickstein Committee did at least acknowledge the existence of the conspiracy, which ended up never getting past the initial planning stages.
Though many of the people who had allegedly backed the Business Plot also maintained financial ties with Nazi Germany up through America's entry into World War II. But at least the United States never ended up becoming a fascist dictatorship (unless you ask Ron Paul supporters).
The lesson here? Fascist or not, you don't fuck around with guys named Smedley or Dickstein.
Thursday, May 15, 2008
Things that would demonstrate the weakness/incompetence/wimpiness/out-of-touch-ness/elite effeminism, etc., of the president of the United States were he a Democrat:Link.
1) Gas prices
2) The dollar
3) Iran thumbing its nose at the international community
4) North Korea thumbing its nose at the international community
5) What used to be Burma thumbing its nose at the international community
6) The deficit
7) The housing crisis
8) Hamas winning the Palestinian elections and taking over Gaza following a failed, U.S.-directed coup
9) Israel building more settlements
10) Bin Laden, still partying like it's September 10, 2001
11) The Taliban, ditto
12) Pakistan, cutting deals with the above, saying "screw democracy"
13) Failure to pass a presidentially supported immigration bill
14) Failure to pass the Colombia free-trade bill
15) Russia thumbing its nose at the international community
16) China refusing to cooperate in Darfur, North Korea, wherever the hell else it doesn't feel like cooperating
17) Record-setting vacation time
18) Vice president actually running country
19) Botched prosecutions of a supposed terror cell in Miami, of Jose Padilla, etc.
20) Add your own here ...
They're Not Spying On You To Rat You Out But To Sell Your Private Info For Their Benefit: Freedom On The Retreat In Our Leaders' America
This is the crap we need four more years of:
In L.A., taking photos of subway stations is a violation of homeland security. (Alternate write-up is here.)
Charter Communications, the fourth-largest cable system in the United States, has started telling its high-speed Internet customers that it is going to keep track of every site they visit on the Web.
The cable company will sell the data to a firm called NebuAd, which in turn will use it to show ads to Web-surfing Charter customers that are meant to be related to their interests. (Visit a knitting site yesterday and see yarn ads today.)
In L.A., taking photos of subway stations is a violation of homeland security. (Alternate write-up is here.)
President Bush sure does feel for U.S. troops, doesn't he? First he told soldiers in Afghanistan how envious he is of them for their chance to do something "exciting" and "romantic," and now, in a recent interview, he revealed that he has given up golf in solidarity with their families.[more]
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Hell hath no fury like a convert. Or so it seemed back in the early nineties, when the political career of Arizona Sen. John McCain almost went down in flames during the savings and loan scandal.Link.
Senator McCain, you'll recall, was one of the notorious Keating Five, a group of US senators accused of using their clout to help bail out Charles Keating, chairman of the failed Lincoln Savings and Loan. All had received campaign contributions and other perks from Keating.
The collapse of Lincoln Savings cost the American taxpayer $3.4 billion. Charles Keating went to prison. Mr. McCain got off with a mild rebuke for "questionable conduct" from the Senate Ethics Committee, but so embarrassed was he, the senator vowed from then on he would be above reproach, the Caesar's wife of Capitol Hill. A changed man, he would fight for truth, justice and the American way, battling special interests, crusading for ethics and leading the way for campaign finance reform with the evangelistic zeal of the born again.
Here's what he wrote in his 2002 book, "Worth the Fighting For":
"I would very much like to think that I have never been a man whose favor could be bought ..."
"I have carefully avoided situations that might even tangentially be construed as a less than proper use of my office."
"Money does buy access in Washington, and access increases influence that often results in benefiting the few at the expense of the many."
In truth, Senator McCain has fought hard against pork barrel and earmarks. And the mere mention of the famous campaign finance reform bill he created with Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold is enough to send many of his fellow Republicans into sputters of apoplexy. But, as with so many politicians and candidates, the burdensome financial demands of campaigning for office - the endless fundraising, the expectations of high-rolling donors - have too often forced John McCain into that most human of hypocrisies, the one that goes, "Do as I say, not as I do."
Appropriately, for a senator from the vast expanses of the American southwest, it's land deals that appear to be John McCain's weakness, land deals possibly tied to campaign donations, lobbyists and other inside connections. A week ago, The Washington Post reported McCain pushed for legislation allowing a rancher named Fred Ruskin to trade more than 55,000 acres of his land for an equal amount of federal land, prime for development.
According to The Post, the senator was initially reluctant, but, "The Arizona Republican became a key figure in pushing the deal through Congress after the rancher and his partners hired lobbyists that included McCain's 1992 Senate campaign manager, two of his former Senate staff members (one of whom has returned as his chief of staff), and an Arizona insider who was a major McCain donor and is now bundling campaign checks."
And wait, as they say on those late night, huckster television ads, there's more! Rancher Ruskin and his partners plan to have 12,000 homes built on the land by a company called SunCor Development. SunCor is a subsidiary of Pinnacle West, Arizona's largest power utility. It's run by Steven Betts, a McCain supporter who has raised more than $100,000 for the senator's presidential bid.
Betts told The Post there is "absolutely no" link between his fundraising and the land swap. But it's not the first time McCain has helped contributors navigate the corridors of Congress to help hammer down a good real estate deal.
Just last month, for example, The New York Times reported on McCain's long friendship with Donald R. Diamond, another rich real estate man from Arizona. With the senator's help, Diamond has profited in similar swaps for federal land, including a lucrative deal that sold him California coastline property, formerly part of the Fort Ord military base. Diamond, who has been called "the other Donald" - Arizona's answer to Donald Trump - has raised more than a quarter of a million dollars for the McCain presidential campaign. So far.
Asked about the leg up Senator McCain has given him in the real estate game, Diamond told The Times, "I think this is what Congress people are supposed to do for constituents. When you have a big, significant businessman like myself, why wouldn't you want to help move things along? What else would they do? They waste so much time with legislation."
In other words, all constituents are created equal - but the ones with the deepest pockets are more equal than the rest of us.
Nor is it the first time McCain has fallen under the sway of the DC lobbyists, whose ways he vowed to reform, lobbyists who also happen to be former or current employees of his. McCain's presidential campaign manager Rick Davis, senior advisers Steve Schmidt and Mark McKinnon and chief political adviser Charles Black, Jr. - their usual clients have names like Verizon, General Motors and JP Morgan.
This potential for conflicts of interest snapped at the campaign's posterior just this week when Newsweek revealed McCain's recent choice to coordinate the Republican National Convention in September is chief executive of a public relations and lobbying firm, which used to be on the payroll of the military junta ruling Myanmar. That regime, under fire for resisting relief efforts in the wake of last week's deadly cyclone, has in the past been charged with gruesome human rights abuses by none other than John McCain.
Certainly, Senators Clinton and Obama are advised by people who make their livings lobbying for corporate America and other countries, too. After all, they know the ins and outs of government and politics better than anyone. But as McCain himself wrote in "Worth the Fighting For," "Questions of honor are raised as much by appearances as by reality in politics, and because they incite public distrust they need to be addressed no less directly than we would address evidence of expressly illegal corruption."
When Barack Obama questioned Senator McCain's "bearings" last week, he was talking about McCain's portrayal of him as sympathetic to the militant Palestinian group Hamas. The McCain campaign chose to interpret "bearings" as a reference to McCain's age. Lost bearings equal lost marbles. But think of it instead as the lost bearings of a moral compass, thrown off true north by the dollars, demands and compromises of a life in contemporary American politics.
Missouri and at least 19 other states are considering passing laws that would force people to prove their citizenship before they can vote. These bills are not a sincere effort to prevent noncitizens from voting; that is a made-up problem. The real aim is to reduce turnout by eligible voters. Republicans seem to think that laws of this kind will help them win elections, but burdensome rules like these — and others cropping up around the country — pose a serious threat to democracy and should be stopped.Link.
The Missouri legislature is, as Ian Urbina reported in The Times on Monday, on the verge of passing an amendment to the State Constitution that would require proof of citizenship from anyone registering to vote. In addition to the Missouri amendment, which would require voter approval, Florida, Kansas, South Carolina and other states are considering similar rules.
There is no evidence that voting by noncitizens is a significant problem. Illegal immigrants do their best to remain in the shadows, to avoid attracting government attention and risking deportation. It is hard to imagine that many would walk into a polling place, in the presence of challengers and police, and try to cast a ballot.
There is, however, ample evidence that a requirement of proof of citizenship will keep many eligible voters from voting. Many people do not have birth certificates or other acceptable proof of citizenship, and for some people, that proof is not available. One Missouri voter, Lillie Lewis, said at a news conference last week that officials in Mississippi, where she was born, told her they had no record of her birth.
Proof of citizenship is just one of an array of new barriers to voting that have been springing up across the country. Indiana adopted a tough new photo ID voting requirement, over objections from Democrats that it would prevent eligible voters from casting a ballot. The critics were right. In last week’s Indiana primary, a group of about 12 nuns in their 80s and 90s were prevented from voting because they lacked acceptable ID.
As with Missouri’s proposed amendment, the driving force behind strict voter ID requirements in general is not a genuine effort to prevent fraud, since there is virtually no evidence that in-person voter fraud is occurring. It is, rather, the Republican Party’s electoral calculations. Barriers at the polls drive down voter turnout, especially among the poor, racial minorities and students — groups that are less likely than average to have driver’s licenses, and that are more likely than average to vote Democratic.
The imposition of harsh new requirements to vote has become a partisan issue, but it should not be. These rules are an assault on democracy itself. The current conservative Supreme Court showed last month, in its ruling upholding the Indiana ID law, that it will not perform its historical role of protecting voters. That puts the burden on state legislators, governors, state courts and ordinary citizens to ensure that the right to vote is not taken away for partisan political gain.
WTF? A tanking market when the borrowers or their customers have no money is perfectly normal; it's that dynamic free market the rightist capitalists all praise. Looks more like Bernanke's just selling a line to support more welfare for Big Wealth. For Bernanke, normal is a Fed-manipulated market to ensure greater wealth to the super wealthy.
Yet, where are the rightist capitalists calling him out on this free market heresy?
Yet, where are the rightist capitalists calling him out on this free market heresy?
Just in case you are....The guy's all about naked ambition and absolutely no more. His "experience" has been flip-flopping from whatever position he wanted to take at the moment with no consistency (other than ambition).
Dougie Feith claims that belief in that awful intel (which apparently he neglects to note was kind of cooked -- by him, no less) was made in good faith. Yeah, yeah, I know: How could Our Leaders be deeper in the dark than many of us non-leaders....
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
The number of Americans being secretly wiretapped or having their financial and other records reviewed by the government has continued to increase as officials aggressively use powers approved after the Sept. 11 attacks. But the number of terrorism prosecutions ending up in court - one measure of the effectiveness of such sleuthing - has continued to decline, in some cases precipitously.Link.
The trends, visible in new government data and a private analysis of Justice Department records, are worrisome to civil liberties groups and some legal scholars. They say it is further evidence that the government has compromised the privacy rights of ordinary citizens without much to show for it.
The emphasis on spy programs also is starting to give pause to some members of Congress who fear the government is investing too much in anti-terrorism programs at the expense of traditional crime-fighting. Other lawmakers are raising questions about how well the FBI is performing its counter-terrorism mission.
The Senate Intelligence Committee last week concluded that the bureau was far behind in making internal changes to keep the nation safe from terrorist threats. Lawmakers urged that the FBI set specific benchmarks to measure its progress and make more regular reports to Congress.
These concerns come as the Bush administration has been seeking to expand its ability to gather intelligence without prior court approval. It has asked Congress for amendments to the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to make it clear that eavesdropping on foreign telecommunications signals routed through the U.S. does not require a warrant.
Law enforcement officials say the additional surveillance powers have been critically important in ways the public does not always see. Threats can be mitigated, they say, by deporting suspicious people or letting them know that authorities are watching them.
"The fact that the prosecutions are down doesn't mean that the utility of these investigations is down. It suggests that these investigations may be leading to other forms of prevention and protection," said Thomas Newcomb, a former Bush White House national security aide. He said there were half a dozen actions outside of the criminal courts that the government could take to snuff out potential threats, including using diplomatic or military channels.
Although legal experts say they would not necessarily expect the number of prosecutions to rise along with the stepped-up surveillance, there are few other good ways to measure how well the government is progressing in keeping the country safe.
"How does one measure the success? The short answer is we aren't in a great position to know," said Daniel Richman, a former federal prosecutor. With prosecutions declining, he said, the public is left with imperfect and possibly misleading ways to gauge progress in the Bush administration's war on terrorism - such as the number of secret warrants the government issues or the number of agents it assigns to terrorism cases.
"These are the only tracks in the snow left by terrorism investigations, if there are no more counter-terrorism prosecutions," Richman said. "This is why, more than ever, there is a pressing need for congressional oversight, for accountability at the top of the [Justice] department, and for public confidence in the department."
A recent study showed that the number of terrorism and national security cases initiated by the Justice Department in 2007 was more than 50% below 2002 levels. The nonprofit Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, which obtained the data under the Freedom of Information Act, found that the number of cases brought declined 19% in the last year alone, dropping to 505 in 2007 from 624 in 2006.
By contrast, the Justice Department reported last month that the nation's spy court had granted 2,370 warrant requests by the department to search or eavesdrop on suspected terrorists and spies in the U.S. last year - 9% more than in 2006. The number of such warrants approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has more than doubled since the 2001 terrorist attacks.
The department also reported a sharp rise in the use of national security letters by the FBI - from 9,254 in 2005 to 12,583 in 2006, the latest data available. The letters seek customer information from banks, Internet providers and phone companies. They have caused a stir because consumers do not have a right to know that their information is being disclosed and the letters are issued without court oversight.
The inspector general of the Justice Department has found numerous cases in which FBI agents failed to comply with rules and guidelines in issuing the letters, often gaining access to information they were not entitled to. The FBI has responded by taking a number of measures to tighten its internal procedures.
Civil liberties groups say the new data reveal a disturbing consequence of the government's post-Sept. 11 expanded surveillance capabilities.
"The number of Americans being investigated dwarfs any legitimate number of actual terrorism prosecutions, and that is extremely troubling - for both the security and privacy of innocent Americans as well as for the squandering of resources on people who have not and never will be charged with any wrongdoing," said Lisa Graves, deputy director of the Center for National Security Studies, a Washington-based civil liberties group.
A Mixed Record
But Dean Boyd, a Justice Department spokesman, said statistics on court-approved FISA applications and statistics on criminal prosecution were "apples and oranges."
"There are a variety of factors that may account for the increase in court-approved FISA applications since 9/11," he said. Boyd said he could not comment on those factors, but said, "It is important to remember that surveillance under FISA is authorized by an independent court and used carefully and judiciously to protect the country from national security threats."
Certainly, the government has pursued a number of high-profile terrorism cases of late. A U.S. sailor was convicted in March of providing support to terrorists by passing classified information regarding movements of a Navy battle group to operators of an Internet site suspected of terrorist leanings.
The record in court has been somewhat mixed, however. Federal prosecutors in Miami twice have failed to secure verdicts in the cases of six men accused of plotting to destroy Chicago's Sears Tower and several FBI offices. After two mistrials, the "Liberty City Seven" case is due in court in January.
Even some former government officials concede many intelligence investigations fail to yield evidence of a serious threat to the U.S. "Most of these threats ultimately turn out to be wrong, or maybe just the investigating makes them go away," said Washington lawyer Michael Woods, former head of the FBI national security law unit. "A lot more information is going to pass through government hands, and most of that is going to be about people who turn out to be innocent or irrelevant."
Monday, May 12, 2008
Our Leaders' (and President McCain's) policy: getting victim and criminal confused. (It's a result of course of taking money from the thieves to ensure that thay are not perceived as criminals.)
Faux Bidness Journal:
Faux Bidness Journal:
The Borrowers: Sherrie Floyd, 44, a clerical assistant at the Kaiser Foundation, and her husband, Kevin Floyd, 45, a truck driver in Vallejo, Calif.(Emphasis added.)
The House: In June 1995, the Floyds bought a four bedroom, 2,100 square foot home in Vallejo at auction for $170,000. After cashing out of Mr. Floyd's retirement fund, they put $11,000 down and financed the rest with a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage from Countrywide. Their monthly payment was $1,500; the rate slightly under 9%.
Current Status: After refinancing several times, their monthly payments reached an unaffordable $5,600. They stopped paying in April 2007 and filed for bankruptcy in December 2007. A hearing in bankruptcy court is scheduled for Monday.
The Debt: The Floyds owe $670,000 in credit card, mortgage and auto-loan debts, according to the claim estimate from bankruptcy court. Since 1995, Mrs. Floyd estimates that they pulled roughly $100,000 out of their mortgage to pay off credit-card bills, broker fees and penalties.
Background: In 1999, Mr. Floyd had an operation on his knee. He missed six months of work and the couple fell behind on their payments. They filed for a Chapter 13 bankruptcy and the court set up a payment plan. They followed it for two years.
In 2001, Mr. Floyd contacted a mortgage broker who offered to refinance their home. The Floyds say that he claimed this would help them pay off their debt and get their credit back on track more quickly. They refinanced into an adjustable-rate mortgage that year and again in 2003.
In 2005, just as their rate was about to go up, Mrs. Floyd got pregnant with her fifth child. It was a high-risk pregnancy, and she switched to part-time work -- taking a substantial salary cut.
They refinanced again through Option One Mortgage, a subsidiary of H&R Block. (Earlier this month, H&R Block completed the $1.3 billion sale of Option One to American Home Mortgage Servicing Inc., owned by billionaire and distressed-asset investor Wilbur Ross.)
At the time, their house was appraised at $610,000. They took out a $505,000 loan -- roughly $452,000 went to pay off their prior loan, about $15,600 went to other outstanding debts and fees and the Floyds took out almost $23,000 in cash. (Their house was recently reappraised at $470,000. See info on local housing prices.)
The Floyds say their broker explained that their new mortgage would be at 7.25% for two years and go up to 8.25% for the next 30 years.
But in 2007, the loan went up to 9.25%, bringing monthly payments from $3,200 to $3,980. It later went up to 10.25% and a $4,367 payment. The couple then learned that their mortgage rate would increase every six months until it reached 13.25%.
Mrs. Floyd says that the broker misinformed them. "We take responsibility for our situation. But if you don't understand loans, a lot of brokers take advantage of you," she says. "I think my husband was talked into a lot of bad things."
An Option One spokesperson says that the company disclosed the loan appropriately on the Truth In Lending Agreement, signed by the Floyds on June 16, 2005. The mortgage company also says they provided the Floyds with a consumer handbook explaining adjustable-rate mortgages and a Summary of the Terms of Your Loan disclosure stating that they were signing an ARM loan.
By December, the Floyds monthly payments, including back payment fees, reached $5,600. Mrs. Floyd has since asked Option One for loan modification. The couple also contacted Hope Now, a coalition of mortgage companies, investors and credit counselors. But the group said that they couldn't help the Floyds because they'd missed too many months of payments.
The Floyds have filed for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy -- instead of agreeing to a payment plan and retaining their assets; they will have to sell off their house and use the proceeds to pay off their debts.
Through a spokesperson, Option One said that if the Floyds filed a reaffirmation agreement -- a contract indicating that they would pay some of the money they owned despite the bankruptcy -- the company would be "eager to begin a second loan modification and work with them to find a solution to keep them in their home."
That will be close to impossible, the Floyds say. Currently, they are trying to find a rental. So far, landlords have been turned off by their credit rating. The couple will likely have to move in mid-June, about a month after Option One's May 21 court date to reclaim the house.
The family of seven plans to split up and stay with different relatives until they can find a new home. "I want to pay my debt. I pay my federal and state taxes like I'm supposed to, I go to work, and I just can't find any help," said Ms. Floyd. "It just isn't fair."