Monday, June 30, 2008

Institutionalizing conservative tyranny

Elections have consequences. We've been told that, but Isiah J. Poole has a graphic that makes it very, very clear what those consequences are. Go look at his article.

Here is his key point:
The conservative bloc on the [Supreme] court is a rogue band of ideological thugs who care less about strict constructionism and all of the other conservative legal buzzwords they use, but are all about furthering a conservative political agenda. [Snip]

The right understands the importance of a compliant judiciary in consolidating their political power, and they have made populating the judiciary with like-minded justices a cornerstone of their agenda. As a result, not only are conservatives on the precipice of having a decades-long hammerlock on the Supreme Court, but they have institutionalized a conservative tilt throughout the federal judiciary
The right-wing tilt of the Supreme Court is just the most obvious problem. Look at the graphic at the bottom of Poole's article. It shows the Reich-wing tilt of the entire federal judiciary.

These are lifetime appointments. It will take decades to bring back a judiciary that believes in the Rule of Law rather than the conservative ideology.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Here comes the inflation I have been predicting

Ian Welsh reports that Barclay's anticipates a sharp increase in inflation.
"We're in a nasty environment," said Tim Bond, the bank's chief equity strategist. "There is an inflation shock underway. This is going to be very negative for financial assets. We are going into tortoise mood and are retreating into our shell. Investors will do well if they can preserve their wealth."...

...Traders said the Fed seemed to be rowing back from rate rises. The effect was to propel oil to $138 a barrel, confirming its role as a sort of "anti-dollar" and as a market reproach to Washington's easy-money policies.

The Fed's stimulus is being transmitted to the 45-odd countries linked to the dollar around world. The result is surging commodity prices. Global inflation has jumped from 3.2pc to 5pc over the last year.
Here's my "I told you so."

Last Fall I reported that the economy was going to be rocky in 2008. I said "I still suspect that the Federal Reserve Board under Bernanke is going to try to delay the recession, which will lead to greater inflation." I was right.

The Fed was going to have two choices. They could lower interest rates to pump up the economy, at the cost of stimulating inflation, or they could increase the interest rates to prevent inflation at the cost of letting the economy go into the tank.

They have chosen to lower interest rates for a short term pump of the economy, probably because this is an election year and one of the surest ways to replace the party holding the Presidency is to have the economy go into the tank during the election year. Greenspan ensured that the interest rate was high in 2000 when he wanted the Democratic President replaces by a Republican. Immediately after the election, he started lowering the interest rates to make Bush look good until by 2004. (See my earlier post Economics and politics of the Fed fund rate.)

Greenspan's Republican-appointed replacement, Ben Bernanke, appears to be playing the same game this year.

Here's the thing, though. The effect of pumping up the economy by lowering the interest rate is relatively fast. It's short term. But the effect of the lower interest rate to increase inflation works more slowly. It's long term. So Bernanke is making abet that he can keep the economy pumped up until after the election (meaning October) before his mismanagement puts it into the tank. From Barclay's:
Barclays Capital said in its closely-watched Global Outlook that US headline inflation would hit 5.5pc by August and the Fed will have to raise interest rates six times by the end of next year to prevent a wage-spiral. If it hesitates, the bond markets will take matters into their own hands. "This is the first test for central banks in 30 years and they have fluffed it. They have zero credibility, and the Fed is negative if that's possible. It has lost all credibility," said Mr Bond.
What "the bond markets will take matters into their own hands" means is that interest rates will do what they did in the late 1970's. They will go sky high even without the fed causing it. More from Barclay's:
Traders said the Fed seemed to be rowing back from rate rises. The effect was to propel oil to $138 a barrel, confirming its role as a sort of "anti-dollar" and as a market reproach to Washington's easy-money policies.

The Fed's stimulus is being transmitted to the 45-odd countries linked to the dollar around world. The result is surging commodity prices. Global inflation has jumped from 3.2pc to 5pc over the last year.

Mr Bond said the emerging world is now on the cusp of a serious crisis. "Inflation is out of control in Asia. Vietnam has already blown up. The policy response is to shoot the messenger, like the developed central banks in the late 1960s and 1970s," he said.

"They will have to slam on the brakes. There is going to be a deep global recession over the next three years as policy-makers try to get inflation back in the box."
This means that the price of oil will continue to rise, one of many causes of American inflation, while the inflation will spread to the countries tied to the dollar around the world.

Bernanke's attempt to elect McCain and continue the Republican Party in the White House is going to severely damage both America and the world economy - even more than the current President and his party have already done.

The only question is whether Bernanke's bet that he can pump up the economy until the election will work. He is going to have to raise interest rates, and it looks like it will be before the election. That's lose-lose for the republicans, but the entire Republican economic small government - no regulation policy since 1980 has led to this.

But it's also lose - lose for both America and for the world economy. We have already lost. The only remaining question is how badly and how soon it will be so obvious that even those who don't want to believe is are forced to believe.

Don't believe me? Here's more from Barclay's:
David Woo, the bank's currency chief, said the Fed's policy of benign neglect towards the dollar had been stymied by oil, which is now eating deep into the country's standard of living. "The world has changed all of a sudden. The market is going to push the Fed into a tightening stance," he said.

# Gazprom chief expects 'radical' change in oil price
# More comment and analysis from The Telegraph

The bank said the full damage from the global banking crisis would take another year to unfold.
I haven't gotten this on my own. One of the key writers I have been reading is Ian Welsh. Here is his explanation of what is happening to oil prices.
I have been warning about inflation for some time, and predicting stagflation (high inflation, high unemployment). I have also noted that the problems were not going to be confined to the US and that the idea that other economies were "decoupling" was absurd.

Note also the mention of oil as an "anti-dollar". This is something Stirling, Oldman and myself were discussing as far back as 2004. Simply put, oil is the "unit of ultimate scarcity" in modern economies because it's very hard to substitute away from it. Sure, you can try, with foolishness like corn ethanol, but we're seeing where that leads. Oil makes the modern suburban economy possible. It is deeply embedded in how we make food, so much so that decades ago the late author Robert A. Heinlein came to the conclusion that the limits on food growth were based on oil, and that food wouldn't become a problem till oil became scarce. He's looking rather prescient today. The suburban economy of the US, likewise, simply requires oil to run. Suburbs and exurbs require automobiles and automobiles require oil.

At one time the dollar was backed by gold. What a lot of people failed to realize is that now the dollar has been backed by oil. Countries throughout the world wanted dollars, because dollars bought oil. As the dollar has been inflated by massive money printing, the price of oil has soared. This isn't the only cause of the increase in oil prices, but it is a significant reason. There is no reason for producers of a scarce, essential resource, to accept inflation unless you, well, have them over a barrel. For a long time the US did have them over a barrel—dollars, which were also the key currency for buying securities and various high tech devices, were more rare than oil was. Then Greenspan put the pedal to the metal. It is not a coincidence that oil prices begin to rise after Greenspan started providing huge liquidity hits in the late nineties.
What does it mean that "Greenspan put the pedal to the metal?" Look at the low interest rates again, designed to reelect Bush. Economics and politics of the Fed fund rate.

When you pay $5.00 plus per gallon for gas, consider it your contribution to the Bush reelection fund. As your food bill rises, that too is your contribution to the Bush reelection fund. As your rent goes up and you are unable to get a loan to buy a home, that is your contribution to the maintenance in power of the Republican Party conservatives. As your pay fails to keep up with the increased costs you face, that, too, is the direct result of the Bush Tax Cuts and their low interest rates designed to reelect Bush - and designed by Ben Bernanke to elect John McCain this year.

The American economy is no longer a free market if it ever was. This is today much the same battle as was fought from 1800 until the Civil War about creating a Bank of the United States that would give control of the economy to unregulated bankers. It is now a tool used by Republicans and their controlling bankers and big business CEO's to maintain and increase their political power. Their power and wealth matters. The way the rest of us live or don't live doesn't. If you are one of them, I pray for less power to you. For the rest of us, it's time to make that prayer come true.

Remember that this November, and be damned sure you vote. If you want to vote for the Democrat, make sure in advance of voting day that you are registered and have the required documentation to vote. Voters Registration are being denied as I write, and no notice is being provided to the registrant. You won't know until you try to vote and are turned away. Individuals are being required to present a picture ID issued by the government to vote, and in Arizona, you have to present proof of citizenship. These are Republican requirements that affect primarily Democratic voters.

So check now to be sure you are registered and have the required picture ID and proof of citizenship in order to vote. I'm an election judge, and if you don't have the legally required documentation I will turn you away. Your provisional vote will not be counted. Election day is too late.

When you do vote, if the Republicans let you, remember that the Republicans have put the economy into the tank so that whey will maintain power. They are incompetent at running the government, but they are very very good at stealing elections and corruptly stealing money from the government.

For some of my earlier posts on the economy click "economics" on the list of labels below.

By the way, I have been focused above on the problems of the contradiction of keeping the economy running at a reasonable level vs. letting inflation run rampant. Ian Welsh's article makes really significant point on the threat of simultaneous inflation and deflation. The two economic events can occur simultaneously. Here's what he has to say about that possibility:
Finally there's this bit on the threat of deflation, which I think is worthy of commentary:

A small chorus of City bankers dissent from the view that inflation is the chief danger in the US and other rich OECD countries. The teams at Société Générale, Dresdner Kleinwort, and Banque AIG all warn that deflation may loom as housing markets crumble under record levels of household debt.

Bernard Connolly, global strategist at Banque AIG, said inflation targeting by central banks had become a "totemism that threatens to crush the world economy".

He said it would be madness to throw millions out of work by deflating part of the economy to offset a rise in imported fuel and food prices. Real wages are being squeezed by oil, come what may. It may be healthier for society to let it happen gently.

The threat of deflation has been looming for some time due to the housing crisis and how housing is tied to the money stock. It isn't actually a contradiction to be concerned with both inflation and deflation. What I've been expecting for a long time was first stagflation and then deflation (with an outside chance at hyperinflation, if the response by central banks is blown badly). Moreover, both can occur simultaneously, in a very nasty squeeze. There's no real contradiction in having food and fuel prices rise while prices for other items crash.

However notice the words "real wages are being squeezed by oil, come what may." Those words should send a chill of fear down your spine. Both because of their undeniable truth, and because of what they imply, which is that the world's elites intend for the peons to pay for this by having their real wages slashed in half. In fact, while it's inevitable there be some decline in real wages (I would guesstimate about 20%), there's a lot that could be done to mitigate such declines and to spread the pain around. But spreading the pain around means the rich would take an even bigger hit than they're going to take, and that's not acceptable. What will happen instead is that Bernanke and other central bankers will continue to provide huge sums of money in an attempt to bail the rich out of their losses and to avoid real, serious restructuring and regulation of the financial industry, despite the fact that the finance sector has a huge portion of the responsibility for this crisis, as it has for multiple bubbles over the last 30 years.

In the end though, what Barclays is saying is more interesting because Barclays is saying it than because it's great analysis. It isn't. It would have been good analysis a year ago. it would have been great analysis 3 years ago. There are bloggers who did most of this analysis 3 or even 4 years ago. Still, where the conventional wisdom is is important, because the conventional wisdom tells you what actions are now considered possible. And the debate right now doesn't include heavy re-regulation, or taking over banks, or even allowing banks to fail and go into government receivership. It doesn't include huge incentives for conservation of oil. It doesn't include the possibility of currency controls. What it comes down to is a simple debate between brute monetary policy approaches - easy money, or expensive money. High interest rates, or lower interest rates. Squeeze inflation out and suffer the consequences or don't squeeze it out and let inflation destroy real wages, wiping out all the gains of the post-war period.

Welcome to the world created by the rich when they think they can be rich while ordinary people become more poor. Welcome to the world that gets created when people think that they can have prosperity now and put the bill off till tomorrow.
As everything I have written earlier has pointed out, the wealthy and the bankers expect the rest of us to pick up the tab for their failures an losses while they get richer from taking risks that succeed.

Why not? With the conservative Republicans in power implementing the Reagan Revolution, the wealthy and the bankers are in the position to get rich from the upside risk and hand off the losses from the downturns to the rest of us. That's a great position for any financial person to be in.

But I'm sure that none of you mind making the Bush family, Dick Cheney, and the already wealthy bankers of J.P. Morgan, Citibank, and Bank of America more wealthy as the rest of us suck up the costs. Because that's the conservative way.

The housing crisis hits close to home

For the last five years my next door neighbor has been a very nice early middle-aged Black woman. She bought the three bedroom 50-year-old house next door after the previous owner died. She has been very good about keeping it nice and has grown really a really nice set of flowers and hedges out front. So it surprised me when suddenly there was a "For Sale by Owner" sign out front and then she got a bunch of people over and moved all her stuff out.

The "Owner" who put the signs up, it seems, was the investor who bought her home in foreclosure. I later learned that my neighbor had bought the house for about $60,000 (prices are low in Texas - that is a 1300 square foot house with front and back fenced yard.) Some rip-off artist put her in an adjustable rate mortgage. She had been paying $650 a month, and last Summer the rate reset. The new monthly payment was about $1050 a month.

She couldn't pay it, and the out-of-state mortgage holder simply would not work with her. That was silly because they had $58,000 in the mortgage and the house sold for $38,000. By not working with her, they walked away from a third of the value of the mortgage when Dallas-Fort Worth has been the second most stable metropolitan area in the U.S. after Charlotte, North Carolina.

Now the investor is getting worried. They buy foreclosed homes and flip them quick for a fast profit. Only they have had several very good potential buyers, and none of them can get a home loan.

Now I have an empty home next door, and my property resale value has dropped because of the value of the foreclosure next door. I'm still about 50% above what I paid in 1999, though - assuming that I could find a buyer. But there are two other homes in this same short block with For Sale signs and no occupants. I'm probably trapped here until the economy improves nationally.

The rogues gallery of my enemies includes George Bush, Alan Greenspan and his fellow Libertarian, Phil Gramm, and I have begun to understand why the Depression was simply another very predictable result of unregulated banking running the economy. Boom and bust; boom and bust; each time a bigger boom, each time a bigger bust. Economic stability is the direct result of effective bank regulation; Boom-and-bust is the direct result of unregulated banks.

With economic stability you get a thriving middle class, but the get-very-rick-quick boys are frustrated. Since Reagan was elected we have seen a rapid growth in the number of American billionaires together with a reduction is the percentage size of the middle class as big business and the banks shift the risk of loss to individuals and keep the profits to themselves.

Industrial nations build a stable economy and a strong hard-working middle class. America has been shifting towards the Latin American model of a small, very wealthy elite, an anemic middle class and a large number of very poor people. Why not? That's the Republican wet-dream. A few very wealthy people who own most of the country, a desperate and ununionized powerless work force, and a few favored proles who are allowed to pretend they are being paid what they are worth as long as they suck up to the wealthy owners and the bankers.

McCain is running on the Reagan Revolution and the Bush war. If he wins America is in deep shit.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Recipe for diplomatic success - 1. First remove Cheney from process

Digby nailed this story.
Not even Fourthbranch, the Barnacle himself, could outmaneuver the State Department on this one, and he's not happy:
WASHINGTON — Two days ago, during an off-the-record session with a group of foreign policy experts, Vice President Dick Cheney got a question he did not want to answer. “Mr. Vice President,” asked one of them, “I understand that on Wednesday or Thursday, we are going to de-list North Korea from the terrorism blacklist. Could you please set the context for this decision?”

Mr. Cheney froze, according to four participants at the Old Executive Office Building meeting. For more than 30 minutes he had been taking and answering questions, without missing a beat. But now, for several long seconds, he stared, unsmilingly, at his questioner, Steven Clemons of the New America Foundation, a public policy institution. Finally, he spoke:

“I’m not going to be the one to announce this decision,” the other participants recalled Mr. Cheney saying, pointing at himself. “You need to address your interest in this to the State Department.” He then declared that he was done taking questions, and left the room.
The Barnacle froze because it's one of the few things that could be considered a foreign policy triumph in the history of the Bush Administration, and it happened because mindless warhawks like him were finally sidelined. Bush's North Korea policy began with a series of mishaps and belligerence, just as the neocons wished, and it led to Kim Jong-Il getting the bomb. Precisely when the State Department started guiding the policy and Christopher Hill was given leeway to negotiate in the six-party talks, the situation changes, leading to today's destruction of their nuclear facility at Yongbon. The world is still a more dangerous place because of all of the delays, and the DPRK still has about a dozen poorly-designed nuclear weapons as a result.

"Cowboy" Cornyn rides again

Let's look at the advertisement that Texas Senator John Cornyn has put out.

Most Senators really shouldn't play dress up, but I have seen no indication that Cornyn has enough good sense to recognize that. Goldwater had the face, head and history to get away with it, as did St. Ronnie. Cornyn doesn't. And while I liked Johnny Cash music, Johnny Cash was from a very different era. But then, so is Cornyn.

Apparently Cornyn's opponent, Rick Noriega, found Cornyn's ad as silly and tasteless as I did. Here's Rick's response.

While Cornyn's ad is silly and tasteless, it is also very very representative of John Cornyn as a Senator and as a person. Could "Texans for John Cornyn" be an attack group attacking John Cornyn? If so, it really worked.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Oh. MY. God! Sen. Cornyn in a cowboy hat!

I really don't know which is sillier. This commercial or John Cornyn wearing a cowboy hat.

Keep always in mind that this is the kind of candidate that the Texas Republican Party has fielded since the conservative southern Baptists and the Evangelists took over the Texas Republican party a little over two decades ago.

American power, wealth was based on oil; That's nearly over

Sara Robinson is a futurist. She studies trends and estimates what they will mean in the future. Last week she reported on a fascinating book about energy as the source of empire. The book, by Thomas Homer-Dixon entitled The Upside of Down postulates that oil has been the source of American world power and the power of the dollar through the twentieth century, and that America's control of oil is running out. What does that mean? Here is an explanation from Sara Robinson:
All empires are built on vast amounts of energy. And no great empire in history has ever come to power without controlling and dominating the market in whatever the current preferred energy resource was at the time. [Snip]

He carefully builds the argument that Rome rose on its ability to harness vast amounts of Mediterranean sunshine, turn it into food, and then reliably move that food around the empire to feed vast numbers of soldiers, builders, and horses and thus consolidate its regime. When that system failed, the empire crumbled.

Likewise, the Dutch built their short-lived empire on the ability to supply oil for Europe's lanterns. They were supplanted by England, which was able to supply better, cheaper fuel out of its vast coal resources. British dominance lasted until a rising America turned out to have unimaginable amounts of coal, which allowed it to undercut the British pound as the world's most stable currency — and outperform the UK economically.

And then came oil, which was soon preferred to coal because it proved to be a far more efficient (hence, cleaner and cheaper) and versatile fuel. You could get far more energy output from a smaller unit (coal's comparative inefficiency made it impractical for small vehicles like cars, for example) and with far less effort; and you could turn it into far more different kinds of products -- not just fuel, but plastics, fertilizers, wonder drugs, and much more.

As the world moved toward oil at the beginning of the last century, the UK — eager not to lose out again — made an early bid for the oil fields of Arabia. But North America counted among its original blessings more oil reserves than any other continent on the planet; and that, argues Homer-Dixon, was decisive. Unable to compete, the British Empire faded, and the American Century began.
Sara then discusses how a second element of developing a full-blown Empire is developing and exporting the infrastructure that allows the rest of the world to build much better lives from that preferred energy source. America leveraged its control of oil resources by developing and exporting oil-fueled cars, power plants, farms and factories. Those exports became the basis of the dollar as the world currency. But that creates a dependence in the dominating nation on both control of the energy source and on world demand for the infrastructure that uses the energy source to create wealth. So Sara continues:
Homer-Dixon also points out another, more sober lesson. It's never happened that an empire that built its wealth on one energy resource also succeeded in dominating the next resource that supplanted it. Human nature being what it is, societies that are deeply invested in the current energy regime tend to fall into denial when that regime comes to its natural end — either because it simply runs out, or because it's superceded by something even more efficient and versatile. People can't believe things won't go on as they always have, or imagine that life could be any different. They shut their eyes to looming trouble, ignore the signs of impending doom, and refuse to make any reasonable plans to navigate the coming changes.

In the meantime, as old system falls apart, someone hungrier and more nimble finds a way to capitalize on a new, more efficient energy resource. And so old empires die, and new ones rise to take their places.

Put it in this perspective, and it becomes obvious that when we talk about running out of oil, we're not just talking about higher prices or low-carbon lifestyles or making an easy transition to something else that America (we like to think) will also dominate. When we fully grasp the foundational role oil played in securing America's wealth and global power, it becomes obvious that when we talk about moving off oil, we're really talking about nothing less than the demise of American power throughout the world, and the end of the American Way of Life as we've known it for generations.

That's serious stuff. But it's the truth that provides the backdrop for everything else that's going on right now. Against this larger process, it's easier to see that the dollar is weakening because our control over the whole oil economy that has supported its value for the past century is in serious trouble — and that we won't be out of financial danger until we can base on the dollar's value on something other than oil. Our political stature is tanking because the world doesn't need to kiss up to us anymore to keep the cars running and the lights on — and it won't rise again until we find something else of equally high value to offer. Our standard of living is falling because it always floated on a sea of oil — and that sea is drying up. Oil prices are high not because of market manipulations and oil company profit-taking (though plenty of oil economists are sure that's part of the story, too); they're high because the whole system is destabilizing, heading for a major tipping point.
The Sara continues by using this view of American world political power as being based on the American oil monopoly. As the oil and our monopoly of it runs out, so does American world political power.
Even before 9/11, the Bush Administration has always had a sense of panicked desperation about it — a desperation we've usually attributed to conservative revolutionary zeal, religious fanaticism, or free-market fundamentalism. But it's also plausible to interpret some of this as the desperation of people who were tasked with protecting the American empire by keeping the oil taps open and under control at any cost — and who know, deep in their guts, that time is running out.

The Project for a New American Century's stated strategy for maintaining the American superpower in the face of a rising China was to invade and dominate the Middle East, and thus control China's access to oil for the next several decades. That was the intended long-term payoff of the Iraq War: control the oil, and thus control the world. In their minds, if we have to bankrupt the country, tear up the Constitution, and piss off every other country in the world along the way, it's worth it — since they know we're not worth a damn economically or politically without the oil anyway. Sure, the means are ugly; but according to their view of the ends, there's simply no alternative — and no other possible future worth discussing. They don't care if we hate them now, because they're convinced we'll thank them in 20 years for having the statesmanlike foresight to do what had to be done.

(Blame it on too much time in the oil patch. That toxic elixer of crude and money so easily goes to one's head....)

This perspective also provides some extra context for why locally-based power generation, like on-site or community wind and solar, are political non-starters for energy execs and their government minions. It's obvious that they hate it because they can't take profit from it; but they also know that America's global hegemony depends on keeping the world dependent on energy supplies they control. Since nobody can capture a monopoly on the wind or the sun, there's no way to build the next global empire on them. And therefore, renewables simply aren't very interesting to people whose first priority is geopolitical dominance and stratospheric profit.
This view of energy and Empire certainly offers a coherent explanation of the twentieth century American world power. It also provides a connection between the period of American Empire, its decline, and the almost panicky reaction of American conservatives to that decline and to the loss of control of world oil.

One thing is very clear, though. Oil as we have known it is gone. Does that mean that American wealth and power is also gone? Remember, no previous empire every outlasted the loss of its control of the dominant energy source. Can America be different? Back to Sara:
From this 10,000-foot view, it's easy to interpret the political spats and economic machinations and deal-making and climate debates and regional wars — the whole parade that dominates the news now — as simply opening acts in a long transition that could end up taking most of this century. Unless a) we discover vast new reserves on a globe that's been already explored from pole to pole (unlikely) and b) we come up with dramatic new evidence proving conclusively that climate change isn't a problem after all (even less likely), then the hard fact is: We will be spending the next several decades moving off oil.

It's going to be the most important work of this century. And Americans can either get out in front of this change and come out of it at the century's end with much of their greatness intact — or continue to fight it, and end up as another of history's has-beens.

Meeting this challenge means we're going to have to get very smart, very fast, about a lot of things.

• First, we need to accept that this change is happening, and start having serious conversations about how we're going to handle it. The Bush Administration's denial has already cost us eight valuable years. It's an understatement to say that the longer we avoid the issue, the worse the transition will be.

• Second, we need to stay mindful of the horrific pitfalls. The unimaginable grimness of the worst-case scenarios alone should be enough motivation to get and keep us talking.

Even the most-likely-case scenarios are disturbingly short on sunshine and roses. Historically, energy transitions (involving, as they do, the collapse of vast economic and political systems) have never happened smoothly. Rome fell so hard that it took a thousand years for anything like it to rise again. The stable world order held together by the British coal empire shattered apart in two vast world wars and another dozen colonial revolutions (some of which still aren't resolved decades later). It's not unreasonable to expect similar disruptions as the American oil empire begins to unravel. It's not going to be pretty.

When complex economic systems fail, they almost always fail catastrophically, leaving vast numbers of displaced, disoriented and righteously angry people in their wake. Bad economic and environmental decisions get made. Critical issues are ignored, or abandoned due to lack of resources. If folks get desperate enough for security, it's entirely likely that they'll reorganize into feudal kingdoms or even warlord-run clans, as has already happened in too many Middle Eastern countries in the wake of war. Restoring these lost democracies can take generations. Much of that risk can be averted — but only if we're aware of the potential for trouble, and start figuring out how to deal with it now.

• Third, an important part of that planning will involve taking stock of the carbon-based resources remaining to us, and figure out how to best invest them to smooth the way to the next era. We can use that remaining margin of oil to rebuild walkable cities, construct next-generation energy infrastructure, and install electric transit. We can leverage it to repave the world with agrichar, restoring millions of acres of arable land, creating a vast new carbon sink, and eliminating the need for petroleum-based fertilizers in the bargain. We will still be able to afford to run oil-fueled bulldozers and trucks and ships for a while yet. Let's use them wisely while we can.

• Fourth, "globalization" may take on a whole new meaning, one that's more about global governance than global trade. Executing transition plans necessarily means empowering planet-wide organizations that have the ability to make and enforce the rules. We've already done this on a limited scale in the CFC treaties, international non-proliferation efforts, and so on. But navigating a transition of this magnitude is going to force us to take the whole idea of global government to the next level. (Can't you hear the far right howling about this already?)

Creating these new powers will raise all kinds of hard questions about national sovereignty and the rights of the global collective. In the end, we may revisit the meaning and purpose of government, and perhaps create entirely new forms of government that better balance local needs against global goals.
I've quoted more than enough of her article. She has an interesting final section entitled "What's Next?" which I suggest that you go read.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The final year of Bush's rogue Presidency

The Bush administration has surpassed itself, both in ridiculousness and in flat being scary and out of control. Everything they have attempted outside of getting poison legislation passed has failed. Will they attempt one last Hurrah on the way out and try to take all of America and the Middle East down to failure with them? That is a realistic expectation for a group of administrators who are living in a bunker mentality inside what Scott McClellan described as the White House bubble.

How total is the administration's failure so far? Just look at this (very incomplete) list:
  • Let's start with Iraq. First look at the lies told to take us to war. Then look at the real reasons as indicated by the recent actions of the Bush administration and its puppet Maliki government.
  • But that's just the why for invading and occupying Iraq. Look at the utter incompetence with which they have handled it.
    • First was Rumsfeld's effort to conduct the invasion with too few troops and no effective plan to control the country, as demonstrated by the looting that occurred immediately.
    • The abrupt change of plans that removed Jay Garner and replaced him with Jerry Bremer showed they were operating with no plan.
    • When Bremer took over, he immediately disbanded the Iraqi army although there were clearly not enough American troops to control the country, and absent a draft, never could be. The resulting utter anarchy permitted, even encouraged the rise of an insurgency. It's almost as though the Bush administration actually WANTED continued combat in Iraq.
    • Bremer's well-known effort to use a "Kiddy Corps" of young conservative ideologues vetted by the American Enterprise Institute to turn the Iraqi economy into a libertarian free market "paradise" clearly failed completely.
    • One of the efforts to bring Iraq under control has been to create a $500 million Arabic language television and radio station to pump out American propaganda, to counter the reporting by al Jazeera. This has been an utter failure. Not only is the al-Hurra network completely unable to operate effectively in the highly competitive Arabic Language TV industry, it has actually been producing and airing anti-American broadcasting.
  • None of this incompetence would have been possible had the Bush administration not made its decisions in total secrecy, avoiding all Constitutional oversight. The lies an and misrepresentations have been matched by an almost total refusal to answer questions. Consider the efforts they have gone to to avoid testifying before Henry Waxman's Congressional committee.
  • This is just a small sample of the refusal to the Bush administration to respond to Constitutional oversight.
I've previously discussed elsewhere why the really severe economic crisis that America is currently enduring is primarily a result of the implementation of the small government free market refusal to plan or regulate the economy and the banks properly. The conservative movement and the Reagan Revolution have come home to roost. The conservative fantasy they represent has failed America terribly. That ideology simply cannot deal with reality.

The clear pattern is that the Bush administration is able to politically control the federal government, but fails completely when faced with reality. They appear to treat reality as just another political situation that can be lied away in the press. The result is an administration which has been a total and complete failure.

So what does a completely failed administration do as the end of its term approaches? Well, all they can do successfully is pass legislation. Reality escapes them. So, as M.J. Rosenberg reports, the administration that treats reality as though it were political legislation is very close to Declaring War On Iran!
Both the House and Senate are considering legislation that would put us in a state of war with Iran. Right now.

H. Con. Res 362 and S.Res.580 are identical bills (designed for expeditious passage) which have as their goal "preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability, through all appropriate economic, political, and diplomatic means, is vital to the national security interests of the United States and must be dealt with urgently...." The bills introduction coincided with the AIPAC conference.

The bill's "action clause" would put us at war with Iran by immediately imposing a blockade.

The resolution cleverly states that "nothing in this resolution shall be construed as an authorization of the use of force against Iran" assuming, apparently correctly, that potential co-sponsors won't know that a blockade is an act of war.
169 Congress persons is 39% of the House of Representatives.

The Bush administration plans to pass legislation to declare a blockade of Iraq (that is, declare war while jacking world oil prices into the stratosphere) as their last action on the way out of office and leave it to the next administration to deal with the reality of the crap they are unleashing. Besides the legislation itself, there are also the right-wing pronouncements such as this one by substitute but never confirmed ex- U.N. Ambassador John Bolten talking up an attack on Iran, and Bill Krystol's encouragement for an attack on Iran. This certainly has the looks of a drumbeat for war.

Hitler would have been proud. He, too, living his last days in the Bunker in Berlin knew that he had failed, so he decided to take Germany down with him. This is no different.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Boumedienne gives individuals the right to demand proof they ARE Enemy combatants; No more.

The Boumediane ruling by the Supreme Court does NOT give enemy combatants special access to the federal courts. All it does is give people arbitrarily swept up by the Bush administration the right to challenge whether they ARE enemy combatants at all. So says conservative law professor Richard Epstein.

My concern with the prisoners held at Guantanamo has been that, in their panic to appear "strong and resolute" after 9/11 the Bush administration has abandoned the Rule of Law and demanded the right of an all powerful "Commander in Chief" to act in an Arbitrary Manner. The fact that so many of the prisoners held at Guantanamo have been shown to not be Enemy Combatants clearly establishes that the Bush administration has, in fact, been acting arbitrarily and has thrown out the Rule of Law as a guiding principle. It seems to me that the danger that a few real and permanent terrorists might actually be released and later be found to attack Americans somewhere is a lot less of a threat to America than having a President who abandons the Rule of Law. The Constitution and democracy cannot exist when the Rule of Law is abandoned. That destroys all of America. At worst, a mistaken judgment on releasing a few individuals who might be terrorists but cannot be proven so is bad, but it does not threaten the core of what America stands for. So far, there is no clear evidence that any Guantanamo detainee has endangered the lives of Americans after being released.

So I applauded the Boumediene ruling. But not being an attorney, I did not understand how absolutely correct legally it was. I was reacting to my firm belief that abandoning the Rule of Law means abandoning democracy in favor of tyranny.

Now I need to thank Professor Richard Epstein for clarifying the law. The complaints against the ruling are primarily that it gives habeas corpus rights routinely to everyone detained by the American military under all circumstances. It does not do that.
Enemy prisoners of war are never granted it, either in the United States or abroad. What matters is whether a prisoner is or is not an enemy combatant. [Snip]

The six plaintiffs in Boumediene, accused of plotting an attack on the American Embassy in Bosnia, claim they are not
[Enemy Combatants. They should be entitled to challenge both the government’s definition of an enemy combatant and the factual basis of their arrest. And they should be able to do so, as the court stressed, under standard habeas corpus procedures that allow them to present evidence and confront witnesses, and not under the paltry procedures outlined by the 2006 Military Commissions Act.

If found to be enemy combatants, they can be held for the duration of the war and interrogated, if desired, as any other detainees. If not, they must be tried for some particular offense or released.

The defendants’ entire case would collapse if the Bush administration were prepared to offer substantial evidence of their enemy combatant status, sparing everyone unneeded uncertainty and expense. Boumediene v. Bush is not a license to allow hardened terrorists to go free. It is a rejection of the alarmist view that our fragile geopolitical position requires abandoning our commitment to preventing Star Chamber proceedings that result in arbitrary incarceration.
The key is that every detained individual - anywhere in the world - must have the right to question the evidence and the decision that he is an enemy combatant under the Rule of Law. The evidentiary requirements are not very high.

The President is thus not above the law as he and John Yoo claim. He is bound by the law and must be restrained by it. The President has no right to act in an arbitrary manner. And neither does the current capricious Vice President. That fact is basic to the very existence of the American democratic republic.

[h/t to Kevin Drum.]

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The right-wing lie regarding "30 released Guantanamo detainees " returning to the battlefield

In his impassioned dissent to the 5 to 4 Boumediene decision Justice Antonia Scalia declared that “[the Court’s decision] will almost certainly cause more
Americans to be killed.” To buttress his argument Justice Scalia stated, “In the short term, however, the decision is devastating. At least 30 of those prisoners hitherto released from Guantánamo Bay have returned to the battlefield.”

Since I have sufficient respect for his ethics as a Jurist [*], I can only suspect that Scalia does not know he was repeating a lie. He said it again to Charlie Rose on the show aired June 21, 2008. The Pentagon has released the truth of the matter in in a Seaton Hall study of the issue.. The report essentially says that the Pentagon has no way of tracing released Guantanamo detainees, so it is reduced to culling unverifiable reports from the press. What is known, however is that the prior released detainees were not released through and process that was even quasi-judicial (some were released by political appointees against the will fo the military, and they were not tracked once they were released. There was only a single possible individual who might have returned to the "battlefield" (whjtever that means) and even that report is highly speculative.

From the summary of the report, here is what is known.
On December 10, 2007 The Seton Hall Center for Policy and Research issued a Report, THE MEANING OF "BATTLEFIELD": An Analysis of the Government’s Representations of ‘Battlefield Capture’ and ‘Recidivism’ of the Guantánamo Detainees, which demonstrated that statements asserting 30 detainees had returned to the battlefield were incorrect. Further developments since then, including recent hearings before Congress at which more information was provided by the Department of Defense, confirm that the 30 recidivist claim is simply wrong and has no place in a reasoned public debate about Guantánamo. This Report concludes the following:
  • At most 12, not 30, detainees “returned to the fight.”
  • Of these 12, it is by no means clear that all are properly characterized as having
    been so engaged since their release.
  • According to the Department of Defense’s published and unpublished data not a single detainee was ever released by a court. Moreover, every released detainee was released by political appointees of the Department of Defense, sometimes over the objection of the military.
  • According to the Department of Defense’s published and unpublished data and reports, not a single released Guantánamo detainee has ever attacked any
  • The Department of Defense’s statements regarding recidivism are inconsistent with each other and often contradictory.
  • This may be because, despite the importance of detainee recidivism, the Department of Defense’s sources of information are media reports.
  • Despite national security concerns, the Department of Defense does not have a system for tracking the conduct or even the whereabouts of released detainees.
  • The only indisputable detainee who took up arms against the United States or its allies was ISN 220.
  • ISN 220 was not released as a result of any legal process, whether a CSRT or a federal habeas proceeding; no detainee has been released as a result of either process.
  • The decision to release ISN 220 was made by political officers in the Department of Defense and was contrary to the recommendations of the military officers.
  • The Department of Defense has never explained why ISN 220 was released or who is responsible for the decision.
  • It is at least plausible that a more transparent process would have resulted in ISN 220 still being detained.
So. No thirty released detainees who have returned to the battlefield. Maybe there is one, and if there had been a transparent judicial process that case represents an individual who should not have been released. The Pentagon political appointees tend to overrule good sense and demand the Pentagon do what they are told.

[*]That is not to say that I consider Antonin Scalia's theory of of textualism and originalism as he uses it in Constitutional interpretation valid or reasonable. But I do consider him to be a rigorous thinker who, within his limitations, makes every effort to use known facts rather than lies or misrepresentations and then applies his theory to those facts. Scalia is quite inconsistent on his application of originalism because of his limited acceptance of Stare Decisis. The result is that he is able to "logically" justify whatever he wants the law to be rather than being bound by law.

The result is that, while Scalia can always get the result of his decisions to be what he personally wants them to be (See Bush V. Gore), he does it by using his imprecise and non-binding theory of jurisprudence, not by accepting lies or misrepresentations.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Iowa floods - McCain wants to campaign, Obama wants to help

Phoenix Woman at FireDogLake culls the newspaper reports for how McCain and Obama are reacting to the floods in the Midwest.

What she has found it that McCain wants to use the flood devastation as a background for him to stand in front of as he flogs his campaign for the Presidency. When the his staff contacted the governor of Iowa to let him know McCain was coming, the governor wrote back and said essentially Now is not a good time. "...state and local resources were still being deployed to support the flood fight and that now may not be the best time for a campaign trip."

And McCain's response? He needs the photo ops. He ignored the governor's request and is going anyway, no matter how much disruption of recovery operations are adversely impacted by his dog-and-pony show.

Contrast this with Obama's response when Iowa Governor Dillon made the same request that Obama not come and interfere with operations.
Senator Obama's response was to work with state and local authorities to find out how he could best direct the efforts of his supporters interested in volunteering; armed with that information, his campaign has been sending out e-mails to inform his people of those cities not yet hit by the flood that could use help with sandbagging and other preparedness measures.
The obvious conclusion is that the McCain - Obama race for the Presidency is between McCain who wants the status of being President for his own ego, while Obama wants the job for what it will allow him to do for Americans.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

How many flip-flops can a Republican candidate for President make?

Consider McCain's dilemma. He is a Republican candidate running for President at a time when the Republican Party brand is anathema to voters. Yet to be elected, he has to get the a strong turnout by the very Republican deadenders who still support George Bush in his disastrous regime. But he also has to get a lot of independents to choose him over Obama. The messages that work well for the deadenders at the ones tha tdrive away the independents, and vice versa.

How does McCain thread that needle? The deadenders and the independents demand very different and mostly conflicting promises.


McCain tells one audience one thing and then changes his position for a different audience. Flip-flops? Not important. McCain will do or say anything to get to be President, and of all the various candidates who ran this year, he is the one least objectionable to the largest number of Republican party members.

This is McCain's last shot at the Presidency. He'll do or say anything to get it. That's the source of the flip-flops. Is he capable of doing the job? Not likely. As bad as Bush has been, McCain acting on what he really believes would be much worse.

If the media were doing their jobs, the flop flops would be reported and sharply criticized. But there is no more independent medial The TV media - which is driven by personality and ignores issues and consistency - now belongs to the Republican Party. The media owners fear the loss of power and control of their market that will be caused by electing a Democrat as President.

That's why they don't report the many, many flop-flops from the McCain team.

Here is a list of many of the recent flip-flops that McCain is guilty of.
The past couple of weeks have been especially difficult when it comes to McCain flip-flops.

* McCain supported the drilling moratorium; now he’s against it.

* McCain strongly opposes a windfall-tax on oil company profits. Three weeks earlier, he was perfectly comfortable with the idea.

* McCain thought Bush’s warrantless-wiretap program circumvented the law; now he believes the opposite.

* McCain defended “privatizing” Social Security. Now he says he’s against privatization (though he actually still supports it.)

Wait, I’m not done with the last two weeks yet….

* McCain wanted to change the Republican Party platform to protect abortion rights in cases of rape and incest. Now he doesn’t.

* McCain thought the estate tax was perfectly fair. Now he believes the opposite.

* He opposed indefinite detention of terrorist suspects. When the Supreme Court reached the same conclusion, he called it “one of the worst decisions in the history of this country.”

* McCain said he would “not impose a litmus test on any nominee.” He used to promise the opposite.

And these come after these other reversals from April and May:

* McCain believes the telecoms should be forced to explain their role in the administration’s warrantless surveillance program as a condition for retroactive immunity. He used to believe the opposite.

* McCain supported storing spent nuclear fuel at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Now he believes the opposite.

* McCain supported moving “towards normalization of relations” with Cuba. Now he believes the opposite.

* McCain believed the U.S. should engage in diplomacy with Hamas. Now he believes the opposite.

* McCain believed the U.S. should engage in diplomacy with Syria. Now he believes the opposite.

* He argued the NRA should not have a role in the Republican Party’s policy making. Now he believes the opposite.

* McCain supported his own lobbying-reform legislation from 1997. Now he doesn’t.

* He wanted political support from radical televangelists like John Hagee and Rod Parsley. Now he doesn’t.

* McCain supported the Lieberman/Warner legislation to combat global warming. Now he doesn’t.

And these are the flip-flops I’ve noticed earlier:

* McCain pledged in February 2008 that he would not, under any circumstances, raise taxes. Specifically, McCain was asked if he is a “‘read my lips’ candidate, no new taxes, no matter what?” referring to George H.W. Bush’s 1988 pledge. “No new taxes,” McCain responded. Two weeks later, McCain said, “I’m not making a ‘read my lips’ statement, in that I will not raise taxes.”

* McCain is both for and against a “rogue state rollback” as a focus of his foreign policy vision.

* McCain says he considered and did not consider joining John Kerry’s Democratic ticket in 2004.

* In 1998, he championed raising cigarette taxes to fund programs to cut underage smoking, insisting that it would prevent illnesses and provide resources for public health programs. Now, McCain opposes a $0.61-per-pack tax increase, won’t commit to supporting a regulation bill he’s co-sponsoring, and has hired Philip Morris’ former lobbyist as his senior campaign adviser.

* McCain has changed his economic worldview on multiple occasions.

* McCain has changed his mind about a long-term U.S. military presence in Iraq on multiple occasions.

* McCain is both for and against attacking Barack Obama over his former pastor at his former church.

* McCain believes Americans are both better and worse off than they were before Bush took office.

* McCain is both for and against earmarks for Arizona.

* McCain believes his endorsement from radical televangelist John Hagee was both a good and bad idea.

* McCain’s first mortgage plan was premised on the notion that homeowners facing foreclosure shouldn’t be “rewarded” for acting “irresponsibly.” His second mortgage plan took largely the opposite position.

* McCain vowed, if elected, to balance the federal budget by the end of his first term. Soon after, he decided he would no longer even try to reach that goal.

* In February 2008, McCain reversed course on prohibiting waterboarding.

* McCain used to champion the Law of the Sea convention, even volunteering to testify on the treaty’s behalf before a Senate committee. Now he opposes it.

* McCain was a co-sponsor of the DREAM Act, which would grant legal status to illegal immigrants’ kids who graduate from high school. Now he’s against it.

* On immigration policy in general, McCain announced in February 2008 that he would vote against his own legislation.

* In 2006, McCain sponsored legislation to require grassroots lobbying coalitions to reveal their financial donors. In 2007, after receiving “feedback” on the proposal, McCain told far-right activist groups that he opposes his own measure.

* McCain said before the war in Iraq, “We will win this conflict. We will win it easily.” Four years later, McCain said he knew all along that the war in Iraq war was “probably going to be long and hard and tough.”

* McCain said he was the “greatest critic” of Rumsfeld’s failed Iraq policy. In December 2003, McCain praised the same strategy as “a mission accomplished.” In March 2004, he said, “I’m confident we’re on the right course.” In December 2005, he said, “Overall, I think a year from now, we will have made a fair amount of progress if we stay the course.”

* McCain went from saying he would not support repeal of Roe v. Wade to saying the exact opposite.

* McCain went from saying gay marriage should be allowed, to saying gay marriage shouldn’t be allowed.

* McCain criticized TV preacher Jerry Falwell as “an agent of intolerance” in 2002, but then decided to cozy up to the man who said Americans “deserved” the 9/11 attacks.

* McCain used to oppose Bush’s tax cuts for the very wealthy, but he reversed course in February.

* On a related note, he said 2005 that he opposed the tax cuts because they were “too tilted to the wealthy.” By 2007, he denied ever having said this, and insisted he opposed the cuts because of increased government spending.

* In 2000, McCain accused Texas businessmen Sam and Charles Wyly of being corrupt, spending “dirty money” to help finance Bush’s presidential campaign. McCain not only filed a complaint against the Wylys for allegedly violating campaign finance law, he also lashed out at them publicly. In April, McCain reached out to the Wylys for support.

* McCain supported a major campaign-finance reform measure that bore his name. In June 2007, he abandoned his own legislation.

* McCain opposed a holiday to honor Martin Luther King, Jr., before he supported it.

* McCain was against presidential candidates campaigning at Bob Jones University before he was for it.

* McCain was anti-ethanol. Now he’s pro-ethanol.

* McCain was both for and against state promotion of the Confederate flag.

* McCain decided in 2000 that he didn’t want anything to do with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, believing he “would taint the image of the ‘Straight Talk Express.’” Kissinger is now the Honorary Co-Chair for his presidential campaign in New York.
McCain's staff claims that McCain has "evolved" in his positions over the year. Since the Republican Party doesn't accept "evolution", that is a strange theory and perhaps even another "flip-flop."

It's not evolution. Its about a Republican Party that will do or say anything to keep power. That's a role that John McCain is perfectly suited to play. George W. Bush stole the job of President out from under him in 2000, and now he has his last possible chance. He'll say or do anything to get the job of President.

But the Republican party will vote for anyone who promises to keep their "brand" in the Presidency, and they couldn't present a competent candidate who the American voting public might accept. McCain is their least worse candidate. That's how bad it is.

A candidate who will lie, cheat or steal to get the job. That's the best the Republicans could offer this year. That's who they got in John McCain.

War Crimes trials for Bush and Cheney? An interesting discussion

How likely is it that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney will face war crimes trials in the future? The revelations from the Senate Hearings the last few days make it appear somewhat more likely. Here is what Scott Horton has to say in The New Republic today.
Tuesday's Senate Armed Services Committee hearing provided the latest evidence that top Bush administration officials directed the use of torture techniques on detained suspected terrorists. Three panels of witnesses traced the use of highly coercive techniques back to the high echelons of the administration. The day ended with the grilling of William J. Haynes II, the former general counsel of the Department of Defense and a protégé of Cheney's chief of staff David Addington, who is now widely viewed as the "station master" of the administration's torture policy. And in April, ABC News reported that officials including Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, and Donald Rumsfeld had held a series of meetings to discuss the use of specific torture techniques on detained suspect terrorists. The ABC report amplified earlier stories which said the decision to destroy videotapes of interrogations of suspects in CIA captivity involved four senior White House lawyers and other senior figures.

At the same time, Philippe Sands's new book The Torture Team reveals the falsity of White House claims that the push to introduce torture techniques came from interrogators in the field. Sands demonstrates that the decision to use techniques like waterboarding came from the top, and tracks the elaborate scheme to make it appear that the practices began with a request from Guantánamo.

These disclosures and others have put the issue of war crimes on the front burner. Major General Antonio Taguba just released this statement in the forward to a report just out by Physicians for Human Rights: "There is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes," Taguba says. "The only question is whether those who ordered torture will be held to account." In a House Judiciary hearing on June 5 looking into the rendition of Canadian software engineer Maher Arar, for instance, members pressed to know if sufficient evidence had been presented to warrant a criminal investigation into the conduct of administration officials; all three witnesses (including the author) answered affirmatively. In other hearings, witnesses have treaded lightly and experienced frequent failures of recollection, perhaps driven by a concern over self-incrimination. And, indeed, in what may be a sign of things to come, 26 American civil servants are being tried in absentia by an Italian court in Milan for their involvement in the rendition of a radical Muslim cleric to Egypt. So, is it really feasible for Bush administration officials to be tried for war crimes?
So the conclusion is that - Yes, War Crimes were committed, and Yes, they were instigated and organized out of the White House by at least five top administration attorneys who acted on the guidance of the President and the Vice President.

Mark Kleiman, discussing a conference held at Massachusetts School of Law at Andover, adds his analysis to the issue:
"Here's their case, as I understand it, with my reactions to each item in italics following that item.

1. The United States has inflicted torture on captives in the course of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, both directly and by the use of foreign intelligence services as proxies. [Certainly true. BushCo officials have admitted waterboarding, hypothermia, stress positions, and sleep deprivation.]

2. Torture is forbidden by domestic and international law. [True.]

3. The relevant domestic statute provides the death penalty if the victim dies. [True.]

4. Liability under that law isn't limited to those actually turning the rack; those who give the orders are also vulnerable. [True, though again the issues of proof are complex.]

5. George W. Bush, Richard Cheney, and other senior officials ordered that torture be carried out, both as a matter of general policy and in specific instances. [Seems likely, but establishing beyond reasonable doubt exactly what orders were given, by whom, with what knowledge of how those orders would be carried out would be a nightmare at trial.]

6. The law provides no exemption for officials, or for wartime actions. [True, though no doubt John Yoo will write a brief arguing that the President's Commander-in-Chief power makes him constitutionally invulnerable to criminal liability for issuing such orders.]

So the case that Bush, Cheney, and a cabal of a few of their inside supporters committed war crimes has ceased to be in much doubt. The question remains whether they will ever be tried for their crimes.

The general conclusion seems to be that they will not be tried in the United States, but that other countries may well arrest and try them if they visit the wrong nation after leaving office. A recent precedent was the arrest of Augusto Pinochet in Great Britain on a Spanish warrant. Age and ill health allowed Pinochet to avoid being tried. It is very unlikely that Bush could use a similar excuse.

Bush better enjoy his current trip to Europe as Chief of State. Once he leaves office, any trip back there will involve exactly the risk of arrest that Pinochet suffered. Certainly there are many in Europe who would be happy to see Bush or Cheney suffer such a fate.

Bush may well need his rumored Paraguayan land near Brazil and Bolivia.

The failure of bank-driven U.S. international supposed free enterprise

America is suffering from severe inflation in the price of imported oil and other goods, but that is primarily caused by the collapse of the dollar on the international currency markets. And why is that? Look at first the ridiculous deficit the Bush administration has run up by a combination of tax cuts and excessive spending. But then look at the way American banking is presumed to be the only competitive international industry, and so productive enterprises are sacrificed internationally to make deals for American banks in China and other nations.

Treasury Secretary Paulson meets with Chinese counterparts negotiators this week in Annapolis. The meeting is called the Strategic Economic Dialogue. The subject will be the way the Chinese government has pegged the renminbi to the dollar at a level that makes the dollar overvalued and forces the export of American production jobs to China. The Bush administration has been willing to trade greater banking trade with China for that loss of American production jobs.
As Annapolis will once more demonstrate, U.S. policy toward China is simply befuddled. The problem is that while the Chinese have a clear economic strategy, the U.S. global strategy is the byproduct of corporate lobbies and Wall Street political muscle.

The Chinese routinely flout the rules of the global marketplace, but under the Clinton administration, the U.S.—driven by companies eager to set up shop in China and bankers eager to cut the deals—gave China permanent most-favored-nation trading status and then let them into the World Trade Organization without insisting on reforms or setting up decent enforcement mechanisms for standards everyone knew the Chinese did not and would not follow. About the only thing the U.S. pushed for in the negotiations was to try to open up Chinese financial markets to U.S. banks, a clear reflection of a trade policy that, in Illinois Sen. Barack Obama's words, has been made for "Wall Street, not Main Street."

It isn't clear how long the old game can last. The dollar has lost about half its value to the Euro, and U.S. exports are beginning to rise. But the Chinese (and the Japanese) have pegged their currencies to the dollar and not allowed a similar adjustment (The Chinese have allowed the renminbi to rise only about 20 percent to the dollar since 2005). The result is that the U.S. trade deficits with China keep rising; the Chinese keep pocketing more and more dollars. The Chinese are importing inflation that is ever more difficult to control. And the U.S. is exporting manufacturing jobs, and now service jobs, generating a backlash against trade generally that could grow much uglier.

What America needs is a clear strategy to sustain its middle class in a global economy that has just integrated over 2 billion workers in China, India and the former Soviet Union.
NOte that statement - "What America needs is a clear strategy to sustain its middle class in a global economy that has just integrated over 2 billion workers in China, India and the former Soviet Union." So why doesn't America have such a strategy?

Because the bankers and the conservatives believe that the government should not interfere in markets. China is under no such restriction, so America is walking into a gunfight unarmed. Individual American banks cannot effectively counter such a national government strategy from China.

To eliminate the export of American production jobs the American government has to deal with the Chinese government from a coherent strategic position. At the moment the only "strategy" is to depend on the Dollar as the world's reserve currency. Unfortunately, that is rapidly disappearing as the price of oil in dollars climbs to the stratosphere.
As Annapolis will once more demonstrate, U.S. policy toward China is simply befuddled. The problem is that while the Chinese have a clear economic strategy, the U.S. global strategy is the byproduct of corporate lobbies and Wall Street political muscle.

The Chinese routinely flout the rules of the global marketplace, but under the Clinton administration, the U.S.—driven by companies eager to set up shop in China and bankers eager to cut the deals—gave China permanent most-favored-nation trading status and then let them into the World Trade Organization without insisting on reforms or setting up decent enforcement mechanisms for standards everyone knew the Chinese did not and would not follow. About the only thing the U.S. pushed for in the negotiations was to try to open up Chinese financial markets to U.S. banks, a clear reflection of a trade policy that, in Illinois Sen. Barack Obama's words, has been made for "Wall Street, not Main Street."

It isn't clear how long the old game can last. The dollar has lost about half its value to the Euro, and U.S. exports are beginning to rise. But the Chinese (and the Japanese) have pegged their currencies to the dollar and not allowed a similar adjustment (The Chinese have allowed the renminbi to rise only about 20 percent to the dollar since 2005). The result is that the U.S. trade deficits with China keep rising; the Chinese keep pocketing more and more dollars. The Chinese are importing inflation that is ever more difficult to control. And the U.S. is exporting manufacturing jobs, and now service jobs, generating a backlash against trade generally that could grow much uglier.

What America needs is a clear strategy to sustain its middle class in a global economy that has just integrated over 2 billion workers in China, India and the former Soviet Union.
Such a strategy is anethema to the conservatives and Republicans. First they believe that all economics is based on individual-level transaction decisions which are not affected by larger economic and social trends and pressures. Second they do not believe that government is competent to develop and implement such strategies. Both ideas are mostly false.
How can America benefit from the expanded trade and opportunity of a global economy, while avoiding a race to the bottom that erodes the American middle class that is the pride and the foundation of our democracy? How do we balance our relationship with China, even while engaging that country to join in the effort to address global warming? These are far more fundamental challenges to our security than the threat posed by the scattered extremists of al Qaeda.
These are NOT challenges that the so-called free market of individual American players can deal with. There desperately needs to be an American strategy for dealing with international trade while defending our middle class.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Funny - on so many levels

Five top administration Lawyers wrote the Bush/Cheney rules on torture

Alberto Gonzales - former White House Council.
David Addington - legal adviser and now chief of staff to Cheney.
William J. Haynes II - former Pentagon general counsel.
John Yoo - former Justice Department Lawyer.
Timothy E. Flanigan - former deputy to Alberto Gonzales.

What do these men have in common? From the McClatchy news article:
WASHINGTON — The framework under which detainees were imprisoned for years without charges at Guantanamo and in many cases abused in Afghanistan wasn't the product of American military policy or the fault of a few rogue soldiers.

It was largely the work of five White House, Pentagon and Justice Department lawyers who, following the orders of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, reinterpreted or tossed out the U.S. and international laws that govern the treatment of prisoners in wartime, according to former U.S. defense and Bush administration officials. [Snip]

The quintet of lawyers, who called themselves the “War Council," drafted legal opinions that circumvented the military's code of justice, the federal court system and America's international treaties in order to prevent anyone — from soldiers on the ground to the president — from being held accountable for activities that at other times have been considered war crimes.
These five men, following orders and guidance from George Bush and Dick Cheney, allowed and encouraged individuals from being held accountable for what otherwise would be considered war crimes. It seems only right and fair that they, themselves, should be held directly and criminally accountable for those crimes.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

McCain would never have made Admiral - that's just a political story to support his Presidential run

A recent New York Times article claims that John McCain was offered an Admiral's star, but declined it to retire and run for Congress.
At a meeting in his Pentagon office in early 1981, Secretary of the Navy John F. Lehman told Capt. John S. McCain III that he was about to attain his life ambition: becoming an admiral. [Snip]

With Mr. Tower’s
[conservative Texas Senator John tower]encouragement, Mr. McCain declined the prospect of his first admiral’s star to make a run for Congress, saying that he could “do more good there,” Mr. Lehman recalled.
The story is, however, sourced to John Lehman, who was Secretary of the Navy for only the last two months before McCain retired. John Lehman is an adviser to McCain's Presidential campaign, and there are no earlier reports that anything like this event ever occurred. Also, this story contradicts all earlier stories about the reasons for McCain's retirement from the Navy, including those told by McCain.

Why should such a conversation with the Secretary of the Navy have occurred? Such a conversation with a Captain being considered for promotion to Admiral would be highly unlikely, even unethical. It is also unlikely that the Secretary of the Navy would extend such an offer, since the Secretary of the Navy is not part of the Admiral selection process. The approval process, yes, but not the selection process. Potential Admirals are selected by other Admirals. To make the story even more unlikely, the supposed offer is said to have occurred only two years after McCain was promoted to Captain. Such a very short period of time between promotion to Captain and promotion to Admiral would have been an unprecedented.

Jeffrey Klein has this to say about McCain's prospects for promotion to Admiral:
All of the evidence, indications and comments that the New York Times published a flattering lie about McCain's career on its front page are easy for John McCain to refute. All he needs to do is sign Standard Form 180, which authorizes the Navy to send an undeleted copy of McCain's naval file to news organizations. A long paper trail about McCain's pending promotion to admiral would be prominent in his file. To date, McCain's advisers have released snippets from his file, but under constrained viewing circumstances. There's no reason McCain's full file shouldn't be released immediately. There's also a recent precedent for McCain signing the simple form that leads to full disclosure: Senator John Kerry signed the 180 waiver, which made his entire naval file public.

The Navy may claim that it already released McCain's record to the Associated Press on May 7, 2008 in response to the AP's Freedom of Information Act request. But the McCain file the Navy released contained 19 pages -- a two-page overview and 17 pages detailing Awards and Decorations. Each of these 17 pages is stamped with a number. These numbers range from 0069 to 0636. When arranged in ascending order, they precisely track the chronology of McCain's career. It seems reasonable to ask the Navy whether there are at least 636 pages in McCain's file, of which 617 weren't released to the Associated Press.

Some of the unreleased pages in McCain's Navy file may not reflect well upon his qualifications for the presidency. From day one in the Navy, McCain screwed-up again and again, only to be forgiven because his father and grandfather were four-star admirals. McCain's sense of entitlement to privileged treatment bears an eerie resemblance to George W. Bush's.

Despite graduating in the bottom 1 percent of his Annapolis class, McCain was offered the most sought-after Navy assignment -- to become an aircraft carrier pilot. According to military historian John Karaagac, "'the Airdales,' the air wing of the Navy, acted and still do, as if unrivaled atop the naval pyramid. They acted as if they owned, not only the Navy, but the entire swath of blue water on the earth's surface." The most accomplished midshipmen compete furiously for the few carrier pilot openings. After four abysmal academic years at Annapolis distinguished only by his misdeeds and malfeasance, no one with a record resembling McCain's would have been offered such a prized career path. The justification for this and subsequent plum assignments should be documented in McCain's naval file.
In short, the May 29th New York Times article has to be considered as nothing more than a political puff piece, a myth created three decades after the fact in order to bolster McCain's current run for President.

If there is any truth to the May 29th story, all McCain has to do is authorize the Navy to release his naval records to the Press as John Kerry did. Any selection proceedings that had been undertaken would appear all over the records.

Don't hold your breath.

Monday, June 16, 2008

On McCain's negative reaction to the Supreme Court's Boumediene ruling

Last week John McCain reacted harshly and excessively to the recent Supreme Court ruling that declared the kangaroo courts set up by the Military Commission Act (MCA) unconstitutional because it does not provide for the very basic right of habeas corpus. Now Andrew Cohen of CBS News explains why McCain took that decision so personally.
Following the last Supreme Court ruling on this topic, which also struck down stubborn Administration detainee policies, the Senator (a Vietnam torture victim himself) invested no small amount of his own treasured (and well-earned) historical capital to try to broker a deal on the detainees.

And, in late 2006, he did.

It’s called the Military Commissions Act. It was a terrible idea from the very beginning, and it was one of two federal statutes undercut by the Justices last Thursday. It’s no wonder the nominee is taking the defeat personally.

After first insisting that federal law clearly and unambiguously outlaw “torture,” McCain suddenly caved to White House pressure on the MCA, allowing the Administration to insert into the law a clause that effectively allows (and, indeed, legally buttresses the efforts of) the executive branch to implement torture as a means of interrogation.

Without McCain’s pander, there would have been no bad law for the Court to strike down last week. Without McCain’s grandiloquent appeal to Democrats and moderates during that lame-duck session, there quite possibly might have been a better law that just might have passed its constitutional test this term.

McCain’s sell-out on the torture language is not the reason the Justices declared the MCA unconstitutional. It is not the reason why the detainees now have more access to federal courts than they did before. But it is emblematic of the larger and much more destructive, seven-year-long sell-out of the legislative branch in the legal fight against terrorism.

And that emblem, thanks to the Supreme Court, now has John McCain’s face on it just in time for the run-up to the general election.

This is not necessarily fair. It’s not just John McCain who failed or refused to do the right thing. Last week’s ruling was the fourth defeat in a row for the Administration at the Supreme Court. And on the past three occasions the Congress has responded not by embracing the hints and clues left by the Court’s majorities - by, say, brokering a desperately-needed deal between executive and judicial branches over a terror law policy - but by siding with the White House.

McCain and other so-called “moderates” have had the power for years to avoid these Supreme Court showdowns and show-ups. They just haven’t had the political courage to exercise that power.

The White House is to blame for pushing beyond the legal limits of executive power. And the Congress is to blame for allowing it to happen despite entreaties by the judiciary for help.
The highlighted passage above shows why McCain reacted as he did. But McCain's reaction is part of a larger problem with the federal government in general.

The final sentence in the quotation above is the core of the set of massive current problems with the federal government. The Bush administration in its' incompetence is pushing their ideocentric and self-centered agenda far beyond the Rule of Law and the Constitution. But the Congress is supinely going along with the Presidential overreach.

The image of America as the shining example of democracy that came out of the 1776 American Revolution has for the most part been expanded and made even more true in reality until the conservative revolution. Nixon, Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton and especially Bush 43 and his handler Cheney have all been working hard to destroy democracy, Constitutionalism, The Rule of Law and individual Liberty in America. But it hasn't just been the Presidents. The Congress has been as guilty for going along as well as the corporate TV media for not reporting the occasional rare objections.

McCain has been in Congress for three decades. He caved on his objections to torture in order to pass the MCA, and now the Supreme Court, even packed with conservatives, has said that his sacrifice of his honor (to further his ambition to become President?) was in a bad cause.

It is no surprise that McCain would react angrily to the Boumediene ruling.

[H/T to Digby.]

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Here's why most Americans think the economy sucks

The Republicans seem to think that the American economy is strong and doing quite well, so they deride all the economic doom saying that is being published these days. But why are so many people complaining if the economy is doing so well?

Paul Krugman explained the complaints in a Rolling Stone article back in November 2006. He was right then, and things have only gotten worse since.
The reason most Americans think the economy is fair to poor is simple: For most Americans, it really is fair to poor. Wages have failed to keep up with rising prices. Even in 2005, a year in which the economy grew quite fast, the income of most non-elderly families lagged behind inflation. The number of Americans in poverty has risen even in the face of an official economic recovery, as has the number of Americans without health insurance. Most Americans are little, if any, better off than they were last year and definitely worse off than they were in 2000.

But how is this possible? The economic pie is getting bigger -- how can it be true that most Americans are getting smaller slices? The answer, of course, is that a few people are getting much, much bigger slices. Although wages have stagnated since Bush took office, corporate profits have doubled. The gap between the nation's CEOs and average workers is now ten times greater than it was a generation ago. And while Bush's tax cuts shaved only a few hundred dollars off the tax bills of most Americans, they saved the richest one percent more than $44,000 on average. In fact, once all of Bush's tax cuts take effect, it is estimated that those with incomes of more than $200,000 a year -- the richest five percent of the population -- will pocket almost half of the money. Those who make less than $75,000 a year -- eighty percent of America -- will receive barely a quarter of the cuts. In the Bush era, economic inequality is on the rise.

Rising inequality isn't new. The gap between rich and poor started growing before Ronald Reagan took office, and it continued to widen through the Clinton years. But what is happening under Bush is something entirely unprecedented: For the first time in our history, so much growth is being siphoned off to a small, wealthy minority that most Americans are failing to gain ground even during a time of economic growth -- and they know it.
But that isn't the whole story. Jacob S. Hacker has written an excellent book called The Great Risk Shift. Not only are America's most wealthy individuals hogging all the profits from our very productive economy, they are shifting all the risk of failure onto individual workers.
Behind this shift, he [Hacker] contends, is the Personal Responsibility Crusade, eagerly embraced by corporate leaders and
Republican politicians who speak of a nirvana of economic empowerment, an "ownership society" in which Americans are free to choose. But as Hacker reveals, the result has been quite different: a harsh new world of economic insecurity, in which far too many Americans are free to lose.

The book documents how two great pillars of economic security--the family and the workplace--guarantee far less financial stability than they once did. The final leg of economic support--the public and private benefits that workers and families get when economic disaster strikes--has dangerously
eroded as political leaders and corporations increasingly cut back protections of our health care, our income security, and our retirement pensions.
What the wealthy can't shift to individual workers they shift to the government as demonstrated by the Federal bailout of Bear Stearns.

The description of the merger between Bear Stearns and J.P. Morgan over looks the fact that J.P. Morgan is paying about $2.2 billion for the stock, but that the federal reserve is "loaning" J.P. Morgan $29 billion to cover the worst $30 billion of mortgage-backed securities and other complex investments Bear Stearns has. The loan is a non-recourse loan, meaning that if the securities go bad, there is no requirement that J. P. Morgan pay it back. The Fed has no recourse other than to force the sale of the investments. In short, that means that because of Bear Stearns failed investments the U.S. public is now on the hook for up to $29 billion of those bad investments. The risk taken by Bear Stearns has been shifted to the U.S. taxpayers.

Who profits? J.P. Morgan. They win every time a purchased investment succeeds, and the risk of failure has been shifted to the shafted taxpayers. That's "Free Enterprise" at work. But it works primarily for large banks (which make financial decisions about who owns what, but do not produce real goods and services), the very wealthy (similar to banks - their job is to protect and augment their own power and wealth, not to actually produce usable good and services for others), and the corporate officers of large corporations which, for the most part, control their divisions by extracting money from the older successful divisions and use that to try to create (or more likely acquire) newer divisions.

While there is some value in what the corporate offices do, for the most part the actual creative work of creating and developing new businesses (entrepreneurship) occurs far below and out of the sight of the level of top corporate management. Top corporate management is mostly about avoiding or shifting off risk. And who do they shift it to? Workers, government, or speculators. Only the last of these is really economically valuable to society, and it's a lot less valuable than creating new and improved products and services is. Bankers and top corporate management in large corporations are not doing entrepreneur work. At best they facilitate some entrepreneurs, but for the most part they shift risk off to those who do not know what is happening to them, while keeping the rewards from successful entrepreneurs.

The Republican party is the party of risk shifters and wealth protectors. The Democratic Party is (or should be) the party of wealth producers and entrepreneurs. and when I say entrepreneurs, remember that banking and financial entrepreneurship is entirely about creating new ways of shifting risk and ownership of the rewards of risk while taking a cut off the process of shifting, not about actually producing new goods and services that have social utility.

So does the current economy suck? Yeah, for most of us it does. Whatever we create is sucked off and handed to the wealthy who did nothing except create financial instruments or inherit wealth from some ancestor who may actually have created real value (Cindy McCain, Richard Mellon Scaife, or Eric Prince for examples.)

It's time that America returned to the ideals of the post WW II America in which society revolved around making the middle class successful instead of the very wealthy. A major side effect of that effort would be to return the American economy to being a productive economy rather than a financial economy. We'll also have a lot less of a boom-and-bust economy.

Only the mostly non-productive very wealthy will complain, and they won't really be hurt.