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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Palin Picked, IVAW Marches in Denver

Alaska Governor Sarah Palin was picked to be the first woman chosen for a Republican Presidential ticket, and only the second female Vice Presidential candidate in history, the first being Geraldine Ferraro in 1984.

Palin is known as a reformer, and in her first public appearance since the nomination today, in Dayton, Ohio, she took pride in rejecting the notorious bridge to nowhere, a massive federal pork barrel project. She said she'd fought the old guard, a group of Alaskan men like Ted Stevens who've been investigated for improprieties and dubious relationships with businesses receiving federal contracts. [Senator Stevens is currently under indictment for failing to disclose home remodeling done by a businessman acquaintance.]

Palin's home state is nearly the farthest away geographically from neo-liberal/neo-conservative Washington, D.C., and challenging the GOP Establishment there has boosted Palin's image as a reformer.

GOP handlers have gotten ahead of any potential criticism of Palin by distancing themselves from Stevens and his generation. The simple fact that Palin is young, attractive, and female achieves this goal. Healthy and vigorous, Palin gives the Republican ticket a more robust feel.

Identity politics, a political methodology central to Republican success in the past two Presidential elections, supports the notion that voters will vote for Palin simply because they identify more with her than the opposing candidate(s). According to this theory, Sarah Palin's status as a mother of five will help voting mothers identify more with the GOP ticket than had a male candidate been picked.

A Beltway insider, Biden may seem more like a Establishment candidate compared to Palin, former mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, a small suburb of Anchorage. Rather than compete with Biden's qualifications, the Republicans have sought to challenge his popular appeal. Who can identify with Biden? Catholics and older Americans perhaps. Rather than compete head-to-head for the same demographic, the GOP is trying to grab independents and cash in anti-incumbent and anti-Washington sentiment. By virtue of the Palin choice, McCain must not have been thought to be independent enough to appeal to these kinds of voters.

I've said that elitism would be the wedge issue of the 2008 election, just as gay marriage was the hot button in 2004. If the GOP can paint Biden/Obama as part of the Establishment, they might be able to better position Palin/McCain as mavericks and outsiders, despite McCain's long Washington tenure and close connections to the White House. By grabbing someone totally inexperienced with federal politics, they can perhaps counterbalance Obama's inexperience, if indeed experience is a liability with voters who have a record-low opinion of Congress. If inexperience is that huge of an asset, Palin could be bring a lot to the ticket. Compared to Palin, Obama seems almost a veteran--at the very least, criticism of his lack of experience will be greatly muted by Palin's selection.

McCain would be the oldest President in history, which puts an inexperienced Palin one heartbeat away from the Presidency. How well could she deal with a foreign policy crisis with--let's say--Russia? With the neo-cons stirring the Georgia pot, putting missile shield bases near Russia, and extending NATO to Russia's borders, the US might face serious challenges dealing with a resurgent Russia, especially with McCain embracing a return to Cold War-style posturing which might extend past the election--contrary to what Putin says--and into McCain's first term as President.

The GOP has done a good job timing the announcement to coincide with the peak impact of Obama's speech, which did do a good job attacking McCain and addressing the problems average people face.

As a woman, Palin might appeal to women voters who might feel left behind by the rejection of Hillary Clinton. Commenting on MSNBC, Anne Kornblut of the Washington Post said that Obama and Biden would need to handle her gently, lest they turn off women voters who feel jilted by Hillary Clinton's defeat in the Democratic primaries. In her Dayton remarks, Palin did refer to Hillary Clinton's campaign, saying how her candidacy had left 18 million voters behind, and failed to break the "hardest, highest...glass ceiling" for the top job in the land, the Presidency.

Will women vote for Palin just because she's a woman? Not necessarily. She will undoubtedly invigorate women conservatives who would have voted McCain anyway. Now if Palin's political background had been built on traditional "womens' issues" like violence against women, she might attract women voters simply for being a woman, but Biden could attract women for his legislative achievements in that area. Women aren't likely to vote based on the gender of the candidate alone, particularly if the male candidate can claim a record of addressing and attempting to resolve the typical concerns held by most women (which I wouldn't begin to try to define.)

Socially conservative women will identify with Palin but not necessarily because she's a woman.

Just how likely are pro-choice women to be swayed by the Palin choice? Palin is anti-choice, and very socially conservative, who might not endear herself to the majority of women, who favor choice.

Palin's status of motherhood--greatly under-represented in male-dominated political circles--might attract fellow mothers, who might be more likely to identify with her than Obama or Biden, as the Democratic candidates share positions popular with mother like better health care, family leave, equal pay, etc..

Palin isn't the only mother in the race. Mother figures in Democratic camp include Michelle O., who starts and ends her every day think about her children. Also Biden's Irish Catholic mother has some strong opinions on the topic, and the pretty Biden daughters, babies in their arms, make for a strong image of exemplary motherhood.

Palin's choice threatens the status quo and her place on the ticket confronts Obama's position as the sole candidate "for change." It remains to be seen what effect the novelty of a woman's selection for the Vice President candidacy will retain from now to the election.

By selecting Palin, the Republicans challenge perceptions which paint their Party as traditionally dominated by men. The Palin pick makes the Democrat selection of a black candidate look a little less avante garde, or progressive. By choosing a woman, the GOP woos voters who don't typically vote Republican. At the same time though, Palin's positions on the issues will ultimately determine how she is received among women voters, rather than her gender or motherhood status.

Despite the success of identity politics in the past two elections, the fear button is not as likely to make an impact with NASCAR dads and "security" (soccer) Moms. If anything, Middle Class "pocketbook" fears about the economy and health care may help the Democrats more than any talk about terror could help the GOP. In this election, positions might really matter more than how the public identifies with the candidate.

As we've seen in recent Rovian-inspired elections, the facts matter far less than perceptions; reality far less than how it is spun. With all the mainstream media outlets over-stimulated by endless punditry and banter, deception is an important model to draw on from past elections. Lying works, at least when it goes unconfronted by the MSM. Palin can be represented as whatever the spin machine wants her to be. As an outsider with no Washington experience (and therefore assumed to be less corrupt), she's a lump of clay, ready to be carved into whatever shape the political insiders choose.

Early in his candidacy, Obama was seen as a maverick and upstart, who might really change Washington. People are eager for change, and Obama masterfully positioned himself as the candidate for change, a label the Palin pick shows that the GOP is eager to steal. By selecting Palin, the GOP has stolen some of Obama's claim to be the candidate of change, as he doesn't offer a woman on his ticket, nor is he the only Washington outsider.

How much of Obama's image is built on the fact he's black, rather than on the issues that he represents? Much has been said about Obama's race. Earlier this year, Geraldine Ferraro--the other woman pick--attributed much of Obama's success to the fact he was black, which stirred great controversy. At the time, this raised criticisms of her 1984 selection as the Vice Presidential candidate--would Ferraro have ever made it to the ticker if she were a man, with equal qualifications?

Identity politics has its limits. We can't attribute a candidate's success or popularity strictly to their race, or gender. If our society has become post-racial, Obama being black is a non-issue--the election will tell just what kind of a hold racism has on the electorate. With blacks largely voting Democratic, their identifying with Obama because he's black won't bring in many undecided votes. If blacks made up a larger percentage of the population, simply being black would not be enough of a qualification for success because we'd see far more black candidates, and being black wouldn't matter much if at all.

Advancement of political opportunities for women has made female candidates less of a novelty in State and local elections, but obviously not with federal offices, where old white men predominate. Stereotypes persist. Women candidates for higher office are often criticized based on the widely held stereotype that they are less able to manage the stress of a true crisis; this is the same rationale used to ban them from combat roles in the military. This perception is more likely to be levelled at younger women; Palin is hardly immune, but perhaps the men (and some women) who hold these views have been taken for granted as McCain backers, much as the antiwar vote has been presumed to go to Obama.

No such stereotype exists for the leadership abilities of black men, at least not since black officers were allowed to command white soldiers. Still, Obama's blackness does lend itself to the popular perception that he is different, and not just in regard to his race. His willingness to go help little people on Chicago's south side aided his credentials in ways that showcase his humanity, and the fact he's black seems to matter less as people get familiar with him.

Simply being a women or minority might not be enough to draw voters in, yet it could certainly lead voters away just as racism will impact Obama's vote totals. With minorities on both tickets, closet racism will have to do battle with closet sexism. Which will triumph?

In today's dumbed-down America, transcending race will surely be an achievement of grand proportions. An Obama victory would signify at a minimum that racism is incapable of preventing the election of a non-White president. Likewise a McCain-Palin would be a historic achievement for women, a victory over skeptics who believe a woman can't do a man's job.

Vast media resources will be directed towards analyzing the Palin and Biden picks, so I won't devote too much of my energies to these widely covered topics. Instead, I'd like to focus on the under-covered story of the week, which has come out of Denver. Obama's turned to the Right on Afghanistan and Georgia, despite Iraq Veterans Against the War's brave march through Denver.

On Wednesday, the Iraq Veterans Against the War delivered a message to an Obama aide after leading a lengthy, impromptu march across the city.

A video shows a Marine in dress uniform arriving near the Democratic National Convention to deliver a statement from that antiwar organization which is composed exclusively of Iraq veterans.

I was in Washington, DC, in September, 2007 and the IVAW led a honor guard with the flag inverted all the way from the White House down Pennsylvania Avenue. They were the leaders of the march, assisted by ANSWER and UFPJ, Code Pink, and other organizations.

Seeing the black T-shirts under the desert camoflage uniforms is an impressive visual cue. I captured the faces of IVAW participating in the September 15th ANSWER rally in Washington, D.C.. Iraq veterans formed a small advance party for the march--organizers kept all non-veterans out of the front.

I was able to capture some pictures of the group forming. (Here is one.

My first contact with IVAW people had left me impressed with their organization and discipline. I'm not surprised that so many people were willing to follow them in Denver, wherever they went, to demonstrate the injustice of the war.

They also seemed remarkable cogent and focused, angry yet restrained--like true warriors. Dedicated to their cause of ending the war, IVAW seemed highly organized and media savvy. One IVAW member, Adam Kokesh--whom I saw there in D.C.--had gotten himself arrested in Lafayette Park, in promoting the September 2007 march.

Kokesh can be seen in this picture, on the far left, in sunglasses. Also note the face-painted veteran. This group marched together the whole distance down Pennsylvania Avenue. My video of the march, available on the right side of this blog page (or at top level page www.jbpeebles.blogspot.com) has near its end a brief clip of the march advancing down Pennsylvania Avenue near the grounds of the Capitol Building. You can see the American flag carried upside down, a universal sign of protest.

Kokesh is a driven young man, and brave. Early in my video, I believe it is him who walks directly into a group of bicyclists who'd been chanting pro-war slogans. His pre-march provocations succeeded, at least in getting me to go to the march.

I'm pleased that IVAW and the anti-war movement were able to recreate some of their success in Denver. I'd read that IVAW had made a strategic decision to try to influence policy-makers, and recruit other veterans. I'm sure they made progress in those efforts, as trying to impact the top level makes sense in a top-down system like we now have in the US.

Still, looking at IVAW in their uniforms, in action, dignifies the face of the antiwar movement in ways that few demonstrators could achieve. IVAW belongs out front, leading from the front of the march, not trying to negotiate in the back rooms of Congress. I say as much in my blog entry Mass Protests Needed.

Obama did talk about the need to end the Iraq War in his acceptance speech. Unfortunately, he exudes a militarist bent on Afghanistan, believing I guess that it'll be different this time, that somehow because we see it as a just war, that we'll do better there than in Iraq. This shows his lack of understanding about war, and reflects that he's succumbed to the same nationalist temptations that launched the Iraq War which are based on the same exceptionalism, that we as Americans are granted through Providence a mightier army more capable of kicking ass than being kicked in the ass.

I doubt the Afghans defending their nation from foreign occupation will simply roll over in expectation of their defeat at our hands. Most of them may have never supported the Taleban, or conspired in some dark cave with bin Laden, but they do get to experience the presence of us infidels in their lands, dropping bombs, and killing thousands of their women and children in episodes termed "collateral damage" by our Pentagon.

On the issue that won him the nomination, Obama has backed off his antiwar position, at least outside of Iraq, and condoned confronting what he and Biden see as Russian aggression against (poor little) Georgia. Disappearing his dove credentials might be a cold calculation meant to increase Obama's appeal to a wider group of potential voters; still, militarism is the hallmark of Bush-style empire and might de-motivate traditional Democratic supporters, increasing the size of the protest vote.

Obama inspires a powerful cult of personality that may overshadow where he stands on the issues; being the candidate for change may be politically expedient, but not if the kind of changes Barack endorses alienate potential voters. In his nomination acceptance speech, Obama introduced a fairly typical set of traditional Democratic policies he plans to implement upon winning that stand out from Bush's largely because the neo-cons have taken this country so far to the Right.

Still, on the topic of foreign intervention, Obama has drifted to the right, presumably in an effort to appeal to a broader spectrum of voters than the antiwar movement alone--which is perhaps a flawed assumption since two-thirds of Americans support ending the war. If this huge contingent simply became single issue voters, showed up at the polls, and could get their votes counted, Obama would have the election wrapped up.

Unfortunately, politics is about far more than the war, and people now have greater concerns about the economy, their jobs, and their finances. This isn't to say that Iraq isn't important, but the cacophony of concerns makes it comparatively harder to care what happens on the other side of the world. If however, things in Iraq (and/or Afghanistan, Obama's preferred theatre of conflict) were to turn worse, the antiwar sentiments become more pronounced, and make an even larger impact, Obama would be wise to seek more prudent avenues of escape, rather than ratchet up talk of escalation.

Holding Obama to account is a vital part of a functioning democracy at war. Many voters likely feel betrayed for voting Democratic in hopes that party would stop the war.

The Democrats have really performed a huge betrayal on the war, unconditionally offering Bush and his cohorts a torrent of money to pay for the continued occupation of Iraq, even as it was recently revealed that Iraq had a $80 billion dollar surplus.

Recently Obama selected Joe Biden, who voted in support of the war. During Biden's acceptance speech at the Convention, he indicated that President Bush had misled him, which was I believe an accurate representation.

Still, with Biden's strongly pro-Georgian position, he can hardly be called a dove. The neo-con inspired regression towards a new Cold War displayed overconfidence in the uncontested military strength of the US, and helps to reject soft power as a more viable and cost-effective means of confronting our strategic competitors.

As I've written in back-to-back articles in OpedNews, the Georgian attack on pro-Russian breakaway provinces was unprovoked and pure belligerence. The Russia reaction was thoroughly anticipated, which led me to question why the attacks were commenced.

The political benefit of a spat with Russia may be to enhance McCain's poll numbers. The Arizona senator is constantly referred to in the MSM as someone with an advantage in national security. He does poll higher in regard to how Americans see him dealing with Russians.

Sadly, if triangulation is the primary political method of this election cycle, nothing is beyond politicization, including wars-of-choice, which are draped in the flag for their full patriotic effect. With Americans' understanding of foreign policy so anemic, there exists the strong temptation to take advantage of old antagonisms with Russia. Threatening the Russians resurrects the tired but comforting proposition that the US carries a big stick and can therefore intimidate (bully?) anyone else. Hardly mature or constructive, the politicization of war means that politicians have used wars not to achieve some practical strategic benefit but for self-aggrandizement.

Wars and threats of war tend to foster the illusion that Republicans are tougher, and harder on America's enemies than the political competition. Judging by the large numbers of American flags at the Palin appearance in Dayton, Ohio, complemented by the requisite chanting of "USA, USA," the GOP is eager to present itself as the more patriotic party. Wars--and starting them--are clearly the domain of militarists on the Right that form the core of GOP support. Finishing wars, however, may be more of a non-partisan duty, reserved not to any one political party but rather the War Party, the one that overshadows Washington, our foreign policy, and a large and growing chunk of the economy tied to the business of war-making.

Barack Obama made some wise comments about patriotism in his speech last night which, not by coincidence, now seems like ages ago. He said that we were all Americans, and needed to put country before party. This reconciliation appears to fall on deaf ears among the Republican faithful, who clearly weren't listening and instead just want to kick someone's ass, or at least pretend they can.

Restarting the Cold War would be the great send-off that Cheney and others could claim as their legacy, a blunder mightier even than the failures in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ironically, Russia might end up supporting freedom fighters in Afghanistan, just as we supported them when the Soviets invaded, although we call them terrorists now. Cuba and Venezuela might also be drawn closer to Russia; China has indicated their support as well. One consequence of empire-building is the formulation of opposing alliances--our nemesis is called the Shanghai Cooperative Alliance.

It's sad that Obama wants to continue down the Bush-inspired thread of War on Terror interventions, which suspiciously target only those nations with large energy reserves, rather than those which are the source of the problem: Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

Links on the Denver march are available here:

-1) "Police Block Veterans’ Access to DNC in Largest Protest to Date" by Alex Kane and Jessica Lee

-2) Kevin Gosztola's article on the IVAW march in OpEdNews.com

-3) "3,000 Vets, War Protesters Hand-Deliver Their Message" by Patti Thorn of the Rocky Mountain News. Two videos are linked from that article, accessible only through Internet Explorer; both were choppy, and one came through muted.

My still pictures of the 9/15 March: Halfway down this entry.

This article was submitted as an exclusive Friday evening. Here are some additional links of interest I've found since then:

"6 things Palin pick says about McCain," by Jim Vandehei & John Harris in politico.com.

HuffPo had some photos of Palin's infant son, who has Down's Syndrome. Palin apparently refuses to consider abortion under any circumstances. Texastrixie posted a good comment there.

I did see one nasty rumor that the child may be that of 17-year old Bristol, who apparently spent months hidden away "with mono." One source of this rumour may be the surprise of those close to Palin when they discovered she was pregnant, as written here in the Anchorage Daily News. Inky99 has all the rumors and innuendo at DailyKos.

Whatever the real story, Palin did in fact take a long flight from Dallas to Alaska, after her water had broken, which struck several commentators as risky considering her advanced age (for childbirth) and complications that could have risen from the birth of her youngest son Trig.


Sunday, August 24, 2008

More on Georgia--Biden picked--ships arrive in Gaza

My follow up article on the Georgian affair, "Neo-cons slap a sleeping Bear," complete with analysis on the potential neo-con roots of the conflict, appears in OpEdNews.com.

I try to publish an original post here weekly, or perhaps every ten days. The length and complexity of my recent articles, those on Georgia being only one example, encourages me to submit them to various Web outlets.

I can publish them in their entirety here later, in archival form. I hope that in the meantime a link will suffice. I'm going to assume my blog readers will understand the prioritization of distributing my work.

I can see moving to shorter, and less involved entries in a more timely format here, rather than introducing essays, political analysis, and other more involved subjects. More frequent posting would help keep viewers better in touch, but I've refrained from doing so because of my low traffic and also because I find most posting formats like that extremely shallow in their commentary, and often consisting of little more than links to other sites, which can provide a good service, but add little of content.

I do think formal writing is better placed on webzines, portals, and news& opinion sites rather than a pure blog, which should impart more of personalized perspective to broad events.

I guess I'm a little reluctant to change even when its needed. My educational background may encourage me to over-formalize, which can constrict the free flow of information. With certain subject matter, like political analysis and international event coverage, I feel a strong need to support more firmly what I say.

So much of America has dumbed down and chooses to focus on the more basic instincts of the consumer nation. Many cannot understand any explanations that can't fit into a 30-second TV segment.

I started this blog in part to help educate people as to the more subtle, and less well-covered aspects of news events. I think I can impart plenty of quality content in a blog format, but really need to increase my content to keep viewers coming back.

So that trap is how badly I want to be popular, which dictates the scope and shallowness of my writing. There may be a compromise. As the raison d'etre of this blog, informing people can be achieved in great depth not only through writing, but video and photo content as well.

Of course, this blog can never stay as current as possible, unless of course I'm covering some event like the ANSWER rally last September in DC. I encourage all readers to view my video on the right with its new annotations. I also have some very good photos that I plan to post in high resolution--something high traffic sites can't afford to do.

Until the elections come and go, I think many people need to read my blog in order to gain from my accumulated knowledge and so I can impart what limited wisdom my observations can offer to my readers, who are blessed with a higher level of curiousity and want to reach beyond conventional definitions and explanations offered by the mass media. Our world is a complicated place, with very little of it easily understood or even rational.

An Obama victory would assure me that the US is at least off the wrong track, and relieve me of my political obligation to oppose the Bush regime and counteract the Right wing control over the Media, which has led to an unprecedented need for blogs like mine.

Biden Picked

I've commented that I think Biden is a good choice, but since then I've come across new information revealing his previous foreign policy decisions on Iraq. While no one in Washington is a saint, it seems the Beltway corrupts all its long-term inhabitants. (Biden does take the night train home to Wilmington, across the Chesapeake Bay.)

Why then would Obama put at risk what is arguably his greatest popular advantage over McCain: his antiwar position in Iraq? Obama has come to take unconditional support from antiwar voters for granted. He knows they must vote for him if they want the Iraqi war stopped.

Negotiating an extended deal with the Iraqis, the White House appears to be trying to shorten the occupation, which might take away some of Obama's edge on ending the war.

I hope to write some more on Obama's choice, and this blog appears to be the place for it. I'm afraid many websites are now hesitant to criticize Obama being that his lead has shrunk. I would hope that my readers would be sufficiently balanced in their understanding of the need for compromise in politics that they'd avoid voting for a protest candidate and support "the lesser of two evils," as some progressives call him.

Ships arrive in Gaza

The arrival of a pair of ships in Gaza was met by excited Palestinians.

Originally, Israel had threatened that the ships would be stopped. (See this article).

An article posted on uruknet explains that the Israelis may have sought to avoid a public relations disaster. I was surprised to see coverage of the ships' arrival in my Indiana newspaper.

The ships were very carefully guarded in ALL the harbors they visited prior to their embarkation for Gaza. Every night divers would examine the underside of the ships, concerned about the possibility of being sabotaged or having incriminating items illicitly planted.
In Cyprus, port authorities certified the cargo as containing no weapons or contraband, a process that may have encouraged their passage through the Israeli blockade.

The siege is a well-documented--at least outside the mainstream media--embargo exercised by Israel on the Gaza strip.

Israel maintains the position that it needs to control the strip for security reasons. Periodically, armed factions do fire missiles from Gaza. Yet the inhabitants of Gaza are subjected to maltreatment in Israeli custody, documented by Mohammed Omer (journalist recently tortured by the Israelis) here.

Especially cruel has been the denial of medical supplies to Gazan hospitals (see this article on the scale of the problem, and its preventability.) Gazan children are routinely apprehended and abused; violations against Special Needs children are documented here

International law and UN resolutions are violated by Israel's brutish handling of the Gaza strip, which makes the occupation illegal, even if it were conducted more humanely. See this article for more on the transgressions in Gaza.

The ships' arrival can provide very practical help in a place where it is greatly needed--Gazans are being slowly straved to death, deprived of their livelihoods and peace by ongoing Israeli military intervention. Hopefully, more ships can arrive in Gaza to bring much needed relief.

A small piece of land, Gaza has limited resources but manages to export--when the Israelis let it--flowers and agricultural products.

BBC has an article on the voyage.

For more, see also this link to Amy Goodman's DemocracyNow, which I may have linked to in an earlier post.


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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Article Submitted to Op-Ed News

My article, "US at the boundaries of empire" can be found here on opednews.com

I granted them an exclusive, so I won't be able to post here until approximately midnight tonight, the 16th. I may elect to wait to publish here for a few days being that the article has been published.

I've found a good number of news sources on the invasion of Georgia. Contrary to mainstream media reports in the US, Georgian troops initiated the hostilities.

I'm still trying to find out why. Surely they had to know the Russians would counterattack. Perhaps they merely underestimated the strength of the reaction.

Here are additional news sources reporting on the Russo-Georgian War that I've come across since writing the article:

1) Halfway down this article by Ellen Brown in her website www.webofdebt.com

2) via Tom Dispatch, a good interview of Andrew Bacevich by Michael Winship of Bill Moyers Journal.

3) Pat Buchanan (yes, I know) and I do share common ground on anti-interventionism. That concept seems to be quite popular in conservative circles these days. Alas, where was it back in 2002, before the war began?

4) Blowout piece in Opednews by Allen Roland (I commented there.) Bush might have been driven to get drunk in Beijing because he's no longer the one calling the shots. See the photos, etc. on this! I yahoo'ed " Bush Beijing drunk "

5)Juan Cole for salon.com, as posted by commondreams.org.

6)Interview--beware: with sticky ads--of Michael Klare on Christian Science Monitor, an expert on petropolitics whose opinion I've always respected.

7) Also good is Drums of Change by Harold Meyerson in American Prospect.

Hope you enjoy the links.

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Sunday, August 03, 2008

Politics corrupt our Money and the Economy

Monica Goodling has reemerged in the news as the extent of politicization becomes known. Goodling was a young attorney granted responsibility over decisions concerning the hiring of assistant US attorneys. As it turns out, screening prosecutors according to political litmus tests is actually illegal under federal law.

Now, with only six months left in Bush's terrible reign, the corporate media appears willing to confront some of the many injustices committed by the regime. Goodling represents but one example of outright lawless conduct by Bush appointees. She could join a long roster alongside Brown's FEMA, the FCC, the FDA, the EPA, and countless other federal organs converted into outposts of Bushism throughout our federal government.

Many of political appointees overseeing these departments got their start in the industries they've been appointed to regulate. Combines with the Chicago School of Economics principle that government regulation is a inhibitor for business growth, regulatory efforts have been systematically gutted. The results are thoroughly predictable: speculative frenzy in the oil markets, pharmaceutical crises, food supply issues, formaldehyde-laced trailers, increased pollution, and the formation of media cartels/squeezing out of independent media (have you been watching TV recently?)

The total costs of repair and recovery from inadequate federal oversight will far exceed the benefits of de-regulation. In typical short-sighted greed, the desire to enrich the few--not coincidentally those who've given the most money to the regime--comes at the expense of the many, who will bear higher costs and taxes.

I found a good opinion piece by Tim Rutten in The Los Angeles Times about the horrible partisanship that pervades our federal government. {Hmm, why is that the word "our" seems so out of place when referring to the government?}
Here is my post as I would have entered it, had the comment period not ended. [Bloggers Beware: While I received a pop-up declaring my comment to be too long, I received no message to warn me that my comment would not be posted, simpy that it had been received.] I refer to the news because one comment had said how Rutten's article contains nothing new. I disagreed, considering how whistleblowers have emerged--at great personal cost--to add whole new dimensions to the original story, which was poorly covered anyway.
~start comment~
The news is how insiders gave up any chance of advancement to preserve the rule of law and judicial oversight of the military justice system.
The only reason this story might not seem to be news is that the MSM has not reported it, while the truth has been out there for some time. Media mogul owners have kept the public in the dark to pursue an Israel-friendly Middle east policy, which is coordinated with Republican Christian fundamentalist zealots like Goodling.

There's a place in my heart for all the people who've fought the administration's efforts to militarize our foreign policy and circumvent limits on Executive Branch power. "South Americanization" of our judicial and military systems, by creating a system of political litmus testing for appointees, alongside show trials of dissidents and targetted racial subgroups, threatens the rule of law and the effectiveness of our military. Prisoner abuse continues in the Al Arian case, so this isn't over by a longshot."
~end comment~
I heard the term "South Americanization" applied in reference to the Bush regime--or "junta," also a good word--several years ago. The idea is that the ruling government utilizes it largely unrestricted authority to maintain power, crush dissent, and enrich itself, typically at the expense of the peasantry.

The real objective of South Americanization is economic. Whatever political steps are taken are meant to stabilize the nation for the purposes of economic exploitation of its resources for the benefit of the ruling aristocracy.

Also, South America has so greatly transformed itself in places like Bolivian and Brazil that the trappings of old dictatorships are barely visible anymore. For this reason "South Americanization" is an unfitting and dated stereotype. Still, the image of this kind of government is probably the easiest for most Americans to grasp.

Now in America in the past eight years, we've seen the aggrandizement of the wealthiest Americans. Tax rates fell and with them any hope of balancing the budget.
Rather than complain about taxes being a bad thing, Americans need to understand why they pay taxes, and why taxes seem to invariably march up.

Primer on Money and Taxes

Understanding how much Americans pay in taxes is vital to understanding politics. People who earn their wages--as opposed to those who invest and sell, or collect bond interest, or dividends--pay a much higher percentage of their income. This is in large part due to social security, which hits the first 80,000 dollars of income or so with a net 8% (or so) tax rate, plus about a 1/2% Medicare rate. Your employer--which could be you--must kick in another 8+%, and match your contribution to Medicare.

For the rich, a portion of whom make many times the 80,000 or so, their total tax rate is lower because they don't have to pay social security tax rates on any income beyond the cap. Recently, the cap on maximum income on which Medicare is assessed was eliminated. This did mean that the rich would have to pay more--assuming they still earn the bulk of their income from wages, which they do not. I can assure you John McCain's wife Cindy did not acccumulate her $100 million plus net worth by working for it. Now there are some rich who make a lot in salary, but the vast majority of income comes from investments and the sale of stock.

Lacking the financial resources to put to work in the market, more and more Americans have to put themselves on the market. It wasn't always that way--holding a conventional job is a relatively recent concept. Before the late 1800's, most Americans had an area of specialization which they practiced as an independent businessperson, or were apprenticed to some craft. Rather than be paid by a salary, many junior people received services in kind, or room and board.

Then around 1913, the Federal Reserve monster was created, and later the IRS. With the creation of a private banking cartel, money needed to continually flow into government coffers. Otherwise the government wouldn't be able to pay for things like wars and the later New Deal programs. By 1971, the government was spending so much (Vietnam and the War on Poverty) that federal reserves gold and silver were found unable to back up our currency. We went to a pure fiat money system. A fiat money system is essentially a declaration by the government that the private sector will set prices according to the dollar, and that the dollars people take are secure based simply on the promise that the government will pay.

In reality the dollar is simple paper and ink. It has no intrinsic value, except perhaps as emergency firestarter, or wallpaper, or lampshades. Surely everyone's seen the Confederate bank notes that are sold as novelties. What gives the dollar value is its acceptance. That acceptance in turn is legally binding--everyone must take it. This forces the money to circulate, and facilitate spending, saving, and investment that the economy needs--all good things, in moderation.

The amount of money in circulation determines how much the money is worth. If the U.S. Treasury were to print up $1,000 bills andd throw them out of a helicopter, then all that hard-earned twenties and fifties in your wallet wouldn't be worth nearly as much. Theoretically, there's nothing to keep the government from doing this except for the Federal Reserve. The Federal Reserve is a private corporation which loans money to large banks and establishes the interest rates charged, which in turn shapes how much interest banks will charge its borrowers.

The Federal Funds rate is important because it establishes the value of money. This could only work in a fiat monetary system, where the only thing keeping spending under control is the cost of financing debt--an amount determined by the prevailing interest rates (modified by the credit risk of the individual borrower.)

In an awkward twist, debt has become money--the actual Federal Reserve Notes represent an IOU by the Federal Reserve to pay you. Essentially our money is a marker, representing no more or less than the borrower's ability to repay. If you have more dollars, you have more of someone else's debt. The whole money system is founded on nothing more than a promise to pay. And even worse, the government can't pay you for the dollars, should you bang at the door of the US Mint. The government has few liquid assets; yes, it can buy things, but only with pieces of paper that represent nothing of direct value.

The reason that understanding our money system is so important is that all fiat money systems in history have failed. Of course there are the periodic crises that can hit, and make spending, investing, and accumulating money harder. But the dollar has a built-in self-destruct switch that could at some point go off, tripped by nothing more complicated than simply printing and loaning too much money.

Once too many dollars get into the system, the value of outstanding dollars--as well as the value of loans, debt, savings accounts, and paper-based investments--decreases. The bankers know this--more than any other industry, they understand how inflation and its Mr. Hyde--hyperinflation--can destroy their loan balances which are their primary source of future income. In an inflationary scenario, banks are forced to raise interest rates to keep their profits up, in real terms.

Representing banks (and not you), the Fed swings into action and makes borrowing money more expensive. With loans harder to get, and less desirable to hold because of their higher rates, business activity slows down. This will reduce demand for money and cool down the urge to borrow and spend which seems to be the root of our consumerist culture. After a while, the higher interest rates encourage savings (not necessarily investment.) Why put money at risk when you can make vasst sums of interest in a federally insured CD? Businesses probably don't have much of a challenge growing when they can borrow at low rates, but the more expensive the borrowing, the harder it is to achieve a larger rate of return, especially considering the rising interest rates will be slowing down overall business activity throughout the economy.

There is however another major consideration in confronting inflation: the amount of dollars already out in circulation. Working in conjunction with low interest rates, Bush's government has tripled the money supply since entering office. In other words, already in place is the inflationary pretext: too many dollars.

The best measure of real inflation is not the government's stated rates, but the price of oil and commodities, things which people must have, and must continue to spend paper dollars on. It's no coincidence that prices have risen if we consider the expansion of the money supply. Why should the holders and producers of real things like silver, wheat, and oil sell their stuff for the same amount of dollars if the number of dollars out there has tripled? The growth in the supply of money has an inverse relationship (1/x) with the value of that money. If the money supply triples, a dollar buys one third of what it did before.

Now, it's worth understanding that having a lot of money out there isn't as big of a threat as having that money in circulation. Vast quantities of dollars go abroad to pay for oil. In a long standing quid pro quo with oil producers in the Middle East, the dollars stay overseas. With the exception of military hardware purchases and overseas shopping sprees by Saudi princes and their posses, the dollars sent overseas for oil stay overseas. The US domestic economy doesn't have the additional money to contend with, so there's not as much upward pressure on prices. Now should that money come flooding back into the US , there'd be runaway inflation overnight, but the shieks and all them don't want that, any more than anyone else holding large amounts of dollars overseas like the Chinese.

Housing market making

Of course the Feds need to maintain the dollar's value, so they prop it up with interest rates, but there's another agenda at work: to stimulate home prices and building. So the Fed keeps interest rates low. Over time, the sheer quantity of dollars created out of thin air, and loaned through the banks, makes existing dollars worth less. The only way home prices can be kept up is by limiting supply, which is the antithesis of the federal goal of increasing home ownership.

A lot of very good articles on the housing bubble are available throughout the Web that can educate people to the dangers of cheap money. The biggest risk going forward is that housing values fall even more, which would further depress the housing industry, which is an important sector of the economy largely because it is actually making something, not just pushing piles of money around or importing Chinese-made stuff. If Americans find themselves in houses worth a fraction of the outstanding mortgage balance, they'll surely be tempted to just walk out. So how to encourage home ownership even as the home values fall? One method is to make housing values fall to the point that they're attractive, but that hurts these people who are just barely holding on.

The Bushite solution (with a lot of Democratic support) has been to converted bundles of mortgages into AAA Federal debt, not exactly a winning proposition for the taxpayer, but one that alleviates strain on the banking industry, the one that helped get us into the mess (alongside speculative fever and mortgage fraud.)

Peter Schiff is one of the people who've been talking about the housing crisis before it'd been accepted as a crisis. There's an eight-part youtube video from a November 2006 speech he gave, in front of a group of mortgage bankers no less. Dedicated as I am, I went through all eight, and they're required viewing for anyone who believes the mortgage crisis could have been avoided (and therefore understand the scope of the impact of a corrupted regulatory environment.)

In Part IV, Schiff talked about the process behind fraudulent loans "...lenders don't want to make loans...they don't care if they're ever repaid because they're not gonna own the loan..." Mortgages were sold within a few days, so the originators had little fear as to the long-term credit worthiness of the borrower. Also they were paid (an essential element in understand how the financial industry operates) for making loans, not for finding qualified buyers, as were the appraisers, who counted on mortgage companies for their pay.

Schiff continues: "nowadays people don't own homes, they are renting them from banks...they have interest only loans, negative amortization where they go deeper and deeper in debt every year..." I remember from my days working in the field of personal finance from an experience mortgage originator about all the balloon loans and other crap that people were doing at the time--the late 1990s. This moral hazard--both on the part of lenders and house buyers--was clearly the result of a speculative frenzy combined with plenty of low-interest money.

Schiff's skills as a economic prophet are really quite amazing. Here's what he said in 2006 (from part V): "people are going to be completely amazed at the prices that their houses are going to be selling for..." He also said " you're going to have a lot of foreclosures...developers going bankrupt." A regional builder, Davis Homes, went bankrupt a few weeks ago here in Indiana. Foreclosures have hit a rate unequalled since the Great Depression.

With so many of his predictions accurate, it's the next part of Schiff's speech that should frighten us: "once the bubble bursts, cutting interest rates isn't going to stop it." The scary part here is that Schiff is referring to the inability of any monetary policy to make a difference. While the ultra low rates might have formerly encouraged home loans, the opposite doesn't hold true: making money more expensive won't cure the crisis. The loans have already been made.

With 10% interest rates possible, Schiff ponders, "what would happen to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, would they still be around?" He goes on to say a 5% loss would wipe them out. Now the Feds have stepped in, essentially printing money to bail out these two GSEs (government supported entities.) Together, the two quasi-private companies control a majority of all home loans, so the government is becoming the lender not only of last resort, but first as well.

Just what does so much ownership of mortgages mean? Well, for one the losses for defaults will be borne by the public, out of the Treasury. Also, we know that the government will probably lose huge sums trying to prop up the unrealistic price levels, as to prevent a further deterioration. There are two reasons for this: first, as the leading holder of residential mortgages, the Feds will have much already invested, and thus much to lose. Also, the large political influence that the housing sector and real estate developers wield means that federal monies will continue to support more house-building, which will delay the much-needed correction, one which began but was aborted when the Fed began giving AAA Treasuries away in exchange for mortgage-backed securities.

Schiff's speech went on to focus on the next inevitable consequence--one which we have yet to see, but is almost guaranteed, inflation. "Governments create inflation by creating money. As these entities like Fannie Mae, like Freddie Mac go bankrupt, the incentive to monetize that...and the pressure for the politicians to print enough money to make good these promises [to cover their debts] is tremendous. It's the same type of incentive that the Argentines faced, like the Germans faced...Wiemar Republic...that led to the inflation."

This last part is a real doozy as Schiff is spelling out the future we face. The problem with inflation is not rooted in economics, though it surely manifests there. The biggest problem with inflation is that it is political meddling that creates it. The government has a political goal like increasing home ownership and so it pushes it to the point the broader economy is endangered. Such is the dark nature of the political economy, especially one dominated by cronyism.

Blame has been put on Greenspan for keeping rates too low, possibly to help George Bush get reelected in 2004. Clearly the partisanship in government is particularly dangerous, whether in the selection of federal prosecutors or conspiring with cronies. When government meddles in the private sector, all the benefits and promises of the free market are erased. To function effectively, markets need as little intervention as possible. Ironic it is that the supporting cast for free marketism has flip-flopped on the role of govenrment, and sees the Federal money as the panacea for all the troubles that unregulated capitalism-on-steroids has created.

Fitting indeed would it be for investor-class capitalism to die on the vine of inflation, emerging from the unremitting influence of financial sector players concerned about the losses they face in their mortgage portfolios. These advocates of unrestrained super-capitalism should die a second death from the inflation that the Federal response is creating. Instead, inflation will hit wage-earners and the retired hardest, which makes the unholy alliance between the investor class and government all the more diabolical when supported by a willingness to inflate. The banks are hurting though, despite the best efforts of their friends in government, so the rich will not be unspared the suffering of inflation, but will suffer less, a lot less, as they have had eight years now to rack up huge stashes of undertaxed wealth.


Last week, I struggled to find the source of this tidbit. John Browne's market commentary at europac.net (a site shared with Peter Schiff) helped me find the source of my reference to "socialization of losses and the privatization of profits." Turns out it the reference was in the Wall Street Journal, which I had searched last week, but to no avail.
When the Treasury/Fed team moved to rescue Bear Stearns and, more recently, Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac, the $5 trillion-plus burden of risk was neatly transferred to the American citizen. This week, the Wall Street Journal commented on Nouriel Roubini, the New York University economist. He aptly observed that it was “the price of a system that privatizes profit and socializes losses.” People could be excused for protesting strongly against such political policies as outrageously un-American."

The preceding quote is from July 23rd's "No Bottom Yet For Flailing Financial," here.

Bonus Essay
"On the outside looking in"

I've been perusing the comments at commondreams.org, a favorite site of mine despite a filter there that prevents the posting of any link to whatreallyhappened.com, another favorite site of mine. The filter is actually the product of WordPress, which hosts the /wordpress.com blogs. Why the people at wordpress would deny Mike Rivero at wrh any linkage is hard to understand, and makes me suspicious, rightfully so. Whatreallyhappened posts some controversial material, like the pictures of WTC girders cut at a 45 degree angle, but for a blog host to act as gatekeeper is outright censorship.

Where I can, I've started playing something of a cheerleader role, in part due to the fact that so many comments are so very perceptive. I guess one consequence of such atrocious mainstream media coverage is that curious people--who tend by no coincidence to be brighter than average--must turn elsewhere for the answers to questions about our world.

Having taught briefly, I do carry some of the teacher bug in me. Perhaps the drive to educate others fulfills my desire to be heard, to be listened to, to make an impact in the lives of others. I can labor endlessly with a narrow field of readers and reach fewer people than I could in one day of teaching.

Back when I was selling insurance, yes I did that--people really do need it--successful people would be brought before us less successful salespeople. They would constantly talk about results. A "results-oriented mindset" was something we should cultivate to be successful, or so we were told. Our sales managers were keenly focused on motivation, which depends on one's level of confidence.

In the field of sales confidence is vital in believing what you offer has value to the customer. Modeling the desired behaviors has been proven to be the most effective method for imparting successful habits. In sales training, this means successful people demonstrate their belief level, and give examples of how successful they've been in order to show the value of confidence.

Their success is meant to be the model which you can follow. Oftentimes, this is packaged as "servant leadership," the idea that those in charge are doing so to help those below them. While it's obvious you need to help others while on your way up, someone also said, "it's important to be nice on the way up, because you might meet them again on your way down."

Nurtured by proto-sales motivational types, leading-by-example can easily be taken too far. The little people may actually believe that they can do great things, and in altering their attitude great things can be achieved. Or maybe not. The mind does have an amazing capacity for self-delusion, and can convince itself of the inevitability of some result when every available fact, considered objectively, indicates to the contrary. Even this writer has made a Greatest Investor in the World mistake; that self-deception that allows you to play your hand out instead of folding. Easy it is to convince youself that your mistake isn't a mistake.

The typical motivator's leadership-by-example fails to work in a number of areas, essentially overwhelming the ability of the mind to suspend disbelief. At some point it dawns on you that you, the less successful salesperson, quite simply aren't the same as them. You aren't as pretty. Your nails aren't as neatly manicured, nor your car as brightly polished. Deep down inside, you may not be as devoted. Doing as the role model does never seems to get you what you want. Yes, you may be motivated, but what works for him probably won't work for you, as you are really quite different. Nor can you mold yourself into a replica, although some might try this and succeed, up to a point.

Of course motivational speakers talk all the time about reinventing yourself, and anyone who's ever gone through any serious changes knows the necessity for change, and its transformative benefits. Still, the exemplary leader's example of what you should do isn't feasible if it requires becoming someone you aren't, or will most likely never become.

The same capacity for mass delusion exists in politics. You have to wonder how Republicans can believe the what Bush has done will be good for their party come next election. 2006 saw some worst defeats for the Republicans in their history--how can they honestly believe that staying the course is good for their political future? I'm reminded of successful Republican candidates like Florida governor Charlie Crist who failed to show up at a scheduled rally alongside President Bush in 2004. I've also heard rumors that outgoing President Bush won't be allowed to make an appearance at the upcoming GOP National Convention.

What role models do we have in America today? Sports and celebrities take the leadership position. Tiger Woods is the first billionaire athlete. A billion dollars! To be paid simply for hitting a ball across the grass? Unbelievable but true. Sure, the person Tiger is about a lot more than golf, as much as quitting it might mean to George Bush. But Tiger Woods doesn't get paid because he's a nice guy, he gets paid to endorse commercial logos while winning golf tournaments.

Those who fail, deserve to

Under our current brand of capitalism, we are told that success is a choice, and that those who fail do so as the result of a lack of effort, or conviction. Those that lose under the present economic system are treated as if something were matter with them, as if their depreciated economic status were deserved and just. This is like the king in the castle scolding the serfs for their laziness as he sits back, content to tax the fruits of their toil in the fields, growing wealthier on their backs.

Like the aristocrats of the medieval period, the ruling elite, like Bush, who've started with a silver spoon in their mouth, tell the little folk that their success is the product of superior talent, intellect, and effort. Hardly, to borrow the lyrics from Pink's "Dear Mr. President", hard work is being pregnant and working for minimum wage.

It's as if Americans aren't aware of how little social mobility they now have in their country. Social mobility is defined as the likelihood that your standard of living and accumulation of wealth will exceed that of your parents.

Americans have always had a problem dealing with class. We don't want to publicly admit that we have such a huge gap in the opportunities available for some, while we have an almost certain path to success, a it is presently defined in American society, as the ritual accumulation of material goods through the steady accumulation of monetary capital. I believe we've forgotten the value of social capital in this country. We Americans, and the countless millions who seek to imitate our lifestyle, seek to accumulate money so we can buy the things we want, to live better, and in greater security. These things in themselves are no crime, but in the collective pursuit of these riches we exert far too much physical demand on the earth and its finite resoruces. This is where the doctrine of sustainability enters the picture: we must live within our means financially just as we must replace the exhaustion of the finite with the replenishment of the resources we use as we go.

Fitting a punishment it would be for Americans to suffer from the scarcity of financial capital as just moral recompense for the sin of gratifying ourselves, vampiric, as we consume 25% of the world's resources being but 5% of its population. Leadership by example can't work if we are to be the model that the rest of the world chooses as it looks to secure its future in a world with far less physical abundance than the US.


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