A house, anyone?

Mike Whitney asks: "Why is the media misleading the public about housing?"

After demonstrating that the housing market is still contracting and will continue to do so in the near future, Whitney's question ceases to be a rhetorical one. Why, indeed, does the MSM feel it necessary to float any feel-good propaganda about the housing market?


Arlen Specter is now a Democrat

Rightly seeing his fate as a Republican Senator being decided by the reactionaries in his now former Party, Arlen Specter (D-PA) switched political parties today, according to The New York Times. Specters' statement can be read here.

At least in principle, the Democrats will have the 60 votes needed to break a Republican filibuster once Al Franken takes his place in the Senate.

Banned in Britain

The Independent tells us that "Advertising censors have branded an anti-domestic violence advert starring Keira Knightley too shocking for TV, and are refusing to allow it to be broadcast unless key scenes are cut." The censored video:

The Bush administration brought torture to Poland

America corrupts Europe

Der Spiegel has published a report documenting the presence of a CIA prison and 'special interrogations' — read: torture — center near northeastern Poland's Szymany airport. Fortunately the former communist county still believes in the rule of law:

Warsaw public prosecutor Robert Majewski has been investigating former Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller's government on allegations of abuse of office. At issue is whether sovereignty over Polish territory was relinquished, and whether former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and his left-leaning Social Democratic government gave the CIA free reign over sections of the Stare Kiejkuty military base for the agency's extraterritorial torture interrogations.

Would the world's oldest democracy be so committed to the law as to investigate its villains…

Another thing for which we can thank the GOP knuckledraggers

Writing for the Nation, John Nichols reports that:

When House Appropriations Committee chairman David Obey, the Wisconsin Democrat who has long championed investment in pandemic preparation, included roughly $900 million for that purpose in this year's emergency stimulus bill, he was ridiculed by conservative operatives and congressional Republicans.

Obey and other advocates for the spending argued, correctly, that a pandemic hitting in the midst of an economic downturn could turn a recession into something far worse — with workers ordered to remain in their homes, workplaces shuttered to avoid the spread of disease, transportation systems grinding to a halt and demand for emergency services and public health interventions skyrocketing. Indeed, they suggested, pandemic preparation was essential to any responsible plan for renewing the U.S. economy.

But former White House political czar Karl Rove and key congressional Republicans — led by Maine Senator Susan Collins — aggressively attacked the notion that there was a connection between pandemic preparation and economic recovery.


‘Good people’ don’t torture

Only monsters torture others. Americans are 'good people.' They are not monsters. Therefore Americans "don't torture," as President Bush made clear. Yet the historical record is now plain and unassailable: America did use torture as an interrogation-disciplinary technique. Moreover, as Frank Rich points out,

…we still shrink from the hardest truths and the bigger picture: that torture was a premeditated policy approved at our government's highest levels; that it was carried out in scenarios that had no resemblance to "24"; that psychologists and physicians were enlisted as collaborators in inflicting pain; and that, in the assessment of reliable sources like the F.B.I. director Robert Mueller, it did not help disrupt any terrorist attacks.


Five years after the Abu Ghraib revelations, we must acknowledge that our government methodically authorized torture and lied about it. But we also must contemplate the possibility that it did so not just out of a sincere, if criminally misguided, desire to "protect" us but also to promote an unnecessary and catastrophic war. Instead of saving us from "another 9/11," torture was a tool in the campaign to falsify and exploit 9/11 so that fearful Americans would be bamboozled into a mission that had nothing to do with Al Qaeda. The lying about Iraq remains the original sin from which flows much of the Bush White House's illegality.

Briefly put, the United States committed crimes against humanity (torture) in order to justify one fundamental war crime (the Iraq invasion) it committed in pursuit of its imperial ends. It did not commit these crimes against humanity in defense of the Republic or American democratic institutions, such as they are. They were not acts of self-defense. Rather they were just one specific tactic used to achieve imperial ends.

But are common Americans guilty of this crime? Yes they are, in some indistinct measure. They acquire their guilt because this criminal enterprise was put into effect by a democratic government; by definition the citizens of a democratic country are implicated in the crimes committed by their government since they have the institution powers needed to install the government that committed the crimes and the powers required to remove it before or after it commits the crimes.

Phillip Zimbardo, Stanley Milgram, Martin Niemöller and Hannah Arendt would not find this possibility — that normal folk commit or are complicit with these kinds of crimes — surprising. Neither malice nor indifference to suffering are uncommon properties among human beings. They are universally distributed.

The new pariah

Meet John Murtha (D-PA). He recently thought it wise to oppose President Bush's Iraq adventure. Now, though, his own party is clipping his wings and claws. There is a clearly visible object lesson in Murtha's tale for the rest of Congress.


WTO rejects protectionist policies

Surprise, surprise, surprise…

This was the position taken by World Trade Organization Director-General Pascal Lamy during a recent speech given at the Peterson Institute. Lamy was emphatic on the issue:

My point is that retreating from market opening is not a solution to the economic crisis. For countries that depend on trade and have specialized according to comparative advantage, a reversal of openness will impose significant costs on the economy. What is more, setting up new barriers to trade will be seen as protectionism and will risk retaliation from trade partners. One country's exports are another country's imports. Rather than reviving economies, the effect of this will be to worsen the global crisis.


Obama banned torture?

It appears he did not, according to Randolph Brickey writing for CampusProgress:

In fact, the President has not "banned" torture. Torture was illegal before President Bush came to office, through our incorporation of the Geneva Convention into domestic law. (This is to say nothing of centuries of American custom and tradition holding that torture is unconscionable and morally abhorrent.) Members of the Bush administration did not somehow "unban" torture; they simply chose to ignore the law. Torture has not become any more or less legal since Obama took office. Rather, he has chosen not to pretend it is legal, and his indication that he is open to prosecutions or investigations against the architects of the Bush administration's torture policies is a sign that all is not lost for those who want the law to be followed. But however he proceeds, the idea that he has "banned" it, and we can thus moves on, ignores both the severity of the crimes committed by those who tortured, and the grotesque abuses perpetrated upon terrorism detainees — both those who are innocent and those who are not.

Torture, it seems, is a matter of law, and not a policy choice a President may take when it suits him. In fact, as Marjorie Cohn makes clear, "Obama's intent to immunize those who violated our laws banning torture and cruel treatment violates the President's constitutional duty to 'take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.'" Thus investigating and prosecuting torturers would not violate the sacrosanct principle of avoiding the criminalizing policy differences. It would instead affirm the allegedly unassailable principle which requires the investigation, prosecution and punishment of criminal acts when it is right to do so. Brickey continues:

Obama and members of the press pretend that a step in the right direction is sufficient to fully address years of systematic human rights violations, or at least preferable to an actual public inquiry or criminal prosecution. The illusory ban is set up to take the place of actual enforcement and accountability, as though agreeing to follow the laws means the president has actually worked to changed them. This decision is couched in vague aphorisms of moving forward and stresses the importance avoiding division. But there is very little actual progress here, and it is difficult to imagine how this decision unifies the country when the majority of American support some form of investigation. Furthermore, enforcing our laws is not discretionary but a duty of the office. The President has the opportunity to protect these CIA agents and contractors through presidential pardon if he feels it just or necessary for the national well-being. Obstruction of justice is not a legitimate means towards that end.

A step forward is no accomplishment when it falls so far from reaching the mark required by the law of the land. The upshot: So far, President Obama has merely agreed to follow existing law, as Brickey rightly asserts, something the President was required to do as a matter of course. But that is not all of it. Till this point Obama's actions with respect to the Bush torture regime have only protected past lawbreakers while providing a bit of legal-political coverage for their crimes. With these dubious methods the President has actually conserved the Bush torture regime by securing the liberty of the torturers, by pushing against a legal investigation of their crimes and even by keeping torture available as a practical tool any administration may use when it deems it necessary. Conserving torture as a policy option is one malignant effect of Obama's unwillingness to investigate and prosecute Bush-era crimes. Only the vigorous investigation and prosecution of America's torturers will reverse this situation.

Chrysler heading towards bankruptcy court

This according to a New York Times article. The bankruptcy filing would protect the UAW and its pensions, according to the Times, and would prepare Chrysler for purchase by Fiat.


Naomi Klein on pest control

There's something about Larry

Sizing up the present moment along with one of its causes, Naomi Klein wants "…to banish Larry Summers…from public life." She would not go so far as to launch Summers into space or toss him into a nuclear reactor because doing either "…wouldn't be nice." Yet she does wish to deprive him of the power he often enjoys.

Her reasoning:

The criticisms of President Obama's chief economic adviser are well known. He's too close to Wall Street. And he's a frightful bully, of both people and countries. Still, we're told we shouldn't care about such minor infractions. Why? Because Summers is brilliant, and the world needs his big brain.

And this brings us to a central and often overlooked cause of the global financial crisis: Brain Bubbles. This is the process wherein the intelligence of an inarguably intelligent person is inflated and valued beyond all reason, creating a dangerous accumulation of unhedged risk. Larry Summers is the biggest Brain Bubble we've got.

Klein here identifies another instance of the misplaced adoration we moderns tend to have of mere technique and the powers contained therein. I say this because being smart like Larry Summers means having the capacities needed to ace tests and to make one's way up and through America's bureaucratized educational system; it surely does not mean the person identified as smart speaks the truth about anything at all. And it certainly does not indicate the smart person's willingness to speak truthfully when he or she does chat with the less able. More importantly, thoughts, no matter how well-formed, eloquently expressed and rationally grounded, are not identical to the matter they address. They are, even when they are at their best, representations of something they are not, something different, something non-identical. Consequently their truth content, assuming for the sake of the argument that they contain such content, may always be contested, and this possibility remains in effect even when they issue from qualified professionals with access to the best information and techniques.

Unfortunately post-war American history is dotted with the catastrophes generated by the "best and the brightest," "wise men," "masters of the universe," brilliant advisors of Presidents and others considered excellent and entitled to wield power. What this recent history, which has been decisively marked by a criminality born of America's messianic conceit, ought to teach us is this: Although a few among us are incredibly smart, their mere existence does not relieve us lesser souls of the responsibility to think and judge for ourselves, to make up our minds about what is the case and what ought to be the case. Giving these smart individuals power merely intensifies this burdensome responsibility on those who authorize this power. It does not unburden the comparatively powerless.


The economic crisis normalizes poverty

With the term normalize I wish to suggest that the current economic crisis is now transforming an enduring but largely disavowed phenomenon (homelessness) into something people can rightly anticipate, accept as inevitable and even fear as a possible fate they may suffer. The media have a role to play in this transformation, according to Rose Aguilar:

Over the past few months, reporters from around the world have flocked to the now-famous tent city in Sacramento, Calif. When they find out that 55-year-old John Kraintz has been living in a tent for almost seven years, they turn around and walk away.

"They don't want to talk to me," he says. "They're searching for people who just lost their homes. It's kinda tough to lose a home when you've never owned one. Sorry, but most of the people here have been homeless for a long time."

Kraintz and so many other homeless people like him have been living in scattered Sacramento encampments for years, but they've been largely ignored and hidden from public view. That is, until Lisa Ling, a reporter with the Oprah show, came to town in late February to focus on what Oprah Winfrey called the "new faces" of homelessness.

Myopia such as can be seen here is just one consequence that issues from the common distinction drawn between the "deserving" and "undeserving poor." Poverty — and thus homelessness — is but one of the essential features which characterize the American political economy. It was never acceptable because it was never unavoidable.


Another Chicago crime boss

Obama's neomercantilist moment in American history

This is my creative interpretation of Steven Lendman's recent judgment of Barack Obama:

Since taking office, Obama, wittingly or otherwise, has headed the largest criminal enterprise in history — the mass looting of national wealth to enrich his Wall Street benefactors. He assembled a rogue economic team of Clinton/Robert Rubin retreads — to fix the current crisis they engineered.


Send us your radioactive waste…

The United States poised to become Italy's nuclear waste dump

How is this possible? Who in the United States would import Italy's nuclear waste? Why would they do so? As for the how, according to an Associated Press report:

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says it doesn't have the authority to prevent foreign radioactive waste from being imported into the United States.


The NRC says that as long as the material can be imported safely and someone is willing to accept it, the commission can't keep the waste out.

The article provides the who: EnergySolutions. The why is obvious.

Americans, one may hope, are surely learning that globalization (worldwide economic and political integration) does not always work in their favor, as they were led to believe by the market fundamentalists who have lately dominated public discourse over these matters.

Obama stands with Israel

The requirements of empire prevail

The Washington Post tells us that:

The Obama administration appears to be standing by its decision to boycott the World Conference Against Racism next week in Geneva, despite efforts to focus and tone down language in a draft conference document viewed as hostile toward Israel.

The preliminary conference document ran 45 pages and called for reparations for slavery, condemned the "validation of Islamophobia," and asserted that Israel's treatment of the Palestinians is grounded in racism.

In response to objections raised by negotiators from the Obama administration, the document has since been dramatically shortened and many of its sharp statements have been removed. Still, the administration seems uninterested in attending, stoking frustration among activist groups who have said that it is ironic that the nation's first black president would choose that course. [link added]

Apparently the United States could not tolerate even an empire-friendly version of this anti-racism document!

White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said that although progress has been made in revising the draft text, concerns remain. "We hope that these remaining concerns will be addressed, so that the United States can reengage the conference negotiations in the hopes of arriving at a conference document that we can support," he said.

Clearly the United States opposes racism without qualification except in those instances where it benefits from racist attitudes and practices. Given this iron commitment, Obama's defense of Israel appears ironic only if the observer ignores America's long-standing commitment to Israel and Obama's sturdy dedication to the American political system. The President is, after all, a product of that system, and it would be imprudent to expect him to undermine a key element of that system, such as thoughtless support for Israel's imperial and genocidal policies.


President Obama asks the UN Security Council to punish North Korea

Obama's request stands as his initial response to the recent North Korean missile launch, an act the United States considers "provocative" and which was prone to elicit just this kind of response from Washington. The text of Obama's request can be found here.

On the Wall Street grifters

Glenn Greenwald asks his readers to:

Just think about how this [Wall Street scam] works. People like Rubin, Summers and Gensler shuffle back and forth from the public to the private sector and back again, repeatedly switching places with their GOP counterparts in this endless public/private sector looting. When in government, they ensure that the laws and regulations are written to redound directly to the benefit of a handful of Wall St. firms, literally abolishing all safeguards and allowing them to pillage and steal. Then, when out of government, they return to those very firms and collect millions upon millions of dollars, profits made possible by the laws and regulations they implemented when in government. Then, when their party returns to power, they return back to government, where they continue to use their influence to ensure that the oligarchical circle that rewards them so massively is protected and advanced. This corruption is so tawdry and transparent — and it has fueled and continues to fuel a fraud so enormous and destructive as to be unprecedented in both size and audacity — that it is mystifying that it is not provoking more mass public rage.

Greenwald continues by marking some of the ways President Obama and his administration had already helped these grifters to loot the public's money. He quotes with approval William Black who went so far as to identify the financial system as one grand Ponzi scheme and Secretaries of the Treasury Geithner and Paulson before him of "covering up" this immense fraud. Campaign rhetoric aside, that the Obama administration gave this help should have surprised no one. Not only had the FIRE sector (Finance, Insurance, Real Estate) given candidate Obama more money than any other candidate, but Wall Street has effectively captured not only the executive institutions which finance capital found most interesting but even the federal government as a whole, as Greenwald points out by quoting from Simon Johnson's recent article on the crisis.

Briefly put, the federal government is becoming — or has become — a massive rent extraction mechanism which serves the interests of American finance capital.



Peter Morici assesses the significance of the latest BLS unemployment report. His conclusion:

Simply, investors and employers lack confidence in the overall likely effects of Treasury Secretary Geither's plans to stabilize banks and President Obama's stimulus package and budgets proposals.

Lacking confidence that the demand for what Americans make and sell will recover significantly, anytime soon, businesses are girding for a long siege — slashing employment and dividends and other hunkering down. They are preparing for a depression and the eclipse of American leadership.


Increasingly, the economic slowdown looks more like a depression than a recession. Recessions are like stock market corrections — after a time, equity prices rebound without government intervention.

Federal Reserve interest rate cuts and stimulus spending and tax rebates shorten recessions and ease their impact. However, those policies will not end the current slump, because it is grounded in fundamental structural dysfunctions in U.S. banking, energy and trade policies.

A depression is not self-correcting. The economy shifts down to permanently lower levels of production and sales, high unemployment rates become chronic, and federal deficits become narcotic — federal deficits dull the senses but don't cure the disease.


The unemployment rate continues to rise

This is the latest bad news from the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Nonfarm payroll employment continued to decline sharply in March (-663,000), and the unemployment rate rose from 8.1 to 8.5 percent, the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor reported today. Since the recession began in December 2007, 5.1 million jobs have been lost, with almost two-thirds (3.3 million) of the decrease occurring in the last 5 months. In March, job losses were large and widespread across the major industry sectors.


You know times are tough when….

….Americans flock to libraries.


Fox News attempts to smear Obama and Harold Koh

Fox fans the flames of prejudice

Using a poorly supported source, Fox News charged the Obama administration with attempting to impose Sharia law in the United States. Fox based its smear on an unverified assertion attributed to Harold Koh, Dean of Yale's Law School and an Obama administration State Department appointee. The Obama administration denies this and kindred charges. Daily KOS debunks the Fox report here. It also provides a transcript and video of the report:

Truth or lies

Chris Floyd depicts the plain facts of our current situation:

The political class has failed us. At every level, they have failed us. Republican and Democrat, they have failed us. Liberal, conservative and centrist, they have failed us. They have lived on lies, and lived by lies, for so long that they no longer know how to comprehend the truth, much less communicate it or — God forbid — act on it. And so they plow on deeper into the darkness, in zombified pursuit of pointless goals, heedless of the signposts warning of danger, like some demented wagon train dragging a load of dead mules toward the edge of a cliff.

Political failure is nothing new, of course. Deliberate deceit — and egregious self-delusion — are nothing new. Misrule and evil on the part of elites are nothing new. But the great churning engines of the American Empire — especially its war machine — are infinitely more vast and powerful than anything seen on earth before. Its inextricably entwined economic and military forces permeate the globe. Nowhere on earth can you completely escape the tourbillions of these forces; yet because of this same pervasive reach, there is now no place on earth that cannot send its shock waves back up the line, roiling the imperial heartland itself. The very magnitude of the American power structure makes the consequences of its crimes and failures more destructive and widespread: the difference between your house being hit by a cannonball or by a cruise missile.

The United States is the core country of a highly militarized global political system — and may a God (any God) forgive America for what it has wrought.

Police and demonstrators clash at G-20 protest

According to a report in The Independent, "A violent mob targeted a Royal Bank of Scotland building in the City of London today after demonstrations turned ugly."


Now that a flock of buzzards await GM and Chrysler to finish it, John Nichols directs this broad but obvious question towards Detroit, Wall Street and Washington, DC: "How come, if the auto industry must feel the pain, the speculators on Wall Street and the CEOs of the big banks and insurance companies only feel the love of the TARP program?"

Really…. Does Obama's preference here reflect the effective limits of America's crony capitalism? Permitting much of America's auto industry to die without a real fight makes as much sense as the previous indifference to the plight of America's steel industry.