Category Archives: Economy

Torturers, looters and oligarchs let their freak flags fly

The people who variously collapsed the economy, bought the political process and brought torture into polite society are tired of your disrespect and they’re not afraid to let you know it.

The latest in the parade of former Bush administration officials and CIA personnel to come in from the cold the suburbs and either defend or brag about their roles in the Bush torture regimen is psychologist James Mitchell, the prominent member of the helping professions who is credited with having designed the procedures used by the CIA to torture prisoners and is supposed to have tortured at least one prisoner himself. In an interview with The Guardian, Mitchell said “I’m just a guy who got asked to do something for his country by people at the highest level of government, and I did the best that I could.” Mitchell follows in the footsteps of former Vice President Dick Cheney and others who say the times required torture and the results justify it, and anyway it wasn’t torture.

In some circumstances, in some countries, admitting to having not just devised torture procedures but practicing them as well would land one in hot water. In the US, however, torturers have a very prominent advocate for letting bygones be bygones: the current President. In 2009, when he ordered the release of the documents the Bush administration’s legal team wrote to retroactively and prospectively justify torture, President Obama said that “[i]n releasing these memos, it is our intention to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution.”
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Paul Krugman is wrong about Medicaid

Paul Krugman suggests in his New York Times column today that continuing the expansion of Medicaid is the answer to the outlandish cost of health care in the United States. He’s wrong. Medicaid is a lifeline for the impoverished, but the program would have to be reformed to the point that it would no longer be recognizable as Medicaid to be satisfactory for most Americans.

The reason Krugman likes Medicaid is the program’s success at controlling costs. He says that of all the health care delivery systems in the country, Medicaid is the one most like those in Europe, which have much lower costs than ours. If that’s true, it’s only because most of the rest of our fragmented system is completely fucked up.

Among the primary aims of European systems is health care equity — providing everybody with the same access to high-quality health care regardless of income or station. Medicaid does not come close to doing that. Krugman says that care from Medicaid providers is good and that lack of access is greatly exaggerated. In my experience the former is sometimes true and the latter, never.
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JPMorgan Chase goes for the (comedy) gold; crushed by guilt, former New York Fed chief and treasury secretary Tim Geithner retreats to a monastery

Or something like that.

After greasing the skids for Wall Street’s economic vandalism as head of the New York Federal Reserve Bank and then opening the national vaults to banksters and brokers as US treasury chief, Timothy Geithner is making his Wall Street employment official. The man who once boasted of “foaming the runway” for banks with the frothy remnants of liquefied former homeowners has accepted a job supervising the mailroom at private-equity giant Warburg Pincus, where he hopes to work his way to the top after gaining experience in the industry while avoiding charges of cashing in on his government service.
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Bobbing for sharks with Orange John Boehner

John Boehner’s next job could be as a safety buoy bobbing gently in the waters of the Fiscal Shoals, warning off the unwary. (“These are not tears,” he will say with a sad little smile; “it’s only the life-giving waters of the sea in my eyes.”) If he falls, he’ll likely give way to one among the group of 40-something white guys who call themselves The Young Guns, which right there gives you multiple insights into some of the things troubling the Grand Old Party.

House and Senate staff members will take an 8.2% pay cut if their bosses don’t get a tax and deficit deal done before the end of the first federal pay period in 2013. Collectively, the staff are looking at more than $100 million in cuts for the year. Possibly this will have an impact on the negotiations. Their bosses, who included themselves among America’s Warriors and others so valuable or vulnerable as to warrant protection from any budget reductions, face a 0% cut (although their foreign currency conversion allowance will take a brutal hit). Even John Boehner will still get paid despite demonstrating live on national television that he can’t do the job for which he draws a larger pay check than anyone else in the House.

(“Who should get pay cuts?” “Well, let’s start with the obvious: not us. VA nurses first.”)
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The Obama justice department: never met a bigfoot badman they couldn’t work with

The surprise in the Obama administration’s deal with London-based HSBC, the money-laundering enterprise moonlighting as the world’s third-largest bank, is that it came in the guise of a criminal prosecution. The bank has pleaded guilty to breaking some laws. Nobody who works or worked at the bank is guilty, though; just the corporate person, who will pay what amounts to a confiscatory tax on its (his? her?) illegal profits. Shareholders are if not happy then at least stoic; the stock today is off its high for the year by less than a point. The bank will continue to operate in the US under enhanced supervision — no, no waterboarding; different sort of “enhanced” — after agreeing not to launder billions of dollars for business enterprises with body counts approaching those of civilized governments.

The face of the Obama justice department on this prosecution is Assistant AG Lanny Breuer, who says “[i]t’s a fiction to suggest that this isn’t a very robust result.” Breuer is also the face of the justice department on all the prosecutions that have sent so many criminal bankers to the Big House in connection with stealing the US economy. It’s probably also a fiction to suggest that the lack of those isn’t a very robust result.

Breuer is a former white-collar criminal defense attorney. He stood up for Moody’s, one of the investment rating services that assured us everything was A-OK with all those rotten financial investments that brought the coliseum down in 2008, when the company was in trouble regarding the blind eye they turned toward Enron’s shenanigans until a few days before the firm imploded. He is an alumnus of Covington & Burling, the law firm at which Attorney General Eric Holder worked defending financial criminals before he went to work shielding them from prosecution as the people’s attorney.

Covington & Burling didn’t represent any torturers, or at least not in connection with torturing people, but Holder and Breuer decided not to prosecute any of them, either, when they arrived at the justice department. Their boss, President Obama, set the tone for their tenure when he preemptively invoked the Nuremberg defense on behalf of the torturers, saying he wanted to “assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution.” Their duties! Germans who went to court after World War II with the defense that their bosses said what they were doing, their duty, was fine got hanged, some of them, and at least jailed. Same with the bosses, and the lawyers who did the leg work too.

But in the US in the 21st century, the perpetrators never even went to trial. The lesson going forward (Forward!) is that in this country you can probably get away with anything, no matter how transparently evil it is, if you can get a government lawyer sufficiently twisted to say it’s legal. The Obama administration have been doing just that with respect to at least their automated death from above policies and who knows what else. Hilariously, they were inspired to start codifying the rules about who can and can’t be killed at the President’s whim by the thought of conveying that authority unabridged to Mitt Romney; the idea being that there are some people you just can’t trust with unconditional power. Other people. Those People.

Dear Eric: the bearer of this letter is a liar, a cheat, a thief and a plunderer.
Please extend him all courtesy
.”

HSBC isn’t the only company held to criminal account by the Obama administration. The justice department recently leveled historic financial penalties against BP in connection with that company’s ruinous behavior in the Gulf of Mexico. The penalties were so severe, amounting to nearly six week’s worth of profits to be paid out across five years, that BP shareholders panicked and sent the stock tumbling to about a half-point higher after the penalties were announced. That’s about where the price still sits, even after the EPA cited “lack of business integrity” in barring the company from new US government contracts and from competing for drilling rights on US government land. They’re not worried, and they shouldn’t be: “lack of business integrity” is practically a letter of credit in Washington, and they can expect the bans to be lifted in due course.

War criminals go free; corporate felons destroy the economy and walk away a little lighter in the (shareholder’s) wallet, if at all — and most of them are now making fortunes on risky investments using money borrowed for almost nothing from the government; a company despoils the environment, poisons people and ruins livelihoods for decades forward and goes on about its business. If they’re big enough and bad enough, this administration will give them a pass.

Democrats would be disgusted and depressed, beset with hopelessness, if these things were happening during a Republican administration — war criminals at large! pirates and looters unpunished! — so we’re fortunate that a Democrat is in charge. The national mood is the better for it, since Republicans aren’t inclined to mope about the crimes of capital and Democrats can’t really afford to dwell on them too deeply for now.

This is true as well of the Democratic push to curtail social insurance programs. Democrats would be horrified to have an increase in the Medicare eligibility age, and an annually compounding decrease in Social Security benefits, imposed upon them by Republicans. The lash would burn, it would be insufferable. So we’re fortunate to have Democrats leading the way on this*, although the national mood hasn’t really benefited in the same way as with the wholesale excuse of criminal behavior because Republicans get as enraged when they win as when they lose, when they even recognize that they’ve won.

When Lanny Breuer and Eric Holder look at the people who run large corporations, they don’t see “them;” they see “us.” They see the people they’ve spent years and made fortunes defending; the people they dine with and holiday with; the people who wrote their pay checks before they went into government and who will write them again when they leave. If Lanny Breuer had been heading HSBC’s defense team, the settlement they got is one he would have wanted. Same with all the fines and promises to be good that he has extracted from the banks that brought us down.

There are not two opposing sides here: there is one side trying to determine how to handle some misbehavior in the ranks without putting any of their livelihoods at risk.

*Indirect word from the White House is that raising the Medicare eligibility age is “off the table.” I will believe that if it hasn’t happened in four years.

In which we use prison labor to make body armor to sell overseas

I like to read the contract notices issued by the Pentagon. On a good day you can watch billions and billions of dollars go out the door in support of blowing various things and people up. Among the beneficiaries of today’s contracts is UNICOR, the government corporation that contracts prison labor to make stuff for the federal government.

Federal Prison Industries Inc. (UNICOR), Washington, D.C., was awarded a $75,000,000 firm-fixed-price contract. The award will provide for the modification of an existing contract to procure outer tactical vests in support of Foreign Military Sales. Work will be performed in Yazoo, Miss., with an estimated completion date of Aug. 25, 2013. The bid was solicited through the Internet. The U.S. Army Contracting Command, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., is the contracting activity (W91CRB-08-D-0045).

The Foreign Military Sales program is the government’s weapons-dealing branch, which did some $66 billion in business last year under the Nobel Peace Prize president, up almost 300% from the previous year. Why are we selling so many weapons and support equipment to people, often of questionable moral character? Let’s let the government explain.

The Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program is the government-to-government method for selling U.S. defense equipment, services, and training. Responsible arms sales further national security and foreign policy objectives by strengthening bilateral defense relations, supporting coalition building, and enhancing interoperability between U.S. forces and militaries of friends and allies. These sales also contribute to American prosperity by improving the U.S. balance of trade position, sustaining highly skilled jobs in the defense industrial base, and extending production lines and lowering unit costs for key weapon systems.

I hadn’t really thought of the US gulag as part of the “defense industrial base,” but I suppose there’s no reason it shouldn’t be, nor any reason we shouldn’t be using slave labor to make things to sell to the likes of Qatar and other human-rights scofflaws who send billions of dollars back our way; indeed, there’s a pleasing symmetry to it. And no doubt the skills the prisoners learn will help them find a job on the outside with one of the many defense contractors who don’t consider federal felony convictions any bar to employment.

UNICOR doesn’t seem to get a lot of war department contracts — a very superficial look only turned up one previous award in the past year, $15 million for camouflage pants to be made at an unspecified Kentucky prison, and only about 10 in the past decade, less than a billion all told (again, that’s a very superficial search; could be more). Clearly our leaders are not fully exploiting the resources at their command.

Pressuring the Obama Administration on climate change, redux

Don’t stop me if you’ve heard this before.

One would like to believe that in the face of a massive and growing emergency, our benevolent governors will recognize the need to do something, figure out what to do and then, do it. With respect to climate change, none of that is happening. I have created a very modest little mechanism through which anyone concerned can help exert some pressure on the Obama administration to at least begin developing a plan for coping with climate change, which I’ll get to downstream a bit.

Everyone who acknowledges the reality of climate change recognizes that it constitutes a crisis. Five years ago, a staid military think tank called the Center for Naval Analyses commissioned and published a report on the national security threat posed by climate change.

In the national and international security environment, climate change threatens to add new hostile and stressing factors. On the simplest level, it has the potential to create sustained natural and humanitarian disasters on a scale far beyond those we see today. The consequences will likely foster political instability where societal demands exceed the capacity of governments to cope.

CNA is populated by retired admirals and generals whose climate change concerns run mostly toward preparing the US military to cope with the consequences of long-term, escalating global unrest. They’re not a group of flamboyant alarmists. Neither are the technocrats and fat cats at the World Bank, whose concerns are keeping the world safe for development, and who last month issued a frankly terrifying report on climate change called “Turn Down The Heat,” in which they predict a 4-degree rise in global temperatures by the end of this century if the threat is left unaddressed. There is, say the authors, “no certainty that adaptation to a 4°C world is possible.”

In other words, if we proceed as we are then the next generation but one may get to witness the fabled end of the world as we know it, and we’ll all walk down a long mile of very bad road in the meantime.
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Free trade, terracotta candidates and cardboard bicycles

The giant sucking sound Ross Perot wants you to hear these days is him endorsing Mitt Romney on the basis of Romney’s presumed fiscally responsible policies. Perot, who wasn’t born yesterday, posits that history began in 2009 and says experts support Romney’s contention that the mome raths outgrabe.

Democrats, meanwhile, are shocked, shocked! that the company Romney once owned and still profits from is outsourcing jobs to China in a particularly callous fashion — requiring American workers at Sensata, an auto parts maker, to conclude their own employment by training their Chinese replacements. Illinois Senator Dick Durbin (who recently declined to sign a letter pledging to block Social Security cuts) is joining Sensata workers today in a show of solidarity.
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Embargoed until release: President Obama’s Labor Day address

Disclaimer: this is not actually Barack Obama speaking at the site of the Loray Mill in Gastonia, North Carolina on Labor Day in 2012.

Thank you all for coming to Gastonia today.

When I delivered my Nobel Lecture in acceptance of the Nobel Committee’s prize for peace on December 10 of 2009, I did so in the knowledge that I had not earned it and did not deserve it. I told the assemblage that among those more deserving, “there are the men and women around the world who have been jailed and beaten in the pursuit of justice; those who toil in humanitarian organizations to relieve suffering; the unrecognized millions whose quiet acts of courage and compassion inspire even the most hardened cynics. I cannot argue with those who find these men and women – some known, some obscure to all but those they help – to be far more deserving of this honor than I.”

In retrospect, I should have ended my speech there and left the stage. Because just as I did not deserve that prize, those people, “jailed and beaten in the pursuit of justice,” did not deserve to be subordinated to my cause that night, which was not justice but justification of state violence applied to an inexcusably wide range of situations. And I stand before you today to make some small amends, to celebrate and justify our own who across the years have been and still are jailed and beaten in the pursuit of justice, and I ask you all, and all other Americans, to celebrate and justify them with me.
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An epitaph for Obama: “I think we’ve all learned a valuable lesson.”

Not long after the big Republican win in the 2010 elections, the Obama administration’s best and brightest gave up on explaining that putting people to work is really good for both the economy and for people who need work. The concept was too complicated for voters, they thought, so instead the president went off to negotiate with a crew of irresolute drunks and psychotic killer termites over how best to tighten the belt of government around the necks of the poor, the sick, the old and the unemployed.

This is according to David Corn’s new book, Showdown, which is apparently meant as a generous portrait of the administration.

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