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Journal Archives

Sins of the Fatcat

March 20, 2014

Bob Ivry’s guide for tracking down the live villains and unburied bodies of the 2008 crash

By Andrew Cockburn

Back in February, Congressman David Camp (R., Mich.), chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, unveiled a plan to reform the U.S. tax code, clarifying and simplifying its infinite and tortuous provisions. One of his proposals was to levy a tax of .035 percent on assets exceeding $500 billion held by U.S. megabanks and insurance companies. This, he explained, would offset the advantage big banks enjoy in borrowing costs thanks to their implicit government-bailout guarantee as too-big-to-fail institutions.

It was a laudable enough idea, in a modest kind of way. Coming from a House Republican it certainly had the merit of novelty. But no one among the massed ranks of financial-industry hirelings on K Street and Capitol Hill took it seriously enough to plan a vigorous counterattack. Camp is due to step down from his chairmanship soon, and everyone in Washington is well aware of the banks’ invulnerability to attempts at prizing away even a sliver of their hoards. “Dead on arrival” was the common verdict.

That wasn’t the way JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, Wall Street’s capo di tutti frutti, saw things, though. “He was calling everyone, from the Speaker on down,” one lobbyist reported to me in amazement. “He was frantic about the threat of Camp, as if anything was ever going to come out of that.”

The only interpretation the D.C. financial lobbying community could make of Dimon’s hysterical behavior was that they had done their work too well. “The banks have gotten absolutely everything they wanted, post-crash,” my lobbyist friend explained. The 2010 SAFE bill, through which Senators Sherrod Brown and Ted Kaufman attempted to break up the too-big-to-fails? Crushed like a bug in the Senate, 60–31. The Volcker Rule restricting banks from trading on their own account? Riddled with more loopholes than a yard of chicken wire. The Lincoln Amendment barring institutions from gambling with taxpayer-insured money? On its way out the door. “There really are no outstanding issues left for them to fight over,” my friend said, “so now even the semblance of defiance from any quarter is taken as a personal affront, and they move to crush it.”

in full: http://harpers.org/blog/2014/03/sins-of-the-fatcat/

The Sunni revolt in Syria has given al-Qa’ida more power in Iraq

In the third part of his series, Patrick cockburn looks at the growing influence of Isis, al-Qa’ida’s force in Iraq, which dominates Sunni areas and is wreaking havoc among the Shia majority

Events in Iraq are not always what they seem: take two occurrences over the past year illustrating the difference between appearance and the reality in Iraq. The first event took place outside Fallujah after the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis), formerly known as al-Qa’ida in Iraq, aided by tribal militias, took over the city in January. This was a body blow to the Iraqi government since Fallujah is only 40 miles west of Baghdad and was famously stormed by US Marines in a bloody battle in 2004.

But soon after Isis had retaken it three months ago, a reassuring video was circulated on Twitter and Facebook by government supporters. It had some narrative in Iraqi Arabic, was shot from the air and showed insurgents being targeted and eliminated by air-launched missiles. This was morale-raising stuff for the Iraqi government and to those loyal to it, but unfortunately it proved to be a fabrication and after a few hours someone noticed that the video had been shot in Afghanistan and it is of American drones or helicopters firing missiles at Taliban fighters. It is doubtful if Iraqi airpower is capable of carrying out such attacks.

But such deceptions are not all on the government side. In December 2012 the arrest of the bodyguards of the moderate Sunni Finance Minister, Rafi al-Issawi, by the government led to widespread but peaceful protests in Sunni provinces in northern and central Iraq, Sunni Arabs making up about a fifth of Iraq’s 33 million population. At first, the demonstrations were well-attended, with protesters demanding an end to political, civil and economic discrimination against the Sunni community. But soon they realised that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was offering only cosmetic changes and many stopped attending the weekly demonstrations.

In the Sunni city of Tikrit, capital of Salah Ad-Din province, 10,000 people had come to rallies at first, but then the number sank to 1,000. A local observer says: “It was decided that all mosques should be shut on Fridays except for one, forcing all the faithful to go to the same mosque for Friday prayers. Cameras eagerly filmed and photographed the crowd to make it look like they were all protesters and would beam the images back to the Gulf, where their paymasters were fooled (or maybe they weren’t) into thinking that the protests were still attracting large numbers.” The eyewitness in Tikrit cynically suggests that the money supposedly spent on feeding and transporting non-existent demonstrators was pocketed by protest leaders.


Why Didn't Bush/Cheney Attack Iran and Can Obama Make and Sell a Deal? - Gareth Porter

Mr. Porter tells Paul Jay that the American security state was and is against war with Iran, but if Obama doesn't break with the false narrative about Iran's nuclear program, he may not be able to sell a deal - March 18, 2014


JAY: So Gareth is a historian. He's an investigative journalist. He covers U.S. foreign and military policy. His latest book is Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.

So we're going to pick up where we left off. And essentially at the end of the last segment I was asking the question, if, as it seems true, that Dick Cheney, vice president, and President Bush were fairly intent on attacking Iran—and in earlier segments we talked about a document called Project for the New American Century, written and signed by many neocons who made up the Bush administration, and it clearly laid out it's time to assert American power—Iraq, Syria, and with the real prize being regime change in Iran and the need for a manufactured narrative to rationalize all of this, get American people on board, especially after a failed Iraq War—how do you get people ready for another one? Well, I guess you need a mushroom scare.

Gareth, I guess that more or less says it, does it?

So why didn't they get their war?

PORTER: They didn't get their war, because there was very strong built-in resistance on the part of the national security state in the United States, particularly the military and the Pentagon, to getting into a war with Iran. And I think this reflects the reality that Iran really is capable of doing damage to U.S. military assets in the region.

U.S. bases in the Middle East are extremely vulnerable to an attack by the Iranians. Particularly, U.S. naval vessels in this narrow gulf that they have to go through are vulnerable to—.

JAY: And, at the time, tens of thousands of American troops in Iraq.


I Grew Up Believing in Time Magazine's Version of America - Gareth Porter

On Reality Asserts Itself, Mr. Porter tells Paul Jay that by the end of the Vietnam War, he understood the US government and military could do terrible things - March 16, 2014


Gareth Porter is a historian and investigative journalist on US foreign and military policy analyst. He writes regularly for Inter Press Service on US policy towards Iraq and Iran. Author of four books, the latest of which is Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam.


Our next guest believes that the U.S. and Israeli officials have created a false narrative. It says that Iran has been using their nuclear energy program as a cover for a secret nuclear weapons program. This--according to our guest, this is based off weak or no evidence from suspect sources in order to achieve political strategic objectives that are not being presented to the public.

That next guest who believes all of these things is Gareth Porter, investigative journalist, who now joins us in the studio. Gareth is a historian and investigative journalist. He covers U.S. foreign and military policy. He writes regularly for Inter Press Service. He's the author of five books, and the latest of which and one of which we are going to talk a lot about in this interview is Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.

Thanks for joining us, Gareth.


JAY: So, as most people know who watch Reality Asserts Itself, we usually start with some personal back story of our guest, and we're going to do that with Gareth. And then we're going to dig into the Iranian-American nuclear issues.


America’s Working Class Has No Lobby


It’s a broad generalization, and reeks of cynicism, but it’s true: Many (most?) good things get done not as the result of being conspicuously seen as the “right” thing to do, but as the result of pressure being applied to get them done. Conversely, in the absence of pressure being applied, the “right” thing often doesn’t get done. In other words, it’s more about “muscle” than “morals.”

Take the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, for example, one of the harshest anti-immigration measures in U.S. history. After a significant number of Chinese workers had emigrated to the U.S., lured here by the California Gold Rush (1848-1854), and later, by jobs on large works programs, such as the Transcontinental Railroad, America decided it didn’t want any more of them. We had enough Chinamen.

While the reasons for passing the Exclusion Act were a mixed bag of xenophobia, racism, and economic worries, what is most revealing is how simple it was to get this remarkable legislation passed. It was easy. Basically, some people got together and decided no more Chinese should enter the country, and then went out and passed a law to make it so. And the reason it was so easy was because there was no meaningful resistance.

The 1882 Exclusion Act was supposed to stay in effect for ten years. But in 1892, it was extended for ten additional years, and in 1902, it was made permanent. Incredibly, that law stayed on the books until 1943, when it was repealed by the Magnuson Act. And what precipitated its repeal in 1943? Following Pearl Harbor, the Chinese had become the good Asians, and the “Japs” had become the bad Asians.


An unhappy anniversary: Why the end of Bashar al-Assad is as far away as ever and how Syria’s rebels

lost the plot.

Today marks three years since Syrians rose up against their President. In the time since then, unwavering support for the status quo from Russia and Iran, the unwillingness of the West to intervene, and the increasing disarray of the anti-government factions have all combined to ensure that they may never succeed, writes Patrick Cockburn.

As the first wave of the Arab uprisings broke in early 2011, President Bashar al-Assad sounded confident that Syria would be immune to the turmoil. He was not alone: at a meeting of 10 foreign ambassadors in Damascus in February that year the diplomats without exception dismissed suggestions that the revolutionary turmoil in Egypt and Tunisia might spread to Syria.

The conviction that Syria was more stable than other Arab states was rooted in the belief that Mr Assad was relatively popular; Syria’s long opposition to Israel and the US gave it powerful nationalist credentials; abject poverty was less than in Egypt and Yemen. Yet, within a month of the ambassadors’ meeting, protests began to gather pace and the government responded brutally and with extreme violence, treating dissent as a revolutionary attempt to overthrow the state, similar to the Muslim Brotherhood insurgency of 1979-82 which concluded with the slaughter of some 20,000 people in Hama. Many believe that it was the government’s overreaction that turned protests into an insurgency. The government claims that from the beginning it was facing an armed Islamist revolt funded and supplied by the Gulf monarchies allied to Western intelligence services.

With what, in retrospect, seems like embarrassing speed, foreign governments – and many Syrians – swung from saying nothing would happen to treating the departure of President Assad as a foregone conclusion.


CIA vs. Senate: Who Is Obama Protecting?

Elizabeth Goitein: President Obama is protecting senior CIA officials and himself

March 14, 2014


Elizabeth (Liza) Goitein co-directs the Brennan Center for Justices Liberty and National Security Program, which seeks to advance effective national security policies that respect constitutional values and the rule of law. Before joining the Brennan Center, Liza served as counsel to Senator Russell Feingold, Chairman of the Constitution Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and as a trial attorney in the Federal Programs Branch of the Civil Division of the Department of Justice. Her writing has been featured in major newspapers including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, USA Today, the Boston Globe, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Philadelphia Inquirer, as well as prominent outlets such as Roll Call, the National Law Journal, Salon, POLITICO, Time, and the Huffington Post. She has appeared on national television and radio shows including the The Rachel Maddow Show, The Today Show, All In with Chris Hayes, Up with Steve Kornacki, PBS NewsHour, and National Public Radios Morning Edition and On The Media. Liza graduated from Yale Law School and clerked for the Hon. Michael Daly Hawkins on the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.


Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Baltimore.

In January, according to Dianne Feinstein, the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, that the head of the CIA, John Brennan, came to her and told her some of her staffers may have broken the law by getting access to secret documents that had been revealed to Senate investigators but, according to Brennan, shouldn't have been shown to Senate staffers, and that might be illegal. Why did he make this trip? Why did he tell Dianne Feinstein this? Because it led to Dianne Feinstein coming to the conclusion and finding out that the CIA had actually been spying on Senate computers, and had even removed records from those--and files from those computers.

Now joining us to give us some background and discuss all of this and joining us now from New York is Elizabeth Goitein. She's codirector of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School.


Elizabeth Goitein:
Neiman Foundation for Journalism at
Harvard University

U.N. Releases Drone Report

Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental
freedoms while countering terrorism, Ben Emmerson

This is the third annual report submitted to the Human Rights Council by the Special
Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms
while countering terrorism, Ben Emmerson.

In chapter II of the report, the Special Rapporteur lists his key activities undertaken
from 10 January to 16 December 2013. In the main report, contained in chapter III, the
Special Rapporteur examines the use of remotely piloted aircraft, or drones, in
extraterritorial lethal counter-terrorism operations, including in the context of asymmetrical
armed conflict, and allegations that the increasing use of remotely piloted aircraft, or
drones, has caused disproportionate civilian casualties, and makes recommendations to
States. This report constitutes the continuation of the Special Rapporteur’s interim report
on the use of drones to the General Assembly (A/68/389).


Europe: Between Democracy and Oligarchy ( New Left Project )

Though Ukraine’s structural problems go far deeper than the current upheavals over aligning more closely with the European Union, the fact that this peculiar international body can spark pitched street battles refutes one lazy but perennial assertion of its critics: that the EU is simply a trade organisation – a glorified NAFTA – which in the broad scheme of things matters little, both to the populations of Europe and in terms of continental governance. Critics point to low voter turn-out all across member-states and high levels of disillusionment among new entrants as evidence that the Union has little real effect on people's lives and little impact on where power lies – either national or transnational – within Europe. But as Ukraine proves, the status of relations with the EU is capable of summoning extraordinary social forces, a rallying point not only for the immediate question of membership but also for much broader questions about the paths of national development prospective member states find themselves on. The task of understanding the EU – and what membership of a future Union might mean for prospective members – is more important than ever. The violence on the streets of Kiev demands a reassessment of critics’ complacency.

Patterns of European integration (beginning, in most histories, with the European Steel and Coal Community of 1951) have by no means been monolithic. Indeed, for a long time the political institutions designed to underwrite and extend the deepening processes of economic integration were largely neofunctionalist in their goals: aiming for a gradual harmonisation of national tensions through an equally gradual extension of the Community's legal remit. This was expansion by stealth, occasionally in an explicitly social or corporatist and welfarist vein. The most famous of the Community's architects, Jean Monnet, was pragmatically federalist and pro-democratic. ‘Is it possible,’ he asked, ‘to have a Common Market without federal social, monetary and macro-economic policies?’ Monnet has more or less been proved right by the eurozone crisis, though political pressures (especially in Germany) continue to resist that conclusion. Major political and economic imbalances between member states continue to undermine any movement towards greater integration of this federal variety.

The Europe Union's other predominant ideology, that of intergovernmental realism, conceives of action undertaken by national governments as the primary locus of European integration. Intergovernmental realists stress the importance of national governments, and point to how further integration will proceed from interactions between states, not above them. Thus neofunctionalist liberals of the Monnet variety stress the transnational processes at work in integration, aiming to further it through the fostering of greater power for international institutions operating outside of or beyond the sovereignty of nation states. Intergovernmental realists, however, stress the limits of possible supranational integration owing to the self-interested nature of national governments. Realists are convinced that the highest form of legal order is one which mediates between self-interested nation-states, curbing their democratic excesses through old-fashioned diplomatic manoeuvring. As such the nation is conceived as the pre-eminent political actor on an international terrain of Hobbesian anarchy with no novel conception of sovereignty emerging. Though such an approach may be appealing for those wishing to understand continued national conflicts within the Union, it has only occasionally reflected the piecemeal reality of EU development, which has involved a good deal of class compromise between states, trade unions and financial institutions, among other conflicting parties.

Nevertheless, by the early 1990s European integration appeared to be stagnating under conditions of a fractious world economy and apparently divergent political and economic paths – with German corporatism, French social-welfarism, and British emulation of the American ‘neoliberal’ model all representing conflicts among Europe's ruling elites. It took the sudden collapse of Communism in the USSR, the Balkans and the states of East-Central Europe (all widely unforeseen) to reignite pro-integration passions. Despite the obvious confidence boost the end of the ‘Evil Empire’ gave the western half, no amount of good-will could fund reunification efforts (on the part of Germany) and reconstruction efforts (on the part of the soon-to-be-Union as a whole). Even if European voters largely supported the drive towards integration, the process itself was carried out in the interests of capital accumulation. The newly democratised states on the periphery would become highly profitable, relatively risk-free spaces of capital investment. Though a great deal of public funding went in to reconstructing Eastern Europe, the overwhelming tendency was for capital – in the form of factory relocations, foreign direct investment, and enormous financial lending – to seek major profits. Thus, following 1989, the specifically pro-market forces underlying EU integration and expansion were foregrounded.

remainder: http://www.newleftproject.org/index.php/site/article_comments/europe_between_democracy_and_oligarchy

Ukrainians Breathe Sigh of Relief As Diplomatic Efforts Continue Between West & Russia

Professor Nicolai Petro lays out how the Crimea crisis could be resolved, as tension remains between pro-EU groups and Russian supported factions

March 6, 2014


Nicolai N. Petro is professor of politics at the University of Rhode Island. During the collapse of the Soviet Union he served as special assistant for policy in the U.S. State Department. He has published widely on Russian and international politics, and is currently in Ukraine on a Fulbright research fellowship. His web site iswww.npetro.net.

The views expressed are his own and do not reflect those of the Fulbright program or the U.S. Department of State.

Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

Following the Russian takeover of the Crimean Peninsula in Ukraine, Western and Russian diplomats are meeting in Paris to discuss how to resolve the political crisis in Ukraine. The European Union has also offered a $15 billion aid package to Ukraine on the condition that it reaches a deal with the International Monetary Fund over austerity measures and domestic gas subsidies.

Now joining us to discuss all this is Nicolai Petro. Nicolai is a professor of politics at the University of Rhode Island, and he has been in Ukraine since July as a visiting scholar and has observed the current crisis firsthand.


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