Counterpunch -- Hallaward -- Securing Disaster in Haiti

Topic(s): Haiti
Date Posted: 01.30.10

The Fourth Invasion

Securing Disaster in Haiti

By PETER HALLWARD

Nine days after the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, 2010, it's now clear that the initial phase of the U.S.-led relief operation has conformed to the three fundamental tendencies that have shaped the more general course of the island's recent history. It has adopted military priorities and strategies. It has sidelined Haiti's own leaders and government, and ignored the needs of the majority of its people. And it has proceeded in ways that reinforce the already harrowing gap between rich and poor.

All three tendencies aren't just connected, they are mutually reinforcing. These same tendencies will continue to govern the imminent reconstruction effort as well, unless determined political action is taken to counteract them.

I

Haiti is not only one of the poorest countries in the world, it is also one of the most polarized and unequal in its disparities in wealth and access to political power.1 A small clique of rich and well-connected families continues to dominate the country and its economy while more than half the population, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), survives on a household income of around 44 U.S. pennies per day.2

Mass destitution has grown far more severe in recent decades. Starting in the 1970s, internationally imposed neo-liberal "adjustments" and austerity measures finally succeeded in doing what no Haitian government had managed to do since winning independence in 1804: in order to set the country on the road toward "economic development," they have driven large numbers of small farmers off their land and into densely crowded urban slums. A small minority of these internal refugees may be lucky enough to find sweatshop jobs that pay the lowest wages in the region. These wages currently average $2 or $3 a day; in real terms they are worth less than a quarter of their 1980 value.

Haiti's tiny elite owes its privileges to exclusion, exploitation, and violence, and it is only violence that allows it to retain them. For much of the last century, Haiti's military and paramilitary forces (with substantial amounts of U.S. support) were able to preserve these privileges on their own. Over the course of the 1980s, however, it started to look as if local military repression might no longer be up to the job. A massive and courageous popular mobilization (known as Lavalas) culminated in 1990 with the landslide election of the liberation theologian Jean-Bertrand Aristide as president. Large numbers of ordinary people began to participate in the political system for the first time, and as political scientist Robert Fatton remembers, "Panic seized the dominant class. It dreaded living in close proximity to la populace and barricaded itself against Lavalas."3

Nine months later, the army dealt with this popular threat in the time-honored way—with a coup d'etat. Over the next three years, around 4,000 Aristide supporters were killed.

However, when the U.S. government eventually allowed Aristide to return in October 1994, he took a surprising and unprecedented step: he abolished the army that had deposed him. As human rights lawyer Brian Concannon (director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti) observed a few years later, "It is impossible to overestimate the impact of this accomplishment. It has been called the greatest human rights development in Haiti since emancipation, and is wildly popular."4 In 2000, the Haitian electorate gave Aristide a second overwhelming mandate when his party (Fanmi Lavalas) won more than 90% of the seats in parliament.

II

More than anything else, what has happened in Haiti since 1990 should be understood as the progressive clarification of this basic dichotomy—democracy or the army. Unadulterated democracy might one day allow the interests of the numerical majority to prevail, and thereby challenge the privileges of the elite. In 2000, such a challenge became a genuine possibility: the overwhelming victory of Fanmi Lavalas, at all levels of government, raised the prospect of genuine political change in a context in which there was no obvious extra-political mechanism—no army—to prevent it.

In order to avoid this outcome, the main strategy of Haiti's little ruling class has been to redefine political questions in terms of "stability" and "security," and in particular the security of property and investments. Mere numbers may well win an election or sustain a popular movement but as everyone knows, only an army is equipped to deal with insecurity. The well-armed "friend of Haiti" that is the United States knows this better than anyone.

As soon as Aristide was re-elected, a systematic international campaign to bankrupt and destabilize his second government set the stage for a paramilitary insurrection and another coup d'etat. In 2004, thousands of U.S. troops again invaded Haiti (as they first did back in 1915) to "restore stability and security" to their "troubled island neighbor." An expensive and long-term UN stabilization mission, staffed by 9,000 heavily armed troops, soon took over the job of helping to pacify the population and criminalize the resistance. By the end of 2006, thousands more Aristide supporters had been killed.

Over the course of 2009, a suitably stabilized Haitian government agreed to persevere with the privatization of the country's remaining public assets,5 veto a proposal to increase minimum wages to $5 a day, and bar Fanmi Lavalas (and several other political parties) from participating in the next round of legislative elections.

When it comes to providing stability, today's UN troops are clearly a big improvement over the old national forces. If things get so unstable that even the ground begins to shake, however, there's still nothing that can beat the world's leading provider of security—the U.S. Armed Forces.

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LMD -- Silence of a very grand grave

Topic(s): France
Date Posted: 01.25.10

Fifty years later, Camus lives on
Silence of a very grand grave
by Robert Zaretsky

Back in 1960 the New York Times reported that Albert Camus had died in a car crash, and that his body had been moved to a nearby town where the “Algerian-born writer’s body” was draped in a “large French flag”. Even in death the tension between France and Algeria, an opposition that haunted Camus his entire life, continued.

How appropriate and how absurd that, on the eve of the 50th anniversary of his death this January, France was once again divided over his legacy. President Sarkozy’s efforts to inter Camus’s body in the Pantheon to mark this anniversary, have led voices on the left such as Olivier Todd, Camus’s biographer, to accuse Sarkozy of trying to hijack the writer’s legacy for his own political benefit. There were even charges in the French press of grave-robbing. Foreigners may think this absurd. But few writers wrestled as heroically with the absurd as Camus, and even fewer in the knowledge that they would inevitably fail.

The absurdities begin with Camus’s proposed resting place, the Pantheon. Think of Mount Rushmore shrunk and shipped to Cooperstown. Looming over Paris, with “Aux grands hommes, la patrie reconnaissante” inscribed across its pediment, this neo-classical pile is dedicated to perpetuating the memory of, well, great men. (The only woman who got in was Marie Curie.)

Yet, as soon as the ceremonial pomp and circumstance ends and the tombs close on these great men, their compatriots forget them. Victor Hugo, Jean Moulin, Emile Zola, Voltaire, Rousseau are known to most Frenchmen (and women). The other 70 or so residents are like character actors in old movies: we know we have seen them but cannot remember their names and won’t wait for the credits.

Commissioned by Louis XV and designed by Jacques Soufflot, the Church of Sainte Geneviève had scarcely opened for business when the French Revolution kidnapped the limestone hulk and relabelled it the Pantheon. Over the next century, the building changed identities as often as France changed regimes. When a republic sent a king packing, the crosses were taken down and the famous inscription put back up; when a monarchy (or a Napoleon) returned, the inscription was removed and the crosses dusted off. Only in 1885, when the Third Republic lowered Victor Hugo into the building’s bowels, did the Pantheon become a republican shrine in perpetuity.

While the nation’s thank you note to great men flickered on and off outside the dome, there was turmoil inside as well. For every newly minted grand homme, an older one was taken out of circulation. Robespierre and his fellow terrorists pushed out the first resident, le Comte de Mirabeau, soon after they inducted JP Marat. It was no accident that Mirabeau’s political moderation, unlike Marat’s bloody-minded fanaticism, was disliked by the Terror. Nor was it coincidental that, with Robespierre’s overthrow, Marat was hustled out the Pantheon’s back door. (He ended up in a neighbouring church and, contrary to popular belief, wasn’t chucked into the sewers.)

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Rene -- Another revolution is possible: Foucault, ethics, and politics

Topic(s): Resistance?
Date Posted: 01.24.10

Another revolution is possible: Foucault, ethics, and politics

Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 2007, volume 25, pages 191
Guest editorial

It is time to think about revolution again. After the failures of the Russian revolution signaled by Stalin's defensive slogan, ``socialism in one country'' (every bit as oxymoronic as ``capitalism in one firm''), the 1960s reawakened a sense of revolution from some- thing of a slumber. New Year's eve in Havana, 1959, brought the Cuban revolution and over the next two decades an extraordinary series of events put revolution squarely back on the agenda: successful anticolonial struggles and preemptive declarations of independence in Africa and Asia (prefigured in the Asian subcontinent in 1947), Vietnamese opposition to imperialism, antiwar uprisings in various continents, the feminist revolt, the global crescendo of 1968, working-class rebellion from Santiago to London, antiracist and civil rights movements, the demise of fascism in Spain and Portugal, environmental and queer rebellions, Sandinista victory in Nicaragua, a workers' revolt turned clerical clampdown in Iran.
Whatever the very real successes of these movements, they did not remain revolu- tionary and with only a few exceptionsöforemost Cuba, perhapsöthey did not dislodge the integument of capitalist social relations. On the contrary, the response to many of these challenges was the opposite: a forceful, often military, counterrevolution, often with US support, which eventually strengthened local capitalism under the banners of an emergent globalization and neoliberalism, injecting capitalist social relations deeper and deeper into the marrow of daily life. The reprise of capital after the mid-1970s therefore hastened another political retreat from revolution, and by the 1990s those who continued to think in terms of revolution or even speak its possibility seemed archaic, out of touch, hopelessly unrealistic (for an exploration, see Berlant, 1995). The truth today in the so-called advanced industrial world is that our stunted imaginations have largely lost the ability to think what a society other than capitalismöwith all its repressive and oppressive aspects, and spanning the gamut of social relations might look like.

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Harpers -- The Guantánamo “Suicides”: A Camp Delta sergeant blows the whistle

Topic(s): Guantanamo Bay
Date Posted: 01.24.10

The Guantánamo “Suicides”: A Camp Delta sergeant blows the whistle

By Scott Horton

This is the full text of an exclusive advance feature by Scott Horton that will appear in the March 2010 Harper’s Magazine. The issue will be available on newsstands the week of February 15.

1. “Asymmetrical Warfare”

When President Barack Obama took office last year, he promised to “restore the standards of due process and the core constitutional values that have made this country great.” Toward that end, the president issued an executive order declaring that the extra-constitutional prison camp at Guantánamo “shall be closed as soon as practicable, and no later than one year from the date of this order.” Obama has failed to fulfill his promise. Some prisoners are being charged with crimes, others released, but the date for closing the camp seems to recede steadily into the future. Furthermore, new evidence now emerging may entangle Obama’s young administration with crimes that occurred during the Bush presidency, evidence that suggests the current administration failed to investigate seriously—and may even have continued—a cover-up of the possible homicides of three prisoners at Guantánamo in 2006.

Late in the evening on June 9 that year, three prisoners at Guantánamo died suddenly and violently. Salah Ahmed Al-Salami, from Yemen, was thirty-seven. Mani Shaman Al-Utaybi, from Saudi Arabia, was thirty. Yasser Talal Al-Zahrani, also from Saudi Arabia, was twenty-two, and had been imprisoned at Guantánamo since he was captured at the age of seventeen. None of the men had been charged with a crime, though all three had been engaged in hunger strikes to protest the conditions of their imprisonment. They were being held in a cell block, known as Alpha Block, reserved for particularly troublesome or high-value prisoners.

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Truthout -- Dark Revelations in the Bagram Prisoner List

Topic(s): Afghanistan
Date Posted: 01.24.10

Dark Revelations in the Bagram Prisoner List
20/01/2010

by: Andy Worthington, t r u t h o u t | News Analysis

On Friday, the ACLU secured a significant victory in its campaign to secure information about the prisoners held in the US prison at Bagram airbase, Afghanistan (known as the Bagram Theater Internment Facility), when the Pentagon released a list of the names of the 645 prisoners who were held on September 22, 2009.

Even so, at first glance the document appears to be of little use. Names - spooling out like some randomly generated version of an Afghan census - are all that this heavily redacted list provided. When the FOIA request was first filed in April 2009, the ACLU asked the Obama administration "to make public records pertaining to the number of people currently detained at Bagram, their names, citizenship, place of capture and length of detention, as well as records pertaining to the process afforded those prisoners to challenge their detention and designation as 'enemy combatants.'" However, as Melissa Goodman, a staff attorney at the ACLU, explained in a statement accompanying the release of the list on Friday:


Releasing the names of those held at Bagram is an important step toward transparency and accountability at the secretive Bagram prison, but it is just a first step ... Full transparency and accountability about Bagram requires disclosing how long these people have been imprisoned, where they are from and whether they were captured far from any battlefield or in other countries far from Afghanistan.

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Rene -- Agamben -- une biopolitique mineure

Topic(s): Interviews
Date Posted: 01.24.10

une biopolitique mineure
entretien avec Giorgio Agamben

entretien réalisé par Stany Grelet & Mathieu Potte-Bonneville
Giorgio Agamben est philosophe. Il a notamment théorisé, dans la lignée de Foucault, la « biopolitique ». Une structure de pouvoir très ancienne, dont il fait remonter la généalogie à l’Antiquité occidentale et qui n’a cessé de s’épandre depuis, jusqu’à devenir la forme dominante de la politique dans les États modernes : un « état d’exception devenu la règle ». L’objet propre de la biopolitique, c’est la « vie nue » (zôè), qui désignait chez les Grecs « le simple fait de vivre », commun à tous les êtres vivants (animaux, hommes ou dieux), distincte de la « vie qualifiée » (bios) qui indiquait « la forme ou la façon de vivre propre à un individu ou un groupe ». L’objet de la souveraineté, selon Giorgio Agamben, c’est non pas la vie qualifiée du citoyen, bavard et bardé de droits, mais la vie nue et réduite au silence des réfugiés, des déportés ou des bannis : celle d’un « homo sacer » exposé sans médiation à l’exercice, sur son corps biologique, d’une force de correction, d’enfermement ou de mort. Au modèle de la cité, censé régir la politique occidentale depuis toujours, il oppose celui du camp, « nomos de la modernité », paradigme de cette « politisation de la vie nue » qui est devenu l’ordinaire du pouvoir. La structure de la politique occidentale, nous dit-il, ça n’est pas la parole, c’est le ban [1].

Cette thèse a une actualité évidente. Les mesures de santé publique, de mise au travail, de contrôle de l’immigration ou la prohibition des drogues révèlent la nature éminemment biopolitique des politiques publiques contemporaines. Elles s’appliquent précisément à des vies nues prises dans les catégories et les dispositifs d’un pouvoir qui les traitent comme telles - vies exposées et administrées. On pense immédiatement aux sans-papiers, bien sûr, objets de camps très littéraux, très réels. Mais aussi aux usagers de drogues, enjoints au soin ou incarcérés ; aux chômeurs, enjoints au travail ou condamnés à la misère d’un welfare de plus en plus chiche ; ou bien d’autres. Ça n’est sans doute pas un hasard si les récents débats sur le PACS ont vu la prolifération de métaphores animalières. Au Parlement même, cœur théorique des cités parlementaires, le bios cède le pas à la zôè dès qu’on légifère sur des vies.

Mais Giorgio Agamben ne s’en tient pas à un diagnostic conceptuel. À plusieurs reprises, il appelle et annonce, d’une manière assez prophétique, une « autre politique » [2]. Celle-ci se déploiera nécessairement au lieu même où s’exerce la souveraineté moderne, parce qu’on n’y échappe pas. Celle-ci, pour être « autre », devra sinon s’en abstraire, du moins l’affronter, ou le subvertir. Or il se pourrait bien que les groupes les plus exposés au biopouvoir soient en train, depuis l’expérience qu’ils en font et les résistances qu’ils lui opposent, d’inventer l’alternative que Giorgio Agamben appelle de ses vœux. Pris dans les appareils du biopouvoir, sans véritable opportunité d’en sortir (comme échapper au pouvoir médical lorsqu’on est atteint par le VIH, à l’administration du welfare lorsqu’on n’a pas de revenus, aux guichets des préfectures, aux centres de rétention ou aux zones d’attente lorsqu’on n’a pas de papiers, etc. ?), ces groupes inventent une biopolitique mineure, en contrepoint de celle de l’adversaire. En revendiquant de quoi vivre : des traitements anti-rétroviraux, un revenu minimum garanti, des drogues légales et sûres, etc. En affrontant le pouvoir là où il s’exerce : au guichet des administrations, dans les bureaucraties sanitaires, dans les tribunaux ordinaires, etc. En cherchant, en quelque sorte, le bios de leur zôè.

Si nous avons souhaité vous rencontrer, c’est en particulier pour vous interroger sur « l’autre versant », si l’on peut dire, de la biopolitique dont vous parlez. Un certain nombre de mouvements - ceux, précisément, dont nous sommes issus ou dont nous sommes proches : celui des sans-papiers, celui des précaires, celui des malades du sida ou celui, émergent, des usagers de drogues - se déploient exactement dans le lieu politique que vous avez identifié : dans cette zone d’indictinction « entre public et privé, corps biologique et corps politique, zôè et bios », dans cet « état d’exception qui est devenu la règle ». Or de ces mouvements vous parlez peu, ou indirectement. Ils rôdent entre vos lignes, mais plutôt comme objets (des camps, du welfare ou du pouvoir médical) que comme sujets. Vous analysez avec précision la biopolitique majeure, celle de l’ennemi, dont vous tracez minutieusement la généalogie, dont le foyer, dites-vous, serait cet « homo sacer », vie nue exposée au pouvoir souverain, et dont vous examinez attentivement les dispositifs, comme le camp ; mais vous délaissez les biopolitiques de riposte ou de réappropriation, les biopolitiques mineures, « notre » biopolitique, pour ainsi dire : celle d’AC !, des collectifs de sans-papiers ou d’Act Up. Vous en pensez pourtant la possibilité, et la nécessité : « C’est », dites-vous, « à partir de ce terrain incertain, de zone opaque d’indifférenciation, que nous devons aujourd’hui retrouver le chemin d’une autre politique, d’un autre corps, d’une autre parole. Je ne saurais renoncer sous aucun prétexte à cette indistinction entre public et privé, corps biologique et corps politique, zôè et bios. C’est là que je dois retrouver mon espace - là, ou en nul autre lieu. Seule une politique partant de cette conscience peut m’intéresser. » Mais vous n’explorez pas les formes concrètes de lutte qui pratiquent, précisément, la politique depuis cette conscience - et cette expérience - de l’état d’exception. Or n’y a-t-il pas là, justement, lorsque des chômeurs réclament un revenu garanti, lorsque des malades du sida exigent des traitements, ou lorsque des usagers de drogue revendiquent des drogues sûres, l’embryon de cette autre biopolitique que vous appelez de vos vœux ?

Dans un sens, il faudrait plutôt renverser la question. C’est plutôt des acteurs en question qu’il faudrait attendre une réponse. Cela dit, si les mouvements et les sujets dont vous parlez « rôdent entre mes lignes plutôt comme objets que comme sujets », c’est que je vois là un problème majeur : la question du sujet, précisément, que je ne peux concevoir qu’en terme de processus de subjectivation et de désubjectivation - ou plutôt comme un écart ou un reste entre ces processus. Qui est le sujet de cette nouvelle biopolitique, ou plutôt de cette biopolitique mineure dont vous parlez ? C’est un problème toujours essentiel dans la politique classique, lorsqu’il s’agit de trouver qui est le sujet révolutionnaire, par exemple. Il y a des gens qui continuent de poser ce problème dans le sens ancien du terme : celui de la classe, du prolétariat. Ce ne sont pas des problèmes obsolètes, mais dès qu’on se pose sur le nouveau terrain dont on parle, celui du biopouvoir, de la biopolitique, le problème est autrement difficile. Parce que l’État moderne fonctionne, me semble-t-il, comme une espèce de machine à désubjectiver, c’est-à-dire comme une machine qui brouille toutes les identités classiques et, dans le même temps, Foucault le montre bien, comme une machine à recoder, juridiquement notamment, les identités dissoutes : il y a toujours une resubjectivation, une réidentification de ces sujets détruits, de ces sujets vidés de toute identité. Aujourd’hui, il me semble que le terrain politique est une espèce de champ de bataille où se déroulent ces deux processus : en même temps destruction de tout ce qui était identité traditionnelle - je le dis sans aucune nostalgie bien sûr - et resubjectivation immédiate par l’État ; et pas seulement par l’État, mais aussi par les sujets eux-mêmes. C’est ce que vous évoquiez dans votre question : le conflit décisif se joue désormais, pour chacun de ses protagonistes, y compris les nouveaux sujets dont vous parlez, sur le terrain de ce que j’appelle la zôè, la vie biologique. Et en effet il n’en est pas d’autre : il n’est pas question, je crois, de revenir à l’opposition politique classique qui sépare clairement privé et public, corps politique et corps privé, etc. Mais ce terrain est aussi celui qui nous expose aux processus d’assujettissement du biopouvoir. Il y a donc là une ambiguïté, un risque. C’est ce que montrait Foucault : le risque est qu’on se réidentifie, qu’on investisse cette situation d’une nouvelle identité, qu’on produise un sujet nouveau, soit, mais assujetti à l’État, et qu’on reconduise dès lors, malgré soi, ce processus infini de subjectivation et d’assujettissement qui définit justement le biopouvoir. Je crois qu’on ne peut pas échapper au problème.

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Counterpunch -- Just Walk Away From the Democrats

Topic(s): 2008 Election
Date Posted: 01.24.10

True that one cannot judge the future of this presidency on the first year alone (though clearly, an immense opportunity for pushing through significant changes on the military and financial ends of policy have been missed). And one can speak of structural problems, of the impossibility for any single person, including a president, from confronting all of the forces lined up in favor of corporate/military domination in this country. But neither of these concessions can be an excuse for avoiding a glaring reality: the current form of representative democracy shared between two ruling parties in the United States (especially given the recent rulings on campaign financing) offer no way out of this impasse. What the answer out of this impasse is, remains to be experimented with. Unplugging from "the political" as it is understood conventionally seems suicidal. It is this apparent suicide that is used as blackmail by the liberal parties the world over, to convince people to vote for their parties. Moreover, building a grass-roots party in increasingly corporate controlled media and corporately infused subjectivities would need some pretty incredible organizing (or subjectivation processes?). One option this article does not explore is wide spread revolt and insurrection. But I suppose, even in that case, a lack of organization can always be used by a few people, to usurp the work of the multitudes (as witnessed in many parts of the former-communist-socialist east). So the question of organization remains to be thought, but on what scale and how to build upon association or affinity or common interest while avoiding centralization? - gdr

Don't Look Back

Just Walk Away From the Democrats

By RON JACOBS

The left needs to organize the unorganized. The working people, the unemployed, the young, and the restless. The right wing has their core group of supporters who organize around fear of the other. The liberals have those who believe in the myth of American equality because they have no class analysis. The Left needs to organize the rest and they need to do so without the Democratic Party. It should be quite clear to almost every left-leaning American by now that the Democrats are nothing more than another wing of the party that works for Wall Street and the Pentagon. To continue to work for and elect their candidates is self-defeating. As the first year of the Obama presidency has clearly shown, not only do the Democrats support the right wing agenda, that support makes it easier for the right wing to put their candidates into power. Why? Because after promising progressive reforms and then failing to deliver, voters tend to either not vote or vote for the right wing candidates out of anger and frustration.

This occurs because the current system provides no alternative. There is no progressive third party or grassroots movement to support such a party. There is not even a grassroots movement that vocalizes the desires of millions for a fair and just society where people's needs come before Wall Street's profits and the Pentagon's wars that help protect and expand those profits. So, the Democrats step in as they have always done and pretend that they are the party that will address these desires. There was a time when such an argument was plausible. From FDR to LBJ, the Democrats were the party that passed many reforms making life better for America's working people. They even passed bills outlawing racial segregation. Of course, this occurred because of immense pressure from the Left--pressure a hundred times greater than the pressure from America's right that the Democrats claim has caused them to compromise on virtually every progressive piece of legislation during the current period. Yes, there was a time when that claim could have been made.

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Counterpunch -- Wall Street's Power Grab

Topic(s): the Meltdown
Date Posted: 01.20.10

Wall Street's Power Grab

By MICHAEL HUDSON

You almost could hear the bankers heave a sigh of relief when Haiti’s earthquake knocked the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission hearings off the front pages and evening news broadcasts last week. At stake is Wall Street’s power grab seeking to centralize policy control firmly in its own hands by neutralizing the government’s regulatory agencies.

The first day – Wednesday, January 15 – went innocuously enough. Four emperors of finance were called on to voice ceremonial platitudes and pro forma apologies without explaining what they might be apologizing for. Typical was the statement by Goldman Sachs chairman Lloyd C. Blankfein: “Whatever we did, it didn’t work out well. We regret the consequence that people have lost money.”

Their strategy certainly made money for themselves – and they made it off those for whom the financial crisis “didn’t work out well,” whose bad bets ended up paying Wall Street’s bonuses. So when Paul Krugman poked fun at the four leading “Bankers without a clue” in his New York Times kcolumn, he was lending credence to their pretense at innocent gullibility.

Recipients of such enormous bonuses cannot be deemed all that clueless. They blamed the problem on natural cycles – what Mr. Blankfein called a “100-year storm.” Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase trivialized the crisis as a normal and even unsurprising event that “happens every five to seven years,” as if the crash is just another business cycle downturn, not aggravated by any systemic financial flaws. If anything, Wall Street accuses liberal government planners of being too nice to poor people, by providing cheap mortgage credit to the uninitiated who could not quite handle the responsibility.

But the Wall Street executives were careful not to blame the government. This was not just an attempt to avoid antagonizing the Congressional panel. The last thing Wall Street wants is for the government to change its behavior.

The Wall Street boys are playing possum. Why should we expect them to explain their strategy to us?

To understand their game plan, the Commissioners had to wait for the second day of the hearings, when Sheila Bair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) spelled it out. Their first order of business is to make sure that the Federal Reserve Board is designated the sole financial regulator, knocking out any more activist regulators – above all the proposed Consumer Financial Products Agency that Harvard Professor Elizabeth Warren has helped design. Wall Street also is seeking to avert any thought of restoring the Glass-Steagall Act in an attempt to protect the economy from having merged retail commercial banking with wholesale investment banking, insurance, real estate brokerage and kindred arms of high finance.

Perception – and exposure – of this strategy is what made the second day’s hearing (on Thursday) so important. From Ms. Bair down to state officials, these administrators explained that the problem was structural. They blamed government and the financial sector’s short-run time frame. And they complained that neither the Federal Reserve nor the rest of the current Washington administration seemed very interested in cleaning up the problem.

The past few years have demonstrated how thoroughly the commercial and investment-banking sector already has taken control of government. Having disabled the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to such an extent that it refused to act even when warned about Bernie Madoff, deregulators did not raise a protest against the junk accounting that was burying the financial system in junk mortgages and kindred accounting fraud. The Comptroller of the Currency blocked local prosecutors from moving against financial fraud, citing a small-print rule from the Civil War era National Bank Act giving federal agencies the right to override state agencies. Passed in the era of wildcat banking, the rule aimed to prevent elites from using crooked local courts to protect them. But in the early 2000s it was Washington that was protecting national banking elites from state prosecutors such as New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and his counterparts in Massachusetts, Illinois and other states. This prompted Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to remind the Angelides Commission that the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Office of Thrift Supervision were “actively engaged in a campaign to thwart state efforts to avert the coming crisis.”

Ms. Madigan’s testimony is scathing with regard not only to the obstruction of federal agencies protecting the fraudsters, but the fact that the Obama administration has done little to improve matters: “even in the face of mounting public evidence that the mortgage lending industry was abandoning common-sense underwriting standards, the federal regulators made no move to strengthen underwriting controls for the lenders under their direct supervision. … In fact, in response to aggressive actions at the state level, federal regulators took unprecedented steps to shield national lenders and their subsidiaries from state enforcement and from the growing number of state anti-predatory lending laws on the books.” Unless state agencies retain leeway to prosecute financial crime, she concluded, financial criminals will continue to rely on Washington to protect them. And the “them” to whom she refers are the largest banks, those which the Obama administration has given most of the bailout money and deemed too big to fail, thereby giving them a marketing (and tax) advantage over smaller rivals.

By far the major enabler has been the Federal Reserve Board (FRB). Acting as the banking system’s lobbying organization, its tandem of Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke fought as a free-market Taliban against attempts to introduce financial regulation. Working with the Goldman Sachs managers on loan to the Treasury, the Fed managed to block attempts to rein in debt pyramiding.

Mr. Bernanke ignored the very first lesson taught in business schools. This was the lesson taught by William Petty in the 17th century and used by economists ever since: The market price of land, a government bond or other security is calculated by dividing its expected income stream by the going rate of interest – that is, “capitalizing” its rent (or any other flow of income) into what a bank would lend. The lower the rate of interest, the higher a loan can be capitalized. At an interest rate of 10 per cent , a $10,000 annual income is worth $100,000. At 5 per cent , this income stream is worth $200,000; at 4 per cent , $250,000. Mr. Bernanke thus rejected over three hundred years of economic orthodoxy in testifying recently that the Fed was blameless in fueling the real estate bubble by slashing interest rates after 2001. Financial fraud also was not to blame. Anointed with the reputation for being a “student of the Great Depression,” he showed himself to be clueless.

He is not really all that clueless, of course. His role is to play the “useful idiot” whom financial elites can blame to distract attention from how they have gamed the system. Wall Street’s first aim is to make sure that the Fed remains in control as the government’s central regulator – or in the present case, deregulator, able to disable any serious attempt to check Wall Street’s drive to load down the economy with yet more debt so as to “borrow its way out of the bubble.”

Public relations “think tanks” (spin centers adept in crafting blame-the-victim rhetoric) use simple Doublethink 101 tactics to call this “free market” policy. Financial self-regulation is to be left to bankers, shifting economic planning out of the hands of elected representatives to those of planners drawn from the ranks of Wall Street. This centralization of authority in a public agency “independent” from control by elected representatives is dubbed “market efficiency,” with an “independent central bank” deemed to be the hallmark of democracy. The words “democracy,” “progress” and “reform,” are thus given meanings opposite from what they meant back in the Progressive Era a century ago. The pretense is that constraints on finance are anti-democratic, not public protection against today’s emerging financial oligarchy. And to distract attention from the road to debt peonage, financial lobbyists accuse governments strong enough to check the financial interest” of threatening to lead society down “the road to serfdom.”

Avoiding regulation by having the Fed “regulate,” with neoliberal deregulators in charge

All that is needed is to reduce the number of regulators to one – and to appoint a deregulator to that key position. The most dependable deregulator is the commercial banking system’s in-house lobbyist, the Federal Reserve. This requires knocking out potential rivals. But at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), Sheila Bair is not willing to relinquish this authority. Her testimony last Thursday was buried on the back pages of the press, and her most trenchant written arguments lost in the hubbub h media, her testimony should have been welcomed as intellectual dynamite.

For Ms. Bair the task requires blocking three key battles that the financial sector is waging in its war to control and extract tribute from the “real” economy of production and consumption. Her first policy to get the economy back on track is to ward off any plans that politicians might harbor to keep Wall Street unregulated. “Over the past two decades, there was a world view that markets were, by their very nature, self-regulating and self-correcting – resulting in a period that was referred to as the ‘Great Moderation’ [Mr. Bernanke’s notorious euphemism]. However, we now know that this period was one of great excess.”

[Continue Reading]


Counterpunch -- Bring Back the Signing Statement

Topic(s): US Analysis
Date Posted: 01.20.10

Obama as the Secret Decider

Bring Back the Signing Statement

By DAVID SWANSON

Having denounced for years the presidential practice of altering laws with signing statements, I now want the practice restored, because the current president has created something even worse.

When Bush and Cheney left the White House, they left in place five general ways to make laws: instruct Congress what to do, rewrite what Congress does with a signing statement, by-pass Congress with an executive order (or executive decree, or unratified treaty), by-pass everybody with a secret memo from the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), and simply create illegal practices without any justification.

Arguably, I have listed these approaches in order from closest to furthest from the Constitution. I have omitted, of course, the creation of laws by the courts, as well as the selective enforcement of laws by the Justice Department, the pardon, and the grant of retroactive immunity.

I could not include the creation of laws by the legislative branch, since that doesn't happen very much anymore (although it remains a possibility should the Congress and the White House belong to different political parties). At best, Congress writes a law at the careful instruction of the president, reversing the appropriate relationship between legislators and an executive. Once a law is created by Congress, it can be altered with a signing statement, a practice Bush engaged in with great frequency and Obama used in the same manner, but less frequently, for the first five months of his presidency, after having campaigned against it.

It would be reassuring to imagine that once a law, or a portion of a law, makes it onto the books without being signing statemented, it is then safely and securely a law. Alas, this is not the case. The president can ask the OLC to write a memo, publicly or in secret, declaring blatant violation of a law to be legal. Or a president can simply violate the law without a word of justification. It is to these two alternatives that President Obama began resorting just as his use of signing statements began to face objections from Congress and the public. From day one he also made laws with executive orders.

[Continue Reading]


MADRE -- After the Quake, Depend on Women

Topic(s): 
Date Posted: 01.17.10

After the Quake, Depend on Women
by MADRE

http://www.madre.org/

MADRE , an international women's human rights group, is working with the Haitian relief organization, Zanmi Lasante, to bring humanitarian aid into the country overland from the Dominican Republic.

In the wake of disasters like the catastrophic earthquake that struck Haiti, it can be comforting to see big international agencies taking charge of relief and reconstruction efforts. No doubt international agencies—with their resources, know-how, heavy machinery, and access to government—have a critical role to play. But large-scale relief operations are not always best suited to meet the needs of those who are made most vulnerable by disaster, namely, women and their children.

Women in Haiti have been made vulnerable for a constellation of reasons. First, the Haitian population at large has been buffeted by forces beyond their control for generations. Harmful and manipulative international economic policies, like unfair U.S. agricultural subsidies, disadvantage local farmers and undermine Haitian self-sufficiency. In 2008, Haiti was slammed by a succession of four hurricanes, spreading destruction from which it had yet to fully recover. All this means that Haiti’s infrastructure was weak, poverty was rampant, and people had little access to much-needed social services.

Then, the earthquake struck.

All Haitians are suffering right now. But, women are often hardest hit when disaster strikes because they were at a deficit even before the catastrophe. In Haiti, and in every country, women are the poorest and often have no safety net, leaving them most exposed to violence, homelessness and hunger in the wake of disasters. Women are also overwhelmingly responsible for other vulnerable people, including infants, children, the elderly, and people who are ill or disabled.

[Continue Reading]


Common Dreams -- Why the US Owes Haiti Billions – The Briefest History

Topic(s): Haiti
Date Posted: 01.17.10

Why the US Owes Haiti Billions – The Briefest History
by Bill Quigley
Why does the US owe Haiti Billions? Colin Powell, former US Secretary of State, stated his foreign policy view as the "Pottery Barn rule." That is - "if you break it, you own it."

The US has worked to break Haiti for over 200 years. We owe Haiti. Not charity. We owe Haiti as a matter of justice. Reparations. And not the $100 million promised by President Obama either - that is Powerball money. The US owes Haiti Billions - with a big B.

The US has worked for centuries to break Haiti. The US has used Haiti like a plantation. The US helped bleed the country economically since it freed itself, repeatedly invaded the country militarily, supported dictators who abused the people, used the country as a dumping ground for our own economic advantage, ruined their roads and agriculture, and toppled popularly elected officials. The US has even used Haiti like the old plantation owner and slipped over there repeatedly for sexual recreation.

Here is the briefest history of some of the major US efforts to break Haiti.

In 1804, when Haiti achieved its freedom from France in the world's first successful slave revolution, the United States refused to recognize the country. The US continued to refuse recognition to Haiti for 60 more years. Why? Because the US continued to enslave millions of its own citizens and feared recognizing Haiti would encourage slave revolution in the US.

After the 1804 revolution, Haiti was the subject of a crippling economic embargo by France and the US. US sanctions lasted until 1863. France ultimately used its military power to force Haiti to pay reparations for the slaves who were freed. The reparations were 150 million francs. (Fra

[Continue Reading]


Counterpunch -- Crushing Haiti, Now as Always

Topic(s): Haiti
Date Posted: 01.17.10

When Haitian Ministers Take a 50 Percent Cut of Aide Money It's Called "Corruption," When NGOs Skim 50 Percent It's Called "Overhead"

Crushing Haiti, Now as Always

By PATRICK COCKBURN

The US-run aid effort for Haiti is beginning to look chillingly similar to the criminally slow and disorganized US government support for New Orleans after it was devastated by hurricane Katrina in 2005. Four years ago President Bush was famously mute and detached when the levies broke in Louisiana. By way of contrast President Obama was promising Haitians that everything would be done for survivors within hours of the calamity.

The rhetoric from Washington has been very different during these two disasters, but the outcome may be much the same. In both cases very little aid arrived at the time it was most needed and, in the case of Port-au-Prince, when people trapped under collapsed buildings were still alive. When foreign rescue teams with heavy lifting gear does come it will be too late. No wonder enraged Haitians are building roadblocks out of rocks and dead bodies.

In New Orleans and Port-au-Prince there is the same official terror of looting by local people so the first outside help to arrive is in the shape of armed troops. The US currently has 3,500 soldiers, 2,200 Marines and 300 medical personnel on their way to Haiti.

Of course there will be looting because, with shops closed or flattened by the quake, this is the only way for people can get food and water. Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world. I was in Port-au-Prince in 1994, the last time US troops landed there, when local people systematically tore apart police stations, taking wood, pipes and even ripping nails out of the walls. In the police station I was in there were sudden cries of alarm from those looting the top floor as they discovered that they could not get back down to the ground because the entire wooden staircase had been chopped up and stolen.

I have always liked Haitians for their courage, endurance, dignity and originality. They often manage to avoid despair in the face of the most crushing disasters or the absence of any prospect that their lives will get better. Their culture, notably their painting and music, is among the most interesting and vibrant in the world.

It is sad to hear journalists who have rushed to Haiti in the wake of the earthquake give such misleading and even racist explanations of why Haitians are so impoverished, living in shanty towns with a minimal health service, little electricity supply, insufficient clean water and roads that are like river beds.

This did not happen by accident. In the 19th century it was as if the colonial powers never forgave Haitians for staging a successful slave revolt against the French plantation owners. US Marines occupied the country from 1915 to 1934. Between 1957 and 1986 the US supported Papa Doc and Baby Doc, fearful that they might be replaced by a regime sympathetic to revolutionary Cuba next door.

President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a charismatic populist priest was overthrown by a military coup in 1991, and restored with US help in 1994. But the Americans were always suspicious of any sign of radicalism from this spokesman for the poor and the outcast and kept him on a tight leash. Tolerated by President Clinton, Aristide was treated as a pariah by the Bush administration which systematically undermine him over three years leading up to a successful rebellion in 2004 led by local gangsters acting on behalf of a kleptocratic Haitian elite and supported by right wing members of the Republican Party in the US.

[Continue Reading]


Rene -- US Wary Over Granting Bagram Inmates' Rights

Topic(s): Afghanistan
Date Posted: 01.12.10

US Wary Over Granting Bagram Inmates' Rights

Published on Friday, January 8, 2010 by Agence France Presse

WASHINGTON - A US appeals court has appeared reluctant to grant
detainees at the Bagram prison in Afghanistan the same rights given in
2008 to prisoners in Guantanamo to be able to challenge their
detention in US civilian courts.

Judges here were wary of extending three detainees such rights at the
military prison at the Bagram Air Base north of Kabul, indicating such
a ruling could lead to other prisoners held oversees by the United
States to seek redress in federal court.

In April last year, US District Judge John Bates recognized the right
of the detainees, held at Bagram without charge for at least six
years, to challenge their detention in the United States, according to
their lawyers.

He based the ruling on the landmark Supreme Court move in 2008 to
allow such rights to prisoners held at the US naval base at Guantanamo
Bay, Cuba.

[Continue Reading]


MG -- Immigrant riots rock southern Italian town as tensions explode

Topic(s): Italy
Date Posted: 01.11.10

Immigrant riots rock southern Italian town as tensions explode
Fifteen arrested and more than 30 injured as African migrants clash with police

By Michael Day in Milan
Saturday, 9 January 2010SHARE PRINTEMAILTEXT SIZE NORMALLARGEEXTRA LARGE
EPA
Hundreds of migrant farm workers, mostly from Africa, clash with Italian police in Rosarno, Calabria, after some were shot by local youths

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Simmering racial tensions in southern Italy have exploded into violence, with hundreds of African immigrants rioting in the Calabrian town of Rosarno.

In one of the worst-ever incidents of racial unrest in Italy, the violence broke out on Thursday evening after white youths in a car fired air rifles at a group of immigrants returning from working on farms.

Two immigrants were slightly injured by the gunfire. "Those guys were firing at us as if it was a fairground," a Moroccan identified as Kamal told La Repubblica newspaper. "They were laughing, I was screaming, other cars were passing by but nobody stopped."

In a furious reaction, immigrant farm labourers fought pitched battles with police that lasted into the early hours. Dozens of cars were smashed with bricks and bars and the driver and passengers in one vehicle injured. About 15 people were arrested and 18 policemen and 19 immigrants injured, two of the immigrants seriously.

Yesterday, more than 2,000 Africans massed in the town centre to demonstrate against the shootings and their living and working conditions. Some chanted "we are not animals" and others carried placards saying: "Italians here are racist."

This resulted in further clashes with police officers and locals, some of whom fired weapons into the air as the tension continued to escalate. Sporadic acts of vandalism continued and schools remained closed.

[Continue Reading]


SON -- Crypto-Schmittianism

Topic(s): Resistance?
Date Posted: 01.09.10

This text may appear dated, since it was written in late 2006, but I find it useful in considering the current state of affairs. The text can also be seen as a part of the debate that blew up between Critchley and Zizek after Zizek's book review of Infinitely Demanding. The conclusion is the only palpable moment where the stakes of the debate really emerge. Critchley presents the reader with a list of alternatives: a, a militarized softer neoliberal state, which could be the Obama era; b, a neo-leninism, which he attributes to Zizek advocating, and he equates with the likes of Al-Qaeda c, a neo-anarchism which is at a "interstitial distance within and against the state," infinitely demanding. The text is short enough to read and decipher for oneself. But I wonder at the conclusion if these truly are the only options we have available or is this a failure of imagination? - bb

Crypto-Schmittianism

By Simon Critchley

My question is very simple, but the answer is far from self-evident: how do we begin to grasp the political situation in which we find ourselves? It is politics that I would like to talk about, or more precisely the logic of the political; more precisely still, my concern is the logic of the political as it is deployed by the Bush administration in the USA. The concept that I want to advance in order to get a grip on that logic, a concept that I hope has some explanatory power, is what I call ‘crypto-Schmittianism’, which I will explain presently. Allow me one prefatory word. I have only been living in New York and at the heart of Empire for the past 20 months or so, and my perspective on the US is that of an outsider or a resident alien, as we are called, and at times a rather bewildered alien.

[Continue Reading]


Counterpunch -- Welcome Home, Hold Your Tongue

Topic(s): US Analysis
Date Posted: 01.07.10

The Inevitability of PTSD

Welcome Home, Hold Your Tongue

By BRUCE PATTERSON

The late comedian George Carlin did a bit about Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (back then it wasn’t called a Disorder). During WW1, Carlin reminded us, we called it “shell shock.” Now those two words pack some punch, don’t they? It’s shocking language, really. So during WW2 we started calling it “combat fatigue.” As if war makes a soldier sleepy and, after a nap, milk and cookies, he’s as good as new. During Vietnam we started calling it Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Has a nice ring, doesn’t it? You’re given a choice between “trauma” and “post-trauma” — which are you going to take? Experiencing “stress” is some thing we can all sympathize with. Getting stuck in traffic is stressful. And who knows what a “Syndrome” is? Yet it’s a pretty word that rolls off the tongue… Carlin’s riff was a lot more elaborate and entertaining, but — if memory serves me right — that was the gist of it.

Today PTS is a scientifically established Disorder. Still I intensely dislike the term and resent how it is used and abused. Nowadays getting your legs blown off by a landmine in some outrageously foreign, povertty-stricken place is like being a New York City supermodel, falling down in your bathtub and knocking your teeth out. War wounds have become every day injuries and everyday injuries provide individuals with the opportunity to excel in the Special Olympics and star in a hometown parade.

2,600 years ago the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu wrote, “Victory in war is a funeral procession.” As a young boy in Vietnam, I won my victory and I shuffled in the procession. Beginning in the spring of 1968 I spent three months in various military hospitals and during that time I saw a ghoul’s gallery of the hide ously wounded. I saw the psychological impacts of physical mutilation and how phony the distinction is between the two. If you wish to experience not just “trauma” but real pain and suffering, whack your thumb with a roofer’s hammer. Smash you thumb and see how that affects your psychological well-being. Now imagine taking three machine gun rounds through the belly and surviving. Imagine getting your jaw and nose blown off and surviving. When you’re young and looking forward to a lifetime of pain, disability and poverty, wearing your battlefield Badges of Honor doesn’t feel like such a privilege. Almost inevitably, PTSD is the result.

This isn’t to say that war doesn’t create plenty of purely psychological casualties. While I was in An Khe Field Hospital I saw a teenaged, round-eyed, GI nurse Breaking like a twig in a monsoon gale. The poor girl surren­dered to her pent-up agony and she ran wailing from the ward. Struck dumb, all of us bloody cot-covers felt deeply ashamed. Here we were on the wrong side of the world and we couldn’t even protect an American girl. In that instant the nurse became our mothers and sisters, neighbors, classmates, girlfriends and every body else we’d willingly left behind. Now we couldn’t even return to them with all of our fingers and toes.

[Continue Reading]


Counterpunch -- Killing Organizers in Honduras

Topic(s): Honduras
Date Posted: 01.06.10

Left to Fend for Themselves
Killing Organizers in Honduras
By JOSEPH SHANSKY

http://www.counterpunch.org/
January 5, 2010

The bodies of slain activists are piling up in Honduras. While it's
being kept quiet in most Honduran and international media, the rage is
building among a dedicated network of friends spreading the word
quickly with the tragic announcement of each compañero/a.

Now that the world heard from mainstream news outlets such as the New
York Times of a `clean and fair' election on Nov. 29 (orchestrated by
the US-supported junta currently in power), the violence has increased
even faster than feared.

The specific targets of these killings have been those perceived as
the biggest threats to the coup establishment. The bravest, and thus
the most vulnerable: Members of the Popular Resistance against the
coup. Their friends and family. People who provide the Resistance with
food and shelter. Teachers, students, and ordinary citizens who simply
recognize the fallacy of an un-elected regime taking over their
country. All associated with the Resistance have faced constant and
growing repercussions for their courage in protesting the coup. With
the international community given the green light by the US that
democratic order has returned via elections, it's open season for
violent forces in Honduras working to tear apart the political unity
of the Resistance Front against the coup.

The killings are happening almost faster than they can be recorded.

On Sunday, Dec. 7, a group of six people were gunned down while
walking down the street in the Villanueva neighborhood of Tegucigalpa.
According to sources, a white van with no license plates stopped in
front of the group. Four masked men jumped out of the van and forced
the group to get on the ground, where they were shot. The five victims
who were killed were:

[Continue Reading]


Democracy Now - Chomsky -- Gaza: One Year Later

Topic(s): Palestine / Israel
Date Posted: 01.02.10 http://www.democracynow.org/blog/2009/12/24/noam_chomsky_gaza_one_year_later... [Continue Reading]

 
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