Sunday, June 5, 2011

God Bless America (and Its Lies) She Smelled A Rat! (And So Do We) - "Governments Will Not Admit Mistakes And Cannot Learn"

The one quality she did not lose was her anger, which only seemed to increase as she got older, allowing her to become the sort of feisty grand dame who always seems to be surrounded by a coterie of younger artists and intellectuals. "I never for a moment feared Communism in the U.S. but have always feared Fascism; it's a real American trait," she wrote after observing Barry Goldwater in 1964. She was particularly incensed by the Vietnam War. "I cannot endure this hideous wicked stupidity; to be at once cruel and a failure is too much," she wrote about Lyndon Johnson. "Our President is a disaster and will get worse; never trust a Texan farther than you can throw a rhino." Her white-hot rage at the war was only stoked by a 1966 trip to Vietnam for the Guardian newspaper (that she was forced to pay for herself). Her 1971 letter to Pentagon Papers liberator Daniel Ellsberg is eerily prescient about our current constitutional mess: "The President assumes that the American people are moral imbeciles ... The Founding Fathers cannot have intended a President and his small group of appointed advisors to perform like a monarch surrounded by his court. As if the people's representatives and the people themselves were a general nuisance, and the job is to keep the whole tiresome bunch quiet: manipulate them." Even more prophetic is a 1962 letter to Stevenson, in which she claims that the "people of the United States of America need suffering to learn dignity; but I hope to Christ they are spared it, simply because they would not suffer alone and the rest of the world has had enough." - Salon (on Martha Gellhorn)
Do you think the devaluation of labor, even very well-educated labor, has been accidental? I don't. And people who don't, run the risk of being mocked, trivialized, or even run out of the country. So, shush! Some thoughts I've run across as the U.S. Congress under Rethuglican and Blue Dog Dim leadership contemplates the wholesale ruin of the bottom 95% of its population:
William Blum reports It's become a commonplace to accuse the United States of choosing as its bombing targets only people of color, those of the Third World, or Muslims. But it must be remembered that one of the most sustained and ferocious American bombing campaigns of modern times — 78 consecutive days — was carried out against the people of the former Yugoslavia: white, European, Christians. The United States is an equal-opportunity bomber. The only qualifications for a country to become a target are: (A) It poses an obstacle — could be anything — to the desires of the American Empire; (B) It is virtually defenseless against aerial attack.

The survivors

"We never see the smoke and the fire, we never smell the blood, we never see the terror in the eyes of the children, whose nightmares will now feature screaming missiles from unseen terrorists, known only as Americans."

  • US right-wingers have a desire to replace our constitutional form of government with an authoritarian theocracy, and to (militarily) spread that theocratic construct around the world. (Ironically, the exact same objective fundamentalist Muslims have!) — Kerry Thomasi, Online Journal
  • "Behind the 'unexamined nostalgia for the "Golden Days" of American intelligence' lay a much more devastating truth: the same people who read Dante and went to Yale and were educated in civic virtue recruited Nazis, manipulated the outcome of democratic elections, gave LSD to unwitting subjects, opened the mail of thousands of American citizens, overthrew governments, supported dictatorships, plotted assassinations, and engineered the Bay of Pigs disaster. 'In the name of what?' asked one critic. 'Not civic virtue, but empire'." — Frances Stonor Saunders, The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters (1999)
  • "Colin Powell's presentation at the UN, February 5, 2003 seems like something out of Monty Python, with one key British report cited by Powell being nothing more than a student's thesis, downloaded from the Web — with the student later threatening to charge U.S. officials with plagiarism." Bill Moyers
  • "Venezuela's well-off complain endlessly that their economic power has been diminished; it hasn't; economic growth has never been higher, business has never been better. What the rich no longer own is the government." John Pilger
  • . . . "Remember the scene in Battle of Algiers in which, after the French have 'killed off' the revolution, mist fills the screen and then, gradually, coming out of the mist, the Algerians appear waving their fists, ululating with that sound both thrilling and frightening? That's how I see 9/11 for those of us who grew up believing that the US stood for something grand, despite eras such as slavery, indigenous genocide, Jim Crow, etc. Many people say 'Everything changed on 9/11.' I think it's more that 'Everything became clear, finally, on 9/11.' The mist cleared away." — Catherine Podojil
Remember that courageous reporter of what seems like totally another millennium, Martha Gellhorn (perhaps you remember that she was one of Hemingway's wives)? She has some incredibly pointed words for us to consider about the lessons of Dachau and Auschwitz (which she saw first person), which we may have to become aware of very soon. And, thus, the people of Greece and Spain have taken to the streets by the thousands. Guess what type of reporters are awarded the Martha Gellhorn Journalism Prize? As someone who has previously questioned Assange's bona fides, it please me to present John Pilger's words.
Martha Gellhorn, an American who settled in Britain, is renowned as a war reporter. She was more than that. As both a reporter and humanitarian she was also a pioneer: one of the first in Vietnam to report what she called “a new kind of war against civilians”: a precursor to the wars of today. She and I became good friends. All my fellow judges have that in common; we knew Martha and understood what she meant by “official drivel”. Her phone calls were memorable. She would call me very early in the morning and open up the conversation with one of her favourite expressions – “I smell a rat”. When George Bush Senior invaded Panama in 1990, pursuing his uppity, former CIA buddy General Manuel Noriega as a pretext for controlling the Panama Canal, the media reports made little mention of civilian casualties. My phone rang. “I smell a rat,” said Martha. The next day she was on a plane to Panama. She was then in her 80s. She went straight to the slums of Panama City, and walked from door to door, interviewing ordinary people. That was her way. She estimated some 6,000 people dead from the American bombing that had accompanied Bush’s invasion. She then flew to Washington and stood up at a press conference and asked a general: “Why did you kill so many people then lie about it?”
Or how about these who live and die (and try to report the news) among us now?
. . . we are giving a Martha Gellhorn Special Award. There are the three finalists for the Special Award. They are Umar Cheema, who writes for the website The News International in Pakistan. His work exposing official corruption is simply astonishing. Let me give you a flavour. Here is the first paragraph to one of his pieces: ISLAMABAD: An officer convicted by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) of financial and economic crimes for 14 years has been appointed head of the Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) Economic Crime Wing (ECW) by the PPP government after his crime record was concealed during the promotion process [because] he is a friend of President Asif Ali Zardari. Imagine writing that in Pakistan, a country in turmoil. Umar Cheema has been harassed and tortured. On Tuesday, the body of another courageous Pakistani journalist Saleem Shahzad was found, murdered. Umar was due to fly to London to be with us today, but the British High Commission in Pakistan refused to expedite his visa within 12 days of his application – knowing that we wanted to honour him. A disgrace. The second finalist for the Special Award is Charles Clover of the Financial Times. What impressed us was his powerful investigation into far-right gangs in Russia and their links to the government. This was brave, tenacious and meticulous work. The third Special Award finalist is Jonathan Cook, who is based in Nazareth. I have been reading Jonathan’s work on the internet for years. On Palestine and Israel, I can think of no more reliable source. His de-coding of propaganda and analysis is so good, so consistent, it is always bracing. Jonathan Cook and Charles Charles Clover, together with Umar Cheema, are the winners. It was impossible to choose. Each of you receives a cheque for £2000. I mentioned that this was a momentous year for journalism. A revolution is taking place: a revolution in information that threatens old power orders, in politics and journalism. WikiLeaks is at the forefront of this revolution. When he founded WikiLeaks in 2006, Julian Assange wrote, “The goal is justice, the method is transparency.” This moral dimension of truth-telling and justice has been largely ignored, and WikiLeaks has been portrayed as a phenomenon of the hi-tech age, which it is. But it is much more. It reveals what our politicians say in private, and how they lie in public. It tells us how wars begin and how innocent men, women and children are killed and maimed in faraway places, in our name. This information is precious for it not only informs; it empowers people rising up in countries such as Egypt and Tunisia and Palestine. In 2008, when he was running for president, Barack Obama, said: “Government whistleblowers are part of a healthy democracy and must be protected from reprisal.” As president, Obama has pursued and prosecuted more whistleblowers than any other US president. Bradley Manning for one. And this prize-giving occasion pays tribute to the heroism of that young man. Julian Assange is an editor, publisher and journalist in the oldest and finest tradition of our craft. He is brave. He is a true agent of people; and I should say that those who dismiss him a hacker merely betray themselves as hacks. WikiLeaks has given the public more scoops and more truth than most journalists could imagine: certainly more than those who police the perimeters of the mainstream media, who indulge in a censorship by omission and who understandably feel threatened by Assange and WikiLeaks, whose independence and achievements stand in vivid contrast to their own. In March 2008, a Pentagon secret document made clear its plans to destroy trust in WikiLeaks. Criminalising and smear would be the methods. One of the ways of fabricating a charge against Julian Assange in Washington is to somehow prove he is not a journalist and is therefore not protected by the First Amendment. We judges were unanimous. The award of the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism repudiates that slur; above all, it honours a remarkable recipient.
On June 2, Noam Chomsky was awarded the Sydney Peace Prize.

In a move likely to spark another annual round of healthy controversy, the veteran American linguist, social scientist and human rights campaigner Noam Chomsky was named 2011 winner of the Sydney Peace Prize last night.

Professor Chomsky said he was honoured by the award, whose previous recipients include the South African cleric Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Palestinian activist Hanan Ashrawi and the Australian journalist John Pilger.

In recent weeks the 82-year-old has been one of America's most-hated men, subjected to ''obscenities, intellectual hysteria and death threats'' over remarks following the shooting of Osama bin Laden.

The al-Qaeda leader's crimes, he wrote, were vastly exceeded by those of the former president George Bush. ''We might ask how we would be reacting if Iraqi commandos landed at his compound, assassinated him and dumped his body in the Atlantic.''

Professor Chomsky said the ill-considered American operation had pushed the world to the brink of war, possibly even nuclear war. ''The commandos who violated Pakistani sovereignty were given orders to fight their way out if necessary. They risked coming into confrontation with the Pakistani army.

''In a society barely hanging together, the military is very stable, very professional. They are dedicated to the defence of Pakistan, which is probably the fastest-growing nuclear power in the world. If confronted it will fight.''

Professor Chomsky restated his opposition to war in Afghanistan, where two Australian soldiers died this week.

''Americans and Britons, too, are dying … in fact, to make the world more [not less] dangerous for the United States and Britain. And I'd say for the rest of the world.''

We hardly need Dr. Michael Hudson's harsh judgment in order to form our own.
Replacing Economic Democracy with Financial Oligarchy Michael Hudson June 03, 2011 Soon after the Socialist Party won Greece’s national elections in autumn 2009, it became apparent that the government’s finances were in a shambles. In May 2010, French President Nicolas Sarkozy took the lead in rounding up €120bn ($180 billion) from European governments to subsidize Greece’s unprogressive tax system that had led its government into debt – which Wall Street banks had helped conceal with Enron-style accounting. The tax system operated as a siphon collecting revenue to pay the German and French banks that were buying government bonds (at rising interest risk premiums). The bankers are now moving to make this role formal, an official condition for rolling over Greek bonds as they come due, and extend maturities on the short-term financial string that Greece is now operating under. Existing bondholders are to reap a windfall if this plan succeeds. Moody’s lowered Greece’s credit rating to junk status on June 1 (to Caa1, down from B1, which was already pretty low), estimating a 50/50 likelihood of default. The downgrade serves to tighten the screws yet further on the Greek government. Regardless of what European officials do, Moody’s noted, “The increased likelihood that Greece’s supporters (the IMF, ECB and the EU Commission, together known as the “Troika”) will, at some point in the future, require the participation of private creditors in a debt restructuring as a precondition for funding support.” 1

The conditionality for the new “reformed” loan package is that Greece must initiate a class war by raising its taxes, lowering its social spending – and even private-sector pensions – and sell off public land, tourist sites, islands, ports, water and sewer facilities. This will raise the cost of living and doing business, eroding the nation’s already limited export competitiveness. The bankers sanctimoniously depict this as a “rescue” of Greek finances.

What really were rescued a year ago, in May 2010, were the French banks that held €31 billion of Greek bonds, German banks with €23 billion, and other foreign investors. The problem was how to get the Greeks to go along. Newly elected Prime Minister George Papandreou’s Socialists seemed able to deliver their constituency along similar lines to what neoliberal Social Democrat and Labor parties throughout Europe had followed – privatizing basic infrastructure and pledging future revenue to pay the bankers. The opportunity never had been better for pulling the financial string to grab property and tighten the fiscal screws. Bankers for their part were eager to make loans to finance buyouts of public gambling, telephones, ports and transport or similar monopoly opportunities. And for Greece’s own wealthier classes, the EU loan package would enable the country to remain within the Eurozone long enough to permit them to move their money out of the country before the point arrived at which Greece would be forced to replace the euro with the drachma and devalue it. Until such a switch to a sinking currency occurred, Greece was to follow Baltic and Irish policy of “internal devaluation,” that is, wage deflation and government spending cutbacks (except for payments to the financial sector) to lower employment and hence wage levels. What actually is devalued in austerity programs or currency depreciation is the price of labor. That is the main domestic cost, inasmuch as there is a common world price for fuels and minerals, consumer goods, food and even credit. If wages cannot be reduced by “internal devaluation” (unemployment starting with the public sector, leading to falling wages), currency depreciation will do the trick in the end. This is how the Europe’s war of creditors against debtor countries turns into a class war. But to impose such neoliberal reform, foreign pressure is necessary to bypass domestic, democratically elected Parliaments. Not every country’s voters can be expected to be as passive in acting against their own interests as those of Latvia and Ireland.

Most of the Greek population recognizes just what has been happening as this scenario has unfolded over the past year. “Papandreou himself has admitted we had no say in the economic measures thrust upon us,” said Manolis Glezos on the left. “They were decided by the EU and IMF. We are now under foreign supervision and that raises questions about our economic, military and political independence.”2 On the right wing of the political spectrum, conservative leader Antonis Samaras said on May 27 as negotiations with the European troika escalated: “We don’t agree with a policy that kills the economy and destroys society. … There is only one way out for Greece, the renegotiation of the [EU/IMF] bailout deal.”3

But the EU creditors upped the ante: To refuse the deal, they threatened, would result in a withdrawal of funds causing a bank collapse and economic anarchy.

The Greeks refused to surrender quietly. Strikes spread from the public-sector unions to become a nationwide “I won’t pay” movement as Greeks refused to pay road tolls or other public access charges. Police and other collectors did not try to enforce collections. The emerging populist consensus prompted Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker to make a similar threat to that which Britain’s Gordon Brown had made to Iceland: If Greece would not knuckle under to European finance ministers, they would block IMF release of its scheduled June tranche of its loan package. This would block the government from paying foreign bankers and the vulture funds that have been buying up Greek debt at a deepening discount.

To many Greeks, this is a threat by finance ministers to shoot themselves in the foot. If there is no money to pay, foreign bondholders will suffer – as long as Greece puts its own economy first. But that is a big “if.” Socialist Prime Minister Papandreou emulated Iceland’s Social Democratic Sigurdardottir in urging a “consensus” to obey EU finance ministers. “Opposition parties reject his latest austerity package on the grounds that the belt-tightening agreed in return for a €110bn ($155bn) bail-out is choking the life out of the economy.”

At issue is whether Greece, Ireland, Spain, Portugal and the rest of Europe will roll back democratic reform and move toward financial oligarchy. The financial objective is to bypass parliament by demanding a “consensus” to put foreign creditors first, above the economy at large. Parliaments are being asked to relinquish their policy-making power. The very definition of a “free market” has now become centralized planning – in the hands of central bankers. This is the new road to serfdom that financialized “free markets” are leading to: markets free for privatizers to charge monopoly prices for basic services “free” of price regulation and anti-trust regulation, “free” of limits on credit to protect debtors, and above all free of interference from elected parliaments.

Prying natural monopolies in transportation, communications, lotteries and the land itself away from the public domain is called the alternative to serfdom, not the road to debt peonage and a financialized neofeudalism that looms as the new future reality. Such is the upside-down economic philosophy of our age.

Concentration of financial power in non-democratic hands is inherent in the way that Europe centralized planning in financial hands was achieved in the first place. The European Central Bank has no elected government behind it that can levy taxes. The EU constitution prevents the ECB from bailing out governments. Indeed, the IMF Articles of Agreement also block it from giving domestic fiscal support for budget deficits. “A member state may obtain IMF credits only on the condition that it has ‘a need to make the purchase because of its balance of payments or its reserve position or developments in its reserves.’

Greece, Ireland, and Portugal are certainly not short of foreign exchange reserves … The IMF is lending because of budgetary problems, and that is not what it is supposed to do. The Deutsche Bundesbank made this point very clear in its monthly report of March 2010: ‘Any financial contribution by the IMF to solve problems that do not imply a need for foreign currency – such as the direct financing of budget deficits – would be incompatible with its monetary mandate.’

. . . The moral is that when it comes to bailing out bankers, rules are ignored – in order to serve the “higher justice” of saving banks and their high-finance counterparties from taking a loss. This is quite a contrast compared to IMF policy toward labor and “taxpayers.” The class war is back in business – with a vengeance, and bankers are the winners this time around.

. . . Greece and Ireland have become the litmus test for whether economies will be sacrificed in attempts to pay debts that cannot be paid. An interregnum is threatened during which the road to default and permanent austerity will carve out more and more land and public enterprises from the public domain, divert more and more consumer income to pay debt service and taxes for governments to pay bondholders, and more business income to pay the bankers.

If this is not war, what is?

(Dr. Hudson is President of The Institute for the Study of Long-Term Economic Trends (ISLET), a Wall Street Financial Analyst, Distinguished Research Professor of Economics at the University of Missouri, Kansas City and author of Super-Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire (1968 and 2003) and of The Myth of Aid (1971))

Please read the rest of this very informative article here. And join the fight for our future (Stephen Colbert explains Progressives United!). ______________________

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