Thursday, March 31, 2011

(Hilarious!!!) Krugman Nominates Greenspan for Worst Ex-Fed Chair In History (Commentary)

Friends, you will just adore this update to a subject I've written about in a white heat many times before.

Try not to gasp! (And is she misspelling Gandalf on purpose?)

Edifying verbal turmoil at DealBreaker.


(But you've gotta hold your mouth right (and learn to read MAESTROese).)

It's an oldie but a goodie - and it doesn't seem to have a shelf life.

(And, yes, I'm taking a moment. Then I gotta go buy a gun.)

Paul Krugman Nominates Alan Greenspan For Worst Ex-Fed Chair In History GaldalFed: oof

GaldalFed: brutal

Maestro69: what?

GaldalFed: re: Krugman…

Maestro69: hold

GaldalFed: the post…about your FT thing

GaldalFed: k

Maestro69: no idea what you’re talking about

Maestro69: was the guttersnipe trying to blame me for that contracted period of economic dislocation? he needs new material

GaldalFed: it was in response to your FT op-ed saying we should repeal Dodd-Frank


GaldalFed: “Alan Greenspan continues his efforts to cement his reputation as the worst ex-Fed chairman in history”

GaldalFed: ouch

GaldalFed: not that we care what he thinks :)

Maestro69: is that a joke? you think I actually might? the only time that bearded fruit even registers on my radar is when I’m trying not to blow my load too fast and picture his face. he was of particular help the weekend I spent last summer at Buffett’s bunny ranch.

GaldalFed: ha

GaldalFed: you the man

GaldalFed: it’s kind of funny tho…

GaldelFed: how things have changed

Maestro69: what’s kind of funny

GaldelFed: oh just you know how when you were in office you had 3 staffers clipping all your glowing press or as you like to call them “blow j’s without clean up”

Maestro69: yes I remember that

GaldelFed: and now people are saying stuff about you like krugman

GaldalFed: and they’re saying I’m going to be remembered for saving the economy

GaldalFed: and that you’re an out of touch old man and it’s only a matter of time before you’re complete irrelevant?

Maestro69: lol Benji

Maestro69: first off, do you even know what the point of the FT op-ed was? it’s a little game I’ve been playing for the last couple years called:

Maestro69: FUCKING

Maestro69: WITH

Maestro69: PEOPLE

Maestro69: think about it, professor

Maestro69: what’s the true test of a baller? burning down the house and then not only not saying you’re sorry, but loitering in the rubble, inserting your two cents about how the rebuilding effort is a joke, pissing in their faces etc.

GandelFed: okay…

Maestro69: as for so-called “relevance”? you know how relevance is defined? In cheddar. Coin. Bills. And I don’t have enough g-strings to stuff mine.

Maestro69: I always have and always will own every bitch’s ass in corporate america

Maestro69: the paulson consulting isn’t the only gig I’ve got going, to say nothing of the 300 large I pocket every September for giving a 5 minute speech and sipping pina coladas headlining UBS conferences in the Maldives

Maestro69: you know what’s in store for you when you finish your measly second term, which you only got because i said “give the kid a break”?

Maestro69: jack shit

Maestro69: no cushy gigs on the other side

Maestro69: you’ll be back to playing D&D with your fellow academics

GaldalFed: that’s not true

Maestro69: oh but it is, Gilligan

GaldalFed: you’re a jerk

Maestro69: preacha tellin’ the truth and it hurts!

Maestro69: as for the lack of love from the mainstream media?

Maestro69: I’m okay with your boy from Princeton maligning me in his little blog

Maestro69: Considering to this day I could submit an excerpt of my forthcoming memoir “If I Did It” or a play-by-play of me choking out the EIC of the FT before nutting in his eye and they’d print it, no questions asked.

Maestro69: remember that, bitch, when you’re scrounging around for loose change, or for a writeup of your autobiography.

GandelFed: I hate you.

Maestro69 has signed off.

The Exceptional Mr. Greenspan [NYT] Dodd-Frank Fails To Meet Test Of Our Times [FT] Earlier: Fed Chairmen: They’re Just Like Us! Scenes From A Bailout Bernanke’s Big Moment

(Charlie Parker named this song after one of his heroin dealers.) _________________

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Joe Bageant Is Dead (of Cancer at 64)

Joe described himself as a redneck socialist, and he was. He was profoundly concerned with the fate of the people he wrote about, those who worked hard all their lives and ended up with nothing. Funny: I’ve never met a socialist who didn’t care about others, or a capitalist who did. The truth is that a great many decent people are on the wrong side of the intelligence curve, don’t come from families that send their young to university,and can’t protect themselves from the corporate lawyers and bought legislatures. It wasn’t a pose. He really and truly, honestly, demonstrably and implausibly, had no interest in money. He lived for some time in Hopkins Village in Belize, a seaside community of black, downscale Garifuna and, when some money began to come in from Deer Hunting, regularly gave it away to help the locals. He didn’t have a sainthood complex. He just didn’t care. He wanted books, a guitar, friends, internet, wine, and occasional substances not approved of by DEA. No pretenses. Drop acid, not names.
Joe was one of the most intelligent, gentle, soft-spoken (but really not) writers of my generation. Long may his memory unite us and inspire us to continue with integrity what he documented so well. In my opinion, and that of many others, a powerful sidestream of American literature flowing out of the American tradition alongside of that of Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens). Read his books. They'll surprise, delight and influence your own life in ways you won't see coming. And then go out and change the world. Suzan _______________________

Monday, March 28, 2011

BEWARE! Fascism On The March - And It's Happening in the New Nazi Haven - Good Ole USA! (Goldman Sachs: Here's What You Are) & NeoCONS Don't Change

Like the way I put that? So casually? In the title? Like "fascism" hasn't been present before in the U.S., and that I'd already (like everyone else) forgotten the Bush/Cheney years? But it's certainly not in what the Murdoch/NBC/Pentagon-controlled media covers as "news," and certainly not in the little guys' (like The New York Times) coverage that publishes exposed liar-journalists like Judy Miller and a host of others regularly, and reinstalls "pay walls" and gets rid of inconvenient columnists like Bob Herbert and Frank Rich (and who know whom else will be out soon, etc.). From TBD (where I hesitate to give a link as most of its commentary is reprehensible if not incomprehensible - get ready for young fools taking the place of their elders in writing "serious" news):

The New York Times paywall goes into effect today, potentially limiting our exposure to masturbatory ruminations on the lives of wonder boy bloggers (and the women who love them). Clever NYT backlash pieces will remain free of charge.

And Bob Herbert is gone as a columnist for the regular reasons (he's black! and not a conservative who detests blacks - so how could he be tolerated any further in the coming New World? And as he's only been there 18 years, it's a surprise to them to find out that their comfortable, white audience doesn't read him as much as they do Tom Friedbrain and David F. Brooks).

There actually are even better reasons to get rid of him now (who needs a truth teller in these times?). Remember this astonishing piece The Times allowed to run in 2007? Not many do as so few ever bothered to read this honest man (the stats on his readership are unbelievable to me (and I read him every chance I got)). (Do you believe that white supremacy vanished last century? Still wondering why Goldwater/Nixon/Reagan's "Southern Strategy" was so effective in turning southern Democrats into Republicans? Read on, MacDuff.)

Righting Reagan’s Wrongs?

Bob Herbert

Let’s set the record straight on Ronald Reagan’s campaign kickoff in 1980. Early one morning in the late spring of 1964, Dr. Carolyn Goodman, her husband, Robert, and their 17-year-old son, David, said goodbye to David’s brother, Andrew, who was 20. They hugged in the family’s apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and Andrew left. He was on his way to the racial hell of Mississippi to join in the effort to encourage local blacks to register and vote. It was a dangerous mission, and Andrew’s parents were reluctant to let him go. But the family had always believed strongly in equal rights and the benefits of social activism. “I didn’t have the right,” Dr. Goodman would tell me many years later, “to tell him not to go.”

After a brief stopover in Ohio, Andrew traveled to the town of Philadelphia in Neshoba County, Mississippi, a vicious white-supremacist stronghold. Just days earlier, members of the Ku Klux Klan had firebombed a black church in the county and had beaten terrified worshipers. Andrew would not survive very long. On June 21, one day after his arrival, he and fellow activists Michael Schwerner and James Chaney disappeared. Their bodies wouldn’t be found until August. All had been murdered, shot to death by whites enraged at the very idea of people trying to secure the rights of African-Americans. The murders were among the most notorious in American history.

They constituted Neshoba County’s primary claim to fame when Reagan won the Republican Party’s nomination for president in 1980. The case was still a festering sore at that time. Some of the conspirators were still being protected by the local community. And white supremacy was still the order of the day. That was the atmosphere and that was the place that Reagan chose as the first stop in his general election campaign.

The campaign debuted at the Neshoba County Fair in front of a white and, at times, raucous crowd of perhaps 10,000, chanting: “We want Reagan! We want Reagan!” Reagan was the first presidential candidate ever to appear at the fair, and he knew exactly what he was doing when he told that crowd, “I believe in states’ rights.” Reagan apologists have every right to be ashamed of that appearance by their hero, but they have no right to change the meaning of it, which was unmistakable.

Commentators have been trying of late to put this appearance by Reagan into a racially benign context. That won’t wash. Reagan may have been blessed with a Hollywood smile and an avuncular delivery, but he was elbow deep in the same old race-baiting Southern strategy of Goldwater and Nixon.

Everybody watching the 1980 campaign knew what Reagan was signaling at the fair. Whites and blacks, Democrats and Republicans — they all knew. The news media knew. The race haters and the people appalled by racial hatred knew. And Reagan knew. He was tapping out the code.

It was understood that when politicians started chirping about “states’ rights” to white people in places like Neshoba County they were saying that when it comes down to you and the blacks, we’re with you. And Reagan meant it. He was opposed to the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was the same year that Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney were slaughtered.

As president, he actually tried to weaken the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He opposed a national holiday for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He tried to get rid of the federal ban on tax exemptions for private schools that practiced racial discrimination. And in 1988, he vetoed a bill to expand the reach of federal civil rights legislation. Congress overrode the veto. Reagan also vetoed the imposition of sanctions on the apartheid regime in South Africa. Congress overrode that veto, too.

Throughout his career, Reagan was wrong, insensitive and mean-spirited on civil rights and other issues important to black people. There is no way for the scribes of today to clean up that dismal record. To see Reagan’s appearance at the Neshoba County Fair in its proper context, it has to be placed between the murders of the civil rights workers that preceded it and the acknowledgment by the Republican strategist Lee Atwater that the use of code words like “states’ rights” in place of blatantly bigoted rhetoric was crucial to the success of the G.O.P.’s Southern strategy.

That acknowledgment came in the very first year of the Reagan presidency. Ronald Reagan was an absolute master at the use of symbolism. It was one of the primary keys to his political success. The suggestion that the Gipper didn’t know exactly what message he was telegraphing in Neshoba County in 1980 is woefully wrong-headed. Wishful thinking would be the kindest way to characterize it.

Farewell, Bob. Fare well, my mentor, my friend. (His last column Losing Our Way explains in toto why he's so loved and valued by millions, but not there.)

One of our finest commentators on the political scene, economist Paul Krugman, captures our current dilemma on the pages of the soon-to-be-gone-from-the-nonpaying-public's gaze, The New York Times.

So sad about the US. It had such a good beginning. (Emphasis marks and some editing was inserted - Ed.)

American Thought Police Paul Krugman

March 27, 2011

Recently William Cronon, a historian who teaches at the University of Wisconsin, decided to weigh in on his state’s political turmoil. He started a blog, “Scholar as Citizen,” devoting his first post to the role of the shadowy American Legislative Exchange Council in pushing hard-line conservative legislation at the state level. Then he published an opinion piece in The Times, suggesting that Wisconsin’s Republican governor has turned his back on the state’s long tradition of “neighborliness, decency and mutual respect.”

So what was the G.O.P.’s response? A demand for copies of all e-mails sent to or from Mr. Cronon’s university mail account containing any of a wide range of terms, including the word “Republican” and the names of a number of Republican politicians. If this action strikes you as no big deal, you’re missing the point.

The hard right — which these days is more or less synonymous with the Republican Party — has a modus operandi when it comes to scholars expressing views it dislikes: never mind the substance, go for the smear. And that demand for copies of e-mails is obviously motivated by no more than a hope that it will provide something, anything, that can be used to subject Mr. Cronon to the usual treatment.

The Cronon affair, then, is one more indicator of just how reflexively vindictive, how un-American, one of our two great political parties has become. The demand for Mr. Cronon’s correspondence has obvious parallels with the ongoing smear campaign against climate science and climate scientists, which has lately relied heavily on supposedly damaging quotations found in e-mail records.

Back in 2009 climate skeptics got hold of more than a thousand e-mails between researchers at the Climate Research Unit at Britain’s University of East Anglia. Nothing in the correspondence suggested any kind of scientific impropriety; at most, we learned — I know this will shock you — that scientists are human beings, who occasionally say snide things about people they dislike. But that didn’t stop the usual suspects from proclaiming that they had uncovered “Climategate,” a scientific scandal that somehow invalidates the vast array of evidence for man-made climate change. And this fake scandal gives an indication of what the Wisconsin G.O.P. presumably hopes to do to Mr. Cronon. After all, if you go through a large number of messages looking for lines that can be made to sound bad, you’re bound to find a few.

In fact, it’s surprising how few such lines the critics managed to find in the “Climategate” trove: much of the smear has focused on just one e-mail, in which a researcher talks about using a “trick” to “hide the decline” in a particular series. In context, it’s clear that he’s talking about making an effective graphical presentation, not about suppressing evidence. But the right wants a scandal, and won’t take no for an answer.

Is there any doubt that Wisconsin Republicans are hoping for a similar “success” against Mr. Cronon? Now, in this case they’ll probably come up dry. Mr. Cronon writes on his blog that he has been careful never to use his university e-mail for personal business, exhibiting a scrupulousness that’s neither common nor expected in the academic world. (Full disclosure: I have, at times, used my university e-mail to remind my wife to feed the cats, confirm dinner plans with friends, etc.)

Beyond that, Mr. Cronon — the president-elect of the American Historical Association — has a secure reputation as a towering figure in his field. His magnificent “Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West” is the best work of economic and business history I’ve ever read — and I read a lot of that kind of thing. So we don’t need to worry about Mr. Cronon — but we should worry a lot about the wider effect of attacks like the one he’s facing.

Legally, Republicans may be within their rights: Wisconsin’s open records law provides public access to e-mails of government employees, although the law was clearly intended to apply to state officials, not university professors. But there’s a clear chilling effect when scholars know that they may face witch hunts whenever they say things the G.O.P. doesn’t like. Someone like Mr. Cronon can stand up to the pressure. But less eminent and established researchers won’t just become reluctant to act as concerned citizens, weighing in on current debates; they’ll be deterred from even doing research on topics that might get them in trouble.

What’s at stake here, in other words, is whether we’re going to have an open national discourse in which scholars feel free to go wherever the evidence takes them, and to contribute to public understanding. Republicans, in Wisconsin and elsewhere, are trying to shut that kind of discourse down. It’s up to the rest of us to see that they don’t succeed.

As for the real culprits of economic/financial disaster, we have the following exposé on Goldman Sachs. And, who, exactly wants to grow up to be a scumbag? And does this country now encourage it? But we already knew this.

Goldman Sachs: Here's What You Are

If someone described a bank by what it does rather than by what it says, he/she would find that getting high fees for risky and poor quality products is what matters; that creating junk CDOs for investors and using CDSs for making a huge profit is common practice; that taking a short position on the toxic mortgage market and thereby cashing in with billions of dollars at others' expense is the way to do business; that taking advantage of clients' positions and creating a conflict of interest is not material; that paying a small fine for a civil action suit where clients were not properly informed is a small price to pay for profit; and that, finally, using naked CDSs on assets it did not own to bet against the mortgage market and making huge amounts of revenue for itself shows little in the way of ethical conscience.

That would be Goldman Sachs!

In the last portion of the memo (pages 12 and 13) sent by Senator Carl Levin, Subcommittee Chairman, and Senator Tom Coburn, Ranking Member, to the Members of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in which they explained very clearly the role played by investment banks in "the causes and consequences of the recent financial crisis" using Goldman Sachs as a case study, are listed the Subcommittee's findings as shown below:

Subcommittee Findings

Based upon the Subcommittee’s on going investigation, we make the following findings of fact regarding the role of investment banks in the recent financial crisis.

Securitizing High Risk Mortgages

From 2004 to 2007, in exchange for lucrative fees, Goldman Sachs helped lenders like Long Beach, Fremont, and New Century, securitize high risk, poor quality loans, obtain favorable credit ratings for the resulting residential mortgage backed securities (RMBS), and sell the RMBS securities to investors, pushing billions of dollars of risky mortgages into the financial system.

Magnifying Risk

Goldman Sachs magnified the impact of toxic mortgages on financial markets by re-securitizing RMBS securities in collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), referencing them in synthetic CDOs, selling the CDO securities to investors, and using credit default swaps and index trading to profit from the failure of the same RMBS and CDO securities it sold.

Shorting the Mortgage Market

As high risk mortgage delinquencies increased, and RMBS and CDO securities began to lose value, Goldman Sachs took a net short position on the mortgage market, remaining net short throughout 2007, and cashed in very large short positions, generating billions of dollars in gain.

Conflict Between Client and Proprietary Trading

In 2007, Goldman Sachs went beyond its role as market maker for clients seeking to buy or sell mortgage related securities, traded billions of dollars in mortgage related assets for the benefit of the firm without disclosing its proprietary positions to clients, and instructed its sales force to sell mortgage related assets, including high risk RMBS and CDO securities that Goldman Sachs wanted to get off its books, creating a conflict between the firm’s proprietary interests and the interests of its clients.


Goldman Sachs structured, underwrote, and sold a synthetic CDO called Abacus 2007-AC1, did not disclose to the Moody’s analyst overseeing the rating of the CDO that a hedge fund client taking a short position in the CDO had helped to select the referenced assets, and also did not disclose that fact to other investors.

Using Naked Credit Default Swaps

Goldman Sachs used credit default swaps (CDS) on assets it did not own to bet against the mortgage market through single name and index CDS transactions, generating substantial revenues in the process.

Read the entire document here.

And how's that latest neoCon war effort proceeding? Splendidly, you say? (Heck, any mistakes they may make will just take a few trillion more in taxpayer safety net benefits to make up! And see if after reading this essay you don't agree with my long-time belief that those NeoCONS don't really have any education to speak of, and got their degrees with a wink and a promise. I'm not sure that the Feith/Wolfowitz delegation can even read.)

The Neocons Regroup on Libyan War

Robert Parry

American neoconservatives worried that the pro-democracy wave sweeping the Middle East might take out only "moderate" Arab dictators, but the neocons now see hope that uprisings will topple "enemy" regimes in Libya and Syria. Yet, in rallying U.S. support for these rebellions, the neocons may be repeating the mistake they made by pushing the U.S. invasion of Iraq. They succeeded in ousting Saddam Hussein, who had long been near the top of Israel’s enemies list, but the war also removed him as a bulwark against both Islamic extremists and Iranian influence in the Persian Gulf. The neocons now are seeking a stronger U.S. military intervention in Libya to oust Col. Muammar Gaddafi (another old Israeli nemesis) and urging more support for protesters in Syria to overthrow the Assad dynasty (regarded as a frontline enemy of Israel).

However, by embracing these uprisings, the neocons are risking unintended consequences, including further Islamic radicalization of the region and deepening anti-Americanism.

Indeed, a rebel victory over Gaddafi could put extremists from an al-Qaeda affiliate in a powerful position inside Libya. So far, the major U.S. news media has aided the neocon cause by focusing on Gaddafi’s historic ties to terrorism, including the dubious charge that he was behind the Pan Am 103 bombing in 1988. There has been little attention paid to his more recent role in combating the surge in al-Qaeda activity, especially in eastern Libya, the base of the revolt against him. Similarly, Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian government has repressed Islamic extremism inside its borders, in part, because Islamic fundamentalists despise the Alawite religion of Syria’s rulers, considering it a form of apostasy that must be stamped out. So Assad and Gaddafi have their own political reasons to be enemies of al-Qaeda, the terrorist organization which U.S. officials cite as the greatest national security threat to the American homeland. As analysts Joseph Felter and Brian Fishman wrote in a report for West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center, “the Syrian and Libyan governments share the United States’ concerns about violent salafi‐jihadi ideology and the violence perpetrated by its adherents.”

Source of Jihadists

In their report entitled “Al-Qaeda’s Foreign Fighters in Iraq,” Felter and Fishman also analyzed al-Qaeda documents captured in 2007 showing personnel records of militants who flocked to Iraq for the war. The documents revealed that eastern Libya (the base of the anti-Gaddafi rebellion) was a hotbed for suicide bombers traveling to Iraq to kill American troops.

Felter and Fishman wrote that these so-called Sinjar Records disclosed that while Saudis comprised the largest number of foreign fighters in Iraq, Libyans represented the largest per-capita contingent by far. Those Libyans came overwhelmingly from towns and cities in the east. “The vast majority of Libyan fighters that included their hometown in the Sinjar Records resided in the country’s Northeast, particularly the coastal cities of Darnah 60.2% (53) and Benghazi 23.9% (21),” Felter and Fishman wrote, adding:

“Both Darnah and Benghazi have long been associated with Islamic militancy in Libya, in particular for an uprising by Islamist organizations in the mid‐1990s. ... One group — the Libyan Fighting Group … — claimed to have Afghan veterans in its ranks," a reference to mujahedeen who took part in the CIA-backed anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, as did al-Qaeda founder, Osama bin Laden, a Saudi.

“The Libyan uprisings [in the 1990s] became extraordinarily violent," Felter and Fishman wrote. "Qadhafi used helicopter gunships in Benghazi, cut telephone, electricity, and water supplies to Darnah and famously claimed that the militants ‘deserve to die without trial, like dogs.’” The authors added that Abu Layth al‐Libi, Emir of Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), “reinforced Benghazi and Darnah’s importance to Libyan jihadis in his announcement that LIFG had joined al‐Qa’ida.

“’It is with the grace of God that we were hoisting the banner of jihad against this apostate [Gaddafi] regime under the leadership of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which sacrificed the elite of its sons and commanders in combating this regime whose blood was spilled on the mountains of Darnah, the streets of Benghazi, the outskirts of Tripoli, the desert of Sabha, and the sands of the beach.’”

Some important al-Qaeda leaders operating in Pakistan’s tribal regions also are believed to have come from Libya. For instance, “Atiyah,” who was guiding the anti-U.S. war strategy in Iraq, was identified as a Libyan named Atiyah Abd al-Rahman.

It was Atiyah who urged a strategy of creating a quagmire for U.S. forces in Iraq, buying time for al-Qaeda headquarters to rebuild its strength in Pakistan. Prolonging the war [in Iraq] is in our interest,” Atiyah said in a letter that upbraided Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi for his hasty and reckless actions in Iraq. The Atiyah letter was discovered by the U.S. military after Zarqawi was killed by an airstrike in June 2006. [To view the “prolonging the war” excerpt in a translation published by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, click here. To read the entire letter, click here.]

Gaddafi’s Warning

As in the anti-Islamist crackdown of the 1990s, Gaddafi has used harsh rhetoric in vowing to crush the latest Benghazi-based rebellion. Those threats were cited by President Barack Obama and other leaders as a key reason for securing a United Nations resolution and establishing a no-fly zone over Libya, to protect the rebels and civilians in eastern Libya.

Yet, while intervening to save lives in eastern Libya, Obama and other Western officials seem to know little about whom they’re saving. So far, journalists have failed to identify the leaders behind the revolt. However, in a personal letter to Obama, Gaddafi cited the role of terrorists in this new uprising. “We are confronting al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, nothing more,” Gaddafi wrote. “What would you do if you found them controlling American cities with the power of weapons? Tell me how would you behave so that I could follow your example?”

Though Gaddafi clearly has a self-interest in portraying the rebels as al-Qaeda terrorists - and the rebels surely include many common citizens simply fed up with Gaddafi's authoritarian rule - the report from West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center lends some credence to his claims. Still, influential American neocons and major U.S. news outlets have portrayed the Libyan clash as simply a case of a brutal dictator, who has his own terrorist baggage, crushing a popular movement of innocent citizens seeking democracy and freedom. Despite the warning signs of possible Islamist influences over the rebel forces, American neocons have grabbed the steering wheel of this wider-war bandwagon as it picks up speed.

“The only solution to Libya’s crisis, as Mr. Obama first recognized several weeks ago, is the removal of Mr Gaddafi from power,” said a lead editorial in Wednesday’s Washington Post, which has evolved into the neocons’ preeminent publication. “But the administration still seems to lack a coherent strategy for accomplishing that aim.” Clearly pining for the days of George W. Bush’s muscular unilateralism, the Post’s editors demanded that Obama take the lead in implementing a military strategy that ensures regime change in Tripoli.

“If the regime’s heavy weapons were systematically targeted, the rebels could surge forward,” the Post wrote. “All this would require Mr. Obama to do something he has avoided from the beginning in Libya: Exercise U.S. leadership. … “Far from rejecting that [U.S.] role, many Arabs have been puzzled and even outraged by Mr. Obama’s manifest reluctance to support a revolution aimed at overthrowing one of the region’s most vile dictatorships.

Ultimately, Mr. Obama’s passivity is self-defeating. “The sooner he recognizes this, the better the chance of salvaging a decent outcome in Libya.” Charles Krauthammer, one of the Post’s prominent neocon columnists, weighed in with his own typically snarky column on Friday, also demanding that Obama take decisive action against Gaddafi. “Never modest about himself, Obama is supremely modest about his country,” Krauthammer wrote. “Yet at a time when the world is hungry for America to lead — no one has anything near our capabilities, experience and resources —

The NYT’s Certainty

The New York Times, another newspaper with strong neocon tendencies, has taken the case for regime change in Libya into its news columns, as it did regarding Iraq in 2002-03 when the Times acted as a conveyor belt for the Bush administration’s propaganda about Iraq’s non-existent WMD. This time, the Times has reported as flat fact that Gaddafi’s regime orchestrated the 1988 bombing of Pan Am 103 – a conventional wisdom that is now repeated across the U.S. media spectrum despite the many holes in the 2001 conviction of Libyan intelligence agent Ali al-Megrahi.

[For details, see’s “Through the US Media Lens Darkly.”] This combination of ignorance about the internal politics of Libya (i.e. who are the rebels?) and the misplaced certainty of the U.S. press corps about another designated villain (supposed Pan Am 103 terrorist mastermind Gaddafi) has set the stage for a potential repeat of the Iraq disaster.

In Iraq, it turned out that Saddam Hussein, who had destroyed his stockpiles of WMD, was serving as a bulwark against both al-Qaeda-style terrorism and Iranian influence. His removal advanced both Islamic terrorist movements across the region and Iran’s power in the Persian Gulf.

Now, the neocons are baiting Obama into a wider war to overthrow Gaddafi. But they appear as ill-informed about the possible consequences in Libya as they did in Iraq: If the “rebels” are influenced or controlled by al-Qaeda-style terrorists, would they inflict massacres of Gaddafi’s supporters, thus flipping the notion of a humanitarian intervention?

Would a rebel victory give the Islamic terror groups of eastern Libya a foothold in or possible control of the whole country and its oil wealth? Would the prospect of an al-Qaeda affiliate in charge of a strategically placed Arab country require the United States to commit ground troops to the conflict to prevent an outcome that the U.S. intervention had unintentionally caused?

Over the past several decades as the neocons have grown in influence inside the U.S. political/media circles, one of their consistent characteristics has been to advocate wars against perceived “enemies” in the Muslim world. But the neocons’ lack of realism – and their enthusiasm to do whatever they think might be helpful to Israel – have often made them the classic sorcerer’s apprentice, stirring up trouble that grows worse and worse without knowing how to bring the chaos under control.

Yet, despite their war-mongering incompetence, the neocons have one great strength: they are clever enough - and well-connected enough - to block any accountability.

Even when their policies go horribly wrong, they can simply reframe the narrative to make themselves out to be the smart ones. Until their ability to rewrite the history is countered, the neocons can be expected to continue leading the United States into disaster after disaster. [For other examples of how neocons shape the narrative, see’s “Inside America’s ‘Adjustment Bureau.’”]

[For more on these topics, see Robert Parry’s Lost History and Secrecy & Privilege, which are now available with Neck Deep, in a three-book set for the discount price of only $29. For details, click here.


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Making William F. Buckley Look Very Foolish (Again) - Does the "Right" Actually Mean Anything Logical When It Calls NPR "Liberal?"

Springtime at the local library!

Fresh from the MSM (which I almost never read anymore) comes a revelation of sorts and forces one to ask the obvious question: "Can a 'clownish anti-intellectual . . . produce a clownish pseudo-intellectual'?." No, it's not worth reading, but it did give me a chuckle after a very tough week. [Once again I'd like to ask for donations to this effort to keep you informed. I believe that the pressure has definitely increased in the intelligence community to get rid of those who are in the business of exposing injustice and the events that have been obfuscated by those in power (and the freedom of communication afforded to all by the existence of an unfettered internet). Thanks to all the kind souls who have supported me in the past!] I guess the "Right" knew what it was doing to NPR all along (clownish or not) when it called it "liberal" or "socialist" or even "Communist" in its serious publications (and, no, there are none), and then worked so furiously (when it assumed unconstrained power under Bush/Cheney after 9/11) to begin replacing its honorable, educated management with flakes possessing laughable credentials, who would make mistakes that seemed to fit into the "Right's" past prejudices. Woe betide them.

What the Right Means When It Calls NPR "Liberal" Like Jake LaMotta and his brother Joey in the bloody boxing classic "Raging Bull," we are gluttons for punishment. So here we are again, third week in a row, defending NPR against the bare-knuckled assault of its critics. Our earlier pieces on the funding threat to NPR have generated plenty of punches, both pro and con. And although most of the comments were welcome, and encouraged further thinking about the value of public media in a democratic society, a few reminded us of the words of the poet and scholar James Merrick: "So high at last the contest rose/From words they almost came to blows!" Nonetheless, reading those comments and criticisms made us realize there are a couple of points that these two wizened veterans of public broadcasting - with the multiple tote bags and coffee mugs to prove it - would like to clarify. For one, when we described the right-wing media machine as NPR’s "long-time nemesis," it was not to suggest that somehow public radio is its left-wing opposite. When it comes to covering and analyzing the news, the reverse of right isn't left; it's independent reporting that toes neither party nor ideological line. We’ve heard no NPR reporter - not a one - advocating on the air for more government spending (or less), for the right of abortion (or against it), for or against gay marriage, or for or against either political party, especially compared to what we hear from Fox News and talk radio on all of these issues and more. Take, for example, talk jocks John and Ken on KFI-AM Radio in Los Angeles. They beat on California's state Legislature like a cheap piñata. According to the Los Angeles Times, "Within a matter of moments, they refer to various lawmakers as 'traitorous pigs,' 'con artist' and 'Republican dirt bag.' They use gruesome sound effects to suggest the mounting of one legislator's head on a stake - his entry into the duo's hall of shame." The personalities, "whose frequent targets are taxes, labor unions and illegal immigrants, not only reach more listeners than any other non-syndicated talk show in California but also have the ear - and fear - of Sacramento's minority party.

I guess I should be a lot more thankful for the atmosphere of morning talk radio here in North Carolina, with its idiot DJ's who are only making light conversation about the Democratic Communists and pederasts who are taking over.
"'There is nary a conversation about the budget that does not involve the names John and Ken,’ said Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), the state Senate leader." And that's true whether what they say is grounded in fact or simply made up wholesale out of flimsy, opinionated cloth. So what do conservatives really mean when they accuse NPR of being "liberal"? They mean it's not accountable to their worldview as conservatives and partisans. They mean it reflects too great a regard for evidence and is too open to reporting different points of views of the same event or idea or issue. Reporting that by its very fact-driven nature often fails to confirm their ideological underpinnings, their way of seeing things (which is why some liberals and Democrats also become irate with NPR). That's why our favorite new word is "agnotology." According to the website WordSpy, it means "the study of culturally-induced ignorance or doubt," a concept developed in recent years by two historians of science at Stanford University, Robert Proctor and his wife, Londa Schiebinger. Believing that global climate change is a myth is one example of the kind of ignorance agnotologists investigate. Or the insistence by the tobacco industry that the harm caused by smoking is still in dispute. Or the conviction that Barack Obama is a closet Muslim, and a radical one at that, who may not even be from America. Those first two illusions have been induced by big business in a cynical attempt to keep pumping profits from deadly pollutants, whether fossil fuels or nicotine. The third, dreamed up by fantasists of the right-wing fringe, is in its own way just as toxic and has been tacitly, sometimes audibly, encouraged by certain opponents of President Obama who would perpetuate any prevarication to further blockade his agenda and deny him and fellow Democrats reelection. None of them is true; rather, they fly in the face of those of us who belong to what an aide to George W. Bush famously called "the reality-based community [who] believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' He told journalist Ron Suskind, ''That's not the way the world really works anymore. We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality." To the accusers of NPR, the created reality of however they define "liberal" is not the same as what they mean when they call themselves "conservative." If it were, the two would be exact reverse images of each other. Where media are concerned, all you have to do to know this is not the case is to hold them up, side-by-side. If "liberal" were the counterpoint to "conservative," NPR would be the mirror of Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and James O’Keefe, including the use of their techniques as well as content. Clearly it isn’t. To charge otherwise is a phony gambit aimed at nothing less than quashing the public’s access to non-ideological journalism, narrowing viewpoints to all but one. We know from firsthand experience that any journalist whose reporting threatens the conservative belief system gets sliced and diced by its apologists and polemicists at Fox and on talk radio. Remember, for one, when Limbaugh took journalists to task for their reporting on torture at Abu Ghraib? He attempted to dismiss the cruelty inflicted by American soldiers on their captives as a little necessary "sport" for soldiers under stress, saying: "This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation … you [ever] heard of the need to blow some steam off?" The Limbaugh line became a drumbeat in the nether reaches of the right-wing echo chamber. So it was not surprising that in a nationwide survey conducted by the Chicago Tribune on First Amendment issues, half of the respondents said there should be some kind of press restraint on reporting prison abuse. Half or more said they "would embrace government controls of some kind on free speech, particularly when it has sexual content or is heard as unpatriotic." Many of those people came after NPR for reporting what actually happened at Abu Ghraib. But to clear up one other thing, what NPR also isn’t, is what it could be. In our support for its much-needed survival, admittedly we may have been a bit fulsome in our praise. Like many commentators who posted after our previous two pieces, as regular listeners we know there is room for improvement, the need for more diverse voices and for more courageous journalism that reports not merely what the powerful say but what they actually do for their paymasters. Americans need more and sustained reporting on what the journalist William Greider calls "the hard questions of governance" - those questions of how and why some interests are allowed to dominate the government’s decision-making while others are excluded. Who gets the money and who has to pay? Who must be heard on this question and who can be safely ignored? None execute this kind of reporting better than Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez on "Democracy Now," which, while carried by many public radio and television stations, is not distributed nationally by either NPR or PBS. Public media - radio and television - too rarely challenge the dictum: "News is what people want to keep hidden; everything else is publicity." Yet in the words of Confucius, better a diamond with a flaw - a big flaw - than a pebble without. For all that it provides - but mainly because it is a true journalistic, rather than ideological, alternative to commercial and partisan broadcasting - we continue to support government funding of public media until such time as a sizable trust or some other solid, independent source of funding, unfettered by political interference, can be established that will free us to tell the stories America most needs to hear. Short of that we’ll need the courage, as one of our journalistic heroes, the late George Seldes, wrote, "to tell the truth and run." (Bill Moyers is a veteran broadcast journalist and managing editor of Public Affairs Television. Michael Winship, former senior writer of Public Affairs Television, is president of the Writers Guild of America, East. More: Bill Moyers, Michael Winship)


Saturday, March 26, 2011

Nuclear Myth Melts Down - US Spy Operation That Manipulates Social Media - Oh Look, Handcuffs! Real Ones - U.S. Systematises Sock Puppetry

I read Tom at the Dispatch every day. You might want to consider his website for your own reading pleasure. (Still love that Nuclear Club (headed today by Mitch McConnell)?) Please read on. This is important for your and your children's future survival (Japan's troubles a surprise, anyone?).

Tomgram: Chip Ward, The Nuclear Myth Melts Down Chip Ward March 24, 2011. [The world is exploding. TomDispatch can’t cover it all. Still, a comment is in order on our Libyan intervention. As a start, it could be the first intervention that actually escalated before it even began. It went from no-fly-zone to no-fly-no-drive-zone before a U.S. cruise missile was launched or a French jet took off. Within two days, it seemed to be escalating even further into a half-baked, regime-change(ish)-style operation. (As of Wednesday, 162 Tomahawk cruise missiles had already been sent Libya-wards, most of them from American vessels, at more than $1 million a pop.) To make the intervention even stranger, it was initially opposed by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon, and counterterrorism chief John O. Brennan, as well as many conservatives. Instead, the (not very) liberal warhawks of the administration - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, National Security Council senior aide Samatha Powers, and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice - were evidently in the lead on this one (along with various neocons in full hue and cry). As on so many issues, where exactly the president was, other than blowing in the wind, remains unclear. Congress played no significant role - neither advice nor consent - in the decision. It now seems almost quaint, if not exceedingly retro, even to suggest that the people’s representatives have anything to do with American war-making. And it goes without saying that the people themselves, who seemed to be deeply unenthusiastic about a Libyan intervention before it happened according to the polls, were in no way consulted. Gates spoke of a “spirited debate” within the administration - just nowhere else. Think of this, then, as the “human rights” intervention. So far, it seems to be a remarkably seat-of-the-pants affair, suffused with the usual American faith in the efficacy of military power. As far as I can tell, Washington is relying for success on pure, dumb luck (and the vague possibility that, if the U.S. and allies whack his forces hard enough, Libyan monster Muammar Gaddafi’s officer corps could turn against him or their troops might defect to the rebels). Luck could hold, but what would follow remains bleakly unknown. Look for the no-[fill-in-the-blank]-zones to expand if Gaddafi hangs on, the rebels don’t advance fast enough, and desperation and confusion set in. In the meantime, the learning curve in Washington when it comes to interventions seems nonexistent. For the rest of us, that learning curve might improve if James Peck’s new book Ideal Illusions: How the U.S. Government Co-opted Human Rights was to be widely read. It’s a taboo-breaking look at the way in which, from the 1970s to late last night, successive administrations have exploited the human rights movement, turned it to Washington’s ends, and contained any impulses to define human rights ever more broadly. This is, unfortunately, a story decades old but as fresh as the Libyan intervention. I recommend the book strongly. - Tom]
With the Fukushima nuclear complex still at the edge, the official response here is so bracingly... well, ho-hum. A top Nuclear Regulatory Commission official has just offered reassurance that nothing at Fukushima warrants “any immediate changes at U.S. nuclear plants.” As if to etch the point in cement, the day before a 40-year license to operate was to expire, the NRC promptly issued a 20-year license renewal to the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, the “near twin” of one in Fukushima (but storing staggeringly more “spent fuel” than that complex). The message: we'll keep tabs on those nuclear plants, but really, folks, not to worry, everything’s fine here. What, I wonder, might it be worth keeping tabs on? Consider California’s Diablo Canyon power plant about 160 miles north of Los Angeles, which operated for a year and a half with some of its emergency systems disabled. Constructed in the neighborhood of the Hosgri and San Andreas Faults (as well as a nearby offshore fault discovered only in 2008), it has been upgraded to withstand a magnitude 7.5 earthquake. (Fukushima was designed to withstand a 7.9 quake.) The only problem, according to the latest research: the San Andreas Fault is capable of producing “a magnitude 8.1 earthquake that could run 340 miles from Monterey County to the Salton Sea” and that newly discovered offshore fault by Diablo Canyon, possibly a 7.7. Hmmm... and in case you think that the Japanese situation is unrepeatable here, the last magnitude 9.0 earthquake happened off the West coast, somewhere in the vicinity of Washington or Oregon, 311 years ago. The odds of another in the next 50 years has been estimated at one in three. And then there’s my own neck of the woods: 35 miles from the heart of Manhattan Island in New York City is the U.S. nuclear plant most at risk of core damage in the case of an earthquake. That’s the Indian Point nuclear plant, which happens to have been built close to a “geological braid of fault lines” known as the Ramapo Fault. Its odds of experiencing an earthquake powerful enough to cause at least a partial core meltdown are, according to NRC calculations, 10,000 to 1 in any year. And keep in mind that, with almost 20 million people in Metropolitan New York City, the minimalist evacuation plans that exist, should a meltdown occur, are essentially “fantasy documents.” An Onion mock headline caught the spirit of this moment: “Nuclear Energy Activists Insist U.S. Reactors Completely Safe Unless Something Bad Happens.” With that in mind, consider the nuclear industry through the eyes of TomDispatch regular Chip Ward, a Utah environmentalist who has battled it for years. (To catch Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview in which Ward discusses the endless legacy of nuclear power, click here, or download it to your iPod here.) Tom How the “Peaceful Atom” Became a Serial Killer Nuclear Power Loses its Alibi Chip Ward When nuclear reactors blow, the first thing that melts down is the truth. Just as in the Chernobyl catastrophe almost 25 years ago when Soviet authorities denied the extent of radiation and downplayed the dire situation that was spiraling out of control, Japanese authorities spent the first week of the Fukushima crisis issuing conflicting and confusing reports. We were told that radiation levels were up, then down, then up, but nobody aside from those Japanese bureaucrats could verify the levels and few trusted their accuracy. The situation is under control, they told us, but workers are being evacuated. There is no danger of contamination, but stay inside and seal your doors. The First Atomic Snow Job The bureaucratization of horror into bland and reassuring pronouncements was to be expected, especially from an industry where misinformation is the rule. Although you might suppose that the nuclear industry’s outstanding characteristic would be its expertise, since it’s loaded with junior Einsteins who grasp the math and physics required to master the most awesomely sophisticated technology humans have ever created, think again. Based on the record, it’s most outstanding characteristic is a fundamental dishonesty. I learned that the hard way as a grassroots activist organizing opposition to a scheme hatched by a consortium of nuclear utilities to park thousands of tons of highly radioactive fuel rods, like the ones now burning at Fukushima, in my Utah backyard. Here’s what I took away from that experience: the nuclear industry is a snake-oil culture of habitual misrepresentation, pervasive wishful thinking, deep denial, and occasional outright deception. For more than 50 years, it has habitually lied about risks and costs while covering up every violation and failure it could. Whether or not its proponents and spokespeople are dishonest or merely deluded can be debated, but the outcome - dangerous misinformation and the meltdown of honest civic discourse - remains the same, as we once again see at Fukushima.

Established at the dawn of the nuclear age, the pattern of dissemblance had become a well-worn rut long before the Japanese reactors spun out of control. In the early 1950s, the disciples of nuclear power, or the “peaceful atom” as it was then called, insisted that nuclear power would soon become so cheap and efficient that it would be offered to consumers for free. Visionaries that they were, they suggested that cities would be constructed with building materials impregnated with uranium so that snow removal would be unnecessary. Atomic bombs, they urged, should be used to carve out new coastal harbors for ships. In low doses, they swore, radiation was actually beneficial to one’s health.

Such notions and outright fantasies, as well as propaganda for a new industry and a new way of war - even if laughable today - had tragic results back then. Thousands of American GIs, for instance, were marched into Ground Zero just after above-ground nuclear tests had been set off to observe their responses to what military planners assumed would be the atomic battlefield of the future. Ignorance, it turns out, is not bliss, and thousands of those soldiers later became ill. Many died young.

Unwary civilians who lived downwind of America’s western testing grounds were also exposed to nuclear fallout and they, too, suffered horribly from a variety of cancers and other illnesses. Uranium miners exposed to radiation in the tunnels where they wrestled from the earth the raw materials for the nuclear age also became ill and died too soon, as did workers processing that uranium into weapons and fuel. Many of those miners were poor Navajos from my backyard in Utah where a new uranium boom, part of the so-called nuclear renaissance, was - before Fukushima - set to take shape.

How Unlikely Risks Become Inevitable

In the future, today’s low-risk claims from industry advocates will undoubtedly seem as tragically naïve as yesterday’s false claims. Yes, the likelihood that any specific nuclear power plant reactor will melt down may be slim indeed - which hardly means inconceivable - but to act as though nuclear risks are limited to the operation of power plants is misleading in the extreme. “Spent fuel” from reactors (the kind burning in Japan as I write) is produced as a plant operates, and that fuel remains super hot and dangerous for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. As we are learning to our sorrow at the Fukushima complex, such used fuel is hardly “spent.” In fact, it can be even more radioactive and dangerous than reactor cores.

Spent fuel continues to pile up in a nuclear waste stream that will have to be closely managed and monitored for eons, so long that those designing nuclear-waste repositories struggle with the problem of signage that might be intelligible in a future so distant today’s languages may not be understood. You might think that a danger virulent enough to outlast human languages would be a danger to avoid, but the hubris of the nuclear establishment is equal to its willingness to deceive.

A natural disaster, accident, or terrorist attack that might be statistically unlikely in any year or decade becomes ever more likely at the half-century, century, or half-millennium mark. Given enough time, in fact, the unlikely becomes almost inevitable. Even if you and I are not the victims of some future apocalyptic disturbance of that lethal residue, to consign our children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren to such peril is plainly and profoundly immoral.

Nuclear proponents have long wanted to limit the discussion of risk to plant operation alone, not to the storage of dangerous wastes, and they remain eager to ignore altogether the risks inherent in transporting nuclear waste (often called “mobile Chernobyl” by nuclear critics). Moving those spent fuel rods to future repositories represents a rarely acknowledged category of potential catastrophe. Just imagine a trainload of hot nuclear waste derailing catastrophically along a major urban corridor with the ensuing evacuations of nearby inhabitants. It means, in essence, that one of those Fukushima “pools” of out-of-control waste could “go nuclear” anywhere in our landscape.

Risk is about more than likelihood; it’s also about impact. If I tell you that your chances of being bitten by a mosquito as you cross my yard are one in a hundred, you’ll think of that risk differently than if I give you the same odds on a deadly pit viper. As events unfold in Japan, it’s ever clearer that we’re talking pit viper, not mosquito. You wouldn’t know it though if you were to debate nuclear industry representatives, who consistently downplay both odds and impact, and dismiss those who claim otherwise as hysterical doomsayers. Fukushima will assumedly make their task somewhat more difficult.

Hidden Costs and Wasted Subsidies

The true costs of nuclear power are another subject carefully fudged and obscured by nuclear power advocates. From its inception in federally funded labs, nuclear power has been highly subsidized. A recent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that “more than 30 subsidies have supported every stage of the nuclear fuel cycle from uranium mining to long-term waste storage. Added together, these subsidies have often exceeded the average market price for the power produced.” When it comes to producing electricity, these subsidies are so extensive, the report concludes, that “in some cases it would have cost taxpayers less to simply buy the kilowatts on the open market and give them away.”

If the nuclear club in Congress, led by Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, gets its way, billions more in subsidies will be forthcoming, including massive federal loan guarantees to build the next generation of nuclear plants. These are particularly important to the industry, since bankers won’t otherwise touch projects that are notorious for mammoth cost overruns, lengthy delays, and abrupt cancellations.

The Obama administration has already proposed an additional $36 billion in such guarantees to underwrite new plant construction. That includes $4 billion for the construction of two new nuclear reactors on the Gulf Coast that are to be operated in partnership with Tokyo Electric Power Company - that’s right, the very outfit that runs the Fukushima complex. Yet when I debate nuclear advocates, they always claim that, in cost terms, nuclear power outcompetes alternative sources of energy like wind and solar.

That government gravy train doesn’t just stop at new power plants either. The feds have long assumed the epic costs of waste management and storage. If another multi-billion dollar project like the now-abandoned Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada is built, it will be with dollars from taxpayers and captive ratepayers (the free market be damned). Industry spokesmen insist that subsidizing such projects will be well worth it, since they will create thousands of new jobs. Unfortunately for them, a definitive 2009 University of Massachusetts study that analyzed various infrastructure investments including wind, solar, and retrofitting buildings to conserve energy placed nuclear dead last in job creation.

Finally, the recently renewed Price-Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act limits the liability of nuclear utilities should a catastrophe like the one in Japan happen here in the United States. The costs of recovery from the Fukushima catastrophe will be astronomical. In the U.S., nuclear utilities would be off the hook for any of those costs and you, the citizen, would foot the bill. Despite their assurances that nothing can go wrong here, nuclear industry officials have made sure that in their business risk and reward are carefully separated. It’s a scenario we should all know well: private corporations take away profits when things go well, and taxpayers assume responsibility when shit happens.

Finally, nuclear power boosters like to proclaim themselves “green” and to claim that their industry is the ideal antidote to global warming since it produces no greenhouse gas emissions. In doing so, they hide the real environmental footprint of nuclear energy.

It’s quite true that no carbon dioxide comes out of power-plant smokestacks. However, maintaining any future infrastructure to handle the industry’s toxic waste is guaranteed to produce lots of carbon dioxide. So does mining uranium and processing it into fuel rods, building massive reactors from concrete and steel, and then behemoth repositories capable of holding waste for 1,000 years. Radiation from the Fukushima meltdown is now entering the Japanese food chain. How green is that?

The Watchdogs Play Dead

Over the course of nuclear power’s history, there have been scores of mishaps, accidents, violations, and problems that, chances are, you’ve never heard about. Beyond the unavoidable bad PR over the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island in 1979, the Chernobyl meltdown in 1986, and now the Japanese catastrophe, the industry has an excellent record - of covering up its failures.

The co-dependent relationship between the nuclear corporations and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the federal agency charged with licensing and monitoring them, resembles the cozy relationship between the Securities Exchange Commission and Wall Street before the global economic meltdown of 2008. The NRC relies heavily on the industry’s own reports since only a small fraction of its activities can be inspected yearly.

A report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, “The NRC and Nuclear Power Plant Safety in 2010,” which highlights the NRC’s haphazard record of inspection and enforcement, makes clear just why the honor system that assumes utilities will honestly report problems has never worked. It describes 14 recent serious “near miss” violations that initially went unreported. At the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant, only 38 miles north of the New York metropolitan area, for instance, NRC inspectors ignored a leaking water containment system for 15 years.

After a leaking roof forced the shutdown of two reactors at the Calvert Cliffs nuclear facility in Maryland, plant managers admitted that it had been leaking for eight years. When Honeywell hired temporary workers to replace striking union members at its uranium refinery in Illinois, they were slipped the correct answers to a test required for those allowed to work at nuclear plants, because otherwise they had neither the knowledge nor experience to pass.

The regulation of Japan’s nuclear industry mirrors the American model. Japan’s legacy of regulatory scandals, falsified safety records, underestimated risks, and cover-ups includes an incident in 1999 when workers mixed uranium in open buckets and exposed hundreds of coworkers to radiation. Two later died. Other scandals involved hiding cracks in steam pipes from regulators in 1989, lying about a fire and explosion at a plant near Tokyo in 1997, and covering up damage to a plant from an earthquake in 2007.

In the wake of the Fukushima catastrophe, we will no doubt discover how there, too, so-called watchdogs rolled over and played dead. In recent years, in fact, the Fukushima complex had the highest accident rate of any of the big Japanese nuclear plants. We’ve already learned that an engineer who helped design and supervise the construction of the steel pressure vessel that holds the melting fuel rods in Reactor No. 4 warned that it was damaged during production. He had himself initially orchestrated a cover-up of this fact, but revealed it a decade later - only to be ignored. During the complex’s construction by General Electric some 35 years ago, Dale Bridenbaugh, a GE employee, resigned after becoming convinced that the reactors being built were seriously flawed. He, too, was ignored. The Vermont Yankee reactor in Vermont and 23 others around the U.S. replicate that design.

Stay tuned, since more examples of reckless management will surely come to light...

Risk Is Not a Math Problem

That culture of secrecy is a logical fit for an industry that is authoritarian by nature. Unlike solar or wind power, nuclear power requires massive investments of capital, highly specialized expertise, robust security, and centralized control. Any local citizen facing the impact of a uranium mine, a power plant, or a proposed waste depository will attest that the owners, operators, and regulators of the industry are remote, unresponsive, and inaccessible. They misinform because they have the power to get away with it. The absence of meaningful checks and balances enables them.

Risk, antinuclear advocates quickly learn, is not simply some complicated math problem to be resolved by experts. Risk is, above all, a question of who is put at risk for whose benefit, of how the rewards, costs, and liabilities of an activity are distributed and whether that distribution is fair. Those are political questions that citizens directly affected should be answering for themselves. When it comes to nuclear power, that doesn’t happen because the industry is undemocratic to its core. Corporate officers treat downwind stakeholders with the same contempt they reserve for honest accountings of the industry’s costs and dangers.

It may be difficult for the average citizen to unpack the technicalities of nuclear power, or understand the complex physics and engineering involved in splitting atoms to make steam to produce electricity. But most of us are good at detecting bullshit. We know when something like the nuclear industry doesn’t pass the smell test.

There is a growing realization that our carbon-based energy system is warming and endangering this planet, but replacing coal and oil with nuclear power is like trading heroin for crack - different addictions, but no less unhealthy or risky. The “nuclear renaissance,” like the “peaceful atom” before it, is the energy equivalent of a three-card monte game, involving the same capitalist crooks who gave us oil spills, bank bailouts, and so many of the other rip-offs and scams that have plagued our lives in this new century.

They are serial killers. Stop them before they kill again. Credibility counts and you don’t need a PhD or a Geiger counter to detect it.

( Chip Ward was a founder of HEAL Utah, a grassroots group that has led the opposition to the disposal of nuclear waste in Utah and the construction of a new reactor next to Green River. A TomDispatch regular, he is the author of Canaries on the Rim: Living Downwind in the West and Hope’s Horizon: Three Visions for Healing the American Land. To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview in which Ward discusses the endless legacy of nuclear power, click here, or download it to your iPod here. is for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of our post-9/11 world and a clear sense of how our imperial globe actually works. Read more about the site's founder and editor Tom Engelhardt and his guest authors. Click here to e-mail Tom.)

And you thought today's fun with essays was almost over . . . silly you. You won't believe the following items of interest:
Revealed: US Spy Operation That Manipulates Social Media Military's 'Sock Puppet' Software Creates Fake Online Identities To Spread Pro-American Propaganda Nick Fielding and Ian Cobain, 17 March 2011 (Gen David Petraeus has previously said US online psychological operations are aimed at 'countering extremist ideology and propaganda'.) The US military is developing software that will let it secretly manipulate social media sites by using fake online personas to influence internet conversations and spread pro-American propaganda. A Californian corporation has been awarded a contract with United States Central Command (Centcom), which oversees US armed operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, to develop what is described as an "online persona management service" that will allow one US serviceman or woman to control up to 10 separate identities based all over the world. The project has been likened by web experts to China's attempts to control and restrict free speech on the internet. Critics are likely to complain that it will allow the US military to create a false consensus in online conversations, crowd out unwelcome opinions and smother commentaries or reports that do not correspond with its own objectives. The discovery that the US military is developing false online personalities – known to users of social media as "sock puppets" – could also encourage other governments, private companies and non-government organisations to do the same. The Centcom contract stipulates that each fake online persona must have a convincing background, history and supporting details, and that up to 50 US-based controllers should be able to operate false identities from their workstations "without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries". Centcom spokesman Commander Bill Speaks said: "The technology supports classified blogging activities on foreign-language websites to enable Centcom to counter violent extremist and enemy propaganda outside the US." He said none of the interventions would be in English, as it would be unlawful to "address US audiences" with such technology, and any English-language use of social media by Centcom was always clearly attributed. The languages in which the interventions are conducted include Arabic, Farsi, Urdu and Pashto. Centcom said it was not targeting any US-based web sites, in English or any other language, and specifically said it was not targeting Facebook or Twitter. Once developed, the software could allow US service personnel, working around the clock in one location, to respond to emerging online conversations with any number of co-ordinated messages, blogposts, chatroom posts and other interventions. Details of the contract suggest this location would be MacDill air force base near Tampa, Florida, home of US Special Operations Command. Centcom's contract requires for each controller the provision of one "virtual private server" located in the United States and others appearing to be outside the US to give the impression the fake personas are real people located in different parts of the world. It also calls for "traffic mixing", blending the persona controllers' internet usage with the usage of people outside Centcom in a manner that must offer "excellent cover and powerful deniability". The multiple persona contract is thought to have been awarded as part of a programme called Operation Earnest Voice (OEV), which was first developed in Iraq as a psychological warfare weapon against the online presence of al-Qaida supporters and others ranged against coalition forces. Since then, OEV is reported to have expanded into a $200m programme and is thought to have been used against jihadists across Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Middle East. OEV is seen by senior US commanders as a vital counter-terrorism and counter-radicalisation programme. In evidence to the US Senate's armed services committee last year, General David Petraeus, then commander of Centcom, described the operation as an effort to "counter extremist ideology and propaganda and to ensure that credible voices in the region are heard". He said the US military's objective was to be "first with the truth". This month Petraeus's successor, General James Mattis, told the same committee that OEV "supports all activities associated with degrading the enemy narrative, including web engagement and web-based product distribution capabilities". Centcom confirmed that the $2.76-million contract was awarded to Ntrepid, a newly formed corporation registered in Los Angeles. It would not disclose whether the multiple persona project is already in operation or discuss any related contracts. Nobody was available for comment at Ntrepid. In his evidence to the Senate committee, Gen Mattis said: "OEV seeks to disrupt recruitment and training of suicide bombers; deny safe havens for our adversaries; and counter extremist ideology and propaganda." He added that Centcom was working with "our coalition partners" to develop new techniques and tactics the US could use "to counter the adversary in the cyber domain". According to a report by the inspector general of the US defence department in Iraq, OEV was managed by the multinational forces rather than Centcom. Asked whether any UK military personnel had been involved in OEV, Britain's Ministry of Defence said it could find "no evidence". The MoD refused to say whether it had been involved in the development of persona management programmes, saying: "We don't comment on cyber capability." OEV was discussed last year at a gathering of electronic warfare specialists in Washington DC, where a senior Centcom officer told delegates that its purpose was to "communicate critical messages and to counter the propaganda of our adversaries". Persona management by the US military would face legal challenges if it were turned against citizens of the US, where a number of people engaged in sock puppetry have faced prosecution. Last year a New York lawyer who impersonated a scholar was sentenced to jail after being convicted of "criminal impersonation" and identity theft. It is unclear whether a persona management programme would contravene UK law. Legal experts say it could fall foul of the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981, which states that "a person is guilty of forgery if he makes a false instrument, with the intention that he or another shall use it to induce somebody to accept it as genuine, and by reason of so accepting it to do or not to do some act to his own or any other person's prejudice". However, this would apply only if a website or social network could be shown to have suffered "prejudice" as a result. • This article was amended on 18 March 2011 to remove references to Facebook and Twitter, introduced during the editing process, and to add a comment from Centcom, received after publication, that it is not targeting those sites.
Handcuffs, anyone? I wish.
Oh Look, Handcuffs! Real Ones.... Now this is a change.... Former FirstCity Bank executives Mark A. Conner, 44, and Clayton A. Coe, 41, each face conspiracy and bank fraud charges, the U.S. Attorney's Office said in a release. Conner is charged separately with conducting a continuing financial crimes enterprise and allegedly netted, along with an unknown number of co-conspirators, more than $5 million.

Conner could face up to life in prison if convicted, and Coe could face up to 30 years, according to federal guidelines.

Criminal charges this time? I'm somewhat impressed, given that this appears to be more-or-less a first. Oh sure, there was the TBW stuff, but those weren't really banks - they were people who screwed with Colonial, more-or-less.

“At the heart of this indictment is an abuse of power by key insiders, who arecharged with tricking their own colleagues into approving millions of dollars in commercial loans to fund the defendants’ own personal business activities, and to enrich themselves at the bank’s expense,” U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said.

How does this not apply to basically all of the TBTF institutions? After all, this entire mess was all about their personal homes in the Hamptons, yachts and other similar things, right? Wait a second... I think I get it. If you "make" billions in salary and bonuses by writing eighty percent of your paper with trashy loans, fail as a business but then succeed in extorting $23.7 trillion in funds and guarantees from The Federal Government and Federal Reserve (not my numbers, those are from SIGTARP) to save your sorry firm's ass then it's all ok.

It's only if you fail to extort the government and the bank blows up that you get indicted? Jeff Jarvis: Washington shows the morals of a clumsy spammer America's Absurd Stab at Systematising Sock Puppetry

The US has a chance to move on from a history of clandestine foreign policy – instead it acts like a clumsy spammer

17 March 2011 The US government's plan to use technology to create and manage fake identities for social interaction with terrorists is as appalling as it is amusing. It's appalling that in this era of greater transparency and accountability brought on by the internet, the US of all countries would try to systematise sock puppetry. It's appallingly stupid, for there's little doubt that the fakes will be unmasked. The net result of that will be the diminution, not the enhancement, of American credibility.

But the effort is amusing as well, for there is absolutely no need to spend millions of dollars to create fake identities online. Any child or troll can do it for free. Millions do. If the government insists on paying, it can use to monitor and join in chats. There is no shortage of social management tools marketers are using to find and mollify or drown out complainers. There's no shortage of social-media gurus, either.

Tools are quite unnecessary, though. Just get yourself a fake email account, Uncle Sam, and you can create and manage anonymous and pseudonymous identities across most any social service.

Hell, if the government wants to spread information around the world without being detected, why doesn't it just use WikiLeaks? Oh, that's right. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called WikiLeaks disclosures "not just an attack on America [but an] attack on the international community". The leaks, she said, "tear at the fabric" of government.

Yes, indeed, they tore at the fabric of the Tunisian government and helped launch the revolts in the Middle East and a wave of freedom – and, we hope, democracy – across borders. The movement of liberation we are witnessing came not from war and weapons or spying and subterfuge but from a force more powerful: transparency; openness; honesty.

I remain sorely disappointed that the Obama administration's reflexive response to the WikiLeaks revelations was to clamp down and then condemn, attack, and reportedly torture the alleged leaker and his allies in accountability. Obama missed the opportunity to separate himself from a secretive and sometimes deceitful history of government.

He could make good on his campaign pledge to run the transparent administration. Even while disapproving of the theft of documents, he could acknowledge the lesson of the leaks: that government keeps too much from its people. Government is secret by default and transparent by force when it should be transparent by default and secret by necessity.

He and Clinton could separate themselves, too, from a history of clandestine interference in foreign politics and of prioritising security over democracy – that is, propping up co-operative dictators instead of supporting the rights of their subjects. They could now offer support to any liberated people to establish their new national orders. They could operate under the belief that the truth will out and the faith that the truth shall set people free.

I have spent the last year researching the benefits of publicness for an upcoming book, Public Parts. I believe we are at the very early stage of a second Gutenberg revolution. In the Observer, John Naughton suggests we imagine ourselves as pollsters on a Mainz bridge in 1472, 17 years after the first printed Bibles (we are less than 17 years from the first web pages). Ask the people how likely they think it will be that Gutenberg's invention will:

(a) Undermine the authority of the Catholic church? (b) Power the Reformation? (c) Enable the rise of modern science? (d) Create entirely new social classes and professions? (e) Change our conceptions of "childhood" as a protected early period in a person's life?

I'll be accused by the corps of curmudgeons of being an internet triumphalist, daring to compare Gutenberg's tool to Tim Berners-Lee's. Fine, we'll find out in a century who's right.

In the meantime, I think we can agree that it's sad to see the US government taming the power of the net to stoop to the morals of a clumsy Nigerian spammer.

An "internet triumphalist?" I like the sound of that. _______________________