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Monday, April 28, 2008

Legality of Iraq War & Occupation

In a post dated May 6, 2003 on, Bette Stockbauer wrote:

"When the Bush administration started lobbying for war with Iraq, they used as rationale a definition of preemption (generally meaning anticipatory use of force in the face of an imminent attack) that was broadened to allow for the waging of a preventive war in which force may be used even without evidence of an imminent attack.
They also were able to convince much of the American public that Saddam Hussein had something to do with the attacks of 9/11, despite the fact that no evidence of a link has been uncovered. Consequently, many people supported the war on the basis of 1) a policy that has no legal basis in international law [emphasis supplied] and 2) a totally unfounded claim of Iraqi guilt."

If the US occupation is illegal, why haven't any Iraqis, to the best of my knowledge, filed charges against the US in the International Court of Justice at the Hague? Maybe some have. I should try to research this.

Friday, April 25, 2008

A Voice for Equality

A note from the October 2007 issue of Harvard Magazine on H.U. Professor Howard Gardner, brought to my attention by Joe the Conqueror:

"In the magazine Foreign Policy, he argued in the spring for upper limits on the amount of income an American should be allowed to keep and the amount of wealth that can be passed on to beneficiaries ($4 million a year and $200 million, respectively). 'It makes sense to be moderate politically only if there are two sides willing to engage,' he says. 'The right wing isn’t just taking over the country, it’s shanghaiing all our values. If there’s a Republican administration after the next election, I would join in efforts for some sort of secession. It’s not the same country anymore.' "

Secession is unrealistic and doesn't pass the giggle test, but limits on income and a radical revision in the estate tax could transform this country into a nation where the concept of equality is honored, not thrown on the trash pile.
Liberté, Fraternité, Egalité. Obama, as previously reported here, has said that income inequality in the US is now the greatest it's been since the Great Depression. A recent profile of corporate raider Carl Ikan (sp?) on Sixty Minutes revealed that his net worth is more than $8 billion dollars. One man. Worth 8 billion dollars. Is there any one person whose skills are so great that s/he's entitled to possess that kind of money? When the dropout rate in public high schools is an average 33 percent, and in some areas of the country 50 percent? And the US has the highest percentage of its population in prison of any industrialized nation? And the US health care system ranks last among those of industrialized nations in terms of access, quality and efficiency, according to the Commonwealth Fund?

Another note on the Federal Reserve System. Since the US is no longer on the gold standard, the power to regulate the money supply is the power to regulate its value, according to Peter Joseph's documentary Zeitgeist
. (Though of course international currency exchange rates also play a role.) In any case, the Fed has fundamentally awesome power that should be subject to close oversight by the legislative branch of government, not left to a cabal of millionaire bankers.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Klein: The Mercenary Factor in Iraq

You ask: What about the mercenary soldiers that Blackwater and other firms supply in this new and heavily privatized warfare that characterizes the US occupation of Iraq? Good question. Ms. Klein reports that in February 2007 "the Associated Press put the number of contractors in Iraq at 120,000, almost equivalent to the number of U.S. troops . . . The UN's budget for peacekeeping in 2006-2007 was $5.25 billion--that's less than a quarter of the $20 billion Halliburton got in Iraq contracts, and the latest estimates are that the mercenary industry alone is worth $4 billion . . . During the April 2004 uprising of Moqtada al-Sadr's movement in Najaf, Blackwater actually assumed command over active-duty U.S. marines in a daylong battle with the Mahdi Army, during which dozens of Iraqis were killed." The Shock Doctrine, pp. 378-80.

So here's a way to augment troop levels in an unpopular war, or occupation--pay people to come in and fight on your side. You don't hear the press reporting on the number of mercenaries in Iraq, so the American public gets a distorted picture of the level of overall "US forces." Does Congress have oversight of mercenaries such as Blackwater? Not that I know of. Seems to be an executive branch/Pentagon kind of thing. Yet these mercenaries are fighting in our name. Shouldn't the voting public have some kind of say in this? The billions of dollars the mercenaries are being paid comprise US tax dollars.

Sometime, when you're in the mood to have your mind blown out the window, and you have two hours to spare, go to and take in the video, holding on hard to your sense of skepticism--if you can. (It plays better during the day or late at night than it does at prime time when apparently video traffic on the Web is heavier.)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Klein: Bush Admin. Oil Law for Iraq a 'Disgrace'

As to Iraq's oil reserves, Klein writes that the Bush administration drafted a new law that the Iraqi cabinet adopted in February 2007. The law "placed no limits on the amount of profits that foreign companies can take from the country and made no specific requirements about how much or how little foreign investors would partner with Iraqi companies or hire Iraqis to work in the oil fields. Most brazenly, it excluded Iraq's elected parliamentarians from having any say in the terms for future oil contracts . . . It's hard to overstate the disgrace of this attempted resource grab. Iraq's oil profits are the country's only hope of financing its own reconstruction when some semblance of peace returns. To lay claim to that future wealth in a moment of national disintegration was disaster capitalism at its most shameless." The Shock Doctrine, p. 377.

I've got to research the United Nations charter. For the life of me I can't understand how what the U.S. is doing to Iraq can be legally permissible. It's legal for the US to occupy a sovereign state for as long as it feels like it? To stay in perpetuity? I mean is the US just stealing another country? What's next? Will the Bush administration annex Iraq? Propose that it become the 51st state? wtf ! ! !

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Klein: Status of Iraq Occupation

How is the occupation of Iraq going, you ask? Naomi Klein writes that between 2006-07 "all the major U.S. reconstruction contractors pulled out of Iraq, their billions spent, the bulk of the work undone. Parsons was handed $186 million to build 142 health clinics. Only 6 were ever completed." And the treatment of suspected insurgents? Klein writes: "In the first three and a half years of occupation, an estimated 61,500 Iraqis were captured and imprisoned by U.S. forces, usually with methods designed to 'maximize capture shock.' Roughly 19,000 remained in custody in the spring of 2007. Inside the prisons, more shocks followed: buckets of freezing water; snarling, teeth-baring German shepherds; punching and kicking; and sometimes the shock of electrical currents running from live wires . . . The Red Cross has said that U.S. military officials have admitted that somewhere between 70 and 90 percent of the detentions in Iraq were 'mistakes' . . . In January 2005, Human Rights Watch found that torture within Iraqi-run (and U.S.-supervised) jails and detention facilities was 'systematic,' including the use of electroshock . . . Iraqi jailers were also using the ubiquitous symbol of Latin American torture, the picana, the electric cattle prod . . . [Paul] Bremer was sent to Iraq to build a corporate utopia; instead, Iraq became a ghoulish dystopia where going to a simple business meeting could get you lynched, burned alive or beheaded. By May 2007, more than 900 contractors had been reported killed and 'more than 12,000 wounded in battle or injured on the job,' according to a New York Times analysis." Shock Doctrine, pp. 357-74.

Can this possibly constitute moral behavior by the United States? Is it legal for a state to persist in an occupation that is inflicting such widespread suffering, with no end in sight, other than the promises of Obama and Clinton to end the war? Imagine the psychological state of the average Iraqi when s/he hears Bush or McCain saying there is no timetable for withdrawal of U.S. forces. Mental cruelty is a recognized offense in marital relationships. Should not mental cruelty inflicted on one state by another be regarded as a contravention of the laws of human decency? Why aren't any Iraqis initiating legal proceedings in the Court of International Justice at the Hague? All the prosecution would have to do would be to hand the judge The Shock Doctrine.

One wonders what the future holds. I heard soft-spoken historian and social activist Howard Zinn on CCTV the other night say (and I have not corroborated this) that the U.S. has military bases in 100 countries. Is this empire-building? I thought that era was over. And I thought US military capacities were such that we could project military force, via aircraft carriers and long-range bombers, to any area of the world within a short timeframe. What gives with all these bases?

One hears these things and thinks about these things, and the act of screenwriting, at least screenwriting about gangsters, strikes one as the height of frivolity.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


In the recent post titled "Connecting Dots" one cited a PBS broadcast indicating the percentage of the country's wealth possessed by the richest 1 percent of the nation--and, through inadvertence, reported the wrong figure. The correct figure is 38 percent.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Selling of Iraq

Okay, what does Naomi Klein have to say about US economic actions in Iraq? Consider this (p. 345): "Before the invasion, Iraq's economy had been anchored by its national oil company and by two hundred state-owned companies, which produced the staples of the Iraqi diet and the raw materials of its industry, everything from cement to paper to cooking oil. The month after he arrived in his new job [as director of the ruling Coalition Provisional Authority], [Paul] Bremer announced that the two hundred firms [excluding the oil company] were going to be privatized immediately . . . . Next came the new economic laws. To entice foreign investors . . . Bremer enacted a radical set of laws . . . . One law lowered Iraq's corporate tax to a flat 15 percent (straight out of the Friedman playbook). Another allowed foreign companies to own 100 percent of Iraqi assets . . . . Even better, investors could take 100 percent of the profits they made in Iraq out of the country; they would not be required to reinvest and they would not be taxed. The decree [not voted upon by the Iraqi people] also stipulated that investors could sign leases and contracts that would last for forty years and then be eligible for renewal, which meant that future elected governments would be saddled with deals signed by their occupiers." What this means to a journalist is that Bremer laid the groundwork for the floor of Iraqi industry to be sold out from beneath the feet of the Iraqi people. Whatever happened to due process and fair play? Chucked out the frickin' window.

Klein goes on to write (p. 360-65): "The 'fiasco' of Iraq is one created by a careful and faithful application of unstrained Chicago School ideology . . . . [I]n November 2003, after he canceled local elections, Bremer flew back to Washington for huddled meetings at the White House. When he returned to Baghdad, he announced that general [i.e., national] elections were off the table. Iraq's first 'sovereign' government would be appointed, not elected . . . . Had the Bush administration kept its promise to hand over power quickly to an elected Iraqi government, there is every chance that the resistance would have remained small and containable, rather than becoming a countrywide rebellion. But keeping that promise would have meant sacrificing the economic agenda behind the war, something that was not going to happen--and that is why the violent repercussions of America's denial of democracy in Iraq must also be counted as a form of ideological blowback . . . ."

Is a Moral Occupation of Iraq Possible?

Having trashed Iraq, we now have an obligation to help, somehow, the people still alive there. But we can't reconstruct the country till the sectarian fighting is over and done with. Our troops, as I've said earlier, need to be pulled out of harm's way, greatly reduced in number and repositioned in the desert, along with the embassy operatives and all other US personnel, the numbers of which should also be greatly reduced, and we need to be on call to help the Iraqis rebuild their shattered nation--once they have worked the sectarian hostilities out of their system. If partitioning the country is the only answer, or if UN peacekeepers are necessary, so be it. But that's the Iraqis' decision, not ours. A withdrawal to the desert in reduced numbers would signal the beginning of a moral, rational occupation by the US. We should not be using US troops as policemen in the middle of a civil war. Yet if our very presence in the country is an insult to the Islamic way of life and it is unrealistic to think the Iraqis will ever accept our help in rebuilding, and if the Shia-Sunni conflict is going to turn into an Arab-Israeli-type opposition . . . God it's hard to figure this thing out. If only we hadn't invaded!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Iraq & Illegality

An article in Saturday's NYTimes (p. A8) stated: "Mr. Bush this week accused Iran of arming, financing and training what he called 'illegal militant groups' [in Iraq]. " wtf ! ! ! We're accusing the Iranians of illegality when we're in the middle of an immoral occupation of a sovereign state? This is propaganda that crosses the line from misleading to deranged. This is an area where the Times itself falls down on the job. It will refer to the Iraq occupation as "misguided" or "disastrous," etc., etc., but I've noticed that it does not use the one word that is perhaps most accurate and most devastating, having the potential to lead to the initiation of proceedings before the International Court of Justice at the Hague--"illegal." As one embittered observer put it: "The Times is somebody's bitch." But perhaps it isn't. Though a preemptive US invasion without UN authorization of a sovereign state, and an occupation that, according to Naomi Klein, resulted in an estimated 655,000 Iraqi deaths and created 4 million refugees as of July 2006, together would appear to represent a violation of international law, one is not an attorney and cannot state unequivocally that this is the case, legal technicalities and hair-splitting being what they are. (The invasion and current occupation are certainly an outrageous insult to a civilized conscience.) Be that as it may, one's preliminary legal research has turned up the following statement by the Global Policy Forum, an organization monitoring the United Nations: "In his legal advice [given in March 2003] to British Prime Minister Tony Blair on the legality of the Iraq war, Attorney General Lord Goldsmith describes regime change in Iraq as a disproportionate response to Saddam Hussein's alleged failure to disarm, illegal in the eyes of international law. Goldsmith stresses that in terms of legality, 'regime change cannot be the objective of military action.' "

The law has a long arm. Chile's Pinochet was on trial for murder at the time of his death, according to Naomi Klein.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Connecting Dots

Let's connect some dots. A recent PBS broadcast stated that 1 percent of the US population possesses 38 percent of the country's wealth. In The Shock Doctrine Naomi Klein writes (p. 444) that "In December 2006, a month after [Milton] Friedman died, a UN study found that 'the richest 2 percent of adults in the world own more than half of global household wealth.' The shift [in income patterns] has been starkest in the U.S., where CEOs made 43 times what the average worker earned in 1980, when Reagan kicked off the Friedmanite crusade. By 2005, CEOs earned 411 times as much." The NYTimes recently reported that the Commonwealth Fund indicated that the US ranks last among industrialized nations in the accessibility, quality and efficiency of its health care system. An article by David Leonhardt in the NYTimes of April 9 (p.C4) cited a US Census Bureau report stating that the median annual family income in the US declined by 1 percent between 2000 and 2007 (to $60, 576.00, this figure of course inflated by that upper 1 percent of wage earners who rake in the 7-digit incomes). NBC news recently reported that the dropout rate for public high schools in multiple areas of the country is at or near 50 percent. Public reports have indicated that the US has the highest percentage of its population in prison of any industrialized nation. The Federal Reserve Board is not immediately and directly accountable to the executive or legislative branches of government in its day-to-day operations, to say nothing of the voting public. And we are undertaking, at the cost of $12 billion a month, an immoral occupation of a sovereign state. Connecting these dots creates the outline of a monstrosity. Am I anti-American? Absolutely not. I am pro-equality (as in Liberté, Fraternité, Egalité) pro-democracy, pro-humanity, and I am an unwavering supporter of transparency in government and campaign finance reform. I also support nationalization of the Federal Reserve System.

No kidding it's time for change.

The Fed Called "As Federal as Federal Express"

One's local community-access cable TV channel broadcast the show about the US banking industry again on Thursday night and the show made the point that the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 was drafted by a group of ten bankers who met in secret at Jekyll Island off the coast of Georgia, traveling to the site under assumed names. Their bill was passed by Congress and signed into law by Woodrow Wilson who, near the end of his term in office, went on the record with his misgivings and regrets for having allowed the creation of the Fed. The show went on to say that "The Federal Reserve System is about as federal as Federal Express."

The uncertainty as to whether "private aspects" or "public purposes" guide the Fed is unacceptable. Regulation of interest rates and the money supply should be in the hands of an institution that is wholly and explicitly dedicated to serving the public good. There should be
no possibility that private interests rather than public guide the Fed's decision-making. The economy is created by the labors of the public. It is self-evident that the public interest should determine regulation of interest rates and the money supply--not a cabal of bankers working in secrecy and accountable to no one in their day to day operations.

Human Sacrifice for Profit in US

In yesterday's NYTimes columnist Paul Krugman, in an article headlined "Health Care Horror Stories," reports that the Urban Institute estimates that a "lack of health insurance leads to 27,000 preventable deaths in America each year." Health care should not be treated as a for-profit industry. Health care is a fundamental right of all Americans under the Declaration of Independence which states that all citizens have the right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Krugman points out that "every other advanced nation has some form of universal health insurance." The grip of insurance industry lobbyists on Congress is despicable and must be broken. Their lack of respect for human life is appalling. Thank God in democracy change is possible.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Fed Should Be Nationalized

Further to one's April 8th post on the Fed, one notes that Wikipedia states that: "The system [i.e., the Federal Reserve System, established by the Federal Reserve Act of 1913, which stipulates that its chairman and board of governors are to be selected by the president] is organized much like private corporations so that it can generate revenue independently without the need for congress [i.e., congressional authorization]." The Fed itself says in its Frequently Asked Questions [FAQ] document: "It [i.e., the Federal Reserve System] is considered an independent central bank because its decisions do not have to be ratified by the President or anyone else in the executive or legislative branch of government, [and] it does not receive funding appropriated by Congress, and the terms of the members of the Board of Governors span multiple presidential and congressional terms." Question--if the Fed isn't funded by Congress, who does fund it? But more importantly, the fact that the Fed, by its own admission, is not directly and immediately accountable in its day-to-day operations to the executive branch or the legislative branch or the public electorate makes it an intrinsically anti-democratic institution. Its power to raise or lower interest rates has a profound effect on the economy and the lives of the wage-earners who comprise it, yet when was the last time a collective of economically savvy wage-earners was asked what its view was on interest rates?

The Fed goes on to say, in the FAQ document, that the nation's currency must be "elastic." It defines "elastic currency" as: "Currency that can, by the actions of the central monetary authority [i.e., the Fed itself], expand or contract in amounts warranted by economic conditions." A decision to expand the money supply by printing more currency or to shrink it by taking currency out of circulation has an
enormous effect on the overall economy. The CCTV show one watched the other night quoted a banker as saying: "Give me control over a nation's money supply, and I don't care what its laws are."

The Fed's FAQ document goes on to say: "It [i.e., the Federal Reserve System] is not 'owned' by anyone . . . . [I]t is an independent entity within the government, having both public purposes and private aspects." The Fed well knows who "owns" the system, that is to say the country. A show on PBS the other night about health care stated that the top 1 percent of the American population possesses 38 percent of the nation's wealth. And the crucial question of the proportion of "public purposes" to "private aspects" is left in the dark. Not being directly and immediately accountable to the president, congress or the public in its day-to-day functioning, the Fed has no reason to be transparent in its deliberations or decision-making protocols. Secrecy is often the enemy of democracy. The recent bailout of Bear
Stearns was brokered by the Fed with no opportunity for public input. Could it be that "public purposes," the safeguarding and promotion of the public good, predominate over the "private aspects," i.e., the self-interest of the bankers who run the Fed and their constituencies? Or do the "private aspects" predominate, say by a ratio of 90 to 10? With the current system, we'll never know. In today's NYTimes, Michael Grynbaum (p. C4) quotes an expert on Fed policy saying: "It's a club, and the members of the club tend to be supportive of a club, and particularly of the chairman. It's not popular to dissent." And they deliberate behind closed doors. Why isn't there a Federal Reserve Record, comparable to the Congressional Record?

The Fed is described as a "quasi-public" entity. It's important to realize that that which is "quasi-public" is also "quasi-private." Which ideology predominates during the Fed's deliberations, the public element or the private? It would take a credulous person indeed to imagine a roomful of bankers abandoning the ideology of self-interest and self-aggrandizement that defines the essence of a capitalist banker as they decided on economic matters that had a bearing on their personal assets and class affiliation.

Conclusion--the Federal Reserve System is an anti-democratic institution with near totalitarian control over the nation's banking and economic policies. It should be abolished as soon as possible and replaced by a national banking commission characterized by transparent protocols and public deliberations. An institution that would be immediately and directly accountable to congress and wage-earner collectives, the new People's Reserve System would be explicitly dedicated to serving the public interest.

And so the statement, posted here on April 8th, by one's local community-access cable TV channel that "The Fed is a private corporation" was inaccurate, and I am grateful to the careful reader who led me to look into this matter. The Fed is a "quasi-private" entity. But since the extent to which the public interest predominates in its operations cannot be known, it may in effect be a private corporation.

The Fed Should Be Reconstituted

Through a keyboard error, one has just lost at least a 2,000-word post on the Federal Reserve System, the conclusion of which was that the Fed is intrinsically anti-democratic and should be reconstituted as soon as possible, for that which is quasi-public is also quasi-private, and we have no know way of knowing which aspect predominates.

Facts Without Understanding

One spent some time listening to the testimony of General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker on the status of the illegal US occupation of Iraq on TV today and it struck one as a classic case of a preoccupation with facts coupled with an indifference to truths, the latter not achievable without reference to the concepts of Naomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine, in my opinion. One can be blinded by facts if one refuses to place them in a contextual framework that simplifies and interprets them. One must look deeper than the facts. Percept vs. concept. Both must be brought to bear if understanding is to be achieved.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Astonishing Fact Reported by CCTV

According to one's local community-access cable TV station, the Federal Reserve Board is a private corporation ! Yeah. The Fed. Not part of the US government ! The entity that sets interest rates and controls the money supply, i.e. the printing of money, and therefore has an enormous effect on the economy and the lives of every wage-earner in it is not an institution democratically administered in the public interest, if this broadcast has the facts right. Why wasn't I taught this in high school? How could I as a newspaper-consuming adult not be aware of this? (And I'll hazard a guess that the network of Federal Reserve banks, which I always assumed was part of the federal government, consists of private institutions as well.) Is it appropriate in a democracy that the central banking institution in the country is not the accountable to the electorate? The central banking institution in a democracy should first and foremost serve the public interest, not private interests. In all the coverage of the Bear Stearns bailout that I've read, not once was the fact that the Fed is a private entity (and could therefore have an agenda other than promoting the public good, since it is not accountable to the voting public) mentioned. The increase in the bailout price from $2 to $10 a share had ramifications measured in the millions for Bear holders, its management not excluded. Did the public have a say in this little detail? Is a minimally regulated investment bank such as Bear entitled to the kind of federal protection that a highly regulated commercial bank is? Did the public have a say in this? Would bankruptcy by Bear have sent a corrective and beneficial message to other investment banks with respect to leveraging their assets rather than causing a market panic and systemic disintegration, as the Fed maintained? Did the public, or the public's elected representatives, have a chance to weigh in on this? And one last point--why is it called the securities industry? Where's the security? Friday's NYTimes reported (p.C5) that during its precipitous decline Bear lost $10 billion in a single day. Why isn't it called the risk industry? Why does Wall Street start misleading people at step A, the name of the enterprise? A knowledgeable reader of this weblog has questioned the factual basis of the CCTV broadcast and as soon as current pressures allow one will look into this.

Bush Sr.'s father, one Prescott Bush, was a New York banker who colluded with the Nazis during WWII and was caught, creating a front-page scandal, according to the same TV show.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Bronx Gangsters Claim Victim

I'm ready to tear my hair out, all these gangsters and their vendettas and their tough-guy talk, it's driving me up the wall, it must be because it's the end of the week and I'm out of juice--if I have to listen to one more threat I'm gonna freak. I need a weekend off. During which of course I will watch more gangster DVDs. Anyway, at his low point, where the protag is supposed to experience a dark night of the soul and total hopelessness, he starts shouting at the top of the lungs . . . wtf?!!!?

Friday, April 4, 2008

Detaining the Innocent

How efficient are the mechanisms of the War on Terror? In yesterday's New York Times, Jeffrey Rosen wrote, in a review of Eric Lichtblau's Bush's Law: The Remaking of American Justice, that Lichtblau alleges that of the 2,700 individuals locked up after 9/11 by American authorities, "[M]ost of those men were never shown to have connections to terrorism." Imagine a line of people 2,700 long. Most long movie lines comprise maybe a hundred or so at most. So a line of 2,700 people would be more than 25 times as long as a long movie line. Each to be locked up. Cheney's "law," according to Klein, is that if a person or situation represents a 1 percent potential terrorist threat, authorities must respond as if a 100 percent certainty of attack exists. That makes for a lot of interrogations and detentions, lucrative business for the myriad security contractors the government employs at taxpayer expense.

However, if just one of them had a micro-nuclear bomb in his knapsack . . . .

Hmmmn . . . .

Experience over time will enable us better to judge the probability of this. At this point it's hard to see how standard cost-efficiency models can be applied to the threat of mass destruction. What's the dollar-value of 10,000 lives? Or 100,000? Or one-eighth the population of New York, which would be 1,000,000 lives. How much damage would a micro-nuclear bomb do? Should we detonate one in the Nevada desert to try to gauge this? One always hears about nuclear suitcase-bombs but has anyone ever set one off? Do they work?

Ten Days of Shock

Had to return Shock Doctrine to the library, it's on a request list and I was only permitted to have it for ten days and an amazing ten days it was. I'll request it again and take up where I left off but I need a break from it, having gotten as far as a chapter titled "Iraq Erased." Back under the spell of the cinema tonight, but feeling irritable as I worked because Screenplay 2 seemed lacking in every conceivable respect, and I'm finding no opportunity to make the protag more likeable, or to give any of the supporting characters more depth as I had vowed to do, and feeling annoyed that there is next to no opportunity to get any wit into the dialogue, unlike the case with a stage play, where all one did was bounce from one springboard of "cleverness" to another, the language of the screen being so stripped down. Ah well.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Terrorism & Profit

According to Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine, the economic aspects of the Bush administration's War on Terror are not negligible. The profit opportunities it provides to private industry are enormous and appear to be unending (p. 301):

"Through all its various name changes--the War on Terror, the war on radical Islam, the war against Islamofascism, the Third World War, the long war, the generational war--the basic shape of the conflict has remained unchanged. It is limited neither by time nor space nor target. From a military perspective, these sprawling and amorphous traits make the War on Terror an unwinnable proposition. But from an economic perspective, they make it an unbeatable one: not a flash-in-the-pan war that could potentially be won but a new and permanent feature in the global economic architecture. That was the business prospectus that the Bush administration put before corporate America after September 11. The revenue was a seemingly bottomless supply of tax dollars to be funneled from the Pentagon ($270 billion a year to private contractors, a $137 billion increase since Bush took office); U.S. intelligence agencies ($42 billion a year to contractors for outsourced intelligence, more than double 1995 levels); and the newest arrival, the Department of Homeland Security. Between September 11, 2001, and 2006, the Department of Homeland Security handed out $130 billion to private contractors ... In 2003, the Bush administration spent $327 billion on contracts to private companies--nearly 40 cents of every discretionary dollar."

Privatization of government functions is, along with deregulation of private industry and cuts in government spending on social programs, one of the key principles of Milton Friedman's economic ideology, an ideology that has demonstrated its brutality and savagery in country after country around the world, as amply documented in Klein's overwhelming and shattering work.

Protecting the US from the threat of terrorism is a necessary enterprise, but the thought that in fighting terrorism it is better to spend too much than too little makes the public vulnerable to allowing the War on Terror to turn into a cash cow of insane proportions, siphoning off money from social programs like public education--last night on NBC News it was reported that the drop-out rate from public high schools in numerous areas of the country is in the neighborhood of 50 percent.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The IMF & Mass Unemployment

More from Naomi's Klein's Shock Doctrine:

Between 1996 and 1998, $600 billion disappeared from the stock markets of Asia in a financial panic stemming from a rumor that Thailand did not have enough dollars to back up its currency, most of it withdrawn by corporate traders and international financial institutions in 1997. This economic crisis led countries from Thailand to South Korea to Indonesia to turn to the International Monetary Fund for financial aid. The IMF granted the aid, but on the condition that these countries restructure their economies in ways that, among other things, facilitated investment in or the sale of their indigenous industries by offshore investment firms and multinational corporations. Klein writes (pp. 263-278):

"As far as the IMF was concerned, the crisis was going extremely well. In less than a year, it had negotiated the economic equivalent of extreme makeovers for Thailand, Indonesia, South Korea and the Philippines . . . The human costs of the IMF's opportunism were nearly as devastating in Asia as in Russia. The International Labor Organization estimates that a staggering 24 million people lost their jobs in this period and that Indonesia's unemployment rate increased from 4 to 12 percent. Thailand was losing 2,000 jobs a day at the height of the "reforms"--60,000 a month. In South Korea, 300,000 workers were fired every month--largely the result of the IMF's totally unnecessary demands to slash government budgets and hike interest rates. By 1999, South Korea's and Indonesia's unemployment rates had nearly tripled in only two years . . . As is always the case, women and children suffered the worst of the crisis. Many rural families in the Philippines and South Korea sold their daughters to human traffickers who took them to work in the sex trade in Australia, Europe and North America. In Thailand, public health officials reported a 20 percent increase in child prostitution in just one year--the year after the IMF reforms . . . The Korean titan Samsung ... was broken up and sold for parts: Volvo got its heavy industry division, SC Johnson & Son its pharmaceutical arm, General Electric its lighting division. A few years later, Daewoo's once-mighty car division, which the company had valued at $6 billion, was sold off to GM for just $400 million . . . Other big players who got a piece of the Asian distress sale included Seagram's, Hewlet-Packard, Nestlé, Interbrew and Novartis, Carrefour, Tesco and Ericsson. Coca-Cola bought a Korean bottling company for half a billion dollars; Procter and Gamble bought a Korean packaging company; Nissan bought one of Indonesia's largest car companies. General Electric acquired a controlling stake in Korea's refrigerator manufacturer LG; and Britain's Powergen nabbed LG Energy, a large Korean electricity-and-gas company . . . Bechtel got the contract to privatize the water and sewage systems in eastern Manila . . . Motorola got full control over Korea's Appeal Telecom. The New York-based energy giant Sithe got a large stake in Thailand's public gas company, the Cogeneration. Indonesia's water systems were split between Britain's Thames Water and France's Lyonnaise des Eaux. Canada's Westcoast Energy snapped up a huge Indonesia power plant project. British Telecom purchased a large stake in Both Malaysia's and Korea's postal services [ ! ]. Bell Canada got a piece of Korea's telecom Hansol . . . Employment rates have still not reached pre-1997 levels in Indonesia, Malaysia and South Korea . . . The truth is that Asia's crisis is still not over, a decade later. When 24 million people lose their jobs in a span of two years, a new desperation takes root that no culture can easily absorb . . . The layoffs have continued, with new foreign owners demanding ever-higher profits for their investments. The suicides have also continued: in South Korea, suicide is now the fourth most common cause of death, with thirty-eight people taking their own lives every day . . . And [NY Times columnist] Thomas Friedman . . . declared that what happened in Asia wasn't a crisis at all. 'I believe globalization did us all a favor by melting down the economies of Thailand, Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia and Brazil in the 1990s, because it laid bare a lot of rotten practices [such as capital controls that would limit investment by offshore predators in national industries!] and institutions,' he wrote, adding that 'exposing the crony capitalism in Korea was no crisis in my book.' "

As a Republican, John McCain would of course support unregulated corporate globalization, irrespective of the cost in human suffering.