US Veto: Speaking With Forked-tongue

By Jim Miles

It is common within early U.S. history to describe the communications from the white settlers to the indigenous population as being done with a “forked tongue,” as described clearly by Wikipedia:

The phrase “speaks with a forked tongue” means to say one thing and mean another or, to be hypocritical, or act in a duplicitous manner. In the longstanding tradition of many Native American tribes, “speaking with a forked tongue” has meant lying, and a person was no longer considered worthy of trust, once he had been shown to “speak with a forked tongue”.

The U.S. tradition of speaking with a forked tongue is long and dishonourable, as the actions taken by the U.S. for its imperial and foreign policies are as indicated hypocritical, duplicitous, and untrue.

Today’s vote at the UN continued this manner of dialogue as Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the UN tries to explain why the U.S. vetoed the UN vote on settlements. Her arguments and reasoning, while rhetorically sounding firm, are at best duplicitous and at worst lying by evasion.

Rice begins saying, “The United States strongly opposed continued Israeli settlement activity so our objection was not on that point.” Okay, so why then over the history of the ongoing settlements has the U.S. not done anything within its power to prevent the settlements. Words are fine, but as the Palestinians have learned on one side of the fence and the Israelis have learned on both sides of the fence, words simply allow more settlements to be built, more Palestinian land to be expropriated.

If the U.S. actually wanted to do something, they could have held back many or all of the billions in dollars of aid that it forwards each year, and could have held back much or most or all of the military equipment and technology it has transferred over each year. Actions like those would speak much louder than words.

Rice continued, “The question for us was would this resolution and its adoption advance that goal of achieving an independent Palestinian state or cause one or both parties to dig in and make it even harder to resume the very necessary process of direct negotiation?” Well, yes, it would as it would signal that perhaps the U.S. is finally reading world opinion more correctly and is at minimum willing to change some of its rhetoric if not its actions.

Two problems remain. First, the Israelis are already dug in, literally, as they have built their settlements, have built their barriers, have built their bypass roads, have built their waterworks and gas lines. They are literally dug into the Palestinian territories, as the Palestinians are slowly being ethnically cleansed from their own land.

Secondly, the “process of direct negotiations” has always been and always will be a failure, as one side with no power of any kind cannot “negotiate” with a side that has all the power, and further has all the complicit and tacit support of the world’s largest and most powerful military and economic empire.

That is sheer and utter hypocrisy – pretending to be good, moral, and ethical, while stealing what one wants – as the U.S. did in its imperial drive against the indigenous peoples of North America and as they continue to do so alongside Israel within the Palestinian territories.

On the limitations of the UN Rice says, “The United Nations cannot create an independent state of Palestine. It won’t happen. It has to be negotiated between the two parties.” This is an interesting statement as it is part of the Israeli narrative of their creation that – apart from biblical claims and following on the Balfour Declaration – the UN “legitimized” Israel when it proposed the UN partition plan.

The UN also created a series of mandates in the Middle East that the world did not seem to have too much trouble with, mainly because they carved the region up for the sake of mainly the British and French imperial interests of the time. There is no reason, other than U.S. obstructionism, that the UN could not make a declaration that there is a state of Palestine in such and such an area.

Many countries of the world, more recently the South American countries, have given recognition to a Palestine using the ‘green line’ of the 1948 war as the border. The green line is an amazing concession of territory on the part of the Palestinians, giving up eighty per cent of their territory for peace and a small remnant of their former territory.

I have already discussed the uselessness of negotiations. In addition to my earlier comments, the recent exposure of the Palestine Papers by al-Jazeera should demonstrate that, yes, there were partners for peace, and even more, partners for capitulation. The Palestinian Authority does not have legitimate authority to negotiate a settlement on behalf of any of the Palestinian people other than its own cronies and quislings attempting to preserve their elite and relatively more powerful and wealthy positions while being subservient to the Israelis.

There is no legitimate authority at the moment to negotiate with – not because there are no “partners for peace” as the Israelis and U.S. have always claimed, but because the Palestinians have not been allowed to create a truly democratic and representative bargaining committee consisting of representatives of the common people of Palestine.

As for the UN declaration, Rice says, “We can have declaration after declaration but at the end of the day they don’t create facts recordon the ground.” Well, truthfully they do, Israeli facts on the ground, as the U.S. provides a smokescreen of useless rhetoric and the lie of neutrality.

Twice Rice phrases a time line during which the U.S. has been “clear” and “consistent” with its comments on the settlements. That much the world knows, and – pardon the constant reiteration (it is what the U.S. is also very good at) – is what allows the settlements to continue unabated.

She says, “The United States has for six administrations been very clear we do not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity. There’s no question about that. We have been clear and unequivocal.” Later she adds, “This is not the view of the Obama administration, this is the view of the United States. We do not and have not for thirty years accepted the legitimacy of Israeli settlement activity.”

This can only be read as that the duplicity, lies, and dishonesty are consistent traits of all U.S. administrations. And even though Obama campaigned on “hope” and “change”, and then made a sort of wonderfully conciliatory speech in Cairo (and the world knows what is happening their and elsewhere in the Arab world) he too has accepted as part of his worldview that speaking with a forked tongue works well in the world of U.S. diplomacy.

When questioned on the difference between “legitimacy” and “legality”, Rice came up with the latter statement above on the thirty years of forked tongue speaking. The reality of international law is that the settlements are illegal, under several sections of the UN Charter and the Geneva Conventions. Part of international law, developing from the Nuremberg trials, is that being passive in the face of internationally illegal activities makes a party complicit with the crime.

The U.S. is guilty of international crimes by supporting the Israeli crimes in the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza both materially and politically, as well as supporting their illegal attacks on Lebanon.

The goal of the U.S. as stated by Rice is laughable, “The goal is to achieve a viable, independent, contiguous, and democratic Palestinian state.” Let’s work backwards on this one. When a democratic vote was taken in Palestine in 2006, Canada (being the first), the U.S., the U.K., the E.U., and other U.S. mercenary states disallowed the vote and took concrete actions, in the form of money transfers and training of the PA authorities militias in security measures that could be used against their own people.

The U.S. plays loose and fancy with democracy, and again recent events in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, and Yemen among others demonstrates the lie of the U.S. rhetoric on democracy (with U.S. puppet regime of Saudi Arabia remaining silent).

Next, a contiguous state is declared the goal. This in total denial of the hypocrisy, the double standards, the basic ignorant stupidity of all other statements about stopping settlement activity. There is no contiguous state, only a series of cantons or bantustans, or enclaves, perhaps prisons will do. This will not be undone through a series of false front negotiations that the Israelis will gladly continue for the next sixty years as they continue to claim Palestinian land.

Viability and independence are next. Another set of impossibilities for negotiations, and another full on ridiculous statement in light of the so called peace process and its total failure to do anything but create more Israeli inhabited territory.

The U.S. has continually used its forked tongue for its own benefit in any “negotiations” it has carried out. This originated from the first negotiated treaties with the indigenous people of North America – at least those that were not simply outlawed and made subject to massacres and murder without recourse to any law of any kind. It continues today with its UN rhetoric and with its rhetoric about its concerns for Palestine and Israel.

No matter how nice and kind and civilized its word, its actions are illegal under international law, and basically barbaric when it comes to human common sense. As the empire unravels, even with the violence that accompanies that, it will be better than the violence of the forked tongue empire.

Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor/columnist of opinion pieces and book reviews for The Palestine Chronicle. Miles’ work is also presented globally through other alternative websites and news publications.

Egypt: Obama Groping In The Dark

The events of the past week in Egypt took the Obama administration by surprise. It did not foresee the mass revolt against Washington’s longtime asset, Hosni Mubarak. Even as tens of thousands of workers and youth were defying police violence last Tuesday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was vouching for the stability of the regime.

The United States is heavily invested—politically, economically and militarily—in the Mubarak regime. Its reluctance to dispense summarily with the dictator is not an expression of sentimentality. Rather, the United States fears that the too rapid ditching of Mubarak will undermine the confidence of other dictators on the CIA payroll in the reliability of Washington.

However, in the final analysis, Mubarak’s fate is a secondary matter. Of incomparably greater concern to Washington is the survival of the Egyptian military and security services upon which capitalist rule depends.

At the moment, the Obama administration is concerned that an attempt to use the army to crack down on the protests could lead to the military’s collapse. It is not certain that the troops can be relied on to shoot down citizens on the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, Port Said and other cities, which might be the only way to save Mubarak.

US policymakers are haunted by the precedent of the Iranian revolution of 1979. Washington had not prepared a political alternative to the Shah, and the Iranian military cracked beneath the pressure of the revolution. The result was the loss of a critical client state in the Persian Gulf.

The policy being developed in Washington has, in the short term, two aims: to shore up the Egyptian military and intelligence apparatus—hence the appointment of intelligence chief and former general Omar Suleiman as vice president—and to prepare a political alternative to Mubarak if his removal proves necessary. But any replacement sanctioned by Washington will be nothing more than a puppet providing pseudo-democratic window dressing for a new military regime.

One candidate for the job is Mohamed ElBaradei, who is being promoted by the US media. A trusted representative of the Egyptian bourgeoisie, ElBaradei flew to Egypt from his home in Vienna last week for the explicit purpose of heading off a revolutionary overthrow and rescuing the bourgeois regime.

The Muslim Brotherhood, for its part, has agreed to back ElBaradei as it makes its own bid for patronage from Washington.

In a series of television interviews on Sunday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton clearly indicated the basic outlines of the counterrevolutionary strategy being developed by the White House. She avoided calling for Mubarak’s resignation while refusing to commit to his continued rule.

In line with the Obama administration’s cynical calls for democratic reform in Egypt, Clinton made the ludicrous statement: “We continue to urge the Egyptian government, as the United States has for 30 years, to respond to the legitimate aspirations of the Egyptian people and begin to take concrete steps to implement democratic and economic reform.” [Emphasis added].

Of what has this 30-year crusade for democratic reform in Egypt consisted? Plying Mubarak with $35 billion in aid, overwhelmingly military, and lauding him as a staunch ally in the wars against Iraq, the defense of Israel and the “war on terror.” Not only has the US colluded in the regime’s murder and torture of political opponents, it has used Mubarak’s intelligence agencies and police as torturers-for-hire in Washington’s policy of kidnapping and “rendering” alleged terrorists.

Clinton added, “And we have to make the distinction, as they [the Egyptian army] are attempting to do, between peaceful protesters whose aspirations need to be addressed, and then those who take advantage of such a situation for looting and other criminal activity.”

Here Clinton is already distinguishing between “legitimate” and “illegitimate” forms of protest—the former being those that do not challenge US interests and the latter being those that do. She is laying down the political and pseudo-moral framework for justifying future mass repression.

Washington is aware that whatever government it sponsors will not end the political crisis in Egypt. It is impossible for any capitalist regime to meet a single one of the social or political demands of the masses—for jobs, an end to poverty in the cities and countryside, and the abolition of the brutally repressive police agencies.

Nor will a bourgeois regime end Egypt’s alliance with Israel, which has been an essential component of the country’s strategic role in the Middle East since the trip of President Anwar Sadat, Mubarak’s predecessor, to Jerusalem in 1977. The venal Egyptian bourgeoisie is too complete an appendage of American imperialism to carry out such policies.

The Obama administration’s strategy, therefore, is to prepare the military, behind the façade of a phony “reform” administration, for a future brutal crackdown on the working class. One can be certain that behind the scenes, the Pentagon is conducting a detailed inventory of every regiment, brigade and branch of the Egyptian military to determine which forces can be relied upon.

The burning issue confronting the revolution is political leadership. The American ruling class is well aware of this fact. In an interview published Saturday, Jon B. Alterman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington said, “As in Tunisia, the protests appear to represent a largely leaderless movement with no clear agenda and no way to seize power.”

It is this political vacuum that American imperialism and its clients in the Egyptian ruling class seek to exploit.

From WSWS

UPA Report Card: Drifting From Tragedy To Farce

The Manmohan Singh government completes 6 years in office today. Alas, it has nothing to show by way of achievement except making India an American satellite. As the following assessment by Prakash Karat underlines, if there is an impression of drift and being directionless, the Congress government has only itself to blame for this plight. After thinking it can go ahead with its own policy prescriptions, it now finds itself in a position where its partners in Government often look at things differently and assert themselves.

The present UPA government is completing one year of its tenure on May 22. Unlike the first UPA government, its second edition did not spell out a common minimum programme. Instead, the Congress-led government began by reiterating its commitment to pursue the neo-liberal agenda. It announced that it would take up those policy measures which it could not push through in its first term in office.

The government also promised to bring in some welfare measures for the aam aadmi. On foreign policy, the government stated that it would adhere to the path taken by the first UPA government of aligning India’s foreign policy in tune with the strategic alliance with the United States of America.

The one-year of the UPA government has been notable for the following:

Firstly, it has totally failed to tackle the relentless price rise of essential commodities particularly food items. This has been the biggest cause for people’s suffering in the past year; for the poor it has meant less food and more hunger and malnutrition.

This is not a “failure” as such but an outcome of the determination to pursue neo-liberal policies. Food items and other essential commodities are traded and speculated in the market in a big way. The forward trading system is the playground for big trading companies and corporates. The government is in the least interested in curbing these interests who are making huge profits.

Secondly, the Congress-led government is in the grip of finance capital and the sway of big business. It believes in cutting taxes for the rich; providing a tax bonanza for big business and maintaining favourable terms for foreign finance speculators.

The Direct Taxes Code which the government proposes to usher in will make India one of the least taxed countries as far as the rich are concerned. In the last financial year, the government provided Rs. 80,000 crore of tax concessions to the corporates. The disinvestment of shares in the profitable public sector units is the favoured agenda of both Indian big business and the US corporate interests.

Every sphere of policy making, whether it concerns the pricing of gas, the allocation of telecom spectrum, opening up of mining and minerals, the financial sector, retail trade or allowing foreign educational institutions into the country – bears the imprint of a government pandering to big business and their foreign finance collaborators.

Thirdly, this type of growth under the neo-liberal regime has spawned crony capitalism. The nexus between big business and politics has become the hallmark of the Congress regime. The legitimacy provided to foreign capital flows from dubious sources through the Mauritius route and other tax havens; the huge illegal mining business flourishing under political protection; the refusal to discipline and penalize law breaking and tax evasions on a large scale on the part of the super rich – all this has promoted a unhealthy and perverted capitalism which is celebrated as India’s growth story.

What this has produced is corruption and illegality on a large scale which affects every sphere of society. The first year of the government has seen the IPL affair, the 2G spectrum allocation scam and the mining scandal of the Reddy brothers. All this can be directly sourced to the nexus between big business and ruling politicians.

Fourthly, the UPA government’s concern for the aam aadmi has proved to be shallow. The Congress and the UPA government are conscious that some relief has to be provided to the people who are the worst victims of the neo-liberal policies.

During the UPA I tenure, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the farm loan waiver and the Forest Rights Act were some such measures. These were part of the Common Minimum Programme and came into being mainly due to the consistent pressure and struggles waged by the Left parties.

However, under the UPA II, the government has failed to legislate even one substantial measure for relief. The proposed Food Security Bill would have in no way enhanced food security for the people.

After one year, the government is still debating how to bring about such a measure. The Public Distribution System has been further weakened and curtailed. The plight of the farmers does not seem to concern the government which has cut the fertilizer subsidy by Rs. 3000 crore in the current Union budget.

The Common Minimum Programme of the first UPA government had promised to increase public expenditure in education to 6 per cent of the GDP and in the sphere of health to 2 to 3 per cent of the GDP.

As far as education is concerned the combined central and state expenditure is still below 4 per cent. In the case of health the combined budgetary allocation of the Union and state budgets was a meager 1.06 per cent of the GDP in 2009-10, far below the target of 2-3 per cent.

Fifthly, the UPA government has failed to utilize the favourable political atmosphere and the strength of the secular forces in parliament to push for firm anti-communal measures. It seems visibly reluctant to come to terms with the Ranganath Mishra Commission report recommending reservation for the minorities on the basis of their socio-economic backwardness. There has been a noticeable lack of political initiative in dealing with the simmering problem of Kashmir.

As far as tackling the Maoist violence is concerned, the UPA government tends to treat it solely as a law and order problem without realizing that some of its own policies like the licence for indiscriminate mining in the forest areas is alienating the tribal people.

Moreover, it finds itself hampered by its own partner in government, the TMC. Mamata Banerjee has declared that there are no Maoists in West Bengal and therefore there is no need for joint operations against them.

Sixthly, foreign policy under the Manmohan Singh Government has remained steadfast in its fealty to the United States. As a quid pro quo for the nuclear deal, India has agreed to buy billions of dollars of US arms and equipment.

The End Use Monitoring Agreement which would allow American inspections on Indian soil was signed. The Civil Nuclear Liability Bill which has been introduced in parliament to meet the demand of the United States is patently against the interests of the Indian people. The growing military and security collaboration with the US and Israel affects the pursuit of an independent policy.

India has gone along with the United States which is targeting Iran on the nuclear issue. It once more voted against Iran in the IAEA, unlike other non-aligned countries. India is not playing the role of a leading non-aligned country.

In contrast, President Lula De Silva of Brazil has stood up to the United States and refused to go along with the campaign for further sanctions on Iran. President Lula has visited Tehran for talks with the Iranian leadership to find a way out of the impasse and to come to some agreement with the help of Turkey.

One of the few positive aspects in foreign policy is the Prime Minister’s refusal to adopt a confrontationist stance towards Pakistan despite what sections in his government and party wish.

The great potential of shaping an independent foreign policy and strengthening of multi-polarity by India’s vigorous diplomacy and energising forums like the BRIC, IBSA and the trilateral meetings of the foreign ministers of Russia, China and India is being underplayed.

Politically, the striking outcome of the first year of the UPA government is its increasing vulnerability. In May 2009, the UPA won the elections but failed to get a majority. The Congress leadership ignored this reality and became complacent with the unilateral declaration of support by parties like the BSP, SP, RJD and the JD(S). By the end of the first year that complacency has been shattered.

During the last budget session, the Congress had to adopt the tactic of bargain and striking deals to garner support from amongst these parties. The last three weeks of the budget session have witnessed the manouevres to prop up the government’s majority against the cut motions and the struggle to ensure the passage of legislations.

The cynical use of the CBI for political purposes is undermining the credibility of the agency. The wheeling and dealing that saw the postponement of the Women’s Reservation Bill in the Lok Sabha and the introduction of the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill – all portend a tortuous path for the future.

If there is an impression of drift and being directionless, the Congress government has only itself to blame for this plight. After thinking it can go ahead with its own policy prescriptions, it now finds itself in a position where its partners in Government often look at things differently and assert themselves. There is growing opposition within parliament.

As far as the people are concerned, their experience is of a government increasingly callous to their sufferings due to price rise, while it showed great solicitude for big business and the corporates when it felt the impact of the global recession.

After the first six months of the government, there has been the rising tempo of popular struggles and movements. A peak in this struggle was reached with the April 27 hartal called by the 13 opposition parties. A spate of struggles of different sections of the working people have taken place. The struggle is on against the harmful policies of the government and to defend the livelihood and the rights of the working people. The question is whether the UPA government has learnt any lessons from its first year in office.

America’s Ten Most Corrupt Capitalists

The financial crisis has unveiled a new set of public villains—corrupt corporate capitalists who leveraged their connections in government for their own personal profit. During the Clinton and Bush administrations, many of these schemers were worshiped as geniuses, heroes or icons of American progress. But today we know these opportunists for what they are: Deregulatory hacks hellbent on making a profit at any cost. Without further ado, here are the 10 most corrupt capitalists in the US economy.

1. Robert Rubin
Where to start with a man like Robert Rubin? A Goldman Sachs chairman who wormed his way into the Treasury Secretary post under President Bill Clinton, Rubin presided over one of the most radical deregulatory eras in the history of finance. Rubin’s influence within the Democratic Party marked the final stage in the Democrats’ transformation from the concerned citizens who fought Wall Street and won during the 1930s to a coalition of Republican-lite financial elites.

Rubin’s most stunning deregulatory accomplishment in office was also his greatest act of corruption. Rubin helped repeal Glass-Steagall, the Depression-era law that banned economically essential banks from gambling with taxpayer money in the securities markets. In 1998, Citibank inked a merger with the Travelers Insurance group. The deal was illegal under Glass-Steagall, but with Rubin’s help, the law was repealed in 1999, and the Citi-Travelers merger approved, creating too-big-to-fail behemoth Citigroup.

That same year, Rubin left the government to work for Citi, where he made $120 million as the company piled up risk after crazy risk. In 2008, the company collapsed spectacularly, necessitating a $45 billion direct government bailout, and hundreds of billions more in other government guarantees. Rubin is now attempting to rebuild his disgraced public image by warning about the dangers of government spending and Social Security. Bob, if you’re worried about the deficit, the problem isn’t old people trying to get by, it’s corrupt bankers running amok.

2. Alan Greenspan
The officially apolitical, independent Federal Reserve chairman backed all of Rubin’s favorite deregulatory plans, and helped crush an effort by Brooksley Born to regulate derivatives in 1998, after the hedge fund Long-Term Capital Management went bust. By the time Greenspan left office in 2006, the derivatives market had ballooned into a multi-trillion dollar casino, and Greenspan wanted his cut. He took a job with bond kings PIMCO and then with the hedge fund Paulson & Co.—yeah, that Paulson and Co., the one that colluded with Goldman Sachs to sabotage the company’s own clients with unregulated derivatives.

Incidentally, this isn’t the first time Greenspan has been a close associate of alleged fraudsters. Back in the 1980s, Greenspan went to bat for politically connected Savings & Loan titan Charles Keating, urging regulators to exempt his bank from a key rule. Keating later went to jail for fraud, after, among other things, putting out a hit on regulator William Black. (“Get Black – kill him dead.”) Nice friends you’ve got, Alan.

3. Larry Summers
During the 1990s, Larry Summers was a top Treasury official tasked with overseeing the economic rehabilitation of Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. This project, was, of course, a complete disaster that resulted in decades of horrific poverty. But that didn’t stop top advisers to the program, notably Harvard economist Andrei Shleifer, from getting massively rich by investing his own money in Russian projects while advising both the Treasury and the Russian government. This is called “fraud,” and a federal judge slapped both Shleifer and Harvard itself with hefty fines for their looting of the Russian economy. But somehow, after defrauding two governments while working for Summers, Shleifer managed to keep his job at Harvard, even after courts ruled against him.

That’s because after the Clinton administration, Summers became president of Harvard, where he protected Shleifer. This wasn’t the only crazy thing Summers did at Harvard—he also ran the school like a giant hedge fund, which went very well until markets crashed in 2008. By then, of course, Summers had left Harvard for a real hedge fund, D.E. Shaw, where he raked in $5.2 million working part-time. The next year, he joined the the Obama administration as the president’s top economic adviser. Interestingly, the Wall Street reform bill currently circulating through Congress essentially leaves hedge funds untouched.

4. Phil and Wendy Gramm
Summers, Rubin and Greenspan weren’t the only people who thought it was a good idea to let banks gamble in the derivatives casinos. In 2000, Republican Senator from Texas Phil Gramm pushed through the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, which not only banned federal regulation of these toxic poker chips, it also banned states from enforcing anti-gambling laws against derivatives trading. The bill was lobbied for heavily by energy/finance hybrid Enron, which would later implode under fraudulent derivatives trades. In 2000, when Phil Gramm pushed the bill through, his wife Wendy Gramm was serving on Enron’s board of directors, where she made millions before the company went belly-up.

When Phil Gramm left the Senate, he took a job peddling political influence at Swiss banking giant UBS as vice chairman. Since Gramm’s arrival, UBS has been embroiled in just about every scandal you can think of, from securities fraud to tax fraud to diamond smuggling. Interestingly, both UBS shareholders and their executives have gotten off rather lightly for these acts. The only person jailed thus far has been the tax fraud whistleblower. Looks like Phil’s earning his keep.

5. Jamie Dimon
J.P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon has done a lot of scummy things as head of one of the world’s most powerful banks, but his most grotesque act of corruption actually took place at the Federal Reserve. At each of the Fed’s 12 regional offices, the board of directors is staffed by officials from the region’s top banks. So while it’s certainly galling that the CEO of J.P. Morgan would be on the board of the New York Fed, one of J.P. Morgan’s regulators, it’s not all that uncommon.

But it is quite uncommon for a banker to be negotiating a bailout package for his bank with the New York Fed, while simultaneously serving on the New York Fed board. That’s what happened in March 2008, when J.P. Morgan agreed to buy up Bear Stearns, on the condition that the Fed kick in $29 billion to cushion the company from any losses. Dimon– CEO of J.P. Morgan and board member of the New York Fed– was negotiating with Timothy Geithner, who was president of the New York Fed– about how much money the New York Fed was going to give J.P. Morgan. On Wall Street, that’s called being a savvy businessman. Everywhere else, it’s called a conflict of interest.

6. Stephen Friedman
The New York Fed is just full of corruption. Consider the case of Stephen Friedman (expertly presented by Greg Kaufmann for the Nation). As the financial crisis exploded in the fall of 2008, Friedman was serving both as chairman of the New York Fed and on the board of directors at Goldman Sachs. The Fed stepped in to prevent AIG from collapsing in September 2008, and by November, the New York Fed had decided to pay all of AIG’s counterparties 100 cents on the dollar for AIG’s bets—even though these companies would have taken dramatic losses in bankruptcy. The public wouldn’t learn which banks received this money until March 2009, but Friedman bought 52,600 shares of Goldman stock in December 2008 and January 2009, more than doubling his holdings.

As it turns out, Goldman was the top beneficiary of the AIG bailout, to the tune of $12.9 billion. Friedman made millions on the Goldman stock purchase, and is yet to disclose what he knew about where the AIG money was going, or when he knew it. Either way, it’s pretty bad—if he knew Goldman benefited from the bailout, then he belongs in jail. If he didn’t know, then what exactly was he doing as chairman of the New York Fed, or on Goldman’s board?

7. Robert Steel
Like better-known corruptocrats Robert Rubin and Henry Paulson, Steel joined the Treasury after spending several years as a top executive with Goldman Sachs. Steel joined the Treasury in 2006 as Under Secretary for Domestic Finance, and proceeded to do, well, nothing much until financial markets went into free-fall in 2008. When Wachovia ousted CEO Ken Thompson, the company named Steel as its new CEO. Steel promptly bought one million Wachovia shares to demonstrate his commitment to the firm, but by September, Wachovia was in dire straits. The FDIC wanted to put the company through receivership—shutting it down and wiping out its shareholders.

But Steel’s buddies at Treasury and the Fed intervened, and instead of closing Wachovia, they arranged a merger with Wells Fargo at $7 a share—saving Steel himself $7 million. He now serves on Wells Fargo’s board of directors.

8. Henry Paulson
His time at Goldman Sachs made Henry Paulson one of the richest men in the world. Under Paulson’s leadership, Goldman transformed from a private company ruled by client relationships into a public company operating as a giant global casino. As Treasury Secretary during the height of the financial crisis, Paulson personally approved a direct $10 billion capital injection into his former firm.

But even before that bailout, Paulson had been playing fast and loose with ethics rules. In June 2008, Paulson held a secret meeting in Moscow with Goldman’s board of directors, where they discussed economic prognostications, market conditions and Treasury rescue plans. Not okay, Hank.

9. Warren Buffett
Warren Buffett used to be a reasonable guy, blasting the rich for waging “class warfare” against the rest of us and deriding derivatives as “financial weapons of mass destruction.” These days, he’s just another financier crony, lobbying Congress against Wall Street reform, and demanding a light touch on—get this—derivatives! Buffet even went so far as to buy the support of Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Nebraska, for a filibuster on reform. Buffett has also been an outspoken defender of Goldman Sachs against the recent SEC fraud allegations, allegations that stem from fancy products called “synthetic collateralized debt obligations”—the financial weapons of mass destruction Buffett once criticized.

See, it just so happens that both Buffet’s reputation and his bottom line are tied to an investment he made in Goldman Sachs in 2008, when he put $10 billion of his money into the bank. Buffett has acknowledged that he only made the deal because he believed Goldman would be bailed out by the U.S. government. Which, in fact, turned out to be the case, multiple times. When the government rescued AIG, the $12.9 billion it funneled to Goldman was to cover derivatives bets Goldman had placed with the mega-insurer. Buffett was right about derivatives—they are WMD so far as the real economy is concerned. But they’ve enabled Warren Buffett to get even richer with taxpayer help, and now he’s fighting to make sure we don’t shut down his own casino.

10. Goldman Sachs
No company exemplifies the revolving door between Wall Street and Washington more than Goldman Sachs. The four people on this list are some of the worst offenders, but Goldman’s D.C. army has includes many other top officials in this administration and the last.

White House:
Joshua Bolton, chief of staff for George W. Bush, was a Goldman man

Regulators:
Current New York Fed President William Dudley is a Goldman man

Current Commodity Futures Trading Commission Chairman Gary Gensler has been a responsible regulator under Obama, but he was a deregulatory hawk during the Clinton years, and worked at Goldman for nearly two decades before that.

A top aide to Timothy Geithner, Gene Sperling, is a Goldman man

Current Treasury Undersecretary Robert Hormats is a Goldman man

Current Treasury Chief of Staff Mark Patterson is a former Goldman lobbyist

Former SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt is now a Goldman adviser

Neel Kashkari, Henry Paulson’s deputy on TARP, was a Goldman man

COO of the SEC Enforcement Division Adam Storch is a Goldman man

Congress:
Former Sen. John Corzine, D-N.J., was Goldman’s CEO before Henry Paulson

Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., was a Goldman Vice President before he ran for Congress

Former House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., now lobbies for Goldman

And the list goes on.

Zach Carter/AlterNet

Oppose The Nuclear Liability Bill

The recent radioactive poisoning death in Delhi has once again highlighted the fact that the Civil Nuclear Liability Act being foisted on the nation will only help American companies get away with murder just as Union Carbide did after killing and maiming thousands in Bhopal. In the Mayapuri case one person died after coming into contact with a radioactive pencil that was disposed of by Delhi University as scrap, the vice chancellor appeared on TV to offer only an apology. No talk of compensation. This is going to be repeated on a horrific scale in case of an accident at nuclear power plants proposed to be built across the country. Sitaram Yechury argues why this the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill must be opposed

On the last day of the budget session of Parliament, the government hurriedly introduced the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill amid largescale protests by the Opposition.

The Left had opposed the introduction of the Bill itself on the grounds of violation of Article 21 of the Constitution, which guarantees protection of life and personal liberty.

Former Attorney General Soli Sorabjee says, “In view of Supreme Court judgements which are part of Indian jurisprudence and whose thrust is for the protection of victims of accidents as part of their fundamental rights under Article 21 of the Constitution there is no warrant or justification for capping nuclear liability.”

However, it is precisely such a cap that the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill introduces.
The proposed Bill has sought to limit all liability arising out of a nuclear accident to only 300 million Special Drawing Rights (about $450 million) and the liability of the operator only to Rs 300 crore.

The difference between $450 million and Rs 300 crore (about $67 million) is the government’s liability. Given that a serious accident can cause damage in billions, the small cap of $450 million that’s been proposed shows the scant regard the the UPA has for the people.

The Bhopal Settlement of $470 million reached between the government of India and Union Carbide and accepted by the Supreme Court, has been shown to be a gross underestimation. Even today, gas victims are suffering and have received only meagre compensation.

It is unconscionable of the UPA government to suggest that all nuclear accidents, which have the potential of being much larger than Bhopal, be capped at a figure that has already been shown to be a gross underestimate. Since the government wants to allow private operators in the nuclear power sector, this low level for compensation is meant to serve their interests too.

Apart from this, the minuscule liability of Rs 300 crore for the actual operator is tantamount to encouraging the operator to play with plant safety.

The Indian legal regime is quite clear: for hazardous industries, the plant owners have strict liability. Neither does the law accept any limits to liability — the party concerned must not only pay full compensation but also the cost of any environmental damage that any accident may cause. The Oleum leak from Sriram Food and Fertility settled the liability regime in India and any legislation seeking to cap liability will be completely retrogressive.

Contrary to the claims being made, the Vienna Convention — the basis of the proposed Nuclear Liability Bill — does not cap nuclear liability but only puts a minimum floor. It also allows countries to operate their liability regimes. For example, Germany, Japan and Finland all have unlimited liability, the same as current Indian law.

The US has a liability cap of $10.2 billion. Not only is the Indian government proposing to cap liability of nuclear plants, but it is also proposing a cap of only $450 million, way below the consequences of any serious nuclear accident. It appears that in order to promote private nuclear power and foreign suppliers, the UPA government is willing to sacrifice its own people.

The suppliers’ liability is also being considerably weakened by the proposed Bill. Instead of the normal contract law, where recourse of the operator to claim damages is inherent, the Bill limits this recourse only if it is explicitly mentioned in the contract. Otherwise, the nuclear operator cannot claim compensation from the supplier of equipment even if it is shown to be faulty.

It is evident that contracts for buying US nuclear reactors will explicitly exclude any liability on the part of the suppliers and, therefore, by the law to be adopted, they will go scot-free even if an accident occurs due to a defect in the equipment supplied by a US company.

In fact the UPA-II government wanted such a legislation, which the prime minister could carry with him to the Nuclear Security Summit that President Obama convened in Washington in April. However, following the controversial passage of the Women’s Reservation Bill in the Rajya Sabha with the help of marshals, the crucial support of 47 Lok Sabha MPs belonging to the BSP, SP and RJD was not forthcoming.

This obstacle, however, appears to have been overcome now through possibly some ‘bargain’ similar to what happened at the time of the passage of the Indo-US nuclear deal.

The US is insisting that this law be enacted to protect US suppliers of nuclear equipment from liability to pay compensation in the case of a nuclear accident. Currently, only the State-run Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. under the existing Atomic Energy Act can operate nuclear power plants. But with the opening up of international nuclear commerce, US companies have sought a civil nuclear liability framework to be put in place before they enter.

The US government has linked the completion of the Indo-US nuclear agreement to India’s capping of nuclear liability. The UPA-I government, prior to the ratification of the 123 Agreement, had given a written commitment that India will buy nuclear reactors from the US totalling 10,000 megawatt of capacity.

This Bill has now been referred to the parliamentary standing committee for its consideration. It will now be tabled in the monsoon session. It is imperative for all political parties to ensure that the government is not allowed to disregard the life and safety of the Indian people through such a legislation. Article 21 of the Constitution and the various judgements of the Supreme Court cannot be allowed to be violated.


Climate Change: Privatising The Atmosphere

Market solutions in the form of emissions trading do the opposite of the environmental principle that the polluter should pay. Through emissions, trading private polluters are getting more rights and more control over the atmosphere which rightfully belongs to all life on the planet. Indeed, emissions trading “solutions” actually pay the polluter, argues Vandana Shiva

The Unite Nations climate change conference at Copenhagen next month is meant to further the goals of a global environmental treaty — the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). In 1988, a resolution of the UN General Assembly considered the climate change matter as a “common concern for mankind”, and the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change was created. On May 9, 1992, the UNFCCC was adopted in New York and opened for signing in June 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio. It came into effect on March 21, 1994.

The goal of the Convention, according to Article 2, is to “stabilise the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at a level that prevents all dangerous anthropogenic disturbance of the climate system”. Since the historic polluters were the rich, industrialised countries, the Convention required that by 2000 they stabilise their greenhouse gas emissions at their 1990 level.

Under the Convention, the Kyoto Protocol was adopted in Kyoto on December 11, 1997. The Kyoto Protocol set binding targets on industrialised countries for reducing their greenhouse gas emissions to an average of five per cent against the 1990 levels over a five year period, 2008 to 2012.

However, in 2007, America’s greenhouse gas levels were 16 per cent higher than their 1990 levels. The much-announced Waxman Markey “American Clean Energy and Security Act” commits the US to 17 per cent emissions reduction below 2005 levels by 2020. However, this is a mere four per cent below their 1990 levels.

Further, the emissions trading or offsets, in fact, are a mechanism to not reduce emissions at all. As the Breakthrough Institute in United States, “a small think tank with big ideas”, states “If fully utilised, the emissions ‘offset’ in the American Clean Energy and Security Act would allow continued business as usual growth in the US greenhouse gas emissions until 2030, leading one to wonder: where’s the ‘cap’ in the ‘cap and trade’.”

The Kyoto Protocol allows industrialised countries to trade their allocation of carbon emissions among themselves (Article 17). It also allows an investor in an industrialised country (industry or government) to invest in an eligible carbon mitigation project in a developing country and be credited with Certified Emission Reduction Units that can be used by investors to meet their obligation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This is referred to as the Clean Development Mechanism under Article 12 of the Kyoto Protocol.

The Kyoto Protocol gave 38 industrialised countries, that were the worst historical polluters, emissions rights. The European Union Emissions Trading Scheme rewarded 11,428 industrial installations with carbon dioxide emissions rights.

Through emissions trading, Larry Lohmann, the co-author of Carbon Trading: A Critical Conversation on Climate Change, Privatisation and Power, observes, “Rights to the earth’s carbon cycling capacity are gravitating into the hands of those who have the most power to appropriate them and the most financial interest to do so.”

That such schemes are more about privatising the atmosphere than preventing climate change is made clear by the fact that emissions rights given away in the Kyoto Protocol were several times higher than the levels needed to prevent a two-degree-Celsius rise in global temperatures.

Just as patents generate super profits for pharmaceutical and seed corporations, emissions rights generate super profits for polluters. The Emissions Trading Scheme granted allowances of 10 per cent more than 2005 emission levels; this translated to 150 million tonnes of surplus carbon credits which, with the 2005 average price of $7.23 per ton, translates to over $1 billion of free money.

The UK’s allocations for the British industry added up to 736 million tonnes of carbon dioxide over three years, which implied no reduction commitments. Since no restrictions are being put on northern industrial polluters, they will continue to pollute and there will be no reduction in CO2 emissions.

Market solutions in the form of emissions trading are thus doing the opposite of the environmental principle that the polluter should pay. Through emissions, trading private polluters are getting more rights and more control over the atmosphere which rightfully belongs to all life on the planet. Emissions trading “solutions” pay the polluter.

Carbon trading is based on inequality because it privatised the commons. It is also based on inequality because it uses the resources of poorer people and poorer regions as “offsets”. It is considered to be 50 to 200 times cheaper to plant trees in poorer countries to absorb CO2 than reducing it at source. The Stern Review states, “Emissions trading schemes can deliver least cost emissions reductions by allowing reductions to occur wherever they are cheapest.”

In other words, the burden of “clean up” falls on the poor. In a market calculus, this might appear efficient. In an ecological calculus, it would be far more effective to reduce emissions at source. And in an energy justice perspective, it is perverse to burden the poor twice — first with the externality of impacts of CO2 pollution in the form of climate disasters and then with the burden of remediating the pollution of the rich and powerful.

It is because of this failure of the rich countries to cut back on emissions that the global climate negotiations are not moving forward. When secretary of state Hillary Clinton visited India in April 2009 and tried to apply pressure on India to cut back on emissions, Indian environment minister Jairam Ramesh responded: “Even with eight-nine per cent GDP annual growth for the next decade or two, our per capita emissions will be well below developed country averages. There is simply no case for the pressure we face to reduce emissions.”

When Clinton stated that the per capital argument “loses force as developing countries rapidly become the biggest emitters”, Mr Ramesh replied that India’s position on per capita emissions is “not a debating strategy” because it is enshrined in international agreements. “We look upon you suspiciously because you have not fulfilled what developed countries pledged to fulfilled”, he said candidly. The failure of the rich countries to fulfil their climate obligations has created a “crisis of credibility”.

The US is leading the dismantling of the UNFCCC. At the Bangkok negotiations, the lead negotiator of the US said: “We are not going to be part of an agreement that we cannot meet. We say a new agreement has to be signed by all countries. We cannot be stuck with an agreement that is 20 years old. We want action from all countries.”

The proposal of the US is to get out of the legally-binding UNFCC, to set targets nationally which could be noted down in a new international agreement, without it being legally binding internationally and without a people compliance mechanism.

Copenhagen is supposed to evolve new commitments for Annexure I countries for the post-Kyoto period. The science of climate change tells us the five per cent reduction commitments of Kyoto are too small, 80 to 90 per cent reduction is needed to keep air pollution at 350ppm and temperature increase within 2°C to avoid catastrophic climate change. Instead of taking on their legally-binding commitments and deepening cuts, the rich countries want to abandon UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol.

The press release of October 9, 2009, from the G-77 and China categorically stated: “This is simply unacceptable. It would betray the trust of the world public that is demanding a major step forward and not a major step backwards, in developed countries commitments and actions. We will also consider the Copenhagen COP meeting to be a disastrous failure if there is no outcome for the commitments period of the Kyoto Protocol”.

The UNFCCC is the only international agreement we have in the context of climate change. The challenge at Copenhagen is to prevent its dismantling. The global environmental movement needs to throw its weight behind the countries of the South who are trying their best to uphold the climate treaty.

Courtesy: The Asian Age

Fort Hood: Collateral Damage From Iraq And Afghan Wars

The impact of Washington’s neo-colonial wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including the moral impact of the enormous gulf between the “official story” and harsh reality, must find expression within sections of the US military itself. To fight an unpopular war against a hostile population is a demoralising and inevitably brutalising experience

The mayhem at Fort Hood in Texas on Thursday, which has left 13 men and women dead and 30 injured, is a by-product of the brutal wars in the Middle East and Central Asia. It is a form of “collateral damage” for which the American political and military establishment is ultimately responsible.

The US interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan have now lasted a combined 14 and a half years Not only is there no end in sight in either case, there is the prospect of the wars’ expansion into Pakistan, with bloodier and more disastrous consequences. The invasions have already led to the devastation of Iraqi and Afghan society, the deaths of as many as a million Iraqis alone, and thousands of Americans killed, or maimed.

The wars are not about democracy, overthrowing tyrants, or protecting the American people from terrorism. The US ruling elite is waging these interventions to seize control of critical energy supplies, to strengthen its position vis à vis its rivals in Europe and Asia, to gain global hegemony through its military superiority.

The impact of these neo-colonial wars, including the moral impact of the enormous gulf between the “official story” and harsh reality, must find expression within sections of the US military itself. To fight an unpopular war against a hostile population is a demoralising and inevitably brutalising experience.

The alleged perpetrator at Fort Hood, Maj. Nidal M. Hasan, the son of Palestinian immigrant parents now both dead, spent most of his Army medical career at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, DC. For six years, from 2003 until last summer, he worked as a liaison between wounded soldiers and the hospital’s psychiatric staff.

In that capacity, he dealt with severely wounded military personnel. His aunt told the Washington Post that on the rare occasions “when he spoke of his work in any detail … Hasan told her of soldiers wracked by what they had seen. One patient had suffered burns to his face so intense ‘that his face had nearly melted,’ she said. ‘He told us how upsetting that was to him.’” An op-ed piece in the Baltimore Sun by a Vietnam veteran and psychiatrist asks, only half-facetiously, “Is post-traumatic stress disorder something you can catch from your patients like a virus?”

Hasan, a devout Muslim, apparently developed a fierce opposition to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Promoted to the rank of major in May, he subsequently learned he was going to be deployed to Afghanistan. He had hired a military lawyer and had been attempting to avoid being sent overseas and to leave the Army since September. Hasan’s aunt told the Post that the military “would not let him leave even after he offered to repay” the cost of his medical training.

His cousin commented to the media that Hasan was deeply traumatised about seeing wartime service. “We’ve known for the last five years that that was probably his worst nightmare. He would tell us how he hears horrific things [from the wounded] … that was probably affecting him psychologically.”

Many factors combine to produce the sort of breakdown that Hasan obviously underwent, including the overall social and political atmosphere in the country. A co-worker told reporters that Hasan was angry about American involvement in the ongoing wars, and that he “was hoping Obama would pull troops out and that things would settle down, and when things were not going that way, he became more agitated and frustrated with the conflicts over there.” The imperviousness of the existing political system to the sentiments of the population, along with the resulting feelings of alienation and powerlessness, is no small contributor to apparently “senseless” violence.

Personal mental instability is undoubtedly an element. Unmarried and without a girlfriend, a “bookish loner,” increasingly devoted to religion, Hasan had told relatives that “the military was his life.” Bitter disappointment and a sense of betrayal as he discovered the true character of the occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and horror over the possibility of being compelled to participate in those wars, may well have pushed a psychologically vulnerable individual over the edge.

The media is already harping on one of its favourite themes whenever a mass shooting takes place in America: how did the authorities miss the “warning signs”? Indeed, there seem to have been numerous such signs in this case, including Hasan’s alleged web site postings in defence of suicide bombers, and his frantic anxiety about deployment to Afghanistan.

On the one hand, the Army’s apparent indifference to Hasan’s state of mind gives some indication of the value the military command places on the work of its psychiatric staff, overworked and overwhelmed in any event as a result of the volume of mentally damaged Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans thrust into the system.
On the other, how is the military to pick out signs of a potential individualcollapse, when there are so many indications of mass, collective breakdown?

The Wall Street Journal reported November 3, two days before the Fort Hood killings, that 16 US soldiers killed themselves in October, “an unusually high monthly toll that is fuelling concerns about the mental health of the nation’s military personnel after more than eight years of continuous warfare.”

The Journal notes that 134 active-duty soldiers had taken their lives so far in 2009, putting “the Army on pace to break last year’s record of 140. … The number of Army suicides has risen by 37% since 2006, and last year, the suicide rate surpassed that of the US population for the first time.” More soldiers killed themselves in 2008 than at any time since the Pentagon began keeping track nearly three decades ago.

In late October, a National Guard soldier, who had served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, home on a 15-day leave, shot himself in the head in a Muncie, Indiana movie theatre. In July a 30-year-old soldier was shot and killed by a fellow soldier at a party at Fort Hood, and in September a soldier shot and killed a lieutenant at the base, before killing himself (Fort Hood, the largest military installation in the world, has suffered more than 500 combat deaths and 75 suicides since 2001). In Baghdad earlier this year, an Army sergeant walked into a combat stress centre and opened fire, killing five of his fellow soldiers.

Ten members of a single military unit at Fort Carson, Colorado, were charged with murder, attempted murder, or manslaughter from 2006 through the fall of 2008.

An article in the September 2009 issue of Management Science notes that the tempo of deployment cycles in Iraq is higher than for any war since World War II and that survey data suggests that the rate of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder among Iraq war veterans may be as high as 35 percent.

Endless war is wreaking havoc on American society. The Fort Hood shootings emerge almost inevitably out of this horror and confusion.

David Walsh