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Guest Commentary (4364)

Monday, 30 March 2009 07:11

Mike Whitney: Geithner's Hog-wallow

by Mike Whitney

The banks have zeroed in on Geithner's cash giveaway bonanza, the "Public Private Investment Partnership" (PPIP), for their next big sting. As expected, Bank of America and Citigroup have angled their way to the front of the herd, thrusting their pig-heads into the public trough and extracting whatever morsels they can find amid a din of gurgling and sucking sounds. Here's the story from the New York Post:

"As Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner orchestrated a plan to help the nation's largest banks purge themselves of toxic mortgage assets, Citigroup and Bank of America have been aggressively scooping up those same securities in the secondary market, sources told The Post...

But the banks' purchase of so-called AAA-rated mortgage-backed securities, including some that use alt-A and option ARM as collateral, is raising eyebrows among even the most seasoned traders. Alt-A and option ARM loans have widely been seen as the next mortgage type to see increases in defaults.

One Wall Street trader told The Post that what's been most puzzling about the purchases is how aggressive both banks have been in their buying, sometimes paying higher prices than competing bidders are willing to pay.

by Michael Winship

A college friend of mine, after much quaffing from the keg, so to speak, would start singing a faux hymn that began, "We are sliding into sin -- whee!"

I've thought of his bleary tune from time to time as we all watched our financial institutions slide from thoughtless, wretched excess into calamity, aided and abetted by deregulation and bailouts, dragging the rest of us along on their speed bump-free ride.

You'd think there would be a modicum of contrition but mostly it has been deny, deny, deny combined with shivers of revulsion as an angry citizenry freely expresses its opinion. Former Clinton SEC chairman Arthur Levitt sniffed to The Wall Street Journal this week, "It has reached extremes of incivility that are intolerable," and on Friday the Journal editorially wrung its hands over "political Torquemadas" who would dare to prosecute Wall Street executives.

See here, you people, the seemingly dumfounded elite ask, why all this hollering? Well, it wasn't only those AIG bonuses that had folks mad as hell. For sure, they triggered the outburst last week. But then came an ABC News report that JPMorgan Chase -- recipient of $25 billion in bailout bucks, courtesy of taxpayers -- was pressing ahead with plans to spend $138 million on two new corporate jets and a place to park them -- a state of the art hangar with a "vegetated roof garden." Presumably, bank executives will use the vegetation to hide behind when the mob arrives with tar and feathers.

by Burt Hall

Many centuries ago a man of your religion (Nehemiah) persisted until his King finally granted him a leave of absence and enough resources to rebuild Jerusalem. But, there were those who would not benefit if he succeeded and they constantly obstructed him.  Today, our new President has set out to rebuild America and he will persist.  Will you go down in history as one of those obstructers or will you be statesman enough to help him and America succeed?

In times of national crisis a statesman supports good decisions by the President and provides constructive alternatives to those he questions. However, from the very outset, you and the right wing of your party have opposed our new President every step of the way.  According to you, the President has done nothing right since coming to office. While you have presented alternatives to the President's proposals, they are mainly worn out ideas that have failed our country in the past and have contributed to the mess we're in today.  The minute he announced his plan for strengthening our financial institutions, you responded negatively once again.  Yet, by the end of the day, the market had gone up 500 points. 

Wednesday, 25 March 2009 06:30

Paul Arnes: The Eruption of Bobby Jindal

by Paul Arnes

A month ago, when Republican hopeful Bobby Jindal stood at a press conference and ridiculed federal money spent on volcano monitoring, many observers marveled at the sheer stupidity of a Louisiana governor belittling a system that could give advance warning of a natural disaster. Before the governor could take his foot out of his mouth, an Alaskan volcano erupted five times. A volcano that, thanks to promised stimulus money, will be monitored more closely in the future.

by Bill Berkowitz

With his new group, Renewing American Leadership, the former House Speaker aims to unite religious and economic conservatives.

Of all the possible political enterprises you'd expect to find the ubiquitous Newt Gingrich involved with, an effort aimed at uniting religious and economic conservatives would not immediately come to mind. "Drill Here. Drill Now. Pay Less." Sure. A health care reform plan advocating medical savings accounts? Absolutely. Privatizing Social Security? Definitely. Now with his eyes apparently firmly planted on the 2012 presidential sweepstakes, and sensing a definite opening, the smart and snarky former House Speaker -- who led the 1994 Republican Revolution that took control of the House for the first time in decades, and then later was forced to resign -- has formed an organization called Renewing American Leadership, which aims to breach the gap between conservative factions.

Dan Gilgoff recently reported in U.S. News & World Report that "At a time when many religious conservatives say the Republican Party is ignoring their issues and taking their support for granted, former House speaker and GOP idea man Newt Gingrich is turning his attention to the concerns of conservative Christians like never before."

by Peter Michaelson

Most of us recognize Rush Limbaugh as an active volcano of negativity and hatred. We tend to think his listeners must be fools or simpletons to be under his influence. Yet smart and successful people are among his biggest fans.

Limbaugh's appeal exposes a vital flaw in human nature: A lot of us are more enamored of the negative side of life than we realize. The Star Wars creators were right to warn us about the power of the dark side.

Limbaugh's listeners are entitled, of course, to disagree with liberal thought. But they don't just disagree. They impersonate their leader in spewing hot anger and hatred, believing that these negative emotions are warranted by the "idiotic" and "evil" beliefs and behaviors of liberals.

Terrorists do exactly the same thing: They believe that other peoples or groups are the cause of their negative feelings. They fervently refuse to recognize that their willingness to attack and kill us comes from the intense negativity (with its capacity for evil) in themselves. Their suicidal violence is a direct measure of the ferociousness of this denial. Their violence also indicates their staunch unwillingness to divest themselves of their own negativity.

by Bill Berkowitz

It may not be as fascinating, macabre or downright titillating as Michael Jackson's upcoming comeback tour, nor as carefully crafted, and all-consuming, as Richard Nixon's efforts to rehab his image with the public, nevertheless Pastor John Hagee's upcoming sojourn to the nation's capital is geared toward drawing crowds and headlines as well as providing a redemptive opportunity of a sort. While Jackson will be trying to moonwalk his way back into the hearts of his fans, Hagee's comeback revolves around re-stating his support for Israel while at the same time hoping that the mainstream media has forgotten about his outrageous remarks stating that God sent Hitler as a way of expediting the return of the Jews to Israel. 

And in the hopes of creating a theatrical moment, Hagee, who presides over the 19,000-member Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas, is the chief executive officer of the non-profit corporation Global Evangelism Television (GETV), the president of John Hagee Ministries, and is a best-selling author, plans to deliver something called "The Israel Pledge" "to our newly elected leaders in Washington, D.C." when he arrives in the nation's capital next week.   

A recent e-mail from Strang Publications -- the publisher of a host of conservative evangelical publications including Charisma News Online, Strang Report, Power Up, New Mane Magazine, The Ministry Today Report -- urged its readers to support Hagee by signing on to something being called "The Israel Pledge." The "Pledge," according to Hagee, "provides you with the opportunity to express your support for Israel's right to exist and to defend itself from terrorism. Your signature will help send a strong message that American Christians are standing with Israel at this critical juncture":     
The Israel Pledge

by Michael Winship

In this bicentennial year of Abraham Lincoln's birth, I recently was re-reading part of Doris Kearns Goodwin's epic history, "Team of Rivals." Once again, it was stunning to see the number of casualties during the Civil War, the dead and wounded in four years of fighting exponentially outnumbering the American men and women killed and wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan over six and a half years of combat.

On both sides of the Civil War, 618,000 were killed, although some estimate as many as 700,000. In just the three days of the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1863 -- more than 51,000 dead and wounded. Chickamauga, Georgia, 2 days, September 1863, nearly 35,000. Chancellorsville, Virginia, four days, May 1863, more than 30,000. And on and on.

"The war took young, healthy men and rapidly, often instantly, destroyed them with disease or injury," Drew Gilpin Faust notes in her 2008 book "The Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War."

"... Loss became commonplace; death was no longer encountered individually; death's threat, its proximity and its actuality became the most widely shared of the war's experiences." Up until that time, Faust writes, the U.S. Army had neither regular burial details nor grave-registration units. Such duties "seemed always to be an act of improvisation." Often the townspeople in or near a battleground wound up with the task. Many of the enlisted went unidentified, their bodies hastily placed in mass graves for fear of disease.

by Nikolas Kozloff

When one's party is ideologically bankrupt and doesn't know how to resolve day-to-day problems, it's tempting to demonize your opponent by resorting to name calling. The Salvadoran right, facing a serious electoral debacle in advance of Sunday's presidential election, is rapidly falling into this pattern. Recognizing that it cannot win the election based on practical ideas, the right wing ARENA (or Nationalist Republican Alliance) party has launched an ugly campaign to link leftist FMLN (Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front) candidate Mauricio Funes with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.

There are more than a few similarities between ARENA's position and the Republican Party prior to the November 2008 election. Like the GOP, ARENA has now been entrenched in power for a long time. To many Salvadorans, ARENA seems like a colossal dinosaur mired in the past. Founded by right-wing death squad leader Roberto D'Aubuisson, held to be one of the intellectual authors behind the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero in 1980, ARENA is still fervently anti-Communist. ARENA, whose colors are red, white, and blue, models itself on the U.S. Republican party but is even more explicitly nationalist. The hymn of the party touts El Salvador as the tomb where "the Reds will die."

by Russ Baker, author of Family of Secrets
They are really coming. Official investigations of the George W. Bush Administration are on the way. Karl Rove and Harriet Miers have just agreed to limited testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, which is looking into the seemingly politically motivated firings of seven U.S. Attorneys. Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers and Patrick Leahy, his Senate counterpart, have additional potential improprieties in their sights, and they are not alone. The Senate Intelligence Committee has already declared its intent to scrutinize CIA practices related to terrorism suspects. That's just for starters. We may soon become accustomed to powerful figures squirming as cameras flash, being asked about everything from war to Wall Street.
Politicians will appear heroic. The media will get a hot story they won't have to do a bit of digging for. And the rest of us? Some insight, perhaps, into the power grabbing, lies, and greed of the last eight years.
Beyond that, the historical record of official inquiries, is not, on balance, reassuring. Think of the 9/11 panel, the Iraq inquiry, the Warren Commission, and the interminable and confusing Iran-Contra hearings. Only rarely does such a probe produce useful results. More often the public is benumbed by an unfathomable depth of detail and a perplexing array of claims. The best material often is withheld for one reason or another. The recommendations typically end up watered down or ignored.
Worst of all, the public gets a vague sense that the problem has been taken care of because -- well, weren't there those big hearings?

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