Tuesday, December 27, 2011

At Year's End

Looking at politics, both at home and abroad, it is all too easy to become totally negative. Where ever we look, we see the power-hungry, the greedy ones mouth empty pieties while oppressing those weaker than themselves. Everywhere we see cruelty, committed without hesitation, in the name of religious faith and the teachings of sacred Scriptures, or in the name of freedom and equality.

While all this is true, the last year has given us reasons for hope. While corporate leaders and government strongmen (and women) have savaged ordinary people, rebellion has raised its shining head all over the Arab world, all over the United States, and Europe, and Australia. The latest news shows tent cities springing up in a number of Israeli cities.

The hypocritical platitudes of world leaders have deceived no one: the homeless, the unemployed, the working people whose money buys less and less of the promised middle-class consumption goods, the young people who can no longer afford to get an education, the old who after a life of hard work find themselves impoverished – all have seen the rapid increase of inequality. They have seen, at the same time, that no one cares for their plight. Politicians want to get reelected and that is all they care about.

But now the victims of our so-called leaders are speaking out. In North Africa and the Middle East they have been fighting back and have given their lives for greater freedom and self-determination. The Occupiers all over the world have taken upon them discomfort for the sake of speaking out clearly about injustice and political oppression. We must not only hope that these protests will continue in the new year but must do our best to support them in what ever way we can.

Look at this paragraph written by Occupiers in Worcester Massachusetts:

"At such an important point in our history, now is not the time to seek to restore normality. Now is not the time to be conservative. Do not hold back!… Don't beg for reforms. Insist on your dreams. Think big! Look around you for inspiration of how things could be. Now is the moment to ask yourself how you would like the world to be not what the would settle for. It can be totally different."

Now is not the time to think about what is "practical." We must support the Occupiers by taking their and our dreams seriously and striving for the impossible.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Iraq war is over.
Have you ever seen any film footage of the celebrations at the end of World War II? Of strangers hugging and kissing, of an entire country jubilant, throwing one huge party?
In recent days, the president has been giving some sober speeches about the end of the Iraq war after nine years of fighting. I have not heard of any spontaneous public celebrations. I have not seen huge banner headlines in the paper.
An eerie silence hangs of America. A war is over. Many died. Many more came home seriously hurt. Many families are suffering. But their pains are their own. They are not losses suffered by the nation because the war was not a war fought by America. It was a war conducted by the military, not by the nation. It was a war initiated by a small clique of men in the Executive.
Usually, wars have winners and losers. The President has not, as far as I can tell, said that we won this war. He talks about how we leave Iraq able to take care of itself, as a new sovereign nation. But there is no talk about winning. There are no explanations of why we fought in Iraq for nine years. The father of a soldier who died says: A war that you can just walk away from cannot have been very important.
We lost close to 4500 Americans in Iraq. Iraqi losses are huge and estimates differ widely. The President says that the US spent $1 trillion on this war. Others point out that if we count in the cost of caring for the veterans injured in Iraq, and of sending other veterans to school, and paying interest on the money we borrowed to pay for this war, the cost is closer to $3 trillions.
Ordinary citizens paid those costs. Congress was barely involved because they never got to decide whether we would go to war or not. They just passed yearly budgets to pay the bills. The war was the project of a small clique in the ExecutiveRumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Cheney.
Citizens clearly were not involved. Before the war started, in February of 2003, 1 million Americans and somewhere between 15 and 30 million people around the world demonstrated against the war. Our government paid no attention.
Two years after the beginning of the war, 60% of the population thought that we had entered this war on faulty information. A majority of Americans wanted us to leave Iraq. The government paid no attention. Many Americans actively demonstrated their disagreement with this war. The government did not care.
Life in the US went on as before. We went to work, we came home to be with family and friends. We went shopping. Here and there, if a hometown soldier died, there was a story in the paper about our heroes. But for the rest, life continued as if nothing was happening.
What can we learn from all this? The government, especially the executive, is more distant from ordinary citizens than ever before. The government can send soldiers to fight abroad in a war that makes no clear sense, that has no clear enemies, that has no clear goals, a war that, in the end, we don't know whether we won or lost. The government can engage in military adventures that no one can quite understand. But it makes no difference to us.
No one raises their voice against the officials who started that war or who conducted it, often quite ineptly. There is no call for investigations, let alone indictments for those responsible. In the midst of a vigorous and much discussed presidential campaign, the war in Iraq, now ended, and the war in Afghanistan, still daily demanding its victims on all sides, is not a topic of conversation.
We elected the governments that conducted the war in Iraq. But they clearly are not considering themselves the representatives of the people. They are engaged in their own projects which we pay for but otherwise are not involved in. They will do what ever they want, for the sort of unintelligible and bizarre reasons that moved them to invade Iraq. They will not pay attention to citizens who disagree.
Future generations will look back on the Iraq war as a new low in the downward path of American democracy.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Season's Greetings


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Love that bank!
Do you remember those posters of Barack Obama with the legend “HOPE” at the bottom?
Whoever made those posters made a mistake. The legend should have readBANKS.
We have known this for a long time: the current administration likes banks a whole lot. But in the last few days we have found out how much this administration loves banks. It turns out that starting in 2008 The Federal Reserve Bank lent large amounts of money to a variety of very large bankson one day they lent out 1.3 trillion. They must have thought that this would not look good while ordinary Americans were suffering, because they fought really hard to keep the whole thing secret. The banks got loans at very low interest and then put it in accounts that paid higher interest. Result: the banks made $13 billion.
What are friends for?
Another interesting question: whose money was the Fed lending to the biggest banks?
The next day we heard that the SEC settled with Citibank for $285 millions in penalties for converting sub-prime mortgages into securities, selling those securities to investors without telling them that they were a very risky investment. Then, the banks made bets that these investors would lose their shirts. The investors did lose their shirt and Citibank made a tidy profit. That looks suspiciously like fraud. If you and I did stuff like that we would find ourselves in front of a judge. But not Citibank. Their friends at the SEC allowed them to pay a fine without admitting any wrongdoing. Unfortunately they ran into a judge who thought that this was a bit too much and she refused to accept the deal. But the SEC seemed fine with it. Other big banks have since then been allowed to pay fines without admitting wrongdoing for similar scuzzy maneuvers.
Today, the Attorney General of Massachusetts filed suit against Bank of America and four other BIG banks for foreclosing on loans that they did not own, for promising to modify some loans and then foreclosing anyway without modifying. They are also accused of having someone sign foreclosure papers without even looking at them or checking that they are accurate.
This is a state action. The banks' friends in the Federal Government are lying low.
They are probably too busy trying to think up other ways they can help the banks make more money.
Such generous and unselfish friendship is truly touching.