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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Can you say, "i'm in denial about the crimes i willingly committed against the american people?" I didn't think so.

Alberto Gonzales’s legal career at the White House and the Justice Department was a stain even for the Bush administration. Gonzales left office with a 28 percent approval rating, with over 40 percent of the country saying he should resign.

Yet, Gonzales is puzzled to this day why the public frowns upon his tenure in government. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Gonzales asks, “What is it that I did that is so fundamentally wrong, that deserves this kind of response to my service?” He added, “For some reason, I am portrayed as the one who is evil in formulating policies that people disagree with. I consider myself a casualty, one of the many casualties of the war on terror.”

Fortunately, we can offer Gonzales some help in figuring out what he did that was so “fundamentally wrong.” Some lowlights:

Politicized the DOJ: – Gonzales approved the firing and hiring of federal prosecutors for political reasons and lied to Congress about the scandal.

Approved torture: In 2002, Gonzales “raised no objections and, without consulting military and State Department experts in the laws of torture and war,” approved an infamous August 2002 memo giving CIA interrogators “legal blessings.” Gonzales witnessed an interrogation at Gitmo in 2002 and approved of “whatever needs to be done” to detainees.

Lied about warrantless wiretapping: Gonzaled lied to Congress multiple times about the Bush administration’s illegal wiretapping program, saying there wasn’t “any serious disagreement” about the program (there was).

Distorted pre-war intelligence: Last month, the House Oversight Committee revealed evidence showing that Gonzales lied to Congress in 2004 by claiming that the CIA “orally” approved Bush’s claim that Iraq sought uranium from Africa.

Furthermore, it appears Gonzales’s lying streak isn’t over. Gonzales told the WSJ that he didn’t play a central role in drafting the opinions allowing the CIA to use harsh interrogations. “John Yoo had strong views. No one could make him do anything he didn’t want to do,” he said. Gonzales also said he did not lie to Congress about the illegal surveillance program.

Gonzales also bizarrely claimed that he “found [John] Ashcroft as lucid as I’ve seen him at meetings in the White House,” referring to the infamous strong-arming of Ashcroft at his sickbed in 2002 in order to get approval of the illegal wiretapping program. In reality, Ashcroft had a severe case of gallstone pancreatitis and was a “very sick man,” according to then-Deputy Attorney General James Comey.

Since his resignation, Gonzales has still been unable to find work. “Any law firm that does due diligence on me sees all the investigations and the possibility that I might be indicted and they say, ‘Not right now,’” he said.

Gonzales’s bewilderment is similar to that of Vice President Cheney, who recently said he doesn’t have “any idea” why he has such low approval ratings.

Think Progress » Gonzales: ‘What Is It That I Did That Is So Fundamentally Wrong?’

They're Generous with Our Money...On Themselves

Paychecks large and small

By Rob Hotakainen | McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — Members of Congress have at least one reason to ring in the new year: They've given themselves a $4,700-a-year pay raise starting Thursday.

With the economy in a recession and millions of Americans losing their jobs, however, members are under fire to rescind the pay hike, which will increase their base salaries to $174,000, roughly a 2.8 percent raise.

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California will get a larger raise of about $6,100, though it's about the same percent increase. Her salary will rise to nearly $223,500. Pelosi's office declined to comment on the raise.

When Congress begins a new session next Tuesday, critics have an idea for the very first vote: Block the 2009 raise for all 535 senators and representatives.

"Certainly, the timing could be a lot better. . . . When you look at the rest of the country, people are hoping to hang on to their jobs, much less get a salary increase or a bonus," said Steve Ellis, the vice president of the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense.

Other critics say that Congress has done nothing to deserve a raise.

"The general public can't help but think that lawmakers are patting themselves on the back, and padding their wallets, for presiding over the worst fiscal-policy blunders in recent history," said Pete Sepp, the vice president for policy and communications for the National Taxpayers Union.

The issue is always sensitive for members of Congress, who've designed a way to raise their pay automatically without even having to vote. They call it a cost-of-living allowance that takes effect each year, unless members vote to turn it down. Conveniently, it allows them to leave no evidence that could be used against incumbents in re-election campaigns.

"It's a gimmick to essentially avoid something that would be politically dicey," Ellis said. "And both parties are complicit in this system and benefit from it."

Members of Congress don't often snub an opportunity to make more money. It happened most recently in 2007, when the Democratic-led Congress decided to forgo a raise because it hadn't approved an increase in the minimum wage. Last January, members received an automatic increase of 2.5 percent.

Ellis said that Congress would be wise to delay its 2009 raise until the recession ended or unemployment declined. That would show that public officials are making a "shared sacrifice" during times of economic difficulty, he said.

While members of Congress will receive a raise, 12 percent of seniors are living at or below the poverty line, said Daniel O'Connell, the chairman of The Senior Citizens League. A senior who receives average Social Security benefits will get a $63 monthly increase in 2009, he said.

The congressional pay raise is expected to cost taxpayers $2.5 million next year.

"This money would be much better spent helping the millions of seniors who are living below the poverty line and struggling to keep their heat on this winter," O'Connell said.

He said that members of Congress were increasing their salaries after questioning the multimillion-dollar compensation of auto executives earlier this month.

"As lawmakers make a big show of forcing auto executives to accept just $1 a year in salary, they are quietly raiding the vault for their own personal gain," O'Connell said.

Four members of Congress from Indiana have announced that they won't accept the pay increase: Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh, Republican Reps. Mike Pence and Dan Burton and Democratic Rep. Brad Ellsworth.

In Florida, Republican Sen. Mel Martinez and Republican Reps. Gus Bilirakis and Ginny Brown-Waite said they'd vote to block the raise if congressional leaders allowed a vote. California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein said she wanted nothing to do with the raise. Feinstein, the chair of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, intends to donate her raise to charity, spokesman Phil LaVelle said Tuesday.

Finding anyone brave enough to defend the pay hike in Washington these days is like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. When they're asked to comment, usually accessible members quickly go missing, are on vacation, are extremely busy with family members or can't be reached on their cell phones because they're in remote locations. Some congressional aides, however, speaking privately, said they wouldn't be surprised if public pressure forced Congress to revisit the issue when members returned to work next week.

Sepp called the latest raise "sadly, not surprising" and said it was indicative of a Congress that was out of touch with voters.

"If 9-11, the resulting economic slowdown and wars couldn't deter these folks from taking a pay grab, how could the current recession shame them into doing the right thing?" Sepp asked. "Salaries for senators and representatives are about the only federal expenditure that average Americans can directly relate to, and yet lawmakers can't grasp why people get so upset over such a relatively small amount of money in the federal budget."

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Israel is wiping Palestine off of the Map

This is Palestine before the partition of 1947. There were 1,237,000 (67%) non-Jewish natives on the land then and 600,000 (33%) native Jews.

This is what the separation mandate looked like when it was established in 1947. The pink area is Israel and the green area is Palestinians.

This is what the map looked like after the 1967 intifada. Again, pink is Israel, green is Palestine. Where'd Palestine go? Israel didn't just say the words "wipe them off the map", they did it. Ahmedinejad did not say he wanted to wipe Israel off the map. He said he'd like to see Israel wiped from the pages of history. An impossibility. Israel actually did wipe Palestine off the map. Where was the outrage? Nowhere, because you won't hear this on our corporate Zionist controlled media. They know more about it in Israel than most Americans do. Jews there stand against the atrocities perpetrated against the Palestinians.

After 40 years of fighting to get their rightful land back, this is what the most current map looks like. Red is for Palestine and green is for Israel. They are being walled in with no access to anything. Israel controls the sea ports and every avenue into and out of Palestinian territory. The past 3 weeks they have cut off food, water, cooking oil and medical supplies to every man, woman and child in Gaza. Collective punishment of a whole people for the acts of a few is a war crime. Yet we just turn our heads and look the other way because the name "Israel" is in our holy books as something good. It is not good. It is murderous and greedy like other imperialists. These are not the Israelis of the bible. These are monsters who, after experiencing a holocaust of their own, should know better than to create another for the Palestinians.

The only reason we tolerate Jewish atrocities here in America is because the common people don't know what's going on over there and the elite use them for a strategic nuclear weapons depot in the middle east. the Military industrial complex loves them because our ass hole congress and presidents send them billions in our tax dollars which they hand back over to our military weapons suppliers in a closed circle. It's just another way of taking our money and giving it to the military industrial complex that is so powerful, it will have to be slain by every human being alive by rejecting war and violence as a method for solving conflicts.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Was the 'Credit Crunch' a Myth Used to Sell a Trillion-Dollar Scam?

There is something approaching a consensus that the Paulson Plan -- also known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP -- was a boondoggle of an intervention that's flailed from one approach to the next, with little oversight and less effect on the financial meltdown.

But perhaps even more troubling than the ad hoc nature of its implementation is the suspicion that has recently emerged that TARP -- hundreds of billions of dollars worth so far -- was sold to Congress and the public based on a Big Lie.

President George W. Bush, fabulist-in-chief, articulated the rationale for the program in that trademark way of his -- as if addressing a nation of slow-witted 12-year-olds -- on Sept. 24: "Major financial institutions have teetered on the edge of collapse ... [and] began holding onto their money, and lending dried up, and the gears of the American financial system began grinding to a halt." Bush said that if Congress didn't give Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson the trillion dollars (give or take) for which he was asking, the results would be disastrous: "Even if you have good credit history, it would be more difficult for you to get the loans you need to buy a car or send your children to college. And ultimately, our country could experience a long and painful recession."

For the most part, the press has continued to echo Bush's central assertion that there's a "credit crunch" preventing even qualified borrowers -- that's the key point -- from getting loans, and it's now part of the conventional wisdom.

But a number of economists are questionioning the factual basis of the credit crunch narrative. Columnist David Sirota recently looked at those claims and concluded that Americans "had been punk'd" -- that "the major claims about a credit crisis that justified Congress cutting a trillion-dollar blank check to Wall Street were demonstrably false," and the threat of a systemic banking crash was used by the Bush administration to overcome popular resistance to the "bailout."

It's a reasonable conclusion; this is an administration that used the threat of thousands of al-Qaida sleeper cells in the United States to sell Congress on the Patriot Act, the specter of mushroom clouds rising over American cities to push through the Iraq war resolution and the supposedly imminent crash of the Social Security system to push for privatizing Americans' retirement savings.

But the question comes down to what they knew and when they knew it. The analyses that suggest the whole credit crunch narrative is false are based on data that lagged behind the numbers that policymakers had available, in real time, back in September. So the question -- probably unanswerable at this point -- comes down to whether or not they looked at the situation and in good faith believed that pumping hundreds of billions of dollars into the banking system would contain the damage and save an economy teetering on the brink of collapse.

What Else Could Be Happening?

Of course, no one disputes the fact that as the economy has tanked, the number of new loans being issued to American families and businesses has plummeted. But is because credit has dried up for qualified borrowers?

Economist Dean Baker doesn't think so. He explains the situation in simple terms: The media, he argues, "are blaming the economic collapse on a 'credit crunch' instead of the more obvious problem that consumers just lost $6 trillion of housing wealth and another $8 trillion of stock wealth." It's a commonsense argument: much of the economic growth of the Bush era existed on paper only, built on the rise of a massive bubble in real estate values rather than growth in productive industries. When all that ephemeral wealth vaporized -- and with the economy shedding jobs like a dog with dermatitis -- consumers stopped buying, and businesses, anticipating a long slowdown, stopped seeking the loans that they might have otherwise tapped to expand their operations.

Whether good borrowers can't get credit from banks because the latter are hoarding cash or lending has stopped because of a drop-off in demand for new loans is not some wonky academic debate; it's of crucial significance. Because if lending to qualified parties has truly frozen, then even if the specific implementation of the Paulson Plan was deeply flawed, its broad approach -- "recapitalizing" banks in various ways, buying up some of their crappy paper and guaranteeing some of their transactions -- is fundamentally sound.

If, on the other hand, the primary problem is that people are broke and maxed out on debt, and firms aren't looking for money to expand, then the kind of massive stimulus package being considered by the Obama transition team and congressional Dems -- largely designed to stimulate demand from the bottom up, with public works projects, tax cuts for working families, aid to tapped-out state and municipal governments and new money for unemployment and food stamps -- is obviously the best approach to take.

Broadly speaking, these are the parameters of the debate in Washington, and that means that properly diagnosing the underlying problem is crucially important.

Is the Credit Crunch a Big Lie?

There's plenty of evidence that Baker's right. He points out that even though mortgage rates have plummeted, the number of applications for new loans has dropped to very low levels and argues it's "the most glaring refutation of the claim that people are unable to get credit." If creditworthy applicants were being denied loans by banks unable or unwilling to lend, Baker explains, "then the ratio of mortgage applications to home sales should be soaring" as qualified homebuyers apply to multiple banks for a loan. "Since there is no notable increase in this ratio, access to credit is obviously not an issue."

Again, this is common sense. Consumer spending drives about 70 percent of the U.S. economy, and in recent years, much of that spending was financed by people taking chunks of home equity out of their properties -- people might have been eating in fancy restaurants, but they were essentially eating their living rooms to do so.

That the American people don't have the appetite to go deeper into debt than they already are in order to make new purchases is hard to dispute. In November, consumer prices across the board fell at a record rate for the second month in a row. And even with mortgage rates plummeting, so many homeowners are "underwater" -- owing more on their homes than they're worth -- that they're unable to refinance because the equity isn't there. Paul Schuster, a vice president at Marketplace Home Mortgage, told the St. Paul Pioneer Press, "What I'm really concerned about is the job picture ... If (people) don't feel good about their jobs, rates aren't going to matter."

The National Federal of Independent Business' November survey of small-business owners found no evidence of a credit crunch to date, concluding that if "credit is going untapped, it's largely because company operators are not choosing to pursue the credit. It's not that companies can't get the extra money, it's that they don't want or need it because of the broader slowdown in economic activity."

The credit crunch narrative -- and the justification for creating Paulson's $700 billion TARP honeypot -- is built on three related assertions: 1) banks, fearing that they'll be unable to meet their own financial obligations, aren't lending money to one another; 2) they're also not lending to the public at large -- neither to firms nor individuals; and 3) businesses are further unable to raise money through ordinary channels because investors aren't eager to buy up corporate debt, including commercial paper issued by companies with decent balance sheets.

Economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minnesota's research department -- V.V. Chari and Patrick Kehoe of the University of Minnesota, and Northwestern University's Lawrence Christiano -- crunched the Fed's numbers in an examination of these bits of conventional wisdom (PDF), and concluded that all three claims are myths.

The researchers found that "interbank lending is healthy" and "bank credit has not declined during the financial crisis"; that they've seen "no evidence that the financial crisis has affected lending to non-financial businesses" and that "while commercial paper issued by financial institutions has declined, commercial paper issued by non-financial institutions is essentially unchanged during the financial crisis." The researchers called on lawmakers to "articulate the precise nature of the market failure they see, [and] to present hard evidence that differentiates their view of the data from other views."

That finding was backed up by a study issued by Celent Financial Services, a consulting firm, again using the Treasury Department's own data. According to a story on the report by Reuters, Celent's researchers concluded that the "data actually suggest world credit markets are functioning remarkably well." Rather than a widespread banking problem, Celent found that the rot was limited to "a few big, vocal banks and industries such as car manufacturing, which would be in difficulty anyway."

There are also some important caveats. Economists at the Boston Federal Reserve responded to the Minnesota Fed's research (PDF), arguing that the use of aggregate data doesn't fully reflect the dysfunction in specific subsectors of the economy, nor does it adequately reflect the decline in new loans.

It's also the case that single-cause explanations for complex crises usually fail to hit the mark. Banks, having fueled the housing bubble (and similar bubbles before that) with the creation of ever-shadier "exotic" securities, are probably erring on the side of caution in writing new loans. They're looking at their balance sheets as quarterly reports approach, and the number of foreign investment dollars coming into the U.S. has declined, meaning that some qualified firms may, indeed, have trouble raising cash in the near future.

Dean Baker, while arguing that "the main story is that people don't have money and therefore want to spend," acknowledged that "some banks are undoubtedly anticipating more write-offs from other loans going bad, so they will hang on to their capital now rather than make new loans." And, as Sirota notes, some of the institutions that are relatively healthy are reportedly holding cash in anticipation of picking up weaker banks on the cheap.

But one thing is clear: the economic crisis may have woken up Washington's political class when it hit the banks, but it remains a product of long-term imbalances in the economy, and the idea that it's primarily a pathology of the banking system in isolation is a misdiagnosis that, if uncorrected, can only result in a longer, deeper and more painful recession than might otherwise be the case.

Was the 'Credit Crunch' a Myth Used to Sell a Trillion-Dollar Scam? | Corporate Accountability and WorkPlace | AlterNet