Archive for May, 2009

President Who? He’s Just a Politician.

Posted in Politics on May 17, 2009 by lylede

Thank goodness President Obama’s first 100 days are over. They’re totally irrelevant. He’s only a politician. That means he’s beholden to his campaign contributors and not constituents – just like every other politician. And his actions, or inaction, prove that.

There are probably at least two-dozen AIG employees, if not more, who should be going to jail. AIG went from a respectable company to one that devised a “scheme that smacks of securities fraud” according to What Cooked the World’s Economy? It Wasn’t Your Overdue Mortgage – The Village Voice, 1-27-09. The article points out how AIG’s Financial Products unit wrote credit derivatives policies (insurance policies for investors) that AIG didn’t have the money to cover. And to get around those pesky American insurance reserve requirements AIG moved its Financial Products group to London.

Time Magazine reported that during a March 2009 press conference, while discussing the AIG fiasco, President Obama “did not seem that into it, a surprising misfire for a politician who has long excelled at striking the right tone at public appearances. He was almost grinning as he described the “recklessness and greed” of the traders in AIG’s financial-products division.” (See Obama’s AIG Outrage: All Talk, No Action – Time 3-17-09). The article also notes Obama asked rhetorically “How do they justify this outrage?” but with “only the slightest tinge of outrage in his own voice.”

Populist outrage soared when it was revealed AIG executives, who drove the company into the ground resulting in a taxpayer bailout of nearly $180 billion, would be receiving millions of dollars in retention bonuses.

Obama then asked Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to “pursue every single legal avenue to block these bonuses and make the American taxpayers whole.” (See Obama Rips AIG Bonuses – CBS News 3-16-09)

But when the House voted to slap a 90% surtax on bonuses granted to employees who earn more than $250,000 at companies that have received at least $5 billion from the government’s financial rescue program Obama (along with the Senate) struck a different note.

According to Is that 90% Tax on AIG Bonuses Dead? (CBS News 3-23-09) Obama, when asked for his perspective on the tax as a former Constitutional law professor, is quoted from a 60 Minutes interview as saying “as a general proposition, you don’t want to be passing laws that are just targeting a handful of individuals… I think you certainly don’t want to use the tax code to punish people.” (Also see Senate Stalls Vote to Tax AIG Bonuses – The Arizona Republic 3-24-09)

Obama adds it doesn’t make sense for the AIG executives to get bonuses but says ”the flip side is that Main Street has to understand, unless we get these banks moving again, then we can’t get this economy to recover.”

The President sure knows a thing or two about how money gets things moving. According to the Center for Responsive Politics Obama is fourth on the list of accepting campaign contributions from AIG, with a haul of $110,332 (this number, and the following figures, are from 1989 to 2008). At the top of the list is Senator Christopher Dodd (D-Conn., and chairman of the Senate Banking Committee), who accepted $281,038 from AIG in campaign money. Right behind him is George W. Bush at $200,560. Number three is Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) with $111,875 and fifth on the list is Senator John McCain (R-AZ) with $99,249 of largesse.

Sadly, the AIG executives got their bonuses after Obama backed down and the Senate did nothing to prevent these shameful payouts (see Senate Stalls Vote to Tax AIG Bonuses – The Arizona Republic 3-24-09)

As for more inaction on the President’s part because of his hands being tied by campaign contributions, As Foreclosures Surge… (NY Times op-ed 5-4-09) points out Obama did nothing as “12 Senate Democrats joined 39 Senate Republicans to block a vote on an amendment that would have allowed bankruptcy judges to modify troubled mortgages.”

The NY Times notes Senator Obama campaigned on this provision but when it came time “to stand up to the banking lobbies and cajole yes votes from reluctant senators – the White House didn’t. When the measure failed, there wasn’t even a statement of regret.”

Senator Obama also campaigned on a platform of change. But since he also accepted $6 million in campaign contributions from investment and securities companies (It’s the Deregulation, Stupid – Mother Jones 3-28-08) I don’t see how he can really change much.

Why the Taliban loves George W. Bush (and Dick Cheney)

Posted in Iraq on May 17, 2009 by lylede

The Taliban probably say a prayer or two for George W. Bush and Dick Cheney every day. Since the terrible events of 9-11 America invaded two countries: Afghanistan, the country once ruled by the Taliban and whose leaders gave sanctuary to Osama bin Laden, and Iraq, the country that had nothing to do with 9-11 and never attacked America in its history.

It’s been eight years since 9-11. While the Taliban did suffer some initial setbacks in Afghanistan when America invaded in late 2001 they were never defeated. And today they control several areas of Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan. We initially invaded Afghanistan with 1,300 troops and that level has risen to about 60,000 today. In 2003 we invaded Iraq with thousands more than the initial Afghanistan incursion and currently have close to 125,000 soldiers still there. Unfortunately the Taliban are still extremely dangerous, and flexing their muscles more than ever in Pakistan, thanks to Bush and Cheney’s unnecessary war in Iraq.

W. and Dick (both draft-dodgers by the way) obviously didn’t care about seeking justice or doing the right thing. They were more concerned with making profits and giving a no-bid $10 billion contract to Cheney’s former company, Halliburton, so it could get its hands on Iraqi oil fields. Other friends of the administration, like the private security firm Blackwater, got close to $1 billion in Iraq-war related contracts.

And speaking of Blackwater, in the wake of having six former employees facing manslaughter charges for the shooting deaths of 17 civilians in Baghdad, the company changed its name to Xe (pronounced like the letter Z). That sure makes everything better.

Meanwhile as Bush’s second term wound down he signed off on the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the Iraqi government. This treaty determines several things, including a three-year deadline for U.S. troops to leave Iraq. Its most-troubling clause, and further proof of how Iraq, regardless of what the right-wingers claim, is not our ally, states that U.S. forces based inside Iraq will not attack any of Iraq’s neighbors (see Deal on Iraq Withdrawal Poses a Pentagon Challenge – Time Magazine 11-18-08).

So why did W. sign off on the SOFA? Simple. He invaded Iraq for all the wrong reasons. And by agreeing not to attack Iraq’s neighbors he really tied the hands of our forces in Iraq and this only further proves what a mistake the war is. But W., cocky on the outside, incredibly insecure on the inside, also had to show America and the world what a tough, strong, “decider” leader he was. Oh yeah, and then there’s the billions of dollars of war-related contracts his friends and campaign contributors got.

Iraq, by demanding and getting us to not attack its neighbors, is obviously more concerned with protecting its new best friend, Iran, than showing any gratitude toward us. By putting the Shiites in power in Iraq with our invasion the Iraqis are now allied with their Shiite brethren in Iran, a truly frightening thought. Remember the first Persian Gulf War? The Saudi Royal Family practically begged Poppy Bush not to get rid of Saddam Hussein because they knew the balance of power in the region would be tipped toward a Shiite-based Iraq-Iran alliance, which is exactly what W. created with his war.

The Pakistani Army, or actually the non-Taliban elements of the Pakistani Army, is now engaging the Taliban in fighting in Pakistan. But Bush and Cheney had to have their Iraq war, and now we’re in for a hell of a lot more warfare for years to come.

Kids and Guns – Again

Posted in The Gun Problem on May 10, 2009 by lylede

Let’s just consider for a moment how asinine and pathetic this headline is:

“Conn. Senate OKs machine gun ban for kids” (msnbc.com – 4/30/09).

The bill bans children in Connecticut under the age of 16 from handling or firing machine guns. It was passed after an 8-year-old boy accidentally shot and killed himself while firing an Uzi submachine gun at a Massachusetts gun show (see Boy, 8, accidentally kills self at gun show – msnbc.com – 10/27/08).

The child, from Ashford, CT, was firing the weapon under the supervision of an uncertified 15-year-old boy, according to Police Chief, club indicted in boy’s Uzi death (msnbc.com – 12/4/08). Unfortunately the boy lost control of the weapon when it recoiled and shot himself in the head. The gun show he was at was called the Machine Gun Shoot and Firearms Expo. Organizers promised shooters would have certified instructors.

Pelham, Massachusetts police chief Edward Fleury owns COPS Firearms & Training, the sponsor of the show, and according to Hampden County (MA) District Attorney William Bennett Fleury wrongly told the two men who brought the Uzi to the Westfield Sportsman’s Club (site of the show) that it was legal for children to use under Massachusetts law. 

The boy’s father, who claimed his son had fired handguns and rifles but never an automatic weapon, chose the Uzi because he thought its small size made it safer. Bennett said the weapon’s size makes it deceiving and its “rapid rate of fire made it more likely that an 8-year-old would lose control and the muzzle of the weapon would come close to his face, which is what happened here.” (Again see Police Chief, club indicted in boy’s Uzi death). The boy’s father was standing about ten feet behind him and reaching for his camera when the child fired the weapon.

The gun laws in this country are a joke and need to be stricter. You would never see a headline like the one cited above in countries like England and Singapore, both of which have strict gun control laws. And contrary to claims made by pro-gun advocates England and Singapore are not police states as a result of serious limitations on civilians owning weapons. Singapore is actually a very prosperous country and you’d be hard-pressed to find any instances of some lunatic walking into a school or office building there and opening fire with a handgun or automatic weapon.

According to the Violence Policy Center, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization, states with high gun-related death rates have “lax gun laws and higher gun ownership rates. The report defined states with “weak” gun laws as those that add little or nothing to federal restrictions and have permissive laws allowing civilians to carry concealed handguns.”

So much for the NRA’s “responsible gun ownership” argument.