Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Congress’

Recently, there has been much discussion of possible attacks on U.S. citizens by drones operated by the U.S. government. This became the “issue of the day” when Attorney General  Eric Holder told Congress that he would not rule out the use of drones to attack American citizens. This of course conjures up images straight out of films like War of the Worlds or Independence Day. Imagine unmanned space ships,or government drones, taking potshots at panicked and unsuspecting U.S. citizens. There would be no place for anyone to hide! And of course, that’s OK with Eric Holder, and presumably President Obama, for whom he works. The media of course loved it because it is a story sure to stir up emotions and then people will watch the television news or buy a newspaper and the sponsors and advertisers will capture a large audience and sell more product. It’s a great story and sure to sell as long as it remains in the minds of the public, which it is certain to do for at least a day two until they are distracted by something else, like maybe the resignation of the Pope, and then the media will have to find a way to turn that story into some sort of advertising or commercial success.

Meanwhile, I’m wondering. What about the drones? Will they be used against U.S. citizens in the future? I think the answer is this: No. There is a good reason for that – it doesn’t make sense. The principal advantage of a drone is that it doesn’t have a pilot, so it can fly into really dangerous skies and if it gets shot down by the enemy, there is no pilot to get killed. In the U.S. it is unlikely that criminals or others who are enemies of the state would be walking around with anti-aircraft weapons. So, the government can easily use a small piloted airplane or helicopter to watch people and launch missiles at them if they want to. However, it is more likely that airborne platforms would be used for surveillance and ground forces, like the FBI or State Police would be guided by the pilot to the location of the bad guys. That’s what happens now and it seems to work pretty well. It’s hard to see why a drone would be be any better.

The real thing people should be afraid of is not whether the government has the right to track down and apprehend criminals, either from the ground or the air, or whether the government has the right to shoot it out with a criminal. This happens all the time. There are even times when the government launches an attack that will likely kill a criminal when it is deemed too dangerous to try to capture the criminal alive. Just recall Bonnie and Clyde.

So, should we be afraid of the U.S. Government? You bet we should be. Should we be afraid of President Obama? You betcha there too. Why? Well, it’s not because of drones; its because of the law and the Constitution. Let me give you an example: the Iraq War. Let me give you another: The Afghanistan War. Let me give you another: Guantanamo. How about one more: locking up American citizens by the U.S. military on U.S. soil without a trial on order of the President. So what is wrong with these? They are all in violation of the U.S. Constitution. Only Congress can declare war according to the Constitution of the United States, yet Congress has not done so since World War II. Instead, Congress has sidestepped its responsibility and delegated authority to the various Presidents to do as they see fit whenever military action might be required.

Similarly, the indefinite imprisonment of people, whether they are U.S. citizens or not, without a trial is also a violation of the U.S. Constitution – something that the President and Congress seem quite comfortable with.

The recent uproar about the use of drones against American citizens is silly. It doesn’t even make tactical sense. If the government wants to come for you via the air, you can bet they will be using manned helicopters or maybe small spotter planes and a whole bunch of people on the ground. The drone thing is fiction. Unfortunately, the gradual dismantling of the Constitution by the current and several former Presidents, with the spineless acquiescence of Congress, is something we should all fear. Yet, the media never mention it at all. Could it be they are too afraid to bring the issue up?

Or is it just not the sort of news that will sell product?

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Remember Barack Obama’s inauguration? An enormous number of people turned out to see the new President who had promised to save the nation. It was like the second coming of Abraham Lincoln, and after the devastation that had been wrought upon the country by George Bush’s inability to understand economics and the government’s  complete lack of oversight of the financial industry, people were breathing a sigh of relief that this new, stunning speech-maker had the vision, boldness, and determination to do whatever was needed to save the sinking ship. Unfortunately, we found out that the man who had been put upon a pedestal had feet of clay after all, and his greatest gift was sadly, speech-making. Remember the promise to close Guantanamo? We don’t hear much about that anymore, do we? Well, what about the economy? He fixed that didn’t he? I suppose, at least he stopped the car from going over the cliff – something George Bush could not do. But he ignored the advice of Nobel Prize winning economist, Paul Krugman and instead listened to Timothy  Geithner and Larry Summers, both of whom were part of the problem, because it was the policies of these people, and others, that directly led to the economic catastrophe. The result has been a tepid “recovery”, if you can call it that. 

And then there are the new rules about the government now having the power to arrest and detain indefinitely any U.S. citizen who it suspects might be a threat to the country. And – it is the military who will detain you indefinitely, without trial or any other rights guaranteed to all citizens under the Constitution. And Congress looks the other way. And the Supreme Court looks the other way. And everyone else goes back to watching football or baseball, soon forgetting all about these new, un-Constitutional rules. But the U.S. government hasn’t forgotten, and Barack Obama hasn’t forgotten.

Sure ,Obama has created a sort of National Health Care system – nothing that could compare with those of Canada or Europe or Asia, but he got what he wanted: the elimination of the possibility of being rejected for health insurance because of a pre-existing condition. I guess it was because his Obama’s mother had such difficulties with that issue that he wanted to make sure that U.S. insurance companies couldn’t do that to someone else’s mother or child. 

OK. So, Barack, is that it? Are you done? You seem to think the economy is OK. I don’t hear much more about health care reform. You nailed Osama bin Laden, you left Iraq, and you are about to leave Afghanistan. So….any other ideas? I was just wondering, how are you going to get unemployment down to a number like 6%? Is there a plan or do we just punt? By the way, how are things at Guantanamo? Oh, and can Americans who are picked by the Army be imprisoned there now? Or do they go to some secret military prison, never to be heard from again? I think it’s time for another speech.

And then there’s Romney. The father of Obamacare, he now vigorously denies being the parent of this odious thing that is the object of Republican loathing and retching. But he is. And he thought it was a good thing too. So, what is Romney’s plan – other than, “let’s not tax the job creators”. That would be him and his cronies, I suppose. Here’s the thing I don’t get: if Bain Capital takes over a company and makes it prosperous by outsourcing its jobs to China or India, how many U.S. jobs are they creating? Or, when he says he’s creating jobs, is he including all those jobs in China and India too? Here’s another thing I’m not too sure of: do the “job creators” really use their personal income to create jobs for other people? I mean, let’s say you work at Bank of America – that would be a good job, right? So, did you get that job because the President and CEO of Bank of America opened up his wallet and paid you a salary? That would be really generous, wouldn’t it? But, I thought they used the money from investors to create the jobs – you know like when you buy BoA stock, then they take your money (thank you very much) and they hire people. And if the Bank doesn’t do well their stock goes down and you lose your money. But the job-creating President and CEO still gets his mega-million dollar salary, doesn’t he? And my man Mitt wants the President and CEO to pay almost no taxes because he “created” your job. Awww…isn’t that special? I guess that how our Capitalist system works, right?

Actually, it doesn’t work quite the way Mitty would like you to believe. Basically, he just wants the rich folk, who already own the Congress and the Supreme Court to also own the Presidency. The really interesting thing is that about half the American people seem to want that too. Not sure why…wouldn’t it just be easier to have a king and get rid of the sham democracy? And Barack, well he just wants to be President – not too sure why, he doesn’t seem to have any ideas about what to do. He hasn’t mentioned a new scientific leap forward like the space program that John Kennedy started.  He hasn’t mentioned anything of the magnitude like the Interstate Highway System like Eisenhower started.  He hasn’t mentioned anything like the Great Society and Civil Rights for all that Johnson started – oops, sorry, that one really bothered the Southern half of the country, didn’t it? Remember Johnson saying that he thought he had just turned the solidly Democratic South to becoming a Republican voting block? Well, ol’ Lyndon was right about that, wasn’t he? Being a Texan, he would know, too.

Anyway, Obama seems plumb out of ideas, now that his single idea of “no pre-existing conditions” has been enacted. I guess he’s just exhausted. And Romney, the opportunist, venture capitalist? Ahh, no ideas there either! At least he’s not talking about any…. Of course not, those venture guys aren’t going to share their secret plans with you or me – at least not the real plans.

So where are we? Obama did a lot of things we never expected and didn’t do a lot of things we expected. We can probably expect the same from Romney – so, it really doesn’t matter which is elected because they will wind up just doing whatever they want anyway – which will have little to no relation to their campaign promises.

So, wouldn’t it be simpler to just have a king?

Read Full Post »

Perhaps it was inevitable. After all, even the greatest of empires such as the Roman Empire or the British Empire – upon whose lands the sun never set – eventually collapsed. Their laws, values, and customs disintegrated as the people of the empire no longer cared enough to fight for them – as their ancestors had. Now the United States of America, an unacknowledged empire, but one nonetheless, is beginning to crumble, bit by bit. The barbarians are at the gates, held back only by a mostly mercenary army, lured into military service by steady wages, health and education benefits, college education benefits, and the promise of a secure, paid retirement. Meanwhile, the common people lead their lives as consumers of industrial agriculture, imported energy, and the goods of foreign lands. It is not the America envisioned by its founders; indeed, it is far from it. Gone are the citizen soldiers, the Minutemen. Gone are the self-sufficient family farms. Gone is the town meeting form of government where the citizens of a town met and agreed upon the town’s budget (except for a few anachronisms in New England). Now, an insidious erosion of American justice is underway, and as in the corruption of our economic system, the transformation of our military into a paid professional force, and export of American jobs to overseas sources of cheap labor and materials, the American people once again simply turn over on their sofas and click their remotes to see what is on the other channels.

However, this time it is different. This time, changes are happening that can undermine the very foundation of America and its ideals. The nation is threatened, not from external enemies, but from within. It didn’t begin today or yesterday. It started in earnest perhaps with the administration of George W Bush, although its roots go back at least to Ronald Reagan and the insidious replacement of pension plans with 401k accounts. It was the attacks on 9/11 that opened the doors of opportunity for Bush and Cheney, certainly the most despicable people to ever lead our government. Using the excuse of the necessities of war Bush and Cheney obliterated the rights of citizens to have private conversations without the government eavesdropping on their every word without a court order. Using the excuse that the country was in dire danger – more so that the threats that had come in a previous era  from Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan – Bush and Cheney developed a consistent policy of torturing prisoners, and in doing so became neo-Nazis themselves. These two individuals, entirely bereft of America’s sacred ideals, established a policy of indefinite confinement without trial for suspected terrorists, i.e. people who the U.S. government thought might be guilty – but for whom they had no proof of guilt. It was not a reasonable or sane policy. It is a senseless, literally insane policy, worthy only of a scene from Alice in Wonderland, “Sentence first – verdict afterwards!”

When President Obama campaigned for the Presidency of the United States he promised to end the indefinite detection of suspected terrorists in Cuba and have civilian trails for these people in the United States. They would be found guilty or innocent based upon American justice. However, it seems that it became apparent that virtually none of these people would be found guilty in an American court because their was insufficient evidence to prove their guilt. Under the rules of American justice they would have to be set free. So, like George Bush, Obama agreed to indefinite imprisonment and military trials for these people in Cuba. So much for the promises of Barack Obama.

Now, President Obama has signed into law a new act of a seditious Congress that will eliminate more rights of American citizens. This law will allow the detention, by the military, of American citizens who are suspected of being terrorists. No proof required. No rights of the citizen to a fair trial by his peers. No resort to the system of American justice. Instead, we citizens of the United States of America can be imprisoned without trial indefinitely by our own military. It will happen simply by having some official say, “I think he’s a terrorist.” We are witnessing the fall of the American Empire, we are seeing the rotting from within – a cancer on the Presidency, a corruption of the Congress, and a Supreme Court that has become nothing more than the begging servant of industry. And what do we do? We turn aside, grab a can of beer, and see what else is on TV.

We are no different from the empires of Rome and Greece and Egypt and Great Britain and so many more. These all had one thing in common. The people stopped believing in their ideals, the empires collapsed from within, and the barbarians tore down the gates of the cities while a complacent people drank wine and watched the circus.

It is a sad day for America.

Read Full Post »

It was Albert Einstein who said that the definition of insanity is, “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. Congress has now passed legislation that will extend the first time home buyer tax credit deal – that’s the one that encourages people to buy a house now so they can pocket an $8,000 tax credit. Now, even better, Congress has also included in the legislation a $6500 tax credit for people who have owned their homes for five years.  The deal is you have to flip the house you are in and buy another house.  Then you have to stay in that house for three years.  This income tax credit is, of course, in addition to the exclusion from income taxes of up to half a million dollars profit you make on the sale of your existing house.

So, let me see if I understand this. The economy of the entire world has been brought to its knees by a housing bubble and the fix for the global economic meltdown is to create another housing bubble?  Is that it? You mean it’s like giving heroin addicts a little more heroin because they are having withdrawal symptoms? So when the symptoms go away everything is OK?  So what about those of us who bought a house four years ago? Why can’t we play too? Or what about those of us who are saving up for a down payment for our first home but we know we’ll never have enough until the summer? What about us?

So – this is going to help the economy, right? OK. Whose economy does it help? The people who buy the new houses? Probably not much, after all they are about to be saddled with a new mortgage.  How about the people who build the houses? I suppose so. It will probably keep them employed for another six months or so while they build the new houses for the new bubble. How about the banks? Well then, I think now we’ve struck pay dirt.  The banks will be giving out their usual, or unusual, 30 year mortgages, thus assuring themselves of at least tripling their investment over time.  Sure, this tax credit sort of stimulus will give a multi-million dollar boost to the home construction industry. However, over the period of 30 years, it will create a multi-billion dollar boost for the banks.

So where does that leave us? Congress is making rules that primarily benefit the big banks and a little bit of the money trickles down to the ordinary people, who will naturally wind up paying for this benefit to the banks via their shiny new mortgage payments – or via their future taxes which will be used to pay for the tax credits they just received.  In the end the net big time winner is the banks – which is probably the intent of our Congress which has grown fat and bloated, feasting upon the “contributions” from the half a zillion lobbyists who troll the streets and alleyways of our nation’s Capital.

Here’s a question: how many professional economists has our Congress consulted for guidance about this? Has Congress ever talked to Nouriel Roubini, the economist who accurately predicted the worldwide economic meltdown? Has President Obama ever talked to him? How about Paul Krugman, the Nobel prize-winning economist? Is he in the loop?  Somehow, I don’t think so. We all know who is in the loop in Washington. It’s the bankers and their lobbyists.  It’s the insurance companies and their lobbyists. As they say – we have the best government money can buy.

Here’s another question: what is the grand vision? Where do we go from here – economically, I mean. And how do we get there? Could someone in DC just stand up, preferably the President, and just lay it out for all of us? Or do they just think it is all too complicated for us children?  Is that why they are throwing us these scraps of cake to feed on – little stimuli to keep us sated while they figure out how to get the banks on top again?

OK, one more question: if our Congress cared so much about us instead of caring about the wealthy bankers, why don’t they put a limit – a hard and low limit – on credit card interest. Something like 12%.  Why don’t they put a hard limit on mortgage interest rates – like maybe 8%?  Why doesn’t the Congress protect us citizens from the raptors at the banks instead of allowing them to feed off the flesh of the American people? We know why.  The banks own Congress.  That’s why we now embarking on Housing Bubble Part 2.

Better find a seat in a lifeboat now.

Read Full Post »

It is nearly fifty years since Stanley Kramer’s movie, “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World” , was released.  It is an Oscar winning comedy that points out an important truth about the world we live in: sometimes we can’t see things that are in plain view.  In the movie, a group of people search for a hidden treasure buried beneath a “big W”, but they are unable to find the big W.  It turns out that the big W consists of the crisscrossed trunks of some palm trees, and the people have been running around the base of the trees, looking for the big W, but never realizing it was right in front of them.

A  few days ago, Bill Moyers pointed out another big W in our world.  It’s one that we are only dimly aware of; it’s one that we have an inkling of – but no more. And we fail to realize that this modern big W has unseen branches that deeply affect our lives.  The thing about the big W is this: it’s not that we don’t see it, it’s that we don’t realize what it really is.  When we do see this massive structure and finally grasp its significance we can’t help but be awed by its size and power, and we can only wonder why we didn’t see it before – just like the characters in the movie never recognized that the tree trunks were not just tree trunks, they were a massive W, and they were therefore the marker for a buried treasure.

In the most recent edition of Bill Moyers Journal on PBS, he talks with MIT professor Simon Johnson and Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur about the economic meltdown.  It is in listening and watching this that I realized that, however dire a picture the three of these people paint – and it is dire, there is much more that is not seen.  I decided then to write about the aspects of this “dire picture” in multiple parts.  In all parts the theme is the same: the invisible hand of the wealthy and the consequences to our country.  In this part I will follow the lead of Bill Moyers and write about the byzantine relationship between our financial system and our government.  But don’t think our modern Byzantium ends there – I will discuss other aspects of this “hidden in the open” system in future writings.

Let’s suppose that you took your car out to the freeway one day and floored it.  You drove your car at its absolute limit of capability regardless of other traffic, road conditions, police presence – anything.  You just drove as fast as you possibly could. What would happen? We all know. You would eventually crash. Now, would you call that an accident?  Is it an accident when something happens that is completely predictable?  The fact that you were driving with reckless abandon doesn’t mean you had an accident, you knew you would crash eventually. The fact is that you had a crash, you didn’t have an accident.

In the aftermath of the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt and his administration created a set of financial system rules and safeguards that would prevent the collapse of the economy as it happened in 1929.  These rules and safeguards amounted to constraints on our financial system – our banks. They also consisted of an independent government agency, the Securities and Exchange commission, they would be the police that watched the bankers and stopped them from speeding again.  Beginning with the Clinton administration, and maybe even before for all I know, this system of protection was dismantled.  It’s destruction was completed during the reign of George W. Bush.  We all know the result – the liar loans, the mortgage debacle, the credit default swaps, the implosion of the banks, the bailout of the banks by the taxpayers, the destruction of the world economy.

The thing we don’t realize, the thing that Bill Moyers points out, is that this was not simply the doings of one or two Presidents who used bad judgment.  This was the doings of Congress as much as it was the actions of the Presidents.  But it all started with the financial industry. It began with money – the unending, ceaseless desire for the accumulation of more and more wealth by America’s wealthiest people.  The issue was not making money by honest means – it was about making money by any means possible – honest or not.  The financial industry, via their lobbyists, managed to convince Congress to make the financial laws they wanted and to repeal the financial laws they didn’t like – and then the  Presidents went along with the whole thing.  The financial industry put its foot on the accelerator and floored it without regard to the certainty of an eventual crash. And our “police” not only looked the other way, they cleared the road.

Why?  Money. Money in your pocket – if you are a Senator or a Congressman.  Sure, we all get to vote for the Senator and Congressman of our choice, but once they get to Washington who do they listen to?  Not us – they don’t need us anymore.  The vast majority listen to the siren song of the dollar bill. It is a fine system we have created here.  Enormously wealthy people wielding enormous power with payoffs, via lobbyists, to our elected representatives. And the lobbyists themselves?  Almost every one of them is a former Senate staffer who knows exactly how the system works, and is also someone who has a close personal relationship with our elected representatives in Congress.

We have in this country an invisible shadow government, a government made up of the wealthiest of citizens who rule not by threat or demands, but by the allure of money – lots and lots of it. No Mafia tactics needed here, no extortion or midnight bombings, no arm-twisting coercion.  Just money that flows unceasingly to the people who have been elected by us.  They now have the power to make and unmake the rules and laws, and they do – and they did – all for the benefit of the financial industry. It’s right there in front of you if you care to look.  It’s a big W staring you in the face.  There is no need to sit and wonder how this economic catastrophe happened.  The thing to wonder about is who got rich from it?  You know all the money that was lost? Where did it go? Somebody made a lot of money in all of this: the smart ones who knew it was as certain as a car crash. And, undoubtedly,  some of the really wealthy people got a lot wealthier.

Here’s something to consider: is this hidden hand of the wealthy the entity that really runs our government? Are our elected representatives nothing more than pawns for the owners of the banks ?  You might think so, and it certainly is a major part of the picture, but there is a lot more to our big W than just the banks.  I’ll write about that in Part 2.

Read Full Post »

The stories are everywhere.  Dick Cheney ordered the CIA not to tell Congress what they were doing with respect to a particular assignment they had been given by him. It seems that the Dark Lord felt he couldn’t trust the members of Congress to keep this darkest of secrets.  Maybe Dick felt that the Congressional people weren’t loyal enough Americans – at least not as loyal as he is.  Or maybe he felt that they couldn’t be entrusted with information so essential to the security of the country. After all, they were only the elected representatives of the people of the United States.  The problem is that there is a law that requires the President to disclose to the appropriate Congressional committees just what covert actions are being taken by the CIA or any other government agency.

The law also says that in extraordinary circumstances the reporting can be limited to just a few individuals in Congress, such as the Chairmen of the Intelligence committees, the Speaker of the House, and so forth.  There is no provision in this law for the President to just keep Congress completely in the dark about any covert action.

Here are a couple of things to consider: 1. What is the role of the Vice President regarding the CIA, according to the Constitution of the United States? That’s pretty simple – he has no role. The Vice-President, under the Constitution has virtually no authority to do anything.  He is the President-in-waiting in case something happens to the real President.  That doesn’t mean he can’t do things on behalf of the President – like carry messages and so forth. But the important thing is that when doing so, he is speaking on behalf of the President.  The Vice-President is not empowered to do anything – except be President of the Senate and vote when there is a tie.  He has no other legal authority.  So, did Dick Cheney authorize or order the CIA not to talk to Congress? He couldn’t authorize such a thing.  If he ordered it, he was ordering it on behalf of President Bush – he was just the messenger.

2. Does the President have the authority to tell the CIA not to divulge covert activities to Congress?  No, he doesn’t. The law is clear. If he thinks the situation warrants it, he can limit the number of people who are informed; however, he has to tell some stipulated members of Congress, otherwise he is in violation of the law.

3. What was the CIA doing that was such a dark secret that only the Dark Lord could know about it? Did they have a super secret plan to assassinate the leaders of Al Qaeda? Was that the darkest of dark secrets that no one could ever know about – especially Congress?  I don’t think so. Wasn’t it fairly obvious when we started carpet bombing Afghanistan with B-52 bombers after 9/11 that we wanted to kill someone? After all these years of taking potshots at suspected Al Qaeda types with Predator drones wouldn’t the Al Qaeda guys have figured out that we were out to kill them?  If we had made a public announcement that besides the U.S. Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force who were gunning for Al Qaeda that we were also unleashing a couple of guys from the CIA, would that have made any difference to Al Qaeda?  Would they have then suddenly figured out that we were trying to kill them by any means possible?  I don’t buy it.

It does seem that the Dark Lord ordered the CIA not to talk to Congress about something they were doing.  It also seems to me that he had no right to do so, and that he violated the law – once again (I’m referring to the torture thing here, of course).  Of course, a lot of this would never have happened if Congress had any backbone and stood up to Bush and Cheney long ago, instead of just looking the other way. Perhaps now it is finally time for Congress to stand up and do its job.  It’s time for a real and thorough Congressional investigation into what the Dark Lord was doing all those years.  If our elected representatives can’t get up the gumption to do that then we would be forced to admit a terrible truth – we have a pretty sorry excuse for a government.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: