Meh Culpa

My letter to “Organizing America” the former Obama campaign site

(Written while unsubscribing, as a protest.)

I am not a Democrat.

I was a Democrat for a little over 30 years–until Diane Feinstein started acting and voting like a Republican. I told her I would never vote for her again and I won’t.  My point? Barack the president seems to have forgotten the promises he made as Barack the candidate. I have never seen such timid leadership in my life. No, wait:  the Democrats have behaved in such a manner all the way through the Bush administration. They kowtowed to the Republicans (who played serious hardball) while there was a big, wistful to-do in the MSM over “bipartisanship” that never happened because the Republicans were nasty and excluded the Democrats from almost every opportunity to make a difference. Perhaps the Democrats and Barack the president believe they should take the alleged high road and refuse to behave as the Republicans did.

With all solemnity, I adjure you… Now is not the time to abandon progressive ideals because a minority of crazy, hard right, radical Republicans–who don’t have much of a party left, mind you–are playing up the rhetoric and the lies and inflaming the wingnut populace against the president’s erstwhile agenda, inciting the crazies to riot and possibly to assassination.

Elegance and grace will not give us single payer and/or a public option or even decent health care. Besides, it would appear Barack the president and the rest of the Democrats have given up on both. If events unfold as I see they might, the insurance companies will realize even more profits if health insurance is mandated. How middle class and lower class Americans will pay, I don’t know. Tax deductions will not help. They are actually rather worthless. Americans need real help, upfront.

I cannot tell you how sickened I am with the current state of affairs. Single payer (with an option to retain private health insurance as is possible in the UK) is the right thing to do. Allowing Blue Dogs to mark this territory and bark orders to the rest of us is absolutely the wrong thing to do, and slightly insane into the bargain. While Teddy Kennedy was alive, you had a majority and you could have passed a good bill that contained both. Now all you have is mush.

What we Americans needed was an FDR on the economy and an LBJ on civil rights and health care. This administration hasn’t come close to giving us either one. What I see is a money-grubbing party that’s still beholden to big business, a party without backbone.  It’s appalling, truly.

And it’s not just health care. Barack the candidate was worrisome when he voted on FISA. But Barack the president has abandoned all principle on warrantless wiretapping as well as in legal cases concerning Guantanamo detainees, doing precisely what the Bush administration did before him, or worse. Barack the president did not seek to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act or Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. He has left it to Congress, whose members will do nothing, ever. Barack the president has set up another Guantanamo in Bagram, and created an environment where anything will go by alleging that because Bagram is not on American soil (WTF?! It’s a US air base! Does that mean McCain isn’t really a US citizen? Hmph.), people detained there will have no right to habeas corpus let alone any Constitutional right to due process within the US legal system.  Barack the president still allows extraordinary rendition.  Barack the president has allowed the same people who destroyed the economy (think Wall Street investment bankers, Goldman Sachs, the New York Reserve, and the Fed) to retain control over the economy. Nothing has changed in that respect. Barack the president doesn’t want to do anything about the Bush administration higher-ups who approved torture and created an ethos where it could thrive and become even more twisted than Gen. Miller and John Yoo originally planned. Barack the candidate wanted to remove us from theaters of war while Barack the president is digging in in Afghanistan.

Barbara Boxer might give me hope, but it’s not yet clear she won’t do what she’s told by the White House, by the so-called Democratic leadership, or by the insurance and drug companies. But Barack the president and the rest of his administration? No, I have no hope at all.

I’m writing in the hortatory subjunctive now:  Look to your principles once more, recall the promises you made and work to fulfill them. Think of the people who voted for you, Barack & Company. Think about why they voted for you. It wasn’t simply your “soaring rhetoric,” you made promises that voters wanted kept. I urge you to reconsider your path, which thus far is filled with so many broken promises (after only nine months!). Remember that we who voted you and other Democrats into office can just as easily vote you out of office. Or, as in my case, simply not vote at all. There is no one worth voting for anymore.

Ignore me at your political peril. You will fail otherwise. A pity, but it’s true.

Sincerely yours–

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September 8, 2009 Posted by | 2008 presidential race, Abu Ghraib, Afghan War, Afghanistan, Bagram, banks, Bush administration, civil liberties, Congress, corruption, Defense, Democrats, Due process, Economy, far right, Federal Reserve, Foreign policy, gay rights, Geneva Conventions, Guantanamo, habeas corpus, human rights, Iraq War, Obama, Obama administration, politics, Republicans, torture, Treasury, US Constitution, war crimes | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Take that, Peggy Noonan!

Some things in life need to be mysterious.  Sometimes you need to just keep walking. –Peggy Noonan

Unlike Peggy Noonan and the stable of pundits who have decried the outing of the USA’s use of torture this weekend, I’m glad about the publication of those torture memos and I hope there’s more daylight where that came from.  We’ve paraded our alleged superiority and exceptionalism for way too long.  What has happened in other countries–such as, Nazi Germany or Rwanda or Turkey or Serbia–can happen here.  Every human being is capable of appalling behavior.  Not all of us follow through, but that’s not the point. None of us are exempt from the capacity to do evil and we shouldn’t forget it.  Rather, we must be en garde, and all those words imply, against our moral and ethical frailties.

Did you miss me?  Yeah, maybe not.  I’ve been busy finishing up my last course and frankly I’ve felt loathe to discuss the subject because I was so angry and disappointed at Obama for wanting to let bygones be bygones, and for opining that he’s against prosecuting CIA operatives who doled out torture.  I didn’t think I could pull off a less than rage fueled post without giving myself an aneurysm.  But maybe I can now.  For the record, I think any prosecution should be from the top down, but I don’t believe the CIA should get off the hook so easily.  We didn’t tell Lt. Calley that we totally empathized with him for “following orders” at My Lai by ordering the massacre of 500 Vietnamese villagers in 1968, and we shouldn’t do anything similar now.  Not even close.

But  I digress.

Today  I’m happy.  Breaking News a la Jennifer Loven at HuffPo: Obama has said he’s open to prosecuting Bush administration for torture.  The article says “officials responsible for devising torture” but I doubt that means we’ll let officials who approved waterboarding off the hook.  There’s always gong to be someone’s who’s going to say, “Oh, well. We didn’t know the CIA was waterboarding Abu Zubaydah 183 times  in a month. That’s not our fault now, is it?”  Uhhh, yeah it is.  The Bush administration opened the floodgates by approving despicable acts, so th Bushies are to blame if entire towns and cities are washed away.  (Sorry, I got carried away with the water metaphor.)

I hope Congress is nervous, too, especially those politicians who were on the Senate Intelligence Committee during the era of torture.  I have a feeling that one of my personal faves, Di Fi (a.k.a., Diane Feinstein, a Democrat from California*), knew all along about the torture being perpetrated in our names and I think she may have gone along.  I don’t have any evidence. What I do have is suspicion: Di Fi has long been big on harsh punishments. I think she was influenced by the assassination of Harvey Milk as well as the shooting at the law firm of of Pettit & Martin at 101 California St. while she was there. The business with anthrax in DC shortly after 9/11 probably didn’t help any either. Anyone would have a case of PTSD after the first two incidents, if not the third.  At the very least, she’s entitled to feel afraid.

But Di Fi opposed Leon Panetta for head of the CIA and promoted Stephen Kappes for the job. Panetta kept Kappes on as one of his deputies, probably at Feinstein’s behest. Unfortunately for Kappes and maybe for Feinstein, “[a]t the time of the worst torture sessions outlined in the ICRC report, Kappes served as a senior official in the Directorate of Operations — the operational part of the CIA that oversees paramilitary operations as well as the high-value detention program.”  It’s unlikely he was kept in the dark.  And for that matter, the same goes for Di Fi.  After all, the Bushies liked to co-opt members of Congress by letting them in on the administration’s dirty laundry.

That’s precisely why Jane Harman, another California Democrat, couldn’t be approved for CIA director.  I believe it wasn’t so much that she’s a rival of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, although their poor relations might have contributed to the loss of Harman’s desired appointment, but that Harman knew about the administrations surveillance program when it was illegal, and she said nothing. And she criticized the NYT for revealing the program. Harman was also the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee from until 2006 and she was briefed on the ” harsh interrogations of terrorist suspects by the CIA,” but again said nothing.

Di Fi may not be culpable of anything, but  30 members of Congress have been briefed about CIA operations since 2002. I’d like to know who those 30 members are.  And specifically, what did Di Fi know and when did she know it?


* I was a lifelong Democrat until I became an Independent a few years ago.  Di Fi’s actions were responsible for my leaving the party.

April 21, 2009 Posted by | Abu Ghraib, Bush administration, California, Congress, Democrats, Executive branch, Guantanamo, Intelligence Committee, National Security, Obama, Obama administration, politics, Senate, torture, war crimes | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Get Your Populist Rage Here: AIG to pay $165 million in bonuses

(UPDATE below)

Under Geithner and Summers, the government claims helplessness, but I don’t think they are helpless.  And they had to know this was coming.  The government–meaning we taxpayers, y’all–owns 80% of AIG, so how could they not know?  It was back in the day that these bonuses were set up for the same guys who played with swaps and derivatives and left AIG  teetering on the brink of disaster. The company was essentially bankrupt.

But that’s not all.  According to the NYT:

A.I.G. had set up a special bonus pool for the financial products unit early in 2008, before the company’s near collapse, when problems stemming from the mortgage crisis were becoming clear and there were concerns that some of the best-informed derivatives specialists might leave. It locked in a total amount, $450 million, for the financial products unit and prepared to pay it in a series of installments, to encourage people to stay.

After this, two more bonuses are to be paid in July and September to the tune of $220.4 million.  AIG’s CEO, Edward M. Liddy, has written to Geithner saying the salaries of these execs in the Financial Products Division have been trimmed to $1, but who the heck cares?  AIG was brutally mismanaged and this sort of payoff, this heinous payoff, is part and parcel of that folly. Of course,  Liddy argues that AIG is contractually obligated, and furthermore without bonuses these “talented” execs who caused the problem would walk.

I say: let ’em go.  Liddy’s position is morally bankrupt and pretty stupid.  There are more talented execs where those came from.  MBAs are everywhere, dontcha know.  Look in the unemployment lines.

I also say the government should take over AIG–because taxpayers aren’t getting their money’s worth when shareholders aren’t wiped out,* execs earn hundred of millions in bonuses and get to keep their jobs.

When will we ever see a return on OUR investment?

Like, never.

We’re going to be asked to give up portions of so-called entitlement programs, such as Social Security, which income is the only thing between many elderly women and bone-scraping, marrow-sucking poverty. In early January Obama said he wants to overhaul both Medicare and Social Security.  So we get Universal health care, but not really?  How does that work exactly?  Whence comes the money?

Don’t get me wrong, I think health care is a human right.  We citizens have made a contract with our government** in which we give up some rights (say, by paying taxes) and by doing so receive something in return from our government. The old theories considered that receiving social order was enough, but they imply that everyone acquires equal benefit, or as Hobbes would say: the “right to all things.” (Ha.)  If health care is a right, I don’t think government is working as well for everyone in the United States as it is in other industrialized nations.  Last year, about 75 million people in the US didn’t have enough insurance or they didn’t have any at all.  Imagine what that statistic is now that so many people are unemployed.  (<—- Scary, but elegant graphic.  Makes me want to move.)

So, yeah.  I don’t think AIG has a right to exist as an autonomous entity any longer. I think the leviathan has gorged itself aplenty and should be absorbed by the government. We have more important ways to spend our money–by taking care of our own.

UPDATE: Robert Reich on AIG, an excerpt:

The bonuses are part of employee contracts negotiated before the bailouts. And, in any event, Liddy explained, AIG needs to be able to retain talent.

AIG’s arguments are absurd on their face. Had AIG gone into chapter 11 bankruptcy or been liquidated, as it would have without government aid, no bonuses would ever be paid (they would have had a lower priority under bankruptcy law that AIG’s debts to other creditors); indeed, AIG’s executives would have long ago been on the street. And any mention of the word “talent” in the same sentence as “AIG” or “credit default swaps” would be laughable if laughing weren’t already so expensive.

This sordid story of government helplessness in the face of massive taxpayer commitments illustrates better than anything to date why the government should take over any institution that’s “too big to fail” and which has cost taxpayers dearly. Such institutions are no longer within the capitalist system because they are no longer accountable to the market. To whom should they be accountable? As long as taxpayers effectively own a large portion of them, they should be accountable to the government.

But if our very own Secretary of the Treasury doesn’t even learn of the bonuses until months after AIG has decided to pay them, and cannot make stick his decision that they should not be paid, AIG is not even accountable to the government. That means AIG’s executives — using $170 billion of our money, so far — are accountable to no one.


* Funny how that works.  In a normal capitalist world, shareholders would lose their investment when the company goes under.
** Remember John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau?

March 15, 2009 Posted by | bailout(s), Economy, Executive branch, Obama administration, politics, recession, social theories, Treasury, unemployment | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments