Friday, December 24, 2010

FOX and Fiends!

The Fox News generation has made it impossible to have a serious discussion about policy!

Paul Krugman’s two most recent New York Times columns put forth opinions for why the discredited conservative argument about the economic crisis and free markets has prevailed, as seen by last week’s tax deal and the fact that Rep. Ron Paul, who believes we don’t need regulators and wrote a book called End the Fed, is about to control a House panel that oversees the Federal Reserve. First, big money and corporate power is backing this revisionist story; and second, President Obama has been too meek in advocating for restoring the role of government. But I think the full answer is a more sinister and troubling reflection of the face of today’s Fox News conservatism, which promotes a religious reliance on disinformation about all issues.

In “Wall Street Whitewash” Krugman explains that the Republicans who participated in the bipartisan Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, which was designed to “examine the causes, domestic and global, of the current financial and economic crisis in the United States,” pushed conservative talking points and refused to include the terms “deregulation,” “shadow banking,” “interconnection” and even “Wall Street” in their report.

Imagine if the 9/11 commission had left out “Al Qaeda” and “hijacking” in its analysis of the conspiracy.

This is all the more staggering because, as Krugman puts it, the sub-prime mortgage crisis is “a straightforward story,” in which “there was a widely spread housing bubble, not just in the United States, but in Ireland, Spain, and other countries as well. This bubble was inflated by irresponsible lending, made possible both by bank deregulation and the failure to extend regulation to ‘shadow banks,’ which weren’t covered by traditional regulation but nonetheless engaged in banking activities and created bank-type risks. Then the bubble burst, with hugely disruptive consequences.”

But the conservatives tell a very different tale. They blame the collapse on government intervention, particularly Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac: if the meddling politicians had been kept out of it, so the story goes, then the banks would not have been forced to grant mortgages to low-income minorities. To quote Krugman, in this version of history, Wall Street “erred only to the extent that it got suckered into going along with this government-created bubble.”

How could this nonsense have gained traction, especially in the aftermath of America’s rejection of George W. Bush and embrace of Obama? According to Krugman, Fannie and Freddie did not guarantee international mortgages, or commercial real estate, which formed its own bubble, and they entered the sub-prime market only towards the end. Krugman’s first answer is that this “is what happens when an ideology backed by vast wealth and immense power confronts inconvenient facts.”

And his second answer, found in “When Zombies Win,” holds that Obama never implemented serious big-government-type policy—the stimulus consisted largely of tax cuts, led to a decrease in government employment and slower growth in government spending on goods and services than under Bush—but nonetheless allowed the right to mischaracterize his agenda as socialist. In addition, he has failed to combat free market fundamentalism on a philosophical level by embracing Ronald Reagan’s legacy and GOP rhetoric about the need for fiscal austerity in the face of a recession by offering freezes on federal wages and spending.

But I think the whole story is far more depressing.

What we really have with the modern, FOX News-led Republican Party is the emergence of a new, mainstream form of politics in America: one dominated by disinformation about every issue, not just the economic crisis. Krugman’s depiction of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission illustrates only in microcosm how this works: conservative politicians refuse to concede basic facts that debunk their outlook, no matter what, and instead try to square the circle.

I personally know hard-core conservatives who get nearly all their information from Rupert Murdoch’s news organizations and can depict just how debased their worldview is: on the day Lehman collapsed I, who at that time did not follow politics, asked them what they thought of the financial crisis. “What crisis?” was the reply. “You know, Lehman went under, and thousands of people lost their jobs and the economy might fall into a depression,” was my incredulous response. At this point I was told not to worry, “this too shall pass,” because “the fundamentals of the economy are sound,” echoing presidential candidate John McCain’s impending ill-fated remark (wonder where he got that idea from).

Soon enough, the realities of the crisis were too clear to deny, and so the story changed. Now, according to conservatives, the crisis was caused by government regulation in the form of Fannie and Freddie and the Community Reinvestment Act (which, according to a report compiled by the Federal Reserve, among many other sources, could not possibly have contributed to the crisis.)

Then the bailouts came. And I was told that TARP was the greatest travesty in American history because it’s an epic, socialist waste of taxpayer money that will only postpone the inevitable—the failure of all the financial firms that are too big to fail. A few months later, these conservatives claimed, amazingly, that “if not for the bailouts the economy would have fully recovered by now” (this answers Christopher Hitchens’ rhetorical question posed in his latest Vanity Fair article condemning the Tea Party: “Does anybody believe that unemployment would have gone down if the hated bailout had not occurred?”).

That the conservative take on the causes of the crisis is astonishingly perverse and false has already been covered. As for TARP, it not only prevented a global financial apocalypse but also turned a sizeable profit. It should be added that, as Timothy Geithner testified last week, the entire government intervention, including TARP, the auto bailouts and the mortgage-restructuring program, will cost only one third of the bailout for the comparatively small savings and loan industry of the 1990s!

This is just one of many examples of how debased conservatism has become. As mentioned above, I previously avoided following politics because I presumed everything is too subjective and that both sides have equally valid arguments. But my position was transformed by a research project I conducted on climate change in college. It was then I discovered that conservatives are dangerously eager to discard or distort all facts that contradict their worldview, since nearly every work of global warming denial I came across was a pack of lies. Then I researched the sub-prime mortgage crisis and reached the same conclusion.

Eventually I came to realize that this pattern occurs across the board. Without any exaggeration, it can be asserted that the very definition of being a “true conservative” nowadays, is to believe that: climate change is a hoax, the financial crisis was caused by too much regulation, TARP failed and squandered countless taxpayer dollars, the only way to create jobs is by cutting taxes, tax breaks pay for themselves, the stimulus created no jobs, health care reform is a government takeover that will balloon the debt, Saddam Hussein posed an imminent national security threat to America, waterboarding is not torture, the Geneva Conventions and American law do not outlaw torture against terror suspects in any case, and the safety net will be the undoing of America unless it is dismantled.

So the question remains—is all this merely the result of corporate propaganda and a failed effort by Obama to win the philosophical case against free market orthodoxy?

This accounts for part of the answer, but the whole story is far more disturbing. The Fox News generation has made it impossible to have a serious discussion about policy, as the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission illustrates, because conservatism is now a religion, and religion itself influences much of their ideology. Consequently, all the answers are provided and serve as a blueprint for how they view every issue: it’s imperative that they convince themselves that regulation destroyed the economy because to do otherwise would explode their free market faith. And compromise is impossible because their “system” is absolutist (for those who consider the tax deal a conservative compromise, just wait till the Republicans take over the House).

Krugman is right to chalk this phenomenon up to “vast wealth,” but when we consider all the other patently false stories that underlie the conservative narrative, it becomes clear that this is more than a mercenary undertaking: it’s the fruits of a hopelessly brainwashed constituency that would rather see the global economy fly off a cliff than concede that TARP worked and refuses to recognize that there might be some connection between our heavy reliance on fossil fuels and the fact that we’ve seen 10 of the hottest years on record since 1995, when climate scientists formed a consensus about climate change.

-Dead Press- Journalism that's not sold-out!

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Quest to Plug Wikileaks

Posted by Picasathe extent to which the U.S. government has gone to stop the dissemination of WikiLeaks documents is readily apparent. Politicians and government officials have pressured Internet service providers to stop hosting the whistle-blowing organization’s site, and have condemned it on myriad occasions.
But undermining the U.S. government’s attempts is the fact that, thanks to millions of individual users and easily available software, efforts to stop the on-line dissemination of the biggest classified information leak in history have largely proved futile.
“Any effort to put the genie back in the bottle is always futile in the Internet era,” independent technology analyst Carmi Levy said. “Even if WikiLeaks is stamped out, the data is already out there.”
Shortly after WikiLeaks started posting the first of the classified cables last month, Amazon shut down one of the group’s websites, which was running on one of its servers. The timing of Amazon’s decision – coming after U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman inquired about the relationship between the company and WikiLeaks – caused some to question whether Amazon had been pressured into shutting the site down. However, Amazon denied that, saying WikiLeaks had simply violated the company’s terms of service by, among other things, posting material it did not own and that may cause individuals harm.
A few days later, online payment service PayPal also shut down the WikiLeaks account – the whistle-blower website solicits donations to keep the site running.
However, in both cases, the site has simply found other avenues to maintain its presence. The website is now believed to be running on servers in a Swiss bunker, among other locations. It has also set up donation accounts with other companies.
Indeed, WikiLeaks appears to have foreseen such issues years in advance: The organization set up multiple accounts with service providers in several countries long before it became infamous for high-profile leaks.
But perhaps the most significant factor working in the site’s favour is the sheer number of individual users reposting its content. Moments after WikiLeaks releases new information, users tend to upload it using a medium called BitTorrent – a file-sharing tool that allows individuals to simultaneously download and share information. Because of the widely dispersed nature of BitTorrent, it is virtually impossible to shut down.
WikiLeaks has taken advantage of the medium to post what is calls “history insurance,” a massive encrypted file it released to the public without explaining its contents. It is believed that, should the site be shut down or its staff arrested, WikiLeaks would post the decryption code, allowing the people who’ve already downloaded the file to see its contents. Until then, nobody appears to know whether the file contains highly sensitive, embarrassing information, or is simply a bluff by WikiLeaks.
Meanwhile, Washington confirmed Sunday that it may have to relocate some of its sources as a result of the WikiLeaks release, but stopped short of saying any of those sources had come into harm because of the website.
“We may well have to reassign some of our diplomats and a couple of our ambassadors,” Philip Crowley, the U.S. assistant secretary of state, said on CTV’s Question Period. “We’ll be watching that closely in the weeks and months ahead.”
More than 100 demonstrators gathered outside the British Embassy in Madrid late Saturday to protest the detention of the founder of secret-spilling website WikiLeaks and the closing of the site's Swiss bank account.
The Spanish-language website Free WikiLeaks said protests were scheduled to be held in Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Seville and at least three other Spanish cities.
Protesters held placards saying "Free Julian Assange" and "Truth Now," and chanted "freedom of speech."
The website also said demonstrations were planned Saturday in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and in the capital cities of Colombia, Argentina, Mexico and Peru, as well as in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
"We seek the liberation of Julian Assange in United Kingdom territory," the organization said on the website. It urged protesters to gather at 6 p.m. in Spanish cities.
Assange remains in a British jail awaiting a hearing Dec. 14 at which he plans to fight Sweden's request to extradite him to face "sex crimes" allegations there. Basically the same type of charges he had dropped not even a year ago.
One of his lawyers denied media reports that Assange was being held in isolation at Wandsworth Prison in London.
"He told me he had single cell," Mark Stephens said. "He has the ability to watch TV with other prisoners — which he doesn't do because he hates daytime telly. He takes his meals with other prisoners." They're hoping he gets shanked I'm quite sure.
Stephens said lawyers met with Assange at the prison for an hour Thursday to prepare for next week's hearing.
The Free WikiLeaks website also calls for "the re-establishment of the WikiLeaks ( Internet domain," and the restoration of Visa and MasterCard credit card services to enable the "freedom to move money" because no one has "proved Assange's guilt," or charged WikiLeaks with any crime. Even republican tea party leader Ron Paul has stood up in support of Julian Assange saying "In a free society, we're suppose to know the truth. In a society where truth becomes treason, then we're in big trouble!" I never would have guessed I'd be in agreement with a tea-bagger, but he's dead right on this troubling issue of freedom of the press. There is NO free press anymore!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

When Will the 98% Strike Back?

Last night, as reported by News Junkie Post’s O. Olson, Congress passed, by an overwhelming majority, a two year renewal of the Bush tax cuts. The bill is a nice extra Christmas bonus for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans, and it will only amplify the monumental US budget deficit. The logic behind the bill goes against, not only common sense but also against the global trend, notably in Europe, to cut spending and increase taxation in order to address a spreading budget crisis. The governments of countries such as Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain are pushing for unpopular austerity measures, and richer countries such as the UK and France are trying to implement the same type of economic policies often by cutting social benefits and programs.
If austerity is the trend in Europe, it is certainly not the case in the United States. The US political and financial ruling class, which can be credited for starting the global financial meltdown of 2008, is still betting on the “virtues” of shock capitalism by cutting taxes and not cutting spending. What Congress did last night is quite simple: Our politicians made the decision to charge our common national credit card with a $700 billion gift to themselves and their real constituents, which are the wealthiest 2 percent Americans. And, once again, future generations will have to pick-up the astronomic tab. That is, of course, unless the United States goes completely bankrupt from 30 years of reckless financial and economic policies.

However, Americans, especially Democrats, should not be surprised at all. The new documentary “Inside Job” exposed how the same players, often switching jobs from top Wall Street executives to “public servants” rigged the system, and are still running the show. By giving Wall Street full license to operate like a Ponzi scheme, we have allowed this very dangerous symbiosis between Wall Street and Congress, where the financial sector is truly in charge of the electoral American process.
Before he became president, Barack Obama was denouncing the “Fat Cats” of Wall Street. Two years later, this hypocritical populist stand has been exposed as a lie. President Obama has, in his own economic team, some of the worst fat cats he was denouncing a while back. The de-regulators or former Wall Street executives such as Larry Summers, Tim Geithner, Ben Bernanke etc are behind all financial and economic decisions in the Obama administration, and they fully qualify as fat cats.

The Oligarchs: Wall Street Fat Cats And Congressional Fat Cats
In November, many confused American voters were fed-up with Washington, and decided to vote for what they thought were the outsiders of the Tea Party. The Tea Party activists were conned, and now their so called representatives will just be pawns in the same old Washington game where only money can do the talking. If a majority of Americans, traditionally the ones voting Republican, are voting against their own financial interests, it is not the case for Senators and House Representatives. In other words, last night, Congressional millionaires voted for their own personal interests, financial gains and the ones of their real friends: Namely the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans.
In effect, despite a dreadful national economy, Congressional members’ personal wealth has increased since the 2008 crash. Last night, Congress voted an enthusiastic yes for they own financial stimulus. According to a recent study from the Center for Responsive Politics, Congressional members’ personal wealth collectively increased by more than 16 percent between 2008 and 2009.
According to the study, nearly half (261)members of Congress are millionaires. Of these Congressional millionaires, 55 had an average calculated wealth of $ 10 million or more in 2009, with eight in the $100 million plus range. In 2009, the median wealth of a US House member stood at $765,010 up from $645,503 in 2008. The median wealth of a US Senator was an astronomical $2.38 million up from $2.27 million in 2008. For all members of Congress, regardless of chamber, median wealth in 2009 reached $911,510 up from $785,515 in 2008.
“Few federal lawmakers must grapple with the financial ills-unemployment, loss of housing, wiped out savings- that have befallen millions of Americans. Congressional representatives, on balance, rank among the wealthiest of wealthy Americans, and boast financial portfolios that are all but unattainable for most of their constituents,” said Sheilla Krumholz, Executive Director at the Center for Responsive Politics.

-Dead Press- Journalism that's not sold-out!