Monday, July 05, 2010
Government Isn't The Problem, Private Enterprise Is: The Global Terrorism Of Al Qaeda, BP And Goldman Sachs
Today there are three forms of terrorism threatening the world: political, financial and environmental terrorism. These three forms of terrorism are responsible for the destruction of human lives, livelihoods, property and the environment to a degree that rivals the ravages of war.
All three forms are executed by global, private-enterprise, non-state agents. Our inch-deep media have bestowed the moniker of terrorism on only one of these forms -- the political-religious Al Qaeda variety -- while leaving the other two off the hook.
This is a little like calling Ted Bundy a crazy serial killer and Jeffrey Dahmer a highly sensitive connoisseur of human protein.
Just consider the many attributes these three forms of terrorism have in common. All three are partly funded by tax dollars -- via tax credits and subsidies, tax-payer bail-outs, and taxpayer-funded wars that serve as recruitment drives for political terrorists. All three expound a crazed fundamentalist faith affirming the rectitude of their respective causes. All three feel entitled to huge rewards for their destructive behaviors. All three leave it up to regular folks to clean up after them. All three are unapologetic about their activities (adding insult to injury, some may issue a belated apology to their victims). And all three display a bizarre indifference to human suffering, despite their rhetoric to the contrary.
Moreover, all three forms of terrorism have been enabled by one gaping sinkhole in the social fabric: they appear to have been aided, abetted and promoted by a lamentable lack of government oversight. In all three cases, the problem isn't too much government: it's too little government.
Here's a brief recap of the three forms of terrorism and their main achievements so far.
Political terrorism. Achievements: the death of 2,976 Americans in NYC on 9/11, and many other deaths in London, Madrid, Bali, India, and Iraq. Motive: anger at America's interference in the Middle East, including US backing of Israel against Palestinians and support of repressive Arab regimes, and US wars against Islamic states. Main agent of terrorism: Al Qaeda. Weapons: airplanes, suicide bombs, car bombs, IEDs, websites.
Financial terrorism. Achievements: Loss of 100 million jobs worldwide. Millions suffering from food insecurity. Wrecked economies. Many small business closings. A great loss of family homes. Motive: profit. Main agent of terrorism: Goldman Sachs. Weapons: speculative bubbles, debt securitization, unsafe derivatives, campaign contributions, regulatory capture, bad mortgages.
Environmental terrorism. Achievements: Bhopal, Exxon Valdez oil spill, Nigerian oil spills, Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Motive: profit. Main agent of terrorism: BP. Weapons: unsafe drilling practices, indifference to worker safety, 1960s clean-up technology, useless contingency plans, campaign contributions, takeover of regulatory agencies, misinformation about climate change, managerial indifference to risk and the environment.
Now let's take a look at the three main agents of terrorism in turn and see what government should be, but isn't, doing about them. In this order: Goldman Sachs, Al Qaeda and BP.
1. GOLDMAN SACHS AND WHAT GOVERNMENT SHOULD BE, BUT ISN'T, DOING ABOUT THEM
You are a victim of Goldman Sachs terrorism because of the loss of your job or house, or a hole in your retirement plan, or because you know somebody who has suffered these disasters. But you may not know this: when Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street terrorists brought about deregulation, they also brought about the deregulation of future option contracts made by farmers to guarantee themselves a future price for their crops. Before deregulation, the price of food was subject to supply and demand. But once the market in food future options was deregulated, Goldman Sachs had a casino going where they could bet on derivatives based on food. In 2006, Goldman Sachs and others abandoned the tanking housing casino and stampeded into food derivatives. Result? The supply and demand of food stayed the same, but the supply and demand of food derivatives shot through the roof. Here's a quote from Johann Hari whose July 2, 2010 article How Goldman Gambled On Starvation in The Independent exposed this scam:
“At the end of 2006, food prices across the world started to rise, suddenly and stratospherically. Within a year, the price of wheat had shot up by 80 per cent, maize by 90 per cent, rice by 320 per cent. In a global jolt of hunger, 200 million people -- mostly children -- couldn't afford to get food any more, and sank into malnutrition or starvation. There were riots in more than 30 countries, and at least one government was violently overthrown. Then, in spring 2008, prices just as mysteriously fell back to their previous level. Jean Ziegler, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, calls it 'a silent mass murder', entirely due to 'man-made actions.'
"Earlier this year I was in Ethiopia, one of the worst-hit countries, and people there remember the food crisis as if they had been struck by a tsunami. 'My children stopped growing,' a woman my age called Abiba Getaneh, told me. 'I felt like battery acid had been poured into my stomach as I starved. I took my two daughters out of school and got into debt. If it had gone on much longer, I think my baby would have died.'”
Do the financial terrorists at Goldman Sachs care? Of course not. They live in a self-blown bubble that isolates them from the catastrophes that their actions inflict on others. It's a habitat that's actually bigger than just Wall Street; it also includes Washington.
The ethos prevailing inside this bubble is very weird. First off there is a strange and stubborn adherence to a fundamentalist faith -- the so-called “efficient market hypothesis” -- despite all evidence to the contrary. It bears more than a passing resemblance to the stickiness of the Al Qaeda brand of Muslim fundamentalism. The big difference is that the Al Qaeda worldview springs from the teachings of a prophet who died centuries ago. The prophet of the Goldman Sachs fundamentalists died in 2006. His name was Milton Friedman and he got the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1976. Today he deserves The Tea Party Prize for The Most Deluded Free Market Ideologist Of All Time. Myself, I would give him The Adam Ash Raspberry Award for Wrecking More Lives Than Rasputin.
Other Koranical texts include Atlas Shrugged by the pioneer Tea Party nut Ayn Rand, and the rather excellent Road to Serfdom by ur-libertarian Friedrich von Hayek, who didn't live long enough to see how destructive capitalism can be when it's unbridled and unregulated. Or how toxic financial terrorism can be compared to the brilliant entrepreneurial capitalism of a genius like Steve Jobs -- a guy whom Von Hayek would've loved as a far better role model for his ideas. The creepiest contemporary pamphleteering for the weird and noxious religion of Goldman Sachs-style financial terrorism happens on the editorial pages of the Rupert Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal (Murdoch also owns Fox News, a great embarrassment to his children, but it makes too much money for Rupert to deep-six it).
There are other curious elements in the terrorist profile of your basic Goldman Sachs group-think hive-mind of bizarro bankster terrorists: a self-perpetuating smugness, a marrow-deep feeling of entitlement, and a megalomaniac hubris.
We are the smartest guys in the room. We don't need no stinking regulations. We are the free market. We know what's best for the world, because whatever is best for us is best for the world. Heck, in the words of our CEO, Lloyd Blankfein, we're just bankers “doing God's work.” We can package securities into financial instruments that are, in the words of our own Fabulous Fabrice Tourre, “monstrousities,” but heck, we make a fortune on them. We can make money out of what we know to be “shitty deals” with our customers because if they want to be our suckers, that's their lookout. We will package a deal with a hedge fund manager who wants to bet against the product we'll sell for him, and we will let him choose the junk inside those securities without telling our customers that the junk was chosen by someone who is betting against the product they're buying. We have no idea why the SEC is suing us about this. We're utterly innocent and will fight this crap. After all, we sold our products to sophisticated investors who should've known what they were buying. If we have to pay a fine like we've done before, well, that's peanuts and it's just another cost of doing business. We know how to look out for ourselves -- our guys are in government here and all over the world. We here on Wall Street are Masters of the Universe who are entitled to 40% of the corporate profits in America. We're untouchable and invincible. We deserve every million we make.
I'm not making this up. This is REALLY how they think, based on their own spoken words and emails. It represents a species of psyche that boggles the sane mind. Try to penetrate this mindset and you enter a 21st century heart of darkness. These are not the sort of guys you should want your daughter to marry. When they trot out their favorite excuse for their behavior -- that they sold their “shitty” products to SOPHISTICATED investors -- they are openly acknowledging that they think it's OK to cheat investors AS LONG AS THEY ARE SOPHISTICATED.
They think this actually explains that they're doing nothing wrong -- when it's a straight-up admission of guilt.
They can't for the life of them think why anyone would think their actions are suspect. In fact, all their chicanery makes them feel entitled to bonuses in the millions.
The long hours of relentless 24/7 profit pursuit ... the high-risk gambling on asset bubbles ... the betting against your own customers ... the cheat of computerized front-running and inside-information bets ... the psychology of Wall Street casino group-think ... the turning of 30:1 leverage into massive profits ... the millions gifted to them by the Fed at minimal interest ... the outsized bonuses from short-term gains ... the Wall Street philosophy of IBGYBG: I'll be gone and you'll be gone, so let's do the deal and let the suckers pay for it ... all this has made them bonkers.
They don't even blink when Senator Phil Angelides nutshells their practice of shorting the securities they sell as follows: “It sounds to me a little bit like selling a car with faulty brakes and then buying an insurance policy on the buyer of those cars.”
It's as if wads of crooked cash have sealed off their minds from the quotidian morality the rest of us struggle to live by. You'd have to go down the food chain to the level of an AIDS virus to find a commensurate sense of decency. They share the inside-the-bubble moral myopia of Catholic bishops who shield pedophiles in their midst, of lawyers who write torture memos to provide legal cover for their torture-promoting bosses, of rapists who blame their victims for wearing mini-skirts, and of Al Qaeda bombers who believe their actions are totally justified and will land them in paradise. The big difference being this: a political terrorist believes he'll enjoy his reward in heaven, while a financial terrorist gets to enjoy his reward in the Hamptons.
I'd like to mention two other terrorist groups in the world of business.
Number one: the 52,000 Americans with secret bank accounts in Switzerland, where their money sits happily evading being taxed by our IRS. If you want an idea what those taxes might amount to, consider this: at one point, according to the IRS, the 4,450 secret UBS accounts of Americans whose names UBS have been persuaded to give up, amounted to $18 billion. You do the math. To my mind, there's little daylight between these financial terrorists (let's call them terrorists by omission rather than commission) and an African dictator who rips off his people and stashes his gazillions in a Swiss bank. Yes, he kills people, ouch! But hey, these financial terrorists, all they do is contribute to the infant morality rate in America rivaling a Third World country's, and how bad can that be? As far as I can see, the big difference between rich Americans shielding their fortunes from the IRS and a dictator stashing his money in the same bank is this: the Americans are too cowardly to do the killing with their own hands, and prefer to do it by proxy.
Another Yakuza-like gang of financial terrorists goes by the name deficit hawks. They are terribly concerned about deficits, especially now that a black guy is running up these deficits instead of the white fellow before him.
Pushing back on deficits is a good thing, but pushing back on them NOW is straight-up class warfare. Hooverism. When the private sector is not spending money to keep up employment, the government has to do it. Here is a telling comment from a New York Times reader responding to a Paul Krugman column:
“I'm not an economist, but I learned about the Depression and how it stalled out in 1937 when I was in high school -- way back in the 1970's. We learned then what Prof. Krugman is saying here today, that is, balancing the budget in the middle of a time of high unemployment makes things worse. This was once common knowledge. Wha' happened? Are people today stupider than they were in the '70's? Or maybe their education has changed?”
You bet they're stupider. They're being “educated” by Fox News and Glenn Beck.
The real agenda of the deficit hawks is to screw the struggling middleclass and poor and unemployed even more. That is why they bang on about the cost of entitlements -- Social Security and Medicare -- and conveniently forget two things:
1. The military-industrial entitlement of our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which will, according to Economics Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz, amount to $3 trillion. Now that's deficit spending, kids (plus corporate welfare, big government, and serial mass murder to boot).
2. The fact that the rich dudes who complain about deficits are paying a top tax rate of 35% on their income above $373,651. The top tax rate was 91% to 92% under Eisenhower, 70% to 77% under Nixon, and 60% under Ford. Then something weird happened. Shortly after Reagan assumed office, it was 28%. Wow. What was happening with our debt during these years? From the end of WW2, when national debt was 120% of GDP, it fell steadily down to the lower end of 30% under Carter. By the most mysterious of utter coincidences in the economic history of Western man, the debt percentage started rising sharply under Reagan. It was shooting past 60% when Bush One left office after 12 years of GOP rule. It dipped down again when Clinton was president, with him leaving Al Gore a budget surplus and the likelihood that perhaps maybe one day we might break even if we felt like it. But the Supreme Court decided to make the guy who lost the election the President, and Bush and Dick “deficits don't matter” Cheney pushed our debt-to-GDP ratio over 70%. Today it's heading for the upper stratosphere as Obama struggles to reverse the effects of the Wall Street meltdown.
In other words, our deficit problems started their ballooning performance under Ronald Reagan (remember “trickle-down economics” and “a rising tide lifts all yachts”?). For some totally mysterious reason, when the top tax rate was over 90% under Eisenhower, you could work at General Motors all your life and afford a home and retire comfortably -- all on one salary. Those were the days when it was good to be a member of the middleclass in America, even though suburbia lacked marijuana. Fast-forward to Bush-Cheney, and the middleclass got hammered like a nail hit by a mountain even with two bread-earners per household, while the rich were basking in a second Gilded Age of shower curtains at $6,000 a pop. This was no damn “trickle-down economics”: it was pure “gusher-up economics.” Today the lower-earning 80% of Americans have to try and share 15% of the American pie.
Long story short: “deficit hawk” is code for either “crock of shit” or “let's kick the middleclass even harder now that they're down.”
To me, the most interesting deficit hawk is Peter G. Peterson, Commerce Secretary under Nixon, CEO of Lehman Brothers, cofounder of the Blackstone Group, and founder in 2008 of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. He spent a billion bucks establishing this Foundation. Spending a billion to convince us to cut back on entitlements -- Social Security and Medicare -- now that's a heavy personal bet. (Incidentally, he has on his board one Timothy Geithner, famous for making sure that Goldman Sachs got 100% of the money they lost with AIG; also famous for not knowing how to follow Turbo Tax instructions; and currently semi-infamous for being Obama's Treasury Secretary.)
Peterson cofounded Blackstone with another Lehman alumnus, Stephen Schwarzman, who became famous for his 60th birthday party that cost $3m (he was also famous for the $684 million cash he netted when Blackstone went public in 2007 and for his $8.83 billion stake after the first day, which soon plunged rather rapidly). Blackstone is one the largest global private-equity companies in the world. They used to be called leveraged-buyout companies -- they buy companies by loading those companies with debt with which they buy the companies. Then they might break up the company and sell the pieces, or fire enough workers to jack up the share price, and then sell it -- all for a tidy profit. Basically what they do is put the company in debt, and pay a good slice of that money back to themselves. Some companies are bought and sold like this until they're bankrupt, but of course the buyers and sellers all make a profit as they load their pass-along punching bag with more debt. “Private-equity” is a rather sanitary term for what these guys do. I'd call them “debt-prison buyout” companies, being as how they often imprison their targets in debt. Anyway, Peterson is one of the guys who got superduperrich doing this stuff (aka “enhancing shareholder value”) after getting merely superrich at Lehman Brothers.
Here's what this snake in saint's clothing wrote in Newsweek about why he put up a billion to establish the Peterson Foundation. I quote it for its satiric flavor: a Kurt Vonnegut or a Joseph Heller could hardly have done it better. The irony is all the richer because this shyster actually believes what his ghost wrote for him. It comes from his heart. He is his own useful idiot.
“For the first time in my memory, the majority of the American people join me in believing that, on our current course, our children will not do as well as we have. For years, I have been saying that the American government, and America itself, has to change its spending and borrowing policies: the tens of trillions of dollars in unfunded entitlements and promises, the dangerous dependence on foreign capital, our pitiful level of savings, the metastasizing health-care costs, our energy gluttony. These structural deficits are unsustainable. Herb Stein, who served alongside me in the Nixon White House as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, once drily observed, 'If your horse dies, I suggest you dismount.' And yet, we keep trying to ride this horse.
“Underlying these challenges is our broken political system. Our representatives, unlike our Founding Fathers, see politics as a career. As a result, they are focused not on the next generation, but on the next election. When the long-term problems are large and real, they anesthetize us, mislead us, divert us -- anything to keep us from giving up something or having to pay for it. Too often, our political leaders are just enablers, co-conspirators in a disingenuous and greedy silence. Our children are unrepresented. The future is unrepresented. The moment is long overdue for us to become moral and worthy ancestors. So I decided to set up a different kind of foundation, one that would focus on America's key fiscal-sustainability challenges. The fact is, for most of these challenges, there are workable solutions. Our problem is not a lack of such options. It is a lack of will to do something about them.”
Prime-grade bullshit. His writer is using boilerplate we might all agree with to push an agenda that will undermine us all. The Tea Party crazies and GOP voters are very useful idiots in Peterson's skeevy project. The astroturf “grass-roots” organization that Peterson has funded is called “America Speaks” (brilliant name), from whose portals concerned Americans, bamboozled by Peterson's glossy brochures, express their concerns about spending on “entitlements.” Heck, the White House is one of these concerned citizens, too. President Obama has a Trojan Horse going called the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (aka the Deficit Commission), co-chaired by former Senator Alan Simpson, who recently referred to us regular Americans -- you and me -- as the “lesser people.” The conservative Las Vegas Review-Journal wrote this about the commission, stuck as this rag is in the syndrome of every-day-some-new-hysteria, a syndrome mightily characteristic of its ilk of dumbfuckery:
"The members of his bipartisan commission could recommend raising the Social Security and Medicare eligibility ages to 75, means-testing benefits, shuttering one-third of the federal bureaucracy, cutting military spending in half, creating a 10 percent national sales tax and slashing the salary of every federal employee by 15 percent and Washington would still have trillions of dollars in debt and unfunded liabilities.”
Cutting military spending by half? There's a better chance an ant will make an elephant pregnant.
OK, so here we have tax-avoiding financial terrorists sabotaging our tax base, deficit hawk financial terrorists launching an attack on Social Security under cover of noble deficit control motives, and Goldman Sachs financial terrorists and their Wall Street cronies sinking us all in misery while they go their very rich, very merry way.
Who stands between these predatory world-wreckers and us, their victims?
But they couldn't protect us when Wall Street melted us down, and they won't protect us now. Wall Street bribes every administration every time, all the time. Our officials buy into the same mindset as the terrorists; they suffer from what Simon Johnson so aptly called “regulatory capture.” How did these Wall Street terrorists manage to IED our economy into its present unpretty pass? Often the regulations were there, but the regulators were MIA. Overall there was too little government to supervise and regulate them. There just wasn't enough big government in their faces.
So: what should our government do about them, now that we supposedly know better?
Well, the administration should've taken Goldman Sachs and Citigroup et al into receivership (like they did with Detroit) when they had the chance, and fired the management, but instead they chose to shower them with money with no strings attached, just like Bush-Cheney showered Bin-Laden with recruits when they started the Iraq War.
So what should the government do now?
Regulate, regulate, regulate.
Prosecute, prosecute, prosecute.
If the government can get a people-killer like Al Capone for income tax evasion, they can get job-killers like Goldman Sachs for fraud. And if they can find a way of breaking Goldman Sachs up between their banking and trading activities, they should do that. Plus, they should regulate all derivatives -- no loopholes -- to be transparently traded on open exchanges.
But what is the government doing? Shepherding a bill that does not break up the big banks (“too big to fail rules!”), does not re-instate Glass-Steagall ("let's water the Volcker rule down to nothing!"), does not stop the outrageous rates for pay day loans and credit cards ("400% interest is good for pay day borrowers!"), and does not rein in Wall Street bonuses or CEO salaries ("of course American CEOs should make more in a day than a worker makes in a year! those Japanese CEOs who eat Detroit's lunch for breakfast, they've got it all wrong with their puny CEO-to-worker pay ratio of 12:1!").
When the bills of the Senate and the House were being reconciled these past few weeks, there were all these very oh-so-serious debates going on. Our elected officials were back-and-forthing about whether already-loopholed derivatives by the five largest swaps dealers (Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup and Bank of America are responsible for 90% of the swaps and derivatives market) should be spun off into separate entities to keep a wall between regular banking and Wall Street casino gambling. That way, us taxpayers might be inoculated from having to bail out the banks, because a casino could take a dive without taking the bank down with it. The House and the Senate also dithered about whether banks with more than $250 billion assets should be subject to some minute leverage limits when they engage in potentially risky activities. They were also arguing about whether Elizabeth Warren's brainchild, the Consumer Financial Protection Agency, already severely weakened by being put under the Fed (one of the main aiders and abettors of the financial meltdown), should be limited to having only 200 of the nation's 8,200 banks under its aegis, leaving the other 8,000 banks free to cheat us with tricky mortgages and 30% penalty interest on credit card debt.
In other words, the House and the Senate were quibbling about whether they should guarantee the next financial meltdown by a 100% or a 110% or a 120%.
You can bet that the bill Obama eventually signs will be loophole-ready -- and leave you and I and every Main Street person in the world ripe for the plucking and gutting and basting by financial terrorists.
Just look at our states, now going bankrupt and unable to borrow -- while Goldman Sachs and their fellow terrorists can borrow at the ridiculously low Fed rate of 0.2% and stick that money straight into speculating with our future. The government has shoveled trillions at the terrorists, to the point that its own credit rating is wobblier than a toddler trying to foxtrot, while the terrorists don't have to do any cleaning up after themselves. The private debt of speculating terrorists has mysteriously morphed into our public debt. Instead of giving the states and us a helping hand, the terrorists are lecturing us on "fiscal responsibility." Talk about blaming the victim.
Here's something semi-weird: one state has its own state-owned bank. This state, North Dakota, is the only state in the union with a budget surplus. It also has the lowest unemployment and mortgage delinquency rates. Weird, isn't it? Sometimes that dreaded socialism works way better than capitalism, especially when that capitalism is of the unregulated financial terrorist variety.
Maybe the most galling thing about financial terrorism is that there will be no big-time Goldman Sachs or Citigroup or other Wall Street terrorist standing trial. Despite the fact that the SEC got the Department of Justice involved, nothing has been happening on that front. Of course not. Who's going to jail the guys whose contributions to your campaign helped get you elected?
Some smart judge should be sentencing all the top brass of Goldman Sachs -- Lloyd Blankfein et al, even Fabulous Fab himself -- to at least two years penance in some starving village in the Third World, where their terrorist bubble might finally shatter. But it's less likely than Sarah Palin growing a backup brain.
What does it all mean? It means our financial terrorists are more alive than ever, and fully enabled to wreck our lives again. In five to ten years time, Goldman Sachs will be scoring off some other hyped asset bubble (biomass made from tulips, anyone?) or from another batch of hyped stock offerings (green energy IPOs, anyone?), just like they did with the hyped no-profit dotcoms IOPs they peddled before the 2000 market crash. And as the bubble peaks, they'll find a way of betting against their own customers like they did a few years ago. Then, when it all melts down, they'll run to the Fed for bailouts or to us taxpayers or both like they did when Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein were on the phone to each more often than New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg calls his mother (every day his first call of the day). Result? They'll be richer and we'll be poorer.
Our homegrown financial terrorists will notch up another great achievement, elegantly executed with the deft connivance of Congress and the White House. There will NEVER be enough government, or a government big enough, or a politician with testicles big enough, to stop financial terrorism. FDR and trust-busting Teddy Roosevelt were once-in-a-millennium phenoms. Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Barney Frank and crew are no match for the Scam Artist Wrecking Crew of Goldman Sachs, even though these Dems are a trillion times more sensible and sane than anyone who ever worked for that Yale legacy asshole Bush and that Dick “the bigger the issue, the bigger I lie” Cheney.
Obama, Nancy and Barney try hard (or like to give the appearance of trying hard) but the terrorists of Goldman Sachs have too many votes in the pockets of their silk-lined suits. Obama once wryly observed that the Wall Street banks were like suicide-bombers -- “”save us or our downfall will blow up the world!” -- and he was profoundly right.
2. AL QAEDA AND WHAT GOVERNMENT SHOULD BE, BUT ISN'T, DOING ABOUT THEM
These Al Qaeda terrorists, who go straight for the body, actually have the semblance of a semi-legitimate beef. Their methods are heinous, and their religious fundamentalism is obnoxious to an absurd extreme -- a combination of Dick Cheney obdurateness, Pat Robertson looniness, and Tea Party stupidity -- but there's a rationale behind their madness. They want to kill innocent Americans because the foreign policy of our leaders supports Israel against the oppressed Palestinians, and supports oppressive Arab regimes. That's what 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed said. Many people who aren't terrorists are also upset about this. Millions of them live in America. The vast majority of people in Europe -- probably worldwide -- are upset about it. But we don't fly planes into buildings or strap on suicide bombs to blow ourselves up in public squares.
Osama Bin Laden also mentioned another reason he's upset with us: back before 9/11, our infidel army was parked very near Mecca, a terrible affront to his Muslim soul. Fair enough. Of course, this army of ours contained females, Western females at that, which is something that really sticks in the domestic fundamentalist Arab craw, specifically the male one. It seems the harder an Al Qaeda pecker gets over pictures of Western babes, the more enthusiastic does the owner of said pecker get about strapping on a suicide bomb, marching up to an American checkpoint, and blowing his cock in the general direction of 72 virgins.
In the months before 9/11, there was not much government activity against terrorist threats. The Bush-Cheney administration, true to form, did absolutely nothing despite repeated warnings. A 2001 briefing for Bush on August 6 was called “Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States.” That's what it said on the goddam COVER of the report. Moreover, CIA director George Tenet got so worried because of masses of spooky intelligence that he repeated his warnings to the point that people were tired of hearing them.
But Bush and Cheney and Condoleeza Rice, the Queen of Denial, cared less than Jesus cared for that fig tree he blasted. It wasn't a case of too little government or not enough government. It was a case of ZERO government at the executive end, while 200%-proof warnings were spritzing forth from the intelligence end.
Then, after 9/11, it turned into a case of Big Government In Extremis. Bush-Cheney went so far as to CREATE terrorists in a country where none could exist under the vigilant and violent eye of the arch dictator Saddam Hussein, who hated Bin Laden with a passion. Yet, while our nation cheered, Bush-Cheney bombed away, drawing resources away from where the criminals lurked in Afghanistan. It was as if people in Britain were watching Hitler attack their ally Poland and then, in reprisal, bombed France.
The US invading Iraq: now we're talking a really big government takeover. Deficit spending by the trillions. Funny how it doesn't upset the Tea Party folks one little bit. They don't get riled when president Bush mortgages our future for the sheer joy of whacking non-culpable Arabs, but when president Obama brings in a little health reform to save American lives, they go more Neanderthal than Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver.
The result? Bush-Cheney advanced the cause of the Al Qaeda terrorists more than Bin Laden himself. Bin Laden's efforts seem kind of puny compared to the Bush-Cheney recruitment drive for Al Qaeda. Because of our wars, young men went flocking to Al Qaeda like hordes of punks crowding Iggy Pop. Plus, when our guys had Bin Laden in their sights at Bora-Bora, Rumsfeld nixed their request for more troops (why? ask him), and Bin Laden skipped away scot-free with his dialysis machine.
Is it irony? Or is it beyond irony? Or does it require a new figure of speech, as yet uninvented? Suffice it to say that the Bush-Cheney response to the threat of terrorism before 9/11 was less than zero, and their response afterwards The Greatest Over-Reaction of All Time, way ahead of Naomi Campbell throwing a cell phone at her housekeeper.
Today Obama is claiming some success with drone attacks on Al Qaeda in Pakistan (these drones are also very good at taking out innocent civilians having a picnic). Meanwhile Al Qaeda types are more likely to be hatching their diabolical plots in Munich, London and maybe Poughkeepsie. Bring on the drones over Trafalgar Square.
My own idea for fighting terrorists is to leave it to our cops. After all, according to the odds, an American has a better chance of drowning in his or her own bathtub than being snuffed by a terrorist. The cops handled terrorists pretty OK before 9/11. We could take the money we spend on Homeland Security and our wars, and have enough doubloons to pave the Mojave Desert with solar panels and build a grid into which to feed that power ... all before Obama's re-election in 2012. But hey, monkeys will land a man on the moon before that happens.
It might also help if -- just like we funnel big bucks to Egypt and Saudi-Arabia -- we funneled big bucks to the West Bank and Gaza. God knows the put-upon bastards in Gaza must get a little edgy living under refugee-camp conditions. We might also give Israel some much-needed tough love to help stop them from embarrassing the Jews. Also, Obama, please, dude, close Guantanamo already. For chrissake.
Not to worry: it won't happen. Our foreign policy will continue to make the world safe for political terrorists. Not too long ago an Al Qaeda-type maniac killed Americans on an Army base here in America. That sweet young man you know who keeps to himself and is all of a sudden growing a beard -- have you checked what he's got in his basement lately?
3. BP AND WHAT GOVERNMENT SHOULD BE, BUT ISN'T, DOING ABOUT THEM
One thing to know about BP. Even inside the industry, these environmental terrorists are despised for their unsafe ways. OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) has fined BP 760 times. Exxon has been fined once. Compare BP's 760 citations for "egregious, willful" safety violations with Sunoco's eight, Conoco-Phillips's eight, Citgo's two and Exxon's one. This one company has a 97% share of all super-serious safety violations.
BP's entire warm and fuzzy “Beyond Petroleum” advertising campaign is a total crock.
Let's consider their history. They're the reason the world moved from coal to oil as a mainstay of energy in the first place.
On May 26, 1908, the Middle East and the world was changed forever. That's when G.B. Reynolds, an engineer hired by William Knox D'Arcy, who had a minerals concession from Shahanshah, the king of kings of Iran, struck a gusher of crude that shot 50 feet high from a well 1,180 feet deep.
D'Arcy formed the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, today known as BP. In 1911 Britain's First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill converted the British Navy from coal to oil. To protect their investment, the British government acquired 50% of APOC's stock. In 1935 APOC changed its name to the Anglo Iranian Petrol Company because Iran insisted on all companies using the name Iran instead of Persia, which was a province inside Iran.
Until 1953, AIOC paid Iran a royalty of 16%. The Iranians weren't even allowed to look at AIOC's books. By then, Western oil companies were running Arab countries like fiefs, and treated their workers like slaves. The oil companies were backed by the military might of their respective governments. Iran's shah was installed by the allies in 1941 and headed up a corrupt dictatorship.
Iranians began to wise up that their country was being run by a British oil company, and shoved the Shah aside to figurehead status, electing a new Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq in 1951. He nationalized the oil industry. Britain contested this at the International Court of Law, but their complaint was dismissed.
So Britain approached America for help, and nothing much happened under Truman. But when Eisenhower, a close friend of Churchill, became president, he approved a CIA plan, Operation Ajax. Teddy Roosevelt's grandson Kermit was in charge of this plan to launch a counter-coup and restore the Shah to power. The CIA paid out $1 million hiring gangs, prostitutes, drug addicts and thugs to demonstrate. Various ayatollahs and big landlords and merchants were behind Operation Ajax, too. Enough riots and chaos were fomented to force Mossadeq to resign. On August 19, 1953 the Shah returned to full power and expressed his personal gratitude to Kermit Roosevelt (who then got a job with Gulf Oil). Then the Shah found Mossadeq guilty of treason and put him under house arrest until he died in 1967. Mossadeq's supporters found themselves in front of firing squads. Mossadeq's foreign minister Hossein Fatemi was taken out of hospital to be executed.
In 1957 the Shah -- with an assist from the CIA and US tax dollars -- created SAVAK, his secret police, and instituted a reign of terror, torture and oppression. One time some SAVAK guys corralled a surgeon to cut off one guy's arms and legs; they then returned the living torso back to the fellow's family as a warning to all his friends. From 1953 to 1979 Iran was nothing but a vast Guantanamo Bay-like BP prison, poor and polluted and brutally bullied.
The US got a quid pro quo from AIOC -- sharing their Iranian concession with US oil companies.
In 1954 AIOC changed their name to British Petroleum. In 1959 they expanded to Alaska. Today they're the UK's biggest corporation, fourth biggest in the world after Royal Dutch Shell (famous for turning Nigerian waters into toxic dumps), Exxon Mobil and Wal-Mart by revenue ($21 billion a year) with gas stations and oil wells on every continent in-shore and off-shore.
The bargain of an Iranian coup that cost only $1 million doesn't look like such a bargain if you consider all the crap we're eating now. As for the Iranians, they've been suffering for the past 70 years under our dictatorship and then their own screwed-up theocracy -- when for one shining moment they actually had a democracy in 1953 before we Americans overthrew it to help BP.
As for us, we got ourselves an oil addiction that makes us send billions to countries that don't like us. 26% of our oil comes from the Middle East. Our meddling occasioned the blowback of 9/11 and one of our wars is now. Our. Longest. War. Ever.
Yep, all the Middle East crap we're in today was caused by the same guys who are now ruining our Gulf of Mexico. BP has a lot more to answer for than their oil spill.
We're also getting some insight into the bubble in which BP terrorist-executives live, coming to us via the gaffes of their on-and-now-off CEO Tony Wayward. Apologies: I meant to say Tony Hayward. This guy was born with both feet firmly planted a foot down his gullet, and we should be grateful for this accident of birth, because his comments afford us a useful view into the BP terrorist bubble -- a habitat so confined and sealed off from the rest of us, and so filled with a gas I'm tempted to call Oxygenia Myopia, that the thoughts of the guys trapped inside it sound like they were scripted by John Cleese for a new parrot sketch starring a dead seagull and a live CEO. A Wayward sampler:
1. "What the hell have we done to deserve this?"
2. "It was a bit bumpy to get it going. We made a few little mistakes early on."
3. “I want my life back.”
4. “The oil is on the surface, there aren't any plumes.”
5. "Apollo 13 did not stop the space program. The Air France airplane that fell out of the sky off of Brazil did not stop the aviation industry."
6. "I am sure they were genuinely ill, but whether it was anything to do with dispersants and oil, whether it was food poisoning or some other reason for them being ill, you know, there's a -- food poisoning is surely a big issue when you've got a concentration of this number of people in temporary camps, temporary accommodations."
7. "It's not possible to measure the flow from the leak."
8. "The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume."
9. “There has been no evidence of reckless behavior.”
Only a guy with an idiotically absolutist and fundamentalist faith in his cause can be this unintentionally hilarious. Jeez, he makes Pat Robertson sound like Gandhi. Then there's the BP Chairman from Sweden, with a smug smile on his face, telling us how much he cares about the “small people.” Pray tell, you condescending snot, how big are you compared to us? I mean not as the Chairman of a big oil company, but as a member of this race of humans who share Planet Earth with you? You sound smaller than a microbe in the fanny of a fish worm.
Earlier the CEOs of the other oil companies appeared at a hearing with the disaster contingency plans that they submitted to the MMS to get their offshore permits, and these plans are the same plan, with references to protecting walruses in the Gulf of Mexico (walruses haven't lived there since walruses evolved). It's obvious they copied and pasted their Gulf “plan” from their Alaska “plan.” The names and phone numbers of dead people to call are in their plans. They didn't even bother to proofread their plans. It's not that they just don't care. They don't even care about giving the appearance that they don't care. One company's PR response plan is five times longer than its section devoted to protecting wild life. As Congressman Ed Markey remarked to Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow, the only new technology these oil barons had to contain oil spills and protect coastlines was a Xerox machine.
But all this BS was countenanced and aided and abetted by the government agency in charge of vetting applications for off-shore drilling permits, the Minerals Management Service (MMS), whose people approved applications by going over pre-existing pencil marks with ink on forms that the oil companies had already filled out in pencil. Under those great oil men Bush-Cheney, the oil companies and government overseers were all one big happy GOP family.
Then Tony Wayward was grilled by Congress and put up the most evasive performance since Walter Matthau's constant denials in A Guide For The Married Man made his wife doubt that he was cheating on her when she had actually seen him doing it with her own eyes. My favorite moment from this “testimony” was when Wayward was asked this question by an irate Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla:
"Is today Thursday, yes or no?”
So what can government do about this immense tragedy flecked with icicles of farce? Especially when they're harboring a permit-granting agency that ALSO collected revenue, and was enabled by Ken Salazar and a chap named Obama to continue this and other ethically challenged practices, only marginally better than the merry days under Bush-Cheney when the government officials of MMS snorted coke with BP executives and bonked them. Actually physically FUCKED the people they were supposed to vet. Organs inserted into orifices and all that. I find myself at a loss for inventing an analogy vivid enough to express the outrage engendered by this malfeasance, but let me try this one. It's a little like a hangman who, in the months that the prisoners await the day they feel the touch of his noose, visits the cells and fucks all the murderers.
Here's Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson on how Ken Salazar, Obama's “new sheriff in town,” continued the Bush-Cheney tradition of being in bed with Big Oil:
“Salazar did little to tamp down on the lawlessness at MMS, beyond referring a few employees for criminal prosecution and ending a Bush-era program that allowed oil companies to make their 'royalty' payments -- the amount they owe taxpayers for extracting a scarce public resource -- not in cash but in crude. And instead of putting the brakes on new offshore drilling, Salazar immediately throttled it up to record levels. Even though he had scrapped the Bush plan, Salazar put 53 million offshore acres up for lease in the Gulf in his first year alone -- an all-time high. The aggressive leasing came as no surprise, given Salazar's track record. 'This guy has a long, long history of promoting offshore oil drilling -- that's his thing,' says Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity. 'He's got a highly specific soft spot for offshore oil drilling.' As a senator, Salazar not only steered passage of the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act, which opened 8 million acres in the Gulf to drilling, he even criticized President Bush for not forcing oil companies to develop existing leases faster.
“Salazar was far less aggressive, however, when it came to making good on his promise to fix MMS. Though he criticized the actions of 'a few rotten apples' at the agency, he left long-serving lackeys of the oil industry in charge. 'The people that are ethically challenged are the career managers, the people who come up through the ranks,' says a marine biologist who left the agency over the way science was tampered with by top officials. 'In order to get promoted at MMS, you better get invested in this pro-development oil culture.' One of the Bush-era managers whom Salazar left in place was John Goll, the agency's director for Alaska. Shortly after the Interior secretary announced a reorganization of MMS in the wake of the Gulf disaster, Goll called a staff meeting and served cake decorated with the words 'Drill, baby, drill.'
“Salazar also failed to remove Chris Oynes, a top MMS official who had been a central figure in a multibillion-dollar scandal that Interior's inspector general called 'a jaw-dropping example of bureaucratic bungling.' In the 1990s, industry lobbyists secured a sweetheart subsidy from Congress: Drillers would pay no royalties on oil extracted in deep water until prices rose above $28 a barrel. But this tripwire was conveniently omitted in Gulf leases overseen by Oynes -- a mistake that will let the oil giants pocket as much as $53 billion. Instead of being fired for this fuckup, however, Oynes was promoted by Bush to become associate director for offshore drilling -- a position he kept under Salazar until the Gulf disaster hit.”
4. OBAMA TO THE RESCUE
So Obama helped BP to screw us, like he's helping Goldman Sachs to continue screwing us, and helping Al Qaeda to recruit new foot soldiers every day, even among our own population. If Bush-Cheney were superduper-heavy terrorist enablers, Obama is somewhere between lite and super-medium-heavy.
However, in one little instance, it does look like Obama got both his balls back -- after one of them had been banged rather blue by the Health Reform battle, and the other nicked with little cuts all over it in the financial reform struggle against Wall Street.
Obama met with BP and got them to agree to put up the money for a no-cap $20 billion escrow fund, run by an independent third party, and another extra $100 million set aside for oil workers who are unemployed because of the moratorium, and the billions in dividends they were going to pay their shareholders will now be withheld for the next three quarters.
Well, well, well.
One wonders why BP bent over that much. Methinks Obama might have let slip a few details from his emergency plan to take BP America into receivership, as former Labor Secretary Robert Reich has been urging. Or perhaps he reminded them of the many lucrative contracts they have with the US government. These are the only explanations I have for this dramatic outcome. After all, Congress was pushing for lifting the cap from $75 million to $10 billion, and here Obama gets them to pony up $20 billion as a no-cap down payment.
So what happens? Obama is accused by some oil flunky Senator and various Fox News nutters of “shaking down” BP. I should bloody well hope he shook down BP. I wish he had the balls to shake down Goldman Sachs, too. And Citigroup. And while he's at it, step on the nuts and bolts of a few GOP folk whose collective IQs don't add up to anything higher than the temperature in your freezer. These GOP belly-achers with their tongues knee-deep up BP's oily sphincter have also proclaimed that Obama has now created a big “slush fund” that lobbyists will divert to various nefarious interests.
What can one say? Your standard-issue Obama haters will mouth anything that springs to mind. I'm amazed we haven't been informed by them that our President has a forked tongue and a scabby tail and goat hooves, all of which he hides from us through some teleprompter trick, plus he's got 666 tattooed on his third nipple, and cuts noxious farts powered by fumes emanating from the bowels of Hell itself.
Getting $20 billion for the fishermen and hotel owners and other citizens at the short end of the BP stick ... isn't that what a President is for, dammit? Remember Teddy Roosevelt? He busted the trusts, who complained bitterly, just like the GOP-BP people are kvetching now. But Teddy had greater testicular fortitude than them. Now that Obama has “shaken down” BP, we finally know this for an absolute fact: Obama's gonads can swell to maximum size in an emergency, even if they're still small enough to fit into the pockets of Goldman Sachs.
I think it's the best thing I've seen a president do since Kennedy faced down the Russians in the Cuban Missile Crisis. It's better than anything Carter, Reagan, the Bushes and Clinton did put together.
This New York Times commenter supplies some excellent perspective:
“Hearing conservative pundits opine about BP's right to 'due process' makes this former Alaskan ill. Ask the fishermen Exxon has been crushing in court for the last 20 years how much due process they are getting. The continuing failure of that company to pay the civil claims of fishermen in Alaska for the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill is one of the great outrages in the history of American jurisprudence. The President almost certainly saved Gulf fishermen, small businesses, tour guides and other average citizens from enduring a generation of fruitless battle against phalanxes of grey-suited corporate counsel, the smartest people money can buy, who are paid to use whatever process it takes to keep the fishermen of Alaska from recovering their due. Due process, indeed.”
Plus, Obama hasn't done any of the really terrible things other presidents have done, even if his 30,000 extra troops in Afghanistan hits a 7.6 on my Outraged Morality Richter Scale.
Unlike Reagan, Obama hasn't sold weapons to Iran's Revolutionary Guard so he could give money to the Contras to kill nuns. Unlike Clinton, he hasn't stood idly by while the Hutus massacred 800,000 Tsutsis with machetes imported from China. Often the Hutus got so tired from the hard work of chopping down Tsutsis, they simply severed the ankle tendons of their victims so the poor bastards couldn't run away, and then went and had themselves a good night's sleep. The next morning they woke up refreshed enough to finish the job.
While you're wincing, let me fibrillate the tragedy with some tasteless insult comedy. Think of it as a little exercise in mood-switching from your personal emotional trainer. It'll help you become a cannier multi-tasker. Ready? Here goes. Another good thing about Obama: his elegant race-horse trot of a walk is easier on the eye and the stomach than the walk of his immediate predecessor, who had the Texas cowboy swagger down pat, consisting of three actions: the smirk of entitlement; the gorilla swing of the arms; and the male version of the supermodel-catwalk-lead-with-your-vag stride, in which President Bush proudly carried his cojones a few feet in front of him like some avatar caricature of his real-world policies.
But I digress. Back to Obama's $20 billion move. Apparently our president's brilliant coup of coups went whizzz! over the heads of our chattering classes. No ringing praises echoed off the clouds. Apparently, our punditocrats are stuck in their own self-blown bubble -- where they're pushing a narrative that requires of Obama that he vent his anger at BP in full view of the American public on national TV. They want our president to be the Drama Queen-in-Chief. Like this solves anything except gives them a headline. Our inch-deep pundits prefer theatrics over results, emotion over effectiveness.
Idiots. Even Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow, much as I sometimes like them, couldn't pull their heads out of their tunnel-vision butts on this one. I saw only one guy give the president his proper due on this: Ed of The Ed Show on MSNBC. My man.
Obama's an odd bird for sure. A mystery wrapped inside an enigmatic exterior. He has let himself and his progressive supporters down countless times. He backed the public option because, he said, we needed to “keep the insurance industry honest” -- but in the end, there was no Obama/Rahm/Chicago gun-to-a-knife-fight push to get it through; more likely a push against it.
What happened? Did Obama fold like origami tissue because the votes weren't there? Or had he promised the insurance industry back in 2009 that he would let the public option die? We'll have to wait for an insider's tell-all book before we know.
What we do know is that Obama has kept all the Bush-era human rights abuses that he campaigned against going full-blast full-throttle pedal-to-the-metal, with the single exception of torture. Guantanamo is still open. Indefinite detention and extraordinary rendition remain a permanent blight. Attorney-General Eric Holder uses the same BS Bush-era legal challenges to protect and defend BS Bush-era abuses. After Obama got spooked by the GOP capture of Ted Kennedy's Massachusetts seat, he trotted out his support for the Volcker rule with former Fed Chairman Volcker standing right there. Will there ever be a real division between commercial banking and investment banking, i.e. between lending and gambling? Fat chance.
Like they say, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck. If Obama walks like a slippery customer and quacks like a slippery customer, he must be a slippery customer. At best a hypocrite. At worst a liar whose word is not worth the empty rhetoric falling so flowingly from his tongue.
But then, but then ... as we now know, Obama was the only one in the White House who insisted on doing healthcare reform in his first year -- all his people were against it -- so that the insurance industry won't be able to cheat their customers with a “pre-existing condition” requirement again, or kick them to the gutter when they get sick, or put a cap on what they pay out when they get sick. One man, and one man alone, Barack Hussein Obama, set the long slog in motion that led to this outcome, against the advice of everyone around him.
But then, but then ... Obama puts General Petraeus in charge of the Afghanistan surge, probably knowing full well the general can't succeed, and if this hero can't do it, Obama can withdraw the troops and make enough Americans happy to re-elect him in 1012. The only way Petraeus COULD succeed is if he buys off the entire Taliban, like he did the Sunni insurgency in Iraq. But something tells me that not even the Fed (who so happily shoved over $13 trillion of cheap money at our Wall Street terrorists) would advance Petraeus the puny trillion or two he'd need to turn the Taliban into America-friendly druglords.
But then, but then ... Obama gets BP to pony up a down payment of $20 billion on making their Gulf victims whole.
Odd. Is there some steel in all that fluffy friendliness? Is he just shy about showing it? Or is he, ever the community organizer, waiting for us to take on some of the responsibility ourselves like an actively responsible community, who will stick our collective pitchforks in the fat behinds of our irresponsible elite, Obama's sculpted butt included, to force these irresponsible leaders of ours to do the people's bidding? Or is he waiting to show his progressive hand in his second term, when he's got nothing to lose, and Nancy Pelosi might still be leading a majority of fractious Dems in the House, and Chuck Schumer might be running the Senate, and perhaps not be as friendly with Wall Street as he has been all this life?
Who knows and what the heck. Hey, let's rerun the final episode of Lost instead, while we sip from our plastic bottles of Poland Spring Water, and our sixteen-year-old careens down the highway in our SUV on his way to score some meth at the local lab, and let's all say thank you to our various gods for some small mercies.
Actually, $20 billion makes a big mercy. Humongous. Elephantine. Jupiter.
Chalk up one for the small people.
For now, anyway. Because -- cackle-cackle -- there are lurking off-shore, within polluting distance of our coastline, hundreds of BP oil rigs, so many that Tony Wayward couldn't give a precise number at his Congressional grilling (one of them is way bigger than the one that blew up, and just as unsafe as the one that blew up). Do you think BP will shave 20% off their profits just to play it safer in the future? Or invest billions in new cleanup technology? If you believe that, I have a bridge to nowhere to sell you. As for Goldman Sachs, they've been back in the million-buck seats for more than a year, and lobbying fiercely for the right to screw us again, and succeeding in their efforts. And as for Al Qaeda, their spawn could be living right across the street from you. Those Al Qaeda freaks know how to snag a bitter teen on the Internet. They were global before your kid got his first DSI.
So where does that leave you and me and everyone else we call human? Just one word of advice, folks.
Posted by Evert Cilliers at 03:25 AM | Permalink