Welnu, mijn vraag aan u als toekomstige Nederlandse volksvertegenwoordiger is de volgende:
zaterdag 24 april 2010
Welnu, mijn vraag aan u als toekomstige Nederlandse volksvertegenwoordiger is de volgende:
Obama reassures Wall Street on bank regulation bill
23 April 2010
President Barack Obama went to lower Manhattan Thursday to deliver a message to Wall Street: Your profits and bonuses will not be disturbed by the regulatory overhaul making its way through Congress.
In a deferential speech pitched to top bankers in the Cooper Union audience, Obama urged what he called the “titans of industry” to call off their lobbyists and “join us” in passing his so-called reform. The subtext was that the White House and congressional Democrats had already removed most of the provisions to which the bankers objected, and were prepared to go even further in accommodating them.
The speech came less than a week after the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) indicted Goldman Sachs, the most profitable Wall Street bank, for defrauding its clients in order to cash in on—and encourage—the collapse of the subprime housing market in 2007. Obama did not mention the indictment. Nor did he suggest that what he called a “failure of responsibility” on Wall Street included criminal activities.
Among those in the audience to whom Obama appealed was Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman, who attended the event to underscore his contempt and defiance of the SEC.
It was also a week in which the top five banks reported combined profits of more than $15 billion for the first three months of 2010—a huge increase over the previous year.
As the Goldman indictment makes clear, these profits are bound up with rampant fraud that helped crash the financial system--driving millions in the US and around the world into unemployment and poverty—followed by trillions of dollars in taxpayer bailouts and virtually free credit from the Federal Reserve.
Obama took pains to affirm his obeisance to capitalism. “I believe in the power of the free market,” he declared. “I believe in a strong financial sector …” To reassure Wall Street that his financial overhaul would not impose serious restrictions, he said, “We do not have to choose between markets that are unfettered by even modest protections against crisis, or markets that are stymied by onerous rules that suppress enterprise and innovation.”
There was no suggestion that a single banker or trader should be held accountable for the social catastrophe he helped create. Yet less than two months ago, addressing the US Chamber of Commerce, Obama hailed the mass firing of teachers in an impoverished school district in Rhode Island as a positive educational “reform” measure. “There’s got to be a sense of accountability,” Obama said.
With complete cynicism, Obama and congressional Democrats, with the assistance of the media, are presenting their regulatory proposals as a sweeping reform comparable to the banking measures implemented by the Roosevelt administration in the Great Depression.
In reality, the Senate measure, like the bill passed last December by the House of Representatives, proposes certain marginal changes in the way government agencies monitor financial firms, but does nothing to reverse the deregulation of banking carried out over the past three decades, which dismantled the restrictions imposed during the 1930s. It introduces no structural reforms to limit, let alone ban, the speculative practices that have become central to the accumulation of profit and personal wealth by the American ruling class.
Obama and the congressional Democrats have rejected capping executive pay or banning credit default swaps, collateralized debt obligations, structured investment vehicles and other exotic forms of speculation that played a major role in the financial crash and global recession. Provisions to regulate derivatives markets, a major source of profits for the top Wall Street banks, are loaded with loopholes and exemptions. A financial consumer protection body will have no power over 98 percent of banks or any car dealerships, and will be subject to a Federal Reserve veto.
The most important innovation in the House and Senate bills is the establishment of a procedure for the government to wind down large financial firms, including insurance companies and other non-bank entities, whose failure could trigger a systemic collapse. This is being billed as an end to “too-big-to-fail” financial companies and a guarantee against future taxpayer-funded bailouts.
It is nothing of the kind. The proposal would institutionalize government rescue operations to protect the interests of bank executives, shareholders and creditors and the wealth of the financial elite as a whole, ultimately at public expense. It is designed to keep the banking system in private hands while preparing for the inevitable consequences of allowing the banks and big investors to continue “business as usual,” i.e., another financial crisis on the order of the crash of 2008.
In his speech on Thursday, Obama declared that “a vote for reform is a vote to put a stop to taxpayer-funded bailouts.” This is a lie. The administration-backed bill passed by the House would give the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, with the consent of the treasury secretary and the Federal Reserve, the power to “extend credit or guarantee obligations … to prevent financial instability during times of severe economic distress.” This amounts to a blank check to use taxpayer funds for future bailouts.
Obama has continued Bush administration policies that, far from reining in Wall Street, have strengthened the power of the biggest financial firms. The share of all banking industry assets held by the top 10 banks rose to 58 percent in 2009, from 44 percent in 2000 and 24 percent in 1990.
Nothing other than a license for Wall Street to continue stealing from the American people could possibly emerge from a political system dominated by an all-powerful financial aristocracy and awash in corruption and bribery. The financial industry has to date spent $455 million to lobby Congress on the financial overhaul.
The securities and investment industry has thus far handed out $34 million for the 2010 election cycle. Goldman Sachs is the second biggest corporate donor to political campaigns, after AT&T. Since 1989, the bank’s political action committee and employees have given $31.6 million in campaign contributions, two-thirds of the total to Democratic candidates.
The financial industry funded Obama’s presidential election campaign to the amount of $15 million. Goldman was Obama’s single biggest donor, giving nearly $1 million.
One indication of the ties between Wall Street and the White House: Gregg Craig, who until January was Obama’s White House counsel, has been hired by Goldman Sachs to defend the firm against the SEC indictment.
The author also recommends:
The Goldman Sachs indictment
[19 April 2010]
vrijdag 23 april 2010
donderdag 22 april 2010
Iran exports 'revolutionary principles' to Venezuela, report claims
Iran has stepped up its military presence in Venezuela as part of a programme to export its "revolutionary principles" to America's enemies, according to a Pentagon report.
By Toby Harnden in Washington
Published: 8:08PM BST 21 Apr 2010
The report on Iran's military states that paramilitaries from the Quds Force, a special paramilitary unit attached to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, have "an increased presence in Latin America, particularly Venezuela".
It also alleges that Iran is continuing to supply weapons and explosives to the Taliban to help them kill American and British troops in Afghanistan.
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The Quds force [IRGC-QF] "maintains operational capabilities around the world," the report states that "it is well established in the Middle East and North Africa" but has been extending its reach into Latin America in recent years.
"If US involvement in conflict in these regions deepens, contact with the IRGC-QF, directly or through extremist groups it supports, will be more frequent and consequential".
The report does not supply details of Iranian activity in Venezuela but represents to the first warning in an official US government report about Iranian paramilitary activities in the Western Hemisphere. President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela has been accused of supporting Marxist terrorists in Colombia.
Iranian-backed terrorists have conducted few attacks in the region but American intelligence officials told The Washington Times that Quds Force operatives are developing networks of terrorists in Latin America who could be activated to attack the US if there was a conflict over Iran's nuclear programme.
The Quds force is said to support US enemies by giving them arms, funding and paramilitary training and is not constrained by Islamist ideology.
"Many of the groups it supports do not share, and sometimes openly oppose, Iranian revolutionary principles, but Iran supports them because they share common interests or enemies," the report states Qods force operatives are stationed in Iranian embassies, charities and religious and cultural institutions that support Shia Muslims.
They provide some humanitarian support but also take part in "paramilitary operations to support extremists and destabilise unfriendly regimes," according to the report.
The report links Quds force and the larger IRGC to some of the deadliest terrorist attacks of the past 30 years: the bombing of the American Embassy in Beirut in 1983, the bombing of a Jewish centre in Argentina in 1994, the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia in 1996 and insurgent attacks in Iraq after 2003.
It states that the Quds force is working through non-governmental organisations and political opposition groups in Afghanistan and Tehran is backing the insurgent leaders Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Ismail Khan.
"Arms caches have been recently uncovered [in Afghanistan] with large amounts of Iranian-manufactured weapons, to include 107 millimetre rockets, which we assess IRGC-QF delivered to Afghan militants," the report states.
"Tehran's support to the Taliban is inconsistent with their historic enmity, but fits with Iran's strategy of backing many groups to ensure that it will have a positive relationship with the eventual leaders."
Netanyahu: Less Time to Act on Iran with Each Passing Day
by Gil Ronen
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu sounded an urgent note regarding the Iranian threat in a Monday interview on America's ABC network, saying that “we have a lot less time with each day that passes.”
“And the crucial thing,” he said, “is to use the time available for forceful international action led by the United States. If you can, go through the [UN] Security Council. If you can't, go outside the Security Council.”
“I spoke with President Obama when he was Senator Obama,” he said on the morning news show, Good Morning America. “He visited Israel. And I was the leader of the Opposition at… that time. And I said… if he gets elected President... all the issues that will flood his desk will one day be pushed aside by one overriding issue. And that is if Iran attempts to develop atomic bombs. Because they could very well either use it or threaten to use it or threaten to give it to terrorists or even give them a crude device with fissionable material that can be put in a container ship. And this could come to Manhattan or to any port in the United States or in Europe or, for that matter, in Israel.”
'A minimal requirement'
The international community can deliver “crippling sanctions” against Iran, he said. “If you stop … Iran from importing refined petroleum, that's a fancy word for gasoline,” Netanyahu explained, “then Iran simply doesn't have refining capacity and this regime comes to a halt. I think that's crippling sanctions. Now if the UN Security Council doesn't pass it because they'll dilute the resolution to get acquiescence of their members, then certainly the United States and other willing partners in the international community can... enforce these sanctions outside the Security Council. There is a way to deliver these crippling sanctions. This should be done now.”
“I think this is a minimal requirement right now,” he added. The point was “not really to send [Iran] messages," he said, “but to actually make this regime begin to make choices. Because right now they feel they don't have to make choices. They understand that the spotlight is on them but they're not doing anything. And the critical thing is I think there's an understanding in Washington, certainly in Jerusalem and quite a few other capitals in the world, that very forceful action has to be taken to make Iran stop. I think the future of peace in the world and of stability and security is at stake.”
Asked if he was worried that war could break out this summer, the prime minister said: “If it's up to us, there won't be any war." Iran, he added, is trying to create tensions through Hizbullah, “probably to deflect the world's attention from Iran's advancement and its plan to develop nuclear weapons.” (IsraelNationalNews.com)
US official: Iran military strike 'off the table'
By ALEX KENNEDY
Associated Press Writer
The U.S. has ruled out a military strike against Iran's nuclear program any time soon, hoping instead negotiations and United Nations sanctions will prevent the Middle East nation from developing nuclear weapons, a top U.S. defense department official said Wednesday.
"Military force is an option of last resort," Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy said during a press briefing in Singapore. "It's off the table in the near term."
The U.S. and its allies fear Tehran is using its nuclear program to build arms. Iran denies the charges, and says its program only aims to generate electricity.
"Right now the focus is a combination of engagement and pressure in the form of sanctions," Flournoy said. "We have not seen Iran engage productively in response."
Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was quoted Wednesday by Iran's state media saying the country won't give in to U.S. pressure. Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard is preparing to hold large-scale military maneuvers in the strategic Strait of Hormuz.
"We've said time and again that we are not after weapons of mass destruction but the Iranian nation won't give in to such threats and will bring those threatening it to their knees," Khamenei said.
Iran has rejected a 2009 U.N.-backed plan that offered nuclear fuel rods to Tehran in exchange for Iran's stock of lower-level enriched uranium. The swap would curb Tehran's capacity to make a nuclear bomb.
But Iran has proposed variations on the deal, and Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Tuesday that a fuel agreement could be a chance to boost trust with the West.
Earlier this week, he said Iran wants direct talks about the deal with all the U.N. Security Council members, except one with which it would have indirect talks - a reference to the United States, which with Tehran has no relations.
The U.S. is lobbying heavily in the Security Council for sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program.
Associated Press Writer Ali Akbar Dareini in Dubai contributed to this story.
How Fears of Socialism and Fascism Hide Naked Theft
By William J. Astore
April 21, 2010 " Tom Dispatch" -- Kleptocracy -- now, there’s a word I was taught to associate with corrupt and exploitative governments that steal ruthlessly and relentlessly from the people. It’s a word, in fact, that’s usually applied to flawed or failed governments in Africa, Latin America, or the nether regions of Asia. Such governments are typically led by autocratic strong men who shower themselves and their cronies with all the fruits of extracted wealth, whether stolen from the people or squeezed from their country’s natural resources. It’s not a word you’re likely to see associated with a mature republic like the United States led by disinterested public servants and regulated by more-or-less transparent principles and processes.
In fact, when Americans today wish to critique or condemn their government, the typical epithets used are “socialism” or “fascism.” When my conservative friends are upset, they send me emails with links to material about “ObamaCare” and the like. These generally warn of a future socialist takeover of the private realm by an intrusive, power-hungry government. When my progressive friends are upset, they send me emails with links pointing to an incipient fascist takeover of our public and private realms, led by that same intrusive, power-hungry government (and, I admit it, I’m hardly innocent when it comes to such “what if” scenarios).
What if, however, instead of looking at where our government might be headed, we took a closer look at where we are -- at the power-brokers who run or influence our government, at those who are profiting and prospering from it? These are, after all, the “winners” in our American world in terms of the power they wield and the wealth they acquire. And shouldn’t we be looking as well at those Americans who are losing -- their jobs, their money, their homes, their healthcare, their access to a better way of life -- and asking why?
If we were to take an honest look at America’s blasted landscape of “losers” and the far shinier, spiffier world of “winners,” we’d have to admit that it wasn’t signs of onrushing socialism or fascism that stood out, but of staggeringly self-aggrandizing greed and theft right in the here and now. We’d notice our public coffers being emptied to benefit major corporations and financial institutions working in close alliance with, and passing on remarkable sums of money to, the representatives of “the people.” We’d see, in a word, kleptocracy on a scale to dazzle. We would suddenly see an almost magical disappearing act being performed, largely without comment, right before our eyes.
Of Red Herrings and Missing Pallets of Money
Think of socialism and fascism as the red herrings of this moment or, if you’re an old time movie fan, as Hitchcockian MacGuffins -- in other words, riveting distractions. Conservatives and tea partiers fear invasive government regulation and excessive taxation, while railing against government takeovers -- even as corporate lobbyists write our public healthcare bills to favor private interests. Similarly, progressives rail against an emergent proto-fascist corps of private guns-for-hire, warrantless wiretapping, and the potential government-approved assassination of U.S. citizens, all sanctioned by a perpetual, and apparently open-ended, state of war.
Yet, if this is socialism, why are private health insurers the government’s go-to guys for healthcare coverage? If this is fascism, why haven’t the secret police rounded up tea partiers and progressive critics as well and sent them to the lager or the gulag?
Consider this: America is not now, nor has it often been, a hotbed of political radicalism. We have no substantial socialist or workers’ party. (Unless you’re deluded, please don’t count the corporate-friendly “Democrat” party here.) We have no substantial fascist party. (Unless you’re deluded, please don’t count the cartoonish “tea partiers” here; these predominantly white, graying, and fairly affluent Americans seem most worried that the jackbooted thugs will be coming for them.)
What drives America today is, in fact, business -- just as was true in the days of Calvin Coolidge. But it’s not the fair-minded “free enterprise” system touted in those freshly revised Texas guidelines for American history textbooks; rather, it’s a rigged system of crony capitalism that increasingly ends in what, if we were looking at some other country, we would recognize as an unabashed kleptocracy.
Recall, if you care to, those pallets stacked with hundreds of millions of dollars that the Bush administration sent to Iraq and which, Houdini-like, simply disappeared. Think of the ever-rising cost of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, now in excess of a trillion dollars, and just whose pockets are full, thanks to them.
If you want to know the true state of our government and where it’s heading, follow the money (if you can) and remain vigilant: our kleptocratic Houdinis are hard at work, seeking to make yet more money vanish from your pockets -- and reappear in theirs.
From Each According to His Gullibility -- To Each According to His Greed
Never has the old adage my father used to repeat to me -- “the rich get richer and the poor poorer” -- seemed fresher or truer. If you want confirmation of just where we are today, for instance, consider this passage from a recent piece by Tony Judt:
In 2005, 21.2 percent of U.S. national income accrued to just 1 percent of earners. Contrast 1968, when the CEO of General Motors took home, in pay and benefits, about sixty-six times the amount paid to a typical GM worker. Today the CEO of Wal-Mart earns nine hundred times the wages of his average employee. Indeed, the wealth of the Wal-Mart founder’s family in 2005 was estimated at about the same ($90 billion) as that of the bottom 40 percent of the U.S. population: 120 million people.
Wealth concentration is only one aspect of our increasingly kleptocratic system. War profiteering by corporations (however well disguised as heartfelt support for our heroic warfighters) is another. Meanwhile, retired senior military officers typically line up to cash in on the kleptocratic equivalent of welfare, peddling their “expertise” in return for impressive corporate and Pentagon payouts that supplement their six-figure pensions. Even that putative champion of the Carhartt-wearing common folk, Sarah Palin, pocketed a cool $12 million last year without putting the slightest dent in her populist bona fides.
Based on such stories, now legion, perhaps we should rewrite George Orwell’s famous tagline from Animal Farm as: All animals are equal, but a few are so much more equal than others.
And who are those “more equal” citizens? Certainly, major corporations, which now enjoy a kind of political citizenship and the largesse of a federal government eager to rescue them from their financial mistakes, especially when they’re judged “too big to fail.” In raiding the U.S. Treasury, big banks and investment firms, shamelessly ready to jack up executive pay and bonuses even after accepting billions in taxpayer-funded bailouts, arguably outgun militarized multinationals in the conquest of the public realm and the extraction of our wealth for their benefit.
Such kleptocratic outfits are, of course, abetted by thousands of lobbyists and by politicians who thrive off corporate campaign contributions. Indeed, many of our more prominent public servants have proved expert at spinning through the revolving door into the private sector. Even ex-politicians who prefer to be seen as sympathetic to the little guy like former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt eagerly cash in.
I’m Shocked, Shocked, to Find Profiteering Going on Here
An old Roman maxim enjoins us to “let justice be done, though the heavens fall.” Within our kleptocracy, the prevailing attitude is an insouciant “We’ll get ours, though the heavens fall.” This mindset marks the decline of our polity. A spirit of shared sacrifice, dismissed as hopelessly naïve, has been replaced by a form of tribalized privatization in which insiders find ways to profit no matter what.
Is it any surprise then that, in seeking to export our form of government to Iraq and Afghanistan, we’ve produced not two model democracies, but two emerging kleptocracies, fueled respectively by oil and opium?
When we confront corruption in Iraq or Afghanistan, are we not like the police chief in the classic movie Casablanca who is shocked, shocked to find gambling going on at Rick’s Café, even as he accepts his winnings?
Why then do we bother to feign shock when Iraqi and Afghan elites, a tiny minority, seek to enrich themselves at the expense of the majority?
Shouldn’t we be flattered? Imitation, after all, is the sincerest form of flattery. Isn’t it?
William J. Astore is a TomDispatch regular; he teaches History at the Pennsylvania College of Technology and served in the Air Force for 20 years, retiring as a lieutenant colonel. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the start of my teaching and writing, I had no illusions about 'objectivity,' if that meant avoiding a point of view. I knew that a historian (or a journalist, or any one telling a story) was forced to choose, from an infinite number of facts, what to present, what to omit. And that decision inevitably would reflect, whether consciously or not, the interests of the historian.
There is an insistence, among certain educators and politicians in the United States, that students must learn facts. I am reminded of the character in Charles Dickens’s book Hard Times, Gradgrind, who admonishes a younger teacher: “Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life.
But there is no such thing as a pure fact, innocent of interpretation. Behind every fact presented to the world–by a teacher, a writer, anyone–is a judgment. The judgment that has been made is that this fact is important, and that other facts are not important and so they are omitted from the presentation.