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Archive for May, 2013|Monthly archive page

“MAN ON FIRE” REVISITED

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics on May 31, 2013 at 8:21 pm

Yanira Maldonado has been released from a Mexican jail.

She and her husband, Gary, had traveled from Arizona to Mexico to attend a funeral.

They were returning to Arizona when their bus was stopped and searched.  Mexican soldiers claimed they found 12 pounds of marijuana under her seat.

Gary Maldonado believes the soldiers were seeking a bribe in return for letting his wife go free.

But then the Mormon mother of seven got an unusually lucky break.

On May 30, security camera footage in court showed Maldonado and her husband boarding a bus in Mexico–and carrying a purse, two blankets and two bottles of water.

Her defense attorney, Francisco Benitez, argued that the images proved that nothing they were carrying could hold the amount of marijuana that Maldonado was accused of smuggling.

The Mexican soldiers who arrested Maldonado didn’t appear in court. They were scheduled to appear on May 29  but didn’t show.

Yanira Maldonado said she didn’t think that she was directly targeted: “Someone smuggled those in there, and I probably sat in the wrong seat.”

To anyone who has seen “Man on Fire,” the 2004 Denzel Washington movie, the possibility that Maldonado was framed in an extortion attempt does not seem far-fetched.

In fact, it’s an everyday occurrence in Mexico, where corruption permeates every aspect of that country’s “war on drugs.”

In “Man on Fire,” Washington plays Marcus Creasy, a former Special Forces soldier hired to bodyguard Pita Ramos, the precocious nine-year-old daughter of wealthy parents.

But in a shootout with kidnappers, Creasy is gravely wounded and Pita (Dakota Fanning) is snatched.  Believing her murdered, Creasy sets out to avenge the child he has grown to love as his own.

He draws up a Who’s Who list of criminals engaged in serial kidnapping.  And, in doing so, he learns that the biggest criminal gang of all is the Mexican police.

It’s called “La Hermandad” (The Brotherhood).

Creasy snatches a corrupt cop and tortures him (by cutting off several fingers) into giving up the names of some of his top associates.  Then Creasy shoots him in the head and moves on to his next target.

Watching all this activity is the Mexican version of the FBI: The Agencia Federal de Investigacion (AFI).  Its director, Miguel Manzano, plans to use Creasy to unravel the kidnappers’ network.

While Creasy coolly disposes of one kidnapper or corrupt cop after another, Manzano and his agents keep close tabs on the action.  They will let Creasy do the dirty work and move in when the time is right.

After several grisly action sequences–including one where Creasy ambushes police with a Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) launcher–Creasy learns the unthinkable: Pita is actually alive.

He kidnaps the brother of the leader of “La Hermandad”–Daniel Sanchez–and offers him a trade: You give me Pita and I’ll give you your brother.

Just as he has brutally traded on the love of others for the lives of their snatched relatives, so, too, must Sanchez now accept such an arrangement.

The trade-off goes down, with Pita rushing into the arms of her overjoyed mother, and with Creasy surrendering himself to members of the Agencia Federal de Investigacion.

Daniel Sánchez is later killed by Miguel Manzano during an AFI raid.

“Man on Fire” is an unrelentingly brutal portrait of a thoroughly corrupt nation.

  • Pita’s Mexican father sets up his own daughter for a bogus kidnapping to cheat the insurance company out of the money it’s prepared to pay for “kidnapping insurance.”
  • His attorney cheats the kidnappers of the ransome money they had demanded, intending to keep this for himself.
  • Two Mexican policemen make up the kidnapping gang that snatches Pita.
  • A member of the Mexican Attorney General’s office–who’s assigned to its anti-kidnapping squad, no less–is in on the plot to seize Pita.
  • Other members of the Mexican police routinely assist kidnapping gangs in return for a portion of the ransom money.
  • Even the Agencia Federal de Investigacion, while portrayed as incorruptable, llows Creasy to eliminate cops and kidnappers as he leads the AFI closer to the head of the criminal network.

One of the few moments of levity–no doubt unintended–in an otherwise humorless movie comes at the start of its end-credits: “A SPECIAL THANKS TO MEXICO CITY, A VERY SPECIAL PLACE.”

“I love Mexico,” Maldonado told reporters after safely arriving in Nogales, Ariz.  “My family is still there. So Mexico… it’s not Mexico’s fault. It’s a few people who you know did this to me,” she said.

Perhaps a more accurate analysis of the conditions prevailing in Mexico was given by William von Raab, the U.S. Commissioner of Customs from 1981 to 1989.

In 1986, testifying before a Senate committee on the extent of narcotics corruption in Mexico, Raab said: “There is an ingrained corruption in the Mexican law-enforcement establishment.

“Corruption is so pervasive, that one has to assume every Mexican official is corrupt unless proven otherwise.”

Raab’s assessment should be required reading for every American planning to vacation “down Mexico way.”

MEXICO: A FAILED NATION-STATE

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics on May 29, 2013 at 5:27 pm

In Nogales, Mexico, a judge is deciding whether to free an Arizona woman–accused of drug smuggling–from a Mexican jail.

On May 22, Mexican soldiers arrested Yanira Maldonado–mother of seven–as she and her husband, Gary, were returning to Arizona after attending a family funeral in Mexico.

During a search of their bus at a military checkpoint in the northwestern state of Sonora, soldiers asked everyone to get off.

At first, Gary Maldonado was told that marijuana had been found under his seat and found himself arrested.   After his father contacted the U.S. Consulate in Hermosillo, authorities said they were mistaken and released Gary.

Then they charged his wife, claiming they had found 12 pounds of marijuana under her bus seat.

Gary Maldonado said he believes Mexican soldiers at the checkpoint wanted a bribe.

It’s entirely likely that this is the case.

Anyone who reads Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields, will certainly think so.

Written by Investigative Reporter Charles Bowden and published in 2010, Murder City provides a terrifying–and almost lethally depressing–view of what happens when a city–and a country–disintegrates.

Ciudad Juárez lies just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas. A once-thriving border town, it now resembles a failed state. Notorious as the place where women disappear, its murder rate exceeds that of Baghdad or Mogadishu.

It’s so overwhelmed with the violence of drug trafficking that its leading citizens—police, politicians, even the drug lords—find it safer to live in El Paso.

Hundreds of millions of narco-dollars flow into Juárez each week, and the violence and corruption that follow yield 200 to 300 murders each year.

Among the casualties of that violence:

  • A reporter–who has dared to expose cartel-corrupted members of the Mexican Army–is forced to flee to the United States with his young son.
  • A beautiful woman who became the mistress of one drug cartel leader is gang-raped by members of a rival cartel.
  • A teenage killer for the cartels is now being hunted for having run afoul of his murderous bosses.

This is a city–and a country–where virtually no one is safe.

  • Mexican police pay big bribes to be assigned to narcotics enforcement squads.  The reason: Not to suppress the rampant drug trafficking but to enrich themselves by seizing and selling those narcotics.
  • Residents awaken at dawn to find bodies of the drug cartels’ latest victims dumped on streets–their hands, feet and mouths bound with silver and gray duct tape.
  • Mexican policewomen are often snatched off the streets and raped–by members of the Mexican Army.
  • Honest policemen–and even police chiefs–are routinely gunned down by cartel members.

If there is any one story in Murder City that symbolizes the total corruption of a society awash with drugs and the profits they produce, it is this:

A Mexican priest serves as confessor to drug lords.  They, in turn, believe their confessions to be safe, as they are supposed to be heard only by the priest and God.

But one of the drug lords wears a large gold crucifix, which the priest secretly covets.

So he turns from drug lord confessor to police informer–and the Mexican police raid the next drug lord gathering and confiscate a large quantity of narcotics.

The police don’t intend to turn in the seized narcotics.  Instead, they will sell these for their own profit.

And as a reward for his cooperation, the priest is given the large gold crucifix–which he blesses and consecrates to his God.

Who, exactly, is behind all these killings?

And why?

And who, if anyone, is in charge of Juárez–or Mexico?

Bowden states it is difficult to answer such questions because the Mexican press has been thoroughly corrupted by drug cartel monies or terrorized by drug cartel hit squads.  Reporters have been murdered–by the cartels and the army–for writing anything about killings, the army or the cartels.

The world of Murder City is a nightmarish one:

  • Members of drug cartels live like kings.
  • Their bribes and violence have corrupted all branches of the Mexican government, military and police forces.
  • Ordinary Mexicans live in grinding poverty, thanks to American factories paying starvation wages

When you leave its pages, you are grateful that you can safely put its evil behind you–unlike the residents of Juarez who remain trapped in its web.

Meanwhile, there is a lesson in this book–and in the case of Yanira Maldonado–for anyone with common sense to learn: Stay out of Mexico.

During the 1980s, when Americans were being routinely kidnapped in Beirut, still others–as if bent on suicide–were getting passpords to travel to Lebanon.

For residents of this failed nation-state called Mexico, it’s too late.  Such endemic corruption can never be fought successfully.

But for Americans who do not live there, the message should be clear: “Keep out.  Enter at your own risk.”

A CHURCHILL FOR OUR TIME: PART TWO (END)

In History, Politics, Social commentary on May 27, 2013 at 6:02 pm

During the 1930s, Winston Churchill, a seemingly failed politican, repeatedly warned his British countrymen against the growing menace of Nazi Germany.

The leaders of Britain, France and the United States–the three great victors of World War 1–hoped that if they simply ignored the increasingly aggressive behavior of Adolf Hitler, they could somehow escape catastrophe.

Winston Churchill

When, in the early 1930s, Hitler began re-building a powerful German army (Whermacht) in open defiance of the Versallies Treaty that had ended World War 1, Churchill gave warning–and was ignored.

When Hitler ordered his army to occupy his native Austria in 1938, Churchill warned that the Nazis would not be content with the conquest of one nation.  And was ignored.

In 1938, Hitler demanded that Czechoslavakia cede the Sudetenland, its northern, southwest and western regions, which were inhabited mostly by ethnic Germans.

Adolf Hitler

When British Prime Minister Nveille Chamberlain surrendered to Hitler’s demands at the infamous “Munich conference,” his fellow Britons were ecstatic.  He returned to England as a hero.

Churchill knew better: “Britain and France had to choose between war and dishonor.  They chose dishonor.  They will have war.”

In March, 1939, the German army occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia.

Hitler next turned his attention to Poland–which he invaded on September 1, unintentionally triggering World War II.

In time, historians and statesmen would regard Munich as an object lesson in the futility—and danger—in appeasing evil and aggression.

It is a lesson that current world leaders have forgotten as Islamic fundamentalists increasingly flex their military and economic muscles–and demand that Western nations bow to their demands.

  • In Iran, scientists continue to fashion a nuclear weapons program–while insisting they intend to use the atom only for “peaceful purposes.”
  • In Pakistan–which has 90-110 nuclear warheads–Osama bin Laden lived less than a mile from the Pakistan Military Academy, the country’s West Point.  So much for America’s “ally” in the “war on terror.”
  • The rising tide of Muslim population growth spells deadly challenges for non-Islamic nations.

Winston Churchill’s warnings fell on deaf ears until other world leaders–most notably Franklin Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin–were forced by events to take action.

So did the warnings of Harvard political science professor Samuel P. Huntington.

In 1993, he published an essay in Foreign Affairs called “The Clash of Civilizations?”  In this, he argued that the post-Cold War would be marked by civilizational conflict.  Among his assertions:

  • People are divided along religious and cultural lines.
  • Islamic civilization do not share the general ideals of the Western world–such as individualism and democracy.
  • Their primary attachment is to their religion, not to their nation-state.
  • When the Muslim world conflicts with other civilizations, tensions and wars result.
  • Arab dictatorships were fragile and could be overturned by the masses of unemployed young men. But even if they fell, the new regimes would not modernize along Western lines.
  • A fundamental clash of civilizations between Islam and the West is inevitable.
  • Relations between Muslims and non-Muslims–such as Catholics, Protestants, Hindus, Buddhists and Jews–have been marked by Islamic antagonism and violence.
  • Western nations should distance themselves from Islamic ones.  The more both civilizations interact, the greater tensions between them will be.

Huntington’s critique of Islamic civilizations ignited a firestorm of controversey–especially his statement: “Islam has bloody borders.”

In 1996, Huntington expanded his thesis into a book–also called The Clash of Civilizations.  Once again, he minced no words:

“Some Westerners, including President Bill Clinton, have argued that the West does not have problems with Islam but only with violent Islamist extremists.  Fourteen hundred years of history demonstrate otherwise.”

Huntington cited British scholar Barry Buzan as giving several reasons for an inevitable war between the West and Islam:

  • Western secular vs. Islamic religious values.
  • Past historical rivalry between Christianity and Islam.
  • Jealousy of Western power by Islamic nations.
  • Islamic resentments of Western domination during the post-colonial restructuring of the Middle East.
  • Islamic bitterness and humiliation at the achiveements of Western civilization over the last 200 years.

Much of the fury Muslims were directing toward the West, wrote Huntington, was aimed at its embrace of secularism.  Westerners were attacked not for being Christian but “for not adhering to any religion at all.”

Following the 1979 Iranian Revolution, a quasi-war developed between some Islamic nations and some Western ones.  On the Islamic side: Iran, Sudan, Iraq, Libya and Syria.  On the Western side: The United States and Britain.

“In this quasi war,” wrote Huntington, “each side has capitalized on its own strengths and the other side’s weaknesses.”  For example:

  • Muslim terrorists exploited the openness of Western societies to plant car bombs at selected targets.
  • Western powers used their superior air power to bomb selected targets in Islamic countries.
  • Islamics plotted the assassination of Western leaders.
  • The United States plotted the overthrow of hostile Islamic regimes.

Writing at a time before the United States directed its full military power at conquering Afghanistan and Iraq, Huntington ominously noted:

“During the 15 years between 1980 and 1995…the United States engaged in 17 military operations in the Middle East, all of them directed against Muslims.   No comparable pattern of U.S. military operations occurred against the people of any other civilization.”

The war that Huntington warned was coming and was, in fact, already in progress, has since erupted into full-scale conflict, with no end in sight.

A CHURCHILL FOR OUR TIME: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In History, Politics, Social commentary on May 24, 2013 at 5:42 pm

There is a famous joke about racial profiling that’s long made the rounds of the Internet. It appears in the guise of a “history test,” and offers such multiple-choice questions as:

In 1972 at the Munich Olympics, athletes were kidnapped and massacred by:

  • Olga Korbut
  • Sitting Bull
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger
  • Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40

In 1979, the US embassy in Iran was taken over by:

  • Lost Norwegians
  • Elvis
  • A tour bus full of 80-year-old women
  • Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40

During the 1980s a number of Americans were kidnapped in Lebanon by:

  • John Dillinger
  • The King of Sweden
  • The Boy Scouts
  • Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40

In 1983, the US Marine barracks in Beirut was blown up by:

  • A pizza delivery boy
  • Pee Wee Herman
  • Geraldo Rivera
  • Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40

On September 11, 2001, four airliners were hijacked. Two were used as missiles to take out the World Trade Center; one crashed into the Pentagon; and the other was diverted and crashed by the passengers. Thousands of people were killed by:

  • Bugs Bunny, Wiley E. Coyote, Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd
  • The Supreme Court of Florida
  • Mr. Bean
  • Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40

It’s well to remember the bitter truth behind this joke, especially in light of the latest Islamic atrocities:

  • On April 15, two pressure-cooker bombs exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing 3 people and injuring 264.  The culprits: Two Muslim brothers, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Tamerlan  Tsarnaev, who had emigrated to the United States from the former Soviet Union.
  • On May 22, two Islamic terrorists, wielding machetes and shouting “Allahu Akbar!” (“God is Great!”)   hacked a British soldier to death on a London street.

Writing in the British newspaper, The Spectator, Douglas Murray issued a warning to his fellow Britons: “Over recent years, those who have warned that such attacks would come here have been attacked as ‘racists’, ‘fascists’ and–most commonly–‘Islamophobes.’

“A refusal to recognise the actual threat (a growingly radicalised Islam) has dominated most of our media and nearly all our political class.”

One man who did foresee the present conflicts with stunning clarity–and had the courage to say what has since become Politically Incorrect–was Samuel P. Huntington.

Samuel P. Huntington (2004 World Economic Forum).jpg

Samuel P. Huntington

A political scientist, Huntington taught government at Harvard University (1950-1959, then at Columbia University (1959-1962).  He returned to Harvard in 1963, and remained there until his death in 2008.

The author of nine books, in 1996 he published his most invluential one: The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.  Its thesis was that, in the post-Cold War world, people’s cultural and religious identities would be the primary sources of conflict.

Among the points he makes:

  • Modernization does not mean Westernization.
  • Economic progress has come with a revival of religion.
  • Post-Cold War politics emphasize ethnic nationalism over ideology.
  • Civilizations are fundamentally differentiated from each other by centuries-old history, language, culture, tradition, and, most important, religion.
  • As the world becomes smaller, different civilizations increasingly interact.  These intensify civilization consciousness and the awareness of differences between civilizations.
  • Economic modernization and social change separate people from age-old identities (such as hometowns and familiar neighbors).  Religion has replaced this gap, providing a basis for identity, socialization and commitment that transcends national boundaries and unites civilizations.
  • The West, at the peak of its power, is confronting non-Western countries that increasingly have the desire, will and resources to shape the world in non-Western ways.
  • Cultural characteristics and differences are less mutable and hence less easily compromised and resolved than political and economic ones.

The most controversial part of The Clash of Civilizations focuses on Islam.  Huntington points out, for example, that Muslim countries are involved in far more intergroup violence than others.

And he warns that the West’s future conflcts with Islamic nations will be rooted in the Islamic religion:

Islam’s borders are bloody and so are its innards. The fundamental problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam, a different civilisation whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power.”

Huntington argues that civilizational conflicts are “particularly prevalent between Muslims and non-Muslims.”  Among the reasons for these conflicts: Both Islam and Christianity have similarities which heighten conflicts between their followers:

  • Both seek to convert others.
  • Both are “all-or-nothing” religions; each side believes that only its faith is the correct one.
  • The followers of both Islam and Christianity believe that people who violate the base principles of their religion are idolators and thus damned.

Other reasons for the Western-Islamic clash are:

  • The Islamic revival, which began in the 1970s and is manifested in greater religious piety and in a growing adoption of Islamic culture, values, dress, separation of the sexes, speech and media censorship.
  • Western universalism–the belief that all civilizations should adopt Western values–infuriates Islamic fundamentalists.

These are not differences that will disappear–overnight or even over the span of several centuries.  Nor will they be sweet-talked away by Politically Correct politicians, however well-meaning.

HYPOCRITES UNITED

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on May 23, 2013 at 12:37 am

Ted Cruz voted against federal aid for victims of Hurricane Sandy–three times.

But the United States Senator from Texas quickly announced he would seek “all available resources” to assist victims of the April 17 explosion at as fertilizer plant in West, McLennan County, Texas.

The blast killed 13 people, wounded about 200 others, and caused extensive damages to surrounding homes.

Last October, Hurricane Sandy killed around 150 people and caused an estimated $75 billion in damage across the Northeast.

The Republican legislator stood foursquare against the Sandy Aid Relief bill, claiming that it was loaded with “pork”:

“Hurricane Sandy inflicted devastating damage on the East Coast, and Congress appropriately responded with hurricane relief,” said Cruz.

“Unfortunately, cynical politicians in Washington could not resist loading up this relief bill with billions in new spending utterly unrelated to Sandy.

“Emergency relief for the families who are suffering from this natural disaster should not be used as a Christmas tree for billions in unrelated spending, including projects such as Smithsonian repairs, upgrades to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration airplanes, and more funding for Head Start.

“This bill is symptomatic of a larger problem in Washington–an addiction to spending money we do not have. The United States Senate should not be in the business of exploiting victims of natural disasters to fund pork projects that further expand our debt.”

Another Republican, Rep. Bill Flores, who represents West, also voted against the Sandy relief package.  But this didn’t stop him from requesting federal aid for the disaster in his home district.

Such hypocrisy.

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas)

Cruz and Flores are not alone in their fiscal hypocrisy.

Oklahoma’s two U.S. Senators– Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn, both right-wing Republicans–have also repeatedly voted against funding disaster aid for other parts of the country.

Oklahoma U.S. Senators Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn

They have also opposed increased funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which administers federal disaster relief.

Both Inhofe and Coburn backed a plan to slash disaster aid to victims of Hurricane Sandy.

In a December, 2012 press release, Coburn said that the Sandy Relief bill contained “wasteful spending,” and identified a series of items he objected to, including “$12.9 billion for future disaster mitigation activities and studies.”

Inhofe, a Republican, argued that the Hurricane Sandy bill was loaded with  pork.

“They had things in the Virgin Islands. They were fixing roads there, they  were putting roofs on houses in Washington, D.C. Everybody was getting in and  exploiting the tragedy that took place. That won’t happen in Oklahoma,” Inhofe  said on MSNBC.

The Sandy relief bill initially contained money for projects outside of areas damaged by Sandy–as bribes to Republicans to get it through Congress.

But Federal relief aid is a different matter entirely to Inhofe when the victims come from his own state.

A May 20, 2-mile-wide tornado ravaged the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore, killing at least 51 people while destroying entire tracts of homes and trapping two dozen school children beneath rubble.

For Inofe, aiding his constituents would be “totally different” from providing aid to Sandy victims.

“Everyone was getting in and exploiting the tragedy that took place,” he said. “That won’t happen in Oklahoma.”

As for Coburn: In a statement, he said that “as the ranking member of Senate committee that oversees FEMA, I can assure Oklahomans that any and all available aid will be delivered without delay.”

For Rep. Peter King (R-New York this hypocrisy is simply too much to swallow quietly.

“I think there’s a lot of hypocrisy involved here, Inhofe saying Sandy aid was corrupt but Oklahoma won’t be,” said King, whose state was devastated last October by Sandy.

For King, natural disasters such as Hurricane Sandy and the Oklahoma tornado are not “local issues”: “It’s an American issue, we have an obligation to come forward.”

He said that he didn’t plan to exact revenge on those who had denied New Yorkers aid after Sandy.

“I won’t hold it against anyone,” King said. “I don’t want suffering people in Oklahoma to be held hostage while we engage in political fights, saying ‘I told you so.’ I want to deal with it on the merits.”

All of which highlights how the principle of YIMBY–Yes In My Back Yard–is very much alive, even for alleged fiscal hawk Republicans.  At least, when their own constituents are the victims in need.

Because needy constituents who go unaided quickly become angry constituents who remember that lack of aid at the next election.

It’s something to remember the next time right-wingers take a hard line on spending bills to help the poor or victims of natural disasters.

GREED-TESTING FOR CEOS: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Politics on May 22, 2013 at 12:34 am

Robert Benmosche, the CEO of American International Group (AIG) recently offered some blunt advice to college graduates searching for work.

“You have to accept the hand that’s been dealt you in life,” Benmosche said in an interview on Bloomberg Television. “Don’t cry about it. Deal with it.”

As is typical of one-percenters, Benmosche blames willing-to-work college graduates for the refusal of rich employers to offer jobs instead of excuses.

AIG’s way of “accepting the hand that’s been dealt you in life” was to go crying to the Federal Government for a bailout loan–which eventually ballooned to $182 billion.

If college graduates should “deal with” the hardships of finding a responsible, hiring-inclined employer with a stiff upper lip, as Benmosche advises, the same advice should work wonders on greed-fueled CEOs.

Greed-test CEOs for future government loans.

After all, drug-testing welfare recipients has become the new mantra for Republicans.

Some bills have even targeted people who seek unemployment insurance and food stamps, despite scanty evidence that the poor and jobless are disproportionately on drugs.

The concept of background screening is actually sound. But Republicans are aiming it at the wrong end of the economic spectrum.

Since 2008, the government has handed out billions of dollars in bailouts to CEOs of the wealthiest corporations in the country.

The reason: To rescue the economy from the calamity produced by the criminal greed and recklessness of those same corporations.

In 2008, Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, testified before Congress about the origins of the Wall Street “meltdown.”

He admitted that he was “shocked” at the breakdown in U.S. credit markets and said he was “partially” wrong to resist regulation of some securities.

“Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholder’s equity–myself especially–are in a state of shocked disbelief,” said Greenspan, who had ruled the Fed from 1987 to 2006.

As a disciple of the right-wing philosopher, Ayan Rand, Greenspan had fiercely held to her belief that “The Market” was a divine institution. As such, “it” alone knew what was best for the nation’s economic prosperity.

“Enlightened self-interest,” he believed, would guarantee that those who dedicated their lives to making money would not allow mere greed to steer them–and the country–into disaster.

As he saw it, any attempt to regulate greed-based appetites could only harm that divine institution.

Greenspan proved wrong. And the nation will be literally paying for such misguided confidence in profit-addicted men for decades to come.

So if Republicans want to protect the “poor, oppressed taxpayer,” they should demand background investigations for those whose addiction truly threatens the economic future of this country.

That is–the men (and occasionally women) who run the nation’s most important financial institutions, such as banks, insurance and mortgage companies.

Thus, in the future, all CEOs–and their topmost executives–of financial institutions seeking Federal bailouts should be required to:

  • Undergo “full field investigations” by the FBI and IRS.
  • Submit full financial disclosure forms concerning not only themselves but all members of their immediate families.
  • Be subject to Federal prosecution for perjury if they provide false information or conceal evidence of criminal violations.
  • Periodically submit themselves for additional background investigation.
  • Be subject to arrest, indictment and prosecution if the background investigation turns up evidence of criminal activity.

In addition:

  • If a bailout-seeking financial institution refuses to comply with these criteria, it should be refused the loan.
  • If a CEO and/or other top officials are judged ineligible for a loan, the company should be asked to replace those executives with others who might qualify.
  • Those alternative executives should be subject to the same background investigation requirements as just outlined.
  • If the institution refuses to replace those executives found ineligible, the Government should refuse the loan.
  • If the Government is forced to take over a troubled financial institution, its CEO and top executives should be replaced with applicants who have passed the required security screening.

The United States has a long and embarrassing history in worshipping wealth for its own sake. Part of this can be traced to the old Calvinistic doctrine that wealth is a proof of salvation, since it shows evidence of God’s favor.

Another reason for this worship of mammon is the belief that someone who is wealthy is automatically endowed with wisdom and integrity.

Following these beliefs to their ultimate conclusion will transform the United States into a plutocracy–a government of the wealthy, by the wealthy, for the wealthy.

Every day we see fresh evidence of the destruction wrought by the unchecked greed of wealthy, powerful men.

When they–and their paid shills in Congress–demand, “De-regulate business,” it’s essential to remember what this really means.

It means: “Let criminals be criminals.”

GREED-TESTING FOR CEOS: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on May 21, 2013 at 1:28 am

Robert Benmosche, the CEO of American International Group (AIG) has some blunt advice to college graduates searching for work in a tight job market.

“You have to accept the hand that’s been dealt you in life,” Benmosche said in an interview on Bloomberg Television. “Don’t cry about it. Deal with it.”

Typical advice from a one-percenter whose company, AIG, suffered a liquidity crisis when its credit ratings were downgraded below “AA” levels in September 2008.

And how did AIG “deal with” its own crisis?  It went crying to its Uncle Sugar, the United States Government, for a bailout.

Which it promptly got.

The United States Federal Reserve Bank, on September 16, 2008, made an $85 billion loan to the company to meet increased collateral obligations resulting from its credit rating downgrade–and thus saving it from certain bankruptcy.

In return, the Government took an 80% stake in the firm.

(The bailout eventually ballooned to $182 billion in exchange for a 92%  stake.)

College graduates, said Benmosche, need to seize the opportunities that become available to them, even if their options are limited.

“They want me to talk to the students and give them a sense of encouragement, especially with the high unemployment,” said Benmosche.

“My advice will be, ‘Whatever opportunity comes your way, take it. Take it and treat it as if it’s the only one that’s coming your way, because that actually may be the truth.’”

Of course, willing-to-work college graduates who can’t find willing-to-hire employers won’t be able to count on a generous bailout from the Federal Government.

To which most of them will owe hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans.

It’s long past time to apply to “untouchable” CEOs like Robert Benmosche the same criteria that right-wing Republicans demand be applied to welfare recipients.

Throughout the past year Republican lawmakers have pursued welfare drug-testing in Congress and more than 30 states.

Some bills have even targeted people who claim unemployment insurance and food stamps, despite scanty evidence the poor and jobless are disproportionately on drugs.

The concept of background screening is actually sound. But Republicans are aiming it at the wrong end of the economic spectrum.

Since 2008, the government has handed out billions of dollars in bailouts to the wealthiest corporations in the country.

The reason: To rescue the economy from the calamity produced by the criminal greed and recklessness of those same corporations.

For example:

  • The Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) has invested $118.5 billion in restoring liquidity to the financial markets.
  • Federal Reserve rescue efforts: $1.5 trillion invested.
  • Federal stimulus programs designed to save or create jobs and jumpstart the economy from recession. $577.8 billion invested.
  • American International Group: Multifaceted bailout to help insurers through restructuring, minimize the need to post collateral and get rid of toxic assets. $127.4 billion invested.
  • FDIC bank takeovers: Cost to FDIC fund that insures losses depositors suffer when a bank fails. $45.4 billion billion invested.
  • Other financial initiatives designed to rescue the financial sector. $366.4 billion invested.
  • Other housing initiatives designed to rescue the housing market and prevent foreclosures. $130.6 billion invested.

Total of federal monies invested: $3 trillion.

It’s important to note that these figures–supplied by the Federal Reserve, Treasury Department, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Congressional Budget Ooffice and the White House–date from November 16, 2009.

And it’s equally important to remember that welfare recipients did not

  • hold CEO positions at any of the banks so far bailed out;
  • run such insurance companies as American International Group (AIG);
  • administer the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, known as Freddie Mac;
  • command the Federal National Mortgage Association, known as Fannie Mae.

The 2010 documentary “Inside Job” chronicles the events leading to the 2008 global financial crisis. One of its most insightful moments occurs at a party held by then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.

“We can’t control our greed,” the CEO of a large bank admits to his fellow guests.

“You should regulate us more.”

Greed is defined as an excessive desire for wealth or goods. At its worst, greed trumps rationality, judgment and concern about the damage it may cause.

Greed begins in the neurochemistry of the brain. A neurotransmitter called dopamine fuels our greed. The higher the dopamine levels in the brain, the greater the pleasure we experience.

Cocaine, for example, directly increases dopamine levels. So does money.

Harvard researcher Hans Breiter has found, via magnetic resonance imaging studies, that the craving for money activates the same regions of the brain as the lust for sex, cocaine or any other pleasure-inducer.

Dopamine is most reliably activated by an experience we haven’t had before. We crave recreating that experience.

But snorting the same amount of cocaine, or earning the same sum of money, does not cause dopamine levels to increase. So the pleasure-seeker must increase the amount of stimuli to keep enjoying the euphoria.

In time, this incessant craving for pleasure becomes an addiction. And feeding that addiction–with ever more money–becomes the overriding goal.

Thus, the infamous line–”Greed is good”–in the 1987 film, “Wall Street,” turns out to be both false and deadly for all concerned.

But the situation need not remain this way.

A NEW WAY TO COMBAT TERRORISM: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics on May 20, 2013 at 12:00 am

Within investigative agencies such as the FBI and CIA, there are divisions specializing in two types of Intelligence:

Tactical Intelligence: This concerns matters that are of immediate importance. Examples: Al Qaeda is planning to set off a bomb at a particular place, or a top Islamic terrorist is due to arrive at a particular plce on such-and-such date.

Strategic Intelligence: This concerns matters that are of long-term importance. Examples: How does Al Qaeda recruit new members?  How does it launder its money?

For too long, Intelligence agencies have followed the “buy and bust” example of local and Federal narcotics enforcement agencies. That is: They have gone for the quick arrest of smalltime criminals while ignoring the operating processes of criminal organizations.

To actively combat Islamic terrorism, the American Intelligence community must thoroughly understand the enemy it is facing. Thus, that community should create a corps of experts specializing in:

(1) Islamic religion (2) Islamic history (3) Islamic culture.

Granted, only timely tactical intelligence will reveal Al Qaeda’s latest plans for destruction.

But no matter how adept Islamic terrorists prove at concealing their momentary aims, they cannot conceal the insights and long-term objectives of the religion, history and culture which have scarred and molded them.

While accumulating such intelligence, one question above all others should be kept constantly in mind: “How can we turn this religion / history / culture into a weapon against the terrorists we face?”

To demonstrate how the American Intelligence community could effectively apply such intelligence:

Cultural Intelligence: A U.S. News & World Report story has noted that Palestinian suicide-bombers have been deterred by the Israelis’ use of police dogs.

For religious and cultural reasons, Muslims consider dogs defiled—and defiling—creatures. Islamic terrorists fear that blowing up themselves near a dog risks mingling their blood with that of the dead or wounded animal—thus forfeiting their opportunity to enter Paradise and claim those 72 willing virgins.

Historical Intelligence: The age-old ethnic conflicts between majority Sunni and minority Shiite Muslims are now on lethal display in Iraq. The FBI and CIA can successfully exploit these when recruiting informants or fomenting rivalries among terrorist groups.

These are similar to the animosities once existing between American Indian tribes, such as the Pawnee and Cheyenne. Veteran Army officers used these hatreds to recruit warriors of opposing Indian tribes to scout against warriors of their longtime enemies.

Religious Intelligence: Contrary to politically-correct pundits, it is not only social or economic inequalities which inspire Islamic terrorists, but the Koran itself. Within its pages are numerous exhortations to wage war on “kaffirs” or “unbelievers.”

Dying for Allah is not seen as a waste of life. In fact, the Koran encourages it. Muhammad commands in Surah [chapter] 4:74: “To him who fighteth in the cause of Allah—whether he is slain or gets victory—soon shall we give him a reward of great (value).”

The American Intelligence community must become as intimately familiar with the mindset of its Islamic enemies as the best frontier Army officers became with the mindset of the Indians they fought.

General George A. Custer once freed several white female captives by threatening to hang the chiefs of the tribes responsible. The Indians scorned death by knife or gunshot.

But they feared that the spirit of a hanged man remained forever trapped within his body, thus preventing him from reaching the Happy Hunting Ground. And Custer, knowing this, put this intelligence to effective, life-saving use.

American Intelligence agencies must learn what our Islamic enemies most seek, most prize, and—above all—most hate and fear. Then these agencies must ruthlessly apply that knowledge in defense of America’s survival.

Ali Soufan was one of the few FBI agents intimately familiar with Arabic culture and language at the time of 9/11.  In his 2011 book, The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda, he sums up the importance of “knowing your enemy.”

People ask what is the most important weapon we have against al-Qaeda, and I reply, “Knowledge.”

….As Sun Tzu wrote in The Art of War, when we know our enemy’s strengths and weaknesses, and at the same time we know our capabilities–that’s when we are best-placed to achieve victory.

…Our greatest successes against al-Qaeda have come when we understood how they recruited, brainwashed and operated, and used our knowledge to outwit and defeat them. 

Our failures have come when we instead let ourselves be guided by ignorance, fear and brutality.

A NEW WAY TO COMBAT TERRORISM: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics on May 17, 2013 at 1:25 am

It’s long past time to re-think the role that inflexible bureaucracies have played–and continue to play–in the so-called “war on terror.”

In fact, a good place to start would be scrapping that phrase.

“Terrorism” is not and never has been an end in itself. It is, instead, a means to an end, nearly always used by organizations unable to field conventional armies.

“Terror,” as such, can never be eliminated. But those who practice it can be targeted for destruction.

Thus, a more accurate–if politically incorrect–title for the conflict now raging between the United States and its Islamic enemies would be: “The War on Islamic Aggression.”

It’s true that not all Islamics are terrorists. But it’s equally true that most of the terrorists now threatening America are Islamics.

Bureaucracies are, by their very nature, conservative institutions. They may start out as innovators, but, over time, techniques that were new and fresh become old and brittle.

What worked in the past against one problem fails to work when pitted against an entirely new challenge.

Since 1981, the United States has been on the defensive against Islamic terrorism. As noted investigative journalist Bob Woodward warned in a 2001 Frontline documentary:

“These terrorist incidents–they [American Intelligence agencies] used the tools that were available, but it was never in a coherent way.

“I know from talking to those people at the time, it was always, ‘Oh, we’ve got this crisis. We’re dealing with the Achille Lauro now,’ or ‘We’re dealing with Quaddafi,’ or ‘We’re dealing with Libyan hit squads,’ or ‘We’re dealing with Beirut.’

“And it never- they never got in a position where they said, ‘You know, this is a real serious threat,’ not just episodically, but it’s going to be a threat to this country throughout the administration, future administrations.

“We need to organize to fight it. It can’t be a back-bench operation for the FBI and the CIA. It’s got to be somebody’s issue, so it’s on their desk every day. What do we know? What’s being planned? What are the threats out there?”

It’s time for the United States to cast aside its hidebound, case-by-case approach to fighting Islamic aggression. It’s time for American Intelligence to recognize that the secrets to defeating Islamic terrorism lie within the history, culture and religion of the enemies we face.

In Warriors of God: Richard the Lionheart, Saladin and the Third Crusade [Doubleday, 2001] James Reston, Jr. demonstrates that the past is truly prologue for the soldiers of Islam.

Suicide Warriors: Rashid al-Din Sinan, known as “The Old Man of the Mountain,” was the head of the Assassins. He was imam to a cadre of young men, known as fidai, who swore personal allegiance to him.

Once, to prove the devotion of his followers to a Crusader leader, Sinan gave a quick hand signal to two fidai high in a tower. At once, both leaped to their death in the ravine below. Sinan then asked the Crusader if he would like to see another such example of loyalty; the Frank said this wasn’t necessary, that he was convinced.

Promises of Paradise: “Assassins” is derived from “hashish.” During the fidai indoctrination ceremony, a devotee was given a potion laced with cannabis, put to sleep, and then transported to a beautiful garden.

When he awoke, he believed he was being given a glimpse of the Paradise to come. He would extend his hand and receive a dagger–and instructions for murder: “Go and slay so-and-so, and when you return, my angels will bear you into Paradise.”

Sunnis vs. Shiites: Sinan–from Basra–belonged to the Shi’ite (minority) branch of Islam. Even in the twelfth century, the rivalry between Shi’ism and Sunnism was intense. Sinan blamed Saladin for defeating and erasing the Shi’ite Fatamid Caliphate of Cairo and imposing Sunnism in its place. Sinan ordered two attempts on the life of Saladin himself.

The first failed when the assassins were intercepted and killed only a few feet from Saladin. The second almost succeeded: Posing as one of the Sultan’s bodyguards, the assailant slashed at Saladin’s head.

Bleeding and terrified, Saladin fought off his attacker until his guards intervened. Saladin survived only because he wore a mailed headdress beneath his turban.

Saladin quickly negotiated a non-aggression pact with Sinan

“The Enemy of My Enemy is My Friend”: The Latin Christians were not Sinan’s greatest enemy. This honor was reserved for the Muslim viziers in Aleppo and Mosul. As a result, Sinan reached an accommodation with the Templers.

The Assassins and the military monks understood each other well, for they had much in common: Both groups were luxury-spurning religious fanatics.

On occasion, the two went to war: After a boundary dispute in 1154, the Assassins murdered Raymond II of Tripoli; in return, the Templers butchered a number of Muslims.

After that, an accommodation was reached. For a time, the Assassins paid the Templers a hefty tribute to be left alone.

CHENEY LIES DESCRIBE 9/11, NOT BENGHAZI: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics on May 16, 2013 at 12:00 am

According to former Vice President Dick Cheney, President Barack Obama is trying to “cover up” the nature of a terrorist attack on the American embassy in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012.

He made this accusation while appearing on the right-wing Sean Hannity radio program on May 13.

Yet, perhaps unwittingly, Cheney’s accusations say at least as much about the failures of the Bush Administration to prevent 9/11–and its deliberate efforts to lie the United States into a needless war with Iraq.

CHENEY ON BENGHAZI:  There was never any doubt about what was happening here.  And the whole notion, they have gone through this process trying to get to the truth, they did exactly the opposite.

You say this, too, you start out with the truth as reported by the intelligence community, and then you turn it into a total distortion once the political types in the White House and some senior folks at the State Department get their hands on it.

THE RECORD ON 9/11/IRAQ:   Among the lies told by high-ranking Bush Administration officials to persuade Americans that Iraq posed an immediate threat to national security:

  • Iraq had sought uranium from Niger, in west Africa;
  • Thousands of aluminum tubes imported by Iraq could be used in centrifuges to create enriched uranium;
  • Iraq had up to 20 long-range Scud missiles, prohibited under UN sanctions;
  • Iraq had massive stockpiles of chemical and biological
  • Iraq had massive stockpiles of chemical and biological agents, including nerve gas, anthrax and botulinum toxin;
  • Saddam Hussein had issued chemical weapons to front-line troops who would use them when US forces crossed into Iraq.

Specifically:

August 26, 2002: Cheney told the Veterans of Foreign Wars, “There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies and against us.”

September 8, 2002: National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice said on CNN: ”There is certainly evidence that al Qaeda people have been in Iraq. There is certainly evidence that Saddam Hussein cavorts with terrorists.”

September 18, 2002: Rumsfeld told the House Armed Services Committee, “We do know that the Iraqi regime has chemical and biological weapons. His regime has amassed large, clandestine stockpiles of chemical weapons—including VX, sarin, cyclosarin and mustard gas.”

October 7, 2002: Bush declared in a nationally televised speech in Cincinnati that Iraq “possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons. It is seeking nuclear weapons.”

January 7, 2003: Rumsfeld told a Pentagon news briefing, “There’s no doubt in my mind but that they currently have chemical and biological weapons.” This certainty was based on contemporary intelligence, he said, not the fact that Iraq had used chemical weapons in the 1980s.

February 8, 2003: Bush said in his weekly radio address: “We have sources that tell us that Saddam Hussein recently authorized Iraqi field commanders to use chemical weapons—the very weapons the dictator tells us he does not have.”

March 16, 2003: Cheney declared on NBC’s “Meet the Press”: “We believe [Saddam Hussein] has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.”

March 30, 2003: On ABC’s “This Week” program, 10 days into the war, Rumsfeld said: “We know where they [weapons of mass destruction] are.”

CHENEY ON BENGHAZI:  Remember when they were doing the bin Laden raid, you got pictures all over the place of the President sitting in the Situation Room and monitoring the take-down of Osama Bin Laden.  This was exactly the opposite of that.

THE RECORD ON 9/11/IRAQ:  Remember when–on May 1, 2003–President Bush landed a Lockheed S-3 Viking aboard the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln?  How, to sailors’ cheers, he announced the end of major combat operations in the Iraq War?  How, above him, a huge banner read: “Mission Accomplished”?

And remember how guerrilla warfare increased in Iraq–and the majority of military and civilian casualties occurred after the speech?  Remember how administration officials grew increasingly testy and evasive in their interviews and press conferences? 

Remember how they suddenly quit talking about all those “weapons of mass destruction” that hadn’t been found in Iraq?

CHENEY ON BENGHAZI:  There were a lot of questions that need to be asked about the military chain of command….We have especially-trained units that practice this thing all the time.  They are very good at it and they are champing at the bit to go….Why weren’t they deployed ready to go to take action….?

THE RECORD ON 9/11:  When the first plane struck the World Trade Center, President Bush was reading My Pet Goat to a group of elementary schoolchildren in Sarasota County, Florida.  Even after being told that a second plane had hit the Center, Bush continued reading to the children for another seven minutes.

No armed Air Force planes were stationed between New York and Washington.  The CIA and the National Security Agency–the nation’s code-cracking center–stood totally vulnerable to aerial attack.  So did the Congress.

At the White House, Secret Service agents threw open the doors and told “ordinary” staffers to evacuate and fend for themselves.   Those officials considered worth protecting–such as Cheney and National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice–were hustled into a secure, bomb-proof chamber.

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