December 21, 2005

Warrantless Domestic Spying: An Impeachable Offense

The Legislative Branch is a coequal branch of government relative the Executive Branch. By design, the House of Representatives is closest to the People, which is why the impeachment powers reside within the House. The People need to raise their voices to ensure that the Legislative Branch checks the excessive use of powers being exercised by the Executive Branch.

Even conservative legal scholars have admitted the severity of Bush's actions in using the NSA to spy on US citizens without a warrant. Norm Ornstein, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said "I think if we're going to be intellectually honest here, this really is the kind of thing that Alexander Hamilton was referring to when impeachment was discussed."

Alone, this offense is impeachable. However, it is also another straw on the People's backs, which justifies impeachment. Add this violation of trust to the following:

+ Misrepresentation of Intelligence to Justify War in Iraq
+ Starting a War to Justify the Misuse of Various War Powers
+ Detaining People Indefinitely without Due Process
+ Advocating and Conducting Torture
+ Renditioning People to Secret CIA Prisons
+ Renditioning People to Countries to Conduct Torture
+ Retributions Against Countries & People that Oppose Bush Actions
+ Numerous Cover-ups

Many former government insiders are speaking out against the excesses of the Bush Administration. For a list, go to:
Those Who Told
Fallen Legion

December 20, 2005

"Show Me Your Papers"

"It brings us frighteningly close to a show me your papers society," said Carrie Davis of the ACLU, in regard to the Ohio Patriot Act that has made it to the Ohio Governor's desk for signature.

According to News 5, of Cleveland, the Ohio Patriot Act would let police arrest people in public places who will not give their names, address and birth dates, even if they are not doing anything wrong. One Ohio state representative said it resembles Gestapo-style tactics.

Combine this bit of news with the New York Times revelation last week that the Bush Administration has used the NSA to spy on US citizens and it is difficult to keep the word "fascism" from creeping into the back of one's mind.

Those who have an interest in understanding fascism are encouraged to read "Anatomy of Fascism" by Robert O. Paxton. Although I like the susinct quote by FDR, below, Paxton's take on fascism is a bit more chilling, in part because it fits the current situation so well.

Paxton argues that fascism isn't really an "ism." "isms" are defined by a core set of principles, which in turn tend to drive policies. Fascism, on the other hand, is hard to pin down; analyses of past fascist movements reveal what appears to be contradictory alliances and principles. Fascism tends to be defined by the way it grows in a society and its illusive principles. Paxton reveals that fascism has only one over-riding principle, securing and maintaining power. If it is necessary in the early stages of a fascist movement to have alliances with leftists, and then later switch alliances, so be it. If it is necessary to vocalize one set of principles early on, and change them later, so be it. If it is necessary to give one justification for a major government action, like starting a war, and then change the justification later, then so be it as long as it leads to the consolidation of power.

In short, fascism seems to be all about gaining and maintaining power. It stands to reason that, in a democratic society, the initial stage of a fascist consolidation would need to have popular support. Rush Limbaugh's ditto heads and the blind-faith evangelicals are well suited to serve in this capacity. In time, as power is consolidated, the laws can be changed, and civil liberties slowly eroded in order to further consolidate power. Imagine a situation in which the Congress, the Judicial System and the Executive Branch of the US were all in the hands of a fascist movement. Not hard to do these days. The fascists might not even realize that they are being fascist by Paxton's definition.

A more simple definition of fascism follows:

"The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism - ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or any controlling private power."
- Franklin D. Roosevelt

December 13, 2005

NAFTA Chapter 11

Everyone should be aware of "the other Chapter 11" that is Chapter 11 of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). NAFTA includes rules on protection of foreign investments. It undermines democratic choices by allowing foreign businesses to challenge local laws if those laws infringe on their profits.

Examples include the California legislature self-censoring legislation, because of fears that Mexican of Canadian businesses will bring a costly law suit. The State's fear was based on a nearly $1 Billion legal challenge by Canadian corporation Methanex, claiming lost profits after the State tried to ban the sale of the gasoline additive MTBE. California scientists had discovered MTBE was leaking from underground storage tanks and contaminiating drinking water. MTBE is a suspected carcinogen. (See timeline with "happy" ending below).

The Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) would expand this to apply to all corporations in the Western Hemisphere doing business in the USA.

An excellent expose' on NAFTA Chapter 11 was done by Bill Moyer:
Moyer Link

You might also consider reading the beginning of George Soros' "The Crisis of Global Capitalism: Open Society Endangered." It provides a powerful indictment of "free market fundamentalism," which even speaks to those who strongly believe in the capitalist system.

MTBE Chapter 11 Case Timeline:

MARCH, 1999
California governor calls for the phase-out of MTBE, which is used to help reduce air pollution, citing fears it is creeping into groundwater. MTBE has been linked to cancer.

JUNE, 1999
Methanex uses a controversial chapter of NAFTA accord to demand US$970-million in compensation from the U.S. government, alleging the California ban unfairly undermines its market.

AUGUST, 2005
NAFTA panel dismisses claim and orders company to pay US$4-million in legal fees. (The unsettling thing is that the "NAFTA panel" is a secret procedure run by unelected officials, which could easily be corrupted.)

December 11, 2005

Popular Issue: US Foreign Money Addiction Means Trouble

Lets face it, the theme of this Blog is a bit esoteric, that is, concern about the role of excessive commercial power in the World. My reading and web peruzing is almost exclusively "News." However, knowing that pop culture plays a role in what makes the World turn, I clicked on the Yahoo "Most Popular" link today; a first for me.

The most popular issues were listed:

Miss Iceland is a Surprize Winner of Miss World
Pioneering Comedian Richard Pryor Dies
US Foreign Money Addiction Means Trouble

Article Link

Actually, when ranked by "most e-mailed" the US Foreign Money Addiction article was #2.

OK, so it is 7:30 am (EST) on a Sunday, and only the sick'o business-minded are awake yet. Just wait until the rest of the nation wakes up and starts e-mailing articles to their friends. We'll check back in and see what happens to the ranking.

7:30am (EST) "US Foreign Money Addiction" article is #2
9:00am "US Foreign Money Addiction" article is #1
5:30pm "US Foreign Money Addiction" article is no longer in the top 10, however.... #2 is "Pope: Christmas is Polluted by Consumerism"

According to the AP article on foreign money addiction, featured by Yahoo, "At our current rate of trade and budget deficits, foreigners need to purchase $2 billion in dollar-denominated assets each day just to keep the dollar stable." (Source: Axel Merk).

"Over half the national debt is now financed by foreigners, according to Roger Ibbotson, chairman of the financial consulting firm Ibbotson Associates in Chicago and a professor at Yale School of Management." If one of the foreign entitities that buys US bonds to finance our debt stopped buying those bonds, Ibbotson says it could be like a "run on the bank."

David Wyss, chief economist at Standard & Poor's, is also concerned. "If this money stopped coming, the dollar would take a dive and U.S. bond yields would have to come up. That would constrain capital spending and housing and slow down the U.S. economy."

"We need the money because we're not saving any," Wyss said. "We need it from anyone who has a spare yen to lend us."

The gush of foreign money "is critical to keeping the U.S. dollar from collapsing, because we have a large trade deficit," said Daniel Katzive, foreign exchange strategist at UBS. "If the deficit wasn't financed, the dollar would fall until it reached a level where U.S. assets were more attractive to foreign investors."

It's simple accounting, he said: Cashflow in must equal cashflow out. "If it doesn't, you have a big adjustment until you reach equilibrium."

Normally, Wyss said, foreign investors would be reluctant to stake so much on the Treasury market because they would be worried that a decline in the dollar would erode their returns. But, in recent years, the Japanese and Chinese central banks have intervened to keep the dollar high.

"Central banks have trained investors that there's not much risk there," he said. "That scares me."

December 10, 2005

Cell Phone = Tracking Device

Cellular operators like Verizon Wireless and Cingular Wireless know, within about 300 yards, the location of their subscribers whenever a phone is turned on. Even if the phone is not in use it is communicating with cellphone tower sites, and the wireless provider keeps track of the phone's position as it travels. The operators have said that they turn over location information when presented with a court order to do so.

This is according to Matt Richell in a December 10, 2005 NY Times editorial.

If in doubt, turn your phone off. If you need more assurance, remove the battery.

December 9, 2005

List of Those Who Have Left the Bush Admin

Over the past few years we've all caught the news stories about high-level people leaving the Bush Administration. If you're like me, you've wondered "Wouldn't it be nice to have a list of all these people?"

Nick Turse, who works in the Department of Epidemiology at Columbia University and is the Associate Editor and Research Director at, has done it. He calls the list "The Fallen Legion."

Fallen Legion LINK

I've suggested Nick consider Armando Falcon as a "fallen legion" candidate:

Falcon was director of the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (OFHEO), which has oversight over the two giant housing-finance enterprises known as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

On Feb. 4, 2003 the OFHEO released a report entitled, "Systemic Risk: Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Role of OFHEO." In a nut shell, OFHEO was concerned that Mae and Mac might become insolvent. OFHEO was exploring the possibility of obtaining legal (Congressional) authority to take over Mae & Mac in the event either collapsed. The concern was that these two institutions were so strongly coupled to the overall economy that their failure could result in a "systemic" economic failure.

For his service to the Nation, Falcon was asked by the Bush Administration to resign soon after the report was released.

You might not like the source, but you can verify the facts:

Appeal for Hostage Release

The deadline set for execution of the four Christian Peace activists taken hostage has arrived. I add my small voice to those appealing for their release.

Many in the Iraqi resistance understand that these activists are not religious missionaries, and in fact spoke out in opposition before the US invasion. They also rightly think that the killing of these people would undermine the legitimacy of the resistance.

Many appeals are being by iraqis on behalf of the hostages. For example....

During prayers in the al-Imam al-Aadam mosque in Baghdad's predominantly Sunni Arab neighborhood of Azamiyah in north Baghdad, cleric Ahmed Hassan Taha demanded that the four charity workers be released.

"I stress on the necessity to release the four kidnapped foreigners who have helped the residents of Azamiyah," he said. "We ask those who have authority and power to do their best to release the four European people who work in Christian peace organization, in fact those activists were the first who condemned the war on Iraq." (AP)

December 8, 2005

Money, what is it?

What is money? A funny thing happened on my way to the bank... the bank created money out of thin air. Yes, it's true. In the US, we have a system of finance by which our private banks can create money. It is moderated to some degree by the Federal Reserve, which is itself a creature that is part government part private sector. "Secrets of the Temple," by William Greider, now with the Nation magazine, goes deeply into this subject. I happen to be reading it with two other people at this time.

The way money is created by the private sector is as follows. Lets say a bank has one million dollars. It is supposed to keep a percentage in reserve in case people want to come and get cash, say 10% in reserve. The remaining 90% can be loaned out to individuals and businesses. That 90% is typically put right back into a bank in the system of US banks. This bank can, in turn, loan out 90% of that 90% (81%), holding 10% in reserve. That 81% is stored in another bank, or the same bank that gave the loan, and then 90% of that 81% can be loaned, and so on. This multiplying process effectively creates money where none existed before. It isn't printed by the government.

Surely it's more complex than this, and the percentage of reserves required is something other than 10%, but that's the basic concept. Ultimately, the "money" in circulation is mostly loans, or debt. Now, if that debt is invested to produce goods and services, the debt can be paid back, with a little left over, and the system works. However, if that debt is simply used for consupmption, with nothing to show for it afterwards, and no way to pay back the debt, then we face an unsustainable situation. Eventually, the system fails. Unfortunately, to a great degree, the later is ocurring in the United States.

Obviously, there's more to money than that. There are the various ways of counting money: M1, M2 and M3 are categories of "money," that are increasingly less liquid. That is, less readily available upon demand. Less liquid money might be yours, but it might be locked up in a certificate of deposit that matures in three months, and cannot be spent right now (unless you pay a stiff penalty for early withdrawl in some cases).

Below is a summary of the trends in M1, M2 and M3 over time. Note how the money supply has expanded much more rapidly than the population in the US. Shouldn't we all be richer? Well, the fact is, and I've not shown it here, the wealthy top percentage of Americans ARE wealthier, but the lower tier have actually lost wealth over the past few decades. I'll save that discussion for another time.

US Population:
1950 151 Million
1980 226 Million
2000 281 Million
2005 292 Million

Wealth Distribution (1):
1979 86% of financial wealth held by top 10%

M1: currency and demand deposits held by consumers & businesses;
1950 $130 B
1979 $362 B (range 359 -381B)
2005 $1,365 B approx
11% growth per year between '79 & '05 on average

M1 per capita:
1950 $861k
1979 $1,601k
2005 $4,675k

M2: M1 + small savings accounts, CDs, mutual funds.
1950 $287 B
1979 $1,425 B (range: 1,372 - 1,473)
2005 $6,500 B (range: 6,400 - 6,600)

M3: M1+ M2 + large CDs (100k +), less liquid assets.
1950 $295 B
1979 $1,725 B (range: 1,656 - 1,808)
2005 $9,750 B (range: 9,502 - 10,058)

Velocity: GDP/MX (2) Turn-over of money
1960: 3.5 for M1
1979: 6.8 for M1 ($362 B)
2005: 8.9

The difference between GNP and GDP is a matter of the nationality of the producers and the location of production:

GNP = goods and services produced by US corporations in USA + goods and services produced by US corporations in other countries (our countrymen's production)

GDP = goods and services produced by US corporations in USA + goods and services produced by foreign corporations in the USA (within boarder production)

1. p 39, Greider, "Secrets of the Temple"

December 7, 2005

After the Debt Feast

The front page of the New York Times business section recently had a piece entitled, "After the Debt Feast Comes the Heartburn," by Gretchen Morgenson (11/27/05). It features a synopsis of research findings by Paul Kasriel, chief economist at the Northern Trust Company in Chicago, who says "We have the most highly leveraged economy in the postwar period." He's not talking about the Vietnam police action.

Kasriel isn't a lone voice. Paul Krugman, whose specialty is international economic stability, likens the US to a Latin American economy. Many will counter that by citing the size of the US economy; however, as the saying goes, "The bigger they are, the harder they fall," and US production of tangible goods (manufacturing) has declined drastically over the past few decades. General Motors is going to shed about 30,000 jobs (check fact) in the next few years, and this will have a ripple effect to other jobs. Krugman's concern has led him to personally change his behavior; he has changed his adjustable mortgage to a fixed mortgage. I have too.

Kasriel includes real estate in his short list of concerns: rising interest rates, record consumer debt, and a cooling housing market. It's cooling in Baltimore despite the Washington DC pressure. This list doesn't even include government debt, international trade debt, and the lurking concern that much of this debt is not being invested in creating productive capacity to grow the economy. Rather, it is being consumed in the form of consumer products bought from China, military hardware, salaries and veterans benefits, and luxury goods being purchased by the wealthy 1-percent who have received windfall tax breaks over the past few years.

Kasriel thinks the party is coming to an end, and that the record consumer debt, combined with new a bankruptcy law, could turn an economic recession into an "accident." It was, in part, excessive leveraging that caused the crash of 1929. But at that time, the US was not in debt to foreigners.

Of course, those who anticipate and prepare for an accident can fare well. More can be said.

December 6, 2005

Howard Dean: Democratic Party Truth-Sayer

Democratic Party politicians are fearful of getting too far out ahead of the general public. They fear loosing voter support, or having statements spun by Republican attack macines, and the ditto-head echo chamber of right wing talk radio. This fear is legitimate; recall the famous Scream in the 2004 Iowa Caucus by Howard Dean that was the downward turning point of his presidential asperations. Nevertheless, many people think the Democrat's fear of speaking the thruth makes the Democrats look weak, or worse. This is a dilemma for the Democrats.

The solution: Howard Dean. He has already established his credentials for speaking the truth. On the one hand, as Democratic National Committee Chair, he represents a voice of the Democratic Party. On the other hand, individual Democratic politicians can safely distance themselves. In this way, the general public hears a truth-telling message from the Democrats without any individual politician taking the risk.

Recent Examples: In justifying the need to get out of Iraq, Dean recently said, "This is the same situation we had in Vietnam. Everybody then kept saying, 'just another year, just stay the course, we'll have a victory.' Well, we didn't have a victory, and this policy cost the lives of an additional 25,000 troops because we were too stubborn to recognize what was happening." This was spun on the Drudge Report to read "Dem Chair Dean: USA Won't win in Iraq," something to which no elected official would want their name attached.

Dean can also attack the President, which cannot be done by politicians who might need a favor from Bush at some point. For example, Dean recently said, "The President said last week that Congress saw the same intelligence that he did in making the decision to go to war, and that is flat out wrong." Dean went on to give examples.

Bottom Line: The Democrats have a strategy for speaking the truth, while protecting their elected politicians. We'll see if it works.

December 4, 2005

Am I a Blogger?

Brad Blog and Juan Cole get the credit, if credit is the word, for steering me to this point..... who ever set up the requirement to register before being allowed to comment is also somewhat responsible.

So, now that I'm writing something that nobody will ever read, I ask myself the question, am I a blogger? I guess only time will tell.

The topic on my mind is, did George Bush seriously suggest that Al Jazeera network be bombed? I hope time will tell on that one too.