Citizen G'kar: Musings on Earth

November 14, 2015

Reagan's Osama Connection

Here is an article from 2004 that shocked me, I've linked in the past, but lost and now found again. I copy it here to be sure it's never lost again.

Earlier this week, I cited recently declassified documents to show that Ronald Reagan did indeed play a major role in ending the Cold War. Now it's time to note that a similar set of documents shows that Reagan also played a major role in bringing on the terrorist war that followed—specifically, in abetting the rise of Osama Bin Laden.
Fred Kaplan Fred Kaplan
Fred Kaplan writes the "War Stories" column for Slate. He was the Boston Globe's military reporter from 1982-91 and its Moscow bureau chief from 1992-95.

Once again, the story concerns the fascinating relationship between Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
Gorbachev took the helm as the reform-minded general-secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in March 1985. Within months, he had decided privately to pull Soviet troops out of Afghanistan. One of his predecessors, Leonid Brezhnev, * had invaded Afghanistan in 1979, and the move was proving a disaster. Tens of thousands of Soviet troops had died; military morale was crumbling; popular protest—unheard of, till then, in Communist Russia—was rising. Part of the Soviet failure in Afghanistan was due to the fact that the Reagan administration was feeding billions of dollars in arms to Afghanistan's Islamic resistance. Reagan and, even more, his intensely ideological CIA director, William Casey, saw the battle for Afghanistan as a titanic struggle in the war between Eastern tyranny and Western freedom. (Jimmy Carter and his national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, had started assisting the resistance, but with not nearly the same largess or ambition.)
At a Politburo meeting of Nov. 13, 1986, Gorbachev laid his position on the table: The war wasn't working; it had to be stopped:
People ask: "What are we doing there?" Will we be there endlessly? Or should we end this war? ... The strategic objective is to finish the war in one, maximum two years, and withdraw the troops. We have set a clear goal: Help speed up the process, so we have a friendly neutral country, and get out of there.
In early December, Gorbachev summoned President Najibullah, the puppet leader of Afghanistan, to give him the news: The Soviet troops would be leaving within 18 months; after that, he was on his own.
Two months later, on Feb. 23, 1987, Gorbachev assured the Politburo that the troops wouldn't leave right away. He first had to foster a stable environment for the reigning government and to maintain a credible image with India, the Soviet Union's main ally in the region. The exit strategy, he said, would be a negotiated deal with Washington: The Soviets pull out troops; the Americans stop their arms shipments to the rebels.
However, within days, Gorbachev learned to his surprise that Reagan had no interest in such a deal. In a conversation on Feb. 27 with Italy's foreign minister, Giulio Andreotti, Gorbachev said, "We have information from very reliable sources … that the United States has set itself the goal of obstructing a settlement by any means," in order "to present the Soviet Union in a bad light." If this information is true, Gorbachev continued, the matter of a withdrawal "takes on a different light."
Without U.S. cooperation, Gorbachev couldn't proceed with his plans to withdraw. Instead, he allowed his military commanders to escalate the conflict. In April, Soviet troops, supported by bombers and helicopters, attacked a new compound of Islamic fighters along the mountain passes of Jaji, near the Pakistani border. The leader of those fighters, many of them Arab volunteers, was Osama Bin Laden.
In his magisterial book, Ghost Wars (possibly the best diplomatic history written in the past decade), Steve Coll recounts the fateful consequences:
The battle lasted for about a week. Bin Laden and 50 Arab volunteers faced 200 Russian troops. … The Arab volunteers took casualties but held out under intense fire for several days. More than a dozen of bin Laden's comrades were killed, and bin Laden himself apparently suffered a foot wound. … Chronicled daily at the time by several Arab journalists … the battle of Jaji marked the birth of Osama bin Laden's public reputation as a warrior among Arab jihadists. … After Jaji he began a media campaign designed to publicize the brave fight waged by Arab volunteers who stood their ground against a superpower. In interviews and speeches … bin Laden sought to recruit new fighters to his cause and to chronicle his own role as a military leader. He also began to expound on expansive new goals for the jihad.
Had Gorbachev thought that Reagan was willing to strike a deal, the battle of Jaji would not have taken place—and the legend of Bin Laden might never have taken off.
Reagan can't be blamed for ignoring the threat of Osama Bin Laden. Not for another few years would any analyst see Bin Laden as a significant player in global terrorism; not till the mid-1990s would his organization, al-Qaida, emerge as a significant force.
However, Reagan—and those around him—can be blamed for ignoring the rise of Islamic militancy in Afghanistan and for failing to see Gorbachev's offer to withdraw as an opportunity to clamp the danger. Certainly, the danger was, or should have been, clear. Only a few years had passed since the Ayatollah Khomeini rose to power in Iran—the shah toppled, the U.S. Embassy employees held hostage, the country turned over to the mullahs, the region suddenly destabilized. Reagan beat Jimmy Carter so decisively in the 1980 election in part because of the hostage crisis.
Gorbachev had accepted that Afghanistan would become an Islamic country. But he assumed that Reagan, of all people, would have an interest in keeping it from becoming militantly, hostilely, Islamist.
In September 1987, after the previous spring's escalation failed to produce results, Soviet Foreign Minister Edvard Shevardnadze met with Secretary of State George Shultz to tell him that Gorbachev planned to pull out of Afghanistan soon. He asked Shultz for help in containing the spread of "Islamic fundamentalism." Shultz had nothing to say. Most Reagan officials doubted Gorbachev would really withdraw, and they interpreted the warnings about Muslim radicals as a cover story for the Soviet Union's military failure.
By this time, Reagan and Gorbachev had gone some distance toward ending the Cold War. The dramatic moment would come the following spring, during the summit in Moscow, when Reagan declared that the U.S.S.R. was no longer an "evil empire." At the same time, though, the U.S. national-security bureaucracy—and, in many ways, Reagan himself—continued to view the world through Cold War glasses.
After the last Soviet troops departed, Afghanistan fell off the American radar screen. Over the next few years, Shevardnadze's worst nightmares came true. The Taliban rose to power and in 1996 gave refuge to the—by then—much-hunted Bin Laden.
Ten years earlier, had Reagan taken Gorbachev's deal, Afghanistan probably still wouldn't have emerged as the "friendly, neutral country" of Gorby's dreams. Yet it might have been a neutral enough country to preclude a Taliban takeover. And if the Russian-Afghan war had ended earlier—if Reagan had embraced Gorbachev on the withdrawal, as he did that same autumn on the massive cutback of nuclear weapons—Osama Bin Laden today might not even be a footnote in history.
Correction, June 11: Leonid Brezhnev was general-secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union at the time of the Afghanistan invasion, not Yuri Andropov as the article originally stated. (Return to the corrected sentence.)

May 19, 2015

Errors and Lies

Krugman won't let us forget about the truth about the war. Dubya, Rumsfeld and Cheney committed treason!
The fraudulence of the case for war was actually obvious even at the time: the ever-shifting arguments for an unchanging goal were a dead giveaway. So were the word games — the talk about W.M.D that conflated chemical weapons (which many people did think Saddam had) with nukes, the constant insinuations that Iraq was somehow behind 9/11.
And at this point we have plenty of evidence to confirm everything the war’s opponents were saying. We now know, for example, that on 9/11 itself — literally before the dust had settled — Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense, was already plotting war against a regime that had nothing to do with the terrorist attack. “Judge whether good enough [to] hit S.H. [Saddam Hussein] ...sweep it all up things related and not”; so read notes taken by Mr. Rumsfeld’s aide.
Worth the read.

January 06, 2012

Fallujah Babies: Birth Defects Blamed on US Weapons | Truthout

The sourge of depleted uranium has just begun in Fallujah. It will continue for many years. Libya should expect a smaller problem given the shorter campaign. I've been writing about this war-crime since 2005. Others have for much longer. See below for a list.

Fallujah Babies: Birth Defects Blamed on US Weapons | Truthout
Alani and Busby, along with other doctors and researchers, published a study in September 2011 from data obtained by analysing the hair samples, as well as soil and water samples from the city.
English: SVG version of :Image:Basrah birth de...Image via WikipediaMercury, Uranium, Bizmuth and other trace elements were found.
The report's conclusion states:
"Whilst caution must be exercised about ruling out other possibilities, because none of the elements found in excess are reported to cause congenital diseases and cancer except Uranium, these findings suggest the enriched Uranium exposure is either a primary cause or related to the cause of the congenital anomaly and cancer increases. Questions are thus raised about the characteristics and composition of weapons now being deployed in modern battlefields."
"As doctors, we know Mercury, Uranium and Bismuth can contribute to the development of congenital abnormalities, and we think it could be related to the use of prohibited weapons by the Americans during these battles," Alani said.
"Findings suggest the enriched Uranium exposure is either a primary cause or related to the cause of the congenital anomaly and cancer increases," says a recent scientific report on the incidence of birth defects in Fallujah. (Photo: Dr Samira Alani)
"I made this link to a coroner's inquest in the West Midlands into the death of a Gulf War One veteran... and a coroner's jury accepted my evidence," he told Al Jazeera.
"It's been found by a coroner's court that cancer was caused by an exposure to depleted uranium," Busby added, "In the last 10 years, research has emerged that has made it quite clear that uranium is one of the most dangerous substances known to man, certainly in the form that it takes when used in these wars."
In July 2010, Busby released a study that showed a 12-fold increase in childhood cancer in Fallujah since the 2004 attacks. The report also showed the sex ratio had declined from normal to 86 boys to 100 girls, together with a spread of diseases indicative of genetic damage similar to but of far greater incidence than Hiroshima.
Dr Alani visited Japan recently, where she met with Japanese doctors who study birth defect rates they believe related to radiation from the US nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
She was told birth defect incidence rates there are between 1-2 per cent. Alani's log of cases of birth defects amounts to a rate of 14.7 per cent of all babies born in Fallujah, more than 14 times the rate in the affected areas of Japan.
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December 12, 2011

Climate Change Disaster looms despite Durban Agreement

Juan Cole has the scoop on the latest projections on global warming. It's scary, but true.
The most plausible solution to the world’s energy problems is solar, as with the Desertec Project in Egypt and Morocco. ... we aren’t moving nearly quickly enough on that front to avert disasters like the complete loss of the Netherlands and the Egyptian Delta and all of Bangladesh. I guess the question is now whether we can stop at a 3 degrees C. increase, or go on up to 5 degrees C. and lose one third of the world’s land surface.
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November 16, 2011

Informed Comment: Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion

Juan Cole again has the truth in his hands.

Informed Comment: Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan let slip in an interview with the BBC that she had been on a conference call with the mayors of 18 cities about how to deal with the Occupy Wall Street movement. That is, municipal authorities appear to have been conspiring to deprive Americans of their first amendment rights to freedom of assembly and freedom to petition the government for redress of grievances.
Likewise, A Homeland Security official let it slip in a phone interview that the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security had been strategizing with cities on how to shut down OWS protests. The FBI is said to have advised using zoning ordinances and curfew regulations, and to stage the crackdown with massive police force at a time when the press was not around to cover the crackdown.
Wonkette suggests that the PATRIOT Act is implicated here, but I’m not sure how that works. Actually the techniques discussed are standard for US police forces in dealing with peaceful protests (the only routine technique missing is that of putting saboteurs among the protesters who cause destruction and create an image of them as violent.
What these two reports show is a high-level conspiracy to deprive Americans of their constitutional right to protest peacefully.
When will we see Occupy Wall Street protesters hooded, dressed in orange jump suits, and sent to Guantanamo for military trials? When you let the government act without regard for the rule of law toward foreigners suspected of terrorism, you open yourself to be treated the same way if the rich decide to sic their police on you (it is mostly their police). This is why a rule of law has to be maintained. Anything less ratchets toward tyranny.

October 12, 2011

The Seven Biggest Economic Lies

The Seven Biggest Economic Lies

class warfareThe President’s Jobs Bill doesn’t have a chance in Congress — and the Occupiers on Wall Street and elsewhere can’t become a national movement for a more equitable society – unless more Americans know the truth about the economy.
Here’s a short (2 minute 30 second) effort to rebut the seven biggest whoppers now being told by those who want to take America backwards.
The major points:
  • Tax cuts for the rich trickle down to everyone else. Baloney. Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush both sliced taxes on the rich and what happened? Most Americans’ wages (measured by the real median wage) began flattening under Reagan and have dropped since George W. Bush. Trickle-down economics is a cruel joke.
  • Higher taxes on the rich would hurt the economy and slow job growth. False. From the end of World War II until 1981, the richest Americans faced a top marginal tax rate of 70 percent or above. Under Dwight Eisenhower it was 91 percent. Even after all deductions and credits, the top taxes on the very rich were far higher than they’ve been since. Yet the economy grew faster during those years than it has since. (Don’t believe small businesses would be hurt by a higher marginal tax; fewer than 2 percent of small business owners are in the highest tax bracket.)
  • Shrinking government generates more jobs. Wrong again. It means fewer government workers – everyone from teachers, fire fighters, police officers, and social workers at the state and local levels to safety inspectors and military personnel at the federal. And fewer government contractors, who would employ fewer private-sector workers. According to Moody’s economist Mark Zandi (a campaign advisor to John McCain), the $61 billion in spending cuts proposed by the House GOP will cost the economy 700,000 jobs this year and next.

  • Cutting the budget deficit now is more important than boosting the economy. Untrue. With so many Americans out of work, budget cuts now will shrink the economy. They’ll increase unemployment and reduce tax revenues. That will worsen the ratio of the debt to the total economy. The first priority must be getting jobs and growth back by boosting the economy. Only then, when jobs and growth are returning vigorously, should we turn to cutting the deficit.
    robert reich
  • Medicare and Medicaid are the major drivers of budget deficits. Wrong. Medicare and Medicaid spending is rising quickly, to be sure. But that’s because the nation’s health-care costs are rising so fast. One of the best ways of slowing these costs is to use Medicare and Medicaid’s bargaining power over drug companies and hospitals to reduce costs, and to move from a fee-for-service system to a fee-for-healthy outcomes system. And since Medicare has far lower administrative costs than private health insurers, we should make Medicare available to everyone.
  • Social Security is a Ponzi scheme. Don’t believe it. Social Security is solvent for the next 26 years. It could be solvent for the next century if we raised the ceiling on income subject to the Social Security payroll tax. That ceiling is now $106,800.
  • It’s unfair that lower-income Americans don’t pay income tax. Wrong. There’s nothing unfair about it. Lower-income Americans pay out a larger share of their paychecks in payroll taxes, sales taxes, user fees, and tolls than everyone else.
robert reichDemagogues through history have known that big lies, repeated often enough,  start being believed — unless they’re rebutted. These seven economic whoppers are just plain wrong. Make sure you know the truth – and spread it on.

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August 04, 2011

We are on the Cusp of Losing our Democracy; Demonstrate the True Will of the People

Now is the time to come to the aid of your country! Our democracy is being bought by the highest bidder. Only an American Spring can take it back!
With Al Gore and Keith Olbermann calling for the same thing that we are calling for, the time is upon us.
We are recruiting volunteers to help organize a march in Washington and local satellite rallies all across America. Please use the online form below to sign up. We are going to have a conference call for our local volunteers on Saturday at 3pm ET. We'll send you details by email.

We plan to announce the date on Sunday.
CALL TO ACTION: If you do not consent to being governed by corporations or billionaires...If you want to be heard by your government..If you're ready to stand up for America's democracy and your dignity as citizens...Join us. Let's build America's Tahrir Square.
We are calling for is a peaceful and decisive demonstration to restore  democracy in America. We want to see a million Americans turn up for a march in Washington with satellite rallies in every town and city.
As many acknowledge, we are on the cusp of losing our democracy.  As everyday Americans, we just don't feel heard by our government or mainstream media. Representation has broken down.

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July 27, 2011

Shut up, obey, and collaborate

The fall of a great country is upon us. And who would think that Obama would help us get there. Incredibly, it was his admiration of Lincoln that brings us to the precipice. Compromise, the basis of our legislative process, has brought the great Democratic Party to a Faustian bargain with the Tea Party. Read this whole article. Not surprisingly, its from a non-western source, the center of what's left of the international free press, Qatar's Aljazeera.
The irony is that the West brought us empire on a global scale and drew its cultural, economic, and political strength from interconnections with all parts of the world. The cosmopolis of New York, London and Paris - a "brown" not a "white" West - are more appropriate beacons of a West flush with power and confidence in its values than the imaginary purification achieved through concentration camps and closed borders.But just what might be corroding values in the West?The flag of US Capitalism, Red and Gold to hon...Image via Wikipedia
This was one of the questions that animated the Frankfurt School and those who influenced it. They focused on the interaction between capitalism and culture. They noted the ways in which capitalism progressively turned everything into something that could be bought or sold, measuring value only by the bottom line. Slowly but surely such measures came to apply to the cultural values at the core of society. Even time, as Benjamin Franklin told us, is money, a doctrine which horrified Max Weber in his searing indictment of the capitalist mentality as an "iron cage" without "spirit".
Note for example the ways in which the great professional vocations of the West - lawyers, journalists, academics, doctors - have been co-opted and corrupted by bottom line thinking. Money and "efficiency" are the values by which we stand, not law, truth or health. Students are imagined as "customers", citizens as "stakeholders". Professional associations worry about the risk to their bottom line rather than furthering the values they exist to represent. Graduates of elite Western universities, imbued with the learning of our great thinkers, are sent off to corporations like News International. There they learn to shut up, obey, and collaborate in the dark work of exploitation for profit, for which they will be well rewarded, at least financially speaking.
Thanks in part to the grip of corporate power on the media and on political parties, few today in the West can imagine any other politics than those of big money. In the US, and increasingly even in Europe, the income differential between the poor and the wealthy already resembles that of banana republics. The downtrodden are asked to bear the burden of a financial crisis created by bankers. America's wealthy fly their children to summer camp in tax-free private jets amid a real rate of unemployment of over fifteen per cent.
Neoliberalism has only accelerated these processes at the heart of capitalist society. Here is a far more convincing threat to Western values and "social cohesion" than the lunatic fears of fascists. Notably, this is a threat that emanates from within, not without. It is precisely social democratic parties like Norway's Labour Party - Breivik's target - which have sought to contain the corrosive effects of capitalism and ensure the survival of the West's most humane values.

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June 30, 2011

Starve the Beast Redux

The scary part of Starve the Beast conspiracy threatens now the stability of the economy of the whole western world. Protests about the on-going class warfare on the poor and yes even the middle class have been routine for years. Riots have broken out in Greece and will likely soon come to Spain. Its not inconceivable that we'll see similar riots in Britain and even the US.

People are tired, hungry and too many are unemployed and homeless. The 40 hour week has all but disappeared in the non-union work place in a blizzard of salaried and contract positions. It's only a matter of time before something more serious happens. The results of more serious consequences could be catastrophic.

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Paul Krugman / Starve the beast: Fiscal calamity is the GOP's plan to shrink government

Starving the beasts is the Republican conspiracy to bankrupt the US government to force downsizing government as well as shrinking the middle class in the interest of lower wages until the US can compete against China and India in manufacturing. Paul claims he said it first, but no, I've been talking about it since 2004. Ronald Reagan sold it to the country during the John Anderson debate. A staffer is credited with coining the term. Grover Norquist convinced Double Think Dubya to implement the strategy big time (Wikipedia)
OK, the beast is starving. Now what? That's the question confronting Republicans. But they're refusing to answer, or even to engage in any serious discussion about what to do.
For readers who don't know what I'm talking about: Ever since Ronald Reagan, the GOP has been run by people who want a much smaller government. In the famous words of the activist Grover Norquist, conservatives want to get the government "down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub."
But there has always been a political problem with this agenda. Voters may say that they oppose big government, but the programs that actually dominate federal spending -- Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security -- are very popular. So how can the public be persuaded to accept large spending cuts?
The conservative answer, which evolved in the late 1970s, would be dubbed "starving the beast" during the Reagan years. The idea -- propounded by many members of the conservative intelligentsia, from Alan Greenspan to Irving Kristol -- was basically that sympathetic politicians should engage in a game of bait-and-switch. Rather than proposing unpopular spending cuts, Republicans would push through popular tax cuts, with the deliberate intention of worsening the government's fiscal position. Spending cuts could then be sold as a necessity rather than a choice, the only way to eliminate an unsustainable budget deficit.
And the deficit came. True, more than half of this year's budget deficit is the result of the Great Recession, which has both depressed revenues and required a temporary surge in spending to contain the damage. But even when the crisis is over, the budget will remain deeply in the red, largely as a result of George W. Bush-era tax cuts and unfunded wars. In addition, the combination of an aging population and rising medical costs will, unless something is done, lead to explosive debt growth after 2020.
So the beast is starving, as planned. It should be time, then, for conservatives to explain which parts of the beast they want to cut. And President Barack Obama has, in effect, invited them to do just that, by calling for a bipartisan deficit commission.
Many progressives were deeply worried by this proposal, fearing that it would turn into a kind of Trojan horse -- in particular, that the commission would end up reviving the long-standing Republican goal of gutting Social Security. But they needn't have worried: Senate Republicans overwhelmingly voted against legislation that would have created a commission with actual power, and it is unlikely that anything meaningful will come from the much weaker commission Mr. Obama established by executive order.
Why are Republicans reluctant to sit down and talk? Because they would then be forced to put up or shut up. Since they're adamantly opposed to reducing the deficit with tax increases, they would have to explain what spending they want to cut. And guess what? After three decades of preparing the ground for this moment, they're still not willing to do that.
In fact, conservatives have backed away from spending cuts they themselves proposed in the past. In the 1990s, for example, Republicans in Congress tried to force through sharp cuts in Medicare. But now they have made opposition to any effort to spend Medicare funds more wisely the core of their campaign against health care reform (death panels!). And presidential hopefuls say things like this, from Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota: "I don't think anybody's gonna go back now and say, 'Let's abolish, or reduce, Medicare and Medicaid.' "
What about Social Security? Five years ago the Bush administration proposed limiting future payments to upper- and middle-income workers, in effect means-testing retirement benefits. But in December, The Wall Street Journal's editorial page denounced any such means-testing, because "middle- and upper-middle-class (i.e., GOP) voters would get less than they were promised in return for a lifetime of payroll taxes." (Hmm. Since when do conservatives openly admit that the GOP is the party of the affluent?)
At this point, then, Republicans insist that the deficit must be eliminated but they're not willing either to raise taxes or to support cuts in any major government programs. And they're not willing to participate in serious bipartisan discussions, either, because that might force them to explain their plan -- and there isn't any plan, except to regain power.
But there is a kind of logic to the current Republican position: In effect, the party is doubling down on starve-the-beast. Depriving the government of revenue, it turns out, wasn't enough to push politicians into dismantling the welfare state. So now the de facto strategy is to oppose any responsible action until we are in the midst of a fiscal catastrophe. You read it here first.
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June 08, 2011

Contrary to Popular Belief: Inflation Hurts the Rich, Benefit the Debtor Middle Class, Retirees? Not So Much

Paul Krugman, as usual, has it right.

Social Security Poster: old manImage via Wikipedia
... who stands to gain from deflation, and lose if inflation is, say, 4 percent over a period of 10 years? Is it little old ladies living on fixed incomes, and salt of the earth workers who have scrimped and saved?
Well, no. There are, of course, some ordinary people who would lose a bit from higher inflation. But Social Security — the bedrock of retirement for most Americans — is indexed to inflation, and retirement accounts invested in stocks wouldn’t be hurt.
... Since I’ve been arguing that some inflation would help the economy recover, what we’re seeing in practice is that defending the interests of a small wealthy slice of the population takes priority over a possible recovery strategy.

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May 26, 2011

Nobel Laurieate Krugman: The Debt Is Not a Crisis, Risk of Depression IS

Last year Paul Krugman warned that we seemed to be heading into the “Third Depression” — by which, he explains, he meant we were in a prolonged period of economic weakness. The signs are all around us that the "recovery" is a jobless one. The rate of growth in jobs will take years to hire back all who have been laid off. In fact, federal and state workers and teachers are now facing lay off in the next fiscal year. 

Do we really want to face a "lost decade"? Or are we willing to stimulate the economy before this gets any worse?
Debt Arithmetic
The whole tone of current discussion about deficits is one of urgency: deficits must be brought down now now now or crisis looms. Where is this coming from? Not from the arithmetic.
The way the story is often told, deficits mean higher debt, which means higher interest payments, which can mean a spiral into bankruptcy. And qualitatively that’s not wrong. If you put numbers to it, however, for countries that are not facing huge risk premia, the spiral is very, very slow.
Here’s a sample calculation.
The latest IMF Fiscal Monitor predicts that general government in the US — that’s federal, state and local combined — will run a deficit of 7.5 percent of GDP next year, and that net debt will be 75 percent of GDP.
So how fast would the debt spiral be going?
You need to bear in mind that growth and inflation limit the rate of rise in the debt ratio. Suppose that we have 4 percent nominal GDP growth, which is actually low by historical standards. This shaves 3 percentage points off the rise in the debt/GDP ratio. So a year later, given those numbers, debt rises by 4.5 percentage points of GDP.
What’s the interest burden of that rise? At minimum we should correct for inflation, so use the TIPS yield. That’s currently below 1, but let’s be pessimistic and call it 2. Even so, the added interest burden is less than one-tenth of one percent of GDP.
So even with substantial deficits, the pace of long-term budget worsening is very slow. If it’s a debt death spiral, it’s a slooooowww motion death spiral.
But, say the critics, psychology can change suddenly, sharply raising those interest costs. The question then is why psychology should change. Investors can do the same arithmetic I’ve just done; why should they panic over a small rise in the interest burden?
Now, investors might well panic over signs of political deadlock — but that could happen regardless of the current year’s deficit.
Still, Serious People tell us that investors will turn on us unless we slash the deficit immediately — and they know this because, well, um …
As I’ve often written, we’re in a strange state now where people who actually take textbook economics and simple arithmetic seriously are seen as dangerously radical and irresponsible, while people who believe in invisible bond vigilantes and confidence fairies, who claim to know what the market will want even though there’s no sign of that desire in current asset prices, are viewed as Very Serious.
Anyway, the arithmetic of debt is much less scary than you might think.
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May 25, 2011

The Worldwide Climate Manipulation of Big Oil

Here is the best kept world secret, the one many people see, but few talk about. Here is the real reason there is a big oil disinformation campaign to discredit global warming. Big oil and many other reasource behemoths see billions in profits. We are all of us a part of the biggest and most dangerous experiment in climate manipulation in history. The poor of the world stand to lose the most, many will pay with their lives. Is the US already paying with intense storminess?
As declining sea ice and better mapping and technology make the Arctic more accessible, nations with interests there — including the United States — are beginning to stake their claims on the resource-rich region.
Russia planted a flag on the seafloor below the North Pole in 2007. Denmark announced this week that it would ask the United Nations to recognize the North Pole as an extension of Greenland, its territory. The U.S. sent a secretary of state to a meeting of eight Arctic nations earlier this month for the first time, a sign that Americans also have their eye on the region's potential resources.
"This region matters greatly to us," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said after the conference in Nuuk, Greenland.
The U.S. is committed to the Arctic Council's mission as well as the challenges the Arctic faces, Clinton said, including possible resource development.
Although numerous logistical challenges to oil and gas exploration in the region remain, the U.S. Geological Survey estimates that as much of a third of the world's undiscovered gas and 13 percent of its undiscovered oil may be in the offshore Arctic, in relatively shallow water.
Read more:

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May 16, 2011

May 15, Nakba Day: The Truth About Palestine

Not surprisingly, there is very little truth being told about Palestinians on this day. Juan Cole is an exception.
Palestinian outside PalestineImage via Wikipedia
In 1948, European Jewish settlers in British Mandate Palestine ethnically cleansed some 700,000 Palestinians, depriving them of the country promised them by the League of Nations in 1920 when it recognized Palestine as a Class A Mandate and charged Britain with bringing the new country into existence. (Syria and Iraq were also Class A Mandates, i.e. former Ottoman and Hapsburg territories now thought candidates for independent nationhood). Instead, Israel came into existence, born in a revolt against the British and a civil war with the Palestinians who formed over two-thirds of the population of Palestine.. Palestinians who had lived in what became Israel were forced by the Zionist military north to Lebanon, east to the West Bank, Syria and Jordan, and south into the Gaza Strip and Egypt. Most of those expelled from their homes were civilian non-combatants and some had informal peace agreements with inhabitants of neighboring Jewish settlements. There are now some 12 million Palestinians, given natural increase. About 1.5 million live in Israel and have a precarious citizenship, being only 20% of the population of an avowedly Jewish state. There are about 3.6 million in Jordan who have citizenship and another 140,000 or so (mainly from Gaza) who do not. The some 400,000 in Lebanon do not have citizenship, nor do the 450,000 in Syria. There are about 4 million in Gaza and the West Bank under Israeli military occupation who lack citizenship in a state.
Palestinians thus became a scattered, largely refugee people, lacking a state that would guarantee them basic rights and human dignity. In Lebanon, where I have done interviewing with them, they cannot own property, mostly cannot work, cannot get permission to travel to Syria or Jordan.
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May 11, 2011

Secret Pakistani Deal with US on Bin Laden

SHANKSVILLE, PA - MAY 2:  Newspapers left by v...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
Did I miss this on network news? Or has the MSM just become a GOP propaganda machine?
It turns out that when President Obama ordered the Navy SEALs to get Usama Bin Laden in Abbotabad, he did not infringe against Pakistani sovereignty after all. Rather, he was acting in accordance with a longstanding secret agreement between Washington and Islamabad, according to The Guardian. The agreement even stipulated that the Pakistani government would be constrained by public opinion to condemn the US action in the aftermath, however insincere the rebuke might be.
Those who are unnecessarily worrying that Obama’s raid was lawless or set a precedent can rest easy; the only precedent is not military, but rather for back-room deals among governments who then put on public Kabuki plays.  More.

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April 27, 2011

Corporate Welfare Royalty

Thanks to Bernie Sanders, the word is getting out about corporate welfare. Thanks to Juan Cole for the heads up.

April 12, 2011

Wisconsin is not Broke, “Budget Crisis” a Fraud

As it always is, "crises" are created by Republican leadership to justify "sacrifice" that undermines the middle class and enriches the super rich. Republicans then have unlimited funds to run in elections and create propaganda machines to start all over again.
Scott Walker in 2007 at Marquette University a...Image via Wikipedia
Wisconsin was not and is not “broke.” Its pension system gets a “gold star” for soundness, and it has no enduring structural shortfall in revenues. Gov. Scott Walker gave business a $500 million tax break and caused the budget deficit thereby, and then claimed that social spending had to be slashed and public unions destroyed because the state is “broke.”
Cutting taxes on the rich does not create “jobs,” as the first 8 years of the 21st century conclusively demonstrated. It throws more money to the rich, who use it to buy legislators to induce more tax cuts on the super-rich, so that over the past 20 years the rich have amassed four times as much wealth as they had before, while the average wage of the average worker in real terms is virtually where it was in 1970. Cutting taxes on the rich is a way of taxing the middle class and imposing extra burdens on working families.

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