Left In Lowell

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September 15, 2008

Social Security Lost

by at 11:36 am.

Such would be the headlines… DarkSyde at dkos points out the chilling idea that if the Bush plan to privatize Social Security had been successful, millions of seniors and soon-to-be-retired would be losing their SS checks and be bankrupt.

I hadn’t even thought of that until I read this, but he’s right. As his title points out, “Past Results are no Guarantee of Future Performance.” The market is, at its core, a gamble, and someone is always left holding the bag (generally the taxpayer, as conservatives insist on abandoning their precious “free market” principles and bailing out lumbering companies who made bad choices).

Merrill Lynch. Lehman Brothers. Household names and longtime firms. If they’ve gone under, what could possibly be next?

August 18, 2008

Bush May Break the Internets?

by at 12:19 pm.

Unbelievable. Anyone who says George W. Bush is the Security President ought to have their head examined. Just more proof that it matters who you elect, folks.

(Again, tip o’ the hat to my husband.)

August 5, 2008

Did They Do More Than Make It Up?

by at 3:05 pm.

Ron Suskind is known for being a heavy-hitting journalist. It’s he who was told by a Bush administration official that he was part of “what we call the reality-based community” and “while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.” Which is, of course, why the words “reality-based community” is proudly displayed on progressive blog sites the internet over (including this blog).

Suskind has a new book, and it’s a bombshell:

Author Ron Suskind appeared on the Today show and said that Bush ordered the CIA to forge a letter after the invasion linking Saddam Husein and al-Qaeda, in an effort to justify the invasion after the fact. His new book is “The Way of the World.”

President Bush committed an impeachable offense by ordering the CIA to to manufacture a false pretense for the Iraq war in the form of a backdated, handwritten document linking Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, an explosive new book claims.

Suskind’s sources are named and from the intelligence community who claim to have actually seen the letter and witnessed key discussions.

ThinkProgress; Today; Crooks and Liars has some excerpts and details.

June 20, 2008

Tsongas Votes Against Telco Giveaway

by at 10:17 pm.

Kudos to Rep. Niki Tsongas, who told us in the campaign that she wouldn’t capitulate to giving telecom companies immunity from their part in breaking the law and trampling our constitutional rights. She is in the list of 129 good souls who voted nay. Unfortunately, it still passed in the House. I beg the Senate to do everything, including filibustering our own Democrats if necessary, to stop this entire bill from going forward. This includes immunity for telcos, but also some of the other dangerous provisions.

And no, Senator Obama, “doing your best” to just strip immunity from the bill doesn’t cut it. Find someone on your staff to read the bill carefully, because it appears there’s a lot not to like about it (not that anyone read it thoroughly, having less than a day to review it). If your colleagues filibuster it, support that. Anything less isn’t leadership.

May 6, 2008

John Kerry on Pentagon Propaganda

by at 11:15 am.

Senator Kerry has a post on dkos today that blasts the lack of media coverage on the Pentagon propaganda NY Times article (I wrote about it here).

Not surprising the media fails to cover its own complicities in this matter. They love their “access” and don’t question the source. The precedent this sets - such large scale war propaganda on American soil - could change our democracy forever. From Kerry:

The Pentagon now says that it has suspended this program, but we still don’t know what really happened. What was the extent of the program? Did the Pentagon leverage the financial interests of the analysts? And, especially, now that the Pentagon has announced this program has been suspended, what steps are being taken to make sure it never happens again?

We know the life-or-death consequences of policy decisions in Iraq and Afghanistan — and we know that these policies should de debated and defended without secret programs designed to tailor the news for the Administration’s goals. This is too important to brush aside.

So I sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office asking for that independent office to conduct a full investigation of this program and report its findings. But what we need to do is show that the people are watching this. I sent out an email yesterday to the johnkerry.com community asking everyone who agrees with me to sign on as co-signers to the letter I sent to the GAO.

I ask all of you here to join me as well.

Click here, read the letter I sent to the GAO, and add your voice to those of us who are demanding answers.

Somebody needs to hold the administration and the media to account. The independent GAO is known for its investigations into serious matters. I think this is a good move on the Senator’s part.

April 21, 2008

Bush Propaganda: It Was Worse Than We Thought

by at 12:27 pm.

Everyone online is talking about this new NY Times report on the way the Bush administration used thinly veiled bribery to get retired military officers out on the airwaves to support Bush policies. It’s as big a news story as it sounds.

To the public, these men are members of a familiar fraternity, presented tens of thousands of times on television and radio as “military analysts” whose long service has equipped them to give authoritative and unfettered judgments about the most pressing issues of the post-Sept. 11 world.

Hidden behind that appearance of objectivity, though, is a Pentagon information apparatus that has used those analysts in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance, an examination by The New York Times has found.

The effort, which began with the buildup to the Iraq war and continues to this day, has sought to exploit ideological and military allegiances, and also a powerful financial dynamic: Most of the analysts have ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air.

In other words, those who took full advantage of the industrial military complex’s revolving door for outgoing military personnel. People who had every financial reason to support going to war and staying there, as their companies or clients were, and are, raking in millions.

This is the embodiment of what Eisenhower warned about.

[Retired military a]nalysts have been wooed in hundreds of private briefings with senior military leaders, including officials with significant influence over contracting and budget matters, records show. They have been taken on tours of Iraq and given access to classified intelligence. They have been briefed by officials from the White House, State Department and Justice Department, including Mr. Cheney, Alberto R. Gonzales and Stephen J. Hadley.

In turn, members of this group have echoed administration talking points, sometimes even when they suspected the information was false or inflated. Some analysts acknowledge they suppressed doubts because they feared jeopardizing their access.

A few expressed regret for participating in what they regarded as an effort to dupe the American public with propaganda dressed as independent military analysis.

The article is pages long, and is something every American should read. Why now? Because the information has finally come to light:

Five years into the Iraq war, most details of the architecture and execution of the Pentagon’s campaign have never been disclosed. But The Times successfully sued the Defense Department to gain access to 8,000 pages of e-mail messages, transcripts and records describing years of private briefings, trips to Iraq and Guantánamo and an extensive Pentagon talking points operation.

The documents released by the Pentagon do not show any quid pro quo between commentary and contracts. But some analysts said they had used the special access as a marketing and networking opportunity or as a window into future business possibilities.

Disgusting. Those are your kids, sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, cousins…your tax dollars…and your country, your media, which have been used, abused, and cynically manipulated for years.

Many also shared with Mr. Bush’s national security team a belief that pessimistic war coverage broke the nation’s will to win in Vietnam, and there was a mutual resolve not to let that happen with this war.

The free press won’t suit us, because they might report things that make people unhappy, so we’ll just stop that little nagging inherent right of all Americans dead cold.

It goes on. Read it.

March 22, 2008

Killing Our Own Troops

by at 9:52 am.

This is how our executive branch supports our troops??

If you were watching Countdown tonight, you saw Keith Olbermann in his “Bushed” segment report that at least 12 service members have been electrocuted in Iraq due to faulty wiring at facilities maintained by Halliburton spinoff company KBR. As appalling as that is, the details are even worse.

The diarist quotes a Houston Chronicle article:

At least a dozen soldiers and Marines have been electrocuted in Iraq over the five years of the war, and investigators now are trying to learn what role improper grounding of electrical wires played in those deaths.

And Houston-based KBR — which builds bases and maintains housing for U.S. troops in Iraq — is at the center of the probe, with questions being raised about its responsibility to repair known wiring problems.

On the fifth anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, California Democrat Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, sent a letter Wednesday to Defense Secretary Robert Gates seeking details about electrocutions of military and contract workers in Iraq and about KBR’s role in making electrical repairs.

KBR had been contracted to provide maintenance on the building in 2007, the memo said.

Maseth was killed, the memo said, when an electrical water pump shorted out after he had stepped into the shower and turned on the water.

An electrical current then passed through the water pipes to a metal shower hose in the shower.

This is just gut-wrenching. We have got to halt all contracts to this Halliburton subsidiary. Or any other Bush crony corporation which is war profiteering in Iraq or Afghanistan.

March 15, 2008

Too Much Debt, Not Enough Income

by at 10:17 am.

Bush’s economic policy has had real world consequences. You know it and I know it. It does matter who you elect. I can’t stress that enough…as cynical as I am, as disappointed in my own party as I often am, I still think it matters. Leadership at the top dictates how well your government runs; your economy, your foreign policy, and your regulatory bodies.

Jerome a Paris over at dKos always has the most comprehensive economic diaries. Often, they go way over my head. But this one really helps lay out the “rules” (or lack thereof) that the Bush economy relied on, and why it was so terrible. It outlines that a country which spends more than it makes, whether that’s the enormous trade deficit, or the rampant government borrowing, or the individual debt rate, will eventually have to pay the piper. It seems like common sense. Nothing is free forever.

But I get the feeling that this is part of an attempt (likely to get louder as things get worse) to blame the “foreign” bit rather than the “credit” bit.

I hope I’m wrong, but as we begin to see loud calls for bailouts (unfair, as they reward the bankers that created the problem n the first place, but, you see, the alternative is worse), the availability of a ready-made outsider scapegoat is likely to be irresistible.

And yet, the fact remains that the problem is not who provided the credit, but the fact that it was provided in such large amounts.

Did anyone really think that credit could be extended to float the economy forever? How could anyone who claimed to be an MBA president be so stupid? Now we have a falling dollar, and the banks are asking for their money due before extending more credit, and the assets that we borrowed to buy are getting to be worth less and less as there are fewer people who want them.

Because that sea of debt had one real purpose: hide the fact that income for most are stagnating.

I never tire of posting this graph of the “W economy”, because it summarises in a nutshell what happened: growth happened, but did not trickle down to the middle classes, let alone the poor. Thanks to wage stagnation, made possible by the threats of outsourcing and offshorisation, and by the demonisation, emasculation or dismantlement of regulations and institutions (like unions) protecting workers, the fruits of growth have been captured by a very few - and this has been hidden because consumption was propped up by readily available debt and the apparently growing virtual wealth of homeowners.

The problem is that, while a lot of that growth was illusory (and is now unravelling), the wealth capture that took place thanks to it was very real, and, in particular, the mechanisms ensuring that an ever grower share of the pie got into a few lucky hands are still in place, and will bite even more harshly as the pie shrinks.

And what’s more, this is masked by the “conventional wisdom” of economic political policy: free trade good, protectionism always bad.

The current economic consensus - that of “labor market reform”, of “unsustainable liabilities of Medicare”, of “protectionism is the ultimate danger” - in short, of those that think that economic prosperity is correctly summarised by the value of the Dow Jones Index is the one that has been cheerleading the shrinking of the share of the pie (remember: labor market reform = lower wages. Full stop), and they are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

And you see that all the remedies are focusing on ways to make the pie be (or better, look) bigger than it can - more money injections, more cheap debt, more support for the financial sector.

They are the problem, not the solution.

Jerome a Paris tells us there is a simple, common sense solution to all this. There always has been.

Too much debt and not enough income was the problem.

And the solution is simple: stop debt (this is happening on its own anyway). and boost income.

How do you do that when there isn’t enough money around?

By creating real activity rather than the money-shuffling kind.

He even gets really specific - solve our current climate crisis and create “real” value instead of fake ballooning debt value:

And, as it were, there is a sector that is “real” and has an urgent need for action: infrastructure, and in particular energy-related infrastructure.

A plan that focuses on a few simple things:

  • massive public support for energy efficiency refurbishment of existing homes;
  • a massive, New Deal rural electrifaction scale plan to build renewable energy assets and the corresponding grid infrastructure;
  • a similarly massive plan to develop smart public transportation, both locally and intercity;

Spending the money currently wasted in Iraq on these 3 things alone would provide a real boost to the economy in the sectors that actually need it, would reduce oil&gas consumption and carbon emissions, and be an actual investment in the future, as opposed to the current drain on the future that’s been engineered via debt used on mindless consumption of junk.

Add in plans to boost minimum wage, reinforce union rights and tax imports of carbon-rich goods, and you’d have a pretty damn good economic - and geopolitical programme.

Like any household planning a smart budget, the federal government can be responsible in the choices it makes, the way it encourages money to be produced and moved around, and in how it regulates money (for instance, not allowing the banks to make stupid bad loans now so we can reduce the pain in the future). All of this dictates the government telling us how to do some things, or telling business how to do some things. But the alternative is to have huge ups and downs in the economy, to have stagnant wages for the middle class and the poor, and for the rich to get far richer. Laissez-faire failed this time around, as it always has. As Jerome a Paris says (bold mine),

Because the problem is the most of America’s population is living, by design, above its means. It is kept dependent, fearful and distracted while the happy few gorge. Call it what it is: class war. Time to fight back.

March 10, 2008

Think They Wouldn’t? They Did

by at 1:50 pm.

Information is a precious and precarious commodity these days. Many “trusted” companies you do business with are selling their data on you to other companies. Junk mail and spam attack you at all angles, scams abound, and the universe is getting smaller and smaller.

Conservatives and liberals alike ought to be very, very frightened of our Big Brother culture. Because Big Brother is doing it…again:

Siobhan Gorman of The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that the National Security Agency has assembled what some intelligence officials admit is a driftnet for domestic and foreign communications.

Here’s the way the whole thing works, according to Gorman: into the NSA’s massive database goes data collected by the Justice Department, Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Treasury. This information includes data about email (recipient and sender address, subject, time sent), internet searches (sites visited and searches conducted), phone calls (incoming and outgoing numbers, length of call, location), financial information (wire transfers, credit-card use, information about bank accounts), and information from the DHS about airline passengers.
[…]
Gorman describes the NSA’s effort (elements of which have been reported before) as basically a resurrection of the Pentagon’s Total Information Awareness program, which of course was de-funded by Congress once the details became public.

OK, so the NSA figured out that naming a program Total Information Awareness sounded really Orwellian. So they changed the name and kept doing it - even after Congress said “No!”. Can someone tell me just where the due process is? Hello? Do we even have a Bill of Rights anymore?

And how important do you think it is to keep telecom immunity out of the FISA bill now?

February 19, 2008

FCC Public Hearing, Boston

by at 3:55 pm.

This is very very important, folks! From an email I just got from SaveTheInternet.com:

Comcast, AT&T and Verzion have given us a glimpse of a world without Net Neutrality, and it’s a chilling sight.

In recent months, these cable and phone companies have repeatedly been caught blocking, filtering and spying on your Internet activities. If we let them get away with this, these powerful companies will continue to roll back our freedoms whenever we go online.

Now the Federal Communications Commission is coming to Boston to investigate. Will you attend this important event?

WHAT: A Public Hearing on the Future of the Internet
WHEN: Monday, Feb 25, 2008
TIME: 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
WHERE: Harvard Law School, Ames Courtroom, Austin Hall
1515 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138
Directions: http://www.law.harvard.edu/about/contact/directions.php/

More information: www.savetheinternet.com/=boston

The question before us is simple: Will we have a closed Internet controlled by a small handful of giant corporations, or an open Internet controlled by the people who use it?

With so much at stake, it’s encouraging that the FCC’s first move is to come to Boston for public feedback about the importance of a free-flowing Internet. Let’s hope this important hearing in Massachusetts is just the beginning of a national conversation that spreads to every town and city across the country.

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