Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

cbsnews.com
May 20, 2011

The International Monetary Fund is an organization with hazy sexual norms, leading to an unusually high number of intra-office romances and endemic sexual harassment and misconduct, according to a New York Times article Thursday based on documents and anecdotal reports.

The indictment of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who resigned as the IMF’s chief Wednesday less than a week after being charged with the sexual assault of a chambermaid at a New York hotel, has put a renewed spotlight on the culture at the Washington, D.C.-based finance and development organization, where, the Times reports, “employees are regularly pressed together for weeks on end during overseas ‘missions'” fostering “a climate in which romances often flourish — and lines are sometimes crossed.”

Strauss-Kahn has faced charges of sexual misconduct in the past — both in the U.S. and abroad. In 2008 the IMF found that he had not broken any rules by sleeping with a female employee. A candidate to succeed Strauss-Kahn has run into resistance because of a sexual relationship with a subordinate.

The IMF itself seemed to condone such relationships, stating in its internal rules that “intimate personal relationships between supervisors and subordinates do not, in themselves, constitute harassment,” a rule at variance from typical corporate or organizational policy in the U.S.

One former IMF employee described the atmosphere as being “like ‘Pirates of the Caribbean,'” although the article also points to cultural differences as a source of potential misunderstandings about appropriate conduct.

washingtonexaminer.com
Brian Hughes
May 9, 2011

With the death of Osama bin Laden firmly cementing President Obama’s commander-in-chief credentials, the White House is eager to parlay the triumph into leverage for widespread defense cuts that have been met with stiff resistance from Republicans on Capitol Hill.

At a minimum, the raid on bin Laden’s compound fortifies the president’s pledge to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in July, and softens Republican backlash against scaling back an increasingly unpopular war.

Yet, those calling for a fundamental shift in how the United States funds the military — arguing that the current model reflects an outdated, massive boots-on-the-ground approach — say this can be a turning point for a push that has long been deemed political suicide.

“The reason Democrats had trouble in the past is they were perceived as weak on defense,” said Lawrence Korb, assistant defense secretary under President Ronald Reagan. “Getting rid of public enemy No. 1 dispels that. Obama can say we’re going to do this and has the credibility to back it up.”

On the heels of widespread cuts instituted by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Obama is proposing $400 billion more in defense spending reductions over the next 12 years. Since the Sept. 11 terrorist strikes, the Pentagon budget has skyrocketed from just over $300 billion annually to about $700 billion this year.

However, some predict that even a political victory of last week’s magnitude will carry little weight with Republicans, who see little advantage in reducing the military budget and defense projects in their home districts.

“While this gives him some credibility on defense issues, it’s hard to see how it’s going to make a major difference,” said University of Wisconsin political science professor Kenneth Mayer. “It’s not like Obama can walk into [House Speaker John] Boehner’s office and say, ‘We killed Osama bin Laden, you can trust me.’ That’s not how it works.”

And as Obama’s predecessors have learned, political capital tends to dissipate quickly.

After Sept. 11, President George W. Bush’s job approval soared to levels never before achieved in modern politics. Yet Bush had difficulty persuading a Republican-controlled Congress to pass many of his political priorities, including an overhaul of Social Security.

Others say that, if anything, bin Laden’s death will be used to resist short-term defense cuts.

“I’m not so sure the president will use this to push for those cuts,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a defense policy expert at the Brookings Institution. “I think he’s going to be a little hawkish and try to prevent people from rushing for the exits.”

Though many Republicans oppose Obama’s proposed cuts in defense spending, more of those on the right are embracing some form of defense cuts as a part of a broader plan to reduce the budget deficit.

“The president is on a high rise as he spikes the ball and pumps his fist,” said Winslow Wheeler, director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information. “He could get what he wants.”

Yet, Wheeler said the president’s proposal left much to be desired, noting that his proposed cuts are only about a third of what his own deficit commission recommended.

“If you propose nothing, it’s not hard to achieve,” he said, calling the Obama cuts “completely pathetic.”

Global Research
Patrick Martin
October 13, 2010

In its main editorial Sunday, the New York Times, the major voice of what passes for liberalism in America, openly defends the right of the US government to assassinate anyone it pleases. The only restriction the Times suggests is that the president should be required to have his selection of murder victims rubber-stamped by a secret court like the one that now approves 99.99 percent of all electronic eavesdropping requests.

The apologia for killing begins with a blatant lie about the US assassination program using missiles fired from CIA-operated drone aircraft flying along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The Times claims, citing official US government sources: “The drone program has been effective, killing more than 400 Al Qaeda militants this year alone, according to American officials, but fewer than 10 noncombatants.”

Actually, Pakistani government officials estimated the number of civilians killed by drone attacks in 2009 alone at more than 700, with an even higher figure this year, as the Obama administration has rained missiles and bombs on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.(See “US drone missiles slaughtered 700 Pakistani civilians in 2009” .)

A report in the Pakistani newspaper Dawn concluded, “For each Al-Qaeda and Taliban terrorist killed by US drones, 140 innocent Pakistanis also had to die. Over 90 per cent of those killed in the deadly missile strikes were civilians, claim authorities.”

The Times editors cannot be unaware of these well-established figures, since their own journalists have reported a civilian death toll from US missile strikes in Pakistan of some 500 by April 2009, and 100 to 500 more through April 2010. They lie shamelessly and deliberately in order to conceal the significance of their endorsement of such widespread killing.

The editorial claims that US drone missile attacks are legal under international law as self-defense, but this is flatly rejected by human rights groups and legal experts, except those who work as paid apologists for the CIA and Pentagon. The United States is not at war with Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia, but US missiles have struck the territory of all these countries and annihilated their citizens.

In a 29-page report to the United Nations Human Rights Council in June, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Philip Alston, rejected the doctrine of “preemptive self-defense” employed by the Bush and Obama administrations, as well as the state of Israel, and declared that a targeted killing outside actual warfare “is almost never likely to be legal.”

In an accompanying statement, Alston pointed out the consequences if such a doctrine were to become universal. He declared: “If invoked by other states, in pursuit of those they deem to be terrorists and to have attacked them, it would cause chaos.”

The Times concedes, “it is not within the power of a commander in chief to simply declare anyone anywhere a combatant and kill them, without the slightest advance independent oversight.” The editorial argues that such arbitrary killings can be prevented through procedural safeguards of a purely cosmetic character.

These would include the Obama administration making public “its standards for putting people on terrorist or assassination lists,” limiting targets to “only people who are actively planning or participating in terror, or who are leaders of Al Qaeda or the Taliban”; capturing instead of killing, where possible; and “oversight outside the administration,” i.e., the aforementioned judicial review by a body like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Yes, if only the Nazis had followed “proper procedures.”

In the mealymouthed language that has become typical of the Times as it provides “liberal” justifications for the crimes of US imperialism, the editors insist that in the case of US citizens, “the government needs to employ some due process before depriving someone of life,” adding that, “If practical, the United States should get permission from a foreign government before carrying out an attack on its soil.”

The Times editorial admits that in the much-publicized case of Anwar al-Awlaki, the US-born Muslim cleric now living in Yemen, the Obama administration has acted in a manner diametrically opposed to the procedure the newspaper claims to favor. Awlaki has been targeted for assassination, based on criteria that are secret and unreviewable. The Justice Department has gone to court to assert the “state secrets” privilege to quash a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, on behalf of Awlaki’s father, seeking to compel the government to justify or rescind its death sentence.

No evidence has been presented that Awlaki, a longtime publicist for Islamic fundamentalism, has engaged in actual terrorist actions. And as the Timesitself admits, “If the United States starts killing every Islamic radical who has called for jihad, there will be no end to the violence.” But the editors are nonetheless willing to place their confidence in the Obama administration, even to the point of giving it powers of life and death over citizens of the US and other countries alike.

The Times editorial reeks of cynicism. It advances arguments that convince no one, and are not intended to convince, only to provide a screen of words for a policy of imperialist barbarism and reaction. It is one more demonstration that, within the US financial aristocracy, there is no constituency whatsoever for the defense of democratic rights.

The open reactionaries like the Wall Street Journal and Fox News display their bloodlust unashamedly. The “liberals” like the Times prefer a dose of hypocritical moralizing and legalistic quibbling. The consequences for humanity are the same.

 

Rolling Stone
Matt Taibbi
October 8, 2010

It’s amazing, given the attention the Tea Party allegedly is paying to government waste and government spending, that there hasn’t been more controversy about the now-seemingly-inevitable arrival of “QE2” – a second massive round of money-printing cooked up by the Fed to prop up both the government and certain sectors of the economy. A more overtly anticapitalist and oligarchical pattern of behavior than the Fed’s “Quantitative Easing” program could not possibly be imagined, but the country is strangely silent on the issue.

What is “QE”? The first round of “quantitative easing” was a program announced by Ben Bernanke last March in response to the financial crisis, ending in March of this year. In what will soon be known as “QE1”(i.e. once QE2 is announced), Bernanke printed over a trillion dollars out of thin air, then used that money to buy, among other things, mortgage-backed securities (MBS) and Treasury Bonds. In other words, the government was printing money to a) lend to itself and b) prop up the housing market, with Wall Street stepping in to take a big cut.

That was QE1. There has long been speculation that another trillion-plus money-printing program called QE2 is coming, but only recently have there been concrete hints from the Fed along those lines. Among other things, New York Fed Vice President Brian Sack just this week squeaked out a comment about how, “In terms of the benefits, balance-sheet expansion appears to push financial conditions in the right direction.” Translating into English, “balance-sheet expansion” means the Fed adding to its balance sheet, i.e. printing money to buy stuff – i.e. QE2.

Thanks to that and other hints, most everyone now expects the Fed to announce a new QE program in November. The big banks have now openly begun to predict this, with JP Morgan Chase among others raising its odds of the Fed buying mortgages in the next 6 months from 10% to 50%. Another effect we’re seeing is that mortgage originators are hiring again, in anticipation of being able to fork out QE-funded mortgages.

QE is difficult to understand and the average person could listen to a Fed official talk about it for two hours right to his face and not understand even the basic gist of his speech. The ostensible justification for QE is to use a kind of financial shock-and-awe approach to jump-starting the economy, but its effects for ordinary people are hard to calculate. Theoretically the entire country has some sort of stake in this program, as (among other things) U the Homeowner may see your home value stay stable or fall less than it would have thanks to this artificial stimulus. You also may be able to buy a house when you wouldn’t before, thanks to declining mortgage rates.

And jobs, I suppose, may theoretically be created by all this dollar meth being injected into the financial bloodstream – although the inflationary effect of printing trillions upon trillions of new dollars would probably wipe out the value of the money you make at that job. When it comes to calculating what QE actually does for you, or how much it harms you, that question is just very hard to answer.

But one thing we know for sure is that big banks and Wall Street speculators are real, immediate beneficiaries of the program, as they suddenly have trillions of printed dollars flowing through the financial system, with endless ways to profit on the new chips entering the casino.

And by an amazing coincidence, many of the biggest players in the financial services industry have a habit of buying up MBS or Treasuries just before these magical money-printing programs of the Fed send their respective values soaring. If you own a big fund, for instance, and you know that the Fed is about to buy a trillion dollars of mortgage-backed-securities through a new Quantitative Easing program, buying a buttload of MBS a few weeks early is a pretty easy way to make a risk-free fortune. One of the worst-kept secrets on Wall Street is that the big bankers and fund managers get signals about the Fed’s intentions about things like QE well before they are announced to the rest of us losers in the public.

A hilarious example of this cozy insiderism popped up just a few weeks ago, when PIMCO bond fund chief Bill Gross let it slip on a live CNBC interview that he was getting inside info from the Fed. The interview is with former Goldman analyst and (now) CNBC anchor Erin Burnett, as well as my slimeball former colleague from the Moscow Times and (now) CNBC bobblehead Steve Liesman, who slobber typically over the bond king in the segment.

Gross at one point says this:

“What is important going into November is the staff forecast for economic growth for the next 12-18 months. Our understanding is that the Fed is about to downgrade their forecast from 3% down to 2%. Which in turn would suggest that unemployment won’t be coming down… and so that would be the trigger to my way of thinking for Quantitative Easing in November.”

The admission is so untoward that the ex-Goldmanite Burnett immediately races to clean up the problem, saying to Liesman, who is also on the panel, “We don’t have that forecast yet, right, Steve?”

At which point the ever-helpful Liesman replies, “We won’t get that for 3 weeks, Erin. That’s when it comes out with the minutes of this meeting .”

Check out 5:20 of this video (courtesy of Zero Hedge):

There are so many different ways for Wall Street guys to make risk-gazillions off of QE, it’s not even funny. When I was researching the “Wall Street Bailout Hustle” story last year, for instance, I learned about one fund that loaded up on MBS before the first QE announcement, then saw their MBS skyrocket in value after QE – at which point the fund sold off a lot of its MBS holdings and bought Treasuries, effectively taking money from the Fed and lending it right back to the government at interest.

CNSnews.com
Dan Joseph
October 05, 2010

(CNSNews.com) – Almost 23 million American households have already had their federal taxes raised by an average of $3,900 this year, but they may not know it yet.

They could get a big surprise when they prepare their tax returns next year.

Among those subject to this already-in-place tax increase are some families making less than $50,000 per year, and virtually all married couples earning between $100,000 and $500,000 a year, according to data published by the Congressional Budget Office.

This insidious tax hike is contrary to President Barack Obama’s repeated promise not to increase taxes on any individual earning less than $200,000 a year or on any household earning less than $250,000.

This tax increase on almost 23 million people will happen if Congress does not quickly pass legislation that temporarily increases the amount of income exempt from the Alternative Minimum Tax.

The temporary reprieve passed by Congress for each of the past nine years expired on Dec. 31, 2009, and so far, Congress has not extended the AMT “fix” for 2010.

According to the CBO, an estimated 4.5 million American households were subject to the AMT in 2009, and 27.2 million are now liable to pay the AMT for the 2010 tax year unless Congress acts before Dec. 31. Under current law, at least 22.7 million American households that did not have to pay the AMT last year will have to pay it on the income they have been earning since Jan. 1 of this year.

Repealing the AMT completely and permanently would add $626 billion to the federal debt over the next ten years, according to CBO.

The AMT was enacted in 1969 and was intended to impose taxes on high-income individuals who used deductions and loopholes to reduce or eliminate their liability under the regular income tax. Because the tax has not been adjusted for inflation since then, additional families at progressively lower income levels become subject to the tax each year.

The tax especially hits married couples with children and mortgages because of the deductions and credits they are allowed under federal income tax laws. “Because of the particular tax preferences and exemptions disallowed under the AMT, that tax structure is more likely to affect married couples, large families, and taxpayers in states with high state and local taxes,” says CBO.

Past Congresses and presidents have chosen to enact protective one-year “patches” that temporarily increase the income threshold subject to the AMT thus protecting between 10 and 30 million Americans from the tax. So far this year, Congress, which adjourned last week, has failed to take action on the matter. If Congress fails to renew the “patch” before Dec. 31, according to CBO, the 27 million Americans subjected to the AMT this year will see their tax bills rise by an average of $3,900.

Of the households that will be hit with the AMT this year under current law, according to CBO, 3 percent are households making less than $50,000 a year, 35 percent are household making between $50,000 and $100,000 per years; 47 percent are households making between $100,000 and $200,000 per year; and 14 percent are households making between $200,000 and $500,000 per year.

As the law now stands, virtually all married couples in America earning between $100,000 and $500,000 will be hit with the AMT this year–on income they started earning ten months ago. “If nothing is changed this year, one in six taxpayers will be affected by the AMT, paying on average an additional $3,900 in tax, and nearly every married taxpayer with income between $100,000 and $500,000 will owe some alternative tax.”

Pete Sepp, executive vice president of the National Taxpayers Union, says that failure to renew the AMT patch would disproportionately hit middle-class families.

“Of the 20 to 30 million taxpayers who might get hit with AMT due to Congress’ inaction, the majority of them would be middle class,” Sepp told CNSNews.com. “The vast majority would consist of solidly middle-class taxpayers.”

Moreover, the increased tax bill would come at the worst possible time, Sepp said. “Families, especially, are experiencing low tax liabilities because they have lower incomes,” he said. “The AMT, ironically, would work in an almost contrary manner, because there would be, for example, households where one of the bread winners lost their job or had to reduce their hours, (and) would be reporting less hours, but they still may be taking the same number of exemptions and deductions for all their kids, for various other household property or operations — business that they may have. They might still be claiming the same number and types of deductions and credits, but on an even lower income.”

Jim Billimoria, spokesman for the Republican minority on the House Ways and Means Committee, told CNSNews.com that failure to renew the patch would amount to a broken promise by President Obama, who made a pledge not to raise taxes on the middle class.

“Raising taxes on millions of families during a recession with an unemployment rate stuck near 10 percent not only breaks President Obama’s tax pledge but is the wrong formula for economic growth,” Billimora said in an e-mail.

When questioned about why Congress is having such difficulty extending the AMT patch, Sepp pointed to the failure by many in the public and the media to grasp the severity of the situation.

“Why a policy that has so many horrendous implications for the middle class is allowed to bumble along like this until the final months of the year is unclear,” he told CNSNews.com. “This is something that we’ve had to do a lot of educational work on. Not only with the public, but with the media, because this is sort of being lumped in with the 2001 and 2003 tax rate extensions–and those affect the year 2011 for returns filed in 2012. The AMT affects 2010 returns filed next year, so in that sense it’s far more urgent and in fact the IRS probably won’t be able to retool its operations quickly enough to allow for a smooth filing season for people with AMT issues.”

Bryan Ellis, tax policy director for Americans for Tax Reform, told CNSNews.com that there may be political motives behind the failure by the Democratic majority to enact a patch.

“If the Democrats wanted to get rid of the AMT and do so without having to worry about all of the tax increases or not worrying about PAYGO, and just get rid of it, that would get 400 votes in the House,” Ellis said. “It would get the votes of virtually every Republican and virtually every Democrat.”

But a Congress that simply voted to eliminate the AMT without making equivalent spending cuts would be adding to the $626 billion to the ten-year deficit that CBO estimates as the cost of such a move.