Bombs, Beds and Benefits

DDBad, bad stuff going round. A dangerous mystique. Macabre riddles and atomized vapors of blood. Thieving from the dead. Justifications without prayers. Turning the smiling children back to the vipers nest. Turning the rivers into toxic stew. Paying billions for doubling down on cheating and walking away free. Dropping the no-knock tradition of bombing to provide five minutes of pre-terror before the incoming kills the noncombatant outgoing, the grandmothers and their grandchildren. Strikes at invisible, unseen weapons and munitions that never go off—are we too stupid to have common sense? Where are the secondary implosions? Only dead civilians exploding. Only the dead silenced. The lies go on. Like drones. Mid-air explosions. Loud. They hurt our ears and brains. Bad stuff: death, lies, and theft. The wholesale breach of universal taboos.

In 8th grade algebra we learned about proof. If you make a statement, it must withstand questioning and challenges, it cannot be veiled in secret pretenses without transparent evidence. On C-SPAN, I watched an ambassador’s blithe disregard for these ancient conventions and modern principles: trust his country, he cooed; they have the goods; we don’t, nor will we be informed—but proof is evidence of logic’s action and reaction; if you blow up munition stashes, secondary explosions happen; if you fire rockets from dense urban neighborhoods whose rumble now makes passage impossible, how do you do so without neighbors protesting the stupidity of a tactical senseless risk; how do you get munitions in and out of these dense population centers, now collapsed heaps of rubble; where are the photographs, the evidence; the fire trails released in the videos of the opposing forces don’t show launches from the middle of civilian neighborhoods.

Why have only neighborhoods been taken out—warned by “the knock,” an unarmed thud on the roofs announcing the coming doom of fire and destruction; informed by dropped leaflets—are leaflets dropped on sites of viable military targets: are tunnels blown up above ground, and where are the secondary explosions, the fireworks that mark the site of a struck cache. How come there is 100 % accuracy with the dome of missile intercepts without knowing the place or time of missiles launched, and 0 % targeting and destroying of the sites and mechanics of the launches?

Is the air game for the country that suffered no causalities in its defense or from missile attacks for 10 days that much better than its ground game? Where’s the evidence that offers proof? That shows the world why neighborhoods have to been destroyed. Are these military targets? If we can be shown the destruction in the air and on the ground, can’t we see the proof?

Rattlesnakes, immoral smugglers, dehydration, and personal risk have not been able to achieve a goal near to the hearts of many of America’s citizens: turning back the cavalcade of children landing on our shores of sagebrush plains, now guarded by the National Guard whose mission is “greet and hold,” and to facilitate federal law. A deterrent force? No. But better than the current police departments around the country that have launched their own killing sprees, acting as invincible vigilantes.

It was Ramadan when the war began. At least one mosque has been blown up. It hoarded no weapons. At home, some think a bed and a 1,500 calorie meal is a greater incentive to come to America than hope and promise. They are foolish. Motivation is never about bread alone. Freedom fighters who steal from the dead they have mistakenly killed give Marx and Mao a legacy of despicable corruption; yet no one has asked if all Russians rob their dead. But the children are stereotyped as beggars of bread.

I remember the first time I saw an injured person robbed. A homeboy got hit by a car crossing the street and before the ambulance and paramedics could come, folk emptied his pockets and stripped his feet of shoes. Continue reading Bombs, Beds and Benefits

Republican Obstruction Gives Way to Reduction

DDAlong with Republican obstructionism, add another wedge-based, ideological power tool: reductionism. Reduce every incident of the magnitude of the world’s greatest tragedies to a simple formula of failure and lay them neatly at the President’s feet.

In the Republican playbook, reductionism is a call to action; it focuses on President Obama as the enemy-in-chief; at once inept and over-reaching, an indecisive President making too many decisions, a weak President who has preserved America’s peace, a budget-cutter who spends too much, a President who ignores Congress after spending an entire term seeking a Grand Bargain with the Republican Speaker; an international leader who has squandered America’s leverage even as his policies of international sanctions are working; a leader who doesn’t understand and stifles businesses and finance, even as his Justice Department settles a civil case against a global behemoth of a bank for violations of the laws of business practices, settling for $7 billion, $2.5 billion of which will go to assist mortgage holders, with $180 million used to build affordable housing, the first time fees from government penalties will go to taxpayers.

Reduction presents a simple fact as it engages in massive distortions of the truth. True, no President in history has experienced or overseen the kind of humanitarian crisis involving children along the US southern border as Obama has, but no President has improved the US image as a beacon of hope to attract a pilgrim’s journey of thousands of children threatened by death and violence, by sexual exploitation by national gangs of drug thugs who hold power through force and intimidation in several Central American nations.

Reductionism ignores causes and settles on blame. Often without more than the appearance of evidence based on circumstances and without proof.

Reductionism is the exception that denies it’s the exception; it makes victims out of people who are then blamed as victims. It’s a double-edged sword that cuts both the leadership and the people: health care costs are rising—Obama’s fault—yet lazy workers are waiting on a handout—healthcare is affordable if you are willing to work.

Can’t find a job? Your fault. Obama’s fault.

Other reasons? Nope. The above sums it up. Well, add too many taxes on business, too much noise about higher wages, fears of inflation, too much regulation in every business sector, too much interference in what should be the rights of the states.

Reductionism works best in an atmosphere of anger. Much of the racial opposition to Obama has been reduced to anger, anger waiting to attach itself to a cause that supports its cherished conclusions of power, privilege and competence. Reductionism docks with that anger. Both are then gravity-fed by high-pressure blame. Continue reading Republican Obstruction Gives Way to Reduction

The Painful Lives of Our Youngest Pawns

DD

(Warning: Disturbing image near the end of the article.)

What does a grown man feel as he kicks and punches a child viciously in the head? What fear or anger propels the blows? Doesn’t the thud against the bone make his stomach sick? Is politics so sick with our own vitriol that we beat and kill our children and feel dead? That instead of stopping, we spread beatings and killings and harm to children who are not our own?

What makes a person strike a child until a child’s face is unrecognizable to his mother? Is swollen so badly that he cannot speak or see? What security or vengeance or justice is gained from such insanity?

In the time of the world’s greatest prosperity, attacks of all kinds on children multiply. Wealth is used to buy infants for sex to cure HIV infections in South Africa, prepubscent children are purchased for work in brothels or as brides across Asia and Africa; boys are taken from schools and given guns and drugs and taught to kill and rape as child soldiers; in Mexico, adolescents who carry out hits ordered by drug lords are given Mercedes to drive, for which they are to young to have a legal license.

A child holds a banner as she participates in an anti-Syria regime protest held by Bahrainis at United Nation Headquarters in Manama

In a global cry for help, the children who throw away despair and evil, violence and crime; the ones making a heroic witness of hope by walking across the central America isthmus, facing down the ravages of hunger and starvation, the exhausting fatigue that weighs each step (to protest against their conditions and search for a better life build on moral truth) arrive in the US to face shouting adults with signs that say, “We didn’t ask for you,” “Go back.”

The government hears their cry, turns the buses around, and sends a funding request to Capitol Hill. We seek funds for judges for hearings to deport children, to send our youngest, most innocent neighbors back. We are sending the children of the world, who have shown the greatest courage of our era, back to iniquities and atrocities. Because they have challenged our ideas and laws, we treat them like criminals—which some decry as free meals. As we do, we are making hope a crime and hate a matter of law. Communities that a generation ago didn’t lock their doors now close their borders.

Am I a bleeding heart jumping on the most recent liberal bandwagon? Am I guilty of ignoring the national balance sheet? Deaf to limits of policy? Am I advocating taking jobs and resources away from Americans? Encouraging reckless behavior? No.

Children are dreamers, not schemers. Their turning to America by a path of footprints is an act of brave hope, not cynicism. Meeting needs, material and social, helps create prosperity. The economy is not a static or fixed sum, shared by pluses and minuses. It is a dynamic, interactive system, in which issues create opportunities, and opportunities lead to jobs. Protecting, rescuing and saving children no more takes away jobs and paychecks than buying a Chinese-built iPad or iPhone—the money spent on idevices and Galaxy 5s creates no American jobs except retail and transportation, drains the trade balance, increases the deficit, and the bulk of the purchase price for idevices will rest in Apple’s cash reserves—now larger than the entire GDP of all but the world’s 55 largest countries. Continue reading The Painful Lives of Our Youngest Pawns

Freedom Isn't Protected; It's Practiced

DDThink above the noise. Blot out the video images and the inane questions about fault, authority, notification, gangs, judges, hearings, surges, resources, executive action. Find the quiet within yourself.

Think about the faces of children—your own face, your friends when you were young. Would you have walked a hundred miles when you were nine, ten, eleven? Could you have walked two, three, four, five hundred miles across three countries to reach a dirty inland river crossing a scrub bush prairie? Could you have confronted an uninhabited wilderness under a burning sun, without food or love?

The enslaved were once guided by the North Star. What guides the children—is there an intangible sense of security and freedom strong enough in young hearts to drive them from home and hugs? Should our laws make us blind to their dangers, the threats of violence they report?

Played out on our borders, stretching back into the depths of Central America to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, beginning in 2012, but rising rapidly, we are witnessing the greatest tragedy for children since the Crusades, when Europe sent children off to fight its religious wars.

It has created an internal conflict.

Protesters blocked the paved streets of Murrieta, California. Waving large American flags, they blocked the entry of three buses of children and adults to a federal border facility, calling the 140 detainees on aboard a security threat—a danger to peace and safety—chanting: “We want to be safe.”

Children, driven by fear, propelled by opportunity, who walked hundreds of miles, are blocked by organized adults (some with children!) who believe displaced children and mothers are a safety threat? Yes.

When people respond directly to human needs without regard to class, race, condition—or law—those in need become our neighbors. However they have arrived, barriers are removed. Yet the reaction of many around the nation and along the borders is one that acts as though the displaced who came in hope are our personal enemies. We see a response that says their being victims is making victims of us, too.

Many reject what seems to be the most natural of claims: the heroic demonstration of their desperation for respect, the vivid demonstration with each step of their journey of how their status has broken down at home. Some defy their need and demand the new arrivals submit to humiliation and blame, to reject the birthright which is the arc of human history and accept painful consequences for an amazing example that is no longer considered an expression of the strong relying on integrity, but the weak turning to an inner urge of calculation and cunning that is measured as mere irregular, illegal behavior. Panic and public rage form; protests begin.

Many of those protesters were answering the Mayor of Murrieta’s call. He asked his community to block the processing of the detainees at the Border Patrol station so they could not be released to the care of a group of religious volunteers who agreed to provide for them until they can receive a hearing.

With this thinking in our political leadership, we have become a threat to ourselves. Quick to point out others are breaking the law, many are exceptionally slow to recognize we are abusing freedom and violating its pillar of wise restraint and the knowledge that freedom grows when it is a gift that grows for all.

Freedom isn’t protected. It’s practiced. It’s not defined by a set of laws—those regulate society. Freedom is the space we step into after the law is in place. Do we use that space to express our fear of children without walking in their shoes? Do we call for law and order without knowing freedom demands a cry for justice?

What is right is often above and beyond the law. It is the path of living where we build community and trust.

“We didn’t ask them to come here,” one protester shouted. “We are never given sufficient warning,” a city spokeswoman said. Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone said, “This caught us all by surprise locally. We are getting 140 traumatized people. Our services are strained.”

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More than 52,000 children have crossed the southwest US border from Central America since October 2013, a 92 percent increase over the same period last year.

In May, 9,000 crossed, an all-time record. Since last October, 39,000 adults with children have been detained, another record. And the Border Patrol projects more than 240,000 illegal migrants, about three-quarters from Central America, will cross the Rio Grande Valley to enter America during this fiscal year.

And once the detainees reach the land of freedom, carrying only their dreams, in the final mile of their journey, they find their path rerouted by protesters. One held a sign: “Return to sender.”

What if God sent them, and their dreams? Are we still deferring dreams?

And are we saying God tells at least some of us who own businesses to deny birth control to women while we pay for Viagra for men through insurance. Many of those same few who who would deny women the insurance purchase of birth control buy goods from China, a country that actively practices abortion as state policy, affecting millions of families.

Those same few also invest in pension funds that hold shares in the pharmaceutical manufacturers of birth control. So God—and the Supreme Court—has said it’s okay to provide men aids for sexual dysfunction, trade with countries that have mandated abortions as official government policy, and invest in companies that make and sell the very products the women who work for them cannot buy—the women who work for the chosen few who allow their God to direct their balance sheet to trade with China and invest in pharma, many of whom insist detainees be handled by the full letter of the law. Continue reading Freedom Isn’t Protected; It’s Practiced

How Black Voters Decided Mississippi's Republican Senate Run-Off

DDListening and ordering too many songs from Amazon of Cape Verdean music as I sipped a single source Ethiopian coffee delivered by United States Postal Service (USPS) from Durham’s legendary wholesaler, Counter Coffee, I began to think about how the world is organized. Then I turned to the Republican run-off after their primary for one of the Senate seats in Mississippi.

The establishment won; Thad Cochran is the last of the Southern elder statesman who manages a pipeline of public funds for his state. First elected in 1984, he won the run-off to earn his seventh Republican nomination with help from African-American voters who hadn’t even bothered to vote in the earlier Democratic primary. Who would think Mississippi politics would transcend party labels? Not to mention race! That a Republican in a run-off would successfully turn out the African-American vote in Mississippi?

Astoundingly, the run-off drew a larger turnout than the primary two weeks earlier, It polled 374,000 voters as compared to a turn out of 319,000 for the primary; then, Cochran had trailed his party challenger by 1,500 votes after the vote. Combined, the campaigns spent $17.4 million. The Super PACs invested $11.4 million, as the outside groups invested in Cochran’s opponent by almost 2 to 1.

Never one to concede, his Tea Party opponent called Cochran’s election victory and increased turnout and broader appeal the beginning of the end of the power of the establishment in Mississippi.

What most people don’t know is that while the primaries are organized by party, Mississippi (and most states) operate under an open primary system. Voters are free to vote their interests without regard to their own party affiliation. Arizona, California, New York, Maine, Maryland, North Carolina, Florida, among others, hold closed primaries—primaries restricted to voters of a party that is indicated when voters register (and which later can be changed).

But for primaries, there is no party litmus test in Mississippi, and the Tea Party and outside PAC money created its own backlash. A last-minute suit to prevent “crossover voting,” voting by members of other parties, was dismissed. Believing their own stereotypes, they failed to realize blacks are keen political observers and understand political strategy and calculus.

The news media wouldn’t know it (and if they did, wouldn’t report it) but the winning coalition in Mississippi is old news. In South Carolina, in the 1880s, in order to end the rampant corruption under Reconstruction, the state’s highest ranking Confederate general, the commander of the Confederate Cavalry, Wade Hampton, one of the South’s largest former property holders of those enslaved, who had once talked the firebrands of the state out of seceding, ran for governor and appealed directly for the votes of the newly emancipated freemen. He won.

One of the really great moments of Civil War history is a remarkable exchange of letters over foraging between Hampton and the Union General William T. Sherman, written during Sherman’s South Carolina campaign. If you haven’t seen or read it, the official Civil War correspondence (in massive, multi-volume sets) is worth spending a day with. You are holding in your hands the accounts of the battles, the reports of the brave and the dead, the plans of action, the firsthand account of the war from the field.

Cochran’s opponent, as do so many Tea Party members, claims to support and follow the Constitution. But in their secret hearts, they want to replace it with their state’s Declarations or Ordinances of Secession. Continue reading How Black Voters Decided Mississippi’s Republican Senate Run-Off

Race and Obama: The Longstanding Silence of Hate's Empty Dream

DDFor President Obama, a list of difficulties has become the equivalent of a list of failures. If the world is a mess, it is because of his foreign policy. If Republicans are obstructionists, he didn’t “lead” and win them over. If a mid-level bureaucrat in one of the six far-flung federal districts creates a public crisis and embarrasses the government, the President should have been standing over his shoulder. Scope or scale no longer matter. The only accounting is a single ledger list of his faults—which includes policies and fights that were on Democrats’ wish list–and even things he should have done, extrapolated from current events. How dare he not have a prophetic vision?

This idea of a list of his failings has expanded to include even his obvious victories. Obama fail is a helpless craving, prompted by a President who inspired a phantasmagoria of fallacies and fear so rich that he alternates between being considered utterly inept and having embedded diabolical wiles whose ruses and ploys are able to summon and capture world-class terrorists in faraway lands on command, to protect and distract the public from his failures.

“Too neat,” several pundits have described Obama’s announcement of the capture of one of the leaders of the 2012 armed strike on the US consul in Benghazi. Add it to the list as a coarse example of another Obama political stunt.

Boehner pointedly thanked the troops.

Obama is a dumb guy who keeps terrorists in his back pockets. He stages their capture whenever he needs a political boost. The new list of failures even allows for mutually exclusive ideas.

This line item strategic equivalence of failure is assigned to every presidential action Obama undertakes—and for every event that takes place anywhere in the world. It is an easy default of add-ons that avoids a list of reasons, requires no thought, and plays well in the press.

The narrative of Obama failure is not only the one in the press. One of his difficulties is the narrative of our history. Unique to America’s DNA, that historical narrative also finds a way to wrap its tentacles around every act and view of the President. It is the host and source for his failures and has proven malleable and durable through the years.

To some, it is invisible; to others, it is denied. It is alternatively small and large. Mainly it is dismissed. But it is a silent, unspoken constant; one that makes the fur fly about equality, equal opportunity, qualifications, character, ideology, justice, safety nets, slavery, education, personal ethics, stereotypes, American strength. It is attached to our tailwinds, our progress as a nation.

The President rarely makes note of it. The few times he has, he has been excoriated for it. It has come up in jokes at the WHCD. In remarks to the press about gun violence. The fact that the President seems unfazed by it infuriates many people even more.

Its presence and weight, its burden and well known place is demonstrated by the fact that, although unnamed, by now you know exactly what I am talking about. (His birth certificate? His inexperience? His vacations? No?) It’s race.

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It has an inverse effect on his power. The greater Obama’s accomplishments, the greater the denial. The more low-key the recognition, the louder the cry that he exceeds his authority.

The media is especially culpable in creating the boxed-in myth of post-racialism—in the midst of one of the most active periods of individual and political expressions of race we have witnessed in our history.

The media drags the President down by its omission of race as a silent embed in our national noise, around since Frederick Douglass was begged and implored not to march in a Republican street parade in Washington, DC (he ended up carrying his delegation’s banner!); since W.E.B. DuBois identified its effects as a “double consciousness” regarding African-Americans; since lynchings by color persisted through the early 20th century, followed by vigilante violence and Midwestern sundown towns (all blacks out by sundown!)—since the only Supreme Court decision whose full effect of law was delayed with “all deliberate speed” (Brown v. the Board of Education, Topeka, KS). Race has been used to tarnish achievements since Dr. King’s legacy (his desire for equality made him a communist!) and before and since to justify the brutal lynching of Emmett Till, the smearing of the NBA, to advance the coverage of television reality stars who rewrite history to deny their visceral, unrelenting hate of President Obama—due to race—by making race and fault the same, with nothing between. Continue reading Race and Obama: The Longstanding Silence of Hate’s Empty Dream

Lessons Celebrating Eric Cantor's Primary Loss

DDWho speaks today of Jim Wright or Dennis Hastert?

Eric Cantor is a name that will slip easily into the past, having achieved little on his watch expect his own ambitions, which now will remain forever incomplete. The ladder of success is a two-way passage, and Cantor obviously forgot the Old Testament teachings that, among the many meanings of Jacob’s ladder, is the changing affairs of human community. Tuesday, Cantor’s fates changed; his Congressional career and ambitions perished in a hell of his own making. He wakes up today to find the gates slammed shut on his dreams.

He earned his current infamy. Yet by all accounts, he never saw it coming. That he missed what should have been in plain sight is explained in the text of an old southern African proverb: A blind mule is never afraid of the dark.

Cantor’s blindness begins when he miscalculated the dynamics of his gerrymandered district, which runs from Richmond to the Washington suburbs. His briar patch of safety was filled with thorns and he got stuck, having created many reasons for personal grudges in a district both conservative, educated and middle class–“rich and stupid” is the shorthand I have used to describe it. Conservative, yes. Loyal, no. Reactionary, yes. Racist, yes. Invested in a Koch brothers-writ future? No. Despite Cantor’s loss.

His district, which contains a fair share of federal workers with civil service protected jobs, felt empowered to vote against the political establishment and Cantor, one of its major leaders. They have direct witness of the destructiveness of current politics.

Their paychecks were cut by sequestration, a House deal Cantor bragged he originated; their paychecks were stopped by the House-engineered government shutdown, which Cantor helped enable.

These conservatives saw in Cantor grandstanding and speech-making that brought no progress or stability, that instead attacked their own tenuous hold on what was a secure government lifeline, a civil service job, with college loans at the credit union, and good health care and a generous pension fund. For them, big government mean waste, fraud, and politics; they are anti-establishment, not necessarily anti-government. The unfair sharing of spoils to benefactors they are privy to daily drove them to the cynicism at the base of conservatism.

Their positions are more nuanced than tea party supporters in North Carolina, Georgia or Mississippi. They work in government. They simply want to eliminate what they see as its unfairness, the way the system is rigged to exploit families and workers.

Cantor stood alone, exposed against the backdrop of Washington’s giant machine, but also against the backdrop of the paper work and memorandums that crossed their desks and the themes of their meetings. In every decision, they could see Eric Cantor. Take away the partisanship and he was the establishment.

He wanted his district to overlook how deeply embedded he was in the establishment, but he overlooked the daily remainders they received. Like the repeated (fifty and counting!) meaningless votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act. His smug, annoying arrogance and obvious love of power and partisan political combat didn’t help.

His district remembered he was eager to hold up federal aid after Hurricane Sandy until budget cuts “paid” for the emergency assistance to homeowners who lost everything, to others needed the basics of shelter and food. His district remembered too well that, in their time of desperation, he put the budget first, yet supported continuing tax breaks for corporations imploding with cash. Continue reading Lessons Celebrating Eric Cantor’s Primary Loss

The Five

DDI usually write analysis. I identify important points left out of the conversation (Ukrainian gas pipelines; the Koch brothers’ shadow governments in the states, race in the halls of power). I explain how these ideas and forces play out and their potential for unexpected turns. I keep open a global eye, especially in finance (recently, Argentina) and military force multipliers (the Navy’s AEGIS destroyer fleet). My slant is more German, the idea that the world has organic, multi-leveled interconnections, rather than English with its view of the sanctity of contracts or the French faith in rationalism.

I think the South wrote the book on how to leverage denial. And that Americans for Prosperity (AFP) has turned denial and fear into a major capital industry to direct politics without creating jobs. AFP just defeated a zoo levy in Columbus, Ohio by calling a slight increase in the zoo levy a “105 percent property tax hike,” calling their effort “education.”

By no means am I an Austrian, the counter flag for conservative ideology about government and markets whose views Paul Krugman describes as cockroach ideas—no matter how many times the ideas are defeated, proven wrong by experience, meticulously deconstructed by theory, they keep crawling back.

I admit I use the I Ching and find dialectical materialism, properly used, produces powerful insights. My thinking revisits the delta—not in Mississippi—but the eight grade algebraic function that calculates and expresses the rate of change, how fast and in what direction change is accelerating or slowing. My 10-year record of writings shows I’m usually a little ahead of the curve.

But today, I am writing head on. As an African-American, I understood the power of emotion and its power to color perspectives—I have witnessed six years of reactions to Barack (and Michele and the children). Frederick Douglass spoke of this emotional power to color and shape discussions in which race was a factor in his time. So did Rev. Henry Highland Garnet, who warned of those who “stand in the most sacred places on earth, and beneath the gaze of the piercing eye of God, the universal Father of all men, and declare that ‘the best possible condition of the Negro is slavery.’”

The emotional distortion at the heart of race and power in a different form is at the unspoken center of the nation’s latest firestorm and to understand it, we must return to Aristotle, to his ideas of equality. Aristotle identified two main forms of equality; the relevant one is based on proportion, which for Aristotle meant looking at distribution. How will the effects of an action be distributed? To whom? When? Why; for what end?

So, can a political party who shut down the entire US government and all of its functions—the certifications that maintain the smooth flow of commerce, its payments to small businesses, its legal protections and inspections, its funds to education, hindering the operation of the national defense—who tried to kill health care and leave the poor and elderly to die in states claiming the sanctity of balance sheets–can this party and a rabid Congress convince a nation the Republic is at Defcon One because of the release of five “high ranking” Taliban from Guantanamo in Cuba, to a year’s vacation in Qatar?

I get the anger. I don’t get the threat. Continue reading The Five

The Insanity of Capital

DDThe art of politics is lost. Money is the main candidate. The largest amount wins. You no longer need a record of civil involvement, just the right connections. Its a bidder’s war. The price of the 2016 elections will be insane.

But cash can get you in trouble. The US Attorney General, Eric Holder, announced a guilty plea to criminal charges yesterday by the international bank Credit Suisse that included fines totaling $2.6 billion. In the plea, Credit Suisse admitted actively helping its account holders to evade US taxes.

On the heels of the Attorney General’s announcement, the New York Times reported the German bank, Commerzbank, suspended two employees for manipulated the $5 trillion  daily currency market. The bank called their conduct “inappropriate.” Commerzbank issued a statement citing their “zero tolerance for non-compliance with rules and regulations.” A Swiss commission is also investigating eight institutions for colluding to manipulate global benchmark currencies, and one of those institutions is Credit Suisse.

More: A German authority also reported finding evidence of attempted currency manipulations but has decided not to pursue its findings.

In fact, the Times says:

More than two dozen traders on four continents have been placed on leave or fired as a result of internal investigations at several large financial institutions involved in foreign exchange trading, including Barclays, JPMorgan Chase and the Royal Bank of Scotland.

Deutsche Bank, the largest player in the currency trading market, with a share of about 15 percent, and Citigroup have each fired employees as a result of their own investigations.

The Bank of England has also suspended an employee as it conducts an internal review into whether central bank officials knew of, or condoned, manipulation of the currency markets.

why-credit-suisseInvestors accepted Credit Suisse’s plea and $2.6 billion fine, and the stock price remained unaffected. In fact, at one point on Tuesday, its share price rose on the news! It closed above its inter-day low, and its price at the final bell on Tuesday was cents above its close the day before! Get fined $2.6 billion, plead guilty to criminal charges announced by the US Attorney General, and your stock price closes higher than the day before.

Remember that earlier this year, JPMorgan Chase gave its CEO a raise, despite fines levied against the firm totaling more than a billion dollars.

Banking is characterized as a relationship, but it is governed by actions and attitudes. Small in scale, these actions and attitudes guide the big numbers.

Justice’s prosecution shows big individuals being protected by big institutions; their identities secret and safe as the bank takes the public flogging and pays billions in fines. Swiss law protects their identities, but no one pressed the point. In other cases, thousands of account holders’ names have been handed over; in Credit Suisse’s case, they were too rich to face the light or pay their penalties. Corporate fines and penalties are always less than the amount of wrongdoing. The Attorney General did not release the estimated costs of taxes evaded, but they would have been far greater than the billions in fines; and that only represents one bank’s admission of guilt. Continue reading The Insanity of Capital

A Template for Greed

DDI.

In a statement for a case the Supreme Court declined last year, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote, “prejudice should not be substituted for reason.” That’s a tall order, from the streets or the bench.

Having institutionalized its attitudes of bias into law, and into employment patterns, housing, education, wages, voting and social behavior for more than a century, the US is still struggling to dismantle racism, despite loud proclamations that it is gone, and blaming its victims for recognizing its problems.

Racism is in slow retreat, but its legacy remains; intact. Not always as a barrier, as limits on opportunity or as carrier of stereotypes and hate—racism’s legacy is a template of action, tied to wealth. An empty jar is a template. It can hold water or nitroglycerin. A basket can hold fruit or be filled with vipers. Racism’s biggest impact on America’s political economy is its template, an interconnected, elaborate methodology of laws, beliefs, behaviors and networks, a series of conjectures and omens that can be abstracted and applied to issues far outside race. Surprisingly, its manifest destiny has attached to international finance.

Substitute wealth into the language of race, and you can see the labels, the special privileges, the denials, the demagoguery, the legal justifications for its concentration and expansion of power that once accompanied race. America’s political economy is in a battle royal for wealth and power, seeking their absolute convergence.

Other countries have billionaire clubs; Russia has more in their parliament than any country; China’s 168 is second only the the US, where the number tops 500. But the numbers are only a partial story. The US stands alone among modern democracies in having an established legal system, a sympathetic tax code, and unwavering political support reinforced by the media, for the transfer of capital and business assets. All classes of assets, including those assigned to workers, pensions, healthcare, mortgages, or even countries, are in play. And the roots of that system’s framework are tied to the cultural entitlements and thinking found in slavery.

Though taught as a civil rights or civil liberties case, the US Supreme Court ruled against freedom for slaves because it would change the economic relationship of black labor; in Dred Scott vs. Ferguson, the court stated a slave had “no rights the white man was bound to respect;” thus allowing whites universal rights to abrogate the slave’s labor and value.

Now US courts have established, in a tricky legal workaround, that, despite “sovereign immunity,” nations can be sued in US courts for debt collection, for billions in capital—and even after debt holders turned down previous offers, the courts can order nations to pay. In other words, nations have no financial sovereignty the courts or corporations are bound to respect.

What race taught wealth and power is to put its interests in the rubric of democracy.

And the Court is redefining US political economy just as it changed and changes rights tied to race.

The 14th Amendment granted the right to vote to male blacks and former slaves. Yet the US Supreme Court removed the Amendment’s protections in states with long records of undermining voting, states with a history of restraining minorities’ access to the polls.

If you think speech is free, try answering an ad with blatant distortions that just reached 300,000 households in a blanket buy. Tweet your frustration. Then wonder how the majority of justices in Citizens United stood justice on its head and called it free speech.

A century and a half after slavery, the American minimum wage is $7.75 an hour, with no overtime for seasonal (read: farm) workers.

In the colonial era, American slavery quickly turned into a rigidly fixed legal status under state laws that allowed the enslaved to be bought, sold, insured, hired out, commissioned, reimbursed for losses, and mortgaged, with children (“the issue and increase”) made chattel to mortgages.

Back then, profit and race were a greater guide to law than the constitution. Southern states noted the Constitution’s lack of precedent in their articles of secession. Yet leaving the Union was also unprecedented and not accounted for in the Constitution. Their cases rested chiefly on complaints, which reflected their special interests and investment in a system the states were willing to justify by the most extreme legal or extra-legal steps.

The reasoning for breaking the Union apart reflects race, and its role in culture and wealth.  Evidence can be found in states’ declarations of secession, adopted and passed by a state convention, and in their ordinances of secession, the acts passed by the state legislatures officially affirming their exit.

South Carolina’s declaration claimed its right to secession not from the constitution, but from the peace treaty signed with Britain to end the Revolutionary War:

“His Britannic Majesty acknowledges the said United States, viz: New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, to be FREE, SOVEREIGN AND INDEPENDENT STATES; . . .”

Virginia’s ordinance repealed “the ratification of the Constitution of the United State of America by the State of Virginia,” and then resumed “all the rights and powers granted under said Constitution.”

Alabama’s ordinance made clear its intended common ground: “it is the desire and purpose of the people of Alabama to meet the slaveholding States of the South, who may approve such purpose, in order to frame a provisional as well as permanent Government upon the principles of the Constitution of the United States.”

Texas’ declaration offered views on race: “an unnatural hostility” to “beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of equality of all men, irrespective of race or color—a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of Divine Law.”

Missouri’s ordnance cited “domestic traitors,” “acts of atrocity,” and “a deep-settled hostility towards the people of Missouri and its institutions.”

Mississippi’s declaration of secession made clear its view of slavery: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery—the greatest material interest of the world.”

Secession claimed rights not cited in the Founders’ document. Secession was an extreme extra-legal attempt to protect a system of political economy founded on race as privilege and dominated by slavery. Its core views now assign privilege to wealth as a narrow proxy for race, and challenge international sovereignty.

II.

Argentina’s sovereignty is at stake in a case before the US Supreme Court that evolves from events more than a decade ago.

In 2002, after having three presidents in ten days, Argentina initiated the world’s largest sovereign default and restructured its debt. Its intent was to save its domestic economy by creating a million jobs, a goal unmet. In 2005 and 2010, Argentina offered refinancing swaps and 93 percent of bondholders accepted. A few holdouts refused.

A century before (in the 1920s), Argentina boasted the world’s seventh largest per-capita income. Its individual income was 50 percent higher than Italy’s. Then over 50 years (between 1930 and 1983), Argentina had 25 presidents and 22 years of military rule.

Before its 2001 crisis, Argentina, as did many Latin America countries, experienced cycles of rapid growth and hyperinflation, fueled by mismanagement, unstable governments and institutions, and political corruption and wealth concentration. Fortunes were hidden away as local prices rose, and wages, income and investments bottomed.

The South, too, during the Civil War faced inflationary prices as family fortunes were hidden. One Charleston diary noted: “The prices are very high. Corn is $10 per bushel, Peas dito, butter $4 per lb, Beef $2 per lb, Pork dito.”

Liquidity, reserve balances, and exchange rates were a regional problem in Latin America, much as the breakdown of the Confederate economy extended beyond individual states. With resources in high demand, wages low, and a gilded class with giant chips on their shoulders came the crises of 1861 and 2001. In 1861, the South was blockaded by the US Navy; in 2001, Argentina was hemmed in by US bankers and the IMF. Both the South and Argentina faced the call for payments, budget cuts, and a program of austerity; the loss of investment and liquidity, and fleeing capital reserves. In Argentina, workers’ 2001 income dropped by 50 percent in a year’s time.

A compelling image in Charleston during the Civil War was the turkey buzzard, a giant scavenger perched along its waterfront, surviving on the city’s carrion, a symbol of its decay and decline. When Argentina suspended its debt payments in 2002, and reorganized in 2005 and 2010, distressed debt hedge funds, known as vulture funds, circled its default. They accumulated millions in bonds at deep discounts in the secondary markets.

Enter the hedge fund, NML Capital, in 2008. It bought $48 million of default bonds, paying 22 cents for each dollar of face value (without interest) for bonds totaling $220 million. Today it claims, with a group of 19 other bond holders, it is entitled to payments (with accrued interest) of $1.3 billion.

III.

Argentina has proved unrepentant, and is outraged by a simultaneous media campaign claiming it has no respect for US law, coddles drug traffickers, and is allied with Iran. (Today, although the US Constitution is unchanged, Southern states have threatened to secede over grievances including the Affordable Care Act.) Continue reading A Template for Greed