Saturday, January 30, 2010

Friday Failure Follies

Today's Washington Post reports that the FDIC shut down five banks yesterday. The list includes one bank in Washington State. I recall reading almost the same story, including a Washington State bank, last week. I checked the FDIC Failed Bank List and found that I did indeed read that same story last week.

In the process, I discovered that failed bank list pops up prominently in a Google search on "Federal Deposit Insurance Corp", no doubt because the list is prominent on the FDIC home page. I also discovered that bank failure announcements are made on Fridays, which conveniently puts the story into the weekend news cycle where it is easily lost.

As cynical as I am about news management, the timing makes sense. FDIC typically takes over a bank in a near lightning "raid", not something you announce in advance. A Friday take over gives the team a weekend to verify assets and liabilities and to arrange another bank to assume the viable assets. The Friday announcement makes sense. The timing is a just a lucky break.

Expect many more Friday announcements.


Not Your Average Cruise

A story about the notoriously corrupt Haitian police force actually performing its duties in the earthquake's aftermath also points out that the disaster will have long term consequences for public safety:
What scares the Haitian police the most is not visible to most outsiders. Jails and prisons fell down in the quake, and 4,000 Haitian inmates escaped. Many were the leaders of Cite Soleil gangs, which act as armies of intimidation; they work for the business elite and politicians, carrying out kidnappings, assassinations, extortion and political intimidation -- often for hire. They were deeply involved in drug trafficking.

Andresol vowed, "I will find these guys and put them back in prison."

But U.N. officials say the United States denied a request to send down a prison ship. There is no place to house inmates in the city.

The prison ship denial surprised me. First, because the concept of a prison ship is not a familiar one to me. It's not something I'd thought about but I guess having a floating, mobile incarceration facility is useful in some instances.

Second, I figured that the US (aka Incarceration Nation)would certainly have a prison ship or two. This country seems spare no expense in building its domestic security infrastructure--like war, it's something America still does well--so I have no doubt that my government owns a number of prison ships.

They are probably all full.


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Howard Zinn, 1922-2010

It becomes difficult to sustain the claim that a war is just when both sides commit atrocities, unless one wants to argue that their atrocities are worse than ours. (1990)

The US political establishment insists that we mustn't talk about class. Only Marxists do that, although thirty years before Marx was born, James Madison, "Father of the Constitution," said that there was an inevitable conflict in society between those who had property and those who did not. (2001)

We in America are so far removed from our own revolutionary tradition, and the abolitionist tradition, and also from the reality of suffering among other people, that we consider as unpardonable transgression of law and order what are really mild acts, measured against the existing evils. (2002)

Godspeed, Dr. Zinn. In your memory I will find hope


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Last Full Measure of Devotion

MSNBC World Blog has a story about artist Emily Prince's installation of her drawings of the more than 5,100 Americans who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even the tiny photographs of the installation convey its somber immensity. Like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the simple images clearly convey the cost of war.

The artist herself makes no statement about the wars in which these Americans died. An art critic describes the installation as a "powerful ... and grim memorial to wasted life." Which sets off a chain of comments about whether or not these dead service members "wasted" their lives. I wanted to add my own comment but for some reason, it would not submit.

Quite simply, I do not believe these men and women wasted their lives. In fact, they gave their lives in service to their country. George Bush and Dick Cheney wasted their lives by sending them to fight in unnecessary wars that do nothing to protect America. And now Obama is asking more or them to die.

Once again, honorable service is betrayed by leaders unworthy of the men and women they lead.


Monday, January 25, 2010


Thinking back on the past year, it seems to me that the Democrats in Washington were caught in an ambush, a slow motion ambush to be sure but an ambush nonetheless. They tried to work with Republicans. They compromised. The Democrats did just about everything on health care finance but tell the Republicans and their Blue Dog allies, that they would agree to anything as long as the Republicans would allow a bill a bill called health care reform to pass Congress. All to no avail.

As we begin 2010 the Democrats are in the position of the traumatized survivors who weathered the initial fullisade: standing in the killing zone scared shitless. Infantry training taught me how to respond to an ambush. Attack the motherfuckers head on. Hell, they're going to kill you if you don't move and the last thing they expect is for you to attack. If you're still alive after the first shots, you've got nothing to lose. Yeah, you might still end up dead but maybe you won't if you spook the hell out of the ambushers and drive them off.

If the Democrats are going to salvage anything from their majority in the 111th Congress, they might as well attack by pushing for meaningful change and telling the Republicans to go to hell. They have nothing to lose and everything to gain. It worked for Harry Truman.

Another year of trying to work with the Party of No will simply leave the Democrats standing in the killing zone, watching themselves die.


Sunday, January 24, 2010

That Was the Week That Was*

The past week was rugged, slapping me with many reminders that any change toward citizen empowerment, economic and social justice will be long in coming in America. Massachusetts, the Supreme Court and Democratic handwringing: not much in there to give a body hope. How can it be that with an overwhelming majority in both houses of Congress and a president elected with a clear majority this nation cannot enact progressive, common sense legislation supported by a definite majority of Americans? We truly live in a Bizzaro world.

Then I remember that even the Democratic Party is a party of the moneyed class. Not so much inherent to that class as are Republicans (the party of the moneyed class), but certainly enamored of and willing to serve it. The Democratic Party creates the illusion of choice in our political and social discourse. In reality Democratic “alternatives” to the past 30 years of Republican “drown the government” mentality simply slow the polarization of wealth in America. They don’t do anything to stop change it.

Both parties serve the same interests. They operate in a political environment poisoned by greed, obscene amounts of money, egregious disinformation and just plain American wooden-headedness. All this is meshed with a legislative system designed, as I learned in political science school, to block passage of any legislation. I guess that explains why the US cannot organize and finance health care—a basic human requirement—using any of the successful and effective models implemented by every other industrialized nation in the world.

It probably also explains why the US is constantly at war. Even before the Global War on Terror, the American military was constantly active around the world. Not in my six decades have I ever known a time when the United States was either not actively engaged in a military conflict or was actively backing a party to conflict. The worldwide network of military bases has been a part of the world as long as I have. Look at the massive investment in national security since World War II—Chalmers Johnson estimates the total cost at something like $50 trillion—and you will come to understand that war and preparing for war is a very profitable enterprise. Because of that profit, its beneficiaries are not only motivated to keep the gravy train running but have the financial means to influence the underlying policy.

To make a bad situation worse, the Supreme Court turned Pinocchio into a real boy by giving corporations the right mobilize their ever-growing wealth to flood our political campaigns with self serving information. (Juan Cole has a less apocalyptic evaluation of the decision, less apocalyptic largely because corporate wealth is already rampant). This decision completes the corporate personification initiated by a Gilded Age Supreme Court during an era that Americans used to regard as one of unbridled excess and corruption (that’s how it was taught even in a white southern high school and college in the mid 1960’s). These days, that kind of behavior is considered acceptable—just look at the rewards showered on the major financial institutions that contributed to the economic meltdown or the reluctance of so-called regulators to restrain or penalize corporate mis- mal- and non-feasance.

What the past week seems mostly is a reminder that I live in a world over which I have little control. The forces that shape my world are little affected by what I think, say and do. I just have to roll with the punches and make my way as best I can. That’s really nothing new—I’ve done than most of my life. What’s different now is the realization that the American political system is no longer capable of change. If overwhelming electoral control of the national government is insufficient to enact meaningful reforms, what choice is left?

History shows that the answers to that question do not always end well. All the more reason to initiate thoughtful and compassionate change now. As difficult as the past week would make that possibility seem, I am also reading Uncommon Sense by Howard Zinn, a man whose knowledge of American history could easily lead to despair at the prospects for economic and social justice in this country. But Zinn still has hope for real change rising up from popular action. If he can hope, so will I.

(*) The original was much better than the past week.

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