Wednesday, February 29, 2012

FOCUS: IBM at Auschwitz, New Documents



IBM at Auschwitz, New Documents

Edwin Black, Reader Supported News

28 February 12

ewly-released documents expose more explicitly the details of IBM's pivotal role in the Holocaust - all six phases: identification, expulsion from society, confiscation, ghettoization, deportation, and even extermination. Moreover, the documents portray with crystal clarity the personal involvement and micro-management of IBM president Thomas J. Watson in the company's co-planning and co-organizing of Hitler's campaign to destroy the Jews.

IBM's twelve-year alliance with the Third Reich was first revealed in my book IBM and the Holocaust, published simultaneously in 40 countries in February 2001. It was based on some 20,000 documents drawn from archives in seven countries. IBM never denied any of the information in the book; and despite thousands of media and communal requests, as well as published articles, the company has remained silent.

The new "expanded edition" contains 32 pages of never-before-published internal IBM correspondence, State Department and Justice Department memos, and concentration camp documents that graphically chronicle IBM's actions and what they knew during the 12-year Hitler regime. On the anniversary of the release of the original book, the new edition was released on February 26, 2012 at a special live global streaming event at Yeshiva University's Furst Hall, sponsored by the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists together with a coalition of other groups.

Among the newly-released documents and archival materials are secret 1941 correspondence setting up the Dutch subsidiary of IBM to work in tandem with the Nazis, company President Thomas Watson's personal approval for the 1939 release of special IBM alphabetizing machines to help organize the rape of Poland and the deportation of Polish Jews, as well as the IBM Concentration Camp Codes including IBM's code for death by Gas Chamber. Among the newly published photos of the punch cards is the one developed for the statistician who reported directly to Himmler and Eichmann.

The significance of the incriminating documents requires context.

Punch cards, also called Hollerith cards after IBM founder Herman Hollerith, were the forerunner of the computers that IBM is famous for today. These cards stored information in holes punched in the rows and columns, which were then "read" by a tabulating machine. The system worked like a player piano - but this one was devoted to the devil's music. First designed to track people and organize a census, the Hollerith system was later adapted to any tabulation or information task.

From the first moments of the Hitler regime in 1933, IBM used its exclusive punch card technology and its global monopoly on information technology to organize, systematize, and accelerate Hitler's anti-Jewish program, step by step facilitating the tightening noose. The punch cards, machinery, training, servicing, and special project work, such as population census and identification, was managed directly by IBM headquarters in New York, and later through its subsidiaries in Germany, known as Deutsche Hollerith-Maschinen Gesellschaft (DEHOMAG), Poland, Holland, France, Switzerland, and other European countries.

Among the punch cards published are two for the SS, including one for the SS Rassenamt, or Race Office, which specialized in racial selections and coordinated with many other Reich offices. A third card was custom-crafted by IBM for Richard Korherr, a top Nazi statistician and expert in Jewish demographics who reported directly to Reichsf├╝hrer Heinrich Himmler and who also worked with Adolf Eichmann. Himmler and Eichmann were architects of the extermination phase of the Holocaust. All three punch cards bear the proud indicia of IBM's German subsidiary, DEHOMAG. They illustrate the nature of the end users who relied upon IBM's information technology.

In 1937, with war looming and the world shocked at the increasingly merciless Nazi persecution of the Jews, Hitler bestowed upon Watson a special award - created specifically for the occasion - to honor extraordinary service by a foreigner to the Third Reich. The medal, the Order of the German Eagle with Star, bedecked with swastikas, was to be worn on a sash over the heart. Watson returned the medal years later in June 1940 as a reaction to public outrage about the medal during the bombing of Paris. The return of this medal has been used by IBM apologists to show Watson had second thoughts about his alliance with the Reich. But a newly released copy of a subsequent letter dated June 10, 1941, drafted by IBM's New York office, confirms that IBM headquarters personally directed the activities of its Dutch subsidiary set up in 1940 to identify and liquidate the Jews of Holland. Hence, while IBM engaged in the public relations maneuver of returning the medal, the company was actually quietly expanding its role in Hitler's Holocaust. Similar subsidiaries, sometimes named as a variant of "Watson Business Machines," were set up in Poland, Vichy France, and elsewhere on the Continent in cadence with the Nazi takeover of Europe.

Particularly powerful are the newly-released copies of the IBM concentration camp codes. IBM maintained a customer site, known as the Hollerith Department, in virtually every concentration camp to sort or process punch cards and track prisoners. The codes show IBM's numerical designation for various camps. Auschwitz was 001, Buchenwald was 002; Dachau was 003, and so on. Various prisoner types were reduced to IBM numbers, with 3 signifying homosexual, 9 for anti-social, and 12 for Gypsy. The IBM number 8 designated a Jew. Inmate death was also reduced to an IBM digit: 3 represented death by natural causes, 4 by execution, 5 by suicide, and code 6 designated "special treatment" in gas chambers. IBM engineers had to create Hollerith codes to differentiate between a Jew who had been worked to death and one who had been gassed, then print the cards, configure the machines, train the staff, and continuously maintain the fragile systems every two weeks on site in the concentration camps.

Newly-released photographs show the Hollerith Bunker at Dachau. It housed at least two dozen machines, mainly controlled by the SS. The foreboding concrete Hollerith blockhouse, constructed of reinforced concrete and steel, was designed to withstand the most intense Allied aerial bombardment. Those familiar with Nazi bomb-proof shelters will recognize the advanced square-cornered pillbox design reserved for the Reich's most precious buildings and operations. IBM equipment was among the Reich's most important weapons, not only in its war against the Jews, but in its general military campaigns and control of railway traffic. Watson personally approved expenditures to add bomb shelters to DEHOMAG installations because the cost was born by the company. Such costs cut into IBM's profit margin. Watson's approval was required because he received a one-percent commission on all Nazi business profits.

Two telling U.S. government memos, now published, are remarkable for their telling irony. The first is a State Department memo, dated December 3, 1941, just four days before the attack on Pearl Harbor and as the Nazis were being openly accused of genocide in Europe. On that day in 1941, IBM's top attorney, Harrison Chauncey, visited the State Department to express qualms about the company's extensive involvement with Hitler. The State Department memo recorded that Chauncey feared "that his company may some day be blamed for cooperating with the Germans."

The second is a Justice Department memo generated during a federal investigation of IBM for trading with the enemy. Economic Warfare Section chief investigator Howard J. Carter prepared the memo for his supervisors describing the company's collusion with the Hitler regime. Carter wrote: "What Hitler has done to us through his economic warfare, one of our own American corporations has also done ... Hence IBM is in a class with the Nazis." He ended his memo: "The entire world citizenry is hampered by an international monster."

At a time when the Watson name and the IBM image is being laundered by whiz computers that can answer questions on TV game shows, it is important to remember that Thomas Watson and his corporate behemoth were guilty of genocide. The Treaty on Genocide, Article 2, defines genocide as "acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group." In Article 3, the treaty states that among the "acts [that] shall be punishable," are the ones in subsection (e), that is "complicity in genocide." As for who shall be punished, the Treaty specifies the perpetrators in Article 4: "Persons committing genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in Article 3 shall be punished, whether they are constitutionally responsible rulers, public officials, or private individuals."

International Business Machines, and its president Thomas J. Watson, committed genocide by any standard. It was never about the antisemitism. It was never about the National Socialism. It was always about the money. Business was their middle name.


Edwin Black is the author of IBM and the Holocaust, The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America's Most Powerful Corporation, newly released in the Expanded Edition.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.

FOCUS: IBM at Auschwitz, New Documents:

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Monday, February 20, 2012

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Stephen Colbert is winning the war against the Supreme Court and Citizens United. - Slate Magazine

Stephen Colbert is winning the war against the Supreme Court and Citizens United. - Slate Magazine

Colbert v. the Court

Why, in the battle over Citizens United, the Supreme Court never had a chance.

Stephen Colbert hosts a rally.
Comedian Stephen Colbert hosts a rally in Charleston, S.C. on Jan. 12, 2012.

Photograph by Richard Ellis/Getty Images.

The Supreme Court has always had its critics. Chief Justice John Marshall had to contend with the temper of President Andrew Jackson (“John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it!”). And Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes went toe-to-toe with FDR, who wouldn’t let up with the court-packing. But in the history of the Supreme Court, nothing has ever prepared the justices for the public opinion wrecking ball that is Stephen Colbert. The comedian/presidential candidate/super PAC founder has probably done more to undermine public confidence in the court’s 2010 Citizens United opinion than anyone, including the dissenters. In this contest, the high court is supremely outmatched.

Citizens United, with an assist from a 1976 decision Buckley v. Valeo, has led to the farce of unlimited corporate election spending, “uncoordinated” super PACs that coordinate with candidates, and a noxious round of attack ads, all of which is protected in the name of free speech. Colbert has been educating Americans about the resulting insanity for months now. His broadside against the court raises important questions about satire and the court, about protecting the dignity of the institution, and the role of modern media in public discourse. Also: The fight between Colbert and the court is so full of ironies, it can make your molars hurt.

When President Obama criticized Citizens United two years ago in his State of the Union address, at least three justices came back at him with pitchforks and shovels. In the end, most court watchers scored it a draw. But when a comedian with a huge national platform started ridiculing the court last summer, the stakes changed completely. This is no pointy-headed deconstruction unspooling on the legal blogs. Colbert has spent the past few months making every part of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion in Citizen United look utterly ridiculous. And the court, which has no access to cameras (by its own choosing), no press arm, and no discernible comedic powers, has had to stand by and take it on the chin.

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It all started when Colbert announced that, as permitted by Citizens United, he planned to form a super PAC (“Making a better tomorrow, tomorrow”). As he explained to his viewers, his hope was that “Colbert Nation could have a voice, in the form of my voice, shouted through a megaphone made of cash ... the American dream. And that dream is simple. That anyone, no matter who they are, if they are determined, if they are willing to work hard enough, someday they could grow up to create a legal entity which could then receive unlimited corporate funds, which could be used to influence our elections."

Then last June, like a winking, eyebrow-wagging Mr. Smith, Colbert went to Washington and testified before the FEC, which granted him permission to launch his super PAC (over the objections of his parent company Viacom) and accept unlimited contributions from his fans so he might sway elections. (He tweeted before his FEC appearance that PAC stands for "Plastic And/Or Cash.") In recent weeks, Colbert has run several truly insane attack ads (including one accusing Mitt Romney of being a serial killer). Then, with perfect comedic pitch, Colbert handed off control of his super PAC to Jon Stewart (lampooning the FEC rules about coordination between “independent PACS” and candidates with a one-page legal document and a Vulcan mind meld). Colbert then managed to throw his support to non-candidate Herman Cain in the South Carolina primary, placing higher on the ballot than Rick Perry, Jon Huntsman, and Michele Bachmann.

The line between entertainment and the court blurred even further late last month when Colbert had former Justice John Paul Stevens on his show to discuss his dissent in Citizens United. When a 91-year-old former justice is patiently explaining to a comedian that corporations are not people, it’s clear that everything about the majority opinion has been reduced to a punch line.

Colbert took the mainstream by storm in interview after interview that schooled Americans about the insanity of Citizens United and garnered blowback from NBC White House correspondent Chuck Todd, who complained that Colbert is “making a mockery of the system” and questioned whether the real agenda was to “educate the public about the dangers of money and politics ... or simply to marginalize the Republican Party?” Then came the un-ironic defenses of the irony of Colbert and the obligatory navel-gazing about whether Colbert is in fact effecting real change or in peril of succumbing to “irony fatigue.”

At one level, this is all just comedy, and it’s hard to measure whether Colbert’s sustained attacks on the court’s campaign finance decisions are having any real impact, beyond making us laugh. On the other hand, when the New York Times declares that Colbert’s project is deadly serious, and it’s just the rest of politics that’s preposterous, something more than just theater is happening. I spoke to Trevor Potter, former chairman of the FEC and adviser to John McCain, and the man Colbert has designated his “personal lawyer,” about the consequences of Colbert’s assault on the campaign finance regime. Potter is very careful not to ascribe an end game to Colbert’s efforts but says that he has seen Colbert’s campaign finance crusade as an “opportunity to open up to the rest of the world what we lawyers already know: that the whole area of campaign finance is a mess.” He adds that Colbert’s antics are “having a real effect in terms of public understanding about how the system works” and getting people to start to think about how to fix it.

Potter is also emphatic that the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision is not the sole cause of the problems he sees. (You can thank the media for its bang-up job of suggesting that the court singlehandedly designed super PACs with its decision in CU). Potter says Kennedy’s majority opinion is not so much disconnected from reality but, rather, “assumed that the world would work in the way he thought it would.” (In Kennedy’s fantasy, there would be no chance of corruption, no coordination between PACs and candidates, and full disclosure of corporate contributions.) And had the FEC done its job, had Congress passed better disclosure rules, had shareholders been better able to control corporate activity, the Kennedy decision would have been less monumental. (Potter is quick to point out that the court needn’t reverse itself completely for the country to fix the worst problems in the post-CU system.) Still he adds that Citizens United “epitomizes the problem of having a court where no justice has ever run for any office, including dogcatcher.”

Of course that’s precisely the problem: The institutional aloofness that allowed the Roberts court to pen such a politically naive decision is the same blind spot that precludes them from even understanding, much less responding to, the media criticism. And as professor Lyrissa Lidsky, who teaches law at the University of Florida College of Law, reminded me last weekend, there is amazing language in Justice Kennedy’s majority in Citizens United about the need to elevate corporate speech to the same protected status as that enjoyed by the cable news shows. As Kennedy observed, “Speakers have become adept at presenting citizens with sound bites, talking points, and scripted messages that dominate the 24-hour news cycle. Corporations, like individuals, do not have monolithic views.”

In other words, (if you can stand the irony) in Citizens United, the Supreme Court empowered Colbert to create a super PAC so he could answer back to, well, folks like Stephen Colbert. The opinion even notes thatMr. Smith Goes to Washington may be fiction and caricature; but fiction and caricature can be a powerful force.” Now, courtesy of Mr. Colbert, no one knows that better than the court itself.

Colbert v. The Supreme Court

Colbert v. The Supreme Court
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Artist Todd Lockwood's portrait of Stephen Colbert as a 'true American hero.' (photo: toddlockwood.com )
Artist Todd Lockwood's portrait of Stephen Colbert as a 'true American hero.' (photo: toddlockwood.com )



Colbert v. The Supreme Court

By Dahlia Lithwick, Slate

04 February 12

he Supreme Court has always had its critics. Chief Justice John Marshall had to contend with the temper of President Andrew Jackson ("John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it!"). And Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes went toe-to-toe with FDR, who wouldn't let up with the court-packing. But in the history of the Supreme Court, nothing has ever prepared the justices for the public opinion wrecking ball that is Stephen Colbert. The comedian/presidential candidate/super PAC founder has probably done more to undermine public confidence in the court's 2010 Citizens United opinion than anyone, including the dissenters. In this contest, the high court is supremely outmatched.

Citizens United, with an assist from a 1976 decision Buckley v. Valeo, has led to the farce of unlimited corporate election spending, "uncoordinated" super PACs that coordinate with candidates, and a noxious round of attack ads, all of which is protected in the name of free speech. Colbert has been educating Americans about the resulting insanity for months now. His broadside against the court raises important questions about satire and the court, about protecting the dignity of the institution, and the role of modern media in public discourse. Also: The fight between Colbert and the court is so full of ironies, it can make your molars hurt.

When President Obama criticized Citizens United two years ago in his State of the Union address, at least three justices came back at him with pitchforks and shovels. In the end, most court watchers scored it a draw. But when a comedian with a huge national platform started ridiculing the court last summer, the stakes changed completely. This is no pointy-headed deconstruction unspooling on the legal blogs. Colbert has spent the past few months making every part of Justice Anthony Kennedy's majority opinion in Citizen United look utterly ridiculous. And the court, which has no access to cameras (by its own choosing), no press arm, and no discernible comedic powers, has had to stand by and take it on the chin.

It all started when Colbert announced that, as permitted by Citizens United, he planned to form a super PAC ("Making a better tomorrow, tomorrow"). As he explained to his viewers, his hope was that "Colbert Nation could have a voice, in the form of my voice, shouted through a megaphone made of cash ... the American dream. And that dream is simple. That anyone, no matter who they are, if they are determined, if they are willing to work hard enough, someday they could grow up to create a legal entity which could then receive unlimited corporate funds, which could be used to influence our elections."

Then last June, like a winking, eyebrow-wagging Mr. Smith, Colbert went to Washington and testified before the FEC, which granted him permission to launch his super PAC (over the objections of his parent company Viacom) and accept unlimited contributions from his fans so he might sway elections. (He tweeted before his FEC appearance that PAC stands for "Plastic And/Or Cash.") In recent weeks, Colbert has run several truly insane attack ads (including one accusing Mitt Romney of being a serial killer). Then, with perfect comedic pitch, Colbert handed off control of his super PAC to Jon Stewart (lampooning the FEC rules about coordination between "independent PACS" and candidates with a one-page legal document and a Vulcan mind meld). Colbert then managed to throw his support to non-candidate Herman Cain in the South Carolina primary, placing higher on the ballot than Rick Perry, Jon Huntsman, and Michele Bachmann.

The line between entertainment and the court blurred even further late last month when Colbert had former Justice John Paul Stevens on his show to discuss his dissent in Citizens United. When a 91-year-old former justice is patiently explaining to a comedian that corporations are not people, it's clear that everything about the majority opinion has been reduced to a punch line.

Colbert took the mainstream by storm in interview after interview that schooled Americans about the insanity of Citizens United and garnered blowback from NBC White House correspondent Chuck Todd, who complained that Colbert is "making a mockery of the system" and questioned whether the real agenda was to "educate the public about the dangers of money and politics ... or simply to marginalize the Republican Party?" Then came the un-ironic defenses of the irony of Colbert and the obligatory navel-gazing about whether Colbert is in fact effecting real change or in peril of succumbing to "irony fatigue."

At one level, this is all just comedy, and it's hard to measure whether Colbert's sustained attacks on the court's campaign finance decisions are having any real impact, beyond making us laugh. On the other hand, when the New York Times declares that Colbert's project is deadly serious, and it's just the rest of politics that's preposterous, something more than just theater is happening. I spoke to Trevor Potter, former chairman of the FEC and adviser to John McCain, and the man Colbert has designated his "personal lawyer," about the consequences of Colbert's assault on the campaign finance regime. Potter is very careful not to ascribe an end game to Colbert's efforts but says that he has seen Colbert's campaign finance crusade as an "opportunity to open up to the rest of the world what we lawyers already know: that the whole area of campaign finance is a mess." He adds that Colbert's antics are "having a real effect in terms of public understanding about how the system works" and getting people to start to think about how to fix it.

Potter is also emphatic that the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision is not the sole cause of the problems he sees. (You can thank the media for its bang-up job of suggesting that the court singlehandedly designed super PACs with its decision in CU). Potter says Kennedy's majority opinion is not so much disconnected from reality but, rather, "assumed that the world would work in the way he thought it would." (In Kennedy's fantasy, there would be no chance of corruption, no coordination between PACs and candidates, and full disclosure of corporate contributions.) And had the FEC done its job, had Congress passed better disclosure rules, had shareholders been better able to control corporate activity, the Kennedy decision would have been less monumental. (Potter is quick to point out that the court needn't reverse itself completely for the country to fix the worst problems in the post-CU system.) Still he adds that Citizens United "epitomizes the problem of having a court where no justice has ever run for any office, including dogcatcher."

Of course that's precisely the problem: The institutional aloofness that allowed the Roberts court to pen such a politically naive decision is the same blind spot that precludes them from even understanding, much less responding to, the media criticism. And as professor Lyrissa Lidsky, who teaches law at the University of Florida College of Law, reminded me last weekend, there is amazing language in Justice Kennedy's majority in Citizens United about the need to elevate corporate speech to the same protected status as that enjoyed by the cable news shows. As Kennedy observed, "Speakers have become adept at presenting citizens with sound bites, talking points, and scripted messages that dominate the 24-hour news cycle. Corporations, like individuals, do not have monolithic views."

In other words, (if you can stand the irony) in Citizens United, the Supreme Court empowered Colbert to create a super PAC so he could answer back to, well, folks like Stephen Colbert. The opinion even notes that "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington may be fiction and caricature; but fiction and caricature can be a powerful force." Now, courtesy of Mr. Colbert, no one knows that better than the court itself.

France Defeats Monsanto

France Defeats Monsanto: By Gordon Davidson, The Scottish Farmer

French beekeepers protest the use of genetically-modified organisms in front of French Monsanto headquarters in Bron, near Lyon, January 20, 2012. (photo: Robert Pratta/Reuters)
French beekeepers protest the use of genetically-modified organisms in front of French Monsanto headquarters in Bron, near Lyon, January 20, 2012. (photo: Robert Pratta/Reuters)



France Defeats Monsanto

By Gordon Davidson, The Scottish Farmer

04 February 12

rance has held firm in its opposition to Monsanto's genetically modified MON 810 maize - and the agri-chemical multinational has admitted defeat.

Monsanto had been putting legal pressure on the French government to lift its 2008 cultivation ban on MON 810, firstly with a successful appeal to the European Court of Justice, then with a follow-up case heard in France's own highest court, the Council of State.

But despite both these institutions ruling that the ban was "insufficiently justified in law", the French Government, backed by President Sarkozy, has insisted that it will still not allow cultivation of the biotech maize.

Now Monsanto has announced that it would not be selling seeds for MON810 in France this year.

France's stand - and Monsanto's capitulation - has been warmly welcomed by anti-GM lobbyists GM Freeze, whose campaign director Pete Riley said: "The decision by Monsanto not to market MON810 seeds in France in 2012 is yet another sign that Monsanto has failed to convince the public or policy makers that there is any benefit to growing to growing GM crops.

"This needs to be acknowledged by industry and politicians and there should be a big shift to agricultural research and development which addresses the future sustainability of farming in Europe. EU policy needs to forget about the bottom line of biotech corporations and focus on developing agro-ecological farming which provides for the needs of farmers, consumers, the environment and future generations."

Five other EU countries - Germany, Greece, Austria, Luxembourg and Hungary - have current bans on MON810 cultivation in place, and the issue has recently been complicated by another European Court of Justice ruling requiring honey contaminated with GM pollen to be fully authorised as a novel product and labelled as such before it can be sold.



04 February 12

What Is a Just War?

What Is a Just War?: By Andrew P. Napolitano, Antiwar.com

04 February 12

A fallen American soldier in Vietnam, 1967. (photo: Catherine Leroy)
A fallen American soldier in Vietnam, 1967. (photo: Catherine Leroy)



What Is a Just War?

By Andrew P. Napolitano, Antiwar.com

04 February 12

hen President Obama announced last April that he was sending the United States military to bomb Libya, he not only violated the United States Constitution, which he has taken an oath to uphold, but he also violated the moral principles of the just war. The Constitution permits only Congress to declare war and the president to initiate on his own only a truly defensive war. When the president takes an oath to uphold the Constitution, he also promises to uphold the treaties into which the U.S. has entered and the laws that have been written pursuant to those treaties.

St. Thomas Aquinas is the modern articulator of the idea that governments are required to follow the same moral principles as the rest of us. This is particularly so in the case of a government that claims its source of power is the consent of the governed. St. Thomas More once put it this way: "Some men say the earth is round, and some say it is flat. If it is round, can the king's command flatten it; and if it is flat, can Parliament make it round?"

Of course, the answer to those questions is no; and the reason it is no is that kings and parliaments - all governments - just like all living beings, are subject to the laws of nature. One of those laws was articulated by Aquinas and embraced by More and accepted by Thomas Jefferson and taught by many Judeo-Christian scholars, and was eventually engrafted into treaties and into American law. It is the concept of the just war. In American law and culture, for war to be valid, it must not only be lawful, meaning either declared by Congress or defensive; it must also be just.

What is a just war? For a war to be just, generally, a half-dozen principles must be met.

First, since force destroys, and there is a presumption against its use, the presumption must be overcome by first using all peaceful and viable means and alternatives to war; and it must be clear that these alternatives are fruitless before a war can be just.

Second, the cause must be just; that is, the purpose of the war must be to correct a grave, profound, enduring public evil that directly impairs the freedom or safety of those contemplating war.

Third, only a lawfully competent authority may commence the use of violence, as was not the case when President Johnson bombed North Vietnam or President Nixon bombed Cambodia or President Obama bombed Libya. Thus, the internal laws of the nation using military violence must be crafted so that war is the public policy of the nation, not just the temporary personal preference of whoever is running the government.

Fourth, there must be a probability of success, so that men and women are not sent to certain death for a lost cause.

Fifth, the use of force must be proportional to the harm it seeks to eradicate; thus, no more persons may be harmed by the use of military force than are absolutely necessary to achieve the just goals of the war.

Finally, the war must be fought fairly and ended quickly.

Have you ever heard of these rules before? Since they're universally accepted in the West, wouldn't you expect that they'd be discussed and debated openly? Did the Congress apply these rules to any war in your lifetime?

Congress has not declared war since World War II. But it has, from time to time, debated these principles while it permitted the president to fight unjust wars. It did so when LBJ tricked it into adopting the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964, authorizing him to bomb North Vietnam, a backward country that posed no threats to America. It debated these values when it enacted the War Powers Act in 1973 in order to restrain Nixon from bombing Cambodia, another country that did not harm and could not have harmed the U.S. It did not debate these principles when it authorized President George W. Bush to invade Afghanistan and Iraq.

The problem with most wars is that they are more strategic and adventurist than they are just. We now know that Saddam Hussein posed no threat to the U.S. Regrettably, it took 5,000 American lives, more than a half-million Iraqi lives, nearly a trillion borrowed dollars, and two presidential election campaigns for voters to realize that. What was the grave, profound, enduring public evil from Iraq that directly threatened the freedom or safety of Americans? There wasn't one.

The same may be said for Afghanistan, about which, shortly before he was fired, Gen. James Jones, Obama's first national security adviser and a former Marine commandant, stated that the U.S. had 100,000 troops wasting their time chasing fewer than 100 al-Qaeda there. Did we ensure that no more innocents - or even combatants - died than was necessary to end that war? No.

And my guess is that you don't know anyone in America whose freedom and safety were threatened by the Libyan government last April.

The concept of a just war can induce a debate without end, unless and until we repose the Constitution for safekeeping into the hands of men and women who accept the concept. If we do that, we will bring the troops home and save many lives and much taxpayer money and be free and safe and prosperous. If we don't, it seems whoever is the president gets to fight whatever wars he wants. Is that what you want?

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

A Christmas Message From America's Rich

A Christmas Message From America's Rich:


A Christmas Message From America's Rich

By Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone

22 December 11

t seems America's bankers are tired of all the abuse. They've decided to speak out.

True, they're doing it from behind the ropeline, in front of friendly crowds at industry conferences and country clubs, meaning they don't have to look the rest of America in the eye when they call us all imbeciles and complain that they shouldn't have to apologize for being so successful.

But while they haven't yet deigned to talk to protesting America face to face, they are willing to scribble out some complaints on notes and send them downstairs on silver trays. Courtesy of a remarkable story by Max Abelson at Bloomberg, we now get to hear some of those choice comments.

Home Depot co-founder Bernard Marcus, for instance, is not worried about OWS:

"Who gives a crap about some imbecile?" Marcus said. "Are you kidding me?"

Former New York gubernatorial candidate Tom Golisano, the billionaire owner of the billing firm Paychex, offered his wisdom while his half-his-age tennis champion girlfriend hung on his arm:

"If I hear a politician use the term ‘paying your fair share' one more time, I'm going to vomit," said Golisano, who turned 70 last month, celebrating the birthday with girlfriend Monica Seles, the former tennis star who won nine Grand Slam singles titles.

Then there's Leon Cooperman, the former chief of Goldman Sachs's money-management unit, who said he was urged to speak out by his fellow golfers. His message was a version of Wall Street's increasingly popular If-you-people-want-a-job, then-you'll-shut-the-fuck-up rhetorical line:

Cooperman, 68, said in an interview that he can't walk through the dining room of St. Andrews Country Club in Boca Raton, Florida, without being thanked for speaking up. At least four people expressed their gratitude on Dec. 5 while he was eating an egg-white omelet, he said.

"You'll get more out of me," the billionaire said, "if you treat me with respect."

Finally, there is this from Blackstone CEO Steven Schwarzman:

Asked if he were willing to pay more taxes in a Nov. 30 interview with Bloomberg Television, Blackstone Group LP CEO Stephen Schwarzman spoke about lower-income U.S. families who pay no income tax.

"You have to have skin in the game," said Schwarzman, 64. "I'm not saying how much people should do. But we should all be part of the system."

There are obviously a great many things that one could say about this remarkable collection of quotes. One could even, if one wanted, simply savor them alone, without commentary, like lumps of fresh caviar, or raw oysters.

But out of Abelson's collection of doleful woe-is-us complaints from the offended rich, the one that deserves the most attention is Schwarzman's line about lower-income folks lacking "skin in the game." This incredible statement gets right to the heart of why these people suck.

Why? It's not because Schwarzman is factually wrong about lower-income people having no "skin in the game," ignoring the fact that everyone pays sales taxes, and most everyone pays payroll taxes, and of course there are property taxes for even the lowliest subprime mortgage holders, and so on.

It's not even because Schwarzman probably himself pays close to zero in income tax - as a private equity chief, he doesn't pay income tax but tax on carried interest, which carries a maximum 15% tax rate, half the rate of a New York City firefighter.

The real issue has to do with the context of Schwarzman's quote. The Blackstone billionaire, remember, is one of the more uniquely abhorrent, self-congratulating jerks in the entire world - a man who famously symbolized the excesses of the crisis era when, just as the rest of America was heading into a recession, he threw himself a $5 million birthday party, featuring private performances by Rod Stewart and Patti Labelle, to celebrate an IPO that made him $677 million in a matter of days (within a year, incidentally, the investors who bought that stock would lose three-fourths of their investments).

So that IPO birthday boy is now standing up and insisting, with a straight face, that America's problem is that compared to taxpaying billionaires like himself, poor people are not invested enough in our society's future. Apparently, we'd all be in much better shape if the poor were as motivated as Steven Schwarzman is to make America a better place.

But it seems to me that if you're broke enough that you're not paying any income tax, you've got nothing but skin in the game. You've got it all riding on how well America works.

You can't afford private security: you need to depend on the police. You can't afford private health care: Medicare is all you have. You get arrested, you're not hiring Davis, Polk to get you out of jail: you rely on a public defender to negotiate a court system you'd better pray deals with everyone from the same deck. And you can't hire landscapers to manicure your lawn and trim your trees: you need the garbage man to come on time and you need the city to patch the potholes in your street.

And in the bigger picture, of course, you need the state and the private sector both to be functioning well enough to provide you with regular work, and a safe place to raise your children, and clean water and clean air.

The entire ethos of modern Wall Street, on the other hand, is complete indifference to all of these matters. The very rich on today's Wall Street are now so rich that they buy their own social infrastructure. They hire private security, they live on gated mansions on islands and other tax havens, and most notably, they buy their own justice and their own government.

An ordinary person who has a problem that needs fixing puts a letter in the mail to his congressman and sends it to stand in a line in some DC mailroom with thousands of others, waiting for a response.

But citizens of the stateless archipelago where people like Schwarzman live spend millions a year lobbying and donating to political campaigns so that they can jump the line. They don't need to make sure the government is fulfilling its customer-service obligations, because they buy special access to the government, and get the special service and the metaphorical comped bottle of VIP-room Cristal afforded to select customers.

Want to lower the capital reserve requirements for investment banks? Then-Goldman CEO Hank Paulson takes a meeting with SEC chief Bill Donaldson, and gets it done. Want to kill an attempt to erase the carried interest tax break? Guys like Schwarzman, and Apollo's Leon Black, and Carlyle's David Rubenstein, they just show up in Washington at Max Baucus's doorstep, and they get it killed.

Some of these people take that VIP-room idea a step further. J.P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon - the man the New York Times once called "Obama's favorite banker" - had an excellent method of guaranteeing that the Federal Reserve system's doors would always be open to him. What he did was, he served as the Chairman of the Board of the New York Fed.

And in 2008, in that moonlighting capacity, he orchestrated a deal in which the Fed provided $29 billion in assistance to help his own bank, Chase, buy up the teetering investment firm Bear Stearns. You read that right: Jamie Dimon helped give himself a bailout. Who needs to worry about good government, when you arethe government?

Dimon, incidentally, is another one of those bankers who's complaining now about the unfair criticism. "Acting like everyone who's been successful is bad and because you're rich you're bad, I don't understand it," he recently said, at an investor's conference.

Hmm. Is Dimon right? Do people hate him just because he's rich and successful? That really would be unfair. Maybe we should ask the people of Jefferson County, Alabama, what they think.

That particular locality is now in bankruptcy proceedings primarily because Dimon's bank, Chase, used middlemen to bribe local officials - literally bribe, with cash and watches and new suits - to sign on to a series of onerous interest-rate swap deals that vastly expanded the county's debt burden.

Essentially, Jamie Dimon handed Birmingham, Alabama a Chase credit card and then bribed its local officials to run up a gigantic balance, leaving future residents and those residents' children with the bill. As a result, the citizens of Jefferson County will now be making payments to Chase until the end of time.

Do you think Jamie Dimon would have done that deal if he lived in Jefferson County? Put it this way: if he was trying to support two kids on $30,000 a year, and lived in a Birmingham neighborhood full of people in the same boat, would he sign off on a deal that jacked up everyone's sewer bills 400% for the next thirty years?

Doubtful. But then again, people like Jamie Dimon aren't really citizens of any country. They live in their own gated archipelago, and the rest of the world is a dumping ground.

Just look at how Chase behaved in Greece, for example.

Having seen how well interest-rate swaps worked for Jefferson County, Alabama, Chase "helped" Greece mask its debt problem for years by selling a similar series of swaps to the Greek government. The bank then turned around and worked with banks like Goldman, Sachs to create a thing called the iTraxx SovX Western Europe index, which allowed investors to bet against Greek debt.

In other words, Chase knowingly larded up the nation of Greece with a crippling future debt burden, then turned around and helped the world bet against Greek debt.

Does a citizen of Greece do that deal? Forget that: does a human being do that deal?

Operations like the Greek swap/short index maneuver were easy money for banks like Goldman and Chase - hell, it's a no-lose play, like cutting a car's brake lines and then betting on the driver to crash - but they helped create the monstrous European debt problem that this very minute is threatening to send the entire world economy into collapse, which would result in who knows what horrors. At minimum, millions might lose their jobs and benefits and homes. Millions more will be ruined financially.

But why should Chase and Goldman care what happens to those people? Do they have any skin in that game?

Of course not. We're talking about banks that not only didn't warn the citizens of Greece about their future debt disaster, they actively traded on that information, to make money for themselves.

People like Dimon, and Schwarzman, and John Paulson, and all of the rest of them who think the "imbeciles" on the streets are simply full of reasonless class anger, they don't get it. Nobody hates them for being successful. And not that this needs repeating, but nobody even minds that they are rich.

What makes people furious is that they have stopped being citizens.

Most of us 99-percenters couldn't even let our dogs leave a dump on the sidewalk without feeling ashamed before our neighbors. It's called having a conscience: even though there are plenty of things most of us could get away with doing, we just don't do them, because, well, we live here. Most of us wouldn't take a million dollars to swindle the local school system, or put our next door neighbors out on the street with a robosigned foreclosure, or steal the life's savings of some old pensioner down the block by selling him a bunch of worthless securities.

But our Too-Big-To-Fail banks unhesitatingly take billions in bailout money and then turn right around and finance the export of jobs to new locations in China and India. They defraud the pension funds of state workers into buying billions of their crap mortgage assets. They take zero-interest loans from the state and then lend that same money back to us at interest. Or, like Chase, they bribe the politicians serving countries and states and cities and even school boards to take on crippling debt deals.

Nobody with real skin in the game, who had any kind of stake in our collective future, would do any of those things. Or, if a person did do those things, you'd at least expect him to have enough shame not to whine to a Bloomberg reporter when the rest of us complained about it.

But these people don't have shame. What they have, in the place where most of us have shame, are extra sets of balls. Just listen to Cooperman, the former Goldman exec from that country club in Boca. According to Cooperman, the rich do contribute to society:

Capitalists "are not the scourge that they are too often made out to be" and the wealthy aren't "a monolithic, selfish and unfeeling lot," Cooperman wrote. They make products that "fill store shelves at Christmas…"

Unbelievable. Merry Christmas, bankers. And good luck getting that message out.


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Arise Awake Stop not till the goal is reached. - Swami Vivekananda Swami ji is my inspiration, not as a monk but as a social reformer and for his universal-ism.