Why don’t the major television news programs talk about the “libor” scandal?

How tragic it is for our country that the great issues of our times are scarcely covered in the television news!

Look here to see the current inattention of the major news corporations to the  “libor” banking scandal.  

Why don’t the news media want to reveal how the banks have ripped off their own clients?  Are their links to the powerful world-oriented corporations so compelling that they don’t dare mention it?   

Is it only me that thinks the world is on the brink?

There are so many reasons to worry about what’s happening to our world in our time.  What has struck me recently is how ignorant of what’s going on many of my friends are.  I am alarmed that so many take Fox News to be news; Fox News itself classifies its “news” as Entertainment.  Well, most of the TV outlets have committed themselves to making “news” entertaining rather than informative.  It is not a good place to look for what’s happening to our world. Most of us who get the news on TV are being entertained but not informed.

Reason for worry about how much has changed in American society appears in our better news sources every day.  Take today’s article in the New York Times by Gretchen Morgenson about Neil Borovsky’s experience as the person who was supposed to police the TARP program.  His new book, she says, tells us how Washington seems to be working these days; well, not working.  Borovsky found little interest in exercising the responsibilities of governance, and more interest in advancing one’s career.  So many of the crucial reforms were never enacted.

Another article in today’s Times, however seeming distant from the above topic, adds to my sense of alarm.  Janine de Giovanni describes how it is possible to live in a city where war is at the doorstep while affairs inside the city are unaffected by it – that is, until something happens that radically forces upon the citizens how serious and dangerous the broader situation is.  I have seen this in many cases:  Friends in cities on the edge of war have often seemed unaware of how much danger lurks nearby, until it breaks into their social setting, often suddenly and tragically.  

It is not merely that the world is a mess that worries me.  It is that so few people around me are paying attention.  I can’t blame them because we are all busy.  We have leaders that are supposed to be doing their part while the rest of us work, doing what we are supposed to be doing.  But as we worked and slept and occasionally looked up long enough to decide who we wanted to vote for, something tragic and perhaps ineluctable has happened:  the system we thought we were living under has been co-opted by powerful forces we had little knowledge of:  powerful interests, mainly in the form of great corporations.  In fact, corporations whose true interests are global not local have intervened in the whole process of governing.  We thought we had a representative government; we elect our representatives to represent our interests in our communities, cities, states, and the federal government, right?  But another kind of element – a whole industry in fact – has intervened in the process of legislation.  It is called lobbying; representatives of the powerful and wealthy members of our society, supported by the wealth of the corporations they control, has intervened to control our government in their interest.  Our “representatives” can’t represent us because they must first pay off the big interests – usually corporate interests – who paid for the expensive process of getting elected.  

That’s why our government is unable to put into place a health system  that adequately serves all our citizens; that’s why the gun lobby can shamelessly keep this country from enacting reasonable weapons legislation (even after yet one more tragic massacre takes place in Colorado); that’s why nothing much has been done to control excess in Wall street, despite the meltdown of 2008 that continues as banks that are supposed to be too big to fail report colossal losses in “one of the greatest financial dramas of all time” (Morgenson); that’s why, in fact, Congress can scarcely pass any legislation.

What is to become of this country? And of the  world?  The most tragic events in history can be repeated in our time – only this time it will be on a global scale.  And in the mean time everyone is busy with their own local and provincial projects.  The shock will come, as it often has, in places where internecine conflict engulfs whole cities, whole societies — and suddenly, as if without warning.

In fact, warning signs are all around us.

The alarming scale of uncertainty in our times. Meaning what?

Rebecca Berg produced an article in the NYTimes [July 11, 2012], “Fear of Year-End Fiscal Stalemate May Be Having Effect Now” that provides a graph indicating the degree of uncertainty in the marketplace, based on the Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index.  It stunned me because it shows that there is far more uncertainty in the current market than existed immediately after 9/11/01.  This market is more spooked by world conditions today than it was on the day of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
What can this mean?

The relation of jobs, economic prosperity and national debt

I am still trying to figure out the Republican argument that the way to create jobs is to shut down government.  That means putting government employees out of work — that is, adding to the pool of unemployed, right?  It also means allowing the great corporations the freedom to swallow up their smaller and weaker competition; also, to have a powerful influence on public knowledge through television advertising.  How can “jobs” somehow spring from a policy that seems on the face of it to put people out of work and to favor the fat cats who already have plenty of money and jobs?    
Factcheck has a chart of the relation between Federal spending and Receipts going back to 1930.  This is useful in looking at the relation between these two conditions in the national economy and what we know about the impact of various policies on the American economy.  What stands out is how heavily the United States overspent during World War II, but also that despite that heavy expenditure the economy boomed in the next several years, that is, in the 1950s.  By the current arguments promoted these days, especially by the Republican Party, the US economy should have gone into free fall after WWII.  What we know, of course, is that the building after the war, financed by borrowed money, boosted the  economy so that revenues rose sufficiently to pay off the debt.  
Another feature of this chart worth noting is that the one time the United States had a surplus — note,  a surplus — was toward the end of the Clinton era.  Clinton should be justly proud of that achievement.  But also note that as soon as George W Bush administration came into office they gave it away:  they cut revenues and let the debts rise.  In fact, if I understand Paul Krugman, that would have been the time actually to have paid down the debt so that the government would have been in a better position to weather any forthcoming storm; to give it away, especially to the well-to-do who scarcely needed it at the time, would seem like squandering an opportunity.  The point is, when the economy is in the doldrums spend to get it going again, then cut back when it is doing well.
What Krugman said tonight on the Newshour seems to be true:  As long as the Republicans had their man in office they didn’t worry about overspending; it is merely now that the other party is in office that they have trumpeted the dangerous levels of debt.  If Romney wins then the party who squandered the last opportunity would be back in power — I would hope not to  do it again [!].   
For what it’s worth, I post the chart  here for the interest of anyone trying to figure out how they plan to fix the economy.

“The most misguided, naive, uninformed, egregious decision of the Supreme Court”

Finally a Republican calls a
spade a spade.  If any Republican is
going to say what everyone else considers tragically obvious it is going to be
John McCain.  Thanks, John, for saying
what seems so obvious that the need to say it reveals how distorted American
political discourse has become.  
He was
being interviewed on The News Hour
by Judy Woodruff and the problem of money in American politics came up.  Here is that part of the interview.
Judy Woodruff: 
this … just inevitable that we’re now in a period where money is going to be
playing this dominant role in American politics?
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: I’m afraid, at least for the time being, that’s going to
be the case, because of the most
misguided, naive, uninformed, egregious decision of the United States Supreme Court
think in the 21st century [i.e., the decision on Citizens United].  To somehow
view money as not having an effect on election, a corrupting effect on
election, flies in the face of reality. I just wish one of them had run for
county sheriff
. . . .
JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean one of the justices?
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: One of the five Supreme Court justices that voted to
invalidate what we know of as McCain-Feingold.
Look, I guarantee you, Judy, there will be
scandals. There is too much money
washing around political campaigns today.
And it will take scandals, and
then maybe we can have the Supreme Court go back and revisit this issue.
Remember, the Supreme Court rules on
constitutionality. So just passing another law doesn’t get it. So I’m afraid we’re in for a very bleak period
in American politics.
You know, we all talk about — and you just did —
about how much money is in the presidential campaign.
Suppose there’s a Senate campaign in a small
state, and 10 people get together and decided to contribute $10 million each.
You think that wouldn’t affect that Senate campaign?
JUDY WOODRUFF: This question of campaign money highlighted today by
this — the announcement that there’s a huge amount of money coming in from one
donor in the state of Nevada.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: Mr. Adelson, who gave large amounts of money to the
Gingrich campaign. And much of Mr. Adelson’s casino profits that go to him come
from this casino in Macau.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Which says what?
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: Which says that, obviously, maybe in a roundabout way, foreign money is coming
into an American campaign
— political campaigns.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Because of the profits at the casinos in Macau?
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: Yes. That is a great deal of money. And, again, we need a level playing field and we need
to go back to the realization that Teddy Roosevelt had that we have to have a limit
on the flow of money, and that corporations are not people.
 That’s why we have different laws that govern
corporations than govern individual citizens. And so to say that corporations
are people, again, flies in the face of all the traditional Supreme Court
decisions that we have made — that have been made in the past.

Big Oil and a few super-rich are pushing a global crisis–Ferrel of MarketWatch

When a commentator on MarketWatch worries about the same things I worry about it makes me think I might not be as crazy as I have feared. Paul B. Farrell [Big Oil’s civilization-ending pollution push: And the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s ‘insane’ plan.] is worried that “Big Oil” will “end civilization” because of its powerful financial grip on political affairs around the world.  This is what he says:

  • Are you focused solely on a piece of Big Oil’s estimated $150 billion short-term profits in 2012? Or are you investing for the long term, in a new America, in a sustainable planet for your grand kids, the one our next generation inherits in 2050?
  • [We live in] a sharply polarized America, [there is a] deep gap that divides politicians and voters, conservatives and progressives, occupiers and tea partiers, Big Oil and environmentalists, the Super Rich 1% and the 99% rest of Americans.
  • [N]o matter who’s elected president, [World War IV] now has its own momentum, it will intensify, and will grow deadlier in the next decades as global population explodes from 7 billion today to 10 billion by 2050 and our depleting natural resources can no longer produce enough food for 10 billion.
  • [The US Chamber of Commerce] gets . . . $100 million from deep pockets like Big Oil giants: British Petroleum, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell Oil and dirty-coal giant Massey. And equally significant, more than 50 private and sovereign foreign corporations in India, Bahrain, Germany, Britain, and Canada, all paying dues to the Chamber, money that funds the Chamber’s political ads and lobbyists fighting America’s environmental energy policies, fighting to wipe out regulations that protect the public.
  • [The opposition to this influence from the left] is environmental economist Bill McKibben, author of the 1990 classic, “End of Nature,” and founder of 350.org, a “global grassroots movement” of “thousands of volunteer organizers in over 188 countries.” . . . McKibben’s 350.org says “to preserve our planet, scientists tell us we must reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere from its current level of 392 parts per million to below 350 ppm.” 
  • [The] Chamber loves Big Oil’s civilization-ending pollution agenda.  . . .  Thomas Donohue, the chamber’s CEO, delivered his annual State of American Business address mocking government “regulations, mandates and higher taxes.”
  • McKibben warns of the chamber’s bias: They were “the biggest political funder in the last election cycle, outspending the Republican and Democratic national committees combined.
  • Donohue claimed America has “1.4 trillion barrels of oil, enough to last at least 200 years. We have 2.7 quadrillion cubic feet of natural gas, enough to last 120 years. We have 486 billion tons of coal, enough to last more than 450 years, and we need to use more of this strategic resource cleanly and wisely here at home while selling it around the world.”
  • [The response] But then what? The world ends? Yes. Actually much sooner. Because waiting till the last minute is suicidal. ThinkProgress.org columnist Brad Johnson even called Donohue’s speech a “Civilization-Ending Pollution Agenda” where “free enterprise requires a future of accelerated, unending global warming.” . . . 
  • “[S]cientists have long since concluded that to keep the planet’s temperature rise below a disastrous 2 degrees Celsius, the entire globe can burn, at most, an additional 650 billion tons of CO2. Or about one-third” of what the Chamber, Big Oil, Dirty Coal and Hot Gas propose burning.  . . . “Using tables from the government’s Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, [NASA scientists] calculated that burning those quantities of coal, gas and oil would raise the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide from its current 392 parts per million to almost 650 ppm.” 
  • [McKibben:] “For Donohue to recommend blithely increasing it by more than 50% is — well, it’s insane. Every nation on Earth has been conducting negotiations in an attempt to keep CO2 concentrations below 450 ppm; much research indicates we actually need to get back below 350 ppm to stabilize global climate.”  Worse: “Donohue was only talking about American hydrocarbons.” Add in Canada, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Kuwait, Venezuela, Norway, China, South Africa, Indonesia, Brazil and more, and “his prescription is fundamentally outrageous, at odds with everything we know,” a doomsday scenario “beyond dumb” that “only the most profound global-warming denier could ever embrace.”
Yes, our civilization could simply overdrive the system it depends on to the point of collapse.  You might think our leaders are too sensible, too rational to allow that to happen.  Well, considering the way they have behaved in the last decade, what would you expect?

When money and political posturing clash with science.

The debate about global warming – now called climate change – is driven by conflicting interests.  On the one hand there are climate scientists who are concerned that their projections suggest frightening changes coming upon the earth; on the other are the corporate interests that cannot bear for this to be known because it’s bad for business.  So the moneyed interests have turned the issue into a political flash point. 

Actually the issue is not new among those who have been looking at such things.  As far back as twenty-five years ago one of my colleagues showed me a graph of the amounts of CO2 levels at various times over the last several thousand years, based on ice cores taken from the Greenland icecap.  What struck me then was the noticeable rise in CO2 about 10,000 years ago, which we speculated could have been caused by the invention of slash-burn (or swidden) agriculture.  Neither of us was surprised at the far more dramatic rise in CO2 levels beginning in the twentieth century, the time when the automobile was coming into vogue; the amounts have been rising ever since, and dramatically so recently.  At the time, I had no idea what those rising levels might mean for the planet we live on. 
The consensus of the climate scientists is that the earth is warming at an ever faster pace.  The voices contesting this come from outside the community of scholars specializing in global climate.  Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway call those nay-sayers Merchants of Doubt (Bloomsbury Press, 2010).  Philip Kitcher summarizes their point in his review of “The Climate Change Debates” in Science(vol 328, p. 1230-34, June 4, 2010):  “Opposition to scientifically well-supported claims about  the dangers of cigarette smoking, the difficulties of the Strategic Defense Initiative (“Star Wars”), the effects of acid rain, the existence of the ozone hole, the problems caused by secondhand smoke, and — ultimately – the existence of anthropogenic climate change was used in ‘the service of political goals and commercial interests’ to obstruct the transmission to the American public of important information.  Amazingly, the same small cadre of obfuscators figure in all these episodes.”  Oreskes and Conway discovered that scientists tied to particular industries, with strong political connections, have played a disproportionate role in debates about contested issues.  Even though they obtained their stature in fields with little pertinence to the issues in question they have posed as experts, many of them paid by “think tanks” devoted to contesting claims that threaten the interests of powerful corporations and political interests.  The attempt has been to shape the way the public thinks about the natural processes that threaten the world.  In fact, it seems certain that any attempt to deny the processes of nature cannot prevail, at least in the long run.  The world operates according to its own mechanisms, whatever we might think about it.  We cannot create a “reality” by mere rhetoric or ostrich-like denial.  
The task of science of course is to faithfully seek an understanding of the world as it is.  Obviously, if the climate experts are right the earth is facing critical developments that will not go away. 
What most climate scientists foresee is indeed worrisome.  If we consider how the dangerous trends in the world can be turned around, to turn back the trend of CO2 production that is causing climate change, we find reasons to consider the situation dire.  That is, there are natural processes and there are social processes.  Anthony Giddens, the sociologist who has joined the debate (The Politics of Climate Change, 2009), puts it this way:  “It will be a colossal task to turn around a society whose whole way of life is constructed around mobility and a ‘natural right’ to consume energy in a profligate way.”  A colossal task, yes.  Turning around a civilization that is hell-bent on carrying on as it always has, driven by institutional conventions that are ensconced and opulently funded will indeed be a Herculean task.  That the system in place will seek to deny scientific findings that threaten it is to be expected.  So why does Giddens add to the above eminently formulated assertion the following codicil: “Yet it isn’t as hopeless an endeavor as it looks”? He provides no evidence to support this claim.  We wonder: Did Giddens reach for a straw to avoid admitting how unlikely such a turn-around is?  It seems obvious enough that what is actually required for the world to transform itself is a huge effort.  So, really, how likely is it?  Minimal.  Is the reality too hideous for Giddens to put it into words? 

Nancy Lindesfarne [Anthropology Today 26(4):1,2 2010] describes the collapse of the UN climate talks in Copenhagen, December, 2009:  “No one  … imagined what shape the Copenhagen Accord would actually take. … Alone, the heads of five states brazenly decided, in a last minute, back-room fix, to do nothing at all to prevent catastrophic climate change.   These five states are among the world’s largest coal consumers.  … they are all states that would have to change most to address climate change.  In the midst of the global financial crisis, they decided it would just cost too much. …”  In response to the failure of the Copenhagen talks Evo Morales Ayma, President of Bolivia, called for a World’s Peoples Conference on Climate Change and affirmed, “We have two paths: to save capitalism, or to save Mother Earth.” 

Capitalism or global collapse:  That’s an option our world leaders must never have to face.

Now we know how Congress can be bought off: Another way to subvert democracy

Information Clearing House has posted the transcript of Abramoff’s interview with Leslie Stahl on “60 Minutes” last night.  [Click on the title above for a link to the source.]
Information Clearing House
Jack Abramoff: The lobbyist’s playbook Or How To Buy Your Own Congressperson.  [An interview with CBS 60 Minutes]
This is a must-read article.  If you combine what has been revealed about the activities of the Koch brothers with what Abramoff tells the world, you can easily envision how it is that our congress is locked up, unable to act in the public interest.  

Two powerful Kansans whose influence is shaping the course of history, in their own interest

An article in Al Jazeera on the Koch brothers, Charles and David, is chilling because it reveals how easy it is for money — that is, people with lots of money — to subvert the democratic system in the name of democracy.  To them “democracy” seems to mean the right for those who have the wealth to keep it and control the flow of information in their own interest, to control Congress so as to ensure that they and their enterprises will prosper, whatever it means to others, the rest of the country or the rest of the world.  I reproduce this article here in its entirety to emphasize how such a project works, how the super-rich, if so inclined, can subvert the conventions that are supposed to ensure opportunity for everyone in a society.  Could the Kochs themselves, with all their wealth, be the main forces behind the powerful pull to the right in American politics in the last 30 years?  That they are from a modest middle class neighborhood in Wichita, Kansas, however, prompts me to have another question:  How did they get from there to became what they are now, with their elitist and self-serving agendas?   RLC  [click on the title above for a link to the source.]

Al Jazeera 01 Nov 2011:  “The Koch Brothers:  People and Power asks if the tycoon duo’s fortune could put the radical right into the White House.”  By Bob Abeshouse. 

Charles and David Koch are each worth about $25bn, which makes them the fourth richest Americans. When you combine their fortunes, they are the third wealthiest people in the world. Radical libertarians who use their money to oppose government and virtually all regulation as interference with the free market, the Kochs are in a class of their own as players on the American political stage. Their web of influence in the US stretches from state capitals to the halls of congress in Washington DC.
The Koch brothers fueled the conservative Tea Party movement that vigorously opposes Barack Obama, the US president. They fund efforts to derail action on global warming, and support politicians who object to raising taxes on corporations or the wealthy to help fix America’s fiscal problems. According to New Yorker writer Jane Mayer, who wrote a groundbreaking exposé of the Kochs in 2010, they have built a top to bottom operation to shape public policy that has been “incredibly effective. They are so rich that their pockets are almost bottomless, and they can keep pouring money into this whole process”.
Koch industries, the second largest privately-held company in the US, is an oil refining, chemical, paper products and financial services company with revenues of a $100bn a year. Virtually every American household has some Koch product – from paper towels and lumber, to Stainmaster carpet and Lycra in sports clothes, to gasoline for cars. The Koch’s political philosophy of rolling back environmental and financial regulations is also beneficial to their business interests.
The Kochs rarely talk to the press, and conduct their affairs behind closed doors. But at a secret meeting of conservative activists and funders the Kochs held in Vail, Colorado this past summer, someone made undercover recordings. One caught Charles Koch urging participants to dig deep into their pockets to defeat Obama. “This is the mother of all wars we’ve got in the next 18 months,” he says, “for the life or death of this country.” He called out the names of 31 people at the Vail meeting who each contributed more than $1m over the past 12 months.
In the 2010 congressional elections, the Kochs and their partners spent at least $40m, helping to swing the balance of power in the US House of Representatives towards right-wing Tea Party Republicans. It has been reported that the Kochs are planning to raise and spend more than $200m to defeat Obama in 2012. But the brothers could easily kick in more without anyone knowing due to loopholes in US law.
The Kochs founded and provide millions to Americans for Prosperity, a political organisation that builds grassroots support for conservative causes and candidates. Americans for Prosperity, which has 33 state chapters and claims to have about two million members, has close ties to Tea Party groups and played a key role in opposing Obama’s health care initiative.
This year, Americans for Prosperity spent at least half a million dollars supporting Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s efforts to cut social spending and roll back collective bargaining rights for public employee unions. The legislation passed by Walker makes it more difficult for unions, which are major backers of Democratic candidates, to secure funds for political purposes. Americans for Prosperity is also very active in a battle against unions in Ohio, another important 2012 presidential state. Its president, Tim Phillips, says that the organisation is winning in Wisconsin and around the country “because on the policies of economic freedom, we’re right”. He refused to tell People and Power reporter Bob Abeshouse how much the organisation is spending to combat the unions.
The Kochs have also poured millions into think tanks and academia to influence the battle over ideas. According to Kert Davies, the director of research for Greenpeace in the US, the Kochs have spent more than $50m since 1998 on “various front groups and think tanks who … oppose the consensus view that climate change is real, urgent and we have to do something about it”. As operators of oil pipelines and refineries, the Kochs have opposed all efforts to encourage alternative sources of energy by imposing a tax on fossil fuels.
Patrick Michaels, a senior fellow at the CATO Institute, often appears in the media to contest global warming science. CATO was founded by Charles Koch, and the Kochs and their foundations have contributed about $14m to CATO. Since 2009, there has been a sharp drop in the percentage of Americans who see global warming as a serious threat according to Gallup polls. Davies argues that the change can be attributed in large measure to the efforts of scientists like Michaels and others who are funded by the fossil fuel industry.
The Kochs have also promoted their free market ideology and business interests through aggressive lobbying in Washington DC, and financial support of political candidates. Greenpeace has tracked more than $50m that Koch Industries has spent on lobbyists since 2006, when Cap and Trade and other legislation to combat global warming was being considered. The Kochs have been the largest political spender since 2000 in the energy sector, exceeding Exxon, Chevron, and other major players.
The Kochs contributed to 62 of the 87 new members of the US House of Representatives in 2010. Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee that the Kochs supported have taken the lead in opposing US Environmental Protection Agency efforts to reduce global warming emissions. Other members backed by the Kochs belong to the right-wing Tea Party bloc that took the US to the brink of default in July by refusing to consider a budget deal that would include tax increases.
In 2012, many believe that President Obama can raise a billion dollars for the presidential race, and break all fundraising records. But as Lee Fang of the Center for American Progress tells reporter Bob Abeshouse, in the end it may not matter “because the Koch brothers alone increased their wealth by $11bn in the last two years”.

The economic downturn: The scale of the loss

“The crash of September 2008 brought the largest bankruptcies in world history, pushing more than 30 million people into unemployment and bringing many countries to the edge of insolvency. Wall Street turned back the clock to 1929.”
The reason?
“A lack of government regulation; easy lending in the US housing market meant anyone could qualify for a home loan with no government regulations in place.”  [Al Jazeera, 11/15/11] [Click on the title above for a link to the source.]