David Stockman on the recent tax cut deal

David Stockman, budget director under Ronald Reagan and a consummate insider, slams the recent tax cut deal that was passed with such speed and bipartisanship:

What we’re doing is perpetuating the most colossal fiscal mistake in history. These tax cuts and the Bush tax cuts were originally put in in 2001, 2003. They were premised on the prospect of a five trillion budget surplus over the coming 10 years, and the idea was to give some money back to the taxpayer.

Well, here we are 10 years later, two unfinanced wars, housing boom and bust, and bailouts everywhere, the huge stimulus programs, massive deficits have broken out. And in that 10 years, we’ve actually had five trillion of deficits.

So, we have accomplished over the last decade a $10 trillion swing from an illusory surplus to a gigantic deficit. And therefore, it just underscores even more as unaffordable as they were a decade ago. It is utter folly in the face of this deficit to be extending them. (My italics)

The idea of this will stimulate domestic production and jobs as wrong. That’s an obsolete idea that may have been true 40 years ago. But today, given that we buy almost everything we consume from abroad, this tax cut-induced spending really is going to stimulate the Chinese economy, not ours, build up our debt further and require that we borrow from China so that we can increase the deficit here in the United States.

When one of the architects of Reagonomics (whose views haven’t changed much since those days) blasts away at the fiscal irresponsibility in government and comes off as a militant progressive, you know that the greed of the oligarchy is out of control.

Bank of America and WikiLeaks

Bank of America has said that it will no process any transactions for WikiLeaks.

It is interesting that this is the same bank that is rumored to be a target of a release in January 2011 by WikiLeaks of documents that will presumably expose its shady practices.

I wrote about this earlier where I said that the oligarchy (of which the big banks are a central part) will fight back with everything they’ve got to preserve their right to continue looting the system.

Glenn Greenwald debates Jamie Rubin and John Burns

In this radio program, Glenn Greenwald discusses the WikiLeaks issue with Jamie Rubin, a former State Department spokesperson, and John Burns of the New York Times, whom Greenwald has criticized before for his hatchet job on Julian Assange.

The first 22 minutes consists of Burns talking about the Assange court hearing in London and the next 10 minutes has Rubin making the case why what WikiLeaks does is bad. Greenwald only enters the discussion around the 32-minute mark. If you don’t have time to listen to the whole thing, I would suggest that you start there because it then becomes very lively as Greenwald points out how people like Rubin simply make up stuff in their efforts to discredit Wikileaks.

It is interesting that when confronted with facts that go against their position (and Greenwald usually has the goods), both Rubin and Burns either make up stuff or say that they cannot be bothered to debate Greenwald. The common view of Burns and Rubin symbolizes perfectly the collusion between the mainstream media and the government when any challenge to the establishment comes up.

After the program, Greenwald put up a blog post documenting how Rubin was flat out wrong in his statements.

Cheap news is no news

David Cay Johnson describes how the drive for profits in the newspaper industry is eliminating beat reporting and replacing it with filler material that is of little value.

Beats are fundamental to journalism, but our foundation is crumbling. Whole huge agencies of the federal government and, for many news organizations, the entirety of state government go uncovered. There are school boards and city councils and planning commissions that have not seen a reporter in years. The outrageous salaries that were paid to Bell, California city officials—close to $800,000 to the city manager, for example—would not have happened if just one competent reporter had been covering that city hall in Southern California. But no one was, and it took an accidental set of circumstances for two reporters from the Los Angeles Times to reveal this scandal.

Far too much of journalism consists of quoting what police, prosecutors, politicians and publicists say—and this is especially the case with beat reporters. It’s news on the cheap and most of it isn’t worth the time it takes to read, hear or watch. Don’t take my word for it. Instead look at declining circulation figures. People know value and they know when what they’re getting is worth their time or worth the steadily rising cost of a subscription.

During the past 15 years as I focused my reporting on how the American economy works and the role of government in shaping how the benefits and burdens of the economy are distributed, I’ve grown increasingly dismayed at the superficial and often dead wrong assumptions permeating the news. Every day in highly respected newspapers I read well-crafted stories with information that in years past I would have embraced but now know is nonsense, displaying a lack of understanding of economic theory and the regulation of business. The stories even lack readily available official data on the economy and knowledge of the language and principles in the law, including the Constitution.

What these stories have in common is a reliance on what sources say rather than what the official record shows.

Creating a nation of spies and informants

In most countries that have endemic terrorism, leaders know that they cannot protect their people from random attacks and their usual appeal is for people to remain calm and go about their normal business. In the US, though, the leaders seek to ratchet up the fear all the time. When did you last hear a leading US politician or high government official say that we should simply go about our business and not be obsessed with terrorist attacks? Where is the modern day equivalent of Franklin Delano Roosevelt to say that the only thing we need to fear is fear itself?

Instead we now have the US government joining up with Walmart (yes, Walmart!) and other places in a “See something, say something” program to encourage people to keep a sharp eye on the people around them and report any ‘suspicious’ behavior to store managers. Isn’t there something creepy about the cabinet secretary in charge of the equally creepily named ‘Department of Homeland Security’ appearing on video screens all over the place urging people to become essentially spies and informants for the government?

Besides, what are people supposed to be looking for? Are they supposed to be like Mr. Whipple, constantly on the lookout for people squeezing the Charmin?

It seems like the next logical step will be to pass laws to create some kind of counter-terrorism investigative unit that reports only to high government officials (say the head of the Department of Homeland Security) and is exempt from all the quaint old legal restraints that used to preserve our civil liberties, such as obtaining warrants to intercept our private communications or to take people in for questioning or to read them their rights and allow them to have lawyers. The people who work for this agency will be granted immunity from any legal oversight in order to allow them to pursue ‘terrorists’ freely, all to keep us safe of course. People will be asked to cooperate with this agency and report to them anyone who is acting suspiciously, whether it be neighbors, co-workers, passers by, shoppers (see Walmart, above) or even friends and family members. Such an organization will bear a strong resemblance to the Stasi, the notorious East German secret police, but our media will not be so impolite as to point this out.

Does this sound paranoid? Paul Craig Roberts says that initial steps in this direction are already being taken and that all the half-baked terrorist plots that required government coaxing and even bribes to get people to agree to participate in are part of the process of softening us up to accept these moves as being necessary to ‘protect’ us.

What is it really all about? Could it be that the US government needs terrorist events in order to completely destroy the US Constitution? On November 24, National Public Radio broadcast a report by Dina Temple-Raston: “Administration officials are looking at the possibility of codifying detention without trial and are awaiting legislation that is supposed to come out of Congress early next year.” Of course, the legislation will not come out of Congress. It will be written by Homeland Security and the Justice (sic) Department. The impotent Congress will merely rubber-stamp it.

The obliteration of habeas corpus, the most necessary and important protection of liberty ever institutionalized in law and governing constitution, has become necessary for the US government, because a jury might acquit an alleged or mock “terrorist” or framed person whom the US government has declared prior to the trial will be held forever in indefinite detention even if acquitted in a US court of law. The attorney general of the United States has declared that any “terrorist” that he puts on trial who is acquitted by a jury will remain in detention regardless of the verdict. Such an event would reveal the total lawlessness of American “justice.”

Scott Horton at Harpers describes how all this is done by abusing the term “terrorist” so that it becomes a catch-all term that can be applied to anyone the government dislikes, like Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. Burma and Zimbabwe are the leaders in this kind of abuse but the US is quickly catching up, and the proposed SHIELD legislation is another step towards that goal.

Naomi Wolf, author of The End of America (2007), has also been warning about this for some time and says that the invocation of the Espionage Act of 1917 to prosecute WikiLeaks and Julian Assange is a dangerous sign of things to come.

The Espionage Act was crafted in 1917 — because President Woodrow Wilson wanted a war and, faced with the troublesome First Amendment, wished to criminalize speech critical of his war. In the run-up to World War One, there were many ordinary citizens — educators, journalists, publishers, civil rights leaders, union activists — who were speaking out against US involvement in the war. The Espionage Act was used to round these citizens by the thousands for the newly minted ‘crime’ of their exercising their First Amendment Rights.

That is why prosecution via the Espionage Act is so dangerous — not for Assange alone, but for every one of us, regardless of our political views.

This is far from a feverish projection: if you study the history of closing societies, as I have, you see that every closing society creates a kind of ‘third rail’ of material, with legislation that proliferates around it. The goal of the legislation is to call those who criticize the government ‘spies’, ‘traitors’, enemies of the state’ and so on. Always the issue of national security is invoked as the reason for this proliferating legislation. The outcome? A hydra that breeds fear. Under similar laws in Germany in the early thirties, it became a form of ‘espionage’ and ‘treason’ to criticize the Nazi party, to listen to British radio programs, to joke about the fuhrer, or to read cartoons that mocked the government. Communist Russia in the 30’s, East Germany in the 50’s, and China today all use parallel legislation to call criticism of the government — or whistleblowing — ‘espionage’ and ‘treason’, and ‘legally’ imprison or even execute journalists, editors, and human rights activists accordingly.

Do we really want to create a society where measures carefully developed over centuries to preserve civil liberties and encoded in laws and constitutional protections are tossed away, and where people see as their duty to act as spies for the government on their friends, co-workers, neighbors, and random people around them?

What such initiatives invariably do is result in a lot of ‘false positive’ information, where people who were doing perfectly legal things are reported because their actions lie outside the narrow range of activities that the observer is familiar with. This will result in law enforcement agencies being swamped chasing false leads and the falsely accused people spending enormous amounts of time and money trying to clear their names.