Christmas comes early to the oligarchy, thanks to Santa Obama

So, as I predicted, Barack Obama and the Democrats have, with much handwringing about how sad they are to do this but had no choice, given the oligarchy all that they want, and more.

Obama announced that he had agreed to:

  1. Retain all the tax cuts given to the wealthy.
  2. Exempt from the estate tax inheritances up to $5 million while cutting the rate heirs pay to 35 percent for amounts above that. In 2009 the exemption figure had been $3.5 million exemption with a 45 percent tax rate, and this had been ‘temporarily’ reduced to zero this year. But it was due to return in 2011 to the $1 million exemption level and a top rate of 55%. So the heirs of the oligarchs get to keep the money to themselves. Paris Hilton must be so pleased.
  3. Keep taxes on unearned income low by having the top tax rate on capital gains and dividends (the source of much of the oligarchy’s wealth) be 15% for two years. In 2011 it had been due to become 20% for long term capital gains and 39.6% for short term.

In a gesture to unemployed, Obama extended the period of unemployment benefits but the oligarchy really does not care about a few crumbs tossed to the poor (or the deficit for that matter) as long as waves of money keep getting directed towards them.

In another gesture to the poor and middle class, Obama also cut the employee contribution to payroll (i.e., Social Security) taxes from 6.2% to 4.2%, so that their take home pay would increase. But being deeply suspicious as I am, I wonder if this alleged benefit also has an ulterior motive to favor the oligarchy. Remember that the oligarchy wants to raid the Social Security funds under the guise of ‘rescuing’ it from a crisis. But as has been repeatedly pointed out, there is no long-term Social Security crisis that cannot be solved with minor adjustments. Could this new move be a means of artificially creating a crisis, since revenues will now go down?

Obama is assuring everyone that the shortfall in Social Security revenues will be covered by general revenues. But that is not the point since the government was always obliged to cover the costs. The point is that as far as book-keeping goes, Social Security will now actually have a serious long-term deficit and this is what the raiders will point to down the road to argue that it needs rescuing.

Cartoonist Tom Tomorrow captures the essence of the charade that Obama, the Democrats, and the Republicans have been playing on us, though he seems to fall into the common liberal trap of thinking that Obama is naïve and ingenuous, while I think he knows exactly what he is doing and for whose benefit. One thing that Tomorrow gets exactly right is that it is telling that Obama’s ingratiating and obsequious approach to the Republicans switches to becoming really animated and angry at the very people whose energy and support propelled him to office.

There will still be some Kabuki theater with some rank and file progressive Democrats trying to kill this deal But the fix was in a long time ago. I hope I am proved wrong on this but I am not optimistic.

And the lies about WikiLeaks continue…

Glenn Greenwald documents how critics of WikiLeaks are basing their arguments on a falsehood and squirming to find ways to just indict WikiLeaks while not targeting all the newspapers that published the same cables.

As Julian Assange says, “WikiLeaks is not the only publisher of the US embassy cables. Other media outlets, including Britain’s The Guardian, The New York Times, El Pais in Spain and Der Spiegel in Germany have published the same redacted cables.”

So why is WikiLeaks being singled out? Because governments always target the powerless and want to teach a lesson to any upstart group that harbors similar ideas of openness.

As Assange says, “Prime Minister Gillard and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have not had a word of criticism for the other media organisations. That is because The Guardian, The New York Times and Der Spiegel are old and large, while WikiLeaks is as yet young and small.”

Freedom-loving people have to fight the combination of secretive governments and their media allies who conspire to hide the fact that they exist just to serve the oligarchy. Transparency to them is like sunlight to a vampire.

WikiLeaks’ collateral damage

WikiLeaks’ repeated release of secret documents has produced considerable collateral damage. No, I am not talking about the harm done to innocent people. While the government and its lackeys in the media have been howling that WikiLeaks’ has ‘blood on its hands’ (how they love that phrase!) because of its ‘irresponsibility’ in releasing could result in the deaths of those people who have helped the western occupying forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, they have been forced to concede that none of their fears have been realized. Actually, those ‘fears’ are better called ‘hopes’ because I think they wanted someone named in the documents to be killed so that it could be used to discredit WikiLeaks.

Of course, even the most cursory survey of recent history shows that the US government doesn’t give two cents about the lives of innocent people in the countries that it invades, killing hundreds of thousands of them in the pursuit of its geostrategic goals. All this squealing is because the documents have revealed the systemic lying and hypocrisy of the government. Barack Obama, who came to power promising to bring a new transparency and openness to government and to stop the abuses of his predecessor, is revealed (along with Hillary Clinton) to be one of the biggest hypocrites of them all because the distance between his words and actions is even greater than those of the appalling Bush-Cheney regime whose contempt for democracy and the rule of law was out in the open.

But the collateral damage in this case is the exposure of the ineffectual and servile nature of the media. What WikiLeaks is doing is revealing important stories that the media did not uncover, did not seek to uncover, or knew about and did not reveal to the public because of its desire to be in the good graces of the government. It is because the media have been stripped naked by WikiLeaks that they are the ones who are almost apoplectic in demanding that the government protect its secrets better. They know that if this continues, sooner-or-later even the most dim-witted observer of the national scene is going to start to wonder why it is that it is WikiLeaks that is breaking these major stories while the mainstream media is obsessed with Sarah Palin’s tweets.

Even former George W. Bush speechwriter Matthew Dowd is appalled at the government and media response to the WikiLeaks release.

In Washington’s polarized political environment, Republicans and Democrats seem to agree on a few things: That the government, in the name of fighting terrorism, has the right to listen in on all of our phone conversations and read our e-mails, even if it has no compelling reason for doing so. That the government can use machines at the airport that basically conduct the equivalent of strip searches of every passenger. That the government, for as long as it wants, can withhold any information from the public that it decides is in the national interest and is classified. And that when someone reveals this information, they are reviled on all sides, with the press corps staying silent.

When did we decide that we trust the government more than its citizens? And that revealing the truth about the government is wrong? And why is the media complicit in this? Did we not learn anything from the run-up to the Iraq war when no one asked hard questions about the justifications for the war and when we accepted statements from government officials without proper pushback?

And shouldn’t news organizations be defending WikiLeaks and doing some soul-searching of their own about why they aren’t devoting more resources to the search for the truth? Why is it that the National Enquirer and Internet blogs sometimes seem better than they are at finding out what’s really going on?

Glenn Greenwald provides an example of the bipartisanship that Dowd refers to.

[T]he loathsome Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) — the National-Security-State-venerating Chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee who lives off her defense contractor-husband’s vast wealth — announced that she supports re-writing and expanding the Espionage Act of 1917 to make it easier to prosecute WikiLeaks and those like them; as always, Feinstein abuses her role as Chair of the “oversight” Committee not to scrutinize and limit the abuses of the intelligence community but to protect them at all costs, as that’s where her source of wealth and power lie. She was responding to yesterday’s announcement that Joe Lieberman — joined by GOP Senators Scott Brown and John Ensign — introduced a bill intended to make it easier to prosecute Assange. Exactly as Dowd says, when it comes to authoritarian punishments for those who dare to expose what the U.S. Government does, the mindset is entirely bipartisan.

Lieberman’s bill has the cute acronym that now seems to be obligatory for any draconian anti-democratic legislation (Remember the odious USA PATRIOT act?) and is called the SHIELD law (for Securing Human Intelligence and Enforcing Lawful Dissemination), “which would make it a crime to publish information that might harm U.S. agents or informants, or would otherwise be contrary to the national interest.” Such broad language seeks to totally gut the First Amendment.

The real target of such moves is, of course, not WikiLeaks alone but the media in general. It is a long-established practice of governments to use moments of intense crisis (9/11 and the Gulf of Tonkin are good examples) to ram through measures to increase their powers that they can then use against everyone. You can be sure that the US mainstream media, rather than fight such censorship efforts tooth and nail because it can so easily be turned against them in the future, will be cheering on this example of ‘responsible bipartisanship’, a great example of the ‘two parties working together for the nation’s good’, providing a welcome respite from the ‘partisan acrimony’ that they constantly bemoan.

Censorship and a free press are natural enemies. So why does the establishment media go against what should be their own interests? Because that is how the corporate media serves the interests of the oligarchic one-party state. Because they cannot openly say that they exist to serve the interests of the oligarchy, they have to instead say that they are ‘responsible’ and ‘law abiding’ and as such their hands are tied. So they willingly extend their hands to be tied, rather than accepting the gift that WikiLeaks has provided them with in the form of a treasure trove of information for use in their own reporting.

This is what WikiLeaks has exposed in releasing the documents and why the corporate media (apart from a few notable exceptions such as David Samuels who has a wonderful article in The Atlantic) hate WikiLeaks so much.

This is also why I support WikiLeaks with both words and money. It is easy to donate. The link on the right hand side navigation bar will take you to their home page.

The exact number of crazy people in the population

When opinion polls are conducted and the results released, I always wonder at what level of support we should begin to take minority viewpoints seriously. I had arrived at a rough rule of thumb that, depending on the issue being polled (politics, religion, science, etc.), you could always find anywhere between 10-20% of the population willing to subscribe to whatever truly nutty option is offered to them, whether it is because they are truly believe in it or are answering at random or are just having fun at the pollsters’ expense. (Whenever polls survey young people about their beliefs and activities, I suspect that the last factor rises considerably.)

Back in 2005, Kung Fu Monkey was able to put a more precise figure on the nutty segment, at least when it comes to people’s preferences for political candidates: 27%.

John: Hey, Bush is now at 37% approval. I feel much less like Kevin McCarthy screaming in traffic. But I wonder what his base is —

Tyrone: 27%.

John: … you said that immmediately, and with some authority.

Tyrone: Obama vs. Alan Keyes. Keyes was from out of state, so you can eliminate any established political base; both candidates were black, so you can factor out racism; and Keyes was plainly, obviously, completely crazy. Batshit crazy. Head-trauma crazy. But 27% of the population of Illinois voted for him. They put party identification, personal prejudice, whatever ahead of rational judgement. Hell, even like 5% of Democrats voted for him. That’s crazy behaviour. I think you have to assume a 27% Crazification Factor in any population.

Makes sense to me. So when you find people like Sarah Palin polling in the mid-twenties as people’s choice for president, bear that in mind.

Why the US mainstream media cannot be trusted

Gareth Porter uses the latest WikiLeaks release to illustrate how the New York Times and the Washington Post lie to their readers by omission, carefully editing their stories to reflect the views of the government.

A diplomatic cable from last February released by Wikileaks provides a detailed account of how Russian specialists on the Iranian ballistic missile program refuted the U.S. suggestion that Iran has missiles that could target European capitals or intends to develop such a capability.

In fact, the Russians challenged the very existence of the mystery missile the U.S. claims Iran acquired from North Korea.

But readers of the two leading U.S. newspapers never learned those key facts about the document.

The New York Times and Washington Post reported only that the United States believed Iran had acquired such missiles – supposedly called the BM-25 – from North Korea. Neither newspaper reported the detailed Russian refutation of the U.S. view on the issue or the lack of hard evidence for the BM-25 from the U.S. side.

The Times, which had obtained the diplomatic cables not from Wikileaks but from The Guardian, according to a Washington Post story Monday, did not publish the text of the cable.

The Times story said the newspaper had made the decision not to publish “at the request of the Obama administration”. That meant that its readers could not compare the highly-distorted account of the document in the Times story against the original document without searching the Wikileaks website.

NPR is only marginally less obsequious to US government interests. As Paul Craig Roberts writes,

On November 29, National Public Radio emphasized that the cables showed that Iran was isolated even in the Muslim world, making it easier for the Israelis and Americans to attack. The leaked cables reveal that the president of Egypt, an American puppet, hates Iran, and the Saudi Arabian government has been long urging the US government to attack Iran. In other words, Iran is so dangerous to the world that even its co-religionists want Iran wiped off the face of the earth.

NPR presented several nonobjective “Iranian experts” who denigrated Iran and its leadership and declared that the US government, by resisting its Middle Eastern allies’ calls for bombing Iran, was the moderate in the picture. The fact that President George W. Bush declared Iran to be a member of “the axis of evil” and threatened repeatedly to attack Iran, and that President Obama has continued the threats–Adm. Michael Mullen, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, has just reiterated that the US hasn’t taken the attack option off the table–are not regarded by American “Iran experts” as indications of anything other than American moderation.

Somehow it did not come across in the NPR newscast that it is not Iran but Israel that routinely slaughters civilians in Lebanon, Gaza, and the West Bank, and that it is not Iran but the US and its NATO mercenaries who slaughter civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yeman, and Pakistan.

Iran has not invaded any of its neighbors, but the Americans are invading countries half way around the globe.

Notice that the items in the cables that have received the most publicity is how some Arab leaders want Iran to be bombed. The media spotlight this because this continues the demonizing of Iran, which is a key policy objective of the US and Israel and helps prepare the groundwork for a potential attack on Iran. They also act as if the views of these leaders are also the views of the people in those nations. Noam Chomsky, appearing on Democracy Now!, gives the unreported other side of the story:

[T]he main significance of the cables that have been released so far is what they tell us about Western leadership. So, Hillary Clinton and Binyamin Netanyahu surely know of the careful polls of Arab public opinion. The Brookings Institute just a few months ago released extensive polls of what Arabs think about Iran. And the results are rather striking. They show that Arab opinion does—holds that the major threat in the region is Israel, that’s 80 percent; the second major threat is the United States, that’s 77 percent. Iran is listed as a threat by 10 percent. With regard to nuclear weapons, rather remarkably, a majority, in fact, 57 percent, say that the region will be—it would have a positive effect in the region if Iran had nuclear weapons. Now, these are not small numbers. Eighty percent, 77 percent say that the U.S. and Israel are the major threat. Ten percent say that Iran is the major threat.

Surely the question of why the dictators of these Arab countries want the US to attack Iran in the face of wide opposition of their own people should be of some interest? But that is a discussion that you will rarely hear. But Roberts gives a possible explanation:

The “Iranian experts” treated the Saudi and Egyptian rulers’ hatred of Iran as a vindication of the US and Israeli governments’ demonization of Iran. Not a single “Iranian expert” was capable of pointing out that the tyrants who rule Egypt and Saudi Arabia fear Iran because the Iranian government represents the interests of Muslims, and the Saudi and Egyptian governments represent the interests of the Americans.

Think what it must feel like to be a tyrant suppressing the aspirations of your own people in order to serve the hegemony of a foreign country, while a nearby Muslim government strives to protect its people’s independence from foreign hegemony.

Undoubtedly, the tyrants become very anxious. What if their oppressed subjects get ideas? Little wonder the Saudis and Egyptian rulers want the Americans to eliminate the independent-minded country that is a bad example for Egyptian and Saudi subjects.

Pause for a moment and reflect. The government of Iran is by no means an admirable one. It has many, many serious defects. But the US and Israel would be very pleased if it were replaced by dictators like those in Saudi Arabia, a proud US ally, but a country whose rulers are far worse than Iran’s in almost every respect.

This is why anyone who really seeks to be informed has to find sources beyond the ones that are not mainstream ones. In a future post, I will try and provide a list of the sources I use that some readers might find helpful.

When ‘Judeo-Christian’ really means just ‘Christian’

There is a move to dump the present speaker of the Texas house of representatives because he is a Jew, with some saying “We elected a house with Christian, conservative values. We now want a true Christian, conservative running it.”

But of course they resent any suggestion that they are bigoted towards Jews. As one of them said, “My favorite person that’s ever been on this earth is a Jew… How can they possibly think that [I am a bigot] if Jesus Christ is a Jew, and he’s my favorite person that’s ever been on this earth?”

Who can argue with logic like that?