Our nation’s discussion on race

via Washington Post:

Unfortunately, our news and political cycles make it impossible for any of us to stay in a room long enough to reach that transformative moment. At the barest suggestion of race, we line up at opposite corners and start hurling accusations. Attorney General Eric Holder was widely criticized last year for suggesting that we are a “nation of cowards” when it comes to such discussions. The reaction to his comments is a reminder that we cannot continue to ignore this challenge. Yet Americans refuse to acknowledge that, in today’s society, racial attitudes are often complicated, multi-layered and conflicted.

Racial inequality is perpetuated less by individuals than by structural racism and implicit bias. Evidence of structural inequality is everywhere: in the grossly disproportionate numbers of young black men and women in prison; in the color of students shunted into remedial and special education tracks; in the stubborn segregation of our neighborhoods and schools; in the lack of recreational and academic opportunities for children of color in poor communities; in the inferior medical treatment that people of color receive; and in the still appallingly small numbers of men and women of color in law firms, corporations and government. It is evident, too, in the history of blatant discrimination against black farmers practiced by the Agricultural Department.

But that does not make doctors, nurses, police officers, judges, teachers, lawyers, city planners, admission officers or others prejudiced. Most are well-intentioned professionals who believe themselves to be free of racial bias. From their perspective, it is not easy to connect individual actions and decisions to broader structural conditions and environments built up over decades and even centuries.

Implicit bias is a reality we must confront far more openly. A growing mass of compelling research reveals the unconscious racial stereotypes many of us harbor that affect our decisions. Such attitudes do not make us prejudiced; they make us human. Those who take the Implicit Association Test often express shock when results show that their unconscious biases conflict with their explicit egalitarian values and ideals. Nonetheless, white and black test-takers match black faces more quickly than white ones with words representing violent concepts and are more likely to mistake a harmless object for a gun when it is carried by a black person. One study found that the more stereotypically black the features of a criminal defendant, the harsher the sentence he or she is likely to receive. Implicit bias has been shown to factor into hiring decisions and into the quality of health care that individuals receive. Mazharin Banaji and Jerry Kang, leading scholars on implicit bias, have noted: “As disturbing as this evidence is, there is too much of it to be ignored.”

The good news is that structures can be dismantled and replaced and unconscious biases can be transformed, as happened to Shirley Sherrod and the family she helped, the Spooners. First, though, they must be acknowledged. We and others researching race and justice are committed to untangling the web of structures, conditions and policies that lead to unequal opportunities. Our nation has to stop denying the complexity of our racial attitudes, history and progress. Let’s tone down the rhetoric on all sides, slow down and commit to listening with less judgment and more compassion. If Americans did so, we might find that we share more common ground than we could have imagined.

Instead of just going back and forth calling this person racist, or that person racist. Why don’t we actually talk about the structural racism in our country? Bantering back and forth is never going to fix the structural racial inequalities, it will just prolong them.

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Published in: on July 26, 2010 at 3:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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In Government, You Fail Up

What happens if you fail at doing your job?  Do you a.) get fired, suspended or reprimanded, b.) get a raise, or c.) nothing at all? Well since we are talking about a job in the real world it would be a safe beat to choose A or C, not B.

But what happens if you are a government agency and fail at your job?

For example, the SEC–charged with overseeing publicly traded companies and protecting investors from fraud–failing to catch the fraud being done inside of Enron, and most recently failing to foresee the economic collapse–I guess they were watching too much porn.

What do you think happened after it was discovered the SEC failed at their job? The following via AOLnews:

And, true to form, the SEC saw itself handsomely rewarded for failure — with its budget climbing from $370 million in 2000 to more than $619 million by 2003.

{…..}

Today as a result, the SEC is now resting comfortably on a $960 million budget.

With the release of Top Secret America (I urge you to read Top Secret America.), an investigative report by Dana Priest of the Washington Post, a lot of talk has been about the bloated National Security State. And rightly so. The following via AOLnews:

Spending on homeland security went from $17.6 billion the year of the 9/11 attacks to $32 billion the year after. In 2011, Obama wants to spend $54.7 billion protecting the homeland. For those math challenged, that’s a 211 percent increase from the pre-9/11 days.

In closing:

How about if, instead of throwing good money after bad, we tried this approach next time a government agency completely fails at its main job: cut the budget, cut the workforce and bring in new leaders who tell the remaining employees that they’ll get the same, but good, if they ever screw up like that again.

Published in: on July 23, 2010 at 11:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
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National Security Inc.–The Real US Government?

Updated  (see below)

In part two of the series “Top Secret America”, Dana Priest and William Arkin write about our nation’s National Security Inc.–the private/public relationship in the vast, secretive world of National Security.

“This is a terrible confession,” he said. “I can’t get a number on how many contractors work for the Office of the Secretary of Defense,” referring to the department’s civilian leadership (via The Washington Post).

Secretary Gates is speaking about the countless private contractors who are acting as combatants for the U.S. in multiple parts of the world. The two parties–private contractors and government workers–are so intertwined that Secretary Gates cannot tell the difference. And neither can the American people.

“The Post estimates that out of 854,000 people with top-secret clearances, 265,000 are contractors.”  That there is a virtually complete government/corporate merger when it comes to the National Security and Surveillance State is indisputable:  “Private firms have become so thoroughly entwined with the government’s most sensitive activities that without them important military and intelligence missions would have to cease or would be jeopardized.” (via Glenn Greenwald)

This is a scary thought, because it signifies that the wars in the Middle East are ENDLESS wars.

“Relying upon profit-driven industry for the defense and intelligence community’s “core mission” is to ensure that we have Endless War and an always-expanding Surveillance State.  After all, the very people providing us with the “intelligence” that we use to make decisions are the ones who are duty-bound to keep this War Machine alive and expanding because, as the Postput it, they are “obligated to shareholders rather than the public interest.” (via Glenn Greenwald)

Fighting wars with no end in sight will suck all the life (money) right out of the U.S. Then what will happen? Those in power want to know how to control deficits, why don’t they start with defense spending?

How long can this be sustained, where more and more money is poured into Endless War, a military that almost spends more than the rest of the world combinedwhere close to 50% of all US. tax revenue goes to military and intelligence spendingwhere the rich-poor gap grows seemingly without end, and the very people who virtually destroyed the world economy wallow in greater rewards than ever, all while the public infrastructure (both figuratively and literally) crumbles and the ruling class is openly collaborating on a bipartisan, public-private basis even to cut Social Security benefits? (via  Glenn Greenwald).

Does this secretive,massive National Security State keep us safer? Is it worth it to spend 50% of our tax payer money on military and intelligence? I tend to think not.

(more…)

Published in: on July 21, 2010 at 10:27 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Cause and effect in the War on Terror

Via Glenn Greenwald:

Britain, unlike the U.S., is currently in the process of Looking Backward, Not Forward, as they investigate both the events that led them to the attack on Iraq as well as their involvement in America’s torture regime. Here is testimony provided as part of the Iraq investigation from Ron PaulNoam Chomsky the former head of MI5, the U.K.’s domestic intelligence agency:

Britain’s support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan radicalized many Muslims and triggered a big rise in terrorism plots that nearly overwhelmed the British security services, the former head of the domestic intelligence agency said on Tuesday.

Giving evidence to an official inquiry into the Iraq war, Eliza Manningham-Buller, former MI5 director general, said the U.S.-led invasions had substantially raised the number of plots against Britain.

“It undoubtedly increased the threat and by 2004 we were pretty well swamped,” she said. “We were very overburdened by intelligence on a broad scale that was pretty well more than we could cope with.

So if I understand this deeply esoteric and surprising concept correctly, what causes many Muslims to become radicalized and want to mount violent attacks on a particular country is when that country brings war, bombings, and other forms of destruction and interference to the Muslim world.  Who knew?  British Muslims became “radicalized” and “swamped” that country with Terrorist plots only after watching the Government attack two separate Muslim nations.  Add to that things like lawless detentions, Guantanamo, a torture regime, attacks in places like Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen and others — all on top of two occupations in the Muslim world that will extend for a full decade at least — and only the densest among us (or those who actively desire high levels of Terrorism threats for their own interests) will fail to see how the very policies justified in the name of fighting Terrorism are the ones most exacerbating that problem.  [And, as always, those who have been told that American interference and violence in the Muslim world began only after 9/11 should read aboutMohammad MossadeghJoy Gordon’s new book on the devastation brought by American air attacks on Iraq in the Persian Gulf War and especially the decade-long sanctions regime that followed; our endless support for continuous Israeli wars and occupation in that part of the world; and our decades-long support for tyrants from Egypt to Indonesia].  The issue is causation, not justification, and it’s as crystal clear now as itwas in 2003 when the U.S. Government itself recognized it.

Published in: on July 21, 2010 at 9:19 pm  Leave a Comment  
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More on regulator discretion

This post explains in more detail–than my previous post “Hope, what the financial reform bill relies on”–why the financial reform bill, although historical and possibly effective, is flawed in many ways.

Robert Reich writes:

Although the financial reform bill may have clipped some of Goldman’s wings — its lucrative derivative business may require Goldman to jettison its status as a bank holding company, and the access to the Fed discount window that comes with it — the main point is that the Goldman settlement reveals everything that’s weakest about the financial reform bill.

The American people will continue to have to foot the bill for the mistakes of Wall Street’s biggest banks because the legislation does nothing to diminish the economic and political power of these giants. It does not cap their size. It does not resurrect the Glass-Steagall Act that once separated commercial (normal) banking from investment (casino) banking. It does not even link the pay of their traders and top executives to long-term performance. In other words, it does nothing to change their basic structure. And for this reason, it gives them an implicit federal insurance policy against failure unavailable to smaller banks — thereby adding to their economic and political power in the future.

The bill contains hortatory language but is precariously weak in the details. The so-called Volcker Rule has been watered down and delayed. Blanche Lincoln’s important proposal that derivatives be traded in separate entities which aren’t subsidized by commercial deposits has been shrunk and compromised. Customized derivates can remain underground. The consumer protection agency has been lodged in the Fed, whose own consumer division failed miserably to protect consumers last time around.

On every important issue the legislation merely passes on to regulators decisions about how to oversee the big banks and treat them if they’re behaving badly. But if history proves one lesson it’s that regulators won’t and can’t. They don’t have the resources. They don’t have the knowledge. They are staffed by people in their 30s and 40s who are paid a small fraction of what the lawyers working for the banks are paid. Many want and expect better-paying jobs on Wall Street after they leave government, and so are shrink-wrapped in a basic conflict of interest. And the big banks’ lawyers and accountants can run circles around them by threatening protracted litigation.

Why do you think Goldman got off so easily from such serious charges of fraud?

(more…)

Published in: on July 20, 2010 at 10:50 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Tim Geithner’s Ninth Political Life

“In modern American life, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner stands out as amazingly resilient and remarkably lucky – despite presiding over or being deeply involved in a series of political debacles, he has gone from strength to strength. After at least eight improbably bounce backs, he might seem unassailable. But his latest mistake – blocking Elizabeth Warren from heading the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – may well prove politically fatal”, writes Simon Johnson of Baseline Scenario.

Published in: on July 20, 2010 at 10:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Hope, what the new financial reform bill relies on

With the passing of financial reform, Obama has now passed three major pieces of legislation; health care reform, financial reform, and the stimulus–albeit not the perfect pieces of legislation, but none the less historical pieces of legislation considering the roadblocks at every turn by the republican party. The financial reform bill does a lot to curtail another financial disaster–not guaranteeing protection from another economic disaster–but accomplishes it by giving more discretion to the same regulators who failed the American people the last time around.

“We can’t legislate wisdom or passion. We can’t legislate competency. All we can do is create the structures and hope that good people will be appointed who will attract other good people ” said Senator Christopher Dodd, the crafter of the financial overhaul, in an interview with the New York Times.

Is he serious? I am sorry, but Senator, more regulator discretion is the structure created by this bill. The legislation places much faith — and much authority — in regulators to spot brewing problems in the financial system and to prevent another crisis. The same regulators who missed all the warning signs leading up to the crisis. Same regulators who are in bed with the financial industry

Until we change the structure of Wall-Street, we will continue to have more and more melt downs throughout our financial system. The only way to change the structure is to change the relationship between Washington and Wall-Street.

“The underlying problem is that the bill doesn’t do anything to change the basic balance of power between Wall Street and Washington, which is partly based on the fact that it’s a lot better to be a banker than to be a regulator, and the only reason to be a regulator (if you believe in free-market incentives) is so you can then become a banker”, writes James Kwak of Baseline Scenario.

I understand what Senator Dodd is saying;not only is it important to have a well structured bill-which it is not on many levels–but that it is also important to appoint good people in place to enforce the bill. It is OK to think that way, but what about when the democrats–who many believe fight for the people are not in power to appoint people to a regulator position? We all know what happens on Wall-Street when republicans are in power. Deregulation. A bill must be based on more than hope.

“Yes, I’m still sticking to my position that the bill is better than nothing. The alternative was sticking with the environment that gave us a bloated, predatory financial system and the financial crisis. But it’s still a missed opportunity.  And over the next couple years, as regulators (lobbyists) write the rules necessary to implement the bill, we’ll find out if anything really has changed”, writes James Kwak.

Published in: on July 20, 2010 at 10:04 pm  Comments (1)  
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Top-Secret America

Many people talk about the growing government in terms of debit, deficits, and programs regulated. However, there is a world unbeknownst too many inside and outside the government. A world, which has grown two-fold, since September 11, 2001. A world where there are 850,000 workers with top-secret clearance, 1271 government organizations, and 1931 private organizations in 10,000 places across the U.S responsible for programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence. This is a world, in which, 1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and other types of communications are intercepted and stored everyday. This is a world, since 2001, that has grown monetarily and structurally every year, hindering communication and creating redundancy. This is a world created in the name of “national security”.

And today, this top-secret America, has been brought to the forefront by investigative reporters, Dana Priest and William M. Arkin of the Washington Post. If you are going to read anything today, tomorrow, or the next day, I suggest that you take the time to read about the ‘true’ American government–one built on secrecy.

Now for reactions to Top-Secret America read Andrew Sullivan of the Atlantic Magazine.  And for the most in-depth analysis, as also, read Glenn Greenwald’s, “The Real U.S Government”.

This is just the intro, there is more to come in the following days.

Published in: on July 19, 2010 at 10:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Hey Mitch McConnell, Bush Economists Said Tax Cuts Did Grow the Deficit

Sorry I had to steal the title. Anyways, Mitch McConnell thinks the Bush tax cuts didn’t grow the deficit, even though Bush economist said that although they agree with the tax cuts, they did not pay for themselves, and they did grow the deficit.

Via The Atlantic:

Republicans are entitled to their own opinions, but they’re not entitled to their own separate reality.  When Republican Sen. Jon Kyl said on Fox News that tax cuts had no impact on the deficit, that was bad enough. But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell grabs the wacko baton and sprints ahead when he tells TPMDC’s Brian Beutler that “there’s no evidence whatsoever that the Bush tax cuts actually diminished revenue. They increased revenue because of the vibrancy of these tax cuts in the economy.”

Sen. McConnell might not believe the evidence provided by the Congressional Budget Office, theCommittee for a Responsible Federal Budget, the Joint Tax Committee, or the Brookings Institution, all of which concludes that the Bush tax cuts added to the deficit.

But surely he should believe President George W. Bush’s own Ph.D-wielding economists. Many of them have gone on the record to say that while they supported the tax cuts, they didn’t for one second believe they raised government revenue.

1) The Council of Economic Advisers’ Report to the President, 2003: “Although the economy grows in response to tax reductions (because of higher consumption in the short run and improved incentives in the long run), it is unlikely to grow so much that lost tax revenue is completely recovered by the higher level of economic activity.”

2) The chair of CEA from 2003-2005, Greg Mankiw: “Some supply-siders like to claim that the distortionary effect of taxes is so large that increasing tax rates reduces tax revenue. Like most economists, I don’t find that conclusion credible for most tax hikes, and I doubt Mr. Paulson does either.”

3) He’s right! Hank Paulson, Bush’s last Treasury Secretary, doesn’t“As a general rule, I don’t believe that tax cuts pay for themselves.”

4) That opinion was shared by Andrew Samwick, Chief Economist on Council of Economic Advisers, 2003-2004: “No thoughtful person believes that this possible offset [the Bush tax cuts] more than compensated for the first effect for these tax cuts. Not a single one.”

5) … and Edward Lazear, chair of the Council of Economic Advisers in 2007: “I certainly would not claim that tax cuts pay for themselves.”

Published in: on July 14, 2010 at 10:58 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Prosecution of whistle-blowers

Blogger Glenn Greenwald, of Salon.com, had a great blog post on the motive and irony behind the government’s whistle-blowers prosecutions. Although the government claims they are prosecuting these whistle-blowers to protect our country’s national security, the main reason, according to Greenwald, is to save-face. The government doesn’t want to be embarrassed, they don’t want their citizens to be informed of their illegal activity, such as torture. They want to increase government secrecy while diminishing the privacy of the citizens.

Glenn Greenwald writes:

The reason Iceland is poised to enact an unprecedentedly potent shield for whistle blowers and other leakers is that they realized that the oozing elite corruption that led to their financial collapse was caused by rampant secrecy.  They realized that unauthorized leaks are the most effective check against the crimes of the powerful, which is precisely why such leaks in the U.S. are targeted with such a fury.  What possible valid reason is there to keep classified that Apache attack video, or evidence of our civilian casualties in Afghanistan, or massive private contractor corruption at the NSA, or Bush crimes on torture and eavesdropping, or the lending programs of the Fed?  The real criminals are not those who are leaking embarrassing information about corruption and wrongdoing — those whom the Obama DOJ is prosecuting with an unprecedented vengeance — but rather the political officials who are misusing powers of secrecy to hide information for which there is no legitimate secrecy basis.

Published in: on July 14, 2010 at 10:50 pm  Leave a Comment