Saturday, November 8, 2008

China acts to stem the tide of officials fleeing with cash

When Yang Xianghong, a middle-ranking Chinese Communist Party official, slipped away from a government delegation trip to Paris three weeks ago, he said he was visiting his daughter.

When he didn't come back, though, his disappearance sparked much speculation on state-run media that Mr. Yang was the latest escapee in a growing exodus of officials fleeing corruption probes.

If true, he joins as many as 10,000 corrupt Chinese officials who have fled the country over the past decade, taking as much as $100 billion of public funds with them, according to an estimate by Li Chengyan, head of Peking University's Anticorruption Research Institute.

More unexpected, however, was the heavy press coverage that Yang's walkabout attracted in a country where the government is generally reluctant to wash its dirty linens in public.

That suggests that "the government is sending a signal" that it regards "the number of officials fleeing as a very important problem which needs to be solved," says Mao Zhaohui, director of anticorruption studies at Beijing's Renmin University.

Corruption is pervasive at almost every level of the government, and it is a major factor eroding faith in the ruling Communist Party. Earlier this year, after thousands of schoolchildren died in the Sichuan earthquake, the Internet was ablaze with accusations that local officials had taken bribes to approve substandard materials for school construction.

Chinese President Hu Jintao has repeatedly declared that the fight against fraud is a top government priority and courts have handed down heavy sentences against prominent offenders.

Last year, the former head of the Chinese Food and Drug Administration, Zheng Xiaoyu, was executed after being found guilty of taking bribes to approve thousands of new drugs.

Stiff punishments, however, do not appear to have curbed the phenomenon. Just this week, the deputy president of the Supreme Court and the head of parliament's budget committee were fired for corruption in an indication of how far the rot has spread even among the highest levels of government.

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Expect more of the same on the arms race front

As JP Morgan once enunciated that it is essential to have a foot in every camp, so the money masters have Henry for the Republicans and Zbigniew for the democrats.

Historically, every American administration sets the stage for the next one, and every new president will complete what his predecessor has started. The recent war in Georgia, as well as the ballistic missiles pact that binds Poland and the Czech Republic to the US has set the stage for Obama's advisers to choreograph the next conflict with the Russians.

Sure enough the Russians are responding with escalating rhetoric and threats. On Wednesday, 11-05-08 the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev stated in his first state of the nation address to parliament that Russia would deploy short-range Iskander missile systems in its exclave of Kaliningrad "to neutralize if necessary the anti-ballistic missile system in Europe."

Anatoly Tsyganok, head of the Moscow-based Military Forecast Center stated that the deployment of Iskander missile systems with a range of 500 km (310 miles) [in the Kaliningrad region] would allow Russia to target the entire territory of Poland and also parts of Germany and the Czech Republic.

So here we are, once again, a new American administration, a new conflict, a new monster to quell, and a new arms race.

The election: It had to be this way

This election had to happen this way if we are ever going to understand what we are up against. I voted for Barack Obama because it happened to be a win-win situation. The truth must be told and this is the only way to tell it. When the phony left, the ones who claim not to be liberals, but "progressives", understand that there is not a dime's worth of difference between the Corporate GOP and the Corporate Democrats, then we will see our way to a rebirth of our civil liberties. This is the only way to convince the die-hard Democrats that their party has changed, and not for the better. The American Empire is alive and well operating in concert with the DNC, make no mistake about it. I wish I was wrong, in fact I would welcome any type of change towards a real representative government that put the people first, but I am saddened when I write that all indications don't point that way.

The time for real change is now. I must tell you that the change we seek will not come from the President-Elect, but from the disgust and anger we will all feel when corporate interests and the Military Industrial Complex (corporate welfare) dominate the Democrats agenda. War will not end; it will be moved to different theaters. We have seen both Obama and Biden accuse the Russians of aggression towards Georgia when most Americans realize that it was the other way around. These facts should not be lost on anyone. Many Progressives tell us that they will "hold the Democrats feet to the fire". This is also wishful thinking. They said the same thing after the 2006 election. Their feet were unfettered and the only thing that was held to the fire was their concern for the majority of Americans that have been disgusted with their county's behavior. Nothing changed with that Democratic Congress; excuse after excuse was silently borne by those Americans that should have known better.

Now the time has come to actually put up or shut up. Mr. Obama has already chosen a Democratic interventionist in Joe Biden, a man who never saw a war he didn't like. The self-proclaimed Zionist that has stood with AIPAC since its inception, a man that ranks right up there with Bush when it comes to Iran and Palestine. Obama has also kowtowed to the Israeli's, and there doesn't seem to be any hope for those that want America to look at both sides of the tensions in the Middle East. We will blindly follow the Israelis as far as they wish to take us, for their own self-interests.

This is what we have to look forward to. We can count on the Democrats to put Wall Street first with more massive bailouts instead of fixing the root of the problems we have. Corporate self interest and government intervention will be the norm. I can see four years ahead when the Democrats will claim that President Obama only did what he had to do to ensure another term so then he will really be able to "fix" things. Maybe by then the majority of Americans will realize that they have been taken for a two decade ride. I can hope that by the time the next Presidential election comes along; both corporate political parties will be regulated to the dustbin of history.

Obama administration and eco-hope: business as usual with more road building?

By Jan Lundberg
"What's good for General Motors is good for America" may still be one of our highest laws. Is the new era of hope and change, when we get specific, dependent on more cars?

In the 1990s, the heart of the environmental movement -- the grassroots and direct-action troops -- learned quite a bit about their opposition: corporate America with the Clinton administration in its pocket.

Some environmentalists were disillusioned after a promising 1993 post-election "honeymoon," later crying "date rape." Others were not surprised; we immediately faulted the Sierra Club's DC lobbyist for claiming in 1992 that Clinton/Gore would "put the pedal to the metal" on environmental protection.

David Brower, founder of Friends of the Earth, placed Bill Clinton atop Ronald Reagan for damage to the environment. Part of this was made clear from "free trade" deals as well as environmental compromises that were not necessitated by the power of Republicans.

If the Obama administration is not to be a sort of environmental repeat of the Clinton regime -- assuming the economy and nation could somehow stay in one piece thanks to secure petroleum supplies -- what can be different this time around, and how? As we've already said this week in this column, the goal of "cleaner cars" compares very poorly with the FDR/citizenry spirit of "When you drive alone you're riding with Hitler." In fact, more cars is unrealistic and irresponsible when considering oil's peaking in global extraction. "What's good for General Motors is good for America" may still be one of our highest laws. Is the new era of hope and change, when we get specific, dependent on more cars?

The ideal of compromise falls apart when we go in the wrong direction; cleaner cars may have been a great stride decades ago, but one effect of more efficient cars decades ago was the unintended, vast increase in per-capita miles traveled and in purchasing second or third cars, combined with human population growth.

Maybe Obama would secretly have loved during his campaign to call for automobile workers to be retrained, and factories retooled, to make bicycles instead of cars. Now we can find out his beliefs after he's out from under competitive campaign attack, and he has received more briefings on cars vis-a-vis energy and ecological realities. We do know that Obama's staff is thoroughly briefed on peak oil and petrocollapse (I was on Capitol Hill in February), but a new concept can take months to sink in.

Now we offer further insight on the potential for eco-hope after eight years of Bush/Cheney. The Clinton regime approved, after the fact, of the 1997 torture of peaceful protesters doing sit-ins for the ancient redwoods. This pepper-spraying in the eyes via cotton swabs was actually opposed by the Supreme Court and eventually ruled unconstitutional and excessive force. But this was not considered so by Clinton and his Justice Department. Such a human-rights lapse cannot happen with Obama and his circle; he was a civil rights lawyer whereas Hillary Clinton had litigated for incinerator companies spewing dioxins.

It is easy to misunderstand, however, what society may really need, when we all grow up conditioned to believe road building is synonymous with progress. We reveal in this report our recent memo to one of the President Elect's key advisers, regarding investing in new roads -- called for by the candidate last month.

With the Obama White House taking shape with Clinton-veterans, it is fair to assume that the overall policy-byword will again be economic growth. It will be handled differently than the Republicans did, but how differently from the Clinton years? It has to be quite different simply from the financial meltdown now taking place, and the prospect of massive unemployment and social unrest. But let us go deeper:

The vicious shift in income distribution from Reagan onward has been remarkable, changing the face of the USA from middle-class to that of extremely rich people lording over the huge, growing underclass. The middle class is either a paycheck away from disaster or comfortable only because of risen home equity, in millions of cases. Despite this disturbing "big story," our economic history and present woes are not the biggest story we have to deal with. It only appears so, as the fallout of greed and deregulation hit. The faltering economy was the crux of the campaign that unseated the Republicans. However, stepping back, it is really our gluttonous resource consumption and ecological destruction that comprise the biggest story of all. The common perception is that right-wing pressure for widening the income gap is our biggest threat, as if a "leftist" kinder, gentler corporate state is alright. Neither version is ethical or sustainable.

The excitement of the season's political news -- with the historic advent of a black man making it to the White House (for all the wrong that the White House innately represents) -- has dominated the good news, and the financial meltdown has dominated the bad news, but all that has been a distraction:

We are in a terrible mess that cannot really be fixed by elections. More fundamental would be, normally, to fix the nation's predicament of energy, overpopulation and ecocide; however, that can no longer be done by policy. We are already over the ecological and economic cliff, and have yet to feel the real impact of the fall. Lest one believe this is mere speculation, or, worse, "wishful thinking," here's the scientific basis handed to the government in 2005: The Hirsch Report on peak oil and mitigation. The main finding of this high-powered report for the U.S. Dept. of Energy was that we cannot prepare for peak oil as it hits, when decades of infrastructure change were required beforehand. (1)

As to the ability of a new regime to make changes when we have peak oil and climate distortion at play, it's beyond these people to solve the situation, however good or bad the new players are. The horse is out of the barn. We may as well embrace the new world and go with profound change on all levels.

"Invest in new roads..." - Senator Obama, Ohio, Oct. 2008

A few days before the election I emailed the following to a key Obama adviser. I decided to not share it with anyone until after the election; now I don't have to justify its appearance by pointing out that the Republicans are a little worse than Democrats when it comes to promoting urban sprawl by investing in new roads.

As you may know, there's not enough highway money even in the most lavish-spending years to repair the roads and bridges we have, let alone build more. But building more is where the big profits are, for the various players such as land speculators and developers as well as oil companies and car manufacturers. This is why maintenance of existing roads and bridges just slips and slips every year. The big heavy trucks are the worst offenders wearing down the concrete and asphalt (originally a byproduct of refining that needed to be put somewhere or else the refiners could not produce what they really wanted to sell).

The Alliance for a Paving Moratorium (APM) was active nationally and in Canada on this issue from 1990-2001. Our website has a lot of information on this and is the successor to APM.

I was alarmed to hear the Senator say in the Ohio "closing argument" speech last month that the nation should "invest in new roads and bridges."

That statement could either mean fixing the infrastructure, or expanding urban sprawl that runs on cheap oil and destroys the environment. Later on in the speech he seemed to be talking about repair and maintenance of roads and bridges.

I'm glad that in the big campaign commercial early this week, which I thought was excellent (except for the cleaner-car focus and drill the oil domestically concession), there was nothing about building new roads.

I hope you will brief the Senator, strictly as a Senate-policy issue of course, on this matter of new roads versus repair, sooner rather than later. As always, I'm at your and his service.

Jan Lundberg
cell phone 415-xxx-xxxx


(1) The Hirsch Report, 2005, for the U.S. Dept. of Energy:

Income disparity history: "After Four Decades, Finally, the Beginning of the End", 06 November 2008, by Mark Weisbrot, Truthout:

Alliance for a Paving Moratorium (archive webpage):

The Greater Error: Voting for the Lesser Evil

The argument, which is usually peddled by Democrats, since they directly profit from it, proceeds like this: Yes, both Democrats and Republicans have their flaws, but surely a difference separates them. For example, one candidate might speak loudly in favor of universal health care while the other remains silent.

Of course, whether distinctions among candidates are ground shaking or are merely distinctions without a difference is a subjective call. For Democratic Party hacks who mingle with these candidates and stand close to them, the differences must truly appear astounding. But for the vast majority of us who, because of our economic status, stand miles away, the differences appear at times almost indistinguishable and will continue to diminish as inequalities in wealth grow.

But a deeper issue is at stake. The above arguments assume that a firm correlation connects candidates' campaign pledges and the policies they actually implement once elected.

For example, when Bill Clinton first ran for president in the early 1990s, his platform included universal health care, tax breaks for the working class, gays to be able to serve openly in the military, and last but not least the return of ethics to government.

As soon as he was elected, the medical industry unfurled a historically unprecedented magnitude of lobbying that successfully derailed health care reform. The working class, rather than enjoying a tax break, was slammed with a regressive tax hike at the gas pumps. Gays in the military were told they could not announce their sexual orientation. And since morality is subjective, we will let the reader rate Clinton's success on this index.

More recently, U.S. Senator, Barack Obama, responding to his Illinois constituents who were outraged that Exelon Corporation did not disclose radioactive leaks at one of its nuclear plants, promised action. While campaigning for president, he later bragged that he succeeded in passing legislation to require immediate reporting of all radioactive leaks, no matter how small.

But here is what really happened, according to The New York Times, February 3, 2008: "While he initially fought to advance his bill, even holding up a presidential nomination to try to force a hearing on it, Mr. Obama eventually rewrote it to reflect changes sought by Senate Republicans, Exelon and nuclear regulations. The new bill removed language mandating prompt reporting and simply offered guidance to regulars…."  

"Your reasoning is perfectly logical but totally insane..."


In 1991, Larry Summers - now reputed to be high on Obama's appointment list - signed a memo when he was vice president and chief economist of the World Bank concerning the handling of pollution in less wealthy lands. When an excerpt of the memo was leaked, more than a few people became upset. Summers initially took responsibility for the memo but claimed it was satirical. Later, blame for writing the memo was taken by aide Lant Pritchett. Pritichett went on to lecture at the Harvard Kennedy School and Summers went on to be president of Harvard.

If the memo was in fact intended to be humorous, whoever wrote it didn't understand that humor used again the poor and defenseless is not satire but ridicule and bigotry. The fact that Summers thought it funny should disqualify him from any government position.

The excerpt:

|||| 'Dirty' Industries: Just between you and me, shouldn't the World Bank be encouraging MORE migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs [Less Developed Countries]? I can think of three reasons:

1) The measurements of the costs of health impairing pollution depends on the foregone earnings from increased morbidity and mortality. From this point of view a given amount of health impairing pollution should be done in the country with the lowest cost, which will be the country with the lowest wages. I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that.

2) The costs of pollution are likely to be non-linear as the initial increments of pollution probably have very low cost. I've always though that under-populated countries in Africa are vastly UNDER-polluted, their air quality is probably vastly inefficiently low compared to Los Angeles or Mexico City. Only the lamentable facts that so much pollution is generated by non-tradable industries (transport, electrical generation) and that the unit transport costs of solid waste are so high prevent world welfare enhancing trade in air pollution and waste.

3) The demand for a clean environment for aesthetic and health reasons is likely to have very high income elasticity. The concern over an agent that causes a one in a million change in the odds of prostrate cancer is obviously going to be much higher in a country where people survive to get prostrate cancer than in a country where under 5 mortality is is 200 per thousand. Also, much of the concern over industrial atmosphere discharge is about visibility impairing particulates. These discharges may have very little direct health impact. Clearly trade in goods that embody aesthetic pollution concerns could be welfare enhancing. While production is mobile the consumption of pretty air is a non-tradable.

The problem with the arguments against all of these proposals for more pollution in LDCs (intrinsic rights to certain goods, moral reasons, social concerns, lack of adequate markets, etc.) could be turned around and used more or less effectively against every Bank proposal for liberalization. ||||

While Summers and Pritchett survived the memo incident, the Brazilian secretary of the environment was not as fortunate. He was fired after writing to Summers:

"Your reasoning is perfectly logical but totally insane. . . Your thoughts [provide] a concrete example of the unbelievable alienation, reductionist thinking, social ruthlessness and the arrogant ignorance of many conventional 'economists' concerning the nature of the world we live in. . . If the World Bank keeps you as vice president it will lose all credibility."

Composer John Halle has memorialized this seedy memo and the Brazilian official's reply with a musical number performed by the Sequitur Ensemble, Kristin Nordeval and Dora Ohrenstein, sopranos:

Mortgaging the Earth


Lawrence Summers, mentioned as a possible Treasury Secretary, is a managing director at the hedge fund D.E. Shaw Group.

Robert Rubin, mentioned as a possible Treasury Secretary, has been temporary chair of Citgroup (and a current director) and co chair of Goldman Sachs. He also was a founder of the conlib economic group, the Hamilton Project.

Top Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett was a member of the board of the Chicago Stock Exachange from 2000 to 2007 and was chair from 2004-2007

Top Obama advisor John Podesta has a lobbying firm that has represented BP, Lockheed Martin, National Association of Broadcasters, Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics, Sunoco and Wal-Mart

Bill Daley, advisor to the transition team, is mid west chairman of JP Morgan Chase.

Rahm Emanuel, whom Obama selected to be chief of staff, earned, according to Fortune magazine, $18 million between 1999 and 20002 working as a managing director for the investment banks Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein

Tim Geithner, a possible Treasury Secretary, is head of the NY Federal Reserve. His first boss was Henry Kissinger and he has close ties to the Wall Street players.

John Corzine, now governor of New Jewrsey and possible Treasury Secretary and CEO of Goldman Sachs before Hank Paulsen staged a coup and got rid of him

Richard Holbrooke, mentioned for Secretary of State, is vice president of Perseus, a major private equity firm. He was a member of the board of AIG until July when he resigned. He has also been vice chair of Credit Suisse First Boston, and managing director of Lehman Brothers.

Other names dropped:

John W Rogers Jr runs a mutual fund company in Chicago where Obama spent much of the day after the election.

Otto Kramer is a financier at Boston Provident.

Robert Wolfe is an investment banker and CEO of UBS Americas

Mark Gallogly is a private equity expert who funded the firm Centerbridge after working at Blackstone.

Jim Torrey is a fund manager.

Brian Mathis works for the Provident Group

Frank Brosens runs Taconic Capital Advisors

Josh Gotbaum formerly with Lazard Freres

Promoting 'greater evil' by supporting 'lesser evil'

A paradigm shift In America's intellectual community

By Pablo Ouziel

6 Nov, 2008

Contrary to popular belief, the big change in America's society stemming from the recent presidential elections, was not the election of the first black president. The most important event has taken place in the intellectual community, in which a paradigm shift has taken place and few have noticed.

The new era of voting for the lesser of the two evils has penetrated the core of America's critical intellectual community, and some of the biggest voices for change have endorsed Obama. In effect, what has taken place is the union between those opposed to imperial ideology and those endorsing it. Although this serious event has gone largely unnoticed, American intellectuals will need to reflect on its consequences seriously if they are to contribute to the building of a stable future for humanity as a whole, and in particular to mending the tarnished corrupt fabric of American society.

One American intellectual, James Petras, has been able to identify the direct social consequences of such a paradigm shift and prior to the elections has publicly expressed his views in an article titled; The Elections and the Responsibility of the Intellectual to Speak Truth to Power: Twelve Reasons to Reject Obama and Support Nader/McKinney.

As the title of the article clearly states, Petras voices the reasons why intellectuals have the responsibility of voting against Obama just like they should vote against McCain. In regards to those intellectuals who have endorsed Obama he says:

They are what C. Wright Mills called 'crackpot realists', abdicating their responsibility as critical intellectuals. In purporting to support the 'lesser evil' they are promoting the 'greater evil': The continuation of four more years of deepening recession, colonial wars and popular alienation.

After listening last night to Obama's first speech after his victory, a victory he said was of the people, what Petras is saying seems disturbingly accurate when looked at through the prism of critical discourse analysis. One can look back now to the presidency of George W. Bush and listen to his rhetoric. What has been his message throughout the last 8 years? When Obama's core messages are compared to Bush's, it becomes apparent that the coming presidential plans are not too different to current presidential policies.

Even more disturbing, is the fact that when Bush spoke throughout his presidency there was always a slight cynical reaction by the majority of the public, as most of the surveys have shown time and time again. However, last night the cynicism seemed to have vanished and the hope of a new American century was reborn with full force, to the clapping thunder and joyous splendour of the reborn American people. With every word uttered by Obama one could see how the empire was not gone, Bush almost killed it, now Obama the symbol of hope, together with all the American people in unity, are going to reconstruct their country and the world, restabilising America's faltering hegemony.

For those in the struggle against imperial expansion, the task ahead is going to prove daunting. Perhaps the echoed endorsement of the new presidency by some of the world's most public intellectuals is going to set back the struggle for true justice, in the sense that although voting without 'illusions', a landslide victory has been handed out to Obama by millions of delusional Americans. Expect more bailouts of the economic elite, expect the war drums to continue, expect more people to lose their homes and jobs. Keep organizing at the grassroots level because millions of Americans are going to need help, like the billions of people around the world who year after year ravaged by the smiling face of capitalist imperialism, have been shouting out and had their voices ignored.

The essence of capitalism in the twenty-first century is one of popular misery, thunderous war, and smiling politicians, as the global elites struggle to save pieces of their crumbling cake. In the middle of this chaos there is room for 'hope', there is certainly no 'illusion', and respect must go to Ralph Nader for fighting on and James Petras for speaking truth to power. As for the paradigm shift faced by America's intellectual community, strong choices must be made and a new generation of intellectuals must begin to drive critical thinking into a more serious and coherent direction, if humanity as a whole, is to overcome the obstacles it faces.

Pablo Ouziel is a sociologist and freelance writer

Dogs of War: Contractors and Obama

In the wake of Barack Obama's election victory many American private military and security contractors are wondering what their future will be under President Obama. It is probably better than they imagine.

Recall that at the beginning of the year inveterate PSC critic Jeremy Scahill blasted Obama for being too sympathetic toward contractors. He reported that a senior foreign policy adviser of Obama's said that if elected, Obama would not "rule out" using private security companies like Blackwater Worldwide in Iraq. The adviser also said Obama does not plan to sign on to legislation that seeks to ban the use of these forces in U.S. war zones by January 2009, when a new president will be sworn in.

Instead Obama's campaign said he will focus on bringing accountability to these forces while increasing funding for the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security, the agency that employs Blackwater and other private security contractors.

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Russell Means Lakota declares its Sovereignty

Part 1

~ Republic of Lakota ~


From Capra's 'Meet John Doe'


image from

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