Since 2007, the U.S. government has been sending sending military supplies to Yemen to help the government fight a rebellion there. The Yemen government is collapsing, and the U.S. government has lost track of some of those supplies, including these.
Archive for the ‘Government’ Category
Is the United States still a democracy? Tom Engelhardt pointed out how the USA is evolving into something different.
1. 1% Elections. Presidential election campaigns no longer begin with the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primaries. They begin with presidential candidates being screened by wealthy donors who determine which of them will have the wherewithal to run.
2. The Privatization of the State (or the U.S. as a Prospective Third World Country). “Crony capitalism” was a word that we Americans coined to describe the system in poor countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. But now our own country public services are being handed over to well-connected individuals to be operated for private profit.
3. The De-Legitimization of Congress and the Presidency. The democratic branches of government are held in low esteem, and with reason. Recent Presidents and congressional leaders have abdicated their Constitutional responsibilities.
4. The Rise of the National Security State as the Fourth Branch of Government. Secret branches of government decide national policy and expand their own powers without authorization of law. People who reveal what they’re doing are subject to prosecution.
5. The Demobilization of the American People. Most Americans recognize that their government doesn’t really represent them. But unlike in earlier eras, this discontent has not produced any mass movement to do something about it—at least not yet.
The New American Order: the 1% Elections, the Privatization of the State, a Fourth Branch of Government and the Demobilization of “We the People” by Tom Engelhardt for TomDispatch (via the Unz Review). A powerful and accurate indictment. My summary doesn’t do it justice. I recommend you read the whole thing.
The astute John Michael Greer, whose Archdruid Report is one of my favorite blogs, predicted that the most important trends in 2015 will be the disaffection of America’s police combined with continuing civil unrest.
He said the morale of American police is at the same state as that of the American forces in Vietnam in the 1970s. Police feel they’ve been sent into a war they can’t win, and abandoned by the civilian authority that’s nominally their superior.
I think there’s truth to that, although it’s exaggerated. Rank-and-file police officers did not invent the “broken windows” theory of policing, which is that the way to ensure civil order is to punish every violation, no matter how minor. Nor are they the ones who decided that the way to finance municipal government in places such as Ferguson, Missouri, is to collect traffic fines from poor people.
I think there is zero chance that the military or police would go over to the side of rioting black people or even peacefully protesting black people. Armed resistance is not a feasible option for African-Americans in the present-day USA.
Effective resistance to civil authority, as I see it, would come from armed and organized militias, such as the group that formed around rancher Cliven Bundy in his fight with the federal government over grazing fees. They defied federal and local police with loaded weapons, and were not met with deadly force.
I believe there is a real possibility that, as the U.S. economic plight worsens, resistance to government could grow and, as military and police morale decline, resistance to government would be tolerated until it became a real threat.
If things continue as they are in the United States, I believe there is bound to be an explosion. And, given the history of violent revolution, I do not expect anything good to come from such an explosion.
Here is John Michael Greer in his own words:
State governments in the USA get increasing amounts of revenue from court settlements from corporations accused of wrongdoing. As The Economist reported, these settlements amount to big money.
So far this year, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and other banks have coughed up close to $50 billion for supposedly misleading investors in mortgage-backed bonds. BNP Paribas is paying $9 billion over breaches of American sanctions against Sudan and Iran. Credit Suisse, UBS, Barclays and others have settled for billions more, over various accusations.
And that is just the financial institutions. Add BP’s $13 billion settlement over the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Toyota’s $1.2 billion settlement over alleged faults in some cars, and many more. [snip]
Rhode Island’s bureaucrats have been on a spending spree courtesy of a $500 million payout by Google, while New York’s governor and attorney-general have squabbled over a $613 million settlement from JPMorgan. [snip]
Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York, who is up for re-election, reportedly intervened to increase the state coffers’ share of BNP’s settlement by $1 billion, threatening to wield his powers to withdraw the French bank’s license to operate on Wall Street. Why a state government should get any share at all of a French firm’s fine for defying the federal government’s foreign policy is not clear.
There are two ways of looking at this. One is that federal prosecutors and state governments are shaking down corporations for minor offenses, much as local police and courts in communities such as Ferguson, Missouri, shake down residents for minor traffic offenses. The other is that corporate officers are buying their way out of individual criminal liability at stockholders’ expense.
I think the second alternative is the more common, while The Economist writer apparently disagrees. Whichever is the case, as state government becomes more dependent on corporate settlements for revenue, the more demand there will be for windfalls from future settlements. If shakedowns aren’t common now, they will become so. There is no good alternative to paying normal expenses of government through taxes.
The Economist’s writer is right to say that the big problem with these settlements is that they are made in secret. Nobody knows the evidence against the corporations, and nobody knows what, if anything, they admitted to doing.
Senators Elizabeth Warren and Tom Coburn have proposed a bill that would require the terms of the settlement to be made public, and for the prosecutors and regulators to write explanations of why the cases did not go to trial. That would be a good start.
Why is it that the U.S. Department of Defense has so much surplus military equipment? So much that they have no better use for it than to give it away to local police departments?
It is hard to believe that there have been so many radical improvements in armored personnel carriers, sniperscopes and the like that the old armored personnel carriers and sniperscopes have become obsolete.
Could it be that the DOD has a problem with its procurement process? Could it be that DOD bureaucrats regularly order more equipment than they need in order to maintain their shares of the DOD budget?
I think the armed forces should be well-armed and well-equipped, but if they have more equipment than they know what to do with, then that is a problem.
The excuse given by supporters of President Obama is that he is stymied by the Republican control of the House of Representatives and by Republican obstructionism in the Senate. It is true that the congressional Republicans are determined to block the President’s programs by any legal means necessary.
But as Thomas Frank pointed out in his latest Salon article, there are many things the President could do on his own authority that would be both popular and beneficial to the nation. They are:
- Enforce the anti-trust laws the way Democrats used to do.
- Investigate and prosecute fraud committed during the housing bubble.
- Make it clear he will not tolerate the college tuition price spiral.
Frank noted that Obama also could tell the Federal Communications Commission that Net Neutrality is the policy of his administration. He could reclassify marijuana so that it is no longer a Class I narcotic. He could reform the federal contracting system so as to discourage outsourcing and promote good labor practices. He could encourage whistle-blowers instead of punishing them.
So why doesn’t the President do any of these things? It can’t be because he is worried about corporate donations for his next campaign. He is not eligible to run again, so that is not a factor.
I see three possible explanations. The most likely is that he genuinely believes in what he is doing. My guess is that he thinks that the status quo, with some minor modifications to file off sharp edges, is the best that is possible in today’s world.
Another possibility is that he doesn’t want to do anything to jeopardize the kind of lucrative post-Presidential career that Bill Clinton enjoys. And the third, which I think highly improbable, is that he is afraid, that the powers-that-be know some guilty secret or have some sort of leverage on him.
The United States of America consists of more than just 50 states. This video describes the complex web of US colonies, territories and dependencies, all subject to taxation without representation.
If I were a citizen of Puerto Rico or Guam, I don’t think I would want to declare independence from the USA, and I don’t expect the inhabitants of these dependencies to do so. But in the unlikely event that this happened, I would not advocate putting down the rebellion by means of armed force.
Hat tip for the video to Jack Clontz and his friend Marty.
About $385 billion in U.S. taxes goes unpaid every years, according to the Internal Revenue Service. That’s equal to about 11 percent of the federal budget.
The IRS ought to have enough enforcement staff to collect that money, but the opposite is happening. The IRS budget is down 14 percent since fiscal 2010, and it has 11 percent fewer employees. Staff specifically assigned to enforcement is down 15 percent.
President Obama proposes a modest increase in budget and staff, but not enough to get the IRS back up to 2010 levels. Republicans in the House of Representatives want to cut the budget even more. Meanwhile the IRS has important new responsibilities—administering the tax credit provisions of the Affordable Care Act, and implementing the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, which is intended to stop tax evasion in foreign tax havens.
I don’t like paying taxes, and probably you don’t either. But I pay what I owe. If others don’t pay what they owe, then either people like me have to make up the difference or the amount is put on the national credit card for future generations to pay.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is another muzzled government watchdog. It never has exercised its authority to require corporations to reveal political contributions, as part of their required disclosure to investors. Mary Jo White, a Democrat who chairs the SEC, never put this on the agenda.
Last week the Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee reported out the annual SEC budget. One provision of the bill bars the SEC from making a political disclosure requirement. So a way to monitor corporate power is being shut off before most Americans realize it exists.
Why the GOP really wants to de-fund IRS by Jared Bernstein for The Washington Post.
Why is Washington still protecting the secret political power of corporations? by Alexis Goldstein for The Guardian.
Is Iraq Actually Falling Apart? What Social Science Surveys Show by Mansoor Moaddel for Informed Comment.
Public opinion polls indicate that a majority of Iraqis oppose a breakup of their country, and that they think of themselves as Iraqis first and Sunni and Shia second. They desire a government that will work for the good of the nation and follow the wishes of the people more than they want a government that follows religious law. A majority of Iraqi Sunni Arabs, but not of Iraqi Shiite Arabs, believe that religion should be separate from politics.
In other words, most Iraqis want for their country the same things that I want for the USA. The Iraqis might have a stab at getting it if not for foreign interference. A majority of Iraqis think of both Americans and Iranians as bad neighbors.
Who has the power to give the Iraqis what they want? If anyone, it is not Barack Obama. It is the wise Iraqi leader, the Ayatollah Sistani. Remember that it was peaceful demonstrations led by Sistani that pressured the American occupation authorities to allow elections in Iraq.
Cross-national intelligence and national democracy on Crooked Timber.
I have written before that multi-national corporations, and the international agencies such as the WTO and IMF, are the closest thing there is to a world government. But there is another candidate, which is the world’s interlocking intelligence agencies.
My idea of the mission of an intelligence agency is to discover the military secrets of foreign governments. But in the present day, intelligence agencies co-operate across national borders to spy on their own citizens. The German BND can’t legally spy on German citizens, but the U.S. NSA can legally do so and share information with the Germans, while the British GCHQ can legally share information about American citizens with the NSA.
The danger of this is that the intelligence agencies have their own political goals, which are not necessarily what the people of their respective countries want, and, so long as they operate behind a veil of absolute secrecy, there is no way of reining them in.
Why Is the Defense Department Buying Weapons With Chinese Parts Instead of US Parts? by Victoria Bruce for TruthOut.
The reason is that many high-tech components depend on “rare earths,” a raw material that China produces and that the United States could produce but doesn’t. The deeper reason is that the big U.S. military contractors also do business with China, and don’t want to disturb that relationship.
Fukushima’s Ongoing Fallout: an unprecedented radiation disaster by John LaForge for CounterPunch.