Daily Archives: October 6, 2008

silent weapons for quiet wars

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bloomberg gets london’s support

In London, Bloomberg Calls for Optimism
David W. Chen, NYT, Oct 6 2008

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg tried to project a glass-half-full view of the global financial crisis on Monday by stating that he had a “perspective of optimism” because there have been “up markets and down markets.” He continued: “The danger is that we overreact.” Bloomberg spoke following a roundtable discussion here with his London counterpart, Mayor Boris Johnson, and about two dozen other titans of finance. And in an example of his continuing bipartisan straddling, Bloomberg issued caveats to both Democrats and Republicans, saying that the Democrats needed to grasp that “capitalism and free markets” helped to power the economy, and that Republicans needed to “understand you can’t do it without some regulation.” Over all, Bloomberg talked quite a bit during the one-hour meeting, said Stuart Fraser, the corporation chairman of the City of London, the capital’s financial district. “He had a lot to offer. People had a lot of questions.” And while Bloomberg said that he did not want to play down the impact of the downturn, he repeated his standard line that New York would weather the difficulties: “The hand that we have to play is still the best hand.” Bloomberg, who last week announced his intention to seek a third term if the City Council changes the term limits law, certainly seemed comfortable in London, where he has a home in Cadogan Square, one of the city’s most exclusive neighborhoods. (His two daughters also have British passports, by the way.) He received the Freedom of the City of London — the equivalent of getting the key to the city in New York. The award is a rectangular certificate, framed, and approximately the size of a tie box. Bloomberg looked thrilled, and said his mother would be proud of him. Later Monday, Bloomberg was scheduled to deliver a lecture, also on the economy, in which he was going to describe the current climate as “the worst confidence crisis in our lifetime,” according to a prepared text of the remarks. Bloomberg plans to return to New York on Wednesday.

chalmers johnson: last days of the republic

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

it sounds like tel aviv or jerusalem

Lauder Opposes Mayor on Change to Term Limits
Michael Barbaro, Kareem Fahim, NYT, Oct 5 2008

Ronald Lauder, the billionaire cosmetics heir and term limits champion, said Sunday night that he would vigorously oppose a plan, outlined by Mayor Bloomberg and City Council members, to permanently change the city’s term limits law to allow 12 years in office rather than 8. His opposition jeopardizes a carefully constructed alliance that was considered key to Bloomberg’s bid for a third term. Lauder, under pressure from friends and Bloomberg himself, said early last week that he would agree to a temporary revision of the term limits law, which would allow current officeholders to serve three four-year terms. Lauder, who bankrolled the 1993 campaign to create term limits in New York City, pointed to the deepening financial crisis, which he said required Bloomberg’s steady hand. But when Bloomberg, a fellow billionaire, and Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced last Thursday a plan to allow the City Council to revise the law, Lauder was upset to learn that they envisioned a permanent change, rather than a one-time exception. Lauder said in a telephone interview on Sunday night,

If there is a permanent change, I will fight it. As far as I am concerned, it’s a one-time only exception. That is it. It took a lot of emotion even to extend term limits this once. I was opposed to even extending it once. For the love of this city, I will do it once, but that is it. I am sure there are legal issues, but I am sure there are ways around it.

Lauder said he expressed concern to Bloomberg on Friday in a telephone conversation. Bloomberg suggested that Lauder sit on a charter revision commission, which would study the issue in 2010 and probably put it up for a referendum. But Lauder said that if he joined a charter commission, he would insist that the law keep term limits at 8 years, not 12. He insisted that he would like the mayor to remain in office for a third term, but said that he could not endorse a permanent change to a three-term limit. A spokesman said that should the City Council adopt such a permanent change, he would consider opening his wallet to oppose it with advertisements, as he has in the past. In the last year, as Bloomberg considered whether to seek a way to run for a third term, he and his advisers considered Lauder an obstacle who had to be overcome. Without the billionaire’s support, they concluded, any challenge to the city’s term limits law would trigger a nasty and expensive fight. Lauder made his feelings known in early September, spending $50k on an acerbic television commercial that compared the city’s elected leaders to diapers that needed to be changed. The message was clear: Lauder would vigorously defend term limits and would spend whatever it took. So Bloomberg began a broad charm offensive to change Lauder’s mind. The mayor and his friends in the business world repeatedly called and met with Lauder, imploring him to reconsider his position, especially as the city’s economy became imperiled by the worldwide financial crisis. The city was facing an emergency, they told Lauder, and it was necessary to find a way to give Bloomberg the chance to serve for a third term.

the baron of strong island

New York’s Mayor Bloomberg cites
financial crisis in bid for third term
Peter Daniels, WSWS, Oct 6 2008

[…] The rationale for overturning the law to accommodate Bloomberg’s desire for a third term is that only a billionaire like him is prepared to guide the city through the deepening crisis that has been unleashed by the meltdown of the US and global financial system centered in Wall Street. The Bloomberg administration had already announced $1.5b in budget cuts, even before the wave of failures, bailouts and buyouts transformed Wall Street’s landscape. In New York, the term limits crusade was spearheaded by billionaire cosmetics heir Ronald Lauder, an arch right-winger who ran unsuccessfully in the Republican primary in 1989 and was soon eclipsed by the far more effective right-wing politician Rudy Giuliani. Having failed miserably in his first bid for public office, Lauder sought influence behind the scenes, bankrolling, to the tune of millions of dollars, the successful referendum for term limits in 1993. Lauder has surfaced once again, having suddenly changed his mind on the issue. A month ago he announced an expensive new advertising campaign to defend term limits against criticism. Now, however, after some behind the scenes meetings with his fellow billionaire Bloomberg, he has at least partly switched sides. In an Op-Ed column in the New York Times, he explains:

Why do I believe term limits should be lifted temporarily to allow Mr. Bloomberg to run for a third term? During the last few weeks, we have seen an unprecedented rupture in our national economic system that rivals not 1975, but 1929 … The sudden and shocking demise of major institutions like Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns only reinforces the comparison to the earlier and even darker time.

Lauder is clearly worried over the political and social consequences of this crisis. He wants to reinforce the rule of plutocracy — government of the rich, and not merely for the rich. He wants someone who can be implicitly trusted to understand the needs of the top one-tenth of one percent of the population. And Lauder speaks for his class. On the same day the Times printed an advertisement in the form of An Open Letter signed by 30 New York-based CEOs and their advisors, some of the very same names we have seen presiding over the financial collapse, including Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs, James Dimon of JP Morgan Chase and John Mack of Morgan Stanley. Calling for “continuity of leadership,” these billionaires and multi-millionaires write that

today, all we have achieved is at risk … we call upon the New York City Council to extend term limits in order to give New Yorkers the opportunity to vote for whomever they think can do the best job during these tough economic times, including our current Mayor.

The New York Times also weighed in last week, with an editorial titled, The Limits of Term Limits:

It makes a lot of people uncomfortable to legislatively rewrite a law that voters have twice approved at the ballot box, but we have concluded now that changing the law legislatively does not make us nearly as uncomfortable as keeping it.

For the right-wing Lauder, and the frightened liberals of the Times editorial board, the demagogic claim that term limits constituted some form of democratic control has now outlived its usefulness. Lauder wants the tampering to be just a temporary, one-time move until the current emergency passes. The City Council wants to permanently amend the rules to provide for three terms instead of two. The Times professes no agreement with term limits at all. But they are all agreed on legislative action to allow the current Mayor to remain in office. Bloomberg, the eighth richest individual in the US, with a fortune of some $20b, was elected to succeed Rudolph Giuliani after the 9-11 WTC attacks. Bloomberg’s own net wealth has reportedly increased by $8.5b in the last year, but last January he called for budget cuts totaling nearly $1.5b over the next two years, including across-the-board cut of 5% for all city departments, while anticipating future budget deficits of more than $5b beginning in 2011.

hamechashefot : shivers

palin and ‘moral re-armament’

Biblical Capitalism
Jeff Sharlet, Religion Dispatches, Oct 1 2008

Only months ago, what scant attention the press paid to fundamentalism in American life was dedicated to declaring the Christian Right deceased. Of course, those were the days when Lehman Brothers still looked like a good investment. Now, Christian Right leaders are feeling bullish for the first time in years, ready to bet the farm on Sarah Palin, while the rest of us blink in shock as the clock goes spinning back to the Great Depression. In more ways than one — it was in the 1930s that modern fundamentalism’s strange marriage of laissez-faire economics and heavily-regulated morals was first consummated, in reaction not to abortion or homosexuality, but to economic malaise — “spiritual depression,” as it was called by an early advocate of “biblical capitalism.” In 1932, James A. Farrell, president of US Steel, tried to persuade then Governor Franklin Roosevelt that economic depression was “caused by disobedience to divine law,” and that the only cure was a mix of spiritual revival and unprecedented powers for corporate leaders. In 1936, Frank Buchman, the founder of the Moral Re-Armament movement — a network of upper crust Christian clubs — announced, “Human problems aren’t economic. They’re moral, and they can’t be solved by immoral measures.” He suggested instead “God-controlled democracy, or perhaps I should say a theocracy.” Bruce Barton, a founder of advertising giant BBDO and the author of one of the 20th century’s bestsellers, The Man Nobody Knows (it was Jesus, whom Barton proposed as the greatest CEO in history), won a seat in Congress in 1938 by proposing to a nation battered by unfettered capitalism that it “Repeal a Law a Day.”

The most influential of these businessmen for God was a Norwegian immigrant named Abraham Vereide, founder of an annual ritual of piety and politics that survives to this day, the National Prayer Breakfast. In 1935, Vereide created a “fellowship” of Christian businessmen bound together by the idea that God hates government regulation because it interferes with a believer’s ability to choose right or wrong. He found receptive audiences in private meetings with Henry Ford and the president of Chevrolet, Thomas Watson of IBM and representatives from J.C. Penney. By 1942, he’d moved to the capital, where the National Association of Manufacturers staked him to a meeting of congressmen who would become students of his spiritual politics, among them Virginia senator Absalom Willis Robertson — Pat Robertson’s father. Vereide returned the manufacturers’ favor by telling his new congressional followers that God wanted them to break the spine of organized labor. They did. Vereide died in 1969, but his organization — known in his day as International Christian Leadership, in ours as the Fellowship Foundation or the Family — still prospers. In a recent survey of 360 evangelical leaders — not preachers but politicians and businesspeople — Rice University sociologist D. Michael Lindsay found that a plurality named the Fellowship one of the most influential religious groups in Washington. “There is no other organization like the Fellowship, especially among religious groups, in terms of its access or clout among the country’s leadership,” wrote Lindsay. “The most powerful group in Washington that nobody knows,” as David Kuo, a special assistant to Bush in his first term, put it, praising the publicity-shy network of piety-brokers.

The Fellowship’s core creed is Christian fundamentalism filtered through the free market. In lieu of regulation, the Fellowship preaches reconciliation, a process they put into practice by bringing politicians and business leaders together to declare to one another their earnest desires to do right by God, and each other. “Self-interest by proxy” is how Will Wilkinson of the conservative Cato Institute describes the Fellowship’s brand of biblical capitalism. “We are entering the age of minority control,” Vereide predicted back in 1942, prophesying the corporate consolidation that would come to be known as globalization. He welcomed it. “It is to a righteous ‘remnant’” — leaders whose economic success indicated God’s anointing — “that God has entrusted the salvation of nations in all ages of history.” That perspective allows the Fellowship’s biblical capitalism a certain flexibility. As Doug Coe, Vereide’s successor, puts it, “We work with power where we can, build new power where we can’t.” The common denominator is power. The best way to help the middle class, the Fellowship believes, is to help the ruling class. The benefits will trickle down. “They’re so busy loving us,” one Fellowship brother once said of the elites to whom he ministered, “but who’s loving them?” The Fellowship is, and right now they’re loving Sarah Palin, a candidate who has excited the evangelical base like no other since William Jennings Bryan raged against the “cross of gold” at the 1896 Democratic convention, when fundamentalism and populism seemed like a match made in Heaven, not a bait and switch cooked up by the protégés of Karl Rove.

Much has been made of Palin’s roots in Pentecostalism; not enough attention is being paid to her penchant for elite fundamentalism, a faith in which “a servant’s heart” is the power source for a politician’s perks and privileges. Palin is an outsider moving in, rising up from the ranks of popular fundamentalism to join the movement’s leadership cadre. In Alaska, Palin has for the last two years presided over a “Governor’s Prayer Breakfast” — an offshoot of the Fellowship’s National Prayer Breakfast in Washington — which declares that its “mission” “is to reaffirm and promote in a Christ-like manner the idea that God has a purpose for and authority over human events.” Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s far more militant son, has been the keynote speaker the last two years. In McCain’s circles, Palin was a particular favorite of former senator Dan Coats of Indiana. A long-time associate of the Fellowship, Coats has never been much enamored of experience as a qualification; he used to name Dan Quayle as his mentor. In the 1990s, he joined with another Fellowship associate, John Ashcroft, to sow the seeds for Faith-Based Initiatives, “the privatization of welfare,” as faith-based theorist Marvin Olasky boasted. There’s an evangelical phrase for such transfers of authority into unregulated hands: “Let go, let God.”

Of course, the biggest Faith-Based Initiative of the Bush years was its management of the economy. Bush, at least, had the decency to dress up his deregulatory drive as a blessing, promising that it would unleash the “armies of compassion.” The McCain campaign instead whines about “a nation of whiners.” McCain tried to soften the charge by presenting us with Palin, who offered prayer as a palliative for economic woes: “God’s will has to be done in unifying people and companies to get that gas line built,” she told her personal prayer warriors at Wasilla Assembly of God, “so pray for that.” From the Great Depression to what we hope will merely be our greatest recession, the doctrine of free market fundamentalism remains the alpha and the omega of American conservatism. That doesn’t prevent Christian conservatives from favoring government subsidies for the rich; they simply reframe it as God’s will, recruiting the creator as a crony. Biblical capitalism isn’t, ultimately, a supply-and-demand religion. Between business conservatism’s love of laissez-faire and religious conservatism’s love of an interventionist god — McCain’s tax cuts for the rich and Palin’s prayers for a new Alaskan pipe line — the only salvation to be found is in the form of bail-outs, indulgences, to borrow a pre-Protestant term. And those are reserved for “the new chosen,” as the Fellowship calls America’s elite, all those now preparing for cozy afterlives to their public lives in penthouses and beach houses and a ranch down in Crawford.

who elected this guy?

Term limit deal: Ronald Lauder agrees to stay
out of legal battle in return for city board seat

Erin Einhorn, NY Daily News, Oct 5 2008

Lauder has agreed to stay out of the expected legal battle over term limits in exchange for a guaranteed spot on an influential city board that would put the matter to the voters in 2010, officials said. “The voters of New York by a margin of 75% want two terms and nothing more,” Lauder said last night. “I want Mayor Bloomberg to have a third term. The city needs him.” The cosmetics titan is a crucial figure in the mayor’s quest to stay in office beyond the end of his second term next year. It was Lauder who financed the two voter referendums in the 1990s that now limit pols to eight years in power. It was Lauder who funded TV ads last month comparing politicians to diapers, saying both needed to be changed often — and for the same reason. And it was only after Lauder last week signaled his support for a one-time exception for Bloomberg because of the fiscal crisis that Bloomberg announced his bold plan to overturn the voter referendum with an act of the City Council.

When City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said the mayor’s proposed bill would permanently extend limits from two to three terms, sources close to Lauder say he again pondered using his money to torpedo the plan. City lawyers thought a one-time change could be illegal because politicians would be voting on a bill that benefits themselves, said mayoral spokesman Jason Post. Instead, if the Council passes a permanent change to the law, the mayor will name Lauder to a board called a Charter Revision Commission that can put the issue on the ballot for voters to forever close the third-term option, Post said. The matter would go on the 2010 November ballot to avoid confusion with the mayor’s race in 2009, he said. “If they try to … make it permanent to three terms, they run the risk of having the voters before the next election do a referendum,” Lauder said. “And that would ruin everything.”

Critics of term limits change were furious. “The whole thing doesn’t pass the smell test,” said City Councilman David Weprin (D-Queens), who is introducing a rival bill requiring a voter referendum before any change can be made to term limits. “It’s just wrong to do it this way,” said Councilman John Liu (D-Queens). “Put it back to the voters. There’s still enough time.” Another rival bill would put term limits to voters in a special election this spring — a proposal Bloomberg said might not be legal. “Not everybody participates, and they would not stand up [to legal challenges],” he said while traveling in Berlin. A Council vote would be more fair, he said. “People who don’t want the change don’t want to give the public choice. … I would argue that that is a lot less democratic,” Bloomberg said. The mayor’s bill is said to have enough support in the Council to pass, and at least one supporter said the deal with Lauder won’t affect discussions. “Every law we pass is permanent until it’s changed,” said Councilman Lewis Fidler (D-Brooklyn).

hamechashefot : haleilot haksumim


goodbye to grosvenor square

Tariq Ali, CounterPunch, Oct 6 2008

The US embassy is withdrawing from its central London fortress. If only America would quit other parts of the world it occupies.

Grosvenor Square is about to be liberated. Tidings that the US embassy is moving to an unspecified five-acre location in south London may be good news for local residents (some of whom were renting rooms for a proper view of the rioting in 1968), but bad news for the unhealthier sections of the north London left. Till now, we could all meet happily in central London. A long march to south London is far less enticing, unless the San Francisco model of demonstrating on bikes becomes fashionable here as well.

Of course, we could be spared all this if the United States simply decided to stop bombing and occupying different parts of the world. Apart from anything else, they can’t afford it any more, which also appears to be the reason for the move from Grosvenor Square. The city is owed £4m in rates — which might be the sale price of the building in these troubled times.

When it finally happens, Grosvenor Square veterans, particularly of the great demonstrations of 1968 calling for Victory to the NLF, should make sure there is a properly organized wake with proper music, etc. They should be sent off in style. Old memories must not be obliterated. This could happen if the fortress in the Square is sold off as apartments. Much better if the Imperial War Museum borrowed a few million from one of the Gulf states and purchased it as an adjunct devoted exclusively to US wars. The loan could be written off as a bad debt and Peter Mandelson, back in the cabinet, might help out here.

A worry remains. Why south London? Surely, it would make much more sense to ask the British to dissolve the Foreign Office, abolish the post of foreign secretary (each new incumbent worse than the one before) and offer the King Charles Street building to the United States as their Embassy. The advantages to both sides are obvious. It could be on a 50-year basis since, by that time, a party might have emerged in England that needed a Foreign Office.

It would certainly make it easier for some of us to have both the US ambassador and the prime minister within striking distance of protesting crowds that assemble in Trafalgar Square.

(Tariq Ali has given many fiery speeches down the years in front of the soon-to-be abandoned US Embassy in Grosvenor Square. His latest book is The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power.)