Monday, December 20, 2010

Wikileaks Under Attack

The Julian Assange/Wikileaks affair is taking on fascinating and bizarre twists. A couple weeks back it was announced that Assange was wanted on rape charges in Sweden dating back to August concerning two women. Then the chief prosecutor looked at the case and dismissed it out of hand, saying there was nothing there. A week or so later a prominent politician took up the cause, found a lesser prosecutor willing to take on the case and asked the UK to detain him for extradition to Sweden for questioning.

Wanting to play by the rules, considering the dangerous and precarious position he is in, he turned himself in to the police and asked to be released on bail. At first, at Sweden’s request, bail was denied saying he’s a flight risk; which is a bit disingenuous since he had just voluntarily given himself up.

Finally, after a week or so in solitary confinement, he’s granted bail of $320,000. The accusation, as far as I can tell, is that he didn’t use a condom in one case and in the other the condom malfunctioned. Seems like they’re going through a whole lot of trouble and asking a fantastic amount of bail money for an act of unprotected sex with two women who, as it happened, acted like nothing was amiss at the time: one went out to eat with him the same day, the other went to a party with him a day or so later.

At about the same time, the US government – obviously – pressured his web server to shut down the Wikileaks website and Paypal and credit card companies to turn off portals for donations. But this being the internet age, their pressure served to merely to harass Assange rather than actually prevent people from seeing the information since there are now over 1800 web sites that mirror the Wikileaks site. Moreover, an additional five international news organizations have the diplomatic cables and are also publishing the information.

Several prominent American politicians and news personalities have called for Assange’s assassination or that he be brought to the states on treason charges, which in fact doesn’t apply since he’s not an American citizen.

They can’t get back at him for his supposed crime of publishing confidential cables because there’s no law against that. The original leaker can be prosecuted but not Wikileaks or the New York Times which has also published the information.

He could be killed just for spite, but that’s not going to stop the dissemination of information. Assange is holding back an immense 1.5 gigabyte file which will be released automatically if anything happens to him. The file, in a 256 bit encryption and thus impossible to decode, has been distributed to hundreds of people who will receive the encryption key should harm come to Assange. In the words of his lawyer, it’s a thermonuclear device for the internet age - I can’t wait to see that one. Essentially, all the shit the US government is putting him through is just for fun, anger, revenge.

As for the diplomatic cables themselves, they are merely an embarrassment to the government. To anyone who gets their news outside the corporate media, there’s nothing the least bit surprising in the actual information. All the cables do is confirm the wide divergence from what the US government says publicly and what it does and thinks privately.

On another topic: While I’m at my computer I’ve got to bring up some of the austerity measures Greece and Ireland are having to make at the demand of the European Central Bank and the IMF in order to qualify for their bailout money. Greece is being required to water down union rules to weaken collective bargaining. You might ask how that is supposed to help the country balance its budget. In Ireland’s case it has to lower it’s minimum wage. One again you ponder how that can possibly be a solution to the country’s financial woes.

I guess the thinking goes like this. If you lower labor costs, investors will come with new business and the welfare cost of the unemployed will go down. On the other hand the government will also be collecting less taxes from poorer workers, so in reality it might be a wash. Meanwhile the financial overlords will have furthered their real agenda of austeritizing the workers so they can prosperitize the bosses.

Certainly can’t raise taxes on corporations or force bank owners to take a hit for the corruption and malfeasance of their bankster CEO’s or make the the wealthy pay a little more to balance the budget, that’s unthinkable.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Ireland Again

Ireland Again

An Irish friend on my email list commented on my last post saying he agreed with everything I said except for my position on Ireland’s very low corporate tax rate, saying companies will leave if it is raised.

Shane can correct me if I’m off base but this is how I see the evolution of Ireland’s current economic problems. Ireland’s great boom before the recent crash was based on a combination of the mentioned low corporate tax bringing an influx of industry, an educated English speaking population and being part of the European Union so it’s products had access to a very large market. The country’s 10% tax, which some countries consider to be predatory, created an industrial boom and turned Ireland, which historically was an exporter of people, into an importer of labor.

Lots of new people needing homes and high economic growth – the Celtic Tiger - brought about the housing boom, in which, as I’ve read recently, a small house in Dublin was worth the same as a chateau in northern France. Like in America, speculation ran wild, leading to the inevitable bust.

With a more average tax rate, growth would’ve been slower providing jobs for the Irish but not creating a magnet for immigration and engendering the outsized economic boom. Ireland’s English speaking population was always going to give it an advantage in attracting American investment regardless of its tax rates. In an economic paradigm in which the highest growth is always the primary goal there will always be boom and bust. Moreover, low corporate taxes make balanced budgets impossible without placing heavy burdens on the workers.

Now we have the European Central Bank and IMF saying maybe investors in failing banks and bankrupt countries should take a loss. MAYBE! MAYBE! What a radical thought. Germany and other nations are keen for Ireland to institute severe austerity measures to get its finances together and take big loans to pay its bank’s debts. If Ireland defaults, Germany’s banks will suffer and that country will feel obligated to subsidize its banks directly instead of loaning the money to Ireland, so it’s easy to understand why it wants Ireland’s taxpayers to suffer.

Another facet of the world’s rotten banking system which is intimately aligned with mendacious government complicity has come to light in the past few days. Bernie Sanders, Independent senator from Vermont, who unabashedly refers to himself as a socialist, was instrumental in having a clause inserted into America’s recent banking reform which requires the Fed to disclose where it’s been spending its money. Ben Bernanke, Obama’s appointee to the Fed; sorry, Bush and Obama’s Fed choice, had been fiercely resisting that disclosure.

It’s not hard to understand why. The Fed printed up more than a trillion dollars ($1,000,000,000,000) to buy toxic assets from foreign banks. A German bank got nearly $300 billion, a Swiss bank around $270 billion. When it comes to saving them from their stupid decisions, the Fed will, evidently, go to the ends of the earth to find craven banksters in need.

Another couple trillion of printing press money went to American banks, Goldman Sachs by itself got $600 billion. This of course is all aside from the TARP bailout you all heard about. At the height of the banking crisis in 2008, Goldman was changed overnight from an investment bank to a retail bank (though, of course it really isn’t) in order to get free money from the US government and to protect the wealthy from their own malfeasance and greed. They’ve done so well with all that government money thrown at them, they’re making record profits and giving themselves record bonuses. Well, why not. If you’re conniving and smart enough to finagle vast sums of public money with the collusion of your government, you must deserve it. To the victor go the spoils.

To the rest go the dregs.