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European Union

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European Union

We may have passed peak trumper

by Eric Ferguson on May 11, 2017 · 0 comments

europeWhen I say we may have passed peak trumper, of course I know that it’s still early days for the Trump administration and he may get a second term. At the risk of being overpessimistic, it’s tough to beat incumbent presidents: maybe not as tough as beating incumbent congressmen, but still tough. Likewise the other big extreme right electoral win last year, Britain’s brexit, hasn’t even taken place yet (though the effects showing up so far are pretty much as the excoriated “experts” predicted).
 
So sure, in policy terms, the worst of the extreme right, alt-right, authoritarian right, nativist right or, to use the euphemism, “populist” right, is yet to happen. The corruption and vandalizing of our democratic institutions is just getting going. Yet, in electoral terms, it seems like the worst has passed. Trump won the GOP nomination and a big minority of the vote riding the same electoral wave that passed brexit, and before that put conservative conspiracy theorists in charge in Poland, and outright proto-fascists in charge of Hungary. Now it appears the fever broke even before it got to France, where a nativist FOP (Friend of Putin) ran a campaign indistinguishable from Trump except in the country she was going to make white, err, great, again.

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Scottish independence the wrong way

by Eric Ferguson on September 14, 2014 · 2 comments

If you’re thinking a post on Scotland’s independence referendum seems like an odd topic for a Minnesota-centric blog and you don’t see how it applies to anything that interests you, fair point. I quite understand readers who couldn’t care less scrolling on down to the next post. Furthermore, I’m under no delusion we have a large readership who are eligible to vote on Thursday. Nonetheless, I care about this, so for whatever good I might do, this is what I’m saying: independence, at least as proposed, will have the ironic effect of turning Scotland into a vassal state. In other words, those of you who get a vote, vote no.
 
I get that if you can vote, it might be irritating to have some American who partly shares your ethnicity putting his nose in. Europeans of any ethnicity might get annoyed with European-Americans saying things like, “Oh, you’re [ethnicity]? I’m [ethnicity] too!” I get that impression of annoyance when I hear Europeans say things like, “It annoys me when Americans say ‘Oh, you’re [ethnicity]? I’m [ethnicity] too!'”.
 
Yes, it’s true, my grandmother was the one who came from Scotland, not me, though my Irish grandfather was likely descended from Scots who settled in Ulster way back in the 16th or 17th century, if that helps. Probably not. So yes, I’ve been to Scotland just once, for a few days, playing tourist, but that was enough for me to walk the boggy ground at Culloden and see the fresh flowers on the memorial markers. I joined historical reenactors who portray a Scottish regiment in the 30 Years War, and it wasn’t from interest in the 30 Years War, but from a desire to learn about, and rescue from romanticization, that time in Scottish history when clans were central to Scottish life, Gaelic was the language of the Highlands, and kilts were those things worn daily out of impoverished necessity. I’ve studied the wars of independence fought by Bruce and Wallace, wrote a play about them at the same time Braveheart came out and did my best to push back on Mel Gibson’s lies, so I know the immense blood Scotland spilled to gain and keep its independence for centuries before it was lost in the Act of Union in 1707. So I get, at a gut level, the urge to wipe the stain of coercion and bribery that attended the Act’s passage.
 
Yet I’m saying don’t do it. At least not now, this way.
 
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Has economics found its Andrew Wakefield?

by Eric Ferguson on May 1, 2013 · 0 comments

The economic blogosphere lit up a couple weeks ago when the 90% debt cliff, pretty much the only empirical basis austerians have for imposing austerity during a weak economy, blew up. It reached the liberal (real, not corporate) media, and even got so mainstream as to warrant extensive coverage on The Colbert Report. When the story first broke, it reminded me of Andrew Wakefield, the former doctor who is former because of his fraudulent research that “found” the MMR vaccine causes autism, the research that kicked off the anti-vaccer movement as we know t today. The comparison seemed harsh when I first thought of it, to a degree still does, yet the more I think about it, the more comparable the claims appear.
 


The still at the start of this video would look like the Great Depression if it was black and white. It’s about Spain hitting 27% unemployment, higher than the US hit in the 1930’s.

 

To make sure everyone knows what we’re talking about, the 90% debt cliff came from Growth in a Time of Debt. Feel free to read it of course, but keep in mind it turned out to be very wrong, verging on fraudulent. It’s a paper by Carmen M. Reinhart and Kenneth S. Rogoff, usually referred to as “Reinhart and Rogoff” and even shorter, R&R or R-R. Or, if you look at that last link, you might think of them as people who make up more things when they get caught making things up.

 

R&R claimed to have found a correlation between government debt and economic growth, where more debt causes slower growth, with a big dropoff when debt hits 90% of GDP. This is the claim that has been frequently repeated by austerians in the debate over fiscal austerity versus fiscal stimulus, which debate is probably very familiar to anyone regularly visiting this site. Anyone familiar with that debate is probably already aware that the preponderance of the evidence has been on the stimulus side, even though, tragically, the preponderance of money and political power has been with the austerians. When it comes to defending their position though, using something empirical rather than the assertions of conservative ideology, this debt cliff has pretty much been it. But now the one paper providing supporting evidence has been debunked spectacularly.
 

So why the harsh comparison to the one paper that supported the anti-vaccers before it was found to be a fraud?

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Some EU nations are instituting a financial transactions tax which banksters in the US have so far managed to block here, thanks to a handy coincidence of conservative ideology with ownership of a bunch of Congress.

Seems fair. The people we deride as “banksters” — well, I certainly don’t shy from that term — caused the financial crisis through unreasonably risky if not fraudulent activity, so let them finally start paying for the bailouts that saved them. The more troubled Eurozone economies have already tried jacking up the numbers of unemployed people and impoverishing their pensioners to cope with deficits and debts, and shockingly, creating poverty has failed to create prosperity, except at the top. It took only four years of consistent failure to cause a rethink of austerity.

A group of 11 European Union countries was given the go-ahead Tuesday to work on the introduction of a tax on financial transactions.

The tax is designed to help pay for the rescue of Europe’s banks and discourage risky trading. It would apply to anyone in the 11 countries who makes a bond or share trade or bets on the market using complex financial products called derivatives.

EU Tax Commissioner Algirdas Semeta told reporters after a meeting of the bloc’s 27 finance ministers that the decision marked a “major milestone for EU tax policies.”

“Major milestone” is right. The current UK government won’t consider it even while slashing housing and education, and it was never seriously considered in the US while Dodd-Frank was being worked on in Congress. The banksters just don’t want it, just as they wanted no re-regulation of derivatives.
If you’re wondering what “derivatives” means, it’s an investment derived from another investment rather than directly buying something. For example, the reason mortgage brokers were so desperate for new mortgages that they eventually resorted “liar loans” to people who couldn’t make a single payment is that mortgages were being repackaged into collateralized debt obligations (CDO). These consisted of thousands of mortgages, and investors buying a CDO owned a tiny slice of each mortgage. Investors were told these were very safe because real estate never goes down, few mortgages get defaulted on, and the ratings agencies declared them safe. They weren’t safe. They were full of junk, unregulated, and the banksters sometimes shorted the CDOs they sold because they knew they were junk. That’s where the demand came from to create the real estate bubble.

So huge financial corporations owed on derivatives they couldn’t pay off, or held assets that proved worthless, and whichever side of that you were on, that’s what caused the financial system to need a bailout or just collapse. Taxing transactions would add a tiny bit of cost to the people taking the risk, and provide funds to the governments that will get stuck bailing them out before they take down the whole economy. If nothing bad happens, great, because then the governments will get revenue coming from the top of the economy, which might work better than having tax collectors digging through poor people’s sofa cushions for change.

Will our conservatives be any more open to a transaction tax than Europe’s conservatives? Of course not. Probably wont’ get through either house of Congress. But can we at least have the discussion so the idea is understood when conditions are finally right to pass it, preferably before the next financial collapse? How about if we call it the “bankster tax”?

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I remember watching Colin Powell at the UN Security Counsel on C-SPAN.  Powell was producing photographs the United States claimed was proof that Saddam Housein had weapons of mass destruction.  Shortly after he finished, Hans Blix of the UN Security Counsel accused the United States of producing counterfeited evidence.  He pointed out time/date stamps that were erased, close-up examinations of the photos revealed disturbed and unordered pixels on the photographs.

I was stunned.  Why would the Bush Administration lie to the United Nations Security Counsel in an effort to go to war? I know, I know, I can be naive sometimes.  But, this was before we marched into Iraq and, hindsight is 20/20 vision.

But now, it would appear that this story has come full circle:  George W Bush is now very close to be under the scrutiny of the same UN Security Counsel via the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The International Criminal Court

Officially, the ICC is headquartered in The Hague.  It is the spin-off organization from the “Rome Statute” which was signed in 1998 under the Clinton Administration.  The ICC came into being in July 2002 where Bush (as President of the United States), along with China, Russia and India refused to sign it.

The Heritage Foundation objected to the Court by issuing this statement:

“Americans who appear before the court would be denied such basic constitutional rights as trial by a jury of one’s peers, protection from double jeopardy, and the right to confront one’s accusers.”

Conversely, Human Rights Watch argues:

the ICC has one of the most extensive lists of due process guarantees ever written”, including “presumption of innocence; right to counsel; right to present evidence and to confront witnesses; right to remain silent; right to be present at trial; right to have charges proved beyond a reasonable doubt; and protection against double jeopardy”

The Court has jurisdiction over four groups: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of aggression.  

Wiki says:

“The Court can generally exercise jurisdiction only in cases where the accused is a national of a state party, the alleged crime took place on the territory of a state party, or a situation is referred to the Court by the United Nations Security Council.The Court is designed to complement existing national judicial systems: it can exercise its jurisdiction only when national courts are unwilling or unable to investigate or prosecute such crimes. Primary responsibility to investigate and punish crimes is therefore left to individual states”

The International Criminal Court is structured with four organs: The Presidency, the Judicial Divisions, the Office of the Prosecuter and the Registry.  The Presidency is made up of three judges, the President and the First and Second President.  The Judicial Division is made up of 18 judges sub-grouped into three divisions.  The Prosecutor is assisted by two Deputy Prosecutors and (again Wiki):

The Prosecutor may open an investigation under three circumstances:
  1. when a situation is referred to him by a state party;
  2. when a situation is referred to him by the United Nations Security Council, acting to address a threat to international peace and security; or
  3. when the Pre-Trial Chamber authorises him to open an investigation on the basis of information received from other sources, such as individuals or non-governmental organisations.

Finally, the Registry is the body that manages the court’s financing, personnel, defense counsel, detention units, and translations (as necessary).  The Registrar is elected by the judges and serves a five year term.

Most Recent Case

The International Criminal Court has just issued an arrest warrant for Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir for war-crimes committed in Darfur. Sudan is not a member-state of the ICC, or the United Nations.

This raises the stakes in noting that President George W. Bush just very well might be next on the list. The New Zealand Harald said(via Think Progress):

David Crane, an international law professor at Syracuse University, said the principle of law used to issue an arrest warrant for Omar al-Bashir could extend to former US President Bush over claims officials from his Administration may have engaged in torture by using coercive interrogation techniques on terror suspects.

Crane is a former prosecutor of the Sierra Leone tribunal that indicted Liberian President Charles Taylor and put him on trial in The Hague.

Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Programme at Human Rights Watch, said the al-Bashir ruling was likely to fuel discussion about investigations of possible crimes by Bush Administration officials.

Mr. Dicker is correct.  Since Sudan isn’t part of the ICC, the UN Security Counsel, the Hague and the ICC doesn’t see membership as a requirement for jurisdiction over a crime. In that vein, there very well could be pressure put on the ICC from Europe and countries who’ve had citizens tortured in Bush’s Guantanamo Gulag.

From Raw Story today:

…on January 26, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak insisted that the pursuit of Bush and members of his administration for the torture of terror war prisoners is crucial if justice is to be served.

Nowak added that he believes enough evidence exists currently to proceed with the prosecution of Donald Rumsfeld, the former Secretary of Defense who was credited as being highly influential in the crafting and push for America’s invasion of Iraq and the prior administration’s abusive interrogation tactics.

Donald Rumsfeld

In October 2007, human rights groups from American and European filed a legal complaint against Donald Rumsfeld for torture and war crimes in Guantanamo and Iraq.

Rumsfeld fled French soil fearing arrest after protesters filed complaints with local authorities that Donald Rumsfeld was a war criminal.

US embassy officials whisked Rumsfeld away yesterday from a breakfast meeting in Paris organized by the Foreign Policy magazine after human rights groups filed a criminal complaint against the man who spearheaded President George W. Bush’s “war on terror” for six years.

Under international law, authorities in France are obliged to open an investigation when a complaint is made while the alleged torturer is on French soil.

…Anti-torture protesters in France believe that the defense secretary fled over the open border to Germany, where a war crimes case against Rumsfeld was dismissed by a federal court. But activist point out that under the Schengen agreement that ended border checkpoints across a large part of the European Union, French law enforcement agents are allowed to cross the border into Germany in pursuit of a fleeing fugitive.

To quote Maxwell Smart: “…Missed him, by that much!”

President Obama

While a Senator, President Barack Obama was asked if the United States should join the ICC.  He responded with:

Yes[.] The United States should cooperate with ICC investigations in a way that reflects American sovereignty and promotes our national security interests

Obama is thrown into a very tight political pickle if Bush is indeed arrested and tried.  Realistically, Bush wouldn’t be taken into custody and brought to trial for a very long time.  However, if he was arrested and his trial began while Obama is still president, it makes his presidency very messy.  The GOP would be screaming about revenge and the Democrats would be screaming at the Oval Office and the Attorney General for not doing something earlier to avoid the mess.  No matter what – it would be a mess.

United States Congress

Congress also acknowledged the ICC’s authority to prosecute war crimes committed in Darfur. (PDF File!)  

Since Congress has gone along with the ICC’s investigation and prosecution, it only paves an easier route to prosecute Bush and Rumsfeld with very little deterrents.  

One of the biggest problems with a Bush and Rumsfeld arrest is a really sagging moral for the American people.  Face it; seeing an American President standing trial for war crimes son’t make the American people feeling good about themselves.  Especially since we were stupid enough to elect him for an additional four years. But, the precedents are all in place and there’s very little left to do but wait and see.

I personally don’t understand why the President of the United States would even go down that messy slope in the first place.  Did he simply think nobody would care if he was torturing people?  What kind of bubble did he live in while he was in that Oval Office?

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