Empire, Oligarchy and Democracy

The twin swelling heads of Empire and Oligarchy are driving our country
into an ever-deepening corporate state, wholly incompatible with
democracy and the rule of law.

Once again the New York Times offers its readers the evidence. In its
February 25, 2010 issue, two page-one stories confirm this relentless
deterioration at the expense of so many innocent people.

The lead story illustrates that the type of massive speculation--casino
capitalism, Business Week once called it--in complex derivatives is
still going strong and exploiting the weak and powerless who pay the
ultimate bill.

Titled "Banks Bet Greece Defaults on Debt They Helped Hide," the
article shocks even readers hardened to tales of greed and abuse of
power. Here are the opening paragraphs: "Bets by some of the same banks
that helped Greece shroud its mounting debts may actually now be
pushing the nation closer to the brink of financial ruin."

"Echoing the kind of trades that nearly toppled the American Insurance
International Group /AIG/, the increasingly popular insurance against
the risk of a Greek default is making it harder for Athens to raise the
money it needs to pay its bills, according to traders and money

"These contracts, known as credit-default swaps, effectively let banks
and hedge funds wager on the financial equivalent of a four-alarm fire:
a default by a company, or in the case of Greece, an entire country. If
Greece reneges on its debts, traders who own these swaps stand to

"It's like buying fire insurance on your neighbor's house-you create an
incentive to burn down the house," said Philip Gisdakis, head of credit
strategy at UniCredit in Munich.

These credit-default swaps increase the dreaded "systemic risk" that
proliferates until it lands on the backs of taxpayers, workers and
savers who pay the price. And if Greece goes, Spain or Portugal or
Italy may be next and globalization will eventually bring the rapacious
effects of mindless speculation to our shores.

Greece got into financial trouble for a variety of reasons, but it was
widely reported that Goldman Sachs and other big banks showed them, for
generous fees, how to hide the country's true financial condition.
Avarice at work.

Note two points. These derivatives are contracts involving hundreds of
billions of dollars and are essentially unregulated. These transactions
are also essentially untaxed, unlike Europe's value added tax on
manufacturing, wholesale and retail purchases. The absence of
government restraints produces unlimited predation.

As astute investors in the real economy have said, when money for
speculation replaces money for investment, the real economy suffers and
so do real people. Remember the Wall Street collapse of 2008 and who is
paying for the huge Washington bailout.

The other story shows that the Presidency has become a self-driven
Empire outside the law and unaccountable to its citizens. The Times
reports "how far the C.I.A. has extended its extraordinary secret war
beyond the mountainous tribal belt and deep into Pakistan's sprawling
cities." Working with Pakistan's counterpart agency, the C.I.A. has had
some cover to do what it wants in carrying out "dozens of raids
throughout Pakistan over the past year," according to the Times.

"Secret War" has been a phrase applied numerous times throughout the
C.I.A's history, even though the agency was initially created by
Congress right after World War II to gather intelligence, not engage in
lethal operations worldwide.

Unrestrained by either Congress or the federal courts, Presidents say
they can and do order their subordinates to go anywhere in the world,
penetrate into any country, if they alone say it is necessary to seize
and destroy for what they believe is the national security. American
citizens abroad are not excluded. Above the law and beyond the law
spells the kind of lawlessness that the framers of our constitution
abhorred in King George and limited in our country's separation of

Because our founders would not tolerate the President being prosecutor,
judge, jury and executioner, they placed the war-declaration and
appropriations authorities in the Congress.

Both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama believe they have
unbridled discretion to engage in almost any overt or covert acts. That
is a definition of Empire that flouts international law and more than
one treaty which the United States helped shape and sign.

Equipped with remote and deadly technologies like drones flying over
Pakistan and Afghanistan by operators in Nevada, many civilians have
been slain, including those in wedding parties and homes. Still, it is
taking 15,000 soldiers (U.S. and Afghan) with the most modern armaments
to deal with three hundred Taliban fighters in Marja who with many
other Afghans, for various motivations, want us out of their country.
Former Marine Combat Captain Matthew Hoh described these reasons in his detailed resignation letter last fall.

Mr. Obama's national security advisor, Ret. General James Jones
estimated that there are about 100 Al Qaeda in Afghanistan with the
rest migrating to other countries. And one might add, those whose
migrate are increasing their numbers because they cast themselves as
fighting to expel the foreign invaders.

So many capable observers have made this point: occupation by our
military fuels insurgencies and creates the conditions for more
recruits and more mayhem. Even Bush's military and national security
people have made this point.

The American people must realize that their reckless government and
corporate contractors are banking lots of revenge among the occupied
regions that may come back to haunt. We have much more to lose by
flouting international law than the suicidal terrorists reacting to
what they believe is the West's state terrorism against their people
and the West's historical backing of dictatorships which oppress their
own population.

America was not designed for Kings and their runaway military
pursuits. How tragic that we have now come to this entrenched imperium
so loathed by the founding fathers and so forewarned by George
Washington's enduring farewell address.

Where are "We the People"?

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