The World Bank & Wolfowitz

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Steve Bell's cartoon

With all the recent scandal surrounding Wolfowitz and the World Bank, the mainstream media is still so far away from having an actual discussion about the organization and its counterpart, the IMF.

In a nutshell, what happened is Wolfowitz gave his girlfriend a few financial perks, in the form of pay raise. This was unethical given that he is the president of the organization. The World Bank deals exclusively with funds, and there has been major criticism since its inception that its accounting practices are not clear. For the president of the organization to do this reflects, in my opinion, horribly on the institution in general.

One Fox News blogger makes the point that there is a certain level of hypocrisy in the members of the World Bank (which includes 184 countries/members) all of a sudden turning around and pointing the finger at Paul Wolfowitz:

I don’t know whether his efforts to secure a job for a girlfriend meet the resignation test. I do know that it’s more than a little amusing who’s judging him: an organization that’s been playing financial shell games for years and whose members have some curious conflicts of their own.

Cavuto

Point taken; there is an amount of hypocrisy. However, Wolfowitz was a controversial pick in the first place given his total financial inexperience and moreover the controversial Wolfowitz doctrine. Take into account the fact that he was vowing to fix these problems in the first place (here’s a link for you conspiracy theorists) and that makes for a big mess.

chapatte

So now that Wolfowitz is resigning, the White House is going to appoint a new head of the organization again, instead of installing a transparent and democratic process. Not that the members of the World Bank board are to be trusted anyway, but we’ve been appointing the president of the organization for half a century since its inception and it hasn’t really worked out yet.

My whole thing is that while this scandal “spotlights” the problems behind U.S. control of the bank, we can’t just let Wolfowitz resign and let the issue die. The problem, obviously goes deeper than Wolfowitz.

The World Bank was started in the aftermath of World War II with the goal of helping these war-ravaged nations (namely France) rebuild. Like I said before, the U.S. has always appointed the president informally. The conference where the World Bank was established was called Bretton Woods, which went down in NH.

World Bank Group

So countries like France were devastated and the basic idea became “let’s lend them some dough so they can get together.” Inclusive in this was the idea of ridding the world of all the problems that hindered markets previously. To accomplish this they had to outlaw many of the economic practices of Europe which included unfair devaluation of currency and excessive fining. What would happen was say France was stealing your business with a cheap import, they would devalue French currency so as to give them less buying power, etc.

The idea also carried an idea of free market capitalism, in essence the idea that businesses would be able to flow freely over borders and that there would be so-called “equal access to natural resources.” That really means that anybody with the capitalistic power can enter your country and suck you dry. This kind of happy-go-lucky capitalism would be all well and dandy if some of the poorer nations were able to stack as much green as the richer nations and therefore actually have free access to these resources. Unfortunately, they are not able to do so, and furthermore have no access to the higher up positions in the bank. In this article, Joseph Stiglitz, former World Bank Aide speaks out.

Another criticism is that many nations were forced into compliance with the World Bank because of their ties to colonial powers or their capitalist domination by these selfsame powers, against their wills.

For critical views on the World bank, check out the Bretton Woods Project.
These are the Wikipedia lists of criticisms for the World Bank & IMF

Images from: Steve Bell, Chapatte, Soapbox,

Telescreens and Roving Bugs

Oh sorry, I was sleeping today.  But the rest of the world wasn’t.  The earth just never ceases to get crazier.  You should definitely click all the links in this little article.

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So today we’re talking about roving bugs.  If you don’t know what that is, click the link obviously.  Basically, since they invented ‘conversations’ people have been hiding behind huge stones, burying themselves in haystacks, and hiding behind curtains to figure out what other people are saying in confidence to their cleaning ladies, shepherds, friends, queens or what have you.

Technologically, one of the first examples of eavesdropping on somebody was the dictograph invented in 1912 by KM Turner.

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The dictograph, Mr. Fox says, has in the last six months revolutionized criminal prevention. He writes:

“In walls, under sofa and chair, in chandelier, behind a desk, beside a window, it has hidden – the unseen listener to secret conversations. The secrets of prison cells have been tapped, hotel rooms and offices have given up incriminating conversation. To representatives of the law, it has proclaimed loudly the whispered words of cunning malefactors. It has figured sensationally in the undoing of dynamiters, legislative bribetakers, grafters high and crooks low, across the continent. It eavesdropped in McManigal’s cell in the Columbus, Ohio, bribery case, in the Lorimer case, in the office of the Iron Workers’ Union at Indianapolis, in Gary, Ind., in – who knows? always listening where we know not, it promises more and more sensational disclosures, more confessions – an ‘automatic third degree.’”

Basically, since then, the government has come out with all types of ways to tap your phone that you may have never heard of.  Their newest trick is the roving bug.  The way cell phones work is by sending out signals to towers.  To make a long story short, the towers communicate with eachother.  By figuring out what cell phone towers that your phone is communicating with somebody with proper access can determine your whereabouts through triangulation of signal.

Nowadays phones have GPS etc in them.  While this is all good, and especially effective for emergency services, it does raise Orwelian questions.  In the face of the whole National ID thing, do you really want to be always locatable just because of the technology?

In the past it may have been harder for authorities to tap into phones, given that habeas corpus used to exist in some sense.  However, as we know, such civil protection is being overrided in favor of tougher systems in order to guard against any possible security threath.

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The technique is called a “roving bug,” and was approved by top U.S. Department of Justice officials for use against members of a New York organized crime family who were wary of conventional surveillance techniques such as tailing a suspect or wiretapping him.

THE ROVING BUG, is actually not like a traditional bug at all.  Whereas a traditional tap would require the tap-ee to engage in a conversation, the roving bug turns your cell phone into the actual mechanism of the tap.  Yes, that means that even when you aren’t talking on your cell phone, a government agent with proper system access  could turn your phone into a live receiver.  I don’t know what you think, but that ish is crazy!

Not only is it super stealth, but it actually eliminates the need for the government to plant an actual physical bug.  Given that everyone these days has a cell phone, that’s a frightening proposition.  Sitting here staring at my MacBook, I start to wonder who’s watching me.

Moore’s New Film Hits Cannes

Well that old rabblerouser Mike Moore is back at it again.  Although we don’t know exactly how we feel about dude, and nor should we, we know that seeing his film will probably be our guilty pleasure for this year.  OK, so, I guess his movie is about the state of American healthcare.

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Although, I don’t know if what Fatty McFatterson has to say is relevant, I’m sure his film is sure to cause controversey.

Here’s a few links. Interesting.

No sex please, we’re daddy’s little girls


It has all the ingredients of a wedding. The proud tuxedo-clad father, the frosted white cake, the limousines and an exchange of vows.

But there is no groom and the girl in the long gown is no bride. She’s daddy’s little girl, there to take a vow of chastity.

In what is becoming a trend among conservative Christians in the United States, girls as young as nine are pledging to their fathers to remain virgins until they wed, in elaborate ceremonies dubbed “Purity Balls.”

The gala affairs are intended to celebrate the father-daughter relationship.

The highlight is when the fathers and daughters exchange vows, with dad signing a covenant to protect his daughter’s chastity by living an unblemished life and the daughter promising not to have sex until marriage.

Many fathers at the ceremonies also slip “purity rings” around the finger of their misty-eyed daughters or offer them “chastity bracelets” and other jewelry that the girls can entrust to their husbands on their wedding night.

Original Story via Yahoo

No Confidence

Congressman Adam Schiff

So there seems to be at least a couple sane people in the House of Representatives. Democrat Adam Schiff and Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz are co-sponsoring a motion that hit the floor on Monday that basiclly is calling for vote of no confidence against the Attorney General. I figured I should let you all know about it since yesterday we posted on Gonzales’ pinky-and-the-brain plan for file sharing.

“We do not believe that his continued tenure in the Department of Justice is in the best interests of that Department, and the country cannot wait and drift for another one and half years of his leadership at the helm.”

-Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA)

All this comes on the heels of the blatantly illegal but un-tended fire that resulted from Gonzales’ dispatching of 8 US attorneys for voting against Republican party value-lines.

Rep. Wasserman Schultz compared Gonzales’ behavior with President Richard Nixon’s ‘Saturday Night Massacre’ in order to accuse Gonzales of not being trustworthy in carrying out the law.

“Attorney General Richardson resigned in protest because he refused to engage in acts that he believed were either unconstitutional or illegal, and I honestly don’t have the confidence that if the President asked Attorney General Gonzales to do something in either one of those categories, that he would make that same decision,” she said. “I think he would just carry out instructions, and that is totally inappropriate, unacceptable, and un-American.”

Although it will probably be ignored, it’s something that you should know is going on given the amount of smoke and mirrors and the cavalier attitudes of administrations past and present of breaking the law and not caring.

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The quotes cited are all from this article via The Raw Story. Go read it.

Alberto Gonzales and Thought Crime

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Well, as you all know, for a short while politricks.mnp died of pure apathy, but luckily for you out there in the general population, we’re back. At issue today, the totally Minority Report-ish articles that have been going around the net about the Attorney General’s new plan to neutralize internet piracy. Some of the points under his proposal include:

* Criminalize “attempting” to infringe copyright. Federal law currently punishes not-for-profit copyright infringement with between 1 and 10 years in prison, but there has to be actual infringement that takes place. The IPPA would eliminate that requirement. (The Justice Department’s summary of the legislation says: “It is a general tenet of the criminal law that those who attempt to commit a crime but do not complete it are as morally culpable as those who succeed in doing so.”)

* Create a new crime of life imprisonment for using pirated software. Anyone using counterfeit products who “recklessly causes or attempts to cause death” can be imprisoned for life. During a conference call, Justice Department officials gave the example of a hospital using pirated software instead of paying for it.

* Permit more wiretaps for piracy investigations. Wiretaps would be authorized for investigations of Americans who are “attempting” to infringe copyrights.

* Allow computers to be seized more readily. Specifically, property such as a PC “intended to be used in any manner” to commit a copyright crime would be subject to forfeiture, including civil asset forfeiture. Civil asset forfeiture has become popular among police agencies in drug cases as a way to gain additional revenue, and it is problematic and controversial.

* Increase penalties for violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s anticircumvention regulations. Criminal violations are currently punished by jail times of up to 10 years and fines of up to $1 million. The IPPA would add forfeiture penalties.

* Add penalties for “intended” copyright crimes. Certain copyright crimes currently require someone to commit the “distribution, including by electronic means, during any 180-day period of at least 10 copies” valued at more than $2,500. The IPPA would insert a new prohibition: actions that were “intended to consist of” distribution.

* Require Homeland Security to alert the Recording Industry Association of America. That would happen when CDs with “unauthorized fixations of the sounds, or sounds and images, of a live musical performance” are attempted to be imported. Neither the Motion Picture Association of America nor the Business Software Alliance (nor any other copyright holder, such as photographers, playwrights or news organizations, for that matter) would qualify for this kind of special treatment.

From CNET (News.Com) [Check out their podcast on the issue]

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The referenced article also highlights that, in terms of Hollywood, the Democrats seem to be more closely allied to Hollywood than the Republicans. It would be interesting to see how such a bill would be handled in congress.

I, for one, am not comfortable with all that “attempted” language. Furthermore it seems like this may be just some type of diversion on the part of Gonzales to take attention away from his recent lawyer firing scandals. Since the mainstream media drops any scandal that doesn’t payout in 2 weeks like a horse at a glue factory it seems like only the bloggers are all over it. The administration seems to be pointing its big hairy finger right back at the internet.

While it’s common sense that a democracy (er.. of capitalistic nature) needs intellectual property protections, I’m still not sure how far our government should go to be protecting and industry with antiquated business models. For a bunch of old fogeys who still can’t make money off the internet for some unbeknownst reason (Apple seems to be doing well despite the stock scare) the RIAA cats still seem to be doing well for themselves. By “how far” I mean why should homeland security be involved in fighting piracy? I thought they were supposed to be securing the homeland against a perceived threat.

Go Read and Form Your Own Opinion

Can Gore Let It Rip?

Next time he runs for president, things will be different. That was Al Gore’s pledge to Democrats after the 2000 election: “If I had to do it all over again, I’d just let it rip. To hell with the polls, the tactics and all the rest. I would have poured out my heart and my vision for America’s future.”

Will Gore run in 2008? The question will echo throughout his appearances Wednesday before the House and Senate committees dealing with climate change. It likely will echo through all of American politics for months to come. There are two ways to ponder the question.

The logic of politics suggests Gore has already given his answer. He is not raising money. He is not urging friends and associates to stay on the sidelines until he makes a decision. He has said repeatedly that he has no plans to run. Shouldn’t we take him at his word?  Not yet, we shouldn’t. The logic of psychology and even history suggests that Gore should run. And if he should run, it is hard to believe that a man who has organized most of his adult life around public service and the pursuit of the presidency won’t in the end actually do it.

For the moment, Gore’s legacy in American politics rests on two opposing facts:

– From the perspective of Democrats, no politician has been more right, more often, on more important questions. On global warming, words that had a radical edge in 1992 — and still do, to many conservative ears — Gore wrote “Earth in the Balance,” anticipating mainstream liberal rhetoric by a decade. Many Washington Democrats cringed at what they regarded as his shrill people-vs.-powerful 2000 convention speech, when he warned that a Bush presidency would favor special interests and the wealthy. They cringed even more in 2002 at what they regarded as Gore’s naive warnings that the coming Iraq war was a disaster in waiting and a distraction from other fronts in the campaign against terrorism. But within a year or so of both speeches, most Democrats inside Washington and beyond essentially embraced Gore’s argument and tone.

– From the perspective of people who believe, as nearly all Democrats do, that the Bush presidency has been a historic debacle, no Democratic politician is more culpable for these consequences than Gore himself. A more poised, focused and self-confident campaign surely would have won the election and not just the popular vote in 2000. As the chosen leader of his party, Gore had a responsibility to wage that campaign.

[Politico]

The Lessons of Iraq

Former Senator and Presidential Candidate Gary Hart has published a great piece on the Huffington Post:

Very soon a new industry called “The Lessons of Iraq” will be born, even as the search for the end-game continues against the back-drop of the theme “who lost Iraq.” Partisan strategists will be allocating blame while more thoughtful citizens will try to draw lessons for future generations.

Some lessons are apparent. Do not manufacture justification for invasions. Plan for all eventualities, including the most unpleasant. Do not pay exiles to tell you what you want to hear. Deal honestly with Congress and the American people. Be candid about possible costs in lives and money. And an endless list of common sense, and Constitutional, dos and don’ts.

The second kind of lessons are less obvious and have to do with the new realities of the 21st century:

First, treat jihadist terrorism more like organized crime than traditional warfare. By declaring “war on terrorism” we made the fatal mistake that it could be crushed using conventional warfare and massed armies…

Second, liberate the U.S. from dependence on Persian Gulf oil. We can then sharply reduce the U.S. military presence in the region and remove the single most important incentive for jihadism…

Third, restore principle to American foreign policy. Neoconservatives who dominate the Bush administration have used the Wilsonian rhetoric of “democratic idealism” even as they pursue the most cynical and dishonest policies…

Fourth, engage the nations of the world in achieving security for the global commons. Security in the 21st century now means much more than it did in the Cold War 20th century.

Read the full article at the link below:

[HuffingtonPost]

F.B.I. Is Warned Over Its Misuse of Data Collection

WASHINGTON, March 20 — House Republicans joined Democrats on Tuesday in warning the F.B.I. that it could lose the power to demand that companies turn over customers’ telephone, e-mail and financial records if it did not swiftly correct abuses in the use of national security letters, the investigative tool that allows the bureau to make such demands without a judge’s approval.

The warnings came at a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee into a recent report by the Justice Department’s inspector general, Glenn A. Fine. The report found that the F.B.I. had repeatedly violated the rules governing the letters, sometimes by invoking emergency procedures to exercise them when there was no emergency, and had bungled record keeping so badly that the number of letters exercised was often understated when the bureau reported on them to Congress.

“I just want to convey to you how upset many of us are who have defended this program and have believed it is necessary to the protection of our country,” Representative Dan Lungren, Republican of California, told Valerie E. Caproni, the bureau’s general counsel.

[NYTimes]

Before Jon Stewart

The truth about fake news. Believe it.

Fake news arrives on doorsteps around the world every day, paid for by You, Time magazine Person of the Year, a.k.a. Joe and Jane Citizen, in one way or another. Take for instance, the U.S. government’s 2005 initiative to plant “positive news” in Iraqi newspapers, part of a $300 million U.S. effort to sway public opinion about the war. And remember Armstrong Williams, the conservative columnist who was hired on the down low to act as a $240,000 sock puppet for the president’s No Child Left Behind program? Williams’s readers had no idea he was a paid propagandist until the Justice Department started looking into allegations of fraud in his billing practices.

Fake news has had its lush innings. The Bush administration has worked hand-in-glove with big business to make sure of it. Together, they’ve credentialed fringe scientists and fake experts and sent them in to muddy scientific debates on global warming, stem cell research, evolution, and other matters. And as if that weren’t enough, the Department of Health and Human Services got caught producing a series of deceptive video news releases— VNRs in p.r.-industry parlance—touting the administration’s Medicare plan. The segments, paid political announcements really, ended with a fake journalist signing off like a real one—“In Washington, I’m Karen Ryan reporting,” and they ran on local news shows all over the country without disclosure. All of this fakery taken together, it may be fair to say that the nation’s capital has been giving Comedy Central a run for its money as the real home of fake news.

[CJR::via::RawStory]