The Tsarnaev Family Is Beginning To Look A Little Spooky

"Uncle" Ruslan Tsarni speaking to the media in front of his home in Montgomery Village, MD

“Uncle” Ruslan Tsarni speaking to the media in front of his home in Montgomery Village, MD

Ruslan Tsarni, pictured above talking to reporters, is brother to Ansor Tsarnaev and uncle to Ansor’s sons Dzhokhor and Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Another brother, Alvi Tsarni, lives fairly close to Ruslan. At some point Ruslan and Alvi had their surnames legally changed.

As you can see from the photo above, Ruslan Tsarni lives in a rather stately, expensive-looking home. He has been identified in news reports as “a corporate lawyer and oil company executive.”

I’ve been floating around Twitter, Google, and Facebook for the past few days, mainly trying to find out anything I can about the mysterious “Misha,” who supposedly influenced Tamerlan Tsarnaev beginning some time in 2010.

I don’t want to get into too much in the way of conspiracy theory, so I’m just going to lay out the facts that are being reported around the internet and let the chips fall where they may. I really don’t know what it all means–maybe nothing–but there are certainly some interesting connections coming out.

I’ll get to the “Misha” story a little later; first some background on Uncle Ruslan, who has some “spooky” connections (pun intended). Daniel Hopsicker, who is somewhat eccentric but IMHO an excellent researcher and writer, has dug up some very suggestive stuff about Ruslan Tsarni. I got some additional information from this post at Democratic Underground.

Beginning in the early 1990s, Tsarni worked as a “consultant” for USAID, which is known to be frequently used as a cover for CIA operatives, according to Jeff Stein (SpyTalk) at the Washington Post.

Hopsicker writes:

The uncle of the two men who set off bombs at the Boston Marathon, who struck the only grace note in an otherwise horrific week, worked as a “consultant” for the Agency for International Development (USAID) a U.S. Government Agency often used for cover by agents of the CIA, in the former Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan during the “Wild West” days of the early 1990’s, when anything that wasn’t nailed down in that country was up for grabs.

“Uncle Ruslan” Tsarni of Montgomery Village Md., whose name was the top trending topic worldwide on Twitter last Friday for his plain-spoken condemnation of his two nephews, has had a checkered business career, that began well before he graduated (as Ruslan Z Tsarnaev) from Duke Law School in 1998.

Tsarni was also a Halliburton contractor:

Ruslan’s involvement with USAID, while suggestive, might still be irrelevant, were it not for the discovery of his decade-long involvement with companies in the orbit of the Sun God, Halliburton, which stands accused in numerous and increasingly-credible accounts as “lead dog” in an invading force of “non-state actors.”

All of this, mind, was in support of a noble cause. We were fighting communism. No, wait? We weren’t anymore.

Still, we must have been fighting something. Wait. It’ll come to me…Maybe it was a push to weaken Russia’s grip over former Soviet Republics. That sounds like an admirable goal. Alas,  the means chosen to achieve it involved providing covert U.S. support, in Chechnya, to Islamic terrorists.

Haven’t we all already see that movie? No one with a functioning heart could be anxious to see it again. But, wait! Does Dick have a functioning heart?

Hopsicker has a pretty colorful writing style, and you can read all the details at his blog, but briefly, in 2005 Ruslan Tsarni went to work for Big Sky Energy (a Halliburton subsidiary) as Vice President, Business Development & Corporate Secretary. Before that Tsarni worked for two other Halliburton-connected companies, Nelson Resources and Golden Eagle Partners.

Read the rest of this entry »


David Corn’s Latest: Romney Lied in his Most Recent Financial Disclosure

At Mother Jones, Corn writes:

The ongoing hullabaloo over the timing of Mitt Romney’s exit from Bain has become a bit absurd. The Romney camp and Bain insist that Romney fully retired in February 1999 from the private equity firm he founded and owned—even though in the past he and Bain have described his departure as a part-time leave—and evidence has emerged (including Securities and Exchange documents I first reported) showing that Romney was involved to some extent in Bain as late as 2002, while he continued to maintain his ownership of the firm and its various entities. Romney has been working hard to avoid being held responsible for any post-February 1999 Bain deals that might have resulted in bankruptcies or outsourcing. But there is another reason for the Romney crew to worry about this controversy: Romney may have made a false statement on a federal financial disclosure form, and doing so is a felony punishable by up to one year of imprisonment and a $50,000 fine.

Like all presidential candidates, Romney has to submit a financial disclosure statement to the Office of Government Ethics. He filed his most recent one last month, and the disclosure contains a very clearly stated footnote:

Mr. Romney retired from Bain Capital on February 11, 1999 to head the Salt Lake [Olympics] Organizing Committee. Since February 11, 1999, Mr. Romney has not had any active role with any Bain Capital entity and has not been involved in the operations of any Bain Capital entity in any way.

There’s no ambiguity there: not involved in Bain operations in any way. But that’s not true.

At the link, Corn enumerates many SEC filings that put the lie to Romney’s statement to the Office of Government Ethics. In addition, Corn blasts Glenn Kessler, “fact-checker” for the WaPo for his sycophantic defenses of Romney’s lies and half-truths. Read the whole thing at the link.

Also at Mother Jones, Adam Serwer has compiled a list of “everything we know so far about Romney and Bain.”

Please use this as an open thread. JJ will have a cartoon post later on.


Has the FBI Ever Foiled a Real Terrorist Plot?

Amine El Khalifi, the latest victim of an FBI sting

Yesterday, the FBI arrested another fake terrorist, just one in a long line of potential “terrorists” who have been given training and equipment by the government and then busted as they try to carry out their “plots”–plots that seem to have been designed by–or at least strongly encouraged by–FBI agents. From The Washington Post:

Federal authorities on Friday arrested a 29-year-old Moroccan man in an alleged plot to carry out a suicide bombing at the U.S. Capitol, the latest in a series of terrorism-related arrests resulting from undercover sting operations.

For more than a year, Amine El Khalifi, of Alexandria, considered attacking targets including a synagogue, an Alexandria building with military offices and a Washington restaurant frequented by military officials, authorities said. When arrested a few blocks from the Capitol around lunchtime on Friday, he was carrying what he believed to be a loaded automatic weapon and a suicide vest ready for detonation.

The gun and vest were provided not by al-Qaeda, as Khalifi had been told, but by undercover FBI agents who rendered them inoperable, authorities said.

They said Khalifi had been the subject of a lengthy investigation and never posed a threat to the public….

Khalifi “allegedly believed he was working with al-Qaeda,” said Neil H. MacBride, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. Khalifi “devised the plot, the targets and the methods on his own.”

The Washington Post must think Americans are stupid. Emptywheel, who has done a great deal of research on these FBI sting operations, doesn’t seem to think Khalifi planned the “attack” by himself.

As is usual with most of FBI’s terrorist arrests of late, the FBI provided the suspect with the weapons he would have used to attack the target–in this case, the Capitol. As is usual, this appears to be an instance where the FBI found someone talking about violence–usually online–and then cultivated that violent desire over time.

So it seems like this is a now-familiar story.

Later in the post, she writes:

The FBI says his own plan was to be dropped off at the Capitol building.

But what happened instead is he did a Deep Throat in a parking garage to get his empty suicide vest.

So whose plan was he implementing, again?

I’m mentioning this arrest yesterday, because we’ve seen this repeated again and again. The FBI announces a big arrest and then later we learn that the whole plan was hatched by FBI agents who sucked in some angry kid and convinced him to commit some “terrorist act.”

On Thursday, just one day before the latest big FBI “terrorism” bust in DC, the so-called Underwear Bomber was sentenced to life in prison. ABC News (which also seems to think we’re stupid):

Umar Farouk Abulmatallab

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was the same remorseless man who four months ago pleaded guilty to all charges related to Northwest Airlines Flight 253. He seemed to relish the mandatory sentence and defended his actions as rooted in the Muslim holy book, the Quran.

“Mujahideen are proud to kill in the name of God,” he said. “Today is a day of victory.”

Had the bomb not fizzled, nearly 300 people aboard the flight would probably have been killed.

The case stirred renewed fears that terrorists could still bring down an American jetliner more than eight years after 9/11, and it accelerated installation of body scanners at the nation’s airports.

Please note that Abdulmutallab “was subdued by fellow passengers,” not anyone from law enforcement. Before the sentencing, four passengers and a member of the crew from Flight 253 were allowed to give victim impact statements. One of those statements came from Detroit attorney Kurt Haskell, whom the ABC “news” story characterizes as follows:

Because he was a passenger, Detroit-area lawyer Kurt Haskell was allowed to publicly repeat his wild claim that the U.S. government outfitted Abdulmutallab with a defective bomb partly to force the rollout of body-imaging machines at airports.

Kurt and Lori Haskell, who were on Flight 253

Is Haskell really making a “wild claim?” Here is his statement to the court:

I wish to thank the Court for allowing me these 5 minutes to make my statement. My references to the government in this statement refer to the Federal Government excluding this Court and the prosecution. On Christmas Day 2009, my wife and I were returning from an African safari and had a connecting flight through Amsterdam. As we waited for our flight, we sat on the floor next to the boarding gate. What I witnessed while sitting there and subsequent events have changed my life forever. While I sat there, I witnessed Umar dressed in jeans and a white t-shirt, being escorted around security by a man in a tan suit who spoke perfect American English and who aided Umar in boarding without a passport. The airline gate worker initially refused Umar boarding until the man in the tan suit intervened. The event meant nothing to me at the time. Little did I know that Umar would try to kill me a few hours later as our flight approached Detroit. The final 10 minutes of our flight after the attack were the worst minutes of my life. During those 10 minutes I sat paralyzed in fear. Unfortunately, what happened next has had an even greater impact on my life and has saddened me further.

When we landed, I was shocked that our plane taxied up to the gate. I was further shocked that we were forced to sit on the plane for 20 minutes with powder from the so called bomb all over the cabin. The officers that boarded the plane did nothing to ensure our safety and did not check for accomplices or other explosive devices. Several passengers trampled through parts of the bomb as they exited the plane. We were then taken into the terminal with our unchecked carry on bags. Again, there was no concern for our safety even though Umar told the officers that there was another bomb on board as he exited the plane. I wondered why nobody was concerned about our safety, accomplices or other bombs and the lack of concern worried me greatly. I immediately told the FBI my story in order to help catch the accomplice I had seen in Amsterdam. It soon became obvious that the FBI wasn’t interested in what I had to say, which upset me further. For one month the government refused to admit the existence of the man in the tan suit before changing course and admitting his existence in an ABC News article on January 22, 2010. That was the last time the government talked about this man. The video that would prove the truth of my account has never been released. I continue to be emotional upset that the video has not been released. The Dutch police, meanwhile, in this article (show article), also confirmed that Umar did not show his passport in Amsterdam which also meant that he didn’t go through security as both are in the same line in Amsterdam. It upsets me that the government refuses to admit this fact.

I became further saddened from this case, when Patrick Kennedy of the State Department during Congressional hearings, admitted that Umar was a known terrorist, was being followed, and the U.S. allowed him into the U.S. so that it could catch Umar’s accomplices. I was once again shocked and saddened when Michael Leiter of the National Counter terrorism Center admitted during these same hearings that intentionally letting terrorists into the U.S. was a frequent practice of the U.S. Government. I cannot fully explain my sadness, disappointment and fear when I realized that my government allowed an attack on me intentionally.

During this time, I questioned if my country intentionally put a known terrorist onto my flight with a live bomb. I had many sleepless nights over this issue. My answer came shortly thereafter. In late 2010, the FBI admitted to giving out intentionally defective bombs to the Portland Christmas Tree Bomber,the Wrigley Field Bomber and several others. Further, Mr. Chambers was quoted in the Free Press on January 11, 2011 when he indicated that the government’s own explosives experts had indicated that Umar’s bomb was impossibly defective. I wondered how that could be. Certainly, I thought, Al Qaeda wouldn’t go through all of the trouble to plan such an attack only to provide the terrorist with an impossibly defective bomb.

I attended nearly all of the pretrial hearings. At the hearing on January 28, 2011, I was greatly disappointed by the prosecution’s request to block evidence from Mr. Chambers “as it could then be able to be obtained by third parties, who could use it in a civil suit against the government”. It really bothered me that the government apparently was admitting to wrongdoing of some kind as it admitted that it was concerned it would be sued. It further upset me to know that the government was putting its own interests ahead of those of the passengers.

When I attended the jury selection hearings, I questioned why versions of the same two questions kept coming up, those being:

1. Do you think whether you’ll be able to tell whether something is actually a bomb? and
2. Do you realize that sometimes the media doesn’t always tell the truth?

I continued to be greatly saddened at this point as I felt the truth continued to be hidden.

When Umar listed me as his only witness, I was happy to testify, not on his behalf, but on behalf of the truth. I never expected to testify, as my eyewitness account would have been too damaging to the myth that the government and media are putting forward. A mere 5 days after I was announced as a witness, there was an inexplicable guilty plea which exasperated me as I no longer would be testifying.

In closing I will just say that regardless of how the media and government try to shape the public perception of this case, I am convinced that Umar was given an intentionally defective bomb by a U.S. Government agent and placed on our flight without showing a passport or going through security, to stage a false terrorist attack to be used to implement various government policies.

The effect this matter has had on my life has been astounding and due to this case, I will never trust the government in any matter, ever.

In regards to sentencing, nothing I’ve said excuses the fact that Umar tried to kill me. He has waived his valid claim to the entrapment defense. Umar, you are not a great Muslim martyr, you are merely a “Patsy”. I ask the court to impose the mandatory sentence.

Haskell’s wife Lori says that she was treated pretty badly by the judge in the case. No one really wanted her or her husband to tell about what they saw and experienced on Christmas Day 2009.

I imagine Joseph Cannon and/or Emptywheel will write about this case again soon. They are both much better at this kind of thing than I am, so I thought I would just lay the facts out for you as I see them. If you are interested in more information, you can read Cannon’s previous posts on the underwear bomber here and Emptywheel’s here.

What do you think? (Keeping in mind that former DHS head Michael Chertoff made big bucks from the naked body scanners now being used by the TSA.)


US Citizens Arrested, Interrogated, and Stranded Overseas

Gulet Mohamed surrounded by family on return to U.S.

From The New York Times, January 5, 2011:

An American teenager detained in Kuwait two weeks ago and placed on an American no-fly list claims that he was severely beaten by his Kuwaiti captors during a weeklong interrogation about possible contacts with terrorism suspects in Yemen.

The teenager, Gulet Mohamed, a Somali-American who turned 19 during his captivity, said in a telephone interview on Wednesday from a Kuwaiti detention cell that he was beaten with sticks, forced to stand for hours, threatened with electric shocks and warned that his mother would be imprisoned if he did not give truthful answers about his travels in Yemen and Somalia in 2009.

American officials have offered few details about the case, except to confirm that Mr. Mohamed is on a no-fly list and, for now at least, cannot return to the United States. Mr. Mohamed, from Alexandria, Va., remains in a Kuwaiti detention center even after Kuwait’s government, according to his brother, determined that he should be released.

During the interview with the NYT, Mohammed said, “I am a good Muslim, I despise terrorism.”

During the 90-minute telephone interview, Mr. Mohamed was agitated as he recounted his captivity, tripping over his words and breaking into tears. He said he left the United States in March 2009 to “see the world and learn my religion,” and had planned to return to the United States for college.

He said he had traveled to Yemen to study Arabic, but stayed less than a month because his mother worried about his safety. He said that he spent five months later that year living with an aunt and uncle in northern Somalia, before moving to Kuwait in August 2009 to live with an uncle and continue his Arabic studies.

Mohammed’s ordeal began when he went to the airport in Kuwait to renew his travel visa. He was held for five hours and then handcuffed, blindfolded and taken to a prison where he was interrogated and beaten on his feet and face with sticks when he didn’t give the “right answers.”

“Are you a terrorist?” they asked, according to his account.

“No,” he replied.

“Do you know Anwar?” his interrogators asked, referring to Mr. Awlaki.

“I’ve never met him,” Mr. Mohamed recalled saying.

“You are from Virginia, you have to know him,” they responded, according to Mr. Mohamed. From 2001 to 2002, Mr. Awlaki was the imam of a prominent mosque in northern Virginia.

Mohammed told the NYT in January that even after being released, he couldn’t sleep or eat and was constantly fearful. He said he has “always been pro-American” and obviously could not understand why he was targeted. After the article in the NYT, Mohammed was finally permitted to return home later in January. He told the Washington Post that his ordeal had “made me stronger.”

Mohammed is only one of many American citizens of Middle Eastern or African descent who have found themselves stranded overseas, unable to return home because their names have been put on a no-fly list while they were out of the country. Many of these people have been arrested and interrogated by foreign governments, apparently at the request of the F.B.I. From the Post article (1/21/2011):

Civil liberties groups charge that his case is the latest episode in which the U.S. government has temporarily exiled U.S. citizens or legal residents so they can be questioned about possible terrorist links without legal counsel.

The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the U.S. government on behalf of 17 citizens or legal residents who were not allowed to board flights to, from or within the United States, presumably because, like Mohamed, they were on the government’s no-fly list. Of those stranded overseas, all were eventually told they could return, often after they agreed to speak to the FBI. None was arrested upon their return.

The ACLU suit, filed in Portland, Ore., alleges that Americans placed on the no-fly list are denied due process because there is no effective way to challenge their inclusion. The government does not acknowledge that any particular individual is on the no-fly list or its other watch lists. Nor will it reveal the exact criteria it uses to place people on its list.

This week Mother Jones published a series of reports on their investigations of FBI operations that sound like COINTELPRO updated.

COINTELPRO was an FBI covert operation that targeted domestic left-wing and anti-war groups from 1956 to 1971, in the name of “national security.” Frankly, the covert operations have probably continued even though they are technically illegal. But lately we’ve seen an uptick in FBI operations targeting groups within the U.S. Until I came across a couple of blog posts last week about American muslims being targeted overseas, I had no idea the FBI had branched out to foreign covert operations.

At Mother Jones, Nick Baumann writes:

In the past, the FBI has denied that it asks foreign governments to apprehend Americans. But, a Mother Jones investigation has found, the bureau has a long-standing and until now undisclosed program for facilitating such detentions. Coordinated by elite agents who serve in terrorism hot spots around the world, the practice enables the interrogation of American suspects outside the US justice system. “Their citizenship doesn’t seem to matter to the government,” says Daphne Eviatar, a lawyer with Human Rights First. “It raises a question of whether there’s a whole class of people out there who’ve been denied the right to return home for the purpose of interrogation in foreign custody.”

I highly recommend reading the whole article. Baumann describes other cases similar to Mohammed’s and reveals information he obtained from government officials and representatives of human rights groups.

Here is another example from a 2010 Huffpo article:

Yahya Wehelie

A Virginia man said he has been stuck in limbo in Egypt for the last six weeks, living in a cheap hotel and surviving on fast food after his name was placed on a U.S. no-fly list because of a trip to Yemen.

Yahya Wehelie, a 26-year-old Muslim who was born in Fairfax, Virginia to Somali parents, said Wednesday he spent 18 months studying in Yemen and left in early May. The U.S. has been scrutinizing citizens who study in Yemen more closely since the man who tried to blow up a U.S.-bound airliner on Christmas was linked to an al-Qaida offshoot in Yemen.

Wehelie was returning to the U.S. with his brother Yusuf via Egypt on May 5 when Egyptian authorities stopped him from boarding his flight to New York. They told him the FBI wanted to speak with him.

He said he was then told by FBI agents in Egypt that his name was on a no-fly list because of people he met in Yemen and he could not board a U.S. airline or enter American airspace. His passport was canceled and a new one issued only for travel to the United States, which expires on Sept. 12. He does not have Somali citizenship.

Wehelie said his brother Yusuf was allowed to return home, but only after he was detained for three days by Egyptian police on suspicion of carrying weapon. He said his brother was shackled to a jail wall and interrogated by a man who claimed to work for the CIA. He was then dumped in the street outside the prison when he feigned illness.

In June, 2010, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) posted a list of American Muslims who had been kept from returning to the U.S. after trips abroad.

In July, 2010, CAIR posted a warning on its website informing Muslim-Americans that they could end up in “forced exile” if they traveled to another country.

CAIR this week issued an advisory to American Muslims — whether citizens, permanent residents or visa holders — warning of the risk of “forced exile” when traveling overseas or attempting to return to the United States. Muslim travelers are urged to know their legal rights if they are placed on the so-called “no-fly list.”

In the past few months, CAIR has received a number of reports of American Muslims stranded overseas when they are placed on the government’s no-fly list. Those barred from returning to the United States report being denied proper legal representation, being subjected to FBI pressure tactics to give up the constitutionally-guaranteed right to remain silent, having their passports confiscated without due process, and being pressured to become informants for the FBI. These individuals have not been told why they were placed on the no-fly list or how to remove their names from the list.

FBI agents have reportedly told a number of individuals that they face being stranded outside the United States longer, or forever, unless they give up their rights to legal representation or to refuse interrogations and polygraph tests. But even those who submitted to interrogations without an attorney or to the “lie detector” tests remain stranded.

This situation is outrageous, and President Obama should be directly confronted about his support of this un-American, authoritarian policy (White House approval is required for many of these FBI activities). Perhaps a relatively high profile article like the one in Mother Jones will influence some mainstream reporters to do that. In the meantime, please spread the word in any way you can.


Mother Jones Writer Mac McClelland Says Violent Sex Cured her PTSD

Mac McClelland

This will just be a quick post without a lot of psychological analysis, because I haven’t had time to read all the articles about this carefully. I have to admit I’m somewhat flummoxed at the moment. From ABC News:

Mac McClelland, a civil rights reporter who has seen the impact of sexual violence around the globe, couldn’t shake the image of Sybille, a woman who said she had been raped at gunpoint and mutilated in the aftermath of Haiti’s catastrophic 2010 earthquake.

While on assignment for Mother Jones last September, McClelland said she accompanied Sybille to the hospital when the woman saw her attackers and went into “a full paroxysm — wailing, flailing” in terror.

Something snapped in McClelland, too. She became progressively enveloped in the classic symptoms of post-traumatic stress — avoidance of feelings, flashbacks and recurrent thoughts that triggered crying spells. There were smells that made her gag.

McClelland, 31, sought professional help but said she ultimately cured herself by staging her own rape, which she writes about in a haunting piece for the online magazine Good. The title: “How Violent Sex Helped Ease My PTSD.”

Here’s the article: I’m Gonna Need You to Fight Me On This: How Violent Sex Helped Ease My PTSD

She writes that a guy in her hotel in Haiti kept trying to get her to have sex with him, and finally he said “We can do this at gunpoint if that sells it for you.” And McClelland says it did appeal to her.

On that reporting trip, I’d been fantasizing about precisely what the local guy proposed, my back against a wall or a mattress with a friendly gun to my throat. But the plan was vetoed about as soon as it was hatched, when I asked him if his firearm had a safety and he said no. Like I say: I am not completely nuts.

I don’t want to judge, because clearly McClelland witnessed horrendous violence. Her reaction sounds more like survivor’s guilt than PTSD, but I have no way of knowing. Maybe it was both. McClelland’s description of her stress reaction to all the violence she had experienced and witnessed is harrowing, and I can understand why she broke down. She felt completely numb and unable to feel her emotions. From her description, it sounds like she was dissociating and experiencing depersonalization and derealization. Finally she told her therapist the only thing she wanted was to experience violent sex.

“All I want is to have incredibly violent sex,” I told Meredith. Since I’d left Port-au-Prince, I could not process the thought of sex without violence. And it was easier to picture violence I controlled than the abominable nonconsensual things that had happened to Sybille.

Meredith was wholly unmoved by this.

“One tried but true impact of trauma is people just really shutting themselves down,” she says when I interview her about it later for this piece. “Also, stuff comes up for people like the way it came up for you: Folks can have a counterphobic approach, moving toward fear instead of away from it. And sometimes people have fantasies like that after trauma, putting themselves in dangerous situations, almost to try to confirm with themselves that they were not impacted. ‘Look, I did it again. It’s fine. I’m fine.'”

Finally she asked a former lover to rape and beat her. Of course this was a role-playing situation and she was in control to some extent. I’m not going to post the description here, because it’s extremely graphic. I’ll leave it to you to decide if you want to read the article. But McClelland claimed she made a major breakthrough. Her PTSD was cured and she was able to return to work.

According to Conor Friedersdorf, writing in The Atlantic, a group of women who have worked in Haiti were so offended by McClelland’s descriptions of life in Haiti, that they wrote her a letter in protest, essentially accusing her of racism.

Marjorie Valbun reacted to McClelland’s piece with a critical article in Slate titled What’s happening in Haiti is not about you, in which she calls McClelland’s confessional article “Offensive.” “Shockingly-narcissistic.” “Intellectually dishonest.”

At Feministe, Jill counters with “But sometimes it is about you.”

McClelland didn’t have a “need to feel victimized.” She spent years reporting from war-torn and devastated countries, and she become psychologically overwhelmed. It’s not narcissistic or intellectually dishonest to discuss the very real impacts that can result from seeing suffering day in and day out.

[….]

Criticism that McClelland focused too much on herself at the expense of actually covering the situation in Haiti would be more warranted if the piece about PTSD was one of McClelland’s only journalistic contributions. But she has covered human rights issues tirelessly. She wrote a book about Burma. She has written dozens of articles about Haiti, including articles about sexual assault. She is not the central character in the vast majority of the pieces she’s written. The GOOD piece has gotten more attention that most of the other articles McClelland has penned, and that’s a worthy criticism, but it’s not McClelland’s responsibility or fault. To suggest that she used her time in Haiti just to write a narcissistic sex piece is wildly inaccurate. To further suggest that there’s something selfish about leaving after recognizing that you’re traumatized? That’s cruel and irresponsible. The argument that “Haiti is not about you!” is one that I’d usually be sympathetic to; but here, the article wasn’t about Haiti, it was about Mac and her experiences and her mental state and the strange position she found herself in. Haiti was a backdrop for that, but I don’t see how she was under any obligation to fully represent the complexities of the situation there in a personal piece about her own mental health.

What do you think?


Saturday Sequel: Solidarity from across These United States

Aaron Foster, Reclaimed License Plate Map. Click to view at uncommongoods.com

Good morning, news junkies!

Last Saturday, I rounded up some headlines state-by-state, in solidarity. Well, it’s time to supersize: This Saturday is set for a 50-State Solidarity March. MoveOn.org has organized gatherings, dubbed “Rally to Save the American Dream,” in front of every statehouse and in every major city, at noon local time today, to stand in solidarity with the workers of Wisconsin.

I don’t know about you, but a 50-state solidarity has my attention in a way that Dr. Dean’s 50-state strategy–to court “socially conservative economic moderates”–never did.

I’m not the biggest fan of MoveOn, given their timidity in the age of Obama, but if today’s rallies are the start of a concerted effort by everyone involved to–as Krugman and Wells put it at the start of the year–delink their political fate from Obama,” then more power to ’em.

Okay, so let me get started with my offerings to go with your morning brew.

New Deal 2.0’s Lynn Parramore put out a great read this week about Coolidge, Reagan, and Governor Walker, in response to the revisionist anti-union propaganda being promulgated by Amity Shlaes and other rightwing hacks.

Shlaes’ narrative is a hoot. According to this rightwing propaganda, Coolidge put himself on the national map by crushing unions and firing striking police officers in Massachusetts, which turned him into a hero and real man of the people. Soon enough Coolidge becomes Harding’s VP (Shlaes says that like it’s a good thing!) and then president himself. Union membership went down, and so did joblessness… apparently the birds started singing, the sun was shining…as Parramore quips, the way Shlaes tells it, it was “Morning in America” again. Thus, the code words “Boston Police” cemented the American principle that union causes do not trump others.

Are these people insane?

The money quote from Parramore’s response to Shlaes:

Coolidge got to the White House for crushing unions, where he slept ten hours a day and hopped on and off a mechanical horse in his underpants and a cowboy hat.

Here’s what America got: the Great Depression.

Between Shlaes and Glenn Beckistan, I wonder how much more warped the conservative reading of history is going to get. I’m sure it can *get* much worse, since there is no depth they won’t sink to (for the latest proof on that, see the Nebraska bill that would effectively legalize murder of abortion providers).

Still, it’s hard to imagine *how* their reading can get much worse. Harding and Coolidge were horrible presidents, remembered for corruption and corporate cronyism. The Harding and Coolidge “prosperity” of the roaring twenties existed side-by-side with quiet desperation, evidenced by the growing phenomenon of Hoovervilles. Is this really the history the right wanted to remind us of while we watch the current-day battle over unions play out? If the Republican overreach to annihilate public worker unions is astonishing, the conservative attempts to brand this move as Coolidgesque are utterly inexplicable.

(Then again, we live in an era where creative class progressives–the operative word there being creative–think Obama, an ostensibly Democratic president, being Reagan’s true heir is something to brag about. I’m reminded here too of the Heritage Foundation’s newfound interest in heeding the admonitions of FDR. We live in topsy-turvy times. But, more on that later.)

Parramore goes on to say:

Intuiting correctly that the public may not be on their side in this battle, conservatives have relentlessly pushed the deceptive idea that public employees enjoy higher salaries and better benefits than their private-sector counterparts. But this has been widely debunked. Careful research has shown that when you adjust for skill levels, public sector workers are not overpaid relative to private sector pay scales.

It’s the age old scapegoat story of the Little Guy falling for the lie that everything is the fault of the even Littler Guy, while the Too Big to Fails laugh all the way to the bank.

More from Parramore:

Governor Walker says he’s fighting for ordinary Americans. So why does he want to require unions to re-certify every year, but we don’t hear a peep about corporations being required to renew their charters every year? Why does he want to control the salaries of public employees, but doesn’t have any interest in controlling the salaries of grossly overcompensated corporate CEOs? Why does he call for sacrifices from hard-working people who have been screwed by the economy through no fault of their own, and none from the financiers who caused the crisis?

Maybe it’s because he has quite a bit in common with Coolidge and Reagan after all. In Reagan’s case, as in Coolidge’s, union-busting led to some of the biggest peacetime income re-distributions in modern history. Democracy got weaker, oligopolies got stronger, the rich got richer, and the rest of us got left behind.

I was born a couple months after Reagan took office, so all I’ve ever seen is “democracy getting weaker, oligopolies growing stronger, the rich getting richer, and the rest of us getting left behind.”

Except, of course, for that dreadful “pause” called the “Clinton nineties.” I so much prefer Obama’s rewinding back to Reagan over that icky pausing thing. Thanks for that, creative clueless class!

But, I digress. Parramore concludes:

The real lesson from Coolidge and Reagan is this: If Governor Walker and his Republican friends are allowed to crush the public unions, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

My takeaway from all of this is if Republicans want to follow in the footsteps of Coolidge and the Democrats want to follow in the footsteps of Reagan, perhaps we should all just call our efforts to secure all these human ‘luxuries’ we’ve been fighting for (i.e. jobs, food, shelter, education, healthcare, collective bargaining, etc.) a real nice try, declare it’s time for an “orderly transition,” and get in line at our local soup kitchens. Why prolong the inevitable. We need to do this as orderly as possible so we can ensure maximum “stability” for the too-big-to-fails!

Sorry to get so sardonic on a solidarity Saturday, but this is what we’re up against. We’re only to listen to FDR when it’s to crush unions, and both wings (D and R) of our Corporate party are chasing the corporate welfare ghosts of Coolidge and Reagan. It’s a good thing the Oscars are tomorrow, because bread and circuses is all we have left.

Anyhow, be sure to read the rest of Parramore’s piece when you get a chance. It’s a meaty and satisfying read.

There’s more, so go get your morning cuppa refilled, and then click to continue.

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Tax Pandering is the Problem

So, now there’s a bunch of polls showing that the public basically approves of most of the tax cuts. yhe village chattering class (e.g Kevin Drum of Mother Jones)sees this as a sign of potential support for Obama and the Democrats.

To me, that’s about like polling on the question: Would you look a gift horse in the mouth? Of course, every one likes some change in their pockets.  But at what cost?  The polls aren’t asking that question.  The one part of the tax deal that came out with a disapproval was the cut in payroll taxes.  But, that’s the big Obama win, right?  So, the villagers have to explain why EVERY one should just love that.

The explanation given by Drum is that every one is really dumb and thinks this will bankrupt social security because no one will pay into to it for a few years.  He’s thinking people don’t see the promised government IOU.    He’s got a list of how dumb he thinks we are about this and you’ll see it at the bottom of the post.   So, now we do economic policy on polls?  Can I get a witness that just because people like something doesn’t mean it’s good or wise policy?  It doesn’t even mean that if they see the hamburger today, they’ll be willing to pay for its cost on Tuesday either.  My guess is when the tab comes, there  will be some unhappy polls then.

The major economic argument for this package is basically that you don’t raise taxes in a weak economy.  That is basic Keynesian thought and it’s odd to see the entire Republican party joining hands and singing “We’re all Keynesians now”.  A secondary argument is that any thing bartered away at this point is worth it because we extend long term unemployment benefits.

What you don’t see is a larger discussion of this all in terms of the economic situation and what is called for in these circumstances except in economist circles.  This really worries me.  Did you notice this ABC poll doesn’t ask people how they feel about giving cash subsidies to corn growers or the deal on equipment write offs?  Those are also components of this tax giveaway.  The poll also doesn’t ask people about what they think this will do to the deficit in the future and the cost of government borrowing.  (Even Moody’s is threatening to downgrade our debt on the merits of this plan.)   This poll  basically asks, “Would you like more money in your pocket or not?” I can only image the naysayers like me either know their economics or they’re like me and not getting anything from this tax bill but the bill.

So, rather than listen to the failed lawyers who make up our policy decision=making class and the spoiled,  rich little nitwits that write the punditry blogs in the MSM, let’s check out what some economists have to say.  We’re going for three of them here.  There will be four if you count me.

I linked down page on the morning reads thread to a blogger named Chevelle who was a government economist who now works at an asset management firm. She has a very good short piece up on why these tax cuts are a very “dumb” idea.  Her basic analysis actually sounds a lot like Larry Summers’ parting shot in Time Magazine.  Another similar voice can be read in the WSJ and comes from Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz who calls for a second stimulus package that’s not tax cut loaded.  The tax cuts may be politically popular but they don’t really take care of our problems right now.  The money used for the tax cuts would be a lot more powerful and useful if it was targeted at the problem in the form of Government Expenditures. That’s what all three of them say in their commentary and that’s what I’m arguing for here.  It’s your basic expenditure multipliers stuff from Economics 101.

We’ll start with Larry Summers who answers the question “what is holding the economy back?”. I’m actually beginning to think this parade of economists out of the West Wing door is ominous.  This article just gives me more of those willies.  Here’s the problems per LaLa.

•    When unemployment has been above 9% for 19 straight months,

•    When the job vacancy rate is at near record low levels,

•    When 8 million houses and countless square feet of office and retail space sit empty,

•    When capacity utilization in the nation’s factories and on its railways and highways is nearly as low as it has been in any period since the Second World War,

•    There cannot be any question that the constraint on our economy now and for the next several years will be lack of demand.

I am under no illusion that increased demand alone is sufficient to restore America’s economic health, but it is an unquestionably necessary component of a full recovery.

Unfortunately, the approaches we have become used to over the last fifty years for supporting demand in a market economy are not open to us today.

Base interest rates cannot fall below their current level of zero.

And, in the face of excess capacity and excess debt, it is not clear that, even if they were possible, falling interest rates would be effective in convincing consumers and businesses to spend more.

That sounds a lot like what Stiglitz wrote too.

“The first stimulus package had too much emphasis on tax cuts. Those were relatively ineffective and not enough aid for the states,” Stiglitz told reporters on the sidelines of a seminar in Chile’s capital.

A new stimulus package should include a revenue-sharing program to make up for a shortfall in state revenue and should pick up the states’ investments that had to be stalled. Also, there should be a special focus on human capital, in particular on education and training, he said.

“We have to believe that the economy will eventually recover…[W]hat kinds of jobs will we want to have in five years…[W]e need to have people trained for that,” Stiglitz said.

Additionally, Stiglitz argued the U.S. Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing bond-purchasing program is creating an excess of liquidity, which is flowing into emerging-market nations.

Emerging-market economies such as Chile’s are growing at a much faster pace than the U.S. and have comparatively higher interest rates, making them attractive destinations for investors looking for higher returns.

According to Stiglitz, the $600 billion bond-purchasing program has created a large amount of “liquidity looking for relatively safe high returns” that aren’t found in the U.S. but can be found in many emerging-market nations.

As many emerging markets are trying to discourage capital inflows, “the liquidity goes to the places where they haven’t yet put barriers for the inflows,” Stiglitz told reporters.

Okay, now to blogger Chevelle from Models & Agents. She begins by explaining how most people are back on their life time budgets as measured by the PCE or Personal Consumption Expenditure/per employed person.  It’s back to the lackadaisical pre financial crisis level.  We actually all have a life time expenditures patterm that tends to be consistent over our lifetime.  Some times we borrow  and over spend a little. Other times we panic and save.  Eventually, we get back to the mean.  Employed people are at that now.  It’s the unemployed that aren’t anywhere near their usual budget.  This package does nothing about that.

That the problem with the economy is not that (employed) Americans don’t consume enough; it is that we have too many unemployed people who can’t consume, not even the basics. And this is my first reason why giving a tax gift to employed Americans is a completely dumb policy: Not only is it unfair to the unemployed; it is questionable whether those Americans with jobs and with comfortable cash positions are going to spend this tax gift, if they are already close to reaching their long-term consumption growth. So much for a “targeted”, “efficient” fiscal “stimulus”.

She also argues that we do face a potential government debt problem in the intermediate future and doing more dumb tax cuts is just going to exacerbate the problem down the road.  That also has disturbing implications.  Then, there’s the payroll tax cut.  That’s what Kevin doesn’t grok.

What does the cut in the payroll tax do? If anything, it reduces labor supply. This is because employed workers could work fewer hours and still end up with the same amount of disposable dollars as before the tax cut. So, at the margin, they would reduce the hours they offer to work. (To throw a bit of jargon, the labor supply curve shifts to the left: i.e. less labor is offered for a given wage).

Now, this might (temporarily) close part of the labor supply-demand gap—i.e. reduce unemployment. But that’s a reduction for the wrong reason! What we really need is for unemployment to get reduced due to an increase in labor demand (ie policies to shift the labor demand curve to the right!). So, in theory, *if* the government had cash to spare, and *if* companies’ reluctance to hire were driven by a liquidity constraint, the appropriate policy response to raise employment (and thus, consumption, GDP growth and so on) would be to give a temporary cut in the employers’ portion of the payroll tax, not the employees’.

What she’s saying here is that a payroll tax cut is likely to make employed people work less hours, but it is unlikely to cause employers to hire more people.   She also continues to explain the impact on long term borrowing for the government of doing this kick-the-can-down-the-road policy.

So, while Kevin Drum is excited about is that warm tingling leg feeling he gets speculating that if people like the policy that might make people like Obama and the Democrats a bit more now. Then, he can feel good about himself again as a Progressive (TM).  What he’s really missing is that it’s going to make the situation worse that’s got people peeved at Obama and the Democrats now.  It’s not even robbing Peter to pay Paul.  It’s borrowing money from both Peter and Paul.  It’s giving money to people who will most likely put it into places where it will go stimulate the economies of emerging markets.  It’s not going to do much here at all.

What we’ve got going is a long term unemployment problem with all that implies, and as Larry Summers said, a long term consumption problem.   The people who get this tax cuts aren’t going to change their spending behavior at all and that’s not going to help the economy. If anything, the money going to the rich will head off overseas quicker than a credit card call center.  It’s going to add to the deficit which will create long term debt problems.  It does nothing to ensure the long term unemployed will maintain marketable job skills and their ability to eat and stay in their homes.  It does nothing to really stimulate buying where it possibly could help.  It’s an expensive gesture and that’s about it.

The one thing good that came out of the Reagan years was that we learned that the shot gun approach to tax cutting is just not that effective in doing anything but increasing the deficit.  Former Congressman Jack Kemp actually showed that some targeted tax cuts and targeted expenditures could actually make a difference.  This is what led to the go-zones we see now in rural and urban places that were difficult to develop in the past.  It showed that if you want to kill a big beast, it’s best you get a sharp shooter and the best rifle.  The targeted approach is best.  So, in this sense, even the Republicans are dooming us all to repeat their past mistakes instead of the few successes they actually delivered.  The Democrats have forgotten the past altogether.

I find this very worrisome that we continue to see tax cuts put out by a Democratic administration that play right into that big old VooDoo economics myth.   Kevin Drum just seems to miss that point.  He thinks you’ll be able to head off the Republican hand wringing in the future.  He thinks every one is stupid because this is a good deal for the middle class.  The problem is that it isn’t and it just sets us up for worse things in the future.   This package will fail worse than the first stimulus for many of the same reasons.  Two years down the road, every one will be just as discouraged.  Even Larry Summers sees that.

So, here’s the promised list of why Kevin thinks were all dummies who need skooling.

Possible answers: (a) people don’t really understand that cutting payroll taxes means they’ll see an immediate increase in their take home pay, (b) people associate payroll taxes so strongly with Social Security solvency that they don’t want to cut them, (c) people fantastically overestimate how likely they are to have a $5 million estate when they die, (d) lots of people have a strong instinctive view that people should be able to pass on their wealth to their kids no matter how much it is, (e) people are just generally confused about all this stuff and it’s hopeless to try and figure out what’s really going on.

In any case, I’ll say this again to wavering lefties who have suddenly decided that the tax deal is no good because the payroll tax cut will never be undone and Social Security’s finances will be decimated: yes,
Republicans will engage in their usual Democrats are raising your taxes! demagoguery when the tax cut expires next year, but no, it won’t be very effective. There are lots of good reasons for this, and this poll provides evidence for one of them: the public isn’t all that keen on cutting the payroll tax in the first place. They want Social Security fully funded, and that argument, in the end, will carry the day. Never underestimate the power of AARP.

So, Kevin, the deal is this.  You’re putting the money into the wrong hands and you’re expanding the deficit in the future and probably making it more expensive for the government to keep putting money back into social security.  Afterall, it’s just another government “IOU” to the Social Security Trust Fund.  People haven’t liked the idea in the past. They don’t like it when the government ‘borrows’ from the trust fund and they don’t like it now. The Social Security Trust fund is invested in Treasuries.  You know, those things Moody’s wants to down grade?

It makes no sense to help out people that don’t need it, borrow a ton of money that won’t really accomplish anything,  and still come out with a bad economy two year down the road during the next election season.  I really don’t think people are as confused as you are.    It’s voodoo economics.  It doesn’t make any difference if it’s the Republican or the Democratic brand on it.   No one’s going to look a gift horse in the mouth.  Still, to think anything good will come of any of this is just plain foolish.