Republican plans investigations of ‘corrupt’ Obama administration

[Things are about to get so freakin’ ugly in what passes for the halls of govt. First the challenge to Obama-care, now a corruption investigation. There will be nothing approximating “govt.” in the days to come.]

Republican plans investigations of ‘corrupt’ Obama administration

One of the more contentious political battles this year figures to be between the Obama White House and Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. — the Republicans’ top congressional investigator in his role as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

A signal of the coming conflict: Issa says he regrets calling Obama “one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times” — he meant to refer to the Obama administration in general.

“When you hand out $1 trillion in TARP just before this president came in, most of it unspent, $1 trillion nearly in stimulus that this president asked for, plus this huge expansion in health care and government, it has a corrupting effect,” Issa said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union. “When I look at waste, fraud and abuse in the bureaucracy and in the government, this is like steroids to pump up the muscles of waste.”

Investigations dominated the political dynamic the last time Washington saw a Republican House and a Democratic president, leading to the impeachment of Bill Clinton.

By AP

Democrats at that time accused the Republicans of abuse of power, and say these days that they will keep a sharp eye on Issa’s tactics.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, went after Issa’s “corruption” comments in a separate appearance on CNN.

“Keep in mind, Issa will have subpoena power to subpoena almost anybody he wants to,” Cummings said. “And that’s a problem when you come to these conclusions before you even bring people in.”

Cummings added that “we can’t have witch hunts. We can’t have these fishing expeditions. We’ve got to work together.”

Our friends at Politico identify Issa’s investigate priorities as follows:

1. Impact of regulation on job creation.

2. Fannie/Freddie & the Foreclosure Crisis

3. Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission and the failure to identify origins of the financial crisis

4. Combating corruption in Afghanistan

5. WikiLeaks

6. FDA/Food & Drug Safety.

(Posted by David Jackson)

 

China’s Great Leap into Nightmare

China’s Great Leap into Nightmare

Inside the archival records of Mao’s push to industrialize, and the catastrophic toll.

By Crawford Kilian, Today, TheTyee.ca

 

Mao Zedong

Mao Zedong: forward into disaster.

  • Mao’s Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-1962
  • Frank Dikötter
  • Walker & Co. (2010)

Today we’re comfortable with China. Communists in name only, its rulers pump consumer goods into our malls and lend Washington the money to run its wars. It seems to have at least a little influence over its lunatic client North Korea, and Canadians rejoiced when we became an acceptable destination for Chinese tourists.

Fifty years ago, however, what little we knew about “Red China” was disturbing. The Communists had been in power since 1949. They’d fought the West to a standstill in Korea, and they seemed to be more Stalinist than the late Stalin himself. Only the reddest of western fellow-travellers got even a glimpse of life behind the Bamboo Curtain.

We did know that in 1958 Mao Zedong had launched the “Great Leap Forward,” an attempt to industrialize a huge and backward nation of peasants. But we had no reliable information on how it was working out, as I learned when I wrote an undergraduate essay about it in 1960. All we knew was what appeared in the English-language version of Renmin Ribao, the official newspaper. And it was clearly lying.

Plunging into a nightmare

Mao’s government kept the rest of the world in the dark, but it kept careful records of what was going on. Some of those records were even accurate. Now the archives have begun to open, and Dikötter has explored them.

Reading Frank Dikötter’s book now is a chilling experience. While we enjoyed the golden age of the young baby boomers, Mao was plunging 600 million Chinese into a nightmare of starvation, brutalization, and environmental catastrophe — to make China more like us.

His specific goal was to match Britain’s industrial production within a couple of years. To achieve this, he adopted some crank ideas about improving agricultural production to feed the new urban proletariat. They in turn would build factories cranking out enormous quantities of… something. The peasants, meanwhile, were called in from the fields to run backyard steel mills that recycled their own pots and pans. Every tree in sight would fuel those mills.

While rice rotted in the paddies, local party bosses reported bumper crops. Then they confiscated the “surplus” grain to feed the urban workers, leaving the peasants with nothing. Everyone now belonged to communes that decided who would be fed and who left to starve. Children were beaten to death for digging up a single potato.

A tyrannical anarchy

Within months, China became a kind of tyrannical anarchy. The government imposed impossible demands on its people, who survived by ignoring them. Racketeers flourished. Food was stolen or contaminated. New industrial machinery, bought from the Soviets and other nations, was neglected into uselessness.

Women were routinely raped, or prostituted themselves, for a handful of rice. Starvation caused many to suffer prolapsed uteruses: their wombs fell out of their vaginas. Parents sold their children for a couple of buns. In many regions, freshly buried corpses were dug up and eaten.

Meanwhile, the Communist elite was either silent or in denial about what it had done. But Liu Shaoqi, the number two man in the Party, visited his home town and was appalled at what he saw. Back in Beijing he publicly protested Mao’s Great Leap Forward. That sealed his fate: Mao began to plan the Cultural Revolution that in the late 1960s tore apart the Communist Party itself, and that put Liu in prison where he died.

All told, Dikötter, estimates, the Great Leap Forward cost China somewhere between 30 million and 65 million lives in the space of four years. It depopulated and deforested huge regions, poisoned lakes and rivers, and impoverished the workers and peasants it was supposed to help.

As Adam Smith once observed, “There is a great deal of ruin in a nation,” and Mao showed how much ruin he could extract from China. Despite this self-imposed catastrophe, China in 1964 exploded its first nuclear weapon. Two years later, Mao smashed his own party’s political infrastructure through the Cultural Revolution, remaining supreme when Nixon and Kissinger came calling in 1972.

‘To get rich is glorious’

China began to recover only after Mao’s death in 1976 and the brief interregnum of the Gang of Four. Deng Xiaoping, who had supported the Great Leap Forward, became a casualty of the Cultural Revolution but eventually returned to power; he set China on its present course with the slogan: “To get rich is glorious.”

China since the late 1970s has truly leaped forward. We’ve seen 30 years of astounding growth, 10 per cent a year or more. This time the numbers are usually real. China’s population has doubled, and hundreds of millions have actually risen out of poverty into ownership of cars and condos.

But no person and no country could have survived the Great Leap Forward unscarred. Top-down communism and top-down capitalism get similar social results. In the pursuit of wealth, as in the pursuit of backyard steel, the same abuses appear: shoddy construction, lethal pollution of air and water, racketeering, exploitation of peasants and workers, contamination of food and consumer goods with everything from melamine to lead.

Whatever goal China’s leaders set, the Chinese will achieve even if it kills them. In 2011 as in 1958, the end justifies the means — and the deaths.  [Tyee]

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

A Thousand Year Writer’s Block…

“Ideologically, this concedes the public space to the Islamists and it is only their intellectual and practical bankruptcy that prevents them  from taking full advantage of this tremendous ideological monopoly.”

“What prevents such a discourse from developing?  The answer lies hidden in two concepts that the Islamicate world has not been able to shed: the twin notions of blasphemy and apostasy and a subsidiary idea that these laws can be enforced by free-lance enforcers where the state fails to take action.”

[These sentences put their finger on the central failure of modern fundamentalist Islam (which “coincidentally” happens to be the central failure of modern fundamentalist Christianity as well)–the act by the Higher Power to introduce complex new religious concepts into the minds of men, followed by silence for hundreds of years or more, without offering further clarification of meaning.  Was God’s silence merely a pause in the conversation (to allow others to speak) or all He had to say?

Blasphemy and apostasy are warnings for us to watch our mouths and to honor the traditions defined by man’s laws, but beyond that, they are not enforcement mechanisms, passing judgments to be carried-out by the most zealous young male believers.  God’s historic silence on the matter is the device intended to teach us that there are no enforcement mechanisms, only faith–faith that physically enforcing the behavior of others is the real blasphemy.  Giving ground to those who would force their faith on others is the highest form of apostasy, the total abandonment of faith to the barbarians.  Faith is to be defended, but not by the sword.  The only defense against false teachings and false teachers is correct ideas.

The Sacred Teachings apply to all living beings, even to those who don’t understand.  We increase the number of true believers by helping those who seek to understand and offering correction to those who merely think that they understand.

It is not that true that God’s voice has gone silent; He has merely lowered the volume since He now speaks with the softer voice of our inner ears.  Quiet the world around you and listen just a little closer.]

A Thousand Year Writer’s Block…

– by Omar Ali

William Burroughs famously remarked that Islam had hit a one thousand year writer’s block. Is this assessment justified?  First things first: obviously we are not talking about all writing or all creative work. Thousands of talented writers have churned out countless works of literature, from the poems of Hafiz and Ghalib to the novels of Naguib Mahfooz and the fairy tales of innumerable anonymous (and amazing) talents . There is also no shortage of talent in other creative fields, e.g. I can just say  “Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan” and be done with this discussion.  But what about the sciences of religion and political thought, or the views of biology, history and human society to which these are connected? Is there a writer’s block in these dimensions?

The correct answer would be “it depends”  or “compared to what”? After all, it’s not so much that everyone else in Eurasia stopped thinking 500 years ago, but rather than an explosion of knowledge occurred in Europe that rapidly outstripped other centers of civilization in Eurasia. And after a period of relative decline, the rest of the world is catching up. Culture matters, but cultures also evolve. For better and for worse, cultures in Japan and Taiwan are now full participants in the global knowledge exchange, both as consumers and as producers. Iran has been trying to move beyond previous (and obviously flawed) models of personal autocracy and hereditary rule interspersed with violent and devastating civil wars, for over a hundred years,  and the Islamic republic, for all its problems, is not a brain-dead culture.

But what of the Sunni world?  There is no one uniform pattern., but states like Turkey and Indonesia that are doing “better”  (apologies for making a judgment, but how else to judge?) are running imported systems that maybe fairly functional, but that the ruling elite cannot seem to defend on “Islamic” grounds. This means that they are forever exposed to ideological assault from the Islamists. Much of the population appears to prefer the “imported”  arrangement to any “authentic” Islamist alternative, but neither the elite nor the wider population seems to have arguments that can systematically justify the acceptance and import of new ideas, particularly ideas labeled “un-Islamic”.  And what prevents such a discourse from developing? The answer lies hidden in two concepts that the Islamicate world has not been able to shed: the twin notions of blasphemy and apostasy and a subsidiary idea that these laws can be enforced by free-lance enforcers where the state fails to take action. This leads to a limited and hypocritical public discourse in which everyone (in public) pays lip-service to a mythology of Islamic perfection, completeness and ahistorical permanence, while struggling to carry on with life above and beyond those formulaic pieties.  Ideologically, this concedes the public space to the Islamists and it is only their intellectual and practical bankruptcy that prevents them  from taking full advantage of this tremendous ideological monopoly.

So the problem (and there is a problem) is not a thousand year writer’s block. And it’s certainly not a problem intrinsic to Islam as such (because there is no such things as “Islam as such”).  We do not have to buy into the notion that Sunni Islam is barbaric in essence . Salafist and Wahabist interpretations (which are, let us assume, ipso-facto barbaric) are not a return to some original essence, they are a new invention and not a particularly good one.  There is no essence and no pure past to which everything tends. Islam is a product of history, with roots in the past that go far past 7thcentury Arabia. The religion evolved and borrowed freely and eclectically to create a new and dynamic hybrid civilization. The Persian cultural renaissance civilized the Eastern half of the Arab empire ( a renaissance that includes, incidentally, a stunning example of how much impact one person can have; that one person being the poet Ferdowsi) and Islamicate civilization in this region incoroporated many literate and highly sophisticated elements. In India, the Islamic elite was Persianized (and like all Muslim elites, partly Hellenized) while folk Islam was eclectic, assimilative and full of life, producing such poets and creative geniuses as Shah HusseinShah Latif and Waris Shah.  Khwaja Farid, a completely orthodox Punjabi poet of the 19th century, had no problem with writing that Adam must have been Hindu, since Hinduism is the oldest religion of man. The poet Jaun Elya (a Marxist/anarchist not particularly friendly to organized religion) wrote that when he was growing up 70 years ago, the Mullahs and Ulama who taught him and his brothers would be unrecognizable to Pakistanis of today. They were cultured and sophisticated people, with fine manners and elaborate courtesies, whose Islam was self-confident  and  literate and was light years away from the ignorant and barbarous world of the Ulama, Jihadists and Generals of today.  But while there was no one thousand year writer’s block, something else did happen; the Americans found oil in Saudi Arabia and simultaneously discovered that hardline Islam was a bulwark against communism. Those two discoveries joined with other wider worldwide trends and existing strains of fascist Islam to inject life into the most vicious and most barbaric strains of Islam and have played a very big role in bringing us to today.

Again, it must be emphasized that it was not always thus. Tabari’s history is in no way limited by his status as a major exegete of orthodox Islam (albeit one whose school did not survive the competition).  Muslim scholars struggled with every question and took almost every conceivable philosophic position in the time of the Abbassids and their successors. Though the so-called “golden age” was not always that golden, it was a time of great creative effort and intellectual exchange, in no way comparable to the brain-dead theology of modern-day Islamic militants.  And this willingness to read and learn from many sources did not die a thousand years ago. It has been dealt a body blow relatively recently, with the union of oil wealth, Wahhabi ideology and cold-war requirements.  And this is not to deny the simpler political explanations of many current conflicts, but over and above the miasma generated by the usual problems of the world (land, occupation, injustice, etc.), there is an additional layer of insanity and it has the potential to co-opt and devour many other struggles and arguments and push them over to barbarism.

Individually, Shia Muslims outside of Iran and South Lebanon have an advantage over us Sunnis. They do not have to deal with Shia theology or mythology as a concrete alternative to existing political arrangements, so one can be liberal, agnostic, fascist or anything else, and  still maintain a reasonably healthy relationship with the annual Shia passion play and its associated historical myths.  But for Sunnis in the Sunni majority countries, the options appear to have shrunk . It was not always thus.  40 years ago, most leftists in Pakistan were protesting the Vietnam war and arguing whether Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was a leftist or a feudal. No one regarded the Islamic parties as a serious alternative to anything and voters agreed, wiping out most of those parties in elections.  Today, we may still wish to ignore the jihadists and their insane projects (exemplified by this refusal by Hafiz Saeed to show his face on a TV interview because appearing on video is against Islam), but they won’t let us ignore them.  Slowly but steadily the Islamists are forcing Sunnis to face the unpleasant fact that if they continue to ignore the Islamists, their own freedom to deal with issues without invoking an imaginary history of Islam, will be severely restricted.

For completeness, it must be added that there are other options. For example, matters like the blasphemy law can be subsumed into an academic Western debate about postmodernism and cultural relativism if you are a Westernizedpostmodern thinker, safely ensconced in New York and thoroughly immersed in the categories and arguments of the Western academy.  But this route is not available to most of the citizens of the Muslim world (and would be stunningly incongruous there outside of a few Universities, which, as islands of Western influence, will value such scholars).  For everyone else, a rather dramatic opening up of the debate is urgently needed. What is needed is not just a new look at history, but an outbreak of cultural creativity, using literature, painting, music and movies to explore and re-create the entire history of Islam. Imagine how many movies can be made about the first and second civil wars alone! When I first read Tabari’s account of the last days of Uthman, where the aged caliph, abandoned by most of his comrades and besieged by rebellious soldiers, goes to the mosque and defends himself in an eloquent Friday sermon,  I imagined many different ways such a scene could be played and many talented actors who could play it. For example, we could haveAmitabh Bachan as the caliph, making his speech and softening hearts, but then a rebel played by Nana Patekar rises to condemn him and the mood of the crowd changes, ending with the aged caliph being pelted with stones. There must be ten movies in that scene alone, and Tabari has hundreds of other dramatic scenes to choose from.  And imagine how many talented novelists would love to have a crack on these characters and their cosmic struggles. Unfortunately, instead of getting better, in some places, things have gone from bad to worse.  There is no thousand year writer’s block, but there is indeed a very large damper that has been thrown relatively recently on Sunni Islam, and its time we return to the freer time of  AttarRumiHafez and Khusro,  even if we cannot yet make all the movies we want.

Courtesy: Accidental Blogger


“Obama-Care,” Best Two Out of Three?

[The opening session promises to be a battle royale, as Republicans take advantage of their new numbers to re-fight the battle over “Obama-care,” which they had just lost.]

GOP legislators pledge to cut and investigate

But chances of getting changes past Senate, Obama are in doubt

U.S. President Barack Obama listens to a question during his news conference in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House in Washington December 22, 2010. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas Reuters

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Republican lawmakers have an ambitious agenda for the new Congress that convenes Wednesday, including repealing some or all of the health care overhaul law.

Republicans also promise to cut spending and prevent unelected bureaucrats from expanding the government’s role in society through regulations that tell people what they must or can’t do.

Representative Fred Upton of Michigan, the incoming chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said yesterday that repealing the health care law is his top priority, and he is hoping for a vote before President Obama’s State of the Union address.

Repeal will be difficult because of the president’s veto power, but Upton said on “Fox News Sunday’’ that he thinks Republicans can garner enough Democratic support to override a veto. If they do not, they will try to dismantle the law piece by piece, he said.

Getting the GOP agenda through the House may be easier than in the Senate, given the party’s 241-to-194 majority in the House. Democrats still hold an edge in Senate, though it is smaller than the one Obama had during his first two years in the White House.

Even if the next two years end in gridlock, Republicans will have built a platform for the 2012 elections that they hope will demonstrate to voters that they can get it right.

House Republicans also pledged to hold tough investigations and hearings on the president’s programs and policies.

They said they will bring key administration officials before congressional microphones so that the public can watch the webcasts. The friendly tone of inquiry from Democratic chairmen will be replaced by Republicans demanding answers to questions such as these: What’s the purpose of this program? Is this the best use of the taxpayers’ money?

The chief Republican investigator, Representative Darrell Issa of California, is eager to get started, and he’s not alone. Issa, the incoming chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has been especially critical of what he calls waste in Obama’s economic stimulus spending.

Issa will have subpoena power and can investigate any government program. He also wants to give subpoena power to inspectors general.

“The sooner the administration figures out that the enemy is the bureaucracy and the wasteful spending, not the other party, the better off we’ll be,’’ Issa said on the Fox program. He predicted that the investigations he is planning could result in about $200 billion in savings.

Representative Harold Rogers of Kentucky, incoming leader of the House Appropriations Committee, said he wants top officials from all major government agencies to appear and justify their spending.

Upton also said he will work to stop over-zealous government regulators. A big target for him is the Environmental Protection Agency, which is writing rules to limit greenhouse gases blamed for global warming after Obama’s effort to get Congress to do it stalled in the Senate last year.

“We are not going to let this administration regulate what they’ve been unable to legislate,’’ he said.

In the Senate, there’s a chance the Democrats will replace Republicans as the party of “no,’’ assuming the House GOP passes much of its agenda. Democrats will control the Senate, 51 to 47, with two independents, and they need only 41 votes to block initiatives that arrive from the House.

Among the reasons that the Republican agenda will probably have a bigger impact on the next election than on the day-to-day lives of most Americans are:

■ Much of the government spending has been politically untouchable. About 60 percent goes for entitlement programs, including Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. The nation also is paying for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and major reconstruction projects in those countries. Both parties have considered it politically foolish to mess with Medicare and Social Security. Also, Republicans don’t have a clean record as budget cutters.

■ Obama may be more willing to compromise with Republicans than in his first two years, but he will fight repealing the health care law. Senate Democrats will almost certainly stop major revisions. If for some reason they don’t, Obama will use his veto to stop them.

■ Republican attempts to overturn regulations on issues such as global warming also could falter in the Senate.

© Copyright 2011 Globe Newspaper Company.