Quote of the day

As Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian points out:

Readers of the American and British press over the past month have been inundated with righteous condemnations of Ecuador‘s poor record on press freedoms. Is this because western media outlets have suddenly developed a new-found devotion to defending civil liberties in Latin America? Please. To pose the question is to mock it.

It’s because feigning concern for these oppressive measures is a convenient instrument for demeaning and punishing Ecuador for the supreme crime of defying the US and its western allies. The government of President Rafael Correa granted asylum to western establishmentarians’ most despised figure, Julian Assange, and Correa’s government then loudly condemned Britain’s implied threats to invade its embassy. Ecuador must therefore be publicly flogged for its impertinence, and its press freedom record is a readily available whip. As a fun bonus, denunciations of Correa’s media oppression is a cheap and easy way to deride Assange’s supposed hypocrisy.

(Apparently, activists should only seek asylum from countries with pristine human rights records, whichever countries those might be: a newly concocted standard that was conspicuously missing during the saga of blind Chinese human rights activist Chen Guangcheng at the US embassy; I don’t recall any western media outlets accusing Guangcheng of hypocrisy for seeking refuge from a country that indefinitely imprisons people with no charges, attacked Iraq, assassinates its own citizens with no due process on the secret orders of the president, bombs funerals and rescuers in Pakistan, uses extreme force and mass arrests to try to obliterate the peaceful Occupy protest movement, wages an unprecedented war on whistleblowers, prosecutes its Muslim citizens for posting YouTube videos critical of US foreign policy, embraces and arms the world’s most oppressive regimes, and imprisoned Muslim journalists for years at Guantánamo and elsewhere with no charges of any kind.)

But this behavior illustrates how purported human rights concerns are cynically exploited as a weapon by western governments and, more inexcusably, by their nationalistic, self-righteous media enablers.

The Unholy Alliance wastes vast sums of money

As early reports have made plain, JPMorgan Chase Bank has blundered its way to what is already a multibillion dollar loss. Once again, a Big Finance bank made witless bets. And, as we also know, Washington failed to temper the Great Casino during the Great Recession. Indeed, America’s political elite took bankster money and acted in the interests of the financial elite and America’s oligarchs. It has thus been business as usual for the most predatory banks, a general situation that makes Washington’s political failures with respect to Big Finance both notorious and tragic for the “lesser people” (Alan Simpson) in America and around the world.

There are silver linings in this story, however. Yves Smith pointed to one of them:

The real upside is that this may be the first real dent to [JPMorgan Chase’s CEO Jamie] Dimon’s image. The firm has gotten off scot free for dubious tactics during the Lehman and MF Global failures, and Dimon has taken to bullying central bankers and regulators (I’ve heard of incidents beyond the press reports of him browbeating Bernanke and later his Canadian analogue, Mark Carney). Dimon’s hyperaggression may simply by apparent success stoking an already overly large ego, or it may be the classic “the best defense is a good offense” strategy, of dissuading overly close scrutiny of JP Morgan’s health and practices. We’ll have a better basis for judging as the year progresses, since difficult trading markets will continue to test all the major dealers.

Sensible people always welcome the destruction of a personality cult when it surrounds a powerful person. Dimon would be no exception to this rule. Likewise, sensible people would welcome any event which diminishes further the aura of rational action which surrounds Big Finance. Wall Street may have rationalized tools but substantive rationality is not a virtue found therein. These institutions are predators, and their predation, based upon analytical mysticism, serves no useful and general purpose.

Americans should be so lucky if the Securities and Exchange Commission and Britain’s ‘private’ Financial Services Authority were to act rationally in this case. Unfortunately, it would be more realistic to expect Angels to solve our financial problems than it would be for Congress or Parliament to enact sensible legislation meant to rationalize America and Britain’s financial markets and institutions. This is a neoliberal world, after all. “There is no alternative,” as we were told.

A case of humanitarian imperialism?

It’s just amazing that the Iraq invasion and occupation were about Oil. The Independent now reports that:

Plans to exploit Iraq’s oil reserves were discussed by government ministers and the world’s largest oil companies the year before Britain took a leading role in invading Iraq, government documents show.

As Patrick Cockburn points out:

The supposed disinterest expressed by international oil companies in the outcome of the invasion of Iraq in the year before it was launched never quite made sense. Iraqis used to ask ironically if the rest of the world would have been quite so interested in the fate of their country if its main export had been cabbages.

Nevertheless, Cockburn believes:

It has never seemed likely that the US and Britain invaded Iraq primarily for its oil. Reasserting US self-confidence as a super-power after 9/11 was surely a greater motive. The UK went along with this in order to remain America’s chief ally. Both President Bush and Tony Blair thought the war would be easy.

But would they have gone to war if Iraq had been producing cabbages? Probably not.

Cockburn is right about the role of oil in the push for war. After all, the United States can invade and decimate nearly any country it wants to destroy. But Iraq and its oil had strategic value for the faltering superpower, and Iraq could serve to announce to the world that the United States could defend its interests when pushed. Fortunately, the Iraqis also had designs on their country! The Iraq invasion and occupation have thus produced a political nightmare for the United States and Great Britain. It can be said that the United States prevailed in Iraq. But it is clear that it weakened America as a whole and as a military power.