Tuesday, September 13, 2016

September 13, 2016

Obama tells 9/11 families they matter less than Saudi Arabia
Yesterday, President Obama took the opportunity to remind us why our blog is called The Daily Face Palm. Because while most days bring news of cynical and appalling government behavior, this week, President Obama went above and beyond the call of duty.
Specifically, the Obama Administration announced that it would veto a bill that would allow 9/11 families to sue officials and governments involved in the attacks for compensation. In other words, he’s telling 9/11 victims that he intends to prevent them from seeking justice. And he announced this intention, on the day after the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
Admittedly, flipping the bird to 9/11 families on 9/12 does take some guts. However, one wishes that political boldness was at least occasionally used for something useful. Vetoing the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act doesn’t qualify.
So why’d he do it? Well, because the government that would be sued by 9/11 victims is Saudi Arabia. This should be no surprise given that 15 of 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, and there is compelling evidence that at least some of the hijackers had extensive interactions with Saudi intelligence agents. But Saudi Arabia is a US ally. And like any good friend, they threatened to crash the US economy if we allowed 9/11 victims to sue them for wrongdoing.
In theory, they’d do this by selling off billions in US debt, which would wreak havoc on interest rates–but there’s a decent probability they’re bluffing. They can’t really destroy the US economy without destroying themselves in the process. But bluff or no, this is the real reason President Obama is going to veto this bill. He’s terrified of having the US economy crash on his watch–especially before the election–and he’s going to do everything he can to postpone the inevitable. And if that means telling 9/11 victims to pound sand, so be it.
Of course, this isn’t the official reason that the Obama Administration is offering for the veto. The official reason given is that it would allow people in other countries to sue US people, companies, and military service members in retaliation. Fair enough. But here’s why that’s a bad argument. If US citizens or the US government is involved in perpetrating mass civilian atrocities in other countries like what occurred on 9/11 (which isn’t really hypothetical), do we seriously believe they should be immune to prosecution? That question seems like it ought to be rhetorical, but the Obama Administration answered it anyway, and the answer they gave could not be more wrong.
The good news is that both houses of Congress originally passed this bill unanimously. That means there’s a decent chance the bill could become law even if Obama objects to it. Here’s hoping.
CNN anchor wonders why anyone would object to civilian casualties when they are profitable for US companies
Speaking of our dear Saudi allies, they were actually making news for another unseemly reason recently. They’re still bombing Yemen with US backing, and they’re killing more civilians all the time. Another 21 civilians (at least) died in a series of strikes reported over the the past few days.
This has led several US legislators to propose banning US arm sales to Saudi Arabia and oppose the ongoing US involvement in the war there.
Last week, Senator Rand Paul made his case to CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer. The response was stunning (emphasis added):
So for you this is a moral issue,” [Blitzer] told Paul during the Kentucky Republican’s appearance on CNN. “Because you know, there’s a lot of jobs at stake. Certainly if a lot of these defense contractors stop selling war planes, other sophisticated equipment to Saudi Arabia, there’s going to be a significant loss of jobs, of revenue here in the United States. That’s secondary from your standpoint?
That is to say, who cares about all the dying civilians in Yemen if US companies are profiting off it?
Unfortunately, this wasn’t much of a scandal at all. Mainstream journalists and politicians would immediately face widespread criticism for saying something that is remotely politically incorrect (sometimes for good reason, and sometimes less so). But today, there’s nothing socially unacceptable about justifying an illegal aggressive war, explicitly in the name of US jobs and revenues.
For more on this, you can read The Intercept’s write-up.
Trump sets a trap for the Federal Reserve
In better news, Presidential Candidate Donald Trump was busy denouncing the Federal Reserve yesterday.
Basically, he said that the Federal Reserve is in the tank for Obama. According to Trump, the Fed’s keeping interest rates low to prop up the “false stock market”, and keep the bubble from bursting on Obama’s watch. He also said that low interest rates are punishing American savers, since they can no longer earn a reliable return on their money.
Surprisingly, he’s actually right about the economics here. It’s also a very smart political move.
Trump has expressed similar ideas before, but the timing here is important. Next week, the Fed will decide whether or not to raise interest rates, and they’ve been pretending more than usual that they actually will go through with it this time.
Officially, of course, the Federal Reserve is “independent” from politics. Thus, Trump is essentially taunting them to prove it. If they raise rates, they could prove Trump wrong and show they are independent from the Democrats. But they’d also send the stock market down, which will help Trump. Alternatively, they keep rates the same, and the market might be okay for a bit longer. But then Trump gets to point out the Fed as another part of the rigged system in Washington, which is one of his favorite themes. It’s really a win-win for him.

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