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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Looking Back...

At the risk of alarming steady customers, inured to a weekly diet of apocalyptic pessimism, I must confess that I am becoming optimistic. This may seem in its way perverse. Just when a new President sends Congress a first message filled with perilous tidings at home and abroad, your Washington reporter suddenly begins to see hope ahead. I even feel a little embarrassed, like the prophet Jeremiah caught giving three lusty cheers... The appointments, the policy positions, have something in them for everyone.

Necessity may make his course tortuous but the direction is clearly towards peace. I feel that for the first time since Roosevelt we have a first-rater in the Presidency, a young man of energy, zest, and ability. It is a post in which any man of any quality must grow, but when a man starts out with the gifts [the President] so clearly has, we have the right to hope he will grow to greatness, and perform valiantly in the cause of mankind.

Are these the words of a Washington blogger caught up in the euphoria of the Obama Presidency? A national columnist?

No. The above was from a column written on February 6, 1961 by the doyen of progressive journalists, I.F. Stone. Stone - normally not given to effusive praise - was swept up into the magic of the Kennedy election, finding the all too familiar clarion call of hope, youth, and energy.

Nearly three years later, on December 9, 1963, following the Kennedy assassination, Stone wrote as follows:

...Kennedy, when the tinsel was stripped away, was a conventional leader, no more than an enlightened conservative, cautious as an old man for all his youth, with a basic distrust of the people and an astringent view of the evangelical as a tool of leadership.

I don't know that many will look back upon the Obama years with the same disappointment - history doesn't give us perfect parallels. But I do know that when an experienced, somewhat jaundiced progressive like Stone can be seduced by campaign rhetoric and blinded by the "tinsel" of the moment, the celebration of Obama's election may mark a similar moment of self-deception. It is a measure of Stone's integrity that he admitted it (see his In a Time of Torment).

Already there are healthy signs that many progressives have lost the blush of first love. The Nation has published several editorials both critical of and with disappointment in policy decisions and compromises taken by the Obama administration. Recently, the journal has offered a call to activism, departing from the misguided advice of not rocking Obama's boat.

Typical of jilted lovers, many will turn against Obama with a bitter sense of betrayal. This is both naive and misplaced. Like Kennedy, Obama is neither an agent for change nor a closet reactionary. Like Kennedy, Obama is the executive of a vast structure welded to interests that have little in common with the interests of the majority of US citizens. Admirers of Kennedy will recall the enormous forces arrayed against change in his time: the Joint Chiefs of Staff, defense contractors, the CIA, Southern politicians, etc. Detractors will, with equal passion, note how little he did to challenge these forces. Likewise, those still taken with Obama fever will point with disgust at the obstructionist Republicans, the "Blue Dog" Democrats, the "disruptive" left, and other evil forces, as though they are not always a part of the two-party carnival.

It is not Obama, but this corrupted, broken two-party system of governance that betrays our aspirations. It is not designed for change, but to smother it. Never in the history of this undemocratic "democracy" have the wants and needs of the citizens been so distant from the intent of its ruling elites. This reality cannot be laid at Obama's feet.

The only antidote to the rot of this system is political independence within, but especially outside of the existing two parties. There is simply no reason that activists engaged in Democratic Party circles cannot work outside - independently, uncompromisingly, and vigorously - on progressive, advanced issues with no concern for ruffled feathers. To fail to do so, betrays any commitment to real change.

But more importantly, a divorce from the Democratic Party is long overdue. Those who see the decadence of the Democratic Party - and I don't understand how anyone could miss it - need to find a new home in the anti-corporate third-party movement and the struggle for socialism.

For the immediate future, we need to press ahead - with a national rally for single payer, with picket lines around the headquarters of corporate and elected leaders who oppose EFCA, with a call for a thirty hour work week, with elimination of the social security tax cap, with anti-war, anti-imperialist actions, and a host of other urgent tasks. If Obama wants, he can come along...

Zoltan Zigedy

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Some Observations on the Hungarian Press

From Anonymous

Hi Zoltan, apart from this misspelling :) , your post is 100% correct. I can tell you about the Hungarian media, that usually serviently mirrors the international main stream. In this particular case it cannot go into "omission" mode, Rozsa is a well known person in Hungary. His family members (and the families of the other Hungarian guys involved in the plot) keep the thing alive.

That's why the Hungarian press reports are somehow weird (or plainly comical). Fact after fact emerges about this tiny mercenary ring. These facts paint a fairly coherent picture of a small paramilitary/terrorist group, just as you pointed out in your post.

The unfortunate Hungarian media has to report these facts. But they try their best to show the ring innocent (or unrelated to politics or whatever). The Bolivian police always looks unprofessional/agenda driven/ridiculus in the reports, not to mention Morales himself.

The net result is weird journalism. Or simply laughable if you are aware of the political bias that is behind.

More on the Plotters against Evo Morales

Many thanks to Diana who forwarded this article from Granma International. The article elaborates on the sponsors of the organization of assassins that The Wall Street Journal calls a "rag tag" group.

Havana. May 15, 2009

Armando Valladares' CIA organization linked to plot against Evo Morales

Jean-Guy Allard

• THE Bolivian district attorney's office has identified Hugo Achá Melgar
who, according to the AFP news agency, is Bolivia's representative to the
U.S. Human Rights Foundation (HRF), as providing the bulk of the funds for
the terrorist gang foiled in Santa Cruz while plotting to assassinate
President Evo Morales.

The HRF is a New York-based nongovernmental organization known for its
activities of interference and CIA links. Its general secretary, Armando
Valladares is a terrorist of Cuban origin. District Attorney Marcelo Sosa,
who is leading the investigation in this case, identified Achá, alias
"Superman," along with Alejandro Melgar, "El Lucas," as being involved in
and funding the plot.

In a statement to a La Paz television station, Achá – currently in the
United States – rejected those charges but confessed that he had met with
the killers' leader, Hungarian-Bolivian Eduardo Rózsa-Flores, on "four or
five" occasions. The Rózsa-Flores terrorist group was dismantled in a
Bolivian police operation a few weeks ago. Three of the mercenaries, among
them the group's alleged leader, Eduardo Rózsa-Flores, died in a gun fight,
while two others were arrested and are currently being detained in La Paz.
The authorities subsequently captured two other conspirators, both members
of the fascist organization Unión Juvenil Cruceñista, which provided the
group with weapons.


Born in Bolivia, Eduardo Rózsa Flores, the Hungarian leader of the
conspiracy to assassinate Evo Morales, belonged to circles of the Hungarian
extreme right close to the Jobbik neo-Nazi party, which illegally maintains
a paramilitary organization, the Hungarian Guard.

According to the Hungarian Spectrum website, he joined the Croatian army in
the early 1990s, took part in various battles and was wounded three times.
Suspected of trafficking arms and drugs, he left Croatia and returned to
Hungary in 1994, where he collaborated with neo-Nazi groups.

Two of his accomplices also have biographies that end with their
participation in extreme-right circles: Árpád Magyarosi, killed in the
assault, and Elõd Tóásó, currently in detention, are both members of the
Székely Légió, a paramilitary organization that plans commando attacks on
Romania. Irishman Michael Martin Dwyer was a mercenary in the Balkans and
possibly met the leader of the group in Croatia.

In Bolivia, Rózsa was in contact with Jorge Mones Ruiz, head of UnoAmerica,
a fascist foundation linked to the CIA. According to EFE, one of the
detainees of the Santa Cruz conspiracy, Juan Carlos Gueder, has already
confessed to having met with Rózsa-Flores and accused Achá, whom, he said,
should also "take responsibility."

Achá's accomplice, Alejandro "Lucas" Melgar, is currently in Uruguay,
according to his family, to take part in a sport shooting tournament.

According to the district attorney's office, it was Melgar who contracted
the owner of the vehicle with which Rósza, in an earlier attempt, dynamited
the entrance to the house of Cardinal Julio Terrazas on April 14 in an act
of provocation.

Workers in the four luxury hotels where the mercenaries were staying and
employees of the Santa Cruz Telephone Cooperative are to be summoned by the
district attorney.

Yesterday a key witness appeared in the 8th Criminal Hearings Court. He
presented a video taped with a cellular telephone in which Rózsa-Flores
speaks of his plot to assassinate President Evo Morales.


Arrested in Havana in late 1960 for placing explosives in public places on
CIA instructions, Armando Valladares won notoriety for his burlesque exit
from jail, requested from abroad, disguised as a "paralytic poet." An
informant for the Batista police, he later devoted himself to sabotage until
his detention.

The only book that Valladares "wrote" was ironically titled "Desde mi silla
de ruedas (From My Wheelchair)." It was actually written by his friend and
accomplice Carlos Alberto Montaner. [Note: Allard describes the titles as
"ironic" not just because it was written by someone else, but because
Vallardes was faking his paralysis -- as hidden Cuban tv cameras in his cell
had demonstrated. When confronted with videotapes of himself doing
calisthenic exercises in his cell and told he could be released, as the
French government had requested because of the campaign to "free the
paralyzed imprisoned poet", only if he got up and walked out of his cell,
onto and off of the plane that took him to France, he did so. Imagine the
embarrassment of the welcoming committee waiting for him at Orly Airport,
Paris with a wheelchair when he went bounding off the plane on his own two
feet. klw]

When he arrived in the United States, Vall adares made himself available to
the U.S. intelligence community with extreme servility, and was appointed
ambassador to Geneva by the ultra-right President Ronald Reagan.

Via his Human Rights Foundation, Valladares published a report on the human
rights situation in Bolivia last October, in which he condemned the
"political violence" in that country.

According to the Venezuelan lawyer and researcher Eva Golinger, author of La
Teleraña Imperial (The Imperial Web), the Human Rights Foundation was
created by Thor Halvorssen Mendoza in 2005 to attack and discredit the
Venezuelan, Bolivian and Ecuadorian governments. The son of one of
Venezuela's wealthiest families Halvorssen worked with the CIA in El
Salvador and Nicaragua.

On May 4, 2008, Valladares the CIA agent volunteered himself as an observer
for the illegal referendum in Santa Cruz on behalf of his organization.•

Monday, May 25, 2009

A Reader's Correction

Zoltan, you've forgotten the "old language" :) . The group leader's name is Rozsa (actually: Rózsa), not Rosza.


Thanks, anonymous. It must have been the Tokaji Aszu that muddled my brain. At least The Wall Street Journal got that right.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Media and the Plot against Evo Morales

After casting doubt on the official Bolivian account of the thwarting on April 16 of a para-military assassination plot against President Evo Morales, the mainstream US press has been silent on the events that unfolded six weeks ago. Since Bolivian security forces raided an expensive hotel and engaged a gun battle with the conspirators, killing three of the conspirators, reports have appeared in English on Prensa Latina and in web translations expanding and strengthening the official government version of the encounter.

The capitalist media silence has been deafening.

The week-end Wall Street Journal edition (5-22/23-09) broke this silence with a lengthy article conceding many of the claims asserted by the Bolivian government. Now the group of assassins is portrayed as “a rag tag group” engaged in “a strange misadventure”, an attempt to minimize the scope of the plot as well as its seriousness.

Nonetheless, the three Journal writers confirm that the group had operated in Bolivia for several months, stayed in exclusive, expensive hotels, and demonstrated a propensity for violence and hostility to Evo Morales and his government. One doesn’t have to imagine how a similar story would be reported if Homeland Security and the US judicial system identified similar individuals, for example, Muslims operating in New York City, as recent headlines demonstrate.

A picture in the article of Michael Dwyer brandishing four handguns demolishes the former accounts depicting him as an innocent, young Irishman visiting Bolivia with a group of students. In addition, new evidence connects Dwyer with the owner of a fascist website who worked on a security project with Dwyer and also belonged to the clandestine group.

In light of web postings by the group’s leader, Eduardo Rosza Flores, describing himself as a “fascist” hostile to socialism, it is now impossible to deny that this “strange misadventure” was politically inspired, even with the best efforts of the mainstream media.

Where the facts bring clarity, the Journal sees “murky movements and intentions”. Besides 58 pictures that members of the group took of one another with various weapons, the government has produced a cell phone video where the ringleader refers to a missed opportunity to assassinate Morales at a time when records show that both members of the group and Morales were at Lake Titicaca.

The Journal article suggests that three of the members of the group were defenseless when killed during the security service raid. They conveniently ignore the autopsy reports that found powder residue on the bodies from firing weapons.

They paint a skeptical picture of government claims that the conspirators held links to wealthy, powerful secessionist from Santa Cruz province. Yet they refuse to question how this “rag tag” group acquired weapons and lived luxuriously and without any visible means of support for many months. While the plot is virtually incontrovertible, the mainstream media has a remarkable disinterest in exploring the most important issue: the financial and organizational interests behind it.

Zoltan Zigedy

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Only Option: Single Payer

We also have an unprecedented commitment from health care industry leaders, many of whom opposed health reform in the past. Monday, I met with some of these health care stakeholders, and they pledged to do their part to reduce the health care spending growth rate, saving more than two trillion dollars over the next ten years -- around $2,500 for each American family. Then on Tuesday, leaders from some of America's top companies came to the White House to showcase innovative ways to reduce health care costs by improving the health of their workers.

Now the House and Senate are beginning a critical debate that will determine the health of our nation's economy and its families. This process should be transparent and inclusive and its product must drive down costs, assure quality and affordable health care for everyone, and guarantee all of us a choice of doctors and plans. President Barack Obama (5-14-09)

The health-industrial complex – hospitals, insurers, nursing homes, the American Medical Association, etc. – have issued a rare, shared statement of commitment to health care “reform”. President Obama has hailed the industry’s pledge as a welcome move towards overcoming the wreckage left by a profit driven system that absorbs nearly one out of six dollars generated every year by the economy and leaves upwards of 50 million US citizens without even minimal coverage of health care expenses. This crass exploitation of health care needs has escalated without abatement since the Clinton-era “reforms” of the early nineteen nineties with cost increases far outpacing the rate of inflation. For the most part, the industry has relied upon its vast and bloated surplus to engage lobbyists and public relations experts to buy Congress and buffer an outraged public caught in the labyrinth of paper work, denials, and high co-pays.

So why has a heretofore callous industry suddenly decided to offer a “reform” proposal wrapped in patriotism and sacrifice?

The answer is quite simple: The single-payer health care movement.

Public disgust with the for-profit system has accelerated with the popularization of a system that removes the insurance industry – the most parasitic component of economic activity – from the health care equation. While the media, politicians, and the industry have ignored single-payer advocates, the movement has continued to gain traction, culminating in direct confrontations with Congressional leaders determined to marginalize the movement. The Baucus Eight – the health care professionals who defied the lockout and endured arrest to dramatize the single-payer cause – forced single-payer on to the national stage. They are the Cindy Sheehan’s of this movement, serving as a moral inspiration foe all of us. Their action has given a friendly media personality, Ed Shultz of MSNBC’s Ed Show, a “news-worthy” issue that meets the entertainment-centered focus of the mass media, while, no doubt, also boosting Shultz’s ratings.

With the hard won endorsement of 516 union organizations, including 39 state AFL-CIO affiliates, and the commitment of 75 House co-sponsors for HR676 (the House single-payer bill), profit free health care delivers a health care option too popular to ignore (

Nonetheless, the media and elected officials have opted to do so. Until the single-payer advocates forced a national television audience and a sheepish bunch of compromised Senators to take note, this marginalizing effort bore fruit.

Thanks to the boldness and determination of the single-payer movement, the health-care industry felt the heat and announced a “reform” proposal that promises to save $2 trillion over 10 years. One might find this a cynical, desperate response, especially since this same industry has fought tooth and nail every attempt at reform over the last half century. Moreover, the measures offered by the industry, though demonstrably ineffectual and unenforceable, have been available for decades. Without question, this is a transparently crude attempt to thwart the single-payer challenge and protect industry profits. So much for the patriotism posture trotted out as a motivation.

Shame on the Obama administration for celebrating this crass attempt to protect profitability over the health of nation!

Clearly there are lessons here for progressives caught between an honest desire for a humane, civilized health care system and an idealistic, but misplaced loyalty to the Democratic Party and its current articulate, but calculating leadership. The determined, relentless struggle of the single-payer movement has done far more to advance the cause of universal, affordable health care than the rhetorical flourishes and empty promises of a profit driven industry and its compliant servants. Single-payer advocacy is the way forward. No real solution to the health care crisis is possible without a full, fair consideration of the single-payer option.

Zoltan Zigedy

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Bank Stress Tests: Diagnosis or Distraction?

I wrote on March 19, 2009 (MLToday, Dr. Doom and the Temple of Economic Pain):

The "stress tests" that will be applied to financial institutions to assess their health will reveal much of the clandestine assets – both real and toxic – to government policy makers and allow them to better craft effective solutions, but these policy makers also fear that this information itself would be toxic to capitalism's tarnished image. Public knowledge of these "assets" would likely expose the corporations for the insolvent creatures they are. Thus, the TCE ratios will magically make the insolvent appear salvageable.

I was wrong – dead wrong. I noted then that the stress tests were going to engage an arcane evaluation scheme – TCE ratios – that would inflate the capital/assets levels to make the 19 stress-tested banks appear healthy. Instead, the Federal Reserves took a further step and used an equally arcane, and more liberal, calculation - Tier 1 Common Capital ratio – that painted an even healthier picture for the 19 stress tested banks.

As reported in the May 9-10, 2009 Wall Street Journal, the Tier 1 methodology jacked up the available capital/asset ratios on 15 0f the 19 banks. For example, Bank of America has a TCE ratio of only 2.9%, but a much stronger Tier 1 ratio of 4.6%; JP Morgan Chase has a TCE of 4%, but scores 6.5% on the Tier 1 calculation; and Bank of NY Mellon reads 3.8% TCE, but a whopping 9.5% on a Tier 1 calculation.

What is important here is not the content of the various testing methods – details that interest only a handful of academic economists – but the Federal Reserves determination to paint a rosy picture of bank health. Of course the stock markets and pundits reacted to this rosier picture with jubilation.

But if sleight-of-hand were not enough, the Federal Reserve delayed the results of their “findings” to allow the banks to lobby for an even more favorable evaluation. In the case of Citigroup, the Feds initially estimated a capital shortfall of around $35 billion, but after some jawboning, the Fed released a much lower estimate: $5.5 billion. In a bitter public feud with the Federal Reserve, Wells Fargo succeeded in having its capital deficit estimate reduced from $17.3 billion to $13.7 billion.

Imagine a high school teacher that ex post facto liberalized the grading system and welcomed student negotiation. No doubt such a teacher would be popular with students, but an unreliable guide to student performance. Similarly, the Federal Reserve’s stress tests are acceptable to the banks (and Wall Street), but useless as a gauge of the top banks actual viability. The stress tests are quite simply politically motivated theatre.

These results show the enormous leverage the financial sector exercises over government policy makers and regulators. There is no reason to believe that there is any will or determination to rein in the Cowboy Capitalism that spawned the current deep crisis. Political considerations shaped the results well before the results were in. The Obama economic team was determined to pose the banking system as healthy as a hedge against both anti-bailout sentiment and more radical options like nationalization. Of course most of the media encouraged this posture.

We know no more about the health of the US banking system than we did a month ago.

Zoltan Zigedy