Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Frantic Sliming of Reasonable Critics Now the Norm from the Kvetchocracy & Big Food Dwarfs Big Finance? Bundlers Abound! Who Are the 1%?

[Contributions joyfully accepted and humbly acknowledged!]
Posted: 18 Oct 2011
Every pushback against the finance parasites brings a horde of mini-CEOs out to comment on blogs. By a strange coincidence, they all work 80 hours a week, uphill through the snow, on their way to distributing equity to their workers—who they personally trained because the school system has failed American businesses. They also took great personal risk to create jobs, in their 20 to 30 person firms, and they still have time to coach their children's sports teams. Was there ever a country so blessed?
As Paul Krugman said at the beginning of the OWS action:

There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear, but we may, at long last, be seeing the rise of a popular movement that, unlike the Tea Party, is angry at the right people. 

When the Occupy Wall Street protests began three weeks ago, most news organizations were derisive if they deigned to mention the events at all. For example, nine days into the protests, National Public Radio had provided no coverage whatsoever.

It is, therefore, a testament to the passion of those involved that the protests not only continued but grew, eventually becoming too big to ignore. With unions and a growing number of Democrats now expressing at least qualified support for the protesters, Occupy Wall Street is starting to look like an important event that might even eventually be seen as a turning point.

What can we say about the protests? First things first: The protesters’ indictment of Wall Street as a destructive force, economically and politically, is completely right.

A weary cynicism, a belief that justice will never get served, has taken over much of our political debate — and, yes, I myself have sometimes succumbed. In the process, it has been easy to forget just how outrageous the story of our economic woes really is. So, in case you’ve forgotten, it was a play in three acts.

In the first act, bankers took advantage of deregulation to run wild (and pay themselves princely sums), inflating huge bubbles through reckless lending.

In the second act, the bubbles burst — but bankers were bailed out by taxpayers, with remarkably few strings attached, even as ordinary workers continued to suffer the consequences of the bankers’ sins.

And, in the third act, bankers showed their gratitude by turning on the people who had saved them, throwing their support — and the wealth they still possessed thanks to the bailouts — behind politicians who promised to keep their taxes low and dismantle the mild regulations erected in the aftermath of the crisis.

Given this history, how can you not applaud the protesters for finally taking a stand?

Now, it’s true that some of the protesters are oddly dressed or have silly-sounding slogans, which is inevitable given the open character of the events. But so what? I, at least, am a lot more offended by the sight of exquisitely tailored plutocrats, who owe their continued wealth to government guarantees, whining that President Obama has said mean things about them than I am by the sight of ragtag young people denouncing consumerism.

Bear in mind, too, that experience has made it painfully clear that men in suits not only don’t have any monopoly on wisdom, they have very little wisdom to offer. When talking heads on, say, CNBC mock the protesters as unserious, remember how many serious people assured us that there was no housing bubble, that Alan Greenspan was an oracle and that budget deficits would send interest rates soaring.

A better critique of the protests is the absence of specific policy demands. It would probably be helpful if protesters could agree on at least a few main policy changes they would like to see enacted. But we shouldn’t make too much of the lack of specifics. It’s clear what kinds of things the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators want, and it’s really the job of policy intellectuals and politicians to fill in the details.

Rich Yeselson, a veteran organizer and historian of social movements, has suggested that debt relief for working Americans become a central plank of the protests.

I’ll second that, because such relief, in addition to serving economic justice, could do a lot to help the economy recover. I’d suggest that protesters also demand infrastructure investment — not more tax cuts — to help create jobs.

Neither proposal is going to become law in the current political climate, but the whole point of the protests is to change that political climate.

And there are real political opportunities here. Not, of course, for today’s Republicans, who instinctively side with those Theodore Roosevelt-dubbed “malefactors of great wealth.” Mitt Romney, for example — who, by the way, probably pays less of his income in taxes than many middle-class Americans — was quick to condemn the protests as “class warfare.”

But Democrats are being given what amounts to a second chance. The Obama administration squandered a lot of potential good will early on by adopting banker-friendly policies that failed to deliver economic recovery even as bankers repaid the favor by turning on the president. Now, however, Mr. Obama’s party has a chance for a do-over. All it has to do is take these protests as seriously as they deserve to be taken.

And if the protests goad some politicians into doing what they should have been doing all along, Occupy Wall Street will have been a smashing success.
As you can imagine, I was all over that. But, it has continued!

It remains to be seen whether the Occupy Wall Street protests will change America’s direction. Yet the protests have already elicited a remarkably hysterical reaction from Wall Street, the super-rich in general, and politicians and pundits who reliably serve the interests of the wealthiest hundredth of a percent.

And this reaction tells you something important — namely, that the extremists threatening American values are what F.D.R. called “economic royalists,” not the people camping in Zuccotti Park.

Consider first how Republican politicians have portrayed the modest-sized if growing demonstrations, which have involved some confrontations with the police — confrontations that seem to have involved a lot of police overreaction — but nothing one could call a riot. And there has in fact been nothing so far to match the behavior of Tea Party crowds in the summer of 2009.

Nonetheless, Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, has denounced “mobs” and “the pitting of Americans against Americans.” The G.O.P. presidential candidates have weighed in, with Mitt Romney accusing the protesters of waging “class warfare,” while Herman Cain calls them “anti-American.” My favorite, however, is Senator Rand Paul, who for some reason worries that the protesters will start seizing iPads, because they believe rich people don’t deserve to have them.

Michael Bloomberg, New York’s mayor and a financial-industry titan in his own right, was a bit more moderate, but still accused the protesters of trying to “take the jobs away from people working in this city,” a statement that bears no resemblance to the movement’s actual goals.

And if you were listening to talking heads on CNBC, you learned that the protesters “let their freak flags fly,” and are “aligned with Lenin.”

The way to understand all of this is to realize that it’s part of a broader syndrome, in which wealthy Americans who benefit hugely from a system rigged in their favor react with hysteria to anyone who points out just how rigged the system is.

Last year, you may recall, a number of financial-industry barons went wild over very mild criticism from President Obama. They denounced Mr. Obama as being almost a socialist for endorsing the so-called Volcker rule, which would simply prohibit banks backed by federal guarantees from engaging in risky speculation. And as for their reaction to proposals to close a loophole that lets some of them pay remarkably low taxes — well, Stephen Schwarzman, chairman of the Blackstone Group, compared it to Hitler’s invasion of Poland.

And then there’s the campaign of character assassination against Elizabeth Warren, the financial reformer now running for the Senate in Massachusetts. Not long ago a YouTube video of Ms. Warren making an eloquent, down-to-earth case for taxes on the rich went viral. Nothing about what she said was radical — it was no more than a modern riff on Oliver Wendell Holmes’s famous dictum that “Taxes are what we pay for civilized society.”

But listening to the reliable defenders of the wealthy, you’d think that Ms. Warren was the second coming of Leon Trotsky. George Will declared that she has a “collectivist agenda,” that she believes that “individualism is a chimera.” And Rush Limbaugh called her “a parasite who hates her host. Willing to destroy the host while she sucks the life out of it.”

What’s going on here? The answer, surely, is that Wall Street’s Masters of the Universe realize, deep down, how morally indefensible their position is. They’re not John Galt; they’re not even Steve Jobs. They’re people who got rich by peddling complex financial schemes that, far from delivering clear benefits to the American people, helped push us into a crisis whose aftereffects continue to blight the lives of tens of millions of their fellow citizens.

Yet they have paid no price. Their institutions were bailed out by taxpayers, with few strings attached. They continue to benefit from explicit and implicit federal guarantees — basically, they’re still in a game of heads they win, tails taxpayers lose. And they benefit from tax loopholes that in many cases have people with multimillion-dollar incomes paying lower rates than middle-class families.

This special treatment can’t bear close scrutiny — and therefore, as they see it, there must be no close scrutiny. Anyone who points out the obvious, no matter how calmly and moderately, must be demonized and driven from the stage. In fact, the more reasonable and moderate a critic sounds, the more urgently he or she must be demonized, hence the frantic sliming of Elizabeth Warren.

So who’s really being un-American here? Not the protesters, who are simply trying to get their voices heard. No, the real extremists here are America’s oligarchs, who want to suppress any criticism of the sources of their wealth.

And even more "down the rabbit hole:"

Reading the transcript of Tuesday’s Republican debate on the economy is, for anyone who has actually been following economic events these past few years, like falling down a rabbit hole. Suddenly, you find yourself in a fantasy world where nothing looks or behaves the way it does in real life.

And since economic policy has to deal with the world we live in, not the fantasy world of the G.O.P.’s imagination, the prospect that one of these people may well be our next president is, frankly, terrifying.

In the real world, recent events were a devastating refutation of the free-market orthodoxy that has ruled American politics these past three decades. Above all, the long crusade against financial regulation, the successful effort to unravel the prudential rules established after the Great Depression on the grounds that they were unnecessary, ended up demonstrating — at immense cost to the nation — that those rules were necessary, after all.

But down the rabbit hole, none of that happened. We didn’t find ourselves in a crisis because of runaway private lenders like Countrywide Financial. We didn’t find ourselves in a crisis because Wall Street pretended that slicing, dicing and rearranging bad loans could somehow create AAA assets — and private rating agencies played along. We didn’t find ourselves in a crisis because “shadow banks” like Lehman Brothers exploited gaps in financial regulation to create bank-type threats to the financial system without being subject to bank-type limits on risk-taking.

No, in the universe of the Republican Party we found ourselves in a crisis because Representative Barney Frank forced helpless bankers to lend money to the undeserving poor.

O.K., I’m exaggerating a bit — but not much. Mr. Frank’s name did come up repeatedly as a villain in the crisis, and not just in the context of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, which Republicans want to repeal. You have to marvel at his alleged influence given the fact that he’s a Democrat and the vast bulk of the bad loans now afflicting our economy were made while George W. Bush was president and Republicans controlled the House with an iron grip. But he’s their preferred villain all the same.

The demonization of Mr. Frank aside, it’s now obviously orthodoxy on the Republican side that government caused the whole problem. So what you need to know is that this orthodoxy has hardened even as the supposed evidence for government as a major villain in the crisis has been discredited. The fact is that government rules didn’t force banks to make bad loans, and that government-sponsored lenders, while they behaved badly in many ways, accounted for few of the truly high-risk loans that fueled the housing bubble.

But that’s history. What do the Republicans want to do now? In particular, what do they want to do about unemployment?

Well, they want to fire Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve — not for doing too little, which is a case one can make, but for doing too much. So they’re obviously not proposing any job-creation action via monetary policy.

Incidentally, during Tuesday’s debate, Mitt Romney named Harvard’s N. Gregory Mankiw as one of his advisers. How many Republicans know that Mr. Mankiw at least used to advocate — correctly, in my view — deliberate inflation by the Fed to solve our economic woes?

So, no monetary relief. What else? Well, the Cheshire Cat-like Rick Perry — he seems to be fading out, bit by bit, until only the hair remains — claimed, implausibly, that he could create 1.2 million jobs in the energy sector. Mr. Romney, meanwhile, called for permanent tax cuts — basically, let’s replay the Bush years! And Herman Cain? Oh, never mind.

By the way, has anyone else noticed the disappearance of budget deficits as a major concern for Republicans once they start talking about tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy?

It’s all pretty funny. But it’s also, as I said, terrifying.

The Great Recession should have been a huge wake-up call. Nothing like this was supposed to be possible in the modern world. Everyone, and I mean everyone, should be engaged in serious soul-searching, asking how much of what he or she thought was true actually isn’t.

But the G.O.P. has responded to the crisis not by rethinking its dogma but by adopting an even cruder version of that dogma, becoming a caricature of itself. During the debate, the hosts played a clip of Ronald Reagan calling for increased revenue; today, no politician hoping to get anywhere in Reagan’s party would dare say such a thing.

It’s a terrible thing when an individual loses his or her grip on reality. But it’s much worse when the same thing happens to a whole political party, one that already has the power to block anything the president proposes — and which may soon control the whole government.
Professor Krugman wonders if Wall Street has finally (please, god) lost its immunity:

As the Occupy Wall Street movement continues to grow, the response from the movement’s targets has gradually changed: contemptuous dismissal has been replaced by whining. (A reader of my blog suggests that we start calling our ruling class the “kvetchocracy.”) The modern lords of finance look at the protesters and ask, Don’t they understand what we’ve done for the U.S. economy? 

The answer is: yes, many of the protesters do understand what Wall Street and more generally the nation’s economic elite have done for us. And that’s why they’re protesting.

On Saturday The Times reported what people in the financial industry are saying privately about the protests. My favorite quote came from an unnamed money manager who declared, “Financial services are one of the last things we do in this country and do it well. Let’s embrace it.”

This is deeply unfair to American workers, who are good at lots of things, and could be even better if we made adequate investments in education and infrastructure. But to the extent that America has lagged in everything except financial services, shouldn’t the question be why, and whether it’s a trend we want to continue?

For the financialization of America wasn’t dictated by the invisible hand of the market. What caused the financial industry to grow much faster than the rest of the economy starting around 1980 was a series of deliberate policy choices, in particular a process of deregulation that continued right up to the eve of the 2008 crisis.

Not coincidentally, the era of an ever-growing financial industry was also an era of ever-growing inequality of income and wealth. Wall Street made a large direct contribution to economic polarization, because soaring incomes in finance accounted for a significant fraction of the rising share of the top 1 percent (and the top 0.1 percent, which accounts for most of the top 1 percent’s gains) in the nation’s income. More broadly, the same political forces that promoted financial deregulation fostered overall inequality in a variety of ways, undermining organized labor, doing away with the “outrage constraint” that used to limit executive paychecks, and more.

Oh, and taxes on the wealthy were, of course, sharply reduced.

All of this was supposed to be justified by results: the paychecks of the wizards of Wall Street were appropriate, we were told, because of the wonderful things they did. Somehow, however, that wonderfulness failed to trickle down to the rest of the nation — and that was true even before the crisis.

Median family income, adjusted for inflation, grew only about a fifth as much between 1980 and 2007 as it did in the generation following World War II, even though the postwar economy was marked both by strict financial regulation and by much higher tax rates on the wealthy than anything currently under political discussion.

Then came the crisis, which proved that all those claims about how modern finance had reduced risk and made the system more stable were utter nonsense. Government bailouts were all that saved us from a financial meltdown as bad as or worse than the one that caused the Great Depression.

And what about the current situation? Wall Street pay has rebounded even as ordinary workers continue to suffer from high unemployment and falling real wages. Yet it’s harder than ever to see what, if anything, financiers are doing to earn that money.

Why, then, does Wall Street expect anyone to take its whining seriously? That money manager claiming that finance is the only thing America does well also complained that New York’s two Democratic senators aren’t on his side, declaring that “They need to understand who their constituency is.”

Actually, they surely know very well who their constituency is — and even in New York, 16 out of 17 workers are employed by nonfinancial industries.

But he wasn’t really talking about voters, of course. He was talking about the one thing Wall Street still has plenty of thanks to those bailouts, despite its total loss of credibility: money.

Money talks in American politics, and what the financial industry’s money has been saying lately is that it will punish any politician who dares to criticize that industry’s behavior, no matter how gently — as evidenced by the way Wall Street money has now abandoned President Obama in favor of Mitt Romney. And this explains the industry’s shock over recent events.

You see, until a few weeks ago it seemed as if Wall Street had effectively bribed and bullied our political system into forgetting about that whole drawing lavish paychecks while destroying the world economy thing. Then, all of a sudden, some people insisted on bringing the subject up again.

And their outrage has found resonance with millions of Americans. No wonder Wall Street is whining
As Prof. Krugman reports, the OccupyEveryStreet movement has taken root worldwide and the response is building to take back control of the financial catastrophe and begin to implement policies that will substantially increase employment and dig our country out of this deep hole. (And it would be a real relief to those who still believe we're a nation of laws and not powerful men/corporations to begin the trials of all the financial parties involved in the criminal acts and conspiracies as we know who they are for the most part.)

Occupy Wall Street: Populist Financiers Supporting Protesters Is Part of the Problem, Not the Solution

By Finian Cunningham

Global Research, October 17, 2011

"...[O]ur leaders have pursued solutions that are not solving our problems, instead they propose policies that accomplish little ... With democracy in crisis a true grassroots movement pointing out the flaws in our system is the first step in the right direction. Count me among those supporting and cheering on the Occupy Wall Street movement.", Al Gore, former Vice President of the United States.

They [the Occupy Wall Street Movement] blame, with some justification, the problems in the financial sector for getting us into this mess, and they’re dissatisfied with the policy response here in Washington. And at some level, I can’t blame them.” Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.

"There has been class warfare going on,… It's just that my class is winning. And my class isn't just winning, I mean we're killing them.”, Warren Buffett, Nebraska-based Berkshire Hathaway Hedge Fund, third richest man on the Plane

"I think it takes that [the Occupy Wall Street Movement] to make things happen sometimes. ....[Over the past 15 years] we saw large corporations really screw people.... There has never been a time in my lifetime when the government is going to cut an incredible amount of programs that support poor people and feed them." Howard Buffett, son of Warren Buffett

"Actually, I can understand [the OWS protesters'] sentiment, frankly.... And at the same time the decision not to inject capital into the banks, but to effectively relieve them of their bad assets and then allow them to earn their way out of a hole leaves the banks bumper profits and then allows them to pay bumper bonuses. And the contrast between the two I think is a large contingent [of both the Occupy Wall Street protests and the Tea Party movement].” George Soros, Chairman of the Soros Management Fund.
The Occupy Wall Street movement sweeping across the US faces a tricky dilemma, the outcome of which will determine its historic impact. Up to now, part of the movement’s strength derives from its diffuse, eclectic spread of voices. That enigma makes it hard to define and confront from the authorities’ point of view.

However, sooner or later the campaign will have to set out its own agenda by defining demands and aims. Otherwise, it runs the risk of running out of the admirable popular momentum that it has thus far generated; also, such a vacuum allows others who do not share the ultimate concerns of the grassroots to define the direction of the movement – a direction that most likely will lead to a safe, blind alley – again from the authorities’ point of view. Confronting this dilemma inevitably requires political organization, which will require hardnosed choices about which allies and interests are to be aligned.

A good rule of thumb: as long as the mainstream media – and even sections of the so-called progressive media – remain hostile or menacing in its coverage, then we can be sure that the movement is proceeding towards a serious challenge to the powers that be.

Of the public figures that have come out recently to support the Occupy Wall Street movement perhaps the most bizarre are some of the Wall Street financiers themselves. Some of the big names, apparently rallying to the cause, include George Soros, Warren Buffett, Ben Bernanke and Al Gore.

The phrase “poachers becoming gamekeepers” comes to mind. How can financiers and speculators who are the embodiment of everything that is awry with the American economy be part of the solution? This is an example of where the movement needs to make tough political choices and to demonstrate that it understands the structural nature of the challenge that lies ahead. In not doing so, what we will witness is a classic maneouvre to co-opt a grassroots movement that could otherwise pose a serious challenge to the power structure that has so deformed the American economy and society.

The financiers supporting the OWS campaign may articulate popular disdain towards “greedy banksters” – but if the protest movement really does pose a serious challenge to the power structure, then it needs to go beyond personalizing attacks against criminal individuals and understand that the problem at hand is systemic.

What is needed is avoidance of analyzing the challenge in terms of “good financiers” and “bad banksters”. It is the entire system of finance capitalism that needs to be challenged. Accepting the support of seemingly benign financiers may galvanise certain feelgood populism, but it only obscures the systemic nature of the problem and therefore the solution.

In understanding the systemic challenge we need to see it in historic context. The US economy and that of Europe has exhausted itself from the vast polarization of wealth over several decades. The economy has deteriorated to a deformed state, in which a tiny layer of society has and is accumulating vast wealth while the preponderant majority struggle to make a basic living. This elite financial aristocracy is of a piece with the feudal aristocracy of bygone centuries in Europe who derived their wealth by parasiting off the peasantry. The aristocracy in both instances is not involved in the production of goods or manufactures; they exist by lording it over the masses, extracting from the latter tributes in a web of rentier relationships.

It is something of an historical achievement that the US, which began its modern development free of the feudal ruling class that so exploited the European masses, should now be so dominated by an aristocracy that harks back to the rapacious nobles of Europe. The Republic of America was supposed to herald the ascent of democratic rights, to mark a new beginning for universal common rights, whereby rule by divine right was cast aside. Albeit that the limits of American democracy were defined by what its bourgeois Founding Fathers would tolerate, the US nevertheless represented a radical break from the European order.

In Europe, fearing that the revolutionary impulse would go too far, the emergent European bourgeoisie made its peace with the feudal aristocracy to keep the masses in check. The compromise between “new” and “old” money in Europe can be seen today in the continued constitutional role of royal families and lords, for example in Spain, Holland, Norway and most prominently in Britain. Meanwhile, in the US, not having a feudal past, the new social contract was between the capitalist manufacturers and nascent industrialists and the wider working population. In that way, the US, it could be argued, represented a more progressive democracy, offering greater rights and opportunities to the masses.

But over the past three decades, the progressive nature of American capitalist democracy has been completely eviscerated. The implicit social contract, whereby the workers could expect a fairer share of the wealth that they ultimately produce, has been ripped asunder. The paid and bought lawmakers of the two main political parties have ensured that policies relentlessly siphon off wealth to the ruling class. With rising poverty and likewise plummeting demand, even the traditional capitalists who owned the means of production can no longer find viable markets.

The manufacturing bourgeoisie – the architects of the American republic – have now been superseded by a financial aristocracy, who no longer contribute accumulated capital in any productive way. They are an idle class of speculators, who make money off money. The domination of means of exchange over means of production is now the hallmark of late capitalism. This is the systemic nature of the problem and that can’t be altered or mitigated by even the most benign and well-intentioned individual financiers.

The Occupy Wall Street campaign now erupting in hundreds of cities across the US, Canada and Western Europe is a potentially dramatic development. But only if it challenges the system at the root, not by pruning here and there. That root is the capitalist economy that has degenerated into a parasitical aristocracy.

The gratuitous violence that protesters are being met with by the rulers’ henchmen, and the vilification that they are being subjected to by the rulers’ political and media lackeys, are sure signs that the people are pressing a profound challenge. Another sure sign of how seriously the movement is challenging the system will be how far the coterie of supporting financiers appears to stay with the movement. For they are part of the problem, not the solution.

In creating a popular groundswell for potentially radical change that safeguards the interests of the mass of ordinary working Americans, the OWS movement deserves much credit. But not credit from finance capitalists who have bankrupted the US and the world.

Finian Cunningham is Global Research’s Middle East and East Africa correspondent. cunninghamfin@yahoo.com 

Agribusiness: "Big Food Makes Big Finance Look Like Amateurs"

"Big Food Makes Big Finance Look Like Amateurs"
By Mort Amsel

Agribusiness is concentrated to a point that would make a Wall Street master of the universe blush. Vast globe-spanning corporations, many of them US-based, dominate the industry.  Let's start with "inputs," the stuff farmers buy before they plant their crops. As of 2007, six companies owned 75 percent of the global pesticide market, and four companies sold half of the globe's seeds, ETC Group reckons. Here's the kicker: Three of them—Monsanto, Syngenta, and Dupont—are on both lists. The agrichemical makers have transitioned into seed barons, genetically engineering their major seed lines to resist their own herbicides.

Three companies process more than 70 percent of beef in the US; four slaughter and pack more than 58 percent of our pork and chicken.

Monsanto is an interesting case. In addition to being the planet's largest seed vendor, with 23 percent of the market, it licenses its patented genetically modified traits to other companies. Think of the physical seed as the hardware and traits as the software. In the trait market, Monsanto holds a near monopoly: By 2007, according to ETC Group, 87 percent of the acreage dedicated to genetically engineered crops contained crops bearing Monsanto traits.

Okay, so farmers rely on a small handful of firms for their inputs. But it turns out the same thing holds true when they harvest and sell their crops. Just four companies — Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland, Bunge, and Louis Dreyfus—control up to 90 percent of the global trade in grain. In the United States, three of those firms process 70 percent of the soybeans and 40 percent of the wheat milled into flour. The bulk of corn and soy grown by US farmers ends up feeding animals in vast factories, and here, too, the consolidation is dramatic: Three companies now process more than 70 percent of all beef, and just four firms slaughter and pack upwards of 58 percent of all pork and chicken. By 2002, just four companies produced 75 percent of cereal and snacks, 60 percent of cookies, and half of all ice cream.

Finally, let's look at the supermarkets. Walmart opened its first grocery-selling "superstore" in 1988. Today, it controls 2,750 superstores and more than a quarter of the US grocery market. As a result, the combined market share of the four largest grocery players has doubled, from less than 20 percent in 1992 to nearly 40 percent today. And, despite acres of shelves groaning with thousands of products, only a few large companies stock supermarkets. By 2002, the USDA reported, four companies churned out 75 percent of breakfast cereal, 75 percent of snacks, 60 percent of cookies, and 50 percent of ice cream.

The food industry screws farmers, its own employees, and the environment. In antitrust theory, when four players control more than 40 percent of a market, they're said to wield "market power"—that is, they can manipulate the prices they charge consumers and the terms on which they deal with their suppliers. So, rather than raise prices, the food industry has slashed costs—at the expense of workers, farmers, and the environment. The meat industry provides a stark example. Today, you can grab a McDonald's McDouble burger or a McChicken sandwich for a dollar. As I noted above, just a few companies process the great bulk of meat consumed in the United States. How can they do that profitably, when McDonald's is practically giving burgers away? Simple: screw the workers.

From 1976 to 2009, according to USDA figures, the inflation-adjusted average hourly wage of meatpacking workers plunged, as did union membership among meatpacking employees.

Predictably, working conditions deteriorated. (See our recent Hormel Foods exposé: "The Spam Factory's Dirty Secrets.") In 2005, Human Rights Watch issued a damning report titled "Blood, Sweat, and Fear," which concluded: "Employers put workers at predictable risk of serious physical injury even though the means to avoid such injury are known and feasible. They frustrate workers' efforts to obtain compensation for workplace injuries when they occur. They crush workers' self-organizing efforts and rights of association. They exploit the perceived vulnerability of a predominantly immigrant labor force in many of their work sites.

These are not occasional lapses by employers paying insufficient attention to modern human resources management policies. These are systematic human rights violations embedded in meat and poultry industry employment."

Farmers, too, got the shaft. As a few big hog processors like Smithfield gobbled market share and began raising millions of their own pigs, pork prices tanked and tens of thousands of farms went belly up, despite an increase in the total number of hogs being slaughtered. In 1992, America had 240,000 hog farms, the USDA reports, but only 60,000 of them remained by 2007. Similar trends have hit the poultry industry.

Meanwhile, shunting livestock production into huge factory-style facilities has led to a massive concentration of toxic animal waste. Using data collected by the EPA, the Environmental Integrity Project recently showed that animal factories routinely emit levels of particulate matter, ammonia, and hydrogen sulfide that are well above acceptable health limits. A good deal of that manure ends up in groundwater, too, fouling drinking water supplies and fish habitat.

Finally, to keep their animals alive and growing fast under dire conditions, the meat industry laces feed rations with antibiotics. The FDA recently revealed that 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in the United States go to livestock facilities. Nearly every US public health and farm oversight agency has acknowledged that the practice contributes heavily to the rise of antibiotic-resistant human pathogens — vicious superbugs like MRSA, a resistant form of staphylococcus that kills now more Americans than AIDS does. For more on Big Food, go to the source of this article."

Ever wondered about the overlap of wealthy bundlers between the Bushies and 'Bamies?

Wonder no longer.
Tom and Andi Bernstein are longtime supporters of George W. Bush, even joining him in purchasing the Texas Rangers in 1988, but they are both registered Democrats. The couple were bundlers for Obama’s 2008 campaign and were also contributors to Bush’s presidential campaigns.

In 2010, Obama appointed Tom chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Museum. Bundlers are well-connected and wealthy individuals who typically hit up friends and business associates for political donations, sometimes at large events. The fundraisers then present the checks to political campaigns in “bundles.”

The practice is widespread and can be controversial because it allows campaigns to skirt individual contribution limits of $2,500 in federal elections, and gives extra cachet to aggressive and well-connected fundraisers. Despite the Obama campaign’s impressively wide donor base in 2008, the roughly 550 bundlers contributed about 10 percent of the overall $745 million raised that election.And bundling has its rewards.

About 200 of the bundlers from 2008 have received various perks including jobs in the administration like ambassadorships, appointments to governmental boards or government contracts, according to an earlier investigation by  iWatch News . Several bundlers went from soliciting political contributions to working from within the Energy Department  as it showered billions in taxpayer-backed stimulus money on alternative energy firms.

Several Obama bundlers also had hands in wireless company LightSquared, now the focus of Congressional investigations into whether their political connections to the Obama White House secured approval for a controversial product.

Bundler Ties to Solyndra

Those bundlers who didn’t receive jobs can still have the ear of the White House, such as investor Steve Westly , A bundler in 2008, Westly has enjoyed easy access to the White House at the same time companies in his investment portfolio have received more than a half billion dollars in grants and loans since 2009. Earlier this year, he emailed Valerie Jarrett, one of Obama’s closest advisers, to warn her about political fallout that could ensue if the president visited the factory being built by Solyndra.

“Could you perhaps check with [the Energy Department] to make sure they’re comfortable with the company? I just want to help protect the president from anything that could result in negative or unfair press,” Westly wrote on May 24, 2010. “If it’s too late to change/postpone the meeting, the president should be careful about unrealistic/optimistic forecasts that could haunt him in the next 18 months if Solyndra hits the wall, files for bankruptcy.”

In August 2010, Westly was appointed to a high-powered advisory board to Energy Secretary Steven Chu. Before that appointment, four companies in the Westly Group portfolio secured more than a half billion dollars in DOE support, iWatch News and ABC News reported. Last month – while Westly continues to raise money for Obama and advise Chu – a fifth firm secured DOE backing. Energy Department officials said the loans and grants were awarded on merit.
Another prolific bundler, Steven J. Spinner, lobbied for Solyndra from his position as a political appointee within the Energy Department.

“How hard is this? What is he waiting for?” Steven J. Spinner, who worked in the Obama administration's energy loan guarantee program, wrote in August 2009. “I have OVP [the Office of the Vice President] and WH [the White House] breathing down my neck on this.”

Spinner, a high-tech consultant and energy investor who raised at least $500,000 for Obama's 2008 campaign, joined the DOE in April 2009 and left in September 2010. In the lengthy email discussions that occurred in the days before the Solyndra loan closed in September 2009, Spinner emerges as a key figure in advocating for getting the deal done, apparently in an effort to score the loan as a political victory for Obama.

Many of the emails surround his efforts to coordinate plans for either Obama or Biden to announce it as the administration’s first loan approval – one that he repeatedly notes will create clean energy jobs.
It is Spinner, for instance, who pushes for a “big event” with “golden shovels, bulldozers, hardhats, etc.”

The emails occurred less than two weeks after Spinner received a three-paged ethics agreement in which he pledges he will “not participate in any discussion regarding any application involving [his wife’s law firm] Wilson [Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati].”

The $535-million loan to Solyndra was ultimately approved in 2009 and for months was touted by Obama as a model of his efforts to create new jobs in the emerging field of clean energy. But in late August, the company abruptly shut its doors and days later declared it was filing for bankruptcy.

Now the loan, part of the federal stimulus to jolt economic recovery and create jobs, is the subject of multiple investigations,
by Congress and by the Justice Department, and taxpayers may be on the hook.

A question of transparency

Even as it released campaign bundler details on Friday, which the Republican candidates have refused to do thus far, the Obama administration filed notice Friday it would appeal a judge's ruling that Secret Service records of visitors to the White House complex are subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Justice Department is appealing a federal judge's ruling in August that the so-called WAVES records belong to the White House even though they are maintained and used by the Secret Service. iWatch News reported in April that the logs were riddled with errors and omissions.

Who Are The One Percent in America?

October 17, 2011 "
Press TV"  --  The following are the largest full-service global investment banks which usually provides both advisory and financing banking services, as well as the sales, market making, and research on a broad array of financial products including equities, credit, rates, currency, commodities, and their derivatives.

1. Bank of America
2. Barclays Capital
3. Citigroup
4. Credit Suisse
5. Deutsche Bank
6. Goldman Sachs
7. JPMorgan Chase
8. Morgan Stanley
9. Nomura Securities
10. UBS
11. Wells Fargo Securities

Diversified Financials

The following are the top eight diversified financials in the U.S. in terms of revenue in 2010. Fortune 500

1. Fannie Mae .......... $153.82 billion
2. General Electric .......... $151.62 billion
3. Freddie Mac .......... $98.36 billion
4. INTL FCStone ........... $46.94 billion
5. Marsh & McLennan ........... $10.93 billion
6. Ameriprise Financial .......... $10.04 billion
7. Aon .......... $8.51 billion
8. SLM .......... $6.77 billion

Commercial Banks

The following are the top ten commercial banks in the U.S. in terms of revenue in 2010. Fortune 500

1. Bank of America Corp. .......... $134.19 billion
2. JP Morgan Chase & Co. .......... $115.47 billion
3. Citigroup .......... $111.05 billion
4. Well Fargo .......... $93.24 billion
5. Goldman Sachs Group .......... $45.96 billion
6. Morgan Stanley .......... $39.32 billion
7. American Express .......... $30.24 billion
8. US Bancorp .......... $20.51 billion
9. Capital One Financial .......... $19.06 billion
10. Ally Financial .......... $17.37 billion

Petroleum Refining

The following are the top ten U.S. petroleum refining firms in terms of revenue in 2010. Fortune 500

1. Exxon Mobil .......... $354.67 billion
2. Chevron .......... $196.33 billion
3. Conoco Philips .......... $184.96 billion
4. Valero Energy .......... $86.03 billion
5. Marathon Oil .......... $68.41billion
6. Sunoco .......... $35.54 billion
7. Hess .......... $34.61 billion
8. Murphy Oil .......... $23.34 billion
9. Tesoro .......... $20.25 billion
10. Holly .......... $8.32 billion

Oil & Gas Equipment, Services

The following are the top U.S. firms active in oil and gas equipment and services in terms of revenue in 2010. Fortune 500

1. Halliburton .......... $17.97 million
2. Baker Hughes .......... $14.41 million
3. National Oilwell Varco .......... $12.15 million
4. Cameron International .......... $6.13 million

Aerospace & Defense

The following are the top ten U.S. corporations in aerospace and defense in terms of revenue in 2010. Fortune 500

1. Boeing ........... $64.30 billion
2. United Technologies .......... $54.32 billion
3. Lockheed Martin ........... $46.89 billion
4. Northrop Grumman .......... $34.75 billion
5. Honeywell International ........... $33.37 billion
6. General Dynamics .......... $32.46 billion
7. Raytheon .......... $25.18 billion
8. L-3 Communications .......... $15.68 billion
9. ITT .......... $11.15 billion
10. Textron .......... $10.52 billion

Motor Vehicles & Parts

The following are the top ten U.S. manufacturing companies of motor vehicles and parts in terms of revenue in 2010. Fortune 500

1. General Motors .......... $135.59 billion
2. Ford Motor .......... $128.95 billion
3. Chrysler Group .......... $41.94 billion
4. Johnson Controls .......... $34.30 billion
5. Goodyear Tire & Rubber .......... $18.83 billion
6. TRW Automotive Holdings .......... $14.38 billion
7. Navistar International .......... $12.14 billion
8. Lear .......... $11.95 billion
9. Paccar .......... $10.29 billion
10. Oshkosh .......... $9.84 billion

American Millionaires

The number of Americans who are millionaires is about one percent of the population. NPR

Of the 435 members of the House, 244 current members of Congress are millionaires - that's about 46 percent and that includes 138 Republicans and 106 Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan watchdog group that tracks money in politics. In fact, there are probably many more millionaires in Congress, since lawmakers don't have to include the value of their family home and other details. NPR

In 2010, the average winner of a House race spent $1.5 million for his/her campaigns. The average Senate winner spent close to $10 million. Closely contested races are much more expensive. And about half of that money, on average, comes from an elite group of very wealthy donors. NPR

Wealthy Americans have more access to lawmakers than most regular voters and constituents do, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. NPR

The median net worth for a current member of the U.S. House of Representatives was $725,000 in 2009, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, and the media net worth of a U.S. Senator was $2.4 million. Open Secrets

The richest member of Congress is Darrel Issa, whose net worth was valued between $156 million and $451 million. Open Secrets

Here is a list of the 20 wealthiest current members of Congress and their average net worth, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, based on their financial reports covering calendar year 2009. (The Center plans to unveil its analysis of lawmakers' 2010 financial disclosures later this fall.) Open Secrets

1. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) .......... $303 million
2. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) .......... $238 million
3. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) .......... $174 million
4. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) .......... $160 million
5. Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) .......... $160 million
6. Rep. Vernon Buchanan (R-Fla.) .......... $148 million
7. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) .......... $137 million
8. Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho) .......... $109 million
9. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) .......... $98 million
10. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) .......... $94 million
11. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) .......... $77 million
12. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) .......... $76 million
13. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) .......... $58 million
14. Rep. Gary Miller (R-Calif.) .......... $51 million
15. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) .......... $50 million
16. Rep. Diane Lynn Black (R-Tenn.) .......... $49 million
17. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) .......... $43 million
18. Rep. Richard Berg (R-N.D.) .......... $39 million
19. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) .......... $39 million
20. Rep. Kenny Marchant (R-Texas) .......... $38 million

Top Donors to Obama in 2008

The following table lists the top donors to Barack Obama in the 2008 election cycle. Open Secrets

1. University of California .......... $1.6 million
2. Goldman Sachs .......... $1 million
3. Harvard University .......... $0.85 million
4. Microsoft Corp. .......... $0.83 million
5. Google Inc. .......... $0.80 million
6. Citigroup Inc. ........... $0.70 million
7. JPMorgan Chase & Co. .......... $0.69 million
8. Time Warner .......... $0.59 million
9. Sidley Austin LLP .......... $0.58 million
10. Stanford University .......... $0.58 million
11. National Amusements Inc. .......... $0.55 million
12. UBS AG .......... $0.54 million
13. Wilmerhale Llp .......... $0.54 million
14. Skadden, Arps et al .......... $0.53 million
15. IBM Corp .......... $0.52 million
16. Columbia University .......... $0.52 million
17. Morgan Stanley .......... $0.51 million
18. General Electric .......... $0.49 million
19. U.S. Government .......... $0.49 million
20.Latham & Watkins .......... $0.49 million

Top Donors to Bush in 2004

1. Morgan Stanley .......... $603,480
2. Merrill Lynch .......... $586,254
3. PricewaterhouseCoopers .......... $514,250
4. UBS AG .......... $474,325
5. Goldman Sachs .......... $394,600
6. Lehman Brothers .......... $361,525
7. MBNA Corp .......... $350,350
8. Credit Suisse Group .......... $326,040
9. Citigroup Inc. .......... $320,820
10. Bear Stearns .......... $313,150
11. Ernst & Young .......... $305,140
12. US Government .......... $295,786
13. Deloitte LLP .......... $292,250
14. Wachovia Corp. .......... $279,310
15. US Dept of Defense .......... $279,157
16. Ameriquest Capital .......... $253,130
17. US Dept of State .......... $225,330
18. Blank Rome LLP .......... $225,150
19. Bank of America .......... $218,261
20.AT&T Inc. .......... $214,920

American Billionaires

The following is a list of top 20 American billionaires issued by the Forbes 400 in 2011. Forbes

1. Bill Gates from Microsoft .......... $59 billion
2. Warren Buffet from Berkshire Hathaway .......... $39 billion
3. Larry Ellison from Oracle .......... $33 billion
4. Charles Koch from diversified .......... $25 billion
5. David Koch from diversified .......... $25 billion
6. Christy Walton from Wal-Mart .......... $24.5 billion
7. George Soros from hedge funds .......... $22 billion
8. Sheldon Adelson from casinos .......... $21.5 billion
9. Jim Walton from Wal-Mart .......... $21.1 billion
10. Alice Walton from Wal-Mart .......... $20.9 billion
11. S. Robson Walton from Wal-Mart .......... $20.5 billion
12. Michael Bloomberg from Bloomberg LP .......... $19.5 billion
13. Jeff Bezos from Amazon.com .......... $19.1 billion
14. Mark Zuckergerg from Facebook ........... $17.5 billion
15. Surgey Brin from Google .......... $16.7 billion
16. Larry Page from Google .......... $16.7 billion
17. John Paulson from hedge funds ........... $15.5 billion
18. Michael Dell from Dell .......... $15 billion
19. Steve Ballmer from Microsoft .......... $13.9 billion
20.Forrest Mars from candy .......... $13.8 billion

You can't lose by following this discussion.

Trust me.


bj said...

Thanks for your missives! Yours is Absolutely the most comprehensive blog on the fuckery of America by corporations and politicians I have ever read! I stand in awe ...

Suzan said...

Thank you, BJ,

"We" try harder!

(No longer No. 2.)

Love ya,