Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Leon Panetta (Ex-Liberal/Progressive Dem) Brags About "Explicit Authoritarian Decree"

In which we learn that journalist Scott Pelley of CBS News is the only journalist currently featured on mainstream media (MSM) that actually cares whether we have a President who is a murderer or not. (Along this same avenue, I was thinking just the other night that if I'd been in college during the 80's, maybe I'd have sat around in bull sessions and figured out like these guys did that the U.S. Constitution was a "quaint" relic in the coming New World Order, which would be brought to us by the cunning use of fear of the unknown and the overwhelming U.S. military power and its accompanying brutal masters who would feel free consequently to use it to advance their influence.)

January 30, 2012

Leon Panetta’s Explicitly Authoritarian Decree

The DoD chief says clearly: once the President accuses a citizen of terrorism, execution without trial is permitted.

Glenn Greenwald

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta listens as President Barack Obama speaks on the Defense Strategic Review, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2012, at the Pentagon.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta listens as President Barack Obama speaks on the Defense Strategic Review, Jan. 5, 2012, at the Pentagon.
(Credit: AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)

CBS News‘ Scott Pelley appears to be one of the very few American journalists bothered by, or even interested in, the fact that President Obama has asserted and exercised the power to target U.S. citizens for execution-by-CIA without a shred of due process and far from any battlefield.

It was Pelley who deftly interrogated the GOP presidential candidates at a November debate about the propriety of due-process-free assassinations, prompting Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and Michele Bachmann to applaud President Obama for assassinating U.S. citizen Anwar Awlaki (just as Rick Perry, Dick and Liz Cheney, and Bill Kristol had done).

Last night, Pelley did the same when he interviewed Defense Secretary and former CIA chief Leon Panetta on 60 Minutes.

It’s well worth watching this three-minute clip because, although Panetta doesn’t say much that is new (he simply asserts the standard slogans and unproven assertions that Obama defenders on this topic always assert), watching a top Obama official, under decent questioning, defend the power to target U.S. citizens for assassination viscerally conveys the rigidly authoritarian mindset driving all of this:

Panetta’s answers are suffused with dubious and even factually false claims.

It is, for instance, false that the U.S. provides due process to everyone apprehended for Terrorism. To the contrary, the Obama administration has been holding dozens of Terrorism suspects without any charges for years, and President Obama just signed into law a bill codifying the power of indefinite detention for accused Terrorists.

But even if it were true that all Terrorism suspects who are detained were entitled to receive due process, that merely underscores how warped it is to assert the power to target them for execution without due process. After all, how can it be that the Government must prove guilt merely to imprison Terrorists but not to execute them?

But this is one of the towering, unanswerable hypocrisies of Democratic Party politics. The very same faction that pretended for years to be so distraught by Bush’s mere eavesdropping on and detention of accused Terrorists without due process is now perfectly content to have their own President kill accused Terrorists without due process, even when those targeted are their fellow citizens: obviously a far more Draconian and permanent abuse than eavesdropping or detention (identically, the very same faction that objected to Bush’s radical whole-world-is-a-Battlefield theory now must embrace exactly that theory to justify how someone riding in a car, or sitting at home, or sleeping in his bed, in a country where no war is declared, is “on a battlefield” at the time the CIA ends his life).

It is equally false, and independently both misleading and perverse, for Panetta to assert that a citizen in Awlaki’s position could come to the U.S. to assert his due process rights. For one thing, Awlaki was never charged or indicted for anything in the U.S. — he was simply executed without any charges (the Obama administration, after trying to kill him, reportedly “considered” charging him with crimes at one point but never did)– and thus, there was nothing to which he could “turn himself” in even if he wanted to.

Even worse, President Obama’s hit list of those he approves for assassination is completely secret; we only learned that Awlaki was being targeted because someone happened to leak that fact to Dana Priest.

The way the process normally works, as Reuters described it, is that targeted Americans are selected “by a secretive panel of senior government officials, which then informs the president of its decisions”; moreover, “there is no public record of the operations or decisions of the panel” nor “any law establishing its existence or setting out the rules by which it is supposed to operate.”

So, absent a fortuitous leak (acts for which the Obama administration is vindictively doling out the most severe punishment), it would be impossible for American citizens to know that they’ve been selected for execution by President Obama (and thus obviously impossible to assert one’s due process rights to stop it).

Worse still, if a judicial proceeding is commenced by a targeted American seeking to put a halt to the assassination attempt in the absence of a trial — as Awlaki’s father did, with the help of the ACLU and CCR, on behalf of his son — then the Obama DOJ will insist that the reasons for the assassination are “state secrets” and cannot be judicially examined, and independently, that such matters are for the President alone to decide and courts thus have no role to play in interfering with such decisions (see POINT II).

American courts, largely deferential to claims of presidential secrecy and authority in the post-9/11 era, almost reflexively accept such claims. In other words, if a targeted American tries to assert these due process rights, the Obama administration will go into court and take exactly the opposite position of the one Panetta is claiming here: namely, that the person has no rights to have a court interfere in the President’s assassination order.

So for so many reasons, Panetta’s claim is utterly false: American citizens secretely targeted by President Obama for execution have no means of obtaining due process even in the unlikely case that they learn they have been so targeted. And this is all independent of Panetta’s warped notion that an American has to be on U.S. soil to claim constitutional protections, a wholesale rejection of well-settled Constitutional law that Americans have the right to travel abroad and, when they do, they retain their Constitutional rights against the U.S. government even when on foreign soil.

As the Supreme Court put it in 1956, specifically discussing the requirement that a citizen be given a trial before punishment can be doled out (emphasis added):

At the beginning, we reject the idea that, when the United States acts against citizens abroad, it can do so free of the Bill of Rights. The United States is entirely a creature of the Constitution.  Its power and authority have no other source. It can only act in accordance with all the limitations imposed by the Constitution.

When the Government reaches out to punish a citizen who is abroad, the shield which the Bill of Rights and other parts of the Constitution provide to protect his life and liberty should not be stripped away just because he happens to be in another land. This is not a novel concept. To the contrary, it is as old as government.
But the final point is the most important and revealing of all:

Panetta’s whole case rests on simply asserting, without proving, that Awlaki was a Terrorist trying to “kill Americans.”
That, of course, is precisely what is in dispute: actual Yemen experts have long questioned whether Awlaki had any operational role at all in Al Qaeda (as opposed to a role as its advocate, which is clearly protected free speech).

No evidence has been publicly presented that Awlaki had any such role. We simply have the untested, unverified accusations of government officials, such as Leon Panetta, that he is guilty:
in other words, we have nothing but decrees of guilt. The U.S. Constitution, first and foremost, was designed to prohibit the doling out of punishments based on government accusations untested and unproven in a court of law; for those who doubt that, just read the relevant provisions (No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court“; No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”).

But as I wrote the other day, “the U.S. really is a society that simply no longer believes in due process: once the defining feature of American freedom that is now scorned as some sort of fringe, radical, academic doctrine.” Instead:

Supporters of both political parties endorse, or at least tolerate, all manner of government punishment without so much as the pretense of a trial, based solely on government accusation: imprisonment for life, renditions to other countries, even assassinations of their fellow citizens. Simply uttering the word Terrorist, without proving it, is sufficient.
Here we have the U.S. Defense Secretary, life-long Democrat Leon Panetta, telling you as clearly as he can that this is exactly the operating premise of the administration in which he serves: once the President accuses you of being a Terrorist, a decision made in secert and with no checks or due process, we can do anything we want to you, including executing you wherever we find you. It’s hard to know what’s more extraordinary: that he feels so comfortable saying this right out in the open, or that so few people seem to mind.
* * * * *
ABC News‘ Jake Tapper pressed White House spokesman Jay Carney back in October about the evidence the administration possesses showing Awlaki’s guilt, and the same authoritarian decree issued: we have said he’s a Terrorist and that is all that is necessary.

Glenn Greenwald
Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

CHOMSKY on WIKILEAKS from CaTV on Vimeo.

MORE Good Reasons To Demand Rmoney's Tax Returns NOW!

Russ Baker

January 25, 2012


Everybody’s talking about Mitt’s taxes, but questions always remain. Here are a few:
Can we expect to find anything crooked in Romney’s filings?

You kidding? Smart rich people hire smart accountants to keep them out of trouble. It’s not the illegal things they do, it’s how they manage to rig things so that they get away, metaphorically, with murder.

Should Romney’s tax returns be the way to judge him?

To be sure, they do reveal how capital gains tax rates are highly advantageous to the rich and penalize those who work for their living. And that’s an important point. But what we should be interested in with regard to Romney in particular is his values, as shown by the strategies and tactics of his companies.

Are Romney’s recent tax filings the most important ones?

Because Romney left Bain Capital way back in 1999 to embark on a political career, it is the earlier tax filings that would likely reveal the most.

His seasoned political advisers would have been all over him to exhibit exemplary behavior–since ’99, and probably even earlier, when he may already have been considering politics. Also, as he was not actually working at Bain but just receiving passive income from it in recent years, we shouldn’t expect to see much that is worth assessing.

Thus, his 2010-11 release is definitely not very forthcoming.

Was Romney’s delay tactic part of a “limited hangout”? 

One of the oldest tricks in the book is to resist disclosure, let anticipation build a bit, then release something that appears to answer questions, while not revealing anything very interesting. This pretty much ends debate.
Consider how long George W. Bush took to release National Guard service records, and how long Barack Obama took to release his birth records. In the end, these controversies fizzled, and people moved on.

Should Romney’s income from Bain even be treated as a capital gain?

No. He actually worked for that money, as a fund manager, plenty of hours every week. Thus, it should be taxed as normal earned income. But because of a loophole in the law (what a surprise!) engineered by the faithful lawyers, accountants and lobbyists of the one percent, it gets treated as capital gains, and therefore the lowest tax rate applies.

What’s with Romney’s having had money in the Swiss Bank UBS?

This looks pretty bad. (For more on UBS, its pernicious activities and how it gets its claws into politicians of both parties, see this, this and this.) There are very few legitimate, or public-spirited business reasons for having a Swiss bank account.

So why did Romney have that account? Someone should ask him. His trustee said he closed it in early 2010. That’s just a short time after UBS was forced to pay huge fines to the US government to settle a criminal investigation that established the bank had encouraged wealthy Americans to illegally hide their income abroad.

Could Romney have been one of those Americans? Possible, but doubtful, mostly because it would have been really dumb. Most of those caught doing that were largely in the “rich but dumb” category.

Could any of the tax shelter stuff turn out to be odious even if not illegal?

Sure, but you probably wouldn’t know unless you looked at, and compared, a whole bunch of different years’ tax filings. And so far, Romney has not agreed to provide that.

Can we trust Fred Goldberg’s clean bill of health? 

When Romney released his tax filings, they came with a letter from former IRS commissioner Fred Goldberg saying he’d checked them out, and they looked…supah!

But who is Fred Goldberg? The same guy who, following an unscheduled visit from Scientology’s top leader, abruptly reversed policy to grant tax exempt status to the hyper-controversial, pyramid-style, service-selling enterprise. Worth taking a second look at this guy and why and how he is helping Mitt out.

Does the way Mitt released his taxes demonstrate good faith? 

Definitely not. Though this was by far the biggest news out of his campaign on Tuesday, it was released the same day as the State of the Union address, guaranteeing that it would get second billing. Also, the campaign managed to bury it on their website, so much so that after a few minutes, I had still not found it there, and had to rely on the website of the Washington Post.

What about those domestic workers Mrs. Romney paid?

The filing, by Mrs. Romney (not Mr.). show that she paid around $20,000 in total during 2010 to four domestic workers. Sure would like to know more about that — and what it tells us about the rich vs. poor. The Romneys have at least three houses, some pretty substantial places. Assuming they only employ regular help at their main Massachusetts house, $20k is still a paltry total. That’s an average of $5,000 a year to four people. Wonder how much work they did. After all, Mrs. Romney is known to struggle with MS, and it’s doubtful Mitt does much sweeping, dusting, cooking, etc.

The Romneys should be queried about why Mrs. Romney takes legal responsibility for reporting payments to the help (beyond unfortunate stereotypes about stay-at-home wives), and why no payments show up for 2011.

In any case, it’s not a very good ratio of income to job creation, for a guy who talks about creating jobs: the year the Romneys paid their staff $20,000, they earned $27 million.

The worst thing of all is that, depending on their total income, those domestic workers may have paid a much higher tax rate for their hard physical labor at Romney’s house than Romney did on the millions in investment income that piled in while he pursued his political dream.

And that just seems really wrong.

Want to Know Who Really Pays Taxes? (Ahem . . . You Do!)

Monday, 30 January 2012

Richard D Wolff

Photo: @bastique

As US capitalism suffers from a crisis now in its fifth year with no end in sight, the Republican presidential candidates and Obama endlessly repeat cheerleading for the system as if it were, as usual, beyond question or criticism. Obama's State of the Union Speech at least found campaign fodder in referring to income inequality.

He tried to make political use of what the Occupy movement inserted onto the mass public consciousness so powerfully last autumn.

Obama even suggested a 30-percent minimum tax on those earning $1 million or more annually.The details of that suggestion remain murky with little chance that the kinds of Congresses recently elected would pass it. In any case, Obama's suggested 30 percent minimum tax would still remain far, far below the much higher individual income tax rates that the richest Americans had to pay in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.

Immediately after the speech, right-wing economists, journalists, and other spokespeople for the 1 percent swung into action to attack. They clearly want to keep the public's awareness and public discussion away from the income and tax issues that the Occupy movement made so important and urgent. They resent the president for even raising issues of fairness and taxation, however modestly.

That usually happens when taxes and justice get discussed in the same public conversation. Stretching the truth gives way to more or less gross lying, and never more so than during election campaigns.

So, a minimal fact check on federal taxes in the US might help folks avoid being easily misled.

The table below summarizes the last 75 years to show what happened to the three most important tax revenues collected by Washington (accounting for over 90 percent of total tax revenues now).

Federal Government Tax Receipts (in Billions)

Year - Corporate Income - Individual Income - Social Security/Medicare
1943         9.5                           6.5                       3.0
1960      21.5                           40.7                    14.7
1980       65                               244                     158
1994      140                              543                     462
2010     191                               899                    865

Sources: Budget of the United States; Wikipedia

Here are some key truths revealed by these statistics gathered and published by the US government:

After the Great Depression and during World War II, the US government collected relatively much more from corporations than from individuals. Then, too, we were also closely allied with the USSR. How times change! To think that Washington placed heavier taxes on corporations than on individuals! Clearly, corporations would prefer we forget or never encounter that past reality lest it suggest something for consideration now.

After the War, corporations went to work to change the federal tax system. Not only did they succeed in shifting the tax burden from corporations to individuals already by 1960, but that shifting has gone on steadily to the present.

Consider also that while the individual income tax is partly progressive (the higher your income, the higher the percentage you pay), since 1980, it has become ever less important for Washington's total tax revenues than the faster rising regressive Social Security and Medicare tax systems (the higher your income, the lower the percentage you pay).

The table above also helps to show the falseness of arguments frequently made by right-wing economists, politicians and media representatives.

One such argument runs roughly as follows: "Half of Americans pay no income taxes, while the richest 5 percent of taxpayers pay over half of Washington's income taxes." First of all, the vast majority of those Americans who do not pay income taxes do pay Social Security and Medicare taxes. As the Washington Post made clear (September 23, 2011), using data for 2011, of the 46 percent of US households who will not be paying federal income tax for 2011, the vast majority will be paying Social Security and Medicare taxes. The truth is that only 18 percent of US households will pay neither income tax nor Social Security and Medicare taxes. All but 1 percent of those who pay no taxes to Washington are either elderly or else have household incomes under $20,000.

Another such argument runs roughly as follows: "The richest 5 percent of income receivers in the US pay over half of all of Washington's income tax receipts." First of all, those same people pay a tiny percentage of Washington's Social Security and Medicare receipts. That is simply because the richest Americans earn the largest portion of their income from sources other than wages and salaries - such as interest, rents, dividends and capital gains. Incomes from such other sources do not have to pay Social Security or Medicare taxes. Since Washington's Social Security and Medicare tax receipts are now as large or larger than its individual income tax receipts, any honest assessment of what the richest Americans pay cannot exclude counting Social Security and Medicare taxes paid disproportionately by the bottom 99 percent - just what most of the right-wing analyses routinely do.

One way to cut through the misinformation around taxes created by the right is to see what happened to the distribution of incomes among Americans over recent years. Did the US federal tax system hurt the top 1 percent and help the remaining 99 percent; does it operate "unfairly" as they claim? An answer emerges from the best professional statistical work yet done on the US income distribution: that of Professors Piketty and Saez (widely available on the Internet). Their work covers 1993 to 2007 (before the current crisis hit). They found that the average annual growth in US real incomes over those years was 2.2 percent.

In contrast, the real annual income growth of the incomes of the richest 1 percent was 5.9 percent. The real annual income growth of the other 99 percent of the US was 1.3 percent.

The US federal tax system that right wingers portray as unfair and burdensome to the richest Americans allowed them for the last two decades to gather still greater income than everyone else. The US federal tax system enabled greater inequality. And the same results apply to the US distribution of wealth. No wonder the right resents, opposes and seeks to silence those who suggest even modest changes in a tax system so convenient for the richest.

And another couple of important essays for your continued reading pleasure . . . ha!.

Trends That Won't End

Republicans in Disarray

Monday, January 30, 2012

Violence from Oakland PD Against Peaceful Occupiers & Romney Sitting On Pile of $$$ But Is It Big Enough to Fend Off Jeb?

The Oakland Police Department has assaulted the occupiers and brought out its military-grade weapons and tanks. Actions called "coldly intentional and ruthless" are getting quite a bit scarier now at the hands of the police. Almost like a well-laid plan .

Scott Olsen, an Iraq War veteran who was shot in the head there with a tear-gas canister previously, is suffering neurological damage now.

Romney's tax records? Much worse than we've been told.

And America's overcrowded cellar? (You know who's in there.) Incredibly embarrassing. Humiliating to a really powerful, decent country.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Want To Know Why We'll Never Re-Regulate (At Least Until After the FALL)? Ask Romney About Off-Shore Money Laundering for Terrorism!

Several years ago I became somewhat infamous (in some circles) for telling one of my volunteer groups that I didn't think they should send any contributions to any organizations associated with the Clintons or Bushes. The smarminess of this group of "do-gooders," who made millions from "charity" work, signalled my Spidey sense just a little bit too eerily.

Also, I just never thought I had seen where any of these so-called nonprofits were doing any particular speedy good for the victims of their designated catastrophes. Haiti is a very good example of this mysterious benefaction.

Read the following essay for some critical facts:

Are All of These Type Charity Organizations Like This One?

Another case in point concerns the thieves whom we let run our banks without serious thought for which we will be forever paying.

And paying.

And paying . . . .

And they will never see the inside of a jail. No matter what they are guilty of.

Where Did All the Profits Go? Off-Shore Money Laundering for Terrorists

Saturday, January 28, 2012

How Swedes and Norwegians Turned Control Over to the 99% (and Stopped the 1% in Their Tracks)

How Swedes and Norwegians Broke the Power of the ‘1 Percent’

By George Lakey

While many of us are working to ensure that the Occupy movement will have a lasting impact, it’s worthwhile to consider other countries where masses of people succeeded in nonviolently bringing about a high degree of democracy and economic justice. Sweden and Norway, for example, both experienced a major power shift in the 1930s after prolonged nonviolent struggle. They “fired” the top 1 percent of people who set the direction for society and created the basis for something different.

Both countries had a history of horrendous poverty. When the 1 percent was in charge, hundreds of thousands of people emigrated to avoid starvation. Under the leadership of the working class, however, both countries built robust and successful economies that nearly eliminated poverty, expanded free university education, abolished slums, provided excellent health care available to all as a matter of right and created a system of full employment. Unlike the Norwegians, the Swedes didn’t find oil, but that didn’t stop them from building what the latest CIA World Factbook calls “an enviable standard of living.”

Neither country is a utopia, as readers of the crime novels by Stieg Larsson, Kurt Wallender and Jo Nesbro will know. Critical left-wing authors such as these try to push Sweden and Norway to continue on the path toward more fully just societies. However, as an American activist who first encountered Norway as a student in 1959 and learned some of its language and culture, the achievements I found amazed me. I remember, for example, bicycling for hours through a small industrial city, looking in vain for substandard housing. Sometimes resisting the evidence of my eyes, I made up stories that “accounted for” the differences I saw: “small country,” “homogeneous,” “a value consensus.” I finally gave up imposing my frameworks on these countries and learned the real reason: their own histories.

Then I began to learn that the Swedes and Norwegians paid a price for their standards of living through nonviolent struggle. There was a time when Scandinavian workers didn’t expect that the electoral arena could deliver the change they believed in. They realized that, with the 1 percent in charge, electoral “democracy” was stacked against them, so nonviolent direct action was needed to exert the power for change.

In both countries, the troops were called out to defend the 1 percent; people died.
Award-winning Swedish filmmaker Bo Widerberg told the Swedish story vividly in Ådalen 31, which depicts the strikers killed in 1931 and the sparking of a nationwide general strike. (You can read more about this case in an entry by Max Rennebohm in the Global Nonviolent Action Database.)

The Norwegians had a harder time organizing a cohesive people’s movement because Norway’s small population — about three million — was spread out over a territory the size of Britain. People were divided by mountains and fjords, and they spoke regional dialects in isolated valleys. In the nineteenth century, Norway was ruled by Denmark and then by Sweden; in the context of Europe, Norwegians were the “country rubes,” of little consequence. Not until 1905 did Norway finally become independent.

When workers formed unions in the early 1900s, they generally turned to Marxism, organizing for revolution as well as immediate gains. They were overjoyed by the overthrow of the czar in Russia, and the Norwegian Labor Party joined the Communist International organized by Lenin. Labor didn’t stay long, however. One way in which most Norwegians parted ways with Leninist strategy was on the role of violence: Norwegians wanted to win their revolution through collective nonviolent struggle, along with establishing co-ops and using the electoral arena.

In the 1920s strikes increased in intensity. The town of Hammerfest formed a commune in 1921, led by workers councils; the army intervened to crush it. The workers’ response verged toward a national general strike. The employers, backed by the state, beat back that strike, but workers erupted again in the ironworkers’ strike of 1923–24.

The Norwegian 1 percent decided not to rely simply on the army; in 1926 they formed a social movement called the Patriotic League, recruiting mainly from the middle class. By the 1930s, the League included as many as 100,000 people for armed protection of strike breakers — this in a country of only 3 million!

The Labor Party, in the meantime, opened its membership to anyone, whether or not in a unionized workplace. Middle-class Marxists and some reformers joined the party. Many rural farm workers joined the Labor Party, as well as some small landholders. Labor leadership understood that in a protracted struggle, constant outreach and organizing was needed to a nonviolent campaign. In the midst of the growing polarization, Norway’s workers launched another wave of strikes and boycotts in 1928.

The Depression hit bottom in 1931. More people were jobless there than in any other Nordic country. Unlike in the U.S., the Norwegian union movement kept the people thrown out of work as members, even though they couldn’t pay dues. This decision paid off in mass mobilizations. When the employers’ federation locked employees out of the factories to try to force a reduction of wages, the workers fought back with massive demonstrations.

Many people then found that their mortgages were in jeopardy. (Sound familiar?) The Depression continued, and farmers were unable to keep up payment on their debts. As turbulence hit the rural sector, crowds gathered nonviolently to prevent the eviction of families from their farms. The Agrarian Party, which included larger farmers and had previously been allied with the Conservative Party, began to distance itself from the 1 percent; some could see that the ability of the few to rule the many was in doubt.

By 1935, Norway was on the brink. The Conservative-led government was losing legitimacy daily; the 1 percent became increasingly desperate as militancy grew among workers and farmers. A complete overthrow might be just a couple years away, radical workers thought. However, the misery of the poor became more urgent daily, and the Labor Party felt increasing pressure from its members to alleviate their suffering, which it could do only if it took charge of the government in a compromise agreement with the other side.

This it did. In a compromise that allowed owners to retain the right to own and manage their firms, Labor in 1935 took the reins of government in coalition with the Agrarian Party. They expanded the economy and started public works projects to head toward a policy of full employment that became the keystone of Norwegian economic policy. Labor’s success and the continued militancy of workers enabled steady inroads against the privileges of the 1 percent, to the point that majority ownership of all large firms was taken by the public interest. (There is an entry on this case as well at the Global Nonviolent Action Database.)

The 1 percent thereby lost its historic power to dominate the economy and society. Not until three decades later could the Conservatives return to a governing coalition, having by then accepted the new rules of the game, including a high degree of public ownership of the means of production, extremely progressive taxation, strong business regulation for the public good and the virtual abolition of poverty. When Conservatives eventually tried a fling with neoliberal policies, the economy generated a bubble and headed for disaster. (Sound familiar?)

Labor stepped in, seized the three largest banks, fired the top management, left the stockholders without a dime and refused to bail out any of the smaller banks. The well-purged Norwegian financial sector was not one of those countries that lurched into crisis in 2008; carefully regulated and much of it publicly owned, the sector was solid.

Although Norwegians may not tell you about this the first time you meet them, the fact remains that their society’s high level of freedom and broadly-shared prosperity began when workers and farmers, along with middle class allies, waged a nonviolent struggle that empowered the people to govern for the common good.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Nootie Space-Bound? Liberals Exposed? DEAD Alive!

Did you know Paul Krugman thinks Noot has tooted his last toot?

I am not so sure (and most of the commenters he's engendered don't either). The amount of money being spent in Florida ensures that it will also get pretty bloody by primary day.

Too bad Nootie's the only one to see much public worth in the space program. I agree with one of Paul's commenters (or perhaps he agrees with one of my long-held beliefs) that it is madness to turn over the publicly funded space interests to private enterprise. Read it and see if you agree.

Another often interesting source I enjoy reading, Stop Me Before I Vote Again, thinks he's seen the last of the liberal pretenders. I don't.

It's tough on us self-described liberals to see the behavior of others who "think" they are liberals as they sell us out to the latest neoconservative con artist. But money talks . . . . loudly.

On a nicer note, the Grateful Dead are B-A-C-K.

(As if they ever left.)

And Bob Weir and Phil Lesh have returned to the scene of the crime and are bringing some much-revered music venues back to life!

If only I could be there.


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Explaining the Bullish Market Ponzi, Record Low for New Home Sales, and the Greek End Game Flow Chart

Been wondering about that off-the-charts stock market?

Not really.

The housing market data is disquieting for those talking of a break in housing price decline:

2011 New Home Sales Fall To Record Low, Median New Home Price At Lowest Since October 2010

SOTU Is Not Good (But Nootie Is!)

Have you noticed that this primary season (considering the behavior of the Rethugs mainly) has turned out to be almost the New Age of Expressionism? Seems that people are not actually voting for policies that they believe will benefit them economically; instead they are just voting to send a message about how they feel at the moment. Is this perhaps rather the long-awaited Age of Aquarius?

Hardly. But you'd almost have to think that elections don't really matter anymore, wouldn't you?

Welcome to the "If-it-feels-good-do-it" nightmare of USA politics.

And if you think Rmoney is the ideal candidate against Obama, think again! The Economist makes a very persuasive argument against that supposition here (and no one has ever called them dirty hippies).

Wednesday January 25th 2011

American Politics

Democracy in America

Newt Gingrich

A vote for Newt is a vote for...


POLITICS is not about policy. Newt Gingrich's striking victory in South Carolina is a beautiful illustration of the idea of expressive voting, which is pithily captured by Robin Hanson's slogan. The idea that political behaviour is expressive rather than instrumental — that we vote not to maximise the chances that our policy preferences will be implemented by government, but instead to send a message to ourselves and others about who we are, and what we care about — is meant to overcome a number of flaws in simple economistic accounts of voting. (Here is a useful lecture outline on expressive voting. Here is an informative review essay covering recent work on expressive theories of voter decision-making.)

Mr Gingrich's big win in the Palmetto State is a fascinating case study of expressive voting because he is in many ways the worst possible herald for principles conservatives claim to hold dear. As Conor Friedersdorf of the Atlantic pithily puts it, Gingrich is "a pompous, erratic, undisciplined serial adulterer who took $1.6 million to peddle influence on behalf of Freddie Mac, [and] supported everything Tea Partiers insist they hated about the Bush Administration... ". What message, then, does a vote for Newt Gingrich express? What message is so compelling that South Carolina voters were willing to overlook Mr Gingrich's overwhelming liabilities as a candidate? "We think open marriages are great!"? "We love corrupt Washington insiders"? I guess not. Saturday's expressive message, I think, comes down to this: "We're not going down without a fight!"
Mr Gingrich's bristling retort to Juan Williams about race and his ferocious attack on John King's question about his ex-wife's allegations amounted to a sort of fantasy-fulfillment for many white, conservative Christians aggrieved by the erosion of their cultural dominance. Mr Gingrich took what indignant conservatives yell at their televisions, dressed it up in soaring rhetoric, and barked it at the business end of the TV camera. "Screw you and your superior P.C. bullshit, Juan Williams! Screw you and your sleazy anti-conservative, character-assassinating 'journalism', John King. You 'elites' are not better than us. This is our country, not yours. Our values set the standard, not yours." To all this, South Carolina's Republicans said "Woooo!"
Mitt Romney can prattle on all he likes about his picture-perfect marriage, about double-Guantanamo, about America, the best doggone shining city on a hill in the history of forever, but this stale stuff has never hit conservatives where they live, in the victim-bone. Mr Romney can mouth the words, but he's just too sober, too Wall Street, too Mormon to really feel the down-home conservative music. As nuts as it may seem to those of us who belong to smaller, more vulnerable segments of the population, conservatives feel backed into a corner by the broader culture, and they detect in Mr Gingrich's pharisaic diatribes the hopeful will to fight, the promise of punching their way back to uncontested supremacy. That Mr Gingrich is a cartoon of a corrupt demagogue doesn't seem much to matter. Not only do conservatives believe Mr Gingrich feels their pain, they believe he seeks their revenge. That's thrilling.
Mr Romney's challenge tonight is to talk conservatives down from the ledge without worsening his position by insulting them for climbing up there with Newt in the first place. It will help if he can offer an answer to the question "What does a vote for Mitt Romney express?" other than "reconciliation to a disappointing inevitability".
(Photo credit: AFP)

Modern Asia January 24th

Can anything anti-Gingrich truly be considered bias?

Well as far as we know he doesn't molest little boys... as far as we know...

As is his usual, David F. Brooks deposits another nugget of pure ill-informed turgidity (like that image?) inside the pages of The New York Times and our ace reporter on the scene Driftglass performs another valuable public service by superbly dissecting it into all its vile morbidity for our further edification.

In the Comments at Driftglass' site I found this precious linked sanctum sanctorum gem awaiting our very fine jeweler's pick. How it beckons and gleams.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Our "Transparency" President and The Rules of American Justice

It's really tough on Obama's supporters (I would fathom) to maintain those ready smiles that arose after last weekend's South Carolina Rethuglican Massacree (h/t Arlo Guthrie) as they viewed today's news about the Supreme Court's verdicts on the cases waged by his designated law experts. (And, oh yes, they also "vigorously defended" Donald Rumsfeld(!) himself when the lawsuit filed by Jose Padilla came before a Virginia appellate court.) You'd almost think those Obama troops were in agreement with the prior group of Patriot Acters, wouldn't you?

Glenn Greenwald (another law expert) speaks truth to power as he enlightens us about the current administration's actions in court in defense of the ordinary citizen's Constitutional rights and the real Rules of American Justice.

Gotta love all that new "transparency," huh?

As one of the victims said, Bradley Manning should have committed the war crimes instead of reporting them.

And it's campaign time, troops!

On your mark, get ready . . . .

Monday, January 23, 2012

Shale Oil Issue Creates Occupy Environmental Group Reaching Every Level

If you are the slightest bit confused about the environmental damage and/or the political argument about "fracking," please read Ellen Cantarow's masterful essay at the Tom Dispatch, which I have included in its entirety below. It turns out that we need to know all the facts much sooner than we thought to ensure our future well being on this planet.

Tomgram: An Environmental Occupy Fracks Corporate America

Ellen Cantarow

January 22, 2012

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: For a recent Foreign Policy in Focus review of my new book The United States of Fear, click here; for a recent interview that David Walsh of the website History News Network did with me based on the book, click here. Visit our donation page and for $75 or more, you can get a signed, personalized copy of the book. Tom]

They say you can’t keep a good man down, but the “good” part of that equation is often negotiable. If you thought you had seen the last of the then-disgraced Newt Gingrich in the 1990s, you know what I mean. The same goes for corporations. Even scandals, swindles, and sanctions don’t seem to matter - at least when the company is valued in the tens of billions of dollars.

Founded in 1919, Halliburton - a Houston-based oil services company - always did well, but it catapulted to fame and further fortune during the 2000s as it made a killing off the killing in Iraq. With former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Dick Cheney in the White House, Halliburton, mostly through its subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root, or KBR, reaped billions in Iraq War contracts.  As the money piled up, so did the scandals. As Politifact.com observed in 2010:

“Government officials have raised many questions about KBR's fulfillment of its contracts, everything from billing for meals it didn't serve to charging inflated prices for gas to excessive administrative costs. Government auditors have noted that KBR refused to turn over electronic data in its native format and stamped documents as proprietary and secret when the documents would normally be considered public records.

“Over the course of several years, the Defense Contract Audit Agency found that $553 million in payments should be disallowed to KBR, according to 2009 testimony by agency director April Stephenson before the bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
In 2007, amid outrage over its actions, Halliburton sold off KBR.  But like a bad penny, the company continued to pop up in all the wrong places for all the wrong reasons.  In February 2009, KBR pled guilty to violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act for bribes paid out in Nigeria while it was still part of Halliburton.  In the spring of 2011, the New York Times reported, a lawyer “accused of helping steer bribe money" from KBR (then still part of Halliburton) to Nigerian government officials in exchange for "more than $6 billion in contracts for liquefied natural gas facilities,” pled guilty to federal charges and was ordered to forfeit almost $150 million.

And then there’s the Gulf of Mexico where, in 2010, an oil rig explosion killed 11 people, injured dozens more, and resulted in the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.  This past fall, the Department of the Interior cited Halliburton, along with BP and another company, “for numerous safety and environmental violations in the operation of the doomed Deepwater Horizon well.”

It’s hardly surprising then that, as TomDispatch regular Ellen Cantarow reveals in groundbreaking reporting from the front lines of the latest grassroots uprising in America, Halliburton also has a down and dirty history when it comes to the controversial natural gas drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.”  This time, however, Halliburton may have met its match in the towns and hamlets of upstate New York.  Nick Turse


Fracking Gets Its Own Occupy Movement

Ellen Cantarow

This is a story about water, the land surrounding it, and the lives it sustains. Clean water should be a right: there is no life without it.

New York is what you might call a “water state.” Its rivers and their tributaries only start with the St. Lawrence, the Hudson, the Delaware, and the Susquehanna. The best known of its lakes are Great Lakes Erie and Ontario, Lake George, and the Finger Lakes. Its brooks, creeks, and trout streams are fishermen’s lore.

Far below this rippling wealth there’s a vast, rocky netherworld called the Marcellus Shale. Stretching through southern New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia, the shale contains bubbles of methane, the remains of life that died 400 million years ago. Gas corporations have lusted for the methane in the Marcellus since at least 1967 when one of them plotted with the Atomic Energy Agency to explode a nuclear bomb to unleash it. That idea died, but it’s been reborn in the form of a technology invented by Halliburton Corporation: high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing - “fracking” for short.

Fracking uses prodigious amounts of water laced with sand and a startling menu of poisonous chemicals to blast the methane out of the shale. At hyperbaric bomb-like pressures, this technology propels five to seven million gallons of sand-and-chemical-laced water a mile or so down a well bore into the shale.

Up comes the methane - along with about a million gallons of wastewater containing the original fracking chemicals and other substances that were also in the shale, among them radioactive elements and carcinogens.

There are 400,000 such wells in the United States. Surrounded by rumbling machinery, serviced by tens of thousands of diesel trucks, this nightmare technology for energy release has turned rural areas in 34 U.S. states into toxic industrial zones.
Shale gas isn’t the conventional kind that lit your grandmother’s stove. It’s one of those “extreme energy” forms so difficult to produce that merely accessing them poses unprecedented dangers to the planet. In every fracking state but New York, where a moratorium against the process has been in effect since 2010, the gas industry has contaminated ground water, sickened people, poisoned livestock, and killed wildlife.

At a time when the International Energy Agency reports that we have five more years of fossil-fuel use at current levels before the planet goes into irreversible climate change, fracking has a greenhouse gas footprint larger than that of coal. And with the greatest water crisis in human history underway, fracking injects mind-numbing quantities of purposely-poisoned fresh water into the Earth. As for the trillions (repeat: trillions) of gallons of wastewater generated by the industry, getting rid of it is its own story. Fracking has also been linked to earthquakes: eleven in Ohio alone (normally not an earthquake zone) over the past year.

But for once, this story isn’t about tragedy. It’s about a resistance movement that has arisen to challenge some of the most powerful corporations in history. Here you will find no handsomely funded national environmental organizations: some of them in fact have had a cozy relationship with the gas industry, embracing the industry’s line that natural gas is a “bridge” to future alternative energies. (In fact, shale gas suppresses the development of renewable energies.)

New York’s “Little Revolution”

While most anti-fracking activists have been responding to harms already done, New York State’s resistance has been waging a battle to keep harm at bay. Jack Ossont, a former helicopter pilot, has been active all his life in the state’s environmental and social battles. He calls fracking “the tsunami issue of New York. It washes across the entire landscape.”

Sandra Steingraber, a biologist and scholar-in-residence at Ithaca College, terms the movement “the biggest since abolition and women’s rights in New York.” This past November, when the Heinz Foundation awarded Steingraber $100,000 for her environmental activism, she gave it to the anti-fracking community.

Arriving in the state last October, I discovered a sprawl of loosely connected, grassroots groups whose names announce their counties and their long-term vision: Sustainable Otsego, Committee to Preserve the Finger Lakes, Chenango Community Action for Renewable Energy, Gas-Free Seneca, Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy, Catskill Mountainkeeper. Of these few (there are many more), only the last has a paid staff. All the others are run by volunteers.

“There are so many people working quietly behind the scenes. They’re not in the news, they’re not doing it to get their names in the paper. It’s just the right thing to do,” says Kelly Branigan, co-founder of the group Middlefield Neighbors.  Her organization helped spearhead one of the movement’s central campaigns: using local zoning ordinances to ban fracking. “In Middlefield, we’re nothing special. We’re just regular people who got together and learned, and reached in our pockets to go to work on this. It’s inspiring, it’s awesome, and it’s America - its own little revolution.”

Consider this, then, an environmental Occupy Wall Street. It knows no divisions of social class or political affiliation. Everyone, after all, needs clean water. Farmers and professors, journalists and teachers, engineers, doctors, biologists, accountants, librarians, innkeepers, brewery owners. Actors and Catskill residents Mark Ruffalo and Debra Winger have joined the movement. Josh Fox, also of the Catskills, has brought the fracking industry and its victims to international audiences through his award-winning documentary film Gasland. “Fracking is a pretty scary prospect,” says Wes Gillingham, planning director for Catskill Mountainkeeper. “It’s created a community of people that wouldn’t have existed before.”

Around four years ago, sheltered by Patterson's stay against fracking, little discussion groups began in people’s kitchens, living rooms, and home basements. At that time, only a few activists were advocating outright bans on fracking: the rest of the fledgling movement was more cautiously advocating temporary moratoria.

Since then a veritable ban cascade has washed across the state. And in local elections last November, scores of anti-fracking candidates, many of whom had never before run for office, displaced pro-gas incumbents in positions as town councilors, town supervisors, and county legislators. As the movement has grown in strength and influence, gas corporations like ExxonMobil and Conoco Philips and Marcellus Shale corporations like Chesapeake Energy have spent millions of dollars on advertising, lobbying, and political campaign contributions to counter it.

Shale Shock

Autumn Stoscheck, a young organic apple farmer from the village of Van Etten just south of New York’s Finger Lakes, had none of this in mind in 2008 when she invited a group of neighbors to her living room to talk about fracking. She’d simply heard enough about the process to be terrified. Like other informal fracking meetings that were being launched that year, this was a “listening group.” Its ground rules: listen, talk, but don’t criticize. “There was a combination of landowners, farmers like us, and young anarchist-activists with experience in other movements,” she told me. Stoscheck’s neighbors knew nothing about fracking, but “they were really mistrustful of the government and large gas corporations and felt they were in collusion.”

Out of such neighborhood groups came the first grassroots anti-fracking organizations. Stoscheck and her colleagues called theirs Shaleshock. One of its first achievements was a PowerPoint presentation, Drilling 101,” which introduces viewers to the Marcellus Shale and what hydraulic fracturing does to it.

When Helen Slottje, a 44-year-old lawyer, saw “Drilling 101” at a Shaleshock forum in 2009, she was “horrified.” She and her husband David had abandoned their corporate law careers to move to Ithaca in 2000. “We traded corporate law practice in Boston for New York State and less stressful work - or so we thought. New York's beauty seemed worth it.”

When news reports about fracking started appearing, the Slottjes thought about leaving. “I kept saying, ‘What’ll happen if fracking comes to New York? We’ll have to move.’” “Drilling 101” made her reconsider. Then she visited Dimock, Pennsylvania, 70 miles southeast of Ithaca and that sealed the deal.

By 2009, Dimock, a picturesque rural village, had become synonymous with fracking hell. Houston-based Cabot Oil & Energy had started drilling there the year before. Shortly after, people started to notice that their drinking water had darkened.  Some began experiencing bouts of dizziness and headaches; others developed sores after bathing in what had been their once pure water.

For a while, Cabot trucked water to Dimock’s residents, but stopped in November when a judge declined to order the company to continue deliveries. The Environmental Protection Agency was going to start water service to Dimock in the first week of January, but withdrew the offer, claiming further water tests were needed. Outraged New Yorkers organized water caravans to help their besieged neighbors.

“When I went to Dimock,” says Slottje, “I saw well drilling, huge trucks, muddy crisscrossing pipeline paths cutting through the woods, disposal pits, sites of diesel spills, dusty coatings on plants, noisy compressor stations - you name it. So I decided to put my legal background to work to prevent the same thing from happening where I lived. We’d been corporate lawyers before. We know the sort of resources the energy corporations have. The grassroots people have nothing. And they have this behemoth coming at them.”

In May 2009, the Slottjes became full-time pro bono lawyers for the movement. One of their first services was to reinterpret New York’s constitutional home rule provision, which had allowed local ordinances to trump state laws until 1981.  In that year, the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation Division of Mineral Resources exempted gas corporations from local restrictions.

“I spent thousands of hours on the research,” says Slottje. “And then last August we were brave enough to go public and say the emperor has no clothes.” The Slottjes’ reinterpretation of the provision was simple enough: the state regulates the gas industry; towns and villages can’t regulate it, but what they can do is keep its operations off their land through the use of zoning ordinances.

Zoning Out Fracking

The town of Ulysses is nestled in the heart of the state’s burgeoning wine country in the Finger Lakes region. In 2010, a grassroots group, Concerned Citizens of Ulysses (CCU), asked the Slottjes to speak with members of the town board, which controls Ulysses’s planning and its zoning laws.

The board members opposed fracking, but couldn’t see how to prevent it. While the board talked with the Slottjes, CCU activists drafted a petition. If enough registered Ulysses voters signed on, the board would have the popular backing it needed for declaring a ban. Ann Furman, a retired schoolteacher who helped found CCU and write the document, recalls, “The petition was pretty specific: ‘We the undersigned want to ban hydrofracking in the town of Ulysses.’” A six-month-long door-to-door campaign followed.

“There was a lot of education going on in Ulysses at the town board and at forums, as we were going house to house. Even people who would sign the petition would say, ‘Tell me a little bit more about it.’ And in that next 15 to 20 minutes you would do a whole lot more education.” In the end, 1,500 out of 3,000 registered voters signed. This past summer the Ulysses town board voted to ban fracking.

Middlefield, 119 miles east of Ulysses and home of the grassroots group Middlefield Neighbors, enacted a similar ban. So did Dryden, 22 miles east of Ulysses. An out-of-state gas corporation that leased land for drilling in Dryden is suing to get the zoning ban declared illegal. A Middlefield landowner is suing that town on the same basis. The cases are pending.

Meanwhile bans proliferate. Six upstate New York counties have zoned out fracking, including Binghamton, which declared a ban in December. An organic brewery in Cooperstown, the Ommegang, mobilized 300 other businesses, including Cooperstown’s Chamber of Commerce, to support more bans in the region.

Chefs for the Marcellus, a group headed by Food Network star Mario Batali, has urged Governor Andrew Cuomo to ban fracking at the state level. “Call it home-rule democracy,” says Adrian Kuzminsky, chair of the Cooperstown-based organization Sustainable Otsego. “If local communities can seize control over their destinies, a giant step will have been taken toward a sustainable future.”

This past October, activists were preparing to take on the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). That agency finds itself caught in a perpetual conflict of interest: on the one hand, protecting the environment; on the other, regulating the industries that exploit it.  In fact, the 1981 legislation exempting gas corporations from New York’s home rule had been written by Greg Sovas, then head of DEC’s Division of Mineral Resources.

Guidelines for the hydraulic fracturing industry were first issued by the department in late 2009 and rejected in 2010 under withering public criticism. Then-Governor David Paterson declared a moratorium on fracking in the state pending DEC revisions. Revised guidelines appeared this past September in the form of 1,537 mind-numbing pages bearing the title, “Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement,” aka the “SGEIS.”

A World of Water

In study groups and online tutorials, activists prepared to write letters of commentary and protest to the Department of Environmental Conservation and Governor Cuomo, and to speak out in public hearings the department was organizing around the state. Thousands attended these. Pro-gas speakers predictably stuck to the twin themes of the jobs fracking would produce and the economic renewal it would bring about.

Opponents included an impressive line up of scientists (among them Robert Howarth, co-author of last year’s landmark Cornell University study, which established the staggering greenhouse-gas footprint of fracking), engineers, lawyers, and other professionals. A letter sent to Cuomo by 250 New York State physicians and medical professionals deplored the DEC’s failure to attend to the public health impacts of fracking.

Part-time Cooperstown resident James “Chip” Northrup, a retired manager for Atlantic Richfield (ARCO, America’s seventh largest oil corporation), in one public agency hearing called the performances of pro-gas speakers “disgraceful” and the SGEIS “junk science.” Citing an industry study that shows 25% of frack wells leak after five years and 40% after eight, he said, “Everybody in the industry knows that gas drilling pollutes groundwater… It’s not... whether they leak. It’s how much.”

As 2012 began, the movement was demanding that the department withdraw the SGEIS. In mid-January, DEC spokesperson Lisa King said that once all the comments are tallied, “We expect the total to be more than 40,000.” Earlier, agency officials had told the New York Times they didn’t know of any other issue that had received even 1,000 comments. (Ten thousand letters were mailed from the Catskills’ Sullivan County alone on January 11th, just before the commentary deadline.) Gannett’s Albany Bureau has reported that anti-drilling submissions outnumber those of drilling supporters by at least ten to one.

Sustainable Otsego’s website lists 52 serious and fatal flaws in the document. A letter posted at the website of Toxics Targeting, an environmental database service in Ithaca, elaborately details 17 major SGEIS flaws. By January 10th, when the Toxics Targeting letter was sent to the DEC and the Governor, it had more than 22,000 signatures representing government officials, professional and civic organizations, and individuals. (The DEC counts this letter with its signatures as only one of the 40,000 comments.)

At a November 17th rally in Trenton, New Jersey, to celebrate the postponement of a vote on allowing fracking in the Delaware River Basin, Pennsylvania and New York activists pledged future civil disobedience. “The broad coalition of anti-frackers has been operating on multi-levels all at once,” says Sustainable Otsego’s chair, Adrian Kuzminsky. If the governor approves the SGEIS “there will be massive disillusionment with the state government and Cuomo, and from what I'm hearing there will be ‘direct action’ and civil disobedience in some quarters.”

At the moment, in fact, the anti-fracking movement in the state only seems to be ramping up. Should the government approve the SGEIS in its current form, lawsuits are planned against the Department of Environmental Conservation. And a brief “Occupy DEC” event that took place in the state capital, Albany, on January 12th may have set the tone for the future. Meanwhile some activists, turning their backs on established channels, are already working on legislation that would criminalize fracking.

This past November, Sandra Steingraber told a crowd of hundreds of activists why she was donating her $100,000 Heinz Award to the movement. The money, she said, “enables speech, emboldens activism, and recognizes that true security for our children lies in preserving the... ecology of our planet.”

She raised a jar of water. “This is what my kids are made of. They are made of water. They are made of the food that is grown in the county that I live in. And they are made of air. We inhale a pint of atmosphere with every breath we take... And when you poison these things, you poison us. That is a violation of our human rights, and that is why this is the civil rights issue of our day.”

Ellen Cantarow’s work on Israel/Palestine has been widely published for over 30 years. Her long-time concern with climate change has led her to explore, at TomDispatch, the global depredations of oil and gas corporations. Many thanks to Robert Boyle, sometimes called “the father of environmentalism on the Hudson,” for sharing his expertise for this article.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

How South Carolina Continues to Try To Triumph Over the Union (Aided and Abetted By the New Carpetbaggers and Scallywags)

Remember when all truly serious people were really confused about Newt Gingrich's uncalled-for (based on his being thrown out of Congress and forced to pay a $300,000 fine for fraud), recurring appearances on Sunday morning talking head shows (not to mention mainstream media "news" shows), and how "seriously" his nonsense opinions were then discussed by the brainless nonentities running those shows (David Gregory, I'm looking at you and your bestest buddies including David Brooks and Tom Friedman, whom you never actually ask anything but softball open-ended questions about their "opinions")?

I do.

And if you don't know by now that the whole time (ramped up to high speed in the years after the election of Obama) he was being set up by them for this "spectacular" (and embarrassing to anyone with a memory or conscience) and amazing unpredicted "win" backed by the powerful South Carolina fundamentalists (racists and haters of all legislation benefitting those on the bottom of the money pyramid (who actually include most of themselves, but having swallowed the Rethug line decades ago about their being the "real American aristocrats" don't know it)), Mormon haters (or am I repeating myself?), and the most uneducated and bigoted group of voters available en masse in the U.S. today, reading further here probably won't enlighten you any.

Juan Cole speaks eloquently about this phenomena (for me and millions of others, I'll bet), and holds the so-called journalists, who've either forgotten their training or never had any, really responsible for this mess (where the rallying cry of bigots and fools who despise Obama rule the day).

And speaking of David F. Brooks/Tom Friedbrain type journalists' continuing utility to those in power, Charles Pierce tells us all we need to know.

As if we needed any further lessons about this group of bounders.

Born in South Carolina (and extremely embarrassed about it (again)),


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Greenspan, Geithner and FOMC Clearly Seen As Incompetent (or Intentional Frauds) Due to Information Release

Ahhhhh. Dean Baker, one of my favorite economists, continues to please me by heaping ridicule on Greenspan, Geithner and all their fellow travelers.

He asks us to please, please pay attention (and demand if not restitution, at least earned oppobrium).

A Heaping Helping of Ridicule for the Fed, Please

Dean Baker

The Guardian Unlimited

January 18, 2012

See article on original website

In keeping with its policy of releasing transcripts with a five-year lag, the Federal Reserve Board just released the transcripts from its 2006 Open Market Committee (FOMC) meetings. There is much there to cause pain and amusement.

In the latter category, there is probably nothing that can beat Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner (then the president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank) telling outgoing Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan:

“I’d like the record to show that I think you’re pretty terrific, too. And thinking in terms of probabilities, I think the risk that we decide in the future that you’re even better than we think is higher than the alternative.”
But there is more than obsequiousness on display here. There is also profound ignorance of the economy among the nation’s top economic policymakers.

Keep in mind 2006 is the year that the $8 trillion housing bubble hit its peak and began to deflate. In other words, this covers the period in which the Titanic hit the iceberg and began to take on water. But no one on this sinking ship is even thinking about the lifeboats.

There is no one in the eight FOMC meetings who suggests that the economy faces any serious turbulence ahead.

There is not even discussion that a mild recession could be in sight.

In fact at the last meeting of 2006, we hear Janet Yellen, who was then the President of the San Francisco Bank and is now vice-chair of the Board of Governors, comment that:

“there are some encouraging signs that the demand for housing may be stabilizing. … After a precipitous fall, home sales appear to have leveled off. …  Finally, the gap between housing prices and fundamentals might not be as large as some calculations suggest….” 
Needless to say, this wasn’t quite right. Monthly home sales fell by almost 40 percent over the course of 2007. House prices, which were just edging downward month to month up to that point, would begin to decline far more rapidly. By the end of 2007 they were falling at a rate of almost 2 percent a month.

In addition to the direct impact that this sort of price decline had on the housing sector, it also implied a loss of almost $400 billion a month in housing equity. It was inevitable that a loss of wealth of this magnitude would slow consumption.

The FOMC seemed utterly oblivious to the fact that the savings rate had been driven to record lows by the wealth generated by the housing bubble; and that this consumption boom would end when the housing bubble wealth disappeared.

People who no longer had equity in their homes could not borrow to support their consumption. Furthermore, those who had expected that home equity would support them in retirement would soon discover that they had to cut back in a big way on consumption in order to rebuild their savings.

It also should have been obvious that a serious wave of defaults was going to hit the financial system. Housing is always a highly leveraged asset, but that was far more true in 2006 than at any prior point in history, as many people were buying homes and putting literally nothing down.

With prices plunging, millions of homeowners would fall underwater. This guaranteed more foreclosures and higher losses on each one.

It may not have been obvious who was going to take the hits, but economists who could see the world with clear eyes knew that big hits were coming. Unfortunately none of them were sitting on the FOMC.

Here’s what Frederick Mishkin, a Federal Reserve Board governor who later played a starring role in the movie Inside Job, had to say about the risks from the housing market in that same December 2006 meeting:

“I don’t see any indications that we will have big spillovers to other sectors from weak housing and motor vehicles. In that sense, there’s a slight concern about a little weakness, but the right word is I guess a ‘smidgen,’ not a whole lot.”

At that last meeting of the year, the major concern expressed was about inflation. Several  FOMC members expressed concern that the unemployment rate at the time (4.5 percent) was too low to keep inflation in check. They hoped that slower growth in 2007 would raise the unemployment rate to a level consistent with stable inflation. They certainly got their wish about a growth slowdown, although they did have to wait until 2008 to feel its full effect.

The public may be powerless at the moment to force our political leaders to take the steps necessary to bring the economy back to full employment. However, we certainly have the ability to ridicule the incompetence of those responsible for this preventable disaster.

We should take full advantage of the opportunity provided by the latest Fed transcripts. This might not provide the same release for a scared and suffering nation as movies did in the Great Depression, but it’s a start.