Monday, March 31, 2014

The HORROR!!! (CIA Misled on Interrogation Program, Senate Report Says) U.S. Officials Say It Will Be Months Before Release to the Public

No big surprise.

I've said for a long time that everything will come out.

It always does.


This latest report emanates from the Washington Post.

The facts are undoubtedly much worse.

CIA Misled on Interrogation Program, Senate Report Says

By Greg Miller, Adam Goldman and Ellen Nakashima

Updated: Monday, March 31, 7:37 PM

A report by the Senate Intelligence Committee concludes that the CIA misled the government and the public about aspects of its brutal interrogation program for years — concealing details about the severity of its methods, overstating the significance of plots and prisoners, and taking credit for critical pieces of intelligence that detainees had in fact surrendered before they were subjected to harsh techniques.
The report, built around detailed chronologies of dozens of CIA detainees, documents a long-standing pattern of unsubstantiated claims as agency officials sought permission to use — and later tried to defend — excruciating interrogation methods that yielded little, if any, significant intelligence, according to U.S. officials who have reviewed the document.
“The CIA described [its program] repeatedly both to the Department of Justice and eventually to Congress as getting unique, otherwise unobtainable intelligence that helped disrupt terrorist plots and save thousands of lives,” said one U.S. official briefed on the report. “Was that actually true? The answer is no.”
Current and former U.S. officials who described the report spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue and because the document remains classified. The 6,300-page report includes what officials described as damning new disclosures about a sprawling network of secret detention facilities, or “black sites,” that was dismantled by President Obama in 2009.
Classified files reviewed by committee investigators reveal internal divisions over the interrogation program, officials said, including one case in which CIA employees left the agency’s secret prison in Thailand after becoming disturbed by the brutal measures being employed there. The report also cites cases in which officials at CIA headquarters demanded the continued use of harsh interrogation techniques even after analysts were convinced that prisoners had no more information to give.
The report describes previously undisclosed cases of abuse, including the alleged repeated dunking of a terrorism suspect in tanks of ice water at a detention site in Afghanistan — a method that bore similarities to waterboarding but never appeared on any Justice Department-approved list of techniques.
U.S. officials said the committee refrained from assigning motives to CIA officials whose actions or statements were scrutinized. The report also does not recommend new administrative punishment or further criminal inquiry into a program that the Justice Department has investigated repeatedly. Still, the document is almost certain to reignite an unresolved public debate over a period that many regard as the most controversial in CIA history.
A spokesman for the CIA said the agency had not yet seen a final version of the report and was, therefore, unable to comment.
Current and former agency officials, however, have privately described the study as marred by factual errors and misguided conclusions. Last month, in an indication of the level of tension between the CIA and the committee, each side accused the other of possible criminal violations in accessing each other’s computer systems during the course of the probe.
The Senate Intelligence Committee is expected to vote Thursday to send an executive summary of the report to Obama for declassification. U.S. officials said it could be months before that section, which contains roughly 20 conclusions and spans about 400 pages, is released to the public.
The report’s release also could resurrect a long-standing feud between the CIA and the FBI, where many officials were dismayed by the agency’s use of methods that Obama and others later labeled torture.
CIA veterans have expressed concern that the report reflects FBI biases. One of its principal authors is a former FBI analyst, and the panel relied in part on bureau documents as well as notes from former FBI agent Ali Soufan. Soufan was the first to interrogate Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein, the al-Qaeda operative better known as Abu Zubaida, after his capture in Pakistan in 2002 and has condemned the CIA for water­boarding a prisoner he considered cooperative.
The Senate report is by far the most comprehensive account to date of a highly classified program that was established within months of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, a time of widespread concern that an additional wave of terrorist plots had already been set in motion.

‘Damaging’ misstatements

Several officials who have read the document said some of its most troubling sections deal not with detainee abuse but with discrepancies between the statements of senior CIA officials in Washington and the details revealed in the written communications of lower-level employees directly involved.
Officials said millions of records make clear that the CIA’s ability to obtain the most valuable intelligence against al-Qaeda — including tips that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011 — had little, if anything, to do with “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
The report is divided into three volumes — one that traces the chronology of interrogation operations, another that assesses intelligence officials’ claims, and a third that contains case studies on virtually every prisoner held in CIA custody in the past 13 years. Officials said the report was stripped of certain details, including the locations of CIA prisons and names of agency employees who did not hold supervisor-level positions.
One official said that almost all of the critical threat-related information from Abu Zubaida was obtained during the period when he was questioned by Soufan at a hospital in Pakistan, well before he was interrogated by the CIA and waterboarded 83 times.
Information obtained by Soufan, however, was passed up through the ranks of the U.S. intelligence community, the Justice Department and Congress as though it were part of what CIA interrogators had obtained, according to the committee report.
“The CIA conflated what was gotten when, which led them to misrepresent the effectiveness of the program,” said a second U.S. official who has reviewed the report. The official described the persistence of such misstatements as among “the most damaging” of the committee’s conclusions.
Detainees’ credentials also were exaggerated, officials said. Agency officials described Abu Zubaida as a senior al-Qaeda operative — and, therefore, someone who warranted coercive techniques — although experts later determined that he was essentially a facilitator who helped guide recruits to al-Qaeda training camps.
The CIA also oversold the role of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri in the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, which killed 17 U.S. sailors. CIA officials claimed he was the “mastermind.”

The committee described a similar sequence in the interrogation of Hassan Ghul, an al-Qaeda operative who provided a critical lead in the search for bin Laden: the fact that the al-Qaeda leader’s most trusted courier used the moniker “al-Kuwaiti.”
But Ghul disclosed that detail while being interrogated by Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq who posed questions scripted by CIA analysts. The information from that period was subsequently conflated with lesser intelligence gathered from Ghul at a secret CIA prison in Romania, officials said. Ghul was later turned over to authorities in Pakistan, where he was subsequently released. He was killed by a CIA drone strike in 2012.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has previously indicated that harsh CIA interrogation measures were of little value in the bin Laden hunt.
“The CIA detainee who provided the most significant information about the courier provided the information prior to being subjected to coercive interrogation techniques,” Feinstein said in a 2013 statement, responding in part to scenes in the movie “Zero Dark Thirty” that depict a detainee’s slip under duress as a breakthrough moment.

Harsh detainee treatment

If declassified, the report could reveal new information on the treatment of a high-value detainee named Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, the nephew of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Pakistan captured Ali, known more commonly as Ammar al-Baluchi, on April, 30, 2003, in Karachi and turned him over to the CIA about a week later. He was taken to a CIA black site called “Salt Pit” near Kabul.
At the secret prison, Baluchi endured a regime that included being dunked in a tub filled with ice water. CIA interrogators forcibly kept his head under the water while he struggled to breathe and beat him repeatedly, hitting him with a truncheon-like object and smashing his head against a wall, officials said.
As with Abu Zubaida and even Nashiri, officials said, CIA interrogators continued the harsh treatment even after it appeared that Baluchi was cooperating. On Sept. 22, 2003, he was flown from Kabul to a CIA black site in Romania. In 2006, he was taken to the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. His attorneys contend that he suffered a head trauma while in CIA custody.
Last year, the Senate Intelligence Committee asked Baluchi’s attorneys for information about his medical condition, but military prosecutors opposed the request. A U.S. official said the request was not based solely on the committee’s investigation of the CIA program.
Two other terrorism suspects, from Libya — Mohammed al-Shoroeiya and Khalid al-Sharif — endured similar treatment at Salt Pit, according to Human Rights Watch. One of the men said CIA interrogators “would pour buckets of very cold water over his nose and mouth to the point that he felt he would suffocate. Icy cold water was also poured over his body. He said it happened over and over again,” the report says. CIA doctors monitored the prisoners’ body temperatures so they wouldn’t suffer hypothermia.
The CIA denies waterboarding them and says it used the technique on only three prisoners.
The two men were held at Salt Pit at the same time as Baluchi, according to former U.S. intelligence officials.
Officials said a former CIA interrogator named Charlie Wise was forced to retire in 2003 after being suspected of abusing Abu Zubaida using a broom stick as a ballast while he was forced to kneel in a stress position. Wise was also implicated in the abuse at Salt Pit. He died of a heart attack shortly after retiring from the CIA, former U.S. intelligence officials said.

(Julie Tate contributed to this report.)

 I thought the reason we signed the Geneva Conventions was that we didn't want our troops (or populace) to be mistreated/tortured by them (the bad guys).

Silly me.

Obviously, that's been found to be an unimportant concern for our professional forces now.

And if you listen to Dick the Cheney's latest diatribes against the hapless peace mongers you could be forgiven for thinking that they are bragging about the treatment they meted out to the prisoners.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The 1 Percent Always Defeats the Middle Class (There Are More of US But They Outweigh US?) One of the Ways It Manages To Survive Is By Working the Public Into Paroxysms of Fear At Those Who Proclaim the Inevitable Destruction of the System

Maybe we're just out of our weight class?



When all is said and done, they don't lose money.

They never do.
- Margin Call

Plutocracy without end: Why the 1 percent always defeats the middle class

(Credit: janecat via iStock)

Plutocracy Without End: Why The 1 Percent Always Defeats the Middle Class

There are more of us than them. But income inequality keeps getting worse - and there is sadly no end in sight.

I’ve been writing about what we politely call “inequality” since the mid-1990s, but one day about ten years ago, when I was traveling the country lecturing about the toxic curlicues of right-wing culture, it dawned on me that maybe I had been getting the entire story wrong. All the economic developments that I spent my days bemoaning — the obscene enrichment of the CEO class, the assault on the regulatory state, the ruination of average people — were very possibly not what I thought they were.

When I talked about these things, I assumed they were an outrage, an affront to the affluent nation I still believed we were; once the scales fell from our eyes and Americans figured out what was happening, I argued, we would yell “stop,” bring this age of folly to a close, and get back to middle-class prosperity as usual.

What hit me that day was the possibility that my happy, postwar middle-class world was the exception, and that the plutocracy we were gradually becoming was the norm. Maybe what was happening to us was a colossal reversion to a pre-Rooseveltian mean, and all the trappings of ordinary life that had seemed so solid and so permanent when I was young — the vast suburbs and the anchorman’s reassuring baritone and the nice appliances that filled the houses of the working class — were aberrations made possible by an unusual balance of political forces maintained only by the enormous political efforts of its beneficiaries.

Maybe the gravity of history pulled in the exact opposite direction of what I had always believed. If so, the question was not, “When will we get back to the right order of things,” but rather, “Would we ever stop falling?”

Today, of course, the situation has grown vastly worse. The subject of inequality is discussed everywhere; there are think tanks and academic conferences dedicated to it; it has become socially permissible for polite people to wonder about the obscene gorging of those at the top. Sooner or later the question that everyone asks, upon discovering just how much of what Americans produce goes to the imbeciles in the penthouses and executive suites, is this: How much further can this thing go?

The One Percent have already broken every record for wealth-hogging set by their ancestors, going back to the dawn of record-keeping in 1913. But what if it all just keeps going? How much fatter can the fat cats get before they hit some kind of natural limit? Before the invisible thumb of history presses down on the other side of the scale and restores balance?

That we are very close to such a limit — that the contradictions inherent in the system will automatically be its undoing — is an idea much in the air of late. Not many still subscribe to Marx’s dialectical vision of history, in which inevitable worker immiseration would be followed, also inevitably, by a revolutionary explosion, but there are other inevitabilities that seem equally persuasive today. We hear much, for example, about how inequality contributed to the housing bubble and the financial crisis, how it has brought us an imbalanced economy that cannot survive.

It reminds me of the once-influential theory of inequality advanced by the economist Simon Kuznets, who thought that capitalist societies simply became more egalitarian as they matured — a theory that is carefully debunked by economist Thomas Piketty in his new book, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century.” It also reminds me of the theories of the economist Ravi Batra, who in 1987 predicted a “Great Depression of 1990” because (among other things) inequality would have by then had reached what he believed to be unsustainable levels.

It is an attractive fantasy, this faith that some kind of built-in restraint will stop all this from going too far. Unfortunately, what it reminds me of the most are the similar mechanisms that Democrats like to dream about on those occasions when the Republican Party has won another election.

As the triumphant wingers stand athwart the unconscious bodies of their opponents, beating their chests and bellowing for some new and awesomely destructive tax cut, a liberal’s heart turns longingly to such chimera as pendulum theory, or thirty-year-cycle theory, or the theory of the inevitable triumph of the center. Some great force will fix those guys, we mumble. One of these days, they’ll get their comeuppance.

But the cosmic cavalry never shows up. No deus ex machina will arrive to rescue the middle-class society, either. The economic system is always in some sort of crisis or another; somehow it always manages to survive.

One of the ways it manages to survive, in fact, is by working the public into paroxysms of fear at those who proclaim the inevitable destruction of the system. I refer here not only to the Republicans’ routine deploring of “class war,” by which they mean any criticism of plutocracy, but also to the once-influential right-wing radio host Glenn Beck, who in 2009 and 2010 was just about the only one in America who thought to take seriously the obscure French anarchist tract, “The Coming Insurrection.”

Night after night in those dark days, Beck would use the book to terrify his vast audience of seniors and goldbugs — anarchy was right around the corner! — and to this day you can still find the tract on the reading lists of 9/12 clubs across the country.

Let us not forget that it was thanks to the energetic activity of those 9/12 clubs and the closely aligned Tea Party that the obvious and conventional — and maybe even inevitable — response to the 2008 catastrophe was not the response the public chose. According to an important recent paper by the sociologists Clem Brooks and Jeff Manza, the orthodox poli-sci theory of economic downturn holds that voters “turn away from unregulated markets and demand more government in times of economic downturn and rising unemployment.”

But in the downturn of the last few years, people reacted differently: “Rather than the recession stimulating new public demands for governent, Americans gravitated toward lower support for government responsibility for social and economic problems.” And they swept in the Republican Congress of 2010, a result that, according to Brooks and Manza, has much to do with the hyperbolic conservatism of partisan organizations like Fox News.

A second irony, worth noting in passing, is that the right-wing offensive against public pensions, which began as soon as the Republican wave landed, has been carried on under the banner of historical determinism, with everyone agreeing that the rich are going to get their way with the unions and that no alternative exists. (“Detroit pension cuts were inevitable, city consultant testifies,” screams a typical headline on the subject.)
None of this is to deny, of course, that concentrated wealth will have certain predictable social effects, in addition to the brutal primary effect of screwing you and yours permanently. Inequality will most definitely bring further corruption of our political system, which will in turn lead to further deregulation and bailouts, which will eventually allow epidemics of fraud and failure.

It will definitely bring an aggravated business cycle, with crazy booms and awful busts. We know these things will happen because this is what has happened in our own time. But that doesn’t mean the situation will somehow cease to function as a matter of course, or that leading capitalists will be converted to Keynesianism en masse and start insisting on better oversight of Wall Street.

The ugly fact that we must face is that this thing can go much farther still. Plutocracy shocks us every day with its viciousness, but that doesn’t mean God will strike it down. The middle-class model worked much better for about ninety-nine percent of the population, but that doesn’t make it some kind of dialectic inevitability.

You can build a plutocratic model that will stumble along just fine, like it did in the nineteenth century. It requires different things: instead of refrigerators for all, it bought legislatures and armies of strikebreakers — plus bailouts for the big banks when they collapse under the weight of their stupid loans, an innovation of our own time. All this may be hurtful, inefficient, and undemocratic, but it won’t dismantle itself all on its own.

That is our job. No one else is going to do it for us.

(Thomas Frank is a Salon politics and culture columnist. His many books include What's The Matter With Kansas, Pity the Billionaire and One Market Under God. He is the founding editor of "The Baffler" magazine).

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Why the US Picks Fights In Africa, the Middle East and Anywhere Else It Damn Well Chooses Including At Home (Beware the U Word!)

If you've wondered, like I have, over and over what's the real rationale (sure, it could just be control of the natural resources) behind all the attacks on places in Africa and the Middle East that haven't attacked US, I bet you'll find the following thesis very interesting.

And it's been going on for soooooooo looooooooong.

No wonder it's driven the current dim-witted 'thugs around the bend.

How about we start calling this highly controversial rallying cry of the upper classes "the 'U' word" (or being afraid of the wage slaves)?

From A Tiny Revolution:

Everything You Need to Know About U.S. Foreign Policy in One Short Paragraph

This is from the March 10, 1919 diary entry of Cary Grayson, Woodrow Wilson's personal doctor:

…the President said…that if the present government of Germany is recognizing the soldiers and workers councils, it is delivering itself into the hands of the bolshevists [sic]. He said the American negro returning from abroad would be our greatest medium in conveying bolshevism to America. For example, a friend recently related the experience of a lady friend wanting to employ a negro laundress offering to pay the usual wage in that community. The negress demands that she be given more money than was offered for the reason that "money is as much mine as it is yours." Furthermore, he called attention to the fact that the French people have placed the negro soldier in France on an equality with the white men, and "it has gone to their heads."

That one paragraph truly contains everything you need to know about U.S. foreign policy:

1. It's built on a foundation on upper-class twit urban legend. Who knows what really happened with the "friend of a friend" of Woodrow Wilson. But I think we can be certain that, if the "negress" actually did exist, she didn't ask for more money than usual because she was inspired by Bolshevism to say "money is as much mine as it is yours."

This reminds me of the time shortly after the 1992 Los Angeles riots when the nephew of a huge Hollywood producer told me he'd heard that all the black people in Compton were making plans for next time, when they were going to come burn down the three B's:   Brentwood, Beverly Hills and Bel Air. Sure, you bet.

2. The terrifying danger that the U.S. upper crust perceived in 1919 wasn't that the lower orders were going to stage a Bolshevik revolution. It wasn't even that they were going to try to get the right to vote and have a voice in the government. It was that they were asking for a raise.

(Also, worker councils were not a good idea that made workplaces run better, but pure revolutionary Bolshevism. If you paid attention to the right-wing freakout over the UAW trying to organize the VW plant in Chattanooga, you saw nothing whatsoever has changed.)

3. The terrifying danger wasn't coming from just any part of the lower orders, it was from the teeming non-white masses who want to take all our money.

4. What was the the natural response to the threat of a slight change in political and economic power within the U.S.? It was to invade another country (in this case, the nascent Soviet Union), together with the other main white powers, the UK and France.

You can draw a direct line from this diary entry to every foreign policy action taken by the U.S. in the past 95 years.

P.S. The house where Cary Grayson and his family once lived in Washington, D.C. is now the administration building of Sidwell Friends, the private school attended by Sasha and Malia Obama.

Meanwhile, back in Woodrow Wilson's D.C.:

In today’s issue of the HATCHET - the U. S. S. GEORGE WASHINGTON’S publication - the following despatch appeared:

BERLIN, Mar. 10, -- The first break in the general strike of the German workers took place on Sunday when the subway workers and telephone operators returned to work. This was the result of the action of the government in recognizing the soldiers and workers councils and in promising that their interests shall have consideration at the hands of the government.

After reading this article the President said that this looked bad; that if the present government of Germany is recognizing the soldiers and workers councils, it is delivering itself into the hands of the Bolshevists. He said the American negro returning from abroad would be our greatest medium in conveying Bolshevism to America. For example, a friend recently related the experience of a lady friend wanting to employ a negro laundress offering to pay the usual wage in that community. The negress demands that she be given more money than was offered for the reason that “money is as much mine as it is yours.” Furthermore, he called attention to the fact that the French people have placed the negro soldier in France on an equality with the white man, and “it has gone to their heads.”

Discussing Bolshevism, the President referred to the fact that its theory had some advantages but the trouble was that an attempt was being made to accomplish it in the wrong way. It is a very serious and grave question and one that will have a marked bearing on future business. And in speaking of business, he said that the employees do not seem to be satisfied with what is called a partnership or share of the profits.

As to profit sharing they doubt their employers when the business concern tells them that they cannot afford to give them more than, say, 10% of the profits; they often say: “We believe they can afford to give us 20%”, or sometimes they go as far as to say, even 50%, and that they (the employees) have no way of examining the books and ascertaining just what they are entitled to under this system.

The President thought it might be feasible to make the workmen partners of the business to the extent of having half of the directors from the working-class, because then they could see what is going on; they would be present at the meetings and could examine the books and have their own representatives present at all times, and in that way be convinced as to the actual conditions.

The President today said: “In 1902 I was having lunch at the Everett Hotel, New York, a quiet little hotel that I used to frequent when in New York. While there at lunch Mr. Gilder, editor of the Century Magazine, came over to my table and said: ‘I see that some one in the Indianapolis News has nominated you for President.’ I said: ‘President of what?’ He replied: ‘Why President of the United States’. To which I exclaimed: ‘That is rather a large order’. Mr. Gilder added: ‘And he isn’t a fool either’. I said: ‘I like that’. And he then began not to take me seriously but to apologize, saying that: ‘I meant to show you what a big-calibered man he is and a man of good sense and great vision’. I jokingly changed the subject. I had been recently elected President of Princeton University

Friday, March 28, 2014

March Madness Run Amok? (Or Just Oligarch Madness?) The Koches Can't Help Themselves (Poisoned by $$$$$$$) So It's A Death Match

More proof that not only do we have (and have had for a very long time) an oligarchy in solid control of the U.S., but that to place the proper type of frosting on their cake, they display absolutely no conscience (or much of a sense of morally questionable choices) as they throw around the money that they illegally extracted from the lower classes on shiny trinkets.

Hell (fresh Hell!), they are going on TV now and bragging about it!

For one frightening example we have the Warren Buffett "friend" previously described as a pretty smart guy.

I'll never forget the first time I heard self-advertised "average guy" from Omaha, Warren Buffett, sing Charlie Munger's praises as a smart businessman, investment guru and his best friend, on Lou Rukeyser's "Wall Street Week" back in the 80's.

I knew he was his partner soon thereafter, but I had no idea who "Charlie" really was.

Awwwww, and we all (once upon a time) thought sweetie pie was too much a "man of the people" to be a plutocrat? (I hope Lou is turning over and over in his grave.)

The real March madness: Warren Buffett's grotesque sweepstakes

Billionaire Warren Buffett (Credit: AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama)

The Real March Madness: Warren Buffett’s Grotesque Sweepstakes

In the face of rampant poverty, one of the world's richest men is busy bragging about his billion-dollar NCAA bet

In historians’ quest to find the perfect anecdote to summarize this era of unprecedented economic inequality, they confront an embarrassment of riches (pun intended).
There are the stories of billionaires like Tom Perkins, Stephen Schwarzman and Ken Langone insisting that criticism of inequality is akin to Nazism.

There are more subtle antics at the local level — for instance, there is news this week that in New York (aka one of the most unequal states in America) Republican legislators are aiming to create a special sales-tax exemption for those buying private jets.
And there is, of course, the tale of the billionaire Vice Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, Charles Munger, telling everyone to “thank god” for massive bank bailouts, and then telling the poor to “suck it in and cope” with their own problems.
Each of these makes a good modern-day analogue to the legend of Marie Antoinette’s attitude toward the proles during the 18th century. Yet, none of these examples rise to truly iconic “let them eat cake” status in the way the recent episode involving Warren Buffett does.
I’m referring, of course, to Buffett’s headline-grabbing deal with Quicken Loans to give away $1 billion to anyone who can perfectly predict the outcome of every game in the NCAA basketball tournament.
Buffett and Quicken Loans’ money was never really in jeopardy during this year’s contest, as one mathematician estimated that the odds of predicting a perfect bracket are one in 128 billion. However, that’s not the point because with no winner this year, Buffett says he wants to make it easier for a contestant to win next year.
“It would not have bothered me to pay out the billion,” he boasted.
Look, I’m as much of a fan of March Madness as the average guy, and I understand all the excitement surrounding this “who wants to be a billionaire?” sweepstakes. However, when you take a moment to think about this spectacle in the context of the current economic moment and recent economic history, it is downright grotesque.
Poverty is rampant. Wages are stagnating. Three quarters of Americans are now living paycheck to paycheck. The unemployment rate remains persistently high and inequality has hit Gilded Age levels. Much of this has been exacerbated by a housing crisis and mortgage fraud.
Yet, in the face of such emergencies, one of the world’s richest men joined a mortgage lender that sold shady loans to brag about their collective wealth. That’s the obvious takeaway as Buffett runs to fawning news outlets to proudly proclaim that it wouldn’t faze him in the least to write a billion-dollar check.
This might not be so hideous if the cash were at least being offered to address a serious social crisis. But Buffett is not offering his billion-dollar check to find a cure for a disease, put people back to work, stop climate change, restore cuts to food stamps or anything else like that. He and Quicken Loans propose instead to reward someone for predicting the outcome of games.
In the annals of pomposity, this is the most epic humblebrag of them all. Yes, Buffett and Quicken Loans mogul Dan Gilbert apparently want everyone struggling through a rough economy to know that the two of them are so unbelievably, unfathomably rich they can afford to give away a billion dollars for something frivolous. Indeed, the central message to all those “sucking it in and coping” is simple: Let them eat NCAA brackets!

Well, Mr. Oracle of Omaha and Mr. Gilbert, good for you — mission accomplished and message received. Just don’t start complaining when you become synonymous with other famously insensitive oligarchs of history. You both earned that dubious distinction.

(David Sirota is a staff writer at "PandoDaily" and the best-selling author of the books Hostile Takeover, The Uprising and Back to Our Future. E-mail him at, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at

And if you're enthralled by the investment guru games players so ably trivializing their winnings (your financial lives) for fun, ultimately at our nation's expense, you'll really love how other "winners" of the financial "games" are using their booty.

To purchase your booty.

American democracy used to depend on political parties that more or less represented most of us. Political scientists of the 1950s and 1960s marveled at American “pluralism,” by which they meant the capacities of parties and other membership groups to reflect the preferences of the vast majority of citizens.
Then around a quarter century ago, as income and wealth began concentrating at the top, the Republican and Democratic Parties started to morph into mechanisms for extracting money, mostly from wealthy people.

Professor Robert Reich, ex-Labor Secretary, etc., etc., thinks we aren't a plutocracy/oligarchy quite yet, but I wonder if his sight problem isn't that people at the top of the academic/government world just haven't been affected enough yet.

The New Billionaire Political Bosses

By Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog

26 March 14

harles and David Koch should not be blamed for having more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of Americans put together. Nor should they be condemned for their petrochemical empire. As far as I know, they’ve played by the rules and obeyed the laws.
They’re also entitled to their own right-wing political views. It’s a free country.

But in using their vast wealth to change those rules and laws in order to fit their political views, the Koch brothers are undermining our democracy. That’s a betrayal of the most precious thing Americans share.
The Kochs exemplify a new reality that strikes at the heart of America. The vast wealth that has accumulated at the top of the American economy is not itself the problem. The problem is that political power tends to rise to where the money is. And this combination of great wealth with political power leads to greater and greater accumulations and concentrations of both — tilting the playing field in favor of the Kochs and their ilk, and against the rest of us.

America is not yet an oligarchy, but that’s where the Koch’s and a few other billionaires are taking us.

American democracy used to depend on political parties that more or less represented most of us. Political scientists of the 1950s and 1960s marveled at American “pluralism,” by which they meant the capacities of parties and other membership groups to reflect the preferences of the vast majority of citizens.

Then around a quarter century ago, as income and wealth began concentrating at the top, the Republican and Democratic Parties started to morph into mechanisms for extracting money, mostly from wealthy people.

Finally, after the Supreme Court’s “Citizen’s United” decision in 2010, billionaires began creating their own political mechanisms, separate from the political parties. They started providing big money directly to political candidates of their choice, and creating their own media campaigns to sway public opinion toward their own views.

So far in the 2014 election cycle, “Americans for Prosperity,” the Koch brother’s political front group, has aired more than 17,000 broadcast TV commercials, compared with only 2,100 aired by Republican Party groups.

"Americans for Prosperity" has also been outspending top Democratic super PACs in nearly all of the Senate races Republicans are targeting this year.

In seven of the nine races the difference in total spending is at least two-to-one and Democratic super PACs have had virtually no air presence in five of the nine states.

The Kochs have spawned several imitators. Through the end of February, four of the top five contributors to 2014 super-PACs are now giving money to political operations they themselves created, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

For example, billionaire TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts and his son, Todd, co-owner of the Chicago Cubs, have their own $25 million political operation called “Ending Spending.” The group is now investing heavily in TV ads against Republican Representative Walter Jones in a North Carolina primary (they blame Jones for too often voting with Obama).

Their ad attacking Democratic New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen for supporting Obama’s health-care law has become a template for similar ads funded by the Koch’s “Americans for Prosperity” in Senate races across the country.

When billionaires supplant political parties, candidates are beholden directly to the billionaires. And if and when those candidates win election, the billionaires will be completely in charge.

At this very moment, Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson (worth an estimated $37.9 billion) is busy interviewing potential Republican candidates whom he might fund, in what’s being called the “Sheldon Primary.”

“Certainly the ‘Sheldon Primary’ is an important primary for any Republican running for president,” says Ari Fleischer, former White House press secretary under President George W. Bush.

It goes without saying that anybody running for the Republican nomination would want to have Sheldon at his side.”

The new billionaire political bosses aren’t limited to Republicans. Democratic-leaning billionaires Tom Steyer, a former hedge-fund manager, and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, have also created their own political groups. But even if the two sides were equal, billionaires squaring off against each other isn’t remotely a democracy.

In his much-talked-about new book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, economist Thomas Piketty explains why the rich have become steadily richer while the share of national income going to wages continues to drop.

He shows that when wealth is concentrated in relatively few hands, and the income generated by that wealth grows more rapidly than the overall economy – as has been the case in the United States and many other advanced economies for years – the richest receive almost all the income growth.
Logically, this leads to greater and greater concentrations of income and wealth in the future – dynastic fortunes that are handed down from generation to generation, as they were prior to the twentieth century in much of the world.
The trend was reversed temporarily in the twentieth century by the Great Depression, two terrible wars, the development of the modern welfare state, and strong labor unions. But Piketty is justifiably concerned about the future.
A new gilded age is starting to look a lot like the old one. The only way to stop this is through concerted political action.

Yet the only large-scale political action we’re witnessing is that of Charles and David Koch, and their billionaire imitators.

Funny how it gets serious to those at the top when they realize they aren't really at the top.

Isn't it?

If anyone can throw a contribution to the continuation of this site, it will be deeply appreciated.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

(Jimmy Carter Zings Colbert!) Can We Rebuild An Internet Secure from Snooping Spies? (Why I Must Speak Out on Israel, Palestine and BDS (Roger Waters Speaks))

Jimmy Carter may be the only guest (or one of the few) to actually out-zing Stephen Colbert on his show (and this happened just last night against all of Colbert's plans).

I'm thinking that Jimmy should have his own show. He's, naturally, intelligent, affable, and a very witty man, and quite capable of speaking knowledgeably on all sorts of subjects. Not to mention, being able to quote personal letters from people like the Pope (knocking out Stephen!) again and again.

I'd watch it.

And I'd bet that lots of people would.

Here's Colbert's Jimmy Carter moment:

The NSA Is Burning Down the Web, But What if We Rebuilt a Spy-Proof Internet?

By David Byrne, Creative Time Reports

24 March 14

To realize what we've given away, imagine going totally offline. Better yet, believe in what a truly secure online life might look like

hat will life be like after the internet? Thanks to the mass surveillance undertaken by the National Security Agency and the general creepiness of companies like Google and Facebook, I've found myself considering this question. I mean, nothing lasts forever, right?
There's a broad tech backlash going on right now; I wonder just how deep the disillusionment runs. I get the feeling that there are folks out there who would relish putting the internet behind us sooner rather than later. Imagine that: even the internet could be a thing of the past one day. What would that be like? No Facebook. No Google. No government nerds looking through your webcam.
But could we become more secure without abandoning the internet? What if there's a third way? One that doesn't involve either passive resignation to being exploited or a Luddite smash-the-looms fantasy. What if we began to develop and encourage the adoption of machines and a network that are actually secure – through which neither thieves, corporations, nor the NSA could track us – and what if these could be configured by us, to really do what we want them to do? To stop the spying, stealing and monitoring, but to allow other things to continue.

What would that look like?

A problem: maybe the internet wasn't built to be secure

We all know by now that the NSA and the UK's Government Communication Headquarters are reading our emails, listening to our phone conversations, storing our metadata and using our computers and phones to watch us. A bunch of dorky guys amassing huge collections of pictures of tits and dicks. Here they are, hard at work, protecting us:

I know I feel safer now! Happy viewing, guys! If we had any doubts before, now we know that the government doesn't trust us – so very many of us – and we certainly don't trust it.

Meanwhile, thieves have managed to get their hands on more than 100 million credit card numbers and PINs from Target and Neiman Marcus. Lots of cyber thieves operate in the former Soviet republics, so maybe that new sports car in Baku or that night on the town in Sofia is courtesy of your hard-earned savings.

It's not just the government and thieves who take advantage of the web's weird combination of opacity and insecurity; Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and other tech companies repurpose our phones and tablets into tracking and monitoring devices. Google, for one, makes a lot of money gathering information from us and selling it to advertisers. The free conveniences we enjoy – email, endless web browsing, cats and all sorts of gossip – are not, in fact, free. They are merely clever trade-offs for information about you. In return for access to much of the world's knowledge, we hand over valuable personal information about everything we believe, everything we're curious about, everything we desire or fear – everything that makes us who we are, at least to the retailers, advertisers and secret government agencies on the receiving end.

It is we who are being sold.

Trading our privacy for the convenience of a Google search is not so different from giving up constitutionally protected freedoms in exchange for the "security" that our government claims to offer. At least with Google and other tech services we know we're getting something; whether we actually are more secure because of the NSA's surveillance is an unresolved question. We are frequently told that this indiscriminate data collection has produced valuable results, but those results are "secret," so you'll just have to trust the government. I'm not saying we don't need strong security measures to protect us from lunatics, but this dragnet surveillance has gone way beyond meeting that need.

Cyber thieves, for their part, don't offer the average internet user anything in return – not only that, but they make money selling information about the security gaps they find to the US government. It's an open question whether the government actually wants to patch up those holes and make the internet more secure. For now, it's in its interest to keep these holes open – available for future use, but secret. And we know how good the government is at keeping secrets.

To a lot of folks it appears that the corporations, the thieves and the government are all doing exactly the same thing: the "legal" behavior and the illegal theft are cousins. Spying and cyber theft are not freak phenomena; increasingly, they appear to be unavoidable consequences of online access as it now exists.

As the internet has become more integral to our lives, we've become more vulnerable to its seductions, and the web has started to act like a bully, a drug dealer. It knows we need it, love it and are addicted to it, so it can take advantage of that need.

Moreover, the internet is no longer even egalitarian. And that was one of the big pluses! Once it seemed that everyone had the same access to information. Soon, though, its glories will be available only to those who can afford them. Recently, Verizon won a court ruling against net neutrality, which the Federal Communications Commission has announced it will not appeal, so the way is clear for corporations to play favorites with internet traffic. Clearly this miraculous technology – developed in part with the noble ambition that nuclear scientists might communicate freely – has been perverted into something dark and disturbing.

A thought experiment:  what if we broke the internet?

These deteriorating conditions feed into the rapidly growing discontent regarding the internet. What if the disillusionment eventually reaches a point at which many feel that the free services and convenience no longer compensate for the exploitation, control and surveillance? What if, one night, a small group of people decided they've had enough and say, Let's call it a day? What exactly might this imaginary band of outsiders do? Would they or could they shut down the entire internet? Is that even possible? And what would be the consequences? Now, let's be clear, I'm not advocating this, but I also don't think it's entirely outside the realm of possibility.

As we all know by now, the NSA tapped into a vast amount of international and domestic internet communications by installing devices in small rooms in data centers in San Francisco and a few other places. It didn't require an all-out assault to subvert one of these fortresses – just a small intervention with impunity and intent. Here is what the inside of one of these buildings looks like:

That's what makes it all work? My music studio isn't this messy!

The internet, it seems, is not "nowhere". There are nodes in the internet, where great amounts of data come and go, and they do have real physical locations. Intercept a few of these nodes – there are some here in downtown New York, linked to some in Lisbon, where the fiber-optic cables surface – and you can infiltrate the whole world, as the NSA knows. They needed access to only a few undistinguished buildings to get what they wanted.

So… imagine that a hypothetical group of disillusioned citizens obtains access to the same nodes – let's say it's an inside job by some building employees – but instead of tapping the nodes, as the NSA did, they break them. And to avoid any possibility of repair, they detonate a small timed radioactive paintball after they leave. No one gets hurt, but the radioactive splatter creates a no-go zone. As a result, no one can fix the fiber optics or even get near them for, let's say, 100 years. The city outside, and even the rest of the building, might remain safe, but don't go near that room on the 20th floor!

This might sound far-fetched. Surely no one can "break" the internet! The internet is our friend! And how could anyone even get into the buildings that keep it running?! But as we've seen, neither our "security" organizations nor the world's largest corporations are very good at keeping their shit secure.

OK, now, for the sake of this thought experiment…

A wasteland: what if the web as we know it didn't exist?

The internet is a thing of the past. What now?

Obviously business goes haywire, to say nothing of the profitable business of watching us. High-speed automated trading, which makes up half or more of New York's stock market activity (though the proportion is currently declining, ends. Wall Street initially crashes, but eventually it finds a new normal. (There was trading before the internet, after all.) Streaming movies and music, however, is totally over. Skyping your grandmother – over.

Google is now absolutely worthless, though it still has all its existing data housed in massive server farms. No more drones will take flight or drop bombs on Pakistan or Yemen. Cash and checks are still pretty good; credit and debit cards can't rely on internet connections to verify accounts anymore – though they still work, as they did before the web. Amazon has ceased to exist, and huge brick-and-mortar stores like Wal-Mart have lost track of their massive inventories. Small towns and bookstores make a comeback! Even record stores!

No one can unfriend you, and Mark Zuckerberg won't know what and whom you like or don't like ever again. Online courses will halt; teachers will have to teach their students face-to-face. The Singularity will be postponed.

Would the world really be a better place without the internet? Is a complete reset really necessary?

For some, the internet has offered endless moneymaking opportunities, but whether many of the web's touted benefits end up reaching the majority of people is debatable. More and more, it seems that only a minority are making a fortune off what was extolled as a universally liberating technology.

To be fair, the internet offers some egalitarian benefits, besides pictures of cats. There's the well-publicized assistance it lends to movements for human rights and democracy and the instantaneously accessible forum it provides for much of the world's knowledge. Truth be told, the internet didn't actually create any of those movements or that knowledge, but it has certainly empowered a lot of previously voiceless people who now have access to them.

It's hard to weigh the worth of the internet because we can't even imagine life without it. We've internalized it. It's part of us, which explains why we are exploited so easily online. Is the internet a cancer killing us little by little or a wonderful cybernetic extension of our brains? Let's say we wanted to rid ourselves of the cancer. Would the cure be catastrophic or would the liberation be worth it?

A utopia: what would a revised internet look like?

To be honest, I have a hard time imagining internet 2.0. I'm old enough to remember the utopian enthusiasm that greeted the internet when it emerged 20 years ago. We can't go back – we know too much now – but maybe we can learn from what we loved about the internet back then. Namely, its egalitarian nature – that homemade and small-scale sites were just as accessible as the emerging e-commerce platforms. It was a pleasant, chaotic jumble. Can we revive the feeling of a souk and lose the big-box store feel?

Some folks have advocated that the internet be considered a utility. A "necessary" part of our lives like water, electricity or gas. It might be better to have some fair regulation than to let market forces shape the landscape. Can you imagine if corporations owned our water supply?

Imagine this: in a new internet, we'd still be able to send emails. Academic and nonprofit institutions would still share resources online. Wikipedia and web-based journalism would still exist. But if we can't be tracked as we are now, a lot would change. Google would lose its primary sources of revenue – ads – and return to being a very good search engine, with a lot fewer employees. The NSA and the other data thieves and collectors would be helpless. No one would have data on countless innocent citizens that could be repurposed to God knows what ends. The Chinese couldn't hack into the North American power grid.

All that money that was poured into online surveillance programs could of course now be spent on health and education (I did say "could" – I'm being very optimistic). That would actually increase security – worldwide. It's pretty well accepted that extreme poverty breeds terrorism. Offering attractive alternatives to extremism that lead to better lives is the way to win the "war on terror". Guns, drones and mass surveillance do the opposite: they actually breed terrorism. If we have the imagination to rethink both network security and national security – and that's a big if – then the whole world would have the opportunity to become safer, no matter what the US government claims.

Is there a will to change?

Let's assume that such a secure network structure is technically possible. internet 2.0 for real. Even if it is technically possible, I have a feeling that it might take a lot of willpower to walk away from the tit of convenience. Corporations and governments have built massive economic and political systems based on our accepting things as they are, and they will fight powerfully against any reforms.

What could make that surge of willpower come into existence? The information-hoovering in which corporations engage is of a kind with the government surveillance; in both cases we are prey to distant agendas. The three forms of data-gathering (if one includes cyber crime) are all connected – and none of them make us happier or more secure.

Reassessing what makes us secure might be a start. Real, life-long security comes not from the barrel of a gun or from being able to spy on your fellow citizens like a Stasi informant; it comes with less harsh extremes of wealth and poverty and increased access to health care and education. Embracing the security that comes with a more robust democracy is far preferable to other incentives to change, like all our credit cards becoming worthless or the NSA leaking incriminating webcam pictures of its critics. Before a catastrophic collapse like my hypothetical one ever comes, let's find it within ourselves to give up some convenience and become a little more human.

Roger Waters is an earth hero.

But who'd today believe in an earth hero?

Losing my father before I ever knew him and being brought up by a single, working mother who fought tirelessly for equality and justice colored my life in far-reaching ways and has driven all my work.

I'm glad we all didn't have to lose our fathers to become so selfless.

Roger Waters: Why I Must Speak Out on Israel, Palestine and BDS

Roger Waters: Why I must speak out on Israel, Palestine and BDS 

Roger Waters (Credit: AP/Bebeto Matthews)

Seventy years ago, my father – 2nd Lt. Eric Fletcher Waters – died in Italy fighting the Nazis. He was a committed pacifist, and a conscientious objector at the start of the war, but as Hitler’s crimes spread across Europe, he swapped the ambulance he had driven through the London blitz for a tin hat and a commission in the Royal Fusiliers and he joined the fight against fascism. He was killed near Aprilia in the battle for the Anzio Bridgehead on Feb. 18, 1944. My mother – Mary Duncan Waters – spent the rest of her life politically active, striving always to ensure that her children, and everyone else’s children, had no Sword of Damocles in the form of the despised Nazi Creed or any other despicable creed hanging over their heads.
Last month, thanks to the good people of Aprilia and Anzio, I was able to pay tribute to the father I never knew by unveiling a memorial in the town where he died and laying a wreath to honor him, and all the other fallen. Losing my father before I ever knew him and being brought up by a single, working mother who fought tirelessly for equality and justice colored my life in far-reaching ways and has driven all my work. And, at this point in my journey, I like to think that I pay tribute to both my parents each time I speak out in support of any beleaguered people denied the freedom and justice that I believe all of us deserve.
After visiting Israel in 2005 and the West Bank the following year, I was deeply moved and concerned by what I saw, and determined to add my voice to those searching for an equitable and lawful solution to the problem – for both Palestinians and Jews.

Given my upbringing, I really had no choice.

In 2005, Palestinian civil society appealed to people of conscience all over the world to act where governments had failed. They asked us to join their nonviolent movement – for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) – which aims to end Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories, to secure equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel, and to uphold the right of Palestinian refugees to return to the cities and villages they were violently forced out of in 1948 and 1967.

After more than two decades of negotiations, the vulnerable Palestinian population still lives under occupation, while more land is taken, more illegal settlements built, and more Palestinians are imprisoned, injured or killed struggling for the right to live in dignity and peace, to raise their families, to till their land, to aspire to each and every human goal, just like the rest of us. The Palestinians’ prolonged statelessness has made them among the most vulnerable of all peoples, particularly in their diaspora where, as now in Syria, they are subject, as stateless, powerless refugees, to targeted violence, from all sides in that bloody conflict, subject to unimaginable hardship and  deprivation and, in many cases, particularly for the vulnerable young, to starvation.

What can we all do to advance the rights of Palestinians in the occupied territories, Israel and the diaspora? Well, BDS is a nonviolent, citizen-led movement that is grounded in universal principles of human rights for all people. All people! In consequence, I have determined that the BDS approach is one I can fully support.

I feel honored to stand in solidarity alongside my father and my mother, and alongside my Palestinian brothers and sisters, and so many others of all colors, faiths and circumstances from all over the world – including an ever-increasing number of courageous Jewish Americans and Israelis – who have also answered the call.

In the furor that exists in the U.S. today about BDS and the right and wrong of a cultural boycott of Israel, a quote from one of my heroes, Mahatma Gandhi, has been on my mind. He prophetically said, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”  The BDS movement is fulfilling its promise and fits Gandhi’s description.  Once dismissed by many as a futile strategy that would “never work,” BDS has gained much ground in recent weeks, bringing with it the expected backlash.

Divestment votes at major U.S. universities, European pension funds divesting from Israeli banks that do business with illegal Israeli settlements, and the recent high-profile parting of the ways between actor Scarlett Johansson and the global anti-poverty group Oxfam are symptoms of a growing resistance to the Israeli subjugation of the indigenous people of Palestine, and also, to the decades of occupation of land designated by the U.N. as a future state for the Palestinian people.

And with each new BDS headline, the ferocious reaction from the movement’s critics, with Netanyahu and his AIPAC fulminations in the vanguard, has risen exponentially.  I think it’s safe to say BDS is in the “then they fight you” stage.

Some wrongly portray the boycott movement, which is modeled on the boycotts employed against Apartheid South Africa and used in the U.S. civil rights movement, to be an attack on the Israeli people or even on the Jewish people, as a whole. Nothing could be further from the truth. The movement recognizes universal human rights under the law for all people, regardless of their ethnicity, religion or color.

I do not claim to speak on behalf of the BDS movement, yet, as a vocal supporter, and because of my visibility in the music industry, I have become a natural target for those who wish to attack BDS, not by addressing the merits of its claims but, instead, by assigning hateful and racist motivations to BDS supporters like me. It has even been said, cruelly and wrongly, that I am a Nazi and an anti-Semite.

When I remarked in a recent interview on historical parallels, stating that I would not have played Vichy France or Berlin in World War II, it was not my intention to compare the Israelis to Nazis or the Holocaust to the decades-long oppression of the Palestinians.  There is no comparison to the Holocaust.  Nor did I intend or ever wish to compare the suffering of Jews then with the suffering of Palestinians now.  Comparing suffering is a painful, grotesque and diminishing exercise that dishonors the specific memory of all our fallen loved ones.

I believe that the root of all injustice and oppression has always been the same – the dehumanization of the other. It is the obsession with Us and Them that can lead us, regardless of racial or religious identity, into the abyss.

Let us never forget that oppression begets more oppression, and the tree of fear and bigotry bears only bitter fruit. The end of the occupation of Palestine, should we all manage to secure it, will mean freedom for the occupied and the occupiers and freedom from the bitter taste of all those wasted years and lives. And that will be a great gift to the world.

“Ashes and diamonds
Foe and friend
We were all equal
In the end.”

Monday, March 24, 2014

Social Security Lies That Will HURT US Still Being Media Spun at Great Velocity (Remember Kent State Murders? I Was at DC Protest) Jimmy Carter Bugged? Really!

There isn't much left to be said in defense of an almost three-trillion (yes, trillion) dollar taxpayer-funded program always under attack from those who want to take one-third of it for their personal profits arising from a bought-and-paid-for rich-man's-media-created hysteria that appeals to the ignorant or purposely uninformed.

The first comment found below the essay is the usual right-wing response to the system's well-documented future stability.

The second comment knocks the first into the cheap seats.

From Naked Capitalism's maven, Yves:

Progressives Need to Up Their Game Against Social Security’s Enemies

March 24, 2014

Yves Smith

Yves here. I must confess I find it difficult to counter the simple-minded and inaccurate arguments of the deficit scaremongers. They start from the falsehood that we have been “living beyond our means” when pre-crisis, deficits were running at 1.2% of GDP and the CBO projected that they would rise to and remain at 1.5% of GDP, which was a sustainable level. The Federal debt to GDP ratio would have fallen over time at that level of spending.

What made debt levels rise was the global financial crisis. Yet you never, ever, hear this crowd talk about banking industry reform, or for that matter anything other than cutting “entitlements”. The formula is “deficits dangerous, cut spending for ordinary people.”

It’s hard to beat the “live within your means” imagery, which is intuitively appealing to most people and difficult to rebut in the soundbites usually allotted for this type of conversation on TV or at conferences. Dean Baker takes the line of explaining that long-term forecasting is prone to error, and that even i(f) Social Security turns out to need fixes, we have plenty of time to do it and it would take at most 1% more of GDP of spending, which is comfortably affordable.

And as for Medicare, which is not part of this post, I suggest you read how the Fed’s long term fiscal forecasters have shredded the CBO model that has served as the basis of deficit hysteria. They demonstrate that the spending growth projections are indefensibly aggressive and violate the CBO’s own rules for budget forecasting.

- Joe Firestone, Ph.D., is Managing Director, CEO of the Knowledge Management Consortium International (KMCI), and Director of KMCI’s CKIM Certificate program.

Firestone taught political science as the graduate and undergraduate level and blogs regularly at Corrente, Firedoglake and Daily Kos as letsgetitdone. Cross posted from New Economic Perspectives.

MSNBC’s right-wing representative on The Cycle, Abby Huntsman (daughter of defeated Republican candidate John Huntsman, got a lot of pushback from Social Security defenders after her rant last week. They made points similar to the following in countering Huntsman:

– SS is not bankrupt now, it has $2.6 Trillion in Treasury IOUs in the SS “trust fund” accumulated because Treasury has used FICA collections to “pay for” other Federal spending since 1983, when the Government began to collect more from workers and employers than was paid out to beneficiaries. The accumulated IOUs, projected interest on them, and future FICA collections are projected as being enough to “cover” 100% of SS benefits until 2033, and then 75% of benefits thereafter. 100% of benefits could be “covered” from 2033 on, if the payroll tax cap on Social Security were to be removed.

– Huntsman’s claim that seniors have longer life expectancies than when SS first was enacted is greatly exaggerated, because life expectancies at birth have improved due to improvements in infant mortality rates. But they haven’t improved nearly as much at age 65 and older, and apart from that, the improvement that exists after age 65 is reached is primarily concentrated among certain social groups, and that the poorest and most needy groups in our population, who need SS the most, have either seen little improvement in life expectancy, or even a decline in life expectancy in recent years.
– Savings of seniors now average very little more than is needed for them to cover Medical expenses due to aging and there is precious little left over for living expenses beyond what SS spending will cover.

– Huntsman is conflating the SS “Trust Fund” running out of money in 2033, with SS running out of money. The first is happening as it was always planned to happen when the Reagan Administration and Congress agreed to raise FICA payments to almost double the amount previously paid, for the boomer generation to cover its retirement benefits; but the second depends on what Congress will do in the future to close the gap between current projected FICA revenues and projected benefits.
These two are different because the Government can do various things to close that gap. Huntsman mentions only cutting benefits or moving the SS retirement age to either 70 or even 75, so that enough will be left in the fund to close the revenue/benefits gap. But there are other ways of doing this easily; most notably removing the payroll tax cap so that the well-off, or those who are prospering, will pay the same share of their income into Social Security as most of the rest of us, and/or there can also be gradual small increases in the employee and employer contributions that will close the projected gaps indefinitely.

Other points of less importance, and moral arguments, which from my point of view are among the most important, about the right to a decent secure retirement for the elderly are made, as well.

But, there is one point, the most important one of all, which is not made in all these “progressive” push-back arguments against Abby Huntsman’s right wing Petersonian “Fix the Debt” rant. That is the point that there is no entitlement crisis and no emergency, and neither an increase in payroll taxes, nor robbing from “future generations” is necessary to close the projected gap after 2033 because Congress can pass legislation providing for annual automatic funding of expected costs for all SS and Medicare trust funds.

That’s done now for Supplementary Medical Insurance (Medicare Part B), and Prescription Drug Benefits (Medicare Part D), and the same practice using similar legislative language can be extended to the SS Old Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) and Disability Insurance (DI) trust funds. End of story. Once that is done, no gaps between SS revenue and benefits can be projected by institutions, such as CBO, under current law.

You may doubt this solution by pointing out that legislation like this just pushes off Huntsman’s Social Security solvency problem to the Treasury at large, rather than its being SS’s problem, but it doesn’t solve the real insolvency problem. Only it does, because the Government as a whole has no fiscal solvency problem, since it can always use its authority to create the reserves in the Treasury spending accounts to pay all its bills including all those exceeding its revenues.

The customary way of creating such reserves is to sell Treasury debt instruments, destroying reserves in the private sector, and getting the Fed to place an equal amount of reserves in its accounts. But, there is another way it can be done under current law, and still other ways open to Congress, if they want to pay all the SS benefits they would have guaranteed by the proposed change in the law that would solve this faux problem.

The way any gap appropriated by Congress can be closed under current law, is to use Platinum Coin Seigniorage (PCS) to do it. As many of my readers know, I’ve explained how this would work in my e-book. But, the basic idea is that coin seigniorage can be used by the Treasury to require the Fed to use its reserve creation authority to place reserves in Treasury accounts, without Treasury engaging in any additional taxing or borrowing.

So, this capability coupled with Congress providing for annual automatic funding would end the Huntsman, Peterson, Bowles, Simpson, Ryan, and Obama revenue gap problems with Social Security and all other entitlements, for that matter, without these poor folks having to worry about taxing the rich, like them.

And, if Congress doesn’t like that alternative way of placing reserves in Treasury’s accounts so it can spend Congressional appropriations, then it can always just go ahead and place the Fed within the Treasury Department, giving the Secretary the direct authority to order the Fed to fill its accounts with enough reserves to cover any revenue shortfalls, without either raising taxes or issuing more debt instruments.

So, these are the easy ways to end the faux crisis which won’t befall us anyway until 2033. Why won’t the “progressives” pushing back against Abby Huntsman mention solutions like these? Why do they, instead, always propose solutions that will raise taxes on the wealthy? Are they afraid to let the people know that the Government isn’t like a household and doesn’t have the same financial problems they have, just written large? Are they so insistent on solutions that will tax higher income and wealthy people, because they must kill the two birds of full employment and greater equality through taxing with a single stone?

Moving toward greater economic equality is a focus we ought to prioritize very highly, but getting that done is a separate issue from defeating deficit terrorism by taking the deficit reduction and faux entitlement crises off the table so full resources can be devoted to strengthening the safety net and legislating programs essential for getting millions of Americans on their feet again and contemplating the future with hope. That, in itself, will lessen inequality.

And after that is done, we can then turn our attention to programs primarily focused on creating greater economic equality. But until it is done, let us focus on stopping the bleeding of working and middle class Americans and restoring them to the economic health and sense of economic opportunity, that we’ve always thought was so important to American life.


Jim Haygood

SS is not bankrupt now, it has $2.6 Trillion in Treasury IOUs in the SS “trust fund.”

So if I have $100K in my bank account, am I bankrupt or not? You can’t answer the question without knowing my liabilities. And as the author obviously knows, the same is true for Social Security, or any other entity. But it makes a better sound bite for the innumerate to just baffle them with big numbers. Trillions, OMG!!!

In fact (as opposed to rhetoric), the Social Security Trustees report for 2013 notes on page four that:

‘For the 75-year projection period, the actuarial deficit is 2.72 percent of taxable payroll. The open-group unfunded obligation for OASDI over the 75-year period is $9.6 trillion in present value.’

In other words, Social Security is grossly underfunded, and fixing it with payroll taxes would require a swingeing bite. Those who try to sweep these inconvenient facts under the rug are no friends of Social Security.

Pension security begins with full funding, contractual enforceability, and a fiduciary obligation to beneficiaries. Soc Sec possesses none of these basic safeguards, and as such, is a source of uncertainty and insecurity, not to mention low payouts owing to malinvestment of its assets.

diptherio March 24, 2014 at 11:41 am

“For the 75-year projection period…”

Ah yes, “projecting” over three generations into the future: sure to be highly accurate.

Don’t worry Jim, climate catastrophes and disease will wipe out many of the people CBO is projecting long before they reach retirement age; many before they’re even born! The CBO has failed to account for our planetary post-industrial decline. Taking that into account makes the SS numbers look far rosier.

saurabh March 24, 2014 at 11:53 am

$9.6 trillion over 75 years comes to $128 billion a year, which is already only 1% of GDP. In addition, while that number is in nominal terms, hopefully over the next seventy-five years the economy will continue growing faster than the rate of inflation (i.e. there will be real growth in productivity), making that percentage even a smaller. This is an accounting problem that we need to take care of legislatively. It is not a crisis requiring us to scrap our social welfare system right now, or privatize it into the hands of those who will surely destroy it.

Min March 24, 2014 at 12:00 pm

I have two reactions to the Living Beyond Our Means meme.

The first is, what does that mean? Burning too much oil? Eating too many french fries? Degrading our environment?

The second is, Are You Nuts! How can the richest, most powerful nation the world has ever known live beyond its means? If we have people going hungry, living on the street, or dying from lack of medical care it is not because we cannot afford to feed them, clothe them, house them, or heal them. It is because we do not want to do so. The claim that we are living beyond our means is just an excuse for doing nothing.


Social insurance is popular, just, evidence-based, cost effective, and critical to the entrepreneurial risk taking upon which market-based economics depends. I find that someone not amenable to at least one of those angles is usually part of the problem (unless of course they are legitimately critiquing private property ownership itself, but that perspective is quite rare…)
I would also add, though, that acknowledging people’s concerns about things like inflation and government waste is helpful. After all, if the cost of living wasn’t going up so much, then why is chained CPI a big deal?

We are squandering massive resources, and the healthcare sector in particular is definitely part of the malinvestment. The OASI trust fund is sound. But the DI and HI trust funds have real choices coming, and our unemployment insurance system is embarrassingly awful.

Only a tiny minority of the unemployed are covered by UI benefits. Those excluded range from prisoners to recent graduates to people who ‘voluntarily’ quit a prior job to people who violated a ‘policy’ of the prior employer to people who worked for an employer not covered by that state’s unemployment compensation system.

It is also interesting hearing a defense of social insurance in the MMT context, since social insurance (particularly universal unemployment insurance and universal health insurance) is one of the biggest alternatives to MMT’s JG/ELR. What social insurance offers – especially in the American context – is proven historical success combined with the underlying philosophical view that life is a basic right, not something that must be earned. JG is exactly the opposite – it says that people should have to work for even the most basic of necessities.

Again, we need to hear the above comment every day in all the unbiased (and biased, but dream on!) media in order to be able to fight back against the corrupt media-paid professional liars.

As I have commented so many times in the past, get a life folks. Social Security is as secure as the citizens who paid into it all their work lives want it to be. Dean Baker* has documented how less than a $1.00 a week increase in FICA taxes (not to start until 2020, folks!) will secure it for a century into the future (if you have no faith in the continued existence of and increase in the GDP of the USA). Coberly explains to naysayers even more pointedly.**

* An increase in the tax rate of 0.14 percentage points annually (0.07 percent on both the worker and the employer) beginning in 2020 and running for thirty years should be sufficient to make the trust fund balanced for its 75 year planning horizon. This leaves a total increase in the tax rate of 4.25 percentage points (2.23 on both the worker and the employer) by 2050. (The spreadsheet is available on request.)

** written by coberly, March 16, 2014

. . . the "unfair" extra cost to the Millennials is about eighty cents per week per year while their wages are expected to rise about eight dollars per week per year, and their life expectancies to increase by about three years.

. . . it is real hard for me to see this as a burden, much less unfair. but as an old math teacher . . . I have learned that not everyone has much of a sense of proportion where numbers are concerned.

. . . the baby boomers already paid more into the system. That was the 1983 tax increase. The extra that the Millennials will pay is not to pay for the boomers, but to pay for their own longer life expectancy/lower wage growth
_ _ _ _ _ _ _

I boarded a bus on May 6, 1970, and went to Washington, D.C., to protest the Ohio National Guard's murder of the peaceably demonstrating students at Kent State (who chartered the bus and how and what happened next will be an important chapter of my coming autobiography).

I, also, have yet to see a true public accounting of what exactly happened on that day from a government or administrative spokesperson who took responsibility (one way or the other) for the unfolding events.

This state of affairs will never go away (until it is resolved by a truth commission). And certainly not now in a time of 24/7 surveillance of the entire populace.

 (photo: Laurel Krause)

(photo: Laurel Krause)

Kent State Truth Tribunal Addresses the United Nations Human Rights Committee

Laurel Krause, Open Mike Blog

24 March 14

n March 13, 2014 the Kent State Truth Tribunal addressed the United Nations Human Rights Committee at the United States 4th Periodic Review in Geneva:

My sister Allison Krause was one of four students shot to death by American military personnel in the parking lot of her university campus at Kent State, Ohio on May 4, 1970 as she protested the Vietnam War. I was fifteen years old when this happened. I have come here today to ask that the United States be held accountable for failing to fully investigate this incident and its own complicity in the crimes that took place and to deliver justice to the victims and their families. Allison stood for peace and died for peace on May 4th.

My mother Doris Krause, now 88 years old, is not able to travel due to her failing health. Even though Mom’s not here, she helped write these words and believes in them. Our sentiments are shared by family members and by many others present at Kent State at the time of the shootings, as oas concerned citizens who have also longed for accountability for the historic, and tragic, series of events at Kent State.

For 44 years the United States government has refused to admit that four young students … children … were killed at Kent State. There has not been a credible, independent, impartial investigation into Kent State. No group or individual has been held accountable. Even in 2010 upon the emergence of undeniable, credible forensic evidence pointing to direct US government involvement, there has still not been a full accounting of the events on and near that day, and no remedy delivered to the victims.

Because of the failure of the US government to pursue accountability and deliver redress to victims, we ask the UNHRC to press the US to initiate a new investigation of Kent State, with a particular focus on the forensic evidence that emerged in 2010. The right to assemble and protest is professed as a cherished American value and is a fundamental facet of our democracy.

The Kent State precedent has cast a shadow over this democracy for over 40 years. If Kent State remains a glaring example of government impunity, it sends a message that protestors, especially young men and women, can be killed by the state for expressing their political beliefs. My sister died protesting for peace and I would like to honor her memory by ensuring that this never happens to another American protestor again.

# Felix Julian 2014-03-24 07:52

Congratulations on your tenacity and dedication to the truth about the events that led to the murder of your sister and the other 3 unarmed students during a peaceful protest against the invasion of Cambodia on May 4, 1970. Many, many of us have not forgotten this seminal event w(hich), along with the Tet Offensive in 1968, turned public opinion fully away from its warmongering and abuses of protesters of that war and racial bigotry.

Cover ups of the sort which Nixon and his cronies boasted about - including Kent, were the rule of the day in 1970 - a time when a nation was so divided it was not possible to have any hope. Your efforts and sacrifices in the name of your sister may very well rip open the lies that caused a nation to become the worst abuser of "democracy" as a cover for freedoms we are losing every day. Thank you, Laurel Krause. We will follow this process to its end in full support.

Monday, Mar 24, 2014 10:35 AM EST

Paul Krugman Bashes GOP for Pushing America Toward Oligarchy

The New York Times columnist thinks the time to stop a slide into permanent inequality is running out

Elias Isquith

In his latest column for the New York Times, award-winning economist and best-selling author Paul Krugman has a warning to Americans everywhere: If we’re not careful, we may end up living in an oligarchy much sooner than we think. And we’ll have Republicans to thank.

“America’s nascent oligarchy may not yet be fully formed,” Krugman writes, “but one of our two main political parties already seems committed to defending the oligarchy’s interests.”

For proof of the GOP’s fealty to the interests of the super-rich, Krugman turns back the clock to the George W. Bush years, focusing particularly on that president’s signature tax cuts. “It’s generally understood that George W. Bush did all he could to cut taxes on the very affluent,” Krugman writes. “It’s less well understood that the biggest breaks went not to people paid high salaries but to coupon-clippers and heirs to large estates.”

According to Krugman, Republicans’ focus on protecting the interests of massive, inherited wealth hasn’t abated in the post-W. era. Citing a favorite target, Krugman notes that former vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s so-called road-map budget plan would strip away taxes on nearly every form of what the economist calls “unearned income.”

“Under this plan,” Krugman warns, “someone living solely off inherited wealth would have owed no federal taxes at all.”

Having established the what of the GOP’s oligarch-friendly policies, Krugman next turns to the why:

Why is this happening? Well, bear in mind that both Koch brothers are numbered among the 10 wealthiest Americans, and so are four Walmart heirs. Great wealth buys great political influence — and not just through campaign contributions. Many conservatives live inside an intellectual bubble of think tanks and captive media that is ultimately financed by a handful of mega-donors. Not surprisingly, those inside the bubble tend to assume, instinctively, that what is good for oligarchs is good for America.

As I’ve already suggested, the results can sometimes seem comical. The important point to remember, however, is that the people inside the bubble have a lot of power, which they wield on behalf of their patrons. And the drift toward oligarchy continues.


Jack Hughes

The Republican Party is in reality a massive wealth-enhancement scam for the plutocracy. For a relatively minor investment - hundreds of millions of dollars - America's plutocrats receive trillions in tax avoidance and direct subsidies from the taxpayers.

Of course, such a scam requires massive deception to convince the rubes to vote against their own economic self-interest in favor of the hereditary aristocracy. But with the help of the corporate media and with Republicans selling the "striped turds" of so-called social issues, the sheep eagerly line-up to be willingly fleeced as their jobs disappear, wages decline and their country's infrastructure crumbles around them.

Jimmy Carter: 'I Believe If I Send an Email, It Will Be Monitored'

Former President Jimmy Carter. (photo: AP)

Former President Jimmy Carter believes U.S. intelligence agencies are spying on him — so much so, he eschews email to avoid government spies.

"You know, I have felt that my own communications are probably monitored," Carter told NBC's Andrea Mitchell in an interview broadcast Sunday. "And when I want to communicate with a foreign leader privately, I type or write a letter myself, put it in the post office and mail it.

"I believe if I send an email, it will be monitored," Carter continued.

The 89-year-old said the National Security Agency and others have abused the argument that gathering intelligence is critical to homeland security.

"That has been extremely liberalized and, I think, abused by our own intelligence agencies," Carter said.

Grover Norquist and the Kochs take on Tennessee GOP

Elias Isquith

The anti-tax activists declare war on Republicans in the Volunteer State who say a new tax cut is unaffordable