Monday, August 31, 2015

How Local Organizing Is Accomplished Well for the Good (Go Germany!)   (Governments Need To Be Swept Clean? No Progress on Poverty Possible Without Political Integrity) Philanthropyism Exposed As Self-Serving and Poverty Deepening

While attacks against refugee homes dominate the headlines, a new movement to aid asylum seekers is taking root in Germany. From medical care to security services, locals are organizing what the state won't.
. . . The day has only just begun, but the phone in Anja Damerius' office at the University of Siegen is already ringing off the hook. An elderly woman wants to read books to refugee children: "Yes, of course!" Damerius says into the receiver. "When are you available?" A family from the neighborhood wants to distribute food. "Come over." Toys? "Please drop them off at the church, our garage is full."
. . . Siegen University rector Holger Burckhart, who is also vice-president of the German Rectors' Conference, says that given their status as public institutions, universities have a responsibility to help. "We are part of social life and can give something back to society here." According to Burckhart, the students are getting a clearer sense of the scale of the world's crises.
. . . The University of Siegen is an example of a popular movement taking place across Germany. From Munich to Berlin, Dresden to Hanau, tens of thousands of people are standing up to help refugees:  high school and university students, workers, retirees.
. . . Reports about extreme-right attacks on refugee shelters have been heaping shame upon Germany for months. The Federal Criminal Police Office has counted 199 attacks against refugee housing in the first half of this year -- almost three times as many in the first six months of 2014.
The helpers from Siegen and other cities and regions embody a different Germany: solidary, empathetic, happy to lend a hand. The volunteers are less visible and less loud than the agitators and arsonists. But they are efficient, and there are lots of them.

In 2014, researchers at Berlin's Humboldt University and at Oxford University polled 460 volunteers along with 80 aid organizations that work with refugees. They found that roughly 70 percent more people have been volunteering for projects in recent years. According to the research, over one third of the volunteers invest over five hours per week.
. . . It's a Thursday afternoon in August and Hagen Kopp, a 55-year-old warehouse worker, is sitting in a stuffy room in an office building in Hanau, in the central German state of Hesse. He is wearing an earring in his ear and a T-shirt reading "No person is illegal." The eight-hour Alarm Phone shift has only just begun.
For two years, Kopp monitored the death of the refugees in the Mediterranean for the Watch the Med project. After 366 people drowned in a shipwreck near the Italian island of Lampedusa in October 2013, he no longer wanted to simply describe the catastrophe on Europe's outer borders. He wanted to put a stop to it.
Together with colleagues from Watch the Med, he founded Alarm Phone, an unofficial emergency number, last fall. The activists take emergency calls from refugees on the high seas who have become stranded on their odyssey to Europe. Other helpers are waiting for phone calls alongside Kopp:  Noori, from Afghanistan, Newroz, a Kurdish woman and Asefaw, a man from Eritrea. Hundreds of volunteers are now working for the project, not just in Hanau but in different countries in Europe and North Africa.

Those Germans.

Some of them at least are going to teach the rest of us how to take care of our fellow human beings.

Whether we like it or not. (Thanks, Jan!)

Hats off!

And back in the good-ole-U.S. . . . talk about commoditizing everything!

Leave it the good samaritans  (or samaritans out for the goods?) in the USA USA USA!!!

Bankers Are Buying Baltimore's Debt, Charging Families Crazy Interest Rates, Then Taking Their Homes

By Alice Ollstein, Think Progress
29 August 15

he death of Freddie Gray in police custody in Baltimore and the ensuing protests brought the nation’s attention to the economic devastation that continues to grip the city. Now, new data shows powerful hedge funds are profiting off of struggling families in Baltimore by buying up debts as small as $250, charging high interest rates, and taking their homes when they fail to pay. A report just released by the research and advocacy group HedgeClippers documents how the Wall Street hedge fund Fortress Investment Group and the Los Angeles-based Imperial Capital bought up hundreds of these small liens this year — on everything from an unpaid water bills to delinquent property taxes — and could take property worth tens of millions of dollars if the families can’t pay
Once the hedge funds buy up these small debts, they reap an 18 percent interest, according to the Baltimore-based research group The Abell Foundation. More fees pile up after four months, and if the families can’t pay, they lose their homes. An analysis of those impacted in 2014 found the families had been living in their homes an average of 21 years. Half were elderly, more than a third were disabled, and the majority were African American.
State Delegate Cory McCray, a Democrat who grew up in and represents Baltimore, told Think Progress he has gotten a handful of phone calls this year from constituents on the cusp of losing their home over an unpaid water bill.
The hedge funds reaping these profits in Baltimore are also major donors in national elections.

Imperial Capital’s directors have lavished money on Mitt Romney and other Republican candidates in past races. This year, Several employees of the Fortress Investment Group gave the maximum legal amount to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and its director Michael Novogratz has poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into backing Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Charles Schumer (D-NY), and other Democrats in congressional races over the past few years.

When did education become so obvious a profit-making enterprise?

And who is behind these "socialism for the rich" efforts?

It's All Part of Capitalism:  How Philanthropy Perpetuates Inequality 

Saturday, 29 August 2015
By Eleanor J. Bader, Truthout | Book Review

Pro Bono?

Mikkel Thorup, Zero Books, 2015
Danish historian Mikkel Thorup's latest book skewers philanthropic capitalism. Whether criticizing individual businesspeople, celebrities, corporate-giving programs or sales that benefit a particular constituency or presumed social good, Thorup argues that philanthropy perpetuates inequality by deflecting efforts to distribute wealth and power more equitably.
He's absolutely right, of course. That said, the book is jargon-heavy and dense and would have benefited from concrete examples to illustrate exactly how philanthropies stoke injustice and serve the 1%.

Thorup is best on theory, and he begins by offering a definition:

Philanthropic capitalism is the idea that capitalism is or can be charitable in and of itself. The claim is that capitalist mechanisms are superior to all others [especially the state] when it comes to not only creating economic but also human progress; that the market and market actors are or should be made the prime creators of the good society; that capitalism is not the problem but the solution to all the major problems in the world; that the best thing to do is to extend the market to hitherto private or state processes; and, finally, that there is no conflict between rich and poor, but that the rich is [sic] rather the poor's best and possibly only friend.
The prevalent notion that the rich are somehow deserving of the wealth they've acquired and are smarter, more creative, luckier and somehow better than the rest of us underpins these conclusions, and Thorup lambastes media presentations that fail to mention personal connections, as well as tax policies, "odious speculation," questionable business practices, low wages and the rank exploitation that governs most financial gain.

Take Donald Trump - vulgar, racist and rolling in dough - who is currently riding the high wire of public opinion, at least among Republicans. Although Thorup does not mention Trump by name, The Donald perfectly illustrates one of the book's central arguments: that there is less questioning of the economic system or its profiteers than there might be. Examples of men and women who've soared, moving from poverty to power and from dropout to CEO, abound as if they were the norm rather than the exception.

This brings us to the next fallacy: that government efforts to ameliorate poverty are bureaucratic, inefficient and ineffective. The flip side of this is that business, with its unwavering fixation on the bottom line, is the opposite, and that by applying market principles to social ills, society can be cured of what ails it. Indeed, this idea is repeated with such regularity that it is almost universally accepted throughout the United States and Europe.

Concomitantly, the belief that individual consumption can change the world - buy "green" and save the planet, buy "red" and help those with HIV/AIDS - in lieu of social movements, is similarly absurd. "Are people really suffering and dying of preventable diseases because affluent Westerners have failed to consume enough products?" Thorup snipes. "Is the environment, and the climate most of all, best served by 'smarter' consumption?" Or would the planet be in better shape if we shopped less and conserved more?

Thorup gives a resounding "yes" to this rhetorical question.

At the same time, he nurtures great skepticism, bordering on contempt, for celebrities such as U2's Bono, actress Angelina Jolie and music producer Bob Geldof, for using their wealth to draw attention to social problems. "They may criticize unrepresentative power," Thorup writes, "but are so themselves. They may criticize inequality but are dependent upon it themselves. They may ally themselves with the poor in campaigns but their lives are spent rubbing shoulders with the rich and mighty."

Thorup calls their actions "spectacle politics" and perhaps they are. But I'm not convinced since these folks are not obliged to do anything for anyone. Ever. And while their work is certainly not the solution to poverty, illness or want, I don't believe that it deserves the drubbing Thorup metes out. Still, this is a small criticism.

More important are facts, and Thorup reminds readers that the world's richest 85 individuals earn more than the bottom 50 percent of the world's people. Philanthropy is not poised to do anything about this obscenity. That's where community organizers and organizations, as well as government, come in. With its power to tax the rich, rein in corporate abuse and support the creation of necessary social and cultural institutions, government can work for the majority and enhance our lives.

Right now, however, state and city governments pander to corporations and the rich for money to build and maintain schools, endow museums and build housing for the poor. And community organizations, including the alternative press, are forced to follow suit, as well. In fact, if my inbox is representative, it's obvious that groups far and wide are constantly on the lookout for benefactors to keep them going, with no contribution too small to matter.

It shouldn't be this way, says Kim Klein, author of Fundraising for Social Change. "We have become a medieval patronage society in which we depend on the largesse and generosity of the super wealthy for way too much," Klein told "Truthout" in an email.

"Mark Zuckerberg's donation to the Centers for Disease Control [and Prevention] to help fight Ebola was very helpful, but do we really want one of the most major public health issues of the last few years to depend for resolution on the gifts and grants of private individuals and foundations? Ditto education. There needs to be much more conversation about the role of government, of taxes, of philanthropy - of what should be funded privately, what should be funded publicly, and what can be funded at a net gain by both?"

I am certain that Thorup would wholeheartedly agree.
Bill Rood
Study after study has shown that charitable contributions (as a percentage of income) are inversely proportional to the income of the donor. The wealthy typically give a lower percentage of their income to charity than do the poor.
But what truly infuriates me is the volume of "philanthropic" donations that go to foundations and think tanks that are often under the continued control or at least heavy influence of the donor. Thus, institutions like Cato, the Heritage Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Brookings Institution etc provide the core of the huge propaganda machine that convinces people that "the rich are somehow deserving of the wealth they've acquired and are smarter, more creative, luckier and somehow better than the rest of us." Except I disagree with the reviewer's inclusion of "luckier." This propaganda holds that wealth has absolutely nothing to do with "luck" but is always the result of intelligence, creativity and preparation for the opportunity that will inevitably arise after a good dose of patience.

An example for Thorup, is the recent statement by New York Commissioner of Education, as reported at Diane Ravitch's blog:  "If the poorest 144 schools don't improve in 1 year, I'll turn them over to ...charters." As everyone knows, students in poverty, don't perform well academically. Instead of addressing the systemic problem, the political appointees plot, using poorly designed tests (like those tied to Common Core standards) and arbitrary cut scores, to document failure so, business and, Eli Broad trainees can takeover.
Charter school debt returns 18%, in interest payments, to Wall Street. The very rare, touted, charter school "success" stories, are the result of venture philanthropic spending on the schools, like Fordham Institute's sponsored schools, in Ohio, and Eva's schools in N.Y.C..
After business milks dry taxes intended for schooling, education can be turned over to the for-profit Bridge International Academies (backed by Zuckerberg and Gates), and monopolistic or oligopolistic business pricing should be expected.
It's important to note that the schools that the education deformers choose for their own children, reject the deformer design.

In today's world it's called trickle down economics. Instead of the government helping the poor and middle class they help the rich to the tune of eight billion to big oil. Billions of dollars to the pharmaceutical companies in grants and trillion to the defence industry when we go to war. Fighting birth control so they have more soldiers. Hell you got guns all over the place people smoking in every movie I see. When they were hot on smoking they made them stop smoking on screen so it wouldn't encourage people not to smoke and I see people smoking more and more. The fact is they just don't care about the people and this is what advertising has done for the USA. I don't know about you but I feel the burn. The only way to control capitalism is socialism. Fascism protects it and communalism replaces it. We all know what happens when capitalism has no control.

Lincoln also warned that we would have to fight the persistent threat from the "divine right of kings". It is the divine right of a king like Gates, to replace the education of the serfs, with a privatized and corporatized (Common Core)education system, as he has done with the assistance of Pres. Obama's Secretary of Education and the World Bank. Neither, national Republican nor Democratic politicians, support public education which is why the turnover of the public's school assets and revenues, to business, receives no national media attention and citizens are unaware of it.
The for profit, schools-in-a-box, backed by Gates/Zuckerberg/Pearson, called Bridge International Academies, illustrates international power of the American oligarchs. The deal between Pearson and Microsoft to develop curriculum for Common Core illustrates the power of corporate owners in the U.S..

As far as people not being aware of what is happening with education, most people are not aware of many things that our government does at home and abroad. Between the corporate media, Madison Avenue propaganda machine people are either sidetracked by shiny objects, or they use up all their energy fighting with each other. Those racial divisions and political divisions are egged on and supported.
People going on Twitter and Facebook and giving their two cents with a few characters are supposed to be politically engaged. Most of the time it is nothing more than an exchange of insults.
As far as charity is concerned, America is a celebrity obsessed country and most people think it is just great and wonderful when their loved celebrities do some charitable work. There was also a time when celebrities went to Africa to adopt poor children. It practically became a craze. I suppose this is the way America helps the poor. Adopt a few poor children on the one hand and kill them with bombs and drones on the other hand or starve them to death via sanctions.

I believe that the psychology/sociology behind the "charity-while-ensuring-poverty" contradiction is crucial for people to understand. To unravel the complex web we've woven and become tangled in, a prerequisite is always to clearly recognize what our behaviours/thoughts actually say about us as individuals and as societies.
The wealthy, many of which contribute greatly to charity, believe they are upright citizens behaving morally and justly. Assuming most/all of these wealthy are centrist voters, contributors to PACs and other political lobby organizations, it is clear that their political objectives DO NOT include the economic changes that will eradicate poverty. Unfortunately, it is not just the super wealthy that are in this group - anyone who has enough funds can add to the push for this continuation of poverty.
The refusal of these people to look in the mirror and clearly see this reflection is a root cause of this pervasive contradiction. Presumably the cognitive dissonance is unbearable. Likely too, their peers are also not fond of such reflections which challenge their self images, their social standing and superiority, and their debasement masquerading as leadership.
Examining centrist politics, this lack of actual integrity, of any real character which is wise, compassionate and loving is a root cause of so much suffering. This clearly IS human-caused suffering - there is no way to hide from this. Additionally, the intentional failure to bring the deepest and most socially beneficial realizations of world religions into the body politic, really constitutes a schizophrenia where the life actually lived is psychotic because it is detached from actual reality. This contradiction has become the norm.
The solution then is to demand real integrity in our politics, something that has never been tried. Our governments need to be swept clean. There will be no further progress on poverty reduction without the birth of political integrity. It all starts with the individual voter - we can't wash our hands of this mess until our vote reflects the policies of morality and social justice. Don't vote center. Don't cooperate with the politics that cultivates human suffering while pretending its a virtue. And I thank all of those who refuse to go quietly into the night.

I agree to a large extent. Not only is philanthropy a concoction of the overclass, as usually they only give to other rich people, but charity is another concoction of the religious class, as they only give to themselves. Society should not beg for philanthropy or charity, but society itself is the author and giver when social needs arise.

Many of the very rich assume that they are rich because they deserve to be and can handle money better than ordinary "folks" can. Andrew Carnegie built libraries all over the USA to "better" the populace, but was fiercely against workers' power or unions or minimum wages, as the poor would just waste the money they got on frivolities. Notice Bill Gates supporting charter schools; most of the projects are decided by the "donors".
We see this so often when Black people, or women, are assumed to be unable to make good decisions in their own lives.

Yes, frivolities like food, clothing, shelter and medical care.

Especially medical care today.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

(Artificial Unintelligence)  NC a Leader in Progressive Policies? Ask Duke  (Bucking the Market? Socialism for the Rich)  KKK's Rule of National Park Service Continues?  (Bush FEMA Treachery Pays!)

NC is a real leader in important matters today. Cutting taxes and unmercifully slashing the funding of state universities and public education institutions.

Those outstanding legislators in the NC General Assembly raised taxes on citizens at the bottom of the wealth pyramid by passing lots of regressive taxes, and largely abolished those on corporations and other wealthy citizens.

And the deficit is cured!

On the backs of poor people (who now get almost no social services (or quality education) any more from their state government to which they have faithfully paid taxes for many years (let alone Medicaid)).

The governor, you know, used to be on Duke's payroll.

Some say he still is.

Kansas does not stand alone.

Back east in North Carolina, researchers and engineers at UNC-Charlotte are scrambling to figure out a way to properly deal with 264 billion pounds — that’s 264,000,000,000 pounds, for clarity — of highly toxic coal ash which has accumulated in the state, all of which belongs to Duke Energy. The ash is currently being stored in 32 large holes in the ground, but these holes were constructed without liners, which means the poisons from this terribly bounty — chromium and arsenic top the list — are finding their way into the water table.

Maybe they can move it to safer, lined storage basins. Maybe they can utilize other chemicals to stop the threat of the current chemicals. The situation has become a political and industry football in North Carolina, and while the lawmakers butt heads with the business magnates, while the researchers and engineers labor to find a fix, the water around those 264 billion pounds of awful gets dirtier, and dirtier, and dirtier.

Despite all this, some 15 states are currently petitioning in Federal court to thwart President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which seeks to cut carbon emissions from power plants within the next 15 years. These states include West Virginia, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

. . . The leadership in those states dismiss the hard reality of climate change, and likely won’t believe in it until the rain turns to ashes and the seas swallow the coasts … and perhaps, not even then. Greed dies hard, even when the rivers have turned to soot and the tap water catches fire.

All this, along with all the other spills and explosions, the ravages of fracking and the Keystone XL pipeline with its gruesome tar sands oil augurs toward an irrefutable truth: We are killing ourselves with coal, with chemicals, with carelessness and with greed. The people behind all this don’t care, and won’t care until they are made to. Navajo Nation activists literally chased a sitting US senator down the road and off their lands in an attempt to force the issue.

What will you do?

Artificial Unintelligence

By Paul Krugman, "The New York Times"
29 August 15
n the early stages of the Lesser Depression, those of us who knew a bit about the macroeconomic debates of the 1930s, and realized how relevant the hard-won insights of Keynes and Hicks were to the post-financial crisis world, often felt a sense of despair. Everywhere you looked, people who imagined themselves sophisticated and possessed of deep understanding were resurrecting 75-year-old fallacies and presenting them as deep insights.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, and I at least no longer feel the same sense of despair. Instead, I feel an even deeper sense of despair — because people are still rolling out those same fallacies, even though in the interim those of us who remembered and understood Keynes/Hicks have been right about most things, and those lecturing us have been wrong about everything.

So here’s William Cohan in the "Times," declaring that the Fed should “show some spine” and raise rates even though there is no sign of accelerating inflation. His reasoning:


From WhoWhatWhy:

Financial Markets are Not Free – They’re One of the Last Bastions of Socialism

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once said, “you can’t buck the market.” But, as "The Guardian" points out, that’s exactly what the world’s financial policymakers are doing with zeroed-out interest rates, quantitative easing, and through policies that mitigate much-needed corrections to market bubbles. But they are quickly running out of options and, therefore, Maggie’s Iron Law of the Market may be enforced regardless of their market-friendly approach.

Reconstruction and the National Park Service

[ 25 ] August 28, 2015 |
Ku Klux Klan member, Tennessee, 1868

This is a good piece summarizing the one area of U.S. history that the National Park Service has done a terrible job commemorating, which is, not surprisingly, Reconstruction.
The NPS does a really commendable job of remembering the American past, especially given its increasingly limited resources spread out over increasing numbers of parks. But Reconstruction is a major gap. The first reason is obvious – that for so long the popular historical interpretation of the period was one most popularly told in "Birth of a Nation."

But this open white supremacy was always challenged by African-Americans and in recent decades the popular memory has shifted. Except among conservative white people, which still means memory of the period is extremely charged. The NPS is moving toward some new sites that would remember the brief, aborted attempt to create something like a racial democracy in the post-Civil War period. What has to happen now that did not happen in 2003 when the last time an effort to create a Reconstruction site took place is to not allow the Confederate heritage organizations to have a seat at the table. This is the equivalent of allowing Neo-Nazi organizations to have a role in deciding on official historical remembrance of the Holocaust.

I do believe we will see, at the very least, Obama simply name a Reconstruction-era National Monument before he leaves office. A congressional bill would be preferable because it would show that there is a broader understanding of what Reconstruction is really about but given the rise of radical white supremacist Republicanism in the last decade, this feels unlikely to me. Moreover, I am concerned that the NPS is still bringing representatives of the Sons of Confederate Veterans into meetings. Why? They should be excluded entirely. They are never going to agree and don’t have a legitimate viewpoint to begin with.

From WhoWhatWhy:

Is the US Ready for an Endless War Against the Islamic State?

"Foreign Policy" examines the growing gap between the realities on the ground in Syria and Iraq, and the grand plans of policymakers in Washington. The gap was laid bare this week when it was revealed that intelligence reports may have been dressed-up to make it look like US efforts against the Islamic State were having a greater impact than the evidence suggests. It is starting to look like Uncle Sam is on an all too familiar slippery slope.

INVESTIGATION - The Last Word on Katrina:  Treachery at Bush’s FEMA Pays Handsomely

How the Botchees Made Out Like Bandits

Hurricane Katrina left massive devastation and FEMA’s response was highly criticized — but about the other parties involved? Photo Credit: US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration / Wikimedia
(Click on photo to enlarge.) Hurricane Katrina left massive devastation and FEMA’s response was highly criticized — but about the other parties involved? Photo Credit: US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration / Wikimedia
Michael Brown, the disgraced head of FEMA during Hurricane Katrina
The real story of how and why this hopelessly unqualified individual was placed in this sensitive post
A web of self-interest, undergirded by a philosophical contempt for government and the governed.


The Anti-Government Folks Cash in on Government

If being ostensibly “anti-government” while playing a leading role in government is tricky, it all pays off on the back end. Nobody knows that better than Allbaugh, whom Newsweek described as having “the hide of a rhino” when it comes to criticism of conflicts of interest.

Once he left FEMA, he moved quickly to make up for years of privation in the public sector, forming the Allbaugh Company with his wife, Diane, an attorney. She had begun laying the groundwork from the moment they arrived in Washington, DC, repeating a pattern she’d established in Texas. In the summer of 1996, just a year after moving to the Lone Star State, Diane had signed on as a lobbyist with a number of large corporate clients — mostly energy firms, with pressing business before the state — while her husband held a highly visible position as the governor’s top aide.

When the newspapers reported the story, Governor Bush’s office hastened to announce new rules, and Diane declared an end to her lobbying career. However, she was soon ensconced in a ‘non-lobbying’ position with a law firm, representing some of the very same companies.

Why spend resources to prevent disasters, when there’s so much more money to be made cleaning up after them?
Now, in Washington, she jumped into the K Street fray, becoming “of counsel” to Barbour, Griffith & Rogers, which Fortune magazine described at the time as the country’s most powerful lobbying firm.

The shop’s founder, Haley Barbour stayed involved with the firm while playing a key role in the privatization of government services, as chairman of the Republican National Committee during Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America” revolution. Then he served as chairman of Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign advisory committee.

He left the company in 2003, became governor of Mississippi, and ended up on television talking about how his citizens were suffering from Katrina.

No one thought to point out how the Allbaugh-Brown-Barbour model of disaster management had set the stage for the calamity. A cynic might formulate that model like this: Why spend resources to prevent disasters, when there’s so much more money to be made cleaning up after them?

Shaw Group: $100 Million x 2 out of Katrina

Consider the Shaw Group, a Baton Rouge engineering and construction firm. On August 15, 2005, with hurricane season getting under way, Allbaugh became a lobbyist for Shaw, which had already begun advertising for workers to staff its rebuilding projects — even before Katrina struck.

After the levees broke, Shaw, which had not been a FEMA contractor during the Clinton years, received two separate $100 million federal clean-up contracts and saw its stock price shoot up 50 percent in a few weeks.

Nevertheless, when the DC newspaper The Hill asked about the remarkable good fortune of Allbaugh’s clients, his spokesperson, Patti Giglio, replied, “The first thing he says when he sits down with a client is, Don’t hire me if you’re looking for a government contract.’”

AshBritt Inc: $568 Million out of Katrina

Maybe that’s why AshBritt Inc. didn’t hire Allbaugh. Instead, the Florida-based environmental services firm hired Barbour Griffith — a client of Allbaugh’s wife — and was selected by the Army Corps of Engineers to help lead the Katrina clean-up effort. The contract, worth $568 million, was signed just before the hurricane hit.

It’s interesting that, back in 2002, when an ice storm hit Allbaugh’s native Kay County, Oklahoma, he arranged a conference call with county officials, who ended up choosing the Florida-based AshBritt over other firms with much lower competing bids.

(AshBritt was much in the news following Katrina, with a range of local publications raising questions about the company’s operations, its transparency, and its spectacular growth during the Bush years — all through lucrative contracts to subcontract to other firms that do most of the actual clean-up work.)

AshBritt’s president, Randal R. Perkins, said in an interview that he did not recall the 2002 conference call, and noted that his firm doesn’t deal directly with FEMA. “FEMA doesn’t contract directly, they just pay the bills,” he said. As for Allbaugh, Perkins said, “I know him, but I wouldn’t say that we are friends.”

Allbaugh “Vets” Dick Cheney

Allbaugh’s web of self-interest ranges from disasters to energy to real estate. And the self-serving links involve not just him, his wife, Brown, and Barbour but also the vice president and the president.

Haley Barbour advised the Bush-Cheney campaign on strategy in 2000 while Joe Allbaugh was campaign manager. During the transition, Allbaugh vetted Cheney’s qualifications to be vice president.

After the election, Allbaugh served on Cheney’s secret energy task force, the National Energy Policy Development Group (NEPDG), while his wife was “of counsel” at the Barbour firm and being paid as a “consultant” by Reliant Energy, Entergy, and Texas Utilities Co.

Diane Allbaugh said she did no lobbying. But Barbour, on behalf of an electricity-producing client, successfully pushed NEPDG to recommend that the new administration renege on a campaign promise to limit carbon-dioxide emissions from power plants. Bush, citing the task force “findings,” complied.

KBR: $61 Million Out of Katrina

The Allbaughs and Cheneys are literally so at home with each other that, on first arriving in Washington, the Allbaughs bought Cheney’s townhouse in McLean, Virginia. During the house tour, Cheney must have pointed out the revolving doors. Among Allbaugh’s biggest clients is Cheney’s former employer, Halliburton, whose Kellogg, Brown and Root subsidiary got at least $61 million worth of Katrina business.

When Allbaugh left FEMA he did not, however, restrict himself to the domestic disaster business — and it was a business. Instead, he cast a wider net into the entire Homeland Security/Defense sector, stressing his implied connections in the Department of Homeland Security, the Pentagon, and the White House. His departure from government, in March 2003, took place precisely as the invasion of Iraq unfolded.

Iraq: More Money to be Made

Allbaugh formed — with Barbour Griffith and numerous ex-officials of the Reagan and Bush 41 administrations — a company called New Bridge Strategies. It secured contracts in Iraq the moment hostilities commenced.

He also formed Blackwell-Fairbanks, a lobbying joint venture with Andrew Lundquist, with whom he had served on vice president Cheney’s secret energy task force.  Clients had included the aerospace giant Lockheed Martin. On required forms, Blackwell-Fairbanks would later report that it had lobbied both the offices of the president and of the vice president.

Governor Haley Barbour — who in early September 2005 dismissed criticism of FEMA’s response to Katrina as “all cooked up by the news media and a few enemies of George Bush” — declined this reporter’s interview request.

Water, Water, Everywhere–but Not a Drop to Drink

Even the most cursory examination of the process through which FEMA awarded contracts would uncover decisions that carried little public benefit. One such example might be the agency’s abrupt 2003 decision to award an exclusive contract for water supplies in emergencies.

Prior to the Allbaugh-Brown reign, FEMA had handed out water contracts to a variety of companies. One of the recipients, not surprisingly, was Nestle Waters North America, easily the continent’s biggest producer, with 15 brands of bottled water and 23 bottling facilities in the U.S. and Canada.

Then, without explanation, FEMA went sole-source, picking a little-known, family-run firm called Lipsey Mountain Water. The company, based in Norcross, Georgia, had just 15 full-time employees, no production capacity, and no distribution network. Instead, it was aggressively soliciting other companies to supply its needs.

“The father and son came in and said, ‘We want you to sell us water,’” recalled Kim Jeffery, president and CEO of Nestle Waters North America. “I said, ‘Why would I do that? I have a contract with FEMA.’ He said, ‘Because we have the contract now.’”

Lipsey trumpeted a sophisticated computer system that would supposedly ensure speedy water deliveries and justify its exclusive five-year contract. But the system did not work so well during the crisis, according to some in the industry.

Joe Doss, president of the trade group for water suppliers, said his members were besieged with reports of delays in water deliveries after the hurricane, and that within one 24-hour period they voluntarily trucked in 1.5 million bottles. (And again, when Hurricane Wilma swept through Florida in late October 2005, Lipsey distribution sites turned people away without water days after the event.)

Lipsey Mountain Water may be new to the world of federal water contracts, but its principals are not new to politics.

The Gun Connection

The Lipseys are a politically connected family that gives to both political parties and owns one of the country’s largest gun wholesalers. The gun lobby is still the nation’s most powerful, as acknowledged by Dick Cheney, who addressed the National Rifle Association’s 2004 annual meeting and noted from the podium:

“I’m … delighted to see my good friend, former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Joe Allbaugh. Joe is here this evening. It’s always good to have a firearm if you get into real trouble — but the next best thing is Joe Allbaugh.”

It is worth noting that the chaos in New Orleans featured home and business owners very publicly brandishing firearms–the disaster was certainly good publicity for gun makers.

In November, 2005, the Pentagon confirmed that its inspector general was investigating Lipsey in response to complaints received by Congress from truck drivers, trucking brokers, and ice producers who did much of the actual work under Lipsey’s contract. They said Lipsey had not paid their bills or even answered their phone calls. (Company president Joe Lipsey III did not respond to a list of questions that he had requested from this author following an interview request.)

Only through the painstaking unraveling of connections like these, are we likely to grasp the truth about the secret conflicts of interest that waste billions of public dollars and undermine the country’s readiness to respond to natural and man-made disasters.

Such inquiries are not welcome, of course. Instead, we put on our horse blinders. The Administration’s motto might easily be “Nothing to see here, folks, move along quickly, please.”

Indeed, when a National Public Radio interviewer posed questions about the handling of the storm to Vice Admiral Thad Allen, whom President Bush had assigned to take over the Katrina response from Michael Brown, Allen said that there was no point in dwelling on the past, and added,

"I would say that the longer the discourse continues about what might or might not have happened and the political issues surrounding that — I think at some point it starts to devalue the work of a whole lot of FEMA workers out there that are working very, very hard for the American public.”

Yet no one devalued the work of the rank and file of FEMA workers more than Joe Allbaugh, Michael Brown, and their boss, President Bush. And the discourse the administration wished to avoid was, and is, urgently needed.

Today, FEMA’s front line troops still struggle with the long-term legacy of Katrina and the task of rebuilding the agency. Meanwhile, long after the debacle he left behind, Joe Allbaugh was traveling the world, soliciting business, and even the disgraced Brown had moved into the consulting trade.

Ten years after Katrina, Allbaugh claims clients in a host of countries, and provides dozens of services, from Emergency Response Preparedness to “Navigating complex bureaucratic organizations” to Public Safety and Infrastructure. Brown is also a consultant to business, and hosts a radio show on a major Denver station, which advertises that “Ex-FEMA Director Michael Brown brings the full brunt of his sense of humor and political intelligence to bear on the issues of the day.”

As for George W. Bush — he was never seriously held to account for any of this.

Nor unseriously.

It really didn't quite rate up there with Bush looking under cocktail tables for the WMD.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

A Pony's In There Too? (Well, All Righty!) Brownie Still Good Jobbing It! (New Orleans Much Whiter and Richer By Careful Design)  Occupy Peace?   You Never Know

The Solutions Project

Click it!

After all, these are important people, so they deserve to be treated with respect, right?


Professor Paul Krugman gives us a compliment.

About time!

If people consistently make logically incoherent, ignorant arguments, the duty of a commentator is to say just that - not to mislead readers by pretending that these people are serious and making sense. You shouldn't make gratuitous insults - I have never, to my knowledge, declared that someone's mother was a hamster and his father smelt of elderberries. But ignorant is as ignorant does, no matter how much influence you have.
Where I've been getting pushback lately is in my pronouncements that the whole Republican field of presidential hopefuls is talking nonsense about economic policy. That's a terrible thing to say, I'm told. But what if it's true? And, of course, it is.
Consider a couple of recent entries. Jeb Bush, the supposedly sensible candidate, has been pushing the utterly ludicrous claim that he can deliver 4 percent economic growth; so now Mike Huckabee, another G.O.P. candidate, is trying to one-up Mr. Bush by promising 6 percent. Well, I can beat all of them: Whatever they're promising, I promise the same - plus a pony.
Meanwhile, Rand Paul is decrying the irresponsibility of US fiscal management - why, the United States hasn't been debt-free since 1835. Clearly, disaster looms, and has been looming for 180 years. But that's nothing: Britain hasn't been debt-free since at least 1692. More than three centuries, spanning the Industrial Revolution and much more, of crippling irresponsibility. Just you wait!
Should Mr. Paul, Mr. Bush and Mr. Huckabee be treated with respect here? If they're outliers, which G.O.P. contenders actually do deserve respect?
I know that it's disturbing to read columns that portray the entire Republican field as a bunch of cranks.
But it would be a dereliction of duty, and basically an act of dishonest reporting, to pretend that they aren't. I'm all for respect here - but the people who deserve respect, in the form of honest assessment, are my readers.

Speaking of a dereliction of duty . . . .

Anyone thinking of Brownie (and our favorite Bush Boy - "W") this weekend? I know I am.

After Katrina, Disgraced Former FEMA Director Continued Disaster Aid. It Didn’t Go Well.

by Emily Atkin

Michael D. Brown sounded incredulous. I had just asked him about how his life was going now, and he said it was going well. I said I was glad. 

“No you’re not. You think I’m an idiot,” he countered. “That I was the total screw-up.”

A lot of people do think Brown is a screw-up. He’s the guy at the center of that infamous quote from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina:  “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.”

If you don’t remember it, it was said 10 years ago this week by President George W. Bush, a few days after Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. At the time, “Brownie” was the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and his reputation in the media was that he wasn’t doing a “heck of a job” at all. In fact, he was facing serious criticism for his handling of the federal government’s response. One notable failure was a $100 million stockpile of ice that never got delivered, ordered by FEMA for stranded victims’ food and medicine. The agency’s former practice of delivering ice for non-medical purposes during emergencies is one that Brown strongly opposes today.

“It was a program where we spent tens of millions dollars a year on ice! That’s a waste of money,” he said.

It’s not a government responsibility to make sure an individual American citizen is able to keep their bologna cold in the refrigerator.”

Brown resigned as FEMA’s director shortly after the “Brownie” quote hit the press. But he remained adamant that his reputation had been unfairly tarnished, as he does to this day. On our phone call, Brown said the the perception that he’s a “total screw-up” is incorrect. “We actually did a good job despite all the negative press, considering everything that was going on,” he insisted.

Do You Know What It Means to Love New Orleans?

28 August 2015

. . . Ten years ago Friday, a storm half the size of Texas hit that old blues town in the teeth, and the ocean rose, and the sky fell, and the jazz stopped in jangled discordance, and everyone ran for their lives.
And the people were abandoned. It took George W. Bush and his mob of hapless brigands days simply to get water to dying citizens in one of the most important and iconic cities on the continent. Why? Because the people were Black, and poor? Because Bush and his people were incompetent beyond the bounds of useful language? Because greedy people plundered the levee budget to the tune of nine figures to "fund" the Iraq war prior to the storm? Yes, in my humble opinion, on all three counts.
. . . Ten years ago, the sea rose up and did damage the likes of which we've never seen. People were scattered to the wind, the Lower 9th Ward was subsumed and then devoured by developers, fast after the buck to be plucked from the wreckage left behind by good people in flight. Wreckage upon wreckage.

Reflections on New Orleans' Uneven Recovery

Friday, 28 August 2015
By Staff

Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation | Video
New Orleans' politicians are slapping themselves on the back for a job well done, clinking glasses and proclaiming the city to be better off than it was before Hurricane Katrina pummeled the coastline ten years ago. But are they right?
The numbers paint a markedly less triumphant picture of the postdiluvian decade. According to a Data Center analysis, of the million-plus residents displaced by the storm, more than a hundred thousand still haven't returned – most of them black.

The African-American share of New Orleans' population has dropped from 67 to 59 percent, and the white population has jumped from 27 to 31 percent. Some lifelong residents are trying to keep that demographic shift from affecting the cultural landscape.

"The city is different. It doesn't look the same," said Jeremiah Group Lead Organizer Jackie Jones. "We had a lot of folks who came in after the storm and they took up residency here. And I think people here in New Orleans do not want to lose the heritage, the culture, and I think they are willing to have their voices heard and to do the work that's necessary to keep some things in place."
The Data Center recently released the New Orleans Index at 10, which graded the rebuilding efforts of the eight-parish metro area in four main categories: economic growth, the inclusion of low-income populations in the recovery, quality of life and sustainability.

The report card was mixed. It found infrastructure investments and an influx of federal money benefitted the overall economy with an entrepreneurship boom. The region also made significant strides in educational and criminal justice systems. Revenue flowing to arts and culture nonprofits were four times the national average.
But the region scored abysmally on measures such as poverty, violent crime, incarceration rates, affordable housing and income inequality. New Orleans' poverty rate was a crushing 27 percent, and black families were suffering the most. Researchers found white households' median income to be on par with the national average, but the median income for black households was 20 percent lower than black households nationally.
The income disparity was 54 percent, well above the national average of 40 percent. To exacerbate matters, wages have not kept up with the ballooning housing, property tax and flood insurance costs, and the city does not have the authority to raise its minimum wage above the federal baseline of $7.25. "The stagnant post-Katrina income for the poorest New Orleanians suggests that many are not benefiting from the New Orleans economic recovery," concludes the study.
. . . Another facet to a fair recovery has been the fight to keep the million-plus residents who fled New Orleans enfranchised. "One of the most interesting memories of Katrina was trying to ensure that everyone that had been displaced would be able to participate in the elections," said Shelton. "It was really important because it meant that you still mattered and you still counted and that even though you weren't here, that there was this possibility that you could come back, that we were gonna figure it out, we were gonna fix the city of New Orleans better than it was before and that you would have a place in whatever that solution was."

Here's Bernie Sanders making the same arguments about the mistreatment of the Greek citizens that I and many others have for years. And, yes, these arguments apply to the U.S. as well.

Feel the Bern!

Sen. Bernie Sanders:  From Greece to Puerto Rico, the Financial Rules Are Rigged to Favor the 1% 

Friday, 28 August 2015
By Amy Goodman, Democracy Now! | Video
Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders recently convened a panel of economists in Washington to discuss the debt crisis in Greece and throughout the world. In his opening statement, Sanders talked about the debt crisis in Greece as well as in Puerto Rico. "It is time for creditors to sit down with the governments of Greece and Puerto Rico and work out a debt repayment plan that is fair to both sides," Sanders said. "The people of Greece and the children of Puerto Rico deserve nothing less."

 . . . SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:  [What] we are here today to talk about is the very, very important issue regarding the ongoing debt crisis in Greece and the way that people and governments all over the world are struggling with too much debt. This is — we’re going to be focusing on Greece, but, in truth, this issue goes beyond Greece. And countries that are struggling not only with too much debt, too much inequality, and too little growth and income.

Today, as I think all of you know, there is a very, very serious economic situation unfolding in Greece. In many ways, Greece today resembles the United States of the 1930s in the midst of the worst depression, economic downturn in the history of our country. The Greek economy has basically collapsed, and the people of Greece are trapped in a very, very deep depression.

I want to begin by expressing my solidarity with the people of Greece, where five years of cruel and counterproductive austerity policies, policies demanded by the European Central Bank, the European Commission and International Monetary Fund, have left the people of Greece facing a full-blown humanitarian crisis. In my view, there is no more obvious example of the failure of austerity policies than what is going on in Greece. 

For more than five years, Greece has cut pensions. Greece has slashed its government workforce. Greece has made deep spending cuts that have eviscerated its social safety net. In other words, despite what we have been led to believe by many in the media, Greece has not gone on a shopping spree. It has not overfunded its government. Rather, it has imposed massive spending cuts that have caused devastating pain to some of its most vulnerable people. It has done this because its creditors, led by Germany, have insisted that austerity is the only way to dig Greece out of its debt.

As a result, today, Greece has the highest levels of inequality and the worst unemployment rates in Europe. The official unemployment rate is 26 percent — 26 percent. Youth unemployment in Greece today is more than 50 percent. More than 30 percent of the people in Greece are living in poverty. And the Greek economy is 25 percent smaller, has shrunk by 25 percent over the last five years. That is really quite incredible.

Instead of solving the problem, austerity, in my view, has made a bad situation much worse. Greece has seen its debt-to-GDP ratio shoot up from about 120 percent to about 175 percent today. And now to, quote-unquote, "fix" the problem, the troika wants Greece to borrow more money and make deeper cuts to wages, pensions and other social programs.

In January, as you all know, the people of Greece stood up and said, "Enough is enough." They elected a new government, known as Syriza. Their promise: to end the harsh austerity policies — that was their campaign pledge — by increasing their minimum wage, by increasing job production, by protecting the most vulnerable against pension cuts, and ensuring that the wealthiest people in Greece started paying their fair share of taxes, a very serious problem in that country. But instead of working with the new government to find a rational path forward, the troika demanded more austerity than ever.

On July 5th, the people of Greece spoke once again: In an overwhelming show of solidarity with their government, 61 percent of the people of Greece said no to more austerity for the poor, for the children, for the sick and for the elderly. Yet, instead of working with the Greek government on a sensible plan that would allow Greece to improve its economy and pay back its debt, Germany and the troika continued to push Greece to accept even greater austerity.

They want even deeper pension cuts; an increase in the regressive VAT tax from 13 percent to 23 percent; automatic budget cuts if the Greek economy underperforms; privatization of state assets, including the electricity grid; deregulation of the transportation, rail, pharmaceutical and other sectors in the economy; weakening of trade unions. In other words, the people of Greece are being told that their voices, which they cast in two elections, really do not matter, that their misery does not matter, that an entire generation of young people who are unemployed or underemployed does not matter, that the sick and the elderly do not matter, that democracy itself does not matter. And that, to my perspective, is unacceptable.

I believe that this plan is simply unsustainable. In my view, austerity has failed, and continuing with austerity means the Greek economy will continue to fail its people. Unemployment, poverty and inequality will increase from already obscene levels.

And maybe, just maybe, some people are beginning to wake up to this reality. In a confidential report that was made public earlier this month, officials from the IMF warned that the IMF could not take part in any new bailout for Greece unless the Greek government was offered a substantial debt relief package as part of any new deal. In light of this report, it is time for the troika to provide the Greek government with the flexibility it needs to create jobs, raise wages and improve its economy. Without a substantial improvement in its economy, Greece will never escape its debt crisis.

And let us not forget a little bit about history. Let us not forget what happened after World War I, when the Allies imposed oppressive austerity on Germany — on Germany — as part of the Versailles Treaty. And I think all of you who know anything about history understand what happened. And that is, the Germany economy collapsed, unemployed skyrocketed, people were pushing their money around in wheelbarrows to buy a loaf of bread. And the result of all of that massive discontent was that Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party won an election and took power. And you all know the results of that.

What many people do not know about Greece today is that the party that finished third in the Greek — recent Greek election is called Golden Dawn. This is a party which some people call a neo-Nazi party, but other people believe that it is nothing "neo" about it. It is a Nazi party, which came in third place in the recent election. In my view, we should learn from history. And we should understand that when democracy fails, when people vote for something and cannot get what the government promised because of outside forces, this leads to massive discontent, it leads to contempt for democracy, and it opens the path for right-wing extremist parties, like Golden Dawn.

Finally, let us remember that one of the main reasons why Greece was unable to take on so much debt was because it had help from Goldman Sachs, who helped disguise the nature of the Greek debt.

Today, when we talk about debt, we should appreciate that something similar is happening right now in Puerto Rico, where the government there is struggling with unsustainable debt, and a group of hedge fund billionaires are demanding austerity in Puerto Rico.

They are demanding the firing of teachers, the closing of schools, so that they can reap huge profits off the suffering and misery of the children and the people of Puerto Rico. It is time for creditors to sit down with the governments of Greece and Puerto Rico and work out a debt repayment plan that is fair to both sides. The people of Greece and the children of Puerto Rico deserve nothing less.

Over 70 years ago, the major economic leaders of 44 countries gathered at a hotel in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, to establish international economic and financial rules. As a result of that conference, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank were established.

I think it is clear to anyone who has taken a look at this situation that the rules regarding our international financial system today are rigged in favor of the wealthy and the powerful at the expense of everyone else. Today, 85 of the wealthiest people in this world own more wealth than the bottom half of the world’s population, over 3 billion people.

By next year, Oxfam has estimated that the top 1 percent of the world’s population will own more wealth than the bottom 99 percent of the world’s population. In my view, we have got to begin — and I hope this forum today is a start in that process — a serious discussion about how we change our international financial rules to expand — expand economic opportunity and reduce income and wealth inequality, not only in Greece and in Puerto Rico, but throughout the world. The global economy is simply unsustainable when so few have so much and so many have so little.


_ _ _ _ _ _ _

Gates Funding Spurs Doubts Over Pubmedia’s Impartiality in Education Reporting

Fight For Peace, Not For War

Occupy Peace
Paul Craig Roberts

Commentators are bemoaning the death of the American peace movement. However, Gerald Celente is in the process of reviving it. You can participate on September 20 at High Noon in Kingston, New York, at the intersection of Crown and John Streets, the four most historic corners in the United States with pre-Revolutionary stone buildings on every corner. Many historic happenings occurred in Kingston.
This is not a mere rally or prayer meeting. Celente is giving a solution — an Action Plan. Go to and become acquainted with the program.
You don’t have to worry about being beaten by goon thugs or tasered, or tear gassed, or arrested, because the Mayor of Kingston, Shayne Gallo, is supporting Occupy Peace. The streets are legally blocked off by the Mayor of Kingston.
This is what you will miss if you are not there:
People are forever asking for solutions. Celente has solutions. Go and support them.
During the two days prior to Occupy Peace, the Trends Research Institute is holding a conference in Kingston that will examine the current trends unfolding in the world. I am speaking on Friday. The three days together provide a rare opportunity to both learn and to stand up for peace.
Listen to Steven Whitaker’s song and show up at Gerald Celente’s Occupy Peace

Friday, August 28, 2015

(Katrina Response Evaluated)  Feeling Squeezed?  (The Truth About Those Sharp/Big Market Movements at Day's End)   Non-Recovering U.S. Recession the Fault of China?   (Where is Neo When We Need Him?)

Will Hurricane Katrina's 10-year anniversary lead to honest evaluations by the politicians whose plans brought us the damaging results to the over 100,000 people who could never afford to return to their homes?

We're dreaming here as very few Republicans are able to speak about what happened under George W. Bush's presidency with any type of honesty (or apology).

Having just viewed Grover Norquist babble lies for an hour on CSPAN2 about how the U.S. needs to turn every social program over to the states in block grants, adopt Paul Ryan's disastrous budget ideas, and "end" the IRS in order to turn capital loose on us . . . right, isn't it just terrifying to find the same exact people (and those people provide the money that funds the likes of Norquist, Karl Rove, etc., and the devastation their policies wreaked upon the U.S. from 2001-2009) who brought us the thinking that caused the Iraq nightmare, the Afghanistan evisceration, the Katrina "capitalism lesson," and the hugely wrong thinking behind the deregulation of financial markets not only still spouting the mindless crap economics lessons to acquiescent acolytes (the one on TV with him was from the Heritage Foundation), but touting the Republican candidates as ones that will ensure a permanent change in the government's operations in the direction of even more inequality for the foreseeable future. (Thank whoever that Joseph Stiglitz, speaking about his book, The Great Divide:  Unequal Societies and What We Can Do About Them was on CSPAN2 after Norquist to provide some intellectual heft to the viewers reactions that economists can entertain ideas that will help the middle and lower classes instead of continuing to erase them.)

Douglas Brinkley clears the intellectual brush about this nationally catastrophic time.

The Flood that Sank George W. Bush

There’s been a lot of talk lately about George W. Bush’s legacy in Iraq, and what it means for his brother Jeb’s hopes of following him to the Oval Office. But Iraq wasn’t the disaster that deep-sixed Dubya’s presidency; Katrina was. Ten years after the hurricane inundated New Orleans, the presidential historian and author of The Great Deluge tallies the cost of an administration’s incompetence.

What a weird moment in U.S. presidential history.

Hurricane Katrina, a Category 3 storm, had smashed into the Gulf South. People were drowning. And the president of the United States played guitar in San Diego, egged on by country singer Mark Wills.

Even George W. Bush’s most stalwart supporters cringed at his disconnect from reality. Bush, like Michael Jackson in his days at Neverland Ranch, was living in a bubble. By contrast, when Hurricane Betsy had struck the Louisiana coast in 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson had immediately flown to New Orleans to see the flood zone firsthand. The difference was glaring. Bush was, quite simply — as Coast Guard first-responder Jimmy Duckworth phrased it — “out of the game.”

On the 10th anniversary of Katrina, with the advantage of hindsight, it’s clear that Bush’s lack of leadership in late summer of 2005 cost his presidency mightily. Unlike Ronald Reagan, after the Challenger explosion, or Bill Clinton, after the Oklahoma City bombing, Bush had failed to feel the profound implications of the moment as his predecessors had. He didn’t scramble into action. He didn’t touch the nation’s heartstrings by using epic oratory to inform the disaster. What we got, instead, were guitar chords and terse speeches void of human pathos. No matter how the Bush library in Dallas tries to spin Bush’s Katrina performance, we all know he deserved an F in crisis management.

. . . After the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, Bush was virtually unseen during the first 11 hours, making only brief statements and effectively ceding the public leadership role in the crisis to New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani. When the president emerged, addressing the nation in a formal televised speech, it was in a role in which he was comfortable:  the aggressor intent on taking revenge against al-Qaeda, against the Taliban who had harbored them, and against “the people who knocked these buildings down” (as he said, a few days after the attacks, bullhorn in hand, at Ground Zero). But soon enough, he was going after Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, whose regime had absolutely zero to do with the 9/11 attacks. Foreign policy and military strategy were not George Bush’s fortes. Within two years, he charged into the headwinds of a war that cost billions, decimated cities, claimed the lives of thousands of allied service members and hundreds of thousands of citizens and enemy combatants — the ramifications of which we are still confronting, in horrific ways, to this day.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _

Defining a Market Bubble:  5 U.S. Stocks Worth $1.88 Trillion and One of Them Can’t Figure Out How to Make Money

By Pam Martens and Russ Martens

August 27, 2015

Capital Dynamics Founder and CEO, Tan Teng Boo

Capital Dynamics Founder and CEO, Tan Teng Boo
That big so-called rally at the market close yesterday was not a rally but a short squeeze.

That’s when the hedge funds that have put on short positions size up the amount of stock for sale at the close of trading and, if the amount is light, they decide to close out their short positions by buying stock to cover. On Tuesday, there was approximately $3.5 billion in orders to sell at the close, resulting in the late day selloff. Yesterday, there was only about $500 million to sell, making it risky to hold short positions, thus the short squeeze driving the Dow up 619 points at the close.

Expect to see a lot more of these spikes, up or down, in the last two hours of trading.

Assessing just how large the bubble has grown in U.S. markets as a result of the Fed’s zero-bound interest rate strategy since December 2008, Tan Teng Boo, founder and CEO of Capital Dynamics appeared on a Bloomberg Television segment this morning and summed up our new market bubble in a few words. Boo said just five U.S. stocks — Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon  — are worth more than the Frankfurt, Germany stock market, which represents the fourth largest economy in the world.

We did the math after the past week’s selloff and yesterday’s big spike higher. At yesterday’s close, the market caps for the levitating five are as follows:  Apple $625.532 billion; Google, $440.767 billion; Microsoft, $341.594 billion; Facebook, $245.795 billion and Amazon, $234.215 billion. The total market cap for the five — $1.889 trillion.

All five of these stocks have one thing in common:  they all trade on the Nasdaq stock market. That’s the market that gave you the 2000 bust that erased $4 trillion from investors’ pockets in dot-com and tech blowups as well as the stock market that oversaw a massive price rigging cartel for more than a decade.

On July 17, 1996, the U.S. Justice Department charged most of the largest firms on Wall Street (iconic brands like Merrill Lynch, JPMorgan and predecessor firms to Citigroup) with price fixing on Nasdaq. The firms were deemed so untrustworthy going forward that as part of its settlement the Justice Department required that some Wall Street traders’ phone calls be tape recorded when making Nasdaq trades. The Justice Department also gave itself the right to randomly show up and listen in on the traders’ calls.

Today, some of the same firms that were charged with price rigging on Nasdaq have been charged with similar cartel activity in rigging the Libor interest rate benchmark and/or foreign currency trading. But that has not prevented these firms from operating their own Dark Pools, effectively unregulated stock markets, where the highfliers mentioned above are traded in darkness.

Wall Street On Parade previously conducted a study of trading in Apple stock in Dark Pools for the weeks of May 26 through June 23, 2014. (Until last year, data on Dark Pool trading had not been available to the public.) We reported as follows on that study in June of this year:

During that period, Dark Pools traded over 103.6 million shares of Apple stock. The heaviest week was the week of June 9, 2014 when 39.9 million shares traded in dark pools. Goldman Sachs was responsible for trading 2,444,350 shares of Apple that week in its Dark Pool, Sigma-X, and has been in the top tier of dark pools trading Apple stock in all subsequent weeks of our review period. (On July 1 of last year, the self-regulator, FINRA, administered a minor wrist slap to Goldman for what was clearly very serious pricing irregularities in its dark pool.)

Goldman Sachs has also been an enabler to Apple taking on debt to finance its stock buybacks. Goldman Sachs was the co-lead manager with Deutsche Bank in April of 2013 when Apple launched a $17 billion corporate debt offering in order to buy back its shares and increase its dividend.  Apple’s $17 billion debt deal was the largest in corporate history at that point. Goldman was also Apple’s advisor in 1996 when the company was warding off bankruptcy and Goldman managed its $661 million convertible debt offering.

“Could taking on debt and buying back shares become an addiction? One year after the April 2013 $17 billion debt deal by Apple, Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank co-led another $12 billion debt offering for Apple in April of 2014. So far this year, Apple has issued $6.5 billion in debt in February and another $8 billion on May 6. Goldman Sachs & Co., Bank of America Merrill Lynch and J.P. Morgan were involved in Apple’s May offering, which was specifically earmarked for share buybacks and dividends.”

Another of the highfliers, Amazon, whose market cap is larger than AT&T, is still trying to figure out how to generate profits. Here’s a few headlines describing its struggles:

December 18, 2013: International Business Times:  “Amazon:  Nearly 20 Years In Business And It Still Doesn’t Make Money, But Investors Don’t Seem To Care”;
October 23, 2014: New York Times:  “Amazon’s Investments Are Piling Up, as Big Losses”;
October 24, 2014: Bloomberg Business:  “…the company yesterday posted its biggest quarterly net loss since at least 2003…”

As for Facebook, all you need to know is that its Price-to-Earnings Ratio (PE Ratio) is an astronomical 88.97 at yesterday’s close.

One of the Bloomberg Television anchors who was interviewing Tan Teng Boo, Angie Lau, noted that those five stocks had led the big rally yesterday and said “those still seem like safe haven plays.”
Calling Apple and Amazon and Facebook “safe haven plays” is like comparing Donald Trump to the Dalai Lama. Let’s hope American investors are smarter today than they were going into the bust in 2000 and the 2008 crash.

Professor Paul Craig Roberts has mountains of personal research and insights to share with us on what's going down.

And up.

Central Banks Have Become A Corrupting Force

August 23, 2015

Paul Craig Roberts and Dave Kranzler
Are we witnessing the corruption of central banks? Are we observing the money-creating powers of central banks being used to drive up prices in the stock market for the benefit of the mega-rich?

These questions came to mind when we learned that the central bank of Switzerland, the Swiss National Bank, purchased 3,300,000 shares of Apple stock in the first quarter of this year, adding 500,000 shares in the second quarter. Smart money would have been selling, not buying.

It turns out that the Swiss central bank, in addition to its Apple stock, holds very large equity positions, ranging from $250,000,000 to $637,000,000, in numerous US corporations — Exxon Mobil, Microsoft, Google, Johnson & Johnson, General Electric, Procter & Gamble, Verizon, AT&T, Pfizer, Chevron, Merck, Facebook, Pepsico, Coca Cola, Disney, Valeant, IBM, Gilead, Amazon.

Among this list of the Swiss central bank’s holdings are stocks which are responsible for more than 100% of the year-to-date rise in the S&P 500 prior to the latest sell-off.

What is going on here?

The purpose of central banks was to serve as a “lender of last resort” to commercial banks faced with a run on the bank by depositors demanding cash withdrawals of their deposits.

Banks would call in loans in an effort to raise cash to pay off depositors. Businesses would fail, and the banks would fail from their inability to pay depositors their money on demand.

As time passed, this rationale for a central bank was made redundant by government deposit insurance for bank depositors, and central banks found additional functions for their existence. The Federal Reserve, for example, under the Humphrey-Hawkins Act, is responsible for maintaining full employment and low inflation. By the time this legislation was passed, the worsening “Phillips Curve tradeoffs” between inflation and employment had made the goals inconsistent. The result was the introduction by the Reagan administration of the supply-side economic policy that cured the simultaneously rising inflation and unemployment.

Neither the Federal Reserve’s charter nor the Humphrey-Hawkins Act says that the Federal Reserve is supposed to stabilize the stock market by purchasing stocks. The Federal Reserve is supposed to buy and sell bonds in open market operations in order to encourage employment with lower interest rates or to restrict inflation with higher interest rates.

If central banks purchase stocks in order to support equity prices, what is the point of having a stock market? The central bank’s ability to create money to support stock prices negates the price discovery function of the stock market.

The problem with central banks is that humans are fallible, including the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board and all the board members and staff. Nobel prize-winner Milton Friedman and Anna Schwartz established that the Great Depression was the consequence of the failure of the Federal Reserve to expand monetary policy sufficiently to offset the restriction of the money supply due to bank failure. When a bank failed in the pre-deposit insurance era, the money supply would shrink by the amount of the bank’s deposits. During the Great Depression, thousands of banks failed, wiping out the purchasing power of millions of Americans and the credit creating power of thousands of banks.

The Fed is prohibited from buying equities by the Federal Reserve Act. But an amendment in 2010 – Section 13(3) – was enacted to permit the Fed to buy AIG’s insolvent Maiden Lane assets. This amendment also created a loophole which enables the Fed to lend money to entities that can use the funds to buy stocks. Thus, the Swiss central bank could be operating as an agent of the Federal Reserve.

If central banks cannot properly conduct monetary policy, how can they conduct an equity policy? Some astute observers believe that the Swiss National Bank is acting as an agent for the Federal Reserve and purchases large blocs of US equities at critical times to arrest stock market declines that would puncture the propagandized belief that all is fine here in the US economy.

We know that the US government has a “plunge protection team” consisting of the US Treasury and Federal Reserve. The purpose of this team is to prevent unwanted stock market crashes.

Is the stock market decline of August 20-21 welcome or unwelcome?

At this point we do not know. In order to keep the dollar up, the basis of US power, the Federal Reserve has promised to raise interest rates, but always in the future. The latest future is next month. The belief that a hike in interest rates is in the cards keeps the US dollar from losing exchange value in relation to other currencies, thus preventing a flight from the dollar that would reduce the Uni-power to Third World status.

The Federal Reserve can say that the stock market decline indicates that the recovery is in doubt and requires more stimulus. The prospect of more liquidity could drive the stock market back up. As asset bubbles are in the way of the Fed’s policy, a decline in stock prices removes the equity market bubble and enables the Fed to print more money and start the process up again.

On the other hand, the stock market decline last Thursday and Friday could indicate that the players in the market have comprehended that the stock market is an artificially inflated bubble that has no real basis. Once the psychology is destroyed, flight sets in.

If flight turns out to be the case, it will be interesting to see if central bank liquidity and purchases of stocks can stop the rout.

Western Democracy Is An Endangered Species On Its Way To Extinction

August 25, 2015

Paul Craig Roberts
The British Labour Party no longer represents the working class. Under UK prime minister Tony Blair, the Labour Party became a vassal of the One Percent. The result has been a rebellion in the ranks and the rise of Jeremy Corbyn, a principled Labourite intent on representing the people, a no-no in Western “democracies.”

Corbyn is too real for the Labour Party Blairites, who hope to be rewarded with similar nest eggs as Blair for representing the capitalist One Percent. So what is the corrupted Labour Party doing to prevent Corbyn’s election?

The answer is that it is denying the vote to Corbyn supporters. You can read the story here:

The illegal Egyptian military dictatorship that overthrew on Washington’s orders the first democratically elected government in Egyptian history has issued an edict prohibiting journalists from contradicting the military dictatorship. In brief, the dictatorship installed by Washington has outlawed facts.

Washington rejected the government that the Egyptian people elected, because it appeared that the democratically elected government would have a foreign policy that was at least partially independent of Washington’s. Remember, according to the neocons who, together with Israel, control US foreign policy, countries with independent foreign policies, such as Iran, Russia, and China, are America’s “greatest threats.”

The Egyptian military thugs, following Washington’s orders, have more or less eliminated all of the leadership of the political party that was democratically elected. The party was called the Muslim Brotherhood. In the presstitute Western media, the political party was described more or less as al Qaeda, and how are the ignorant, brainwashed, and propagandized Americans to know any difference? Certainly neither “their” government nor the presstitute media will ever tell them.

With the military dictatorship’s edict, independent news reporting no longer exists in Egypt. Washington is pleased and rewards the dictatorship with bags full of money paid by the hapless and helpless American taxpayers.

Americans should keep in mind that most of the dollars that they pay in income tax are spent either spying upon themselves and the world or killing people in many countries. Without resources taken from American taxpayers millions of women, children, and village elders would still be alive in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, Ukraine, South Ossetia, and other countries. America is the greatest exporter of violence the world has ever known. So wear your patriotism on your sleeve and be proud. You are a depraved citizen of the world’s worst killer nation. Compared to the USA, Rome was a piker.

France herself seems to be collapsing as a democracy and no longer respects her own laws. According to this report from Kumaran Ira on World Socialist Website

“In the name of the “war on terror,” the French state is dramatically accelerating its use of clandestine operations to extra-judicially murder targeted individuals. French President François Hollande reportedly possesses a “kill list” of potential targets and constantly reviews the assassination program with high-ranking military and intelligence officers.
“This program of state murder, violating basic constitutional rights in a country where the death penalty is illegal, underscores the profound decay of French bourgeois democracy. Amid escalating imperialist wars in France’s former colonial empire and deepening political crisis at home, the state is moving towards levels of criminality associated with the war against Algerian independence and the Vichy regime of Occupied France.”

Where do you suppose the socialist president of France got his idea of an illegal and unconstitutional “kill list”? If you answer from “America’s First Black President,” you are correct.

The French people should be outraged that “their” president is nothing more than a murderer and an agent of Washington. But they aren’t. False flag operations have made them fearful. The French like other Western peoples, have ceased to think.

Every western democracy is gone with the wind. Washed up, Finished. Every value that defined Western civilization and made it great has been flushed by power and greed and arrogance.

Proconsuls have replaced democracy.

I certainly do not believe that Western civilization was ever pure as snow and devoid of sins and crimes against humanity. But it is a fact that in Western civilization, despite the numerous injustices, reforms were possible that improved life for the lower classes. Reforms were possible that restricted the rapaciousness of the rich and powerful. In the US reforms made the impossible come true: ladders of upward mobility made it possible for members of the lowest economic class to become multimillionaires. And this actually happened.
The governments in Washington committed many crimes, but on occasion Washington prevented crimes. Remember President Eisenhower’s ultimatum to Washington’s British, French, and Israeli allies to remove themselves from the Suez Canal in Egypt or else.

Today Washington pushes its allies to commit crimes against humanity. That is what NATO and the National Endowment for Democracy are for.

In my lifetime Americans have always had a good opinion of themselves. But in the 21st century this good opinion has hyper-jumped into hubris and arrogance. If you haven’t been around very long in terms of a human life, you don’t see this. But older people do.

Just as the Roman Empire ended in the destruction of the Roman people, the American Empire will end in the destruction of the American people. Judging from histories, Roman citizens were superior to American citizens; yet, Rome failed.

Americans shouldn’t expect any other outcome. The price to be paid for insouciance, self-satisfaction, and complicity is high.

Where is Neo When We Need Him

Paul Craig Roberts

August 26, 2015
In "The Matrix" in which Americans live, nothing is ever their fault. For example, the current decline in the US stock market is not because years of excessive liquidity supplied by the Federal Reserve have created a bubble so overblown that a mere six stocks, some of which have no earnings commiserate with their price, accounted for more than all of the gain in market capitalization in the S&P 500 prior to the current disruption.
In our Matrix existence, the stock market decline is not due to corporations using their profits, and even taking out loans, to repurchase their shares, thus creating an artificial demand for their equity shares.
The decline is not due to the latest monthly reporting of durable goods orders falling on a year-to-year basis for the sixth consecutive month.

The stock market decline is not due to a week economy in which after a decade of alleged economy recovery, new and existing home sales are still down by 63% and 23% from the peak in July 2005.

The stock market decline is not due to the collapse in real median family income and, thereby, consumer demand, resulting from two decades of offshoring middle class jobs and partially replacing them with minimum wage part-time Walmart jobs without benefits that do not provide sufficient income to form a household.

No, none of these facts can be blamed. The decline in the US stock market is the fault of China.

What did China do? China is accused of devaluing by a small amount its currency.

Why would a slight adjustment in the yuan’s exchange value to the dollar cause the US and European stock markets to decline?

It wouldn’t. But facts don’t matter to the presstitute media. They lie for a living.

Moreover, it was not a devaluation.

When China began the transition from communism to capitalism, China pegged its currency to the US dollar in order to demonstrate that its currency was as good as the world’s reserve currency. Over time China has allowed its currency to appreciate relative to the dollar. For example, in 2006 one US dollar was worth 8.1 Chinese yuan. Recently, prior to the alleged “devaluation” one US dollar was worth 6.1 or 6.2 yuan. After China’s adjustment to its floating peg, one US dollar is worth 6.4 yuan. Clearly, a change in the value of the yuan from 6.1 or 6.2 to the dollar to 6.4 to the dollar did not collapse the US and European stock markets.

Furthermore, the change in the range of the floating peg to the US dollar did not devalue China’s currency with regard to its non-US trading partners. What had happened, and what China corrected, is that as a result of the QE money printing policies currently underway by the Japanese and European central banks, the dollar appreciated against other currencies. As China’s yuan is pegged to the dollar, China’s currency appreciated with regard to its Asian and European trading partners. The appreciation of China’s currency (due to its peg to the US dollar) is not a good thing for Chinese exports during a time of struggling economies. China merely altered its peg to the dollar in order to eliminate the appreciation of its currency against its other trading partners.

Why did not the financial press tell us this? Is the Western financial press so incompetent that they do not know this? Yes.

Or is it simply that America itself cannot possibly be responsible for anything that goes wrong. That’s it.

Who, us?! We are innocent! It was those damn Chinese!

Look, for example, at the hordes of refugees from America’s invasions and bombings of seven countries who are currently overrunning Europe. The huge inflows of peoples from America’s massive slaughter of populations in seven countries, enabled by the Europeans themselves, is causing political consternation in Europe and the revival of far-right political parties. Today, for example, neo-nazis shouted down German Chancellor Merkel, who tried to make a speech asking for compassion for refugees.

But, of course, Merkel herself is responsible for the refugee problem that is destabilizing Europe. Without Germany as Washington’s two-bit punk puppet state, a non-entity devoid of sovereignty, a non-country, a mere vassal, an outpost of the Empire, ruled from Washington, America could not be conducting the illegal wars that are producing the hordes of refugees that are over-taxing Europe’s ability to accept refugees and encouraging neo-nazi parties.

The corrupt European and American press present the refugee problem as if it has nothing whatsoever to do with America’s war crimes against seven countries. I mean, really, why should peoples flee countries when America is bringing them “freedom and democracy?”

Nowhere in the Western media other than a few alternative media websites is there an ounce of integrity. The Western media is a Ministry of Truth that operates full-time in support of the artificial existence that Westerners live inside "The Matrix" where Westerners exist without thought. Considering their inaptitude and inaction, Western peoples might as well not exist.

More is going to collapse on the brainwashed Western fools than mere stock values.

(Dr. Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy and associate editor of the "Wall Street Journal." He was columnist for "Business Week," Scripps Howard News Service, and Creators Syndicate. He has had many university appointments. His internet columns have attracted a worldwide following. Roberts' latest books are The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism and Economic Dissolution of the West and How America Was Lost.)

Need rehab from the market madness?

Or is it back to black?

No, not really.