Tag Archives: bribery

Confusion

obama 2 cropNow that we’ve disentangled the quantum data, my mind has been struggling to reassemble and compartmentalize the various strings from that theory. Or perhaps it’s just my political junkie nature which is causing me to shake and tremble so violently from the confusing current events and media spin?

Stranger in a Strange Land 2012-12-01: Confusion by The Stranger on Mixcloud

PLAYLIST
In the Hall of the Mountain King – Christian Elsässer
What Difference a Day Makes – Dinah Washington
Confusion – Fela Kuti
Who Do You Love – Bo Diddley
Time Is Marching – John Lee Hooker
A Foggy Day – Billie Holiday
In A Silent Way / Shhh Peaceful / It’s About That Time (Bill Laswell Mix) – Miles Davis
Il Ricordo Di Serena – Riz Ortolani
Neurotico – Sergio Mendes
Inutil Paisagem (Useless Landscape) 3’11 – Antonio Carlos Jobim
Cubano Chant – Art Blakey
Mara-Jat’s Love – Alberto Baldan Bembo
Machine Gun – The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Nautilus (Rob Swift Scratch Remix) – Bob James
Look To The Sun – Guru
Bridge on the Ninth Dimension – Sun Ra
I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know – Blood, Sweat & Tears
Whole Lotta Love – Ike & Tina Turner
The Thrill is Gone – Chet Baker
A Very Precious Time – Gil Scott Heron and Brian Jack

A look at the electoral map reveals that America isn’t mostly red or blue, but largely purple. Something that we’ve known for some time on this show, and will continue to represent going forward. After all, if you’re going to drink somebody’s Kool-Aid, purple is the best flavor.

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American voters rejected voter id, racist rhetoric, class war politics, and saw that Obama’s efforts to stimulate the economy were working (slowly) and needed more time to honestly kick off.

We must avoid a false “centrism” that has been pulled to the right along with the other loud loonies, and dispel with notions of compromise that are actually false dilemmas.

As Bill Maher put it, “There’s no third term, Mr. President, so you may as well throw caution to the wind, ’cause it’s not like we’re using it to produce energy.” Because “if not now, when?”

Americans aren’t stupid. And we know what to expect. A national CNN/ORC poll found that the expectations for Congress in the budget showdown are low, with two-thirds of respondents saying they expect lawmakers to act like ”spoiled children,” not “responsible adults,” during the negotiations.

77 percent of those surveyed also said they believe they would be personally impacted if the country is allowed to go off the “fiscal cliff” – but if that happens, 45 percent said they would blame Congressional Republicans, as opposed to 34 percent who would blame Obama.

AlterNet covers the various social programs that are being threatened by our esteemed leaders:

  • Medicaid ( $258 billion ): Though Obama has largely targeted providers for potential Medicaid cuts, Republicans want beneficiaries to fork over more. In which case, says Kogan, patients might be forced to make copayments, or program costs may be shifted to the states, which could decide to scale back coverage.
  • Food Stamps ( $78 billion in 2011) : The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program serves about 45 million people . It is not part of discretionary spending, but Ellen Nissenbaum, senior vice president for government affairs at CBPP, toldThe Nation it faces a real prospect of being cut in negotiations.
  • Supplemental Security Income ( $47 billion ): Social Security itself is mostly off the table, but Supplemental Security Income for the blind, elderly, and disabled, is likely to take a hit
  • Pell Grants ( $36 billion ): These need-based grants help some 10 million low-income students afford college.
  • Title 1 Education Grants
  • Section 8 Housing Assistance
  • Job Training
  • Head Start
  • Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program
  • Community Health Centers
  • Women, Infants and Children ($8.9 million in 2011): The Department of Agriculture’s WIC programhelps low-income moms and babies get access to supplemental nutrition and health care referrals. WIC has about 9 million participants , most of whom are kids.

The entire debate is stupid. Obama won the election based (partly) on promises raise taxes on the extremely wealthy, but Republicans would rather hock damaging “entitlement reform” than raise taxes one penny. In other words, “asking old people to work longer and accept less in return.”

Cutting (or “reforming”) Medicare in response to a pseudo-crisis invented by Congress would be an effective way to prove that liberal conspiracists are correct when they claim that all deficit hysteria is merely an excuse to roll back social insurance programs.

Any “serious” and “responsible” discussion must love austerity and upward-redistribution. Any precondition for cooperation is for Democrats to support Bush-era tax rates (which we are still in, btw)!

According to the conventional wisdom, any grand bargain should be modeled on plans like the Bowles-Simpson plan or the Rivlin-Domenici plan — financing lower tax rates on the rich by closing tax loopholes and cutting Social Security and Medicare. Social Security does not and cannot add to the deficit, and both programs only need minor tweaks, but are overall sustainable for decades.

But there is no evidence that the low tax rates on the wealthy encourage them to spend or invest, no evidence that higher tax rates would deter the spending and investment that they might otherwise do.

Via The Next New Deal:

The Simpson-Bowles budget balancing plan seems to have become the common-sense standard for dealing with America’s future budget deficits. this move toward the right is dangerous to the future of the nation and essentially cruel—far more dangerous than the level of the deficit over the next 15 years. The commission proposed cuts in Social Security benefits of 15 percent for medium earners, for example. The right-wing Heritage Foundation spawned many of their ideas, and any progressive notions like those of Paul Volcker or Warren Buffett, seem to be watered down or cut out or ignored.

But these lies that the rich promote growth and that America can’t afford the Social Security that we’ve already been paying into are repeated often enough that they become ‘Beltway wisdom’. But no amount of repetition will turn them into facts.

The United States needs a middle-class welfare state that is bigger, not smaller. It’s the restricted, elitist private welfare state that needs to be cut, not the universal public social insurance system. Most industrial nations do not rely as heavily on private over public programs as we do here (retirement security and health care are prime examples). Deficit hawks would make cuts to stingy social security benefits, leaving the poor, the old, and the laborers to the mercy of their employer’s fickle pension programs, 401Ks and IRAs.

George Bush failed to privatize our social programs due to public outrage and popular outcry, but the con artists are still trying to take what little pittance is left form the elderly, compelling them to gamble their savings in the private markets and mutual funds.

Their objective is to compel Americans to try to make up the losses in public benefits by gambling more with their savings in mutual funds, from which hefty profits will be skimmed by overpaid money managers. Meanwhile, unscrupulous money managers capture many of the returns from private investments for themselves via deceptive fees. Wall Street wants to charge fees on as much of our programs as it can.

Furthermore, there is no looming crisis of debt or deficits, such that sacrifices in general are necessary. None. Not in the short run – as almost everyone agrees.  But also: not in the long run.  What we have are computer projections, based on arbitrary – and suspicious – assumptions. CBO has adjusted its interest rate forecast, and even under its “alternative fiscal scenario” the debt/GDP ratio now stabilizes after a few years.

There is no looming crisis of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, such that these programs must be reformed?  There just isn’t!  Social insurance programs are not businesses. They are not required to make a profit; they need not be funded from any particular stream of tax revenues over any particular time.  Reasonable control of health care costs – public and private – is necessary and also sufficient to keep the costs of Medicare and Medicaid within bounds, but none of our politicians are speaking about this.

They are more concerned about military sequestration, even though Pentagon spending is already set to decline as we adjust our military programs to our national security needs.

Social Security doesn’t add a penny to the debt and should not be part of any deficit reduction talks.” ~Sen. Dick Durbin

“cutting Social Security and Medicare for the sake of an arbitrary and needless budgetary reduction of $4 trillion and as a “solution” to an entirely contrived fiscal crisis is bad policy. It is bad economic policy and worse social policy. And for Democrats, it is dumb politics. If Republicans want to be the ones to attack America’s two most valued social programs, Obama should let them go right ahead—until they march off their own fiscal cliff.” ~Rob Kuttner

Medicare and Medicaid aren’t “chief drivers of the deficit”; Bush tax cuts and two unfunded wars are. The best solution to deficits is to let all the Bush tax cuts lapse and not cut spending at all, while taxing capital gains and dividends as regular income. This would raise some $2 trillion, which the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities argues would be enough deficit reduction to stabilize the national debt.

Instead we have dishonest actors who would gladly lead us over their own constructed “cliff” rather than lead to real solutions, avert mythical problems as opposed to real ones.

Even ignoring that it was entirely invented, the “fiscal cliff” is not even a cliff. All of the tax and spending cuts “scheduled” to take effect Dec. 31 will take effect gradually, and can be reversed by Congress.

Why try to make a deal with this Congress, anyway, when the next one will have more Democrats, and most important, more liberals, on both the House and the Senate side?

The Brookings Institution held panels on the future budget, and in general, centrists on those panels agreed that spending as a percent of GDP should be 23 to 25 percent 20 years from now. He thinks the Simpson-Bowles plan is simply wrong for America. In truth, Social Security is inadequate today, and Medicaid tragically so.

All this while a few of the country’s wealthiest and most patriotic billionaires are calling to for more taxes on themselves.

“Let’s forget about the rich and ultrarich going on strike and stuffing their ample funds under their mattresses if – gasp – capital gains rates and ordinary income rates are increased. The ultrarich, including me, will forever pursue investment opportunities.” ~Billionaire investor Warren Buffett

But most of the rich feel so entitled, they claim that anything that hurts them will also hurt the economy. They are essentially threatening ‘a knife to the throat of America’s frail recovery.’

Via In These Times:

The GOP sore losers have America up against a wall. Republicans don’t care that the majority of the country voted for a candidate who promised to raise taxes on the rich. Republicans don’t care that an even larger majority—60 percent—told election day pollsters they wanted those taxes raised. Republicans don’t care about majority-rule democracy at all. They’re demanding ransom—extension of tax cuts for the rich. If Americans don’t submit, Republicans will slash the nation’s economy.

The party that lost the Presidency, lost seats in the House and lost seats in the Senate is willing to take down the economy, to eviscerate programs like the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Federal Aviation Administration rather than require the entitled rich pull their weight as citizens of the country that enabled them to live lives of unprecedented luxury.

Romney and the GOP said that Obama bought his votes with promises of gifts, but THEY don’t think they were buying the votes of the rich with their promise to add another 20 percent break on top of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest.

That’s because they believe they’re entitled. They derisively refer to the social safety net programs that prevent the nation’s poor and elderly from being reduced to eating cat food as “entitlements.” But it’s the entitled rich—Romney, the Koch Brothers, Sheldon Adelson and their ilk—who demand that America give them “stuff” like tax breaks for sending jobs overseas, like tax loopholes for hoarding their assets in the Caymans, like government-paid roads and sewers and rail lines to their businesses.

The CEOs, calling themselves the “Fix the Debt” coalition, claim they’ll pay a secret amount more in taxes if the 99 percent suffers cuts to its social safety net and endures slashed government programs, just accepts cat food as its meat course.

They’ve proposed extending the tax cuts for the 98 percent right now. The richest two percent would benefit from these breaks as well, receiving them on the first $250,000 of their earnings. Everybody gets something. This proposal passed the Democratic-controlled Senate. The Republican-controlled House refuses to even vote on it.

That gap between America’s high-income and middle-income households, after all, has been growing almost as fast as the gap between rich and poor.

A new income inequality study from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities and the Economic Policy Institute has found that in the three-year span from 2008 through 2010, in 15 different states, our most affluent 20 percent averaged over eight times the income of our poorest 20 percent. Back in the late 1970s, the new Pulling Apart points out, not one single state had a top-to-bottom ratio that ran over eight times.

In all 50 states, the gap between top 20 and middle 20 percent has widened “significantly.” The gap between middle 20 percent and top 5 percent has widened even more. By almost five times in the largest states.

Plus, these Census surveys do not even take into account income from capital gains. 87 percent of all capital gains “will go to families in the top 5 percent of the U.S. income distribution.”

Rising inequality, they contend, “adversely affects our economy and political system.” They eat away at our social cohesion. Deeply unequal societies just don’t work together in a democracy. The rich in these societies live apart, in their own private universes.

Here are some other numbers the conservative rich would rather have ignored, distorted or fudged:

  1. Only FOUR OUT OF 150 countries have more wealth inequality than us.
  2. Only THREE PERCENT of the very rich are entrepreneurs: According to both Marketwatch and economist Edward Wolff, over 90 percent of the assets owned by millionaires are held in a combination of low-risk investments (bonds and cash), personal business accounts, the stock market, and real estate. Only 3.6 percent of taxpayers in the top .1% were classified as entrepreneurs based on 2004 tax returns. A 2009 Kauffman Foundation study found that the great majority of entrepreneurs come from middle-class backgrounds, with less than 1 percent of all entrepreneurs coming from very rich or very poor backgrounds.
  3. An amount equal to ONE-HALF the GDP is held untaxed overseas by rich Americans.
  4. Corporations stopped paying HALF OF THEIR TAXES after the recession: After paying an average of 22.5% from 1987 to 2008, corporations have paid an annual rate of 10% since. This represents a sudden $250 billion annual loss in taxes.
  5. Just TEN Americans made a total of FIFTY BILLION DOLLARS in one year.
  6. Tax deductions for the rich could pay off 100 PERCENT of the deficit.
  7. The average single black or Hispanic woman has about $100 IN NET WORTH.
  8. Elderly and disabled food stamp recipients get $4.30 A DAY FOR FOOD.
  9. Young adults have lost TWO-THIRDS OF THEIR NET WORTH since 1984.
  10. The American public paid about FOUR TRILLION DOLLARS to bail out the banks.

We have the radical right to thank for much of this. There will always be those in the GOP, or proudly to its right, who will protest any policy movement toward the center as an abandonment of conservative principles.

You are allowed to believe whatever you want in America, but remember that false beliefs ultimately lead to suffering.

Stranger in a Strange Land 2012-12-01: Confusion by The Stranger on Mixcloud

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net

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The Creeps

Tonight is bone-chillingly eerie in the Mission District, and diaphanous fingers of fog encircle the Bay Area, and in the nation and around the world notorious creeps keep their eyes on us from their platforms of power. On a dark Friday the 13th, we stare right back and hum merrily.

PLAYLIST
The Hall Of The Mountain Grill – Hawkwind
The Chill Of Death – Charles Mingus
The Devil’s Trill Sonata (With Piano) – Itzhak Perlman
Spooky Girlfriend – Elvis Costello
They Are Night Zombies!! They Are Neighbors!! They Have Come Back from the Dead – Sufjan Stevens
Djed – Tortoise
Fear – David Byrne
Fire Down Below – Nick Cave
Lovefingers – Silver Apples
Everyone Is Afraid Of Clowns – Kumquat
Safety Is The Cootie Wootie (Pt. 1-3) – The Residents
Rusty Metal – Aphex Twin
The Sheltering Sky – King Crimson
Third From The Sun – Chrome
Earth People Dr. Octagon
The Boogie Monster – Gnarls Barkley
Earth Died Screaming – Tom Waits

The first creep of the evening is presidential hopeful Mitt Romney.

“Mitt Romney wants you to show your papers. But he won’t show us his.” Joe Biden

And Romney’s support for voter suppression laws disrespects the NAACP’s entire legacy. The only glimmer of hope is in the fact that Romney’s policies are so vague that they do not seem overly destructive… yet.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board tore into Romney last week for trying to “play it safe and coast to the White House by saying the economy stinks and it’s Mr. Obama’s fault,” arguing instead that Romney needs to offer “some understanding of why the President’s policies aren’t working and how Mr. Romney’s policies will do better.”

Romney hasn’t identified a loophole he’d close, any specific federal programs he’d slash, how he would reduce the deficit, or been clear on his tax returns or full history at Bain.

His entire platform can be summed up as schoolyard name-calling.

No you’re the “outsourcer-in-chief.”

The Washington Post reports that Bain Capital invested in companies that were “pioneers” in outsourcing and offshoring, but Mitt Romney would rather shift blame, race-bait, and proclaim his opponent to be glue while he, himself, acts as rubber. On the health-care tax, layoffs… he even criticizes Obama for not taking a clear stand on the issues, while doing exactly that (much to the chagrin of his own party).

“Unlike President Obama, you don’t have to wait until after the election to find out what I believe in — or what my plans are,” Romney said in April.

So while being funded by the creepy Koch brothers, Mitt continues to get more radically right-wing and creepy himself. Granted, he was always creepy, going so far as to impersonate a police officer and pull over his friends while they were on dates.

So while the GOP notion of a small business encompasses “fabulously rich so-called small business owners like Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton,” the Congressional Budget Office just released a very thorough update of their high quality household income series, adding data through 2009:

When it comes to federal taxation, there is just no case in the data to be made in any way, shape or form that we Americans are overtaxed. Not middle income, not high income—not the overall average. Not relative to other countries (figure 4 here), and not relative to our historical rates back to 1979.

By the end of the series, the average US household was paying 17.4% of their income in federal taxes, compared to 22% in 1979. The main culprit is the income tax; all the others in the figure stay relatively constant.

The bottom slide shows a long downward trend in the effective rate paid by the top 1% starting in the mid-1990s, and particularly large cyclical effects at the end of the series for middle and low-income households. At their peak average income in 2007 ($1.9 million), had the top 1% paid taxes at their mid-90s effective rate (35%) instead of their 2007 rate (28%), their tax liability would have been $134,000 higher.

The next creep on the list is Barack Obama, who defies states’ rights and individual civil liberties by crushing Medical Marijuana dispensaries, despite having partaken in them in the past himself.

Now, Barack Obama has quietly signed his name to an Executive Order allowing the White House to control all private communications in the country in the name of national security.

“Assignment of National Security and Emergency Preparedness Communications Functions:

“The Federal Government must have the ability to communicate at all times and under all circumstances to carry out its most critical and time sensitive missions,” the president begins the order. “Survivable, resilient, enduring and effective communications, both domestic and international, are essential to enable the executive branch to communicate within itself and with: the legislative and judicial branches; State, local, territorial and tribal governments; private sector entities; and the public, allies and other nations.”

“Such communications must be possible under all circumstances to ensure national security, effectively manage emergencies and improve national resilience.”

Later the president explains that such could be done by establishing a“joint industry-Government center that is capable of assisting in the initiation, coordination, restoration and reconstitution of NS/EP [national security and emergency preparedness] communications services or facilities under all conditions of emerging threats, crisis or emergency,” calling from agents with the Department of Homeland Security, Pentagon, Federal Communications Commission and other government divisions to ensure that his new executive order can be implemented.

“Infrastructure includes wireline, wireless, satellite, cable, and broadcasting, and provides the transport networks that support the Internet and other key information systems,” suggesting that the president has indeed effectively just allowed himself to control the country’s Internet access. “The authority to seize private facilities when necessary, effectively shutting down or limiting civilian communications.”

The Pentagon is even considering awarding a Distinguished Warfare Medal to drone pilots who work on military bases often far removed from the battlefield, claiming it takes bravery to fly a U.A.V.” — unmanned aerial vehicle — “particularly when you’re called upon to take someone’s life

“Whatever one thinks of the justifiability of drone attacks, it’s one of the least “brave” or courageous modes of warfare ever invented. It’s one thing to call it just, but to pretend it’s “brave” is Orwellian in the extreme. Indeed, the whole point of it is to allow large numbers of human beings to be killed without the slightest physical risk to those doing the killing. Killing while sheltering yourself from all risk is the definitional opposite of bravery.” ~Glenn Greenwald

And as In These Times reports:

Reasonable minds can differ as to whether a person who commits a heinous crime deserves to die, but no one can dispute that rulers given extraordinary powers—such as the power to decide who lives and who dies—will sooner or later abuse those powers.

In contrast, support for the death penalty here in the U.S. is declining, with five states voting to abolish it in recent years. Americans have come to accept that the state can’t be trusted with the machinery of death. So why do we trust our elected officials to assassinate terrorists on foreign soil, where they act as prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner?

Our government says that its drone strikes are only rarely killing civilians. But we the people cannot evaluate this claim because the Obama administration has classified all the evidence, only releasing information at its own discretion. As David Sirota recently noted, Congress is focused not on overseeing the assassination program, but on punishing those who leaked it to the press. The Obama administration is aggressively prosecuting the whistleblowers who reveal information about the disreputable acts it wants kept secret.

The New York Times reports that Pakistan and Yemen are becoming less stable and more hostile to the United States. The Washington Post reports that in Yemen, videos of dead children and furious tribesmen holding up American missile parts have flooded YouTube, breeding anger at the United States and sympathy for al Qaeda. The fact that the drone war keeps expanding—from Afghanistan to Pakistan to Yemen to Somalia to the Philippines—also suggests that the strikes are not “crippling al Qaeda,” as we are told.

In a functioning representative democracy, these issues would be investigated and debated. Such an investigation would be useful to the American people who pay for these wars. But it would not be useful to the military-industrial complex, which wants to see the drone war expanded, not curtailed.

All in the name of the corporate war machines filling Congress’ coffers and politicians’ pockets. The black budget is booming. And psychotic bank CEOs and conservative corpo-fascists are taking over every branch and party in government, including once-libertarian think tanks. The rich get richer and the evil go even more psychopathic, and now there’s scientific evidence to back it up.

Earlier this year, [psychologist Paul] Piff, who is 30, published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that made him semi-famous. Titled “Higher Social Class Predicts Increased Unethical Behavior,” it showed through quizzes, online games, questionnaires, in-lab manipulations, and field studies that living high on the socioeconomic ladder can make people less ethical, more selfish, more insular, and less compassionate than other people. It can make them more likely, as Piff demonstrated in one of his experiments, to take candy from a bowl of sweets designated for children.

Over and over, [professor Kathleen] Vohs has found that money can make people antisocial. She primes subjects by seating them near a screen-saver showing currency floating like fish in a tank or [showing them] words like ‘bill’, ‘check’, or ‘cash’. Then she tests their sensitivity to other people. In her Science article, Vohs showed that money-primed subjects gave less time to a colleague in need of assistance and less money to a hypothetical charity. When asked to pull up a chair so a stranger might join a meeting, money-primed subjects placed the chair at a greater distance from themselves than those in a control group. Vohs even found that money-primed people described feeling less emotional and physical pain: They can keep their hand under burning-hot water longer and feel less emotional distress when excluded from a ball-tossing game.

No better example of this can be seen than the massive scandal of all scandals, the interest-rate fixing Libor case.

We trust that the banking system is setting today’s rate based on its best guess about the future worth of the money. And we assume that guess is based on the cumulative market predictions of countless lenders and borrowers all over the world about the future supply and demand.

But suppose our assumption is wrong. Suppose the bankers are manipulating the interest rate so they can place bets with the money you lend or repay them – bets that will pay off big for them because they have inside information on what the market is really predicting, which they’re not sharing with you.

That would be a mammoth violation of public trust. And it would amount to a rip-off of almost cosmic proportion – trillions of dollars that you and I and other average people would otherwise have received or saved on our lending and borrowing that have been going instead to the bankers. It would make the other abuses of trust we’ve witnessed look like child’s play by comparison.

Sad to say, there’s reason to believe this has been going on, or something very much like it. This is what the emerging scandal over “Libor” (short for “London interbank offered rate”) is all about.

Robert Diamond, Jr., the former Barclays CEO who was forced to resign, said the emails made him “physically ill” – perhaps because they so patently reveal the corruption.)

But Wall Street has almost surely been involved in the same practice, including the usual suspects — JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, and Bank of America – because every major bank participates in setting the Libor rate, and Barclays couldn’t have rigged it without their witting involvement.

In fact, Barclays’s defense has been that every major bank was fixing Libor in the same way, and for the same reason. And Barclays is “cooperating” (i.e., giving damning evidence about other big banks) with the Justice Department and other regulators in order to avoid steeper penalties or criminal prosecutions, so the fireworks have just begun.

During questioning by British politicians over his role in the ongoing Libor-fixing scandal, the Bank of England’s Deputy Governor Paul Tucker admitted Monday that he couldn’t be sure that regulators had put an end to private sector manipulation of the key interest rate.

This is not to say that the charges that Barclays (and possibly many other banks) have been improperly influencing Libor — the London interbank offered rate — are unimportant. Libor is supposed to represent the cost at which banks are able to borrow money from other banks. As such, it is the linchpin of a vast galaxy of interest rates — globally, the price of around $350 trillion worth of home mortgages, car loans and credit card interest rates rises and falls according to the daily fluctuations of Libor. It’s bad and depressing news to learn that the big banks have been intentionally lying about what they think it costs them to borrow money, motivated either to boost their day-to-day trading profits or simply to represent that their bank’s bottom line is healthier than the true numbers would indicate.

Regulators on both sides of the Atlantic are expressing dismay. On Monday, San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank president John Williams acknowledged, reported Reuters, that Barclays’ behavior had eroded confidence in the integrity of the banking system. Which is bad news, he said, because “trust is absolutely critical to conduct any type of business.”

Robert Reich wonders whether “the unfolding Libor scandal will provide enough ammunition and energy to finally get the job [of breaking up the big banks] done.”

At Slate, Mathew Yglesias believes that the new revelations “should destroy the credibility of banks once and for all.”

On Monday, the Hill reported that the House of Representatives is expected to approve legislation that would end the requirement that bank ATMs include a physical sign warning that fees might be charged for bank withdrawals. Banking lobbyists claim that the change in the law is necessary because people are physically removing the signs and then “frivolously” suing the banks for not providing the legally mandated warning. the real motivation is obviously to boost fee income.

One of Mitt Romney’s biggest campaign finance “bundlers” is a lobbyist for Barclays — and before the scandal blew up, Romney was scheduled to attend a London fundraiser hosted by the (now-resigned) Barclays CEO Bob Diamond.

The rate of a loan consists of adding the “risk-free” rate to a risk-premium. If either the risk-free rate or risk-premium goes up, then the price of a loan goes up. If you are a particularly risky borrower, you will pay more for a loan. This is because your risk-premium, compared to other borrowers, is higher, and that is added into your loan rate. If the risk-free rate is 3 percent and your risk of not paying back a mortgage requires a 2 percent premium, then your mortgage rate is 5 percent. If your risk of not paying back unsecured debt on a credit card requires an 8 percent premium, then your interest rate on your credit card is 11 percent.

More complicated models include more types of risk-premia and other things, but this basic approach is how financial markets work. They all need a measure of what money costs independent of the risks associated with any specific loan. As a result, all the most complicated models have this “risk-free” rate at their core.

Now think of some of the scandals and controversies over recent loan pricing. Here’s a great Washington Post piece by Ylan Mui on African American homeowners scarred by the subprime implosion. There are cases where people with the same risk profiles were given different interest rates. Here’s a report from EPI by Algernon Austinarguing that African Americans and Latinos with the same credit risks as whites were charged a higher total interest rate for mortgages even though the risk-free rate and their risk-premium rate should have been the same. The data implies that an additional, illegitimate “+ race” was added to the equation above.

The reason it matters is because that tactic can’t work forever. You can manipulate prices and juke government stress tests and otherwise lie to make people believe your bank’s balance-sheet is healthier than it is, but eventually that system is going to collapse. And, crucially, if the primary objective is “delay,” then when the crisis actually hits, it hits in an overwhelming way with no plausible way to fairly allocate losses or take other actions. Take Lehman Bros as an example!

After Lehman Brothers went bust, banks started submitting “fake” numbers for fear that “real” numbers would make them look bad. Apparently everyone was doing it. Recently, the scandal caught up with British giant Barclays, which was forced to pay a fine for its misdeeds. Many more banks will be found out for manipulating LIBOR interest rates before this is over.

JPMorgan Chase admits that a trading goof earlier this year has helped earn the country’s biggest bank $5.8 billion in losses — nearly triple the original estimate.

Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan, announced that billions of insured deposits at his bank had been invested in high risk derivatives and had sustained at least a $2 billion loss. The Department of Justice and FBI have commenced investigations.

Now it has emerged that not only was Dimon conflicted in his role on the New York Fed but the President and CEO of the New York Fed had an equally dubious conflict of interest,  paying_$190,000_annually_to_the spouse_of_bank’s_top_regulator!

And so while our beautiful nation may be put up for sale to the highest bidder, The Pew Economic Mobility Project has been tracking the economic status of thousands of families since 1968 — the data covered in the current report is through 2009. As Catherine Rampell summarized in the New York Times:

The median person in the poorest quintile has a family net worth that is 63 percent less than that of his counterpart a generation ago: $2,748, versus $7,439…

The median family in the top socioeconomic class today (i.e., the family at the 90th percentile) is worth $629,853, compared to $495,510 in the last generation. That’s a 27 percent increase in the size of the median fortune in the top income stratum.

If you’re scoring at home: Rich: richer; Poor: poorer.

Meanwhile, the police are outright lying about the full list of terrorists they say have “attempted to kill New Yorkers in 14 different plots.” Law enforcement is engaging in massive phone surveillance to the tune of 1.3 million requests for mobile phone data, revealing all manner of shadowy secrets. The corporations comply, with Verizon aiming for the right to edit your personal internet access in the name of “editorial discretion.” 

Add in a mega stun gun, police boots kicking down the doors of protestors, and prisoners on mind-altering drugs, and you’ve got one creepy show!

Stranger in a Strange Land 2012-07-14: The Creeps by The Stranger on Mixcloud

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net

Cool Dark Rock

06-09-12

I wanted to play something cool, something a little dark, and something that rocks tonight. Perhaps I was inspired by the politicians in the news, and all the pernicious trash that seems to be poking out from every cool, dark rock around.

PLAYLIST
In The Hall Of The Mountain King – Sounds Incorporated
I´ve Loved You – The Music Machine
Instrumental Duet – Bela Fleck
Ray Gun Suitcase – Pere Ubu
The Darker Days Of Me & Him – PJ Harvey
Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood – Elvis Costello
I Wanna Rule The World – 10cc
2/1 – Brian Eno
All The Trees Of The Field Will Clap Their Hands – Sufjan Stevens
She Is Staggering – Polaris
Fools – The Dodos
Change My Life – Spoon
Rumble – Link Wray
Baby, Please Don’t Go – Them
Bloodstains (Darkness Version) – Agent Orange
Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath
Red Right Hand – Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds
Guitar Solo 6 from ‘Dead Man’ – Neil Young
Bad Trip – Bo Diddley
Insanity Creeping – The Flow
Castles Made Of Sand – The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Sittin’ On Top Of The World – Howlin’ Wolf
Free Ride – The Illinois Speed Press
Overture – The Collectors
White Room – Cream
When I Was Young – Eric Burdon & The Animals
Cool It Down – The Velvet Underground
Évasion de Julien – Miles Davis
The Old Revolution – Leonard Cohen

Stranger in a Strange Land 2012-06-09: Cool Dark Rock by The Stranger on Mixcloud

Even though Money Romney is trying to distract you from his social issues, he and his champagne campaign neglect the American voter’s intellect by implying that social issues and economic issues are not intertwined.

“Mitt Romney is pro-life,” senior campaign adviser Eric Fehrnstrom said. “He’ll govern as a pro-life president, but you’re going to see the Democrats use all sorts of shiny objects to distract people’s attention from the Obama performance on the economy. This is not a social issue election.”

via In These Times:

But the distinction between “economic” issues and “social” ones is inherently false, particularly as it pertains to reproductive choice. The economy isn’t separate from issues of choice, nor is it separate from any issue we might refer to as a “woman’s issue.” (Which, one hopes, extends beyond the simple matter of whether to have a baby.)

An economic downturn can alter the course of even a planned pregnancy. Since the recession, more people have been demanding contraceptive services, and more of them have been seeking abortions.

Poor women are more likely to terminate unintended pregnancies than their more well-to-do counterparts,” explains one study.” As more women and families fall below the poverty line and are otherwise constrained by financial circumstances, abortion rates can be expected to rise.”

Economic violence is real violence. It impacts people. It changes lives. And it’s what conservative fiscal policies enact. Cutting social programs such as domestic violence shelters (which are actually needed more often during times of economic strain), denying necessary insurance coverage for reasons of personal religious belief, or attacking institutions like Planned Parenthood that provide affordable reproductive health care, doesn’t strengthen the economy in any way. What it does is penalize the poor, making them less able to access contraception, and more likely, if they are pregnant, to need the abortions that Romney, as a potential “pro-life President,” would claim to abhor.

But as we’ve seen, Romney likes to have his cake and eat it too. He wants to court both Santorum-covered Bible Belters and critical-thinking independent moderates (some might point out that these are mutually exclusive). He wants to put aside social issues in favor of economic ones, but can’t seem to defend himself on either. He wants to get credit for good business sense running a private equity firm and earning capital gains, but can’t withstand criticism about his affluent, privileged status, low effective tax rate, or corporate-raiding, job-cutting image. He wants to claim that his programs as governor or Massachusetts created jobs, but that Obamacare (modeled on his own Romneycare) destroys jobs. It’s all a classic case of projection.

via TPM:

On Sunday, the campaign defended the former Massachusetts governor’s jobs record, arguing that the state’s 47th in job creation ignores the improvement made between the beginning and end of Romney term. But when it comes to attacking President Obama’s jobs record, the Romney campaign doesn’t always apply the same standard.

For example, the campaign’s press secretary Andrea Saul sang a different tune last month:

“President Obama hasn’t created a net single new job … Since he started his presidency, he has not created any jobs. Not when you look at the full picture of the economy.”

It’s a fine line for the campaign to walk, as it simultaneously uses averages and “net” jobs numbers to insist that Obama’s jobs record is sub-par. Romney adviser Kerry Healey said “Averages are an unfair measure of a chief executive’s record.”

And surely the Obama administration gets none of that benefit of the doubt, despite the bleeding having stopped, and some minor-if-not-exactly-celebratory progress being made, all despite the best efforts of the Republican party. Many are now charging economic sabotage at the hands of the GOP.

“I don’t have any doubt at this point — the Republicans are clearly rooting for recession as hard as they can,” said veteran Democratic strategist Bob Shrum, who believes the Obama campaign should aggressively make the argument. “People need to know what’s happening and there’s nothing wrong with explaining it. Republicans’ actions give more and more credibility to [the notion], and if independent voters become convinced of it they’ll be furious.”

Lately the charge has taken on a new vigor, from progressive commentary to the highest echelons of the Democratic totem pole. Obama’s senior campaign adviser David Axelrod last Sunday said Republicans have been “high-fiving each other on days when there is bad news.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) on Tuesday pointedly accused House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) of seeking to sabotage the economy for partisan gain.

Survey data from late last year suggest the public can be sold.

Proponents have pointed to the broader GOP lock-step opposition to Obama’s agenda, to Sen. Jim DeMint’s (R-SC) “Waterloo” remark and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell’s infamous 2010 quote, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

Economics writers also question why Republicans have turned sharply against deficit spending to boost the economy since Obama took office, after having historically supported the concept while in power. Last year’s self-inflicted debt ceiling near-crisis shook confidence in Congress’s ability to carry out its most basic functions, and Republicans are signaling a return to the same brinkmanship as early as later this year.

But of course, despite all their madness, some Republicans are going off-message (or: ‘Gone Clinton‘) on the economy.

Conservative Utah Republican Liljenquist voiced support for the Glass-Steagell bank regulation. Liljenquist said he is a “huge Mitt Romney supporter” and vowed that he would “use every ounce of my training at Bain Consulting and in the private sector to dive into the financial issues of our time.”

“When you take the downside of that behavior away, then people engage in riskier and riskier and riskier behavior,” he said. “And that’s what happened with Wall Street. They got away from all good lending practices, they got away from all rationality, they leveraged themselves up 42 to 1 on the dollar thinking, you know what, if this goes south, we’ll get ours and everything will be fine.”

And the former (conservative) justice who led the dissent says he’s increasingly convinced that Citizen’s United won’t stand the test of time.

In a speech at the University of Arkansas, retired Justice John Paul Stevens argued that events since the decision “provide a basis to expect that the Court already has had second thoughts about the breadth of the reasoning” and will likely return to its 5-4 decision in Citizens United v. FEC.

Stevens noted that Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion did not explicitly address the possibility that the decision could open up the floodgates for foreign entities to bankroll U.S. elections. It’s a notion that President Obama warned of in his 2010 State of the Union.

When the justices carve out exceptions, argued Stevens, they will “create a crack in the foundation of the Citizens United majority opinion.”

“[T]he Court must then explain its abandonment of, or at least qualify its reliance upon, proposition that the identity of the speaker is an impermissible basis for regulating campaign speech,” Stevens said. “It will be necessary to explain why the First Amendment provides greater protection to the campaign speech of some non-voters than to that of other non-voters.”

“I think it necessarily follows that such speech made or financed by the terrorist organization itself would receive no constitutional protection,”  If foreign entities are barred from bankrolling U.S. elections, then the court is conceding that “the identity of some speakers may provide a legally acceptable basis for restricting speech.” Not only would that require the court to explicitly explain why corporations meet the standard (Stevens argues they shouldn’t because they can’t vote), it would also bring into question the blurring of lines between issue advocacy and campaign speech in Citizens United.

In other words, politics has changed fundamentally: the old style bosses are out and a new style media system driven in. Politics is now a business with advertising specialists, market researchers and pollsters all fostering polarization and continuing crisis so that their counsel will be solicited more often. Increasingly, political campaigns are run like military commands with centralized top-down direction, defensive and offensive strategies and tactics as well as psychological warfare.

Campaign gurus are well schooled in the techniques of perception management. This same techniques are also used to sell war, concrete proposals and results are less important than perception and image. Politics is now a growing industry with money and politics more joined at the hip than ever and an interest in keeping the big money flowing into its bank account.

This has been a slow and nefarious evolution going back to Reagan, or even Nixon. As economist Paul Krugman points out, as America may be entering another Depression, it’s time to stimulate, not enact austerity (which will wreak havoc in Europe), or ‘Keynesian economics.’ And historically, conservatives like Reagan have been all-too-happy to spend on big government, when they control the White House, of course. Now they are using the crisis to their benefit.

“After there was a recession under Ronald Reagan, government employment went way up. It went up after the recessions under the first George Bush and the second George Bush,” Obama said last month on the campaign trail. “So each time there was a recession with a Republican president, we compensated by making sure that government didn’t see a drastic reduction in employment. The only time government employment has gone down during a recession has been under me.”

More broadly, federal spending growth under Obama has been remarkably low by historical standards. The pressure from the GOP and D.C. political elites, who have been hostile to Keynesian economics in recent years, has put the administration in a tough spot.

Reagan, not Obama, was the big spender. While there was a brief burst of government spending early in the Obama administration — mainly for emergency aid programs like unemployment insurance and food stamps — that burst is long past. Indeed, at this point, government spending is falling fast, with real per capita spending falling over the past year at a rate not seen since the demobilization that followed the Korean War.

Here’s the truth. America has a huge budget deficit hanging over our heads. America is currently suffering from a classic case of debt deflation. This is exactly the situation in which government spending should temporarily rise to offset the slump in private spending and give the private sector time to repair its finances.

If the rich don’t pay their fair share, the rest of us have to pay higher taxes — or do without vital public services like Medicare, Medicaid, Pell grants, food stamps, child nutrition, federal aid to education, and more.

Republicans say we shouldn’t raise taxes on the rich when the economy is still in the dumps. This is a variation on their old discredited trickle-down economic theories. The fact is, the rich already spend as much as they’re going to spend. Raising their taxes a bit won’t deter them from buying, and therefore won’t hurt the economy.

In reality, Romney and the GOP are pushing an agenda that has nothing whatever to do with reducing the budget deficit. If they were serious about deficit reduction they wouldn’t demand tax cuts for the very wealthy.

We should have learned by now. The Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 were supposed to be temporary. Even so, they blew a huge hole in the budget deficit. Millionaires received a tax cut that’s averaged $123,000 a year, while the median-wage worker’s tax cut has amounted to no more than a few hundreds dollars a year. Bush promised the tax cuts would more than pay for themselves in terms of their alleged positive impact on the economy. The record shows they didn’t.

Romney and the Republicans are pushing a reverse-Robin Hood plan that takes from the middle class and the poor while rewarding the rich.

According to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, Romney’s tax plan would boost the incomes of people earning more than $1 million a year by an average of $295,874 annually.

Meanwhile, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Romney’s plan would throw ten million low-income people off the benefits rolls for food stamps or cut benefits by thousands of dollars a year, or both. “These cuts would primarily affect very low-income families with children, seniors and people with disabilities,” the Center concludes.

Americans still hate the rich, according to yet another poll. Pew’s major Trends in American Values poll shows class resentments bridging the partisan divide:“Majorities in all educational and income groups agree that ‘today it’s really true that the rich just get richer while the poor get poorer.’ In the current survey, 76% of the public agrees with this statement, about the same as the 74% that agreed in 1987.”

Even the moderate pundit crowd’s beloved independents agree: Our ruling classes are worthless parasites. A mere 22 percent of “swing voters” “admire the rich.” (How many Romney supporters “admire the rich,” you ask? Thirty-eight percent. No one likes rich people.)

via Joseph Stiglitz:

Inequality in America has been widening for dec­ades. Warren Buffett put it well, “There’s been class warfare going on for the last 20 years and my class has won.” The rich do not exist in a vacuum. They need a functioning society around them to sustain their position. Widely unequal societies do not function efficiently and their economies are neither stable nor sustainable. There comes a point when inequality spirals into economic dysfunction for the whole society, and even the rich pay a steep price.

When one interest group holds too much power, it succeeds in getting policies that help itself in the short term at the expense of the rest of society in the long time.

Periods in which the broadest cross sections of Americans have reported higher net incomes – when inequality has been reduced, partly as a result of progressive taxation – have been the periods in which the U.S. economy has grown the fastest. It is no accident that the current recession, like the Great Depression, was preceded by large increases in inequality. When too much money is concentrated at the top of society, spending by the average American is necessarily reduced – Moving money from the bottom to the top lowers consumption because higher-income individuals consume, as a fraction of their income, less than lower-income individuals do.

The relationship is straightforward and ironclad: as more money becomes concentrated at the top, demand goes into a decline.

In a society in which inequality is widening, fairness is not just about wages and income, or wealth. It’s a far more generalized perception. Do I seem to have a stake in the direction society is going, or not? Do I share in the benefits of collective action, or not? If the answer is a loud “no,” then brace for a decline in motivation whose repercussions will be felt economically and in all aspects of civic life.

There is no good reason why the 1 percent, with their good educations, their ranks of advisers, and their much-vaunted business acumen, should be so misinformed. The 1 percent in generations past often knew better. They knew that there would be no top of the pyramid if there wasn’t a solid base – that their own position was precarious if society itself was unsound. Henry Ford, not remembered as one of history’s softies, understood that the best thing he could do for himself and his company was to pay his workers a decent wage, because he wanted them to work hard and he wanted them to be able to buy his cars. Franklin D. Roosevelt, a purebred patrician, understood that the only way to save an essentially capitalist America was not only to spread the wealth, through taxation and social programs, but to put restraints on capitalism itself, through regulation. Roosevelt and the economist John Maynard Keynes, while reviled by the capitalists, succeeded in saving capitalism from the capitalists.

According to Politico.com, the so-called “mega-donors,” unleashed by Citizens United and pouring boundless big bucks into this year’s political campaigns, are upset that their massive contributions are being exposed to public view, ignoring the right of every one of us to know who is giving money to candidates — and the opportunity to try to figure out why.

“Quit picking on us” is part of Politico‘s headline. Their article says that the mega-donors’ “six- and seven-figure contributions have… bought them nothing but grief.”

Wall Street titans have been whining for a couple of years now about the horror of people in politics criticizing ineffective banking regulations and the favorable tax treatment so many wealthy people receive… America’s barons feel assaulted, victimized, wounded, even!

Frank VanderSloot and his wealthy pals went ballistic and cried intimidation. “You go back to the Dark Ages,” VanderSloot said, “when they put these people in the stocks or whatever they did, or publicly humiliated them as a deterrent to everybody else — watch this — watch what we do to the guy who did this.”

Conservatives described the Obama ranking of Romney contributors as an “enemies list,” conjuring images of Nixonian wiretaps and punitive tax audits.

“Most of the megadonors backing [Romney’s] candidacy are elderly billionaires,” Tim Dickinson writes in Rolling Stone. “Their median age is 66, and their median wealth is $1 billion. Each is looking for a payoff that will benefit his business interests, and they will all profit from Romney’s pledge to eliminate inheritance taxes, extend the Bush tax cuts for the superwealthy — and then slash the top tax rate by another 20 percent.” As at least one of them has said, they view these cash infusions as an “investment,” plain and simple.

Not that Democrats are pure of heart and innocent. In fact, Adam Bonica, an associate political science professor at Stanford has put together a database indicating that since 1979, 377 members of the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans have given almost half a billion dollars to candidates of both parties, most of it in the last decade. The median contribution was $355,100 each.

And this, via Salon:

The Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality has put together a new package of easy-to-digest “educational materials on trends in inequality.”

The slides now available at www.inequality.com are divided into 14 categories: debt, education, employment, family, gender, health, immigration, income, mobility, politics, poverty, race, violent crime, and wealth.

If you are poor, you are more likely to be in debt and have health problems, and less likely to get a quality education or have your priorities reflected in politics. Of course, that’s always been true, not just in the U.S., but everywhere.

What’s alarming is how, as the wealthiest Americans get a bigger and bigger share of the income pie, U.S. society is stratifying in dangerous, self-reinforcing directions.

For example, in 1972, families in the top income quintile spent an average of $3,536 annually on “enrichment expenditures” to “supplement their children’s opportunities to learn and develop.” The bottom quintile spent $835. Twenty-five years later, spending by the top quintile had more than doubled, to $8,872, while spending by the bottom quintile had only risen by about 50 percent, to $1,315, and had hardly budged at all since the early 1980s.

This may partially explain why college completion rates for richer Americans have risen faster than for poorer Americans.

Over the same time period in which the private sector unionization rate for men fell from 35 percent to 10 percent, the average CEO went from earning 25 times as much as the average worker in compensation to 262 times as much.

“Researchers who study mobility have consistently found that there is less mobility in the United States than in most other European and English speaking countries.”

So there’s the American Dream for you.

http://www.rt.com/s/swf/player5.4.swf

via In These Times (which I recommend all of you immediately subscribe to)

When a democracy functions properly, media revelations of executive branch misconduct typically result in an investigation by the legislative branch. Watergate epitomized this healthy dynamic— So when the New York Times this week ran the headline “Senate Will Investigate National Security Leaks About Terrorism ‘Kill List,’” it was a frightening sign that something has gone horribly wrong since the Woodward-and-Bernstein days.

Last week, the Times published an expose detailing how President Obama personally orders the execution of American citizens and foreigners that he labels “terrorists.” According to theTimes, this program deems “all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants”; allows the president to be judge, jury and executioner; and operates wholly outside of the law. Indeed, the Times reports that the administration justifies such dictatorial power by insisting that the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process can now “be satisfied by internal deliberations in the executive branch.”

However, the memo laying out this utterly preposterous legal theory is secret—and, of course, hasn’t been ratified by any court.

As the Times noted in that subsequent follow-up story, Congress is focused not on shutting down—or even overseeing—the assassination program. It is instead focused on making sure those who blew the whistle on it are punished. Why? Because that will ensure that other such unauthorized programs can continue. As Sen. John McCain (R) made clear, he wants revelations of illegal activity halted and possibly prosecuted specifically because “such disclosures can only undermine similar ongoing or future operations.”

Rather than celebrating the heroes who expose wrongdoing and then stopping the illegal acts, the government is shooting the messengers in order to let the crimes continue.

That’s why this war on whistleblowers is not just some theoretical problem only for academics to debate or for foreigners to worry about. It represents a genuine domestic threat to democracy itself. If through our silence and complacency we allow that threat to expand, we shouldn’t be surprised when more of us are in the government’s crosshairs.

And if war-crime whistleblowers like Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, or the countless others to be named are brought up on trumped up conspiracy, espionage, aiding the enemy, or treason charges, the penalties could be death.

In February, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism documented that after the U.S. kills people with drones in Pakistan, it then targets for death those who show up at the scene to rescue the survivors and retrieve the bodies, as well as those who gather to mourn the dead at funerals: “the CIA’s drone campaign in Pakistan has killed dozens of civilians who had gone to help rescue victims or were attending funerals.” As The New York Times summarized those findings: “at least 50 civilians had been killed in follow-up strikes after they rushed to help those hit by a drone-fired missile” while “the bureau counted more than 20 other civilians killed in strikes on funerals.”

This repellent practice continues. Over the last three days, the U.S. has launched three separate drone strikes in Pakistan: one on each day. As The Guardian reports, the U.S. has killed between 20 and 30 people in these strikes, the last of which, early this morning, killed between 8 and 15. It was the second strike, on Sunday, thattargeted mourners gathered to grieve those killed in the first strike:

At the time of the attack, suspected militants had gathered to offer condolences to the brother of a militant commander killed during another US unmanned drone attack on Saturday. The brother was one of those who died in the Sunday morning attack. The Pakistani officials said two of the dead were foreigners and the rest were Pakistani.

Note that there is no suggestion, even from the “officials” on which these media reports (as usual) rely, that the dead man was a Terrorist or even a “militant.” He was simply receiving condolences for his dead brother. But pursuant to the standardsembraced by President Obama, the brother — without knowing anything about him — is inherently deemed a “combatant” and therefore a legitimate target for death solely by virtue of being a “military-age male in a strike zone.”

Although as the New York Times points out, two-thirds of the most frightening post-9/11 plans for attacks on American soil were stings orchestrated by government agents. Typically, a bumbling, gullible, down on their luck “potential terrorist” with no history of violence is coaxed into some sort of involvement and then arrested, followed by news media trumpeting the “narrowly foiled plot”:

The United States has been narrowly saved from lethal terrorist plots in recent years — or so it has seemed. A would-be suicide bomber was intercepted on his way to the Capitol; a scheme to bomb synagogues and shoot Stinger missiles at military aircraft in Newburgh, N.Y.; and a fanciful idea to fly explosive-laden model planes into the Pentagon and the Capitol hatched in Massachusetts.

But all these dramas were facilitated by the F.B.I., whose undercover agents and informers posed as terrorists offering a dummy missile, fake C-4 explosives, a disarmed suicide vest and rudimentary training. Suspects naïvely played their parts until they were arrested.

Typically, the stings initially target suspects for pure speech — comments to an informer outside a mosque, angry postings on Web sites, e-mails with radicals overseas — then woo them into relationships with informers, who are often convicted felons working in exchange for leniency, or with F.B.I. agents posing as members of Al Qaeda or other groups.

Some targets have previous involvement in more than idle talk. But others seem ambivalent, incompetent and adrift, like hapless wannabes looking for a cause that the informer or undercover agent skillfully helps them find.

For more things you probably didn’t know about how the world actually works, subscribe to Lee Camp’s Moment of Clarity series:

And, of course, follow the Stranger in a Strange Land on Mutiny Radio!

Stranger in a Strange Land 2012-06-09: Cool Dark Rock by The Stranger on Mixcloud

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net

Feel Good

Good news, everyone!

In the wake of so much depressing and oppressing mainstream media, I thought I’d dedicate this week to some of the redemptive and hopeful items in our culture/class/info war. Appropriately, some happy-time feel-good music to make you move your feet!

PLAYLIST
In The Hall Of The Mountain King – Will Bradley and the Ray McKinley Band
Cheek to Cheek – Billie Holiday
Lambeth Walk – Django Reinhardt & Stéphane Grappelli
Stomping At Decca – Django Reinhardt & Stéphane Grappelli
I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm – Django Reinhardt & Stéphane Grappelli
I’m Perfectly Satisfied – Jack Hylton And His Orchestra
Feelin’ High And Happy – Gene Krupa
Here Comes The Sun – The Beatles
A Felicidade – Louiz Bonfa
Joy – Sun Ra
The Tide Is High – The Paragons
Rock-A-Hula Baby – Elvis Presley
Satisfy My Soul – Bob Marley
Surfboard Antonio – Carlos Jobim
Happy Together – The Turtles
Windy – Association
The Warmth Of The Sun – Beach Boys
Papa Gene’s Blues – Monkees
Love And Happiness – Al Green
Joy – Issac Hayes
Da Funk [Armand Van Helden Remix] – Daft Punk
19-2000 – Gorillaz
Tropicana – RATATAT
Satisfaction (Club Mix) – Benny Benassi
Besame Mucho – Dave Pike
You’ve Made Me So Very Happy – Blood, Sweat & Tears

Stranger in a Strange Land 2012-05-19: Feel Good by The Stranger on Mixcloud

Romney is having trouble staying on message, buffeted from all sides for his forced radical right social obligation, his “experience” as one of the wealthy elites we love-to-hate, a job-destroying corporate raider at Bain Capital in the 1980s, and his record of status quo pandering not much unlike Obama’s.

Romney is trying to pivot from the incendiary social issues that dominated GOP primaries to the economy, which polls show is his strongest suit, Obama’s biggest vulnerability and the No. 1 election issue.

He wants to “reward job creators” on Day One as president, which is code for “job-destroying greedy plutocrats.” He would also approve the Keystone oil pipeline regardless of environmental impact and start rolling back Obama’s health overhaul to leave millions at the mercy of a corrupt insurance industry.

Both of these are steps away from the science and the economic evidence.

He also found himself having to refudiate a conservative independent group’s $10 million TV ad campaign recalling Obama’s ties to the controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright. It would have raised off-message race and religion issues.

After staying mostly quiet through the Republican primaries, Democrats are kicking off a new campaign to convince voters that Mitt Romney earned his fortune by exploiting workers at Bain Capital.

Formerly finance-friendly politicians are frenetically trying to straddle this hard line between populist appeasement and corporate donorship.

The Obama campaign has insisted repeatedly that its beef with Romney is about his specific business dealings and not private equity in general. But it can sound like a pretty thin distinction at times, especially to prominent Democratic donors who’ve worked in private equity themselves and are sensitive about being vilified as greedy corporate raiders.

Steve Rattner, who co-founded the Quadrangle Group, a successful private equity firm, hardly a fan of Romney in most circumstances, defended Bain Capital on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” as a model company and called Obama’s attacks “unfair” (though he did disagree with Romney’s claim that private equity creates jobs).

In a case of awkward timing, Obama attended a fundraiser Monday hosted by Tony James, a top executive at the world’s largest private equity firm, Blackstone Group. Like Rattner, James is on the record defending private equity from Obama.

But if President Obama is politically vulnerable on the weak recovery of the economy, Romney will be increasingly vulnerable in the presidential race for embracing Paul Ryan’s plan – if the Democrats make clear the dangers it poses for the vast majority of Americans, the servants at Romney’s “marvelous” policy buffet. Declaring the presidential race starkly as a “make-or-break moment for the middle class,” Obama told Associated Press editors in April that in the much-different budgets he and Ryan have proposed, voters face a “choice between competing visions of our future [that] has [not in recent memory] been so unambiguously clear.”

The Ryan-Romney plan is further to the Right – and more hurtful to average Americans – than anything from Ronald Reagan or Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America, Obama said. Calling it “thinly veiled social Darwinism,” he argued that his “centrist” approach has historically drawn support even from Republicans, from Lincoln to Eisenhower, who saw government as a way to “do together what we cannot do as well for ourselves.”

The Ryan budget will not only fail to do what it claims, but in most cases will do just the opposite. As New York Times columnist Paul Krugman put it, the budget is “the most fraudulent in American history.”

Under the guise of cutting deficits and protecting health and retirement security, Ryan-Romney would change federal health insurance to reduce federal costs but only by shifting the burden back to individuals – especially the aged and poor – not by increasing efficiency. The budget would raise the eligibility age for Medicare in the future and replace Medicare with vouchers, turn over Medicaid to the states with inadequate, declining block grants, and invalidate most of the Affordable Care Act, including its expansion of Medicaid. As a result, as many as 27 million people would lose Medicaid coverage (according to the Urban Institute), and 33 million uninsured will not gain insurance promised through the Affordable Care Act.

These are the sorts of injustice that show where reform is necessary.

Powerful elites like Jaime Dimon have been working for years to destroy financial reforms, with a set of insidious tactics, recently outlined by Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone:
  • STEP 1: STRANGLE IT IN THE WOMB
  • STEP 2: SUE, SUE, SUE
  • STEP 3: IF YOU CAN’T WIN, STALL
  • STEP 4: BULLY THE REGULATORS
  • STEP 5: PASS A GAZILLION LOOPHOLES
Two years ago, when he signed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, President Barack Obama bragged that he’d dealt a crushing blow to the extravagant financial corruption that had caused the global economic crash in 2008. “These reforms represent the strongest consumer financial protections in history,” the president told an adoring crowd in downtown D.C. on July 21st, 2010. “In history.”

The new law ostensibly rewrote the rules for Wall Street. It was going to put an end to predatory lending in the mortgage markets, crack down on hidden fees and penalties in credit contracts, and create a powerful new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to safeguard ordinary consumers. Big banks would be banned from gambling with taxpayer money, and a new set of rules would limit speculators from making the kind of crazy-ass bets that cause wild spikes in the price of food and energy. There would be no more AIGs, and the world would never again face a financial apocalypse when a bank like Lehman Brothers went bankrupt.

Most importantly, even if any of that fiendish crap ever did happen again, Dodd-Frank guaranteed we wouldn’t be expected to pay for it. “The American people will never again be asked to foot the bill for Wall Street’s mistakes,” Obama promised. “There will be no more taxpayer-funded bailouts. Period.”

And though Paul Volcker has said Jaime Dimon should give up his banking license, others are calling for him to stand trial.

Let’s put JPMorgan Chase chairman, president and CEO James “Jamie” Dimon on trial. Mr. Dimon has a reputation for being the sagest guy on Wall Street and an expert at managing risk. JPMorgan emerged from the financial crisis not just unscathed but secure enough to step in and rescue Bear Stearns when the government asked it to. (He gets very mad when you say that his bank got bailed out by the government, and he insists that the government made him take all that free money.) Then his bank somehow accidentally lost billions of dollars last week, whoops! And he is really embarrassed, but not embarrassed enough to fire himself. So, let’s put him on trial and force him to explain what good he and his bank are.

The FBI has opened a probe into trading losses at the biggest US bank, JPMorgan Chase & Co. The SEC is investigating the massive lossDimon might have to be hauled before Congress to answer questions.

“Wouldn’t it have been better if that $2 billion had been used for almost anything in the world besides shady mega-bank gambling that no one understands?” And, “Doesn’t it seem you guys could save a bit of money on salaries and so forth while still achieving basically the same results if you replaced your chief investment officer with some old people who play video slots all day?”

It seems like America was actually doing pretty well with there not being any such thing as credit-default swaps, which JPMorgan invented, in the 1990s, right before investment banks were allowed to merge with retail banks and do whatever they wanted with everyone’s money.

Also did Dimon lie during his first-quarter earnings call last month, or did he have no idea what sort of things his chief investment office was up to (even after their actions were reported in the press)? If he didn’t have any idea, shouldn’t he maybe step down to run a smaller bank, where he can keep a closer eye on everything? Dimon said initially that the stuff that lost all the money wouldn’t have violated the Volcker Rule, even though it plainly violates the spirit of the Volcker Rule but also he’s not sure if the bank broke any laws?

President Barack Obama said on Monday that the huge trading loss at JPMorgan Chase, demonstrated the need for Wall Street reform.

 So what can be done? In the 1930s, after the mother of all banking panics, we arrived at a workable solution, involving both guarantees and oversight. On one side, the scope for panic was limited via government-backed deposit insurance; on the other, banks were subject to regulations intended to keep them from abusing the privileged status they derived from deposit insurance, which is in effect a government guarantee of their debts. Most notably, banks with government-guaranteed deposits weren’t allowed to engage in the often risky speculation characteristic of investment banks like Lehman Brothers.

But with many lawmakers personally invested in JPMorgan Chase, can we expect any real change to be made in Washington?

Senators Minimum Maximum
Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D) $1,000,001 $1,000,001
Sen. Mary L. Landrieu (D) $100,001 $250,000
Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D) $52,003 $130,000
Sen. Tom Coburn (R) $17,003 $80,000
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D) $15,001 $50,000
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) $15,001 $50,000
Representatives Minimum Maximum
Rep. Leonard Lance (R) $250,001 $500,000
Rep. Jim Renacci (R) $213,937 $213,937
Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr (R) $100,001 $250,000
Rep. Peter Welch (D) $100,001 $250,000
Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D) $50,001 $100,000
Rep. Mike Conaway (R) $50,001 $100,000
Rep. John Boehner (R) $30,002 $100,000
Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R) $30,002 $100,000
Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R) $17,003 $80,000
Rep. Connie Mack (R) $17,003 $80,000
Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R) $15,001 $50,000
Rep. Kurt Schrader (D) $15,001 $50,000
Rep. David McKinley (R) $15,001 $50,000

One of the most dogged Wall Street reformers on Capitol Hill says there’s a small but golden opportunity to close key loopholes in the 2010 financial reform law,

“We have felt like there’s two of us against hundreds of Wall Street lawyers working on this all day, every day — and that the public was disengaged from the issue,” Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) said “Now the public is engaged. There’s a chance here — because the rules are supposed to go into effect in July — there’s a moment of possibility, we’re trying to do all we can to press it forward, say ‘seize this moment and get the rules right.’ Because once they’re put in place it’s very hard to change them.”

Merkley, along with Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), were the primary authors of the so-called Volcker Rule, meant to forbid federally insured banks from speculating with depositor money. But the regulators tasked with writing and implementing the rule, under pressure from the financial services industry, wrote exemptions into the draft that, if finalized, would allow firms to continue making the risky trades that got JP Morgan into trouble.

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Meanwhile, from the Chicago Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild

The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) condemns a preemptive police raid that took place at approximately 11:30pm Wednesday in the Bridgeport neighborhood, and instances of harassment on the street, in which Chicago police are unlawfully detaining, searching, and questioning NATO protesters. The Bridgeport raid was apparently conducted by the Organized Crime Division of the Chicago Police Department and resulted in as many as 8 arrests.

According to witnesses in Bridgeport, police broke down a door to access a 6-unit apartment building near 32nd & Morgan Streets without a search warrant. Police entered an apartment with guns drawn and tackled one of the tenants to the floor in his kitchen. Two tenants were handcuffed for more than 2 hours in their living room while police searched their apartment and a neighboring unit, repeatedly calling one of the tenants a “Commie faggot.” A search warrant produced 4 hours after police broke into the apartment was missing a judge’s signature, according to witnesses. Among items seized by police in the Bridgeport raid were beer-making supplies and at least one cell phone.

“Preemptive raids like this are a hallmark of National Special Security Events,” said Sarah Gelsomino with the NLG and the People’s Law Office. “The Chicago police and other law enforcement agencies should be aware that this behavior will not be tolerated and will result in real consequences for the city.”

In another incident, 3 plainclothes police officers unlawfully stopped, handcuffed, and searched a NATO protester on Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive at approximately 2pm today. According to the protester, he did not consent to a search and there was no probable cause to detain him. The police also photographed and questioned him about where he was from, how he got to Chicago, how long it took, what he was doing here, where he was staying, who he was with, and how long he was planning to say in Chicago. The protester refused to answer any questions and was eventually released.

The NLG has received reports that at least 20 people have been arrested so far this week, and two people are still in custody, not including the Bridgeport residents who are still unaccounted for. One of the protesters currently being detained, Danny Johnson of Los Angeles, has been accused of assaulting a police officer during an immigrant rights rally on Tuesday afternoon. However, multiple witnesses on the scene, including an NLG Legal Observer, recorded a version of events that contradict the accusations of police.

During the week of NATO demonstrations, the NLG is staffing a legal office and answering calls from activists on the streets and in jail. The NLG will also be dispatching scores of Legal Observers to record police misconduct and representing arrestees in the event the city pursues criminal prosecutions.

And while these affronts to civil liberties enrage and outrage (as they should), while we report and protest, remember, these reactionary authoritative actions will only cost the system more when they inevitably lose.

The good news, according to Noam Chomsky, is that Occupy has created solidarity in the US.

The NYPD has lost its first Occupy Wall Street Trial. This case could have been a slam dunk for the NYPD, had it not been for one thing: the video showing police claims of disorderly conduct during an OWS protest to be completely untrue.

Hundreds have been arrested during the Occupy Wall Street protests, but photographer Alexander Arbuckle’s case was the first to go to trial – and after just two days, the Manhattan Criminal Court found him not guilty.

Arbuckle was arrested on New Year’s Day for allegedly blocking traffic during a protest march. He was charged with disorderly conduct, and his arresting officer testified under oath that he, along with the protesters, was standing in the street, despite frequent requests from the police to move to the sidewalk.

But things got a little embarrassing for the NYPD officer when the defense presented a video recording of the entire event, made by well-known journalist Tim Pool.

Pool’s footage clearly shows Arbuckle, along with all the other protesters, standing on the sidewalk. In fact, the only people blocking traffic were the police officers themselves

His lawyers said the video proving that testimony false is what swayed the judge, and the verdict a clear indication that the NYPD was over-policing the protests.

The irony of the case, however, is that Arbuckle was not a protester, or even a supporter of the Occupy movement. He was there to document the cops’ side of the story. A political science and photography major at NYU, Arbuckle felt the police were not being fairly represented in the media.

Also hearteningly, in a surprising letter (.pdf) sent on Monday to attorneys for the Baltimore Police Department, the Justice Department also strongly asserted that officers who seize and destroy such recordings without a warrant or without due process are in strict violation of the individual’s Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

The letter was sent to the police department as it prepares for meetings to discuss a settlement over a civil lawsuit brought by a citizen who sued the department after his camera was seized by police.

In the lawsuit, Christopher Sharp alleged that in May 2010, Baltimore City police officers seized, searched and deleted the contents of his mobile phone after he used it to record them as they were arresting a friend of his.

The right to record police officers in the public discharge of their duties was essential to help “engender public confidence in our police departments, promote public access to information necessary to hold our governmental officers accountable, and ensure public and officer safety,” wrote Jonathan Smith, head of the Justice Department’s Special Litigation Section, who cited the Rodney King case as an example of police abuse caught on camera.

federal judge in New York has given the go ahead for a class action lawsuit to move forward against the city’s police department over allegations that its ‘stop-and-frisk’ program has continuously allowed officers to discriminate against minorities.

In a ruling made Wednesday by US District Judge Shira Scheindlin, the pending suit against the NYPD, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others was granted class action status.

When asked for his take on Judge Scheindlin’s decision, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly told the New York Times that he had no comment because the litigation was continuing, but offered one quip: “It is what it is.”

Elsewhere in her ruling, Judge Scheindlin says that the NYPD’s arguments in favor of the program appear “cavalier”and display “a deeply troubling apathy towards New Yorkers’ most fundamental constitutional rights.”

In a statement offered to the AP, the law office for the city of New York says, “We respectfully disagree with the decision and are reviewing our legal options.”

Another federal district judge, the newly-appointed Katherine Forrest of the Southern District of New York, issued an amazing ruling: one which preliminarily enjoins enforcement of the highly controversial indefinite provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act, enacted by Congress and signed into law by President Obama last December. This afternoon’s ruling came as part of a lawsuit brought by seven dissident plaintiffs — including Chris Hedges, Dan Ellsberg, Noam Chomsky, and Birgitta Jonsdottir — alleging that the NDAA violates ”both their free speech and associational rights guaranteed by the First Amendment as well as due process rights guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution.”

In a 68-page ruling, US District Judge Katherine Forrest agreed on Wednesday that the statute failed to “pass constitutional muster” because its language could be interpreted quite broadly and eventually be used to suppress political dissent.

“There is a strong public interest in protecting rights guaranteed by the First Amendment,” Forrest wrote, according to CourtHouseNews.Com. “There is also a strong public interest in ensuring that due process rights guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment are protected by ensuring that ordinary citizens are able to understand the scope of conduct that could subject them to indefinite military detention.”

The Manhattan judge therefore ruled in favor of a group of writers and activists who sued US officials, including President Barack Obama. They claimed that the act, which was signed into law on December 31, makes them fear possible arrest by US armed forces.

The ruling was a sweeping victory for the plaintiffs, as it rejected each of the Obama DOJ’s three arguments: (1) because none of the plaintiffs has yet been indefinitely detained, they lack “standing” to challenge the statute; (2) even if they have standing, the lack of imminent enforcement against them renders injunctive relief unnecessary; and (3) the NDAA creates no new detention powers beyond what the 2001 AUMF already provides.

The court also decisively rejected the argument that President Obama’s signing statement – expressing limits on how he intends to exercise the NDAA’s detention powers — solves any of these problems. That’s because, said the court, the signing statement “does not state that § 1021 of the NDAA will not be applied to otherwise-protected First Amendment speech nor does it give concrete definitions to the vague terms used in the statute.”

The court found that the plaintiffs have “shown an actual fear that their expressive and associational activities” could subject them to indefinite detention under the law,and “each of them has put forward uncontroverted evidence of concrete — non-hypothetical — ways in which the presence of the legislation has already impacted those expressive and associational activities” (as but one example, Hedges presented evidence that his “prior journalistic activities relating to certain organizations such as al-Qaeda and the Taliban” proves “he has a realistic fear that those activities will subject him to detention under § 1021″). Thus, concluded the court, these plaintiffs have the right to challenge the constitutionality of the statute notwithstanding the fact that they have not yet been detained under it; that’s because its broad, menacing detention powers are already harming them and the exercise of their constitutional rights.

But even after a federal court deemed the NDAA unconstitutional, the US House of Representatives refused to exclude indefinite detention provisions from the infamous defense spending bill during a vote on Friday.

An attempt to strike down any provisions allowing for the US military to indefinitely detain American citizens without charge from next year’s National Defense Authorization Act was shot down Friday morning in the House of Representatives.

A colleague asked me how the government could blatantly disregard the courts (those that have not been stacked or bought). There’s not much they can’t do, and it’s getting a whole lot worse. With Big Brother street lamps, “incidental” drone spying on American citizens, and the US Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) as well as the  Department of Homeland Security (DHS) considering collecting DNA from kids. Soon all of this information may be collated at the NSA mega-base in Utah.

“Even though information may not be collectible, it may be retained for the length of time necessary to transfer it to another DoD entity or government agency to whose function it pertains.”

You could just hack into the systems yourself, as can be easily done with CCTV, for example. But this says little of citizen empowerment, since about half of those that utilize this cyber-espionage will be criminals, and not protesters.

But don’t let all that make you feel bad. There are many groups out there (such as the EFF) fighting against such injustices. Join the fray. You’ll feel a lot better.

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net